Category Archives: Theology of the Body

Christian M-word


-by Christine Flynn

“As I walked out the door to meet my boyfriend’s parents for the first time, my mom called after me, “That skirt’s a little short, isn’t it?”

I stopped. A discussion on the appropriateness of dress had never occurred so this sudden mention, when I was eighteen years old, was surprising and confusing. “What does it matter?” I said, honestly curious.

At the time, I received an unsatisfactory answer to that question—“because!” But the way we dress and how we comport ourselves certainly does matter. Modesty is a virtue worth cultivating, most especially in the teenage years, when habits really dig their roots in, for better or for worse. This is true of everyday life, as well as during special events, such as homecoming dances and formals, when the norms of regular dress and behavior are often, in reality or expectation, stretched or broken.

It’s homecoming season now, which means many practical lessons in what makes a modest dress. But, perhaps surprisingly, modesty is not all about the clothes we wear. Fr. John Hardon writes in the Modern Catholic Dictionary that modesty is “the virtue that moderates all the internal and external movements and appearance of a person according to his or her endowments, possessions, and station in life.” This includes how we dress but also much more—our general behavior, anytime, at any occasion.

We aren’t modest for the sake of modesty, or to hold up some stodgy religious standard. Modesty goes beyond those things and plants itself in the love we have for our God-given dignity and in the love we bear for the mystical body of Christ, our Christian brothers and sisters who are striving for holiness. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity” (2521).

Appropriate clothing and behavior fall under this definition, though the Catechism mentions dress only in passing. Why? Because what we present outwardly reflects our inward disposition and how we respect and care for “the intimate center of the person.” Do we care interiorly that God has gifted us with bodies that, per His law, form sexual relationships within—and only within—the bounds of marriage? Do we care interiorly that we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and that we ought to help lead souls to heaven , and thus guard those of the opposite sex who may be tempted to inappropriate thoughts or behavior by the way we dress and act? Do we believe that virtue is a habit worth cultivating, not something to work toward only when it is convenient?

The earnest person of faith would answer these questions in the affirmative. So how is modesty practically applied?

It is unnecessary to believe that modest dress must be somber, unattractive, or dowdy. And though modesty in dress and decorum certainly is not required only of girls, attire for girls breaks the bounds of modesty more regularly than clothing for boys. Rev. George Kelly’s advice in his 1959 book The Catholic Family Handbook still applies, more than a half century later: “A young girl need not walk about with stringy hair, a plain, pale face, or in the clothing of a widow; she can make herself attractive, using appropriate cosmetic aids and colorful fabrics. Above all, if she has a smiling, friendly disposition, it will be reflected in her appearance, and will make her more attractive than any product from the beautician’s laboratory.”

We cannot overlook the need to strike a balance in our dress—not wearing immodest clothing for our own vanity, nor seeking recognition or applause for how modest we are. As Dr. Brian Besong writes on modesty in An Introduction to Ethics, “we should restrain ourselves according to the circumstances of our culture and environment, not flouting social norms in order to stand out, or ignoring the social setting (such as who we are around) in choosing what to wear.” So if the social setting is a homecoming dance, girls can tend to their appearance with the care that the formal occasion demands, but not to the point of vanity or pride.

A proper understanding of modesty also brings us to true Christian charity, meaning that in all areas of our lives, we follow the two greatest commandments as outlined by Jesus: love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. When it comes to loving our neighbors, we are to will their good, the greatest good being heaven. How we dress and behave can certainly assist our Christian brethren in their pursuit of the beatific vision . . . or hinder them. True, it is our own responsibility to practice purity and to avoid “voyeurism and illusion,” to paraphrase paragraph 2525 of the Catechism. But in that same paragraph, the Church advises the media to exercise respect and restraint. We should apply that advice to ourselves—what we do, how we behave, and yes, even what we wear.

If a person is enthusiastic about respecting and protecting our brothers and sisters in Christ, and yet still desires to dress immodestly, it’s worth getting to the root of why. Pride or vanity is probably playing a role. The same can be said if a young person “must” wear this or that style of clothing because she can’t bear what others will think of her if she is dressed modestly—or if she wants to feel sexual or elicit those thoughts in others. Running through a kind of “self-audit” to understand our inclinations over certain subjects, including clothing, can reveal things that we might not pay much mind to otherwise.

Simply answering “because!” doesn’t cut it in matters of faith. We need to pay attention—though not to the point of scrupulosity—to our human motivations and desires. Only then can we ascend beyond those factors and attain lasting happiness, far beyond the reaches of what we do or do not wear.”

Love & Christian modesty, Deo gratias,
Matthew

Catholics & yoga?


-by Alexander Frank, a former US Army Ranger and a graduate of Yale Law Schoo, converted to the Catholic faith in 2019 from Kashmiri Shaivism, a sophisticated form of yoga and the origin of its modern form.

“Secular society adores yoga, and not a few Catholics are fond of it, too. Revenue for the yoga industry runs in the billions of dollars, according to Statista.com, and the number of participants is estimated to be in the tens of millions.

I myself dived into yoga, drawn to the idea of personal enhancement without ethical constraints. After years of studying yoga and its associated systems—mindfulness, Buddhism, magical shamanism—I had completed a teacher training retreat, spent three months in a Zen monastery, and studied under one of the best yoga spiritual directors in the United States. Over the course of my studies, and as my spiritual searching eventually led me to the Catholic Church, I learned that there is much more to yoga than Western pop culture implies.

In analyzing whether it is prudent for Catholics to practice yoga, the place to start is in determining what yoga is. The term yoga means “to yoke” in Sanskrit. This “yoking” connotes a spiritual unity, rooted in a kind of servitude. Now, Christ calls us to bear his yoke (Matt. 11:30), but what kind of yoke does yoga put on practitioners? Or in other words, what kind of servitude does yoga bind its practitioners to?

