Saturday, December 25, 2010
Here is my absolute favourite - which just so happens to have a Christmas theme.
Enjoy! And have a Merry Christmas and Blessed New Year!!!
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Friday, December 10, 2010
Due to the fact that I try to remain faithful to the spirit of the various liturgical seasons and keep my focus on them, I would rather not post on this matter at this time. The plan was to get this up before Advent began, but since the publication of an article somewhat related to all of this that I submitted to "Catholic Exchange" has been delayed and will come out in the middle of Advent anyway, and since one of my New Year's resolution is to stop engaging in these online debates, I decided I would complete my contribution with this series of posts.
In this post, I am attempting to summarize the main errors in West's theology, and what is most important, substantiate my points. A failure to do this is what Dr. Schindler was criticized for, and why Dr. Smith says West refuses to respond, or more to the point, says West is unable to respond and in fact has no obligation to respond. Since I will now provide citations from West’s work, including his magnum opus, Theology of the Body Explained, this can no longer be a valid reason. I have not yet decided, but if I believe this article would be a helpful contribution to the dialogue, I will mail copies to Dr. Schindler, Dr. Smith, Dr. Waldstein, and Sr. Lorraine.
A. There appear to be two main errors in West’s theological understandings at least in connection to Theology of the Body:
1) West’s understanding of purity, specifically his teaching on what he calls “mature purity”.
2) West’s understanding of shame and his teaching on being “naked without shame”.
According to West, the Church’s traditional teaching that men “avoid occasions of sin” by practicing “custody of the eyes” is merely an “initial step” on the path to sanctity.  Since the power of Christ’s redemption enables believers to experience a “liberation from concupiscence”, men should expect to move from this “purgative way” of exercising continence to the “illuminative way”  whereby they are able to look upon a woman, regardless of her state of dress, with a purely loving gaze and without putting themselves in danger of lusting.  For men who have reached this state of “mature purity”,  they can look upon the naked body purely and without shame,  just as Adam and Eve did and just as we would be able to do in heaven.
B. These beliefs appear to be rooted in two underlying theological deficiencies or errors:
1) The lack of any real sense of “positive shame”, which although he uses the term, seems to confuse it with negative shame such that practically speaking there is no positive shame; 
2) An overconfidence in the ability for grace to overcome the pull of concupiscence in this life, to the point where there no longer exist any occasions of sin. 
I will now proceed to further substantiate these.
Exhibit 1: Article from a Follower of West Advocating Christian Naturism 
This article (“Should We Look Away or Not Lust?”) on the popular website Catholic Exchange was written by James J. Simons, who claims to have “heard well over 100 [talks]” by Christopher West.  The article was posted by “Catholic Exchange” volunteer, Steve Pokorny, who is an ardent disciple of Mr. West. I believe the positions taken by Mr. Simons in this article are simply the logical conclusions of Mr. West’s theology (but which he is careful not to fully flesh-out in his presentations or writings). Included are selected comments from prominent lay people who were shocked and angered by this article and responded. It should also be noted that the university professor left unnamed in the article was actually Dr. Scott Hahn, and that the unnamed television program was EWTN’s Franciscan University Presents.
Genevieve S. Kineke is a Catholic mother who recently wrote the book, The Authentic Catholic Woman. The foreword of that book was written by Christopher West at her request. However, in response to the article by James Simons, Mrs. Kineke responded: “I am reading this with absolute astonishment, as though enough parsing of texts and clever citations are cause to abandon all common sense. No matter how lovely your friend’s wife is, you have no right to enjoy her intimate beauty. None. ... ‘Pride goeth before a fall’ … and I believe only pride could cause a man to think he was beyond temptation in this realm, especially since he’s naturally hard-wired to act on certain stimuli — Saint Francis knew this well, and humbly heaved himself into the thorn bushes rather than taking any chances.” 
