Category Archives: Family Life

Divorced Catholic: for He commands His angels…

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vince_frese
-by Vince Frese

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“If God really loves me, where is He NOW when I need Him the most?” was the thought that ran through my mind often during those first weeks and months when my divorce hit. Sure, I read over and over in the Gospels how God will never abandon me. How even the hairs on my head are numbered. How he feeds the birds and I am so much more important to him than birds. And how he will give me rest. I so wanted to believe all that, but my reality frankly was very different. I often felt very alone—even abandoned.

As I look back on those dark days, I now realize that God did not abandon me, far from it. While he didn’t show up physically at my door step offering to take care of me, what He did do was send His angels. People started appearing in my life that I either did not know, or had not seen in a long time, ready to help. I had a woman from my kids’ school suddenly start to drop dinner by once a week. An old friend called out-of-the-blue and offered to help me with the kids. People at work started to pick up my slack when I had to be out for all the court proceedings. A dear friend made it a point to stop by once a week and take me out to lunch and patiently listen to my endless ranting. Then the emails and letters of encouragement started to pour in.  No, God did not abandon me. He revealed his incredible mercy by sending his legions of angels to me in the form of all these people to look after me and walk with me in my darkest days. In all my pain, I just didn’t recognize it. Keep trusting in God, He is sure to send angels your way. My bet is that he already has.

“For He commands His angels with regard to you, to guard you wherever you go.”
—Psalm 91:11

Love & healing; Jesus, Divine Physician, heal us!!!
Matthew

Help for non-Catholics & Catholics in understanding Catholic marriage…

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-by Jacob Lupfer, a Methodist who admires the Catholic Church.

“Most people following this month’s Synod of Bishops on the Family in Rome are aware that the specter of allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion is the most controversial and difficult issue among many controversial issues being discussed.

I have followed reports from the Synod closely and have been very interested in Catholic perspectives on divorce, remarriage, and the sacraments. As a divorced and remarried person with an abiding respect for Catholicism, I suppose I am more interested than most. Few Protestants believe that remarried persons are unworthy to receive Communion. Many Protestants are wondering, “What’s the big deal?” A few have asked for help in understanding the debate. I hope to helpfully to offer some explanation here.

The puzzled Protestant must first consider Catholic teaching on marriage. For one thing, marriage is a sacrament (one of seven, whereas Protestants have only two – baptism and the Lord’s Supper). As an efficacious sign of grace, a man and a woman, after giving consent, mutually confer the sacrament upon one another in the presence of the Church. It is not the work of a priest or a church or a civil magistrate. And, following words attributed to Jesus himself, marriage is indissoluble: “What God hath joined together let no man put asunder.”

The next difference concerns divorce. Protestants typically assume that if a court grants a divorce, then the marriage no longer exists. In Catholicism, civil divorce is a mostly meaningless distinction. Church tribunals can grant annulments, which decree that the marriage was invalid. In recent generations, especially in territories like the U.S. where courts came to easily grant divorces, the standards for receiving an annulment have liberalized. (Though fewer U.S. Catholics are marrying, marrying in the Church, and seeking annulments.) Without an annulment, the Church considers the couple married as long as both spouses are still living. No action of a civil court can change that reality.

Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate has complied some helpful data on marriage, divorce, and annulments.

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Here is where it becomes complicated regarding Communion. A civilly remarried Catholic is, in the eyes of the Church, living in adulterous relationship. Every sex act with the new spouse is considered a mortal sin. Whereas Protestants came to accept subsequent marriages and stepfamilies without much trouble, the Catholic Church considers these situations “irregular” and maintains that without an annulment, the initial marriage remains intact. A civilly remarried Catholic could receive Communion if s/he is celibate. In Protestant churches, it would be virtually inconceivable for a pastor to confront remarried people about receiving Communion. But this gets to two more differences: fitness for receiving Communion and the nature of Communion itself.

In the United Methodist Church of my childhood, the minister invited everyone to the Lord’s Table, saying, “Ye that do truly and earnestly repent of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways: Draw near with faith and take this holy sacrament to your comfort.” Over time, the language of intentionality was shortened and arguably watered down a bit. The most frequently used UMC Communion ritual now says, “Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another…” Regardless of denomination, the invitation is relatively simple for Protestants: If you repent, you are welcome to partake. In true Protestant fashion, you are competent to determine for yourself your fitness to receive the sacrament. You and God know your heart. No priest or catechism is necessary to assist in that determination!

Not so in Catholicism. You cannot say, “Well, I am in good conscience, being happily and faithfully remarried.” Furthermore, if you receive Communion in a state of grave sin, you commit another grave sin.

A final significant difference between Protestants and Catholics on this question concerns the nature of Communion itself. Most Protestants suppose that the major Christian debates about Communion concern the frequency with which it is celebrated and the mode by which it is received. But this obscures a greater, more fundamental difference. For Protestants, Communion is a community meal, a moment of personal devotion, and a remembrance of Jesus himself. For Catholics, it is Jesus himself. Christians differ about how exactly Christ is present in the bread and wine. Liturgical Protestants hold that Communion is more than a remembrance. But for Catholics, through transsubstiantation, the elements become the actual body and blood of Christ.

With an arguably “higher” view of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Catholics take more seriously the idea that communicants must receive Him worthily. For the civilly remarried Catholic, this is apparently impossible without changes in Church doctrine.

In convening the Synod of Bishops, Pope Francis deliberately sought a diversity of views. Some theologians, most prominently Cardinal Walter Kasper, have argued that civilly remarried Catholics be allowed to receive Communion. The most vocal opponents have been Cardinal George Pell and Cardinal Raymond Burke. Their Eminences have engaged in a spirited and sometimes pointed public debate. Based on reports of the Synod’s first week, there seems to be an openness to pastoral innovation, but there is no sign that bishops want the Church to abandon its belief in the indissolubility of marriage.

Unsurprisingly, many lay Catholics have also weighed in on the question. Since Protestants will instinctively be sympathetic to the view that remarried people should be permitted to receive Communion, I will highlight two traditionalists. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has a characteristically thoughtful blog post that includes links to his other writings on this and related issues. In a provocative column, civilly remarried laywoman Louise Mensch states: “I am a divorced Catholic. And I’m sure it would be a mortal sin for me to take Communion.” Her perspective gives expression to the Church’s sense that Catholics in irregular relationships should attend Mass and remain part of parish communities even though they cannot receive Communion.

Protestants who wish to understand why it’s a big deal for Catholics to even debate the idea that remarried people can receive Communion, must bear in mind these vital differences:

  • Marriage as a sacrament vs. ‘merely’ a God-ordained union
  • Sacramental marriage vs. civil marriage
  • Annulments vs. divorce
  • Clerical/Church determination vs. individual determination of worthiness to receive Communion
  • “Real presence” as real presence vs. “Real presence” as holy mystery or ‘mere’ remembrance

Regardless of your position, Protestants should take note of the Synod’s consideration of how the Church can nurture marriage and family life. The challenges the pope hopes to address are not uniquely Catholic problems.”

