Category Archives: Theology of the Body

Sign of Contradiction

In what has been labeled as a landmark study into various institutional responses to child sex abuse, the Australian Royal Commission targeted two particular practices of the Catholic Church; deeming them as directly contributing to abuse.  There is a certain familiar ring to them with the Commission recommending that the Church remove the canonical seal of Confession as pertains to sexual abuse and make clerical celibacy voluntary.  Many in the media, both Down Under and abroad, have criticized the Church for being too quick to dismiss the recommendations of the Commission.  Of course, the Church has been listening to these “recommendations” for many years now and so has good reason for rejecting them out of hand.  Nevertheless, it is always instructive for us to look at why, particularly the recommendation to change the practice of celibacy, is not a real solution.

To be fair, the Commission was quick to point out that clerical celibacy was not a direct cause of abuse but instead called it “a contributing factor,” especially since it “is implicated in emotional isolation, loneliness, depression and mental illness. Compulsory celibacy may also have contributed to various forms of psychosexual dysfunction, including psychosexual immaturity, which pose an ongoing risk to the safety of children.”  Furthermore, “for many clergy and religious, celibacy is an unattainable ideal that leads to clergy and religious living double lives, and contributes to a culture of secrecy and hypocrisy” (p. 71).

Statistics Don’t Lie but People Sometimes Use Them Wrong

Because we live in a world that increasingly relies on empirical observation, it is always helpful to begin by examining exactly how they came to their conclusions.  There can be no doubt that the Church in Australia, like the Church in the United States and the rest of the world, fostered a culture of abuse in the past.  There have been many effective safeguards put in place in the last decade but there is always room for improvement.  Still, there is some extreme speculation in what the Commission is saying.  To say that celibacy is a contributing factor with any degree of statistical confidence, you must be able to compare the incidence with non-celibates, with all other risk and institutional factors (including size) being equal.   To simply report raw numbers and unadjusted proportions comparing the Catholic Church (964 institutions) with Hinduism (less than 4 institutions) is highly misleading and can lead to spurious conclusions (see pp. 45-46).    They mention that the Church had the highest percentage of the total abuse cases, but there is no adjustment in that percentage for the fact that it is by far the largest institution.  It is like comparing the number of murders in Billings, Montana, with those in New York City without making any adjustment for the population size.  Per capita the incidence of abuse within the Church is no higher than other religious institutions, making any claim that celibacy is a contributing factor spurious at best.  In a peer reviewed setting, what they reported in their numbers of victims would have never passed even the most cursory of scrutiny.

They may have data to support this claim, but it would have been remarkable since no other group has found the incidence among priests to be any higher than other religious denominations and some have even found it to be lower.  If you really want to know the truth as to the incidence of abuse, follow the money.  Since the 80s insurance companies have offered sexual misconduct coverage as a rider on liability insurance and they have found that the Catholic Church is not at any additional risk than other congregations.  In fact, because most abuse claims involve children, the only risk factor they do include is the number of children’s programs they have (for more on this, see this Newsweek article).

The Unattainable Ideal

There is also a familiar tone to their contention that compulsory clerical celibacy is an “unattainable ideal” for many of the clergy.  In fact, it is similar to the response that Our Lord gave to the Apostles when they questioned Him regarding “becoming a eunuch for the sake of the Kingdom of God” (Mt 19:12).  It is a calling based on a very high ideal, an ideal that can never be attained unless there is a particular call—”Whoever can accept this ought to accept it” (Mt 19:12).  It is both a free choice and a calling to a high ideal, but God always equips when He calls.

The point is that it is an unattainable ideal for all of the clergy without the necessary graces attached to the call.  But it is still a fallen man who accepts the call and thus the possibility for infidelity always remains real.  But just because some men fail, does not mean that the Church should throw away the ideal.

What this really betrays is a hidden assumption that everyone is making.  Priests are human just like everyone else and when they itch they must scratch.  We do not understand what celibacy is and therefore assume the solution to the problem is an orgasm.  If we can set it so that this orgasm occurs in a licit situation then we will rid the priesthood of this problem.  But again, if that were the case no married men would do something like this.

This is where JPII’s elixir of Theology of the Body comes in.  In man who has been redeemed by Christ, sexual desire is meant to be the power to love as God loves.  Nuptial love is the love of a total giving of self.  It is in the body’s “capacity of expressing love: that love precisely in which the person becomes a gift—and by means of this gift—fulfills the very meaning of being and existence” (JPII General Audience 16 January 1980).  Marriage and Procreation aren’t the only ways to love as God loves.  These are simply the original models that God gave us “in the beginning”.  Anytime we image Christ in giving up our bodies for others we express the nuptial meaning of the body.

With this in mind we can begin to understand celibacy.  Celibate life can only flow from a profound knowledge of the nuptial meaning of the body.  Anyone who chooses this vocation out of fear of sex or some deep sexual wound would not be responding to an authentic call from Christ (JPII General Audience 28 April 1982).  Celibacy is meant to be an anticipation of Heaven where we are neither married nor given in marriage.  It is a witness to the resurrection of the glorified body.  In other words, those who forego marriage in this life do so in anticipation of the “marriage of the Lamb”.

The Commission simply sees no value in celibacy and therefore is quick to dismiss it.  It is a sign of contradiction and therefore “has to be the problem” even if there is no way to prove it.  They rightly call it an ideal, but then fail to grasp the value of that ideal.  It is an ideal because it is also a sign—a sign that is valuable to the rest of society as a whole.  It serves a complimentary role to marriage and helps to show its true meaning.  It is an anticipation of our future life where our union with Love itself will be more intimate than marriage.  But it also shows the great worth of marriage itself because it is a sacrifice of great worth.

