Sunday, November 30, 2008

Calling all Ignatians

I used to think that Suscipe was what I did when the waiter at a Japanese restaurant brought me my check.

Now, I know better, which is why I need your help for a paper I'm writing for school.

Could you recommend any reading that would give me background on the mind St. Ignatius Loyola had in composing his Suscipe prayer? I'd be particularly interested in anything relating to the saint's understanding of divine love and his contemplation of how the believer might best offer up love to God in return.

For the paper, I'll be contemplating the prayer in light of what C.S. Lewis describes in The Four Loves as God's enabling man to return His "Gift-love":

Finally, by a high paradox, God enables men to have a Gift-love towards Himself. There is of course a sense in which no one can give to God anything which is not already His; and if it is already His, what have you given? But since it is only too obvious that we can withhold ourselves, our wills and hearts, from God, we can in that sense, also give them. What is His by right and would not exist for a moment if it ceased to be His (as the song is the singer's), He has nevertheless made ours in such a way that we can freely offer it back to Him. "Our wills are ours to make them Thine."
Also, if you can recommend any reading by St. Thomas Aquinas on how God enables man to return His love, that would help as well. I know that the Summa has something to say on a related topic.

Many thanks! Blogging will be light until I finish this paper later in the week.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

UPDATED: Film flamed

If you're thinking of taking your daughter to see "Twilight" or buying her one of the books from the series, a mom suggests you think again.

I was skeptical when reading a mainstream news reporter's account that the book series was "chaste," since having its characters observe abstinence-'til-marriage doesn't mean they're chaste in spirit. However, until reading the mom's examination of the series, I had no idea how much its author sought to exploit young girls who suffer low self-esteem—girls for whom, like the book's "heroine," "life means nothing."

The "no sex, no violence" "Twilight" film does appear to be, as the mom calls it, a "gateway drug" to the books.

Thanks to American Papist for the tip.

UPDATE:

  •  Catholic film critic Steven Greydanus weighs in:
    Chastity is a precious thing, and the struggle to be chaste is both an inevitable part of a moral life and a legitimate subject for narrative art. In part, this quest for chastity may legitimately form some part of Twilight’s appeal. At the same time, a narrative that wallows in the intoxicating power of temptation and desire, that returns again and again to rhapsodizing about the beauty of forbidden fruit, may reasonably be felt to be a hindrance rather than an affirmation of self-mastery.

    This is all the more problematic in a story in which, unlike normal adolescents wrestling with desire, lover and beloved dance around an act that is inherently monstrous and destructive. For some young readers, the darkness of this struggle might resonate in part with distorted adolescent fear of sex — but on a larger level their temptation speaks to unhealthy, disordered appetite, like an addict’s craving for his drug of choice. “Exactly my brand of heroin” is how Edward describes Bella (that’s “heroin” without a final e). [Full article]

  • Gina Dalfonzo wrote prior to the film's release:
    [Twilight author Stephenie] Meyer once retorted to critics who accused her of misogyny, “I am not anti-female; I am anti-human.” Whether she was aware of it or not, this was far more than just a flippant remark. Just like the allegedly positive messages about romance and sexuality, any value that Meyer and her characters place on human life is only on the surface. More than once, Edward and his family look the other way—or even provide assistance—when fellow members of their species hunt humans, just as long as those humans aren’t people they know. [Full article]

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Union or the snake

I have been discussing with some friends the Church's teachings on sex, and one of them mentioned St. Augustine's assertion that Adam and Eve, before the Fall, could have had children without "the morbid condition of lust."

The saint wrote in City of God (Book 14, Chapter 26) that "the [first couple's] sexual organs would have been brought into activity by the same bidding of the will as controlled the other organs."

Some people use that passage to prove that St. Augustine thought all sexual pleasure was sinful. But the only way they can do that is to ignore the context that he takes great pains to provide.

If they read the beginning of the passage, they would see that the saint stresses he is speaking of a time when "true joy flowed perpetually from God, and towards God there was a blaze of 'love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a faith that was no pretense' [1 Timothy 1, 5]. Between man and wife there was a faithful partnership based on love and mutual respect; there was a harmony and a liveliness of mind and body, and an effortless observance of the commandment"—that is, God's lone positive commandment to the first couple, to be fruitful and multiply.

Adam and Eve already enjoyed the highest form of communion. To Augustine, sexual pleasure was not necessary to induce the first couple to procreate, because everything was joy for them.

What I find particularly interesting about the idea that sex originally did not have a distinct pleasure attached to it, is that it forces us to think of the marital act outside a linear framework. I wrote in The Thrill of the Chaste (page 165) about how, the more one treats the sexual act as a linear trajectory towards a payoff, the more self-centered one becomes, and the less one is capable of union (both physical and spiritual) with one's partner. Those who immerse their imagination in media commodifications of sex in any form (whether via pornography or "Sex and the City" episodes) experience the dwindling of their ability to experience the act as bringing mutual intimacy.

It is true that we experience pleasure necessarily as linear; we in this life—unlike God—are bounded by time. But when we make our goal to pursue the thrill of buildup, tension, and release, we don't grow. This is true not only of sex, but in every area of life, if we are choosing to live within the framework of the pleasure principle. As St. Thomas Aquinas writes, happiness cannot ultimately be found in pleasure, because anything that merely pleases one's senses cannot ultimately please one's soul.

Joy for the soul is found only in communion with a Person—God. Adam and Eve had that joy before the Fall because, married by and in God, they shared a communion with one another in His love. Any experience of true charity, caritas, by nature has God as its center, and so is a conduit of joy. Sex, then, is not necessary for joy. But there is no joy in sex that lacks communion.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pane relief

"Those Catholics that strive toward orthodoxy are often told by more 'progressive' ones that Mary is to be honored for her humble origins and that to make her a queen is the stuff of theological fantasy. Let me say this: she may have lived a humble life, but she is a queen; and, as her subject, let me further say, she can be humbling--that is she can humble the proud. She was the one, by this window, that made it occur to me that I, at 32 or 33 years old, was in no position to think that I had better answers to the questions that Holy Mother Church had addressed and answered with authority for over 2,000 years. [...]

"I used to work downtown and had the pleasure of going to this church nearly every weekday for almost eight years. I never did so without looking at this window. Off the top of my head, that means I have seen this window about 2,000 times. And I have often looked at it hoping that it is the first image I see whenever it is that I leave this world for the next one."

— Kansas City Catholic"A Window to Another World." Check out the full post to see photos of the beautiful window.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The mystery of suffering hides the seed of love
A guest post by THE WIFE OF BATH

Written in response to Thursday's post "Theology of the bawdy."

I've decided that this is a good time to begin a new book. I'm going to title it: "Just Go Home." No more therapy, retreats, enrichment clases, encounters, or lectures; no more galavanting off to the romantic beaches of Cancun -- "Just Go Home." The civilization of Love can be home-grown, but not by so much talking about it, which trivializes without clarifying.

I've got a few insights to throw into this discussion. But I want to begin with the last and go to the first. My husband's long and debilitating cancer led us to a theology of the body of a very different sort than the usual TOB stuff.

For 12 years, but especially for the final three years of his life, he suffered greatly, and I suffered with him. Yet, life went on around this suffering, this exchange of love. Our whole family was refined through it; the grandchildren would come home and go see him, even though he had tubes and stuff in his nose. He took comfort from our company and touch -- our stories, jokes, and exchange. I bathed him and changed his ostomy, every day. That was a wife's exclusive and intimate privilege like nothing else, for it made him feel better and have more dignity so that he could then visit with the family and friends who came by. He died at home, in my arms, and his last audible word was "Love." He was fortified by family, the sacraments and all the gifts of Church as Mother could give;. The sacrament of marriage, and our faith, at this extreme moment was intimate and very holy, yet hardly the symbol of the bridegroom and bride in the unitive act.

This final marital intimacy and the union with God and with each other in that moment -- a very agonizing moment -- was one of the most profound mysteries of my life. And one for which I am unspeakably grateful. But I won't talk nonsense about the actual dying process and the attendant physical symptoms—not even the sybolism of his death on the night of Pentecost and the wound in his side—that were part of our daily life. Everyone who loves will suffer; in the intimacy of marriage, this suffering and this love can be intensely united—but there has never been anything to equal the intimacy of giving the man that I love to the arms of Jesus. To speak about it as freely as the TOB guys talk about sex is to cheapen and to even blaspheme a great, great gift.

To suffer is to love; to love is to suffer -- but we don't have to go out looking for occasions to suffer in order to make a point! The opportunities will come, bidden or unbidden! And this brings me to the TOB, which seems to me to have become -- even if it didn't begin this way -- a shockingly low sort of sex-ed, which is getting more banal all the time. Way away from the nuptial meaning of the body that JPII began in "Love and Responsibility" and the very simple message at the heart of the TOB: the body is made to express love according to the appropriateness of the relationship -- chaste embrace between friends, warm handshake with strangers, loving care of the sick, bearing and nursing of infants, sexual union with spouse -- according to the Church's teachings on sexuality. Much of the current talk about the TOB is confusing and complicated, unnecessarily.

