[Sound of crickets…]

I deeply apologise for the lack of communication over the last week or so. Even this is not a post of any consequence, just an explanation of some of the things that have been going on.

Of course, the whole back to school thing changed the rhythm of Casa Schutz-Beaton. Add to this the start of new teaching rounds for Anima Education, and lots going on at the start of the year at work, and that would be enough. But two other things have kept me really busy.

First, I spent every spare moment of three or four days at the end of the week before last writing a very long letter to my 13 year old daughter on the topic of sexual ethics, including homosexuality and same-sex marriage. She has been watching a lot of TV and Internet programs in which gay issues arise and are dealt with under the category of “justice” and “tolerance”. So she thought her dad was particularly intolerant for not being in favour of these things as a life-style choice. I realised I was up against some hefty alternative sources of information and authority. There was a time when all parents needed to do was explain the birds and the bees to their kids, today that can almost be taken as read by the time they are 13 – but you have to explain a whole lot more. And all this just at the stage when they really are not ready to hear very long explanations. And there are not many short explanations to some of these things. On top of which, discussing the issue of homosexuality is also intertwined with marriage and divorce, contraception and abortion, IVF and surragocy, and a whole bunch of other things. So the only way I could decently do justice to any of these topics was by writing them all out as simply as I could. Sort of like giving the recipe for a very complicated cake. She read what became a 20,000 word essay in a matter of quarter of an hour! We are still talking through the issues raised, and she said that it has helped her form her own thinking – which still isn’t that of her father’s, but at least she now has some kind of basis on which to think about the issues.

The whole experience has gotten me thinking: why don’t we have a program on the Theology of the Body for pre- and early-teens? Early adulthood is way to late. We need an exciting and engaging program that parents can attend with their pre-adolescent children to work through these issues at an early stage, before their thinking is hijacked by Hollywood. It is the sort of thing that is beyond me, but surely we have someone out there who could do this? I would see it as a kind of adjunct to the sex education that is currently on offer. Something that really grounds them in an understanding of who they are as God’s creations in relation to themselves and others…

In the meantime, I am wondering whether the “big letter” might be something others might find useful for explaining things to their children. However, it was written to her personally, and I would need to (a) ask her permission for further publication and (b) do some editing and probably even further expansion first.

The other thing that has kept me very busy indeed is learning how to drive a new piece of technology. I am currently roadtesting a Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet (Android). Other folk in the Archdiocese have been using ipads, but this is the first time we are testing out how an Android tablet might better serve the needs of the agency employees. I am a happy little guineapig, but any piece of new technology takes some getting used to. I can report so far that I am pleasantly surprised. It is quite a versatile instrument. The real limitations are the available apps – far less and less sophisticated than the ipad. Still, I have found most of the apps that I need without having to pay anything other than an upgrade for Docs to Go. The machine itself however is a far better deal than the ipad with a lot more versatility.

Anyway, that’s what I have been doing. I have been reading some great books too, the best of which is James L. Kugel’s “How to read the Bible”. I also attended the launch of Fr Brendan Purcell’s “From Big Bang to Big Mystery” which is also needing a good read. I will write about both books in due course. A break from reading Wright at least…

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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53 Responses to [Sound of crickets…]

  1. Hannah says:

    David why did you write a letter? Did it make it easier to cover the topics? so you wouldnt leave anything out? or other reason. Perhaps in writing the big letter you left a part of yourself out. Thepart with the emotion. You outlined the facts to her but Theology of the Body is more than facts its a miracle of creation, life, sin,redemption and salvation. You know the work that i do, and I can tell you that 13 year olds have come to see me (with parent) 13 year old have “heard” and often “tried”
    It would be good if your young lady okayed it to share with us your thoughts.
    All the topics you covered especially about “life need to be enshrouded in mystery and beauty and also how mystery and the beauty can be wounded by others or self.
    Anyway I hope we get to hear what you wrote.

    • Schütz says:

      Oh, Hannah, you know me. I can’t write anything and “leave out emotion”! I made the letter very personal and direct. The reason I chose this medium is precisely so that I could spell out the whole argument without interuption or red herrings.

      • Hannah says:

        Good for you David.im sure you did very well and because the young lady is a just that, young, she is slowly trying her wings with decision making, but once something “read” “seen” there is recall and musings.

  2. Stephen K says:

    David, I understand completely why you would have written a “long letter”. I don’t think the method necessarily excludes the writer’s own personality, or what Hannah calls “emotion”. But nor do I think what is needed here is persuasion by emotional appeal. What I think these sorts of questions need above all is the presentation of a person’s understanding and thinking about them. This requires a significant degree of mental and logical organisation, of reflection etc. Over the years – though admittedly, not so often recently – I have often engaged in presenting my thoughts to my own children by letters. I have left it to them to receive my thoughts the way they best understand them at the stage they were at. I found often that letter-writing helped me to organise my thoughts (rather like a certain blog forum I could name!)

    That’s all one can do or expect, I think. That is to say, I don’t think we should conclude that disagreement with whatever we write (or say) means our correspondent is stupid, or missing something vital or certainly wrong. Each of us only has our own mental receiver and organiser; each of us only sees truth through the filter of our own life precedent and starting premises. We can certainly hope that whatever we write or say strikes a chord in our hearer, especially if she or he is our child, but our love must never be conditional on their agreeing with us or their being persuaded by us.

