Friday, January 25, 2013

The Question of Life and Social Justice in the Church

Wow. Been awhile. I hope everyone is doing well and enjoying the blessings of four inches of snow in three hours that Mother Nature decided to unload on us poor, downtrodden Central Ohioans.

Something caught my eye the other day and I've been pondering on it since. As reported in several outlets, and I'm sure you've seen it, the Catholic Church in Colorado has somehow decided that the longstanding position of the Church that life begins at conception no longer applies when a Catholic hospital is being sued for the death of unborn children and their mother.

Cliffnoting the whole situation, complications arose in the pregnancy, a doctor didn't show up, fetus and mother die. I'm not here to really discuss the political/theological aspects of this. If you want more in-depth coverage and haven't read it yet, head over here: My focus today is actually on a topic I brought up last time I posted: Social Justice. And it is because of this political waffling on the part of the Catholic Church that I bring it up again.

As a Collyridian, I look not only to Mary as a perfect example of a life perfectly lived, I also look to Joseph. I'm working on some supplemental Collyridian material covering Joseph in this respect, so consider this a sneak peek. Anyone familiar with the Christian mythos is familiar with the story of that particularly interesting time between the conception of Christ and His birth. But for those who aren't or just need a refresher, here we go:

Mary conceives Christ. She is a virgin. Before Mary can tell Joseph, Joseph is informed of this in a dream. Now, being 1900 years before the Sexual Revolution, an unmarried pregnant woman has few options. From the plethora of writings concerning Egyptian and Roman contraceptive and abortion procedures, it doesn't take much of a stretch of the imagination to believe that Mary would have had this option. The only other option was to live in shame and possibly be stoned according to the Rabbinical law of the time. Joseph had the option to divorce her and continue his life as he saw fit, or he could consent to marry her anyway and care for the child sharing in her shame for the rest of his life.

This is something that is often overlooked in understanding the sacrifice made by Joseph. Everyone agrees that he took the harder route in accepting to marry her. What is immediately forgotten in the midst of the nativity is that Mary and Joseph did not recover from their shame just by getting married. Mary still conceived out of wedlock and Joseph still married a woman carrying a child that would have been considered a bastard. Even as late as the 1950's this was a very shameful situation. Joseph and Mary would have lived with this social stigma for the rest of their natural lives. Their neighbors, relatives, friends, everyone would have known that the birth of Jesus did not coincide properly with when the two were married. But they persevered anyway.

Whether or not Joseph actually took the dream at face value (and who really does that?) can be debated. But chances are, he noticed Mary started to get a little more round, got suspicious, and confronted her. It is probably at this point that she informed him of the angelic visitor. Joseph probably had quite a bit of trouble wrapping his head around this, and then manned the fuck up and did the right thing. He knew that the woman he was meant to be marrying was in serious trouble. If the Gospel of the Infancy of Mary, a non-canonical Gospel covering the childhood of Mary up until the Annunciation, is to be believed, Mary had been pledged to the Temple from birth. She would not have had sex at all. The very thought of her having a child would have been unthinkable, and her marriage to Joseph would have remained purely symbolic. But suddenly, it was all very real. Her vow was broken. No matter how many people they convinced of the miraculous occurrence, the very real heart of the matter was that her vow had been essentially broken. Mary no longer had a home. Her system of support, which would have rested in the Temple, would have been gone. Her family, who had made the vow for her according to the Infancy narrative, would have likely disowned her. The entire community could have had her stoned.

And Joseph, seeing the plight of the lowest creature imaginable, took pity. There is no Gospel account of this. There is no apocrypha, no non-canonical account of this. It is all implied and easily inferred if we just stop and examine the position of these two people. The age of Joseph is debated. Some see him as young, some see him as old. All Christian Traditions and most Biblical scholars agree that the usage of the word "maiden" regarding Mary means she could not possibly have been older than fourteen, and she was probably younger. Joseph was either a young man with his entire life to lose, or an old man who had no reason to care about the plight of a possible adulterous vow-breaker. In both of these situations, Joseph stands to lose the most by caring. Yet, he chooses to care.

Joseph is a model of perfect living by showing us that we must care for the lowest among us, long before Christ ever exhorts us to do the same. This is the heart of social justice, the heart of what I talked about at the Annunciation. And this brings us back to what the Catholic Church in Denver is doing right now.

At face value, the situation in Denver looks like negligence. Fighting this in court could save a doctor's career. Or the doctor could lose and the Church could be fined for punitive damages. Either way, the Church must pay for her lawyers, court fees, research, etc. And that's if they win. Or, the Church could follow the example of Joseph and offer what little consolation they could give to the grieving family who has been waiting since 2006 for some kind of answer to what happened to them. For Joseph, caring for the lowly was the costliest choice he could make. For the Church, they lose the least and gain the most by bowing to humility and breaking their pride. If Joseph had acted the way the Church is acting now, rest assured there would be no Church today, because Mary, the mother of Christendom, would probably have never gone to term, be it by Jewish stoning or Roman or Egyptian medicine.

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