Dawn highlighted an article by a priest who, in claiming to discuss Theology of the Body, takes liberties that Pope John Paul II never intended. It made me wonder: What is the effect of this? All of this open-as-apple-pie talk, talk, talk about great Catholic sex may be creating a really big problem: dissatisfaction, doubt, and discontent. What is to stop the secret doubt of "what's wrong with me/spouse" if we have no "religious experience" in marital relations? Why, spouses are bound to wonder, is it so ordinary, so companionably comforting, but—by all means, let's get some much-needed sleep!

What I'm concerned about with regard to the article in question is the bad theology and the very bad vulgarity. The disgusting comparisons (and it is a gross misrepresentation of the symbolic) are, in fact, pornographic and will be very hard to get out of the memory banks of the women, or men, who heard such talk.

Whatever happened to the laughter (not ridicule) that attends many acts -- or attempted acts of married love? Children have been known to curb amorous moments by arriving just in time to throw up on their parents! But it is an act of love, too, to help that poor, sick child who will not receive comfort if there were no "loving parents" -- and to laugh later with your spouse about the event, before you both go to sleep, exhausted but comforted, in the other's trusted/trusting presence.

The marital act is like any other exchange between husband and wife -- a covenant of trust and in the name of God; it is always a very delicate balance b/n domination and dismissal. The very ordinariness of marital relations is what is comforting to married folk -- Nothing to prove. No posh hotels. Intimacy with God and intimacy with each other. That's what it's all about.

For a truer account of the Theology of the Body and Church teachings on sexuality in general, here are some recommendations:

  • Fulton J. Sheen's Three to Get Married is still timely, despite its 1950s landscape.

  • Genevieve Kineke's The Authentic Catholic Woman is very good and a good place to start thinking about TOB. Christopher West wrote the introduction.

  • Margaret Visser's Geometry of Love is unequalled in talking about the body, the classical understanding of virginity/motherhood, and the structure of a church and its symbolism. There is nothing vulgar about it. Highest recommendation.

  • Dorothy L. Sayers's final novels, Gaudy Night and Busman's Honeymoon have artistically created two characters who are able to come to healing and wholeness and, finally, a healthy, profound, funny, and fruitful marriage.

  • Anne Rice's most recent novel of her trilogy Christ the LordThe Road to Cana, cannot receive enough praise in the treatment of sexuality. This book is faithful to the Gospels and the teachings of the Church, but it has the most beautiful treatment of human love and marriage that I've read in modern writing. It stands in sharp contrast to Nikos Kazantzakis' Last Temptation of Christ, which was ugly and shocking.

  • Karol Wojtyla's Love and Responsibility, an excellent and noble call/recall to loyalty and friendship in love & marriage.
And, this may sound strange, but I believe that everyone would do well to get a copy of The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary and pray it/read it. I cannot say why, but can give testimony to the hope that was awakened in simply reading and repeating, day after day, the paradoxes of the Incarnation: "Thou wast the Mother of Him who made thee and thou remainest a Virgin forever." And "Thou art fair and comely, terrible as an army set in array..." "The young maidens have loved thee exceedingly ..." "Blessed womb that bore the son of the Eternal Father and blessed breasts that nursed Christ the Lord." Similarly, I would recommend the Litany of St. Joseph (and, of course, the Litany of the BVM) because it has such praise of noble manhood.

Quote of the day

"In love no fragment is lost."

— Fulton J. Sheen, "Love Is Triune," Three to Get Married

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Catechists' erroneous zones
A guest post by 
STEVE KELLMEYER

Editor's note: The following commentary by Steve Kellmeyer is in response to yesterday's post "Theology of the bawdy." In that post, I spotlighted an article by Father Thomas J. Loya on Catholic Exchange that I said represented a stream of Theology of the Body catechesis that "goes well beyond what [John Paul II] actually said." Today, I received an e-mail from a Catholic Exchange staffer welcoming a dialogue on this subject and inviting me and others to comment on Father Loya's original article. I responded to him with an invitation to guest-post here. In the meantime, Kellmeyer, who writes and lectures on TOB, offers his thoughts below.
______________________________

One of the most telling criticisms I have ever heard of the Theology of the Body was that it could not be a complete teaching since you can't talk about the body without discussing suffering. Pain, suffering, etc. is never mentioned in John Paul's Wednesday audiences delivering his TOB catechesis. He devoted an entire encyclical to it (Salvifici Doloris) and he lived it, but the Wednesday audiences don't mention it. I have included this perfectly correct criticism of the Wednesday audiences into many of my talks.

Another problem I have with the Wednesday audiences is the nearly complete absence of reference to family or children. The Wednesday audiences are almost entirely about the Bridegroom-Bride relationship but without reference to its life-giving ability. Humanae Vitae spoke of family more in a dozen pages than the Wednesday audiences did in five years. Sex divorced from children and the body divorced from suffering ... those audiences are not complete.

I just got off the phone moments ago with a friend in Colorado who teaches FertilityCare. She mentioned that a prominent TOB speaker is now talking about the "erotic ritual" of the Easter Vigil, because the Easter candle is plunged into the baptismal font during the ceremony and the ancient Christians are united in referring to the baptismal font as "the womb of the Church."

Calling liturgy "erotic" is absurd.

We have to understand that everything we know about God we know only via analogy. Thus, marital communion is analogous to the intimate communion we experience with God in heaven, but it isn't the same thing. So calling liturgy "erotic" is looking at it from exactly the wrong perspective. Heaven is not erotic, rather, eros is an analog - and a poor one at that—to describe what heaven is about. The intimate communion between a husband and wife is as dust and ashes when compared to the intimate communion God offers us through the divine liturgy precisely because God's love is not only intimate, but self-sacrificial.

Liturgy lifts us up into heaven, not vice versa. Liturgy is participation in heaven - the Mass, especially, is direct participation in the eternal offering the Son makes of Himself to the Father in the Temple not made with hands (cf. Hebrews). Liturgy is about God's self-sacrifice.

Self-sacrificing love is not eros, i.e., erotic love, it is agape love. Agape is the word the New Testament uses to describe the relationship between Jesus and the beloved disciple. In Scripture, it refers to self-sacrificing love, giving love to all--both friend and enemy. It is used in Matthew 22:39, "Love your neighbor as yourself," and in John 15:12, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you," and in 1 John 4:8, "God is love." It is total commitment or self-sacrificial love for the thing loved. Even the Greek version of the Septuagint uses agape, not eros, to describe the love between the man and the woman. Eros doesn't appear in Scripture at all.

So the phrase "erotic liturgy," at least as that TOB speaker uses it, is simply a contradiction in terms.

It implies that God is intimate with us in liturgy in a way that Christ specifically denies, "In heaven, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven."

Christ is the Bridegroom, He saves us through marrying us into Himself, but the marriage between us and Himself is at best a dim analogue to the marriage between two human persons, male and female. That kind of marriage doesn't happen in heaven or, therefore, in the liturgy.

It seems to me that a basic confusion is present here. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church were faced with a pagan society at least as debauched as ours, but they never descended to the kind of descriptions being used by TOB promoters today. They named the sexual sins, told Christians to avoid them and pretty much left it at that.

TOB promoters fall into these kinds of basic errors because they were never well-formed in the Faith. Either they never read the Fathers and the Scriptures or, if they did, they forgot what they learned. Weigel mistakenly thought JP II's teaching was radically new - because he himself was not well-formed in the Faith, he didn't realize that JP II's teaching was really just a synthesis of everything the Fathers ever taught about Scripture. As a result, all the TOB promoters fall into the trap of asserting that JP II's TOB is radical and new. It is neither.

But because they don't realize this, they don't ground the TOB teaching in the ancient writings as they should, and as JP II did through his footnotes. Instead, they go winging off into space, making stuff up as they go along, and often-times deriding earlier expressions of the same teaching as though these earlier expressions were somehow erroneous because they don't realize that those earlier teachings are actually foundational - the very skeleton and structure of what JP II was trying to say. They follow the hermeneutic of discontinuity which is so often promoted by the "Spirit of Vatican II" crowd, instead of emphasizing the hermeneutic of continuity that both JP II and Benedict XVI insist on.

In short, they are corrupting JP II's teaching, turning it into just one more heretical post-Vatican II attempt to corrupt the Church's eternal teaching. That's the real problem here.

I think we are seeing the errors of insufficient catechesis: men and women completely unfamiliar with the writings of the ancient Christians taking instead Oprah and Dr. Ruth as their models.

