An Anatomy of Adultery

Adultery is an injustice. He who commits adultery fails in his commitment. He does injury to the sign of the covenant which the marriage bond is, transgresses the rights of the other spouse, and undermines the institution of marriage by breaking the contract on which it is based. He compromises the good of human generation and the welfare of children who need their parents’ stable union (Catechism #2381).

There was one thing I wish Pope Francis had spoken about in Amoris Laetitia: adultery. Not simply to condemn the act, but to offer pastoral wisdom on how to avoid falling into it. Especially as culture increasingly normalizes sexual sin.

Throughout my lifetime, I have witnessed many marriages damaged or ruined by adultery. Some of these I have witnessed up close, others from a distance. I’ve known people on every side of the stories of betrayal: adulterous spouses, betrayed spouses, and those who were party to the adultery (and their spouses). Some happened early on in marriage, others later in marriage — even after 40 years. Of these, some have confided to me their agony and fall from grace, others their experience of betrayal, while still others have cut me off after their sin became known. Some were able to save their marriages from ruin, others not.

I’ve observed the spectrum of adulterous behavior, from sex-starved husbands who’ve sought out prostitutes to attention-starved wives who carry on “emotional affairs” with celibate or married men.

It was some recent news that I received from a longtime acquaintance, regarding her traumatic experience of marital infidelity, that made me decide today to write this post [I wrote this draft many months ago]. She said to me, and gave me permission to share: “I told [my husband] in a text just yesterday that my trust in our love is dead.” That’s really a powerful definition of mortal sin: the sin that kills covenant love and brings death. And while the adulterous acts of sexual infidelity are gravely evil in themselves, to me it is the pain and destruction they leave in their wake in countless others’ lives that is the far more hideous crime. Like the tsunami that begins as a hidden earthquake in the dark depths of the ocean, adultery unleashes pain and uncontrollable damage in many other people’s lives.

I will share a few simple insights here today. Nothing earth shattering. These are my thoughts on how, from my own limited view, such things seem to happen. Each story I have witnessed over the years is itself unique, of course, but there are some common threads. Hopefully what I share will help someone out there to avoid these traps.


“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28).

The wisdom of Jesus’ insight into the hidden origin of adultery is profound. Adultery begins deep within, hidden in the realms of desire and the secret deliberations of the heart. Most of the cases I have witnessed originated in what is often called an “emotional affair” or an “affair of the heart.” They began with the gradual — sometimes sudden — emergence of an emotional attraction that opens out into emotional intimacy between a married person and someone else. What may begin very innocently as a compassionate conversation with someone about a personal struggle suddenly transforms into an intense feeling of vulnerability and intimacy. A new door has unexpectedly opened deep within the heart, a door that previously was only open to a spouse. His imagination and her affection have suddenly been captured by this person, and they feel thrown off balance, questioning things they never thought were possible to question: Is this really happening to me? Is this even an option?

The rush of new feelings incite fear, confusion or even a strange and forbidden excitement.

The emergence of such powerful and unplanned thoughts, feelings and desires can be terrifying. In the beginning, it might seem best to deny — even to yourself — the existence of these new and unsettling feelings. It may seem best to ignore the dire warning signs that signal a dangerous line has been crossed. Yet, how one or both parties in this emotional affair respond at this early juncture — before the point of no return — is key in determining the future course of events. To not act decisively here is as good as fully consenting to the temptation.

St. John of the Cross says that if we stop the Enemy at the gates, before he gains entry, we can easily conquer him. But, to extend his analogy, if we allow the Enemy to board our ship, he will quickly overthrow our strongholds (the emotions), blind the eyes of the captain (the intellect) and seize control of the helm of the ship (the will). Temptation, once consented to, grows in power exponentially.

In our Catholic spiritual tradition, temptation is best resisted by exercising watchfulness, guarding the heart, and exercising custody over one’s thoughts. In a word, resisting temptation requires is to be prudent. In the case of temptations to infidelity in marriage, prudence offers several very specific helps.

Prudence makes us able to recognize that marital and celibate promises do not render us miraculously immune from the desire for intimacy with a “forbidden” other. I should not be shocked when I find myself attracted to someone who is not my spouse. Not only does this reveal my humanity, but it also is a call to renew my promise of exclusive love for my spouse. In every temptation is hidden a vocation to heroism, to raise our base animal instincts up to the dignity of sons and daughters of God.