Love,
Matthew

Too many Christians, not enough lions…

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http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-theory/wp/2015/09/18/a-country-without-churches/

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-by Br Dominic Bouck, OP

“The Catholic parish of St. Joseph’s — now run by the Dominican Order — worships in the oldest Catholic church building in Manhattan. Built in 1833, it served the community of Greenwich Village before there was Central Park, the Empire State building or even the subway. Far from being a museum or mere relic of the past, the parish today ministers to college students and professionals — those who have been in New York their whole lives, and those visiting just for the weekend. Each Mass is filled with women and men of different backgrounds and nationalities.

Dorothy Day prayed here. There is a soup kitchen that serves hundreds each week. A parish elementary school is right next door.

St. Joseph’s is also neighbor to the famous Stonewall Inn and has served the spiritual needs of its visitors as well. But in the face of the latest same-sex marriage ruling, the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage has frustrated activists who want religious organizations to either bring their teachings into accord with the newest cause or to be limited from full civic participation, and thus punish long-serving institutions that will not submit to their demands.

After the Obergefell decision, Time magazine writer Mark Oppenheimer was quick to declare that the state should “abolish, or greatly diminish” property tax exemptions for churches that “dissent from settled public policy on matters of race or sexuality.”

Punishing “dissent” seems a strange new role for the American government. In the mid-twentieth century, the Catholic church was a leading advocate against anti-miscegenation laws. The church was able to take a stand contrary to the state on marriage and not be penalized for it, a position now almost unquestionably supported by Americans. And despite the confidence of those like Oppenheimer, the dissenters aren’t even a minority in the more recent marriage controversy. Most Americans favor religious liberty, and a plurality oppose Obergefell.

Allowing conscientious objection is an acknowledgment that the state does not have all the answers. The state has an obligation to make laws, but the state has no obligation to be correct. The independent voices that critique the state make the state better, and should not be silenced. Lose churches, lose the independent voices that prevent the state from having an absolute say in complicated moral matters.

In addition to the alternative moral voice that the church provides, the Catholic church is one of the leading charitable institutions in the country. But this matters little to a militant ideological movement that, intending to prevent discrimination, has prevented churches from doing certain charitable activities and seeks to “ostracize” them even more. The first wave has been the shutting down of decades-old Catholic adoption services around the country, including in the Archdiocese of Washington. The next wave, hinted at by Justice Samuel Alito and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, will be universities and educational institutions — including the many Catholic schools for the underprivileged. And after that will be the places of worship themselves.

Oppenheimer identifies the real problem with dissolving tax exemptions, too, though in a dismissive and historically illiterate manner. Churches in important locations will be penalized for the simple reason of where they were built. “If it’s important to the people of Fifth Avenue to have a synagogue like Emanu-El or an Episcopal church like St. Thomas in their midst, they should pay full freight for it.” Parishes like St. Dominic’s in Washington or St. Joseph’s in Greenwich Village could be added to this list. But they were built for everyone, rich and poor, and their work should not be penalized because property values have skyrocketed as decades have gone by. Removing the tax-exempt status of churches simply adds an additional tax to regular churchgoers, and most of the congregations at these historical places of worship couldn’t sustain the property taxes for more than a few months. If they can’t foot the bill, local places of worship will simply have to close, and with them the community services they provide.

Losing a local church would be damaging to its worshippers and the community at large, but even still, the resilience of the faithful can overcome the limitations of property loss and a lack of governmental support. That said, it is in the state’s best interest to protect those voices that at the moment respectfully oppose its laws. By prohibiting faith-based conscientious objection, institutions will be limited in their ability to speak independently without fear of punishment, and some of the largest charities in America will be shuttered. Churches have defended and served the American people both spiritually and materially for hundreds of years. Now it’s time to defend the church.”

Love,
Matthew

Math, Reason, & Civilization

platonicElements
-Platonic elements

revstephenfreeman

-by Rev Stephen Freeman

“If math should suddenly disappear, it would set physics back – a week.”
Nobel Prize Winner – Richard Feynman

Mathematician’s response: But that week would be the one in which God created the universe.

Galileo is said to have remarked that the universe is a wonderful thing, written in the language of mathematics.

“There is a remarkable correlation between things as we see them and math. Particle physicists have managed, on occasion, to predict the existence of new particles purely on the basis of math – and later have their predictions upheld through experimentation.

The ancient Greeks marveled at the relationship between math and reality and even suggested a relationship between certain geometrical shapes and fundamental reality. Plato posited that the “four elements” each had a primary geometrical shape. Fire was a sharp-pointed tetrahedra; Air was a smooth-sliding octahedra; Water was a droplet-shaped icosahedra; Earth was an easily compactable cube. To this, Aristotle added a fifth element, the Quintessence [“fifth element”], which was the ether, the stuff that filled all of space, thought to be the breath of the gods. Indeed, it was posited that that universe itself had the shape of that element, a dodecahedra.

Modern physics has more detail and more math, but the same intuition about how things are. This system of elements believed by Greek philosophers, is repeated in the writings of the early Fathers. It was the common, educated understanding of the world at their time. And, as I have noted, though geometric shapes have given way to quarks and charms and gluons, the fundamental intuition has not changed.

It is appropriate to look towards math when considering creation. And this correlation between math and creation also gives rise to the use of reason. If mathematical rules accurately measure and predict the movements of the heavens, then the same principles apply to all things. Logic is simply the application of mathematical principles to ideas and words. This intuition has not changed over the course of the centuries. Just as our math is more sophisticated than the math of Euclid, so our logic is more sophisticated than that of Plato and Aristotle. But it is still the same math and the same logic.

What has changed over the centuries, however, is the relationship of all of this to culture itself. Modernity (a movement and set of concepts born in the late 18th century Enlightenment) extended reason in every direction. It was assumed that the power of math, demonstrated through repeated and successful experiments, could be directed towards everything with beneficial results. And so were born new “branches” of knowledge, such as Political Science (the application of rational logic to the problems of the State), Sociology (the application of rational logic to social behavior), etc. Every branch of science in the modern world shares the common assumptions of the Enlightenment. Reason and experiment will tell us everything.

There is, however, a limit to this wonderful correlation – and it is this limit which is often forgotten within Modernity. The Fathers recognized that God Himself is not subject to these rational, mathematical principles. This is not to say that God is irrational, but that He transcends the categories and principles of creation. In a similar manner, the soul itself cannot be subjected to these principles.

The soul is not “stuff.” Rather, it is regarded as the “life” of the body. Instead of being a data point of metaphysics, the affirmation that we have a soul is an affirmation that when all the math and rationality of our existence is finished, there remains something to be said. Regardless of our materiality, we are more than numbers and reason. The “life” of a man is, like God, not subject to measurement or definition.

A strength of the modern project has been its use of reason and math. With careful application we have seen amazing advances in science and technology. But the same strength has also been its greatest weakness. For we have tried to reduce everything to science and reason (with increasingly bogus versions of both). The more purely “reasonable” and “scientific” revolutions were all abject failures and the cause of untold misery (cf. France and Russia). Though democracy found its way across many other nations, most sought to balance pure reason with the wisdom of inherited tradition. It remains the case that solutions based on pure reason fail at the human level.

