Saturday, December 22, 2012

Pierced by the Pope, Heartened by Nouwen

For reasons wide-ranging and personal, I was moved as never before by Catholic teaching on family in the Pope’s message to the curia yesterday. The truth hurts, and I suffered when the Holy Father described the “crisis that threatens [the family] to its foundations.”

But then I finished Henri Nouwen’s book The Return of the Prodigal Son, and I saw a path from the pain.

The family, said Benedict, is “the authentic setting in which to hand on the blueprint of human existence. . . . This is something we learn by living it with others and suffering it with others.”

The family is not just a social construct; it is about the definition of man himself, what makes all of us “authentically human.” The family, the Pope said, demands commitment for a lifetime. Can one do this? “Does this correspond to man’s nature?”

Then came the F-word: “Does [this commitment] not contradict [man’s] freedom and the scope of his self-realization?”

Although a generation of liberals might answer yes, my heart and my experience cry no, a thousand times! My self-realization would have fallen pathetically short of its current so-so condition if I had not married and fathered two children. I recently visited a friend who fathered two children later in life, and his self-realization now—though he is older and, you might think, “burdened” with two sometimes obstreperous younger children—is a joy to behold. I was so proud of, so happy for him.

Benedict said: “Man’s refusal to make any commitment—which is becoming increasingly widespread as a result of a false understanding of freedom and self-realization as well as the desire to escape suffering—means that man remains closed in on himself and keeps his ‘I’ ultimately for himself, without really rising above it.” In other words, there’s self-realization and self-realization.

But is the Pope’s sort of self-realization for everyone? That is the question of the pro-choicers on the topic of gender. And then the Pope addressed gender, citing a non-Catholic authority:

“The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper.” Beyond the problem of freedom is the confusion brought by “the term gender as a new philosophy of sexuality.”

A summary of the Rabbi’s points, and so the Pope’s: Sex is no longer a gift of God; “it is a social role that we choose for ourselves.” This “profoundly false” theory has created an “anthropological revolution.” According to Catholic teaching and the natural sense of every traditional religion, God created man as male and female. But these “created realities . . . no longer exist.” (!!) “Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will.”

And here’s a thought to kick any environmentalist swept up in this anthropological revolution: “The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned.” Can you spell contradiction?

The Pope goes on and you can read the full talk. But by this point anyone not living in a home-schooled Catholic ghetto must be feeling a bit of the same terror and sadness I felt on reading this yesterday—because, at least where I live in New England, I am surrounded every day by a mob of such pro-environment, pro-choice, “gender-savvy” revolutionaries.

And it is a disaster. It is enough to make a father or mother despair. The only argument my “enlightened” neighbors will even listen to is, the data is not in yet. We have yet to observe the first generation raised in this brave new world. Check back when they are over fifty and (maybe? some of them?) are grandparents themselves.

Feeling this intense sadness, I crossed a bridge thrown up by Henri Nouwen.

His short meditation on one of Rembrandt’s last paintings focuses in turn on the returning younger brother, the resentful older brother, and the forgiving, all-loving father of the parable. I posted the painting previously, if you want to take a look.

To simplify-to-absurdity Nouwen’s final message—we are all the younger brother and the older brother, but ultimately we are all called to be the compassionate father in the painting—and Nouwen does broaden his message to include mothers, so please please don’t accuse me of gender bias!

We become the compassionate father by following three paths, of grief, forgiveness, and generosity. Briefly Nouwen:

On grief—“It might sound strange to consider grief a way to compassion. But it is. Grief asks me to allow the sins of the world—my own included—to pierce my heart and make me shed tears, many tears, for them. There is no compassion without many tears.”

On forgiveness—“Forgiveness from the heart is very difficult. It is next to impossible. . . . I have to climb over the wall of arguments and angry feelings that I have erected between myself and all those whom I love but who so often do not return that love. It is a wall of fear . . . It is a wall of pride.”

On generosity—“There is nothing the father keeps for himself. He pours himself out for his sons. . . . Just as the Father gives his very self to his children, so must I give my very self to my brothers and sisters. . . . As children of the light, we prepare ourselves to become true martyrs: people who witness with their whole lives to the unlimited love of God.”

There is no other way, then, for me than through fatherhood—not only to my own children and perhaps someday grandchildren but to the whole crazy mixed-up world in which I live.

The Pope said yesterday: “Only in self-giving does man find himself, and only by opening himself to the other, to others, to children, to the family, only by letting himself be changed through suffering, does he discover the breadth of his humanity” [my emphasis].

We Christians probably will have to suffer more before this revolution has swept past. God make it open our hearts—in grief, forgiveness, and generosity!


  1. Best post I've read this week! Amen.

  2. Huh, and I thought only home-schooled Catholic ghetto types paid any attention to this stuff. You're right about the part where it doesn't scare us. Kind of validating. But good on ya for getting the word out to folks not already inclined to read what the Pope has to say!

  3. As Thomas Merton would have said, before he went off the deep end - this is our own fault for not entering into deep mental / contemplative prayer and letting the Holy Spirit have His way with us. He said that if that if a nuclear war broke out it would be his fault for his lack of holiness. Sodom and Gomorah would have been saved by 10 holy men. Imagine the effect our holiness can have on the world and the effect our lack of hoiness has. The only way to combat this is by holiness of life, which begins in deep prayer.

  4. Henri Nouwen was a gay man, himself, but he did not choose to be so, and he was not selfish or uncommitted in how he discovered his humanity.