Mary Kochan, who is Senior Editor for Catholic Exchange, seemed to change her mind after reading the article and responses as well. Kevin Tierney, who has written for some time about the problems he has seen in West’s teachings, wrote the following regarding the decision of Catholic Exchange to publish this particular article: “I do ... think this article crosses th[e] line. A particular condemnation in past writings by Popes used to condemn a writing as ‘offensive to pious ears.’ An article promoting nudism, and claiming that John Paul II’s Theology of the Body justifies it, certainly meets that offensiveness threshold.” Mrs. Kochan chose to respond to this protest by Mr. Tierney by stating the following: Steve Pokorny who is a volunteer associate editor with CE [Catholic Exchange] is a supporter of CW [Christopher West], and he has the job of filling the top two sections of the LOVE channel [on Catholic Exchange] with material from his large list of TOB [Theology of the Body] writers. However, I will tell you (without naming names) that not every writer he has used has remained approved for publication on this site. ... Now Steve has a lot of leeway because he does know the subject of TOB, however ... Catholic Exchange is not endorsing the viewpoint of this article. This is not my opinion and I don’t feel compelled to defend it. ... But I think it is better for this article to be here and be brought to light and argued against so well, then for it to be isolated on some TOB site where they [supporters of Christopher West] only discuss it among themselves [italics mine]. I think that those who recognize that some kind of breakdown in modesty and moral sense is going down here are on track. Now, the question is – is that just an infection from our sex-crazed culture or is it in CW’s (et al) [Christopher West and other followers, such as Fr. Thomas Loya, Steve Pokorny, and James J. Simons] approach to TOB? I honestly don’t know. 
Exhibit 2: Article from Mr. West (“A Pure Way of Looking at Others, Part I”)  and Excerpt from his Theology of the Body Explained (Pages 169-172)  on “Mature Purity” and “Shameless Nakedness”
West’s teaching on “mature purity” and being “naked without shame” are expressed quite clearly in these sources. From these articles, it is clear to see how Mr. Simons could come away with the understandings he has.
Exhibit 3: Excerpt from Theology of the Body Explained (Pages 150-151)  on “Shame”.
The roots of West’s teaching concerning “mature purity” and “shameless nakedness” as well as his “vulgarity” essentially stem from his understanding of “shame”. West specifically states that “positive shame” stems from “an innate need to protect the nuptial meaning of the body from the threat of lust” [emphasis mine]. However, this is an aspect of “negative shame”, which West seems to confuse with “positive shame”. Dietrich von Hildebrand, in his In Defense of Purity, taught that “positive shame” is not a “protection from lust” but rather concerns privacy and intimacy that must be protected even apart from any danger of lust. According to von Hildebrand, the “unveiling” of the body is such an intimate and personal act (like a secret) that it should be shared only with those closest to us, such as our spouses or our parents when growing up. 
Exhibit 4. “Custody of the Eyes” and “Mature Purity” According to Followers of West
A frequent contributor to the discussions that have taken place on various blogs regarding Theology of the Body has been a middle-aged woman named “Lauretta”. She has also stated she has listened to West over 100 times, “first in order to understand what he is saying and then in presenting them to others. We use his series for marriage prep.”  Lauretta has professed many of the same things Mr. Simons taught in his article and has even defended his positions.
According to Lauretta, “custody of the eyes is necessary – not to not look but to control how we look.  Regarding her understanding of practicing “custody of the eyes”, she states: “Now, Wade, I have stated on more than one occasion and in more than one discussion that I believe in custody of the eyes. I just don’t think that it necessarily needs to always be a turning away of the eyes but a purification of how one sees, especially under certain circumstances.” 
When I challenged her by giving her the Church’s traditional understanding, Lauretta responded, “I don’t know if the kind of continence I described is what has been taught by the Church, but if it isn’t I believe it is time it started being taught. We live in a culture that cannot count on the effectiveness of turning away any more. 
Not only is it archaic, but “it seems to me that the whole custody of the eyes – at least looking away – is tending to keep the woman or girl at the level of object. If you turn away are you not denying her personhood and acknowledging that she is an object to be feared?” 
