By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Waiting with Jesus

[Emphasis Added]

VATICAN CITY, 28 NOV 2009 (VIS) - In the Vatican Basilica this evening, Benedict XVI presided at first Vespers for the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new liturgical year for the Church.

In his homily the Pope reflected upon the meaning of the word Advent which "Christians used", he said, "to express their relationship with Jesus. ... The meaning of the expression advent also includes that of 'vistatio', ... a visit, which in this case means a visit from God: He enters my life and wishes to address Himself to me".

"In daily life we all know the experience of having little time for the Lord, and little time for ourselves. We end up becoming absorbed by 'doing'. Is it not often true that it is activity itself that possesses us, society with its multiple distractions that monopolises our attention? Is it not true that we dedicate a lot of time to entertainment and leisure activities of various kinds?"

"Advent, this potent liturgical period we are entering, invites us to remain silent as we come to appreciate a presence. It is an invitation to understand that the individual events of the day are signs God addresses to us, signs of the care He has for each of us. How often does God make us aware of some aspect of His love! To maintain what we might call an 'inner diary' of this love would be a beautiful and rewarding task in our lives. Advent invites us and encourages us to contemplate the living Lord. Should not the certainty of His presence help us to see the world with different eyes?"

The Holy Father went on: "Another fundamental aspect of Advent is that of waiting: a wait that is, at the same time, a hope. ... Hope marks the journey of humankind, but for Christians it is enlivened by a certainty: the Lord is present in the events of our lives, He accompanies us and will one day dry our tears. One not-far-distant day everything will reach fulfilment in the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of justice and peace.

"Yet", he added, "there are many different ways to wait. If the present time is not filled with meaning, the wait risks becoming unbearable. If we await something, but at this moment have nothing - in other words, if the present is empty - then every passing instant seems exaggeratedly long and the wait becomes an over-heavy burden because the future remains too uncertain. When, on the other hand, time has meaning and at every instant we perceive something specific and valid, then the joy of waiting makes the present richer".

The Holy Father encouraged the faithful "intensely to live the present, where we already obtain the gifts of the Lord. Let us live projected towards the future, a future charged with hope". The Messiah, "coming among us, brought us and continues to bring us the gift of His love and His salvation. He is present among us and speaks to us in many ways: in Sacred Scripture, in the liturgical year, in the saints, in the events of daily life, in all creation, which changes its appearance depending upon whether [we see Him] behind it or whether [we see it] shrouded in the fog of an uncertain origin and uncertain future".

"We in our turn", Pope Benedict concluded, "can address Him, present Him the sufferings that afflict us, the impatience and the questions that arise in our hearts. We are certain that He always listens to us! And if Jesus is present, then there can be no meaningless or empty time. If He is present we can continue to hope, even when others can no longer offer us their support, even when the present becomes burdensome".
HML/ADVENT/... VIS 091130 (640)

Friday, November 27, 2009

After the Boston Debacle, Now the Dublin Debacle

The Whispers in the Loggia blog has the roundup on the devastating disclosures of sex crimes against children in the Archdiocese of Dublin. Here is the link. We have to expose the crimes and call them as what they are, for Jesus is the Truth, not the cover up. I was happy to see the bishops' statements characterized by blunt expressions of shame at these horrendous, heinous crimes. The concerned parents who came forward and were ignored acted like Christ in this matter. Too many of the clergy acted like "antiChrists." There is a lesson there for those tempted to bring back clerical triumphalism. It is a lesson that was already there in the Gospels as Jesus denounced the dangers of self-satisfied and smug religious leadership.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009


It's Hebrew for thank you. Yes, Adonai, You draw good even out of great evil. You continue to do so. Thank you for doing so throughout history and in our own lives. You call evil evil and good good. You are not the font of euphemisms or excuses, but of truth. Yet, You drown the reality of evil in abundant goodness and amazing grace (charis). We trust that You will continue to do so in the coming year. Amen.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Rhode Island Bulletin

Our informal, ever resourceful Rhode Island correspondent sends us today the breaking story, appropriately enough also from the state of Rhode Island, that Bishop Thomas Tobin has banned U.S. Repr. Patrick Kennedy from receiving Holy Communion because of his pro-abortion policies. Here is the NPR link.

Finally. There is a healthy populist dimension here: even the rich and the powerful have to respect the truth. Read the New Testament Epistle of James to get a fuller flavor of that healthy populist dimension, a letter which is, as I recall, said to be the most popular of the biblical books in the Third World (at least in Africa).