    There are many questions worthy of “long” letters, and discussion and reflection afterwards, and same sex ethics is certainly a complex example of them. If your daughter understands why you think the way you do, though she still disagrees now and in the future, you are doing well, for understanding is a great pillar of love.

    • Tony says:

      Beyond agreeing with Stephen, David, I can only comment on a tone reflected in your post. If the letter you write characterises those who have a different view as being under the influence of ‘hollywood’ it may prove decisive later on if and when your daughter meet individuals who have well-considered views based on their own thinking and life experience and showing no signs of ‘hollywood’ superficiality.

  3. Jesse Vanle says:

    Hi David.

    There is a TOB for teens and we have been using it successfully and fruitfully at our parish youth group. Here’s a link if you’re interested.

    http://thetheologyofthebody.com/information/teens

    • Schütz says:

      I took a look at this today. I also got a call from our Marriage, Life and Family office drawing my attention to it. At first glance, it isn’t exactly what I am looking for – as I am looking for something which deals with all the tricky issues mentioned in the post, and these don’t seem to deal with that. But they do seem to deal with personal issues, and that might be a good thing too.

  4. Mary H says:

    Our school uses Jason Evert’s “Theology of the Body for Teens.” I would be very interested in reading the letter you wrote.

    You might also want to look at some of the postings at the “Bad Catholic” blog, written by a 18 year old who is a college freshman.

    We had the great advantage of sending our daughter to a small high school where they taught logic, classics, and the encyclicals, so she not only knows the faith, she knows how to reason and all the “why’s” of the faith.

    She’s grown up with parents who subscribe to the whole package: unitive and procreative, NFP instead of contraceptives, etc and the spousal meaning of the body, so we haven’t had to teach anything much separate about homosexuality: obviously, if a marriage between a man and woman who are not open to children isn’t a “real” marriage, then one between two members of the same sex isn’t.

    We didn’t have TV for most of her growing up (she’s 18 now and will be going off to college this fall), so she hasn’t seen a lot of the usual TV. However, she has had internet access and NetFlix, so she’s still been exposed to a lot.

    I don’t know if you daughter might be interested in the “Fairy Tale” novels by Regina Doman? If she likes modern, realistic updates of fairy tales, these are great novels with Catholic teenagers as the main characters, that deal with some of these themes, including homosexuality, in the course of the books. Those themes are not what the books are about, though. They just deal with them because the protaganists are teens, and that’s just part of what teens deal with. The main difference is they treat them from a Catholic TotB point of view, instead of from a secular point of view. My daughter must have been about the same ages as your daughter when she borrowed the first one from a friend.

    • Schütz says:

      I haven’t heard of these Regina Doman books. Maddy loves that kind of stuff, so I will definitely look it up and find out more and offer them to her if they seem to fit the bill. Thanks!

      I also need to look again at Everett’s book.

      • Mary H says:

        Oh, if she likes fairy tale re-tellings, definitely get the Regina Doman books. You can order them on-line if they’re not in your library or bookstore. These aren’t “religious” books, in the sense that they’re not trying to deliver a religious message per se, other than the one that being religious (the usual example is Catholic) is normal. For example, the first book involves a kind of murder mystery.

        Yes, watching the shows with your daughter is key. In my case, it is more like watching the animes she likes and talking about the forums where she likes to participate. I think it really helps for early teens to have friends, on-line if not in real life, who take the Catholic TotB point of view as a gift rather than a burden – just so they have some relief from the constant secular messages marginalizing the Catholic view at best and ridiculing it or portraying it as bigoted or anti-woman at worst.

        Something I’ve found important with my daughter is to explicitly recognize that two people of the same sex can truly love each other, but to point out that that is not enough to qualify for marriage. Also, I think it helps to be able to point to the celibate clergy and religious as examples of the fact that life without sex (or marriage) can also be a joyful, love-filled life, and that love is what people *need.* Just having joyful celibate people around is a big help for that – because of course the secular culture teaches that life without sex isn’t worth living.

        • Schütz says:

          I’ve ordered the first book in Regina Doman’s series, so we will see what it is like when it arrives. I’ve told Maddy about them and she seems interested. I want to read it too, though!

  5. Mary says:

    Go to http://www.catholicteens.wordpress.com to find a blog especially for teens and Catholic youth.

  6. Fraser Pearce says:

    Looking forward to the Kugel book review.

    • Schütz says:

      Do you know it? I think it’s brilliant! All the more brilliant for being a book that both Jews and Chrsitians can benefit from.

      • Thomas Pietsch says:

        I’m coming to this late in the party, but I just finished Kugel’s ‘In the Valley of the Shadow’ and was quite impressed by it. The book is really a series of reflections on the foundations of religious belief prompted by Kugel’s own battle with cancer. It’s accessible, humane, orthodox and more. I ordered ‘How to Read the Bible’ a few minutes after I finished it, so I too look forward to the review!

        Hope you had a nice birthday Schutz!

        • Schütz says:

          Thanks, Thomas, and thanks for remembering the birthday too! I hope you enjoy “How to read the bible”, and don’t feel too humiliated walking around the parish with a book by that title under your arm!

  7. Peregrinus says:

    Well, Richard Dawkins famously wrote a letter to [i]his[/i] daughter, to tell her some stuff that he thought was important, and it subsequently transpired that this was because he rarely spoke to her.

    I’m sure your situation is different, David; the letter will form the starting point, and a reference point, for a continuing conversation.

