Book Review: Rediscovering Advent

Lent and Advent are my two favorite times of the liturgical year. Both are seasons of anticipation, calling us to reflect on the mysteries we are preparing to celebrate, and to purify ourselves so as to be worthier of them.

The guidelines for Lent are a bit more clear-cut. During Lent, we fast and give alms, receive ashes on our foreheads, partake in the sacrament of reconciliation. Without a major holiday to prepare for–Easter has largely resisted commercialization, except for the occasional chocolate bunny–and with the rough weather of March to force us inward, we’re generally pretty good at reflecting and repenting.

But Advent seems to have fewer traditions, so it’s easier to get distracted during this season, especially with the flurry of Christmas shopping, holiday parties, and travel plans.

I think one good way to focus on preparing for Christ’s birth–apart from the obligatory Advent wreath and calendar–is to find a good Advent-themed book and work through it. For many people, Matthew Kelly’s book Rediscover Advent will serve that role.

For each day of Advent, the book offers one of the daily Mass readings, a short reflection on the reading, a meditation question, and a prayer. (There’s one prayer per week, repeated on each day of that week).

The meditations are the main attraction of the book. I haven’t read all of them yet–I don’t want to spoil my Advent surprises–but the ones I’ve looked at seem relevant. They reiterate the same points that all Christians know, but so few of us do. For instance, the reflection for Monday of the fourth week of Advent says: “If you can tell me what your habits are, I can tell you what sort of person you are . . . Our lives change when our habits change.” I know by hard-won experience that my thoughts are more easily directed towards God when I arrange the outward details of my life such that I’m forced to think of Him, rather than waiting for a spontaneous inclination towards prayer. The solution is so simple, but also so easy to neglect.

The prayers, like the meditations, offer simple truths rather than difficult theological concepts. If you dislike the collects in the Ordinary Form Mass, you might not like these either, since they’re pretty short and direct. For instance, the first week’s prayer is as follows:

God of hope, I look to you with an open heart and yearning spirit. During this Advent season, I will keep alert and awake, listening for your word and keeping your precepts. My hope is in you, as I wait to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

In my opinion. the best way to enter fully into a liturgical season is to attend daily Mass and pray the Liturgy of the Hours. But if you haven’t the time to do that–or if you’re already doing that, but want to do something more for Advent–this little book might offer just the solution.

I wrote this review of Rediscover Advent for the free Catholic Book review program created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.


Consenting adults?

Sexually speaking, anything goes nowadays–promiscuity, perversions, fetishes, polyamory, serial monogamy, BDSM, and even, in some circles, bestiality.

Anything, of course, except sex with children under age 18.

In fact, not only is pedophilia still considered wrong, but it provokes hysterical revenge fantasies, even among people who are usually the most lax about sexual morality. For instance, we’ve all heard stories about former sex offenders hounded from their homes or driven to suicide. Some states have tried to (unconstitutionally) adopt the death penalty for pedophiles.

Why all the outrage over pedophilia? The obvious answer is that it violates the philosophy of liberalism articulated by John Stuart Mill, which states that all actions are legitimate as long as they meet two criteria:

1. Are performed only with the consent of the affected parties

2. The affected parties are legal adults

This is the oft-stated principle that “anything’s fine, as long as it’s between consenting adults!”

The first criterion makes sense within the context of liberalism, which is predicated on the principle of individual autonomy. So, of course you can’t perform an action on someone without his consent–especially if it causes harm–because that violates his autonomy.

However, if we are reasoning within the framework of liberalism alone, I don’t think the second criterion makes sense.

The second criterion is usually justified through the argument that children can’t consent. But children, at least past a certain age (let’s say 4 or 5), are perfectly capable of consent. They can talk, and can therefore express their desires. Ask a 5-year-old child what he wants to eat for dinner, or what he wants for Christmas, and he’ll express a very definite (often enthusiastic) preference.

But–the liberal argument goes–this consent is invalid because he doesn’t have full use of reason. (Let’s call this the criterion of full rationality). That’s why we force a 5-year-old not to touch a hot stove, or not to go outside in winter without a coat–because he’s incapable of reasoning well about consequences on his own, and needs some degree of adult guidance.

