“As many saints have testified, and many Christians affirm, the life of prayer is not a piece of cake. It’s hard work. It requires great effort to keep a prayer routine in the midst our daily activities. It can also be a very humbling experience to be faced with God’s silence in response to our prayer, realizing our requests are sometimes not in accord with His will. [Ed. or, that His will is that we trust and have faith and all will be made plain. Even those things we think at the time, the suffering, are His answer to our prayers, but it may take time to see this: wisdom. And, His gift, His response is better than anything we could possibly have prayed for then, now, at any time in our lives. Praise Him!!]
Some choose a life without prayer, because it doesn’t seem reasonable to them to pray in the first place. Questions abound: Why should we pray if God is all-knowing? Doesn’t he know our requests before they are even made? If God were eternal and unchangeable (immutable), then wouldn’t our prayer requests be worthless, since God’s action in response to them would imply a change in God’s mind? And finally, wouldn’t it be more befitting for an all-good and generous God to give benefits without our asking?
God knows all things
With regard to the first question, it’s true that God knows our petitions before we make them. However, as St. Thomas Aquinas explains, prayer is not for God, but for us:
“We need to pray to God, not in order to make known to Him our needs or desires but that we ourselves may be reminded of the necessity of having recourse to God’s help in these matters (Summa Theologiae, II-II:83:2).” [Ed. He may give us His grace and peace and consolation. 2 Cor 12:9, Jn 14:27]
The continued act of turning our hearts and minds to God in prayer creates within us a habitual disposition of humility, thus dispelling the myth of self-sufficiency. Indeed, that is a good for us.
The immutable God
What about the question of God’s immutability and our prayers changing God’s mind?
It is true our prayer requests cannot change God’s mind. Prayer doesn’t move God to say, “Oh, I didn’t plan on doing this, but now that Karlo has prayed for it, I’ll do it.”
We know this is true because God, who is pure act (Ed. no potency/potential, no power held back. The universe is because God wills it to be. If God did not will it to be, it would cease to exist. The old language would be if God forgot about us, we would cease to be.), is infinitely perfect. There is no perfection He can acquire or lose, which would have to be the case if God “changed his mind.” This is why God says in Malachi 3:6, “For I the LORD do not change.”
But if the Lord can’t change, then what is the point of praying?
Perhaps we can shed some light on the dilemma by understanding that God’s providence involves not only willing certain effects to take place but also the causes from which those effects will be brought about—that is to say, God wills a pattern of cause-effect relationships.
Now, the eternal decree that determines which causes will bring about which effects includes human acts. These actions do not change God’s plan, but they are an essential part of it. In the words of Aquinas, “[They] achieve certain effects according to the order of the divine disposition” (Summa Theologiae, II-II:83:2).”
Consider an example. God decreed from all eternity that I would have a fried egg for breakfast this morning. However, this eternal decree also involved the egg being produced in the usual way—namely, my wife cracking the egg (she’s so sweet), putting it into the frying pan, and heating the frying pan on the gas stove. My wife’s actions did not change God’s eternal plan but were willed by God to be a part of the cause-effect pattern.
The same is true with prayer, whether it’s for a miracle or for something as simple as a beautiful day. Prayer is simply one human action among many (e.g., my wife cooking the egg) that God wills to be a cause of certain effects in his divine plan.
Prayer doesn’t change God’s mind but requests from Him that which He has willed from eternity to be bestowed by our prayer. As Brian Davies explains, “God may will from eternity that things should come about as things prayed for by us” (Thinking About God, 319).
In other words, it’s possible that God wills some events to occur only as a result of our prayer. For example, God may have eternally decreed to heal the cancer of a loved one, but only on condition persistent requests for a miracle are made. God may even have willed a beautiful day in Southern California on condition I make the request.
Whether we know the effect is conditioned by the request or not doesn’t matter. The point is, it’s possible, so we make the request hoping that God wills our prayer to be a cause of the effect. If it turns out He did not will it so, then we trust God has good reasons for His choice. This is why Christians pray “Thy will be done.”
But if God wills our prayer request to be the cause of the desired effect, then it would be true to say our prayer makes a real difference. It would not have made a difference by changing God’s mind but by being an essential part of the cause-effect pattern God has eternally decreed.
The real causal power that our prayers have in God’s eternal plan is no different than the real causal power my wife’s actions had in producing a fried egg this morning. Her actions were essential for the fried egg, because that is how God arranged it to be from all eternity. God has created a world in which fried eggs come to be in a specific way.
Similarly, with regard to prayer, some events will occur only as a result of prayer, because that is the specific way God has arranged it. God has created a world in such a way that our actions, including prayer, serve as real game-changers in the history of the world.
The bottom line is this: there is nothing in the act of prayer that is incompatible with God’s changeless and eternal decree. Our petitions are arranged by God to be part and parcel of his divine plan—a great honor God bestows upon human beings.
The generous God
Finally, there is the issue of God’s generosity. Why should we have to ask for certain benefits? Isn’t it more fitting for an all-good God to bestow benefits upon us without us asking for them?
There are many gifts God gives us without our petitioning for them. Such gifts range from the act of existence to the gift of salvation won for us by Jesus’ death on the cross. You can fill in the gap with your own life’s blessings that you didn’t ask for.
Secondly, along the same vein as the first dilemma—God’s choice to make certain gifts contingent on our asking for them is for our own good. What good might that be? For Aquinas, it’s “that we may acquire confidence in having recourse to God and that we may recognize in Him the author of our goods” (Summa Theologiae, II-II:83:2).
Other forms of prayer
A final thought: the questions at hand imply a limited understanding of prayer—they all have to do with petitionary prayer. Although important, petitionary prayer is not the only kind of prayer. There are other kinds of prayer—such as those of blessing, adoration, thanksgiving, and praise (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2626-2643)—that would not be subject to the dilemmas manifest in the above questions. Thus, even if we couldn’t provide adequate answers to the above questions, one would still have good reason to begin a life of prayer.
As demonstrated above, I do think there are adequate answers to the dilemmas. Rather than God’s eternal and unchangeable nature being a good reason to avoid starting a life of prayer, I think it’s the reason to begin. If we don’t, then it’s possible we won’t receive our desired outcomes.”
In the spiritual life, we are often tempted to adopt a “fix-it-myself” attitude. “If I just work really hard and overcome this habitual sin, then I’ll be holy enough to approach Jesus in prayer.” This attitude fundamentally misses the point.
In the first moment of temptation or in the realization of having committed a sin, we must flee to Jesus. There’s no need to do anything else first.
Where do we find Jesus? On the cross. It is hard to contemplate the cross, but that is where He awaits us. Jesus is on the cross, and He is there because of me. This can be taken in two ways.
First, we must face up to the reality that He is there because of me – Jesus is on the cross because of my sins. Facing the cross, we see exteriorly what the evil of sin truly looks like interiorly. Sin destroys, mutilates, shames. Fixing our eyes on the cross, we see how our sins are a true death, how we cannot heal our own wounds and, no matter how hard we try, cannot bring ourselves back to life. We cannot, however, merely call ourselves “sinners.” We must be “sinners who flee to Jesus,” for He is the one who heals us.
Thankfully, He is there because of me – Jesus is on the cross because He loves me. Dying on the cross, Jesus knew every sin that every person would commit and, in turn, merited each and every grace that He wishes to bestow on us. He died once for all two millennia ago, yet we must approach Him right now to receive that grace by which we are healed and restored to life. The cross is the source of life for us. When we approach Jesus on the cross, we find that the grace needed to heal a particular sinful habit or weakness has already been won for us.
Encountering the cross daily, then, is more than gracefully enduring those hardships that come our way unprovoked, whether at the hands of others, (our own), or because of physical ailments. Encountering the cross daily entails holding these two aspects of the cross together – the shame and disorder that our own sins cause as well as the love of Jesus. When we examine ourselves and accept in humility our complete inability to heal our weakness and sins, we find that we are truly contemplating the cross of Christ and seeking it for the life it bestows. As sinners who flee to Jesus, the very acknowledgment of our sinfulness and brokenness of heart is the action by which we find ourselves at the foot of the cross, the source of life. Try as hard as we might, we cannot fix ourselves.
