Marriage Missionaries: Three walks

Matt and Mindy Dalton

In 1971, at seven years old, my family lived in a tent for the summer — as my dad fulfilled a longtime dream of building his own home.   Camping at Cherry Creek State Park was an adventure for me and my three siblings.  New people coming and going, with us wondering if the new campers had any kids.  Our days were spent hanging around the cool reservoir to soothe the hot summer days, and most evenings ended with camp fires crackling and acoustic guitars playing us to sleep. One night we were awakened by lightning and claps of thunder that rumbled the ground we slept on – trees sounding as though they could fall as the wind violently blew.  Dad scrambled outside to secure the canvas windows of the tent.  Breathing hard, he leapt back through the opening as giant raindrops began to pound our tent.  Within minutes, it was raining in torrents and our homey camp site was turning into a pond.  Mom and Dad snatched us and we took shelter in the car.

Reflecting on that era, there was a much larger storm raging: the sexual revolution.  Dr. Peter Kreeft, in “How to Win the Culture War” states, “Every single issue today which there is dissent in the Church is about sex; feminism, inclusive language, contraception, masturbation, homosexuality, abortion, fornication, divorce and re-marriage and the various clergy scandals.”  All of this can be daunting, as we have no idea where all of this is taking us.

Fast forward to 1993.  I, along with half a million people from around the world, flooded Cherry Creek State Park.  Sleeping bags and backpacks were spread out all over the ground, with people for as far as you could see full of joy and, yes, acoustic guitars –  singing praise and worship songs in every language known to man.  This extraordinary event was where I met the witness to hope: Pope John Paul II.

As we at Marriage Missionaries work with couples to help them to re-discover the joy of marriage and family life, we have come to discover that a large majority of individuals never received a consistent, glorious and magnificent vision of God’s plan for sexuality.  For generations there has been very little discussion in our homes about sexuality, and difficulty following God’s prescription for a healthy marriage.  We are left to figure out on our own the God-given hungers of our hearts.  From the culture, what we learn only brings enormous confusion.

JP II’s Theology of the Body is a deep, prayerful biblical study that boldly reminds each of us what it means to be human.  He revolutionized the idea that sex is not first a “verb,” something that we do.  Rather, sex is something that we are, male and female, made in the image and likeness of the Word who became flesh – Jesus Christ.  A way out of this cultural tsunami is through the eyes of St. John Paul II.

Read “The Theology of the Body for Beginners” by Christopher West, and let its beauty echo in your heart.  Then take a walk in Cherry Creek State Park or some other park this Spring; see, listen and catch the scent of God’s creation; flowers in bloom with aroma to attract bees for pollination, nests of new birds chirping with new life.  Ponder your own experience of life and love, what it means to be a man or a woman with eternal dignity.  Receive God’s love through this magnificent teaching.  Ask yourself, “How can I better live out this love?”  Walking as a beloved disciple of Jesus Christ, ask, “How can I share this love with my family and beyond?”

COMING UP: Navigating major cultural challenges

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We’re navigating through a true rock and a hard place right now: moral relativism and the oversaturation of technology. In fact, they are related. Moral relativism leaves us without a compass to discern the proper use of technology. And technological oversaturation leads to a decreased ability to think clearly about what matters most and how to achieve it.

Fortunately, we have some Odysseus-like heroes to guide our navigation. Edward Sri’s book Who Am I to Judge?: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love (Augustine Institute, 2017) provides a practical guide for thinking through the moral life and how to communicate to others the truth in love. Christopher Blum and Joshua Hochschild take on the second challenge with their book A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction (Sophia, 2017).

Sri’s book describes conversations that have become quite common. When discussing moral issues, we hear too often, “this is true for me,” “I feel this is right,” or “who am I to judge?” We are losing our ability both to think about and discuss moral problems in a coherent fashion. Morality has become an expression of individual and subjective feeling, rather than clear reasoning based on the truth. In fact, many, or even most, young people would say there is no clear truth when it comes to morality—the very definition of relativism.

Beyond this inability to reason clearly, Christians also face pressure to remain silent in the face of immoral action, shamed into a corner with the label of bigotry. In response to our moral crisis, Sri encourages us to learn more about our own great tradition of morality focused on virtue and happiness. He also provides excellent guidance on how to engage others in a loving conversation to help them consider that our actions relate not only to our own fulfillment, but to our relationships with others.

Sri points out that it’s hard to “win” an argument with relativists, because “relativistic tendencies are rooted in various assumptions they have absorbed from the culture an in habits of thinking and living they have formed over a lifetime” (13). Rather than “winning,” Sri advises us to accompany others through moral and spiritual growth with seven keys, described in the second half of the book. These keys help us to see others through the heart of Christ, with mercy, and to reframe discussions about morality, turning more toward love and addressing underlying wounds. Ultimately, he asks us, “will you be Jesus?” to those struggling with relativism. (155).

Blum and Hochschild’s book complements Sri’s by focusing on the virtues we need to address our cultural challenges. They point to another common concern we all face: a “crisis of attention” as our minds wander, preoccupied with social media (2). More positively, they encourage us to “be consoled” as “there are remedies” to help us “regain an ordered and peaceful mind, which thinks more clearly and attends more steadily” (ibid.). The path they point out can be found in a virtuous and ordered life guided by wisdom.

To achieve peace, we need virtues and other good habits, which create order within us. “With order, our attention is focused, directed, clear, trustworthy, and fruitful” (10). The book encourages us to rediscover fundamental realities of life, such as being attune to our senses and to aspire to higher and noble things. The authors, with the help of the saints, provide a guidebook to forming important dispositions to overcome the addiction and distraction that come with the omnipresence of media and technology.

The book’s chapters address topics such as self-awareness, steadfastness, resilience, watchfulness, creativity, purposefulness, and decisiveness.  These dispositions will create order in how we use our tools and within our inner faculties. They will help us to be more intentional in our action so that we do not succumb to passivity and distraction.  Overall, the book leads us to consider how we can rediscover simple and profound realities, such as a good conversation, periods of silence, and a rightly ordered imagination.

Both books help us to navigate our culture, equipping us to respond more intentionally to the interior and exterior challenges we face.