Category Archives: Virtue

“We’re FREE!” & miserable: women & hookups

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-by Anne Maloney

“A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.”
∼ Henry David Thoreau, Walden

“…The young women I encounter every day on the campus of the university where I teach are worse off than the Stanford University victim, because they do not know what has gone wrong in their lives. Nonetheless, something has gone terribly wrong, and on some level, they know it.

In thirty years of teaching, I have come to know thousands of women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six. These women are hurting. Badly. Consider these examples from “the front lines”: a young woman says to me with all earnestness, “This weekend I went to my first college party, and I hit it off with a guy so we went into the back bedroom where the coats were and started kissing, but then he reached down, moved my panties aside and penetrated me, so I guess I’m not a virgin anymore.” Another young woman came to me in tears because her doctor told her that since she has genital warts, she may have trouble conceiving children in the future. She had always assumed she would get married and have a family someday. “And the worst part is,” she wailed, “I’m not even promiscuous. I’ve only had sex with six guys.” This young woman was nineteen when she said this to me.

Once, in a writing assignment about Socrates and the Allegory of the Cave, a student wrote that she decided to make better choices after she woke up one morning in a trailer, covered with scratches, naked, next to a man she didn’t remember meeting. At least she knew there was a problem. All too often, these women come to me in a state of bewilderment. Women have never been more “sexually liberated” than these women are, or so they are told. No more are they shackled by ridiculous bonds like commandments, moral rules, words like “chastity.” They shout: “We’re free!” Yet they whisper: “Why are we so miserable?”

It is no coincidence that the top two prescribed drugs at our state university’s health center are anti-depressants and the birth-control pill. Our young women are showing up to a very different version of “college life” than that of the previous generation. One woman, while in her freshman year, went to her health center because she feared she had bronchitis. In perusing her “health history,” the physician said, “I see here that you are a virgin.” “Um, yes,” she responded, wondering what that fact might have to do with her persistent cough. “Would you like to be referred for counseling about that?” This student came to me to ask if I thought she should, in fact, consider her virginity—at the age of eighteen—a psychological issue. (I said no.)

In a seminar I teach every other year, we discuss the ways that addiction reveals certain truths about embodiment. One of the books we discuss is Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story. The students adore this book, and we have fascinating conversations in class. The chapter that generates by far the most passion, however, is the chapter on drinking and sex. Knapp speaks honestly about the key role that alcohol played in her decisions to have sex, sex that she regretted and that made her feel terrible. My students resonate deeply with Knapp’s experiences, and I continue to be struck by how unfree these students feel. Once the culture embraced non-marital sex and made it the norm, women who do not want to have casual sex often feel like outcasts, like weirdos. College is the last place where one wants to feel like an utter misfit; couple that with the fact that first year students are away from home for the first time—lonely, vulnerable, insecure—and you have the recipe for meaningless sexual encounters followed by anxiety and depression.

Why don’t these women just stop it? Rather than get drunk in order to have casual sex, why don’t they put down the glass AND the condom? The world we have created for these young people is a world which welcomes every sort of sexual behavior except chastity. Anal sex? Okay! Threesomes? Yep. Sex upon the first meeting? Sure! Virginity until marriage? What the hell is wrong with you?

I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the reason so many college-aged women binge-drink is so that they can bear their own closeted sorrow about what they are doing. The woman who got drunk and got raped behind the dumpster is the victim of a toxic culture. But my students are also the victims of a toxic culture. Small wonder that the number of women suffering from eating disorders, addiction, anxiety and depression is at an all-time high.

They end up in a stranger’s bed with a bad headache, a dry mouth, and an incalculable emptiness. An entire generation of women is wounded yet unable to find the source of the bleeding. There is, indeed, an “unconscious despair” behind their “games and amusements.” They “hook up,” feel awful and have no idea why. It’s hard to heal when you don’t know you’ve been damaged. And the despair and shame that these women who hook up feel is real. Contemporary sexual culture is toxic for young women, and until women stand up and acknowledge that fact, despair, sadness and regret are going to be the underlying chord structure of their very lives. We fail an entire generation when we withhold from them the “wisdom not to do desperate things.”

Love & prayers,
Matthew

Sex as Summum Bonum?

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“To think sex is repulsive is a failure of true chastity and a moral defect.” ( S.T., II, II, 142) -St Thomas Aquinas, OP

Is sex the “greatest good”?  Certainly, it is a great good.  WOOT!!  WOOT!!  Ask any healthy adult person!!  Amen.  And, a gift from God!!!  But, heresy, I know, is it the GREATEST good, the Summum Bonum?  Our bodies may tell us “HELL, YEAH!!!”  Any flavah!!!  Any kind!!  Sky’s the limit!!  It’s ALL for US, baby!!!  The kinkier the bettah!!!  The weirder the bettah!!!  Marquis de Sade, eat your….whatevah, OUT!!!!  ALL 4 US!!!  HAhahahahahaha!

It has a purpose?  A reason?  Not just fun?  It’s supposed to be used for something?  Crazy talk.  Crazy.  There’s a plan?  An intention?  A reason?  WutchU talkin’ ’bout, Willis?  WutchU talkin’ ‘BOUT?????

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Animals crave sex, food, warmth, comfort, security, safety, etc., ALL the “creature comforts”.  Of course, silly.  Wait…what?  Why are you asking such a ridiculous question, Matt?  Matt, you pull out some doozers, but this is a DOOSIE!!!!  Matt!!!  How DARE you question the ULTIMATE TRUTH!!!  This is what we LIVE for, Matt!!!  Take the keyboard AWAY from that man!!!  He really has LOST IT NOW!!!

But, even accepting the theory of evolution, or its future cousins, plainly, faith and reason, fides et ratio, is sex the GREATEST good?

“So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.”  -Gen 1:27

The Catholic Church is often maligned as HATING SEX!!!!!  I can assure you, NOTHING could be farther from the truth.  I come out of Moral Theology seminars at the St John Bosco Conference at Steubenville University shouting to every young person I meet, “The Catholic Church wants YOU to have AWESOME SEX!!!!”  It does!!!  It truly does.