We must flee to Jesus.”
Flee to Jesus; rest in His loving arms; rest, flee to Jesus. Lord, I rest/trust only, truly in You.
“Have your kids ever peppered your phone’s intelligent personal assistant with random questions? Mine do all the time. It’s a lot a fun when we do it together—the kids get a kick out of it, especially when they start asking potty questions.
Just last night we were having fun asking Siri a variety of questions, and I told my children to ask, “Are you male or female?” to which Siri responded, “I don’t think that really matters.”
I acknowledge that Siri is correct, since artificial intelligences don’t have sexed bodies. But her answer does give us something to consider, since it’s the mantra of the modern transgender movement. Let’s think this argument through.
Advocates of transgenderism argue that our sexed bodies have nothing to do with our personal identity, which is why they think it’s possible that a person’s identity as male or female doesn’t have to be in conformity with his or her biological sex. If a person thinks such disharmony exists, they argue, then he or she should be able to harmonize it by conforming to his or her desired identity.
It’s a form of dualism, and the idea is not unprecedented. It dates back as early as the writings of Plato and became predominant in modern philosophy with the writings of the seventeenth-century philosopher Renes Descartes. Descartes made this view so popular that it is now known by his name: Cartesian dualism.
Descartes taught that the human person is divided into two separate substances: a mental substance (the soul—res cogitans) and a corporeal substance (the body—res extensa). For Descartes, the substance that constitutes who you are as a person is the res cogitans—“the thinking self.” And rather than the body being essential to a person’s identity, as understood in the views of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, it is merely accidental (not belonging to the essence). For Descartes, the body is merely a machine in which the soul exists as a ghost—hence the phrase “ghost in the machine.”
Constructing your argument
Cartesian anthropology has seeped into the well of our culture, so to speak. Since transgenderism—which holds that a person’s sexed body is separate from the person—entails Cartesian dualism (the body is separate from the person), we have to ask, “Is Cartesian dualism true?” If Cartesian dualism is not true, then transgenderism is also not true.
Following the lead of philosopher Dr. Scott Sullivan, PhD, in his recent book Why Transgenderism is Wrong: A Critique of the Philosophical Assumptions Behind Modern Transgender Theory, we can construct the following syllogism:
P1: If transgenderism is true, then Cartesian dualism is true.
P2: Cartesian dualism is false.
Therefore, transgenderism is false.
I will focus on premise two, and to do that I’ll give two arguments that favor the view that the body is not separate from a person’s identity.
From the inside
The first is from the inside. Notice that as you read this article you sense the words on the screen and at the same time you understand their meaning (unless, of course, I haven’t expressed myself clearly enough). It’s not as if you understand the words but only your body sees the words. In the technical jargon, there is one subject of action, you, who both sees and thinks.
It is this fact of human experience that led St. Thomas Aquinas to conclude that the body is not separate from a person but is essential:
It is one and the same man who is conscious both that he understands and that he senses. But one cannot sense without a body: therefore, the body must be some part of man (Summa Theologiae, I:76:1).
If you are reading the words on the screen and sensing the words involves the body, then it necessarily follows that your body is not separate from you—like a car is separate from a driver—but your body with its biological design is you. In other words, the body that allows you to sense the words is essential to your identity as a human person, along with your rational soul that enables you to understand the meaning of the words. (Ed. upon death we understand clearly the soul leaving the body. just body left, and just a body doesn’t understand anything. it’s dead.) You are not your soul alone, nor are you your body alone, but you are both body and soul. Philosophers call this view hylemorphism(aka hylomorphism) (Greek, hyle, “matter”; morphe, “form”).
From the outside
The second argument is metaphysical—it takes a third-person point of view by looking at the relation between the body and soul. On a basic level, the soul is that which makes a thing living (ST I-II:75:1). This is the distinguishing factor between animate and inanimate beings. (Ed. the idea of “soul” as animating living creatures goes back to ancient Greek philosophy. cf Mk 12:27, Lk 20:38 )
But as we inquire further, we discover that the soul also makes a living thing the kind of living thing it is with its unique powers. If the soul of a living thing is its vital principle, which it is, then it necessarily follows that the soul is also the principle of that thing’s vital activities. And since it is obvious that there are different living things with different types of activities, then there must be different types of souls.
For example, plants take in nutrients, grow, and reproduce but do not have the powers of sensation and locomotion like animals. Therefore, plants must have a different kind of soul than animals. This is a vegetative or nutritive soul. Non-rational animals have the powers of sensation and locomotion, along with all the vegetative powers, but do not have rational powers—namely, intellect and will.
So not only do non-rational animals have a different soul than plants, they have a different kind of soul than humans. This is a sensory soul. Human beings stand at the pinnacle of living organisms, embodying all the powers of the vegetative and sensory souls plus their distinct powers of intellect and will. Philosophers call this kind of soul a rational soul.
Now, just like the vegetative soul is the principle of all the powers of plants, and the sensory soul is the principle of all the powers of animals, the rational soul is the principle of all human powers: vegetative, sensitive, and rational (ST I:76:1). As Aquinas concludes, since the vegetative and sensitive powers belong to the human body, and the rational soul is the principle of those bodily powers, the soul is the “form” of the body (ST I:76:1).
What this means is that the soul is so united to the body that the two make one substance: a human being. Converse to the idea of Cartesian dualism, humans are not a “ghost in a machine.” Both your soul and your body make up who you are as a human being.
Our sexed bodies do matter
If my body and soul together make up the one substance that I am, then it necessarily follows that my male body together with my soul makes me who I am. My male body is not an accident(Ed. philosophy, (in Aristotelian thought) a property of a thing which is not essential to its nature) to my personal identity that I can change like my hair color (that is, if I had hair). My male body is essential to who I am as an individual human person.
Although we can excuse Siri for dodging the male-female question, we cannot do so for embodied real intelligences—namely, human beings. Genesis 1:27 was right all along: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
-“The Harrowing of Hell”, by Jacob van Swanenburg, a teacher of the young Rembrandt, ca 1586-1638, oil on copper, H: 48.8 cm (19.2 in); W: 71.1 cm (27.9 in), last sold Christies, London 24 April 2009, $75,906, please click on the image for greater detail.
(imma binging on Netflix’s “Lucifer”, where they mos def believe in Hell) Please click on the image for greater detail.
“In recent years there has arisen a movement that might be called “neo-universalism,” according to which it may be that all men, without exception, go to heaven. Advocates of this movement often say things like, “The Church does not teach that anyone is in hell,” and they cite statements from Church leaders and documents which sound—taken out of context—as if they teach this. If one reads the documents carefully, it is clear that the Church is notsaying that no one at all is in hell, but that it has not taught that any particular human mortal who has lived can be known to be in hell. It is simply unknown, up to the present moment, as God has not chosen to reveal it to the Church Militant. Known only to the Churches Penitent and Triumphant.
The doctrine of hell is so frightening that numerous heretical sects end up denying the reality of an eternal hell. The Unitarian-Universalists, the Seventh-day Adventists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Christadelphians, the Christian Scientists, the Religious Scientists, the New Agers, and the Mormons—all have rejected or modified the doctrine of hell so radically that it is no longer a serious threat (Ed. or truth, as the Lord teaches). In recent decades, this decay has even invaded mainstream Evangelicalism, and a number of major Evangelical figures have advocated the view that there is no eternal hell—the wicked will simply be annihilated.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in Whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs” (CCC 1035).
In his 1994 book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Pope St John Paul II wrote that too often “preachers, catechists, teachers . . . no longer have the courage to preach the threat of hell” (p. 183).
Concerning the reality of hell, the pope says, “In point of fact, the ancient councils rejected the theory . . . according to which the world would be regenerated after destruction, and every creature would be saved; a theory which abolished hell. . . . [T]he words of Christ are unequivocal. In Matthew’s Gospel he speaks clearly of those who will go to eternal punishment (cf. Matt. 25:46). [But] who will these be? The Church has never made any pronouncement in this regard” (pp. 185–6).
Thus the issue that some will go to hell is decided, but the issue of who in particular will go to hell is undecided (Ed. or unknown, in our case, to us).
The early Church Fathers were also absolutely firm on the reality of an eternal hell, as the following quotes show.
