Thursday, July 29, 2010

Part 1 (ran on CE August 2) Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand and Christopher West

I met Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand in 2003 at a fundraiser for a crisis pregnancy center.  At that time I was frequenting the Latin Masses of "Institute of Christ the King", a conservative but approved group of priests that offer the latin mass in the Green Bay Diocese and other Diocese's around the country. I met a couple of women there that were running a crisis pregnancy center that was experiencing some financial hardships. I expressed to these women that I had experience in fund raising and would love to help them.  One of the first things I helped them with was to schedule Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand.  I had a met a mutual friend of hers and thought that because of that friendship I might be able to secure her for their event.  We were all delighted when that proved to be true.
Because of my involvement in organizing this event, I was able to spend a couple of days with Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand and speak to her about a number of things, including my own talks.  I specifically asked her about the word "sex" since at that time I had been attacked by numerous individuals for simply using the word even though I in no way described or discussed sexual activity.  Not only was she more than happy to give me advice and encourage me, her answer to me was quite beautiful. 
She told me that simply using the word "marital embrace" or "marital union" instead of the word sex,  conveys an elevated message to my audience.  She went on to point out that using words such as marital embrace, gives the listener a vision of what this act was meant for without having to give an entire explanation.  She pointed out to me that simply using words that are infused with truth and beauty conveys to the listener a much deeper message. 
I then asked her what was wrong with the word sex.  She said that nothing was wrong with it but rather our culture had taken over this word and that to use words that mean something completely different to them would bring them to a lower message.  "Your goal should be to elevate the message and challenge others to raise themselves to it" she told me.
From that moment on I removed the word sex from all my talks.  She was right, it even felt more beautiful flowing from my lips..."marital embrace".  She has spent her life writing and speaking on Theology and Philosophy and so her grasp of language is much more eloquent than mine will ever be. 

The reason I share that I actually knew and know Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand or “Lily” as she invited me to call her (a nickname from her sister) is to share that I understand where she is coming from. However, I understand where Mr. West is coming from as well. I have also experienced judgment from a group that was so puritanical, that they had decided that because I used the word “sex” in my chastity talks while speaking with Catholic Answers, that I was a “sex educator” even though I clearly was not and never have been. Just the word “sex” scandalized them. In one attack which came in print form, the person's proof that I was a sex educator was to say that “she used the word sex 8 times!”
Although I enjoyed my time going to the Latin mass for it's reverence and tradition, I found that my experience with most of the people there was not enjoyable Mostly this was because of the puritanical views that many of their members extolled. For example I was told by a priest that I was not allowed to wear pants because I was an attractive woman and to do so would lead men to sin (no they were not tight pants). I had many of the women comment that I should not work outside the home and that I should not wear make-up or even jewelry as it adorns the body. This reminds me of Caryll Houselanders book “The Reed of God” in which she says in her chapter “The word made flesh” that some have such a fear of the body that they even reject beautiful things in churches. This is all a part of the Manichean heresy and it is alive and well among conservative groups. I do agree there should be modesty in dress however, there is disordered thinking when people believe that men are only capable of lust when they look at a woman. Yes, pornography is rampant in our culture, however the knee jerk reaction of many conservative Catholics has been to run the other direction and so it seems the two extremes do in fact exist.

What we need is to be brought to the middle and this is what I believe Mr. West has at least attempted to do and quite courageously I must say. So, there is a danger in extreme thinking so I am writing this commentary in defense of Mr. West, but also in defense of Dr. Von Hildebrand and if I am persecuted again because I speak the truth, so be it.

