Monday, August 31, 2009

Dives in Misericordia

Ted Kennedy

The weekend was troubling. It is certainly true that Senator Edward Kennedy was a giant. There is no doubt that he has left his mark forever on American politics. Certainly he stood for important causes and values. Yet one thing that I cannot understand was his continued support for, rather, active crusade, for unlimited abortion rights, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and gay marriage.

For all Catholics, this record cannot be ignored, and it ought to certainly leave an uncomforatble distaste in our mouths. The man meant so much, was loved by so many, and is now being hailed by the media and the country as a national hero, and has been buried in Arlington, alongside some of the nation's heroes. Cardinal McCarrick read at his funeral from the correspondence between the senator and the Holy Father.

Here in South Bend, I just learned of another correspondence between the senator and another member of the hierarchy. Bishop John D'Arcy, our belvoed bishop of South Bend and Fort Wayne, was the auxiliary bishop of Boston before he was transferred here. Himself a descendant of the very devout Irish Catholic community in Boston, it comes as no suprise that he knew Senator Kennedy, and many of his friends and colleagues. He told us today at staff lunch about some of thier last correspondences, in which the bishop assured the senator of his prayers for him and for his family.

These touching personal stories, and an examination of conscience on my part, leaves me with two things to say:

1) Kennedy's legacy will be remembered for the good, the bad, and the ugly. His death signals the death of an era, an era of confused Catholic politics, which came about as a result of the Hyannisport Congress in 1964 when the Kennedy family met with leading moreal theologians of the time, Fr Charles Curran, Fr Richard McCormick, Fr Milhaven, and others who justified to him that one could in fact hold the teachings of the Church in private, and separate them from their political actions in the public. Unfortunately, this position, together with that one articulated by Gov. Cuomo in his famous ND speech in 1984, has created the problem we have today, of Catholic politicians who do not act for the common good by placing the teachings of the Church at the forefront of their agendas. Kennedy's sad legacy and horrible record on life issues cannot be forgotten, and must be remembered as a huge taint on his character and public record in office.

2) We must trust in the mercy of God, and remember that the justice of God is also the mercy of God. There is no such thing as the "God of justice" and the "God of mercy." We believe in a God who is merciful, and who in being merciful, manifests his justice as a result of his love, which is wholly Other. We can hope and pray for the senator, and beg God to be merciful on this flawed and deeply misguided man. The mysterious and imperceptible workings of grace can so easily be judged by us, who while recognizing the flaws and horrible consequences of the man's politics, can ourselves be quickly moved to judge his soul.

Let me conclude with some words from von Balthasar's book, Credo, that I think have helpled me sort out my thoughts on the situation:

"The Exalted shares in the authority of the Almighty, for the Father "has given judgment to the Son, that allmay honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. (Jn 5:22)." Which power could be greater than that of judging what is most intimate and most hidden in every human being and allocating to him or her eternal destiny accordingly? Almightiness consists much less in that which human beings imagine it to be, namely, changing things in accordance with one's will--Jesus proved, through his miracles, that he could do that too--than in exerting an influence on the freedom of human hearts without overpowering them. Enticing forth from them, through the mysterious power of grace, their free assent to the truly good.

The Church Fathers used to say that God's grace works not through force bu throguh "persuasion," in that it suggests the choice of the better and gives the weak human will the strength to assent to that out of its own conviction and strength. Up to what point the sinful will can continue to resist this inner force of conviction exerted by the good--perhaps to the very last?--is only something for the Almighty Judge of all hearts to know." (p. 65)

We can pray that God moved Senator Kennedy's will to respond to his grace, given especially in those moments of suffering, difficulty, and proximity to death.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Theology of the Body Explained

I just discovered a new commentary on the Theology of the Body. One of the only comprehensive commentaries out there in English is Christopher West's Theology of the Body Explained, Michael Waldstein's Introduction to Man and Woman He Created Them.

The one I have found, is unfortunately, in Polish, and is entitled O Jana Pawla II Teologii Ciala (About John Paul II's Theology of the Body). This commentary is unique, as it contains a series of essays by very prominent scholars, including:

Andrzej Szostek, MIC: "Conscience: Witness and Guardian of the Salvific Truth about Man."
Tadeusz Styczen, SDS: "Man's Self Portrait: The Adequate Anthropology of Karol Wojtyla-John Paul II."
Mieczyslaw Krapiec, OP: "The Body as the Constitutive Element of Man."
It promises to be an important and much-needed work. In Poland, the "theology of the body," and John Paul II in general, is taken as a serious theologian and philosopher, whose thought has shaped and directed the future course of the Church. Unfortunately in this country, many people see the "theology of the body" as a popular phenomenon, for the married couples of the parishes throughout the country.
As the essays in this commentary show, however, the thought of the "theology of the body" affects many more areas than just marriage ministry, and needs to be seriously considered by moral theologians and philosophers alike.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I Saw God Today

Unfortunately, much modern popular music is full of immorality, esepcially when it comes to love. Most songs about love are actually about lust, and abotu borken hearts, hurt relationships, and jealousy, anger, and resentment. It is int he country music genre, however, that there continue to exist great songs (although increasginly less!)