Prudence makes us ready to admit our weaknesses and limitations, to confess our need for grace and for others’ support, and to avoid all that threatens to lead me into ruinous choices.

Prudence empowers us to acknowledge that we are just as capable of succumbing to temptation as anyone else. Those who feel invulnerable and invincible, or who are naive to their own limits, are more likely to risk playing with fire, getting burned and burning others. Arrogance, presumption and naiveté all go before the fall.

Prudence makes us ready to construct wise and strong physical and emotional boundaries in our relationships with the opposite sex. I won’t text her, I won’t drink with him, I won’t be alone with him, I can’t listen to his intimate struggles because doing that makes me vulnerable to…

Prudence makes us prepared to recognize and act on any warning signs that signal a door in the heart — reserved only for my spouse — has been opened to someone else: he’s on my mind all the time, when I’m with her all I want to do is make her happy, when he’s with his wife I feel jealous.

Prudence makes us ready, when we are tempted, to seek counsel from someone with whom we can be radically honest about absolutely everything. This is a person who can also hold me accountable and help prevent me from being seduced by the allure of secrecy, of lies and of rationalizations. If you feel tempted to avoid such honesty and accountability, it’s a really bad sign.

Lastly, prudence keeps us committed to being honest and transparent with our spouse. As an older gentleman I know, who has been married for many decades, once said to me: “When you can’t look straight into your wife’s eyes when she asks you for a straight answer, something is wrong.”

Without the exercise of such prudence, one is quite certain to fall victim in temptation’s hour.

Marriages threatened by the temptation of adultery are often — but not always — beset by various life-stressors not being addressed by the couple in a healthy and consistent manner. Exhaustion, constant conflict, financial instability, emotional distance, being overwhelmed, feelings of isolation or insecurity. These, if not attended to and resolved, can render a spouse vulnerable to the entrance of a new relationship, to someone who seems able to solve or alleviate my present problems. Like young lovers blinded by infatuation, forbidden love is easily susceptible to flights of fantasy or to idealizing a person who has brought into my life something new and positive. She appreciates my humor, he thinks I am attractive, she needs me, he understands me. This “the grass is greener” mindset is exceptionally powerful as delusions go, but of course it never yields what it promises.

But the grass ain’t always greener on the other side,
It’s green where you water it.

This fantasy, if left unchecked, grows like mold in the dark. Flirtatious behavior, frequent texting, long conversations, a secret rendezvous or brief sexual encounters can quickly proliferate. Then, after one incautious decision, the secret is broken and the truth is finally revealed. Though great damage has already been done, now a second crucial moment of decision arrives. Will I face the terrible truth? Will I repent of my sins? Will I work to restore and heal what has been harmed in my marriage and family life? Or will I rationalize what I have done, harden my heart and betray the oath on which I first built my marriage and my family?

In the Garden of Agony, Jesus counseled His weary-with-grief apostles: “Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). The greatest spiritual guards against falling in temptation’s hour are prayer, devotion to the Virgin Mary, frequenting the Sacraments, especially heart-rending Confession, and relying on a community of support from those who share a commitment to the sanctity of lifelong marriage. Those who try to go it alone will fail.

And as the best defense is a good offense, a healthy marriage is the best inoculation against temptations to infidelity. A married couple must remain grounded in their love for one another. They must choose the other every day as their life’s highest priority, and embrace the inevitable trials and temptations that attend marital life as the royal road of love that alone leads to God. Being faithful to your spouse requires not just avoiding temptations to infidelity, but stoking the fires of love that God entrusted to both of you on your wedding day. The words addressed to parents and godparents at a baptism apply well to husbands and wives on the day they are married:

This fire is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. You have been set afire by Christ. May you keep the flame of love alive in your hearts. When the Lord comes, may you go out together to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom. Amen.

When I face Christ in judgment, I know the first thing He will ask me is to see my wedding ring for an inspection to see if I allowed that fire to refine its gold.

I will end with a quote from 3rd century theologian Tertullian’s letter to his own wife. Here he describes the “good offense” of a Christian marriage.

How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in home, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice … Nothing divides them either in flesh or in spirit … They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they visit God’s church and partake God’s banquet, side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another; they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts … Seeing this Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives His peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present.

