Category Archives: Sacraments

Why is Catholic Marriage different?

WeddingKneelingBeforeEucharist

In my experience trying to understand Catholic teaching on marriage, the language is more like love poetry than a practical, utilitarian dissembling of rights and functions.  See Song of Songs.  WIFM = What’s In It For Me? is definitely NOT the Catholic understanding of the sacrament of marriage, quite the contrary, quite, even though, culturally, we may use the same word to describe a dramatically different understood reality.  If our current crisis causes this definition and clarity to come more fully into focus, grace doth abound.  Rom 5:20.

In this season of marriage ceremony, let us pray for those who take on this most solemn vocation.  I have recently begun attending a secular support group to offer support to divorced men and fathers as they bear the cross of divorce and separation from their children and the torture of the family court system, biased against men.  Please pray for all who suffer this most desperate of crosses, regardless of their sins.


-by A. David Anders, PhD

Catholic teaching on marriage elicits more practical opposition and misunderstanding than perhaps any other Catholic doctrine. When I ask people what is keeping them from full communion with the Catholic church, Catholic teaching and the canon law on marriage rank high on the list.

The reason for the opposition is easily understood.  Christ calls married couples to lifelong fidelity, no matter what. A valid sacramental marriage cannot be dissolved for any reason by any power on earth. “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” (Matthew 19:6) This teaching seems so difficult that the apostles themselves could hardly believe it. “If this is the situation between a husband and wife,” they said, “it is better not to marry.” (Matthew 19:10)  Christ himself admitted that the teaching was impossible without grace: “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.” (Matthew 19:11)

Some Protestant denominations wish to make an exception to this law in cases of adultery or abandonment. They base this exception in the so-called “exception clause” of Matthew 19:9. But St. Paul explains Christ’s teaching very clearly in 1 Corinthians 7:10: “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.”  For this reason, the Church allows for the “separation of bed and board” in cases of abuse and neglect, but in no way countenances the remarriage of those separated while the true spouse is still living.

Why? Why does Christ call Christian couples to such a high standard of fidelity, even to the point of embracing the cross of suffering? The reason is that Christian marriage is no mere human contract. It is a mystical participation in the sacrificial, self-giving love of Christ for his Church. (Ephesians 5) It is a special vocation to holiness, an ecclesial state in the same way that priesthood or religious life is an ecclesial state. Christian marriage participates in the sacramental mission of the Church to bring Christ to the world. St. John Paul II wrote that “Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the Cross; they are for one another and for the children witnesses to the salvation in which the sacrament makes them sharers.” (Familiaris Consortio)

The really glorious news is that God never calls us to a task without giving us the means to accomplish it. For this reason, the sacrament of marriage is accompanied by astonishing graces that are unique to the married state. The Second Vatican Council (Gaudium et Spes) put the matter quite beautifully:

“Authentic married love is caught up into divine love and is governed and enriched by Christ’s redeeming power and the saving activity of the Church, so that this love may lead the spouses to God with powerful effect and may aid and strengthen them in sublime office of being a father or a mother. For this reason Christian spouses have a special sacrament by which they are fortified and receive a kind of consecration in the duties and dignity of their state. By virtue of this sacrament, as spouses fulfil their conjugal and family obligation, they are penetrated with the spirit of Christ, which suffuses their whole lives with faith, hope and charity. Thus they increasingly advance the perfection of their own personalities, as well as their mutual sanctification, and hence contribute jointly to the glory of God.”

To be sure, not all married couples experience or enjoy the full benefit of these graces. The increase of sanctifying grace in the sacraments calls forth our willing cooperation. Pope Pius XI explains: “[since] men do not reap the full fruit of the Sacraments . . . unless they cooperate with grace, the grace of matrimony will remain for the most part an unused talent hidden in the field.” (Casti Connubii)

In order to reap the full benefits of sacramental marriage, one must live a sincere, faithful and generous Catholic life. St. John Paul II explains:  “There is no doubt that these conditions must include persistence and patience, humility and strength of mind, filial trust in God and in His grace, and frequent recourse to prayer and to the sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation. Thus strengthened, Christian husbands and wives will be able to keep alive their awareness of the unique influence that the grace of the sacrament of marriage has on every aspect of married life.” (Familiaris Consortio).

Christian marriage is an awesome calling. Like all the sacraments, it is “a mystery,” but a mystery of astonishing fruitfulness. The law on Christian marriage is arduous because the end of Christian marriage is so sublime. Through it we are “caught up into divine love.”  The Council teaches: “Parents should regard as their proper mission the task of transmitting human life and educating those to whom it has been transmitted. They should realize that they are thereby cooperators with the love of God the Creator, and are, so to speak, the interpreters of that love.” (Gaudium et Spes)”

“…Thy Kingdom come!  Thy will be done!  On earth, as it is in heaven.”

Love,
Matthew

Holy Thursday – “If it’s a symbol, then the hell with it.” – Flannery O’Connor

Monstrance

I, exquisitely, as a life-long Catholic have the privilege, too, of struggling with the literality of the Lord’s words, “This IS my body.  This IS my blood.”  Imho, I don’t think Jesus meant these specific words to be a “no-brainer”.  I believe He wanted humanity to spend the rest of its existence intently contemplating them, more than anything else He ever said, the centrality of it is such.  Recall the Catholic definition of mystery, infinitely knowable.

One of the most important and soothing, palliative things a Catholic can receive just before death is viaticum in the last rites.  For as much critique as the Church may unjustly endure for not taking the Scriptures more literally, this she takes exquisitely literally.

-by Jennifer Fulwiler is a host on the Catholic Channel on SiriusXM, and the author of Something Other than God, a memoir about her journey from atheism to Catholicism. Her website is ConversionDiary.com.

“How could a reasonable person living in the 21st century actually believe that at the Catholic Mass, bread and wine are truly (like, not symbolically) changed into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ?

This was one of my biggest stumbling blocks when considering Catholicism. When I first heard that the Church still believes that the Mass makes Christ’s one sacrifice at Calvary present here and now, that on Holy Thursday the Lord made it possible that bread and wine could be turned into the flesh and blood of God himself, I prayerfully thought: “Are you kidding me?” I’d never heard a bolder, more audacious claim made by a modern religion.

There was a part of me that kept hoping I’d find that it was all a misunderstanding, that Catholics were only required to believe that the consecration of the Eucharist was a really, really, really important symbolic event. I was a lifelong atheist, after all. It was enough of a feat that I even came to believe in God in the first place. It was enough of a leap of faith for me to believe that some miracles might have happened a few times throughout history. But to ask a former militant atheist to believe that a miracle happens at every single Catholic Mass, that bread and wine are actually changed into the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ despite the fact that they look exactly the same… it seemed too much to ask.

It is surprising, then, that when I consider how much my life has changed since my husband and I both became Catholic at Easter Vigil in 2007, I find that there is really only one thing to talk about: the Eucharist.

I could try to pen a great ode proclaiming my joy at having come to know God on a level I never imagined possible for someone like me. I could write about the challenges we’ve faced, and the oasis that our newfound faith provided for us when we felt cast out into the desert. I could talk about the freeing power of Confession. I could say something about how my life is unrecognizable from what it was a decade ago. But when I started to write on each of those topics, I realized that each one of them — everything, really — comes back to the Eucharist.

By the time I received my first Communion I had come to accept that the teaching on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is true. Or, perhaps more accurately, I was willing to accept on faith that it was not false. I was undoubtedly being led to the Catholic Church, and found its defense of this teaching to be compelling, so I trusted that it was true in some mysterious way, even though I didn’t really get it. That was the best I could do, and I never expected to understand it any more than that.

Even as the years have rolled by, after receiving Communion week after week, I still don’t know how it works. I don’t often have a visceral reaction when I first see the consecrated host held above the altar, and don’t think I ever felt the Holy Spirit hit me like a ton of bricks the moment the consecrated host was placed on my tongue. Yet, despite the lack of immediate emotions, despite the fact that I can’t tell you exactly how it all works, I now believe with all my heart that it is true. I know that I eat the flesh and drink the blood of God at the Mass, and that it is the source of my strength.

I know it for the same reason a baby knows that its mother’s milk is the source of its nourishment: the baby can’t tell you how the milk is created by the release of prolactin and the cells in the alveoli. He can’t tell you about the importance of immunoglobulin IgA and fat-to-water ratios. He couldn’t even begin to understand how and why the milk nourishes him if you tried to explain it. He just knows how very much he needs it. He knows that the mysterious substance that his mother gives him is the source of his strength as much as he knows anything at all in his little life. And so it is with the Eucharist and me.

This belief in and love of the Eucharist is one of the most surprising things that’s ever happened to me. Never in my dreams would I have thought that I could believe such an outlandish claim. In the first months after my conversion, I would sometimes ask myself if this was all in my head, if perhaps I am eating bread and drinking wine at the Mass, but that its great symbolic value has led me to put myself in a different state of mind. And all I could come up with is this:

If this is a symbol, then I am insane.

It’s not a particularly eloquent defense of the Eucharist, but that’s about the best I can do. The way this Sacrament has slowly transformed my soul and given me a connection to God that I never knew before, the way I could easily move myself to tears at the thought of not being able to receive it, the strength I have drawn from having this direct communion with God – if these things are not real, then nothing is.

As I reflect back on my journey from atheism to Catholicism, the whole story of my life comes together in a very simple way: I realize now that my entire conversion process — really, my entire life — was one long search for the Eucharist.”

Love & Blessed Triduum,
Matthew

The Act of Dying

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I, personally, feel very privileged.  I got to brush the teeth of both my parents prior to their passing.  I was present for my mother’s passing, but not my father’s.  They were in Florida.  By that time, I had had to return to Illinois.  I kissed my father on the forehead, the last time I saw him.  An infection of his prevented the lips, and besides, fathers and their sons never kiss on the lips?  Right, men?  So, the forehead as he lay in his deathbed at the nursing home, seemed most appropriate.  Most.  Still does.  Still does.  His final words to me were, predictably, “Take care of yourself.”  This was not a glib adieu.  When he said these words, then, I knew, they always had profound meaning.  I have learned even more since.

