Day 150: Self Gift

Picking up from yesterday’s post

JMJ

BUT COVET EARNESTLY THE BETTER GIFTS: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way (I Corinthians 12:31). With this promise of showing us a more excellent way, Saint Paul opens the passage in 1st Corinthians known as the Love Chapter. He goes on to explain all the ways that Love is:

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

I Corinthians 13:4-8a

You’ve heard the whole thing if you’ve been to a Christian wedding in almost any denomination: it’s a pretty standard text for such an event. But the love that Saint Paul is talking about here is not the Greek word for familial love, storge, nor is it the Greek word for sexual love, eros, but rather it is the Greek word for divine love or charity, agape. This point, too, is very common at a Christian wedding after reading this text from Saint Paul. All the love (of all types) moving within a marriage is supposed to bring us to Agape. The human family of mother and father and children – extended over generations – is a school of love, a community in which we become graced embodiments of Agape, the human manifestations of the Divine love. It is something we’re all supposed to strive to achieve and it is exactly the struggle to achieve Agape that is the working out of our Salvation. Agape is the more excellent way. Anything that does not lead to Agape is not the right answer.

We can, in some ways, think of sex as the goal, or the end of relationships. It is what comes after getting to third base. So we imagine marriage as “the Church’s permission to have sex”, to hit home runs nightly (or more). Some popular publications and even doctors seem obsessed with how many times we have sex: often used as a metric for how our healthy our relationship is. We end up looking at marriage as making an “unrighteous sexual union” into a “righteous sexual union.” This is especially true for couples who have lived together before getting married. We speak of having “made a righteous wo/man out of him/her” by finally getting married. The licitness or illicitness of sex is not the purpose of marriage.

Sexual activity is a tool, as I mentioned yesterday. The sexual act within a marriage is only a means to an end: it is not an end, in and of itself, nor is it the only means to the ends it achieves. The purpose of sex is twofold: the procreative function (having children) and the unitive function (growing closer or “grokking” as Heinlein put it). Yet both of those ends can be achieved by other means. For example, adoption can bring children into a marriage, and men and women also speak of “spiritual” parenting, of mentoring, etc as non-sexual ways of bringing children into the world. Surviving terrible hardship – such as war – together can make a closer union, as can struggling through various things like marital infidelity or addiction. Sex is not even the best way in all cases: illness, power plays, unhealthy attachments can cause sex to be the worst possible choice.

We confuse Eros with sex all the time. This is why we go looking for someone who “is hot” to use for sexual purposes. Sometimes we get married to this hot person. This is called a trophy wife. This is why our culture does not understand how men and women in earlier days who experienced same-sex attraction still got married: marriage in those earlier days was not about sex nor “hotness”. It wasn’t even about romance until very late in time. Marriage was about familial duty. Yet there was always Eros. Eros is the love that craves union. It’s a desire, but it’s much more than sex. On one level it’s always a movement towards a physical action, but it echoes through our whole person. Our hearts are crying out and, as St Augustine said, “our hearts are restless” until they rest in God. A husband and wife can only grow together as they grow closer to God. It’s not based on “hotness”, but on shared holiness. If we focus on “righteous sex” as the telos or end of a relationship then it is logical to ask why all people can’t have sex. If we can form bonded, loving relationships then it seems we should all have a right to the highest good. Yet if salvation is the highest good, the purpose of children and of sex, of relationships themselves then sexual situations where salvation is not possible are logically (and theologically) excluded from this consideration. Yet that does not limit eros, only sexual activity.

If we focus on the purpose or telos of sex then it becomes obvious why some people are not to have sex – at least within Christian morality. Procreation and union are a higher good than and the reason for sex. If Thing 1 is the reason for Thing 2, then Thing 1 is of higher or greater good than Thing 2. This goes further, however: the purpose of children and of communion in a marriage is the salvation of the man and the woman involved in the union. It is not enough to get married and to have children and even to be faithful forever if you do so selfishly, unsacrificially, and begrudgingly. Marriage is about kenosis (self-emptying). This is a gift of self that mirrors Christ’s self-gift to us on the Cross. The telos or proper end of sex is children/union which has its own telos in the salvation of the parties involved who cannot be saved alone. A man and wife and their children are all saved together – in fact even that draws the circle too small: for a man and wife is properly a symbol of the Church and Christ. Each familial chain of salvation-in-relationship is a part of the world’s salvation. They are on the Cross.

