Friday, July 17, 2015
This weekend is the kick-off for Natural Family Planning Awareness Week. This dovetails very nicely with our ongoing discussion in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefel decision attempting to redefine marriage (which, I guess, they did – legally; but not naturally, etymologically, or morally). Deacon Sam and I will both be giving witness this weekend to the great good of Natural Family Planning. What I’d like to focus on in this column in extending the discussion both about Natural Family Planning and the Obergefel decision is the meaning and purpose of sexual intercourse.
As I am preparing couples for marriage they are typically surprised to hear that sexual intercourse is not only a good thing, and a morally good thing, but also a HOLY thing. In fact, the marriage bond is not cemented until the marriage has been consummated by non-contraceptive, sexual intercourse. Sexual intercourse expresses and fulfills the unitive and procreative purposes of marriage. This physical act is also an essentially spiritual act.
In its unitive sense it draws the man and the woman closer together. This we also know through medical science and psychology. Particularly on the part of the woman there are chemical processes which occur which bond her in a particular way to the man with whom she has chosen to bond and to whom she gives herself. There is a ton of literature on this and I need not go into it any deeper here. Let us suffice to add that in the Gospels, the Lord, Jesus, when questioned about divorce points out that “in the beginning it was not so. It is written that a man shall leave his mother and father and cling to his wife. Therefore, what God has joined let no man tear apart”.
The procreative purpose of marriage is also set out from the very first chapters of the Holy Bible, in the book of Genesis. In those first chapters we hear the command of God: “He called upon them to multiply and to fill and subdue the earth”. We also recognize through theological reflection on the nature of God - the Holy Trinity that in Christian Marriage the nature of God is given an outward, physical expression. God’s nature is to be fruitful in the act of total self-giving between the first and second persons of the Holy Trinity (the Father and the Son). Thus, the Holy Spirit spirates out from that relational communion – AND IT DOESN’T STOP THERE! Out of this perfect communion of three persons in one god the world and all that is in it was created. This is why marriage is a sacrament! (an outward expression of an inner reality instituted by Christ to give grace). This is also an integral part of humanity’s witness to God. In this way husband and wife give physical expression in their total, self-giving love for one another (which is both unitive and procreative) to God, Who is Love.
Unfortunately, with the advent of contraception, abortion, and now so-called gay marriage one of the principle components of marriage, and therefore – that which makes it a moral good and a blessing, has been decisively excluded. What is more, that absence of the procreative aspect of marriage must also inhibit, fracture, even destroy the unitive aspect of marriage. This is why all three of these things are grave moral evils which separate one from full communion. It is also why those who engage in contraception, abortion, or sexual activity outside of marriage (of any kind) find themselves in a state of mortal sin.
God’s plan for marriage is entirely wrapped up in His plan for our salvation which is His plan for our complete joy and fulfillment. What is physically expressed always has serious (to the good or to the bad) consequences. And thus we are reminded of the passage from the Gospels which says: “I bring you peace. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give.” And also: “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Last week I began a discussion regarding the devout life in a post Christian world. In continuing our discussion think that it would be worth getting a few clues by looking back at how those who came before us handled times of adversity and even persecution. While our time is not their time and the intellectual foundations of their issues are different from ours, we can still learn much from their approach to meeting their challenges.
My favorite example in this is St. Francis de Sales.(1567-1622), the bishop of Geneva, Switzerland and doctor of the Church. St. Francis grew up in a time when the Reformation had taken hold in Switzerland and the Savoy region of France. Having heard the call to holy priesthood, St. Francis gave up his positions of political influence and his inheritance. He built upon his training in all of the arts and skills of a gentleman and scholar, crowning them with a deep holiness cultivated from the time of his youth. St. Francis also cultivated those virtues which mark all of the greatest saints – humility and a deep charity not only for God, but for the soul of his fellow man.
While St. Francis was extremely industrious and innovative in communicating the Truth of the Faith, he attributed any success he might realize to something considerably less obvious to those who do not truly know Christ – his great charity was fed and prepared for by his prayer and penance. He told those closely associated with his work, with the work of Christ, that their success would be the result not of the suffering of their “enemies”, but of their own suffering.
St. Francis clearly understood that his suffering and the suffering of fellow believers is what would melt the hearts of those upon whose doorsteps he left his tracts and broadsheets (early newspapers), not the persuasiveness of his words (which were, and are, quite persuasive). He readily undertook to fast and do penance not only for his own sins, but the sins of those to whom he had been sent.
