Thursday, June 13, 2019

Talking to Your Little Ones About the Big Topic of Sex

A much repeated sentence we hear at our Theology of the Body retreats and courses is "I wish I heard this when I was younger!" or "I wish my parents were able to give me such a positive and beautiful message about the gift of sexuality!" Well, we can't change the past but by His grace we can certainly affect the present, and hopefully change the future. There are few things more important than talking in a positive way about the beauty and dignity of the body and what it means as a sign of love in the world. Just look at all of the dysfunction and dysphoria of our culture to see what happens if we don't speak about it!

As a quick refresher, the theology of the body is a biblical reflection, as well as an unpacking of human experience and its contribution to the truth of who we are, by the late and great St. John Paul II. The TOB ponders and practices the beautiful truth that our bodies are created good and that together as man and woman, each unique and complementary, we reveal a great mystery of love and communion in the world. 

The Love Cradle of the Family

We are meant to learn about this mystery of love in the midst of the "cradle of life and love" that is the family, in the words of St. John Paul II. The family is “the primary place of ‘humanization' for the person and society.” (Christifideles Laici, 40)

A fundamental "lesson" in this primary school of the family is on the gift of our bodies and how they relate to one another. To open up this lesson for our "littles", we ought to look at how God brings about life and goodness and beauty in nature (creation). It's a wonderful (and true) analogy to connect to the way our bodies were made. Pope Benedict XVI said "A first discovery of God is through the contemplation of creation."

Receive the Gift

God designed the world so that seeds fall down from the trees and flowers above to make new trees and flowers rise up from below. The seeds land on the rich earth. The soil receives the "gift" of the seed, and the sun and rain make it grow, and the growing is beautiful. This language of GIFT is essential. In creation, God makes everything "dance" together, giving and receiving themselves as gifts. When the seeds and soil dance together, when they work together, and "open" to the sun and the rain, then life comes from it. And God said, "Behold, it is good." We must emphasize this inherent goodness in creation. That's our backstory. That's the pure spring from which the gift of life and our bodies flows, no matter how muddied we might make the waters become downstream by our sin!

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Human beings are God's most beautiful gifts given to all of creation. When they grow older (like a tree or flower) God gives men seeds to offer and women a kind of special soil in which to receive them. And so women become in their very bodies, a beautiful garden of life! When you come to describing a girl's approaching period, you can already see how the analogy/concept of this garden of life (the Hebrew expression for life is connected to the word for "blood"), could be used to articulate her own monthly menstruation. The "soil" is being prepared to receive the seed. 

This garden is her own special place, and God has given it to her as a gift to bring new life into the world. The children to come are like flowers, and the man and woman take care of this "family garden" with the help of the Lord Who watches over all and sends His sun and rain to keep the garden beautiful and growing. This garden is a holy place, a sanctuary that the man and woman, when they are old enough and have made their promises to God and each other, get the grace to share and care for. 

Here are a few extra resources for touching on the topic of the goodness and beauty of the body, love, and relationships for little ones:

The Princess and the Kiss (for girls)
Looking to bring the message of virtue and purity to a young girl? In this story, a loving
king and queen present their daughter with a gift from God–her first kiss–to keep or to
give away. The wise girl waits for the man who is worthy of her precious gift. Where is

The Squire and the Scroll (for boys)
Looking to bring the message of virtue and purity to a young boy? This captivating
adventure follows a young squire who travels a long, dangerous road beside his brave knight, on a quest for their king. The action builds until the final face-off with the
monstrous, evil dragon. Only then does the squire learn of the secret beyond the

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

How Do We Fix This?

“… Through some mysterious crack… the smoke of Satan has entered the Church of God. There is doubt, uncertainty, problems, unrest, dissatisfaction, confrontation. The Church is no longer trusted.”
– Blessed Paul VI, June 1972

I’m sure many of you reading this article have had wonderful experiences with the Church and Her good sons, just as I have. You may have a wonderful pastor, a trusted confessor, or are friends with a good priest or bishop and have experienced how the life blood of Christ can flow beautifully through them. My Archbishop is a gift; a good shepherd and a caring spiritual father. I’ve experienced his kindness and compassion first hand. My pastor is the same, so approachable, deeply human, and full of love with a deep desire for his people to meet Christ. I’ve met so many incredible priests through my time discerning in the 1990’s at St. Charles Seminary in Overbrook, and in my work teaching the theology of the body across the country and beyond for the past 18 years.

