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An interview with the authors of “How Far Can We Go? A Catholic Guide to Sex and Dating”

September 16, 2011

The award winning book How Far Can We Go? A Catholic Guide to Sex and Dating has recently been released in the US by Paulist Press. I had the opportunity to ask the authors, Leah Perrault and Vox-Nova’s Brett Salkeld  a few questions about the book and how it came to be. FWIW this book is the best book of its kind which I have read, so give the interview a read and get yourself a copy of the book.

    Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what your ministry is?

Leah: I am married to Marc, and we have a daughter, Robyn, who is just about four and a son, Eliot, who is six months old.  We have made our home in Saskatoon, close to family and under great big prairie skies.  I work for the Diocese of Saskatoon as the director of pastoral services.  I have a Master’s of Arts in Pastoral Theology from St. Michael’s College in Toronto.

Brett:  My wife Flannery and I live in downtown Toronto in Student Family Housing with out two little guys, Toby and Oscar.  We’re expecting number 3 in March.  I am currently working on my doctoral dissertation in Theology and hope to find work in the near future as a university professor in Theology.

Leah: Our speaking and writing ministry began when we were undergraduates at Campion College the University of Regina.  As young adults, we found that most discussions among our friends and colleagues eventually led to relationships and sexuality.  Conversations led to invitations to speak to youth groups, young adults, classrooms.  Over time, we have expanded our repertoire, but the sex, dating and marriage talks remain very popular, especially since the publication of the book.  Our website, provides more details about our speaking on other subjects. These days we are both doing a lot of custom speaking work, tailored to the needs and interests of the school, church or group who contacts us.

   How did this project get started?

Brett:  I think there are at least three factors that led to us writing a book.  The first is that almost every time we gave a talk someone would come up to us afterwards and say something like, “My daughter had badminton tonight and she couldn’t be here, but she would have really loved this.  Do you have something I can take home for her?”  Other people asked if they could video tape us for their friends who couldn’t make it.  So one big impetus for the book was simply to have something available for those who couldn’t make it to the talks.

A second reason we ended up writing a book is that people are very careful with bringing in speakers about sex and dating.  Sometimes we would end up in 3 hour phone interviews before giving a 1 hour talk.  Some people want to know exactly what you’re going to say before they let you in.  In a way this is understandable given the difficulty of cleaning up a mess if a speaker really misses the target.  On the other hand it could get frustrating.  Sometimes you’re thinking, “If you already know everything, why don’t you give the talk?”  Having a book makes this process much easier.  We can tell people, if you like the book, you’ll probably like the presentation.  If you don’t like the book, we’re probably not the ones you want for your youth group.

The last factor is that we would never have thought ourselves capable of writing a book until we were enrolled in our Master’s degrees and came to realize that our theses were basically like writing a book.  Once it became clear that we would essentially be writing books for school, writing a book didn’t seem so intimidating.  (In fact, the American publisher (Paulist Press) that picked up How Far Can We Go? has also published my Master’s thesis.  It’s called Can Catholics and Evangelicals Agree about Purgatory and the Last Judgment.)

Once it became clear to us that it would be good to have a book, and that it wasn’t unreasonable to try to write one, we put in a proposal to Novalis, the Canadian Catholic publisher.  They were very interested and supportive right away.

What resources influenced your model for dating?

Brett:   We are part of the John Paul II generation, so when we had questions about this stuff in early undergrad, we went looking through his stuff and other things in the tradition.  Of course, there is very little explicitly written about dating in the Catholic tradition.  Essentially what our model does is take a Catholic theology of marriage and work backwards from it.  If sex belongs in marriage because it is the physical manifestation of a full gift of self, as John Paul II says, what should people who are in a serious relationship, but have not yet made that full self gift in marriage be doing?  What should their relationships look like?

When we were working out a model to answer these questions, we assumed that dating was done for the purpose of discerning your future.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun too, but Catholic dating has marriage as at least a remote possibility.

One big key for our model came when Flannery, who is now my wife, and I went to see a priest we were close with when we started dating.  We knew we shouldn’t have sex, but we had very different ideas about appropriate physical intimacy at that stage in our relationship.  When we asked Father Peter for advice, he didn’t give us any specific lines, but instead starting asking us questions about our relationship in general.  He made it clear that physical intimacy has to correspond to the other ways of self-giving in your relationships.  And this is true for everyone, whether dating, married, friends, family members, whatever.  Physical intimacy is an important way that human persons communicate with one another, but it needs to say what the rest of the relationship is saying or it can really hurt people.