Saturday, November 21, 2009


The Pope recently addressed artists gathered in the Sistine Chapel. Thanks to the Whispers in the Loggia blog for bringing this great address to my attention. Read the Pope's address in its entirety at that blog. Below is a major excerpt of the papal address. But, let me make one observation: why is it that my spirit soars as I read Benedict's disquisition on beauty but that my spirit drops when I here so many self-proclaimed, proudly assertive soldiers of Catholic orthodoxy whose rhetoric often leaves me cold? I think the difference is in personal, soulful quality: Benedict XVI is immensely wise, intelligent, and kind (manifesting the fruits of the Spirit), while too many of the self-appointed guardians of traditionalist orthodoxy sound like harshly clanging cymbals. Here is the major excerpt from the papal remarks:

Dear friends, as artists you know well that the experience of beauty, beauty that is authentic, not merely transient or artificial, is by no means a supplementary or secondary factor in our search for meaning and happiness; the experience of beauty does not remove us from reality, on the contrary, it leads to a direct encounter with the daily reality of our lives, liberating it from darkness, transfiguring it, making it radiant and beautiful.

Indeed, an essential function of genuine beauty, as emphasized by Plato, is that it gives man a healthy "shock", it draws him out of himself, wrenches him away from resignation and from being content with the humdrum – it even makes him suffer, piercing him like a dart, but in so doing it "reawakens" him, opening afresh the eyes of his heart and mind, giving him wings, carrying him aloft. Dostoevsky’s words that I am about to quote are bold and paradoxical, but they invite reflection. He says this: "Man can live without science, he can live without bread, but without beauty he could no longer live, because there would no longer be anything to do to the world. The whole secret is here, the whole of history is here." The painter Georges Braque echoes this sentiment: "Art is meant to disturb, science reassures." Beauty pulls us up short, but in so doing it reminds us of our final destiny, it sets us back on our path, fills us with new hope, gives us the courage to live to the full the unique gift of life. The quest for beauty that I am describing here is clearly not about escaping into the irrational or into mere aestheticism.

Too often, though, the beauty that is thrust upon us is illusory and deceitful, superficial and blinding, leaving the onlooker dazed; instead of bringing him out of himself and opening him up to horizons of true freedom as it draws him aloft, it imprisons him within himself and further enslaves him, depriving him of hope and joy. It is a seductive but hypocritical beauty that rekindles desire, the will to power, to possess, and to dominate others, it is a beauty which soon turns into its opposite, taking on the guise of indecency, transgression or gratuitous provocation. Authentic beauty, however, unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond. If we acknowledge that beauty touches us intimately, that it wounds us, that it opens our eyes, then we rediscover the joy of seeing, of being able to grasp the profound meaning of our existence, the Mystery of which we are part; from this Mystery we can draw fullness, happiness, the passion to engage with it every day.

Source link (emphasis added by blogger).

Friday, November 20, 2009

Your Calling

From young to old, we spend much of life searching for our calling. This search in many ways reflects our wider belief about our life: is it a series of random, accidental, chance events; or is there a purpose lurking in the multiplicity of our engagements and encounters throughout life? Today's Wall Street Journal online has an insightful column that reminds us that the Christian view espouses a very personal purposefulness in our passions, interests, and callings. The occasion for these insights is the writer's musings on how a Puritan might advise someone unemployed today:

Man's vocation was not seen as impersonal and random, but as from a loving and personal God who bestowed each individual with natural talents and desires for a particular occupation.
. . . .

The Puritans pursued joy, the very antithesis of depression, even in the midst of hardship, believing they were firmly in God's hand, not forgotten and never forsaken.

. . . .

A man's worth, the Puritans might advise the unemployed Steve Lee, lay in his service to God and to his fellow man, not in titles or financial portfolios. Rather than seeing life as a series of random events, the Puritan's belief in Providence imputed a profound sense of a loving God's purpose for him, a purpose that left very little room for despair.

Source link.

Substitute "Christian" for "Puritan," and apply these insights to your own situation and calling, even if you are employed. This worldview has shown itself to be the basis for great productivity and creativity, regardless of our personal circumstances.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

For China and For Us

[Emphasis added]

- Made public yesterday was a letter from Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone S.D.B. to priests of the Catholic Church in the People's Republic of China, for the occasion of the Year for Priests which was called to mark the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney, the saintly "Cure of Ars".

"In the Letter that the Holy Father addressed to the bishops, priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful in the People's Republic of China on 27 May 2007, a number of guidelines are indicated for the future journey of the Church", explains the cardinal in his letter which was published in Chinese, English and Italian. "Among those I wish to emphasise reconciliation within the Catholic community and a respectful and constructive dialogue with the civil authorities, without renouncing the principles of the Catholic faith. In this regard, despite the persisting difficulties, the information that has come from different parts of China points also to signs of hope".

Cardinal Bertone also expresses the view that, "at a distance of only two years since the publication of the papal Letter, it does not seem that the time has come to make definitive evaluations. Using the words of the great missionary of China, Fr. Matteo Ricci, I believe we can say that it is still more a time of sowing than of reaping".

"There are", the secretary of State tells Chinese clergy, "various practical ways in which you can make your valuable contribution: for example, by visiting Catholic and non-Catholic families frequently; ... increasing efforts to prepare and train good catechists; fostering greater use of charitable services directed especially to children and to sick and old people; ... organising special gatherings where Catholics could invite their non-Catholic relatives and friends in order to become better acquainted with the Catholic Church and Christian faith; distributing Catholic literature to non-Catholics".

"In this Year of the Priesthood, I wish to remind you of the source where you can find the strength to be faithful to your important mission, ... the Eucharist. ... A truly Eucharistic community cannot retreat into itself, as though it were self-sufficient, but must stay in communion with every other Catholic community".

Addressing bishops, Cardinal Bertone says: "Your paternal solicitude will suggest to you, according to the possibilities and conditions of each diocese, suitable initiatives for promoting vocations to the priesthood, such as prayer days and meetings or the opening of places where priests and faithful, especially the young, can come to pray together under the guidance of expert and good priests acting as spiritual directors".

"The Holy Father Benedict XVI realises that 'in China too, as in the rest of the Church, the need for an adequate ongoing formation of the clergy is emerging. Hence the invitation, addressed to you bishops as leaders of ecclesial communities, to think especially of the young clergy who are increasingly subject to new pastoral challenges, linked to the demands of the task of evangelising a society as complex as that of present-day China'". "The saintly 'Cure of Ars' teaches us that the worship given to the Eucharist outside of Mass is of inestimable value in the life of every priest. This worship is closely joined to the celebration of the Eucharist".

After then highlighting how, "if we are united in the Eucharistic Christ, all of the miseries of the world echo in our hearts to implore the mercy of God", the cardinal secretary of State emphasises the need "to seek reconciliation with concrete gestures. ... In order to obtain it, there is an urgent need to pay attention also to the human formation of all the faithful, priests and sisters included, because the lack of human maturity, self-control and inner harmony is the most frequent source of misunderstandings, lack of co-operation and conflicts within Catholic communities". Finally, Cardinal Bertone concludes by "entrusting to the Most Blessed Virgin the wish that your priestly life may be guided more and more by those ideals of the total giving of oneself to Christ and to the Church which inspired the thought and action of the saintly 'Cure of Ars'".

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Go Where You Are Really Needed

It strikes me that some very well-meaning fellow Christians have a tendency to focus too much on the local parish by seeking to start a new group or fellowship in an already healthy and thriving parish when, in fact, they should, so to speak, regularly "refill" themselves in such thriving parishes and then go forth to where they are really needed: in the public square of our stores, schools, businesses, and universities (especially secular universities), in the contemporary equivalents of the areopagus or public square (in the plural: areopagi) made famous by St. Paul in the book of Acts. That is one of the messages that I, for one, hear from the following papal story:


[Emphasis added]

VATICAN CITY, 16 NOV 2009 (VIS) - Made public today was a Message from the Holy Father to Cardinal Ivan Dias, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, for the plenary assembly of that dicastery, currently being held on the theme: "St. Paul and the new areopaghi".

The reference to the Areopagus in Athens where St. Paul announced the Gospel "represents a pressing call to make good use of today's 'areopaghi', where the great challenges of evangelisation are to be found", the Pope writes.

He also highlights how "the missionary activity of the Church must be oriented towards these nerve centres of society in the third millennium. Nor should we undervalue the influence of a widespread relativist culture, usually lacking values, which enters into the sanctuary of the family infiltrating the field of education and other areas of society, contaminating them and manipulating consciences, especially among the young. At the same time however, despite these snares, the Church knows that the Holy Spirit is always at work.

