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Friday, August 22, 2014

Preparatory Document - Pastoral Challenges to the Family



Preparatory Document

Vatican City

I. Synod: Family and Evangelization
The mission of preaching the Gospel to all creation, entrusted directly by the Lord to his disciples, has continued in the Church throughout history. The social and spiritual crisis, so evident in today’s world, is becoming a pastoral challenge in the Church’s evangelizing mission concerning the family, the vital building-block of society and the ecclesial community. Never before has proclaiming the Gospel on the Family in this context been more urgent and necessary. The importance of the subject is reflected in the fact that the Holy Father has decided to call for a Synod of Bishops, which is to have a two-staged itinerary: firstly, an Extraordinary General Assembly in 2014, intended to define the “status quaestionis” and to collect the bishops’ experiences and proposals in proclaiming and living the Gospel of the Family in a credible manner; and secondly, an Ordinary General Assembly in 2015 to seek working guidelines in the pastoral care of the person and the family.
Concerns which were unheard of until a few years ago have arisen today as a result of different situations, from the widespread practice of cohabitation, which does not lead to marriage, and sometimes even excludes the idea of it, to same-sex unions between persons, who are, not infrequently, permitted to adopt children. The many new situations requiring the Church’s attention and pastoral care include: mixed or inter-religious marriages; the single-parent family; polygamy; marriages with the consequent problem of a dowry, sometimes understood as the purchase price of the woman; the caste system; a culture of non-commitment and a presumption that the marriage bond can be temporary; forms of feminism hostile to the Church; migration and the reformulation of the very concept of the family; relativist pluralism in the conception of marriage; the influence of the media on popular culture in its understanding of marriage and family life; underlying trends of thought in legislative proposals which devalue the idea of permanence and faithfulness in the marriage covenant; an increase in the practice of surrogate motherhood (wombs for hire); and new interpretations of what is considered a human right. Within the Church, faith in the sacramentality of marriage and the healing power of the Sacrament of Penance show signs of weakness or total abandonment.

Consequently, we can well understand the urgency with which the worldwide episcopate is called upon to gather cum et sub Petro to address these challenges. For example, by simply calling to mind the fact that, as a result of the current situation, many children and young people will never see their parents receive the sacraments, then we understand just how urgent are the challenges to evangelization arising from the current situation, which can be seen in almost every part of the “global village”. Corresponding in a particular manner to this reality today is the wide acceptance of the teaching on divine mercy and concern towards people who suffer on the periphery of societies, globally and in existential situations. Consequently, vast expectations exist concerning the decisions which are to be made pastorally regarding the family. A reflection on these issues by the Synod of Bishops, in addition to it being much needed and urgent, is a dutiful expression of charity towards those entrusted to the Bishops’ care and the entire human family.
II. The Church and the Gospel on the Family
The good news of divine love is to be proclaimed to all those personally living this basic human experience of couples and of a communion open to the gift of children, which is the family community. The teachings of the faith on marriage is to be presented in an articulate and efficacious manner, so that it might reach hearts and transform them in accordance with God’s will, made manifest in Jesus Christ.
The citation of biblical sources on marriage and family in this document are essential references only. The same is true for documentation from the Magisterium which is limited to that of a universal character, including some texts from the Pontifical Council for the Family. It will be left to the bishop-participants at the synod to cite documents from their own episcopal assemblies.
In every age, and in the many different cultures, the teaching of the Pastors has been clear nor has there been lacking the concrete testimony of believers — men and women — in very diverse circumstances who have lived the Gospel of the family as an inestimable gift for their life and their children. The commitment for the next Extraordinary Synod is inspired and sustained by the desire to communicate this message with greater incisiveness, in the hope that “the treasure of revelation, entrusted to the Church, more and more fill the hearts of each person” (DV, 26).
The Plan of God, Creator and Redeemer
The beauty of the biblical message on the family has its roots in the creation of man and woman, both made in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:24-31; 2:4-25). Bound together by an indissoluble sacramental bond, those who are married experience the beauty of love, fatherhood, motherhood, and the supreme dignity of participating in this way in the creative work of God.
In the gift of the fruit of their union, they assume the responsibility of raising and educating other persons for the future of humankind. Through procreation, man and woman fulfill in faith the vocation of being God’s collaborators in the protection of creation and the growth of the human family.
Blessed Pope John Paul II commented on this aspect in Familiaris consortio: “God created man in his own image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26, 27): calling him to existence through love, he called him at the same time for love. God is love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8) and in himself he lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in his own image and continually keeping it in being, God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion (Gaudium et spes, 12). Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (FC, 11).
The plan of God the creator, which was disrupted by original sin (cf. Gen 3:1-24), has revealed itself throughout history in the events of the chosen people up to the fullness of time, when, with the incarnation of the Son of God, not only was the divine will for salvation confirmed, but also the redemption offering the grace to follow this same will.