An alternative to anger

This is a homily delivered by retired Archbishop of New Orleans, Alfred Hughes, on Sunday, June 5 at the Cathedral of St. Louis in New Orleans. It was a masterpiece and so I asked him if I could post it here. He graciously agreed and then worked hard to turn his handwritten notes into this complete text.

He offers here a vision of faith-in-action that has the power to change our downward devolution into a culture of anger and division into an upward evolution toward a civilization of justice and charity.

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Tenth Sunday of Year – C

Michelangelo has captured in sculpture what has to be the most poignant moment in history: the widowed Mary, trying to cradle her crucified Son, after his body had been taken down from the cross. It is called the Pietà. (faithful devotion) Today’s Sacred Scripture focuses on two experiences of widowed mothers’ facing the death of their sons. Elijah was staying in the home of a pagan widow in Sarepta. Her son became deathly ill. He was given up for dead. Elijah restored him to full health.

In the Gospel, Jesus encountered the widow of Naim whose son had died earlier in the day and was about to be buried according to Jewish law before sun-down. Jesus intervened and with a word restored her son to life and to his mother.

Is it too much of a stretch to suggest that our country is like a widow who has lost a son? Our country, often symbolized by the woman depicted in the Statue of Liberty, seems to be widowed, cut off from our founding fathers. And now her children seem to have lost the life, liberty and happiness which that marriage once promised.

Our leading politicians have tapped into an angry reaction. And so we are led to believe that is the best we can do. Perhaps, we need to turn to angels of light rather than those of darkness. I propose today the inspiring memory of a New Orleanian woman, a widow who lost a child and provides an alternative vision. I speak of Margaret Haughery. She was born Margaret Gaffney in County Leitrim Ireland in 1813. At five years of age, her parents embarked on a perilous six month ocean voyage to America in the hope of escaping the dire poverty in which they lived.

They arrived in Baltimore in 1818. Within four years she lost both her parents to yellow fever.

As an orphan, she never received any formal education. She could not read or write. At twenty-one she married a sickly Irish man, named Charles Haughery. They moved to New Orleans in the hope that the southern climate would be more favorable to his health. But within a year, she lost bother her husband and her new born child, Frances. This plunged her into depression.

Margaret’s parish priest urged her to consider volunteering at an orphanage, run by the Sisters of Charity, in addition to her work as a laundress in a hotel, to help counteract her depression. She quickly fell in love with the orphans. But she realized that the orphans and even the sisters often went without milk and bread for sustenance.

Margaret gave up her job as a laundress and with her meager savings bought a cow, and then a second. She began a dairy that provided milk for the orphans. She would peddle her milk from a cart to cover her costs and give the rest to the orphanage.

As her business grew, she made enough money to buy a bakery. Then she began to sell both milk and bread so that she could have enough to supply her orphans with free milk and bread. This illiterate woman became a successful entrepreneur in order to feed her beloved orphans.
Not only did she feed the children at St. Vincent’s Orphanage, but she founded four orphanages of her own to take care of the children orphaned by the Civil War and the yellow fever plague which ensued thereafter. The despised Northern General Butler, who oversaw Reconstruction in New Orleans, allowed only one person free access to the city: Margaret Haughery.

When she died on February 9, 1882, Margaret, Mother of New Orleans’ orphans received a state funeral, presided over by Archbishop Perché. This simple woman, who owned only two dresses, one for work and one for Sunday, left all she had to the orphans of New Orleans, black or white, Jewish, Protestant or Catholic.

Yes, there is an alternative to anger: strong, creative love, resistant to darkness and open to the light. Margaret Haughery was an heroic woman who let the light of Christ shine through her.

Isn’t that our call – yours and mine?

Confessing others’ sins

Dear readers, Let me again confess my regret that so many of these posts are riddled with misspellings and all manner of grammar faux pas.

Re-post 2015

Detraction is, without objectively valid reason, disclosing another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them. — Catechism #2477

I was listening to Catholic radio a few weeks ago to an interview with a woman who was a fallen away, but now returned Catholic. She recounted the sordid details of her two failed marriages and some of the history of abuse in her family of origin. Part of her story was disclosing the misdeeds of various people in her life who had hurt or failed her, including family members, clergy and especially one of the men she had divorced. I winced as I thought of those people she was, with good intent, exposing to the light. Bad means to a good end.

