It is September. Time to slide out of the hammock and get going. But on what? Headlines piled up over August. Every one of them is a depth meter that gives a reading on how far down the rabbit hole we find ourselves, as an electorate no less than a faith community. And that is very far indeed. Too far for the first day back to school.
All summer, the news read like a parody of The Onion or—on Church doings—Eye of the Tiber. It is tempting to think these two venues are the only straight news sources we have; and that the mainstream press burlesques them both. In that spirit, let me ease into this new semester with a wholesale borrowing—part piracy, part plaudit—from a blog named St. Corbinian’s Bear. The Bear prizes anonymity but he [Why am I sure it’s a he?] is deeply serious, as every good satirist has to be. And loaded for bear.
As you go, keep in mind that humor is one of the proofs of the existence of God. Be certain of it. Aquinas thought to mention only five proofs but that is no bar to a sixth. Or perhaps the great Dominican decided that humor was a subset of the Argument from Design: It works toward a goal; directs the hearer toward an end; gets to the truth of things with angelic speed. And in times like this, it could be all we've got.
Enough prologue. Herewith, lifted whole hog (but with permission) from the Bear’s August 7 posting:
Dear Reinhard: Is Sex With a Prostitute Adultery?
Once again, we look over the shoulder of Germany’s favorite advice columnist, Reinhard Marx, as he opens up his mailbag.
My wife and I have been married for eighteen years and have a six year old daughter. I love my wife, but for three years I have been seeing a sex worker in a Munich brothel, Magdalena. She is the only working girl I ever visit, and I have fallen in love with her. Although I realize this may be less than ideal, I love both my wife and Magdalena.
I hear some people saying that this may be “adultery,” and, further, that it could be a mortal sin and maybe I shouldn't take communion! I am a good Catholic and want to do the right thing. Surely God recognizes the stable and loving relationship I enjoy alongside my marriage? What should I do?
Muddled in Munich
Anonymous. The Prodigal Son & Cortesans (16th C). Musée de la Ville de Paris, Paris.
Don't be so hard on yourself. As the editors of the traditions gathered together under the name “Jeremiah” wrote: “The heart is perverse above all things, and unsearchable, who can know it?” Pascal, though only a Frenchman, expressed a similar sentiment when he said, “The heart has its reasons that reason knows not.” What these authors, separated by centuries, agree upon is this: you cannot control whom you love.
The important thing is that we find a way for you to feel welcome in the Church in your clandestine extramarital relationship with Magdalena. Is it right to call a committed, though unorthodox, loving relationship adultery? I think not. So enjoy the blessings of love (and love!) and do not let small-hearted naysayers keep you from communion!
I am sending you an autographed copy of Pope Francis' friend and collaborator Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez's “Heal Me With Your Mouth: the Art of Kissing.” (Sounds like you could use it!)
God bless you!
Johann Opitz. Prostitutes & Idlers in Front of Church (1826). Wien Museum, Vienna.
The Bear has sat in on the agony uncle more than once. Each time, Marx has managed to regularize the oddities of modern relationships with creative efficiency. For those of us chafing under hidebound, life-denying judgments and demands that hamper our bliss, Marx is our man. All Lebkuchen; no gall, no ashes. Great thanks to the Bear for monitoring his mail.
Note: Agony aunt—or uncle, in this case—is my favorite term for an advice columnist. A Dear Abby for the sorely perplexed. It is also one of my favorite Britishisms, to which I am entitled by birth. I grew up listening to a Liverpudlian grandfather who lapsed into Cockney when the mood was on him. He'd have made a withering agony uncle himself. But then he was Dutch Reformed.