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Cardinal Reinhard Marx at yesterday's meeting with the Munich Press Club said that Pope Francis is open to discussing Catholic sexual morality. "I see that he is not so fixed here [in this matter]," Marx stated. The root cause of the sexual abuse crisis, he adds, is not homosexuality, but an abuse of power. (Cdl. Marx: Pope Francis is 'not so fixed,' he's open to discussing sexual morality)
When I read of this statement last week, a question immediately came to mind: "Whose power?" In the context, the maelstrom of sex abuse allegations engulfing diocese after diocese in the United States, the abuse of clerical power comes to mind. But what is the root of that power, if not the power of God? For hundreds of years, the word "vicar" has been applied to clerics in various stations in the Church hierarchy. "Vicar of Christ" is one of the titles associated with the Pope's high office.
A vicar is the representative or agent of another, authorized to act in his stead. Taken at his word, Christ appeared among us as the vicar of God the Father. For, again and again, He says words to that effect:
Just as Christ's union with God did not nullify His humanity so, by the Spirit of God and His grace, the presence of Christ in those through whom Christ ministers to His living body on earth does not nullify their humanity. But it does define the responsibility of their ministerial office, requiring that they strive, at all times and in all things, to assent to Christ as Christ assented to His Father, God, when He said, in spite of all, "Not my will but Thine be done."
Given His union with the Father, Christ never acted without the power of God. Can clerics who unite with God through Christ do otherwise? Of course not. Acting as vicars of Christ, they act by the grace of God with the power of God. By that power, they minister to Christ's flock, enjoying the respect of the laity, who honor, with the name of Father, the presence of God-in-Christ they represent.
This is true of all the faithful — but especially of those whose childlike hearts hear the call to love others with all their heart, soul, strength and mind, consciously devoting the totality of their lives to the service of God in Jesus Christ. Such are the seminarians and others preparing to receive holy orders.
So when those in communion with Christ find themselves in the presence of their avowed religious brethren, they feel moved to acknowledge the presence of God in Christ. In the days when their distinctive dress advertised their vocation, if avowed religious entered a room its tone changed — from secular, or even profane, to careful, clean and reverent. The entrance of a priest or nun reminded people of the presence of God and challenged them to behave accordingly.
This train of thought suggests an answer to the question with which this essay began. The power abused by those in positions of clerical authority is the power of Christ and God, His father. Whenever they deal with members of the laity — particularly subject to their example and authority — they wield and benefit from this, God's power. They are, as it were, archetypes of the truth that applies to all of God's creation.
For every existing thing derives its substance from the substance of God; and its form from the information of God, through the Word that is with God, and is God, and which, by God's Holy Spirit, dwells presently within and among us, as Jesus Christ. We are all creatures of God's power, reliant for our very existence on His goodwill.
This reliance is the root of our obligation to respect God's will. For when we do not, we poison the wellspring of our own existence. In our times, the issues of homosexuality and abortion directly exemplify this self-annulment. Christ's willingness to take human form repeats the determination of love by which God makes man, and all other things that comprise the whole of His creation.
In His conception of human nature, God fulfills His intention to make manifest the act of love in and through, which He distinguishes being from being within Himself, without forgoing the wholesome and singular perfection of being, in and of Himself. Male and female are to be one, as God is one. In relating to one another as distinct manifestations of the same being (human being), they naturally come together as a whole (their child). The unity they become thoroughly explores and expresses the difference between them while — in the self-same moment of repletion — that difference is passionately, singularly, overcome.
Thus human being re-enacts the being of God in creation. The act of human procreation reproduces the image and likeness of God's creative activity. It does so both in the act of procreation and in the intended result that informs and haunts its performance — i.e., the child. For in the offspring of human procreation, the thought of God's creation again takes shape, perpetuating in the flesh God's will for human nature, and in the potential for self-conscious understanding, the purpose for human nature according to God's intention.
As we ponder this personification of God's loving will for humanity, we ought to feel some intimation of the tragedy implied in both the practice of abortion and the sexual practices that discard or thwart reject of God's will for human sexuality. Both involve abusing the power of God in human form in a way that willfully rejects the existence of humanity itself. What else than an adamant hatred for the love of God toward His creation suffices to explain such rejection? Do people who advocate such adamantine hatred worship Christ, or anti-Christ?