Thursday, July 31, 2014

Gay Catholic Romance Novel Shows Sacrifice is the Heart of Love

Just as the movie Brokeback Mountain paved the road for widespread acceptance of homosexual love affairs, the novel The Lion’s Heart is poised to do the same for the Catholic view of homosexuality. Almost certainly the first of its kind, this gay Catholic romance novel was written by Dena Hunt (also author of Treason) and published by Full Quiver Publishing, a small Canadian company dedicated to promoting St. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (“TOB”) mainly through the medium of fiction.

The love affair between the two main characters, Paul and Max, is real, raw, and tragic. Paul is an art gallery director comfortable in his homosexuality, but vaguely dissatisfied with his life of one-night stands. Max is the husband of an art gallery employee and father of two children. When the two men meet, Paul is drawn to Max because of Max’s maturity, stability, and deep-rooted intuitive grasp of the values of marriage and family. With deft skill, the author depicts a romance that is tasteful rather than crude. As the relationship between Paul and Max progresses, the affair erodes the qualities in Max that made him so appealing in the first place. Max’s views on love, parenthood, and society descend into a torturous confusion that even Paul cannot abide. “Falling in love with a man does not justify re-writing all of history,” says Paul. But for Max, it does.

The Lion’s Heart is part of a growing effort of faithful Catholics to reach out to the gay community. As admitted by the recent video The Third Way, featuring TOB experts Chris West and Jason Evert, the Church has not done a good job welcoming those with same-sex attraction. The idea of “love the sinner, hate the sin” does not resonate with those conditioned to believe that what they do is synonymous with who they are. Since serious hatred itself is a sin against the Fifth Commandment, perhaps we should dispense with the language of hatred altogether. There is a similar problem with the terminology of disordered attraction. It shuts people down and makes them unwilling to hear. The Lion’s Heart acknowledges that homosexual desire feels like normal desire to those experiencing it, and homosexual love feels like true love. Where The Lion’s Heart sharply departs from the secular viewpoint is its message that true love requires what’s best for the beloved, and in the case of homosexual love, as dramatically depicted in the story of Paul and Max, what’s best for the beloved is to walk away.

The book is endorsed by the Executive Director of Courage International, the Catholic organization dedicated to helping people with same-sex attraction lead a chaste life. Despite or perhaps because of its fidelity to Church teaching on homosexuality, Courage comes under intense hostile pressure from Catholics and non-Catholics alike. For example, Courage made it into the news recently as the focus of a controversy involving Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx. The school had arranged for speakers from Courage to make a presentation about homosexuality to parents, but some prominent gay alumni objected and the presentation was postponed indefinitely.

As public acceptance of homosexuality and homosexual relationships increases, the Church’s message of chastity and self-denial as proclaimed by groups like Courage gets thrown by the wayside. When confronted with the open homosexuality of a friend or family member, many people respond by encouraging those with same-sex attraction to enter into love affairs in the mistaken belief it will bring them happiness. This increasingly common reaction took center stage in 2013 when Ohio conservative Sen. Rob Portman reversed his stance on same-sex marriage because of his son’s homosexuality. Portman said he followed his heart in reaching the conclusion that he wants all of his children, including his gay son, to have the joy and stability of long-term marriage. As a nation, we are in love with love, particularly romantic and sexual love, and we can’t see the possibility of joy or fulfillment without sex to go along with it.

But the Church teaches that personal fulfillment comes from mastering our desires, not giving in to them. Chastity is demanded of all, not just the gay or unmarried. In our society, artificial contraception has perpetuated the myth of constantly available sex and disrupted the previously crystal-clear connection between marriage and the creation of the next generation of children. When the Church speaks out against the use of artificial contraception and in favor of methods that require periodic abstinence, it reminds us that marriage is more than religiously-sanctioned sexual pleasure. We as human beings are capable of intimacy that supersedes the sexual.

True love can exist between fathers and sons, and between mothers and daughters. True love can even exist between best friends. But true love never willingly harms the object of its affection. As anyone who has been in a bad relationship knows, a sexual bond with the wrong person – regardless of gender – can cause incredible psychological, emotional, and spiritual damage, even if it feels like love at the time. The Lion’s Heart treads a narrow line by vividly depicting the inherently destructive nature of the characters’ homosexual relationship, while evocatively portraying their love and affection for one another. In the end, it is love that pushes them to sacrifice for the good of the other.

Multi-dimensional and complex, The Lion’s Heart has something to attract and discomfit people at nearly every point along the spectrum of religiosity and sexuality – which is a good thing. At one juncture, I had to put the book down and walk away because it was too painful to watch the character of a good man slowly crumble. But I’m glad I returned to observe the romance’s bitter-sweet conclusion. If I had to pinpoint one flaw in the book, I would say that the ending has too much gratuitous tragedy for my taste. The love triangle between wife, husband, and gay lover is tragic enough on its own. But The Lion’s Heart is well worth reading for its bold and audacious challenge to prevailing perceptions and misperceptions of homosexuality. With broad enough exposure, the book may succeed in changing more than a few hearts.

This article appeared originally at Aleteia. It also was highlighted on the Women of Grace blog.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Walking the Camino de Santiago: 1,000 Years of Introspection

In honor of last Friday's feast of St. James the Apostle, here's a post by my father Hampden Smith (Chairman Emeritus of the Washington & Lee Journalism Department) about walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Santiago is the Spanish word for James or St. James, who is credited with evangelizing Spain. The 500-mile Camino ends at the great Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. In their golden years, my extremely active parents are up for almost any new experience, including making a Catholic pilgrimage when they're not actually Catholic. We keep hoping.


Last May and June, my wife and I and another retired couple (we’re all 70 or older) spent three weeks as pilgrims, or peregrinos, on the Camino. We began at the Pyrenees, on the French border, and walked about 250 of the 500 miles to Santiago de Compostela. It was a magnificent experience in many ways. 

We averaged 12 miles a day walking, a couple of times as much as 17 miles; it took us, including stops for cafĂ© latte and lunch, most of the day.  Nearly all peregrinos carry everything on their backs: a change of clothes, a thin mattress pad, toilet articles, a guidebook. As old guys, we cheated; we carried backpacks weighing about 5 pounds and sent our full packs by carrier to the next night’s lodging. We also stayed in small hotels, not the alberges with dozens of bunk beds and communal showers that is the norm.

We were frequently aware of the 1,000-year-old tradition of the Camino that untold numbers of pilgrims have taken since the 11th century. There’s something deeply moving about walking on the remnants of Roman roads and over Roman bridges, along ancient paths trod by devout sinners to reach the cathedral in Santiago and hug the statue of Saint James there. You learn quickly you are a part of an historic tradition that has drawn believers to a religion and a culture that has largely created what we know as the Western world.

However, we also quickly learned how different our lives are from most of those who preceded us. On our bus days, it took us less than half an hour to cover a route that would take all day on foot. And then we realized: A hundred years ago, the pilgrims didn’t just reach Santiago; they had to walk back, to Paris or to Cologne or Amsterdam.

As you trudge along, there is determination and solitude and camaraderie. No matter torrential rain that floods your rocky, hilly path, nor blistering sun, you must continue if you are to reach the goal you set for yourself. No matter the many fellow pilgrims you get to know along this communal route, there are hours and  hours of being alone with yourself, with asking why am I doing this, with seeking answers to who I am and who I wish to be. Yet you learn to be open to everyone, to your fellow peregrinos, to the wrinkled and hobbling old lady who wishes you to “go with God,” to the farmers and merchants who wave and call out, “Buen Camino” – and the exhausted, despondent American judge who responded, “Don’t you “Buen Camino” me!”

The country is beautiful. The Roman breadbasket continues, with endless fields of wheat and dry rice and, thank goodness, vineyards. Snow-capped mountains line the horizon, and the hills are adorned with skyscraper-tall wind turbines that produce 17 percent of Spain’s electricity.

The church architecture is grand, from the stark simplicity of Romanesque chapels with primitive carvings of strange little beasts among the saints and angels, to the grandeur of Gothic cathedrals so astonishingly beautiful that tears come to your eyes. No matter how devout or doubting the pilgrim, you cannot be confronted by these examples of the highest creations of mankind without realizing how central to civilization and culture the Church must be.

At the end, there is the pilgrim Mass in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, a breathtaking, soaring monument into which many pilgrims literally crawl on their knees, tears falling from their eyes. A nun with the voice of an angel teaches the peregrinos the refrains they will sing during Mass, and a priest reads out the names of all the countries pilgrims have come from. Australia, the United States, Canada, Japan, England, Holland, Korea, Spain, Kenya.  United in an experience to some religious, to others spiritual, to a few cultural and, to a small awkward percentage, a lark.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Roundup of Best Posts for NFP Awareness Week 2014

Last year's guest post for NFP Awareness Week by James of RealCatholicLoveandSex.com continues to be one of the most popular posts on the blog. This year, we'll give you a roundup of the best NFP Awareness Week posts from all over the web, including James', of course. Thanks to readers Tara, Scott, Ellen, Susan, Cat, and Mary Lou for their suggestions. If you know of other great posts that should be added to the list, please share the link in the comments!

1. What is Natural Family Planning, by James of RealCatholicLoveandSex. James emphasizes that Natural Family Planning is actually a misnomer. Charting the signs of a woman's fertility is more of an education in her own body. We endanger our own happiness by making idols of our plans, as many couples learn when they use artificial birth control to prevent pregnancy for many years only to face infertility problems when they finally "plan" to conceive.

2. The WINNER'S Guide to NFP, by Simcha Fisher. To much popular acclaim, Catholic blogger Simcha Fisher authored The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning, which was released by Our Sunday Visitor earlier this year. So for NFP Awareness Week 2014, Simcha is offering a bevy of free give-aways, including an autographed copy of her book, a ClearBlue Easy Fertility Monitor (which retails for $135 - $150+), and a copy of my friend Susan Windley-Daoust's new book Theology of the Body, Extended: The Spiritual Signs of Birth, Impairment, and Dying.

3. The Paradox of Crunchy Women and Chemical Birth Control, on Ethika Politika. The post asks why anyone buying into the popular organic food craze would still willingly put artificial hormones into their own body every day. In addition to causing potential side effects like weight gain, depression, heart attack, and stroke, hormonal birth control has been shown to interfere with a female's ability to select a good mate or to attract one, according to certain studies.




4. Natural Family Planning Awareness Week: A few thoughts, by Deacon Scott Dodge. This post makes the important point that developing any virtue requires self-control and self-denial. The virtue of chastity is no different, and NFP helps us to attain that virtue.

5. Which Method of NFP is Right for Me?, on IUseNFP.com. Although not an NFP Awareness Week post, strictly speaking, this short quiz is extremely helpful for people who are just starting NFP or who are not satisfied with their current method.

6. NFP Week! Theology of the Body in a Nutshell, by Ellen Gable Hrkach. Spousal love should be free, faithful, total, and fruitful, says Ellen, and artificial birth control can destroy all those aspects. It encourages an "I can't say no" attitude to sex, which keeps both husband and wife from loving in a free and mature manner.

7. My Husband, the Gentleman, by Sarah Hammond. This young bride explains how cherished she feels because of her husband's agreement to use NFP. Other couple testimonies are available on this page of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops web site.

8. The Fruitfulness of Truth, by DarwinCatholic. A lovely essay on how talking about being ready (or not) for another child can bruise feelings and egos, but since marriage lasts a lifetime, these bumps on the road can be seen as temporary setbacks rather than insoluble problems.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

How to Stay Married 10 Years & Then Some: Karee and Manny

The kick-off to this great new series How to Stay Married 10 Years & Then Some is written by yours truly, me and my husband Manny. Here are our prime bits of advice gathered over the years, and a few of our most cherished stories.


1. How many years have you been married and how many kids do you have?


Manny & Karee: We've been married 14 years and have 6 kids: Lelia, age 13; Miguel, age 11; Maria, age 9; Marguerite, age 7; Cecilia, age 5; and Elisa-Maria, age 3. Yes, we know that's a lot of girls.

2. Name 3 things that have helped you to stay married this long.


Manny: “Not staying married” was never really an option in my mind. So I would say that the first thing that has helped me stay married is a proper understanding of what marriage is -- a promise of forever. The second thing that has helped me stay married is that I meant what I said on my wedding day. The wedding vows I spoke were not flowery or cute, but rather simple and direct. They were spoken before God Almighty for all to hear, a promise that no force on earth could sever, save death. The third thing that has helped me stay married, and not just stay married but stay happily married, is a piece of advice a neighbor once gave me. Tony Imbarrato, who lived together with his wife Vicky next door to my parents, told me that marriage was like a delicate flower, responsive to love and care yet capable of wilting away if neglected or mistreated. That inspires me to nurture my marriage.

Karee: First, focusing on the positive things about my husband, my marriage, and my family. Focusing on the negative things doesn't make anyone happy, including me! Second, trusting that God has a purpose for our marriage and for our family. Manny told me when he proposed that there would come a time when he would let me down, not intentionally, but because he was human and he would fail. (The flip-side of that coin is that I would fail him, too, of course.) Only God never fails, and he will always bind up the little hurts we give each other. Third, allowing myself to become dependent on my husband. Total independence makes it too easy to walk out the door.

3. What role has your faith played in your marriage?


Manny: Safe to say that without my faith, I wouldn’t have seen a need to get married at all, at least not in the Catholic Church. Other churches have prettier buildings and better music. (Editor's Note: We got married in the beautiful Manhattan Church of the Holy Innocents, and our wedding Mass incorporated two choirs, two professional vocal soloists, an organist, two trumpet players, a flautist, and an original piece of music commissioned specially for the occasion. I defy anyone other than European royalty to produce proof of better music at a wedding ceremony.)



Karee: Faith has been a bedrock of our marriage. By putting God first, we avoid the potential power struggle over whose wishes and needs are more important. God's plans are the most important and they're better than anything we could imagine or dream of on our own.

4. What advice would you give people who are dating and considering marriage?


Manny: I would ask them why. Why get married? If you don’t have a clear reason, you’re not ready to get married.  Physical attraction is a good start but most assuredly not enough. If  there’s also a compelling socio-economic reason, such as saving money, again, I would say it’s not enough. If it’s to please others, their pleasure (and yours) will be short lived. In my mind there’s only one reason, in the end, to get married. You want to be with this person for the rest of your life, through sickness and health, for richer or poorer, for better or worse, ‘til death do you part. Looks fade, fortunes come and go, and pleasing others is rarely a good reason to make a life-long commitment.

Karee: When Manny and I were dating, he was very clear that the purpose of dating was to find out if we wanted to marry each other. No one had ever been so blunt about their intentions towards me, and it gave us an important incentive to keep trying to iron out our differences. So, be intentional. Date with a view towards marriage and don't be shy about discussing it openly.

5. What advice would you give newlyweds?


Manny: There’s something special, almost magical, about this time of life. In fact, for the first few years of marriage, you should feel free to consider yourselves newlyweds. Hold hands, giggle together, exchange glances when no one is looking, make time together a priority because it ought to be. And after the newlywed period ends, and of course it will, then make an effort to continue some of the things you loved doing when you were newlyweds. It will make a huge difference.

Karee: The best newlywed advice I ever got was from a priest in the confessional. He said to be patient, patient with my husband and patient with myself. There will be a lot of time to get used to one another and the changes that happen along with getting married. The changes can be exhilarating, but also a little nerve-wracking.

6. What advice would you give new parents or couples who are trying to have children?


Manny: Children are a blessing, and if received as such the joy and the laughs (kids are funny) will far outweigh the hard work and suffering that inevitably accompany parenthood.  

Karee: My parents told us when I first got pregnant that raising children would be the hardest thing we ever did in our lives. We smiled dreamily and said, "We know." We had no freaking clue. Dads, your wife is about to become a superhero -- appreciate it and respect it. Moms, remember that no matter how steep your learning curve is, your husband's will be steeper -- be understanding. Couples who are aching to become moms and dads, pray that the time of waiting prepares you to be grace-filled parents. Trust me when I say you'll need all the grace you can get.


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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Forget Free Sex. We Want Free Chocolate!

The Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby allowing corporations not to pay for abortifacient contraceptives on conscience grounds infuriated many. Some activists responded by rearranging the goods on Hobby Lobby shelves to spell out slogans such as "Pro-Choice" and "All Women Deserve Birth Control" in order to demonstrate their mature femininity  fitness as sexual partners  political savvy  anger. (For more equally emotional responses, click here.) The battle cry seemed to be "We want our non-procreative sex and we want it for free!"

"There is this new attitude that 'if my pleasure is something I deem good, then you should pay into it and enable me as well,'" commented one of my friends on Facebook. With utterly inescapable logic, she concluded that, based on this reasoning, the government should subsidize her daily ration of dark chocolate as well. The argument is as follows:

  1. Many people want dark chocolate.
  2.  Eating dark chocolate every day has proven health benefits, such as decreasing the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
  3. Decreased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease leads to lower medical costs to be borne by individuals and the healthcare system. 
  4. The government should therefore provide dark chocolate for free. 
The social, medical, and economic benefits of such a scheme are clear. Politicians would be wise to start a political party based on these principles, or at least incorporate these ideas into the plank of an already-existing party platform. Not only would chocolate-for-free garner even more popular support than contraception-for-free, it would also encounter less opposition. Consider this:

  1. Chocolate appeals to men, women, and children of all ages, whereas contraception would only arguably be beneficial for men and women of child-bearing age.
  2. Chocolate does not contain synthetic hormones that may raise the risk of cancer and harm the environment by polluting our streams
  3. Chocolate does not cause a small but real risk of increased blood pressure, blood clots, heart attack, and stroke
  4. No one (as far as I know) has a religious objection to eating chocolate or providing free chocolate to others.
So I say, forget free sex. We want free chocolate. Are you with me?