All posts by Luke Arredondo

Luke is a married father of three. He works as the Director of Religious Education at Divine Mercy Parish in Kenner, LA and has a Master of Arts in Theology from Notre Dame Seminary. He blogs at Quiet, Dignity, and Grace

The Near Occasion of Sin and Restroom Debates

0615GenderNeutralDebates over North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” and Target’s policy of allowing men and women to use a restroom that doesn’t match their biological sex, but comports instead with their gender identity, have flooded social media lately.  Often, if Catholics get into the debate at all, there is a tendency to be heavy handed and dismissive of the entire issue.  I don’t want to pretend that the just and moral thing to do is completely pretend like there are no transgender people in the world, or to call them hurtful names.  But I also don’t think it’s the right move to sit silently on the sidelines.  

Instead, I want to address the issue from a slightly different perspective than I’ve seen others do.  That is, how can the Catholic idea of the near occasion of sin bring light to the debate?

One of the arguments I’ve seen many people make is that anyone who believes that restrooms ought to be reserved for biological males and biological females must be either ignorant of the plight of those who struggle with their gender identity, or just plain mean-spirited.  Some have even claimed that the creation or designation of single-use facilities as a compromise, or other similar solutions to the issue, is fundamentally an act of discrimination aimed at causing harm to transgender individuals.

At the outset, let me be clear about a couple of issues: I recognize that those who struggle with gender or body dysmorphia have to be given dignified treatment, and they must be given, above all, compassion and mercy.  They should not become a political football to be wrested from one group to another in a race to win an argument.  

Further, I do not have even the slightest belief that transgender people are inherently sexually perverted individuals who pose a great threat to public safety.  I want to be clear that it is precisely my contention that the real issue, as far as safety goes, comes from people who are not truly wrestling with their gender identity, but who may abuse the new legal rulings.  

Now, let’s recall the concept of the near occasion of sin.  In confession, Catholics traditionally promise during their act of contrition that they will avoid not just sin in the future, but even the near occasion of sin.  This means while we recognize that sinful acts are the real enemy, we can do a lot of good for ourselves by avoiding circumstances or situations in which we are more likely to sin.  In other words, our concern for sin ought to extend beyond the moment of committing an offense against God.  We should put up our defenses sooner.  Thus if you have a tendency to drive dangerously fast, leaving earlier would be  good plan.  If you’re an alcoholic, certainly you should refrain from drinking, but you also ought not to hang out in bars or have alcohol in your home if you live alone.   

Now, what is the connection between the gendered division of restrooms and the near occasion of sin?  Many people have expressed concerns about safety for women and children in restrooms.  The most frequent argument is that men who do not truly identify as women will use the new legal coverage to enter women’s restrooms in order to assault vulnerable women.  

Consider, for a moment, that there already are sexual assaults and other violations of privacy in restrooms due to sexual predators of various sorts.  Given this fact, I think it’s right to believe that a legal protection for a biological male to be in the women’s restroom may be just enough of a confidence booster to lead some male sexual predators to wander into a space that they perhaps may have otherwise stayed away from due to concerns about being caught.

What’s most difficult about the legal argument is that it refers to gender identity as being the decisive factor.  While I do acknowledge the reality of people who struggle with their gender identity, trying to base a wide-ranging public law on gender identity is very tricky because there aren’t clear objective criteria for verifying whether someone really has a gender identity issue, or whether they’re merely trying to gain access to an area (restroom, sports team, locker room, etc.) that they would otherwise be prohibited from.

The concept, then, of the near occasion of sin, provides a helpful lens to analyze this issue.  If, as is well-known, restrooms are already the site of mostly males assaulting females, and if sexual predators find comfort in the law allowing them to be present in a restroom previously reserved for women, there’s good reason to suspect that it may push a few more over the edge.  And while the number of women suffering sexual assaults is already too high, ought not we have some concern for the prospect that it could be even higher?

Of course, there’s no guarantee that any law will ever prevent anyone from breaking it.  But we don’t thereby forget about making laws.  Instead we still insist on the need for laws for public safety, and try to enforce them as best as we can.  I’m inclined to agree that the push to make explicit laws about the use of restrooms may be unnecessary.  As Ryan T. Anderson has argued, society generally got by with a live and let live policy in this area.  However, the time for localized solutions or live and let live is now being pressed out of the conversation.  Political activism is causing a new fight in this area.

I’m not sure there’s a clear way forward in this argument, but in any event, we ought all to pray for justice, and also for safety.

Amoris Laetitia, Beyond the Controversy

happy-FrancisWhen Pope Francis issued his post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, the mainstream media and major Catholic websites were all over it, highlighting the broad structure of the document and, mostly, focusing on the tricky issue of just what exactly Chapter 8 of the text means.  If that’s the type of article you’re looking for, look elsewhere.  Instead, I want to highlight some of the other features of the document.  There are a number of issues I could focus on, and I would encourage everybody to read the entire document, carefully and patiently, or to read the particular sections that might be most applicable to your situation (AL #7).

While this is a rich document, I will limit myself to reflecting on just two issues today: (1) Chapter Four, #90-119 because it contains one of the most beautiful reflections on 1 Corinthians 13 (“Love is patient, love is kind”) that I’ve ever read in my life, and (2) Chapter Five, which focuses on “Love Made Fruitful” and extols the great beauty as well as the challenges of having children.

Love is Patient, Love is Kind
Whereas many in our contemporary world associate “religion” and “marriage” with oppressive notions of male dominance and female subjugation, Pope Francis brings to the forefront a beautiful reading and exegesis, as well as personal reflection, on the nature of love as described by St. Paul in his memorable poem from 1 Cor. 13, often read at weddings.  By breaking down each of the metaphors that Paul uses, Pope Francis shows us how the true meaning of love, in marriage and elsewhere, is about serving others, being humble, and meeting the needs of the weakest among us.  Love therefore is never about the self, about pridefully displaying one’s own importance.  Indeed, Francis notes that “the logic of domination and competition about who is the most intelligent or powerful destroys love” (AL #98).  Rather, the true heart of love is the desire, above all, to love, with no expectation of a return on the investment.  This is to love the way God loves us and we see that example most profoundly in mothers “who are those who love the most, seek to love more than to be loved.”

