Wednesday, June 30, 2010

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Bishops Urge Senate to Remove Abortion Amendment from Defense Bill

The Catholic Key blog has the details about a letter Cardinal DiNardo wrote to Senators. Here is a snip:
In short, this amendment presents Congress with the very straightforward question whether it is the task of our federal government to directly promote and facilitate elective abortions. During the recent health care reform debate, the President and congressional leadership assured us that they agree it is not. The Senate should not approve this legislation until the original version of 10 U.S.C. §1093 is restored, maintaining the longstanding current policy on abortion as the House version of this legislation has already done.
Read the entire letter here..

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Happy Trails Adam!

Adam Koll, our Director of RCIA, has announced that he is moving to Corpus Christi to work for Bishop Mulvey and to be closer to his fiancĂ©. God Bless you in your new endeavor Adam! We will miss you.

Please pray that we might find a very good person to take his place.

Adam is a great man who has an interesting journey. He was raised Catholic, but left the Church because he was evangelized by some Evangelical Protestant friends while in college. He then went to a Baptist Seminary and was a pastor in Baptist churches for several years. He then came back to the Catholic Church after an intense study of theology and history. He was a campus missionary with St. Paul's Outreach before moving to Texas to be a DRE at a local parish. He then moved to St. Mary's as our Director of RCIA and brought a lot of passion to the position. God be with you, Adam!

Fr. Barron

Fr. Robert Barron is a modern-day version of Archbishop Fulton Sheen. He addresses culture, politics, the world, etc. from a thoroughly Catholic world-view, without leaving out the intellectual candy we all need. In other words, he challenges us in all the right ways.

I am a big fan.

So, a young blogger named Brandon, who is a regular reader of our humble blog, had an interview with Fr. Barron and did a very nice job asking some good questions. Here is one answer I liked from Fr. Barron, in particular:
I would like to see at least an hour of Catholic preaching and teaching nationally televised through secular media outlets. Networks like EWTN are great, but they are really an "ad intra" phenomenon and express the Church's internal conversations. The Church needs to go out and draw the culture in and we can't do this by presenting ourselves only within our own structures. Of course, the secular media outlets are not just going to give us this opportunity, so doing this will involve the commitment of resources and a willingness on the part of faithful Catholics to make some sacrifices.
Oh, I hope this happens.
Could you imagine seeing something like this video on the History Channel or even a major channel like CBS or Fox?

New Pontifical Council

It is official. Great news and badly needed.
Pope announces Council for Renewed Evangelization for secularized world

Rome, Italy, Jun 28, 2010 / 01:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- From the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-walls in Rome where he was celebrating First Vespers on the eve of the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Pope Benedict XVI revealed this evening his plan to create a new pontifical council. The council will be aimed at addressing the "progressive secularization" of historically Christian areas.

The new Vatican dicastery will be the first created since the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care was created in 1985 by Pope John Paul II. Vatican writer Andrea Tornielli predicted the new council's creation in April 2010, saying that it would be “the most important novelty of Pope Benedict’s pontificate."

After pointing to the "extraordinary impulse" John Paul II gave to the mission of the Church and the "genuine missionary spirit" that drove him, Pope Benedict XVI said that he is drawing on this inheritance.

Noting that he asserted at the beginning of his Petrine Ministry "that the Church is young, open to the future," he emphasized, "And I repeat it today, close to the sepulchre of St. Paul: the Church is an immense renewing force in the world, not exactly for her forces, but for the force of the Gospel, in which blows the Holy Spirit of God, God creator and redeemer of the world." Continue Reading.
In related news, this is the first time I have ever thought "that would be a cool Pontifical Council to work with" and really really meant it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Supreme Court Rules Against Religious Freedom

A huge blow to religious freedom came from the Supreme Court today. While it might fly under the radar of what some consider the "bigger" decision for gun rights, I think it is much more important, because the freedom to worship as you wish is a much more fundamental right than the right to bear arms.

From the NY Times:
WASHINGTON — A public law school did not violate the First Amendment by withdrawing recognition from a Christian student group that excluded gay and lesbian students, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday in a 5-to-4 decision.

The case, involving a clash between religious freedom and anti-discrimination principles, divided along familiar ideological lines, with the court’s four more liberal members and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in the majority.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the majority, said that it was constitutionally permissible for public institutions of higher education to require recognized student groups to accept all students who wished to participate in them.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the four dissenters, said the decision represented a triumph for the principle that there is “no freedom for expression that offends prevailing standards of political correctness in our country’s institutions of higher learning.”

The two sides disputed not only the legal principles involved but just what had happened at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, the defendant in the case.

As the majority understood it, the school had merely applied a neutral “all comers” policy to every group that sought official recognition. Recognized groups were entitled to modest financial assistance, use of the school’s communications channels and meeting space, and use of the school’s name and logo, so long as they allowed all students to participate in their activities. Continue Reading.
Does this mean that a Jewish group is now forced to accept a member who is a Holocaust denier?
Does a pro-abortion person get forced into a Pro-life group?
Does a Catholic group have to accept someone who believes the Church is the Whore of Babylon?
Does a member of one political party now have the right to force their way into another?

What if a group of people are forced into one of these small groups (e.g. a large group of those who support same-sex relationships join a small Christian group) and then take over the leadership?

There are a multitude of other issues because of this decision.

This makes no sense.


In a homily yesterday I heard a phrase the following phrase which struck me:
"God took on limitations."

I frequently complain about my limitations, especially when I suffer, because I am human and don't embrace them as I should. If you are around me for any amount of time, you might hear:
  • "My back is killing me."
  • "I am follically-challenged"
  • "I don't feel good."
  • "I wish I could do ______."
  • "I am getting old."
  • "I used to be able to." (remember that in TX we say "used to" a lot)
  • etc.
Yet, Christ took on limitations in order to be like us. Compare his reaction to my own:
  • His back hurt much more than mine when he was already beaten down, and then he had to pick up a cross.
  • His head was in much worse condition when he had a crown of thorns put on it.
  • He felt worse than I ever will because of being abandoned and tortured.
  • He knew he would never be able to escape His suffering.
  • He died at an earlier age than I currently am.
  • He might have had limitations, but didn't let that stop Him from loving limitlessly.
If you are like me, you are more likely to limit God than you are to give Him your limitations. While God took on limitations to be like us, He did not keep them. He went above them. Our limitations are God's opportunity to work in us. Once we accept that we are not anything but limited, God then has room to work in our lives. It is at this point that He can work on our sanctification, because we see our need for Him.

It is because of pride and a failure of faith that I am stuck in my limitations. My limitations cannot be overcome if I "set my mind to it" or do it by myself. Even if I break a world record, I am still limited. Even if I achieve all my goals, I am still limited. Limitations mean I am in need of He who has no limit.

The paradox is that I cannot go beyond my limitations until I embrace them. Lord help me embrace my limitations for your glory and my sanctification, through your limitless love for me!
"For God all things are possible." - Matt 19:26

The Cello

Thank you God for music that lifts the mind and soul.
I love the cello.

