Monday, March 30, 2015

So what if I live in a jungle or a home?

No comments :
"Our treehut in the jungle" by Christian Haugen is licensed under C.C. by 2.0
My last post referred to some anecdotes of life that prove the point that the world can seem to be an inhospitable jungle and very much not the home that Christianity claims it to be.  This post by my friend Rachel Coleman is also helpful in describing the gift nature of creation. 

So in this post I would like to unpack some implications for marriage and family life given the fact that the world is ultimately a good gift given to us, not some testing ground for cleverness and survival instincts a la Tunnel in the Sky, Ender’s Game, Hunger Games or Maze Runner

1)      If the world—and life in it—is a good gift given by a loving Father then I don’t have to construct my own happiness in a relationship.  Instead I can receive it and cooperate with a natural order already inscribed in everything around me. 
·         For instance: my wife’s fertility isn’t a burdensome killjoy that I must have her medicate away or always walled off from me.  Rather, I can learn the cycles present within her femininity and collaborate with them for the conception or postponement of a baby and in so doing I will be called outside of my own boyish demands and discover happiness stemming from virtuous (although strenuous) selflessness (who wants to be married to a tantrum throwing boy when he can’t have what he wants?  Who wants to be a 20/30/40/etc. something year old boy?).  

2)      I can stay put and enjoy the adventure of domesticity.
·         You should really check out two essays by G. K. Chesterton entitled Homesick at Home and The Wildness of Domesticity (it’s in the compilation book Brave New Family).  Until you do however, suffice it to say that rather than chasing a promotion, bigger bank statements, more toys and gadgets, clothes, or square footage, try pursuing and “earning” your spouse’s affection like you did when you first dated.  How about pursuing your spouse by putting on perfume/cologne just because you’re both home for dinner on Tuesday night?  What if you spent more time with your children than your smartphone, coworkers or lawnmower?  What if your home didn’t have a blue glow and background noise from breakfast to Jimmy Fallon?  

3)      I won’t need to compete with others to get ahead.
·         I can focus my energies on diligently applying myself to serving the authentic needs of those who depend on me.  If I run a business, then my employees and customers get my sincerely best efforts.  If I am an employee, then my supervisor, coworkers and customers should all intuitively sense that I’m not truncating my performance on Monday morning or Friday afternoon.  When I am at home my spouse and children have 100% access to me.    

4)      I won’t need to necessarily curtail my openness to children in order to “survive” or be “happy”.  [See this post about what’s happening in Italy or read this book or watch these documentaries]
·         This is really the kicker that strikes me as the most important ramification regarding whether or not we perceive the world as a home or a jungle.  Who wants to bring a baby into a dangerous unknown?  No one.  Who can’t help but want to fill up empty bedrooms with cribs, kitchen tables with high chairs, back seats with car seats and toilets with potty seats?  Those who perceive the world as fundamentally hostile and hopeless.  You see the future of humanity depends on the outlook of us today.  Civilizations continue or end when the majority of citizens either sign up for celebratory joy and hope or survival mode minimalism due to perceived hostility.

Life is challenging and living it virtuously so as to respond to God’s grace fruitfully is a life-long task.  But it is a worthwhile life project that makes sense when you have been given a home from which to venture out of, not abandoned into a dangerous peril-filled wilderness.           

What do you think are other consequences of interpreting the world as a threat-filled jungle versus a hospitable safe home?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Throwback Thursday

No comments :
"Wedding Rings" by Hideyuki Kamon is licensed under C.C. by 2.0
"There is no relationship between human beings so close as that of husband and wife, if they are united as they ought to be."