    And it should. The fact that . . .

    “She read what became a 20,000 word essay in a matter of quarter of an hour!”

    . . . suggests that she may not have entirely absorbed everything you have to say to her the first time around. As you say, the letter gives her “some kind of basis on which to think about the issues”, and she will engage with it more deeply when she is ready to think about the issues more deeply. She is, after all, only thirteen. At thirteen, you’re interested in matters of sexuality, but you become a great deal more interested in them over the few years after that.

    She’ll make up her own mind, of course. That’s what becoming an adult involves. She’s already doing that, from your account, and your letter will be most helpful to her if she understands that its purpose – and the purpose of your input generally – is to empower her make up her mind, rather than to make up her mind for her.

    You are, of course, right to be aware of the influence of popular culture, and to make her aware of it too. But it occurs to me that, in a few years if not already, your teenage daughter will see both the superficiality of “Glee” and the imperishable wisdom of her father as alternative external forces seeking to mould her mind to whatever it is they want. You can’t teach her to be critical of “Glee”, I think, without also teaching her to be critical of your own letter.

    Of course, as a teenager she won’t need to be taught to be critical of her parents; that usually comes naturally. But you can still help her to learn how to turn a critical attitude into something positive, rather than something negative, and to apply it not just to irredeemably dorky parents but equally to cool friends and glitzy television shows and music and literature and boyfriends and everything else she encounters on her way to womanhood.

    • Schütz says:

      Yes, very perceptive, Perry. Especially the bit about once being taught critical skills, being able to criticise her father’s ideas as well as Glee! I would be happy with this scenario!

      As it is, she was already able to express to me that reading the letter taught her how important “romantic love” is to her at this stage. No surprise there. I guess the fact that her father watches Glee (and Twilight etc.) with her might help a bit.

      I felt a bit like Dawkins while writing the letter. I was critical of his letter writing for the reason you point out, but in retrospect, I find myself more sympathetic. I am very sorry that he didn’t have the day to day contact that I do to be able to follow this up personally in conversation with my daughter.

      • Peregrinus says:

        “I guess the fact that her father watches Glee (and Twilight etc.) with her might help a bit.”
        Greater love than this no man can show!

  8. Stephen K says:

    I have to thank you, Mary H, for introducing me to the Theology of the Body (your ‘TotB’). I asked myself, ‘what is that?’ ‘Time to go searching’, I thought. I googled and found an entry that will prompt me to read JP’s lectures. I’ll suspend my initial suspicion that it is ultimately a newer version of a ‘natural law’ ethic until I have read more of it.

    However, all that aside, I think your statement “it helps to be able to point to the celibate clergy and religious as examples of the fact that life without sex (or marriage) can also be a joyful, love-filled life, and that love is what people need” is unconvincing here. That is to say, yes, both of your propositions, taken singly, seem true, but not universally. There is a big difference between a person who voluntarily, and in an act of religious faith, adopts a celibate life, and a person who finds themselves yearning for human intimacy and reassurance with no acceptance of the premisses of the religious life. And whilst it appears true that it is love, not sex per se, that people need, it also appears true (to me at least) that sex has the potential – i.e. in or out of publically recognised marriage – to deliver the most powerful sense of being loved and loving one can experience. And people in the situation I describe – and I would hazard a guess and say it potentially can include most – are not going to be consoled by exhortations that love might be found elsewhere, and for which there are no guarantees in any case.

    Marriage is the social arrangement many argue best encourages the nurture of children. Catholic theology elevates it to the only way children can be conceived. It thus and also confines sexual love, or rather, love-through-sex, to the formally and first-time married. It denies it to vast numbers of other people. Is the vowed union of two same-sex persons a marriage in any analogous sense to the marriage of a man and a woman? A significant element in the argument against it is the argument that their sexual intimacy cannot produce children in the biological sense. Thus it is argued that it cannot form the matter of a marriage.

    Well, it is not my intention to argue about same-sex ethics or the meaning of marriage: I just thought you may be capable of a far more persuasive encouragement to the many people to whom you would deny physical intimacy than an appeal to the example of religious who in some or many cases may be simply conforming their religious aspiration to the prevailing discipline.

    • Mary H says:

      Father Stephen, by all means read about the theology of the body.

      Kids these days grow up *expecting* that anyone who isn’t a dork has sex by the time they get out of high school at least. Instead of a kid having to explain why s/he isn’t a virgin, these days someone in the late teens or early twenties has to defend why they *aren’t* a virgin. The implication is that there is something wrong with you if you are.

      And it sounds that you’re falling right into the same trap when you connect “yearning for human intimacy and reassurance” with a celibate life unless one has a religious vocation. There are many people who may have to deal with this: people who never find a marriage partner, those who are separated from their partner for long periods of time, those whose partner who is too ill, etc.

      Or do you mean to imply that all those are cases that justify adultery or fornication, because otherwise the person will be cut off from “human intimacy?” We must restore the knowledge that sex is NOT the only way one can experience love, intimacy and joy. It just isn’t. Not for heterosexuals, not for homosexuals, not for anyone.

      As long as we buy into that idea, even plain garden-variety married faithfulness is going to seem like an impossible burden.