But sadly today, in the eyes of many, the Catholic Church is not to be trusted. From the culture’s perspective, the Church is not only seen as irrelevant to a post-modern, post-Christian age, but due to the crimes and sins of a minority of priests, bishops, and the latest debacle with Archbishop McCarrick, it is a sham. It appears to many in the culture today as a hypocritical and dysfunctional creature. Worse, it’s seen as a predator. Thanks to the latest revelation of sins from the once revered and high-ranking cardinal from Washington, DC (since demoted), priests are yet again seen as the awkward relative at the family wedding, who appears all dressed up for the ceremony but is to be avoided at all costs at the reception afterwards. He is perennially suspect. Merciful God! Bless with holy courage all the men in black so faithful to their vocation. They are on the cross yet again.

How did this happen? We could blame poor seminary formation, bad diocesan administration, personal sin and duplicity. I’d pose another reason in addition to these as to why some members of the institutional hierarchy in the Church have failed so miserably. Because of the failure to be formed in an integrated way in the theology of the body, the marriage of our sexuality and spirituality, our desires and God’s design for them, many suffer the spiritual version of the same resistance to Humanae Vitae that happened 50 years ago this year. They are afraid of total self-giving love and the new life that flows from it. The power of the priesthood has been contracepted.

“The church is Mother; the church is fruitful. It must be. You see, when I perceive negative behavior in ministers of the church or in consecrated men or women, the first thing that comes to mind is: ‘Here’s an unfruitful bachelor’ or ‘Here’s a spinster.’ They are neither fathers nor mothers, in the sense that they have not been able to give spiritual life.”– Pope Francis

Some Catholics, lay and religious, priests and leaders, who’ve held positions of power and authority in the Church, in seminaries, universities, and dioceses have traded in the dynamic, life-giving power of the gospel for something safe, controlled, and ultimately self-serving. They have contracepted the gospel. Many clergy have cut themselves off from the theological potency of their priesthood; from their call to spiritual fatherhood. What remains when the theology of their bodies is absent? A twisted mockery of masculinity and fatherhood, the likes of which we see in the depraved actions of Archbishop McCarrick and others in their relations with those who should truly be their spiritual sons.

Christ calls us out of the boat. Christ calls us out of ourselves and Christ said that Hell could not hold up its gates against the power of this Church. But rather than walk out in naked trust on the waves and wind, trusting in He Who calls us out of the boat, many have preferred to stay strapped in their seats, relying on their own safety mechanisms, administrative machinery, and a bland bureaucracy. They’ve denied and repressed their very nature, which is meant to radiate radical new life into the garden of the Church and of the world!

How will we fix this? Well, for the structures to be salvaged we could ask for more “transparency”, “accountability”, and “integrity.” There are good bishops who have been sincerely working towards this for years, including our own Archbishop Chaput here in Philadelphia. These are essential for any relational body. But if a diocese merely offers another layer of procedures and policies, it cannot be enough. I think it’s time for many of these prophylactic structures to fall away. Perhaps we put too much weight on the administrative machinery? What we need now is a total transformation of the heart and the mind and the body. Where do we begin? Real education, which literally means “a calling out, being led beyond ourselves.”

This has always been God’s plan and will remain the only way for life to return to our hearts, the Church, and the world… “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (John 12:24)

This death to self remains the way to life. Giving ourselves in love, not taking from others, is the path to being a true human being. Is this being “taught” through teachers from whom this passion is “caught”? This alone builds authentic communion, not a comfortable place for our sin or pride to settle.

This self-giving love is the mission of every priest, and every person. This is the watermark behind the entire catechesis of the theology the body. And herein lies the antidote; the theology of the body is the answer. “This theology of the body is the basis of the most appropriate method of… man’s education.”

 (St. John Paul II)

This teaching, which is the “total vision of man” that Blessed Paul VI called for in Humanae Vitae must become the foundation on which all seminary training, catechesis, and pastoral education rests. This theology of the body, taught through a head and heart immersion, will reveal the call to spiritual fatherhood and authentic masculinity for those called to the celibate vocation.

