This Sunday’s gospel reading is the ever-famous “Woman Caught in Adultery” scene, found in John 8:1-11. In recent years, I have begun to refer to this incident as a “both sides of the punctuation” topic. If you attend Mass, you will doubtless hear homilies centering on our inability to cast the first stone, which I in no way mean to diminish. I always say that in the ways most pertinent, you, I, and the “worst of the worst” (Osama bin Laden, for instance) are on the same ground: having lost our footing as a result of sin and in need of saving. That is why Jesus is so eager to explicitly say, “Neither do I condemn you.”
Though our hearts should soar upon hearing those words, I am also very quick to point out that there is still an often-overlooked statement on the other side of the period at the end of Christ’s sentence. He immediately goes on to say, “Go and sin no more.” The clear teaching is that, though neither we nor God condemns someone for their sins, each of us does, indeed, condemn ourselves by our sins. Hence, Christ is hurried in giving the woman her spiritual direction: Rid your life of the sin that “so easily besets” you (Heb. 12:1) You may hear this side of the coin preached at Mass.
However, earlier today, I was struck by an aspect of the account that I’d never given thought to before. Of every talk, sermon, homily or reflection I’d ever heard about this passage, not one had been focused on the miraculous experience of the accusers. I’d frequently seen their harshness pointed out, and I’d been shown the error of their ways, but no one has ever highlighted the beautiful completeness and hope in the ultimate outcome of the reading.
The beginning of the scene is, indeed, dire and full of misplaced righteous indignation. If I’m reading it correctly, they’ve nabbed a woman while engaged in the act of adultery, dragged her into public, thrown her down at Jesus feet, and demanded judgement from Him. Even worse, they don’t even seem to care much about her or her sin at all. They seem to view her as merely an object for their use, a pawn in their incessant chess match with Jesus. The peripheral nature of her public shame makes it all the more deplorable. Admittedly, these men were not the heroes of the story.
Thankfully, though, because “Christ…fully reveals man to himself” (Gaudium et Spes, 22), the picture we get of the scribes and the Pharisees at the beginning of the story is, if we look closely, drastically different than the picture we get at the end. In the short span of eleven verses, we not only see the power of God’s love restore a broken woman to her inherent dignity, we also see God’s Truth confound accusing mouths, humble prideful hearts, and open eyes blinded by misguided religious zeal.
How do we know this? Read the text: “And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders.” How stunningly gorgeous! Men, who’s fingers were pointed and fists were clenched in outward accusation moments ago, were now moved to interior contemplation and awareness of their own need for mercy. Had they been too hardened or too far gone, they would not have backed down. Convinced of their own righteousness, they would have simply ignored the few, meager words of this Rabbi, Jesus, and proceeded with their stoning; but, they did not. They were changed, moved. They ceased the accusations and walked away.
Brothers and sisters, with the climax of the Lenten season rapidly approaching, let us encounter Christ in a renewed depth. Let us approach Him, blinded by anger if we must, so long as we depart from Him with eyes that see, having set our stones down. Where we condemn, let us cease. Where we sin, let us do the same. Lead by the elders of our Church, let us truly enter into the transforming love of Christ. Oh, that we might change. Oh, that we might yield. Oh, that we might live like the accusers.
***This article can also be found at Ignitum Today***
Dear Mr. Jillette,
Before ever reading The Royal Road to Card Magic or learning how to do a pass, I was introduced to magic by yourself and Mr. Teller on THIS television special. Not only was I hooked on magic from then on, I also remember being impressed by your duo’s willingness to “reveal” one way in which an illusion might be done. There was an honesty in the unveiling that actually made me appreciate the piece more.
The next time I remember taking note of you was in 2003, when Showtime began airing your series, “Penn and Teller: Bullshit”. Beneath the bravado and aggressive language, I could plainly see an admirable pursuit of truth vs. the modern, selfish, emotion-based acceptance of “truthiness“.
You popped up on my radar a third time by a post on “Penn Says” about a man who gave you a Bible after a show. Though I was refreshed at your open willingness to speak of the man–whom you intrinsically disagreed with–as “kind, and nice, and sane,” I was most impacted by the following statement:
“I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize…If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life…and you think that …it’s not really worth telling…because it would make it socially awkward…how much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”
In a few, short, hastily-recorded words, you had put the impetus behind Matthew 28′s “Great Commission” into layman’s terms, all without actually believing any of it, and, yet again, I was impressed. Regardless of how vocal and sarcastic you could appear to be at times, you also seemed to possess a relatively rare docility to honesty and truth, even if it was found in a standpoint you found laughable.
Then, on March 7, you appeared in an interview with Piers Morgan and, among other things, relayed such a succinct, yet adequate, exposition of the Catholic Church’s belief in the Papacy that I had to write this letter.
Thank you, Mr. Jillette. Thank you for being the unusual type of person who realizes that you can’t truly disagree with someone until you understand their position. More specifically, thank you for being a man of such backbone and character that you will defend a tenet of the Catholic Church from misrepresentation and error, even though you disagree with said tenet.
Furthermore, thank you for seeing through the flimsy, theologically absurd belief that Christianity should bend to the whims of culture, which change by the minute and are generally dictated by the selfish desire for immediate gratification of any and all wants. If real, eternal, objective truth can be found in the Catholic Church and her members, then, as you so beautifully put it, “why would society move them?” Instead of bowing to a given population’s estimated value of the dollar, Christians are supposed to “impregnate culture and human works with a moral value” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 909). You said it best, yet again, ”There’s not supposed to be modernizing, it’s supposed to be the Word of God.”
