Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Beauty in All Things

This article appeared at Catholic.Exchange.com and Catholic.Mom.com.

The Catholic Conscience as Moral Compass: Media Discernment for Families

Perhaps you’ve seen the hype surrounding the December release of the new movie The Golden Compass. We are used to Hollywood hype to promote a film. But much of the hype is coming from the movie’s opposition: The Catholic League, a Catholic civil rights organization (and media watchdog), plus numerous Catholic websites, blogs, and an extensive grassroots email campaign. All are cautioning Catholics against letting their children see the film. Parents need to always use “media discernment,” and for more on that, read the article below. (To read my review on “The Golden Compass” click here.)

No doubt about it, this is a challenging culture in which to raise Catholic families. So, what’s a parent to do when encountering the constant values-clash from the media? For the sake of our families, we must actively discern what is best for our families when it comes to use of the media, especially when it comes to entertainment. In general, we need to evaluate such things on a case by case basis, based on the content or perceived content of a film (or whatever) and make a conscientious judgment as to whether we let our children engage it or not.

I recommend parents subscribe to the wisdom of St. Paul: “Test everything; hold fast to what is good, abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5: 21-22.) Based on my own experience, as a mother and as a media professional, some broad suggestions are given below. I’ve tried to provide a context in which you might develop your own “family media standards.” I’ve also tried to share what has honestly “worked” in our family. You can take it or leave it. But whatever you choose to do, always pray about how your family chooses to respond to media, and seek the Lord’s leading in holding fast “to what is good.”

Catholic parents are charged with the task and moral responsibility of being the primary educators of their children.

The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to find an adequate substitute. It is therefore the duty of parents to create a family atmosphere inspired by love and devotion to God and their fellow-men which will promote an integrated, personal and social education of their children. The family is therefore the principal school of the social virtues which are necessary to every society. In fact education is the parents' domain insofar as their educational task continues the generation of life; moreover, it is an offering of their humanity to their children to which they are solemnly bound in the very moment of celebrating their marriage. Parents are the first and most important educators of their children, and they also possess a fundamental competency in this area: they are educators because they are parents.

---Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, par. 23.[A 1995 document from the Pontifical Council for the Family. [To read more, go here .]

Explicitly this means taking an active interest in anything that has an outside influence on your child. Implicitly this means we take seriously the task of helping our children form a Christian conscience to bring about social virtues. In short, everything children learn from their parents, family members, peers, schooling, culture, and media either adds to conscience formation or tears it down.

We encounter and experience media as a kind of “educational value,” which of course, can be positive or negative. Everything we take in from the media through our senses can be broadly categorized as “media content” or “media intake”. All media is a message. This covers the media gamut: books and other print media, television, radio, music, computer and video images both on the internet and video games, and, of course, movies. All of it has specific content that we take in and interpret.

All media influences in one way or another and has the power to produce change in those who receive the message. While there are countless examples of media’s influence for good or ill, here’s just one on the negative side concerning children: “Media violence affects children's behavior states the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, and American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (Congressional Public Health Summit, 2000). [Source: National Institute on Media and the Family; http://www.mediafamily.org/facts/facts_vlent.shtml .]”

So, in the name of equipping families in engaging the media culture, may I suggest the following three steps that parents can take when it comes to discerning appropriate media content for their families: parents can be protective, selective, or elective.

With each developmental stage in a child’s life, only you, the parent, can truly determine what choice is appropriate for your child. When a child is small, we are openly protective, (which is the strictest stage.) As children mature, parents make the shift to being less strict, but still selective—all the while teaching youngsters how to be selective and discerning for themselves. Once again, conscience formation is the proper orientation. Our ultimate goal is to raise wise young adults who are elective—with properly formed consciences—capable of making free choices that reflect what is good while avoiding evil.

Being protective, selective, and eventually, elective, varies by the age and needs of each child. Such formation of conscience is a process; it is good to avoid extremes. Excessive permissiveness or unlimited access to media, as well as complete rejection of the media can have negative long-term effects. The goal is to have parents seek to form in their child a conscience that can make a balanced response to all media intake for the sake of their own good, and certainly, to “avoid evil.” To that end, parents must be involved and engaged in the life of their child to varying degrees as a child grows.

For the youngest children, up until about the age of reason—around 7—for most children: a parent must be the most protective regarding media intake. During the protective years, a parent will most likely strive to monitor everything a child is exposed to. Nothing your child watches or reads or plays should escape your protective and sheltering gaze and interpretation. Children may choose their books, TV shows, computer and video games, or movies from within the collection that meets with your approval.

