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)