On Loves Ordered & Disordered

There has been a lot of commentary — probably too much — about the recent Supreme Court decision extending the legal definition of marriage to include homosexual couples. But the thing that struck me wasn’t the decision, or even the public outpouring of support. It was a simple hashtag: #lovewins.

With that hashtag, the supporters did two things. They identified their victory as a victory for love. And they declared their faith that love itself is a simple, unquestionable good.

Conservative Christians have mostly responded by questioning that first thesis. After all, if “God is love,” rejecting love hardly seems like a good idea. But from the standpoint of the Christian theological tradition, it is the second thesis which is most in doubt.

The Complexity of Love

In the Christian tradition, love is anything but simple. It is true that St. John identifies God himself as love, but the words for love were used in a much wider context as well.

Broadly speaking, love was understood to mean the desire or attraction to a person or thing. The desire could be of varying kinds (love of a friend’s company or love of a good meal) and degrees, but the concept was fairly unified.

Of course, desiring God is good by definition, since God is Good Itself, but desires for other things are good only in a contingent way. There are two basic ways that love can go wrong:

  1. Loving something too much or too little
  2. Loving something in the wrong way

I might love a good meal, but if I love good meals more than I love my friends, then that love is disordered. Similarly, I might love my wife an appropriate degree, but if I love her only as a caregiver for my children, that love is still disordered.

According to this classic Christian analysis, all sins are sins of love: excessive, deficient, misdirected, or otherwise disordered.

The Coexistence of Ordered & Disordered Loves

Adding further complexity is the fact that ordered and disordered loves may actually coexist in the same relationship. There are many couples who seem to have a reasonably well ordered romantic love for each other, but struggle with the everyday love of one’s housemate.

I have no doubt that many homosexual couples really do have a heartfelt love and friendship with their partner. Unfortunately, that says nothing at all about whether their sexual relationship is a good thing.

Love wins? Yes, but only when it is God’s love drawing us to him. All earthly loves must be set aside when they come between us and the Blessed Trinity.

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The Catholic Requirement to Rest on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation

It has recently come to my attention that some otherwise well-educated Catholics are unaware of the Church’s teaching requiring rest on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation (hereafter simply Holy Days). This post is to help clarify the nature of the requirement.

1. Catholics are required to rest on Holy Days

Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2185 On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body.

Code of Canon Law:

Can.  1247 On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.

Moreover, they are to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body.

Baltimore Catechism:

358 The third Commandment forbids all unnecessary servile work and whatever else may hinder the due observance of the Lord’s day.

2. This requirement is rooted in the 10 Commandments

Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2168 The third commandment of the Decalogue recalls the holiness of the sabbath: “The seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD.”

2184 Just as God “rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done,”121 human life has a rhythm of work and rest.

Baltimore Catechism:

354 By the third Commandment we are commanded to keep holy the Lord’s day and the holy days of obligation, on which we are to give our time to the service and worship of God.

3. Some circumstances can excuse Catholics from the requirement to rest

Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. The faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health.

Baltimore Catechism:

360 Servile works are lawful on Sunday when the honor of God, the good of our neighbor, or necessity requires them.

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Hymn to the Virgin – Benjamin Britten

At Mass today (the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God) the choir sang this beautiful piece by Britten.

Of one that is so fair and bright, velut maris stella, (as the star of the sea)
Brighter than the day is light, parens et puella: (mother and daughter)
I cry to thee, thou see to me,
Lady, pray thy Son for me, tam pia, (so holy)
That I might come to thee. Maria! (Mary)
All this world was forlorn, Eva peccatrice, (because of sinful Eve)
Till our Lord was y-born, de te genetrice. (of you, his mother)
With ave it went away (hail)
Darkest night and comes the day Salutis; (of salvation)
The well springeth out of thee, Virtutis. (of virtue)
Lady, flower of everything, Rosa sine spina, (rose without thorn)
Thou bear Jesu, heavens king, Gratia divina: (by divine grace)
Of all thou bear’st the prize,
Lady, queen of paradise Electa: (chosen one)
Maid mild, mother es effecta. (you are made)

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Praying to the Saints IS Praying to Christ

Objections to the practice of praying to the saints come in a few different forms, from the extreme of calling it idolatry to a mild discomfort that one is not “going directly to Christ.” But what all of them seem to have in common is a low estimation of what it means to be incorporated into Christ’s mystical body.

