John Chrysostom, the fourth century saint and father of the both the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church said of his day that he lived, “in a time that was grazed thin by death.” Studies of the demographics of his day confirmed that the dying far outweighed the being born. Infant mortality rates were high, expected life spans were short and starvation, poverty and disease took a huge toll and wars and persecutions ended lives prematurely. Many of these devastating factors no longer plague the 21st century, and still we can say that we live in a time ‘grazed thin by death’ as well as a time not in love with life.
Pope Francis addresses topic with a candor, directness and fearlessness that is refreshing and rare. He has recently excommunicated the Mafioso of southern Italy while excoriating cardinals, bishops and priests for the scandal they give when living like princes. He takes the mere matter of following Christ with an enthusiasm one would expect from any committed Christian, but which unfortunately has been missing at times in the upper echelon of the Vatican City. And so he lives in the guest quarters instead of the luxurious papal apartments (“I am less likely to be robbed there!” he humorously declared to journalists) and drive a well worn used car. While some see him as a later day Francis of Assisi and liberal icon, he is eager to rebuild Catholicism by attacking our secular assumptions. One is the anti-child and anti-marriage propaganda which has captured a young generation of Catholics.
The gift of fertility and the joy of bearing and raising children has not been embraced by this generation. Maybe it is the background ecological / population lies that there are too many people. Maybe it is simply doing what a generation that has accepted the abortion of the young and the blocking of fertility in a celebration of the pleasure of sexuality while missing the power of it does. They could be simply products of their environment, one which sees no real difference between heterosexual marriage which is commanded to “go forth and multiply,” and homosexual coupling with its misplaced affections and equivocations about ‘love’ without the content of truth. But Francis uses the gentle example of those who would substitute a nice cat or a dog or a bird for the fruits of married life, children, to teach a lesson about the joys and the duties of Catholic understandings of what it means to be human and sexual.
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