Defending James, she stated, “What was is that James said that was so wrong? Was it his discussion of going to nude beaches?”  According to Lauretta, there was nothing wrong with this, because this “new method of continence” that she has learned from Mr. West “will give us the ability to go to the beach, or the mall, or wherever and not have to worry every moment about where our eyes are focused. We can watch everyone on the beach with a disinterested glance and not be tempted. ... If one or two people happen to be the source of a strong attraction, the heart is trained to immediately order this attraction properly and it will not become an issue. 
Mr. West is ... quite insistant [sic] that we must purify our hearts primarily through prayer and sacrifice so that we will see others in the fullness of their dignity and not have any disordered desire for them, no matter how they are dressing or acting. That seems to be promoting a higher level of virtue than looking away and complaining about how others are dressing or acting. 
I do not think it can be argued that both James and Lauretta have misunderstood West in the over 100 times they listened to him. Rather, it becomes clear, when listening to and reading West, that they have understood him perfectly well. They have just “filled in the blanks”, so to speak, and have stated explicitly the logical implications of what West publicly teaches and have taken them to their logical ends.
Catholic Psychotherapist Marshall Fightlin, responding to West’s teaching in this area in his article, “Theology of the Body and Two Bishops,”  counters with the traditional Catholic view: “It would be a serious mistake to think that the story of the two bishops is teaching us that there a stage of ‘freedom’ or ‘victory’ in the spiritual life at which custody of the eyes can be dispensed with. There the ‘not yet’ aspect of our redemption will have been absorbed by the ‘already’ aspect: While there certainly can be growth in the virtue of chastity, it is marked, not be a decreased need for custody of the eyes, but by increased ease in the habit of custody of the eyes. While initially it was laborious to avert one’s gaze, now it becomes almost second nature.”
A poster on the blog of Fr. Angelo Geiger named “Monica” mentioned two couples who are “pro-life, pro-traditional marriage Catholics who are considered to be leaders in 2 good dioceses.” The one family “who teaches ‘God’s plan’ [West’s DVD series] shared with us their graphic description of their love making which they share each morning with their 6 year old at breakfast.” The other family “who teaches it has recently taken it upon themselves to walk around the house naked and they have children 7 and under.”  An acquaintance shared with me that after the taping of “Franciscan University Presents” that Mr. Simons spoke of in his article, one man ran down the hallway dorm naked, and when asked what he was doing, responded, “I finally understand the Theology of the Body”, while a couple young ladies who had previously been discerning religious life decided they wanted to marry instead so they could experience “the mysticism of sex”. 
The anecdotal record is the strongest indicator that West’s teachings are dangerously erroneous.
Exhibit 5. “Lust” According to West Followers and the Problem of “Subtle Impurity”
Another problem with West’s teachings, which I call “subtle impurity”, stems from his skewed definition of “lust”. This is reflected in two of his followers who have contributed to the debate: Catholic wife and mother, Terri Kimmel, and Lauretta.
In the combox of Mr. Simons’ article, Terri Kimmel, who said Mr. West’s recordings played a large role in her return to the sacraments, gave the textbook definition and explanation that West’s followers all give: “Consenting to sexual attraction isn’t lust. Lust is an intent to use someone. Sexual attraction is a physical response. How do you ‘consent’ to that anyway? That’s like saying I’m consenting to the inclination to breathe. Lust is the intent or action of using someone for sexual gratification. It goes beyond sexual attraction. It’s okay to be sexually attracted to someone.” [emphasis hers] 
It is common for West’s followers to believe that experiencing sexual arousal while admiring a woman’s beauty is fine as long as one does not desire in one’s mind to have sex with that woman. This is contrary to the Church’s teaching that if you begin to experience sexual pleasure from someone other than your spouse and make the decision to continue to do or to look upon whatever is giving you that pleasure, you would be consenting and thus committing sin.
