Listen again to Fr Nick’s testimony on moving from agnostic sport-mad young man to Dominican priest!
- Excellent Teaching
- Moments for prayer and Worship
- Workshops to discuss current issues
- Opportunities to meet like-minded people
In all honesty the reason that I got so much from the conference in Philadelphia is that Jesus is at the very heart! The Gospel message is not about sex and marriage, the Gospel message is about God coming to save us from our sin and to show us how to live fully, joyfully and freely. If you are searching for more of the Lord, if you long to love yourself and others more, if you want to share answers with friends and family, then do consider attending the Symposium. There are still very limited spaces left.
To enquire about booking contact http://stpatricksoho.org/clcl/
Last Wednesday we watched the first of the Humanum video series which was produced by the Vatican after a three day inter-faith conference on marriage and the family. After we watched the video Conal asked us to reflect on Peter Kreeft’s statement that ‘male and female are biological, masculine and feminine are cosmological…The God who invented sexuality invented the universe, the two fit…It’s a happy philosophy, we fit the nature of things’
This caused a lot of head scratching (my own included!) In fact I kept scratching my head and thinking about what it all meant! I hope this can help…!
I think the key word to focus in on to understand this is ‘cosmos’ which is the Greek word for ‘order’. What Kreeft was getting at is that the whole universe (sun, moon, land and sea) is ordered in a way that reflects the complementarity which is present between a man and a woman.
We can see this in the first Genesis account of creation in which God creates order (cosmos) over the ‘formless and empty’ earth (Genesis 1:1) by diving land from sea (Gen 1:9) the day from the night (Gen 1:18) and animals that fly in the air and those that crawl on the ground (Gen 1:20) and so on. Throughout the account this sense of opposite but complementary things working in harmony is bolstered by the constant refrain ‘and there was evening and there was morning- the first/second/third etc…day’
The grand finale to all of this is the creation of humanity.
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them
It is not by accident that the author of Genesis specifically mentions that God made humans as male and female, reflecting what has gone before in the creation of the world. Humanity is the crown of creation (i.e. the creation goes from the most basic -plants- to the most complex organisms-humans) so we could say that humans are the best expressions of this complementary principle which is running through the universe. Therefore we can legitimately identify this cosmic principle as masculine and feminine. However there is something even deeper going on here since the author of Genesis says that humans are made ‘male and female’ in the image of God. In other words there is something about humans as male and female that reflects God. This makes sense since, as Kreeft points out, the God who made sexuality also made the universe. The creation bears the marks of its Creator.
This is not to say that God is a strange mixture of a man and woman, but that when men and women come together in love as free persons they reflect the fruitful love of the Trinity. The Father loves the Son and the bond of love between them is the Holy Spirit. When a man loves a woman a third person is created, the child, the fruit of their love.
The family therefore is an icon of the Holy Trinity. N T Wright expresses this beautifully in the video when he points out that many scholars read the first Genesis account as God constructing a temple of heaven and earth. When a temple was built in the ancient world the final thing that would be placed inside it was an image of the god that was to be worshipped there. Therefore man and women together are a living image of God.
I have a few answers up my sleeve for when I am asked: ‘So, what do you do?’ One is, I am a free-lance motivational speaker. Another is, I teach Sex and Relationship Education and a final answer (that I use the least) is that I am a chastity speaker. I use that answer the least because it gets the most awkward response! There are several reasons for this.
The first is that I don’t think many people know what I mean. For most people the word chastity sounds odd, super religious & outdated, or even worse judgemental and unrealistic. When I have the opportunity to explain that Chastity is the virtue (characteristic) to help us to love and be loved, as we desire to love and be loved, then it starts to become slightly more appealing! But that’s not the point that I want to focus on.
A second challenge in being a chastity speaker is chastity! Chastity is connected to sexual purity and we live a world that does not understand or value this virtue. I would even say that our culture doesn’t believe that it is possible. Therefore, many young people that I speak to about chastity and saving sex for marriage, have already accepted the culture’s spin on things and have had sexual relationships. So, a second challenge is ‘why bother? Isn’t it too late for most teenagers?’
I want to answer the second challenge ‘why bother?’ by addressing the third challenge, which is this: How do I proclaim the love of God through the message of chastity? The reason that I bother with this work, is because when it is done well, I am able to share God’s unconditional, perfect, healing love with another person. In speaking about chastity, I am aiming to stir up the questions of the human heart: ‘What are you looking for? How do you want to be loved and how do you want to love?’ In speaking about chastity, I am able to invite people to reflect on their lives and to consider how their relationships and experiences correspond to the deepest desire of their hearts. ‘Are you finding what you’re looking for, in the relationships that you are in?’
I was telling someone recently that I give talks on chastity and we discussed the challenge of ensuring that the love and mercy of God comes through above everything else … The guy I was talking to said this great thing: “We think that Jesus came to make us good, but he came to make us happy!” I really liked that, because I think it’s true. We may think that Jesus came to make us good and that only when we are good will he love and accept us. The problem is, it is hard to be good and the truth is, that we are already loved, just as we are – good or not good! The message of chastity is that the love that we so desperately seek is ultimately God’s love – and it is possible to receive it through a relationship with God’s Son – Jesus Christ. When I came to know this love, then I wanted to be good; not to keep the rules, but to find happiness!
So for me, this is the greatest challenge: to let people know that they are deeply and eternally loved! Every time I give a talk I don’t want people to hear a demand to keep the rules, but an invitation to a life-giving relationship – A relationship with Jesus Christ that enables our hearts to say ‘Yes! I have found the love that I have been looking for’.
Fiona is the founder of Pure in Heart in the UK. She has a BA in Theology and Religious studies and has undertaken courses at the Theology of the Body Institute in Philadelphia.
‘women will be saved through child-bearing, if they continue in faith and love and holiness and self-control.’ 1 Timothy 2:15
I remember studying that passage in my theology undergraduate class at university and prickling with anger. So, I thought to myself, men are saved by the cross and women are saved by having babies?! I remarked wisely to my lecturer after the class that it was clear that the misogynistic attitudes of the age in which St Paul’s lived had not been purged away by his new faith. This was surely biological determinism painted onto the canvas of Christianity? She heartily agreed, however as soon as I had made the remarks I felt a voice somewhere in my heart protest. I knew I was missing something that would flip the whole passage around.
The truth is I was reading the passage with secular eyes. I was seeing child-bearing and motherhood, because of its obvious challenges and sacrifices, as something to be despised. Being a mother is hard because it demands the totality of the person, body and soul. The sacrifice a mother makes for a child goes beyond that of the father as she literally gives her body for the life of the child. She says to her unborn child ‘this is my body given for you’. After the child is born she says to the baby ‘take eat, this is my body’.
Motherhood is a radical way in which woman can imitate the total gift of self that Christ made of Himself. Through child-bearing women’s bodies become eucharistic. Is it any wonder then that St Paul says that motherhood, lived in union with Christ, can be redemptive? For St Paul imitating Christ is key to being His faithful disciples. He writes in Philippians “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself.” (Phil. 2:5-7)
Self-emptying in order to serve others is what we are all called to in our various situations and walks of life. Women, by virtue of their amazing capacity to bear another human person within their bodies, are able to live this in a very radical way through their parenthood. Of course St Paul was by no means saying that women can only live this self-giving love through motherhood. If he believed that would he write a paean of praise to men and women who devote themselves to the celibate life? ‘Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do… An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit.’ (1 Cor. 8 , 1 Cor 32)
Saint Paul is not, as I thought, restricting women to their biology. He is in fact doing the opposite by showing how the female body can be the means by which women claim the salvation Christ has won for them. We must never forget that Christianity is a religion of the flesh. The great Church Father Tertullian wrote, “the flesh is the hinge of salvation”. We are redeemed through the flesh of Christ and one day hope to be resurrected in our flesh. Saint Paul knew this profound truth and he meditated upon what this meant for women. This is not biological determinism, this is theological destiny.
I first came to Pure in Heart after realising that it was becoming increasingly hard to grow in my faith without encouragement or anyone to talk about it with. Moving to London I found myself in a bigger struggle than ever between the worldly and the religious lifestyle. Although I’ve always had a strong faith and regularly attend Mass, I’d spend most of my time with people who were not religious and often found myself in situations and environments which were not fruitful or satisfying. Spurred finally by an encounter I had in Confession where I grumbled about living a bit of a duplicitous lifestyle, I was advised to find a Catholic community.
I remember speaking to someone after Mass at Westminster Cathedral, who told me that Pure in Heart met each Wednesday for an hour of Adoration with the Rosary, followed by a talk or discussion centred on Theology of the Body (ToB). Without the slightest idea what ToB was, and slightly anxious that I might not be pure in heart, I decided to go. In that first peaceful hour of adoration, surrounded by Catholics of a similar age, I felt it was an answer to a prayer.
Is it a truth universally acknowledged that PHSE is one of the most useless and boring lessons on the school curriculum? For the most part I can’t remember what we learnt in those lessons (don’t take drugs…use deodorant???) however there is one lesson that has remained with me. In year 9 we were doing Sex Ed and our school nurse came to take the lesson. She asked us to stand on the left hand side of the room if we believed sex before marriage is wrong and the right hand side if we didn’t. I remember groaning inwardly as I guessed that pretty soon I’d be standing alone. Well in fact I didn’t find myself totally alone; my Muslim friend Aisha was there standing in solidarity whilst the rest of the class looked at us in disbelief!
I remember thinking indignantly “you don’t get it” but then on reflection I didn’t “get it” either. I had the conviction that sex was something reserved for marriage but really it was a conviction that was based primarily on an obedience to God. That I believed in obedience isn’t a bad thing in itself but there comes a point, usually in your teenage years, where you have to have see why you do and believe certain things in order for those beliefs and practices to become your own rather than your parent’s hand-me-downs. Going off to university I was still clinging on to that obedience but it was increasingly becoming a less sure footing for me. I loved God and I didn’t want to disobey Him but the devil was pulling that same trick with me as he did with Eve in the garden when he convinced her that God was making her miss out on something great out of spite. Without a strong defence I was starting to wonder whether I shouldn’t just go along with the crowd. “Why are you bothering to shut yourself off from what you should be enjoying? Come on! It’s normal…don’t be one of those weird religious people!”