Tag Archives: Joseph Pieper

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture


‘Preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight; they will be life for you…’ (PR 3: 21, 22)

Like you, I watch helplessly as divided men and women leave faith and family for another partnership, be it a younger lover, the actualizing of an ‘LGBT’ self, or just a ‘fresh’ start. Adultery takes on many forms in our world today. Especially painful is the mangling of many by the one who buys the lie that happiness lies in the illicit orgasm, the romantic rush, creaturely comforts that bypass the Creator. Solomon warns those who conceive adultery: ‘At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent.’ (PR 4:11)

How relevant is the wisdom of Proverbs for our consumer-driven culture! The wise declare: ‘Yes I have hardships and disappointment, yet my happiness rests in the One who orders all things and makes a way for me in all my conflicts.’ Wisdom guides that life and safeguards all who surround it by what Joseph Pieper describes as ‘the perfected ability to make right decisions.’ (His definition of prudence, which I am describing here as wisdom, is laid out excellently in The Four Cardinal Virtues, Notre Dame Press.) On wisdom hinges all other virtues. How else can you understand ‘this root and guide of all good action’?

I rejoice in a host of husbands who have betrayed their wives (with porn and both genders) then repented and worked hard to restore family life. From them I have learned wisdom. Why? Wisdom guided their steps; they were willing to be trained by her, and their recovery highlights several facets of Pieper’s wisdom.

First, wisdom is rooted in the truth; truth is her standard, and wisdom insists that one love the truth and effort to actualize it. Wisdom is based both on an ideal—God only honors sexual love in marriage and my wife deserves that–but also on a real struggle to stay true to that ideal—I must work hard and find roots in a recovery community in order to win back her trust. Wisdom aligns with Reality. One aligns with the truth of God’s will and works hard to live out that truth.

Secondly, wisdom insists on an ‘energetic promptness’, an ability to swiftly decide for the good. That means clearing out any delusion related to ‘managing’ one’s own sin. Wisdom’s clear-sightedness frees him to refuse nostalgic rubbish. He remembers things as they were—demonic entrapments that destroyed life rather than enhanced it; he runs to the fountain of life to partake of the One whose friends hold him to his best. One friend said: ‘I recall daily the devastation of my wife and marriage but also the refuge of our love today. We’ve worked too hard to give that up for anything.’

Thirdly, wisdom is all about foresight, ‘a sure instinct for the future.’ My friends are preparing for a long life with good women and kids and grandkids. ‘I am making truthful decisions today for tomorrow’ is their credo. These former fools repented unto Almighty Mercy and became wise. Wisdom makes whole divided lives, and sets in motion a righteous future for thousands of others.

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Chastity and Mercy

Chastity and Mercy 2: United We Stand

The Samaritan woman of John 4 represents many Christians today; you could say she is a ‘type’ of the Church in the 21st century. Her Jewish roots inspired a ‘holiness’ tradition of which she was proud. At the same time, her heritage was also sourced in the intermingling of the Jews with the Canaanites, a nation that worshiped many gods through a variety of sexual practices. She too is divided–a woman of faith (“I know that Messiah is coming” v.25) fractured by a series of failed, dehumanizing relationships with men (v. 18).

Split between the proper and the profane, the Samaritan woman is us. Our love for God is often not reflected in the sexual decisions we make, if we take seriously the rates of divorce, co-habitation, and porn use among Christians (not to mention our lack of clarity on why the ‘gay’ and ‘trans’ self may not be God’s best for His kids). We are a people divided who, if not caught in the undertow of dehumanizing passions, are at least painfully aware of loved ones who are. In the words of Joseph Pieper, we witness how ‘the same forces that give rise to life also have power to destroy life.’

We want more for our loved ones, more for us too. Sick of sensations that ignite souls only to burn them out, we are a people ready for chastity. Something in us knows that we are created for wholeness, for integrity. Chastity means that we are seeking to live a united life; in chastity, we effort to align ‘the powers of life and love’ (CCC#2338) within us with the God who placed them there in the first place. United with the Creator, we begin to discipline our creative powers. The chaste person ‘seeks not itself blindly but with open eyes endeavors to correspond to the true reality of God, self and the world’ (Pieper).

We can know reality! And reality in the sexual realm corresponds with what is good and right and true for others. We know that the sexual bond belongs only to a man and a woman united for life, and we know that creative self-giving, fully clothed, is God’s call upon everyone–a fruitful expression of the connectedness that is related to sexual love. Chastity opposes any behavior that impairs such fruitfulness, and ‘tolerates neither a double life nor duplicity of speech’ (CCC#2338). Informed by reality, chastity discerns and refuses the enslaving power of sexual ‘unrealities’ and so can act clearly on behalf of others’ good. In so doing, we the chaste reclaim our dignity (CCC#2339).

Getting there would be impossible if not for the God who looks upon us divided ones with almighty mercy. Just as Jesus engaged the Samaritan woman, He waits to catch our gaze. He sees what is most real about our sexuality; His Spirit (‘living water’) summons that reality. In His love, He grants us the choice to become chaste, to participate in our becoming whole-enough expressions of His will for us and others. Will we unite with Him this Lent and so allow wholeness to define us more than our divides?

‘Father, our tendency to live divided lives seems woven into the very fabric of our histories, our culture, even our Church. Have mercy, Lord of mercy. Renew our vision of chastity that we might aspire to a whole life, a life of integrity founded on reality, not the unrealities that have deceived us. Thank You that they have not destroyed us. In mercy, do not let them destroy our loved ones. Have mercy on Your divided creation. Unite us in holy love, we pray. Breathe on our cry for chastity. Divided we have fallen, united may we stand.’

