Sunday, August 1, 2010

Some Thoughts

Catholic Exchange is running a series on "Theology of the Body" and they asked me for my opinion. Here it is:
I am still in the process of pondering Dr. Alice von Hildebrand’s exquisite thirty-two page essay “Dietrich von Hildebrand, Catholic Philosopher, and Christopher West, Modern Enthusiast: Two Very Different Approaches to Love, Marriage and Sex.” As usual, Dr. von Hildebrand’s analysis is deeply rooted in Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, the lives and writings of the saints and popes, and the profoundly Catholic philosophy of her late husband, Dietrich von Hildebrand. Her logic is flawless as she, in a great exercise of prudence, discusses the writings of Mr. West concerning marital love. To quote:
“Key to my concerns is West’s hyper-sexualized approach to the Theology of the Body. The French have a wonderful word to capture the veiling of one’s intimate feelings, out of a proper sense of shame—pudeur, a “holy bashfulness,” so to speak. Seized as he is by what he regards as his calling to evangelize a new generation with this theology in “modern” ways they can supposedly better understand, West practically ignores the importance of pudeur, and, by his imprudence, winds up undermining his own message.”
I would encourage every Catholic, especially Catholic mothers, to carefully read what Dr. Alice has to say. Last year, when she first dared to suggest that some of Mr. West’s writings might not be entirely in line with Catholic teaching and tradition, I was appalled at the attacks leveled at such a venerable and beloved lady. Some even dared accuse her of being “puritanical.”  There is nothing in the least puritanical about her writings. (For one thing, anyone who has ever traveled to modern France or Belgium will see that puritanism is pretty scarce, and has been for quite some time.) However, I think that puritanism is being confused with a love of modesty. Modesty is too often confounded with prudishness. It does not speak well for the state of American Catholicism when ladies and gentlemen cannot express their opinions about basic decency without being called “puritans” and “prudes.” There is a difference, a big difference, between the puritanical view of the body as dirty, and the view which approaches the body with modesty and reverence.
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. 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.


Julygirl said...

With the current 'information network' exploring all facets of life, one needs discretion in picking and choosing what they wish to expose themselves to visually and intellectually.

Anonymous said...

I heard Christopher West speak once, and I tried to read one of his books, but I don't think he is the best messenger of the Church's teaching on sexuality, in particular, JPII's "theology of the body."

I was asked to teach on the topic, and ended up doing so with the high schoolers and later with the the young adults at my parish. The theology of the body as I understand it (and I don't claim to hold a candle to my shepherds) applies the sacramental theology we have long articulated with the Eucharist to the other sacraments. If God is present in the sacrament of the Eucharist, He is also present in the person of one's spouse. If you are married, He is present in the one. If you are not married, He is present in the faith community that sustains you, whether you are an avowed religious or a single person.

Celibacy is not defined in the negative, but in the positive. The single person, whether avowed to celibacy or not, belongs to God and to everyone in service. Celibacy does not define what you don't do as it defines what you are. I am married. I now must live my faith through my spouse. The only reason I kept my sanity all the years I was single was that I threw myself into teaching, church activities, family, and friends. (I am fortunate that the lifestyles in "Sex and the City" are absurd to me. I could not watch people be that dumb week after week.)

Single people often make the mistake of trying to be "sorta married" through our unwise courting customs rather than living their lives full-tilt for God unless and until He gives them new orders through marriage.

That, as I understand it, is the gist of the theology of body: vocation.

elena maria vidal said...

TQ, I think you have expressed it beautifully.