Wednesday, April 30, 2008
The Ultimate Question: What is the metaphysics of Christian anthropology? Is man an "individual substance of a rational nature" to whom "grace" is added in some constitutive but accidental way? Or, is man as image of the divine Persons constitutively relational in the sense that his "hard wiring" or metaphysical structure consists in "being-for," and if so, how does that affect our question? Or simpler: Is Christ the Meaning of Man? And if so, how does [or should] that affect culture?
And if we get that far, what horizon of knowledge or awareness are we in?
Joseph Ratzinger begins his theological career with the patristic (Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine), medieval (Bonaventure) and modern (Newman) understanding of revelation and faith. Revelation is the action of the divine Person as self-gift on the Cross, and faith is the action of receptivity that is also self-gift that removes the "veil" of revelation. This experiential knowing that is faith is not primarily conceptual but a consciousness such as the supreme testimony, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt. 16, 16). This testimony, according to Ratzinger’s account comes from Simon’s entering into Christ's relation to the Father by prayer: “And it came to pass as he was praying in private, that his disciples also were with him, and he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ And they answered and said, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elias; and others, that one of the ancient prophets has risen again.’ And he said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered and said, ‘The Christ of God’” (Lk. 9, 18). And then the announcement that Ratzinger calls “theological epistemology.” This has to deal with “like” knowing “like,” and this because to “know” in the biblical and realist sense consists in being one being with another. Adam, “(t)he man “knew” Eve, his wife” by the act of becoming one flesh – one being - with her. Ratzinger explains: “By nature, knowledge depends on a certain similarity between the knower and the known. The old axiom is that like is known by like. In matters of the mind and where persons are concerned, this means that knowledge calls for a certain degree of empathy, by which we enter, so to speak, into the person or intellectual reality concerned, become one with him or it, and thus become able to understand (intellegere = ab intus legere).”
Since prayer is the incarnate living out of the purely relational Person of the Logos toward the Father, Simon enters into this relational act to the point of transforming the orientation of his persona. He begins to image the act which is the constitutive structure of the Divinity. He begins to make the total gift of himself in prayer. Ratzinger had just presented the ontological physiognomy of Christ Himself in prayer as the incarnation and disclosure of what He is as divine Person. As divine Person He is pure relation as gift to the Father. By praying with Christ, Simon begins to enter into this act. He begins to experience a metamorphosis into becoming a relational being like Christ, and as such experience “ab intus” what it means to be “another Christ.”
That happening, Christ says, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to thee, but my Father in heaven. And I say to thee, thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church… (Mt. 16, 17-18). As Simon’s acts are self-giving, his whole begins to become relational and therefore transformed “Christically.” And since Christ is “the cornerstone,” Simon becomes the “rock,” Peter. As his being actualizes as relation, Christ changes his name from Simon-Bar-Jona to “Peter.”
Having cut his teeth on the relationality of revelation and faith, and finding that both pertain to the anthropological profile of the human person and not exceptional adjuncts, Ratzinger discovers the different paths taken by Christology, such as the theology of the Incarnation (using the Greek metaphysics of being in the first Councils of the Church in East and West: Nicea, Ephesus, Chalcedon, Constantinople I-II-III) and theology of the Cross (St. Paul’s activity of resurrection) that have gone in different directions, really find their solution in this “new” Christology and anthropology of being-in-relation. For example: Jesus Christ is not simply “static” being but the activity of Love and Word. Ratzinger says: “His existence is thus his word. He is word because he is love. From the cross faith understands in increasing measure that this Jesus did not just do and say something; that in him message and person are identical, that he always already is what he says.” His name is “Jesus” (this individual from Nazareth) “Christ” (the living, saving God). “For we have found that the being of Christ (‘incarnation’ theology!) is actualitas, stepping beyond and out of oneself, the exodus of departure from self; it is not a being that rests in itself, but the act of being sent, of being son, of serving. Conversely, this ‘doing’ is not just ‘dong’ but ‘being;’ it reaches down into the depths of being and coincides with it. This being is exodus, transformation. So at this point a properly understood theology of being and of the incarnation must pass over into the theology of the cross and become one with it; conversely, a theology of the cross that gives its full measure must Passover into the theology of the Son and of being.”
Now, returning to the question: how does this revelation of the relationality of the person of Christ affect whether man was created in the image of God as an individual substance of a rational nature to whom the grace of a supernatural endowment was added after sin? Ratzinger frames the question in terms of the separation of Christology (the theology of Christ) and soteriology (the theology of redemption).
He says: “In the course of the historical development of the Christian faith two aspects of it which people became accustomed to call ‘Christology’ and ‘soteriology’ visibly parted company. The former term came to denote the doctrine of the being of Jesus, which was tereated moroe and more as a self-contained ontological exception and thus transformed into an object of speculation over something special, incompreohensible and confined to Jesus alone. Soteriology then came to denote the doctrine of the redemption: after dealing with the ontological crossword puzzle [fitting together one person, two natures, human soul, two intellects, two wills, etc.] – the question how man and God could in Jesus be one – people went on to enquire quite separately what Jesus had really done and how the effect of his deed impinges on us. That the two questions parted company, that the person and his work were made the subjects of separate enquiries and treatises, led to both problems becoming incomprehensible and insoluble.” He offers the perfect example of “satisfaction theory” of St. Anselm where the work of Christ on the Cross was addressing the injustice done to God, which, being infinite by reason of the infinite Godhead, demanded that an infinite God make reparation that the finite offending man could not. In such an account, God appears as a brutal figure – anything but Love and forgiveness – and Jesus as performing a work that is unjustly imposed on him. Ratzinger comments that Anselm’s “view has put a decisive stamp on the second millennium of Western Christendom, which takes it for granted that Christ had to die on the cross in order to make good the infinite offence which had been committed and in this way to restore the damaged order of things.”
The original question is: Would Christ have come had man not sinned?
I ask, How could it be otherwise? And if we take the position that Christ enters the human condition to save man in the exceptional situation that man has sinned and cannot be saved from God’s wrath unless God Himself becomes man and pays the infinite debt as infinite Person, such an account presents us with an even more intolerable God Who demands that kind of justice. It would contradict everything that the New Testament tells us about God. As Ratzinger comments on Anselm’s theory of satisfaction: “This picture is as false as it is widespread. In the Bible the cross does not appear as part of a mechanism of injured right; on the contrary, in the Bible the cross is quite the reverse: it is the expression of the radical nature of the love which gives itself completely, of the process in which one is what one does, and does what one is; it is the expression of a life that is completely being for others.”
What is striking is that even raising the question as to whether Christ would have become man if there were no sin betrays a deep misunderstanding in our consciousness – as deep and widespread as Anselm’s theory of satisfaction is accepted. It betrays a deep misunderstanding of ourselves and of creation, and of God. It is an as yet undisclosed atheism since in reality consciousness of God is the context for all meaningful thought. The values of good and bad point to a deeply "remembered" experience within man of profound ontological tendencies that derive from imaging the divine Persons. As Ratzinger remarked in Texas in 1990:That's it! That is what my nature points to and seeks." What underlies our asking the question is the rationalized and mechanized metaphysics of substance and the positivism of science and technology that has leached on to it that keeps us misinterpreting ourselves and forging a secularized culture and individualism. It is in this light that we must study and attempt to immerse ourselves in the mind of Benedict XVI. His first words in Washington at Nationals Park were: “I have come to America to confirm you, my brothers and sisters, in the faith of the Apostles (cf. Lk. 22, 32).I have come to proclaim anew, as Peter proclaimed on the day of Pentecost, that Jesus Christ is Lord and Messiah, risen from the dead, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father, and established as judge of the living and the dead (cf. Acts 2, 14ff.).” His words at Yankee Stadium: “And this, dear friends, is the particular challenge which the Successor of Saint Peter serts before you today. As ‘a choseon people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,’ follow faithfully in the footsteps of those who have gone before you! Hasten the coming of God’s Kingdom in this land!” And “the Kingdom of God is… a Person, with the face and name of Jesus of Nazareth.”
 J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 26.
 Genesis, 4, 1.
 J. Ratzinger, op. cit 25.
 “This [Jesus Christ] is ‘The stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the corner stone.’ Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved (”Acts 4, 11; Psalm 117).
 J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 152.
 Ibid. 171-172.
 Ibid. 172.
 Ibid. 173-174.
 Ibid 214.
 John Paul II, “Mission of the Redeemer,” #18.
Gress: The run up to the Holy Father's arrival included all sorts of speculation about what the Holy Father would talk about, including the abuse crisis. I'm not sure many people could have predicted how explosive the situation still is after lurking beneath the surface since 2002 and 2003, but it was clearly an open wound for the Church in America. The day before his arrival, I walked down to the White House, and a large and angry crowd had gathered protesting celibacy as the cause for the crisis.What was so remarkable was how the Holy Father responded to this -- not avoiding the issue, but addressing it from the start on the flight to the United States. His meeting with some of the victims was also a surprising gesture that will hopefully do much to bring healing to the wound. Through his very fatherly response, the topic went from being one of deep rancor to something that seemed to melt away in the press coverage.At Nationals Stadium, the Holy Father asked the faithful to "love their priests." This appeared to be another source of deep healing for the clergy, but was also a call of responsibility to the laity. The precious gift of the priesthood is not one to be taken for granted, but is a difficult road of service and sacrifice. A laity mindful of this can do a lot to help keep such abuses at bay.
Q: How did the people on the street and other reporters react to him?