When I pointed this out to Mrs. Kimmel, she responded by comparing enjoying the beauty of a woman to enjoying the beauty of nature – something Lauretta did as well.  Mrs. Kimmel stated: “There is the pleasure of being in the presence of something sublimely beautiful that one can legitimately enjoy. ... It’s the enjoyment and wonder of God’s amazing creation, not unlike enjoying the season’s first snowfall or interacting with nature in any other way. Sexual attraction does not equal lust. ... It’s about using someone/something for sexual pleasure.” 
Here, you see that same definition used. Lauretta also seems to define “lust” this way: “What I hear being said by TOB people is that our lustful thoughts need to be redeemed, not repressed. This is done primarily by training oneself, through prayer, to see the fullness of the other person, their dignity and worth. To see them as God sees. If we strive to see that way, we then won't see a woman's body, we will see a person and if she is pleasing to the eye, will appreciate that beauty without desiring to possess it [italics mine]”. 
Once again, anything that does not consist of “the desire to possess” (in other words, “the desire to use them in a bodily way for sex”) is not lust.
To Mrs. Kimmel (and I could have just as well said the same to Lauretta), I replied: “Because of the power of sexual attraction and the ‘sex urge’ (as Wojtyla discussed in Love and Responsibility), one cannot simply enjoy a woman’s beauty the way he enjoys a sunset, unless it is his wife (and even then he has to be careful). God did not create the sex urge to attract us to sunsets or snowfalls. We cannot lust after the sun or snowbanks. It doesn’t take long before ‘admiring a woman’s beauty’ turns into lust, and what is more common with West’s followers, they are really ‘lusting’ even though they just ‘think’ they are ‘admiring the beauty of God’s creation’ when they ‘gaze with mature purity’ at women.” 
This is in fact what Lauretta’s husband seemed to do. Lauretta shared with me that her husband struggled with lust and watching pornographic movies for decades until “we heard about Christopher West and began listening to him. ... My husband listened carefully to what he had to say and began to implement what he said. ... He also came to understand through TOB that noticing a woman and that she was attractive was not wrong, that we are designed to see and appreciate beauty especially between the sexes. He came to understand that the disorder was in the subsequent desire to possess. That was hugely freeing for him”. 
Although I did not say this to Lauretta, it seems apparent to me that her husband may have “substituted” the satisfying of the “lust of his eyes” through this “new method of continence”. This defective definition of lust enables this. Lauretta said elsewhere: “If you are talking about arousal, that's one thing but if you are talking about being attracted to the sexual value of the woman that is another thing. Being attracted to the sexual value of someone of the opposite sex is normal. I believe it is a prerequisite for entering most seminaries from what I have heard. This was a fact that was very freeing for my husband. He was feeling so much guilt that he noticed another woman, thinking that because he was married, it was wrong”. 
Although I did not challenge Lauretta regarding all of this, I did challenge Mrs. Kimmel. After she responded “I disagree 100 percent” to my reply and added that it was indeed possible to look and not lust, I countered with the same general critique issued by Dr. Alice von Hildebrand after West’s “Nightline” appearance last year, when I stated: “Sure it’s possible. But how often does it happen in reality? According to West, those who study TOB and put it into practice can do so on a regular basis. According to the Catholic Tradition, few of the Saints ever got to this state, and those that did still practice custody of the eyes.” 
As Dr. Schindler stated, “West presents a problem for the Church, not because he lacks orthodox intentions, but because his unquestionably orthodox intentions render his theology, a priori, all the more credible.”  If West was teaching that abortion was morally acceptable or that polygamy was a legitimate practice, he would be rebuffed and discredited by the Catholic faithful. But because West’s errors are so subtle, because he appears on the surface to be thoroughly orthodox and fully “Catholic”, many of the faithful unwittingly accept everything he teaches as being the truth, whereas some of what he teaches is seriously erroneous. As Schindler stated, “I have no desire to see his project fail. My intention in this and my earlier statement has been to say enough only to identify problematic tendencies, which seem to me serious.” [italics mine] 
Exhibit 6 and 7: Miscellaneous
A. Christopher West’s Bedtime Prayers for Children 
I believe this demonstrates that Mr. West focuses inordinately on the body and sex, not only in his theology and presentations, but in his personal life as well, which is reflected in his theology.