“Corrupters of families will not inherit the kingdom of God. And if they who do these things according to the flesh suffer death, how much more if a man corrupt by evil teaching the faith of God for the sake of which Jesus Christ was crucified? A man become so foul will depart into unquenchable fire: and so will anyone who listens to him” (Letter to the Ephesians 16:1–2 [A.D. 110]).
“If we do the will of Christ, we shall obtain rest; but if not, if we neglect His commandments, nothing will rescue us from eternal punishment” (Second Clement 5:5 [A.D. 150]).
“But when they see how those who have sinned and who have denied Jesus by their words or by their deeds are punished with terrible torture in unquenchable fire, the righteous, who have done good, and who have endured tortures and have hated the luxuries of life, will give glory to their God saying, ‘There shall be hope for him that has served God with all his heart!’” (ibid., 17:7).
“No more is it possible for the evildoer, the avaricious, and the treacherous to hide from God than it is for the virtuous. Every man will receive the eternal punishment or reward which his actions deserve. Indeed, if all men recognized this, no one would choose evil even for a short time, knowing that he would incur the eternal sentence of fire” (First Apology 12 [A.D. 151]).
“We have been taught that only they may aim at immortality who have lived a holy and virtuous life near to God. We believe that they who live wickedly and do not repent will be punished in everlasting fire” (ibid., 21).
“[Jesus] shall come from the heavens in glory with His angelic host, when He shall raise the bodies of all the men who ever lived. Then He will clothe the worthy in immortality; but the wicked, clothed in eternal sensibility, He will commit to the eternal fire, along with the evil demons” (ibid., 52).
“Fixing their minds on the grace of Christ, [the martyrs] despised worldly tortures and purchased eternal life with but a single hour. To them, the fire of their cruel torturers was cold. They kept before their eyes their escape from the eternal and unquenchable fire” (Martyrdom of Polycarp 2:3 [A.D. 155]).
“When you know what is the true life, that of heaven; when you despise the merely apparent death, which is temporal; when you fear the death which is real, and which is reserved for those who will be condemned to the everlasting fire, the fire which will punish even to the end those who are delivered to it, then you will condemn the deceit and error of the world” (Letter to Diognetus 10:7 [A.D. 160]).
“[W]e [Christians] are persuaded that when we are removed from this present life we shall live another life, better than the present one. . . . Then we shall abide near God and with God, changeless and free from suffering in the soul . . . or if we fall with the rest [of mankind], a worse one and in fire; for God has not made us as sheep or beasts of burden, a mere incidental work, that we should perish and be annihilated” (Plea for the Christians 31 [A.D. 177]).
Theophilus of Antioch
“ [God] will examine everything and will judge justly, granting recompense to each according to merit. To those who seek immortality by the patient exercise of good works, he will give everlasting life, joy, peace, rest, and all good things. . . . For the unbelievers and for the contemptuous, and for those who do not submit to the truth but assent to iniquity, when they have been involved in adulteries, and fornications, and homosexualities, and avarice, and in lawless idolatries, there will be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish; and in the end, such men as these will be detained in everlasting fire” (To Autolycus 1:14 [A.D. 181]).
“[God will] send the spiritual forces of wickedness, and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, and the impious, unjust, lawless, and blasphemous among men into everlasting fire” (Against Heresies 1:10:1 [A.D. 189]).
“The penalty increases for those who do not believe the Word of God and despise his coming. . . . [I]t is not merely temporal, but eternal. To whomsoever the Lord shall say, ‘Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire,’ they will be damned forever” (ibid., 4:28:2).
“After the present age is ended he will judge his worshipers for a reward of eternal life and the godless for a fire equally perpetual and unending” (Apology 18:3 [A.D. 197]).
“Then will the entire race of men be restored to receive its just deserts according to what it has merited in this period of good and evil, and thereafter to have these paid out in an immeasurable and unending eternity. . . . The worshipers of God shall always be with God, clothed in the proper substance of eternity. But the godless and those who have not turned wholly to God will be punished in fire equally unending” (ibid., 44:12–13).
“To those who have done well, everlasting enjoyment shall be given; while to the lovers of evil shall be given eternal punishment. The unquenchable and unending fire awaits these latter, and a certain fiery worm which does not die and which does not waste the body but continually bursts forth from the body with unceasing pain. No sleep will give them rest; no night will soothe them; no death will deliver them from punishment; no appeal of interceding friends will profit them” (Against the Greeks 3 [A.D. 212]).
“I am not ignorant of the fact that many, in the consciousness of what they deserve, would rather hope than actually believe that there is nothing for them after death. They would prefer to be annihilated rather than be restored for punishment. . . . Nor is there either measure nor end to these torments” (Octavius 34:12–5:3 [A.D. 226]).
“An ever-burning Gehenna and the punishment of being devoured by living flames will consume the condemned; nor will there be any way in which the tormented can ever have respite or be at an end. Souls along with their bodies will be preserved for suffering in unlimited agonies. . . . The grief at punishment will then be without the fruit of repentance; weeping will be useless, and prayer ineffectual. Too late will they believe in eternal punishment, who would not believe in eternal life” (To Demetrian 24 [A.D. 252]).
“[T]he sacred writings inform us in what manner the wicked are to undergo punishment. For because they have committed sins in their bodies, they will again be clothed with flesh, that they may make atonement in their bodies; and yet it will not be that flesh with which God clothed man, like this our earthly body, but indestructible, and abiding forever, that it may be able to hold out against tortures and everlasting fire. . . . The same divine fire, therefore, with one and the same force and power, will both burn the wicked and will form them again, and will replace as much as it shall consume of their bodies, and will supply itself with eternal nourishment” (Divine Institutes 7:21 [A.D. 307]).
“We shall be raised therefore, all with our bodies eternal, but not all with bodies alike: for if a man is righteous, he will receive a heavenly body, that he may be able worthily to hold converse with angels; but if a man is a sinner, he shall receive an eternal body, fitted to endure the penalties of sins, that he may burn eternally in fire, nor ever be consumed. And righteously will God assign this portion to either company; for we do nothing without the body. We blaspheme with the mouth, and with the mouth we pray. With the body we commit fornication, and with the body we keep chastity. With the hand we rob, and by the hand we bestow alms; and the rest in like manner. Since then the body has been our minister in all things, it shall also share with us in the future the fruits of the past” (Catechetical Lectures 18:19 [A.D. 350]).
NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004
IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004
“St. Mark Ji Tianxiang couldn’t stay sober, but he could keep showing up.
St. Mark Ji Tianxiang was an opium addict. Not only had he been an opium addict. He was an opium addict at the time of his death.
For years, Ji was a respectable Christian, raised in a Christian family in 19th-century China. He was a leader in the Christian community, a well-off doctor who served the poor for free. But he became ill with a violent stomach ailment and treated himself with opium. It was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, but Ji soon became addicted to the drug, an addiction that was considered shameful and gravely scandalous.
As his circumstances deteriorated, Ji continued to fight his addiction. He went frequently to confession, refusing to embrace this affliction that had taken control of him. Unfortunately, the priest to whom he confessed (along with nearly everybody in the 19th century) didn’t understand addiction as a disease. Since Ji kept confessing the same sin, the priest thought, that was evidence that he had no firm purpose of amendment, no desire to do better.
Without resolve to repent, sincere remorse, and resolve to sin no more, confession is invalid, and absolution, required for receiving the Eucharist, is denied.
After a few years, Ji’s confessor told him to stop coming back until he could fulfill the requirements for confession. For some, this might have been an invitation to leave the Church in anger or shame, but for all his fallenness, Ji knew himself to be loved by the Father and by the Church. He knew that the Lord wanted his heart, even if he couldn’t manage to give over his life. He couldn’t stay sober, but he could keep showing up.
And show up he did, for 30 years. For 30 years, he was unable to receive the sacraments. And for 30 years he prayed that he would die a martyr. It seemed to Ji that the only way he could be saved was through a martyr’s crown.
In 1900, when the Boxer Rebels began to turn against foreigners and Christians, Ji got his chance. He was rounded up with dozens of other Christians, including his son, six grandchildren, and two daughters-in-law. Many of those imprisoned with him were likely disgusted by his presence there among them, this man who couldn’t go a day without a hit. Surely he would be the first to deny the Lord.