Another beautiful note in this section is Francis’ words on forgiveness.  Given that this is a Jubilee Year of Mercy, his thoughts on mercy here are of critical importance.  He holds up family life as an inherently challenging vocation, one where we all know the reality of sin and shortcomings.  But it is therefore the kind of place where we can learn to forgive and learn to be forgiven.  This is why the Catechism calls the family a “school of Christian life.” (CCC #1657).  Francis says that “If we accept that God’s love is unconditional, that the Father’s love cannot be bought or sold, then we will become capable of showing boundless love and forgiving others even if they have wronged us.” (AL #108)

Love Made Fruitful
In Chapter Five of Amoris, Francis devotes his attention to the concept of fruitful love.  His reflections in this chapter focus, naturally, on children, but also on the wider implications of family life.  For instance, he considers the way families impact culture and also the role of the elderly in families. First, Francis looks to the importance of children.  He notes that women, by the miracle of pregnancy, get to share in “the mystery of creation, which is renewed with each birth.”  He then says that children, while coming into being in a specific moment of time, have always resided in God’s heart, and thus, in a certain sense, the beauty of birth is not only that it renews creation, but that it in a way fulfills a dream of God’s.  Finally, women are able to even participate in this “co-dreaming” with God during pregnancy, as they await their new child: “For nine months every mother and father dreams about their child…You can’t have a family without dreams.  Once a family loses the ability to dream, children do not grow, love does not grow, life shrivels up and dies” (AL #168-169).

Naturally, the Pope doesn’t limit himself to beautiful reflections on just motherhood or the woman’s role in fruitful love.  He also has some moving and important words for fathers.  Noting that a child has a right to both a mother and a father, he goes on to exhort fathers to “help the child to perceive the limits of live, to be open to the challenges of the wider world, and to see the need for hard work and strenuous effort.  A father possessed of a clear and serene masculine identity who demonstrates affection and concern for his wife is just as necessary as a caring mother.” (AL #175)

That quote really grabbed my attention, as it on the one hand validated my somewhat natural inclinations in parenting but also to call all fathers to a more intimate relationship with their children.  Do children need clear boundaries and limits, rules and expectations?  Sure.  But that doesn’t mean that only the mother can be affectionate or that only the father bears the responsibility for discipline.  Instead, Pope Francis notes “there can be a certain flexibility of roles and responsibilities, depending on the concrete circumstances of each particular family.  But the clear and well-defined presence of both figures, female and male, creates the environment best suited to the growth of a child.” (AL #175).

But Papa Francesco wasn’t done with fathers yet!  He goes on to deplore the “society without fathers” which is so common in the West and also to call men to a sincere masculinity which, while not being overbearing, doesn’t then slide into a permissive relationship absent of any discipline or authority.  Then he really hits into something I think far too many fathers (myself included) need to deal with: balancing their lives between work and family obligations: “Fathers are often so caught up in themselves and their work, and at times in their own self-fulfillment, that they neglect their families.  They leave the little ones and the young to themselves.  The presence of the father, and hence his authority, is also impacted by the amount of time given over to communications and entertainment media” (AL #176).

There’s no real way to capture the beauty and richness of this apostolic exhortation short of reading it in its entirety.  But I do hope that even with these few items, which are developed in a couple of chapters, you have a sense of some of the great beauty to be found within the pages of Amoris Laetitia.  Don’t let yourself get too caught up in all the controversy; read it for yourself and follow the Pope’s advice: focus on the parts of the document that matter the most for you.

Last thing: as a pro-tip, if you download the PDF from the Vatican, the index is, for some reason, at the very end of the document.  So head to the last few pages to get the chapter-by-chapter break down in case you want to look into only specific issues.



Considerations on the Question of Politics for (American) Catholics

Several months ago, I started writing a post about how difficult it is to be Catholic during the peak seasons of political campaigns.  Here’s how I started it:

While I’ve admittedly not been paying a great deal of attention to the political ruminations of the GOP, I have noticed the absolutely overwhelming press attention that Donald Trump has been getting lately.  I missed the debate a few weeks ago (this was the first debate of the entire campaign), and I’ve tried not to read too much into any one candidate at this point.  On the other side of the political aisle, everybody’s pointing toward Hillary Clinton as the default candidate and so, that should settle the question, right?  Not so fast!  There’s a growing community of folks rallying behind Bernie Sanders, painting him as the anti-political candidate who will bring sanity to the Democratic party.  They’re even giving us handy graphs to show us the differences, and clearly, Sanders is the way of the future.

I never did finish that post, but I think I can say that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Six months ago I never imagined we’d still be talking about Trump.  But I also wasn’t so sure about whether Sanders was going to hang around.

In any event, one thing is clear: when it comes to politics, the press seems to focus on buzzwords, sound bites, glitz, and glam much more than any nuanced discussion or sober analysis.

No matter what your political affiliation or leanings, trying to determine the best person to become President is a very complicated decision, and the way the media covers the process makes it even more difficult.  However, as a Catholic, the process becomes even more convoluted.  Why?  Come, let us reason together.

Catholics are in a particularly difficult spot when it comes to politics because we are decidedly members of a faith which calls us to a both/and, not either/or approach.  For instance, when our tradition reflects on the developments of the modern world, we’re not given the choice of faith or reason, theology or science.  We’re called to embrace both, which is very hard sometimes!  It also gets messy.  So then in politics, it should be no surprise that we have a challenging call: embrace the largest vision of the common good that we possibly can.

So what kind of difficulties does this lead to?  For one, it automatically means we can’t just tie ourselves down to a particular party.  We have to evaluate candidates in a much more considered fashion.  What are their ideals, what is their platform, and what do they have to say about the most important issues?  Further, we are called to pay attention to the web of connections among the various items.

These are the questions and considerations that face us, and I for one am often conflicted about how easy and simple most people in general, and also most Catholics, make things seem overly simple.  It’s easy to say “Well, Democrats officially favor abortion, so we have to vote for Republicans.”  It’s true that abortion rights factor in as a major part of their party’s views.  But it’s not so simple to just decide that one, as a Catholic, has  to vote Republican.

I say it’s not so simple as voting Republican because a major reason for automatically going toward the Republican side is that the Democratic view is decidedly not pro-life. That’s good reasoning, as far as it goes.  But it ignores the complication of other life issues like the death penalty, war, immigration, etc.

Of course, we also can’t pretend that all Republicans are pro-death penalty, love war, or have medieval ideas about immigration policy.  There’s always third party options, right?  Sure!  But none of them are likely to meet all of the goals of the Catholic view on the world.  And, in a certain sense, it might be silly to expect any politician to truly run on 100% Catholic ideals.  If they did so, while it might be super easy to vote for them, it’s almost a surefire fact that they’d never be successful in getting elected, or working within the political establishment to accomplish anything advancing the common good.

Now, with all of this said, many are led to the idea that the best option is to just forget about the whole thing. The most popular vision of this is the “Benedict option” named for St. Benedict who, seeing the writing on the wall of the Roman Empire, decided to withdraw from that society and found a monastery to pursue the fullness of the Catholic faith.  This was a heroic act of virtue in the middle ages and is, obviously, much more difficult to really pursue today.

Yet many Catholics have made notable attempts, and perhaps some modest success, in forming their own communities and removing themselves from the world as much as possible.  They home school, cultivate jobs which allow them to work from home, grow their own food, attend daily Mass, etc.  Let me be clear here: this is a tremendous good, and there is nothing wrong with it.  Without a doubt, many are called to that type of life, and great blessings for the world can flow from that.