It may seem strange to compare marriage to the Cross. Go, ask any married couple. If they are honest, they will confirm that the wedding was the beginning of a martyrdom. This is why in the Byzantine Catholic & Eastern Orthodox marriage rite the couple is crowned (as the martyrs are) and one of the hymns sung at that time is the hymn for the martyrs. Marriage is the cross on which the married couple is to die for each other and for their children all in the name of love. This is not at all about sex. The sexual activity within a marriage may happen only a handful of times, yet the erotic content – the content of desire for deeper communion – within the marriage is on-going. Only if you think of sex as the highest good do you imagine that Marital Eros is about sex rather than martyrdom.

Erotic content is present in a marriage with or without sex, and in that context, for the salvation of all involved, sexual action becomes kenosis, a self-emptying. I sacrifice my eros for my beloved. Agape craves this sacrifice and self-gift: these are two sides of the same coin. My desire for union (Eros) leads me to self-sacrifice (Agape). We do this growing together in response (only) to God’s erotic love for us – craving union with us.

St Ignatius of Antioch, writing an Epistle to the Romans early in the 2nd Century, commented ὁ ἐμὸς ἔρως ἐσταύρωται My eros is crucified. Charles Williams the poet/mystic/writer (an Inkling and mentor of Lewis, Tolkien, and Sayers) has this to say on St Ignatius:

Ignatius of Antioch in the early second century, had tossed it out on his way to martyrdom: ‘My Eros is crucified.’ Learned men have disputed on the exact meaning of the word: can it refer, with its intensity of allusion to physical passion, to Christ? or does it rather refer to his own physical nature? We, who have too much separated our own physical nature from Christ’s, cannot easily read an identity into the two meanings. But they unite, and others spring from them. ‘My love is crucified’; ‘My Love is crucified’: ‘My love for my Love is crucified’; ‘My Love in my love is crucified.’ The physical and the spiritual are no longer divided: he who is Theos is Anthropos, and all the images of anthropos are in him. The Eros that is crucified lives again and the Eros lives after a new style: this was the discovery of the operation of faith. The Eros of five hundred years of Greece and Rome was to live after a new style; unexpected as yet, the great Romantic vision approached. ‘My’ Eros is crucified; incredible as yet, the great doctrines of interchange, of the City, approached. ‘Another is in me’; ‘your life and death are in your neighbour’; ‘they in Me and I in them.’

Charles Williams, The Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church 

Then, following on Williams, consider what Pope Benedict XVI gives us as an image of God’s love for us – eros!

Dear brothers and sisters, let us look at Christ pierced on the Cross! He is the unsurpassing revelation of God’s love, a love in which eros and agape, far from being opposed, enlighten each other. On the Cross, it is God himself who begs the love of his creature: He is thirsty for the love of every one of us. The Apostle Thomas recognized Jesus as “Lord and God” when he put his hand into the wound of his side. Not surprisingly, many of the saints found in the Heart of Jesus the deepest expression of this mystery of love. One could rightly say that the revelation of God’s eros toward man is, in reality, the supreme expression of his agape. In all truth, only the love that unites the free gift of oneself with the impassioned desire for reciprocity instills a joy which eases the heaviest of burdens. Jesus said: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12: 32). The response the Lord ardently desires of us is above all that we welcome his love and allow ourselves to be drawn to him.

Message of H.H. Pope Benedict XVI for Lent 2007

It is not enough that we allow ourselves to be desired by God and drawn into Union with him. For the closer we come to him the more like him we become. We desire to draw others into this Union as well. This, too, is erotic love. The Pope continues, Accepting his love, however, is not enough. We need to respond to such love and devote ourselves to communicating it to others. Christ “draws me to himself” in order to unite himself to me, so that I learn to love the brothers with his own love. I learn to love not with mere human eros but with the Divine Eros which is Agape.

