Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Apocalypse: A Love Story

Apocalypse. Yes, it’s a strong word that for most people might bring to mind images of burned out buildings, empty streets, and the dark underbellies of storm clouds ribbed with flashes of lightning. Dirty little remnants of humanity lie huddled in farmhouses or patches of woods while zombies and armed zealots roam the cities with torches, turning over cars, punishing and pillaging anyone in their path. That’s pretty intense stuff, and might even remind you of the aftermath of the equally intense election this week in America. But it doesn’t quite capture the original meaning of the word apocalypse. It’s actually born from the Greek word “apokaluptein” which means to uncover, or reveal.

Now about that election. The recent shift in leadership in our country is certainly having apocalyptic effects, in this more ancient sense of the word. Much has been uncovered, and revealed: lots of raw emotions have simmered to the surface. As such, this rising is potentially good, for as Pope Francis recently said in his Joy of Love exhortation (directed to married couples, but we’ll direct it to all here) “Desires, feelings, emotions, what the ancients called ‘the passions’, all have an important place in (life). They are awakened whenever ‘another’ becomes present and part of a person’s life. It is characteristic of all living beings to reach out to other things, and this tendency always has basic affective signs: pleasure or pain, joy or sadness, tenderness or fear. They ground the most elementary psychological activity. Human beings live on this earth, and all that they do and seek is fraught with passion.” (Pope Francis, The Joy of Love, 143)

Now the bigger question is, what do we do with this passion? Eros, the Greek for passion, at its deepest level, is that “inner power that ‘attracts’ man to the true, the good, and the beautiful.” (St. John Paul II, TOB 47:5) But we’ve seen some pretty violent passion this week that’s neither good nor beautiful, from burning flags and effigies, to shouting hate and writing obscenities on walls and monuments, t-shirts and placards. But in the wise words of St. John Paul II, if man stops here at an undisciplined passion, he “does not experience that fullness of ‘eros,’ which implies the upward impulse of the human spirit toward what is true, good, and beautiful…” (TOB 48:1) St. John Paul II when on to propose that when a person can set their passion “into the whole of the spirit’s deepest energies, it can also become a creative force; in this case, however, it must undergo a radical transformation” (TOB 39:2).

It has become abundantly and “apocalyptically” revealed that America is a land of passionate people. At the heart of this passion is a desire for something good; a desire for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” in the words of our Declaration of Independence. This is our story, our history, and it is in the truest and deepest sense a love story. I believe that’s what this American “Apocalypse” is uncovering, and revealing, and purifying in us all. Our call to love our neighbor as ourselves. It brings to mind the passage from Luke 2:34-35, if I might tweak a few words, “Behold, this (election) is destined for the fall and rise of many in (America), and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” At the heart of every one of us lies this question, “Do I love my neighbor?” Do I even know them?

I suggest then that we allow this piercing of our hearts to uncover our deepest feelings, our passions and that we go deep within, with Christ, back to our roots, back to this simple and yet multifaceted question of love. We the people are called to this depth, so that our life and our loves can rise to the heights. And to those inalienable rights we hold to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and each are deserving first of our love and kindness.

Here are a few things I’ll be implementing in the coming years as the leadership shifts in these United States of America:
1. I will rekindle my love for this beautiful country, from sea to shining sea. I will celebrate the wonderful, dazzling natural diversity of these 50 states, celebrating the gift of it all in every season and teaching my children to do so as well. I will love this land without exploitation.

2. I will rekindle my love for every person I encounter, face to face, allowing a race, color and creed that is different from my own to teach me, to reveal to me the beauty of the human heart in its search for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I will love my neighbor without qualification.

3. I will deepen my prayer for our leaders, national and local, political and ecclesial, not succumbing to bitterness or cynicism but to becoming better and more respectful of the office despite any deficiency in their actions. “I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1–2).

4. I will rededicate myself to becoming the best husband and father I can be, knowing that when I am right with God, my wife and my children in this most basic project of the family, that power is released into the wider world. “When things go well between man and woman, the world and history also go well.” (Pope Francis)

I pray you have a blessed Apocalypse, and may God bless America!