On Nude Art

On May 13, 1981, a day marking the 64th anniversary of Our Lady’s first visit to Fatima, Pope John Paul II was shot by a would be assassin just prior to giving his Wednesday Audience address.  The attempt on his life, its connection to Fatima and Our Lady’s intercession has been well documented.  What has often been overlooked however is the fact that he was in the midst of giving a series of catecheses that was to become the Theology of the Body.  Had the assassin’s bullet found its mark, the Church would have been all the poorer without this great corpus on our the meaning of corporeal existence.  It was more than just a great personal love for the man Karol Wojtyla that spurred Our Lady to guide the bullet away from every major organ in the Pope’s body that day.  It was also motivated by her great love for all her children, especially those challenged by lust.  For she had told the visionaries during their “visit” to hell that “more souls go to Hell because of sins of the flesh than for any other reason.” She knew of the Pope’s plan for “creating a climate favorable to the education of chastity” (TOB May 6, 1981) and that by embracing that education many souls would be saved.  It is no mere coincidence that the Pope had just completed an extended analysis of what is perhaps the greatest modern day challenge, pornography.  It is as if the Pope’s near death was Our Lady’s exclamation point on the previous week’s teaching.

The Pope began his discussion of pornography by pointing out that the human body is a perennial object of culture.  Because sexuality and the experience of love between man and woman is so deeply imbedded in what it means to be human, art and literature always find fertile ground in those two arenas.  But the Holy Father was also aware that the world, especially in the West, was rapidly being (re)transformed form a culture of the word into a culture of the image.  This resulted in a culture in which everything—from photoshoots to movies to reality TV shows to viral videos to hacked personal sex videos— finds its way to an audience.  With virtually unlimited access, the idea that certain things should be surrounded by discretion is anathema.  The Pope commented that even the use of the term “pornography” is a linguistic addition that represents a softening for what had previously been called obscaena, from which we get the word obscene.

The Puritanical Backfire

In many ways this represents a backfire of the puritanical approach that sought to keep even artistic representations of the naked human body hidden from sight.  The Church had forgotten some of what it meant to be Catholic—embracing all that is good, true and beautiful in the world—and adopted this priggish approach instead.  Men of the Church had even gone so far as to cover over nudes in Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel with unsightly loincloths.  But John Paul II was proposing a different approach, namely learning to distinguish between the obscene and the aesthetic through the development of  the ethos of the image.  So committed to this approach was he that he would later remove those same awkward loincloths in Michelangelo’s masterpiece in order to show “the splendor and dignity” of the naked human body (Homily at the Mass celebrating the restoration of the Sistine Chapel, 1994).

At either extreme the problem remains the same.  Without a guiding ethos, erotic art and pornography remain indistinguishable and we swing from license to prohibition and back again.  The ethos of the image provides an escape from this merry-go-round, but only if we are able to grasp two important points.

True art consists in taking ideas and imprinting them in matter.  It is the idea and the beauty with which it is presented that moves us.  This excitement of our aesthetic sensibilities then moves us to further contemplate the idea.  There is a certain universality of beautiful art as the particular is abstracted away.  This power to move however can be abused when the artist attempts to move the viewer or the listener merely by exciting their aesthetic sensibilities.  Now it is no longer the idea and the clarity in which it is presented that moves us, but the direct appeal to emotions.

The second point is related to the first.  Unlike all other objects that appear as the matter of art, a person is an object that is also a subject.  This means there is always a certain dignity attached to the human body as the subject of art which can never be lost, even if it is abused.  Instead, according to the Saint, the offense comes in the intention of the artist. If the artist intends to present a nude body so as to convey some truth about masculinity and femininity then one should consider it erotic art.  If, however, their intention is to present a body so as to excite sexual desire in the viewer then this would be considered pornographic.  This may even include someone who is not fully naked.  This is a favorite trick of Social Media and sites like who like to present soft pornography in the form of “See such and such’s Beach Bod” or “Watch such and such’s Wardrobe failure” as click bait.

The Spousal Meaning

While there is a certain grey area between erotic art and pornography, there are far less than 50 shades.  In fact John Paul II thought it rather easy to discern the intention of the artist—whether or not the spousal meaning of the body is violated.  What this means practically is whether the work of art enables the viewer to more deeply understand the meaning of masculinity and femininity—of what it means to be a person.  Just as the body reveals the person in the real world, so too should the nude body reveal that there is a person (even if the model is anonymous) there.  As philosopher Roger Scruton puts it “The pornographic image is like a magic wand that turns subjects into objects…It causes people to hide behind their bodies.”  They become simply objects of desire and nothing more.

Regardless of the intent of the artist however, the Pope was realistic in that we are fallen and prone to what he calls the “look of concupiscense” in which we may look at a beautiful nude and still be moved to desire.  For that we must begin to develop what I will call a “spiritual aestheticism” as a corrective.  This means that we develop a taste for objective beauty in all arenas of our lives.  Only then will we see beauty in the human body and be moved to contemplation.  Returning to Scruton he gives what I think is an excellent tool for self-examination.  He mentions that the truly beautiful should stir our imagination (our bodily step towards wonder in our minds) and not fantasy.  The moment we find fantasy rising in our minds we know we have crossed over.

George Weigel once called the Theology of the Body a “theological time bomb” that was set to go off some time in our century.  Thanks to the intercession of Our Lady of the Rosary on that fateful May day in 1981, the fuse has already been lit.  Please God that the first target will be the scourge of pornography—not just to remove it from the moral landscape but to free all of us to see the beauty of the human person in and through the body.