Gress: At the beginning of the visit, there seemed to be some caution on the part of both Catholics and the press about this visit. People were concerned about whether or not it would be a "real event" given his temperament, so different from Pope John Paul II's. Some of the major news outlets didn't really even have a developed plan to cover it.And yet, the first day at Andrews Air Force Base when the Pope arrived, it was clear that something big was happening. People really wanted to see this man, know this man, and be close to him.At Nationals Stadium, I was awestruck by the number of young people and young families. One family I met had traveled from Idaho with five children just to attend the Mass of 46,000. It was certainly no private audience, and yet you could see how happy they were to be there -- to be a part of the event. This was an emotion felt by almost everyone involved. Even the press seemed to get caught up in it. Its not everyday that two seasoned journalists are stunned into silence. Wolf Biltzer of CNN and NBC's Tim Russert both had a semi-private audience with the Holy Father. "I must say, I don't often say it, but I truly feel blessed that I had this opportunity to do what I've just done," said Blitzer on CNN."You know, I didn't ask him a question, and I listened carefully and Tim Russert, if you can believe it, was even more polite and even more stunned and silent than I was," Blitzer said, adding, "I think the two of us did not embarrass our profession, our news business. We just stood there and we watched, we did what we were told."It's hard to think of more remarkable responses.Q: What was your overall experience being there so close to the Holy Father? What was the closest you got to him?Gress: One thing that was not easy to get a grasp of on TV or in print was the amount of security for the events. Six hours was not an uncommon time to wait. Despite this, there wasn't much complaining. The security, unfortunately, also dampened the numbers of people who wanted even just a glimpse of the Holy Father. Despite all this, the excitement people had about seeing him and the sacrifices they made to do it were simply infectious.The closest I got was about 20 feet away from him at the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. The tight security and sectioned off areas made it difficult to get much closer. Other times, I was near the back venues in designated press areas, or even outside an event, as with the Mass for clergy at St. Patrick's Cathedral.The trip has increased my own appreciation of living in Rome and the opportunities I have to see the Holy Father -- just to see the lengths other people have gone, even to get a glimpse of him in the popemobile, is a great reminder of the privilege it is to live near the Vatican.
Q: Do you think the Pontiff's trip to the United States was a success?
Gress: If success can be measured by how one brings Christ to others, I think it was a tremendous success. With Pope John Paul II, people flocked to him because of his personality, exuberance, charm and charisma. Even in his later years, there was still speculation that that was the draw for so many young people -- they wanted to be close to a celebrity.But with Pope Benedict, the celebrity flash is just not there -- and yet, he drew people in with the same magnetism -- a magnetism that can only be attributed to Christ. From the president down to school children, everyone seemed to be caught up by his witness of hope.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
John Paul II suggests: Yes!
The argument is the following: Jesus Christ is the prototype in the creation of man, not an afterthought, even though He comes chronologically after the first man. Gaudium et spes #22 reads: "For Adam, the first man, was a type of Him who was to come" (Rom 5, 14). This bears the following footnote (#20) from Tertullian: "For in all the form which was molded in the clay, Christ was in his thoughts as the man who is to be." Therefore, when God thought man, he did not think Adam, he thought Christ. Jesus Christ is incarnate God. The logic is: if Christ is prototypical of man, He is not an afterthought contingent on sin.
Ephesians 1, 4 gives us a lead: “Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world… He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ as his sons…”
Gaudium et Spes #22 reads: “In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear. For Adam, the first man, was a type of him who was to come, Christ the Lord, Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling…He who is the ‘image of the invisible God’ (Col. 1, 15), is himself the perfect man who has restored in the children of Adam that likeness to God which had been disfigured ever since the first sin.”
“Man and Woman He Created Them:” (Waldstein) October 6, 1982: John Paul II:
“When we compare the testimony of the ‘beginning’ reported in the first chapters of Genesis with the testimony of Ephesians, we must deduce that the reality of the creation of man was already permeated by the perennial election of man in Christ…
5. “From the ‘beginning,’ man, male and female, shared in this supernatural gift. This endowment was given in view of him, who from eternity was ‘beloved’ as Son, although –according to he dimensions of time and history – it preceded the Incarnation of this ‘beloved Son’ and also the ‘redemption’ wekjo have in him ‘through his blood’ (Eph. 1, 7).
"Redemption was to become the source of man’s supernatural endowment after sin and, in a certain sense, despite sin (my emphasis). This supernatural endowment that was the fruit of man’s election in Christ before the ages – was brought about precisely out of regard for him, that one and only Beloved, while chronologically anticipating his coming in the body.”
“The Theology of the Body” (Osservatore Romano Translation):
“Man, male and female, shared from the beginning in this supernatural gift. This bounty was granted in consideration of him, who from eternity was beloved as Son, even though – according to the dimensions of time and history – it had preceded the Incarnation of this beloved Son and also the redemption which we have in him through his blood(cf. Eph 1, 7).
"The redemption was to become the source of man’s supernatural endowment after sin and, in a certain sense, in spite of sin [my emphasis]. This supernatural endowment which took place before original sin, that is, the grace of justice and original innocence – an endowment which was the fruit of man’s election in Christ before the ages – was accomplished precisely in reference to him, to the beloved One, while anticipating chronologically his coming in the body.”
Christopher West “The Theology of the Body Explained:
“The letter to the Ephesians opens up before us the supernatural world of the eternal mystery, of the eternal plans of God the Father concerning man. These plans,’ the Pope reminds us, ‘precede the “creation of the world,” and therefore also the creation of man. At the same time those divine plans begin to be put into effect already in the entire reality of creation’ (334). This sheds new light on the nature and origin of the grace of original innocence. ‘The letter to the Ephesians leads us to approach this situation – that is, the state of man before original sin – from the point of view of the mystery hidden in God from eternity’ (333-334). According to this mystery, God chose us in Christ ‘before the foundation of the world’ (Eph 1, 4). This means that ‘before sin, man bore in his soul the fruit of eternal election in Christ’ (334).
"It seems that John Paul cannot stress this point enough. Comparing the testimony of the ‘beginning’ with the testimony of Ephesians, he says that ‘one must deduce that the reality of man’s creation was already imbued with the perennial election of man in Christ…. Man, male and female shared from the “beginning” in this supernatural gift.’ And again he says that this supernatural endowment in Christ ‘took place before original sin’ (334-335). Rereading the account of creation in light of the New Testament, we realize that man’s destiny in Christ is already implied in his creation in the image of God. For it is Christ who ‘is the image of the invisible God.’ Thus, it is in Christ that we image God right from the beginning (See Col. 1, 15-16).
"With these statement, the Holy Father appears to be adding his input to a centuries-old theological debate: Would Christ have come had man no sinned? In any case, this pope’s opinion on the matter seems clear. For him, Jesus Christ – the incarnate Christ – ‘is the center of the universe and of history.’ For him, it seems even to entertain the idea of a universe without an incarnate Christ is to miss a central point of the ‘great mystery’ of God’s love for humanity.
Christ is ‘the first-born of all creation’ (Col. 1, 15). Everything – especially man in his original unity as male and female – was created for him, through him, and in expectation of him. When we reread man’s beginning in view of the ‘great mystery’ of Ephesians, we can see that Christ’s incarnate communion with the Church is already anticipated and in some sense ‘contained’ in the original incarnate communion of man and woman. And this original unity in ‘one flesh’ was constituted by God before sin. Man and woman’s original unity, therefore, was a beatifying participation in grace (see #20). This grace made original man ‘holy and blameless’ before God. Here John Paul reminds us that their primordial (or original) holiness and purity were also expressed in their being naked without shame. The Holy Father then asserts that this original bounty was granted to man in view of Christ, who from eternity was ‘beloved’ as Son, ‘even though – according to the dimensions of time and history – it had preceded the Incarnation’ (334).
If this is the case, the Incarnation is not an afterthought – a second plan intended to rectify the first, supposedly thwarted when man sinned. Of course sin put man on a major detour, one might say, in realizing God’s plan. But sin is not an insurmountable roadblock. Sin is not more powerful than God’s eternal plan to unity us with Christ. God’s plan for man and for the universe continues in spite of sin.
The grace of original innocence, John Paul tells us, ‘was accomplished precisely in reference to [Christ] while anticipating chronologically his coming in the body’ (335). And, recalling our reflections on Genesis, that grace was given ‘in an irrevocable way, despite the subsequent sin and death.’ It is true that man lost this grace as a result of sin. The entrance of shame attests to this. But he did not lose it forever. Christ’s resurrection bears witness that the grace of the mystery of creation becomes, for anyone open to receiving it, the grace of the mystery of redemption. ‘The redemption was to become the source of man’s supernatural endowment after sin and, in a certain sense, in spite of sin’ (335). In this way God’s eternal plan for man – remaining the same yesterday, today, and forever – is definitively accomplished in his beloved Son.
John Paul wants to stress the continuity between God’s plan in the mystery of creation and his plan in the mystery of redemption. But at the same time we can deduce a ‘new’ dimension to God’s self-gift – the revelation of his mercy. After sin, in order to fulfill ‘the mystery hidden for ages in God’ (Eph. 3, 9), Christ would first have to reconcile man to the Father. This means that his Incarnation and his bodily gift of self would now entail his suffering and death. ‘In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses’ (Eph. 1, 7-8) One might call it the necessary prerequisite for the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan for us ‘to be his sons through Jesus Christ’ (1, 5). From the perspective of the spousal analogy, if spouses have been at enmity with each other, they must first reconcile before they re-unite in ‘one flesh.’ Christ’s self-gift on the cross is the reconciliation of estranged spouses that opens the way for their eternal consummate communion.’”
The Ultimate Question: What is the metaphysics of Christian anthropology? Is man an "individual substance of a rational nature" to whom "grace" is added in some constitutive but accidental way? Or, is man as image of the divine Persons constitutively relational in the sense that his "hard wiring" or metaphysical structure consists in "being-for," and if so, what do we mean?" And if we get that far, what horizon of knowledge or awareness are we in?
Joseph Ratzinger begins his theological career with the patristic and medieval (Bonaventure) understanding of revelation and faith. Revelation is the action of the divine Person as self-gift on the Cross, and faith is the action of receptivity that is also self-gift that removes the "veil" to revelation. This experiential knowing that is faith is not primarily conceptual but a consciousness such as the supreme testimony, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt. 16, 16).
 John Paul II “Man and Woman He Created Them” trans. Michael Waldstein (2006) 505.
 John Paul II “The Theology of the Body,” Pauline Books and Media (1997) 334-335.
 Christopher West, “The Theology of the Body Explained” Pauline Books and Media (2006) 348.
 Ibid 349.
First, revelation is not “informative” but “performative” in the words of Benedict XVI last weekend. Truth that is the Person of Christ “means more than knowledge.” It is becoming in oneself – the “adequatio” (conformity or “isomer”) of the self as person to the Self that is Christ as Person – what the Person of Christ is in Himself. And that configuration of the Person of Christ is to be relation to the Father. The Logos is not in relation to the Father but is relation to the Father. His substantiality consists in not being “in self” but relation to (“for”) the Other (See 131-132 of “Introduction to Christianity” 1990; or p. 184 of the 2005 edition). Hence, the supreme revelation of God is Jesus Christ extended on the Cross as obedience to death “for” us. That act is the supreme revelation.