We can start by looking at the poses. Take some examples:

  • The three-part Warrior pose invokes the god Virabhadra, who was created by another god, Shiva, to murder Shiva’s father-in-law. The three poses imitate the sequence of the murder.
  • Matseyadrasana and Gorakshasana are named after Hindu gurus who founded the style that led to modern yoga. According to the foundation legend, they used their occult powers to commit theft, adultery, fraud, rape by deceit, corpse desecration, the murder of Matsyendra’s son, and cross-dressing.*
  • According to the founder of Rasa yoga, Sianna Sherman, Goddess pose “invokes” the dark goddess Kali, known for making clothes out of the body parts of slain enemies. Yoga devotees sacrifice children to her in India to this day.

What about the purpose of yoga? It goes beyond postures that honor problematic Hindu gods and gurus. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs says, “Yoga is essentially a spiritual discipline based on an extremely subtle science which focuses on bringing harmony between mind and body. . . . The practice of yoga leads to the union of individual consciousness with that of the Universal Consciousness.” So yoga is at its essence a spiritual discipline. That spiritual work is rooted in a belief that consciousness, or more simply awareness, is the vehicle to the divine. The ultimate goal is a dissolution of our individual identity and a realization of our “true Self,” to fuse our consciousness with a sort of hive mind.

Many other sources say similar things. Judith Lasater, perhaps the most prominent American yoga teacher, describes “the true essence of the practice” as enlightenment, to “experience reality not as our various parts, but as one unified being.” Anusha Wijeyakumar, another prominent yoga teacher and writer, says that “the ultimate goal of yoga . . . is samadhi—final union with god and divine consciousness. . . . Yoga is much more than asana [physical postures].”

One mantra, a Hindu prayer that accompanies the physical postures, is “I am what I say I am.” Considering how God identifies himself in Exodus 3:14, this looks very much like an attempt to make human beings into God. It is a radical philosophical claim that gives rise to a specific type of spirituality.

By contrast, St. John of the Cross describes how the soul in love with God will reflect God’s light to such an extent that it appears to be God, but it remains ontologically separate. Cardinal Ratzinger, examining forms of Christian meditation, wrote in 1989 that “all the aspirations which the prayer of other religions expresses are fulfilled in the reality of Christianity beyond all measure, without the personal self or the nature of a creature being dissolved or disappearing into the sea of the Absolute.” Union with the divine is a noble aspiration, but the Eastern paths diverge significantly from the Christian one.

Now, the most common argument in favor of yoga is to throw out the deeper “spiritual” side and zero in on the physical action of stretching. Catholic advocates for yoga insist that just doing “postures”—that honor morally questionable Hindu gods and have always been a Hindu spiritual practice—is good as long as we intend only to get exercise. But does this argument hold water?

To find out, let’s ask whether it is true that an act—say, striking a yoga pose—has no meaning beyond the intentions of the person committing that act. St. Thomas Aquinas argues that in fact, actions do have an objective meaning: “The goodness or malice which the external action has of itself . . . is not derived from the will, but rather from the reason” (ST I-II, q. 20, a. 1). Actions have their own nature: the quality of the external act is derived from rational inquiry rather than from the intent of the actor. Similarly, the Catechism teaches that, for an act to be good, it has to have a good moral object, which is intrinsic to its nature and independent of intent. “A good intention . . . does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered good or just” (1753).

Is the “behavior” of yogic stretching “intrinsically disordered”? What is the “moral object” of these poses? Yogis themselves point to it, even if they are not very forthright. The postures aim to awaken kundalini, energies of the soul, associated with the Hindu gods. That energy starts dormant at the base of the spine, depicted as a “sleeping serpent goddess.” Yoga practice sends the snake up the spine to take possession of the soul so that the practitioner can realize his “authentic Self,” yoking himself to those gods. Bikram Choudhury, the founder of one of the most common types of yoga, says what happens with his posture sequence is that “you awaken kundalini. You become Jesus Christ. Or Buddha. My yoga formula works for everybody.”

One of the main gurus to bring yoga to the west, BKS Iyengar, writes that a true yoga asana “is that in which the thought of [the Hindu supreme god] flows effortlessly and incessantly through the mind of the [practitioner].” Judith Lasater says that “the intrinsic nature of yoga is that you cannot separate the asanas from other aspects of practice.” Alexandria Crow, a prominent yoga “expert,” says, “The poses are really a vehicle to teach [yoga’s] philosophy.” According to a staff writer for Yoga Journal, the most prominent yoga source in the U.S. in terms of internet traffic, the reason for this is an innovation by the father of modern yoga, Krishnamacharya, who “made the postures an integral part of meditation instead of just a step leading toward it.”

Significantly, subjective intent has a way of conforming itself to the moral object through repeated practice. Two scientific surveys show that, although most people start yoga for the health benefits, many stick with it to attain this spiritual actualization. Fr. Joseph-Marie Verlinde, who went deep into yoga before converting, told his then-guru that Westerners mostly practice yoga for relaxation. The guru “laughed furiously” and then said, “That does not prevent yoga from having its effect.”

In short, it should be uncontroversial to say that the system that gave rise to yoga, including the poses, honors Hindu gods and aims to spiritually yoke the practitioner to them. Meanwhile, Scripture tells us that “all the gods of the Gentiles are idols” (Ps. 96:5—older translations read “devils” instead of “idols”), and the Church takes a strong stance against idolatry (Exod. 20:1-4; CCC 2110). It is unlikely that many Catholics would rush to a gym to perform the “Ba’al lunge,” yet the “idols” or “devils” of Hindu spiritual practice get a shrug of the shoulders.

But are we really opening a door to demons just by setting our bodies in certain poses, like in the satirical Babylon Bee article where the plumber accidentally gets possessed? Well, Norman Sjoman was a scholar who practiced under and studied the father of modern yoga, Krishnamacharya. He concluded that “what makes something yoga is not what is done, but how it is done.” And many poses in yoga come from Western gymnastics and are similar to postures in normal fitness. Similarly, eating a circular piece of bread outside Christian practice does nothing spiritually, but receiving the Eucharist in a Catholic Mass invokes works of grace (or divine condemnation) beyond the intent of the practitioner. So doing these poses in the context of yoga, as part of the practice of yoga, regardless of subjective intent, turns them into a way to further yoga’s spirituality. They become a sacrament, in the loose sense of the term—a visible sign of deeper spiritual work.

