The Birth of Bottom

Addicts are lucky.

Would that everyone admitted they were powerless over their sin.

Would that everyone knew they needed God to heal them.

Would that everyone’s sin made their lives “unmanageable”.

Would that we all could hit bottom.

Of course, I’m being a bit misleading here. We all either have personal experience of physical addictions or know someone who has (or for the lucky ones like me, both!), and the destructive force those addictions can wreak on souls and families is devastating at times.

But in another sense, I’m not being misleading at all.

If we’re going to be Catholic, we have to plead insanity. We do what we know will make us unhappy. We do what ruins our lives. We do what screws up our families. And we know that, and yet we stick with our behaviors. We keep sinning in our favorite ways, despite the fact that we know it will make us and those around us unhappy.

That’s addiction.

Fr. Robert Barron suggests that we’re all addicts. He says the Beatitudes are calls to be freed from addictions to wealth, power, pleasure, and honor. They are the fulfillment of the moral code inscribed in our hearts and on the tablets: no longer rules to be followed only for obedience’s sake, but for “beatitude”, blessedness, happiness, a share in the Divine life, a life free from the chains of our sin.

Who wouldn’t choose that? Only an addict. Only someone who is powerless over their drug, be it alcohol or anger, booze or bigotry, cocaine or criticism.

Gossip can keep you from beatitude just as much as meth. Sin is simply what we fill our hearts with instead of God.

But how to admit I need to let go of my addiction to pride? How can I hit bottom with envy? That’s why I said addicts (in the traditional sense) are lucky – their problem is obvious, public, and socially unacceptable. So many ask for help.

We all need to do that.

Until we admit we have a problem with sin (i.e. until we stop pretending), we won’t know we need grace.

The first step is admitting we have a problem.

If you’ve never read the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, you should. They’re just darn good catechesis.


1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we
understood Him.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature
of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make
amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do
so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly
admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with
God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us
and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to
carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our

So, admit your sin is out of control and you need Jesus to heal you (steps 1-3). Go to confession (steps 4-7). Do penance (steps 8-9). Continuously examine your conscience (step 10). Pray every day (step 11). Evangelize (step 12).

That’s a simplified, Catholicked version of the steps, but I think there’s something there.

This is how many people are freed from their addictions to drugs and alcohol and sex and eating. It could be the means to our freedom from our spiritual addictions, like pride and envy and lust and greed.

But we won’t use or work the steps unless we admit our powerlessness. We have to quit thinking the moral life is just a great effort of willpower that some of us are doing quite well and others quite poorly.

The moral life is a question of how to live sanely, i.e. how to do what’s best for yourself (what alcoholics would call “your own enlightened self-interest”). When we don’t do that, it doesn’t mean we are just weaklings in need of pMoral-X to buff us up properly.

We are sick with sin. We need spiritual medicine. We need healing.

This is the second step in our journey towards “life to the full”.

1) Quit pretending you are okay.

2) Identify your sin and work the steps on this.

So now it’s time to look those addictions in the eye and see the hope shining behind them.


N.B.: This is not meant to belittle or oversimplify the dangers or seriousness of alcoholism, drug addition, sex addiction, etc., or the deep and difficult task of working the steps. Rather, it’s to point out, as Chesterton says, “We’re all in the same boat, and we’re all seasick”. Grace is our dramamine.

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The Death of Pretending

It’s time to stop pretending everything is okay.

The world is a dark place. Terrible things happen. Unimaginable horrors abound. Death and disease own the day. The shadows of nightmares run wicked through the forests of foreign lands.

But I don’t see them.

My suburban life is pretty easy. My lawn is green. My house is big. My belly is growing.

I need not concern myself with the darkness. It is removed from me by generations of whiteness and prosperity.

But even so, I can’t quite get comfortable. There is something in my heart that whispers of the dark that I’ve read about, the back pages of newspapers written in the corners of my soul. It’s not just out there.

It’s in me.

There is a temptation to pretend. It is easy to think that the bad things happen elsewhere, so it’s someone else’s fault, so it’s someone else’s problem. It’s easy slip into a touch screen in the morning and come out just before bedtime. It’s easy to pass the days until they are passed, until you wake up and the world is different, until you turn on the lights around you and look out the window and find that something inside you has crumbled.

Listen to this song.

Old man in a rocking chair
You wake up, you’ve been living alone
After all these years
Surrounded by these shards of mirrors
And how’d it get so quiet here,
You wonder, where did everyone go?

You wake up one day and things are different. Everyone’s left. 

