Category Archives: Spiritual

Mercy given, mercy received


-Lecrae (left) and Akon (right) at the 2013 Billboard Music Awards




-by Fr. Joseph Gill

Lecrae Moore grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. Single mom, drug abuse, the gangsta lifestyle – the whole nine yards. He was headed down a path to nowhere when two unexpected doses of mercy brought him a whole new life.

He had just been arrested for dealing drugs and was sitting in the back of a police car, waiting to be hauled off to jail, while the officer was searching his car for more drugs. After a minute, the officer came back, holding a Bible. The officer asked why the Bible was in this drug dealer’s car.

Lecrae admitted that it was just a good-luck charm that he got from his devout grandmother, and said, “Yeah, I need to start living by it.”

The office responded, “If you promise me you will start reading your Bible and start living it, I’ll let you go.”

Lecrae was stunned – he quickly agreed, and the officer let him go.

But change didn’t happen all of a sudden. He still struggled with his own wounds and addictions and sins. He was reading his Bible, but then would go out and party and deal drugs and hook up with women. It took one more act of mercy to change his heart…

He happened to be invited by a friend to go to a Christian retreat, where God’s grace touched his heart. From the depths of his soul, he prayed, “God, if You are real, get me out of this [sinful lifestyle] – do whatever You need to do, but don’t kill me.” A short while later, he was driving down the highway and lost control of his car, which flipped and got totally destroyed. He was wearing no seatbelt, but somehow emerged from that wreck completely unscathed. This was the (rather abrupt!) answer to his prayer, and he completely changed his life and gave it fully to Christ. Two acts of mercy – one from the police officer, and one directly from God – made him one of the best Christian rap artists in the world: multi-platinum, Grammy-winning, a powerful force for Christ.

Aquinas defined “justice” as giving to each one what we owe them. But mercy can be defined as giving someone what we do not owe them. A second chance, forgiveness with no strings attached, an undeserved kindness, a surprise gift. We are not owed these things – but they are small mercies that can change the entire trajectory of a life.

In fact, mercy can change the entire trajectory of the world. Ever since Genesis, the world needed a re-start, a do-over. And the Resurrection is that re-start. Notice what John says – “On the first day of the week…” What happened on the first day of the week? Creation began. Now on this “first day”, we see a New Creation. No longer do we see a mortal man in Adam, now we see an immortal and glorified Man in Jesus. When He encounters His disciples, how does He greet them? “Peace” – in Hebrew, “Shalom”. Shalom means far more than just peace – it means wholeness, completeness, right order. After all the disorder that we introduced into the world through sin, on Easter Sunday Christ comes to put it back in order, to undo the chaos, sin, and death. Act 1 of human history, an act written as a tragedy, is over. Act 2 has now begun, an act written by mercy.

Mercy is what allows us to participate in Act 2. Mercy doesn’t mean that our sins don’t matter; it means that our sins matter, and they are forgiven. I have found, as a priest, that people have one of two reactions when I talk about sin and mercy. Some people think their sins are too big, too horrible to be forgiven, and they fear approaching Jesus out of shame. Other people think they don’t sin at all – they say they are “pretty good people”. But both are errors to avoid. As Jesus revealed to St. Faustina, “The greater the sinner, the greater the right they have to My Mercy” – we put limits on God’s power if we don’t believe He can forgive our sins!

At the same time, St. John writes, “If we say we are without sin, we are a liar” for “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.” In fact, it says in Scripture that “the righteous man sins seven times a day.” And that’s a good man! Sin isn’t just the breaking of a rule, but falling-short of the standard of living like Christ. And none of us live like Him perfectly. We’re not as holy as we should be. So mercy is for all of us – people with huge sins, and people with daily faults who strive to be more like Jesus. That is why all of us should go to Confession, monthly if you can. Don’t wait until next Lent!

But to accept the mercy of God requires two things. First, once we have become a new creation through His mercy, we must live like we are a new creation. Mercy is not a license to sin. Sometimes we think, “Oh, I’ll commit this sin, and I’ll just go to Confession on Saturday.” My friends, that is the sin of presumption – presuming that God will give you the grace of forgiveness. No, if we wish to have mercy, we must “go and sin no more,” as Our Lord told the adulterous woman.

