Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Making Media choices, part 2

Continuing yesterday's reflection on how we use media:

I recently fielded a question on Facebook from someone who perhaps just needed to hear herself express the doubt in order to know her own mind. I'll share the exchange here, since it was in a public forum. Please weigh in with your own feedback on this.
Hi, I really like this TV show called "Pretty Little Liars". I was wondering if watching this show is sinful. It has sex scenes, homosexuality, evil themes, etc. I am not led to sin in any way but am I sinning by watching it?
I do not know the show you mention, but you could simply ask yourself: Is this show all about sex, homosexuality, infidelity, and evildoing? If so, then what it is doing is filling your mind and imagination with those things, and bending your heart toward them. Even if you do not directly sin during or after the show, you are being "conditioned" to familiarity and comfort with them. This "normalization of evil" is the precursor to a very dangerous situation for your mind, heart and relationships.
  • Do you really depend on this particular show for entertainment?
  • Why?
  • What void does it fill? (This is a super important question to reflect on.)
  • What else can you watch--or DO--to relax, that does not regularly depend on themes that are unwholesome?
There are some programs that are spectacularly well-written, but in which there
are definite portrayals of evil. (One example would be "Breaking Bad.") In shows like these, the characters are extremely well developed, real "persons" with stunningly good qualities, who make choices that led them, little by little, in the direction of evil. The harmful consequences of their choices is also very clearly portrayed in the show: there is no "glamorization of evil" such as  you often find in afternoon TV dramas ("soap operas"). Evil LOOKS like evil. It makes you feel ill. That is an appropriate portrayal of evil. Even though the whole story line depends on evil, it is not an evil that captures your imagination in a way that stirs desire, but that tells the truth: evil makes us less and less human, less and less like God.
Is that what "Pretty Little Liars" does? Even the title makes me doubtful of that. 
These are questions to ask about any media choices.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Making media choices

This weekend I gave a really brief social media workshop in a Cambridge parish. The participants were mostly Holy Family Institute novices and their families, and a few other parishioners.  I've also been doing some moderating of our community's Facebook pages. So I've had "social" and "media" on my mind over the past few weeks.

When I first entered the Daughters of St Paul (in 1975!), I would never have thought to put the two words together: social was one thing, media another. (Even now, isn't "social media" social life for introverts?) But more than ten years before I joined the #MediaNuns, the world's bishops had been seriously thinking about media, and it was they who put "social" and "media" together. In fact, they prized the "social" dimension. What good is media, the bishops at Vatican II asked, without the people behind the technologies and messages of communications?

Now I am reflecting in a different way: social media and Theology of the Body. The teachings of Theology of the Body on what it means to be made in the image of the Trinitarian God perfectly align with the Church's 1971 definition of communications: "the giving of self in love."

Maybe “self-giving” isn’t the first thing you think of in terms of communication.  But ultimately, all worthwhile communication points in this direction. This is the best we can offer, right? It means we’re holding nothing back, communicating everything: and the giving of self in love is perfect communication when it is mutual, as in the Divine Trinity.

When God wants to communicate his love to the world, he comes in person, in a human body: Jesus! When he wants his Gospel to go to the ends of the earth until the end of time, he wants it to be visible in US. For we who are the created images of the Trinity, the basic “media” is the human body itself. (Come to think about it, even our media technology depends completely on our bodies.) WE are the media! Our words are very important, but our lives are the real communication. We are second only to the Eucharist in being the Real Presence of Jesus on earth: body, blood, soul, and—yes, that share in the divine nature that makes us a communication of God. We are the greatest media of communication on earth.

And this filters all the way down to our everyday choices, including the choices we make about how we use media technology: picking up our cell phone while at the wheel; scrolling through messages during a boring meeting; checking "that" website ("just this once"); indulging in a questionable TV show...

