Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Theology of the Body Debate: III. Conclusion

VI. “And He Is Divided”

In my article series on Medjugorje – Discerning the Spirits, in Part VI, Section 4.A. (found here: http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2010/08/discerning-spirits-vi-satans-motives.html), I spoke about the phenomenon of “lay ministry”, and how many popular Catholic figures and “speakers” are getting so busy with their work in the Church that they neglect their duties as husbands and fathers (because many of them have chosen to marry instead of taking a vow of celibacy, which would be more suited to the path of ministry they chose). I would refer you back to that section and recommend you read it before continuing.

Rosalyn R, a poster on CAF, who says she is a “certification student at the TOB Institute” and has “attended one week long class with Christopher West at the TOB Institute”, said the following about his sabbatical: “I'm glad to see that he is taking a break and reflecting. He has a large family and is away from them frequently giving talks.” [emphasis mine]

In this whole controversy, what I think is the biggest problem is what Rosalyn points out. And I believe that is the main issue Mr. West needs to address. He needs to spend more time with his family, if I may be so bold to say. As I will argue in And He Is Divided, I do not believe that a man truly called to evangelize on such a wide scale, who is truly called to be an itinerant preacher, would be called to married life rather than celibacy. All of the great men called to important missions and to evangelism in the past were celibate monks, nuns, and priests. Even Protestant John Wesley mandated celibacy for itinerant preachers. These are the conclusions one arrives to when immersed in a hermeneutic of continuity.

As I said on the forums, “I know many lay ministers who get so busy ‘saving souls’ that they neglect their wives and children. I know one man whose wife recently left him because of this. He got an award a few years back for all his ‘work in the Church’. It is a scandal that he was ever given this award - but so many Catholics (even Catholic leaders) today really think men who serve the Church, even at the expense of their children and marriages, are doing a great ‘work for the Lord’. This is a common error in the Steubenville / charismatic crowd. In fact, some of the theology professors are examples of it (I won't go any further on this point). This is an example of the ‘Protestantization’ of the Church. Our defence for married lay ministers (and permanent deacons with young children) who get busy like this are the same arguments used by Protestants in defence of a married clergy. Is it any wonder, then, why so many on these forums are calling for a married priesthood?”

Mr. West, I would humbly submit, based on the fact that he is a gifted evangelist, may very well have been called to celibacy. And indeed, what a great witness it would have been to have someone living out the pinnacle of Theology of the Body – the eschatological sign and witness of celibacy – after having been “fully redeemed” from a sexually-repressive cult and his subsequent reaction by indulging in fornication and pornography. However, as I will argue in And He Is Divided, when one has been sexually active, it is very difficult to then embrace a celibate call if God attempts to call that person. As married people on the CAF constantly remind us single people, “once you’ve had it, it is a lot harder to live without it.”

The other problem I see with this – and this will be included in And He Is Divided as well – regards the subject of “Catholic celebrities”, and the negative impact this may have on young men being inspired or attracted to a priestly vocation. On the CAF forum, I wrote: “The problem is, the more young men see these chastity speakers traveling the country and teaching audiences of thousands and reaching tens of thousands before going home to their wives and children, being a celibate priest in a small parish of 200 families seems a lot less ‘important’ [or comforting] (yes, celibacy is still a pretty huge ‘sacrifice’ - despite the fact (actually because of the fact) that it is the “higher” call). What West is doing seems like a pretty attractive ‘gig’ in comparison”. I wrote elsewhere that “I really do believe that will allure some (not all, of course, or even most) away from a possible priestly vocation. At no other time in the Western Church (the Eastern practice is a whole different ball of wax) could a person have his cake and eat it too to this degree (ministry [including ordination] and family life), and do so licitly (most priests in the twelfth century had concubines, but this was, of course, immoral).”

However, the part such young men who aspire to the “Catholic speaking circuit” seem oblivious to is that “pride goes before a fall”, as Solomon wisely prophesied (Proverbs 16:18). The crowds who feed on the every word of these Catholic speakers, who give standing ovations, who solicit and take advantage of photo-ops with these “celebrity” speakers and post them as their profile pictures on Facebook for people to comment on and “ooh” and “aah” over (because of that person’s “increased status” due to being “associated” with someone famous – this is all Hollywood mentality, not Catholic, by the way), get “puffed up” with pride. I have met some of them – and there is one very popular speaker in particular who is among the most smug and arrogant men I have ever personally met (although there are TV personalities that I have not met personally who come across as even more arrogant). This is a scandal and another of the Church’s dirty little secrets that remains a pink elephant. I spoke about all of this in Discerning the Spirits – my series on Medjugorje – in Part VII, paragraphs 3 and 4, for any reader who would like to refer to that. http://wademichaelstonge.blogspot.com/2010/08/discerning-spirits-vii-gods-motives.html.

VII. Conclusion

Ms. Eden stated the purpose of her thesis was as follows: “I decided to assess his presentation and prominent critiques. My goal was to offer positive correctives that would help catechists give a fuller, deeper, and more accurate presentation of Church teachings on marriage and sex.” (3) I too have sought to do likewise, and my purpose for contributing this piece was to point out certain things that I believe have been missed, as well as “bridge” the two sides of the debate as I saw a synthesis between the two where others were only seeing opposition.

