Monday, December 12, 2011

Such drama.



The purgative stage of illness.

When we are sick, all of our bodily eliminations literally spew out the impurities that pollute our system and are responsible for making us sick.  You can be so sick you almost feel better after vomiting repeatedly - just for a minute or so, of course.  Have you ever been so sick you can't even pray?  That can happen.

I'm just starting to feel better today - I'm regaining my perspective I think.  I have to think of it as a real purgation nonetheless.  Finally this morning I was able to 'say' my prayers, and I thought of Catherine of Genoa right away - therefore she is my patron for the day.  Did you know she once told an uppity priest that if she thought for one minute his habit would make her holy she'd rip it off his back and put it on and live a religious life.  What's that got to do with anything?  I don't know.  But I love her and she knew first hand about purgation, sickness and depression, and unsentimental charity.

This morning I noted on Spirit Daily an essay on Purgatory based upon some private revelations - I didn't read it all - just skimmed it - but it led me to re-read something from John of the Cross, from his Living Flame of Love, which resonated with me more clearly.  As I always say, St. John writes for contemplatives, I don't consider myself one of them.  He also writes about the various stages of the spiritual life - especially in advanced souls, something I don't concern myself with since it is all above me.  Nevertheless, the psychological state John describes strikes me as helpful in shedding some light on the very idea and purpose of purgatory - here on earth and in the actual state after death.  I'll share some highlights here.

The purgative way.

"Spiritual writers call this activity the purgative way. In it a person suffers great deprivation and feels heavy afflictions in his spirit , which ordinarily overflow into the senses, for this flame is extremely oppressive. 
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In this preparatory purgation the flame is not bright for a person, but dark.  if it does shed some light, the only reason is that the soul may see its miseries and defects.  It is not gentle, but afflictive." 

[I want to stop right there for a moment.  This is what many saints described in their conversions - which were not overnight excursions.  Think of Angela d'Foligno and Margaret d'Cortona - they went in stages - and others went in longer stages.  Like Sr. C., the nun I mentioned in a former post, she lived in affliction all her religious life and only on her deathbed did she experience any consolation.  Most of us believe we are converted, do a little penance, make a few sacrifices, do the right stuff, and boom!  We're all spiritual and good.  I don't think we can comprehend authentic Roman Catholic spirituality with a new age, prosperity gospel mentality.  But I am no one to listen to.  Let's get back to the text.]

"Sometimes, out of his goodness, god accords some delight in order to strengthen and encourage it, the soul suffers for this before and after with another trial.  Neither is the flame (the Living Flame, the Holy Spirit)  refreshing and peaceful, but it is consuming and contentious, making a person faint and suffer with self-knowledge.  Thus it is not glorious for the soul, but rather makes it feel wretched and distressed in the spiritual light of self-knowledge which it bestows.  as Jeremiah declares, God sends fire into its bones and instructs it. [Lam. 1:13]; and as David asserts, He tries it by fire. [Ps. 16:3]

At this stage a person suffers from sharp trials in his intellect, severe dryness and distress in his will, and from the burdensome knowledge of his own miseries in his memory, for his spiritual eye gives him a very clear picture of himself.  [...]  This purgation resembles what Job said God did to him: you are changed to be cruel toward me. [Jb. 30:21]  for when a soul suffers all of these things jointly, it truly seems that God has become displeased with it and cruel.

A person's suffering at this time cannot be exaggerated; they are but little less than the sufferings of purgatory." - St. John of the Cross, Living Flame of Love, Stanza 1, Commentary, 18-21

And just think, Job was a just man.  Elsewhere St. John quotes scripture, "Only with difficulty will the just man be saved." 

  
Art:  Catherine of Genoa.  I got this from Idle Speculations, which has a very good post on St. Catherine which I found after searching for an image of the saint.

56 comments:

  1. I hope you are feeling better Terry. Tis the season.

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  2. You sounded perfectly normal to me Terry, that is, your blog posts did, during your sickness.

    Then again I'm nuts............;)

    Glad you're 'back' so to speak.
    We've got Christmas bar bookings to arrange, some even want to visit after lunch on Christmas Day!! I've had to take on extra staff whilst you were off sick, although customers found the place pretty quiet with no music(comments) allowed. Fortunately a coach load of morose alkies turned up yesterday, too drunk to talk, they just wanted to drink and sleep.
    The last one, a guy, just left, said his name was Barry or Larry or something, he looked oddly familiar but I can't be sure as he was wearing a false moustache and Groucho Marx type glasses? He said you would know who he was anyway.

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  3. Glad to hear you're better.

    Sometimes I don't even understand what spiritual writers are talking about. Those of us who do not belong to religious orders, or even want to, are obviously spiritual morons who haven't even begun to make progress.

    As for the married, it's clear that they might as well not even try to start.

    And it seems that unless one is a religious, we're probably all going to hell anyway, since we obviously don't want to love God all that much and prefer the sensual pleasures of the world.

    How can any of my desires - to have a wife and a family (and to have a loving relationship with her both physically and spiritually), to have a decent job to support them, to simply practice charity in daily life - how can any of that be pleasing to God?

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  4. I'm sorry for my extreme pessimism.

    All I want to do is be able to live life and love my wife in a normal and healthy way without feeling like I am going to hell for everything, or for liking things that are not spiritual.

    My image of God really is that of a taskmaster who counts every foible I have, who is angry with me for anything I desire if it's not a spiritual desire (and especially if it is sexual in nature). And everything I read just reinforces this.

    If it' better that the whole world be destroyed than even one venial sin be committed, then why even leave the house? Since none of us can talk, eat, make love to our spouse, make a joke, watch a movie, or do anything without incurring God's wrath in some sort of way, why do anything but hope to die, and die soon?

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  5. Mercury,

    To balance out the perspective offered in this post, perhaps one could consider St. Therese's thoughts on purgatory.

    For instance:

    "The common teaching within the Church is that Purgatory can hardly be avoided. While still only a novice, the saint commented about this with one of the sisters, Sr. Maria Philomena, who believed in the near impossibility of going to heaven without passing through purgatory:


    'You do not have enough trust. You have too much fear before the good God. I can assure you that He is grieved over this. You should not fear Purgatory because of the suffering there, but should instead ask that you not deserve to go there in order to please God, Who so reluctantly imposes this punishment. As soon as you try to please Him in everything and have an unshakable trust He purifies you every moment in His love and He lets no sin remain. And then you can be sure that you will not have to go to Purgatory.'

    She even said that we would offend God if we didn't trust enough that we would get to heaven right after dying. When she found out that her novices talked occasionally that they would probably have to expect to be in Purgatory, she corrected them saying: "Oh! How you grieve me! You do a great injury to God in believing you're going to Purgatory. When we love, we can't go there."6 Now, this is a new doctrine, but only for those who don't know God, who are not childlike, who don't trust. It is so correct to see things this way. It is true that God will judge us at one point, but He is always and first our Father Who... suffers when He has to punish His child and sees its suffering. The child should do His will just out of love, and not to avoid punishment. And this really means that God does not want Purgatory! He allows that His children suffer, but only as if He had to look away."

    More here: http://www.franciscan-sfo.org/ap/litfwrpu.htm

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  6. St. John of the Cross was what Therese would call a "big soul" - he was an eagle while she was little bird who could only flap her wings feebly while other souls soared. But she trusted in God's goodness to the point of audacity, and her confidence is what paved her entirely new "little way." She is a "little soul"; not everyone is called to live according to the ways in which the big souls live. God is so good as to provide the little their own way to Him - He Himself is the way; His goodness and tenderness and mercy is itself the way when united to total confidence in Him, without exception. We must make our efforts, but never give in to discouragement. Trust wins over His heart - make that your constant sacrifice and He will do the rest.

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  7. Patrick, thank you. My biggest problem is trying to do things that please God, though.

    When I am so convinced that so many things can be displeasing to God in some way because some saint or some rad trad said they are, I feel like God is only pleased with me if I am a.) praying or b.) doing some act of charity.

    If I am convinced that doing just about anything I like may be displeasing to God in some way - reading a novel, playing a game, etc. Or what about those things that some Saints have indicated God hates, like dancing, or they indicate that God hates it when women wear pants or anything besides a long, long dress. So I can be utterly and morbidly paranoid if my wife wants to wear a swimsuit at the beach, or my daughter wants to play tennis.

    Or, worst of all, so many saints have indicated that all sexual pleasure and desire is somehow displeasing to God unless it is explicitly geared towards procreation in intention. I am convinced that the healthy bodily desire I have for my wife, my joy at the little erotic touches and looks spouses have throughout the day, my strong attraction to her, my desire NOT to be celibate - I really and truly have somehow internalized this notion that God despises all that. (as one trad stated, he refuses to accept the "modern sex cult" of the Church, whose current teachings on the issue are pretty clear, but to me really do seem like a 180-turn).

    I cannot possibly fathom that a normal and healthy physical side to married life, without second-guessing, fear, and worry is pleasing to God. I cannot fathom that he is not pissed at me if I watch a movie and not EVERYTHING in it is perfectly pleasing to him. I cannot fathom the idea that he is not irate with me if I play a video game, or that I am not sinning if I think a woman is beautiful or charming, etc.

    I feel like I should be a priest or a monk, not because I want to, but because only then can I be "safe". Stupid, I know.

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  8. Father Z. eats oysters. There's someone who understands the doctrine that purgatory begins here and now, and practices it in the most concrete Catholic fashion.

    "I don't think we can comprehend authentic Roman Catholic spirituality with a new age, prosperity gospel mentality."

    Terry, this sort of thing needs to be listened to. I fear there is some kind of assimilation going on; we do not understand how singular was the event of Christ's death and resurrection. Our ears are beginning to itch, and we are straying and wandering into "myths". We are experts at not listening to what we think we already know. And we do not know that it is something about which "knowing" is absolutely insufficient.

    There are many false prophets, and they sell sweet poison. They make presumption upon Christ's self-emptying humility and take a lunging nose dive into a narcissistic spirituality. The one thing that would beget our own humility, turned to our deadly pride.

