Friday, May 30, 2014

How to Handle Concupiscence according to the Real Theology of the Body

CONCUPISCENCE - Fallen man's proclivity to sin, especially in matters of sex.

  • How Christopher West and his followers say we should handle concupiscence. Engage it, especially by confronting and indulging near occasions of sin (or what weaker minds would call near occasions of sin).  If you see a naked person who is not your spouse, stare at him or her.  (In Fr. Loya's memorable admonition, "Look at her butt!  Look at her breasts!")  If you're afraid that in doing so, your lust will be stirred, that's only because you're a coward.  The only way through the purgative way to the illuminative way - the only way from beginner's spirituality to advanced spirituality - is to see naked bodies, to stare at them, and to transform your lust into love.  This sounds sordid, but it's highly advanced and spiritual.  

  • How St. John Paul II says we should handle concupiscence.  If we indulge concupiscence, we end up sinning, turning the prophetic language of the body into a lie: for the Theology of the Body is expressed by fidelity to your spouse if you're married and by continence if you're not, which fidelity to our vocations is both a sign of the original innocence of man and woman at creation and also of Christ's fideltiy to the Church, His bride, made perfect at the consummation of time.  This is the "language of the body".  If you're married, your job is to "reread in truth the language of the body" by means of a lifelong exclusive truthfulness to your husband or wife (both in the actions of your body and in your heart) and concupiscence is always and everywhere an enemy to that.  Concupiscence does not lead to God, it leads to a lie, it leads away from God and the truth God intends for our bodies to express.  And while we are not totally depraved victims of concupiscence, we are also never fully free of it.  Nowhere in the Wednesday Audiences does John Paul II envision concupiscence giving way entirely to "mature purity" in this life,  for, until we die, we are in a state where we are at the same time both fallen and redeemed (simul lapsus et redemptus).  Therefore, man is not called to indulge concupiscence, Man is Called to Overcome Concupiscence by controlling it.

Which of these courses of action sounds more Catholic to you?  West's or John Paul's?

The answer is obvious, for it is, of course, either disingenuous or naive (or simply sick) to pretend that indulging concupiscence can be a spiritually positive act.

Maybe this sort of spiritualizing of sex appeals to frustrated virgins at Catholic Youth Conferences.  Maybe it appeals to guys who want to dabble in porn while telling themselves it's a kind of spiritual homework.  Maybe it appeals to middle aged housewives who think Christopher West is cute.  

But it doesn't appeal to me.

I don't know about you, but I know intimately and deeply the harm that concupiscence can do, the damage that infidelity can cause, the tribute that slavery to lust can exact.  And so I don't have patience for the misreading of the Real Theology of the Body that West and his heterodox cohorts are peddling.  

Guys in particular, you know how easy it is day to day to be untrue to your wife, to lust in your heart or to stray in your imagination, to think the grass is greener in your neighbor's yard and to fancy a little grazing outside your own fence would do you good.  But we know what happens if we give in to those temptations, even in our hearts.  We know the pain and death it deals.  In fact, you may be tempted to despair, to think that the Old Man within you that keeps stirring up your discontent will never be put in his place.  But the good news is this - as expressed by St. John Paul II.

Nevertheless in the sphere of the ethos of redemption the possibility always remains of passing from error to the truth, as also the possibility of returning, that is, of conversion, from sin to chastity, as an expression of a life according to the Spirit (cf. Gal 5:16).

In other words, we don't have to live like this.  We don't have to lust after women who are not our wives, men who are not our husbands.  We don't even have to long for emotional infidelity, for affairs of the heart.  We don't have to tell ourselves that our stupid little sins are somehow special and are leading us to "the illuminative way".  Every day, every moment, the chance of conversion presents itself to us.  The grace is always there.

For another saint long before John Paul once spoke great words of truth ...

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, [i.e., He expresses the "fidelity" we all are called to] and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Cor. 10:13) 

 Our sins are not special.  They are not means of reaching God.  They are not ways to make us more spiritual than our fellow Christians.  They are common to man, and they can be overcome, through fidelity, so that our bodies and our souls can speak the language of truth.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Another Aphorism

Crazy people are interesting but dangerous.

An Aphorism

There’s a difference between sinners repenting and sinners resisting, between sinners digging out and sinners digging in.

Lessons from Tolkien: Win by Destroying the Ring

The most fascinating thing about J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is his insight into the psychology of sin.