I joined the Catholic Church in 2008 after growing up in an Evangelical denomination, attending Bible College, becoming atheist, and spending a few years floundering in the choppy sea of personal opinion applied to Scripture. I found myself unable to swallow the inherent chaos which very clearly resulted from the belief that “your interpretation is as good as mine” and “if it works for you, then great!”
I came to agree that, as you put it, “if you have someone who is a conduit to God…even if you can’t understand exactly what God’s plan is…that still doesn’t mean you get to vote on what God actually believes.” It didn’t seem to me that truth, religious or otherwise, should–or could–be relegated to the anarchic realm of personal opinion. It seemed more logical and right to embrace Aquinas’ statement that “if there is anything true, there must be truth,” and then approach that truth with the beautiful philosophy of Mr. Penn Jillette and say, “You either agree or you don’t.”
There is a desperate, pressing need for more people like you to hold the line against the subversive gibberish and rhetoric of a culture which says you don’t have mean what you say or be what you are. The Church is rife with thousands who loudly profess to be Catholic and, in the same breath, unequivocally deny teachings which are intrinsic to Catholicism. Thank you for being one person who won’t stand for the paradox and contradiction.
I hope, and my heart prays, that you soon leave the ranks of those who believe “in the pope’s position more than most Catholics”, and join the merry band of actual Catholics who truly believe what the Church teaches. I desire this, not so that we have one more notch on our theological belt, but that your restless heart, starving for and relentlessly pursuing truth, may rest in the Truth that is Christ and His Church.
Thank you, again, Mr. Jillette.
***This open letter can also be found published at Ignitum Today***
When I started flight school in the fall of 2007 and, that same week, began working as the youth minister at St. Benedict’s Catholic Church in Duluth, MN, two things were true about me: I had never touched the controls of a plane and I wasn’t Catholic. While I’m sure that’s usually the case in flight training, I’m quite sure it’s rarely the case in Catholic youth ministry. I know that more than a few parishioners scratched or shook their heads in confusion as to why Fr. Eric made his decision. Thankfully, he had been hired as a Catholic youth minister before he was Catholic, so he could identify well with my situation.
My two life paths at that time, aviation and considering Catholicism, looked quite the same in a lot of ways. With flight, I’d researched a little bit and the desire and awe within had been gaining strength; with the Church, my desire for truth had been enkindled by attending a Mass out of curiosity and had developed into me reading an old copy of the Catechism at this Barnes and Noble for four hours a day, dog-earing my spot, and then hiding it behind other books until the next day because I couldn’t afford to buy it and I sure-as-heck didn’t want someone else to buy it, either.
My inaugural day immersed in both was also quite similar. At the end of our first day of classes, the instructor showed us the sign up sheet where we could reserve our spot to be “up in the plane” within 24 hours, which my fellow students and I couldn’t believe; and, my first morning on the job, Fr. Eric proudly walked into my office and thumped a gleaming copy of the new, accepted, authoritative Catechism of the Catholic Church down in front of me, with a handwritten note inside, making it MY very own copy, which I couldn’t believe. Now, suddenly and unbelievably, I had “slipped the surly bonds of earth“ and was getting paid to study the Catholic Church!
And so the journey of learning to soar began. Over then next few months, there were many parallels between flight and faith. Often, I’d be studying something like the Coriolis effect or lift and how we use them to achieve flight, and I’d stumble upon CCC 354, which states, “Respect for laws inscribed in creation and the relations which derive from the nature of things is a principle of wisdom and a foundation for morality” or CCC 159, which states, “The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.”
Not only were science and religion suddenly connected in a far deeper way, but the daily life of the Church began transforming my experiences at the yoke. When I’d be lined up at the end of the runway, waiting for clearance, not only would there be the normal prayer that I used whenever I merged onto the freeway on my motorcycle, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit”; now, I’d also be quietly reciting a passage from Psalm 143 in the Liturgy of the Hours: “Let your good spirit guide me in ways that are level and smooth”.
However, of all the aspects of Catholicism I discovered that began to shape my life, few impacted and deepened it in a more powerful and steady way than that of Pope Benedict XVI. My journey had been a constant process of hacking and sanding away the pile of prejudice and misconception toward Catholicism that I’d built up in my life and, along the way, two statements by Baba Bene were the most instrumental in hewing some of the largest boulders away.
First, in the forward to his book Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, Pope Benedict says that “everything depends” on “intimate friendship with Jesus”. As a fervent Protestant Christian, having a “personal relationship with Jesus” was my eternal tag line, and seeing the Pope, leader of what I’d previously heard was the “whore of Babylon”, place such supreme importance on intimacy with Christ caused me to second-guess my prior stance. After all, if the mouthpiece of Catholicism thinks that all the Tradition and theology pivots and hinges on a personal relationship with Jesus, how bad could the belief system be, especially since, “It’s all about Jesus, man!” was my daily motto?
The second, more powerful, quote is the famous line from Deus Caritas Est: ”Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” When I first read those words, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Here, in one sentence, the head of this enigmatic entity, the Catholic Church, had summed up everything I’d known about Christ. As much as I was impressed–or nearly addicted–to the “Disneyland of Theology” I was finding in Catholicism, this one line kept coming back to me as the most complete line of apologetics for the Church I’d read so far. I kept thinking, “Who IS this guy? He talks like a Protestant!”
About eight months after starting my two paths of study, I’d joined the ranks of wanna-be pilots who had done their first solo flight and the ranks of the Church Militant. Fittingly, the two were linked, yet again. On the return trip of my solo, because of a combination of a couple of extenuating circumstances, I lost my heading, and, being that it was a small plane with no GPS, I was lost. I had no clue which way to go. In ground school, we were told that if you lose your way, simply locate a town, descend low enough to read the water tower, and you’ll know where you are, all of which I did. I don’t know if I’d ever been so happy to see the town McGregor, MN!
