Category Archives: Works of Mercy

Forgive?


-by Tim Staples, Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian televangelists. Soon after, Tim joined the Marine Corps.

“A man—I’ll call him Robert—wrote to me recently telling me a horror story about his ex-wife. To say she acted uncharitably during and after their separation and divorce would be an understatement. Of course, I am only hearing one side of the story, but his question boiled down to this: “Am I required to forgive her, even though she is not sorry for anything she has done, and then to forget about what she has done because God ‘forgets’ when he forgives and calls us to do the same? I must confess to you that I just cannot live this because I believe she is dangerous to both me and our children.”

Unfortunately, scenarios like this are not rare. But they do end up raising some very important questions about the nature of forgiveness. There are at least five points to be considered for clarifying the issues at hand:

1. We are not called to go beyond what God himself does when it comes to forgiveness. Many Christians believe with Robert that they are obliged to forgive even those who are not in the least bit sorry for their offenses against them. And on the surface this sounds really . . . Christian. But is it true? God himself doesn’t do it. He only forgives those who repent of their sins. II Cor. 7:10 says, “[G]odly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation.” I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he . . . will forgive our sins.”

Our Lord obviously has not and will not forgive the souls in hell right now for the simple reason that they did not ask for forgiveness. This seems as clear as clear can be. The question is, are we required to do more than God does when it comes to forgiveness?

Jesus seems to answer this question for us in Luke 17:3-4:

“[I]f your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

According to this text, and as we would suspect, Jesus requires his followers to forgive only those who are sorry for their offenses, just as God does. And this only make sense. Colossians 3:13 says we are to called to forgive each other “as the Lord has forgiven [us].”

Some will say at this point, “Didn’t Jesus forgive everyone from the cross when he said, ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do’ in Luke 23:34?” Actually, he didn’t. He petitioned the Father for those who had beaten and crucified him to be forgiven, revealing his will that “all men . . . be saved” (I Tim. 2:4). But this was not a declaration that even these men were actually forgiven, much less a declaration that he was forgiving everyone for all time.

2. We have to distinguish between our calling to forgive those who are sorry and ask for forgiveness and our call to love everyone without exception, including those who have wronged us and are not sorry that they did. Sometimes these two concepts are conflated.

St. Thomas Aquinas tells us love is “willing the good of the other” selflessly (cf. I Cor. 13:5). In a sense, this is all God can do, because “God is love” (I John 4:8). God can do nothing other than will to share the infinite good of himself with every single person ever created or conceived—even the souls who reject his love and forgiveness, because a God not loving would be a God contradicting his own essence, which is absurd.

Thus God’s love is unconditional, because in one sense it has nothing to do with the other. It comes from within, regardless of what happens outside of the godhead. This brings profound meaning to Jesus’ words: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). In essence, Jesus is calling us to love with that same unconditional love with which he loves as the God-Man. Regardless of varying situations and relationships in our lives, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 5:5) empowering us to “will the good of the other” regardless of what “the other” may bring our way.

On the other hand, forgiveness, as we’ve said, is not unconditional. It’s a two-way street. God offers his forgiveness to all out of his unconditional love and, therefore, so must all Christians. But here’s the rub. Because forgiveness is dependent upon the other, it cannot actually take place until there are willing partners on both sides of the divide.

3. But God says, “I am He who blots out your transgression for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins,” in Isaiah 25:23. Shouldn’t we do the same?

This was Robert’s point. “When God forgives, he forgets. So if we must forgive, we must forget as well, right?”

First of all, in Robert’s case, there is no imperative to forgive in the first place, because there is no evidence of contrition. But even if there were to be forgiveness here, forgiveness must be properly understood.

There is no such thing as divine amnesia. Jesus will not be forever in heaven asking, “How did these holes get in my hands and feet?” “I will not remember” is an anthropomorphic way of saying God will not forever hold sins against us that have been forgiven. This is not to say there are not temporal consequences for sin. Purgatory is a stark reminder of this.

I must interject here that Robert was actually very relieved when he discovered he did not have to turn his brain off and endanger his children in order to be a good Catholic. Poor Robert was thinking he had to forget everything his ex-wife did and act as though she didn’t do anything wrong. And that is why he thought he just could not live the faith any longer. The truth is, God does not “forget” in that sense, and neither should we. Not only should Robert remember what his ex-wife had done, but he should act with precaution in order to protect himself and his children.

4. Jesus said “love your enemies” in Matthew 5:44. He did not say we have to “like” our enemies and he did not say we don’t have enemies. If you proclaim and live truth contradicting a world receiving its marching orders from “the father of lies,” you are promised to have enemies. We could start with the guys who want to kill us. Put them down in the “enemies” column.

Jesus calls us to “love [our] enemies and pray for those who persecute [us], so that [we] may be sons of [our] Father who is in heaven.” That means love is not an option, it is a commandment. But loving enemies does not mean you necessarily want to have them over to the house for supper. “Love” doesn’t necessarily mean “like.” Indeed, it may be unhealthy or even dangerous to even be around your enemy, as may well be true in Robert’s case.

5. So what do we do if we find ourselves in a situation like Robert’s?

The first step to loving and forgiving as God does is to recognize that we cannot do it apart from Christ. It is essential to meditate upon what Christ did for us on the cross and the fact that he loves us infinitely and forgives us over and over again. Ultimately, we have to get to the place where we acknowledge our powerlessness so that we can allow Christ to love and forgive in us and through us.

I recommended to Robert specifically that he ask God to help him to truly will the good for his ex-wife—and a telling sign of whether this is so would be when he could sincerely pray to God for good to come to his ex-wife—then he could rest assured that he is loving her as Christ commanded.”