That relational act that is the very Person of Christ as Logos “from” and “for” the Father, is revelation. It (the act) cannot become truth in us merely as “information” as “factual data” (Yonkers, 4/20/08) but as our reciprocal “performance” in our very person. Instead of being calibrated as data that we “know” and therefore conceptualize (mediate by a symbol), we have to go through the experience of going out of ourselves in order to receive in ourselves the kind of relationality that He is toward the Father. We have to become like Him. That oneness of being – while being ontologically two – is what it means to become “another Christ.” St. Josemaria Escriva said: “But we have to join him through faith, letting his life show forth in ours to such an extent that each Christian is not simply alter Christus: another Christ but ipse Christus: Christ himself!”
Secondly, in concrete terms, one can “know” Christ only by prayer, or by an action that is turned into prayer. If the self of the believer is not given, the Self of God is not “known.” Like is known by like. And once you have become “like” Christ by becoming a kind of “isomer” or “reciprocal” in your very persona, then you know everyone else as well, because they have done the same thing. The difference from a mechanical likeness is the fact that the self-giving has to be a free self-determining act such that each one is the author of his self-giving. Otherwise it is not self-giving but a being-given, and then it is not gift as yours but a being-given, as a “thing.” Hence, in the Church we are all “one” not that we are all the same “thing” or substance, but that we are all – each uniquely – another Christ as self-transcending. So that each one "knows" the other as Christ just as he "knows" himself as Christ.
[It may important to insert here, and precisely here, the philosophic observations of Karol Wojtyla concerning the cognizing of the subjectivity of the self and the other. He says: "When it comes to understnding the human being, the whole rich and complex reality of lived expereince is not so much an element or aspect as a dimension in its own right. And this is the dimension at which we must necessarily pause if the subjective structure - including the subjective personal structure - of the human being is to be fully delineated.
"What does it mean to pause cognitively at lived experience? This 'pausing' should be understood in relation to the irreducible. The traditions of philosophical anthropology would have us believe that we can, so to speak, pass right over this dimension, that we can cognitively omit it by means of an abstraction that oprovides us with a species definition of the human being as a bieng, or, in other words, with a cosmological type of reduction ( homo = animal rationale). One might ask, however, whether in so defining the essence of the human being we do not in a sense leave out what is most humana,a since thehumanum expresses and realizes itself as the personale. If so, then the irreducible would suggest that we cannot come to know and understand the human being in a reductive way alone. This is also what the contemporaory philosophy of the subject seems to be telling the traditinal philosophy of the object.
But that is not all. The irreducible signifies that which is essentially incapable of reduction, that which cannot be reduced but can only be disclosed or revealed. Lived expoerience essentially defies reduction. This does not mean, however, that it eludes our knowledge: it only means that we must arrive at the knowledge of it differently, namely, by a method or means of analysis that merely reveals and discloses its essence. The method of phenomenological analysis allows us to pause at lived experience as the irreducible. This method is not just a descriptive cataloging of individual phenomena (in the Kantian sense, i.e., phenomena as sense-perceptible contents). When we pause at the lived experience of the irreducible, we attempt to permeate cognitively the whole essence of this experience. We thus apprehend both the essentially subjective structure of lived experience and its structural relation to the subjectivity of the human being. Phenomenological analysis thus contribures to transphenomenal undertstanding; it also contributes to a disclosure of the richness proper to human existence int he whole complex compositum humanum" ("Subjectivity and the Irreducible in the Human Being" in Person and Community Lang (1993) 215-216).
When Wojytla talks about this distinct type of experience that is "lived experience," he is talking about the "I" of the subject as Being who is the agent and cause of itself in its free act of self-determination. The subject perceives itself - "reflexively" in mirroring fashion - as both potency and act with regard to a future action to perform, and in so doing, forms the experience of that act. That experience is both caused by and productive of what we understand to be "consciousness" that is not "concepts" (which we understand to be objectifying).
This rather complicated and obscure foray into a phenomenology of consciousness is important to be able to say what Benedict XVI is talking about when he says "truth is a person: Jesus Christ" (Yonkers 4/20/08). He has importantly clarified that remark in his theological epistemology: "Since the center of Jesus is prayer, it is essential to participate in his prayer if we are to know and understand him" (J. Ratzinger, "Behold the Pierced One," Ignatius (1986) 25)].
In this sense, the Church is the gathering together of the pristine harmony of human nature. “It is a foreshadowing, dim but certain, of a new paradise.” “(I)n Christ the faithful are truly present to each other, and that for those who live by his love the good of each is the good of all: ‘If you love unity, whatever in it is another’s is at the same time yours.’”
“A medieval author… expressed this view of the faith very well when he wrote… as a Christian addressing his brother in Christ:
“When you are at prayer you are in my presence, and I am in yours. Do not be surprised because I say presence; for if you love me, and it is because I am the image of God that you love me, I am as much in your presence was you are in your own. All that you are substantially, that am I. Indeed, every rational being is the image of God So he who seeks in himself the image of God seeks there his neighbor as well as himself; and he who finds it in himself in seeking it there, knows it as it is in every man… If then you see yourself, you see me, for I am not different from you; and if you love the image of God, you love me as the image of God; and I, in my turn, loving God, love you. So seeking the same thing, tending towards the same thing, we are ever in one another’s presence, in God, in whom we love each other.”
 Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi #2.
 Josemaria Escriva, “Christ’s Presence in Christians,” Christ is Passing By, Scepter #104.
 Henri de Lubac, “The Church,” Catholicism Sheed and Ward (1958) 31.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Meanwhile, I've also had a long conversation with a friend about the separation between truth/doctrine and institutional hierarchy (he seemed to argue that the Church should adapt to individuals and society, rather than the other way around, and specifically raised the issues of women priests and accepting homosexuals).
I'm not quite sure how (or possibly why) this issue keeps coming up, this week, as I've never sought out or brought up this topic, and while I'm fairly sure that I've managed to hold up 'my' side, I'm concerned that I may not be doing it full justice. I've been emphasizing self gift and human dignity, and the main responses seem to be either asking to prove that humans have inherent dignity that separates us from other creatures (which is a bit hard to do, I think, without the idea of free will and being made in God's image), or asking why it is that the Church uniquely upholds those things (particularly given the contradictory behavior displayed by some individuals). I have also been avoiding the idea of 'proving' the existence of God either way, as it's a matter of faith-- meaning, I'm inclined to believe, that atheists are in the position of applying rationalist constructs to something intrinsically separate from such constructs. I tend to think, for that reason, that atheists are rather worse off, in terms of intellectual integrity, than theists or than agnostics, given that those who believe in God necessarily acknowledge that rationalist constructs have limitations, and that agnostics at least acknowledge the possibility of the existence of God and the possibility that rationalism has limits.I think that the Church, more than any other religion I've seen, upholds human dignity and self gift, and does so consistently, and that the sacraments help individuals to overcome their human weaknesses. This is what I generally tell people who ask why I am Catholic-- that I believe that it allows me to be closer to truth than other religions-- but for some people, that raises issues of personal truth vs. universal truth, and for others, issues of whether individuals could overcome and be closer to truth without the institutional hierarchy of organized religion, and throughout all of this is a concern over what 'truth' is. The problem for me is that there is a limit, not as much to how it can be philosophically defended or discussed, but inasmuch as my faith is something of a powerful intuition toward something, and that it is at the least difficult (if not impossible?) to fully justify or explain that in rational terms. This means that it has been particularly difficult to discuss this with non-Catholics or with atheists. To some extent, it also seems that there are a lot of people who are either surprised that I am religious, or who are surprised that I am willing to discuss it on a philosophical basis. At any rate, I would very much appreciate any advice or suggestions you could give me-- I don't entirely know how clear this message is, so please don't hesitate to ask any questions it may raise.
I say the following: God is not a Being Whom we prove. He is the supreme reality that I must experience. There are 2 levels of experience. One is things taken through external perception-internal perception and elaboration and intellectual abstraction that gives me universal concepts which which I form propositions, syllogisms, deductions, inductions. This is the horizon in which I "prove" that God exists as First Mover, Cause, Necessary Being, Hightest among degrees of perfection and Final Cause. But that tells me about God. It does not give me experiential knowledge of God.
There is another level of experience which is my self in act in which I experience mastering myself to act in this way or that - and ultimately to give myself or not. That is, instead of experiencing beings out there, I experience my "I" as Being when I freely activate myself such as to give me the internal experience of the peculiar being that I am from within subjectivity (which is not subjectivism).
It's on this level that I become conscious of absolute values (good/bad) and intellectual absolutes in the singularity of existence (not just by abstraction from the singular as real). Such is the consciousness of the absolute value of the human person as a self-determining freedom and human rights. Notice how these are known in the strange ambiguity of consciousness but cannot be "proved."
Let me try. Since the major crisis - that may not be that evident - is the eclipse of God, the absolutely primary task of Benedict XVI is the recovery not of the “knowledge” of God, but the experience of God. I would hazard to say that that was the prime objective of the trip, the most repeated theme that was coming under the radar, and the last one to be discovered by the media, even the “good” media.
In one minute (that’s all I’ve got) let me transcribe one sentence of Benedict that I think says it all: “With regard to the educational forum, the diakonia [service] of truth takes on a heightened significance in societies where secularist ideology drives a wedge between truth and faith. This division has led to a tendency to equate truth with knowledge and to adopt a positivistic mentality which, in rejecting metaphysics, denies the foundations of faith and rejects the need for a moral vision. Truth means more than knowledge: knowing the truth leads us to discover the good. Truth speaks to the individual in his or her entirety, inviting us to respond with our whole being. This optimistic vision is found in our Christian faith because such faith has been granted the vision of the Logos, God’s creative Reason, which in the Incarnation, is revealed as Goodness itself. Far from being just a communication of factual data – ‘informative’ – the loving truth of the Gospel is creative and life-changing – ‘performative’ (cf. Spe Salvi, 2). With confidence, Christian educators can liberate the young from the limits of positivism and awaken receptivity to the truth, to God and his goodness. Inthis way you will also help to form their conscience which, enriched by faith, opens a sure path to inner peace and to respect for others.”
This point has to be cross-referenced throughout the other talks of the pope. I suggest that this raising of consciousness from objectified “fact” which is “knowledge” to the truth that is Person and persons - in consciousness - wherein freedom takes place, is the point of all the talks and the goal of the trip itself - and of the pontificate!!
 Eric Gorski, “Benedict Praised as Candid, But Visit’s Impact Unclear,” Posted Mon. Apr. 21, 2008.