John Paul II famously failed to begin his Theology of the Body catechesis with the Trinity, as all the previous generations of great teachers had. Although he approached the discussions from an essentially Trinitarian perspective, his emulators have not.

We end up with misguided interpretations because the interpreters aren't grounded in anything substantive.

The children are pulverizing the teaching because they are children. They aren't spiritually mature, so they have the kind of bathroom discussions that children will have.

And the saddest part is, they really think they are being faithful.

Steve Kellmeyer is the author of Sex and the Sacred City.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Quote of the day

"While my Catholic philosophy, the rational basis of my faith, is sound and dear and one, I find that I am opposed, not by one consistent series of belief, but by a thousand dissonant, divergent, contradictory, topsy-turvy theories, as changeable as the style in women's footwear and just a shade less practical and durable. That, I must admit, was one of the great surprises of my life. It still is. The more I see of modern thinkers the more I know they agree in nothing except the one stridently proclaimed belief that the Catholic Church is wrong; and, believe me, as I look at that mad circus without one presiding ringmaster, I grow more and more satisfied with the calm, rational, provable, and proved philosophy that the Church offers me. I return to my Catholic books as a man returns to his own familiar study after a jangling, uproarious afternoon in Bedlam.

"Don‟t let them fool you with the impression that arrayed against Catholic truth is a solid and united army of religion, science, and philosophy. There isn‟t. Hardly can two scientists, once they pass the facts they can see under a microscope or appraise in logarithms, sit down to chat without running off down different theoretical roads or pulling noses. Any three philosophers in a smoking-car are pretty sure to represent as many entirely different types of thought— probably three different ideas about so fundamental a thing as whether a man can know anything positive about the world or God or himself or the pancakes on the breakfast table. They won‟t be sure whether they themselves are animals or slightly more complicated machines, or a mind that only thinks it has arms and legs and eyes, and wears rubber gloves and carries an umbrella. It sounds silly, but it is pitifully, ludicrously true.”

— Daniel A. Lord S.J."My Faith and I," 1931

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

UPDATED: Theology of the bawdy
Things the Holy Father never taught me

Reading over-the-top attempts by well-intentioned Catholics to use Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body to prove the Church isn't "down on sex"—which go well beyond what the Holy Father actually said—I am tempted to compile them onto a new blog.

It would be called "TMI About TOB."

If I ever do, it will feature Father Thomas J. Loya's Catholic Exchange article in which he calls the blood and water that flowed from Our Lord's side "Christ’s spiritual seminal fluid."

UPDATE: As often, Jeff Miller has gotten to this topic before me.

UPDATE #2, 11/23/08: Reading the latest book by Christopher West, Heaven's Song last night, I discovered the "spiritual seminal fluid" metaphor in a quotation from Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, who is in turn quoting St. Augustine. The quotation originally appeared in Through the Year with Fulton J. Sheen, a posthumously published collection of selections from the archbishop's homilies; you can see it on Page 60 in the Google Books version of the volume.

If the original Augustine quote is what Archbishop Sheen said it is (and there is no reason to doubt him), the metaphor did originate with one of the Church Fathers. However, there remains the question of whether Augustine, or Sheen for that matter, would have wanted it to be used out of context in an article by a priest writing explicitly about postcoital matters. It is particularly difficult to imagine Sheen or Augustine writing an article with the headline, "Why Men Fall Asleep After Intercourse." I would argue that the Church is the better for their judgment and discretion, and those who share it.

The appropriate context for Augustine's quotation would include an emphasis on the suffering central to Jesus' self-sacrifice, a sacrifice that we are called to bear in our own body. I ran the Augustine quotation by Steve Kellmeyer and he observed that the saint explicitly pointed out the connection of suffering—"Not a marriage bed of pleasure, but of pain"—that is missing from Father Loya's article as well as West's commentary.

Blaze of glory
A guest post by 
STEVE KELLMEYER

The City of Angels is burning. We watch thousands of people as they watch everything they own in the world go up in flames, completely torched, nothing left but dust and ashes.

Watching the fires burn in the darkness recalls two very strange passages in Scripture, both of which say the same thing: “Our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:29, Deuteronomy 4:24).

Now, why would St. Paul ask us to think of God in this way?

Worse, how could a Catholic living in Los Angeles, a Christian who just lost everything he owns, respond with love to a God who depicts Himself like this? Many Catholics in the City of Angels, faced with those words, might very well join their voices with Peter, “Lord, this is a hard saying. Who can accept it?” (John 6:60).

Worse, though we may not much like the image, it doesn’t go away: “I indeed baptize you with water; but there shall come one mightier that I… he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire!” “I am come to cast fire on the earth; and would that it were already kindled!?”

“If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

Thus, “The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light.” “Christ is the light of the world.” “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness does not comprehend it.”

Truly, we often don’t comprehend it. The name “seraphim”, the name borne by the angels closest to God, means “the burning ones.” Los Angeles has become The Seraphim.

And whether you love it or hate it, think it heaven or hell, it doesn't matter.

Hell is fire, Purgatory is fire, Heaven is, apparently, fire.

What is up with that? What happened to that kind and gentle Jesus Whose arms our children are always snuggling into?

Scripture tells us.

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Romans 12:19-21)

When we do kindness to others, we burn up something within them. Either the kindness burns up their hatred of us, their hatred of God, so that nothing is left of this hatred, or their hatred is stoked to greater fury. They hate us even more because of the kindness we have shown.

As we stare into the flames, we are enlightened. Hatred and love both burn up something within us – the first burns away our affections for others, our charity, the second burns away our affections for ourselves, our selfishness. There is something in us that needs to be destroyed, and only fire can do it. Deep within our hearts, Satan’s hatred struggles against God’s love. God fights fire with fire.

So, as we watch the videos of the fire, the answer is before us. What happens to an apple when you cut it and leave it on the table? Its flesh turns from pearly white to a dark brown – the oxygen in the air burns and darkens it. What is rust, but the “burning”, the slow oxidation, of metal? The fire that consumes the logs in my fireplace or the beams of my house is a rapid version of what happens to the apple and the metal.

Fire can rust or burnish.

The things of this world pass away. Nothing in this world lasts forever, for the moth shall eat them up as a garment: and the grub shall consume them as wool: but, says the Lord, my salvation shall be for ever, and my justice from generation to generation.

We are not made for a five bedroom, four bath palace with an ocean view.

We are not made for a one bedroom, one bath mobile home in a trailer park.

We are made for God – without Him, nothing makes sense, nothing satisfies. He alone is three Persons in perfect communion.

We are persons made in His image. Human persons are made for communion with both persons and Persons.

We cannot commune with flat-screen TVs, fast computers or even nature itself. We may see in each of these, as through a glass, darkly, the image of the persons who created each. It may be that the television, the computer, even the world, somehow dimly reflect or tell the glory of their creators, but these are not enough.

We are made for eternity, not for loss. When we experience the loss of created things, we remember that this was not the original goal anyway. Though the fire burns through the night, at the rising of the sun, we can look beyond the smoldering ashes and say, “See! He has made all things new!”

Leave the flickering TV, the glowing computer screen behind.

Light a candle in the darkness.

Visit Jesus in the Eucharist.

He took flesh for you, you were made for Him.

You were made for Fire.

"In this we rejoice, though now for a little while we may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of our faith, more precious than gold which, though perishable, is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."


Steve Kellmeyer is the author of Sex and the Sacred City.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Grace notes

Bits of my past as a vintage-pop superfan pop up from time to time as I pursue my master's degree in theology at Dominican House of Studies. I am currently reading an essay by Marc Cardinal Ouellet from Communio recommended to me by one of my professors, bearing the abstruse title "Paradox and/or Supernatural Existential," and it makes me want to write a journal article just so I can call it "Paradox by the Dashboard Light."

Of course, like its title's inspiration, the article would deal with the eschatological.

And I currently have the Tremeloes' 1968 Euro smash "Helule Helule" running through my head, only I am thinking of how it would sound were the group singing of the Summa Theologica: "Secunda Secundae." (That would be a job for a British Nick Alexander.)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Prayer request

I just checked in on Barbara Curtis's Mommylife blog and learned that the mother of 12 (including four children with Down syndrome), whose family was the subject of an inspiring profile in last week's Washington Post, needs prayer for her husband Tripp and son Jonny, both of whom have health issues. Tripp's problem seems to be more serious, judging from what Barbara has written; he has been in and out of the hospital since suffering complications from a knee replacement.

Barbara has written on her blog that she is encouraged to hear that readers are praying for her. So, if you're moved to pray as well, do let her know via the e-mail address listed atop her site.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Linked by love

A virtual friendship turns to an engagement as blogger meets blogger. Congratulations to the happy couple! (And yes, I'm being mysterious on purpose, so that you'll be moved to read their accounts of their love.)