Well, the criterion of full rationality–the idea that we can coerce kids to do what’s good for them, because they can’t reason on their own–makes sense when applied to something morally trivial, like touching a hot stove. A child’s developing personality isn’t harmed when an adult grabs his hand before it touches the hot stove.

But, in the liberal worldview, sex is not something morally trivial–it is the most fundamental expression of one’s self. The International Federation of Planned Parenthood declares that sexual rights are human rights.

A fundamental right–in liberalism, at least–is a trump card. It “trumps” any arguments about prudence or personal morality, and can only in turn be “trumped” by another right, such as a person’s right to be free from harm. So a fundamental right can be infringed to protect others’ rights, but not for any other reason. You can punish someone for shouting “fire” in a crowded theater (and subsequently causing a stampede that hurts others), but not for merely saying something stupid or untrue. You can prevent children from voting because their lack of reason might lead them to vote badly and thus affect others, but you can’t prevent somebody from voting just because he doesn’t own property.

If children are sexual beings, just like adults–and the Obama administration agrees that they do–then we need a very good reason to curtail their sexual rights. The criterion of full rationality doesn’t suffice. After all, rational thought and sex have very little to do with each other. Our society does not require that a mind be unclouded by alcohol or lust before choosing to have sex–just that people remain conscious enough to speak and express consent.

Sexual liberals already sense this, and for this reason, they do think children should be able to have sex–but only with each other. For instance, the Planned Parenthood website says:

There’s no such thing as a “normal” age for becoming sexually active. Deciding whether to have sex is a highly personal decision. It can be influenced by a variety of factors, which may include religious, spiritual, and moral beliefs; family and personal values; personal desire; peer influence; and/or your relationship with a potential sex partner.It’s important to think about where you stand on the issue. Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you decide:

Do we both believe or not believe that sex should only be shared in a marriage or other committed relationship?

Do we both believe or not believe that two people should be in love before having sex?

Do we both believe or not believe that a person should be a certain age before having sex?

Are we both prepared to prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection?

Are we both prepared to deal with the consequences if pregnancy or infection occurs?

Are we both prepared for our relationship to change?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions.

So Planned Parenthood explicitly says that there is no right answer to the question “Should a person be a certain age before having sex?” Presumably, it would be legitimate for two 11-year-olds to have sex with each other.

Planned Parenthood isn’t the only source of such advice. A mommy blogger relates the sex talk she gave to her 5-year-old daughter:

“As long as you’re a kid, you can only ever play any kind of sex game with other kids. Never, ever play that way with a grown-up. That’s a very important rule. And for your whole life, never play a sex game that doesn’t feel good to you. If it’s scary, say no and tell an adult you trust. And don’t ever try to make another kid play that kind of game with you. That’s not OK. You understand?”

A 5-year-old can engage in sexual behavior, as long as it’s only with other children and not adults.

Clearly, the criterion of full rationality isn’t necessary to legitimate a sex act–and the liberals themselves don’t pretend that it is, since they tell children who haven’t achieved the full use of reason that it’s ok to have sex with each other.

So what prevents them from sanctioning pedophilia? Apparently, it’s the criterion of pressure, not the criterion of full rationality (though they don’t really articulate this, and still pretend they’re using the latter criterion). In other words, an adult–even an unrelated adult–is such a glamorous authority figure to a child that sexual relations between them could never be completely free. There would be too much pressure for a child to yield to an adult asking for sexual behavior. Children can have sex with each other because they are equals, so there’s no pressure and their consent is completely free.

But I personally don’t see how this argument succeeds. There are plenty of situations in which pressure exists to have sex. Differences in status or age, as well as threats to end a relationship, can create sexual pressures. Most people agree that it’s wrong to have sex in such an imbalanced context, but don’t argue that it should actually be illegal, that the immorality of such a situation should trump the sexual rights of the parties involved.

So why the liberal hysteria over pedophilia? I think it exists because they know their philosophy doesn’t provide good arguments against it, so they try to prevent its becoming legitimate simply by shouting loudly and even issuing physical threats. But I also think that it will eventually become acceptable–and then people will wonder what all the fuss was about.

In conclusion . . . somebody please recommend a good convent where I can raise my daughter.