I now knew my way home, and as I climbed back up to a comfortable level the words of our beloved B16 came to mind as clearly as if B16 was chillin’ in the control tower and talking through my headset: “a new horizon and a decisive direction”. It was clear then, as it has been virtually every day since, that the Church, through the Sacraments, is able to bring us into the deepest possible intimacy with our Savior. Pope Benedict, through his utmost service to the Sacrament of Holy Orders, has been the only pope I’ve known, so I guess I am a bit biased, but I don’t know if I could have dived into this Faith without his loving, Fatherly example each step of the way.
I may never meet Pope Benedict in this life. The odds are against me getting a private audience, at this point. And I’m pretty sure I’ll never get to sit down and watch “The Sandlot” with him, as I’ve always wished. However, I am planning to meet him on the flip side. I do know that his fatherhood brought me into the fullness of the family. And I am certain that his decision to resign was done in love and wisdom, and will result in the betterment of the Church.
Thanks, prayers, and love to you, Pope Benedict XVI, my Protestant Pope.
This is a re-post from our Dominica Blog:
Okay, life absolutely got away from us, and the Dynamic Davidson Duo simply couldn’t keep up with the blog, but we’re back with a vengeance! If any of you remember, we had begun a series to recount the story of our adoption process, and we really want to continue that story (because it’s truly amazing and we want to share the amazing-ness of adoption with you). Also, your writer has switched: Nic’s still got too much on his plate, so little old Jacelyn will continue the saga with you!
Chapter III begins the next morning:
In a matter of 3 hours, the 2 mothers that we had met only the evening prior called and confirmed that they would like to move forward with the adoption. One was the mother of two girls, ages 4 and 6. The other woman needed us to adopt her 13-month-old little boy, named Jonathan. Naturally, we were ecstatic! Finally, after 7 months of searching (not to mention 11 years of waiting for the right time) we had at last found children that were in need of a home. I had that intense excited feeling in my stomach and it was a little hard to catch my breath. In all our years of talking about it, we had never come this close to the reality of adoption. But . . . the very next moment we realized, “Wait a minute, TWO opportunities just opened up simultaneously. Do we actually have to choose between these children?!” When this reality hit us, we looked at each other with wide eyes and a look that can really only be described as “I have absolutely no idea what to do”. It’s something like this. We received these phone calls on a Friday, and told both mothers that we would contact them on Monday.
All weekend our heads were swimming with both wild excitement and bewildered uncertainty. As mentioned in Chapter II, we’ve long wanted to adopt older siblings. The sisters seemed to be the natural choice and our preference definitely leaned in that direction. Still, we knew that diving into the parenting of 2 older children would be extremely difficult, and we feared we weren’t up to the challenge. Faced with such an intense decision, we knew it was time to call in the experts. We needed first-hand advice. So, we contacted 3 families that have adopted older children. Naturally, we asked them about their adoption experience, but our main reason for contacting them was to ask the question that laid heavy on our minds: Were Nic and I, who have never had children, absolutely kidding ourselves? Could we actually handle it? Weren’t we ridiculous for wanting our first venture into parenthood to be caring for two, older girls who had suffered neglect and witnessed abuse? We cringed as we waited for their responses. We imagined they would tell us to let the girls be adopted by more experienced parents, we shouldn’t dive in so deep, we’d be better off going after an easier case . . .
. . . But would you believe that we were met with the exact opposite? Each of the families, with their first hand expertise, actually encouraged us! They said that if we had any desire to adopt older children, we should absolutely move forward. I was not expecting their words of confidence and hope. A family that adopted two brothers, ages 2 and 4, told us, “It’s weird, but our transition with them, and becoming first time parents, was actually really easy. They adjusted to us so well.” Another mom’s thoughts: “Really, 4 and 6 isn’t that old. You don’t need to hesitate to say YES to the girls.” We also received meaningful encouragement from a teenager who was himself adopted at the age of 8.
Now, as a woman who loves adoption, I HAVE to point this out: for any of you who have ever felt the tug to adopt an older child, those words of adoption-encouragement are for YOU too! The parents we spoke with weren’t simply saying that Nic and I, in particular, could handle the adoption of an older child; they were also giving testimony to the fact that adopting non-infants is a great choice and that it does work out. There is a pervasive fear, and even negativity, about the adoption of older children. But, in this moment, I hope you’ll consider the opposite perspective. Here are three families who have experienced the adoption of an older child, and they absolutely recommend it. I hope this can simply soften our hearts to the idea and wash away a bit of that fear. For, you never know; someday you may be needed to encourage a friend who is considering adoption, or perhaps you will ponder the possibility just a bit longer the next time the idea of adoption crosses your mind . . . And, if you’re still not convinced that the adoption of an older child could be a good idea, let Disney convince you. I recently watched “Meet the Robinsons”, and I’m simply in love with that movie. It shows so well the beauty of adoption.
Okay, back to our story: Because we were already leaning toward pursuing the adoption of the sisters, once we received insightful encouragement from adoptive families, we were almost positive that this was the route we should take—almost. Why weren’t we 100% certain? Because there was a little boy named Jonathan that we simply couldn’t get out of our heads. We snapped this picture of him the day we met, and we couldn’t stop looking at it.
Just when we were certain that we should adopt the sisters, one of us would say, “But what about little Jonathan?” I, particularly, couldn’t stop thinking about the dear little boy because I had held him in my arms during our brief meeting. I mean, just think of how hard it is to turn down an adorable puppy once you’ve cuddled with the little ball of fur. This was obviously a thousand times more powerful.
