Catholic Exchange: Theology of the Body Changed My Life

Today I am writing about my reversion and Theology of the Body over at Catholic Exchange.

I was raised in a Catholic home. My parents taught me that sex was reserved for marriage, but that was the extent of the discussion. They never explained why it was reserved for marriage. It was merely a “don’t do this” statement and left at that. I don’t blame them. In fact, the majority of Catholics do not understand the Church’s teaching on human sexuality and the human person. What many don’t know is that Saint John Paul II devoted many of his Wednesday audiences, 129 to be exact, from September 5, 1979 to November 28, 1984 to the topic of human sexuality and the human person. He gave us a roadmap to navigate a culture that has completely lost its understanding and purpose.

When I was 28 years old, I finally started to understand God’s plan for me, including in marriage and sexuality.  I spent a few years, for all intents and purposes, outside of the Church. I would go to Mass at times, but really I worshiping at the altar of self and was living a life of relativism. I thought that I knew better than God. Truth be told, I was miserable, but it took me a few years to break free of the sinful cycle that I had dropped myself into.

Six years ago I met my husband on the online dating website CatholicMatch.com. We had both fallen away from the faith in our Twenties and had decided that we wanted to find our way back, to include marrying a practicing Catholic who wanted to submit to the Church completely. It was not as easy as we thought it would be, and we fell multiple times. Thank God for the Sacrament of Confession! Our parish priest at the time suggested that we attend a Theology of the Body seminar three hours away. He knew that we were on the fast-track to marriage and wanted us to fully understand the Church’s teaching. That seminar changed our lives and brought about our full reversion and obedience to all the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Television: Art vs the Obscene and the Catholic Answer, Part I

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I have found that one of the things we Catholics do not like to think about is what we watch on television or read in novels. In fact, when I have discussed this with friends and shared my own struggles, I usually encounter a great deal of push back. We don’t like to be reminded that our choices in the Christian life expand even to our choices in entertainment. I want to consider these choices and the dangers of much of what is on television or in novels these days, and why Catholics must guard themselves in a culture that would lead us astray with glee. In this post I want to focus on gratuitous and graphic sex in television shows, especially on Premium channels on cable. In the second part of the series I will focus on the glorification of violence and how we can discern if what we are watching glorifies violence and leads us to engage in voyeurism.

A few years ago the show Scandal came out on ABC. I enjoy political intrigue and started to watch it. I really should have known better as the premise of the show rests in an adulterous affair with the President of the United States, but no, I was slow to acknowledge the sick feeling I felt after watching the show. It took me a season to realize why my conscience was telling me to stop watching it. It is graphically violent, focuses on adultery as romantic, and most of all, had absolutely no objective good in it. Not a single character possessed the good. There was no hero or heroine. Every single character was objectively evil on some level. It’s quite shocking really, since much of Western culture is still driven by the idea of good overcoming evil. That being said, no one should watch a show with no redeeming value and that glorifies sin. Adultery is objectively evil and destroys the people involved. I should not watch a show that glorifies and tries to paint over this reality. I finally decided to stop watching it and I didn’t miss it.

Why does the good matter, even on television? It matters because we are a people of redemption. We understand the pit that sin leads to and the ever present destruction of mankind, but we know that evil has been overcome by Jesus Christ. Evil does not win and evil is never good, no matter what our culture tries to tell us. Many television shows draw people in and they don’t realize they are watching a show that only depicts evil and no good. Evil can easily be wrapped up in a glamorous package. Why shouldn’t I watch adultery, “gay marriage”, the protection of evil and morally reprehensible behavior? I don’t do those things. Well, the problem is that these shows can dull our sense of what is morally correct. This has been apparent with the Catholic dissent on the nature of authentic marriage. We see enough “gay marriages” on television and somehow that becomes acceptable. Divorce is a foregone conclusion in our culture. Hollywood is our Magisterium, rather than Rome. We start to second guess ourselves and our faith. We begin to embrace the all consuming nihilism of our age that tells us this is it. All that awaits us is oblivion, nothingness. Make the most of it, even if it means using people and then discarding them as garbage when we are done. This philosophy is diametrically opposed to the message of the Gospel. What we ingest has a direct impact on our soul. Through our viewing we tell Hollywood that the garbage they are producing is acceptable. We help with the ratings.

Yesterday, I watched a thread on Facebook related to Game of Thrones that caused me some concern. The amount of justification for watching a show with graphic sex and violence is a problem in the Catholic world. I noticed this when thousands of practicing Catholics claimed that 50 Shades of Grey was acceptable reading, when in fact it is pornography, violent pornography. First, graphic sex scenes are not “art” no matter how we much we want to justify our choices. Pornography is not art, it is the obscene. Art is to bring human beings to the good and the true. The same goes for over-the-top sex scenes that are essentially pornographic. We just tell ourselves that it is not pornography because it is on HBO and Starz not a porn channel or Cinemax. That’s just us engaging in mental gymnastics so that we can hold onto a particular vice.