Second, we must extend that mercy to others. In the famous book Les Miserables, the homeless ex-criminal Jean Valjean was given lodging at the home of a bishop. He repaid such a kindness by stealing the bishop’s silverware. When police caught him, the bishop pretends that he gave him the silverware, and tells him to take the silver candlesticks he “forgot”. Moved by such an undeserved mercy, Jean Valjean becomes an honest man and uses his life to help others.

God wants mercy to come to others through us. Notice that in the Gospels He gives His Apostles (the first bishops) the power to forgive sins. He could have made it so that we pray to God directly for forgiveness, but He wants mercy to flow through human beings. That is true, not only in Confession, but also in the daily mercy that we show to others. We hold our tongue and don’t criticize our spouse for their small faults; we don’t get back at our siblings who offended us; we assume the best of others, even if they don’t deserve it. A great way to give mercy is to perform the “Works of Mercy” – feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and the like. Daily we have the opportunity to show mercy to those around us.

How many times have we received mercies undeserved? Too many to count – especially the confidence that all our sins are forgiven, every time we walk out of the Confessional. Mercy has turned the page, and given us a second chance. We have received it – now we must give it.”

Love, Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner,
Matthew

Works of Mercy – visit the sick, comfort the afflicted


-“The Seven Works of Mercy” by Caravaggio, 1606/07, oil on canvas, 390 cm × 260 cm (150 in × 100 in), Pio Monte della Misericordia, Naples, Italy. Bury the dead: In the background, two men carry a dead man (of whom only the feet are visible). Visit the imprisoned, and feed the hungry: On the right, a woman visits an imprisoned deputy and gives him milk from her breast. This image alludes to the classical story of Roman Charity. Shelter the homeless: A pilgrim (third from left, as identified by the shell in his hat) asks an innkeeper (at far left) for shelter. Clothe the naked: St. Martin of Tours, fourth from the left, has torn his robe in half and given it to the naked beggar in the foreground, recalling the saint’s popular legend. Visit the sick: St. Martin greets and comforts the beggar who is a cripple. Refresh the thirsty: Samson (second from the left) drinks water from the jawbone of an ass.  American art historian John Spike notes that the angel at the center of Caravaggio’s altarpiece transmits the grace that inspires humanity to be merciful.  Please click on the image for greater detail.

-by Nicene Guy

“When we hear of “the sick,” we probably think immediately of those who are in the care of hospitals or hospices. Perhaps we think of our own families while they suffer through cold and flu season, or allergy season. This is, of course, sickness in the conventional sense of the word, and those who suffer it need our assistance and our care.

The elderly infirm also fall into this category, and so visitations to the nursing home also are a way of fulfilling this work of mercy. Since loneliness is often rampant in nursing homes and retirement centers, the elderly in particular often appreciate visitors.

Saint Thomas Aquinas notes that the sick include both the elderly infirm and those who are permanently disabled:

“The purpose of giving alms is to relieve our neighbor’s need. Now there are many needs of human life other than those mentioned above, for instance, a blind man needs a leader, a lame man needs someone to lean on…

All other needs are reduced to these, for blindness and lameness are kinds of sickness, so that to lead the blind, and to support the lame, come to the same as visiting the sick. On like manner to assist a man against any distress that is due to an extrinsic cause comes to the same as the ransom of captives. And the wealth with which we relieve the poor is sought merely for the purpose of relieving the aforesaid needs [hunger, thirst, clothing, shelter]: hence there was no reason for special mention of this particular need” (ST II-II.Q32.A2. Obj2 and Reply).

Thus, “the sick” is a broad term. It encompasses those who are injured; those who are physically ill (whether temporary, chronic, or acute); those who are elderly infirm; those who are disabled (blind, maimed, lame, paralyzed); those who are mentally ill; and those who are ill from addiction (through substance abuse, for example).