 I will begin by stating the obvious, Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand's grasp of Theology as well as the language we use to articulate thought is complex, mature and beyond that of the average lay person. Why? Because her level of education is greater than most ever can dream for. She studied at the foot of Dietrich Von Hildebrand, her life experiences have been teaching philosophy and entering into dialogue with some of the greatest minds of her time. So for her, the truth is carved out in stone with words and intellect that is the most precise and therefore far superior to that of someone with half of her education and life experience.
In a sense, it is superior, especially when discerning the words as a vehicle to express something succinctly, however, not everyone possesses the same vocabulary and so what to her is superior becomes a foreign language to others. The feeling that there is a superior language and that anyone who attempts to reiterate these truths using a “less perfect” language, then becomes a scandal in the eyes of a scholar.
It would be a tragedy to expect the message of Theology of The Body to remain in the sphere of intellectuals instead of working on finding a language that can be received by the average person. To expect the average person to consume the words of Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand, is like expecting a baby to find nourishment by sucking the juice off of a steak. Her language is just to rich for many to understand or relate to.
Mr. West attempts to find a language that communicates Theology of The Body to a world whose staple diet is Lady Gaga, Jersey Shore, Hooters and the like. His audiences are not the upper elite of the intellectual world, despite the fact that he is in my opinion a scholar in this area and could most likely articulate the truths in TOB with the utmost of eloquence.
There needs to be a diologue between the TOB scholars so that together they can use their gifts and develop a language that can be received by the average lay person living out his life in the world.
If this can be done, we could then feed this steak(TOB), this banquet of truth to the world as a mother would her own child. When a mother wishes to share food with her baby, she first receives it herself, then she lovingly attempts to put the baby to breast so that the steak in all it's original glory can be received by the infant in a way that it's maturity can understand and grow from.
The goal of anyone teaching TOB should be that one day those that they teach would grow enough to consume the words of Pope John Paul II themselves and not just another person's interpretation of it.
Perhaps Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand uses an antiquated language. This may be why she finds the words of the average layperson to be vulgar or crude. In a sense she is right, there is a more noble and beautiful language that can and should be used when possible, however, if the reality is that most persons do not read or understand the language she feels is best suited to communicate TOB then the results would be that no matter how eloquent a person's language, it will fall on deaf ears, it will be throwing pearls of wisdom to swine. (End Part 1 Next part could be Part 2)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Healing The Whole Person

Perhaps one of the main reasons for an increase in depression, over-exhaustion and feelings of inadequacy or loneliness comes from the fact that we do not accept ourselves as we are. Perhaps we are unable to embrace our greatness (being made in the image and likeness of God and with a purpose) because we are broken and need inner healing. We place so many demands on ourselves and others that we end up complicating our lives rather than simplifying it. Why do we do this? Because we do not feel good enough or worthy to be loved as we are so, we delude ourselves and others, wasting so much of the energy we have, on a facade. We do this because we are wounded.
Because many of us have been wounded, we can fail to see the beauty in who we are and try to become what we think others will accept us as or what we “should” be so that others will not reject us (rejection wounds). In other words, we “should” all over ourselves. This depletes a tremendous amount of energy. Energy that could otherwise be spent fulfilling our purpose. Sometimes we just stuff down our pain, pushing it deeper and deeper in a jar and turn the lid on extra tight so it stays there. We then forget about it but, the effects are still there.
Then there are some people, who know who they are and embrace it. They embrace their weaknesses and limitations which becomes a new strength by simplifying their lives and allowing them to grow in humility. These people radiate energy and when you are in their presence you feel it like rays of sunshine on your face on a a clear summer day. Have you ever met someone like this? When they look at you, you fee as if they are really seeing you and it is without any judgment, prejudice or fear. This is what it feels like being in the presence of Dr. Bob Schuchts who presented Sexual Healing and Redemption at the Theology of The Body.
I certainly know what it is like to be deeply wounded. I realize now that I have consistently sabotaged my own happiness and relationships because of them. Something I am determined to heal.
Many of us are afraid to face those things within ourselves, maybe because when we have done so on our own or with a counselor, it just seemed to create more pain without any healing. However, when we make our healing Christ centered, true healing begins.
Over the past year I have been growing in courage. I attribute a course taught at The Theology of The Body Institute last summer called “Sexual Healing and Redemption”. More specifically, I believe it was the teachings of Dr. Bob Schuchts, who teaches a concept of Inner Healing. The premise is that the “whole” person must be healed. That we may see repetitive sins in our lives but unless we deal with the root of the wound, we can not find true healing. Are you angry? The root of anger is in control. Why do we want to control (this may be passive or aggressive control)? Because rooted in the control is abandonment wounds.
I learned that the 7 deadly sins are often “rooted” in a wound. When we make promises to ourselves, like “I can not count on anyone but myself” (pride), we bind ourselves up with that promise to a particular sin. It is a proclamation binding us in our own free will. Unless we bring Christ to that place and submit it to Him (God will not interfere with our free will) we may not experience freedom. When we bring Christ into that wound and submit our will to Him, He can then heal the abandonment wound. Only then can we begin to experience freedom from the anger that seems to consume us. Dr. Bob is all about the roots (I am seeing a commercial for hair dye called Inner Healing with Dr. Bob's holding a box saying “It's all about the roots!).
Many of us are suffering with the effects of an abusive childhood or our own destructive decisions. We can function somewhat normally through prayer, participation in the sacraments or even by seeking out counseling however, unless inner healing takes place, then we are only functioning better for a period of time. Dr. Bob Schuchts explained very beautifully, using the concepts of Theology of The Body to explain how to do this through this contemplative prayer like therapy that focuses on Jesus entering into the counseling and illuminating what hurts need to be healed. Then Christ Himself is asked to provide the healing as an experienced therapist guides you through it. An example of how successful this kind of therapy is can be demonstrated by considering AA and it's 12 step program. It was based on the St. Ignatius contemplative prayer style. Until God is allowed into our wounds, we do not find healing.
This also reminds me of the book “Unbound”by Neal Lozano, in which the focus is prayer and asking Jesus to reveal the source of our sin. We ask to know the place where we may have opened the door to the enemy. We give the enemy a foot hold when we say things like “I can not trust anyone!” or “Things will never change” with our own words we end up cursing ourselves and we are bound.
Dr. Bob Schuchts and his Inner Healing concepts have brought me a tool box by which Jesus and I have begun to heal my soul and my spirit (something he explains have separate functions) and through this healing I am more able to live through this body and physically bring Christ to others. Inner Healing is giving me the ability to Embrace my Own Greatness. By this I mean that God has given us all gifts and charisms to accomplish His will in and through us. With inner healing, I am more capable of doing this.
God often uses the simplest of ingredients, water, oil and wheat etc. He can work with us in our own brokenness however, He desires for us to be whole. If you are suffering and need Inner Healing then I would suggest you check out the Theology of The Body Healing Center. I can not tell enough people how amazing this healing is. When we become more whole then we are more capable of bringing Christ to others. Listen for yourself at and click on Dr. Bob Schuchts talk “Healing the Whole Person”. Dr. Bob Schuchts will be at the Theology of The Body Congress this summer.