Skills + mad hairstyle = greatness.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Help With Pornography Part II

The first part of Zenit's two-part piece can be found here.
A snip from the second part is below.
ZENIT: If a person came to you and asked, "Am I addicted to pornography?" how would define this for him?

Kleponis: A person who uses it on a regular basis is not necessarily addicted.

What I ask is: Do you find yourself drawn to it? Do you find yourself thinking a lot about it? Do you find yourself looking forward to coming home from work at night and getting online and looking at the pornography?

Do you rely upon it to deal with the stress of loneliness, male insecurity or job pressures? Is it very difficult for you to go several days without looking at pornography? If you're answering yes to these questions you very well may be addicted to pornography.

Zenit: What problems do you see in single men and how to you counsel them?

Kleponis: We tell single young men that by engaging in pornography they're giving into profound selfishness, which is undermining their ability to relate in a healthy way to young women..

We tell them case studies of the growing problem of younger men, college students, who are incapable of relating to females. They lack confidence and subsequently have to struggle with anxiety.

Also, pornography use contributes to overreacting in anger as men lose a sense of refinement and true manly confidence in how to relate to a woman. The women they see in pornography don't have feelings, needs and opinions. When the men leave their fantasy world and meet a real woman who does have emotions and opinions, they often don't know how to deal with her, and withdraw due to insecurity or overreact in anger.

Parents need to respond to this crisis in masculinity by teaching their children the truth about sexual morality and the dangers of pornography and compulsive masturbation in their lives.

ZENIT: Let's talk about the healing process. What are some ways a person can begin to address this problem?

Kleponis: First, the person needs to accept that there is a problem with pornography and then try to grow in self-knowledge about its causes.

The person cannot do it alone. So many men think, "I'm going to pull myself up by my bootstraps; I'm going to do it by myself." They are rarely successful.

The six point plan we recommend includes: protection of the home; peer support (or a 12 step program for severe addictions); counseling or an increased self-knowledge as to the origins of the pornography use; growth in faith and a commitment to work on the virtues that will help with the resolution of the causes; friendship; and education.

The most common problems leading to the use of pornography that are uncovered are: selfishness, various types of loneliness, male insecurity, excessive work pressures, marital conflicts and a weak spiritual life.

Virtues can assist in the resolution of these conflicts. When a person commits himself to the hard work of growing in virtues, he usually experiences much less vulnerability to pornography.

Next, growth in peer support and in friendships is very helpful. Many men who struggle with pornography don't have any close friends, not even their wives.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Truth In Political Campaigns

What all political ads should be...

Tip o' the hat to CMR.

Help With Pornography

The New York Archdiocese recently held a mandatory meeting for all priests to teach them how to address the problem of pornography. The Diocese of Austin did a similar training several years ago, that I helped put together. But, too many priests still have not been trained in this area.

Many people assume that a priest will have all the answers to their problems. Of course, this isn't the case and we need to continue to educate our priests on the problems that are growing in our society. Pornography is one of the major issues.

One of the trainers in NY was interviewed by Zenit recently. Here is a snip of the interview.
ZENIT: What are some signs of pornography dependence or addiction? How can a person tell if he, or a loved one, is developing this addiction?

Kleponis: First, it can be difficult to identify this conflict in marriage and in family life.
I ask men to reflect upon a number of questions about their behaviors to evaluate whether they are dependent upon pornography: Have you withdrawn from your emotional and loving relationship with your wife?

Have you lost your ability to appreciate your wife's beauty and goodness? Do you share this part of your life with your wife? When an attractive person walks by, do you lock onto them?

Do you hide certain magazines, or other things from your spouse? Do you look forward to going away on business trips? That's a big one for a lot of men, because in the hotel rooms they can look at all kinds of pornography on television. Also, a lot of times when they go on business trips they'll go to strip bars, pornography shops, or do other things.

Do you have a place where you hide things from your wife? Are there certain behaviors that you cannot share with your wife? These are all warning signs that a person could be developing dependency on pornography.

For wives, the initial thing that they feel is a weakening of the marital friendship with less affection and less intimacy. Their husbands seem much more distant, unappreciative and often irritable and critical.

Wives in this situation usually sense that something is seriously wrong. Their responses are similar to those seen with martial infidelity which, in fact, pornography use is.

When a wife comments on these changes, the response from a husband who is using pornography is often one of initial denial, which again is similar to the response to questions about marital infidelity.
Continue reading.
If you want to learn more about how to heal from conflicts arising because of porn in a relationship, then there is a webinar being offered this Saturday for free. You can sign up here.

Related posts:
*What is Wrong With Porn?
*Porn is More Addictive Than Cocaine or Heroin.
*The Cost of Porn.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Evangelization And The Renewal of Liturgy

Archbishop Chaput reflects on evangelization and the renewal of liturgy.
A snip.
In practice, almost nothing of what we believe as Catholics is affirmed by our culture. Even the meaning of the words “human” and “person” are subject to debate. And other tenets of the Catholic worldview are aggressively repudiated or ignored.

The question becomes: What implications does all this have for our worship -- in which we profess to be in contact body and soul with spiritual realities, singing with the angels and saints in heaven, receiving the true Body and Blood of our once dead and now risen Lord on the altar?

Here’s another datum: We’re surrounded in our daily lives by monuments to our power over nature and necessity. The trophies of our autonomy and self-sufficiency are everywhere -- buildings, machines, medicines, inventions. Everything seems to point to our capacity to provide for our every need through our own know-how and technology.

Again the question becomes: What does this do to the central premise of our worship -- that we are creatures dependent upon our Creator, and that we owe thanksgiving to God for every good gift, beginning with the gift of life?

We can ask the same questions about our mission of evangelization. We preach the good news that this world has a Savior who can free us from the bondage of sin and death. What can our good news mean in a world where people don’t believe in sin or that there is anything they need to be saved from? What does the promise of victory over death mean to people who don’t believe in the existence of any reality beyond this visible world? Continue Reading.

Fr. Barron On The Reform and Renewal of Theology

Atheists Don't Have No Songs

Tip o' the hat to Happy Catholic.

Sign # 5,457 of The Apocalypse

The Fruits of Planned Parenthood

What "fruit" does Planned Parenthood offer:

1 - Graphic sex ed classes for 8th graders. They say it is "medically accurate". Is that all that is required to be in a classroom?

2 - They get our tax money and can't account for millions of dollars.

3 - Top 10 reasons to "despise Planned Parenthood"

Planned Parenthood offers nothing of value to our society.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Being Catholic: More Than "Liberal" and "Conservative"

Many Catholics use varying terms to label what "kind" of Catholic they are (or they label others). These modern labels include:
  • liberal Catholic
  • conservative Catholic
  • moderate Catholic
  • progressive Catholic
  • neo-conservative Catholic
  • modernist Catholic
  • traditional Catholic
The problem with every one of these labels is the Church is not a political entity and to use such politically-loaded phrases such as "conservative" or "liberal" is the wrong way in which to describe any person's relationship to the Catholic Church.

Every one of these labels come from the political spectrum and have a lot of baggage associated with them, not to mention that the terms are quite nebulous and their meanings have changed radically through the years.