-- St. John Chrysostom (Homily 20 on Ephesians 5:22-33)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Throwback Thursday

No comments :
"St. Joseph was called by God to serve the person and mission of Jesus directly through the exercise of his fatherhood. It is precisely in this way that, as the Church's Liturgy teaches, he 'cooperated in the fullness of time in the great mystery of salvation" and is truly a "minister of salvation.' His fatherhood is expressed concretely 'in his having made his life a service, a sacrifice to the mystery of the Incarnation and to the redemptive mission connected with it; in having used the legal authority which was his over the Holy Family in order to make a total gift of self, of his life and work; in having turned his human vocation to domestic love into a superhuman oblation of self, an oblation of his heart and all his abilities into love placed at the service of the Messiah growing up in his house.'

"Georges de La Tour. St. Joseph, the Carpenter" by Georges de La Tour.
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
"In recalling that 'the beginnings of our redemption' were entrusted 'to the faithful care of Joseph,' the Liturgy specifies that 'God placed him at the head of his family, as a faithful and prudent servant, so that with fatherly care he might watch over his only begotten Son.' Leo XIII emphasized the sublime nature of this mission: 'He among all stands out in his august dignity, since by divine disposition he was guardian, and according to human opinion, father of God's Son. Whence it followed that the Word of God was subjected to Joseph, he obeyed him and rendered to him that honor and reverence that children owe to their father.'
Since it is inconceivable that such a sublime task would not be matched by the necessary qualities to adequately fulfill it, we must recognize that Joseph showed Jesus 'by a special gift from heaven, all the natural love, all the affectionate solicitude that a father's heart can know.'

"Besides fatherly authority over Jesus, God also gave Joseph a share in the corresponding love, the love that has its origin in the Father 'from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named' (Eph 3:15).

"The Gospels clearly describe the fatherly responsibility of Joseph toward Jesus. For salvation-which comes through the humanity of Jesus-is realized in actions which are an everyday part of family life, in keeping with that 'condescension' which is inherent in the economy of the Incarnation. The gospel writers carefully show how in the life of Jesus nothing was left to chance, but how everything took place according to God's predetermined plan. The oft-repeated formula, 'This happened, so that there might be fulfilled...,' in reference to a particular event in the Old Testament serves to emphasize the unity and continuity of the plan which is fulfilled in Christ."

-- St. John Paul II, "Redemptoris custos" #8

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Thank you, St. Joseph

1 comment :
Recently, my fiancé and I took a dance break while preparing dinner to sample out a potential first dance song, “Then,” by Brad Paisley. Romantic swaying quickly turned into ridiculous laughter as Paisley reminisced about his early encounters with his now wife...

I remember trying not to stare
The night that I first met you
You had me mesmerized
And three weeks later
In the front porch light
Taking 45 minutes to kiss goodnight
I hadn't told you yet
I thought I loved you then

Our first few weeks of dating were certainly lovely – and as love goes they also contained their taste of the cross that Christ guarantees when we follow Him. The lyrics hit a nerve because to be perfectly honest, many of our early evenings were not capped with passionate kissing but with passionate tears – on my part. I was a hot mess.

My twenties were ripe with constant flip-flopping; one moment I was able to trust and hope in God’s goodness only to shortly thereafter give into doubt and despair. I followed all the rules, listened to every Catholic talk, and gave my plethora of fiats and still, I found myself alone, heart-broken and fearful as I passed into my 30s. I admittedly was simultaneously struggling with resentment over the past and anxiety over the future.

And so, those first few weeks…err months…of dating my now fiancé will forever be characterized (and thus cherished) by a different kind of expression of love. After years of praying, hoping and waiting, God in His perfect (though still challenging) timing sent me my St. Joseph – my patient fiancé who, in those moments when I was most vulnerable and weak, chose to love and comfort me with a grace-fueled and grace-giving gentle strength. I am sure that I will never know how difficult it was for him to pour himself out to me only to be met time and again with tears of pain and uncertainty.

I take solace in the idea that I am sure St. Joseph had his fair share of difficulties in loving his beautiful bride Mary. Being married to literally the only perfect woman on earth was likely filled with moments of unparalleled grace and unparalleled struggle.

