Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Prayer and Action Summer Mission Trip – a Theology of the Body reflection on “prayer” and “action”

We’ve just concluded a wonderful summer experience at “Prayer and Action,” a local mission trip here in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. I’d like to reflect briefly on the experience of Prayer and Action from a Theology of the Body perspective.
An overriding thesis that is proven time and time again in our human experience from Blessed John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is that we persons are created by God in order to give ourselves away in love, and this meaning can be discovered by a sincere reflection on the human body as males and females. When we fail to offer ourselves in love by grasping out for esteem, attention, power, worth, or security we are reduced to experiences of sadness. But, when we actualize our personhood by giving ourselves away in service and love, we discover and experience joy, satisfaction, fulfillment and completion. That is to say, we find ourselves only by giving ourselves away since we are created to be a gift. This is a very important point for young people who often do not experience themselves as “gifts.” “Who would want me?” Young people often think and question. “I’m not worthy,” young people often feel.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam longs for another one like himself and when he sees Eve for the first time, he exclaims: “This one, at last, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23). It’s as if Adam understands in the person of Eve, this other one who is like himself; that he is created to give himself away to her in love and in the action of this love / gift he finds fulfillment, “at last”. There is satisfaction to our longing when we are able to give ourselves away. From this point in his Theology of the Body, the late Holy Father reflects on the meaning of sex and the body, as we’ve already discussed in this blog. But, now we are capable of understanding and interpreting the theology of the body through the “hermeneutics of the gift,” (see TOB 13:2, from the General Audience of January 2, 1980) which is simply a fancy way of saying: the person is designed to be given away and we can know this first by reflecting on the body as male and female, second by reflecting on the meaning of sex, and third by reflecting on what the meaning of the body and sex signify: participation in that eternal exchange of God’s love and life. (Again to clarify: it's not that "having sex" is the meaning of life; but that making our love complete in a total gift of ourselves, in context, is the meaning of life.)
So, here’s a wonderful actualization of this concept lived out in the great St. Francis of Assisi, centuries before Blessed John Paul II was talking about a Theology of the Body, but long after a theology of the body was changing the world in Christ. There are many stories of St. Francis recorded in history. Many of his heroic acts of love are well known. One of my favorite stories of St. Francis, however, include an experience that he acknowledged and admitted fear and repugnance upon meeting a person with leprosy for the first time. Francis saw the leper, his boils and wounds, then experienced repugnance, disgust and fear. He then stepped back from the leper in an effort to protect himself and keep a safe distance. When St. Francis noticed himself acting this way, he rebuked himself and the vice he discovered within. Going against his fear, repugnance and disgust he reached out to the leper and embraced him, kissed one or many of his wounds and, I’m sure, tasted the blood, puss and infection of leprous boils. St. Francis later reflects that this exercise of 1) being repulsed or disgusted at a person with leprosy and then; 2) noticing the vice of fear within himself toward that person which kept him from communion and finally; 3) going against the fear, disgust and repugnance by God’s good graces; that St. Francis was able to increase in charity and offer himself as a gift to the leper. In that “gift” the leper was able to experience the love of Christ through Francis. This experience of gift is what caused St. Francis real joy, even though it meant kissing the wounds of a leper in this case. It was not the initial act of protecting himself from the leper that caused joy, but the act of giving himself away in love and service to this person despite the dramatic condition or sickness which seemingly threatened his safety. This is a realization and an expression of a theology of the body, par excellence.
During our summer mission trip, “Prayer and Action” our group was able to go into a local community and serve people by painting houses, porches, hanging doors, cleaning and landscaping in helpful, humble ways. One of the days was over 100 degrees and some of the service was challenging. During the mornings and evenings the community prayed and celebrated in preparation for the mission ahead during the day. “Prayer and Action” functions as a school that we train for the “hermeneutics of the gift” of our personhood. I pray our group realized this. The experience lasted one week, yet it’s essential to find a life-long training camp; a life-long training mission to receive and practice the hermeneutics of the gift of our personhood. Like Blessed John Paul II and St. Francis of Assisi knew and practiced, we persons are created to give ourselves away in love.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

What does the one - flesh marital union of sex and love in the Divine plan; have to do with the Sacred Triduum? Happy Easter!

Holy Thursday, 2013

In short, the one-flesh marital union of sex and love in the Divine plan has everything to do with the Sacred Triduum!  In fact, our Christian understanding of the very meaning of sex comes from the one-flesh union of all time and eternity shared between Christ and his Church.  What is more, this one-flesh union of marital love is consummated “not on the nuptial bed of pleasure, but on the nuptial bed of pain, there on the cross by Christ Jesus,” said the late, great, Archbishop Fulton Sheen.  If we Christians want to understand the meaning of sexual union, we claim that this “great mystery” (Ep. 5:21-33) is revealed to us on the cross of Christ, especially at the moment of Jesus’s death - at 3:00 pm in the afternoon, Good Friday.  But that’s still not all!  We Christians are so strange; we assert that the one-flesh nuptial union of sex and love in the Divine plan reveals to us the very meaning of our entire lives!  (Not that “having sex” is the meaning of life; but that “consummation” – or, making our love complete in a total gift of self to the other(s) – is the meaning of life.)

Blessed John Paul II once wrote, in a document he was using to teach the Church about the dignity of women, that: “Christ is the Bridegroom because ‘he has given himself’: his body has been ‘given’, his blood has been ‘poured out’. . . The sincere gift contained in the sacrifice of the Cross gives definitive prominence to the spousal meaning of God’s love.  As the Redeemer of the world, Christ is the Bridegroom of the Church.  The Eucharist is the Sacrament of our Redemption.  It is the Sacrament of the Bridegroom and of the Bride.  (See, Mulieris Dignitatem.  N. 26)  Since Jesus is the Messiah “Bridegroom,” who has come for his Bride, the Church - Christ longs to fulfill a marriage covenant with humanity.  God wants to marry us all and the way he can accomplish this marriage is in the one-flesh union of Christ and His Church – the Eucharistic Sacrifice.