Leah: We were young adults ourselves when we developed the model.  We were trying to figure out how to date in a way that would prepare us for whatever vocation God had in mind for us.  We wanted dating to be fun but also respectful of our own and others’ dignity.  We were frustrated with the predominant models for faithful dating that had been offered to us: either don’t touch each other at all or draw arbitrary lines based on someone else’s advice and then try not to cross them.

When I met Marc’s fabulous French family for the first time, he walked into the house and kissed everyone on the lips.  By the time I came a second time, his dad and other male relatives were giving me quick greeting kisses on the lips.  While it took a little while to get used to that, it gave me an insight that we’ve been relying on for a long time.  In healthy relationship with our families, friendships and even strangers, we navigate physical intimacy based on the whole context of the relationship.  As we get to know people, our whole lives become more familiar to one another.  Touch progresses along a continuum, according to the time we spend with someone, the commitment we have and with reference to social norms.  Hormones often make this natural process rushed and a bit urgent when people are attracted to one another, and secular society’s norms around sex and dating aren’t helping young people to heed the Church’s wisdom to save sex for marriage.  We needed a dating model which would help young people navigate growth in physical intimacy, develop skills to discern God’s plan for them, and develop a reverence for the mystery of the person they love.  All of these skills are highly transferable to marriage, friendship and the rest of life, no matter where the relationship goes.

Can you give a brief synopsis of the dating “model” you propose?

Brett:  The model grew out of our attempt to answer the title question of the book “How Far Can We Go?”  Young people were asking us this question, as they ask almost anyone who works with them.  They mean, primarily, “How far can we go in terms of physical intimacy?” or “Which physical acts are OK and which aren’t?”  This is driven by a natural inclination towards physical intimacy, and that’s a good thing, but we thought it would be important to channel that natural desire into a way for discerning healthy relationships in general.  While it is important to point out a few things that young people striving for chaste relationships should not be doing (e.g. engaging in acts that simulate sex or getting themselves into situations where avoiding sex becomes a real challenge), it is also important to teach young people how to be self-aware enough about their relationships to be able to answer this question for themselves.

In order to do this, we came up with a way for people to picture their relationships.  There are actually graphs in the book! The basic structure is something like this:  the person you will someday marry, started out as a stranger.  You have to navigate the journey from stranger to spouse.  That means you have to navigate from zero intimacy to full intimacy and from zero commitment to full commitment.  But intimacy and commitment aren’t merely physical realities.  They are social, spiritual, intellectual and emotional.  To grow in intimacy in a healthy way is to grow across all the areas of human relationships.  The best way to judge if your physical intimacy is healthy is to ask questions about the rest of your relationship.  “Do I feel like he listens to me?”  “What do my friends and family think about her?”  “Am I able to pray with this person?”  Our model teaches people how to ask questions about their relationships in order to gauge what a healthy progression of physical intimacy should look like.  It helps them to keep all areas of their relationship in mind when they consider questions about physical intimacy.

And, if young people date in this way, they can use that natural desire for physical intimacy as a tool for discernment.  It is very easy to a relationship’s physical aspect to take over so that people become blind to what else is going on in the relationship.  Many young people are hurt when they get trapped into bad relationships that seem so intense when physical intimacy that has gotten out of hand.  When physical intimacy is always gauged with reference to the broader relationship, it is easier to recognize and get out of an unhealthy relationship and it is easier to protect and nurture a good and healthy relationship.

Finally, physical intimacy itself comes to mean more, even if it is less intense for a time, when it is consciously linked with more than animal attraction.  People can tell the difference between a kiss that says, “I care about you deeply,” and a kiss that says “I’m having trouble controlling myself right now.”

    You say that the book is written for teens, but you have a short chapter which functions as a note to parents, teachers, and pastors.

Leah: We discovered very early in our speaking career that most adults are ill-equipped to support young people as they move through their dating years.  Some didn’t follow the Church’s teaching themselves and feel a knowledge gap or hypocrisy, even though they hope young people will make wise choices.  Others want to prevent their kids from heartache and hurt by making the decisions for the young people in their lives.  And these reasons are usually coupled with a general discomfort with talking about the subject!