The definition of communications can be a good basis for an examen on our way of using Instagram or Facebook, or whatever our favorite social media or TV show or gaming device is.
  • How is this app/show/game/device helping me be more present…for the gift of self that the people I am with need or have a right to?
  • How is this app/show/game/device pulling me away from the people who have a right to my attention or service (and this means at work, too)?
  • What strategies do you want to put in place to safeguard the values of family, privacy, community, balance? 
More about this tomorrow!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Living with the Least: Jean Vanier

Thanks to Plough Publishing, I just received an advanced proof copy of Jean Vanier: Portrait of a Free Man, a biography of the L'Arche founder, who died last week at age 90.

Vanier has been an inspiration to me since the early 90's, when I first encountered his writings and his witness of living with the profoundly disabled. He taught the world what he learned from experience. His book, Community and Growth, is one of the textbooks for our novices--with good reason.

Life in community with the profoundly afflicted means more than community meals and prayers; it means close companionship and intimate forms of service.  The poor, the vulnerable, the fragile, especially those with serious intellectual and physical disabilities, are unable to mask their weaknesses or needs. They cry out until their needs are addressed, whether it is the need for water, or to be heard, or to be shifted in one's wheelchair, or for a diaper change... Vanier knew that we can run, but we can't hide from these cries, because what the poor ones are doing is articulating the hurt and weakness all of us feel, but that some of us (the "strong" and "capable" ones) are able to divert, cover up or compensate for (temporarily).

My takeaway from Vanier from the 90's and to this day is this: Encountering people who insist on showing me their wounds, who, as it were, demand from me the charity of my attention or my kindness, tends to arouse not compassion, but resentment in me. Sometimes I just don't have the resources to keep up the act and I respond with a sharp word that reveals my weaknesses to me so that I, too, find myself crying out to God and to others for the forgiveness, reconciliation, tenderness, acceptance that I might ordinarily have too much ill-conceived self-respect to beg my neighbors for (until the time comes when I will have grown in tenderness and vulnerability myself and will be gracefully able to manifest my needs in freedom).

Such a powerful message. And it all came from Vanier's willingness to hand his life over to the Gospel whole and entire. Between Mother Teresa and Jean Vanier, the modern world was given this matched set, this image of the complementarity of masculine and feminine love for the ones society would trample down, cast away or at least keep out of sight. Instead, Vanier and Mother Teresa made the “least ones” the center of their community, telling everyone who would listen that they would find Jesus in serving them. What a privilege it has been to be their contemporaries! (And what a challenge!)

For further reading:
L'Arche UK (Official): Announcing the Death of Jean Vanier


Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Heart to Heart with St Jean-Marie Vianney

The Knights of Columbus are sponsoring the visit to the US of a major relic of the patron saint of parish priests, St Jean-Marie Vianney, known in his day as well as ours as the "Curé of Ars." Today it was Boston's turn and the newly renovated Cathedral of the Holy Cross was the first stop. So three of us who hadn't seen the Cathedral's new look decided it was the perfect opportunity to combine different forms of devotion in one relatively quick trip. 

When we got in, we saw that there was a talk going on: a perfect time for me to surreptitiously clip on and activate a GoPro camera. (I didn't want to be snapping phone pictures of the Cathedral or of a holy relic, opting instead to sport a wearable video camera like a misplaced phylactery--albeit one with a blinking red LED.) The Cathedral is lovely, and quite an improvement over its earlier, dark self (with raised pews that inevitably tripped the worshipers on their way in or out).

Visitors were invited to come up two at a time to venerate the relic (no kisses, please). It was as recollected as can be, giving me a lot of space to call to mind the special intentions I had for priest friends of mine, as well as for priests who have fallen short in their vocations or betrayed them. Priests who have served my family, and priests who have failed to preach the Gospel forthrightly to them. Young men called to the priesthood right now. I prayed for them all.

(Too bad my camera was a little crooked... I could fix the video but that would take forever.)

Holy cards and a brochure were also available, and by the time we were leaving, a prayer intention card (with handy email form so you could stay in touch with the Knights while your prayer intentions were brought to Ars). (The sisters had to wait for me to fill out my prayer intention card, giving St Jean his homework.)