Christian Eros, then, is not concerned with permission to have sex. All four of the loves – friendship, familial, erotic, and charitable – become ordered toward our salvation and the salvation of others. This their proper telos before the fall and to which they are restored in Christ. Christ is not the suppression of erotic love, but rather the liberation and salvation of it. Christ restores erotic love to its proper end among the other three loves. It is part of the constellation of love that God gives us to lead us home. It’s not the pagan “venereal religion” of the fallen world, but rather the proper telos of all of our body and soul (our entire person) in God’s service.

It is still possible to have sex without this proper erotic content and this proper end in mind. But, it should now be evident that such sex is not salvific and why it is not as well. Anything that cannot be brought to its proper telos is leading us away from salvation.

Yesterday and today are leading up to a discussion of celibacy and marriage. Yes, both are equally paths to salvation, but celibacy is a sign of the next world in which men and woman are “neither married nor given in marriage”. Celibacy is chosen for the kingdom. And a sign that all the things of this world – including sexual activity and marriage – all pass away but it is is our communion that will bring us to eternity.

See you tomorrow.

Day 149: Only A Tool

JMJ

WHEN I WAS FIRST CONSIDERING the priesthood in the Episcopal Church (as a teenager) the most common response was around marriage. “Can they get married?” “But you’re able to get married, right?” “Well at least that kind of priest can still get married.” It did not take long before I realized that what they were talking about was not marriage but sex. So my snarky, teenaged self begin to reply, “Yes. And I can have sex too.” This sort of dialogue continued as I identified and began to explore my same-sex attraction. At that time the Episcopal Church was publicly divided on this issue, but the reality in private was rather more progressive: the most conservative of Episcopal Bishops were mostly “gay friendly” even if they pretended otherwise in public, sometimes even signing documents. So when this topic came up I always replied, “No worries”.

Almost all of these conversations were with other Christians. These conversations all made an assumption about the importance of sex, And how important having sex is to the life of the Christian person. The life of the human person – created in the image and likeness of God – is the field in which Christian teaching is sown. The right end of this seed is the Salvation of the human person, but what that salvation might be is often up for debate. Salvation is often understood as meaning a sort of get out of hell free card, an easy passport to heaven. But in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin the word for salvation always means health and wholeness. Salvation – being saved – means becoming whole, becoming a whole person as God intended each of us to be.

In our world today, outside of the church, much of, if not the entirety of this whole person is often understood as engaging in sexual activity. If you’re not having sex somehow you are not a whole person. This secular understanding of sex has crept into the church as well. We see it in the discussion around marriage and celibacy as well as around how same-sex attracted men and women are perceived in the church. These conversations not only assume that sexuality is a Divine gift but that sexual activity is also a Divine gift. In fact, these conversations often assume that sexuality and sexual activity are the same thing.

We see this assumption about sexuality in the idea (expressed both by “conservatives” and “liberals”) that not all people are called by God to celibacy. Some people just “don’t have that gift”. Then we ask everyone to abstain from sex outside of marriage – even those who will never get married. This leads to a logical contradiction: if God has not given one this other, special gift of celibacy then why cannot one use the “regular gift” of sexuality (by which is meant engaging in sexual activity). With this mindset, the question is usually phrased as how can sexual activity be included in any current situation.


My own questions arise since I have lived my life alone, not within the grace of a sacramental marriage. To me this seems to be where the charism of celibacy should come in as a needed salve, but it does not. That’s not what a charism is. At the same time, celibacy is certainly a denial or a sacrifice of what our culture imagines to be the highest good. Even if you limit sex to a monogamous, life-long union you still “get” to have sex. What about my needs? Please note that the minute you start asking about my needs you’re not asking about love. I recognize that. Please continue in this conversation with me anyway.

I was having this conversation with a friend the other day who wondered why (according to the Church’s morality) some people were allowed to have sex and others were not. I struggled to find an answer that was applicable to anyone other than myself. You can’t appeal to authority here: “Because God says so” even though that is true. Sometime later, (after a lifetime of struggling) it comes to me that we are asking the wrong question. The clue came listening to a podcast called Clerically Speaking. In Episode 101 Golf, Virginity, Gossip, Fr Harrison never got around to saying this but it dawned on me listening: sexual activity is not the highest good of a relationship, it’s not even the best thing or the second best thing about a relationship. The four loves, Philia (friendship), Eros (sexual desire), Storge (familial), and Agape (divine charity) are the highest goods and they lead one to the other. Sexual activity is not any one of those. Sex most clearly assumes eros but that’s not the same thing as saying “sex is eros” or even “eros is sex”.