It is here that you as a parent lay the foundation. It is here that you are guardian, defender, and most likely, the source of all truth. It is here that you establish boundaries and norms for your child. This usually means avoiding content dealing with sex, violence, moral deviance, pornography, and profanity.

At these tender ages, you introduce simple concepts about God and His Love, while discussing Bible stories and their meanings. (Certainly, other stories may certainly fit within the “criteria” as being “good” as well.) In short, this is what you will draw on in the years to come. You lead by example, as well, when it comes to limiting exposure to media.

And if your little ones are in the care of others, you make your media “guidelines” known to their caregivers.

In the grade school years – ages 7-10, your child explores the wider world of media—but now it is together as parent and child. This is what I call the selective years. This is when you begin to give your child the language and the normsthey need to develop a discerning ear, eye, and mind to the content of all they hear, see, and consider. You are still very much monitoring their media intake, still managing what’s appropriate and what’s not, but now you take a different tact: you deliberately engage their mind and heart.

You are taking the next step in their conscience formation. You still talk about God and Bible stories, but with an emphasis on how the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount apply to morality. You may also add to their knowledge of the faith through religious education and offering the lives of the saints (and others) as heroic role models.

You model being selectively discerning to your child by your own example, and by showing loving concern for what is said and heard. You discuss media content from the standpoint of moral choices and moral courage. You look for “teachable moments.” Some of which can be planned around a media activity, or some which just happen spontaneously as you encounter the world around you. Specifically, you ask your child engaging questions and discuss the answers. For example: What would you have done in that situation? How could the character make a better choice? What does the story remind you of? What mistakes were made? Who was the bravest, kindest, strongest, or most loving? What was good/holy/pure? What was bad/evil/depraved? Did you hear those words, and do you know what they mean? Who made sacrifices and why? What did it cost them? Who took the easy way out? What did that mean? Would you like to see it, read it, or play it again? And if so, why or why not?

In middle school—ages 11- 14, the real work of media discernment for parents begins. These are the years when a child’s peer group really makes a difference—for better or worse—in the tastes and exposure your children have to all forms of media. And the influence from peers is a mixed bag—some are still very immature emotionally, and some are entering into puberty and thinking they are very mature. And many of the children your child meets may have had little to no Christian influence in their homes.

If you have built foundations in the earlier years, most likely, your children will respect the guidelines you have set regarding the kinds of media content you allow. They will begin to have a “gut” knowledge—a sense of right and wrong even when they are out of your sight—that’s their conscience starting to “kick in.” But, these continue to be years to teach selective discernment. Again, your example speaks volumes. Once in a while, you may have to pull “the protective plug” on something altogether. But if you do, suggest alternatives. You'll see I emphatically recommend this again later on.

Since media is available at every turn at this age, it becomes harder to screen it all. This is usually the point where you might have to rely on other sources to help you sort out which books, music, movies, TV, and video games are appropriate. Over the years, I have used the Dove Foundation for movies reviews and content (at http://www.dove.org/default.asp ), the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops movie reviews (at http://www.usccb.org/movies/), and Focus on the Family’s “Plugged-in” for movies, music and more (at http://www.pluggedinonline.com/), among others.

I also value the opinion of a few trusted Christian friends with similar parenting styles to recommend and share media. In a similar way I have consulted faithful Catholic school teachers and homeschoolers for quality, recommended reading for different ages.

The bottom line is: researching media entertainment is commonplace when your child is in middle school. So, here are a few more suggestions that have helped us: besides the resources above, use the internet, the library, and the stores that sell media products.

To review a film, go to the film’s website, see the trailers, or read reviews. My favorite site for movie content details in http://www.dove.org/ as listed above, but if you can’t find what you are looking for there, remember that every major film does its own promotional ads on the internet. View it yourself. Then do a “gut check”… see how you feel about it. If something nags at you, don’t bother letting your child see it. But offer an alternative movie if possible… and if you can’t, here’s a suggestion: at our house, sometimes a movie night turned into a night at the batting cages or a Frisbee game at the beach instead. Again, your input and engagement as a parent is critical. Finding alternatives really helps strengthen the parent-teen relationship in those difficult moments. When you have to say “no” to something, give your clear reasons why, and then suggest what you can say “yes” to! This, of course, might mean you have to be “on call” to help make the new plan happen, but it helps solidify in your teens mind that you have their best interest at heart.