The Ring is sin and while it corrupts and dehumanizes the one who holds it, he nevertheless holds it tighter and tighter.  Frodo's reluctance to sacrifice the ring at the climax of the adventure is one of the most stunning moments in all of literature.

Our sins indeed become our "precious".  The devil leads us into infinite corridors of narrowness and darkness as we attempt to rationalize not only our sin but also the slow death and diminution our sin is dealing us.

The solution?  Throw the Ring into the fire.

You can't deal with sin on its own terms; you can't escape from a trap once you've bought into the way-of-being that makes up the trap.  The way of sin is to attack the very nature of our existence.  This is how we know spiritual realities exist: we see them and feel them in action.  We are bound by the shackles of sin because we become like the shackles.  We are not simply tied up, our strength is sapped and we start to love the ropes.  That's why the Ring works so well as a symbol - it is something other-than-human that uses our own humanity to drain us of our humanity.  It diverts the best thing in us - our love and loyalty - and turns it into the worst thing imaginable: a self-consuming devotion to death and a greedy desire for more of the poison that is killing us.

This is also why Jesus Christ and His Cross is needed.  Sin is a closed system.  You can't raise yourself by your own bootstraps in a world dominated by sin.  The Ring must be destroyed, not bargained with, cajoled, excused.  It takes death to sin to defeat the death that flows from sin.  It takes sacrifice.

Indeed, it takes the ultimate sacrifice, the gift of love of the Son of God - the Cross, the Eucharist, and the life that flows from it.

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (John 1:4)

James Cuenod writes ...

Sauron will not be defeated by the use of the ring, only by its destruction. Sin will not be defeated by the use of sin. This is why we are urged time and again to “put to death” “the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13) and “what is earthly in you” (Colossians 3:5). Sin cannot be wielded for good, it can only corrupt. ... So my exhortation is, “put to death whatever is earthly in you” and “clothe yourselves with compassionate hearts.”

This not only contradicts the fatuous nonsense of the consequentialists, with whom I do endless battle - those who argue that we can do evil so that good may come, those who say that we may Lie our way to Truth or Torture our way to Love.  It also opens up a great psychological insight to those who are observant.   Those of us who sin (all of us) can see its effects - it eventually turns us into Gollums, and yet it's so handy and so convenient and ... and after all ... it's so precious to us!

Life, like the Lord of the Rings, like any epic, is a great trial, a tremendous adventure.  The trial is ultimately by fire, by the searing heat and light of the love of God, but before that Final Day, the trial is every day, even every ordinary mundane day.  It is a story of a tremendous struggle in which our loyalties and our valor are tested in ways both small and big.

For even today, dear sinner, in your suburban home, in your air conditioned car, in your easy chair, in your living room - even today you are called to put on the armor of God and fight this battle.  Even today the Ring will call you and you will sing a silent love song to it and it will have you in its clutches.  Even today you will begin to lose.  You will begin to be lost.

But you are called, as are all of us sinners, not to defeat, but to victory - a victory beyond our imagining.

Fight the battle.  Begin by doing the most terrifying thing you can imagine.

Begin by destroying the Ring.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The World's Greatest Scandal

 And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me. (Luke 7:23) KJV
And blessed is he whosoever shall not be scandalized in me. (Luke 7:23) Douay-Rheims
This is one of the most amazing things Jesus ever said.  Only a sinless man could say it.

Imagine if I were to say, "Blessed is anyone who is not scandalized by me."  As if I've never done anything that would cause scandal!  I've done some really shameful things - even since last Thursday.

Hookers? cocaine? multi-level marketing? Tell us!  Tell us!

No, I won't tell you, for fear my status as EWTN Rock Star would crumble. But seriously, my bad behavior - the bad behavior of any Christian - could easily lead others away from the Faith.  I could be a witness of doubt and not of the gospel.  We all could.  Martyrs not to Christ but to Antichrist.

And I know a few saints.  I really do.  I know some people who are filled with sanctity and who are living their lives in imitation of Christ.

And not a one of them could say, "Blessed is the man who does not find scandal in what I do!"  They all have sins and imperfections that could easily cause a brother to stumble, especially if their sins were not seen in the broader context of their persistent attempts to repent and serve the Lord.

St. Paul was so careful not to cause scandal that he advised giving up even good things, if partaking of such good things could offend someone weak in faith.  For example, what should a Christian do if a fellow Christian new in the faith who happens to be a vegetarian, is scandalized and offended by seeing someone he hoped was holy eating a Big Mac.  This sounds silly, and we'd be tempted to say, "Get over it.  This ain't no sin," as we eagerly chowed down. But Paul says ...

Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. (1 Cor. 8:13

Even giving the appearance of scandal is a serious thing - even if no real sin is involved.

And so, fellow sinner, the next time someone avoids you because you stand as a source of offense or embarrassment to them - even if this person is avoiding you because your good behavior causes scandal (Christ and even good Christians remain a stumbling block for many) -  rejoice and be glad.  Remember that you are not worthy of admiration.  If you're anything like I am, you're worthy of contempt.

But we can overcome our scandals by uniting them to the Cross - the Greatest Scandal the World has Ever Known, the source of the embarrassment, offense and consternation of many.

Cakewalk Memorial Day Weekend

139. Butterfly House

140. Kemp Auto Museum

141. Spirit of St. Louis Airport

142. Daniel Boone Home

Barn in St. Charles County.

 143. Mt. Pleasant Winery, Augusta, MO

I performed the first murder mystery at a winery anywhere in the world in November of 1996, at Mt. Pleasant in Augusta.  We performed monthly shows there to sold out crowds for six years, until the winery dumped us and replaced us with someone cheaper.  The shows never sold well after that, and now the winery offers no mysteries at all.

But here's a mystery for you.  How do you relax when your life is devoted to affluence?

Mt. Pleasant decides to place their 250th Anniversary of St. Louis Commemorative Cake in the corner of the patio of one of their restaurants.  This middle aged couple, undoubtedly from West St. Louis County (that's code around here for "stuck up") decide to sit right next to the cake and use it as a table, putting their drinks, Kleenex, cell phones and wine bottles on top of it.

So I come up to them and say, enthusiastically, "You're going to be in the picture!"  The woman, with a bitter edge to her voice exclaims, "I'd rather not!"  So she and hubby, instead of getting off of their upper middle class asses, lean (more or less) out of camera range.

"I'll get a picture from behind and you won't be in it," I offer.

"That's much better," the lady answers.  I take the photo below.

"Thanks!" I say, not bothering to mention that I plan on making fun of them on my blog.

144. Warren County Courthouse, Warrenton, Missouri - across from the 24 Hour Bail Bonds Office.

So then we drive over half an hour to Warrenton, MO, where for some unexplained reason, the Warren County Courthouse has been awarded a 250th Anniversary of St. Louis Cake, even though Warrenton is over 50 miles from St. Louis.

"Oh, well," I say to Karen, "Maybe this will be one of those big beautiful county courthouses that fill the town square, bringing charm and dignity to the city."


The courthouse is new and is as architecturally interesting as every suburban church built since 1955.  The cake would have looked better in front of the 24 Hour Bail Bonds Office.

145. The Arboretum, Gray Summit, MO.

Fun cake with an eagle on the top and critters all around it.

146. Ft. Zumwalt Park, O'Fallon, MO

147. Purina Farms, Gray Summit, MO.

... with daughter Kerry, who played with the sheep in the petting zoo.  When did Ralston Purina become Nestle Purina?

148. Lindenwood College, St. Charles, MO

149. The Shrine of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, St. Charles, MO.

150. St. Charles County Courthouse.  More interesting than the Warren County Courthouse.

151. Missouri's First State Capitol - Main Street, St. Charles.  The cake is to the right, by a person near a streetlamp.

A closer view.

152. Lewis and Clark Boathouse Museum, St. Charles.  I wonder which way to the MUSEUM and GIFT SHOP.

153. Katy Trail Cake, St. Charles.

The photographer at lunch.

154. The cake at Heritage Park, St. Peters had a River theme.  It included a depiction of Our Lady of the Rivers, whose statue stands a few miles upstream at Portage de Sioux.

... and it featured several photos of the old paddle wheel steamboats.

155. Wild Bird Sanctuary.

156. Cake at Creve Coeur Lake (foreground).  Men's Room (background).

157. Lone Elk Park

158. The cake at the Creve Coeur YMCA was placed inside, in their lobby by the pool.  The YMCA was closed when we got there.  I took this picture with a telephoto lens through several layers of glass.  I'm counting it.

159. The Cake at the St. Louis Holocaust Museum.  Nice placement, huh?

A better view of it.

160. The cake at Washington University's Tyson Research Area.  This area is TOP SECRET.  The cake had originally been placed inside the Research Area, but if you go in there, they kill you.  So it was moved outside, by the heavily guarded gate.

Tyson Research is also home to the Wolf Sanctuary (see the detail of the homage to wolves on the cake, below).