In the United States, these terms take on particular meaning and "liberal", "conservative", among other labels, have good and bad notions associated with them. Yet, none can define what it means to be Catholic.

The Church is too big to be caught up into political language. We lose the mystery and make it a purely human enterprise. While there are many political issues that Catholics can disagree upon, doctrinal teachings of the Church aren't up for grabs. I can disagree with another Catholic on the governmental role in health care, how to fix immigration, how to best fight poverty, etc. But, I can't deny the right of every human being to live. I can't deny the teaching that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. I can't deny that marriage can only be between one woman and one man. I can't deny the preferential option for the poor.

Furthermore, you can step outside of the Catholic Church going to the left or the right. Two examples:
*Messing up going left = Catholics For Choice - they advocate abortion, contraception, etc.
*Messing up going right = Society of St. Pius X - they reject much of Vatican II's teachings.

If someone asks me if I am conservative or liberal (or any other label you want to use), I answer with something similar to this response -
"I am Catholic. I believe what the Church believes, teaches, and proclaims." Of course, the saints say it even better:
"There are many other things which most properly can keep me in the Catholic Church’s bosom. The unanimity of peoples and nations keeps me here. Her authority, inaugurated in miracles, nourished by hope, augmented by love, and confirmed by her age, keeps me here. The succession of priests, from the very see of the apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after his resurrection, gave the charge of feeding his sheep [John 21:15–17], up to the present episcopate, keeps me here. And last, the very name Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone." - St. Augustine
"Do not hold aloof from the Church; for nothing is stronger than the Church. The Church is your hope, your salvation, your refuge. It is higher than the heaven, it is wider than the earth. It never waxes old, but is always in full vigour. Wherefore as significant of its solidity and stability Holy Scripture calls it a mountain: or of its purity a virgin, or of its magnificence a queen; or of its relationship to God a daughter; and to express its productiveness it calls her barren who has borne seven: in fact it employs countless names to represent its nobleness." - St. John Chrysostom

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Monday, June 21, 2010

USCCB Media Blog Takes the Catholic News Agency To Task

Interesting development from the USCCB's media office. They call a story from the Catholic News Agency "dishonest" in their reporting. I would have to say that this isn't going to die a quiet death.
The entire post is below. Here is the story they are referring to.
I had a boss once who always told me he didn’t want any “spin” on his messages. “If I tell the truth, I don’t have to remember what I said,” he explained. His honesty served both him and the organization he served well.

It appears that Catholic News Agency would benefit from a similar strategy. To put it plain and simple, the quotes they attribute to Cardinal Francis George in their story are just wrong. I was in the room, as a member of the USCCB staff, for the presentation. And the official audio file that recorded the session for USCCB archives confirms my memory.

While the cardinal did present a sequence of events to the bishops, he never used the phrase “so-called Catholic,” accused the Catholic Health Association of creating a “parallel magisterium” or said the meeting of the three bishops with Sr. Keehan had “frustrating results.” And that’s just three examples. Not to mention that the reporting of the events is just plain wrong: for an example, the Stupak Amendment was not defeated in the Senate in December 2009, as the article states.

The one hour session was executive, without media present, because Cardinal George felt it was important to report personally to the bishops how he and the three committee chairmen directed the staff to represent the Conference's position with both the CHA and the Congress in the final days of the debate on healthcare reform. He asked the bishops to provide honest appraisal of those efforts.

To honor the bishops’ privacy and confidentiality, we will not be releasing the transcript. It’s unfortunate if someone breached that confidentiality; also unfortunate if CNA tried to take an educated guess at what the cardinal might have said and cobbled together its own fabrication of the session.

For CNN to elaborate even more on what CNA said in error is even more disturbing. If CNN had tried to verify the citations, it would have learned that CNA fabricated quotes. It also would not have made its huge and erroneous assumption that the issue in question was an example of the bishops at odds with the sisters.

There’s certainly plenty of disagreement between the bishops and the Catholic health care organizations regarding the implications of the health care legislation. But to confuse the situation with quotes that aren’t true is just plain dishonest.
UPDATE - CNA responds.
UPDATE II - Jack Smith has some comments.
So does John Allen.

Philosophers and Football (Ahem - Soccer)

This is greatness.

Thanks to my friend Mark for sending it to me. As Mark is preparing to move his family, please pray for him.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Everlasting God

It is official. I have begun using tape to hold my truck together. After weeks of having the dash board fall off (when either the AC is on full blast or I stop, accelerate, or turn suddenly) I’ve pulled out the tape. So classy.

My truck has definitely seen better days. The back window leaks, so when it rains my truck smells like wet mildewed dog (my dog is a frequent back seat passenger). Several years ago someone left a ½ gallon of milk under the back seat . . . which exploded a few days later . . . so in peak Texas heat add “spoiled milk” to the aroma. The passenger side window hasn’t rolled down in 7 years and the driver-side one goes on the fritz occasionally (of course while I’m in a drive through). There is a spring from the driver’s seat that pops through if you sit a certain way. I ruined a couple pairs of pants before I figured out how to maneuver around it. The dash board is cracked, as well as the windshield, and there has been a rattle under the steering wheel for 10 years now. The coils have been going out one by one, the battery is nearing its end, and the brakes, well, lets just say I keep a nice good following distance these days. And ask me to tell you sometime my windshield wiper story. It is much more fun with hand gestures and facial expressions.

The two things in the truck that have gratefully never gone out are the AC and the radio. (Well, occasionally the radio needs to “warm up”, but it is still going strong!) I can blast the cold air and mood-lifting tunes and let everything else (the leaks, the smells, the sounds, the “quirks”) fade into the background.

As I got into the car the other morning and blasted the AC, it hit me. (Pun intended.) God is the AC of life. Time in His presence is like a blast of fresh air that cools the heat of burdens and dries the tears of sorrow. He refreshes, calms, comforts, and restores. He gives us life and breath. He is also the music of life. He stirs us up when we need motivation, calms us when we are frantic, and moves with us through all life’s ups and down. If we tune into Him we can drown out the rattles and ruckus of life and be at peace.

I realize some of the above may sound a little corny and I must admit I chuckled that God would use my dilapidated truck to remind me of an important lesson. But the truth of it is this: God is always going strong. “The Lord is the everlasting God” (Isaiah 40:28) Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

Though our lives may at times seem run down or run amuck we have an everlasting faithful God who is eager to relieve and refresh us. Though our lives may at times seem like a cacophony of commotion and clatter we have a skilled Musician whose music can rouse any spirit and drown out any angst.

So today as we bear with the imperfections and noise of life, let us remember God is waiting. He is eager to refresh and revive. Crank up the AC. Blast the music. And be grateful for our Everlasting God.

Clearing Up Football's (ahem - soccer's) Confusing Rules

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Weekend Reading List

Some things to read this weekend.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Common Sense

I am losing faith that there is such a thing as "common sense", because it seems that having sense, of any sort, is not all that common.

A few examples:
What it comes down to is a lack of prudence.

Prudence is the virtue that helps guide all others by showing the best way forward in a course of action. The Catechism says this about prudence:
1806 - Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; "the prudent man looks where he is going." "Keep sane and sober for your prayers." Prudence is "right reason in action," writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle. It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. the prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.
I think I have changed my mind.
We don't lack common sense.
We lack common prudence.