Love, be merciful to me, Lord, for I am a sinful man,
Matthew

Dec 3 – St Francis Xavier, SJ (1506-1552), Priest, Missionary, Co-founder Society of Jesus, “Simple Ain’t Easy”


-by Br Bartholomew Calvano, OP

“Sometimes God works in mysterious ways that we can’t understand. We may not be sure what exactly it is God wants us to do. At other times God’s will for us can be painfully simple. I say simple because what God wants us to do can often be quite obvious. I say painfully because that obvious task is not necessarily easy. Sometimes, we would rather have God’s will for us be mysterious rather than pay the cost that the obvious task demands of us.

Saint Francis Xavier, one of the first members of the Jesuits, provides an excellent example of someone who followed God’s will for him when it was simple and straightforward. He did this despite the pains he would have to undergo. At the direction of St. Ignatius, St. Francis Xavier left Europe to accompany the Portuguese explorers and preach throughout India and eventually even Japan. It was not a complicated task to do as he was told. Saint Francis Xavier simply had to go to those people who had never heard the Gospel and preach to them. St. Ignatius’s instructions were nothing more than a reissuing of the Great Commission which Jesus gave to the Apostles: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). The task could hardly be simpler: preach the Gospel to those who have not heard it.

Yet, this was not an easy task even if St. Francis Xavier knew what he had to do to accomplish it. He had to learn multiple languages in order to translate the Creed and other basic prayers, which he would use to catechize these foreign peoples. He traveled far and frequently. He was often on his own during these travels. The trials were even physically demanding. We can see this from one letter he sent back to the Jesuits in Rome:

“As to the numbers who become Christians, you may understand them from this, that it often happens to me to be hardly able to use my hands from the fatigue of baptizing: often in a single day I have baptized whole villages. Sometimes I have lost my voice and strength altogether with repeating again and again the Credo and the other forms.” (quoted in The Life and Letters of St. Francis Xavier by Henry James Coleridge, S.J., 153)

Saint Francis Xavier, SJ, exemplifies the heroic virtue that allowed him to carry out day in and day out the simple, repetitive, sometimes even monotonous tasks to which God called him. Tasks that cost him a great deal of suffering. Sometimes, this is precisely the reminder that we need. God has called each and every one of us to do certain, simple tasks, most of which are not glamorous. These tasks are, nonetheless, the foundation of the Kingdom of God. The pain of these tasks for us may not be physical, it may be the pain of stepping out of our comfort zone or doing the job no one else wants to do. By being faithful in the obvious, repetitive, and sometimes distasteful tasks given to us, we can spread God’s love to the world one person at a time.

Eventually, St. Francis Xavier would die at the age of 46 from a fever while waiting for a boat to take him to China. This seems like a rather prosaic death for a saint who had served God so fervently. He did not die a martyr’s death. Instead, he bore witness to God by his arduous labor at a task he could never hope to complete in his lifetime. It was a task that wore him to the bone and ate away at his health, but he embraced it joyfully.

Most of those he preached to were eager to receive the Gospel and only needed someone to preach it to them. Likewise, there are many people in our lives who are ready to hear the Gospel if they only had someone to bring it to them. What will preaching the Gospel cost us?Are we, like St. Francis Xavier, willing to embrace the attendant hardships with joy? Can we be like Jesus who “for the sake of the joy that lay before him . . . endured the cross”(Heb 12:2)?


-Pilgrims pray by and view the body of St Francis Xavier during an exposition of the saint in December 2004.  Please click on the image for greater detail.


-missionary journeys of St Francis Xavier, SJ, (1541-1552).  Please click on the image for greater detail.

Love,
Matthew

Ars Moriendi – The Art of Dying


-by Br. Columba Thomas, OP, graduated from Yale School of Medicine and completed residency in Internal Medicine/Primary Care.

“Ars Moriendi, or “The Art of Dying,” was an immensely popular and influential medieval text aimed at equipping the faithful for death and dying. It appeared by order of the Council of Constance sometime between 1414 and 1418, and although its author is anonymous, some scholars speculate that it was a Dominican friar.

It is no surprise that the Church would focus on death-related themes at this time: one of the central pastoral preoccupations of the late medieval Church was preparing souls for death, which included saving them from damnation and shortening their stay in purgatory. To suppose that this focus on death was primarily driven by the effects of the bubonic plague is probably an oversimplification; it seems, rather, to be a foundational characteristic of medieval piety, resulting from a flourishing belief in the reality of life after death and the salvific efficacy of the sacraments. Hence, securing the ministrations of a priest in the final hours of death was a chief concern. But the impact of the bubonic plague, including the loss of clergy who would assist the dying, heightened the need for additional forms of guidance—thus arose the Ars Moriendi, a standard for deathbed pastoral practice intended for the use of dying persons and their loved ones assisting them.

The span of centuries notwithstanding, some modern-day bioethicists have looked to the medieval Ars Moriendi for inspiration in discussing contemporary approaches to death and dying. They recognize that patients nearing the end of life today often are overwhelmed by the complexity of health care and miss the opportunity to prepare well for death. A modern-day Ars Moriendi, then, would serve as a corrective to the prevailing over-medicalized, technologically driven death. Whereas bioethicists generally have sought to use the medieval text as inspiration for an approach that accommodates a wide variety of belief systems, religious and secular, it seems vital that the expressed religious intent be preserved in such a work—in fact, certain insights from the medieval text may provide a helpful addition to contemporary pastoral approaches at the end of life.

Just a cursory look at the medieval Ars Moriendi may suffice to draw out some of these insights. As the text emphasizes, dying persons are commonly faced with temptations that threaten to rob them of salvation, including the temptation against faith, the temptation of despair, and the temptation of pride that leads to complacency. When faced with these temptations, such persons must realize the importance of dying in the faith of Christ and in union with the Church to attain salvation, which is true happiness. This includes the reception of the sacraments, repeated professions of faith, self-examinations, and prayer.

