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Sunrise Clouds

Life's Sacred Secrets

Alice von Hildebrand

Available languages: español, العربية

  • Deborah

    Very true! There is no integrity or self dignity and, this loss has made people shame-less yet, shame-full. The fear/honor and respect for the Creator has turned our honor as His children to vulgar impudence and, living in darkness ~ Wonderful Article !

  • Carolee Uits

    I appreciate the words of this sister in our day. The hollowness of our society and it's abandonment of things of God is left in the quietly spoken and right-on words she has written.

  • George Nye

    Very helpful. Good insights into the meaning of marital sacredness.

  • Dwight Smith

    I never cease to be moved by the kindness with which Jesus regarded the poor, nor the sharp rebukes he delivered to those in charge of the temple state. Whenever we disclaim the deterioration of the current age, we must guard against polemics that paint such deterioration as if it resembles disease or decline brought about through the passage of time - it is most certainly not. God made free will, but not garbage, and it seems to me that deterioration must be laid at the feet of those in charge. Having no choice, it seems little blame should attach to God's anawim, and much blame should go to those shaping our culture, including those of us in ministry. Clearly the example we have set is inadequate to save those who follow, and we must redouble both our prayers and our works of Mercy if the world is to be saved. The Bruderhof have always been living examples of God's charity and love of neighbor. I'm convinced that this is the Way. If only more churches followed it. "Anawim" is a Hebrew word that means "the poor seeking God for deliverance." - ed

  • Patrick Biglane

    Dear Dr. Hildebrand, Thank you for this article. I like what you said about joy, and how you compared the fleeting nature of physical pleasure to the more lasting nature of joy. It's so true. It all reminds me of the book of Philippians in the Bible, which abounds in expressions of joy. Paul's basis for the joy he had wasn't contingent upon his circumstances (he was in prison). But for him, the realization that the effect of his imprisonment upon the brethren was to make them more bold to proclaim the gospel brought immeasurable joy.

  • Judith Kirkpatrick

    Beautiful thoughts about the sacred. Each person has a hole in this life, which must be filled by God. Each generation must seek Him, and in being found by Him, will experience the peace that passes all understanding in Christ Jesus. It is always a struggle, but that kind of a struggle will always produce spiritual maturity. Then the sacred mystery of life will be recognized.

Dr. Alice von Hildebrand is a Catholic philosopher and theologian, and also the widow of the outspoken anti-Nazi German philosopher, Dietrich von Hildebrand. She taught philosophy at Hunter College for thirty-seven years until her retirement in 1984, and has written several books. Born in Belgium, she came to the United States in 1940. In a series of interviews in her apartment in New Rochelle, the 89-year-old Hildebrand speaks at length on topics ranging from womanhood, marriage, morality, the eternal destiny of the human soul, and much more. This is the fifth article based on excerpts from these interviews:

People used to believe that marriage and sex were sacred. For Roman Catholics marriage is a sacrament, a means of grace, a solemn commitment before God that binds you to another person for life. So sacred is marriage that it means fidelity, complete fidelity, and if God gives you children through sexual union, they are to be raised in the bond of mutual love. Such a bond between father and mother and child is unconditional.

Today, however, marriage is little more than a contract. "We'll try it and if it works, good. But if it doesn't work, we can end it." If you leave God out of the equation, what sort of argument for marriage's sanctity can you give? If something or someone better comes along, what can you say? Once you forget God, everything holy gets desecrated; everything falls to pieces.

Sacredness means that there are things that should remain veiled. We veil for two reasons: because something is ugly, or because it's beautiful. This is a paradox. If I were to do something very mean, very very mean, I would double check carefully that no one sees me. If I am caught, there are two possibilities. I blush or I no longer blush. You recall what it says in Jeremiah 8:12: "Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush." They are shameless when shame is called for. This is terrible!

There is shame because of ugliness, and there is a kind of shame that leads us to God. Take the gospel. When you pray, Jesus tells you to close the door. Why? Because prayer is your secret – something between you and God. It's your secret. The intimate, sexual sphere is actually meant to point us to God. This is why marriage is sacred. Only in marriage should the veil of sexual intimacy be lifted.

There is something else that is sacred: man and woman. God created man and woman, male and female. But the big mistake in our society is to reduce man and woman to the biological sphere, and thereby strip off the veil God created. It's a catastrophic mistake, and I'll tell you why. On a religious, spiritual, intellectual, affective, social, and human level, men and women are different. And because we are different, we complement each other. If people would only rediscover this!

Whether inside or outside of marriage, the relatedness of man and woman is sacred. The beautiful relationship between St. Francis and St. Clare, St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, Alphonsus and Celeste – it's always the same thing. Each gender has something to give to the other, and to learn from the other. If you limit gender to the biological sphere you lose something very, very special.

Your life as a man – as a woman – can be so beautiful and enriching. It's so wonderful to have friends of the opposite sex. We look at things from a different point of view, and so complement each other. And in the bond of marriage, such complementarity can come to full expression sexually. But one must remember, the sexual sphere is limited. It is meant to be shared between a man and a woman in holy marriage.

People no longer understand what's sacred. It's all a matter of what feels good. Their souls are such that they are blinded to the mysteries of life. You know, eagles have much better eyesight than we humans do, but they do not perceive beauty. Dogs have a much sharper sense of hearing than we do, but they cannot be moved to tears by the music of great masters such as Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. Eagles perceive motions; dogs perceive sounds. But they cannot perceive what is sacred in life.

Because we have a soul animating us, God has created us to perceive more than what our physical senses can take in. We must see the world as God does, and when we do a new world is opened up to us, pointing us to the real world; the one we are made for.

The beauty of being a man, of being a woman, the mystery and sacredness of true sexual union where new life can be given, the sanctity of marriage itself are all being trampled on because we refuse to see things from God's perspective. Christ said to the Samaritan woman "If only you knew the gift of God. If you knew it, God would have given you living water." Let us pray and pray and pray that all of us might rediscover the sacred mystery of life.

Two swans on a dark lake
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Contributed By Alice von Hildebrand in 2012 Alice von Hildebrand

Alice von Hildebrand, professor emerita at Hunter College and widow of anti-Nazi German philosopher, Dietrich von Hildebrand, is known for her outspokenness on topics from feminism to liturgy, and for unabashedly witnessing to the joy of the gospel.

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