We also discovered that speaking to youth with their parents, teachers and pastors in the same room increased the likelihood that both young people and the adults in their lives would talk to one another about sexuality and relationships.  When mom and dad drove the family home from the presentation, their teenage sons and daughters would initiate conversations with their parents about the presentation material – often for the first time.  Parents came back to us with gratitude and a measure of awe.  We think this is preferable to that awkward meeting after a presentation when young people walk into the kitchen to the dreaded, “So, what did they have to say about sex?”

And finally, our model assumes that relationships are not private.  They are part of the social nature of our humanity.   This means that my dating affects my friendships, family, work, school, church and service in the community.  All of these people can help to support those who are dating to make wise and healthy choice in and about the relationship.  If I am called to marry someone, my relationship should make most of these other relationships even richer.

Read more…

An examination of mission

January 23, 2011

“To devote oneself to others and to act, misereor super turbam, that is the great saying, but how? Intellectual needs, moral needs, social needs, everything cried out for help. Christ is there, but who are we to give him to and where are we to take him? To devote oneself to others is the rule common to all men, just as Christianity is the universal remedy — but how? Is it to be in intellectual conflicts, in the melee of ideas?…Or in hand-to-hand fights, in the political and social fray?…Is it not action alone which defines ideas?…

There are three human ways of serving the supernatural: either my making room for it in the intellectual order, which invades it and seems to force it back, by preparing room for it with hte help of healthy, clearly defined, really scientific ideas in philosophy and in the theory of the human mind; or by making room for it in social and political action, by introducing it by example, by means of discussions and personal influence, into the traditions of the people, the customs of the countryside, through legislation and practical reason; or by calling upon it to reanimate the generosity of feelings, the dry or withering heart, the enthusiasm that is dulled by the abuse of material things, of positive, scientific things…In a word one must restore either the object, or the practice, or the feeling of religion and moral things. It goes without saying that each of these means only supplements the supernatural action upon any Christian, and upon others through the communion of saints. That is the common, impersonal source of the power for good; great thoughts, noble resolutions, striking and influential devotion to others, spring form the inchoate prayer and austerities of the humble and the ignorant.”

– Maurice Blondel, entry in Carnets Intimes for 15 Dec. 1883. Quoted in Introduction to The Letter on Apologetics and History and Dogma, p 37.

Come Holy Spirit

August 16, 2010

Without the Holy Spirit, God is far away,
Christ stays in the past,
the Gospel is a dead letter,
the Church is simply an organization,
authority a matter of dominion,
mission a matter of propaganda,
the liturgy no more than an evocation,
Christian living a slave morality.

But in the Holy Spirit:
the cosmos is resurrected and groans with birth-pangs of the Kingdom,
the risen Christ is there,
the Gospel is the power of life,
the Church shows forth the life of the Trinity,
authority is a liberating service,
mission is a Pentecost,
the liturgy is both memorial and anticipation,
human action is deified.

Metropolitan Ignatios of Latakia, Main Theme Address in The Uppsala Report 1968. Quoted from Tom Norris, The Trinity: Life of God, Hope for Humanity, p. 41.

Christian Imagination

July 16, 2010

Imagination is probably more important than we realize. Scholars in the theory of communications have argued that a person’s ability to successfully navigate various interpersonal situations depends largely on her ability to imagine herself in such situations. Such imagined conversations and interactions prepare her for successful interactions in reality.

Similarly, many successful athletes have spoken of envisioning their performance prior to the game or a key shot. Jack Nicklaus has said that he has never made a shot which he didn’t first see. Thus it seems that one’s ability to imagine how he will respond in certain situations can be an important indicator of how successfully he will interact with the world.

Unfortunately, many, myself included, seem to have significant difficulties imagining themselves living a holy life. Read more…

On the value of words

July 13, 2010

Language is sacred. It is holy. It is a vehicle of the communion for which we have been made. The WORD became flesh, sanctifying language and communicating with us through it and thereby raising us and our language to new heights.

But we have trashed language, not merely by speaking vulgarities and banalities, for we live in an age in which words have lost their sign value. They no longer actually refer to any objective reality in our minds. When one sees smoke, that signifies fire, but words no longer offer a direct link to concrete realities. They don’t really mean anything. We don’t stand by our words, thus language has become impotent – unable to communicate the truth of ourselves.

Indeed many of us have become abstracted from ourselves. We know a certain thing to be true, good, beautiful, but because the words no longer effectively signify, we have diffuclty reconciling our lives, our actions, with these truths. For our words to have authority we must be willing to defend them with our blood, our lives. We cannot determine whether we will ever be asked to stand by our words at such a price, but like the WORD, we must choose to do so. Only then can we hope to effectively communicate love to others.

However, this is difficult. Not only because we are to varying degrees formed by a society of deceit and half-truths, but also because this idea itself often fails to meaningly signify, to take root in us.

In a world which features the dis-integration of persons how can one overcome self-abstraction to stand by his words? How is one to live according to Truth when she so often recognizes it without standing by it, without living in accord with it? How is one to help others, family members, friends, students, etc., to stand by their words, to hear his words, or the words of the Gospel, as integrated persons, such that they are moved to communion and to a reciprocal and authentic communication?

How can I experience metanoia if the words which point to the WORD have been made impotent?

A genocidal God?

May 12, 2010

At Vox-Nova there have been several very interesting conversation on violence in the Old Testament and God’s apparent command to the Israelites to commit genocide.

Referencing 1 Sam 15, fellow EC blogger Kyle Cupp, posted his view that moral reason and Christian conception of God deny the possibility of God having commanded genocide. Nevertheless he wished to maintain the inerrancy of the Bible. He explains: Read more…

Catholics and Politics

March 7, 2010

I was originally going to post this as a reply to Joshua’s latest post, but I ended up having more to say than I think is appropriate for a com-box.

Joshua observes that “we see church’s splitting over some of these issues on which conservatives and liberals tend to disagree.” This is a sound observation, and here is one attempt to explain it.

Man is a political animal, we learn from book one of Aristotle’s Politics. This reality might not have been as obvious during the Middle Ages, when the interests of Church and State were often one and the same. But we now live in the age of ideology, an age during which for billions of people around the globe, political ideologies replaced religious beliefs as the spiritual axis their lives revolved around. This was most obvious of course in the countries that fell to Marxism-Leninism and varieties of fascism in the 20th century.

But the West was not and is not immune. As religion becomes less relevant or at least less of a unifying force for more people, politics fills the void. The “end of ideology” proclaimed by certain intellectuals after the collapse of the Soviet Union has turned out to be one of the most bogus claims ever uttered, triumphalism at its worst. But how have political conflicts made their way into the Church, and why do they continue to rend and tear at the body of Christ?

Read more…

Eucharist: miracle or mystery?

March 6, 2010

Recently I have read a series of posts on the Eucharist. Most of them have been concerned with the change of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. In response one commenter wrote,

Sure on some level the creator of the Universe can of course do this or that – but than again why literally create miracles out of something utterly invisible – please oh Lord have mercy with us poor souls and have the Holy Spirit inspire somebody to cry that the emporer is utterly naked. Sure we can spin all kinds of air castles as trappings for our thoughts – in the end for me these are all vehicles to give some formal expression to some deep human desire to be godlike.

In light of such sentiments I think it is important to point out the historical issues involved in the development of the theology of the Eucharist. Read more…

Conservatives and Liberals, Catholics and Protestants

March 4, 2010

I have been aware for some time that broadly speaking, at least in this country, conservative Catholics tend agree more with conservative Protestants (or atheists for that matter) than they do with liberal Catholics (and vice versa) concerning those issues which people seem to care about most, that is those issues which are most hotly debated. In light of this, a few questions come to mind:

1.It seems that this is the case because we are no longer formed by the authentic Christian witness of our liturgical communities, which is also to say that most of us are not primarily formed by the Word of God, but rather are formed by our secular/political communities. What effect might this have on ecumenical and/or evangelical effort? What might be changed to reverse this trend?

2.We see church’s splitting over some of these issues on which conservatives and liberals tend to disagree: ordination of women/female pastors, gay marriage, etc. Is it possible that Catholics and Protestants can agree with these issues while disagreeing with members of their denomination because these issues are now more important to them than are issues of justification and the like?

The Personhood Initiative

January 19, 2010

Deal Hudson at Inside Catholic wrote recently about the divisions in the pro-life movement over the Personhood Initiative, a nation-wide effort to legally define “personhood” as beginning at the moment of conception. The testing ground for the initiative was Colorado, where the movement’s founder, an admirable 19 year-old by the name of Kristi Burton, hails from. The lowdown, according to Deal, is that,

Colorado voters turned down the amendment by a stunning 73 percent to 27 percent, in spite of support from Focus on the Family, American Life League, and legal advice from the Thomas More Law Center. But the effort had failed to gain the support of either National Right to Life (NRTL) or the Colorado Catholic Conference.

Whether or not that extra support would have resulted in a less unbalanced result, I cannot say. For those wondering why the Catholic Conference, and many American bishops are hesitant to embrace the PI, the concern was apparently that if it were taken to, and shot down by, the Supreme Court, it would have the effect of “actively reaffirm[ing] the mistaken jurisprudence of Roe.” According to Deal, however, some Catholic bishops are reconsidering their position on the PI.

Not long ago, in the context of the debate over the efforts of Bart Stupak and the pro-life Dems, I wrote about pro-life pragmatism. I argued that the much-derided “incrementalism” is actually the most viable way of winning the long-term war against the abortion industry in light of the facts about where the American electorate stands on abortion. With respect to the PI, and with all due respect to the founders and supporters of this movement, I must reaffirm that position.

Read more…

Interactive Bible?

January 12, 2010

Experience the Bible like never before.

That is the promise of Glo, the worlds newest, most technologically advanced interactive Bible.

But what makes it so different from a standard biblical text?

The multi-faceted computer-based creation does things a conventional Bible cannot, bringing the Word of God to life through HD video images, animations, maps, 360-degree virtual tours and more.

With thousands of photos and encyclopaedic articles, there is a diverse array of visual imagery to accompany the Bible’s text.

Glo also allows you to read through the Word of the Lord, in anyway you see fit. You can look up where a biblical event took place, check out timelines for the Bibles events or use the search tool to find specific topics or themes.

MyGlo, you can take your personal Biblical experience to a new level by setting up reading plans and goals. Or simply type in your mood for the day and Glo will pull up passages tailored to your own emotions.

H/T to Fr. Steve.

The Glo Bible can be purchased for $59.99 or 2 for $99.99. It sell in stores for $89.99

What do you all think of this? It could be a great tool, especially for classroom use. But I am very wary of introducing technology into a regular experience of the bible. Multimedia seems to often work against real prayer and reflection, distracting and entertaining instead.

Troubles with NFP: Part 2

January 9, 2010

In Part 1 I reflected on the disillusionment and frustration suffered by those who, through misinformation, thought that NFP would require little sacrifice. Here I shall more closely consider a second, probably smaller group of people who, we shall assume, have an adequate perception of all that NFP entails, but have encountered extra-ordinary issues with discerning or charting fertility, problems which are often biological in nature. These issues can place great strain on their marriage and may require different types of ministry. How can we offer support to those who must exert incredible effort in order to properly practice NFP while remaining faithful to what they have discerned to be responsible and prudent family planning?

Before attempting to answer our question we ought to more clearly describe these extra-ordinary issues. Read more…

Troubles with NFP: Part 1

January 7, 2010

Several months ago I wrote a post in honor of National NFP Awareness. One of the commenters, Brett from Vox-Nova, asked me to discuss the issues which arise when couples who are sold all the praises of NFP wind up experiencing great difficulties in putting it into practice. They often struggle to discern fertility and become weighed down by guilt as if they were doing something wrong. Some couples who are using NFP out of obedience and do not understand Church teaching on the issue may be tempted to reject Church teachings over their difficulties and abandon NFP. Brett is “convinced we need to do some serious ministry to those who struggle with NFP.” I concur, and now that I have a few spare moments I hope to offer my own reflections based in part on personal experiences and on those of friends and acquaintances.

It seems there are two separate but related issues. Read more…

What the Post-VCII Church needs…

December 3, 2009

Von Balthasar on how Erich Przywara’s thought anticipated some of the conciliar teaching, but also offered the corrective which may have prevented some of the unintended results and upheaval following the council:

[Przywara] had long anticipated the opening of the Church to the world [das All] that came with the Council, but he possessed in addition the corrective that has not been applied in the way that the Council’s [teachings] have been inflected and broadly put into practice: namely, the elemental, downright Old Testament sense for the divinity of God, who is a consuming fire, a death-bringing sword, and a transporting love. Indeed, he alone possessed the language in which the word “God” could be heard without that touch of squeamishness that has led to the tepid, half-hearted talk of the average theology of today. He lives like the mythical salamander in the fire: there, at the point where finite, creaturely being arises out of the infinite, where that indissoluble mystery holds sway that he baptized with the name analogia entis.

from Von Balthsar, “Erich Przywara,” in Tendenzen der Theologie im 20. Jahrhundert, ed. Hans Jürgen Schulz (Stuttgart and Berlin: Kreuz Verlag, 1966), p. 354f.

Archbishop Wuerl’s Op-Ed

November 18, 2009

As some of you may know the Archdiocese of Washington, DC and the City Council of DC have recently been at odds over a new proposal. The tension seems to be over the requirement that Catholic Charities would be forced to offer adoptions to homosexual couples.

Before reading Archbishop Weurl’s op-ed you should check out the Post’s original column, a commentary by Thomas Reese, SJ, and blog posts by Henry Karlson and Morning’s Minion.

Without further ado, the Archbishop’s column, which will be printed in the Sunday Op-Ed column.

What do you think?

Lindbeck on types of theology

November 18, 2009

In his book The Nature of Doctrine, George Lindbeck wants to offer a new theological theory of religion and doctrine because he feels the two currently active fail to offer real opportunity for ecumenical results.

He describes the types as follows: Read more…

Revisiting how we approach Sacred Scripture

October 14, 2009

In his On Christian Teaching, Saint Augustine intends to share knowledge with his reader — knowledge which he hopes will enable them to interpret Sacred Scripture for themselves so as to lead them to union with God and to enable them to share that knowledge via proclamation. He offers a grammar or rule to aid in the process of illumination and ascent. He explains that in order to understand scripture properly, we must be aware of it in its entirety, we must be aware of the way in which the tradition interprets it, and we must understand everything according to the rule of love and the rule of faith. In other words, if my perception of any “ambiguous” text favors a depiction of God which is unloving or contrary to the deposit of faith, then I am interpreting a figurative passage too literally, a literal passage too figuratively, or I just don’t get it. The problem is with my comprehension, not with the text.

Augustine’s approach is one firmly grounded in faith, but he demands that his reader attain a liberal knowledge of the secular sciences to aid in his understanding scripture, which is to say that his position is not fideism at the expense of reason, but a heavy use of reason which is purified from false conceptions by faith.

I am no Biblical scholar, but it is interesting to note the contrast between Augustine’s rules and the standard approach which most modern biblical scholars seem to take. Their use of the historical-critical method often seems to me to rely on reason and the secular sciences too heavily, to dissect the text sometime for great insight, but also often at the expense of the faith. When a problematic text arises, many times all interpretations offered by tradition are cast aside to root out the problem. The problem is not presumed to be in our comprehension, but in the inspired text itself.

I do not mean to say that the historical-critical method is necessarily or intrinsically a bad method, but often it is used on the literal sense to the neglect (and implicit derision?) of the other sense of scriptural interpretation.

Should not our approach to God’s self-revelation be less scientific, more prayerful, more humble? Would not such an approach as Augustine recommends better aid those attempting to ascend to God in holiness?

Quigley: “Street Report from the G20”

September 28, 2009

This is probably not news to most of you, but I thought it worthy of a post… From Common Dreams:

The G20 in Pittsburgh showed us how pitifully fearful our leaders have become.

What no terrorist could do to us, our own leaders did.

Out of fear of the possibility of a terrorist attack, authorities militarize our towns, scare our people away, stop daily life and quash our constitutional rights.

For days, downtown Pittsburgh, home to the G20, was a turned into a militarized people-free ghost town. Sirens screamed day and night. Helicopters crisscrossed the skies. Gunboats sat in the rivers. The skies were defended by Air Force jets. Streets were barricaded by huge cement blocks and fencing. Bridges were closed with National Guard across the entrances. Public transportation was stopped downtown. Amtrak train service was suspended for days.

In many areas, there were armed police every 100 feet. Businesses closed. Schools closed. Tens of thousands were unable to work.

Four thousand police were on duty plus 2500 National Guard plus Coast Guard and Air Force and dozens of other security agencies. A thousand volunteers from other police forces were sworn in to help out.

Since no terrorists showed up, those in charge of the heavily armed security forces chose to deploy their forces around those who were protesting.

Not everyone is delighted that 20 countries control 80% of the world’s resources. Several thousand of them chose to express their displeasure by protesting.

Unfortunately, the officials in charge thought that it was more important to create a militarized people-free zone around the G20 people than to allow freedom of speech, freedom of assembly or the freedom to protest.

Then a group of young people decided that they did not need a permit to express their human and constitutional rights to freedom. They announced they were going to hold their own gathering at a city park and go down the deserted city streets to protest the G20. Maybe 200 of these young people were self-described anarchists, dressed in black, many with bandanas across their faces.

This drove the authorities crazy.

Battle dressed ninja turtles showed up at the park and formed a line across one entrance. Helicopters buzzed overhead. Armored vehicles gathered.

The crowd surged out of the park and up a side street yelling, chanting, drumming, and holding signs. As they exited the park, everyone passed an ice cream truck that was playing “It’s a small world after all.” Indeed.

Any remaining doubts about the militarization of the police were dispelled shortly after the crowd left the park. A few blocks away the police unveiled their latest high tech anti-protestor toy. It was mounted on the back of a huge black truck. The Pittsburgh-Gazette described it as Long Range Acoustic Device designed to break up crowds with piercing noise. Similar devices have been used in Fallujah, Mosul and Basra Iraq. The police backed the truck up, told people not to go any further down the street and then blasted them with piercing noise.

The crowd then moved to other streets. Now they were being tracked by helicopters. The police repeatedly tried to block them from re-grouping ultimately firing tear gas into the crowd injuring hundreds including people in the residential neighborhood where the police decided to confront the marchers. I was treated to some of the tear gas myself and I found the Pittsburgh brand to be spiced with a hint of kelbasa. Fortunately I was handed some paper towels soaked in apple cider vinegar which helped fight the tears and cough a bit. Who would have thought?

After the large group broke and ran from the tear gas, smaller groups went into commercial neighborhoods and broke glass at a bank and a couple of other businesses. The police chased and the glass breakers ran. And the police chased and the people ran. For a few hours.

The G20 leaders left by helicopter and limousine.

Pittsburgh now belongs again to the people of Pittsburgh. The cement barricades were removed, the fences were taken down, the bridges and roads were opened. The gunboats packed up and left. The police packed away their ninja turtle outfits and tear gas and rubber bullets. They don’t look like military commandos anymore. No more gunboats on the river. No more sirens all the time. No more armored vehicles and ear splitting machines used in IraqOn Monday the businesses will open and kids will have to go back to school. Civil society has returned.

It is now probably even safe to exercise constitutional rights in Pittsburgh once again.

The USA really showed those terrorists didn’t we?

How sad is that?

On the Vocation of Woman, Part II

September 4, 2009

Part I

Motherhood is bound up with the structure of the woman as person.  John Paul II reminds us that Man only finds himself through a sincere gift of self, and that this truth about the person leads us to a full understanding of motherhood.  Motherhood is the fruit of the marriage union of a man and woman, and this mutual gift of the person in marriage opens to the gift of a new life, another human person.[1]  “When a woman agrees to sexual intercourse she consents to God’s direct partnership with her in creating new human life.  This is an amazing affirmation of her personhood.  With it comes a great responsibility.”[2]  For the woman, becoming a mother is an event that consumes much of her energy; she dedicates her entire self to the task of growing, birthing, feeding, and caring for each of her children.  Woman finds herself in this giving of herself.  Although both the man and the woman are parents, motherhood comprises the most demanding part; parenthood as such is realized more fully in the woman.  “It is the woman who ‘pays’ directly for this shared generation, which literally absorbs the energies of her body and soul.  It is therefore necessary that the man be fully aware that in their shared parenthood he owes a special debt to the woman.”[3]  A man is somewhat separated from his own child, but the woman gives her very body over for the sake of the child.  They exist together, and in a sense, it is woman who gives the child his personhood, for it is in the relationship between mother and child that the child becomes a person and not a mere individual.  John Paul II writes, “‘Communion’ has to do with the personal relationship between the ‘I’ and the ‘thou’….  On the human level, can there be any other ‘communion’ comparable to that between a mother and a child whom she has carried in her womb and then brought to birth?”[4]  Therefore, “it is essential that the husband should recognize that the motherhood of his wife is a gift.”[5]

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