So, it turns out that we spent the entire weekend with that same “I-have-absolutely-no-idea-what-to-do” look on our faces. This time it looked a bit more likethis. We simply couldn’t make a decision, and Monday morning was quickly approaching. Instead, we made two tiny decisions. First, we scheduled the necessary appointment with the social worker for later in the week, not knowing which mom would be attending that meeting with us. Second, we decided to call the mother of the sisters first to see if she was willing to attend. We would see how that first conversation turned out, and then proceed from there.
The time for us to call the two mothers arrived. With excitement, fear, anticipation, and a bit of panic, Nic called the mother of the two young girls. A male voice answered the phone . . .
If you pray, when you pray, pray for us.
On to the next thing…
I love being let down. I’ve started relishing the realization that I have to relinquish what I thought a given outcome would look and feel like and embrace what it really is. After years of “casting visions” and soft-lighting all things future, and the subsequent deflation when nothing measured up to my expectations, I began to notice that, if I got past my disappointment, the reality of the situation was actually better and far deeper than what I’d originally planned.
For instance, for as long as I can remember, I’ve talked about martyrdom. Jim Elliot was my hero. I loved being the guy preaching about the virtue of self-sacrifice. In my mind, it had a gloss to it, a fine veneer that made it appealing. The idea of being a “mini martyr” in your everyday life sounded ultra-spiritual, magical, and deep. Oh, the hubris of the young. ”When I was a child, I spoke as a child…” It turns out that suffering and self-sacrifice really end up taking a lot out of you–everything, actually! Who knew, right? I guess that’s why the rest of the quote goes, “…but when I became a man, I put away childish things”.
No matter how inspirational I thought it would be to die to self, when it really came down to it, I don’t think I had truly considered that that meant I actually had to die, and death is never pretty or comfy. Initially, when I was suddenly faced with putting someone else’s needs over my own desires, actually “willing the good of the other”, the photoshop was stripped away and I’d find myself thinking, “I didn’t sign up for this.” But, as life played out, and I realized that on the other side of the pain was purity, after the Cross was the empty tomb, life took on a much more exciting tone.
Whether it was finding that marriage really is “where bad people go to die” (Fr. Mike Schmitz) or discovering that I was a first-class heretic, the underlying truth and reality was always a worthwhile trade-off. The false, self-centered view of the fulfillment that marriage would bring me was piffle compared to the actuality of what it means to place my all, my hopes, dreams, and body in the custody of my wife and give myself up for her. And, in my opinion, the tempest of autonomy that Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide bring about are on par with an 18-month-old taking the wheel of an 18-wheeler, when compared to the joy of coming home to the permanence and security of the Church.
Which brings me to the title and purpose of this article. Even before we married, my wife and I knew we would adopt siblings internationally. We’ve always been vocal about our desires to adopt older siblings, specifically because they were of the least adopted demographic. ”Leave the infants to the others,” we said, “We’ll take the ‘least of these’”. For the first ten years of our marriage, that was the extent of it for us–talk. It never seemed like the right time, regardless of whether we were at home or abroad.
Then, we moved to the Caribbean island of Dominica (pronounced da-mi-KNEE-ka) so that my wife could attend medical school. Prior to moving, we had zero inclination that we would adopt; however, about two months after we arrived, we both began to feel like we should at least look into the process here on Dominica. As we followed the tug on our hearts to investigate adoption, we felt that familiar surge of excitement, the one that says you’re about to do something adventurous and inspiring. In my mind, the wide camera shot had slowly zoomed in on my wife and me as we spent moments in fervent prayer, our hearts alive with expectation of children who would twirl into our arms with abandon, their mouths filled with well-articulated gratitude. ”When I was a child…”
Not that there hasn’t been quite a bit of that so far, but we are quickly discovering the beautiful and exhausting fact that there is no gloss to real life. Nor should there be. On the other side of the supposedly-inspiring “Guess what Nic and Jacelyn are doing???” is sleep deprivation, needless trips to the capital city, personality conflicts, paperwork hang-ups, unforeseen delays, sleep deprivation, thousands of dollars, hours of phone calls, stonewalling by embassies, and lack of sleep. What sounds spiritual and refreshing turns out to be physically depleting. What you’d hoped would be a corny made-for-T.V. movie (or at least an after-school special) turns out to be more like a 5-hour jr. high production of War and Peace, starring no one you know.
The gorgeous and illuminating part about it, though, is that I would honestly have it no other way. Not only is it a nice way to try to enter into the perseverance and pain of childbearing and childbirth (with the man getting to bear a some of the load in this case), but it is also a great way to strip away the misconceptions and delusions we’d had about what adoption actually is.
This is where it all hits home. Paragraph 1129 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The fruit of the sacramental life is that the Spirit of adoption makes the faithful partakers in the divine nature by uniting them in a living union with the only Son, the Savior.” It is an unfathomable, humbling, and precious fact that, as Christians, we were adopted into the actual family of God and that nothing can “separate us from the love of God” (Rom 8:39). However, lest we be tempted to gloss that fact over with a sheen of ease and comfort, paragraph 1129 reminds us that it is the “sacramental life” that brings about participation in the divine nature, and the sacraments exist because of our sin and His suffering on the cross.
Essentially, the need for adoption exists because we’d first sinned and left the divine life, and the option of adoption was made possible once again by Jesus’ willingness to say, “Still, not my will, but yours be done.” (Lk 22:42) Since being adopted into God’s family, I’ve caused many sleepless nights, many unforeseen delays, and done my share of stonewalling on the road to purity and completion, but my Family has not failed or deserted me. My brothers and sisters have not disowned me. My Father and Brother have continued saving me.
