“The man who has not suffered, what can he possibly know, anyway?” says Rabbi Abraham Heschel. He may be onto something. When we look for insight and understanding, we go to someone who has been wronged, and who has come out stronger and wiser: survivors of wars, genocide, concentration camps; people who have overcome massive disabilities; people who have been abused and outcast, and who have responded with love, gentleness, generosity, and wisdom.
But what about the man who caused his own suffering? The man who has been selfish, foolish, ugly, cruel, and who has suffered because of his own willful sins? What can he possibly know, anyway?
PIC snake eating itself
When we are tempted to fall into chronic worry, free-falling anxiety, brooding, endless guilt, and despair, we are falling for a lie. We are turning our hearts over to a false lover, an abuser who wants to control us and make us whimper, make us pay.
There are things to worry about. There are reasons to fear, reasons to dread. These things are true, and there’s no point in telling myself, “There is nothing to be upset about.” There is plenty to be upset about, and there always will be, as long as the earth keeps rolling its tired way around the tired old sun.
But it is not the only truth. It is not the final truth. The final truth is that, after the tired old sun sets for the final time, there will be darkness for a time, and then there will be a sun that rises and never sets, never stops warming us, never stops bringing us light, and light, and more and more light. There is a lover who sees everything that we are and wants to hold us forever in His arms, never wounding, never chiding, never turning us away to spend our nights in agony and alone.
Read the rest here.
It’s a simple, anonymous project:
If you want to add the name of a girl you have victimized by lust, please click the Add a Name button and enter her first name. If you remember her face but not her name, give her one. The form is completely anonymous and non-trackable. Use first names only.
Pornography is a grave affront against the personhood of the girl, woman, boy, or man on display — yes, even if he or she is willing and compliant. I used to think this sounded like some kind of abstract sophistry — almost as if the Church wouldn’t admit that, deep down, it just has a big problem with sexy sexy sex, and is trying to come up with some kind of intellectual excuse for why porn is so bad.
I get it now, though. Porn is just one of the handier tools that the devil is using in this particular era to exterminate, to x out, to deny, to quash, to empty out souls. Even better: to get us to do that to each other. It is bar none the worst thing you can do to another person, to deny their humanity.
I am not sure if Her Name is the best possible way to remedy this. It won’t, of course, matter much to the actual girls and women who have been used; although I suppose they might see their names on the list and realize that at least one person out there recognizes what he has done. Anyway, it could be a great and powerful, genuinely humbling exercise for men (and others) to write down that name, to enter it in the rolls.
At the same time, it feels like there could be the tiniest grain of continued exploitation involved, even if the most benign and well-intentioned kind. I’m not completely comfortable with the idea of assigning a name to an unknown girl, even if the intention is to honor her. Naming is powerful, as this project clearly acknowledges — and implies control over the person named. Or am I thinking about it too hard?
Well, what do you think about Her Name?
PIC split tree bound back together
Every day, I bless a merciful God that there was no internet to speak of when I was younger. This means there are no insanely humiliating photos of me in a crop top and acid wash harem pants. It also means that I never published an article like this one in Catholic Exchange: Marriage Is Work.
In this piece, which I absolutely would have written as a newlywed, the earnest, not-yet-married Emma Smith hears her secular coworkers lamenting the way their ex-husbands had cheated on them
“There’s so much of that out there!” my boss exclaimed. “I know one of my girlfriends who is cheating on her husband and I know a couple of other people where both of them are cheating. I guess you’re lucky if it doesn’t happen to you.”
Smith goes on to explain to the reader that she knows that her soon-to-be husband will never cheat on her. She knows this. She knows for a fact that it simply will not happen.
Marriage isn’t a drawing of the straws, where if your spouse cheats on you, well, “sorry, you just drew the short straw. There’s nothing you could have done to prevent it!” It’s not an institution where if you are a strong, happy, and healthy couple you’re just “the lucky ones.”
And she knows, she says, that people will think she’s just young and naive for knowing that her husband will always be faithful.
And yet, I can say that. I can say that because I have a faith and a God who stand behind me in that statement. And I can say that because the love my fiancé and I share is not human, it is divine. We love each other because we love God and we have discovered that in loving one another, we get to love God more fully. Moreover, the love that we have for one another is divine in origin. God gave it to us at our baptism and it had a full 15-20ish years to grow and mature so that when we met, it blossomed.
