Find Your Humanity! (Beauty and the Beast Style)

TOBI’m sure someone has written about this already, but my cursory internet search came up with nothing, so here’s my two cents: Beauty and the Beast screams Theology of the Body.  I had this revelation while watching the new live action version.

What specifically came to my mind is the fact that St. John Paul II says women teach men how to be human.  This is literally happening in Beauty and the Beast!  Due to the fall, men tend towards beastliness (ok honestly we all do), at least figuratively.  In this classic movie, Prince Charming is literally turned into a beast, so his outer form matches his cold, selfish heart.  Remember, he was never really charming to begin with, so he couldn’t use turning into a beast as an excuse.  However, he became more bitter and resentful.

Enter a beautiful, selfless, young woman.  Here is a person whom the beast can love, can live for.  With her he can, “discover himself through a sincere gift of self”.  And she must let herself be loved as she is, just as she receives him as he is.  She, through her love, helps to redeem and transform him into a man, more of a man than he ever was.

Incidentally, this is all reminding me of the ideas of a newly ordained priest, Fr. Patrick Shultz, of the Cleveland Diocese.  In his Master’s Thesis on the genius of men (it’s about time!), he described the man’s heart as a castle.  A man is pierced, wounded by a woman’s beauty and he let’s her into his heart, to be protected.  The man’s instinct is to live with an outward focus, but when he lets a woman inside she draws him in as well, into the home she creates.

Do you see what I see?? This is also happening in Beauty and the Beast!  The beast is trapped inside this castle, through his own fault.  It became a prison, something to escape from.  But then he lets Belle, aka Beauty, into his castle and eventually into his heart.  His rough exterior is pierced and he is freed to love.  At first he tries to possess Belle, to keep her as a prisoner in his castle, but it is only when he sees her as a gift and lets her go that she can truly be his.

Why do women have this unique role?  The more human we become, the more God-like we become.  Jesus became man so we could see what we’re supposed to look like, for we were made in his image.  Furthermore, God chose to redeem the world through a woman – and continues to do so.  It is women who are the preservers of culture, who embody compassion, kindness and mercy.  It is women who make humanity more human.  Every time a woman gives birth to an immortal soul, it is a redemptive act, and as she tries to bring that child up in a Godly way, then she is bringing that child closer to its destiny of becoming God-like.  She is repairing the image and likeness of God in humanity.

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Just a Mama Bear Protecting Her Children

In case you haven’t noticed, Sassy Victoria has come around for a visit, and I have a feeling she is here to stay.  You know what gets her britches in a bunch more than anything?  Blatant affronts to the Truth.

Recently I posted this article on facebook, prefacing it with “Before you attack the Catholic Church once again for hating on homosexuals, please read up and think about the anthropological, philosophical, and sociological reasons for marriage to remain between one man and one woman.”

Without ample time to do the suggested research, there were of course comments immediately, pointing out why I am a complete idiot for holding my beliefs about marriage.  I told you I would be writing more about this…

Now, when trying to have a reasonable conversation with my peers about this, it turns out, I can’t.  The educational system has epically failed us.  Most of us aren’t able to construct solid, reasonable, moral arguments.  I know that I am lacking in this and try to remedy it through self-education.

You can check out the ensuing comments on facebook(it went on for quite a while) and see that some of the rebuttals were, well, lacking.

So I was muddling through this conversation, attempting to put forth questions and well constructed responses, when someone dared to say “Marriage ≠ Children.”  And with that, Mama bear was unleashed.  She is not okay with the terrible lives children all over the world are being forced to suffer through.

Maybe this is a little extreme, but I couldn't resist...
Maybe this is a little extreme, but I couldn’t resist…

When did we become so selfish?  When did we start thinking that marriage is about making us feel good and exists for the fulfillment of our pleasure?  And when, oh when, did we separate marriage and reproduction?