The Son of God, the Word made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14) in the womb of the Virgin Mother, lived and grew up in the family of Nazareth and participated at the wedding at Cana, where he added importance to the festivities with the first of his “signs” (cf. Jn 2:1-11). In joy, he welcomed his reception in the families of his disciples (cf. Mk 1:29-31; 2:13-17) and consoled the bereaved family of his friends in Bethany (cf. Lk 10:38- 42; Jn 11:1-44 ).
Jesus Christ restored the beauty of matrimony, proposing once again the one plan of God which was abandoned because of the hardness of the human heart, even within the tradition of the people of Israel (cf. Mt 5:31-32; 19:3-12; Mk 10:1-12; Lk 16:18). Returning to the beginning, Jesus taught the unity and faithfulness of the husband and wife, refuting the practice of repudiation and adultery.
Precisely through the extraordinary beauty of human love — already celebrated in a heightened manner inspired by the Song of Songs, and the bond of marriage called for and defended by the prophets like Hosea (cf. Hosea 1:2, 3.3) and Malachi (cf. Mal 2:13-16) — , Jesus affirmed the original dignity of the married love of man and woman.
The Church's Teaching on the Family
Even in the early Christian community the family appeared as the “domestic church” (cf. CCC, 1655): In the so-called “family canons” of the Apostolic letters of the New Testament, the great family of the ancient world is identified as the place of a profound solidarity between husbands and wives, between parents and children, and between the wealthy and the poor (cf. Eph 5:21-6:9; Col 3:18-4:1; 1 Tim 2:8-15; Titus 2:1-10; 1 Pt 2:13-3:7; cf. also the Letter to Philemon). In particular, the Letter to the Ephesians recognized the nuptial love between man and woman as “the great mystery”, making present in the world the love of Christ and the Church (cf. Eph5:31-32 ).
Over the centuries, especially in modern times to the present, the Church has not failed to continually teach and develop her doctrine on the family and marriage which founded her. One of its highest expressions has been proposed by the Second Vatican Council in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, which, in treating certain pressing problems, dedicated an entire chapter to the promotion of the dignity of marriage and the family, as seen in the description of their value for the constitution of society: “the family, in which the various generations come together and help one another grow wiser and harmonize personal rights with the other requirements of social life, is the very foundation of society” (GS, 52). Particularly striking is its appeal for a Christ-centered spirituality in the spouses’ life of faith: "Let the spouses themselves, made to the image of the living God and enjoying the authentic dignity of persons, be joined to one another in equal affection, harmony of mind and the work of mutual sanctification. Thus, following Christ who is the principle of life, by the sacrifices and joys of their vocation and through their faithful love, married people can become witnesses of the mystery of love which the Lord revealed to the world by his dying and his rising up to life again”(GS, 52 ).
After the Second Vatican Council, the successors of St. Peter enriched this teaching on marriage and the family, especially Pope Paul VI with the Enyclical Humanae vitae, which offers specific principles and guidelines. Subsequently, in his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortioPope John Paul II insisted on proposing the divine plan in the basic truths of married love and the family: “The only ‘place’ in which this self-giving in its whole truth is made possible is marriage, the covenant of conjugal love freely and consciously chosen, whereby man and woman accept the intimate community of life and love willed by God himself (cf. Gaudium et spes, 48) which only in this light manifests its true meaning. The institution of marriage is not an undue interference by society or authority, nor the extrinsic imposition of a form. Rather it is an interior requirement of the covenant of conjugal love which is publicly affirmed as unique and exclusive, in order to live in complete fidelity to the plan of God, the Creator. A person's freedom, far from being restricted by this fidelity, is secured against every form of subjectivism or relativism and is made a sharer in creative Wisdom” (FC, 11).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church gathers together the fundamental aspects of this teaching: “The marriage covenant, by which a man and a woman form with each other an intimate communion of life and love, has been founded and endowed with its own special laws by the Creator. By its very nature it is ordered to the good of the couple, as well as to the generation and education of children. Christ the Lord raised marriage between the baptized to the dignity of a sacrament [cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Gaudium et spes, 48; Code of Canon Law, 1055, 1]”(CCC 1660).
The doctrine presented in the Catechism touches on both theological principles and moral behaviours, developed under two separate headings: The Sacrament of Matrimony (nos. 1601-1658) and The Sixth Commandment (nos. 2331-2391). An attentive reading of these sections of the Catechism provides an updated understanding of the doctrine of faith, which supports the Church’s work in the face of modern-day challenges. The Church’s pastoral ministry finds inspiration in the truth of marriage viewed as part of the plan of God, who created man and woman and, in the fullness of time, revealed in Jesus the completeness of spousal love elevated to the level of sacrament. Christian marriage founded on consensus is also endowed with its own effects such as the goods and duties of the spouses. At the same time, marriage is not immune from the effects of sin (cf. Gen 3:1-24), which can cause deep wounds and even abuses to the dignity of the sacrament.
The recent encyclical of Pope Francis, Lumen fidei, speaks of the family in the context of a reflection on how faith reveals “just how firm the bonds between people can be when God is present in their midst” (LF, 50). “The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh (cf.Gen 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan. Grounded in this love, a man and a woman can promise each other mutual love in a gesture which engages their entire lives and mirrors many features of faith. Promising love for ever is possible when we perceive a plan bigger than our own ideas and undertakings, a plan which sustains us and enables us to surrender our future entirely to the one we love” (LF, 52). “Faith is no refuge for the fainthearted, but something which enhances our lives. It makes us aware of a magnificent calling, the vocation of love. It assures us that this love is trustworthy and worth embracing, for it is based on God’s faithfulness which is stronger than our every weakness” ( LF, 53).
III. Questions
The following series of questions allows the particular Churches to participate actively in the preparation of the Extraordinary Synod, whose purpose is to proclaim the Gospel in the context of the pastoral challenges facing the family today.
1. The Diffusion of the Teachings on the Family in Sacred Scripture and the Church’s Magisterium
a) Describe how the Catholic Church’s teachings on the value of the family contained in the Bible, Gaudium et spesFamiliaris consortio and other documents of the post-conciliar Magisterium is understood by people today? What formation is given to our people on the Church’s teaching on family life?
b) In those cases where the Church's teaching is known, is it accepted fully or are there difficulties in putting it into practice? If so, what are they?
c) How widespread is the Church's teaching in pastoral programmes at the national, diocesan and parish levels? What catechesis is done on the family?