For book content, it always helps to read a book in advance of your child, but that is often impossible. Check out www.Amazon.com and other book sites. Often you can read a chapter or two and make a determination, again on your “gut check.” Again, ask around. Go to the library or bookstore. Your local librarian is often a wealth of knowledge, especially on teen literature. Don’t forget trusted teachers! I also try to skim books that are assigned reading from school and talk about the content with my child.

My husband and I read. We buy books that we like approve of and keep them on the shelves at home for our teen readers.

Last but not least, many teen-targeted magazines sold on the racks in local stores are often filled with materialistic and over-sexualized messages in terms of content, and are best ignored.

Music can be a real danger zone. Proceed with caution! Likes and tastes vary. But in our house, we use the same context as before—it all has an influence, so we only listen and buy what is good. Years back, I used to make trips to the music store to review the current music. (Often I went without my kids, so I could freely scrutinize something, listen to a demo, and form an opinion.) Tuning into radio that is popular with young people is also helpful. And those are still options for parents who want to research modern musical selections. However, with the advent of iPods and mp3 players, online music purchases from home are more and more common. Kids download music without having to ask parents to drive them to the store. (And often can do so without a parent’s notice.) Review their selections—especially if you are paying for them! I review the downloaded music library on the family computer.

In the middle school years, (before real access to paying jobs influenced their media-buying power), I told my kids that I’d pay for all the Christian music they wanted to buy. Anything outside of that, they had to pay for with their own money. It was amazing how suddenly the “must-have” tunes could wait… and just as amazing how much I spent on Christian artists!

To review video games and computer games, nothing is more eye-opening than for a parent to go to the store where the games are sold. Besides what you can glean from the labeling and ratings, I suggest you talk to one of the employees in the games department. All the big game stores have them: guys who can tell you everything about every “level” in the game, right down to the overtly explicit content (soft-porn and gratuitous violence) in the games rated “M” for mature, but also sometimes in games rated “T” for teens. Don’t be afraid to question them.

Finally, do whatever it takes to filter out pornography and unacceptable cable channels via your internet and cable connections. This takes time and effort and money. Be a selective consumer, and when you pay your bill related to interconnectivity, tell your internet and cable providers your preferences and why. In our home, we were able to put off using a cable connection until our oldest entered seventh grade. By middle school, in our region of the country, internet access and computer usage is now a “given” in education and getting connected was better than constant trips to the public library 5 miles away. But it demanded due diligence on our part as parents regarding media intake.


Beyond age 14 and into high school, the media content question moves from selective to elective. (Here we define “elective” as a self-choice with appropriate boundaries. It is not a license for immorality.) Here, the teen is electing what they’d like to watch, read or listen to, but it is still subject to discussion by parents. Healthy input regarding the morality issues in media is still commonplace. But here is where the parent must begin to test their teenager’s discernment abilities. High school is a time for them to learn to govern their media choices, just as it is time for them to make other important moral choices related to relationships, behavior, academics and activities.

In our house, if we saw a teen was consistently making good media choices, we allowed them more freedom to continue to do so. If a teen was still showing immaturity regarding appropriate choices, the opposite took place. And if that outcome was rejected by the teen, we parents had to be strong enough to take the heat, while still maintaining a loving posture toward that teen. This means that there are still times when a parent must say no to teen’s elective choice if it is absolutely warranted.

The point is, by the time teens enter high school, what the “family standard” is for media content should not be a surprise. It should be something that is in place and regarded by all.
In general, for teens, R-rated music, videos, books and movies were off-limits, and even some PG-13 based on theme. Again, selectivity must be grounded by faith and morals.

Now, what I propose next may sound controversial, or, even a discounting of what I’ve just offered in terms of a family media standard, but hear me out… I have found that my teens’ limited exposure to certain morally objectionable themes in movies, or television—pre-selected and simultaneously viewed by my husband or myself with our teens—have allowed us to have useful and on-going conversations about important moral topics with our teens. Remember that St. Paul says to “test everything”? In this way, we have used movies and television as a teaching tool to discuss Christian values that were either present or absent in the program. Judiciously used, it can be part of the testing ground to see how far our teens have come in moral development. It is a way of engaging the media together while helping to continue conscience formation. Again, these are judgments we made based on the maturity of the teen, and the theme of the movie or program. This is not tacit approval of immorality and we make this clear—but here we try to remind them our moral standards, and help them in identifying evil and immorality found both overtly or covertly in media. You might say that this approach is in some ways like using the negative experiences of others to help us avoid our own negative experiences later. We use these as “teachable moments”—as appropriate to age and maturity—in much the same way that we discuss items events in the news. Even the negatives you come across in media can be used to help teens distinguish the good and avoid evil. And these are precisely the discernment skills we want to form in our teens for the sake of their futures. Let’s move on.