Jersey Shore

During a recent trip of mine I was discussing the show “Jersey Shore” on MTV with a fellow traveler. For those of you who are not familiar with “Jersey Shore, it is a reality series on MTV featuring several young men and women in their early twenties living together in a house on the shores of New Jersey.
The point of the show? Well, on their website it is advertised as a reality series following the lives of 8 young people living together during the summer. The program allows us to view these young people experience a right of passage as they indulge in everything the summer and the night life of Jersey Shore has to offer including parties, friendship and love (This is the websites explanation not mine). The personalities on the show profess that their lives on Jersey Shore are about drinking, tanning, hair gel, hook-ups, working on their bodies and of course hopefully finding friendships even if that “friendship” only lasts one night.
All around me it seems that there is a “Jersey Shore” phenomenon. After visiting my daughter at college, I viewed signs advertising “Jersey Shore” parties where guys and girls can come as their favorite characters and live out the reality series. This series is so popular amongst young people that the season finale ratings were a 4.8 which is the highest rating that any cable network show outside of a sports event has ever been received..
So there I was, sitting in a Detroit Airport and next to me a fellow traveler, who was at least 10 years my junior. I seized the opportunity to pick his brain.
“So why do you watch Jersey Shore? I really want to know. Don't just give me the answer you think I want to hear, be honest, I want to understand.” I said hoping he would see that I was being genuine.
“I don't know, I guess I like the drama” he replied looking down embarrassed.
Although I did not watch the season, I became familiar with it's existence when Snooki, one of the girls on the show, was punched in the face by a man (closed fist) and it made national news. They replayed the man punching her over and over in slow motion. The video clip made me sick to my stomach and I dismissed the show as something that surely would be canceled. I was wrong. In fact, as of the end of January, the cast has held out for more money per episode and signed a new contract to continue the series with them making over six figures for their second season.
“Don't you think that the show glamorizes people sleeping around? I just feel like they are just ripping a precious part of themselves out and giving it away”. As I finished this sentence (and yes, I often speak to strangers in this manner) I looked up to see his response. What I saw was shock. I don't think he heard anyone speak like this before.
“I don't think sleeping with a lot of people affect a person's ability to love, it's just sex. “ He stated emphatically.
I could tell by his face he believed what he was saying to me.
“It is an intrinsic truth that all person are called to love and be loved. It is the truth that reveals our very purpose for being alive. The people on this show are really desperate for love not sex.” I told my new friend.
“There is no such thing as an intrinsic truth!” the man asserted to me as we walked down the ramp towards the airplane.
I shifted my bags and got behind him as we boarded the plane.
“Are you sure?” I asked with a half smile, trying desperately not to get too excited that he was setting himself up to be proven wrong.
“Yes, I am.” the man said again seemingly confident in his answer but still was watching my face to assess my answer. That is when I knew I had him.
“How can you say emphatically that there are no intrinsic truths? If you were right, then the statement there are no intrinsic truths, then becomes an intrinsic truth doesn't it?” I asked innocently.
The look on his face was priceless.
While programs like Jersey Shore fill the airwaves with their message that life is about using people and using things (The Situation should be renamed to The Objectification) people are still starving to death for purpose, for meaning, for love. In a world that can rationalize just about anything, it is my assertion that there are certain truths that exist in the universe that cannot be thwarted by any philosophical discussion or intellectual argumentation or television programs spouting the contrary.
One such truth is that all human beings share in the great need to be loved and to love something outside of themselves. This love is mysteriously intertwined within friendship and when we fall in love it is transformed into a love like that spoken of in the Song of Songs when the lover refers to his bride as his sister bride. Not an easy concept for some and I would guess any person on Jersey Shore would be dumbfounded by the concept of loving any women they encountered like a sister.