This conversation needs to be framed in another way in order to see not only God’s holiness but also our rightful place and our own restoration to wholeness as his image. If we ask the right questions with openness to Christian teaching, we hear answers that can help us grow on that path, embodying all four of the loves in godly ways.

For Christians this working out of our salvation – our wholeness – is rooted in our communion with God. Further, since no one is saved alone our salvation is also rooted in our communion with other people. Salvation is not an individual action or process but rather a communal action, and action of a progressive unity of heart and mind with God and with each other as humans which therefore also includes Jesus (who is God). This also works in the other direction, as it were: we work out our unity with Christ (a human person) and through him, we work out our communion with God the Father in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. You simply cannot get to this latter point if you begin with a question about permission to engage in sexual activity. Since this union with God and each other is our ultimate purpose as human beings everything must be framed this way: does this situation, action, relationship lead to my salvation, to my wholeness, to my communion with God and others? In that very different light sexual activity is rightly judged as only a tool or function which may or may not lead to a deeper working out of our salvation. It is not the pinnacle of anything: but rather just another step on the way up – or down.

(This is the first post of a three-parter. Come back tomorrow.)

Igotchu Babe.

Seven Deadly Sins, the Gifts of the Spirit, the Evangelical Counsels, Chastity, Catching Foxes, Celibacy and Bachelorhood, AKA, a blog post on sex and religion.

The Mother and Father of Chastity.

JMJ

Two months ago over lunch a friend and I talked about how many clergy we knew who were bachelors, but who were not celibate. These follow the rules but something seems off. Then, using those same words, a Dominican priest posted it on FB. It seems that often it is religious (those in communities, like Dominicans and Franciscans) who are celibates. Often it is diocesan clergy who are not living in community (some are!) who are “only” bachelors. Meditating on the difference between bachelor and celibate has had this topic in my head for seven or eight weeks. I have been wrestling with this topic (Chastity) for a while as there’s been a book in process for a year on same-sex attraction and chastity. (For news and updates about this project, support my writing on my Patreon page.) Of course, the content of that book and of this blog have hovered around the topic of sex and religion since before I even became Orthodox in 2002. In addition to the book, I have an essay to write on clerical celibacy in the Deaconate. And hanging around with Catholics all the time brings it up. What? You don’t talk about Chastity with your friends? Then, last night, Gomer and Luke blew my mind with their Episode on Chastity, the sort of Capstone on this whole topic. What follows is only the meditation on all that: I also had a long talk with Fr Isaiah this morning to help me clarify this.

From: Garrigou-Lagrange’s Les Trois Ages de la Vie Interieure.
Retrieved from Twitter.

There are seven deadly sins. Most Catholics and some others are familiar with the list: Pride, Lust, Envy, Anger, Acedia, Gluttony, and Avarice. It’s ok to see these sins as a breaking of the rules because they are, but look at the image above. The tree makes it clear that they are all tied together with a whole series of vices, not just sins, per se, but a whole collection of bad habits. Mortal sins, venial sins, practices, bad thoughts, pitfalls we can make. It’s more than breaking the rules. In fact, the spiritual powers that seek to win our souls don’t need you to climb up the tree and eat its seven deadly fruit: it’s enough for you to rest against the trunk of the tree and sleep in the shade.

After the Seven Deadly Sins, what? The same author has given us a Tree of Virtues which I’ve added below, but that does not grow in the same orchard, if you will, as the Tree of Vice. There’s a journey from one to the other. What is this? While there are lists of “seven” virtues floating around, these are not generally given a one-to-one pairing with the vices. That’s because they are thought of differently. The four Cardinal Virtues of Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude are shared with all the world. These are the primary state of the human soul, if you will. They are common to all humanity as our tools for fighting against vice. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle brought them into focus for the pagans as the Jewish Prophets brought them into focus for us. Christians inherit them from both sides of our family tree.