Your family media standards may also include some “house rules” as to when and where media is enjoyed. For example, all teens taking in media content on the home television or computer screens, or anything playing aloud, must not adversely influence the younger children in the house. So, if thematically the content is appropriate for an 18 year old to watch or hear, but his younger 11 year old brother is in the room, it had to be appropriate for the younger brother. In other words, the age appropriateness of family viewing is always based on the youngest family member present. This might mean teens need to do their watching or listening after the younger one is in bed at night, or some other time parents deem appropriate.

If you think that this implies that teens should not have televisions and computers in there bedrooms, you are right. This may be an unpopular idea, but in our home, our family media standard means that personal televisions and computers are not an option until one goes to college. At times, we have resorted to a second, portable screen for younger sibs to watch something different when it conflicted with a major sports event that the older ones wanted to watch, but that’s about it. I have impressed the idea to my older teens that their examples (including media selections) had an influence over their younger sibs. And that they needed to be respectful of the family media guidelines we share.

Remember that the messages in media have the power to change someone, and that can be for good or for ill. No one is immune. Be especially sensitive to the easy access to pornography via the internet. One can even accidentally be exposed to it. Even with the best firewalls and internet filters, new and insidious pop-ups and enticing ads can continue to find access points to your desktop. Click on the “history” button on your web browser and see where your teens have been. This is not spying or a privacy issue. You are paying for this computer and you have an obligation to protect and defend the dignity of the persons who use it. You are making sure that the computer is a tool for good and not for evil.

One last important point: for middle-school and high-school aged teens, media-related entertainment is often their recreational default. It takes a lot of planning, (and, at times, financing) to suggest other forms of entertainment. It means a parent must be engaged in a caring hands-on way. During these years, we have done our best to suggest non-media activities for our teens and their friends: cultural outings, adventures outdoors, a day in the city or country, museums, sports, picnics, flea markets, biking, hiking, community service, pool parties, game nights, local festivals and shows, cooking for “fun”, crafts, camping, church youth group, anything that engages the mind and body, and fosters communication between persons, without the need to be plugged in, tuned in, or logged on!

This article ran previously on Catholic.Mom.com
©2007 Patricia W. Gohn

The Molder of Saints

This article appeared previously at CatholicExchange.com and Catholic. Mom.com.

Countdown to Launch

This article appeared previously at Catholic.Mom.com.

Live the Gift: Self-donation is Vocation (4th article in the "Theology of the Body" series)

This article is the fourth in a series that appeared previously at Catholic.Mom.com.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Theology of the Body series: "God's Love Story: In The Beginning"

The third article in a series on “Theology of the Body.”

To read the first article, go here.
To read the second, go here.

There’s nothing more enjoyable than when we gather around a family photo album to enjoy a session of “remember when?” Years ago when my wedding album would come off the shelf, my small children would marvel at Mom and Dad all dressed up and posing with their relatives. Inevitably, a little one would ask: “where was I, Mommy?” I would then explain to that in the beginning of our marriage they were not born yet, but God had a great plan for them to become part of our family in the years to come. While our family’s love story began before their birth, the joys and blessings found in that early beginning served as a template for the loving family heritage that grew with the birth of each child.

In the same way, our understanding of the theology of the body requires a retelling of the love story between God and us. We’ve got to uncover the pre-history, the original plan, the heavenly template, that God had in mind long before we arrived on the scene.

To find the true meaning of the body and sex—we need to probe the depth of God’s plan for our lives, from the beginning. We must, in some way, recapture our loving heritage by turning to these beginnings.

Jesus mentions this beginning when he replied to the Pharisees regarding marriage and the Mosaic Law that permitted divorce: “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” (Mt 19:8). Jesus boldly stands for the Father’s original plan.

Taking a cue from Jesus and the gospel, Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body reexamines God’s plan by delving deeply into “the beginning”: the biblical account of Adam and Eve in Genesis. Through it, we discover the meaning of love, marriage, the body, and sex, as God intended it—before sin entered into the Garden, and before we had to live with the consequences.

A rereading of the first two chapters of Genesis provides the context of original innocence for first man and woman. According to John Paul II, we have “echoes” of that experience our lives, even though sin has entered the world.

Three original human experiences—solitude, unity and nakedness—belonged to Adam and Eve, and, John Paul II says, they “are always at the root of every human experience… They are, in fact, so intermingled with the ordinary things of life that we do not generally notice their extraordinary character.” (General audience, Dec. 12, 1979.) These experiences define us as human persons. Let us explore them now.

