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

Alternate States of Unreality

As I have mentioned before, I have been researching the subject of the occult with a special focus on the Christian esotericism of the Renaissance.  Before I started the research, I really was not aware how syncretistic historical magicians have been.  I assumed they were mostly self-proclaimed apostates, or simply hid their occultism behind the shear underclothing of Christian trappings in order to hide their real intent.  The reality is more complex, but not less diabolical.

Christian Occultism?

The origins of Western occultism are largely connected with the Christian Gnostic writings pseudonymously attributed to a pre-Christian magician by the name of Hermes Trismegestus.  The writings are largely mythological and philosophically connected with neoplatonism, an amalgamation of both Christian and pagan ideas.

The context of my research is the formulation of a critique of the Harry Potter series, a matter about which I have thought for more than ten years.  During that time I have been reading the books, and, for reasons I will mention in my own book on the subject, have until now remained silent.

One of the principle defenses of the Harry Potter series by Christians who are thoughtful readers is based on J.K. Rowling’s assertion that her own research for Harry Potter concerned, not magic, but alchemy.  This defense goes on to assert that alchemy was not principally about the transmutation of metals or the acquisition of the Elixir of Life, but about the purification and transformation of the soul.  According to this argument, the alchemical transformational process is consistent with Christian mysticism.  I do not accept this argument and will explain why in my book.

Magic and Mysticism

The specific matter of this present post is the modern non-Christian approach to mysticism, which is not really modern at all and shares much in common with Eastern forms of pagan mysticism.  The fact is that Eastern meditation, New Age attempts to acquire altered states of consciousness, and classic Western occultism are bosom buddies.  It may indeed be that the magical tradition of the West is only thinly veiled with Christianity, meaning, that it only has the benefit of Christian trappings. However, this tradition is longstanding and deep veined.

I have been reading a particular occultist take on Harry Potter that relates alchemical, mystical transformation to the tradition of shamanism. The word “shaman” is of Turkic origin, the original meaning of which is not clear.  It has been assumed into the English language as an anthropological term that refers to the practitioner of communication with the spiritual world.   The term “shaman” is of universal connotation, that is, it is a general term that refers to the spiritual leaders of many different cultures and religions, such as those belonging to Native American tribes, African and Asian cultures, and even, as some claim to Celtic tradition.

The word “shaman” is generally used to identify a member of the priestly cast of various pagan cultures who act as intermediaries between men and the spiritual world in order to obtain guidance, solutions to community problems and healing.  Shamans can also use their powers to obtain knowledge of the future, and to adversely affect targeted individuals.  They perform these functions by means of their ability to contact the spiritual world through a trance or an altered state of consciousness.

In other words shamanism is a form of witchcraft that operates by means of a state of consciousness through which the shaman is an open channel to occult powers.  From this we come to understand that spiritual channeling is the substance of pagan mysticism.

Hipster Spirituality

In postmodern Western society, which has largely rejected the dogmatic approach to morality and spirituality, and which has been spiritually starved for two generations, this approach has a great deal of appeal.  Postmodern society has rejected ultimate meaning and metanarratives that attempt to explain origins and destinies in terms of doctrines and laws.  It has also rejected the whole concept of spiritual authority.  Not only has authority become the universal enemy, but so has the adult.  Adolescent rebellion against authority epitomized in the ideals of “sex, drugs and rock n’ roll is the philosophy of postmodernism.  The geriatric, burned-out icons of rock culture, such as Ozzy Osbourne, proclaim the triumph of the philosophy of Peter Pan.   In this context the mysticism of the altered state of consciousness, induced variously by drugs, sex, the occult, and various combinations of the three, is preferred short-order spirituality of postmodernism.

But, as I have said this is nothing new.  It is in fact the tradition of shamanism, rooted in pre-Christian societies and dolled-up in the form of Renaissance Christian esotericism.  What might actually be new is the fact that the Rule of Esotericism, that is, the practice of keeping the arcane hidden, is no longer needed to protect the “great mysteries” from the prying eyes of the unworthy.  Secrets are always fun for their characteristic ability of supplying ambiance and mystique.  However, postmodernism is incapable of attributing enough meaning to something so as to consider it sacred or worthy of keeping it hidden.  No, our society throws everything to the swine.  We strip mysticism down to its raw, tender and sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly nakedness, exploit it for all its worth and throw the rest in the compost heap.