Friday, November 14, 2008

This is your brain on sweet tea



In which the Southern Baptist Convention predicts the psychedelic era—in 1964!—and notes that telling a lie will put you on a very, very bad trip indeed.

He's good papal

My friend Thomas Peters of American Papist has a shot at a $10,000 scholarship if enough people vote for him at collegescholarships.org. Do put in a click on his behalf and help him get his sacred-theology graduate degree.

Incidentally, as far as I can make out, collegescholarships.org is owned by Aaron Wall, who presumably uses it to collect data (though not e-mail addresses) for his research on Internet search engines.

Song and Gdansk


Recently a reporter did an e-mail interview with me on my book The Thrill of the Chaste for a glossy Polish women's magazine, similar to Cosmopolitan, whose name in English translates to Your Style. I will link to the interview if and when it becomes online, but, since the magazine will be translating it into Polish, I thought I would preview parts of it here in the original English.

You decided not to have sex untill marriage. Why would a thirtysomething modern woman, like you, give up sex? I suppose that for a woman who had a sex life before, it is not easy to give up sex. Am I right?

Deciding to refrain from sex until marriage was a huge life change for me. Not because I "had to have it," but because I had been convinced that the only chance I had of getting married was by using sex as a lure. While I knew from experience that sex alone was not enough to make a man fall in love with me, I believed that, when the right man came along, having sex with him was the only way I could cause him to be emotionally tied to me.

I wanted the power to make a man fall in love with me. Sex was power. The thought of removing it from my armory frightened me because I believed it would leave me without the means of attracting a man who would love me for life.

In short, I was an excellent student of the popular culture that brought us "Sex and the City" and pretty much all the other so-called "romantic" films and TV shows. The culture teaches us that we are not lovable for ourselves, only for what we do and the skill with which we do it. Hence, we seek advice from magazines that tell us how to be "better" at sex, because we fear that if we don't have the technical bedroom skills, we won't be loved.

I chose to reserve sex for marriage because, having had a conversion to Christianity, which caused me to believe for the first time that I was loved by God, I wanted to learn how to really love and be loved. It was a leap of faith.

At first, I did it in the hope that it would lead to marriage. After practicing chastity for a couple of years, I began to realize that no matter whether I met my husband or not, I was happier and more fulfilled than when I was living "the life." All my relationships, including those with family and friends, are deeper and more satisfying because I am learning how to love fully in the manner that is appropriate to each relationship.

In your book, you made a distinction between "abstinence" and "chastity." Could you explain it?

Abstinence is a negative—it simply means not having sex. Chastity is positive, because it is a virtue, and the meaning of a virtue is that it is enabling, not limiting. Chastity enables you to give the proper order to your affection so that you can love fully and appropriately. All love is by its nature lasting and permanent. The appropriate way to express love genitally is within the lifetime commitment of marriage, because it is only in marriage that you can make a lasting gift of your whole person to your spouse and receive your spouse's whole person in return, so that you are "one flesh." But there are endless ways of expressing love nongenitally. Discovering them is the great joy of life.

So, the "yes" of chastity does involve a "no" to sex outside of marriage, but its negative aspect is rooted in its positive aspect—you are saying "no" to something less, so that you can say "yes" to something more. In the same way, saying "I do" to a spouse in your wedding vows means saying "I don't" to everyone else in the world—but the heart of the "I do" is positive, not negative.

How has the idea of sex changed in your mind? What was sex for you before conversion and what does sex mean for you now as for a Christian woman?

I used to think that there were two acceptable kinds of sex: sex without love, and sex with love. Sex with love was preferable, but if love had not yet bloomed or was not going to bloom, I believed I was entitled to have sex with my partner anyway just for the pleasure of it.

When I received the gift of faith, I had to reevaluate my idea of what sex was for. The greatest aid for me in this respect was Pope John Paul II's theology of the body, which I learned about through Christopher West's book Good News About Sex and Marriage. (Before his papacy, as Karol Wojtlya, John Paul expressed many of the same ideas in his own book Love and Responsibility.)

Through those writings, I learned that love, being eternal, always comes from God, via the Holy Spirit. A true act of love returns that love to God through another person. Because love is eternal, an act of sexual love is authentic only if the love expressed is permanent. To give oneself sexually without giving one's heart is to act out a lie.

I want to be authentic in all my actions, and especially in how I love, which is the most important thing I will do in my life--the height of what I was created to do and be. So, I can no longer act out sexually in a way that is not truthful. At the same time, whether or not I have the opportunity to have sex within marriage, I can aspire to a deeper love of God and neighbor and so gain greater joy and fulfillment. That is my goal and, regardless of how my mood may fluctuate according to the environmental circumstances of my life, I know I will never regret it.

Do not you think that resigning from sex is not natural for a young woman like you? Maybe you are just pushing your sexual desire to your unconscious mind and in the future it will explode with even greater strength than before?

Sexual desire is not meant to exist in a vacuum. It is not something that is meant to be expressed with just anybody, otherwise we would think it was perfectly normal to have sex with the mailman, the cashier at the supermarket, the stranger walking his dog, and any other person who crosses our path. I am not pushing my sexual desire to my unconscious, but, rather, recognizing that it is meant to be expressed with a specific person—my future husband.

If I do not meet my future husband, it will do me no good to attempt to express my sexual desire with anyone else. To release a desire without an appropriate object in which it may terminate would be far more frustrating than to reserve that desire for the appropriate moment.

The only way that a desire can "explode" is if one pretends it does not exist. I know that I am capable of expressing myself sexually, and I choose not to do so until and unless I am married. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, if you meet someone who claims human beings are animals who cannot control their desires, hide your fine silverware.*

What is the thrill of the chaste? How chastity can be a thrill?

Chastity is thrilling because it is an open rebellion against the limitations that society and one's own fears put on one's ability to love. When you are free to love appropriately and fully, you are free from the false currencies that society tries to pass off as "love"—the illusions that lead to frustration, loneliness, and bitterness.

What—in your opinion—can ensure sexual satisfaction in marriage?

Ask your grandparents or any couple that's been together for 20 years or more about what ensures sexual satisfaction and they will tell you that it is communication and compromise, formed by love.

Have you ever met a man for whom chastity is as important as for you?

Yes, many. When you start to live chastely, you attract people who appreciate chastity. That's not to say that all who notice you will be chaste themselves, but you'll discover that chaste marriage-minded people do exist, and there are more of them than you might imagine.

Are you not afraid that you won't be able to find a husband because of your approach to sex?

I look at it the other way. If I'm meant to be married, and to be married for life, then the man I marry will love me for who I am, not for what I do. Having sex before marriage might help me win a husband, but it won't help me win the right husband. If a man puts his desire for sex before his desire to vow lasting love, who's to say he would love me when I'm no longer sexually attractive? I would rather risk never marrying than marry a man who lacks love, respect, and self-control.

Do you have in mind some restrictions towards marital sex? [...] What should sex in marriage be like, in your opinion?

Sex in marriage, contrary to what some well-meaning theologians say, is not always going to be technically awesome, no matter how much two people love each other. But I believe that the most technically inept married sex is more satisfying and fulfilling than the most technically proficient unmarried sex, because it is without fear. As a spouse, you want to give and receive sexual pleasure, so you're motivated to perform well. Yet, at the same time, you have the reassurance that if you're not awesome on a given night, the one you love will still be there the next night, and the next, and the next. That is where true sexual fulfillment lies—in the fulfillment of the whole person, who longs to be loved always, and not just the fleeting satisfaction of the body.

How do Christians and non-Christians react to your books?

Christians like Dreszcz czystości [the Polish title of The Thrill of the Chaste] because it shows them they're not alone. Non-Christians like it because it shows them they're not crazy.


Buy The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On from Amazon.com.

*Could someone remind me what the original line was? I think it had to do with counting one's forks.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Father George Kipiri, R.I.P.
A guest post by 
Fallen Sparrow

After several weeks of distracting myself at work and not going to daily Mass, I stepped out into the bleak and rainy Manhattan streets today and walked downtown to my regular lunchtime haunt for Mass. I was saddened to see, upon walking into the nave, a sign announcing the Memorial Mass for Fr. George Kipiri, who died on October 16 at the young age of 44.

Fr. George was one of the regular celebrants at the weekday Mass at Holy Innocents, though he was not officially on the parish staff. Rather, he came from his regular assignment at another church in Manhattan to assist in the celebration of the six daily Masses at Holy Innocents. He came to America, as I learned today, six years ago from Nigeria, leaving his family to serve the People of God here in the Archdiocese of New York. His sister-in-law took him in upon his arrival in the United States and helped to introduce him into the Archdiocese.