But, (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?), it does NOT want you to be merely an animal.  You, as a human being, are MADE in the IMAGE & LIKENESS of G O D, H I M S E L F!!!!!!!  WOW!!!  WTF???? = Well, that’s fantastic!!!!  Wdtm??? = What does that mean???  Ah, the rub.  Now we’re getting somewhere, aren’t we?  Or, maybe you ARE just an animal???  I guess that’s up to you, but, last I heard, notwithstanding the cuteness of “all good doggies go to heaven”, a gentle answer for a child bereft of their favorite pet, not too many mentions of animals in Heaven??  🙁

So, if you DON’T want to go to Heaven, then go ahead, be an animal.  It’s NOT ALL GOOD.  🙁  But, if you DO want to go to Heaven, then, maybe, just maybe, that “IMAGE & LIKENESS” stuff has implications??  No matter HOW MUCH you gotta scratch that itch?  Maybe??

Can’t we just say “Thanks, God.  We’re outta here!!!” with that image & likeness stuff??  Can’t we?   Well,…no.  Darn!  You mean that stuff has implications?  Consequences?  Responsibilities?  Entanglements?  Requirements?  Such a great gift?  Really?  Really.

Summum bonum (Latin for the highest good) is an expression used in philosophy, to describe the ultimate importance, the singular and most ultimate end which human beings ought to pursue. The summum bonum is generally thought of as being an end in itself, and at the same time containing all other goods. In Christian philosophy, the highest good is usually defined as the life of the righteous, the life led in Communion with God and according to God’s precepts.

Saint Augustine states, clearly, God is the Summum Bonum in De natura boni (On the Nature of Good, written circa 399). Augustine denies the positive existence of absolute evil, describing a world with God as the supreme good at the center, and defining different grades of evil as different stages of remoteness from that center.

Experience soon teaches that all desires cannot be satisfied, that they are conflicting, and that some goods must be foregone in order to secure others. Hence the necessity of weighing the relative value of goods, of classifying them, and of ascertaining which of them must be procured at the loss of others. The result is the division of goods into two great classes, the physical and the moral, happiness and virtue. Within either class it is comparatively easy to determine the relation of particular good things to one another, but it has proved far more difficult to fix the relative excellence of the two classes of virtue and happiness.

The only moral sexual act is natural marital relations open to life. But even if a married couple were to video tape their sexual acts for their own use, without distribution to third parties, such creation and use of pornographic material would not be moral. The marital act is inherently intimate and private, and should not be recorded for any purpose. The material itself is also morally disordered when the contents contain explicit depictions of unnatural sexual acts, or explicit depictions of any type of perverse sexuality. Such acts are inherently gravely contrary to God’s plan for sexuality in human life.”

http://www.catholicplanet.com/ebooks/the-immorality-of.pdf

“c) Marital chastity subordinates sexual pleasure to communion. The pleasurable sensations of sexual activity culminating in orgasm are in themselves a private and incommunicable experience.  Hence, to focus attention on this experience and strive to intensify it as much as possible tends to make the other person into a means, a “sex object.” So, the Church teaches that spouses should pursue sexual gratification only in subordination to marital love.168 Marital chastity, by making the marital good itself central, makes it possible for the experience of loving cooperation in one-flesh communion to predominate and enjoyable sensations to take their proper, subordinate place in marital intercourse. Thus subordinated, erotic pleasure no matter how intense, is morally good (see S.t., 2–2, q. 153, a. 2, ad 2).

The point is clarified by John Paul II’s teaching that a man can commit adultery in his heart by looking lustfully at his own wife. He does not mean spouses may not look at each other with erotic desire or with the intention of arousing desire in themselves and each other. To look lustfully instead means to reduce “the riches of the perennial call to the communion of persons, the riches of the deep attractiveness of masculinity and femininity, to mere satisfaction of the sexual ‘need’ of the body.” The person looked at in this way is made into a sex object. Hence: “Man can commit this adultery ‘in the heart’ also with regard to his own wife, if he treats her only as an object to satisfy instinct.” And a woman likewise can commit this adultery toward her own husband.169

d) If reason calls for abstinence, intercourse cannot express love. Even when it is not appropriate to engage in marital intercourse, people often are tempted and constrained to do so by sexual excitement and desire. Of itself, however, sexual drive does not express love; it is no more communicative than any other biological drive.

Outward behavior can express what is in one’s mind and heart only insofar as it is, not the result of a biological drive, but a free self-communication. Thus, if an uncontrollable nervous condition causes a man from time to time to blurt out “Omaha, Omaha!” everyone soon realizes that his “Omaha, Omaha!” is meaningless.

If his wife wants his agreement about anything important, she asks him to put it in writing. Likewise, to be expressive, sexual activity must be free, and to convey genuine love, it must tend to common benefit; unless freely chosen for the sake of common benefit, marital intercourse cannot express and nurture unselfish love.170

It follows that to be able to give oneself in marital intercourse so that the act means something, one needs self-control sufficient to be able to choose not to engage in intercourse when reason, considering all the relevant goods, calls for abstinence. At such times, love is expressed and fostered not by intercourse but by mutual support in abstaining cheerfully.

Consequently, marital love requires a husband and a wife to develop marital chastity, that is, to subordinate genital arousal and satisfaction to the reasonable claims of all the aspects of their common good as a married couple. By enabling the couple both to come together when appropriate and to abstain when appropriate, marital chastity empowers them to engage in sexual acts which truly embody love, rather than merely manifest an urge for inwardly focused, selfish self-satisfaction.171

http://www.twotlj.org/G-2-9-E.html

Use is the opposite of love.  How’s that for romantic?  Not bad, huh?  🙂

Love,
Matthew

Dec 25 – “Christian, remember your dignity!!!”, Pope St Gregory the Great, (540-604 AD)

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“Dearly beloved, today our Savior is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of Life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness.

No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness. Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life.

In the fullness of time, chosen in the unfathomable depths of God’s wisdom, the Son of God took for Himself our common humanity in order to reconcile it with its Creator. He came to overthrow the devil, the origin of death, in that very nature by which the devil had overthrown mankind.   And so at the birth of our Lord, the angels sing in joy:

Glory to God in the highest, and they proclaim peace to men of good will as they see the heavenly Jerusalem being built from all the nations of the world. When the angels on high are so exultant at this marvellous work of God’s goodness, what joy should it not bring to the lowly hearts of men?

