Category Archives: Theology of the Body

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

Pansexuality



-by Trent Horn

“Pansexuality is the logical conclusion of a sexual philosophy that says we merely have bodies, not that we are bodies.

Most people have heard of terms like gay, lesbian, and bisexual. Pansexual is less familiar. However, it’s growing in popularity as a sexual identity label. I was asked to include the topic in a presentation I gave to a “sex and gender studies class” at a Catholic university, and one school district that prohibited parents from removing their students from sexual education classes included material on LGBT issues as well as topics like genderqueer and pansexuality.

So what is pansexuality? Teen Vogue magazine describes it this way: “Pansexuality means being attracted to all people regardless of gender identity or sex. The prefix pan is the Greek word for all. Pansexuality is a noun, and pansexual can be used as a noun or an adjective to describe a person who is pansexual.” In an interview with Vanity Fair magazine, pop star Miley Cyrus described her pansexuality this way: “What I preach is: People fall in love with people, not gender, not looks, not whatever.”

Even though the Greek root pan means “all,” pansexuals are not sexually attracted to every single person they meet. Rather, a pansexual person is someone who claims to be capable of being sexually attracted to anyone, regardless of that person’s biological or gender identity.

This kind of attraction is similar to the B in the LGBT acronym, which stands for “bisexuality” and traditionally refers to being attracted to both men and women. So what’s the difference between being bisexual and pansexual?

For some people, not much. One article in Rolling Stone Magazine puts it this way:

The bisexual community doesn’t even agree on what it means to be bisexual. The term pansexual was birthed out of the confusion, and to create a definitive and more inclusive label. This has led to in-fighting between members of the community, who are upset that their bisexual identity is being replaced by another label.

One split among people who take on the “LGBT” identity over this word relates to the concept of the gender or sexual binary. Some see pansexual as preferable to bisexual because it leaves open the possibility that there are other genders besides “man” and “woman” for a person to be attracted to.

As much as we might direct our ridicule toward the label of and ideology behind pansexuality, we should remember to direct our compassion toward those who experience so many conflicting sexual desires. We all struggle with sinful desires that distort our understanding of reality and ourselves. The Church calls this concupiscence, and it refers to our natural inclination to evil thoughts and deeds that flows from the corruption to human nature caused by original sin (Catechism of the Catholic Church 405). But pansexuality looks like one of the last stops on a cultural journey toward complete sexual anarchy (with final stops at bizarre places like robot factories), and it needs to be treated as such.

So what specifically is wrong with pansexuality?

When Miley Cyrus says, “People fall in love with people, not gender, not looks, not whatever,” she confuses persons with personalities. Human beings are not “asexual souls” or ghosts who have no intrinsic connection to our bodies. In our romantic relationships, we don’t fall in love with minds or spirits; we fall in love with people, and a person is a unity of body and soul.

We are incomplete without our bodies, which is why St. Paul noted how unnatural it is to be separated from our bodies at death and how joyful it will be when our souls are reunited with our resurrected bodies at the end of the world (2 Cor. 5:1-5). Since our body is essential to our human identity, it is not possible for a “female soul” to be trapped in a male body, or vice versa (as transgender advocates claim). It also isn’t possible to have a healthy sexual attraction only to a person’s mind, since sexual desires are ordered toward bodily union.

Pansexuality is the logical conclusion of a sexual philosophy that says we merely have bodies, not that we are bodies. If people think the body is just some vehicle my “person” drives around from inside my brain, then it shouldn’t matter where I end up “parking.” And while exclusive same-sex attraction at least tries to ape the marital act (even though it can never achieve a true union), pansexuality thumbs its nose at the entire concept of the marital act. Instead, the only good in a relationship is the compatibility between personalities—and if they enjoy acts of mutual masturbation, then all the better for them.