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Sloth: A Slow Suicide

‘Sloth is a kind of oppressive sorrow that so depresses a man that he wants to do nothing.’ Aquinas

Not long ago I faced a series of events that tempted me to despair. I neither tend to hopelessness nor the depression it engenders. I discovered both in that hard season. What scared me was my temptation to not fight the low dark ceiling that had settled on my life. No hope, no aspiration, no action. I fantasized about throwing in the towel and doing nothing. Sloth wanted my soul.

Disappointments of a certain magnitude and frequency that converge to become despair: that is the breeding ground of sloth. And sloth seduces us into that mire and consoles us: ‘Rest here, here in the darkness. See? God does not act on your behalf. Stop fighting; give yourself up to the dark current of sorrow.’ Paul refers to sloth when he describes the ‘worldly sorrow that brings forth death,’ in contrast to the godly sorrow that inspires turning to Hope Himself. (2Cor. 7:10)

According to Joseph Pieper, sloth is the most serious sin of all because it refuses God. Sloth seduces us to unbelief. No God, no hope–death. We may be unaware of sloth’s slow stranglehold because of counterfeit emotions. Such feelings mask as legitimate: ‘I am grieving, I am being real, I am finally authentic.’ But real grief draws us unto Jesus, as does realistic assessment of our desperate state. Sloth raises itself above God; it urges us to put down the cross and blanket ourselves in a godless, self-piteous resignation.

Sloth has immediate rewards. If there is not hope, then why try? And why worry about God? If He either does not exist or does not care about me enough to act, then why not eat, drink, and drug your blues away? Throw off the moral yoke and throw in a little fornication too…

I have witnessed a disturbing kind of sloth fueling the ‘gay Christian’ movement. Here a group of people who claim Christ as their Source forsake Him as the Redeemer of their sexuality on the grounds that ‘gay’ roots run deeper than the River of Life. Then the faulty conclusion: ‘He must have made me that way…’ Insisting on realism, the ‘gay Christian’ settles for less, a dreadful fatalism bordered by the low ceiling of the ‘gay self.’

The return? No need to aspire to fruitfulness, to the fullness of what Jesus intends for our sexual selves. It is hard work to become who we are: to shake off years of fear and hurt and rebellion and begin to emerge into the persons of God’s design. Sloth gives us an out: be something other than who God says you are.

Joseph Pieper says it best: ‘One who is trapped in sloth has neither the courage nor the will to be as great as he really is. He would prefer to be less great to avoid the obligation of greatness.’ Truly this is the season to rouse ourselves, to shake off all vestiges of despair and to shake each other up a bit. We need to incite one another to chastity and fruitfulness and to refuse slothful ‘outs.’

‘Let us not forsake gathering, as many are in the habit of doing, but let us provoke one another to love and good deeds, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.’ (Heb. 10: 24, 25)

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Risky Living

‘The sick soul fears more than anything else the demands made on one who is well.’ Joseph Pieper

When the Holy Spirit blew open Jesus’ tomb, God blew away our excuses for living half-lives. The very Spirit that liberated Jesus from sin and death summons us from our tombs as well. We must choose. Will we leave our prisons, now that the door has been opened? Will we lay claim to the ground of the new creation or remain in the shadows, more comfortable in grave clothes than in robes of righteousness?

Pope Emeritus Benedict describes personal encounter with Jesus Christ as the opening of a new horizon. It is as if the Risen Lord blows away the pollutants that have prevented us from beholding a range of mountains. Their imposing beauty beckons us; we know that somehow our destiny lies in following Jesus to the summit. Here we face real fears: alive to the Creator and Redeemer of all, will we become who we are by following Him into our destiny?

Many excuse themselves from the path and the goal, citing any number of weaknesses. In the arena of sexual recovery, becoming chaste seems impossible; the barriers to fruitful, faithful love with another person seem insurmountable.

The world provides many excuses. Note these excuses generated by gay activists. Homosexual identity and practice become a closed horizon for anyone with same-gender attraction. The gay self becomes a new ethnos, a genetically-inspired destiny devoid of any choice and thus free from moral meaning. Rather than open prison doors, such activists pad the prison and convince the vulnerable that this is their destiny. ‘By appealing to lustful desires, they entice people who are barely escaping from those who live in error. Offering freedom, they are slaves themselves…’ (2P2: 18, 19)

I winced at how the NY Times Sunday Magazine featured covers on two consecutive Easter Sundays that employed homosexuality to mock the resurrection. Last year’s feature highlighted ‘gay’ Easter bunnies as a serious attempt to prove the goodness of gay practice among humans (I kid you not.) This year’s Easter story charted how Obama hid his pro-gay marriage agenda at the beginning of his presidency until it was safe to ‘come out’ without crucifying political alliances. So much for Christian integrity. Still, the NY Times lauded Obama’s courage as a symbol of new life, the dawn of a new day for America. In truth, what Obama and the Times did was put the stone back on the tomb for persons with SSA.

Time for Christians to take seriously the real power of Resurrection. Perhaps those of us who are tempted to return to the tomb of gay identity and practice can lead the way. Filled with power from on high, our eyes wide open to see the summit before us, let us follow the Lord of Life and discover our real destinies: beloved children of the Father, and pure gifts to one another.

We shall face countless obstacles to get off track; see these barriers as the proving ground for your own commitment. When discouraged, recognize how badly you need help. Secure help from all the saints; grow in trust and humility. The mountains are nearer today than yesterday. Jesus is taking new ground in you as you take the ground He won for you in His resurrection.

“Peter preached: ‘God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact…’ The people hearing this were cut to the heart and asked, ‘What shall we do?’ Peter replied: ‘Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…’ And he pleaded with them: ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’”(Acts 2:32-40)

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