I love this song by George Strait, since it is a beautiful reminder of the most important things in life. Very rarely do we have a popular song that affirms the truth of human love, and that children are really a "supreme gift" from God, who blesses a couple with the ability to co-create life with Him! There is nothing more beautiful than a new baby, who can remind us of the innocence, wonder, awe, and childlike attitude that we all ought to have in relation to God, our loving Father.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Our Anniversary

Our GQ Pose

It is hard to believe that two years ago today was the day of our wedding! how quickly time flies. Although no ontological change took place, a new existence came about when we entered into marriage--it's hard to even imagine what life was like before this!

I married the most beautiful, holy, wonderful, and deep woman who has taught me the ways of the Lord, and encouraged me to be a saint. This is what one of the beautiful aspects of marrying young--to "grow up" together with your best friend, who is also your sister in humanity and your spouse!

Please pray for us as we week to live the reality and truth of Christ's love for us, which is to be a model of His love for the Church, and God's love for creation. Please pray that we may do what John Paul II calls alled marriages to: "Spouses are therefore the permanent reminders to the Church of what happened on the cross." (FC, 13). What a a mystery and a profound calling to live up to!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Objective vs. Subjective Dimensions of Love

"Tobias and Sarah," Jan Steen (1626-1679)

Throughout the recent Christopher West debates, to which I have already alluded earlier, I think that one element of the Theology of the Body has been left out, although David Schindler alluded to it in his discussion of the objective nature of concupiscence.

I have been reading JPII's commentary on the Song of Songs and the Book fo Tobit, all found in TOB 108-117b. One of John Paul II's beautiful points is the synthesis of these two books, from which he draws out both the objective and the subjective dimensions of marital union as a language of the body confirming the sign of covenant and grace. What struck me in this read through this section of the TOB is John Paul II's repeated insistence on the priority and importance of the objective dimensions of the "truth of living in communion."

He notices that the Song of Songs speaks powerfully of the "subjective dimension of the truth of human hearts," but that the "prayer of the new spouses in Tobit seems certainly to confirm the [objective dimension] in a menner different from the Song of Songs, and also in a manner that is undoubtedly more deeply moving." [116:4]

John Paul's analysis here seems to reflect the Thomistic idea of love as goodwill, which is based on friendship and expressed through concrete acts and tasks. In Love and Responsibility, John Paul II speaks of "love as desire," "love as attraction," "love as friendship/goodwill" and "betrothed love." Here in TOB, it appears that he is continuing the reflection on the interplay and relationship between his "four loves," and shows particular the necessity to fuse the erotic, love as desire, experienced suibjectively within the human heart, and the agapeic love as goodwill. The fusion of these two loves, the purification of desire through goodwill in friendship, results in a deeply moving and beautiful betrothed love. This, John Paul II points out, is the essence of the spirituality of marriage.

It is popular these days to speak of the "spirituality" of things: work, the priesthood, marriage, nature, etc. Rather than giving some sort of banal answer like "the spirituality of marriage consists in making your spouse happy by random acts of kindness," (an answer you could find in countless self-help and therapy books out there), John Paul II proposes that the spirituality of marriage consists in making yourself, with your spouse and for her, a "sacrifice and offering acceptable to the Lord." Yes, through their sexual lives spouses speak a "language of the body," which expresses the total self gift promised in the vows, but also through their entire common existence, spouses are called to speak a "liturgical language." (TOB 117b:3) "In the daily life of the couple, acts become tasks, and tasks acts. These acts--likewise also the obligations--are by nature spiritual, but they are still at the same time expressed by the 'language of the body.'"

Three things come to mind:

1) My fear about West's presentations is a lack of enough emphasis on the objective dimensions of living in a communion of persons. Real love is not just about the beautiful longing, love, and poetic romance expressed in the Song of Songs. Real love also means the performance of conrete tasks, day in and day out, for your spouse, modeled on the love of Christ for His Church. This helps one keep in mind that when the times are tough and the "subjective" element of the "dimension of the heart" might be lacking, this is ok. I think it is important, especially for young Catholic married couples to keep this in mind, since there exists a not too uncommon phenomenon of the "perfect, young, orthodox couple" getting married, then disillusioned, and then seeking an annulment. True love, as expressed by the theology of the body, is not just about speaking the sexual language of the body, but the "liturgical" language of the body.

2) Speaking the "language of the liturgy" with one's body means uniting oneself to the sacrifice of Christ, and to the original covenant of God with man. Man was created as cosmic priest, to rule over himself, and creation, and to say to God, "We offer You these gifts from your own gifts in all and for all." Christ came fully revelaed to man how to live according to this original plan, and as Pope Benedict tells us, we are all called to become "true liturgists of Jesus Christ." This means that we develop a liturgical worldview by which each act we perform becomes sanctified as it is done by God's grace and for His glory. In marriage, the spouses speak this "litrugical language" through their acts of duty and faithfulness to their given tasks, speaking with their acts always the language of tenderness in self-giving love.
3) These points are in radical continuity with the early Wojtyla, who recognized and argued that man fulfills himself through the performance of his own acts, and this is done most fully through the performance of acts in community, as this provides the possibiltiy of living out a gift of self, acting in solidarity with and for others.

Thus, the objective dimension of love, expressed through a living in communion of persons based on speaking a "liturgical language," as expressed in the prayer of Tobit (Tob 8:5-8) needs to always be emphasized by anybody who seeks to popularize the theology of the body, as it does a great disservice to mislead people through an overly optimistic (though admittedly, beautiful) emphasis on the subjective dimension of love in the human heart as experienced by two spouses living according to God's plan.