That’s why, along with severing the natural link between sexual attraction and the human body, pansexuality threatens to undermine other goods like platonic friendship. Human beings find comfort in friendships that do not have a natural inclination to sexual desire. It’s why we usually seek friendships with people of the same sex and recognize that if you repeatedly have to say you and another person are “just friends,” then there’s probably a good chance you share a stronger bond than friendship.

But if people adopt pansexual ideology on a wide scale and come to believe that sexual desire naturally proceeds from any healthy psychological or social relationship between persons, then this will make all intimate friendships suspect and destroy a unique good that exists among human beings.

What this means for all of us, regardless of our innate sexual desires, is that God will not abandon us to them. The Catechism’s advice for those with same-sex attractions also applies to those who struggle with disordered desires and temptations that spring even from natural attractions: “[they] are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection” (2359).”

Love, unity of body & soul, as God creates/intends. His will is perfect. His will be done, His kingdom come!!!
Matthew

Modesty is more than a hemline

-by Christina M. Sorrentino

“Modesty is more than just a hemline, it is an interior disposition that influences not only our dress, but our thoughts an actions.”
-Leah Darrow

As a Catholic millennial woman I would like to offer a take on modesty, not to cast judgment on other women or to spark a religious debate, but to speak to my sisters in Christ about our feminine beauty; that which enhances our human dignity as designed by our Creator.

Modesty is that which in our way of dress, speech, and actions does not bring negative attention to ourselves, and this has been the practice of modesty throughout the world. There are different standards of modesty, which depends on the culture that we find ourselves in within a society, and the culture has also changed over time along with the standards of modesty. But we are called as daughters of the King to dress and behave in such a way that His glory shines through us, so that we can be a witness of Christ in the world. We do not want to bring lustful attention to ourselves, which does not give us the respect that we deserve as a human person.

However, we should not look down upon other women who may not demonstrate modesty according to our definition of modesty. Behind every woman there is a story, and we cannot judge the modesty within her heart.  We all know the old saying, “Do not judge a book by it’s cover.” This kind of judgment is not an act of love, but one of spiritual pride. Modesty in dress means nothing if we have an immodest heart; that which looks down upon our fellow sisters in Christ.

“For you have been bought for a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”
-1 Corinthians 6:20

It is often difficult to find an outfit that displays our feminine beauty and brings reverence to the Lord. A shopping experience to find modest clothing can become filled with frustration and can take hours still leaving us empty-handed. I have found online shopping to be more successful, and have discovered fashionable clothing that is not too expensive, and is more of a simple style of dress; not elaborate and gaudy calling for all eyes to be on me. I choose to dress in a way that does not turn myself into an “idol,” that which can shift away focus from the things of Heaven. Our eyes should always gaze towards the Son. Let us  dress in such a way that makes the statement, “I am a beloved daughter of God.””

True beauty accompanies temperance. According to St. Thomas, a person’s beauty consists in their actions “being well proportioned in respect of the spiritual clarity of reason” (ST II-II q. 145, a. 2). Spiritual beauty, also known as honestas or honorableness, is a specifically human way of being beautiful. It gives a person’s conduct claritas or radiance, which manifests to others the meaning of being human.

Spiritual beauty is most attributed to temperance because temperance triumphs over the ugliest of the vices, intemperance (ST II-II q. 145, a. 4). An intemperate person rejects the rule of right reason to immerse themselves in pleasures of food, drink, and sex, the pleasures he shares with brute animals. The intemperate person thus refuses to excel in a specifically human way. Forsaking the light of reason, they dissipates away their integrity as a rational animal and allows their thoughts and actions to be marred by dissonance and gloomy dissatisfaction.

