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Senior pastor of a non-denominational Charismatic church, Word of Life, in Uppsala, Sweden, discovers the Catholic Church

The Word of Life Led us to the Bread of Life

https://chnetwork.org/story/word-life-led-us-bread-life/


-2006

ULF EKMAN is the founder of Word of Life, a non-denominational Charismatic church in Uppsala, Sweden and was its Senior Pastor for 30 years. In May of 2014, he and his wife, Birgitta, left their ministry and joined the Catholic Church. Ekman has held conferences and leadership seminars in many nations, especially in the former USSR, Eastern Europe, and India. He founded Bible schools and a theological seminary, hosted a television show aired in many nations, and has written more than 40 books and booklets, which have been translated into over 30 languages. For three years, he and Birgitta lived in Jerusalem. They currently live in Stockholm. They have four grown sons and seven grandchildren.

“When my wife, Birgitta, and I announced publicly on March 9, 2014, that we were becoming Catholics, it was the end of a long process over many years.

I was the senior pastor of a non-denominational Charismatic church, Word of Life, in Uppsala, Sweden. We started this church in 1983, and it had grown locally over the years to include a large network of new churches in many nations, especially in the former Soviet Union. We had been deeply involved in missions, church planting, and outreach in Europe, Russia, and Asia. We had started Christian schools and Bible schools and published thousands of books in 30 different languages.

To stand in the pulpit in our 4,000 seat church building and announce to our dear congregation that we now, after 30 years as their pastors, had come to the conclusion that we would become Catholics, was not easy. For some of our members this was an emotional tsunami; for others, who knew us better, it was the confirmation of their suspicions.

It was indeed the fruit of a long development stretching back some 15 years. It was not a hasty decision, even if for many it came as a surprise and a shock.

I had met my wife, Birgitta, as I studied to become a Lutheran minister at the University of Uppsala, Sweden in the mid-1970s. In May of 1970, I had come to a personal faith in Jesus Christ through strong conversion from a secular lifestyle. Birgitta had a Methodist background. Her parents were Swedish Methodist missionaries in India. When we met, we both had experienced the Evangelical life and the Charismatic movement. We loved Jesus and wanted to serve Him with all of our hearts.

My studies completed, I was ordained a Lutheran minister in 1979 and became a student chaplain at Uppsala University. This gave me an opportunity to continue to do what I had loved doing throughout my studies: to lead Bible studies and to evangelize among students.

In the early 1980s, we decided to take a year off to study more about the Charismatic life at a Charismatic Bible school in the USA. This was a huge step of faith for us, and we had to trust the Lord for all our needs. I learned a lot about the Christian life that I had never learned at the secular state university back home, with its rather liberal theology department.

When we returned to Sweden, we started a non- denominational Bible school and a new ministry that we called Word of Life. Eventually, I resigned as a Lutheran pastor, seeing that our activities involved church planting and our way of working was more Pentecostal/Charismatic in style and theology. The ministry, the Bible school, and the newly started church grew. Many, mainly young people, were attracted to it. There was a real hunger in Scandinavia, a desire to follow and serve Jesus. We started to send out many evangelistic teams and eventually long-term missionaries.

At the end of the 1980s, the Iron Curtain collapsed. Living only two hours by air from Moscow, we were able to engage heavily in missions into the Soviet Union and the Eastern European countries. From 1989 onward, it was an amazing time, an unprecedented opening for the Gospel into these former Communist nations. It filled us with joy and purpose as we shuttled in and out, preaching and teaching. Atheism had been the norm in Russia for seven decades, but now we saw thousands of people turning to Jesus and new congregations being formed. Numerous Bible schools sprang up to train and equip these new Christians.

During this adventurous and busy time of the early 1990s, I visited Albania. We had a unique opening there, and I was able to preach at the main stadium in Tirana, the capital of Albania. We had brought with us our big choir, and 20,000 people filled the stadium. Our event was broadcast on state television in spite of the fact that Albania still had a Communist regime. It was amazing to see how people responded to the Gospel and how they hungered for Jesus Christ.

The following year, the Communist regime fell, and I returned to Albania and met the President-to-be. His elderly male secretary seemed particularly happy to see me; he greeted me with these words: “I am also a Catholic.”

This jolted me a bit, and I thought, “I am not Catholic, but Protestant.” And in my mind, the following thoughts raced quickly: “In justification, I am Lutheran, in holiness more of a Methodist, in Baptism more of a Baptist, but not just a Baptist, because I do believe Baptism actually confers the Holy Spirit. In believing in the Holy Spirit, I am more of a Pentecostal, but not just a Pentecostal, but also a Charismatic.” All this — really the history of the developments and divisions in the Body of Christ — raced through my mind. As I clearly did not know how to communicate all this to a happy Albanian who thought I was Catholic, I merely replied, “God bless you, brother!”

I found unforgettable this momentary experience that I was not in the center of the Church, but more on the peripheries, influenced by inner divisions and constantly splintering new movements. Although I had seen many wonderful things in my work, I was still a part of these divisions. Yet I knew the Bible taught unity and understood that this disunity was not what Jesus wanted from His Church. From this moment in Albania, the question of unity started to grow in me.

Some years later, I encountered a number of related challenges in our widespread missions work. They concerned authenticity in leadership and the need to have some form of doctrinal authority (or what Catholics called “magisterium” — although, of course, I did not use this term). When theological and moral issues arose, who had the right to decide what was to be believed? Who had the last word, and on what basis? How are authentic pastors appointed? Can just anybody start a group and call himself a pastor? In what relation did our pastors stand to other leaders, to be helped and corrected?

When everything was going well, it seemed like the independent and congregational view worked well enough; it was practical and effective. But when things started to go wrong, we had real trouble. Who could intervene in a local congregation or into a leader’s life and ministry — and on what authority? These reflections and actual experiences in our missions work led me to study and reflect more deeply on what the Church actually is.

By the end of the nineties, these thoughts were a constant challenge to me. It seemed the Lord was urging me to get to know the essence of the Church. I felt compelled to search, not only for the most effective strategies and activities for the church, the missions, and the evangelization, and not only for the building up of congregations and the training of leaders. I had to go deeper. I had to know the very essence of the Church. I realized more and more how weak I was in ecclesiological understanding and how pragmatic, even shallow, my understanding of the Church really was.

This led to a gradual change in my theology. There were ideas that were prevalent in our particular Christian circles that I had never really reflected on, even though I believed and taught them. Among these was a definite lack of respect for the past, for Christian history. Progress, growth, and “visions for the future” occupied us, at the expense of our historical sources and church tradition. We were anti-institutional because institutions were seen as threats to evangelical and spiritual freedom. A suspicion of perceived leadership abuse was prevalent, and the idea of obedience was not a popular concept. Personally, I saw the need to strengthen the training of pastors and leaders; I even wrote a book about it. But in our charismatic culture, “authority” was often viewed as a hindrance to the initiatives of the ordinary believer. There was an understanding of the common priesthood of the believer, but not really of the ministerial priesthood, at least not in the Catholic sense of the word. Little by little, I became aware of the need of all these things we Evangelicals had rejected. I started to study more about the historicity, the continuity, the authenticity, the authority, and the sacramentality of the Church. It was in this quest that I began to find the answers I was looking for, although I did not at first want to admit it.

I started to see that many of the activities we had engaged in were good and needed, but in themselves, they were not enough. I realized that we should not have to “reinvent the wheel” in every new generation. Continuity was stronger than discontinuity, and we were supposed to build on something that existed before us instead of departing from it or disdaining it as outdated or dead. This was a sobering and uncomfortable challenge, although in the end, it became very satisfying because of all the treasures we were discovering. Even more uncomfortable, especially at first, was the fact that the best answers to my ecclesiological questions invariably came from a source that I did not want to recognize: the Catholic Church.

