Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Tag Archives: TOB

Encourage & Teach: The Holy Trinity and the Sacrament of Marriage

holy-trinityFor those of us who remember the Baltimore Catechism, you likely have those fond memories of Sr. Mary Margaret asking:

  • “Who made us?”
  • “Why did God make us?”
  • “What must we do to gain the happiness of heaven?”

We quickly answered with the appropriate memorized formula and saved our souls from parochial perdition. These are important questions because they address the most fundamental questions of what it means to be a human being.

As a married man, and for those who will have or will follow in this noble vocation, one of the most intriguing statements our Lord spoke is this: (Read more…)

The Triduum: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told

triduum EasterFamily gatherings are a particularly joy-filled event for me. I get to catch-up on how everyone is doing (sometimes what they are doing) as well as just spending some quality time with family. Inevitably, an aunt or uncle will say, “Remember when……” and all the nieces, nephews, cousins, in-laws (and out-laws) will gather around to hear the tale. We laugh, smile, sometimes even cry remembering our loved ones whom we have loss but always, in the end, embrace and give thanks for each other and for…remembering. Holy week is like that for Christians. In fact, we have a special word for it: anamnesis.

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Sunday Homily: Fully Revealing Man to Himself

We all remember those famous words of the queen from Disney’s classic, Snow White: Say it with me, “Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” The mirror always told the truth to the queen whether she liked it or not…and, that’s how the saga began. Wouldn’t it be nice this Lent to have a mirror to do the same for us?

We do! Instead of having a genie trapped in a mirror to speak back to us, we have Jesus. Sound a little far-fetched? Blessed John Paul II didn’t think so. He loved to quote, Gaudium et Spes 22:1,

The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. [My emphasis]

Mirrors are meant to reveal ourselves to us. Unfortunately, they only show us what is placed before it; and so, with physical mirrors, only our physical appearance. However, I would suggest that by looking at Jesus, He reveals not only the outer-me but who I am per se. Remember when the prophet Samuel went looking to anoint a new king of Israel and found none until Jesse’s son David stood before him?

…the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

What I am about to suggest is terrifying and takes courage. It is one thing to ask ourselves or our friends, “What do you see,” but to ask the living God…that is quite another!

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:31)

Not fear in the sense of fearing judgment or His wrath but a fear that is awe and wonderment. We should be experiencing that fear or awe and wonderment every time we see the Blessed Sacrament. If we don’t, then our hearts have grown callous and cold and are in need of this Lent. To be that cold means we are almost spiritually dead.

It may be terrifying to consider this and yet, that is what the Lord through His Church asks of us this Lent. And how is this accomplished? We need to steal away to a quiet place and mentally draw into the presence of the Lord; invite the Holy Spirit to teach us to pray and reveal our heart, and then, gaze upon Jesus in Sacred Scripture. Now, this cannot be a drive through prayer. We need to dedicate time daily. At least 15 minutes may be 30 if this is not new to us. It is here, in this time of revelatory prayer that he will reveal our hearts to us through Sacred Scripture. Because it is also written:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:12-13)

He who is an All-Consuming Fire (Hebrews 12:29) desires to purify us in his crucible of love (Sirach 2:1-10) so that we might be changed from “glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18) to resemble the Lord. The devil tried to accuse our Lord in the Gospel today of these sins but discovered that these were the sins of Israel, not of Jesus. To the devil’s dismay, Jesus chose to redeem Israel’s sins.

Let’s be honest, the prospect of our Lord revealing all our attachments, hidden sins and wounds is not comfortable. In fact, St. Bernard of Clairvaux in the introduction of his work, “The Steps of Humility and Pride” states that this is how the Lord imparts to us the gift and virtue of humility: by the bread of sorrow (Psalm 126:2) and the wine of compunction (Psalm 59:5).

It is also true that we have nothing to fear! St. Bernard also gives us a great deal of consolation by saying,

This first food, then is humility: bitter and medicinal; the second is charity: sweet and soothing…[1]

The first is bitter so that he may cleanse the wounds of our sin to make way for His wounds of love. The second is that love poured from the cross which becomes our strength to choose Him over all other things. Why does the Lord do this? That we might experience the profound depths of His mercy and His love and hear His tender voice. As Isaiah said in yesterday’s first reading, He is the “repairer of the breach” (Isaiah 58:12) and wants to heal the breach between us and God the Father.

