Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sex and Salvation

No man who loves can be a materialist. The materialist can only lust and use others because every beautiful young virgin with time and wear will become disproportionate and old. Love is the deep dedication to the person, who, though bodily real is not just or even primarily flesh but much more, infinitely more, which only the true lover can see, in selfless unlimited commitment. The Little Prince makes this point which the Holy Father emphasized in both of his encyclicals, that the deepest and most important aspect of reality cannot be measured, controlled or possessed[1]. One must use the heart in addition to the mind to measure the greatest realities: love, goodness, truth, eternity.

"Men cultivate five thousand flowers in one garden and they do not find what they seek...Meanwhile what they seek might be found with just one rose...But the eyes are blind. It is necessary to search with the heart."

(Les hommes de chez toi, dit le petit prince, cultivent cinq mille roses dans un meme ils n'y trouvent pas ce qu'ils cherchent...Et cependant ce qu'ils cherchent pourrait etere trouve dans une seule rose ou un peu d'eau...Mais les yeux sont aveugles. Il faut chercher avec le coeur.) Le Petit Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, chapt. 25

The most important things are not accessible to the eyes--not material but metaphysical. This was the same point made by the Greeks as in the gradual relief of a dual material deception in Plato's "Analogy of the Cave", book VII of the Republic.

"...[I]n the region of the known the last thing to be seen and hardly seen is the idea of good, and that when seen it must needs point us to the conclusion that this is indeed the cause for all things of all that is right and beautiful, giving birth in the visible world to light, and the author of light and itself in the intelligible world being the authentic source of truth and reason, and that anyone who is to act wisely in private or public must have caught sight of this." (par. 517c)

First was the relief of the deception of the images projected on the wall, finally revealed as mere shadows cast by the fire behind the activity behind the fetter bound deceived; then the far greater relief going out of the cave to the brilliant sun and the world under its brilliance. In Pope Benedict's terms the first level is the discovery of "little hopes", the second that of real hope, a hope in the possibility of fulfilling all of man's worthy desires endlessly.

The material world involves a dual deception: 1) It poses as the whole of reality and as larger than its true worth and is therefore not as fulfilling as it appears because in itself it offers much less than it pretends. 2) It is the image (sign) of--it indicates--a reality many times (infinitely) greater than itself, than what it pretends to offer. Thus, it is both less and more that it seems.

For example, a beautiful adolescent girl gives us a glimmer of immortal beauty to indicate the profound, unfathomable worth of the girl herself prescinding from all physical beauty (all glimmers). Nor is she as perfect as she seems even on the material level for she, like every mortal man, has corruption (at least physical waste) within her viscera. That is why it (the superficial) is so ephemeral, because it is only a reflection. The deception is to think that this is all there is. It might lead to an overestimation of the sign. It is also analogous to a general deception of the beauty of the entire visible world and everything it has to offer (which also always includes corruption [man's capacity for evil and the consequent negative effects] in its viscera) vis-a-vis the eternal Beauty. That is the deeper level of this first deception which brings in the second deception which tends to an underestimation of the goods of this world.

Taking the calculable benefits as the whole of reality (this world as the only world) can produce contempt, not valuing it as a part of a greater whole. In that case one would never find the rose one seeks even with a garden full of roses. In fact the girl and the world is not unimportant precisely because she and it are not the whole of reality.

The passing nature of things is not worthless but is essentially united to the whole of reality (time is part of eternity in the Person of Christ), like the body is essential to the girl; the sign and the reality are inseparable, so this life and the after-life are inseparable--we will live forever as we have lived on earth; each man dies as he lives! Thus life on earth, personal dedication, far deeper than the pursuits of the flesh, even through the greatest suffering, for true love and for the constant purification of love, has eternal significance. "...[T]he way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ's Passion" Spe salvi, 47

This theme of the greater love of heaven as being the impetus and the meaning and the hope of the loves of the earth was the theme of Deus caritas est (the very nature of eros being agape directed) and is found in the heart of the encyclical on hope. The Holy Father makes this statement after showing the limits of human reason and human freedom and therefore the limits to hope in human progress.

"It is not science that redeems man: man is redeemed by love. This applies even in terms of this present world. When someone has the experience of a great love in his life, this is a moment of 'redemption' which gives a new meaning to his life. But soon he will also realize that the love bestowed upon him cannot by itself resolve the question of his life. It is a love that remains fragile. It can be destroyed by death. The human being needs unconditional love. He needs the certainty which makes him say: 'neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord' (Rom 8:38-39). If this absolute love exists, with its absolute certainty, then--only then--is man 'redeemed', whatever should happen to him in his particular circumstances. This is what it means to say: Jesus Christ has 'redeemed' us. Through him we have become certain of God, a God who is not a remote 'first cause' of the world, because his only-begotten Son has become man and of him everyone can say: 'I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me' (Gal 2:20).

"In this sense it is true that anyone who does not know God, even though he may entertain all kinds of hopes, is ultimately without hope, without the great hope that sustains the whole of life (cf Eph 2:12). Man's great , true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God--God who has loved us and who ontinues to love us 'to the end.' until all 'is accomplished' (cf. Jn 13:1 and 19:30). Whoever is moved by love begins to perceive what 'life' really is...Life in its true sense is not something we have exclusively in or from ourselves: it is a relationship. And life in its totality is a relationship with him who is the source of life. If we are in relation with him who does not die, who is Life itself and Love itself, then we are in life. Then we 'live'." SS, 26-27

Only the man who has the love of Christ has a reason to live beyond adolescent enthusiasm. And only the man who can live beyond lust (be it lust of the flesh, lust after things or vain pride of life) has a reason to live at all, because otherwise he will never be satisfied even with all of the roses in the world. Christ is our satisfying sweet Rose: "eat my Flesh and drink my Blood and live!" says the Lord. Only His Flesh will satisfy and He gives the proper value to all of our human relationships which are neither to be worshipped nor despised but nobly pursued in His love.



[1] In Truth and Tolerance Cardinal Ratzinger emphasized that reason (e.g. science) is always in need of love, the love of God, which in its true form is one with the Truth, He is the Truth and therefore the guide also for man's understanding and for the meaning of his life and activity in the world.

"The attempt, in this crisis for mankind, to give back an obvious meaning and significance to the concept of Christianity as the religio vera, must, so to speak, be based in equal measure upon orthopraxy and orthodoxy. At the most profound level its content will necessarily consist--in the final analysis, just as it did [in early Christianity's indissolubly linking the concepts of nature, man, God, ethics, and religion]--in love and reason coming together as the two pillars of reality: the true reason is love, and love is the true reason. They are in their unity the true basis and the goal of reality." p. 183

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