About Those Two Bishops And the Prostitute

So the story goes…

To teach the theology of the body, Christopher West tells a story about two bishops seeing a prostitute:

The following story illustrates what mature Christian purity looks like. Two bishops walked out of a Cathedral just as a scantily clad prostitute passed by.

One bishop immediately turned away. The other bishop looked at her intently. The bishop who turned away exclaimed, ‘Brother bishop, what are you doing? Turn your eyes!’ When the bishop turned around, he lamented with tears streaming down his face, ‘How tragic that such beauty is being sold to the lusts of men.’

Which one of those bishops was vivified with the ethos of redemption? Which one had passed over from merely meeting the demands of the law to a superabounding fulfillment of the law? (From West’s Theology of the Body Explained, revised edition, p. 215).

A striking story, to be sure. It leads me to ask myself: “Am I truly free? Have I been “vivified by the ethos of redemption”? Or am I merely meeting the “demands of the law” in avoiding to look at a scantily clad woman, for fear of lusting?

Courtship Accusation

West’s version of this story has cropped up a few times in my life as a Catholic, first with a young Catholic woman that I courted a few years after my conversion to Catholicism.

Christopher West
Christopher West

She had been learning about the theology of the body, primarily through Christopher West’s work, and she had introduced me to it for the first time.

I was excited and intrigued by what I learned in the theology of the body, and she and I discussed it often.

One day, we were going to Blockbuster video to rent a movie (yes, I realize this dates me horribly; for younger folks, this was a video rental chain where you went to rent physical DVDs or VHS movies). Blockbuster was pretty awful: every tenth movie you came across featured scantily clad women and some kind of lewdness.

At this point in my Catholic life, I was still struggling with overcoming pornography and lustful sins. I suggested to my girlfriend that I disliked going into Blockbuster because it meant having to face temptation to lust, or at the least have seeds of temptation planted by seeing so many provocative video covers.

She responded by saying: “So you are like the bishop who looked away from the prostitute. You’ve not truly internalized the theology of the body but are only avoiding looking at women because you will lust.”

I was hurt by her words, and at the time I also felt them to be unfair. Here I was, striving to become strong in chastity, but still on the journey, and I was being criticized for not having arrived already at the destination.

Naturally, we got into an argument about it, and we ended up not going to Blockbuster. While that courtship eventually ended, it was a good learning experience for me (and hopefully for her).

What Do I Have to Do to Be Free?

Fast forward 13 years later. I’m happily married with two children. And by God’s grace, I overcame pornography addiction and lustful sins. I am free from them and their power over me, and yet I remain on guard against temptation, knowing that I am not in Heaven yet.

Auxiliary Bishops Robert J. Brennan and Nelson J. Perez of Rockville Centre, N.Y., smile as they process from St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre following their episcopal ordination July 25. Bishop Brennan, 50, is the vicar general of Rockville Centre. Bishop Perez, 51, was a pastor in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia when he was named a bishop. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic) (June 26, 2012)

I created a course to help Catholic men win freedom from pornography and lust. A friend of mine came over to visit and we talked about the course. On the side he does personal coaching to help Catholic men overcome pornography addiction. He himself had struggled with it for many years but conquered it by God’s grace.

He told me that, while he appreciated confession, Mass, the Rosary, devotions, spiritual direction, and so on, he doesn’t think those things are capable of helping a man retrain his heart to see women without lusting after them. At best, they are necessary, but not sufficient, means to achieve purity.

I told him that the course also includes many truths from the theology of the body. But he didn’t think that that was enough either. He explained that he had grown in purity so much that he is never tempted to look at pornography or to lust, and that this type of healing and retraining can only occur through a specific kind of therapy, one that he himself coaches men on.

Now, he said, he is able to look at any woman without being tempted to lust. He went on to say that if any man isn’t at that place yet, then he is really just at the “avoidance” level of purity, only able to avert his eyes and not really free.

Sound familiar? It’s the Two Bishops story once again. Prayers and confession, the sacraments and spiritual disciplines are all well and good, I hear my friend saying, but they don’t lead to true purity. Even learning and understanding the theology of the body is not enough. The virtue of purity must be attained by some other, or at least additional, means than these traditional Catholic practices.

Another Take on the Two Bishops

I am willing to ask myself: “Have I just gotten good at avoiding temptations to lust? Am I not truly free?”

As I reflected on those questions, I could only answer “I don’t know.” I suspect my friend is off the mark, a bit too sanguine about the state of redeemed man and concupiscence, but I am not God and can’t tell you the level of my virtue. Perhaps I have simply not undergone a strong enough test to truly prove me a fraud in this regard.

But I would also answer that it doesn’t matter that much. If the net result in both cases is living chastely, then however one got there, however one may still be tempted, is immaterial. If I’m living virtuously even though it may be very hard, even though I have to avert my gaze from the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated, I’m acting in a way that is pure, interiorly and exteriorly, by God’s grace.

