The next talk is by Christopher West and is about his new book, Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing on Saturday, May 11th at 6pm with wine and cheese afterward (£5 at the Door).
For more info, or to register for future events, call Catherine Macgillivray on +44 207 931 6064 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
On Wednesday 15th May there will be a Feedback and Foment Meeting for all those who have attended the talks so that we can all decide where we like to go next – Some may wish to attend Theology of the Body groups, Endow groups, Encourage groups etc. This is a meeting for all those who have been inspired and provoked by what they’ve heard and want to go further.
The evening will be facilitated by Edmund Adamus and Fr Richard Nesbitt and Sarah de Nordwall.
Here are my notes from the talk:
My father was a carpenter. Some of my happiest memories as a small boy were working along side him with a hammer and nails. When I was 9 years old he sat me down alone, gave me a serious look and said,
“Can you help me? I need someone to bolt down the foundation of the house and I think you could do it.” We were building our house in Minnesota together.
“You want me to help you bolt down the house?”
“Yes, and it to be really tight because if the wood joyces are not fastened tightly to the concrete foundation the house will blow away when a storm or tornado comes.”
I couldn’t believe it. Why did he want my help? So I took the rachet socket wrench and nuts and got to work. It wasn’t easy for my small hands and used my whole strength to try to turn them into place.
When I was finished he said,
“That is great. I am so proud of you!”
This experience changed my life. Forever.
I didn’t know it, but what my dad was doing, was putting his heart in me; strengthening my inner man; teaching me to identify myself as someone who is capable of doing difficult things. It was in the shadow of my father’s watchful care that I started to experience myself as a man.
St Hildegard of Bingen, a great mystic, poet, hymnologist, biologist, and a consultant to popes and bishops, said in the twelfth century in her work the Scivias:
“We have entered into an effeminate age where men are not men.”
She was referring to the clergy and state leaders of the time, saying that the “virility of the apostolic age has vanished,” because there was a lack of moral leadership because the “scriptures are neglected” and men were becoming “lukewarm and sluggish.”
Where are all the real men?
Real men are rare
In the book of Ecclesiastes (7:28) we read that a real man is “one in a thousand.” St Francis de Sales, speaking of men that could spiritual lead or direct souls, said, a man who can lead you is one in a thousand “St Teresa of Avila says - and I say among ten thousand, for there are fewer than one would think” (Introduction to the Devout Life Part I Chapter IV)
Where have all the real men gone? Are they hiding under a rock? Why do little boys seldom become men, sons who even though they have children never really develop their paternity in its fulness?
Because men are not men, women are not allowed to be women and their dignity and vocation is not protected and nurtured. Because men are not defenders of the weak, abortion on demand rages and public violence ensues. Laziness, dissipation, irresponsibility, carelessness, foolhardiness, even effeminate, indecisive, oversensitivity reigns among persons who ought to be men, but appear to be stuck in little boy mode, or worse, little girl mode.
Why is there such a terrifying crisis of manhood, fatherhood, and masculinity? To answer this question, I would like to answer the question of this talk.
What is it that every man needs?
God? Love? Strength? Confidence? Hope?
The answer is deeper, or I shall say more refined, more specific, than these. God, love, strength, confidence, hope have a face. Jesus Christ? No. Even the Lord Jesus Himself would be the first one to point out that He is only the beginning of the completion of each man, who find their end in the same person in which Christ Himself finds His rest, His end, His strength and confidence. God the Father? Yes, but I would be even more expressive than this. What Name of the Father does every man’s heart cry when the Holy Spirit has searched his depths?
Each man seeks the tender yet mighty, gentle yet giant, happy yet holy embrace of the Eternal Father, whom they must come to know with a kind of intimacy, the way a little boy knows his dad, which can only be called, “Daddy!”
I remember when I was very young my own father told me many times that he would make mistakes and that I should not be discouraged when I discovered his flaws, but that I should know that I have a Father in heaven who has no flaws, who will never fail me or let me down, for whom every earthly father, corporal or spiritual, is a very poor substitute.
Earthly dads fail us. Even the best fall short in perfect love and faithfulness. Priests are only a representation of God the Father. They stand in “loco Dei Patris,” (Bl. Pope John Paul II, Pastores Gregis 34) in the place of God the Father.
What earthly fathers are supposed to do is hand us off to the real thing. This is when their fatherhood soars above what their humanity is capable of.
Sadly, few do this. The result is that many men feel very deeply orphaned, unloved, unaffirmed, abandoned, alone, in darkness and desolation.
Usually when I talk about this subject the result is that many men in the audience or congregation start to be reminded of something that they spend a lot of time trying to forget or cover up, something they feel has no cure or hope.
