Archive for March, 2015

St. Teresa of Avila“Peter Paul Rubens 138” by Peter Paul Rubens – [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Peter_Paul_Rubens_138.jpg#/media/File:Peter_Paul_Rubens_138.jpg

Let nothing disturb you.

Let nothing make you afraid.
All things are passing.
God alone never changes.
Patience gains all things.
If you have God you will want for nothing.
God alone suffices.

The Bookmark of St. Teresa of Avila

Image and text from Wikipedia

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…he’d say something like this:

Ron Swanson_LentCourtesy of Matt Swaim

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Christian-AnastasiaI can think of no better way to start than by quoting the hypothetical question with which I ended the previous post, “Why ‘Grey’ is Not Okay

“But wait a minute,” you ask.  “Maybe the stuff you’re saying is true, but what about when it’s two consenting adults?  Doesn’t that pretty much neutralize your objections?”

Not at all.  The informed consent of two mature adults makes a difference most of the time, but there are some things that even consent cannot justify.

First of all, the kind of behavior connected with BDSM (bondage/discipline and sadomasochism) sex is harmful to both partners.  The dominant partner reduces himself to a brute, while the passive partner — if she consents willingly — reduces herself to the dignity of a toy (actually, less than that, as most would agree that using a toy to gratify one’s sexual appetites is inappropriate and disturbing).  We must therefore conclude that there is a mutual injustice here, because the passive partner does the dominant partner an injustice by enabling him to degrade himself as well as her.

So consent, rather than making a positive difference, actually makes things worse.

Grandma Kiss“Sri Lankan woman and child” by Steve Evans from India and USA – Sri Lanka. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sri_Lankan_woman_and_child.jpg#/media/File:Sri_Lankan_woman_and_child.jpg

Let us consider for a moment the paradox of the human person: We find ourselves by giving ourselves away.  We are made and called to make a gift of ourselves to others.  This makes total sense.  We are an interdependent species.  We need each other, and therefore each one of us is needed.

But making a gift of ourselves to others demands that we take proper care of ourselves, and that we do our best to preserve our own proper dignity.  If we fail to care for ourselves physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually, then realistically what do we have to give our fellow human beings?  So no one may in good  conscience submit to BDSM sex, because each person owes the protection of personal dignity not only to him/herself, but to others as well.

3D“The National Archives UK – WORK 25-208” by The National Archives UK – Flickr: The Fifties in 3D. Licensed under OGL via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_National_Archives_UK_-_WORK_25-208.jpg#/media/File:The_National_Archives_UK_-_WORK_25-208.jpg

The very same  consideration must occupy our minds in the discernment of whether it is a good idea to expose ourselves to such material.  We must consider whether making ourselves spectators of this spectacle wherein human beings become degraded specimens does not significantly harm our own personal dignity as well.

And with that, let us put “Grey” to bed…though without the ball and chain.

Movie still obtained through a Google image search; remaining images from Wikipedia

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Happy World Down Syndrome Day!

I just saw this video, which was made in response to an expecting mother’s e-mail, and thought I’d share 🙂

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“Noel-coypel-the-resurrection-of-christ-1700″ by Noël Coypel – http://www.1st-art-gallery.com/Noel-Coypel/The-Resurrection-Of-Christ,-1700.html. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Noel-coypel-the-resurrection-of-christ-1700.jpg#/media/File:Noel-coypel-the-resurrection-of-christ-1700.jpg

As Jesus was quickly approaching the “hour” of His trial and crucifixion, he offered these words of consolation to His disciples:

In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world

-John 16:33

Before proceeding, a necessary clarification: When using the term “world “in this context, Jesus is not talking about the material universe.  All things God created, both spiritual and material, are good.  By “the world” is meant those forces which are opposed to God and His plan for humanity.  When we consider that these forces have the devil for their source (or at least instigator), we must conclude that the material universe itself has suffered subjection to “the world.”

But by His death and subsequent resurrection, Jesus Christ has reclaimed creation for Himself.  Now the world — that is, as we understand the term — is not only God’s precious creation, but can even become a sacrament or icon of the Divine.

Ancient Irish0910 Tracht der Kelten in Südpolen im 3. Jh. v. Chr” by Silar – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:0910_Tracht_der_Kelten_in_S%C3%BCdpolen_im_3._Jh._v._Chr.JPG#/media/File:0910_Tracht_der_Kelten_in_S%C3%BCdpolen_im_3._Jh._v._Chr.JPG

I’ll return to this in a moment.  In the meantime, given that we are about to celebrate the feast day of St. Patrick, one of Our Lord’s great saints and the patron saint of Ireland, it behooves us to take a look at how the Irish have viewed the world throughout the ages.