      • Stephen K says:

        Mary H, I don’t think I’m falling into any ‘traps’. First, I absolutely agree that any implication that virginity is wrong or unhealthy in itself is wrong. I don’t even think it’s so in any incidental/experiential sense. Indeed, I have never completely understood how some people can talk about sex or their supposed sex experience as if it were psychologically easy or unproblematic. On the contrary, I think sex is complicated and even difficult, to the extent it is loaded. It’s a big step and rightly so, in different ways, for both women and men, and arguably much more critically for women.

        Secondly, nor do I think sex is intrinsically essential to an integral and fulfilled life in general although I wouldn’t presume to say that this was so in the particular. When I referred to a person yearning for human intimacy, I did not say everyone who was not a religious must have this: I was making the point simply that those who did so yearn who were not religious may not be consoled by being referred to the religious model. The people whom you describe – who never find a partner, are separated or are carers, the widowed, the crippled, the imprisoned – may or may not be able to be so consoled.

        Do these situations justify adultery or fornication? Not intrinsically, is my answer. But these are technical terms to describe what sometimes can actually be one human clasping another, holding on for grim life with all its thirst and hunger for the physical emotional reality-beyond-words-and-formulae. I’m not going to wag my finger at those primeval and possibly naturally sacred moments.

        Finally, garden variety married faithfulness is an example of supreme love but has nothing to do with what I said. I assume many same-sex couples appear to value committed faithfulness too. I was attempting to characterise what I thought was a flawed exhortation to the many to whom it did not appear to apply.

        (For the record, I think sex works best – as an act of love – in a married relationship. But the sad fact is not all acts of sex in a married relationship are acts of love. The nexus is therefore not so straightforward. In my view.)

        • Mary H says:

          “I was making the point simply that those who did so yearn who were not religious may not be consoled by being referred to the religious model.”

          Yes, that is a problem. Unfortunately, where else can people these days find joyful role models? There don’t seem to be many secular ones. The secular message I see, both as one who was a teenager during the time it was changing, and as mother of a teenage daughter coming of age in 2010’s, is that:
          1. virginity means something is wrong with you or you’re odd in some way
          2. abstinence is an intolerable burden that sucks the joy out of life

          “I assume many same-sex couples appear to value committed faithfulness too.”
          Just as I don’t doubt that many same-sex partners truly love each other, I have no trouble believing many are also committed to faithfulness. In the same way, I am personally acquainted with loving, committed heterosexual couples who entered marriage with the understanding that they would have no children. Neither case meets the definition of Catholic marriage.

          It is indeed unsurprising that gay couples object to being held to a higher standard of total abstinence when the average heterosexual couple no longer even tries to adhere to the much lower standard (abstinence before marriage, periodic abstinence during marriage when necessary, and acceptance of children) they are called to.

          I’m blunt, but I mean to judge the actions of the people, not the people themselves. I speak as one who has definitely not adhered to the Catholic standard both before marriage and for almost half of my marriage.

          • Stephen K says:

            I understand what you are saying, Mary H, and you highlight rightly the inconsistency of many heterosexuals’ attitudes and behaviours with the demands made of homosexuals. Inconsistencies like this weaken the force or effectiveness of much ethical argument.

            I also understand and completely accept that your comments are aimed at characterising and assessing actions not people. Though I think the two are often entwined and that it is difficult on one level for us to neatly and successfully separate them, I hope you see that I intend the same. My own life has what seems to be a few treasures and much debris in all these areas – religious life, love, sex, marriage etc – and I am definitely a pot or a kettle myself and make no claim that I stand on any moral ground. But all our experiences or choices have helped make us who we are today or at any given moment and, though we will all naturally – and differently – regard some more positively than others, we can’t deny them.

            Thankfully, this is a forum where each of us can offer our thinking about various types of ideas in the great endeavour of finding and understanding truth as well as forging better bonds of human community in the process, so I contribute what thoughts I feel I can to the mix. Your own are sincerely appreciated.

            • Schütz says:

              I’m glad that you find this a forum where both “understanding the truth” and “forging better bonds of human community” take place, Stephen! That makes me feel that blogging is worth it! (I’ve been a bit snowed under of late, and have reflected on the place of blogging in my life….)

          • Catherine says:

            Mary H, I dont think there are many people who are JOYFUL about being celibate.I would challenge to find a celibate person who is not asexual, who is joyful. They may be reasonably happy and content with their lives but not JOYFUL> I would argue most people with blood in their veins and a healthy level of testosterone would be happier if they were getting laid.

            On the other hand , the bad thing about being singleis you cant have sex, but the good thing is you dont HAVE to have sex

            • Schütz says:

              I am only just going through comments now after about a week away from the blog, Catherine, so sorry I didn’t get to this sooner.

              The truth of the matter is that even many married people don’t “get laid” all that often – in later life “getting laid” isn’t as important in marriage as love and faithfulness is. I think you sell yourself short in your lack of vision for the fulfilled life.

            • Catherine says:

              David, those of us who have walked the celibate path our whole lives are aware that people may be married and bored ( and potentially sex starved), but it is annoying for single people to told by married people that celibacy is joyful.

            • Schütz says:

              tIt would be annoying for anyone to be told that their life should be joyful when it isn’t. My point rather is that joy can be found in any stateof life, married or otherwise. I have become convinced (for me) that the only path to fulness of joy is faithful discipleship of the Lord and life in the Spirit of the Lord. This means that I will only find joy by being faithful to my calling. In terms of a sexual relationship, ths means joy for me will be found in my marriage to Cathy. To seek joy outside of this would be in fact to court despair. A single person (and I was one once) may find joy in celibacy if they are able to accept it as either a permanent or a temporary state of affairs. One who is seeking a partner may find joy in the search. Or frustration. But I do think that frustration usually comes from an inability to accept the joyfulness of the present. (Wow. That sounds rather Buddhist, doesn’t it?)

