Sexual Malaises

June 30, 2010

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They used to say that only Nixon could go to China.  Similarly, perhaps only one with the feminist bona fides of Camille Paglia could pronounce

Camille Paglia

the sexual revolution a blight on sexual pleasure, all the while calling for the cure of more strictly demarcated gender roles.  According to Paglia’s recent op-ed in the New York Times, the “elemental power of sexuality” has waned in the West, not because of religious stricture, but because of recent technocratic and bourgeois proprieties.  The sexual revolution never bore the promised fruit because

concrete power resides in America’s careerist technocracy, for which the elite schools, with their ideological view of gender as a social construct, are feeder cells.

In the discreet white-collar realm, men and women are interchangeable, doing the same, mind-based work. Physicality is suppressed; voices are lowered and gestures curtailed in sanitized office space. Men must neuter themselves, while ambitious women postpone procreation. Androgyny is bewitching in art, but in real life it can lead to stagnation and boredom, which no pill can cure.

Meanwhile, family life has put middle-class men in a bind; they are simply cogs in a domestic machine commanded by women. Contemporary moms have become virtuoso super-managers of a complex operation focused on the care and transport of children. But it’s not so easy to snap over from Apollonian control to Dionysian delirium. Read the rest of this entry »


Jesuits on the road

June 29, 2010

There is lots of exciting new work going on in the Society of Jesus these days, and I have been blessed to be part of one piece of it this summer. The project is called “Hearts on Fire,” a series of mini-retreats given across the midwest by a team of six young Jesuits. The focus of the retreat is helping young adults to live their Christian faith in daily life. We have adapted some elements of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius in what we hope is a catchy, inspiring way. The two days include Eucharistic adoration, confessions, talks, discussion groups, contemplation, and even musical entertainment.  We have completed two retreats already, and are looking forward to the last three. Pictures and more information are below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »


Tomb Raiders

June 26, 2010

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Among the many events surrounding the police raid on the offices of the Mechelen cathedral, I found the violation of the tombs of Cardinals Suenens and Van Roey particularly telling.  According to the AFP report:

The Brussels prosecutor’s office admitted that a crypt was searched during a police search of the Mechelen cathedral near Brussels on Thursday…

Earlier Father Eric De Beukelaer, spokesman for the Mechelen-Brussels archbishop, said that “the tombs of Cardinals Suenens and Van Roey were drilled and a camera pushed in, apparently to see whether there were any hidden documents” linked to the paedophilia claims concerning Catholic clergy.

If the motive given for rifling the Cardinals’ tombs was sincere, and the search wasn’t simply calculated to demoralize the Belgian hierarchy, then the story at least has its comical side.  It’s almost as if the Belgian police force spent days poring over Catholic methods of obstructing justice—but using Dan Brown novels as textbooks.  Somehow Belgian investigators were prepared to imagine that, rather than simply burn or shred incriminating files dating back to the reigns of Suenens and Van Roey, the bureaucrats of the Belgian chancery would more likely bury them in crypts.  Method two is just so much more ceremonial, conspiratorial and, well, “Catholic”.

Questions naturally arise.  Did they, I wonder, expect their cameras to reveal manila envelopes—helpfully stamped CONFIDENTIALIS—clutched between skeletal fingers?  Maybe a canister of microfilm perched atop a crosier?  Or maybe they expected to find no remains at all, but an empty tomb.  Perhaps this would have finally proved that Cardinal Suenens had faked his own death so as to smuggle the secret documents down to his retirement home on Grand Cayman.

Well, maybe that last one is a little far fetched.  The Belgians are perhaps prepared to believe many things, but they don’t seem much impressed nowadays with the evidences of empty tombs.


Eco and Ego

June 24, 2010

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Some jokes never get old.  Compare “Living up to Your Prius,” the humorous essay recently published in the New Yorker, with Du Maurier’s satirical cartoon, “The Six-Mark Teapot” (1884).  In the former, McCall playfully needles Prius owners through the device of an imaginary “Things to do with your Prius” message board.  Each activity reveals the Prius-owner as a “type,” and a type less interested in eliminating waste than in indulging eco-smugness.  Examples:

Sidle up to an S.U.V. driver at the gas-station counter and make a show of paying for your fill-up from a jar of pennies.

At the next Luther Burbank Day vegan barbecue and weed roast, back your Prius up to within a few feet of the folks lounging on the grass, with the engine running, and explain that its super-clean exhaust system is actually freshening the air.

Funny because just a little true.

In du Maurier’s cartoon, an Aesthetic Bridegroom points out a “consummate” teapot to his Intense Bride, who responds exultantly, “Oh, Algernon, let us live up to it!”

No doubt “The Six-Mark Teapot” struck the same chord in Victorian England that “Living up to Your Prius” strikes today.  The express aspiration to “live up to” a sedan or a teapot is, of course, a comical exaggeration.  But each piece gets at an underlying truth concerning the relationship between us and our stuff.  And comparing the two helps us get at some of the inherent limitations of socially conscious consumerism. Read the rest of this entry »


On the Feast of the Sacred Heart

June 11, 2010

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The Jesuits and devotion to the Sacred Heart have a long history together.  Ever since Christ appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690) at Paray-le-Monial under the aspect of the Sacred Heart and directed her to consult His “perfect friend” (St. Claude la Colombière, SJ) regarding her visions, the Society of Jesus has been directly involved in promoting devotion to the heart of Christ.  The Society continues to spread the devotion today, both by supporting works dedicated chiefly to this end, such as the Apostleship of Prayer,  and by making devotion to the heart of Christ a “depth dimension” of its various ministries.

Jesuit devotion to the Sacred Heart, however, did not actually begin with St. Margaret Mary. Read the rest of this entry »


Change!

June 11, 2010

Ah, yes, change.  Something that we both crave and fear.  The theme of Barack Obama’s victorious presidential campaign and now the mantra of his Tea Party opponents.  A more or less neutral value in itself, since change can be for good or ill.

Sometimes change is predictable (and perhaps, therefore, not really much of a change at all) and sometimes unexpected, shocking, unsettling.  I experienced one such unexpected change last month when I found the most recent issue of First Things in my mailbox.

There was a picture on the cover.

What had happened, I wondered.  Was this some sort of belated April Fool’s Day issue?  Or a sign of the impending apocalypse?  I scanned the horizon and saw no horsemen, so, gingerly, I opened the cover. Read the rest of this entry »


Charles Taylor on Celibacy III: The Catholic Dilemma

June 9, 2010

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Though Taylor is a gifted sociologist of religion and a perceptive intellectual historian, he is not a profound theologian.  Consequently, his presentation of celibacy as a Christian dilemma is less insightful than his presentation of it as a humanist dilemma (see parts I and II).  Nonetheless, since most Christian believers are rather more influenced by sociological “cross-pressures” than by fine theological distinctions, his reflections still retain a certain value.  They at least get at some of the “uneasiness” that most folks feel about the Catholic tradition of sexual renunciation—and they may well describe one of the deeper cultural obstacles to promoting non-ordained, celibate vocations.

I

In Sources of the Self, Taylor observes that it was once relatively easy to describe the purpose of celibacy by reference to the Church’s “economy of mutual mediation.” Read the rest of this entry »