Thursday, September 15, 2016


(This post is just a little sampling of Bill’s upcoming TOB Congress talk entitled “The Beautiful Mess of the Family”)

The altar bells had rung, drawing our eyes to the moment of consecration. Their pristine tones reverberated throughout the stone nave of our parish church where the silent faithful gathered to receive the Bread of Heaven. For a moment, even our pew, nestled full of our four children (ages 7, 5, 3, and 8 months) with my beautiful wife, was uncommonly still; hushed as if by the unseen wind of angels coming to adore the King of Kings Who even now was descending upon the altar. Then, at the exact moment of the elevation of the sacred host and the powerful proclamation of those words that have traversed the globe and keep the earth spinning on its axis now for 2000 years, “This is My Body…,” my five year old whispered in my ear, “I have to go potty.”

Talk about a convergence of cosmic proportions! A psychosomatic synchronicity of the human and the divine! Now some might call this a distraction from the highpoint of the Mass. But for those who know the wondrous ramifications of a study of the theology of the body, this was in fact an attraction for me to ponder the mind-boggling kenosis of Christ in His Incarnation! Yes, I’m serious.
This is my body…. I have to go potty.

As we fumbled out of the pew, past the other siblings, and the smiling older couple who shared our row (smiling, for they knew all too well this trek to the latrine after raising their own kids), I pondered the humility of the Most High God. He Who is Eternally Three did in fact in His body have to go number one. Now I don’t mean to sound in any way disrespectful or irreverent, and I fully realize that this all too human activity is one that we all exercise in private. But what struck me in that Mass, in that simultaneous instant of the bread becoming His Sacred Body and my daughter needing to relieve hers, was just that. How human it was. How humbling. And none of this was beneath Him Who made the stars in all their splendor. This daily ritual of ours was also routine for Him. He took it upon himself, the fullness of our humanity. Every part of it. The humility of our God here is truly staggering.

Throughout the Church’s history, men and women have grappled with the greatness of the mystery of the hypostatic union – the Divine Person of Christ having two natures. Many have overemphasized his divinity at the expense of his humanity, ending with overly spiritualized images of Jesus. Some in fact were heretical, gnostic notions like him never leaving footprints when he walked, or not blinking… ever. See the gnostic text Acts of John for those ghostly thoughts. According to the gnostic Apocalypse of Peter, the real Jesus didn’t die on the cross but hovered over it laughing at those thinking he was dying below (By the way, these gnostic – meaning secret knowledge – texts came centuries after the true gospels and only used the Apostle’s names to give authenticity to their claims).

These superhuman (or we might say inhuman) images of Jesus however do linger even in the most faithful of hearts to this day. How many of us still find it hard to imagine that he laughed out loud, ate spicy food, drank wine, relieved himself, had an occasionally scruffy and tangled beard, and certainly smelled after a hard day’s work under that Nazarene sun? But he did. Jesus most certainly did, or our faith in the Incarnation is in vain!

Our adorable Savior had a certain odor all his own. A unique pattern of freckles on his tanned and muscular forearms. A fingerprint that was and is forever only his. Jesus had a distinct color in the iris of his eyes. He had to trim his fingernails. When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, walking his fields and taking in the fragrance of the flowers he made, I’m certain he occasionally sneezed. And sneezed in a way unique to him, just as we all do!

We shall one day behold all of these idiosyncrasies of the Incarnate Word. And he will gaze upon ours, and we will gaze for all eternity upon each others. All of us and each of us in this beautiful mess of the human family. What wonders! And all of this became my meditation that day in the middle of Mass, as I stumbled back into the pew with my little one, and nestled into the midst of the rest of our family. Wait, did we wash our hands?

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 MissionMoment.org. 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.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


A wonderful article appeared in the Federalist this past December by D.C. McAllister titled “How To Stop Sexualizing Everything.” It tapped into the schizophrenic character of our modern age, particularly in American culture, that surrounds our expressions of intimacy. Essentially, she posited, we either fearfully avoid touch and intimacy as it might be misread as a sin or a sexual advance, or we completely give in, and all that we touch is tinged with sexual undertones and innuendos. McAllister notes “The effect of these two warring attitudes – Puritanism and sexualization – has had a distorting effect on friendship. On the one hand, people don’t feel free to show emotions. On the other, when they do, those feelings are sexualized.”