The hidden presupposition is that Christ is fundamentally “other” to the saint, and consequently, that to address a petition to the saint is to not address it to Christ. (Unless perhaps one does so separately.)

But this is contrary to Paul’s theology of incorporation into Christ. By Baptism and participation in the Sacrament of Christ’s Body, we become Christ’s Body.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:12-13

We are no longer ourselves alone. We are the hands Christ stretches out to a lost and dying world. And those who clasp that hand are not just touching us, but Christ.

That is a very fine idea, you say, but how do we know that it applies to intercession in the way that you think? Because of this…

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.

This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time.

1 Timothy 2:1-6

Here Paul grounds the intercession of the Church in the intercession of Christ himself. These are inseparable, because they are not two intercessions, but one: the intercession of Christ in His Body.

But, you object, you’re talking about the dead and Paul was talking about the living!

No. In fact, I am talking about those who are most alive, those who are most fully incorporated into Christ, those over whom death has no power. As Our Lord himself said, “He is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all are alive to him.” (Luke 20:38)

Paul was addressing those still on Earth, certainly. But he was speaking of the Church. And the Church, the New Jerusalem, is born from above. (Rev. 21)

Are we to say that Christ’s saints, having overcome sin and the world by the power of the cross, are no longer part of Christ’s Body? Are we to say that the virgins, martyrs, prophets, and apostles, having united themselves to Christ in this world, have now no participation in Christ’s high priestly intercession. Heaven forbid!

And it does.

This impulse to exclude the Church Triumphant from our prayer lives is a subtle but serious temptation. It tempts those of us in the Church Militant to do precisely what Paul ridicules.

“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”

Saints of God, pray for us.

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Concerns about “Authentic Masculinity”

Over the past decade or so, there has been an explosion of books, sermons, classes and other materials dedicated to teaching “Authentic Masculinity.” Exactly what this means is hard to say, but the common element is a desire to reintroduce a “masculine” element to their churches.

I have a couple of concerns about this: First, whether these materials tend to teach a true theological anthropology; Second, a pragmatic concern about whether they can even work.

Theological concern

There is an open question regarding the degree to which “masculine” and “feminine” categories are universal and the degree to which they are cultural. I don’t intend to take a firm position on the subject.

What I will note is that huge parts of Christian history consist of teaching “masculine” culture the “feminine” virtues of Christianity. We see this even in the lives of individual saints like Ignatius of Loyola and Francis of Assisi.

While it is true that “Authentic Masculinity” materials tend to denounce machoism, they also promote the idea that an “authentic man” always takes the initiative, and is “wild at heart.” These are, at the least, questionable ways of representing Christ, the perfection of humankind both masculine and feminine. For I am meek and humble of heart.

Pragmatic concern

Then, of course, there is the question of whether it works at all to try teaching masculinity. I can only cite my own experience. But I’ve found that it was precisely when I stopped caring about fitting into the “authentically masculine” mold that I found myself acting in a way that was both masculine and characteristically myself.

That’s not to say that I’m now a “real man.” It is to say (repurposing Lewis):

No man who bothers about masculinity will ever be masculine: whereas if you simply try to do the right thing (without caring twopence how whether it is the masculine thing to do) he will, nine times out of ten, be masculine without ever having noticed it.

And I’m pretty sure that the same thing is true of “authentic femininity” as well.

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NFP Misconception #1: Letting God Decide

Proponents of NFP often speak as if the reason that NFP is okay (and contraception is not) is that “NFP lets God decide when we have children.”

That’s a bit silly, though. Not only can God decide to do whatever he wants regardless of our family planning methods, but it isn’t even what the Church says about NFP.

Finally, it is for parents to take a thorough look at the matter and decide upon the number of their children. This is an obligation they take upon themselves, before their children already born, and before the community to which they belong—following the dictates of their own consciences informed by God’s law authentically interpreted, and bolstered by their trust in Him.

– Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio

Now, remember, this is the same Paul VI who issued Humanae Vitae, so he probably knows what he’s talking about.

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Do Protestants Believe in the Infallibility of the Church?

Here is something I’ve been thinking about lately.

Do Protestants view a “great apostasy” a la Mormonism as a possibility for Christ’s Church? If not, then it seems that there is at least some sense in which Protestants believe Christ’s Church to be infallible.

Perhaps then, the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism on this subject isn’t about infallibility, but about who speaks for the Church.

Does that make sense, or am I reaching?

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