As Evangelical-style testimonials of sin and repentance have become more prevalent in U.S. Catholic culture, the temptation to engage in detraction has also escalated. Whether in teaching, preaching, witness talks or autobiographical memoirs, people seem to feel more and more free to say dreadful, shameful and embarrassing things in public about other identifiable people. This includes recounting, often in graphic detail, the hurtful, immoral, abusive, stupid, reckless words and deeds of parents, siblings, spouses, coworkers, clergy or friends. While it can make for riveting and compelling storytelling, seeming on the surface to be a sign of personal authenticity (“keeping it real”) or a healthy form of “catharsis,” it fails to consider the great cost at which these goods are obtained; or the potential damage such revelations can effect in others’ lives. “Disclosing another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them,” as an act of testimony to God’s amazing grace, is too often done without an objectively valid reason.

We live in a pathologically voyeuristic and gossipy culture that is largely unconcerned whether or not damaging information about other people’s “faults and failings” should be revealed in public. Christians must judge whether or not disclosing another’s sins, weaknesses or failings (be they living or dead) is required and demanded (or at the very least, permitted) by justice or charity. The late Fr. John Hardon offered some useful criteria for judging if revealing another’s faults, whether those people be living or dead, is warranted:

The essence of detraction is the unwarranted disclosure of a hidden failing, which implies that there are occasions when the disclosure can and even should be made. When the revelation of another person’s fault is necessary or very useful, as in defense of self or of others, no injustice is done in revealing it. This would be the case when the failing or defect is made known to parents, or superiors, or for the purpose of seeking counsel or help, or to prevent harm to others. It is also not detraction to make known what has become legally and publicly notorious, since the culprit has lost his right to esteem in the matter. It is conducive to public security that criminals should be known for what they are. However, since one’s reputation may reflect upon a group like an organization or class of people, criminal acts of a single member of that group should not be widely disclosed so as not to jeopardize the reputation of all the persons with whom this one individual is commonly identified. Indiscriminate disclosure of this kind is the seedbed of class prejudice.

Detraction and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one’s neighbor. Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity.

Detraction also applies to more private contexts of disclosure where another’s faults and failings are revealed to another without proper warrant. Again, the rule of thumb is to ask yourself: Am I required by justice or charity to make known these dark details. If I cannot speak this sentence in all sincerity and truth, it’s probably best not to share damaging information: “I want to tell you this information about Person X for their own welfare and salvation, for your benefit and the benefit of others, and for the glory of God.”

He came Down, from heaven

[as often is the case, I embedded a video here which cannot be viewed in emailed version]

I had a conversation with someone last summer about their son with Down Syndrome. They live in a large city in the U.S. and they shared with me the difficulties they’ve had finding any significant assistance in the public school system for children with Down Syndrome. While there were many offerings for children with Autism, there was almost nothing available for their son. They puzzled and agonized for a long time.

By chance they found out about a pediatrician who specializes in working with Down children. During their first appointment, they mentioned to the doctor their frustrations with finding public or private school support for their son. The doctor said to them very bluntly, “The reason is clear and tragic: most Down Syndrome children never see the light of day.” The stats are clear: most children with Down Syndrome are aborted after their genetic abnormality is discovered through prenatal testing. “When he said it,” the father said, “I felt nauseous. I thought of my son. What a beautiful gift he is. How helpless he is. He’s taught my wife and me the meaning of sacrificial love. Special needs children remind us of what it really means to be human.”

David Bentley Hart has a remarkable reflection on the vision of humanity Christianity “invented.” It’s a vision of life so extraordinary that God had to break into history and reveal it to us in Jesus, shattering our hardened hearts. It can be said that the whole economy of salvation exists to bring this vision into the world. The Church, which is a God-knit community of re-created men and women, exists to build a new culture amid the ruins of the old, a culture in which the destruction of the disadvantaged or disabled would be absolutely inconceivable. Hart:

The more vital and essential victory of Christianity lay in the strange, impractical, altogether unworldly tenderness of the moral intuitions it succeeded in sowing in human consciences. If we find ourselves occasionally shocked by how casually ancient men and women destroyed or ignored lives we would think ineffably precious, we would do well to reflect that theirs was-in purely pragmatic terms-a more “natural” disposition toward reality. It required an extraordinary moment of awakening in a few privileged souls, and then centuries of the relentless and total immersion of culture in the Christian story, to make even the best of us conscious of (or at least able to believe in) the moral claim of all other persons upon us, the splendor and irreducible dignity of the divine humanity within them, that depth within each of them that potentially touches upon the eternal.

In the light of Christianity’s absolute law of charity, we came to see what formerly we could not: the autistic or Down syndrome or otherwise disabled child, for instance, for whom the world can remain a perpetual perplexity, which can too often cause pain but perhaps only vaguely and fleetingly charm or delight; the derelict or wretched or broken man or woman who has wasted his or her life away; the homeless, the utterly impoverished, the diseased, the mentally ill, the physically disabled; exiles, refugees, fugitives; even criminals and reprobates. To reject, turn away from, or kill any or all of them would be, in a very real sense, the most purely practical of impulses.

To be able, however, to see in them not only something of worth but indeed something potentially godlike, to be cherished and adored, is the rarest and most ennoblingly unrealistic capacity ever bred within human souls. To look on the child whom our ancient ancestors would have seen as somehow unwholesome or as a worthless burden, and would have abandoned to fate, and to see in him or her instead a person worthy of all affection-resplendent with divine glory, ominous with an absolute demand upon our consciences, evoking our love and our reverence-is to be set free from mere elemental existence, and from those natural limitations that pre-Christian persons took to be the very definition of reality.

And only someone profoundly ignorant of history and of native human inclinations could doubt that it is only as a consequence of the revolutionary force of Christianity within our history, within the very heart of our shared nature, that any of us can experience this freedom. We deceive ourselves also, however, if we doubt how very fragile this vision of things truly is: how elusive this truth that only charity can know, how easily forgotten this mystery that only charity can penetrate.

All of which, as I take leave of this phase of my argument, raises certain questions for me. A civilization, it seems obvious, is only as great or as wonderful as the spiritual ideals that animate it; and Christian ideals have shown themselves to be almost boundless in cultural fertility and dynamism. And yet, as the history of modernity shows, the creativity of these ideals can, in certain times and places, be exhausted, or at least subdued, if social and material circumstances cease to be propitious for them. I cannot help but wonder, then, what remains behind when Christianity’s power over culture recedes?

Calluses and dusty prayer

A truly humble person ought to be ashamed to resent whatever is said or done against him; for it is the greatest shame in the world to see that our Creator bears so many insults from His creatures, and that we resent even a little word that is contradictory. – St. Teresa of Avila

My spiritual director back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s was the most important mentor I have had in my life. He walked me through the “valley of the shadow of death,” and helped me discover hope. And he was a saintly priest who exemplified charity and humility in the most amazing ways.

He was a parish priest whose first love was being a pastor. Part of his priestly ministry in the latter years of his life was to take into his rectory priests who had grown bitter or burned out, and love them back to life. * Every morning, when I would stay overnight at his rectory, I would see him already praying in the tiny rectory chapel at 5:00 a.m. Often he would be holding the parish directory, which he kept next to his Breviary to pray for his parishioners by name. * It was his personal philosophy to not own a car that was better than those owned by his poorest parishioners. * I was with him once when he got pulled over by a cop for speeding. The officer offered to waive his traffic violation ticket when he noticed he was a priest. He said, “No, I’m a priest not a prince. Why should I get any perks my people do not?” I think the cop got choked up. He followed through with that philosophy through on everything. * He would wander around the neighborhoods of his parish territory several mornings a week and enter bars, clothing stores, restaurants, car repair shops — the haunts of his people — and speak with them, joke with them, bless them, hear their confessions on the spot or gently ask them why they have not been at church recently. Long before Catholics Come Home, he was already in the streets seeking the strays. * Once he said to me about his own prayer life, devoid of sweetness, “Tom, I have eaten dust in my prayer for 20 years. But [he said with a wry smile] it’s my own fault. I pray each day that God give me the grace ‘to give and not to count the cost,’ and He answered my prayer. Be ready when you ask for a grace to receive it.”

Though his prayer may have been bitter, the fruits born in his life and ministry were sweeter than honey. What a marvelous and mysterious exchange love effects! Long before Pope Francis, he was a missionary of mercy. It was all a wonder to see.

I would write down his aphorisms in my journal to pray on later. So many! Each was like open heart surgery. Let me share four today that were on humility.

Remember Tom that once you think you’re humble, you’ve lost it. Humility forgets it’s even there.

The best litmus test of humility is how you take criticism. Yes, you’re so humble, Tom, when everyone praises you, likes you, affirms you. Yes, you deflect those things. But if you are honest, you know you secretly feed on them. But the moment someone criticizes you, disapproves of your behavior or opinion, you throw up walls, protests. You’ll know you’re humble when praise and blame are both equally welcome. In the mean time, make your lack of humility a cause for humility!

When I came to my parish here, the secretary, who had been here for over 20 years, gave me this advice: “Father, let the people know no job is to low for you and you’ll have their trust. Let them see you clean toilets now and again.” There’s a terrible clerical saying — “These hands were made for chalices not calluses.” But Jesus, His hands would have been hard and worn.

Whenever anyone compliments you on any one of your gifts or talents, say to yourself: “How much God must love them to give me these gifts.” Because it’s not about you, Tom.

The Law of Love


I remember the day when I first heard love defined. I always imagined it was one of those fuzzy things that evaded definition.

It happened in my moral theology class. The professor, as I recalled in my journal, was responding to this question from a student: “In what sense can morality be said to be the science and art of love? The moral law seems too cold for love.” He replied by making a number of points about love:

Love means to consistently will and otherwise choose the true good of another, and morality specifies what the good is and how best to bring it about. Aquinas says it this way, “An act of love always tends toward two things: to the good that one wills, and to the person for whom one wills it; since to love a person is to wish that person good.” Law, which is the concrete expression of the demands of justice, grounds and guards love, and points the way “beyond” for love to go, since love always goes beyond justice, though never against it … To “love your neighbor as yourself” means you see their flourishing as your own. So St. Paul’s commands us in Romans 12, “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” and then tells us in 1 Corinthians 12, “If one member of Christ’s Body suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” And the Jews have a saying, “If you save one life you save the whole world” — because everyone’s salvation demands the salvation of all … But fulfilling the command to love God is somewhat different. It cannot mean willing and choosing His fulfillment, as He is purely actualized fulfillment. He always is everything He can be. Rather, to love God can only mean loving what God loves, willing what He wills. Which is, of course, the fulfillment of our neighbor, which brings us back full circle to the two commandments Jesus tells us are two halves of a whole.

I was absolutely ecstatic to have such conceptual clarity, and so much seemed to suddenly make sense. The connection between love and the moral law, love of neighbor and self, and love of God — all part of a symphonic unity. Christians must reclaim the word love so it does not remain simply an empty cipher susceptible to any meaning given it, and they must put it into action in their lives to show just how beautiful it is.

He went on to add an additional insight on love. He said, “The Second Vatican Council, under the influence of Karol Wojtyła, further enriched our understanding of love. He said that love is not simply the detached willing another’s good, external to ourselves, but the offering of the very gift of self to another.” Then he quoted Gaudium et Spes #24, adding that Wojtyła likely was a major inspiration behind its language:

For this reason, love for God and neighbor is the first and greatest commandment. Sacred Scripture, however, teaches us that the love of God cannot be separated from love of neighbor: “If there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself…. Love therefore is the fulfillment of the Law” (Rom. 13:9-10; cf. 1 John 4:20). To men growing daily more dependent on one another, and to a world becoming more unified every day, this truth proves to be of paramount importance.

Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, “that all may be one. . . as we are one” (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God’s sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.

Then he quoted 1 Thess. 2:8: “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves [tas heautōn psychas], because you had become very dear to us.” That’s the essential meaning of communion and covenant: an exchange of selves offered in love sealed by a promise of trusting fidelity. It’s why marriage — as I often say — is the foundation of all social and ecclesial life, and the primordial icon of neighbor love in extremis, “in its most extreme form.” Society and the Church flourish only when marriage, and the family life built on it, flourishes.

Back in January a friend came to visit us from out of town for a few days and she showed us this 9 minute movie that knocked our socks off. It captures in such a moving way the heart of what Aquinas and Wojtyła convey with such abstract precision. I posted it the other day, but just in case you did not watch it before, I encourage you to watch it now. Again, it’s about 9 minutes long:

The Duty to Smile

Repost 2014

“Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.” — Bl. Teresa of Calcutta

Here’s some advice I got many years ago from my grandfather, purveyor of wisdom and writer of handwritten letters to his young grandson:

…One of the most important things you will do every day of your life is leave the world a better place than you found it. If you can say at the end of each day you lightened someone’s burden, you can say more than most. Our world has come to worship the Ego, the unholy trinity of me, my and mine. “I” is the new Tower of Babel. But you have to be better, Tommy. Take the road less traveled … You’ll always have reasons to complain or be bitter. Save those for God or a trusted friend. Don’t poison the air. Be known as “that man who lifts you up” and not as “that man who brings you down.” … Cynics take pleasure in dashing others’ hope to medicate their own misery and despair, for misery does love company. But the wise man takes pleasure in helping others exit the Cave of shadows to find hope … To make the world better you don’t have to feel like making it better. Just do better. You’ll get it back a hundredfold … Helping others find their way you possess a wealth far surpassing self-esteem. You possess self-respect …

When I recently read this article on the Jewish Talmud by Dennis Prager, I found the resonance remarkable…

As the Talmud tells us, “It is not the thought that counts, but the deed.”

This is truly a Jewish idea. I first realized this many years ago when a non-Jewish middle-aged caller to my radio show sorrowfully related to me that he thought he was a terrible son. He explained that for the previous 10 years he had been the sole financial and emotional support of his ailing mother — and sometimes, he confided to me, the burden was so heavy that he wished she would finally succumb to her illnesses.

When I told him that I thought he was one of the most wonderful sons I had ever had the honor of speaking to, he thought I was mocking him. He couldn’t believe that I was serious. But I was. I explained to him that it is completely irrelevant what he sometimes feels or wishes. What matters is how beautifully he has acted toward his mother all these years.

This should be the guiding principle of our views on virtually every subject.

The self-esteem movement has largely been a moral and emotional disaster. It was produced by people who, among other mistaken ideas, believed that feelings were more important than actions. Thus, no matter how little children may accomplish, they are still to be rewarded with medals, trophies, lavish praise, etc. The result is that they deem how they feel about themselves as being of greater importance than how they act.

In a math competition with students from other industrialized democracies, American students came in last. But they came in first in self-esteem about their knowledge of math. And the prominent criminologist and professor of psychology, Roy Baumeister, has often noted that no group has higher self-esteem than violent criminals.

The Torah commands us to tithe our income. Neither the Torah nor later Judaism ever cared whether our heart is in it. We are commanded to give whether or not we feel like giving. Tzedakah — which is translated as “charity,” but it is in fact the feminine form of “justice” — helps the needy. And people who are in need prefer to receive $100 from one who feels religiously obligated to give, rather than than $5 from one whose heart prompts him to give $5.

In decades of lecturing, writing and broadcasting on the subject of happiness, my two central premises have come from this Jewish teaching that behavior is what matters most. The first premise is that if we act happy, we are far more likely to feel happy. The second is that we all owe everyone in our lives not to inflict our unhappy feelings on them. With few exceptions, no matter how we feel, we have a moral obligation to act with a happy disposition.

For whatever reason, this is the song that comes to mind now — below the video are the lyrics:

Here under heaven’s eyes
Down under paradise
Sometimes it seems like we’re so small
Here on the shores that reach into infinity

How could we matter much at all?
Would it be enough
If each of us would give our love?

Like sand on a mountain
Rain on a fountain
Shade on a shadow
A breeze in this tornado

Just do what you can
Clap with one hand
And shine all your light in the sun
We live to learn to love

Oh, mercy from above
Amazing grace, like rain comes falling down
We sing our hearts to you
Our song of gratitude

The voice of every soul
How sweet the sound
We can only trust
All our prayers will all add up

Like sand on a mountain
Rain on a fountain
Shade on a shadow
A breeze in this tornado

Just do what you can
Clap with one hand
And shine all your light in the sun
Would it be enough

If each of us would give our love?
Like sand on a mountain
Rain on a fountain
Shade on a shadow
A breeze in this tornado

Just do what you can
Clap with one hand
And shine all your light in the sun