No one thinks it’s a good thing that there are thousands of single mothers struggling to get by because their husbands, boyfriends, etc abdicated their roles as fathers.  It is hard to argue against the fact that the ideal is for a child to grow up with his or her biological mother and father, who are in a committed, stable, loving relationship.  Marriage is that commitment which builds the foundation for a nurturing home.

inconceivable-content-marriage

I mentioned before that marriage is meant to be a conjugal union – the two become one flesh.  We have degraded it to a merely emotional union in which physical consummation is not necessary.  Marriage is meant to be a contract in which blood is spilled.  Wait, we’re downplaying the physical components of marriage?  That sounds like….noooooo!!!!  Gnosticism has struck again! And now we find ourselves in a sticky situation.  Husband and Wife must be united body and soul, so much so that their unity is fruitful and produces little people.  Two people of the same sex cannot reach this level of unity.

To compound this problem, we have forgotten how to make gifts of our selves.  Spouses are “protected” from one another by birth control and destroy the very fruit of their intimate union through abortion.  We no longer value our children, and this is a serious problem.

So if marriage has nothing to do with children, and it also is not contingent on the gender of the partners, what, I dare to ask, is marriage?  And my friendly debating partner asked “why does it matter?”  Because the family is the foundation of our society and the wellbeing of children is involved, it matters a great deal.  She then posted a dictionary definition that shows how incredibly much it matters.

mar·riage noun \ˈmer-ij, ˈma-rij\
a (1) : the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law (2) : the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage
b : the mutual relation of married persons : wedlock
c : the institution whereby individuals are joined in a marriage

I keep talking about the danger of redefining marriage, well it has been done.  Gay marriage can never be the same as a traditional marriage – it is not the same level of unity.  To top it off, I can’t say stuff like that without getting my head chopped off, because it is taken personally.  To even think of marriage as something other than the conjugal union between a man and woman that produces offspring is a brand new concept.  Some claim that this is the way of progress, of throwing off archaic ideas to make way for the modern.  And yet those who claim science as their god seem to think there are provable, objective truths…

As the article linked above states, redefining marriage means that people can make it whatever they want – a classic example of the relativism which is running rampant these days.  Some people hope that marriage will altogether cease to exist.  And like a broken record, I once again ask: what about the precious, innocent children who suffer the most from our unrelenting pursuit of pleasure?

Here is a great video of Fr. Barron speaking on the breakdown of the moral argument, specifically in relation to gay marriage.

Bungee Jumping FTW!

I am a fan of the abbreviation FTW, (For The Win) especially in conjunction with Holy Spirit, FTW.  However, my dear MaryElizabeth friend (God bless her), is a little, well, dense sometimes.  One day she poked her head out from under her rock (which is bigger than mine, but most certainly more Holy!)  and asked what FTW means.  She shared  her hypothesis with me- Fill the Womb(she is slightly preoccupied with the thought of having children one day).  We decided that this is actually awesome and promptly adopted it into our every day conversation(which tends to be quite ridiculous to begin with).

We often speak of being filled – by the Holy Spirit, the Love of God, etc.  But, in order for something to be filled it must first be empty.  What do we need to be emptied of? Sin.  Once we are emptied, we are in a perfect posture of receptivity.

The absolute, no holds barred, #1 example of receptivity is Mama Mary.  Why was she able to be completely receptive to God?  She was without sin.  She was completely empty and she had to be, for she was filled with God Himself.

Receptivity is a paradox, as all the best things are.  It is not the same as being passive.  It is active acceptance of God’s will, of a gift.  However, it is important that we do not initiate.

StStan
It is easy to get lost in the Mystery in a church like this!

How do we actively accept something without initiating?  Let’s just go right to the source and summit of our faith, the Eucharist, to answer this question.  This afternoon my dear friend and I went to a Solemn Latin Mass.  Although I’ve been to a Latin Mass before, it is still hard to follow along.  With Mass in general, and especially with the Latin Rite it may seem as though the congregation is not “doing” much.  We don’t say most of the responses, the Mass parts are sung by the choir, and the Priest whispers much of the consecration.  It is shrouded in mystery – as the Mass should be.  I enjoy attending the Latin Mass because it reminds me of the incredible mystery that is taking place.  At Mass today I began by following along in the booklet but eventually gave up and allowed myself to be swept up by the beauty of what was taking place.  It didn’t seem that I was actively doing anything, but simply being fully present in mind, body, heart, and soul, was all that was asked of me.  I was empty, so that God could fill me.

