The Personalist Project

Comments (45)

Katie van Schaijik

#1, Nov 9, 2009 5:21am

On Nov. 7, Steve posted this comment:
Hi Katie,

Do you know which book/writing of Dr. DvH and/or Dr. AvH was this term “holy bashfulness” used?

In Dr. DvH‚Äôs book ‚ÄúThe Devastated Vineyard‚Äù, on pages 28-29 (in reference to what he wrote previously in his book ‚ÄúIn Defense of Purity‚Äù) he uses the term ‚Äúnoble shame.‚Äù  Is this the same concept as ‚Äúholy bashfulness‚Äù?

It seems to me that you and Dr. AvH are trying to turn this term into one which sounds more ‚Äúpositive‚Äù.  That, IMO, is a consistent trend in the Church since Vatican II (which IMO isn‚Äôt by any means essential to successfully promoting the faith), aimed primarily to be more receptive to modern culture.

Perhaps another way to term this would be ‚Äúholy modesty‚Äù?  But, then that term today is far too often deemed as ‚Äúnegative‚Äù also, which typifies the sad state of affairs in our modern era‚Ķ.”

Here is my answer.

I believe it must be in In Defense of Purity.  But I think he uses it elsewhere too.  And I think you are right, yes, that ‚Äúnoble shame‚Äù and ‚Äúholy bashfulness‚Äù are both means of expressing the same moral truth.
But we are certainly not trying to ‚Äúturn a term‚Äù into something positive in the sense you seem to mean (though perhaps I misunderstand you.) 
DvH was a profound and sensitive thinker intent on elucidating reality as he found it.  And he found in the general phenomenon of ‚Äúshame‚Äù a KIND of shame that was entirely positive, for which he preferred that a different term be used.  He wanted a different term to be used not because he wanted people to ‚Äúthink positively‚Äù (!), but because he thought the difference between what he meant by ‚Äúshame‚Äù and what he meant by ‚Äúholy bashfulness‚Äù was too great for them to be signified under the same term without confusion.
“Holy modesty” is somewhat different from “holy bashfulness”, which refers to an inward experience or spontaneous response to value.

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Nov 9, 2009 5:40am

To pick up more of the discussion on the previous thread, here is another post by Steve (which I hope he won’t mind my pasting here:


“unless TOB is COMPLEMENTED by a deepening grasp of JP II’s wider personalism, it will tend to go astray.”

BINGO!  You‚Äôre main point here is EXACTLY what I am after.

CW himself has said before - “more, there’s always more!” - and that applies SO much to what he is teaching.

What he has spoken about with TOB seems to me to fall SO far short of promoting human personhood than what is truly needed today.

I‚Äôve just been trying to reiterate that he needs to recognize that the world needs SO much more than merely a TOB - that it desperately needs a Theology of the Person.  Isn‚Äôt THAT the ultimate goal of The Personalist Project???

If you disagree with me in my assertion that at least part of what CW intends is to “pack the crowds”, then why did he revert to using a completely unnecessary & titillating depiction of his Hawaiian tour guide in his talk to TPP last year?

To use depictions like that, and to make a concerted effort to do so, while completely ignoring to mention at all the utter need for personal prayer, to me it shows the glaring shortfalls in his TOB approach….

When you say ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs addressing them in the area of their greatest need.‚Äù - you are absolutely right.  However, as I said before, he is addressing merely the SYMPTOM of their diseased understanding of Personhood, and is not getting to the core of the problem.  He‚Äôs immediately addressing the sickness and wounds of the ‚Äúpatients‚Äù who have been infected by the perversions of our culture - TOB is a spiritual ‚Äútriage‚Äù I guess I would say.

But, with CW’s particular way of presenting TOB, he’s not necessarily giving his audience quite enough spiritual “food” to set them on the right course to a truly healthy spiritual lifestyle.

I am asserting that only by promoting personal prayer, and by delving more MUCH more into the more profound aspects of human personhood, can the needed “food” for the spiritual journey be conveyed as effectively as possible.

Sometime later today, I’ll post further comments to Lauretta below….

Take care, and God bless,

Steve B
Plano, TX

Katie van Schaijik

#3, Nov 9, 2009 5:55am

“What he has spoken about with TOB seems to me to fall SO far short of promoting human personhood than what is truly needed today.”

Well, of course.  I’m sure CW would agree with this too.  TOB is not the whole Church, not the whole of Truth.

But here is how your resistance to what CW is doing strikes me.  Imagine a shipful of sailors perishing of scurvy.  A doctor’s assistant, having learned that citrus fruits cure scurvy in an almost miraculous way, is running around offering lemons and limes to as many of them as he can reach.

Would we stand over his shoulder complaining that people need MUCH MORE than citrus fruit for a complete and balanced diet? 

And if we did, who could fault him if asked us to go ahead and give them everything they need later, when their teeth aren’t falling out anymore, but meanwhile, kindly get out of his way?

Katie van Schaijik

#4, Nov 9, 2009 6:10am

Steve asks:
“I‚Äôve just been trying to reiterate that he needs to recognize that the world needs SO much more than merely a TOB - that it desperately needs a Theology of the Person.  Isn‚Äôt THAT the ultimate goal of The Personalist Project???”

The Personalist Project is a philosophical, not a theological enterprise.  We don’t aspire to give the world everything it needs.  Only God can do that.  We just want to do our part to fill one of the gaps.


#5, Nov 9, 2009 8:40am


As with most analogies, they usually aren’t as effective or as comprehensive as we’d like.

But, I’ll work with your analogy as-is, and here’s what I would say….

While the doctor’s assistant is standing there watching the sailors munch down their fruit (how about if we go with oranges instead?), and while he has a captive audience right in front of him, why wouldn’t he want explain to them in at least a cursory manner the “bigger picture” of the need for good nutrition for the health of the human body?  Not a medical treatise - just merely pointing out how it is needed for living a long, enjoyable, and healthy life, so as to prompt the sailors to embrace a much deeper change in their lifestyles.

Perhaps I’m presuming too much to think that you agree with me wrt the pathetic state of affairs today in adult catechesis of the Catholic faithful?  Ultimately, I think that is what I have really been railing against for the past couple of days, rather than CW and the TOB teaching in particular….

If you do agree with me, then why is it SO unreasonable for me to insist that, when CW has a captive audience during his talks, and when the Church typically does SO LITTLE to catechize adults anymore, that he make just a LITTLE more effort to more clearly convey the greater grandeur of human personhood - which we all agree goes amazingly further than the dignity, beauty, and mystery of just the human body?

CW’s emphasis upon presenting titillating depictions - w/o a fundamental and merely introductory emphasis upon personal prayer - just dumbfounds me. 

Yes.  Christopher West is doing AMAZING and necessary work in his promotion of the TOB.  GOD BLESS HIM for his life commitment in serving the Church in that manner!!!

However, when I see what clearly appears to me to be GLARING deficiencies in CW’s approach to promoting the TOB, and when after what I’m sure in many respects was punishing scrutiny that he endured after his ABC/Nightline interview, in his latest web site “response” he still seems to be choosing in-large-measure to ignore his detractors’ “advice”.

“TOB is not the whole Church, not the whole of Truth.”

I never said that it was.  I never said that I thought CW was conveying that message either, although I do think his effort is much too emphatically focused upon the human body itself. 

All I have been saying is that CW needs to make more of a concerted effort to direct his listeners to the fundamental tenets of growing in their personal relationship with God via personal prayer, and to broaden the perspective of his message to deepen even further the impact upon his listeners of the Church’s teachings on the dignity of the human person.

Catholics in particular have been battling for pretty much the last 40 years to “figure out for ourselves” what our faith is really all about - with widespread disastrous results, as typified by the recent “scandals” at Notre Dame, Georgetown, etc. 

I just think it is about time that those in “official” teaching positions of the Church stop assuming so much about the spiritual state of the faithful (e.g. that people and families already have good habits of personal prayer), and that they try more diligently and at a very fundamental level to help the Holy Spirit to “turn on the light bulbs” of faith that so many Catholics lack today.

Is all of that really so unreasonable???

God help us all, and me in particular!!!