Beloved, let us give thanks to God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit, because in His great love for us He took pity on us, and when we were dead in our sins He brought us to life with Christ, so that in Him we might be a new creation. Let us throw off our old nature and all its ways and, as we have come to birth in Christ, let us renounce the works of the flesh.

Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. Bear in mind Who is your head and of Whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and death and brought into the light of God’s kingdom, for ALL eternity!!!

Through the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not drive away so great a Guest by evil conduct and become again a slave to the devil, for your liberty was bought by the blood of Christ.”

Love,
Matthew

Pornography, Custodia Occulorum, & Custody of the Eyes

Not going for TMI, and I can only speak for myself, but I SUCK at this virtue. 🙁 I do. But, I’m trying. 2016 & camera phones ARE NOT helping!!!

I hope I make at least somebody in Heaven prolly half-smirk in disdain at my disgusting efforts? Lk 15:7.

Lord, give me your grace to overcome this temptation!! And, I shall be set free!!! I shall. Lord, increase my faith!! Thy will be done!!

For this virtue, St Alphonsus Liguori, mentioned below, is your man. Tell him I said hi! We know each other, professionally, TOO WELL. 🙁

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-by Rebecca Bratten Weiss

“If we start with the first revelation of the Other as a look, we must recognize that we experience our inapprehensible being-for-others in the form of a possession. I am possessed by the Other; the Other’s look fashions my body in its nakedness, causes it to be born, sculptures it, produces it…He makes me be and thereby he possesses me, and this possession is nothing other than the consciousness of possessing me…”

This quotation from Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness delineates a structural relation of opposing or warring selves, in which the very look, or gaze, of the Other inevitably reduces the self to an object. Within this relation, one’s selfhood can only be reclaimed by entry into a sort of combat with the Other, reclaiming oneself as Self by taking a stance of opposition: “thus the project of recovering myself is fundamentally a project of absorbing the Other.”

The terrible thing here is that only through the objectifying gaze of the Other does one come to be aware of oneself as a being.

This is all very depressing, and I don’t deny that it happens, but what nihilistic despair, to assume that this, inevitably, is our only possible relation. Hints of such a nihilistic despair creep into that far better existentialist work, Simone de Beauvois’ The Second Sex – and, this is not surprising, because nowhere does this inevitability seem more fixed than in the culturally constructed relations between men and women.

It seems that too many Christian discourses on purity reinforce this idea. To look upon the Other – particularly the sexual Other – is, inevitably, to make an object of her. This is the common refrain in so many injunctions to chastity, as young men and even boys are taught to look away, as in this piece, whenever a woman whom some adults might construe as immodestly dressed looms upon the horizon. This trend in some traditional Christian groups equates male purity with not looking at women, or at least only looking at their faces (but not their mouths!) – and looking very briefly.

At least Sartre’s dismal view of the human gaze emphasizes the objectification of the Other as the core danger. This is a legitimate moral concern, and I think Christian moralists would do well to keep the focus on this when discussing the sin of lust. I disagree with Sartre that all looks are inevitably objectifying, but looks that are objectifying are, indeed, morally wrong – whether the look reduces the Other to a sex-toy to be enjoyed, an enemy to be killed, or a worker to be exploited.

The creepy thing is that the Christian tradition of custodia occulorem, or custody of the eyes, often placed the danger not only in the disposition of the objectifying subject, but in some malevolent power radiating from the objectified one. Custody of the eyes originally entailed a responsibility to avoid gazing on anything that might be potentially dangerous to the soul (idols, for instance, which were sometimes regarded with an almost superstitious dread). But over time it came to mean only avoiding gazing lustfully at someone of the opposite sex. The injunction was usually directed towards men, not because prior cultures shared our bias that “men are more visual,” but because custody of the eyes was connected with a fear of the actual agency of dangerous objects, and female bodies were considered to have just such agency, through the wiles of the devil. Tertullian (who also advised men to avoid looking at depictions of demons) declared: “woman, you are the gate to hell.”

Sermons against unchastity often utilized hyperbolic rhetoric to highlight the deceptive nature of female beauty, and the female body was seen as itself the terrain of dangers. While to explore the uncharted territories of this terrain might appeal to erotic poets, the message of the moralists was more along the lines of “here be dragons.”

“To avoid the sight of dangerous objects, the saints were accustomed to keep their eyes almost continually fixed on the earth, and to abstain even from looking at innocent objects,” says St. Alphonsus de Liguori.

I have difficulty with this idea, on a general theological level. We see constantly in the Gospels that Jesus looks upon the faces of those to whom he ministers. Why would he not want his followers to do the same? Certainly, there are times when it is fitting to avert one’s gaze, but to be staring constantly at the earth seems to indicate fear, not trust, as though creation truly were corrupt all-through, as though the divine were not made present analogously in all beings.

I have special difficulty with this idea from a female standpoint. Is it really so impossible for a male to look at me without stumbling headlong into a pit of iniquity? I am reminded of the comical scene in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, when a hapless sailor accidentally beholds the protagonist’s female ankle and nearly plummets from the rigging to his death. This sort of protection of the male from the dangerous female body (or protection of the female from the dangerous male gaze? funny how we’re never entirely certain which) is not healthy.
A man who is brought up to believe that looking on a woman will provoke lust is likely to look on a woman and experience lust, because he has transgressed into the realm of the forbidden, where everything is tinged with fantasy, and faces hide behind masks. How would it be possible for a man raised this way to work effectively as a doctor, or a nurse, or a first responder? If a man feels incapable of looking at women in bikinis without lustfully objectifying them, how would he react if he went to do mission work in cultures where woman casually reveal parts of the body traditionally covered in western societies? A man who marries may find this approach to women to be especially frustrating on his wedding night, since it is likely to provoke either over-excitement or guilt – or, probably, both. And if priests are trained not to look at women, or to glance at us only sparingly, how will they be able to minister to women as spiritual directors or confessors, without everything being very awkward?

While I am glad that recent philosophies of the person have led us away from the superstitious terror of the female body that was once mistaken for virtue, many Christians are in danger or embedding chastity within a morass of Sartrean nihilistic despair, in which the mere phenomenon of one person looking at another becomes an act of violence. I do not deny that there is always a danger of violation in relationships, especially between men and women, as sexuality is so often entwined with power, but to view this as inevitable is hopeless indeed. Perhaps there may be phases of development in which avoiding looking at people is somehow necessary, but it is not a mature condition, and certainly not a goal to strive for. There are also times when it is correct and moral to look away, to respect the individual’s intention to be veiled or private. This applies especially in cases when a person is helpless. If a person is lying wounded, naked, and unconscious, the decent thing is to look away, or better yet to find a way safely and respectfully to cover that person. But a person who meets you face to face, greeting you as a person, deserves to be greeted as a person in response.