Monday, April 22, 2019

Earth Day: The Whole Creation Awaits

The whole of creation is turned toward this mystery in man, this is interior becoming, struggling and unfolding. It is a waiting, and the attention of this waiting is not directed immediately toward God, but toward man, for the way of creatures to God goes through man. Their hearts and heads should be in him; he should lead them to God, and in him all creation should be blessed. But he turned away from God and dragged creatures with him. So the curse struck them also, together with him, kept them at a distance from God, subjected them to transitoriness and vanity brought it about that there was no longer an answer to the questions whence, whither, why, for what purpose. Nature itself was not guilty, for it cannot have guilt of its own. It exists for the sake of man and receives its meaning from him; hence it was from him that the disaster came upon it. And now it waits that the blessing of salvation shall come about in him, and that it may share therein through him. From all sides a silent, anxious expectation is directed toward man.
Romano Guardini, The Word of God on Faith, Hope and Charity

Monday, April 01, 2019

An "Unplanned" Discovery: A 1949 Prayer for Motion Pictures (UPDATED April 2)

This weekend the controversial movie Unplanned opened in theaters across the US. Tickets sales were double the rather pessimistic expectations. No one really thought that a pro-life conversion story that told a behind-the-scenes story from Planned Parenthood would be much of a hit at the box office (especially since major media players refused to sell the time for commercials).

Even the social media marketing was compromised (all weekend long) as Twitter repeatedly took the movie's account @UnplannedMovie offline for algorithmically identified "violations of policy." Around midnight this morning (Monday), it was happening again: the account went from over 200,000 followers to 2,000, and if someone attempted to follow the account, they were bounced off as soon as they clicked elsewhere. The problem was resolved rather quickly once high-profile actress @PatriciaHeaton (with 400K+ followers) weighed in:
UPDATE: Simcha Fisher makes some relevant observations, however, especially noting that at first the Twitter shutdowns were acknowledged by Abby Johnson to have been caused by the unexpected (and massive) increase in the number of followers to the movie's account. To the Twitter computers, that really did look suspicious. But there may be some backroom manipulation at play on the "white hat" side, too. (I hope to God not.) Anyway, read Fisher's post for more detail. I had never heard of the alt-right group she mentions, but, as Paul says, "what fellowship has light with darkness?" (2 Cor 4:16): Does the pro-life effort really need to resort to sneaky and backhanded methods? 
You can find all the really relevant material on the movie's website, including an offer for a free audiobook of the original story of the Planned Parenthood manager, Abby Johnson, whose life and conversion are at the heart of the movie.

The movie itself hopes to be the beginning of a conversation, and invites women and men alike to begin to share their own "unplanned" stories (something that has begun already on Twitter), and to inspire any "closet" pro-lifers to begin to take more active steps.

All this by way of almost an introduction to the prayer I discovered yesterday in my ongoing project of translating some of the works of our Founder. Flipping through a book of his newsletter items, I found a 1949 prayer for the Cinema which I cannot remember ever seeing, hearing or praying before. It has a breadth of scope and vision that I believe filmmakers of all monotheistic religions would readily embrace; in fact, we can all pray this prayer to support the artists of the world of film, starting today with all of those who put so much work into making Unplanned a moving and fair portrayal of the needs, desires, and pressures so many women juggle while being bombarded with an array of messages that often contradict each other, and the common good.

So here, from the heart of Blessed James Alberione and from the dawning of the age of popular cinema, is a "new" prayer for motion pictures. You can also download a printable version or share the link: Prayer for Motion Pictures by Blessed James Alberione! http://online.fliphtml5.com/untp/hjqb/.

Prayer for Motion Pictures
O Lord, hear our prayer, listen to our desire. 
   On the silver screen where the image of man lives and moves, stretch forth your hand, O Lord, to guard filmmakers on the way of truth by your light which is purity, by your image which is good.
   Across the limits of distant lands and unknown languages may film become a profound bond that unites people in their knowledge of your beauty by means of the universal beauty of your works.
   Grant that motion pictures might also become truth, the teacher of those who are thirsty for knowledge and for peace, a guide for uncertain and and embittered consciences.
   Grant that the cinema become for us a magnificent book of images that teach us responsibility, that communicate a wealth of virtue and wisdom, that make us capable of uplifting our life toward an ideal which is you yourself, O Lord.
   This is the cinema that we want, O Lord, and promise to strive for with our best efforts, so that it might become, as every other discovery, what you willed to offer to human genius: an effective instrument of your glory. 