I never got to speak with Fr. George person-to-person, but from the several years of attending the Masses he celebrated, I recall fondly his booming baritone voice, with which he always joyfully and authoritatively proclaimed the Gospel. I recall how he always began his homilies by saying, "My dear People of God," and how he always concluded with the most hopeful of statements, "when we come into His Kingdom."

He exuded joy and hope and a love of God that always called me out of the petty worries and distractions that us office workers can so easily become entangled in, and reminded me, even if only for the quiet and dimly-lit half-hour of the day, that God was real, and present in the world, and that He loved me and gave Himself up for me.

As I knelt in the pew before Mass today, I was saddened that I wouldn't hear Fr. George's voice at lunchtime anymore, and yet I was filled with joy that I had crossed paths with him at all. It is so easy to take people and places for granted in this large and ever-changing city; and yet we see that we become attached to those people and places that we encounter habitually, even if we never get to know them all that well. They enrich our lives, and perhaps, we enrich theirs as well.

I prayed for Fr. George's soul, that he might be forgiven his sins and that he might come to the resurrection with the God whom he served and obviously loved. I was thankful that he came here, to a place far from home, that he gave his life in prayer and sacrifice for us, and that those who knew him better than I did saw fit to remember him and celebrate his life. I hope that we all continue to pray for one another, and hope that we all are joyfully reunited "when we come into His Kingdom."

In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.

"May angels lead you into Paradise; may the martyrs receive you at your coming and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem. May a choir of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have eternal rest."

From Fallen Sparrow's blog. Used by permission.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Same-sex, different dei
On the inadequacy of moral arguments for 'gay marriage'

A book excerpt by JAMES KALB

Someone might ask why "gay marriage" is so different from marriage between two sixty-year-olds, when both unions will be infertile. The answer is that an attempted union of two men is sterile by what it is—by the identity of the parties and the actions of which a pair of men as men are capable—while a union of a sixty-year-old man and woman is sterile by particular circumstances—their age and physical condition. In the latter case, the marital acts are still acts of a kind that by their natural unhindered design and functioning create a permanent connection carrying profoundly serious obligations that trump self-interest and join the two with the whole human community throughout time, even though they do not happen to have that practical result in the particular case because of factors that do not have to do with the identity of the participants or their acts.

The distinction depends on several points: (1) persons and acts have an essential nature that is not determined by happenstance attributes or specific effects; (2) one's nature as a man or woman is essential to who one is and one's connections to others, at least in specifically sexual matters, so that violating it violates oneself and those connections; and (3) the nature of sex includes a procreative aspect that must be respected, and that aspect is violated when we intentionally do something that defeats it, but not when it fails to go to completion because of abstention or circumstance.

In the past, such points have generally been accepted without analysis or dispute simply because they seemed part of what constitutes the human world in which we live, but recently the technocratic outlook has made them incomprehensible to many people. Indeed, commonsense essentialist thinking relating to matters of sexuality and human identity is now viewed as simple bigotry.

That change in outlook has resulted in a collapse of social understandings regarding sex that has been catastrophic for family stability and relations between the sexes and generations, which depend, like human actions and relations in general, not on a technical analysis of cause and effect in particular cases but on what the parties understand themselves and their connections and actions to be.

In the traditional view, being a man or woman, and being married, are matters that, like nationality or friendship, involve certain functions and obligations but cannot be reduced to them. One's sex is basic to what one is. By natural design, the sexual union of man and woman produces children—though not in every case. It follows that such a union should be permanent, transcend particular desires and onterests, and be connected to the social realm. Those implications, because of their importance, become integral to the very nature and meaning of the act. To engage in the act is to enact the union with all its attributes.

The institution of marriage as traditionally understood expresses natural functional understandings of what things are, mean, and should be that tie them to the strongest impulses and very identities of the parties. It promotes an orderly, reliable, stable, and generally satisfying system for the relations between the sexes and the continuation of the human race.

Such things are far too important to the pattern of our lives and how we understand ourselves to ignore or treat as an ignorant way of dealing with matters that should be handled in a purely technical fashion. To say that marriage could as easily involve two men or two women is to say that the importance of sex has nothing to do with its natural life-giving function, and that either marriage or being a man or woman is fundamentally irrelevant to who one is. If such views were accepted, marriage would reduce to a private contract based on idiosyncratic purposes. How could such a contract have enough purchase on human life to serve anything like the function marriage traditionally—and necessarily—has served?

Sexual morality is the part of morality that relates to our closest and most basic connections to others. Traditionalist concern with it is not at all narrow or obsessive. It is a consequence of the importance of the particular person, and of the habits and attachments that make him what he is and connect him durably and productively to others. A view of morality that slights family and sexual life and fails to interpret them to us is inadequate and inhuman.

Excerpted from The Tyranny of Liberalism: Understanding and Overcoming Administered Freedom, Inquisitorial Tolerance, and Equality by Command, published by ISI Books. Used by permission.

'It's Friday; Sunday's coming!'

Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life posts this clip, taped at the U.S. Senate, as a post-election reminder of the source of our hope and our liberty.

Quote of the day

"Our primary form of opposition to abortion should be that abortion takes the life of a living member of the human species, a human person possessed of the same dignity and worth as you or I. Yet the argument can and should, I think, be turned on its head: lack of chastity, at the individual or social level, makes abortion a necessity. Chastity is thus necessary for the promotion of the value of human life, a value deeply threatened by abortion on demand. [...]

"[T]he essential pro-life battle is fought at more personal and domestic levels. It is fought in the effort of young persons to be chaste prior to marriage. It is fought in married couples' efforts to forego contraception and embrace children, even, at times, at the expense of professional advance. And it is fought in parental efforts to educate a new generation of children into an awareness of the virtue of chastity, and the value of human life."

— Christopher Tollefsen, addressing students at last weekend's conference on Sexuality, Integrity, and the University at Princeton University. Used by permission.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sleeping with the anomie
Common misunderstandings of the Theology of the Body

A guest post by STEVE KELLMEYER

During the past five years, Catholic catechists have fallen in love with Pope John Paul II's teachings on human sexuality, popularly known as the Theology of the Body. In many areas of parish education, including RCIA and marriage prep, teaching of the Theology of the Body has superseded or even replaced traditional catechesis.

Because the papal writings that comprise the Theology of the Body are lengthy, complex, and highly philosophical, and there is no "official" shorter version of them as there is for the Catechism, catechists are left to pick and choose from various distillations of the teachings. As a result, many people have begun to teach what they call "Theology of the Body" even though they do not fully understand what it is about. Basic theological principles are sometimes distorted or entirely lost, creating confusion among the faithful. It’s time to clear away the myths and study the facts.

Myth #1: The Theology of the Body is a new teaching.

Fact: The Theology of the Body is the oldest teaching in Christendom. Strictly speaking, the theology of the body tells us (1) God took flesh and (2) this event is extremely important. In fact, God-in-the-flesh fully reveals God to man and man to himself. Thus, a complete teaching on the theology of the body necessarily encapsulates every aspect of Catholic Faith. Once we understand this, we can see that Pope John Paul II did not give us a new teaching, rather, he simply synthesized and presented once more the ancient understanding of the Church concerning mankind, albeit using modern language and a modern perspective.

Myth #2: The full "Theology of the Body" consists of 129 Wednesday audiences.

Fact: As has already been pointed out, that isn’t possible. As even a cursory examination of those Wednesday audiences show, the theology presented therein is incomplete. For instance, if we restrict ourselves to studying just the 129 audiences, we will never examine the role of suffering in human existence, for the Pope said not a word about the subject in those audiences. Yet how can anything claiming to be a theology of the body leave out this literally crucial, that is, this literally Cross-filled experience of the body? In fact, the Wednesday audiences were never meant to be a complete catechesis. Instead, they were meant to introduce the world to the constant and ancient teaching of the Church.

All John Paul II did was change the starting point for catechesis. Traditionally, catechists teach the Catholic Faith by first teaching about the Trinity, then the creation of angels, of the world and man, of the Fall, the incarnation, the Church, the sacraments, etc. The Wednesday audiences simply moved the catechetical starting point from Trinity to the sacraments. Specifically, it begins by discussing the primal origins of the sacrament of marriage and it unfolds the content of Catholic Faith from that perspective. The shift in starting position helps clarify certain aspects of Catholic teaching that the modern world no longer understood. This is the "bombshell" aspect of the teaching – because Christ is Bridegroom, we can start with this common human experience, examine it in every detail, and come to understand who God is and who we are.

Myth #3: The Church is only now beginning to fully understand human sexuality.

Fact: The Church has always understood human sexuality. She stood against the Albigensians a thousand years ago when they insisted sex was evil. She stood against the Gnostics two thousand years ago when they said the same thing. She stood against the pagans who insisted that sex was primarily about physical pleasure or that temple prostitution was the way to connect with divinity. The Catholic Church has always understood the central truths concerning human sexuality. Unfortunately, throughout the centuries many of her members have not. This is especially true in the modern era, which is why John Paul II decided to start the discussion of God and man where he did.