But, the Eucharist – Jesus’s Body and Blood “given” and “poured out” (or “shed”) for the world - can’t be accomplished except through his death:  the death of a person – the Second Person of the Trinity.  Why does the Church call the day Jesus dies – “good,” as in “Good Friday”?  Today is Thursday of the Sacred Triduum, which is a day of celebration in this three day long Feast.  Jesus institutes the Eucharist at the Last Supper and he simultaneously institutes the Priesthood.  But, tomorrow, on Good Friday, we celebrate the day that God died.  Are we sad on Good Friday?  Absolutely not!  Don’t be sad on Good Friday.  Jesus has to give himself to us, completely in love, even to the point of his death on a cross so that the memorial of His Body and Blood can also be given through the ages, perpetuated and “consummated” in a one-flesh union of love with his Bride, the Church.  (Please note that the term "memorial," in this context, doesn't mean: "to simply remember," it means: "to make the reality actually present outside of time and space.")  How can we “consummate” our marriage with Christ?  In the Eucharist is where we become one-flesh with our Bridegroom, who gives himself to us completely in love.

In this paradigm, Jesus - the Word made flesh - is the “seed” given to us by the Father (see John 1:1-14).  What am I talking about here?  Jesus is the seed of the Father who inseminates the world – literally – in the one-flesh union of the Bridegroom and the Bride, the Eucharist.  Jesus inseminates us, his Spouse, the Church.  Jesus, the Word made flesh, is the “seed” given to us by the Father.  We, the Church, who are the followers of Christ who receive his marital covenant offer made complete in the Eucharist, receive his seed into our bodies when we eat his Body and drink his Blood.  We then nourish his divine life inside of ourselves, we love Jesus there, we bring him to more and more fruition inside and then bring him to life in the world.  All of this also happens in the womb of any mother when she bears the fruit of her womb in the gift of a child.  It is the same kind of relationship between Christ and his Spouse, the Church – who receives Jesus, the seed, the Word.  The Church then brings Jesus to life in the world, just like a good mother, a good spouse.  We listen to His life-giving Word in the Bible and receive his very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity into ourselves in the Eucharist.  In the “Erotic Order,” (another way to describe God’s plan and design for sex and love) a man and his wife offer a particular way of bearing fruit.  This fruit, primarily, is children.  The erotic order is created for this end and this type of fruit in the Sacrament of Marriage which signifies Christ’s love for his own Bride, the Church.

This Triduum, as every Triduum before - and every day a Mass has been celebrated since the very first Mass – the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, and the second Mass which occurred on the way to Emmaus (see Lk. 24:13-35) with two disciples the day Jesus rose from the dead, and so on, and so forth – the Bridegroom desires to make His marriage complete with us and the only way He can accomplish this is by way of the Eucharist.  So, we can all reflect this Triduum on the past, as well as on the present and the future – Jesus in the Eucharistic Sacrifice who consummates a marital covenant with the Church, and inseminates his Bride (that’s us) to bear Jesus to the world. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Theology of the Body, Talk #9: Moving from homosexual attraction(s) to heterosexual attraction(s): What is “the redemption of the Body”? What is the “transformation of our desires”? As well as a few words about the sadness of 40 years of legalized abortion in our country from a Theology of the Body perspective.

Is it possible for a person to change from a homosexual orientation and attraction, to a heterosexual orientation?  If someone has been sexually attracted to the same sex for many years, how could it be possible for them to become attracted to the opposite sex once again?  Is that possible at all?  What if someone has struggled with a same-sex attraction for as long as they can remember?  What if they were “born with this condition”?  Is it fair for the Church, and Jesus Christ Himself, to require that marriage is reserved for one man and one woman (Gen. 2:23-25; Mt. 19) despite those who long for sexual embrace with persons of the same sex?
In short, the answer is yes.  Yes, it is possible to change from a homosexual orientation and attraction to a heterosexual orientation – due to the reality of what St. Paul referred to as “the redemption of the body” (Rm 8:23).  Last week I attempted to articulate Catholic teaching regarding whether or not homosexuality is a sin.  We can recall the Church does not teach that a “same-sex attraction” is morally wrong or sinful; but that homosexual “acts” are intrinsically disordered and morally wrong (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2357).  In other words, to experience a same-sex attraction is not sinful.  But, to engage in sexual conduct or action outside of marriage, anytime, is sinful.  Since God created marriage to exist between one man and one woman, then Christ elevated it to the dignity of a Sacrament, this potentially condemns those with same-sex attraction to a life of singleness, or coerced celibacy.  “But, what if I don’t want to be celibate?”  I concluded that blog with a brief story of some holy friends of mine who continue to struggle with same-sex attraction but have embraced the virtue of chastity, and a life of singleness.  I can now continue this conversation by a very serious, and unmistakably insufficient, discussion of “the redemption of the body” (Rm. 8:23) and the redemption of our sexual desires. 

If God has the power, and the desire, to raise us from the dead, then he can literally change us in miraculous ways.  As Christians we follow Christ, and we are very interested in His closest followers – such as St. Paul.  Christ has all the divinity and the authority, of course, but it’s really cool to see how Christ changed St. Paul.  He was a persecutor of Christians and murdered several of them.  Paul encountered Christ in a transformative vision, then changed his heart to become the greatest Christian missionary of all time, and then to die a martyr (see Acts 9:1-20 for more of that amazing story).  What caused this drastic change of heart?  Christ has the power to change our hearts and He seems to want this change in us. 