[Chris Neff]: “Christopher West, perhaps the world’s leading expert on Theology of the Body, was our guest on Searching the Word the other day. He shared with us the prayer he and his wife pray every night with their children. He has given us permission to post it. Enjoy. +++”
Thank You Jesus for making Mommy to be a woman. Thank You for making Daddy to be a man. Thank You for bringing Mommy and Daddy into the Sacrament of Marriage.
Thank You for bringing (insert name(s) of children here) into the world through Mommy and Daddy’s love.
Help our boys grow into strong men ready to give away their bodies in love. Help our girls grow into strong women ready to give away their bodies in love.
If they are called into the Sacrament of Marriage, please prepare them for their future spouse. If they are called to give themselves entirely to Jesus and the Church as a priest or religious, please prepare their hearts for that. Amen
B. Quotation B: Fr. Thomas Loya, “Letter to ‘John’ – Part 1 of 2”. (Originally posted on Catholic Exchange on February 15, 2010, but since expunged, along with every one of his many articles, without explanation) 
Alright Look at her!! That’s right, look at her!! Look at her butt, her breasts, but don’t stop there. Look at every aspect of her magnificent femininity! Take her in completely and say, “How many are your works, O Lord, in wisdom you have made them all!” (Psalm 103). Say it immediately. Now get your mind on something else, sailor, NOW!” Then try this same technique on something else you find beautiful—a sunset, music, a car, whatever. Launch into the three part technique. Learn to develop an entire ethos of perceiving beauty and responding to it with prayer which means responding to it sacramentally or through the priestly vocation that all baptized Christians are called to.
C. Homepage of Fr. Thomas Loya’s Website (http://www.taborlife.org). A Christopher West follower and defender (whom West specifically mentioned by name and thanked in his “The Theology of the Body Debate: The Pivotal Question”), the homepage of Fr. Thomas Loya contains semi-pornographic images that I believe demonstrate a lack of a true understanding of Catholic purity, modesty, and shame, and is cause for scandal.
1. Christopher West: “A Pure Way of Looking at Others”. http://www.christopherwest.com/page.asp?ContentID=40
2. Christopher West: “The Theology of the Body Debate: The Pivotal Question”, Section 4 http://www.christopherwest.com/page.asp?ContentID=129
3. Christopher West, Theology of the Body Explained, Pages 170-171
4. “The Theology of the Body Debate: The Pivotal Question”, Section 3 http://www.christopherwest.com/page.asp?ContentID=129
5. Christopher West: “Authentic Art vs. Pornography”, Paragraph 2 http://www.christopherwest.com/page.asp?ContentID=46
6. Theology of the Body Explained, Pages 150-151.
7. This can be seen in the account of the conversation Dr. David L. Schindler recounted having with Christopher West in his initial critique, “Christopher West’s Theology of the Body” (Point #1). http://www.headlinebistro.com/hb/en/news/west_schindler2.html
See also West’s “The Theology of the Body Debate: The Pivotal Question”, where although he confesses the Catholic teaching, goes on to take the substance out of it.
8. James J. Simons: “Should We Look Away or Not Lust?”
[Note: Catholic Exchange has since replaced it with another article. You can see the original at:
10. http://www.freezepage.com/1288836788TFZDDCIZQH, Comment #37
11. http://www.freezepage.com/1288836788TFZDDCIZQH, Comments # 43 and 46
12. “A Pure Way of Looking at Others, Part I”