Still, there are also clear teachings within the Catholic tradition that we are not required to leave the world behind.  In fact, Vatican II was painfully clear about the way Catholics are called precisely to engage with the world, in order to be salt and leaven:

“They [the laity] live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven…Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer.” (Lumen Gentium #31)

From my perspective, it seems that the key for Catholics, lies not in the actual political season itself.  Sure, we need to voice our opinions about the major issues, and we need to make clear what our faith demands.  But more than that, we need to be having conversations of consequence, making the truth beautiful, and showing what it looks like to live the life of the Gospel.  When we do that, and I mean when we all do that, the political arguments will be much easier.  We can only effectively transform a culture by being witnesses, not by winning debates.  And there’s no way to expect Catholics to vote with a well-formed conscience if the only time we’re trying to form consciences is in the few months leading up to an election.  That’s a full-time job.

Fuller House and John Paul II

Between the release of the official teaser trailer and the full-blown trailer to Fuller House, the two videos have racked up over 18 million views in the last few weeks.  Very clearly, this show has some major steam behind it.  But it’s not alone in bringing the 90s back.  Fox did a special for the X-Files, and will also bring back Prison Break.  And my wife’s favorite, Gilmore Girls, is getting a series of 90-minute specials on Netflix.  

What’s going on? I would suggest that there’s two things happening.  

First, there’s just plain old nostalgia.  This happens to all of us when we happen to come across an old yearbook or photo album (remember those?!).  It can transport us back to that time and make us yearn for simpler days when our concerns were limited to whether or not we had to go to school and what was on the menu at the cafeteria.

A second dimension to this phenomenon, I think, has its roots deeper in the human person.  This is something John Paul II gets at in his Theology of the Body, when he notes that the shame and guilt that we feel in the personal realm and, especially in the sexual realm, can be seen to be a sort of faint echo of the truth we’re really called to live out.

In other words, through the pain of the modern world and our personal experiences, we come to realize that there must be something better that we are made for.  This, the experience of historical man, points us back to original man, to the way things were “in the beginning.”  But it also points us toward eschatological man, the way things will be in the end.  So in a strange sort of way, when we confront the difficulties, sufferings, and pain of our daily lives, if we meditate on it, we can see through the darkness, and maybe even in the very darkness itself, a way which points us toward the light.

So, back to Fuller House.  Without trying to be either overly-theological or sacrilegious, I think that it’s fair to call this a religious phenomenon.  Here’s how I think it works.

One of the main features of Full House, and a host of other older 90s television hits, was their rather clear presentation of basic moral attitudes.  In other words, they operated in a universe defined by moral clarity.  While there are many tv shows today that try to make a clear distinction between what’s right and wrong, Full House provided not only entertainment, but taught many critical lessons to its viewers.

I, for one, learned not to drive a car into the house and, when I did make  small hole in the wall as a 17 year-old lead-foot driver, I immediately went in the house and owned up to my mistake, just like Stephanie Tanner should have.  But lest you think that Full House only dealt in humor, don’t forget about some of the more serious moral issues they confronted. In a 1994 episode, Under the Influence, DJ and Kimmy go to a party where Kimmy gets drunk and demands to drive home.  Luckily, DJ holds her ground, and in the end the audience learns that Kimmy lost her mother to a drunk driver.  

What Full House had going for it, besides its theme song and memorable plot lines, was a vision of how the difficulties and sorrows of daily experience could function as a sign to point us toward the solution.  Through those troubles, we can reflect on the brokenness of the world, and look forward to a day when things will be right.  Thus what we have is a sort of veiled image of the hopes for eschatological man.  

Is that just old-fashioned, “aw-shucks” morality?  Perhaps.  But in a world where some networks have shows built around teenagers in rehab or cheating spouses, maybe we could use a bit more of the Tanner family in our lives.  Now, the question remains: will it deliver?  I’ll have to watch it and see.  For now, I’m hopeful.

How My Family Keeps Lent Interesting

A few years ago, my wife and I got creative with our Lenten sacrifices.  It was an idea I had, loosely based on a Holy Week retreat I once went on when I was an undergraduate.  The idea is simple, but that’s what makes it so awesome.

Many people enter Lent rather blindsided (it creeps up on us every year, doesn’t it!?) and struggle to find a good way to get something out of the season.  One thing that can derail your Lent for sure is if you either decide to do way too much (pray the entire Liturgy of the Hours, go to daily Mass, confession every week, watch nothing but EWTN and read nothing but Catholic books) or way too little (maybe…giving up one candy or soda or something and just leaving it at that).  Another problem a lot of people face during Lent, even if they pick good and reasonable sacrifices, is that it’s hard to keep up one new habit for the entire stretch.

So what we’re doing this year is picking a list of several sacrifices and/or additional virtues that we want to work on.  For no real reason, we put eight items on our list.  My wife and I each have our own list, and then there’s a list of ones for the whole family.  

Each morning, one of our kids will spin the wheel of Lent (the name’s a work-in-progress).  Whatever family sacrifice it lands on is numbered, so then mom and dad will refer to our own individual lists and we’ll see what the kids dealt us. Here’s a picture of the lists and our wheel of Lent:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


So if your Lent maybe hasn’t gotten off the ground too well, or if you want to get your kids more involved, give this idea a try.  It’s been great for us so far!

The Force of Mercy

About a week ago, I joined the cool kids club and got to see The Force Awakens in theaters.  It was a fantastic movie, and because I just finished reading a dissertation on John Paul II, there were a lot of really intense philosophical and theological ideas bouncing around my brain as I tried to soak in the movie.  But there was also one much more basic theme, and that’s what I’d like to focus on here.  First: SPOILER ALERT.  DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT READ unless you’ve seen the film and/or just don’t care.

Throughout The Force Awakens (hereafter: TFA), one character’s journey really captured my mind.  I couldn’t figure out why at first, but after the film was over, I figured it out.  The key was mercy, and the character was Finn.  So, I decided with the Year of Mercy upon us, it would be good to meditate on mercy in the spiritual life and how Finn displays the power of mercy.  Again: SPOILER ALERT!

Finn: The Power of the Will

In John Paul II’s view, people become more and more human as they become in possession of their selves. This comes about as a result of recognizing truth and freedom and seeking them with the will.  In TFA, Finn starts as a Storm Trooper, but he faces a conflict of will with the orders he is given.  After he sees one of his fellow Storm Troopers die, and gets his blood on his mask, he has a sudden realization of the truth of his situation and begins to realize the brutality of the First Order.  He then refuses to follow an order to murder innocent resistance fighters.