Recently, I met an inspiring and holy man who leads a Christian ministry to help those with same-sex attraction.  He shared his story with a group of us about his amazingly miraculous life.  He suffered from same-sex attraction (and still does from time-to-time) when he was a young man.  At the age of 20 or 21 he contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, from this lifestyle.  Then, in time, Christ transformed his same-sex attractions through a series of very powerful encounters.  Today, he is married to a wonderful woman and has a son.  When I asked him “what caused the change of heart,” he explained to me that it was God’s amazing plan for man and womanhood found in the Bible and the sacramentality of marriage.  “I delved into the story and learned that men and women are created to image God – and that a man and woman who are married image the Divine in a communion of persons, in a unique and special way.  What changed my heart,” he shared, “was the Theology of the Body.”  He then went on to share with the group he was speaking with, not to “stop short,” of being changed from a homosexual orientation to a heterosexual orientation if homosexuality is your struggle.  “I know that Christ is the God who changes hearts and I didn't want to be condemned to a life of singleness or coerced celibacy.  I knew deep in my heart I was called to something more.  With God’s help my desires were purified, reordered, transformed and redeemed.”  If you’d like to read more about Dean Greer’s amazing story please check out his web site at:  www.desertstream.org  Dean is the founder of “Desert Stream Ministries,” which is a Christian based ministry to help impart the healing power and reality of Christ on those who are sexually broken, with special emphasis on those who suffer from same-sex attraction.   

Also, as you may or may not know, one of the ministries in the Catholic Church regarding this process of healing through the redemption of the body and the transformation of desires is:  COURAGE.  Check out their web site at:  http://couragerc.net/   COURAGE is a Catholic Apostolate that exists to provide help, healing and support to those who suffer from same-sex attraction, yet want what God calls them toward. 

To conclude this portion of the blog, I’d like to site a text from Christopher West in his book:  At the Heart of the Gospel.  Reclaiming the Body for the New Evangelization.  Image Books, 2012.  He describes this “redemption of the body” and the “transformation of our desires” in the following way:

“As experience attests, the battle with lust remains fierce.  For the man bound by lust, ‘Turn away your eyes from a shapely woman,’ (Sir 9:8) retains all its wisdom. . . But, Christ invites us ‘to a pure way of looking at others, capable of respecting the spousal meaning of the body’ said Pope John Paul II.”  (The Pope said this statement regarding Jesus’ teaching of the Sermon on the Mount which reads:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you, everyone who looks a at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt. 5:27-31).).  “This means that, although we all experience lust, we can also experience a real transformation of our hearts through the salvation Christ offers us… Christ did not die on a cross and rise from the dead merely to give us coping mechanisms for sin (we already had plenty of those without a savior).  Christ died and rose again to set us free from sin.  To the degree that a man’s heart has been transformed and vivified by the Spirit of the Lord, he need not merely “cope” with lust by turning his eyes away from a woman – or a man, or visa verse.  Through continual death and resurrection, our desires take on “new form.”  The more we grow in mastery of ourselves, the more we experience a proper way to see (Theology of the Body 63:6).  We become empowered to look at others purely – and not only to “look” but to see others purely, to see the true beauty of the person revealed, not despite the body, but in and through the body.” 

We will have to return to this point regarding the “redemption of the body” time and time again so as to form a rigorous, yet divinely inspired, pathway of transformation whether you suffer from same-sex attraction or not. . . We are all affected by lust and the disordered desires of lust.  We are all in need of healing, purification and the transformation of our desires.

A few words about the sadness of 40 years of legalized abortion in our country from a Theology of the Body perspective

What can I say to you at this time after 40 years of legalized abortion in the United States, since the year 1973?  I've personally been involved in the Pro-Life movement since 1999 and made 10 pilgrimages to Washington D.C. to protest, pilgrimage and pray on January 22, which is the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade; spent countless hours of prayer in front of abortion clinics; met numerous women and men who've suffered from abortion only to assure me it was a grave mistake they've regretted for the rest of their life.  This holocaust of abortion in our country trumps any holocaust I've ever known:  the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 which killed one million people in three months because of tribal unrest; the Nazi Holocaust which lasted over a period of approximately 8-9 years killing an estimated 6-8 million people who were mostly Jewish; even the situation of the Aztec people native to the present day country of Mexico who performed human sacrifice to their gods – once killing 80,000 people in one day.  None of these aforementioned tragedies get close to the horror of today’s holocaust of abortion in our country.  An estimated 55 million babies have suffered legal abortions since 1973 in the United States of America.

The entire point of the Christian message is, as I said above, redemption.  Truth, freedom, redemption, salvation – all of these things necessarily go together.  We humans, the glorious crown of God’s creation (in addition to the angels), are just that – creatures that are created for a divine purpose.  We are not capable of defining what is “good” and what is “evil.”  We can only choose what is “good” and what is “evil,” after we ascent, by way of reason and faith, to the good which God has set before us in Christ. 

On this 40th anniversary week of the legal holocaust of abortion in our country, I tremble before God at how it is possible for Americans to have decided collectively, by way of that Supreme Court decision, to choose this type of evil . . . and then to have allowed that type of decision to remain "lawful" for the past forty years.  I am very afraid that from now until the Second Coming of Christ . . . none of us are safe in this climate.       



Thursday, January 10, 2013

Theology of the Body, Talk #8: Does the Church teach that homosexuality is a sin?

Hey everyone, so sorry I’ve been away from this blog for awhile.  I had to pause for the past several months in order to finish some school work from the past.  But, now it’s a new year, 2013 and we can delve into the topic once again regarding a Theology of the Body.  Last time I posted I discussed the problem with sex outside the context of marriage, and opened the door for a discussion on same-sex attraction.  We can pick up on that topic once again with the question:  “Does the Church teach that homosexuality is a sin?”