 Benedict XVI, To Catholic Educators of the United States.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
The grave problem that confronts us culturally is to exist for self. In a metaphysic of Hellenic substance (to-be-in-self-and-not-in another), evil is understood as non-being. In the area of action, it is the non-reflection on the truth as norm of being and acting without the rule or measure of truth (See J. Maritain’s “Existence and the Existent”). The action is vitiated and shot through with “nothingness” (failure to conform to the right order of being), but the “substance” still stands in its ontological in-itself-ness.
However, if one steps into another “horizon” of perception of the self as subject, the “I,” who is only insofar as “it” is in relation to another because it is the image of divine Person of the Son who is nothing but relation to the Father as Son, then the “I” is not “I” if it does not go out of itself. It morphs and implodes into an "individual" [read "substance"].
Such a view is ontologically radical, and depending on the epistemological perspective. Concretely, if the only experience is sense experience and the abstraction from that which forms concepts and syllogistic reasoning, then the metaphysics of that reality must be a conceptual (and imagined) “thing-in-itself” that we call “substance.” But if there is another kind of experience that is of the self in the free moral act, then if we can do a phenomenology of that experience, we are no longer dealing with the Cartesian consciousness that has dominated modern thought until the present moment, and are in contact experientially with Being in a new way. Notice that this takes place in the relational act of moral action. And, it is the moral act of faith which is the supreme act of all acts because it is the only one that demands that we give our selves to the point of death: martyrdom. Notice again that faith is not merely a facultative act of intellect and will, but the existential exuberance of the dislocation of the entire self: Ecce ego quia vocasti me.
Faith, then, is the mime of the divine self-gift that is the divine Person (See also Wojtyla’s doctoral thesis: “Faith According to Saint John of the Cross”). This radical relationality is spelled out in “Introduction to Christianity” thus: “the First Person does not beget the Son in the sense of the act of begetting coming on top of the finished Person; it is the act of begetting, of giving oneself, of streaming forth. It is identical with the act of giving. Only as this act is it person, and therefore it is not the giver but the act of giving, ‘wave’ not ‘corpuscle’… [Ratzinger had used the analogy of the epistemology of modern physics where the material real from one perspective is wave, and from another corpuscle, and thus resonating between our conceptual categories. Only by transcending them to indeterminacy have we come to grips with quantum theory]. In this idea of relativity in word and love, independent of the concept of substance and not to be classified among the ‘accidents,’ Christian thought discovered the kernel of the concept of person, which describes something other and infinitely more than the mere idea of the ‘individual’” (p132 of the 1990 Ignatius edition). If you want, in the ACPQ 1992, I attempted to say something about this called “Person as Resonating Existential” somewhere on this blog. The huge point is that there are two kinds of experience – external senses and the self in moral action – that yield two kinds of “knowing,” the one conceptual, the other consciousness. To be honest, I got this straightened out reading Wojtyla’s “Acting Person” right from the beginning. The point is that Wojtyla does his own quite simple brand of phenomenology of the experience of the freely acting person and gives a metaphysical account of what has proved to be totally elusive for the whole history of philosophic thought: consciousness, and the “I” as Being that is its ground. That is, consciousness is not the “I” but the result of the “I” determining itself such as to possess itself and either give itself or not give itself.
If it gives itself, the “I” develops and grows. If it turns back on itself, the “I” does not maintain itself but withers and shrivels. It morphs from person into “individual.” I believe this is Benedict’s point on culture now. And that’s why “White Wulff” is on to something when he says: “The Logos is talking to the culture; meanwhile the culture is murdering its people. A few comments on this gruesome fact would help. The problem of time is in there somewhere.” The answer is not coming down hard and repression by structure in order to “make people good.” The problem is “conversion” from within – which in the parlance of Benedict is “The New Evangelization.” It’s a 2000 document that can be “googled.” Read it. It is vintage Ratzinger and subjacent to everything said on this trip to the U.S.
Concretely: immediately after pp. 131-132 of “Intro…” above, look at pp. 134-135 for the meaning of “for”: “The Son, as Son, and in so far as he is Son, does not proceed in any way from himself and so is completely on e with the Father; since he is nothing beside him, claims no special position of his own, confronts the Father with nothing belonging only to him, retains no room for his own individuality, therefore he is completely equal to the Father. The logic is compelling: if there is nothing in which he is just he, no kind of fenced-off private ground, then he coincides with the Father, is ‘one’ with him. It is precisely this totality of interplay that the word ‘Son’ aims at expressing. To John ‘Son’ means being-from-another; thus with this word he defines the being of this man as being from another and for others, as a being that is completely open on both sides, knows no reserved area of the mere ‘I.’ When it thus becomes clear that the being of Jesus as Christ is a completely open being, a being ‘from’ and ‘towards,’ that nowhere clings to itself and nowhere stands on its own, then it is also clear at the same time that this being is pure relation (not substantiality) and, as pure relation, pure unity. This fundamental statement about Christ becomes, as we have seen, at the same time the explanation of Christian existence” (134).
Let me add the quotes from then-Joseph Ratzinger on his take on the Hellenic metaphysical category of “substance:”
More recently, he refers to “person” as a “new philosophical category… a concept that has become for us the fundamental concept of the analogy between God and man, the very center of philosophical thought;” J. Ratzinger, “The New Covenant,” in Many Religions – One Covenant Ignatius (1999) 76-770).
In the light of this, he remarks:
“The meaning of an already existing category, that of ‘relation,’ was fundamentally changed. In the Aristotelian table of categories, relation belongs to the group of accidents that point to substance and are dependent on it; in God, therefore, there are no accidents. Through the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, relatio moves out of the substance-accident framework. Now God himself is described as a Trinitarian set of relations, as relatio subsistens. When we say that man is the image of God, it means that he is a being designed for relationship; it means that, in and through all his relationships, he seeks that relation which is the ground of his existence”(Ibid)
3) “I believe that if one follows this struggle in which human reality had to be brought in, as it were, and affirmed for Jesus, one sees what tremendous effort and intellectual transformation lay behind the working out of this concept of person, which was quite foreign in its inner disposition to the Greek and the Latin mind. It is not conceived in substantialist, but… in existential terms… Remaining on the level of the Greek mind, Boethius defined ‘person’ as naturae rationalis individual substantia, as the individual substance of a rational nature. One sees that the concept of person stands entirely on the level of substance. This cannot clarify anything about the Trinity or about Christology; it is an affirmation that remains on the level of the Greek mind which thinks in substantialist terms” [underline mine] (J. Ratzinger, “Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology,” Communio 17 [Fall, 1990] 448).
Let me add that every use of the phrase “gift of self” or “spousal love” by John Paul II is a reference to being “for.” “Spousal love” makes its first appearance semantically on p. 96 “Love and Responsibility” and carries on from there. It totally impregnates the magisterium of John Paul II from the “Theology of the Body” to the 14 Encyclicals, and on and on. Benedict has the same epistemological horizon in view continuously only it is taken from his theological work on John Henry Newman, Bonaventure, Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa. Benedict is heavily ontological and reasoning, but it is always within the theological perspective. John Paul II is pre-eminently philosophical within the artistry of moral action from faith through the use of language. In a word, the whole Magisterium from Vatican II to the present moment is being beamed through the prism of the ontological “I” as intrinsically relational as gift. More than being about virtues of a substance, it is about the ontological transformation into “other Christs” as radical self-gifts, and hence, the universal call to sanctity in the world.
To suuplement the discussion, go to the International Catholic Review "Communio" 20 (Fall 1993)580-598 for a discussion on the topic between Fr. Norris Clarke, S.J. and David Schindler. Personally, I do not agree with either one since neither gives up the first order abstraction which is substance as "thing-in-itself" and basically juryrigs it with heavy accidental relation as action and/or receptivity. But the discussion is valuable to see the epistemological difficulty involved. My own solution consists in going into another horizon: consciousness as context and meaning of concepts.
Let me add for the sake of completeness Norris Clarke's "Person, Being and St. Thomas" in Communio 19 (Winter 1992) 601-618; Clarke's The Aquinas Lecture, 1993 "Person and Being;" "Discussion: The Person: Philosophy, Theology, and Receptivity," Long, Blair, Clarke, Schindler in Communio 21 (Spring 1994) 151-190.
Also, my own attempt to deploy the thomistic "esse" as the ground of the resonation between "substantiality" and "relationality:" "Relational Esse and the Person," Volume LXV, Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association (1991) 253-267.
Let me add further: a totally orthodox Modernism which we now have in the Second Vatican Council and the subsequent Magisteria, have Maurice Blondel and Henri de Lubac speaking of an intrinsic and constitutive relationality toward the Divine. De Lubac has offered a thomism that is intrinsically oriented toward the supernatural without a dualism of pure nature and grace. His controvertial but vindicted work has been "The Mystery of the Supernatural."