By moderating the pleasures they share with the lower animals, the temperate human reorients themselves toward a distinctly human excellence. They regains their inward integration and harmony, and they serenely radiates these qualities through their actions, their words, and their countenance. Their beauty is “more spiritual, more austere, more virile” (Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues, 203) than merely sensual appeal. They seem to shine with “the glow of the true and the good” (Pieper, 203), alerting others to the dignity and delightfulness of being human. Their claritas makes them resemble the divine Son, Who, as the eternal Word, “is the light and splendor of the intellect” (ST I q. 39, a. 8) radiant with temperance’s “more abundant comeliness” (ST II-II q. 145, a. 4, ad 3).

Amen, sister.  Amen.
Your brother in Christ,
Matthew

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience…And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” -Col 3:12, 14

Hope to Die: Christian corpses (conquered the Roman Empire)

(n.b. Catholics are NOT to seek martyrdom!! Marcionite heretics did this. Catholics are to embrace martyrdom if inescapable or requires apostasy to avoid.)

“Christianity was first preached in a world where the Greco-Roman understanding of death and the afterlife shaped much of the Western world. Across the Roman Empire, most people professed their faith in the various pagan gods, including Pluto (or Hades), who they believed ruled the Underworld. At the Underworld’s entrance, the ferryman Charon moved spirits across the River Styx from the land of the living to the land of the dead. Once they made it to the other side, all the dead faced judgment, with the good going to Elysium, the bad being thrown into the pit of Tartarus, and the mediocre rest (the majority of humanity) aimlessly drifting about in the City of Pluto (or what the Greeks called the Asphodel Meadows). Some Romans also believed those who’d been judged worthy could choose to be reincarnated.

This vision of the afterlife offered some consolation to those who actually believed it, but not enough. Most Romans, like most of humanity, still feared what awaited them in the dark room of death. And that fear manifested itself in how they treated their dead.

The pagan Romans thought that if dead bodies weren’t treated a certain way and certain conditions weren’t met, the person’s soul would be denied admittance to the Underworld. Rather than receiving its eternal reward, the soul would instead endure an almost purgatory-like existence, waiting perpetually on the wrong side of the River Styx. The Romans also believed that if they failed to provide their departed loved ones with a proper burial, those waiting ghosts would return to haunt them.

For the rich, preventing this two-headed fate was a simple matter. They paid for elaborate funerals and lengthy funeral processions, which included professional mourners and friends wearing masks designed to look like the ancestors of the deceased. They also made sure to place a coin on or in the dead person’s mouth so that the soul could pay Charon to ferry them across the River Styx.

After the funeral procession concluded, a eulogy was often given. Next, the body was placed on a pyre and burned. The remaining ashes and bones were then placed in an urn, which was interred in some kind of sepulcher—usually highly decorated, with monuments to the deceased and even lifelike pictures of them. Those sepulchers were located outside the city gates, as the Romans liked to keep their dead far from them, at a “safe” distance. They did visit the sepulcher on various days throughout the year, though, believing that by making periodic offerings to their dearly departed, what remained of the person—their “shade”—would temporarily remember who they once were and earn a brief reprieve from aimlessly wandering about the Underworld.

For the poor, funerals were less impressive, with the funerary societies they frequently joined (for a small fee) providing shorter processions (just a musician or two), no eulogy, and interment of the ashes in a humbler resting site—often catacombs carved into clay and rock outside the city.

The poorest of the poor didn’t even have that. Those with no family or friends to fear a haunting and no money to join a funerary society were simply thrown into large pits or dumped into sewers.

In the late third and fourth centuries, many of these practices among the pagan Romans began to change, with inhumation (burial) gradually replacing cremation. Although some Romans had buried their dead in previous centuries, inhumation was considered a foreign (more specifically, Jewish) practice. The growing presence of Christians in their midst, however, along with other social shifts, changed that.

For the Christians, like the Romans, how they treated the dead was bound up with what they believed about life after death. But unlike their pagan counterparts, the Christians didn’t fear death. They welcomed it. Writing in the early fourth century, St. Athanasius remarked: “Everyone is by nature afraid of death and of bodily dissolution; the marvel of marvels, is that he who is enfolded in the faith of the cross despises this natural fear and for the sake of the cross is no longer cowardly in the face of it.”1

When Jesus Christ rose from the dead, He didn’t switch a bright overhead light on in heaven, completely destroying the darkness that shrouded what awaits us after death. He gave us more of a night-light, making some things clear while leaving other things a mystery. But to Athanasius and other early Christians, that didn’t matter. The nightlight was sufficient because Jesus was there. Much like the presence of a mother or father can completely chase away a child’s fears of the dark, Jesus’s presence chased away the early Christians’ fear of death. They knew He would be there to greet them, and that was enough. Athanasius explains:

‘Before the divine sojourn of the Savior, even the holiest of men were afraid of death, and mourned the dead as those who perish. But now that the Savior has raised His body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing, and prefer to die rather than to deny their faith in Christ, knowing full well that when they die they do not perish, but live indeed and become incorruptible through the resurrection … Even children hasten to die, and not men only, but women train themselves by bodily discipline to meet it. So weak has death become that even women, who used to be taken in by it, mock at it now as a dead thing robbed of all its strength.2

To those Christian men, women, and children who “hasten[ed] to die,” death wasn’t the ultimate evil or the great unknown. It was the doorway to spending eternity with their beloved: Jesus Christ. We see this conviction in the firsthand accounts of martyrs, such as Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, who faced death in Carthage’s arena in AD 203.

Both women were young wives and mothers: Felicity was pregnant at the time of their arrest, and Perpetua was still nursing her infant son. As the day of their death approached, the women didn’t want to run from it. Rather, Felicity prayed she would deliver her child soon so that she could face martyrdom with her fellow prisoners (even the Romans thought it beyond the pale to kill a pregnant women), and Perpetua gave thanks when her son finally weaned.

Felicity’s prayers were answered, and on the day of the scheduled execution, she accompanied Perpetua and their fellow Christians into the arena, “joyous and of brilliant countenances.” Perpetua sang psalms as she walked, and when the crowds demanded that the Christians be scourged before they faced the beasts, the women “rejoiced that they should have incurred any one of their Lord’s passions.” Finally, the women, like Jesus, freely gave their lives; they were not taken from them. We’re told: “when the swordsman’s hand wandered still (for he was a novice), [Perpetua] set it upon her own neck. Perchance so great a woman could not else have been slain … had she not herself so willed it.”3

In the centuries that followed, holy men and women faced death with the same eagerness that Perpetua, Felicity, and other earlier martyrs, such as St. Ignatius of Antioch, did. They wanted nothing more than to be in heaven with Christ. As Ignatius, on his way to martyrdom in AD 108, explained:

‘No earthly pleasures, no kingdoms of this world can benefit me in any way. I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth. He Who died in place of us is the one object of my quest. He Who rose for our sakes is my one desire.4

One thousand years later, that same desire to be with Christ led St. Bernard of Clairvaux to describe the death of a just man not as “terrifying,” but as “consoling”:

‘His death is good, because it ends his miseries; it is better still, because he begins a new life; it is excellent, because it places him in sweet security. From this bed of mourning, whereon he leaves a precious load of virtues, he goes to take possession of the true land of the living, Jesus acknowledges him as His brother and as His friend, for he has died to the world before closing his eyes from its dazzling light. Such is the death of the saints, a death very precious in the sight of God.5

From the thirteenth century—when St. Rose of Viterbo advised, “Live so as not to fear death. For those who live well in the world, death is not frightening but sweet and precious”—to the nineteenth century, when St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote: “It is not Death that will come to fetch me, it is the good God”—saint after saint encouraged Christians to welcome death. And many listened.

