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

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.

Continue reading

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

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.

Holy Staring

Christopher West has quoted me in his new book, At the Heart of the Gospel:  Reclaiming the Body for the New Evangelization.

Here is West’s own description of the book which he relates to the debate that has rippled across the internet and to which this blog has contributed:

In the midst of these conversations, my work as a popularizer of John Paul II’s teaching has been the subject of some rather harsh critiques.  During an extended sabbatical in 2010, I reflected prayerfully on the various challenges my work has received, seeking to glean as much as possible from what various authors were saying.  This book is the fruit of those reflections (2).

Kevin O’Brien of the Theater of the Word Incorporated has posted on the subject of West’s critique of my statements.  The source of those statements was a guest post I wrote for Dawn Eden.  West does not cite his source, so his readers have no ability to assess my statements in their context or to familiarize themselves with my overall line of thought.

I have commented on Kevin O’Brien’s post, so you will find there the substance of my response.  Below the images of West’s book in this post I will summarize.

I will summarize first by stating what I think West and both agree on:

  1. The body and sex are good and holy as God intended them from the beginning.
  2. Modesty is not simply a matter of hiding the body of the desirable, but also of the interior transformation of the one who desires.
  3. Sexual desire and pleasure in and of themselves are very good.
  4. Concupiscence in respect to sexual desire and pleasure is never entirely absent.
  5. An exalted view of the body and sexuality is helpful to developing a life of chastity.
  6. Repression, prudery and body hatred are counterproductive to living a life of chastity.
  7. Lustful desires are always sinful.

Before I state the points on which we disagree I need to make a clarification about what I understand to be West’s position.  When he discusses issues of modesty there are two things happening.  Even if he is only at that moment suggesting a course of action appropriate to a man’s dealing with incidental exposure to a woman’s values, beyond this West believes that sexual values in and of themselves are the appropriate objects of spiritual fascination.  It is not simply a matter of dealing with potential temptations in the most appropriate and spiritually developed way.  It is a matter of subduing concupiscence and concentrating on sexual values for their theological significance.  This has tremendous import to West’s position.

After all West speaks about the language of the body precisely in terms of sexual values.  Those values, sexual desire, sexual pleasure and the conjugal act itself point beyond themselves to desire for unity with God, the bliss of heaven and the mutual self-giving of God and the soul.  So when West suggests that we should have a holy fascination with the body and sex, as he does, for example in Heaven’s Song (notice the bed floating on the clouds), there is no question that West is advocating a holy rejoicing in the sexual values of the body, sexual desire and pleasure, and the conjugal act itself precisely  in the incidence of a man’s exposure to a woman’s nakedness (not one’s spouse).

So here is where I disagree with West;  I will express it in terms of my own position:

  1. The Theology of the Body offers no magic bullet.  Consider that the sexual values of the body, sexual desire and pleasure and the very conjugal act are in fact good and holy.  In view of this it is impossible to deny that a true and religious appreciation for such values, particularly in the presence of visual stimuli, is supposed to arouse sexual desire and pleasure.  But the tendency to indulge such things in reference to a woman who is not one’s spouse is a function of concupiscence and is disordered.  Specialized knowledge, namely, TOB, changes none of this.
  2. A holy appreciation for the sexual values of the body, sexual desire and pleasure and the conjugal act itself excited in conjunction with stimuli, provided by a woman not one’s wife, goes well beyond the theological, philosophical, and artistic expressions of John Paul II. This is the doctrine of West, not Blessed John Paul II.
  3. West & Co. are living in a dream world if they want to tell us on the one hand that our pure and holy fascination is precisely with sexual values insofar as they are the object of sexual desire and pleasure, and yet as we rejoice in such desire and pleasure we experience none ourselves.  What exactly is a holy fascination with sexual values of real persons who are not one’s spouse, precisely because those values excite desire and pleasure, and which do not function under the influence of concupiscence and tend toward lust?  This is not true mysticism.  It is mystagogery—old fashioned, pagan sex mysticism.
  4. Stating plainly that there is an objective component to modesty is consistent with both Catholic doctrine and common sense. The sensory exposure to sexual values has an objective and per se normal and in se wholesome effect of the arousal of sexual desire and pleasure, and therefore, in reference to the body of someone not one’s spouse, is inappropriate insofar as the body of someone not one’s spouse becomes the object of sexual desire and pleasure. The realtime resolution of actual instances is a function of prudence.  Sexual values are always present, whether or not there is a real infraction of objective modesty.  The language of the body speaks eloquently fully clothed.  I am not arguing for a modesty police, but I do advocate for solutions in which the man takes as much responsibility for his own reactions to what he considers immodesty as he would like a woman to take for the way she dresses.  In the end no amount of modesty regulation will solve a man’s problem with lust.
  5. To suggest that there is an objective component to modesty does not put the blame on the woman.  Some men, I am sure, think that it does.  That is not, nor has it ever been my position. Assigning blame solves nothing, and it most often is unjust and uncharitable.  However, if there were potentially blame to assign, say by some god-like knowledge, the inference would not be freudian.  To suggest that there might be sexual motives behind the revelation of sexual values need not be based on the premise that everyone always acts for sexual motives.  This is a non-sequitur.

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.

Still Here

Absorbed in my thoughts on the occult/Harry Potter book, I have not even thought about posting here recently.  I did take a break a month ago to write an article for Inside the Vatican on the Theology of the Body.  It was published in the June-July issue under the title “The Pagan Temptation” (39-41).  I am grateful for the opportunity.

Here is a short excerpt that touches upon a topic which will be addressed at length in my book:

If the imagination is the place where illustrative analogies must be devised for the sake of apologetics and evangelization, and if it is also the place where the mythological and magical way of thinking reorganizes images for the purposes of mystical experience and psychic control over nature, then we should be careful not to confuse these two functions.  Avoiding such confusion might prove to be particularly difficult if the matter at hand involves erotic images, because the imagination is also the place where we are particularly vulnerable to the demonic.

I will not be writing much about the issue of chastity in the book.  However, the imagination and its role in both evangelization and its abuse through the occult will be a major theme.

Please pray that I can successfully bring this book to a conclusion.  Thanks.

I will leave you with another article I wrote recently for our international magazine.

Our Lady’s Presence in Blessed John Paul II

I too wish to begin my reflection on the role of Mary in the mystery of Christ and on her active and exemplary presence in the life of the Church.

–Blessed Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater

In this way the new blessed of the Church, Pope John Paul II, describes the subject of his great Marian Encyclical in its opening section.  Mary, he writes, has a role “in the mystery of Christ,” and She has a presence within the Church that is “active and exemplary.”  In stating this, he is echoing St. Paul in the Letter to the Galatians where the Apostle writes of the fullness of time in which God sent for the his Son, born of a woman, so that we might receive the adoption of sons (4:4-6).  In his own Life Blessed Pope John Paul II showed that what he wrote about the Blessed Mother’s presence in the Church he also experienced personally.

Marian Mediation and Presence

In Catholic tradition this relationship of Mary with the Church has been called Her universal mediation of graces, though today in many Catholic circles the use of this language had come to be considered unfashionable and “unecumenical.”  In reality, the terminology is entirely consistent with scripture, because God did send His son through the mediation of a woman, as St. Paul says.  Jesus became a member of our family through Mary, so that we might become members of His family through Mary.

St. Paul’s statement puts Mary between God and our adoptive sonship.  That is what we mean by Marian mediation.  In fact, in the encyclical letter, Blessed John Paul II expressly states: “She puts herself ‘in the middle,’ that is to say she acts as a mediatrix not as an outsider, but in her position as mother” (21).

The great pope of this Marian age, not only made it fashionable to speak about Marian mediation again, he gave our understanding of this role of Our Lady his characteristic personalist touch.  He calls it Her “active and exemplary presence in the life of the Church.”  Just as he says “she puts herself ‘in the middle’ . . . in her position as mother,” so he indicates that this middle position is a kind of “active and exemplary presence.”  Our Mother is with us and She acts from within and with power.

Mary’s mediation of graces is described by some theologians as functioning in a physical way, which is simply to say that it produces its effect by means of a kind of power.  Blessed Pope John Paul does not contradict this, but rather emphasizes that this power does not simply pass through Our Lady as though She was a conduit of spiritual energy, as it were, but her mediation is a function of Her spiritual motherhood by which She deeply and personally helps to constitute, maintain and augment a filial relationship between us and God, our Father.  Grace is the life of God and Mary is mother in the order of grace.  She is present in our lives in an “active and exemplary” way.