Take care, and God bless,

Steve B
Plano, TX


#6, Nov 9, 2009 8:53am

Hi Katie,

Certainly, TPP can (and I think you already are) promoting its philosophical principals based upon underlying Christian theological principals.

But if, in how you “officially” promote Personalism, there is little if no overlap between its philosophical and the theological dimensions, how effective can TPP ultimately be in working for the “salvation of souls”?

OK.  I’ll shut up now.  I’ve probably annoyed you and Lauretta more than I intended over the past several days.  My apologies, if I did….

Take care, God bless, and have a GREAT day,

Steve B
Plano, TX


#7, Nov 9, 2009 12:22pm

Ah, a break for us women in the house-building project!  I now have a few moments to correspond possibly a little more lucidly than my last several hastily drafted comments.

I need to apologize, Steve, if I sounded harsh in any way in my responses to you.  I sometimes tend to be too direct and sound harsh when I don’t mean to.  And, the last ten days or so I have not had time to sit back and critique my writing as I was trying to respond in very small open windows of time.  I thoroughly enjoy discussing these subjects and appreciate challenges to learn how to express my thoughts more coherently about the beautiful subject of TOB.

I was talking with a friend who had just been to CW’s latest workshop in PA a few weeks ago, and in our conversation she mentioned a painting of the Blessed Mother that CW had displayed.  It renewed my interest in this subject so I did a quick Google search.  This is one site: that came up that I found particularly interesting.  I haven’t taken the time to look into what the focus of this website is because I was so excited to find the information and wanted to share it.  It, I think, shows how much TOB was understood in past generations as shown by these depictions in art but we have lost this understanding somehow in the modern area.  I would enjoy it very much if all of you had the time to read through this material and let me know what you think as it pertains to our discussion.


#8, Nov 9, 2009 12:52pm

Another interesting article:

Vatican plea to uncover Virgin Mary and show her breast-feeding baby Jesus

By Simon Caldwell
Last updated at 11:09 PM on 23rd June 2008

It might be enough to make Banksy drop his aerosol in the gutter in surprise or cause Lucien Freud to spill paint down his smock in shock.

But the Vatican yesterday said it wanted to see more paintings of a semi-nude Virgin Mary.

What Catholic leaders have in mind is more images of Mary breast-feeding baby Jesus.

The official newspaper of the Holy See has declared it is time to undo four centuries of church disapproval of traditional representations of Mary as an earthy, fleshy mother doting on her newborn son.
Virgin and Child, by Joovs van Cleve

Images like Virgin and Child, by Joovs van Cleve, painted in 1525, have fallen out of favour in recent centuries

The latest edition of L’Osservatore Romano ran two articles by respected art critics who said that for nearly 1,500 years the Madonna was portrayed partly clothed and shamelessly nursing the Christ child.

One of them blamed Protestant prudes for changing the trends in religious art that then led to the Virgin being covered up and left critics wondering if the infant Jesus was bottle-fed instead.

Such currents were so strong that even the nudes in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel were covered up in fear of giving offence, and today the best places to see pictures of Mary nursing Jesus are not churches but major art galleries housing collections of Renaissance paintings.

But the hugely influential newspaper - which is often seen as having the support of the Pope - has now called for the “artistic and spiritual rehabilitation” of “loving and tender” images of Mary breast-feeding.

The intervention could inspire a revival in sacred art that would spell the end of 400 years of dressing up the Virgin to make her look “respectable”.

One article, written by Italian Church historian Lucetta Scaraffia, claimed a vast iconography of traditional Christian art had been “censored by the modern age” because images depicting Mary’s naked breast for her child were deemed too “unseemly”.

It said that artists later depicted the nursing Mary fully clothed because the Protestant reformers were generally critical of “the carnality and unbecoming nature of many sacred images”.

But Miss Scaraffia argued that later depictions had also diminished the Madonna‚Äô s human side “that touches the hearts and faith of the devout”.

Miss Scaraffia said that when the early Christian artists represented the Virgin breast-feeding they had sought to reveal the reality of God’s incarnation.

A second piece, written by Father Enrico dal Covolo, a professor of classic and Christian literature in Rome, said: “The Virgin Mary who nurses her son Jesus is one of the most eloquent signs that the word of God truly and undoubtedly became flesh.”

Images of a semi-nude Mary breastfeeding can be traced back to early Christian times and were popular during the Renaissance period of the Middle Ages.

But they came to an abrupt end around the 16th or 17th century with the emergence of Calvinism and other dour Protestant faiths that viewed representations of ‘sexuality’ as essentially sinful.

Such ideas were resisted by Rome but they were accepted by Catholics particularly in France, Ireland and northern Europe.

The result is that very few, if any, Catholic churches or newspapers will dare to show such imagery even today.

Katie van Schaijik

#9, Nov 9, 2009 1:30pm

Steve, please don’t worry about annoying me!  The whole raison d’etre of the Linde is lively, forthright discussion.  And I fully feel your truth-focus and kind intentions.

While the doctor’s assistant is standing there watching the sailors munch down their fruit (how about if we go with oranges instead?), and while he has a captive audience right in front of him, why wouldn’t he want explain to them in at least a cursory manner the “bigger picture” of the need for good nutrition for the health of the human body?

In such a case, when what von Hildebrand calls “the theme of the moment” is saving lives in an emergency, a lecture on general nutrition would be worse than out of place, IMO. 

Just as the doctor’s concentration on citrus fruit would only be problematic, as I see it, if he were to tell the sailors at the same moment, “All you ever need in life is citrus fruit,”  I see nothing wrong and nothing untoward in CW being focused on his given theme, which he fully realizes is only a part of the whole (though, like other central mysteries of our Faith, it mysteriously contains and implies the whole too). 

His mission, as he understands it, is to “popularize” TOB.  His way of doing it is bearing incredible fruit.  What right do we have to tell him he should be doing it another way—a way we would prefer?  What right does anyone other than his board of directors or his bishop or spiritual director have to do that?


#10, Nov 9, 2009 1:32pm

Hi Katie,

You said:

“His mission, as he understands it, is to ‘popularize’ TOB.  His way of doing it is bearing incredible fruit.  What right do we have to tell him he should be doing it another way‚Äîa way we would prefer?  What right does anyone other than his board of directors or his bishop or spiritual director have to do that?”

Are you saying that I, nor others who have been critical of CW’s TOB teaching content & methods (Fr. Angelo, Dr. AvH, Dr. David Schindler, etc.), have the “right” to do so?

I cannot convey emphatically enough that the myriad of objections we have posed wrt CW’s TOB teaching & promotional methods are NOT matters of mere personal preference nor taste.

What I think is at the core of these many objections we have raised is that we see that CW sometimes promotes heterodox ideas (e.g. the inappropriate “unveiling” of the human body, the “dispensation” of unnatural sex acts in foreplay, etc.), and at other times he uses inappropriate depictions and language which are completely unbecoming to the reverence that discussions of the human body rightfully deserve.

I believe CW’s “mistakes” fall into two general categories: ones of commission, and ones of omission.  CW’s promotion of heterodox ideas falls into the former; my assertions about his lack of explicitly promoting personal prayer (at the very least, at an introductory and cursory level) fall into the latter.

Far too many of us have forgotten that our “mission” as baptized Catholics and/or Christians is to work for the “salvation of souls”, and not merely to promote the methods of doing so.  Straying from clear, sound, and traditionally orthodox teaching, and omitting to convey HOW to go about following Christ, both run the serious risk of undermining that mission.

We, here on earth, the Catholic Church has traditionally called the Church Militant - i.e. “soldiers of Christ”.  As part of our baptism, we are called to be prophets - part of our mission as His “soldiers”.  All that I believe the critics of some of CW’s TOB methods and content are trying to do is to each exercise our own prophetic mission - by pointing out his fundamental mistakes and deficiencies in the spreading of the Gospel message via his TOB ministry.

Those of us who so strongly object to the litany of issues which we believe have either endangered or partially undermined the TOB message, or which shortchange its ultimate effectiveness, do so NOT AT ALL to be critical of CW the person, nor his mission.  It is in this that CW’s many advocates may fail to comprehend our true intentions….

We are being critical only in light of Proverbs 27:17 - “As iron sharpens iron, so man sharpens his fellow man.” - to challenge him to seriously consider making the kinds of changes to his TOB presentation style and content which we believe necessary, so as to make the his evangelization efforts all the MORE fruitful - instead of him acquiring 25 bushels/acre via his current TOB methods & content, we believe that these changes will help increase his “harvest” for Christ and His Church to 50 bushels/acre, or more!!!

Enough for now.  The grindstone awaits my day….

Take care, and God bless,

Steve B
Plano, TX

Katie van Schaijik

#11, Nov 9, 2009 1:44pm

Are you saying that I, nor others who have been critical of CW’s TOB teaching content & methods (Fr. Angelo, Dr. AvH, Dr. David Schindler, etc.), have the “right” to do so?

No, that isn’t what I mean to say.  I’m glad you asked, so I can clarify.  I am all in favor of thoughtful criticism.  I wish there were lots more of it among Christians.
I referred in that comment rather to a particular kind of criticism, which I think illegitimate.  A kind that is something like Monday morning quarterbacking, but not exactly that.  Maybe it’s more like this.  You come across someone drowning in a lake.  You jump in without hesitating and pull him to shore.  A passing stranger (one who had sat on shore not knowing what to do perhaps, because he himself is not a strong swimmer), begins to explain to you that the way you did that was no good.  You should have FIRST searched for a long branch or something so you could have pulled him out without risking your own life.  You should have removed your shoes.  Whatever. 
Wouldn’t you be justifiably annoyed?  Wouldn’t you want to say, “I did what I thought I had to do and it worked.  Now leave me alone”?  Wouldn’t that be all the more the case if you were a professional lifeguard, who had saved countless people from drowning?

CW is trying to help liberate people who are enslaved by eroticism.  He is doing the way he knows best and that he has found very effective. 

If anyone thinks particular ideas or practices of his are heterodox, he should by all means make the case.  But no one but those in a position of authority over him has a right to dictate the content of his presentation.  In other words, we have no right to accuse him of an “omission” because he does not thematize personal prayer.  If he denied that we need a personal prayer life to live our Catholic lives properly, that would be a different case, definitely calling for criticism and correction by all and sundry.


#12, Nov 9, 2009 1:54pm

Hi Katie,

Thanks for the clarifications.

All of us who have expressed our criticisms of CW’s TOB content & style DO realize that he needs to submit only to those in direct authority over him - I can speak only for myself, but I don’t think I am demanding (and I fully realize that I am not in a position to demand) anything wrt his promotion of personal prayer in his TOB ministry.

However, let me build upon your most recent word picture of the drowning swimmer….

Let’s say that instead of me merely criticizing the lifeguard of his rescue methods after he just saved someone from drowning, instead I URGE him to tell each person this:

HOW the saved person can live in a radically changed way, which will not only allow them to avoid drowning the next time they are in the water, but to HELP them to become excellent swimmers too?  That is, to explicitly point them in the right direction for the future….

Why would it be unreasonable to EXPECT this (not demand, as you suggest I am doing)???

My perspective in strongly advocating (not demanding) at least a cursory introduction in TOB to personal prayer taps into the old adage - “Give a man a fish, and he is fed for a day.  Teach him HOW to fish, and he will be able to feed himself for a lifetime”.  Leaving out a brief presentation of the need for each person to have a personal prayer life might well prevent some TOB listeners from figuring out HOW to feed themselves spiritually. 

I went through 12 years of Catholic religious education in parochial schools, and I didn’t figure this out until I was 26 years old.  Surely, there are others out there who haven’t either!  Explicitly pointing out the basic need for personal prayer will go MILES toward correcting the utterly deficient catechesis that the vast majority of Catholics have had both before and after Vatican II….

I agree with you that CW is helping IMMENSELY to liberate those who are enslaved by eroticism. 

But, at the same time, I do also heartily agree with Fr. Angelo that CW makes a VERY strong impression in his TOB presentations that he is advocating a “baptism of sex-obsession”.

Maybe we’ll just have to agree to disagree on many of these matters?  But, what we are disagreeing about is NOT merely “Monday morning quarterbacking” nor personal preferences, but rather fundamental and serious shortcomings & deficiencies in CW’s TOB presentation approach, at least as we critics see them. 

For assertions to be made that we are “accusing” CW personally is not at all our intent, as you seem to be so strongly suggesting.  We are focusing upon his TOB message, not his person.

Take care, and God bless,

Steve B
Plano, TX


#13, Nov 9, 2009 2:09pm


I just wanted to jump in here, that as a person who has listened to and read a lot of CW’s work, he does all that you have said in his more in depth talks.  The short talks he gives, I believe, are just to get people to see that, because of Original Sin and our culture, they very probably have a distorted understanding of sexuality, the body and male/female relationships.  He usually also then gives a summary of what a healthy understanding of the body and sexuality is as well.

In his more lengthy talks he explains, from his own personal experience, about taking these disordered understandings and actions to God in prayer and asking to be able to see the truth behind the lies.  Of course he has been criticized for telling people to take their pornographic thoughts to Christ in adoration—that is inappropriate, you know. 

He talks about getting on the Cross—actually puts his body in the cruciform shape—and staying on the Cross until you experience freedom from the control of lust and how beautiful it is to be free from that dominion.  Of course then he gets criticized for minimizing the power of concupiscence.

He talks about the importance of constantly examining yourself, your thoughts and actions, for their intentions to make sure that you do not slip back into making people an object of use.  He talks about the fact that if he is uncertain about his motives, he will abstain from marital intimacy for a period of time to be sure that he is loving his wife as he should and not unconsciously beginning to use her.

AS far as sex obsession, I dealt with some of that perception in a reply to Fr. Angelo earlier.  I was also thinking about in the past when my husband and I first began to understand TOB a little.  We reminded me of our grandson who is just learning how to read well enough to find it fun.  He is looking everywhere for words that he can read, on signs, on TV, everywhere.  Every once in a while he will see something that is somewhat unclear but kind of looks like writing and he will ask me what it says.  Well, sometimes it is just squiggles and doesn’t really say anything but he is so excited that he wants to try to read everything!

We were the same way about TOB.  When we first began to understand TOB, we heard things in scripture that we had never heard before, we saw TOB in the catechism that we did not see before, we saw analogies in the liturgy that we had never noticed before.  It seemed to be everywhere!  If you immerse yourself in TOB, you begin to see almost everything in a different way.  Granted, once in a while you may try to make sense out of something that is just a squiggle, but that doesn’t mean that you should stop trying to read.

One more quick comment about something you mentioned.  I believe that if you asked CW why he said what he did about unnatural acts as foreplay, he will tell you that he got that understanding from someone in the Church who is an expert on sexual morality in marriage.  I do not think that Janet Smith is lying when she said that priests are taught that they are to give that permission to married couples.

I know what you mean about not learning things in your Catholic education.  We had one couple that told us they learned more about their Catholic faith in the eight weeks that we taught them TOB for marriage prep than they had learned in sixteen years of Catholic schooling.  And guess what, they were some of the people that signed up regularly for the middle of the night hours for Eucharistic adoration.  Guess they got the idea that they needed to pray from their TOB education!

Katie van Schaijik

#14, Nov 9, 2009 2:28pm

Okay.  Let me try to do a better job of making my point about criticism.
CW’s work, along with the work of every other person in the public sphere, can and ought to be subjected to criticism.  But some ways of criticizing are good and valid, others not. 

I personally think we have no more right to fault CW for not discussing prayer in every talk he gives than we have to go into someone’s home and tell them that their walls are the wrong color (even if we think their house would be more attractive if they were re-painted.) Or to tell an artist he should have chosen a different angle on his composition.  Or to tell a parent that she needs to home school her children.  Or to tell a doctor that he shouldn’t give a presentation on brain surgery without starting off with some remarks on general nutrition.  Or to advise a professional athlete on the proper way to warm up for a game.

In all these cases we would be presumptuously obtruding ourselves and our own judgement into a realm of another person’s responsibility and free choice.

If we think CW misrepresents the teaching of the Church or mistreats a vital subject, we should feel free to challenge him on the point in question (taking care to have solid evidence to back up our points).  But for comparative side-liners like us to be lecturing him on how to be more effective strikes me as unfitting and out of bounds.  As Mike Healy put it in earlier thread, shouldn’t we all rather be taking lessons from him about how to reach a suffering world with a saving message?


#15, Nov 9, 2009 3:26pm

Hi Katie & Lauretta,

It looks like I need to clarify some things about what I said wrt personal prayer in CW’s talks.

1st of all, I am quite certain I never said that CW needs to discuss prayer in every talk that he gives.  I’m also quite certain that I never even implied that he needed to do so in every talk.  If you can pin-point where you think I said or implied otherwise, I will fess up and admit my error.

2nd, I found online via Google books excerpts from CW’s book “Theology of the Body Explained”, and it does show 18 references in it when doing a Google book search for the word “prayer”.  Scanning the list of these 18 references, it appears very likely that CW does indeed elaborate upon personal prayer in his “official” TOB writings and teachings (at the least, this very book) as Lauretta expounded upon earlier today, which would make my complaints on this matter somewhat moot.

BTW, Lauretta, my local library doesn’t carry a copy of this book by CW, but I did apply to borrow it via Interlibrary Loan.  So, I should be able to read it myself within the next month or so…. 

Lauretta, could you do me a favor though?  While I am waiting to find out whether or not I can get CW’s book via Interlibrary Loan, would it be possible for you to get me the text from pages 182 & 183 of this book?  My Google books search for the word “prayer” shows one listing indicating that “prayer, importance in marriage” is covered on these two pages.  Unfortunately, however, those two pages are not included in the Google books excerpts of the book.  If you would be so kind to scan or type out the text on those two pages and send it to me via e-mail (just click on my Steve B link at the top of one of my posts), I would be immensely greatful to be able to read for myself what CW said on this vitally important subject.

Lastly, I want to convey that I still emphatically insist that personal prayer is a non-negotiable wrt enabling any teaching of the faith to bear good, consistent, and abundant fruit.  I don’t see this matter is as one of mere personal taste at all.  If, with all of the Catholic catechesis I had, it still took me 26 years to get the message, I am certain there are quite a few more out there - likely, even amongst those who take a keen interest in hearing CW speak.  Again, as I recently related, I believe that our “official” teachers of the faith should assume as little as possible about what their listeners may or may not already embrace/understand about the faith - IMO, that happens FAR too often as it is.

I see personal prayer as absolutely essential for everyone to have a sound and growing faith, as I am sure you’d both agree.  But, as you Lauretta said yourself in one of your prior posts, prayer in-and-of-itself is not always sufficient to ensure that we are headed in the right direction with how we live our life - i.e. good instruction/catechesis on matters of faith is vitally important for that too, which you have told me CW conveys so well in his “official” TOB teachings.  I will look forward to reading at length his teachings myself….

Sometimes we DO need “a hit over the head with the holy 2X4”, though, as some of my long-time friends from Chicago often say - only somewhat tongue-in-cheek.  Pointing out the need for personal prayer can never be a bad idea in just about any talk regarding the faith, even for those of us who do make it a regular part of our lives.

On the “comparative side-liners” concept - you and Dr. Healy are quite correct in many respects, Katie.  However, sometimes we non-professional folks can bring a fresh perspective to the discussion too.  Isn’t that also part of what you’re hoping occurs in discussions on The Linde?  I just hope that I have done that without getting to be too much of an irritant….

Well, anyway, I’ve done more than my fair share of beating this dead horse long and hard over the past several days.  My humblest apologies, if I ruffled anyone’s feathers with what I felt compelled to relate in these CW discussions.

Take care, and God bless,

Steve B
Plano, TX


#16, Nov 9, 2009 3:37pm

I will be sure to send that to you asap.  However, I didn’t find anything on the pages you mentioned, but the index in my book had the same listing for two different pages.  I will copy those pages since they do talk of prayer.


#17, Nov 10, 2009 4:47am


I am so excited that you are going to read TOB Explained.  My husband and I found it very helpful in understanding TOB.  I have thoroughly enjoyed our discussions and hope that we can continue to have more.

This section of TOB is talking about Humanae Vitae, so Christopher is expounding on that encyclical.  I hope this is the part you were looking for since it is the only one listed in the index.  Text follows:

B.  Infallible Means of Marital Spirituality

  The encyclical also marks the road spouses must travel in living this spirituality.  Paul VI admits that spouses must pass through the “narrow gate” and travel along the “hard way”.  But this, for all Christians, is the way that leads to eternal life.  John Paul adds that even if the gagte is narrow, awareness of the future life opens up a “broad horizon of power” to guide spouses along their way.  Humanae Vitae “points out how the married couple must implore the essential ‘power’ and every other ‘divine help’ through prayer; how they must draw grace and love from the ever living fountain of the Eucharist.”  Furthermore, spouses “must overcome ‘with humble perseverance’ their deficiencies and sins in the Sacrament of Penance”.  Prayer and the sacraments—especially the Eucharist and Penance:  These are the “infallible and indispensable” means, John Paul stresses, “for forming the Christian spirituality of married life and family life.  With these, that essential and spiritual creative ‘powerp of love reaches human hearts and, at the same time, human bodies in their subjective masculinit and femininity”.  As quoted previously:  “The sacraments inject sanctity into the plan of man’s humanity:  they penetrate the soul and body, the femininity and masculinity of the personal subject, with the power of sanctity.”

The sacramental life is the place where we work out the restoration of God’s original plan for our humanity.  In the final analysis, me and women have two choices—holiness or the betrayal of their humanity.  Spouses, too, must choose between holiness in their conjugal union or the betrayal of their marriage.

There is more but it is mainly talking about marriage as a sacrament.  Please let me know if you think I can help in any way.

I didn’t have any luck emailing so I decided to post on this site.  Hope that is OK.


#18, Nov 10, 2009 6:32am

Hi Lauretta,

This is perfect!

Thanks SO very much for making the effort to both find this excerpt, as well as to type it up and make it available for all to read.

I will be awaiting word from my local library to hear if/when they will be able to get this book for me.  If this excerpt is indicative of the entire book, then I can hardly wait to read it in its entirety!

Thanks again for your efforts on my behalf!

Take care, and God bless,

Steve B
Plano, TX

Katie van Schaijik

#19, Nov 10, 2009 3:56pm

Lastly, I want to convey that I still emphatically insist that personal prayer is a non-negotiable wrt enabling any teaching of the faith to bear good, consistent, and abundant fruit.  I don‚Äôt see this matter is as one of mere personal taste at all.

Of course prayer is essential to the Christian life in all its dimensions.  Who has suggested otherwise?  Christopher West, for one, begins all his presentations with a prayer.  As Lauretta has shown, he has often spoken and written about the importance of prayer.  And his work has consistently borne abundant fruit.
My point is that we have no right to find fault with CW‚Äîto accuse him of omission, as you did‚Äîbecause he sometimes chooses to talk about TOB without talking about the importance of prayer.  That’s is a question left to prudential judgment (something more morally substantial than “personal preference.”) 
Here is an example.  Alice von Hildebrand taught philosophy for 30-some years at a secular university where almost all her students and colleagues were hostile to her faith.  I’ve heard her say many times, “You know what you do in such a situation?  You pray.”  She prayed constantly.  But she never prayed out loud.  She never discussed God or prayer in her classroom.  It would have been unfitting in a non-religious university.  And it would have cost her her job.
The question of whether and when to pray openly and/or discuss prayer is one of prudence.  None of us can make it for anyone else.  Nor do we have a right to judge another person as acting wrongly if he doesn’t do what we might do in his circumstances.  It’s a question that’s up to him, not us.  (This is a central theme in personalism, BTW, which is why I press the point.  We must learn to stay out of the zone of others’ freedom and responsibility.)
But I’ll said again, if CW were to deny (either explicitly or implicitly) that prayer is essential, the case would be very different.

Katie van Schaijik

#20, Nov 10, 2009 4:10pm

I beg your patience, all, while Jules is trying to figure out what happened to the “nesting” function of the comments boxes.

Katie van Schaijik

#21, Nov 10, 2009 4:13pm

Certainly, TPP can (and I think you already are) promoting its philosophical principals based upon underlying Christian theological principals.

As I understand it, it is rather the philosophical principles that underly and undergird theology.  Theology depends upon sound and true reasoning and clear conceptual distinctions.  Consider for example the all-important philosophical distinction between “person” and “nature” for the Christological debates of the early Church.

But if, in how you “officially” promote Personalism, there is little if no overlap between its philosophical and the theological dimensions, how effective can TPP ultimately be in working for the “salvation of souls”?

I don’t say there is no overlap, I say rather that they (i.e. philosophy and theology) are two different sciences with different modes, methods and purposes.

The Personalist Project’s direct aim is not the salvation of souls, but the study and dissemination of philosophical truth (the truth about the nature and dignity of persons), which, as JP II laid out so compellingly in Fides et Ratio, has a universal appeal and prepares hearts and minds to receive supernatural truth.

Katie van Schaijik

#22, Nov 10, 2009 6:49pm

Very interesting article, Lauretta!  I’m heartened by it.  While I have sympathy with the critics of CW who think he goes to far in graphic imagery, on the whole, I have been convinced by him that there is more residual puritanism among at least American Catholics than we commonly realize and that this is interfering with
1) Our ability to live our sexuality and marriages with due freedom
2) Our ability to engage with and influence our culture.


#23, Nov 11, 2009 3:59am

Katie, I remember several years ago, Cardinal George making the comment that we in the US all think like Protestants—even us Catholics.  When reading Catholic authors like Graham Greene and Flannery O’Connor, I could really see that.  And again, the literature of the Middle Ages—it is quite earthy compared to anything that we have today, it seems to me.

While I’m on the topic, of Protestantism, that is, I am going to make a bold statement that one of the major things TOB does is refute the errors of the heresy of Protestantism.  It has seemed to me for quite some time that the main errors of Protestantism centered around the nature of man more than that of God.

Back to the article, yes, it was quite topical, wasn’t it?  I find it sad that the Church had all of this understanding in the past and we seem to have buried it under…I’m not sure what.  And, so sadly, we thought we were being fully Catholic by having these distorted ideas of holiness and purity and modesty.


#24, Nov 11, 2009 5:23am

Hi Katie,

OK.  What you say makes good sense.  Thanks very much for the clarification!

But, what I am scratching my head about is our CW TOB discussions - they seem to me to be almost entirely about theology, and very little about philosophy. 

So, I’m beginning to wonder if The Linde is the improper venue for me to be presenting my views, given what you just explained as the primary objective of TPP….

Gosh.  I wish I had had more interest in taking introductory courses in philosophy and theology during my college days.  Sadly, way back then I had no interest at all in the liberal arts, and was definitely an engineering “geek”!  ;-)  It just took me a while to discover how “philosophical” my Catholic faith was after all. 

Take care, and God bless,

Steve B
Plano, TX

Katie van Schaijik

#25, Nov 11, 2009 5:33am

Steve, you are just the sort of person TPP wants to serve.  Someone thoughtful and engaged, but not a professional academic. 

You are right that CW is popularizing theology.  This is exactly one of those areas where there is some overlap.  He gave a lecture for us because it happened that the controversy surrounding his work broke out at a moment when we had scheduled a talk on von Hildebrand’s philosophy of sexuality.  And there is much “common ground” between TOB and JP II philosophical personalism, so that those who have made a life of studying the latter have something to offer the discussion.

But the way we discuss it here will generally be philosophical rather than theological.  We appeal (for instance) in our discussion to moral experience and right reasoning as opposed to authoritative texts and documents.

But, as you pointed out, there is some overlap.


#26, Nov 11, 2009 7:24am

This discussion is making me want to go eat an orange LOL!


#27, Nov 11, 2009 8:53am

Hi everyone,

I come to the fray late, but I just wanted to say, that on the point of “holy bashfulness” or whatever better name you are able to come up with, the idea is consistent with the tradition and, on the other hand, the idea that modesty is only for those who are not yet perfectly redeemed is the invention of Christopher West. John Paul does not teach this.  In fact what he teaches is consistent with DvH:

The essence of shame goes beyond such fear.  It can only be understood if we heavily emphasize the truth that the existence of the person is an interior one, i.e. that the person possesses an interior peculiarly its own, and that from this arises the need to conceal (that is, to retain internally) certain experiences or values, or else withdraw with them into itself (Love and Responsibility 175).

Katie van Schaijik

#28, Nov 11, 2009 10:42am

Dear Father, it’s good to see you here again!  You will hardly credit my saying it, since I’ve been saying it to you for so long without results, but I AM at work on a post on modesty, which I hope to be able to put up before too long.  There is much I agree with in what you say, though I continue to think you are rather unduly hard on CW.  But such a statement needs to be backed up, I realize.


#29, Nov 11, 2009 2:05pm

Thanks, Katie.

I still look forward to your post on modesty.


#30, Nov 11, 2009 6:11pm

I found a section in TOB (I’m sorry for its length) that I would like to have explained.  I understand it a certain way but I would like the opinion of those much more educated than I.  The quote follows:

“Returning to the Pauline ‘description’ of the body in 1 Cor12:18-25, we wish to call attention to the fact that according to the author of the letter the particular effort to reach reverence for the human body and especially for its ‘weaker’ or ‘unpresentable’ members corresponds to the Creator’s original plan or to the vision about which Genesis speaks” ‘God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good’ (Gen 1:31).  Paul writes, ‘God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the member that lacked it, that there may be no disunion within the body, but the members may have care for one another’(1Cor 12:24-25).  ‘Disunion within the body,’ the result of which is that some members are considered ‘weaker,’ ‘less honorable,’ and thus ‘unpresentable,’ is a further expression of the vision of man’s—that is, historical man’s—interior state after original sin.  The man of original innocence, male and female, about whom we read, ‘both were naked…but they did not feel shame’ (Gen 2:25), did not feel that ‘disunion within the body’ either.  An analogous harmony in man’s innermost [being], the harmony of the ‘heart,’ correspon ded to the objective harmony that the Creator gave to the human body, which Paul explains as reciprocal care of the various members (1 Cor 12:25).  This harmony, or precisely ‘purity of heart,’ allowed man and woman in the state of original innocence to experience in a simple way (in a way that made both of them originally happy) the unitive power of their bodies that was, so to speak, the ‘unsuspectable’ substratum of their personal union or communio personarum.

As one can see, in 1 Cor 12:18-25 the Apostle ties his description of the human body to the state of ‘historical’ man.  At the threshold of the history of this man stands the experience of shame connected with ‘disunion in the body,’ with the sense of modesty for this body (and especially for those of its members that determine masculinity and femininity in somatic terms).  Nevertheless, in the same ‘description,’ Paul also indicates the way that leads (precisely on the basis of the sense of shame) to the transformation of this state, to the gradual victory over this ‘disunion in the body,’ a victory that can and should be realized in the human heart.  This is precisely the road of purity or of keeping the body ‘with holiness and reverence.’”

I am particularly interested in the last two sentences. Thanks for your help.

Katie van Schaijik

#31, Nov 11, 2009 6:50pm

As I take him, JP II here illumines the meaning of “original innocence” and “original union” to help us better understand both the state we are in now, i.e. a state of disunion and impurity, and to point us to the way of redemption.  He says that the sexual shame that was the result of the fall and the modesty it calls for is, mysteriously, the basis for our “gradual victory” over disunion and impurity.


#32, Nov 11, 2009 9:34pm

Somehow I missed commenting on this post, Katie.  Thanks for your response.  So, is the Pope then saying that it is possible to eventually gain victory over the impurity in our hearts? 

I have seen him make comments similar to this in several place in TOB.  Are we to take them literally and seriously?

Katie van Schaijik

#33, Nov 12, 2009 7:04am

I think, yes, the Pope literally and seriously means that we can gain victory over concupiscence.  But I take him to mean it in the same way that we can achieve victory over sin generally.  It is a gradual victory, won across a lifetime, under grace; it will be completed only in heaven.  In this life, we remain vulnerable and imperfect.  But we can begin to experience transformation already in the here and now.  “The Kingdom of God is among you.”  We really CAN, even here, act out of love rather than concupiscence.  We just shouldn’t ever imagine that we’re totally free of concupiscence.  St. Therese (I think it was) once said, “Even my best good acts are infected with impurity.”

To go back to your earlier unanswered question about concupiscence:
The fact that you are not tempted by drugs and alcohol I think does not really mean that you have been liberated from concupiscence in that area.  For instance, is it not all to easy to imagine that if you were to have (God forbid) some kind of accident that left you with severe, chronic pain, you might find yourself suddenly shockingly inclined to addiction to painkillers?  That goes to show that the law (or force perhaps) of concupiscence is still at work within you, as it is in all of us, though it manifests in different ways.  Some of us are further along in our gradual victory than others, while others still are becoming increasingly enslaved to it.

That’s how I see it.

Katie van Schaijik

#34, Nov 13, 2009 5:30am

Don’t miss Jules’ new post, which answers (or at least begins to answer) a good question raised by Steve about why JP II chose to focus on the body.


#35, Nov 13, 2009 5:35am

I think the general context of TOB needs to be examined more closely, especially since it is a single corpus of magisterial teaching, which the pope deliberately chose to present in the context of Wednesday audiences, not as an encyclical or some more solemn document.  The habit of the Church is to find correspondence within the ordinary magisterium over its history, not discrepancies.

Furthermore, I believe it is worthy of note that reflections of JP II on the original unity of man and woman in original innocence is, to be exact, the relation of husband and wife.  Eve was created, an individual person to be the helpmate of Adam, an individual person.  The nakedness of the two, without shame, is the nakedness of husband and wife, alone in the garden of paradise. 
Without question, our first parents are the paradigm of all men and women and are typological of the relations of the sexes in general.  However, the conjugal significance of the body as it was experienced before the Fall, though it does have meaning for each and everyone of us, is specifically the significance of the body of husband and wife as they relate to each other within the sanctuary of the garden of paradise.

Again, without question, the habit of mind of each individual who lives will be elevated by the doctrine contained within the Theology of the Body, so that the significance of that person‚Äôs body and that of man and woman generally will inform their way of dealing with concupiscence and their ability to gain dominion over it.  However, the conjugal significance of the body is, in fact, dependent on the ordination of the man and woman‚Äôs body to become one flesh, and that ordination, by the disposition of God is for monogamous marriage.

So while a positive and elevated Catholic view of marriage and of the body should help us gain dominion over concupiscence, there is no argument in the Theology of the Body for concluding that it is proper to fully redeemed man to look on every other man’s and woman’s body as a specific subject by which one is to plumb the depths of the conjugal significance of the body.

If John is married to Jane, then for him specifically, it is the body of Jane, or better, Jane herself in her body, that appropriately becomes the subject of his contemplation of the conjugal significance of the body.  In John‚Äôs regard for Susan, Jill, Elizabeth and every other woman, his respectful awe of their beauty, elevated by the Church‚Äôs teaching about the beauty and holiness of the body, will also lead him closer to the truth of the conjugal significance of the Body.  However, it is another matter entirely to suggest that if John were perfectly redeemed it would be a matter of virtue, or even fitting, for him to undress Susan, Jill, Elizabeth or any other woman with his eyes in order to acknowledge the goodness of what God created.  Nor would it be fitting for any woman other than Jane to undress themselves for John.

I am not one to stand on a list of rules concerning what is and is not fitting in terms of external modesty.  Nor am I one to minimize the importance of modesty of the heart.  However, I do find the idea that it is not only fitting, but also the pinnacle virtue for us to look upon the nakedness of everyone else, patently absurd and totally foreign to the teaching of the Church.

In fact, John Paul II makes no such claim.  Assertions to the contrary are nuanced extrapolations of the pope‚Äôs writings based on assumptions that have been gathered from other sources, and which are clung to on the authority of certain popular catechists and apologists.

The specific passage from TOB cited above is a case in point.  No such claim is made by the Holy Father. Victory of concupiscence and the ‚Äúkeeping of the body ‚Äòwith holiness and reverence,‚Äô‚Äù could mean any number of things if we did not know the context.  It could possibly mean that it would be appropriate for fully redeemed man to look upon everyone else‚Äôs nakedness.  But that would only be the case if that were what the Church teaches.  Unfortunately, it is not what the Church teaches, nor has it ever been what the Church teaches.

I am all for victory over concupiscence, for spontaneity in virtue, for freedom from scrupulosity and prudery.  I am for a high-minded and joyful regard for the beauty of the body and of marriage and sexuality.  But prudery is not going to be solved by trying to baptize sex-obsession.


#36, Nov 13, 2009 6:00am


Thank you for your very thoughtful comments.  In reflecting on them, I had some thoughts that I would like to share with you.  This is my own understanding of things and I do not express them as the official TOB position but it is how I have come to understand them.

First of all, the concern of many is that there is an over-emphasis on sex in some presentations of TOB.  This can certainly seem to be the case if one does not understand the purpose of the emphasis.

I am going to assert that the majority of people have a distorted understanding of sexuality, either toward prudery, as you call it, or toward a pornographic, utilitarian view.  If that is truly the case, the first thing that must be done is to get people to recognize that they have a distorted understanding.  CW does this quite well by, in colloquial terms, explaining what goes through a man’s mind when he sees a woman, by talking about songs, by discussing themes in movies, etc.

Then, after one has exposed these distortions, it is necessary to explain what our sexuality is supposed to be about and for, the beauty and sacredness of it.  More emphasis on sex.

After that, one would hope that an individual would desire to have this exalted view of sexuality in their hearts and long to stop having distorted thoughts and desires toward other people.

Now, I am going to say something that will probably be controversial since it seems to disagree with traditional teaching on this subject.  I am going to assert that if we want to bring right order into our thinking and acting in this area, we cannot just try to force certain thoughts out of our minds and avoid looking at people who attract us, etc.  If a person misunderstands something, then it is necessary to spend the time reflecting and studying the subject to understand it rightly.  Of course this must be done prayerfully, begging God for the grace to untwist the distortions.

If one is successful in this untwisting, the result will be that one will CEASE undressing others with their eyes and begin to see others as persons with dignity rather that as merely an object to potentially satisfy their disordered sexual desires.

As far as modesty is concerned, I know for a fact that external modesty in dress means very little as far as others’ perceptions.  I have dressed very modestly most of my life and have had men‚Äîeven in our parish‚Äîrelate to me in very inappropriate ways.  I have watched young women who were very modestly dressed be stared at by males‚Äîand not just to appreciate their beauty either.  Yes, we should be modest in dress as a reflection of our great dignity but it will do little to stop others’ disordered thoughts and desires.

I have never understood TOB to say that we should all be naked but that, if we see a naked or inappropriately dressed person, we will see beyond the naked body to the person that is present.  We will see the person as an image of God and their sexuality, male or female, will bring to mind either the giving or receiving of love, a beautiful thing.  We will no longer see the body as a potential object to be used but will see the totality of the person which the body reveals.

I see all of this, not as a refutation of mortification and “custody of the eyes”, but just a different way of going about those tasks.

One last thing, many people I know who have tried the method of not looking and trying to not think impure thoughts by stuffing them or distracting oneself, tend to develop guilt and shame because they continue to have difficulties.  This guilt and shame then puts up a barrier between the individual and God—just as Adam experienced in the Garden.  If one is then afraid to go to God in a trusting and intimate way, then how can there be progression in the spiritual life?


#37, Nov 13, 2009 6:19am


I agree with much of what you have to say.  I understand that the various distortions regarding sexuality have to be addressed directly and sometimes explicitly.  And while I might disagree with a certain presenter as to his or her method and content, I am willing to agree to disagree in most cases.  These are prudential judgments and there will never be perfect agreement.

This has never been the focus of my critique, nor have I felt compelled to criticize everything Christopher West writes and says.  He has obviously done some tremendous work.

I will also agree with you that custody of the heart is not all about custody of the eyes and forcing thoughts out of one‚Äôs head.  I have even been on board with the idea that a greater spontaneity and freedom in these matters should be the result of progress in the spiritual life and the redemption of the body.  However, as I have indicated before, there is more at work in West‚Äôs presentation than all this.  Heaven‚Äôs Song is a case is point.  That book is about a holy fascination with the body and with sex.  It is not simply about the beauty of the nuptial mystery.

In my critique of West‚Äôs response I point out that his work has two movements, the one which you defend and with which, for the most part, I agree, but the other has to do with the idea that the more one is redeemed the more the necessities of modesty cease to apply, as if it were appropriate that the body unveiled because it is so good.  On the contrary, prescinding from any argument about what standards of modesty ought to be adopted, it is fitting that the body should be veiled because it is so good.

In this context, West does minimize modesty and continually confuses prudery, Manichaeism, shame and holy bashfulness as though they were all the same thing, which they simply are not.  Furthermore, within the framework of this faulty analysis he interprets Church doctrine, the writings of the saints and the liturgy, in addition to making pastoral applications to people on the basis of his false assumptions.

I also agree with you that our presentation of chastity should help deliver souls from morose guilt and shame over being sexual persons and having desires and even temptations.  To reiterate, I believe TOB can be very helpful in this matter.  But there is another way in which people can be made to feel guilty for the wrong reasons.

If you tell people that when they move forward in the spiritual life they will experience, as a rule, less temptations and find themselves more at ease in the presence of exposed flesh, to the point that eventually modesty should become pass√©, then if, as a rule, that does not happen, the conclusion must be that there is something wrong with them.  Now if that rule is true, then they have reason to feel guilty, but if it is not true, then the promotion of that rule is irresponsible.  In such a case, the ones promoting the rule, if they refuse to correct themselves, make themselves snake oil salesmen, no matter what other good work they may do.

As I say, I agree that progress in the spiritual life will generally also manifest itself with respect to the way one experiences their own sexuality, but human experiences are psychologically and spiritually complex.  (We have not even touched on a major factor in this matter, which is much more difficult to deal with theoretically, viz., diabolic influence.)  Certainly, progress should eliminate prudery and Manichaeism, but one must be careful not to minimize the wholesomeness of holy bashfulness and shame.  There is no calculus by which you can say to someone: ‚ÄúYou think that a short skirt is inappropriate?  Really?  You need to look into your heart and ask yourself why you are troubled by it.‚Äù  This is snake oil spiritual direction.  And it is even worse, if in the process the promoter actually recommends the lowering of all veils for those who have achieved the more perfect way, as though nothing is fittingly veiled.

Now if as you say:

[when] one is successful in this untwisting, the result will be that one will CEASE undressing others with their eyes and begin to see others as persons with dignity rather that as merely an object to potentially satisfy their disordered sexual desires,


#38, Nov 13, 2009 6:48am


Again, many great thoughts and I have a lot to respond to.  I want to begin with modesty and proceed from there.  One of the reasons I don’t like undue emphasis on the issue of modesty is because modesty in and of itself is not the core of the problem and many people treat it as though it were.  Why do I say this?  For one thing women have been sexually misused throughout history even when they were quite modestly dressed.  The Old Testament speaks of it, men were aroused by the exposure of an ankle or an elbow in Victorian times and today, Muslim women are raped and mistreated.  It is what is in man’s heart that is the core of the problem, and the need for redemption.  Not to mention that even if all women were very modestly dressed in public, there is still the issue of what goes on within the homes of married couples.  A man who has not mastered himself in the area of sexuality is going to misuse his spouse and JPII was quite emphatic about the wrongness of that.  Most married women that I know suffer from this.  In addition, it seems to me that if we see someone inappropriately dressed our first thought should be one of sorrow for the person for not understanding his or her great dignity, not anger or blame.

Also, my husband is fond of saying that it doesn’t matter what “the other person” is doing, what matters is my personal response.  I have no control over what other people do or say, I only have control over my own reaction.  He mentions this often to people who are in difficult marriages, or work situations, etc.  Why would it be any different in the case of modesty?  We have no control over how others dress, but we should have control over how we react to them.  He says we need to focus much less on trying to change others and work on changing ourselves.  I believe this applies in all areas of life.

I spoke with my husband about the change that takes place within oneself when mastery in this area has occurred.  He stated several things.  One was that, for him, it was very helpful to realize that noticing and being attracted to someone’s beauty was not, in and of itself, a negative thing.  God designed us to be attracted to the other.

Another thing he said was that it was important for him to come to understand that it was possible to make a choice.  He felt for most of his life that his body was in control of his reactions and he had to respond to his body’s urges.  It was not until he was given very sound spiritual direction in confession that he became aware that he could and must choose at times.  A very pivotal time for him was when he made a firm purpose of amendment to not give in to his body’s reactions any more. 

Also, he said that temptations do not cease.  They may even increase.  The difference is that when the temptation presents itself, first he is aware that he can choose to either recognize the dignity of the person and respond to that or he can choose another path and see her as an object to use.  He then is able, without undue difficulty, to choose to see her dignity and appreciate her personhood and not just her body as an object.  He said that he is able to do this even if the woman is inappropriately dressed.  He mentioned the freedom that comes from having this ability—to not be bound by and ashamed of sinful reactions.  He now has the freedom to choose—he is definitely pro-choice :)

Concerning the issue of undressing another with your eyes, I don’t believe that a person who has mastery of himself would even think about or desire to do that.  How would it help him in any way to relate to that person?  I can only see that happening when one person makes the other an object of use.

As far as the body being veiled because of its dignity, yes, I see the appropriateness of that now.  However, I am not going to say that in the fullness of Redemption that that will be the case.  I do not know if we will be clothed in heaven.  I have confidence that there are those who can experience on earth, to a great degree, that heavenly reality, whatever it is.  The lives of some of the saints show us the degree human person is able to experience the supernatural in this world.  It seems that St. Francis didn’t have much of an issue with being seen naked in public since he chose to appear that way on more than one occasion!  And, yes, I understand that it was not total nakedness but, from the reactions of the people, it must have been considered immodest.

I was going to conclude by commenting on the book, Heaven’s Song, after reading both it and JPII’s thoughts on the same subject.  However, I got as far as the foreward to the book (after reading a substantial part of JPII’s thought) and decided that the bishop writing the foreward would probably have a much better understanding of the subject than I.  Here is what Bishop Carlson of Saginaw has to say about the book:

“Because a substantial part of the book is taken up with John Paul’s reflections on the Song of Songs, anyone who reads it will find themselves at the intersection of the sacred and the sexual.  This is especially true of the book’s second half, which shows how the conjugal union of spouses can both illuminate and be purified by the celebration of the liturgy.  The combination may seem odd, perhaps even offensive, to some sensibilities.  But the point of this book is to teach us to see the body as the revelation of a ‘great mystery,’ to experience the desire for intimate union as an echo of God’s desire to unite himself with us forever, and to let the one flesh union of man and woman point us toward the mystery of Christ and the Church.  If that seems strange, I would suggest that the strangeness is not so much with the book as it is with our sensibilities.  It is diagnostic.  It shows how far we have drifted from the biblical worldview that includes the Song of Songs.”

Katie van Schaijik

#39, Nov 13, 2009 12:05pm

Anticipating my own overdue post here:

I agree with Fr. Angelo that it is all too easy and too common for women to underrate the importance of modesty in dress.  We find it hard to realize what a (male) friend of mine called the “incendiary nature” of male sexuality.  And, in light of this “incendiary nature” of male sexuality, I think the statement “we should have control over how we react” needs to be somewhat qualified. 
In perfectly normal, virtuous men, the encounter with female “sexual values” not infrequently gives rise to a sexual response that is entirely unwilled, and with which they then have to cope.  Hence, it is unkind; it is inconsiderate, uncharitable, and unwise (considering how many men fail to chastely and courageously with sexual temptation) for girls and women to dress immodestly, viz., in a way that inescapably draws male attention to our “sex values” to the neglect of our “personal value” (to use JP II’s terminology.)  Charity towards and respect for others involves, basically, doing what we can to make it easier, not harder, for them to live well, to avoid stumbling, to be their best selves, to find God.

On the other hand, I agree to a certain extent with Lauretta and CW in their shift away from emphasis on modesty.  It is an I think indisputable fact that much of the emphasis on modesty in the decades preceding Vatican II (and among traditionalists since) has participated in and contributed to an excessively legalistic and externalistic approach to Catholic life that has done enormous harm. 

But all this too needs more explaining and substantiating than I can muster the time to give it now.  (Where does all my time go?!)  I DO hope to get to it eventually.


#40, Nov 13, 2009 2:22pm

OK, here I go again.  I’m starting to feel like Steve with his poor dead horse!  However, this is something that I believe very strongly and my husband is in agreement with me on this.

First, you don’t need to worry, I am VERY aware of men’s sexual nature.  I have watched my husband struggle for many years, listened to many wives whose husbands struggle, as well as being the recipient of men’s inappropriate advances since I was about twelve years old.  My husband and I talked about it so much for awhile that I actually began to see, in a sense, through a man’s eyes.  I saw many of the things in women that could draw a man’s attention and began to feel great sympathy for them, wishing that women would not tempt men in that way. 

Yes, I did dress inappropriately for a period of time but haven’t for many, many years—since before I was thirty.  Interestingly, the improper advances did not stop with my more modest dress.  They may have even escalated.  I tend to be a “target” because of my build, my hair color and my personality so I have much experience in this area unfortunately.  And, as I stated before, mistreatment of women went on during times when dress was very discreet.

I would like to present the position that most men do not have any idea what it feels like to be objectified in this way, either, and to be used in such a depersonalizing way by another.  It is very painful and distressing, especially when it is the person you love the most.  Modest dress will not cure that in a marriage. 

It really doesn’t make any difference, anyhow, what any of us think is modest dress.  Our culture is what it is and the predominant clothing styles have been mostly immodest since the 1920’s.  Men can’t hide themselves away in a cave somewhere waiting until women dress differently.  They need to learn how to survive and thrive in our culture just as it is.

I am so disheartened by the brusque way many people discount what Christopher West and other men have to say about this issue.  Christopher talks about the fact that he became aware of sexual things at a very young age—six to eight years old, I believe.  My husband did as well, in a different way but still at an age that is not normal—for that period in history anyhow.  They, Christopher and my husband, struggled with unchastity, etc. for many years—Christopher until he was in his 20’s, my husband into his 40’s.  Both of these men, through God’s grace, have experienced major transformations in their lives in these areas and KNOW the freedom and peace that is possible. 

My husband said just this morning that one of the things that kept him from making progress in this area was that he had the impression that it was not possible to change.  The Catechism even talks about how one’s deeply ingrained habits can lessen one’s culpability for one’s actions.  And that is how most confessors tended to treat this issue with my husband as well.  It was not until we began learning TOB from Christopher and my husband finally getting some strong guidance in confession that he began to see that change may be possible.  He was amazed at how quickly things changed once he made a decision that he would NEVER allow his body to control his actions in the same way again.  He truly wondered if there was a demonic element since things changed so quickly.  He was so overjoyed to be able to function in society without having to deal with disordered desires every time he turned around.  It was very healing for our relationship as well.

All right, I need to give this a rest and cease pummeling all of you with my thoughts and opinions!  It is very enjoyable having these conversations, and I do wish that we lived closer so that we could participate in your group activities.  We miss having a group that we can come together with and learn and share about our beautiful faith.  God bless all of you!

Katie van Schaijik

#41, Nov 13, 2009 6:16pm

Can you say more exactly what you disagree with in my post, Lauretta?  I guess I’m not quite seeing your point.
I am with you entirely on what you say about transformation.  It is possible for a man (or a woman) to experience a transformation from a disordered sexuality to a sexuality that is ordered to love and life, such that he no longer responds to women the way he once did.  He no longer views them as sex objects, but persons worthy of love and respect, no matter how they are dressed. 
And I agree with you that this transformation can be very sudden and dramatic, just as a person’s liberation from slavery to alcohol can be very sudden and dramatic.  It can also be a long-term struggle, or as the Pope put it, “a gradual victory.”
I likewise agree that modesty in dress is no cure for another person’s sexual disorder or tendency to objectify women.  A man can do that no matter how modestly dressed a woman is.  And a man is responsible for the way he treats women. (This is a crucial difference between Christian and Islamic sexual morality.)
I see modesty first as a question of self-respect and reverence for the sexual sphere and secondly as a question of considerateness and respect for others.
You are right that the culture is what it is, but I do not see that that means we shouldn’t make efforts to help change the culture, beginning with ourselves.
A number of years ago Jules and I were living in Steubenville.  A couple of nice, young typical FUS guys were at our house the day after a formal dance.  They couldn’t help mentioning how shocked and off-put they’d been by the dresses their girl friends were wearing.  They didn’t want to see their friends looking like prostitutes.  (These were devoutly religious Catholic students.)  The guys were so embarrassed and repelled, they felt uncomfortable having their pictures taken with them.

It made me want to give modesty talks on campus.  (I did give a few to women’s groups.)  NOT the kind of talk that is condemnatory and legalistic, but that kind that helps young women see the link between their sense of self-worth, their being fully free to realize their vocation as persons to give themselves in love, and their habits of dress and demeanor.  “My-bod-in-your-face” fashions do, as a matter of psychological fact, invite men to mistreat women.  I used to tell the girls I’d speak to: “It invites the wrong kind of attention from the wrong kind of men.”  They make it harder (not impossible) for ordinary men to recognize and respond virtuously to the person in front of them.  Men who want to remain chaste, will tend to stay away from them. 

That’s why, as I understand him, CW doesn’t say modesty doesn’t matter, but rather that once the heart is in the right place, modesty will take care of itself.  I think he means that once (under grace) I have a deep and true conversion to the awareness that each and every person is an Image of God; that each person is made for love; that I am called to love and serve (not use and abuse) those around me, I begin naturally and from within (as you have done) to dress with more care and in ways that are more consonant with our high-calling as persons.
Do you not agree with this?


#42, Nov 13, 2009 8:38pm

I do agree with all that you said, Katie, in this last post.  My concern with the earlier post was with the comment about the “incendiary nature” of male sexuality.  I do understand that very well.  However, if men want to be the spouses that God calls them to be—or priests, as well—they must learn mastery over that nature.  They must learn to defuse it, in a sense, if they don’t want to fall into the trap of using their spouses.

I’ll give a very sad example.  We had friends who had a full term stillborn baby.  They were heart-broken, of course, and our friend shared with my husband that he was so remorseful because, while they were grieving over this loss and comforting one another, he found himself becoming aroused physically.  In other words, he could not touch his wife without a physical reaction.  He hated it but he had no control over it whatsoever.  How sad that he could not even show physical affection and comfort to his wife. 

It was wonderful to hear that the college students you spoke about were concerned about the girls’ lack of modesty for the girls’ sake.  That is truly, I believe, the main thing that we should be concerned about with the issue of modesty of women, is the fact that they don’t know their own dignity.

I look forward very much to your post on modesty—you have such beautiful insights.


#43, Nov 14, 2009 4:46am

I agree with much of what both of your, Katie and Lauretta, are saying. Even so, I would have to disagree, to a certain extent, with your characterization of West’s work.  It is not only about cultivating custody of the heart it is about fascination with sex and the body to the point of a radical minimization of external modesty.  I think the charges of pansexualism stick.

My argument, IMO, is a rather modest one.  It is not a blanket condemnation.  It is specific.  But the mistaken teaching is contains a very serious error.

Katie van Schaijik

#44, Nov 14, 2009 5:57am

I won’t be able to engage that aspect of your critique as it deserves,  Father, since I am too unfamiliar with CW’s work.


#45, Nov 14, 2009 7:43am

I agree, Father, that those who do not understand their faith fairly well could fall into the trap of pansexualism.  In my opinion, which is only that, my opinion, some of the discussion about the deeper aspects of TOB thought should be kept for those who have a familiarity with the basics and probably in a group discussion so that any misconceptions can be corrected.

That being said, I believe that if, as Christopher says, our history, from beginning to end, is about marriage(ultimately the marriage of Christ and the Church), then I believe God and the Church are going to be giving us signs of that reality all around us.  Just as we can see signs of God’s creative, life-giving love, we should also be able to discern signs of this marital union toward which we are all journeying.

I do not trust myself to see every error that may come up in this teaching, but in the case of CW, since he has openly put himself under the authority of his bishops, I will leave that judgment to them.  They are good bishops and, because of this controversy, I am sure they are watching things closely.  That was why I started listening to CW in the first place—he was working for Arbp. Chaput and I trusted his judgment.

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