I love being let down. I enjoy finding out where I’ve been wrong. By being open to my own errors, I’ve found a depth and peace in marriage that I never imagined was possible, an anchor in the Catholic Church, and a deeper understanding of my adoption into God’s family. May all the saints and angels pray that we be open to smudges in the veneer, because, as far as I can tell, when we allow ourselves to be let down and humbled, we find out about true exaltation. (Lk 14:11)
A while back, we began a 4-part exploration of the four marks of God’s love (Free, Total, Faithful, Fruitful) as explained in Humanae Vitae, and, for me anyway, it has been a good experience. We’ve explored the true fulfillment of hippy love. We’ve brushed up on our Latin and, consequently, our swag. We’ve even taken a sneak peak at what Pope Paul VI might’ve listened to while he was doing the dishes. As far as I can tell, it’s been relatively painless and fun for everyone involved.
However, when I sat down to write the fourth and final piece, I balked. It wasn’t writer’s block; I just hesitated to go there. The reason was simple: I want to be liked, I want people to continue to read my work, and, out of the 4 marks, this is by far the least popular. Oh, everyone loves the first three. Everyone wants to feel true freedom in love. Everyone loves the idea of the significant other who is all-in. No one wants to be discarded and replaced by someone else. But who on earth wants to think about kids, especially in the throes of passion? Why does reproduction have to enter into the picture at all? Even much of the hullaballoo in the feverish climate of this election year is directly related to this fourth mark. Whether it’s fast food, Forbes, or Facebook, our lives are inundated with issues of fruitfulness. The real problem is that most people don’t see the connection.
So, how does one write about this controversial issue, adequately putting it into the beautiful and illuminating light that it deserves, all in a thousand words? Well, for starters, I used up 288 of them just introducing it. The long intro is necessary, though, because we need more than just the sum to understand the equation. You can’t just read the last chapter of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and expect to know why the four coats were missing from the Professor’s house, or the last chapter of any vampire novel and know where the last six hours of your life went. I digress.
You could actually say that fruitfulness in love is, in a real sense, the culmination of the first three marks. If you are giving yourself freely, totally, and faithfully, then it follows that life will result. There are many varying degrees of this “fecundity”, to quote Humanae Vitae (and sound brilliant), from an overall vitality between spouses to inspiring holy marriages in people around them. However, though these forms of life are good and desirable offshoots, the ultimate end, and “supreme gift”, of spousal love is to image the love of God, namely sharing a love so fruitful and real that “nine months later, you have to give it a name.”(Scott Hahn).
In other words, human love, IF it is a participation in God’s love, should reproduce itself. It is no mistake that, 8 words after the creation of Adam and Eve, God tells them to “be fruitful and multiply”(Gn 1:28). And, to clear up any confusion, He was NOT telling them to grow peaches and do math. He gave them life, as the creative result of His love, and immediately tells them to do the same. In the first pristine moments of Creation, when all is “very good” and there is no tainted love, God gives the first commandment in all of Scripture: essentially, “Love like I do”. And though humanity quickly and consistently forgot His command, we were reminded once and for all in the words of Christ: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”(Jn 13:34)
This love that naturally creates is the fulfillment of Aquinas’ teaching that love is “willing the good of another”. Indeed, love is “other-centered”, but to the utmost degree, not merely concerned with “the other”, but SO other-focused that, in the exchange of persons, it actually creates an “other”. That is how powerful, and ultimately God-like, real love is, IF it is allowed to bear fruit. And, as usual, it all rests on the “if”.
Yes, the sexual urge is, at the core, a desire for intimacy and communion, but, IF it is not allowed to fully image the love of the One Who created it, then it is using the language of the body to promise something that it can’t deliver. To be truly godly, love must be in keeping with the created order, since creation itself is a direct expression of His love, and the act of sex is, in essence and nature, ordered toward creating life, sustaining it for 9 months, and introducing that life into the world.
This is clear in the fact that a man cannot experience the pleasure of an orgasm without bringing forth the possibility of creating life; for him, it’s the same moment, pleasure and creativity, love and responsibility. However, because of that very biological fact, if some aspect of the attempt at love is not free, total, or faithful, then any number of methods must be employed in order that gratification can be gain apart from the natural outcome: fruitfulness.
To clarify, this is not an attack on persons who find themselves participants in willful infertility; this is merely a comment on the nature of an act and its conformity to God’s love. We may desire and attempt real love, but real love is ordered to reproduce itself, and IF we won’t follow through on the demands of real love, our good intentions can only bring us to the threshold of intimacy, never truly into the bridal chambers. We limit ourselves to knocking on heavens door, but never being willing to step inside.
And believe it or not, heaven does come into play! Ultimately, everything boils down to intimacy with God, not the person we’re trying to love. Earthly love is intended to image God’s perfect love, not so that your spouse will know more about you or be closer to you or even love you more, but so that they know a deeper intimacy with their eternal Beloved and love Him with a fullness that carries them into eternity. This is the cry of the Psalms: “My happiness lies in you alone”(Ps 16) and “whom have I in heaven but you?…there are none on this earth that I desire besides you”(Ps 73:25).
This life is about participating in the love of our good and caring Father, not about gaining gratification. The ability to love in this body is a complete gift from the Creator, intended to be used in keeping with it’s created purpose. The ability to commune with others is meant to point each other to Him. And ultimately, even our celebration of thanksgiving (“eukaristo” in Greek) at Mass isn’t meant to be a jolly hangout of our own making; it is meant to be a communion of persons, a moment of intimacy that conceives and bears offspring in the world: “Go…make disciples” (Mt 28:?)