What was intended to be a 10 page piece has turned into a document as long as Ms. Eden’s thesis. As every writing project, this took a lot out of me, and I will now have to “recharge my batteries”. To everyone who has read and benefited from this piece, I ask you for a brief prayer to Mary, our Mother, whose birth we celebrate today. “Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ”.


  1. Wade, I sent you a Facebook message thanking you for your thoughtful and intelligent commentary.

    But just now as I started to read your blog post more carefully, I see an area of irreconcilable difference.
    What is this about the Yankees being compared to Lucifer's minions? Did I tell you I'm originally from New York? That I have fond memories of my father taking me to Yankee Stadium? (even though you might consider that the descent to hell). That even though I have lived in Boston for 28 of my 34 years in the convent, I have stubbornly and persistently refused all attempts to convert me to being a Red Sox fan? (despite intense pressure at times)? That every time I drive past Fenway Park I have dark thoughts about the team that plays there (and sometimes choice words)? I could go on, but I hope I've made it clear there are some things we will never agree on....

    Sr Lorraine

  2. Wade,

    While searching your weblog, I do not see an area to contact you. Perhaps it is my eyes overlooking it.

    Would you be so kind as to email me? I have some lengthy thoughts on what you have written, and they cannot really fit in the comboxes.


    Kevin M. Tierney

  3. Oh, Sister Marianne - yet another religious sister who cheers for the Yankees. I hope the Visitation Team took note of this scandal as well as the "little" problem of novitiate houses in New York state "corrupting" young minds by forming them into new fans (I know this happens).

    But although you have lost a great deal of respect in my eyes due to this revelation, the fact that you grew up in New York most likely makes your ignorance "invincible". Then again, since you have had numerous children of the light in Boston attempt to share with you and open your eyes to the truth over the past 28 years, your "stubborn refusal" to submit your will may put you in great peril. I just pray that if heaven turns out to be a big "Fenway Park in the sky", that you will not continue in your obstinance and insist that God allow you to go to the "other place" ;)

    You are correct about one thing - this is an irreconcilable difference.

  4. When I think of Boston and New York, a familial imagery comes to mind.

    I visited a friend, and was playing with his son. His daughter kept saying "HEY, HEY, HEY" demanding attention, but everyone always played with the son instead because he was far better.

    That's Boston and New York. NY wins all the championships, while Boston and her fans scream "HEY, HEY, HEY, I'M RELEVANT!"

    Meanwhile The Yankees just simply reply "/scoreboard pal" :p

    Of course, being a Michigan native, I'm a Tigers fan. You know that there is baseball outside of NY and Boston right you two? ;)

  5. Hello Wade,
    Well, if heaven really is a big Fenway Park in the sky, I'll swallow my pride and cheer for the Red Sox! But did you ever consider that it just might be a giant Yankee Stadium...?

    I still need to read your blog posts more carefully. I think you are onto something, though, with your thesis that C. West is an evangelist who is very good for those who are hearing the message for the first time or in the early stages of hearing something different from what the culture offers. I like the way that you evaluate his work from that perspective.
    God bless you!
    PS We are having a visit from the apostolic visitors this month, so I'm sure that they'll catch on .....

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  7. Sister, it seems I still have a ways to go before I reach the spiritual maturity you have attained, because I would have to spend a great deal of time in purgatory being transformed by God's love and humbled by his mercy before I could enter into the Kingdom. But glad to hear Rome is finally going to come straighten things out - it's about time.

    Oooh, Kevin. That hurts. And it hurts because nothing stings more than the truth. But such comments hurt a lot less after WINNING the World Series in 2004 AND 2007. I will repeat: it doesn't hurt as much now since we WON the World Series TWICE in the last decade.

    I think we are both aware that there are other teams in Major League Baseball. They are just of little significance compared to the Sox and Yanks ;)

  8. Sr. Lorraine, thank you for your feedback on my point about West as "evangelist" vis-a-vis "catechist". I just received an email from Prof. Smith, who is paying close attention to your blog, and I told her that I was going to use your blog as the place where we would hold these "dialogues", and that I would be encouraging other bloggers to do so as well. Hopefully Ms. Eden will continue to post. I told Prof. Smith I hope this will become a fruitful dialogue that will begin to resolve this issue.

  9. How many serious theological discussions end up degenerating into bantering over a sports rivalry? I LOVE IT! These are the kinds of theological debates I like!!

  10. "But such comments hurt a lot less after WINNING the World Series in 2004 AND 2007 after our star players shot themselves full of drugs because they couldn't cut it on their own"

    Well said Wade, I agree completely. ;)

  11. Clemens, Pettitte, Rodriguez, et al. Oh, and let's not forget A-Rod chopping the ball out of Arroyo's hand in Game 6 on his way to 1st after his little infield dribbler. That was pretty "bush league"!

