Friday, November 11, 2022

Apart From Me You Can Do Nothing

         “By living "as if God did not exist", man not only loses sight of the mystery of God, but also of the mystery of the world and the mystery of his own being.

The eclipse of the sense of God and of man inevitably leads to a practical materialism, which breeds individualism, utilitarianism and hedonism. Here too we see the permanent validity of the words of the Apostle: "And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct" (Rom 1:28). The values of being are replaced by those of having. The only goal which counts is the pursuit of one's own material well-being. The so-called "quality of life" is interpreted primarily or exclusively as economic efficiency, inordinate consumerism, physical beauty and pleasure, to the neglect of the more profound dimensions-interpersonal, spiritual and religious-of existence.

In such a context suffering, an inescapable burden of human existence but also a factor of possible personal growth, is "censored", rejected as useless, indeed opposed as an evil, always and in every way to be avoided. When it cannot be avoided and the prospect of even some future well-being vanishes, then life appears to have lost all meaning and the temptation grows in man to claim the right to suppress it.

Within this same cultural climate, the body is no longer perceived as a properly personal reality, a sign and place of relations with others, with God and with the world. It is reduced to pure materiality: it is simply a complex of organs, functions and energies to be used according to the sole criteria of pleasure and efficiency. Consequently, sexuality too is depersonalized and exploited: from being the sign, place and language of love, that is, of the gift of self and acceptance of another, in all the other's richness as a person, it increasingly becomes the occasion and instrument for self-assertion and the selfish satisfaction of personal desires and instincts. Thus the original import of human sexuality is distorted and falsified, and the two meanings, unitive and procreative, inherent in the very nature of the conjugal act, are artificially separated: in this way the marriage union is betrayed and its fruitfulness is subjected to the caprice of the couple. Procreation then becomes the "enemy" to be avoided in sexual activity: if it is welcomed, this is only because it expresses a desire, or indeed the intention, to have a child "at all costs", and not because it signifies the complete acceptance of the other and therefore an openness to the richness of life which the child represents.

In the materialistic perspective described so far, interpersonal relations are seriously impoverished. The first to be harmed are women, children, the sick or suffering, and the elderly. The criterion of personal dignity-which demands respect, generosity and service-is replaced by the criterion of efficiency, functionality and usefulness: others are considered not for what they "are", but for what they "have, do and produce". This is the supremacy of the strong over the weak.” (John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, Section 22-23).


          While there were many noteworthy sections I found Section 23 of Evangelium Vitae most haunting, perhaps because it describes our decaying “Western” culture both presciently as well as historically.  One of John Paul II’s unique positions in history is that of living under the oppression of German and Soviet socialism, an experience that provides an historical base from which to teach about “the culture of life” and “the culture of death”.  And one of his fundamental themes is the connection between “the mystery of God”, “the mystery of the world”, and “the mystery of his [man’s] own being”.  Mystery here means more than a lack of knowledge, rather the complexity and fullness  of relationships that precludes the inability to take and  fully comprehend them.  The “safe” way to handle mystery is to ignore it, to pretend it does not exist, so that one can possess the illusion of control over one’s life and avoid the inherent suffering of love present in relationships.

          Since we exist in the context of relationships this retreat from mystery deprives one of humanity and personal relationships.  The cost of focusing on personal control leads inevitably to the utilitarianism: “There are in life but two things, love and power, and no one has both” (Malcolm Muggeridge, The Infernal Grove, page 67).  The pursuit of power that leads to the use of others in utilitarianism is paradoxical since the pursuit of pleasure is expected to lead to a vigorous life of enjoyment.  However, through utilitarianism one loses the capacity for personal relationships (cf. Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, Chapter 1) and, thus, the possibility of practicing the communio personarum in which life has meaning and true pleasure.