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Book Review: The Song of a Seeker—Sunday Will Never Be the Same

Sunday Will Never Be the Same: A Rock and roll Journalist Opens Her Ears to God
by Dawn Eden Goldstein

I have to confess that almost all of the musical allusions in Dawn Eden Goldstein's recently released memoirs were lost on me, including the one in the title. (I had to be tipped off by a Twitter post that it was a musical allusion.) Having discovered classical music by an accidental turn of the radio dial when I was thirteen (it was a turquoise transistor radio, and yes, it had actual dials), I never caught up with the popular music my peers were listening to. So in that sense, I'm not the best one to review the unlikely journey of the Generation X Jewish rock historian who became a Catholic theologian.

What I read was the story of a soul, or, if you will, given Goldstein's original career, the “song” of a seeker. For through the confusing turns of her life, Goldstein never stopped seeking. Most of the time, she was seeking love: the deep, tender love of a man who would recognize her, cherish her, understand her. But at the same time, she was seeking God, never letting go of her habit of saying a simple prayer at night, clinging to what she could find or recognize as “trustworthy and true” and consistent with her early Jewish upbringing, whether she found that in the lyrics of a song, in the (surprisingly direct) answers to her most unlikely prayers, or in the pages of the (free!) New Testament she accepted from an earnest Christian on West 4th Street in New York City.

Her deep familiarity with the independent musicians of the early rock scene surprised me: This was the music of her mother's generation, and of an eclectic type at that. But it makes sense. As a small child, Goldstein had to navigate her parents' divorce and subsequent relationships: her father's new marriage, and her mother's difficult succession of romantic partners,  unexpected conversion to Catholicism (and later move to a messianic Jewish-Christian assembly) and remarriage. The musicians who appealed most to Goldstein seem to have been poets whose albums were appreciated by an ardent, but small following. Their music was intimate: spare instrumentation, exposed vocals. Musical partnerships were strong, too: songwriters knew the range and abilities of the players and singers. Singer-songwriters were in an even better position: they could directly express their own feelings musically. 

During her college years, Goldstein willingly put in hundreds of hours of unpaid internship, not for credits, but for the opportunity to spend time in the world of independent music. She wrote for underground 'zines and churned out piecework, and every weekend she found a club where she could soak in the live music and dance in the darkness, all the while studying the musicians, looking for the type “who creates music from his heart” and dreaming of being loved “like he loves music itself.” Mostly, though, the closest she could get to any of the musicians was through a song request or an interview.

In her final semester of college, Goldstein managed to interview a favorite songwriter, an encounter that confirmed the connection she had felt with him through his music. “And then I found myself opening up to him about my depression and my fears for the future. … He said that anytime I needed someone to talk to, I could call him.” She was nearly suicidal all the time, but left that interview thinking “I have to stay alive. Del wants me to.”

Nine months later, when she learned of his death (sadly, by suicide), the notes and the interview tape were still untouched. Aware enough of her tendency to depression to realize that she might never carry through on the potential of that interview (“I only enjoy the research, not the actual writing”), Goldstein was determined to honor the deceased by turning the interview material into a fitting memorial of his life and music. It was as if she had a mission from him as well: not only to offer personal condolences to his widow but to locate an important collaborator (and musical inventor), inform him of the death, and help him connect with the family. She wasn't just reporting on music history, she was participating in it.

Armed at last with a music-business degree, Goldstein found that it unlocked doors...nowhere. Instead, she paid the rent with the help of her parents and the odd writing jobs she found through the classified ads. One job that started out promisingly enough led instead to an assignment writing catalog entries for porn videos. (You have to read the book to see how neatly God handled that problem.) But the liner notes, show reviews, and freelance assignments from significant industry publications and websites (still a new format!) started to win name recognition for the writer with the byline “Dawn Eden”: She landed a cover story for Billboard (a name that even I recognize!).