Fringe

The particular occultist take on Harry Potter mentioned above, as I said, relates alchemical transformation to shamanism.  Indeed, alchemy, as a spiritual process of purification and transmutation, is an alignment of spiritual, psychic and material powers, of which the alchemist is the mediator.  The particular author I am referring to prefers to identify this psychic state as an “alternate state of consciousness,” rather than an “altered state of consciousness.”  The latter expression implies that the mystical state is other than normal, whereas the former implies nothing concerning normality, nor does it provide a point of reference.  This is because, for the author, the mystical state involves neither knowing nor willing, but “awareness.”  The author refrains from using any more specific term, like “contemplation,” “trance,” or “ecstasy,” because the practitioner alone is able to both find the way and attach meaning to the experience.

As a side note, my research has brought me to a number of sources, including the specific one mentioned here, that make reference to modern science, especially, quantum physics.  It seems to be a popular brand of secular spirituality and hinges on the idea that the universe is not explainable except through imperfect models, and that the observer of the universe is as much a giver of meaning as the things observed themselves.  I do not pretend to understand quantum physics.  But associated with it, in the opinion of some, is the existence of parallel or alternate universes in which the same persons and things can exist simultaneously under different circumstances and with different outcomes.  In this connection, alternate states of consciousness are in part movement between universes.

Awareness as an alternate state of consciousness, and one opposed to knowing and willing, is posited on the basis of the rejection of any radical distinction between the knower and the known.  What is common to Eastern spirituality, shamanism and Western witchcraft is the rejection of objective thinking in respect to spirituality, that is, the rejection of dogma.  The shaman, the witch, wizard or alchemist is an open channel to the universe and has tuned himself or herself to the spiritual powers that will to communicate.  In other words the occult mystic is an open door the hidden powers of the universe.

It really makes no difference what nature the shaman attributes to the spirits.  Definitions are counterproductive.  I well believe that the vast majority of occultists consider the discussion about what is and is not satanic to be irrelevant.  Marilyn Manson, for example, believes he is bigger and badder than Satan and has no commitment to any particular form of the occult, even though he is a high priest of the Church of Satan (content warning).  I honestly doubt that most satanists and occultists have embraced enough metanarrative to draw any stable conclusions about much of anything.  They are lost, quite contentedly, in a maze of perpetual ambiguity.  They are seekers, not finders, who repudiate definitions and points of departure.  They live in various states of consciousness, all of them alternate and none of them normal.

Magicians

Another interesting connection to the occult and alternate states of consciousness is the prevalence of sex magick within various traditions that seek mystical transformation through psychic experience.  Recently, I became aware that Hieros Gamos (Sacred Marriage) made famous by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code is the most important of all the rites in Wiccan witchcraft.  In Wicca Hieros Gamos is known as The Great Rite.

For those of you who spared themselves of Dan Brown’s potboiler, Hieros Gamos is a kind of “sacred” play in which a high priest and high priestess act out the union between god and goddess, by means of sexual intercourse, and symbolize the coincidence of opposites, as in alchemy and psychology.  In Wicca the Great Rite may be performed “in token,” that is symbolically by means of the penetration of chalice by a blade, or “in truth” through the actual commerce of the high priest and priestess.

Gerald Gardner, the founder of modern Wicca casts The Great Rite in terms of a heightened and magical state of consciousness that is not focused on sex but on the intended object of transformation.  It is, according to him, an aid to “The Great Work,” that is, whatever transformation is the object of Wiccan magic (ultimately wisdom and personal transformation).  Gardner writes that the mind of the participants in The Great Rite “must seize and mold the power generated, and redirect it to the desired end with all the force and frenzy of the imagination.”  So this is sex as mysticism and personal transformation via a sex induced alternate state of consciousness.

Interestingly, the term “The Great Work” is also a Hermetic/alchemic expression for the transmutation of metals and most especially, the transmutation of the soul.   This alchemical process is conceived as a marriage of opposites.  The fundamental alchemical text is named Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz.  Alchemy and sex magick are familiar bedfellows, so to speak.

Aleister Crowley, who is also defended from accusations of Satanism, was a pioneer of modern sex magick, as well as an experimenter in recreational drugs.  He placed a special emphasis on working with prostitutes and considered in the highest form of magick to be achieved by means of homosexual acts.  Crowley, the Great Beast himself, inducted the founder of Wicca, Gerald Gardner, into the former’s Ordo Templi Orientis, shortly before Crowley died.  Gardner took up the torch and carried the flame.

Kumbaya

Also interesting to note is that the only critique of Dan Brown’s work to draw out the Wiccan connection to Hieros Gamos, is that of Steve Kellmeyer.  Carl Olsen’s and Sandra Meisel’s The Da Vinci Hoax, says surprisingly little about Hieros Gamos, even though in the novel its full revelation by Robert Langdon to Sophie Neveu is also the full revelation of the “Holy Grail” to the reader of the novel.  It is kind of the whole point.

Even more interesting is Sandra Meisel’s rather soft critique of Wicca, which seems to be me more ecumenical than warranted.  There she is careful to distinguish the ancient “fertility rites” antecedent to Wicca from Satanism and to hold the Christianity responsible for misinterpreting pagan intentions.  And while she touches upon the sexual license of Wiccans, Meisel never mentions The Great Rite at all, and instead recommends sexualized method to evangelize them:

Catholic responses to paganism would be stronger if we could recover that sense of incarnational “bodiliness” the Middle Ages knew. The common perception that Catholicism itself is somehow puritanical — to say nothing of the sad fact that some Catholics are puritanical — needs to be addressed. On the positive side, the late-Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body offers a bold new understanding of human sexuality that would startle pagans, especially in its popular exposition by Christopher West.

In fact, in his first edition of audio recordings, Naked without Shame, Christopher West referred to the Catholic Easter Vigil as a “fertility rite.”  I have not heard that language from him since he made that series more than a decade ago.  However, the substance of his presentation has not changed with respect to the phallic interpretation of the Easter Candle.

BTW, what the “hell” is this image taken from subliminal soft-pornographic flash animation on Father Loya’s Theology of the Body site:

There is something genuinely creepy about all this.

Playing with Fire

Sex as mysticism is an inherently dangerous idea, not because sex has no orthodox theological meaning, but because eroticism and sexual ecstasy are simply not the same thing as prayer.  It really can only be identified with the contemplative life by means of the inversion involved with occultism.  It is true that grace builds on nature, and that the sexual experience is a sign.  But nature and grace are not identical.  Sex is not prayer.

In respect to this particular problem, the Theology of the Body popularizers would do well to remember that in the domain of sexuality, when compared to the Prince of this World, they are amateurs.  The Old Boy has been at it for a long time.

It is good to avoid prudery, but as one writer points out:

the danger lies in stripping us of the inhibitions and sublimations that occasionally protect us from harm.  Insofar as [Christopher West] and [Hugh] Hefner recommend to us more “exposure” both are misguided.  Between the beautiful and the demonic there is no clinically neutral middle.  Our sexuality is anything but “harmless.”  As Donald Keefe has said, there is no common ground between yes and no. Sexual love in marriage, he would note, is the occasion for blissful joy, not simply the elements of fun.  Any attempts by West or Hefner to domesticate the beautiful, to make the holy into something manipulable, even manageable, will be about as successful as rap music has been in lowering the crime rate.

I have posed several questions to the Theology of the Body gurus that have remained unanswered for a long time (Under the heading “Looking for Answers”).  Perhaps the popularizers are insulted by the questions or otherwise do not take the questions seriously.  But I am dead serious.  I think they are very good questions and they need to be answered.  I really want to know how I am to distinguish Christopher West  & Co.’s defense of shamelessness from advocacy for liturgical sexuality.

Knowing and Loving

Personal transformation via alternate states of consciousness is not Christian mysticism.  It is not the goal of the contemplative life to make oneself a channel of the spiritual, but rather to converse with God.  Knowing and willing, objective thought and personal love must never be abandoned, though if one clings to Christ and his Word (objective truth) the Shepherd may open the Sheep’s Gate so that the soul can pasture in the fields planted by His own hand (cf. Jn 10:9).  In the Catholic tradition, contemplative knowing and loving does at times presuppose a suspension of the ordinary functioning of the faculties of the soul, but this is never a generic awareness, something other than knowing and willing.  Contemplatives should never make it their goal to induce alternate states of consciousness or to make themselves open channels to the spiritual world for the sake some experience of the transcendent.

What can and cannot be formally identified as Satanism is of little importance when compared with the satanic elements that run clean through every form of the occult.  Satan uses both ambiguity and overly fine distinctions imbed himself in peoples consciousness.

Beautiful Lies

Satanic alternate realities are being sold to us as an aesthetic experiment and marketing ploy.  Ozzy is recast as a pious God-invoking do-gooder who just happens to adopt dark, gothic outer clothing.  In his melodic “Dreamer,” his honest yearnings are sanctified with the presence of angels, albeit dark, gothic, child angels:

Your higher power may be God or Jesus Christ
It doesn’t really matter much to me
Without each others help there ain’t no hope for us
I’m living in a dream of fantasy
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah

If only we could all just find serenity
It would be nice if we could live as one
When will all this anger, hate and bigotry …
Be gone?

I’m just a dreamer
I dream my life away
Today
I’m just a dreamer
Who dreams of better days
Okay
I’m just a dreamer
Who’s searching for the way . . .

Yes, Ozzie is “living in a dream of fantasy.”  He is a searcher and a dreamer, a drug-driven shaman, singing into the great void for an end of hatred and bigotry.  It is generic “awareness” that summons up the conviction that what we need is an end to the equally generic “hatred and bigotry.”  What the occult urges us to do is to open our minds ever wider to subjectivity and embrace universal brotherhood, without conviction in a metanarrative like the one connected to “God or Jesus Christ.”  Christ condemns sin by name and closes the door to it.  But alternate states of consciousness encourage us to open the door wide to alternate realities and alternative lifestyles.

There actually is a normal state of consciousness, and this is not it.  Wicca and gothic, postmodern, occult culture is not in the least harmless.  Good faith has nothing to do with it.  The question of overt Satanism has little to do with it either.  The choice for Christ is not compatible with contemplative experimentation and Christian esotericism, because the light is not compatible with the darkness, and Christ can have no concord with Belial (cf.2 Corinthians 6:15).  We have allowed the bruised egos of the likes of  Ozzie Osbourne and Marilyn Manson to keep us making the most refined distinctions in regard to what actually belongs to the satanic.  This is the reasoning championed by Freemasonry, because the Craft is essentially militant occultism in a popular form.  Satan is king of the convoluted.

Just for the record, I have chosen not to draw any conclusions here with respect to Harry Potter.  That will come in due time along the lines of a reasoned argument which is not the burden of this post.  For now we can just say that Rowling deals with these issues and she takes them seriously.  Harry Potter is a serious work and not just a cartoon-like children’s story.  The issues at hand are about life and death.  May we all choose life and close the door to the spirits of darkness.

Christopher West’s Translation of John Paul II’s Body Language

Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Rhoades stated in their letter of support for Christopher West that “John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is a treasure for the Church, indeed a gift of the Holy Spirit for our time.”  They also rightly point out that the “scholarly language” of the pope’s texts “needs to be ‘translated’ into more accessible categories if the average person is to benefit from it.”  To that end, finally they affirm their belief “that Christopher West . . . has been given a particular charism to carry out this mission.”

Discerning the Spirits

It is the place of the pope and bishops to discern the presence of true charisms in the Church.  The Spirit blows where He wills and moves with renewing graces those who are caught up in His wind.  Nowadays, we generally think of more extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit as the object of the word “charism,” such as tongues or prophecy of future events.  But anyone who has been moved by the Spirit to begin a movement within the Church can be said to have received a charism, if that fact has been so determined by the pope and the bishops.

John Paul II has written that the power of these kind of gifts “is not subject to any antecedent rule, to any particular discipline or to a plan of interventions established once and for all.”  The Church is both institutional and charismatic, and what happens through the Spirit sometimes happens outside the box.  By that I do not mean that the Holy Spirit contradicts revelation or the authority of the Church.  That would be absurd.  Only that some things happen outside the present structures in ways that are not anticipated and then need to be assimilated under the authority of the Church.

Continue reading

Father Loya: Peer Reviewed

The following is a guest post from Christina Strafaci, who works in the Diocese of Phoenix and emailed me with a proposed comment to my last post in response to Father Thomas Loya’s comment there.  Christina thought her comment might be too long, so she wanted to run it by me first.  I believe it is worthy to be a separate post, especially since it comes from someone who has a graduate degree from the JPII Institute and who teaches Theology of the Body.

Since this post falls into the category of a “response” to the “TOB…Train” article, let me begin by offering my sincerest thanks to you, Fr. Geiger, for your straight-forward insights into this “discussion” that, while not new, has reached fever-pitch over the course of the last twelve months. While I have much more to say on this subject, I will try to restrict my comments to addressing to Fr. Loya’s response to Fr. Geiger’s article – at least in the beginning.

I have a Masters of Theological Studies from the JPII Institute, I have read and studied the series of Wednesday audiences popularly known as the “theology of the body”, I’ve spent five years teaching the audiences to high school seniors each spring, and since last year, I have read every substantial post related to this “discussion” about Christopher West, both critique and defense. (I must add here that I am also grateful for the thesis completed by Ms. Dawn Eden.) I offer this information as evidence that I am not new to the discussion, that I have listened carefully, and that I realize much more is at stake than what has been addressed in the blogosphere.

What I glean from Fr. Loya’s response is that he is proud of Tabor Life’s website, both the medium and the message, particularly its ability to capture visitors’ attention, choir-members and wayward-onlookers alike. Therefore, I’ll cut to the chase: May we not claim that the site’s offering of “one-minute meditations” and “freaky” “flash images” is itself guilty of the same reductionism for which Fr. Geiger is now accused? Fr. Loya defends the intro images to be “a very tiny part” of Tabor Life, and yet this “part” is what first attracts – dare I say, baits – the visitors’ vision. Yet, once again, we’re hearing the defense of having been taken out of context. The site hopes to draw in visitors using sensational headlines, images, etc., not unlike the flat-screens flashing ads in shopping malls. What happens when visitors discover that the real “theology of the body” (versus an interpretation of it) is hundreds of pages of complex reading, requiring prayer, meditation, the Holy Bible and a dictionary? Does this site employ the same “partial representation, selective emphasis and soundbite style” – here, a “technique” applied to the content of the Wednesday catecheses? Examining the images and headlines of the Tabor Life website communicates to visitors that the “theology of the body” is a theology of sex, and it – rather than Christ – is the answer to every question in life. Indeed, (too) many popularizers of the “theology of the body” have selectively chosen what is most popular in the Wednesday audiences – most popular to a secular culture – in order to appeal to listeners, unfortunately to the detriment of the whole. I will not restate here what those more eloquent have already observed on this issue. I would like now to broaden the scope of my comments beyond addressing Fr. Loya’s response and his website.