Well, let’s start with all the ways that Smith is right. She says that “marriage is something you work on … marriage is a calling.” And she is right. She says:
Our faith allows us to make these promises [of faithfulness] because He who gave us love was faithful in His love until the end. … We as Catholics are granted the same strength of faithfulness to the end when we return our love to the one who is love. When we participate in making our love a sacrament, when we make a way for God’s grace to enter the world every day, when we demonstrate outwardly our inner devotion, we can say with full knowledge and confidence that we are not in a game of luck.
Yes indeed. A strong marriage doesn’t just spring into being on its own. If we translate our love of God into love for our spouses, and when we let our love for our spouses nourish our love for God, then we will be fulfilling our vocation.
But that’s it: we’ll be fulfilling our vocation, period. That is all we can depend on: that God will be faithful to us. Beyond that, things can get very messy. When Catholics fulfill their vocation of marriage, it can turn out looking like an awful lot of things, and that includes ugly, painful things that may or may not ever get resolved in this lifetime.
Because here’s the deal: you aren’t marrying God. You’re marrying another human being. Your spouse is marrying you, and you are a human being.
And what do we know about human beings? They sin. They sin, and they sin, and they sin. Sometimes they enter into a valid marriage and then they cheat. Sometimes they understand fully what they are supposed to do, and they just don’t feel like doing it. Sometimes calamity strikes, and they crumple under the blow. Sometimes they let their own sorrows and weaknesses and selfishness overcome the love that is offered to them. Sometimes — no, my friends, always — they are a tangled ball of good intentions and bad habits, unhealed wounds and unfounded desires.
Many, many times, the grace of the sacrament helps us to avoid serious sin. Sometimes, though, the grace of the sacrament helps us to forgive each other when we sin. Sometimes it helps us to survive when our spouses refuse to repent.
So the confident if untried Emma Smith is right in sighing over the fatalistic modern view of marriage — right in condemning the idea that some people just get lucky, and there’s no way of improving your odds. But she is disastrously, innocently, offensively wrong when she thinks that we can somehow guarantee that things will turn out well, just because we intend to work hard.
Ever heard of Hosea’s wife? Ever heard of Israel? Ever heard of the entire human race? God knows that this is what happens when you enter into a marriage with another human being: one way or another, sooner or later, your love will be rewarded with pain. And I know this because I love my husband — my faithful, loving husband — and I’ve hurt him.
I pray to God, and I hurt my husband.
I understand marriage, I believe in marriage, I have spent years upon years working on my marriage, and I hurt my husband. And He forgives me, just as I forgive him.
I am glad that Smith understands so well that the grace of marriage is something that must be actively pursued, consciously acted upon. And I hope that her confidence in her husband is rewarded with unbroken faithfulness and love, and that she will not be shattered when she discovers that he does have flaws. I hope that people read her piece and realize that it makes sense to look hard for a spouse who is trustworthy.
But I hope to God she is never involved in any kind of marriage ministry — not with the childish understanding of marriage that she has now. What will she say to the woman whose husband is cheating? Or to the man whose wife won’t stay sober, or won’t stop gambling, or won’t stop browbeating him in public? What will she say to the spouses who do work hard, and have found themselves sinned against? Maybe “Let’s put our heads together and figure out how you could have worked harder to prevent this. Good marriages aren’t just a matter of luck, you know.”
And what will she say to herself when she finds herself sinning against her husband? Maybe she will not cheat, but oh, she will hurt him. She will. This isn’t a warning about your husband-to-be, dear confident, untried brides. It’s a warning about you.
I don’t trust you to save me from sin if you can’t even bring yourself to say “sin.”
While I was writing today’s post, I whined on Facebook:
Can’t tell if I’m struggling because I have hold of an important idea that is worth working through, or because I’m tired and stupid and making something out of nothing.
to which the wise and paternal Mark Shea responded:
Catholics are a both/and people.
Anyway, here it is, the piece I might as well have entitled: PLEASE MISUNDERSTAND ME! Okay, end of preemtive whine.
Like it or not, we are all part of that family — as we see in the story of a drug addict who infected dozens of patients in the hospital where he worked, and the young judge who thought hard about his sentence.
Guess what? I’m fat. About seven permanent pounds for each kid. I usually manage to lose some between pregnancies, but after baby #8 was born, I just kept gaining.