Original solitude
Christopher West, in his book, Theology of the Body for Beginners helps us understand original solitude:

“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help fit for him’” (Gn 2:18). The most obvious meaning of this “solitude” is that the man is alone without woman. But the Pope mines a deeper meaning from this verse. This creation account doesn’t even distinguish between male and female until after Adam’s “deep sleep.” Here Adam represents all of us—men and women (adam in Hebrew means “man” in the generic sense). Man is “alone” in that he’s the only bodily creature in God’s image and likeness. Man is “alone” in the visible world as a person.[1]

Adam is most definitely different from the animals. In naming the animals, the man discovers he is different from them both in body and in self-governance. But more importantly, Adam has human freedom. His mind and will allow him to be self-determined. Indeed, he is a self, and as yet, he is the only one created in God’s image.

West continues:

Why was Adam endowed with freedom? Because Adam was called to love, and without freedom, love is impossible. In his solitude, Adam realizes that love is his origin, his vocation, and his destiny. Unlike the animals, he’s invited to enter a “covenant of love” with God himself. It is this relationship of love with God that defines Adam’s “solitude” more than anything else. Tasting this love, he also longs with all his being to share this love (covenant) with another person like himself. This is why it’s “not good for the man to be alone.”[2]

John Paul says, “The body expresses the person.” (General Audience, October 31, 1979). This solitude allows for the discovery of personhood. We see this in little babies all the time. As they grow and discover and use their bodies, they are able to express their personhood better. The relationships they have with others deepen. Their experience of human freedom also grows and allows them to eventually choose for good or for evil. In the experience of solitude, a person discovers the two-fold nature his vocation: to love God and others. We are made for something more than ourselves.

Original unity
Upon seeing the creation of woman, Adam declares, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” (Gn. 2:23). For this new body (Eve) reflects and expresses a person, whose two-fold vocation is also to love God and love another. Both man and woman share a common humanity that is made in the image and likeness of God.

The unity and union of man and woman overcomes solitude. Recall that, in the theology of the body, the human body is capable of making visible what is invisible. It can reveal divine love. The Catechism states: “in marriage, the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and a pledge of spiritual communion” (CCC 2360). This communion of persons is true unity.

West, again, expounds:

Becoming “one flesh,” therefore, refers not only to the joining of two bodies (as with animals) but is “a ‘sacramental’ expression which corresponds to the communion of persons” (General Audience, June 25, 1980)… The human body makes visible the invisible mystery of God who himself is an eternal Communion of Persons; of God who himself is love.

Here the Pope presents a dramatic development of Catholic thinking. Traditionally theologians have said we image God as individuals, through our rational soul. This is certainly true. But John Paul II takes it a step further when he states: “Man becomes the image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion.” In other words, man images God “not only through his humanity, but also through the communion of persons which man and woman form right from the beginning.” He even says that this “constitutes, perhaps, the deepest theological aspect of all that can be said about man.” Finally, he observes that on “all this, right from the beginning, there descended the blessing of fertility.” (General Audience, Nov. 14, 1979). [3]

Here, as we’ve seen before, the greatest dignity of marital love is in imaging the Trinity and becoming co-creators with God the Father in creating new life!

Original nakedness
Of the three—solitude, unity and nakedness—this experience of original nakedness is, perhaps, the hardest one for us to take in. So many of us suffer from sinful distortions our culture has taught us regarding sex; our minds often attach experiential baggage to the words we read. But, once again, we’re asked to go back to the beginning, to try to see with new eyes, to find the “echo” of this original innocence.

Returning to Genesis we read: “The man and the woman were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gn. 2:25). How many people reading passage relate to it as exactly the opposite? Well, John Paul II knows this but goes on to say that we must understand this idea of original nakedness, for it is “precisely the key” for understanding God’s original plan for human life.

West helps to interpret:

[How] can we understand original nakedness when we…have no direct experience of it? We do so only by contrast; by looking at our own experience of shame and “flipping it over.”A woman doesn’t feel the need to cover her body when she’s alone in the shower. But if a strange man burst into the bathroom she would. Why? The Pope proposes that “shame” in this sense is a form of self-defense against being treated as an object for sexual use… [not] meant to be treated as a “thing”… Experience teaches her that men (because of the lust that resulted from original sin) tend to objectify women’s bodies. Therefore, the women covers her body not because its “bad” or “shameful.” She covers herself to protect her own dignity from the stranger’s “lustful look”—a look that fails to respect her God-given dignity as a person.