All of this is true because the soul (and thus human behavior itself) remains not subject to reason or math. It stands as a boundary to our arrogance and a point where trespass happens at our peril. That quality is present elsewhere as well. For though many aspects of human existence can be measured and quantified, they cannot be reduced to their quantification. There is always a remainder that cannot be accounted for, other than by a recognition that we are in the presence of life itself. Of course, much of modernity will often choose to ignore the remainders of our existence, seeking to force life into quantifiable boundaries. Such efforts must be cataloged as examples of arrogance and the danger of modern hubris.

A life rightly lived must be lived beyond measure. Beyond the math and reasons that predict the progress of economies and weigh benefits and boons, the soul yearns for what cannot be seen, measured or reasoned. And that yearning has drawn grace down from heaven through the ages and transfigured the merely mathematical.

The intuition of the early philosophers went beyond what they could measure and see. Earth, air, fire, water – theses are obvious elements to be measured and considered. But they understood that the fifth element was something apart. It was always the point where philosophy stumbled. For though it rightly recognized “something more,” it could not itself be successfully known. But at least they recognized that not everything can be known. In that sense, our modern world has forgotten the quintessence of created existence.

Of course, our struggles today are not with the rationalists of the late 18th or 19th centuries. For today, reason itself has become suspect. There has been a shift in popular consciousness in which the will has triumphed over reason (something that was inevitable). Today, what is true is what we want to be true. It is the final victory for consumers. Not only are we able to choose anything we want, but we are also able to will what is.

Justice Anthony Kennedy articulated this with great succinctness in 1992 in the opinion he wrote for Planned Parenthood vs. Casey:

“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

That “liberty” now justifies fundamental realities such as the relations between male and female to be subject to change, because some want it. Reality has become plastic and subject to redefinition. This is an anti-science and an anti-math, just as it is anti-reason.

The mathematical reasonableness of creation is an important feature of creation, recognized both by the fathers as well as modern science. In that sense, true science is in no way the enemy of the Christian faith. It has its limits, and must stand respectfully silent before the quintessence of existence. Reason and Math have classically been limited by reality itself. The will, however, seems to know no limit. With its triumphant rise, civilization has passed over into barbarism.”

Love,
Matthew

Objective True Meaning

objective Truth

“Objectivity is a central philosophical concept, related to reality and truth, which has been variously defined by sources. Generally, objectivity means the state or quality of being true even outside of a subject’s individual biases, interpretations, feelings, and imaginings.”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Objectivity_(philosophy)

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-by Edward Peters, JD, JCD, Ref. Sig. Ap.

“Rusty Reno has a fine essay over at First Things addressing the Kim Davis matter. I differ, however, with one paragraph therein. Reno writes: When the Supreme Court issued its decree, American civil law ceased to define marriage and instead became a law of civil unions, with the word “marriage” now having no real meaning. With that sort of reasoning, I might be able to wiggle my way toward signing licenses that say “marriage” but really mean “civil union.”

I wish the Supreme Court had only enshrined same-sex civil unions in law; such a ruling we might have lived with. But that is not what the Court did. Instead five justices imposed on marriage (true marriage, natural marriage, traditional marriage, whatever pleonastic phrase one wishes to use) the lie that marriage includes the union of two persons of the same sex. This judicially imposed lie is not a ‘little white lie’ that might allow one to hide a surprise birthday party, it is not a ‘public figure lie’ (half of which aren’t true in the first place), and it is not even a ‘planted lie’ designed to deceive military enemies or dangerous criminals. Instead, the Court has published a naked, gross falsehood that tears simultaneously at the fabric of law, language, family, and society.

The word marriage has, and will always have, an objectively true meaning—no matter how many times it has been degraded by sinful societies (usually by its legal institutions but more lately by its mass media) and by many recalcitrant individuals (including some religious leaders). Justice Kennedy’s atrocious prose in Obergefell can no more deprive marriage of its meaning than, say, Barney’s insipid theme song (“I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family”) can deprive family of its meaning. Instead, Kennedy the Judge and Barney the Dinosaur teach something seriously false about marriage and family. But while Barney’s lyrics simply make one queasy, Kennedy’s words are now the pretext to throw people who do not accept his lie into jail.

The actual text of whatever document one is called upon to sign or certify is crucial to determining whether one may sign or certify it. I’ve not seen a Kentucky marriage license and so defer to those who have. But this much is certain: any document that declares two people of the same sex to be married, one may not sign or certify.

With that caveat in mind, again, I recommend reading Reno’s important essay.”

Love,
Matthew

There is no more “marriage” in the US, only “civil union”.

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Whither Freedom of Religion? So highly exalted while “proclaiming Liberty throughout the land”?

United States Constitution

Amendment I

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

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-by R. R. Reno

“I’m sympathetic to Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who has stopped signing marriage licenses. In her position, I’d do the same.

Her decision was straightforward, it seems. After Obergefell, the Supreme Court decision mandating a national right to same-sex marriage, Davis decided that she could not affix her signature to documents perpetuating the falsehood that husbands can have husbands and wives have wives. To do so would be to act in a way contrary to her conscience as formed by her Christian faith. With admirable consistency, she decided to stop signing marriage licenses altogether, not wanting to discriminate against gay couples.

One can judge Davis mistaken about the dictates of her conscience. Perhaps she is wrong about what Christianity teaches about marriage, as many liberal Christians argue. Perhaps she is mistaken about the implications of signing a marriage license. There might be a clever Jesuit who can convince us that her signature on same-sex marriage licenses should not have troubled her conscience.

One angle for the casuist: When the Supreme Court issued its decree, American civil law ceased to define marriage and instead became a law of civil unions, with the word “marriage” now having no real meaning. With that sort of reasoning, I might be able to wiggle my way toward signing licenses that say “marriage” but really mean “civil union.”

Whatever we might think of the moral or legal substance of the matter, however, we cannot claim Davis has misunderstood her situation. One of her duties as county clerk now asks Davis to do what her conscience tells her she must not do. The way forward is clear: She must obey her conscience. She must act, as she puts it, “under God’s authority.” That’s exactly right.

Many modern people have the wrong impression that conscience is active, impelling us to do things contrary to the law. This is not the tenor of Davis’ stance in Morehead, Kentucky. She is not issuing counter-opinions to refute Obergefell. Nor is she campaigning to get other county clerks to join her. There have been no press releases, no assertive shrill spirit of protest on her part. That’s the progressive mentality, which tries to upgrade its political ambitions with appeals to conscience. Instead, Davis simply won’t do what her conscience tells her she cannot do. She’s not acting contrary to the law; she’s not acting at all.

Some might say that her refusal to sign marriage licenses disqualifies her from holding her position as county clerk. She should resign or be removed. People are certainly entitled to that opinion. But Davis does not think she must resign. The county clerks in Kentucky are elected, so she can’t be fired. She could be impeached, but that’s for the legislators of the State of Kentucky to decide. And the citizens of Rowan County can vote against her in the next election. Conscience, properly exercised in civil disobedience that otherwise respects the law, isn’t always easy to dislodge.

I can imagine some harrumphing about the notion that Davis respects the law. After all, isn’t she refusing to act in accord with it?! I find this worry rather rich when expressed by progressives. For decades, elite colleges and universities run by progressives have made arrangements with local police that allow students to use drugs and drink while underage, free from the worry of arrest. These sorts of special arrangements, which are widespread in elite institutions, are not criticized for the obvious ways in which they undermine the rule of law.

Under the circumstances, Kim Davis poses little threat to the rule of law. Her actions have done nothing to prevent gay couples from getting marriage licenses throughout Kentucky. The couples that present themselves for her signature can easily go to the next county, as I’m sure heterosexual couples in Rowan County have done over the last two months. She’s not making grand public statements about a supposed right to dissent. She’s done nothing in the way of organizing resistance to Obergefell. No counter-revolution.

So why the furor? Because her refusal poses a symbolic threat to “marriage equality” and its claim to realize the high ideals of justice. One word of dissent, one act of conscience, disturbs the serene confidence of progressives that they have a monopoly on all that is right and good.

Neither you nor I nor Kim Davis have a “right” to follow our consciences. (Ed. as those red-faced, shouting, infuriated by her conscientious refusal insist she comply immediately in serving them have apparently, all this time?  Of all people that should be more sympathetic to Ms. Davis and her motives?  Whether or not they share the same motives?  Who have, of late, imitated her method?  How quickly memory fades in the shadow of self-interest.)  That’s silly. Our consciences do not wait upon the niceties of rights. I would not protest if higher authorities decided to remove Davis from her position. The law has a proper claim on public life, even if it does not have a final authority over our consciences.

Our legal and political system has no final authority over us, because there is a higher one. At times, one ought not to do what one is told to do. Kim Davis finds herself in just that sort of situation. Good for her. She’s doing something noble: quietly following the dictates of her conscience.”

Love,
Matthew

Sodomy vs divorce: lesser of two evils?

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-by Rev Dominic Legge, OP

“Thomas Reese, writing about gay marriage in the National Catholic Reporter, argues that the Catholic bishops of the United States should “admit defeat and move on.” They’ve done this before, he claims: Think of “their predecessors who opposed legalizing divorce but lost,” and who then “accepted divorce” in practice if not in theory—for example, by hiring divorcées. “Today, Catholic institutions rarely fire people when they get divorced and remarried,” and the divorced and remarried “get spousal benefits.” “No one is scandalized by this,” he writes.

This is like saying: “The patient has been taking this poison for years, getting sicker and weaker—so let’s triple the dose.” The argument is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Further, there are manifold reasons why gay marriage is a different and greater threat than divorce, and why acquiescing in it would gravely damage the Church. Here are four.

1.  First, virtually no one celebrates divorce or regards it as a positive good. There is no “Divorced Pride” parade. At most, some think of it like abortion rights: a tragedy and an evil when it happens, but a necessary escape hatch. No one is clamoring for prelates to praise divorce. In contrast, gay marriage is trumpeted as a positive good, and the Church will be shown no mercy by its advocates until bishops, too, march in the parade. We should have no illusions about the way cultural forces (and, soon, legal coercion) will aim to compel the Church not only to be silent on gay marriage, but to praise it and to integrate it into the Church’s life—or else.

2.  Second, while divorce negates an important element of marriage, it doesn’t change the kind of relationship we’re speaking about. With divorce, we recognize that the old bond should have endured, but didn’t. A new legal act is needed to sunder what was joined. But even in this, we still grasp the nature of the bond itself: between a man and a woman, of a kind that generates children, implying permanence, if only for the good of the kids. Gay marriage undermines true marriage in a different and much more dangerous way: It hollows out its very essence, applying the word to something else entirely, a relationship that itself has no potential to generate children, and so cannot itself (without help from the law or from outsiders) form a family. Gay marriage makes it increasingly hard even to talk about what is essential to true marriage. To accept gay marriage as a genuine expression of marriage—and to treat it as such in the parish office, even if we could then keep it out of the parish church—would be vastly more destructive than accepting divorce (which has been bad). It changes the very essence of the institution.

3.  Third, divorce and remarriage is often hidden from view. One often doesn’t know if someone was divorced years ago—and it’s even more rare to know whether there was an annulment. Gay marriage is obviously different, and the threat of scandal is much greater.

4.  Fourth, it is not true that no one is scandalized when church institutions hire divorced and remarried people. Reese’s argument implies that no one will be shocked if we have divorced sacristans (or gay-married parish receptionists), since everyone understands that it’s just the world we live in. But scandal, as Jesus spoke about it, is not a psychological shock. It is rather a skandalon, a stumbling block to others who will then be tempted to sin. “It is impossible that stumbling blocks should not come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck . . .” (Luke 17:1–2). Is it plausible to claim that widespread acceptance of divorce has not contributed to more divorce? The effect will be even more powerful with gay marriage. If the Church accepts the new cultural and legal norms on gay marriage in its institutional life, even if not in its worship, it will say (especially to the “little ones” Jesus was talking about) that gay marriage is no big deal. Even today, it is a grave scandal when a Catholic teacher gets divorced and shows up at school with a new last name. Every kid in the school knows it. It teaches a lesson more powerful than any textbook. Accepting gay marriage would do much more damage.  (Ed.  I realize Fr Legge is speaking in hypotheticals as a form of intellectual charity as if the option were real for Catholics.  It is not.)

Yes, we may have lost the battle in civil law about the civil definition of marriage. That is all the more reason that the Church must now speak ever more clearly and firmly about the truth of marriage, or her “little ones” will soon weaken and fall. That would be the true scandal.”

Faith of our fathers, living still,
In spite of dungeon, fire, and sword;
Oh, how our hearts beat high with joy
Whene’er we hear that glorious Word!

Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

Faith of our fathers, we will strive
To win all nations unto Thee;
And through the truth that comes from God,
We all shall then be truly free.

Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

Faith of our fathers, we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife;
And preach Thee, too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life.

Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

Love,
Matthew

Jul 7 – Bl Peter To Rot, (1912-1945) – Husband, Father, Catechist, Martyr, Patron of Christian Marriage

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He was born in 1912 at Rakunai, a village on the Melanesian island of New Britain, today part of Papua New Guinea. His parents belonged to the region’s first generation of Catholics. He was a pious boy and the parish priest thought that he should study for the priesthood, but his father, the village chief, felt that the tradition of Catholicism in the region was too short and none of the people were yet ready for the priesthood, so Peter became a catechist.  Most of the evangelization in the area was carried out by catechists, like Peter. He married Paula LaVarpit, from a nearby village on November 11, 1936 and they had three children.

When the local priest was forced to leave for a concentration camp, he said to Peter, “I am leaving my work in your hands.  Do not let them forget about God.” Peter did just that. He and the other catechists helped to keep the Catholic faith alive. Peter learned some Japanese and was able to get along well with the Japanese Naval Authorities. But then the Military Police took over. They thought the Christians were praying for a Japanese defeat. Christian worship was forbidden, and a decree was issued that the people should go back to the ancient practice of a man having more than one wife. Peter publicly protested this, and harshly corrected anyone who considered it.

He organized prayer services, gave religious instruction, baptized children, preserved the consecrated Hosts and administered them to the sick and dying, and gave help to the poor. The Japanese had destroyed the church when they arrived, so Peter built a new one out of the branches of trees.

Peter was arrested when the Japanese Military Police found out he was organizing prayer groups and witnessing marriages. His family came to the prison every day to bring him food. Methodist and Catholic chiefs of different tribes tried to have Peter released, but could not. Peter told them, “Don’t worry. I’m a catechist. If I die, I die for the faith.”

After a quiet start, repression grew violent. The Japanese banned all Christian worship, public and private, and decided to reintroduce polygamy among the people. Peter was arrested in April or May 1945 and savagely “questioned” by officials. He was sentenced to two months in prison. A month before the Japanese surrendered to Allied forces in the Pacific, a Japanese doctor came and injected Peter with poison, stuffed his ears and nose with cotton wool, and held him down and suffocated him until he died.

An immense crowd attended Peter’s burial, at which no religious rite was permitted. He has been increasingly revered as a martyr ever since that day.

“I am here because of those who broke their marriage vows and because of those who do not want the growth of God’s kingdom.” ~ Bl Peter To Rot

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Love,
Matthew

Sacrament of Holy Matrimony & AMAZING GRACE!!!

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The President went from rainbow coloring the White House to singing Amazing Grace, all in the same day (6/26/15).  Wow.  Imho, that was quite the spiritual and intellectual contortion.  Let’s hope he has an analgesic for his soul and mind.  He’s gonna need it.

Unions, “marriages”, not in line with God’s commandments, limit, inhibit, mortally wound? their supply of sanctifying grace.  How, in the world, can hope remain?

-by Paul McLachlan (© 1997)
Thomas More Centre Winter School
St Leo’s College, Brisbane, UK
19 July 1997

“I have been asked today to tell you something about the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. This is obviously because of my vast experience in this area, having been married for 3½ years so far, which by modern standards, appears to be quite a feat!

Marriage is a hot topic these days. Statistics tell us that a sizeable proportion of them are doomed to end in divorce, the majority of couples live together before they marry and about 10% of couples with children decide never to marry at all. And, we are told, Catholics are living together, divorcing and remarrying at about the same rates as the rest of the community.

Magazines, talk shows, pop psychology self-help books, even Catholic Marriage Preparation materials will all tell you everything you could want to know and more about the relationship of marriage, how to sustain it, how to improve it. You can get advice almost anywhere on how to get hitched, how to be enriched and when to ditch.

If you were to judge what marriage is and should be by reading the magazines or watching television or by talking to people on the street, you’d be led to believe that it’s a relationship founded on sexual compatibility and romance. If the sex goes bad or the romance dies, then the couple can walk away from the marriage. How do you work out whether you are sexually compatible. Well, of course, you try before you buy! You make sure you have a sufficient number of sexual partners (the prevailing wisdom is that the appropriate number is about 12) to work out what you like and what you don’t like so that when Mr or Ms Right comes along, you’ll know he or she is the one for you as soon as you sleep with him or her. You live together before you’re married, often before marriage is ever mentioned or contemplated, and often for several years before deciding to marry. You judge the strength of a marriage by how romantic it is: how often does he bring home flowers unexpectedly, how often do you go away for romantic weekends at luxury hotels, how often do you get breakfast in bed, how often does he tell you he loves you?

Marriage is no longer meant to stifle your individuality. Couples rewrite their vows to read something along the lines of: “I take you as an individual. I want to help you reach your full potential. I want to help you reach your own goals and dreams.” Children are a real dilemma. Do you have any at all? How much will they cost? Should we have just one or two? Children come after the mortgage has been paid off, after the trip to Europe, after studies are over and careers are firmly established. Then when they come, they’re treated as little more than accessories. Pay someone else to look after them during the week and complain about your lost freedom on the weekend.

Marriage is seen as a social construct built to protect sexual intercourse, or as a prison with woman chained to the sink and the children. The secularization of marriage so that it is merely a legal contract with attendant rights has led to demands that those rights be extended to those who live as though they were married, even homosexuals. These days, we define ourselves by our “sexuality” and our view of sex is warped by the omnipresent, omnipotent eroticism of the media.

Is it any wonder people are asking why they should get married in the first place? Who’d want to be?!

But, then, that’s what happens when you reduce marriage to just another human relationship, or worse still, an animal relationship. So, I’m not going to say another word about the relationship of marriage. Instead, I’m going to talk about Catholic Marriage, the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. How is that different from the mere “relationship of marriage”? There are three things about a Catholic marriage that make it far more than just a relationship: it is a Sacrament, it is a Vocation and it is a path to Sanctity. Three things that we so often forget.

Path to sanctity

Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, repeats again for our modern ears the truth that each and every one of us is called to holiness, called to be a Saint. Saints are not meant to be isolated, rare individuals. You don’t have to be a monk and shave your head, or a contemplative nun to be a Saint. Every single one of us, no matter who we are or what we do is called to be “perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect”. That is what God expects from us! That is what we are called to strive for throughout our entire lives! So many of us are happy to live each day just getting by when it comes to God and our Faith. We go to Sunday Mass, we pray every once in a while. But “holiness”, “piety”, “sanctity” … no thanks, too hard, too different! Who wants to walk around with a halo on their head?!

There’s a tendency to think that holiness is for the Pope and priests and nuns who give up their lives for God, for people who lived in another age when there were kings and queens and crusades and inquisitions. People who have day jobs and are married with children just don’t have time for all that praying and helping the poor and smiling at everyone. You can’t wear sackcloth to work! Maybe this view has arisen because so many of the Church’s great Saints are priests and monks and nuns. But don’t forget all the married Saints as well. Our Patron Saint, St Thomas More was a married man. He died for his faith and for refusing to renounce allegiance to the Holy Father leaving behind a wife and several children…

Marriage should not be an obstacle to our growth in holiness.  (Ed. HARDLY!) The Church teaches very clearly that God gives us marriage as a way of becoming holy.

So, if you’re married, or think that’s what God has planned for you, there’s no excuse! You still have to be a Saint, and use your marriage as the means to that end, not as the excuse if you don’t make it!

Vocation

That leads me to my next point. One of the other things that makes Catholic marriage different is that it is a true Vocation.

Most of us tend to think that only Vocations to the priesthood or religious life are Vocations. That may be because the vast majority of people marry rather than live a life totally devoted to God. It may be because of the notoriety of the supposed shortage of Vocations to the priesthood in the Western World. It may be because the Church has always affirmed that a Vocation to Consecrated Virginity or Celibacy is more exalted than a Vocation to the married state.

Nevertheless, it is very clear that the Church teaches that God has a plan for each of us which He invites us to participate in. He created us, He knows us through and through, and He has a special role for each of us in this life. A select few, He calls to live lives devoted entirely to Him so that we can all have a foretaste of how He wants us all to live in entire union with Him in Heaven. Many others He calls to be married, so that we have someone to help and to help us reach Heaven, and so that we can beget even more Saints.

But, whatever we are called to be, it is clear that God is calling us to some particular state in life. Each of us must pray hard to discern what our Vocation in life is. And once we have discerned it, we must embrace it wholeheartedly.

OK, now how much more dignified does marriage seem already: it’s not just something you fall into: God calls you to be married, He wants you to be married, and He wants you to use your marriage as the way you become a Saint!

But hold on, I’ve left the big guns for last…

Sacrament

The most important thing about Catholic marriage, the thing that sets it apart from all other relationships, from civil marriage, from Jewish and Islamic marriages, is that Catholic marriages are sacramental.  (Ed. visible signs of grace!)…

We forget so often that marriage is a Sacrament. I suspect that it is so easily forgotten because none of us really understands what a Sacrament is!

So, maybe it’s worthwhile going back to basics to look at just what a Sacrament is. First of all, though, we need to understand what Grace is.  (Ed.  ALL is grace!!!)

“Grace is nothing else but a certain beginning of glory in us.”  St. Thomas Aquinas

“God gives each one of us sufficient grace ever to know His holy will, and to do it fully.” – St. Ignatius of Loyola

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” – James 4:6 

There are three types of Grace: Sanctifying Grace, Sacramental Grace and Actual Grace. We receive Sanctifying Grace at our Baptism. We lose it completely when we commit a mortal sin. It is the presence of Sanctifying Grace in the soul that we refer to when we say we are in a State of Grace. We need Sanctifying Grace to be saved, to make it to Heaven, even if we have to take the “scenic route” through Purgatory on the way. If we are in a state of mortal sin after Baptism, then the Sacrament of Penance restores sanctifying grace to our souls. The worthy reception of all the other Sacraments, including the Sacrament of Penance when we are not in a state of mortal sin, increases sanctifying grace in our souls. Each Sacrament also imparts a special Sacramental Grace to us. This is a special Grace that is different for each Sacrament. Actual Grace is the grace that God gives us when we call on Him to help us, to give us strength not to sin.

A “Sacrament” then, is an effective sign which imparts Grace instituted by Christ. It is a channel between our souls and the graces poured forth by Our Lord on the Cross. It infuses the soul with God’s Grace.

And so, that is what is so incredible about Catholic Marriage, what makes it more than a mere relationship. In the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, not only do you receive an abundance of Sanctifying Grace, but you receive a special Sacramental Grace which elevates the natural order of Marriage and perfects it giving you the right, as a gift from God, to receive from Him whatever Actual Graces you need throughout your married life to live the Sacrament in the way God intended.

When we say that we take our spouse, “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, till death do us part”, God is giving us the promise of His guaranteed assistance to cope with the sickness as easily as with the health, with the bad times as easily as with the good. People say to couples who have remained successfully married, “How did you do it?!”. People say to Mothers who have had 10 children, “How on earth did you cope?!”. People say to spouses who have forgiven the serious failings of the other: “How could you forgive?!”. The answer is very simple: “Through the Grace of God!”.  (Ed. AMEN!!! -Mary D. McCormick & all other mothers!  The hardest job in the world!)

Pope Pius XI in his landmark encyclical on Christian Marriage, Casti Connubii, in 1930 wrote:

“By the very fact, therefore, that the faithful with sincere mind give such consent, they open for themselves a treasure of Sacramental Grace from which they draw supernatural power for the fulfilling of their rights and duties faithfully, holily, perseveringly even unto death. Hence this sacrament not only increases Sanctifying Grace, the permanent principle of the supernatural life, in those who … place no obstacle in its way, but also adds particular gifts, dispositions, seeds of grace, by elevating and perfecting the natural powers. By these gifts the parties are assisted not only in understanding, but in knowing intimately, in adhering to firmly, in willing effectively, and in successfully putting into practice those things which pertain to the married state, its aims and duties, giving them the fine right to the actual assistance of grace itself, whensoever they may need it for the fulfilling of the duties of their state.”

These days, the Wedding is so often a time of fear, uncertainty, and even secret pessimism for the couple. Couples sign pre-nuptial agreements in case it doesn’t work, in case they fall out of love, in case they can’t cope. But, Christians have infused in their souls since Baptism the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. Their pre-nuptial agreement is the common Faith that God will give them all the assistance they need, the Hope that they will never reject His assistance, and the Love of God and of each other that will make their home a piece of heaven on Earth.

But, marriages do fail. Catholics do get divorced. Catholic husbands and wives commit adultery. Catholic couples do reject children in their marriages. That is because, however abundantly it is poured out for us, Grace cannot override our Free Will (more’s the pity!). We must respond to God’s Grace, we must choose to accept it, to call on it. We must not place obstacles in the way of His Grace. That means we have to try and live our Sacrament every day in a way that doesn’t hamper God’s assistance or Graces. More about how to do that in a minute…

The Church teaches that the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders impart a “character”. In other words, they place an indelible mark on our souls. While we can’t see it yet, it shines forth in the supernatural realm. That is why these Sacraments can only be received once. Holy Matrimony does not impart a character, instead it creates an indissoluble bond between the couple which is only broken by the death of one of the spouses. St Paul has taught from the very beginning that this bond is a great mystery because it is the same bond which unites Christ to His Bride, the Catholic Church. In his Epistle to the Ephesians, St Paul says: “Wives be subject to your husbands as the Church is subject to Christ. Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the Church!” What an incredible responsibility! To love one another as much as Christ loves His Church! Each and every Christian marriage lived to its potential is a concrete sign to the world of the love Christ has for the Church, for the obedience the Church owes to Her Lord, to His promise to be with Her always even until the end of time.

Is it any wonder then that alone among all the religions and faiths of the world, alone among all the Christian Churches, the one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church proclaims today with as much force as ever that Sacramental Marriage is indissoluble, that only those marriages that are judged never to have existed in the first place because of some defect or impediment can be dissolved?!

We are not called to love until the love dies, we are not called to stay together until the children are grown, we are not called to stick around only until the sex gets boring or our individuality is repressed: we are called to be a living witness of the love of Christ for His Church and the unbreakable bond between them.

And it is because of that unbreakable bond which is created by the Sacrament that many have compared the Sacrament to those Sacraments that impart a character, that consecrate us: Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders. Again, Pope Pius XI in Casti Connubii wrote:

“If, however, doing all that lies within their power, they cooperate diligently, they will be able with ease to bear the burdens of their state and to fulfill their duties. By such a sacrament they will be strengthened, sanctified, and in a manner, consecrated. For, as St Augustine teaches, just as by Baptism and Holy Orders a person is set aside and assisted, either for the duties of Christian life or for priestly office and is never deprived of their sacramental aid, almost in the same way (but not by a sacramental character) the faithful once joined by marriage ties can never be deprived of the help and binding force of the sacrament.”

God understands that it is not easy to live holy lives, it is not easy to sustain a lifelong relationship. All these things take sacrifice and effort. But, thankfully, He never leaves us to our own resources. He gives us the Graces throughout our entire married lives to carry whatever crosses He sends our way. He never asks us to do the impossible.

That is a privilege that comes about through the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, as a special privilege for having accepted God’s call to live the married life. That mere fact alone is enough to show you how different Sacramental marriage is from any other form of relationship.

You have no right to call on God’s grace simply because you have contracted a civil marriage. You have no right to call on God’s grace because you’re in a de facto relationship. But, you have the incredible right to call on the Grace of God to help you through all that life throws at you because you are sacramentally married.

In Casti Connubii, Pope Pius XI also recalled how St Robert Bellarmine had likened the Sacrament of Marriage to the Blessed Sacrament. He says:

“Let them constantly keep in mind that they have been consecrated and strengthened for the duties and the dignity of their state by a special sacrament, the efficacious power of which, although it does not impress a character, is undying. To this purpose we may ponder over the words full of real comfort of holy Cardinal St Robert Bellarmine, SJ, who with other well-known theologians with deep conviction thus expresses himself. ‘The sacrament of Matrimony can be regarded in two ways: first in the making and then in its permanent state. For it is a sacrament like to that of the Eucharist, which not only while it is being conferred, but also while it remains, is a sacrament; for as long as the married parties are alive, so long is their union a sacrament of Christ and His Church.”

How, then do we live our marriages so as to reap the benefits of the Sacrament and please God? St Augustine teaches that there are three “blessings” of marriage, or in Natural Law terms, three “goods”: fecundity, fidelity and indissolubility. These three goods apply to all true marriages, even marriages that are not sacramental. The Church also teaches that marriage has two main purposes: the more important is procreation, the begetting and education of Children, raising them to worship God; the second, is the consortium vitae, the companionship and union of married love.

To live our marriages in a way pleasing to God, to take full advantage of the graces He offers and not put obstacles in their way, we must always respect these blessings and ends of marriage. Without going into much detail, because they are topics in and of themselves:

  1. We must respect the blessing of fecundity in marriage: entering marriage with the intention of never having children is a grave wrong and more than likely grounds for an annulment because you aren’t consenting to be married at all; blocking God out of your fertility, using technology to control it, limiting family size without serious reason are all attacks on the blessing of fecundity, contrary to God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply”, contrary to the generous love we are called to live every day, contrary to the faith and trust God wants us to have in Him. The atrocity of procured abortion is a direct attack on the fecundity of marriage. Resorting to technology for the conception of children, as Pope Paul VI terms it in Humanae Vitae, deliberately removing the unitive purpose of sexual intercourse, attacks the good of fecundity.
  2. We must respect the blessing of fidelity in marriage, we must fulfil the purpose of a communion of mutual benefit, the consortium vitae. Adultery obviously attacks this, but so does “adultery of the eyes and the heart”. Contraception and premarital sex in their own ways also attack the blessing of fidelity because they muddy our vision of sexual intercourse. Instead of a truly holy act, when each spouse says to the other, I love you with my whole self, I give you my whole self, they are led to treat sex as a means solely of deriving personal pleasure, to treat each other as objects of gratification rather than to give themselves as subjects of love. Doing the dishes strengthens the blessing of fidelity, holding each other while you watch the children sleep strengthens the blessing of fidelity, the million and one ways of saying I love you, I am yours, we are one in flesh and mind all strengthen the blessing of fidelity.
  3. And finally, we must respect the blessing of indissolubility. We must not treat marriage as a transitory thing, temporary or impermanent.

Apostolate

And it doesn’t stop there! The Church is calling married couples more than ever to change the world, to evangelize. The Second Vatican Council in its decree Apostolicam Actuositam said that the witness of Catholic couples faithfully living their marriages according to God’s will, their witness to the indissolubility of marriage, is part of the most important aspect of the apostolate of the laity. We have to be out there as shining examples of the truth about marriage.

The Holy Father also exhorts married couples in Familiaris Consortio to be the primary force in the Apostolate to married couples, teaching other married couples the value of the Church’s teaching on the family, sexuality, on birth control, on marriage itself.

We can’t sit and wait for our priests to give homilies on these things. The last 30 years have shown that they won’t! We have to live by example, we have to take advantage of the opportunities to witness to other couples, particularly those preparing for marriage. And most importantly, we have to raise our children well. Sadly, Catholic schools seem to do more to undo a child’s Faith than they do to foster it these days. We have to ground our children in the Faith so that they too are examples throughout their lives. It’s no small task, but with the Grace of God and a love of His Church, we’re up to it!

And the first step to take in restoring the esteem and value of marriage for Catholics is to restore the high esteem that celibacy and virginity previously held in the Church. Pope John Paul says in Familiaris Consortio, explaining the Church’s teaching that celibacy or virginity is preferable to marriage, that the truth of this can only be understood when marriage is also highly valued. Because if you value marriage, how much more do you respect those who have given up that great blessing for the love of God and the sake of His Kingdom?

How to get hitched

Well, hopefully by now, I’ve completely sold you on Marriage and all of you who think that that is your Vocation are going to set about finding a partner with great zeal! But, where do you look? How do you find someone?!

Well, again, you’re not going to get far if you follow the advice they give on radio talk shows or in Cosmo, if you ring the psychic hotline and ask “Is he the one?”. It’s no secret that compatibility and communication are the buzzwords for a successful relationship (even if Grace is the buzzword for a successful marriage!). I’ll assume that God and your Catholic Faith are the most important things in your lives: not your studies, or your careers or your material worth. If God and your Catholic Faith are not the most important things in your lives, then why on earth not?!

If your life is Christ-centred and faith filled, you should be out their looking for someone else who is Christ-centred and faith filled, someone who will understand your faith, who will understand why you love God so much because they do too, someone who you’re not going to have to fight with to remain faithful to the teachings of the Church and bring your children up in the Faith.

They’re scarce as hens teeth, I know! But, look, there’s a room full of people here who probably fit that description, most of them single! Nightclubs are not where you’re going to find a wife or a husband! Work is not where you’re likely to find one either. It’s at Mass, in Catholic Groups and Associations (and I mean, capital C Catholic, not your average youth group or Catholic singles group which tend to be anything but).

And you have to pray! Monique and I found each other on our knees, literally! She prayed, as young women do, to St Joseph on his feast day that he would find her a good Catholic husband. Her parents nabbed me because they saw me praying the Rosary all the time after Mass. Before long, we were praying the Rosary together, and then, angels started whispering things in our ears about how God wanted us to be together.

So, there you go! Talk to each other at Mass! Be brave, go out with people you meet at Church. There are over a billion Catholics in the world! Chances are God has at least one of them in mind for you!!

So, go find them, get married, “be fruitful and multiply” and hopefully, one day, we’ll be singing together in the Heavenly Choir rubbing shoulders with all God’s other married Saints!”

Love,
Matthew

Marriage: A Hard Discipline Over a Lifetime

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I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable. For a man and a woman, as such, are incompatible.” -GK Chesterton

Old joke, but too true!!!  Out of the mouth of babes, Catholic school children, when asked “What are the seven Sacraments?”  Answer:  “Baptism, Penance, Eucharist, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and … Martyrdom!” 🙂

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-by Rev. Stephen Freeman

“‘When couples come to ministers to talk about their marriage ceremonies, ministers think it’s interesting to ask if they love one another. What a stupid question! How would they know? A Christian marriage isn’t about whether you’re in love. Christian marriage is giving you the practice of fidelity over a lifetime in which you can look back upon the marriage and call it love. It is a hard discipline over many years.’ – Stanley Hauerwas

No issues in the modern world seem to be pressing the Church with as much force as those surrounding sex and marriage. The so-called Sexual Revolution has, for the most part, succeeded in radically changing how our culture understands both matters. Drawing from a highly selective (and sometimes contradictory) set of political, sociological and scientific arguments, opponents of the Christian tradition are pressing the case for radical reform with an abandon that bears all of the hallmarks of a revolution. And they have moved into the ascendancy.