As we continue this commentary on the late Pope John Paul II’s, Theology of the Body, remember that my goal here is to consider and address many of the common questions young people have regarding human sexuality.  In fact, as you can see, these are simply many of the questions most people have regarding sex.  All of the concepts you are reading about such as the “Spousal or Nuptial Meaning of the Body,” (re: Talk #6) come from Pope John Paul II and have been revolutionizing our Catholic understanding of sexuality and personhood since they were delivered in his Wednesday Audiences from 1979-1984.  We can apply the basic principles of the Pope’s Theology of the Body to all of our questions regarding human sexuality for a more complete and freedom giving understanding that helps us with the reasons behind the answers to our questions about sex.  The Pope’s Theology of the Body, more than ever before in history, has explained clearly the Catholic teaching on sex giving us, the faithful, a deep understanding as to “why” these teachings are moral, freeing, and always respecting the dignity of the person(s); therefore proclaiming, following, and signifying Christ’s love.  Christopher West and Jason Evert both affirm that, of all the things ever written on the topic of sex for Catholics, Pope John Paul II has written two-thirds of it!  It is not that the Pope simply “made up” or “declared these teachings infallible.”  It is not the Pope’s place to simply create the Catholic teaching regarding human sexuality.  God created the Catholic understanding and teaching of sex and He choose to pass it on to us by way of the Scriptures, Tradition, the Apostolic Succession and Petrine Ministry (the succession of Popes, that is) and the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church who “leads us to all truth.” (Jn 16:12-16)  What the Pope can and has done in the Theology of the Body is “en-flesh” or deepen our understanding as to why the Church teaches what the Holy Spirit has given Her to teach regarding sex and marriage.

Does the Church teach that homosexuality is a sin?

First, I want to answer the question clearly.  Then we can look into the Theology of the Body for a deeper understanding as to “why” the teaching stands as it does.  This deeper understanding should always be more freedom giving, signifying Christ’s love for us, his own Bride the Church.  Remember that sex, and the body, is sacramental in that it makes visible the invisible God (Theology of the Body. Intimacy – The Hidden Meaning of Vision. General Audience of January 2, 1980. JPII).

No, the Church does not teach that a “same-sex attraction” is morally wrong or sinful; but that homosexual “acts” are intrinsically disordered and morally wrong.  (Catechism of the Catholic Church. #2357)  The morality of homosexual attraction comes in the “action,” that is, what the person with a same-sex (a.k.a, homosexual) attraction does with the desire for sex.  If a man is attracted to men sexually yet chooses to remain chaste, pure, always reverencing the real meaning of sex (re: Talk #5) for what it is: the complete self-giving love of a man and woman who are consummating their marriage bond signifying Christ’s love for his spouse the Church in the one flesh union, always open to life - then that man is without sin in this case.  Any person with a same-sex attraction who practices chastity is not sinful.  Chastity is the vocation and calling of every person inside and outside of marriage (yes, there is marital chastity too!).  So, if one never marries, then one is not called to the vocation of “the marital act.”  This calling to chastity by God (Mt. 5:27-28; 19; Mk 10:1-16; Gen 2:24; Titus 2:1-6) is for every human person.  Those of you dating, for example, are called to the same level of chastity as a person struggling with same-sex attraction is called to.  For those who are dating and for those attracted to the same-sex, chastity means abstaining from sex for the sake of the beloved.  Otherwise, as we learned in the last blog, sex outside of marriage always communicates an unfortunate lie which happens between two persons and necessarily does harm to the persons involved.  Here we learn that any practice of un-chaste behavior is sinful, harmful and un-loving.  This is true, not only for a person with homosexual orientation, but true also for a person with heterosexual orientation as well.  There is no discrimination in the virtue of chastity!  The sin happens with the action and behavior but not with the orientation.  This is a very important point since the Catholic Church is often misunderstood to teach that homosexual orientation is sinful.  The truth is, however, that the action of un-chaste behavior is sinful holding the same standard for hetero and homosexual orientations.  Since God instituted marriage to be between a man and woman, no homosexual union can be called marital.  In sex (the marital act) there is always a unitive meaning that has to remain connected to the procreative meaning according to God’s design and plan for love and life (Humanae Vitae. #12. Pope Paul VI).

But, Benjamin, holy smokes that’s so difficult!  Who can do that?  Who can remain chaste their entire life?  How can persons with same-sex attraction abstain from sex their whole lives?

Let me tell you a simple story.  I want to mention some holy people I know personally who struggle with same-sex attraction who live the fullness of chastity according to their single state in life!!!  (I’m not going to name them, of course, I just want to mention that these saintly people do exist.)  They take up their cross daily and recommit themselves to the great virtue of chastity . . . which is what we all should be doing.  For them, it may mean an entire life without sex.  They will not die from a lack of sex, as our culture insists will happen.  They also know they are not “entitled” to sex.  None of us are entitled to sex.  Sex (the marital act) is a gift waiting for those called to and eventually given the vocation to marriage.  Sexual intercourse, as we have been talking about, is sacramental in nature.  Just like Holy Orders, not everyone is called to it.  Instead, it is a gift given by God to those men and women called to the one flesh union and complete self-gift of love which signifies Christ’s love for His own spouse the Church.  Those persons with same-sex attraction who strive for chastity daily are models for us to follow in virtue.  They are full of courage, counter-cultural commitment to God and real love.  They have meaningful friendships and are capable of deep, abiding love, joy and another type of fruitfulness that effects many, many lives, proclaims Gospel values and speaks the truthful language of the body.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Theology of the Body, Talk #7: Why does sex have to be reserved only for a man and woman who are married? Why can’t two engaged people who love one another and will eventually be married have sex now? Why can’t two men or two women who love one another have sex or even be married in the eyes of the Church?