In Phillipe Ariès’s landmark survey of depictions of death in the literature of Western Civilization, he classifies pre-modern deaths as “tame deaths,” noting how the protagonists almost universally faced death with calm, peace, and ease. It was death, he explains, that brought people back to their senses, focused their attention, and was welcomed, almost as an old friend.6

Christians weren’t going to imitate the pagans and, as Tertullian put it, “burn up their dead with harshest inhumanity.”8 As Tertullian explained elsewhere, those who followed Christ were to “avert a cruel custom with regard to the body since, being human, it does not deserve what is inflicted upon criminals.”9 And so, from the very first, Christians buried their dead as Christ had been buried, and they did so with no fear of being made “unclean” or “polluted” by contact with the dead body. For the Christians, the dead body wasn’t “unclean” (as the Jews saw it), nor did those who handled it fear being haunted by some remnant of the person’s soul (as the pagans did). Writing in the fourth and fifth centuries, St. Augustine discussed the reverence Christians believed was due to the dead body, noting: The bodies of the dead, and especially of the just and faithful are not to be despised or cast aside. The soul has used them as organs and vessels of all good work in a holy manner. … Bodies are not ornament or for aid, as something that is applied externally, but pertain to the very nature of the man.10

Importantly, Christians understood the injunction to care for and bury the dead as universal; it applied to all bodies—the bodies of the poor, the stranger, the diseased, even the pagan. Accounts about early Christian communities are filled with stories of them seeking out the forgotten poor and burying them with the same care they showed to family members. Tertullian also tells us that in his native Carthage and other cities, the Church’s common resources were used to pay for the burying of the dead. There was no throwing the bodies of the poor into a pit or the sewers among the Christians.

Their pagan neighbors took note of that. In his essay “To Bury or Burn?,” the Protestant ethicist David W. Jones tells us:

‘The last of the non-Christian emperors, Julian the Apostate (AD 332–363), identified “care of the dead” as one of the factors that contributed to the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman world. The church historian Philip Schaff, too, identified Christians’ display of “decency to the human body” in showing care for the dead as one of the main reasons for the church’s rapid conquest of the ancient world.11

In time, burying the dead would become known as one of the seven corporal works of mercy, considered as much an act of charity as feeding the hungry or tending to the sick. Religious associations, such as the Archconfraternity of the Beheaded John the Baptist in Florence and the Archconfraternity of St. Mary of the Oration and Death in Rome, also were formed to offer Christian funerals and burials to those who would otherwise have none.

No bodies, though, not rich nor poor, received as much attention as those of the martyrs.”

Love & Resurrection,
Matthew

1 Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 58.
2 Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 57.
3 Tertullian, The Passion of the Holy Martyrs Perpetua and Felicity, 6. 
4 Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Romans, 6.
Bernard of Clairvaux, quoted in Charles Kenny, Half Hours with the Saints and Servants of God (London: Burns and Oats, 1882), 450.
See Phillipe Ariès, Western Attitudes Toward Death, trans. Patricia Ranum (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975), 1–25.
8 Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 1.
9 Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul, 51.
10 Augustine, On the Care of the Dead, 5.
11 Jones, “To Bury or Burn?,” 337.

Hope to Die: Powers That Come Forth

“In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we’re told that “sacraments are ‘powers that come forth’ from the Body of Christ, which is ever-living and life-giving” (CCC 1116). These sacraments are the means by which God “resurrects us” in this life. Baptism restores divine life to our souls. The Eucharist nourishes that life. Confession replenishes it. Confirmation, Marriage, and Holy Orders strengthen it. And the Anointing of the Sick stirs up the divine life within us to heal our bodies and prepare our souls for eternal life. Today, as the Catechism says, the graces of all these sacraments come to us from the Body of Christ on earth, the Church. But before there was the Body of Christ, there was the body of Christ. Prior to the institution of the sacraments, Jesus is the sacrament. So, in the Gospels, it’s His actual physical body from which “powers … come forth.” In His lifetime, those powers did to people’s bodies what the sacraments have done to people’s souls ever since.