But while Ji was never able to beat his addiction, he was, in the end, flooded with the grace of final perseverance. No threat could shake him, no torture make him waver. He was determined to follow the Lord Who had never abandoned him.
As Ji and his family were dragged to prison to await their execution, his grandson looked fearfully at him. “Grandpa, where are we going?” he asked. “We’re going home,” came the answer.
Ji begged his captors to kill him last so that none of his family would have to die alone. He stood beside all nine of them as they were beheaded. In the end, he went to his death singing the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And though he had been away from the sacraments for decades, he is a canonized saint.
St. Mark Ji Tianxiang is a beautiful witness to the grace of God constantly at work in the most hidden ways, to God’s ability to make great saints of the most unlikely among us, and to the grace poured out on those who remain faithful when it seems even the Church herself is driving them away.
On July 9, the feast of St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, let’s ask his intercession for all addicts and for all those who are unable to receive the sacraments, that they may have the courage to be faithful to the Church and that they may always grow in their love for and trust in the Lord. St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, pray for us!”
Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ hear us
Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of heaven, Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, Have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, One God, Have mercy on us.
Holy Mary, Pray for us.
Holy Mother of God, Pray for us.
Holy Virgin of Virgins, Pray for us.
Mother of Christ, Pray for us.
Mother of the Church, Pray for us.
Mother of Divine Grace, Pray for us.
Mother most pure, Pray for us.
Mother most chaste, Pray for us.
Mother inviolate, Pray for us.
Mother undefiled, Pray for us.
Mother most amiable, Pray for us.
Mother most admirable, Pray for us.
Mother of Good Counsel, Pray for us.
Mother of our Creator, Pray for us.
Mother of our Savior, Pray for us.
Mother of mercy, Pray for us.
Virgin most prudent, Pray for us.
Virgin most venerable, Pray for us.
Virgin most renowned, Pray for us.
Virgin most powerful, Pray for us.
Virgin most merciful, Pray for us.
Virgin most faithful, Pray for us.
Mirror of justice, Pray for us.
Seat of wisdom, Pray for us.
Cause of our joy, Pray for us.
Spiritual vessel, Pray for us.
Vessel of honor, Pray for us.
Singular vessel of devotion, Pray for us.
Mystical Rose, Pray for us.
Tower of David, Pray for us.
Tower of ivory, Pray for us.
House of gold, Pray for us.
Ark of the Covenant, Pray for us.
Gate of Heaven, Pray for us.
Morning star, Pray for us.
Health of the Sick, Pray for us.
Refuge of sinners, Pray for us.
Comforter of the afflicted, Pray for us.
Help of christians, Pray for us.
Queen of angels, Pray for us.
Queen of patriarchs, Pray for us.
Queen of prophets, Pray for us.
Queen of apostles, Pray for us.
Queen of martyrs, Pray for us.
Queen of confessors, Pray for us.
Queen of virgins, Pray for us.
Queen of all saints, Pray for us.
Queen conceived without original sin, Pray for us.
Queen assumed into Heaven, Pray for us.
Queen of the Holy Rosary, Pray for us.
Queen of families, Pray for us.
Queen of peace, Pray for us.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, Spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, Graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, Have mercy on us.
Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray- Grant, we beseech Thee, O Lord God, that we Thy servants may enjoy perpetual health of mind and body, and by the glorious intercession of the Blessed Mary, ever Virgin, be delivered from present sorrow and enjoy everlasting happiness. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen
“The opium pipe rests in the half-open hands of St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, who looks up to heaven, as if to plead, “Please, take this away from me.”
“He holds it out in a sort of way like, ‘I don’t want this thing,’” said Erik Durant, a Massachusetts-based artist who designed a striking sculpture of the 19th-century Chinese layman who died as a martyr in 1900.
Durant told Our Sunday Visitor that he created the sculpture a few years ago after a local parish priest reached out to him. Biographical details were scarce.
“Basically all I got was the timeframe when he lived, that he was a known opium user for over 30 years and that because of the drug usage, he never received Communion yet continued to regularly go to church,” Durant said.
Father David Deston, a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, saw in St. Mark Ji a symbol of hope for people struggling with drug addiction.
“His story is amazing, just absolutely amazing,” Father Deston said. “It’s one that I think should be out there more.”
St. Anne Church and Shrine
St. Anne Shrine at 818 Middle Street in Fall River, Massachusetts, houses the statue of St. Mark Ji Tianxiang. The main church was closed in May 2015 when a large piece of plaster fell off the wall during a Mass. The church ceased to be a diocesan parish when it closed Nov. 25, 2018. The St. Anne Preservation Society is raising funds to stabilize the building and restore the building as a shrine. The Diocese of Fall River and the St. Anne’s Preservation Society entered into an agreement on July 1, 2019, through which the shrine will be under the care and oversight of the society. The basement shrine reopened July 4. Masses will be celebrated a minimum of twice per year. The shrine is open Monday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the recitation of the Rosary, Bible study and special programs.
Denied the Eucharist
St. Mark Ji Tianxiang struggled with opium addiction for almost half of his 66 years of life. A committed Catholic, he continually confessed to smoking opium, but the graces of the sacrament were not enough to deliver him from his addiction.
“He was definitely hooked. He was hooked on what was essentially a pure form of heroin for decades,” said Michael Rayes, a Catholic counselor in Phoenix.
St. Mark Ji’s confessor — without the benefit of modern science that has revealed drug addiction to be a disease that changes brain chemistry — eventually withheld absolution because he did not believe that St. Mark Ji had a firm purpose of amendment to stay away from the opium pipe.
For the last 30 years of his life, St. Mark Ji was denied the reception of the Eucharist, but he still grew in holiness.
“He never gave up, even when he couldn’t really have a full sacramental experience,” Rayes said. “I’m sure he made plenty of spiritual communions, and that must have hurt his heart.”
Believing that martyrdom was his only way to heaven, St. Mark Ji prayed for and received the martyr’s crown when he was killed during the anti-Christian persecutions of the Boxer Rebellion.
“Here, you have St. Mark Ji, who stops receiving the Eucharist, and yet he’s still a saint who was growing spiritually,” said Dr. Gregory Bottaro, executive director of the Catholic Psych Institute, a Catholic psychology practice based in Connecticut.
Bottaro told Our Sunday Visitor that St. Mark Ji’s complicated life challenges modern Catholics to think deeper and “outside the box” about the Communion of Saints, life, holiness, the sacraments and the Catholic faith itself.
“It’s stories like his that help to recalibrate our sense of humanity and our relationship with God,” Bottaro said.
Gripped by addiction
The short official biographies indicate that St. Mark Ji Tianxiang was born in 1834 in the apostolic vicariate of Southeastern Zhili, China. He was raised in a Christian family and grew up to become a physician and a respected member of his community.
As a doctor, St. Mark Ji served the poor for free. However, in his mid-30s, he became ill with a serious stomach ailment and treated himself with opium, which was a common pain medicine, but it was but highly addictive.
St. Mark Ji soon was gripped by opium addiction, which in 19th-century China was considered to be shameful and a grave scandal. Similar to how heroin addicts today often are reviled and called junkies, opium addicts then in China were scorned.
Black-and-white photos of Chinese opium addicts from the late 1800s show they were often gaunt, with hollowed-out eyes, sunken cheekbones and the outlines of their rib cages clearly visible through the skin.
“They’re all emaciated and almost skeletal looking,” said Durant, who studied 19th-century photographs of Chinese opium addicts to get an idea of how St. Mark Ji may have looked after 30 years of smoking opium.
“I basically came up with an amalgamation,” Durant said. “I used my knowledge of anatomy and had a model pose for a general gesture. I basically stripped the muscle off that person in order to come up with an image.”
St. Mark Ji prayed for deliverance, but the chains of addiction were never removed from him. Still, he fought it, frequently going to confession. But after a few years, the priest to whom St. Mark Ji confessed told him to stop coming back until he was serious about stopping his sin.
“One of the elements that struck me about his story was his support system did not understand his addiction, and essentially they rejected him,” said Rayes, who chose St. Mark Ji as the patron for his counseling practice, Intercessory Counseling & Wellness in Phoenix.
Today, priest-confessors have the benefit of modern science and psychology when it comes to understanding that drug addiction is a disease. In light of that understanding, Bottaro said the Church is “constantly developing” in its application of eternal truth.
“Obviously, truth doesn’t change, but the depth of understanding matures,” Bottaro said. “And here you have a perfect example where we didn’t have the sort of human understanding of science, from brain science studies and social psychology, of understanding the effect of drugs and understanding what’s happening in the brain.”
Being denied access to the sacraments and shunned by one’s community would arguably be enough to discourage most people from wanting to be involved with the Church. But St. Mark Ji remained a practicing Catholic, even if he could not beat his addiction.
“The Church, his confessors, didn’t understand the nature of addiction, and yet he persevered in his faith,” Rayes said. “So that, I think, is a really strong example for those today who are struggling with addiction, because you can feel so alone.”
“He did what he thought was the right thing to do,” Father Deston added. “He struggled to live a good life. He attended Mass regularly. He never stopped believing in God’s mercy. I think his martyrdom just grew out of his own faith. It wasn’t a means to an end for him.”
Between 1899 and 1901, toward the end of the Qing dynasty, the Boxer Rebellion broke out in China as Chinese nationalists cracked down against foreigners and Christians. During the two-year uprising, more than 32,000 Chinese Christians and 200 foreign missionaries were massacred.
In 1900, the Boxers arrested St. Mark Ji, rounding him up with dozens of other Christians, including his son, six grandchildren and two daughters-in-law. At trial, St. Mark Ji was given the opportunity to apostatize, but he refused.
He was led to his execution with the other members of his family on July 7, 1900. He begged his captors to kill him last so that none of his relatives would die alone. As he awaited his own death, he sang the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“When we have this story of St. Mark, it’s so out there that that’s it’s almost impossible to tidy it up and make it neat and pretty for a little prayer card,” Bottaro said. “His story is so central on the messiness of his life that you can’t avoid that aspect of it.”
Pope Pius XII beatified St. Mark Ji along with 120 other Chinese martyrs on Nov. 24, 1946. St. Pope John Paul II canonized him on Oct. 1, 2000. His feast day is July 9.
In more recent years, St. Mark Ji’s life story has resonated with many who have been affected by the national opioid crisis. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 130 people in the United States die each day after overdosing on opioids.
For many today who suffer from drug addiction, and people who see their loved ones struggling with the disease, St. Mark Ji has become a patron.
“People would leave notes by his statue. Occasionally, I would straighten them up and read them. Many of them were just heartbreaking, where people were talking about their own struggles or asking for prayers for their loved ones,” said Father Deston, who had the statue of St. Mark Ji placed in his former parish’s basement shrine.
Durant said a priest in Pittsburgh called him and asked for a copy of the sculpture. Employees from an addiction center in New Hampshire traveled to St. Anne Shrine in Fall River, Massachusetts, to see the statue.
“I think he’s a fascinating and important character,” Durant said.
“Drug addiction, then or now, is one of the issues of our time,” Durant said. “It’s so big, affecting so many people. It affects all ages, races, socioeconomic status. It affects all of us. It’s important, whether you’re Catholic or not.”
I am a member of Al-anon, attending weekly meetings for over a year now, when not pandemic bound. The Catholic Church views substance abuse as a sin, even though a disease of the mind and body. There are many kinds of addictions. They are in conflict with the freedom of God’s children, the gift of life and the goodness of life, all created from and by the goodness of God Himself. Addicts today are not excluded from the sacraments because they are addicts. However, a sincere Act of Contrition, immediately, and the sacrament of reconciliation should be sought quickly, to remain as much in the state of grace as possible considering mortality.
“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”-1 Cor 12:7-10
-please click on the image for greater detail
St Mark Li Tianxiang is called the ‘trier’ because he never gave up trying to overcome his addiction and be able to receive the sacraments again.
Nonetheless, Mark always attended Mass and lived a truly committed and devout Catholic life. It is said that he helped the sick and dying free of charge or only ever accepted what his patients were able to give him for his service.
St Mark Li Tianxiang, pray for us!!! Intercede with God on our behalf for whatever obstacles prevent us from being good servants of the Lord, particularly those sins to which we are truly addicted (pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, sloth, substance abuse, timidity, tepidity, lukewarmness in Your service, fear, etc.) or cannot rid ourselves of through His most generous and powerful grace; such is our too, too strong attachment to our sins. Jesus, help us!!! Jesus, save us!!!
This Spring and Summer, so far, I have discovered Netflix. I recall looking at Netflix and Hulu at an earlier date and being completely unimpressed, their hosting all old, low royalty, programming. I wasn’t interested. That may have been just before 2016?
Boy, has Netflix, and hopefully Hulu, been at work. I have been binge watching Marvel’s “The Iron Fist”, “The Defenders”, “The Punisher”, halfway through “Jessica Jones”, and now DC Comics’ “Lucifer”.
I was trying to understand where “Lucifer” fit, if at all, along the truth meter of Judeo-Christian theology, and I have determined “Lucifer” is really not at all about Judeo-Christian theology, but all a parody of Los Angeles, the advantaged side, culture.
The show uses, to good effect, a single amorphous, tiny-tiny, undefined grain of Judeo-Christian thought, lots of sexual innuendo for comical reasons, and lots of parody of Los Angeles advantaged culture. It’s entertainment. It’s hot outside. And, “mindless” entertainment is my escape from work and my “quarantine bubble”. I’m at the end of season 2 of 6.
-The Torment of Saint Anthony, Michelangelo, c. 1487–88, tempera and oil on panel, Height: 470 mm (18.50 in); Width: 337 mm (13.26 in), Kimbell Art Museum, Ft Worth, TX
In one of my online catechetical training classes I took, I was invited to read St Athanasius‘ (293-373 AD) “Life of (St) Antony (of the Desert) (251-356 AD)”. Excellent introduction to the earliest Christian eremitical tradition. Highly recommend.
“Satan is an excellent marketer. He does his best to make sin attractive. He introduces maxims like “heaven for the climate, hell for the company” into common discourse, as if sin makes one interesting instead of simply destructive. He makes us love the antihero trope, which does not merely portray the hero’s flaws as tragic, but instead it embraces such flaws and makes that embrace central to the character. He gives us a subversive thrill in vice. Sin, however, is nothingness. Sin is always an emptiness and a void, it gives us nothing positive and has no redeeming qualities. The only attention it deserves is in combating it and healing its effects.
The moral tradition of the Church shines the proper light on sin by helping us understand it. It describes seven capital vices under which all sins and temptations fall: gluttony, lust, greed, anger, sloth, envy, and pride. These vices arise from our desires for genuine goods, but, in consequence of the fall, we desire good things in wicked ways. We all have temptations, and categorizing our vices helps us see their inter-relations and unveils the ways in which we may combat them.
Evagrius of Pontus, a 4th century Greek-speaking monk, was the first Christian to categorize vices in this spirit. Echoing St. Peter’s command, “Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith,” (1 Pet 5:8) Evagrius gave us perceptive insights on how to understand and battle sin.
The fight against sin, Evagrius writes, is primarily an internal battle that takes place in how we respond to our logismoi, our tempting thoughts. We receive logismoi passively, and so having a perverse image or evil idea pop into our heads does not entail sin. However, if we allow such thoughts into our hearts and entertain them with passion and intent, then we sin, even without carrying out those actions. Only in combating these temptations do we heed Jesus’s admonition, “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28).
To combat logismoi, Evagrius proposes nepsis or watchfulness. After a period of temptation, we can stop and consider the roots of our thoughts. He advises, “Sit down and recall for yourself the things that happened to you-where you started from, where you went, and the place in which you were caught by the spirit of lust or anger or despair, and how in turn these things took place.” (On Thoughts) We often fall in the same ways, and by watchfulness we can begin to see the patterns and circumstances that antecede sin.
One may note that his gluttony begins with boredom, or that his temptations towards envy or greed begin when he scrolls on social media. Lust may begin with loneliness, slothful distractions may begin with checking one’s email. Anger may follow from recalling an inconsiderate person, pride may arise from noting the flaws of others. Different people are plagued with temptations in individual ways, so each person needs to observe his or her own thoughts to discover how to combat them.
If we know the patterns in our own lives, we can address the roots of our vices. If remembering a certain person leads us to worse thoughts of pride or anger or lust, then we can immediately turn our attention elsewhere when that person pops into our memories. Watchfulness requires diligence and practice, but it works. Watchfulness unmasks the devil’s marketing, helping us combat sin in our thoughts and in our words, in what we have done, and in what we have failed to do.”
Confiteor Deo omnipotenti,
et vobis fratres,
quia peccavi nimis
opere et omissione:
mea culpa, mea culpa,
mea maxima culpa.
Ideo precor beatam Mariam semper Virginem,
omnes Angelos et Sanctos,
et vos, fratres,
orare pro me ad Dominum Deum nostrum.
I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.
WASHINGTON – “After a major scientific study found there is not a singular genetic marker for homosexuality, a Catholic theologian explained that the findings are fully in accord with Catholic teaching.
The study was published Aug. 30 in Science. It examined data from several large genetic databanks in multiple countries, and surveyed nearly half a million people about their sexual partners and preferences. Previous studies on the matter have only examined sample groups of hundreds of people.
“From a genetic standpoint, there is no single [genetic distinction] from opposite-sex to same-sex sexual behaviors,” said Andrea Ganna, a geneticist at Finland’s Institute of Molecular Medicine, and the study’s lead author.
Speaking to Scientific American, Eric Vilain, a geneticist at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., called the study’s result “the end of the ‘gay gene’” theory…
…In a commentary published along with the study, Oxford University geneticist Melinda Mills noted an “inclination to reduce sexuality to genetic determinism” in support of sociological or ideological positions.”” [Ed. to avoid personal responsibility for one’s choices? Actions? Seems to be all the rage these days, that old canard ‘The genes (or, devil) made me do it!]
“The Church’s document, The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, notes that sexual attraction to persons of the same sex is “ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.” The Catechism uses nearly identical language: “Exclusive or predominant sexual attraction towards persons of the same sex … is objectively disordered.”…
…Before clarifying the meaning of the term it should be noted that one reason such language is received as harsh is because we live in a society that no longer sees human nature as universal, intrinsic, and immutable. Rather than recognizing an intelligible telos, or inner aim of man, today it is claimed that our human nature consists of whatever individual feelings come “spontaneously,” are “genuine” or what feels “natural to me.” Most are unfamiliar with natural law and thereby reject the traditional western and Biblical belief that as humans we have a law written upon our hearts, and to abide by that law ensures our flourishing. To flaunt that law does harm. The reaction to Church teaching in the area of homosexuality is, in part, symptomatic of a deeper and fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the human person. The misunderstanding of the Church’s teaching is further complicated by the fact that we live in a sound-bite culture, where nuanced technical terms are underappreciated. [Ed. “…hidden nuances which 99 percent of the Catechism’s readers cannot be expected to fathom.” Included in this are the phrases “objectively disordered” and “intrinsically disordered,” terms which rise from the language of Catholic moral theology and Catholic philosophy. In this usage, the term “disordered” indicates a departure from the norm and not, as usage in English could suggest, sinful, demeaning, or sickly.] Therefore, it is incumbent upon Catholics to explain thoroughly and with sensitivity the eternal truth conveyed by the language of the Church.”
Intrinsic & Objective Disorder
The morality of the act itself = intrinsically disordered. By the very definition of the act, it is of and in of itself intrinsically sinful, by definition. There are not circumstances, extenuating or otherwise, than can make such an act not sinful.
The morality of the desire is = objectively/logically disordered, since its goal/object cannot be but disordered according to natural law and Revelation. There are no circumstances, extenuating or otherwise, than can make such an act not sinful.
Sins, such as homosexual attraction are intrinsically sinful. There is no circumstance, extenuating or otherwise, where homosexual attraction is not sinful. Same sex coitus is objectively sinful. There is no circumstance, extenuating or otherwise, where same sex coitus is not sinful.
One problem with the language of “intrinsic disorder” is that almost no one apart from theologians trained in the scholastic tradition correctly grasps its meaning. Read the WHOLE article by clicking on the link below, if you dare. (My brain hurts/is full. May I be excused, please? Medieval scholastic theologians are not the only theologians in the Church. They’re dead. But, have pride of place in Catholic theology. Remember, a theologian is one who studies the discipline of theology. Ask twelve living theologians a question, get >13 answers. lol)
“In harmony with centuries of Catholic teaching on how we should evaluate the moral character of certain actions, the Catechism affirms: “There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery.” (CCC 1756) In other words, there exist actions that must always, by their very nature – without any exception, under any circumstances – be considered as evil. Because the wickedness of the action is inherent, arising internally from the account of the very nature of the action, we describe actions of this sort as “intrinsically evil”, and hold that there is nothing that can ever justify such an action…
…Traditional moral theology holds that human actions always have some end or purpose: something that the action is for, some goal that the action is “ordered toward” obtaining. In many cases, the purpose of an action is given by nature (e.g. eating food is naturally ordered to health, whether or not that purpose is consciously intended by the person). In other cases, the purpose of an action is superadded by the human will (e.g. when “comfort food” is desired primarily because it gives pleasure or satisfaction, without any explicit concern for nutritional value). And sometimes, it can happen that the human purpose driving an action is radically incompatible with the natural purpose (e.g. when poison is consumed for the sake of suicide, which is absolutely incompatible with health)… and in these cases the action is considered to be disordered, because the natural purpose of the action has been wholly and fundamentally impeded. Note however that when moral theologians speak of actions being disordered, this refers to the moral character of the action. And indeed the Catechism is explicit on this point: “The object of the choice can by itself vitiate an act in its entirety. There are some concrete acts… that it is always wrong to choose, because choosing them entails a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil” (CCC 1755).
In a very similar (and perhaps slightly more obvious) way, we also say that every desire has an end: something that the desire is for, something that the desire is “ordered toward” obtaining. If you desire to commit an action, we say that your desire is ordered toward that action; and if we speak of your desire as being disordered, this refers to the fact that your desire is ordered toward something bad, which you should not desire. Therefore: if you desire to commit an action that is evil, your desire is disordered; and if you desire to commit an action that is intrinsically evil (e.g. if you desire to murder your annoying neighbor), then we describe your desire as intrinsically disordered. Note well that if an action is only a sin in some cases, but not in others – if there are exceptions – then it is not an intrinsically evil action. Note also, for the very same reason, that every temptation toward sin is intrinsically disordered: because no matter how large or small the sin might be, sin (by definition) is always evil without exception.”
“It isn’t compassionate to encourage people to embrace a false version of reality.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the desire to be romantically involved with a member of the same sex is “objectively disordered” (2357). But for some, them’s fightin’ words.
Take Fr. James Martin, S.J., for example. In a 2017 interview with columnist Jonathan Merritt, Fr. Martin reaffirmed the position he took in his book Building a Bridge, namely, that this language in the Catechism is “needlessly hurtful” and should be replaced with the more pastoral language of “differently ordered.”
I don’t know if Fr. Martin still holds this view. In a 2018 article for America Magazine, he presents the Church’s official teaching on the objective disorder of same-sex sexual activity and the disorder of the desire for it. He then says, “As a Catholic priest, I have…never challenged those teachings, nor will I.”
Perhaps we could push back a bit on this last claim since he routinely celebrates events and organizations that publicly oppose Church teaching. Regardless, we still need to address the question: are romantic desires for members of the same-sex disordered or merely different?
First, to say the desire for romantic involvement with a member of the same sex is “different” is to suggest the desire is not disordered. We don’t say someone’s preference for vanilla ice cream over chocolate is disordered; we say it’s different. But to say the desire for same-sex sexual activity is not disordered entails the further claim that there’s no disorder in same-sex sexual activity itself. And there’s the rub: same-sex sexual activity is morally disordered, as Fr. Martin acknowledged in the America article.
A morally disordered act is a human act (proceeding from intellect and will) that lacks the order to its due end. In other words, it’s a human act that intentionally misses the mark, like the archer that intentionally misses the target he’s supposed to hit. St. Thomas Aquinas explains,
Sin as we properly speak of it in moral matters, and as it has the nature of moral wrong, comes about because the will by tending toward an improper [undue] end fails to attain its proper [due] end (De Malo q.3, a.1).
Elsewhere, Aquinas articulates the principle this way: “We call every act that is not properly related to its requisite [due] end a disordered act” (De Malo q.15, a.1).
But what does Aquinas mean when he speaks of a “proper [due] end” for a human act? It’s that which the human action naturally aims at: its natural end.
Consider, for example, how the due end or goal of an oak tree is to grow and to reproduce, which entails sinking its roots deep into the ground, taking in nutrients, performing photosynthesis, and dropping acorns. Such things are due or proper to the oak tree in that the achievement of such things makes the oak tree flourish as the kind of thing it is. If the oak tree were to fail in achieving these natural ends or goals, the oak tree would be defective in being an oak tree.
So, the due end of a thing is the natural end or goal of a thing and its activities: that which is befitting for the perfection of the thing, making it a good instance of its kind.
The same holds true for human actions. Some human actions have natural ends or goals that constitute the perfection of the act. For example, the human act of assertion has the natural end of expressing that which we believe to be true. So, when we assert what we believe to be true, that act is perfected inasmuch as it is the kind of act that it’s supposed to be.
Similarly, the act of eating has the natural end of nourishing the body. When we eat in a way that achieves this natural end or goal, our act succeeds in being the kind of act it’s supposed to be.
Disorder enters into human acts when we voluntarily engage in an act that is directed away from its natural end or goal (a due end or goal). Eating with the intention to vomit out the food afterward is one example of a disordered action. The act from the beginning is willfully directed away from its natural end of nourishing the body. Perversion is another word for this.
Now, the achievement of the natural ends of a human action not only determines the perfection of the act itself, but also of the person who performs the action. For the power to act belongs to a person for the sake of fully actualizing herself as a human being, or acquiring those things that are perfective of her nature.
So, when a person voluntarily prevents her act from achieving its natural end, she rejects the associated good. Since morality entails doing good and avoiding evil, to reject the good of an action is a moral defect, or in the words of Aquinas from the above quote, “sin.”
So what’s all this got to do with same-sex sexual activity? As I’ve argued before, one of the natural (due) ends of our reproductive organs is the generation of offspring. That’s an end or goal at which the sexual act naturally aims (the other being unitive love between the spouses).
And since it’s a moral disorder to voluntary prevent an act from achieving its natural end, it follows that to voluntarily thwart the use of our sexual organs from achieving their natural end of generation of offspring is morally disordered. Same-sex sexual activity does just that. Therefore, same-sex sexual activity is morally disordered.
With this in mind, let’s go back to our original question: should we start calling the desire to be romantically involved with a member of the same sex “different” instead of “disordered”?
No, we should not. Either we encourage people to embrace a false version of reality by telling them their romantic desires for members of the same-sex are natural and good, or we stick with what’s true and invite people to live in accordance with reality.
I don’t know about you, but I’m all about leading people to the truth and helping them experience authentic human happiness. I don’t see anything “needlessly hurtful” about that.”
“To Jesus Heart All Burning” traditional Catholic hymn
-by Stephen Beale, is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at GoLocalProv.com and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on MSNBC.com and ABCNews.com. A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints.
“Images of the Sacred Heart meticulously recount key details of the crucifixion. The wounded heart itself, the crown of thorns, and the cross itself all appear. Some depictions even include the lance that pierced the side of Christ penetrating His heart.
But there’s one detail that seems out of place. There was no fire at the crucifixion, yet the Sacred Heart is often shown with flames. Why?
A burnt offering. Recall that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was mean to recapitulate and supersede all the sacrifices of the Old Testament. What was a common feature of these sacrifices? Fire. Think of the fire that devoured the sacrifices offered by Elijah and the fire that Abraham would have set had an angel not intervened (see 1 Kings 18 and Genesis 22). In ancient Israel, a burnt offering was the supreme form of sacrifice, it symbolized a total commitment to God—particularly the death of the victim animal and the all-consuming nature of the fire. The burning Sacred Heart reminds us that this sacrifice too was incorporated into Christ’s supreme offering of Himself on the cross.
Symbol of divinity. Of course, fire is also a familiar Old Testament symbol of God. We encounter God’s fiery presence at Sinai and in the account of Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 1). This symbolism carries over into the Old Testament, where the Holy Spirit descends upon the heads of the apostles as tongues of fire. Perhaps it’s especially fitting that the Sacred Heart is burning given that from it poured water and blood, symbols of the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharistic wine, both the work of the Holy Spirit.
Symbol of the divine Incarnate. The fire burns, but the Sacred Heart is not consumed. Does this sound familiar? It recalls Moses’ first encounter with God, in a bush that burned but was not consumed. This foreshadowed the Incarnation, in which God assumed human nature, without his divinity extinguishing the humanity that had been assumed: Christ was fully man and fully God. It is fitting that at this climactic moment of the Incarnation that its deepest reality is reaffirmed in such an acute way.
Jesus’ passion for us. In the context of the gospels, the Passion refers to the suffering of Christ. But, in our society, we usually use the word passion to refer to something or someone that drives our enthusiasm, interest, desires, and commitments. Is this meaning still valid for the Sacred Heart? I think so. There is evidence in the gospels that a burning heart signified intense emotions. One clear example of this is the two disciples who encountered Christ on the road to Emmaus and afterwards remarked that their hearts had been burning. (cf Luke 24) So yes, the flames on the Sacred Heart are a true reminder of God’s burning love for us.
Light of the World. Fire does two things. First, it consumes that which it burns. Second, it gives off light. This second aspect is certainly relevant to the symbolism of the Sacred Heart, given that Christ is the true light of the world. Remember that during the crucifixion, darkness descended upon the land (see Mark 15:33). In the darkest hour, the Sacred Heart burned bright with hope.”
Love, may the divine furnace of His love consume us,
“Last month I was going for a jog in Balboa Park here in downtown San Diego when I noticed the park was more crowded than usual. I headed toward the sounds of music and noticed more and more rainbow flags as I neared Cabrillo Bridge. “Maybe, just once,” I thought, “this will be a festival celebrating God’s covenant with Noah! (rainbow)”
Not so much.
It was San Diego’s 40th annual “Gay Pride Parade,” which this year boasted 300,000 participants who marched through San Diego’s Hillcrest neighborhood (known for its LGBT flair) to Balboa Park for a concert.
The participants were joyful and carefree—until they walked by a group of Christians protesting their event. The Christians, who I assume were conservative Evangelicals, held signs that said things like, “Jesus is the only way to salvation” and “Love is self-giving.”
They weren’t doing anything I considered offensive or outrageous, but I also thought their approach would not be very effective—and I was right.
An unexpected springboard
As the Christians preached through bullhorns, most of the LGBT festival-goers walked by laughing or saying things like, “You know you’re probably gay!” or “God is love!” They also said a lot of other things I can’t repeat without diving into indecency.
Others stopped to yell at the Christians or even just plead with them. One woman said, “There are real sinners down at the county jail. Why aren’t you there?” The Christian responded, “I go to the jail all the time. Lots of Christians do that, too. I’m here today to help you people.”
As the police stood warily nearby, I watched and observed alongside the festival attendees, getting a feel for the whole situation.
Suddenly I had a flashback.
Deja vu all over again
After college I used to travel the country with a pro-life group named Justice for All. We would setup exhibits with large pictures of unborn children before and after abortion and talk with college students about the pro-life worldview.
During those outreaches I would sometimes walk around and act like a student on campus. I wouldn’t lie about who I was, but I also wouldn’t immediately say who I was with, either. I would just ask students looking at the pictures, “So what do you think of this big ugly thing?” Pretty soon we were off to the races having great conversations.
So I wandered around the pride parade asking people who were staring at “the big, ugly Christians” a simple question: “What do you think of those guys over there?” I ended up having several conversations about the Bible, same-sex morality, and faith in general.
One young man, whom I’ll call Greg, was especially memorable.
What does the Church say?
I asked him what he thought of the Christians, and we began to talk, along with his two male friends. All three of them identified as being gay, and they asked me what I was doing at the festival. I said that my wife was out of town and I decided to go on a jog through the park until . . .
“Until the gays showed up!” one of the young men interjected.
“Something like that,” I said.
I explained that I worked for an organization called Catholic Answers and that my job is to explain and defend the Catholic Faith. One of them then asked, “So what does the Church say about me being gay?”
I was nervous but also felt the Holy Spirit giving me the right words and tone.
“Well, the Church makes a distinction between someone’s desires and someone’s actions. We can’t control our desires, and so they shouldn’t be central to our identity. You also can’t say someone is sinning just because they have certain desires because, like I said, you can’t control them. I wouldn’t say that I’m straight or that you’re gay, but that you and I are men made in God’s image with different desires for sexual intimacy.”
Wrong even for straight people
They nodded, so I continued.
“So our desires don’t define us, and they don’t condemn us. But our actions do define us, and we can be held accountable for them. Or, as Batman would say (switch to guttural Batman voice), “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”
We shared a laugh.
“It’s actions, not desires. This is important, because the Church teaches that we shouldn’t use sex for a purpose it wasn’t intended for. That means it’s wrong for anyone to engage in same-sex behavior, even if they’re straight.”
They raised their eyebrows at the unexpectedness of what I said, and I went on.
What is sex for?
“For example, if a straight guy has been in prison for a long time and he just wants sexual release, he might have sex with a man, even though he says he’s not gay. But that would be wrong, because sex isn’t just for satisfying your urges. For me, the big question I ask when I think about tough issues like same-sex attraction is: What is sex for?”
To my surprise, one of the young men said, “Procreation?”
My eyes lit up.
“Yes! I mean, that’s not the whole reason, but for me it makes sense to say that sex is ordered towards making babies and uniting men and women for their good and the good of any babies they might create. That’s also why as a Catholic I’m against contraception, because it goes against what sex is for.”
Rather than be offended, the three young men pondered what I said and seemed to appreciate the reasonableness of it, as well as the fact that I didn’t just quote a Bible verse and rest my case.
A pebble in the shoe
We talked a bit more, and then Greg and I talked one-on-one for a while. We discussed his religious background and his decision to leave the Mormon Church (which was motivated by his same-sex attraction but also by critical examination of the Book of Mormon).
As our conversation came to a close, I encouraged him to visit the website of Courage, which I described as a nonjudgmental ministry that helps Catholics who have same-sex attraction lead chaste lives. I said, “They really try to meet people where they’re at. They’re not about ‘praying the gay away.’” Greg said he was relieved they weren’t “like that” and said he’d check them out.
We parted ways, and I walked back to Balboa Park across the Cabrillo Bridge, remembering that conversion happens slowly, bit by bit. Sometimes the best we can do is plant a “pebble in their shoe” or a thought in the mind that will roll around until the person has an “epiphany moment.”
As I walked I also thought about how amazing it would be to take two dozen Catholics, well-formed in their Faith and trained to engage people in civil and compassionate dialogue, to an event like this. It would be a time to not try to win arguments but to win people and show that, even if we disagree about sexual ethics, we can still treat each other with respect and kindness.
-Catholic holy card depicting the Sacred Heart of Jesus, circa 1880. Auguste Martin collection, University of Dayton Libraries, please click on the image for greater detail.
-by Stephen Beale, is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at GoLocalProv.com and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on MSNBC.com and ABCNews.com. A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints.
“The Sacred Heart is among the most familiar and moving of Catholic devotional images. But its symbolism can also be strange. As we mark the Feast of the Sacred Heart, here is a look at the explanation behind some of the features of the Sacred Heart.
The Sacred Heart most obviously brings to mind the Passion of Christ on the cross. There is the crown of thorns, the cross, usually atop the heart, and the wound from the spear that pierced His side. But why is the Sacred Heart always shown as if it’s on fire? That certainly did not happen at the crucifixion.
There are three reasons behind this. First, we have to remember that Christ’s self-offering on the cross was the one-time perfect consummation of all the sacrifices of the Old Testament. This necessarily includes burnt offerings, which were the highest form of sacrifices in ancient Israel, according to The Jewish Encyclopedia. An early form of such sacrifices was what Abraham set out to do with Isaac, hence the wood he had his son collect beforehand.
Second, fire is always associated with the essence of divinity in the Old Testament. Think back to the burning bush that spoke to Moses, the cloud of fire that settled on Sinai, and the flames from above that consumed the sacrifice of Elijah. This explanation fits with the gospel account of the crucifixion, in which the piercing of Christ’s side revealed His heart at the same time that the curtain of the temple was torn, unveiling the holy of holies where God was present.
Finally, the image of fire associated with heart represents Christ’s passionate love for humankind. One 19th-century French devotional card has these words arched above the Sacred Heart—Voilà ce Cœur qui a tant aimé les hommes, which roughly translates to: “Here is the heart that loved men so much.” One traditional exclamation is, “Sacred Heart of Jesus, burning with love of us, inflame our hearts with love of Thee.” We see this actually happen in the gospels, where the disciples on the road to Emmaus realized that their hearts had been “burning” after their encounter with Jesus.
The rays of light
Look closer at the image of the Sacred Heart. There is something else framing it besides the flames. They are rays of light. In John 8:12, Christ declares that He is the “light of the world.” In Revelation 21:23, we are told that in the new Jerusalem at the end of times there will be no light from the sun or moon because the Lamb of God—that is, Jesus—will be its source of light. Light, like fire, is a symbol of divinity. Think of the Transfiguration and the blinding light that Paul experienced on the road to Damascus. As the light of the world, Christ is also the one who “enlightens” us, revealing God to us. The Sacred Heart constitutes the climax of divine self-revelation, showing us the depths of God’s love for us.
The crown of thorns and the spear make sense. But sometimes the Sacred Heart is also depicted with arrows. Again, that’s not something we find in the gospels. One explanation is that the arrow represents sin. This is reportedly what our Lord Himself said in a private revelation to St. Mary of St. Peter. The arrow could also draw upon an ancient Roman metaphor for love, which, according to ancient myth, occurred when the god Cupid shot an arrow through the hearts of lovers.
The crown of thorns
Unlike the arrows, the crown of thorns is reported in the gospels. But in traditional images it encircles the Sacred Heart, whereas in Scripture the crown was fixed to Jesus’ head. One traditional account offers this interpretation, describing those who are devoted to it: “They saw the crown transferred from His head to His heart; they felt that its sharp points had always pierced there; they understood that the Passion was the crucifixion of a heart” (The Heart of the Gospel: Traits of the Sacred Heart by Francis Patrick Donnelly, published in 1911 by the Apostleship of Prayer). In other words, wrapping the crown around the heart emphasizes the fact that Christ felt His wounds to the depths of His heart.
Moreover, after the resurrection, the crown of thorns becomes a crown of victory. Donnelly hints at this as well: “From the weapons of His enemy, from cross and crown and opened Heart, our conquering leader fashioned a trophy which was the best testimony of His love.” In ancient gladiatorial contests, the victor was crowned. In the Revelation 19:12, Christ wears “many crowns” and believers who are victorious over sin and Satan will receive the “crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
Finally, according to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, the seventeenth French nun who helped start (continued the tradition) the devotion, the points of the thorns are the many individual sins of people, pricking the heart of Jesus. As she put it in a letter, recounting the personal vision she had received, “I saw this divine Heart as on a throne of flames, more brilliant than the sun and transparent as crystal. It had Its adorable wound and was encircled with a crown of thorns, which signified the pricks our sins caused Him.”
Like the thorns, the cross is both rooted in the gospels but also displayed in a way that does not follow them in every detail. There is almost an inversion of the crucifixion. In the gospels, Christ hung on the cross, His heart correspondingly dwarfed by its beams. But in images of the Sacred Heart, it is now enlarged and the cross has shrunk. Moreover, rather than the heart being nailed to the cross, the cross now seems ‘planted’ in the heart—as St. Margaret Mary Alacoque put it—if to say to us that the entire reality of the crucifixion derives its meaning from and—cannot be understood apart from—the heart of Jesus. As Donnelly wrote, “The Heart [is] … forever supporting the weight of a Cross.” Truly, it is the heart of Jesus that makes the cross meaningful for us today.”
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine