Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Immaculate Heart of Mary, or Sylvia Poggioli Explains It All To You

Today is the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Today's Gospel reading for mass is the finding of Jesus in the Temple when he was a boy:

Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. (Luke 2:41-51)

There are two aspects I want to focus on here regarding Mary. The first is that Mary did not understand what Jesus was telling her. She was at Ground Zero of salvation history, but as a human being, her understanding of what God was doing was limited. The second aspect is that despite (or because) she did not understand, she reflected on these events, on these words and "kept all these things in her heart." Lack of understanding provoked reflection to produce greater understanding.

With these ideas in mind, let us turn to the news reporting of National Public Radio's Sylvia Poggioli. In the last week she has had two reports about Catholicism. The first report was about adult women who had affairs with priests. Her report, "Letter from Priests' Lovers Reignites Celibacy Debate" is laughable as professional journalism. For a good critique, see the June 8, 2010 post at Get Religion. According to Poggioli:

In an unprecedented move, a group of Italian women who have had relationships with priests wrote an open letter to Pope Benedict XVI, saying that priests need to love and be loved.

What is this unprecedented move? A letter signed by...three women. An Italian woman, Stefania Salomone, claims that 40 women contacted her but want to remain anonymous. The Pope called celibacy "a sacred value," but Salomone told Poggioli: "And so we decided to tell people this is not a value, and this is not a sacred value, because sacred is the right of people to get married." This statement is illogical. All men have the ability to get married--instead of becoming a priest. The Catholic Church is not somehow denying anyone a right to be married. But no one has a right to be married and a priest (any more than anyone has a right to be a priest). The illogic continues when Poggioli says, "They [the women who have had affairs with priests] say a priest 'needs to live with his fellow human beings, experience feelings, love and be loved.'" The idea that priests do not live among their fellow human beings, do not experience feelings, do not love and are not loved is simply a denial of reality. I heard the other day about a priest who described his call to priesthood this way: one day he saw a very beautiful woman, and he thought, "I wonder what it would be like to be married to her Creator." Those don't sound like the words of a repressed or oppressed man.

Poggioli goes on to say: "But it's an open secret that priestly celibacy is often violated." The argument that celibacy should end because it is violated is utterly preposterous. With that kind of logic, one could argue with a straight face that marriage should be ended because it is often violated by adultery. Speaking of adultery, Salomone does not seem to grasp the adulterous nature of her relationship with the priest (adulterous on both sides). A vow to fidelity means that violating the vow is adulterous, whether we are talking about marriage or celibacy. Salomone told Poggioli, "'I think I represented a stain on his church dress,' Salomone says. 'He wanted to see me, but after seeing me he was not happy with his decision. He always tried to find a way to go away. I wasn't seen as a woman, I was seen as a danger, as a sin.'" This is always the way people act in an adulterous relationship, because adultery turns us from God, from others, and from ourselves.

Another of Poggioli's reports this week was on June 11, "Pope Begs Forgiveness Over Abuse Scandal." At the end of that report is an attempt to link the sex abuse scandal to celibacy:

Friday's Mass was preceded by a vigil service Thursday night in St. Peter's Square in which the pope responded to pre-selected questions from five priests.‬‪ In one query, Benedict was asked about "the beauty of celibacy."

Benedict called celibacy a great sign of faith and said it represents an act of transcendence that brings the priest closer to God.‬‪‬‪ The Catholic Church has denied that celibacy is one of the causes of child abuse in the priesthood — but even some leading cardinals have begun to question the requirement and are urging an open debate on the topic.‬‪

But the Vatican discouraged reporters from seeking the views of some of the thousands of priests who came to Rome — the Holy See police prevented even Vatican-accredited reporters from interviewing priests in St. Peter's Square.‬

One priest who was willing to speak on the sidelines of the ceremony was the Rev. Jose Vasco of Mozambique.‬‪

"The church first tried to resolve the cases on its own," Vasco said. "But now that they have become so grave, the church must seek the full truth, and to do that we need joint commissions with lay people, with civil society, especially at a time when there is the appearance that the church has protected the guilty ones."

Vasco said he would welcome the idea of a debate on celibacy to determine whether it could be one of the causes of the sex abuse crisis and if it should be mandatory.

Poggioli says: "The Catholic Church has denied that celibacy is one of the causes of child abuse in the priesthood — but even some leading cardinals have begun to question the requirement and are urging an open debate on the topic." The Church doesn't have to deny that celibacy is one of the causes of child abuse in the priesthood because there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that it is. This, despite remarks made in March by Cardinal Schonborn of Austria.

So what does all of this have to do with the Immaculate Heart of Mary? Let's go back to lack of understanding and reflection. Pope Benedict rightly speaks above about celibacy being "an act of transcendance." It is precisely this point that Poggioli, Salomone, and many others do not understand. Western culture is so saturated with a stunningly debased and reductionist notion of human sexuality that things like celibacy simply do not make sense. In fact, in secular culture, things like "transcendence" do not make sense.

Which brings me to reflection. When things do not make sense, one response is to examine them further, trying to learn what we don't understand, determining if there is more there than we initially thought. This is the kind of reflection that Mary did, the contemplation that keeps things in the heart. Then there is another response, a response that turns a blind eye to anything that does not fit one's own agenda or paradigm, that grinds axes to a sharp edge, that seeks to malign through implication when facts aren't available. This response closes the heart. We all have these two hearts at different times and different settings. This is how Mary differs from us. She has one heart, the first kind, the kind where lack of understanding provokes reflection to produce greater understanding.

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