"New doors are being opened to the Gospel and a longing for authentic spiritual and apostolic renewal is spreading throughout the world", the Pope adds. "As in other periods of change, the pastoral priority is to show the true face of Christ. ... This requires each Christian community and the Church as a whole to offer witness of faithfulness to Christ, patiently building that unity He wanted and called for from all His disciples. In fact, Christian unity will make it easier to evangelise and to face the cultural, social and religious challenges of our time".

The Pope concludes his Message with a call "to imitate the lifestyle and the apostolic spirit" of the Apostle of the Gentiles, "focusing entirely on Christ. Through such complete adherence to the Lord, Christians will easily be able to transmit the heritage of faith to new generations, a heritage capable of transforming even difficulties into opportunities for evangelisation".

Monday, November 16, 2009

Anticipating the Consecration

During the Nicene Creed, we bow in profound reverence at the mention of these words which we simultaneously recite out loud: "and by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man" (the new English translation of the Mass, to be introduced presumably in the near future, will read as follows: "and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man").nbyhe Holy S
We bow at the Incarnation as we repeat these words. This gesture of reverence by all the laity and the clergy at the Mass comes before the Eucharistic liturgy where, at the consecration, Jesus becomes really present under the appearances of bread and wine.

How interesting and appropriate that we lay people as members of the common baptismal priesthood anticipate the eucharistic consecration of the ordained priest when we say and bow at the words signifying the becoming flesh of the Son of God. This anticipation of what the ordained priest will do in the Eucharistic Liturgy is a reminder of our common baptismal priesthood, something many Catholics tend to forget and even some clergy tend to deemphasize. Yet, the anticipation by witnessing in word and posture to the Incarnation in the creed is a powerful reminder that we are all priests in one form or another.

St. Leo the Great put it this way:

The sign of the cross makes kings of all those reborn in Christ and the anointing of the Holy Spirit consecrates them as priests, so that, apart from the particular service of our ministry, all spiritual and rational Christians are recognized as members of this royal race and sharers in Christ's priestly office. What, indeed, is as royal for a soul as to govern the body in obedience to God? And what is as priestly as to dedicate a pure conscience to the Lord and to offer the spotless offerings of devotion on the altar of the heart?

Quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church at Section 786.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pope's Social Encyclical Talks: Parts One and Two

In the recent past, I intended to give a commentary on the Pope's recent encyclical on the social teaching of the Church, "Charity in Truth" (Caritas in Veritate, in Latin). I will fulfill that goal by making available to you links to the outlines of the first two of three talks I am giving on the encyclical. Here are the links:

I will post the final outline in the near future.

You can use the outline by going to its page references matching the printed copy of the encyclical published in pamphlet form by Pauline Books & Media. I have also added the paragraph numbers in the original encyclical itself (after the Pauline Media page numbers and clearly labeled) for those who do not have that particular pamphlet and simply wish to use the web version at the Vatican website or some other published version of the encyclical to follow the logic of the outline.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Details for Anglicans: Promptly Announced


[Emphasis added]

VATICAN CITY, 9 NOV 2009 (VIS) - The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith today published the Apostolic Constitution "Anglicanorum coetibus", which provides for personal ordinariates for Anglicans entering into full communion with the Catholic Church, and someComplementary Norms for the same Apostolic Constitution.

Both documents are dated 4 November, feast of St. Charles Borromeo, and are signed by Cardinal William Joseph Levada and Archbishop Luis F. Ladaria S.J., respectively prefect and secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

An English-language communique released by the congregation recalls how on 20 October, Cardina Levada "announced a new provision responding to the many requests that have been submitted to the Holy See from groups of Anglican clergy and faithful in different parts of the world who wish to enter into full visible communion with the Catholic Church.

"The Apostolic Constitution 'Anglicanorum coetibus' which is published today introduces a canonical structure that provides for such corporate reunion by establishing personal ordinariates, which will allow the above mentioned groups to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony. At the same time, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is publishing a set of Complementary Norms which will guide the implementation of this provision.

"This Apostolic Constitution opens a new avenue for the promotion of Christian unity while, at the same time, granting legitimate diversity in the expression of our common faith. It represents not an initiative on the part of the Holy See, but a generous response from the Holy Father to the legitimate aspirations of these Anglican groups. The provision of this new structure is consistent with the commitment to ecumenical dialogue, which continues to be a priority for the Catholic Church.

"The possibility envisioned by the Apostolic Constitution for some married clergy within the personal ordinariates does not signify any change in the Church's discipline of clerical celibacy. According to the Vatican Council II, priestly celibacy is a sign and a stimulus for pastoral charityand radiantly proclaims the reign of God".