I believe Goldstein speaks for millions when she writes, diary-style, of her feelings in 1985: “I can take being unhappy because unhappiness comes and goes. What I can't take is the ongoing sense of sadness that lingers beneath the surface even when I am having fun.” Throughout her young adulthood, Goldstein assumed that the solution to her constant depression would be in finding her life's companion, but she began to suspect that that might not be the case: “that even the most attractive, most big-hearted, most creative man would never be able to understand me in the way I want to be understood.” In the book's context, that just sounds like another expression of her depressed state; seen in the wider context of her life (and of her 2015 book, The Thrill of the Chaste) those words are actually prophetic. (That 2015 title, by the way, hints at Goldstein's incredible facility with pun-ishing titles and headlines, a skill which she practiced professionally at the New York Post, and then at its rival, the Daily News.

Wondering aloud where a particularly lyrical turn of phrase came from, Goldstein was led by a songwriter to the oldest book she ever encountered outside of a British Lit class: the 1908 novel The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton. (It would not be her last Chesterton read.)

Right as she was losing her job at the New York Post, Goldstein experienced the coming-together of her growing faith in Jesus (she had been baptized a few years earlier as a “generic” Christian) and an appreciation of the Catholic communion of saints that had had its opening with Chesterton and the ardent members of the Chesterton Society with whom she had been meeting on a regular basis (although their over-the-top cheerleading for Catholicism was a real turn-off). As Goldstein's regular readers (and followers on social media) already know, becoming a Catholic was the beginning of a new life that no one could have foretold.

Sunday Will Never Be the Same is part #MeToo, part conversion story, part a love song to the indie music scene. I recommend it in a particular way to pastoral ministers for its inside look into the interior sufferings of a generation that is seeking for a love it does not feel worthy of. Isn't that the spiritual condition of so many of the walking wounded today, especially those who, like Goldstein, suffered abuse at an early age?

Other books by Goldstein:
My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints
Remembering God's Mercy: Redeem the Past and Free Yourself from Painful Memories

Disclosure of Material Connection: The links above are affiliate links, so if you purchase a copy of the book through the link, I may get a minuscule credit toward...more books! In addition, I received a review copy of Sunday Will Never Be the Same for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog and other social media. I am committed to giving as honest a review as possible, as part of my community's mission of putting media at the service of the truth. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Women priests: They're bringing that up again?!

I love social media. I love interacting with people from around the world, praying for their urgent needs, cooing at their baby pictures, keeping up with their updates, and staying somewhat abreast of world events, all at the same time. But every so often something happens that gets my Pauline heartrate up. And it happened again this week when a prominent Catholic posted a link on social media featuring an interview with another prominent Catholic, a German Benedictine nun, who couldn't see any reasons why the Church should not ordain women. The very prominence of the person who posted the link guaranteed the article a vast readership and made the sister's comments all but unquestionable. Yet the things Sister Ruth Schönenberger is quoted as saying were questionable indeed! (Here's hoping that some of the most eyebrow-raising remarks owe more to the translator than to the speaker.)

Thankfully, Sister Ruth, unlike some aggressively feminist thinkers, is still acting within the sacramental discipline of the Church. Her community depends, even if with a bit of distaste, upon the male priesthood, for the Mass. Despite her sincere inability to comprehend the Church's teachings, she has not run off to one of the many schismatic bishops who have attempted to ordain women. I only wish she had kept her own counsel. And so, useless though it may be, I am going to respond to what I read, if not on the vast scale of an Internet Influencer, at least within the modest horizons of my blog. There would be much more for me to write about, for example, the almost mechanistic understanding of priesthood (priesthood as a "function"); the absence of any reference to the insights of Pope John Paul II (you would think, well, I would, that any discussion about the roles of man and woman in the Church would want to take seriously the 400-pages Pope John Paul offered on the relationship of man and woman, given the nuptial nature of the relationship of Christ and his Body, the Church); the purely political character of "gender equality" as a category for "discussions on reform" in the Church... Alas, I must leave all those aside for now.