In short order, Finn has decided to not only resist participation in the evil of the First Order, but to fight back directly. The entire film shows Finn adjusting to this new life.  It’s awkward for him; he’s been so consumed by the identity he was given as a Storm Trooper that he hasn’t learned to be a human.  He was, literally, a number (FN 2187). There’s an obvious parallel here to how prisoners were treated in the Nazi concentration camps in WWII.  No names, just numbers. Yet even in those places where hope seemed lost, there were human beings who would resist (like Maximilian Kolbe).  Finn shows that kind of fortitude.

What’s really fantastic about Finn, though, is he shows the power of a single decision which is then followed through.  He makes a firm amendment of will not to participate in the atrocities of the First Order and never backs down.  He’s not sure how to make an identity for himself apart from his Storm Trooper background, but he eventually utilizes his knowledge of the workings of the evil organization to help bring about its downfall.

Saints as Real Human Beings
There is, in Finn’s story, the core of many stories of saints.  People tend to have a very whitewashed image of what the life of a typical saint looks like.  We imagine them being brought up as perfect little children who knew their prayers, then magically went through adolescence without ever disobeying their parents, and joined a monastery at the age of 15, never to sin again.

Yet, the plain fact is many saints were once mired in sin; some knew nothing other than a life of vice and sin, but were struck powerfully by an encounter with truth and goodness and found themselves drawn out of the darkness and into the light.  Still others, like St. Augustine, show that even when there is a model of spirituality close to home, it’s easy to ignore it to pursue worldly pleasures and accolades.  That’s what the young Augustine did until he realized that, even with all the world could give him, his heart was still restless, and wouldn’t find rest until he found God.

What’s so neat about Finn’s character is that he follows this kind of transformation.  It’s a great visual of the process of spiritual conversion.  While any conversion is likely to begin with a decision, it only becomes real when it’s lived out.  Finn tries, early in the film, to just merely hide from the First Order.  But he realizes that isn’t a viable option. This is what happens when we attempt to flee from sin.  In order to truly overcome sin, it has to be confronted and, most importantly, whatever the source of that sin is must become integrated into a fully human life.  If one is overly proud, the way to overcome that is not merely by trying hard to stop being proud, but by being humble.  Virtue is what leads to victory over vice.

This is the kind of image we need to help us in the year of mercy.  Pope Francis has convened on Dec. 8th a year of mercy in which we will celebrate, in a special way, the power of mercy, which is at the heart of any conversion story. Even if someone succeeds in making the decision to amend their life after a failed struggle with sin and temptation, they still need mercy.  But we need it even more when we’re in the struggle and when we fail.  Through God’s mercy, all can be forgiven and all can be overcome.  That doesn’t make sin insignificant, and it doesn’t make going forward in virtue easy.  But it does mean it’s possible.  It makes it worth doing, and it makes life worth living.

What we can read about in the pages of a great spiritual work like The Confessions by St. Augustine is brought to life on screen, albeit in an analogical way, by the actions and choices of Finn.  Even though he’d been a part of the First Order for as long as he’d known, and had directly participated in their evil, he knew it was wrong.  When he made his initial, perhaps hasty decision to leave it all behind, he was in over his head.  He tried to run away, then had to confront the problem.  If only, during this year of mercy, we might muster the same courage and do as St. John Paul II so often reminded us to: be not afraid!

Faith and Femininity in Disney’s Tangled

tangled-1024x640As a father of three girls all under the age of five, I see my fair share of princess tales.  To be perfectly honest, most of them don’t really stick with me, a lot of it is forgettable, and a lot of it makes me wish it was forgettable.  However, on a recent car trip, we played Tangled in our DVD player and, for reasons I cannot explain, I listened carefully to almost the entire film.  As it turns out, I found some interesting material to consider in light of the Theology of the Body.

Where To Begin
In John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, he frequently makes reference to Jesus’ preference to return to the beginning, when discussing marriage with the Pharisees.  Throughout his analysis, the state of original man is the primary reference point for understanding what a human being is, and what marriage ought to be.  In Tangled, the beginning is important as well.

The story opens as Rapunzel’s mother the queen is falling ill in pregnancy and Gothel (Rapunzel’s soon-to-be-adoptive-mother) is shown selfishly utilizing a sacred plant’s healing powers to keep herself eternally young and externally beautiful.  The King announces his wife’s illness and immediately the citizens begin searching for the healing plant, which is then turned into an elixir and given to the queen to drink.  This cures her illness and leads to Rapunzel’s healthy birth. All is well, except for Gothel, who cannot face her mortality.  Desperate to cling to her physical beauty, she steals Rapunzel after discovering that her hair has the healing properties of the sacred plant.

I think there’s great symbolism between Rapunzel and Gothel.  Rapunzel, especially because of the miraculous nature of her birth, is a great symbol for Mary, who was preserved from original sin from the moment of her conception.  She also has the power to heal others, in an indirect sense, but especially through the birth of Jesus, who would save us all.  Gothel is a symbol of Eve, who selfishly uses a forbidden plant to try and preserve her life.

The Plot Thickens
As the movie moves on to its second and third acts, I think there’s another set of symbols we can read.  When Flynn Rider enters the picture, the conflict between Rapunzel and Gothel comes into sharper focus.  To my mind, we can read into the various relationships that emerge a sort of competing vision of the role of relationships as well as competing visions of womanhood.

Gothel: Radical Feminism
Gothel’s vision of the world is that relationships are intrinsically dangerous, and only open one up to pain and suffering.  The world exists as a place which threatens to abuse and wound you.  The only value to be found is in a raw individualism and shutting everything out.  But that’s not enough.  You have to appear happy, healthy, aesthetically beautiful.  Youth and beauty are the face you put on to cover the pain in your heart and the fear of the world.

Flynn Rider: What the Culture Thinks Masculinity Is
Flynn Rider’s character represents everything that Gothel was worried about.  It’s a sort of interesting commentary on the sexual revolution.  One of the main arguments, for instance, about oral hormonal contraceptives (the Pill), was that it would make women more free and independent, that it would give them some power in the battle of the sexes.  As it turns out, the Pill and the sexual revolution it enabled, has led to more oppression of women.  They’re, in most ways, worse off than prior to the revolution.

I say this as a preface to Flynn’s obvious reliance on his physical beauty and his wit and charm.  When he initially is captured by Rapunzel, he attempts to woo her with his obviously well-rehearsed schemes.  There’s no doubt he’s used women for pleasure before and, from the scenes we see, it seems he has rather enjoyed it.  He’s handsome and rugged and having a great time; a true model of the sexual revolution’s image of masculinity.

Of course, as the film goes on, we learn that his name isn’t Flynn Rider after all.  He’s crafted an entirely different person and the “mask” that he wears to charm women is actually a farce.  Deep beneath that facade is the true person, Eugene Fitzherbert.  This real person, who we can see somehow still knows it’s wrong to use others for whatever happiness and pleasure they can bring us, will only be revealed when he encounters someone radically different: Rapunzel.