My husband thinks I’m beautiful, but I don’t. I hate wearing special sizes with labels like “Curvy Coordinates!” “Luscious Lady Plus!” “Gee, Your Ass Looks Enormous!” Being fat feels bad, but knowing I’m still gaining feels horrible. The real misery is in feeling like I had no control.
Many and many a time I’ve tried to just snap out of my face-stuffing ways, and go back to the habits that have worked in the past: counting calories, swearing off sugar, working out four times a week, etc. These things always worked before. But this time, I couldn’t even stick to them for a day. I knew I was in trouble, I knew I was making myself unhappy, I knew what I wanted, and I knew it was achievable. But for some reason, I failed and failed and failed like there wasn’t any such thing as not failing.
(Actually, I know the reason. It was so I would learn sympathy with other people who struggle. Okay, Lord, I get it! Now lay off. And stay with me, reader: I’m not just sobbing in public — there is a point to this post.)
Anyway, last week I decided to try something new: I wasn’t going to have a goal. I was just going to make the teeniest, tiniest improvement I could manage, the slightest motion away from my emotional squalor, and try and do that for one day. I was just going to try and get control for one stinking day.
Step one was just to take notice every time I ate something. Just: “Yep, I just put that piece of ham in my mouth. That was me doing that. Idiot.”
Step two was to admit that I was eating partially (sigh) to punish myself for being fat and weak. (Yeah, that makes sense.)
Step three (a big one) was to realize that God doesn’t want me to treat anyone that way. Mothers are so used to dealing out justice and compassion and punishment and rewards, we sometimes forget that we are somebody’s child, too. I wouldn’t consciously treat someone I love with contempt and injustice. I don’t love myself, but I know God does, so I’ll work with that.
Step four was to only eat things that I actually want to eat, either because I’m hungry or because I think they’d taste good — and to try to enjoy them, because they taste good.
Step five was to decide, at least sometimes, only to eat something good if I’m also hungry.
And step six is to decide not to eat things even if I’m hungry, because I’m trying to lose weight, and I want that more than I want to feel full. That’s the step I’m on right now. Eventually, I’ll work my way up to a weight loss goal, and regular exercise, and meal plans — all the things that have worked before. It’s humiliating to go so easy on myself. It’s distressing to realize I need such gentle treatment. But none of the drastic steps were helping, so what else can I do?
And why am I bringing this up? Because, in all the comments that people have made in response to the Pope’s remarks about condoms, one phrase stuck in my head: conversion is incremental. That’s how it is, whether it’s for me getting back into normal-sized pants, or for more dire lessons of the soul. For the hypothetical male prostitute, the goal would be to renounce fornication and seek healing for his disordered sexual appetites. But can he do that in a day? Of course not. You can’t just strip away every aspect of your old life in a single motion, and expect to live that way from now on.
But he does need a new life. So how can he do it? With tiny, pathetic steps in the right direction — by, for instance, at least desiring to protect his sexual partner from disease. It’s not enough. But it’s a small step that probably can’t be skipped.
Sometimes we get knocked off our horses, or experience a miraculous infusion of knowledge of the faith, or the angel has to come and break our bones for us. Okay, then we’re converted. But for most of us, we don’t go from sin to virtue, just like that. It takes lots of time. Some decent folks are outraged by what seems like mediocrity and dawdling: All or nothing! they holler. If a sinner isn’t willing to renounce his sin, then nothing of value is going on! True conversion of the heart is a radical thing! No man can serve two masters! The Lord will vomit the lukewarm out of his mouth! And so on.
But we’re not talking about being lukewarm here. We’re not talking about beingsatisfied with halfway measures. But we’re acknowledging that — well, at some point, you do have to be halfway. That’s how you get places: you have to spend some time in between before you arrive. Not to say that there is no truth in a fiery conversion. It’s just that, unless you’re on your deathbed, the fire is not sustainable. It’s not even desirable, because stewing in your own weakness teaches you compassion.
As long as we’re talking about food: you know how you get a nice, juicy roast? First you sear it on the outside. High temps for a short time seals the juices in. But thenyou turn the temperature way, way down and let it stew for the rest of the day. That’s how God makes us so tender and delicious by the Second Coming: first He applies the heat, and then He turns it down and lets us stew.
Let’s be patient with ourselves, and with each other, and try not to lift the lid too often. We’re not done yet.