Under a Loving Gaze

JMJ

THE ANGELIC WARFARE Confraternity has its members promise to say a certain set of prayers every day. In addition to invoking the aid of Jesus and St Thomas Aquinas (the Confraternity’s patron), the members also pray 15 Hail Mary’s for specific intentions. Recently the intentions have evolved into 15 little prayers but it is the intentions, themselves that have been the topic of my meditations. (I think that at an even earlier stage it was just 15 Hail Mary’s and a daily self examination, but I’m not sure.) I’ve been about this business for 4 years now: I was doing this before I became Catholic. This mostly-daily meditation continues to yield fruit.

Intentions 1-4 have recently been unfolding into a complex pattern for me. All of these seem to involve how we interact with the world. We pray for:

  1. Our cultural climate;
  2. Our relationships;
  3. Our modesty; and
  4. Our five senses.

It is possible to read these intercessions as dealing with people and things outside our control, as if we are asking God to fix these. In fact the recent prayer adaptations seem to strengthen this reading. I think that fails in that my salvation is never about how others act. In fact a lot of St Paul’s letters are about how my actions affect others. This comes up when we are thinking about modesty (if we do it right) but even that idea often gets spun into “what others do to me”. How often have talks about modesty been spun into “women shouldn’t wear tight dresses because it bothers the boys”? An entirely different reading arises if we think of all these in first person.

While much can be said about our cultural climate, pointing out our production of and addiction to adult content on the internet, our sexualization of just about everything, and our polymorphous perversity shrouded under a dysfunctional veil of Puritanism, the Church does not ask God to fix the world: rather God has put the Church in the world to evangelize. So a prayer that says “God, fix this!” would be out of keeping with the tradition. We might pray for the strength to resist it, but our purpose, as Christians, is to draw folks out of that system into the Kingdom of God. Since such evangelism is an act of Love, that is what should color not only our read of the first intention, but of all four. This is act of love directed outwards to others. The prayer for the culture is better seen, pace Bp Robert Barron, as begging God to show us openings, places where we can break in to help others escape.

As penance once, I was told to pray for pornographers. Let this idea grow. It can be about praying for those who struggle, but also about those who distribute, for those who produce it, those who are addicted, those who are trapped inside it, and those who feel there is no other way to get through life. I just do this so I can feel something has become a cri de coeur on the internet in these days of lock-down. Sometimes we may all go through life looking for something that makes us feel. This is our climate right now in which we are not only likely to use pixels on the screen as erotic feedback. We are just as likely to forget that all of our relationships (even on Zoom) actually involve persons created in God’s image.

So next we pray for our relationships, but for Christians this is not a matter of individual choice. “It is not good for man to be alone,” said God in the Garden. We are, in the image of God, created for communion. There is almost no such thing as an “individual”. Our whole personality, our experience of reality, our idea of self is mediated through others. When we try to define reality “internally” we end up in psychosis and disorder. Paul’s letters as well as the Gospels continue to expand this trinitarian anthropology. Each of us is to be kenotic, that is, self-emptying. We not only cannot define or create ourselves, we cannot change our nature, which is to pour out ourselves in the service of others. We can corrupt our nature, we can distort it, but we cannot undo it. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells us that it doesn’t matter who is in “good relationships” with us – we must put ourselves in the role of neighbor to everyone. Christians are to be the ones who go out in Love to the world.

Again this puts the lie to any attempt to read these intentions as “God, fix this!” That is a cry of defeat: I cannot live virtuously until God fixes things. In fact, the reverse is true: living virtuously is the beginning of God fixing things. When we begin by letting God fix our hearts, he will follow through by using us to help restore others. If my actions cause you to fall, then I have damaged our relationship. Equally, if I let you lead me into sin, I have again damaged our relationship. Always remember that a sexual sin costs two souls. When we pray for our relationships we don’t pray that God will take us away from those who could lead us into sin (although that may be needed sometimes) we pray rather that we may lead them to God. Yes, this may make them back away: but that’s the risk of the Gospel. I am not only responsible for my soul, I am responsible for yours as well.

In this light, now, we pray for our modesty. I have written elsewhere about how clothing and how important it is that we be mindful of our brothers and sisters in our clothing choice. Even that is an act of love. But there is another aspect: for people will dress immodestly, that is true. Others will just “be hot” in our estimation. We must have a modest gaze. We must have, as the ancients said, custody of our eyes – in fact of all our senses.

Do not begin by saying, “God fix this!” instead We Begin by presenting [y]our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is [y]our reasonable service (Romans 12:1). St Paul’s “reasonable service” is λογικὴν λατρείαν logikeyn latreian logical worship or, better, “worship in logical way”. We are called to bring our bodies into order. “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5). This is a life-long struggle, but it begins with the modest gaze: to have not only custody of our eyes but of the thoughts that arise from what we see.

And to highlight this, the next intention is for all our senses. It is entirely possible for music or art, what literature or politics, movies and television – of course – but also for advertisements on the street, conversations on the internet, etc, all to arouse our passions. And not just sexual passion either! Things that inspire gluttony or self-indulgence it is possible to let ourselves go in so many ways but this is not our logical worship. This is not offering our bodies as a holy and living sacrifice. And Saint Paul even calls out the Corinthians for their drunkenness and their gluttony because by doing so the rich exclude the poor and they exclude them from communion with Christ. So it is today for us that our gluttony might injure others in their poverty. We deny the image of God in them.

Our history is full of the fiscal success of our country built on the backs of the poor. It is true that without indentured servitude, slavery, and wage inequity our country would never be as great as it is today. That we use our country’s success as a defense for our slavery is a sign of our own sin that we refuse to admit. No full stop. We would not be where we are today. But at what cost did we get here? The same is true of other sins. Lust, gluttony, envy, hate, fear, oppression, and death. These all arise from denying the love that we owe to our brothers and sisters.

All of these intersections can be gathered under the banner of a loving gaze. We must see the world through the eyes of God’s love. To do that we must be self-sacrificing: giving up the legal fictions of “rights” and “privilege” in the name of service to others. We must give up those functions of society and secular order that we invoke to “keep us safe”. Ad we must risk our lives to save the souls of others in love. Christians have no rights to demand, only to give up in love.

Again, this is not something we can do on our own: we can only do this with and for God’s help, and with and for each other. The other intercessions of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity arise from the matrix: it’s not about the first person – me – at all. My chastity and my purity do not arise from me, but from sacrifice for others, in love.

Author: Huw Richardson

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He has worked in tech (mostly) since 1999 and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.