Still, the mistaken idea that the Church never fully grasped human sexuality until John Paul II is hard to shake. There are even some benighted TOB speakers who will say something like, "If the Church is a person, then when it comes to sexuality, She is about at the level of an adolescent in terms of her understanding of the subject." Such a remark tells us quite a lot more about the arrogance of the speaker than it does about the historical reality. Any speaker who says this thereby implies that he knows much more about sex than the Church and is qualified to stand as the judge over the Church and two millennia of teaching. Such a statement also implies the Church really knows nothing about sex, since no one has ever met an adolescent that is mature or knowledgeable on the subject.

In fact, the situation is precisely the reverse. Everything we know about the truth and meaning of human sexuality comes to us from the Church. We are the students here; we are certainly not the judges! Speakers who make judgements like this are promoting themselves, not the Church or Her teaching.

Myth #4: The Theology of the Body teaches that "pain is good."

Fact: As noted above, the Wednesday audiences say not a word about suffering. To learn more about that, we must go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or better yet, to Salvific Doloris, John Paul II's apostolic exhortation on human suffering. Once we study the actual documents, we instantly discover that the Church teaches exactly the opposite. Pain is most definitely not good. Rather, it is morally neutral and a natural evil.

When we say pain is morally neutral, we mean it is a natural phenomenon with no moral repercussions. Pain can be experienced after a good workout or terrible torture session. It may be inflicted by a surgeon who is trying to cut out your cancer or by a sadist who is trying to cut out your heart. In a moral sense, pain is neither good nor bad. Instead, it is what we do with pain that establishes the morality of the painful situation. If we unite our own pain to the suffering of the Cross it can be sanctified. If we do not, it will not be sanctified. Instead, it will remain a natural evil.

Evil is a hole in reality. Remember, God created everything good, He created everything out of nothing, and no one else has the power to create anything at all. So evil is not, strictly speaking, a created thing. Rather, every evil is a twisting or removal of something good. A natural evil is the lack of a good thing that should be in the universe but is no longer there. So, pain is the sign that tells us something good is missing from our lives. In fact, it is a terrible reminder of the fallen human condition.

Myth #5: The Theology of the Body teaches that we can overcome our struggles with sins of the flesh, that is, it teaches we can overcome concupiscence.

Fact: Even baptism does not remove concupiscence, so simply "changing our attitude" by studying the Theology of the Body isn’t going to do it either. The curious concept expressed in this myth seems to come from a serious misunderstanding of holiness. Specifically, many people are under the mistaken assumption that the holier you become, the less you struggle with sin.

In fact, exactly the opposite is the case. The holier you become, the more you struggle with sin. After all, as C.S. Lewis points out, who fights harder – the soldier who surrenders to the enemy or the soldier who keeps fighting even when the odds seem overwhelming? Clearly the latter. As a quick perusal of any saints’ biography will show, every person who grows in sanctity becomes aware of all his faults to greater and greater degrees. Every canonized saint considered himself the worst of sinners.

The saints were not deluded – as they grew in sanctity, they simply got a more and more clear understanding of exactly how bad their own sinfulness was. Indeed, the greatest saints all experienced intense struggles to protect their holiness, especially their chastity – nearly all testify to the fierce temptations they experienced to engage in improper sexual relations. Anyone who grows in holiness can expect temptations of the flesh to get worse, not lessen.

Remember, one main result of the Fall is that we are blinded to the reality of our own shortcomings. Sanctity, on the other hand, is a clear understanding of reality. Thus, anyone who thinks they can overcome temptations to sins of the flesh is deluding themselves. This idea is a "white-knuckled heresy" that holds tightly to a distorted understanding of sanctity.

Myth #6: Saints who accepted self-mortification, e.g., throwing themselves in thorn bushes, etc., showed a distorted understanding of the human body.

Fact: As we can now see, this idea grows from a failure to understand Incarnational theology and sanctity. Christ Himself tells us this. After all, Christ essentially tells Pontius Pilate that He will be crucified only because He permits it; He could have brought legions of angels to defend Him from any human attempt to inflict pain or death on His person.

But He didn’t. He allowed His flesh to be mortified even unto death so that the world might be saved. Thus, the saints who scourged themselves, who threw themselves into thorn bushes or underwent similar bodily sufferings were doing two things at once. First, they were emulating Christ. Second, they were fighting a most fierce battle with their own concupiscence, their own tendency towards sins of the flesh. This level of battle can be waged only by those who have a very good grasp of reality, that is, it can only be waged by those who have a very good understanding of God. If you and I are the infantry in the Church Militant, the saints who undertake such mortifications are the elite special forces.

For this reason, the Church requires that extraordinary mortifications be undertaken only by those who are under the very close spiritual supervision of experienced, holy men and women. Most of us are simply not ready to live at that level of spiritual combat because most of us do not have the secure grasp of reality necessary to undertake it.

Conclusion

As we can see, these six myths above do not combine to create a theology of the body, that is, they do not constitute a theology of the Incarnation. Rather, they create a theology of pleasure. The Catholic Faith is many things, but as Pope Benedict XVI has said, "He who is looking to be comfortable has come to the wrong address."


Steve Kellmeyer is the author of Sex and the Sacred City.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam* - Part I
A guest post by 
DRUSILLA BARRON

I have had many reasons to ask God why. For long, my top three “why” questions were: Why did You allow my parents to be killed? Why didn’t You let me be killed? Why did You put me with a horrible, hateful foster-father?

Eventually my questions began to be answered with a bluntness that surprised me. Before, I had always experienced God as nice and cozy. Then, when He began answering Why?, not so much:

Why did You allow my parents to be killed? If the bullets had not been real and capable of actually killing, there would have been no freedom – only a pretence. I do not deal in pretence.

Why didn’t You let me be killed? You are not an appendage of your parents: I have other work for you to do.

Why did You put me with a horrible, hateful foster-father? To save your life.

Today many of us ask Why? The United States is the greatest nation in the world. We play an important part in worldwide stability and sanity – at least we should. So then why would God allow this country to elect the most pro-abortion president ever? Why would He allow us to give the keys of the F16s to a man who knows neither obedience nor how to command? Why didn’t Our Lord and Our Lady grant the miracle for which so many of us prayed and fasted?

Every few years, I read the Bible as one book, from Genesis through Revelations. This is the first time I’m doing so since my return to the Church and I’m finding the story so much more exciting than I did the last time. I love action movies and keep thinking, with the right people, the Bible would make a series of the best action movies ever. There’s romance and drama and comedy – it’s the most amazing book. And the most awesome action. It’s so much more than battles. In fact, the battles are minor in proportion to the action that occurs as a result of God’s relationship with His people.

In 1 Samuel: 4, the Israelites go out to fight the Philistines and are routed. They go out again but carry the ark of the Lord as if it’s a magic talisman, as if it’s presence is all that is needed for them to be victorious. They are routed again and the Philistines capture the ark. The Israelites are astounded, the glory of the Lord has left them. Finally, Samuel tells them: "If you are returning to the LORD with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ash'taroth from among you, and direct your heart to the LORD, and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines." (1 Sam 7:3) And so the people of Israel put away their foreign gods and idols and serve the Lord only and the ark of the covenant is returned. God delivers them from the Philistines. Ultimately, He gives them a king – David (and we all know how important David is).

A few month ago, before my health flare-up, I was working on a series of articles under the general category: “Unmarried, Not Single.” While conducting research, I spoke with several priests who insisted that the besetting sin of our age is selfishness. Selfishness is when I become my own God. This past election is proof of that. In the weeks before the election many of us came out of the woodwork, commented on a variety of threads and prayed and even fasted but what were we doing before then? Two years ago? One year? Six months ago? What were we doing well before the election was imminent and we became scared? For many of us, the answer is Huh???

Is being Catholic something we are 24/7 – 365 – on the outside? How do we present ourselves to the world? Do we keep our faith and the rest of our lives separate? Do we try to keep ourselves untouched by the world? Is being Catholic limited to Mass and when we’re alone? Mass and when we’re with like-minded friends and family? Do we limit our contacts to a Catholic sub-culture? To those who are like us? Do we even know our neighbours at home and at work? Say hello to them whether or not they speak to us? Reach out to them whenever the opportunity presents itself? Involve ourselves in community events and organizations? Are we involved in local politics? Do we consider running for office or working on a pro-life candidate’s campaign? Do we give money to support pro-life candidates and pro-life work? Do we even vote in primaries and other local elections? Do we write and/or call our elected officials to weigh in on proposed legislative actions? Are we still asking, Huh???