To the four cardinal virtues, which may be pictured around us like the four points of the compass, Christians add three Theological Virtues for a total of seven, aligning with the traditional seven directions of ancient cosmology: Hope beneath us, Faith above us, and at the center, Charity, from which all the other arise in their proper ordering for human prosperity.

Notice please that Chastity is not on this list. Why not? Would not you put Chastity opposite Lust? Bishop Barron does and it makes perfect sense if all of this is about rules: Chastity is obeying all the rules of the Church and lust is the temptation to break them, right? What if that is wrong? Gomer and Luke in the podcast above tap dance around this: it’s not about rules, it’s not about rules, it’s not about rules. We beat kids up about “following the rules” but that’s not the real issue. What is it, if it’s not rules? Certainly, there are rules. Clearly we cannot break them. But: it’s not about the keeping of them. We are not made whole by keeping rules.

The virtues as seven points on a sphere (including the center) are the key: properly ordered life, arising from Charity, built on Hope, striving in Faith, and protected by Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude. We move through the world with this spherical map as our guide. The virtues are acquired though, like an ancient warrior on a vision quest, we must seek to blend each of these into our lives. A virtue is a habit of doing good. We know habits! I don’t mean the way you have to touch your hair when you get nervous. I mean the way you put on shoes without thinking or the exact muscle memory that lets you walk forward, raise a hand, grab a doorknob, turn the knob with your hand and push while still walking through the door, open the door, and close (slightly turned) the door behind you while still walking forward. You learned all of that as a child. You don’t think about it normally. It’s not even a process: it just happens. That’s the virtue of opening the door, if you will. The seven virtues must be acquired to the same degree of expertise, the same unthinking level of habit.

But how? We still don’t have chastity listed here.

The Christian has the Holy Spirit for the acquisition of Virtues. The Holy Spirit is God dwelling in us as the Body of Christ. We get the Holy Spirit at Baptism and from this arise (in differing degrees for each of us) the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit:

  • Wisdom
  • Understanding
  • Counsel
  • Fortitude
  • Knowledge
  • Piety
  • Fear of the Lord

Yes: right there, Fortitude shows up. It’s a gift and a virtue. Courage (aka the virtue of Fortitude) is the power to run into the fire and rescue people. It’s why we honor the First Responders from 9/11. The Holy Spirit brings those same cojones to your religious faith. These are not rules, nor are they indicative of keeping rules. Rather they are about relationship – our relationship with God.

From the fear of the Lord and piety arise all the others: for God imparts them to us as we need. Christians say all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). These come to us as whispers and dreams, as words spoken by our friends, from wise priests laughing in the confessional, and from random posters on the street. These gifts of the Spirit are sealed in us in the Sacrament of Confirmation.

From these arise the nine Fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Love (one of the virtues) is a fruit of the Spirit. These, you’ll notice, are about our Relationships with Others. Even that last one – Self-Control – which is the most important, is about how we relate to others. These fruit are how the Gifts of the Spirit and the process of the acquisition of virtues work together in and through us in the Church.

Here is where we sin mostly – if we are honest. Our relationships with each other fail to be holy, healthy, and honorable at all times because we lose track of these fruit of the spirit.

We continue to move through this process, but we’re not “there” yet in that there’s no Chastity. What the heck?

From: Garrigou-Lagrange’s Les Trois Ages de la Vie Interieure.
Retrieved from Twitter.

All men and women in religious orders make three vows: Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. These are called the Three Evangelical Counsels. Different religious orders understand these differently – according to their own ministries and gifts – but the reason they are common to all religious orders is that they are the common marks of all Christian life, lay, ordained, and vowed religious. All Christians are called to poverty, chastity, and obedience each according to their state in life. Here, suddenly – outside of the vices, virtues, gifts, and fruits, we hit the real thing: the Christian life!

Christain life is about virtues, certainly, and there are rules, yes, but Christian life is primarily (if not only) about manifesting in the world salvation as witnessed by a personal relationship with God in the body of his Son, the Church. See how those Christians love one another? I’m afraid most folks don’t right now. Our lives do not shine like a light on a lampstand, like a city on a hilltop. We hold aloft our rules – even try to make laws to enforce our rules on others – while having none of the virtues. And we forget that laws do not make us virtuous: rather they protect our virtue.