I will give you an example from my own life that is quite recent. Someone had told me that I should check out the show Outlander on Starz because I like British dramas. Mind you I have not read the novels. I watched the first episode which has multiple graphic marital sex scenes in it. Marital sex is a beautiful and holy thing, but we don’t need to watch graphic scenes that incite us to lust in order to understand this point. The show gets worse from there, not to mention that regardless of time period adultery is adultery. I should have shut it off. My conscience told me to shut it off. The struggle with lust told me to turn it off, but I didn’t. Instead I had to hang my head in shame and drag myself back to the Confessional. In full disclosure, this is not a sin that I have struggled with a lot. I have shared the two most recent experiences and they are spread out by years, but I am married and I have a lot of male friends. I know that this is a serious struggle for some people, which is why I am writing. When I did get to Confession, my Confessor said that in actuality there is not much good on television and that he sticks to soccer in order to avoid the lust that our society invites us to in a great deal of shows. He’s Scottish, so the soccer reference is understandable. My Confessor did not encourage me to watch these shows, in fact, he did the opposite. He told me to steer clear of them.

I am not suggesting Puritanism. There is a great deal of art in which the body is shown in its full beautiful nude display throughout human history, but there is a difference between showing the beauty and sacredness of human beings and graphic sex scenes that move us to lust. Sex is holy. Sex is fun and meant to be enjoyed. It is not meant to be profaned. Even sexual sin can be demonstrated without a move into the pornographic.

One of my favorite novels, and its movie adaptions, is Evelyn Waugh’s, Brideshead Revisted. No one could accuse Waugh of Purtianism. The novel is rife with hedonism to include adultery, lust, homosexual acts, and alcoholism. The difference is that Waugh is not pointing to those things as good. He is showing how in our brokenness and darkness, God is always working for our salvation. In both movie adaptions, the one with Jeremy Irons and the shorter one with Matthew Goode, this hedonism is on display in all of its forms, but without appealing to the graphic. One scene in the Matthew Goode version shows that adultery can even be committed with most of the characters’ clothes on.

Many people trying to defend their Catholicism and their graphic television choices try to appeal to art or history. I even saw someone try to claim Scripture’s sexual sins and graphic violence as justification. This is merely a cognitive dissonance for something that we know to be wrong. Scripture demonstrates the depravity of mankind in light of God’s salvation. There’s a major difference between Scripture and Game of Thrones where sexuality is used for illicit reasons and that is all. Television shows can be true to the deprivation of humanity without resorting to lust filled sex scenes. But, in reality, these shows are glorifying hedonism, not pointing to the brokenness of sexual sin. Let’s at least be honest. These shows are not interested in redemption. So that argument is false and being used to justify sin. If you don’t believe me, then take it to your parish priest. Tell them exactly what you have been watching, including graphic sex scenes and gruesome violence. See what they say. It’s probably not going to be what you want to hear, but it will be what you need to hear.

Catholic art has always given an authentic portrayal of the human person, but in light of Revelation. We have a real opportunity here to move Hollywood to provide actual art. We need to stop supporting trash and force them to provide us with the beautiful and the ugly in a proper light. If you are a Catholic who has struggled with watching shows like this, then go to Confession. Trust me, the priests have heard it all. I had to go Confess this very sin of lust recently. I allowed myself to get sucked into the lie and I lied to myself in the process. I am married. I know that sex is beautiful, so why on earth am I ok with counterfeits on television? Why am I ok with watching our culture destroy one of the great gifts that God has given us? I would encourage you to seriously consider what you are watching or reading. Ask yourself, is this strengthening my soul? Does this help me grow closer to Christ? Will this help me become a saint? Does this serve the mission? Chances are, the answer will be no.  When that happens, pray for the grace to abandon those shows and books. It might be hard for a week or two, but eventually, you will forget all about them. The reality is that the closer we draw to Christ the less we want to have anything to do with counterfeits. God bless.

Why Many Catholics Ignore Church Teaching on “Gay Marriage”

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Today I am going to write about what I see as the most controversial subject of our time: “gay marriage”. I also believe that this agenda will lead, and has led, to persecution of Catholics and other orthodox Christian churches. It will get very rough in the years to come. This particular series is meant for those who profess to be Catholic. First, I want to start with some observations about people within the Catholic Church and then broaden to wider implications. I will probably write a series, with this one focusing primarily on what the Church teaches about sexual sin.