Brothers and sisters, let us begin to open each and every expression of love to the possibility of life. As it is with the first three marks of God’s love, we were made to participate in the life, the fruitfulness of God, and we will never be fully satisfied until we entrust our souls, spirits, and bodies to His perfect love. He longs to live in communion with you, giving you “life to the fullest”(Jn 10:10), and He is eager for you to give that life to the world!
“Forget about man-made religion, man! Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?”
We’ve probably been on at least one side of that question, possibly both. Before I left the Assemblies of God, I was one of the loudest and proudest when it came to purposefully shearing off anything that I decided was an “unnecessary religious trapping”. Everything was fair game for the cutting floor, from a disciplined prayer life to the necessity of holiness. In my staunch confusion as to the nature of grace, I adamantly opposed needing to apologize for sins on a regular basis, taking sides with the wretched tag line from “Love Story”: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” And you can bet your scapular I would have scoffed at differences of opinion in regards to which direction a priest (heretic) faced during a ritualistic, stuffy church service.
The transition from that airy theological background to the depths of Catholic thought was slow going, even after getting hired to work with Catholic youth (before I had converted, mind you). Then, it happened. During a casual conversation with my boss, Fr. Eric Hastings, about his then-recent decision to begin celebrating Mass “ad orientem”, or with the priest facing the same direction as the congregation, I questioned him about why he thought it was important. He said, “Well, you really need to read……..no……nevermind…(then came the dare)…You’re not ready, yet.”
I balked and stuttered, “Not ready for WHAT??? What do I really need to read?”
“Oh, just a book by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger called The Spirit of the Liturgy, but, really, nevermind. Forget I said anything”.
“Alright, I will.” I said, and walked straight into my office and purchased it. About a week, and 224 pages, later, I was as giddy as Lloyd Christmas. In one literary swoop, my entire approach to Mass had changed, or at least deepened. I truly felt as if B16 had led me by the hand to the outside of a Cathedral, smudged the fog from a window, lifted me up, and let me peer inside. What I saw waiting on the inside of what I’d considered to be mere ritual and possibly empty tradition was, to quote the same man: “intimate friendship with Jesus, on which everything depends.” (Preface to Jesus of Nazareth)
That’s right, friends; at the heart, or spirit, of every, single second of the Mass is the very same “personal relationship” that I’d once assumed was missing in the midst of the minutiae of Catholicism. In his book, our amazing Papa essentially takes us on a guided tour through the liturgy, or ”Disneyland of theology”, as I call it, making stops to tell the “why” behind the “what”. (Yes, you’ll be singing “It’s A Paul World, After All” for hours, but at least you get a thrilling ride on SpeSalvi Mountain!) As we cruise past various attractions, Baba Bene grabs the mic and gives a fuzzy-speaker history lesson of each, starting with worship:
“Man…puts God…into the light (and that is what worship is), when he lives by looking toward God.”(p20)
Boom. The heart of liturgy is worship, and worship is simply taking your eyes off of everything else around you and looking at Him, which finds its culmination in, “Behold, the Lamb of God. Behold, Him who takes away the sins of the world.” As the monorail begins moving, you’re still furiously taking mental notes, and you hear him in the background saying, “Liturgy implies a real relationship with Another, who reveals himself to us and gives our existence a new direction.” But there’s no time to ponder more because you’re already coming up on “The Altar”.
“Looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together at the Lord. ”(81)
If the Mass is liturgy “on the way”(50), then it’s silly for our lead parish pilgrim to be walking backwards at the most pivotal moments on the journey. I like face time with my friends just fine, but when my wife walks into a room, I want everyone to see her and forget I’m even there. How much more so when the Messiah arrives? But it’s time to listen as our guide expounds on what type of sacrifice happens at this altar…
“The common view is that sacrifice has something to do with destruction. What pleasure is God supposed to take in destruction? (27-28)
This God we’re falling in love with and fixing our eyes on, has NO desire to destroy anything we hold dear; that is not what sacrifice was/is about. Sacrifice is about redemption and healing. Our loving Father wants us to offer our lives on the altar with the Son’s to raise it to new life, spotless and without blemish, NOT to take away everything we love and have us on a kneeler until we die of exhaustion or old age, whichever strikes first. The tram pauses to let us see the heart of the Responsorial Psalm…
“In the psalm the hearer internalizes what he has heard, takes it into himself, and transforms it into prayer, so that it becomes a response.” (81)
So, during the Responsorial Psalm, we’re not supposed to let our minds go blank, pocket text, or catch a cat nap until we have to stand again? Instead of even trying as hard as we can to remember the words to the response, we should listen to the words of the verses, allowing them to seed, grow and bear fruit, so that when we DO get to sing again, it has meaning. If we let that sink in, the Psalm becomes MUCH more fun. There is no time to process as we speed our way to the final stop, but we hear snippets like:
“God seeks us where we are, not so that we stay there, but so that we may come to be where he is…” (123)
“ In these rites I discover that something is approaching me here that I did not produce myself, that I am entering into something greater than myself…” (165)
“The life of the liturgy does not come from what dawns upon the minds of individuals and planning groups. On the contrary, it is God’s descent upon our world, the source of real liberation.” (168)
Suddenly, the train stops, and nothing else matters but what your guide says next:
“The Consecration is the moment of God’s great action in the world for us. It draws our eyes and hearts on high. For a moment the world is silent, everything is silent, and in that silence we touch the eternal—for one beat of the heart we step out of time into God’s being-with-us.” (212)
There it is. Personal relationship. Intimate friendship. I am my Beloved’s and He is mine. Every kneel, nod, and response has been seamlessly wooing you to this moment. The buzzing distraction dies, the troubles are tossed on the altar for healing, space/time is rift, heaven kisses earth, and we have Immanuel, “God with us”. You find yourself blissfully thankful for the minutiae, the sacramentals, the rituals, the Traditions, the Rites, and the religion, because they safely and successfully brought you here, to consummation.
