Monday, May 25, 2009

Reverence for the Mystery of Love

I have been following the various discussions around the internet about "theology of the body" and have wanted to stay out of the hullabaloo. Those involved have good intentions, no doubt. However, Dr. Alice von Hildebrand is absolutely correct in questioning the prudence of certain approaches to teaching and discussing marital intimacy. A crass and bombastic approach to a delicate subject does nothing but break down the already deteriorating veil of modesty and reticence which should exist between people who are not married to each other, especially between young men and young women.

The beauty of intimacy exists because it is private, to be shared only with the beloved. When the sense of privacy is destroyed, then the intimacy is destroyed. Is there then any hope for romance, when the mystery of physical love is constantly examined under a microscope, on television, on podcasts, everywhere? It is especially damaging, I think, when this occurs under the pretext of learning about chastity, under the cloak of religion. The fruit of the breakdown of modesty will ultimately be adultery, which Dr. von Hildebrand alludes to in her remarks.

Dr. von Hildebrand writes beautifully of the reverence with which married love should be approached, saying:
The tragedy of original sin is that all the beautiful male qualities of strength, courage, objectivity, nobility, a chivalrous attitude towards women, degenerated. The danger created by original sin is that many men use their strength and become brutal and abuse women or look at women as mere objects of pleasure....To my mind the conflict between man and woman can only be healed by striving for holiness.
Dr. Schindler's analysis is also quite profound (via Terry and Donna) as he makes it clear how a disordered outlook towards physical love easily spills over into what at best can be called silly and at worst can be called blasphemous. If individuals come from families where the body was seen as dirty, and intimacy could only be spoken of in terms of smutty jokes, then I suppose a frank discussion feels liberating for them. I only hope that the cure is not worse than the disease.

My husband is right when he says that *some* chastity programs can be characterized as "Catholic porn" because they may become an excuse to talk about sex under the guise of lamenting the evils of fornication. It is as if a bunch of alcoholics at an AA meeting talked about their favorite cocktails the whole time, all the while saying how terrible it is to drink.

People have been making love and having babies since time began. Why suddenly everyone needs to run and listen to a sex therapist in order to understand what love is should tell us that something has gone terribly awry.

Contemporary worship certainly has been stripped of mystery yet the human soul continues to thirst for the transcendent. When the mysteries of the supernatural are downplayed and denigrated then there is hardly anything else but the mystery that binds man and woman together, the mystery of sexuality. It is easy and very human to lose oneself in passion. Nevertheless, once sexuality loses its mystery by being debased and misused then there lies right beyond it the mystery of death. To tear down the veil of reverence for the mystery of human intimacy is to open a dangerous door.

UPDATES: Here and Here. Share


Michelle Therese said...

I could never get in to "Theology Of the Body." For me, it's a bit too much. Sex, love, baby-making, it's not that complicated. Neither is the Law of God with regards to sex. Do we really need extensive, exhaustive programs like "Theology of the Body" in order to understand and respect procreation from a Catholic point of view??

christopher said...


elena maria vidal said...

I agree, Coffee, why make complicated something so simple? Such overemphasis on anything is not healthy.

Thanks, Christopher.

Kirt Higdon said...

Thanks for this discussion and for the links. I once saw parts of a West video and thought he was vulgar and cringe-worthy - and I am far from a prude. It seems his spin on TOB is much more damaging than I imagined.

Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle said...

Thanks for posting this. Prayer is in order, huh?

As you know, I have similar sentiments on my blogs.

God bless!

elena maria vidal said...

More than I had imagined, too, Kirt, although I have had strong misgivings for a long time, ever since I read his book "Good news about sex" a few years ago. I keep hearing how people have been helped by his approach but it never did anything for me.

Donna, thanks for pointing me towards the Schindler article which expressed what I had been thinking all along. Yes, prayer is in order.

Terry Nelson said...

I should have come here for consolation - some of my commenters seem to think I am just an old prude. Excellent post Elena.

I also agree with your husband.

elena maria vidal said...

Thanks, Terry. Well, I guess that I'm an old prude, too.....

Athanasius said...

Thank you for this.

Years ago, Christopher West came and spoke at my college, and I was disgusted. I got up and walked out. I'm sure he means well, but the crass manner in which he presented everything just seemed to cheapen marital love, and I was 21 and felt that way. Others however thought it was the greatest thing, and when I suggested it was too immodest, some people never spoke to me again. It should be shocking but it really isn't, people can't seem to think critically, if you criticize their guru you just must be the devil, and I suppose that is what is happening to poor Alice von Hildebrand.

elena maria vidal said...

Athanathius, it is really bizarre to me how emotional people get when it comes to defending West.

Emily said...

I have never read anything on TOB because I've been turned off to it by encounters with people who are 'into' it. The cavalier attitude people take towards talking about intimacy under the guise of promoting TOB really bothers me. I think many use it as an excuse to be as sex obsessed as the rest of America.

My husband calls it 'Theology of the Bawdy' and I think he is right.

Thanks for your post!

By the way, I have nothing but respect for Alice von Hilebrand. She is a true lady, the likes of which are vanishing from to-day's world.


Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle said...

It's heartening to see these honest and forthright comments on the subject. Again, we need to pray about the whole situation.

God bless,

God Alone Suffices said...

I don't mean to offend anybody with this comment, as I'm sure your opinions are all out of Christian concern, but have any of you ever met Christopher West or read his books? I've met him personally and, frankly, I've never seen anybody so in love with Christ and Our Lady. I was leading a very immoral lifestyle until I was introduced to Theology of the Body and Christopher West, and he's changed many of my friends' lives as well. He truly loves people and has helped me understand my dignity as a woman.