Theology of the Body and Fat Shaming

Long before Freud and Jung, there was Moses.  The account of the Fall not only reveals theological truths, but anthropological truths as well.  If we are not careful, we can over-spiritualize it and miss the deep psychological truths that would otherwise be difficult for us to discover.  The velocity at which our first parents hit the ground from their lofty fall left them and all of their progeny with a form of altitude sickness we call Original Sin.  While shaking the proverbial cobwebs from their heads, Adam and Eve instantaneously became aware of the fact that they were naked and felt afraid (Gn 3:7-10).  In short, they experienced shame and no longer comfortable in their own skin.  Photoshop and makeup cannot cover over the fact that our flesh and our spirit are at war with each other and all of us experience this conflict to varying degrees.  There is a universality to our discomfort that we label generically as “shame.”  Only at the General Resurrection will the fa…, err, big boned lady sing her song of conquest.  Still, freedom in Christ can be found in what we do here and now.  It is in this spirit that I would like to examine our latest cultural crusade—the elimination of  fat-shaming.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, fat shaming is “the action or practice of humiliating someone judged to be fat or overweight by making mocking or critical comments about their size.”  Our crusaders have even given it a label—Sizeism.  As a partial diagnosis, eliminating cruelty towards those who are deemed overweight is a battle worth fighting.  While on the surface the obese person appears to be lacking in self-control, the reasons for an individual person being overweight are usually more physically and psychologically complicated than that.  Rash judgments and cruelty often serve only to pull the scabs off of an already wounded person.

Notice however that in the definition, “critical comments” are included in the list of offenses.  Even doctors, whose job it is to make critical comments about one’s physical health, are lumped in with the offenders.  What this reveals is that while the diagnosis may be accurate, the cure is not.  Our cultural crusaders always rely on their lone panacea—“embracing your brokenness”—critical comments even when done in the spirit of fraternal charity have no place in their medicine cabinet. The solution they propose is to affirm our coping mechanisms and rationalizations with the hopes that we will all become shameless.  As Catholics, especially those who have been schooled in St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, we can offer a  more effective antidote to shame.

The Experience of Shame

During his Catechesis that became the Theology of the Body, the saintly Pontiff offered an extended discussion on the experience of shame.  He starts, naturally enough, at the beginning with the first man and woman prior to the Fall.  They are described as being “naked without shame.”  In order to understand this primordial experience, we must first grasp that shame is a relational reality.  A person has no reason to be ashamed of his nakedness when he is alone in the shower.  Instead shame occurs in relation to another person.  Our first parents felt no shame, not because they had no flaws in their bodies (even though this is true), but because their bodies fully revealed who they were to one another.  Eve had no worry that Adam would see her as an object of pleasure, but instead as a subject to be loved.  In short she had no reason to cover up.  Likewise with Adam.

With the Fall came a change both within the man and woman and between them.  This led to two different experiences of shame.  No longer gifted with self-mastery, the body and spirit are at odds which JPII calls this immanent shame.  It is best described, as we said at the beginning, as a constant awareness of discomfort in our skin.  No matter how much we devote ourselves to beautifying our bodies, we never can quite be satisfied.  The second dimension of shame is what the Pope calls relative shame.  This sense of shame is essentially a fear that the other person will not recognize and affirm the truth of the person revealed in our bodies.

While shame is experienced as a negatively, it should not be viewed wholly as such.  Even though it was an effect of the Fall, God left it there for our benefit.  Immanent shame is a constant reminder that all is not yet right within us.  Likewise relative shame is a form of protection against being used as an object for enjoyment.  This is the most obvious in relation to sexual values, but it has bearing on the topic at hand.  A person who is overweight may, because of shame, be driven towards dressing modestly, so that they do not get made fun of (i.e become an object of another person’s self-entertainment).  Because of the negative experience of shame, they are driven towards a good thing which will in the long run help to restore them to genuine freedom.  The modest person is always more free than the immodest, regardless of whether they are thin or fat.

The Benefit of Shame

Fat-shaming is so psychologically damaging because it fails to recognize the person as a subject that craves love and sets them up merely as an object to be used.  This is why it must be seen for what it is—an attempt to exploit the universal experience of shame to somehow reduce its effects in the abuser.  But the shame that the person experiences, even if it is agitated, is not caused by the abuser but part of his fallen experience.  So even if it were eliminated completely within society, the shame would still be there.  There can be no return to Eden to a shame-free life.  The only remedy is found in mitigating the twofold effects of shame.  To grow more comfortable in our own skin, we must cultivate virtue, especially temperance and its daughter, modesty.  Self-mastery neutralizes many of the effects of shame.  Modesty, especially in an immodest culture, empowers many of those who are held in the grips of shame.  Plus-sized models who model immodest clothing like the petite ones only promote shamelessness and leave many women feeling trapped.  One cannot both say that the beauty is more than skin deep while simultaneously bearing more skin.

In his book Love and Responsibility, then Fr. Wojtyla said that “shame is swallowed up by love, dissolved in it…” Only genuine love can alleviate the effects of relative shame.  Genuine love sees the body as a person and thus has no desire to use that person.  But only the person who has cultivated the virtue of purity has the capacity to receive that love.  Purity not only protects us from experiencing lust, but also prepares us to receive true love.  This message of purity is drowned out in a culture dedicated to shamelessness only making it all the more vital to living a life marked by true freedom.  Fat-shaming is a real problem, but only by “looking through the veil of shame” can we hope to offer a real solution to those who are crippled by fear and shame.