All too often, we feminize both Jesus Christ and his earthly father, St. Joseph. We ignore the perhaps smelly sweat, the bloody bodily scars, and the sheer will power that they embodied and outright owned while walking the earth.
"Joseph with Infant Christ" by Murillo is in the Public Domain

St. Joseph is known as the quiet spouse of Mary, perfectly content with being her most chaste spouse, wholly accepting of his place as the only imperfect being in the holy family. We rob him of his manliness when we forget his nature and how he must have fought to be the leader, provider and protector we call on.

In an essay on “Becoming a Real Man of God,” Fr. Roger J. Landry lists ten traits of a good soldier. Included among them are:

·         He is rooted in discipline and strength.
·         He may be tender and compassionate but never soft.
·         He sees sacrifice as an opportunity to show his character and demonstrate love.

As we remember St. Joseph on his feast day (March 19), let us praise him for who he really was and is – a true lover and a fighter. And let us thank all of the men in our lives who follow his example.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What is sexual difference? Part III

1 comment :
In seeking to define sexual difference and to understand its significance, we have discussed the Trinity and the metaphysics of form and matter.  Though in many senses “invisible,” we can now begin to see how the logic of love and gift are made visible in the human body.

Our call to love, our being as gift, and our invitation to fruitfulness are reflected and made visible through our bodies, which are either masculine or feminine.  In his apostolic letter, Mulieris dignitatem St. John Paul II explains that our masculinity and femininity are not incidental to our being created in God’s image and likeness.  He writes, “To say that man is created in the image and likeness of God means that man is called to exist ‘for’ others, to become a gift” (#7).

Together, masculinity and femininity reveal that who the human person is involves giving and receiving, and therefore, love.  To be in the image and likeness of God involves our capacity for intellect and will, but also our call to love.

Gender, therefore, is not a social construct.  It is not arbitrary.  Neither is it following the sheer dictates of biology.  Rather, sexual difference is a visible sign of what is invisible.

Although there is not gender in God, there is something about love and fruitfulness in God, that when embodied, takes the form of gender/sexual difference.  We began these reflections by looking at God as eternal Gift, eternal relationship of love, eternal fruitfulness.  From God’s love, generosity and fruitfulness, in His creation, through metaphysics and becoming visible in our bodies, we see a glimmer of who He is. 

Image by kristin_a is licensed under C.C. by SA 2.0
Our culture, however, has begun to look at the body as a blank canvas with no inherent meaning.  Whatever meaning I choose in my “freedom” to give to my body (or lack of meaning) I may assign to it.  One concrete demonstration of this logic is the severing of sex and gender – sex as whatever reproductive organs I happen to have and gender as a social construct by which certain stereotypes have been linked with particular reproductive organs.  In defiance of these “stereotypes,” gender becomes something I choose, not something I am given.  Therefore, gender is seen as arbitrary and meaningless.  (Its only meaning is that which I choose to give it.) 

But the body is not some “dumb matter,” a meaningless collection of cells and DNA.  Rather, the body is a gift whose origin is Love.  Because the body was created by God who is Love, every fiber, cell and strand of DNA is inscribed with love, and therefore with an inherent meaning.  The way the body is expressed in a masculine or feminine form profoundly manifests the call to love.

1)      My male or female body is a beautiful reminder that I was created.  I am not God.  I am a child of God.  I did not create myself.  I come from another.  My life is such a radical gift that there are some things I did not choose for myself -- my gender, my birthday, my name, my family, etc.  Since there is another way of being that is different from me (male or female), I also realize that I cannot encompass the whole of reality.

2) My male or female body is a beautiful reminder that I am called to love.  In seeing that there is another with whom I have unity (the same gift of humanity) and difference (masculinity or femininity), I see that it is possible for me to give and to receive from another.  I am called to live "for" another.  I am then able to see that love is possible, that love is good and that love is the meaning of life.

3) My male or female body is a beautiful reminder that I am called to love fruitfully.  When I realize that I did not create myself, that I come from God, and when I realize that I can love another with whom I share a unity (humanity) and a difference (male or female), I can see that my love can be fruitful.  It can grow and be more.  It doesn't have to collapse in upon itself.  It can open me up to new experiences, new wonder, new gratitude as I watch love unfolded as something I am given and not as something I create, dominate or master.