Join me this Lent. I am committed to make this Lent different from every other. If you usually look back over Lent and realize that you want more, you need more – this is the way for you. I invite you to join me this Lent and take a long deep look at our Catholic mirror, the crucifix and Sacred Scripture in order to let our Lord reveal you to yourself. It is frightening. It is painful. It is even troubling and uncomfortable. But, then again,

The world promises you comfort, but YOU are not made for comfort. YOU are made for GREATNESS. (Pope Benedict XVI)


[1]Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, The Steps of Humility and Pride (Cistercian Fathers Series) (Collegeville: Cistercian Publs, 1989), 31.

Defining the Family….

I love religious education. In particular, the sacramental years are a favorite. I started teaching these classes simply because my kids who were in them asked me. To date, I have taught three of my four children’s First Holy Communion / Reconciliation classes (my wife taught our oldest son’s class) and the two oldest who have been Confirmed (two more over the next six years). The last Holy Communion class I taught gave me great pause when second graders discussed, well, marriage.

During one of my lessons I chose to discuss the sacramentality of marriage and the importance of family.  I quickly discovered though, there was a more fundamental issue that we needed to discuss and clarify. Not only did they not understand the concept of family (they were educated by the television networks), they could not define it. The definition I used: a sacramental covenant between a man and a woman entrusted to the Church that creates a permanent bond and community called a family. Sounds long and complicated but when you break it down for them they get it.

What could go wrong, right?!? It was fine until one of the kids mentioned that they had a friend whose parents were man and man-woman (transgender) and I needed to be a little more open-minded. Yep, that’s right. A second grader was not only redefine marriage but gender as well. Think of what Kate Winslet’s son Joe said since he is the same age and a great representation of what the culture is producing,

I like the diversity that my children are exposed to every day. I love the way their brains work. Joe turns to me the other day and says, ‘One day, I will have a girlfriend. But I might have a boyfriend. If I’m gay.’ He’s 7! And I said, ‘You might have a girlfriend or a boyfriend, darling.’ And he said, ‘Which would you prefer?’ And I said, ‘My love, that would be entirely up to you, and it doesn’t make any difference to me.’ But that he knows! It’s a real privilege. Talk about the best education. (Kate Winslet, V Magazine)

All this is to say: we need to understand that it is not so much traditional marriage that is at-risk as we enter 2013 but the very nature of what it means to be human which serves as the foundation for marriage. No longer does society hold to an anthropology supported by positive law let alone natural law. In fact, as Pope Benedict XVI, in his message to the Roman Curia on December 21, 2012,

of what being human really means – is being called into question. He [Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim] quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: “one is not born a woman, one becomes so” (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term “gender” as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society.[1]

No longer does the culture at-large see the beauty found in the asymmetrical difference[2] revealed in the logic of humanity’s creation. From Genesis 1:27, we are infallibly assured by divine revelation that “male and female he created them”. This distinction is highlighted all the more in human nature’s natural longing of the heart proclaimed in Genesis 3:18, “It is not good that man should be alone. I will make a helper fit for him”. Even here the word for “man” is not adama that is most often translated humanity but ish – male. Sacred Scripture even reveals the nuptial meaning of this complementarity and thereby solidifying the place of gender in Christian anthropology and the mystery of the human person.

Prophetically, Blessed John Paul II provided a foundation through his catechetical lectures – now known as, Theology of the Body, to assist in providing an adequate anthropology for the Church. And yet, culture with all its desire and capacity to learn, lacks the will to study the objective truth.

So where does the hope of the family and thus the culture reside? It would be easy to say in our youth but I assist in educating them prior to college. Those who are part of religious education in our diocese are provided with a foundation steeped in Theology of the Body. Once they graduate, it has been my experience that all the faith steeped in reason and modern scientific evidence is set aside for the dogma of tolerance and relativism.

Tolerance is not a Christian virtue. It never has been. There is, however, a virtue associated with tolerance which is justice. The basis of all justice is truth as set in the objective order. In today’s society, truth and tolerance have become synonymous.  And yet, tolerance is meant to be the act of justice for the individual who is pursuing truth. There must be leeway for the individual to seek, wrestle with and confront truth. Their belief system, regardless of its passion, does not become truth because they believe it and, must be addressed in accordance with objective truth.  I like what the Servant of God Bishop Fulton Sheen said,

“There is no other subject on which the average mind is so much confused as the subject of tolerance and intolerance…Tolerance only applies to persons, but never to principals. Intolerance only applies to principals and not to persons” (The Curse of Broadmindedness, 1931).

It seems that many of us have forgotten how to discern and filter truth from error in an effort to express compassion and concern.

That being said, hope still remains. Case in point: This past year, I had the incredible privilege of getting to know and teaching over 40 George Mason University Catholic Campus Ministry students over a six-week period (once a week for two hours) on the topic of Theology of the Body. They took study valuable time to stretch themselves and be challenged with a worldview that is contrary to their college culture – hopefully chewing the meat and spitting out the pits from the lectures. Oh, and the definition for the second-graders is now a natural man and woman.

Today, the Feast of the Holy Family reminds us that the in the economy of salvation, the Father not only wanted to redeem us but also provide us with a blueprint in which for us to live out that redemption. Trusting in the intercession of the Holy Family, the first reflection of the Blessed Trinity’s communion of love, we must first, in all humility, approach the mercy seat requesting the grace of perseverance, understanding and holiness.

We must persevere in our daily un-compromising witness of God’s plan as revealed through Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium. We must seek to understand the hearts of the confused in order to appropriate an apologetic transmitted in truth and love. We yield to the grace of the God in order from Him to make us holy in order that all may be attracted to the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Collect for the Feast of the Holy Family

O God, who were pleased to give us the shining example of the Holy Family, graciously grant that we may imitate them in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity, and so, in the joy of your house, delight one day in eternal rewards. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


[1]Benedict XVI, Pope. “Address of His Holiness Benedict Xvi On the Occasion of Christmas Greetings to the Roman Curia.” Vatican. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2012/december/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20121221_auguri-curia_en.html (accessed December 30, 2012).

[2]Shivanandan, Mary. “Faq of Theology of the Body.” Christendom Awake Website. http://www.christendom-awake.org/pages/mshivana/faq-tob.htm (accessed December 30, 2012).

Media Message: We Lost the Gift of Integrity

One of the consequences of Original Sin is the loss of integrity. Prior to the Fall, humanities’ intellect, will, body, imagination and emotions functioned in unison. Practically, this means that whatever we think – we would say or do. The possibility of double-mindedness well, was an impossibility.

So, that’s the wind-up. Here’s the pitch…

Kohl’s department store has always marketed itself as a family department store for the upper middle-class. Imagine my surprise when I saw its television ad for Rock’n Republic Denim jeans. Haven’t seen it? Take a gander and then let’s discuss:

As a father, I have to ask myself, “Is this the type of guy that I want taking my daughter out on a date?” Did you hear his thoughts? Did you hear the lyrics of the song? Let me assist:

Was it more than attraction and a physical lust? Her loins, my imagination, that first inconceivable touch, That I was planning, er, I mean wishing, uh.. How embarrassed I’d been if you knew what I was thinking uh.

I knew you knew I liked you, I knew you knew it.

Looking so friendly, polite and yet, CREEPER!

This commercial, for us, is a great example of a penalty that is a result of the fall of man – the lack of integrity. It is for this reason that Blessed John Paul II reminds that Jesus calls for a renewal of the ethos in man (see Matthew 5:27-28). Meaning, those our thoughts and the desires of our heart must be transformed by the power of His spirit. What is the result? Those who met Blessed John Paul II and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta said that when they met these saints, it was as if they could see right through them. The result is integrity or transparency.

What is Kohl’s really selling? No clue…jeans I guess but that was not the message.

P.S.: Ladies, make sure you know the quality of the young man that asks you out. I am not saying they have to be perfect but I think enjoying you and not what they can do with/to you is probably more important.

Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter: Training for Love

The following is the homily I preached Sunday. For those who heard me preach, you will notice that you did not hear everything that follows. I tailor for the audience but I have shared it in its entirety.

It is impossible to miss the theme of love in our second reading and gospel today. And, to be honest, it is a controversial topic. Clergy sometimes shrink when they see that the “theme” or “topic” is love. There are just so many controversies and questions surrounding the word. Some of the more common questions of course are:

  • What is love?
  • It is a feeling?
  • Is it a choice?
  • Where does it begin and end?
  • Can I fall out of love?

I think that it is so hard to nail down the meaning because of our woundedness. The fact is that we have so many difficulties answering these questions because we have what CS Lewis would call “mercenary hearts.” He said it like this in, As the Ruin Falls:

All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you. I never had a selfless thought since I was born. I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through: I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.

Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek, I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin: I talk of love –a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek– But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.

What is the mercenary heart? It is the heart that always must have its way, in its time on its terms. If we take a moment in honest reflection, we would see that all of us are mercenaries concerning our relationships, but especially with God. We so often use the people around us to get what we want and our Lord is no different.

Do you remember when you first encountered God? Maybe it was at work camp, a youth conference, a sunrise that took your breath away – or for the mothers present here today, the moment when you saw and held your first-born. Regardless of the circumstance, we encountered Him and He changed our lives. We then pursued Him because of the feeling He gave us. We were excited about prayer. We were excited to learn about our faith. All these consolations flooded in and it sustained us…for a time. And, as time progressed, the feelings faded, the consolations ended until we arrived at the point where we say, “I’m here Lord…where are you.” St. Therese for 13 years, praying multiple times a day said that very statement.