13. See link at Footnote 3.
15. See Fr. Angelo’s excellent summary in his blog article, “In Defense of Purity 1”
[Note: The Cosmos-Liturgy-Sex blog is no longer online. Article can now be found at:
http://www.freezepage.com/1287860618NCCZQRDRCO], Comment #61
17. http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2010/10/tob-response-to-dr-janet-smith.html, Comment #36
18. http://thomasfortoday.blogspot.com/2010/10/another-critique-of-edens-thesis.html, Comment #4
19. http://www.freezepage.com/1287860618NCCZQRDRCO, Comment #82
20. http://www.freezepage.com/1287860618NCCZQRDRCO, Comment #35
21. http://www.freezepage.com/1287860618NCCZQRDRCO, Comment #61
22. http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2010/10/tob-response-to-dr-janet-smith.html, Comment #69
23. http://www.freezepage.com/1287860618NCCZQRDRCO, Comment #70
24. “Theology of the Body and Two Bishops” (M. Fightlin) http://catholicexchange.com/2010/03/10/135053/
25. http://maryvictrix.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/where-i-am-at-right-now-with-theology-of-the-body/, Comments 14-15
26. Private Email
27. http://catholicexchange.com/2010/11/01/140186/, Comment #8
28. http://www.freezepage.com/1287860618NCCZQRDRCO, Comment #94
29. http://www.freezepage.com/1288836788TFZDDCIZQH, Comment #14
30. http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2010/10/tob-response-to-dr-janet-smith.html, Comment #69
31. http://www.freezepage.com/1288836788TFZDDCIZQH, Comment #25
32. http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2010/10/tob-response-to-dr-janet-smith.html, Comment #24
33. http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2010/10/tob-response-to-dr-janet-smith.html, Comment #63
34. http://www.freezepage.com/1288836788TFZDDCIZQH, Comment #31
Thursday, December 2, 2010
"Since I greet all the pilgrims, Croatian, and especially those from the parish of St. James Medjugorje! Your pilgrimage to Rome is part of the way of preparation for the coming of the Lord. Therefore, in hope, be evangelizers of God's love in your nation. May God bless you!"
The "Vatican-ese" here is pretty clear. Allow me to interpret ...
Medjugorjeans are being told that "coming to Rome" for Christmas is a "preparation" for how they will have to "come to Rome" in a pilgrimage of faith with the submission of their minds and wills in response to the impending negative declaration against Medjugorje.
The key is when he says that they must be "evangelizers in their nation" rather than "in the world". If the Vatican is on the verge of a positive declaration following the apostolic visit, he would have said the latter, not the former. After such a declaration, Medjugorje will no longer be a "universal phenomenon", and the members of St. James parish - including some of the "visionaries" - will no longer have a "universal audience".
The incredible thing about "Vaticanese" is that strong and substantial statements are made in short and seemingly trivial and equivocal sentences. The stronger the "accent", the harder it is to interpret; but although the accent here is quite "pronounced", I think it is still clear what the Pope is saying.
The last time Ratzinger spoke publicly about Medjugorje (in 1985 in "The Ratzinger Report"), it was not as clear as to where he stood. If I am properly understanding the Vaticanese, he is coming through loud and clear.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
In his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the relationship between eros – the desire for and seeking of personal happiness, and agape – selfless giving for the good of the other. Like the Pope, I see the need for a synthesis of the two and a greater balance between them. However, whereas the Pope was primarily addressing the World, I would like to primarily address the Church. I will do so in this series of three articles.
Paganism tended to inordinately exalt eros, or, as the pagans called it, “divine madness”. This can be seen in the fact that some religious rites consisted of sexual acts. In fact, the word “orgy” came from the Greek orgia, which literally meant “secret worship”. It can also be seen in the fact that the pagan gods were all very “sexual”. It is not surprising that the greatest of the Greek gods, Zeus, was also the most promiscuous, having fathered many of the other Greek gods by numerous different women.