In short, my sexual identity, which I discover in my body, is a constant reminder of who I am as a human person -- a gift from God, called to give in love, fruitfully.  So, embracing this gift of our masculinity and femininity, which is revealed in and through our bodies is key to understanding who God created us to be and what He is calling us to (ultimately, eternal communion with Him in heaven).

In our desperation to promote equality, we have reduced equality to sameness.  And by rendering the body and gender as devoid of meaning, we are ironically uprooting the very foundation of the absolute dignity of both men and women.  Our bodies reveal that we did not create ourselves.  Our masculinity and femininity make us aware that we come from another and are created for another.  Our life is a gift. 

If our engendered bodies reveal that we are created and that we are gift, then it is precisely this truth – that we were loved into existence by God who is Love – that gives us the dignity that we are desperately trying to enshrine.  If we want to receive this gift, appreciate our dignity, and look at others as people to love and not as objects to use, then it starts with receiving our masculinity and femininity and realizing that love indeed requires gender (sexual difference).  And that gender reminds us of our unique call to love. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

TOB: What is original unity?

No comments :
We continue here our explorations into St. John Paul II’s series of Wednesday Catecheses, which eventually became known as Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (TOB, for short). To see other posts on this topic, click here.

“The looks of human beings were as a whole round, with back and sides in a circle. And each had four arms and legs equal in number to his arms, and two faces alike in all respects . . . but there was one head for both faces—they were set in opposite directions” (Symposium, 189e).

This is the account of human beings the Greek playwright Aristophanes gives in Plato’s Symposium. In that dialogue, each member of the dinner party gives an account of love—where it comes from, whether it is a god, how it affects humans. Aristophanes proposes that we all used to be double ourselves—two persons, as it were, in a doubled body; this version of humanity was too strong and threatened the gods, so Zeus decides he will split humans in half. When Zeus did so, however, the splitted-humans could not function and wandered around aimlessly on the earth looking for their other half; this situation was also unacceptable, because the gods needed humans to offer sacrifices. So Zeus gives humanity physical love so that the splitted-humans would be satisfied and could then “attend to the rest of their livelihood” (191b). Thus, the two sexes and love were born at the same time.

Though Aristophanes was a comic playwright, his creation myth is rather compelling, which is one of the many reasons it acts as an appropriate foil to John Paul II’s account of the experience of original unity in his TOB. There does at times seem to be a lack in us that leads us to another person. But are gender and sex simply the result of some original wound inflicted upon us, either by ourselves or some force outside of us? Is my limitedness and need—made evident by the fact that I cannot be both male and female—evidence of some deep wound, as Aristophanes articulates?

No! John Paul II helps us see this in light of the Genesis account, by explicating the original experiences of solitude, unity, and nakedness. Original solitude is the experience of the human (Adam) coming to terms with what it means to be a creature, and specifically, a human being, one who is in the material world, but not entirely of it.

Original unity is the next experience John Paul II reflects on in the TOB, and this experience arises out of and also helps us to understand original solitude. Though Adam is a full human creature who has a relationship to both God and the world (securing, ultimately, that no human person must be with the opposite sex in order to be whole), the Lord sees him in his solitude and says, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:18). Why this need for an-other?
"Holding hands" is licensed under C.C. by 2.0

In my last post, I pointed out that God gives the  Adam three directives—till the garden, the commandment about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and name the animals—and that those directives helped Adam to understand his place in the world vis-à-vis God and the rest of creation. Still, though, Adam’s knowledge of himself is not entirely clear.

God puts Adam into a deep sleep, and forms the woman from his rib, and then she is presented to the man. John Paul II emphasizes that before this, we have only seen the general word for humanity (in Hebrew: ‘adam) to describe Adam, whereas now we see the words male (‘is) and female (‘issah), signaling that in woman’s creation, man comes to be in a certain way for the first time as well. One does not make sense without the other.