For the pagan Irish of ancient times, the world was charged with otherworldly forces.  Every rock, tree, stream and hill was haunted by the presence of some god or spirit, or else was a gateway into fairy realms.  Their mythology and its underlying worldview were certainly filled with romance and wonder…but also with fear and darkness.

In his book “How the Irish Saved Civilization,” Thomas Cahill interprets the frequent occurrence of shape-shifters in Celtic mythology this way:

[I]t suggested subconsciously that reality had no predictable pattern, but was arbitrary and insubstantial (pg. 129).

And furthermore…

[I]n the Irish stories the traps seem to lie hidden at every crossroads, and trickster-gods lurk behind each tree.  In such a world, (…) no one can hope to avoid disaster for long (pg. 131).

Quite possibly, the characteristic happy-go-lucky attitude and staunch bravery of the Irish came from a sense of “detachment” born of resignation to “how fleeting life is and how pointless to try to hold onto things or people” (Cahill, pg. 96).  Detachment, perhaps…but a detachment that probably masked deep sadness and dread (Cahill, pg. 128).

Before I move on, let me say this: “How the Irish Saved Civilization” is an interesting read, but I can recommend it only with caution.  Some of Cahill’s historical analysis is obviously suspect (his interpretation of Church history is nothing short of abysmal in certain spots).  However, the book does offer some worthwhile insights into what we can intuit of the character of ancient Ireland, as well as the difference the Gospel made.

Saint_Patrick_(window)“Saint Patrick (window)” by Sicarr – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Saint_Patrick_(window).jpg#/media/File:Saint_Patrick_(window).jpg

St. Patrick brought to the Irish an entirely new vision, assuring them that every corner of creation spoke of the providential care of an all-loving and good God.  Again, Cahill:

This magical world, though full of adventure and surprise, is no longer full of dread.  Rather, Christ has trodden all pathways before us, and at every crossroads and by every tree the Word of God speaks out (pg. 133).

This new worldview in no way guarantees the absence of evil or suffering, any more than did Christ’s words to His disciples in John’s Gospel.  But the great Conquest of the King of kings, Who is greater than the world, has made it so that even these can become instruments of Divine benevolence.  Rather than reminders of the futility of existence, they can become like the uncomfortable rigors of final exams before summer recess.

In other words…

In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world

-John 16:33

The humor-filled attitude and generous bravery of the Irish were most certainly taken up into that worldview, and hence given a new character.

Arguably, it was this very faith that made the Irish bearers of light in the darkness that followed the fall of Rome.  The industry and intrepidity of Irish monks who labored in their scriptoria and traveled throughout Europe to convert the barbarians showed forth their zeal in preserving the wisdom of the past, as well as in looking toward Europe’s future.

Let us remember that as we raise our glasses this St. Patty’s Day.

Images from Wikipedia


Cahill, Thomas.  How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe.  New York: Nan A. Talese, 1995.

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Fifty_Shades_Darker_book_cover“Fifty Shades Darker book cover” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Fifty_Shades_Darker_book_cover.jpg#/media/File:Fifty_Shades_Darker_book_cover.jpg

I hate to sound like a Puritan.  Believe me, I despise Puritanical negativity as much as the next person.  But there comes a time when one must either call a spade a spade, or cease to speak altogether.

Okay, okay — so let’s start by summarizing the main point of the first post, “Is ‘Grey’ Okay?”  Throughout E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades” trilogy there is a vague hope of sweet Anastasia “Ana” Steele saving Christian Grey from the sordid world of BDSM (bondage/discipline and sadomasochism), but in reality it is he who drags her into his dark world.

Christian and AnaI should, however, modify that conclusion with the admission that Christian and Ana do, in fact, get married by the end of the series.  By the end of the third book, “Fifty Shades Freed,” they have a two-year-old son and a daughter on the way.

The problem is the material itself.  One can get the impression that even granting a BDSM relationship to be a questionable thing, it can lead to a truly intimate and healthy relationship.  I don’t want to make this post too long, so I will just hope that the dubiousness of this premise is obvious to the reader and leave it at that.

But beyond that, let’s be honest about something: The “torture porn” element of the books — and of the film based on the first book — is clearly the selling point.  It is so embedded in the narrative that it cannot be otherwise.  Many readers and viewers are much attracted to this element, seeing in it nothing worse than the proverbial guilty pleasure.

And that’s what troubles me so deeply.

Let me step back a moment.  Why is pornography a problem in the first place?  The problem with pornography — whether involving people having sex or individuals posing naked and in erotic poses — is that it shows too much of the person, right?