It's fairly well known that Washington University and Tyson have teamed up to produce a DNA hybrid of a human - slash - wolf.  The creature is known to roam the Research Area at night, devouring helpless children who make it past the high voltage fence.


The top of the cake is decorated in Radioactive Modified DNA Isotope fashion.

The wolves howl in a forlorn way for their creators, the scientists who breed them with men of superior intelligence by mingling their DNA.

161. The Black Madonna Shrine and Grotto, Pacific, MO.

162. Father and Son, Six Flags over Mid America, Allenton, MO.

163. Old Bonnhome Church.  Nice cow theme on the cake.

164. United Hebrew Congregation.

165. Meramec Caverns, Stanton, MO.

The Pornography of Sentiment

The burning of the Theater Royal, Exeter, September 3, 1887.

The older I get the less I trust sentiment, the less I think sympathy is genuine.

We love having our feelings stirred up.  Much of religion is like this.  For many, religion is like a romance novel or like a Hallmark movie without the horses.  Prayer is only valid if you "feel" it; worship only worthy if it "moves" you.  Of course, there's nothing wrong with feeling or with being moved - but such things are supposed to indicate something deeper: faith, love, loyalty.  And often they don't.  Often we have feelings for feeling's sake.  Sentiment is supposed to be a means to an end, not an end itself.

And this popular habit of indulging in feeling for feeling's sake is a kind of pornography - we want the feeling without the obligation that the feeling implies, without the commitment that the sentiment indicates.  When feeling is divorced from consequence, when sympathy is felt without paying the price that sympathy demands - such is the pornography of sentiment.

Even certain friendships can be like this.  There can be lots of good times, apparent affinities of mind and soul, camaraderie - but then one friend betrays the other or walks away when the chips are down or finds someone more fun to hang out with when you become inconvenient.  Nobody likes Job when the sores break out, or Timon of Athens when he loses his fortune, or even Charlie Brown when he loses the big game (which is often).  Most of our acquaintances are fair weather friends, shipmates that abandon ship when the seas get rough.  And only such rough weather shows us who will stay and who will jump.

There is something in the Christian tradition that addresses this.  It's the notion of the purification by fire, of light and heat and suffering revealing the truth about who we are and burning through our false pretenses.

Every man's work shall be manifest; for the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire; and the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is. (1 Cor. 3:13)

And if our works are revealed, our characters are revealed.  Our identities - sometimes our secret identities - shine through.  We are what we do, and that is revealed by fire.

For there is nothing hidden, except that it should be made known; neither was anything made secret, but that it should come to light. (Mark 4:22

This is true not only of God's mysteries, but of man's.  Every literary comedy is about masking and unmasking, and sometimes the pauper is revealed to be the king in disguise, while sometimes the emperor is revealed to be a naked strutting fool.  Sometimes a best friend is revealed to be a false friend, sometimes a Sam Gamgee is revealed to be a hero.

And in life, as in fiction, it is the adventure that tests us, the trial that tries us, the fire that unmasks us, showing our deeds and our true selves for what they really are.

For when all of time ends and the skies roll up like flimsy backdrops, the hidden love will survive it all.  The two-dimensional scenery and paper mache props of wealth, of showmanship, of falsely plighted trust, of mutual abuse masquerading as affection, of arrangements of convenience, of posturing, of grandstanding, of hypocrisy - all of that will burn to ash as the footlights give way to a stronger and a fiercer light, a light of burning fire, the light of love that overcomes our precious darkness.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Let's Pretend

The old man he plays let's pretend
When e'er his friends come by
And all his friends, not to offend
Pretend, affirm, and cry,
"Oh, yes, old man, oh what a friend
Both you and trophy wife are!

"How smart is she!  How capably
She does the things we all do!
She's keen and cute and shape-ily
She has the latest hair-do.
Her IQ must be 101, or maybe-ly
It's more!  She surely will go far."

The wife she laughs and says a word
She loudly mispronounces.
The old man, though it seems absurd
To keep her safe he pounces:
Pretends we all misheard
His 20-year old bird

Both you and me
We all, you see,
Must keep alive his fantasy.


Another type of make-believe
I'm sure you've been a part of
Young Amber gets engaged to Steve,
She says it's love, well sort of.
We hope and pray that Steve will leave.
Engaged they may have got;
Engaging he is not.

But no one dares to say a peep or
Make an accusation.
We all pretend that he's a keeper.
Hail the fabrication!
Pretend that you do not
Begin to smell the rot.

"Your house of cards is at an end
It is a bit uneven,
But let's pretend! Oh what a friend -
A friend you have in Stephen!"