It helps me to know God has a rule about “do not commit adultery”, but I can go through my whole life and never commit adultery without ever reaching God. And yet, if I search for God honestly, faithfully, deeply and truly, I will discover that I should avoid adultery in my love for the God I seek – even if I never find him. The rule does not bring me to him and, ironically, if I get stuck on the rule, get judgy about it, yell and scream to protect the rule it can actually keep me from God.

How we move through the world (on our seven points of the compass) guided by the Spirit’s gifts, manifesting the Spirit’s fruit, creates the presence of the Evangelical Counsels to the world in all their aspects. These are our Good Deeds which will shine before men and they will praise our Father in Heaven.

Now, to the earlier point: Bachelors and Celibates. Celibacy is a Charism, a gift given to the Church for the sharing of her ministry in the world. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that

There are furthermore special graces, also called charisms after the Greek term used by St. Paul and meaning “favor,” “gratuitous gift,” “benefit.”53 Whatever their character – sometimes it is extraordinary, such as the gift of miracles or of tongues – charisms are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church. They are at the service of charity which builds up the Church.

Para 2003


We go from seven to nine to three to more than twenty! 23 of the identified supernatural Christian Charisms are: Administration, Celibacy, Craftsmanship, Discernment of Spirits, Encouragement, Evangelism, Faith, Giving, Healing, Helps, Hospitality, Intercessory Prayer, Knowledge, Leadership, Mercy, Missionary, Music, Pastoring, Prophecy, Service, Teaching, Voluntary Poverty, Wisdom, Writing. Celibacy is one of these. The relationship of Charisms to the rest of Christian life is not hierarchical, they are not better one than the other. (This list is alphabetical.) Nor is it lateral: there’s not a line from Love to Chastity and then to Celibacy. They are gifts for the whole church, given to the whole church. They are manifest how and when the Spirit decides. They are relational, of course, in that they deal with the whole body of Christ. But they are not the result of any action or virtue on our part. They are given to us and, in fact, if we ignore them they can trip us up.

Why, I asked the priest, if you say I have the Charism of Celibacy, have I spent so much of my life having sex? The response was that where there is the greatest gift there also can be the greatest fall. These gifts can also be taken away if they are needed for another reason, or if they are misused. But they – also – are not about rules. Having the Charism of Celibacy does not mean you follow all the rules, but you can rely on that Charism – once discovered – to lead you into the acquisition of the virtues, to lead you to manifest chastity as appropriate to your state in life. Again, the follow the rules, yet I think bachelors are only failing to lean in.

I’ll end here… I’m feeling like I’ve said enough right now. In sum:

There are vices that lead to deadly sins but the demons don’t need deadly sins every day to keep us going to hell. They only need to keep us from walking in another direction, using our moral compass of the four cardinal virtues plus the three theological ones. It’s not rules but relationships. The Holy Spirit gives us gifts for relationship to God and in our lives – relating to each other – manifests fruits. In the relational body of the Church, we live and move. God may confer Charisms or not, yet all of us manifest (as the Church) the evangelical counsels of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience that the world may come to the light of Christ and be saved.

Amen?

Dolorous Mysteries: Quem enim diligit Dominus, castigat.

+JMJ+

Friday is the day on which we traditionally meditate on the Dolorous or Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. Although I’ve written elsewhere about these as a discussion of addiction – including sexual addiction – I have been struggling with these in light of the Troubles, as we might call them. They are on-going: the Late Unpleasantness might seem a tad dismissive since it’s not late. Yet, if you know the history of the American South to realize that I’m referring in that phrase to a massively huge social disruption costing many souls and much sadness. The parallel is apt.Very apt. The Dolorous Mysteries lead us on the way to something… we know not what. Yes: they point towards hope, in a way; still, as a story arc, they are self contained. And they end in death.

Praying in the Garden
This is the Church now. Yes, there are those fools who are ignoring the possibilities, and there are those who are gleefully jumping up and down, but the Church is just now praying, “If this cup might pass… but still not my will, but Thine.” We might pray that that might not be needed. We might beg God that it not come…

But we must submit to God’s will in the end. If God wants a spotless bride, he will have one.