I encountered hospice eight weeks later when my mother passed.  Everything hospice told would happen did.  A peaceful passing requires resolution.  All her children gathered.  Though she could no longer respond, we said prayers around her bed.  We each told her in our turn all was well, and so would we be, and that it was ok, it’s ok to go.  And, she did.  Peacefully.  Praise Him.

Br_Thomas_Davenport_OP
-by Br Thomas Davenport, OP (Br Thomas received his PhD in Physics from Stanford prior to joining the Order.)

“I had never heard the phrase until I spent some time visiting a hospice center, and it always struck me as incongruous. While everyone in their care was dying from one thing or another, they referred to patients who had shifted from slow and steady decline to the stage where the body starts to shut down as “actively dying.”

Unlike a normal hospital, the hospice rooms had no monitors steadily tolling the patient’s heartbeat or screaming for attention when vital signs change, so the evidence of this new phase varied – perhaps a particular weakening of the breath, a lack of blood flow to extremities, or an inability to keep the patient conscious. This stage could still last for days, and the more I witnessed such a decline the more this “active” part of dying seemed oddly named.

In a certain sense, all death is passive. It comes about when the human body can no longer fulfill its life-sustaining functions because of disease, trauma, or simple weakness. Unlike the acts of speaking or running or jumping, the hospice patient’s “active” dying is something that happens to him, not something he does.

We cannot simply will our body to stop functioning in the way we can will to raise our right hand. The truly human acts related to dying are always indirect. For good or for ill, they are only preparatory for a moment that we never fully control.

This thought struck me profoundly on my last visit to Fr. William Augustine Wallace, O.P. I had visited Fr. Wallace many times over the last four years, but by the time I first met him his Alzheimer’s had limited us to nothing more than a superficial conversation. There was a certain passivity on his part in all of our interactions, usually involving me saying something to get some response from him. Just walking into his room always drew a smile, and I would bring up his time in the Navy, his time as a priest, his teaching, or his work in natural philosophy, hoping to get a look of recognition and a few words, which usually trailed off incomplete. Early on I could ask for his blessing and he would gladly, if haltingly, oblige, but eventually I had to settle for leading him in the Our Father or a part of the Rosary.

A little over a week ago we got the news that he was declining – in hospice terms, actively dying. After compline, about ten of us brothers visited his room as he lay on the bed, eyes closed, breathing slowly, and clutching the rosary that one of the sisters had placed in his hands. He had already received the Anointing of the Sick, so a priest prayed aloud the Commendation for the Dying. He spoke loudly so that Fr. Wallace might still hear him, but I noticed no signs of recognition.

After singing the Salve Regina, we decided to pray a decade of the rosary. None of us who were there could claim to have been his friend, or even to have known him much at all, but I remember thinking that I would like to stay with him overnight, hoping that at least one of his brethren could be with him in case he did not make it until morning. By the end of the decade the slow breathing had stopped. Fr. Wallace had died surrounded by ten of his Dominican brethren praying the Rosary.

Given the passive and reactive nature of our interactions over the years it is hard to imagine that he was actively holding off the physical shutdown of his body for some particular moment like this. It was truly a beautiful moment of Divine Providence. A moment hours, days, even years in the making, most of it out of his or anyone’s control. Still, Fr. Wallace’s decline over the years was simply a longer, drawn out version of what leads up to any death. We can never really be sure when death will come or whether we will truly have the time or the power to prepare ourselves when it becomes unavoidable.

The Church has always encouraged the faithful to reflect on, to pray about, and to prepare for our own death. This is not a morbid and depressing suggestion but a humble recognition that we will all face death and that the way we face it has serious consequences. Further, the Church encourages us not to take on this task alone but to draw on the support of our fellow Christians and, most especially, the saints. They have gone before us through death to eternal life, and we can trust that they will act on our behalf even when we cannot.

The last thing I remember Fr. Wallace doing before he was actively dying was faltering along as we prayed a decade of the Rosary, the same prayer we were praying the moment that he died, insistently calling upon the help of our Blessed Mother: Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

THE REASONS ST. JOSEPH IS THE PATRON OF THE DYING

There are three reasons why St. Joseph is the special patron of the dying:

1) He is the foster father of the Eternal Judge, Who can refuse him no request.

2) He is terrible to the demons; the Church calls him the Terror of demons and Conqueror of Hell.

3) His own death was most beautiful, for he died in the arms of Jesus and Mary; this is the principal reason why he is the patron of a happy death; the death of no other Saint was so happy, so glorious.

St. Francis de Sales was of the opinion that St. Joseph died of the love of God; St. Alphonsus Liguori considered this most reasonable.

PRAYERS FOR A HAPPY DEATH

O Glorious St. Joseph, behold I choose thee today for my special patron in life and at the hour of my death. Preserve and increase in me the spirit of prayer and fervor in the service of God. Remove far from me every kind of sin; obtain for me that my death may not come upon me unawares, but that I may have time to confess my sins sacramentally and to bewail them with a most perfect understanding and a most sincere and perfect contrition, in order that I may breathe forth my soul into the hands of Jesus and Mary. Amen

O Saint Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires.

O Saint Joseph, assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me all spiritual blessings through your foster Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord, so that, having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer you my thanksgiving and homage.

O Saint Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His head for me, and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath.

St. Joseph, patron of departing souls, pray for me.  Amen.

Love,
Matthew

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…” & empty confessionals.

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Everyone’s least favorite sacrament, I realize.  Imho, we need to start hearing GOOD homilies that address sin in a healthy, but straightforward way, no canned sermons, no ill-prepared random thoughts, just cause you can.  No more bad liturgy, bad music, bad children’s choirs, as cute as they may be.  Good, edifying liturgy, unsullied by parish politics.  Keeping the peace at the cost of the Good News?  Sin and its deleterious effects, not just “happy, happy, joy, joy”.  No sin, no need for a Savior, right?  Maybe after five decades, of “happy, happy, joy, joy” we no longer are sinners?  That could be the impression.  Works for me, and a lot of others, too, apparently.

Real homilies, GOOD homilies.  We ask clergy to do a LOT!!!  There is a PLETHORA of FUNDRAISING on Sundays, of EVERY flavor.  Give the cows a break, would ya’?  The business NEVER gets neglected.  The Catholic Church NEVER met a dollar or other currency, it didn’t like.  If you want a return to the confessional, the clergy leading by example, as they always should.  And, cool it with the money.  It’s a real turnoff.  Imho.

I’ve thought about the “take it directly to Jesus” approach.  I have.  I need to name my sins, TO ANOTHER PERSON, for me, to make sure I really “own” the responsibility, that I truly am no longer in denial, not a river in Egypt, and face it, directly.  A BIG part of being forgiven, for me.  I need to hear another human being say to me “I (God) absolve you…”  I NEED that.  A nun or two has also heard my confession, as well, informally.  I feel just as absolved.  I do.  Thank you, Fathers & sisters.  Thank you.

http://americamagazine.org/issue/615/article/bless-me-father

Bless Me, Father
May 21, 2007 Issue, America Magazine
-by Rev. James Martin, SJ

“The statistics are alarming. According to the Center for Applied Research on the Apostolate, a survey in 2005 showed that 42 percent of Catholic adults, when asked how often they went to confession, answered Never.

Alarming but hardly surprising. Is there any American Catholic who does not know how empty the confessionals are in this country? The days of ritual visits to confession on Saturday afternoons are over for most Catholic families. In that same survey, 32 percent of Catholics said they confess their sins to a priest less than once a year.

More worrisome is the fact that active Catholics, not just lapsed or lukewarm Catholics, avoid the sacrament of reconciliation. Brian Stevens, 35, is a Catholic who is completing a master’s degree in pastoral ministry at St. Thomas University in Miami, and has just accepted a job with Catholic Charities. He does not go to confession. One reason he stopped was that he could not find a parish he liked. Not going to confession goes to the heart of feeling disconnected from the local church, Stevens said. He disagrees with blaming the laity, adding, There’s a reason for the decline; it points to a flaw in the way it’s been presented. It’s not the people’s fault.

Many younger Catholics in particular find the sacrament beside the point. Tom Beaudoin, a theology professor who writes frequently about young adults, notes that for his students at Santa Clara University in California, the sacrament is simply not an issue. I have had students talk to me about baptism, marriage, funerals, but never confession, he said. It hardly registers with them.

What has happened to confession in the U.S. church of the 21st century? Has there been a flaw in its presentation? More important, what can be done to invite Catholics to participate in the sacrament that is at the heart of our experience of the love and mercy of God? In short, how can the sacrament of reconciliation register with people?

What Happened?

Even a short history of the sacrament could fill volumes. Briefly put, the rite of reconciliation developed gradually. It is based on Jesus’ granting to the apostles the power to forgive sins, as recorded in the Gospels (Matt 16:19, John 20:23). During the first and second centuries, Christians debated whether a baptized person who had committed serious sins (for example, murder, adultery or apostasy) could be reconciled to the church. In the third century, Tertullian advanced the idea of penance, which took the form of a public act of penitence. But what most Catholics would call confession did not began in earnest until the late sixth century, when Celtic priests began to incorporate auricular confessions as part of their spiritual counseling. By 1215, theologians at the Lateran Council were reflecting and writing on the practice, which had become more widespread. The Council of Trent also took up the sacrament, laying down clear guidelines for its use.

The Second Vatican Council placed a greater emphasis on sin as an offense against both God and the community. It also declared that the rites of the sacrament were to be revised so that they more clearly express both the nature and effect of this sacrament. Vatican II defined three forms of the rite, renamed the sacrament of reconciliation: first, for individual penitents; second, for several penitents with individual confession and absolution; third, for several penitents with general confession and absolution. In the wake of Vatican II, Catholics grew accustomed to seeing reconciliation rooms supplementing or replacing the old confessionals.

The sacrament, then, has been developing slowly over centuries. So how did the church in this country move in just a few decades from full to empty confessionals? Most experts point to a confluence of factors.

The first is a profound change in the sense of sin. As John Baldovin, S.J., a liturgical scholar, points out, this is both good news and bad news. On the one hand, we’re not obsessed with sin any longer, he said. On the other hand, people don’t think of themselves as sinners, which is a big problem.

