See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. - James 5:7

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sensuality and Catholic spirituality


The principles of lust...
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There is a tendency amongst some Catholics to exult in what they term the "sensuality of Roman Catholicism". Indeed, the senses are encompassed in Catholic spirituality and worship, nevertheless, scripture and the witness of the saints teaches that our sensuality needs to be mortified, lest our sensual appetites wreak havoc and war against the spirit; once weakened, the spirit becomes bloated by self-indulgence and worldly concerns, leaving us once again enslaved to our passions. As Christians, we may not use our freedom to return to the slavery of the flesh.
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Chapter 8 of Paul's letter to the Romans teaches these truths clearly. The teaching of St. John of the Cross expounds upon the necessity of self-denial throughout his work, The Ascent of Mt. Carmel. Though written for contemplatives seeking perfection, his doctrine can be accommodated by the ordinary Christian when guided by a good spiritual director. The saint devotes entire passages to demonstrating the harm incurred through sensuality as well as the need to mortify the appetites which arouse it.
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I am not qualified to explain the doctrine of John of the Cross, nor do I want to spend much time on this subject of sensuality. Although I would like to say that I believe some Catholics deceive themselves, believing they are devout and spiritual, seeking God and living the Gospel, while indulging their sensual appetites in vanities. For instance, a few people may find more satisfaction in the smells and bells and elaborate vestments of a Latin Mass than they do in the worship of God. Others may rejoice and pay more attention to the splendid architecture of churches and finely crafted and ornamented statues than to the saint represented, or the Real Presence within the sanctuary. Still others become inordinately enamored by the physical gifts, grace and beauty they see in their self or another, which left unchecked, can lead directly to sensuality.
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Sense and sensibility.
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Now don't get me wrong, such joys are legitimate, some more or less according to one's state in life, nevertheless, all Christians need to practice a certain detachment in their use or enjoyment of sensible goods, and direct one's will to God alone. Christ gave us the sacraments precisely because we are sensible creatures. In fact sensibility is a more precise term than sensuality; I believe sensibility is compatible with virtue, while sensuality degenerates to self-gratification and self-indulgence. Of course, everything created is a grace which should direct our affections to God as our last end. However, what some practice or propose really focuses the affections upon the creature rather than the Creator.
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I should stop here to explain that I'm actually writing this as a reaction to a post I read on another person's blog, praising the inherent sensuality of Catholicism. It happens to be a very deceptive post.
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The author shares his views on another writer saying, "Boisvert’s saints are “tactile and sensual,” and their bodies, real or imagined, play a significant part in his religious and erotic life. “My saints are the men of my dreams,” he writes. “They are the companions of my imaginary voyages and my quest for spiritual fulfillment.”
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His Boisvert seems to understand the saints thus, "Saints are sensual beings, and the forms of piety that they elicit can be equally sensual and sometimes even sexual, in form and content. Anyone who has had the opportunity to observe the veneration of saints’ statues in intensely Catholic cultures – such as Latin ones, for example – is struck almost immediately by the care and attention heaped upon them. They are clothed and bathed, covered with flowers or dripping in bright red droplets of blood, gaudy and almost comical in their painted features, and lit by a reflective glow of a thousand votive candles." - Sanctity and Male Desire, A Gay Reading of the Saints
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Man, this stuff just twists a whole lot of doctrine and morality around. It is simply bogus spirituality. First of all, devotion to the saints, especially in Latin countries can sometimes be corrupted by superstition or practices long condemned by the Church - this has always been the case, which is why the Church regulates popular piety and devotion. Yes the saints were sensual beings, and most who were not martyrs practiced great self-denial and mortification, sacrificing themselves for Christ and the Gospel. For example, St. Francis of Assisi rolled himself in thorny rose bushes to quell a sudden temptation to sensuality. Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta lived in poverty and continual self denial in her service to the poorest of the poor. I believe the intent of such erroneous "doctrine" as I found on that blog is to generate an illusion of a Catholic homosexual spirituality, wherein homosexual acts are considered good and not sinful. That borders on idolatry. Sorry guys.
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Finally, the poor man finished his post with quotes from Anne Rice on sensuality and loving.

