Saturday, May 23, 2015


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For the past two years I’ve been participating in a men’s ministry entitled That Man is You!  The presenter of each week’s content is a man by the name of Steve Bollman.  He doesn’t pull any punches in the sense that he readily shares some of the lesser known aspects of Catholic theology and spirituality.  At times this means that he loses guys in attendance at the parish hall at 6:15 am watching the DVD, but it also has the effect of raising important questions for guys during the post-DVD small group table conversations. 

One term that has come up repeatedly over the sessions is “concupiscence” (kon-kyoo-pi-suh ns).  It is a difficult word to pronounce without some practice, and even with practice! 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it as “human appetites or desires which remain disordered due to the temporal consequences of original sin, which remain even after Baptism, and which produce an inclination to sin.”  The U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults mentions it as our “inclination to sin which shows itself in what is sometimes referred to as a darkening of the mind and a weakening of the will, that is, the inability to know clearly the right or wrong of an action and/or the lack of strength to resist temptation and always to do the right thing no matter how hard this is.” 

What was new to me though was what I recently learned by looking in the index of the 2006 edition of the Pauline Books and Media publication of Michael Waldstein’s translation, introduction and index of Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body.  Saint John Paul the Great used the word “concupiscence” 340 times over the course of the four years that he was sharing his Wednesday catechesis with the world!  That works out to make it the ninth most used word in the whole body of work. 

Here’s how it breaks down:
“Body” – 1319 times
“Meaning/Significance/Importance” – 625 times
“Marriage” – 502 times
“Love” – 465 times
“Heart” – 408 times
“Person” – 382 times
“Mystery” – 373 times
“Truth” – 342 times
“Concupiscence” – 340 times

To give you an idea of some other important words:
“Flesh” – 330 times
“Church” – 326 times
“Dimension” – 297 times
“Creation” – 281 times
“Theology of the Body” – 100 times

So, what really struck me was that every other frequently used word in the TOB is a positive term.  Concupiscence sticks out like a sore thumb, and must have a lot to do with our coming to understand the “adequate anthropology” that St. JPII wanted to impart to us. 

"Scream and shout" by Mindaugas Danys is licensed under C.C. by 2,0
Sure enough, as I was meditating on this factoid of word frequency I began noticing things about my children’s behavior which ultimately led me to remember the most obvious detail of my own conversion to Christ: left to my own devices I do what I want! (à la Cartman from Southpark)  What is crazy is that no one has to teach us this at any point in our life…ever!  We are all very inventive when it comes to riffing on the theme of sin-sick selfishness.  It’s always lurking just around the corner of our inattentiveness to God’s grace due to a lack of a real prayer life.  We never get to set the toggle switch on our soul to “cruise control”! 

Concupiscence (and therefore in a reverse engineering kind of way all of TOB and the Gospel of Jesus Christ) is a universal reality experienced by everyone (Original Sin anyone?).  Spend 20 minutes around any toddler from any region of the globe and it’s guaranteed that they will all do the same selfish behaviors that stem from overwhelming inclinations to dominate, ignore, horde, hit, bite, scream, etc. 

Right in line with this phenomenon is the reality that I experienced as a young boy and immature man.  When no one educated me in the way of love, understood as “making a sincere gift of myself” (Gaudium et spes 24:3), I used the powerful gift of my masculinity to turn inward on myself and away from God and neighbor.  Not until I was five years into living life as a weekly Mass attending, baptized and confirmed Catholic making use of regular sacramental reconciliation was I spiritually/socially/physically in a consistently good place with God, others and myself.  

Whenever I share this detail of my past with other men, I hear, read or see them confirm my reflection.  No one had to teach us to lust, dominate, use, manipulate or waste time, money and energy on ourselves!   Rather, all that darkness simply came flowing out from within us because apart from the divine physician we are truly ill.  We need to be healed from the inside out (Mk 7:20), we need to be taken back to the beginning of God’s design for us (Mt 19:8).  This is why TOB is so important, beautiful and life changing if you allow it to be the vehicle for encountering Jesus Christ risen from the dead today!     

If you are intrigued by this theme, take a look at this article by Dr. Rick Fitzgibbon (specifically the second to last paragraph from the bottom of the first page).

Here’s a VERY powerful video story/testimony/confession by a father about how only his second daughter’s life was able to invade his selfish-concupiscence-bubble and bring him abundant life (Jn 10:10).  Enjoy and share widely!       

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