    Do we think the devil's that dumb? He's cunning. To be able to get a people in times demanding humble repentance to proclaim themselves "Christs"...that requires a lot of confusion and false light.

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  9. Terry, read this blog post today, Overshadowed by the Light, think you'll like it: http://www.dominicanablog.com/2011/12/12/overshadowed-by-the-light/

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  10. Thanks Badger - I think I will live.

    Shadow - I'm glad you are here - yep - I'm nuts too.

    Merc - Hi. remember this is just my adaptation of John's doctrine to my paltry flu-induced, seasonal depression. I'm pretty sure God is very pleased with your efforts and goals in life.

    Patrick - good comments! Therese has you in her pocket, close to her heart!

    Paul - I agree - thanks for your insights.

    SF - I never knew Dominicana existed. I did like the post.

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  11. Paul - almost forgot, Fr. Z seems to be an Epicurean.

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  12. Terry, thank you so much for the wisdom you impart in this post. So much there to reflect on. This is why I love your blog--and you too.

    Get well soon, my friend. Prayers in Mass and rosaries being prayed for you.

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  13. I`m sorry to hear that you are not well but are slowly back on the mend. Please take care

    Many thanks for the link

    But do try reading something more cheerful. St Catherine of Genoa is really not when you are feeling ill

    Best wishes

    Terry

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  14. So glad you have returned to posting, hope you are feeling a little better everyday.

    Dear Mercury, you are very hard on yourself. You have a good heart and Christ loves you, you have to rejoice in that and start loving yourself.
    Blessings and prayers,
    Ann:)

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  15. Glad you've got comments open again, Terry--you're feeling up to it? Hope you hit 100% soon. Sometimes with being sick and unable to pray, there's that little interlude between dog sick and full recovery, where everything just seems quiet and sort of boring.

    Regarding your blog: Something about the topics you choose and the insights you offer on them really resonates with me. It helps me to follow you. Very often when I am facing sin and darkness in myself, you have just the right "word" of light and courage. It's scary how often you write about exactly what I am thinking about--and I know from comments you receive now and again that I am not the only person who experiences this effect. So I will just observe that your blog seems driven by the Spirit to me. Your humility in dealing with yourself as a (notorious? ;D) blogger is reassuring to me, because it means that your compassion for us as readers can continue for a while.

    Glad you're back!

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  16. Terry, yes he does seem to be something of an Epicurian, though of course we only get the persona and not the person from the blog.

    I should clarify my joke, because on second reading, it looks different from what I intended it to be.

    I was not being sarcastic about Father Z. as though he was living the high life and knew nothing of purgatory in the here and now. I was simply referring to how eating oysters is tantamount to doing purgatory - for someone like me at least. Because oysters are just, well, ugh.

    It was a kind-hearted joke. I like Father Z.

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  17. Mercury,

    I'll offer my own thoughts from my own reading and reflection as well as my own experience with discernment and prayer and observation of others with similar questions/concerns:

    I think you touch on a very important issue when you mention your image of God. I have very similar troubles myself, often thinking God to be more 'harsh' than even many saints speak of Him. One's image of God is everything, in a way, it seems to me. How can we know how to relate to God and how God thinks of us (what He would say about you and your vocation, for instance), if we don't know something about who or how He really is. So that's a tremendously important thing to pray about and focus on.

    I don't mean to be simplistic as I know this is a complicated thing, but I'm trying in my own life to be honest with God in prayer, to voice my concerns and sufferings and questions, just like you've done here, to Him in prayer. No pretense, no worrying about what He'll think - no unecessary irrevence of course, but just to speak to Him plainly.

    Go to Jesus; ask Him to show you the Father more intimately. Jesus said to St. Faustina:

    "My child, do not be discouraged. I know your boundless trust in Me; I know you are aware of My goodness and mercy. Let us talk in detail about everything that weighs so heavily upon your heart.

    Talk to Me simply, as a friend to a friend. Tell Me now, My child, what hinders you from advancing in holiness?"

    Many saints, but especially more recently I believe, have pointed to how pleasing trust is to God. If you are concerned with pleasing Him, which is a sign itself of grace at work in you, then perhaps you are to focus more on trust as part of how to do that right now.

    Beyond this, I understand what you're saying about the thought that only religious could possibly please God. And yet, that is simply not true. That only religious please God is not the teaching of the Church, for one thing. Nor is it the teaching of the Church that celibacy alone pleases God.

    It's important to read comments saints have made not only in their total context and with an understanding of the times in which they were living, but also with some sense of discretion as not every word or idea that every saint ever uttered is to be taken as "truth." St. Augustine could be quite pessimistic at times in his theology on grace, almost Calvinistic. That's not how the Church thinks.

    I think a good approach is to read the principles and ideals that saints espouse with a certain reflective distance and see how they might relate to your own life. Spiritual direciton is so important here, as is discernment. The devil can also lead souls astray by their good intentions and by their fear of God. St. Francis de Sales is still a great guide for helping all souls integrate the Gospeol properly according to their particular states of life. I am fond of this quote:

    "When charity draws some to poverty and withdraws others from it, when she impels some to marriage and others to continence, when she shuts one up in a cloister and makes another leave it, she has no need to give an account to any one: for she has the plenitude of power in the Christian law, as it is written: charity can do all things (Cf. 1 Cor 13:7); she has the fullness of prudence, as it is said: charity does nothing in vain. And if any would contest, and demand of her why she does so, she will boldly answer: The Lord has need of it. All is made for charity, and charity for God." (Treatise on the Love of God, book 8, ch. 6)

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  18. ...

    One's focus, I believe, should be on love. Are you motivated by love? Fear of the Lord is not enough - it is only the beginning. And servile fear is not what we're after. God loves you and wants your freedom according to who you are, not according to who you are not and what you do not desire. He must meet you where you are and where we all are - how else would He reach us?

    I like to consider the fruits of the Holy Spirit for an examination of conscience and also for discernment: will a particular decision or penance or something along those lines lead to an increase of love - an increase of those fruits in me? If not, and if in fact it is bringing me apart from love, no matter how holy it may seem or who else may be practicing it, it is not for me.

    Something that fascinates me is the example of Mary and Joseph. They are a model to the celibate and to the consecrated religious who take vows of chastity and to those in the single life living chastely for obvious reasons. And yet they were really married and shared in the joys and sorrows that marriage can bring. They really were husband and wife to one another and it was beautiful - it was of God. So much so that God developed His own humanity in that context. How could such a vocation be displeasing to God?

    Mary and Joseph are the great iconoclasts of the notion that only people in such and such a state of life can be holy. That isn't the question at all. The question is to be holy within the context of the state of life in which you live. Part of the healing of one's image of God, I believe, comes about through a transformation wherein one takes the implications of the Incarnation more seriously and realizes that God is not so distant, but can be found 'in all things'. Marriage is holy, just like various forms of recreation and such, rightly understood, can be holy.

    I saw an article once that made this great point: "It should be said that the vocation of marriage is not only for those who are too weak to embrace the vocation of celibacy, but for those who, according to circumstances of natural disposition, providence, and the interior movement of charity, find marriage the fullest way of expressing and growing in this charity."

    None of this can be pronounced on for an individual from some abstract perspective. God deals with each soul individually and personally - we each have a name God alone knows. We are different and God knows and respects that. He wants to delight in you for who you are and for all that you've experienced. He takes your personal history and your very individuality and singularity very seriously.

    Grace builds on nature - when there is some kind of false rupture such that God's will is seen as this cold blueprint to which one must conform rather than as the very loving completion of who God has already been forming one to be - very concretely according to one's own humanity - then I believe we are running again into a false image of God and a false theology of time and freedom.

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  19. Patrick - thanks so much. I'm going to have ti read this again when I can digest it better.

    As far as Mary and Joseph - for the life of me I cannot understand how a married couple can find consolation there. Pessimistic as I am, what I see is that marriage is most pleasing to God when sexuality is eschewed.

    I try so hard to convince myself that sexual desire in marriage, the day to day erotic looks, touches etc. that come so normally and naturally to spouses, that all such things are in accord with our created nature an are in fact, pleasing and not loathsome to God when the purpose the serve is unitive between spouses. The ultimate purpose of it all, procreation, need not be foremost in their minds. That simply being prudent and respectful while otherwise following natural promptings is what one is supposed to do.

    And then one realizes thy the very model of marriage is untainted by such things, that there was no physical desire, no sexual affection whatsoever between Mary and Joseph. And also that most saints who were married pursued holiness by procreating, yes, but by otherwise avoiding sexuality asuch as possible. Look at Bridget of Sweden - she had 8 kids, but between births she and her husband would take vows of chastity and avoid the marriage bed like the plague.

    Even St. Therese's parents had nothing close to a normal life in that regard, and most married saints slept in separate beds, etc. St. Francis de Sales himself said married people should get it over and done with as soon as possible, and tht they shoul be like elephants and almost never do it. So
    when rad trads say that the modern Church has departed from tradition, and that spouses should avoid sexual arousal and affection as much as possible, I tend to see
    their point - they DO seem to be more in line with tradition.

    My SD/confessor says to just accept as a gift the sexual side or married life - that there is no sin in the intimate looks, touches, arousal, whatever of married life, as long as nature is never contravened. To respect each other's privacy when desired, but to understand that normal life for married folk is very open and different than it is for unmarried people. Then I read trads on the Internet who advise spouses to never change clothes in front of one another so as to avoid lust, or that using NFP
    is gravely wrong and that procreation is the only "excuse", or that modesty must be strictly practiced in marriage, and I panic. Surely these pious-sounding folk are much more
    "traditional" than my spiritual director, right? And surely all those things I mentioned had no place in the lives of the Holy Family or other married saints.

    Sorry to be such a buzzkill, but u do appreciate what you wrote, and I will save it. I need to pray with some of those words when I get the chance.

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  20. Terry, I am sorry to hijack your post again. Please delete anything if it's annoying or self-serving.

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  21. You're welcome, Mercury.