Do we proclaim the good news even in situations when we can’t mention Christ’s name? Do we even know how? Have we tried to learn? Are we learning to respond from the Church’s teaching to comments such as abortion is only one issue among many? Are we importunately asking our priests and bishops to teach us how to do so? Do we take the light and love of Christ out into the communities in which we live and perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy with eagerness and joy so that we attract those who are so hungry they accept anyone or anything rather than Christ?

So many of us cannot give a positive answer to any of those questions. (And for some of them, neither can I – this is not an I’m doing it right pontification.) For so many of us, they’re not even on the radar. We really have no reason to wonder why God in His wisdom and mercy and love, has answered our last-minute fervent prayers and fasting for victory with: NFW?

And while we are still shocked and wondering why and before we lull ourselves back to sleep with too many platitudes and consoling phrases, we need to accept that God gave the election to Barack Obama. We watched it happen. In amazement, we asked how can people be so blind? We commented about it on a variety of threads. The blindness prevailed. Not so much in the popular vote** but in swing states many of which are more than 30% Catholic: once again, Catholics determined the election.

And we can’t say it’s the fault of those who are not real Catholics either because blindness prevailed amongst us serious, devout, Sunday Mass-going Catholics too. We thought we could be lazy and then dutifully fervent for a bit and then lazy once again. We can’t. But in doing so, we failed this country and the world. Most of all, we failed to serve God. We didn’t fail to save the world. That’s not our job. We didn’t fail to defeat Obama. That wasn’t our job either. For years many, many of us have been complacently inactive. We have failed to participate in the lives God has given us. We have failed to proclaim the good news in our words and actions where we.

We complained about those running for office when we were not running ourselves. We expected candidates who follow Church teaching to spring up but we neither instructed them nor supported them. We excused ourselves by saying, the non-negotiables are natural law and available to everyone, while knowing that our knowledge of natural law has been so badly fractured even devout Catholics often don’t know the difference between right and wrong. We live in a time of insanity and we too are insane: to do nothing for years, to be complacent and inactive and yet to expect victory because we have been smart and witty on a few threads and prayed and fasted hard at the last minute is our personal form of madness. We know prayer and fasting are not charms that will give us the winning number in the great lottery of American politics. We know God will not let us use Him or His Mother as good luck charms, as idols. And He didn’t. We were routed.

The day after the election a friend sent round an email that told us "[t]hings will be bad for us for a while by the world's standards." She then went on to assure us that she hadn’t given up hope and knew all would be well. Though I’ve commiserated with messages of that sort in the past, even made such remarks myself, this time I objected because I’ve been thinking so much about hope recently and have come to realize that deciding the way things will be in advance, be it persecution or all will be well, is not hope. It’s hard to accept but hope is being workers in the vineyards who, having been hired earlier in the day, roll up our sleeves and get busy from the first moment because we’re so happy to be hired, so happy to be working with Him. It is joyfully enduring with Christ because He is giving us the gift of hanging in there with God Himself. Hope energizes us. It does not leave us sitting about waiting until the last hour to make certain we needn’t do more than our fair share of work since we’re only getting the same pay as the last hirees. That’s selfishness. And hope is certainly not treating God like a machine that fails to start but only needs a bit of perseverance and perhaps a swift kick. That is as if God is a genie awaiting our personal commands – again, selfishness.

The night after the election a friend who works in a pro-life/pro-family ministry told me he had been hoping McCain might win so that he needn’t work so hard but now he must work very hard and in ways he hadn’t imagined. His face showed amazement as he thought of it. His words are prophetic: we must work very hard and in ways we have never imagined. We don't know how things will be. We only know that it is our job to go out into the world and in our words and deeds, through the lives God gives us proclaim the good news every day. Without advance decisions. Or advance intel. With only the commitment to live our baptismal vows and the knowledge that we work alongside God.

We cannot participate with God when we treat prayer and fasting as talismans. Neither can we do so if we are waiting for others to do the job for us. Nor if we decide all will be well because we are fervently and faithfully devout. Nor if we spend our lives flitting from shadowy doorway to shadowy doorway, cringing from the blow we expect to fall. Nor if we use any other lame excuse to avoid the work of proclaiming the good news with our own lips, using our own bodies. Lame excuses only leave us thinking we are doing our best when we are just being selfish and lazy. They infect our hearts and lives and ministries with defensiveness and fear, convince us to stay hidden. We think we are serving Christ when we are actually using Him as a false god and if He is false, then we have nothing at all.

I am convinced that Our Lord and Our Lady have many surprises in store for us. We ain't seen nothing yet. But then too many of us really haven’t done anything yet either. And others could do more. We’ve been made so much stronger than we know, so much more than we realize. If we all get busy, we’d soon be amazed at how much God would use us: On the day after the election, 40 Days For Life reported that during their campaign on “more than 540 [occasions,] women arriving for abortions changed their minds and decided to keep their babies,” that abortion mills (I can’t call them clinics) shortened their hours or closed down during the prayer vigils and some of the employees have had changes of heart. On the day after the election a friend decided not to vote for Obama because of a long conversation she had had with two other friends that had convinced her a vote for Obama was a vote for abortion. On the day after the election, I learned that a co-worker had decided not to divorce her husband of 22 years after long conversations with me and another Christian friend who struggles to be devout.

After my parents died, after I was left alone in a strange country with strange people, I begged God to let me die. God gave me a horrible, hateful foster-father to fight and in fighting him I learned to fight for and love my own life, to turn away from seeking death. If we ask God, Why Obama? I think He will tell us that He is saving our lives. We must get this: corpses are inactive. Life requires activity. And if we’re alive in the Church, we must be alive in our communities, we must be proclaiming the good news to those who haven’t heard it – and that’s a lot of people. We must put aside our lame excuses to be selfish and lazy because they are killing us: failing to proclaim the good news is deadly. It makes us weak. And then we die.

God is in control. He’s not a false god no matter how we treat Him. And Obama’s election is for His greater glory. We know that. We also know that His presence is all that is needed for victory but He will not let us use Him and He will do all things to save our lives (and Obama’s too for that matter). He will not be complicit in out attempts to hide out in shadowy corners. If necessary, He will allow circumstances to scare us into activity. But it’s only the activity we should have been involved in all along. He has insisted, all along, that we put away our false gods and “serve him only” by serving all those with whom He has put us.

*For the greater glory of God

Reprinted with permission from Drusilla's blog, Heirs in Hope.

Prayer request

Please pray for Michael Somerville, a toddler who is struggling to recover from a near-drowning. His mom Sabina writes that a Web site has been set up for those who would like to keep up with his progress.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Earth to Dawn

"All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.—Genesis 12:3

"[T]he word the Lord uses for 'earth' is not aretz, as is often used in the Hebrew Bible to denote '(the) earth' or 'land,' but rather adamah—a term with a more 'earthy' connotation, from which Adam, made of clay of the ground, received his name.

"There is something sweet about God’s pronouncing Adam’s name within the words of the blessing, as though He were saying that all the families of Adam would bless themselves by Abraham. But just as the word adamah not only contains “Adam” but also the entire planet, so God’s blessing may be seen to contain a far greater and deeper message.

"The last words God spoke to Adam were a curse—and not only that, but a curse upon him through the ground, adamah, lasting until Adam returned to the ground, again adamah (3:19). And so it was until God’s call to Abraham: Each time the Lord pronounced the word adamah to a human being—to Cain (4:12) and to Noah (7:4)—it was within a curse.

"The Lord revealed a change of heart when speaking 'to himself' upon smelling the sweet odor of Noah’s sacrifice after the flood (8:21): 'Never again will I doom the earth [adamah] because of man [adam].' But it was not until His call to Abraham that He spoke of adamah to man within the context of a blessing and not a curse. Given that the word encompasses the whole world, the Lord’s inclusion of it in the blessing hints at an even larger blessing to come—the redemption of all Earth (and indeed all creation) through Christ (Revelation 21:1). Through Abraham, He is beginning the process of salvation history that will, with the Incarnation, forever remove the curse that entered the world through Adam."

—From my midterm paper for my Pentateuch class, which I handed in last Friday
While I work to get back on track following midterms—catching up on school, everyday life, and sleep—I want to thank everyone who has prayed for me during this, my first semester of grad school.

It will be a while before I get my Pentateuch grade, but in the meantime I am delighted to report that I did well in my other midterms—an A in Latin (!!!) and varying shades of B in my other three classes.

I absolutely love the school I am attending and am so thankful to have the opportunity to study theology there. Also, save for skimping on sleep, I have been in good health—another reason to rejoice after my bout with thyroid cancer and the subsequent radiation treatment earlier this year.

Catching up on my studies means staying away from blogging for as long as possible, so this may be the last you hear from me personally for a while. But I do hope to publish guest posts from friends. (And, if I have time, I might cheat and post an interview I just did by e-mail for a Polish magazine.)

