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.