“Theology” is the study of the nature of God. Being a parent has really helped me understand God’s nature more. I’ve been compiling these personal anecdotes for a while and I’m afraid I’ll forget them if I don’t put it down on paper. So, here are a few observations I’d like to share with you under this category:
When Maya was born, my heart was so full of love I felt like it was going to explode. I had so many dreams for her, of what she can do, who she can become. As I dream for my daughter, so God dreams for me. He, too, has dreams of what I can do and who I can become.
My wife and I love each other so much that another person was born from this love. God the Father and God the Son love each other so much, so perfectly, from eternity, that another Person results: the Holy Spirit. Just as the Holy Spirit goes forth to help others enter the Kingdom, my wife and I will be raising our daughters so that they can grow up and help others enter God’s Kingdom.
I tell my daughters “I love you” all the time. When they were babies, they didn’t understand the words. As their father, I yearn to hear them say “I love you” back to me one day. God has this same hope for me, too. He also wants me to turn to Him and say “I love you” and mean it.
My children learn to repeat “I love you, daddy” from their mother. Christians learn to pray (“I love you, Abba”) from their Mother Church. My children will one day contemplate the love they have for their father (and mother) in their hearts and this will guide how they will act. When I start to contemplate the love I have for God, I am moved towards acts of virtue and away from vices. I am moved to patiently suffer trials for the love of God.
My children do not need to give my wife and I anything because we are complete with each other and in God. However, Maya and Hana can show their love for their parents by loving one another as sisters. If they take care of one another, protect one another, and help each other grow, then we will know that they love us. In the same way, I love God by loving my fellow human beings, who are my brothers & sisters in Christ (whether they know it or not).
This was true when Maya was a baby and true of Hana now when she is still a baby: sometimes I love them so much I feel like I want to eat them. It’s a bizarre feeling. Not like a cannibal. I don’t want to cook them up or anything. I just have this overwhelming desire to consume them out of love. During this Christmas season, I was struck by the thought of Baby Jesus and the Eucharist. Why can’t I desire to literally eat the Eucharist as I desire to figuratively eat my own babies?
Hana does this endearing act: every time I sit cross-legged on the floor, she would drop whatever she’s doing to crawl over and sit on my lap. She would only crawl away to get a toy and then come back and just sit on my lap. She likes being near me and the simple joy of being in the arms of her father. This made me think about the contemplative life. When I think about the mysteries of God (i.e. Joyful, Sorrowful, Luminous, Glorious, etc.), am I not like Hana sitting in the lap of my father? Rather than rushing through my prayers, do I instead take the time to enjoy being in the lap of His presence as my daughter is in mine?
Christ pivots to the heart in this key text in Scripture:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)
Just two sentences from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, but Pope John Paul II (JPII) spends over 35 weeks unpacking its meaning (TOB 24-59). That’s thirty-five consecutive sermons on just a couple of sentences. I remember wondering how Protestant pastors can spend 45+ minutes on just a single passage in Scripture, but I guess they have nothing on JPII.
While I’m still only at TOB 53 and have yet to finish JPII’s exegesis of this specific passage from the Sermon on the Mount, I think I can at least share some of what I’ve learned. I’m surprised to find it has been almost three weeks since I last posted. I was lost in Scripture (praise God!), but it’s time to strike camp and take a breather. Reflect and share what I’ve been seeing in His forest. What I saw was an ugly side of myself that I managed to keep well-hidden. Thanks be to God, the light of the Holy Spirit shined into the cobwebbed parts of my soul.