          This loss of pleasure, and the mistaking of sensation for it, is compounded by the loss of “personal reality”, of the matrix of relationships that include physical and sexual relationships which lead to joy.  As such, the rejection of communio personarum leads to a rejection of fecundity since the addictive use and pursuit of sensation are the only end desired: “Procreation then becomes the ‘enemy’ to be avoided in sexual activity”.  This deprivation of happiness, which is the fruit of relationship, leaves a person angry and bitter at their unintended loneliness, leaving them recourse only to rage and hatred as the means to attempt relationship with others.  The good news of life is no longer available and the pursuit of power through “the culture of death” leads to the natural endpoint of depression and emptiness.

Monday, October 24, 2022

For They Will See God


The saying in Matthew 5:27-28 (“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” NRSVCE ) addresses both the objective and subjective aspects of adultery.  As part of the Torah, the Ten Commandments are the foundation of the Mosaic law.  In the “Sermon on the Mount”, Jesus refers to this objective standard from Revelation, as quoted in Matthew 5:27.  Pope John Paul II then emphasizes Jesus’ focus on the subjective, interior part of the commandment, rather than on the violation of “property rights” of a woman’s husband: "This statement is one of the passages of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus brings about a fundamental revision of the way of understanding and carrying out the moral law of the Old Covenant” (John Paul II, “Man and Woman He Created Them”, Section 24:1) . 


This is significant because the Sermon on the Mount emphasizes the personal rather than simply the objective.  As we have seen emphasized in “Love and Responsibility”, man’s interiority is what makes him a person:  “It is remarkable that precisely through his interiority and interior life man not only is a person, but at the same time most inheres in the objective world” (Karol Wojtyla, “Love and Responsibility” 2nd edition, p. 5).  In this saying, Jesus requires his disciples to imitate him in their sexual ethics in the transcendence that is only possible for persons: “The morality in which the very meaning of being human is realized—which is, at the same time, the fulfillment of the law by the ‘super-abounding’ of justice through subjective vitality—is formed in the interior perception of values, from which duty is born as an expression of conscience, as an answer of one’s own personal ‘I.’  Ethos makes us, at one and the same time, enter into the depth of the norm itself and descend into the interior of man, the subject of morality.  Moral value is connected with the dynamic process of man’s innermost [being].  To reach it, it is not enough to stop “on the surface” of human actions, but one must penetrate precisely the interior.” (Ibid., Section 24:3).


Thus, Jesus is calling his disciples into the “depth of the norm” through descending into the “interior of man”.  How does this apply to sexual ethics?  Certainly, this requires attention to one’s “heart”:  “The ‘heart” has become a battlefield between love and concupiscence.  The more concupiscence dominates the heart, the less the heart experiences the spousal meaning of the body, and the less sensitive it becomes to the gift of the person that expresses precisely this meaning in the reciprocal relations of man and woman.” (Ibid., Section 32.3).  Through the “concupiscence of the eyes”, a man enters into a non-spousal relationship with a woman as he has “reduced” her to an object, an object of his lust.  This denial of the woman’s interiority leads the man and woman into a sexual relationship that is not marital, thus instantiating a relationship that is “adulterous” compared to the marital relationship that is or could be: “The relationship of the gift changes into a relationship of appropriation” (Ibid., Section 32.6). 


Entering into the “new ethos” of the Matthew 5:28 requires that the man take responsibility for his relationship with the woman, to protect her from his “reductive” desires that denies a spousal relationship, and vice versa.  He must guard his heart against the “lust of the eyes”:  “Christ makes the moral evaluation of ‘desire’ depend above all on the personal dignity of the man and the woman; and this is important in the case of unmarried persons and—perhaps even more so—in the case of spouse, husband and wife” (Ibid., Section 42:7).  John Paul II speaks of “purity of heart” as the goal and foundation for relationships, a position not of “using” the other but where “human beings cannot share without firmness in facing everything in its origin in concupiscence of the flesh ‘Purity of heart’ is gained by the one who knows how to be consistently demanding from his heart’ and from his ‘body” (Ibid., Section 43:5).  This then interconnects his actions and his subjectivity in a way that focuses on the spousal relationship and the dignity of woman.