Both you and me
We all, you see,
Must keep alive her fantasy.


There is no abnormality
We won't make a reality,
No thing that is amiss
But we affirm by artifice,
No fallacy or fraud
But we hail it as a god.

Though my life ends up in rubble,
I won't let you burst my bubble.

Every soul with an addiction
Demands we join him in his fiction.

Until time will have its end
We all join in "let's pretend".

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

In California, Smug is Worse than Smog

Here'a s provocative article at the Imaginative Conservative about Steve Jobs.  It's not so much about Jobs or Apple as it is about the Smug (which is similar to the Smog) that has been choking us for a few generations.  For instance ...

... California ... it was a place people moved to get more money and better weather, and where being the first one on the block to recycle, or get a fancy car, was more important than staying married and taking care of your kids, let alone showing common decency.


Jobs was, frankly, spoiled rotten. The family even let him “drop out” of church after their Lutheran pastor didn’t have a satisfactory answer when he asked the usual “if there is a God, how could He let x horrible thing happen”, [a] question kids who think they are bright often ask. This wasn’t a good time for religion, of course. Too many religious leaders were unwilling or unable to respond to newly questioning parishioners, or were themselves ideological nutcases. And too many parents were mostly going through the motions. Even many of those who still went to church would have been happy with a drive through mass. Small wonder so many of their children stopped bothering altogether.

And having just seen my son graduate from college - where the student speaker assured us all that the only things that distinguished us from apes were our jaws and our bipedialism (of course, apes don't use the word "bipedalism".  They say, "standing on two feet".) - still the article shows that things could be much worse, though this is common enough ...

I taught for a year at the college he [Jobs] attended for a year. Red sorry, Reed College in Portland, Oregon is one of those places where students dress in black to show how depressing it is to be young and well-off; lots of Volvos in the parking lot when I was there. And the drug culture remained. By my second semester at Reed several students had overdosed on illegal drugs. When the President, a “good” leftie from Oberlin, decided to take the minimal action of proposing a faculty resolution decrying the self-destructive behavior, he was in for a surprise. At first I thought the principal opposition speaker was a bag lady. It turned out she was just some English professor in a poncho. She was nearly in tears as she argued that “we” could not hope to engage productively with students if we began with such a “superior attitude.” The resolution failed by an overwhelming margin.

And not only the article is worth reading in full, so is at least one of the comments ...

Well, I never knew anything about him [Jobs] personally, but I always stayed away from his products because they seemed unnecessarily expensive. When I finally got around to going to an i-store and speaking to an i-genius about his i-pad, I was shocked at how totally useless it was, how little could be done on it, and how ludicrously expensive it was, both in terms of the product and exploitation. That same day, I went to another store and asked a regular person (not an i-genius) about Samsung’s tablets and android. It turned out Samsung’s products can do everything my laptop could do, and I have since stopped using laptops for anything.
Meanwhile, someone (an apple user) asked me recently “do you know what jailbreaking is and how to reactivate your i-phone after you try it?” He then told me the horror story of trying to get apps outside of the Applopoly, apps which I get for free through google play, and how the i-phone actually breaks down when its users try to “jailbreak” – to get out of the jail Mr. Jobs built for them and lured them into. It’s actually somewhat pathetic. “Just buy a NoteII” I tell people.
So, in a sense, this article does not surprise me. You can see his character in his products: something simple, unimaginative and retrogressive, aggressively marketed as the height of sophistication.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

GW Graduation 2014

Just back from a wonderful tour to the East Coast, including visits with friends the Quigleys, Dawn Eden, Fr. Sean Raftis, the BeauSiegneurs, the Sewards and the Pearces - all to celebrate son Colin's graduation from George Washington University.

Here are some photo highlights ...

Father and son at the Reed River Falls, Greenville, South Carolina

Back yard, Beer, Joseph Pearce

The Pearce's Emergency Escape Plan - use the slide, avoid the chickens.

At commencement.

Above: Josh's grandpa, Yaari's dad, Colin's dad.
Below: Josh, Yaari, Colin.

Almost all of the books on this bookshelf are books Joseph Pearce wrote or edited - some are multiple versions of the same book, translated into other languages.

The big moment at the walking ceremony for the Columbia School of Arts and Sciences - George Washington University.

Mom, Son, Dad - Graduation selfie.

Son Colin at the Beta House.

From the Capitol Steps - view towards commencement and the Washington Monument in the distance.

He is now officially as educated as I am.