Active Presence

Mary’s active presence in the Church means precisely that She is more than a channel.  In the encyclical, Blessed John Paul really makes this very clear by using words in Latin to express the fact that Mary’s presence is deep and dynamic.  For example, “active” presence is designated by the word actuosa rather than activa, which indicates that the presence is not a matter so much of physical action, but of “a really deep, personal” kind of communion.  Incidentally, when today when the Church encourages “active participation” in the liturgy, the word used is actuosa (Ratzinger Report, 127), indicating that we should enter deeply and consciously into the mystery of the liturgical rite.  Mary enters deeply and personally into the lives of Her children.

Elsewhere in the encyclical, when Blessed John Paul writes about Our Lady’s presence he uses words that indicate a dynamic presence. For instance, seven times he uses a form of the phrase praesens adest (translated “is present”) in which the adest bears the nuance of “to be toward by way of action.”  He writes that Mary, “in a discreet yet direct and effective way” made the mystery of Christ present to humanity. This direct and efficacious mediation of Christ’s presence by Mary, the Holy Father tells us, continues to this day. “Through the mystery of Christ, she too is present within mankind”  (19).  He also writes that Mary is present “in the history of souls,” that is, through the interior pilgrimage of faith, which is both personal and immediate (25).

Exemplary Presence

Mary’s exemplary presence in the Church means that Mary is both the model and mother of the Church.  Blessed John Paul writes (again, using the verb praesens adhest) that Mary is a “permanent model” (perenne exemplar) or “figure” (typus) of the Church and that She, “present in the mystery of Christ, remains constantly present also in the mystery of the Church” (42).  Later on he says that to call Mary model and figure of the Church is not sufficient but instead relates Her role of model to Her motherhood of the Church (47).  And in a general audience of August 6, 1997, he clarified that by calling Mary type of the Church he was not referring to Her as an “imperfect prefiguration,” but as an “example of perfection to be followed and imitated” (3,4).  In other words, Mary is present to each of us as a living example who acts personally and deep within in us as a true mother.

We can say, then that the active and exemplary presence of Our Lady in the mystery of the Church, is a real, deep, immediate, personal and active involvement of Our Lady in the life of Our soul, where She imprints Her own thoughts, dispositions and virtues as Model and Mother and Mediatrix.

The Presence of Blessed John Paul II

In his homily for the beatification of John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI commented on the “theological vision” of the new blessed which he discovered as a young man and nurtured throughout his life.  Blessed John Paul contemplated Our Lady’s presence at the foot of the Cross next to Jesus.  This is what he meant to signify when he chose for his papal coat-of-arms, an “M” to the lower right of a cross, with the inscription, Totus Tuus, taken from the words of St. Louis Grignon de Montort, meaning “I belong entirely to you.”  In the homily Pope Benedict said:

Mary does not appear in the accounts of Christ’s resurrection, yet hers is, as it were, a continual, hidden presence: she is the Mother to whom Jesus entrusted each of his disciples and the entire community. In particular we can see how Saint John and Saint Luke record the powerful, maternal presence of Mary in the passages preceding those read in today’s Gospel and first reading. In the account of Jesus’ death, Mary appears at the foot of the cross (Jn 19:25), and at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles she is seen in the midst of the disciples gathered in prayer in the Upper Room (Acts 1:14) [emphasize mine].

In this great new hero of the Church, we are blessed with his celestial presence, as we miss his earthly one, and we pray that we might have his vision of Our Lady, so that we might truly know how deeply and actively She is present within the Church and within our own souls.  This great Marian pope, has taught us the full truth about Mary and has lived that teaching in an extraordinary way.  He acknowledged Her presence in his own mission and especially in his extraordinary suffering, and he invoked her presence on the Church and on each individual soul.  May our own deep and personal participation in the presence of Mary lead us along the same path is this great Marian apostle. Blessed Pope John Paul II, pray for us.

