Wednesday, August 01, 2007

On the "The Whys of Mating: 237 Reasons and Counting"

Most news sources have picked up the story I first saw that the New York Times did on July 31, 2007 entitled "The Whys of Mating: 237 Reasons and Counting" (free registration may be required to access the story). First of all, the New York Times article title is misleading. It refers to the "Whys of Mating" when the study done clearly refers to the "Whys of Sex." Mating typically refers to the act of reproduction. Whereas this study clearly did not seem to equate sexual intercourse with reproduction. But I digress.

The New York Times piece concerns a study done by psychologists at the University of Texas at Austin who surveyed nearly two thousand people and came up with a total of 237 reasons why people have sexual intercourse. As the NYTimes story points out, these reasons run the gamut "from 'I wanted to feel closer to God' to 'I was drunk.' They even found a few people who claimed to have been motivated by the desire to have a child." The Times piece says that "The researchers, Cindy M. Meston and David M. Buss, believe their list, published in the August issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior, is the most thorough taxonomy of sexual motivation ever compiled. This seems entirely plausible." How this can seem plausible is a point of contention from my perspective. More on this later.
The researchers collected the data by first asking more than 400 people to list their reasons for having sex, and then asking more than 1,500 others to rate how important each reason was to them. Although it was a fairly homogenous sample of students at the University of Texas, nearly every one of the 237 reasons was rated by at least some people as their most important motive for having sex.

The best news is that both men and women ranked the same reason most often: “I was attracted to the person.”

The rest of the top 10 for each gender were also almost all the same, including “I wanted to express my love for the person,” “I was sexually aroused and wanted the release” and “It’s fun.”
Without getting much further into the study, I wanted to point out something very important about the volunteers in this study. As the study notes (you can find the study linked on the New York Times website in the form of a .pdf), the majority of those who took part in the survey and were tested with the Why Have Sex questionnaire, were undergraduate students (1,549: 503 men and 1046 women) and they ranged in age from 16 to 42 years of age and the mean age was 19. Of this group of 1,549 participants, 4% of the women were married and 2% of the men were married. These psychologists were clearly not motivated to tie together marriage and sexual intercourse. They were more interested in the sexual habits and reasonings from mostly sexually-active single people who live in a hook-up culture where sex is amusement and pleasure and with the body something to be used.

I might say more about the study as I read further into it. For now, this is all I want to say.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Sign of Contradiction Remembered

Today is a date that I do not forget during the calendar year. It happens to be one of my patrons feast days, St. James the Greater. Also, something I do tend to forget, according to the older calendar of 1962, today also happens to be the memorial of St. Christopher. Finally, today is also the 39th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's Encyclical Humanae vitae. Maybe not surprising, it was the last encyclical he ever wrote even though he continued as pontiff for another 10 years.

It is helpful to revisit some of Paul VI's words in this encyclical, to remind us in part of how truly visionary his words are, but also as a reminder of what is at stake. In paragraph 17, Paul VI elaborates on three consequences he sees as the evil results of the contraceptive mentality. First he envisions "
marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards." Sadly this first consequence is easily seen in the rates of divorce and infidelity among married couples as well as its overwhelming repercussions for the notion of marriage and morality in the public square. Second, Paul VI sees
man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.
Coupled with the outpouring of pornography, women and men have been reduced to instruments for use and eventual disregard. How often is love portrayed in our culture simply as dealing with physical pleasure and emotion? How often does one get the notion of love as self-sacrifice and care for another without such physical pleasure or emotion? As a result of the contraceptive mentality, one loses the meaning of love.

Finally, Paul VI has concerns about the contraceptive mentality invading public policy.
Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.
You almost get a sense that Paul VI envisions a "Brave New World" on the horizon when the contraceptive mentality becomes so much a part of the very fabric of existence that the government begins to regulate fertility and impose such regulations on everyone. Fortunately this last consequence has not come to full fruition, at least in regards to the United States. But such a government solution always could lurk around the corner. You begin to see such encroachment upon the consciences of doctors and pharmacists who refuse to offer such things as the Morning-After Pill. Let us hope and pray that this last consequence does not come to a full realization.

In paragraph 18, Paul VI recognizes that the teaching of Humanae vitae will be difficult.
It is to be anticipated that perhaps not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching. There is too much clamorous outcry against the voice of the Church, and this is intensified by modern means of communication. But it comes as no surprise to the Church that she, no less than her divine Founder, is destined to be a "sign of contradiction."(Luke 2:34) She does not, because of this, evade the duty imposed on her of proclaiming humbly but firmly the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical.

Since the Church did not make either of these laws, she cannot be their arbiter—only their guardian and interpreter. It could never be right for her to declare lawful what is in fact unlawful, since that, by its very nature, is always opposed to the true good of man.

In preserving intact the whole moral law of marriage, the Church is convinced that she is contributing to the creation of a truly human civilization. She urges man not to betray his personal responsibilities by putting all his faith in technical expedients. In this way she defends the dignity of husband and wife. This course of action shows that the Church, loyal to the example and teaching of the divine Savior, is sincere and unselfish in her regard for men whom she strives to help even now during this earthly pilgrimage "to share God's life as sons of the living God, the Father of all men."(Paul Vl, encyc. letter Populorum progressio: AAS 59 (1967), 268 [TPS XII, 151])

I find these passages to be very moving, especially the first paragraph. He calls attention to the Church and subsequently its members that they are to be signs of contradiction like Christ himself. And as a sign of contradiction, the Church presents the divine law in its entirety in order to protect the dignity of man. So much is at stake with the contraceptive mentality and how it can destroy the dignity that God has given to the human person.

Let us pray and hope that more people see the beauty in the Church's teaching on marriage and help the Church build a truly human civilization in which the dignity of each human person is not degraded but rather respected and uplifted befitting our call to be the sons and daughters of God.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

It All Starts in the Church and the Home

I won't bother linking to the many stories and headlines I have seen in the past day concerning a "new study" which tells us that abstinence education does not stop sex. The headline might as well have read: new study tells us that telephones do not stop sex. When will educators, politicians, media outlets, etc. finally realize that just because you present and educate someone with "information" that does not mean the now "educated" person with new information actually will use that information.

The development of good life habits, regardless of whether it deals with sex or the care of teeth, will not simply happen due to the presentation of information. How many of your parents told you first off that you needed to brush your teeth because of all the health benefits? You probably were told it was something you had to do.

Notice the irony about sex education: you only need to glance at the trends in sexual education and the rates of those infected with sexually-transmitted diseases and realize that those moments of education and information at schools did not make a difference either.

Truly educating someone about good life habits requires constant teaching and effort. Think about the Twelve Steps from Alcoholics Anonymous and how much effort and constancy it requires of individuals following and at times enduring those steps. What does that First Step teach? It teaches us complete dependence on God for all things. This First Step should provide us with a hint about how most approaches to education in sexuality go wrong.

Without a young person realizing how his sexuality is to be meaningful with a God-centered life, it is hard to see how a plea for abstinence with an information-deluge or a sex-education-deluge will do anything other than presenting a false impression of actually doing something. If abstinence and a life of chastity doesn't start with the Church and the Home, then I don't see how a school will do any better.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Just Thought I Would Share

Over at a Dominican run website, you can find several great theological lectures given during the past year. The website is for Dominican vocations, and as a tool I presume, they post videos of lectures. Several of the video lectures involve the series at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC concerning Man and the Image of God. I have linked below several of the lectures. You can view the lectures online or you can download them for later. I use the Podcast link and download the videos through iTunes. Enjoy!

The Image of God in a Post-Genomic Age given by Rev. Nicanor Astriaco, O.P. Assistant Professor of Biology and Instructor of Theology at Providence College, Providence, Rhode Island. Consultant to the Committee on Science and Human Values of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Image of God & The Sacraments of the Church given by Rev. Romanus Cessario, O.P. Professor of Systematic Theology and Coordinator of Masster of Arts at St. John's Seminary School of Theology in Brighton, MA.

Charity's Knowledge: The Relationship Between Knowledge and Love in Aquinas' Account of Human Action given by Rev. Michael Sherwin, O.P. Associate Professor of Fundamental Moral Theology at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.

The Marian Role in the Restoration of the Image of God given by Rev. John Corbett, O.P. Assistant Professor of Moral Theology Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Strangers at Our Bedside: Updated

It is a sad state of affairs when medical life and death decisions are decided by a committee. No doubt that in the last few decades, the medical community has provided ample ways of improving health and well-being for all people, from those unborn to those who are elderly. But at the same time, the medical community has succumb to the philosophies of the day in which cost analysis makes a difference in someone's care or the notion of "futility" becomes critical for deciding whether a person should live or die or better yet, medicine directs itself solely for the purpose of the elimination of suffering.

We also have moved away from a very local-oriented medical community (where you went to the same doctor time and time again and the doctor knew you and your family well and you knew the doctor well too) to a medical community of strangers in which you barely know much about your own doctor and he knows little more than what his diagnostic sheets tell him.

And when medical emergencies or complications arise, we go to a hospital, which is full of medical strangers who provide well or badly the medical care we need and in some cases we are left to the mercy of their decision-making powers, sometimes to the very issue of whether we will live or die. Take for example this case in Texas (free registration may be required to view the article). You have probably heard of similar stories. A family is fighting to keep their very sick toddler alive over and against the decision of the hospital seeking to end the child's life.
As 17-month-old Emilio Gonzales lies in a hospital, hooked up to tubes to help him breathe and eat, his mother holds him close and cherishes every movement.

Catarina Gonzales knows her baby is terminally ill and that one day she'll have to let go. But it's not yet time, she and her attorneys contend in their legal clash with hospital officials who want to stop Emilio's life-sustaining treatment.

An unusual Texas law signed by George W. Bush when he was governor lets the hospital make that life-or-death call. The latest legal dispute over the law -- Emilio's case -- goes to court again Tuesday, the day his life support is set to end.

"The family has made a unified decision" to keep Emilio living through artificial means, said Joshua Carden, an attorney for the Gonzales family. "The hospital is making quality of life value judgments. That's a huge source of concern."

Children's Hospital of Austin has been caring for Emilio since Dec. 28. He's believed to have Leigh's Disease, a progressive illness difficult to diagnose, according to both sides.

The boy cannot breathe on his own and must have nutrition and water pumped into him. He can't swallow or gag ... said Michael Regier, general counsel for the Seton Family of Hospitals, which encompasses the children's hospital.

Emilio's higher order brain functions are destroyed, and secretions must be vigorously suctioned from his lungs, Regier said.

"The care is very aggressive and very invasive," Regier said. Though the treatment is expensive, the hospital contends that money is not part of its decision. Emilio has health coverage through Medicaid.

Doctors and a hospital ethics panel determined the treatment is causing the boy to suffer without providing any medical benefit, Regier said.
Money is not the issue here, if that can be believed. The hospital wants to remove treatment because the boy is suffering due to the treatment. This is ironic. Trying to reduce suffering, but at what cost? The life-sustaining equipment will be turned off and then what? As the attorney for the family notes:
... Emilio's death by asphyxiation would be painful. He said the law prevents hospital workers from even giving the boy the drugs death row inmates receive to help them as they are executed by lethal injection.

"It's not like he'll just drift quietly off," he said.
In the end, a poor helpless little boy will have to suffer his death all due to a committee thinking it has the right and responsibility to end his suffering. How very scary it is to find that strangers have control over our lives and our loved ones when we are most vulnerable and in need of love, care, and support.
For those keeping up with the story, LifeSite is reporting that on April 11, the Texas judge issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the hospital from letting Emilio die. The case is to be argued furthe in the following week. You can view the story here.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Depths of Love and the Heart of God

Have we not approached one of the great divine mysteries in trying to understand the Heart of God? The Son of God, Jesus Christ became human, destitute, impoverished so that we, humanity, might become divine, rich, and full of life. The Prologue to the Gospel of John provides a beautiful summation of the work of Jesus Christ, Son of God and revelation of the Heart of God to us, children of God.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth. John testified to him and cried out, saying, "This was he of whom I said, 'The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.'" From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father's side, has revealed him. (John 1:1-18, emphasis added)
To add further to this imagery of the Heart of God, we need only ponder the words of Pope Benedict's homily at last night's Paschal Vigil Mass concerning Christ's decent into hell:
Let us return once more to the night of Holy Saturday. In the Creed we say about Christ’s journey that he “descended into hell.” What happened then? Since we have no knowledge of the world of death, we can only imagine his triumph over death with the help of images which remain very inadequate. Yet, inadequate as they are, they can help us to understand something of the mystery. The liturgy applies to Jesus’ descent into the night of death the words of Psalm 23[24]: “Lift up your heads, O gates; be lifted up, O ancient doors!” The gates of death are closed, no one can return from there. There is no key for those iron doors. But Christ has the key. His Cross opens wide the gates of death, the stern doors. They are barred no longer. His Cross, his radical love, is the key that opens them. The love of the One who, though God, became man in order to die – this love has the power to open those doors. This love is stronger than death. The Easter icons of the Oriental Church show how Christ enters the world of the dead. He is clothed with light, for God is light. “The night is bright as the day, the darkness is as light” (cf. Ps 138[139]12). Entering the world of the dead, Jesus bears the stigmata, the signs of his passion: his wounds, his suffering, have become power: they are love that conquers death. He meets Adam and all the men and women waiting in the night of death. As we look at them, we can hear an echo of the prayer of Jonah: “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice” (Jn 2:2). In the incarnation, the Son of God became one with human beings – with Adam. But only at this moment, when he accomplishes the supreme act of love by descending into the night of death, does he bring the journey of the incarnation to its completion. By his death he now clasps the hand of Adam, of every man and woman who awaits him, and brings them to the light.

But we may ask: what is the meaning of all this imagery? What was truly new in what happened on account of Christ? The human soul was created immortal – what exactly did Christ bring that was new? The soul is indeed immortal, because man in a unique way remains in God’s memory and love, even after his fall. But his own powers are insufficient to lift him up to God. We lack the wings needed to carry us to those heights. And yet, nothing else can satisfy man eternally, except being with God. An eternity without this union with God would be a punishment. Man cannot attain those heights on his own, yet he yearns for them. “Out of the depths I cry to you…” Only the Risen Christ can bring us to complete union with God, to the place where our own powers are unable to bring us. Truly Christ puts the lost sheep upon his shoulders and carries it home. Clinging to his Body we have life, and in communion with his Body we reach the very heart of God. Only thus is death conquered, we are set free and our life is hope.

This is the joy of the Easter Vigil: we are free. In the resurrection of Jesus, love has been shown to be stronger than death, stronger than evil. Love made Christ descend, and love is also the power by which he ascends. The power by which he brings us with him. In union with his love, borne aloft on the wings of love, as persons of love, let us descend with him into the world’s darkness, knowing that in this way we will also rise up with him. On this night, then, let us pray: Lord, show us that love is stronger than hatred, that love is stronger than death. Descend into the darkness and the abyss of our modern age, and take by the hand those who await you. Bring them to the light! In my own dark nights, be with me to bring me forth! Help me, help all of us, to descend with you into the darkness of all those people who are still waiting for you, who out of the depths cry unto you! Help us to bring them your light! Help us to say the “yes” of love, the love that makes us descend with you and, in so doing, also to rise with you. Amen!
Love has descended into the very depths of hell and darkness to bring mankind intimately back to the light and the Heart of God so that we can share eternal communion with God; our hearts are no longer stone, but hearts of flesh, beating and pulsing with the Spirit of Love.

The Heart of God

From Whispers in the Loggia, here are Pope Benedict's closing remarks following the Stations of the Cross in Roma last night:
Dear brothers and sisters,

Following Jesus along the way of his passion, we see not only the suffering of Jesus, but also all the suffering of the world; this is the deep intention of the prayer of the Way of the Cross: to open our hearts and to help us to see with our hearts.

The Fathers of the Church considered insensitivity, the hardness of heart, as the greatest sin of the pagan world and so loved the prophecy of Ezekiel: "I will take your heart of stone and will give you a heart of flesh" (Ez 36:26). To convert ourselves to Christ, to become Christian, is to receive a heart of flesh, a sensitive heart for the agony and suffering of others.

Our God is not a faraway God, untouchable in his blessedness: our God has a heart. Rather, he has a heart of flesh, made flesh itself to suffer with us and to be with us in our sufferings. He made himself man to give us a heart of flesh and to reawaken in us a love for the suffering, for the needy.

Let us pray to the Lord in this hour for all the afflicted of the world. Let us pray to the Lord that he may really give us a heart of flesh and make us messengers of His love not only with words, but with all our life. Amen.