I am flying to Italy today for the first international congress of the Mission of the Immaculate Mediatrix and will be back next Friday. I will try to get some pictures and post them.
I leave you with a reflection on the Theology of the Body, based on an article by Father Brian Thomas Becket Mullady, O.P., S.T.D., which you can find here.
Just after the election I commented on how many Catholics do not vote pro-life because they really don’t want to end abortion as much as they should, one of the reasons being the fact that many of us don’t want to control ourselves.
[w]e must have our contraception and our dirty little fun. Kids must be “protected” from anything that is not “age appropriate,” that’s true, but we wouldn’t dream of depriving anyone of their “rights,” or even presume to know what’s best for society at large when it comes to matters of sexuality.
I will go a step further and critique the whole “new chastity movement.” I use that term so as not to be construed as disagreeing with the “Theology of the Body” of the late and saintly Pope John Paul II. I agree that that a more positive approach to the teaching of chastity is necessary, and that the insights of the Theology of the Body are important. However, some (notice the emphasis) of the promotion of these insights seem a bit gnostic and disingenuous.
I say gnostic, because it is asserted that this new way has been kept a secret until now, and with the new indoctrination all the old problems of original sin, scrupulosity, prudishness and guilt will be minimized. It is suggested that we will be naked without shame almost to the point of original innocence. Who is kidding who?
I say disingenuous, because there is an underlying cause for the new approach that has nothing to do with a “new revelation.” That underlying cause is simply the fact that the vast majority of Catholics refuse to give up their contraception. Some alternative had to be devised, just as some alternative had to be devised for Catholics who refuse to give up divorce and remarriage.
I believe many use Natural Family Planning for the right reasons. I also believe that many use it as a substitute for contraception, because that is the way it has been promoted and because many of us have lost hope that there is an alternative.
I was rather upset about the election, when I wrote that–I really want to refrain from analyzing anyone’s intention–and I am still in substantial agreement with what I wrote. I just want to repeat that my problem has nothing to do with John Paul II’s teaching, but what I always considered to be a misinterpretation of it.
Hence, I was gratified to read Father Mullady’s article on the Theology of the Body, where he points out that some “well-meaning orthodox Catholics” who try to explain the teaching of the Holy Father but do not have the necessary theological and philosophical background, seem to think that John Paul II “given a completely new take on the reality of human sexuality.” In fact, Father Mullady says that “many of these attempts” to explain this teaching by these Catholics “suffer from a lack of clarity, which has led some people to erroneously conclude that John Paul II’s theology of the body is so revolutionary as to contradict Catholic sexual moral teaching.”
At the end of his article Father Mullady writes:
Some proponents of the theology of the body have made the illogical leap from the fact that the body is good and expresses this communion of hearts to the conclusion that by grace man returns to a kind of original justice in which he need not worry about the enticements of pleasure or concupiscence of the flesh. The Pope is clear that one can never return to this state, that the scriptural condemnation of lust refers not to the body or the passions as such, but to the will. One can never act as though one can be free from temptation in this life. Though spousal love is an important part of the healing of the spirit in this regard, it does not entirely do away with our weakness. A proper understanding of the body and marriage gives us hope but not presumption.
I will leave my readers to look closely at Father Mullady’s excellent article to work through his reasoning. I just want to comment in terms of the theme of this blog.
We need to engage in the rigorous intellectual activity that is proper (not exclusively, but particularly) to masculinity. Apologetics does not trump catechesis and theology. The fact that we have a crisis in chastity does not mandate a minimalist presentation of the doctrine that ends by presenting false hopes.
Men, in particular, need to be manly when it comes to chastity; they need to be more heroic. I have always been suspicious of all the hype surrounding the presentation of the Theology of the Body. I don’t doubt anyone’s good intentions and sincere zeal, but I never subscribed to the “theological time-bomb” theory. I fully appreciate the renewed and innovative effort to popularize the beauty of marriage, sex and chaste life, especially among men, but I have always believed a healthy dose of realism and caution relative to original sin is necessary.
At times I think that some of the women promoters of this teaching must still be naïve about men. Father Mullady cautions against a “prolonged physical examination of the body” by means of this teaching, because the fact is we are never going to be “naked without shame.” Shame actually serves the function in our fallen state of preventing us from turning each other into objects, and that’s what happens unless we keep our guard up.
I really don’t believe that men need to sitting around and talking about sex. They think about it enough already. The Church has always taught about the beauty of human sexuality. It just needs to be brought out in the modern context, which is what John Paul II did, and it needs to be brought out in the context also of a complete catechesis. Specialized apologetics is not enough.
We now have specialists in the Catholic Church who are supposed to equip us in a way that we could never be without their special knowledge. I recently read an op-ed in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof called “Learning How to Think.” Kristof says that we genuflect to experts, what they say almost necessarily has a greater impact on how we think than the common sense of the average person, no matter what they have to say. Yet when their predictions are compared to those of non-experts, studies have shown that they are barely more accurate.
I know that forecasting is different than popular apologetics or catechesis, but the temptation is the same, namely to oversimplify or exaggerate with a pragmatic end in view. We are trying to sell chastity to the unchaste and we are trying to package it for the masses. That is commendable as far as it goes, and I will be the first to admit that that is not my forte; nevertheless, what it truly lacking among men is authentic masculinity, one that is eager to meet conflict and overcome it. We should not hope for the day that we will no longer have to fight against temptation; on the contrary, we need persevere no matter what the cost and eagerly do whatever we must to meet that challenge.
From a group of my theologian friends here is one response to Father’s article “Thinking Like A Man”
Interesting. I’m not entirely sure what he’s referring to specifically, so I can’t comment too much, but I’ll say this.
He seems to be referring to the name of a popular CD set by Christopher West called “Naked Without Shame”. Everything needs to be interpreted in its context. While I understand his concern that people might conclude from this title that we are restored to the Original Justice of the garden, I think he’s looking at it as a theologian and not as an average layperson. The CD set does not make the assertions that he condemns. I think it is a marketing hook to communicate the idea that married sex is not dirty, a pervasive error among people today. That’s all it is. I think this is also some of the sources of the idea that this is a theological “bombshell”. Let’s face is, Jansenism has had insidious influences on Catholicism. (For those who don’t know, Jansenism is a mixture of Catholic elements and Calvinist elements; it has a false severity, a prudishness, a joylessness about it.) You tell the average person that Catholicism teaches that sex is good, even holy, and they will likely be quite surprised. Has this been Catholic teaching all along? Absolutely, but it’s been obscured by Jansenism and Jansenistic influences (and Gnostic influences). Is it a bombshell to orthodox theologians? No. Is it a bombshell to Joe Sixpack? You bet it is. JP2’s teaching doesn’t contradict Catholic moral teaching in an analogous sense (not to exalt TOB too much) that the New Testament doesn’t contradict the Old. Was it hidden in traditional Catholic moral teaching? Sure. Was it obvious or fully explicated? No. It was there, implicitly, but now has been articulated. Yes, Marcion was wrong to postulate separate Old and New Testament gods. So people will corrupt TOB. Most people will not. This is no reason not to be enthused about TOB and evangelize it.
Anyone who concludes that John Paul II’s theology of the body “is so revolutionary as to contradict Catholic sexual moral teaching” is embraces the other side of the Jansenist coin, in my opinion, just like some Gnostics forsook sex and some indulged in it with wild abandon, both for the same reasons. –
Fr. You have nailed it for me… thanks for putting words to this matter. Last year I stated to a bunch of friends that I feared that the “Theology of the Body” was in danger of becoming the new “Spirit of the Council”.
You are quite correct when you state that there is nothing new in the correct understanding… but I fear that like the council documents…. there is much talk but very little original source reading.
I have been waiting to see if some more men respond to this (since it’s entitled: “Thinking Like a Man”) but I think Signore Pascendi is the sole male responder.