 J. Ratzinger, “The New Covenant,” in Many Religions – One Covenant Ignatius (1999) 76-770).
 J. Ratzinger, “Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology,” Communio 17 (Fall, 1990) 448.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
“The first reading also makes clear, as we see from the imposition of hands on the first deacons, that the Church’s unity is "apostolic". It is a visible unity, grounded in the Apostles whom Christ chose and appointed as witnesses to his resurrection, and it is born of what the Scriptures call "the obedience of faith" (Rom 1:5; cf. Acts 6:7).(1) "Authority" … "obedience". To be frank, these are not easy words to speak nowadays. Words like these represent a "stumbling stone" for many of our contemporaries, especially in a society which rightly places a high value on personal freedom. Yet, in the light of our faith in Jesus Christ -- "the way and the truth and the life" -- we come to see the fullest meaning, value, and indeed beauty, of those words. The Gospel teaches us that true freedom, the freedom of the children of God, is found only in the self-surrender which is part of the mystery of love. Only by losing ourselves, the Lord tells us, do we truly find ourselves (cf. Lk 17:33). True freedom blossoms when we turn away from the burden of sin, which clouds our perceptions and weakens our resolve, and find the source of our ultimate happiness in him who is infinite love, infinite freedom, infinite life. "In his will is our peace".Real freedom, then, is God’s gracious gift, the fruit of conversion to his truth, the truth which makes us free (cf. Jn 8:32). And this freedom in truth brings in its wake a new and liberating way of seeing reality. When we put on "the mind of Christ" (cf. Phil 2:5), new horizons open before us! In the light of faith, within the communion of the Church, we also find the inspiration and strength to become a leaven of the Gospel in the world. We become the light of the world, the salt of the earth (cf. Mt 5:13-14), entrusted with the "apostolate" of making our own lives, and the world in which we live, conform ever more fully to God’s saving plan.This magnificent vision of a world being transformed by the liberating truth of the Gospel is reflected in the description of the Church found in today’s second reading. The Apostle tells us that Christ, risen from the dead, is the keystone of a great temple which is even now rising in the Spirit. And we, the members of his body, through Baptism have become "living stones" in that temple, sharing in the life of God by grace, blessed with the freedom of the sons of God, and empowered to offer spiritual sacrifices pleasing to him (cf. 1 Pet 2:5). And what is this offering which we are called to make, if not to direct our every thought, word and action to the truth of the Gospel and to harness all our energies in the service of God’s Kingdom? Only in this way can we build with God, on the one foundation which is Christ (cf. 1 Cor 3:11). Only in this way can we build something that will truly endure. Only in this way can our lives find ultimate meaning and bear lasting fruit.Today we recall the bicentennial of a watershed in the history of the Church in the United States: its first great chapter of growth. In these two hundred years, the face of the Catholic community in your country has changed greatly. We think of the successive waves of immigrants whose traditions have so enriched the Church in America. We think of the strong faith which built up the network of churches, educational, healthcare and social institutions which have long been the hallmark of the Church in this land. We think also of those countless fathers and mothers who passed on the faith to their children, the steady ministry of the many priests who devoted their lives to the care of souls, and the incalculable contribution made by so many men and women religious, who not only taught generations of children how to read and write, but also inspired in them a lifelong desire to know God, to love him and to serve him. How many "spiritual sacrifices pleasing to God" have been offered up in these two centuries! In this land of religious liberty, Catholics found freedom not only to practice their faith, but also to participate fully in civic life, bringing their deepest moral convictions to the public square and cooperating with their neighbors in shaping a vibrant, democratic society. Today’s celebration is more than an occasion of gratitude for graces received. It is also a summons to move forward with firm resolve to use wisely the blessings of freedom, in order to build a future of hope for coming generations."You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people he claims for his own, to proclaim his glorious works" (1 Pet 2:9). These words of the Apostle Peter do not simply remind us of the dignity which is ours by God’s grace; they also challenge us to an ever greater fidelity to the glorious inheritance which we have received in Christ (cf. Eph 1:18). They challenge us to examine our consciences, to purify our hearts, to renew our baptismal commitment to reject Satan and all his empty promises. They challenge us to be a people of joy, heralds of the unfailing hope (cf. Rom 5:5) born of faith in God’s word, and trust in his promises.Each day, throughout this land, you and so many of your neighbors pray to the Father in the Lord’s own words: "Thy Kingdom come". This prayer needs to shape the mind and heart of every Christian in this nation. It needs to bear fruit in the way you lead your lives and in the way you build up your families and your communities. It needs to create new "settings of hope" (cf. Spe Salvi, 32ff.) where God’s Kingdom becomes present in all its saving power.Praying fervently for the coming of the Kingdom also means being constantly alert for the signs of its presence, and working for its growth in every sector of society. It means facing the challenges of present and future with confidence in Christ’s victory and a commitment to extending his reign. It means not losing heart in the face of resistance, adversity and scandal. It means overcoming every separation between faith and life, and countering false gospels of freedom and happiness. It also means rejecting a false dichotomy between faith and political life, since, as the Second Vatican Council put it, "there is no human activity -- even in secular affairs -- which can be withdrawn from God’s dominion" (Lumen Gentium, 36). It means working to enrich American society and culture with the beauty and truth of the Gospel, and never losing sight of that great hope which gives meaning and value to all the other hopes which inspire our lives.And this, dear friends, is the particular challenge which the Successor of Saint Peter sets before you today. As "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation", follow faithfully in the footsteps of those who have gone before you! Hasten the coming of God’s Kingdom in this land! Past generations have left you an impressive legacy. In our day too, the Catholic community in this nation has been outstanding in its prophetic witness in the defense of life, in the education of the young, in care for the poor, the sick and the stranger in your midst. On these solid foundations, the future of the Church in America must even now begin to rise!
Explanation of Terms and Concepts
(1) “Obedience of faith” (Rom 1, 5; cf. Acts 6, 7): Authority – obedience – freedom.
“Real freedom, then, is God’s gracious gift, the fruit of conversion to his truth, the truth which makes us free (cf. Jn. 8, 32).
True freedom is not primarily choice. It is “self-surrender.” This means that it takes place in a created and sinful being (of multiple parts of body and soul) only by the act of self-mastery that yields self-possession that in turn can now become self-gift. Freedom is not indetermination of the will but the state of being totally in relation to another like the divine Persons. And since God is Love, Love and freedom are synonymous.
“Freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in – a participation in Being itself. Hence authentic freedom can never be attained by turning away from God. Such a choice would ultimate disregard the very truth we need in order to understand ourselves.”
Freedom in God is “Being” totally for the Other. It is a relational act. The underlying metaphysic is not substance as thing-in-itself but a “constitutive” relationality that is given in the God revealed by Jesus Christ. This is not grasped through the senses but experienced by the self in the uniquely spousal act of self-gift.
Choice: is not the essence of freedom, but a derivative of prior self-mastery. If there is not self-mastery in accordance with the truth of self-giving, then choice is already vitiated with the tendency to act against the being of the person as image of the divine Persons, i.e., as relational self-gift.
“Only by loving ourselves… do we truly find ourselves” (Lk. 17, 33): This has become the text for Gaudium et Spes #24 and the central description of Christian anthropology that is fundamentally all anthropology because Jesus Christ is not a type of man, but the Prototype of all men (cf. Gaudium et Spes #22). It is the truth that grounds the entire social doctrine of the Church: “‘this human person is the primary route that t he Church must travel in fulfilling her mission… the way traced out by Christ himself, the way that leads invariably through the mystery of the Incarnation and the Redemption.’
“This, and this alone, is the principle which inspires the Church’s social doctrine.”
“All of this does not imply moralism: reducing Christianity to morality loses sight of the essence of Christ’s message: the gift of a new friendship, the gift of communion with Jesus and thereby with God. Whoever converts to Christ does not mean to create his own moral autarchy for himself, does not intend to build his own goodness through his own strengths.
“‘Conversion’ (metanoia) means exactly the opposite: to come out of self-sufficiency to discover and accept our indigence – the indigence of others and of the Other, his forgiveness, his friendship. Unconverted life is self-justification (I am not worse than the others); conversion is humility in entrusting oneself to the love of the Other, a love that becomes the measure and the criteria of my own life.”
“Such an attitude is certainly to be attained only by what the language of the Bible calls ‘reversal,’ ‘conversion.’ Man’s natural centre of gravity draws him to the visible, to what he can take in his hand and hold as his own. He as to turn round inwardly in order to see how badly he is neglecting his ownb interests by letting himself be drawn along in this way by his natural center of gravity. He must turn round to recognize how blind he is if he trusts only what he sees with his eyes. Without this change of direction, without this resistance to the natural center of gravity, there can be no belief. Indeed belief is con-version in which man discovers that he is following an illusion if he devotes himself only to the tangible. This is at the same time the fundamental reason why belief is not demonstrable: it is an about-turn; only he who turns about is receptive to it; and because our center of gravity does not cease to incline us in another direction it remains a turn that is new every day; only in a life-long conversion can we become aware of what it means to say ‘I believe.’”
Comment: The phenomenology of this is the following: there is an experience of Christ as Person, only if we experience ourselves as determining self by self-mastery, self-possession and self-gift. What else could conversion be if not this triple exercise of the self over the self. Where else does the self really exercise itself as truly a self that has been made in the image and likeness of Persons Who reveal Self as “I AM” and who are constitutively self-transcendents? It is only in this act that there can be an experience of who I really am as a type of the Prototype Who is all for the Father?
And there is no other “I” that I can experience as “I” that is not myself. I must imitate the deeds of obedience of Christ in order to experience in my unique and irreducible subjectivity what the Logos experienced in Himself by subduing His human will and personally re-ordering it – laden with all sin (2Cor. 5, 21) – into obedience to the Father. That experience is the act of con-version that is faith in me.
So, when the pope is talking about “freedom,” “self-surrender,” “losing ourselves… finding ourselves,” “conversion to His truth, the truth which makes us free,” “putting on the mind of Christ,” “a new and liberating way of seeing reality,” “we become the light of the world, the salt of the earth,” – and if I may jump a little further forward in his homily to the “royal priesthood” of the American laity who “participate fully in civic life” and making “God’s Kingdom become present in all its saving power,” -- we are talking about no less than that each baptized Catholic Christian is “another Christ” and must live out that Christic life in the secular public square. And this is done by the continuous, ongoing conversion of this Christian anthropology that is an ongoing growth into becoming Christ Himself. And this is done by converting again and again to self-forgetfulness and service to the others in secular work and ordinary, normal family life.
A large part of the theological exegesis of Benedict is the identity of the Kingdom of God with the Person of the God-man. The Kingdom is a Person who is enfleshed and besouled divinity. It is not a “thing,” a “structure,” a “Christendom,” a “project,” an “ideology.” It is a person. And that Person as Kingdom of God or Heaven - without ceasing to be God and one with the Father - is not outside of time or space. He – “Jesus Christ, yesterday, today and forever,” is present among us – now, and grows insofar as each person goes through the conversion of self into becoming “another Christ.” He said: “‘Thy Kingdom come.’ This prayer needs to shape the mind and heart of every Christian in this nation. It needs to bear fruit in the way you lead oyour lives and in the way you build up your families and your communities. It needs to create new ‘settings of hope’ (cf. Spe Salvi, 32ff.) where God’s Kingdom becomes present in all its saving power.”
In sum, I become “another Christ” in the act of freedom that is self mastery and self gift. Anything else is to be run by cosmic causality which is other than my “I” and of a necessity that is of my doing. If I follow my whims, fancies, orgasmic lusts, tendencies from below, will to power, etc., I am escaping the primordial experience of the God-man. And this is “the particular challenge which the Successor of Saint Peter sets before you today. As ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,’ follow faithfully in the footsteps of those who have gone before you! Hasten the coming of God’s Kingdom in this land!”
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Showing Oneself a Strong, Faithful Man of God . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Back to the beginning. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Real love . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Men and women love differently. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Saint Joseph as an icon of authentic masculine love . . . . . . . . . .
The virtues of a soldier of Christ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Forming virtuous, masculine men. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The perversion of masculinity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
First Challenge: Our culture no longer cultivates
responsibility in young men . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Second Challenge: The culture of irresponsibility
in sexuality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Third challenge: An increased effeminacy in our
culture . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Fourth challenge: The push to normalize homosexual
behavior. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Good News for a recovery of authentic
masculinity in our modern societies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The sacramental spiral. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
About the Author . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
When David’s time to die drew near, he charged Solomon his son,saying, “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the LORD, your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments,his ordinances and his testimonies”(1 Kings 2:1-3).
SHOWING ONESELF A STRONG, FAITHFUL MAN OF GOD
Over the past several decades, for many reasons, men have been suffering an identity crisis. Whereas in former days, a son would clearly have grasped his father’s instruction, “Show yourself a man,” today such a curt instruction might not be so readily understood. The messages our culture broadcasts about what it means to be a “real man” are inconsistent and confusing. In movies and on television, the images of men vary widely from violent, take-no-prisoner pseudo-superheroes, to smooth-talking, machismo-driven womanizers, to sheepish and vulnerable women-fearers who seem to want to be one of the girls more than one of the guys. Professional sports figures often leave men and boys empty of genuine role models, too. Rare is the positive image of ordinary, hard-working men who are faithful to God, to the Church, to their wives, and to their families and friends.
Within the Church, as well, it is not as easy as it once was for men and boys to find living examples of what it means to be a “man of God.” Priestly vocations are down, and so, therefore, is the number of priests with whom other men can identify. Except for the Knights of Columbus, male-oriented groups like the Holy Name Society, once a staple of every parish, have all but disappeared. Many charitable and liturgical activities are now so dominated by women – even those, like the Saint Vincent de Paul Society and altar serving corps, which once were monopolized by men – that many men have begun to feel out of place, as if religion and service of God in the Church are mainly female enterprises. As the disproportion of women to men at Mass has grown, so has men’s uneasiness. Within this context, it is urgent to return to the question of what it means to be a man from God’s perspective and explore his vocation in the Church and in the world. Does man’s God-given mission differ from woman’s, and if so, how? Are there any role models men can turn to in order to learn how to become the men their Father in heaven calls them to be? How can men today arm and defend themselves against the cultural phenomena that are weakening their identity and diverting them from their God-given tasks?
BACK TO THE BEGINNING
To discuss the question of what it means to be a man, we need to return to the origin of the human person. We learn from the beginning of the Book of Genesis that “God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). We find here two central and related truths. First, the human person is created in God’s image; to see ourselves as we really are, therefore, we need first to look to the God whom we reflect. Saint John, inspired by God in writing his beautiful first letter, tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:16), which teaches us quite a bit about God. In fact, many teachers of the Catholic faith have seen in those three words an indication of the three persons of the Blessed Trinity.
As we know from the human experience of love, there is always one who loves, one who is loved, and the bond of love that unites them. For God to be love, he could not have been unitary or “all alone” before the creation of the world. He needed, rather, to be this three-fold reality of love existing in a unity – an eternal lover, beloved, and love between them – all at the same time. Some of the great saints throughout the centuries have, in their teachings about the Blessed Trinity, attempted to “name” the persons of the Trinity on the basis of this reality of love, saying God the Father is most like the eternal lover, God the Son is the eternal beloved, and God the Holy Spirit is the love between them – so strong that it assumes its own personality. The Blessed Trinity is an eternal communion of love, or, better, a loving communion of persons. Since man was created in God’s image, we would expect man to exist in a loving communion of persons. This is the second truth we see in the passage from the Book of Genesis: God created man not just as a “him” but as a “them,” and not just as a “them” of two or more “hims,” but in a very specific way: “male and female [God] created them.” God created the human person male and female to reflect his love, and made it possible for man and woman to live in a loving communion of persons so strong that their love itself could take on personality. That’s precisely what
happens in the loving communion of persons we call marriage, in which, by God’s design, man and woman can “make love” by literally becoming “one flesh” in their offspring, a child. The son or daughter is a fruit of their love, and by the child’s participation in that communion, a means by which that love can continue to grow and flourish. So it is not some biological “accident” that there are men and women. This “original differentiation” is part of God’s plan from the beginning. God made man and woman equal in dignity and similar in so many respects, but also different and complementary in so many other respects – at the level of the sexual organs, their minds and personalities, and even in their cells, chromosomes, hormones and so much more. These differences in particular are caught up mysteriously in the image of God. These complementary divergences, so to speak, are meant to be “calls to communion,” to elicit the recognition on the part of both that they need the other in order to become all it means to be human. These differences urge them on inwardly to give of themselves with love, to remedy what the other lacks, and to welcome and receive from the other what they are incapable of being or doing on their own. Phrased in another way, the original and complementary differences of man and woman were to help each learn how to love. We see this truth in inspired literary form in the Book of Genesis. After God had accomplished the first five phases of creation and pronounced them “good,” and after He had created man, He now pronounced things “very good.” Adam had named all of creation and lived in harmony with it. It was before original sin and he was living on good terms with God. But then God said something was not quite right: “It is not good that man should be alone.” So God created Eve from Adam. Eve was meant to be a “fitting helper” for Adam, one who would help him to become fully human. Adam’s original solitude helped him to recognize both that he was different from all the rest of creation and from God, and that he needed another to help him to experience the fullness and the joy of human life. When Eve was created and Adam beheld her, that’s what happened: Adam cried out with joy (Genesis 2:18-23). This recognition of the need for the other was what led to their quest for a loving unity, which would help them become whom God created them to be, and open them up to live in a communion of love with him. Eve’s vocation was to help Adam overcome his original solitude and loneliness and teach him how to love. She would help him to learn how to love another; and, through the analogy of human love, she would help him learn how to love himself and how to receive and reciprocate God’s love. Adam’s vocation was to help Eve to learn to do the same. Woman has a crucial role in man’s vocation and vice versa.
The original difference between man and woman, from the first man and woman to every man and woman, is meant to help us learn how to love. But that obviously raises the question of what true love is. Love is not merely a warm feeling of attraction or admiration for another person. Jesus Christ told us during the Last Supper what true love is, and then put that message into body language the following afternoon on the Cross. “Greater love has no man than this,” he said, “that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Love is not merely “wishing” another the best, but a willingness to choose to give of oneself – even to the point of sacrificing one’s own interests, desires and life – for someone else. This is the type of love that will lead to genuine fulfillment and happiness, because this is the type of love that will help us become the real image of God. Each of us is called to give of himself unselfishly to others just as Christ did. Jesus himself called us to this love twice during the Last Supper, when he said, “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34; 15:12). The first apostles learned to live by these words and called their fellow Christians to the same self-giving. Saint John said clearly that love is not words, but deeds: “By this we know love, that [Christ] laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren…Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16, 18).
This laying down of one’s life does not mean only the willingness to make the “supreme sacrifice” for another, but the willingness to die to oneself so that the other may more fully live. In marriage preparation, I often ask would-be grooms whether they love their fiancée enough to take a bullet for her. Never has one said no. Then I ask whether his answer would be the same if the “bullet” took one of the following forms: being abstinent before marriage; giving up smoking if she asks; being on time if he is habitually late; cleaning up after himself better; patiently telling her what happened that day at work if she requests it; learning the faith better to help pass it on to her more completely; or making the time and the priority to pray with her. Those are the types of grenades on which many men refuse to dive! But these gifts of oneself are so much more valuable than almost any material gift one could give, and they are a far greater sign of real love than any ring could symbolize. When a future husband and wife begin to love each other through sacrifices like this, their marriage can become what it is meant to be: a sacrament, a visible sign and reflection of Christ’s love for his Bride, the Church, because Christ who “loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her” (Ephesians 5:25-26).
MEN AND WOMEN LOVE DIFFERENTLY
The ultimate vocation of man is the same as the calling of woman: to love as Christ loves, which means to give of oneself unselfishly to and for others. This type of life will allow one to be a true image of God and to grow into God’s holy likeness. Our focus on Genesis also showed us that part of this loving of others involves lovingly receiving the other’s gift of self. The mutual giving and receiving of self-gifts is what brings about the communion of persons.
But while man and woman are both called to give of themselves to the other and to welcome the other’s gift of self, how each does so varies. Many students of Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body have developed his insight that there is a profound complementarity in the way man and woman love. The Patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Angelo Scola, has phrased it in this way: “Men receive love by giving love; women give love by receiving love.” This is true on several levels. At the level of physiology, it’s obvious in the design of the human act of making love. A woman has been made by God to receive love, and she gives of her love to her husband principally by receiving within her own body the bodily gift of her husband. Man experiences the real welcome of the love of his wife when he is embraced in giving of himself in this way. We see the same complementarity, too, at the level of psychology. One of fastest ways for a woman to frustrate a man is not to allow or appreciate his sacrificing himself for her. Men, for example, want to pick up the tab on a date, because they show their affection for a woman by saying she is worth the effort at work to make the money to take her out. One of the quickest ways for a man to frustrate a woman, on the other hand, is not to allow her to receive him into her life. When a wife, for instance, asks her husband to describe for her what his day was like and he refuses, it wounds her deeply, because she wishes to receive him and his experiences into her life.
We see this complementarity illustrated unmistakably in the familiar tradition of the marriage proposal and the engagement ring. Man gives the proposal – he offers himself, his heart, his vulnerability, his future to the woman – and the woman accepts or rejects the proposal. He generally proposes with a ring, which is a very costly sign of his fidelity and love. If she accepts the proposal, she accepts the ring. In receiving the ring, she gives the man one of the greatest joys of his life. The woman does not give the man in return, for example, a watch, because it would be pointless. The very fact that she has accepted the man’s proposal and received the symbol of his commitment and love and placed it on her finger is enough of a sign of her love for him in return.
SAINT JOSEPH AS AN ICON OF AUTHENTIC MASCULINE LOVE
These truths about human love in general, and masculine love in particular, are very beautiful, but for men’s lives to shine with their beauty, these insights need to be made practical. What does masculine love look like in practice? What are the virtues that show forth genuine manly love?
The first illustration to which we can turn in order to see how man is called to love in a masculine way is the example of Saint Joseph. After all, he taught Jesus what it meant to be a man according to his human nature, so if God the Father considered him a good enough teacher and model for Jesus, then we can certainly consider him trustworthy as well. Saint Joseph’s holy, masculine, virtuous life can be summarized under four titles: fatherhood, chaste love, obedience, and action.
