This is the Christmas Story…

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This is the Christmas story in a nutshell: The Infinite One has wed himself to our finite humanity. This is what we’re preparing ourselves for during Advent. And this is why Advent is a time of desire: The bride is longing to be filled with the eternal life of her bridegroom. And so she cries in union with the Spirit of God: “O come, O come, Emmanuel!”

Christopher West

Interesting that he never mentions anything relative to the infancy of Christ, or to the nature of filiation in the context of Christmas.  Not that there is any contradiction between the nuptial and filial mysteries in Christianity.  I just thought the primary idea is that the Son of God became the Son of Mary and that our baptism into Christ before anything else was a rebirth.

A Modest Proposal

I would like to suggest the reason why I believe there may be a discrepancy between the way saints in previous times enforced the norms of modesty, and why the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not seem to promote those standards, at least not explicitly.  This is a follow-up on my previous post, and especially on the comments which were pretty heated.

The catechism states “the forms taken by modesty vary from one culture to another.”  By extension, I would say also that these forms can also vary with time.  Even the solutions provided by the saints vary, though clearly they are all very strict, at least the ones presented in the comments from my last post on this subject.  But if St. Pio required eight inches below the knee for skirts, this is more than twice as strict, so to speak, as what was indicated by Pius XII.  This tells me that the solutions are pastoral.  In effect they are contingent applications of an unchanging principle.  Such contingent applications do, in fact, depend on many things, not excluding the person doing the enforcing.  What St. Pio might successfully accomplish by his strictness in an area of Southern Italy prior to or preserved from the sexual revolution, is different from what I might successfully accomplish now in secular England. Continue reading

Marian Modesty

We are not called to be mimics of the Blessed Mother, dressing as would be appropriate for a first-century Palestinian peasant woman (e.g., long veils, skirts to the floor, sandals). We are called to imitate the Blessed Mother in her virtues. In terms of modesty, that might mean dressing in a way that is appropriate to one’s culture and circumstances, not drawing undue attention to oneself either in one’s dress or undress, remaining circumspect about one’s own choices, and not denouncing the reasonable choices of others.

Overall, I agree with this article of Michelle Arnold.  However, what tends to happen in discussions about modesty is that those on one side of the debate tend to present a caricature of the other side or generalize too much about the habits of the other side.  In particular, I disagree with her remark about Fatima.  I believe it is pretty clear what fashions Our Lady was referring to: the ones that lead many souls to hell.  Enough said.

But I believe she is spot on with the last sentence in the quote.  Modesty is both objective and subjective: it has to do both with the manner of dress and behavior of the one who is looked at, and the internal dispositions of the one who looks (or doesn’t look). Continue reading

McGuiness Channels Christopher West

Complete with U2 reference.

Kevin Tierney provides a great summary critique of Matt McGuiness‘ attempt to look give porn a second look.

I guess I am really slow on the take, but a “second look” at porn strikes me a rather sordid metaphor.

Anyway, as I pointed out in my commentary on McGuiness’ first installment, this commentary on the education of desire at best says nothing more than what we were all taught in the Catechism, that sin is the result of deception.  We think we will find happiness in things that appear to be good but really are not.

Anything involving ecstasy and communion in particular way points to the transcendent experience of communion with God.  Even the most depraved behavior is some way is a perversion of something built in by God.  Even so, I think we are pushing the limits of theologizing if we think that pornography as pornography supplies us with any new information.  In fact, the Playboy culture barely gives a nod to personal communion.  Hugh Hefner has been the great reducer of women to the status of nameless paper dolls. The consumer response is not complicated. Really.

In Honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the Virtue of Purity

Matt McGuiness has posted his second installment of “A Second Look at Porn.”  He was criticized a great deal for part one, by Dawn Eden, Kevin Obrien, Kevin Tierney, and yours truly.  Dawn Eden has already posted her comments on the new piece on her blog at Patheos:  “Confession is Not a Waste of Time.”  An excellent contribution.

I am in agreement with most of what McGuiness says.  However, in the interests of making an argument for something important, he does what apologists too often do, which is to minimize those things which are not the thing he wants to emphasize.  McGuiness wants to emphasize the education of desire and an appreciation for what he calls “elementary experience.”  In the process, however, he caricatures elements of the ascetical life like prayer, penance and the sacraments.

If the multinational corporations have a “wonderful plan” for our lives (and they do), sometimes church people offer us “solutions” that alienate us from ourselves no less than the spinning wheel of production and consumption. Some within the Church will tell us to ignore the infinite need that makes our hearts restless and just plunge into Catholic practices and pious devotions. Never mind the meaning, “Just do it.” Here’s a sample checklist: start going to daily Mass, pray the rosary, make a holy hour, try this novena, frequent confession more often, do some twelve step program, go to a Catholic conference, be virtuous. You get the picture.

