Saturday, October 11, 2008

Living a Concrete Ideology

A student came up to me last week and told me about a discussion she had with a number of other students after a daily Mass. The question that came up from this discussion was whether or not it was healthy for a man to allow a woman to step in front of him in the communion line if she is not his girlfriend. This may sound like a scrupulous question at the surface but I was taken back by the profound theological and anthropological implications undergirding this question. The student’s ambivalent attitude toward her own opinion to this question expressed, in my opinion, the question’s natural complexity.

Those who expressed a desire to limit when a man should encourage a woman to go in front of him did so for good reasons. For starters, such a noble action could ultimately be a distraction. What if the woman genuinely takes such a gesture as a sign of interest on behalf of the man? I have had similar experiences at coffee shops when a nice girl behind the counter would say things like, “This one is on me.” I quickly found myself no longer interested in the drink which had been superseded by wonderment in her actions. One must admit that such a possibility of miscommunication is probable at times, but is such a “remedy” getting to the heart of the matter?

The problem that must be resolved is not “miscommunication” but rather the heart’s disbelief in disinterested love! While the question at hand may appear scrupulous to many, it points to a broader reality. How many times have we questioned the intention of a good action of another? It almost appears as if we are inclined to look at anything good through a lens of suspicion. In other words, behind many good actions lie selfish ends. Of course, such suspicion does not come out of a vacuum but rather from past experience. These tragic experiences of our past come from the life of concupiscence (meaning our fallen nature’s twisted inclination to be self-seeking). Thus, any action to prevent any miscommunication on behalf of the opposite sex—like the communion question—is a genuine coping mechanism for the life of concupiscence that we live in. However, while coping mechanisms are very good and needed, are we not called to something more?

We are called to the redemption of the body (cf. Rom. 8.23). Without Christ, all love (including friendship) can amount to is the accumulation of pleasures which are extremely volatile and unfulfilling. However, in the beginning it was not so (cf. Mat. 19.8). We are empowered and called in Christ to give and receive disinterested love passionately. If the heart of friendship is in the seeking the good of the other, then anything that impedes such ends must seek redemption in the love of the Lord. If that entails a concrete measure such as “coping mechanism” then so be it, but we MUST remember that we are called from repression to redemption! Coping with our fallen humanity is the equivalent to living on spiritual milk (cf. 1 Cor. 3.2). May we continue to open our hearts to the redeeming love of Christ through his Holy Church. Do not be afraid for He longs to fill us with the beatitude that comes from passionate disinterested love! May God be Praised.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Till’ Death Do Us Part: Vows of Both Love and Lust

I spoke last week about love being the fulfillment of lust. Lust is something we ought not to repress but rather complete with love through the redemption of the body (cf. Rom. 8.23). Our shared fallen humanity has compromised our ability to freely and genuinely see the person in and through the body. Because of this fact we often feel inclined either to indulge in our disordered sexual desires (i.e. animalism/hedonism), or to vehemently oppose them to the extent that we wrongfully conclude that anything associated with the body is bad (i.e. angelism/puritanism). Both attempts to assuage the dilemma of the conscience are antithetical to the Gospel message. The kingdom of God is at hand (cf. Mat. 10.7) and this affords each and every one of us the opportunity to love and even desire to love greatly here and now!

Unfortunately, the devil is rather cunning. He is fully aware of the Gospel message and he opposes it with every once of being he has. The Evil One is intimately acquainted with the desires of men and women, and it is through this knowledge that he is able to twist the good we seek into an alluring trap. While we can find some refuge in Lucifer’s inability to create, his mastery in twisting the good into seductive evil is alarming!

This is why both love and lust share similar qualities. All Satan can do is imitate that which is from God; it is always a mockery of that which is true, good and beautiful. We know from the previous column that behind love is the free and genuine gift of oneself to another. Such a gift requires sacrifice if love is to be properly expressed as self-donation. If I am to give myself to another, I must first have some kind of self-mastery, for I cannot give that which I do not have. This self-possession comes in a certain sense from a constant desire and willingness to die to oneself in those areas that compromise self-mastery. Thus, the essence of love can be seen as death to self (cf. Jn. 15.13).

In the brilliance of seduction, Satan has finely tweaked love so that it might maintain much of what humanity desires, yet lend itself the opportunity to lead to perdition rather than life! Lust shares many of the same attributes of love only the directional force of love has changed. In other words, lust is simply love turned inward. Rather than seeing the other as inherently worthy of the gift of oneself, we tend to see the other as a gift to oneself!

In this finely constructed twisting of love, lust also lends itself to death. This is part of the mockery of love! While love is the death to self, lust is the death of self. Such a distinction brilliantly articulates the seductive power of Lucifer’s ways! In the phrase “death of self,” Lust expresses itself as a paralyzing force. The connective “of” denotes the passive nature of this vice. Through the expression of lust we quickly begin to lose self-control to the point of being taken captive by its power (cf. 4 Macc. 1.3; Prov. 11.6). Lust leads to enslavement which is death!

On the other hand, the phrase “death to self,” expresses activity/life by the connective “to.” The phrase is deeply theological as it expresses both death and life within the same breath. Fundamental to love is both death and resurrection. When we deny ourselves in the name of self-mastery we are free to give of ourselves genuinely and completely to the other. Love is freedom.

While the distinctions between love and lust may appear subtle, the practical applications of these distinctions are self-evident. We love when are able to make sacrifices that may not accord with our own desires. There may be times in a relationship that you may be called to sacrifice something for the good of another (cf. 1 Cor. 9). Consider such moments a blessing from God Who calls you to love! We have a right to pursue that which is good, but sometimes we must forsake a good for the better! This is the fundamental distinction between love and lust. We cannot do this on our own. It is only through the redemption of the body through Jesus Christ that we will be able to desire the good of another in spite of our own desires. May God be Praised!