Again, thanks so much to those who have prayed for me. Please keep up the prayers; I always need them!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Kismet, Hardy



What a delight to find this stunning clip of one of my all-time favorite songs, Francoise Hardy lip-synching her composition "All Over the World" in Piccadilly Circus, 1965.

Police beatitude

“My choice for the priesthood was influenced by the discourses and speeches of John Paul II on the culture of death, which includes thousands of murders, suicides, homicides and national situations in which children are being abandoned or are victims of abuse in their homes because of drugs.

“For these turbulent souls, I never had an external solution as a policeman. There has to be an interior change, a change of heart and therefore, being a priest is necessary.”

— Nicolas Fernandez, explaining why he left a promising career as a New York City police offer to become a priest.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Beati 'tude



"Truly, knowing what we know, the only sadness, when all is said and done, is not to be a saint."

— Brother Jerome Zeiler O.P. preaching at the All Saints vigil at Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C., October 31, 2008 (full text online)

Quote of the day

"The death of religion, of the true Christian religion, occurs when the God who became flesh and dwelt among us, is seen as the God who has removed Himself (having accomplished His work here) and is found only in the distance of theological thought. It is little wonder that in the sterility of Christian atheism the vacuum of a true spiritual life should be filled with the vacuity of the political life.

"The Republican party is dead. The Democratic party is dead. Neither of them can give you life. They belong to a world that is passing away. What remains is what has been established by God and still sails before the winds and on the tide that obey His voice.

"There is a Kingdom of God, found in communion with the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. It is not removed from us but has come among us. It breaks forth in human lives and burns with spiritual fire in the sacraments of the Church. It heals the sick, raises the dead, casts out demons and gives freely what it has freely received. It knows no economy other than the fullness of God who causes the barren woman to be the joyful mother of children, who brings forth water in the desert and changes water into wine.

"Religion is not dead - only the false pretense of religion begotten in the delusion of the modern world."

— Father Stephen Freeman"The Death of Religion" (read the whole thing)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Claiming the victory

Away from the national spotlight yesterday, a victory was claimed for life. Marcel of Aggie Catholic tells the story,"a poignant reminder that neither utopia nor Armageddon will come by way of politics."

Quote of the day

"Ingemuit totus orbis et Arianum se esse miratus est."—St. Jerome

("The whole world groaned and was amazed to find itself Arian.").

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Esprit glows in Brooklyn

On the "worst election day of [her] life," Brenda of Crazy Stable's testimony is a beautiful embodiment of the paradox of faith: the believer's ability to stare unblinkingly at crisis, while bearing a witness suffused with joy.

Catholics: Be joyful!

A guest post by STEVE KELLMEYER of 
Bridegroom Press



Remember this today:

"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."—1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

We don't have to be happy, we do have to be joyful.

Being happy is being comfortable, healthy and well-fed.
Being joyful is knowing that God's plan is being worked out,
and our obedience and submission to it contributes to His glory.

Jesus was not happy on the Cross, but He was joyful.

We fast and pray, we ask for mercy, but we accept whatever comes, punishment or pleasure.
Times of persecution were prophesied.
If we are found worthy to be subject to them, we should rejoice.



Sacred Heart statue outside the Church of St. Michael, West 34th Street, Manhattan


"Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

"My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.

"It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

"Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no "root of bitterness" springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears."—Hebrews 12:3-17

Every drop of blood shed by the abortionist's scalpel will have to be repaid.
Perhaps we have been chosen to participate, be God's co-workers, as St. Paul said, in this work of redemption ...

Conversely, if the Butcher from Chicago fails in his bid, then we must raise our voices in the ancient hymns:

Non nobis, Domine, Domine,
non nobis, Domine
Sed nomini,
sed nomini,
tuo da gloriam.

Not to us, Lord,
But to your Name, be all glory.


Sing it, or sing this other ancient hymn for protection and thanksgiving:



Te Deum

TE DEUM laudamus: te Dominum confitemur.
(O GOD, we praise Thee: we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord. )
Te aeternum Patrem omnis terra veneratur.
(Everlasting Father, all the earth doth worship Thee. )
Tibi omnes Angeli; tibi Caeli et universae Potestates;
(To Thee all the Angels, the Heavens and all the Powers, )
Tibi Cherubim et Seraphim incessabili voce proclamant:
(all the Cherubim and Seraphim, unceasingly proclaim: )
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
(Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts! )
Pleni sunt caeli et terra maiestatis gloriae tuae.
(Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of Thy glory. )
Te gloriosus Apostolorum chorus,
(The glorious choir of the Apostles, )
Te Prophetarum laudabilis numerus,
(the wonderful company of Prophets, )
Te Martyrum candidatus laudat exercitus.
(the white-robed army of Martyrs, praise Thee. )
Te per orbem terrarum sancta confitetur Ecclesia,
(Holy Church throughout the world doth acknowledge Thee: )
Patrem immensae maiestatis:
(the Father of infinite Majesty; )
Venerandum tuum verum et unicum Filium;
(Thy adorable, true and only Son; )
Sanctum quoque Paraclitum Spiritum.
(and the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. )
Tu Rex gloriae, Christe.
(O Christ, Thou art the King of glory! )
Tu Patris sempiternus es Filius.
(Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father. )
Tu ad liberandum suscepturus hominem, non horruisti Virginis uterum.
(Thou, having taken it upon Thyself to deliver man, didst not disdain the Virgin's womb. )
Tu, devicto mortis aculeo, aperuisti credentibus regna caelorum.
(Thou overcame the sting of death and hast opened to believers the Kingdom of Heaven. )
Tu ad dexteram Dei sedes, in gloria Patris.
(Thou sittest at the right hand of God, in the glory of the Father. )
Iudex crederis esse venturus.
(We believe that Thou shalt come to be our Judge. )
Te ergo quaesumus, tuis famulis subveni: quos pretioso sanguine redemisti.
(We beseech Thee, therefore, to help Thy servants whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy Precious Blood. )
Aeterna fac cum sanctis tuis in gloria numerari.
(Make them to be numbered with Thy Saints in everlasting glory. )
V. Salvum fac populum tuum, Domine, et benedic hereditati tuae.
(V. Save Thy people, O Lord, and bless Thine inheritance! )
R. Et rege eos, et extolle illos usque in aeternum.
(R. Govern them, and raise them up forever. )
V. Per singulos dies benedicimus te.
(V. Every day we thank Thee. )
R. Et laudamus nomen tuum in saeculum, et in saeculum saeculi.
(R. And we praise Thy Name forever, yea, forever and ever. )
V. Dignare, Domine, die isto sine peccato nos custodire.
(V. O Lord, deign to keep us from sin this day. )
R. Miserere nostri, Domine, miserere nostri.
(R. Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us. )
V. Fiat misericordia tua, Domine, super nos, quemadmodum speravimus in te.
(V. Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, for we have hoped in Thee. )
R. In te, Domine, speravi: non confundar in aeternum.
(R. O Lord, in Thee I have hoped; let me never be put to shame. )


The following is a well known translation of the Te Deum, which, though not literal, preserves much of the spirit and force of the original. Except for the seventh stanza, which is a rendering of verses 20 and 21 by Msgr. Hugh Thomas Henry (1862-1946), it was written by Fr. Clarence Alphonsus Walworth (1820-1900). Sing it:

HOLY God, we praise Thy Name
Lord of all we bow before Thee;
all on earth Thy scepter claim,
all in heaven above adore Thee;
Infinite Thy vast domain,
everlasting is Thy reign.

HARK, the loud celestial hymn
angel choirs above are raising;
Cherubim and Seraphim
in unceasing chorus praising,
fill the heavens with sweet accord;
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord!

LO, the Apostolic train
Join, Thy sacred name to hallow:
prophets swell the loud refrain,
and the white-robbed Martyrs follow;
and, from morn till set of sun,
through the Church the song goes on.

HOLY Father, Holy Son,
Holy Spirit, Three we name Thee,
While in essence only One,
undivided God we claim Thee:
and, adoring, bend the knee
while we own the mystery.

THOU art King of glory, Christ:
Son of God, yet born of Mary;
for us sinners sacrificed,
and to death a tributary:
first to break the bars of death,
Thou has opened heaven to faith.

FROM Thy high celestial home,
Judge of all, again returning,
we believe that Thou shalt come
in the dreaded Doomsday morning;
when Thy voice shall shake the earth,
and the startled dead come forth.

THEREFORE do we pray Thee, Lord:
help Thy servants whom, redeeming
by Thy Precious Blood out-poured,
Thou hast saved from Satan's scheming.
Give to them eternal rest
in the glory of the Blest.

SPARE Thy people, Lord, we pray,
by a thousand snares surrounded:
keep us without sin today,
never let us be confounded.
Lo, I put my trust in Thee;
never, Lord, abandon me.