While these questions were swarming in my mind, my wife was busy reading about St. Birgitta of Sweden (St. Bridget in English). 2003 was the 700th jubilee of St. Brigitta’s birth. At that time she was the only Swedish saint canonized by Rome, and there was a renewed interest in her. While my Birgitta was studying about her, she encountered a number of problems. This saint was certainly strongly used by God and loved Jesus dearly. St. Birgitta heard from the Lord, but she also — and this was troublesome — talked with Mary. Even more troublesome, Mary replied to her! We thought she must surely have been mistaken about these experiences with Mary, that she had confused Mary with the Holy Spirit. We spent a great deal of time reflecting and discussing these things. Slowly but steadily this took us to a point where we had to reconsider the place and purpose of the Virgin Mary, which previously was so unfamiliar to us as Protestants. For us, the question about Mary was not the last nut to crack, but the very first one we had to deal with in our quest into the Catholic faith. In this way, the Virgin Mary became our entryway into the Catholic Church.

At this time we were sent by our Word of Life church to start a study center in Israel. We moved to the village of Ein Kerem on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Ein Kerem is the village of John the Baptist and the meeting place for Elisabeth and Mary. For us, too, it became a meeting place with Mary.

The three years we spent in Israel brought us a much deeper respect for our spiritual roots and for the continuity of the faith. It was a place where the divisions in the Body of Christ became painfully visible to us. Christian unity became a deeper concern than ever before.

Wherever we were in Israel, we bumped into Catholics. In Sweden, we rarely met them, but here in Israel, they were everywhere. And as we got to know them, they impressed us as great Christians, open and loving, with a great love for Jesus. Much of our ignorance and inherited prejudice crumbled in this atmosphere of free communication with our Catholic brothers and sisters. We had the usual questions, and they were important to us: questions about the Pope, Mary and the saints, — and of course purgatory. We needed answers.

These questions were rooted in our Protestant belief in Sola Scriptura, in which we were steeped. Gradually it dawned on me that “Scripture alone” was really not so scriptural after all. Nor was it true that Catholics put Tradition, the Church, and the Pope over the Bible, or that they never read the Bible. Another Protestant misconception was that the Catholic Church tried to keep the Bible away from the lay people. These were propaganda and myths that we had unwittingly inherited from the time of the Reformation, still prominent in our culture.

It was now that I encountered another term, much more in line with Scripture and how the ancient Church actually understood Scripture: “the primacy of Scripture.” I also started to realize that understanding true Tradition was basically the key to how to read Scripture. I began to see that there is a real need of a Magisterium which, with the help of the Holy Spirit, can discern the true interpretation of Scripture in times of arguments and disagreements. We were not just left to ourselves; so it was not just about “me, my Bible, and Jesus.”

This was actually a great encouragement. It was a tremendous help in discerning that there is an objective truth in Revelation, and that this truth was deposited in the Church, which has safeguarded it and handed it on safely to succeeding generations.

One day, we took a walk in the Yemenite valley outside Ein Kerem. As we passed an old olive tree, I felt a question from the Holy Spirit. He had a lesson about pride for me to learn. “Look at this olive tree; it is dead, isn’t it?” Looking at it casually, it really looked like it was dead. It had holes right through the trunk. So I thought: “Yes, it is.” Then I sensed: “Look again.” And, looking again a little closer, I did see many small green leaves all over the branches. It was not dead at all. And inwardly I heard something I will never forget: “Don’t you ever call anything dead again.” I understood it clearly to refer to the criticism and scorn that from time to time I had felt and expressed towards the traditional, historical churches. I had to repent of my sin of pride then and there.

Through the years we had the opportunity to travel frequently, and this opportunity took us to Rome. Rome made a deep impression on us. The first time we went there together was in 1999 before we lived in Israel. We spent a week looking at churches and ancient monuments. Along the way, we discovered some excellent religious bookstores. We prayed and read a lot and discussed many subjects.

At his Wednesday audience, Pope John Paul II came quite close to us in his popemobile. My wife took the opportunity to give him a loud greeting and shouted happily, “God bless you, Brother!” I wasn’t quite sure if he was a brother or not, but when I considered my thoughts on the matter, I felt rather ashamed. Of course, he was a brother in the Lord, but I had to admit there had been times when I was not willing to recognize this.

In that very moment of my review of conscience, a young man next to me turned to me, asking: “Who is the Holy Father for you?” Surprised, I replied diplomatically: “The Bishop of Rome.” The young man returned, with serious eyes looking at me: “Is that all he is?” I had no answer. I felt caught, uneasy, with a guilty conscience. As I fumbled for an answer, the Lord again had a lesson for me.

From Israel, we traveled several times to Rome and continued our discoveries. Once, when we were in St. Peter’s Basilica, we had the opportunity to go down into the Scavi (the archeological excavations) under the sanctuary, where some bones of St. Peter apparently had been found. For me this was astonishing. I stood there and looked at these pieces of bone that very well could be from the buried body of Peter the Apostle. And as we climbed up the stairway to the sanctuary again, I realized that right above this grave was the high altar in the center of this magnificent church, where the successors of St. Peter celebrate the Eucharist. In that moment, the unbroken line from the ancient Church until today overwhelmed me.

The reality of this unshakable faith and unshakable Church, built by Christ on His Apostle Peter, whom He called “the rock,” came crashing down on me. As we walked out, my mind was completely filled with questions and wonderings about what we had seen. Is this really and actually the Church that Jesus founded? As I stepped out on the stairs outside the church, together with my wife and a friend, all three of us in an instant saw the exact same thing: the sky was, as usual, filled with birds flying back and forth. But suddenly, from high up in the sky and down over the great square, the birds formed a gigantic exclamation mark, perfect in shape, complete with a dot underneath it. It seemed that all the birds stood still for a moment in that formation. All three of us saw this surrealistic phenomenon, independently of one another. Meanwhile, in my mind, all my question marks were turning into a huge exclamation mark, as if the Lord were saying. “Haven’t you heard and seen enough now to believe?”

Grace turns our questions into answers, not by our own independent intellectual strength, but by Him revealing truth to us. We can only receive in faith and believe.

We began to realize more in-depth that the Catholic Church is the original, authentic, and true Church. That did not mean we didn’t see other Christians in other denominations as brothers and sisters. Of course, they are! Instead, it meant that there is something about the Catholic Church that every Christian needs and actually yearns for, even though those on the outside often reject it. It means coming into the fullness of what God wants to give all His children, in and through His Church.

One thing that divides all Christians into two distinct camps is the sacraments. If it is true that the sacraments actually confer grace and are not just symbols of the grace God wills to give us, then many questions arise. In what way is grace conferred? How is the Church safeguarding the sacraments, so that grace can come to us? When are the sacraments valid or invalid?

Of course, Christians differ a lot on such questions, but we were beginning to understand that God’s grace was truly present in the sacraments. The Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist became very important to us. But if the Catholic Church taught this and we believed it, we were still on the outside. To be able to receive God’s grace in its fullness, we had to partake of the sacraments and to partake of the sacraments we had to be in full communion with the Catholic Church. I felt like someone standing ready outside a bakery shop. There was a glass window separating me from the good things inside the shop. I saw them, and I wanted them, but I could not participate in them. Frustratingly, we had to become Catholics to partake in their fullness.

From this point on, it became increasingly important how we were to treat and value these truths and treasures deposited in the Catholic Church. It now became a question of communicating what we had been discovering and sharing it with our dear Evangelical brothers and sisters in a good and proper way.