So yes, strictly speaking, the poses done in isolation are almost certainly fine. But my personal experience in the yoga world does not recommend participating in it, nor does the immense spiritual baggage associated with it. It is almost impossible to avoid participating in the spiritual parts of yoga, which are problematic if we are to stay away from honoring murderous gods and opening ourselves up to yoga’s spiritual beliefs.

There are many ways to get physically fit that do not carry that baggage, most notably Pietra fitness, that give the same fitness benefits while drawing practitioners into a relationship of love rooted in truth with God. Why choose yoga instead, when the risk is so high and the benefit so comparatively low?


* For the gruesome details, see Christopher Wallis, Tantra Illuminated: The Philosophy, History, and Practice of a Timeless Tradition (Audible Audiobook Edition, 2016), ch. 100, 12:47:08; James Mallinson, The Khecarividya of Adinatha: A Critical Edition and Annotated Translation of an Early Text of Hathayoga, (New York: Routledge, 2008), p. 186, note 129; and David White, The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), pp. 236-237. (“Goraksha kills and skins the boy, scrubs his skin like a washerman to remove all its bodily impurities and hangs his skin on the roof to dry, like the hide of some skinned beast.”)”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Pride & the Rainbow – the Queen of sin


-by Christine Flynn

““Pride Month”—the entire month of June—is now barely in the rearview mirror, with “LGBT History Month” not so far away. This means that for two entire months every year, we are compelled to glorify what Pope St. Gregory the Great called “the queen of sin”—specifically, in this case, pride in a sexual orientation that is “objectively disordered” and inclines people to “acts of grave depravity” (CCC 2357). Pride, too, is intrinsically disordered; it is a capital sin that “seeks attention and honor and sets oneself in competition with God,” disordering and damaging our relationship with our Creator and Sustainer.

Pride’s antidote, humility, leads the Christian to acknowledging God as the author of all good. It is, in a sense, the acceptance of reality—that God is good, and truth is good. And the truth is that God created the universe according to certain rules and laws. He created humans to obey certain rules and laws—not just arbitrarily, but for our own flourishing and ultimately for heaven.

In being given this gift of flourishing, we do best when we recognize where we have failed and our fallen state, which is where our failures ultimately come from. This recognition is foundational to a life of poverty of spirit. It is not the imposition of a “vengeful, bearded Sky Daddy bent on eternal damnation for anyone struggling with [insert sin of choice here].” Rather, it is grounded in objective morality, based on our nature as humans.

To attempt to circumvent, disobey, or override the moral laws of God betrays a refusal, an anti-fiat toward Him Who created us, exemplifying pride in our ability to say “no thanks” to God and pursue a course that suits our own subjective sense of morality. We set ourselves above God this way.

That certainly does not sound like something to celebrate or take lightly.

But now we are to take the sin of sexual immorality lightly—with parades, drag shows, story hours, store discounts, fundraisers, colorful merchandise, and more . . . all pointing to a refusal of God’s laws, and a proud refusal at that.

The revelers may say, “That’s not the type of ‘pride’ we’re advocating for. It’s about being unapologetic about who we are and how we love ourselves and others!” Yet it is one thing to love ourselves for who we are, accepting how God created us, and bearing daily the crosses that come from our individual proclivities to sin. This is the path to holiness. It is something else entirely that “Pride” advocates promote. These advocates want us to celebrate not the heroic efforts of the people who experience non-heterosexual attractions and are doing their level best to live in accordance with God’s law, but the sin itself, which is as disordered as celebrating any other sin.

The “I’m okay, you’re okay, we’re all okay” mentality is patently false. God made each of us in His image and likeness, but we are not He. We are all broken and sinful, able only to reflect the good that God authored and is. God gave us sexual love—the parameters of which, far from being arbitrary, are set up for our flourishing. This love is a beautiful and fruitful thing. But sexual activity removed from that life-giving context becomes disordered. We can’t expect true happiness from these disordered activities—regardless of the fleeting biological or emotional satisfaction they may provide, regardless of how the culture pushes them—any more than we can expect happiness from eating thumbtacks. Some things are just really good for us, given our nature, and some things are really bad. Not even God can change that.

Rather than justify and celebrate behaviors and desires that go against God’s plans for us, we ought to be apologetic. Each of us has turned away from God. As the Confiteor goes: “I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do.” That is what makes the sacrament of reconciliation such a stunning act of love: God fully restores us to Himself. He is the only one who can. None of our own attempts comes close.

This can be seen in one of the central emblems of the “Pride” movement: the rainbow. Biblically, the rainbow denotes God’s covenant with us—His promise that He will never again destroy creation with a great flood. He hung up His bow in the sky to show us that his “weapon” has been put to rest; He is at peace with us. God’s rainbow, too, signifies perfection: six days of creation and a seventh of rest. On the other hand, the colors in the “Pride” rainbow, as it stood for years, prior to its redesign in 2021, numbered only six—the “number of man,” a symbol of humanity’s attempts to create and work as God, but ultimately and always falling short of His perfection.

In the book of Joshua, we see man doing his own work, marching around the walls of Jericho for six days. Ultimately, it is the glory of God that makes those walls fall . . . on the seventh day (Joshua 6:1-20). In Genesis, we read that God worked for six days and rested on the seventh, blessing this seventh day and making it holy. As for us, we may labor and do all our work during the first six days of the week, but the day afterward is to be kept separate and holy—not through any effort on our own, but because of the Lord’s command (Exod. 8:8-10). On the sixth day, too, Jesus was crucified and buried. What terrible work of man in nailing the Creator of the universe to a cross! But even in man’s worst work, God was not defeated. Rather, He brought something infinitely more beautiful from it.

This is a word of caution to those who work to change God’s designs for human sexuality. As with all other attempts to effect change that isn’t in His plans, these, too, will ultimately fail.”

-Deut 30:19

Love & truth,
Matthew

Physics allows for the soul


-by Tara Macisaac, The Epoch Times

“Henry P. Stapp is a theoretical physicist at the University of California–Berkeley who worked with some of the founding fathers of quantum mechanics. He does not seek to prove that the soul exists, but he does say that the existence of the soul fits within the laws of physics.

