Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Dr. John Grabowski and JPII's take on Ephesians 5

St. Paul’s teaching on subordination has met with considerable public backlash since the advent of feminism in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Questions abound as to whether the teaching itself is even based on the message of Jesus, or on some abstractions of Judaic or Hellenistic practices of running a household. Dr. John Grabowski does well to point out the differences between non-Christian cultures’ approach to marriage versus the way the early Church lived out marriage in the light of St. Paul’s teaching. He explains how radically different the Christian husband’s headship looked versus the paterfamilias of the Roman society. Drawing largely from the thought of John Paul II, Grabowski fashions “Mutual Subordination of Husband and Wife” into an authentic, historical, and applicable document for today’s confusion about marriage. His argument is broken down by chapter as follows:

1) The authentic interpretation of Ephesians Five consists in mutual subordination as opposed to any sort of domination, as explained by John Paul II. The historical basis for this.
2) Help of other scolars to explain man and woman as made Imago Dei, and therefore complementary
3) The proper understanding of a husband’s headship, as related to Christ’s authority

To begin with, Judeo-Christianity has always viewed the human person, male and female, as made in the image and likeness of God. As a consequence of sin, personal relations have been severely wounded—to such a degree that a kind of male domination was seen to be acceptable in society in order to maintain order and unity. Although St. Paul would have been all too familiar with such a dominant view of women by men, particularly through his Roman citizenship and Jewish education, his teaching is not tainted by the surrounding culture, but is based, rather, on the fresh concept of Christ as servant of his bride the Church. Furthermore, he introduced to the ancient world a new approach to marriage which eliminated the curse of sin on personal relations by the grace of Christ’s self-sacrificial love. Therefore, the Christian household did look different in operation and dynamic than the Roman or Jewish household. It looked different because the husband derived his authority from Christ the Servant, and the wife also shared in that authority—largely in response to the initiative of her husband’s self-sacrificial love.

Indeed, it is the responsibility of the Christian husband to initiate the “living sacrifice” of his body for the sake of his wife, even to the point of death. St. Paul’s teaching really demands much more of the husband than contemporary interpretations of Ephesians care to admit. Read properly, there is no opportunity for the husband to take advantage, to dominate, or to “lord over” his wife if his intention is to imitate the authority and headship of Jesus. Rather, the sense of mutual subordination to Christ gets the first emphasis in the thought of John Paul II, and the subordination of a wife to her husband only follows to the degree that the husband is authentically imitating Christ as servant. The moment he diverts from the authority of Christ, is the moment he loses his wife’s respect.

The other scholars Grabowski cites besides the Pope are chiefly Angelo Cardinal Scola and Sister Prudence Allen, particularly in regard to their work on sexual complementarity. Their work is not to be confused with the myth of Aristophanes, which proposes that man and woman are just separate halves of a greater whole person. Nor is it, obviously, to be confused with Plato’s proposition that bodily existence aside, man and woman are the same. Rather, Scola and Allen teach that man and woman are distinctly other, whole, and unique from each other. When united in marriage, this distinction of persons gives rise to an imaging of the Trinity, especially in the begetting of a third, distinctly unique person.

Given the philosophical explanations from Scola and Allen, as well as the historical and exegetical analysis from Grabowski and John Paul II, one can begin to see how the Sacrament of Marriage differs from the feministic reactions to St. Paul’s teaching in Ephesians. In reality, the wife who was once seen as mere property by the Roman world is given the utmost dignity and authority due to her status as an adopted daughter of God in Christ. Only in light of Jesus’ defeat of sin and death is this marital dynamic made possible. Otherwise, the influence of sin and selfishness is too great a strain on marriage to be lived as a Sacrament. As we have seen so often in the contemporary world, many divorces result from a fundamental misunderstanding of the sacramentality of marriage (of course manifested in practical disorders: finances, infidelity, domination, etc.), whether the couple cares to admit it or not.

Lastly, Grabowski gives a thorough explanation to the controversial concept of the husband’s headship. As I have already mentioned in this regard, only insofar as the husband imitates Christ’s servant leadership, initiates self-sacrificial love and the laying down of his life, does he share in the authority of Jesus. Likewise, the husband’s headship is merely analogous to the relationship between Christ and the Church, and does not guarantee him any type of divinization or superior ontology to his wife. They are, after all, equal in dignity but with separate and complementary categories.

I have briefly pointed out the breadth and depth of Grabowski’s work in “Mutual Subordination of Husband and Wife”, but with full intent to make available the entire pdf document through various hypertext in this post. It is worth perusing for specific topics and for parish Pre-Cana events, as it was originally made available to Our Lady of Good Counsel parish.

Monday, March 3, 2014

JPII and Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina consists of three "steps" in approaching the Sacred Scriptures:

1) Meditation or chewing on the Word

2) Oratio or seeking the face of God

3) Contemplation or beholding the Lord

JPII says this of Lectio:

"Dear brothers and sisters, this development needs to be consolidated and deepened, also by making sure that every family has a Bible. It is especially necessary that listening to the word of God should become a life-giving encounter, in the ancient and ever valid tradition of lectio divina, which draws from the biblical text the living Word which questions, directs, and shapes our lives."

from "Novo Millennio Ineute": Apostolic Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to the Bishops, Clergy and Lay faithful at the close of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. n. 39.

Ironically, it is more a question of being read by the Word than of reading the Word. The Word of God, after all, is "living and active..."

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

JPII, Dali, and Exorcism

Karol Wojtyla's education in Rome culminated in his doctoral thesis on St. John of the Cross: Questio de fide apud S. Joannem a Cruce (The Question of Faith according to St. John of the Cross). For Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dali, a question of faith is what determined dignified art from garbage. He too was inspired by his fellow Spaniard, and painted Christ crucified in accord with a sketch done by the Doctor of the Church:

Salvador Dali struggled with faith to a great extent, unable to reconcile it early on with his passion for Freudian psychology. However, because he placed so much emphasis on dreams, as did Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, Dali’s inspiration for “Christ of St. John of the Cross” as a result of a dream he recalled was irresistibly convicting to him. He notes the affect of the dream on his work:

In the first place, in 1950, I had a ‘cosmic dream’ in which I saw this image in color and which in my dream represented the ‘nucleus of the atom’. This nucleus later took on a metaphysical sense; I considered it ‘the very unity of the universe’, the Christ! In the second place, when thanks to the instructions of Father Bruno, a Carmelite, I saw the Christ drawn by Saint John of the Cross, I worked out geometrically a triangle and a circle, which ‘aesthetically’ summarized all my previous experiments, and I inscribed my Christ in this triangle.

Not too many years before this dream, Dali requested in 1947 for an exorcism. A Carmelite friar, Gabriele Maria Berardi, performed the exorcism and was given a handmade crucifix in return.

The rite of exorcism used for Dali was dated 1614, and was later revised twice during the pontificate of John Paul II. The Pope is rumored to have performed two exorcisms, one successful and one unsuccessful. Fr. Gabrielle Amorth was Rome's exorcist at the time, and came to the aid of the Pope after the second unsuccessful attempt.

I want to suggest a correlation between Dali's obsession with Freud and his need for an exorcism, and refer to my previous post on JPII vs. Jungian/Freudian Psychology. While psychology can be enormously beneficial to discernment of spirits, I suggest it can also be a major impediment or excuse: recall men like Jim Morrison, Aldous Huxley, etc.

Dali's repentant response to grace was very admirable, and his post-conversion artwork reflects his interior disposition. Fellow surrealists persecuted him to a great degree, but he portrayed the strength and substance of the Gospel to be infinitely more significant than mere dreams.

For further reading on dream interpretation from a Catholic perspective, see Sirach 34.




Tuesday, February 4, 2014

JPII and Solzhenitsyn

In June of 1978, Alexander Solzhenitsyn gave the commencement address at Harvard concerning Soviet Russia and the weakness of the West. By mid October of the same year, Karol Wojtyla would ascend to the chair of St. Peter. “A direct gift from God” was Solzhenitsyn’s response to the news of the first Slavic Pope. Below are some examples of how desperate the socialist situation was in Solzhenitsyn’s eyes, and how the West was powerless to stop it with only capitalism as its standard.

He describes his concern for the West in a financial metaphor of sorts:

Relations with the former colonial world now have switched to the opposite extreme and the Western world often exhibits an excess of obsequiousness, but it is difficult yet to estimate the size of the bill which former colonial countries will present to the West and it is difficult to predict whether the surrender not only of its last colonies, but of everything it owns, will be sufficient for the West to clear this account[…] But the persisting blindness of superiority continues to hold the belief that all the vast regions of our planet should develop and mature to the level of contemporary Western systems, the best in theory and the most attractive in practice; that all those other worlds are but temporarily prevented (by wicked leaders or by severe crises or by their own barbarity and incomprehension) from pursuing Western pluralistic democracy and adopting the Western way of life. Countries are judged on the merit of their progress in that direction. But in fact such a conception is a fruit of Western incomprehension of the essence of other worlds, a result of mistakenly measuring them all with a Western yardstick. The real picture of our planet's development bears little resemblance to all this.[1]

At its core, Solzhenitsyn’s address identifies the West’s need for redemption—indeed, the entire world’s need! He continues, “All the celebrated technological achievements of progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the twentieth century’s moral poverty, which no one could have imagined even as late as the nineteenth century.[2]”

He accuses westerners of “weak human personality” due to avoidance of suffering, “decline in courage” from hiding behind rationalized laws based on weakness and cowardice, “lack of manhood” and “they [western governments] get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists”. By and large, Solzhenitsyn basically calls America and Western Europe, “girly men” compared with his own people.

He goes on to describe Soviets as stronger than westerners, on account of their sufferings:

But should I be asked, instead, whether I would propose the West, such as it is today, as a model to my country, I would frankly have to answer negatively. No, I could not recommend your society as an ideal for the transformation of ours. Through deep suffering, people in our own country have now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive.[3]

To what does he attribute such weakness? Irresponsibility: “A total emancipation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. The West has finally achieved the rights of man, and even excess, but man’s sense of responsibility to God and society has grown dimmer and dimmer.[4]”

Now, based on my last post, anyone can see why Wojtyla’s election was an answer to Solzhenitsyn’s prayer! Redemption, Responsibility, Mercy…they all are at the heart of John Paul’s prophetic life. Furthermore, they are all rooted in Christ—the source of such abundant grace. But, when Christ is divorced from the public square, Solzhenitsyn speaks from his own experience:

Humanism which has lost its Christian heritage cannot prevail in this competition. Thus during the past centuries and especially in recent decades, as the process became more acute, the alignment of forces was as follows: Liberalism was inevitably pushed aside by radicalism, radicalism had to surrender to socialism, and socialism could not stand up to communism[…] The communist regime in the East could endure and grow due to the enthusiastic support from an enormous number of Western intellectuals who (feeling the kinship!) refused to see communism's crimes, and when they no longer could do so, they tried to justify these crimes. The problem persists: In our Eastern countries, communism has suffered a complete ideological defeat; it is zero and less than zero. And yet Western intellectuals still look at it with considerable interest and empathy, and this is precisely what makes it so immensely difficult for the West to withstand the East.[5]

Unfortunately, those who do not learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them. How true is the above statement even a quarter century later! We are too slow to learn from Solzhenitsyn and Wojtyla.

Nevertheless, there is hope—just as there was for Solzhenitsyn when Wojtyla was elected; when he visited him in 1993 (a few years after the fall of the Iron Curtain) and with John Paul’s canonization fast approaching this Easter. Not that Wojtyla is himself the source of the hope—but that he is a “witness to hope”. He is a witness to the rediscovery of our Christian heritage through the New Evangelization, finally being enacted in parishes nearly ten years after his passing. He is a witness to vindication from the despotism of Stalin and others. He is a witness to suffering, probably the most needed of all crosses.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn stood as a forerunner to Wojtyla, and Wojtyla stands as a forerunner to the Redeemer. With the Olympics in Russia this year, and the World Youth Day in Krakow following, it will be interesting to see what transpires in these forerunners’ homelands.


[1] Alexander Solzhenitsyn. “A World Split Apart: Commencement Address to Harvard University, June 8, 1978” http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles/SolzhenitsynHarvard.php

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

Update: While the '14 olympics were low-profile for the most part, the Ukrainian/Russian conflict erupted soon after this post. It will interesting to see how the conflict turns out...
Further reading: http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/2978/his_beatitude_sviatoslav_shevchuk_speaks_truth_to_secular_powers.aspx

And again: http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2014/03/13/ukrainian-catholics-fear-new-oppression-after-russian-takeover/

03/19/14 Update from http://www.aawsat.net/2014/03/article55329733:
Last month, when Vladimir Putin ordered that the Black Madonna of Kazan, the holiest icon of the Russian Orthodox Church, be flown over the Black Sea, many believed he wished to secure blessings for the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

It was the first time the icon, or rather a copy of it, since the original was stolen and possibly destroyed in 1904, was deployed to bless a peaceful enterprise. Over the centuries, the “Black Virgin” has been taken to battlefields to bless Russian armies fighting Swedish, Polish, Turkish, Persian, French and German invaders. Stalin sent it to Stalingrad in 1943 to ensure victory over the German invaders under Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus.

With Putin’s troops in control of Crimea and threatening to move further into Ukraine, we now know that the icon was brought in to bless a military operation this time as well.

Lastly, Weigel on the topic http://denvercatholicregister.org/opinion/orthodoxy-state-society/:
the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches faced a dramatic choice: stand in pastoral solidarity with the people, or stand with the state that was brutally repressing Ukrainian citizen-reformers? The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), largest of the Eastern Catholic Churches (Byzantine in liturgy and Church organization, but in full communion with the Bishop of Rome), did not face this dilemma; the UGCC was long the safe-deposit box of Ukrainian national consciousness, and in the post-Soviet period it has devoted its public life to building Ukrainian civil society. But the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches did face a historic fork-in-the-road: civil society, or the state?