Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The validity of marriage and presence or absence of faith

In an interview I did with Karee Santos for her article on the Instrumentum Laboris for the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family, “Synod on the Family: A Preview of Coming Attractions,” I mentioned the possibility of gauging a couple’s faith in the manner it is supposed to be gauged when parents request to have an infant or small child baptized, that is, seek to establish that there is a well-founded hope that the couple will practice the Catholic religion prior marrying in the Church. While I agree with the concern expressed by canon lawyer Aldean Hendrickson concerning my suggestion, that “personal faith is a very difficult thing to measure,” I would simply note that we are already asked to measure, not perhaps so much personal faith, as the personal practice of and commitment to the faith, in the case of parents requesting the baptism of infants and small children under normal circumstances (i.e., in cases it is not an emergency- in an emergency, a case of life-and-death, we baptize).

It bears noting that in most situations this canonical requirement is considered to be met by the mere fact that one or both of the parents request baptism for their child, even if there is no discernible evidence, or expressed intention, of raising their child in the practice of the faith. Of course, baptism is not to be denied, but it may prudently be delayed in an effort to help the parents fulfill the promises they make when having their child baptized. It seems to me that often no effort is made to press them on points such as having completed their own Christian initiation, the frequency of Mass attendance, or reception of the Sacrament of Penance, or even being married in the Church.

Gerhard Cardinal Müller, the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in a recent book-length interview, to be published in English by Ignatius Press with the title The Hope of the Family: A Dialogue with Cardinal Gerhard Müller, addressed this issue. Before considering Cardinal Müller’s words, I think it is important to note that this concern was brought to the fore by Pope Benedict in a January 2013 speech he delivered the Roman Rota. In that speech, the then-Pontiff said
The indissoluble pact between a man and a woman does not, for the purposes of the sacrament, require of those engaged to be married, their personal faith; what it does require, as a necessary minimal condition, is the intention to do what the Church does. However, if it is important not to confuse the problem of the intention with that of the personal faith of those contracting marriage, it is nonetheless impossible to separate them completely. As the International Theological Commission observed in a Document of 1977: “Where there is no trace of faith (in the sense of the term ‘belief’ — being disposed to believe), and no desire for grace or salvation is found, then a real doubt arises as to whether there is the above-mentioned and truly sacramental intention and whether in fact the contracted marriage is validly contracted or not” (La dottrina cattolica sul sacramento del matrimonio [Propositions on the Doctrine of Christian Marriage] [1977], 2.3: Documenti 1969-2004, Vol. 13, Bologna 2006, p. 145)
In a lengthy excerpt from Cardinal Müller’s interview provided by Sandro Magister on Chiesa, His Eminence, after he strongly re-asserted the dogmatic (i.e., unchangeable) nature of the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, which is nothing other than the teaching of Jesus Christ (Matt 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12), he began to speak in an authentically pastoral manner. The assertion of the dogmatic nature concerning the indissolubility of marriage “does not,” he insists
prevent one from speaking of the problem of the validity of many marriages in the current secularized context. We have all witnessed marriages in which it was not very clear if the contracting parties really intended to “do what the Church does” in the rite of marriage. Benedict XVI made insistent appeals to reflect on the great challenge represented by no believing baptized persons. As a result, the congregation for the doctrine of the faith took note of the pope's concern and put a good number of theologians and other collaborators to work in order to resolve the problem of the relationship between explicit and implicit faith.

What happens when even implicit faith is absent from a marriage? When this is lacking, of course, even if the marriage has been celebrated “libere et recte," it could be invalid. This leads us to maintain that, in addition to the classical criteria for declaring the invalidity of marriage, there must be further reflection on the case in which the spouses exclude the sacramental nature of marriage. Currently we are in a phase of study, of serene but tenacious reflection on this point. I do not think it is appropriate to jump to conclusions, since we have not yet found the solution, but this does not prevent me from pointing out that in our congregation we are dedicating a great deal of energy to providing a correct response to the problem posed by the implicit faith of the contracting parties
It will be interesting to follow the upcoming Synod, which, as I also noted in my interview responses, did not deal in an inordinate way with the problem of Communion for the civilly divorced and remarried. It will also be interesting to read the conclusions of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on this matter.

Gehard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

The preface to Cardinal Müller’s book was written by Fernando Sebastián Cardinal Aguilar, Archbishop Emeritus of Pamplona and Tudela in Spain. In this preface, I believe His Eminence hits the nail on the head and, in true pastoral fashion, points the way ahead:
The main problem present in the Church with regard to the family is not the small number of the divorced and remarried who would like to receive Eucharistic communion. Our most serious problem is the great number of baptized who marry civilly and of sacramentally married spouses who do not live marriage or the marital life in harmony with Christian life and the teachings of the Church, which would have them be living icons of Christ's love for his Church present and working in the world

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The relationship of the old to the new

After ending a series of parables about the radical nature of the kingdom of God, Jesus asked His disciples, "'Do you understand all these things?' They answered, 'Yes.' And he replied, 'Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old'" (Matt 13:51-52).

I'm not convinced that those who answered "Yes" to Jesus' question understood completely. I certainly make no claim to understand completely. Hence, I am not pretending to write this from the perspective of someone who, more than 2,000 years later, claims to get what those who listened to Jesus firsthand and who responded to His call, even if only after His resurrection from the dead, did not. Silly, not arrogant, would describe someone who strikes such a pose. Of course, once you manage to grasp the strangeness, the upside down nature, of God's kingdom, at least when compared to the kingdoms of this world, all of which are passing and none of which are exceptional when judged by the standards of God's kingdom as set forth in the teaching of Jesus, even if a bit, this understanding changes how you engage the world by changing the way you see things, your understanding only grows.

Such an understanding certainly leads a person to be less satisfied with the worldly things, even those that are good and pleasurable, like a good glass of wine, a beautiful musical composition, freshly fallen snow, bright green leaves against a clear blue sky, an entrancing painting, or lovemaking with your beloved. Dissatisfaction can be the result if we cut the proclamation of God's kingdom in half, as it were. But Jesus comes to gives us hope, to encourage us to usher in God's kingdom, even as we await its total completion.

I don't write as much now as I did in my earlier years of blogging about my purpose for doing this. I still think quite a lot about the whats, whys, and wherefores of Καθολικός διάκονος. I guess my hope, even as a partially comprehending "scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven," is that I bring forth from my "storeroom both the new and the old." Both are necessary. Increasingly, especially given the troubling, even suicidal, turns our society and civilization have taken, many want to just cling to the old. I understand this desire. Some days I feel very much that way myself. On the other hand, we are increasingly unable, even unwilling, to remember. There is an on-going and deliberate effort in many quarters to eradicate memory. For many, especially the young, there is no past, there is nothing old, nothing worth holding onto, let alone worth passing along, all of this works to prevent preserving and further cultivating a sense of wonder and awe at our participation in being. Without the old, there can be nothing new.

Jesus never dismissed the old in His being something new because in His ever-newness He remains the Ancient of Days- "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "the one who is and who was and who is to come, the almighty" (Rev 1:8).

Odysseus and the quest for home

Currently I am reading The Odyssey with my 9 year-old son. It's been too many years since I last read Homer's epic tale. This morning we read of Odysseus, down to his last ship, leaving Circe's island for the Land of the Dead in order to consult with the dead prophet Tiresias about how to safely make it home to Ithaca. What struck me in reading this is the very natural human belief in life after death and the problem, without a wholly unexpected, cosmos-shattering intervention, of getting stuck far from home.