One does not conquer pornography and lust on one’s own steam. It requires grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. The Eucharist itself, the Church teaches, strengthens us against future mortal sin. God hasn’t been keeping the remedies to sin and the aids to virtue secret from us. They are there in plain sight, for all to receive and have been since the founding of His Church.

Further, fleeing from temptation, conscious of our own weaknesses, is a practice that the saints commend to us. Pope Francis quoted St. Therese who said:

“In some temptations, the only solution is to escape, to not be ashamed to escape, to recognize that we are weak and we have to escape.” — St. Therese of Lisieux

The truth is that there is a spectrum of virtue between the two bishops. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor, and one must flee temptation. Other times, having grown heroically strong in virtue, one is called to fight and overcome.

Teachings Old And New

tocuhIn my course on purity, I highly recommend people read the theology of the body, either in its original form or via an evangelist like Christopher West. I endorse his books and ship them out to people

The teachings of the theology of the body are good, and they are one more weapon to growing in purity. It is vital to arm one’s intellect with the proper understand of the beauty of the human person and the purpose of our sexuality. Learning about these was a key element in my growth in purity.

But we are not all the same. Some men benefit from one tool over another, one devotion over another. And men are at all different stages in their journey to freedom. Men closer to the beginning may need crutches, may need to take radical steps to avoid temptation. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Some men further along in the journey may never need to avert their eyes from a prostitute or swimsuit edition. Others, just as far along, but with a different constitution, may find it prudent to continue averting their eyes. Do we drop the Two Bishops gotcha on them?  I don’t think so.

Wiser, in my experience, is to recognize that every man is different, and to encourage each man to try a variety of tactics and tools to grow in purity.

Further, we should never downplay the Church’s time-honored medicines for conquering vice and strengthening virtue. God instituted them for a reason. They have the backing of His grace and power. They come with divine promises of conversion.

About those two bishops: I’m probably somewhere in the spectrum between them. But both are Catholic.

From Humdrum to Holy: Walking with Jesus to Mount Zion

Man’s supernatural end

The Catholic Church teaches that: “By sending his only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange” (CCC 221).

Through Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection, our participation in this eternal exchange is possible. Man has been created by love and for love.

Here on earth our lives as Christians consist in the image of Jesus being reproduced in us by means of the love of God that has been shed abroad in our hearts which empowers us to love God and neighbor and in so doing fulfill the law of Christ.

Enter Fr. Ed Broom, O.M.V.

A priest for more than 30 years dedicated to giving the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Fr. Broom knows well what it takes to live out the Christian faith by following in the footsteps of Jesus.

In his recent book titled From Humdrum to Holy, Fr. Broom has put together a comprehensive yet eminently practical plan of action to grow in holiness and therefore closer to Jesus.

At 24 chapters and a little over 120 pages, it is comprehensive in its scope of topics and short enough to be read in one sitting.

One of the book’s most powerful points is its first chapter which focuses on the question of our existence: “why are we here in this world?“.

Fr. Broom’s answer is St. Ignatius’: “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.

This constitutes a strong foundation that keeps everything in the book firmly grounded in the reality of our daily lives and the choices we make.

Chapters 4 and 17 build on that foundation by reminding us of the importance of self-knowledge and the possibility of falling into mortal sin and dying in that state. Far from being fear-mongering, such exhortations help us not forget that our choices have eternal consequences and that this life is an arena of combat in which a lot is at stake.

Take heart and step into the fray

The remaining chapters present us with a rich treasure trove of steps and actions we can take to start living holy lives and walk more closely with our Lord.

Everything from morning prayer to daily Scripture reading, spiritual reading, learning about the Faith, daily examination of conscience, prayers of dedication to the Blessed Virgin Mary, invocation of angels and saints, more frequent reception of the sacraments with adequate preparation and many others are presented so they can be immediately applied in your life.

In sum, Fr. Broom has provided us with a fine resource we can constantly go back to for encouragement and sound advice on how we can better live the fundamental vocation of all Christians; the universal call to holiness. It is my hope and prayer that this book will strengthen your resolve and furnish you with the tools and means to do the will of our Father in heaven.

Pope Plants Seeds With Protestant Pastor

This post is by Jesus Florez, a Proven Catholic apologist.

Jesus Florez

In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus declared He would draw all men to Himself. He also affirmed that there would be one flock and one shepherd.

This is a clear indication that our Lord Jesus intended unity to characterize the new people He would gather around Himself. The early Christians were clearly aware of this. St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in the early second century to St. Polycarp “let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation”.

Ut Unum Sint

According to Scripture and Tradition, the Catholic Church believes that the unity Christ willed for the new people of God is one of a common faith, worship, and government: doctrine, liturgy, Magisterium.