Jesus’s body does to our bodies what the sacraments do to our souls. Jesus’s body heals bodies. Jesus’s body teaches bodies. Jesus’s body feeds bodies. Jesus’s body raises bodies from the dead. Throughout His public ministry, powers go forth from His body, restoring people to the fullness of natural life. But the restoration of natural life isn’t enough. Jesus came for so much more than that. And the healings He works on earth both foreshadow the “more” and prove that more is possible. That is, they foreshadow the resurrection to come and prove that Jesus means what He says when He promises that all will rise again with Him on the last day.

“The Paschal Mystery has two aspects: by His death, Christ liberates us from sin; by His Resurrection, he opens for us the way to a new life. This new life is above all justification that reinstates us in God’s grace … Justification consists in both victory over the death caused by sin and a new participation in grace.” (cf. Eph 2:4–5; 1 Pet 1:3) (CCC 654)

“For the solidarity of mankind is such that, by virtue of the Word’s indwelling in a single human body, the corruption with death has lost its power over all. You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in a single house, the whole city is honored, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so it is with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence, the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled, and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be.”
Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 35.

The resurrected Christ is not a ghost or a spirit, but He also isn’t a body like He once was. He has been resurrected to a new life, in a new kind of body, and that is the kind of resurrection, that is the kind of body that is promised to us, one that is “sown in dishonor … raised in glory … sown in weakness … raised in power … sown a physical body … raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:43–44).

Love & Resurrection,
Matthew

Hope to Die: Communion with the Dead

“At the dawn of creation, God filled the universe with signs that pointed to Himself. The whole world was meant to be a type of catechesis, an instruction in Who God is, what He does, and how He loves us.

It still is. Everywhere you look, there are natural analogies of His power, goodness, and love: the sun, the moon, the stars; the mountains, the oceans, the rivers; and especially, the man, the woman, and the child. Like the sun and the oceans, the human family reveals important truths about God. We are made in God’s image, and how we care for each other, protect each other, and especially how we give life to each other—to new generations—teaches us something about God, Whose nature is life-giving love.

This is good. The world, the family, what it has to teach us—it’s all good. God created it to be good. But the good is not God, and in a fallen world, the danger always exists that we will confuse the two. That we will worship the sun instead of the One Whose light the sun reflects. That we will worship the river instead of the One of Whose power the river reminds us. That we will worship the earthly family instead of the divine family for which we were made.

This is demonic bait. The world is pointing to the world to come, but the devil doesn’t want us to see that. Or, he doesn’t want us to care. Satan wants to convince us that this world is all there is, that this life is enough.

But the natural world is passing, which means that to worship the natural is always to enter into a covenant with death. It’s the deadliest form of worship. And yet, this is and was a temptation for fallen humanity. It was especially a temptation in a world where the fullness of truth had yet to be revealed, where God was only gradually filling in the blanks about Who He is and what He has in store for us.

To prevent the Israelites from the tendency to ancestor worship is why specific mourning rites are forbidden in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, such as the shaving of the head and the gashing of the skin (Lev 19:27, 21:5; Deut 14:1). Both rites were practiced among the Canaanites, who saw those acts as a way of making sacrifices to and communing with the dead.

For similar reasons, the Israelites are forbidden from offering tithes to the dead, such as wheat or animal products (Deut 26:14). Throughout the ancient world, people commonly made offerings to the dead or buried the dead with wealth and food. But Israel was not to be like its neighbors.

Likewise, in Numbers 19:11 we read, “He who touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean seven days.” Numbers then goes on to outline an elaborate cleansing ritual, not only for those who touch the dead but also for anyone who even goes into the tent of someone who died.

Why would God issue such laws? Because the Israelites were going to catch cooties from the dead body? Because the body isn’t hygienic? No. Because God wanted Israel to understand that physical death is a sign of spiritual death. It’s a sign of what sin does to the soul. And sin is catching. It’s as contagious as any disease and as deadly as any disease. More deadly, actually.