    Regarding Mary and Joseph, one point in particular stood out to me, "that there was no physical desire, no sexual affection whatsoever" between them. I don't think that all affection must be "sexual," as in necessarily leading towards the unitive act at some point. They were human, after all, and not robots. Though chaste and pure without a doubt, they also had feelings. Did Mary and Joseph ever hold hands or something along those lines? Did they ever hug or embrace in any way like that? Heck, did they ever laugh or giggle? I don't know for sure, but I don't see why not. I don't see why that would compromise or undermine necessarily their holiness and, thus, force us to conceive of them as almost superhuman, as if above the basic wholesome human longings for intimacy and tenderness.

    Perhaps there have been too many pious biographies and such over the years that, not understanding sexuality the way the Church does today, felt compelled to paint pictures of saints that almost makes them lacking humanity. St. Joseph is often pictured as this old man in many pious images - the intent was to stress and preserve the virginity of Mary, I believe. Nothing wrong with that. But in reality, such an old man would probably be unfit to make such a treck into Egypt with Mary and Jesus, for one thing.

    And if we can take humanity, sexually speaking or intimately speaking as not by default being offensive to God, why not extend that to all facets of what makes us human in the good sense? I doubt Jesus as fully man along with being God would have made such an impression on the little ones and receiving them if He was cold, distant, "unaffectionate." Little children only go to those they sense they can trust and they respond to warmth and love through something like a smile intuitively.

    That is part of what I mean by taking the Incarnation and its implications very seriously.

    A point about tradition: it's true that in the history of the Church, many have looked upon the sexual act with skepticism and stressed the procreative aspect almost to the point of dismissing the unitive. But tradition now includes the thought of JPII and his theology of the body, not to mention the larger turn in much philosophical thinking towards "personalism" which has been used often to highlight the beauty of the unitive aspect of marriage first and foremost by men like Dietrich von Hildebrand, who Pope Benedict has said that "When the intellectual history of the Catholic Church in the twentieth century is written, the name of Dietrich von Hildebrand will be most prominent among the figures of our time."

    (You may enjoy this article written by his wife comparing his work to that of Christopher West's - it's an excellent treatment of what married people are to aim for in their marriage in terms of purity without denegrating the sexual act: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/document.php?n=999).

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  22. And tradition, rightly understood, is more generally not some static entity; it is in part shaped by new questions that arise to challenge its assertions. This is a positive thing because the truth is always being integrated into the concrete experiences that we live, even with all of its difficulties. At one time, I wonder if the "trads" would have been right on board with the aspect of tradition that praised the Church of the Middle Ages in seeking to exert great authority and control over affairs both ecclesial and secular or civic, and to a shocking degree. Preparations were made for a crusade to the Holy Land to liberate it “from the hands of the ungodly."

    Canon 1 of the Fourth Lateran Council declared that “there is one Universal Church of the faithful, outside of which there is absolutely no salvation.” There has since been many councils, not least of which is Vatican II. We understand the teaching of the Fourth Lateran council with greater nuance than in the 13th century, and so arriving at certitude is often a delicate project requiring patience. I think we have to be honest about what we claim to know and then how we act regarding what we know. It isn't often as simple as pointing to something in the past as if there was this ready-made answer guide, or as if there was some magical era of splendor and complete certainty regarding all things in the Church. New events and crises and developments, etc. constantly emerge and force the Church to grow. This is not relativism, but an on-going encounter with reality. It is the truth being integrated faithfully - any reference to tradition that does not have this broader mindset or consciousness runs the risk of dogmatizing or crystalizing the past de facto, often I feel out of fear of the challengs of the present and the future.

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  23. Thanks, Patrick.

    Re: Mary and Joseph, the thing is, though, such human affection belongs to the realm of all kinds of human relationships. Close friends, even of the same sex, can do those things, as can a father and his daughter. What tends to define marriage and the affectionate acts appropriate to it are that they are in a physical realm beyond anything appropriate for the unmarried. So the implication seems to be that certain kinds of affection are in fact, base, and not for the pure. That there is something impure in what moralists refer to as "mutual acts" between spouses. And, as someone who has been married, I can say that there is no line where an act is merely affectionate and becomes sexual - it all sort of blurs together, and it seems to be designed that way, if sexual expression is in fact something that belongs to deep affection (and by sexual expression, I mean the whole range of touches, looks, etc. that are only legitimate between married people). I know the Church does not teach that this is how it is, but it's the impression I get. My own fault.

    I have read Alice von Hildebrand's article, and while I agree with her distaste for West, that article in particular left me worse off than I was before I read it. Rather than getting the impression that creativity, mirth, exploration and strong desire belong to the marital bond, it leaves me with an image of the marriage bed surrounded with incense and the spouses approaching each other somberly and pensively, ... like going to Church, rather than in a spirit of light-hearted playfulness and confidence that many married folk know.

    She also indicates sin in places where moralists disagree with her: she implies that any variation in sexual position is sinful, for example, and she seems to believe that any creativity in foreplay is wrong (and yes, of course I agree that SOME, dirty things need not even be mentioned). I was left with the impression that any erotic act beyond the bare minimum require din intercourse is indicative of lust and a diminuation of love.

    In short, it left me with the impression that I need to question every sexual look and touch between my wife and I, and that I need to take a detailed inventory of every little thing done leading up to the marriage act, that simply enjoying the marital embrace and having a joyful time with it will just infuriate God and diminish spousal love. She seems like she would agree with the trads who make rules like "never change clothes in front of one another, always put up walls between you, and never just feel free in your bodies together". I can't imagine she has any time for erotic activity outside the marriage act itself (which all moralists DO approve of, and which my spiritual director says "if it has a unitive end, and nothing is done to go against nature, what can be the problem?").

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  24. To be sure, I find the dry moralists or the early 20th century to be the most help. This is from a pamphlet written in 1935 (on EWTN's website):

    "The general principle here is
    that a couple may seek as much closeness and intimacy as possible
    so long as the situation remains human, that is, does not
    deteriorate into animality and does not seek the culmination of
    pleasure outside the natural act. For the rest, while they know
    they are two in one flesh and love one another and do not desire
    to use one another for purely selfish and private gratification,
    they will come to no harm if they follow their natural promptings
    and take the greatest and widest joys together in their love."

    That seems easy enough - almost too easy! It's more or less what my SD/confessor says. Fr. Hardon, bastion of orthodoxy, says the same in many places.

    And that's why Hildebrand actually makes me more nervous - she gives me the impression that if it's erotic, and feels really sexual, then something is wrong - like I said, that the marriage bed should be like going to Church. Never any hint of just being comfortable and letting one's hair down. Like I said, to her it seems that any variation beyond the bare minimum is impure and degrading. Of course, this is my impression, not what she said.

    This is getting so long, but I want to thank you for what you have said. You seem like you have a very good understanding of tradition and how to understand things in light of the Magisterium we live with, rather than trying to live in the past - which we can really only know by vague speculation and partially. This is why the Magisterium itself has a license to interpret Tradition.

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  25. You’re welcome, Mercury. I’m going to share some more thoughts with the disclaimer that I’m offering my own observations based on my reading and reflections over time:

    I don’t think I agree with your point about what tends to define marriage (those acts in the physical realm beyond anything appropriate for the unmarried). It’s true that certain physical acts are only permissible in marriage, such as intercourse itself. That is an objective fact. But a real marriage is not defined by whether such physical acts occur – Mary and Joseph had a real marriage; they loved one another as husband and wife, though that love was not expressed through intercourse. Love is a matter of the heart and the will and even if a couple is engaging in intercourse within the context of a marriage and so, objectively speaking, are not doing anything wrong, it’s possible they are lusting after one another, treating the other as an object, etc. This is why the turn towards personalism is so important, I think, and why JPII’s theology of the body has been so impactful: the entire focus is not simply on an acts-only morality but it takes into consideration the intention behind such acts as well as the real focal point, which is loving the other as an ‘other’, as an image of God, and responding to the whole person and not isolating any affection or physical sexual expression from the rest of the person. In such a view too, the procreative aspect of the sexual act is secondary to the unitive, though they are always intimately linked.

    I agree that there are certain kinds of “affection” which are base by their nature. Such acts, I believe, by their very nature objectify the other and do not build up the loving intimacy that should result from non-base forms of affection. “Love” ought to produce “love,” I believe – the love in the heart that rightly motivates a couple to give themselves to another physically, sexually ought to in turn produce greater love in their hearts for another. There can even of course be legit kinds of affection – objectively speaking – that are rendered base by those who utilize them improperly, by lust or disorder in the heart or will.

    I think the point is that while there are objective lines regarding affection, what is also important is that affection and such be kept in the proper perspective and in its right place. To me, it seems as if it ought to flow out of the love that is deeper, that which is in the heart and the will and which is an expression of the ways in which one has tried to love the other in all aspects of life. Subjectively speaking, and assuming it is within the bounds of legit objective forms of affection, my affection for my wife, for example, to my mind is more authentic when I am working towards being more patient with her at other moments or when I’m being vigilant about guarding my eyes while at work or something, so that my heart does not begin to wander, such that my devotion to her begins to dissipate. This is all really about the integration of the whole human person, and so it is nothing less than a particular call to holiness.

    We ought to rightly be concerned to discern continually what is the basis for the “whole range of touches, looks, etc.” that we find ourselves immersed in or consenting to, or even desiring. There are always two considerations: first, the objective – whether the very act in the abstract de facto diminishes the dignity and personhood of myself and/or my beloved, and secondly – and usually much more subtlety – what is the motivation, what is the drive? Affection, though it certainly can have that pleasurable aspect and can be “enjoyed” is never itself “enjoyment” – if we are being affectionate to simply enjoy it, then I think we are off-base. Rather, in line with the deeper underlying reality of love as a self-gift to another, there should be a mutual reciprocity in affection just as in all else (acts of patience, kindness, little sacrifices for my beloved, etc.).