This journey of discovery had taken several years. During that time, over and over again, I heard four short exhortations: “Discover! Appreciate what you discover! Draw nearer to that which you have discovered! Unite with what you have discovered!” The last sentence I put on the back burner for a long time. I was not at all ready for that! Honestly, I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to bring myself to become a Catholic. However, I did appreciate the Church and was strongly attracted towards it. My objections were melting away.

After three years in Israel, with this inner controversy raging, we moved back to Uppsala, Sweden. It was 2005, and I continued as pastor of Word of Life. My views had changed; my teaching and preaching had changed, and I started to share my nascent convictions. Many accepted this change, but not everybody, and I was still not sure of where all this would lead.

After our return to Sweden, we organized several tours to Rome with pastors and leaders from our international network. For many of them, it was a profitable experience, a real eye-opener that helped them to confront the ignorance and prejudices in their own lives, as it had my own. It felt good to be able to share this ecumenical openness with others, and sometimes it seemed like this would be enough. But the question of the meaning of the word “unite” that lingered in the back of my mind was still not resolved. Being in a position of pastoral leadership, with all the responsibilities this entailed, I could not simply forsake the sheep and leave. Over the past thirty years, we had built a community of some 200,000 Christians in many nations. How were we supposed to handle this situation?

From time to time, my wife, Birgitta, would ask me a simple but very compelling question: “But Ulf, what is the truth?” The truth — not convenience, not fear, nor the opinion of others — should be our guiding principle. But we did not want to hurt our people. Sometimes this looked like an impossible equation.

As I was more and more open about my convictions in my preaching and teaching, I also started to get more resistance and criticism. This openness towards the Catholic Church was not what some people wanted to hear, and deep-seated criticisms of the Catholic Faith surfaced. It was quite astonishing how deeply this bias was rooted throughout Sweden and all of Scandinavia. Since the Reformation in the 1500s, it seems the bias had been in our culture, even in our DNA. People who had never studied the subject could become furious if they perceived that I was inching toward Rome. Emotions started to run high, and we took some heat.

Some people started to accuse me of having a hidden agenda, and rumors came out, especially on the Internet, that we were already Catholics. Certain blogs were spreading wild rumors. We were accused of trying to collectively affiliate the whole of Word of Life with the Catholic Church, and there was a lot of murmuring. But the truth was that we, at that point, were not ready, not totally sure and did not yet have answers to all questions ourselves. So I stated what I was convinced of, nothing more. Eventually, we started to see that this position was not acceptable to anyone. I was praying a lot, trying to understand God’s will in these things and how to handle the criticism.

Around this time, we spoke with the Catholic Bishop of Sweden, to let him know where we stood. As I was a well-known public figure, it was arranged that we could receive the RCIA classes privately, with no strings attached. We could make up our mind either way when the course ended. We agreed to have a kind and loving Jesuit priest meet with us once a month for a year.

One night, at two in the morning, I was suddenly wide awake and heard in my heart: “It is time to step out into the water. You can do it in the way of the prophet Jonah or in the way of the Apostle Peter.” Well, I did not want Jonah’s way, running away from God’s calling and getting in all kinds of trouble, so I said: “OK, I want to do it in Peter’s way.”

Following that decision, I fell asleep peacefully. I knew I had been dragging my feet and procrastinating this important decision, but now that time was definitely over.

My wife and I made our move in total unity. Shortly afterward, we told our congregation that we were convinced that we needed to be in full union with the Catholic Church. A media storm erupted, going on for months, but now our hearts were at peace. With great joy and thankfulness in our hearts, on a beautiful spring day, the 21st of May, 2014, we were received into the Catholic Church in a small Brigettine chapel. We have never since doubted this decision for a moment, and every day we are thankful to God for this grace and privilege.”

Love,
Matthew

Bringing sanity to sex: part 2

Bringing Sanity to Sex: Part 1


-by Karlo Broussard

“Sexual sanity, an objective reality with which we need to live in accord in order to be sexually sane.

Regardless of someone’s personal motive for engaging in sexual activity, procreation is its natural end. Now, the charge that such a view reduces human sex acts to mere biology might have force if producing children were the end of the story. But it’s not.

There is another purpose of sex intrinsic to making babies: the physical and emotional drawing together of spouses. Catholic theology calls these the procreative and unitive dimensions of sex.

There are two ways to see this intrinsic connection. The first sees the spousal friendship as finalizing the procreative dimension inasmuch as it makes sex a human reproductive act. The second sees how the unitive is bound to the procreative for the sake of rearing children.

Let’s start with the first way and see how the unitive makes sex properly human.

Not like the animals do

The natural end of begetting children follows from the animality of human beings. It is our sexed bodies—our reproductive organs—that order sexual activity toward procreation. We have this in common with other animals.

But we know that human sexual activity is different than animal acts of reproduction. No one in his right mind refers to two dogs “making love.” Mares don’t don lace nighties to enhance the equine sex experience. Ranchers don’t dim the barn lights and put on Barry White music for their cattle to breed.

So what is it that transfigures reproductive acts in human beings and makes them distinct in the animal kingdom? What is it that makes sex properly human?

Let reason be your guide

We can begin to get at the answer by considering other human acts. Take the act of looking at a tree. When a girl and her dog, walking along a country road, look at a tall plant with a trunk and branches and leaves, they both see a tree. But they see it in essentially different ways. The dog sees a particular thing with a certain shape and colors. The girl not only sees everything her dog sees, she sees it as tree.

In other words, the girl is able to abstract the essence or nature of what the thing is and form the universal concept of tree-ness. She is able to judge that the object before her is a tree, along with the other trees in the meadow, and reason to certain conclusions about trees—that they are material and subject to corruption, etc.

Notice that the girl’s power of sight is radically transformed by her ability to reason. As philosopher Edward Feser explains, “A human visual experience is a seamless unity of the rational and the animal…we (unlike non-human animals) conceptualize what we receive through sensation” (Neo-Scholastic Essays, 395).

Or take the act of eating. All animals share the drive to eat for the sake of self-preservation. But, far from being merely an animal activity, eating for humans is infused with rationality. Philosopher Paul Gondreau describes the human dimension of eating:

“[E]ating serves a profound human function, indeed, it becomes an art, in as much as we prepare our meals with the highest of nutritional, gustatory and even aesthetic quality in mind, we observe proper etiquette when consuming our food, and, typically the preferred occasion of shared human fellowship, mealtime satisfies deep social (i.e., rational) needs (“The Natural Law Ordering of Human Sexuality to (Heterosexual) Marriage: Towards a Thomistic Philosophy of the Body,” in Nova Et Vetera, English ed. Vol. 8, No. 3 (2010): 553-92).”

Human sex is more than animality

What these examples show is that our animal sentience becomes human only when integrated with our rationality. It’s the same for sex.

For sex to be genuinely human, it must be integrated with our rationality, which involves knowledge and love. And where are knowledge and love united but in friendship or interpersonal communion? The bodily union between man and woman that is ordered to begetting children therefore finds its perfection in what Aquinas calls the “indivisible union of souls” (Summa Theologiae III:29:2) that exists between spouses.

We might say that the unitive dimension of sex is to the procreative dimension what the rational soul is to the human body. Just as the rational soul makes our bodies human bodies as opposed to animal bodies or vegetative bodies, the spousal friendship (communal living) makes our procreative inclinations properly human, integrating them into the rational part of our nature.

Union for the sake of children

Unlike other species in the animal world, human infants cannot care for themselves. Nature has ordained them to be radically dependent on others for their needs, and for a long period of time.

The needs for human offspring go beyond the physical. Because humans are rational animals, children depend on other humans for what Aquinas calls “the training of the soul” (SCG III, 122. Children’s minds need to be formed in what is true. Their wills need to be directed toward what is good. They need help in learning how to live in community with others.