    • Catherine says:

      Stephen K, may I say I just love this post of yours.:)
      I agree with you that telling people religious don’t get laid is cold comfort. Religious people give up sex to be married to God. A committed Catholic gay or lesbian is just forbidden to have sex with no compensation. They dont even get to live in a religious community, in fact I believe the Vatican has said they dont want gay applicants for the priesthood.

      Mary H is right that single people can end up never having sex because they never meet the right person but she misses the point that at least they lived in HOPE that they might meet someone suitable to marry. However a committed Catholic gay or lesbian would know that they could never have sex /get married. Yes, we know that some married couples are not getting much if any sex ( i’m a therapist so I know many people who tell me they might as well be religious, as they havent had sex for years!!!!!!!) but at least they got some sex at some stage and had the experience.

      I think if people think sex is not important they must have had bad sex.obviously I’m a bad catholic, butI’m always glad to hear my gay and lesbian clients are not committed catholics as they are free to go and try to find whatever love and happiness there is available

  9. Gareth says:

    You are sooo irreligious Catherine.

    Some people are not meant to be married in this life for the sake of the Kingdom – The Lord even said so.

    Not to mention youngish Catholics that are single that offer up their current vocation as a sacrifice before they are called into marriage or those or the multitudes in current western society that live alone due to their marriage ending.

    Some of the above are every well-adjusted as those that are married.

    Marriage is only ONE (albeit the vast majority of faithful enter into) way of life that can lead us to God.

    Remember in the next life, we will not be married and in heaven only purity reigns supreme.

    • Catherine says:

      Yes, some people are not meant to get married.
      Yes, some people can be well adjusted and celibate. But that was not the issue being addressed. The issue is whether the celibate ( not through their own choice) are happy little vegemites overflowing with joy. If there are no marriages in heaven, seems like one ought to enjoy having sex whilst on earth LOL. Premarital sex is not ideal, nor am I promoting it, but it is not necessarily a tragedy. There are so many noteworthy sins people commit in life and sexual ones get a lot of attention as if they are the be all and end all.

      • Gareth says:

        Generally speaking, I see very much the sense in the Catholic Church’s division between sins that are venial/mortal.

        Sexually-based sins are rightfully considered very serious because that is where the transmission of human life takes place. Remember God has said ‘no (unrepentant) fornicator will enter the kingdom of God’ and we are obliged to take that seriously.

        Anyhow, my point as the Catholic Church has a minute group that havbe made the ‘ultimate sacrifice’ to enter religious life/vocation, we should avoid as much as possible disrespectful language surrounding celibacy.

        I dont necessary like or see eye to eye with every single priest/religious that has chosen this course of life, but I aim to show the highest respect for such a ‘super’natural calling.

      • Schütz says:

        Sex can be joyful or not. So can celibacy. Joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit and may be found by living in the Spirit.

        • “Joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit”

          A Fruit of the Holy Ghost, if I’m not mistaken. (I’ve memorised the Gifts–Wisdom and Understanding, Knowledge and Piety, Counsel and Fortitude, and Fear of the Lord–but haven’t been able to come up with a mnemonic for the Fruits; does anyone know a good one?)

        • Sorry, that was meant to be a reply to Mr. Schütz’s comment of March 3, 2012 at 5:10 pm, at which I’m about to re-post it (so you’re welcome to delete this one if you want, Mr. Schütz); please direct any responses to the re-post.

        • “Joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit”

          A Fruit of the Holy Ghost, if I’m not mistaken. (I’ve memorised the Gifts–Wisdom and Understanding, Knowledge and Piety, Counsel and Fortitude, and Fear of the Lord–but haven’t been able to come up with a mnemonic for the Fruits; does anyone know a good one?)

          • Sorry, but sub-thread replies don’t seem to be working (at least for me).

          • Mary H says:

            Well, that was interesting. I thought I’d look up the Fruits and play with them for a while but I was having trouble with the lists. Non-Catholics appear to combine continence, modesty and chastity into one fruit, that they call self-control; and patience and long-suffering into one fruit that they call either patience or forbearance, so they have only 9 fruits instead of 12.

            What is really confusing, though, is that in some Catholic lists there is a fruit called “Generosity” instead of a fruit called “Long-suffering”, and I can’t see how they came up with that. The Protestant/Catholic difference seems easy to explain (the Catholic list is more detailed) but where does “generosity” come from?

  10. Mary H says:

    Well, Catherine, you’re doing a good job of demonstrating my second point of what society teaches:
    2. abstinence is an intolerable burden that sucks the joy out of life

    Although perhaps you would restate that to:
    2. unchosen abstinence is a somewhat tolerable burden that sucks the joy out of life.

    “I’m always glad to hear my gay and lesbian clients are not committed catholics as they are free to go and try to find whatever love and happiness there is available”
    Because of course, true love and happiness are only available through sex. They couldn’t possibly find them anywhere else.

    “i dont think you could find a celibate person who was joyful with their sex deprived life unless the person was asexual and lacking in testosterone.”
    My, I haven’t heard that one for a while, although it used to be very common 35 years ago when I was in college. The baby boomers invented sex, you know. If a person thinks that celibacy is not only possible but doesn’t even need to lead to a grim, joyless, loveless life (even for those who didn’t specifically chose it), s/he obviously isn’t very interested in sex or, as you state somewhere else, must only have had “bad” sex. Clearly, any normally sexual person who’s had a decent sexual experience knows that.

    “I would disagree that people who want to get laid but cant are joyful”
    I’m in complete agreement with you there. People who look on making love as “getting laid” aren’t going to be joyful whether they get laid or not.

    “Yes, some people can be well adjusted and celibate. But that was not the issue being addressed. The issue is whether the celibate ( not through their own choice) are happy little vegemites overflowing with joy.”

    Well, the Catholic answer to that would be to ask whether they were living the Beatitudes, which are supposed to be Jesus’ game plan for Happiness. Interestingly enough, the Beatitudes apply to everyone, not just the Religious, and for some reason they left out the one that goes: “Happy are those who get laid, for their testosterone shall be sufficient.” In fact, there’s even one that says “Happy are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” I’ve seen that interpreted to mean that to be happy, you have to be able to detach yourself from pleasure, one of the four counterfeits that St Thomas Aquinas identifies in the Beatitudes that people try to substitute for God. The others are wealth (poor in spirit), power (meek), and honor/fame (persecuted).

    All you end up with when you make any good thing other than God “necessary” for joy is to rob the joy from that good thing. When you have to have sex to be happy, it’s then that you suck the joy out of sex. That’s not pie-in-the-sky religious talk. That’s down-to-earth practical reality.

    Yes, some people may have to live a celibate life they wouldn’t have chosen for themselves. They’re no more shut out from joy than anyone else who has to accept a different life than they expected. We’re not in charge of our lives – God is.

    • Stephen K says:

      Mary H, I think your sarcasm lets your argument down so that you miss your target. You make inaccurate criticisms of Catherine’s position. Let me go through them.

      To say that “unchosen abstinence”(sic) is a burden that sucks the joy out of life is not quite the same thing as saying abstinence sucks the joy out of life, so Catherine does not demonstrate your second point. It would be in fact axiomatic, or rather a truism, that anyone who does not choose a state of affairs will be less likely to be happy about it than someone who chooses a state of affairs. When Catherine says that someone who wants sexual intimacy but cannot find it or is denied it will not be joyful about it, I venture to say she is simply asserting a normal and natural human attitude.
      In any case we should be clear about our terminology: abstinence is a choice not to do or have; the lack of a thing is not abstinence but just that, a lack. Abstinence – the choice – may be a worthy religious virtue; it is approaching pure spin to suggest that what will be merely coping responses to lack are automatically good, healthy or praiseworthy.

      To recognise that people who do not feel constrained by religious boundaries have less or no impediment to their search for sexual completion or reassurance is to simply recognise that often religious boundaries can exacerbate neuroses, not alleviate them, and that those people do not see the situation at all the way you would insist they see it. It is not so much that true love (of a kind) and happiness (of a kind) are only available through sex, but that true love (of a kind) and happiness (of a kind) are indeed attainable in and through sex. The perception a person has of their own need will vary between persons; ultimately a person can only inhabit their own skin and consciousness. A homosexual person will regard their own senses and needs and existential self just like a heterosexual will do, with the exception that he or she will also have to regard them against a backdrop of societal exclusion. Any discussion of same-sex ethics has to involve some recognition of the view from each individual’s perspective.

      Without this transposition, we risk simply mouthing off empty platitudes, like the religious person who says we are all equal brothers and sisters but shrinks from contact with any number of them.

      I suggest that Catherine is simply observing that the sexual need is powerful, natural and cannot be theorised away or sweepingly suppressed or sublimated without repercussions for some, or many people. One can scorn or dismiss them, but there it is, clinically, empirically.

      Further, I don’t think anyone would assert that all sex was good, or always good for a person. But I also think that it is hard to deny that sexual intimacy can deliver powerfully positive messages and affirmations to the couple and that so long as this holds true, then the wanting of sex is a legitimate and natural one. Seen in this light, there is a world of difference in the advertising messages marketing sexual exploitation and selfishness and taking a more holistic approach to therapy and the sexual and psychological dimensions of our modern existence.

      I also have to protest that your proposition that people who equate making love as getting laid will never be joyful follows logically or empirically from Catherine’s disbelief that people who want to get laid but can’t will be joyful. Catherine’s proposition is surely saying what is patently obvious: someone who wants to get laid but can’t, will not be joyful from that fact. Whether they derive joy in other areas is another thing. I think her position holds.
      As for the Beatitudes, the same applies. As usual these words of Jesus are not straightforward, else there would probably be less disagreement about them. It is a tricky business dismissing such human needs and attempts for independence and self-determination (say, in the case of an oppressed people, abused or battered or bullied person) or for affirmation and love in intimacy as simply substitutions of God with power and pleasure etc, which is the effect of your comment about them. Detachment from want is probably more clearly articulated by the teachings of Buddha and he said them much earlier than Jesus. And that is a tall order. Meantime, we have to operate in the world we find ourselves.

      Finally I don’t think God has “charge” of our lives, or rather I don’t think this term best describes how we are part of and derive our being from the Ground of Being. We are clearly operating with some measure of free will or the expectation that we should or can, and our interactions have consequences for us and others. Considering the vast, immeasurable numbers of people who have ever lived who will not find themselves in a position to have a Christian marriage, I find it hard to imagine that God has so ordained things as to insist they must be unhappy or maintain the stiff upper lip.

      We thus finish where we started: namely, it is misplaced to dismiss the aspiration for sexual intimacy in or out of an approved marriage as something pathetic, modern or invalid. In my view you should no more dismiss this than the marketers should dismiss the free choice of virginity or celibacy.

      • Catherine says:

        Thanks again, another great post Stephen K

      • Mary H says:

        “It would be in fact axiomatic, or rather a truism, that anyone who does not choose a state of affairs will be less likely to be happy about it than someone who chooses a state of affairs.”

        That assumes that the choice the person makes is one that will make them happy. People make bad choices all the time, that they think will make them happy. And when they’re not allowed or prevented from making those choices, they’re unhappy, at least for a while. A teenager who’s prevented from joining a street gang may be unhappy at first, but may very well end up much happier than another who gets her choice.

        The point is that some choices are dead-ends. A painter who goes blind can spend the rest of her life being unhappy about her unchosen blindness, or she can move on to something that she can actually do – perhaps sculpture. Ordinary people have to deal with situations like that all the time. If you keep focusing on the choices that are impossible or wrong, then of course you’re going to be unhappy. Not only are you not getting what you want, you’re shutting yourself off from what *can* make you happy.

        In the case of a person attracted to the same sex, the choice of direct sexual expression is not a moral option, anymore than the visual arts are physical options for someone who is blind. That means s/he is going to have to look elsewhere for the goods that others can get through that path. And the religious life is only one such path.

        Certainly if people focus on what they can’t have, instead of choosing other paths that can give them joy and love, they’re not going to be happy. We’re all called to love. We’re not all called to the sexual expression of love. Whether we wish we were or not.

        • Stephen K says:

          Mary H, just some further observations, if I may.

          That some choices turn out bad, there can be no doubt. I agree. That the mere element of choice in a state of affairs makes the state of affairs a “good” one is not at all clear, and ethicists and moral philosophers are still grappling with the thorny problem of what makes good, good and bad, bad, and to the extent they are not the same, right right, and wrong, wrong.

          It also seems to me true enough that a focus on a thing that is impossible will not bring happiness, though I think a distinction needs to be made between physical and moral things. A lack of a physical sense is probably an insuperable impediment to a lot of desires (though even here we must admit of degrees – Beethoven managed to continue great music despite his deafness), but it is not equivalent, I think, to a moral deficit. The absence of a loving partner in one’s life is not so presumptively a permanent deficit but always theoretically possible; indeed that is precisely why people may continue to yearn and hope.

          This discussion thread started out with an illustration of how David approached the task of explaining his view about same-sex relationships and marriage with his daughter in a way that reflected the need for demonstration not mere dogmatism. And so, we cannot, in my view, begin the argument – or the project of coming to grips with the same-sex controversy – by assuming these things are impossible or wrong, or impossible because wrong. It is not at all accepted by many people that such things are either. What tends to happen, I suggest, is that in the end the approach adopted on a lot of things like this is only to say, in effect, “the Catechism says so, so it is so.” If it is objected that this is not the case, that indeed it is so because it is underpinned by natural law, we are not advanced because in effect the position is the same: “the Catechism says so because it says it is so because of natural law, so it is so.”

          This is the position of complete acceptance of the Church’s teaching as the starting premiss. But David’s daughter and many people do not have this position. I suggest therefore that it cannot, in the scheme of moral proselytism, be regarded as a starting point but only as a conclusion.

          Finally, when you say we are all called to love, I take you to mean we are all challenged by moral and religious codes to show love. But when you say we are not all called to the sexual expression of love, I suspect you are inadvertently using the term in a different way: namely, that we will not all end up showing or receiving love sexually. This is true enough, but this will generally be a death-bed realisation, not a living prospectus for most. The sense of “calling” appears a mysterious, subjective thing that people might feel at different stages of their life, but I don’t think it works universally persuasively in the argument for the stricter religious sexual ethic.

          • Mary H says:

            @Stephen
            You are right in saying that in my recommendations I am starting from a position that both father and child accept the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and I was just trying to give him ideas of what I have used and what I have found to be cultural messages that have had to be countered, with my own daughter. I’ve found the overwhelming message I’ve had to counter is that sex is both cheap and necessary for life, kind of like water.

            I’m not going by “the catechism says so” though. My opinion on homosexuality has changed 180 degrees since my teen and young adult years. I think that probably the best way to explain how I understand the Church’s teaching on sexual matters is using the Theology of the Body. My experience of this teaching is that it is not so much a defense of the Church’s teaching on sexuality from the point of natural law (though it doesn’t contradict that) as much as an attempt to try to understand, to some degree, what God is trying to say to us by making us embodied persons.