Some observers note factors like an American culture that increasingly stresses victimization, rather than taking full responsibility for one’s sinful actions. Many are not all that open to recognizing personal responsibility, said Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. Contemporary Catholics may also feel that the psychologist or spiritual director fills the same needs that the confessors once did.

The second is a shift in emphasis on the presentation of the sacrament. After Vatican II, not only did priests begin to speak more frequently about social sins, like racism and sexism; they also reminded parishioners that the penitential rite at the beginning of the Mass was an important way to reconcile oneself with God and others. Father Baldovin surmised that because of the new three-year cycle of readings, priests were also preaching more homilies about stories of the forgiveness of Jesus, emphasizing God’s mercy more frequently than before. While they heard the good news, this may have relativized their sense of sin, he said. As a result, some Catholics may have become confused about whether or not confession is still necessary.

A few Catholics have told me that the church’s ecumenical stance after Vatican II further influenced their view of confession. Mary Collier, 60, a lifelong Catholic in Peoria, Iowa, said, If God is going to welcome Protestants and non-Christians to a life beyond, and they didn’t go to confession, I highly doubt that I’ll be left out because I’m not going. She almost never participates in the sacrament. I’m part of that 42 percent, she said.

Overall, said Kurt Stasiak, O.S.B., author of the widely used manual A Confessor’s Handbook, Parishioners don’t get a sense that this is an important thing to do.

The third reason behind so many empty confessionals, according to nearly all observers, is the publication of Humanae Vitae, in 1968, the Vatican’s encyclical on birth control, whose teachings on contraception were not only widely rejected by many American Catholics but also, in the eyes of those who disagreed, lessened the credibility of the church’s stance on sexual morality in general. Catholics began to doubt not only the need to confess sexual sins but also the moral authority of the church, whose representatives would absolve them from these sins.

The fourth reason may be the simplest: because of busier lives, American Catholics are not as able to keep the Saturday afternoon ritual of going to confession with their familyif they know about that practice. Very few people under the age of 35 even have the experience of that as a weekly event, said Paula Fitzgerald, a campus minister at John Carroll University in Ohio.

Taken together, these four reasons help to explain why short confession lines are the norm today. According to the CARA survey, only 12 percent of Catholics go to confession more than once a year. Perhaps the more important question is: What can the church do about it?

Old Strategies, New Solutions

While most scholars agree that the sacrament has fallen on hard times, they also agree on steps that can be taken to rejuvenate the sacrament and reintroduce it to the faithful. Father Stasiak, who teaches at St. Meinrad’s School of Theology in Indiana, said that while the sacrament is on the decline, some parishes are attracting many people to confession.

He notes four general strategies, echoed in various ways by other experts, which make for good attendance at confession.

First, priests can encourage their parishioners to participate in the sacrament. Priests can talk from their own experience about the sacrament, not as an obligation but as an opportunity, said Father Stasiak. Bishop John Cummings, the emeritus bishop of Oakland, Calif., agrees. Where there are priests who are cheerful and hopeful about the sacrament,he said, it will work.

The biggest barrier in many Catholic minds to such encouragement is the notion that the sacrament is unnecessary. Monica Andrews, 35, a former campus minister, is a social worker who lives in Seattle with her husband and infant daughter. She hasn’t seen a priest for confession in eight years. I just don’t feel that I need to verbalize my sins, she said. I feel like I can confess to God in prayer. Mary Collier raised a similar objection. Nothing against priests, but why go to a human being to ask for forgiveness if I can go to God?

Pastors are trying a variety of ways to respond to such objections. During this past Lent, Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, of Washington, D.C., rolled out an ambitious archdiocese-wide program, The Light Is On for You, designed to attract people back to confession. This is a moment when we need to be aware of how diminished the sacrament is, in terms of its regular use, said the archbishop. When asked about these objections, he responded that Jesus established things in such a way that people could be assured of forgiveness. It’s a human need to hear from the other side, I accept that,’ he said. Jesus built that into the sacrament.

Father Stasiak suggests that the parable of the prodigal son is helpful when responding to such objections. Imagine how different the story would be if, instead of the forgiving father meeting the son with outstretched arms, the younger son had come home and found a note from the father tacked to the door. You need that personal connection, Father Stasiak said.

A second component concerns the priority of scheduling. Today the traditional Saturday afternoon hourlong time slot may be both insufficient and poorly timed, given many families’ busy weekend schedules. The problem is exacerbated in one-priest parishes or when a single priest is asked to care for several parishes. But timing may be everything. A centerpiece of Archbishop Wuerl’s Lenten initiative was asking all the churches in the Washington Archdiocese to remain open from 7 to 8:30 on Wednesday evenings during Lent, as a way of recognizing the timetables of contemporary lives. Why not offer it when people have a chance of being free? the archbishop said. We need to make the sacrament available in a way that people can actually access it.

Creative scheduling of penance services, including seasonal communal gatherings during Advent and Lent, may also encourage Catholics who may feel turned off by the box. And Paula Fitzgerald noted that retreats and spiritual direction at John Carroll have helped young Catholics feel more inclined toward the sacrament. During spring break this year, at the 10 p.m. Mass we had two or three students approach the presider to say, We came from retreat, would you hear my confession?’

Third, the church needs to do a better job in catechesis, say experts. Peter Fink, S.J., editor of The New Dictionary of Sacramental Worship, who taught the confession practicum at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology for 31 years, put it bluntly: It has been a failure of catechesis. Father Fink, who is now associate pastor at St. Francis Xavier Church in New York City, suggested that catechesis should move from focusing on sins that need to be forgiven to forgiveness that heals sinfulness. We have failed to convince people that the sacrament is more about how good God is than how bad we are. Poor education of the faithful in the basics lies at the heart of the decline of participation in the sacrament. Some adult initiation programs, for example, still spend only a few minutes discussing the sacrament.

Ironically, some Catholics who do not go to confession nevertheless show a deep understanding of what the sacrament should be. Brian Stevens said, If it was actually about reconciling oneself to the community it would make more sense. Appealing to some Catholics may be as basic as reminding them that what they are seeking is what the sacrament is already designed to offer.

Archbishop Wuerl responded to the catechetical problem by issuing a lengthy (and highly readable) pastoral letter to his archdiocese, titled God’s Mercy and the Sacrament of Penance, as part of his Lenten renewal program. It covers both the scriptural and more broadly theological bases for the sacrament, and it uses an encouraging tone and basic language that make it easy for most Catholics to hear and understand. The sacrament of reconciliation is the story of God’s love that never turns away from sin, reads the letter. It endures even our shortsightedness and selfishness.

To ensure that the message would be heard, the Archdiocese of Washington distributed 100,000 brochures and launched what The Washington Post called a marketing blitz, buying ad space on buses, billboards and on the radio.

Finally, parishes can provide good confessors. People will be more likely to gravitate to good confessors if they can be assured of compassionate priests, who will, as Father Fink says, speak a word of forgiveness. This is not to say that every priest or bishop can be a Padre Pio or a John Vianney, who were renowned for their skill as confessors. (St. John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, is said to have spent 16 hours a day in the confessional.) But hearing confessions is an art. Father Stasiak addresses it at length in A Confessor’s Handbook, which includes a helpful list of dos and don’ts, like Do not accuse; do not insult and Don’t get caught up in your own words.

An even more basic idea comes from Father Fink, who said, I used to tell my students simply to imagine what Jesus Christ would say to the person before you.

God’s Mercy

Archbishop Wuerl is hopeful about the long-term results of his Lenten program. So far it has been remarkably successful, with a dramatic increase in people coming to the sacrament, he noted a few weeks after it started. Churches where the sacrament remains a vital part of parish life tend to use a combination of strategies.

Parish priests and pastoral associates must trust that in this sacrament the church is offering something of value even today to a society that minimizes sin, emphasizes victimization over personal responsibility, places enormous demands on people’s time and fosters distrust of institutions. The sacrament of reconciliation offers something everyone desires: God’s mercy. As Father Peter Fink said about his own need for the sacrament, I go to stand before God as a sinner and to hear a word from God that says, Don’t go away. I’m still with you.’”

Love,
Matthew

Sin is communal…only in extreme emergencies, confession.

Reconciliation_Pope-Francis (1)

“If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word is not in us.” -1 Jn 1:10

I had the…displeasure, you might say, of witnessing a communal penance service during a Catholic Mass in my life.  Mass was going on in a large auditorium in the Chicago suburbs.  The celebrant said some prayers, and then asked people to stand up when they felt forgiven.  One-by-one the entire congregation, or the majority, stood.  I did not.  I was in too much shock.  I don’t “think” I’m a wet towel?  I like to think I try to keep it real?  Hip?  As much as I can at 49?  Externally, I was in physical control.  Internally, I needed to be sedated.  I did finish Mass, though.  Yeah.  🙂

I realize Penitential Rite III of Vatican II, in very extreme circumstances, allows something along this vein.  None of these extenuating circumstances were present in this regular Sunday Mass, whatsoever.  I am not the Sunday Mass police, whatsoever, however, as an amateur Catholic wonk, I did drop a dime to the chancery, such was the scandal I personally encountered and felt.  🙁

IMPORTANT NOTE REGARDING THE COMMUNAL CONFESSION:

A Communal confession is valid only for emergency or unusual circumstances such as for those who live in remote areas or in a situation where there are insufficient priests available to hear everyone’s confesssion prior to attendance at the Holy Mass. (We are to be in the “state of grace”, absolved of all guilt due to mortal sin through the Sacrament, right?  Prior to receiving communion?  Remember that part?  I know you do, gentle reader.  I know you do.  I have faith, and trust, and confidence in you.  I do.  Pray for me, when I receive the Sacrament, and my examen is “fuzzy”.  Please, pray for me.  Please.)  Under ordinary circumstances it cannot replace individual confession (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1483 and Code of Canon Law # 961 and # 962).

However, sin is communal.  No sin is EVER a strictly personal matter.

3/12/2009, -by Justin Cardinal Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia (retired)

“In a book which he wrote about his famous father, Enrico Caruso, Jr. described the atmosphere in the villa where Caruso lived and worked. The mood of the place was always determined by what the great tenor was doing. If he was sleeping, everyone was quiet. When he awoke, his enthusiasm for life was infectious and everyone seemed to rejoice with him. If his southern personality was expressed in anger, everyone in the villa trembled!

We don’t have to live with Enrico Caruso to know how the mood, words and actions of one person can affect an entire home. This can likewise be true of a place of business. One person can affect the entire atmosphere of a place and either raise it up with joy and enthusiasm or lower it with tension and anger.

This is also true of the community or family which we know as the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. The actions of one member can either build up the Church of Christ through virtue and fidelity or weaken it by sin. It is mysterious how the actions of a human person can affect Christ’s Mystical Body but such is the power of human freedom that God not only allows us to make free choices but also allows our choices to build up or weaken the Church he has founded. This is why we can say that sin has both a personal and social aspect.

In the Exhortation, which followed the Synod of Bishops that had discussed the Sacrament of Penance, Pope John Paul II wrote: “By virtue of a human solidarity which is as mysterious and intangible as it is real and concrete, each individual’s sin in some way affects others. There is no sin, not even the most intimate and secret one, the most strictly individual one, that exclusively concerns the person committing it. With greater or lesser harm, every sin has repercussions on the ecclesial body and the whole human family. In this sense every sin can be considered a social sin” (Reconciliation and Penance, 2 [December 1984]).

The Sacrament of Penance

The Sacrament of Penance is always a vital part of our Christian lives but we highlight it in a special way during this Lenten season. This great Sacrament of God’s mercy has always manifested both the personal and communal aspects of sin and forgiveness. However, it has done this in different ways down through the centuries.

In the early centuries of the Church, there was a role given to what is called public penance. This was a penance performed in the midst of the community to highlight the truth which we have been discussing, namely the social as well as the personal aspect of sin. Public penance was not imposed upon everyone and it depended on the nature of the sin.

Saint Augustine wrote, concerning public penance: “If the sin is not only grievous in itself but involves scandal given to others, and if the bishop judges that it will be useful to the Church, let not the sinner refuse to do penance in the sight of many or even of the people at large, let the sinner not resist, nor through shame add to the mortal wound a greater evil” (Sermon 151, n. 3).

It was the confessor who would determine the necessity and the extent of the public penance imposed upon a penitent. This was done not to cause shame to the penitent but to highlight the communal nature of sin and the weakening of the Body of Christ caused by it. These periods of public penance often took place during the Lenten season, with the penance beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending with a formal ceremony of reconciliation on Holy Thursday. This practice of public penance gradually changed.

Although public penance was once a part of the celebration of the Sacrament, we must not confuse the manner of celebrating the Sacrament of Penance with the Sacrament itself. Penance is the Sacrament which Christ established to bring about the forgiveness of sins committed after Baptism. The Church is given the power to dispense the mercy of Jesus in this Sacrament. The priest, who acts in the person of Jesus, forgives sins in the name of the Church.

In this way, the public nature of forgiveness continues to be represented when this Sacrament is celebrated. It is the priest who, as the minister of the Sacrament in the name of the Church, also represents the public life of the Church. In this very private and intimate Sacrament, in which individual sin is confessed and forgiven, there is still a public role exercised through the ministry of the priest, who represents the entire Church.

In his Encyclical on the Mystical Body of Christ, Pope Pius XII beautifully expressed this mystery. He wrote: “As Jesus hung on the Cross, he not only satisfied the justice of the Eternal Father, but he also won for us, his brothers and sisters, an unending flow of graces. It was possible for Him personally, immediately, to impart these graces but He wished to do so only through a visible Church that would be formed by the union of people, and thus, through the Church, every inspanidual would perform a work of collaboration with Him in dispensing the graces of Redemption. The Word of God willed to make use of our nature, when in excruciating agony, He would redeem mankind. In much the same way, throughout the centuries, He makes use of the Church that the work begun might endure.

“Jesus Christ wishes to be helped by the members of His Body. This is not because he is indigent and weak, but rather because He has so willed it for the greater glory of His unspotted Spouse.

“Dying on the Cross, Christ left to the Church the immense treasury of the Redemption. Toward this she contributed nothing. But, when those graces come to be distributed, not only does Christ share this task of sanctification with His Church, but He wants it, in a way, to be due to her action” (Mystici Corporis, 44).

A life beyond

We have all heard the word “supernatural.” This means something which goes beyond or above the natural. In our natural understanding of what is public and what is private or personal, we tend to think in physical or visible terms. If we can see something, it is public. If something is hidden or known to us alone, it is personal. The Christian life, however, is a great reality which is real while not always being physical.

In the Sacrament of Penance, we may see just the priest and the penitent. However, because we are dealing with an action of God’s grace, given through the Church, we are actually dealing with something public and communal.

The sin of the inspanidual, which may be known to that person alone, has an effect on the entire community, thereby giving it a communal aspect. The forgiveness of God transmitted by the priest in Confession is an action involving the Church. It is through the ministry of the Church that the inspanidual sinner is reconciled to God and the family of believers.

Once this reconciliation has taken place, the inspanidual is able to go out once again and fulfill his or her communal role in building up the Church of Christ.

In speaking to the Bishops of the United States on their ad limina visit to the See of Peter, Pope John Paul II described this unity this way: “Only when the faithful recognize sin in their own lives are they ready to understand reconciliation and to open their hearts to penance and personal conversion. Only then are they able to contribute to the renewal of society, since personal conversion is also the only way that leads to the lasting renewal of society. This personal conversion, by spanine precept, is intimately linked to the Sacrament of Penance” (Address, 15 April 1983).

Jesus wishes us to have a relationship with Him which is real and living. He has given us dramatic signs of His love. However, in order to live that life fully, we must go beyond what is natural and visible. We live that life in union with the community of the Church which He founded and which, according to His plan, is the dispenser of that life.

When we sin, we weaken the entire Body of the Church and when we are sorry and ask forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we receive forgiveness from Christ but through that same Church. This is the wonderful plan that God has designed for our salvation.”

I am not only a teacher of youth, but an activist for their protection.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/william-bennett-and-robert-white-legal-pot-is-a-public-health-menace-1407970966

8/13/14

Legal Pot Is a Public Health Menace

-by William J. Bennett and Robert A. White

“The great irony, or misfortune, of the national debate over marijuana is that while almost all the science and research is going in one direction—pointing out the dangers of marijuana use—public opinion seems to be going in favor of broad legalization.

For example, last week a new study in the journal Current Addiction Reports found that regular pot use (defined as once a week) among teenagers and young adults led to cognitive decline, poor attention and memory, and decreased IQ. On Aug. 9, the American Psychological Association reported that at its annual convention the ramifications of marijuana legalization was much discussed, with Krista Lisdahl, director of the imaging and neuropsychology lab at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, saying: “It needs to be emphasized that regular cannabis use, which we consider once a week, is not safe and may result in addiction and neurocognitive damage, especially in youth.”

Since few marijuana users limit themselves to use once a week, the actual harm is much worse for developing brains. The APA noted that young people who become addicted to marijuana lose an average of six IQ points by adulthood. A long line of studies have found similar results—in 2012, a decades-long study of more than 1,000 New Zealanders who frequently smoked pot in adolescence pegged the IQ loss at eight points.

Yet in recent weeks and months, much media coverage of the marijuana issue has either tacitly or explicitly supported legalization. A CCN/ORC International survey in January found that a record 55% of Americans support marijuana legalization.

The disconnect between science and public opinion is so great that in a March WSJ/NBC News poll, Americans ranked sugar as more harmful than marijuana. The misinformation campaign appears to be succeeding.

Here’s the truth. The marijuana of today is simply not the same drug it was in the 1960s, ’70s, or ’80s, much less the 1930s. It is often at least five times stronger, with the levels of the psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, averaging about 15% in the marijuana at dispensaries found in the states that have legalized pot for “medicinal” or, in the case of Colorado, recreational use. Often the THC level is 20% or higher.

With increased THC levels come increased health risks. Since Colorado legalized recreational use earlier this year, two deaths in the state have already been linked to marijuana. In both cases it was consumed in edible form, which can result in the user taking in even more THC than when smoking pot. “One man jumped to his death after consuming a large amount of marijuana contained in a cookie,” the Associated Press reported in April, “and in the other case, a man allegedly shot and killed his wife after eating marijuana candy.” Reports are coming out of Colorado in what amounts to a parade of horribles from more intoxicated driving to more emergency hospital admissions due to marijuana exposure and overdose.

Over the past 10 years, study after study has shown the damaging effect of marijuana on the teenage brain. Northwestern School of Medicine researchers reported in the Schizophrenia Bulletin in December that teens who smoked marijuana daily for about three years showed abnormal brain-structure changes. Marijuana use has clearly been linked to teen psychosis as well as decreases in IQ and permanent brain damage.

The response of those who support legalization: Teenagers can be kept away from marijuana. Yet given the dismal record regarding age-restricted use of tobacco and alcohol, success with barring teens from using legalized marijuana would be a first.

The reason such a large number of teens use alcohol and tobacco is precisely because those are legal products. The reason more are now using marijuana is because of its changing legal status—from something that was dangerous and forbidden to a product that is now considered “medicinal,” and in the states of Colorado and Washington recreational. Until recently, the illegality of marijuana, and the stigma of lawbreaking, had kept its use below that of tobacco and alcohol.

Legality is the mother of availability, and availability, as former Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr. put it in his 2008 book on substance abuse, “High Society,” is the mother of use. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, currently 2.7 million Americans age 12 and older meet the clinical criteria for marijuana dependence, or addiction.

Mark A.R. Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, has estimated that legalization can be expected to increase marijuana consumption by four to six times. Today’s 2.7 million marijuana dependents (addicts) would thus expand to as many as 16.2 million with nationwide legalization. That should alarm any parent, teacher or policy maker.

There are two conversations about marijuana taking place in this country: One, we fear, is based on an obsolete perception of marijuana as a relatively harmless, low-THC product. The other takes seriously the science of the new marijuana and its effect on teens, whose adulthood will be marred by the irreversible damage to their brains when young.