For sure, the sacraments are the primary means by which the faithful can attain salvation; nevertheless, one can resist the graces offered in the sacraments, and so these other practices are important to help dispose one to receive the sacraments efficaciously. In this way, simply ensuring the visitation of a priest and the reception of the sacraments does not suffice. While efforts must be made to console dying persons that death itself is not to be feared, in light of Christ’s salvific act, it is better to stir them from complacency than to allow them to drift away from God for the sake of comfort.

These insights from the medieval Ars Moriendi may be key in reclaiming an art of dying for the twenty-first century. They give cause for concern that the typical approach for Catholics nearing the end of life today presumes that the reception of the sacraments all but guarantees salvation—typically, little emphasis is placed on the need for regular self-examination, professions of faith, and overcoming common temptations against the love of God. Instead, the focus is on consoling the dying person and loved ones, not necessarily for the sake of overcoming fear of death to remove a barrier to salvation, but out of deference to social sensibilities. Based on these concerns, it seems we truly are in need of a modern-day Ars Moriendi. The medieval text makes clear that the reality of judgment after death and hope for the salvation of souls should take priority over everything else, including attempts to better navigate the complexities and limitations of medical management at the end of life.”

Love,
Matthew

Gender?

“Before retiring to bed on a Tuesday night in the Vatican, Saint John Paul II prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, meditating upon the following words from Saint Peter: “Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1

Long after others in the papal apartment were asleep, a noise awoke his secretary, Monsignor Stanisław Dziwisz, who left his room to investigate. His room was adjacent to the Holy Father’s, but he noticed that the sounds were not coming from the Pope’s room, but from his chapel. Although late-night prayer was not uncommon for John Paul, Dziwisz peered in to be certain that everything was all right.

The sight was typical: John Paul immersed in contemplation alone before the tabernacle. The Pope usually spoke to God with very simple words, and often prayed during adoration like Jesus did in Gethsemane, talking with his Father. 2 This night, Dziwisz noticed that John Paul indeed seemed troubled. The disturbance he overheard was the Pope speaking aloud to God, asking repeatedly, “Dlaczego? Dlaczego?” (“ Why? Why?”). Out of reverence, the monsignor backed away from the chapel and returned to his room for the night.

John Paul celebrated Mass the next morning, but was unusually reserved during breakfast afterward. The Pope’s typical jovial and engaging demeanor toward the sisters and guests was subdued. Instead of asking questions and conversing about an endless variety of topics, he was recollected and withdrawn. He ate no breakfast, and drank a cup of tea. 3

That afternoon would be an important one: During his Wednesday audience, John Paul was preparing to announce the establishment of two ministries in the Church that would address the problems facing families in the modern world. 4 One of these, the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, would become the main teaching arm of the Theology of the Body. 5

On his way to deliver his message, the Holy Father rode in the Popemobile across Saint Peter’s Square. As he was blessing children and greeting the crowds, gunshots from a Turkish assassin rang out. An ambulance rushed the Pope in his bloodstained cassock to the hospital, where he narrowly escaped death.

Had God given him a premonition of his suffering the night before? The answer to that question will likely remain a mystery known only to John Paul.

Was there a link between his suffering and his efforts to build up marriage and the family? This he affirmed, saying, “Perhaps there was a need for that blood to be spilled in Saint Peter’s Square.” 6 He added, “Precisely because the family is threatened, the family is being attacked. So the Pope must be attacked. The Pope must suffer, so that the world may see that there is a higher gospel, as it were, the gospel of suffering, by which the future is prepared, the third millennium of families. . . .” 7

…While camping at the World Youth Day vigil in Kraków, I spoke with a young woman who was preparing to enter her first year of college at a prestigious university in California. She pulled her phone out of her backpack and showed me where her online college application required her to check the appropriate box to indicate her gender.

There were eighteen boxes to choose from.

I read through the litany of genders, and noticed that two were missing: male and female. (Facebook— which invites its users to identify as one of more than fifty genders— at least offers them the possibility of choosing to be male or female.) The university application, however, did allow the incoming students to choose “cis-male” or “cis-female,” which means that the biological sex one was “assigned” at birth aligns with the gender one chooses for one’s identity.

While some seek to expand upon the number of genders and create a spectrum of options, the ultimate goal of gender theory is not diversity. After all, diversity requires objective differences. The goal is to erase the sexual difference, and thus to eliminate the meaning of the body.

Where is this coming from? The Second Vatican Council prophesied our culture’s sexual identity crisis by stating, “When God is forgotten . . . the creature itself grows unintelligible.” 8 Although the Theology of the Body was written before many of the modern ideas of gender theory became popular, it was ahead of its time in offering a clear answer for them— and for many other key issues about sexuality and the body.

What is the Theology of the Body?

The Theology of the Body is the popular title given to 135 reflections written by Saint John Paul II. As a cardinal in Poland, he (Karol Wojtyła) planned to publish them as a book titled Man and Woman He Created Them. 9 Before this could happen, he was elected pope, and instead delivered the content in 129 Wednesday Audiences during the first five years of his pontificate.

The thousands of vacationers and pilgrims who gathered to see the Holy Father at these audiences had no idea that the Pope’s biographer would later describe the Theology of the Body as a “theological time bomb set to go off, with dramatic consequences, sometime in the third millennium of the Church.” 10

What could be so explosive about a Polish bishop’s theological reflections on the body? To answer this, consider how the human body has been viewed throughout history. Thousands of years ago, Gnostics and Platonists believed that a person’s true self was different from his or her body. One Gnostic sect, the Manicheans, believed that man’s destiny was to set his spiritual essence free from the pollution of matter. Because the body was material, it was not only inferior, but evil. In fact, it was considered a sin for a woman to give birth because she was bringing more matter into existence! Centuries later, puritanism considered the body to be a threat to one’s soul. Meanwhile, the philosopher René Descartes proposed that the soul is like a ghost trapped in a machine.