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The Usurpatious State and the Dictatorship of Relativism

What is marriage anyway?  How would one define it?

Marriage: A political football used by a degenerate society to undermine traditional morality.

At this point, I think it is a fair definition.

Here in England, as in America, those who are hanging on to shifting rocks on the eroding face of the institution of marriage are trying to figure out how to survive in the emerging political and legal wasteland.  As Fr. Tim Finigan points out, the Church has always maintained the right, independent of the State, to regulate marriage. It was the Protestants who argued that the State should regulate marriage.

The problem is both the Church and the State have had a vested interest in marriage for the same reason: there are men and women and when they come together as a couple they create families.  The stable marriage (family), legally and publicly recognized, both by the Church and the State, is good for everyone, especially children.  The Church offers the further good of the sacramental bond, which in former days the State valued as well. Continue reading

Saving Manhood

It seems inevitable.  The Boy Scouts are now “rethinking” their ban on members and leaders being openly gay.  How long did we really think that the actual oath of the Scouts with the words “morally straight” would remain unchallenged?

We have all heard the “evolution of thought” argument made, that, for example, public opinion is shifting in favor of same-sex marriage, and that it is only a matter of time before it is mainstreamed.  The same sex lobby has used a very effective strategy of gradualism.

The advocates of same-sex marriage insist at the beginning of legislative sessions that nothing but the full recognition of marriage equality is acceptable, and then when a proposed bill comes up to a vote they accept whatever they can get.  The whole process starts over again year after year until same-sex marriage is legalized.  In this way, they alternate from defending full legal recognition as the only constitutional remedy for discrimination to pretending that they are only looking for basic protections. FInally, if this is not successful, judicial malpractice solves the problem.

Some call this a “slippery slope.”  I call it “erosion.”  “Slippery slope” denotes a present condition that will lead to a future repercussion (bad precedent leads to worse consequences).  “Erosion” denotes an ongoing process in which present and future only differs by the degree of deterioration (the longer the cause is applied the worse the effect). One might say I am splitting hairs, but it is a better explanation as to why we should all know what is coming. Continue reading

When the freedo…

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When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man.

Benedict XVI to Roman Curia

The Saints and the Healing of Memory

Dawn Eden recently published a wonderful book on the topic of healing from the wounds of sexual abuse.  My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints.  This new publication follows her highly successful The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On. Dawn explains the inspiration behind her new book, as flowing from her experiences of speaking to people who had read Thrill of the Chaste.  In that book she wrote of her own journey from a life of promiscuity to discovering the beauty and joy of chastity as opposed to the destructive dead-end that is lust.  Dawn recounts how many who were not convinced by her arguments in Thrill of the Chaste were angry and hurt, feeling that she was judging them. She found that many of them had been a victim of sexual abuse at some time in their life.  Dawn also experienced sexual abuse  as a child and knows how abuse victims tend to blame themselves for what happened to them.

In an interview with AirMaria (21:00-ff) back in 2009, Dawn explained how it was that devotion to the Blessed Mother can be huge factor in bringing about transformation in a life plagued by sexual temptation.  She relates that after she had written Thrill of the Chaste she would get into arguments on her blog with feminist bloggers over the subject Christianity and chastity specifically.  Many times the feminist bloggers manifested a great deal of anger, which they directed at Dawn because they felt that she was judging them, or that Church, because of her doctrine on chastity, was judging them.  Ironically, because Our Lady and purity are so closely identified, she also found that those living and impure life also had an aversion to Marian devotion.  But the purity of Our Lady is not a judgment, but a living fire that is purifying, liberating and welcoming.  If the just father embracing his prodigal son is the image of Divine Mercy, then the Immaculate Virgin Mary is the image of pure love delivering us from selfishness and at the same time showing us unconditional compassion.  This is the Marian message that we need to communicate to the world about chastity.

One of the great attractions of devotion to Our Lady and, in particular the sacramental of the Miraculous Medal, is the compassion of Mary, who as Mother of Jesus is also our Mother, and who is present to Her children not to judge but to nurture, heal and affirm.  This was exactly the attitude of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who knew that the Blessed Mother was the easiest way to God, precisely because She is pure, pleasing to God and does not judge the sinner.  He used to give out the Miraculous Medal to souls in need because he simply wanted to introduce the presence of Mary into their lives.

I often think of this power of Our Lady, resplendent and transformative as the Way of Beauty.  Our Lady is both Icon of all that we hope to be and Mother of our soul, bringing to pass a transformation from sin to grace that we are too broken to accomplish ourselves.