“In spite of having renounced physical fecundity, the celibate person becomes spiritually fruitful, the father and mother of many, cooperating in the realization of the family according to God’s plan.”– St. John Paul II, FC, 16

As an educator for an apostolate whose sole purpose is teaching and guiding men and women through this healing and transformative teaching, I want to encourage readers to point their priests, deacons, bishops, seminarians, and all of the laity in need of healing and integration to the Theology of the Body Institute. There is no other way to salvage souls than through this teaching, which is the gospel, and the salvific plan of God for the modern world and the bruised Bride of Christ, the Catholic Church. “To whom else shall we go?”

Nearly 50 years ago, soon after the publication of Humanae Vitae, another voice in the Church spoke a prophetic word about the present state of things and their collapse. In a radio broadcast in Germany, in 1969, a young priest said ”From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek… But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church.”
– Father Joseph Ratzinger, (Pope Benedict XVI), 1969

Lord, we ask you again to meet us in Your Mercy, and to guide us home through healing. You can do all things. Lord, rebuild Your Church!

Originally posted at

Bill Donaghy has spoken internationally on faith and the New Evangelization since 1999. Through his work with the Pontifical Mission Societies, Bill gave hundreds of talks on the spirituality of mission to young people throughout the greater Philadelphia area and beyond, creating a teaching and speaking ministry known as He holds an Associates Degree in Visual Arts, a Bachelors in Philosophy and a Masters in Systematic Theology. In addition to his full-time work for the Theology of the Body Institute, Bill teaches at Immaculata University. He and his wife, Rebecca, live outside of Philadelphia, PA with their four children.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

5 Ways to Heal the #MeToo Movement and Solve the Problem of #ToxicMasculinity

“Wounds need to be treated, so many wounds! So many wounds! There are so many people who are wounded by material problems, by scandals… People wounded by the world’s illusions…”
– Pope Francis

Since the fall of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein in late 2017, we’ve seen a continuous descent of men from powerful places and positions to a basically non-existent existence. Their sins of abuse, sexual harassment and the mistreatment of women have been given the light of day, and they have fallen into shadow. Praise God that justice and accountability will be served, but the scales may have tipped too quickly.

Already there’s a growing sense of extremes, imbalance and a touch of hypocrisy. Hashtags like #ToxicMasculinity and t-shirts proclaiming “Girls Rule the World” and “We Don’t Need You” will undoubtedly hurt us both in the end. What’s needed is balance, and the beautiful reminder that we both need each other.

St. John Paul II once wrote that the “shared life of men and women… makes up the pure and simple guiding thread of existence. Human life is by its nature ‘coeducational and its dignity as well as its balance depend at every moment of history and in every place of geographic longitude and latitude on ‘who’ she shall be for him and he for her” (TOB 43:7). I can’t think of an insight or an invitation more beautiful than that.

So to help restore the balance and get men and women to come together again in trust and love, here are “5 Ways to Heal the #MeToo Movement and Solve the Problem of #ToxicMasculinity”:

1. DIGNIFY: Let’s ponder, internalize and actualize in our daily lives this additional word from that “Poet of the Divine Mysteries”, St. John Paul II: “The task of every man is the dignity of every woman, and the task of every woman is the dignity of every man.” (St. John Paul II, paraphrased. TOB 100:6) If this task of showing dignity is achieved, no one is deceived.

2. PASSIONATE PURITY: Let’s know in our bones that passion (eros in Greek) is not an enemy but an invitation to love inscribed into us in the very beginning of the world by God Himself! Men and women “live on this earth,” Pope Francis wrote, “and all that they do and seek is fraught with passion.” (AL, 143) But recall it must be a self-giving not merely self-indulging passion in accord with the meaning of our bodies as unitive in love, and procreative in life. Selfish passion is self-destructive and needs a “radical transformation” from selfishness to selflessness.

3. WONDER FOR THE OTHER: Our origin in Genesis “confirms in a definitive way the importance of sexual difference… so that Adam’s life does not sink into a sterile and, in the end, baneful encounter with himself. Only the woman, created from the same ‘flesh’ and cloaked in the same mystery, can give a future to the life of the man… ” (Vatican Document on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church). Can we stop and be amazed at the incredible differences we reveal and just revel in the wild perspectives we each bring to life? This wonder for the other is the front porch to the house that holds the human family.