Training in sexual responsibility should not draw lines around most of humanity and signal with an arrow that “this alone is safe to see.” It should involve training in seeing the other not as an object, but as a subject herself. When we see the person as subject we see that the person possesses herself, that the person is a whole in himself and cannot be reduced to fragmentary desirable parts. We learn to see the person not simply as a token “woman” or “man” but as someone unique and irreplaceable. There may be an array of fitting and morally acceptable erotic approaches to the person as person, as we look with fascination on the infinite mystery of the other, and ask that he reveal himself to us as a friend.

A mature custody of the eyes should entail, not looking away, but seeing rightly.”

Love,
Matthew

What is chastity?

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Celibacy, or abstinence, is the absence of sexual activity.  It is as viable and valuable a means of practicing chastity as faithfulness is in marriage.  Chastity is the presence of and active practice of this virtue and self-discipline, enabled ONLY by HIS GRACE!!!  Praise Him, Church!!!  Praise Him.  Pray for chastity.  Pray for it.  Ask Him for His Grace, and He will say “YES!!!  I AM WHO AM do will it!!”

Trust Him!!!  Trust Him, ALL the days of your life.  In this, and EVERYTHING else.  Never take your thoughts, your mind, from Him.  Your will be done, Lord.  Your will, not mine.  

Chastity, the fruit of His Grace, is the taking of full, adult responsibility for the AWESOME powers of creation of life adults possess.  Chastity is a virtue to be practiced by the married and the unmarried.  Chastity is NOT deprivation, rather, it is adult responsibility, wisdom, and the rejection of abuse of self and others, the misuse of self and others, and the rejection of denigration, humiliation of self and others.  

It is peace, in His will.  ALL are called to chastity, in their given state of life.  If you give yourself over to the fire of your passions, and they ARE a fire which feeds on itself and deceives, ye will reap what ye sow!  You will.  This is not merely a Christian understanding, either.  This is a universal truth.  Gal 6:7-9

Once freed from death by Christ, DO NOT again, become a slave of the devil by your own abasement!!!!

“Christian, remember your dignity!!!”Pope St Gregory the Great

-from the Catechism of the Catholic Church

2337 Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.

The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift.

The integrity of the person

2338 The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him. This integrity ensures the unity of the person; it is opposed to any behavior that would impair it. It tolerates neither a double life nor duplicity in speech.125

2339 Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.126 “Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end.”127

2340 Whoever wants to remain faithful to his baptismal promises and resist temptations will want to adopt the means for doing so: self-knowledge, practice of an ascesis adapted to the situations that confront him, obedience to God’s commandments, exercise of the moral virtues, and fidelity to prayer. “Indeed it is through chastity that we are gathered together and led back to the unity from which we were fragmented into multiplicity.”128

2341 The virtue of chastity comes under the cardinal virtue of temperance, which seeks to permeate the passions and appetites of the senses with reason.

2342 Self-mastery is a long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life.129 The effort required can be more intense in certain periods, such as when the personality is being formed during childhood and adolescence.

2343 Chastity has laws of growth which progress through stages marked by imperfection and too often by sin. “Man . . . day by day builds himself up through his many free decisions; and so he knows, loves, and accomplishes moral good by stages of growth.”130

2344 Chastity represents an eminently personal task; it also involves a cultural effort, for there is “an interdependence between personal betterment and the improvement of society.”131 Chastity presupposes respect for the rights of the person, in particular the right to receive information and an education that respect the moral and spiritual dimensions of human life.

2345 Chastity is a moral virtue. It is also a gift from God, a grace, a fruit of spiritual effort.132 The Holy Spirit enables one whom the water of Baptism has regenerated to imitate the purity of Christ.133

The integrality of the gift of self

2346 Charity is the form of all the virtues. Under its influence, chastity appears as a school of the gift of the person. Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of self. Chastity leads him who practices it to become a witness to his neighbor of God’s fidelity and loving kindness.

2347 The virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship. It shows the disciple how to follow and imitate Him Who has chosen us as His friends,134 Who has given Himself totally to us and allows us to participate in His divine estate. Chastity is a promise of immortality.

Chastity is expressed notably in friendship with one’s neighbor. Whether it develops between persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents a great good for all. It leads to spiritual communion.

Love,
Matthew

Oct 11 – Bl James of Ulm (Jacob Grissinger/ Griesinger), OP, (1407-1491) – The Art of Obedience

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-paper mache’ covering the remains of Bl James, Basilica of San Domenico, Bologna, Italy.

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-by Br James Wallace, OP, born in New York, James became a Catholic after college, where he earned a degree in applied math.

“I will honor those who honor Me.” – 1 Samuel 2:30

“What would you do? You’ve been working on a project for hours. The end is in sight, and you’ve done well. This might be some of your best work. All that’s left to do is to watch carefully over the final process—a slight error in timing might ruin everything. Suddenly, someone enters the room and tells you that you’re needed elsewhere immediately.

A thousand protests come to mind. Does it have to be right now? Is it really so urgent? Couldn’t it wait for just an hour? Am I the only one who could do this? Who is it that needs me?

It was in a situation just like this that Blessed James of Ulm found himself one day. But he didn’t make any of those protests. The order had come from his superior, and somehow James knew there was nothing to be done but to obey. He immediately left his stained glass window—a labor of love that he had spent days preparing—in the furnace to be ruined. And he went out to beg for his community, as his superior had ordered.

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Someone once said that you can know the depth of a man’s love by how much he is willing to suffer for the beloved. Blessed James’ act of obedience wasn’t a bitter and constrained act, but we can imagine how painful it was for him. This gives us some insight into the depth of his love for his brothers and for God. Today, people have mostly forgotten the windows which James made over 500 years ago, but they remember this story of his love and obedience.

James was used to following orders. He had served for years as a soldier, first under King Alfonso V of Aragon and later under one Captain Tartari. One day, when the army was stationed in Bologna, James, who had always been devout, decided to make a visit to one of the local churches – the one that happened to have the relics of St. Dominic. While praying before those relics, he was suddenly inspired to give up military life and consecrate himself to God as a cooperator brother in St. Dominic’s Order.