d ) To what extent — and what aspects in particular — is this teaching actually known, accepted, rejected and/or criticized in areas outside the Church? What are the cultural factors which hinder the full reception of the Church’s teaching on the family?
2. Marriage according to the Natural Law
a) What place does the idea of the natural law have in the cultural areas of society: in institutions, education, academic circles and among the people at large? What anthropological ideas underlie the discussion on the natural basis of the family?
b) Is the idea of the natural law in the union between a man and a woman commonly accepted as such by the baptized in general?
c) How is the theory and practice of natural law in the union between man and woman challenged in light of the formation of a family? How is it proposed and developed in civil and Church institutions?
d) In cases where non-practicing Catholics or declared non-believers request the celebration of marriage, describe how this pastoral challenge is dealt with?
3. The Pastoral Care of the Family in Evangelization
a) What experiences have emerged in recent decades regarding marriage preparation? What efforts are there to stimulate the task of evangelization of the couple and of the family? How can an awareness of the family as the "domestic Church" be promoted?
b) How successful have you been in proposing a manner of praying within the family which can withstand life’s complexities and today’s culture?
c) In the current generational crisis, how have Christian families been able to fulfill their vocation of transmitting the faith?
d) In what way have the local Churches and movements on family spirituality been able to create ways of acting which are exemplary?
e) What specific contribution can couples and families make to spreading a credible and holistic idea of the couple and the Christian family today?
f) What pastoral care has the Church provided in supporting couples in formation and couples in crisis situations?
4. Pastoral Care in Certain Difficult Marital Situations
a) Is cohabitation ad experimentum a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage?

b) Do unions which are not recognized either religiously or civilly exist? Are reliable statistics available?
c) Are separated couples and those divorced and remarried a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage? How do you deal with this situation in appropriate pastoral programmes?
d) In all the above cases, how do the baptized live in this irregular situation? Are they aware of it? Are they simply indifferent? Do they feel marginalized or suffer from the impossibility of receiving the sacraments?
e) What questions do divorced and remarried people pose to the Church concerning the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation? Among those persons who find themselves in these situations, how many ask for these sacraments?
f ) Could a simplification of canonical practice in recognizing a declaration of nullity of the marriage bond provide a positive contribution to solving the problems of the persons involved? If yes, what form would it take?
g) Does a ministry exist to attend to these cases? Describe this pastoral ministry? Do such programmes exist on the national and diocesan levels? How is God’s mercy proclaimed to separated couples and those divorced and remarried and how does the Church put into practice her support for them in their journey of faith?
5. On Unions of Persons of the Same Sex
a) Is there a law in your country recognizing civil unions for people of the same-sex and equating it in some way to marriage?
b) What is the attitude of the local and particular Churches towards both the State as the promoter of civil unions between persons of the same sex and the people involved in this type of union?
c) What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union?
d) In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?
6. The Education of Children in Irregular Marriages
a) What is the estimated proportion of children and adolescents in these cases, as regards children who are born and raised in regularly constituted families?
b) How do parents in these situations approach the Church? What do they ask? Do they request the sacraments only or do they also want catechesis and the general teaching of religion?
c) How do the particular Churches attempt to meet the needs of the parents of these children to provide them with a Christian education?
d) What is the sacramental practice in these cases: preparation, administration of the sacrament and the accompaniment?
7. The Openness of the Married Couple to Life
a) What knowledge do Christians have today of the teachings of Humanae vitae on responsible parenthood? Are they aware of how morally to evaluate the different methods of family planning? Could any insights be suggested in this regard pastorally?
b) Is this moral teaching accepted? What aspects pose the most difficulties in a large majority of couple’s accepting this teaching?
c) What natural methods are promoted by the particular Churches to help spouses put into practice the teachings of Humanae vitae?
d) What is your experience on this subject in the practice of the Sacrament of Penance and participation at the Eucharist?
e) What differences are seen in this regard between the Church’s teaching and civic education?
f) How can a more open attitude towards having children be fostered? How can an increase in births be promoted?
8. The Relationship Between the Family and the Person
a) Jesus Christ reveals the mystery and vocation of the human person. How can the family be a privileged place for this to happen?
b) What critical situations in the family today can obstruct a person’s encounter with Christ?
c) To what extent do the many crises of faith which people can experience affect family life?
9. Other Challenges and Proposals
What other challenges or proposals related to the topics in the above questions do you consider urgent and useful to treat?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sex Distinguished from Other Bodily Appetites

In its purely physiological aspect sexual experience possesses a distinctive quality totally unlike any other bodily pleasure, and the attraction exerted by the other appetites cannot be compared with the physiological attraction of sex.  The positive and negative values attaching to sex belong to a level far deeper than those which attach to the other bodily appetites.  Indeed, these sexual experiences are characterised by a specific character of mystery which, like the other essential elements of sexuality on which at present we can but briefly touch, must be reserved for fuller treatment later.  In their distinctive quality there is something which penetrates to the very root of man's physical being, and which the other bodily experiences attain only when life itself is at stake.  They have in them something extraordinary which exceeds the bounds of everyday life.  They display a depth and a gravity which  removes them altogether from the province of all other bodily experiences.  

And, as a result, it is characteristic of sex that in virtue of its very significance and nature it tends to become incorporated with experiences of a higher order, purely psychological and spiritual.  Nothing in the domain of sex is so self-contained as the other bodily experiences, e.g., eating and drinking.  The unique profundity of sex in the physical sphere is sufficiently shown by the simple fact that a man's attitude towards it is of incomparably greater moral significance than his attitude to the other bodily appetites.  Surrender to sexual desire for its own sake defiles a man in a way that gluttony, for example, can never do.  It wounds him to the core of his being, and he becomes in an absolutely different and novel fashion guilty of sin.  And even as compared with many other domains of experience which are not physical, sex occupies a central position in the personality.  It represents a factor in human nature which essentially seeks to play a decisive part in man's life.  Sex can indeed keep silence, but when it speaks it is no mere obiter dictum, but a voice from the depths, the utterance of something central and of the utmost significance.  In and with sex, man, in a special sense, gives himself.

This central position is determined by two factors.  The first is that here body and soul meet in a unique fashion, a point to which we must return later.  The second is the peculiar intimacy of sex.  In a certain sense sex is the secret of the individual, which he instinctively hides from others.  It is something which the person concerned feels to be altogether private, something which belongs to his inmost being.  Every disclosure of sex is the revelation of something intimate and personal.  It is the initiation of another into our secret.  It is for this reason that the domain of sex is also the sphere of shame in its most characteristic sense.  We are pre-eminently ashamed to unveil this secret to others.  Whether a man is modest or inmost depends first and foremost on his attitude to sex.

This intimate character is a further proof of the special depth of sex as contrasted with the other bodily functions.  But before everything else it reveals the central position of sex.  And because sex is the secret of the individual, to disclose and surrender oneself.

Dietrich von Hildebrand
In Defence of Purity

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mary - Mother in Mind and Body

As a Protestant, I found two verses in Sacred Scripture which dispelled in my mind the Catholic idea that the Blessed Virgin Mary was, well, anything special.  I thought Almighty God just looked down from heaven one day and found a good, young woman (teenager, even) and decided she would "be the one."  These are the golden "proof texts" which I, and others, believe prove that Mary was just...ordinary:

"Then his mother and his brethren came to him, but they could not reach him for the crowd.  And he was told, 'Your mother and your brethren are standing outside, desiring to see you.'  But he said to them, 'My mother and my brethren are those who hear the word of God and do it.'"
(Luke 8:19-21)

"As he said this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, 'Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked.'  But he said, 'Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"
(Luke 11:27-28)

 After converting to Catholicism,  and reading and studying numerous books on Mariology,  I found this quote, from a sermon by St. Augustine, the most concise and most pleasing refutation of my old misconceptions:

Stretching out his hand over his disciples, the Lord Christ declared:  "Here are my mother and my brothers, anyone who does the will of my Father who sent me is my brother and my sister and my mother."  I would urge you to ponder these words.  Did the Virgin Mary, who believed by faith and conceived by faith, who was the chosen one from whom our Savior was born among men, who was created by Christ before Christ was created in her - did she not do the will of the Father?  Indeed the blessed Mary certainly did the Father's will, and so it was for her a greater thing to have been Christ's disciple than to have been his mother, and she was more blessed in her discipleship than in her motherhood.  Hers was the happiness of first bearing in her womb him whom she would obey as her master.

Now listen and see if the words of Scripture do not agree with what I have said.  The Lord was passing by and crowds were following him.  His miracles gave proof of divine power, and a woman cried out:  "Happy is the womb that bore you, blessed is that womb!" But the Lord, not wishing people to seek happiness in a purely physical relationship, replied:  "More blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it."  Mary heard God's word and kept it, and so she is blessed.  She kept God's truth in her mind, a nobler thing than carrying his body in her womb.  The truth and the body were both Christ:  he was kept in Mary's mind insofar as he is truth, he was carried in her womb insofar as he is man; but what is kept in the mind is of a higher order than what is carried in the womb.

The Virgin Mary is both holy and blessed, and yet the Church is greater than she.  Mary is part of the Church, a member of the Church, a holy, an eminent - the most eminent - member, but still only a member of the entire body.  The body undoubtedly is greater than she, one of its members.  This body has the Lord for its head, and head and body together make up the whole Christ.  In other words, our head is divine - our head is God.

Now, beloved, give me your whole attention, for you also are members of Christ; you also are the body of  Christ.  Consider how you yourselves can be among those of whom the Lord said:  "Here are my mother and my brothers."  Do you wonder how you can be the mother of Christ?  He himself said:  Whoever hears and fulfills the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and my sister and my mother."  As for our being the brothers and sisters of Christ, we can understand this because although there is only one inheritance and Christ is the only Son, his mercy would not allow him to remain alone.  It was his wish that we too should be heirs of the Father, and co-heirs with himself.