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  26. At his general audience on July 23, 1980, JPII said that “The heart has become a battlefield between love and lust. The more lust dominates the heart, the less the heart experiences the nuptial meaning of the body. It becomes less sensitive to the gift of the person, which expresses that meaning in the mutual relations of man and woman. Certainly, that lust which Christ speaks of in Matthew 5:27-28 appears in many forms in the human heart. It is not always plain and obvious. Sometimes it is concealed, so that it passes itself off as love, although it changes its true profile and dims the limpidity of the gift in the mutual relationship of persons. Does this mean that it is our duty to distrust the human heart? No! It only means that we must keep it under control.”

    We do not need to live in continual anxiety either about sexual acts objectively speaking (so long as we think with the Church) or about subjective contexts (as in, no matter what I do sexually, it is necessarily an offense against God). That kind of anxiety is not from God. I think what God is asking is for deeper conversion and deeper integration. He wants us to be so attentive to our love for the other – out of love, and not out of fear. He knows we are weak and we need His help, and yet marriage and sexual intercourse is His sacred gift and so He yearns to move us closer to a better understanding of it as well as an authentic living of it. He wants that sexual union to glorify Him and it does so if it truly is an expression of love. We have to continually fight the battle in our hearts and grow in that sensitivity to the gift that is the other person.

    This is something that each person is responsible for; it cannot be put aside and it is indeed a burden of sorts. If we are painfully aware of our nature and our weaknesses, then we know how much diligence over our heart we must practice. But this is a labor of love: for God, for ourselves and for our beloved; and, ultimately, if such is the case, for our children.

    And it is something that must be discerned very individually, in a sense, because not only people will respond – good or bad – to the same types of temptations or the same types of struggles. So I find “rules” like “never change clothes in front of one another, always put up walls between you, and never just feel free in your bodies together" to be missing the point – it’s not so simple to mandate chastity and purity from on high. As JPII noted, it is a matter of the heart, and those “rules” may or may not assist one’s heart towards the realizing the gift of the other person. Personal discernment is so important, and this is ultimately rooted in prayer and good will (really desiring to love the other for his or her own sake) as well as vigilance and custody of the sense and heart. It may be well and good to “let one’s hair down,” as you say. There is really no way to legislate such expressions from above, I feel. That greater comfort with one’s spouse is probably in fact something that God does desire, but never at the cost of sacrificing real reverence for the other person nor drifting of course into animality or mere pleasure as the focal point.

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  27. I’m sorry the von Hildebrand article left such an impression. That said, I do not know what you specifically have in mind regarding “creativity, mirth, exploration…, light-hearted playfulness….” I would be weary of using such expressions as the focal points. I do not think that sex is to be about “enjoyment,” strictly speaking, though that does not mean that can and ought to be enjoyable. I think the distinction is in seeking to enjoy the physical aspect of it above and beyond the spiritual – I think that’s the mistake. When the focus becomes different positions or what we can do without sinning or any such consideration, I think simply that the point has been missed. That isn’t even what ought to concern someone, outside of course of wishing to do nothing immoral and to offend God. The focal point rather ought to be the other person, and the union with them, which again ought to flow more and more naturally out of the love that we have for them in all other aspects of daily life.

    This is admittedly difficult and it does require as mentioned great diligence and devotion. But it is a call to holiness, as it rightly ought to be. And it is ultimately a good. God wants to help us with this, and so we can take confidence in Him even as if bear with our own natures and disordered hearts and those of others.

    Again, just my perspective. God bless you – truly. This is not an easy arena to navigate, but it is beautiful and worthwhile.

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  28. All of that sounds beautiful, if does, but there's so much overthinking involved that it is overwhelming. I have been in marriage and tried to be that way, but what it amounts to is that purity is "my dearest beloved let us retire to the marital chamber".

    To be blunt, I ended up wondering if I was singing mortally because I liked to look at my wife's breasts. I was worried if it didn't take place literally in the marriage bed. I was deeply conscious and worried about every single act of foreplay and scared that God would be offended by any aviation in sexual position whatsoever, which is what Hildebrand implies. I don't mean they should think about and read Cosmo sex tips or whatever, but that simply following natural promptings and having fun together, doing
    things differently sometimes - and Hildebrand deplores fun in that context.

    Worry, worry, worry, fear - that's all there is to it.

    I wish I could believe this: "focus on living FOR your spouse in all ways in marriage, dying to yourself in the day to day acts, and the rest will follow. Don't overanalyze what happens in bed, just live your life for her and all else willfall in line. Don't contracept, don't act like animals, but otherwise enjoy yourselves and be free" Seems easy enough, is the advice or well-respected moralists ad my
    own SD, yet it doesn't sound "holy enough".

    Personalism scares the crap out of me. It also takes no account of the fact that in real life, spouses usually want te other to do what makes them happy - a wife wants her husband to enjoy the gift of herself she gives him and vice-versa. In fact, with some people this "selfishness" is exactly what the spouse may want. Personalism makes no room for that. It also makes no room for desire and legitimate fulfillment of it - the wife who just really wants her husband cannot seek him unless she can convince herself she is seeking him for his own sake and his own personalized otherness or whatever. But one reason he promised himself to her in the first place us to be there when she needs him, sexually or otherwise. according to personalism, she is acting selfishly at some level. But I WANT my wife to desire me, to want me.

    So it's back to questioning every motive, back to wonderin about the morality of every single sexual act.

    I know you don intend this. But personalism doesn't work for everyone. Nothing but fear here, my friend.

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  29. aviation = variation. I don't know if aviation would be offensive to God, but it'd sure be curious for scientists!

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  30. Btw, I never said those things should be focal points. But saying things like "focus on expressing love to the spouse, not on her pleasure or enjoyment" - that just makes my head explode.

    All I understand is "alway question your motives, always question your desires, you can sin in any number if ways, so keep as rigorously close to the bare minimum as possible, don't trust your natural promptings and deplore your curiosity".

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  31. Paul - I was making a light hearted observation as well.

    I too like Fr. Z, although he and most every one else seems to think I do not.

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  32. Mercury,
    I’ll again add some of my own thoughts:
    Sometimes, perhaps “overthinking” is necessary to balance out morbid, irrational fear and projection of one’s own preconceptions as the basis for evaluating all else. That we do revert back to feelings or impressions is understandable, I think, practically speaking, in that it is easy, almost natural, to live that way. But there can be this subtle refusal to try to rise to more, which is hampered by a paralyzing fear, that is driven ultimately, I believe, by a distorted image of God – so perhaps the chief consideration is not lust or something along those lines, but rather sloth. If perfect love casts out all fear, then perhaps it is an inability to believe fully in God’s love and goodness that has given rise to so much fear. If there is fear seemingly everywhere, regarding all things, then maybe the obvious problem is a lack of love – a lack of realizing just how loving God is, I mean. The problem is not ‘out there’ somewhere or even in one’s good will primarily, but in a deeply-rooted erroneous perception of who God is and, thus, how He sees us and relates to us. I think that is precisely what drives the same fear about purgatory that came up yesterday and the opposition to that was St. Therese’s view, who ultimately believed in God’s goodness so much, and so she lives with humble confidence.
    -
    Just to touch on something you wrote about what spouses usually want: what should be the measuring stick for evaluating an act or a desire? Is it want spouses usually want or is it what the Church proposes as the ideal for married love, in all its specificity? Again, I think this is a complicated thing to navigate through, but the fact that some people desire this “selfishness” ought to at least be a point for profound reflection – it seems to me that could be valid or it could not be. I think it could be very easy to objectify the other here when we begin to talk about what makes the other “happy” – if the other is seeking his or her own pleasure primarily, then I don’t think that’s valid; that’s not the point of the sexual act. The union itself and the intimacy therein, without this focus on what one is seeking to make one “happy,” seems to me what ought to be the real “happifying” aspect of the whole act. And if it’s not, then, again, I think it’s worth reflecting on whether one’s heart or desires are in the right place. To simply say that I desire X but I don’t know if I should desire X, but instead Y, or many people desire X, and to retreat in fear of that confusion and difficulty is not enough. Probe the heart further and heed the challenge of the Church as a call to more.
    That a wife wants her husband to enjoy the gift of herself that she gives may not be a bad thing, but it shouldn’t be the only thing or the primary thing, it seems to me. Also, personalism does make room for desire – it makes room for holy desire, I would argue. What it does not make room for is desire that does not extend beyond one’s own self-seeking. And that’s entirely sound because the sexual act ought to be about love – it is not primarily a means for enjoyment or even the satisfaction of being wanted or found desirable or even of fulfilling the desire of ‘wanting’ another. The point is always self-gift and not self-driven-grasping.

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  33. “But personalism doesn't work for everyone. Nothing but fear here, my friend” – personalism is not first and foremost a pragmatic ‘solution’ to all potential difficulty or any call to extend greater efforts to realize the purity that the Church calls us to. It is a particular expression of what that purity looks like and how to try to begin to realize it more practically. If it is an authentic expression of the truth – and I believe it is – then the question isn’t whether or not it ‘works’ but what it is in us that is keeping us from allowing its implications to ‘work’ in our lives. The problem lies not with the idea, but with our reception of it and/or our integration of it. This is ultimately, to my mind, a call to holiness. But that itself, holiness, is not a project of self-perfection, but of poverty of spirit and greater abandonment. “The abundance of His love will do more to correct you than all your anxious self-contemplation,” as Fenelon said. That is the essence of the little way to sanctity.

    Further, to say that the philosophy itself is nothing but fear seems like projection. John Paul II, I think it’s safe to say, was not desiring to launch Catholics into this perpetual rut of fear – he said so often “Be not afraid.”

    Even granting the importance of our own fears, I don’t think everything should only and always come back to what one fears and how ideas strike a particular person, especially if that is not how they are in reality. We must be rationally fair to ideas as they are presented and not simply how they seem to strike us.

    It’s good to remember that conscience is not a feeling but a “judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed” (CCC 1778). Feelings are important in how we make moral evaluations in the sense that we must at least be able to account for them and their potential good or bad influence on the judgment that reason makes, but ultimately, we need to rise above mere feelings and their impressions on us. To continually lapse back into fear can become an excuse and an obstacle to real growth.