All these views about the body have one element of truth in common: Our bodies and souls aren’t in harmony. However, the body is not unimportant compared to the soul. Nor is the body something we “have,” or something that encumbers our soul. We are our bodies, and our bodies reveal us. However, our current state is not the way God created us in the beginning. The discord that exists within man is the result of original sin. 11

While some individuals devalued the body and cared only for the soul, others fell into the opposite mistake. Atheists and materialist philosophers argued that the human person is nothing more than his or her body: There is no soul, and the body has no meaning.

Although these ideas might seem like debates reserved for philosophers and theologians, consider what happens when entire cultures accept these misguided notions of what it means to be human. If man has a body but no spiritual dimension, what distinguishes him from other animals? Why should he act differently or be treated differently? On the other hand, if a person’s true identity is found in his spirit alone, then man’s view of himself becomes uprooted from any objective reality. Truth would then be defined by a person’s feelings. As a result, masculinity and femininity would be viewed as social constructs, not realities created by God. But if masculinity and femininity don’t exist, then what becomes of marriage and the family?

Because there has been so much confusion about the meaning of the human body, John Paul set out to present a total vision of man that would include man’s origin, history, and destiny. Instead of arguing from the outside in, offering people a litany of rules, he invited them to seek the truth about reality by reflecting on their own human experience. The writings of Saint John of the Cross played a key role in shaping John Paul’s style of thinking. His philosophical studies on of Max Scheler and other phenomenologists further sharpened his ability to observe human experience. John Paul doesn’t begin by explaining what man ought to do, but by explaining who man is. In the Pope’s mind, people will know how to live if they know who they are.

It has been said that rules without a relationship creates rebellion. This is true with parents and children, and it’s especially true with the relationship between God and humanity. John Paul knew that laws don’t change hearts. When people view morality as a rigid list of imposed regulations, they might temporarily behave themselves out of guilt or fear, but they often abandon the faith. The Pope understood the futility of this approach, and knew that a fresh re-presentation of the Church’s teachings on sexual ethics was overdue.

What the modern world needed was not just a defense of the Church’s teachings, but rather an unveiling of God’s original plan for the beauty of human love. Culture needed something that wasn’t simply intellectually convincing or morally upright, but rather something that corresponded to the deepest yearnings of the human heart.

Unfortunately, many have grown deaf to these yearnings and hear only the urges of the body. But no matter how numb one might be to the deepest aspirations of the soul, everyone can relate to the ache of solitude, the experience of shame, and the desire for communion. In the Theology of the Body, John Paul explored these experiences and more, to reveal how God’s plan for humanity is stamped not only into our hearts, but also into our bodies.

When people discover the Theology of the Body, they often exclaim that they’ve never heard anything like it before. This is because many people learned about sexuality in a religious framework that focused only on what is forbidden and permitted. Others learned about it through the lens of modern sex education, which reduces one’s sexuality to biology and sensuality. This might count as “sex ed,” but it’s not a true education in human sexuality. 12

Properly speaking, “sex” is not something people do. Sex is who we are as male and female persons. The Theology of the Body reminds us of this broader meaning and offers compelling answers to questions such as: Who am I? What does it mean to be human? How should I live? It delves into delicate questions regarding marriage and sexual ethics, but does so while inviting people to rediscover the meaning of life. Through it, one realizes that modern man’s sexual confusion is not caused because the world glorifies sexuality, but because the world fails to see its glory.

For those who have disregarded the Church’s teaching on human sexuality because it seems out of touch with the modern world, the Theology of the Body offers a fresh perspective. Its insights are not pious reflections offered by a theologian who was isolated from the daily struggles of married life. On the contrary, they are the result of decades of personal interactions between a remarkable saint and the countless young adults and married couples that he accompanied through their vocations. These couples attest that although John Paul had a great ability to preach, he had an even greater ability to listen.

The Theology of the Body comes from the heart of a saint who listened intently not only to others but also to the God Who could provide meaning to their lives. He was no stranger to suffering, living under Nazi and Communist regimes and having lost his family by the age of twenty. While such trials might lead some to abandon their faith, John Paul’s was forged by them, as he sought answers to the deepest questions about life’s meaning.

John Paul also possessed a staggering intellect, and according to his secretary, spent three hours each day reading. 13 Although he was dedicated to the intellectual life, John Paul’s prayer life took priority. His colleagues attest that he seemed to be continually absorbed in prayer, as can be seen from the fact that he considered the busy Paris Metro to be “a superb place for contemplation.” 14

His greatest devotion, however, was to the Blessed Sacrament. He never omitted his Holy Hour on Thursdays, even while traveling internationally. If the organizers of his trips didn’t make room for it in his schedule, he would make time and simply arrive an hour late to their program. When his assistants attempted to convince him to decrease the amount of time spent in this devotion, he refused, saying, “No, it keeps me.” 15 He knew that apostolic mission derives its strength from life in God. 16 It is from this man’s heart, mind, and soul that the Church has been given a tremendous gift: the Theology of the Body.

Structure

The Theology of the Body is comprised of two parts. The first focuses on three passages from Scripture, or “words” of Christ. In it, John Paul examined the dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees regarding marriage and divorce. 17 Then he reflects upon the words of Christ from the Sermon on the Mount, in particular those concerning committing adultery in one’s heart. 18 Finally, he turns to Christ’s words regarding the resurrection of the body. 19 By means of these reflections, he explains the redemption of the body. If fact, in his final catechesis, he describes the content of the whole work as “the redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage.” 20

The Theology of the Body is thoroughly biblical— as can be seen by the fact that the Pope draws from forty-six books and more than a thousand Scripture citations. However, among all of the passages he quotes, the three mentioned above are his focus. He compares them to the panels of a triptych, which is a work of sacred art consisting of three panels, or parts. When the three images are displayed together, they present a fuller understanding of a topic of theology (in this case, the human person).

The three parts of John Paul’s triptych are original, historical, and eschatological man. Original man is who God created man to be in the beginning, before the dawn of sin. Historical man refers to the current state of humanity, burdened by original sin but redeemed by Christ. “Eschatological” has its roots in the Greek word for “end,” eschaton, and refers to the glorified state of man in heaven. Together, these three epochs of human history form what John Paul called an “adequate anthropology”— an understanding of what it means to be a human person.

In the first part of the Theology of the Body, John Paul used the above three “words” of Christ to explain man’s call to live out “the spousal meaning of the body.” This phrase is the heart of the Theology of the Body. It means that the human body has “the power to express love: precisely that love in which the human person becomes a gift and— through this gift— fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence.” 21 (This gift of self can be expressed not only through marriage, but also through celibacy for the kingdom of God.)

In the second part of the Theology of the Body, the Pope analyzed “The Sacrament” which is the “great sign” of Christ’s love for the Church and the love between a husband and wife. He explained what the gift of self means in terms of the “language of the body,” and how men and women are called to live it out, especially as it relates to building their families.”

-Evert, Jason (2017-12-06). Theology of the Body In One Hour (Kindle Locations 63-102, 109-239). Totus Tuus Press. Kindle Edition.

Love, His will is perfect,
Matthew

1 Peter 5: 8.
2 Mieczysław Mokrzycki, World Youth Day Press Conference, Krakow, Poland, July 27, 2016.
3 Interview with Father Andrew Swietochowski, July 31, 2017.
4 The Pontifical Council for the Family and the International Institute of Studies on Marriage and Family.
5 Diane Montagna, “Online Exclusive: What John Paul II Intended to Say the Day He Was Shot,” Aleteia, May 7, 2016.
6 Pope John Paul II, Memory and Identity (New York: Rizzoli, 2005), 164.
7 Pope John Paul II, Angelus message, May 29, 1994.
8 Gaudium et Spes, 36.
9 Other proposed titles included “Human Love in the Divine Plan” or “The Redemption of the Body and the Sacramentality of Marriage.”
10 George Weigel, Witness to Hope (New York: Harper, 2001), 343.
11 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2516 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994).
12 Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio 11 (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1981).
13 Mokrzycki, World Youth Day Press Conference.
14 George Weigel, City of Saints (New York: Image, 2015), 232.
15 Mokrzycki, World Youth Day Press Conference.
16 Pope John Paul II, Master in the Faith 2, Rome: December 14, 1990.
17 Matt. 19: 8; Mark 10: 6– 9.
18 Matt. 5: 28.
19 Matt. 22: 30; Mark 12: 25; Luke
20: 35– 36. 20 TOB 133: 2.
21 Theology of the Body 15: 1; 32: 1, 3.

Christian Love & Kindness

“Love is the heart and soul of religion. God is love, and every kind deed is a step toward God. Life is a school in which you acquire knowledge regarding the means of making your life and the lives of your fellowmen happy. That education is founded on love. You cannot live without love, any more than a flower can bloom without sunshine.

There is no power in the world so great as that of love which never loses its strength, never knows its age, and always renews it­self. Filial love, fraternal love, conjugal love, patriotism: all are the offshoots of the divine love, rooted in the heart of Jesus, which broke in death so that it might bring love to the world.

Love seeks to assert itself by deeds. Love, a very real force, is not content with fair words. The effect of love is an eagerness to be up and doing, to heal, to serve, to give, to shelter, and to console. A love that remains inactive, a force that is asleep, is a dying love. If you do not wish to cease to love, you must never cease to do good.

Because a kind thought inspires a kind deed, it is a real blessing. A kind word spoken or a harsh word withheld has spelled happiness for many a burdened soul. To have acquired the ability not to think and speak uncharitably of others is a great achievement. The habit of interpreting the conduct of others favorably is one of the finer qualities of charity, but the highest charity is evidenced by doing good to others. Greater than a kind thought, more refreshing than a kind word, is the union of thought and word in action. St. Augustine says, “We are what our works are. According as our works are good or bad, we are good or bad; for we are the trees, and our works the fruit. It is by the fruit that one judges of the quality of the tree.”

The highest perfection of charity consists in laying down one’s life for another, just as Christ offered His life as a sacrifice for mankind.

The Savior once said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven.” And the heavenly Father expressed His will in the great commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God. . . . Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Our Lord wants your life to be love in action, even as His was, for He said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” St. Peter summarizes His life in the words: “He went about doing good.”

St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus said, “It is not enough that I should give to whosoever may ask of me; I must forestall their desires and show that I feel much gratified, much honored, in rendering service; and if they take a thing that I use, I must seem as though glad to be relieved of it…. To let our thoughts dwell upon self renders the soul sterile; we must quickly turn to labors of love.”

Love is the heart and soul of kind deeds. Just as there is no charity without works, so there may be works of charity without love. St. Paul expressed it this way: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

Some people use charity as an effective cloak to hide their human weaknesses. Cowardice, for instance, is being afraid of what people will say. Some people will do a certain amount of good out of sheer cowardice, while in the meantime their avarice covers it­self with the cloak of charity.

Self-interest, greed, and vanity also borrow the cloak of charity. Since charitable works draw popular attention, they are bound to prove an excellent advertisement. If a man’s past hinders his social success, he hastens to put on the cloak of charity which literally “covers a multitude of sins.”

Pride and the love of power sometimes put on the cloak of charity, for it gives a man a noble appearance. The demon of pride once was willing to give all his possessions to Christ if, falling down, He would adore him.

Others take up the practice of charity as a kind of sport. They look for the exhilarating feeling of having done a good deed. Later there will be material for selfish conversation.

God is not content with the cloak of charity, or mere kind deeds. He looks for genuine goodness and love. The day will come when He will take away the borrowed cloak of kindness.

God does not so much desire that we should cooperate with Him in His works of mercy as that we should participate in His sincere and ever-active love. His law of social duty is not “Thou shalt give to thy neighbor,” but “Thou shalt love thy neighbor.””

Love,
Matthew

Mercy?

FROM A SERMON BY SAINT CAESARIUS OF ARLES (470-542 AD), BISHOP
(SERMO 25M I: CCL 103, 111-112)

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
(Matthew 5:7)

“My brothers and sisters, sweet is the thought of mercy, but even more so is mercy itself. It is what all men hope for, but unfortunately, not what all men deserve. For while all men wish to receive it, only a few are willing to give it.

How can a man ask for himself what he refuses to give to another? If he expects to receive any mercy in heaven, he should give mercy on earth. Do we all desire to receive mercy? Let us make mercy our patroness now, and she will free us in the world to come. Yes, there is mercy in heaven, but the road to it is paved by our merciful acts on earth. As Scripture says: Lord, your mercy is in heaven [cf Psalm 36:6].

There is, therefore, an earthly as well as heavenly mercy, that is to say, a human and a divine mercy. Human mercy has compassion on the miseries of the poor. Divine mercy grants forgiveness of sins. Whatever human mercy bestows here on earth, divine mercy will return to us in our homeland. In this life, God feels cold and hunger in all who are stricken with poverty; for, remember, he once said: What you have done to the least of my brothers you have done to me [cf Matthew 25:40]. Yes, God Who sees fit to give His mercy in heaven wishes it to be a reality here on earth.

What kind of people are we? When God gives, we wish to receive, but when He begs, we refuse to give. Remember, it was Christ who said: I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat [Matthew 25:42]. When the poor are starving, Christ too hungers. Do not neglect to improve the unhappy conditions of the poor, if you wish to ensure that your own sins be forgiven you. Christ hungers now, my brethren; it is He Who deigns to hunger and thirst in the persons of the poor. And what He will return in heaven tomorrow is what He receives here on earth today.

What do you wish for, what do you pray for, my dear brothers and sisters, when you come to church? Is it mercy? How can it be anything else? Show mercy, then, while you are on earth, and mercy will be shown to you in heaven. A poor person asks you for something; you ask God for something. He begs for a morsel of food; you beg for eternal life. Give to the beggar so that you may merit to receive from Christ. For He it is Who says: Give and it will be given to you [cf Luke 6:38]. It baffles me that you have the impudence to ask for what you do not want to give. Give when you come to church. Give to the poor. Give them whatever your resources will allow.”

“For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” -Mk 7:2

Love, begging for His mercy,
Matthew

Catholic Church: eating w/sinners & tax collectors – the difficult way of mercy, part 3 of 3


Marriage at Cana, by Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen, oil on panel (66 × 84 cm) — c. 1530, Museum Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam


-by Dr. Randall B. Smith, is a Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston where he holds the Scanlan Foundation Endowed Chair in Theology. His book “Reading the Sermons of Thomas Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide” was published in late October 2016 by Emmaus Academic. Born and raised near Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Dr. Randall Smith also lived in Philadelphia and Chicago before attending college in Mount Vernon, Iowa, graduating with a BA in Chemistry from Cornell College. During his time at Cornell, he converted to Catholicism, and after college, went off to study his new-found Catholic faith. He subsequently earned a Master’s degree in theology from the University of Dallas and then completed a Master’s degree and doctorate at the University of Notre Dame.

“…People will fault me for writing a long article….and, I’ve never written anything that I didn’t look at in print and wish I had said something differently. Nor have I written anything, no matter how faithful to official Catholic teaching, that didn’t bring me excoriation in the “comments” section as a fool, a scoundrel, or worse…

…At the present moment, however, I’m more concerned with what culturally “conservative” Catholics will say and do, largely because I am one. It’s easy enough to vilify the other side; but are we willing to turn that critical eye around on ourselves? Are faithful Catholics willing to interpret this apostolic exhortation charitably and in accord with the document’s overall intention? Will we be willing, then, to do the hard work it challenges us to do?

Will bishops, for example, strive to do a better job and expend more resources on Pre-Cana programs and tribunals? (Ed. INSTEAD OF REAL ESTATE? ARE YOU SURE the Catholic Church is NOT in the real estate business? Really? Can you hear the non-Catholics laughing? I do. I always do.) Or will pre-Cana continue to be the notoriously bad, pro-forma exercises many Catholics have come to know and dread? I know someone who says—only somewhat tongue-in-cheek—that if 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, then 50 percent of the people sitting in Pre-Cana probably shouldn’t be getting married. I’m not saying I agree with those numbers, but the serious point behind the comment is that, if so many marriages are failing, the kind of two-day quickie marriage preparation we’re currently asking couples to participate in clearly isn’t doing the job.

Are bishops going to undertake the hard steps needed to help couples considering marriage avoid a spiritually and emotionally devastating set of mistakes? Good ones have. Or will they continue to take the easy route of simply passing along the problem to their understaffed marriage tribunals for them to take the heat, and to their priests in the local parishes to figure out how to deal with the “irregularities” caused by these bad marriages?