Of course, for the ancient Greeks, the Land of the Dead was a shadow land from whence there was no rescue. The Jewish belief in Sheol is very close to the Greek belief in Hades, not the god of the underworld, but the underworld itself. In fact, "Hades" is used 10 times in the New Testament. It is placed on the lips of our Lord four times, twice in Matthew and Luke (one of those times- Matt 11:23 and Luke 10:15- from the "Q" source) and once in Revelation (Matt 11:23; 16:18, Luke 10:15; 16:23, Rev 1:18).

Tiresias appears to Odysseus, watercolor with tempera, Johann Heinrich Füssli, c. 1780-85

What is my point in mentioning these convergences? Simple. We weren't made to exist in a shadow land for all eternity after our all too brief mortal life. I have found nothing better, certainly nothing more dramatic, than an anonymous ancient homily for Holy Saturday to highlight this. In this homily Jesus approaches the souls in what we term "the limbo of the fathers," He approaches our first parents, and says- "I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person."

Contrary to the insistence of many well-meaning Christians, Christ did not come to bring an end to religion, but to fulfill religion, to establish the true religion, the fulfillment of which is the Eucharist. The idea that Christianity it not a religion would've seemed strange, odd, and untrue to early Christians, who often gathered in secret, sometimes at great risk to their lives, or at least their freedom, to celebrate the Paschal Mystery, which was nothing other than the Eucharistic liturgy.

Turning to The Odyssey, specifically to Odysseus' arrival at the Land of the Dead and his locating the convergence of the two rivers, the River of Flaming Fire and the River of Lamentation:
"This is where we must sacrifice the sheep," Odysseus said. "When they smell the blood, the souls of the dead will rise up to meet us, and we will ask them to bring up Tiresias." Following Circe's instructions, he poured honey and milk into a trench, adding wine and water and grains and barley. Then he sacrificed the sheep and drew his sword. The souls of the dead came fluttering up from the underworld with hollow, eerie cries. Thousands of them flocked around Odysseus as he stood shivering on the edge of the trench. The ghosts of young men and girls floated next to battle-scarred warriors. Old men with gray hair brushed against newly married brides. They jostled together, vying for Odysseus's attention. He scanned their insubstantial faces... (The Odyssey, Gillian Cross, Illustrated by Neil Packer, 77)

To illustrate my point about Christ and religion I'll invoke this passage from the Letter to the Hebrews:
But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come to be, passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation, he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer’s ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.

For this reason he is mediator of a new covenant: since a death has taken place for deliverance from transgressions under the first covenant, those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:11-15)
I will juxtapose it with this from St Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians: "For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, 'This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes" (11:23-26).

In his novel Ignorance, Milan Kundera wrote, "The Greek word for 'return' is nostos. Algos means 'suffering'. So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return." Nostalgia is not a place, it's part and parcel of being human, of the "human condition," such as it is, or least how the vast majority of us experience it. Like Odysseus, it is what drives us forward. I suppose we can imagine nostalgia to be a "place." If we do, then, like those insubstantial figures Odysseus encounters, we might become stuck there. What we truly long for does not lie behind us, it lies ahead. How can our return lie ahead and not behind? This can only be satisfactorily answered by the poet: "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time" (T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding").

Friday, July 25, 2014

"Do you love me babe?"

I don't mind saying that the Friday traditio recently has been a little difficult for me. I am not really sure why. But with the passing of the lone surviving member of The Ramones, Tommy Ramone, on 11 July, makes this week's traditio is easy. Tommy Ramone was born Erdélyi Tamás in Budpest, Hungary in 1949. All of the band members passed way too soon. Tommy drummed for The Ramones from 1974-1978, when Mark took over. Both before and after drumming, Tommy managed the band and produced some albums.

The Ramones' original line-up (Tommy second from left)

The Ramones were East Coast punks. Back in the day there was a pretty big rivalry between West Coast, East Coast, and English punks. Anyway, our Friday traditio is The Ramones performing "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend," one of the songs Tommy wrote.

At a cancer benefit he performed in October 2008, after being preceded in death by all his former bandmates, "Ramones Beat Down on Cancer," Tommy, speaking of The Ramones said something very true: "They gave everything they could in every show. They weren't the type to phone it in, if you see what I mean."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

UPDATED: Natural Family Planning Awareness Week

Every year the week that includes 25 July is designated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as “National Natural Family Planning Awareness Week.” The reason for this is that it was on 25 July 1968 that Venerable Pope Paul VI promulgated what would turn out to be the final encyclical of his pontificate, Humanae Vitae. Paul VI remained pope for slightly longer than ten years after issuing this watershed document.

Given that the Catholic Church’s teaching on the inherent immorality of contraception is what currently constitutes the brightest “flash point” between the Church and the United States government, it seems like a good time for the Church to begin making its members more aware of this teaching and to teach it more persuasively. But chances are you heard far more about the Fortnight for Freedom, which concluded on 4 July, than about National NFP Awareness Week. Nonetheless, I really like the theme for this year: Natural Family Planning: It’s Worth It. Join the Revolution!

“Natural Family Planning,” or “NFP,” is an umbrella term for the various methods of NFP that couples may use, such as the Billings Ovulation Method, the Creighton Model, the Sympto-thermal method, to name just some of the methods. According to the USCCB website, “Natural Family Planning (NFP) is the general title for the scientific, natural and moral methods of family planning that can help married couples either achieve or postpone pregnancies” (emboldening in original).

There are so many misconceptions about NFP that it would be impossible to address them all in a single blog post. Therefore, I will refrain from attempting the impossible. What I intend to do is make one crucial distinction, followed by a clarification, and finally to write to any of my married brothers who might read this.

Having written about and taught on NFP consistently over the past 10 years, the distinction is one I make quite often: When used by spouses 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” (Humanae Vitae par 10), NFP is a form of birth control.

As to the “serious” reasons a couple might decide not to have more children either temporarily or indefinitely, the criteria is given in the encyclical. Of course, NFP can also be used as an aid to conceiving a child. The takeaway here is that the Catholic Church is not opposed to birth control per se, but is opposed to contraception in all cases, even to what might be called "natural forms of contraception" (i.e., forms that do not artificially prevent conception, but prevent pregnancy by abstaining from sexual relations during the fertile period of a woman’s menstrual cycle) when a couple’s reason(s) for so doing arise from what amount to selfish, consumeristic, or any worldly motives.

When broaching the subject of contraception in light of NFP, it is important to clarify what this might mean, lest NFP be viewed as a “natural form of contraception.” According to fundamental Catholic morality the inherent “goodness” or “badness” of certain acts is objectively determined, which means that while intention and circumstance may either mitigate, or eliminate altogether, the culpability of a person who engages in a "bad" act, neither circumstance nor intention can change the nature of the act itself from "bad" to "good." So, while one’s intention cannot turn a “bad” act into a good one (the road to hell is paved with good intentions), one’s intention can render an otherwise "good" act “bad.”

So, the distinction is between birth control and contraception. NFP can be employed in what might be called a contraceptive manner, that is, with a contraceptive mindset, or, to use an overused phrase that understandably drives many people nuts- “with a contraceptive mentality.”

One way such a mindset/mentality/cultural/societal disposition, whatever you want to call it, is made manifest on the part of some who vigorously oppose NFP is when a person arguing against NFP says to someone like me, “Well, you practice NFP and you have six children.” Their point, it seems, is that NFP doesn’t work because I have six children. According to this logic, NFP can only be proven successful when it is used in a contraceptive way. In reality, one of the best ways to demonstrate that NFP is not “a natural form of contraception” is by living your marriage in a manner that is open to life. A marriage open to life is a marriage open to children, which means accepting children as blessings, not as financial burdens who get in the way of self-realization.

Finally, far too many men believe that practicing NFP requires heroic virtue. In other words, many believe that using NFP when not trying to conceive a child requires long periods of sexual abstinence. I want to be honest, for some couples it does mean that. But if your wife’s menstrual cycle is more or less regular (most women’s are) then NFP does not require long periods of abstaining from sex, but relatively short ones.

UPDATE: My lovely wife, who actually possesses true expertise on NFP, upon reading this made an observation worth passing along, which she typed in her own words:
In your twenties it can require longer periods of abstinence if you are not trying to conceive. Nature seems to work towards conception during these years
But even with that, let’s not lose sight of the fact that chastity is a virtue even within marriage. Chastity should not be conflated with celibacy or sexual continence. Acquiring any natural virtue requires self-denial. A natural virtue is one that we acquire by practicing it. Of course, God’s grace, especially as given us in and through the sacraments, comes to our aid even in the acquisition of the natural virtues, something Paul VI points out beautifully in Humanae Vitae.

In the words of the Venerable Pope Paul VI:
The right and lawful ordering of birth demands, first of all, that spouses fully recognize and value the true blessings of family life and that they acquire complete mastery over themselves and their emotions. For if with the aid of reason and of free will they are to control their natural drives, there can be no doubt at all of the need for self-denial. Only then will the expression of love, essential to married life, conform to right order (Humanae Vitae par 21)
Men this requires us, as caring husbands, to be active participants in NFP, which primarily takes the form of charting, or at least being aware of where things stand so as not to put your wife in the position of having to frequently tell you “Not tonight,” which can put a lot of strain on your marriage. It also gives us many opportunities to find non-sexual ways of drawing nearer our wives.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

God is kindness and mercy

Readings: Wis 12:12.16-19; Ps 86:5-6.9-10.15-16; Rom 8:26-27; Matt 13:24-43

Most of the attention in the ambo (i.e., pulpit) this weekend will no doubt be given to the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. With the Gospel reading being rather long, the other readings and even the remaining two parables contained in the Gospel are likely either to receive short shrift, or be completely ignored. This is not a complaint. As a preacher, I grasp that you can't preach everything.

A single mustard seed

Since I invoked our second reading from St Paul's Letter to the Romans in the post immediately preceding this one, I will focus on the other readings.

Towards the end of our first reading, we hear "that those who are just [righteous] must be kind" (Wis 12:19). One of the most difficult things to "get right" is balancing mercy with justice. Humanly speaking, at least in my view, striking a perfect balance between mercy and justice is impossible. The main reason it is impossible is because we are never aware of all the factors that need to be known in order to make a "spot on" determination. Contrary to the view of some, if we err, we should err on the side of mercy. Is this just my personal opinion? No, it is scriptural: "For the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13). The person I should judge most is myself. But I only judge myself in order to receive God's mercy, which is nothing apart from a brand new pledge of His great love for me.

Turning to the parable of the mustard seed, it's important to note that Jesus here is not talking about personal faith. His use of the example of a mustard seed to teach about faith comes a bit later in St Matthew's Gospel (Matt 17:20). Being part of what New Testament scholars identify as the "Q" document ("Q" being shorthand for the German word "quelle," meaning source), which is posited to account for the material that the Gospels of St Matthew and St Luke have in common that they did not derive from St Mark, is also found in St Luke's Gospel (see Luke 17:6). In this passage, the Lord is talking about establishing the kingdom of heaven, which, like the mustard plant, starts out improbably small, but will ultimately fill the earth. I believe that this is the kind of thing Bl Teresa of Calcutta had in mind when she said, "God does not require that we be successful only that we be faithful."

Jesus makes very much the same point by using the example of how a little bit of yeast leavens an entire loaf of bread as He sought to make in the Parable of the Mustard seed. It is difficult for us, being a people constituted by the Eucharist, to hear Jesus teach using bread as an example and not be put in mind of the Eucharist. I don't think it'd be stretching things too much to say that our receiving communion is precisely what is supposed to make us into the leaven our Lord calls us to be: the leaven at work bringing about the kingdom of heaven.

So, connecting these two parables to that of the wheat and the tares, I think we can conclude that the Church, at least the Church on earth, cannot be taken as co-terminus with the kingdom of heaven, which is yet to come. But it is not my job, or your job, to determine or decide who is in and who is out. Nonetheless, I think we'd be less than honest if we did not frankly admit that we are sometimes tempted to do just this, both generally and in particular cases. One way to avoid this temptation is to call to mind the wisdom expressed in our reading from the Book of Wisdom- "that those who are just must be kind" (Wis 12:19). Kindness, which is perhaps best described as love in action, is the leavened and baked loaf. Kindness is the full-grown mustard plant. Love expressed in word and deed, is the fulfillment of the kingdom of heaven.

Last night I attended the memorial service for a wonderful man who, in a moment of pitch black despair, took his own life. I was extended the privilege of making a few remarks and offering a prayer at the end of what turned out to be one of the most beautiful memorial services I have ever attended. Inside each program was a card that read, "Be gentle with yourself & with others." Let's not forget that God is gently and kindly disposed towards each of us without exception. In other words, this includes you, whoever you may be, or wherever you may be, either geographically or spiritually.

In our first reading we heard these words, addressed to God almighty- "For you show your might when the perfection of your power is disbelieved." This is followed by Psalm 86, the reponsorial for which is, "Lord, you are good and forgiving" (Ps 86:5). Let's not forget that God's might was most powerfully shown, not in punishment and harshness, but in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

"Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

Saturday, July 19, 2014

"Your empty passion won't satisfy me"

Since my Friday postings lately have usually been both late and hasty, on this Saturday morning, as the fruit of a grace-filled encounter with some friends this morning on FB (Yes, social media can be a succor instead of a vexation- our encounter was virtual, but the grace we experienced was real), I offer a supplemental traditio: "No More Words" by Berlin. It was my friend Paul who invoked this song during our encounter.

I don't know about you, but for me it's often an interesting exercise for me, when listening to some contemporary songs, to replace a human lover with God. I admit, the fit can be both good and somewhat incongruent, even in the same song. For example, in this song, a reference is made to when "We make love..." Now, this might make us uncomfortable when we think of God. But let's not be too quick to dismiss this notion outright. In his reflecting on his marriage to Helen Joy Davidman, C.S. Lewis, in A Grief Observed, wrote about marital sex as perhaps the nearest human analog to experiencing divine love:
One thing, however, marriage has done for me. I can never again believe that religion is manufactured out of our unconscious, starved desires and is a substitute for sex. For those few years [Joy] and I feasted on love, every mode of it—solemn and merry, romantic and realistic, sometimes as dramatic as a thunderstorm, sometimes as comfortable and unemphatic as putting on your soft slippers. No cranny of heart or body remained unsatisfied. If God were a substitute for love we ought to have lost all interest in Him. Who’d bother about substitutes when he has the thing itself? But that isn’t what happens. We both knew we wanted something besides one another—quite a different kind of something, a quite different kind of want
Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, by Bernini, 1647-1652

"No more words/You're telling me you love me while you're looking away." Christ wants us to meet His loving gaze, but we're afraid His brilliance will blind, or maybe even kill, us. The truth is, returning His gaze will both blind us and kill us, but only in order to enable us to see things anew and to raise us to new life. We need to see things clearly and to put to death that part of us that needs to die, our sinful nature, characterized by our self-absorption, which causes us to be attracted to so many ephemeral things. But meeting Christ's gaze requires you to stand there with everything, especially your self-deception, stripped away, which is scary, but it's the only way to gain any sort of comprehension of how much He loves you.

But don't fool yourself
Your empty passion won't satisfy me, I know
So don't pretend that you want me

"In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will" (Rom 8:26-27).

I hope this does not come from a motivation of "Hey, look at me," but I don't mind sharing that my favorite way to pray is to lie prostrate in silence before the Blessed Sacrament. I never feel more like God hears me than when I do this, just letting the Holy Spirit articulate my "inexpressible groanings." I make no claim to any personal righteousness, all this amounts to is just taking some time. I often use words to create a barrier, a smokescreen, between myself and God (I do this with my wife too).

Last night I re-watched an episode from series three of Rev. I was blown away by the scene in which Adam admits to his wife, Alex, that he kissed another woman, touched her breast, and enjoyed it, but still wished he'd never done it. After she vents her anger a bit, her response is amazing:

"Adam, it's not about the...tits
and the willies, and the fannies.
It's about the hearts.
You've broken mine."

Then she graciously forgives him and he thanks her profoundly. Aren't we all, in some way, the aptly named Adam?

I believe it was St Ignatius of Loyola who bids us to pray as we can, not as we think we ought.

A note on grace

I think the phrase "grace builds on nature," that is, grace is always at work through the ordinary and every day circumstances we experience, is just a way of saying it usually percolates slowly. I believe this is true because I do not believe that God's grace is irresistible. You are always free to resist grace at any given moment and you are even free to do so ultimately. This why C.S. Lewis, in the Great Divorce, wrote:
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened
While God relentlessly pursues you, He won't save you, or damn you against your will. Keep in mind Jesus' rebuke of the "lukewarm" Christians of Laodicea: "So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth" (Rev 3:16). A lifetime of resisting grace, of pursuing your own will, especially with regard to matters that are clearly at odds with God's expressed will, doesn't predispose one to want to submit to God's will in the end.

Pater Tom wrote, "A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire." Lest I tempt anyone to despair, please remember these words of our Risen Lord to St Paul: "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12:9)

Friday, July 18, 2014

"Blowing through the jasmine in my mind"

Okay, today's late, late traditio is a song I had stuck in my mind for a few days early this week- Seals and Crofts version on "Summer Breeze."

It's summer and it's here along the Wasatch Front. I am not sure why (I blame it on the heat), but I am always a little bit more anxious than usual in the summertime. I consider this song and this version of the song, which I remember my parents listening to when I was young, coming into my mind and remaining with me at the beginning of a long and stressful week a great grace.

Sweet days of summer
the jasmine's in bloom
July is dressed up
and playing her tune

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Notes and asides on the Celestine Jubilee

On Saturday, 5 July, in Isernia, Italy, the probable birthplace of Pietro del Morrone, who, from 5 July -13 December 1294, served as Pope under the name Celestine V, Pope Francis announced the beginning of a Celestine Jubilee Year. Speaking in the piazza of the Duomo di Isernia, Cattedrale di San Pietro Apostolo, the Holy Father said:
Here is the truly modern sense of the Jubilee Year, this Celestine Jubilee Year, which I proclaim open from this moment, and during which the door of divine mercy will stand wide open to everyone. It is not an escape, not an avoidance of realty and of one’s problems, it is the answer that comes from the Gospel: love as a force of purification, of integrity, a force of renewal of social relationships, a force of planning for a different economy, which places the person, work and family at the centre rather than money and profit
From the perspective of his resignation, which he announced 11 February 2013, many commentators came to see Pope Benedict XVI's 2009 visit to the tomb of Pope Celestine V (the last pope to resign), which is in L'Aquila, Italy, in Santa Maria di Collemaggio Basilica, in a new light. Celestine V is a canonized saint of the Church. He was canonized as a holy hermit and founder of a contemplative religious order. Due to the high regard in which he is held, even venerated, first by Pope Benedict and now by Pope Francis, the question, "Who was Pietro del Morrone?" has been raised. Sandro Magister's recent article "Celestine V a Model Pope? The Myth and the Reality" is as good a response to this question as I have found.

Pope Benedict XVI visiting the tomb of Pope Celestine V

It seems to me that from the perspective of this papal veneration, one cannot simply dismiss Celestine V as "a bad pope." That he was not an effective pope is beyond historical dispute. He never wanted to be pope! Let's keep in view the fact that Pietro del Morrone was not elected pope until he was 84, which would be old even now. His pontificate only lasted five months and nine days.

One of the reasons Bergoglio was not on my radar during last year's conclave is that, given Benedict's resigning due to age, at 76, I thought him 10 years too old. This is no mere digression. Pope Benedict, having lived through the final years of the papacy of Pope St John Paul II, who gave heroic witness to the value of human life during this time, did not see fit to put the Church through that again.

Both Benedict and Francis see Celestine V as a model precisely for his humble and even selfless realization and acknowledgment that, as an old man, well past his prime, he was not "up to" the job. In this regard it bears noting that Benedict XVI resigned when he was the same age as Celestine V was when he resigned: 85. As Magister describes it, Celestine V's "plans for abdication were scrupulously examined from the juridical point of view. And on December 13, in the Castelnuovo in Naples, he read his declaration of resignation before the assembled cardinals. He set aside the pontifical vestments and dressed himself again in the gray robe of his congregation: the pope had again become Pietro del Morrone."

At least to me, there is something quite beautiful and distinctively Franciscan in Magister's description of del Morrone's resignation. Undoubtedly this is one reason why, in his speech announcing the Celestine Jubilee, the Holy Father linked these two men so closely together. I was personally gratified that in his Isernia remarks Pope Francis finally uttered the word "deacon" in public. Speaking of the example set by Sts Pietro del Morrone and Francesco de Assisi in giving prophetic witness to a new world, the foundation of which is mercy, a world in which "the goods of the earth and of work are equally distributed and no one lacks the necessary, because solidarity and sharing are the concrete result of fraternity," the Holy Father noted "one was a deacon [St Francis], the other a bishop, the Bishop of Rome — as clergy, both had to set the example of poverty, of mercy and of totally divesting themselves."

Pope Francis in Isernia

Regarding what the Pontiff said concerning "mercy," "indulgence," and "the forgiveness of debt," it bears noting that not long after he became pope, Celestine V promulgated a papal bull granting a plenary indulgence to all pilgrims visiting Santa Maria di Collemaggio (where he is now entombed) through its holy door on the anniversary of his papal coronation. He was selected as Roman Pontiff on 5 July, but was not installed until late August. To this day, the people of L'Aquila celebrate a festival, called Perdonanza Celestiniana, each year on 28-29 August.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Accomplish God's purpose

Readings: Is 55:10-11; Ps 65:10-14; Rom 8:18-23; Matt 13:1-23

God sows His word throughout the world. His word is not fruitless, but, in the words of Isaiah, God's word accomplishes His will, accomplishes "the end for which it is sent" (Is 55:11). Of course, Jesus Christ is God's Word. I have long cherished these words from Michael Card's song "The Final Word"- "He spoke the incarnation and then so was born the Son/His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one."

Just as not everyone understood the parables Jesus taught, not everyone grasps that Jesus is God's final, perfect Word, sent to accomplish the Father's will. Indeed, there is something quite mysterious about this.

What is perhaps most counter-intuitive of all is how Jesus Christ, as God's Word, accomplishes the purposes of the One who sent Him. St. Paul, in our second reading, taken from the most majestic of his writings, his Letter to the Romans, drawing from his own experiences as one in whom "the word of the kingdom" found rich soil, writes with a great deal of precision about just how God's Word accomplishes His work in us and through us.

Vincent Van Gogh, The Sower, 1889

If I were to assign one word to describe how God's word accomplishes His work in us and through us based on what St Paul wrote I would be tempted to use "suffering." But, with a bit of reflection, I'd have to go with "travail." Travail means painful or laborious effort. Why "travail" instead of "suffering"? Suffering, it seems to me, is far too passive. Suffering just happens. It has been observed, "to live is to suffer."

Travail implies that we take those circumstances that cause us to suffer, and, by the power of the Spirit, offer these to God, which is what it means to participate in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, something we were called to do when we were baptized into Christ's death and resurrection. This is what St Paul means a few chapters on in Romans where he wrote, "I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship" (Rom 12:1). This requires us to recognize that it is precisely through experience, through the circumstances we face every day, which recognition causes us to "groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption" (Rom 8:23), that God redeems our bodies, making us ever more fully His children. God redeems what we freely offer Him.

If we extend today's second reading two more verses, our understanding is enhanced: "For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance" (Rom 8:24-25). Sticking with today's metaphor of seeds growing into fruitful plants, we can quickly grasp that after we plant a seed a lot happens in the earth, that is, underground, before even the first sprout becomes visible above ground. So it is with God's word for those in whom He finds rich soil. The soil of our souls is made rich, is fertilized, by patience and perseverance, which is why the apostle wrote, "in hope we are saved."

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The diaconate and ministry: an Eastern Catholic perspective

In response to my last blog post, a friend of mine, Isolde, a sister in Christ who belongs to the Ukrainian Catholic Church, wrote something I thought was important enough to pass along:


The transitional diaconate makes the diaconate seem like a consolation prize or stepping stone and it therefore loses it's unique charism. I love the suggestions, including the possible, and appropriate context for, a return of the role of the deaconess (which is not a female deacon as it doesn't hold a liturgical role and has a unique ministry to women and children). Though, it could be argued that returning deaconesses would be an orientalization, too. (The Coptic Church recently re-established the order of deaconess. Whether deaconesses were once tonsured/set aside or ordained is a semantic issue highly disputed. That they existed, as evidenced by Phoebe in the Bible, is not.)

It's a job already being largely fulfilled in the church by RCIA directors, directors of catechesis, or under similar titles. Giving them the recognition, training, and unique ministry they deserve would be a benefit IF it could be accomplished within the appropriate context.

That the role of deacons is not properly respected or understood right now is an underlying issue that needs to first be addressed within it's own right for the sake of our deacons and our church. Similarly is the role of male religious, whose identity of being set aside was consumed in the corporate ladder model to the priesthood, making the religious orders top-heavy with priests and bereft of brothers. Which is what started the process of them losing their communities and identities as they filled the role of parish priests. I am so pleased to see both the diaconate and the male religious life beginning to be rediscovered in the west and to serve the church with their unique charisms again.

Serving alongside my bishop- this picture appeared on the front page of the Deseret News last weekend

I think a similar rediscovery of the ministry of the priesthood needs to happen, which will remove the role of marriage or celibacy from the equation. How can the priesthood be a vocation if it is dependent on the church's need and affirmation? It isn't an alternative to marriage. The "mandatory" celibacy requirement caused us to frame the priesthood as an alternative to marriage, but it isn't. Celibacy is an alternative to marriage, but there are a lot of ways to live out celibacy. Singles (like deaconesses), consecrated virgins, religious, priesthood... The uniting factor is that every person lives that out in a community that supports and builds up that vocation. Even hermits are attached to communities. Sadly, our diocesan priests today lack in this essential area and I think a large reason is the rhetoric that the priesthood is the vocation instead of the proper focus on the celibate life being the vocation and the priesthood being the ministry.

Understanding vocation--the life one will work out one's salvation through--to be marriage or celibacy will really go a long way. Then, the priesthood as a ministry that the church calls the most qualified to will transform who is chosen, how they're chosen, the training provided, etc. And all of a sudden, whether the best candidate for the job being required to be married or celibate doesn't rank so high any longer. His stability, personality, responsibility, gifts, orthodoxy, witness, and so on become qualifying qualities.

I am so excited to see all of these transformations of how we speak and think returning to the fuller contexts in which practical solutions for how to live that out within our traditions can be legitimately discussed.


Married deacons ≠ married priests

I offer these thoughts on the diaconate with one important caveat - these are my ideas and mine alone. I am not claiming any authority on these matters apart from my own experience, study, and involvement in on-going discussions concerning these matters. So, as with everything on Καθολικός διάκονος, take it for what it's worth.

Observation: A lot of married permanent Roman Catholic deacons seem to be fervent advocates for the Latin Church normatively ordaining married men priests (the Church does now in exceptional cases), thus doing away with what is mistakenly called "mandatory" celibacy (mistaken because celibacy can only be freely chosen, not imposed). At least on the surface, this does not seem too difficult to figure out.

I guess my view, as one who seriously considered a vocation to the priesthood as a much younger man (particularly becoming a Dominican friar), and, only years later, with a lot of encouragement, discerned a vocation to the diaconate, I see being a deacon, serving as a deacon, especially as a married man with a family, as a distinct vocation, not as a consolation prize. Having written that, let me state that it is easy for me to understand that married deacons in the various Eastern Rite Catholic Churches throughout the United States might have a different set of concerns, given the normativity of those churches ordaining married men priests outside the United States, according to the ancient tradition of those Churches. Thankfully, it is becoming more and more common for some Eastern Rite Churches in the U.S. to ordain married men priests. Just as it is important for the various Eastern Churches in communion with Rome to resist "Latinization," we're on shaky ground, it seems to me, when we seek to "orientalize" the Latin Church.

In my view, the diaconate will not succeed in forging a mature ecclesial identity until the issue of the diaconate being a distinct vocation starts to be resolved. To this end, one concrete proposal I believe has a lot of merit, something of which I have long been in favor: doing away with the so-called transitional diaconate and making diaconal ordination part of episcopal ordination. This means doing away with the cursus honorum, which the Latin Church adopted from Roman polity. Cursus honorum literally means "course of offices." I refers to the sequential order of public offices held by aspiring politicians in both the Roman Republic and the early empire.

Applied to holy orders, the cursus honorum means going from deacon, to priest, to bishop. This practice often results in bad theology, which I have heard expressed by a few of my brother deacons along the lines of, "He's been ordained twice and I've only been ordained once." Our current practice does not strike me as all that consistent with the development of these orders in the New Testament and earliest Church. In fact, one can make a pretty good argument that the office of deacon existed prior to the office of priest. This change would also have the effect of bringing into even bolder relief the deacon's unique and, yes, special relationship to his bishop.

In addition to more clearly distinguishing deacons from priests, I believe such a move would the clear the space necessary to have an intelligent and conclusive discussion on women and the diaconate by doing away with slippery slope concerns about women becoming priests, which, for Catholics, is off-the-table. I don't mind saying, for the sake of clarity, that I am okay with the non-ordained office of deaconness, which would be conferred by institution, not ordination. This office would permit women to be of pastoral service primarily to other women.

The issue I am indirectly getting at is addressed in the USCCB's National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons, approved by the Holy See and subsequently issued in 2004:
Underlying the restoration and renewal of the diaconate at the Second Vatican Council was the principle that the diaconate is a stable and permanent rank of ordained ministry. Since the history of the order over the last millennium, however, has been centered on the diaconate as a transitory stage leading to the priesthood, actions that may obfuscate the stability and permanence of the order should be minimized. This would include the ordination of celibate or widowed deacons to the priesthood. "Hence ordination [of a permanent deacon] to the Priesthood . . . must always be a very rare exception, and only for special and grave reasons . . . Given the exceptional nature of such cases, the diocesan bishop should consult the Congregation for Catholic Education with regard to the intellectual and theological preparation of the candidate, and also the Congregation for the Clergy concerning the program of priestly formation and the aptitude of the candidate to the priestly ministry" (par 77)

"what you receive is the mystery that means you"

Garrison Keillor's quote, "Going to church no more makes you a Christian than standing in a garage makes you a car," is, understandably, quite popular with many Christians and non-Christians alike. If I understand it correctly, it points out the necessity that, if you are going to call yourself a disciple of Jesus, how you act all the time matters. Innocuous enough, right?

As with so many of these kinds of popular quotes, there are some other things at work, some of which, I would say, are a bit insidious ("causing harm in a way that is gradual or not easily noticed"). Keillor is not a Catholic. Hence, it would be wholly unfair to expect whatever theology he might convey through his radio show and his writing to meet that standard. Nonetheless, there are two observations I wish to make about this over-used quote. The first has to do with reducing faith merely to morals and the second has to do with the indispensability, at least from a Catholic perspective, of "going to Church," which means to participate, fully, actively, and consciously, in the sacred liturgy, in the holy Eucharist.

Regarding my first observation, I think C.S.Lewis, when he made the analogy between being a Christian and being a gentleman, wrote about all that needed to be written. In short, being good does not make you a Christian. It's much more accurate to call a person gifted with faith, but poor in praxis, a "bad" Christian than it is to call a person who believes in something else, or nothing at all, but who does good things, a Christian.

It strikes me as more than a little arrogant to call a person who believes in something else, or nothing at all, but who does good things, a Christian. Let's be honest, Christians do not have a monopoly on doing good. That stark reality might make some Christians angry, but it's the truth.

A prerequisite for being a Christian is the realization that you are not a good person. The next realization a Christian must have is that even though you are not good, you are infinitely loved. Only love, being loved and then loving, can make us better people, by the grace of God. With Evelyn Waugh, I invite everyone to ponder "how awful I'd be if I weren't a Christian."

I think quotes, like the one by Keillor, are often used by Christians as an excuse for not going to Church. I want to ask these brothers and sisters of mine, in the vein of St Paul, "Are you really that convinced of your own goodness?" Or, perhaps, "Are you so harshly judging the 'badness' of your sisters and brothers who attend, dismissing them as 'hypocrites,' that you stay away?" That going to Church, participating in and receiving the holy Eucharist, is an indispensable part of the that process is borne out by this, from a sermon by St Augustine:

So if it's you that are the body of Christ and its members, it's the mystery meaning you that has been placed on the Lord's table; what you receive is the mystery that means you. It is to what you are that you reply Amen, and by so replying you express your assent. What you hear, you see, is The body of Christ, and you answer, Amen. So be a member of the body of Christ, in order to make that Amen true (Sermon 272)

Friday, July 11, 2014

"Oh and I again complain"

Since I posted two songs on Facebook today, I have to admit that I am not much up for posting a traditio. However, it is a traditio and something I want to keep doing. So, I'll post both here with no comment except to pass along that I found both of these songs to be what I needed spiritually today.

The first one is Jars of Clay playing the hymn "Thou Lovely Source of True Delight"-

Jesus my Lord, my life, my light, oh come with blissful ray
Break radiant through the shades of night and chase my fears away
Won't you chase my fears away

The second one, which came to mind when a friend posted a Chris LeDoux song, thus broaching the whole issue of country music, is Collin Raye's "What If Jesus Came Back Like That?"

Nobody said life is fair
We've all got a cross to bear
When it gets a little hard to care
Just think of Jesus hanging there

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Coming to terms with the density of what we see

Decollation of the St John the Baptist, by Caravaggio, 1608 in the Co-Cathedral of Malta at Valetta
Beckett spent hours in front of the Decollation of St. John the Baptist in the cathedral in Valetta trying to come to terms with the saturation of visibility in Caravaggio's painting. Eventually the painting inspired the stage image for Not I (Sandra Wynands, Iconic Spaces: The Dark Theology of Samuel Beckett's Drama 40)
When played on stage, Not I requires a nearly naked and unnaturally dark stage set that bleeds into the undisguised dark of the auditorium. The solitary actress is cloaked, boxed, and elevated above the black painted stage with only her mouth opening and closing, cleanly and clearly, against the dark, teeth visible and disturbingly white, lit by a single spotlight. Located downstage from the Mouth, a tall figure, the Listener, cloaked from head to toe in black, hands and face covered with fabric, stands also elevated above the stage platform (Tia Ballentine "To and Fro in Shadow: Not I")
"when suddenly she felt . . . gradually she felt . . . her lips moving . . . imagine! . . her lips moving! . . as of course till then she had not . . . and not alone the lips . . . the cheeks . . . the jaws . . . the whole face . . . all those- . . what?. . the tongue? . . yes . . . the tongue in the mouth . . . all those contortions without which . . . no speech possible . . ."- Samuel Beckett from Not I

Pope St John Paul II on piety and purity

Reading the next, that is, the fifty-seventh installment of Pope St John Paul II's series of Wednesday catecheses on Theology of the Body this morning in Michael Waldstein's masterful presentation of it in his book Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (352-355), I was delightfully surprised. Before getting to the source of my surprise, once again, I found it heartening that the Instrumentum Laboris (i.e., "working instrument," or working document) for the upcoming Synod on Marriage and the Family pointed to the use of John Paul II's Theology of the Body (par 18) as a fruitful way to help people better understand their sexuality and human sexuality in general by deepening their understanding of what it means to be human in light of the Paschal mystery, that is, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Yesterday, in my reflection on the readings for this Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, I used a bit from John Paul II's fifty-sixth installment of his Theology of the Body and identified the charism of egkrateia, best translated as "self-control," as the fruit of the Holy Spirit that best enables a Christian to maintain the kind of purity St Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians 6 (verses 12-20).

This morning, turning to installment fifty-seven in Waldstein's Theology of the Body compendium, I discovered that the charism of the Holy Spirit that Pope St John Paul II identified as "the one most congenial to the virtue of purity seems to be the gift of 'piety' (eusebia; donum pietas)."

Here's his reasoning: "If purity disposes man to 'keep his own body with holiness and reverence,' as we read in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, piety as the gift of the Holy Spirit seems to serve purity in a particular way by making the human subject sensitive to the dignity that belongs to the human body in virtue of the mystery of creation and redemption. Thanks to the gift of piety, Paul's words "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you... and the you do not belong to yourselves? (1 Cor 6:19) take on the convincing power of an experience and become a living and lived truth in actions" (Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body 352-353).

It not only because I am loathe to admit making a mistake that I see this as a classic both/and instead of a stark either/or. It is really all of the charismata working together in us, especially given and continually re-given to us in the Eucharist and through the Sacrament of Penance, that "the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil 1:6).

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The light burden of Christ

With our celebration of the Solemnity of Sts Peter & Paul last Sunday, which feast is a fixed observance, that is, the Church celebrates it on 29 June each year, we finally enter our long summer and fall season of Ordinary Time. I think it's important to point out that when it comes to the liturgical year, the Church does not use the word "ordinary" in the sense of opposing it to "extraordinary." In other words, the time we're now observing is not "Ho-Hum Time." The word "Ordinary," when applied to a season of the liturgical year takes its name from the word "ordinal."

In set theory, for example, an ordinal number "is the order type of a well-ordered set." The order type of the well-ordered set of the season of Ordinary Time are Sundays. This Sunday is the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Prior to the reform of the liturgical calendar that occurred after the Second Vatican Council, Roman Catholics counted Sundays after Pentecost. Today would be the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost. Anglicans number their weeks for this time of the year in a similar manner- from Trinity Sunday (i.e., Third Sunday After Trinity).

There is nothing ordinary, at least not in the way we usually employ this word, when it comes to Ordinary Time. The great Paschal mystery is anything but ordinary in that sense. The trouble with writing all that is it can have the tendency to undermine the message of today's readings by making all of this sound like hard work. It isn't hard work, not in the least. Does it require something of us? Sure! But one does not need to be wise or learned to grasp that we order our time from one Sunday to the next. One does not need to be learned to understand that for His disciples, Jesus Christ's resurrection is the axis around which our lives revolve. By His death, resurrection, ascension, and sending His the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ has changed our lives forever.

Jesus did all of that for you, not to load you down, but precisely to lift your burden, the heaviness of an existence lived against the horizon of death. We are called, as St Paul noted in his Letter to the Romans, not to live according to the flesh, but according to the Holy Spirit. The Apostle's injunction not live according to the flesh does not mean wandering around in some sort of quasi-mystical trans-like state. The Greek word the apostle employed (sarx) here does not refer to the body (the Greek word for "body" is soma). Hence, to live by the Spirit does not mean to live a disembodied existence, far from it.

In his magnificent Theology of the Body, Pope St John Paul II wrote about what it means to have the "Gift" of the Holy Spirit. "The fruit of redemption is indeed the Holy Spirit, who dwells in man and his body as in a temple" (Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body 350-351). It is the gift of the Holy Spirit, he asserted, that makes every Christian holy. You can't earn holiness. This is, at least partly, what Jesus can be understood to say in today's Gospel. You can only be made holy by the power of the Holy Spirit, which you can only receive as gift. Even the desire, let alone making the effort, to cooperate with the Spirit's work in you is a gift from God, a charism, if you will.

Pope St John Paul II was insistent that St Paul firmly held that the gift of the Holy Spirit "gives rise to an obligation" (351). John Paul II noted that in the sixth chapter of his First Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle "refers to this dimension of obligation when he writes to believers," those "who are aware of the Gift, to convince them not commit 'unchastity,' not to 'sin against their own bodies'" (1 Cor 6:18). Paul was adamant- "The body is not for unchastity but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body" (1 Cor 6:13). But the point, whether we talking about chastity, which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:23- the Greek word translated as "self-control" transliterated is egkrateia- refers a person who masters her/his desires and passions, especially his/her sensual appetites), or anything else, is the person who is alive in the Spirit lives an embodied life. Pope St. John Paul II, referring back to the Apostle's assertion about our bodies being for the Lord and the Lord for our bodies, observed-
It is difficult to express more concisely what the mystery of the Incarnation implies for every believer. For this reason, the fact that in Jesus Christ the human body became the body of the God-Man has the effect of a new supernatural elevation in every human being (Man and Woman 351)

How is that easy? I think that the phrase attributed to St Augustine, which is so often distorted by being shortened, helps us: "Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved." This is perfectly consonant with Jesus' two great commandments: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matt 22:37) and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt 22:39). Jesus taught that on these two commandments depend the "whole law and the prophets" (Matt 22:40). The question is never whether God loves me. Rather, the relevant question is, "Do I love God?"

Indeed, such wisdom is hidden from the learned and the wise and given to those who listen first with the ear of their hearts to the only One who can redeem them body and soul, who came to give everyone life eternal. Let's live the Paschal mystery, which living is always extraordinary.

Friday, July 4, 2014

"A teacup of water is enough to drown"

For the past several years in honor of United States' Independence Day I have focused on a fact I reiterated this week in post, namely that our constitutional order wholly depends on there being a transcendent source of rights, namely God. This does not necessarily mean that our constitution is built on a firm philosophical foundation, however. First, I offer something from a book that is by any measure a tour de force:
Burkeans, who, faithful to Burke’s own allegiance tried to combine adherence in politics to a conception of tradition that would vindicate the oligarchical revolution of property of 1688 and adherence in economics to the doctrine and institutions of the free market. The theoretical incoherence of this mismatch did not deprive it of ideological usefulness. But the outcome has been that modern conservatives are for the most part engaged in conserving only older rather than later versions of liberal individualism. Their own core doctrine is as liberal and as individualist as that of self-avowed liberals
– Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue

Our traditio for this Fourth of Jooolye is Zimming Point's cover of a song off Bob Dylan's 2009 album, Together Through Life. The song is "It's All Good." Dylan's song is not ironic, it's downright sarcastic, which is why I like it:

The widow's cry, the orphan's plea
Everywhere you look, more misery
Come along with me, babe, I wish you would
You know what I'm sayin', it's all good
All good
I said it's all good
All good

I will also add the insight of political philosopher Dr. Patrick Deneen, who is the David A. Potenziani Memorial Associate Professor of Constitutional Studies at the University of Notre Dame regarding the Hobby Lobby case:
The reactions to the Hobby Lobby decision demonstrate how thoroughly liberal every party in America is. The Left bemoans an apparent limitation on government coercion while missing that the decision itself is an affirmation of liberal State's control over religion. Meanwhile, the Right celebrates a victory for "religious liberty" while failing to notice that the case itself is an affirmation of the State's power to decide where, when and how religion is "free." What was most deeply affirmed is the State's control over the Church, granting or denying exemptions as it wishes. The Left and Right alike altogether accept the State's role as authoritative and final arbiter, even as they perform Kabuki theater in apparent opposition on the steps of the SUPREME Court, without wondering why it is supreme

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A few more thoughts on the Instrumentum Laboris

I had the distinct privilege of being interviewed by Karee Santos, who is the driving force behind the magnificent blog Can We Cana? A Community to Support Catholic Marriages. Karee is a wife, a mom, and an attorney. In a word, she's pretty awesome. Anyway, the interview consisted of me giving written answers to her written questions. She sent her questions to me and a few other people. 

Before I proceed to post my responses, the fruit of Karee's efforts resulted in what is the best thing I've read so far in the Catholic media on the Instrumentum Laboris for the upcoming Synod on The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization, which she wrote for Aleteia: "Synod on the Family: A Preview of Coming Attractions Better catechesis, marriage prep and the annulment process take center stage." I encourage to read her article, which features several views from differing perspectives.

I am grateful to Karee because by agreeing to give her my input I read the document right when it came out rather than waiting to read it, which I normally would've done right before the III Extraordinary Synod opens. Below are my complete responses:

1. From the working document, does it look like major changes, such as the amendment of canon law or issuance of a motu proprio, will be resulting from the Synod?

From my reading of Part II Chapter III it does not seem that such a drastic change will necessarily be forthcoming after the second part of the synod, which will occur in 2015 as part of the Ordinary Synod, or after the Extraordinary Synod this fall. A lot of attention is given to separated and divorced people “who remain faithful to their marriage vows,” stating that these men and women are “among the new poor’ (par 87). There is also a lot of discussion about those who are in “Situations of Canonical Irregularity,” noting that there are those who grasp the irregularity of their situation and the implications of that vis-à-vis reception of the sacraments, and those who do not understand their situation (par 89-92).

2. Does the working document accurately depict the state of Catholic marriages and families today?

Given the global nature of the Church and the disparity between those who belong to the Church and do not practice the faith and those who do (in other words given the diversity of situations the document addresses), accuracy is a difficult thing to gauge. On the whole, I would say it does accurately depict the state of Catholic marriages and families precisely by making these distinctions throughout the document

3. The working document states that most people do not know or understand the content of Church documents on marriage and the family (paras. 8 & 11). How can we work to change that in our roles as clergy, Diocesan administrators, and laypeople?