JPII focuses on this particular verse in Matthew because “Jesus brings about a fundamental revision of the way of understanding and carrying out the moral law of the Old Covenant (TOB 24:1).” I was surprised to learn that despite the severe punishments for adultery in the Old Testament, there were loopholes for men. (No exceptions for women.) For example, the prostitution trade back in OT times were mainly operated out of temples (cf. Gen 38:13-21; Job 36:14). There were “sacred” female and male temple prostitutes. While it was a sin for a married man to use a prostitute, an exception was made for unmarried or widowed men who used unmarried prostitutes. This was not how it was “in the beginning” (Gen 1 & 2, before Original Sin). Christ actually exhorted his fellow Jews to do even better than the law, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:20). These loopholes for adultery happened because the meaning of the original commandment willed by God suffered deformation (TOB 24:4). “[T]he history of the Old Testament is clearly the theater of the systematic defection from monogamy” (TOB 35:2) because of the desire for numerous offspring.
Adultery is understood above all (and perhaps exclusively) as the violation of the man’s property rights regarding every woman who was his legal wife (usually one among many); adultery is not understood, by contrast, as it appears from the point of view of the monogamy established by the Creator. (TOB 35:4)
Interpreters of the Old Covenant permitted polygamy, concubines and cohabitation with slave women. They were not by God’s original design, but became exceptions over time.
With the phrase “[every man] who looks at a woman with lust,” Christ shifts the center of gravity to man’s interior disposition. There’s already a basis for this shift to the inner heart of man in Proverbs 6:25 and Sirach 9:8. When you lust after someone, you are reducing them to an object that could satisfy your sexual desire. This mere act destroys “the stupendous spousal meaning of the body” (TOB 40:4). So, not just the physical act of adultery was a sin, but my imagination, my fantasies of adultery were sins!
JPII then sets the stage for the moral whopper: “It is significant that Christ, when he speaks about the object of this act, does not stress that she is ‘another’s wife,’ a woman who is not one’s own wife, but says generically, a woman. (TOB 43:2)” Adultery committed in the heart is different than adultery committed in the flesh because it goes beyond interpersonal relations and into the heart of man, where sin can hide. Christ, in using the generic term “woman”, includes all women — including a man’s legal wife:
Adultery “in the heart” is not committed only because the man “looks” in this way at a woman who is not his wife, but precisely because he looks in this way at a woman [emphasis original]. Even if he were to look in this way at the woman who is his wife, he would commit the same adultery “in the heart” (TOB 43:2).
Wow. That’s a whopper. All this time, I was committing adultery against my wife because I desired her as a sexual object. I was using her to satisfy my own urges, stirred up because of some gratuitous nudity in a movie I watched, or simply from my lustful imaginations. Even when I was focused on my wife, could I honestly say to God that it was not out of lust? When did I ever truly appreciate the spousal meaning of my wife’s body? Rarely, if ever. It’s uncomfortable to admit, but the Holy Spirit was shining his light on these cobwebs of sin that have grown in my interior castle. Instead of being embarrassed, I marveled at how long this sin was kept hidden, how easy it was to miss. I could’ve lived for years thinking I was a good husband, a good father, without ever realizing that when it came to sex, I am as guilty of violating God’s original intention as any other non-believer.
In case my ego wanted to resist being embarrassed, JPII continues with his logic that I found hard to resist:
The concupiscence that arises as an interior act on this foundation changes the very intentionality of the woman’s existence “for” the man by reducing the wealth of the perennial call to the communion of persons, the wealth of the deep attraction of masculinity and femininity, to the mere satisfaction of the body’s sexual “urge”. Such a reduction has the effect that the person becomes for the other person above all an object for the possible satisfaction of his own sexual “urge.” In this way, a deformation takes place in the reciprocal “for,” which loses its character as a communion of persons in favor of the utilitarian function. The man who “looks” in the way described in Matthew 5:27-28 “makes use” of the woman, of her femininity, to satisfy his own “drive.” Even if he does not use her in an external act, he has already taken such an attitude in his interior when he makes this decision about a particular woman. Adultery “committed in the heart” consists precisely this. A man can commit such adultery “in the heart” even with his own wife, if he treats her only as an object for the satisfaction of drives. (TOB 43:3)
Christ’s words opened up the innermost recesses of my heart so that the Holy Spirit could fulfill the law as it was originally was intended by God. Our bodies have a spousal meaning. My wife is an image of God, a living gift to be cherished. While my broken nature may have a tendency to reduce my wife to a mere sexual object, I can always turn to the Holy Spirit to increase my awareness.
Saying “sorry” even when you know you are right is the same as doing penance when you are innocent. For a husband to be able to do this is a grace from God; his action would be united to Christ on the Cross (cf. Ephesians 5:23) He was innocent, yet Jesus did the ultimate penance for those who are guilty. If Jesus can do penance for His enemies, then I should be able to say sorry to my wife even though I know I’m right.
Our men’s group is reading Tim Keller’s “The Meaning of Marriage.” The focus is on Ephesians 5 and the challenge that most men fail to see (including me) is that Christ suffered for His bride. Am I willing to suffer for my bride? Dying once for my love is tragic and romantic, but what about dying a little everyday through denying myself what I want in order to please my wife?
How many men think husbands who constantly forsake their own interests for their wives’ is stupid? Most men would think it is more reasonable to compromise, “I’ll give up something, if my wife gives up something.” Did Christ ask the same of His bride? “I’ll go to the Crucifixion if you stop stoning prostitutes and permit healing on the Sabbath.” Instead, Christ asks God to forgive the Pharisees persecuting Him because they didn’t know what they’re doing (cf. Lk 23:34). Jesus offered Himself first.
I am reminded of this every time when I take the Eucharist. I may not stop sinning immediately. Awareness of His self-sacrifice and developing a personal conversation with Him through prayer, I start wanting to change for Him. I start to see my sins as empty promises. By the grace of God, the temptations are not so tempting anymore. I feel the strength to resist. One day, I realize that a particular chain isn’t around my ankle anymore. I smile and work with the Holy Spirit to unfetter my soul from the grip of other sins.
So, I must offer myself to my wife first. I cannot expect her to change first, or bargain to have her change with me. It’s not about reciprocity. It’s about following Christ: He laid down His life for His bride first. I do the same. If I cannot forgive my wife even when she refuses to say sorry, how can I meet Christ’s greater challenge to forgive my enemies?
The more I live my marriage as God intends it, the more people will think I’m a “hen-pecked” man. The more I please my wife and not ask for anything in return, the more people will think I’m “being taken advantaged of.” This is the world’s opinion; they judge without the light of faith. They do not see the Holy Spirit at work in her. She has grown so much and I had nothing to do with it. Her prayer life, her own journey with God did it. She is a woman whom I love more than the day I proposed to her. She is a mother I admire. I watch her interior life grow, like the petals of a flower in slow bloom. I do not pick the flower to adorn my pocket, but just watch it. Learn from it. Because I’m a flower, too. We are growing, blooming, for God.
Chapters 11 and 12 in Richard Rohr’s “From Wild Man to Wise Man” really had a profound effect on me. I found myself putting the book down and reflecting on my own father hunger and father wound. How did they affect me? How do the hunger and wound manifest themselves in my life? What I discovered about myself was amazing… waking-up-at-4am-amazing.
According to Rohr, much of the human race experiences a deep “father hunger.” The “pain is quiet, hidden, denied, and takes many shapes and forms that sons cannot even grasp–or care to grasp.” We grow up without a good man’s love, without a father’s understanding or affirmation. So, we always hunger for it, finding it in any older man who will offer it to them: in the military, in the business world, in hierarchical churches… seeking to be approved by their superiors. A father’s response is the first response of an “outsider.” A mother’s love is “body-based” and is assumed, taken for granted and relied upon instinctively, “which is why a foundational ‘mother wound’ can be even more devastating to one’s very core.” He believes that what Judeo-Christianity was trying to communicate in seeming to prefer masculine metaphors for God is to heal this deep and pervasive father wound. “God is that loving and compassionate Daddy they always wanted.”