    I think it’s important to stress this judgment of reason, especially when one is worried over the circumstances of an act (as you describe in the example of your wife’s breasts). For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent. The first consideration seems to be whether that desire to look at your wife’s breasts constitutes grave matter. Even if one is not certain if grave matter is involved, as different situations may not always be so clear, it’s a good indication of progress that one is thinking along these lines. Fear can paralyze us irrationally and God is not interested in imprisoning us by fear but by setting the captives free to love. Frequent confession and renewal of our good will is important as is continued prayerful discernment. It’s a process and not something that God expects us to master tomorrow – it’s a continuous battle, as JPII said.

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  34. “Worry, worry, worry, fear - that's all there is to it.” Or, perhaps, that’s all that you see that there is to it. I’m sure that not everyone who considers these difficulties have the same reaction. I think you know deeply that the whole issue of fear and reconciling your own desires with the holiness that you seek is more complicated than even having correct knowledge. You know the teachings of the Church well enough and have received, it seems, wise counsel from your SD; as you note, you wish you could believe it but it doesn’t sound holy enough.

    Then perhaps what would deserve attention is the conception of what is “holy.” But even that doesn’t seem to be where one should begin because only God is ultimately holy and so one needs to know who God is, personally, experientially, I think, before all else. Faith cannot remain simply in the head while our heart runs wild with fear. There should be an integration and the time spent spinning our wheels in fear is probably better spent in prayer, maybe in just resting in God’s presence in Eucharistic Adoration, while He silently reveals Himself more and more to us.

    Beyond this, I think a great means to repair one’s image of God is gratitude. Taking 10-15 minutes each day to recall affectionately the blessings you’ve received and to thanking God for them can help to reveal more and more that He is in fact good, that there is not simply only fear, but goodness and tenderness from God and from others.

    BTW, none of this is meant as a personal judgment of you as I have struggled with many of the same things and still do.

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  35. Patrick, I understand what you mean about overthinking, but if overthinking feeds that fear, then it seems that it is a refusal to stop thinking about it, an inability to stop overanalyzing that is the problem, not not thinking enough! :)

    You misunderstood what I said about "selfishness". I am saying that personalist philosophy has caused ME to see evil where it doesn't exist. I put the word in quotes for a reason. Here is an illustration: a couple are going to sleep, and the wife rests her hand on her husband's chest. Her "selfish motive" is that she wants to feel hm, in particular she wants to feel his manliness, his strength, whatever. In reality there is probably no though to it at all, it's just natural. Now, the act also serves to strengthen his feeling for her, it makes him feel wanted, and he is happy feel her soft feminine hand. So, totally without even thinking about it, they reach a harmony that seems to be intended by the very nature of God's design in marriage. I can imagine the wife self-torturing "gee, am I doing this because I'm giving a gift to him, or because I desire it?" The very fact that she would even worry about such a thing is cause for alarm. Of course, if he did so without regard to his feelings, or just to get her jollies with no connection to her love of him as a man, it'd be different. But that's not what I am talking about. Again, it seems that if she is working on living her life FOR him in GENERAL, she can assume her actions are right.

    With looks, it's the same thing. Seeing as that a look is an entirely internal act that benefits only the looker, it would seem that any glance done with sexual desire is impure and "using" the other. But this is madness. Say a man loves his wife and lives his whole life with her at the center. Does she have to worry that he is sinning if he enjoys looking at her rear if she is walking away from him? I do not mean in a leering, furtive way, or where the guy is a scumbag and never lifts a finger to do nice things for her.

    Under personalist philosophy it would seem that such a thing is "selfish". But in reality, even a "selfish" look can serve a purpose: for one thing, a man must keep his interest on his own wife and no other woman, and for another, what wife would be unhappy to know that her husband desires her strongly and marvels at her feminine beauty? So this seemingly "selfish" act serves a harmonious purpose, even if no one thinks about it.

    Looking at one's wife like that and not caring about anything else would be wrong, yes, but it's not the sexual desire that's wrong, but the abandonment of one's vocation to put that woman ahead of one's own life. But if a personalist philosophy leaves a husband wondering if he is sinning or displeasing God by looking at his beloved wife with desire, I don;t see what purpose it serves.

    This is why I said what I did about worrying about looking at breasts. I was being serious and facetious at the same time - I know the conditions for mortal sin, but my point is that when a man starts to wonder if he is mortally sinning every time he looks at his wife in a sexual way, something is wrong. If I were ogling her without regard to her feelings or if she desired privacy and I wouldn't give it to her, that would be one thing, but if, in the several times a day when one may see one's spouse in a state of undress, I admire her, with a loving heart that wants only e best for her, and she knows that, where is the sin? what is the problem?

    And yet, it would sure seem "holier" if spouses followed those trad rules of never changing in front of each other, of sleeping in separate beds, of whatever other rule son can think of.

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  36. And yes, obviously if a desire is out of line with what is right in the first place, that's wrong. If my spouse would like to be savagely beaten because she finds it "kinky", obviously I should not indulge in such a desire. If a spouse wants to prowl the sex shops for devices or use pornography, obviously that should be disregarded, even if it would make them "happy".

    I don't think it is wise to "probe the depths" of why such and such a things makes one happy or not. Spouses will tend to do all kinds of little acts in bed simply because it's pleasing and feels good for both of them. They enjoy the intimacy of being totally vulnerable with one another, and usually trust that the other has their best interests in mind, and has their best interests in mind.

    What a disaster it would be for spouses to think "well, I would like to touch here, but after all, I would only touch her there because I know she finds it pleasurable, so therefore I will not do it since the end of that particular touch is to give pleasure." Again, to quote the marriage manual from 1935:

    "For the rest, while they know
    they are two in one flesh and love one another and do not desire
    to use one another for purely selfish and private gratification,
    they will come to no harm if they follow their natural promptings
    and take the greatest and widest joys together in their love."

    If one would assert that the only reason souses may vary up their relative positions for example is because it's more pleasing, then that's right. But the question would be then, why is this wrong? If certain acts of foreplay are more pleasing than others, why is this wrong? Doesn't pleasure itself serve the purpose of union? I am not defending gong out and buying a book of sex tips or scouring the internet for exotic sex positions, but simply trying to be free of the fear that every little thing I do is potentially sinful.

    Hildebrand, in asserting that any variation beyond the bare minimum is necessarily lustful, sort of misses the point, ad goes beyond her competence in asserting sin where there is none.

    Again, to quote Fr. John Hardon of all people:

    "Husband and wife are allowed everything that is necessary or useful or pleasing regarding intercourse, even for experiencing fully the pleasure attached to it, and then neither party can sin in looking at, touching or acting in any other way towards his own or his spouse's body. Therefore no restriction is placed on them in showing to each other mutual love, so that they cannot sin either by look or touch or any other manifestation of love, no matter how long they continue, so long as they do not neglect other duties of greater moment.

    In all their marital relations they should be led more by the desire of pleasing the other than by the fear of sinning. They will act in a way more pleasing to God if they anticipate the desires of their spouse, rather than await a request. At the same time, true love also avoids demanding what the other would find inconvenient."

    Again, wouldn't it make more sense, and be more natural, if spouses just assume they are okay as long as they are living for one another? Why is it productive to question every single little detail in the marriage bed?

    "was that kiss for her or for me?" The answer is usually - BOTH! And did God intend it any otherwise? Why must I be sure that my intention is 100% other-directed before I even act?

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  37. What is "holy desire" anyway? See, my entire misconception in teh first place is that holiness and sexual desire cannot coexist except "I desire to produce children for the glory of God".

    I'm not dismissing personalism and it's usefulness as a philospohy. What I mean is that TO ME, it has caused more anxiety than it has solved.

    My spiritual director's advice is similar to Fr. Hardon's or the manual I quoted - Let your focus be on the overall living of one's life for the other, in the day-to-day opportunities to die to the self for one's spouse. This will naturally tend to lead towards a more integrated love in the marriage bed.

    But the notion Hildebrand is going for, as it seems to me, is to analyze and question every single sexual act, from the slightest looks and thoughts to intercourse itself. That anything immensely pleasurable is suspect and that pleasurable acts need to be kept to a bare minimum in bed.

    This may not be what she is saying, but this is why I try to avoid the philosophizing stuff - it introduces needless complications into my own struggles.

    My impression is that "holy people" make love only occasionally, that they do so at the bare minimum of sexual expression when they do so, and that they otherwise avoid any sexually arousing looks or touches. That fun is to be banished from the bedroom.

    For some reason, Hildebrand's article reinforces this misconception, and leads me to believe that not being married in the first place is the best way to avoid sin.

    I'm not saying this is how it is, but how I but why I tend to avoid personalism. I have even had personalists say that all the moral theologians are wrong about what is and is not objectively sinful (or at all), and make moral claims which are essentially subjective arguments that ignore well-established moral norms, and which would lead to absurd logical conclusions. When I pointed this out, the personalist cut off the conversation.

    Patrick, I know that you are trying to help, and I appreciate it. I'm not trying to be argumentative at all, it's just that I have such erroneous notions of holiness and purity that I get defensive when something seems to reinforce those notions, as Hildebrand's article does.

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  38. I am glad you are better, Terry.

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  39. This past Saturday we went to the wedding of some friends. This couple is in their 50's; she was a widow, and he has never been married before. It was a Catholic wedding with a Mass, and was such a happy, joy-filled occasion. I'm hoping they have many years together; I really believe that God wants us to be happy. Not sure if this really has anything to do with Mercury and Patrick's discussion; but I think it is possible to over-think things. It would have been easy for these people to talk themselves out of taking this risk; and let's face it, everything worth doing is a risk.

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  40. Melody, that is beautiful. I wish I had never read anything about marriage and the Church and tradition, and personalism, and could just have a simple and loving confidence in God over such issues. God bless the happy couple!