Adam responds with the joyful exclamation we all know so well: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” (Gen 2:23). Remarkably, this is first time we hear man speak in the creation accounts. It is only in front of an-other like himself that Adam can say “my”—that is to say, we cannot know ourselves in isolation, but fully come into the knowledge of what it means to be human (and specifically, the human that is me), without the flesh of another. But notice! This original unity is not two humans stuck together, who were originally meant to have “the same” body—rather, this true original unity comes from looking at another, seeing that she is actually other, and knowing that she is also “mine.” The image of a mother and a child is also very apt here: the child learns, through his mother’s embrace and her smile, who he is.

Original unity, then, helps us see more explicitly that to be human means to be for another. Thus, John Paul II writes, “In the biblical account, solitude is the way that leads to the unity that we can define, following Vatican II, as communio personarum” (9th Catechesis). Humanity as communio personarum, or communion of persons, made explicit for the first time in the presence of Eve, helps us better understand man’s capacity for gift: man is a gift himself (Eve is entirely unexpected and gratuitous), and has the inner structure appropriate to receiving a gift (Adam receives Eve in wonder, awe, and gratitude). The communio personarum, then, is simply another way to express what the late pope emphasizes in his work time and again: that our creation is a gift and that we are made to give a gift of ourselves. The late pope’s reflections on original unity help shine a new light on this reality that has existed from the “beginning.”

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Frozen, Russell Brand and Pope St. John Paul II

No comments :
Not long after Frozen became the highest grossing animated film of all time, a cyber scandal accusing the masterminds of Disney of a “gay agenda” blew up all over social media. Whatever the potential motivations of Disney may or may not have been, the movie actually left me surprised by hope.

In these seemingly dark times when the culture of death looms around us, the plan God has for us written in our hearts, inscribed in and revealed through our human nature (qua embodied souls) is so undeniable that even adorable cartoon characters get it. When the lead character, Elsa, tries to repress and suppress her magical powers, she is left feeling alone, miserable and with a burden she was not meant to bear. When the pendulum swings the opposite way and she embraces self-centered “freedom” indulging her icy powers, the entire fairytale kingdom of Arendelle suffers from an eternal winter. Clearly, we are not made to suppress or repress our deepest desires, nor should we overindulge. Elsa learns that all is well when we order our “magical powers,” if you will, to love.

I was floored last week when I read this Life Site News article featuring a recent YouTube video by Russell Brand, the British comedian, former husband of Katy Perry and now…outspoken anti-pornography activist?!? The video is worth watching – though fair warning that it includes Brand’s naked chest and casual bedroom backdrop. He uses personal experience backed by sociological evidence to deliver his argument and the best part…he mentions a quote commonly attributed to Pope Saint John Paul II (he refers to him as a “priest,” we’ll take it),
“I heard a quote from a priest that said ‘pornography isn’t a problem because it shows too much, it’s a problem because it shows too little.”
He denounces the book and film, Fifty Shades of Grey and says, “Our attitudes towards sex have become warped and perverted and have deviated from its true function as an expression of love and a means for procreation. Because our acculturation—the way we’ve designed it and expressed it—has become really, really, confused.”
"Elsa" by Sam Howzit is licensed under C.C by 2.0.
Whether you are a princess covered from head to toe in sparkly attire or an outspoken and rugged bloke, clearly you don’t have to be a graduate of the John Paull II Institute to know that you are made for more, to know that you are made for authentic, life-giving love.  Even in the most unsuspecting places we find echoes of the call God has written on our hearts.
Taking a cue from Russell Brand, I leave you with these words from our favorite “priest’s” 1979 encyclical Redempter Hominis,
“Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.”
Fifteen years later in his Letter to Families, he further explained,
“The love which the Apostle Paul celebrates in the First Letter to the Corinthians - the love which is "patient" and "kind", and "endures all things" (1 Cor 13:4, 7) - is certainly a demanding love. But this is precisely the source of its beauty: by the very fact that it is demanding, it builds up the true good of man and allows it to radiate to others.”