Now having said that all of you are brothers of Christ, shall I not dare to call you his mother?  Much less would I dare to deny his own words.  Tell me how Mary became the mother of Christ, if it was not by giving birth to the members of Christ?  You, to whom I am speaking, are the members of Christ.  Of whom were you born?  "Of Mother Church," I hear the reply of your hearts.  You became sons of this mother at your baptism, you came to birth then as members of Christ.  Now you in your turn must draw to the font of baptism as many as you possibly can.  You became sons when you were born there yourselves, and now by bringing others to birth in the same way, you have it in your power to become the mothers of Christ. (Office of Readings for November 21)

Mary is the mother of Christ both in mind and body.  She is mother of the Church and our mother.  We, too, become mother and brother and sister of Christ, by virtue of our baptism and our "yes" to Almighty God.  A lifetime isn't enough to meditate on these beautiful truths. 

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of Mary.  You may read about it here.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Fidelity to Error is not a Virtue

Dietrich von Hildebrand, begins his book, Transformation in Christ, quoting St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, and states that all must pass through this gate if we wish to reach the goal set before us by God:

Put off the old man who is corrupted according to the desire of error, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind:  and put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth.  (Eph. 4:22-24)

von Hildebrand says, that the man who has a supernatural readiness to change, seeing his life by a supernatural light and not merely by natural standards, is conscious of his wretchedness, and will not sink into resignation: "for he possesses a supernatural zeal for perfection, expecting the supreme fructification of the talents which God has in reality entrusted to him from his transformation in Christ, rather than from his own effort alone."  He continues:  "Whatever his nature be like, he will know that it is possible for him to become another man if he is rightly disposed for being created anew by Christ - mindful of the words which the king in the parable addresses to his guest:  'Friend, how camest thou in hither not having on a wedding garment?'  (Matt. 22:12).   The state of fluidity in relation to Christ, and the readiness to leave behind everything, particularly one's own self - such is the tissue of which the festive garment is woven."
von Hildebrand states that this state of fluidity can be obstructed when people adhere to errors, by attributing value to what is not genuine virtue.  He says:  "What claims our faithfulness is the presence of genuine values.  Fidelity is but a manifestation of that continuity by virtue of which we pay consideration to the immutability and the eternal significance of truth and of the world of values.
"To abide by a thing inflexibly, merely because we have once believed in it and have come to love it, is not in itself a praiseworthy attitude.  It is only in reference to truth and to genuine value that unswerving loyalty is an obligation, and a virtue.  In regard to all errors and negative values (that is, evils in the widest sense of the term, but particularly in a morally relevant sense) we have, on the contrary, the duty to break with what we formerly cherished and to withdraw our allegiance from them, once we know them to be false and negative in value.  Indeed, the obligation of fidelity in a formal and automatic sense must not hamper our readiness to separate ourselves from such ideals or convictions, once we have serious reasons to doubt their validity.  There is only one fidelity to which we are absolutely committed:  that is, fidelity towards God, the epitome of all values, and towards everything that represents God and is instrumental to us in approaching Him."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Who is Dietrich von Hildebrand?

Born October 12, 1889 in Florence of German parents, Dietrich von Hildebrand was an original philosopher and religious writer, a brave anti-Nazi activist, an outspoken Christian witness, and a unique representative of Western culture - truly a great figure in twentieth century religious, political, intellectual, and cultural history. As the son of a famous sculptor, von Hildebrand grew up in an unusually rich aesthetic milieu, receiving a formation that allowed him to become an eminently cultured man. He was, quite literally, a Renaissance man.

Von Hildebrand studied philosophy under Edmund Husserl, who declared his dissertation to be a work of genius. He was profoundly influenced by his close friend, the brilliant German philosopher Max Scheler, who helped to pave the way for von Hildebrand's conversion to Catholicism in 1914.

When Hitler rose to power in 1933, von Hildebrand was among the first to recognize and denounce the evil of Hitler and Nazism. A persona non grata in Germany, he left everything and went penniless to Vienna where he founded an anti-Nazi newspaper. With the German occupation of Austria in 1938, von Hildebrand became a political fugitive. Fleeing through Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, France, Portugal, and Brazil, he eventually arrived in the United States in 1940 where he taught for many years at Fordham University in New York City.

Read the entire story at the

I have been so touched by his story, and the story of his wife, Alice.  I have been blessed during the many hours which I have spent watching and listening to interviews with Alice on the EWTN series,  A Knight for Truth:  Transformation in ChristI have become a student of Phenomenology and von Hildebrand's philosophy of Personalism,  joining St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)  and Blessed Pope John Paul II as students of this philosophy.  I am equally blessed to be studying his books, especially his book of the same name,  Transformation in Christ.  Both Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have commented on the greatness of this twentieth century philosopher and religious writer: 

Pope John Paul II called Dietrich von Hildebrand "one of the great ethicists of the twentieth century." Pope Benedict XVI said this about von Hildebrand, "When the intellectual history of the Catholic Church in the twentieth century is written, the name of Dietrich von Hildebrand will be most prominent among the figures of our time." 

von Hildebrand begins Transformation with man's need and desire to change.   He contrasts the idealist's natural optimism and readiness to develop and perfect himself by his own power with the Christian who knows the "essential inadequacy of all natural morality, as well as the incomparable superiority of virtue supernaturally founded,"  which is the virtue of holiness.

von Hildebrand says:  "His readiness to change will differ, therefore, from that of the Christian, above all in the following respects.  First, he has in mind a relative change only:  an evolution immanent to nature.  His endeavor is not, as is the Christian's, to let his nature as a whole be transformed from above, nor to let his character be stamped with a new coinage, a new face, as it were, whose features far transcend human nature and all its possibilities.  His object is not to be reborn:  to become radically - from the root, that is - another man; he merely wants to perfect himself within the framework of his natural dispositions . . . whereas, with the Christian, it refers to a basic transformation and redemption of things human by things divine:  to a supernatural goal."

von Hildebrand continues:  "The idealist's readiness to change is aimed at certain details or aspects only, never at his character as a whole.  The aspiring man of natural morality is intent on eradicating this defect, on acquiring that virtue; the Christian, however, is intent on becoming another man in all things, in regard to both what is bad and what is naturally good in him.  He knows that what is naturally good, too, is insufficient before God:  that it, too must submit to supernatural transformation to a re-creation, we might say, by the new principle of supernatural life conveyed to him by Baptism."

I hope you join me on this journey of discovery - discovery of the von Hildebrands, of St. Edith Stein, of Blessed John Paul the Great.  May you be as blessed as I have been.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

New Name - New Focus

This, my friends, is Step Two on the little ladder of my life.  I've given up Rantings on the Bay,  but I must admit I won't miss her although she served me well, when I needed her.  Here, I hope to share my passion for Jesus Christ and my beloved Catholic Church.  I will be passing along Catholic news,  information about the Church, the Saints, EWTN, prayer, and my favorite topic Phenomenology.  I will spend much time passing on the teachings of Dietrich von Hildebrand and his wife, Alice.  I hope you enjoy, are blessed, and will pray for me.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Step Two

A friend of mine told me recently that I was ready for Step Two.  That my unceasing days of depression and lack of self confidence (ahem, esteem) were over.  That I have more talent in my little finger than he does in his entire body.  WELL.  What to do with THAT?  I did not really believe my friend, but listened and tried to stop the depressive tears which I had been wiping away all day long. 

I had been pondering the responses to a post I made over in Facebookville.  I said: 

how do you feel when you are no longer needed?  when your children leave the nest...when your spouse dies...when you divorce...when you are fired from your job and can't find another in your field...when you become ill and can no longer work as you once had?  how do you feel when the worth you once had is...gone?

I was very surprised at the responses.  My dear friend AC told me I was "so needed".  Another dear friend told me she had suffered similar losses.  Another said,  "I was laid off from my job and have been applying for jobs every day with no luck...".  One priest totally surprised me with:  That is not the voice of God or of faith speaking.  (((Bummer)))

So, here I am blogging again.  I have crashed and am beginning to rise again.  I believe my friend's "Step Two" line, and am talking myself into the "I am confident, I am worth something, I can do something" thing.  When I made the post in Facebookville,  I wasn't making the, "I'm crying out-suicidal-Post"...I wanted to know how others felt when they felt their "worth" had changed. 

I still wonder about my "worth", but I'm giving the Step Two a try.