Take this experience of fear (shame) in the presence of another person, “flip it over” and we arrive at Adam and Eve’s experience of nakedness without shame. Lust (self-seeking sexual desire) hadn’t yet entered the human heart. Hence, our first parents experienced a total defenselessness in each other’s presence because the other’s look posed no threat whatsoever to their dignity. As John Paul poetically expresses, they “see and know each other…with all the peace of the interior gaze….” They saw God’s plan of love (theology) inscribed in their naked bodies and that’s exactly what they desired—to love as God loves in and through their bodies. And there is no fear (shame) in love. “Perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18.)[4]

A proper understanding of original nakedness leads us to the truth about God’s original plan for our lives: the creation of sexual desire was not a bad thing, but a good thing—something God intends us to use so we can love as He loves. Finally, according to John Paul, such awareness allows Adam and Eve to love fully with the “freedom of the gift, (General Audience, Jan. 16, 1980).”

West writes:

Only a person who is free from the compulsion of lust is capable of being a true “gift” to another. The “freedom of the gift” then, is the freedom to bless, which is the freedom from the compulsion to grasp and possess. It is this freedom that allowed the first couple to be “naked without shame.”[5]


So to what is the benefit to knowing these ideas about original solitude, original unity and original nakedness? First, we learn that God is the creator of sex; it is designed by Him and it is good. This teaches us about our own goodness, our own dignity.

Second, it gives us a radical new context for understanding the power of Christ’s redemption in our lives, especially, our sexual lives. We must understand that modern society’s view of human life and love has distorted what God ordained from the beginning. But thanks to the salvation won for us in Christ Jesus, we can “return” to knowing God’s plan and attempting to live it out by the grace Christ gives us. The Catechism reminds us: Jesus came to restore creation to the purity of its origins. (CCC 2336).

And again,

By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, [Jesus] himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God. It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses that spouses will be able to "receive" the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ. (CCC 1615).

Third, we learn the sublime “nuptial meaning of the body”: the body that is capable of expressing love, whereby one person becomes a gift to another, by making a sincere gift of self, and by becoming this gift, fulfills the meaning of being and existence. And when such a gift is mutually given and received, a third being proceeds from such a union.

One last quote from West:

When we have the purity to see it, this is what the human body teaches us. The nuptial meaning of the body (that is, the call to love that God inscribed in our flesh) reveals what Vatican II describes as “the universal call to holiness.”[6]

Let us turn back to God’s original ideas. Let us make the journey, with the help of Christ, to renew our sexual lives, and to grow in holiness. For God’s love story is our love story.
©2007 Patricia W. Gohn
[1] Christopher West. Theology of the Body for Beginners. West Chester, PA: Ascension Press, 2004. p. 22.
[2] Ibid, p. 23.
[3] Ibid, p. 25.
[4] Ibid, p. 27.
[5] Ibid, p. 27-28.
[6] Ibid, p. 30.
Our next topic in this series will probe the call to holiness and a good moral life.For more detailed presentation of the themes explored in this article, see chapter two of Christopher West’s book, Theology Of The Body For Beginners .

Friday, April 13, 2007

Prom Mom's Prayers

This article ran previously on Catholic Exchange and Catholic Mom.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Piano Lessons at Christmas

This article ran previously ran on CatholicExchange.com and Catholic.Mom.com.

The Lessons of Paradox

This article ran previously on www.Catholic.Mom.com and www.CatholicExchange.com.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Beauty in All Things

This article ran previously on Catholic.mom.com.

"The beauty of Creation reflects the infinite Beauty of the Creator."(Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 341)

I live in New England--the quintessential capital of stunningly beautiful fall foliage. These cool, brisk days bring my sweaters out of hiding and a fondness for taking works breaks in the great outdoors just to drink in the beauty of my neighborhood. It renews me. I feel closer to God somehow in the midst of the majesty of creation. Watching falling leaves inspires me. I see the Artist's hand in their form and function. They speak to me in a rather mystical way.

By looking more closely at my surroundings, I see anew the ordinary objects in my daily life. They, too, preach a sermon and have a hidden beauty that only the eyes of love can see. Dishes in the sink reflect that we are eating well. Shoes piled up at the front door tell the story of family homecomings after the day's events. The indentations of sofa pillows hint at favorite gathering places.