This is why it is so important to confess grave sins before receiving communion – we have to be emptied of all that is separating us from God.  The Sacrament of Communion is meant to be a sign of our union with God – if that union is not possible then the grace of the sacrament is is not effective.

We are given the Eucharist – we do not take it ourselves.  This does require action on our part though – we have to decide to accept the gift by opening our mouths or putting out our hands.  Gifts are useless unless we do something with them.  Imagine if someone gave you a gift and you never opened it!

So back to that little phrase – Fill the Womb.  All unions are meant to be fruitful.  Our union with God should be spiritually fruitful.  Therefore in the Eucharist Christ enters us, fills us, and in a way impregnates us with His Presence.  With the help of Mary, we are sent forth into the world to “birth” Christ.  This is why it is important to receive the Eucharist at least once a week – to be filled again.  Our lives should be a constant cycle of emptying and filling.

This past week at my local Theology on Tap the topic was Bungee Jumping: Closer in, Further out( and no, we did not learn how to bungee jump).   The speaker used bungee jumping as an analogy for always coming back to the Eucharist for nourishment and then going out into the world to evangelize.

Today, ask Mary to teach you how to bungee jump – aka how to be receptive.  Let God empty you of all that is holding you back, and fill the womb(FTW!) of your soul.

 

Let’s Not-Stick With Dualism

In the post “Man is a unity” I discussed our bad habit of attempting to separate the material and spiritual.  Why is it so important we see ourselves as whole persons?  God always, always works towards union.  Therefore anything resulting in disharmony, discord and disunion is turning us away from Him.  Everything is from God and he is continually drawing everything towards Himself.  We feel divided because we have two opposing desires within us – the desire to do good has been damaged and because of concupiscence, we tend towards sin.

This feeling of being divided often leads to a dualistic view of the world.  One of these dualistic world views is Gnosticism, a heresy which has stubbornly stuck around and continues to poison our thinking.  I feel like I should go get an accelerated degree in philosophy before I attempt to write this, but I’ll give it a shot.

Like most religions, Gnosticism attempts to answer the fundamental question: “why do we suffer?”  Gnostics believe that the material world was created by a flawed “false god” and therefore reflects his flawed and imperfect nature.  There is also a “True God” and sometimes they are referred to as half-gods.  So they are opposing halves – not a whole.  Since the material world was created by this false god – demiurge, it is seen as a prison which must be transcended by the spirit.  This transcendence happens through the gaining of secret knowledge – gnosis.

Hmm this non-stick claim seems to be a lie...
Hmm this non-stick claim seems to be a lie…

From gnosis.org:

Human nature mirrors the duality found in the world: in part it was made by the false creator God and in part it consists of the light of the True God. Humankind contains a perishable physical and psychic component, as well as a spiritual component which is a fragment of the divine essence. This latter part is often symbolically referred to as the “divine spark”. The recognition of this dual nature of the world and of the human being has earned the Gnostic tradition the epithet of “dualist”.

The rejection of matter of course has implications for understanding Jesus’s death and resurrection.  Gnostics still believe in Jesus as a savior, but offering a different kind of salvation:  “It is not by His suffering and death but by His life of teaching and His establishing of mysteries that Christ has performed His work of salvation.”

If the flesh is merely a prison created by a false god, why would God ever come in the form of man?  In Against Heresies, which specifically addresses Gnosticism, St. Irenaeus argues that, “”For that which He [i.e. Christ] has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved. If only half Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole.”  Here is a great article which explains Irenaeus as the foundation of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

All heresy is simply a twisting and misunderstanding of the Truth.  For example, gnostics believe that most of us live in ignorance of the divine essence which dwells within us and that “This ignorance is fostered in human nature by the influence of the false creator and his Archons, who together are intent upon keeping men and women ignorant of their true nature and destiny.”  My gut reactions was: that’s true!  Except it’s the devil that keeps us ignorant of our true selves and our potential for greatness.