We see this even more explicitly in Ezekiel 37 when God has Ezekiel preach to a valley of dead bones. The bones are a symbol of Israel. They are dead and defiled. And the defilement of their physical condition is a sign of the defilement of their spiritual condition. They had forgotten God, forgotten His ways, and lost the hope He had promised them. Through that forgetting, they defiled their souls. “Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off ’” (Ezek 37:11).

Telling the Israelites that touching the dead defiles them is a pedagogical lesson to help the Israelites learn to detest sin. The same goes for the prohibition on touching a leper. God doesn’t primarily care about skin purity. He cares about soul purity. And leprosy in the Bible is a sign of sin. It does to a person’s body what breaking God’s law does to the soul.”

Love & Resurrection,
Matthew

Hope to Die: The Body as Sacrament

(Ed. sacrament = a visible sign of God’s grace.)

St. Athanasius explains:

‘What else could he possibly do, being God, but renew His image in mankind? And how could this be done save by the coming of the very Image Himself, our Savior Jesus Christ? Men could not have done it, for they are only made after the Image; nor could angels have done it, for they are not the images of God. The Word of God came in His own Person, because it was He alone, the Image of the Father, Who could recreate man made after the Image.’
-Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 39–41

Zoe/Ζωή, in many ways, is the ultimate gift of the Incarnation. It is the ultimate reason for the Incarnation. It’s the why behind Jesus coming. But, unlike the new dignity all bodies take on through the Incarnation, zoe/Ζωή isn’t imparted to all people automatically. It’s imparted through Baptism.

In Baptism, we are born anew, receiving what Adam lost—the gift of divine life—into our souls once more. It’s easy to dismiss Baptism as a mere symbol, but when you understand the difference between bios/βιο and zoe/Ζωή and between physical death and spiritual death, it becomes clear that the Sacrament of Baptism is more than figurative or symbolic. There is an ontological reality to our resurrection.

In the waters of Baptism, we die and rise by being united to Christ’s resurrected body. The divine life is restored to us so that the newly baptized person is more resurrected than Lazarus was. Lazarus got his natural, physical life back after four days. But in Baptism, we get our supernatural and divine life back, the life that Adam lost in the very beginning of time.

Baptism makes it possible for us to live the life for which God made us—a life that is more than natural—that is, in fact, supernatural. It also makes it possible for us to live a more fully human life, to enter more deeply into those things that make this earthly life worth living and have richer, more intimate connections with family and friends.

But Baptism doesn’t just affect our souls; it affects our bodies, too.

In all the sacraments, sanctifying grace—God’s own life— comes to us through our bodies. In Baptism, in Confirmation, in Marriage, in Holy Orders, and above all, in the Eucharist, God’s life enters into these bodies of ours through matter—water, wine, oil, a bishop’s hands, a spouse’s body— restoring the divine life that was lost by Adam and strengthening it within us. That grace divinizes our bodies. It makes them holy. It makes them temples. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” asks Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:16.

In every single baptized person who is not in a state of mortal sin, God lives. He dwells within us. All human life is sacred because it is a gift from God and because man is made in the image of God. But the bodies of the baptized have a holiness that comes from the sanctifying grace abiding within them. As C. S. Lewis once remarked in his famous lecture, “The Weight of Glory”:

‘Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way [as the Blessed Sacrament], for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.’
-C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: Macmillan, 1980), 19.

Importantly, the holiness of the baptized body doesn’t end with death. Grace continues to linger in the bodies and bones of those united to Christ. That’s why Catholic cemeteries are considered holy ground. The bodies of the baptized are buried there. And those bodies are the seed of the resurrected body.

Jesus promises to transform our resurrected bodies, to glorify them, to deify them. “As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust,” writes St. Paul, “and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor 15:48–49).

This promise of resurrection is our hope. It is that on which we stake our life. It is what enables us, as Christians, to face death with courage and joy.”

Love & Resurrection,
Matthew