Rapunzel: Catholic Femininity
Where Gothel wants to reject all relationships and Flynn wants to use relationships just for selfish pleasure, Rapunzel presents both of them with an alternative third way.  In a sense, both Gothel and Flynn could be seen as heretics, but don’t misunderstand what I mean by that.

From a Catholic viewpoint, heresies always tend to over-emphasize one particular dimension of the faith, and then get led astray. They’re not typically started by coming up with a crazy idea, but rather are the result of running away with one part of the truth that has been blown out of proportion.

Gothel sees the danger of the world and, especially, relationships.  There’s some truth there; relationships are an intrinsically risky thing.  Loving someone means letting them get close enough to you in order to hurt you.  The world also is a dangerous place.  Things can go wrong.  Dietrich von Hildebrand has a great line about this: anything truly valuable, truly great, necessarily involves great risk.  You can’t have anything worth having without risk and relationships are no different.  But that doesn’t mean we should avoid them.  And, in fact, as human beings, we’re made for relationships and only in loving relationships can we truly become the best version of ourselves.

Flynn’s heresy, on the other hand, is to pretend that relationships are good, but only if they are pleasurable. Anyone who’s ever lived long enough has realized that relationships are nice when they’re pleasurable and fun and easy, but that those qualities aren’t the only things you need for a relationship.  You also need truth, you need commitment, and above all, you need sacrifice to work through the hard times.  If we abandon ship at the first sign of difficulty, that’s not a relationship, it’s a contract.

Rapunzel shows Gothel and Flynn that, in fact, relationships are good (contra Gothel), but that they’re about more than pleasure (contra Flynn).  This is worked out slowly throughout the film, but is seen most clearly by the climax, where we see Rapunzel and Flynn both willing to sacrifice themselves for one another.  Rapunzel offers to stay with her mother if she will spare Flynn.  But Flynn cuts off her hair so that Rapunzel won’t be stuck with her mother for the rest of her life.  What’s really cool about it, though, is that we discover Rapunzel has another way of healing: through her tears.  This, to me, was the most powerful scene which shows Rapunzel as a symbol of Mary, who shows that womanhood heals the world in times of joy, as well as in times of sorrow.

More could be said, but I’ll close with an excerpt from John Paul II’s Mulieris Dignitatem.  I think Tangled can serve as a powerful way of illuminating some of the truths of this great Saint about the relationships between men and women.  Take a look:

Although both of them together are parents of their child, the woman’s motherhood constitutes a special “part” in this shared parenthood, and the most demanding part. Parenthood – even though it belongs to both – is realized much more fully in the woman, especially in the prenatal period. It is the woman who “pays” directly for this shared generation, which literally absorbs the energies of her body and soul. It is therefore necessary that the man be fully aware that in their shared parenthood he owes a special debt to the woman. No programme of “equal rights” between women and men is valid unless it takes this fact fully into account. (MD #18, Sec. 5)

The Choice of the Family: A Book Review

choiceofthefamilyThanks to the great folks at Image Books, I was able to get a review copy of a The Choice of the Family: A Call to Wholeness, Abundant Life, and Enduring Happiness by Bishop Jean Laffitte, who is the head of the Pontifical Council on the Family and is tasked with preparing the regular World Meeting of Families.  This is a timely book for US Catholics especially, since it can help us to prepare for the upcoming visit of Pope Francis, who will be in Philadelphia and a few other cities during the World Meeting of Families this fall.  It is timely, too, because of the upcoming synod in Rome as well as the pressing concerns for the cause and meaning of the family in our contemporary cultural climate.

The book is not an academic treatise, but is structured as an interview where Bishop Laffitte is responding to questions posed to him on a wide range of topics from the meaning of the family, the role of theological anthropology in cultural debates, and even the challenges presented by Islam’s burgeoning growth in the West.  Throughout the entire work, one encounters a true Son of the Church, who thinks broadly and deeply about the issues he is asked about, and always responds in charity.

Those familiar with Pope Benedict XVI’s book, Light of the World (with Peter Seeward asking the questions), will find not only a lot of material quoted from that book, but also a very similar format.  Of course I wasn’t present for the questioning of Bishop Laffitte (the interviews took place several years ago), but I can imagine that Laffitte is, like George Weigel said of Pope Benedict, someone who pauses to think, then answers questions in complete paragraphs.

When I realized the book was not a treatise, but an interview, I expected a lot less substance, but I realized quite early on in the book that Laffitte’s answers provide a fairly systematic account of the family, its struggles, and its challenges.  And yet the book is not a litany of problems that seem to have no answer.  It is rather a sober analysis, but filled with hope and always trying to call attention to the bright spots in the world where the family really is becoming what it ought to be.

Laffittte, who received his doctorate at the John Paul II Institute and later became a faculty member and vice president of the institution, provides a lot of background on his own family situation growing up, as well as his own struggles with the faith during the tumultuous years of the 1960s.  He notes his mother’s fidelity and servant’s heart in caring for a family of 12 in a time and culture in which much more burden was placed on mothers and women.  Above all, he notes the seriousness of his parents’ approach to religion.  When it came to the faith, his parents lived out the truth they taught, and they demanded that all of their children take seriously the claims of the Gospel and the norms it required in life.

One of the overarching themes of the book his Laffitte’s reflection on obedience, authority, and truth.  Ultimately, we all need obedience to be good Catholics, but we can only learn it from someone who acts with authority and lives in accord with truth.  Jesus, for instance, is always seen as one acting with authority, and that authority came from his Divine nature. For parents and families to function, there must always be a grounding in the divine order, a sacramental life imbued with prayer and a heart of love and mercy.

Two sections of the work stand out, in my mind, as particularly illuminating for our contemporary culture.  One is his discussion of the problem of marriage preparation, with all its many issues: cohabitation, pre-marital sexual union, divorce, etc.  He discusses marriage preparation with a true pastor’s heart, and without running away from the difficulties.  He knows that deep in the human heart, the desire for love is always forever, and never merely “as long as possible.”  But often those who approach the Church for marriage walk in merely to have a nice ceremony, then immediately abandon the Eucharist again for decades.  Bishop Laffitte of course cannot solve this issue alone, but I love his idea on the real heart of the matter:

“I will not carry out a formal act rapidly without taking the necessary time, nor will I content myself with merely making them sign forms of declaration of intent!  Rather, I will see who is in front of me.  I will want to know how they met!  The priest must love people.  If he does not love them, he is not a stakeholder and is indifferent to what they have lived previously.  If he does love them, he will not carry out an inquisition, but he will listen to them.  He can introduce them to the Christian concept of love, he prays for them and with them and leads them to pray.  If he does not introduce the engaged couple into an experience of prayer, I do not know where they are headed!  I find it insane that people are prepared over the course of months for the sacrament of marriage and may not even have had one occasion to pray, that nobody invites them to pray and to entrust their happiness to God, or even to ask what God wants for them!  The preparation must be a spiritual event.” (p. 48-49, emphases added)

Another theme that recurs throughout the book is the emphasis on mercy and forgiveness in the family context.  In the relationship of spouses with one another, and also in the raising of children, mistakes and sins are bound to surface.  But, Laffitte insists, we cannot brood over these.  Rather, there needs to be a real flow of mercy in the relationship:

“…in the life of men, there have to be human, anthropological rites.  When people live in society, all the more strongly within the close society that is marriage, it is necessary that there be a practice of reconciliation and of the forgiveness of offenses, including light ones; that there be a culture of peace, concord, and communion.  The people and youth who have never learned to ask for forgiveness will never be disposed to pardon each other.  When a difficulty arises, it will be easiest to go completely overboard.  Forgiveness is central in the preparation for marriage.  Personally, I have never conducted marriage preparation without consecrating a meeting to pardon, to reconciliation, and to the demands that they involve.” (p. 99)

Especially given both Pope Francis’ upcoming visit, the World Meeting of Families, and the Year of Mercy, I cannot think of a more appropriate and timely book for Catholics, especially those who are married or are engaged.  The Choice of the Family gives a great overview of the major currents impacting the family as well as a positive vision of the possibility of holiness through the grace of marriage.

My only real criticism of the book is that I wish it had been more of a formal treatment, as Laffitte’s answers to the questions he were asked are surely only the tip of the iceberg in his knowledge.

Highly recommended.


Roller Skating, the Wandeirng in the Desert, and the Patience of God

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a chance to take my two oldest daughters roller skating at a local skating rink.  They’re 4 years old and 2 1/2, respectively and so obviously neither one of them has done much skating.  In fact, they’re still small enough that they need to use the skates that go over their shoes.  They’re delightfully cute, but when I have both of them by myself and I’m trying to coax them into actually trying to walk/skate on their own, and one of them wants to sit down while the other wants to watch me skate instead, it can get…trying.

Quite coincidentally, my wife and I have also just been teaching our children about the story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt.  We use a little daily devotional that gives kind of a highlight of the main stories of the Bible, with a short reading each day.  I mostly read the short excerpt, then turn it into a story to try and emphasize and really get the points across in a way that my 4 year old (and, occasionally, my 2 1/2 year old) can understand and remember.  IMAG0553

As it would happen, on the rink the other day, while my kids were both pretty much losing their minds, I realized that the position they were putting me in is somewhat like the position that the Israelites were putting both Moses and God Himself in after their departure from Egypt. We should all know the story, but it bears emphasizing the high points to make this clear.

Moses is called by God to return to Egypt, after having outed himself as a Hebrew.  Furthermore, he’s not only called to return to that land (which would have been very risky for him), but he’s given the task of confronting the Pharaoh and leading God’s people out of Egypt.  Their initial request is a three day leave to go off and worship in the desert.  Though it was only a temporary request for freedom, a modest form of religious liberty we might say, the Pharaoh has none of it.  This of course leads to the plagues which increase in their calamity until the final plague leads to the death of not only every first-born among the Egyptians, but in particular the death of Pharaoh’s son.

Finally convinced that perhaps Moses does speak for a higher authority, and is not a mere court magician, the Pharaoh begrudgingly allows the Hebrews to flee, even ordering them to take the Egyptian’s gold.  Of course, he changes his mind, sets the army of charioteers after them in a fit of vengeance, and ultimately the army is swallowed up in the Red Sea.

After all of the plagues, the miraculous parting of the sea, and even the theophany at Sinai, the Hebrew people begin their wandering with Moses in the desert (due to their idolatry and the Golden Calf incident) and shortly after their departure they begin to….whine.  They even go so far as to suggest that they were better of in Egypt where, though they were slaves, they at least had their immediate needs of food and drink met.

Can you imagine the frustration Moses or God would have sensed at the moment these cries began to burst forth?  God’s own people had been led forth from slavery and their response is to worship a golden calf, then complain about their hunger, as if God was not already going to take care of them.

Now, back to the skating rink.  There I am, a masterful skater if I do say so myself (I have plenty of embarrassing home videos to back this up), trying to teach my daughters how to hold themselves up, how to balance, etc.  And what is their reaction?  Not a “Gee, thanks dad!  This is so fun!”  Instead, I get variations of “I want to go sit down.” or “These skates are heavy.” or “I’m thirsty.” or “I have to go to the bathroom” (Surprise, she didn’t!).

When those kinds of cries start welling up, I get frustrated and annoyed and am tempted to just abandon the whole idea.  Let’s just go home! Then I suddenly remembered Moses in the desert, pleading on behalf of God’s people.  God could certainly have been justified in just letting them abandon their call and His plan for them.  As they would make abundantly clear through the OT, they weren’t exactly ready for the noble calling to be God’s first-born among the nations and to serve as a light for the other nations to follow.  But God treated them mercifully, with patience and kindness.

This is a reading of the OT that I think is often forgotten and overlooked.  It’s so easy to get into the grit of the Old Testament, to see the obvious human failures, the sometimes extraordinary responses that God gives and think it’s all a mess, that there’s no way God was somehow working good out of the situation.  Marcion, an early heretic, for instance thought that the Old Testament was just too vengeful and sin-ridden to have been any part of the revelation of the God who we see in the New Testament.

But that reading, that easy temptation to dismiss the Old Testament, ignores the divine paternity of God.  In the divine economy, God is always fathering His people.  And even in spite of their rejection of his ways, their dismissal of his commandments and their breaking of the covenants, God remains faithful.  He, moreover, continues to call His people back to holiness, back to him.  He doesn’t give up, but accompanies them.  In fact, He is so steadfast in his desire to see them mature in His ways that God will eventually send His Son to become one of us, and journey along side us to show us the way.

My daughters are certainly a long way from becoming adept at skating.  And in the grand scheme, it really is inconsequential.  But my little epiphany while trying to keep them on the rink and to stop their crying reminded me of how much I, and all of us, must really be thankful, give eucharistia, for God’s patience and mercy with us.  Not only throughout divine revelation and history, but in our own lives, we all have in some way caused problems for God.  Let us rejoice that He responds not with anger and retribution, but mercy and patience, allowing us time to grow and mature and so finally, in the end, reach the goal and end of our journey in perfect union with Him.


On Beauty and Planned Parenthood


One of my favorite authors, Dietrich von Hildebrand, makes an interesting argument about the relationship between beauty and virtue.  Essentially, what he said was that we ought to encourage people to attend to beauty, to seek it out in art, music, literature, poetry, and any other venue where it could be found.  We should expose young people to beauty, train them to recognize it and appreciate it, and that if we do this, we will be helping them to grow in virtue.  Why?  Because authentic beauty is itself a participation in the limitless beauty and grandeur of God, the one who creates and bestows beauty.