…We are called upon to live as members of Christ’s Body, seeking more fully to make ourselves into the image and likeness of God. And if, as St. Thomas says, mercy is God’s primary act, then we must go out of ourselves to extend mercy. How we do that in various situations will take wisdom—the sort of wisdom we don’t characteristically develop in a society of autonomous individuals.

And it precisely because we have allowed ourselves to become a society of autonomous individuals that we depend more and more upon the law to bring order in society rather than building fellowship and community from the ground up, by serving as a leaven in society through the exercise of the virtues, both intellectual and moral; through countless conversations with others with whom we disagree; and by living the Gospel message fully and truly so that our light will shine before men. When the Gospel is a matter only of words and rules, it has no power to transform. Or at least that’s what St. Paul thought.

Is no one else concerned about Paul’s warnings about the law: about its tendency to tear down and destroy, and about its failure to bring life? Is no one else concerned about Christ’s harsh condemnations of the self-righteous and complacent scholars of the law?

In these endless conversations about the precise interpretation of the canons and who should or should not be received at Christ’s table, I’ve heard comparatively little about how we can find ways of talking to our fellow Catholics, of calling each other to account for our failures while still maintaining a spirit of charity.

Does no one else hear the warning echoing repeatedly in their ears: “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to carry, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them”?”

Love, really, and His mercy,
Matthew

Catholic Church: eating w/sinners & tax collectors – the difficult way of mercy, part 2 of 3

-please click on the image for greater detail


-by Dr. Randall B. Smith, is a Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston where he holds the Scanlan Foundation Endowed Chair in Theology. His book “Reading the Sermons of Thomas Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide” was published in late October 2016 by Emmaus Academic. Born and raised near Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Dr. Randall Smith also lived in Philadelphia and Chicago before attending college in Mount Vernon, Iowa, graduating with a BA in Chemistry from Cornell College. During his time at Cornell, he converted to Catholicism, and after college, went off to study his new-found Catholic faith. He subsequently earned a Master’s degree in theology from the University of Dallas and then completed a Master’s degree and doctorate at the University of Notre Dame.

“…Christ never said that ours would be an easy task. He illustrated this truth by suffering and dying on a cross for our sins. What if the author of our imagined apostolic exhortation were to insist that mercy, as Thomas Aquinas says, is the property that “befits God to the highest extent because His merciful deeds are over all His works, and He saved us not on the basis of works of justice that we have done, but according to His mercy”? What if he reminded us that mercy is hard both going out and coming back?

The way of repentance is hard, but so is the way of mercy, and this for two reasons. First, because acting with mercy is to be most like God and is thus most contrary to our natural sinfulness. And second, because the moment when we force ourselves to the hard business of embracing others in mercy is when we often have to be most honest with ourselves about our own sinfulness. We need God, and we need others. If we don’t show them we’re willing to sacrifice for them, to help them carry that cross, then what motivation will they have to pick theirs back up after falling and move forward?

Catholics believe that we are born in original sin, and that it is only by God’s grace that we can become free, by what is often a slow process of moral development over time. Step by painful step, gradually, God has led us, often carried us, if we have made any progress at all. And He has often led us and carried us by means of the blessed people He sent into our lives, people who patiently put up with all our selfish foolishness until, bit by bit, we turned toward God, began to crawl, then take a few stumbling steps, and then walk.”

Love, really, and His mercy,
Matthew

Catholic Church: eating w/sinners & tax collectors – the difficult way of mercy, part 1 of 3


-Jesus summons Matthew to leave the tax office, by Jan Sanders van Hemessen, 1536, Alte Pinakothek, Munich

In the rapping lyrics of will.i.am, “Where is the LOVE (more than just a word), y’all?” As a fellow sinner & tax collector, I just wonder if fifty years, or thereabouts, of enduring worse sinners and tax collectors is a limit? I feel like the words to the country song, I need to go find a “better class of losers”? Some with more love would be nice; which, and I am not alone, hardly, I have only occasionally seen in fifty-one years. Inspiring, though only occasionally. Sure they’re hippies, but I’ll trade. Is being Catholic itself a penance? Surely, St Therese of Lisieux would say “YES!” Very likely, it is also highly redemptive and sanctifying to remain Catholic, in an extreme way. Suffering is redemptive in Catholic theology, even, almost certainly when, inflicted by stupid Galatians, especially. I wonder. I’m sure; out loud.


-by Dr. Randall B. Smith, is a Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston where he holds the Scanlan Foundation Endowed Chair in Theology. His book “Reading the Sermons of Thomas Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide” was published in late October 2016 by Emmaus Academic. Born and raised near Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Dr. Randall Smith also lived in Philadelphia and Chicago before attending college in Mount Vernon, Iowa, graduating with a BA in Chemistry from Cornell College. During his time at Cornell, he converted to Catholicism, and after college, went off to study his new-found Catholic faith. He subsequently earned a Master’s degree in theology from the University of Dallas and then completed a Master’s degree and doctorate at the University of Notre Dame.

“…Christ sat down to eat with tax collectors and other sinners as a way of opening up a conversation with them. It didn’t always work: some repented and reformed; others hardened their hearts. But He went out into the world to call sinners back. And we killed Him for it.

What would happen if a pastor’s first words to a transgender person were: “The Catholic Church demands you stop this foolishness, get yourself to a surgeon, have him change you back, and start acting like a real man”? I can tell you what would have happened if the first words I heard from a Catholic priest had been: “You know, if you keep going on the way you are, you’re going to hell.” He would have been right, but I wouldn’t have gone back to the Catholic Church.

Priests who start out with the bad news rather than the Good News usually aren’t going to see that person again. Embracing the faith will often require us to make some serious changes, perhaps even to make what we may see as real sacrifices. Who among us isn’t in need of real change and reformation? The question a pastor must ask is how he can get the person in front of him up to that point where he or she is willing to entertain the possibility of change.