  12. Wade,

    Thank you for pointing people to Sr. Lorraine as I agree with you that she is on to something and in the spirit of love that we should all be trying to stay in.

    There was something I wanted to point about a man working for a living. There are many men, who are not speakers or writers or evangelizing, that are travel for work.

    Many of them have to work long hours. I have a friend who is a heart surgeon and he has missed birthdays, school plays, family gatherings and more because of emergency surgery's.

    Speakers are able to pick their schedules, doctors or other careers can not. Catholic Speakers can have family attend events so that when they are "at work" they have their family with them, other careers to not afford this.

    As a Catholic Speaker, I have taken my entire family to wonderful family events that I was a speaker at. What a fortifying experience to have our kids see other families living out their faith as we are trying to do.

    When a speaker attends a Catholic event, there is usually mass and adoration or other wonderful Catholic speakers there. So, we are being evangelized to continue to live our faiths as well.

    I realize balance needs to be in a person's life however, just because someone is a speaker or writer, does not mean they can not have a healthy family life.

    At all of the courses that I attended at the Theology of The Body Institute, Christopher's wife and children were present. They attended mass, they ate with us. His parents even attended more than once.

    Speakers and teachers are able to control their schedule and sometimes the venue to some degree. Christopher lives just a few miles or less from the retreat center where the courses are. This is so his family can be first.

    Even when Christopher was the main presenter, he did not spend his entire day and night at the retreat center, he went home, much like all the other working husbands and father's do at the end of the work day.

    When a speaker gives 3 or 4 presentations in a one month period, he may be home the entire rest of the month. So if there are 30 days in the month and he is speaking 6 to 8 days a month, that still gives him almost 3 weeks home with his family.

    A professor at Franciscan obviously would be different because they would have courses, papers, students, University hours on top of family life and speaking but this is not the case for Mr. West.

    I just thought I would let you know this as you might have not been aware of it.

    Thank you again for your insights and dialogue, it is refreshing to see that some people are trying to accomplish something rather than sling mud.

  13. Thank you for the post, Christina, and for explaining things from the perspective of one who has personally experienced being on the "Catholic speaking circuit" (or just "speaking circuit").

    Regarding men who work for a living and have to travel for work, I see a key difference (though, admittedly, sometimes it is not the case with workaholics). With men who work for a living, their work is generally ordered to their family and providing for them, and given the choice, they would rather be with family. With Catholic speakers, it "can" happen that "working for the Lord" and "saving souls" becomes a higher priority, and seen as a "more important work" than, say, reading bedtime stories to one's children, or taking the family out for a picnic. So it is almost like they are choosing the ecclesial "family" (the Church) over their own natural family. I have seen this with many permanent deacons and also, as you read in my Medjugorje article, the man who was given an award by a Catholic organization but whose wife left him because he neglected his family for the "ecclesial family".

    So for a man who truly orders his job to his family, the children will see their father who has to travel for work as doing it out of love for their children. Children understand that I think. However, children see parents who are involved in ministry in a different way - they get (rightly) jealous because the "spiritual children" get "placed above" them. Wives of Protestant pastors often feel like their husbands are "more married to the Church than me", and I have heard wives of permanent deacons make the same complaint (some who have also left their husbands for the same reason).

  14. Speakers may be able to pick their schedules, but it is hard to resist the temptation to spend more time doing it and value it more when you see the "amazing work" that you are doing (souls are being saved, people are embracing chastity, etc.). It is a temptation that many cannot resist.

    Speakers can sometimes have their families attend events, but sometimes they cannot. It can also happen that children may get "pressured" into spending time at these events when they would rather, say, play on a ball or soccer team or play piano and attend recitals. Or, by default, they may have to because "dad cannot be there to take you to the games because he is speaking; wouldn't you rather go to a conference dad is speaking at anyway? There will be Mass and Adoration, some of your friends will be there, etc." (correct me if I am wrong in any of this). I would say the children too can perhaps sense selfishness rather than love in their parents, even more than the surgeon who gets called into work.

    Could it sometimes happen, then, that if a speaker's family is always in attendance, this is the only way to ensure the family spends time together? Might the children rather do other things (sports, music, etc.)? My concern is that this is what Protestant ministers sometimes do - they are essentially tending to their "Church family" as first priority, so they involve their families in their ministries so they can spend time with them.

    Most professors at Steubenville do not do public speaking, and probably work no more than 40 hours a week; those that do speak stretch themselves very thin, as I spoke of (probably too candidly) in my piece on Medjugorje.

    But I appreciate your insight, because who knows? I may be a speaker someday. I have resisted the notion (for the above reasons), but I am open to it (although I would not want to speak more than once a month). Then again, I am still single, so I'm pretty much free to do whatever until Miss Right comes along ...

    I appreciate this compliment: "Thank you again for your insights and dialogue, it is refreshing to see that some people are trying to accomplish something rather than sling mud." That is why I can only stomach so much time on the Catholic blogosphere! I fully intend to keep my blog free of "caustic" comments and statements. We are, after all, called to be an "Easter people" filled with hope!