Pope Francis embraces Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople at Vatican
Pope Francis embraces Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople at Vatican

Speaking of unity, our new Holy Father has continued to make active strides towards reunification with the Eastern Orthodox Church.  I recently started reading John Paul II’s “Orientale Lumen” and Eastern Catholics totally have a better understanding of this unity of man than we do.

From “Orientale Lumen”:

Christianity does not reject matter…the human body is disclosed in its inner nature as a temple of the Spirit and is united with the Lord Jesus, who himself took a body for the world’s salvation. This does not mean, however, an absolute exaltation of all that is physical, for we know well the chaos which sin introduced into the harmony of the human being. The liturgy reveals that the body, through the mystery of the Cross, is in the process of transfiguration, pneumatization: on Mount Tabor Christ showed his body radiant, as the Father wants it to be again.

Cosmic reality also is summoned to give thanks because the whole universe is called to recapitulation in Christ the Lord. This concept expresses a balanced and marvelous teaching on the dignity, respect and purpose of creation and of the human body in particular. With the rejection of all dualism and every cult of pleasure as an end in itself, the body becomes a place made luminous by grace and thus fully human.

To those who seek a truly meaningful relationship with themselves and with the cosmos, so often disfigured by selfishness and greed, the liturgy reveals the way to the harmony of the new man, and invites him to respect the Eucharistic potential of the created world. That world is destined to be assumed in the Eucharist of the Lord, in his Passover, present in the sacrifice of the altar.

 

“Man is a unity”: Part 1 of ????

Why is it that nervousness sends our stomachs into queasiness?  Why is it that heartbreak often feels quite literal?

My best friend over at CrossfitCatholithic and I, who are in the habit of discussing deep theological matters (interspersed with giggling of course), have recently been wrestling with the relationship between body and soul.  She wrote a wonderful blog post about her thoughts on the matter.  As the proverbial student, I’ve spent the last few days doing some more research on this subject – excuse me while I go write a dissertation.

The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual”(CCC 362).

In Sacred Scripture the term “soul” often refers to human life or the entire human person.But “soul” also refers to the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him, that by which he is most especially in God’s image: “soul” signifies the spiritual principle in man”(CCC 363).

The human body shares in the dignity of “the image of God”: it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit:”(364).

Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.

The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the “form” of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature”(365).

worksofmercyWe cannot have the corporal works of mercy without the spiritual and vice versa.  Everything we do is with our whole being – body and soul.  Why do you think we pray on our knees?

Our example of perfect unity is the trinity.  Although perfectly united as equal persons, the trinity still has a head, a leader – God the Father.  Likewise, although the body and soul are truly one, the body must be led by the soul.  The soul is what sets man apart from animals – what makes him a spiritual being, capable of understanding and loving his creator.

Since the fall of man, all things came to be disordered and disunited – the union of body and soul has not escaped that.  “My soul is willing, but my flesh is so weak.” – Matthew 26:41

“Flesh” means bodily desires, not the body itself.  The Greek word used for this is “sarx,” which is generally read with a negative connotation.  The word for body, “soma,” is used in such places as “this is my body given up for you.”

The flesh was corrupted by sin during the fall of man.  Then God did something wonderful – he took on flesh, and by doing so redeemed it.  He continues to come to us as Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, to remind us of this reality.

Defying Labels in Favor of Our True Selves

Being a writer, I pay attention to words a lot and I think how we say things is important.  One area I’ve especially been sensitive to is that of labeling ourselves and talking about who we are.  A few years ago my Dad pointed out that we are human beings, not human doings.  This has always seemed an important distinction to me and is a lesson that has been repeated by many wise people: who we are is more important than what we do.

A very strange phenomenon has taken over our present age: we are defined by what we do or uncontrollable conditions, rather than who we are.  As far as I can tell, this problem is perpetuated by the inadequacies of the English language.