Just as all creation echoes God's glory, and the love in family does indeed do the same, the creative acts of men and women are capable of revealing beauty. I've heard it said that beauty is truth reflected. The Catechism echoes this regarding art, music and the written word:

"Created "in the image of God," man also expresses the truth of his relationship with God the Creator by the beauty of his artistic works. Indeed, art is a distinctively human form of expression; beyond the search for the necessities of life which is common to all living creatures, art is a freely given superabundance of the human being's inner riches. Arising from talent given by the Creator and from man's own effort, art is a form of practical wisdom, uniting knowledge and skill, to give form to the truth of reality in a language accessible to sight or hearing. To the extent that itis inspired by truth and love of beings, art bears a certain likeness toGod's activity in what he has created. Like any other human activity, art is not an absolute end in itself, but is ordered to and ennobled by theultimate end of man. (CCC #2501)


The fine arts, but above all sacred art, "of their nature are directedtoward expressing in some way the infinite beauty of God in works made byhuman hands. Their dedication to the increase of God's praise and of his gloryis more complete, the more exclusively they are devoted to turning men's mindsdevoutly toward God." (CCC #2513)

This brings me to my current musings regarding the sacred art and liturgical vessels that I see week to week at church. These days I am looking more closely for meaning in their form and function, trying to uncover the truth revealed by their beauty.

I regularly visit the adoration chapel in my parish church. The chapel's focus is the exposed presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. And recently, as I sat praying alone with Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament, I noticed the flickering flame sanctuary candle's light. It's beauty was in its simplicity. Made by human hands, its gives witness to Who and What is present. And it "spoke" to me, much in the same way I described the autumn leaves and household objects. The sculptured art of the monstrance (the vessel that contains the exposed Holy Eucharist) drew me in even more. It too had "a voice," and it had a deeper message than the lamp. And so, allow me to conclude with some poetry that I have written about the light and the monstrance.

It is my hope that you will take a look around you and reflect on where you find beauty and why. But more important, I pray that you will reflect True Beauty in a life well-lived. For while the objects the poetry describes are inanimate, your life in Christ is animated by the life of the Spirit.


Sanctuary Lamp

I stand here straight and tall
A silent gentle flicker.
A reminder:"The light is on, come on in."
Someone is home.
I illuminate the way
But I am not the Way.

I point to the One who made me.
He is here in this place,in this moment.
I only hope to be a light
In His Presence which isAll Light, All Holiness;
To be aflame in this sanctuary
Burning until I am consumed.



Look straight to my center.
Hidden treasure awaits you,
So do not distract your gaze.
I may be golden, ornate, and bejeweled--
Not for my own beauty,
But to show Beauty.

Let me catch your eye
That you might see something more.
I am elevated that you might
See the Eye of Him who beholds you now.
He is my center--my reason to be.
My form is but a delicate embrace
To bear this Treasure within.

Look straight to my center.
Be drawn in.
Be with the Holy Presence.
And then, become.
Become one who beholds True Beauty.
Become one who bears this Treasure within.

Copyright 2006 Patricia W. Gohn

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Father who sees in secret-- and the Mother who cleans up the mess

This article appeared previously at CatholicMom.com.

True confession: I hate housework, but I’m learning to make peace with it. For years, I failed to embrace all things domestic. Of course, my family would never have survived this long without some household routines, but suffice to say, the discipline of keeping house was slow to develop in me.

I loved raising my children--all that nurturing and caring was very satisfying --but it's all rather messy. I never liked all the chores that went with the role. I failed to see housework connected to my vocation, and did not attach any meaning to it. In fact, I found it “kept me” from all the “other stuff” I wanted to do.

Looking back to my early mothering years, I most definitely suffered from "comparativitis." I was in awe of neighbors who grew vegetable gardens so their children could enjoy organic foods. Women who had time and skill to sew or crochet amazed me. I admired women who cooked with the zeal of Julia Child, others whose flair (and budgets) for interior design rivaled House Beautiful. I once met a delightful gal who LOVED to clean her house--really; vacuuming was "her thing." I was definitely out of their league. When my kids were small, most days my goal was to cook dinner each night, make the bed, and clear a path from the front door to the living room so my husband could walk in after work and not trip over anything!

It took me a while to realize that my gifts were elsewhere. But still, I was self-conscious about the inertia and drain I faced regarding housekeeping. Friends started noticing this shortcoming. They delighted in presenting me housewarming gifts--like plaques that read: Dull Women have Immaculate Homes, or, Feel free to write in my dust --just don't date it!

Over time I learned that my lacking domesticity was a latent rebellion of sorts to being the oldest child growing up. Being the oldest, naturally, my chore list always seemed the longest. I also got in trouble the most, and--you guessed it--got the extra chores. Chores kept me from the “other stuff” I so desperately wanted to do. So, for me, domestic chores were somehow linked with punishment or poor performance. Somewhere along the way, I missed the vital connection between loving your family by serving their temporal needs. It took me years to understand that my relationship with housework was dysfunctional.

Funny how we carry this baggage around without ever noticing it piled up in the various corners of our lives.

With the increasing clutter from years of marriage and three kids, I had to get better organized. Or at least, cultivate a better attitude. My servitude needed to become servanthood, (and my attitude needed a gratitude make-over.) This flaw was, in truth, selfishness. Frequently, I just did the minimum to get by. I needed to lay hold of a new image for myself as a woman who, among the other hats she wore, was the keeper of the house. I found it in the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31:27. “She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.” Now here’s a woman who understands the busyness of family life!

How could I “look well” over my household? First, I had to humble myself. If I was going to surrender my life totally to Christ, I had to give up the messy parts too. (Spiritual life isn’t just about interior life; it's about the exterior life too.) I really wanted to be a loving wife and mom AND keep a decent house that honored the Lord who lived there as well. I had to find ways to see that household chores really could be beneficial for my soul and vocation. In short, the path to humility started with my kitchen floor. I had to choose to walk that path, even when sticky. This was a fundamental shift in my thinking. The little mortifications of housework and family care were meant to sanctify me, to do the work on my soul that God intended. The ways of my household should reflect the ways of the Lord in my life: doing chores lovingly allowed me to touch the face of Jesus in those I served. More important, it found me on my knees as I searched to find him even amidst the crumbs, spills, stains, and messes in our home.

Second, choosing to change meant replacing the old tapes that played in my head about chores and hearing a new song playing (which literally means, when I’m cleaning, there’s loud praise music playing!) But it also meant I needed help for my household ways. (For those needing housekeeping encouragement and helpful tips, I recommend professionals like The Fly Lady and Messies Anonymous.

And so, armed with nothing more than my own chore list and a little bit of Scripture memory, I began to enlist mental prayers to find the blessing of chore time. I also applied scriptures, like Colossians 3:23: Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men. This was especially helpful when I was doing the menial tasks--you know, the kind that every mother does--the ones that no one ever thanks you for, or sees you do? I discovered that these chores--especially the unnoticed, unseen, loving gestures that care for family and home--are much like the spiritual disciplines of fasting, prayer and almsgiving--only "your Father who sees in secret will reward you. " (Matthew 6:6)

Finally, transforming my household ways into prayers and mortifications allows me to make peace with housework and maintain my sanity. It provides the proper context I need to approach tasks sacrificially and willingly. It also helps me lead my family with a better attitude as we share household duties and my children work through their own age-appropriate chores. I still fight selfish urges to ignore it all, or to procrastinate, but as a recovering housework hater, taking these thoughts captive to Christ helps a lot.

I’m no expert, and I’m still “under construction,” but here are a few examples from my typical day, using scripture as a springboard for my mental energies as I clean.

I sit down on the potty for a few moments peace, and the toilet paper roll is empty. (I'm sure this only happens in my home.) Of course, the old roll must be replaced. But when you give... do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. (Matthew 6:3)

Now, after I've had my moment, I rise to discover that the toilet bowl needs scrubbing. (Five people over the age of 13 share this bathroom, but only my eyes notice this pressing need?) I can do all things in him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)

Moving from the bathroom to the family room, I spy dirty dishes left behind from junior's movie night with his pals. Naturally, I collect them, add them to the dishwasher without a word since he has already left for "work." (By the way, at work he serves and clears tables in a dining hall.) For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you. (Matthew 6: 14)

In so doing, I walk past the indoor plants wilting from neglect, so I load them up into the sink for a drink. Let every one who thirsts, come to the waters. (Isaiah 55: 1: 1)

I pass the ironing pile. I switch on the iron with this thought: …the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water. (Revelation 7: 16b- 17a).

In the distance, I hear the washing machine timer go off. The next load awaits my attention. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! (Psalm 51: 2)

I take my lunch break out on the porch where I am the only one who seems to have noticed that that the dog peed on the porch again. She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." (Matthew 15:27)

I take the dog out for a walk passing the perennial garden where I see weeds encroaching the phlox and day lilies. I kneel down to the rescue. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. (Matthew 13:40)

I prepare dinner observing the fading light of day through my window. Outside I spy Mary’s statue in my yard. She is “Our Lady of Grace”--The Virtuous Woman—whose example gently reminds me that “prayer and work” has been a model for domestic life for generations.

Indeed, for we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10.)

Copyright 2006 Patricia W. Gohn

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Things in Common

This article ran in August 2006 at CatholicExchange.com and was featured on CatholicMom.com