Posts Tagged ‘marriage’
Institute’s New Director on Speaking Truth in Understandable Ways
By Kathleen Naab
PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, JAN. 9, 2012 (Zenit.org).- A Philadelphia-based educational institute focused on promoting Blessed John Paul II’s theology of the body has named a new executive director.
The 7-year-old Theology of the Body Institute picked Damon Owens, a successful businessman turned marriage promoter. Included on his extensive resume is his work as the Archdiocese of Newark’s Natural Family Planning and Marriage Preparation Coordinator, and leadership with the Life Education And Resource Network (L.E.A.R.N.), the largest African-American, pro-life ministry in the country.
Owens is himself a certified Natural Family Planning instructor who has counseled more than 20,000 couples over the last 16 years. He often appears on Catholic television and radio, sharing various aspects of the theology of the body, as well as commentating on topics related to marriage and family. He and his wife, Melanie, have been married for 18 years and have eight children.
ZENIT spoke with Owens about the Theology of the Body Institute and its work, and the difficulties facing those who promote Blessed John Paul’s message.
ZENIT: The Theology of the Body Institute exists to promote John Paul II’s theology at the secular level, too. Is that truly possible and if so how?
Owens: Our mission is to train and educate men and women to understand, live and promote Blessed John Paul II’s theology of the body. While most of the individuals who come in contact with our programs are Catholic, our on-site and Certification courses regularly draw non-Catholics and non-Christians. It is not only possible, but it is critical that we evangelize the broader culture. Our preparation as believers for the “springtime of the new evangelization” includes a deeper grounding not only in the “what’s” of our faith, but the “why’s” behind them.
As believers, we accept even what we cannot fully understand about God’s revelation, because we love and trust him. Still, our faith is reasonable. There is a tremendous amount of truth that can be encountered before an assent of faith. There is a tremendous amount of beautiful and compelling meaning that can be successfully proposed even to a darkened intellect and hardened heart.
Rooted in objective truth, the theology of the body provides a personalistic approach that is well-suited for evangelizing in the modern culture. Our sexuality — masculinity and femininity — carries deep meaning for the identity and vocation of every human person. It is also the place of deep wounds for so many. The Theology of the Body Institute desires to help persons in every state of life gain an understanding of what it means to be created in God’s image and to live out their call to love as he loves. Only from this foundation can an authentic culture of life and love take root and flourish.
ZENIT: Linked to the previous question, statistics about Catholic married couple’s use of artificial contraception seem to indicate there is plenty need for Catholics as well to hear and accept John Paul’s theology. What are your thoughts in this regard? Must we first clean up our own camp before engaging the secular world?
Owens: Beginning with your last question, evangelization is, of course, intimately connected with catechesis (the head) and conversion (the heart). It is always a messy, personal, and inefficient work! Our witness is hurt by our own sin, ignorance, and lack of faith. On one hand, our ongoing conversion strengthens our witness. On the other hand, we have to be careful about setting too high a standard of personal perfection before witnessing to perfection. Without question, contraception is a tap-root of nearly every modern evil. Moreover, the prevalence of Christians contracepting is both a cause and an effect of the rise of other grave evils such as pornography, divorce, violence against women, abortion, fornication and homosexuality. These were the predicted consequences of their widespread use, and the subsequent result of their widespread acceptance.
The question remains, however: How do we reach people’s heads and hearts to reject the evil of contraception? It cannot just be emphatic instruction on the mortal sin of contraception (the head). It must include a compelling invitation to a true conversion of heart. Their hearts must “see” how contraception is a withholding of themselves that deforms the marital act and stifles the very love they long for. Theology of the body is a means to illumine the immutable meaning of things (natural law) in the heart of the person.
Fortunately, the great majority truly desire love. Whether they are in a pew or at the mall on Sunday, they deserve to hear the truth in a way that they can understand it. It is in our heart — or inner life — that we as unique and unrepeatable persons encounter the One True God. While we certainly wish there were a more authentic faith witness from Catholic married couples today, we at the Theology of the Body Institute have been just as awed by conversions in the Faith as by those to the Faith. We remain passionately committed to the simple mission of educating and training men and women to understand, live, and promote the Theology of the Body.
ZENIT: Tell us about the institute and plans you have for it as the new executive director.
Owens: The Theology of the Body Institute was formed in 2004 with the simple mission to educate and train men and women to understand, live and promote the theology of the body. Each of the founders experienced a profound conversion through Blessed John Paul II’s great work and continue to be animated by the desire to make it accessible to the world — Christian and secular — in an understandable, engaging and attractive manner. Ours is an integrated educational approach that presents the rich intellectual theology in an environment that encourages a real encounter with Our Lord. As we often say, it is an immersion of the head and the heart!
Our certification program with its retreat-format courses is the heart of our mission. These courses include Theology of the Body I, II, & III, Love & Responsibility, Catholic Sexual Ethics, Writings of John Paul II on Gender, Marriage, & Family, The Thought of Karol Wojtyla, and Theology of the Body & the Interior Life. Our on-site events at schools, parishes, seminaries and conferences around the world complement these courses and have grown in number and size every year.
We have a world-class faculty that includes Dr. Janet Smith, Dr. Michael Waldstein, Christopher West, Bill Donaghy, Dr. John Haas, and beginning for 2012-2013, Dr. Peter Kreeft and Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV. To date, more than 1,600 individuals have come to Pennsylvania for our week-long certification courses, and thousands have attended our on-site events around the world. We also held the first Theology of the Body Congress in 2010 bringing together leaders from around the world to explore the diverse applications of TOB. So, I begin with an organization that I consider successful in its mission.
My plans are to build on this success with an enhanced Clergy Enrichment Program for priests and seminarians that enriches both their priestly identity and vocation as fathers. We also plan to expand both our faculty and our Certification course offerings to reach even more lay and clerical leaders. The fact remains that only a small percentage of people in the world are familiar with this profound teaching. I see my role as expanding this success, as opposed to any real change in direction.
ZENIT: You are taking over leadership of the institute when the push for same-sex marriage and adoption is unprecedented. What do you hope to contribute to this battle?
Owens: We are an educational apostolate, so our contribution to social issues such as these is teaching the meaning of things. What is marriage? What does our sexuality mean? What is love, truth, freedom, or joy? What does it mean to be a human person? How do I choose, act, and live in accord with these truths and meanings? These cultural issues ultimately represent a critical loss of the meaning and dignity of human personhood. God bless those who are taking up these issues in the public square. I did that for years and deeply appreciate the need for, and difficulty of, these urgent defenses. It is abundantly clear, however, that these issues incubated long-term in a culture steeped in a disintegrated concept of human personhood. Sexual complementarity devolved into sexual difference, now sexual difference has been denied all together. Equality is argued as sameness. So, the argument continues, since men and women are the same, there is no difference between a husband and a wife or a mother and a father.
This is an identity crisis that requires long-term reformation and restoration. If we don’t know who — and whose — we are, we won’t know how to behave in a way that is in accord with our dignity and brings us true joy. Sexuality, sexual morality, love, marriage, fatherhood, motherhood, family, and life itself are integrated realities that flow from who God has revealed himself to be — a Trinitarian Communio: Three Divine Persons in such union that they are truly One.
The Gospel is “good news” precisely because it reveals to us the deepest truths of our identity created in the “image and likeness” of God, and subsequently our vocation to love. The language, approach, and appeal of the theology of the body gives us a means to understand and embrace the Gospel by rereading the language of the body. Simply put, as the body reveals the person, masculinity and femininity reveal the original, enduring, and eternal meaning of personhood as a call to communion. Love is self-gift. By rereading the language of the body in truth, we see love as not simply something we do, but as a universal human vocation that flows from who we are.
With regard to the specific question of redefining marriage, students of theology of the body are equipped to articulate not mere disagreement, but why it is simply not possible.
Witnessing the Show in New York’s Own Colosseum
By Elizabeth Lev
ROME, JAN. 19, 2012 (Zenit.org).- On a recent trip to New York City, I was struck once again by the intense and dramatic contrasts that live side by side in this cosmopolitan mecca. The juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane that one witnesses there brings to mind some of the most dramatic moments in history.
Sometimes I can glimpse what it must have been like to be in Rome during the first years of legalized Christianity, when the pagans were desperately fighting the oncoming tide of conversion (a win for the Christians,) or in Paris during the Enlightenment when the secularists were mounting the offense against an established Church (things went badly for the Church on that one). Today it feels like another epic battle is raging over the soul of yet another city, and, as in the case of Paris and Rome, the result will have implications for the world.
The New York skirmishes and victories range from the sublime to the ridiculous. And while the political arena may seem to be the best place to watch the battle for America’s soul, I was actually more struck by stories from the contemporary Colosseum: the entertainment world. Amid the theaters and sound stages of New York, I saw innocents thrown to the lions of dance and music, the emergence of a new Ben Hur, and a quiet witness that has prayerfully watched the comings and goings for decades.
Last Thanksgiving, while Americans were thanking God (or some unspecified, unseen benefactor) for their blessings, pop singer Lady Gaga, baptized Stephanie Germanotta, was offering thanks to herself for the gift of herself at her former high school, the Sacred Heart Catholic School in Manhattan.
Sacred Heart School was founded in 1881 by the French congregation of the Society of the Sacred Heart, and is the oldest private school for girls in New York. Ms. Germanotta filmed her “holiday” special at the school reflecting on the events and experiences of her 29 years.
Granted, Sacred Heart isn’t known for producing Nobel prize winners — most of the celebrity alumnae are actresses — but one wonders what alumna Eunice Kennedy-Shriver would have made of Ms. Germanotta crooning her hit “Born This Way” (the tired genetic excuse for unbridled sexual license) after Kennedy-Shriver’s lifetime crusade to help people born with disabilities to lead a life of dignity.
Ms. Germanotta is less known for her formidable singing talent than for her provocative get-ups and tawdry music videos, which are usually one step shy of pornography. Taking a page from her predecessor Madonna, Gaga has a penchant for using Christian imagery in her exhibitions, from wearing an upside down cross over her genitals to donning a parody of a religious habit in red latex and eating rosary beads. With this in mind one wonders whether she is truly the best role model for a K-12 audience in a “Catholic” school. As Catholics, do we honor anyone who achieves notoriety, or those who provide a model of Christian virtue?
More pointedly still, Ms. Germanotta is an active supporter of contraceptive and abortion providers, and a very determined proponent of gay “marriage.” Curious that this gave no pause to school leaders and parents who permitted 8-year-olds in their Catholic school uniforms to sing her anthems before a television camera.
This situation bears more than a passing resemblance to Notre Dame University’s 2009 decision to confer an honorary degree on the openly pro-abortion President Barack Obama. If we are going to offer platforms to those who denigrate our teaching, how can we be surprised if the faithful are confused?
But what is most striking to me, in the present climate of sex abuse and scandal, is that no one questioned Ms. Germanotta’s performance of her song “Bad Romance” in front of the high school students singing into a phallic-shaped microphone. Were a priest or a religious sister to do something of the sort, the law suits would (rightly) accumulate faster than Lady Gaga’s costume changes. As it stands, parents, children and teaching faculty proudly stood by and applauded. The New York notion of protecting youth and setting a good example for young women seems oddly contradictory.
This is not the first time Ms. Germanotta has returned to her old school. In 2010, she attended her sister’s graduation wearing a transparent lace bodysuit and black veiled hat, eclipsing the achievement of the graduates by drawing attention to herself. Even media sympathetic to the singer recognized that she was “getting even” with a school where she had felt “bullied.” Not unlike Lord Voldemort and Hogwart’s, Lady Gaga too got her revenge, unfortunately with the full support of the director of Sacred Heart School.
Book of Mormon vs. The Joy of Sex
Lady Gaga’s adolescent antics are minor compared to the expletive extravaganza set to music in the Broadway musical, “Book of Mormon,” which I saw together with a Mormon friend. Written by the authors of “South Park,” it opened in March 2011 to constantly sold out audiences. Critics heaped praise and awards on the musical, while detractors mutter that the teachings of the Church of the Latter Day Saints have been taken out of context. Yet most commentators suggest that it’s all fun and games set to catchy music.
I admit, I was an erstwhile fan of South Park and its equal opportunity satire, but Book of Mormon seemed less democratic in its jabs. The story is ostensibly about two young Mormon missionaries sent to Uganda to share their scripture. The villagers are uninterested as their lives are consumed by poverty, famine and AIDS. When the local warlord plots to mutilate the women of the village, however, the villagers decide to feign conversion so as to flee. When they go for instruction from the Mormons they encounter an especially ignorant missionary who makes up his own revelation from snippets of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. When the ruse is discovered, all conclude that religion is better when taken as a metaphor instead of literally.
My first red flag went up with the portrayal of the Ugandans, seen as virtually illiterate, and enslaved by their sexual instincts. I don’t know what a Ugandan would make of being presented as almost bestial in his desires and with a vocabulary limited to profanity. (In the show, all but one of the 75 instances of foul language are uttered by the Ugandans.)
Furthermore, the story presumes that female genital mutilation is a normal practice despite the fact that Uganda outlawed the practice in 2009, blazing the trail for other African nations. And although the plot supposes that the overwhelming majority of Ugandans are infected with the AIDS virus, Uganda has been the most successful battleground against AIDS with its “ABC” policy, of Abstinence, “Be faithful,” and Condoms, with the latter seen as a last resort. Thanks to this program HIV has declined dramatically in Uganda, and between 1991 and 2007, HIV infection rates dropped by more than 50%.
Frankly, the AIDS question made me realize this was not merely a satire of what Mormons believe, but also an attack on any religion that teaches morals, especially sexual morals. From that moment on, I saw every joke about the Mormon angel Moroni as if it were about Gabriel and the Virgin Birth, and the show became less funny.
The next, very catchy, number was called “turn it off,” about leaving painful experiences behind and forging onward. If these were Catholic missionaries, it would be called “offer it up.” After a few desultory lyrics about authentic family tragedies, the song gets to its real point: homosexuality. At this point the missionaries are transformed into a pink-sequined kick-line of sexually repressed young men.
That’s when I started to do a little math. Proposition 8, the California amendment banning gay marriage, was passed in November 2008, largely with the support of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who provided a great deal of the funding and the door-to-door canvassing to pass the legislation. The Mormons were very hard hit in the backlash from gay activists with everything from protests, to vandalism, to threats of violence.
“Book of Mormon,” like Lady Gaga’s return to high school, smacks of revenge served with music and lyrics. The authors claim to have a long-standing interest in Mormons, but I suspect that the rewrites between 2008 and 2010 underscored the homosexual angle.
Again, it seems that by slapping the LDS, the writers were really after any church that stands by its teachings. As a Catholic watching Broadway bully the Mormons, I kept thinking, why don’t you pick on someone your own size?
“Book of Mormon” is weakened further by its relentless obscenity. Even The New York Times review of the play admitted that the musical was “more foul-mouthed than David Mamet on a blue streak.”
A friend and fellow art historian had perhaps the most reasoned criticism of the show, “So much expense, so much work and so much talent … for this?” The sexual humor and profanity soon become tired gags.
While the dark clouds of sex and satire obscuring stage and screen may suggest a bleak forecast, I also witnessed a great force for the year of evangelization, in the newly nominated Cardinal-elect Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York.
The morning of Jan. 6, I went to morning Mass in the cathedral (silly me, I thought Epiphany was a holy day of obligation) and saw Cardinal Dolan just hours after the nomination, as TV cameras and reporters were piling into the church. Archbishop Dolan met the cameras with ease, explaining his new duties and his commitment to his present responsibilities with a clarity, confidence and joy that was more engaging than any show tune.
He then walked across the street to the set of the Today show, and, pre-empting politics and entertainment, used his new status for a few instants of morning evangelization.
My most memorable New York moment, however, was walking out of the “Book of Mormon” theater, relativist mantras still resounding in my head, and seeing a little chapel directly across the street. It was the Actor’s Chapel dedicated to St. Malachy, which has been quietly sitting on 49th Street since 1902. The prayerful space holds chapels to St. Genesius, the patron saint of actors and St. Cecelia, the patroness of music. Spencer Tracy, Irene Dunne, Bob Hope and Ricardo Montalban prayed here, and Jimmy Durante served at Mass.
The tabernacle with its little red Eucharistic lamp reminds us that Christ sees all. He has been mocked before, far more severely than any musical taunt could, and he has triumphed.
Report Shows Big Downside to Family Disintegration
By Father John Flynn, L.C.
ROME, SEPT. 10, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Marriage continues to decline in the United States, bringing with it numerous adverse consequences for individuals, and society in general. This is one of the main conclusions of a recent study.
The National Marriage Report released its annual publication “The State of Our Unions: The Social Health of Marriage in America 2007” this summer. The center is based at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.
The authors of the study are two academics well-known for their writings on family and marriage issues: David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead. They found that from 1970 to 2005 there was a decline of nearly 50% in the annual number of marriages per 1,000 unmarried adult women.
A significant proportion of this drop was simply due to delaying marriage until an older age. Nevertheless, more people simply don’t marry or are unmarried, due to cohabitation and a decrease in the numbers of divorced people to remarry.
The report cites estimates that about a quarter of unmarried women 25-39 are currently living with a partner, and an additional quarter have lived with a partner at some time in the past. As well, over half of all first marriages are now preceded by living together, compared with virtually none 50 years ago.
Cohabitation is more common among those of lower educational and income levels, as well as those who are less religious than their peers.
The report also rebuts a couple of myths often used by anti-family forces. The first myth is that living together before marriage is useful in order to find out whether the couple can get along, thereby avoiding a bad marriage and an eventual divorce. This is not borne out by the facts, the report observes.
“In fact, a substantial body of evidence indicates that those who live together before marriage are more likely to break up after marriage,” the report comments.
The report admits that there are diverse opinions over how the data can be interpreted, but at a minimum the authors conclude: “What can be said for certain is that no evidence has yet been found that those who cohabit before marriage have stronger marriages than those who do not.”
The second myth refuted by the report is the affirmation that even though fewer are marrying, those who marry have higher quality marriages. Not so, reply Popenoe and Whitehead, noting that “the best available evidence on the topic” shows a decline over the last 25 years in the number of both men and women who affirm their marriages are “very happy.”
The report also reveals a growing social divide when it comes to marriage. Among those who have received a university education the institution of marriage has strengthened in the last couple of decades. College-educated women now marry at a higher rate compared with the rest of the population, and they are also less favorably inclined toward divorce than less educated women.
In addition, among those who delay marriage past age 30, college-educated women are the only ones more likely to have children after marriage rather than before.
There is, thus, a growing “marriage gap” in America, notes the report, between those who are well educated and those who are not.
In fact, for those without a university education, “the marriage situation remains gloomy,” according to the report. This is due to a combination of a continuing decline in marriage rates and a growing percentage of out-of-wedlock births. By the year 2000, fully 40% of high school drop-out mothers were living without husbands, compared with just 12% of college-graduate mothers, states the report.
Since hitting a high point in the early 1980s, divorce has moderately declined. Overall, the lifetime probability of a first marriage ending in divorce or separation remains between 40% and 50%. The risk of divorce, however, varies quite notably. The chances of divorce are much higher for those who are poor, people who are high-school drop outs, and couples who marry as teenagers. Couples who have a family background of divorce, as well as those who have no religious affiliation, are also more likely to divorce.
In addition to the personal consequences, the breakdown in marriage and family life over the last few decades has had a severe economic impact. A section of the report looks at the economic benefits of marriage for society.
“Married couples create more economic assets on average than do otherwise similar singles or cohabiting couples,” argues the report. Married couples live more frugally, as opposed to two adults living as singles, and they also save and invest more for the future. Men also tend to become more economically productive after marriage, earning between 10% and 40% more than do single men with similar education and job histories.
The increase in divorce has also resulted in more inequality and poverty. The report points out that a large body of research has shown that both divorce and unmarried childbearing increase child poverty. One study even went so far as to show that if family structure had not changed between 1960 and 1998, the black child poverty rate in 1998 would have been 28.4% rather than 45.6%, and the white child poverty rate would have been 11.4% rather than 15.4%.
Divorce also means higher costs for governments, due to such factors as welfare payments and increased juvenile delinquency. The nation’s 1.4 million divorces in 2002 are estimated to have cost taxpayers more than $30 billion, the report affirms.
The increase in single-parent families also imposes a high cost on children. By 2006 some 28% of American children lived with just one parent. “This means that more children each year are not living in families that include their own married, biological parents, which by all available empirical evidence is the gold standard for insuring optimal outcomes in a child’s development,” commented Popenoe in his introductory essay to the report.
Popenoe also asks how the breakdown in marriage and the family could be repaired. One way to do this is through a cultural transformation led by religion. With the passing of years, Popenoe continues, the United States and other countries have become ever more secular and individualistic. This is particularly the case among young people.
Strengthening religion and the family is one of Benedict XVI’s common themes. The family is a priority of the new evangelization, he declared July 5 to a group of bishops from the Dominican Republic present in Rome for their five-yearly visit.
The Pontiff said, “The Church desires that the family truly be the place where the person is born, matures and is educated for life, and where parents, by loving their children tenderly, prepare them for healthy interpersonal relationships which embody moral and human values in the midst of a society so heavily marked by hedonism and religious indifference.”
More recently, when responding to questions Sept. 1 posed by the youth gathered for an encounter with the Pope in Loreto, Italy, Benedict XVI stated that the marginalization affecting so many people today in part is due to the fragmentation of families.
The family, he pointed out, “should not only be a place where generations meet, but also where they learn to live, learn the essential virtues, and this is in danger.” We need to make sure the family survives and is once more at the center of society, the Pope urged. A task more urgent than ever in the light of current trends.