I first want to address the twofold statement that was highlighted in the online snippet and which spoke clearly enough to me:
"It is surely only natural for women to be priests and I cannot understand the reasons given as to why not."
That is quite an assumption: "It is surely only natural..."  The priesthood is not, in fact, something only natural, but something explicitly supernatural. That is why the ordination ceremony is loaded with symbols of the supernatural: a prolonged prostration, the Litany of Saints, the laying-on of hands not only by the ordaining bishop, but by all the priests who are present, a prayer of consecration (which the bishop offers with hands extended, as at the epiclesis at the Mass when the priest extends his hands over the bread and wine, asking for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the gifts), and the anointing of the priest's hands with chrism. No, we are not speaking of something "only natural" when the topic is the sacramental priesthood.

And then there is Sister's confession of ignorance: "I cannot understand the reasons given." I know the Benedictine tradition of education. Sister Ruth's academic background is guaranteed to be ten times vaster and deeper than mine, and we won't even go into her depth of experience. But even without a series of advanced degrees, most of us recognize that ignorance is not a good reason for action. Especially when that ignorance concerns the reasons behind a reality that represents two thousand years of unbroken ecumenical practice in the Churches of East and West, and that has been affirmed explicitly by four Popes in just over forty years.

She threw in a straw man (er, person): "the presence of Christ has been reduced to the male sex" (Jesus Christ was and remains a man, perfect in his masculinity, but that is not a "reduction" of his "presence" to "the male sex" nor an amplification of "the male sex" to "the presence of Christ"); the whole expression she offers is a fabrication. The male priesthood is a sacramental representation, a picture, an icon. What water is to baptism--an image of the cleansing and life-giving properties of the sacrament--the male priest is in the ordained priesthood: an image of Jesus Christ, who became not just "man" but "a man." (This, by the way, presumes that the human body matters. That the body, as male or female, is not a shell, is not a container for the soul, but has a fundamental meaning in its masculinity or femininity--a very daring thing to assert these days!)

And then there is the non sequitur, "we, too, have excellently qualified women theologians. The only thing they lack is ordination." But erudition alone is not a qualification for ordination. Not even "pastoral formation" is enough. A vocation is essential. As a religious superior, Sister Ruth has surely had many experiences of helping certain women accept the reality that God's will for them was not Benedictine life, no matter how deep the feelings of connection on the side of the postulant or novice. Paul VI's 1976 Declaration (On the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood, n. 6), "Since the priesthood is a particular ministry of which the Church has received the charge and the control, authentication by the Church is indispensable here and is a constitutive part of the vocation."

Sister Ruth speaks of a "power imbalance" --not referring to the way men in the past or present themselves act in the positions their priesthood places them (clericalism is indeed alive and well, in both its "progressive" and its "conservative" manifestations, and I have my own frustrations with the way certain ordained men subject the faithful to their needs and idiosyncrasies), but Sister is referring to the sacramental order itself.

Most distressingly of all, she declares: "We intend to look for new forms (of celebrating the Eucharist) which suit us and develop new ones." This is not within the power of the priest or even of the Church. It constitutes an abuse of the priesthood and one of the worst kinds of clericalism. This alone tells me that even if the Church were to ordain us to the priesthood, Sister Ruth is declaring herself unfit for ordination, for she expects to exercise some kind of authority over the Eucharist itself. She seems to be wishing to craft a feminized Eucharist, not recognizing that the Mass we celebrate is already the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, and we ourselves are already the Bride, even if not yet wearing the "fine linen of the righteous deeds of the saints" (Rev 19:8).

Sister Sara Butler would be able to speak to Sister Ruth on her own level. A theologian of the highest order, Sister Sara once saw "no reason" the Church should not ordain women. She even worked for the ordination of women in the Anglican Church, believing that this would help the cause of women's ordination with Rome. But at a certain point along the way, the efforts with the Anglican Church having succeeded and Rome refusing to budge, Sister Sara began to see the priesthood in a different light. She ended up being appointed to the Pontifical Theological Commission--quite a turnaround for someone who wanted to turn the Church around!

Speaking in a Catholic-Reformed dialogue, Sister Sara said: “I am convinced that the Catholic Church’s tradition of reserving priestly ordination to men depends ... on a distinctive understanding of the priesthood. Divergence over the ordination of women, then, illustrates in a particularly sharp way the logic of differences that date from the 16th century Reformation.”

A Church that ordains women, especially a church that ordains women and allows them to "develop new forms of celebrating the Eucharist," will not be the Catholic Church at all, but one more new schismatic church. Indeed, there are already "catholic" churches (not in communion with Rome) which ordain women as deacons, priests, and bishops, so insistence is really pointless if one really believes that these orders are valid. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church, the one built on Peter, will lumber on with all the inconvenient limitations that are part of her nature.

There's more, of course, but you can read the book she wrote about it (I wish Sister Ruth would, too): The Catholic Priesthood: A Guide to the Teaching of the Church. Meanwhile, here is Sister Sara herself on the subject:

Another book-length treatment on the subject is by Monica Migliorino Miller: The Authority of Women in the Catholic Church.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Did Mary really need St Joseph?

Today's lovely feast has the title of the "Solemnity of Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary." Coming in the week before the Annunciation, it primes us to think of the Incarnation. While Joseph didn't have a role in the Incarnation itself, he had an essential role in the life of the Incarnate Word. And I recently read a lovely passage on what it meant to Mary to have a companion of the stature of that "just man" of the House of David:

Although different from Adam’s loneliness, as he experienced an existential difference when surrounded by the animals, Mary could have felt a loneliness based on the difference in grace when surrounded by others who suffered a lack of grace the reason of original sin and their own actual sins. Just as Adam longed for a human companion, Mary would have longed for a grace-filled companion who would love God with an intensity close to her own and who would love her in a way that would respect her vocation to virginity.
With such a unique and difficult vocation, Mary and Joseph must have both rejoiced to have found a spouse willing to receive and except the other as a gift in a virginal marriage.… The gift that Mary received was Joseph, “a just man” whose faith matched her to form a virtual community of love in their marriage, reflecting the spiritual self-donation of persons in the Trinity...

Gloria Falcão Dodd, STD (The Virgin Mary and Theology of the Body)

Friday, March 08, 2019

Women's Day and the Abuse of the Bible

Yesterday on Twitter, I came across a link to this heartbreaking link to a woman's story of marital rape. Her husband repeatedly blamed her for his persistent mortal sins against the sixth and ninth commandments (evidently, he didn't think forcing his wife into relations just days after childbirth counted as one of them), and she had no idea that there was any other role, any pastoral care for her, any different vision of the "woman's place in the family" that could defend, protect, and support her and her by now damaged children. Just reading it made my blood boil with anger, but also with nausea. After so many years, people still don't know.

I was catapulted back to October 8, 1980. It was a Wednesday, and I was a 23-year-old junior sister stationed in St Louis. Two of us were making door-to-door visits in a gritty street that ran along the curve of the Mississippi, and at noon we had just reached a hardware store. Ding! The bell over the door rang just as the gong of the radio news on the store speaker system sounded. Among the other international headlines that day, the announcer mentioned Pope John Paul who that day had taught that a man "could commit 'adultery in the heart' against his own wife." Right away a spokesperson for the National Organization for Women began criticizing the papal teaching in the name of women's autonomy. I stood there, surrounded by hammers and buckets and pipe fittings, thinking, "Lady, don't you get it? He's on your side!" Even with that bare-bones snippet of the Pope's Theology of the Body talk (#43), even with my own very sheltered (but thankfully healthy) upbringing, I grasped what the saint was intimating: If marriage is no cover for "adultery"--if a man sins by looking at his wife merely as an object for his use--then neither can marriage be used as a cover for rape. Christian marriage is a sacramental sign of the mutual self-giving love of Christ and the Church. Forcing oneself on a spouse is a sacrilege.