Throughout history, Dominican cooperator brothers have been assigned a variety of offices: doorkeeper, housekeeper, infirmarian, cook, to name a few. In his youth, Blessed James’ father had trained him in the craft of making stained glass windows, and to this craft James returned as a religious brother. He had been working at it for a number of years when the event described above took place.

There is actually more to that story. When James returned from his begging trip, he found to his astonishment that the window was intact and the colors were set perfectly—an impossible thing, as he knew from long experience. Sometimes God rewards obedience in remarkable ways even in this life.

James spent 50 years in religious life, beautifying various churches in Italy. After his death in 1491, so many attested to his sanctity and to miracles obtained through his intercession that he was eventually beatified and himself entombed in the church of San Domenico, where he had received the call of God. Blessed James had sought to honor God by religious art and religious life; now, in San Domenico, God has honored him.”

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-reliquary altar of Bl James w/glass coffin & wax figure, Basilica of San Domenico, Rome.

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-St Nicolas & Blessed James of Ulm, OP.

First Vespers:
Ant. Strengthen by holy intercession, O James, confessor of the Lord, those here present, have we who are burdened with the weight of our offenses may be relieved by the glory of thy blessedness, and may by thy guidance attain eternal rewards.
V. Pray for us, Blessed James
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Lauds:
Ant. Well done, good and faithful servant, because Thou hast been faithful in a few things, I will set thee over many, sayeth the Lord.
V. The just man shall blossom like the lily.
R. And shall flourish forever before the Lord.

Second Vespers:
Ant. I will liken him unto a wise man, who built his house upon a rock..
V. Pray for us. Blessed James.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

O God, who didst wonderfully adorn Blessed James, Thy Confessor, with the virtues of humility and obedience, make us, through his intercession, to despise earthly things and evermore cleave to Thy commandments. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Love, yet not even closely having mastered the virtue of obedience,
Matthew

Chastity vs. fornication 2 – “It doesn’t make sense!”

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Catholicism defines “love” as the willingness to suffer for the beloved, if unavoidable, or for the greater good of the beloved, like the salvation of their soul.  Sound like ANYONE you “know”?  Now, where HAVE I heard that kind of talk before???  Think, think, think.  Nope.  Nothin’.  Typical, for me.  Crazy talk.  Crazy like…God? 🙁  :/ )

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-by Emily Stimpson, Sunday, Apr 10, 2016 8:22 AM

“My fiancé, Chris, and I are not living together. And it doesn’t make sense.

More accurately, it doesn’t make sense to the world. Currently, we pay my mortgage, his rent, two utility bills and a food bill consisting mainly of restaurant tabs. Moreover, we live 45 minutes apart. Most nights, one of us spends 90 minutes in the car. And on the nights we don’t, we miss each other terribly.

Combine those sacrifices with the ever-mounting cost of our upcoming wedding, and it’s understandable why most people look aghast when they discover we’re not cohabiting.

Today, two-thirds of all couples live together before marriage, including at least half the couples marrying in the Catholic Church. Most of those couples cohabit for the same reasons that not cohabiting feels like such a sacrifice to Chris and me. They want to be together. They need to save money. And there’s no social pressure to do otherwise. So why wait? From a practical perspective, it seems logical.

Decades of research contradicts that logic: Couples who live together before marriage run a substantially higher risk of marital unhappiness, domestic violence and divorce. But when you’re in love, it’s easy to ignore research. Sociological evidence can’t compete with desire … and wedding-strained pocketbooks.

For those reasons and more, Chris and I understand why so many couples cohabit. We sympathize with them. But we still choose to sleep apart. And that choice only makes perfect sense in light of our faith.

The New Testament doesn’t leave any wiggle room regarding how God feels about sex outside of marriage, biblically known as “fornication.” Jesus explicitly condemns it in three Gospels (Matthew 15:19; Mark 7:21; John 8:41). St. Paul does the same in three Epistles (Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5).

Moreover, unlike some biblical prohibitions, which the Church deems more reflective of ancient Near-Eastern culture than God’s unchanging law (i.e. the injunction on women cutting their hair), the Christian prohibition against premarital relations hasn’t changed (and won’t change) (Catechism, 2350).

And yes, premarital relations and cohabitation aren’t the same. Some couples, more virtuous than us, might manage to live together chastely. The Church considers the possibility of that so remote, however, that she frowns on even the attempt (Catechism, 2391).

It’s also a question of public witness. The world mocks the Catholic understanding of sexuality, denying the mere possibility of loving both chastely and joyfully. Publicly cohabiting, even if privately abstaining, is, at best, a compromised witness. It shows the world what it already believes and hides what it claims impossible.

Regardless, Chris and I live separately (and chastely), because we trust Jesus and his Church. We believe that Jesus is Who He says He is — the Son of God — and the Church is who she says she is: His Bride, divinely appointed to transmit, guard and interpret God’s word.

Accordingly, we take the Church’s prohibitions against premarital relations and cohabitation as seriously as we take her prohibitions against lying and cheating. God is God. We are not. If He says something is sinful and a danger to our souls, then it is. It’s not up to us to pick and choose which of His teachings to accept. That’s not what faithful disciples do.

This can sound like blind obedience. But only when seen from the outside. Like stained glass, which looks dull from one side but brilliant from another, our decision to trust Christ and his Church with our relationship has been a decision illuminated by beauty, grace and reason.

The Church’s teachings on marital love, described so powerfully in St. John Paul II’s theology of the body, help us see love-making as a precious gift from God and a sacred renewal of the marriage covenant, meant to bring new life into the world and draw husband and wife closer together.

We’ve not yet entered into that covenant, so its joys aren’t ours to claim.

We’ve also learned to see living under one roof and sharing one bed as an embodied sign of Christian marriage. For Christian spouses, dwelling together isn’t about sleeping arrangements. It’s about what we are — one flesh — because of what we vow on our wedding day: to give ourselves totally and completely to one another for the sake of our salvation.  (Ed. – The living in and through one’s vocation, one’s state in life, is the vehicle through which we realize our salvation in Catholic theology.)

We haven’t yet made that vow, so its blessings aren’t ours to enjoy.