    Patrick, you can ignore the bulk of what I wrote earlier, and I'll just sum it up like this: My spiritual director urges me not to overthink it. He says follow your natural promptings, be respectful and prudent, and do not worry that you are having too much fun. His attitude is more or less exactly in line with what I quoted from Fr. Hardon and from that other manual.

    To go back to the notion of things that "tend to define marriage", I did not mean they are the essence of it, or that it can't exist without them. But such cases are extremely rare, and in most people's lives, the sexual element in marriage, and sexual affection is something that exists, and should exist, within the bonds of marriage.

    The implication I get from the Holy Family (which is probably wrong and based on my false notions and stereotypes) is that they were "above such things", meaning that a truly pure marriage, a truly chaste marriage, will have no sexual element whatsoever. This is undeniably the case with most married saints - if they did have sex it was for procreation only. I get that impression even from St. Therese's parents (they seem to have slept in separate rooms).

    Add this to the impression I get from Mrs. von Hildebrand, which again, is an impression and probably not real, that the sexual acts that occur between spouses should be shorn of everything but the barest minimum of what is necessary to get the job done. Therefore, it's make more sense to keep the lights totally dark, to keep as much clothing on as possible (and to always avoid nudity at other times), and that pleasure should be kept to a minimum. After all, the IMMEDIATE purpose of ANY act is to increase pleasure, whether it is a kiss, a caress, being nude, etc. (This is why spouses touch each other in places no one else does in the first place - the acts are especially intimate because they are especially pleasurable in a very personal way). The ultimate purpose is union, but I do not understand the personalist insistence upon obsessing over the details of each individual act, look, thought, etc.

    Moralists are unanimous in saying that as long as it is all kept subordinate to the good of marriage, pleasure can be sought and enjoyed and desired without overthinking things. This means that there is no requirement to analyze ad nauseam every single little act that is done, but rather that spouses need to live for one another both inside and outside the bedroom, not force acts that the other doesn't want, and not do anything to interfere with procreation.

    This seems simple enough, so why does it need to be so complicated? It really seems like the easiest thing in the world, but I am so overwhelmed by the idea that "more holy = less sexual" that it really does seem too good to be true. I feel like I MUST be sinning at some level if I enjoy touching or looking at my wife, so when personalism seems to reinforce that, that's what I see.

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  41. Mercury,

    I think we struggle with similar issues – I too, for instance, wish I “could just have a simple and loving confidence in God over such issues” more than I often do. I think my root issue (or “core wound” as I’ve heard it referred to) has to do not so much with these kinds of issues themselves, but rather deeper issues of who really God is and what He is about, how He thinks of me and how I should relate to Him – image of God stuff. I could have all of the intellectual answers I desire but still feel and experience that unease in my heart, it seems to me when I consider my own experience.

    My suggestion to you to “overthink” of course was not to be taken literally – you seem to be prone to overthinking on the whole and so I don’t think that will be the source of resolution for you. Yet, what I continually seem to see you struggle with too, at least alongside of thinking too much, are these feelings. You’ve said that you have sound guidance from your SD and from reading the likes of Fr. Hardon and moralists, but that you fear it isn’t holy enough. What I’m suggesting is that, in the face of such fears which seem to be irrational – at least compared to what you SD suggests and even the goodness that you observe in others like that married couple Melody mentions - it may be good in those moments to turn to logic, to turn to cold reasoning to combat the anxiety and fear that can carry you away and, it seems, ultimately paralyze you.

    Relying on the sound thoughts that at other times may have been a good source of consolation for you when you are ‘attacked’ by such fears seems to be a good idea. A great spiritual writer of discernment, Ignatius of Loyola, says that God does not lead a soul that is striving to seek Him and His will through moments of panic or distress or anxiety – the thoughts or inspirations that come in such moments (something like, “God will punish me because I am not a religious”) need to be examined for what they are and you need to take action against them, especially if you have made prior resolutions or progress in times of peace and consolation (such as with your SD) where these thoughts were not immediately present and did not seem to be obstacles in the way they are when you are immediately confronted with them. Put another way, assuming you are of good will and it certainly seems that you are, God is not going to call you to the religious life through panic or fear or anxiety. That’s not how He operates. For those going from mortal sin to mortal sin and who are, more or less, ignorant of God and not seeking Him, He works the opposite: He tries to stun the conscience and disrupt the false peace and security that the enemy gives to the soul so as to keep it cemented in sin and isolation from God. But I don’t think that’s you. You seem to be a soul who is, in Ignatius’ language, “going on intensely purifying their sins and rising from good to better in the service of God our Lord.” With such a soul, Ignatius says, “it is proper to the evil spirit to bite, sadden, and place obstacles, disquieting with false reasons, so that the person may not go forward.” When I see you speak specifically of your worries over a state in life such as marriage vs. religious life or having no desire for celibacy but worrying about that, then I think we are in the arena where this type of discernment can be helpful.

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  42. It’s a three-part process that Ignatius suggests: being aware, understanding and then taking action (meaning, accepting or rejecting the thoughts that arise out of such moments of fear or apparent separation from God and His will). You sound like you’ve already developed the skill of attentiveness to your interior experience (you’re able to notice well when you’re fearful, for example). From there, applying the ‘logic’ or discernment that I summarized above to your experiences is where the “thinking” can be so useful – it’s a precise way of thinking through your experiences rather than letting them dominate you. So it’s a kind of stepping back and rather than simply observing what you experience, it’s observing what you’re observing yourself experience (“I know that right now I feel fearful and anxious regarding God’s will – I will try to make sense of this experience”) so that there is a distance from the power of such temptations and deceptions. That will then allow you to be able to take meaningful action, which is the third part of accepting or rejecting the thoughts or feelings or desires that come in such moments of anxiety or fear or spiritual desolation – that is, as if you are cut from God and always have been and/or always will be, or some such lie. The whole goal is to respond to your experiences rather than simply react to them.

    I’ve always found that, as far as I can tell, spiritual direction has been a blessing for me and there has been an ‘otherness’ in the guidance of my director at the time that has led me closer to God. I cannot say this with infallibility of course, but in my honest judgment of my experience, I can say that in truth. Their perspective has been different from my own in some way – not necessarily contrary and what they’ve said usually resonates with me as if I’ve already been sensing in some way within me what they’re speaking of; and their perspective is usually more positive, which I’ve found to be more sensible over time as I’ve grown in self-knowledge because I think my own natural temperament is such that I have an overly negative image of my self. People have told me for a while now that I’m too hard on myself. Perhaps – and I hope – it is and will be the same for you.

    As for other questions that may be more strictly of the moral order (questions of proper affection in marriage, for example), I’ve suggested personalism as something which I believe to be sound and truthful and also helpful. I do not agree with your impressions of it, such as from reading von Hildebrand’s article, nor do I completely agree with your approach to understanding affection and such, though I do think you made some good distinctions in some recent posts before your latest one.

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  43. However, the moral arena is a matter of conscience and there again it a judgment of reason and we may both be making morally sound judgments on these matters according to our own consciences – which we are bound to follow – even though we ultimately disagree about the ideas objectively speaking. And I think that’s reasonable, especially again considering this in light of what is striking to you from the advice of your director and the moralists, etc.

    Further, if you find that considering something like personalism does more harm than good in the sense that you’re noticing that it is causing disruption or desolation on the spiritual level (making you distrustful of God’s love for you or the goodness of your vocation on the whole), and especially if it’s conflicting or at least adding unnecessarily to the resolutions you’ve made with your director, then I would think it’s best to discard it for your practical purposes and, with that, my urgings to consider it further at all. Because it would seem then that something that began on the moral level (the ideas of personalism) have become a doorway for spiritual disruption for the enemy to exploit, which can and often does happen. The same occurs on the psychological level, where someone feeling demoralizing in some way begins at a certain to doubt God’s love altogether or maybe even that He exists. So these levels of the human person can overlap and I certainly have no desire to complicate anything or be an accessory to greater disruption for you.

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  44. Patrick - I really do appreciate what you wrote. At it's heart, yes, my problem really is an image of God issue - that of a very harsh judge, combined with an image of holiness that is false: that sexuality and holiness cannot mix. The fact that my SD and writers like Fr. Hardon say what they do, and that I think "well it doesn't SOUND holy enough" is certainly an indication that I misunderstand holiness and have many false perceptions, perhaps reinforced by the opinions of some trad Catholics. The false perception here is "sexual = bad, unless excused"

    Your comments on St. Ignatius are very helpful as well. Thank you.

    As far as conscience, my conscience is overactive, and I fear things I need not fear. Sometimes, I simply KNOW it is wrong, when I measure it up to what my SD says and what sound writers have said - I hope I am not bound to follow a conscience that I know is wrong! I'd never leave the house!

    So, for example, in the realm we've mentioned, I now the utter harshness with how some saints have viewed marital sexual affection - there is always a digging at the back of my "conscience" because of this. Or if a good and pious person expresses an opinion that I disagree with, it will bother my "conscience" even though there is no rational reason for me to fear. An example here would be dancing - St. Jean Vianney thought it was formally sinful, yet for me it's just normal (I mean traditional styles not modern crap). Or, another example, Padre Pio turned women away from the confessional if they were wearing sheer stockings or pants. I KNOW that there are issues of culture and time here, and I KNOW that such things do not trouble most people of good conscience, especially most orthodox priests, but my "conscience" still nags me, and I still worry about the safety of my wife, sister, mother, grandmother, etc. from God's wrath on these regards.

    I sure HOPE you disagree with how I am understanding personalism w/r to marital affection! I do not really think that the late Holy Father or the Hildebrands are as rigorous as I imagine - it's just that that is the "logical" conclusions I draw from what they write.

    Where do we disagree about affection? I think yo may be misunderstanding me on some things. When I say that the IMMEDIATE purpose of any sexual or erotically affectionate act is pleasure, I do not mean that that is the ULTIMATE purpose. So, a massage, to use a tame example, is something relaxing and pleasurable, but its ultimate purpose is an act of kindness and a sharing of intimacy.