It is here where the union between husband and wife comes into play. Nature ordains that both man and woman be needed for the child to come into existence and then to be reared.

It is difficult for a mother to protect and provide for herself and her children when she is pregnant and/or attending to her offsprings’ needs. So, naturally, a father has to provide and protect the woman and the children with whom he has had the children. Both parents are also needed to bring their children to full maturity as members of the human race. Frank Sheed explains,

“Humanity is not man or woman but both in union. A child brought up by a father only or a mother only is only half-educated. He needs what the male can give him and what the female can give him. And he needs these two not as two separate influences, each pushing him its own way, so that he moves on some compromise line that is neither, but as one fused influence, wholly human, male and female affecting him as conjoined not as competing influences (Society and Sanity, 105-106).”

The bottom line

Just as a human being is both body and soul, human sex is both procreative and unitive. Nature has made it so that both aspects are essential to human sexuality.

Our sexed bodies are ordered toward the begetting of children. But because we’re human, the procreative end necessarily involves an interpersonal union of knowledge and love. The unitive dimension of sex recognizes that sex is for union with another person. But the procreative dimension recognizes that sex is for a union between a man and woman.”

Love & sanity,
Matthew

Bringing sanity to sex: part 1


-by Karlo Broussard

“Sanity is to see what is (reality) and live in accord with it. If your grandfather thinks leprechauns are jumping in his butter dish and he gives them his butter knife to use as a springboard, then his sanity is defective.

He mistakes a hallucination for what is real and behaves accordingly. As he tells you about this phenomenon at the dinner table, you probably would invite him to become a citizen of the real world and see reality as it is and live in it.

Sexual sanity

I use this example to prompt the question, “Is there a real world when it comes to sex and our sexual powers?” In other words, is there a meaning to sex that is independent of what you or I make sex out to be? Is there a reality to sex, and thus to our sexual powers, that we ought to reverence and live in accord with? Is there a real world with regard to sex that we could invite someone to live in? Is there such a thing as sexual sanity?

If sex doesn’t have any sort of intrinsic meaning (a purpose independent of human contriving), then it would be impossible to be charged with sexual insanity. How could one be mistaken about the reality of sex if there is no reality about which to be mistaken?

But if sex does have an objective reality (intrinsic meaning and purpose) and we don’t make it up as we go, then how we relate to sex will determine our sanity just as much as does how we relate to butter dishes and leprechauns.

Drooling is not thinking

In order to determine if sex has an objective meaning (meaning and purpose independent of our intentions), we must do what modern man does not do: namely, think about sex.  (Ed. 80% of people THINK they’re above average!!)

I know what you’re thinking, “How can you say modern man doesn’t think about sex? Just watch the commercials—from shampoo to yogurt to cleaning supplies, everything is sexualized. Haven’t you seen Fifty Shades of Grey?”

No, I haven’t seen the movie or read the book, and, yes, everything in our culture is hyper sexualized. But this is not thinking about sex. I can’t put it any better than Frank Sheed:

“The typical modern man practically never thinks about sex. He dreams of it, of course, by day and by night; he craves for it; he pictures it, is stimulated or depressed by it, drools over it. But this frothing, steaming activity is not thinking. Drooling is not thinking, picturing is not thinking, craving is not thinking, dreaming is not thinking. Thinking means bringing the power of the mind to bear: thinking about sex means striving to see sex in its innermost reality and in the function it is meant to serve (Society and Sanity, 107).”

To think about sex is to ask, “What’s it for?” This is the first principle of intelligent use for anything. For example, if I don’t know what a microphone is for, I may be inclined to use it to hammer nails while building my house. But of course this would destroy the microphone.

Similarly, to intelligently use our sexual powers we must know their innermost reality and the function they are meant to serve. And as I’ve learned from my good friend Fr. Sebastian Walshe, a Norbertine priest at St. Michael’s Abbey in Orange County, California, to know the intrinsic purpose of sex is to know the proper activity of sex.

For example, the proper activity of a knife and its purpose is one and the same: to cut. Sight is the purpose of the eye, but it is also its proper activity. If an eye is defective and blind, then it isn’t acting (functioning) properly.

So what is sex for? What is its proper activity?

What’s pleasure got to do with it?

Someone might say, “Sex is for pleasure.” Although sex does involve pleasure, and this may be an individual’s subjective motive for having sex, it doesn’t stand up to the scrutiny of reason as an intrinsic purpose of sex (nature’s ultimate goal for sex).

For starters, one can attain sexual pleasure in many ways:

  • A man can rape an unconscious girl whom he drugged at the bar.
  • A doctor can sexually abuse a woman who is in a persistent vegetative state.
  • The sports star can bed as many women as he can in order to gain the pleasure of conquest and bragging rights in the locker room.
  • The married airline pilot can sleep with stewardesses on his long trips.
  • As one woman said in an on-street interview that Catholic Answers conducted, “Someone could marry their donkey for all I care”—which, of course, implies certain types of pleasurable behavior with the donkey.
  • (Ed. a person can sexually abuse a child, or engage in human trafficking for sex, or enjoy child pornography.)

Anybody of good will recognizes that such behaviors are not appropriate human sexual behavior. Therefore, there must be something other than pleasure that makes for proper sexual activity—that is to say, sex must be for something other than pleasure.

Moreover, pleasure is not the ultimate purpose of sex anymore than pleasure is the ultimate purpose of eating or breathing. Have you ever experienced being suffocated? Not so pleasurable, was it? The pleasure of breathing serves the ultimate end (goal) of breathing: namely, to keep you alive.

Eating is also pleasurable, but it is clearly not for pleasure. Pleasure is subordinate to the intrinsic purpose that it serves—nourishment of the human body.

The same line of reasoning can be applied to sex. When we bring the power of the mind to bear on our sexual powers, we see that sexual pleasure is subordinate to the end (goal) for which nature intends humans to engage in sex: to reproduce. As the philosopher Edward Feser writes, “To emphasize pleasure would be to put the cart before the horse” (Neo-Scholastic Essays, 389).

The ‘baby-making’ meaning of sex

In his book On the Meaning of Sex, the natural law philosopher J. Budziszewski identifies two conditions that must be met in order for some Q to be the purpose of some P, and procreation meets both of them. First, it must be the case that P actually brings about Q. Do the sexual powers of male and female bring about children when used in sexual activity? Yes.

Second, Q must explain why we have P in the first place. Does procreation explain why humans have sexual powers? Yes. Without the begetting of children, our sexed bodies would be unintelligible. To put it another way, if we weren’t meant to reproduce we wouldn’t have sexed bodies.

This is not to say that procreation entails sex, since there are some species that reproduce asexually. Rather, the claim is that sex entails procreation. Procreation is that for the sake of which sex exists.

So, regardless of what man may use sex, and consequently his sexual powers, for—whether it is for the expression of romantic love alone or the giving of bodily pleasure in recreational activity—childbearing is sex’s own purpose (intrinsic purpose) and thus its proper activity. It is the end toward which sex is ordered.

Once again Frank Sheed puts it succinctly:

“If we consider sex in itself and ask what nature had in mind in giving sex to human beings, there can be only one answer: sex is meant for the production of children, as lungs for breathing or the digestive organs for nourishment. . . . It would be monstrous to deny . . . that that is what sex is meant for, that is why we have sexual powers. The fact that man can use sex for other, sterile purposes of his own choosing does not alter the certainty that childbearing is sex’s own purpose (Society and Sanity, 110).”

So, as we use reason to see what is there concerning sex and check our sanity, we can conclude that it has its own intrinsic ordering to procreation.

At this point many questions abound: What about the fact that a human baby, unlike other species in the animal kingdom, is unable to fend for himself for quite some time once he is generated? If sex is for the generation of children, then what makes it distinctly human, since non-rational animals engage in the same kind of activity? Aren’t you reducing sex to mere biology and mechanics by saying sex is for begetting children? “Where’s the love, man” (can you hear the hippie voice?). Why should I even respect the procreative dimension of sex when I can avoid it?

The latter question can be answered only after we answer the former questions, which will be the subject matter of “Bringing Sanity to Sex: Part 2“.

Love & sanity,
Matthew

Lent: “Whoever wishes to come after Me must take up his cross and deny himself.” Mt 16:24


-by Fr Carlos Martins, CC, a former atheist, Fr Carlos now currently conducts ministry with sacred relics of the saints, with Treasures of the Church ministry.

“I once gave a talk on Lenten fasting and mortification at a gathering of Catholic professionals. One of the attendees came up to me afterward, slightly annoyed, and said that fasting and mortification were not part of her spirituality. “I can follow Jesus perfectly well without them,” she said. “I focus instead on doing good.” (Ironically, that day was a Friday during Lent, and she had purchased fancy cupcakes for everyone.)

I responded with a question. “Then what did Jesus mean when he said, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself’?” (Matt. 16:24).

In recent years, many Catholics have taken on Lenten “self-giving” penances rather than engaging in those that are more explicitly acts of self-denial. Thus, rather than give up things such as sweets, coffee, eating animal flesh (even on Fridays), or some other good thing, there is an exhortation to do such things as pray an extra chaplet, visit a shut-in, devote more time to spiritual reading, or some other such activity. Or even to “fast” from vices such as unkindness.

Prayer and works of mercy are both wonderful and necessary Lenten practices. However, if we do not practice self-denial of things that are good, then we miss the point of Lent.

Two principles are relevant here. First, Jesus remains our model and exemplar. You can bet that Our Lord engaged in much prayer and intercession during his forty days in the desert. But he did so while engaging in rigorous and meaningful self-denial. Scripture states that Jesus fasted while in the desert (Luke 4:2). The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert” (540). The Church has been fasting for 2,000 years. The legitimacy and moral authority of fasting speaks for itself.

Second, in neglecting to fast we could be inadvertently feeding the beast. One of the effects of the fall is an inordinate love of self. We often think too highly of ourselves. We allow our appetites to run amok. One of the purposes of the season of Lent is to attack this inordinate love of self.

Indeed, fantasizing about being more than what they were is how Adam and Eve were tricked by the devil into rejecting God. “‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from the tree your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God’” (Gen. 3:4-5). It is worth noting that when the devil plied this temptation, Adam and Eve had not yet fallen. In other words, human nature was still as God had made it: intact and unbroken. It was by luring them to inordinate self-love that the devil got them to fall for his sordid trap. We’ve been paying the price ever since.

Our brokenness is a force to be reckoned with. It can easily bring us down into all sorts of dysfunction and sin. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul gives a strong exhortation to attack that broken self, what he calls our old self: “You should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth” (Eph. 4:22-24). Paul identifies our old self as the source of our sinfulness, our disordered passions, our refusal to follow the Lord and, ultimately, our unhappiness. To allow it to exist is foolishness. We must declare war on it instead.

We put our old self to death by mortification. Mortification comes from two Latin words, mortem and facere; together they mean “to bring about death.” It consists of the practice of measured denial of our lower appetites and desire for sensual pleasure. To mortify ourselves brings liberation. Indeed, the Catechism calls self-denial one of “the preconditions of all true freedom” (2223).

One of the most basic and traditional forms of observing Lent is fasting: mandatory for all Catholics (except for those exempted by age or illness) on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and encouraged throughout the season. It has the weight not just of ancient Christian practice behind it but that of all major religions. Even the ancient philosophers practiced fasting. Plato, for example, fasted in order to achieve greater physical and mental efficiency.

Some people can fast quite rigorously. Others have more difficulty. For them, some creativity may be necessary.

I had a friend with very low body weight. For him to miss a meal, or not to consume his regular amount of food, meant virtual non-functionality. He couldn’t do his job, he couldn’t concentrate, he couldn’t engage in conversation. This is certainly not what the Church desires when it prescribes fasting. Thus, rather than cutting down on the amount of food he ate (which was already only the amount he needed to function), he deprived himself of the things that made food enjoyable. He refused himself all condiments. Salt, pepper, hot sauce, ketchup, butter, and the like were emptied from his house prior to Lent.

Do you find it burdensome to fast? Try eating your hamburger without ketchup, mustard, cheese, and the other condiments you enjoy putting on it. Do not salt your fries. Do you need a cup of coffee to be alert and to function? Forego the cream and sweetener. In all these practices you’ll feel the deprivation, and you will live an authentic Lent. In fact, depriving ourselves of condiments is a great way to fast, since although they add pleasure to our eating experience, they possess virtually no nutritional value. For forty days, why not put them to death?

To be clear, practicing penance is not an end in itself. The Church does not prescribe penance because it is sadistic; it prescribes it for two essential realities it brings about. The first is that it reminds us of our own mortality. The displeasure that comes with fasting makes us feel our lack of self-sufficiency and our dependence on God. It makes our prayer that much more real and genuine because it is prayer made with both the body and the mind. That prayer, in turn, may fuel acts of charity.

The second is that a meaningful, sincere, and authentic Lenten observance makes Easter that much more of a celebration. When Lent is over it is time for glory, and we consume the good things we have gone without. And it is good to do so. They are a reminder of the glory that Christ has purchased for us and that awaits us in the next life.

Indeed, Scripture describes heaven as a banquet (Matt. 22:2), a wedding feast (Matt. 25: 10), a place devoid of hunger (Rev. 7:16). Although it is true that the Church takes seriously the observance of fasting, it is equally true that no one appreciates a feast like the Church. For 2,000 years she has been preparing for one. “Blessed is the one who will dine in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15).

May God bless us all in our Lenten observances.”

Love,
Matthew

Unreasonable sex

Human rational nature

“Catholic views on personhood and human nature include emphasis on the dignity of each person, from womb to tomb. The claims made for this inviolable dignity invariably stem from the recognition that all human beings, regardless of their state of dependency, are made in the image of God and are thus the bearers of certain moral rights. But in our fallen state that image is wounded and needs to be repaired. Hence, Christians need to learn to recapitulate the life of Christ in their own lives by growing through the stages of human life according to the model that He presents to us…but out of respect for human nature there are moral norms that need to be respected and that may never be violated…Catholic views on personhood and human nature take shape from revelation and reason…The human being is not only (Ed. just some) a creature of God, but that particularly important kind of creature that was made in God’s image and likeness, a dignity that sets humanity apart from the rest of creatures. Among (Ed. other creatures), what separates man from the rest is the possession of the powers of intellect and will, that is, the power of understanding…, and the power to make free choices and to love…

…The point is not that we are always perfectly free (Ed. the vagaries and vicissitudes of life, abuse/misuse, drugs, alcohol, suffering we have endured, health, condition/circumstances into which we are born, accidents, misfortune, maturity, or lack of it, etc.), but that free choice is something quite real in us, something we can gain or lose, and something what can be measured by degree – we can be more or less free in various respects. In the language of the Church, there comes a time when we reach the age of reason, and what that claim means is that we can arrive at the point when we can be quite conscious and aware of what we are doing. We are then considered responsible for what we choose to do or not do…Freedom in the sense required here has to mean self-determination – that is, the power of the self to control one’s actions and even to control the direction of one’s thinking. Metaphysically, this entails the position that there is some real but immaterial power of the soul – the will and its ability to make free choices. In a sense, this pair of powers (intellect and will) is at the deep core of the person, but it is crucial always to bear in mind that the authentic Catholic sense of these powers insists that the person as a whole, a unity of body and soul, and that our bodily actions are the expression of that person……it is by virtue of having an intellect and a will that we bear a special resemblance to God,…intellect and will must always be thought about in relation to our embodiment.”

-Koterski, J, SJ, (2012).  Human Nature from a Catholic Perspective. The American Journal of Economics and Sociology Vol. 71, No. 4, Two Views of Social Justice: A Catholic/Georgist Dialogue (OCTOBER, 2012), pp. 809-839 (31 pages)


-by Karlo Broussard

“So why is same-sex sexual activity not an act befitting a human being? Here’s one answer: it goes against our rational nature.

The end or goal of man’s intellect is to know the truth. So, anything that’s true, like the proposition “Socrates is mortal,” our intellect affirms. Anything that’s false, like “It’s possible for a square-circle to exist,” our intellect abhors—or should abhor.

Now, the order of our intellect toward the truth not only pertains to our ability to understand and judge propositions, like in the examples above: it also allows us to judge the intelligibility of human actions. In other words, we use our intellect to direct our will in a rational way—to do and say what makes sense—and to avoid doing and saying things that don’t make sense.

For example, if I were to go around saying, “I’m actually dead,” I’d be guilty of self-contradiction, since my saying the statement makes it not true. What the statement gives with one hand, the act of a living person saying it takes back with the other.

So, if I were to go around saying “I’m actually dead,” you’d think me a fool. And you’d be right! The intellect recognizes this type of behavior as going against human reason, so it directs the will away from affirming it. This is a natural, logical response to foolishness.

The same natural principle applies to same-sex sexual activity, because it entails the use of the sexual faculty in a way that thwarts its natural procreative end. Human sexual organs naturally aim at procreation. So one gives with one hand, as it were, the procreative end of sex just by using the sexual faculty. But at the same time one takes the procreative end back with the other hand by perverting the sexual faculty and intentionally directing it away from its procreative end, thus rendering the act self-contradictory.

Although it is terribly out of step with popular culture to say that it is irrational to use sex for intentionally non-procreative purposes, the underlying logic is actually easy to grasp.

As the MeToo movement has shown, most in our culture rightly condemn sexual coercion: they recognize such coercion as irrational and evil both because it treats a human being as a tool to be used and because sex is supposed to be an act of love, which is free.

Forcing someone into sexual activity is at odds with the other natural end of our sexuality—unitive love. It amounts to an anti-love act of love. Similar irrationality is found in same-sex sexual activity, which thwarts what the sexual faculty naturally aims at—namely, procreation. As such, it’s an anti-procreative procreative act.

Just as a healthy intellect recognizes the inherent contradiction in sexual coercion and thus directs the will away from it, so too a healthy intellect ought to recognize the inherent contradiction in same-sex sexual activity. Neither are befitting of our rational human nature.

This is the same rationale behind the Church’s condemnation of contraception, as articulated in Pope St. John Paul II’s “theology of the body,” and in his earlier writings.

In his essay “The Teaching of the Encyclical ‘Humane Vitae’ on Love: An Analysis of the Text,” then Archbishop Karol Wojtyla writes that when couples have sex, they “can and should intend by it precisely what it means essentially.” In other words, the sexual act has a natural and internal logic to it, and a couple should intend to speak that “language of the body” when they have sex.

He identifies this natural and objective meaning of sex in the two ends or goals that we’ve articulated before: unitive love, which he calls the “special union of persons,” and procreation, which he refers to as the “possibility (not the necessity!) of fecundity.” Consequently, for the couple’s sexual act to be “intrinsically true and free of falsification,” it must signify the objective meaning of sex.

Here is where the self-contradiction of such actions comes most clearly to light. If a couple has sex while intentionally thwarting its procreative end, it follows that they contradict its objective meaning—they “falsify” the meaning of the sexual act. What they give with one hand, engaging in an act that has the objective meaning of procreation, they take away with the other, intentionally rendering a procreative act non-procreative.

To engage in sex in a way that goes against its internal logic is thus irrational behavior, since the behavior contradicts what reason knows about the truth of sex. When there is harmony between the two, sex is reasonable. When there is disharmony between the two, sex violates reason. And this can’t possibly be good for us.

Sex is a good and natural thing, and it is healthy to desire sexual union. But, like all actions, that which makes us properly human must govern this instinct: namely, our gift of reason. Otherwise, our sexual acts would involve a betrayal of our intellects, and that’s not something we should let happen, especially if we want to be a person of reason and good will.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Calvinism/Presbyterianism – Predestination & Divine Sovereignty, Part 1 of 4


-John Calvin (1509-1564)


-by Br Elijah Dubek, OP

““Excuse me, Brother. Are you a Thomist?” Pausing my scan of the dense column of marchers, I found two gentlemen approaching me. Of course, I answered in the affirmative. We exchanged introductions, and then Michael and Gabriel (as we’ll call them) continued, “Can you explain to us Saint Thomas’s teaching on predestination?” I took the bait, and we had a pleasant, enthusiastic, thirty-five minute conversation right there in front of the Supreme Court building.

Michael and Gabriel, as Calvinists, hold what we might call a “strong view” of God’s sovereignty over creation. Because of this, they found St. Thomas’s view quite refreshing.

Divine sovereignty refers to the extent of God’s control and authority over the creatures he has made. The question of sovereignty follows immediately from the doctrine of creation. Saint Thomas calls this notion “governance,” and he treats it quite thoroughly in his Summa Theologiae. After affirming the universal scope of divine governance (ST I, q. 103, a. 5), the Angelic Doctor considers two categories of effects of God’s governance: the conservation of creatures in existence and the movement of creatures to their proper actions. The former is much easier to explain and accept than the latter, but both are conclusions that flow from biblical and philosophical considerations of creation.

To explain conservation, Aquinas makes an important distinction between the “cause of being” and the “cause of becoming” (ST I, q. 104, a. 1, co.). A builder is a cause of the becoming of the house but not of the being of the house. If the builder stops building (for whatever reason), the house stops coming to be. Once the house has come to be, though, the builder’s role is done. He can go home and the house doesn’t collapse. The house still has ongoing causes holding it together, though. The nature of the brick and mortar, the drywall, the wood, the nails and screws, and the rest… the house does continue to depend on these. The materials’ natural sturdiness, adhesiveness, tensile strength, and other characteristics operate continuously in order for the house to remain a house and not fall apart. If the wood rots, if the foundation cracks, or if someone or something destroys one of these materials, the very existence of the house as a house is threatened because these are causes of the being of the house.

God’s conservation of creatures is even more profound. His activity produces the being and nature of everything. There was no pre-existent stuff out of which God fashioned the world. He had to produce the whole of it, and none of it can hold on to this existence without His conservation. The bricks and mortar of the house just need to be put in place by the builder and then their natural properties hold the house together without any further help from the builder. Created existence cannot maintain itself like this, because existence is not something we have by ourselves—it’s not a natural property. As Aquinas says, “Only God is being by his own essence, since his essence is his existence; every creature, however, is a being by participation” (ST I, q. 104, a. 1, co.). Because creatures exist by participating in existence, not by independently possessing it, they need God to keep them around.

If we were to stop here, neither Saint Thomas nor my Calvinist interlocutors would be satisfied. God is not merely an existential battery. Creatures aren’t just “plugged in,” but otherwise outside the scope of God’s governance. Saint Thomas tells us that we need God not only for our continued existence but also for the production of every one of our actions (ST I, q. 105, a. 5). Saint Paul affirms this when he preached in Athens, saying, “In him [God] we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). The prophet Isaiah likewise wrote, “You have wrought for us all our works” (Isa 26:12). Agere sequitur esse, the scholastics said. Action follows being. The kind of being a thing is determines the kind of action it can perform. Every creature’s being is absolutely dependent on God; therefore, every creature’s action is as well. Later in this four-part series, we’ll consider this doctrine in relation to the freedom of man’s will.

Everything and every detail within creation falls in the scope of God’s providence and governance because without Him, no creature could exist or act. That, fundamentally, is God’s sovereignty, and this doctrine looms in the background of any discussion of predestination. So far, in my conversation with Michael and Gabriel, we are in agreement. Next time, though, we’ll see how a few important distinctions set the Catholic thought of St. Thomas apart from Calvin’s teaching.”

Love, & His mercy,
Matthew

The Cruelty of Error

Tolerance is NOT a Christian virtue.


-by Br Philip Nolan, OP

“Here’s an open secret: Many young Catholics disagree or struggle with the Church’s teaching on human sexuality. Not only do they struggle—as have generations—with the call to chastity, but they also doubt the Church’s basic claims about what sexuality is for. Even among those who wish to be faithful, many simply can’t see how the Church’s teaching about sexuality could ever be something other than an embarrassment. And, from a cultural standpoint, it’s easy to see why.

Consider the experience of teenagers and college students. Every day, they confront a certain set of questions. “You want to be accepting of others, right?” Yes, I’m no bigot. “You want to support people in their pursuit of happiness?” Of course! “Well, these people, perhaps some of them good friends, have discovered that they are attracted romantically to someone of the same sex and, therefore, unless you are bigoted or against people being happy, you will support their seeking to fulfill this desire.” This line of questioning becomes even more acute if one has some uncertainties about one’s own attractions.

Now, more and more, we see the same logic spreading. “You want to be accepting, right?” “You want to support people in their pursuit of happiness?” “Well, these people have discovered that they have to surgically reconfigure their bodies in order to be happy, so you will support them, right?”

Young Catholics find themselves caught between the latest form of self-identification and a Church whose precepts they do not understand. Humans can only live with this cognitive contradiction for so long, before having to jettison either Church teaching or the ideologies of the day.

They have many motivations to reject Church teachings: being on “the right side of history,” acceptance by peers, perceived self-fulfillment, and, increasingly, employability.

What’s the case for staying true to the Church? On this matter, the Church preaches two words of good news: First, although the world has fallen in profound ways, God made the world good and providentially guides it. And second, the Church preaches the truth of Christ crucified.

God’s good ordering shapes the world. How is this good news? Our interior experience does not create the world. Especially in an age in which the young are consumed by anxiety and depression, this truth is great news. We can confront our fears by contemplating the way the world actually is. You will not die if you get a C on one test. Your life won’t be over if you make a fool of yourself in front of friends. God is totally in control.

As our fears can deceive us, so too can our desires. So often we desire what will in reality make us miserable. The Church’s teaching frees us from the tyranny of our often misaimed desires by introducing us to the designs of God.

The goodness of the world does not negate the fact that we suffer. Unfulfilled desires cause us to suffer—this is true whether the desires point us to something contrary to what the Church teaches or not. But by suffering the unfulfillment of desires we know to be misaimed, we allow God to begin to heal us at the deepest level. Christ crucified gives meaning to our suffering. His suffering makes ours a place of profound intimacy with God. He has given us a promise that the suffering we bear for Him is not in vain.

Perhaps these two points don’t immediately seem to sway the balance in favor of choosing God and His Church. To sum up the case: we will suffer if we let God reshape our hearts to accord with the goodness of reality. But, in the long run, we will be much more miserable if we try to reshape the world according to our broken desires. So we “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh” (Rom 13:14), knowing that “the world and its desires are passing away” (1 John 2:17). In the end, it is cruel to affirm otherwise. The choice is becoming starker—in one sense harder, in another sense clearer: God or the world, truth or error, life or death. The Church teaches a freeing truth, and “blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it” (Luke 11:28).”

“See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to Him, and to keep His commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him. For the Lord is your life, and He will give you many years in the land He swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” -Dt 30:15-20

Love & truth,
Matthew

Feb 14 – St Valentine & Catholic marriage – for pleasure?



-skull of St. Valentine (226-14 Feb 269 AD), Bishop/Priest & Martyr, in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome, please click on the image for greater detail. He was martyred and his body buried at a Christian cemetery on the Via Flaminia close to the Ponte Milvio to the north of Rome, on February 14, which has been observed as the Feast of Saint Valentine (Saint Valentine’s Day) since 496 AD.  “Love is stronger than death.”

Relics of him were kept in the Church and Catacombs of San Valentino in Rome, which “remained an important pilgrim site throughout the Middle Ages until the relics of St. Valentine were transferred to the church of Santa Prassede during the pontificate of Nicholas IV”. His skull, crowned with flowers, is exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome; other relics of him were taken to Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland, where they remain; this house of worship continues to be a popular place of pilgrimage, especially on Saint Valentine’s Day, for those seeking love.



Tees to the Kingdom, St Valentine shirts, please click on the images for greater detail

CCC 1602-1666


-by Br Raymond LaGrange, OP

“I like Saint Valentine. I am also a big fan of Christian marriage, and he was martyred for illegally presiding over Christian marriages. Through some bizarre accident of history, his feast-day is observed by the secular world, but the Church has taken him off the General Calendar. Unfortunately, I think very few people who mark this day on their personal calendars ever consider the life of the saint or the reason he died. This is but a reflection of a deeper problem: just as the world celebrates the feast of the patron of love without actually celebrating the patron himself, so also the world celebrates romantic love without actually thinking much about what love is in the first place.

In his book Love and Responsibility (written before he became Pope), Saint John Paul II impugns the idea that the point of a relationship is for both members to derive pleasure from it. The problem with this idea is that pleasure is not really a goal; there is no pleasure except pleasure in something. We eat cake for pleasure. We do not eat pleasure directly. No cake, no pleasure. Somehow, the world is trying to eat for pleasure without thinking too much about the step where you actually put food in the mouth. Such is a relationship of pure pleasure, nonsensical.

Any relationship, not just marriage, needs to be based on a common goal. For example, people who cooperate for an end in itself (hobby, being in a band – the goal is music, art/musical appreciation, volunteering, etc). These sorts of relationships (friendships, partnerships, mutual interests, fellow aficionados, etc.) often lead to the pleasure of relationship, but a relationship that is only founded upon mutual pleasure is actually the most unstable, because pleasure is so ephemeral. This can be said of emotional as well as physical pleasures. The deep feeling of contentment that arises when silently beholding a sunset with a lover is certainly a high pleasure, even the stuff of poetry, but that delight must give way to a chilly night. When night falls, something more than the sunset must remain to keep the relationship together.

Marriage is the most profound of human relationships, and so it must be based on the highest goal. That goal is nothing but the giving of one’s entire self. Saint John Paul II teaches that such giving is perfected only in procreation. It is in the bearing and raising of children that man and woman give themselves so fully that they make more of each other. Only by pursuing together the good of children can the couple really be united, even if the hope for children never comes to fruition. If either withholds this gift, the relationship becomes one of mere pleasure or convenience or some other friendly pursuit.

Children can make life difficult. They demand self-sacrifice, especially when they present particular difficulties. It is not easy. Sleeplessness is not fun. No engaged couple dreams of interminable appointments with doctors and therapists of various stripes.

At the same time, the gift of existence is one of the greatest gifts, despite the price. God, the giver of all existence, allows a man and a woman to share in His goodness by transmitting this most precious gift to their child. They can do this only with and through each other. The giving of this gift is fulfilling, because it is the gift that we were made to give. Giving this gift gives real joy.

This goal of procreation does not replace all the other goods of marriage. Instead, it makes them possible. A marriage can only be more than a house-sharing agreement if it aspires to a higher goal. Sexual union can only be more than an ‘arrangement’ if it aspires to something more than physical pleasure. The joy of self-giving can only be felt in the actual giving of oneself. The work of arranging one’s life around these different goods can, of course, be difficult, but the order of goods that the Church provides allows marriage to be structured firmly and stably. Only then can the desire to love be fulfilled. The passing on of existence is the only sufficient basis for marital love.”

“The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord ” (CCC No. 1601)…

“So, if one of these conditions is intentionally left out, then no marriage takes place,” Father Thomas Urban, who is a judge at the Metropolitan Tribunal in Detroit, Michigan said. “I’ll marry you but not for the rest of our lives — no marriage. Or, I’ll marry you only if I can continue my bachelor lifestyle — no marriage. Or, I’ll marry you but I will not have any children — no marriage.” – Our Sunday Visitor Catholic Publishing, Oct 11 2017, https://www.osvnews.com/2017/10/11/can-catholic-couples-choose-childlessness/

“Decisions involving responsible parenthood presupposes the formation of conscience, which is ‘the most secret core and sanctuary of a person. There each one is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in the depths of the heart’ (Gaudium et Spes, 16). The more the couple tries to listen in conscience to God and His commandments (cf. Rom 2:15), and is accompanied spiritually, the more their decision will be profoundly free of subjective caprice and accommodation to prevailing social mores.” The clear teaching of the Second Vatican Council still holds: ‘[The couple] will make decisions by common counsel and effort. Let them thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring. For this accounting they need to reckon with both the material and the spiritual conditions of the times as well as of their state in life. Finally, they should consult the interests of the family group, of temporal society and of the Church herself. The parents themselves and no one else should ultimately make this judgment in the sight of God.’
— Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia No. 222 (first quoted passage taken from the final document of the 2015 Synod of Bishops)

Sex is both unitive and procreative, and the two cannot be separated.  Each is the point of the other.

I love you, Kelly & Mara.  Thanks, Mom & Dad,
Matthew

“At Home with the Lord”: 2 Corinthians 5:8 & Purgatory

THE PROTESTANT CHALLENGE: How can the Catholic Church teach that there is an intermediate state after death, like purgatory, when the Bible says that the only place for a Christian to be (besides this life) is heaven?

Referring to a soul’s “entrance into the blessedness of heaven,” the Catechism teaches that it will enter either “through a purification or immediately” (1022). This presupposes that it’s possible for a soul to die in God’s friendship but yet not be present with the Lord in heaven.  Some Protestants view Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 as contradicting this belief. Paul writes:

“So we are always of good courage; we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord…and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”

Since the Bible says that for a Christian to be “away from the body” is to be “at home with the Lord,” there can’t be any intermediate state in the afterlife.

MEETING THE CHALLENGE

1. Paul doesn’t say what the challenge assumes he says.

Protestants who appeal to this passage often fail to realize that Paul doesn’t say that “to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord.” Paul simply says, “While we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord” and that “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” Protestants may reply that although Paul doesn’t exactly say what the challenge claims, that’s what he means. Are they right? Does the logic follow? Does the statement, “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” mean the same as, “To be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord”?

Suppose I’m at work, and I’m wishing that I could instead be away from work, and at home. Can we conclude from this that if I’m away from work, I must automatically be at home? Doesn’t seem like it. I could be away from work, eating lunch at McDonald’s. I could be away from work, on my way home, but sitting in traffic. So, it’s fallacious to conclude from this verse that, once away from the body, a Christian must immediately be present with the Lord.

2. Even if we concede the interpretation of 2 Corinthians 5:8 that the challenge asserts, it still doesn’t rule out purgatory.

But let’s assume for argument’s sake that the interpretation this challenge offers of 2 Corinthians 5:8 is true, and that to be away from the body is to be immediately present with the Lord. That still wouldn’t pose a threat to purgatory.

First, because the challenge assumes that purgatory involves a period of time (during which we are “away from the body” but not “with the Lord”). But as we’ve seen, the Catholic Church has never defined the precise nature of the duration of purgatory. We simply don’t know what the experience of time is beyond this life. If purgatory did not involve a duration of time as we know it, it would be perfectly compatible with the challenge’s interpretation of this verse.

A second reason is that the challenge assumes purgatory is a state of existence away from the Lord. But, as we have also seen, purgatory could very well be that encounter with the Lord that we experience in our particular judgment, as we “appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10). This makes sense because Paul describes the soul’s judgment as being one of a purifying fire (1 Cor. 3:11-15). It makes sense for God’s presence, not his absence, to be part of our soul’s purification.

COUNTER-CHALLENGE: Shouldn’t you make sure that the Bible passage you use to challenge a Catholic belief actually says what you think it says?

AFTERTHOUGHT: The early Christian writer Tertullian (c. A.D. 160-220) affirms the existence of a state after death before entering heaven when he writes, “Inasmuch as we understand the prison pointed out in the Gospel to be Hades [Matt. 5:25], and as we also interpret the uttermost farthing to mean the very smallest offense which has to be recompensed there before the resurrection, no one will hesitate to believe that the soul undergoes in Hades some compensatory discipline, without prejudice to the full process of the resurrection.”

Love,
Matthew

Ecce, Res & Objective Truth


-“Ecce homo”, Andrea Mantegna, 1500, tempera on canvas, 72 cm × 54 cm (28 in × 21 in), Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris. In the painting, two messages can be seen in Latin script: Crvcifige evm[.] tolle evm[.] crvcifige crvc[…] (“crucify him, trap him, crucify [in the cross]”) to the left and to the right the similar Crvcifige evm crvcifige tolle eṽ crvcifige (“crucify him, crucify, trap him, crucify”). The text on the left pretends to be pseudo-Hebrew in cursive script.  Please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Br Ephrem Maria Reese, OP

“One thing that frustrates some, and fascinates others, about philosophical study, is that it takes ordinary things and makes them very, very complicated…

One feature of Catholic thinking that now fascinates people goes under the name “objective truth.” For many people, secular and religious alike, our world has been affected by “the turn to the subject,” or the tendency to say that truth mostly lies in the eye of the beholder, or depends on who the person thinking is. For truth to be objective, on the other hand, means that who the thinker is is not as important as what the thing they are thinking about is. The who needs to conform himself or herself to the what, not the other way around.

It is popular nowadays in Catholic theology to point out that Truth, in Jesus, became a person. In other words, Truth became a Subject. Indeed, He did. But a further twist to the story is that Jesus, Who is a Subject, also chose to become, for us and for our salvation, an Object. He became, among other things, a piece of food—a mere Thing. In the Eucharist, God so humbled Himself as to become, mysteriously, both thing and person—in theological language, we might say that He is both res et persona.

The Truth is a Person, a Subject, and is thus in perpetual conversation with us. He speaks interiorly. He comes to us as Word, speaking in our hearts, and even in other persons. But the Truth is also Thing, and as such, comes to us in Objects, called the Sacraments. One complaint that the early Protestant Reformers in England had with the Catholics is that our treatment of God is so thing-like. Their early charter, the 39 Articles, says: “The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about.” Well, yes and no. These most sacred Things are not to be merely thrown around, or treated superstitiously. But God did intend them to be mysterious realities. A “reality” is another word for “thing,” from the Latin res. In the Eucharist, and in the other sacraments (though in different ways), God makes His presence Real, in things. And that is something to be gazed upon, with reverent silence and song and humble prayer.

Before the person Who so humbled Himself as to be gazed upon in His torment, carried about in His death, worshiped and eaten in mystery, a true Christian will say: “yes, truth is objective.” He is more interior than my most interior self; He is more real than the realest exterior object. Ecce, Res.”

He lives,
Matthew