Among the groups of people who were identified as lacking an understanding of conciliar and post-conciliar magisterial documents on marriage and family are the clergy. Since, once again, even the word “deacon” does not appear at all this document, the designation “clergy,” in my view, probably denotes priests in general and pastors in particular (par 12). This is consistent with my own experience as a married deacon.

The answer is not asking the laity to read and master these documents, but for clergy and those members of the laity engaged in pastoral ministry, including catechists who teach children, to have better formation and for this knowledge to be imparted through catechetical instruction, marriage preparation, and in preaching.

4. The working document explicitly references Humanae Vitae and Pope John Paul II's catechesis on human love, i.e. Theology of the Body (para. 5, 18, 121-23, 128). Does this indicate that the Synod will neither ignore nor attempt to change the teachings from these documents?

Based on Pope Francis’s remarks about Humanae Vitae, which he made in a March interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, in which he praised Venerable Pope Paul VI’s prophetic genius, saying “he had the courage to stand against the majority, to defend moral discipline, to exercise a cultural ‘brake,’ to oppose present and future neo-Malthusianism. The question is not that of changing doctrine, but of going into the depths, and ensuring that pastoral [efforts] take into account situations, and what it is possible for people to do,” and the Instrumentum explicitly noting Humanae Vitae’s “prophetic character” (par 122), I agree with the assessment that the synod “will neither ignore nor attempt to change the teachings from these documents.”

Part I, Chapter III of the Instrumentum does an excellent job of dealing with the challenges facing the Church in terms of the natural law, as (sic) understanding of which is necessary for understanding the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family (par. 20).

5. Although Catholics seem very aware that abortion is a serious sin, they do not generally think that using contraception is sinful (para. 129). Why is that? Are there tactics that pro-lifers use that could be adapted to get the message out about contraception?

Great question! I can’t offer an exhaustive answer, only a few observations from my own ministry.

I think helping more people understand the uncontrollable potential of hormonal birth control pills to “contracept” by means of an early term chemical abortion needs to be more widespread, as well as the long term effects on women’s health of using “the pill.” As far as contraception in general we need to emphasize two important distinctions made by Venerable Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae: the distinction between “birth control” and “contraception” (one is an end, sometimes a morally acceptable one, the other is a means to an end, one that is never morally acceptable- see Humanae Vitae, par 10 and 16); the distinction between the various methods of Natural Family Planning and contraception. As to the latter distinction, NFP is not a natural form of contraception (Humanae Vitae par 16).

I like that the Instrumentum recommends the dissemination of Pope St John Paul II’s teaching on theology of the body, “in which he proposes a fruitful approach to the topics of family through existential and anthropological concerns and an openness to the new demands emerging in our time” (par 18).

6. Although many bishops are pleased with the structure and content of their marriage preparation programs, some survey responses acknowledged that "in many cases, couples give little attention to pre-marriage programmes" (para. 52). Could this problem be solved by better preparation for teens, more support for the already-married, or greater formation for catechists? Do you see a demand for these programs in your parish or diocese? If these programs already exist, do large numbers of people participate?

I know my bishop is not pleased with the state of marriage preparation in our diocese. I think the problem could be solved by all of the above. I was encouraged by the Instrumentum’s mention in more than one place of something along these lines: “Long before they present themselves for marriage, young people need assistance in coming to know what the Church teaches and why she teaches it. Many responses emphasize the role of parents in the catechesis on the family” (par 19).

We have some programs available in our diocese, but they are few and far between and severely under-resourced. Our diocesan Office of Marriage and Family Life has a staff of one part-time person. I think there is a demand for such offerings. Individual bishops have to see the urgency of what the Church is facing as clearly as does the Holy Father and change some pastoral priorities, which is no easy thing given the scarcity of resources.

7. In 1996, the Pontifical Council for the Family issued a document called Preparation for the Sacrament of Marriage, which recommended that pre-Cana courses cover a broad range of practical and theological topics and that the courses last either four weekends or one afternoon monthly throughout a whole year. These recommendations have largely been ignored in crafting most U.S. marriage preparation programs. Is it likely that an exhortation resulting from the Synod on the Family will have any greater effect?

I think it is very likely that the Apostolic Exhortation the Holy Father will issue after the second installment of the Synod on the Family in 2015 will be well-received, but go unheeded. In other words, I don’t see many dioceses revising pastoral priorities and providing the resources needed to meet this pastoral challenge that arises from a the profound cultural crisis we are experiencing with regard to marriage and family in the United States.

8. The working document states, "Very many responses, especially in Europe and North America, request streamlining the procedure for marriage annulments" (para. 96). Would this require amending the code of canon law regarding annulments? How long would that process take? Can the procedure be streamlined without an official amendment?

I’m not sure whether or not the Code of Canon Law would need to be amended in order to streamline existing annulment processes. Amending canon law is done with some regularity via a motu proprio- the last such set of amendments were promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI in his Apostolic Letter Omnium in mentem of 2009.

In my view, as one who is a member of our Diocesan Marriage Tribunal and who deals with a rather large number of annulment proceedings, the only canonical marriage procedure that is in dire need of streamlining is the formal case. One idea that was floated by Archbishop Bruno Forte at the 2005 Ordinary Synod on the Eucharist was doing away with the requirement for a tribunal of second instance for most formal cases.

In this regard, I was very happy the Instrumentum made mention of something that was a theme of Pope Benedict XVI, who also understood the pastoral issue arising from so many divorces and remarriages among the faithful, namely the “need to investigate the question of the relationship between faith and the Sacrament of Matrimony’ (par 96).

9. The survey responses agree that when non-practicing Catholics request to be married in the Catholic Church they should be welcomed warmly (para. 105). How can this pastoral warmth be balanced by the suggestion to streamline the annulment process by allowing lack of faith to be a ground for annulment (para. 96)?

The issue highlighted on several occasions by Pope Benedict XVI, a reference to which I ended my previous response, would seem to be at odds with this insistence. Of course, as people of faith, as orthodox Catholics, we understand, beginning with the most fundamental aspect of our faith, the Most Holy Trinity, to hold seemingly disparate things, in tension. I think we need to understand, however, that such an approach runs the risk of further exacerbating the problem. It is the pastoral equivalent of threading the needle.

Look at our practice of infant baptism, which, in order to be “lawful,” according to the Code of Canon Law, it is “required” “that there be a well-founded hope that the child will be brought up in the catholic religion. If such hope is truly lacking, the baptism is, in accordance with the provisions of particular law, to be deferred and the parents advised of the reason for this (Can. 868 §1 2/).

For marriage might we insist “that there be a well-founded hope that the couple will practice the catholic religion. If such hope is lacking, the marriage is… to be deferred and the couple advised of the reason for this”?

10. Does the working document leave open the possibility of allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the Eucharist? Or does it make clear that the current practice should not and will not change (paras. 89-95)?

In my view, the Instrumentum does not lean heavily towards making accommodations for those in canonically irregular marriage situations to start receiving communion. It would be too much to say that it forecloses the possibility. Frankly, I was both surprised and gratified, given the all media hype, even within the U.S. Catholic media, about this question that it wasn’t dealt with more. I think those who understand both the what and why of Church teaching on the Eucharist and marriage and the connection between these two sacraments grasp that this [is] no mere pastoral concession, but goes to quite fundamental theological matters.

Along these lines, I was struck by this in the Instrumentum: “Many times, people in these irregular situations do not grasp the intrinsic relationship between marriage and the Sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Penance. Consequently, they find it very difficult to understand why the Church does not allow those who are in an irregular situation to receive Holy Communion. The catechetical instruction on marriage does not sufficiently explain the connection” (par 91).

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...