Tag Archives: Theology of The Body

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Basking in their Brilliance: 4 who Lit our Way

What do Leanne Payne, St. John Paul ll, Robert Gagnon, and Josef Pieper have in common?  These are the four brilliant minds I have chosen as the thinkers who most influenced Desert Stream Ministries.

From diverse spiritual and academic backgrounds, each writer envisioned something deeper and truer for the human person than popular culture dictated. Each labored hard to forge works that reflected something of Jesus’ truth and beauty for all humanity. And each possessed a grace of faith and compassion for persons vulnerable to broken sexuality. Not content to just highlight disorder, each, in distinct ways, guided weak ones to aspire to wholeness.       

These are the four whose works we will ponder during our upcoming 40 days of prayer. From Oct. 14th-Nov. 22, I shall quote one author daily and briefly reflect on its import for us. We will make their wisdom a prayer, asking Jesus to help us steward these gems well, that we might shine in a confusing age.  

How did this come about? Last summer, for our 40th Anniversary, I realized that each decade had a book that lit the way during those ten years.

The first work, The Broken Image, by Leanne Payne, paved the way for our ministry. She was a C.S Lewis scholar, a leader in Christian Renewal, and the mentor who most influenced me. ‘Image’ was published in ’81, which corresponded with our 1980 beginning. She fused our belief in the healing power of Jesus with her insightful take on how we fracture and how we heal.

In the nineties, I met Christopher West, who handed me an early edition of St. John Paul’s Theology of the Body. This book combines the late pope’s theological, philosophical, and pastoral gifts into the best guide I know on how to integrate our spirituality with our sexuality.

At the onset of the new millennium, Scripture scholar Robert Gagnon released The Bible and Homosexual Practice, the gold standard for any in-depth biblical take on what our sexuality is for and what it isn’t. As we fought for marriage in the public square, Gagnon’s work strengthened us immensely, and still does.

Around 2012, Fr. Paul Check urged me to read Josef Pieper’s The Four Cardinal Virtues. Pieper was a German scholar founded on the watershed work of St. Thomas Aquinas. As a young Catholic, I wanted to know more about ‘chastity’ but discovered that any accurate take on it had to be founded on the big four: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. Understood rightly, chastity took on virile and robust dimensions that I’m eager to share with you.

On October 14th , join us as we bask in the brilliance of four sharp bright minds who lit the way for us.    

Glorious Orientation

Orientation refers to where one is going in relation to others, which include his or her thoughts and beliefs that guide that direction. Much is made today about different ‘sexual orientations.’ I suggest that there is one glorious orientation: ‘the deep orientation toward the personal dignity of what is intrinsically masculine and feminine.’

St. John Paul ll said that line first and best in his masterful Theology of the Body (TOB). My friend theologian Christopher West joyfully invites us all to make the late great pope’s orientation our own. West is the TOB bridge over which thousands of us have been re-oriented towards our original dignity as men and women and the adventure of a lifetime: activating our sexual dignity in a way that dignifies this ‘other’. A lifetime trajectory indeed!

We at Living Waters know this in our own way. We need Jesus and His Church to be reconciled to the sexual gift we are. But that gift means nothing in social isolation. Confirmation of our sexual integrity comes not in the mirror but in the grateful face of the other. We become who we are in holy, earthy communion.

Abbey, Marco, and I had the privilege to impart our gift to West and his team last week. Humbling. They are my heroic guides. The TOB Institute in Lancaster Pennsylvania hosts weeklong immersions into this ‘orientation’ toward sexual dignity; I dive into these waters often and emerge more converted each time.

As we shared and prayed for West’s 11 team members, I marveled at the way each lives the truth of TOB. The staff is transparent and submits humbly his or her unique gift to the whole. We from DSM gave what we had and received more.

Noteworthy were the witness of both Abbey and Marco, young adults who don’t know TOB through the lens of marriage but as single persons who in Jesus aspire to give their gift to others with integrity. They embody Christ-centered mercy, courage, and insight; all three gifts helped the TOB staff to know how to best serve persons with identity conflicts in their glorious reorientation.

Regardless of one’s starting point, we at DSM and TOB agreed: there is one destination—the dignifying of our intrinsic masculine and feminine selves in community. That is the glorious orientation of the sons and daughters of God! On the plane home I felt more inspired than drained. As I rested, I longed for Annette and eagerly awaited our reunion.

Grounded 9

‘The dignity of every woman is the responsibility of every man.’
St. John Paul 11, Theology of the Body

The test of my love lies in marriage; it is revealed in the eyes and heart of a person, a woman, my bride.

I will not be judged on my ministry gifts; these I exercise freely and receive some reward from others who value a snapshot, a post card, an edited glimpse of me.

Annette witnesses the whole broken image, or rather a series of images—the unrated miniseries without end. God keep her.

Marriage casts a searchlight that reveals the delightful, dirty dance—how we bless and bedevil each other with our love, or lack thereof—the hopes and fears of all these years, 39 and counting for this marriage. Sure, there are gaps, every marriage has them, but also treasures hidden from others that confirm two persons’ best selves and establish home on earth.

I love what for me is the apex of Theology of the Body: John Paul exhorts marrieds to not reduce sexuality to orgasm but rather to recognize and savor the extraordinary sexual essence of her womanhood, his manhood—the person behind the passion. A whole-enough marriage summons that essence and gifts each party with the other.

The other day, after two virus-inspired travel-free months, enjoying very much the rhythm of Annette and my uninterrupted life together, I noticed something: Annette’s peace. She looked lovely, at ease, a little playful. She was grounded because her husband was. I fell in love again.

Truth is, we married, committed to a long stint in grad school and baby-making, then I took off on a runway and never looked back. (I’ve accrued nearly 3 million miles with one airline.) Racing around the world may be good for the Kingdom but hell on a marriage. Annette learned how to partner with me from a distance. Costly. Our syncopated rhythm has not served her well. Her reward is heavenly, mine purgatorial. Who said life was fair? Mercy trumps justice!

Normal anxieties aside, she is more beautiful when her man is around. You could say the pandemic invited Annette to breathe. I savor the gift.

liberating chastity

Liberating Chastity

Chastity has taken a lot of hits lately. Many would deem this ‘successful integration of sexuality within the person’ (#2337) a failure, the prospects dim for unifying one’s best spiritual aspirations with bodily desires. As Church sexual abuse scandals drone on like a dirge, we are stumbled in our stewardship of ‘these powers of life and love.’ If our fathers who claim to represent Jesus have faltered to the point of wrecking children’s lives, and their fathers (bishops) cover for them in order to defend ‘holy’ banks and appearances, what hope for us?

Hypocrisy fires our anger, which readily goes south to ignite dark longings for justifying our own lusts—you screw up ‘holy’ man, I’ll screw up worse!

Eloquent fools rush in. I just read with sobriety and incredulity LGBT activist Frederic Martel’s ‘outing’ of the last four popes and their Roman administrations: ‘In the Closet of the Vatican.’ Pretty intense stuff; more later. What alerted me to Martel’s interpretive key was this one line skewering Pope Emeritus Benedict, whose commitment to sexual orthodoxy is consistent and much hated: ‘He was haunted by the fact that someone else might be having pleasure…’

Huh. That’s Benedict’s legacy, his own chaste life (and there’s no evidence to the contrary) so curdled by conflictual desires that he spends his life spoiling others’ ‘gay’ revelry? That’s Martel’s cause and cure: ‘out’ these collared hypocrites and party on! Unwittingly, Martel ‘outs’ himself and shows he knows nothing about genuine chastity. Only in discovering more about this misunderstood virtue can we rescue it from such a caricature.

Chastity is about uniting the good of our bodily desires for pleasure and creativity with a desire to dignify other lives. This is not a virtue of children but of adults who must lay aside childish things in order to own good and lusty longing for human connection then decide, with ongoing training, to assert the upper hand on what drives them; desires channeled to achieve life, not destroy fun.

No stranger to lust-propulsion, I through Jesus’ mercy discovered a longing greater than sexy idols—that is, a peaceful composure that invited me to explore a range of relationships fully-clothed in which I learned to open my mouth and heart, not my pants. It was fun–pleasurable, if not sensational. I grew up without sensual limits so biblical boundaries saved me. A clear unbiased reading of Scripture led me to conclude that ‘Jesus committed to only one model of sexual union, opposite-gender monogamy…He regarded all sexual activity outside of marriage to one person of the opposite gender as capable of jeopardizing one’s entrance into the Kingdom.’ (‘The Bible and Homosexual Practice’, Dr. Robert Gagnon). To follow Him meant to commit to the same. Scary stuff.

Yet I needed the fear of God in regards to what I did with my body, precisely because of its impact on others. Masturbation hid me from others, porn demonized my vision of God’s children, and immoral acts violated the trust of holy friendships.

Two keys from the work of St. John Paul ll helped transform fear into expectancy. The first is his philosophical ‘personalism’ which invites all persons into an interior journey toward actualizing the truth in their lives, one that requires self-awareness and commitment to a process of development. Chastity, endowed by this ‘personalism’, is ‘how the subjective desires of the heart come into harmony with the objective norm’ (Christopher West).

That norm involved acting upon the second key. I learned through Theology of the Body that I was a ‘gift’ to others and that my design, however damaged by homosexual lust, was still inclined toward the other gift: woman. Then I discovered a pretty good relationship with a real one; I marveled at the difference between lust-propulsion and the emerging chastity in me that could open to Annette’s gender gift and grow to appreciate its exquisite rhythms. As I did, sexual ardor increased in a way that I can only describe as integrated. St. John Paul ll’s insists that chastity applies as readily to marrieds as to singles. We do not marry in order to avoid or channel lust; Jesus calls us in the spirit of St. Paul to love her like Jesus loves His Church. That requires nothing less than integration—the gift of slow-growing chastity.

Hypocrites and rumors of hypocrites aside, I can take responsibility for my own happiness. That requires loving free from the fetters of childish desires. Chastity liberates that happiness. Long may she live and grow in us.

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

with jesus anything

With Jesus, Anything

Reflecting on my 60th year, I was beautifully interrupted by a snow storm that knocked the power right out of us; we were babysitting grandson Jacob while his parents cheered the Kansas City Chiefs onto victory in their division at the local stadium. (Congratulations to The Chiefs for nearly making the Super Bowl.) Annette and I shivered, laughed, and bathed Jacob in the kitchen sink by candlelight.

We love our new digs but it seems we moved into the Bermuda triangle of power sources. Breezes snap electric lines and blow up transformers. O well…My decisive word this year: If ‘without Jesus we can do nothing’ (JN 15:5b), then with Him, we can do anything.

That first and mostly applies to married life. I love Annette more than ever but am less sure of my capacity to actually love her as St. Paul implores husbands, you know, like Jesus offered Himself to the Church. OK, not there yet. It helps to know that marriage itself roots and grounds me in my manhood through her authentic, distinctly feminine self.

Listen to what St. John Paul ll says about marriage in Theology of the Body: ‘Marriage penetrates into the dignity ascribed to humanity as image-bearers by virtue of creation, and at the same time the dignity ascribed to sinful humanity by virtue of redemption.’ Good news for original sinners like me. In marriage’s unflattering mirror, I am humbled by Jesus who always invites me into mercy. From that artesian well I draw constantly and am empowered to give myself more and better to her. In the end, I will be judged by love, the love I gave to that woman. With Him, I can do anything.

That applies pointedly to my love for the Church. This messy witness of Jesus’ unfailing love takes more love than I have. I’ve only to sink a little deeper into the mercy pool to rediscover my gratitude and ardor for her. Strength rises as I wait on Him, His heart for her, that I might love her more, and better. By that I mean the many people I serve every day who are her—broken, beautiful, members, yet often half-blind. It helps to recall what I did not see until I did. Pair that with the realization that I still don’t see that well and you can understand why I cannot love her without Him. But with Him, I can do anything for her, His Bride.

Recognizing the value of trouble in loving the Church helps a lot. I use to shy away from trouble. But now I kind of like it. No sadist, me, but a realist who recognizes blessing and building up the Church provokes the rage of Satan himself who wants to keep her divided and weak, barren in her capacity to bring forth a vast harvest of spiritual children. I have a big enemy who hates what I do. So I am learning to bear his vengefulness patiently, assessing trouble as a sure sign of heading in the right direction–all the while laughing at my self-seriousness and the (comparatively) weak efforts of the enemy to thwart mine. With Jesus, I can do anything for generations yet-to-come.

I love getting older because life gets simpler. It becomes more about Him. In that way I grow young, as eager as a well-loved child to see Him face-to-face.

‘Love is a sweet tyranny, and one who loves has no other language but one… which always has a never-fading youthfulness on the lips of one who loves.’
Archbishop Luis Maria Martinez

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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