UPDATE - Deacon Greg shines the light on how some want to stop kids from having best friends. I wish I were kidding.

To Be Born

I have to admit this trailer got me to go to the website.

Here is a description from the website.
To Be Born is about a young woman faced with and unplanned pregnancy that seeks to have an abortion.

In the midst of the procedure, she finds herself in a regrettable situation when she hears her unborn daughter begin to describe the chilling details of what is happening.
This one won't be easy to watch.
Spirit Juice is producing it, and they have do some nice work in media, it should be interesting to see how this turns out.
Tip o' the hat to Patrick.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Father's Day

We celebrate fathers this weekend.
Don't forget to tell your dad you love him.

By the way, my 6 year-old has a loose tooth and she asked me to pull it for her yesterday, but it isn't loose enough.

Maybe I could do it rocket-style when it is ready.

Tip o' the hat to CMR.

Vatican II

Q - Can you give more details to the changes implimented by Vatican II and a quick comparison to the Mass pre-Vatican II?

A - Thanks for your great question. Let me warn you that while my answer may be longer than most of them on this blog, it won't cover everything you need to know about Vatican II.

Now, whenever I talk about Vatican II with a group of people I begin by asking them what Vatican II did. They almost universally respond by talking about the changes in the liturgy. While these are the most visible changes, they are not the most important things to come from Vatican II. Let me explain.

Vatican II was the 21st ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church. All other councils were called because of some crisis or problem that the Church needed to address. For instance, many heresies (arianism, gnosticism, etc.) were addressed by proclaiming what is orthodox ("right teaching") through the councils.

Vatican II was different because the Church didn't need to address any major crisis. It was called by John XXIII more as a pastoral council than doctrinal. Now, that doesn't mean it didn't proclaim doctrine, but rather that it was aimed more at helping Catholic live out those teachings. It's main purpose was to help apply the truths of Christ to modern-day life.

When John XXIII called the Council, the Church was in shock. 'Why' was the question.

John XXIII’s theme for the Council was put forward in a document to open the first session. (Gaudet Mater Ecclesia) “Mother Church Rejoices”. The Church is called to teach, govern and sanctify. But, unlike most other councils of the Church, there was no crisis in doctrine that proceeded it. There was also no need for dogmatic definitions. What the Church needed was for to apply the teachings the Church already had to the present and foreseeable future.

So, he wanted the Church to examine itself and ask the question of “what do we need to do to make our faith deeper and more lively.”
There was a deep need to have doctrine stated in a relevant way, but in a way that did not change what was being taught. It's formulation and presentation needed updating without leaving any truth behind.

John XXIII's vision of the council was:
1 - Awareness - The Church is aware of itself
2 - Renewal - After we become aware we reform (note you cannot reform what you don’t know about)
3 - Dialogue - Dialogue with the world at large.

There are four major documents called Constitutions. One is on the liturgy, one is on the Church, one is on Revelation, and the last is on The Church in the Modern World. These four documents are the most important. But, there are others that are very important as well. Including documents on religious freedom, the laity, and ecumenism (unity of Christianity).

Paul VI became pope during the council. Later, after the council, John Paul II became pope. During the implementation of the council, there was one major question - how do we go about implementing the teachings in the council?

Some saw in Vatican II an opportunity to "update" the Church's doctrine. They wanted the Church to change the moral teachings on contraception, sex, etc. They also wanted doctrines such as the all-male priesthood, etc to change.

This caused an upheaval and confusion in the Church that has lasted until our day. Every parish and diocese was greatly effected by this confusion. Many people left the Church, not knowing what was going on, others simply drifted along. During this time religious education was very poor and generations of Catholics since have been poorly formed, including my own generation.

On the bright side, the Church has begun to correctly implement the teachings of Vatican II more recently. There has been a re-capturing of the truth found in the teachings of Vatican II and a proper balance to it all. We are doing much better at educating the people and I believe a corner has been turned. While we still have a long way to go, there is great reason to be hopeful that we are headed in the right direction.

Now, what specifically did Vatican II teach? Well, to get it all I urge you to pick up the documents and read them. You can buy bo0ks and commentaries on Vatican II or you can even get them from the internet. Here is the Vatican's website with all 16 documents.

Some of the major themes / teachings include:
  • Aggiornamento - this is a word that means to "bring up to date". This doesn't mean the Church's doctrine changes, but how we teach, communicate, and apply it might. It can be seen as a way of trying to read the signs of the times and adjust where we are willing and able to.
  • Ressourcement - this word means a "return to the sources". The Council Fathers balanced the updating with a retrieval of some of the lost practices of the early Church. RCIA is a fruit of this effort.
  • The universal call to holiness - everyone is called to perfection in the spiritual life.
  • Renewal in the Church - it begins by understanding God and the nature of the Church as well as our imperfection.
  • Changes in liturgy - the liturgy is our source and summit of the spiritual life.
  • Dialogue with the world - when we engage the world and culture with the truth of Christ, we can help renew both.
  • Call for the laity to "reform the temporal order".
There are many more, but these are a quick summary points. I hope this encourages you to study more for yourself. Vatican II is a beautiful gift of God to us all. It is time we opened this gift!

Some of the major changes to the liturgy include:
  • Using the vernacular (language of the people)
  • The priest facing the people during the Eucharistic prayer
  • The call to "active participation" of the entire congregation (though some mis-interpreted this as a call to change many things not intended to be changed).
  • Call to catechize more about the liturgy to help the congregation grow in understanding of the action of the liturgy and therefore faith in Christ.
  • Greater use of Scripture. We have an extra reading since Vatican II.
Liturgical renewal began long before Vatican II and is actually still on-going.

Some of the other topics in the documents include:
  • marriage
  • family
  • culture
  • social life
  • economics
  • political community
  • moral basis of authority
  • Sacraments
  • media
  • Eastern Rite Catholic Churches
  • Ecumenism
  • Office of Bishops
  • Religious
  • Priestly formation
  • Christian Education
  • Non-Christian Religions Laity
  • Religious liberty
  • Missions
Like many things from Vatican II the Holy Spirit continues to guide the church in implementing the truths of Christ. Through prayer and study may we all grow together in holiness and faith as we journey with our pastors on this road to truth, goodness and beauty.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

2 Interesting Items

1 - Did you know that there is a plenary indulgence for the closing day of the Year for Priests? Fr. Z has the details. Thanks to Keith for pointing me to this.

If you want to know more about indulgences, see here.

2 - Sherry Weddell of the Siena Institute asks if we should us the term "Discovering" Catholics in place of "Returning" Catholics. I like it. Here is a snip:
Returning to a bone deep religious identity is a very different journey that discovering something new or cobbling something together yourself. Which is why the "they'll come back when . . . "scenario isn't accurate anymore.

Cause most young adults who were raised Catholic don't experience choosing to practice the faith as "coming back" to something inherited from their parents at all. They experience it as a pioneer or convert does, discovering a new and amazing land for the first time.