4. TESTIFY TO LOVE: Everyone knows in their heart of hearts the difference between love and lust, its opposite. So let’s do everything possible to shut up and shut down the Fifty Shades of Grey films and other works that come out of Hollywood – works that contradict the true meaning of the #MeToo movement and why it started (a movement which, ironically, is also coming out of Hollywood).

5. REVEAL GOD THROUGH THE BODY: Recall #1 above, that our task is the dignity of the other through showing dignity for ourselves. Point out the hypocrisy of the “nearly naked dress trends” and the inappropriate dress that is sold even at pre-teen ages. Fight it in your own way. Let the high calling of the body to reveal the beauty and wonder and communion that is God be revealed through carrying ourselves with respect and sensibility to the other person. In the words again of our “Apostle of the Human Person”, St. John Paul II, “Man must be reconciled to his natural greatness.” This begins in the love cradle of the family! A “family is mature when the emotional life of its members becomes a form of sensitivity that… follows each one’s freedom, springs from it, enriches, perfects and harmonizes it in the service of all.” (Pope Francis, Joy of Love, 146)

How to Become “Magnificent Women” and “Phenomenal Men” in 3 Simple Steps

In a recent acceptance speech at the Golden Globes that instantly went viral, former talk show host and actress Oprah Winfrey addressed the deep wound that has been exposed all over the entertainment industry, American politics, and across the spectrum of the shared civic life of man and woman. In a general sense, that wound is sin. Specifically, from Miss Winfrey’s words, it’s the sin of the lust of men against women; the sordid sexual harassment of greedy men in positions of power who’ve abused their power to use women for their own selfish pleasure. Over the last three months, the cathartic revelation of this specific wound has been both horrific and healing. Oprah praised the brave women who were finally able to speak out, that they too had suffered abuse and she cried out the #TimesUp! It’s now time to set free “magnificent women” and “phenomenal men” to rise up and show us “a new horizon”, becoming “the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘Me too’ again.”

Amen, I couldn’t agree more! It is indeed high time that these sexual scandals that have riddled Hollywood culture in particular for decades are now exposed. But how does one really “fix the problem”? How does one defeat this abuse of power and balance the imbalance in the relations between men and women? Short answer, start respecting and honoring the dignity of every human person. Even shorter and more effective solution, Jesus. But for Hollywood, that Holy Wood of the Cross still might seem a little too… demanding. The Truth Who can set us free just seems so binding.

For Oprah and the #MeToo movement, part of the answer lies in women being free to speak “their truth.” It’s a powerful step in the right direction, but my truth, your truth, still feels a bit like the furtive steps of Pilate as he circled around Jesus, asking “Truth? What is truth?” In the construction of more stringent policies in the workplace regarding sexual harassment, the same relativistic fog has been creeping in. “What is sexual harassment? What is appropriate speech and conduct in the presence of the opposite sex?” In this hyper-sensitive, politically correct age, it seems hard to find a hard and fast answer.

At the Golden Globes, in an effort to bring a clear light and some justice upon the abusers, the majority of women came dressed in black. This was powerful to see, and the solidarity should be admired. Their truth, which is fact the truth, is that ultimately a person should never be used or seen merely as a sexual object. To this we should all cry #MeToo! But then it got a little murky. Ironically, a number of the women’s gowns left little to the imagination of the lustful men they were meant to teach a lesson to about seeing women as sexual objects. To some, the irony was apparent, to others, apparently not, as in this US magazine article praising the “Nearly Naked Dress Trend” of the women fighting sexual exploitation and objectification.

The televised gala event then ended with the trailer for Hollywood’s very own latest installment of the Fifty Shades of Grey series, Fifty Shades Darker, in which a naive young college girl is further seduced and manipulated into a sado-masochistic relationship with a powerful billionaire man. Again, to some viewers the irony was apparent, to others, apparently not.

Hollywood is caught in a conundrum. A damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario. Sex has become both the idol they can’t let go of, and the evil they can’t seem to shake off. The tease and the trap.

Back to the main question and a proposed way out of this conundrum. How do we stop men from sexually harassing and objectifying women? How do we set “magnificent women” and “phenomenal men” free? I say we call out the three elephants in the room, and they are not three men weighty with lust and lists of allegations. The three elephants who’ve been stampeding over the hearts and bodies and beauty of women and the role of men as stewards and protectors of women for well over 60 years: porn, contraception, and abortion. And both men and women are responsible for opening up the gates that let them in.