With Christ, however, this would be turned upside down. Christ preached that the poorest were the richest, that death is the path to life, and that those who surrendered their liberty attained the greatest freedom. Christ also taught us, especially by the example of his life, that the greatest “pain” can become the greatest “pleasure”. With Christ, agape love attains a pre-eminence: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
However, this exaltation of agape did not denigrate eros. On the contrary, agape purified eros and exalted it higher even as it subordinated it to itself. It was a baptism of eros, so that the greatest act of agape would also become the greatest experience of eros. For Christ, it was through his greatest act of agape – His Passion and Death – that He experienced eros most intensely.
The Saints, when they described their mystical experiences, often spoke of sharp, penetrating, and even burning pains with intensity beyond anything they had ever experienced in the flesh. And yet, they reported that this pain had a most delightful sweetness to it. On the other hand, they also described their human suffering as being their greatest joy, to a point where they desired to suffer more and more. For the Saint, whatever state he is in, he is content (Philippians 4:11), and this is the “baptism” of eros and its “union” with agape.
Unfortunately, for “fallen man”, eros and agape tend to divide rather than unite, just as the differences between the sexes are meant to unite but often divide. For fallen man, he must go through a process whereby the two become united in complete harmony. Regarding eros and agape, the latter is often experienced as “pleasure-less pain”, while the former is experienced as “painless pleasure”. It goes without saying, then, that fallen man tends to exalt pleasure (which by nature he enjoys) and his pursuit of it to the detriment of agape (which is often experienced as pain, a thing disagreeable to his nature).
When Christ announced to the Apostles that He would brutally suffer and be unjustly killed by the leaders of his own religion, Peter “rebuked” him, and told him that as the “Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), He should experience eros, not agape. Peter was thinking as “fallen man” does and not as “God thinks” (Matthew 16:23). He had it backwards – as fallen man often does. Rather, the Son of God, who “came not to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:28), who had “nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20), who rode “triumphant” into Jerusalem on a donkey (Matthew 21:2-7), would be “enthroned” and “glorified” by being nailed to a Cross (John 3:14-15), where He would experience true eros through the most extreme agape.
Just like we too often do, the Apostles wanted to remain on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:33, 37a) or continue to gaze indefinitely at the glory of the heavens Christ ascended to (eros) (Acts 1:9-12). However, we are created in the image and likeness of God to love as He loves. And this is how He loves: The Father gives (agape) Himself to the Son, who receives (eros) that gift, and in turn gives (agape) Himself back to the Father, who receives (eros) the gift of His Son. So it goes for man: there is a time to “give” (agape) and a time to “receive” (eros), a time to weep (agape) and a time to laugh (eros), a time to mourn (agape) and a time to dance (eros) (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Likewise, after the eros of their “Sabbath rest” (Matthew 17:1a), God made the Apostles descend from the mountain and return to the agape of their hard and often painful “work” of evangelization.
The Mass is the “source and summit” of the Christian life. It is the source from which “grace is poured forth upon us” and we are drawn “into the compelling love of Christ” and “set on fire” through the Eucharist (eros). But soon after we are dismissed with the word, “Go” – go back to the world and “give” (agape) what you have “received” (eros) here, go back to your crosses, go back to your work, go back to sowing in tears (Psalm 126:6a). Do not remain here at the font of grace, as tempting as that might be. Then, after you have laid down your lives as I have and given (agape) yourself away to my children and your brothers, come back full of joy next Sunday and you will receive (eros) from your Father every good “gift”, you will “reap in joy” (Psalm 126:6b), for this is the summit toward which all your “apostolic works” are ultimately directed (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10; Lumen Gentium, 34).
It is the same with marriage, where we go forth from the marital embrace (eros) to the carrying of our crosses and the dying to ourselves in the daily trials and challenges of married life (agape). It is the same with “the element of life” – water. The seas “give” themselves (agape) through evaporation to the skies which “receive” (eros) its water; the skies in turn “empty” themselves of water vapour (agape) through precipitation in order to replenish and “fill” the seas (eros). And so it is for all of nature, in all human experiences, and for all created things, just as it is in God.