            A few things I have gotten from my study that have been especially meaningful to me:
            1. To be a human person is to be both a body and a soul: a body is not a “container” for the soul, but an essential part of the human person. That is why it *matters* so much what we do with our bodies.
            2. The body is the means through which we make contact with another person. When we say we see a person, what we are actually seeing is his/her body. Everything we know of this world and other people is mediated through our bodies.
            3. Our gender-ed body is meant to inscribe in our very flesh the fact that we are meant to love the other. Whether we live out this truth sexually or not, it is a call to love, that is, to will the good of the other.
            4. Loving heterosexual sex, within the context of marriage, is a concrete physical sign that mirrors the nature of God’s love: free, total, faithful, fruitful. While homosexual expression can be free and faithful, it cannot be total or fruitful. It cannot be total because neither partner can physically offer or accept the fertility of the other. And it can’t be fruitful, by its very nature. Even if a heterosexual couple is infertile, they still have the kind of union that under the right circumstances can be fruitful, so their union can still be physical sign of fruitfulness.
            5. Because of this meaning of the human body and of sex, its only appropriate expression is within a marriage between a man and woman that intends to be free, total, faithful and fruitful.

            The Theology of the Body includes a lot more than just descriptions of some of the meanings of the sexual nature of the body, of course.

            • Catherine says:

              “” it is a call to love, that is, to will the good of the other””

              Yes, but i have certainly seen Catholic marriages where they didnt use contraception ( maybe they used NFP) and ended up with umpteen children they couldn’t afford in cramped conditions and the father was yelling at the kids like a nutcase when they forgot to turn the light off, because of the financial pressure he was under. Seems to me if he was willing the good of his wife and existing kids abstinence or contraception was called for.

              YOu can;t be a little bit pregnant and choosing not to use contraception may in fact be not willing the good of the other, when you or your partner can;t financially/emotionally/physically cope with number of children you have and there is an “”accident””. Now i know you will say “” we ll=just dont have sex at all but not having sex damages a relationship too. If a woman really does not want to get pregnant I don’t see how she is going to enjoy sex if the whole time she is worried about the possibility of pregnancy.

              To quote you again
              “”4. Loving heterosexual sex, within the context of marriage, is a concrete physical sign that mirrors the nature of God’s love: free, total, faithful, fruitful. While homosexual expression can be free and faithful, it cannot be total or fruitful. It cannot be total because neither partner can physically offer or accept the fertility of the other. And it can’t be fruitful, by its very nature. Even if a heterosexual couple is infertile, they still have the kind of union that under the right circumstances can be fruitful, so their union can still be physical sign of fruitfulness.””

              Hmm, free, total, faithful, fruitful….
              If a heterosexual couple had both partners not wanting to have more children they would not be depriving each other of anything. Actually if one spouse wanted more kids and the other didn’t going along with the desire of the one who didnt’want to have more kids could actually be a loving act. e.g. the wife has problems with anxiety/depression/ etc and doesnt want more kids to exacerbate the situation.

            • Schütz says:

              f a heterosexual couple had both partners not wanting to have more children they would not be depriving each other of anything

              I disagree totally with this statement. Even though they agree that they do not want more children, they are denying the total gift of themselves to eachother. A couple may, for instance, decide that they don’t want to share their incomes with each other. This may be perfectly agreeable to both, but they are indeed denying each other something that is essential to the forming of a household economy.

        • Gareth says:

          I understood what you were saying Mary.

          Stephen and Catherine need to life their game.

  11. Mary H says:

    @Catherine
    I’m answering you down here because the comment stream is getting thin.

    “Seems to me if he was willing the good of his wife and existing kids abstinence or contraception was called for.”

    I agree that if he was willing the good of his wife and existing kids, they probably should have waited before they had any other kids or maybe not have any other kids.
    They can do that using NFP, which is 98% successful when properly used, which means it’s as effective as the most effective contraceptive methods (except for sterilization). Or through abstinence.

    Neither contraceptives nor NFP are 100% effective. Over half the women getting abortions in the US were using contraceptives, and I was one of them, so the cure-all of contraception rings a bit false to me. If it is absolutely, positively essential to avoid pregnancy, the only options are sterilization or abstinence until menopause.

    The usual way of child spacing historically was on-demand breastfeeding. You might want to read some of Kathy Detweiler’s books about that. Because of nutritional factors, this tended to space children two to four years apart. And because fertility started later and ended sooner, women didn’t tend to have umpteen children. Historically, it was rich women who had a lot of children, because they had better nutrition and gave their children to wet-nurses to feed.

    The problem came when women had better nutrition and medical care, combined with replacing breastfeeding with bottle-feeding. Because of better nutrition, even a woman who breastfeeds exclusively these days is likely to have a child every other year. And with a longer period of fertility, she can easily have ten or twelve children. If the woman bottle-feeds, she can easily have twenty or more years of constant pregnancy, which is definitely NOT what a woman’s body is made for.

    I can easily see where the impetus for contraceptives came from. It must have seemed like everything was out of control. I remember reading, though, that at the time the rhythm method was used by Catholics, it was as effective as the contraceptive methods available at the time (I need to find that source again).

    In the early 1900’s, we stood at a cusp. We had the knowledge to go in the direction of contraceptives, using our knowledge of fertility to work against it, or we could have gone in the direction of making fertility awareness methods better and more widely known, thus respecting and working with fertility. Welcome to the modern world, where fertility is a condition managed with contraceptives and pregnancy a disease cured with abortion.

    “not having sex damages a relationship too”
    Yes, it can. Which is another reason to make sure a couple has already acquired the discipline of abstaining while still remaining loving and affectionate before it comes to that. Which they will hopefully have learned if they abstained before marriage and then abstain for certain days each month to space the birth of children prudently. I do think sex is very important for a marriage relationship and although it may seem so, I don’t make the suggestion of long periods of abstaining lightly. But I also think it is a necessity every couple should be prepared to face.

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