Tag Archives: Pieper

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Justice 1: Shameless

‘Mercy without justice is the mother of disintegration.’ Thomas Aquinas

Conviction for sexual sin is dull today. We no longer feel bad for acting badly. Misuses of mercy may well enable the problem. When we placate the disintegrated who sow seeds of disorder everywhere, are we disintegrating others? Where is justice for persons caught in the crossfire of another’s sin?

Last week, we as a staff prayed for a godly wife whose husband abruptly left her and is fast-tracking a divorce so he can proceed with his sexy new friendship. Our small group surrounded a mother whose once beautiful daughter now postures as a macho dude and refuses proximity with her grieving mom. I talked with a colleague about how to best respond to a once chaste friend who now works for a ‘gay’ rights group and who slanders his former recovery/ministry mates as abusive and greedy ‘conversion’ therapists. All three cases involve persons who refuse the truth, cannot change the truth, and vent their conflict on loved ones who remind them of the truth.

Justice is all about the truth. As Pieper says about this foundational virtue, ‘What is right comes before justice; justice is second.’ The truth—we seek to give others their due. In this we serve justice. It is right and fair to seek to live undivided lives. However weak we may be, tempted by myriad desires, we can desire one true thing: to love others in a way that honors our commitment to what is best for all. In the sexual realm that involves keeping the commitment of love we sealed with our bodies (aka marriage), keeping same-gender friends chaste, and making every effort to honor the gender of our birth.

It is fair to name efforts to ‘expand’ human liberty by forsaking these truths as unjust. One person’s freedom becomes a loved one’s nightmare. Before we fawn over the unrepentant prodigal, we must first recognize that his or her sin has set in motion a series of sins that has victimized others. How are the forsaken spouse and grieving parent and helpless friend doing? We must first uphold what is just by caring for the injured.

Secondly, the injustice of today’s new sexual liberties wreaks havoc on children who grow up in an amoral, chaotic world. Yesterday, everyone had a ‘gay’ niece. Today, everyone has a ‘trans’ nephew. Is it because we underestimated the number of gender disoriented folks? No. We just popularized them, made it crazy cool to ‘gender bend’ and barely formed kids begin to entertain the possibilities. Every ‘gay marriage’, every ‘trans’ testimony, every divorce pollutes the air and the water our kids depend on and makes them that much more susceptible to immorality. That is the nature of injustice. Founded on lies, it spreads its deception naturally, deeply. Pray mercy on our children. We have sown to a violent wind and we now reap destruction.

‘For rebellion is like the sin of witchcraft, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.’ (1S 15:23)

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Annette

Love has a name. I discovered its meaning only when I chose to offer myself 35-years-ago to this person named Annette. What I thought I knew about love meant little as I bumped up against my selfishness. (I prided myself on a kind of reflective, poetic awareness of love but actually knew next to nothing about it.) In joy and especially in her tears, Annette invited me to love her because she was worth it. I wanted to do so. Though desire spurs us onto discipline, they are not the same things. I was flabby in love.

One factor (though by no means the only) involved my homosexual background. Neither God nor I was content for me to muck around all my days bowing before mirror images of myself. I was done being seduced by Narcissus– mirages of idealized masculinity that lured me only to sicken me. The challenge of conversion is that you start to worship the ONE and in so doing you catch glimpses of what is true about yourself and the rest of creation. That is good. And scary. Pieper is right; maybe we stay sick in order to shirk the responsibility of wholeness.

Annette was a real woman, whole-enough: smart and sophisticated, attuned to others, a God-seeker but bound up inside too, as if she had to earn His love. Annette was dimensional, and I tracked with her; I wanted her but I wanted her on my terms and I cannot say I ever got close enough to anyone to know their terms. Until I entered into Annette’s world. Wow. Uncharted territory: would I love the whole of her and ‘man-up’ enough to offer the ragged whole of me?

A few things helped: mutual sexual desire took a little while, as is often the case when one has SSA. The pleasure we found in each other’s bodies developed in the context of a growing relationship; the more we disclosed about our lives and trusted each other, the more we desired each other.

And Annette was easy to desire. She possessed an ease of being, an integrated gift of welcoming others into her life. I marveled at how she could open the door of her heart to persons she trusted and display a range of emotions with an immediacy that at once drew me and challenged me.

It helped to place Jesus at the center of our communion. That may have been slightly defensive on my end but in truth, Annette and I wanted Him and His will above all else. As Annette discovered more about the depth of Jesus’ love for her and welcomed His Spirit in the core areas of her life (she had a lot of fear-based problems due to childhood sexual abuse), she grew more and more beautiful to me. I realize now that marriage involves body and soul and that the enlightened soul permeates the body and makes it hot. Spirit-filled Annette turned me on.

So in fear and trembling and with great expectations, we said yes to each other. Saying yes to each other meant saying no to everyone else. By that I mean divisive things, like unhelpful advice or other lovers, real or imagined. We took the marriage bed seriously and refused to allow phantoms to insinuate themselves into the bond we shared. Yes, we talked things out, still do, but out of respect for each other and on the solid ground of trusting each other.

We share a rich legacy in ministry but deeper still is our family life. Annette is the best Mom: she has never flagged at offering herself wholly to our four kids while also giving them space to grow apart from her. We shared parenting from the start, still do—we have discovered that the task morphs but never stops. Raising kids highlights the truth that sexual love is about more than interpersonal pleasure (though for that I am grateful); God intends sex to create other lives. That is why discipline in the sexual realm is so crucial. What you make you must also tend, and what you do privately gets passed down to your kids whether they know it or not. Sex is powerful. That’s why chastity means everything to us.

As we move into our 36th year, I notice that we bicker less and accept each other more; we no longer treat misdemeanors as felonies and have dug a deeper well of mercy that we offer one other in unspoken ways. We have weathered a host of hardships together, which has seasoned and tempered our bond. Annette grows in virtue, the beauty of holiness. We do not need to ‘talk things out’ as much as before. We look at each other’s exquisitely lined faces with gratitude after 35 years of life together. We speak words of love to each other. We grow in living those words. Not too hard–I know love’s name.

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river rising

Chastity and Mercy 6: River Rising

‘…Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, in order to present her to Himself as a radiant Church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.’ (Eph. 5:25-27)

Jesus reveals His self-giving to the church and world through a host of icons—relationships whose chastity makes Him known in ordered, exuberant love. St. Paul in the above passage uses the whole-enough love of a man for a woman to make earthy and evident Jesus’ cleansing love for His Church.

God gives us little room to write off such a parallel as lofty mysticism; rather, He insists that we embody the truth of the Gospel by offering ourselves generously and humbly to each other as His Spirit secures and empowers us. ‘Our bodies are a Bible,’ insists Christopher West.

Our beautiful challenge? Always and everywhere we offer ourselves as either male or female, blessed with bodies that long for union. Here we discover that it takes God—we who drink deeply of His mercy and revere His truth—to reveal God. We can only master the unwieldy elements of our sexual desire when we are aligned with His desire for the other’s good, not merely with what feels good to us. Owning that goal and the gift one is makes us chaste, one day at a time.

And oh what divine strength and beauty flow from the chaste! No conflict here with virility and fragrant womanhood. Chaste sexuality creates a ‘glow of the true and the good irradiating from the ordered state’ (Pieper) which feeds the souls it encounters, surpassing the adrenal kicks of sexy idols. Icons need not flaunt; they reflect glory from their depths. The Creator shines through His ordered creation and invites the world to know Him through them, through us.

We’ve all tasted and seen God’s goodness through His human ‘windows.’ Seasoned male friendship has been for me, in the words of the Catechism, ‘the witness of God’s fidelity and loving kindness’ (#2346). Merciful faithfulness assumes the face of Jesus through friendships forged in Him. Such friendship empowered this icon (however ‘chipped’) to pursue a particular woman. Annette and I responded ‘to God’s call to give life by sharing in the creative power and fatherhood of God’ (#2367).

Yes, our chaste union is about God’s provision for us. And it is equally about creating and raising them—our kids, made and parented in His image as male and female. We are now a gender mosaic, distinct parts yet composed together in the whole of our lives, a glimpse for others of how Jesus’ love makes His members strong, fragrant, and fruitful.

My starting point en route to chastity was homosexuality; others begin with more traditional failures or just the nagging lie that ‘I will never be a good gift.’ We gather before Him as one Church before the one Cross where we welcome His flood of blood and water. As we bear one another’s burdens, the river rises–first ankle deep then up to our knees, climbing to our waists and then some until we are immersed in love (EZ. 47) and confident that the chaste One will complete our chastity. Along the way we become the flood, exquisite witnesses in humble frames whose very clarity and purity releases living water to all who thirst.

‘And where the river flows, everything will live’ (Ez. 47: 9b).

‘Thank You God for taking our frustrated gift-giving and drenching it in mercy. We just wanted to overcome shameful problems but all along You wanted to enjoy intimacy with us, and to make our joy full by making us Your witnesses. May we delight in the good gifts we are becoming–the clarity of sight and affection we are experiencing. Help us to see others as You do and to love them accordingly, beginning with our most basic commitments. Free us to become a life-giving flow of chaste love, at once tender and bold.’

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chastity and mercy 5 river here

Chastity and Mercy 5: River Here

God calls each of us to be a river of life for others. Chastity liberates that flow; sourced in Christ and no longer sidelined by fear and lust, we grow into channels of pure, creative energy. The river’s end? To build up Christ’s body, one member to another.

It is radically simple, as anyone who attends a Living Waters-like group can attest. We gather in order to overcome sins against chastity then discover that the light of Love is routing dark motives and acts. Forgiven by Jesus, He then asks us to be His rays of light for others. What guides us is the other’s good; grace welling up from Truth frees us to deny ourselves for what is best for another. Then, as the Spirit guides and empowers, we summon that good in our brother or sister.

This is the training ground for true friendship.  ‘The virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship’ (#2347) exudes the catechism, and such life-giving friendship is the basis for all other relationships. We must grasp this: chaste friendship, governed by robust self-giving aimed at the other’s good—is the foundation of all other loves. That applies to singles who would love not to be, for marrieds (yes, chastity applies as much to the sexually active as to the abstinent) and to persons who became celibate in response to God’s invitation to devoted partnership (#2349).

In each of these states of life, God calls us to rejoice in our sexual longings and with inspired self-control to become a gift that enhances the gift of another. Our greatest temptation may not be surging waters of desire that drown another but rather a neurotic fear of doing so that keeps us isolated. In the words of Aquinas, ‘asexuality’, more than temperate desire, ‘is the moral defect.’ The exuberant chaste soul feels many things but chooses the one thing—another’s good.

We can witness the other virtues at work in chaste friendship. Pieper highlights prudence—the mature ability to make right decisions–as essential to friends who seek to see the truth and act clearly on it. In other words, a wise friend, governed by love and a truthful vision of the other, will help him or her make true decisions. These may well be in service of clarifying who (s)he is as gender ‘gift’ and in helping him or her offer it without compromise. Prudent friendship seems an important antidote to the ‘spiritual friendship’ group who lose the truth each time they reinforce the ‘gay self’ as intrinsic to the friend at hand.

Temperance obviously comes to play in chaste friendship. That can apply as much to moderating positive desire as it does negative feelings. For example, one may be tempted to disdain a friend due to character defects. Self-control helps one to not reject but rather to wisely engage the friend for the sake of self-awareness and growth in holiness. And if non-marital friendship should awaken sexual desire then self-control helps one elevate that desire to holy love, which insists on the other’s good. Wise and good boundaries protect friendship (and the dignity of the friend and his/her loved ones) from one’s still-being-integrated desires. Friendship can still thrive as we become chaste, each of us a work-in-progress.

For this we need fortitude. How essential this virtue in forming good friendships! We who have experienced rejection and fear and sexual confusion in friendship need the will and Spirit to persevere. Pieper writes beautifully: ‘Because man is vulnerable, he can be brave.’ Every Christian is vulnerable to one’s gift being rejected. For this we can choose to put ‘on Christ’ and unite our losses to Himself, confident that He who created us is ever-beautifying the gift we are. We can hold fast to that truth, especially when fallen creatures inform us otherwise.

Let’s not allow anyone to block the stream flowing from the Source through these pretty good vessels. He made us to engender life in others. Where we are, the river is.

‘Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers and sisters, love one another deeply from the heart’ (1P 1:22).

‘Father, thank You for releasing “streams of living water within us” (John 7:38) in order to make us sources of Your gift of life. May our friendships reflect this gift-giving. Grant us the prudence, the temperance and the fortitude to build fruitful friendships. Build up Your body as we Your people build up one another.’

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Chastity and Mercy 3: Just Love

Chastity and Mercy 3: Just Love

‘We seek to be chaste because someone we love needs us to be chaste.’ Heather King

Justice means giving to another what is due him or her. In the sexual realm, chastity serves justice by freeing humanity to be good and faithful gifts to others; that involves keeping our sexual promises with those we most love. Therein lays our happiness, and another’s. The person undivided by lust of any kind exercises justice by employing one’s self-gift to confirm, not confuse or diminish another’s gift. In so doing, we discover ‘human freedom’ (CCC#2339).

Such freedom is miles away from the enslaving drive to withhold from the beloved or to partake of one not our own. That applies to real people as it does to a host of sexy, romantic illusions that captivate us; the screens that ensnare us with stories and pictures of lust have rendered most of us adulterers of heart. Jesus cites such interior compromise as a sin on par with obvious sexual acts in Matt. 5:28. Rather than grant us sinners a ‘pass’ when it comes to our sexual musings, He applies the sin of adultery to any way we objectify others and make them players in the bedroom of our hearts.

So when a woman is caught in the act of adultery and dragged before Christ by a group of law-abiding elders in order to ‘out’ Him as either a libertine or a hardliner (JN 8: 1-12), we need to listen. How does Jesus serve justice?

In order to answer this, we must take seriously how chastity serves justice and conversely, how sins against it are always profoundly unjust. Take adultery: the Mosaic law is utterly clear that to withhold from God and/or one’s spouse and to partake of another not one’s own is always profoundly unjust, so much so that it warrants a sentence of death (Lev. 20:10).  Pieper is right: ‘every external act has social consequences’, including illicit sexual ones; we are now accustomed to so neutering sexual sin that ‘we fail to see its impact on the order of our communal life and the realization of the common good.’ We have all witnessed the wounding of families, communities and nations (Bill Clinton, anyone?) due to sins against chastity.

Like Jesus, Pieper also applies sins against chastity to ‘lust of the eyes’ when he refers to ‘the roaming unrest of spirit’ that drives us to relinquish ourselves to the world and its idols. Unable to live peacefully in our own flesh, we adulterous ones stuff ourselves selfishly with the flesh of others; here we must make real people unreal by separating them from love and honor. Ultimately, we lose touch with reality altogether. Persons who suffer most are not ourselves but loved ones who have experienced the gradual loss of us ‘to the seductive power of stimuli from an artificial civilization, in which the dishonorable team of blind lust and calculated greed’ surround our broken sexuality (Pieper).

Persons familiar with the dehumanizing impact of their sexual sin do well to reckon with the injustices we have incurred. At once withholding and violating, we have damaged others. Sin brings death and warrants death. Further, our enemies are merciless and want nothing more than for us to live accused until death destroys us forever. Many of us have descended into despair, which has driven us into the oblivion of greater sins.

Here we must allow ourselves to be dragged by our accusers before the feet of Jesus. (We resume our glance on Jesus’ treatment of the adulterous woman.) Knowing the merciless hearts of our accusers and His, He refuses to dialogue with them. (a good rule btw for all confronted by the clever and mean-spirited)

Rather, He bends down and considers the many ways these ones avoided dealing with their own sins and so failed to welcome the mercy they needed. Realizing the folly of the unjust passing judgment on the unjust, He asks: ‘If anyone is without sin, cast the first stone.’ Waiting guilty on the firing line, we hear only the sound of stones falling in the sand. When we look up we see only Jesus standing straight in order to look deeply into our eyes and say: ‘Where are your accusers?’ ‘Gone’, we admit. Then neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more.’ His voice is as firm as His eyes moist with mercy. We straighten up as He did, at once peaceful and provoked to leave our sins at His feet. Merciful Jesus serves justice.

‘Mercy is not opposed to justice but rather expressed God’s way of reaching out to the sinner by offering him a new chance…God does not deny justice. He rather envelops it and surpasses it with an even greater event in which we experience love as the foundation of true justice.’ Misericordiae Vultus

‘Grant us mercy, O God. Our sins and our accusers are many, the damage deep. May we never minimize its depth; may mercy alone silence and surpass it.’

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