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.
I read with great interest your comments and the quotes from Dr. Schindler. I was wondering if you could reference for me where Pope John Paul II discussed these issues, veiling and the marian dimension, in his audiences. I admit that I have not had the time since this controversy began to sit down and read all of the audiences. Thank you!
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Allow me to provide and answer to your query. Please note, however, that TOB is only a small part of magisterial teaching, a single corpus of teaching presented in Wednesday audiences, not in major magisterial documents. Further, it must be interpreted in the light of ordinary magisterium, not independently of it.
In any case the following is taken from one of my posts.
Vindicating the Mystery of Personhood
In the Theology of the Body John Paul II seems to recognize that shame is not only a defense mechanism against the possibility of being used, but also a vindication of the mystery of personhood:
In no way does this spontaneous and intuitive “inner resistance” represent prudery or Manichaeism or an ignorance of the truths contained in the Theology of the Body. The Holy Father says that this reaction is found in those of “developed sensibility.” It is perfectly wholesome and compatible with great virtue. In fact, in the context of defending this “inner resistance,” the Holy Father says that original shame “is a permanent element of culture and morality. It belongs to the very origins of the ethos of the human body” (61.3).
According to the Theology of the Body, shame acts as a “veil” over the mystery of personhood in which man discovers himself as the guardian of that mystery and the defender of the “freedom of the gift” (19.2). This action, it seems to me, is not primarily negative, because wherever something is defended against abuse, there is more fundamentally an affirmation of inherent value.
Interesting to note in this regard is that in Love and Responsibility, which is not a document of papal magisterium but is the work of the man Karol Wojtyla, we find more about this positive element of shame than we do in the Theology of the Body. One reason for that may be because the specific context of his remarks on shame in TOB is the examination of our first parents before after original sin in the context of sacred scripture; whereas, in Love and Responsibility Karol Wojtyla reflects on human experience in general.
In Love and Responsibility, Wojtyla vindicates the preservation of privacy in certain matters and argues that the desire for this privacy is not primarily motivated by fear, but by a certain “fittingness.” Fear, indeed, arises when that appropriate privacy is endangered, but it is indirect and secondary (174-175). He says:
Again, this seems to perfectly accord with what Dietrich von Hildebrand says about the interiority of the person, about sex being the “secret of the individual” and the tendency to protect that secret as one that perfectly corresponds to the mysterious and precious nature of the person.
In Love and Responsibility Karol Wojtyla makes the distinction between two kinds of shame relating to sexuality: physical shame and emotional shame. Physical shame seeks to conceal certain parts of the body to the extent that the value of the person is vindicated and defended from being used, while the sexual values are able to “still be a point of origin for love.” Emotional shame seeks to conceal “reactions and feelings” that tend to move one to reduce persons to objects of use by way of their body and sexuality. In particular, but not exclusively, physical shame is the province of women, while emotional shame is the province of men (187).
It is in regard to emotional shame that the popularization of the Theology of the Body has particular resonance, because it is men, more than women, who struggle with issues of sexual temptation. Karol Wojtyla points out that
In order to understand what belongs to a healthy reaction of a man to the sexual values of a woman one must appreciate fully what Wojtyla is saying here. Wholesome shame is to be sharply distinguished from prudery. And further prudery is not the same thing as the Manichean tendency to devalue or repudiate the goodness of sexuality.
In fact, Wojtyla goes on to say:
All this points to the fact that the possible reactions of men to the sexual values of women are many and the psychology of those reactions are complex. Certainly, there is nothing in the Holy Father’s writings that would suggest that the tendency to conceal sexual values or to practice custody of the senses relative to sexual values is prudery, or that it only belongs to a lower level of moral behavior. Nor does seem to me that John Paul II says anything to encourage the students of the Theology of the Body to analyze individuals or make generalizations about practical behavior where the individual conscience must be the judge within its own domain.
I would just like to offer an addition to Christina’s excellent post. I think it is very important for us not to take a kind of “sola scriptura” attitude toward the Pope’s catechesis. I, too, am a graduate of the JP II Institute, and before that time I learned of TOB through Christopher West and other “popular” means. I was searching for something to help me make sense of some stuff in my life I’d screwed up. But in conjunction with all of that, I was experiencing a deep conversion of heart – not anything *directly* to do with TOB or sexuality, or any of that. Just getting to know Jesus, and really confronting some of the deep existential questions I never really had before. This is why you can’t just read the text – or hear from someone who’s read it – and *presto*! You are a new man/woman. We have to be careful not to leave out the “Jesus part,” that is, the necessity of developing a close relationship with Him, and constantly striving to conform our hearts and minds to His – that is, constantly experiencing a conversion of heart, which may take us to places that are not easy, or are very uncomfortable.