In retrospect, it's not really surprising that the Pope's words, which could have inspired a whole movement of ministry to women in unhealthy marriages almost 40 years ago, were unacknowledged. 1980 was the statistical high point of clerical sexual misconduct in the US. Moral relativism was in the seminary air just about everywhere. I remember the sophisticated sneers of some of the clergy and the way Pope John Paul's wartime sufferings were invoked as a way to diminish the seriousness with which his teachings needed to be taken. I can only imagine that even the most faithful priests were so distracted by the evils within their own brotherhood that there there was little mental space left to consider the situation of women or ponder the vast new vision that the Pope's Wednesday talks were opening up. (A young woman myself, I knew good news for women when I saw it, even if the priests couldn't recognize it. From then on I avidly followed the Wednesday talks in the Vatican newspaper: sometime later, he would declare, in words that the suffering writer linked above really needed to hear, "Woman is the master of her own mystery.")

There is a work of repairing that needs to be done for those minds and souls that have been damaged by falsehoods and habits of sin. Causes and aggravating factors need to be addressed, and that includes anachronistic understandings of marriage, transferred from societies that were built around the extended family and applied tout court to the nuclear household, leading to erroneous and superficial interpretations of biblical passages and Church teachings, heavily weighted with fundamentalism and totally missing the contributions of the Polish Pope and the dozens of couples he accompanied throughout their married lives. (As in the case of the woman's husband in the story linked above, it is hard to avoid the suspicion that often certain biblical passages and Church teachings are invoked more as an excuse than an actual cause, but everything needs to be brought out into the open and corrected.) It is also probably true that up to the 1960's, Catholic marriage prep did emphasize things like "wifely duties" (but how long has it been since pre-Cana couples heard anything remotely resembling that?).  Most likely a primary cause is all around us, especially in the mainstreaming of pornography.

There is also a kind of ministry that needs to be spearheaded by women for women, and by men for men. And I have no idea what form it needs to take; surely it would be as individual as the cases themselves. But pastors have to be 100% behind it, and especially when it comes to the different forms of domestic violence, need to be well prepared to address the spiritual wounds inflicted at times by sloppy or platitudinous instruction, some of which women (and men) may have unconsciously absorbed from unofficial "Catholic" sources claiming to offer "traditional" teachings; from the blend of complex emotions and idealism with the spiritualizing of terrible wrongs as "crosses to be borne for Jesus"; or simply from the absence of a genuine formation in the Christian vision of the human person. We just do not know what it means to be male and female, created in the image of God for the sake of living in a mutual gift of self. (This is not something that can be sprung on couples at their engagement.)

But that is only the negative side, on behalf of the wounded and broken. The positive is even more important: Giving children a healthy vision of the human person and human relationships from the very start, to make such behavior as that of the violently lustful husband as unthinkable as it actually is. This is not going to happen with a superficial, rules-based understanding, or even an orthodox "marriage prep" that gets the "use NFP" message across, but doesn't fundamentally alter the couple's understanding of what it means to be "man and woman, the image of God."

What is more necessary than anything (and more needed now than ever!) is a complete worldview in which we all exist for the sake of giving and receiving love; our minds and bodies, the gift of time, our talents and everything within reach, all are for the sake of gift: for enhancing the good of the other, for making life flourish around us.

In Lent we will hear the Gospel challenge frequently: the one who seeks his life will lose it; the one who loses his life for the Gospel will find it. If we understand this as a command to become a doormat, that would be an indication of some incorrect ideas about God's plan. It would be good to seek spiritual formation and advice to begin to set a course correction on that.

Meanwhile, here is one young man's life-changing realization:

Tales from TOB1: Brendan from Cor Project.

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Read a rough translation of the Theology of the Body talks here. Talks # 41 and 43 give the gist of Pope John Paul's thought on "adultery in the heart" as reducing the woman to an object for the man's use. 

For a video lecture with the backstory and a general introduction to the Theology of the Body, go to www.pauline.org/DiscoverTOB