It is at this point, the saints tell us, that love begins to grow. When there is nothing left. When we feel abandoned. When we are not getting our way.

Many times though we give up and give in. We act like that two year old who throws a tantrum because they are not getting their way. But the truth is – we need all the feelings and warm fuzzes to be taken away.

Love is choosing that relationship when there is no reason to choose, when it is not convenient, when it seems like the worse decision ever. Could you imagine if our mothers, when the baby woke up at 3:00 am, said, “Oh let him/her cry! I need my sleep. I tried to feed them at 5 pm, it is their fault they chose not to eat.” We would all say that her reply is ridiculous and we would be correct.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day, we should realize that our mothers have provided us with a practical example of how we are called to live out our lives of prayer. It is an example that teaches us to think less of ourselves and more about those whom we serve. At this point, we begin to combat our mercenary hearts. In our spiritual life, wherever we may be in the journey, we need to be:

  • Dedicated to prayer regardless of our feelings. Commit to a time and hold to it.
  • Ruthlessly honest with ourselves concerning our sins.
  • Generous in receiving the grace of reconciliation. We must allow the love of the Father to bathe us in His glory.

All these begin a life of virtue. Do you know what Brian’s, Perry’s, the entire youth ministry team and clergy’s greatest fear for you is? That those who have been entrusted to our care will never grow up. My Alma mater, Franciscan University, years ago struggled with the issue that when students graduated, a significant number left the Church. Their reasons were concerning their new or perhaps old parishes. They went like this:

  • The music is bad.
  • The homilies were too short.
  • I didn’t feel loved.
  • The talks were not entertaining.
  • The Church didn’t look like a Church.

All these “reasons”, are tell-tale signs of incredible immaturity. If any of us here struggle with these, it means that we are still seeking the gift and not the Giver. It means we like to be entertained and not do the work of a disciple. It means we have not yet learned to love.

What is important is what happens on this altar. That the King of the universe descends and is present among us. The spiritual life is not about entertainment. Youth ministry is not about entertaining you but training you to do the work of a disciple. It is boot camp before you are sent out into battle – whether you are ready or not. All activities we do have the singular goal of equipping you for heaven and evangelization.

Mary’s life was always about bringing Jesus to everyone she met. And that is more real than we probably could imagine. in fact, science tells us that when a mother is pregnant with he child some of the cells – even stem cells – remain in her for the rest of her rlife…And the same is true for all of you mothers present tonight. You will always carry your children within you…Mary truely brought Jesus to everyone because she was a living tabrenacle of His physical presence everywhere she went. We might even say that she was like a ciborium that still contained the fragments of the host that was just in it.

JRR Tolkien sums up the work of the spiritual life when writing to his son about how to make a good Holy Communion and grow in maturity. He wrote,

“make your communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children – from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn – open necked and dirty youths… Go to communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than that) as a mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people. It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand – after which our Lord propounded the feeding that was to come.”

Jesus in the Gospel said, “Remain in my love” not cuddle with me. Love is a choice of sacrifice not fireworks and hugs. Our Lord’s example of love? The cross. Are you willing to persevere in love till it kills you?

The Language of the Body

The St. Mary of Sorrows Youth group is studying the Theology of the Body this semester. Tonight, my lovely wife is speaking on the “Language of the Body.” Here is her written text:

Introduction

To begin, where are in our TOB semester? We have learned that we are loved by God and created for love. So much so, that the Father has stamped it into our bodies as complementary expressions of His love. Men and women are different not just physically but even how we interact with the world and each other. To be free is to know the truth and see reality with the Father’s eyes. And, tonight, we continue to look at the language of the body through His eyes and ears.

Talk

The body is capable of speaking its own language.  We are designed to only speak truth…not just with our words, but our bodies as well.

We are going to examine this “language of the body” and consider how to speak it well…it is a language of love that does not rejoice in what is wrong but only in the TRUTH.  JP II taught that the language of the body is not only a language of love, but a language of DIVINE LOVE. The highest expression of this Divine Love is love expressed sexually.

Remembering that we are created in the image and likeness of God, this language of divine love is known as the body’s Native language.

Did you know our bodies are capable of speaking “prophetically”?  Our bodies proclaim the truth about God.  JPII describes the body and sexual union as “Prophetic”.  The union between a husband and wife is meant to proclaim God’s love and truth.  It means that we must never speak the language of our body in a way that contradicts the sacramental meaning of our body.  This would make us false prophets.

BODY LANGUAGE is extremely important.  Did you know that 90% of all information communicated is done through body language?   Our bodies are designed for communication through our actions and words.  This language can be positive (like a hug or a wave) or negative (a frown or a not so nice hand gesture knowing that no one in this room would EVER do that!!!).  For example, my husband has what our family calls “eye puffies” or exhaustion bags to everyone else!  When we are carrying on at dinner, we always know when Marques thinks something is funny because his eye puffies show up minutes before he laughs.  He communicates through his eye puffies that he is happy.

Our bodies are not only capable of speaking, but of lying as well.  We can be all smiles and niceness to someone outwardly, but thinking not so charitable thoughts inwardly. You know…that person at school?  The one who drives everyone nuts?  (Smile at someone and speaking niceties to them, but inwardly thinking how annoying they are and you can’t wait to be out of their presence).

Even scripture contains instances where the body can lie despite the intent behind the actions.   I want to show a movie clip that I believe needs really no introduction at all.

Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss…an intimate, loving gesture that will lead to Jesus’ arrest.  Judas’ heart was saying something entirely different than his actions.

Now, when it comes to the marital act, and I use this term because that is what God meant it to be…an intimate act between spouses within the covenant of marriage, many people are speaking lies without even realizing it.  The marital act is a language all its own.  Through this act, one spouse says to another, “I am completely yours!  I belong entirely to you and you alone without reservation!”

This union of man and woman is an ICON…it is meant to point us to something greater than itself.  This union is an ICON of Christ’s love for HIS Church…it is meant to point us to God.  Believe it or not, this intimate act…this beautiful act… is meant to point us to God!

Let’s think…”What is a religious ICON?”  A painting of Christ as we can see here.  We can look at that paint and wood to reflect on the mystery of Christ…to open a WINDOW to

Christ…

BUT…

If we start to worship the paint and wood itself, that ICON has become an IDOL.

We can apply this same notion to the union of man and woman.  The union of man and woman in the biblical VISION is an ICON.  It is meant to point us to something far greater than ourselves.  Just as the religious ICON should point us to something greater.

The purpose of this union on earth between man and wife is meant to reflect the marriage in Heaven between Christ and His Bride the Church.  His marriage to us!  That ultimate union we will have with Him.

Consider two people NOT married who are having relations, or fornicating. They are PHYSICALLY doing the same thing as a married couple, but they are actually lying to each other.  Even if the couples’ intentions are good, their act is still a lie expressed in the language of their bodies. Why?

There has been no commitment made to one another…not a true commitment.  They want one of the great joys of marriage…the marital act…but without the responsibilities and without the commitment that entails.

A co-habitating couple can say that they are committed to each other, but those are just words.  They have not made a commitment through the means that God has established! Where are the actions to back that up?  With marriage, there is a true commitment, an OATH made to each other within a Church, in front of witnesses, families and a priest. You enter into a covenant with that person.  There are ACTIONS to support those words.

Because we are not mere animals and we have a rational soul, our physical union should far surpass the mere sense level of animals and should involve the SPIRIT as well as the BODY. It should be a spiritual experience, not just physical. It should be a committed LOVE that unites them, not just two people acting on physical urges.

This love between a man and woman is meant to mirror God’s love:  It should be FREE, TOTAL, FAITHFUL and FRUITFUL.  I don’t want to go too much further into this as Brian will be going into that more in depth next week.  So keep those words in the back of your minds.

Now, when two people become one flesh in a sexual relationship, a bonding occurs.  This isn’t just a fluffy statement!! I had a friend in high school who told me she had started sleeping with her boyfriend and she felt so much closer to him…well…duh! There is a reason why!  There is actual scientific information to support this.  This bonding includes powerful EMOTIONAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL, PHYSICAL, AND SPIRITUAL LINKS.  On ALL of these levels, you become ONE with your partner.  In today’s society, people are too quick to dismiss all of these factors.

Research indicates the psychological basis for deep bonding is a hormone called OXYTOCIN.  It’s actually nicknamed “THE HORMONE OF LOVE”.  This hormone is involved in SOCIAL RECOGNITION, BONDING AND THE FORMATION OF TRUST BETWEEN PEOPLE.  No wonder my friend from high school felt all those warm fuzzies and felt closer to her boyfriend…

For a WOMAN, this hormone is released during the marital act and causes an incredibly STRONG attraction to form with the man she is with.

For a MAN, OXYTOCIN and another hormone called VASPORESSIN are released during relations.  Along with that strong bonding that occurs, the VASOPRESSIN for the male is called the “MANOGAMY MOLECULE”.  Men, this means you are genetically hardwired for monogamy and responsibility.

You can see why these hormones are important to a married couple to heighten their BONDING with each other…to help them to stay together “for better or for worse”.  MARITAL RELATIONS FLOURISH WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF MARRIAGE.  THOSE RELATIONS BECOME AN INSTRUMENT OF GRACE FOR THEIR MARRIAGE.

SO WHAT HAPPENS IN LIGHT OF ALL OF THIS INFORMATION, ON THE FLIP SIDE?  WHAT HAPPENS TO THE COUPLE THAT CHOOSES TO HAVE RELATIONS OUTSIDE OF THE COMMITMENT OF MARRIAGE?

It puts the other person at risk on many different levels…and we aren’t just talking physically with disease, although that is a huge risk in and of itself, but also emotionally as well.  Those same hormones that work to enrich and strengthen the marital relationship become destructive.

If a partner severs a relationship that involves sexual activity, that separation has a wrenching effect leaving them feeling emotionally and mentally burned.  We are left with a society of the walking wounded.  We are left with a “hooking up” culture…people seeking the next pleasure high looking to fill the void that has occurred.  The myth of “friends with benefits” doesn’t exist.  THE CHEMISTRY OF BONDING HAPPENS WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT!  The bonds that are a chemical reaction within our bodies CANNOT be stopped.

Sexual activity (including heavy petting, oral sex and the like) outside of marriage is a LIE.  We end up treating the other person as a means of pleasure for ourselves.  It puts relationships at risk by creating uneven and inconsistent levels of communication…to be quite frank, our genitals are saying one thing, but the emotions, intellect and will say something entirely different.

The SONG OF SONGS…the greatest love poem of all time…says this:

“DO NOT AROUSE, DO NOT STIR UP LOVE BEFORE ITS TIME.”

It says this 3 separate times within that book of scripture alone.  Again, sexual activity/relations thrive within the marital covenant. Even the actions LEADING TO AROUSAL are designed to prepare MAN AND WIFE to give themselves to each other FREELY, FULLY, FAITHFULLY, AND FRUITFULLY.

Now, what happens when CONTRACEPTION is introduced into the equation?  John Paul the Second stated that we live in a “culture of death”.  This can be split into 2 categories:  a death to life and a death to marriage.  Sadly, these 2 are linked together.

First, in the death to life we are not just talking about death to pre-born babies, but to the very IDEA of babies…children…YOU!!!

Our fertility, ladies and gentlemen, this beautiful GIFT from God that allows us to be co-creators with HIM, (how amazing and cool is that? Co-creators with God??)  Our fertility is considered and treated like a DISEASE that needs to be fixed.  We are considered backwards and irresponsible if we aren’t accepting of or using contraception.

What lengths people will go to today to mutilate their bodies to forsake the gift of children???  To forsake what the marital embrace is meant for…children!!!

How does contraception affect the marriage?  When you come together in the marital embrace, you are supposed to be giving TOTALLY to each other with no barriers, no holding back, not even your fertility.  The Church teaches that there are 2 goods of marriage that should NEVER be separated…the unitive and the procreative.

Unitive…obviously all of the things we touched on already.  The procreative…this is the openness to life…which is actually the greater good.  So, I would ask the question…what about the couple who is getting married but decides that they aren’t ready for children yet? They want to save money? Buy a house? Pay off loans?  Are they ready to take on that procreative side of marriage? If you are not ready for children then you are not ready for marriage.

When a contraceptive barrier is introduced, you become a tool.  You are actually saying “I love you…except for this.  My fertility is mine and I don’t trust you with it.” ” So I am going to use you for my pleasure and use contraception so I won’t have any unwanted consequences from this.”  You become merely an object to pleasure your partner.  Where is the life-giving love in that?

Sadly, we have become a contraceptive culture.  It has sadly become the norm even among Catholics.

We all know that…

  • 50% of all marriages end in divorce today.  Fewer people are getting married at all.  Marriage rates have steadily been declining.  Declining birth rates and divorce mushroomed together right along with the use of contraception.
  • 90% of all Americans will engage in contraceptive relations in one form or another over the course of their lives…the Pill, condoms, sterilizations, injections, IUD’s…and sadly, Catholics are no exception to this.

Why? No one taught them the proper language of the body – all they heard was no. There are couples that believe the Church doesn’t belong in their bedrooms and has no right to tell them what to do in this area of their lives. There are couples who are afraid to have a child.  I didn’t receive any instruction on any of this until college.  My parents certainly didn’t know and didn’t pass it on to any of us.

Polls and studies show that contraception is just as popular with Catholics as it is with the rest of the US.  We aren’t just talking about those Catholics that rarely go to Mass either!  We are talking about the Catholics that fill the pews every week and say their faith is important to them!

We need to recover and reclaim what God has originally ordained for our bodies.  We need to rescue it back from today’s culture!

While speaking on the whole topic of body language, we need to touch on Pornography.  Pornography has become something running rampant in our society.  There are some who believe that looking at naked bodies is no big deal, but it can be a very big deal.

Now we aren’t speaking about tasteful art that you can find in a museum.  Walking through the National Art Museum with my kids was a beautiful experience.  They were able to gaze at the famous Venus statue that was there for a short period of time.  They looked at it in awe of how the sculptor could shape the body so perfectly, so beautifully portray this gift from God…the statue was stunning and we were all able to “see” it for what it was…a beautiful piece of art.

There is something we call the “Ethos of the Image”.  This is simply the responsibility the artist has to represent persons with dignity, especially through the depiction of the human body in art form…like the Venus statue.  On the flip side of this, we have what is called the “Ethos of Seeing”.  That is OUR responsibility.  It is the responsibility WE the viewers have to see humans as persons with dignity, not objects to be lusted after.

This is where pornography twists the beauty that is the human form.  Pornography is the explicit depiction of persons in WORDS or images created in order to cause the arousal of lust on the part of the observer.  We aren’t just speaking about the pictures or movies…LADIES we are also referring to the romance novels that can have that same effect.  The body becomes separated from the person.  They simply become an object for one’s own pleasure…they become just a collection of body parts.

We need to be careful not to objectify others.  This goes for guys and girls. I think it is easy for all the blame to be put on the guys, but girls are just as bad.  On the Confirmation retreat, I was going through a confession list with the girls and I brought up a simple question.  “Have you ever walked through the halls at school and did a double take on a young man thinking how hot he is?”  They didn’t realize that very action was treating him as an object.

On the other side of the coin, guys, you need to be careful of the same thing. You know, the cute girl walking down the street whose clothes aren’t appropriate.  Do you stare or look away?  Do you try to preserve her dignity as a person?  And, ladies I don’t mean to pick on you but, let’s watch how we dress and act so as not to tempt these gentlemen into just seeing a collection of parts and not the whole person.

We don’t want to be treated like objects, let’s not dress or act in a way that would lead men into treating us that way!!  Let’s not wear the skin tight clothes, the booty shorts, the short skirts.  What are we doing? Reducing ourselves to body parts…not allowing the other to see you as a whole.

In conclusion, we bear a great responsibility with our bodies.

Our bodies are gifts to us from a loving Creator.  Consider the true language of Christ’s body…BEATEN. BLOODIED. BROKEN FOR YOU AND ME.  As He stretched out His arms to all of you from the Cross, He allowed Himself to be crucified so we could have victory over sin and the freedom to live with Him forever.

His non-verbal promise of love made to us through the language of His body has become the standard visual aid in the Catholic Church. The crucifix is the symbol of love. The language of Christ’s body on the Cross was so powerful that we now also use it at the start and end of all of our prayers.

What will your sign be? What will you say with your body today, tomorrow and for the rest of your life?

 

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…

We all remember those famous words of the queen from Disney’s classic, Snow White. The mirror always told the truth to the queen whether she liked it or not…and, that’s how the saga began. Wouldn’t it be nice this Lent to have a mirror to do the same for us?

We do! Instead of having a genie trapped in a mirror to speak back to us, we have Jesus. Sound a little far-fetched? Blessed John Paul II didn’t think so. He loved to quote, Gaudium et Spes 22:1,

The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. [My emphasis]

Mirrors are meant to reveal ourselves to us. Unfortunately, they only show us what is placed before it. In this case, only our physical appearance. However, I would suggest that by looking at Jesus, He reveals not only the outer-me but who I am per se. The prophet Samuel discovered this when he went looking to anoint a new king of Israel and found none until Jesse’s son David stood before him,

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

I have to be honest, what I am suggesting it terrifying. It is one thing to ask ourselves or our friends, “What do you see,” but to ask the living God…that is quite another!

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:31)

And yet, that is what we are being asked to do this Lent.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:12-13)

He who is an All-Consuming Fire (Hebrews 12:29) desires to purify us in his crucible of love (Sirach 2:1-10) so that we might be changed from “glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18). The prospect of our Lord revealing all our hidden sins and wounds is not comfortable. In fact, St. Bernard of Clairvaux in the introduction of his work, “The Steps of Humility and Pride” states that this is how the Lord imparts to us the gift and virtue of humility: by the bread of sorrow (Psalm 126:2) and the wine of compunction (Psalm 59:5).

Not to fear! St. Bernard also gives us a great deal of consolation by saying,

This first food, then is humility: bitter and medicinal; the second is charity: sweet and soothing…[1]

The first is bitter so that he may clean the wounds of our sin to make way for His wounds of love. The second is that love poured from the cross and the strength to choose Him over all other things (res).

I would invite you to join me this Lent and take a deep look at our Catholic mirror, the crucifix and let our Lord reveal you to yourself. It is frightening. It is painful. It is also the first step to take the Theology of the Body from our head to our heart.


[1] Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, The Steps of Humility and Pride (Cistercian Fathers Series) (Collegeville: Cistercian Pubns, 1989), 31.

The Wonder of Mystery

Theology of the Body speaks often about mystery. One young actress in Hollywood has spoken out and makes the quote of the week. Who? Give a hand to Ms. Emma Watson.

While I cannot comment on any of her other views nor the manner in which Ms. Watson lives, she intuitively understands what society does not. Ms. Watson understands that in order for the public to see and hear her, she must wear more than less. It’s counter-cultural. It’s radical. It’s TOB!

So, without further commentary, I will let her say it in her own words:

I find the whole concept of being ‘sexy’ embarrassing and confusing. If I do an interview with photographs people desperately want to change me – dye my hair blonder, pluck my eyebrows, give me a fringe. Then there’s the choice of clothes. I know everyone wants a picture of me in a mini-skirt. But that’s not me. I feel uncomfortable. I’d never go out in a mini-skirt. It’s nothing to do with protecting the Hermione image. I wouldn’t do that. Personally, I don’t actually think it’s even that sexy. What’s sexy about saying, ‘I’m here with my boobs out and a short skirt, have a look at everything I’ve got?’ My idea of sexy is that less is more. The less you reveal the more people can wonder.

I love the fact that she (consciously or unconsciously) wants to make people think and be “in wonder” or awe at the mystery of who she is. Her comment betrays a desire to be seen and heard. Isn’t that what we all desire?

Just needed to give her credit for an insightful response to the culture. At the end of the day, ” TOB or not to be clothed,” that is society’s question. How are you as fathers going to instill this into your daughters? Chime on in…

TOB, Tradition & You

How Does Theology of the Body Fit Into Church Tradition?

Part 2 of a Register symposium on Pope John Paul II’s catechesis.

by COLIN DONOVAN, STL 03/07/2011
EWTN PHOTO

One of the hallmarks of the Catholic faith is an authentic theological development. From the starting point of divine revelation (Scripture and Tradition), new insights into the meaning and implications of the faith are found, under the guidance of the magisterium.

Theology is “faith seeking understanding” (St. Anselm), so while the faith does not change, the Church’s understanding of it deepens.

At first glance, the theology of the body seems entirely new. Instead of studying the objective natures of things, as Catholic philosophers have traditionally done, it reflects on human experience, in order to discover the essential elements of experience as they appear in the consciousness of the human person.

Since it concerns human “experience,” and not human nature, its critics often view it as a purely subjective method, incapable of producing universally valid results.

As it turns out, the philosopher Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II) agrees with some of this criticism.
Studying the use of the “phenomenological method” in the early 1950s, then-Father Wojtyla immediately saw its usefulness as a means of insight into the human person’s appreciation of moral value and the formation of conscience. This, in fact, had already been demonstrated in the 1920s by the great German philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand and by his fellow student of the method, St. Edith Stein.

Deciding to adopt it himself, the future Pope recognized that in order to be useful the method’s results had to be judged by both theology and an objective philosophy, such as that of St. Thomas Aquinas. Otherwise, there was a danger of experience itself being the ultimate standard and of the user falling into subjectivism or emotionalism.
It was this early study of the value of the method, as well as his recognition of its deficiencies, that led the Pope to develop an approach often called “Thomistic personalism.”

For Pope John Paul II, the study of the person’s experience of the world is immensely important for moral and spiritual formation, but it is only theological and pastorally valid when understood within the framework of Catholic theology and objective philosophy.

Outside of this framework, the very same method is untrustworthy. Indeed, the often failed results of such methods in secular circles, where subjective experience drives philosophy, the human sciences and the culture, has amply demonstrated this to be true.

The Pope’s use of this method, therefore, adds a complementary insight, not a contradictory one, to St. Thomas’ synthesis of theology and philosophy. To the objectivity of revelation and that of objective philosophy, the Holy Father has added a third dimension: an understanding of how the human person perceives the world.

In the last several decades, its pastoral value, when used in the cautious manner proposed by the Pope, has already been amply shown. However, as the Pope’s biographer George Weigel has stated, it will take centuries for the Church to fully understand the new light which the Pope’s method and teaching has shone on unchanging truths.

Colin Donovan, STL, is vice president for theology at EWTN. He obtained his licentiate at the Pontifical Angelicum, writing on the development of Pope John Paul II’s theology of self-giving in marriage.