Well, as you already know, of course two people who are engaged, or two men or two women, are able to have sex together.  Anyone can choose to “have sex” with someone else and they are usually capable of doing this.  It’s just that the action of sex outside of marriage does harm to the persons involved since it is an action opposite of real love.  Any sex outside of marriage can never be real love.  The fact that this kind of “sex” does harm to persons is the reason it is morally wrong.  It’s important to remember here that God does not want to oppress us humans, control us, or sadden us with this rule.  Instead, he wants to love us, ensure we are loved by others, and God wants to set us free… free to love, and free to be loved justly.  This is why Jesus said, “I am the truth and the truth will set you free.” (Jn 8:31, 32; 14:6; 16:13)  Sex is meant for marriage since that is the only context proper for the expression of this kind of erotic love which gives itself between a man and woman alone, each one completely to the other.  Remember, God is the author of men and women.  He made us, male and female he created us.  He also made marriage, instituting and designing it to be between a man and woman modeling The Marriage of Christ and His Bride the Church which you can read about in Ephesians 5:21-33.  God first established marriage, however, in Gen. 2:24 when He said:  “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two become one body.”  Jesus reaffirmed that teaching, then elevated it to the dignity of a sacrament in the Gospel (Matthew 19 and Mark 10) when he spelled out the nature of Christian marriage.  In fact, Jesus’ entire Gospel Mission is focused on his deep love for us, his people, the Church.  He calls us his bride!!!  He wants to love us as his spouse.  He wants to give himself and his body to us in love completely even to the point of his death.  At the Last Super remember when Jesus elevated the bread and wine then said: “this is my body, take this… I give it up for you.”  He also said, “this is my blood, I give it up for you.”  That’s what spouses are supposed to do in sex: give up their bodies in a complete self gift of love each for the other.  Like Jesus in the Eucharist, spouses are to hand themselves over completely in love to each other modeling Christ’s love for His own Bride the Church.  Jesus even renounces divorce (Mt. 19; Mk 10) and asserts the “indissolubility” of marriage, which establishes that marriage ends only upon the death of one of the spouses!!!  This kind of love is so great and demanding that the only thing able to end it is death itself.  This hard teaching then ends with Jesus saying, “What God has joined no human being must separate.” (Mk 10:9)  Think about all of these hard teachings about sex and marriage.  What’s the deal?!

Really though, what is the problem with sex outside of God’s design and plan?  Sexual intercourse is the defining element of marital love for the reason that it signifies a complete gift of one spouse to the other with their bodies in love for the best good of the other.  (Please remember what “love” is defined as for us Christians - love is the willing, doing and giving yourself for the best good of the other.  What is the best good of the other anyway?  Isn’t the answer: Heaven itself!  We’re called to help, will, and do everything it takes, giving ourselves in love, for the sake of helping ourselves and others get to heaven.  That is why love is not selfish.  That is why Christ says to us: “if you wish to find yourself, you must loose yourself for my sake. . . Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” (Mt 16:24-28)  And, since there are different kinds of love such as friendship love, agape love, erotic love, etc… we have to focus on the “complete self gift” that erotic / marital love always demands since it is the only love proper for the “one flesh union” of two persons.)

So, getting back on track here and trying to answer the question: What is the real problem with sex outside of God’s plan and design?  When sexual intercourse happens the body (person) speaks a language to the other body (person) saying: “I give my entire self to you for your best good, even my fertility, even the openness and possibility of children, I give you everything I am . . . literally, even my genetic code, my person.”  The body has a language, we remember.  The feminine is ordered to the masculine and the masculine is ordered to the feminine.  The body of a man makes sense only in light of the body of a woman.  If we look at the meaning of the body, stamped into us as men and women by God our Creator, we find the “spousal meaning of the body.”  The language of sexual intercourse points at a type of self-giving that is proper only when a man and woman are ready to give themselves each to the other completely.  If there is something with-held, then the sex (and this is true even in marriage) becomes non-marital.  And, if sex happens outside of a total life-long commitment, then it is already non-marital.  If sex happens outside of openness to children, then it is non-marital.  If sex is not faithful, then it is non-marital.  Lastly, if sex is not given freely then it is non-marital.  Even if a married couple decides to have sex that is not free, total, faithful or fruitful… it automatically becomes non-marital!!!  Any non-marital sex does harm to the persons involved.  God does not want us to harm one another.  People always gasped when the late Holy Father Pope John Paul II brought this teaching into the light.  He would often say that even married couples can commit adultery with one another if they are not totally, freely, faithfully and fruitfully giving themselves completely to the other in their marriage and in the things that make up their marriage, if their sexual relationship and their bodies withhold this type of giving.  Wow!!!  Think about that one.

The point here is that the language of the body, namely sex, can speak lies.  Sex outside of marriage is a lie for the reason that it is not a total gift of one self for the best good of the other.  Sex between two men or two women is a lie for the reason that it is not total, nor can it be fruitful and open to children, and it’s not faithful since there is nothing to be faithful to.  Sex for an engaged couple who really love each other is also a lie for the reason that it is not a total gift of life-long commitment yet, nor is it faithful for the same reason as above.  All of the above examples are withholding something of the self in an automatically un-loving manner.  So, when it comes to sexual morality you can simply plug in any kind of sexual behavior to the “free, total, faithful and fruitful” test of God’s plan for love and life in order to understand if it’s truly loving or not.  Let’s go through some examples of the sexual love test proper to the erotic order:

Is rape, sexual abuse, sodomy (anal sex) or incest a free, total, faithful and fruitful gift of love?  Is masturbation a free, total, faithful and fruitful gift of love?  Is pornography a free, total, faithful and fruitful gift of love?  Is genital stimulation, heavy petting, foreplay, or oral sex on a date a free, total, faithful and fruitful gift of love?  Is sterile, contracepted sex outside of marriage or even within marriage a free, total, faithful and fruitful gift of love?  Is any ejaculation outside of the vagina without the bond of marriage, and even within the bond of marriage a free, total, faithful and fruitful gift of love?  No.  The answer is no.  (We will come back to that next-to-last issue, the issue of contraception, which in Catholic teaching is where the rubber hits the road.  This issue, the Catholic Church stands against and has since the beginning.  When most of the world supports contracepted marital sex, we do not… let me be clear.  The reason is because it simply does not model or signify Jesus’ free, total, faithful or fruitful gift of love to his spouse the Church.  When a married couple has contracepted sex they withhold their fertility from each other recanting on the promise they made at their wedding which was to “be open to the blessings of children.”  I will give you some personal examples in my life and testimony that affirms this teaching here and in the future.  Alicia and I use the model of Natural Family Planning which always reverences and loves the person providing the ability to give ourselves completely to the other with every act of marital intercourse, sanctifying our marriage bed, and loving as God has created us to love.  Remember, real love is demanding, sacrificial and real love suffers for the beloved.  Only real men and real women can do this.  Christ came to help us be real men and real women.  Soon, we will return to a more extensive talk on the evil of contraception.)