The Scourging
I’m of the opinion that, among his many mercies, God let the Soviet scourge fall upon the Church because she was corrupt. There are stories that back this up: if nothing, she was so wed to the Czarist structures that she even allowed the Czar to take away the Patriarchate… which was restored only under the Bolsheviks. So she let the Czar destroy the power of the Church… and then let the Soviets restore it – as if she had to have the state standing with her to do anything. The Church was corrupt. God used the state to purge her. From the book, Everyday Saints comes this story of a Monastery in a small town:

It was said that its monks were all idlers and drunkards. During the Civil War [in Russia] the Bolsheviks arrived in the town that was closest to the monastery. They gathered together its inhabitants in the market square, and then they dragged the monastery’s monks out in a convoy.

The commissar loudly yelled at the people as he pointed to those men in black:

“Citizens! Townsfolk! You know these drunkards, gluttons, and idlers better than I do! Now their power has come to an end. But so that you will understand more fully how these vagabonds have fooled the workers and peasants for centuries, we will throw their cross and their Scriptures into the dust before them. Now, before your very eyes, you will see how each of them will stamp upon these tools of deceit and enslavement of the people! And then we will let them go, and let the four winds scatter them!”

The crowd roared. And as the people cheered, up walked the monastery’s Abbot, a stout man with a meaty face and a nose all red from drinking. And he said as he turned to his fellow monks: “Well, my brothers, we have lived like pigs, but let us at least die like Christians!”

And not a single one of those monks budged. That very day all their heads were chopped off by the sabers of the Bolsheviks.

This sex scandal is a perfect storm for it sets the Church up for lawsuits in ways that laws about “hate speech” and “marriage initiatives” never could. Who wants to defend sexual predators? Not I – as much as I would argue for prayer, absolution, forgiveness, I would also ask for reparation and justice. The Church – which at one time had her own courts – gave all that up to the state. So… God can use the state for this.
And it might result in some of us becoming saints – as in the story above – in spite of ourselves.
The Crowning with Thorns
What does this mean, through, for the Body of Christ, the Church herself? What will become of those who did not rape and pillage, who did not cover up, who did not find themselves paying Bishops to run an hide, or advising aging clerics to make simoniac appointments? The mocking of our friends, the crowning with thorns,the spitting, the slapping, the cruel exposure of all of us to social weakness: this will be all our lot.
This will be more of the same: for the Church must be cleansed. Out will go the lukewarm. Out will go the folks who think this will pass and their personal compromises with the world will stay in place. Out will go those who think the sexual teachings of the Church (aside from predation) are outdated. For even as the church doubles down on her teachings, she will need to let go of those who would use this crisis as an excuse to actually change it all. And as this crisis has become a division between the Church and the world – for the purpose of the latter beating up the former – so it must also become a division between those who would allow such acts “between consenting adults” even in the clergy and those who would adhere to the Church’s traditional teaching. This leads directly to:
The Carrying the Cross
This is not going to be easy. We have to be in this for the long haul. And what happened in Pennsylvania with the Grand Jury will probably have to happen in every diocese around the country before people say, OK, This is over. I would only adjure that someone needs to point out PA seems to have done somethings right since 2002, and so it will be in other places.

I would rather see the Church pick up her cross and walk than to have it laid upon her. Read up on the South African Truth and Reconciliation process. This would be the Church coming clean on her own. It’s ok if there has to be justice done after… but if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive them. We can confess our sins before they ever come out. This will be carrying the cross rather than having it laid on our shoulders.

But this process has to go deeper than just public confession of our sins: we have to tear down the entire structure that made this possible. The failure to preach the Gospel for fear of losing one’s Parochial Financial Powerhouses, one’s artists, ones friends… this must stop. Everywhere a don’t ask don’t tell stands athwart some Church teaching – no matter what it is – has to be seen as a place where we are avoiding our cross. And while coming clean on our own may avoid civil asset forfeiture, this final cross of truth may, in fact, result in closure and loss as well.