As a high school religion teacher, I am aware of how very daunting communicating this truth is – and I am even more aware of how my task is actually quite simple. As Disney might put it, I need only awaken them to “their heart’s true desire.” 

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Original Trial: God v. Adam and Eve

No comments :
Most of us know that the condition of man in the Garden of Eden is called original innocence, and that after the Fall, man enters into the state of original justice. Man comes into this latter state through the original sin, which still affects every man today. This last term is probably the most well-known. There is, however, another “original,” one to which we refer much less often: the original trial.

The original trial will help us understand that even in our sinfulness God will always be just and treat us according to certain rights. As such He will deliver a just decision and the vetitum, so we must go back to the Genesis accounts. There we see how the trial unfolded and how the Church developed the rights that we freely enjoy today.

The Original Trial begins in Genesis 3:8. The original Sin has already been committed and Adam and Eve understand the weight of the crime when they hear God. They hide themselves—but how does one hide from God? They could not simply jump behind a bush; their hearts told the truth of the weight of their crime, so in shame they hide themselves.

Now, God already knows the offense committed and He knows where Adam and Eve are. As a just judge, He must summon or at least cite the parties. So He calls out to Adam, "where are you?" (Gen 3:9). This is the first right of man within the context of a trial. The medieval canonists realized that every man has a natural right to face his accuser. Every man has a right to be summoned or cited in order that that trial to be joined (started). For the 12th century man, this was revolutionary. No longer did the king have the power to simply hand down decisions and execute them. The peasant had a right to be at the trial. This leads us to another natural right.

"The Expulsion of Adam and Eve From Paradise" by Benjamin West is in the Public Domain
God, knowing the weight of the crime, does not need to ask questions to Adam or Eve, but He does. He investigates the matter at hand. He asks Adam "who told you that you are naked?" (Gen 3:12). Adam's response is to blame the woman. God, again, already knowing the depth of the crime, still follows His investigation and asks Eve "what is this that you have done?" (Gen 3:13). She, in turn, responds by  blaming the serpent. Despite knowing the events and depth of the crime, God is a just judge and understands the rights of man. Man has a right to a fair investigation of the acclaimed crime and the right to defense, even if, as in the case of Adam and Eve, it will incriminate him further. 

In the context of the 12th century, the canonists begin to understand that the king could no longer determine for himself the decision without due justice within an investigation. He could no longer violate the right to defend oneself against one’s accuser.

With the investigation concluded, the Lord God was able to fulfill His duty as a just judge and deliver a just decision. The crime, original sin, and decision were declared publicly in Gen: 14-19 to all parties involved. Included in the decision was a vetitum: a required prohibition despite the decision being fulfilled. 

The vetitum was in form of Adam and Eve driven out of the garden. God knew, and the canonists later developed, that man has a right to hear publicly the offense committed and the decision given to him—this will help bring him to a state of justice. Decisions were made public to ensure that the judge would not change the declaration after the trial had closed. A king could not punish someone without the accused knowing the charges, the reasons for it, and the decision.

(Parenthetically, this was an important development in legal history because a 12th century farmer whose cow was slaughtered by a stronger neighbor was very limited in receiving compensation. If he went to the king, there would be a trial by combat. If he went to the pagan priest, there was an ordeal. If he went to the Catholic Church, there would be a fair trial based on rights and evidence. He would have a better chance of receiving compensation to buy a new cow).

These rights are vital to today's legal system: the right to be summoned or cited, the right to know the charges, the right to an investigation, the right to a defense, and the right to a just and public decision based on a due process. While it may not be revolutionary to us today, we have these rights because of the Original Trial. The Original Trial shows the judge the way he must precede in the trial in order that the trial does not violate certain rights that even God followed.

Have a question you’d like answered about canonical law? You can email it directly to askacanonlawyer[at]