#TimesUp…. The reports are in, the data is clear. This unholy trinity of porn, contraception, and abortion are like weapons in the hands of lustful men in this war on women. And porn, contraception, and abortion conversely have been weapons in the hands of women resentful of the abuse and domination of men in their lives. Destroy these weapons, and restore the truth of what a human person is, and the women can be free, and know again their truth. And the men will remember who they are and who they are called to be. We are sons and daughters of the Father, brothers and sisters sharing a common humanity. We are all called to love, not lust. We are called to union not use. We are called to be magnificent and phenomenal, and nothing less, because we are made in the image of the Holy Trinity, in Whom there is only love and life!

So here are the 3 Simple Steps to Become “Magnificent Women” and “Phenomenal Men”

1. Shut down the porn industry that objectifies and abuses women, and has so clearly infiltrated Hollywood and television that it’s enabled BDSM films like Fifty Shades to become mainstream “entertainment”.

2. Stop using contraception which enables and rewards men’s (and women’s) lust without consequence.

3. Outlaw abortion which literally kills the fruit and final end of sexual love and also enables and rewards men’s (and women’s) lust without the responsibility of fatherhood (or motherhood).

We are made for more, and only if and when we can all let go of these idols, can we be free. The heritage of our hearts “is deeper than the sinfulness inherited.” Christ’s words “re-activate that deepest inheritance and give it real power in human life” (TOB 46:6). We “must rediscover the lost fullness of (our) humanity and want to regain it” (TOB 43:7). Christ the perfect Man “assigns the dignity of every woman as a task to every man.” And “he assigns also the dignity of every man to every woman” (TOB 100:6). Men and women are “called to a full and mature spontaneity in relationships that are born from the perennial attraction of masculinity and femininity. Such spontaneity is itself the gradual fruit of the discernment of the impulses of one’s own heart” (TOB 48:2).

In Christ, we hear “an invitation to a pure way of looking at others, capable of respecting the spousal meaning of the body” (VS,n. 15) Only this pure way of looking at one another, really looking at the whole person made in the image of the God Who is Love, will usher in that “new horizon” for us all.

Monday, October 02, 2017

23 Keys for Unlocking the Mystery of Gender, Identity, and Human Sexuality

Who am I? This fundamental question is asked ultimately by every person ever born. What is this great mystery of human life; what is our origin and what is our destiny? As Catholics, informed by Sacred Scripture (God's Word) and the great gift of reason and human experience (Man's understanding), we propose the following points to serve as a kind of manual on this mission of self-discovery.

1. The Catholic understanding of the human person is that we are more than just a biological organism. Our body is animated by a soul. We are, in fact, a body and soul marriage, a harmony of spirit and matter. We have a transcendent and immortal destiny that makes us different from the animals. We laugh, cry, sing, love, hate, and yearn more than any creature in the world for something more than what the world can give us. Deep in our hearts is an unquenchable thirst for an unending happiness that lies somehow beyond us. "My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God." (Psalm 84:2)

2. The human person, however, never departs from the body. This immortal destiny in God is for the whole person, body and soul. Catholics believe we are not ghosts in a machine, or spirits trapped in bodies waiting to be set free. Nor would we ever say something like "the real me” is a disembodied thought, or a detached mind that's opposed to our body. We are our body.

3. Our quest for identity is always and deeply linked to our sexual nature, because "what God has joined, (body and soul) no one may separate.”

4. In the beginning God made us in His image, male and female. Biologically, existentially, our quest for our identity flows then from a mother and a father. Not a single person on earth comes into existence without this combination of male and female. Catholics believe this means something. This signifies something that is us and is also pointing beyond us.

5. Because of original sin (the easiest dogma in the Church to prove, just look in the mirror!), we are born into a kind of identity disorder, a struggle, a wrestling match with ourselves and the world. We're always searching "through a glass darkly" for our true identity. It is always inescapably linked to our sexuality.

6. We are all the fallen sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, and our beginning in this world is already a “trail of tears” - a pilgrimage to a wholeness we know somehow must exist but which our parents could not give us. We all have a mother wound and a father wound.

