Sunday, November 30, 2008

Veni Sancte Spiritus, veni per Mariam

Veni Sancte Spiritus, veni per Mariam=
Come Holy Spirit, come through Mary

In a post over on Broken Alabaster, Fred has broken through my interior clutter. Do yourself a favor this First Sunday of Advent, take a few minutes and read Annunciation: Encounter and Event.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Ending another year of grace

This is my last post of this liturgical year. A lot of resolutions are running through my mind. I love Advent because it is the hidden season, overwhelmed by every one's rush to Christmas, or, more apropos, Xmas. Get out there and spend! It is the only way to save the economy! Forget about the fact that it was spending more than we had that landed us in this predicament in the first place. On this so-called Black Friday, during which I go nowhere near a retail outlet, along with my brother in the diaconate, Greg, I wonder What the hell is wrong with people?

I have never preached on the First Sunday of Advent. It will be interesting to see what happens. My homilies are not pre-meditated. Christ is King, whether we acknowledge him to be, or whether we can communicate this truth effectively. This fact makes me thankful and gives me peace.

I was struck today by this simple prayer from Psalm 80, composed by Eileen Campbell-Reed, a mom who observes that "[t]rying to have Advent without prayer is a little like trying to give birth while holding your breath". Trying to live Advent in that way "can be done, but not for long, rarely with joy, and not something" that is recommended:

"Good Shepherd, lead us and restore us.
Lord God of hosts, shine your face upon me.
God of restoration, give us new life."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"I went to see my friend today"

This is a great song. It is has a great deal of personal meaning for me. I listened to an interview with George Jones recently in which he said this was the song he'd always wanted to write, kinda like the apex of his song-writing. It is a real love song, about how human love is incomplete because we are not capable of loving as we should, as we are created to love. It is a reminder that God is love. He Stopped Loving Her Today is our T-giving traditio. In case you don't know, George Jones (who with me and Tom Jones is Welsh) is a punk rocker!

Seemingly random associations left seemingly random

When considering my last post from yesterday, in light of a paper I just completed as to whether Vatican I's definition of papal infallibility is in compliance with St Vincent of Lérins' two rules for the authentic development of Christian doctrine, in which I used his theological commentary on Matthew for a good bit of my exegetical piece on Matthew 16:15-21, it is beginning to dawn on me why the theology of Protestant theologian Stanley Hauerwas is so attractive to those of us in CL.

Anyway, along with Douthat and Cafardi on the election, Maggie Gallagher and Thomas Friedman have some insightful things to write about Proposition 8 and our economic crisis respectively. Additionally, I listened to a review of Gus Van Sant's new film Milk, starring Sean Penn, on the way home from work. I was further struck by the fact that politics is not the most important thing, not even close! I was hit in the head while driving home by the truth of Msgr. Albacete's words and those of Traductor. I see clearly that ours in not "the problem...[of] construct[ing] a bridge between faith and politics" and how thinking that it is "already violates our humanity". Hauerwas would agree! I agree and this work has tired me today. I started to plan this elaborate post, intricately weaving together Albacete's quote, Gallagher's insights, and how they impinge on the political as depicted in Milk. Alas, dear reader, I leave it to you to connect the dots.

Since I have introduced randomness into the post, I also thought today that sexuality must start from a positive hypothesis: marriage is a divine institution and sex is good. The fact that we are sexual, even those called to celibacy, is good. Our sexuality is our longing, it is a very transcendent part of our being human. Hence, it is complicated and can be both confusing and a bit ambiguous. This is why Pope Benedict's meditation on love in the first part of Deus Caritas Est is so beautiful and moving. It is also why we often find sex, even when physically good, somewhat lacking. Such dissatisfaction arises from our disconnection with our destiny, our reason for being in the first place. St. Paul, whom we remember in a most vital way this year, teaches us that we must "take every thought captive in obedience to Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Some things to consider

UPDATE: Man, I am tired! Belated diaconal bows to my dear sisters Sharon for the Albacete quote and Suzanne for the Cafardi and Douthat articles!

Here are two must read articles:

Ross Douthat's The Moral Obligation To Study Election Returns, in which he correctly chastises George Wiegel's take on the election, and

Nicholas Cafardi's The Republican Captivity, in which he criticizes a few, very vocal, bishops

I agree very much with a comment made by one Traductor, on a post over on Paper Clippings: "Catholics need to start proposing Christ and the possibility of a new humanity that is born out of the encounter with him. Some fights may be necessary, like protecting the freedom of Catholic works like hospitals, but history has shown that we will always be on the losing side of a war over 'values.' As Obama himself said, 'Don't bring a knife to a gunfight.' The bishops need to focus on educating their flocks, or else when and if they stand up, there may be no one behind them."

This puts me in mind, once again, of something Msgr Albacete said:
"We do not have the problem, or the mission, to construct a bridge between faith and politics. We do not have this problem. To have this problem and to attempt to solve it, already violates our humanity. Every single attempt to build this bridge has been a weakening of faith, or a betrayal of the Incarnation. And historically, there have been many attempts."

Humanae Vitae and the communio sanctorum

One of the frequent arguments encountered contra Humanae Vitae is that of the sensus fidei, or the understanding that "[t]he entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief" (Lumen Gentium par. 12). The argument usually contends that because nobody believes or adheres to what the church teaches with regard to the use of artificial contraceptives anymore that what the church teaches in this regard is not true and so is not binding.

There are several responses to this line of reasoning, namely that most people do not really understand what it is they are rejecting because, as stated in the previous post, the pastoral care most of them receive, especially when preparing for marriage, either ignores the matter entirely, leaving couples completely on their own with no moral guidance, or they are actively encouraged to live contrary to the truth, instead of being compassionately challenged to be faithful. I always wonder why it is deemed more pastoral to tell people what they want to hear than to gently challenge them, especially by way of witness, to do what is right.

Stated more theologically, that is, ecclesiologically, this so-called sensus is at odds with received tradition. If we see, as did St. Vincent of Lérins some fifteen hundred years ago, that what constitutes orthodox tradition is antiquity, consensus, and universality, then we also recognize that the church, as the communio sanctorum, is not circumscribed by time and space. So, just as neither the pope nor a council can either introduce any completely new innovations into the Christian tradition, or overturn tradition, the sensus fidei cannot do that either. This is precisely what the committee, appointed by John XXIII who issued their report after the council, was urging Pope Paul VI to do. He made this clear in Humanae Vitae:

5. The consciousness of the same responsibility induced Us to confirm and expand the commission set up by Our predecessor Pope John XXIII, of happy memory, in March, 1963. This commission included married couples as well as many experts in the various fields pertinent to these questions. Its task was to examine views and opinions concerning married life, and especially on the correct regulation of births; and it was also to provide the teaching authority of the Church with such evidence as would enable it to give an apt reply in this matter, which not only the faithful but also the rest of the world were waiting for.

When the evidence of the experts had been received, as well as the opinions and advice of a considerable number of Our brethren in the episcopate—some of whom sent their views spontaneously, while others were requested by Us to do so—We were in a position to weigh with more precision all the aspects of this complex subject. Hence We are deeply grateful to all those concerned.

6. However, the conclusions arrived at by the commission could not be considered by Us as definitive and absolutely certain, dispensing Us from the duty of examining personally this serious question. This was all the more necessary because, within the commission itself, there was not complete agreement concerning the moral norms to be proposed, and especially because certain approaches and criteria for a solution to this question had emerged which were at variance with the moral doctrine on marriage constantly taught by the magisterium of the Church.

Consequently, now that We have sifted carefully the evidence sent to Us and intently studied the whole matter, as well as prayed constantly to God, We, by virtue of the mandate entrusted to Us by Christ, intend to give Our reply to this series of grave questions (pars. 5-6- underlining emphasis mine)
This marks the last post of 2008 on HV. It has figured prominently this year because, as set out in my first post, this year was the fortieth anniversary of this much misunderstood and resisted teaching. The resistance to this teaching within the church has deeply compromised the church's authority and contributed to the massive societal confusion about sex, instead of enabling more Christians to live as salt and light, as beacons in the darkness.

Monday, November 24, 2008

An amateur stab at moral reasoning

Today I was asked point-blank whether the use of artificial methods of contraception by married couples is intrinsically evil. For something to be intrinsically evil it must be wrong always and everywhere, regardless of intentions and/or circumstances. It does seem to me that Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae teaches that use of artificial methods of contraception is intrinsically evil because it is a violation of both the natural law, derived from reason, as well as the divine law, derived from revelation, that is, from Scripture and tradition, the constant and unbroken teaching of the church, a teaching that is of apostolic origin.

Working on the assumption that artificial contraception is intrinsically evil, circumstances cannot exempt one from adhering to the binding moral precepts derived from natural and divine law. So, even in cases in which one spouse is infected with HIV, the use of a condom is not morally licit. In cases in which a woman is prescribed birth control pills for therapeutic reasons, abstinence is also the moral answer.

I believe that the application of the principle of double effect has been rejected when some have sought to apply it to cases in which one of the spouses is infected with HIV. It is my understanding that in order for double effect to be legitimately applied, all of the following four conditions must be met:

 the nature of the act is itself good
 the intention is for the good effect and not the bad;
 the good effect outweighs the bad effect in a situation sufficiently grave to merit the risk of yielding the bad effect
 the good effect does not go through the bad effect

This is where another aspect of morality comes into play, namely that which constitutes a grave sin. As it pertains to the church's constant teaching with regard to contraception, it is quite clear that very small minority of Catholics in the U.S., estimated to be somewhere around 3% of couples married in the church, follow the clear and constant, if difficult, teaching of the church. I think this can be largely chalked up to consciences not being properly formed with regard to sexuality in general and marital sexuality in particular. Many couples are told, sometimes even encouraged, by some charged with teaching and pastoring to ignore this teaching. It helps to understand a very crucial distinction; that between sin and wrongdoing. So, while doing something intrinsically evil is always wrong, it is not always sinful. How so?

Looking to the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it is clearly taught that a grave, or mortal, sin is committed "when there are simultaneously present: grave matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent" (par. 395). Deliberate consent presupposes full knowledge. So, for most Catholics who ignore what the church teaches regarding contraception, while there is grave matter involved (i.e., that which is intrinsically evil), there is rarely full knowledge and, hence, rarely full consent. As with marriage in general, the fault can be laid largely on the church's inability to clearly and persuasively articulate the truth, but the truth remains the truth regardless of our inability to articulate, understand, or live it, which is why God's mercy, given us in Christ Jesus, as Paul teaches us, is so important. This is not helped by the fact that we live in an over-sexed age in which pregnancy is normally viewed as something that goes wrong when two people engage in sexual intercourse.

While we're on the subject of sexual confusion, Laura Bramon Good has posted Elliot Spitzer Makes a Porno, Part II.

"arrogant, impatient and insensitive," or so it seems

I was lured by the title Sadly, my blog is a wanton floozy. Hey, I am happily married and a deacon, but still a guy! Anyway, this siren song led me to the Typealyzer webpage that does a Meyers-Briggs analysis on the contents of one's blog. Happily (you can turn anything into an adverb), my blog is not a shamless Lothario. Rather, it is an INTP, which means:

"The logical and analytical type. They are especialy attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

"They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about."

I suppose this is fairly accurate. I am probably not the best judge of that, however. Our parish blog, The People of St. Mary Magdalene, which I maintain along with our Director of Liturgy and Music, though not too successfully as of late, also rated as an INTP. I do know that one cannot usually grasp where I stand on something by reading just one post. Here at Καθολικός διάκονος, in the true spirit of my dear W's Cambridge, our motto is: In for a penny, in for a pound! This analysis also can also be verified by the fact that it is not too different from my personal INTJ. So, it seems that my blog is a pretty good reflection of my personality as gauged by Meyers-Briggs.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Responsible citizenship

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) has designed a civics quiz that is a good measure of one's overall grasp of our nation's history, as well as of a few basic economic concepts. Unsurprisingly, but sad nonetheless, elected officials had a collective average of 44%. Unelected citizens did slightly better, with a 49% average.

Here is a paraphrased sample question: What was the subject debated by Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln during their campaign for Illinois Senate? Don't google it! As Brad Hamilton said to Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times At Ridgemont High, regarding the observance of the No shoes, no shirt, no service policy at the fast food place where Hamilton worked, "Learn it, know it, live it".

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Runnin' Utes 12-0

With the good old fashioned butt-kicking just administered to our arch-rivals, BYU, beating them 48-24, for the second time in five years, we have busted the BCS!!!! 12-0. I am a Utah man.

Friday, November 21, 2008

"She's touring the facility and picking up slack"

Let us partake of Cake for the second time in just a few months. This is our traditio tonight

3 meme

1) If you had to give one million dollars to any 3 charities, which ones would you choose and why?

Catholic Near Eastern Welfare Association because I have a passion for Eastern Christianity. At heart I am more Eastern than I am Latin, but always in communion with Rome, despite the shabby way our Eastern Catholic sisters and brothers have sometimes been treated by the Western Church (thank God for JPII and now Benedict XVI). These ancient communities are the presence of God's kingdom in the midst of much strife. I'd love to be a Chaldean or Syrian deacon!

Pink Cross Ministries because I think the work that Shelley Lubben does exemplifies what it means to love, to be always ready to assist, and not judge. Further, she exemplifies what it means to start from a positive hypothesis. She knows what it means to daily strive to usher in God's kingdom by showing people who really need to see, through her actions, that God is love. This is an opportunity to draw attention to a great post by Laura Bramon Good on Image's Good Letter blog entitled Elliot Spitzer Makes a Porno, Part I. In this post Ms. Bramon Good highlights the all too easily overlooked aspect of this case. I find it heart-breaking that Ms. Ashley Alexandra Dupré, the escort with whom Spitzer consorted, is the only one who has publicly apologized, saying she was sorry to Mrs. Spitzer through the media. I, too, think Spitzer should be prosecuted. It is a simple matter of justice for women like Ashley Dupré.

The Cathedral of the Madeleine, half of which would go to establish a religious education and formation endowment, the rest would go to the Cathedral Foundation.

2) If you could only ever read 3 books again, which books would you choose and why?

The Gospel of St. John, or the whole Bible- because it is the best book to understanding myself and the world and helping me to connect to the world.

A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin- It is probably the best story I have ever read and teaches me a lot about what it means to be human in what is very often an absurd world and the joy of being alive.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky- Because Alyosha is the best Christian in all of literature and Ivan is the most passionate person in all of literature. Besides, Ivan's telling of The Grand Inquistitor in the novel is so devastatingly true, not about the church as an institution, but about some people, like me, who are often mistaken about what it means to be Christians. My reason for choosing this novel is the same reason I share in the charism given to Don Giussani.

3) If you could somehow incorporate 3 people (living or dead) into your family who would you want to be realted to?

I honestly cannot answer this question. It is too speculative. While there are many people I would love to meet (see my MySpace profile), there is no one, living or dead, I would want in my family who is not already in it.

Okay, I tag Rebecca at Faith's Mystery, Fred at Deep Furrows, and Alex at Vitus Speaks.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The one whom the Lord approves

"Thus says the Lord:
The heavens are my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house can you build for me;
what is to be my resting place?
My hand made all these things
when all of them came to be, says the Lord.
This is the one whom I approve:
the lowly and afflicted man who trembles at my word
(Isaiah 66:1-2).

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A humane view of "Of Human Life"

Building on something posted by Fred last evening over on Cahiers, The Inhumanity of the Megachurch Sex Marathon and a subsequent discussion, it is important to address, if briefly, an overlooked aspect of Humanae Vitae, namely that birth control, which deals with both the numbering and spacing of children, is seen as a moral duty. It is pretty clearly taught in this much maligned teaching that no couple is obligated to have as many children as they possibly can. On the contrary, HV was written at the time when dire predictions about overpopulation were widely, if uncritically, accepted. So, birth control, which is best achieved, according to HV, through abstinence, is seen as important by Paul VI. This can be verified by reading his remarkable encyclical Populorum Progresso. As to what many mistakenly refer to as "grave" reasons, the criteria are outlined by Paul VI in no. 10:

"Married love, therefore, requires of husband and wife the full awareness of their obligations in the matter of responsible parenthood, which today, rightly enough, is much insisted upon, but which at the same time should be rightly understood. Thus, we do well to consider responsible parenthood in the light of its varied legitimate and interrelated aspects.

"With regard to the biological processes, responsible parenthood means an awareness of, and respect for, their proper functions. In the procreative faculty the human mind discerns biological laws that apply to the human person.

"With regard to man's innate drives and emotions, responsible parenthood means that man's reason and will must exert control over them.

"With regard to
1) physical, 2) economic, 3) psychological and 4) social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time" (I added the numbering of the reasons couples can use to make decisions about whether to have more children, as well as emphasis on the words serious reasons).