    Nouwen was authentically human -- he opened himself to others and he let himself be changed through suffering.

    Maybe you should have used a different example.

    I agree that we should not express our sexuality in a selfish and uncommitted manner, whether we are gay or straight. I do not agree that gay people "threaten the family to its foundations."

    I am a straight man, myself, but I recognize that gay men, like Henri Nouwen, can live authentic, Christian lives.

    Fr. Nouwen was a good priest, just as many other gay men are good husbands and fathers.

    Just my opinion. Thanks.

  5. Larry, thanks for your comment. Really, I did not "choose" Henri Nouwen as a counterweight to Benedict. His book was given to me as a gift three days ago, and it touched my heart, as an elder son and father and now memoirist writing about good and bad fathers and sons.

    Then just after reading Benedict's words (which connected with another "personal" part of my story, hinted at in my first sentence) I finished Nouwen's book, which concludes with the father. It all just came together. Nothing premeditated or political about it.

    Merry Christmas and thank you all for your comments.

  6. Additional reply to Larry. I do not think I wrote and certainly do not believe that the Pope meant that "gay people 'threaten the family to its foundations.’” What threatens is a radical shift of mentality on two points, freedom and gender. This threatens all of us, gay or straight, married or not. When freedom is just a mask for selfishness, and we forget that God made us, not we ourselves, well, then, it's . . . time for the King to Come Again?

    Happy New Year too.

  7. I just finished reading the entire speech.
    It was the Pope's sentence -- to paraphrase it-- about caring more about protecting the environment than protecting what makes male/female/family...that took my breath away. "the manipulation" of non-human nature vs. "the manipulation" of human nature. Ouch. So many of my friends get so passionate about the environment (I do, too!), but will also be passionate about 'the right to choose' to manipulate human life.

    After 40 years of being taught to do so, a young man raised in this age may have the conscience to recycle a discarded plastic bottle. But will not have the formed conscience to protect the family at all costs -- the children of divorce who are discarded with less regard than a plastic bottle into the trash. Much to think about.

    Thanks also for the 'bridge' of Nouwen -- who was very much a 'wounded healer', eternal rest grant to him, O Lord.

  8. The homosexualist gender left, and especially their brilliant, Alinskyite militant brain trust, most definitely "threaten the family to its foundations".

    They also threaten the Catholic Church's liberty to its very foundations.

    It is astonishing to me that this mortal enemy of civilization and Faith is still able to juster about 50% of the "Catholic" vote in support of its satanic assault.

    Sign of the times.

  9. I agree with Rick above. The Current Occupant and his Crew are surely going to continue to find ways to play the liberal game of Kick the Church.

    And I also think the recent presidential election has cast grave doubts in my mind about the American public's hold on their constitutional rights. Many of us seem willing to toss them aside if we feel it's in our selfish interest.

  10. Forgiveness is healing! The prodigal son came home! While I understand what the Pope is trying to say, there is much to learn and discover about gender identity, it is not always black and white. Sometimes Mother Nature does a trick on a child in utero, or something happens in early childhood to cause the child to feel emotionally detached from the gender he was born with, in that case, it is a mental illness of sorts, or it could just be the spirit of the age; whatever the reason, only God knows, we are called to be compassionate as Jesus Himself is compassionate, and treat such individuals with dignity and respect. They carry a very heavy cross, and only God knows their hearts. I know, as I'm a mother of such a son. It took many years for the prodigal son to come home and ask for forgiveness. It has been a long and difficult road, but God isn't finished with our family yet. Where love is, God is, and God is love, and as long as we put our faith and trust in Him, He shall direct our paths.

  11. This is a beautiful piece!

  12. This is a beautiful piece!

  13. So, does the pope deny that through the ages men and women have played different "gender roles" in society. I agree that sex in itself is not a gender role, but things like profession, behavior, etc. do seem to change in every society in different ages. I think gender, sexual identity, does exist and plays an important role in our lives. I think the pope has a lot to explain before denying gender as something more than just an ideology that has been manipulated by some. I don't deny gender is intrinsically related to our bodies.

    1. "So, does the pope deny that through the ages men and women have played different "gender roles" in society."

      >> That would seem to be completely irrelevant, wouldn't it? The genders are objective facts, they are not roles played. Get it?

      I agree that sex in itself is not a gender role, but things like profession, behavior, etc. do seem to change in every society in different ages.

      >> Since gender is objective, and since sex (procreation) is a gender role..............and since children (and hence families) proceed from this gender-specific sexual role, we must again distinguish between marriage (which is always between a man and a woman) and football coaching (which could possibly be a role performed by a man or a woman, never mind that at this given point in time it is usually performed by a man).

      I think gender, sexual identity, does exist and plays an important role in our lives.

      >> It is a matter of fact, not feeling, that *gender* exists. It is objective. It exists as a biological fact on the ground, regardless of how one might "feel" about it.

      I would agree that the subjective concept "gender identity" has a role to play. It seems its most useful role, is to confuse the minds of the suggestible and weak, so as to bring them to imagine that the objective reality of gender is somehow modified by the subjective content of "feelings about gender identity".

      Useful for Satan, anyway.

      I think the pope has a lot to explain before denying gender as something more than just an ideology that has been manipulated by some. I don't deny gender is intrinsically related to our bodies.

      >> In other words, the Pope is right, but he has a lot of explaining to do about bot allowing me to be wrong at the same time.

      Has anyone ever noticed how insane homosexualist propaganda inevitably turns out to be?


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