You tried so hard to make people remember you for something you were not
and if they so remember you then something else will certainly get forgotten.

Did they even know you when they were here?

Life is for the living
I’ve heard tell that it is why we are young
In the morning sun
You take every year as it comes
But when your life is over
All those years fold up like an accordion 
They collapse just like a broken lung

This time will end. It will end. I will die. 

Now I’ve only got one organ left and this old bag of bones it is failing me
I try to tell people that I’m dying only they don’t believe me
They say we’re all dying, that we’re all dying
But if, but if you are dying, why aren’t you scared?
Why aren’t you scared 
Like I’m scared?

And suddenly the throwaway lines people give us to ease our fears don’t hold water and we have to face the fact that we are dying. We are dying. We should be scared.

I read somewhere that when you face eternity 
you face it alone
no matter what you thought
or what you had
or you had not
unless you put yourself in God
but tell me God, oh where did you go?

And where is the God I’m supposed to know?

Every bitter night into an empty room I plead my case
Every night I pray that in the morning when I wake
I’ll be in a familiar place and find that I’m recovered and I’m sane
and I’ll remember everything
I’ll remember what I was like before that bug bit me

Why won’t He answer my prayers? Why don’t things change? Why don’t I change?

And when I have my childhood back 
I’ll tear every page out of my book
And place them in an urn
Strike a match and watch them burn
Then I’ll hold the front cover 
Against the back cover and look
You’ll see
Eternity will smile on me

Eternity will smile on me.

This song, I think, sums out where we need to be. Before we can really talk about virtue, we have to know our lack. We have to acknowledge our sin. We have to admit it is dark. We have to admit part of us is dark.

Only then can we be ready for the light.

We are the religion of hope, but hope demands honesty about the poverty of our present state as well as the glory of our future dreams.

We are dying. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t life to be found.

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The Birth of Life…to the Full!

“I came that they might have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, in large part because life’s been pretty full.

Life with two kids is a lot busier than life with one. Like, twice as busy. My wife and I have been re-learning how to live over these last three months. New schedules. New roles. New priorities. Life is rushing by a little more quickly now, and it’s hard to keep up with things like hygiene, much less blog posts.

But my goodness, the joy. The joy of it all. There was a moment last night where I went to pick my daughter up off the floor (sometimes she likes sleeping on the floor…don’t call Family Services) and put her in her bed when joy welled up inside me out of nowhere. I felt sick with joy, brimming, like there was so much happy inside of me that something was breaking. And then I kissed her forehead and walked into the next room and my son was sleeping with his little baby-snore, and tears sprung up, and I fought them back but just barely.

This is life to the full.

My wife and children bring me grace. They show me God. It’s incredible.

But at the same time, I know there are parts of me that are still dark and murky. I also know that we live in a world hostile to true joy, a world that holds pleasure in higher regard than happiness. I mean, just watch this commercial:

They just advertised four of the seven deadly sins. Literally. Just selling sin here. And I’m sure it’s pretty effective.

But I am reminded of something I stole a while back from Ted Sri: “Virtue is the art of living excellently”. If those sins are “deadly”, meaning actually fatal to our souls, then, to use Fr. Robert Barron’s phrasing, the virtues are “lively”, meaning they bring us to richer life.

Virtue brings us to grace. Virtue brings us to the fullness of life.

The next set of posts is going to be a look at the seven deadly sins in my life and how virtue is leading me from the death of those sins to the freedom and happiness of those virtues. It’s been quite a journey thus far. I have much left to travel.

But the sights and sounds along that road are the ones my soul burns for.

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My Hundredth Post!

Well, this is post #100.

To celebrate, I began writing a post called “100 things I’ve learned since starting TDoC!”

I got to 13 before I started running out of ideas. And I’m pretty sure it would have been terribly boring.

So instead, I will just say this: In the two years I’ve been writing this, I have become a father twice, I have grown (sometimes the hard way) as a husband and educator, and I have learned more about prayer and Jesus than at any other point in my life.

What I’ve come to realize is that there is more joy to be had in this life than I ever dreamed possible, and I am just beginning to taste of it. I’ve also learned that this kind of happiness is only possible through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and His Body, the Church.

Without Him, there is nothing but dark and suffering. Even the good stuff (like sex and food and family) become sources of fear and discord, not to mention that hope is stolen from the trials of life.

But with Him, the darkness is but shadows cast in a land of light, and the suffering is but the burning in the muscles of our love as we run to the home we never meant to leave.

A good friend of mine said to me recently, “Prayer gives us the accent of our native land so that anyone who hears us knows we come from Love.”