Supporters of marijuana legalization insist that times are changing and policy should too. But they are the ones stuck in the past—and charting a dangerous future for too many Americans.”

Pray for our young people.  Pray for Mara, please.  They are in such need of our prayers and active protection.  We will be judged by Him on how we defended the most vulnerable, I firmly believe, and the Gospel says.

Love,
Matthew

Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful, Fruitful Love, A Fountain of Grace

forest-trees-waterfall

Waterfall

Beauty-Small-Waterfall

At 49, I like to kid myself I still possess some modicum of “hipness”.  I was never a hipster, really, to begin with, but, I guess, I teach them and have to try to keep the lectures, at least, mildly interesting?

However, it does come as a shock when current, less-than-attractive fashion is pushed right onto my nose?  🙁  I have recently heard two sermons from campus ministers, who are closer to the battle, per se, than yours truly.  There was so much despair.  It really took my breath away.  So much despair…in general, and particularly about marriage.  🙁  Young people have the meme in their heads, why bother?  Why not just live for myself?  Always?  Why not?  Why bother?  Why go through the pain and the suffering of dating?  The compromises of living with the other gender, whom completely DO NOT GET IT!!!!

My observation is that evil is always directly opposed to good.  You know it’s evil because of this orientation.  Clerverly, disguised, well-marketed, slick, shiny, attractive, alluring, but a lie.  Evil is always a lie; he is the father of lies.  Evil NEVER tells you the Truth, that’s how you know it’s evil.  Evil always tells you what you WANT to hear, but you know, in your heart-of-hearts, it is a lie.  Evil HAS a feeling.  It does.  It damnably does.  Evil NEVER entertains, even for a hair-splitting fraction of a second the possibility of the Cross.  Never.  That’s another way it identifies itself.

If, as Catholic theology tells us, sacraments are fountains of grace, what more appropriate means, or motivation does Evil have or need than to dissuade us from the life giving waters of grace?  To be deprived of His Grace is to become the slave of sin and evil.

-from http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/resources/life-and-family/marriage/the-meaning-of-catholic-marriage/

by Alice Von Hildebrand

“In our society, the beauty and greatness of married love has been so obscured that most people now view marriage as a prison: a conventional, boring, legal matter that threatens love and destroys freedom.

“Love is heaven; marriage is hell,” wrote Lord Byron 150 years ago. At the time he could not have foreseen the incredible popularity that his idea would have today.

In our society the beauty and greatness or married love has been so obscured that most people now view marriage as a prison: a conventional, boring, legal matter that threatens love and destroys freedom.

My husband, Dietrich von Hildebrand was just the opposite. Long before he converted to Roman Catholicism, he was convinced that the community of love in marriage is one of the deepest sources of happiness. He saw the grandeur and the beauty of the union of spouses in marriage — symbolized by their physical union which leads in such a mysterious way to the creation of a new human person.

He recognized that love by its very essence longs for infinity and for eternity. Therefore, a person truly in love wants to bind himself forever to his beloved — which is precisely the gift that marriage gives him.

In contrast, love without an unqualified commitment betrays the very essence of love. He who refuses to commit himself (or who break a commitment in order to start another relationship) fools himself. He confuses the excitement of novelty with authentic happiness.

Such affective defeatism — so typical of our age — is a symptom or a severe emotional immaturity which weakens the very foundation of society. It is rooted partly in a misunderstanding of freedom. Many people criticize marriage because they fail to realize that a person also exercises his freedom when he freely binds himself to another in marriage.

These critics of marriage do not see that continuity — and especially faithfulness — is an essential characteristic of a truly great personality: he chooses to remain faithful to what he has seen, even though his vision may later become blurred.

In matters of love and marriage, “hell” does not come from fidelity; it comes from lack of fidelity, which leaves men technically unbound but actually solitary: trapped in a shallow arbitrariness and a stifling subjectivism.

Indeed, contrary to Lord Byron and to popular belief, marriage is the friend and protector of love between man and woman. Marriage gives love the structure, the shelteredness, the climate in which alone it can grow.

Marriage teaches spouses humility, making them realize that the human person is a very poor lover. Much as we long to love and to be loved, we repeatedly fall short and desperately need help. We must bind ourselves through sacred vows so that the bond will grant our love the strength necessary to face the tempest-tossed sea of our human condition.

For no love is free from periods of difficulties. But (as Kierkegaard aptly remarks), because it implies will, commitment, duty, and responsibility, marriage braces spouses to fight to save the precious gift of their love. It gives them the glorious confidence that with God’s help, they will overcome the difficulties and emerge victorious. Thus, by adding a formal element to the material element of love, marriage guarantees the future of love and protects it against the temptations which are bound to arise in human existence.

In a relationship without commitment, the slightest obstacle, the most insignificant difficulty is a valid excuse for separating. Unfortunately, man, who is usually so eager to win a fight over others, shows little or no desire to conquer himself. It is much easier for him to give up a relationship than to fight what Kierkegaard calls “the lassitude which often is wont to follow upon a wish fulfilled.”

Marriage calls each spouse to fight against himself for the sake of his beloved. This is why it has become so unpopular today. People are no longer willing to achieve the greatest of all victories, the victory over self.

To abolish marriage is, Kierkegaard tells us, “self- indulgence.” Only cowards malign marriage. They run from battle, defeated before the struggle even begins. Marriage alone can save love between man and woman and place it above the contingencies of daily flux and moods. Without this bond, there is no reason to wish to transform the dreariness of everyday life into a poetic song.

Sacramental marriage

In Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love, my husband introduced these themes which illuminate the value and importance of natural marriage and show the role that marriage plays in serving faithful love.

At the same time, my husband saw that even in the happiest of natural marriages, mortal man — the creature of a day (as Plato calls him) remains terribly finite and limited. Consequently, every merely natural love is necessarily tragic: it will never achieve the eternal union for which it naturally longs.

But when my husband converted to Catholicism, he discovered a wonderful new dimension of marriage: its sacramental character as a fountain/font of grace. St. Paul illuminated the sublime dignity of sacramental marriage in calling it a “great mystery” comparable to the love of Christ for His Church (Ephesians V: 32). Natural love pales in comparison to the beauty of a love rooted in Christ.
As a sacrament, marriage gives people the supernatural strength necessary to “fight the good fight.” Every victory achieved together over habit, routine, and boredom cements the bonds existing between the spouses and makes their love produce new blossoms.

Also, because it explicitly and sacramentally unites the spouses with the infinite love that Christ has for each one of them, sacramental marriage overcomes the tragic limits of natural marriage and achieves the infinite and eternal character to which every love aspires. It is therefore understandable that after his conversion to Roman Catholicism, my husband (who was already the great knight for natural love) became an ardent knight in defense of the supernatural love found in sacramental marriage. His enthusiasm for the great beauty and mystery of faithful love in marriage led to the writing of this work.

It is therefore understandable that after his conversion to Roman Catholicism, my husband (who was already the great knight for natural love) became an ardent knight in defense of the supernatural love found in sacramental marriage. His enthusiasm for the great beauty and mystery of faithful love in marriage led to the writing of this work.

History of marriage

The preparation of Marriage actually began in 1923 when my husband gave a lecture on marriage at a Congress of the Catholic Academic Association in Ulm, Germany. The lecture was a resounding success.

In the lecture he argued that one should distinguish between the meaning of marriage (i.e., love) and its purpose (i.e., procreation). He portrayed marriage as a community of love, which, according to an admirable divine economy, finds its end in procreation.

Even though official Catholic teaching had until then put an almost exclusive stress on the importance of procreation as the purpose of marriage, the practice of the Church had always implicitly recognized love as the meaning of marriage. She had always approved the marriage of those who, because of age or other impediments, could not enjoy the blessings of children.

But conscious that he was breaking new ground in making so explicit the distinction between the purpose and the meaning of marriage, my husband sought the approval of Church authority. So he turned to His Eminence Cardinal Pacelli, then the Papal Nuncio in Munich. To this future pope (Pius XII), my husband expounded his views, and to his joy, received from the future Pontiff a full endorsement of his position.

Cardinal Pacelli’s approval coupled with the success of the lecture on marriage encouraged my husband to expand and develop the lecture into the small volume which you now have in your hands.

Since its first publication in German, Marriage has been translated into most of the major languages of Europe, where it has never lost popularity. When it was first translated into English during World War II, critics received it very favorably and the book enjoyed great popularity, remaining in print through four editions over fourteen years.

It gives me great joy to greet this new edition, which once again makes Marriage available to English speaking readers after an absence of nearly 30 years.

Especially today, this book — revealing the sublime Christian vocation of marriage — is a must for anyone who is anxious to live worthily this great mystery of love.

Thomas a Kempis tells us that “love is a great thing.”
So is marriage.”

Love,
Matthew

Clerics are bad at sound bites…

FrBeck

-ole “blue eyes”

1/20/15

COSTELLO: Father Edward Beck, the CNN religion analyst. Welcome, Father.

FATHER EDWARD BECK, CNN RELIGION ANALYST: Thank you. Good to be here, Carol.

COSTELLO: Can’t wait to talk to you about this.

BECK: Me, too.

COSTELLO: So Damien Thompson from “The Spectator” I thought put it best. He writes, quote, “I know what the Pope means, I think. Contraception and family planning are fine so long as you don’t artificially block procreation. But the subliminal and unintended messages are, A, that Catholics have a reputation for breeding like rabbits, and B, birth control is OK.”

BECK: The church has always taught that birth control is OK. They’ve always said responsible parenthood — if you look at your —

COSTELLO: No, wait. Go back to birth control is OK thing.

BECK: OK. It just can’t be artificial. It has to be natural birth control. As you said, family planning. Rhythm.

I mean, people don’t really understand this. You as a woman understand it, but a woman can only become pregnant six days every month. So if she charts that — through body temperature, secretions, and she has regular menstruation — that means 24 days of the month, sexual intercourse is fine.

COSTELLO: Coming from an Italian family with many members who’ve had many, many children and are very committed Catholics, the rhythm method isn’t so effective.

BECK: No, because they don’t really chart it. They don’t take their temperature. They don’t monitor it. But I mean if you do — I’ve counseled a lot of couples with this, Carol. And when they actually do it, they find it so much better than the artificial because they’re not putting foreign substances into their body. They’re not in some way prohibiting something unnaturally, and the relationship with the spouse can be much more natural. A lot of people like that.

COSTELLO: I’ll be honest with you, because you are a Father and I have to be honest with you — I don’t agree. But I hear you. I do. I hear you.

Is that what the Pope was saying? Or was he sending some subliminal message? Remember what he said about gay people — who am I to judge? So was he sort of doing the same thing with these comments on birth control?

BECK: Yes, but here’s the message. Say natural family planning, which is what you were saying, rhythm, doesn’t work for somebody. So someone comes to me in a confessional and says, Father, like that Filipino woman I’ve had eight kids. I can’t have another one. It’s a health risk. Pastorally, and the Pope said this, you deal with that woman in that situation. You say, for you, this church teaching doesn’t work. You have to do something else.

So the teaching is for the norm but there are always exceptions to the norm. That’s why you deal pastorally with people. He said to his priest in a confessional, in a counseling room, you deal with the person as an individual pastorally. And so the church has always gave some leeway for those situations where the rule cannot apply. And contraception is a perfect example of that. Many people, it doesn’t work for. And so you have to deal with them in a pastoral way.

COSTELLO: Well, let’s go back to the part where Catholics breed like rabbits and have many, many children because, when I was growing up, it was my duty to have children. Get married and have children. That was my duty.

BECK: Well, it’s not so much duty but that you can’t delink sex from procreation. It can’t just be about pleasure; it can’t just be about intimacy. But the natural order says this is how the species propagates. So that if a married couple says, well, you know what, no kids. We just want it about pleasure, about us, the Church teaches, well, that’s not the fullness of God’s intent with regard to sexuality.

So it’s not have eight kids; it’s be open to the possibility of life. That’s responsible sexuality. That links procreation and intimacy and sexuality together. That’s what the Church has always taught, that you just don’t separate it.

COSTELLO: So these remarks of the Pope — nothing new?

BECK: Nothing new except that he’s opened the door to say be responsible with parenthood. Don’t think the church is saying you have to have eight kids. It’s saying how you limit those eight kids is what is important. And, priests, be pastoral with those people for whom those norms and guidelines cannot apply. Make sure that you give them another out.

COSTELLO: Father Beck, thanks so much. I appreciate it.

Ok.  So, now we have “breed like rabbits” to volley in the lexicon, Catholic or otherwise, for a while.  Even the go-to American clerics, the handsome, articulate, popular ones, think Rev. James Martin, SJ, or Rev. Edward Beck, CP, get tongue-tied when trying to explain Catholic moral teaching on birth control, regulation of reproduction, call it what you will.  They let their interlocutors get them tangled in the gruesome details of “rhythm method”, and never seem to get to the glory of marriage.  It’s possible to get the “why” out it really is, in a sound bite.  Watch.

“Christian marriage is the TOTAL-GIFT-OF-SELF, even as Jesus gave Himself for all of humanity, of man and woman.  It’s sacred.  It’s HOLY!!!!  It’s a Sacrament.  Not WIFM = What’s In It For Me?, but how can I offer myself for you, Beloved?  For your good, even prior to my own?  For your salvation?  Even before, perhaps, even instead of mine?  Me for you.  You for me.  Christ for His Church and vice versa. The Church wishes nothing artificial, nothing mechanical, nothing chemical to interfere or deny, implicitly or explicitly, with that gift!”  See, that wasn’t too bad, was it?  No.  Anyone can spit that out in a sound bite.  See.  EZ PZ lemon-squeezee.

from http://www.marriageuniqueforareason.org/2012/10/23/made-for-life-part-2-you-give-yourself-then-totally-and-completely/

You give yourself, then, totally and completely . . . saying ‘I love you so much, I’m going to give myself to you as a gift, and I am open to whatever that brings and whatever God wants.(divine providence)’” –Katie

Katie is speaking here about the very foundation of what makes marriage “made for life”: the total gift of self between a man and a woman as husband and wife. We have already mentioned this gift of self in marriage, but it deserves some more attention. Indeed, every person is called to a generous and sincere gift of self. [i] But marriage is a unique instance of self-gift. In marriage, husband and wife give not just part of themselves to each other, but give all—their whole person, body and soul. This gift of self in marriage is not something temporary like a loan; it is meant to last for a lifetime. [ii] It is a total, lifelong gift of husband to wife and wife to husband. [iii]

A husband and a wife’s total gift of self in marriage, with its lifelong permanence, makes their bond absolutely unique and different from any other relationship between two people. Although two persons of the same sex can have an authentic and holy friendship, only a man and a woman can pledge themselves to each other in marriage. Through their sexual difference, only a husband and a wife can speak the “language” of married love—total, faithful, and fruitful self-gift [iv]—not only with their words, but also with their bodies. [v]

The couples in Made for Life all bear witness to the fact that the gift of self in marriage, which begins with the spouses, does not end with them. As Pope Paul VI taught, married love is fruitful because “it is not confined wholly to the communion of husband and wife; it also aims to go beyond this to bring new life into being.” [vi] Precisely because husband and wife are “made for each other,” their bond is “made for life,” made for fruitful love and for the adventure of fatherhood and motherhood by being open to the gift of a child.

[i]. See Gaudium et Spes, no. 24: “Man is the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake . . . [and] can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself.”
[ii]. See Letter to Families, no. 11: “The indissolubility of marriage flows in the first place from the very essence of the gift: the gift of one person to another person” (emphasis in original).
[iii]. Letter to Families, no. 11: “When a man and woman in marriage mutually give and receive each other in the unity of ‘one flesh,’ the logic of the sincere gift of self becomes a part of their life.”
[iv]. In Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI lists “the characteristic features” of conjugal [married] love as fully human, total, faithful and exclusive until death, and fecund [fruitful] (no. 9). Pope John Paul II expands upon Paul VI’s description of love by reflecting on how a husband and wife “speak” the message of married love through the “language of the body.” He writes, “The human body speaks a ‘language’ of which it is not the author. Its author is man, as male and female, as bridegroom or bride: man with his perennial vocation to the communion of persons” (Catecheses on the theology of the body [TOB], no. 104:7 [emphasis in original]). This means that the language of love is given to men and women, who are then called to “speak” this language truthfully to each other. The body—as male or female—is essential to “speak” the language of love. Pope John Paul II continues, “[The human person] is constituted in such a way from the ‘beginning’ that the deepest words of the spirit – words of love, gift, and faithfulness – call for an appropriate ‘language of the body.’ And without this language, they cannot be fully expressed” (TOB, no. 104:7).
[v]. As we saw in the first video, Made for Each Other, the sexual difference between men and women is not just a flat “biological” reality or an anatomical detail. Instead, it includes the whole person, body and soul, at every level of his or her existence. As Pope John Paul II explained, the body reveals the person. Encountering a living human body is encountering a human person—male or female—who is inseparable from his or her body. See TOB, no. 9:4.
[vi]. Humanae Vitae, no. 9 (translation modified). See also Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan, 16: “The transmission of life is a sublime, concrete realization of this radical self-gift between a man and a woman . . . As mutual self-gift, it is at the same time creative self-gift.””

Love,
Matthew

Dec 24 – Protestant Existential Angst with Christmas

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-Santa Calvin, by the author

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-by Br Bonaventure Chapman, OP (prior to joining the Order, Br Bonaventure received an M.Th. in Applied Theology from Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, where he studied for the Anglican priesthood.)

“Tomorrow is the day that every child (young and old!) has been waiting for: Christmas. We keep vigil on this Eve of the Nativity and anxiously await the celebration of Christ’s first coming in humility, with anticipation for his second coming in glory. Who would deny such a celebration to the Church? Surprisingly, some bearing the name Christian!

When in 1519 Huldrych Zwingli took to his pulpit in the newly Reformed city of Zurich, he did not follow the custom of preaching from the lectionary but began with Matthew’s Gospel and preached through the whole book, in what became known as lectio continua.

Holy days and feasts were ignored in this Scripture-centered form of worship. The most famous Reformer, John Calvin, largely followed Zwingli’s tradition: the city of Geneva had stopped celebrating holy days outside of Sunday. Even Christmas was not to be commemorated in any special way. On Christmas Day 1550, Calvin welcomed a larger than usual church crowd with the following:

“Now I see here today more people than I am accustomed to having at the sermon. Why is that? It is Christmas Day. And who told you this? You poor beasts. That is a fitting euphemism for all of you who have come here today to honor Noel.”

The Puritans in England under Oliver Cromwell would go even further: in 1647 the English Parliament officially abolished celebrating Christmas. The Puritans of New England largely followed suit. In Massachusetts a fine was even imposed on those caught celebrating in secret!

Why this Christmas animus? The Westminster Confession of Faith offers a Protestant principle cited for such a suppression:

“The acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture. (WCF XI.1)”

Christmas Day, December 25th, is not in the Scriptures; therefore, it is not to be celebrated – the simplicity of sola scriptura strikes again!

Happily the majority of modern Protestant churches do not follow their fathers in faith, even if the denial of Christmas liturgy does follow this Protestant principle quite naturally and straightforwardly. Yet, as with many Protestant beliefs, sometimes simplicity is simply too simple for reality. (Ed. It is generally known, the intelligentsia of Europe did not defect during the Reformation.)

Take, for instance, the Protestant detestation of any notion of mediation between God and man in the sacraments of the Church. The Protestant claim of immediacy between God and man sounds simpler, but what of this mortal flesh and physical world we find ourselves surrounded by: all a dream, a vision, an unreality? What of the Incarnation of Jesus, the taking on of this supposedly unseemly medium of creatureliness? It strikes me, at least, that the Catholic teaching on mediation in sacraments, among other things, is exactly and simply right. We are creatures of space and matter. If we are to be met at all, it will be in this space and this matter.

But we are not only creatures of space; we are also creatures of time. St. Augustine, in his famous discourse on time in his Confessions, admits as much: “I confess to you, Lord, that I still do not know what time is, and I further confess to you, Lord, that as I say this I know myself to be conditioned by time” (XI.xxv.32). And this conditioning by time is part of the fabric of the cosmos. As Joseph Ratzinger says in The Spirit of the Liturgy: “Time is a cosmic reality. The orbiting of the sun by the earth… gives existence the rhythm that we call time.” This means, Ratzinger continues, that “man lives with the stars. The course of the sun and the moon leave its mark on his life.”

While the rhythms of time make up creatureliness in general, they especially mark man. We are creatures enveloped by time. We remember the past, perceive the present, and anticipate the future in ways that other animals, let alone plants and stars, can only be represented as doing in fictional and fabulous tales.

For just this reason God seeks to meet us in temporal fashion as the Church celebrates the rhythms of salvation history in time. Seasonal cycles bring about ecclesial and personal remembrances and anticipations of God’s mighty deeds. We, lowly creatures of time, are being educated into God’s time of salvation in preparation for the eternal now of heaven. Worship is about the changing seasons and the developing of God’s story in time and beyond it. As Ratzinger reminds us: “The liturgy is the means by which earthly time is inserted into the time of Jesus Christ and into its present.”

Thus the Church rightly celebrates the Seasons and Holy Days of the Church calendar, and our anticipation on Christmas Eve as children, waiting for the decorated dawn of morning, is taken up in the liturgy in our anticipation of the second coming of Christ. We, creatures of time, need particular Holy Days and Seasons just as we, creatures of space, need particular sacraments and signs. And thankfully God has given us the gift of liturgical time with its special celebrations – especially Christmas, that liturgical day of remembering when God took on human flesh and dwelt amongst us.

This post started off polemically, but on a day such as this, the Eve of our Savior’s birth, perhaps it is fitting to end on a more irenic note with some words from one of John Calvin’s Christmas Sermons (yes – he did occasionally preach them!):

“Let us note well, then, that the peace which the angels of Paradise preach here carried with it this joy, which the first angel had mentioned, saying ‘I announce to you a great joy,’ that is, the salvation you will have in Jesus Christ. He is called our Peace, and this title declares that we would be entirely alienated from God unless he received us by means of his only Son. Consequently we also have something to boast of when God accepts us as his children, when he gives us freedom to claim him openly as our Father, to come freely to him, and to have our refuge in him.”

Love & Merry Christmas,
Matthew

Sin, Tears, Forgiveness, Conversion

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When was the last time you heard a worthy, edifying homily on sin in a Catholic Church?  Really.  Seriously.  I don’t think I’ve ever.  I did hear, from a Jesuit homilist, once, the Catholic Church does believe in Hell.  That was once in forty-nine years.  The paucity of these mentions stand out simply for their paucity, not for any fascination with the subject on my part.

Or, when the prophets of old are thundering condemnation, why is it always the smallest lector, with the softest/tinest voice, who can neither see nor be seen over the ambo, does the reading?  Part of the New Evangelization should definitely be the training of lectors to read for appropriate dramatic effect given the text, imho.  Politics over proclamation?  🙁  (I’m not much of a liturgist.  I’m very Roman in this regard, plain and simple, with as little affectation as possible.  Thank you, Charlemagne.  I am also fond of plain, white, stripped New England Congregationalist churches.)

Given the prevalence of sin, its universal and universally disastrous effects in our lives and the world, and it being the reason for the Incarnation, you would think you would, logically, hear more of it on Sundays?  I understand the hesitance to address difficult topics, however, our fears are insufficient reason not to proclaim the truth.

I find it difficult to comprehend the glory of my redemption if I first do not contemplate the depths of the depraved state to which I have fallen, (see Ignatian Spiritual Exercises.  Holla! to all my SJs!) and rise from, in the glory of my own Resurrection, thanks to His mercy and salvific effect.

-by Rev Donald J Goergen, OP, PhD, STM

“The reality of sin and the forgiveness of sin, we can never let go of either side of the coin in that regard. So let us first ask is sin real? And what does it mean? Often we have defined it as offending God, or an offense against God, but can God be offended? It is an offense against love, against covenant love, against the covenant that God has made with us and that we have made with God. Many texts from the New Testament exemplify the human struggle with falling short of what God has created us to be.

A classic text is Romans chapter 7:15-20, in which Paul says, “I do not understand my own actions for I do not do what I want but I do the very thing I hate. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells in me. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do, is what I do.” In other words, Paul is very much aware here of the un-freedom within which he lives, that he is not free. He’s not able to will what he really wants to will.

And then also there is that text from the Gospel of John to which Pope St John Paul II referred and on which he commented extensively in his own encyclical on the Holy Spirit. That text from the Gospel of John 16:8, “…and when He comes. That is –The Advocate, the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, when He comes, He will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”  What does it mean to convince the world concerning sin in that text from the 16th chapter of the Gospel of John?

There is in John, in Paul, and elsewhere, of course, in the Scriptures, this awareness that yes we can offend God. That God is love and we might find our lives not aligned with God. I’d referred earlier on another occasion, to Rudolf Steiner in one of his works, again, not an Orthodox Christian, or Catholic thinker, but nevertheless one in touch in many ways with spiritual aspects of our lives, he said, “Nevertheless, whether we are aware of them are not, we must realize that forces hostile to life exist.”

This is part of the struggle in our modern world, the tendency, in a way, to disbelieve in the devil or in demonic forces or the demonic. Cardinal Newman in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua about his own life gave a great text on one occasion in which he speaks about considering the world and its length and breadth its various histories and then the ways in which we don’t live up to what God expects of us and what we expect.

It’s like looking in the mirror and not seeing our own face. And so it is for him the awareness in some ways that the world is out of joint. Yes, sin is real. Sometimes you may use other words to talk about the reality of the struggle with the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Robert Johnson, the Jungian psychologist, again speaks more about the shadow, the un-chosen side of our lives that cause us trouble or he might speak about the disowned, the need to reconnect with the shadow, the dark side of ourselves.

Whatever language we use, there is in our lives, the reality of sin as well as the reality of the forgiveness of sin. For Christians, for Catholics, this has often has been discussed in the context of the capital sins, just as we might speak about the virtues.  St John Cassian and in the East, spoke of eight principal vices following a classification of Evagrius before him. In the West, Gregory the Great reduced this list to seven what we think of as the seven capital sins. If we mention the eight, they were gluttony, lust, avarice, anger, despondency or sadness, achadia or spiritual wariness or sloth, vainglory and pride.  These are mentioned in the fifth conference of St John Cassian as well, as in the Institute.

So there is this reality of the garbage, to use that image again, that lies there within each of us that comes to the surface of which we need to be more aware as we live contemplatively. All of this is a part of who we are.  In some ways, I suppose, it’s acknowledging a fraud, that each of us in some ways attempts to present ourselves publicly as being other than we are. And that we need to come to grips with our own sinfulness and that this is the question then of awakening, of conversion, of repentance.

Conversion, am I open to conversion? I suppose if I’m honest, I’d have to say much of the time no, I’m not. Conversion requires a radical reorientation of one’s life. A restructuring of one’s self, it’s asks us the question, is God enough for us? Is God enough? And as much as we might want to say yes, most often, probably, we in fact, through our behavior, at least, are saying no. Conversion is a continuing process. It’s not just a once and for all kind of thing.

There may be that powerful conversion experience, in other words, it may be dramatic, but it can also be gradual, and most often conversion is both.  Those events, experiences, in which we are turned around, but then that continuing conversion whereby we have to live out of that new awareness, consciousness, or experience and we can talk about conversion of heart, as well as of mind, or of affective conversion, intellectual conversion, moral conversion, and spiritual conversion.  As it settles in, it takes place, transforms at varied levels of our being, conversion of will, conversion of mind.

John Paul II again in that encyclical on the Holy Spirit wrote conversion requires convincing of sin, and of course this goes back to that text also from the Gospel of John, but conversion requires convincing us of sin. That’s the tough step, convincing, especially the modern person of the reality of sin. Conversion requires convincing of sin, he writes, and he goes on, “It includes the interior judgment of the conscience and this being a proof of the action of the Spirit of Truth in our inmost being, becoming at the same time a new beginning of the bestowal of grace and love.”  “Receive the Holy Spirit…” he writes, in this convincing concerning sin; we discover a double gift, the gift of the truth of conscience, and the gift of the certainty of redemption.

Conscience, reality of sin, redemption, forgiveness of sin, and he continues in order to convince/convict us of the forgiveness of sin, of the reality of grace, of the awareness of God as mercy, of the fact of redemption. In other words, emphasizing its twofold dimension to conversion. Convincing concerning sin, and convincing concerning its forgiveness, hence the conversion of the human heart, clearly Pope John Paul II here has a very good grasp of this reality.

And how we can have an emphasis on one without the other? We can so emphasize the reality of sin that we neglect and forget the reality of grace, mercy, forgiveness, or we can so talk about the forgiveness of sin that we in a way just take the reality of sin for granted as not to be taken seriously. But the two needs to come together less our own contemplative in Christian lives become distorted.

Sri Aurobindo, a mystic of modern India, perhaps in one way the greatest mystical philosopher of modern India, died in 1950, not a Christian, in a great book called the Synthesis of Yoga, speaks about conversion in his own way.   And just to take a couple expressions from his own thinking, he says, “The acceptance of a new spiritual orientation and illumination, a turning or conversion seized on by the will and the heart’s aspiration, this is the momentous act which contains, as in a seed, all that is to come.” In other words, we cannot over emphasize the importance of this conversion, awakening, illumination; it’s an aspiration that contains as a seed everything that’s to come. And he writes a truly spiritual conversion does not consist in the change of one’s mental beliefs, but in the acceptance of a new spirit, a spiritual force, life in the spirit, a decisive turning we could say from business-as-usual.