It is all too easy in this truly messed-up culture to get caught up in “baptizing” our feelings and struggles in a way that makes them OK because now we view them with “Catholic eyes;” or, more precisely, with “TOB eyes.” What I mean is that we can, if we’re not careful, end up remaining tied to our bad habits, but we now practice them in what we think is a “Catholic way.” For example, I know lots of good, Catholic men who profess to have had their eyes opened to the “beauty of the feminine,” and who are enraptured by the “nuptial mystery.” Yet they are quickly approaching middle age and still “dating around,” because they view each woman with the critical eye of an employer checking the qualifications of a candidate for employment. One such man even told me that if you’re not “hot” for someone from the beginning, she’s not worth pursuing. Another is so eager to get married because, at 40, he *wants the nuptial union!!!* [That emphasis is his – and he *was* emphatic.] Karol Wojtyla wrote quite beautifully and (appropriately) explicitly about the sexual urge in “Love and Responsibility.” The above kind of thinking is surely not what he was driving at.
I think we really do have to be careful of becoming so attached to a particular “interpreter” of TOB that we can’t look at what he/she is saying critically. Scripture offers us much food for meditation and revelation relevant to our personal situations. But we cannot read it apart from Tradition, simply coming up with our own interpretations. Similarly, we can’t read TOB apart from Tradition – or apart from everything else JP II himself wrote – or read. And we certainly have to remember that TOB is not on the same level as Scripture. There’s a lot JP II *didn’t* say in TOB – and he admitted that (for example, on suffering, which is a very rich area for development). We may be reluctant to admit the same because of our own experience and woundedness, and the effect of TOB speakers on our personal situations. If they are wrong, then we’re out to sea. Hmmm…so was Peter; and what did he do when he started to flounder in the water? He reached up his hand and said, “Save me, Lord!”
I have said before that the TOB enthusiasm is a boon for men. I find all this enraptured theologizing on the part of men, just plain silly. Who is kidding who?
I really don’t find it that surprising the emphasis the enthusiasts put on their intepretation of TOB. Like everything else in their worldview, they typically believe in a Church of the past that “didn’t get it.” Whether it be sexuality, the liturgy, ecumenism, etc, the Church before this time “didn’t get it.”
Now, in their eyes, the Church (which they are actually just substituting for their own judgement) “gets it” and so they want to proclaim it from the rooftops. Perfectly understandable reaction. Doesn’t change the fact it’s wrong.
As far as the website Fr. Loya is promoting, Catholics should not have any website that is going to get filtered by a company and probably get you investigated…… just sayin.
Lauretta, I highly recommend to you John Paul II’s beautiful “On the Nature and Diginity of Women,” which you can easily find on line. You will learn a lot from this beautiful Apostolic Exhortation about the “Marian stance” of woman. Enjoy!
I would also commend to those interested a conference on TOB sponsored by the Center for Cultural and Pastoral Research at the JP II Institute in September: http://www.johnpaulii.edu/publications/detail/called-to-love-conference
There will be a performance of Karol Wojtyla’s play on marriage (and so much more!), The Jeweler’s Shop, by Theophany Catholic Theatre Company – a group founded by classmates (including Christina Strafaci and myself) of the JP II. The plays really open up the Pope’s thought in a unique way, so if you can’t come, please do read Jeweler!
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All the points about the images on Fr. Loya’s website are very good, and I would like to add one more: flashing such images is insensitive to people who are recovering from addiction to pornography, because they act as a trigger. Now, I assume that Fr. Loya and his associates want to attract people who have such an addiction, to help them overcome their issues. So why would they place triggers right at the top of their front page? Even if (and it is a big ‘if’) one agrees with Fr. Loya’s approach to viewing images of the naked human form with the ‘proper disposition,’ the people whom he is hoping to draw in by displaying these images are the people for whom they are most problematic.
It’s like setting up the parish hall for an AA meeting and decorating it with florescent signs blinking “Budwiser” and “Jack Daniel’s.”
I hope Fr. Loya and his website designer will seriously reconsider their choice of images. The iconography is beautiful, but a person who has struggled with a pornography addiction will hardly notice either the icons or the words.
If our fifteen year old son was searching Catholic websites and came across Father Loya’s, we, as parents would be extremely upset. The website is a scandal. Father Loya should look the meaning of scandal up in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.