We Will Come To Them And Make Our Home With Them


“’By their very nature, the institutions of matrimony and married love are disposed toward the birth and education of offspring, which are as though their crowning achievement.  In this way, a man and a woman, who by the marriage covenant “are no longer two, but one flesh” (Matt. 19:6), through the intimate union of their persons and actions render each other mutual help and service and experience the meaning of their oneness, which increases day by day.  This deep bond arising from the mutual gift of self of two persons, as well as the good of the children, requires the total fidelity of the spouses and calls for the indissoluble oneness of their life together’ (Gaudium et Spes, Section 48).  This conciliar text makes it perfectly clear that parenthood constitutes the central meaning of the marital community.  In the birth and education of offspring, the spouses ‘experience the meaning of their oneness, which increases day by day.’  The meaning of the marital communio personarum and it involves, particularly conjugal intercourse, is the child.  In other words, the meaning of marriage is the family.  One of the reasons children come into the marital community of husband and wife is to confirm, strengthen, and deepen this community.  In this way, the spouses’ own interpersonal life, their communio personarum, is enriched.” (Karol Wojtyla, “Parenthood as a Community of Persons” in Person and Community, page 332).


I am fascinated by the concept of communio personarum (or communio) as I think it is the best definition of marriage that I have encountered.  In “The Family as a Community of Persons”, Bishop Wojtyla defines “communio [personarum]”: “Communio in the primary sense refers to community as a mode of being and acting (in common, of course) through which the persons involved mutually confirm and affirm one another, a mode of being and acting that promotes the personal fulfillment of each of them by virtue of their mutual relationship.” (Karol Wojtyla, “The Family as a Community of Persons”, Person and Community: Select Essays, p. 321).  In this description I see the active as well as the metaphysical, providing a base from which to marry in addition to being married.  Just as “love is a task”, marrying (marriage) is a task: learning and choosing the good for the other, giving of oneself to the other, and receiving the other.  And, just as in the Trinity, this marital love is generative, actively generating a third person in the life of their child through their marrying.


The child is not simply another person to whom life is “bestowed” by the married couple and God, the child is an expansion and extension of the communio that is the marrying couple, that is begun and continues; in some way the child has always been part of the marriage and becomes known through the conjugal act, a revelation of the communio of marriage.  This activity of the child in his emerging into being and developing physically is part of the same communio that is present before and after conception: “The real introduction to the family community, to the communio personarum, occurs when the parents fully discover in their child the task that together with the child presents itself to their love.  In order for this task to be fully discovered and carried out, it must be discovered gradually and carried out gradually” (Ibid., page 333). 


This is a different way of looking at marriage and family rather than the reductive and sequential Western view, where marriage, fecundity, and family are more discrete and separate, where one “produces” a child in some way, and where family does not necessarily mean communio but is reduced to three individuals living together.  It gravely illuminates the inseparability of the procreative and unitive aspects of marriage in that it describes fecundity as not only connected to the fertility of the married couple but also to the expanding of the communio of marriage into the communio of family, extending the task of marital love into the task of family love.  This frames the vigorous love of courtship and matrimony as part of the same whole as the communio of family, comprising therefore these two aspects of marriage by a larger system, a “form” of communio.  Thus, the love of courtship continues, matures, and perfects as part of one semantic process which describes one indivisible whole.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

In My Father’s House There Are Many Dwelling Places

 I think the genius of John Paul II with respect to marriage is that he realized that the end of marriage, its final cause, is theosis, the participation in the life of the Trinity.  From that vantage point the three ends of marriage as taught by the Church serve the processes of kenosis and henosis as well as metamorphosis.  Procreation, the first end, instantiates the creativity of Trinitarian love.  This must be the first end of marriage since creativity through procreation grounds the marriage in the full exchange of love present in theosis.  The temptation to avoid procreation  is the temptation to mistake pleasure in the conjugal relation as the ultimate good and to avoid the necessary suffering of kenosis that is part of the gift of self, and thus miss the joy of Godly love.

In a similar way, the second end must itself be secondary since the temptation to stay focused on the vivid pleasure of the conjugal union will block the necessary grieving of kenosis.  The attentiveness that John Paul II focuses on the translation of the Latin describing the second (“mutuum adiutorium”) is characteristic of his understanding on this temptation.  This is the temptation to mistranslate the second end as “mutual love” rather than “mutual help”, to focus on the pleasures of the relationship rather than its final cause.  The mutual help of marriage is to aid each other to risk the seemingly endless steps of kenosis and their resultant suffering, to “love the Hell out of each other”, to encourage each other to empty themselves of their selves to make an opening for the love of God.  This emptying of the spouses allows the filling of new life in the couple and the practicing of theosis, of loving each other as the Trinity love.  Thus, the mutuum adiutorium serves the rigors of procreation and its fruits.

Perhaps Karol Wojtyla does not focus much on the third end of marriage (remedium concupiscentiae) in this section because the first chapter is so focused on the explication of the personalistic norm.  Certainly he does deal with the subject later chapters and in the Theology of the Body.  I sense that he wants to stay focused on the “positive” part of sexual ethics, especially initially on the how love is antithetical to utilitarianism, to avoid perhaps getting distracted by the (contemporarily) recent historical negativity of discussions of concupiscence and its remedy.  Certainly a focus on concupiscence would limit the discussion to the subjectivity of sensuality and affection and miss the mystery of Trinitarian love.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Travelling to the Land of Milk and Honey

 One of the most striking parts of Section 3 of “The Family as a Community of Persons”: “Communio in the primary sense refers to community as a mode of being and acting (in common, of course) through which the persons involved mutually confirm and affirm one another, a mode of being and acting that promotes the personal fulfillment of each of them by virtue of their mutual relationship.” (Karol Wojtyla, “The Family as a Community of Persons”, Person and Community: Select Essays, p. 321).  This description attempts to describe the family “… not merely as from the category of society, or “the smallest social  unit,” as the family is often called.” (Ibid., p. 319) but as “a personal and interpersonal reality” (Ibid., p. 320). 

This description is important because it emphasizes the family members as persons, as persons who exist and act with and for other persons rather than a collection of humans living together: a Communio.  To start, the personalistic norm demands that “the person is a kind of good to which only love constitutes the proper and fully-mature relation” (Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility (2nd edition), p. 25).  All actions of the community that is the family are judged according to this norm of not using the other as a means to an end but loving them.  And this is not easy:  “Love in reciprocal relations between people is not something readily available” (Ibid., p. 13).  Choosing the good for another requires the kenosis of subordinating one’s own passions, of emptying oneself of self-centeredness.

Wojtyla describes the practice of love in the community of persons more concretely in “Person and Act”.  Here he presents the “theory of participation”, that in forming and maintaining community, that “by acting together with others, man preserves all that results from the community of action and at the same time—precisely by this means—realizes the personalistic value of his own act.” (Karol Wojtyla, “Person and Act”, The English Critical Edition of the Works of Karol Wojtyla/ John Paul II, p. 385). 

Participation in type of community that is Communio requires more than simply being a member of a community and socializing together.  It requires the attitudes of solidarity (“a constant readiness to accept and realize the share that falls to each due to the fact that he is a member of a given community” (Ibid., p. 401) and opposition (“a function of one’s vision of the community, of its good, and of the living need to participate in existing together and especially in acting together” (Ibid., p. 402) that generate the acts of a person truly participating in community.  And it requires the eradication of the non-loving attitudes of conformism (“Man in this case does not form the community but in a sense ‘allows himself to be carried by the collective.’” (Ibid., p. 405)) and avoidance (“a lack of participation; it is an absence in the community” (Ibid., p. 406) from which one acts in a way harmful to the community and not meeting the personalistic norm.

In summary, a community of persons requires acts of love through participation by its members in addition to “being together”.  This is at best difficult and often painful, a participation in the redemptive suffering of the Paschal Mystery that leads the individual members closer to the perfection of their telos as a result of their “mutual relationship” of Communio.