A recent BBC documentary called “The Secret Letters of Pope John Paul II” perfectly illustrates this distorted dichotomy. For decades, St. John Paul II held a well known relationship with Dr. Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, a Polish philosopher who was an expert in the work of German philosopher Edmund Husserl. The pope’s shared interest in Husserl’s phenomenology allowed the two to form a friendship over the years (albeit, not without its difficult moments – see George Weigel’s excellent article on that backstory here: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/431359/pope-john-paul-ii-letters-women-celibacy). She was a married woman with three children, living in America. He, at the time they met, was a Cardinal in the Church. Their correspondence lasted well into old age.

Journalist Ed Stourton, who crafted the documentary, proposes that the decades long relationship was somehow, for at least one of the parties involved, romantic. His claims are “substantiated” by Emeritus Professor Eamon Duffy of the University of Cambridge, who states in the interview, “Clearly there’s an element of playing with fire when you’ve got a strongly heterosexual man and an attractive woman in a very intense relationship that is cultivated and which engages mind at a high level of intensity. There’s danger everywhere.”

This thought that a male and female friendship simply by its very nature is “dangerous” is given further credence in the remarks of someone Stourton refers to as a “trainee priest” (My research revealed that a “trainee priest” is also known as a seminarian). John Cornwell apparently attended seminary from 1953 to 1958. He states that back then “The perception was that even if you had a close association of friendship with the woman, this could be what was known as an occasion of sin and an occasion of sin was as bad as if you’d actually done it.” This sad (and completely incorrect) articulation of what sin consists of is followed by another interviewee who states that their “training meant most priests would have been wary of such a close relationship. The most natural reaction would have been for him to terminate contact.”

Ironically, the language in this interview reveals to viewers and readers of this breaking story the deepest scandal of all, which has nothing to do with St. John Paul II. It is the scandal that all too many men and women today are incapable of imagining an intimate relationship that does not somehow involve some sort of sexually romantic overtone.

In truth, the Church has a long history of examples of men and women who have formed intimate and affectionate relationships that did not involve sexual relations. They were known as friendships (this is a wonderful word we should restore to the modern lexicon). In fact, St. John Paul II had numerous friendships with women that lasted decades and included letters, phone calls, shared meals, and walks together. The BBC footage seems to imply that this particular relationship with Dr. Tymieniecka was isolated and the meetings exclusive. But the fact is, they were not. St. John Paul II was a magnanimous figure who loved people deeply, and was rather transparent about his friendships. He was also prudent, meeting men and women together for those private meals and taking vacations with friends or families together. In the image of St. John Paul II and Dr. Tymieniecka standing beside a car, one should realize a third person took the photo. I imagine it was her husband.

Now regarding the correspondence, here is an excerpt from a letter:

“I know you have complete confidence in my affection; I have no doubt about this and delight in the thought. I want you to know and to believe that I have an intense and very special desire to serve you with all of my strength. It would be impossible for me to explain either the quality or the greatness of this desire that I have to be at your service, but I can tell you that I believe it is from God, and for that reason, I cherish it and every day see it growing and increasing remarkably… God has given me to you; so consider me as yours in Him, call me whenever you like…”

I’m sorry, I tricked you just there. This was actually an exchange between St. Francis de Sales to St. Jane de Chantal, dated June 24, 1604. After the death of her husband, St. Francis served as her spiritual director for years, giving her counsel in forming a new religious community. (I don’t have access to an extended quote from St. John Paul II’s letters to Dr. Tymieniecka, and would prefer not to cherry pick one out at this point as the BBC interview did.)

Regardless, here is an intimate note, man to woman, celibate man to widowed mother. How did you feel in reading that exchange? Did it make you uncomfortable? Were you shocked? Did you feel it was inappropriate? I know it really struck me personally when I first read it. I found it to be astoundingly beautiful, and I felt duped and double-crossed by this hyper-sexualized culture we live in because I too felt a little manipulated as it were to see romance when I read those words holding such fervent love. But who has the larger issue here? Who needs a little restoration of that original vision we’ve been called to?