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  45. And this is why the advice of my SD makes sense: do what comes naturally, be prudent and respectful, and do not contravene nature. Otherwise, live your lives in service to one another, die to yourselves for one another, and this will tend on its own to flatten out any real selfishness in the sexual realm. It's not necessary, nor even spiritually healthy, to analyze every single touch, glance, etc.

    This is why I gave the example of the wife touching her husband or the husband looking at his wife as a "selfish" act that is really not "selfish" assuming all else is normal, assuming they live their vocations in all aspects of life. The impetus may lie with one's own desires, true, but in the context of marriage, such things will serve and preserve the marital good. The book I quoted from 1935, and Fr. Hardon are not ignorant of this: what may seem to the couple as simply an act done "for pleasure" might well be serving a reality that's bigger, even if it's not explicitly there in their heads (and usually it will not be for non-intellectuals)

    Usually, such things are spontaneous, as is intercourse itself but the trick is to take the reins of that spontaneity and to harness whatever might have rightly began out of mere desire and turn it into something better. So while a man, may, for example, get the ball rolling, so to speak, he should be attentive to his wife's needs and desires the whole time, and focus on the fact that she is in fact his wife, his love.

    Personalism, it is true, allows a deepening of that, and encourages conscious contemplation of the issues. I read a great book on marriage that encouraged spouses to occasionally try to make procreation, fidelity, sacramental bond, etc. into one of the explicit motives for seeking marital union. However, the authors were careful to point out it is not sinful if these thoughts are not explicitly there: sometimes things do "just happen", but that is a natural part of it all if it's in a context where the spouses DO live with those goods in mind.

    And I guess this is where I am misreading personalism - I get the impression that unless I seriously contemplate the meaning of each and every individual act, weigh my motives for doing them, etc., I am in deep trouble. And if the IMMEDIATE motive/purpose of any act cannot be pleasure, then one might as well not get married at all, since there is a reason why a man tends to kiss his wife passionately and not rub her knees. This is especially true of all the caresses, touches, etc. within the marriage act which undoubtedly have pleasure as an immediate goal, and in fact, MUST, if the love-making's going to go anywhere and leave them both satisfied. And like I said, if that were not true, they might as well leave the lights off, the clothes on, and keep their hand to themselves - no foreplay, and get it done with.

    Again, the ULTIMATE purpose is obviously higher, but that will be more easily realized by a general habit of living a life of loving service than by over-thinking each act.

    Sorry, this is way too long again.

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  46. You’re welcome, Mercury.

    I think the distinction that needs to be established between the consideration of the manual you reference from 1935, or from the teachings of the moralists or Fr. Hardon or your SD, or even, at the other end of the spectrum, from the “rules” by the “trads” on the Internet, on one the hand, and from the considerations of personalism, on the other, is that the first group mentioned here seem to be establishing moral directives, at least in part.
    I’ve said prior that even with personalism, there are of course objective moral directives or limits – stemming from underlying moral norms – that ought to guide even the subjective considerations and personal discernment of those involved. That is why personalism is not relativism.

    However, personsalism, so far as I’m aware, is not primarily about establishing moral directives. If anything, it is seeking to establish moral norms, though I think ultimately the goal is not simply the establishment of such moral norms, but rather an overall revolutionized view of sexuality considered in light of the central ‘ethic’, which is the affirmation of the value of the person in every situation – itself a revolution of sorts from how we typically affirm (or don’t) ‘the other’ because of our wounded nature, concupiscence, etc.

    Personalism is not primarily concerned with ‘legislating’ (as the moralists and the manuals, etc. seem to be) or directing behavior from above, establishing a standard such that, so long as one is operating within it, one is safe. Personalism is about a reformation of the heart and one’s ‘vision’ of the other. The focus is interior. More specifically, it seeks proper integration of the human person in all areas: the will, the heart, the emotions, desire, the body, etc. This is the language of JPII on it, regarding true chastity: it “requires a special interior, spiritual effort, for affirmation of the value of the person can only be the product of the spirit, but this effort is above all positive and creative ‘from within’, not negative and destructive. It is not a matter of summarily ‘annihilating’ the value ‘body and sex’ in the conscious mind by pushing reactions to them down into the subconscious, but of sustained longterm integration; the value ‘body and sex’ must be grounded and implanted in the value of the person.”

    That is why I do not think that simply focusing on being within the right moral boundaries, no matter how sound the advice, is ‘enough’. I think they’re ridiculous, but even if we took the trads’ rules seriously, it still wouldn’t begin to address what personalism is after. My heart could still be full of lust.

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  47. Now, I grant some of the distinctions you’ve made are valid and reasonable. You said for instance that “a massage, to use a tame example, is something relaxing and pleasurable, but its ultimate purpose is an act of kindness and a sharing of intimacy.” That certainly can be true. Also, “when I say that the IMMEDIATE purpose of any sexual or erotically affectionate act is pleasure, I do not mean that that is the ULTIMATE purpose.” I see your point.

    And, more generally, there is nothing inherently wrong with pleasure as such. “Pleasure is a purely subjective good,” JPII noted. Yet “it is not transsubjective, nor even inter-subjective. At most we can want another’s pleasure ‘besides’ and always ‘on condition of our own’ pleasure. The fixation on pleasure for its own sake, as the exclusive end of the association and cohabitation of man and woman, is necessarily egoistic. This does not at all mean that we must see pleasure itself as evil — pleasure in itself is a specific good — but only points to the moral evil involved in fixing the will on pleasure alone.”

    Thus, seeking to give pleasure as an act of love may or may not be dangerous ground; it depends on the hearts of the individuals involved and their maturity in chastity and love. The general point, it seems, is that we have to be realistic about our concupiscence and how subtle these matters can be, how our hearts can slip away from that affirmation of the value of the other person. JPII noted that “the sexual relationship presents more opportunities than most other activities for treating a person — sometimes even without realizing it — as an object of use.” It’s conceivable that the person receiving the pleasure in a certain instance, even if the one giving the pleasure, if you will, is seeking to do so as an act of loving kindness, can treat the other as an object of use, precisely because of our concupiscent tendencies.

    Even beyond physical pleasure, the same thing can happen with the emotions. JPII again: “Emotion, whether as a ‘strong’ sensation, or as a more durable state of feeling, favors concentration on one’s own ‘I’. The egoism of the emotions is not so transparent and it is therefore easier to be confused by it. Both persons involved, while cultivating as intensively as they can the subjective aspect of their love, must also endeavor to achieve objectivity. Combining the one with the other requires a special effort, but this is unavoidable labor if the existence of love is to be assured.” When I stated in prior posts that this is really a call to holiness and to more, that is part of what I had in mind.

    Further, on emotion: “Emotion can develop and adapt itself to the shape which a man consciously wills. The integration of love requires the individual consciously and by acts of will to impose a shape on all the material that sensual and emotional reactions provide. Emotion as it were diverts ‘the gaze of truth’ from the objective elements of action, from the object of the act and the act itself, and deflects it towards what is subjective in it, towards our feelings as we act. Emotion is of its very nature biased in the direction of pleasure: pleasure is to it a good, just as pain is an evil to be shunned.” I think this is a good illustration of the complexities with which we are dealing. It is a constant call to truly love the other as an other – some of the greatest indications of love are those acts of will to” impose a shape on all the material that sensual and emotional reactions provide.” It seems to me, on the emotional level, for instance, that I must constantly be vigilant about where my emotions (say of anger or disappointment in my wife) take me, and I must hold them up against the standard of love that St. Paul speaks of: patience, kindness, etc.

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  48. Now, this is just my take on what you said and not a judgment of your heart (nor is it spiritual direction!), but what I am fearful of in reading your posts is what seemed to me to be – in light of what I’ve just described following JPII – an overemphasis on considerations about “creativity, mirth, exploration and strong desire,” or some such variation, or “just being comfortable and letting one's hair down.” It seemed to me that such a focus needs to be filtered through the reality of love to which we are called, especially in light of the tendency to concupiscence that we have, but all the while holding even this tension up to a sober and confident understanding in our own weakness as rooted in God’s mercy and understanding, so that we do not despair. In other words, trying to pull this together, “Neither sensuality nor even concupiscence is a sin in itself, since only that which derives from the will can be a sin —only an act of a conscious and voluntary nature. We must give proper weight to the fact that in any normal man the lust of the body has its own dynamic, of which his sensual reactions are a manifestation. As soon as the will consents it begins actively to want what is spontaneously ‘happening’ in the senses and the sensual appetites. From then onwards, this is not something merely ‘happening’ to a man, but something which he himself begins actively doing — at first only internally, for the will is in the first place the source of interior acts, of interior ‘deeds’. These deeds have a moral value, are good or evil, and if they are evil we call them sins. No-one can demand of himself either that he should experience no sensual reactions at all, or that they should immediately yield just because the will does not consent, or even because it declares itself definitely ‘against’. This is a point of great importance to those who seek to practice continence. The affirmation of the value of the person, the aspiration to the person’s true good, to union in a common true good — none of these things exist for a will subjectivistically fixed upon emotion as such. In these circumstances sin arises from the fact that a human being does not wish to subordinate emotion to the person and to love.”

    I understand this to mean that we are being called to more than to just being convinced that “sexual desire in marriage, the day to day erotic looks, touches etc. that come so normally and naturally to spouses, that all such things are in accord with our created nature and are in fact, pleasing and not loathsome to God when the purpose they serve is unitive between spouses.” That is a good and necessary foundation, but the reality and ‘degree’ of love to which we’re called, if you will, is something of a higher order. And that “more” is what I described above, using JPII’s theology.

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  49. And JPII recognizes that this is a process, like all growth in holiness: “Every human being is by nature burdened with concupiscence and apt to find the ‘savor’ of love above all in the satisfaction of carnal desire. For this reason, chastity is a difficult, long-term matter; one must wait patiently for it to bear fruit, for the happiness of loving kindness which it must bring. But at the same time, chastity is the sure way to happiness.”

    Finally, some points that reveal the ultimate ‘positive’ meaning of the teaching perhaps: “Chastity does not lead to disdain of the body, but it does involve a certain humility of the body. Humility is the proper attitude towards all true greatness, including one’s own greatness as a human being, but above all towards the greatness which is not oneself, which is beyond one’s self.

    The human body must be ‘humble’ in face of the greatness represented by the person: for in the person resides the true and definitive greatness of man. Furthermore, the human body must ‘humble itself’ in face of the magnitude represented by love — and here ‘humble itself’ means subordinate itself. ‘The body’ must also show humility in face of human happiness. How often does it insinuate that it alone possesses the key to the secret of happiness? Still more certainly does the ‘body’ — if it is not ‘humble’, not subordinate to the full truth about the happiness of man — obscure the vision of the ultimate happiness: the happiness of the human person in union with a personal God.

    The truth about the union of the human person with a personal God, which will be fully accomplished within the dimensions of eternity at the same time illuminates more fully and makes plainer the value of human love, the value of the union of man and woman as two persons.”

    (JPII’s quotes from “Love & Responsibility”)

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  50. Patrick, you have to understand though how these things strike me. I am not saying this is what John Paul II or even Alice von Hildebrand has in mind. But remember, my struggle is that I associate sexual = sinful, I associate string sexual desire with lust, I am afraid to accept these things and a normal part of holy matrimony.

    I will quote the advice of my SD again: "do what comes naturally, be prudent and respectful, and do not contravene nature. Otherwise, live your lives in service to one another, die to yourselves for one another, and this will tend on its own to flatten out any real selfishness in the sexual realm. It's not necessary, nor even spiritually healthy, to analyze every single touch, glance, etc."

    Of course, this is not "enough". I never said it was. But what it does mean that marital chastity is best served (for me and for many others at least) by simply cultivating a love of the spouse and service to her in ALL areas of life. That way, one can assume one's sexual relations are well-ordered to the good of marriage and to the other.

    Personalism does not help me, at all. This is what I hear: "distrust all your passions for your wife, distrust your desire; you can sin, even mortally, by looking at her sexually; never act with the motive to give or receive pleasure; keep pleasure to a bare minimum and never do anything to increase it; if you see your wife naked and like what you see, you're probably sinning and "using" her at some level; sexual acts should "affirm the personhood of the other" rather than give pleasure;if you do anything above the bare minimum, that's lust; sensuality is bad, therefore keeps the senses mortified as much as possible, etc"

    Again, I am not saying that this is what they are saying, only how I interpret it due to my warped mind. You have no idea what kind of a struggle it is to accept the advice of my SD, or the advice of Fr. Hardon and other moralists and just feel OKAY about things, stop fearing. Then along comes a way of looking at it that seems to tell me what I said above.

    My example of the wife touching her husband's chest in bed (one may imagine a husband placing his hand on his wife's hips or backside in the same context) - and remember that we are assuming in thus case that the two of them really do live for one another, share all of their joys and struggles, and are faithful as can be. Now under personalist conditions, as I see it, the one doing the touching is being "selfish," because if you asked her (unless she's a personalist philosopher and can sling the language around) why she did it, she's say because she likes the feeling of her man beside her, it makes her feel safe, makes feel happy, whatever. But, even if she is not thinking of it, she is in fact "affirming his personhood", in a totally natural way without having to over-philosophize it. As a man, I WANT my wife to cuddle up to me because she seeks me for warmth, because she needs me, because she wants me for herself. Why is this bad?

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  51. Or let's take the motive to engage in intercourse: usually one spouse is in the mood, they begin to make this known to the other through words or touches, and if the other "bites", it happens. Are you telling me that this natural way of going about things is sinful? That the man cannot initiate sexual relations with is wife unless his motive is "to affirm her personhood"? That a woman who desires her husband can't just indicate this to him unless he is 100% sure that her motives are not "selfish?" Because if by selfish or egotistical you mean that they have a need or a desire that calls for fulfillment, well ... isn't that what each spouse pledged themselves to do in the first place?

    I do not mean they need to "scratch an itch" with no thought or relation to union or procreation, but that personalism seems to require strange psychological conditions and motivations before any sexual act can be good. Of course, a man should never seek sexual relations with his wife is she's tired, upset, manifestly not in the mood, or in any state where she would be unable to receive his love with a whole heart. In such cases it would be best for him to suppress his desires and manifest affection in other ways. But under personalism, it seems that if the man desires his wife, he needs to suppress his desires unless he is 100% sure he is acting on her behalf and not his own, and if it's sinful for HIM to want it from her. Again, I do not mean he should use her, but the sex drive seems to be designed in a way that desire will arise, sometimes spontaneously. For me, it seems the best thing to do then is to simply make sure that once relations are engaged, to put as much work as possible into making it about her and not about me. I'll be satisfied anyway, so my focus is on making her happy.

    Speaking from the other side, I would WANT my wife to come to me when she has desires, I would not want her to overthink it. I'd know she lives for me, so why would I assume she's using me? If she does something that is against me, devalues me, that's one thing, but marriage is not like that.

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  52. I never said that "mirth, creativity, exploration, etc." are the focus. I was reacting to the fact that Hildebrand seems to deny that these should have any place in the bedroom, and that if one wants it to be fun, they're doing to wrong. If you have fun, if you feel relaxed or excited, it's wrong.

    My point is just that all these things serve an ultimate purpose, which is why I do not understand the rigid personalist insistence that each and every act must not have pleasure as its end. This is silly. What acts do spouses do in bed where pleasure is not an end? (besides sleep). I am not defending the Westian notion that the pursuit of as much pleasure as possible = more union, or that the intensity of the union is directly relation to the intensity of genital pleasure.

    However, I do not think spouses should fear the little things they naturally tend to do that have pleasure as the immediate end. Starting with atmosphere for example, lighting scented candles and putting on romantic music certainly enhances the pleasurable experience - installing mirrors on the ceiling seems to go too far; a wife wearing a special outfit for her husband is meant to increase desire - hip-high leather boots or a policewoman outfit seem to miss the point; following natural movements of lovemaking, different sexual positions don't seem to be a problem (except for Alice von Hildebrand), but it would be going too far to buy a book of "1001 sex positions" and always focus on pushing the limit; tickling, teasing, playful wrestling, etc. have a place - whips and chains do not, and so on.

    My point is that any sort of intimate activity will involve several acts and conditions whose immediate purpose is to "increase pleasure" and I do not see why this is bad. In fact, I'd say it is impossible to make love without such things. As a Thomist friend of mine put it:

    "It is silly to say that the telos of kissing is to express love and not to give pleasure, as if these could be disentangled. The only reason it is an expression of love is precisely because it gives pleasure, or at least this is so in the case of the sort of kissing husbands and wives do"

    No, it does not mean that every act meant to increase pleasure is automatically "loving", but what I mean is that if you asked the average non-philosopher why he did such and such a thing to his wife, the answer will be "because she likes it". If a couple discover that sex is more satisfying at times in one position over another, WHY IS THIS BAD? Because to say so would also indicate that there is something wrong with preferring clean sheets to shag carpet, or to prefer light to total darkness.

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  53. I think you are misunderstanding what I am trying to say. I never said pleasure should be the focus or the end of marital relations, just that it is often a useful tool to use in service to union, and that sometimes it acts as an initial prompt and motive, but that as they action plays out so to speak, of course one should focus more on the spouse's good.

    My point is that personalism, while it may really be something else, reinforces my hopefully erroneous notions about the Church and sexuality. If it's something that makes me think I am sinning every time I see my wife's body, or thinking about potential sin every time I kiss, touch, or seek intercourse with my wife, if it leads me to think of the marriage bed as a place of potential sin and to be very afraid of doing anything pleasurable beyond the bare minimum, then it's not for me.

    If you are saying that beyond the norm is a higher ideal, then I don;t see what was so new or controversial about John Paul II. Earlier moralists always recommended that sex could be purified by focusing on living in agape to one's spouse in other areas, and by always putting their needs ahead of your own. They warned that analyzing every sexual thought, look, and action was a way of fear that is impossible to sustain - that this would lead to fearful and unsatisfying relations, and that it would just be better to act naturally and be prudent, and act within the bounds of objective morality, and that as long as life was lived in self-sacrifice and faithfulness, one could assume good conscience about sexual relations**

    What is so wrong with that?

    ** summed up by Pius XII: "the sexual liberty in agreement together is great; here, so long as they are not immoderate so as to become slaves of sensuality, nothing is shameful, if the complete acts [i.e., well, you know] that they engage in are true and real marriage acts."

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  54. I guess my pint is that personalism seems to confirm, for me at least, a suspicion and a fear that regular, hearty, healthy, vigorous, and joyful sexual relations have no place in the life a holy person. That any sexual activity needs to be subdued as much as possible and kept as rare as can be. And that couple should expect and fear at least venial sin in all the little acts, thoughts, and looks between them.

    After all, the saints seem to confirm this. St. Francis de Sales admonished married folk to get it over with and to immediately "cleanse their hearts" to focus on higher things (no pillow-talk, no cuddling?), to admire elephants because they almost never do it, and to not be "immodest", which I guess means keep most of your clothes on, no kissing below the face, and hands to yourself, and just be real prim and proper about it all.

    So much for just feeling free together with the beloved.

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  55. Mercury,

    I think we’re in agreement over your fundamental point that “marital chastity is best served…by simply cultivating a love of the spouse and service to her in ALL areas of life.”
    Personalism, it seems to me, seeks to provide a way of understanding and realizing that chastity in “all areas of life.”

    I said a few posts back that it’s probably best to disregard personalism as well as my suggestions to pursue it further given how it is affecting you. I should not have pushed the issue beyond that. You asked where you and I differ on our views of affection and my intent in the most recent posts was to answer that question.

    My apologies if I’ve been a source of greater disruption or confusion in any way. I will not comment further on this and feel you are in very good hands with the advice of your SD.

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  56. Patrick, you have absolutely nothing to apologize for, my friend. Your words about trusting God are tremendously helpful, and something I will take to heart. God bless you. Please pray for me. I will remember you in my rosary tonight, too, for whatever your intentions are.

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