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Be on guard against such foolish teachings - just as I once warned about misinterpretations of JPII's Theology of the Body - the devil prowls like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.

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If you want to read John of the Cross on this subject, start at Book III, Chapter 16 of the Ascent of Mt. Carmel. Better yet - if you have questions about what I wrote here - ask your confessor. This stuff isn't easy to interpret sometimes, and I do not mean this post to be an exhaustive study by any means.

14 comments:

  1. Carol8:02 AM

    Good points. I'm not a large fan of Yosemite Sam the Trad, but I do recall there once being zero confusion about self or sin (if it was something one wouldn't do in front of one's grandmother, one didn't do it, and vanity was called out --er, except in clergy). It does seem with the advent of the internet that there are as many interpretations of Catholicism as there are Catholics, which scares me on behalf of (spiritual) little ones looking in. Hence, rational Christ-based adherence to clarity based on Tradition is a valuable gift --thank you for that today.

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  2. Sometimes the stuff that you post is really great- like today, and then I look at my blog ,and I think to myself.......
    just walk away.

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  3. "Saints are sensual beings, and the forms of piety that they elicit can be equally sensual and sometimes even sexual, in form and content." YUCK. Perverted understanding of the Saints and all things Catholic. Sounds like it was written by the Biggest Pervert himself, Satan.

    Great post, Ter.

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  4. Nicely written, Terry. One question - you wrote "Christ gave us the sacraments precisely because we are sensible creatures" I'm just wondering if 'sensate' would be more accurate, mainly because I know how non-sensible I can be at times!! Not nit-picking here, just asking.

    I've never read "Ascent of Mt Carmel" - I'm still wading through "The Interior Castle", and I'm always referring to "Imitation of Christ". I think that's quite sensible of me...lol!

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  5. Larry - that works too - anything but sensuality.

    The Interior Castle is wonderful isn't it.

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  6. Yes, Yes, and Yes! Great post.

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  7. you said: "Although I would like to say that I believe some Catholics deceive themselves, believing they are devout and spiritual, seeking God and living the Gospel, while indulging their sensual appetites in vanities. For instance, a few people may find more satisfaction in the smells and bells and elaborate vestments of a Latin Mass than they do in the worship of God."


    in this comment you expose the fact that you do not clearly understand the intent or purpose of the Catholic liturgy. the "smells and bells", vestments and Mass -are- the worship of G-d.

    more to the point, a lack of liturgy and an iconoclastic approach to building churches and orchestrating services is no assurance of either piety, restraint of the appetites, or the worship of G-d.

    i have seen a lot of Protestant in blank, white, rectangular churches pack away a half dozen donuts and 32 ounces of coffee while sitting in Sunday school.

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  8. jhimm - This particular post is not about the traditional Latin Mass - I mentioned it because it indirectly relates to the post by the homosexual activist I based my post upon. The guy links to an earlier post of his based upon an Andrew Sullivan post claiming the Catholic Mass is inherently gay.

    I know and understand a great deal about the Roman Catholic Mass. I'm actually Roman Catholic.

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  9. Terry, you're "Catholicness," you understand, is not up to you, but rather is decided by a host of conservative Catholic pundits.

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  10. Thom - it is true. I have lived my entire life looking for this type of approval.

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  11. I gave up.

    Kinda like that campy song, "I am what I am / I don't want praise, I don't want pity...."

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  12. I'm sorry Thom - I was just kidding.

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  13. Oh I know! :-)

    This is why comments should be audio.

    But I still like that song....

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  14. That's way too many layers of "this is a response to" which is a response to which is a response to... for me to follow.

    Read on its face, this post comes of pretty anti-Catholic. Especially if it is written by a Catholic.

    You had an intended context (the nested "response to's" which did not come through at all for those of us unfamiliar with all the previous reactions).


    imHo, anyone who says that a Catholic mass is "gay" doesn't deserve a response. it's a nonsensical critique.

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