Misogyny and Misbegotten Males: On the Creation of Woman

The account of the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis has often been labeled as the genesis of misogyny by feminists.  The opening account in the Bible has become for many the point where they close the book.  Therefore it behooves us to know how to respond to such a charge.  In so doing, we will, like Adam who found an unlikely “helpmate” in Eve, we will turn to what many would consider a more unlikely helpmate—St. Thomas Aquinas.

Using St. Thomas as a helper to dismiss the charge of misogyny require some explaining.  For many people this would be like asking David Duke to help defend proper race relations.  But there is good reason to turn to the Dumb Ox for help on this.  Too often skeptics will dismiss the entire corpus of his teaching because the Angelic Doctor is a “misogynist.”    Following the teachings of Aristotle, St. Thomas saw women as “misbegotten males.”

It bears mentioning however that if he was wrong about women, then this does not mean he was wrong about everything, or even anything else.  All this would prove is that he was not infallible and was capable of making mistakes.  Like all of us, he too was prone to unquestionably accept some of the prevailing views of his day.  To have a blind spot, does not make one blind.  Should the entire economic theory of Adam Smith be thrown out because “woman are emotional and men rational.”?  What about John Locke’s political theory because he justifies slavery?  Living in the glass house of a multitude of errors in our own day, we should be careful to throw stone.

St. Thomas Aquinas: Patron Saint of Misogyny?

This particular case is worth examining however because St. Thomas does not wholly swallow the prevailing viewpoint.  While he wrote about women (including his great esteem for Our Lady) in numerous places, he is usually, as mentioned above, accused of misogyny because of what he wrote in a single place when called woman a “misbegotten male.”

In seeking to examine the origin of woman, St. Thomas first asks should the woman have been made in that first production of things (ST I, q.92, art.1)?  He answers in the affirmative, but the first objection he mentions is that of the Philosopher, that is Aristotle:

“For the Philosopher says (De Gener. ii, 3), that ‘the female is a misbegotten male.’ But nothing misbegotten or defective should have been in the first production of things. Therefore woman should not have been made at that first production.”

Note first that this he has listed as an objection to his own viewpoint.  Obviously it was not his own.  In his reply to this objection he shows why he does not agree completely with Aristotle.  It is worth citing the entire response in order to put the myth of his woman hating to rest.

“As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence; such as that of a south wind, which is moist, as the Philosopher observes (De Gener. Animal. iv, 2). On the other hand, as regards human nature in general, woman is not misbegotten, but is included in nature’s intention as directed to the work of generation. Now the general intention of nature depends on God, Who is the universal Author of nature. Therefore, in producing nature, God formed not only the male but also the female.”

Notice that he agrees with Aristotle about the “misbegotten” part, but only on a biological level.  The prevailing view of reproductive biology was that the sperm produced only male offspring, and that when this did not happen it was because something interfered with it.  But St. Thomas goes to some length to say that woman is not a mistake of any sort, but directly willed by God.  Men and women, in St. Thomas’ view, are equal in dignity, even if there are some accidental inferiorities (such as physical strength) between the two.  We shall return to this idea in a moment when we speak of Eve’s origin.

Eve and Adam’s Rib

In the second chapter of Genesis, speaks of the mysterious origins of man and woman.  The man, Adam, is made from the dust of the ground infused with a spirit.  The woman is “built” from the rib of the man.  (Gn 2:21-22).

Much of the creation account uses metaphorical or mythical language, but that does not mean it is entirely composed of metaphor.  In fact, the Church is quite insistent that we understand Eve being formed from the rib of Adam literally.   This is one of the three truths of man’s origins from revelation that the Church insists must be safeguarded from any encroachment by a Theory of Evolution.  Strictly speaking, if creatures are always evolving, there is always a relationship of inferior to superior.  If woman and man evolved from different individuals, evolution would lead them eventually away from each other.  Survival of the fittest would mean that one would necessarily become superior to the other.  But if they share one common origin, one common nature, then they will necessarily be equals.  By insisting that woman is taken from man, the Church is affirming this essential equality between man and woman; equal dignity such that any differences are not essential but only accidental.

This view is pretty much what we saw in St. Thomas’ explanation of why the understanding of woman as a misbegotten man is inadequate.  He goes on to further say that,

“It was right for the woman to be made from a rib of man…to signify the social union of man and woman, for the woman should neither “use authority over man,” and so she was not made from his head; nor was it right for her to be subject to man’s contempt as his slave, and so she was not made from his feet” (ST I, q.92, a. 3).

By removing the rib from Adam, God also would have exposed Adam’s heart to Eve, a truth that becomes clear when we examine the act of creation of the bride of the First Adam, with the bride of the Second Adam.  Just as Adam fell asleep and the raw material of his bride came from his side, so too when the Second Adam fell asleep that the raw material that God would form into His Bride came forth.

This exposure of Adam’s heart has not just a mystical meaning, but a natural one as well.  It is an expression of the truth that “it is not good that man should be alone.”  Pope St. John Paul II mentions this when he discusses the meaning of Adam’s rib during his catecheses on the Theology of the Body.  In naming the animals, man experiences what the Pope calls Original Solitude, in recognizing he is fundamentally alone among creation.  In the creation of Eve, he ecstatically experiences that he was made for another, that is, he was made to love—“this at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!”  In other words, Eve being taken from the rib of Adam reveals that the two ways of being human somehow complete each other.  As John Paul II puts it, the rib reveals  masculinity and femininity as “two complementary dimensions…of self-consciousness and self-determination and, at the same time, two complementary ways of being conscious of the meaning of the body” (TOB 11/21/79).  Adam’s recognition of Eve as somehow his equal and yet wholly other is a summons to love.