First, Saint Joseph demonstrates to us two characteristic elements of fatherhood. He was a protector. He guarded Mary’s life and reputation against the possibility of death by stoning as a result of her having become pregnant outside of marriage. Even before Joseph received the word of the angel that Mary had conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, Joseph, a just man who must have been filled with questions and suffering, protected Mary. But that was just the beginning. He protected Jesus and Mary from Herod’s envy and murderous soldiers, even at the cost of his job in Nazareth, guiding them on the difficult escape route into Egypt. He was also a provider, which is the other main attribute of fatherhood. Until his death, in many quiet ways known only to God the Father, he worked hard to provide for Mary and Jesus, passing on to Jesus his own trade. He had a strong reputation in his hometown for his work, such that Jesus was known by all as the “carpenter’s son” (Matthew 13:55). But Saint Joseph provided more than just food, clothing and shelter for the Holy Family. He also enabled, according to his means, their spiritual nourishment, taking them to the Temple for the Jewish rites and feasts. We see a glimpse of this at Jesus’ presentation as well as when Jesus was found in the temple at the age of 12 (Luke 2:27, 46-50). As both a provider and a protector, he demonstrated how to be a man who puts others’ needs ahead of his own.
This leads us to the second characteristic. Saint Joseph is a model of chaste love. His life shows us that the full gift of self toward another does not necessarily have to involve genital relations. He loved Mary and that meant that he was willing to dedicate himself to what was best for her and for the divine Son she was carrying. He put all his love and his life at the service of their vocations, and in so doing he fulfilled his own vocation. Chastity is a virtue that helps a person to have self-mastery – to control one’s sexual impulses rather than be controlled by them – so that one can give to others in the way that is best for them. Chastity is what allows man to be a protector of women rather than a predator. In his chaste love of Mary, he learned how to grow as a man, and in her chaste reciprocal love, he was blessed beyond measure.
Thirdly, Saint Joseph is a model of the virtue of obedience. Three times he obeyed God through the message of the angel in a dream (Matthew 1:24, 2:14, 2:21). At God’s command, he took Mary as his wife and trusted that the child she had conceived was of the Holy Spirit. At God’s command, he awoke in the middle of the night and fled with Mary and Jesus to Egypt. At God’s command years later, he took them home with him to Nazareth. He obeyed these divine imperatives immediately, even though it meant believing, beyond human understanding, in the virginal conception of the Lord; even though it meant an arduous and lengthy journey through a desert to a faraway land; even though it may have cost him his livelihood in Nazareth; even though he could have easily dismissed the commands, literally, as “dreams.” He was so prone to hear God’s word and put it into practice, however, that at the merest indication of the Lord, he didn’t debate or negotiate, but obeyed. Saint Joseph never saw obeying God as incompatible with his own good, but rather as the foundation for his own good. God’s omnipotence was not seen as a threat to his manliness because Saint Joseph didn’t equate manliness with being in control, but rather with being responsible and responsive to God and others. His obedience made him capable of sharing mysteriously in the fatherhood of God the Father.
THE VIRTUES OF A SOLDIER OF CHRIST
Another way to illustrate the virtues of a real man of God is by reference to a good soldier. The relation between a man of God and a soldier will seem either somewhat obvious or a stretch depending upon your larger views of the military and military interventions. If you do not see the connection at this point, I ask you to bear with me briefly, because I think its relevance will soon become apparent. A good soldier, especially one fit for battle, generally has the following ten traits, among others:
• He is willing to give his life to protect others.
• He is task-oriented, and lets his actions speak for themselves.
• He does his duty, even when it is unappreciated.
• He is a man of honor, who is loyal to others and to his principles.
• He is rooted in discipline and strength.
• He may be tender and compassionate but never soft.
• He sees himself as part of a unit, a band of brothers, greater than
• He follows the chain of command, without considering it
• He is courageous, even and especially when heroism is required.
• He sees sacrifice as an opportunity to show his character and demonstrate love.
• He was willing to give his life to protect others – Jesus willingly gave his life to save us. He is the Good Shepherd who made good on his promise to give his life for his sheep (John 10:11). Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, as he handed himself over, he demanded that his disciples be let go (John 18:8).
• He was task-oriented, and let his actions speak for themselves – from his earliest days, when he announced he was “about the Father’s business” (Luke 2:49), his whole life was dedicated to accomplishing that mission. He lived by the same principles he taught, not to be distracted from his purpose (Luke 10:4), which not even the devil could do by promising him all the power of the world (Matthew 4:9). He let his actions also speak more loudly than his words. As he said once when challenged by the Pharisees, “Even if you do not believe me, believe the works” (John 10:25, 37; 14:10). He backed up each of his discourses with miracles that testified to his power, the greatest miracle and message of all being what he said from the pulpits of the Cross and the empty tomb.
• He did his duty, even when it was unappreciated – Jesus fulfilled his mission even when one of his apostles thought he was less valuable than 30 silver pieces, when the rest of his hand-picked men ran away, when he was hammered to wood by those for whom he was dying, when he was mocked by four different groups as he agonizingly hung from the Cross, wondering all the while, “When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8). He was the “grain of wheat” that fell to the ground and died, knowing that that seed would hit hardened, rocky, weedy soil in addition to good, but he did it anyway (John 12:24; Luke 8:5ff). Yet, at the end of it all, he cried out in triumph, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) which was the equivalent of “mission
• He was a man of honor, who was loyal to others and to his principles – Jesus kept his dignity, even when being tempted by the devil, tested by the hypocritical Pharisees, beaten by the brutal guards, and mocked by thieves and passersby. He was loyal to his disciples, never abandoning them though they abandoned him; to Israelites, despite the many times they broke God’s covenant; to sinners, no matter what their sin. He was knightly in his protection and care for women in need and danger, like the woman caught in adultery, the woman at the well in Samaria, and the woman who washed his feet with her tears in the house of Simon the Pharisee.
• He was rooted in discipline and strength – He called himself the “stronger man” who would overpower the devil and divide his spoils (Luke 11:22), who could calm even the winds and the sea (Matthew 8:27), who would repeatedly say to his frightened followers, “Do not be afraid. It is I!” (Matthew 14:27). His strength was shown most when out of discipline he did not use it, when tempted in the desert or on the Cross. His power was always used not for his own benefit but for others, to teach them the discipline that makes disciples.
• He was tender and compassionate but never soft – He who was “meek and humble of heart,” who cared compassionately for parents and widows, for the woman caught in adultery, for the crowds who were like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 11:29 Luke 7:12; John 8:3; Mark 6:34), was also capable of driving the money changers from the temple with a whip, calling the Pharisees “whitewashed sepulchers” and telling forgiven sinners to “go and sin no more” (John 2:14; Matthew 23:27; John 8:11).
• He saw himself as part of a unit, a band of brothers – Jesus came from heaven to earth to form a family with the same Father in heaven (Matthew 12:50). To that family, the Church, he gave his whole mission. To the twelve whom he associated most intimately in this task, he gave his own power to turn bread and wine into his Body and Blood and to forgive sins in his name (Luke 22:19-20; Matthew 16:19; John 20:19-23). To the Church he gave his whole message (Matthew 28:18-20). He said that all members of the Church were a part of him, as branches on the vine (John 15:5).
• He followed the chain of command, without considering it a threat – Jesus said simply, “I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me,” “I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me” and “not my will, but thine, be done” (John 5:30; John 8:28; Luke 22:42).
• He was courageous, even and especially when heroism was required – Courage is doing what ought to be done in spite of one’s fears, a virtue Jesus showed us time and again, but especially during his agony and on Good Friday. Despite asking for the cup of suffering to pass from him, he drank it to the dregs, sweating blood-filled perspiration, being beaten, scourged and crucified for our sake (Matthew 26:39).
• He saw sacrifice as an opportunity to show his character and demonstrate love – “Greater love has no man than this,” he said, “that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13) and he evinced that love in hundreds of little ways and unforgettably through his supreme sacrifice. The real Christian man will seek to embody these same virtues. They will help him to become a real soldier of Christ. They will help form him to be another Christ and train him to love others as Christ loves.
FORMING VIRTUOUS, MASCULINE MEN
How can we help boys to develop these authentically masculine virtues and become real men of God? Some of the answers to that question are obvious. We do so, first, by becoming authentically masculine role models for boys. Since boys sadly will not often find these role models today on the television or movie screen or on the diamond, court, field or rink, every dad, uncle, priest, Little League coach and school teacher must take it upon himself to model for the young people the masculine virtues described above. Another way is by opening up their minds to the great masculine role models in Western Civilization, like Homer’s Ulysses, Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean, Shakespeare’s Marc Antony or Esther Forbes’ Johnny Tremain. Such examples can plant deep seeds, as can introducing them to the heroic stories of the great martyrs like Saints Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Thomas More, and the North American Martyrs. A third way is by facilitating their involvement in activities, like sports, that can be a training ground for the formation of these virtues, and reinforcing them with praise when we see those good habits burgeoning within them.
THE PERVERSION OF MASCULINITY
But perhaps the greatest way we can focus on cultivating virtuous men of God is by explicitly naming and recognizing those elements in modern life that are trying to “reprogram” our young boys toward a counterfeit version of masculinity. It was once not a problem for boys to grow up to be masculine men; it happened naturally through the culture. It’s only in the last half-century, as our culture has changed, that raising boys to become real men of God has become a problem in need of a solution.
There has been what can be aptly described as a perversion of masculinity. If authentic masculinity shows itself in the unselfish gift of oneself toward others, then the corruption of masculinity is manifested when a man becomes a taker rather than a giver. In his discussion on lust in his theology of the body, Pope John Paul II described how lust can change a man’s whole approach to life. Rather than seeing others as invitations to give of himself in love, as subjects worthy of love, he begins to see others as objects whom he can use for his own gratification and from whom he can take for his own benefit. Rather than be responsible for them and a guardian of their good, he begins to take advantage of them. This process of changing from a lover to a luster can occur, as Saint John says in his first letter, through lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes or lust for money or power (1 John 2:16). Since love always involves a responsibility for the one loved, the perversion of masculinity is seen in the attempt to divorce love from this responsibility.
That’s why, if we want to help cultivate authentically masculine virtues, we need to examine the contemporary challenges to raising boys to be true men of God, to see how they attack a boy’s formation in responsible love. Once we see what our culture is doing wrong with respect to raising boys, we will more clearly see what we need to do right.