So what are we to say to the transgendered? How about those with same-sex sexual attractions? What state must they have attained, what actions should we insist they undertake, to show they are worthy of (a) entering the Church, (b) participating in the life of the Church, or (c) partaking in any of the sacraments (including confession)? Must those with “gender dysphoria” agree to psychological treatment before coming to confession so they can promise honestly that they will be able to make good efforts not to cross-dress anymore? The Catholic Church has never demanded this. How about those with same-sex sexual attractions? How much chastity must they be able to document before entering the confessional or receive anointing of the sick?

Question: Were you with me on the apostolic letter condemning “transgenderism” right up until the point where I started talking about reaching out in mercy? At that point did you start drawing back and asking yourself: “What’s going on here? He was lying when he said he was opposed to transgenderism. The moral condemnation I understand; this squishy ‘reaching out in mercy’ stuff is what has gotten us into trouble.” Has it? Or has the problem been that we’ve allowed ourselves to become a Church with only two gears: moral condemnation and moral approbation?

Is there some third way, we might wonder, between hosting drag parties and “coming out” events on Catholic college campuses and simply turning away cross-dressers and transgender persons from the church door? Is it possible to invite transgender persons into the activities of the Church without necessarily making them Eucharistic ministers day one? If we take seriously the demands of the Gospel to be Christ for others, there simply has to be.”

Love, really,
Matthew

Mercy & laughter?

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” -Is 55:8-9


-by Br Hyacinth Grubb, OP

“How does the world react to true mercy? Sometimes it laughs.

I recently saw the film Silence, (spoiler alert) about two Jesuit missionaries in Japan during a time of terrible persecution, and it features one particularly striking character named Kichijiro. He was a Japanese Christian who, when the persecutions came, abandoned his faith and watched his wife and daughters be martyred. Years later, under the guidance of the missionaries, he begs forgiveness in an emotional scene. He seeks the sacrament of confession, he is absolved and forgiven, and he promises to reform his life.

Yet Kichijiro’s story isn’t over. When the persecution returns he apostatizes again, abandoning God and his fellow Christians. What’s worse, he turns around and betrays the missionaries for 300 silver pieces, 10 times what Judas received. With time he is consumed with sorrow for his sin, and again seeks confession from the now imprisoned priest, Fr. Rodrigues. Being a priest, Fr. Rodrigues shows him the mercy of Christ which holds no grudges. Yet at the first threat Kichijiro apostatizes again. And again he repents, again he seeks mercy, again he apostatizes.

Four times he abandons God, four times he sorrows for his sin, and four times he receives mercy in confession. Four times! This drama only ends when the Jesuit missionary himself apostasizes. The priest, in a further act of betrayal to God and to Kichijiro, refuses to hear his confession and denies Kichijiro’s plea for mercy.

Kichijiro is a pitiful character. He is cowardly, unreliable, and unfaithful; a failure as a man, and a failure as a Christian. Above all else, he is one who needs mercy.

Mercy is a response to misery and that misery is very real and very wretched. Mercy is not for the righteous, but for sinners (Lk 5:32). It is given not only once, or only four times, but “seventy times seven times” (Matt. 18:22). Mercy has no conditions, and it never changes; it is recklessly generous. It is not an exchange for reformed behavior, and it is not withdrawn when the promise of reform is broken. Mercy is messy; after all we are washed in the blood of the Lamb, not in spring water! We see all of this each time Kichijiro is absolved, and it is beautiful.

As I sat in the movie theater and watched Kichijiro fall and be raised and fall again, do you know what I heard? I heard the audience around me laugh. Each time Kichijiro came with contrition to receive mercy they laughed louder. Did they find it funny, or absurd? Were they unable to see the difference between weakness and hypocrisy? Or was it nervous laughter to relieve the intensity of a film they didn’t understand? I’m not sure exactly what motivated their amusement, but what is certain is that when faced with a depiction of mercy given freely again and again, there was mockery.

Worldly men and women do not understand mercy. They do not recognize what they thirst for, and so they laugh, because to them it seems senseless and incoherent. Pope Benedict XVI once gave a homily in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in which he compared the Catholic Church to the building’s stained glass windows. You can only see their radiant beauty and the rich colors from the inside with the light shining upon you. From the outside they appear to be cold and dreary, lifeless. Mercy is the same way. Its beauty and appeal are only apparent to those open to it. You can only understand the mercy of God if you’ve experienced it, either from Him directly or in the actions of faithful Christians. (This is why the works of mercy are so important for evangelization).

Without a knowledge of Christ, without at least an indirect knowledge seen reflected in the lives of Christians, worldly men and women will be mistaken about mercy. They will call profoundly un-merciful acts merciful: acts such as ending a suffering life, refusing the life of a child with a disability, encouraging men and women in their harmful fantasies, and even hating Love Himself in apostasy. And at the same time they will call merciful acts irrational: such as forgiving with reckless generosity, loving the worst of enemies, and bearing great wrongs silently and patiently. Worse, they will even call merciful acts harsh and rigorous: such as refusing to aid in sin, admonishing the sinner, cherishing and protecting the marriage bond, and preaching the hard but beautifully necessary truths.

Our role within this drama and this conflict between the world’s false idea of mercy and God’s true mercy is simple: cling to God. It is easy to accept the world’s ideas. It is easy to listen to the lies shouted at us day in and day out. Cling to God. Withdraw from the world and stay with Jesus. Stand alone with mercy incarnate, and mercy will reveal Himself to you, for He has said, “as the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you; abide in My love” (John 15:9).”

Love, & always in desperate need of His mercy,
Matthew