What I see happening with this current public relations nightmare for Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) is, perhaps the inverse of von Hildebrand’s suggestion: people are being confronted with the gruesome truth of PPFA.  They’re seeing the callous disregard for the dignity of human life, and are being awakened to the depths to which that organization regularly stoops.  It’s taken away the clean, well-crafted public image of PPFA.  It’s a look behind the curtain, and what people are seeing isn’t beautiful, it’s grotesque.

This latest mess with the videos released by the Center for Medical Progress is somewhat reminiscent of that iconic moment in The Wizard of Oz when we finally see behind the curtain in the Wizard’s court to reveal the real person behind the Wizard.  What Dorothy and her friends found was not a powerful, mysterious leader, but a cowardly man putting on a show for the residents of Oz.

A similar thing is beginning to happen, I think, with regard to PPFA and its current president, Cecile Richards.  Mrs. Richards likes to portray herself as a great champion of health care and, above all, the rights of women.  Yet her organization’s operations stand in direct contrast to that mission.  They can be considered a health care organization only when termination of an unborn life is considered a positively good thing.  They often bemoan the regulations different states have put in to limit abortions, such as the 20-week ban, waiting periods, ultrasounds, etc.  Based on their actions and their budget, the story PPFA tries to tell the media and dupe women into believing is an all out lie.  They sell abortions incredibly well, and they account for over half of their annual budget.

Whatever the reasons for those abortions, they inherently involve the killing of a small child.  A great deal of those aborted every year by PPFA (which performs in excess of 300,000 abortions every year) are women.  Yet instead of being empowered and defended, they are bought at a price: $470.  That is what a woman’s life is worth to Cecile Richards.  However sanitary the public image of PPFA has been, it is slowly being shown to be a farce.

In the view of von Hildebrand, the human heart always longs for beauty, and has a natural capacity to recognize it and, in that very recognition, we know God.  For instance, he said that

“…the beauty of the dome of Florence or of St. Peter’s, the beauty of the first chorale in St. Matthew’s Passion, or of Mozart’s Figaro—all these are, to be sure, immediately attached to audible and visible things; they are not connected with beauty of form merely by thoughts; they are not ideas that these express thereby, but in their quality they speak about another, higher reality—they make God known.”

Hildebrand also knows the beauty of marriage and human sexuality to be moments which take the goods of the human experience and transfigure them to a divine plane.  The fruit of sexual union, the birth of a new human life, is without question one of the most beautiful and essentially awe-inspiring moments in the world.  It is a time which calls to mind all of the grandeur of creation and points to the joy we hope to experience in the heavenly reward awaiting the end of our life.  Human life, which develops during pregnancy, calls for that same joy, respect, and awe.  It is beautiful, and it points to the author of beauty, God himself.

But PPFA and their supporters would have us think that there’s nothing mysterious and beautiful in pregnancy.  Or, at the very least, nothing which can’t wait until next time.  Nothing which deserves protection.  No, for PPFA, the developing life can be cast aside, then dismembered and repackaged for the honorable cause of scientific research.  This is a perversion and a twisting of beauty into the grotesque.

This encounter with beauty’s polar opposite can, I think, in a way awaken them to the beauty of the pro-life position and hopefully to the goodness of the Creator, the only one on whom we can call to really put an end to the holocaust that our country has legally sanctioned since 1973.



Thoughts on the Bill Cosby Scandal

The Cosby Show  (NBC) 1984-1992 Shown: Bill Cosby (as Dr. Heathcliff "Cliff" Huxtable) When: 19 Nov 2014 Credit: **WENN does not claim any ownership including but not limited to Copyright, License in attached material. Fees charged by WENN are for WENN's services only, do not, nor are they intended to, convey to the user any ownership of Copyright, License in material. By publishing this material you expressly agree to indemnify, to hold WENN, its directors, shareholders, employees harmless from any loss, claims, damages, demands, expenses (including legal fees), any causes of action, allegation against WENN arising out of, connected in any way with publication of the material.**Though I was born in 1984, I grew up watching re-runs of The Cosby Show.  So, naturally, I grew up really liking Bill Cosby.  I probably didn’t even know that his character had a different name back then.  To me, the character and the person who played him were indistinguishable.

Over the last few months, as the scandals and accusations just kept piling up, one after another, I really grew more and more depressed about the sad reality of Bill Cosby.  It made me wonder whether there was any possibility that Bill was somehow innocent.  As each accuser came forward, it seemed more and more improbable.  Months ago, I eventually accepted the reality that Bill Cosby was, in fact, very different from his Dr. Cliff Huxtable persona he so memorably portrayed on television.  Bill Cosby, as was recently released, in 2005 admitted to obtaining prescriptions for quaaludes, a sedative which he also admits having given to people with the intent of having sex with them.

The Cosby case brings to mind a number of issues that deserve reflection.  First, there is the serious injustice for the victims, his accusers who for decades have been almost entirely unheard.  Those women, many of whom were introduced to Bill Cosby with some promise or hope of him advancing their careers, have been seriously wounded, physically and psychologically.  They deserve to have their stories heard, and Mr. Cosby’s age or revered status in the African American community should not factor into the discussion of the events.  Let’s not forget, Bill Cosby was incredibly powerful for many decades, and it appears he has used that power to abuse many vulnerable women. That is THE primary injustice and harm of this case.  Above all, these women need prayers and people to listen to them and help try to heal them, in whatever way is possible at this late date, sometimes decades after the abuse occurred.

Another level is to consider the protection that Cosby was able to build up, utilizing his celebrity persona, his wealth, and his legal team.  As has been widely publicized, it is expected that the statute of limitations will have expired in every case that has been reported.  America is supposed to be a country where everyone has an equal standing before the law and when scores of abused women suffered at the hands of the same man, who is able to avoid any prosecution for decades, something clearly is wrong with the system.

There’s also a moral question that I imagine some may be asking themselves: is it okay to watch or listen to old Cosby tv shows or stand-up routines now that we have all but complete certainty that he was duplicitous?  I would say that while it may not be outright sinful, it certainly doesn’t seem to be prudent.  I loved The Cosby Show, and I am completely capable of making the important distinction between an actor and the character they play or a writer and the books they wrote.  However, with that said, I don’t think I’ll likely find myself comfortably able to watch The Cosby Show anymore.

At the same time, while making clear that I find his past behavior reprehensible, I also think one ought to be able to distinguish a person from their behavior.  And by that I mean we ought not condemn Bill Cosby today, or wish bad things upon him.  If we’re Christian, we ought to pray for him and, of course, pray for his victims.  One of the most consoling things about being a Christian, in times of moral evil that seems incapable of being rectified on human terms, is that we know there is another judgment and a more capable judge that we will all have to answer to.  I certainly wish and hope for Mr. Cosby to make amends in whatever way he can, but I also know that he’s got bigger dues to pay than merely a TV apology.