As Ann Hanincik astutely recalled from Ms. Eden’s thesis, the Wednesday catecheses “cannot be taken apart from the whole Tradition” nor treated as a magic bullet to overcome the very real and deeply-felt effects of concupiscence. But let me go one step further to examine this “taking apart” and its effect on JPII’s catechesis. Recently, I was discussing the audiences with a popularizer (also an Institute grad) who referred to the audiences as “TOB” – pronounced “tobe” to be sure. Now, I am not unfamiliar with the trend of referring to the audiences as “T-O-B”, but this new(er) development captures the essence of my concern: What are the (bitter) fruits of reducing JPII’s five-year-long catechesis in such a way? In all the ways that we see being done today? Is it not the very nature of pornography – as we see every day in this “pornified world” according to Fr. Loya – to fragment the whole, reduce it into little pieces, dissociating the fragments to be objects of use, separate from the unified and meaningful integrity of the whole? Some of my classmates engaged in the work of marriage preparation will protest such a plea for a more holistic approach with the claim that there is not enough time or willingness in their listeners, that “reduction” is absolutely necessary in light of the precious few opportunities they have with engaged couples. This doesn’t change the evidence that in the distillation process applied to the audiences during the past decade, important elements have been lost.

For example, Dr. David Schindler has noted two elements (among others) missing from what has become popular catechesis: the question of filiality and the Marian-feminine dimension. First, the spousal meaning of the body cannot be taken apart from the original, filial meaning of the body:

sexual love as understood in the work of John Pope II must be inserted within a love between spouses that itself takes its most radical meaning from filial relation to God. Sexual-spousal love participates in this more original filial relation to God as its sign and expression, but does so only as consequent to and distinct from this more original filial relation.

It sounds very much like we quickly move past “solitude” in order to get to “unity” as if the former is to the detriment of the latter in the eyes of our students. Second, studying the audiences cannot be taken apart from contemplating the virginal-fruitful embodiedness of Mary, and indeed, must be more thoroughly considered in light of her and what is “revealed” by the feminine:

The third of my criticisms meant to indicate the sense in which the Church’s Marian mystery, and also the feminine dimension, are central for the theology of the body. After Christ, Mary reveals to us most profoundly the “original” meaning of body that needs to remain present within sexual-marital love. In her fiat, we discover the contemplative meaning of the body (Mary “pondered these things in her heart”). In this light, contrary to what is assumed in the dominant culture, women have a naturally more profound sense (than do men) of the implicit, and of interiority or of what develops slowly-organically and from within. Women have a naturally more profound sense of mystery and thus of what is entailed in the unveiling of the body–for example, an organic in contrast to mechanical sense of time, and consequently a different idea of the meaning and significance of nakedness itself.

Is it sufficient to ask for Mary’s protection and intercession, to post an icon of her on one’s website, or even to palliatively mention her fiat and purity in a discussion about the sexual union and then in the same breath, claim that one fully appreciates this Marian-feminine dimension? (It is only on Fr. Geiger’s site and in Dr. Alice von Hildebrand’s writings that I have read an adequate probing of the question of veiledness since the question was raised last year.) Our culture disregards, dismisses as weak, and holds in contempt interiority, silence, and contemplation. How has this affected even our own approach to the audiences?

As I stated earlier, I have taught the “theology of the body” and will continue to teach it. Like West, Loya, and catechists across the nation, we are trying to teach calculus to a classroom full of students that never learned how to do basic math. Translation: We expect students to understand the spousal meaning of the body and sacrificial self-gift before they understand their own unique identity as God’s creation, made for union with Him. Praise God for all the good fruit that has already and will continue to come from our efforts, but if consequences of a certain reductionism are coming to light today, why are we – all of us, myself included – reluctant to address and correct our missteps?

In all honesty, I am tired of the hackneyed claim that those who have raised serious concerns, pointed out errors of interpretation, and/or offered constructive criticism are somehow being uncharitable – lacking “charity” in the tenor of their voice, choice of words, whatever. Really? Are we all so thin-skinned? Are we all that full of pride? How many times does the caveat need to be set forth that no one in these discussions attributes to West, Loya, et. al. anything but the desire to bring persons closer to Christ? When will the faithful see demonstrations of humility rather than defensiveness? When are the real discussions going to happen? As much as I dislike this ubiquitous expression, it is time for us to move forward. The content of this response notwithstanding, I have very little interest in devoting my spare time to critiquing Tabor Life, Christopher West, or the current trends of popular catechesis on the Wednesday audiences. I think we’ve all got more work to do, I’m confident that we can do better, and I’d rather be working together with all of these dedicated teachers rather than in spite of them: “I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose” (1 Cor 1:10). Praise God for the gifts of inquiry, intellect, and discernment that He has bestowed upon us. Ad Jesum per Mariam.

Theology of the Body and the Mystical, Magical Train

Recently, the Theology of the Body Institute conducted its first national congress, during which the triumphal march of the new chastity catechesis pressed forward–in spite of the fact that the movement’s avatar, Christopher West, was absent, presumably to reflect upon his method of presenting the Theology of the Body.  Perhaps I was naïve, but I thought West’s sabbatical meant that his critics had made some headway.  Such progress, unfortunately, did not seem to be reflected at the congress.  Dr. Janet Smith, for example, stated the following:

The 1st thing we need to know is God is chasing us down like a lover. Every lover is a pathological stalker. God is a stalker.

Am I quoting out of context?  I would like to know in what context the comparison of God to a pathological sexual deviant would be appropriate.  Please note that the above statement was published as a tweet by the congress organizers themselves.  So this is what they themselves decided to feed the public. Continue reading

Snake Oil and Circus Tricks

Here is latest from Father Thomas Loya.  It is a rather brazen, if not unusual example of what has become part of the “tradition” for many of the American propagators of that pungent and turbid concoction that is mislabeled Theology of the Body.

Content Warning.

With defenders like Father Thomas Loya, does Christopher West need critics?

A Response to Christopher West

In his long-awaited reply to his critics, West honestly admits that he did not want to say anything until he had received the all clear from the bishops, a boon given in abundance by Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Rhoades.  While the bishops’ endorsement is significant, it does not mean that West’s teaching is magisterial or that it is on the level of those who themselves hold the teaching office of the Church. Even a theologian who has gained the endorsement of a pope, such as Hans Urs von Balthasar or Cardinal Walter Kasper, is not considered above respectful criticism when he articulates views that may legitimately be shown to be difficult to reconcile with the Church Fathers and Doctors.

West is gracious for thanking his supporters, but his reference to the “profound consolation” proffered by the faithful is a bit off-putting.  He has chosen the path of controversy of his own volition, and for him that it is a matter of truth.  Speaking the truth has its consequences, as does making mistakes as a teacher.   It must be difficult to the focus of so much criticism, so I do pray for him. Nevertheless, he is considered, the authority on Theology of the Body, even more so now that he has been so strenuously defended.  Constructive criticism is in order.

The Pivotal Obfuscation

In my opinion, his concentration on the question of concupiscence is, for the most part, a straw man.  It seems evident that since Cardinal Rigali has blessed his entire work without qualification, West considers it is sufficient to reply to what he considers the central issue of contention.  Thus, he conspicuously omits any discussion his crusade against prudery or of any of the practical matters that have been dealt with at length by the critics (e.g. the phallic symbolism of the paschal candle, his treatment of interlocutors, his interpretation of his writings of the saints).  I will even grant that the question of concupiscence is central to the discussion.  However, West mischaracterizes the objections of his critics. Continue reading

Mystics, Martyrs and Rhetoricians

Soap BoxOr the Theology of the Soapbox

What follows in another one of my long expositions on the Theology of the Body.  I have to give a loud content warning at the outset.  There is some frank talk here about sexuality, or rather, my complaints that there is too much frank talk about such matters.  I would have asked Dawn Eden to publish this one, but she has very courageously retired from blogging.  I have to commend her on her decision; however, it is not without regret on my part.

I again want to let those I disagree with know that my intentions are honorable and I do not question their integrity or commitment to the faith.  I can take my lumps if I deserve them.

In a recent apologia for Christopher West, Father Thomas Loya makes grand assertions:

Christopher West is a bit of a mystic—in the best sense of the word. His work, which seems strange to some, is actually that of a pioneer. And like all pioneers, West is taking a lot of arrows for his courage. In the face of much resistance, West is courageous enough to invite all of us to do just what John Paul II invited us to do: to think and talk in spousal categories. Continue reading