As you walk away from what you thought would be a casual sight-seeing tour, you realize you are desperate to actually experience these attractions, feeling a bit sheepish that you ever thought this place was boring. At least, that’s what happened when I read the book.
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In an attempt to stay plugged in to American culture while I live overseas for 16 months, I have regularly acquainted myself with the Billboard Top 40.
Not surprisingly, in reflecting on the love proposed by Humanae Vitae, the concept of faithfulness is glaringly absent from mainstream media and culture. Not that freedom, totality, and fruitfulness are overwhelmingly present either, but out of the top 40 singles in the U.S. right now, there are maybe 5 songs that even mention any intention of monogamy. Why the lack of commitment? Probably the same reason my guitar skills plateaued 15 years ago: commitment and discipline are harder than immediate gratification. Why practice scales when all I need are “three chords and the truth”, right? (Or so said country singer and song writer Harlan Howard.)
Faithfulness, a gift of self to one person forever, without rescinding and re-gifting, is unpopular because it generally has very little immediate payoff and it requires basically everything from you. Forever. And let’s face it, when immersed in a self-perpetuating market of immediately breakable and obsolete products, it can be difficult to see why should we view relationships any differently than we do our culture of disposable products.
After all, if Beyonce is right, and people are replaceable “in a minute” (“Irreplaceable” sat at #1 for ten weeks in its day), then where does JPII’s idea that we are all “unique and unrepeatable” fit in? The foot in the door is the fact that, beneath all our scrambling to “find new ways to fall apart” (Fun.’s “We Are Young“, currently #15) and become “wide awake”(Katy Perry at #2) to the apparent futility of relationships, we’re actually just putting bandages on the wounds that are a direct result from trying to live contrary to our created nature. Life becomes an endless chug-fest of Pepto-Bismol because of a 3-meal-a-day McDonald’s habit or daily blister care because you bought too-small shoes on the clearance rack.
If JPII and PVI are right, then each of us bears an intrinsic desire for faithfulness and we should be able to infuse healing and understanding into our culture by speaking to the illness, not merely the symptoms. What would that speech sound like? In some cursory ways, it would look like Jason Mraz’s current hit “I won’t give up” (chillin’ at #23), with statements like “I’m giving you all my love” and “I don’t wanna be someone who walks away so easily” and, yes, “I won’t give up”. On a slightly deeper level, this would sound like a resounding “YES”–fiat–an answer to the cries for fidelity found in Kelly Clarkson’s “Dark Side“(#40 in the UK):
“Will you stay/ Even if it hurts/ Even if I try to push you out/ Will you return?/ And remind me who I really am/ Please remind me who I really am.”
Later in the song, she pleads:
“Don’t run away/ Don’t run away/ Just tell me that you will stay/ Promise me you will stay”
Picture this: you, Jesus’ wounded and terrified Bride, kneeling next to Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, echoing the same words, pleading with Him not to run away; and, because real love is always faithful, He stays. He takes the whips, thorns, splinters, nails, and tomb out of love. It is in Christ’s choice to be faithful and to never leave or forsake, that we may see the deepest root of the illness we’re facing: we’ve forgotten–or haven’t been told–whose beloved we really, truly are.
The fraudulent love that media and mediocrity seeks may tell us who we should be (even offering us helpful “Steps to Keep Your Partner Happy and Satisfied!” suggestions) but these are always merely conjecture and bravado. The culture of lust says you’re only worthwhile as long as your desirable attributes last, which JPII tells us, “casts a permanent shadow over the relationship”; those lies shake people to their core with doubts as to their own dignity and worth.
So, instead of enjoying “She Likes Me For Me“(Blessed Union of Soul’s #8 hit in 1999), we now get “Somebody That I Used to Know“(Gotye at #6). All the while our Groom quietly and resolutely reveals to us who we are
through His unwavering faithfulness. His true love says to each of us, “I created no one else like you and you are forever worthy of my life and death.”
It is love of this high nature that we are called to; we have in our hands as Christians the responsibility to inform each soul that they are “someone willed by the Creator ‘for his own sake’” and that they are “unique and unrepeatable, someone chosen by eternal Love” (Theology of the Body lectures, 15:4).
In marriage, we have the opportunity to freely and totally give ourselves to a singular someone, who cannot be rivaled, thereby proclaiming the faithfulness of God to the world . This fidelity can be glimpsed in Journey’s “Faithfully”, Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up”, and yes, even in Bieber’s new “As Long As You Love Me” (#30, UK). This, however, does not fully seize upon the highest, deepest, and truest degree of love in the Eucharist and our Lord’s words: given up for you, shed for you.
It is in His eternal sacrifice, ever-available to us, that we see our real worth, for He deems us worthy of His flesh and blood at each Mass, regardless of our estimation of ourselves.
Brothers and sisters, may we as bearers of the Good News, fix our eyes on Him and begin to harmonize His truest of love songs in our every breath and by our every action. He taught us the melody very clearly when He said, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (John 13:34). Get plenty of rest, treat your vocal cords well, and work on breathing from the diaphragm, because we have quite the concert to give. As one great conductor wrote in his most famous encyclical Humanae Vitae, “…fidelity…can sometimes be difficult, but is always possible, always noble… [and] is a source of profound and lasting happiness.”
Take a deep breath. The curtain is rising.
Totus Tuus: a brief, yet brilliant play
(Christmas morning, eager child poised in front of tree with one large present, puffy-eyed parents on couch clinging to coffee mugs, How Deep Is Your Love plays softly in the background)
Child: Can I open it?
Mum: Certainly, dear, it’s yours!
(child rapidly tears through wrapping paper, exposing THE toy he’s always wanted)
Child: OMGoodness, Mum, it’s THE toy I’ve always wanted!!!!!!!!
Mum: We’re glad you like it, dear. (awkwardly glances at father, nudging him)
Dad: Um…..well…….son…..(coughs)…..we’re glad you like it, and it’s yours, we really, truly mean it. We’re glad to be able to give it to you. Er……there’s, ah, there’s just one thing.
(Child’s eager smile freezes with concern as his fingers dig into the box)
Dad: It’s just that, we’re going to need it back at some point. Oh, not….not TODAY or anything silly like that. Just….at some point in the future, we’ll need it back.
Child: But…but, I thought you GAVE it to me…
Dad: Of course we did, son, it’s all yours. Freely. Totally. For now, anyway.
(lights go down until
Nic the boy stands alone in a spotlight, head down, gripping THE toy, quietly humming his best Barry Gibb impression. Just then, the postman rings the doorbell, probably wanting cookies again…)
I can’t tell you how excited I was to stumble upon this piece of brilliant work by…um….Neil Simon! I was amazed at how perfectly it fit into this article, so I just HAD to use it. (If you enjoyed it, feel free to send checks in my name, which I will pass on to Mr. Simon.) “Totus tuus”, John Paul II’s motto, is Latin for “totally yours”, and is the second mark of God’s love laid out for us in Humanae Vitae. (That’s it for Latin today, because, if you’re at all like me, your grasp on Latin is basically reading coins in line at Savers and screaming “Carpe Diem” whenever I felt cooped up and too quiet at the coffee shop.)
The concept is quite simple: God’s love–therefore, true love– always gives to the fullest degree, completely, totally. Real love never holds anything in reserve, but instead makes itself a free, total gift. In contrast to Humanae Vitae‘s love, which enters into relationship “without undue reservations or selfish calculations”[rhyme!], so often, we approach relationships with the complete opposite mindset. We either launch ourselves headlong into a nebulous, un-defined, merely instinctive relationship (think “idiotic Meg Ryan bicycle scene” in City of Angels), or we baby step our way, one toe at a time, into a self-preservational arrangement, where every effort is made to protect the self. What the Church is urging us towards is a gift of self that HAS calculated the outcome, but with the ultimate good and well-being of the recipient in mind.
Not that this is easy, enjoyable, or comfortable. Something can be quite simple, but not easy (for me, it’s cooking eggs)(or even just browning meat)(I can’t cook). Something can be fully good and holy, yet not be “enjoyable” by most earthly standards. And as for comfort, well, B16 put it best when he said, “The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” And, as always, the prime example of this is Jesus’ actions toward us. He not only TOLD us that there was no greater love than to lay down your life, He then SHOWED us what total love looked like by doing just that. Philippians 2:7 tells us that, instead of giving in to the allure of sitting at the right hand of the Father at the throne, “rather, he emptied himself”.
So, what does this mean in your daily life? How do you live as a total gift? It starts in the little things, like taking Neil Simon’s playwriting pinnacle to heart. IF you’re going to tell someone you love them, and therefore be a gift to them, then be prepared to give everything to them. Let me say it again: be prepared to GIVE…..EVERYTHING…..to…THEM. Don’t insist on “me time” or “I just gotta be me”. Don’t compartmentalize your person, giving only parts away. If you’ve ever thought, “She can FOR SURE have my body, and maybe even some of my time, but she’d better not start wanting to spend every waking minute together or asking me for my money”, then your “gift” isn’t complete, and neither is your love. If you’ve ever thought, “He can have my body, but he doesn’t get my heart”, then your “gift” isn’t complete, and neither is your love. Basically, if you aren’t ready or safe to give 100% of yourself to the other person, then you should pump your brakes and ask God to show you why.
And, lest you think that this love is a sour-faced collage of misery, Humanae Vitae teaches us that someone wishing to love totally “loves not only for what he receives [that's the free love from last time], but for the partner’s self, rejoicing that he can enrich his partner with the gift of himself” (emphasis mine). That word–rejoicing–is a helpful key to understanding total love. Instead of besieging our significant other with lists of our “needs”, if we ask God to show us the true goodness of the other person, we will find ourselves more than eager to make a gift of ourselves to them. Even the smallest glimpse of someone’s deep worth is enough to convince you that the only real and honest response is to give to them (think Mother Teresa and basically ANYONE she came in contact with).
Love that is total, is ready to entrust the other person with it’s hopes, dreams, career, paycheck, time, emotions, and body. Love that is a complete gift has reckoned the other to be worthy of itself and acts accordingly. Can you see how amazing, powerful, and creative a relationship could be if BOTH parties involved embraced this love? (Think Mary and Joseph) (Totusly a real, candid picture of them)
Brothers and sisters, let us strive to love freely and totally. Let us set out to make our lives a total gift, holding nothing back. But, before we do, let us open our hearts completely to the total love of our Savior, receiving HIS gift, that we, “rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:17-19). (Yes, that verse basically says, “how deep is your love”.)(Next week, we cover the deep, mysticism behind “Stayin’ Alive)
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