FIRST CHALLENGE: OUR CULTURE NO LONGER CULTIVATES
RESPONSIBILITY IN YOUNG MEN
In former days, boys were trained in responsibility from early ages, which trained them in authentic love. By the time they were 8 or 10 years old, they were given real responsibility on the farm, for example, and the family depended upon them to do their chores well for the family’s wellbeing or even survival. Higher mortality rates among their fathers often made young boys precociously the “men of the house.” In non-agrarian households, they were apprenticed or sent out to work at very early ages, in order to support their families. Older boys were generally given supervisory roles in the protection and discipline of younger siblings, who were generally quite numerous. Boys and girls were both marrying as teenagers and were called upon to provide for a family at much younger ages than today. All of these factors, which counted on a young man’s being trustworthy and responsible at a very early age, helped him to learn how to give of himself in responsible, dutiful love of others. Today, this education in responsibility is not being cultivated as it once was. One of the consequences of a culture in which many more people are going on to college and to advanced degrees is that, for many, real direct responsibility for others is deferred. Families, moreover, are much smaller today, so young boys often have much less responsibility for siblings than in past days; with smaller families, the odds that a child will be spoiled also increases. Marriage is being delayed until, in many circumstances, the late 20s and 30s, and the responsibility associated with marriage put off beyond the real formative years.
We consciously have to help young boys become more responsible, more masculine, by giving them real responsibility at young ages. Overprotective parents, who do not cultivate trust and responsibility in their children, harm their kids. Chores should be given, not just as means to accumulate allowances, but to take genuine responsibility for the good of the home. For college-bound children, they should be encouraged to link their studies today with the responsibilities they will have later, as husbands and fathers, professionals or priests, brothers or celibate apostles. The more they make the connection between what they are doing now with those whom they wish to love later, the more they will grow in responsibility in the present and for the future.
SECOND CHALLENGE: THE CULTURE OF IRRESPONSIBILITY IN SEXUALITY
Rather than a means to help boys to become truly responsible and loving men, our contemporary attitudes toward sexuality encourage them to become irresponsible “takers” rather than “givers.” Young people are encouraged by our culture to become consumers of others for the sake of their pleasure, rather than responsible lovers, caring for and treasuring the others’ gifts and never trying to take advantage of them. This is seen, first, in the scourge of pornography, which is plaguing men of all ages, but is becoming more and more prevalent among computer-using young people. Pornography forms men to reduce women to their sexual values in isolation from their personal dignity. Rather than protect women from exploitation, men begin to prey on them, across various media. Pornography drives men to substitute fantasy for reality and to seek simulated unions with virtual feminine ideals, which makes it much more difficult for them to appreciate and form chaste relationships with real women. Pornography, in short, deforms man’s capacity for love by making him lust. It transforms women in man’s mind and heart from a subject to an object and trains him to think he can use others as instruments for his own gratification without any responsibility for their good.
Another evil fruit of the culture of irresponsibility in sexuality is abortion. Rather than force men, young or old, to take responsibility for children they father, abortion, especially among teenagers and collegians, trains them in irresponsibility, even to the point of allowing and encouraging the killing of one’s own offspring to save one from the consequences and duties that flow from sexual activity. Abortion just continues the irresponsibility that had probably been involved in the sexual relations that led to the conception of the child. This leads to the next factor in the culture of irresponsibility in sexuality. The general support in popular culture for the use of contraception encourages young men (and women) to divorce sex from the natural consequences of sexual activity. This allows men – and even young boys – much more easily to use women for their own pleasure rather than learn how to love through sexuality linked to genuine responsibility for the other’s good. To be responsible, sex must be tied to a loving gift of self to another person and a welcoming of the other’s self-gift. There is no real gift if only given for an hour, or a night; rather, a true exchange of self-gifts is bound to a real commitment to another not just temporarily but for life, and not just privately but publicly. Such a mutual commitment happens only in marriage. Moreover, it must embrace the other person as a whole. The use of contraception in sexual activity — whether by unmarried individuals or married couples — contradicts the meaning of the exchange of self-gifts because it rejects that part of the person most made for the act of making love, the person’s fertility, which is tantamount to the rejection of the person.
THIRD CHALLENGE: AN INCREASED EFFEMINACY IN OUR CULTURE
In recent years, particularly with the onset of political correctness in the early 1990s, there has been a push toward effeminacy in various segments of our culture. Authentically masculine virtues, like those of soldiers we described above, are considered vices or weaknesses by many today, and are attacked as discriminatory and demeaning of women. Radical movements of women at colleges and universities, dedicated to “smashing the patriarchy,” have diminished appreciation for masculinity in general; they have in general rejected men’s attempts to give of themselves – or any type of chivalrous behavior – as products of an oppressive culture, and many times men, after having had their attempts at virtue denigrated, stop giving and stop seeking to be virtuous. What began perhaps as a necessary correction of chauvinism has gone too far. This radical feminist movement has not led to an exaltation of authentically feminine virtues, but to their perversion. That’s because effeminacy and femininity are not the same thing. Femininity describes genuinely womanly traits in a woman and in itself is a full development of the female personality. Effeminacy refers to a softness, a lack of perseverance, which was first used in the ancient world to tease women as the physically weaker sex. It was later applied to men who were soft and lack perseverance in this sense. For that reason, effeminacy is, paradoxically, a orruption of both femininity and masculinity. Saint Thomas Aquinas, the greatest teacher of the Middle Ages, included effeminacy under the vices opposed to perseverance. He said that it can be caused by a weak temperament or by one’s becoming so addicted to pleasures that he cannot bear their absence. Whatever its cause, effeminacy renders one a wimp when facing struggles and dfficulties.
We see the push toward effeminacy especially in academics, athletics and discipline. In many parts of our educational system, there has been a gradual weakening of standards in order to make room for those who find genuine achievement too difficult. In sports, there has been a tendency in many places to focus more on self-esteem than winners and losers, on “everybody plays” philosophies than genuine goal-based competition. Winning is obviously not “the only thing” in sports, but striving to win is important, because if it does not matter whether one wins or loses, sports no longer serves as a training ground for striving to achieve difficult goals. With respect to discipline, genuine “tough-love” is rarer today, as it seems many parents and teachers are more prone to wanting children to like them than to teach, train and discipline them, even at the risk of the children’s displeasure.
FOURTH CHALLENGE: THE PUSH TO NORMALIZE HOMOSEXUAL BEHAVIOR
The push for the normalization of homosexual behavior in our culture has also clearly promoted effeminacy. While homosexuality and effeminacy are distinct, they are often found together in individuals with same-sex attractions. Effeminacy, historically, has been a characteristic of the larger pro-homosexuality movement Beyond effeminacy, however, the movement in favor of full acceptance of same-sex behavior is presenting other challenges to the formation of authentically masculine men. The logic that attempts to justify homosexual activity is the polar opposite of the type of manliness I have been trying to sketch here, for two major reasons.
First, the meaning and purpose of the original difference of man and woman is totally discounted. Man’s good is no longer seen in complementary relation to woman’s and in fact, as the push for same-sex marriage becomes stronger, marriage is conceived as a potentially man-less or woman-less institution, one in which a husband or a wife is optional rather than required. Such a notion obviously changes the meaning of marriage, the understanding of love which leads to marriage, and the significance of maleness and femaleness upon which marriage is based.
Second, the model of homosexual relations is contrary to man’s personal good. In a pre-papal book, the future Pope John Paul II called it “harmonious egoisms”: the consensual using of each of other for gratification, in which two “I”s remain two “I”s and never become a genuine communion of persons, a “we.” The paternal meaning of masculinity is rejected in the very act made by God for it to be expressed. While two men may genuinely love each other, the mutual utilitarianism involved in homosexual activity, rather than “making love,” actually corrodes the love that may exist between them. Statistics in fact show that the more sexual a same-sex relationship, the more quickly it leads to a break-up. In same-sex activity, men, rather than taking responsibility for the other’s good, spiritually, psychologically and medically, actually become consensual consumers of the other.
THE GOOD NEWS FOR A RECOVERY OF AUTHENTIC MASCULINITY IN
OUR MODERN SOCIETIES
The above survey illustrates some of the contemporary challenges to authentic masculinity and the formation of Christian men in our society. But these challenges are not the only factor in the cultural and ecclesial equation – there are also several signs of hope. I will mention three.
The first is that we are aware of the situation and are no longer being caught by surprise. We’ve diagnosed the problem of deficient masculine formation in our culture and that is a big step forward in working toward a solution. Recent organizations, conferences and movements – like Catholic Men’s Conferences, Promise Keepers and the Million Man March – have been joining venerable ones like the Knights of Columbus in reaching out in particular ways to men to help them to live up to their vocation to be responsible lovers in giving themselves to others. It is almost as if a sleeping giant has been awakened.
The second is the clear and recently reiterated teaching of the Church on issues related to manhood. The various cultural challenges have been the occasion for the Church to state her teachings with even greater directness. From Pope John Paul II’s 1981 document on the family, Familiaris Consortio, and his famous catecheses often called the Theology of the Body, to Pope Benedict XVI’s and the U.S. bishops’ clear teachings against same-sex marriage as well as policies against the priestly ordination of effeminate men or those with deep-seated same-sex attractions, the Church is giving us clearer teachings about marriage, love and masculinity than perhaps at any time in her history. The more the Church drinks from this well, the more capable we will be to serve as light, salt and leaven in the reformation of our society.
The third sign of hope is that virtuous women are starting to take back the culture. Women who look at marriage as a beautiful institution, who view abortion as a most unwomanly choice, who look toward men with genuine affection and not as enemies or oppressors have arisen to say forthrightly that the radical feminists do not speak for them. Because of the complementarity of the sexes, the more authentically feminine women influence our culture, the easier it will be for men to be authentically masculine, and vice versa.
THE SACRAMENTAL SPIRAL
This last sign of hope is a good point on which to conclude our reflections. Since God created man in His image, male and female, and since the communion of spouses, male and female, is meant to be an image of the Triune God who is an eternal Communion of Persons in love, in order that society and persons learn how to love, become fully human and more and more like God, we must have real men and real women who know how to complement and love each other. When real men and real women learn to love each other fully, consistent with their original differentiation, an upward spiral of love develops, love is shown, and the whole world gets a glimpse of God who is love. And how urgently our world needs to see Him!
Father Roger J. Landry was ordained a priest in 1999 and is the
pastor of Saint Anthony of Padua Parish in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
He is also the executive editor of The Anchor, the weekly newspaper of the
Diocese of Fall River.