The Apostolic Constitution contains thirteen sections which concern, among other things: the formation of the new ordinariates which possess, according to paragraph 3 of section 1, "public juridic personality by the law itself (ipso iure)" and are "juridically comparable to a diocese"; the power of the ordinary, "to be exercised jointly with that of the local diocesan bishop in those cases provided for in the Complementary Norms"; candidates for Holy Orders; erection, with the approval of the Holy See, of new Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; the "ad limina" visit of the ordinary, etc.

The Complementary Norms concern the jurisdiction of the Holy See; relations with episcopal conferences and diocesan bishops; the ordinary; the faithful of the ordinariate; the clergy; former Anglican bishops; the governing council; the pastoral council, and personal parishes.

Blogger Comment:

Two points strike me as important: 1.) the embrace of legitimate liturgical diversity in the Roman Rite, as opposed to neo-Tridentine uniformity; and 2.) married clergy among the new Catholics, which we can term "clerical diversity." Both points emphasize that the "Benedictine" model of this Pope does not match that of the supertraditionalists.

Here is the Vatican website link for those who like the canonical details. What struck me was how generous are the provisions in favor of former Anglican bishops who will be able to exercise jurisdictional authority if appointed as "ordinaries" even though they are not Catholic bishops. As I understand the norms, former Anglican bishops can even participate in the appropriate Catholic bishops' conferences as if they were retired Catholic bishops and may even keep the episcopal insignia they used as Anglican bishops. That is a very generous and shrewd move, given that Anglican bishops will play a crucial role in determining if their flocks will join the Catholic Church. See Article 11 of the norms and the accompanying canonical commentary.

Update: I note that in the Nov. 20, 2009, edition of the N.Y. Times there is an article on this Anglican development which refers to the creation of an "Anglican rite" in the Catholic Church. That description of what has happened, in effect, matches my own analysis (although, technically, canonically, and strictly speaking, it is not a "rite" as in the "Eastern rites"; but the point is, nevertheless, well-made; I prefer this description: the Anglican liturgical usage of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite). See source link.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Decision to Admit to Ordination Is Not Infallible

That should be obvious to anyone familiar with any portion of the Church's very long history. I am aware of at least one case where, in my strong opinion, I find it amazing that the individual was ever ordained in spite of clear signals of trouble. I am sure many others with a wider circle of experience can testify to the same. And, so, I reproduce here the recent comments of Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto on this very painful and distressing matter, as originally posted at the Whispers in the Loggia blog:

Anyone who has participated in the awesome rites of ordination is conscious of the majesty of the priesthood of Christ, which He has chosen to share with frail humans, "vessels of clay" as St. Paul calls them, so that He might work through them in a sacramental way. I celebrate several ordinations each year, and every time I am filled with awe. When I place my hands upon the head of the candidate at the moment of ordination, I silently pray in my heart: "Lord, may this man be a faithful and holy priest all the days of his life."

To me, as a bishop, the pain of any priestly scandal is a sharp personal reminder that I need to do all that I can to be sure that those who are ordained, for all their inescapable human frailty, are living their vocation with integrity.

In our seminaries, over the long period of preparation for the priesthood, we continually strive to improve our procedures for solid human, intellectual, pastoral, and spiritual formation, so that only those candidates who are suited for the priesthood will proceed to ordination.

As for the choice of bishops, the process is extremely thorough, with detailed letters of reference from dozens of men and women. A thorough process, but not perfect. If no one in that extensive reference net is aware of a problem, it will be missed.

Those entrusted with discerning who should be ordained as priest or bishop need to be diligent, and to pray for wisdom, always aware that they might fail to spot an unsuitable candidate, especially if the problem is deep seated and hidden from everyone behind a splendid exterior.

As for improper behaviour by those already ordained, I and all of us who exercise authority in the Church have a solemn obligation to God and to the people we serve, especially to the most vulnerable, to act clearly and effectively if a problem is discovered, although also with great care that injustice not be done to an innocent person, whose name and life can be destroyed be a false accusation.

The basic reality is that in the sacrament of Holy Orders God works through frail humans, and always has done so, and always will. In the twelve apostles we see the whole range of raw material from the beloved disciple to Judas. As long as the human heart is susceptible to iniquity, we will face scandals among the apostles.

Source link (emphasis added).

