Remember Verso L’Alto Melbourne? I’ve blogged about it previously. Here’s a refresher:
Basically, Verso L’Alto Melbourne is a walking group. Three or four times a year, the organisers send out an invitation to their friends — and others — to join them on a walk of several hours, which culminates with Mass. You can bring your own cut lunch, or stake out a nearby café or restaurant.
A couple of priests, who are available for confession or a chat, join the walk, but mostly it’s a “peer apostolate” — that is, an opportunity for young Catholics to spend time with other young Catholics. The explicitly religious content might be limited to praying together at Mass, but the everyday experiences of enjoying the walk, swapping iPod playlists, and commiserating each other’s sore feet and blisters can be formative.
The group is heading to wintry Ballarat next month, for an almost certainly bracing walk around Lake Wendouree. The breeze coming off the lake in winter is famous for its chill factor! Nonetheless, the organisers are right to classify the walk as “easy grade.” Walking the lake is a very pleasant stroll.
A so-called “Catholic IQ test” is doing the rounds on Facebook. It’s a significant time investment, but at the end of it, you’ll get a handy reading list to shore up your knowledge of the Catholic faith.
I need to re-read the Old Testament, and revisit early Church history.
Section Correct Score Bible 33/37 (89.19%) History 13/15 (86.67%) Morality & Virtue 22/22 (100%) Heaven & Hell 12/12 (100%) Prayer 8/8 (100%) Dogma 9/9 (100%) Anti-Catholics 15/15 (100%) Sacraments 11/11 (100%) Mass 19/19 (100%) Special Days 8/8 (100%) Religious Nobles 15/15 (100%) Church Information 23/23 (100%) Miscellaneous 8/8 (100%)
Here are the things missed on the Catholic IQ Test:
THE STORY OF JOB.
You should read: the book of Job in The Old Testament.
THE HISTORY OF ISRAEL (Samson and Delilah).
You should read: the book of Judges in The Old Testament.
THE FIRST-CENTURY ROMAN EMPEROR WHO PERSECUTED THE CHURCH.
You should read: Christ the King, Lord of History (TAN Books and Publishers).
Max Lindenman — everybody’s favourite blogger (or mine, anyway) — recently posted on the limits of companionship in a life of celibacy.
He was responding to a post on a blog called Sexual Authenticity. Melinda Selmys suggests the most common cause of sexual sin is isolation and loneliness:
The sexual appetite is an urge to overcome isolation, to give and receive another person. A person who is fulfilled in their daily life through other forms of ‘knowing and being known’ will find that chastity frees them to be generous and loving and to receive love and generosity without the clinging neediness of sex. The problem is that most people in the contemporary world are literally starving for human communion, and sex fills that need at least temporarily.
How true. Who could possible argue with that? Selmys is especially good in critiquing the old chestnuts about contemporary licentiousness.
Lindenman, however, is less enamoured by Selmys’ solution:
She stumbles, I think, in recommending “companionship” as an antidote for sexual promiscuity. That’s like saying apples are a substitute for oranges. The Greeks conceived of Eros as a kind divine madness or pleasurable wound. While pounding sand after Daphne, Apollo wheezes, “There is no herb to medicate my wound, and all the arts that save have failed [me].” Even while spiritualizing Eros, Plato allowed that its aim is possession of the beloved. Aristotle’s Philia, or a bond of mutual affection and concern between good people, is a much tamer animal. In its own right, for its own sake, it’s great; but it doesn’t satisfy the precise needs that will make you send Long Island iced teas to the girl down the bar in the push-up bra.
Mostly, I think Lindenman is spot on.
As the seminary’s resident spiritual director once warned us, priestly celibacy leaves a gap which even Jesus cannot fill. That’s not to deny that intimacy with God is possible or that it is satisfying; only to observe that it is different to sexual intimacy.
Some people can’t be happy — they can’t be fulfilled — by celibacy. That needn’t reflect poorly on them. St Thomas More, for example, is generally believed to have abandoned thoughts of a monastic life because he concluded celibacy wasn’t for him. Instead he became a husband and father of such heroic virtue, that quite apart from his martyrdom, he is remembered as ”the most saintly of humanists, the most human of saints.”
In the same way, Pope Francis (before he was elected pope) shared his own experience as a seminarian falling in love, and his advice to seminarians in a similar predicament:
When this happens, one has to get one’s bearings again. It’s a matter of one choosing again or saying, “No, what I’m feeling is very beautiful. I am afraid I won’t be faithful to my commitment later on, so I’m leaving the seminary.” When something like this happens to a seminarian, I help him go in peace to be a good Christian and not a bad priest.
If God himself can’t “plug the gap” which continence creates, it’s disingenuous to suggest that chaste companionship will do it. So it’s in this sense that Lindenman is right to identify ‘the limits of companionship.’
On the other hand, I think he has perhaps diminished the power of friendship. Aristotle considered the chaste love of ‘perfect friendship’ — wherein two people spend a lot of time together, doing things in common — as the key to eudomonia, or the secret to happiness. This sort of companionship, which to be fair to Selmys is the sort we should consider as a salve to sexual sin, doesn’t resemble the “tamer animal” Lindenman describes.
But here I am, quibbling over Lindenman’s post, which is quibbling over Selmys’ post. Better, instead, to read them for themselves. They are both well-written and thoughtful reflections on love and lust, and they will no doubt get you thinking yourself.
Melinda Selmys: Sad bad sex.
Max Lindenman: The limits of companionship.
In a fitting sequel to yesterday’s post on the father of existentialism, I thought I’d recommend the services of an old friend from philosophy days who now practises as an existential therapist.
To give you an example of what the hell I’m talking about, consider a few lines from Kierkegaard himself:
When a man faints, people shout for water, eau de cologne, smelling salts; but when a man is about to despair the cry is, “Find possibility, find him possibility!”
Possibility is the only saving remedy. Given possibility, the desperate man breathes once more, he revives again, for without possibility it is as if a man was lacking air.
Finding possibility, or opportunity, or meaning. This is what existential therapists help people to do.
Put another way, existential therapists help clients draw on their own strengths and beliefs to face life’s challenges. It’s very easy for us to succumb to “worldly orthodoxies,” and adopt false worldviews. So, for example, a person’s experience of depression — I’m speaking of regular depression not pathological depression — can be reduced to a state of mind, “an attitude I should get over.” Alternatively, it can be reduced to “an illness that happens to me,” like a virus or infection, and which is best treated with medication.
An existential therapist would help reframe that view. How precisely, I don’t know. I’m a priest, not an existential therapist. But I’ve got a pretty good idea: Depression isn’t something that happens exclusively within us; nor is it something that happens exclusively outside of us. It’s not purely psychological, or purely biological, but existential. Existential therapy reviews “how I exist,” and draws on that as a strength and strategy in self-care, thought patterns, and engagement with others.
This is the background Matthew and Fiona bring to their Catholic Counselling service:
As a Catholic approaching counselling, you want to know that your religious commitments are respected and safe. And of course you want counselling that is caring, skillful and effective. It was with these aims in mind that this counselling service was created.
There are a broad range of issues that we provide counselling for, from emotional or psychological problems, relationship issues, moral or religious dilemmas, positive goals in life, and anything for which you think talking it through might help.
Apart from their backgrounds in existential therapy, Matthew and Fiona also have Catholic backgrounds — if it wasn’t for Matt, I probably wouldn’t be a priest — and of course they’re professionally trained and qualified counsellors.
I recommend them. Far from disparaging clients’ faith and viewing it as neurotic, or ignoring clients’ faith and viewing it as accidental, they equip clients to use their faith as a means to healing. Faith cannot, of course, be reduced to a therapeutic tool. Moreover, counselling should never be used to proselytise. But that background in existential counselling, I think, safeguards against both.
This humble blog has been named in Catholic Dating Site’s 100 totally awesome blogs by Catholic priests. I’m joined in the list by another Aussie priest, Fr Richard Healy of the Diocese of Wollongong, who blogs at frrick.org.
The list is “arranged in no particular order,” but that hasn’t stopped a few Facebook friends congratulating me on my number 11 ranking.
The compilers of the list are good publicists. No one over there has actually read my blog — they’ve just plucked out a few of my main tags and described them out of context — but they have contacted all one hundred priests on the list and asked us to link to the list, “if you think that your readers may find it of interest.” Well, why not?
Here’s an explanation of their site:
Managed by Joseph Atkins, this site is the only dedicated resource for unbiased information and tips for safely using online Catholic dating websites. To achieve that goal, Catholic Dating Sites provides feature articles and blog posts designed to educate readers about the online dating options available to Catholic singles who are wondering whether trying a dating site is a good idea for them, and if so, which one to select.
Online dating is probably still a bit stigmatised. For example, I have prepared several couples for marriage who have told me they met online, but they weren’t exactly shouting this detail from the rooftops. They generally asked me not to tell anyone.
But the fruits speak for themselves. Online dating can lead to marriages. I’ve encouraged more than one good Catholic, who is fed up with the moral calibre of men or women they meet at pubs and nightclubs, to consider Catholic online dating. CatholicDatingsSites.net is a good first step.
Meanwhile, another Facebook friend has wondered if my ranking in the list “calls for a return to daily posting?” Well, yes. I have been slack. I’ll do better.
Phew! In my attempts to shield this blog against the brute-force attack against WordPress sites, I managed to lock myself out for most of the week.
But, if I couldn’t get in, neither could the botnet. (Meagre silver lining.)
Applications to join Catholic Voices Australia close tomorrow. If you — or someone you know — would like to get involved in this excellent lay apostolate, contact CVA now.