The Catholic Church is losing the “gay marriage” debate within its own pews at this point in history. That will change as my generation rises up, but for now, many Catholics do not submit to Christ and His Church on this teaching. Quite frankly, this should not come as a surprise to anyone. Large groups of Catholics ignore Church teaching on sexual matters. So let’s clear up some confusion first. A grave sin is a grave sin. Redundant? Yes. Here is what I mean: To knowingly (knowing Church teaching) and willfully use artificial contraception, get a tubal ligation or other types of sterilization, have an affair, engage in premarital sex, divorce and re-marriage (without an annulment), use (look at, watch , read) pornography, masturbation, use IVF, get an abortion, or engage in homosexual acts are all grave sins. There is no difference. Homosexual acts are not somehow more grave than heterosexual ones. For some reason I think that there are people who think that this is the case. Perhaps this is part of the reason individuals who struggle with same sex attraction are so hurt by the Church. Somehow their sins are worse than those of a heterosexual couple. This is categorically false.

Now that I have listed some sexual sins, let’s look at heterosexual couples. A large contingent of people who profess to be Catholic in the pews are engaged in the use of contraception, sterilization, pornography, cohabitation, etc. (I highly recommend investing in a Catechism of the Catholic Church. Every Catholic home should have one!!!! ) They either blatantly ignore Church teaching, putting their souls in great danger, or some may not know Church teaching. Ignorance of teaching does not meet the criteria for mortal sin. However, once you are aware that these are grave sins you are required to go to Confession and stop the sin. If you refuse to stop, I encourage you out of love of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, and you as a member of His Mystical Body, to refrain from the Eucharist until you have been converted to the truth. Pray for conversion. Taking the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin greatly endangers your soul. I say this as someone who has done it in the past. That is about as theological as I want to get in this post.

So why is the Church currently losing this battle in the pews? First, because many people who say they are Catholic are ignoring Church teaching. If they ignore Church teaching on these matters, why not support “gay marriage”? After all, they love each other. Second, there is a deep misunderstanding of what love truly means. In our society it seems that feeling, sentimentality, and attraction are the biggest components. Do homosexuals love one another? Yes, I am sure they do on some level. However, a proper understanding of love is as St. Thomas Aquinas tells us: “to will the good of the other, as other”. Third, I think that many Catholics think that celibacy is too hard for homosexuals. It’s too harsh to expect them to refrain from sexual activity, is one of the complaints made.

The Church’s, God’s, teaching on human sexuality is not meant to be a list of rules from some angry old man in the sky. Rather, since God is pure Love, he knows what is best for us. He knows how we will thrive and attain holiness. Our Lord knows what will kill a soul and He wants to do everything in His power to prevent this from happening. That is why the Church, His Bride, is our guide on this side of Heaven. Most of us would rather listen to the culture, but the culture is leading us to death. Christ leads us to life, and with that comes major sacrifice. It also requires that our lives be blatantly counter-cultural and it also means persecution. Christ was killed on a Cross, what makes us think that we are any different as His followers?

Within a Christian context love means that we desire what is best for someone even if they do not know what is best or choose what is bad for them. Part of the reason Christians are opposed to sexual sin is because they, when grave, kill a person’s soul. If I love someone do I want them to do something that would kill their soul? Not only that, Christ called us “to love our neighbors as ourselves”. That is a tall order and means that we must lovingly bring people to the Truth. So when someone tells me that they blatantly use contraception, cheat on their spouse, or engage in homosexual activity should I just say that is not my concern? As a member of the Mystical Body of Christ does this fit my Baptismal call? No. So the next time someone calls you out on a grave sin, remember it is out of great love and concern for your very soul.

Regardless of what our culture tells us, love requires great sacrifice. If you want to know what real love looks like, take a look at the Cross. Love is total self-emptying. It is the giving of everything we have, and then giving more. Do we all fall short? You bet! That is why we are sojourners. We are on a journey to holiness. It takes a lifetime, and for many Purgatory too. But, the Cross is the ultimate example of how we are to live our lives. That includes fighting against a culture that worships at the the altar of the false god of sex. Sex in and of itself is not love. It is a total self-giving. It is the uniting of one man and one women who have taken been joined in a covenant before God. Two become one flesh.

There are many Catholics who say that it is too hard for homosexuals to be celibate, or chaste. As a Catholic, this is a rather silly assertion. There are hundreds of thousands of priests, nuns, sisters, and brothers who live celibate lives throughout the world. Celibacy has always been seen as a loving sacrifice to Christ, which is why virginity is celebrated in the Church. But, if you don’t believe me, look at the stories of individuals who struggle with same sex attraction who live celibate lives as Catholics. Here is one example.

We must remember that as Catholics we are not called to be a “good person” we are called to be holy; to be saints. They are not the same thing. Hopefully, now you more fully understand God’s desire and love for you. If you are struggling with Church teaching then you need to discuss it with your parish priest. If, Heaven forbid, your priest does not fully submit to Church teaching, then find one who does. A lot of people have been hurt and led astray from “the spirit of Vatican II”. Humanae Vitae and other similar documents require our submission. They teach timeless truths. I pray for your conversion, healing, and strength in the years to come. The next part of this series will discuss how the “gay marriage” agenda is the greatest threat to our religious liberty that we face today. I will then write a post on parenting in an over sexualized culture that wants to convert us to its beliefs, and quite frankly, wants our children.