We'd be smarter to call these younger seekers "discovering" Catholics rather than "returning" Catholics. Because it is a difference that makes all the difference in how they approach the faith and what they ask of us. Continue reading.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Crisis of Culture

Every day we see the fruits of our modern culture ripen. But the fruit is not only ripening, it is rotting on the vine.

We have uncritically absorbed hedonism, selfish pleasure, relativism, etc. into our modern lifestyles. These ideas have disastrous consequences. The chickens have been coming home to roost for a long while now - e.g. abortion, contraceptive mentality, same-sex marriage, cloning, fetal stem cell research, euthanasia, etc.

But, new fruits are starting to come to the forefront. Two examples:
Notice that even Slate, a proponent of many of the modern cultural trappings, has noticed what is going one.
Two snips from the articles.
One law firm, which specialises in divorce, claimed almost one in five petitions they processed cited Facebook.

Mark Keenan, Managing Director of Divorce-Online said: "I had heard from my staff that there were a lot of people saying they had found out things about their partners on Facebook and I decided to see how prevalent it was I was really surprised to see 20 per cent of all the petitions containing references to Facebook.

"The most common reason seemed to be people having inappropriate sexual chats with people they were not supposed to."

Flirty emails and messages found on Facebook pages are increasingly being cited as evidence of unreasonable behaviour.
Sperm-Donor kids:
As a group, the donor offspring in our study are suffering more than those who were adopted: hurting more, feeling more confused, and feeling more isolated from their families. (And our study found that the adoptees on average are struggling more than those raised by their biological parents.) The donor offspring are more likely than the adopted to have struggled with addiction and delinquency and, similar to the adopted, a significant number have confronted depression or other mental illness. Nearly half of donor offspring, and more than half of adoptees, agree, "It is better to adopt than to use donated sperm or eggs to have a child."
We need the new evangelization of culture to get a foothold soon.

A Response To Dawn Eden's Criticism of Christopher West

The Catholic News Agency has an article about Dawn Eden's Master's thesis, which critically focuses on Christopher West's explanation of the Theology of the Body. Eden has offered, to the public, access to the document as well as her defense of it.

In reading her defense, the first draft of her thesis she sent to me, and the comments in the interview, I feel compelled to comment.

I will focus my remarks on her defense, because the thesis is not freely given to the public. So, all comments below are based on her public comments. One can purchase it or if you work for the Church and request a free copy, as I have, and Eden will send you one. We have corresponded about this and any comments I have about her thesis, in particular, will be done in private via email.

My intent is not to prove Eden wrong nor is it to provide an uncritical defense of Christopher West. Rather, I view it as a corrective as someone who is somewhere in between.

To give full disclosure - I am an acquaintance of Dawn Eden's, in that we have had a few email exchanges the past few years. I appreciate her blogging and her book about the over-sexualized culture we live in. I think she speaks to women immersed in our culture in a unique way.

Also, I have been studying the Theology of the Body, for years. I did so first under the guidance of Dr. Mark Lowery (one of West's original critics and a mentor to me) and other professors in grad school. I then dove head-first into the original texts for years before ever encountering West's materials. I have also attended West's classes at the Theology of the Body Institute, but not in an uncritical manner. In fact, I have challenged him quite a number of times on his approach and content. Yet, I consider him a friend (not a close friend, but a friend nonetheless). I have found him to be a humble man who takes criticism fairly and sincerely. I have a book coming out in September on the Theology of the Body and take a much different approach than West does to the topic.

I do not have a dog in this fight. Rather, I would like to see such interaction stay focussed on the content and be directed toward the good of the Church. One of my main criticisms of Eden's approach, I feel, is she gets off task in this regard.

I find Eden to be fair as well and hope the two sides can discuss issues in charity, without having to tear the other down to make their point.

I pray that all sides humbly seek God's will to the glory of His name and not our own in this discussion.

WARNING - This will be very long. My remarks are in red below.

Following is the speech that I delivered when defending my master's thesis at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C., on May 19, 2010:

Good evening. I am here tonight to defend my master's thesis, which is a critique of Christopher West's presentation of Pope John Paul II's theology of the body. By "Christopher West's presentation," I mean not only his own personal presentation, but also, more generally, the presentation that he promotes through his Theology of the Body Institute, which trains priests and lay catechists to teach his particular interpretation of John Paul II.

Has she been to his classes at the institute? She does not say. This is very important, because if she has no first hand experience in what he teaches during the classes, she is only using secondary resources and her criticism might be off-base. As someone who has been, it is clear to me she misinterprets him frequently or is using others who do not understand his teaching. This could be a pedagogial mistake on West's part - others not being able to clearly identify what he is teaching. But it is not as much an issue with the objective content of his teaching if this is the case. UPDATE: I also have to address the purpose of the Institute. It isn't to give just West's interpretation. There are a multitude of other teachers, including some who have been studying this topic much longer than West (e.g., Janet Smith & Michael Waldstein). I think you would be hard-pressed to say they merely teach what West sees in TOB. Furthermore, while West has had the largest influence on the Institute, it is much bigger than Christopher West.

I chose this topic, first, because the issues it encompasses—the promotion of the Catholic vision of marriage and family—are close to my heart, and second, because it is highly topical, given that West's presentation has recently been the subject of public debate among theologians.

In fact, after I completed my thesis, the subject became even more topical with West's unexpected announcement at the end of March that he was taking a six-month sabbatical, effective immediately. The Theology of the Body Institute, which is the nonprofit created to promote his presentation of the theology of the body, stated that West was taking this leave "to attend to family needs, and to reflect more deeply on fraternal and spiritual guidance he has received in order to continue developing his methodology and praxis as it relates to the promulgation of the Theology of the Body."

This is noteworthy because it marks the first time West has ever publicly affirmed a willingness to reflect upon his presentation, something that his critics have asked of him for nearly ten years. She assumes he hasn't reflected upon his critic's remarks. This isn't true, because he has changed several approaches to his interpretation due to other's criticism. I know this first-hand, because he has changed details of his approach from conversations I have had with him, when discussing problems I have had with his approach. Thus
Eden casts west as a person who won't listen to reason or others who have differences with him. This isn't the case and is un-factual.

My thesis is titled, "Towards a 'Climate of Chastity': Bringing Catechesis on the Theology of the Body into the Hermeneutic of Continuity."

The first half of the title, "Towards a 'Climate of Chastity,'" is a reference to 
Humanae Vitae. In that encyclical, Pope Paul VI called attention to "the need to create an atmosphere favorable to the growth of chastity so that true liberty may prevail over license and the norms of the moral law may be fully safeguarded." That passage was a key text for John Paul II in his Wednesday catecheses on the theology of the body.

The second half of the title, "Bringing Catechesis on the Theology of the Body into the Hermeneutic of Continuity," refers to a central point of my thesis. Christopher West asserts that the theology of the body is "revolutionary" because "previous generations of Christians" grew up under the burden of a "repressive approach" to sexual issues. His intention is to counter a popular myth—the idea that the Church is, as he puts it, "down on sex." However, in countering the one myth, he inadvertently fuels another—the idea that, in the wake of Vatican II, we are "building a new Church," a Church that is fundamentally different from that which preceded it. His praise on Pope John Paul II is predicated on the repeated assumption, sometimes explicit, that the preconciliar Church was stodgy and prudish. While he no doubt intends to promote charity and unity, his approach effectively encourages division and disdain for our past.