The Good News is that Jesus Christ has given us Our Father. In the Theology of the Body, Blessed Pope John Paul points to the way we encounter our REAL FATHER, by taking us back to the beginning.
The TOB is a kind of encounter with Christ who speaks to us of the nature of our bodies, our manhood, and our masculinity. It is theology, properly speaking, the study of God, but the study of God revealed in scripture about the human body. Some have called it “scriptural anthropology” (George Weigel, Michael Waldstein, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI)
It is Christ in his talk with the Pharisees who says, speaking of divorce, “In the beginning it was not so.” In the first part of the TOB he takes us back to the beginning.
We read in Ephesians 1:3-14
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.”
ABBA is our beginning. Before time began, before sin began, before our personal history began, before there was anyone in our life to love us or not love us, to heal or hurt, before anything at all there was our Eternal Abba, who was the first one ever to gaze upon us, as he held us in his mind in perfect love. Each man’s beginning is Abba. Each man’s masculinity, manhood, paternity must be found by going all the way back to its start.
By allowing ourselves to be filiated, to be sons in the Son, to live the tender spiritual childhood of Abba Father, we grow into manhood.
In the Theology of the Body, the holy father goes through a long discussion of what is the primordial experience of our bodies, not just in the book of Genesis, but the in the book of the genesis of each man.
In the beginning, not just of all men, but of each man we find our masculine identification, our identity as men, in the Father who
1. Created us in his image and likeness - in a communion of persons - to be a person capable of loving and being loved
2. Created us male, as men, with men’s bodies and souls, as he is the source of our masculinity, with a seed of life and commanded us to be fruitful and multiply
3. Created us to cultivate the garden of the earth, to have dominion over it, to fill it and subdue it.
Here we have to make an important note. A man does not have a body. He is a body. God created two diverse ways of being a body, as a man or a woman. This flies in the face that masculinity and femininity are social or cultural constructs that are merely products of evolution. God created them male and female, in God’s image and likeness, male and female. Masculinity and femininity find their beginning in the eternal communion of the Trinity!
There is some kind of distorted anthropology being perpetrated on modern society that the inmost core of a person is neuter, that the soul is asexual. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The soul is sexual!!! It is either that of a man or a woman. The differences between man and women are eternal in that they replicate the relationships within the trinity itself.
Man is imaged after the person of the Father. Woman is imaged after the person of the Son. The Father Loves. Loving He eternally gifts himself to the generation of the Son. The Son receives himself as a gift of the Father. In this mutual and intimate communion of persons they love each other so perfectly that together they eternally spirate the Holy Spirit. Man gifts himself to Woman. She gifts herself to him by receiving the gift of his manhood. Their intimate communion of persons gives life to something that never existed before, another human person.
This moment of man and woman’s perfect communion is so powerful that at this moment God chooses to create something out of nothing. At that moment when man’s life giving seed intermingles inside woman with her fertility, God breathes into existence another human soul that did not exist before.
Adam did not live up to his role as protector and defender. He was to cultivate the garden. The Hebrew word used here means also to protect. He did NOT protect his woman from the serpent and because he was lazy and unwatchful his wife fell. Who had the first sin? Man. Once God addressed Adam, instead of manning-up and facing the consequences of his actions he hid in shame and blamed the woman.
Abba did not leave man alone nor does he leave each man alone. He brings Christ to meet each man and bring him back to Himself.
The way the Father has done this is that the he sent God the Son to a woman! God the Son entered into a relationship with a woman by becoming born of her, taking from her His Most Sacred Manhood. He redeemed men and women’s relationships by being in relationship with woman - he did this for 30 years!!! We often overlook Jesus’ primary relationship with a woman as the foundation of our daily relationships.
Jesus took from her His humanity, which is masculine. Jesus is the perfect man. Let us note here: THE PERFECT MAN WAS A VIRGIN!!! His whole life Jesus was a virgin. He was chaste. He gave the gift of his inmost heart to whom - directly to the Father.
What do you think of when you hear the word virgin? Manly? Masculine? Mighty? Strong? Courageous? Probably not. This means that there needs to be an adjustment of your heart to understand that purity is something that is very masculine, very manly, and takes a great measure of holy boldness and mighty courage to be chaste in body and pure in heart.
Jesus was a virgin not only of body but of mind. His inmost heart was “set like flint” toward ABBA FATHER in our redemption.
Christ meets us where we are at.
Where are we at?
First of all let us recognize one very important thing. Right exactly as we are now, with all that we are going through, with everything we are and have, with all our sins, faults, failures, wounds and brokeness, just as we are, Christ loves us. He gazes upon us with infinite love not for who we should be our who we are not but because we came from the Father his gaze of love is from the Cross where he came to know perfectly “what is in man” and “what is in each man.”
Christ appeals to the human heart to show us. In the sermon on the mount he said,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you: Whoever looks at a woman to desire her [in a reductive way] has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:27–28).”