The take away here is that the judgment as to how many children a couple has is theirs alone to make on the basis of the criteria set forth. It is nobody's business to judge whether a couple who is striving to live their faith in this difficult area, especially given that only about 3% strive to do so in the U.S., and making judgments on the basis of the criteria set forth by the Church, our Mother and Teacher, has sufficiently serious reasons to "decide not to have to additional children for either a certain or indefinite period," except maybe their pastor's, assuming they have a good and supportive one. So, while couples make a vow to "accept children lovingly from God" and marriage is ordered to the procreation and education of children, in addition to the good of the spouses, a couple makes no commitment to have as many children as they physically can, or to have a fixed number (Canon 1055.1). Hence, rigorists who tell people things like, You should be having sex at least three times a week," etc., and that NFP is for wusses are pastorally way out-of-line. It is very much akin to what Fred writes about, but with the procreation bit added in for good measure. Such a rigorist view, too, is inhumane.

Corrected paragraph:
It is important to point out that in English we are working with a translation from editio typica, which is in Latin. So, in number ten, the Holy See translates "seriis causis" as "serious reasons," not grave reasons. In any case, using the word grave is a distortion that has the effect of reducing what we are taught. It is too easy to become ideological about this issue. I prefer using the word ideological to Pharisaical because the Pharisees with whom our Lord took issue were those who were ideological about strict observance of the mizvot.

The rigorist reduction, as with the reduction that occurs among those who reject this teaching, fails to account for the progressive nature of HV by dismissing the encyclical and seeking a return to what the received understanding and teaching of the church was prior to this landmark exercise of the magisterium. HV represents a faithful, organic, and deeper understanding of marital sexuality than had been previously articulated in such magisterial teachings as Casti Connubii. The latter encyclical was the Holy See's response to the Anglicans permitting couples to have recourse to artificial methods of contraception under certain circumstances. The Anglican teaching, set forth in the 1930 Lambeth Conference, was a sudden and dramatic break with Christian tradition and with what had been, at least up to that point, the Christian consensus on what Pope John Paul I called, while still bishop of Vittorio Veneto, "this most delicate matter".

We have no business upping the ante by correcting church teaching, or adding to it. In my own ministry, I strive to always be cognizant of the fact that I am a deacon, not the pope or the bishop. Furthermore, one cannot read HV and not get that abstinence from sexual relations within marriage has a spiritual value. This seems to me to be very much in concert with what St. Paul sets out in 1 Corinthians 7:1-7.

While I am on the subject of human the human subject, I also recommend Sharon's post A Rare Partnership. Suzanne reminded me of a great article by Angela D. Bonilla, published in Homiletic & Pastoral Review. The article is Humanae Vitae: Grave Motives to Use a Good Translation. For the record, I always use the Vatican translation for documents promulgated by the Holy See. If I do not, I state where I got the translation.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Sacred Scripture: "the prayer above all prayers"

The Holy Bible, according to Parthenios of Kiev, a nineteenth century Orthodox commentator, "is the mother of all books, just as it is the prayer above all prayers, and the guide to the Kingdom of heaven. It leads men on earth to the understanding of the Truth, and enables one to see God with the heart while still in the flesh, and in time to come allows one to enjoy face to face the sweet vision of the Holy Trinity"

"I remember something you once told me..."

The evening before my birthday, I was sitting with my 3 year-old son. He noticed a circular sore on the back of my hand, and the base of my left thumb, a burn from working. He said: "Daddy, you have a hole in you." I replied silently, I have a lot of holes in me.

Anyway, this song is about home. I have posted it before, but it is worth another traditio. It is by Gram Parsons, a songwriter I admire greatly and is called Return of the Grevious Angel. This version is sung by the always lovely EmmyLou Harris and Ryan Adams:

Last evening, over on Cahiers, I posted a long post-election take on things- Political ambivalence unleashed. While long, it is not too rambling and does cohere. I prefer to think of it as comprehensive. I could easily break it into three separate posts, but that is more work than I care to do right now. I posted something else on the same blog- Debt. My comprehensive Cahiers post reminded me of one of my early election posts Huckenfreude!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Memorial of St. Martin of Tours

This Memorial marks my birthday. Along with St Stephen, by virtue of the fact I was born on his feast, St. Martin of Tours is my patron. Have you ever been in a Mexican restaurant and seen the image to the left, or one closely resembling it, just behind the front counter? That's my patron, known as San Martín Caballero, the horseman! I love him. With these two patrons, no wonder I enjoy the comedy of Steve Martin, a fellow Philosophy major, so much!

When I think of my patrons, Sts. Stephen & Martin of Tours, a corny song comes to my mind. The song is from the movie Toy story (I am a hardcore Woody guy, as opposed to Buzz Lightyear, for whom, like Woody, I have a lot of affection) and is Randy Newman's You've Got a Friend in Me. My patrons, for whom I constitute their purgatory, have seen me through many tight spots and difficult stretches. I want to be the kind of friend to others that they are to me. It's hard, but only love can make me so. Nonetheless, this is the song I hear them sing with me.:

This version from the 2005 Stuttgart Jazz Festival. Never heard of it? Well, neither did I 'til a few months ago when I found this song. So what! Judging from their reaction, I don't think the Germans have an appreciation of Randy Newman.

A litany for my birthday:

Holy Mary, Mother of God- pray for us
St. Michael the Archangel- pray for us
St. Joseph- pray for us
St. Mary Magdalene- pray for us
St. Nathaniel- pray for us
St. Stephen- pray for us
St. Timothy- pray for us
St. Athanasius- pray for us
St. Ignatius of Antioch- pray for us
Sts. Perpetua & Felicity- pray for us
St. Augustine- pray for us
St. Martin of Tours- pray for us
Sts. Francis & Clare- pray for us
St. Dominic- pray for us
St. Catherine of Siena- pray for us
St. Rose of Lima- pray for us
St. Peter Julian Eymard- pray for us
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross- pray for us
St. Gianna Molla- pray for us
Bl. Franz Jägerstätter- pray for us
Bl. John XXIII- pray for us
Bl. Teresa of Calcutta- pray for us
Papa Wojtyla- pray for us P
Papa Montini- pray for us
Papa Luciani- pray for us
Don Giussani- pray for us
All holy men and women- pray for us

Monday, November 10, 2008

Starting from a positive hypothesis: marriage is unity

In their recent statement on marriage, Married Love and the Gift of Life, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops observed that couples "considering marriage yearn for certain things". At root their longing is the human longing for unity, for completeness, for happiness. The object of their desire, whether they know it or not, is well-expressed by the Psalmist: "As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God" (Ps. 42:1). In his Exposition on Psalm 42, St. Augustine opines that the one yearning for the face of God is not "one individual," but the "One Body,", which is "Christ’s Body," the church. Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete asks how do we see the church’s unity "with our eyes" and "grasp it with our hearts as a reality, as a verifiable fact of life, as a unity that makes us long so strongly for a vision of the face of God"? The answer, taking its cue from Genesis 2:24, which, along with Genesis 1:27, comprises the architectonic foundation on which the biblical view of marriage is constructed, is found in the fifth chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians: "'For this reason a man shall leave (his) father and (his) mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church" (5:31-32). It is through holy matrimony that "the unity between God and His people becomes a visible reality in this world" (Albacete "Marriage as Witnessing to Christ," Traces October 2008: 51).

The mystery of the unity of the triune God is also grasped in reality by the sacramental union between man and woman. In no way is this unity made more visible than by having children. The Christian tradition has long seen in the natural family (i.e., husband, wife, and children) as an icon of the Trinity. The church teaches that raising children, at least as much as having them, is why Christ has raised marriage "to the dignity of a sacrament" (Canon 1055.1). So, a couple who, through no fault of their, own are unable to bear children, need not be discouraged because a valid sacramental marriage is open to them, too.

Perhaps the biggest challenge to couples seeking to live marriage as a sacrament is faithfully living what the church teaches regarding sexuality and its necessary link to procreation. Nowhere more than here, at a significant crossroads where faith meets life, have so many Christians taken the worldly road. The term "birth control" is important because not only is the church not opposed to birth control, it teaches that limiting the number of children is a moral responsibility of all married couples. In his encyclical, Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI wrote that married couples need to arrive at a "full awareness of their obligations in the matter of responsible parenthood, which today, rightly enough, is much insisted upon, but which at the same time should be rightly understood" (par. 10). So, taking into account the "physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time" (par. 10). "From this it follows," the encyclical continues, "that they are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator" (par. 10). The nature of Christian marriage as set forth in scripture "makes [God’s] will clear" and "the constant teaching of the Church spells it out" (par. 10). What the constant teaching of the church spells out is that the regulation of births, either by way of spacing or number, cannot be done morally by using artificial methods of contraception.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Starting from a positive hypothesis: marriage is indissoluble

Marriage is a huge controversy right now. It also happens to be a subject of academic exploration for me presently. So, here is another extract from a position paper on marriage as a sacrament I recently wrote. It is offered as beginning from a positive hypothesis, which is the only Christian starting point. There will be a follow up on the other essential property of marriage: unity.

"The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized," this is how the church defines marriage in the first paragraph of Canon 1055. Marriage has two essential properties "unity and indissolubility" (Canon 1056). In Christian marriage these two properties "obtain a special firmness by reason of the sacrament" (1056).

The scriptural view of marriage leaves no doubt about its indissolubility. In scripture, we first encounter marriage in the second chapter of Genesis as part of the second creation narrative found in the first inspired book. In this narrative woman is fashioned by God out of the rib of man as a "suitable partner" (2.20). Hence, the two are flesh of one another’s flesh and bone and of one another’s bone. This is truly what the sacramental bond of matrimony is. The sacramental nature of marriage is taught to us by Jesus himself in his dispute with some Pharisees. Jesus is asked by the Pharisees if it is legal for a man to divorce his wife (Mark 10.2). Jesus answers a question with a question: "What did Moses command you" (10.3)? They responded correctly by saying that Moses permitted a man to divorce his wife simply by writing "a bill of divorce" (10.4). It is crucial to note that there was no question about whether a woman could divorce her husband, under the law of Moses she could not. Nonetheless, Jesus levels the playing field, but he does so in a striking and unexpected way, by looking deeper into the law. He tells the Pharisees that Moses only allowed them to divorce due to "the hardness of [their] hearts," but that it was not so from the beginning (10.5-6). He then quotes Genesis: "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother (and be joined to his wife), and the two shall become one flesh," he then adds the words that immediately follow the exchange of vows in the Rite of Marriage, "[w]hat God has joined, men must not divide" (2.24; Mark 10.7-8; par. 25). Stated clearly, "Christians are called to be faithful witnesses in a world where commitments are too often unfulfilled" (Preparing for Marriage in the Diocese of Salt Lake City 1).

Rebecca, writing over on Faith's Mystery, has some sobering observations about the passage of Proposition 8: California Prop 8 Backlash. On a not so unrelated note, today is Dorothy Day's birthday. Here is a quote taken from Deacon Greg's lovely post, written by one of her biographers, Jim Forest, on this Christian woman: "Dorothy was sometimes criticized for being too devout a Catholic. How could she be so radical about social matters and so conservative about her Church? While she occasionally deplored statements or actions by members of the hierarchy, she was by no means an opponent of the bishops or someone campaigning for structural changes in the Church. What was needed, she said, wasn't new doctrine but our living the existing doctrine. True, some pastors seemed barely Christian, but one had to aim for their conversion, an event that would not be hastened by berating them but rather by helping them see what their vocation requires. The way to do that was to set an example."

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Doin' the Jimmy Carter

This is just too cool not to post on a Friday because it's all about the dancing. The real question, the one asked on Politico by Daniel Libit, is "Can 'The Daily Show' Survive Barack Obama?"

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A charism for the Church and for the world

Today I received, via e-mail, a letter from Fr. Carrón to members of Communion and Liberation, which is also posted on-line. The letter was about his experience participating in the recently concluded Synod of Bishops, which took as its theme: The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. Along with several other celini, I posted his intervention at the synod.

What I want to pick-up on from the letter is the takeaway, which arises from a three-part consideration of the history of our charism, given by the Spirit to Fr. Giussani, which is a "charism for the Church and for the world":
"Today we are called to become more aware of the aim for which the Spirit gave a charism to Fr. Giussani: to contribute along with all the baptized to the building up and renewal of the Church for the good of the world. Following His usual method, God gives grace to one person so that through him it may reach everyone. We shall be unfaithful to the nature of our charism if the gift we have received is not shared with everyone, inside and outside the Church. So each one of us must find out in his own circumstances how best he can contribute to the good of the Church. There are many ambits in which many of us are making Christ present with astonishing freedom and boldness. This presence of ours in real places where man's life goes on must not fall short. At the same time, though, we are asked at times to collaborate inside the Church, too. Many of you have been giving this contribution for some time—as catechists in the parish, by charity work and other forms of collaboration— and we must be found more and more available where our presence is asked for and welcomed. This contribution cannot but be in accordance with the nature of our charism, which finds its complete expression in witness."

I also want to write a little about School of Community and what it is. School of Community has been described as "a weekly catechetical gesture". The school lasts an hour, but there is often fellowship before and/or afterwards. Through the reading and discussion of texts in light of our experiences, School of Community aims to give participants "a clearer understanding of the nature of the Christian fact". The texts are by Msgr. Luigi Giussani or from the teachings of the church. Presently we are just beginning to read Is it Possible to Live this Way?: An Unusual Approach to Christian Existence, vol 2, Hope, by Giussani.

Fr. Carrón tells us that we only require three things for School of Community:

1. Our heart
2. the books of Father Giussani (ie, the method) and
3. Christ.

It doesn't depend on anything or anyone else, so we have our freedom, and no one can limit us or our freedom to do it because I have all I need and you have all you need.

Four Points To Work On in School of Community

An intelligent reading of the text, attentive to the way it relates to things, to the judgments it generates, to the reasons it gives.

Communication of your experience (everything can be brought in), in comparison with the text.

A culture that develops. Your motivations and criteria must spring up from within the nature of the experience and not from outside. The more you penetrate into the event that has made us grow, and the more you follow, the more intelligent you become.

The synthesis made by the leader. He communicates how his experience has developed during the event that is the School of Community.

(Thanks to Paul over on Communio from whom I borrowed heavily for my description of SofC and the CL US website, particularly the School of Community page)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Barack H. Obama, President of the U.S.

By an overwhelming majority in the electoral college, Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. It is important to keep in mind that his victory in the popular vote is not as big as that in the electoral vote college, though a convincing one. He is elected in a critical time for our country and for the world. Let's pray that he is up to the task. There are concerns, as there are with any leader, but let us pray for him, especially as his decisions effect fundamental issues, like human life, marriage, and family.

Rocco, writing over on Whispers, offers a few thoughts on Vice President-elect Joseph Biden, who is the first Catholic vice president of these United States.

As Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete said back in 2004:
"We do not have the problem, or the mission, to construct a bridge between faith and politics. We do not have this problem. To have this problem and to attempt to solve it, already violates our humanity. Every single attempt to build this bridge has been a weakening of faith, or a betrayal of the Incarnation. And historically, there have been many attempts."

Monday, November 3, 2008

More on marriage

In their 2006 statement on marriage, Married Love and the Gift of Life, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops observed that couples "considering marriage yearn for certain things". At root their longing is the human longing for unity, for completeness, for happiness. The object of their desire, whether they know it or not, is well-expressed by the Psalmist: "As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God" (Ps. 42.1). In his Exposition on Psalm 42, St. Augustine opines that the one yearning for the face of God is not "one individual," but the "One Body," which is "Christ’s Body," the church.

Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete asks how do we see the church’s unity "with our eyes" and "grasp it with our hearts as a reality, as a verifiable fact of life, as a unity that makes us long so strongly for a vision of the face of God" (Traces, vol. 8 2008, pg. 51)? His answer, taking a cue from Genesis (2,24), is found in the fifth chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians: "'For this reason a man shall leave (his) father and (his) mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church" (5.31-32). It is through holy matrimony that "the unity between God and His people becomes a visible reality in this world" (Traces, pg. 51).

This is an edited extract of a position paper on marriage I have been working on this month.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Marriage and memories

This serves two purposes: a follow-up to a post over on Is It Possible? and a belated Friday traditio because Fred and Ginger in Shall We Dance? is worth passing along. Since it is All Souls, it is also a paen to those with whom I used to watch such movies. Here's to your memory Verena and Isabelle!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

All Saints Day

Holy Mary, Mother of God- pray for us
All holy men and women- pray for us

Today is a day which we remember all saints, but especially those holy women and men who are known only to God. Their anonymity makes them particularly beloved of God in whose radiant light they dwell, which enables them to intercede for us.

Year B Third Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 3:13-15.17-19; Ps 4:2.4.7-9; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:25-48 “You are witnesses of these things,” Jesus tells his incredulous...