Throughout the centuries there have been many heresies and schisms that have threatened to sever these bonds. In our present time, we experience the great divisions among Christians precisely over matters of faith, worship and government. The rampant fragmentation among Protestant Christian communities is only one example of how deep these divisions run and how serious they are.

Be Reconciled to Your Brother

We seek the reconciliation of all Christians in accordance with the will of our Lord and the means He provided for the continual transmission of the Christian faith. Among other things this means communion with the successor of St. Peter, the bishop of Rome, whom Jesus Christ our Lord established as His vicar on earth and the principium unitatis, the principle of unity, among believers.

In 2016 Pope Francis met with several Protestant pastors from different denominations and traditions in an effort to promote ecumenical dialogue and foster collaboration among fellow Christians. One of them was Kris Vallotton, Senior Associate Leader of Bethel Church in Redding, CA.

After meeting with Pope Francis, he proceeded to write an article and preach a sermon (iTunes podcast link) to his congregation in which he talked about unity among believers. I’ll comment briefly on three points I believe to be praiseworthy and then I’ll complement with additional reflections and considerations.

A Path to Reconciliation

When Pastor Kris met with Pope Francis he was very pleasantly surprised by his gentle demeanor and remarked during his sermon that he was convinced the Pope was filled with the Holy Spirit.

He also led a prayer for the Pope as part of his preaching. As a Catholic, it’s very encouraging to see this from a Protestant pastor who influences many people. It’s a clear sign that he has the right disposition of heart in order to make ecumenical dialogue possible. I applaud this as a Catholic and see it as an exhortation for all of us to do the same.

Towards the beginning of his sermon, Pastor Kris made the interesting observation that the first Christians didn’t have a New Testament, let alone the whole Bible. He also commented on how important it was to have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. We wholeheartedly agree with Pastor Kris on the importance of a personal relationship with Christ. The Church enjoins us to approach Jesus in constant and fervent prayer and to hear His voice by frequent and prayerful reading of the Holy Scriptures.

Having said all this, realizing that the New Testament Scriptures didn’t exist as a unified canon for centuries and mentioning this during a sermon calls into question the Sola Scriptura paradigm whereby the Scriptures function as the formal principle of theology and the formally sufficient rule of faith without the need of a divinely appointed teaching authority.

We would encourage anyone that has become aware of this fact to continue to explore how in light of this millions of people, most of whom were illiterate, came to faith in Jesus and flourished in their relationship with Him.

Come, Holy Spirit

During the last portion of his sermon, Pastor Kris talked at length about the role of the Holy Spirit and how through it we can become part of the mind of Christ and achieve unity even if disagreement remains concerning doctrine and church government.

We readily agree with Pastor Kris in acknowledging the crucial role the Holy Spirit plays in the economy of salvation and God’s designs. One needs to look no further than St. John Paul II’s encyclical “Dominum et vivificantem“.  However, we would balk at the idea of achieving unity while jettisoning unity of faith and government.

We would encourage people to explore the possibility that the gifts and operations of the Holy Spirit are not only personal and experiential but also hierarchical and communal.

For example, we believe that by a special gift (or charism) of the Holy Spirit the Roman pontiff is protected from error in declaring a point of faith or morals to be definitively held by all the faithful. We also believe that this gift is passed on by means of material succession within the context of the family of God.

Looking to Jesus, the Pioneer and Perfecter of Our Faith

Before His Passion, our Lord Jesus Christ prayed for the Church. Since it is Him doing so, we believe that His prayer is infallibly effective, and therefore there will always be only one true Church of Jesus Christ.

We confess, in the words of Blessed Paul VI, that “the Church founded by Jesus Christ and for which he prayed is indefectibly one in faith, in worship and in the bond of hierarchical communion” (Paul VI, Creed of the People of God, 21).

We earnestly pray so that all who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior work together to overcome division and return to the one household of God, the Church of the living God, so that the world may believe that the Father has sent His Son to unite all things in Him.

Lord Jesus, hear our prayer!

About the Author

This post is by Jesus Florez. Here’s Jesus in his own words:

I’m a Proven Catholic apologist thanks to the efforts and expertise of our friend and mentor, Devin Rose.

I now share his mission to equip Catholics to defend their faith and help Protestants consider the claims of the Catholic Church.

I’m originally from Colombia in South America and grew up Catholic but lukewarm at best. At age 18, I joined a Catholic Charismatic community that helped me have a deeper and more personal relationship with our Lord Jesus. Since moving to the United States in 2015, I became very interested in apologetics and in 2016 I participated in Devin Rose’s Proven Catholic apologist course as a beta tester and earned my certificate soon after.

I work full time as a receptionist at a local nursing home and in my free time I enjoy reading about our faith and spending time with my wife.

You can email me at lordtyberias8@gmail.com

May the Lord bless you and keep you in the bosom of His family, the Church!