In My Peace I Give You, Dawn points out that although the Immaculate Virgin underwent no purification, sinless as She is, Mary does have a wounded heart through which She is uniquely associated with the suffering of Her Son.  It is an interior wound that lays bare the secret of hearts (cf. Lk 2:35).  Our Lady knows the pain of Her children, and She holds them in the piercing of Her Heart.  This is the realm of mental suffering, where all pain is synthesized and either accepted or rejected, where the human condition is placed in the crucible of God’s love and divine, sacrificial and suffering love is rarefied and separated from the suffering of sin and darkness and fear.  Christ underwent both a physical and mental suffering in the agony of his Passion.  Blessed John Henry Newman called this the “double agony” of Christ.  But it was the mental suffering of Our Lord that gave form and purpose to the rest.  Our Lady is particularly iconic of this mental suffering, because Hers is a suffering of “compassion.”  She suffers with the One who suffers because She loves Him and is present in His sufferings.

In a particular way Dawn points to the faith Our Lady exercised after Our Lord’s Ascension—a time in which She had only the memories, the mental images of Her Son’s death and resurrection, but continued with the rest of the Church to participate in these mysteries though the veiled but transformative presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist.  In the Heart of Mary, especially in that Heart which is a tabernacle for the Eucharistic presence of the Sacred Heart of Her Son, all memory is recapitulated and recirculated.  Everything that hurts is given a meaning beyond itself and all who suffer experience both the Passion and Resurrection of Christ as the purpose of their lives and the means of their own healing.

With Her new book, Dawn has taken these ideas to the next step, as a kind of bridge between our own brokenness and the immaculate integrity of the Blessed Virgin.  The saints underwent the transformation from the brokenness of original sin, the history of sin within their families and their own lives, to healing and re-creation in Christ Jesus.  As Dawn points out, some of them experienced even the wound of sexual abuse, and subsequently had to struggle against great odds to live authentic spiritual lives.   The stories of the saints, thus offers us who are broken the encouragement we are looking for and the powerful presence upon which we can rely:

No matter what evil was done to us, if we, like the saints, offer our hearts to God, he will take us as we are, with all our past experiences. Our hearts right now contains all the raw material Jesus needs to mold them so that, with his grace working over the course of time, they may become like His. This is true no matter how damaged we may feel. So long as our hearts long for union with Jesus’ Sacred Heart, our feelings about ourselves will not prevent such union, because God’s love is stronger than feelings. It is a presence.

Reading about the lives of the Saints is not just about seeing their example and figuring out how to imitate them, or how to integrate the teaching of Christ in a practical way.  It is all that, and more.  As we are taught in Lumen Gentium 50:

Nor is it by the title of example only that we cherish the memory of those in heaven, but still more in order that the union of the whole Church may be strengthened in the Spirit by the practice of fraternal charity. For just as Christian communion among wayfarers brings us closer to Christ, so our companionship with the saints joins us to Christ, from Whom as from its Fountain and Head issues every grace and the very life of the people of God.

The saints are living members of our family who are present and who teach from within because we are one with them in prayer, and because they intercede with God on our behalf.  We identify with their brokenness.  We aspire to their victory.  But we also know that they are on our side, fighting on our behalf.  We need a new set of memories in order to overcome the pain of  the past, active memories like the commemoration of the Mass by which we participate in purity itself.  We need also the active memory of Our Lady who ponders in Heart the mysteries of the faith She witnessed with Her own eyes, and the active memory of the saints who have accomplished the transformation we all long for and so desperately need.

In her book, Dawn writes much about memory and its healing, even of the memories of things that have been so painful that we have buried beneath our consciousness.  She quotes Pope Benedict:  “Memory and hope are inseparable. To poison the past does not give hope: it destroys its emotional foundations.”  The parallel between memory and the theological virtue of hope is very Bonaventurian.  St. Bonaventure also aligns memory and hope with the First Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Father.  How much sexual abuse today is somehow related to either the abuse of a father or at least the dereliction of the duty of a father.  Perhaps these are the toughest memories of all.  And that is why we need all the help we can get from the friends of Jesus to get us back to the embrace of our merciful Father, who alone can heal us.

Dawn has done another great service to the Church and to souls who are in need of encouragement and healing.  May God bless her for it.

The Catechesis on Human Love

CNA has published an extraordinary interview with Bishop Jean Laffitte, secretary of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family on “The Theology of the Body,” or what he prefers to call, more accurately, “The Catechesis on Human Love.”  A large part of his interview is spent discussing the ongoing debate occurring in “English speaking countries.”

On What Words Mean

On his preference of terminology Bishop Laffitte states:

“Theology of the Body” is not a wrong expression on the condition of respecting the intention of John Paul II, that he was talking about human love and not only a partial focus on the body and on sexuality, being a bodily expression of love. . . .

Personally, I don’t agree with contemplation of the sexual phenomenon without providing the entire context of the mystery of creation, the mystery of God’s calling to experience and to live human love.