And, therefore, there is, for him, in this process of conversion, first an aspiration, a yearning for the Divine.  Again, Augustine:  “Our hearts are restless…”, a yearning for the Divine, an aspiration from the mind as well as the heart. It’s not yet conversion, but aspiration.  Then the second is following the aspiration, the desire, the yearning comes in a twofold conversion and consecration. Consecration means making sacred and offering of one’s actions and interior movements to the Divine, consecrating one’s life to the divine.

A conversion is a more spontaneous movement of the consciousness, but then the consecration as the deliberate process that grounds it, the conversion may be sudden but the consecration takes time. The consecration makes the conversion last so the process begins with that reality of aspiration followed by then the twofold conversion and consecration. The consecration being required for the persistence striving steadily, effort, perseverance, and of course for us this is all the result of grace.

But we can also think of consecration as a religious consecration: the consecrated life, the Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart, St Louis de Montfort’s total consecration to Jesus through Mary;  varied forms of, but consecration is essential if conversion is going to be carried through. This then entails the awakening of one’s innermost self, something is awakened within us. One wakes up and this culminates in the gradual transformation of who we are, our whole being:  the physical, the affective, the mental, the spiritual, it’s a turning of our whole self towards God.  The transformation of consciousness from egoic or false consciousness to a more pure consciousness, purity of heart, conversion the different stages or facets of conversion, all of it of course, grounded in the moral life.

We referred in our last conference to the moral virtues. We didn’t speak at any length about them. But in every religious tradition there’s this emphasis on the moral dimension. In Buddhism they speak about the five precepts, to refrain from killing or physical violence.  To refrain from taking that which is not offered or from stealing, to refrain from misuse of our sexual power or energy, to refrain from lying or harsh or idle speech, to refrain from taking intoxicants that clouds the mind. These are clearly a moral foundation for the Buddhist way of life.

Likewise for us, the moral foundation can be put in different ways but the Ten Commandments is foundational. I recall an example someone once had given that there are those today who want to practice meditation or live a life of contemplation, but are not so preoccupied with a basic moral living, with basic morality, and the analogy was used, it’s like someone’s wanting to row a boat while leaving it tied to the dock.  If we do not have a solid moral foundation on which to build its like remaining tied to the dock and the boat isn’t going to go anywhere.

In other words, the contemplative life builds on the moral life and in fact they cannot be separated, they are all part of a whole.   Spiritual theology is not something totally separate from moral theology, moral theology from doctrinal theology, it’s as a whole.  But for this conversion to take hold of us, for this awakening to happen, for this consecration to take place that enables us to persevere, requires repentance, repentance. In the Gospel of Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe in the Gospel!”

Again, Catholic teaching gives us an unfolding of stages of repentance, or aspects from sorrow for sin, contrition, you could say, to a firm purpose of amendment. That purpose, almost like a consecration, to doing penance, finally, to confession, frequent confession. More frequent than perhaps many of us might feel drawn towards.

St John Chrysostom spoke about five paths of repentance.  He said “Would you like me to list the paths of repentance? They are numerous and quite varied. In other words, different forms or ways of repentance all lead to Heaven. A first path of repentance is the condemnation of your own sins that then is one very good path. Another, and no less valuable is to put out of our minds the harm done us by our enemies in order to master our anger and to forgive others, then our own sins against the Lord will be for a given.  Do you want to know a third path? It consists of prayer that is fervent. It comes from the heart. If you want a fourth path, I will mention almsgiving, whose power is great and far-reaching. If forever a man lives a modest, humble life, that no less than the other things I’ve mention, takes sin away, too. Thus I’ve shown you five paths of repentance, 1) condemnation of your sins, 2) forgiveness of your neighbors sins, 3) prayer, 4) almsgiving, 5) humility; repentance, the foundation.”

The reality of sin, the forgiveness of sin, sorrow for our own sin, firm purpose of amendment, doing penance, confession, consecration, and perseverance; but many of our spiritual ancestors spoke about two conversions, that of water and that of tears, and the gift of tears. That of water, of course, involving baptism, and in that sense also baptism of the adult.  St John Cassian was the first to have given us a classification of tears in his ninth conference, and he spoke about five sorts of tears.

The relationship between compunction or sorrow for sin and fiery prayer, the ecstatic contemporary prayer, is something of which he spoke, and he spoke about the remembrance of our sins, producing tears, followed by ineffable joy. That again, I mention earlier, the joy of repentance, tears followed by joy, as one enters into this new way of life. For Cassian, tears was most common form of spiritual experience encompassing both sorrow and joy and the experience of grace.

Pope St Gregory the Great, in the West, is known as the Great Doctor of Compunction, or the Western Doctor of Tears. He outlined four kinds of compunction or tears. In the East, Simeon the New Theologian was known as the Theologian of Tears. St Catherine of Siena, OP, later spoke about five kinds of tears. Four kinds, and then about those who desire to weep and are unable to do so, is a very special kind. A kind of spiritual tear where there is no physical tear. She speaks about God, responding that there is a weeping of fire that is a longing for God so intense that she writes, “Such a soul would like to dissolve her very life in weeping, but these souls cannot shed physical tears. They rather shed tears of fire, the source being a heart full of fire, or an ardent longing for God.” She also writes, “This is how the Holy Spirit weeps.  The Holy Spirit weeps in the person of every one of my servants, Christ says, who offers me the fragrance of holy desire and humble prayer.”

So she speaks about these as spiritual tears or tears of the heart or the inner the weeping of the Holy Spirit. If you wish, go to her Dialogue, chapters 88 to 97, to read more where she talks about five kinds of tears, but really the first four being more common and then this is kind is weeping of fire. This spiritual tear where we do not physically weep, but indeed our hearts are manifesting its both sorrow and joy before the Lord. We think here even of the prophet Ezekiel, when he speaks about our hearts of stone in the hearts of flesh. And says, “A new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you and I will take out of your flesh, the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

So here we are getting to the basics, the basis, and the foundation of the contemplative life. That we can look to the heights of, we can desire to infused, we want to open ourselves. But again, it’s almost as if that’s what that “dark night” was all about, needing to let go of our way of controlling our spiritual journey and to come back to simply compunction. Sorrow for sin, contrition, repentance, conversion, to not know myself as sinner will be to never know God as mercy.

If we yearn to know God and if knowing God is to know God as mercy, then we must come to grips with the reality of who I am as sinner. Always keeping in mind what Pope St John Paul II said, “The two sides, the reality of sin and the reality of its forgiveness, never one without the other.”

This time as a closing prayer I would like to take some verses from Psalm 51, the Miserere, a great Psalm acknowledging who we are as sinners. Let us pray, “Have mercy on me God in your goodness in your abundance of compassion, blot out my offense, wash away all my guilt, from sin, cleanse me. For I know my offense, my sin is always before me. Against you alone have I sinned, cleanse me with hyssop that I may be pure, wash me, wash me, Lord. Amen.”

Love,
Matthew

Redemptive Suffering

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“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” -Col 1:24

Recently, in the news, there have been several stories of terminally ill people, even young, otherwise healthy people, very openly planning on taking their own lives, and being assisted to do so.   Terminally ill can live beyond the first or most grim predictions of life expectancy.

This euthanasia (“good death”) is anathema to faithful Catholic thinking.  Catholics should recoil in horror from this suggestion as they do from the subject of abortion.  The Church does not deny modern death can and often is a prolonged and may be a suffering existence.  However, there is no “enough is enough” in faithful Catholic thinking.  Life is God’s gift.  Any attempts, however “reasoned”, well-intentioned, or motivated to short circuit God’s gift are repugnant to the Catholic moral mind, regardless of what is involved.

The Church always urges the best medical care available.  It only requires reasonable measures to prolong life.  Extraordinary measures are not required.  The debate may now ensue as to that definition.  Discuss.

Catholics believe in free will with regards to committing sin.  Beyond the effects of original sin, which is removed in baptism, post baptismal sin 1)  deprives the soul of grace, due to the guilt of having committed sin.  In addition, 2)  there is a penalty due.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation removes the guilt (1) freely, without cost, or other requirement, through the freely given gift of God’s grace and love, and allows that grace to be restored, and thus the soul may aspire again to Heaven, but (2) remains.  You can begin to see why Catholics hold the importance of infant baptism, required for salvation.

Catholics are often misunderstood as trying to “earn” their way into Heaven; untrue and misunderstood.  Catholics do through prayer, fasting, almsgiving, other good works of charity, and through redemptive suffering remit (2) the penalty due to sin.

We have no way of knowing what the penalty for offending God would be, however, and please bear with me as I try to make this point:  think of throwing a tomato at a homeless person.  Horrible.  But, not likely to arouse the wrath of the police, not likely.  Now imagine throwing a tomato at the President of the United States.  That might invite the attention of the Secret Service.  The point being the same offense against a more dignified personage implies a heavier penalty/consequence.  So, since God is infinitely dignified, etc, etc, even the smallest of offenses against Him implies an infinite penalty, so the thinking goes.  We don’t, cannot keep score.  We trust in and believe in the mercy of God, but are also aware of His justice.  There is no love without justice.

Redemptive suffering is the belief that human suffering, such as in end-of-life, but not purely limited only to that, any suffering accepted during life, when accepted and offered up in union with the Passion of Jesus, can remit the just punishment (2) for one’s sins or for the sins of another, or for the other physical or spiritual needs of oneself or another. Like an indulgence, (yes, they still exist, are valid, but are no longer sold and no longer measured in time) redemptive suffering does not gain the individual forgiveness for their sin; forgiveness results from God’s grace, freely given through Christ, through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and CANNOT be earned. After one’s sins are forgiven, the individual’s suffering can reduce the penalty due for sin.  Redemptive suffering is only ever understood as that suffering in life unsought and which cannot be avoided.

Sometimes we see those who suffer beyond what a reasonable person would perceive as just from a loving God.  Their suffering is not wasted nor is it in vain.  It has deep meaning.  The merits of this suffering are retained, through the Communion of Saints, in the Treasury of Merit (Mt 6:20), to remit the penalty of sin due from others who have not fully paid their debt to God.  God is merciful and just.  Those unbaptized suffer to no end.  Theirs is pointless, dumb suffering.

There is a very good article on the detailed thinking of the Church’s mind on redemptive suffering here.

Love,
Matthew