Now, hopefully, something inside of yourself is being “re-ordered” with a new understanding of sex, marriage and love.  God’s plan, stamped into our bodies as male and female, reveals His love to us and helps us to properly love one another.  Do you want to be loved?  Of course you do!  It’s been placed within you from the beginning.  You are created for love.  God has created you to receive his love and to love him in return.  He has created you as a male or as a female.  This love makes us free and happy.  He has created you to receive love from others and give other persons real love.  He wants to keep you from harm and bring you to heaven.  He wants to give you happiness but only you can choose happiness since God has also given you free will.  You do not have to choose God’s plan for love and life.  However, when you do not it automatically brings you and those persons involved to harm whether or not you “feel” like it does.  Many people who are addicted to or participating in non-marital sex can testify to this truth.  All of us can sense within ourselves our deepest desire which is for love.  Thus, God’s plan for sexual love is supposed to be a good, holy desire given to one’s spouse in the proper context of free, total, faithful and fruitful love to help us get to heaven.  Sex, that is, is designed by God to be heavenly, to foreshadow heaven, to point us toward heaven, and eventually bring us to heaven if we love with our bodies as God has created and intended us to love.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Merry Christmas to all of you – the youth and families of Queen of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church!!!  Special greetings to anyone who’s new to this blog after joining us at Mass during this special Christmas weekend then seeing our new topic in the bulletin entitled:  What is the meaning of sex in God’s plan?   

For the past few months during my time here serving as youth minister at Holy Rosary Catholic Church, I’ve been commentating on Blessed Pope John Paul II’s revolutionary teaching entitled: “A Theology of the Body,” which was the first major work of his Pontificate.  He delivered this teaching during his Wednesday Audiences in the form of lectures over the course of five years, from 1979-84.  I have shared some personal stories of my own, in addition to many examples and teachings from others including Christopher West, Jason and Christalina Evert and Mary Beth Bonacci who are all chastity speakers and apologists (an “apologist” is one who explains the Catholic faith publicly, but it is NOT one who apologizes for being Catholic).  I have also been trying to communicate how liberating this teaching of the Theology of the Body has been for me personally as a man growing up at the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the third millennium in this western culture.  As you already know this culture is, unfortunately, filled with profound obstacles to purity, chastity and love on every level with few models of real men and real love.  During a past blog, I did share that it wasn’t until I studied and was formed to become a Catholic Priest that I learned about manhood in the context of priestly celibacy (a beautiful gift of God to the Church and world that is meant to remind everyone that we will not be completely fulfilled until our union with God in Heaven, a state in which we “are neither given nor received in marriage” at all (Mt 22:30) ).  As you all know, I was eventually called away from seminary life and am not a priest today, but I have learned many things about priesthood.  A celibate priest offers himself in love to His own Bride the Church sacramentally in the Person of Christ - sharing in Christ's priesthood.  As I studied in seminary and learned what it means to be a priest, I had to simultaneously re-learn what it means to be a Christian man.  Unfortunately, I realized, I had lots of work to do in order to become one of those “authentic Christian men.”  For example, how could I give myself fully in love like Christ, who pours Himself out in sacrifice, gift, responsibility, joy and love to His own Bride the Church even to the end (which was his own death on a cross) if I didn’t know about real manhood - which Christ models for us in this relationship of love?  I was often perplexed in thinking to myself during my life while I grew up:  “What does it mean to be a real man?  Do I have to be strong?  Do I have to be successful?  Do I have to be in charge, poised, articulate, muscular, handsome, crafty, intelligent, quick witted, tall, good at sports and mathematics, funny, all knowing, able to fix stuff and build large wooden cabinets, always the life of the party, knowledgeable of all feminine matters and skilled with the ladies, good with all things automotive and a near professional gunslinger???”  Then, of course, I would get stressed out and scared because I’m not too many of those stereotypically “manly” things anyway. 

Getting back to reality, the fact is that the man or womanhood which God gives us is the crown of his creation.  The human person whom “God made in his own image, male and female God made them,” (Gen. 1:27) is already the best part of God’s creative plan.  Aside form all the stereotypes we place on ourselves, our man and womanhood is meant to be the crown of all God’s creation, and that’s what God intended since we’re “made,” in His divine image.  We are created to image God, unlike anything else in all of creation (aside from the angels, of course, who don’t have bodies but who do share this special dignity imaging God).  For example, let’s take “beauty” as a reference point.  What is “beauty?”  We all seem to want to be beautiful, right?  So people can become more and more attracted to us as an end in itself, fall in love with us and then we can “get” anything we’d like including esteem, attention, care and happiness.  (That last sentence there, in italics, is part of the big fat lie I bought into as a young person for many years in high school and college.)  But really in truth, “beauty” is a Divine Attribute in that it comes from God and is an expression of God as well as an experience of Him.  All beauty is supposed to lead us directly to God, who is our final end.  Every flower, sunset, painting, sculpture, beautifully designed building, bridge or car, and yes – even every beautiful human body and person is supposed to lead us to God, who IS Beauty Itself.  Real beauty always points the way to the Divine so we can experience God.  Beauty is a way God communicates Himself to us so we can experience His goodness.  Real beauty is supposed to get out of the way, just like a prophet, who points to the real desire in all our hearts - God Himself.  Isn’t it “good” to experience beauty of any kind?  (The next time you see a beautiful sunset, painting, or person and you gasp then think to yourself, “wow, that’s beautiful,” recall that it’s really God you’re experiencing.)  Yes, the crown of all creation is the human person, male and female who are made in God’s image and likeness.  Even before we are in charge, poised, articulate, muscular, handsome, crafty, intelligent, quick witted, tall, good at sports and mathematics, funny, all knowing, able to fix stuff and build large wooden cabinets of any kind, we are already God’s crowning creation – small, conceived in our mother’s wombs, helpless, needy, incapable of taking care of ourselves, before we have beautiful flowing hair and big large muscles, all at the time in which we are quite little.  Our personhood is founded by our Creator, and not by our stereotypes.       