We do get to enjoy some blessings now.

There is the blessing that comes from a deep friendship, rooted in a shared love of Christ and a mutual desire to sacrifice for the other’s good. (Ed.  don’t know about you, but Paris Hilton and I think that’s romantically HAWT!!!  !!!En fuego!!!!  !!!!Muy caliente!!! 🙂 !!!Ay carumba!!!  Very Catholic, very.)  There is the blessing of learning how to love in non-sexual ways, preventing sex from becoming a substitute for affection and communication. And there is the blessing of never feeling used or worrying that we’re marrying out of convenience or guilt.

There’s also the blessing of anticipation, of mounting desire and tension that will only be answered on our wedding day. (Ed.  !!! Aye, aye, aye!!!  !!!Agua, por favor!!!!)  We’re looking forward to so much more than a big party on July 1.

Most of all, though, there’s the blessing of knowing that we’re walking the path Jesus asks us to walk, trusting that, through obedience, we’ll reap unknown graces and be spared unknown crosses. In trust, there is peace.  (Amen!!!  Sistah!!!)

Yes, that peace comes at a cost. It requires sacrifice. But we’re betting on God — laying odds on the rightness of His wisdom, not the world’s ways or our desires.  (Good bet!!!  I LIKE IT!!!  May the odds & Jesus, be evah in your favah!!! -St Katniss Everdeen, pray for us!!!  Mea culpa.  [courtsy])

And, fortunately, if we stumble we know we can start over with a good confession.  (Mine ALWAYS begin “Bless me, Father, how much time DO you have? 🙂 Should we order in?  I have an app for that!)

That’s true for all couples. It’s never too late to trust Jesus and His Church in your relationship. (Ya know, I KNEW I like that Guy!!!)  It’s never too late to move in with a friend or onto a couch. It’s never too late to love your future spouse as Jesus asks you to love, sacrificially and purely. Lastly, it’s never too late to witness to the world that there is a better way: the way of life-giving love.

Pray for engaged couples; so few even know that way exists. And pray for Chris and for me, so we can continue to walk it.”

(Count on it, Emily & Chris.  It’s already in the bank.  Emily Stimpson writes from Steubenville, Ohio.

Easter Joy!
Matthew

Chastity vs fornication

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-former militant atheist, Rosalie Contrite, now a contrite Catholic

“Of course, I was told to wait for marriage and I considered it, at first. People in my life were telling me to wait. The reality remains that undetectably and over time, the culture, my friends and even, the adults that I knew, did not really expect me to wait. The movies I saw didn’t show waiting, and many of the people in my life as caregivers or relatives had or were co-habitating.

I had babysitters in my life who told me how I could get contraception, secretly. I had friends tell me about how they got free birth control from Planned Parenthood. The pills they gave me never warned me about the pain that they would cause. I knew that the prevailing wisdom was to wait, but that was it. No one ever told me why. Without the why, the what is useless.

Of course, today I know the why. I can tell you with 100% certainty, if I had known the why, I would have waited. No question. This is the pain that I live with, and the choice that lead me to great dysfunction in my life, for a time. I would have waited had I known. I wish people had believed in me. I wish I had known WHY waiting is wonderful.

As a young adult, after I had already given away what rightfully belonged to my husband, my mind was always pondering, “What can I do next to keep him interested? What level of depravity can I jump to so that I will seem alluring and captivating?”

I often wore next to nothing. I was so numb and dead inside from making myself vulnerable and being left by people who said they loved me. Immodest dress ensured constant attention. I didn’t care where it came from, so long as it came. The stress of constantly needing to be exciting because that’s what Cosmo says, was so demeaning and depressing long-term.

I had to become very masculine in my behavior because I had no excuse for not wanting to be together, when I was on contraception. Some freedom….

The culture told me that there was something fundamentally wrong with my natural, healthy body. I was broken, and I needed to be fixed with contraception. If I didn’t think so, I was at best naive, and at worst, reckless and irresponsible. What no one ever told me was what sex was supposed to be. No one ever told me it was the physical renewal of marital vows, which would only be a lie, if I were not married.

No one told me the emotional connection that would be formed as the result of a powerful chemical, oxytocin, released in the body during these encounters. This chemical has been shown to cause women to overlook the bad in their partners – even abusers. It’s the same hormone that is released when women nurse their newborn babies, to help them only see the wonderful in the baby during those first trying weeks. That is the kind of power you fight against when you misuse the greatest gift given to mankind. No one told me that. Yes, I should have waited for marriage. Why? No one told me. No one had answers.

These answers, I would blessedly find later in life.

There is so much comfort and safety knowing that you aren’t being compared to anyone else in your martial relationship. That is what you can have if you wait. Your spouse won’t have to imagine you embracing another in a way only meant for them, if you wait. Anyone worth being with, in this way, is someone who will wait with you.”

Love,
Matthew

Psychiatry & Catholicism: Part 6, The Theological Virtue of Hope – Little Girl Hope

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13

“The French Catholic layman Charles Péguy (1873-1914) wrote a beautiful poem that can make the virtue of hope more tangible for us. The poem opens with the striking line, “The faith that I love the best, says God, is hope.”85 The poem continues:

“Faith doesn’t surprise Me.
It’s not surprising.
I am so resplendent in My creation . . .
That in order really not to see
Me these poor people would have to be blind.
Charity, says God, that doesn’t surprise Me.
It’s not surprising.
These poor creatures are so miserable that unless they had a heart of stone, how could they not have love for each other . . .
But hope, says God, that is something that surprises Me. (n.b. theologically, God cannot be surprised…)
Even Me.
That is surprising.
That these poor children see how things are going and believe that tomorrow things will go better . . .
That is surprising and it’s by far the greatest marvel of Our grace.
And I’m surprised by it Myself.
And My grace must indeed be an incredible force.”
86

Péguy employs striking metaphorical and poetical images here to suggest the power of hope, indicating to us how surprising hope can be when we experience degradation, deprivation, suffering, and evil in the world. He depicts Hope in the poem as a little girl who has two older sisters, Faith and Love. Hope is the innocent, wide-eyed, trusting little child:

“What surprises Me, says God, is hope.
And I can’t get over it.
This little hope who seems like nothing at all.
This little girl hope . . .
Faith is a loyal Wife.
Charity is a Mother.
An ardent mother, noble-hearted. Or an older sister who is like a mother.
Hope is a little girl, nothing at all.
Who came into the world on Christmas day just this past year.
Who is still playing with her snowman . . .
And yet it’s this little girl who will endure worlds.
This little girl, nothing at all.
She alone, carrying the others, who will cross worlds past.
As the star guided the three kings from the deepest Orient.
Toward the cradle of My Son.
Like a trembling flame.
She alone will guide the Virtues and Worlds.”87

Our hope should make us feel every day more and more little — like a small child who relies on God his Father for everything. This life of spiritual childhood has been recommended by many saints, notably St. Thérèse of Lisieux. It is actually indicative of Christian maturity and has nothing to do with childishness. Hope is a child, walking between her two older sisters: wide-eyed and innocent, trusting and joyful. Such should be the shape and character of our own hope. Can a person who is totally imbued with this sort of hope ever be completely overtaken by despair, however terrible the burdens and cares of this life? The depressed person may indeed often feel overwhelmed; but this need not be a cause for final despair. Just as we cannot imagine an innocent little girl giving in to total despair in the face of setbacks or contradictions, so the person with hope can endure even these things with serenity and perseverance.

To understand the power of hope, we can examine the vices that run contrary to the virtue of hope. Regarding these, St. Augustine wrote, “There are two things which kill the soul, despair and presumption.”

The Catechism lists them under the First Commandment as sins against hope:

2091 By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God’s goodness, to His justice — for the Lord is faithful to His promises — and to His mercy.

2092 There are two kinds of presumption. Either man presumes upon his own capacities (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high) or he presumes upon God’s almighty power or His mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit).

When we fall into presumption, we do not have hope, because we mistakenly assume that we have already arrived at the goal. This is a form of self-satisfied and stagnating pride. The second vice contrary to hope is probably more common, and a form of self-satisfied and stagnating pride, despair. Certainly this is the greater temptation for those individuals suffering from depression. We sometimes hear it said that a person has “fallen into” despair. But despair is not actually something we “fall into”; in the end, it is something we choose. To despair means to deny that the Lord wants to or can forgive or assist us. Even the severest depression, however dark, does not entail despair in this sense.

In Dante’s Inferno, the inscription written over the gates of hell is “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Final despair (I refer here not to the difficulties with hope of the depressed person) is the state proper only to the damned, of those who no longer have the possibility of being saved. To be utterly without hope is to be in a hellish state. So you could say that total despair in this life is something of an anticipation of damnation. As St. Isidore put it, “To despair is to descend into hell.” Total despair is a sort of hell on earth, where suicide may appear to be the only option. This is why the person who feels utterly hopeless finds it so difficult to summon the will to continue living.

For example, listening to accounts of addiction given by those who have recovered from drug and alcohol dependence, one can see that the life they describe is simply a state of profound despair — a sort of hell on earth. This is what a person experiences when he places his ultimate hope in a bottle, a needle, or a pill. Depression itself is not equivalent to this kind of despair, although it can predispose and incline a person to despair, as anyone who has experienced it knows too well. It is a great trial of faith to overcome this tendency. But it can be overcome with all the means discussed in this book, and especially with God’s grace.

St. John Chrysostom wrote, “It is not so much sin as despair which casts us into hell.” We may fall into sin, as even the just man sins seven times a day. But in hope, we become a repentant sinner and therefore, through Confession, a forgiven sinner. Sin never has to have the last word. Hope means we do not have to be the people we were. But despair makes our sin the last word about us, even a definitive word, because despair denies the possibility of forgiveness. Every sin is forgivable if we do not despair, if we seek God’s merciful forgiveness. Likewise, every addiction, every vice, can be overcome if we do not give in to despair.

This helps us to understand that mysterious Gospel passage which speaks of the sin against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:31) that Jesus says cannot be forgiven. This sin is simply the refusal to accept the grace of forgiveness. It is an obstinate despair that refuses God’s mercy. As the Catechism states:

1864 “There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept His mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of His sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss.”88

The contrast between St. Peter’s repentance and Judas’s despair illustrates this: both men sinned grievously, but Peter repented with tears of contrition. He did not abandon hope. Peter’s repentance led him to become one of the greatest saints. Judas despaired, and this despair led him to take his own life.

To say that hope is a “theological” or “supernatural” virtue is to say that it is fundamentally a gift, the result of grace. To possess this hope, we must be in a state of sanctifying grace, which we can be sure of when we have confessed grave sins we are aware of. But for this hope to grow in our hearts and operate powerfully in our lives, we should pray that our hope will be increased; we should ask God to increase our hope. Our will and our effort do play a role here, since God wants us to cooperate freely with the graces He grants. “Lord, increase my hope” should be an aspiration that comes to us often, especially in times of difficulty.”

85 Charles Péguy, The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, trans. David L. Schindler, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 3.
86 Ibid., 3-7.
87 Ibid., 7-8.
88 Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1864.

-Kheriaty, Aaron; Cihak, Fr. John (2012-10-23). Catholic Guide to Depression (pp. 216-220). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love & Hope,
Matthew

Psychiatry & Catholicism: Part 5, The Theological Virtue of Hope, Everlasting Life!!!

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Q. Why did God make us?
A. God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven.

-Baltimore Catechism, Lesson 1: On the End of Man

“(Viktor) Frankl observed that the death-camp prisoners could tell when another prisoner had abandoned hope. When a prisoner lost hope, the despair could be seen in his eyes, in his face, in the way that he walked. The change was so noticeable that the prisoners had a name for such persons, which roughly translates as “the walking dead.” Inevitably, before long, this “walking dead” prisoner would be selected for extermination, or he would fall back in formation and be shot, or he would stop eating or drinking. When the will to meaning was abandoned — when all hope was lost — the person was literally doomed. Man cannot live without hope.

Yet this truth can be stated conversely: even in the cruelest, the most atrocious, the most miserable of circumstances, if man has hope, he has life. If this is true on the natural level, it is much more true on the supernatural level. If a man has Christian hope, he has everlasting life. We are indeed, in St. Paul’s words, spe salvi — “saved in hope” (Rom. 8:24).