Yes. I wish I’d thought of that.

Other than the sacraments, daily personal prayer with Scripture is the most important thing we can do.

More important than eating.

More important than sleeping.

More important than our families.

More important than our friends.

More important than our jobs.

More important than anything.

Now that I’ve finally gotten to the point where I pray every day (after years of on-again-off-again, pray-a-day-then-skip-a-week,  love-ya-Jesus-but-not-that-much), I’ve realized that prayer makes it possible for me to love my family and my friends and my students and my food and my sleep and everything else in a way I never knew, a way that is fuller and more meaningful and more pure than what I am capable of on my own.

And I don’t need to be afraid to talk about my prayer life. I have learned that mental prayer is not a skill; it’s a gift God gives us. The only thing that makes a prayer life “good” or “bad” is whether you show up and whether you’re open to what God wants to tell you. So we can’t be proud of our prayer lives, any more than children can be proud on Christmas morning.

We can only receive and rejoice.

We are pilgrims traveling back to our homeland of Love, and all we have to do to get there is open up our Bibles and our hearts. You can’t be bad at prayer. You can’t miss the destination. Because it’s God who brings you home, as long as you let Him.

That’s what I’ve really learned. I am absolutely soaked in Love. My wife. My kids. My parents. My siblings. My in-laws. My job. Music. Art. Novels. Food. Running. Sunsets.


“For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.” Matthew 25:29.

I think this applies to prayer. All the blessing God has given me are multiplied and given anew every day that I pray and stay close to Him in the Sacraments. And those who want these blessings but demand them on their own terms without a relationship with Jesus often are not given them. He will not give us that which will satisfy until we come to Him first; otherwise, we might never go home at all. And that’s all He really wants. He wants us to love Him. He wants His family to come home.

Thanks for reading this blog. Here’s to another hundred posts!

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Part 7: The Death of Burden

Marriage is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, period. Parenting is second. I have no idea, nor do I think it worth my time, to consider what might be third. Nothing is even in the same realm.

But there are different kinds of hard.

Some of my best memories were pressed into snowy paths in the Rockies with my friends and brother on our annual ski trips to Winter Park. We would take whisky and matches as deep and high as we could into the dark woods behind our cabin, find a clearing, and then build a fire, sipping from the bottle and telling stories about each other under a star-dusted sky veiled with the mist of our breath.

The hikes were always hard on my body. My legs felt heavy as they churned the powder. My lungs burned in the thin air. At points I felt light-headed and would have to breathe deeply and drink from my water bottle.

I would joke to my companions about how fat and out of shape I was in a sort of passive and vaguely humorous whining. It was hard, and I felt the need to say something, but I knew a real complaint would be absurd at that point.

It would be absurd because, in reality, those hikes weren’t hard at all: after all, I was alive. Deeply alive, awake and aware, moving and moved, filled and thirsting. Whatever was hard about it was almost unnoticeable in the thick of all that realness.

As we hiked we would stop occasionally and catch our breath, sinking into snow drifts or leaning against pine trunks to let the burn drain from our thighs. The only noises were the deep breaths, muttered comments and laughter, and the static hiss that snowy woods have in deep winter.

And then we would keep moving.

When we found the right spot, we always knew it. I remember one of the first years, we found a frozen waterfall. The moonlight was violet as it crashed into the ice hanging like crystal gargoyles from its rocky cathedral, and we were silent for a moment as we took in these new colors and shapes.

We built our fire nearby, digging out a hollow space and piling up broken limbs and fallen branches and scattered twigs before we each nestled our bottoms into our own personal powder-hammock, moving only to throw logs into the orange and blue swirl.

And then we sat and talked and laughed and fell silent in turn, awash in a current of evergreen and aware that time was not the same here as it was in the cabin we had left, aware that this was different, sacred though outsiders might think it profane, aware that we had arrived and that whatever moments would be ours by this frozen creek in these high mountains in this little copse of firs were the good moments, the ones that stick, the ones we were hiking for all along.

When we are who we are made to be, nothing is hard. It might burn, we might need breaks, there might be winds that cut or feet that go numb but in the end nothing is hard when you are knee-deep in beauty and your nose can smell the nearness of heaven.

I look at a hopeless world, a world riddled with divorce and abusive priests and so lost that it turns to anything, anything, to give it a sense of direction and purpose again, and all I see is me on that hike if I decided to just think about the “hard”. I see me focusing on the tired muscles or hurting lungs, and I see me sitting on the side of that trail, just for a moment (of course I’ll have the energy to catch up after a little rest!), and I see myself getting caught up in the beauty of that one part of the trail, this particular tree or the way the moon gets caught in those branches or how that constellation fits between those clouds. And I see myself getting comfortable, and understandably so because this is not hard and look, the beauty! It is here too, not just wherever we were heading to!

And after a while I start to get cold. I feel the snow I’m sitting in seeping wet through my pants and the chill sweeping sharply through my gloves. And I see a smoky gray cloud smudging my view of the moon. And I feel the fear of remembering that there are animals out here I don’t understand, and the fear rising quickly into panic when my ears can no longer catch the distant fragments of my friends’ laughter.

And I can see myself standing and my legs are not refreshed like I thought they would be, only colder and stiff, and I can hear the sounds of my rumbling through the branches that catch at my coat as I follow their footsteps (but wait, is that even them?) and now I am alone and I am scared and I am not sure where they ended up because, after all, I’m just a flatlander and my friends were the ones who really knew where we were going, and I’m not even so sure how to get back to the cars and what was the point of this whole thing anyway?

And alone in those woods, it would be easy to think that my friends had left me, rather than remember it had been my decision to stop. And in my fear and anxiety and the sheer loneliness of being trapped somewhere between I might even learn to hate them for not being there. And I would decide I didn’t need them. And I would see the good of where I was, because there is good there too, and I would forget about last year’s trip and what that destination was like, and I would forget about the dreams I had about where we might end up this year, and I would forget why I was traveling in the first place, and I would slowly believe that this frozen spot in the middle of a long and uphill path was all I really needed anyway.

I would be lost and I would be cold and I would be scared but if I just wanted to survive, I would convince myself to just make the best of where I was.

And that would be it.

This is what has happened, I believe, to those whose catastrophic failures in their vocation are all too evident.

But I don’t believe that’s the end of the story, either.

I believe in a God who would come crashing through those woods in a blaze of warmth and light if I but whispered His name. I believe in a God who can overcome any of our failures, even the most terrible, even the most obvious, who can and will and wants nothing more than to come and rescue us from our cold prisons of self, and He would do so not because He wants us to know how lost we are and how incapable of saving ourselves (though of course we are and we won’t call on His name if we don’t admit it!), but because He wants to show us the path again, He wants to lead us forward, He wants to unite us with our lost friends and brothers in some crystalline courtyard of open sky and clean air and fire.

So even if we are not living our vocations yet, even if we are lost, even if we have stopped moving altogether and are trying our best to just get comfortable with where we left off, He will rouse us and reawaken us to the daydream of destination we had left beside the path.

But only if we ask.

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Part 6: The Birth of Vocation

So after spilling much digital ink over the topic of masculinity and femininity, I have officially said nothing original. I have said what the Church fathers, actually what Christ Himself, have said for millennia: Men are built to give of themselves as Christ gave of Himself to His Church, and women are built to receive the gift and be fruitful in their return.

But what does that actually look like?

I think I’ve covered mostly how that works for married people. Sex is a straightforward, tangible expression of the inner life of the Trinity: two persons giving of themselves in love until that love becomes a person. Simple.

Beyond that, it gets more personal, more relational. The traditional path is one where guy asks girl out, woos her, she accepts said wooing and leads him to deeper and more meaningful giving, receiving his love and returning it to him with mystery and allurement abounding. But that doesn’t mean that’s how it has to be.

A good friend of mine asked her husband out on their first date. Does that mean she wasn’t being feminine or is less of a woman? Of course not. But it does mean that her receptivity and fruitfulness must come out in other ways ( I saw them manifested in her career as a teacher who had a special knack for reaching kids with disabilities and am certain it is just as apparent in her marriage as well).

A guy I work with talked on a retreat about how he didn’t fit the typical masculine mold growing up; sports and toughness weren’t his method of giving of himself or his strength. But my goodness you should see that boy play the piano. It’s something else entirely, something wonderful and filling and challenging like any masculine gift is.

So it’s a “both-and” situation – Yes, there is one common way that all men can give their self (sex), and then there are a billion other ways, small ways of expression and service, that serve to share the individual in a masculine way as well. Same with women: one common way to be receptive and fruitful, and a myriad of possibilities that only a woman could know f how to welcome reality into her heart and return it better than it ever was.

But what if you’re not married? What about priests (which is who this whole question was about in the first place!)?

Priests cannot give of themselves in the sexual way (see this post for a treatment of the priest-abuse scandal if that is where your mind jumped). But they must give of themselves.

They are called to be the “Father” married to “Mother Church”, a physical representation of the Christ-Man who once died as the spouse of the Church and lives still in His servant-priests. They are called to give their lives on the cross of their calling, their vocation. I think of Fr. Bruce, my first real spiritual director, an older-than-dirt monk at St. Benedict’s Abbey who is more of a man than I will ever be. Whether it was hearing confessions after every 9:30 p.m. Mass on Sundays or hearing my confession when I called him at 2 a.m., or walking down the long hill to our dorm for a midnight rosary and still waking up in his room alone at 4:30 that morning to pray one on his own, or taking groups of us to prisons to play basketball or softball with the men there while he joked with thugs in the bleachers, the man knows how to give of himself. He is a model of Christ’s joyful ministry, one I hope to emulate more closely as I mature.

So why can’t women do this as well? Are they not strong enough? Are they not worthy enough?

No. That’s just not who they’re made to be. They are capable of being other fruit in over-abundance.

I think of the vocation director from the Sister Servants of Mary who came and spoke to my theology classes this year. She talked about all of her thousands of “children”, the people she and her fellow servants provided hospice to through the night free of charge so their families and caretakers could have rest, how they would be with them as they died and entered eternal life. She said, “People often ask me if I’m sad I don’t get to be a mom. But I am a mom. All those patients, no matter what age or faith or social class, are my children. I got to be with them the day they were born.”

That is a receptivity and fruitfulness in action that I had never even thought existed until I heard her tell of it.

And at the end of the day, we need people doing both. We need priests who can give us the sacraments, and we need nuns and sisters who can minister to the poor and sick and dying. It’s not possible for one person to do this all, and yet it is all necessary.

This is why we must learn “vocation”. It is a calling from without, something beyond us that we are welcomed into. We don’t define it for ourselves. We can’t. It is a gift, a lavish gift, that we receive the second we ask for it.

And though we, siblings, brothers and sisters in this one family of Christ, do not receive the same gifts from our Father, we can nevertheless be assured of the brilliance of the gift, the sheer thoughtfulness of it, how it matches what we wish for most deeply, how it is so carefully wrapped and delivered just so, so that the moment we see it we know it is just for us, and we can rejoice in the ripping of paper and tossing aside of bows and the squeals of childish joy that emit in the family room of our Church as we all see what is waiting for us in our package.

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Part 5: The Birth of the Church

I’m sitting on the stone ledge in front of my fireplace, my first-born son sleeping peacefully in his bouncer on the floor next to me, my wife and daughter asleep in the bedrooms down the hall, the creaks and cracks of our home in wintertime like a metronome marking the rhythm of this new life.

In the words of my favorite singer-songwriter Damien Rice, “I’ve got so much beauty around me, I can’t lose.”

I think back to the original question: As the father of a young girl, don’t I want my Church to afford women all the same opportunities that she affords men?

Now as the father of a young boy and a young girl, I can reply with certainty: Yes…but not in the way the questioner means.

I want my Church to provide both my son and my daughter with the opportunity to learn about the God of Abraham and Isaac, to meet the Christ who defeated death, to feel the movements of the Holy Spirit and be surrounded by a community of believers that emboldens them both to cooperate with those movements in a world increasingly hostile to these divine calls.

I want my Church to provide my son with opportunities to give of himself and my daughter with opportunities to be receptive and fruitful in the way she is meant to be, a self-gift in its own right, but greater, for it is a gift of both her and the fruit that only she can bear.

I want my Church to stand firm against the wailings and wrenchings of a world determined to determine, desperate to define, scratching and clawing at the muck and filthy clay of this earth to find truth that can only be seen within their own hearts.

I look at my Church and in one glance I can see a vast sea of faces in which I am floating, all of us sad and broken and addicted and failing, all of us proclaiming a truth we are incapable of living up to; and in that same glance I also see a Spirit within us all and transcending us all, a Life and Light that the darkness cannot comprehend or overcome, something so not-human but not inhuman, something super-human, something lifting, Someone who is who-we-were-made-to-be-and-could-still-become, and I am filled with an unspeakable hope, a feeling not unlike that surge of tears that burns my eyes now as I look on my child, my son, this new life that just moments ago was not visible to my eyes but for the glow of my wife.

This is the Church that was born on Calvary.

A friend of mine once wrote a song, one of my favorites, that was about all the things that happened on this one particular bed. It was essentially the story of a family: sex, births, deaths, all in this one place.

As Pope Benedict taught us in Deus Caritas Est, this is how we are to think of the Cross.

On the Cross we see an act so perfect that it encompasses all aspects of earthly family life, all aspects of masculinity and femininity, and yet transcends them all. We see the whole spectrum of human life present in one perfect moment. It is the perfect family moment on the perfect wooden bedframe.

First, a birth: When the side of Christ was pierced, blood and water flowed out. The Church of baptism and Eucharist was born. I just witnessed a live birth and anyone who has ever seen one knows that this is precisely what happens, a rush of blood and water spilling out in a mess of screaming new life. The images and symbols of birth are there in that moment on the Cross, and they are the images of the life of the Church: water for baptism, blood for the Eucharist. The Church is born.

Second, a death and marriage: When the Church is born from the side of Jesus, it is the marriage of the New and Perfect Husband to His New and Perfect Wife, just as the First Woman was given after being born from the side of the First Man. As Adam beheld his own flesh and blood before him when he awoke from a deep sleep, created from the opening of his side during that slumber, so Christ beheld his own flesh and blood, His Body, the Church, created from the opening in his side during the sleep of death, when he appeared to them in the Upper Room.

And here is what is truly extraordinary, what our minds cannot comprehend because we are so caught up in the roles of men and women that we forget that man and woman are expressions of God in a way that transcends any particular role: Mary is the embodiment of the Church for Jesus.

Here we see Jesus acting as Husband to His Bride the Church, as well as Son to the new Mother Church, both of whom are represented by His Mother Mary.

When we think of Son-Groom and Mother-Bride, we usually think of Oedipus, but this actually goes to prove the point. Sex is just an image of some sort of incredibly and indescribable giving and receiving that the Trinity is always engaged in and in which we can participate in Heaven, but it is not the thing itself. It is sign, not reality, art, not the landscape being painted, too profane to fully express how Woman is more than mother or wife or daughter and how Man is more than father or husband or son.

Sex can’t quite show us the reality that our God, the perfect man Jesus Christ, showed us with His Love in the presence of the perfect (though not divine) woman, Mary.

Beyond the images of Son and Husband, what we really see in Christ’s Passion is the Divine Self-Gift which masculinity is meant to emulate and make visible; and we also see the divinely-established Church’s function of receiving the Divine Self-Gift and making it fruitful, receiving the Body of Christ and then turning it into billions and billions of Bodies of Christ, the Eucharist-Children born of Mother Church from the seed of the Messianic Bride-Groom, a Bride-Mother represented by Mary in that perfect moment, giving back for all the world to see and experience the real flesh of the Groom-Father, flesh of His flesh and bone of His bones in an even more tangible and real way than my son is my flesh and bone.

There is so much poetry there, such richness and depth and infinitude that a blog post is almost an insult to its enormity and I hesitate to even hit “publish”.

But this is the richness I want for my children. Not the current political debates about equality and fairness and progress. Not some pre-fabricated and shallow and finite identities that our society carefully crafts.

No. Life, and life to the full, nothing less. That is what I dream of at night when I wonder who my son is and will be and what all my daughter’s strength and warmth will translate to twenty years from now.

I don’t want them to be the same. I want them to fall in love with Jesus and His Body, the Church, and find His plan for them.

I am certain it is far greater than my limited dreams could wish.

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Part 4: The Birth of Love

The anticipation is almost too much to take.

I find myself antsy, cranky, irritable, bursts of energy followed by troughs of apathy marking the ebb and flow of each day for the last two weeks.

When will this baby come?

As if I had anything to complain about. My wife has a whole other person just hanging out inside of her, finding new organs to push his head and shoulders against, redefining her idea of “uncomfortable” on an hourly basis.

And yet, a certain joy brims quietly beneath it all.

The greatest gift God has given me in my interior life has been a sense of peace at all the big transitions of my life. I firmly believe that through prayer and the Sacraments He placed His peace within me, massaging my anxious soul with the salve of His love. When I got married, it felt like the most natural thing in the world for me. When we had our first child, the same sense of ease came with it. The whole time it felt like, “Well what was I waiting for? This is what I should have been doing all along!”

I felt much like Adam when he first beheld his bride: “At last…”

This peace is the voice of God. It is His touch. It is Him, present.

And it is only possible by being who we were made to be.

I was made to be a husband. Everything in me desires self-gift. I know this mostly because I have spent the majority of my life up to this point taking, and it left me empty.

I would take beauty without permission in my lustful thoughts. I would take in excess with my gratuitous eating and drinking. I would take a break with a cigarette whenever I needed it. I would take time for myself with my hours of apathetic sleeping and vegging out.

Oh, but I deserved it. This part of my job was really stressful or that person just didn’t understand or MAN WAS THAT A LONG DAY or I’m just really feeling down and I’m not sure why and I could sure use a pick-me-up.

I would take and take, giving only my inexhaustible excuses, and yet I stayed empty.

And then, “at last”, came the woman I would give anything to be with. She seduced me into selflessness. I started giving of myself just because I didn’t know any other way to get her attention! I would give my time to set up surprises for her. I would give my talent to write poems and songs for her. I would give my treasure to take her on dates and buy her bad presents and send her cheesy letters.

I was tripping over myself to be what all those parish “stewardship” people talked about. Except I did it for my wife, not the Church.

At least, not directly. But we’ll get to that.

My relationship with my wife awoke in me an intense and completely natural desire to forget about myself. Finally, something outside of me that I couldn’t help but chase, couldn’t shake from my mind or stop my heart from loving.

I was becoming a man.

And when she finally accepted my gift of self, she turned it into so much more.

I gave her my offer, she accepted, and she gave me back a relationship.

I gave her a ring, she accepted, and she gave me back a marriage.

I gave her what little money I had, she combined it with hers, and she gave me a house.

I gave her my hard work, she combined it with hers, and she turned that house into a home.

I gave her my genes, she combined it with hers, and she has given me back children.

I give her my time and my words and my fears and my sins and my jokes and my mistakes and all the little corners of my love, she combines it with hers, and she has given me back a life, an abundant life, a life worth living!

This is why we are not equal! In the Catholic worldview the man is penultimate; it is not until woman that God’s creative genius has crescendoed. That is because God did not build man for himself. He built man, physically and spiritually, to give of himself, and when the masculine gift is received, physically and spiritually, by the feminine, it explodes into new energy and new horizons and new life.

We can see this clearly and literally in our biology, what John Paul II coined the “theology of the body”: the man’s body is built to give, the woman’s body to receive his gift, and the result is a new life that is them, and yet not them. The result is a family.

This is not crude or profane. It’s beautiful. It’s true.

It is a tremendous truth.

And while it is present most obviously in sexual intercourse between a man and woman that’s not it in its fullness.

As a matter of fact, it’s most important manifestation comes in the Church.

It comes at the foot of the Cross.

To be continued…

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Part 3 – The Birth of Family

So I have said that I think men and women are different and that the difference is not so simple as our cultural stereotypes try to make it.

But the question remains, what is the difference?

As I write this, I am waiting. My son will be born any minute now. Sometime in the next week, he will be here, and then begins the task of raising that child to be a man in this world. I have already begun trying to raise a little girl to one day be a woman.

I wonder how different that will look.

This brings us back to the original question: Ultimately, isn’t the Catholic view of men and women an unfair one? Don’t they view men and women as unequal?

No, it’s not unfair, and yes, they do view them as unequal.

As I prepare my heart to raise these children, I’m preparing for a battle. Almost every value that our culture holds dear is opposite to what I want my children to believe.

And that includes equality.

The modern concept of equality is different than the ancient idea of justice. Justice is the idea of giving all people (and God) what they are owed. Naturally, we owe people different things. I owe my wife a greater duty of care than I owe my next-door neighbor. I owe my mother more gratitude than I owe my coworkers. I owe my daughter more attention than my four blog-readers.

I have built my life on the premise that I owe no two people the same thing.

Of course, our cultural concept of equality isn’t really a bad thing. It came from a very good and necessary place. We are all equal in dignity; the Catholic Church has always championed that premise. The Church says that no person is subject to use: God has made each of us for our own sake, an end unto ourselves, a reflection of the divine and infinite Persons.

But He never meant us to be the same or to treat each other the same (when we separate truths from the Truth, it tends to go wrong at some point…)

How could He? If He wanted to share Himself, an infinite communion of persons, with us, terribly and frustratingly finite individuals, wouldn’t He have to make us different? Wouldn’t He have to paint His tenderness into this soul and His strength into that, His sense of justice into her mind and His love of freedom into his?

God made us different so that we could all speak of Him, just by being who we are, so that we could know Him more fully.

But what He does at the micro level with each of our souls, He has done at the macro level with our race as a whole.

The Catholic Church is founded on one astonishing claim that flies in the face of both polytheism and monotheism, that contradicts the heathen and the Jew, that believes in oneness and universalness: God is Three-in-One.

It’s a bizarre idea on paper: How can someone be three and also one, be separate but the same, be many persons yet one being?

But in reality, when we stop worrying about doctrine and distinctions and just awaken ourselves to the universe He has immersed us in, we see this Truth of Truths as the most natural thing in the world.

Because nothing makes more sense than family.

Family, when done right, is the one place we feel most at home, most alive, most ourselves, most at peace. And family, when done wrong, is the greatest tragedy we know of, the most terrifying of collapses, the inflictor of the deepest wounds.

We believe God is a family. We believe He is One Person who loves Another so much and so completely that Their Love is Another Person, and together they are something altogether greater and more mysterious than their individual parts.

God is family, and that’s what He built us for. That’s who He meant for us to be. A family. And in my family, no two persons are the same. It wouldn’t work if we were.

My wife is the beautifier, the planner, the saver, the practical and strong one. I am the dreamer, the playful and passionate one, the man of faith.

And as we live this life together, we start to become more alike. I have become more practical and strong. She has grown in faith and remembered how to play.

And our daughter is a little of everything, and something all her own at the same time.

But we are not the same, and we never will be.

I will now (finally) state the difference between men and women, and will expound on it in the next post. But if you don’t come back, just look at a family, your family, and see if you don’t see at least a hint of this truth:

Man is built to give. Woman is built to receive the gift and then return it in abundance.

Our understanding of ourselves must be founded on this idea. We must be rooted in family.

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Part 2 – The Death of Stereotypes

So last post was essentially about how I know from my own experience how connected the body and soul are, how they are both me, and so I can determine that those with different bodies have different souls, and similarities and differences in bodies indicate some sort of equivalent difference or sameness in the souls.

I’ll admit, I’m no great philosopher; I don’t think Aquinas ever considered chili-dogs reason to make ontological determinations. But you’re the one reading this blog and not Aquinas, so…

So where did that lead me? I really, really didn’t want it to lead to an acceptance of a stereotypical masculinity and femininity, the 1950’s stay-at-home mom and working dad. Truth be told, that was mostly because I found (and still find) a lot of qualities of the “liberal” ideology in America more attractive than their conservative counterparts, and the liberals definitely hated the ’50s. I think part of the attraction was due to a misunderstanding of what it meant to be “liberal” or “conservative”, but part of it was also, in a general way, legitimate.

I wanted to believe that life was better in a society that embraced the person as an individual and had a radical and active concern for the poor, even if that meant erring on the side of enablement.

I wanted to believe that the prefabricated judgments and prejudices most of us come by honestly could be addressed and confronted head-on in the public sphere.

And I really wanted to believe that old white people were squares.

I still believe all of that. I find my rounded sides turning into straight lines and corners every day. But I couldn’t help but notice that for all the things I was attracted to in that liberal worldview, the people who claimed to be its face also did all the things I abhorred the most.

Put me in a tough spot.

So another question was before me: Could I buy into all these beliefs without taking on their proponents’ glaring faults? Could I be all those things I saw missing in the “conservatives” I knew and still not be a durn librel?

Of course, the answer was to quit thinking of it like that, to let go of the labels our modern world insists on using and look at Truth, Goodness, and Beauty regardless of what our culture thinks about them. But it took me a long time to realize that.

Eventually the facade of modern politics and our social landscape lost its luster for me and my disenchantment spurred me to start looking at life beyond the labels.

I started looking for transcendence.

I have struggled for years to really articulate what I believe to be the difference between men and women. I read books like Wild at Heart by John Eldrich which were truly, deeply inspiring, but still not quite it. Strength vs. Beauty? Warrior and Princess? No, even if he did equivocate quite a bit to make it clear he didn’t mean macho vs. dainty.

I mean, watch this video and tell me if that isn’t the most graceful thing you’ve ever seen. Not just from a man, but from anyone.

No way is he less a man because that is his gift and not something else. It’s Beauty, plain and simple, and that is always of God.

I read lots of things about femininity as well and listened to female figures, public and private, Christian and pagan, liberal and conservative, and never got a straight answer there either. Women are the same as men? No, can’t be. They’re too…different. Women are the gentle and meek? No, that ain’t it either. That’s too simplified.

I’ll spare you any video clips, but I’ve witnessed a live birth and am about to see another one any day now, so I know that strength is not a masculine quality, that women are not always gentle or meek, that in a woman is a storm of strength and tremendous grace. Women are powerful. And kind of scary.

So I was left searching. And, like most things worth finding, I found what I was looking for at home.

That was the next step for me. First, body and soul are connected, integrated. Second, men and women have different bodies, so they must have different souls. Third, over the course of years I learned that the traditional stereotypes were not complete explanations of this difference, even though I could not yet articulate what the difference was.

But at this point in my life, I believe the Church is starting to give me the words I’ve been looking for.

More to come…

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