Essentially, during that time I had in seminary, I was being prepared for the beautiful vocation and sacrament of marriage through the eyes of a healthy understanding of priestly celibacy, theology and identity.  In learning about priesthood, I was forced to re-learn what it means to simply be a Christian man.  In studying and learning about priesthood I was also learning about marriage, sex and God’s plan for love and life by THE teacher of love and life; THE model of manhood and marriage: Jesus Christ and His Bride the Church.  Today, I am married to Alicia and the fruit of our love, which is modeled on Christ’s love for his own Bride the Church, (which every marriage is supposed to signify and reveal to the world) has born the fruit of Isaac, our son, among other things (as well as one more on the way, thanks God).  I love the Catholic Priesthood, am not a priest, but have learned so much about real love, manhood and personhood by the paradigm of person’s and humanity, Jesus Christ. 

So right now you may be thinking to yourself:  “What, you’re not supposed to learn about sex in seminary?  That doesn’t seem right!  Awkward . . .”  But, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Sex comes from God and it has a profound meaning.  Unfortunately, I would wager that most people in our culture never reflect on the intended, God-given meaning of sex.  Too often we consider our attraction to sex, our desire for sex, or our compulsion for sex without considering what’s really behind all that energy, drive and attraction.  So, what is the meaning of sex? 

Today, we are trying to answer that question: what is the meaning of sex?  Many would say that sex has no meaning at all.  It’s just an urge we have that we need to relieve like eating or drinking.  However, even eating and drinking are oriented to a participation in the life of God, for Blessed Pope John Paul II in his Theology of the Body, and they always point the way to Heaven.  Yes, even drinking water points to Heaven for the Pope!  Eating and drinking can also lead to sin (such as gluttony, for example) if it’s used in a “disordered” way contrary to God’s plan.  We spoke of how the human body, and especially the “one flesh union” of male and female, reveals God.  All of creation reveals God, we believe:  the mountains, sun-sets, the ocean, etc.  But, the crown of God’s creation, according to the Bible in Genesis, chapter 1, is the human person!  And for Pope John Paul II, the “one flesh union” of sexual intercourse reveals God too!  So, a man images God.  A woman images God.  But, so does the one flesh union, sex that is, image God.  The sexual embrace between a man and woman, in this understanding, is meant to image God and reveal Him to the world.  In fact, sexual intercourse in the right context which is marriage, is meant to be a participation in the life of God, a foretaste of heaven, a prayer, worship, a sign of the Trinity, a symbol and icon of the inner life with God – Heaven itself, a renewal and a living out of the wedding vows, and an exchange of love that makes God visible to the world.  Sex is also the consummation, or making complete, of the marriage itself.    Sex, you see, has deep and profound meaning.  It’s sacred.  Sex is sacred.

Now, if you’re like me and you were never taught the real meaning of sacramental sex while you were a teen ager, or in college or anywhere since (please note that above is mentioned literally 12 sacred points behind the Catholic teaching regarding the meaning of sex) and you need to understand more, then you’re in the right place.  Stay tuned for our next blog postings that will discuss, explain and “enflesh” all 12 of these sacred points regarding the true meaning of sex in God’s plan. 

source: West, Christopher. Marriage and the Eucharist. Audio media. Mary Foundation. 2003.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Theology of the Body, Talk #5: What is the Theology of the Body again? How far is too far to go with my boyfriend / girlfriend? What does Mary, the Mother of God, have to do with a Theology of the Body? What can we learn from the Immaculate Conception and virginity in this great teaching?

We are coming up on several land-marks in the Catholic Church, especially in English speaking countries.  The New Roman Missal will take effect at the beginning of Advent in these English speaking countries which, for us Catholics, is the beginning of our “new year.”  Advent always marks the beginning of a new liturgical year in the Church.  There is much to say about Advent and the New Roman Missal, of course, but I want to focus in on one of Advent’s great Solemnities:  the Feast of the Immaculate Conception which is coming up on December 8.

The Solemnity (or Feast) of the Immaculate Conception is a great Feast that has everything to do with our meditations on the Pope’s Theology of the Body.  I’d like to take a minute, therefore, and explain what this Feast of Mary has to do with our reflections on sex, marriage, love and life in the Divine plan. 

This special Feast has everything to do with a Theology of the Body!  Mary, in fact, is our model, our lens, for understanding the entire Theology of the Body. “Wait, Benjamin, Mary was “ever-virgin” so she didn’t have sex at all!  How can she be our model for the Theology of the Body?  How can a virgin be our model for sex and love in the Divine plan?”   Well, I’ll explain this as we go on.  We will come to see that virginity doesn’t simply mean something negative i.e.: “someone who has not had sex.”   Virginity is something much more than just “not” having sex.  It really has to do with an integration of body and soul that are free to properly love especially in regard to one’s state or vocation in life (single life, married life or consecrated life).  That’s why the Church has some vocations to a life-long promise of “consecrated virginity,” for example.  I personally know many consecrated virgins and they are full of joy.  (They are monks, nuns, priests, and there are even Lay Consecrated Virgins in the world working and living the single life, promising to God their virginity forever.)  In fact, even married couples are supposed to function from their place of integration in body and soul so they are free to give themselves completely to each other and to God.  Virginity, then, is much more about being liberated from lust and being free to give ourselves completely in the purity of body and soul in whatever vocation God has given to us.  In virginity, our body and soul move together in the same direction toward God.  Mary is the perfect virgin of all virgins.  She had total control over her body and soul and was able to give herself completely to God in everything because of her Immaculate Conception.  Imagine never giving in to a temptation to lust in thought, word or deed?!   Amazing!!!  Welp, that’s Mary!