He also understood that he could not reach everybody. Thus, he, along with St. Jean de Chantel, established the Nuns of the Visitation (the same order in which 50 years later St. Margaret Mary Alacoque would receive over an 18 month period her visions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus) to be visitors to those who would need to hear the Truth which must be communicated by personal witness, one disciple to another.
When he became bishop of Geneva he strove to ensure that his priests were filled with zeal for souls and the holiness and wisdom to bring about a reversion to the fullness of the Christian faith. What is more, the laity in his diocese were known for their extraordinary knowledge and observance of the faith. He worked tirelessly for the conversion of those who had fallen away from the faith and for growth in those who continued to adhere to the fullness of the faith of their baptism.
I tell you about St. Francis de Sales because I think that it is important in these times that we understand more clearly that regardless of how powerful and convincing our explanations and arguments in favor of the faith; it must be our prayer, penance, and suffering that will fortify the faith of those who have truly received Christ into their hearts, and elicit impulses of holy religion and faith in the hearts of those who have yet to open their hearts completely to Him.
Trying times are precisely what bring out the saints among us. How many of us will rise to the challenge? I know one thing: we have all been invited and prepared through Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist to do what needs to be done. But have we encountered Christ in the sacraments? Are we ready to be an encounter with Christ for those to whom we have been sent?
Wednesday, July 8, 2015
Tuesday, July 7, 2015
So, as I walked into the sacristy this past Sunday morning one of the servers said: “I suppose you’re going to talk about marriage today”. I said that I had a more uplifting message for today. Indeed, I wasn’t remotely ready to talk about marriage, even as I was reading missives from many friends around the country talking up the “brilliant” and “courageous” words offered by pastors – Catholic and otherwise.
Quite honestly folks, Deacon Sam and I talk about marriage quite regularly. We have both given verbal witness to God’s vision of marriage, and we have encouraged all to live the sacrament of marriage fully as a witness to the goodness (and rightness) of God’s plan for marriage and family life. Indeed, I think that we have been largely successful in our instruction since when I asked the assembled servers that particular Sunday what the purpose of marriage, in fact, is, the answer was a most gratifying, “to bear and raise children.” It doesn’t get any more fundamental than that. What we haven’t done from the pulpit, or in these pages, is to clearly teach why Same Sex relationships are not “marriage”, why the biblical understanding of marriage is the only correct understanding of marriage, and why we are not “bigots” or “homophobes” for declining to buy into society’s, and now the court’s, definition of marriage.
We now have a much more difficult task ahead of us in raising our children with a proper vision of the world; a vision that takes its direction from God’s revelation rather than mankind’s succumbing to its most base desires and the use of fractured intellect to make those desires seem, in fact, virtuous. It took many years for our young people to come to an understanding that abortion is wrong and evil despite our government’s official sanction and even promotion of it. It will take as much or more effort to help our children understand that “legal” is not equal to “moral”. It will also take much fortitude on both our part and on the part of our children to live in a world that sees our following of God’s vision of marriage and family life as not only outmoded, but as bigoted and evil. Society will not put up with this affront and challenge to what it is already calling “settled”. We will be persecuted. Some may lose jobs over their witness to righteousness, even if that witness is the simple refusal to sign an inter office card of congratulations to a co-worker who has attempted marriage. Like St. Thomas More in the time of King Henry VIII our attempts at laying low will only take us so far. The question may become a very stark: “Are you on God’s side or on the Devil’s?” I know that we don’t want to see the choice in that stark of terms. However, it may very well come to the point that we will each have to answer that very question.
As much as the mainstream media might want to put forward the vision that the Catholic Church will have to change in order to keep members and stay on “the right side of history”, we will rather stay on the right side of holiness. It has always been that way and it will always be that way. While individual members may be lured away by the pieces of silver offered by those in authority, the Body of Christ will continue to give faithful witness to God’s loving plan for humanity and its salvation. While that Body will be battered, scourged, and even crucified again, we willingly submit to their very best efforts, with the witness of the Apostles and the first Roman Martyrs (those names we hear in the Roman Canon). For as St. Francis de Sales taught, it is by our own penance, suffering, and conversion of heart that the lost will again find their way home.In the coming weeks there will be much more said. Just remember, the battle is already won by Christ’s own passion, death, and resurrection. It is only for us to play out the clock with grace. That means taking our lumps and praying for our persecutors. Most of all, it means loving God above all things, and loving our neighbor as ourself.