It seems to me that the charism of discernment should be a prime requirement for those involved in the spiritual and academic formation of seminarians--and I mean "charism" in the supernatural sense, not just the natural ability to write out evaluations as in the corporate world. There is always more than we can see. Hence, we need the discernment that comes from the Holy Spirit to supplement our natural reasoning and evaluations. Moreover, the same requirement for supernatural discernment certainly applies to the selection of lay people to various parish and diocesan ministries. The need for the charism of discernment is urgent because, let's face it, plenty of people with emotional and personality disorders are precisely those most attracted to the perceived status, prestige, acclaim, and attention that can come with being a priest or a lay leader in ministry.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

We Won (So far)

The pro-life Democrats forced the Speaker to include restrictions against abortion in the health care reform bill. Here is the story link (thanks for an early tip from Rhode Island). I sent in my email to my local Congressman on Friday. You should still send in yours because this wrangle is not over by any means. The matter now goes to the Senate. Go to this Bishops' Conference link and email your congressional people in the House and the Senate. The link gives you suggested, updated language to use in your message. You can also look up the names of your local representative and Senators at a "Contact Your Congressperson" link at the top. Many thanks for the strong leadership on this issue from our bishops.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Ancient of Days

In a recent biblical Aramaic class, we translated this famous passage from the book of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament:

The Ancient of Days Reigns

9 “As I looked,

thrones were placed,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
its wheels were burning fire.
10 A stream of fire issued
and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.

11 “I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.

Source: English Standard Version at this link.

It is a thrill for a believer to translate these words from the original language.

It reinforces the thrill of exuberant praise as seen in this YouTube video that I recommend you enjoy with generous clapping:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

No Guidance

That's been the experience of many young people in their teens, twenties, and early thirties as they try to satisfy the wonderful and awesome human yearning for finding true love. The problem is that the cultural pathways, taboos, and wisdom that guided generations before them on this exciting but perilous journey--a process almost like threading a needle--has been absent for many young Americans for at least the last 40 or so years. We now have people in their fifties who are casualties of that vacuum of courtship wisdom.

Even David Brooks, a token conservative columnist for the N.Y. Times, sees this reality (note that, to my knowledge, Brooks is not a Christian and may even not be religious at all, although I do not know what his exact beliefs are). Here is an excerpt from his column in today's N.Y. Times (link):

Once upon a time — in what we might think of as the “Happy Days” era — courtship was governed by a set of guardrails. Potential partners generally met within the context of larger social institutions: neighborhoods, schools, workplaces and families. There were certain accepted social scripts. The purpose of these scripts — dating, going steady, delaying sex — was to guide young people on the path from short-term desire to long-term commitment.

Over the past few decades, these social scripts became obsolete. They didn’t fit the post-feminist era. So the search was on for more enlightened courtship rules. You would expect a dynamic society to come up with appropriate scripts. But technology has made this extremely difficult. Etiquette is all about obstacles and restraint. But technology, especially cellphone and texting technology, dissolves obstacles. Suitors now contact each other in an instantaneous, frictionless sphere separated from larger social institutions and commitments.

People are thus thrown back on themselves. They are free agents in a competitive arena marked by ambiguous relationships. Social life comes to resemble economics, with people enmeshed in blizzards of supply and demand signals amidst a universe of potential partners.

Source link above (emphasis added).

In his column, Brooks makes much of how modern social networking technology has added to the chaos of the great human adventure of coupling. But, in my view, that is a side issue. The real issue is that, well before the current advent of cellphones, texting, email, and Facebook, we already had the chaos of ambiguous relationships. And the problem is that ambiguity does not breed loyalty or authentic love. You do not sacrifice or delay sensual gratification for the sake of haziness. Moreover, in the climate of the last forty years, there is an added desperate competition--you may, for example, as a male pursue a female not so much because she is the right one but rather because you know with absolute certainty that if you delay she will end up in someone else's apartment. I presume the same would hold from a woman's perspective: yield everything sought by this particular male because he will just move on to someone more cooperative. Desperate competition and rivalry unrelated to the personal character of the person you are considering lead to terrible choices and couplings.

I think many do not like to think deeply about these issues because they make us question the foundational assumptions of our lifestyles and social expectations. Thanks to David Brooks who dared to raise these matters in a secular setting so that others can see that the question here is one of logic and reason, not necessarily one of divine revelation or following the teachings of an allegedly authoritarian or tyrannical church. The casualties have been many in the last four decades. Many have become, simply, unspousable. That is not a happy ending.