This is a key text to the TOB because it unlocks the mystery of our hearts gaze. Being a man is mostly about the heart. Yes it is good to have strong muscles, more important to have strong virtues, but even more important to what defines a man is his inmost heart’s gift of self.
It could be said that this is a definition of sexuality and therefore of what it means to be a man - the inmost heart’s gift of self to the other. This gift of self is what Blessed Pope John Paul II calls, “the Spousal Meaning of the Body.” Our bodies, our inmost hearts, were made for a gift of self to be conjugated to the other in intimate personal communion.
Christ gave the Spousal Meaning of His Body to the Father in intimate communion that bore fruit in the salvation of souls. Christ calls some men and women to do this, to be consecrated totally to God for spiritual paternity and maternity in bearing souls to heaven.
A married man gifts the gift of his manhood to his wife and becomes one with her in intimate personal communion. Yet ultimately he gifts himself to God mediated through his wife and the only way he can truly succeed in this gift of his manhood to his wife is to do it through God. So he goes to God through his wife and to his wife through God in the gift of his manhood.
Christ points out that man is wounded in this gift of himself in three ways, called concupiscence, which comes from the two Latin words con cupere, which means, with desire. The three fold concupiscence is found in 1 John 2:16-17:
1. The pride of life
2. The concupiscence of the flesh
3. The concupiscence of the eyes
In other words:
These correspond to the three gifts that God endowed man with in the beginning:
1. He arrogantly wants to make himself in his own image - pridefully deciding for himself what a man is, particularly what good and evil is
2. He is wounded in his maleness, his masculinity, his fruitfulness, particularly with regard to his gaze at woman, which is no longer love but use
3. Have dominion over the earth has turned to domination over the earth and cruel use to get out of it as much as he can, desiring more and more goods
Christ gives him three gifts from the sermon on the mount to help heal these:
1. Prayer - to gain humility and worship God rather than self-idolatry
2. Fasting - to chasten his manhood by curbing his desires
3. Almsgiving - to curb our greed and gain mastery over the desire to acquire
The healing of man, that is to bring him to where he is now in Christ to where God the Father has called him to be is a work of the Holy Spirit. It is only his infinite love that bring us from where we are now to where we need to be.
“Deep calls to deep in roar of mighty waters” (Psalm 42:17)
That is, God the Holy Spirit searches the depths of man and “searches the depths of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10) and joins the misery of man to the mercy of God in Christ. You could say that the Holy Spirit finds the riches of the depths of Redemption, of the merits of Christ crucified, of his sacred wounds and sews them into the very wounds of man. For it was man’s wounds that wounded the redeemer and his willingness to be wounded by love for our sake that releases the mighty waters of the Holy Spirit, so that the inmost depths of man are eternally transformed into the depths of God.
The Holy Spirit also shows us that ultimately our manhood is only completed in ABBA FATHER. Yes marital love can be beautiful but the gift of one’s manhood finds only its completion in God. If not, a wife becomes a kind of idol and men would tend to treat her not as a royal daughter of God the Father, but as a kind of Barbie Doll on a pedestal, a trophy to be acquired and admired, but worst of all this means for woman that man doesn’t give himself to woman as a complement and partner and she is forfeited and deprived of real intimacy with man.
Pope John Paul II calls the completion of our sexuality in God the “Virginal Meaning of the Body.” Blessed Mother Teresa put it concisely,
This means that even out of your wife you are only and always looking for Jesus. This also means that in your sexual relations with her you are able to restrain yourself, your own desire to use her for pleasure, but to see your marital intimacy as a time of encountering the beauty and glory of God.
What is interesting about this kind of sexual intimacy is that it makes a man’s sexual encounters with his wife more frequent and intense because God is at the center. I’ll never forget the time Mary Beth Benocci came to talk at my University and told all the young university students an interesting statistic:
“The people who have the best and greatest sex, according to the gallup polls, are highly religious married couples.”
Why? Because they are not just looking to use each other for pleasure but are seeking God, seeking deeper beauty and meaning in sexual intimacy. Also because they are most likely not sinning by using contraception.
Contraception is the final word of the Theology of the Body. The whole reason for it was to provide an adequate commentary on the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics, particularly in regard to its condemnation of contraception.
Why is this? Because contraception allows a man to use his wife. It stops not only being open to life and therefore to God, but also facilitates the arousal of his concupiscence, his desire to use his wife for pleasure instead of gift her with beauty.
Mary the Woman on Fire
In conclusion let us turn to Mary, the Woman clothed with her Son, who shines forth as the Woman on Fire, the burning bush, whose virginal Motherhood was the source of our redemption.
May her prayers and intercession help men be men and come to the full maturity of the manhood of Christ.