There is certainly a rich symbolism attached to the idea of Eve created from the rib of Adam, but must we really interpret it literally?  Literal interpretation affirms another very important, and very Catholic, principle related to God’s Providence.  God, being totally free, could have fashioned Eve in any manner He wanted.  But He chose this way not because it was a symbol, but because it was a sacrament.  It brought about and revealed the things that it symbolized—the unity, equality and love that each of the symbols we mentioned pointed to. All of creation including the human nature of Christ is meant to reveal God to us.  Therefore nothing that He has made can be taken at face value as “only this” or “only that.”  Everything that is, means something.  God does not need to use symbolic language because everything that He creates is in some sense a symbol.

The accusation of misogyny in the origins of man and woman is really an accusation of Christianity not being Christian.  Prior to the “evolution” of Christian culture, women were always viewed as somehow inferior to men.  It is only when Christianity became the prevailing worldview that the essential equality of men and women became the norm.  Now, revisionists would have us believe that the hand that fed us, actually poisoned us, by feeding us healthy food.  The account of the creation of Eve reveals the dignity of woman and is not misogynistic.



A Culture of Divorce

Once, when Our Lord was speaking with the Pharisees, they tried to test Him by asking Him about the lawfulness of divorce.  In response, He invited them to return to the beginning when, in God’s plan, man and woman became one through marriage.  In revoking Moses’ concession to man’s hardness of heart and outlawing divorce, He announced the indissolubility of marriage as a key aspect of the New Covenant.  This teaching however has become a source of controversy among Christians to the point where only the Catholic Church has remained faithful to Our Lord’s teaching of marriage as indissoluble.  Moses may have allowed divorce outright, but this is not the only way to “allow” divorce.  There is a second, more subtle way, that many within the Church would like to adopt—the “yes, divorce is wrong, but it doesn’t really matter” approach.

Remarriage is not the Only Problem

A point of clarification is necessary at first.  At first it seems the issue is really about remarriage after divorce.  But the Church, echoing Christ’s words is really against divorce.  In Matthew 19:9 Our Lord issues an exception opening the path to divorce because of “unchastity.”  The actual Greek word used by St. Matthew is porneia and has remained rather elusive as to an exact translation.  All of the ink spilled on a proper translation of this word is pointless unless we understand two things.

First, regardless of whether it refers to serious sexual sin or other forms of infidelity such as abuse, divorce is only a legal arrangement of living apart.  The marriage bond is not, nor can it ever be, broken.  Nowhere throughout the history of the Church did this ever mean that the person was free to remarry.  This teaching comes directly from St. Paul who taught that the separated couple has two options: reconciliation or remain single (1 Cor 7:10-11).

Second, the exception proves the rule.  This needs to be mentioned because we now live in a culture where the exception becomes the rule.  GK Chesterton said that because we have an “incapacity to grasp that the exception proves the rule, …silent anarchy is eating out our society.” He goes on to say that “if you treat a peculiar thing in a peculiar way, you thereby imply that ordinary things are not to be treated in that way…Anything in a special situation shows by implication that all things are not in that situation.”  In other words, the argument that there is an exception for “unchastity” says that divorce is normally wrong.  There can be no such thing as “no-fault divorce” because it takes the exception and makes it the rule.

That being said, divorce really does matter and we should not merely turn a blind eye to it.  Divorce really matters because of its effect on the Family.  When I say capital F Family, I mean the social reality that is the Family.  Yes, obviously, it has profound effects on those families touched by it directly, but no family remains immune to it.  Divorce leads to a divorce culture; a culture born not just by imitation, but also by intimation.

Marriage and Children

To see this, we must first acknowledge the relationship between marriage and children.  Most of us know these things are intrinsically connected but would struggle to articulate it.  Even the most ardent supporter of same-sex marriage knows this and often goes to great lengths to simulate it as part of their relationship.  The purpose of marriage is the mutual perfection of the spouses.  Marriage is an end in itself—it is not a means to have children.  A man and a woman desire marriage with each other, not because it will bring children into the world, but because they desire to be completely united to their spouse so that the two become one—spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

What does the Church mean then when she says that “Procreation and education of children is the end of marriage”?  What this means is that when the two become one, children naturally follow.  In other words, children are the fruit of conjugal love.  Procreation and education of children is the end of marriage not as the reason why spouses come together, but as a result of their coming together.  Marriage is the natural place in which a child is brought into and up in this world.  Yes, there are exceptions and courageous ones at that, but the exception proves the rule.  A child brought up with only one parent is at a disadvantage.

Clarity as to why this is a disadvantage emerges when we examine our brokenness.  As a result of the Fall, conflict and division emerges between men and women (c.f. Gn 3:16).  Their relationship becomes mainly one of competition.  But, “in the beginning, it was not so.”  Humanity is not man or woman, but both.  A child brought up with only a father(s) or mother(s) is really only half-educated on what it means to be a human person.  They need, and therefore have a right to, both parents.

But not any man and any woman will do.  They must be indissolubly united by love because each child must know that they are not a result of some random encounter, but through an act of everlasting love.  They remain incomprehensible to themselves unless they know they were loved into existence.  This is why their security always rests in the stability of their parents relationship and the love between the spouses must be the primary catalyst for the love of the parents for the child.

The Hidden Effects

In this setting, the child intimates what becomes a very important belief that puts structure his whole life.   A child needs a father and a mother not as separate or competing influences but as cooperating influences in their complementarity.  The world, especially today, says that men and women are mostly competitive and will only come together when, and for as long as, there is mutual benefit.  By remaining indissolubly united, the children learn that men and women are not naturally competitive but cooperative.  The minute divorce enters the picture, the child only sees the competitiveness.  When this happens enough and divorce within society gathers a certain momentum, indissoluble marriage becomes the exception and society built upon the Family crumbles.