Saturday, May 4, 2013
As we continue in our celebration of Easter we are reminded that the celebration of Easter is a celebration of what it is that happened and what it is that we just celebrated in its constitutive parts two weeks ago - the Paschal Mystery, which is to say: the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This Paschal Mystery is at the center of every celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Why is this so important to keep in mind, especially these next two weekends in our Tri-Parish Catholic Community? It is important because in our reception of Holy Communion we are being made participants in that one, holy sacrifice of Christ.
This comes from the Old Testament covenant sacrificial rituals and in particular the greatest covenant sacrifice of all: the Passover. The instructions for the slaughter of the Passover Lamb included who was to eat of this sacrifice. Those who ate of the sacrifice became part of the covenant community of Israel with all the rights, duties, and privileges that this entailed. Those who were not part of the covenant community or who did not desire to be part of the covenant community were not included in either the sacrifice or the eating of the sacrificial lamb that followed.
This is also seen in the Old Testament as well as the histories of the early apostolic Church wherein the pagans, especially the Greeks in the time of the Maccabees (and Alexander the Great) and the Romans in the time of the Apostles and pre-Constantinian Church Fathers, would sacrifice to the “gods” and would then try to force the Israelites or early Christians to eat meat from the animal sacrificed. While in the case of the Israelites, whom they tried to force to eat pork which was “unclean” and therefore strictly forbidden, it was a matter of ritual purity, for both Israelites and Christians it was a recognition that in eating of this meat they would be making a public statement rejecting the living God of Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob in favor of the pagan gods.
So, you see, when we come forward to partake of the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world”, we are not just participating in some ritual that looks very similar to that which is undertaken in many Christian communities. By coming forward to receive the living Body & Blood, Soul & Divinity of Jesus Christ, we are making a public statement of belief and participation in His eternal sacrifice and in the Covenant Community which He has established in his own blood. When we receive Communion in a Catholic Church we are proclaiming that we are “of one mind and heart” with Christ and with his Church including the teachings of that Church along with our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and our bishop, William, who continue to teach in the name of Christ.
I once asked a fellow, who complained that because he and I were in conflict that I shouldn’t greet him when he came to my parish church for funerals and such, why it was then that he came up to receive Communion when he was not, in fact, even desiring to be “in communion” with the pastors of the Church. The next time there was a parish social he invited me to join him and his wife at the table. HE GOT IT! I hope that we will all be mindful of this important lesson the next time we try not to sit around someone we aren’t getting along with, or refuse someone the sign of peace. We who partake of the one loaf and the one cup are indeed one body in Christ.
Think about this as we celebrate the first reception of Holy Communion of our children and help them to always remember: What am I doing when I receive Communion at Mass?
Pray well and remember who you are!
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Commenting on the horror that was experienced at Newtown, CT was not on the top of my “to do” list in these days before Christmas. However, as I continued to pray over this and have made my own way through this Advent season it seems that something ought to be said if only for the sake of sharing and putting things into perspective. Of course, perspective can be a difficult thing. It tends to be so dependent on where we are individually and can too often be intrusive especially upon another’s grief or fears. However, there is a Gospel, that is – a good news which saves, which wants to be received.
First of all, it must be said that my heart and tears go out to the parents of these children and their families, as well as the families of the adults who were so senselessly murdered. I cannot imagine the loss of a child much less the violent loss of a child. The closest I can come is those times I have shared with families who have had to bury their children – ages 1 week, and 5, 8 and 15 years old. They have been in my thoughts and prayers even as I have sought to ensure that our own children are feeling safe and that all due diligence is being observed in the operation of our school.
There are a number of thoughts that have crossed my mind over the past week. As I’ve read the papers, like many I have watched for some explanation of WHY this happened. As of yet there seems to be no explanation. Nor do there seem to be any easy answers as to how it could have been prevented. I’m not going to waste space here enumerating or debating the many issues that are already being batted about. The bottom line is evil exists and the innocent will suffer, even so close to Christmas. What we need to remember is that the existence and working of evil is NOT a part of God’s plan for us. As to why evil is permitted, that is a question for later.
In the context of this Christmas season which is very nearly upon us we need to remember that the reason Christ came was to bring the good news of God’s love and care for us, a love that includes the sacrifice of his only begotten Son so that we might have eternal life. As Ross Douthat, a columnist for the New York Times has observed, “the only thing that my religious tradition (devout Roman Catholic) has to offer to the bereaved of Newtown today – besides an appropriately respectful witness to their awful sorrow – is a version of that story, and the realism about suffering that it contains. That realism may be hard to see at Christmastime, when the sentimental side of faith owns the cultural stage. But the Christmas story isn’t just the manger and the shepherds and the baby Jesus, meek and mild. The rage of Herod is there as well, and the slaughtered innocents of Bethlehem, and the myrrh that prepares bodies for the grave. The cross looms behind the stable – the shadow of violence, agony and death.” The full column is well worth reading.
Benedict XVI expressed his heartfelt grief and assured his closeness in prayer to the victims, their families and all those affected by this shocking event. "In the aftermath of this senseless tragedy he asks God our Father to console all those who mourn and to sustain the entire community with the spiritual strength which triumphs over violence by the power of forgiveness, hope and reconciling love".
As for me, while mourning the senseless slaughter of this day’s innocents I will not focus on the evil which used the muddled mind of a young man to visit itself upon the people of Newtown. I will focus on the modern martyrs like the young, 27 year old teacher who hid her children in the cupboards and closets of her classroom and then faced their would be killer, sacrificing her life that they might live. God’s grace was at work even in the midst of evil and his light shown in her who, like his own Son, chose to die in order to give others a chance at life. No greater love is there than this….
Pray well and remember who you are,
Monday, December 10, 2012
This week our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, again poses a very important question. “How can we talk about God in our time?” What he is asking is how can we talk about God in such a way that we open hearts to his saving truth in our modern day hearts, which he observes are all too often closed to God, and our minds, which he observes are too often distracted by the immediacy and attractions of the world in which we live. This is not something new that we do! Jesus himself did it when He asked “With what can we compare the Kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it?” It is, in fact, something that must be done constantly and ever anew because the people to whom we are sent as evangelists of the Gospel are always going to be different – we ourselves are different from our grandparents, our parents, even ourselves as we continue to march through time. Did you ever wonder why there are four gospels in the Bible?
So, getting back to the question at hand… In his catechesis our Holy Father delves into the reality of God and his interest and action in human affairs. He brings out from the Gospels how Jesus was concerned about every aspect of human life and every condition of the people with whom He was confronted in his time of human existence on earth. He shows through the wide variety of parables and analogies that Jesus Christ uses that we must be constantly alert to the condition of those to whom we are giving witness by our words and by our very lives so that our words and actions may speak ever more eloquently to the truth of God’s presence and action among us.
It is critically important that we recognize, first in our own lives and then in our resulting witness, that God is not a distant hypothesis concerning the world’s origins, a philosophical or moral system, or some mathematical intelligence far from us. In other words, God is more than a clockmaker, nor does He watch us “from a distance” (UGH! I’m sorry Bette Midler, but that was a terrible song!). Through the mystery of the Incarnation, Christ’s presence among us, we come to know that God is a person, or more accurately a community of persons, who desires a very personal and loving relationship with us. This means that, in our life of faith, and especially as we seek to communicate this faith to those around us the spotlight is not on us! The spotlight must be squarely on God and his action in our lives, the relationship into which He has invited us and which becomes our primary identity and the driving force in our lives.
Our Holy Father points to St. Paul in making this point. He reminds us of how St. Paul sought always to point the spotlight clearly on Jesus Christ. St. Paul was very clear that he was not bringing to the people to whom he had been sent a new philosophy or new religious or cultural movement. He sought only “to preach Christ, and Him crucified.”
There is so much more that our Holy Father has to say, more than fits into this small space. However, I’d like to highlight this last thing. The most effective place for communicating who God is and how He acts in our life is within the FAMILY. Pope Benedict reminds us again that the Church needs parents to “rediscover their mission, assuming responsibility in educating, in opening the consciences of their little ones to love of God as a fundamental service to their life and in being the first catechists and teachers of the faith for their children.” Children need to understand that their faith is not a burden but rather a source of profound joy. Children need to see in the lives of their parents the Easter Joy that “does not stay silent or conceal the realities of pain, of suffering, of effort, of difficulty of incomprehension and of death itself, but that can offer criteria for interpreting all things in the perspective of Christian hope.” Parents need to communicate in their daily lives, and especially their family life, the singular joy that faith in Jesus Christ brings into their lives.
So much to digest and so little space in which to digest it! Just remember this: Our faith is not merely a club to which we belong or a system of beliefs by which we sort of live. Our faith is a real and personal relationship with the living God who loves us and claims us as his very children and invites us to be a part of his family in Jesus Christ. How cool is that???
Remember who you are!