The English translation of Blessed John Paul II’s doctrinal teaching as “Theology of the Body”, while not incorrect in a strict sense, does not typify the entirety of his Catecheses on human love. The Catecheses were originally what the Blessed Pope himself chose in 1985 to be the first critical publication made by the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome . . .

So, “Theology of the Body” is not wrong.  However, if people have no formation on creation, on God’s design, on the anthropology of man and woman, or on the differentiation of the sexes, they then have no ability to defend against the gender ideologies rampant in our secular world today.

He makes a simple and very important point.  The whole way the “Catechesis on Human Love” has been cast in English speaking countries has swung the emphasis to body talk.  Never mind that “Theology of the Body” sounds both esoteric and erotic, how about synthesizing the catechesis under the title “Naked without Shame.”  His advice to swing back to the middle by identifying the pope’s work as accurately as possible will change the terms of the discussion.

On “Mystagogery”

Bishop Laffitte also addresses the question of sexual mysticism.  He stresses the fact that every human body belongs to a person and that sexuality is the ordaining of the union of one person with another in a bodily manner through the sacrament of marriage:

When Pope John Paul II talks about the body, it is crucial to understand that we are talking about an animated body, which is the body of a person.  He stresses the concrete fact that “[t]he desire here is to be united not with just any person, but with this person in particular: This is my wife, this is my husband.”  Thus, the experience of “Theology of the Body” as the language of the body in marriage is ordered to a single person to which one is joined in holy matrimony.  If there is a kind of “mysticism” associated with the language of the body, this is where it is experienced:

If we develop a mysticism of sexuality, in a reduced meaning of the word, then we could make the argument of an interchangeable sexuality.

And why not? If sexuality were wonderful only in this aspect – mere intercourse between a man and a woman – then why should it not be the same for this man and another woman, and another, and another?

No – it’s not like that at all. It’s a personal event. Such union is between two persons, one made for the other in God’s Providence . . . .

Personally, I don’t agree with contemplation of the sexual phenomenon without providing the entire context of the mystery of creation, the mystery of God’s calling to experience and to live human love.

On Vulgarity

Bishop Laffitte concentrates on the manner in which we discuss Blessed John Paul II’s “Catechesis on Human Love”: 1) he is refutes the idea that it is fitting to lift the veil off sexuality in order to communicate the beauty of married love to the modern world; 2) he is suggests that the nature of the pope’s catechesis defies being dumbed down to a purely “vulgate” presentation.  To do so is to falsify it.

First, on the tendency to unveil sexual values:

There is a danger of vulgarizing here a crucial truth of our Faith that needs rather to be contemplated.   It requires a silence. Sometimes in reading Blessed John Paul II’s Catecheses, you read only half of a page and then have to stop … you cannot continue … because it provokes within you a kind of loving meditation of what God has made. You enter into the mystery. . . .

The beauty of the body reflects the presence of the spirit, which is a mystery. And yet, we still have to contend with the reality of sin.

Man and woman have sinned, and in our bodies we bear the consequences of this wound in our nature.

That’s why it’s unrealistic – even a kind of angelism – to imagine that we can discuss or express our sexuality in an indifferent manner.

Secondly, on the tendency to “over-popularize” the “Catechesis on Human Love”:

Personally, I am against any notion that we should reduce all difficult thought, or any difficult articulation of ideas, assuming in advance that people are unintelligent.

Perhaps at times we may encounter people who are not cultivated, who may not enjoy the habit of dealing with philosophical and anthropological topics on a regular basis.

However, a person of good faith always is able to be sensitive to mystery, because a person lives and experiences without necessarily knowing how to describe it.

Even when a person cannot read and write, when he falls in love with someone he enters into an extraordinary mystery — exactly the same mystery experienced by someone who might be able to describe it with more finesse.

The problem involves not the formulation, but rather the respect for the mystery with which we are dealing.

It is essential to present these teachings with reverence, with meditation, with silence. We’re dealing here with an endeavor in genuine education, not merely a strict transmission of knowledge.

The Catecheses of which we speak are not a “gnosis” only understood by an elite, but rather they serve as  an extraordinary deepening of human understanding, in what every man and woman is called to experience.

Every single person within any culture can understand the questions: “What do you want in your life? What are your deepest desires?”

The transmission must be a holistic one – it means being conscious of the nature of the person. You wouldn’t speak to a 15 year-old in the way you would a 20 year-old, or a married couple or an elderly couple.  But all of them can understand the nature of the mystery.

This is what I was trying to say in my own poor way in the Inside the Vatican article, namely, that before “The Theology of the Body,” is a corpus of teaching, it is the language of the body, a symbolic language, that it is spoken because we are men and women and experience each in that way, without having to focus on body parts and sexual acts.  If we just live the faith, avoid the extremes and allow ourselves to be further enlightened according to our abilities in a reverent way, we will be catechized in the ways of authentic human love.

I am very grateful for the words of Bishop Laffitte.