That is why I argue that his presentation on theology of the body needs to be reconciled with the "hermeneutic of continuity." That expression is drawn from the 1985 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, which stressed that the Second Vatican Council "must be understood in continuity with the great tradition of the church, and at the same time we must receive light from the Council's own doctrine for today's Church and the men of our time. The Church is one and the same throughout all the councils."

If this is the crux of her thesis, then I believe she will have a difficult time proving it. While west talks about the problems of the pre-conciliar church, he is generally speaking about the culture within the church surrounding sexuality in addition to the lack of a good pedagogy for parents to teach their children about the positive aspects of sex. He is not focusing on the doctrines of the church. This is quite different and a distinction that Eden fails to see.

Having said that, the very use of the words "hermeneutic of continuity" in my thesis title reflects a paradox inherent in applying theological analysis to popular catechesis and apologetics. West himself almost never resorts to language as obscure to non-theologians as "hermeneutic of continuity." He directs his words to the ordinary people in the pews. The one who dares to critique him on an academic level risks pretentiousness or even self-parody--like the Times of London music critic who praised a song from the Beatles' first album for its "Aeolian cadence." 
Eden must not know that such theological details and phrases are very much a part of west's approach within the classes at the institute. If she did, her academic critique would be much more appropriate and accurate. Furthermore, west has never claimed to be an academic. Thus, she is correct that an academic criticism will be limited by nature.

Nonetheless, I am willing to take that risk, because Christopher West does not present himself as a mere apologist, seeding the ground for faith via rational arguments. Nor does he present himself as merely engaging in catechesis, which, as the Holy See has stated, consists of "transmitting the Gospel, as the Christian community has received it, understands it, celebrates it, lives it and communicates it in many ways." Rather, Christopher West presents himself as the definitive interpreter of teachings of John Paul II—teachings which, as I will explain shortly, he claims "will lead to a dramatic development of thinking about the Creed." He is essaying apologetics and catechesis and theology itself. As such, his approach merits serious critical analysis by theologians—especially in light of its overwhelming popularity. 
I agree that he is not above scrutiny, but he has never said he is "the definitive interpreter". In fact, he has remarked several times, to me personally as well as publicly, that his hope is to have a multitude of catechists, writers, theologians, etc. spreading TOB. furthermore, Eden is uncharitable in portraying West with a role that he has never taken on himself. Is he the most popular speaker on TOB today? Certainly. But, that does not result in him portraying himself as "the definitive interpreter on John Paul's teachings". Eden steps outside of an "academic" critique when she makes such frivolous charges.

Along with West's undeniable talent as an author and speaker, there is an element of marketing genius at work. As I noted, he presents himself as the definitive interpreter of Pope John Paul II's theology of the body. Until last year, when his then-ordinary Bishop Kevin Rhoades and Cardinal Rigali issued a public endorsement of his work, the main evidence that he offered for his teaching authority was that he was fulfilling an imperative laid out by George Weigel in his 1999 biography of John Paul II, 
Witness to Hope.

Weigel wrote that the theology of the body was a "theological time-bomb set to go off with dramatic consequences ... perhaps in the twenty-first century." He added, "John Paul's portrait of sexual love as an icon of the interior life of God has barely begun to shape the Church's theology, preaching, and religious education. When it does it will compel a dramatic development of thinking about virtually every major theme in the Creed."

From the start of his public career, Christopher West has marketed himself as carrying out this mandate. One sees this most recently in the promotional material for the upcoming TOB Congress sponsored by the Theology of the Body Institute, which was formed to promote West's presentation. The promotional material states that the conference is "building on the words of papal biographer George Weigel—that this teaching 'will affect every major theme of the Creed.'" The congress's workshops are structured around that same premise; the one on catechesis is actually titled, "Catechesis and the Creed in Light of the Theology of the Body." The overriding implication in that title—and with West's entire presentation—is that that the Creed is something to be viewed in light of the theology of the body, rather than vice versa. To say that the congress was formed to promote west is unsound! West isn't presenting, but experts from around the world (some who have strong differences with west) are presenting on a wide-range of topics. It seems
Eden is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Weigel's statement has little to do with West or the congress, as a whole, but rather is being used as a starting point to further discussion on the scope of TOB.

Having explained why Christopher West's presentation of the theology of the body merits a theological critique, I will now summarize my thesis.

Chapter One begins with some biographical background on West. As mentioned, a foundational point of his presentation of the theology of the body is that John Paul II's teachings are "revolutionary" because "previous generations of Christians" grew up under the burden of a "repressive approach" to sexual issues. Because he uses his own experiences to support this point, it is relevant here to explore those aspects of his upbringing that informed his understanding of the attitudes he believes are ingrained in "most Christians." 
Eden will now step outside of a theological critique and into modern psychoanalysis.

West's understanding of what constitutes a normative Catholic upbringing may be shaped from his experiences during his late teens and early 20s living with his family in the Mother of God Community, a Catholic community in Gaithersburg, Maryland. At that time, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the community's leaders exercised puritanical control over members' lives—including their dating. Eventually, in 1995, James Cardinal Hickey, the Archbishop of Washington, would order reforms to the community to correct its abuses of power. But those changes came too late for West, who, during his time in the community, was subject to its strict rules.
Christopher West told the Washington Post that, after spending years living in the community and submitting to its leaders' control of his social contacts, his work, and his studies, he realized, "It's a cult. I've been living in a cult."

Now, one certainly doesn't have to grow up in a cult to appreciate the dangers of a puritanical approach to sexuality. However, I have found in my research that West's experiences in the Mother of God Community appear to come into play in his interpretation of John Paul II's teachings on continence. I will return to this point when I describe the particulars of West's presentation.
  They may appear that way, but is this really consonant with an academic theological approach to the topic at hand? I would answer no. we all have baggage in our backgrounds that form us for good or bad. What is open to critique is the material we presently are dealing with. Her own experiences have formed her as well, which she details in her book.

The rest of Chapter One is taken up with a list I compiled, comprising ten major themes of West's presentation of the theology of the body. In Chapter Two, I examine the criticisms that his presentation has engendered, as well as his responses to those criticisms, and add my own critique. I conclude my critique in Chapter Three, identifying the aspects of West's presentation that I believe are in most serious need of modification, and recommending specific positive correctives.

I will now briefly list the ten major themes of West's presentation that I identify in Chapter One:

1. The TOB is an all-encompassing theology that requires theologians and religious educators to recontextualize "everything" about Christian faith and life.West says, "Indeed, a 'holy fascination' with our bodies as male and female is precisely the key that opens the holy door to the divine bridal chamber, allowing us to experience what the mystics call 'nuptial union' with God." He also says, "Sex plunges us headfirst into the Christian mystery." Sex isn't just the act of sex, but sexuality (being created male and female). I cannot comment more on this without getting into the thesis, which I will not do for the public. Suffice it to say that in parts, West does skate on the edge with his approach to liturgy and mysticism.

2. The "sexual revolution" was a "happy fault." West praises the sexual revolution because, as a reaction against generations of repression and prudery, it "got us talking about our hunger." What Pope John Paul II did was redirect the discussion in the right direction. So, West says, "The Church looks at the sin of Adam and proclaims, 'Oh happy fault that won for us so great a redeemer.' We can look at the error of the sexual revolution and say 'Oh happy fault that has won for us so great a theology of the body.'" West "praises the sexual revolution"? No. He tries to draw the good out of the bad. This is a Catholic approach. I do agree that he emphasizes the sexual revolution too much.

3. "Dumpster" vs. "banquet." West likens using pornography to eating out of a "Dumpster," whereas the joys of sex according to the theology of the body is the "banquet." West says, "Why was [Playboy magazine founder] Hugh Hefner a successful 'evangelist'?" West asks. "Because eating fast food is a lot better than starving to death." Whereas Hefner was "just going to the wrong menu to feed the hungry," the TOB offers "the banquet of love that truly satisfies." West doesn't admire Hefner. He loves him enough to want to see him come to Christ.

4. The nuptial analogy is the primary means by which the faithful should understand their relationship to God—and "nuptial" is to be envisioned in sexual terms. This leads to— Remember that sexual is more than the act of sex. This is being left behind in the criticism.

5. "[T]he whole reality of the Church's prayer and sacramental-liturgical life is modeled on the union of spouses." In participating in the liturgy, "we are called to deep, intimate, ecstatic joys with Christ the bridegroom." The faithful who "have eyes to see" are called to be "inebriated," getting "drunk in the Spirit" on the "new wine" of the "wedding feast of the Lamb." "In this 'blessed death' of holy intoxication, sexual desire passes-over [sic] from lust to an immeasurable love."

In this regard, West says that the Paschal Candle is intended to be a phallic symbol. I write, later in my thesis, that I was unable to find any source for this in Tradition. Since completing my thesis, I have found evidence that this interpretation is of secular origin and was condemned by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council. 
[N.B. The revised edition of my thesis that I have madeavailable contains background on the Council's condemnation of the Paschal Candle "phallacy."] I agree the candle analogy is off-track. But, it is over-emphasized in the critique. West does go too far in his liturgical analogies. I agree with this. But, there is also good to be mined from it. We shouldn't toss it all out because of a few errors. He also does not include such details, presently, in talks outside of the week-long classes due to a lack of context required to make his point. I am not sold on his conclusion, but it isn't a focus.

6. "The joy of sex—in all its orgasmic grandeur—is meant to be a foretaste in some way of the joys of heaven."
 A number of mystics and saints describe it in such a manner.

7. "God created sexual desire as the power to love as he loves."
 In part, not in full and when directed properly.

8. "Mature purity" enables "liberation from concupiscence." I will have more to say about this assertion shortly.

9. "The Song of Songs is of great importance to a proper understanding of Christianity." It shows "[h]ow we come to see the sexual embrace, the deep intimate erotic love of husband and wife, as a passageway into deep transforming intimate union with God."
 I think West overstates the importance of the Song of Songs, but it is one way of seeing the relationship with God. It is in The Bible for a reason.

10. The meaning of marriage is encapsulated in "intercourse." It can be said to be just so.

These themes, taken in their entirety, imply that God's spousal love for His Church should be envisioned by the faithful in an explicitly sexual manner.

Now, there are certain elements of truth in these interpretations that cannot be ignored. To use a favorite phrase of John Paul II—"in a certain sense"—the liturgy is spousal. Likewise, in a certain sense, the sexual union of spouses may be said to image Trinitarian love. If West's theology stopped there, one could enter into discussion with him over the extent to which, in this day and age, it benefits the faithful to have explicitly sexual imagery introduced into their prayer life. One could also discuss how, in comparing the sexual union of spouses to the beatific vision, one might avoid the risk of either overselling sexual pleasure, or underselling heaven.

The problem, as I see it, is that West doesn't stop there. He believes that the true message of John Paul II's theology of the body is that sexual desire necessarily mediates desire for God.
 I disagree. I believe that Eden is drawing this conclusion for West, nor from West. This is eisegesis on Eden's part.

The key word here is "necessarily." I am not denying that sexual desire can mediate desire for God. For West, however, there is no other way. This is why University of Dallas Professor Mark Lowery, back in November 2001, wrote in the National Catholic Register that, while West's intention clearly was to convey the truths of the faith, "his overarching lens or perspective" led to "the lurking danger of conveying that Christianity really is all about sex." In other words, as Lowery put it, instead of Christianizing sexuality, West risked "sexualizing Christianity."
 As a student of Lowery, I know his critique was one of charity. I also believe that West has overemphasized the act of sex in some ways. But, in recent years, he has tempered his approach. This critique was 9 years ago when West was first becoming popular and West was a bit too brash and stepped over the bounds too much. I have not asked Dr. Lowery, but I wonder if he is quite as critical as before? UPDATE: Another former student wrote to tell me she talked to Lowery just last week about this issue. He told her that he uses West's work in his courses frequently. Also, West made immediate changes to his use of analogies after getting feedback from Lowery.

The implication that sexual desire necessarily mediates desire for God is an undercurrent throughout West's oeuvre. One sees it particularly in his repeated insistence that every opportunity to sublimate sexual desire is an opportunity for holiness. I cover this in detail in my thesis. The Church has traditionally stated that chastity education should include instruction on avoiding occasions of sin. West states, by contrast, that mature purity is found only in those who are willing to "risk" concupiscence so that they might reap the benefits of "union with Christ and his Church." By "risking," he means specifically that men who struggle with lust should practice looking at beautiful women so that they might learn to raise their thoughts and feelings from lust, to joy at encountering the image of God in female beauty. I have never heard West say this. Rather, I have heard him say that if you must turn away to avoid lust, then do so. But, the goal is to not have to look away (thus, not lusting). This is a twisting of West's pedagogy. Here I quote from West's most popular book, G
ood News About Sex and Marriage (page 78)

"Certainly, if a couple knows they'd do something wrong if they were alone, then they shouldn't be alone. (In traditional catholic language, it's called "avoiding the near occasion of sin.") Those who make the sacrifices necessary to avoid temptations are to be commended. But if the only thing that kept a couple from having sex before they got married was the fact that they didn't have the opportunity, what does that say about the desire of their hearts? Do they truly desire the good? Are they truly free? 

Freedom is essential to authentic marital love. If an engaged couple isn't capable of expressing their affection in ways that are genuine, true, and free (in a word, chaste) things wont' automatically change when they get married. Without this freedom - which can only be achieved by experiencing the ever-deepening redemption of our sexuality in Christ - sexual activity will remain, at some level, exploitative, even if the couple doing it is married."
JPII echoes these sentiments in Love and Responsibility when he says it is possible to make love into something which is the opposite. From page 215:

The principle of monogamy and the indissolubility of marriage make necessary the integration of love. Without integration marriage is an enormous risk. A man and a woman whose love has not begun to mature, has not established itself as a genuine union of persons, should not marry, for they are not ready to undergo the test to which married life will subject them."
Now, borrowing a page from West himself—who is known for quoting classic rock songs in his talks—I would call this the Harry Nilsson approach to overcoming lust. Nilsson wrote and sang the hit song "Coconut," in which a woman puts the lime in the coconut, drinks them both up, and then calls the doctor to complain of a bellyache. The doctor's prescription is to put the lime in the coconut and drink them both up. The cause is the cure. So it is with Christopher West's prescription for men who lust after beautiful women: Look at beautiful women.  As I have just shown, this isn't the case.

West's implication that sexual desire necessarily mediates desire for God also appears clearly Heaven's Song, his 2007 book that is directed primarily toward aiding the reader's "sexual healing and integration." There, West insists "sexual love is the earthly key that enables us to enter into heaven's song." He elaborates, "[T] he road to holiness passes by way of sexual healing and integration. The way we understand our bodies and the union of man and woman has a direct bearing with the way we understand Christ's body and his union with the Church. Hence, if we are to enter in to proper union with Christ and his Church, the diseased images and ideas we have about our own bodies and sexual union must be healed. It can be a long and painful journey—and there is no detour." I agree that West overemphasizes that desire necessarily equals a sexual desire. JPII focuses on desire for interpersonal communion and the dynamic of the personalistic norm, which includes, but isn't limited to, sex.

What concerns me is West's insistence that the "long and painful journey" of sexual healing and integration has to precede holiness. As Mark Lowery noted back in 2001, sexual healing comes from grace—not the other way around. I agree, but this is a timetable error.

Moreover, in a point also made by Lowery, grace does not always heal us of everything from which we would like to be healed. It is not a zero-sum game. Self-control is possible with the gift of the Holy Spirit, but, as Paul learned, God does not remove every thorn in the flesh.

A major concern of my thesis is the divergence between West's presentation and John Paul II's teachings with regard to continence. I mentioned earlier that West says mature purity is found only in those who are willing to "risk" concupiscence so that they might reap the benefits of "union with Christ and his Church." To underscore the importance of taking this "risk," he attacks the notion that an engaged couple wishing to stay chaste should "never spend any extended time alone together." 
Continence alone is not chastity and JPII argues in Love and Responsibility that  chastity is necessary for authentic love. Chastity purifies love and makes helps it rise above sentimentality, and utilitarian use of the other. In the midst of the struggle for chastity, one must first aim for continence, but it should never be the final goal. For more see quote above...

Now, the concern that engaged couples may be too chaste seems anachronistic in the wake of the sexual revolution. But remember that West spent his late teens and early 20s living in a community where engaged couples were in fact barred from spending time alone together. So this is a very real concern for him, and he is understandably eager to point out that Catholic teaching permits individuals a certain amount of latitude to responsibly exercise their freedom.

See quote above...

Unfortunately, in his desire to counter puritanical attitudes, West ends up promoting an ideal that has the net effect of promoting puritanism. I discuss this in detail in my thesis, and explain how it is based upon a misinterpretation of both John Paul II and St. Thomas, whose theology is the basis for John Paul's discussion of the virtue of continence. Essentially, West says that not only must an engaged couple be continent, they must possess the virtue of perfect chastity prior to marriage. That is, they should have no fear of being alone together, because they should have no lust for one another. West said in a talk just last year that an engaged couple who are merely continent cannot be called virtuous because "[t]here is no magic trick on the wedding day that suddenly makes what you do that night an act of love. If you could not be alone together the day before you got married and not sin, there is no magic trick, there is no waving at the wand at the altar, that suddenly makes your sexual behavior beautiful, true, good, lovely, and pure."
believe his point is valid, yet misinterpreted. In my interpretation, West is saying that you are not chaste if you lust after someone while dating and then you become chaste suddenly after you marry. Chastity is interior to the person, not caused by the circumstances that surround a person. Thus, it is possible to lust after your spouse. John Paul II shocked the world when he said the same thing in Love and Responsibility. Many thought lust was impossible within the marriage.

What is wrong with this picture? As I explain in my thesis, what is wrong is, (A) the implication that continence is an insufficient preparation for marriage, and (B) the claim that the sacrament of marriage in no way affects the development of virtue. In fact, the Church does not expect perfect chastity of couples before marriage, precisely because she recognizes that the grace of marriage is what enables couples to transform their imperfect virtue of continence to the perfect virtue of chastity. All that is required of an engaged couple is that they control themselves "in holiness and honor," as St. Paul writes in First Thessalonians. That is the basic approach, but is that the final goal? West is calling couples to something better.

By raising the bar so high, to the point where any feeling of lust is proof that one is not ready for marriage, West is effectively promoting the very angelism that he decries. In an age when Catholics—along with singles in general—are marrying later and later, such a misinterpretation of Church teaching has real pastoral implications. I see them when speaking on chastity to young adults. Twice when I have spoken in Manhattan, someone in the audience has asked me, "Why are Catholics in New York City so afraid of dating?" Is the bar really so high? Is West saying not to get married? No. Thus, this criticism falls flat. Christ said we are all called to perfection "be ye perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect." (Matt 5:48) Does Christ call us to what is impossible?

I was last asked that when I spoke at Columbia University in March. The questioner added, "Catholics here in the city think that they can't date before marriage—they can only be friends. And these are Catholics who know the theology of the body."

Young Catholics who are told that they are not ready to marry until they have not only continence, but perfect chastity, are simply avoiding the rituals of courtship. I have since discussed this problem with others, including a priest who is a vocations director, and am confirmed that it is a genuine pastoral issue.
 I work with college students (for 8 years) and can speak to this - if it happens, it is very rare and not because of West, but because of a false interpretation. We have had over 500 students study the TOB for semester-long courses and I have not seen a single case of what Eden is charging West with.

Towards the conclusion of my thesis, in suggesting positive correctives to West's presentation of the theology of the body, I emphasize the need for catechists to incorporate into the theology of the body the Church's teachings on suffering. Pope John Paul II himself said, in his final Wednesday address on the theology of the body, that catechesis on the topic would not be complete without addressing "the problem of suffering and death." If catechists do not account for this—if they present a vision of married life that is all about couples' sharing in Trinitarian communion, without articulating how they also share in Christ's sufferings on the Cross—then their words will be like those in the parable of the sower, that fall on rocky ground. As Our Lord said, "Those on rocky ground are the ones who, when they hear, receive the word with joy, but they have no root; they believe only for a time and fall away in time of trial." This is a good emphasis.

I think it is significant that in 1984, the same year he would complete his catechesis on the theology of the body, John Paul produced his great Apostolic Letter 
Salvifici Doloris, "On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering." In that encyclical, he wrote, "The eloquence of the parable of the Good Samaritan, and of the whole Gospel, is especially this: every individual must feel as if called personally to bear witness to love in suffering." It is the task of the catechist to seek out the connection between that witness to love mandated by Salvifici Doloris and the witness to love mandated by the theology of the body.
Note: I hope that Eden will prayerful reflect on my comments, as I am sure she is hopeful that West will do the same with her own.

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