Sunday, December 26, 2010

10-12-26: Feast of the Holy Family

Feast of the Holy Family
Sirach 3:2-7,12-14 / Psalm 128 / Colossians 3:12-21 / Matthew 2:13-15,19-23
One of the central icons that figure in the culture wars between secular and religious sensibilities of our time is the Christmas Crèche featuring Mary and Joseph gazing in love and wonder at the new-born Jesus. This image of the Holy Family has become an issue for some and a crusade for others; oddly, not so much because it’s deemed holy (a meaningless designation for atheists), but because it seeks to portray a family.

Sadly, it’s the very same image of family, and what family means, that has become a source of conflict among Catholics as well. Perhaps the pope’s recent reasonable remarks concerning intention and the moral use of condoms can serve, by analogy, to move the more morally intransigent among us when the issue of new human reproductive technologies arises; especially what to do with frozen human embryos is raised.

On the one hand, the church insists that human embryos should be treated as human beings: we should treat unborn human life as we treat already-born human beings, with the same dignity and respect, affording them the same legal protections. On the other hand, some moral theologians maintain that all procreation of human beings must take place in the “natural” way, through sexual intercourse between husband and wife. But note: the church does not insist that families be formed in this way. In fact, the church lauds families formed in “unnatural” ways, especially through adoption, where the adopted person is not related genetically to either parent.

Thus, in the view of these moral theologians, the implantation of human embryos by medical procedure rather than through sexual intercourse is immoral whether the gestational mother is genetically related to the embryo or not. And so, for those seemingly obsessed by the necessity of sexual intercourse, they find themselves in a theological catch-22, a conundrum that borders on the absurd. While vigorously defending human life against wanton destruction, they cannot morally sanction a couple to claim their genetic offspring or, if the couple has abandoned their embryos, for another couple to adopt those embryos by the woman becoming the gestational mother through medical procedure. For these intransigent moral theologians frozen embryos are consigned to an unborn fate until they slowly deteriorate over an extended period of time, or are quickly terminated by removing them from their frozen exile.

It seems reasonable then, as a matter of the exercise of common sense, to ask, that in the face of inevitable destruction, why it can be laudable to adopt these embryos if they were already born but immoral to do so while they are still in their embryonic state. The essentially un-catholic tendency towards fundamentalism concludes it better to leave all those potential human lives to waste away rather than give them a chance at life. It’s the same tendency that concludes it better not to permit indirect abortion on an unviable fetus, losing both child and mother, than to cause scandal to the faithful: someone incorrectly concluding that the church would permit abortion without being able to distinguish between direct (prohibited) and indirect abortion (permissible).

These days families are formed in many ways – not just the “natural” way. If families can be made in varied ways, not only morally sound but expressly laudable ways, why are some obsessed with insisting that, despite the advance of reproductive technologies, there can be only one morally permissible way to make a human being?

The Holy Family is holy not only because it is comprised of Jesus, Mary and Joseph; but it is holy because of the way in which it came to be formed - in the most unnatural way imaginable.

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