Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Pope's comments on homosexuality must not overshadow inclusiveness of Christmas

So it is that Pope Benedict XVI's Christmas message to Vatican staff – wide-ranging from the Holy Spirit to its inspiration in World Youth Day – should attract attention principally for its references to human sexuality.

Anyone would think that was all it was about.

But such is the fixation of Christian churches with matters of sexuality and gender that, on Christmas Eve, it takes centre stage when the majority of Christian worshippers' minds might reasonably be expected to be elsewhere.

One obvious question is why the Pope should choose the great Christian celebratory festival of universal love to launch an attack, apparently, on homosexuality as being on a scale of threat to the human species as destruction of the rainforests. And the obvious answer is: he didn't.

Well, not in so many words. What in fact he was urging us to do is to listen to the "language of creation", though he does go on to say fairly unequivocally that sexual behaviour beyond that between a man and a woman is a "destruction of God's work".

Strong stuff. But those who suggest that, by raising the rainforests, the Pontiff is likening homosexuals to trees are being mischievous. Rather, the Pope is calling for a "human ecology" to go with our care of other aspects of creation, asking that "the nature of the human person as man and woman" be respected.

The difficulty here is the counterpoint. Does the Pope imply that those who are outside this ecology, whether by their own or the almighty's design, are to be disrespected? No; Benedict's track record is sound on the Imago Dei, the image of God, and the universal opportunity to realise it.

But, as with all matters of human sexuality, once the fuse is lit in religious circles, it is unlikely to be extinguished before somebody explodes. The Pope is not without blame here. And not just for any naivety in the drafting of his address to the Curia, in relation to how it might be picked up. Christian churches in general and, the Roman Catholic Church in particular have hardly demonstrated an enlightened attitude to human sexuality.

The problem is that any catechistic approach to doctrine leads ineluctably to the sound of exclusion. The sacrament of matrimony is between a man and a woman. Sex is a gift of God to the married. So sex outside marriage is a sin, separating humankind from the will of God. You don't have to be a theological genius to see where that leaves a good proportion of the human race.

Little wonder the unmarried feel excluded. The biggest pity is that this intractable issue should have blown up on these last days of Advent, leading in to Christmastide, the great festival of celebration of the universality of God's love in the incarnation.

Ecumenism, rather than the cheap shots of individual denominations, is the order of the day on Christmas Eve. If there is one, glorious, definitive and eternal demonstration that we're all in this "human ecology" together, whatever the nature of our separation from the perfection of divinity, it's the story that the human experience has been shared and born at the most basic and wondrous level with the birth of the son of God.

Whether you're a Holy Father, an Archbishop or a casual, once-a-year visitor to church tomorrow, this event cuts through all the Church's hand-wringing about what is right and wrong.

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Sotto Voce

(Source: TTUK)