The examples of chaste and simultaneously fervent love go on, nonetheless, and in each we are challenged to see others first as “occasions of grace” rather than “occasions of sin.” By this grace, in the words of St. John Paul II “we come to an ever greater awareness of the gratuitous beauty of the human body, of masculinity and femininity. This gratuitous beauty becomes a light for our actions….”

Over a two year period that lead up to her own early death, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and a seminarian named Maurice would exchange 21 letters in total. He wrote 11 and the Little Flower wrote 10. For both of these holy souls, the letters reveal a love that was fully human and completely chaste. St. Thérèse wrote in one note: “In your letter of the 14th you made my heart tremble with joy. I understand better than ever how much your soul is the sister of my own, since it is called to lift itself up to God by the ELEVATOR of love and not to climb the hard stairway of fear….” Later, as he was about to be sent on mission, she wrote “When my dear little brother leaves for Africa, I shall follow him not only in thought and in prayer; my soul will be with him forever. …”

Let’s look at another intimate exchange, now between men, from over 1600 years ago: “…To talk and jest together, to do kind offices by turns; to read together honied books; to play the fool or be earnest together… (to) long for the absent with impatience; and welcome the coming with joy. These and the like expressions, proceeding out of the hearts of those that loved and were loved again, by the countenance, the tongue, the eyes, and a thousand pleasing gestures, were so much fuel to melt our souls together, and out of many make but one. This is it that is loved in friends…”

That was St. Augustine, taken from his own intimate and perennially modern autobiography “Confessions” (Chapter 8, section 13), written between 397 and 400 AD. For modern ears, this level of intimacy between men can only be seen as some kind of closet homosexuality. The same minds, tinged again by a culture inundated by sexual allusion and innuendo in all things, even place a gay frame around the relationship between David and Jonathan in 1 Samuel 18:1,3. “As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.”

We have become, in the words of St. John Paul II himself, “masters of suspicion,” incapable of seeing how human interactions could ever rise above mere sexual gratification and appropriation.

This is nothing new. During the beatification process for Padre Pio, in 1990, the case was blocked after a stash of letters were revealed that the holy Franciscan had written to his spiritual daughter, as he called her, Cleonice Morcaldi. He had met her around 1930. when she was a child, orphaned from both parents. St. Padre Pio had promised her dying mother he would take care of her like a daughter. Some investigators however felt the letters to be too affectionate.

Man and woman. This is holy ground. This is sacred ground, and in this place we are called to a deep self-mastery, and a healthy recognition of our own hearts and where we stand in the ability to truly see one another. I have placed several links to resources below and encourage readers to go further, to pray more deeply about this lost art of friendship, of holy friendship. It must be rekindled. It will take work and prayer and much patience, especially in this present darkness. But with grace we can reclaim a beautiful gift, and our vision of one another can indeed be restored. It is a hope within reach. It is our inheritance and a promise too. “Jesus came to restore creation to the purity of its origins.” (CCC, 2336) I’ll close with a wonderful and deeply personal word from St. John Paul II, originally signed on February 8, 1994 but was not printed until 2006:

“God has given me many people, both young and old, boys and girls, fathers and mothers, widows, the healthy and the sick. Always, when he gave them to me, he also tasked me with them, and now I see that I could easily write a separate book about each of them—and each biography would ultimately be on the disinterested gift man always is for the other. Among them were the uneducated, for instance factory workers; there were also students, university professors, doctors and lawyers, and finally priests and the consecrated religious. Of course, they included both men and women. A long road led me to discover the genius of woman, and Providence itself saw to it that the time eventually came when I really recognized it and was even, as it were, dazzled by it.”

Saint John Paul the Great, Poet of the Divine Mysteries and Apostle of the Beauty of the Human Person, pray for us!

A Meditation on Givenness by St. John Paul II

But I Have Called You Friends; Reflections on the Art of Christian Friendship by Mother Mary Francis

Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal: Letters of Spiritual Direction (Classics of Western Spirituality (Paperback))

Love and Responsibility by Karol Wojtyla

How to Stop Sexualizing Everything by D.C. McAllister

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 MissionMoment.org. 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.

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!" ...