What Your Body Is Telling You That You Should Know

By Matt Boettger (redaction of original column published on February 2009 in the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center Sunday Bulletin and Matt's personal blog)

Over the course of nearly eight years of campus ministry, I have begun to see a couple common threads with relationships deemed “unhealthy” or “complicated."  The first common thread may be be expressed as the complication of being unevenly yoked (cf. 2 Cor. 6.14-16), and the second thread revolves around an exaggerated fear of “hurting the other.”  I would like to address the unevenly yoked complication first.

I began dating a non-Catholic girl during my first year of seminary at an evangelical college.  While the relationship was great in a number of ways, it also was very difficult as we obviously did not see eye-to-eye regarding each other’s beliefs.  My awakening to the gravity of this disagreement came from my father.  Speaking to him one day about my relationship he said, “Son, marriage is a difficult vocation as it is. If you see your relationship worth the additional level of difficulty due to your conflicting beliefs then go for it.  However, just remember that this will in fact be an additional cross to bear.”  From that moment on I took a very different approach to courtship.  I knew that my Catholic faith was the center of my life, and I deemed it necessary that I find someone who shared that intense love for the Catholic Church that I had.

St. Paul calls each of us to a similar discernment as we approach relationships (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-16).  A positive way to express St. Paul’s desire for us not to be unevenly yoked is to say that we ought to strive to find someone who shares the same spiritual foundation we have.  While it is important to find someone whom we enjoy and have fun with, such a reality may fair poorly in times of trial when unsupported by a firmer and deeper common faith.  I want to be clear that I am not saying that unevenly yoked relationships are doomed to failure, but rather that such relationships offer unique hardships that evenly yoked ones do not.

St. Paul offers us a reason for this warning that I find quite profound, and ironically the reason is presented in his brief treatment of celibacy.  In 1 Cor. 7:32-38, the apostle expresses his concern for those who choose the married life.  The chief concern is that those who marry may have increased anxiety over the fact that they must split their time between God and family.  The celibate person, on the other hand, has the opportunity to live a deeper “inner integrity” since he (or she) does not have to live dividedly.  This is why St. Paul appeals to the goodness of celibacy over marriage.  He does so NOT because he believes marriage is bad, but because he personally sees a temptation in marriage to become divided in heart.  Ultimately, Paul leaves it up to the individual to discern their proper gift from God whether that be the vocation of marriage or celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom.

If it is true that marriage lends itself to the danger of a “divided heart” then we must do what we can to prevent such an occasion of pain. I have encountered many relationships both married and unmarried alike who suffer from wounds caused by this divided heart.  Often times, one or both feel as if they have compromised their own integrity so as to keep peace in the relationship.  Unfortunately, such actions can lead to spite, regret and even resentment which further hurts the relationship.  However, if we seek another who shares our same Catholic foundation, we quickly bridge the gap between God and the spouse, offering the opportunity for a marriage that nearly shares the great inner integrity inherent to celibacy. I recognize that this column does not address those who have already married into such a relationship stated above.  Unfortunately, such a topic must be saved for a later time.

The second common thread deals with the phrase I hear from students “stuck” in an unhealthy relationship.  When pressed why they continue the relationship, they often say, “I can’t break up with him/her because I don’t want to hurt him/her.” I have to admit that I have often said the exact same thing.  I have come to suspect that behind the altruistic phrase is actually a sense of profound guilt and shame.  Upon further inquiry I have discovered that nearly everyone who had shared such a sentiment also had been living a physical relationship beyond that of their own personal convictions about the relationship.  In other words, their bodies were writing checks their person was not willing to cash.  Behind the altruistic desire not to hurt the other in the relationship was a deep seated guilt based on the truth that they had been expressing ideas through their body (sexually) that they themselves were not ready to commit to personally.  Breaking up with the other would only reveal the duplicity presented between their personal and physical commitment.  This is what I have commonly seen behind the whole exaggerated emphasis on the fear of hurting the other.

Of course, there are those who simply have a healthy fear of hurting the other that increases to paralyzing implications.  To those who struggle with this fear, I offer a powerful quote from none other than C.S. Lewis: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket -- safe, dark, motionless, airless -- it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable...The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of and perturbations of love is Hell” (The Four Loves).

The remedy to both these contemporary difficulties among students is quite simple.  If we are convicted to the heart about our Catholic faith, we ought to strive to find someone who is also deeply convicted to the heart about their Catholic faith.  In so doing, we create an atmosphere of external integration. Furthermore, if we desire a healthy relationship that is free from exaggerated fears then let us work to love more purely, to love in such way that our bodies speak the same language as our person.  In so doing, we create an atmosphere of internal integration.  May we all strive to live more authentic and integrated lives for we can do all things in Christ!

Lessons From a Modern Day Saint

By Scott Powell

On October 7, 1990, an Italian teenager, Blessed Chiara Luca Badano took her last breath on earth at 18 years old. When Pope Benedict XVI beatified her only 20 years later, she became the first official Saint of Generation X. 

Blessed Chiara was one of those kids that everyone loved. She was beautiful, good at sports, had friends all around her, and liked to hang out in coffee shops. In many ways, she reminds me of our students here at the Thomas Center. I can almost see her hanging out in one of the coffee shops on the Hill in Boulder. Except that, Blessed Chiara was different. In 1987, while playing tennis, she collapsed from an overwhelming pain in her shoulder. The pain turned out to be a disease called osteogenic sarcoma—a form of bone cancer—that would soon take her life.

Before that life came to an end however, Blessed Chiara began to change the world. Friends and family would frequently visit the hospital to try to comfort and cheer her up, but it didn’t work. Chiara didn’t really need cheering. Instead, she radiated a joy and light that her debilitating sickness couldn’t extinguish. Her friends and family left their visits uplifted and inspired by Chiara, not the other way around. She would take long walks with, listen to, and comfort others in the hospital who were suffering—despite the pain from the debilitating growth on her spine. At one point, Cardinal Giovanni Saldarini, the Archbishop of Turin, heard about this incredible teen and came to visit. “The light in your eyes is splendid,” he told Chiara,  “Where does it come from?” With her trademark smile, she replied,  “I try to love Jesus as much as I can.”

So what does Blessed Chiara have to teach us today? I believe we can glean two important things from her life and death. First, Blessed Chiara—one of the first Saints of whom we can find plenty of vibrant, full color photos of (just do a Google search)—shows us that sainthood is not some distant reality. It’s achievable. It’s livable. When I look at pictures of Chiara, I can imagine her hanging out in the St. Thomas Aquinas Student Center. Sainthood is not a faded, dog-eared holy card. It’s a 17-year-old girl playing tennis; sipping a cappuccino; giving her life, breath and every movement back to God. Sainthood is seeing holiness in the stuff of everyday life. It’s doable; it’s attainable, and Blessed Chiara shows us that.

The second thing that Blessed Chiara shows us is that suffering is not meaningless. In the last few weeks, the Internet has exploded with debates about doctor-assisted suicide, and what it means to “die with dignity”. For Blessed Chiara, her joy, radiance, and embodiment of grace in the face of suffering from a terminal disease literally changed the lives of the people around her. In the end, suffering by itself means nothing. However, when that suffering is united with Christ on the cross, it can change the world.

In February, the Aquinas Institute for Catholic Thought will host its eighth annual “Great Debate.” This year we will be discussing the topic of doctor-assisted suicide. I expect that I’ll spend a good deal of time praying to Blessed Chiara as we prepare for this important event. We will all face a great deal of suffering in our lives—one way or another. I see it in our students. I see it in the faces of the tens of thousands of students at CU Boulder, many of whom have never heard of the hope of Jesus Christ. The mission of the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center is to change that, and it’s working. Would that we could all face the suffering of our lives with the words of Blessed Chiara after waking up from a particularly excruciating night at the height of her illness: “I suffered a lot, but my soul was singing.”

Ephesus and Boulder

By Scott Powell (Originally printed in the Buffalo Catholic, Winter, 2014)

Living in Boulder is a tricky business. 

In many ways, I’m reminded of St. Paul’s time in the ancient Roman city of Ephesus. In it’s heyday, Ephesus was one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire. It was also the cultic center for what we might nowadays call “new age” spirituality.  It was the home a massive temple built to the goddess Artemis, a building so beautiful, it was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  Of course, with prominent pagan temples in the ancient world also came great sexual decadence. The temple banquet halls were usually the place for overeating, drinking and sexual sin.

So, in other words, Ephesus was known for “new age” spirituality, beautiful surroundings, drinking, partying, and sexual sin. Sound familiar? In many ways, life in Ephesus really does sound a bit like life in our beloved Boulder.

When I first decided to come back to work in my hometown as Director of Scriptural Theology here at St. Thomas Aquinas about a year and a half ago, some of my Catholic colleagues poked a bit of fun at me. They wondered why I would want to leave the relatively green pastures of comfortably teaching the faith to faithful, committed Catholics for the challenges of trying to bring a candle of light into the often-dark corners of CU and Boulder at large.

The reason was that I knew the end of the story.

I knew that when St. Paul came to Ephesus, he stayed there for three years—longer than he stayed in any of the other New Testament Churches. I also knew that he left the Church in Ephesus in the hands of Timothy—his best, and most trusted friend and student. I also knew that St. John and the Blessed Virgin Mary moved to Ephesus, and that Mary spent her final earthly days there. Imagine! This city, which was home to the greatest occult movement in the world, to binge drinking, to partying, to sexual sin and spiritual confusion, was also the home of St. Paul, St. Timothy, St. Apollos, St. John, and the Blessed Mother! What a parish they must have had! Ephesus was important to the biggest super-stars of the early Church—just as Boulder is to us.  And for the students I’ve met at the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center, the Church is important to them.

What has perhaps impressed me most about the students at St. Thomas Aquinas is that they’re not on the defensive. They’re not looking for a fight. St. Paul and the early Church knew that they had the remedy for the ills of a broken world, and understood that if the truth of Jesus Christ could be heard—really heard, that it would change lives every time. Students at CU are looking for an encounter. They’re not looking for a fight; they’re looking for truth—desperately in many cases! In some small way, the students at St. Thomas Aquinas are on the forefront of a revolution; peacefully, resiliently, profoundly and articulately bringing their faith onto campus. They are engaging their classmates, their professors, and their friends with the truth of the Gospel—and they’re changing lives.  

In some ways, it still feels like the frontier in Boulder. Living and teaching the Catholic faith here can be dangerous. There is criticism. There is anger. There are people who have felt hurt by a Church they didn’t understand or which was misrepresented to them. But seeing the lives of our students changed by being part of the life of the Church is worth any risk, and in the end, I’m grateful to be a small part of a new mission to a new Ephesus.