The Crucifixion and Death
The words of Joseph Ratzinger (as he then was) have made the rounds recently. I first read them in La Stampa, although I’m sure they are in other places. He was writing in the 60s, but 60 years later they seem prophetic:

Today’s Church could be faced with a similar situation, undermined, according to Ratzinger, by the temptation to reduce priests to “social workers” and it and all its work reduced to a mere political presence. “From today’s crisis, will emerge a Church that has lost a great deal,” he affirmed.

“It will become small and will have to start pretty much all over again. It will no longer have use of the structures it built in its years of prosperity. The reduction in the number of faithful will lead to it losing an important part of its social privileges.” It will start off with small groups and movements and a minority that will make faith central to experience again. “It will be a more spiritual Church, and will not claim a political mandate flirting with the Right one minute and the Left the next. It will be poor and will become the Church of the destitute.”

The process outlined by Ratzinger was a “long” one “but when all the suffering is past, a great power will emerge from a more spiritual and simple Church,” at which point humans will realise that they live in a world of “indescribable solitude” and having lost sight of God “they will perceive the horror of their poverty.”

Then and only then, Ratzinger concluded, will they see “that small flock of faithful as something completely new: they will see it as a source of hope for themselves, the answer they had always secretly been searching for.

And the prophecy of Tolkien (may his Memory be a blessing), at the last council have also been making the rounds. It comes from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter, with Christopher Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin, 1981).

You speak of ‘sagging faith’, however. That is quite another matter. In the last resort faith is an act of will, inspired by love. Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons (least of all anyone with any historical knowledge). ‘Scandal’ at most is an occasion of temptation – as indecency is to lust, which it does not make but arouses. It is convenient because it tends to turn our eyes away from ourselves and our own faults to find a scapegoat. But the act of will of faith is not a single moment of final decision: it is a permanent indefinitely repeated act or state which must go on – so we pray for ‘final perseverance’. The temptation to ‘unbelief’ (which really means rejection of Our Lord and His claims) is always there within us. Part of us longs to find an excuse for it outside us. The stronger the inner temptation the more readily and severely shall we be ‘scandalized’ by others. 

We are all – as the Memes have warned us – in danger of leaving Jesus because of Judas. That is exactly what Satan wants. Stay with the Church for she is Christ on Earth. She is the Visible inbreaking of the Kingdom of God – even as she has sinners in her midst who are doing just what humans have always done: trying to be a replica of God’s kingdom on their own terms. The Church must struggle and even be purged, but we – ourselves – must stand with the Church, must bear the scourging, must wear the crown of thorns, must carry the cross. Dying because of the sins of others is what the Church, the Body of Christ, is born to do. These are not my sins, yes, but when one of us suffers, we all suffer. When one of us sins, we have all sinned. In the end, Christ will have a bride who is as pure and spotless as he is.

I pray that I will be part of that bride, that you will be part of that bride. Tolkien’s answer, and mine for I know no other even though I am an “evil liver” and a “miserable sinner” as the Prayer Book sayeth: Go to Mass. Go to Mass. Go to Mass. A thousand times go to Mass.

The only cure for sagging of fainting faith is Communion. Though always Itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals. Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children – from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn – open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to Communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than that) as a Mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people (it could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the 5000 – after which [Our] Lord propounding feeding that was to come.)

I myself am convinced by the Petrine claims, nor looking around the world does there seem much doubt which (if Christianity is true) is the True Church, the temple of the Spirit dying but living, corrupt but holy, self-reforming and a rearising. But for me that Church of which the Pope is the acknowledged head on earth has as chief claim that it is the one that has (and still does) ever defended the Blessed Sacrament, and given it most honor, and put it (as Christ plainly intended) in the prime place. ‘Feed my sheep’ was his last charge to St. Peter; and since his words are always first to be understood literally, I suppose them to refer primarily to the Bread of Life. It was against this that the W. European revolt (or Reformation) was really launched – the ‘blasphemous fable of the Mass’ – and faith/works a mere red herring. I suppose the greatest reform of our time was that carried out by St. Pius X: surpassing anything, however needed, that the Council will achieve. I wonder what state the church would now be but for it.

Say a rosary. Say fifty. I find them best said walking. Pray for the Church that like her Groom whose body she is, she may die and rise again. Go to Mass and pure and spotless let her be.