As Pope John Paul II once said, the problem with pornography is that it shows too little of the person.  It reduces him/her to the least common denominator, and it renders him/her a spectacle for the pleasure of viewers.

Think about it a moment.  A woman depicted in a pornographic image has no story, no personality, nothing to say, and no purpose other than to stimulate sexual feelings.  She is robbed of her human dignity — in fact, as far as the spectator is concerned, such dignity was never there to begin with.  In other words, for all intents and purposes, there is no person behind the image.

Romeo_and_juliet_brown“Romeo and juliet brown” by Ford Madox Brown – http://www.whataboutclients.com/archives/2009/07/_ford_madox_bro_1.html , museum link. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Romeo_and_juliet_brown.jpg#/media/File:Romeo_and_juliet_brown.jpg

This is not to disparage sexual attraction, by any means.  Sexual attraction is in itself not only good, but fundamental to the identity of human beings.  But its purpose has nothing to do with what one can get out of one’s sexual partner.  It’s purpose, rather, is self-gift.  That is why the sexual act is meant to be reserved for marriage, for the lifelong and exclusive commitment between a man and woman in genuine love for one another.

Seen in the proper light, sex is far from evil or “dirty.”  On the contrary, sex is sacred.  It is perhaps the holiest encounter two people can have with one another in the natural course of human life.  And so when it is wrested out of its proper context, trivialized, and made a spectacle of, it is almost a sort of sacrilege.

Fifty Shades BDSMI would not say that the BDSM style of sex one sees/reads about in “Fifty Shades of Grey” is the logical extreme of sex gone wrong (that, of course, would be rape); but it does come close.  Again, remember the contract: Ana is to be an object of use; Christian is to have his enjoyment of her, which enjoyment is going to involve the infliction of pain.

“But wait a minute,” you ask.  “Maybe the stuff you’re saying is true, but what about when it’s two consenting adults?  Doesn’t that pretty much neutralize your objections?”

Next time.

Movie stills obtained through a Google image search; remaining images from Wikipedia

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50ShadesofGreyCoverArt“50ShadesofGreyCoverArt” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:50ShadesofGreyCoverArt.jpg#/media/File:50ShadesofGreyCoverArt.jpg

I am not in the habit of commenting on movies I haven’t seen, nor on books I haven’t read.  But the buzz that the recent film adaptation of E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey” has generated compels me to make an exception.

The massive commercial success of the “Fifty Shades” trilogy and of the film based on the first book, the “Fifty Shades”-themes menus at popular dining establishments, and the fact that even children’s toys are clothed with Christian Grey attire speak to the fact that the time has long passed since “Fifty Shades” was merely a story.  If it ever was so, it has long since become a phenomenon.

Okay — so I haven’t seen the movie or read the books.  I have, however, read the synopses online, so I can offer some very basic commentary based on what I know of the overall story.  I will begin by reflecting on some of the positive aspects, before proceeding to offer what I consider to be some much-needed criticism. fifty-shades-of-grey-dakota-johnson1College senior Anastasia Steele (portrayed by Dakota Johnson in the film) meets wunderkind business tycoon Christian Grey during what can best be described as an accidental journalism assignment.  In short order, she is drawn into his dark and shady (no pun intended) world of BDSM (short for bondage/discipline and sadomasochism).  Eventually, he has her sign a contract to the effect that their relationship will not entail romance or commitment; she is to be an object for his pleasure, and nothing more.

All that said, literary person that I am, I’d like to play the same “name game” that I played in my commentary on “Frozen.”  If you think I’m reading too much into it, all I can do is ask you to bear with me. fifty-shades-clip2The name “Anastasia” means “resurrection.”  As such, it is an appropriate name for the sweet, beautiful, innocent young virgin who comes into the life of this seductive and dominating tycoon (played by Jamie Dornan in the film) with twisted fetishes.  I think what many of the women who read James’ novels admire in Anastasia’s character is the desire to “save” him — to draw him out of the dark underworld he has built for himself and for his lovers, and back into the light.  Indeed, she does seem to hold onto hope that he will eventually relent in his determination to keep their relationship out of the realm of genuine affection.

If Anastasia’s name is interesting, her nickname is even more so.  Many women with the name Anastasia go by Stacy for short, but James decided to shorten her protagonist’s appellation differently: Ana.  That name means “grace” — which, among other things, can refer to unmerited favor aimed at another person’s betterment.  Surely this should remind us of the aforementioned point. But it is even more interesting when we meet Christian’s mother, whose name is…wait for it… Fifty-Shades-of-Grey-17-Marcia-Gay-HardenGrace.

So Ana shares with Christian’s mother the same name, but couched within “resurrection.”  It is as if she hopes to do what Christians mother was, for whatever reason, unable to do.

And that brings us to how Christian got into this lifestyle to begin with.  When he was fifteen years old, he was seduced by a woman named Elena Lincoln.  Unbeknownst to Christian’s parents, Elena drew him headfirst into the realm of BDSM sex — only she was the dominant partner in this case.

This is very telling.  At a young and relatively vulnerable age, Christian had a sexual experience in the form of being dominated.  We could perhaps infer that his sordid activities as an adult bespeak a subconscious quest to regain and reassert his compromised masculinity. helen of troy“Helen Moreau” by Gustave Moreau – World Gallery; see also Maguire, Helen of Troy, 41. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Helen_Moreau.jpg#/media/File:Helen_Moreau.jpg

Back to the “name game” a moment: Elena is a variant of Helena or Helen, which immediately brings to mind Helen of Troy, the proverbial “face that launched a thousand ships” during the Trojan War.  The name itself means “light,” but it is clearly a false light in the cases of both Helen of Troy and Elena Lincoln — a light that distracts and leads to ruin, as opposed to one that enlightens and leads to life.  So Christian’s dark sexual escapades are bookended by two women: Elena — false light — and Anastasia or Ana – resurrection and grace.

But there is a problem: Rather than being Christian’s salvation, Ana becomes another one of his conquests.  Rather than him being rescued, she is corrupted.  This gives us our segue into my more “negative” comments on the story’s subject matter.

Next time.

Top image from Wikipedia; movie stills obtained through a Google image search

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It’s Friday night, so I thought I’d have a little fun.  Here is a clip of Kevin Spacey on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” doing some pretty hilarious impersonations.

(Just a forewarning: There are some “bleeped-out” obscenities — one 41 seconds into the video, the other at 3 minutes and 52 seconds.)

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Pope_Francis_Korea_Haemi_Castle_19_(cropped)“Pope Francis Korea Haemi Castle 19 (cropped)” by Korea.net / Korean Culture and Information Service (Photographer name). Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pope_Francis_Korea_Haemi_Castle_19_(cropped).jpg#/media/File:Pope_Francis_Korea_Haemi_Castle_19_(cropped).jpg

Every month, the Pope comes out with two specific prayer intentions: Universal and Missionary.  I have identified these in the past, but this time I decided they deserved a brief bit of commentary.


InvestigadoresUR” by Urcomunicacion – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:InvestigadoresUR.JPG#/media/File:InvestigadoresUR.JPG

Universal Intention: 

That those involved in scientific research may serve the well-being of the whole human person.
Let’s be clear: Science is good.  It has been, and still is, an invaluable tool for humanity and has made a tremendous difference in so many ways.
The problem, from the Church’s (and, I hope, from any reasonable person’s) perspective, is not science, but scientism.  Scientism is the misguided belief that science can answer virtually everything, rendering religion invalid.  It reduces all knowledge to what is quantifiable, empirically discoverable, and verifiable by means of the scientific method.
In its most extreme form, scientism reduces the human person at the individual level to mere biology, and at the collective level to numbers or to marks on a “grid.”  With this view of humanity in place, matters of importance are not decided by the question, “Should we do it?”  Rather, they are decided by the question, “Can we do it?  Do we have the capability?”
And if carrying out our capabilities for what we consider the greater good means shutting down a particular biological configuration (the individual) or clearing out a few marks on a grid (groups), then so be it.  As the saying goes, “If you want to make an omelette, you have to break a few eggs.”
Let us always make sure that scientific endeavors serve the genuine good of humanity, rather than subjugating the human person to the advancement of science.
I would like to mention, in passing, a fascinating and eye-opening book on this subject for those who are interested in exploring the notion of scientism further: “Technology as Symptom and Dream,” by Robert D. Romanyshyn.
Dorothy_Day_1934“Dorothy Day 1934” by New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection – New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dorothy_Day_1934.jpg#/media/File:Dorothy_Day_1934.jpg
 Missionary Intention:
Contribution of Women:  That the unique contribution of women to the life of the Church may be recognized always.
It may surprise many people to learn that the Catholic Church has a very robust and inspiring theology of womanhood.  In fact, the Church is at one and the same time more feminist and more “masculinist” than most of Western culture, which tends to regard gender as a mere biological accident (here again is the scientistic view of the human person).
Genesis 1:27 tells us that God made humankind in His image, and in the same sentence tells us this: “[M]ale and female he created them.”  Man and woman image God together; neither gender fully does so by itself.  Therefore, men and woman share equal dignity and offer unique gifts to the world, humanity, and the Church.
For more information on this, see my Mother’s Day and Father’s Day posts from 2013.
Images from Wikipedia

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