7. In the quest for our identity we should all prayerfully ponder our relationship or lack thereof with our mothers and fathers. There are significant graces and crosses in this self-reflection.

8. The gender dysphoria and the myriad of gender variations offered to us today through gender ideologies are all cries to reconcile the mother wound and the father wound within us; to find essentially a reconciliation and a harmony within our heads, hearts and bodies; a peace within our given masculinity or femininity.

9. There are many variables and factors that come to play within us and outside us to form us in our human identity. It would be a disservice to pretend we are only spiritual, and ignore the body, just as much as it would be wrong to imagine we can be reduced to only our physiology or genes, at the expense of the soul.

10. This isolation and separation of body from soul, gender identity from sexuality, will only deepen our mother and father wounds, and distract us from our quest to discover authentic femininity and masculinity.

11. Nothing in our quest for identity should compel us to do violence to a healthy body or act in a way against the nature of our sexual organs and their procreative dimension.

12. We should listen to creation, it speaks a truth. We should listen to this potentially procreative, generative meaning inscribed in us as male and female.

13. Every one of the trillions of somatic cells in the human body has 46 chromosomes, except the gametes, or sex cells, which hold 23 chromosomes. Only they hold half the number, as if to say “We hold the two halves of a key to the mystery of every human life!"

14. Catholics believe we are made in the image of God, Who is a Blessed Trinity of Love, a Communion of Persons; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We believe Man, Woman and Child, the human family, are theological, imaging the love of the Three Persons of the Trinity.

15. So motherhood and fatherhood — expressed either physically in marriage or spiritually in loving service to others — are the true ends of all women and men. All human beings are made for relationship through either form of life-giving complementarity.

16. The goal of a man is to have a "feminine-integrated masculine heart, and a woman to have a masculine-integrated feminine heart.” (Roch Gernon)

17. There are certainly abnormalities and anomalies, like rare intersex births, deep-seated same sex attraction, impotence and infertility in individuals today, but none of these should negate the norm or cast a cloud over the deeper spiritual sign of the human body as an image of the life-giving love of God as a Blessed Trinity, in Whose image we are made for this life-giving communion.

18. An over emphasis on epigenetics, hermaphrodite anomalies, or certain genetic proclivities as the defining factors of our identity puts more weight on the flesh than the spirit; it is a deterministic approach that ends with taking away our freedom, our free will and our hope!

19. We must not place our whole identity on a feeling or attraction, but on the whole arc of the human person as an embodied thirst for the Infinite. In the words of the late Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, "We talk about different 'sexual orientations' in human life. But the ultimate orientation of human sexuality is the human heart's yearning for infinity. Human sexuality, therefore, is a sign of eternity."

20. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church observes, "The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." (Catholic Catechism, #2358)

21. Through the body God is teaching us about Love, especially in the incarnate body of Jesus, the Bridegroom, the Word Who became flesh! “Jesus Christ fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear.” (Vatican II, GS, 22)

22. Rather than attempt to redefine the meaning of our gender, we should recall our genesis in Genesis, wherein God generously generated human life to generously generate the generations of men and women who would continue to reflect the image of God in this great dance of human life and love, of the masculine and the feminine.

23. "The dynamics of the relationship between God, man and woman, and their children, are the golden key to understand the world and history, with all that they contain…” (Pope Francis)

Originally posted at
For more information about the Theology of the Body,

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Sacramental Vision

With Christians, a poetical view of things is a duty. We are bid to color all things with hues of faith, to see a divine meaning in every event. 
- John Cardinal Newman

This quote of Cardinal Newman's reveals the key for the interpretation of all reality. We are a mysterious harmony of flesh and spirit. We are not merely of this earth, but have, as it were, one foot in eternity. We are in fact, an embodied thirst for the Infinite! This truth explains the ache we feel in the face of beauty, or creation, of music, love, and even suffering and death. It defines the pull in our hearts for immortality. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, "Genuine beauty... gives man a healthy ‘shock’, it draws him out of himself, wrenches him away... from being content with the humdrum – it even makes him suffer, piercing him like a dart, but in so doing it ‘reawakens’ him, opening afresh the eyes of his heart and mind, giving him wings, carrying him aloft.”
- Pope Benedict XVI

This poetical view, this vision that pierces through flesh and bone to reveal the spirit, this is the lens through which we are called to perceive the world! It is a specifically Catholic vision, a sacramental vision; it shows us that the things we can se, and smell, and taste and touch are in a certain sense sacramental signs, visible realities housing invisible truths. In a certain sense, everything is a sacrament. Nature itself is a book that speaks of God. Shakespeare once wrote that we should "find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything."

The truth about God "breathes" through creation, for He made it, and most of all through the creation of man and woman, made for life-giving love in the image of the Trinity. The body is a sacrament that proclaims the Mystery of God! It speaks, and our spiritual life, which animates and is knit inextricably to our physical life, is crowned with the gifts of intellect and will. But our reason and so much of what it gathers from the senses is like a rocket that can propel us only so high. Like a trapeze artist letting go, faith grasps our hands from above when reason can barely touch the fingertips. This is the path of the human person: to harmonize both faith and reason. To look with human eyes, to scrutinize with our intellect, and using reason like a launchpad, to leap into Love. 

This is a journey, as Pope Francis alludes to in his recent work, Laudato Si: “The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things.”

The temptation today, as it always has been, is to divorce the marriage of the invisible and the visible. To close the door to the Other World and simply grasp and gather to ourselves what we can for the here and now, because, as they say "You can't take it with you." But a sacramental vision would assert  that, if it's God you are seeing through it all, you CAN take it (or better, Him) with you! As Venerable Fulton J. Sheen once wrote, "To materialists this world is opaque like a curtain; nothing can be seen through it. A mountain is just a mountain, a sunset just a sunset; but to poets, artists, and saints, the world is transparent like a window pane - it tells of something beyond... a mountain tells of the Power of God, the sunset of His Beauty, and the snowflake of His Purity.”

The poetical view is the wholistic view. It is harmony. It is not a reduction, a less than, but an illumination, a more than. We see more than what meets the eye! As Pope Benedict XVI says, "Parables interpret the simple world of everyday life in order to show how a transcendence... occurs in it.... Reality itself is a parable. Hence, it is only by way of parable that the nature of the world and of man himself is made known to us."

Let us pray for those with only a singular view; the tunnel vision of the terrorist, the ego of the angry evolutionist, the clouded view of the creationist. And for all of us who feel that we cannot hold the tension of two, and so resort to violence to make a point. For violence is a clear sign that reason has been abandoned. May God give us His peace and make us sensitive to His quiet whispers through all creation

"Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet…”
- St. Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia

Monday, June 12, 2017

Soul Meets Body

If they knew how big they’d become on the music scene, lead singer Ben Gibbard of the band “Death Cab for Cutie” once confessed, they would’ve thought twice about picking that obscure name. In these days of an even deeper obscurity over what gender we identify as, I’d like to reflect on one of my favorite DCFC’s songs “Soul Meets Body.”

From their album, Codes and Keys, released in May 2011, “Soul Meets Body” soars as an achingly beautiful song with echoes of the original plan of God for humanity, despite Gibbard’s apparent religious “wound” in other songs of the band. It begins…

I want to live where soul meets body and let the sun wrap its arms around me and bathe my skin in water cool and cleansing and feel, feel what its like to be new

I always thrill at the hearing of songs like this in popular music, from bands not necessarily religious. It points to that universal thirst for a harmony between flesh and spirit that can be found everywhere, in everything. Musicians today are scratching out their notes in the cynicism of a post-Christian age, amid scandals and hypocrisy, and even radical doubts and attacks on not only God’s identity but now our very own. In this quest for meaning, I find a certain raw sincerity in Death Cab for Cutie (DCFC). It shows us that nothing can snuff out the desire for the truth about God and man, not even a poor first experience of religion, or the scandalous example of some believers. It seems a wound from the past shaped lead singer Gibbard’s vision of the Catholic faith he was raised in. It’s revealed in the song “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”:

In Catholic school as vicious as Roman rule I got my knuckles bruised by a lady in black and I held my tongue as she told me “Son, fear is the heart of love” So I never went back

This experience is beyond tragic, since we know St. John tells us “perfect love casts out all fear.” (1 John 4:18) The wounds of an earthly father can change our view of the Heavenly Father. The sins of a school master can alter our knowing the love of the Divine Master. I wonder how effective this teaching of fear of punishment might be for the young as an introduction to God. Yet it seems to be a part of our pedagogy, individually and universally. Dr. Karl Stern, a Jewish psychoanalyst who converted to Catholicism once wrote: “The child receives, even before any formal moral training, a kind of ‘natural’ premoral formation. Its first encounter with a world of regulations is predominantly negative. The world of the forbidden precedes the world of the ideal. The very first regulatory education, such as training for order and cleanliness, warning against the handling of breakable objects and so on, may signify to the child an initiation into dread. Even under the most favourable circumstances the child gets to know the ‘Don’t’ associated with the first notion of punishment and reward, of retaliation and pardon, before a positive ideal, a ‘Do!’, can develop… It is the same in the child’s life as in the history of human society. Something analogous also exists on the level of the historical drama of salvation.” (Stern, Flight from Woman, 1965)

Now ponder this thought of Pope Benedict XVI: "Our first experience of God is so important; we either experience Him as the police guard ready to punish or as creative love that awaits.” Creative love is what we long for, and in fact it’s what God wants to pour out over our hearts through the Church’s sacraments. Sadly for many of us, the individual pieces of the conduit this truth can flow through (namely fallen human beings) can often limit or even obstruct that flow of truth. But that’s our fallen human nature, not the Divine water of grace (which by the way, always finds a way in). Gibbard sings that he “never went back” to the Catholic Church (he refers to himself as an “indoctrinated Catholic even though I haven’t been to church of my own volition in 10 or 15 years now.” But not going back doesn’t mean he’s not in some way moving forward in his quest for the truth of who we are. The French philosopher Simone Weil wrote that even when we run away from Christ, if it’s toward what we consider true, we run in fact straight into His arms!

Now away from the personal to the more culturally expansive seeking for healing in our world today. Our gender dysphoric age gives us an ever-expanding list of letters with which to identify. LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM and the list goes on, becoming every day increasingly more and more obfuscating. Recall Jesus asking the possessed man his name and the man replied “Legion is my name. There are many of us.” (Mark 5:9) This fracturing of our personhood, soul from body, is nothing new. It’s simply an attempt to cloak our ever present wound; the age-old identity crisis we’ve suffered from since the Fall in Eden. We are a splintered race, racing along, seeking reunion, and communion, of our hearts, minds, and bodies. Our identity has been disintegrated and our hearts dispossessed of the integral truth of what it means to be human, soul and body. But we must keep digging, seeking our original face. The ancients termed it fides quarens intellectum – faith seeking understanding. And we do this together as the song sings, for we need a reunion of not only soul and body, but of person to person, and God and humanity:

And I cannot guess what we’ll discover when we turn the dirt with our palms cupped like shovels but I know our filthy hands can wash one another’s and not one speck will remain

This digging deep into life’s experiences, and origins, can reveal hidden treasures. In the music video for “Soul Meets Body”, which I highly recommend watching (, we see a host of musical notes peeping out of the earth from a darkened forest floor as Ben Gibbard walks past. He meets his band in a little cabin and they play their song. We watch the notes rise up from the ground and through the canopy of trees, over forest and field, past houses and towns and cities, to the sea.

Listening to the ache for meaning can itself reveal to us the meaning. If we listen to the Music that made the world and follow those first two notes, the masculine and the feminine, that first came together to form the song that is our own personal life, our story, we see, hear and experience our place in the Song. The Song is the vocation of the human person, synthesized in St. John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio: “God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion. Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.” (FC, 11)

Caryll Houselander wrote “We are all syllables of the Perfect Word.” We are more than a single letter, we are the beginning of an utterance of a Fullness, a fullness we are already but not yet experiencing. So let’s keep going, aching, coming to terms with the truth that we are made for the other. Ultimately, our utterances must keep going up, into that Perfect Word Who encompasses and surrounds and unites all of us! In His Love that satisfies that original harmony between soul and body, the spiritual and the material, man and woman, and all of humanity is realized. There is a Creative Love that awaits in the Heart of Jesus, in the ocean of His mercy. Yes, even despite the oil spills of humanity’s sins, He’ll wash one another in this mercy, “and not one speck will remain.”

And I do believe it’s true that there are roads left in both of our shoes but if the silence takes you then I hope it takes me too. So brown eyes I hold you near cause you’re the only song I want to hear. A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere… Where soul meets body…

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