So, here’s another example to help explain the things happening in virginity inside of your body and soul:  You’re on a date.  It’s a good date.  It’s your fifth date.  You haven’t kissed yet.  Tonight is the night!  You want to kiss.  You want to kiss tonight.  So, at the end of the date you drop her off at home and kiss her goodnight.  You kiss, and kiss, and then kiss some more.  You have accomplished the first kiss and beyond!  You like it and so does she.  You continue to kiss.  (Ok, sorry everyone… I’ll get to the point . . . it’s an important point.)  At the moment your heart begins to desire the kiss more than the person as an end, your body and soul cease being integrated and moving toward God.  It’s very, very subtle.  Because your desire for the kiss begins to overwhelm you in this way it becomes disordered.  Your body and soul, in this case, begin going different directions.  We’re talking about the inner life of our hearts, body’s, and desires now.  This is a simple example of when a kiss (something good in itself) takes your body, and your desires, away from the final end of a kiss, which is always God.

At this point you may be thinking something like this:  Benjamin, I’ve never thought or wanted a kiss to lead me to God… but it does really turn me on!”

How many of you have heard this before?  How many of you think in this way?

For now we have to return to the initial questions for today because I’ve gotten off track once again!  I simply wanted to give honor to Mary as we approach her great Feast day and doing so easily helps us to look at virginity.  This is just a foretaste… there will be lots more on the topic of virginity to come.  It is a very hard concept to understand in this culture because if you’re like me you always thought virginity was something negative: “that someone has not yet had sex.”  Please just remember that virginity is much, much more and we can learn about it by way of the Virgin Mary.  We’ll get back to that.

So, returning to the initial questions for today:  What is a Theology of the Body?  How far is too far with my boyfriend / girlfriend?  (I know I’ve been leading up to this answer for two postings and below is the answer.  You don’t have to wait any more.  But, before you read on please remember that the more you can train yourself in “waiting” the more you’ll understand what I’m about to say.) 

Let’s take the first question now:  What is a Theology of the Body?  Christopher West once asked me in a large group of people who where there to see him:  Have you ever just stopped to take a look at yourself in the shower and wonder, why did God create “this?” Now, I’m a man.  So, you see what he was getting at.  He asks the same question to women:  have you ever stopped to look at yourself in the shower and ask why did God create this?  Why did God create males and females?  Why not just one uni-sex person, figure, thing… like starfish?  If you think about it for a minute, or more, you can come to see that the masculine is ordered toward the feminine and the feminine is ordered toward the masculine.  Or, as one of my buddies once put it:  “Oh, I gotcha … they fit together in that special place.”  (You can read all about this in the book of Genesis: “It is not good for man to be alone.  I will make a suitable partner for him. . .” God said.  Then God makes Eve after Adam named all the animals of the earth yet “none proved to be the suitable partner for the man.” When Adam sees Eve he exclaims:  “At last bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” (Gen. 2:18-24)  That is why the two of them become one flesh.  Married couples became “one flesh” at the moment they first consummate their marriage, for example.)  Man and woman are created for each other.  They are not just created for themselves.  By looking closely at the human body, we can come to an understanding of some fundamental questions about why we are here.  We can learn from our bodies about ourselves and about our intended reason for being, our creation.  We can even learn about our Creator.  And that’s the simple explanation of a Theology of the Body.  The human body is a map, as I said before, to point to and lead us to God and to discover the purpose and meaning of human life and love.  (Remember, love will be a big topic when it comes to the body . . . )  The human body is a sign and revelation of God.  If we take a look at the human body we can come to an understanding of God since: “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1: 27)  The human body is not supposed to be something meaningless and ambiguous as our culture would have you believe.  The body, which is connected to the soul that makes up the person, leads to God who we image.  So, in this study we will be looking to our bodies, as a fundamental part of our personhood, to teach us about God and ourselves.

Question # 2: How far is too far to go with my girlfriend or boyfriend sexually?

This is a very common question.  To answer this we’ll use Jason Everet’s famous response: “I’m going to let you answer your own question with your heart.”  He then asks you to name an example of “going too far,” such as oral sex.  Is oral sex ok to do with my girlfriend or boyfriend?  No one can get pregnant.  It can be an expression of love.  I really want to!  Is oral sex too far to go with my boyfriend or girlfriend?  He invites you to simply imagine that your future spouse is somewhere out there in the world right now just like you.  Maybe you’ve met her and maybe not.  Maybe she, just like you, is sitting at her computer desk working on homework and taking a break before the big exam tomorrow.  Except that she studies at the Colorado Springs High and you study at Blue Valley High, for example.  Also, she has a boyfriend.  He comes by to visit during her study break.  One thing leads to another.  Is it ok for your future spouse to kiss her boyfriend?  Most would say, “sure” with a bit of reluctance.  Is it ok for her boyfriend to touch your future spouse on the genitals?  Is it ok for her mouth, the mouth that will eventually kiss your sons and daughters good night, to give that boyfriend oral sex?  This is kind of like a spiritual exercise.  If you experienced disgust, then you were able to answer the question.  If you did not experience disgust, then please, please keep reading because you have a lot inside of you that needs to be untwisted with the help of God’s grace.  Please apply this simple spiritual exercise to any question you have in your mind and heart about “how far is too far to go with my girlfriend, or boyfriend tonight, tomorrow, or whenever.”  This will help a lot.  If this is the first time you have thought of your future spouse then just say a prayer for them that God may help them, protect them and bless them in such a way that when you meet and get married . . . your marriage will be a sign and experience to the whole world of the marriage every marriage is supposed to signify:  the marriage between Christ and His Spouse the Church.

Ok, stay tuned for next weeks questions: Does sex have meaning, really? What is the meaning of sex?