Hope is a virtue that changes everything. It changes the way we think, the way we act, the way we live. In his encyclical letter on hope, Pope Benedict XVI puts it simply, “The one who has hope lives differently.”76 Even if he should be sent to the gas chamber, a man with Christian hope is a man who has been saved. St. Maximilian Kolbe understood this, which is why he sang songs of praise to our Lord even as the Nazis starved him to death.

Returning to Frankl’s observations of his fellow death-camp prisoners: in order to face their horrifying present situation, the prisoners needed some sense that a future might await them, a future that promised something better than the present. This insight is congruent with these words of Pope Benedict on hope: “We have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.”77

Pope Benedict goes on to say that “a distinguishing mark of Christians [is] the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness. Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well.”78 This can be applied analogously even to those who are not baptized: although the theological virtue of hope is the ultimate safeguard of human happiness on this earth, natural human hope is the starting point for theological hope and is itself ennobled by the presence of Christian hope in the world.

The sense of a foreshortened future, of a future that appears only dark, which many experience in the depressed state, is not our true reality; it is merely a trick of the diseased mind. Without hope in the present, man cannot live toward the future. Why, for example, do we see rising rates of depression, as well as rising rates of drug and alcohol abuse, among teenagers today? Because many of them do not sense that they have a future. The present feels unbearable to them, and they have no hope to orient them.

In an address to the bishops of Japan, Pope Benedict remarked: “Young people especially are at risk of being deceived by the glamour of modern secular culture. Yet, like all the greater and lesser hopes that appear on first sight to promise so much (cf. Spe Salvi, 30), this turns out to be a false hope — and tragically, disillusion not infrequently leads to depression and despair, even to suicide. If their youthful energy and enthusiasm can be directed towards the things of God, which alone are sufficient to satisfy their deepest longings, more young people will be inspired to commit their lives to Christ.”79

Hope cannot be merely a nice theoretical idea. It is a virtue that has very practical, everyday consequences for our life. Cultivating and sustaining hope is a central task in the process of recovery from depression, and perhaps the most demanding and challenging. Regarding the practical consequences of living in hope, Pope Benedict teaches that the Christian message of hope does not just tell us something: it is not just informative; it also changes the way we live. It is performative: “That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known — it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing.”80

Finding hope need not be complicated; it can be remarkably simple. Consider the case of a young father who was struggling with depression because of a debilitating physical condition that kept him from working. As a result he was at home with his youngest daughter. He related later that just seeing the face and constant smile of his joyful girl was enough to instill in him sufficient hope for the day. Our reasons for hope may be right there in front of us, if only we have eyes to see.

While many of us can rattle off the three theological virtues, hope is often the forgotten middle of the three. We hear much preached about faith and about love, but we hear less about the virtue of hope. What exactly is hope? The Compendium of the Catechism defines it succinctly: “Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire and await from God eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit to merit it and to persevere to the end of our earthly life.”81

Let us unpack this definition. First, hope involves desiring happiness. This, of course, is not hard for us. In fact, it is impossible not to desire happiness, as we know from our own experience. Aristotle maintains that the desire for happiness lies at the foundation of every human action. The person suffering from depression, of course, wants nothing more than to recover the capacity for happiness, for spiritual joy. But this happiness consists ultimately in only one thing: eternal life with God. Every person, whether he knows it or not, is seeking God, because everyone is seeking perfect happiness and fulfillment, which can be found ultimately in God alone. Our search for happiness can go astray when we mistakenly place our hope in something that cannot deliver. But this fundamental desire for happiness — this desire for God — remains, even when we go astray. As G. K. Chesterton quipped, “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.”

Hope, according to the definition just cited, involves placing our trust in Christ, relying on the grace of the Holy Spirit, and persevering to the end of our life — all for the sake of eternal life, which only God can grant. What are we to make of these words, eternal life? Many of our contemporaries wonder: Is eternal life something worth hoping for? The depressed person may have difficulty with the idea of looking for his happiness beyond the present world and placing his definitive hope in the next life. Perhaps this very thought has crossed our minds, especially in times of difficulty or temptation, or during periods of depression or despair: Is the effort toward holiness worthwhile? Is the goal of eternal life worth the sacrifices made in this life? Drawing on the writings of St. Augustine, Pope Benedict responds to this question: “Ultimately we want only one thing . . . the life which is simply ‘happiness’ . . . In some way we want life itself, true life, untouched even by death; yet at the same time we do not know the thing towards which we feel driven. We cannot stop reaching out for it, and yet we know that all we can experience or accomplish is not what we yearn for.”82

The very fact that in this life the human heart remains restless — that it is vulnerable to anxiety, depression, demoralization, and despair — is a clue to the human need for hope and a clue to our ultimate destiny in God. All we can experience in this life falls short of this restless yearning. The man knocking at the brothel door will not find there what his restless heart truly desires. The man downing another bottle of gin will not find at the bottom what his heart thirsts for. The man popping another narcotic pill will not experience what his heart hungers for. God made us for Himself, and our hearts are restless until they rest finally in Him.

We are reaching here beyond what words can adequately express. Benedict XVI observes: The term “eternal life” is intended to give a name to this known “unknown.” Inevitably it is an inadequate term that creates confusion. “Eternal”, in fact, suggests to us the idea of something interminable, and this frightens us; “life” makes us think of the life that we know and love and do not want to lose, even though very often it brings more toil than satisfaction, so that while on the one hand we desire it, on the other hand we do not want it.83

To appreciate fully the meaning of eternal life, we have to try to get outside our usual ways of thinking and our usual experiences. Pope Benedict says: “To imagine ourselves outside the temporality that imprisons us and in some way to sense that eternity is not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality — this we can only attempt.

We simply cannot extrapolate to a vision of eternal life from our typical earthly existence, even on the best of days. Reaching beyond our words and concepts, Pope Benedict takes a stab at expressing what the term eternal life might actually signify: “It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time — the before and after — no longer exists. We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of God, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy.”84

77 Benedict XVI, Encyclical letter Spe salvi, no. 1.
78 Ibid., no. 2.
79 Benedict XVI, Address to the Bishops of Japan on their “Ad limina” Visit, December 17, 2007.
80 Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, no. 2.
81 Compendium of the Catechism, no. 387.
82 Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, no. 12.
83 Ibid., no. 12.
84 Ibid.

-Kheriaty, Aaron; Cihak, Fr. John (2012-10-23). Catholic Guide to Depression (pp. 210-216). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love,
Matthew