Beyond these concerns, there is, for me, one final, painful level to the issue.

Hearing this wave of accusations, reports, and now some modest form of an admission of guilt in 2005, rings all too familiar for me.  In the echo chamber of my mind, it sounds all so much like the abuse scandal that hit the US church in 2002, starting with the Diocese of Boston and later spread its way through many other dioceses, leading to lawsuits and a host of terrible finds.

There are some similarities to the cases.  Both situations involve those in power taking advantage of people who looked up to them, admired them, and were understandably afraid of the power they wielded.  Both cases also involved a lot of legal machinations employed to try and protect those in power. Both situations seem to involve limited, sometimes ineffective, communication with the authorities, motivated by a desire to avoid embarrassment and scandal.  It should be stated that the naivete involved in sweeping sexual abuse under the rug sometimes fell on both sides of the situation.  That is, both the accused (such as a priest, or Mr. Cosby) AND the law enforcement involved have, at different times, used this false logic, with terrible consequences.

One difference, though, is that in the Cosby case, there was just one individual involved, but he had a tremendous pull and financial resources to keep himself out of trouble.  It should be easier to stop one single person than to end a scandal that involved complex webs of people at different administrative levels.

But, as wounding as the priest abuse scandal was, in the end, there’s been a dramatic change.  Since 2002, there’s been a huge effort involving serious research and investigations into what not only caused the abuse scandal, but also what allowed it to happen for so long.  The results are now making tremendous changes evident within the Catholic community.

If you’ve not read the John Jay Report on the sex abuse in the Catholic Church in the US, I highly recommend it.  It’s painful, but it also was an open communication which allowed for the most thorough research possible.  The dioceses involved handed over more paperwork than any other institution with well-known sexual abuse scandals ever has (I’m thinking here of public schools, for example).  The result of the serious, third-party research conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, enabled dioceses to put into place programs which are based on best practices to curb the possibility of abuse.

Every diocese in America now requires its volunteers and employees who will have unsupervised contact with children to undergo abuse prevention training and background checks and every program running in a parish, from Vacation Bible School to Confirmation preparation classes, must follow certain protocols that nearly make it impossible for even the most hardened abuser to even have the opportunity to harm a child.

One final point on the Church cases.  Any time a discussion involves the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, I feel it’s important to emphatically state two things: terrible things did happen, and they were done by terrible people who should have been stopped, and should have been punished.  Reassignment or a verbal warning should not have been considered sufficient, no matter what the police involved or psychiatrists consulted may have said.  One child suffering is too many.  Secondly, the Bishops who knowingly covered up for priests or shuffled them around from parish to parish failed miserably in their job to shepherd their flock.

With that said, I think this Cosby case reminds us that the media has a way of propping up certain people as good guys, others as bad guys, and we can never be too sure whether that’s reality or not.  I would always caution against growing too infatuated with a particular celebrity, because they have ways of protecting themselves and keeping information out of the public view.  Just as much, don’t assume every celebrity who makes headlines for all the wrong reasons is a total disaster.




Remembering Another Time the Media Predicted the Church Would Change: 1968

Over the last few months, especially with upcoming Synod on the Family this Fall, lots of rumors are swirling about what the Church will or will not say.  Chief among those is a speculation in some circles that the Church must, should, and is bound to adopt a new policy legitimizing communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, cohabitation as a legitimate good, and the hot-button issue of the day, a positive evaluation of homosexual unions of some sort.  Not so long ago, in the 1960s, a similar set of rumors was ruling the press of the day that the Catholic Church would join other Christian groups in recognizing a legitimate use of contraception for married couples.  I think it’s well worth pointing out some of the high points of that era to help navigate through the headlines of today.

In 1963, while Pope St. John XXIII was still alive, he initiated a special commission to study the issue of contraception. The group was called the Commission on Problems of the Family, Population, and Natality  Members of the commission included clergy, people from the medical and psychiatric fields, as well as married couples.  Their work continued even after John XXIII died, and when they had finished their study and completed their final report, it was submitted to Pope Paul VI, in 1966.  This is where the story of Humanae Vitae gets really juicy.

In what is now a classic story, the report of the commission actually recommended that the Church could adopt a policy which allowed for married couples to use contraception.  They argued from a principle of totality, stating that the use of contraception in a marriage in some instances, while leaving the sexual act open to conception in the long term, and with the plan of having children during their marriage, would be morally acceptable.  There are, of course, more points to their report, but this was the critical argument.  As fate would have it, their report, or at least a part of it, was released to the press before Paul VI had issued a response.

George Weigel notes in his biography of John Paul II that while Paul VI was preparing to write Humanae Vitae, he was known to be carrying around a copy of a moral theology book written by a Polish prelate named Wojtyla. The title?  Love and Responsibility, which was a reflection by Wojtyla on sexual morality written after years of regularly meeting with young adults and married couples.  In fact, Wojtyla was supposed to be a part of the final meeting of the commission, bu this government refused to give him permission to leave the country.  Instead, he and some other Polish priests gathered and had their own commission, and wrote their own report, which affirmed the Church’s long-standing teaching on contraception.  Later, Pope St. John Paul II would give a long series of reflections on Humanae Vitae, confirming the teaching and expounding upon it at length.

In the two years between the commission’s final report and the release of the encyclical by Pope Paul VI, rumors started flying, and as the months went on, the assumption by many people was that the Church would open the door to contraception, at least by married couples.  All of this sets the background for the controversy that followed when Paul VI released his final answer to the question.

As I’ve shown in previous posts, the teaching Paul VI gave was nothing new.  It had been the teaching of the Church, was based on Scripture, had been taught in Canon Law, and no single Catholic theologian in the history of the Church had ever expressed an opinion to the contrary.  What set off the real firestorm was the leaking of the commission’s report as well as the speculation that, along with all of the other changes resulting from Vatican II, the contraception question would be just another piece of the puzzle.

A group of theologians from the Catholic University of America kick-started the dissent in America, but statements of questionable orthodoxy were sent out all around the world.  Interestingly, even according to the presentation of some of the lead dissenters (Charles Curran’s group), no group of Bishops explicitly rejected the teaching, much to the chagrin of many who had been hoping for a change.

In the end, as history now is bearing out, Paul VI’s teaching stands as the correct one. From a certain perspective it seems almost miraculous.  He had a commission study the issue, they argue for a change, and everyone in the world was heading down the same path to accepting the morality of contraception.  He had to know the controversy he would face.  And indeed, not too many people follow the teaching today.  But, his predictions about the fallout are starting to really loom large in the discussion of the issue today.  In any case, now, those of you who have read all these posts, you know the rest of the story.