Chesterton calls divorce, especially when there is remarriage, the height of superstition.  Can we really expect someone who broke a vow at the altar to keep a vow the second time at that same altar?  Vows mean very little and within a divorce culture integrity becomes an anti-value.  We are married at an altar because an altar is a place of sacrifice.  Marriage leads to the fulfillment of spouses because each learns to truly love.  It is a sad world where happiness (in the worldly sense) and love must co-exist.  Marriage is the school where love is learned and taught, and not just to the children.  Divorce says all of that was a lie.

Modesty and the Freedom to Be Loved

An assistant principal at a Texas High School recently came under fire for making comments that were “inappropriate and offensive to students.”  What did he say?  During an assembly he called out the young ladies in the school for wearing tight clothes and short shirts.  He went on to blame them for “the boys’ low grades” intimating that they are distracted by the clothes many of the girls wear.  While his comments may have been lacking in humor and mode of delivery, they were not lacking in truth.  He was challenging them to dress more modestly.  The problem is that many young people lack the necessary context to understand the value of modesty and therefore are “offended” when someone says something.

Before he was to become Bishop of Rome, Fr. Karol Wojtyla wrote what might ultimately become his most important work, Love and Responsibility.  In it, he examines the relationship between the sexes and lays out the foundations of what would become his Theology of the Body.  Perhaps if the Assistant Principal was familiar with the work, he would have been able to draw on Fr. Wojtyla’s lengthy discussion on the importance of modesty.

In the book he makes what many today would consider a radical assumption—that men and women are different.  This difference is not just skin deep but goes to the very depth of their being as man and woman.  In fact our bodies are simply expressions of these differences rather than the totality of these differences.  These differences even affect the ways in which men and women are attracted to each other.

When one speaks of being “attracted” to someone, it primarily means that there is a response to a perception of some value in that person.  But because the person is not just an object but also a subject, there is always the danger of treating the other as a “something” rather than a “somebody.”  To guard against this tendency, Fr. Wojtyla articulates what he calls the personalistic norm—“A person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love.”

The sexual attraction (Wojtyla calls it the “sexual urge”) between men and women is a recognition of the sexual value of the other person.  It is experienced in two forms; sensuality and sentimentality.  Sensuality is the attraction to the body of the person of the opposite sex.  Sensuality is stirred when we encounter a person of the opposite sex and find value in their body as an object of personal enjoyment. Sentimentality is the emotional attraction to the sexual value residing in the whole person in the form of their masculinity and femininity.  Since sensuality is oriented towards the body as an object of enjoyment, it is generally stronger in men while sentimentality because it is more relational is strongest in women.

Because the sexual urge is so strong, there is always the danger that men and women will look upon the other person merely for their sexual value.  They then become an object of pleasure rather than a person to be loved.  In order for love to develop the entire “value” of the person must be seen and not just their sexual value.  What this means is that men and women must keep some of their sexual value hidden so that true love can blossom.

This, Fr. Wojtyla says, is the value in the experience of shame.  Shame arises any time that something which by its very nature ought to be private somehow becomes public.  Sexual shame arises when the sexual value of the person obscures their personal value.  Shame then acts like a protectant against use.  Most of us have experienced this.  A man instinctively will look away when he is caught staring at a woman he finds attractive.  A girl who is dressed immodestly will be forever adjusting her clothes.   Although they may not articulate it as shame, it is experienced by all but those who are shameless.  Modesty on the other hand is the “constant capacity and readiness to feel shame.”


As I mentioned sensuality is generally stronger in men.  This means that modesty and shame must be more pronounced in women.  The problem is that women are not primarily inclined to sensuality and so they do not intuit the need to conceal the body.  Modesty comes about when they gain an insight into male psychology

Even if it fell flat in its delivery, the Assistant Principal was trying to offer a much-needed insight into the male psychology.  Perhaps rather than being offended, what the students experienced was shame.  It isn’t just the boys’ problem for not focusing and it is not just the girls’ problem for dressing immodestly.  It is the self-perpetuating problem of use.  The girls dress immodestly, deliberately flaunting their sexual value, the boys respond by seeing only that.  The boys treat them as objects to be used and the girls accept this use.

The problem, I said, was one of context.  When we hear the word modesty we are immediately drawn to a Victorian encounter between men and women.  We must free modesty from this image.  Remember the goal is to keep sexual values from obscuring the true value of the person.  This does not mean that the person should hide all of their sexual value, only to the extent that they can be seen as a part of the value of the person.  The accentuation of sexual value by dress is inevitable and is not necessarily incompatible with modesty.  It is when the attire is chosen specifically to provoke a reaction that it becomes immodest.  As Fr. Wojtyla says, “What is truly immodest in dress is that which frankly contributes to the deliberate displacement of the true value of the person by sexual values, that which is bound to elicit a reaction to the person by sexual values, that which is bound to elicit a reaction to the person as to a ‘possible means of obtaining sexual enjoyment’ and not ‘a possible object love by reason of his or her personal value’.”

Most importantly, and this is what those young ladies needed to hear, modesty is more than keeping the boys from failing their classes and more than just protecting themselves from being gawked at.  “Sexual modesty is not a flight from love, but on the contrary the opening of a way towards it.”  Each of those young ladies desires to be loved and dressing immodestly, even if it garners attention, will never foster true love.  Only modesty frees love to blossom.

Marriage as a Call to Holiness

At the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, there were 58,632 priests in the United States, serving a Catholic population of 48.5 million.  In 2014, there were 38,275 priests, serving a total of 79.7 million Catholics.  The number of women religious in our country has seen an even more dramatic decrease, plunging from 179,954 to 49,883 during the same time frame (CARA Church Statistics).    We have labeled this reduction in the number of priests and religious sisters as the “vocation crisis.” We are regularly instructed to “pray the Lord of the harvest to send more laborers” (Mt 9:38).  But what if the issue is really our neglect of the seedbed vocations, namely marriage?  What if we have a priestly vocation crisis because we have a marriage vocation crisis?  The crisis is not just that we have fewer people getting married within the Church (the number of marriages within the Church went from 352,458 to 154,450) , but that we have treated marriage as a second-class vocation for far too long.

This second-class designation is not without a seeming biblical precedent.  In his first letter St. Paul tells the Corinthians that “he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better” (1 Cor 7:38).  Earlier in the letter (7:9) he tells them that “if they cannot exercise self-control, then they should marry.  For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.”  The popular interpretation of this is that the decision between whether one should remain celibate depends upon whether one can control himself or not.  If he cannot, then it is better to be married than not.  Read through the lens of our fallen human nature and thanks to a practical denial of marriage as a Sacrament, marriage became viewed as an outlet for indulging otherwise out of control passions.

This view has predominated for centuries in the Church.  The Church even labeled it as the secondary end of marriage calling it the remedium concupisentiae, which was translated as the remedy of concupiscence (or lust).  It is time that we re-examine this viewpoint to see if it really fits with what St. Paul was saying especially in light of Vatican II’s universal call to holiness.  With this as our understanding, marriage is viewed as being only for those who lack self-control.  It is only a short leap from this to the conclusion that self-control is not necessary in marriage because it offers us a place where we can legitimately engage our lust.  In other words, the call to holiness for married people comes despite their vocation and not because of it.

As an aside, I have to say that the need to work out a theology of marriage should have been a major focus of the Synod of the Family the past two years.  Instead they debated secondary issues like gay marriage and Communion for the remarried, wasting the Church’s time and money.  How many people actually want Communion that are remarried?  Why not focus on properly setting the ideal of marriage and showing how that can be a source of sanctification rather than look for loopholes to let a distorted view seem legitimate?

Once Vatican II and the subsequent popes began looking at marriage through a personalist perspective, framing marriage in terms of its unitive and procreative aspects, the term remedium concupisentiae was dropped from the Church’s vocabulary.  But the question is still open and marriage will still be viewed as a lesser vocation until it is addressed.  Rather than dropping the term, we should return to its roots because it contains an important truth.  St. Thomas and the Church fathers before him translated remedium concupisentiae as the remedy against concupiscence.  This change in a preposition makes all the difference.

Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin

St. Thomas says marriage is a remedy against concupiscence because it offers graces to overcome the self-seeking aspects of (married) love.  Love means making a gift of yourself and marriage offers us a unique way in which our love can be purified because it requires a total gift of oneself.  Through the grace of the sacrament of Marriage, the tendency to live a life of selfish taking is overtaken by a life of generous love.  In other words, one of the primary effects of marriage is that it purifies the love of the spouses.  It is not just a purification of the love for each other that occurs, but a purification of the love for God as well.

Each and every Sacrament is a real encounter with Christ and the Sacrament of Marriage is no different.  Although it is a “great mystery,” (Eph. 5:32) the spouses by being ministers of the Sacrament of Marriage bestow Christ on one another.  This occurs not just on the day of their wedding, but every day.  This is why St. Paul commands spouses to be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21).  This isn’t meant to be interpreted poetically, but sacramentally.  The spouses really act in persona Christi to one another.  How often in our married life it is necessary to call this truth to mind!

Returning to the text in 1 Corinthians we can begin to see why St. Paul wishes everyone to be as he is without in any way denigrating marriage.  In the case of celibacy emotional love is purified through a “special gift from God” (1Cor 7:7) while in the case of the spouses, their love is purified through marriage lived out in a “truly human way” (Gaudium et Spes, 49), bolstered by the Sacrament of Marriage.  Both celibates and married however have the same ideal, namely for their love to be purified of concupiscence.  In the case of the married they actually grow in holiness through this struggle, while the celibate simply live out the gift.

This is why the Church has always insisted that the initial discernment should always be between celibacy and marriage.  If one discerns he has been given the gift of celibacy then he would discern how that call is to be lived out (laity or clergy).  Proper discernment would never consist (at least initially) in marriage vs priestly/religious life.

Looked at from the perspective of potential for holiness, Marriage is actually the higher calling.  The celibate gains no merit for the gift of celibacy per se (recognizing there is merit in responding to this gift).  His love is purified by a singular grace.  The married person however must actively cooperate with the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage daily.  St. Paul himself says this when he mentions that married life is the harder path because of the concerns of the spouses and the world (1 Cor 7:32-35).  If the path to holiness is harder, then there is greater merit when it is achieved.

As somewhat empirical proof of this second class status, the number of married persons among declared saints is extraordinarily few as compared to the number celibates.  This sends the message that marriage is not so much a calling but a human concession.  Back in October, the Church canonized Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin who became the first married couple with children to be canonized in the same ceremony, but this should be seen merely as a start.  Surely there are many other married people in heaven and the Church would do a great service to married couples by opening up causes of other married saints.  Sts Louis and Zelie Martin, pray for us!