It is not true to say belief in the soul is unscientific, according to Stapp. Here the word “soul” refers to a personality independent of the brain or the rest of the human body that can survive beyond death. In his paper, “Compatibility of Contemporary Physical Theory With Personality Survival,” he wrote: “Strong doubts about personality survival based solely on the belief that postmortem survival is incompatible with the laws of physics are unfounded.”

He works with the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics—more or less the interpretation used by some of the founders of quantum mechanics, Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg. Even Bohr and Heisenberg had some disagreements on how quantum mechanics works, and understandings of the theory since that time have also been diverse. Stapp’s paper on the Copenhagen interpretation has been influential. It was written in the 1970s and Heisenberg wrote an appendix for it.

Stapp noted of his own concepts: “There has been no hint in my previous descriptions (or conception) of this orthodox quantum mechanics of any notion of personality survival.”

Why Quantum Theory Could Hint at Life After Death

Stapp explains that the founders of quantum theory required scientists to essentially cut the world into two parts. Above the cut, classical mathematics could describe the physical processes empirically experienced. Below the cut, quantum mathematics describes a realm “which does not entail complete physical determinism.”

Of this realm below the cut, Stapp wrote: “One generally finds that the evolved state of the system below the cut cannot be matched to any conceivable classical description of the properties visible to observers.”

So how do scientists observe the invisible? They choose particular properties of the quantum system and set up apparatus to view their effects on the physical processes “above the cut.”

The key is the experimenter’s choice. When working with the quantum system, the observer’s choice has been shown to physically impact what manifests and can be observed above the cut.

Stapp cited Bohr’s analogy for this interaction between a scientist and his experiment results: “[It’s like] a blind man with a cane: when the cane is held loosely, the boundary between the person and the external world is the divide between hand and cane; but when held tightly the cane becomes part of the probing self: the person feels that he himself extends to the tip of the cane.”

The physical and mental are connected in a dynamic way. In terms of the relationship between mind and brain, it seems the observer can hold in place a chosen brain activity that would otherwise be fleeting. This is a choice similar to the choice a scientist makes when deciding which properties of the quantum system to study.

The quantum explanation of how the mind and brain can be separate or different, yet connected by the laws of physics “is a welcome revelation,” wrote Stapp. “It solves a problem that has plagued both science and philosophy for centuries—the imagined science-mandated need either to equate mind with brain, or to make the brain dynamically independent of the mind.”

Stapp said it is not contrary to the laws of physics that the personality of a dead person may attach itself to a living person, as in the case of so-called spirit possession. It wouldn’t require any basic change in orthodox theory, though it would “require a relaxing of the idea that physical and mental events occur only when paired together.”

Classical physical theory can only evade the problem, and classical physicists can only work to discredit intuition as a product of human confusion, said Stapp. Science should instead, he said, recognize “the physical effects of consciousness as a physical problem that needs to be answered in dynamical terms.”

How This Understanding Affects the Moral Fabric of Society

Furthermore, it is imperative for maintaining human morality to consider people as more than just machines of flesh and blood.

In another paper, titled “Attention, Intention, and Will in Quantum Physics,” Stapp wrote: “It has become now widely appreciated that assimilation by the general public of this ‘scientific’ view, according to which each human being is basically a mechanical robot, is likely to have a significant and corrosive impact on the moral fabric of society.”

He wrote of the “growing tendency of people to exonerate themselves by arguing that it is not ‘I’ who is at fault, but some mechanical process within: ‘my genes made me do it’; or ‘my high blood-sugar content made me do it.’ Recall the infamous ‘Twinkie Defense’ that got Dan White off with five years for murdering San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.”

Love,
Matthew

Mortification

“But you, know by experience that our cross is truly full of unction, whereby it is not only light, but all the bitterness and hardship we find in our state is, by the grace of God, rendered sweet and pleasant.”
St. Bernard of Clairvaux

“I shall now speak of those means that may help us to render this necessary practice of mortification not only easy, but pleasant.

The first means is the grace of God, with which all things become easy. St. Paul supplies us both with an example and a proof of this truth.

The sting of the flesh, the angel of Satan, tormented him. Thrice he begged of God to be delivered from it, and God made this answer to him: “My grace is sufficient for thee” (2 Cor. 12:9).

Again, he says, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). Yet, as he says elsewhere, “Not I , but the grace of God with me” (1 Cor. 15:10). We must not believe that God leaves us to our own strength in time of mortification and suffering. No!

He bears the greater part of the burden Himself, and for this reason the law is called a yoke, which is to be born by two. For Jesus Christ joins Himself to us, to help us to support it, and with His assistance, who can be discouraged?

Therefore, let nothing in the law appear to you too hard, since you will have nothing but the easiest part of it to bear. It is for this reason also that He calls it a yoke and a burden when He says, “My yoke is sweet, and My burden light” (Matt. 11:30).

For though, as regards our nature and weakness, it be ever so hard a yoke, and ever so heavy a burden, yet the grace of God renders it easy and light, because our Lord Himself helps us to bear it.

St. Bernard, in His first sermon on the dedication of a church, says that, as in the consecration the walls are anointed with holy oil, so our Savior does the same in religious souls, sweetening by the spiritual unction of His grace all their crosses, penances and mortifications.

Worldlings are afraid of a religious life because they see its crosses, but perceive not the unction with which they are anointed and made easy. “But you,” says the Saint, speaking to his religious, “know by experience that our cross is truly full of unction, whereby it is not only light, but all the bitterness and hardship we find in our state is, by the grace of God, rendered sweet and pleasant.”

St. Austin admits that before he knew the power of grace, he could never comprehend what chastity was nor believe that anyone was able to practice it. But the grace of God renders all things so easy that, if we possess it, we may say with St. John that “His commandments are not heavy” (1 John 5:3), because the abundance of grace He bestows upon us renders them most sweet and easy.

The second means which makes the practice of mortification easy is the love of God. Love, more than anything else, sweetens pain of every kind. “He who loves,” says St. Austin, “thinks that nothing is hard, and yet the least labor is insupportable to those who love not. Love alone is ashamed to find difficulty in anything.”

It is thus that those who love hunting make no account of the fatigue they endure, but rather look upon it as a pleasure. It is not love that makes the mother find no difficulty in nursing her infant?

Is it not love that keeps the wife day and night at her sick husband’s bedside? Is it not love that causes all sorts of creatures to take so much in nourishing their young that they even abstain from eating and expose themselves to dangers for their sakes?

Was it not love that made Jacob think his many years’ service for Rachel short and sweet? “They seemed but a few days, because of the greatness of his love” (Gen. 29:20).

No sooner does love appear than all pain vanishes and all sweetness accompanies our labor. A holy woman said that from her first being touched with the love of God, she knew not what it was to suffer, either exteriorly or interiorly, neither from the world, the flesh or the devil because pure love knows not what pain or torment is.

Love, therefore, not only raises the price of all our actions and renders them more perfect, but it gives us courage to support all kinds of mortification and makes us feel great ease and sweetness, even in the hardest things.

It was thus that St. Chrysostom explains these words of the Apostle, “Love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10). For he not only says (as the Saint notices) that the law and all the commandments are included in love, but that it is love which renders the observance of both most easy.

Let us therefore love much, and nothing will be able to stop us in the way of perfection. Then we shall be able to say with the Apostle,

“Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or persecution, or the sword? For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35, 38).”

Love & fortitude,
Matthew

The incoherence of the world


-by Karlo Broussard

“The so-called “wisdom” of the world is rife with incoherencies. One of the more trendy and pernicious examples of our time is transgenderism. Like relativism, transgender philosophy looks compelling, maybe even commonsense, on the surface. But when you examine it closely, you discover that it devours itself, like the Ouroboros, the creepy ancient symbol of a snake devouring its own tail.

Consider that transgenderism, or at least one form of it, claims that an individual’s identity as male or female—that is, his understanding of himself—can be in conflict with the biological sex that he was conceived with. A biological male, so it’s argued, can have a female gender identity, and vice versa.

Here is where the snake begins to devour its tail. Consider a male who thinks his gender identity is female. He identifies with the female form because he thinks his gender identity is female. He may even seek to assimilate such a form via surgery and doctor-prescribed hormones.

But already we’re running into problems. Our gent denies the connection between biological sexual forms and gender identity. That is to say, he thinks his biological maleness doesn’t indicate his gender identity. But at the same time, he’s seeking a connection between gender identity and biological sexual forms insofar as he identifies with and seeks to take on the female form to match his female gender identity.

What does this amount to? A contradiction: there’s no connection between biological sex and gender identity, and yet there is a connection, at the same time and in the same respect.

Now, an advocate of transgenderism might counter, “Well, for some, it’s not the biological female form that the man might identify with, but rather the female form that’s socially constructed: the wearing of high heels, makeup, long hair, and a curvy figure.”

But the same logical problem arises. If the socially constructed male form (the wearing of flat shoes, short hair, robust figure, etc.) is not indicative of one’s gender identity, then the socially constructed female form would not be indicative of one’s gender identity, either. And if that’s the case, then in principle, there is no way for the man to identify with the socially constructed female form because such a form isn’t connected to a female gender identity. So, in this scenario, like the above, we would have to deny the connection between gender identity and socially constructed maleness or femaleness and affirm that same connection at the same time and in the same respect. That’s a contradiction, which we can’t accept.

There’s another way in which the transgender philosophy is logically incoherent: it ends up defining woman in terms of what it means to be a woman. To the question, “What is a woman?”, a transgenderist only can give one answer: “a person whose gender identity is female.” The answer can’t be a biological female because transgender philosophy separates gender identity from biological sex. Nor can the answer be female social stereotypes since gender identity is supposedly innate, and thus, it’s supposed to precede such stereotypes. Therefore, female gender identity is the only game in town when it comes to defining what a woman is.

Can you see the problem here? Let me help you out: it’s a vicious circle! This view of woman defines the word in terms of woman, inserting what we’re trying to define into the definition. It’s a recursive nightmare, again like our friend the Ouroboros.

Another problem emerges: to what does female gender identity refer? If it refers not to biological sex, or to societally enforced norms, or to the inner sense of self (lest we end in a vicious circle), then female gender identity seems to refer to nothing. As philosopher Robert P. George puts it, “there seems to be no ‘something’ for [the inner sense of gender identity] to be the sense of.” If female gender identity refers to nothing, then it’s unintelligible.

The only way out here is to say there’s no difference whatsoever between a male and female gender identity. But that would exclude many people who are accepted as members of the “trans” community, like our gent above. So maybe the transgender philosophy is not so inclusive after all.

It’s important to emphasize that the above critiques are aimed at the ideas or the ways of thinking that transgender philosophy embodies. They are not aimed at the individuals who may have legitimate confusion regarding their sexual identity. Our hearts go out to these people, and we love them. And it’s precisely because of our love for them that we expose the logical incoherencies of the transgender philosophy. We are made for truth. And that’s the only thing that will make us truly happy!”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Conscience Rights & Intrinsic Evil


-by Fr. Christopher Pietraszko, Ignitum, Fr. Christopher serves in the Diocese of London, Ontario.

“Bio-ethicists have claimed that to offer effective-referrals (government (Canada, a failed state, for example) legal requirement for doctors) for medically assisted suicide, abortion, etc. is to “formally cooperate” with an act that is intrinsically evil.

Conscience rights are an important thing worth protecting, at the civil level, and we must learn to accept the negative repercussions that come from the diversity of views that result therein. In any community it is imprudent to micromanage or coerce consciences, violently into the same value and agenda as the state. Obviously, there are some matters which involve enforcement, however when it comes to matters of conscience that are complex, and diverse, the process of informing one’s conscience should not be obstructed by coercive tactics from the government such as “losing your Job if you don’t offer an effective referral” or “You are fired because you would not provide Plan B.” There are several things that this inhibits in a mature democracy, but I will name three: (1) affective maturity, (2) individual dignity, and (3) free-speech/thought.

1) Affective maturity is where one can understand another person’s position that is contrary to their own without taking it personally. In this regard, there is an openness to the other to dialogue, and not vilify the enemy. This happens on both sides – take for instance those discussing the vaccine: it is the “mark of the beast” or the people receiving the vaccine “hate the vulnerable.” None of these are mature responses, but they are angry ones that are rooted in a type of affective-wound that has gone unhealed. Part of that maturity is living in a society where we meet professionals who don’t share our same world view, and having the patient respect that they do not have a right to force someone to do something they don’t believe in.

2) Respecting the individual consciences of others allows them to go through a process of informing their conscience, and to exercise it. Consciences are a distinctive part of a human person where their own individuality is called to humbly submit to the truth and act accordingly. In this regard we reflect on the importance of “interior freedom” where fear, coercion, and dictates are not imposed upon that individual for the sake of egalitarian conformity. Such conformity is unintelligible, especially if it rises from a type of Categorical Kantian ethical system that does not have the opportunity to nuance complex situations that may exist in each individual. For instance, there are those who cannot receive the vaccine for several reasons, some in regard to their interpretation of the data/science, others because of their medical situation as mothers, etc… but the circumstances of each particular individual needs to be respected, as well as the process by which they come to make a decision so that it can truly be their own. Without this freedom, we have slaves to fear and coercion.

3) Free-Speech and free-thought is incredibly important, because, as a subset to the previous point, it enables a person to freely examine their own reasoning without the pressure to conform to various tribes. However, if a disproportionate type of enforcement occurs, it will undermine the ability to speak, dialogue and even shed a light upon the topic being discussed. Conclusions and recommendations from others will become untrustworthy because opposing views have been silenced or oppressed.

Finally the application of all of this is to say that while the Church cannot provide religious grounds for a person to avoid receiving the vaccine, the CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Holy Office, the Roman Inquisition) does clearly indicate that one should respect the conscience freedoms of others. These two should not be conflated: religious reasons, and conscience freedoms. Although there is certainly an overlapping dimension between the two, the religious aspect pertains to the moral and theological reasoning, while the conscience pertains to one’s own particular circumstances, their own philosophical reasoning, and experiences. Thus, conscience rights are more general (broader) than religious rights. These conscience rights, the CDF does believe are worthy of defending, which in a democratic country, and especially in Ontario have demonstrably been proven not to be respected. I think this is an area worthy of our efforts to reexamine.

The original purpose of this post was to explain that while I am in favor of vaccines, I respect the right for others to think otherwise. I believe we need to have healthy discussions on this matter, as a mature democratic society should, but this is unfortunately inhibited by what is already demonstrated to be a lack of liberty amongst health officials, and what is sometimes an equal-opposite reaction.”

His justice shall reign,
Matthew

Semper ecclesia reformanda: chastity & celibacy


-please click on the image for greater detail

“Purity is the fruit of prayer.”
— Saint Teresa of Calcutta, quoted from the book Purity 365

Chastity as a Virtue

“The Catholic Church wants YOU to have AWESOME SEX!!!!”

Chastity is not a teeth-gritting ability to avoid violating the sexual rules. Rather, chastity is a habit of reverence for oneself and others that enables us to use our sexual powers intelligently in the pursuit of human flourishing and happiness.

“Those who are chaste are fully at peace with their bodies and their sexuality. Chastity is not best seen as the ability to keep oneself from violating the sexual “rules”; rather, it is “a dynamic principle enabling one to use one’s sexual powers intelligently in the pursuit of human flourishing and happiness.”

If chastity is a virtue, it is an aspect of character that a person can aspire to, achieve, stray from, regain. Notice that when the virtue at the top of this spectrum is chastity, there are three different ways of being unchaste—continence, incontinence and the vice of lustfulness.”
-Caroline J. Simon

“The virtue of chastity calls us, as sexual beings, to revere ourselves as creatures made in the image of God and made to honor God through our actions—through how we do have sex and do not have sex,” Matt Fradd writes. “And it calls us to revere other persons for the sake of the other person’s good and ultimate happiness. When we think about it, this loving reverence for ourselves and others is what we deeply desire.”

  • However, these truths about the virtue of chastity are easily forgotten today. There are some reasons for our amnesia.
    We are unfamiliar with the language of “virtue.” Caroline Simon notes above that chastity (like other virtues that temper human desire for pleasure) is actually an ideal trait, a settled and comfortable “peace” with our well-ordered desires and pleasures—in this case, our desires for and pleasures regarding sex. Chastity is neither mere continence (a difficult, but successful struggle against disordered desires) nor incontinence (a losing struggle); chastity is not a struggle at all. Of course, many of us continue to struggle with wayward sexual desires. But this suggests that we are not yet chaste and not yet at peace with proper sexual desire, as we want to be.
  • We experience some resentment toward morality generally and toward specific ideals like chastity. The emotion-stance of resentment “involves disparaging and rejecting what is good and strong because we feel unable to attain it,” Fradd explains. We long to be at peace with sexual desire in relationships that “accord with our human dignity and…weave into the happiness that God intends for us in this life.” But this ideal seems unattainable. “All around us we see marriages that are impermanent, personal loyalties that are problematically divided, and spouses and friends who are unfaithful. Sexuality is misused, within marriages and in singleness, in ways that are selfish, in ways that are abusive, and in ways that do not honor God,” he notes. “So, we end up despising the ideal. We call chastity ‘oppressive’; we call it ‘naïve.’Lacking the strength in ourselves and having little community support to obtain the ideal we desire, we end up resenting it.”
  • We mistakenly think chastity revolves around not having sex. Yes, during singleness and at times in marriage it is appropriate to not have sex. But abstinence is not the heart of this virtue. “Simply put, chastity is a sort of reverence: a chaste person reveres and respects the other person by making sure that before they have sex, both are united in a common aim—namely, a marriage commitment whose mutual goal is the gift of self to the other,” Fradd writes. “When people will the good for one another in this way, they do not act solely on passing desires and feelings, but rather on their commitment to help the other person attain the good and honor God.”
  • We mistakenly think chastity revolves around repressing sexual desire and not thinking about sex. This is “almost exactly backwards,” Fradd notes. Chastity has no interest
    in eliminating true sexual desire, which says, “This is my body given for you,” but it would like to rid our lives of the lust that says, “This is your body taken for me.” Furthermore, chastity has no interest in stopping our thinking about sex, but it would like for us to think carefully and well about sex. Fradd says, “The place to start is with the telos for which God created us, and why God made the other creatures and us sexual beings: ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ (Genesis 1:22, 28). This tells us that sex, sexual desire, and orgasms are good. Chastity wants us to think about what good it is that they were created for. How do they fit within God’s plan for us to love one another and honor God?”

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
— Mt 22:36-39


-by Steve Weidenkopf

“By the eleventh century, the Church found itself in great need of reform, especially the clergy, and the Holy Spirit provided a series of reform-minded popes. These popes began their ecclesial careers as monks, and many of them had spent time at the famous reformed Benedictine monastery at Cluny in France. When Bruno of Alsace was elected pope in 1049, taking the name Leo IX, he initiated one of the most comprehensive reforms in Church history.

Leo (r. 1049-1054) recognized that simply issuing reform decrees from Rome would not change clerical behavior and restore the Church, so he decided to go on one of the most important road trips in papal history. During his five-year pontificate, he spent only six months in Rome, taking his reform road show to France, Italy, and Germany. Wherever he went, Leo deposed immoral bishops and punished clerics who were guilty of simony. Although those actions were necessary, the pope recognized that the major problem with clerical behavior was infidelity to the promise of celibacy.

In the first three centuries of Church history, there was no law prohibiting the ordination of married men, and many priests were married; however, marriage was never permitted after ordination. Moreover, all priests—married, single, or widowed—practiced sexual abstinence after ordination. The first recorded Church legislation concerning clerical celibacy in the West was decreed at the Synod of Elvira in Spain around the year 300, and in 385, Pope Siricius (r. 384-399) mandated celibacy for all clergy in the West.

But despite the longstanding practice of the Church, clergy in the early medieval Church often did not live celibacy faithfully. Many priests were not properly trained or formed, and they flouted their vow of celibacy, taking mistresses and concubines who bore them children, causing great scandal. Other priests engaged in homosexual acts. All the while, bishops and abbots seemed hesitant to act and restore virtue to the priesthood and monasteries.

But one monk was not afraid, and he wrote a book in which he called for Leo IX to remove this stain of clerical immorality. His name was Peter Damian, and today (Feb 21) is his feast day.

Peter was born in Ravenna seven years into the eleventh century. His early life was marked by suffering; both his parents died when he was an infant. An older, abusive brother and his concubine took Peter into their home, where he was beaten, starved, and sent to work as a swineherd. In the midst of this tribulation, Peter took solace in Christ and developed deep piety. When he found a gold coin in the mud while tending the pigs, for example, instead of spending it on himself, Peter ran to the parish priest and paid a stipend for a Mass to be celebrated for the repose of his father’s soul.

Eventually, Peter was rescued from his horrible conditions by another brother who recognized Peter’s intellectual gifts and ensured he received an education in the liberal arts. This brother’s love and generosity influenced Peter to add his brother’s name, Damian, to his own and he henceforth was known as Peter Damian.

Peter’s devoted his life to growing closer to God, and he performed many acts of mortification to drive away temptations of the flesh. His spirituality was focused on the Cross, and he wrote, “Those who do not love the Cross of Christ do not love Christ” (Sermo XVIII, 11). He incorporated this focus into his life to such a degree that he came to describe himself as “Peter, servant of the servants of the Cross of Christ.”

In his late twenties, Peter joined a monastery, where he committed himself to personal reform and to pursuing reform within his community. He knew that reform in the larger Church and even in secular society was impossible without first focusing on the individual. Peter was appalled by the immoral behavior of the diocesan clergy and monks and endeavored to return his brother priests to virtuous living. During the time of Leo’s reign, he composed a book critical of clerical sexual immorality.

Addressed to the pope, the book (given the title The Book of Gomorrah centuries later) was not just a diatribe against sin but was also an exhortation to personal penance and a return to virtue and was written in a firm yet compassionate tone. He exhorted fellow priests who were tempted by the devil toward carnal pleasures to orient “your mind to the grave.” Even as he offered a chapter on “a weeping lamentation over souls surrendered to the dregs of impurity,” he provided also “an exhortation to the man who has fallen into sin, that he might rise again.”

He also noted that the “cancer of sodomitic impurity” was raging through the clergy “like a cruel beast,” decrying that “degenerate men do not fear to perpetuate an act that even brute animals abhor.”

Pope Leo IX favorably responded to Peter’s book and adopted many of his recommendations. Over time this work became an important part of the eleventh-century reform movement.

A few years after completing his manuscript, Peter was ordained a bishop and later created a cardinal. Peter wrote extensive letters, sometimes signing them as “Peter the Sinner” or “Peter the Sinner-Monk,” which provide a window into the soul of this important saint in the life of the Church. The life of St. Peter Damian is a model of virtue to Catholic clergy, and his words provide an exhortation and a warning for all Catholics not to let sexual vice taint the life and mission of the Church.”

Love,
Matthew

Same sex adoption


-by Trent Horn

“On Thursday 6/17/2021, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the city of Philadelphia engaged in discrimination when it refused to contract with Catholic Social Services (CSS) to place children in adoptive homes. The city claimed that it would not work with organizations that refuse to place children with same-sex couples. The Court rules that the city was not justified in preventing CSS from carrying out its free exercise of religion and this exercise did not sufficiently burden the city to justify its decision.

I won’t get into the legal specifics of this case. Instead, I want to focus on the broader arguments it raises when people hear about it. The biggest is the claim that Catholic adoption agencies engage in unjust discrimination when they refuse to place children with same-sex couples. How should Christians respond to this claim?

It’s not wise to use phrases like “children need a mother and a father.” Some people will think you’re equating having opposite-sex parents with a biological need like food or shelter. They might point to studies or anecdotal accounts of children raised by same-sex couples who “turned out just fine.”

In some contexts, you might find it helpful to point out the flaws in studies that purport to prove that same-sex households are just as good as, if not superior to, opposite-sex couples. Some of the flaws include the fact that respondents (usually only a handful of them) volunteered for these studies, so the more obviously dysfunctional same-sex couples didn’t bother applying in the first place. However, this approach can get you off the main moral principle too quickly and muddy the waters into debates about whether certain groups constitute “good parents.”

In fact, some parents who experience unintended pregnancies will probably be worse at parenting than a saintly, infertile opposite-sex couple. But it doesn’t follow that we should place a child with those parents because some study says they’d probably be better. Instead, we should follow principles or justice rather than the dictates of social scientists. In doing that, we should shift from saying “children need a mother and a father,” which is an empirical claim about well-being, and say “children have a right to their mother and father.”

This is why we don’t remove children from their biological parents unless the parents are deemed unfit. Even if the child would do better in another home, the child has a right to his parents. In fact, the Catechism says:

‘A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The “supreme gift of marriage” is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged “right to a child” would lead. In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right “to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents,” and “the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception” (CCC 2378).’

So what do we do with a child who has a right to his parents but can’t be raised by them—because they have died, for example, or are unable to care for him? In that case, justice demands that we replicate what he has lost as best as we can. Part of that includes the irreplaceable and unique elements that fatherhood and motherhood give to a child.

This does not mean that all same-sex couples would be prohibited from raising children. For example, an orphaned child might be raised by her grandmother and aunt. In this case, strong familial bonds can substitute for a fatherly presence.

But notice that same-sex couples are not equal to opposite-sex couples. While it’s not politically correct to say this, it is still correct: Catholic adoption agencies should not deliberately place children in homes with disordered sexual behavior. I am not claiming people with same-sex attraction are more likely to abuse a child. My point is instead that Catholic adoption agencies are committed to helping children grow up in healthy families. And while our culture defines healthy families without any regard for the harms associated with no-fault divorce, fornication, and sodomy, the Church does not, and its institutions should be free to practice their faith in accord with this (correct) view of the family.

One final objection would be that it is hypocritical for Catholics to be so firmly against abortion and yet be opposed to same-sex couples adopting children. Would they prefer that the child be aborted instead?

First, even if the lack of same-sex adoptions led to increased rates of abortion, that wouldn’t mean Catholics would be morally responsible for those children’s deaths. That culpability lies with the child’s parents—and especially the abortionist himself—because they are choosing to end the child’s life. Banning crimes like prostitution could have the unintended consequence of increases in sex-trafficking, but that would not mean that it is wrong to try to rid society of the scourge of prostitution.

Second, this objection is based on a false dilemma. It makes it seem as if either Catholics can choose either abortion or adoption by a same-sex couple. But the vast majority of children waiting to be adopted in this country are older children in the foster care system. Many of these children were wanted by their parents, who lost custody of them due to criminal behavior or being deemed unfit to care for their children. Some of them can’t even be adopted because their parents have not lost their legal parental rights.

However, newborn children are an entirely different story. Prospective adoptive parents can wait for years to adopt a newborn, and some sources indicate that there are two million couples waiting to adopt. Therefore, it isn’t the case that a child from an unintended pregnancy must either be adopted by a same-sex couple or be aborted. There are many opposite-sex couples waiting to adopt these children. They should be commended for their heroism. If Catholic adoption agencies choose to work with them, the State should not punish them for carrying out what they know to be in the best interests of the children they serve.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Ontology. What is the definition/meaning of being? What is our identity? God decides. NOT us.

God determines our identity.  We respond in grace and free will; either correctly or incorrectly, either in good or evil, either in obedience or disobedience, as God defines them and us.  We do not decide.  God does.  THY WILL be done.  Thy Kingdom come, on earth, as it is in heaven.


-by Fr. Christopher Pietraszko, Ignitum, Fr. Christopher serves in the Diocese of London, Ontario.

“Philosophically there is much attention to the concept of identity. In sacred scripture the same is the case. What constitutes our identity?

In the philosophy that examines “being” or ontology, our identity is rooted in our “whatness.” What you are, determined who you are. This whatness is not merely your essence, but it’s tied intrinsically to your “why-ness” that is a pre-determined purpose that is imposed upon you by your existence. To some this seems oppressive, to others it’s a matter of discovery and humility. In this category one does not determine their own purpose. Psychologically that would be absurd since one is drawing from their nature to determine a preferential purpose, thus at least latently basing their existential self first in their own nature. This is where the notion of dignity stems from, and since it is rooted in our being, personal choices do not dissolve this dignity, nor do states of development.

The second type of identity is sometimes called “moral character.” This, while of itself springs from our nature, nonetheless does carry with it existential notions of self-creation. Here, we are not creating “being” or “what/why we are” but “how” we are. For the Christian, this is what, in part, determines our our salvation, in conjunction with or without our cooperation with grace. We are responsible here for our moral character, and sometimes this is how people identity.

Today, sexual relativism defines identity around sexual attractions, or affective states. The primary focus is not on one’s ontology as a human (male or female), but rather the sexual inclinations and affective-guided self concept. Sexual attraction is often conflated with the tautology “love is love.” Love is not initially defined as to will the good of the other here, otherwise further phrases such as “you don’t choose who you love” would not accompany the movement. This is about desire, since in disinterested friendships love can be chosen and should be as such.

Since Christ, our identity has been rooted in His choice to adopt us as His children, not in one’s sexual disposition, or affective desires in any particular regard, including pleasure, wealth, money or power. In baptism the Church teaches that one is changed “ontologically.” Thus the identity in whatness and whyness has also changed. God extends this call to be changed by His love, which transcends mere sexual desires, but pertains to a concern primarily for the good of the other.

Knowing these distinctions is important as it will help people navigate chronic shame, and be rooted in not something ultimately hedonistic or defined primarily by affective desires, but rather rooted in the Creator Who defines us by the relationship He freely and universally extends to all, that some may be saved.”

Love & truth,
Matthew