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.