This was brought to my attention when we talked about person first language in one of my social work classes.  We tend to label people, such as, he is handicapped, she is blind, etc.  My teacher pointed out that it is much more respectful to say something like, a person with a disability.  You might roll your eyes and chalk this up to political correctness, but stay with me for a little longer.  Really think about what I’m saying.  We say someone is handicapped, we are saying that handicap is what defines that person.  We are people, first, with equal natural dignity based solely on that fact.  So in this case, the problem is that people are defined by an uncontrollable condition.  I’d like to connect this with how we think of people with homosexual tendencies (see what I did there?)

We are in the habit of saying he/she is gay.  Speaking this way defines a person completely based on which gender he/she is sexually attracted to.  As soon as we label people as “gay” we make all kinds of assumptions about them.  It works the opposite way too – we label people with certain characteristics as “gay.”  This seems like a major problem to me and undermines the human dignity inherent in all people.  C’mon people, aren’t we hip youngsters supposed to defy labels?? (Secretly we can’t survive without them).

Another area that I think this problem comes into play is the discussion of men’s and women’s roles.  When people advocate for equality between the sexes, they often discuss the fact that women should be able to do the same things as men.  They don’t realize that the problem is deeper than this and the solution lies at the root of who we are.  We need to ensure that the human dignity and freedom of all people is equally respected.  As I have discussed before, true freedom is found in being who you are, not in the things you do.  Although people don’t want to hear it, we really need to be discussing how to help men and women be true to their natures, not what each sex should or should not be doing.

I’m continually trying to recenter my focus on who I am, not what I do.  For example, I’ll ask God who he wants me to become, not what he wants me to do.  And in everything I do, I discern how it is helping me become the person God is calling me to be.

When God is asked who he is his answer is simply “I AM.”  In tomorrow’s gospel reading from John, the crowd asks Jesus to perform a miracle; instead he tells them who he is: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Love Stories Suck – We Demand the Real Thing

One of the greatest things about college was the supportive Catholic community.  Since graduating and returning home I’ve been thirsting to have that kind of community again.  In his perfect timing he has more than answered my prayers, by sending some great people my way.  I recently met one of my fellow Chi Rho volunteers and future housemate, through whom I am now becoming connected to the young adult community in my area.

On Tuesday we went to an event in SoHo run by the Archdiocese of New York, which is part of a discussion series on love and responsiblity using the book Men, Women and the Mystery of Love: Practical Insights from John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility by Edward Sri.  You can read about the series here and check out the facebook page for more details.

In a world thirsting for authentic love these discussions provide insight into what that looks like.

When we arrived in the courtyard where the discussion was being held, we noticed that someone had graffitied “love stories suck” on a door which the audience was facing.  The irony was lost on no one.  My reaction was to be sad at the loss of faith in true love, but my friend pointed out that there was some truth to that statement.  The “love stories” that person was probably referring to – the ones fed to us by Hollywood and the music industry – do suck.   Movies, music and the real life failed relationships of celebrities give us unrealistic versions of what love and romance should be.

We were reminded of the recently popular song “Payphone” by Maroon 5, which includes lines like:  “All those fairy tales are full of it.  One more stupid love song, I’ll be sick.”

I can’t help but wonder if this sort of attitude might actually lead to something good.  People are starting realizing that what we are doing isn’t working and what the media is telling us should make us happy, isn’t.  Maybe this realization will lead some to look for a better way.  Our vision of what a loving relationship looks like has to come from God and must be a reflection of the self-giving love of the trinity.  Generally we are told to look after our own pleasure, but true love is continually concerned with the good of the beloved.  Our relationships must be grounded in Love Himself.

So Maroon 5 is right, those fairy tales are full of it, but there’s hope!  Happy ever after does exist, we just need to look to God to show us what that looks like, not Disney.

Here’s a great video expanding on these ideas.  Normally I’m wary about Jefferson Bethke’s ideas, but this one is spot on: