A case in point: the collect from Saturday after Ash Wednesday. You may have prayed the following prayer:
Look upon our weakness
and reach out to help us with your loving power.
We ask this.....
In the prayer the Lord reaches out with his loving power to strengthen us in our weakness. You may be surprised to find out that the original sense of the Latin prayer is much more militaristic than this. The sense of spiritual battle is much stronger:
Omnipotens, sempiterne Deus, infirmitatem nostram propitius respice, atque ad protegendum nos dexteram tuae maiestatis extende. Per Dominum....
Almighty and eternal God, look down with favor upon our weakness, and extend the right hand of your majesty to protect us. Through our Lord....
I won't harp on the fact that "All-powerful, eternal God" becomes "Lord," or that "propitius" isn't really translated, unless it is in the word "loving." What I want to focus on is that it is the right arm of the majesty of God (biblically, a military phrase--the right arm holds the sword) that protects us in our weakness. He fights for us because we are too weak to fight ourselves. Sometimes our weakness prevents us from doing on our own what needs to be done to save us from our enemy, so Christ, the right arm of God, comes to conquer the enemy by standing in the breach, so to speak. This is the classic doctrine of spiritual combat. It is why we were encouraged to wear scapulars and sprinkle holy water on our houses. The idea that we will be made strong enough through a purely interior act of grace to resist the devil in this life is naive. A sick person needs protection while he is healing.
I think this principle of the spiritual life is what is behind one of David Schindler's criticisms of Christopher West. Schindler thinks that West is too optimistic about the ability of men in this life to overcome the distortion of our response to women that original and personal sin have caused.
This weekend I went to the Men of Christ conference in Milwaukee. Three thousand men gathered in the beautiful Milwaukee Theater to be encouraged and to encourage one another, to repent and to worship.
One of the main speakers was Christopher West. I have posted on him before here and here on this blog and here and here on HMS Weblog. As I've said before, his actual teaching does not offend me; it seems like a reasonable patristic reading of the relationship between human sexuality and the history of salvation. He said many of the same things for which he has been criticized, including the reference to Hugh Hefner as rightly rejecting a puritanical, dualistic approach to sexuality. Once again, I was neither offended, nor did I find anything problematic. It helped that it was all men (although I was a little uneasy about the presence of the two women who were signing for the deaf).
On the other hand, I am a trained theologian. I am quite aware of the analogous nature of the comparison of human sexuality to our spiritual life, something that Fr. Richard Hogan has made clear (see the first of the HMS Weblog posts above). If I were a man in the padded seat, steeped in our cultural distortion, yet almost totally ignorant of the basic teachings of the Church and not yet "protected" by an active spiritual life, would I get that important point? For instance, ought a man who has not been healed of our current culture's distorted understanding of the human breast be so quickly invited to reflect upon our Blessed Mother's breasts? This is Schindler's question. I don't know the answer. Any thoughts?