However, we live in an age of a “new paganism”, where “erotic” pleasure is exalted over sacrificial love, where man more and more “takes” from the earth without “giving” back, and where Christians are very much “of the world” (John 17:14), failing to use the things of the world as though they possessed them not (1Corinthians 7:29-31).
It is no surprise, then, that the Mass, which is the “source and summit” of the Christian life, has been transformed from a “sacrifice” to a “celebration”, where the crucifix has been replaced by the “risen Christ”, and where the penitential and adoring gesture of kneeling has been supplanted by the “joyful posture of standing” that is more befitting of an “Easter people”. But without the sorrow of Lent we cannot experience the joy of Easter. And without the Cross, there is no Resurrection. That is why the true Christian, like St. Paul, was “content in all things” – if called to “give”, it is an opportunity to “boast in the cross of Christ” (Galatians 6:14) and be “strengthened by our weakness” (2Corinthians 12:9); and if called to “receive”, it is an opportunity to experience the breadth, length, depth, and height of God’s love in all its glory (Ephesians 3:17-19). Thus, whether we are called to “receive” (eros) or called to “give” (agape) – and we will be called to a good measure of both – we will “count it all joy” (James 1:2).
In many popular presentations of the Theology of the Body today, the influence of this “new paganism” is discernable. Much is said about “Carmelite spirituality”, but almost always, the raptures and ecstasies (eros) are spoken of to the near or full exclusion of the dark nights of purgation (agape).
For my Christian Spirituality course at Steubenville, I was required to read Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross and The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila. The “former” spoke of how praying through desolation (agape) actually increased grace and did more for the soul than praying through consolation (eros). The latter repeated, over and over, that as beautiful as these mystical experiences might be, the reader was warned, in no uncertain terms, against desiring these “gifts” at all, and was told that it is far greater to “receive” none of these “gifts” but simply to pray because God wills it (agape). What was repeated, over and over – in fact, one might say it was the theme of this book – is that what matters is not the receiving of mystical gifts (eros), but rather, bringing one’s will in conformity with that of God’s (agape).
I was also struck by how at each and every stage of spiritual growth, in each mansion of the Interior Castle, the mystics experienced the cross (agape). The trials did not end at the seventh mansion; in fact, at times, they increased. But so did their love, which allowed them to transform their moments of agape into experiences of eros.
After reading these profound works, I desired not the great mystical gifts and spiritual experiences of eros that some Theology of the Body presenters promise us; rather, I desired to do God’s will and pray for His sake, not my own (or as my professor asked rhetorically, “do you want the consolations of God or the God of consolations?”). This, to me, was what I believed St. Teresa and St. John were clearly trying to teach their readers. It can happen that a Theology of the Body presenter can simply pick up the idea of “mystical ecstasy” from snippets and quotations found here and there rather than reading Teresa and John in toto. The latter would go a long way to correcting this imbalance.
We must be careful not to take our focus off the cross and off those “dark nights of purgation” for too long. Why? Because almost without exception, we are still in the first few mansions, and not in the seventh like St. John or St. Teresa. Unlike the Saints in heaven, we still sin; we must still kneel at Mass; we must pull ourselves away from the glory of the transfiguration on Mount Tabor because we have a great deal of work to do in the valleys – including the work of our salvation, which we labour at “with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:13). In fact, the mystics themselves did not spend all their time gazing at the Lord’s transfigured glory even in the seventh mansion. They received these mystical experiences with gratitude, then humbly went back to their “work” and the “humdrum” of everyday life at the monastery.
Like the Prophets and like the Saints, who “imitated Christ”, we, like sons in the Son, are called to accept everything, both eros and agape, as from the hand of a loving Father and Creator. We are called not just to experience pleasure (eros), but to also embrace pain (agape) and even intentionally make it a part of our lives (penance, fasting, abstinence, etc.). It is thus that eros and agape will gradually unite in us like it has in Christ and His Saints. Thus we will be filled with the Holy Spirit, who Himself is that exchange of “Love”, being simultaneously “given” and “received”, thus making Him the perfect union of eros and agape.