John Paul II and Chick Flicks

The man who would become  Pope St. John Paul II, Fr. Karol Wojtyla, devoted much of his pastoral work as a priest to the study of love between man and woman.  His reflections grew to full maturity during the series of Wednesday Audiences that would become the Theology of the Body.  Although, as George Weigel describes it, Theology of the Body remains “a theological time bomb set to go off some time in the twenty-first century,” it is one of his earlier works, Love and Responsibility, which is most culturally relevant.  It offers a remedy to the wounding effects of the portrayal of love between the sexes in movies and television shows.  Fr. Wojtyla devoted a significant portion of his discussion examining the anatomy of attraction.  If we perform a “Psychological Analysis of Love” with the future John Paul II, we will understand how Hollywood exploits this attraction and better defend ourselves from its soul crushing effects.

When one speaks of being attracted to someone, it primarily means that attraction is a response to the perception of some value in the other person.  This attraction initially involves the senses, emotions and desires (or collectively, the passions), but in order to be integrated into an authentic human response it must involve the mind and the will as well.  Only when this happens can the emotion that we refer to as love be drawn up into a truly human love in which one wills the good of another.

The natural attraction that men and women have toward each other is governed by what Fr. Wojtyla refers to as the “sexual urge.”  This tendency to seek out the opposite sex is experienced specifically as a bodily and emotional attraction to a person of the other sex.  While the other person is the object by which these attractions are stirred, they are also a subject.  If they remain on the level of object then the risk of using the other person as a “something” rather than a “somebody” is ever looming.  For Fr. Wojtyla the opposite of human love is not hate, but use.  In order to avoid falling into the trap of using other people he posited that all human interaction, especially between the sexes, ought to be governed by the principle that “a person is a kind of good which does not admit use and cannot be treated as an object of use and as such the means to an end.”  In its positive form, the “Personalistic Norm,” is stated as a “person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love”

Fr. Wojtyla used the terms sensuality and sentimentality to refer to each of the physical and emotional attractions respectively.  Because these attractions are on the material level, they do not occur in the abstract but are always directed towards a particular human person.  Because the object of these attractions is also a subject to whom the only “proper and adequate attitude is love,” these responses only serve as the raw material for love and are intended to be integrated into a love that involves a total gift of self to the other that is unique to married love.  The manner in which the media operates makes the road to this integration treacherous at best.  The producers in Hollywood seek to stir these responses in viewers and manipulate the viewers into thinking them authentic experiences.  By examining each of the two attractions and the manner in which they are manipulated this essay attempts to serve as a roadmap to point out the pitfalls that the media consistently places in the path of true love.

Sensuality is the attraction to the body of the person of the opposite sex.  Sensuality is stirred when we encounter a person of the opposite sex and find value in their body as an object of personal enjoyment. Because this is a passive response on our part, it must be drawn up into the intellect and the will.  At that point we can choose to continue to see that person only as an object of sexual value or choose to raise the value to the personal level.  The habit of raising the emotional response to the personal level is the virtue of chastity.


Nearly every prime time television show and movie have as one of their goals to stir sensuality.  Through the use of gratuitous “love scenes” the actors deliberately allow themselves to be viewed as objects with the intent of stirring up sensuality in the viewers.  On the other hand, when sensuality is stirred in the viewer it is impossible to integrate the emotion into a truly human love.  There is only the object and no subject present.  Obviously this happens most perniciously in pornography, but even so-called “soft-porn” that now can be found regularly in prime-time television does this.  With repeated exposure we become conditioned to love the feelings that are stirred within by sensuality.  Even if we encounter real flesh and blood persons of the opposite sex a “consumer orientation” leaves us with only the ability to see them as an object to stir sensuality.  We become blind to the truth of the other person as a subject to be loved.  Well aware that chastity arms the viewer against the abuse of sensuality, Hollywood mocks those who show it.  How many “coming of age” dramas are produced each year with exactly this intent?

Sentimentality is the emotional attraction to the sexual value residing in the whole person in the form of their masculinity and femininity.  It seems at first that this is a much “safer” emotion than sensuality because it attaches value to the whole person.  Because of the intensity of the feelings attached to sentimentality there is a tendency to avoid the truth about the other person by idealizing the person “out of all proportion” to whom he or she is in reality.  Love then becomes directed at the idealized values imputed to the others and the other is used for the emotional pleasure derived from idealizing him.

Nearly every “chick-flick” (and there is no shortage of them) is accurately marketed as the “feel-good romantic comedy of the year” because they are meant to stir sentimentality.  The movies rarely deviate from the same theme—a lonely girl meets a masculine guy who is a real jerk, she finds herself surprisingly attracted to him (because she has idealized him), he reveals the truth about himself and they split up, they get back together because he shows traces of the reason she idealized him in the first place and they live happily ever after.

As promised, the viewers “feel good” during the movie, but they often leave the theater more empty and disillusioned than before.  They begin to think that the ideals they value will never be found and instead think that they should settle for someone with whom there is “chemistry” like the girl in the movie.

Fr. Wojtyla suggests that men are often more sensual than women and women more sentimental than men.  Although the prevailing culture insists there are no differences between men and women, when it comes to Hollywood they are quick to exploit this fact.  According to a 2010 study released by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, women in the movies are 7 times more likely to be seen in sexy clothing and 3.5 times more likely to be partially naked than men.  Likewise as the name suggests, “Chick-flicks” are marketed specifically to women because of their sentimental tendencies.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen once commented that “if the human heart does not have enough love in it, it seeks out those who are in love.”  For many people the place they turn first is to the movies and TV.  Because of the manner in which Hollywood manipulates both sensuality and sentimentality, it leads to a culture that has forgotten how to find true love between the sexes.  Only with a proper understanding of these two emotions based on the teachings of John Paul II in Love and Responsibility can we begin to hope to heal the wounds the culture has inflicted on the relationship between men and women.