 

Saying Hard Sayings

Alice von Hildebrand’s recent article entitled “Revelation and Curiosity” goes a long way to place the debate over the true meaning of modesty in the larger context of philosophical and theological thought.  She highlights the basic distinction between supernature (God and the order of grace) and nature.  The precise character of that distinction has always been essential to theological discourse, and the relation between grace and nature has often been the subject of unfettered speculation, to the detriment of the faith.  (See, for example, Pelagianism and Jansenism.)

Faith and Reason


I believe that the distinction and relationship between supernature and nature is at the basis of much theological controversy today.  I have often made the point, for example, that at times apologists do not sufficiently distinguish their work from Theology and Catechesis.  Apologetics is the work of natural reason used to prove the existence of God and the possibility of supernatural revelation, and to show that supernatural truths revealed by God are compatible with reason.  Sometimes, when we speak of Apologetics we refer to “proving the faith.”  But strictly speaking the faith cannot be proven by reason because by reason alone supernatural truths, such as the Virgin Birth, cannot be comprehended.  Ultimately, grace is the cause of Theological Faith.  We are only certain of the supernatural truths God has revealed because He has given us the grace and we have assented to that grace.

This is not to say that reason is extraneous.  Not at all.  In the Catholic view of things, faith and reason are mutually compatible, although through faith we are able to know things that we could not know by reason alone.  Hence, faith is both reasonable and transcends reason, just as grace builds on nature but also transcends it.  Reason shows us that what God has revealed is compatible with nature.  In other words, God is not arbitrary.  The natural law written in our hearts is confirmed by supernatural revelation not contradicted by it.  Pope Benedict, in his speech at the University of Regensburg has drawn our attention to the rupture between faith and reason: in the West by the denial of faith on the pretext of science; and in Islam by the fideism by which God’s revelation contradicts the natural law.

Apologetics, Theology and Catechesis


Apologetics is a kind of precursor to theology.  Its principle tasks are to prove the existence of God and to show that supernatural revelation is possible, tasks that can be accomplished by reason alone.  Secondarily, apologetics shows the reasonableness of what God has revealed.

However, Apologetics and Theology are truly distinct.  Whereas the work of Apologetics is prior to faith, Theology begins with the assent of faith and builds on it.  So also Catechesis builds on faith.  One who has been received into the catechumenate is preparing for Baptism because he has a conviction of the true faith.  Even though that person does not have the Theological Virtue of Faith, which is infused at Baptism, he must nevertheless be making acts of faith with the help of actual graces.  Catechesis then extends beyond Baptism as a preparation for the other sacraments, and then again as a kind of ongoing deepening of the faith for those who desire to grow spiritually, always on the presupposition that the whole deposit of the faith is already held to be true.

Recipes for Disaster

In practice, however, especially in times when secularist ideology holds sway, the work of Apologetics, Theology and Catechesis are mixed together by the same teacher, very often in the same presentation.  This is perfectly legitimate and necessary because even though the person catechized has already assented to the faith, his formation is often spotty, and the spirit of the world is continually challenging his convictions.

And so, while the mixture of these disciplines is legitimate and necessary, it demands that the teacher be aware of their distinction and not confuse Apologetics with Catechesis and Theology.  The danger of confusing the disciplines lies in the possibility of the imbalance between faith and reason.  This is precisely the warning given us by Pope Benedict at Regensburg.  When Apologetics is substituted for Catechesis, reason usurps the place of faith:  nature is substituted for supernature.  This is the fault of Western rationalism.  When Catechesis is substituted for Apologetics, the legitimate aspirations of reason are not met:  supernature does not build on nature but supplants it.  This is the fault of Islam.

Apologies


Clearly, the modern Western tradition favors reason over faith.  Thus, Apologetics is left in the precarious position of defending the faith without turning Apologetics into what is commonly meant by the word “apology.”  Since, ultimately grace is the cause of Theological faith, the rationalist mind will have to cease to be rationalist before it can assent to the truths revealed by God.  Simply indulging its vice is no solution; rather such indulgence only enables the vice.  An apologist for Theism has said:  “You can lead an atheist to evidence, but you can’t make him think.”  In reference to our problem, we might return nearer the original metaphor and say:  “You can lead a rationalist to living water but you can’t make him drink.”  Thinking is not enough.  Enthusiasm is not enough.  In the end, one must assent to something he does not fully understand, and only the power of grace can make this possible.

As it turns out, the subject of Christian chastity is particularly susceptible to “apologies” and rationalism, since it is such a hot button issue, and one that is impossible to assimilate without grace.  As long as one is closed to grace, no amount of reason is going to solve problems with chastity.  We are tempted to look for shortcuts, tempted to go the extra mile to make chastity look appealing.  The whole question here is one of balance.  On the one hand, the Church has recognized the need to present chastity in a way that does not reduce it to negative precepts, but no matter how it is presented, as long as its fullness is not adulterated, it remains a “hard saying” (cf. Jn 6:60).

The truths of the faith are supernatural and while they are compatible with reason they absolutely transcend it.  Super, from the Latin, means “above and beyond.”  To “comprehend” something means to “hold it in one’s hand.”  That we will never do with the truths of the faith, and it is why, as Alice von Hildebrand points out, that curiosity in respect to what God has not revealed, can be such a vice.

A Hard Saying

The idea of the Blessed Virgin ejecting a bleeding placenta at the birth of Jesus was surely intended to aid one’s assent to the truth that marriage, sexuality and procreation are beautiful and holy realities.  But God deprives us of what indulges curiosity precisely because we must assent on the authority of His word.  The Virgin Birth is a case in point.  It is very significant, I believe, that an apologist is trying to defend the “hard saying” of chastity by minimizing the “hard saying” of the Virgin Birth.

Among Catholics there is much confusion as to the precise meaning of the Virgin Birth.  It is not to be confused with the Virginal Conception of Our Lord.   The Church, from the earliest times, has articulated the Perpetual Virginity of Our Lady as pertaining to three distinct moments:  before the birth of Jesus (ante partum), during the birth of Jesus (in partu), and after birth of Jesus (post partum).  Virtually every time the magisterium has spoken on the subject, this threefold distinction is made.  This teaching is derived from the early fathers of the Church, who maintained, defended and made the teaching a universally held truth of the Catholic Church.

The Virginity of Our Lady “before the birth of Jesus” (ante partum) refers to the Virginal Conception, namely, that Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, and not by the seed of man.  That is fairly clear.  It is also clear that the Virginity of Our Lady “after the birth of Jesus” (post partum) refers to the fact that Our Lady never had sexual relations, even after the birth of Jesus, a fact that many Protestants deny.  For many Catholics, unfortunately, these two points say everything that is to be said about the Virginity of Our Lady and such Catholics proceed to explain away the Virginity of Our Lady “during the birth of Jesus” (in partu).  They say that the Virginity of Our Lady in partu, just refers to her “spiritual virginity,” an idea that is contrary to magisterial clarifications.  Or, they say, that the “Virgin Birth” is a misnomer for “Virginal Conception.”

Explaining It Away


But the middle moment of Our Lady’s Perpetual Virginity is real and its reality is the only viable reason why the Church would continue to insist on a threefold distinction as opposed to a twofold one.  In fact, unless the Virginity of Our Lady in partu means exactly what the Fathers of the Church said it means, namely, miraculous birth, then it means nothing at all and as a statement of faith is completely superfluous and meaningless.

Theologians can speculate all they want on what does or does not belong to the essential matter of the Church’s definition of the Perpetual Virginity, but the only reason anyone would doubt that the birth of Jesus is any less miraculous than the conception is a lack of faith.  People will cite this or that theologian, whose convoluted explanation of the Virgin Birth allows for a natural birth, including pain and afterbirth, but they cannot cite any ancient authorities or magisterial affirmations.  They do not want to believe the full truth of the Virgin Birth because it is hard to believe—and because it is not convenient doctrine for Apologetics.

In respect to this modern attitude toward the Virgin Birth, reason has supplanted faith, Apologetics has trumped Theology and Catechesis.  Dr. von Hildebrand is exactly correct:

That a virgin could give birth and remain a virgin would never have crossed man’s mind. It is a fact inaccessible to human reason. It has a divine seal: it is mysterious, miraculous, can only be known by revelation, accepted on faith. It calls for trembling adoration, the only adequate response.

In man’s craving to penetrate behind the “veil” and know what is in no way necessary for our salvation, many are tempted – unwittingly – to cross the abyss separating the supernatural from the purely natural.

The assertion that Our Lady ejected a bleeding placenta is doubly rationalist.  It firstly, vacates the meaning of the Virgin Birth, and secondly, it does so precisely to make Christian marriage and parenthood look more appealing.  Somehow a natural birth of Jesus from Mary is supposed to show forth the glory of human procreation.  Unfortunately, this “glory” is void of the supernatural meaning that God intended for the earthly birth of His Only Begotten Son.

The Great Sign

As Dr. Von Hildebrand says the Virgin Birth is a “divine seal,” a sign that is exactly parallel to and no less miraculous than the Resurrection.  The Church has fought vigorously against every attack on the Perpetual Virginity of Our Lady, just as She has fought every attack on the Resurrection: because these are the principle signs that God has chosen as “divine seals” confirming the identity and mission of the Son of Mary.

Christian chastity shares in the character of the Virginity of Mary, whether that chastity involves perfect continence or marriage and parenthood.  Chastity has a supernatural character.  It is not merely natural.  And that means that it can only be lived through the power of God’s grace.

It is a necessary and commendable endeavor of apologists to formulate better arguments and more appealing presentations of the faith in order to more effectively persuade human minds and hearts.  However, apologists need to know their limits and to mortify their curiosity.  Specifically, in respect to chastity, and more so toward the chastity of Our Lady, silence and reverence is in order.

Sometimes discussions on the blogs concerning Our Lady’s Perpetual Virginity have sounded like clinical examinations, as though the True Ark of the Covenant were brought into a gynecological theater and placed on the examination table.  No one seems to have an inkling of how inappropriate this is.  The Ark is placed behind the veil of the Holy of Holies for a reason.  Uzzah was struck dead when he touched the Ark for a reason.  God teaches us how to live the holy mystery of chastity through silence and reverence for a reason.

The saints have meditated on the beauty of the Blessed Virgin since the beginning of the Christian era.  Nothing is more beautiful than God’s masterpiece.  Yet none of the saints had the slightest inclination to remove the veil, or to speculate on the Virgin Birth in a clinical manner so as to makes its truth more palatable.  Silence in the face of such a mystery is true mysticism.  It is a place where those who persevere might find true contemplative ecstasy.

Sex talk is not going to solve the problem of chastity.  Too much talk vacates mystery.  The wordy prosaic explanation of a poem or painting is not the same thing as admiration.  Oftentimes such explanations ruin the aesthetic effect of art.  The signs God has provided need to be treated with the appropriate admiration.  St. John Chrysostom said it best in a Christmas homily:

Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence, and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech. For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him Who Works.

The art of Apologetics is not just about what to say and how to say it.  It is also about when to be silent and make an opportunity for reverence.  Conversion is God’s work.  Sometimes we just need to get out of the way.

The Way of Ugliness

It has come to my attention that Christopher West’s multi-media event, “Fill These Hearts,” has been designed to up the ante in our dispute over the Theology of the Body. He talks at great length in his recent interview about the power of beauty to convey the truth, to “make the invisible visible” (his definition for both art and mysticism).  So “Fill These Hearts” is all positive energy, showing forth the beauty of the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality.  Right?

Wrong.

No, Mr. West can’t get through the show without taking some pretty bitter swipes at the Church’s pre-TOB catechesis, in a rather ugly way.

I have not seen the show, but I have confirmed the accuracy of what is reported below.

“Fill These Hearts,” is a multi-media event that makes use of music, sacred art, video clips and, of course, Christopher West’s running commentary. Its tag line is

GOD, SEX AND THE UNIVERSAL LONGING: AN EVENING OF BEAUTY AND REFLECTION ON JOHN PAUL II’S THEOLOGY OF THE BODY.

Art has the power of reinforcing ideas.  It is a particularly powerful tool for creating and perpetuating myth.  The meta-narrative of the American TOB movement is that chastity education in the United States prior to TOB was the product of “prudish Victorian morality,” and that this single corpus of Wednesday general audiences rescued the Church from the “Manichaean Demon.”  The treatment of TOB as a kind of self-contained panacea for the sexual revolution is justified on the basis of this mythology.

Myths make use of the fantastic in order to deliver their effect.  In them the good is idealistically perfect and the evil almost unimaginably infernal. Beauty must be juxtaposed with the hideously ugly in order to make its deepest impression on the imagination.  So perhaps a better version of the second part of West’s tag line might read:  AN EVENING OF MORTAL CONFLICT BETWEEN BEAUTY AND UGLINESS IN THE SERVICE OF PROMOTING CHRISTOPHER WEST’S VERSION OF JOHN PAUL II’S THEOLOGY OF THE BODY.

I am not arguing that the Church was without problem regarding chastity education, or that there was no excesses along the lines of prudery.  But this is the way that West consistently chooses to characterize the Church’s stance prior to John Paul  II.  This meta-narrative is necessary as a marketing tool for TOB. We are led to believe that prior to TOB the Church was simply crippled in regard to handing on the truth about marriage and sexuality.  West does not look for continuity, but for rupture, and he is willing to go over to the dark side to find it.  It is necessary, as a matter of the means adopted for a specific end, to harp on the defects of pre-TOB catechesis and to exaggerate them.

In “Fill These Hearts” he uses the following clip from the 1985 comedy-drama “Heaven Help Us,” a.k.a “Catholic Boys,” about an all-boys Catholic high school set in 1965 Brooklyn, New York.  Please be advised by this WARNING that there is sexual content.  Now, watch the dear Father Abruzzi put the fear of God into the boys and girls:

The movie is a gloomy, morbid look at Catholic life around the time of Vatican II.  Even Roger Ebert, who is no friend of the Church, was put off by it:

Because “Heaven Help Us” does not have the slightest ambition to be a serious movie about Catholic high schools, I can’t understand why the classroom scenes are so overplayed. As the sadistic teaching brother (Jay Patterson) slams his students against the blackboard, all we’re really watching is a lapse in judgment by the moviemakers. The scenes are so ugly and depressing that they throw the rest of the movie out of balance.

Ebert was more than willing to have a little fun at Catholics expense, but as the scene above developed he changed his mind:

The strange thing about the movie is the way the moments of inspiration raise our hopes, and then disappoint them. Take the scene where the school plays host to the nearby Catholic girls’ school at a dance. The boys and girls are lined up on opposite sides of the room, and then an earnest little priest (Wallace Shawn, from “My Dinner with André”) stands up on the stage and delivers a lecture on The Evils of Lust, gradually warming to his subject. The idea of the scene is funny, and it has a certain amount of underlying truth (I remember a priest once warning my class, “Never touch yourselves, boys” – without telling us where). But Shawn’s speech climbs to such a hysterical pitch that it goes over the top, and the humor is lost; it simply becomes weird behavior.

Weird behavior?  No, the priest in question is the mythical incarnation of quintessential prudery. He is obsessed with sex and and projects that obsession onto innocent children.  The only thing the actor didn’t do in the service caricaturing a priest with the 1960′s “Catholic attitude” toward sex is drool.

The writer of the film, Charles Purpura, in an interview from the early 2000s, revealed his sentiments in respect to the Church. He had previously been a member of a band, Front Porch, and had written a song called “Only You Lady,” which he said

is about Mary, the mother of Jesus. I think. It should be clear to you by now that at the time I was still heavily influenced by my Catholic upbringing. As the Jesuits say, ‘Give us their first seven years, and we’ll have them forever.’ In any event, I’m better now.

West’s meta-narrative will tell us that poor Charles Purpura left the faith and made an anti-Catholic movie for the same reason Hugh Hefner became the king of porn: because puritanical functionaries of the Church let them down and burdened them with hatred for their bodies.

Ugliness packs almost as much wallop as beauty.  But not quite as much, because it is only a privation of beauty.  However, when you put the two ideals in opposition, ah, that is the stuff myths are made of.

Some myths are true.  This one is not.

On another note, it appears that all Father Loya’s articles have been taken down from Catholic Exchange (check the links).  What’s up with that? It is not nice to break links and then not explain oneself.  Perhaps I should look on the bright side and believe that the TOB train is changing tracks. One may hope.

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.

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