I, with great enthusiasm, bought 2 CD sets of West’s teachings on the TOB. I was going to donate one set to my Church’s lending library. My husband and I had heard him on EWTN a few times and appreciated what he was doing. However, not thinking like a man, it never dawned on me that some of his discussions could actually cause men to fall into sin. I think many of us were poorly instructed on the Church’s teachings in just about every area so we relish actually hearing that the Church is trying to explain something. Most of us had parents that either were too uncomfortable teaching human sexuality at all or they themselves didn’t agree with the Church’s stance on ABC so discussions were always ambiguous at best. I was hoping the CD’s would actually help many contracepting couples to see the Church’s teachings as the rational and beautiful teachings that they are. Most people are not going to dive into the Late JPII’s original writings on this. I was hoping they might throw a CD into the car on their commute to work, however. (I’m probably being naive.)
But, as Father Angelo has pointed out and pointed out to me personally awhile back when I mentioned my CD’s, these can be just another obstacle for men and another occasion for sin. How unfortunate. My guess is that Mr West did not intend for this but fallen as we are ….
I have reached a point in my older years (hopefully gaining wisdom) that sometimes when you will never be granted the opportunity to walk a mile in another’s mocassins, you must just take them at their word! In this case, I will never be a man so those are mocassins that I cannot wear. If men tell me that this is causing them to think on a subject more than they should, then i must take them at their word and be done with it. For me, as a woman, these CD’s do not seem to be an occasion of sin … but I will trust that they are if men say so.
I will admit that I’ve only listened to the first CD so I am far from an expert on any of this. I am surprised that people are finding this all ‘new’ teaching … since when has the Catholic Church NOT supported FAMILIES??? This is not new teaching it’s just that these things were never taught. Period.
However, our recent few decades where there certainly is TONS of education in this area has done nothing but create even more havoc. Maybe it’s for this reason … it’s causing men and boys to think of it even more instead of less! It is also desensitising both boys and girls. I was substitute teaching in a high school health class last year where the kids were handed out a study sheet for the final. I was horrified at some of the questions. The girls were quietly sitting there trying to answer the sheet but the boys were OUT OF CONTROL. The questions were very leading and all I could think of was who was the moron who made this thing up for a group of 15 and 16 yr old boys with testerone pumping through their veins at 200 mph??? (Needless to say, my kids don’t take this class.)
But, my point is that perhaps the Church is now teaching something (probably hoping to undo the secular teachings) but are now going to wreak the same sort of havoc. Perhaps these discussions need to go back to being underground. Maybe it needs to become taboo again???
But … since it’s not underground in the secular world the Church has been forced to try and deal with it which is probably what JPII was trying to do. But, Mr. West tried putting a ‘casual’ twist on things and tried making it appealing to a younger audience … I can understand this logic but perhaps he needs to make a newer version where he is less specific??? I don’t know … are you suggesting that the whole idea is bad and no matter how one explains it, it’s still going to cause men to think more than they ought on the subject? Or, do you think if a re-worked version were made, that it could be more acceptable?
I do think the Church needs to address the secular/sexual onslaught that is destroying men and I’m not sure you can address it without ADDRESSING it!
What’s your answer on this, Father?
BTW, clueless about what phenomenology is and/or what it has to do with TOB. I tried looking it up on wikopedia .. no help. Maybe my head cold has zapped my brain or maybe it’s just beyond my feeble little mind.
My old aunt, long dead, was very wise, although back then I viewed her as an archaic old fossil with outdated ideas. She would say, when things like sex entered the conversation “there are some things that shouldn’t be talked about!”
Methinks she was right. From a masculine perspective there is no way that any good came come of dwelling on this subject. Frankly I think that those that write about, and those that choose to read about, it all the time are battling with chastity. I am probably wrong – I usually am according to most clear thinkers – but I hold to this generalization.
Auntie was right – let’s stick with “polite conversation”.
Ave Maria Father:
Thank you for your guidance. I certainly do not consider myself well versed in the subject matter. However, I do believe that the subject seems to be over-emphasized. Some catholic intellectuals appear to provide misguided information on the matter, wittingly or unwittingly, possibly in an attempt to steer the Church to be more “in line” with the secular, world view of human sexuality.
In any case, most catholic men that I know – those who strive to live a virtuous life according to our Lord’s will, those who devote most of their time to their vocations, prayer and apostolates have little time left to deeply ponder subjects like human sexuality, let alone write long essays on the matter. For this reason, we turn to the learned clergy and religious like you for formation and guidance on such matters.
God Bless you for every soul that you guide and save.
I am certainly not saying that the Theology of the Body should not be taught. I don’t know exactly how you got that from my post. In any case, I believe that it should be taught in the context of a larger catechesis, without overlooking original sin and therefore, without prolonged examination of physiology and without implication of some new state of consciousness being reached by means of its study.
In the first comment above, the Theology of the Body is proposed as an antidote to Jansenism, and the critique I have made of the popular presentation of TOB is minimized. The fact is that Fr. Mullady independently confirms what I have critiqued for years, which is exactly this idea of a return to “original justice.” I have not studied West closely, but I have spoken to many people who have come under the influence of this type of apologetic and I know that the idea is alive and well.
In our sex saturated society, Jansenism is the lesser problem, but still a real problem. In any case, One extreme will never be corrected by the other. What is needed is common sense and we learn that from normal experience, not from prudish extremists on the one hand, or chastity experts on the other.
Well, I hesitate to say more on this because I don’t want to belabor the point. First of all, when making my initial comments, I made the mistake of reading things one day and then commenting the next … therefore, some of what I had read seemed to have left me! After posting, I saw comments that Father had made such as, “I fully appreciate the renewed and innovative effort ….”. So, I do not get the sense that Father is not supporting TOB.
I guess my only concern with all of this is that the ONLY effort I’ve seen where this teaching has tried to come down to the laypersons is via the efforts of West. Perhaps others have been trying to teach this as well and I’ve missed it somehow. My point is that the average person is not going to read the Pope’s original writings on the subject and without some priest teaching it properly, I’m not sure the teachings are ever going to reach the average person. That’s the shame of it, I suppose.
Also, as Father stated, men (and women at times) need to be heroic and need to have common sense which comes from experience. Therefore, it’s so much easier to discuss these things logically when you get to be middle aged than when you’re a teenager or in your 20’s. In those earlier years, the experience is lacking, the teaching is virtually non-existent and the body has been pumped with LOTS of hormones that cloud the thinking. That’s the scary part because society speaks very loudly to these young people now … much louder than the Church is speaking.
I know some of this is not the point Father was making in his article. It’s just my own thoughts and concerns on the subject.
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Many, many thanks on your two latest posts on West’s interpretation of the TOB. I have been disturbed by some of Christopher West’s statements in the past and was horrified by his recent NBC interview.
I know it may have been taken out of context, but I agree with you that having a Catholic married man publicly declare, “I LOVE Hugh Hefner,” is extremely problematic.
His whole “naked without shame” kick has also made me very confused since it doesn’t seem to accord with Pope John Paul II’s acknowledgement and in-depth explanation of post-Fall shame and concupiscence.
I’m also very disturbed by his statement in the NBC interview that “sexual love is at the heart of God’s plan for us.”
This seems to wipe out entirely the value of the celibate state which St. Paul held up as the “higher calling.”
It also contradicts what Pope John Paul II himself said about the celibate vocation in his Jan. 16, 1980 TOB address (with my emphases) and what he has also said in Love and Responsibility:
“If a man or a woman is capable of making a gift of himself for the kingdom of heaven, this proves in its turn (and perhaps even more) that there is the freedom of the gift in the human body. It means that this body possesses a FULL NUPTIAL MEANING.”
At any rate, thanks so much for the link to Fr. Mullady’s article. I am so grateful for some guidance and clarification. It’s very difficult to find any
commentator out there who does not enthusiastically endorse Christopher West.
I’ve listened to West speak on several occasions, and I was dismayed, but not surprised by his interview.
He’s always held that concupiscence can be obliterated.
I have personally heard him say that the examples of the saints, in their self-inflicted suffering (hair shirts, throwing self into thorn bushes, etc.), was an example we should all AVOID.
When I heard the man say that the saints of the Church had a distorted understanding of the body, and that the Church was about “at the level of a teenager” in her understanding of sexuality, I had all I needed to hear from him.
Chris West is a mockery of JP II.
I have a critique of his ABC interview at
I’ve never gotten the point of TOB. Does Mr. West presume to tell me that my grandmother, who had 14 children didn’t know what she was doing?
In reply to Steve who wrote, “He’s [Christopher West] always held that concupiscence can be obliterate.” That is so not true. I have read and studied his works and listened to many of his talks and he never, ever said or inferred that. And the idea would not even make sense, it is impossible in this life.
Furthermore, much of what is attributed to CW during the ABC interview, were actually words uttered by the commentator. We should be very careful of who we accuse of saying what unless we see the proof. This re-writing or misunderstand of Catholic material by the media is quite common and it is very sad that other “Catholics” then join in some sort of “bashing” of another person. Perhaps if you really read CW material with an open mind you would realize that much of what you write regarding CW is wrong.
Steve and Susan,
The whole naked without shame scenario and West’s famous anecdote about the two bishops and the prostitute together with the “theological time bomb” marketing, and statements he has made about what “mature Christian purity” looks like does tend to minimize original sin and suggest that study of TOB will render something that looks like original innocence. This has come up so many times from independent analyses that it would be a disservice not to take the problem seriously.
I understand the difficulty that he is trying to deal with, and I believe he is doing it in good faith. Impurity cannot be combated only in a negative way; more importantly, purity must be taught by positive values. Something is wrong, however, when in a world that largely has no conscience about sexual matters, we are constantly harping on prudery. This is not the Victorian age: anything but. Yes prudery can be a problem, but we need to stop hyping TOB as a panacea for sexual problems.
BTW, whatever ABC might have done with the interview, it was West who made the favorable comparison between the pope and the playboy, and West who suggested that we should complete what the sexual revolution started. This is just plain tomfoolery.
The great Catholic philosopher Alice Von Hildebrand has weighed in on West’s interview, if you’d like to read it here:
Regarding West’s novel idea that people can somehow achieve a “mature purity” by learning to “redeem” their impure thoughts and desires, Dr. Von Hildebrand has this to say (from the CNA article):
The fight against concupiscence is “not an easy process,” Dr. von Hildebrand continued. “It is something that calls for holiness, which very few of us achieve. It is a sheer illusion to believe that by some sort of new technique we can find the solution to the problem.”
Alice totally rocks. May I just say, I totally love her. Wow. Now how anyone can use the word “Love” and “Hugh Hefner”in the same sentence, unless you’re Jesus himself, well, I just don’t know.
Thanks for that link Julie.
Regarding Steve’s observation that:
“I have personally heard [West] say that the examples of the saints, in their self-inflicted suffering (hair shirts, throwing self into thorn bushes, etc.), was an example we should all AVOID.”
Fr. Benedict Groeschel (no free-wheeling TOB fanatic) makes the same observation:
“In the past when dreams were not understood, the devout often went to great lengths to try to prevent sexual dreams: they would sleep on boards or on a narrow cot, immerse themselves in cold streams, and sprinkle their bed with holy water before retiring. All of this may have been counterproductive.”
— The Courage To Be Chaste (p. 96)
Now, this passage refers specifically to sexual dreams, however, read in the context of the entire book, I highly doubt that Fr. Groeschel would consider this behavior a healthy reaction to conscious temptations. He certainly never recommends it. He does devote attention to the dangers of trying to completely repress sexual desires and fantasies.
Which seems to be the only solution we’re left with after the comments of von Hildebrand & Co. Remember that one of her parting blows to Christopher was this:
“Christopher West’s approach makes him forget that sex is ‘an extreme danger.’”
Is this the teaching of the church on sex? An “extreme danger?” Is this how we should frame the message of the Church to the world?
Humanae Vitae held the line on sexual teaching in a simple and unadorned way. It is a beautiful document, and kept the church from nose-diving into the morass of the sexual revolution. However, as everyone knows, it was a PR disaster, and the Church in the US has been hemorrhaging members ever since.
Not that the Church needs to be a people-pleaser (she never will, especially if the von Hildebrands of the world have anything to say about it). However there was apparently a real weakness in the way it was communicated. People never HEARD the beauty of its teaching. And some blame must fall on those whose responsibility it was to communicate this.
This is all Christopher West is trying to do – to communicate the beauty of the Church’s teaching on human sexuality. And I can personally testify, that when you hear it from him, it is indeed beautiful, and hopeful, and Christ-focused. Christopher West is completely orthodox in his teachings, I can testify to that as well. His particular gift is that he speaks directly to people, directly to the person. He speaks directly to the ache that many of us still experience, that dualism of heart and head that can feel so hopeless. And He preaches a message of integration through Christ.
The example of the saints is sometimes to be more admired than imitated; however, one ought to be careful not to over simplify. Penitential living is not a bad thing, but it has to be governed by prudence and prudential action in matters like this is not the same for everyone.
Furthermore, I don’t know of any priest or theologian, in any measure orthodox, no matter how traditional, who would advise us to be disturbed by sexual dreams. From the quote you provide, the problem was not a bad attitude toward sex but a misunderstanding of the nature of dreams.
I think this is a good discussion, because it brings up issues that are easily misunderstood and allows us to clarify. Sure, there have been exaggerations, but I don’t agree that “[p]eople never HEARD the beauty” of the teaching of human sexuality before TOB. These analyses are not served well be over simplification, a problem see often when discussing this issue.
Everyone needs to be taken in context and West needs to be given credit where credit is due. But so does Alice Von Hildebrand. You would need to be more familiar with the thought of her husband before you conclude that she is a prude or someone who thinks sex is evil.
Sexuality and man’s fallen attitude toward it is not simply a matter of bad doctrine. We are not Pelagians. The problems are much more complex and need to be considered carefully. TOB is part of the solution, but there are no panaceas and issues raised need to be taken seriously.
As an NFP teaching couple, and Joy-Filled Marriage presenter in our Diocese, I would humbly say that I am very familiar with CW and his interpretation of TOB. What I am reading here, are a lot of quotes and sound bites taken out of context from the larger picture of what CW and Ascension Press are teaching. I know many couples who have embraced this message, and their marriages are better for it. I cannot speak for singles or celibates, who may be led into the occasion of sin by dwelling on this message. I will be the first to admit that CW is rough around the edges, but studying TOB, through the Naked w/o Shame CD set, and many other TOB books and study materials, has greatly deepened my spirituality. It has brought both my husband and me closer to the heart of JPII the Great, and has bestowed many graces in our marriage and in our child rearing. Together with NFP, TOB has equipped us with the tools to fight the distortion of sex the world presents to our children. It has positively impacted the lives of all our close friends and fellow ministers, without exception. If anyone would truly like to know the fruit of TOB in our lives and the lives of those close to us, we would be happy to provide examples of how grace has flowed as a result of hearing this message. Deo gratias!
In general have no argument with you, but that does not invalidate my critique. My remarks have not taken CW out of context, in my opinion.
It is not only singles and celibates who are subject to original sin.
I have never denied the fruit of CW’s work. A critique is not a condemnation. See especially my post on Dawn Patrol.
It is not my intention to invalidate your critique, only to understand it. If I understand correctly, your critique explains that TOB as presented by CW can lead men to sin, because men don’t need to dwell on sex, they dwell on it enough already. I can only speak from a married woman’s perspective. Nevertheless, in my first post, I have explained how my friends and associates, mostly married couples, have had their lives changed for the better by hearing the message of TOB as presented by CW. This is in areas of sexuality, fertility awareness, and responsible parenthood. Speaking for my husband and myself, it has not caused either of us to dwell on sex for the sake of sex, but to dwell on our marriage vows, and what free, total, faithful and fruitful love entails. I hear your critique from the angle of sex. We teach TOB from the angle of Love. I know I’m not breaking new ground here. But the comments that follow your critique, are, as I stated before, mostly out of context sound bites made by some who, admittedly, have not studied TOB extensively. And for those who have, in my humble opinion, it is simply uncharitable (SK). CW can be a turn off at first listen. At first, I felt he was way over the top. But I did not abandon the message because of the messenger. The Holy Spirit spoke to me, my husband, and all my associates. Laus Tibi Christe!
I hear you. Still, some strengths are themselves also liabilities. People need to keep this in mind as we try to move from specialized apologetics to thorough catechesis.
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I just want to say, that hearing some of these women say their husbands “don’t dwell on sex” because they have been reading West’s interpretation of TOB makes me want to laugh out loud. Are you kidding me?
I think you ladies are fooling yourselves.
My thoughts exactly.