Those manning the barricades describe themselves as “defending marriage.” That is a deep inaccuracy: marriage, as an institution, was surrendered quite some time ago. Today’s battles are not about marriage but simply about dividing the spoils of its destruction. It is too late to defend marriage. Rather than being defended, marriage needs to be taught and lived. The Church needs to be willing to become the place where that teaching occurs as well as the place that can sustain couples in the struggle required to live it. Fortunately, the spiritual inheritance of the Church has gifted it with all of the tools necessary for that task. It lacks only people who are willing to take up the struggle.

Marriage laws were once the legal framework of a Christian culture. Despite the ravages of the Enlightenment and Reformation, the general framework of marriage remained untouched. The Church, in many lands, particularly those of English legal tradition, acted as an arm of the State while the State acted to uphold the Christian ideal of marriage. As Hauerwas noted in the opening quote, marriage as an institution was never traditionally about romantic love: it was about fidelity, stability, paternity and duty towards family. The traditional Western marriage rite never asked a couple, “Do you love him?” It simply asked, “Do you promise to love?” That simple promise was only one of a number of things:

WILT thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor, and keep her, in sickness, and in health? And forsaking all others, keep thee only to her, so long as you both shall live?

And this:

I N. take thee N. to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death; according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I plight thee my troth.

Obviously, the primary intent of these promises was faithfulness in all circumstances over the course of an entire lifetime. The laws that surrounded marriage existed to enforce this promise and sought to make it difficult to do otherwise.

Divorce was difficult to obtain – long waiting periods were required and very specific conditions had to be met for one to be granted. Churches made remarriage quite difficult, to say the least. Obligations to children were very well-defined and grounded in parental (biological) rights and obligations. Indeed, there was a large complex of family laws that tilted the culture towards marriage at every turn.

Of course, none of this would have represented any benefit had it not also reflected a cultural consensus. Contrary to popular sayings, morality can indeed be legislated (laws do almost nothing else). But moral laws are simply experienced as oppression if they do not generally agree with the moral consensus of a culture. The laws upholding marriage were themselves a cultural consensus: people felt these laws to be inherently correct.

Parenthetically, it must be stated as well that the laws governing marriage and property were often tilted against women – that is a matter that I will not address in this present article.

The moral consensus governing marriage began to dissolve primarily in the Post-World War II era in Western cultures. There are many causes that contributed to this breakdown. My favorite culprit is the rapid rise in mobility (particularly in America) that destroyed the stability of the extended family and atomized family life.

The first major legal blow to this traditional arrangement was the enactment of “no-fault” divorce laws, in which no reasons needed to be given for a divorce. It is worth noting that these were first enacted in Russia in early 1918, shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution. The purpose (as stated in Wikipedia) was to “revolutionize society at every level.” That experiment later met with significant revisions. The first state to enact such laws in the U.S. was California, which did not do so until 1969. Such laws have since become normative across the country.

These changes in marriage law have been accompanied by an evolution in the cultural meaning of marriage. From the earlier bond of a virtually indissoluble union, marriage has morphed into a contractual agreement between two persons for their own self-defined ends. According to a 2002 study, by age 44, roughly 95 percent of all American adults have had pre-marital sex. For all intents, we may say that virtually all Americans, by mid-life, have had sex outside of marriage.

These are clear reasons for understanding that “defense of marriage” is simply too late. The Tradition has become passé. But none of this says that the Tradition is wrong or in any way incorrect.

Of course, there are many “remnants” of traditional Christian marriage. Most people still imagine that marriage will be for a life-time, though they worry that somehow they may not be so lucky themselves. Pre-nuptial agreements are primarily tools of the rich. Even same-sex relationships are professing a desire for life-long commitments.

But all of the sentiments surrounding life-long commitments are just that – sentiments. They are not grounded in the most obvious reasons for life-long relationships. Rather, they belong to the genre of fairy tales: “living happily ever after.”

The classical Christian marriage belongs to the genre of martyrdom. It is a commitment to death. As Hauerwas notes: faithfulness over the course of a life-time defines what it means to “love” someone. At the end of a faithful life, we may say of someone, “He loved his wife.”

Some have begun to write about the so-called “Benedict Option,” a notion first introduced by Alasdair MacIntyre in his book, After Virtue. It compares the contemporary situation to that of the collapse of the Roman Christian Imperium in the West (i.e., the Dark Ages). Christian civilization, MacIntyre notes, was not rebuilt through a major conquering or legislating force, but through the patient endurance of small monastic communities and surrounding Christian villages. That pattern marked the spread of Christian civilization for many centuries in many places, both East and West.

It would seem clear that a legislative option has long been a moot point. When 95 percent of the population is engaging in sex outside of marriage (to say the least) no legislation of a traditional sort is likely to make a difference. The greater question is whether such a cultural tidal wave will inundate the Church’s teaching or render it inert – a canonical witness to a by-gone time, acknowledged perhaps in confession but irrelevant to daily choices (this is already true in many places).

The “Benedict Option” can only be judged over the course of centuries, doubtless to the dismay of our impatient age. But, as noted, those things required are already largely in place. The marriage rite (in those Churches who refuse the present errors) remains committed to the life-long union of a man and a woman with clearly stated goals of fidelity. The canon laws supporting such marriages remain intact. Lacking is sufficient teaching and formation in the virtues required to live the martyrdom of marriage.

Modern culture has emphasized suffering as undesirable and an object to be remedied. Our resources are devoted to the ending of suffering and not to its endurance. Of course, the abiding myth of Modernity is that suffering can be eliminated. This is neither true nor desirable.

Virtues of patience, endurance, sacrifice, selflessness, generosity, kindness, steadfastness, loyalty, and other such qualities are impossible without the presence of suffering. The Christian faith does not disparage the relief of suffering, but neither does it make it definitive for the acquisition of virtue. Christ is quite clear that all will suffer. It is pretty much the case that no good thing comes about in human society except through the voluntary suffering of some person or persons. The goodness in our lives is rooted in the grace of heroic actions.

In the absence of stable, life-long, self-sacrificing marriages, all discussion of sex and sexuality is reduced to abstractions. An eloquent case for traditional families is currently being made by the chaos and dysfunction set in motion by their absence. No amount of legislation or social programs will succeed in replacing the most natural of human traditions. The social corrosion represented by our over-populated prisons, births outside of marriage (over 40 percent in the general population and over 70 percent among non-Hispanic African Americans), and similar phenomenon continue to predict a breakdown of civility on the most fundamental level. We passed into the “Dark Ages” some time ago. The “Benedict Option” is already in place. It is in your parish and in your marriage. Every day you endure and succeed in a faithful union to your spouse and children is a heroic act of grace-filled living.”

We are not promised that the Option will be successful as a civilizational cure. Such things are in the hands of God. But we should have no doubt about the Modern Project (Ed. the current trend) going on around us. It is not building a Brave New World. It is merely destroying the old one and letting its children roam amid the ruins. (Ed. another Dark Ages of civilization)”

Love,
Matthew