Love is a requirement for everybody and if you have a body then you too require love to fulfill your purpose. Like plants need sunshine, we need love to grow. This truth can be most easily seen when looking upon the faces of children. When love or touch (which is a conduit of love) is deprived from children, it's profound affects can be witnessed by resulting children with severe emotional, psychological and even physical disorders.
With so many desperate for love is it any wonder why the young people on this show are willing to give themselves away, willing to accept any touch, even if it makes them an object ? As the cast of Jersey Shore pass themselves around like pieces of meat I am reminded of the Conehead's from Saturday Night live and their mantra of “We must consume mass quantities”.
We long for good and holy relationships. By good, I mean the kind that love you in your weakest moments. They love you when you are unlovable. But this kind of love requires us to push past our emotions. It requires an act of the will. It also requires selflessness.
Jersey Shore does anything but glamorize sacrifice or suffering. Instead, it creates the facade that what these people are doing is worthwhile. After all if it were not, no one would be filming it right? The fact that MTV films the cast in all kinds of lewd acts (in fact many of the men on the show declare their goal to be sleeping with as many girls as they can) simply shows us that they have no qualms perpetuating the message that more is better and nothing lasts.
We see this attitude reflected in the divorce rate in the United States. It seems there is an inability to remain steadfast during difficult times. Instead, some seek out the good feelings of friendships that will bring excitement and fun. Once the friendship is tested or would require something more, the relationship is abandoned. Even I have been abandoned by persons who claimed to be my friends upon the first real test.
I had a science teacher in High School that called his tests opportunities. They were opportunities to change your grade for better or for worse. I always loved that word for them. Tests on friendships should be seen as opportunities to make the relationship better. If we do not see the opportunity when our friendships require sacrifice or suffering then our reaction may be; “I don't need this! I have no time for that!” Every encounter we have with another person will bring them closer or farther away from God. But when we abandon God, then it seems we have not only lost our purpose but our ability to be happy for if God is love and we all require love then without him, we loose our own purpose.
Our friendships should be dedicated to helping one another get to heaven. This kind of friendship strives to fortify one another through our adversities. An example of this would be my husband and I. I consider my husband to be my best friend in the whole world. If I had abandoned him when things were difficult, then I never would have seen our relationship grow to become such a beautiful thing on the other side. I am sure he would say the same about me. Sometimes it was him merely loving me when I knew I was unworthy of it that made me love him more. These kinds of actions convert hearts. People are more easily converted by observing the actions of others rather than by their words or intellect. This was so true for us.
The intrinsic truth is that we all share in one common purpose and desire: to be loved and love without limitations. So what do we need to know so that we can love and be loved better? We should know that love requires sacrifice. This reminds me of the line in Princess Bride, “Life IS pain Highness, if someone tells you more, they are selling you something”. Ahh, so true.
Our love and even our friendships require us to give a free gift of total self. We should not expect anything in exchange for it. We do however, return that gift with faithfulness. Our love can then swell up and becomes so magnificent it takes on a life of it's own and thus can bear fruit. This concept is talked about in Theology of The body.
During this Lenten season we meditate on how the love of the Father was so great that He, the giver, gave himself to us by giving his son to die for our sins. His Son, received this love and then returned the love to the father for us by his yes to God. In this reciprocated love, which required much sacrifice and yes, pain, the love between the father and the son became so great that it became like a fire that burned between them. The fruit of their love is the Holy Spirit. So it seems that perfect love is a triangle, not a heart. Let us try and love our friends more perfectly this Lenten season for we are all called to love and this truth is written on the human heart and stamped into our very bodies.