Visiting the sick can be a simple act of kindness, such as sending a “get-well soon” sympathy card; or helping a blind man to cross a busy intersection safely. It can be a little more involved still, as when we prepare a meal or care for the children or property (e.g. pets) for somebody who is near-bedridden (if only temporarily) with sickness. This work can be even more involved to the point of feeling like it is all we are able to do, as any parent who has stayed up all night with throwing-up sick children will attest. And it gets even harder, as anyone who has suffered through the last days of a loved one’s cancer or other slowly fatal illness can attest.

I should add another thing here before considering the spiritual work of mercy which complements visiting the sick. Illnesses have always been around, but they haven’t always been this safe. “The sick” also included lepers, which were not merely ill but fatally so; and the disease was a scary one so that lepers were often banned from inhabited areas [1]. Yet, Saint Francis of Assisi ministered to one such leper despite his great fears of the disease, and Saint Damien Molokai eventually died from leprosy which he contracted ministering to a leper colony on the Hawaiian island whose name he bears. There were many instances of Catholic orders setting up hospitals that eventually would care for victims of the plagues (and in particular the Black Death). And Catholic priests and sisters and laypersons have been chaplains, nurses, and doctors to the soldiers in the various wars throughout history, often risking their lives to minister to the wounded (or even to the fearful fit before a battle).

We may not all be called to take such risks in mercy, though of course, we can read in the Bible that “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). We may not have to fear leprosy or the bubonic plague (for now), but there are other diseases of both mind and body. AIDS is somewhat prevalent in America, but it is a pandemic in Africa, with as many as one in three people being infected in some countries. It may not be contagious in the way that the plague or leprosy was, but there is always some small risk of coming into contact with infected fluid.

Nearer to home, there is a different sort of sickness which we might confront. I would call it mental illness, but that is not quite accurate: call it mental imbalance, especially as caused by substance abuse. There are some men whose drug-addled brains leave them unpredictable at best, dangerous at worst. Yet these, too, are “sick,” these too need to be visited, though their visitations may take the form of counseling or admonishing as well as merely visiting and comforting.

Still, to comfort is the first purpose of visiting the sick, and any aide offered to the sick is surely meant in part to do that. This then is the spiritual complement to visiting the sick: comforting the afflicted. This work of mercy is often also referred to as consoling the sorrowful and occasionally as succoring the suffering. It perhaps most directly describes what we intend to do when visiting the sick (in the literal sense of visiting a person who is physically ill).

Or, to return to a previous example, it is even more so what we do for the family of the terminally ill and the surviving next of kin to the recently departed. Anyone who has suffered through the last days of a dying relative knows second-hand the suffering of the relative, but first-hand their own suffering through sympathy and a sense of loss. The person who comes to visit the sick might also do as much to relieve their suffering as to relieve the dying person’s, if the visit is done in a spirit of charity and goodwill. The same might be said of those who engage in the corporal work of burying the dead, as their honoring of the memory of the departed might also offer comfort to the living folks dear to him.

The afflicted, the sorrowing, the grieving, the miserable: these words all pertain to an interior state more than an exterior one. Certainly, some of these states may be confused with depression, whether from a chemical imbalance (which would make it a more physical sickness) or a metaphysical state. There are correspondingly some forms of affliction which we might attempt to comfort, and some which are left to the “professionals,” by which I mean the ordained priests. I can help alleviate the physical or mental suffering of a friend or family member of spending time with him, or by kind works or kind deeds, or by a thoughtful gift or even a warm embrace.

However, some kinds of affliction are metaphysical, spiritual. We see these everyday, and are to some extent powerless against them. We can offer consolation and comfort, but some afflictions can be removed only by exorcism. This is a job for a trained priest, lest we bring the afflicting spirit upon our own heads. These kinds of affliction fall under a different work of mercy.

In the meantime, comforting the afflicted involves any true act (or words) of true kindness. Unfortunately, all-too-many people mistake comforting the afflicted with enabling the affliction. The man addicted to drugs who suffers withdrawal pains does not need to be given more drugs, but rather needs counseling and rehabilitation. Similarly, many people today are “afflicted” by their sins, and their perceived wronging at the hands of society over those sins. This is true of any addictive sin or sinful temptation, whether drug addiction, kleptomania, viewing pornography, eating disorders (bulimia, anorexia, etc.), gossip [2], or any of a variety of sexual temptations and disorders, etc.

All too often the response is to excuse the sin as being the natural satisfaction of a very real (and often physical/physiological) temptation. It is always easier to say, “You were born this way, and there is nothing wrong (disordered) about that temptation or acting upon it” than it is to recognize that to varying extents and degrees we are all born into sin. We all suffer the curse of Adam, the concupiscence of our parents; to some extent, we all live in the double darkness of sin and ignorance, and we all struggle with some particular sin or set of sins. We are all afflicted in this way.

It is no comfort to pretend that a sin is not a sin for the sake of gaining physical or psychological satisfaction. It may appear to be comforting the afflicted, and may appear to be treating the “physical symptoms” of the affliction; so would be giving drugs to an addict in withdrawal pains. Doing this may alleviate the physical pains and craving for a time, but in the meantime, it places the soul more firmly in the grasp of that temptation, so that the afflictions will return with a vengeance. It trades physical comfort for spiritual affliction. “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and to lose his soul?” (Mark 8:36).

There is another kind of affliction that is spiritual, and which is of the opposite sort than this. If our society inflicts spiritual afflictions in the name of physical comforts and consolation, our consciences might at times inflict spiritual agony in greater proportion than our sins warrant. C.S. Lewis puts this idea into his children’s stories, in particular during an exchange between two characters in his Prince Caspian. Near the end of that book (spoiler!), the title character is crowned King of Narnia, and holds a brief dialogue with Aslan (Narnia’s manifestation of Christ). Aslan explains to Caspian that he is descended from pirates who had blundered into the world of Narnia, eliciting a disappointed remark from Caspian about wishing that he had descended from “more honorable lineage,” to which Aslan responds:

“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve..that is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”

We have a tendency to beat ourselves up over little things, which can then at times cause us to lose focus on the bigger things. Scrupulosity over small sins can lead us to miss bigger ones, which is nearly as great a spiritual danger to us as listening to the world when it tells us to ignore our sins entirely.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:23-24).

The problem of the Pharisees, as Jesus explains earlier in the same chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, is that they had failed to comfort the afflicted, and had indeed added to their affliction:

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:2-4).

The Scribes and Pharisees sat in Moses’ Judgment seat—Moses of course was the one to whom God gave the Old Law, the Ten Commandments as it were. Thus the Scribes and Pharisees were correctly interpreting the moral law, but were not correctly applying it. What underlies morality is love, and the “rules” of morality are rules of “right living” (and ultimately, of “right loving”), which have a threefold purpose: inner harmony, social harmony, and harmony between society and God. The first is harmony within one’s soul, that is, right relationship to oneself. The second is harmony with one’s neighbors (and between all members of the human race), right relationship with others. The last is harmony between the soul and God, that is, right relationship to God.

The Pharisees for their part were not being excoriated for insisting on the moral rules, nor even for their interpretations of the moral rules. The moral rules still apply insofar as they were moral rules, as Christ notes:

“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20).

The problem is not that the Pharisees were going too far in their moral pronouncements: rather, they were not going far enough. They made the pronouncements, but then did not help others to live up to those pronouncements, and then judged and condemned those others when they failed.

We look to Christ as the ultimate Comforter of the afflicted, Who says “I do not condemn you for your sins: go, and sin no more” (John 8:11), but also “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30). He comforts all the afflicted by taking on the cause of all our afflictions, and with it much of the suffering. Herein lies the true difficulty of comforting the afflicted, which is the risk of taking on some of the suffering and some of the affliction ourselves. If we will be true disciples we must because He did.

—Footnotes—
[1] According to Old Testament Jewish Law, lepers must be banned from civilized areas and must further warn away any travelers whom they might encounter.

[2] Gossip can be addicting, sort of; if not gossip itself then at least the attention which comes from it.

Love, have mercy on me, Lord,
Matthew

The Hierarchy of Sin, Works, & Virtues

(Ed. I have always wished the Catholic Church would give a numerical 1-10 score to it’s teachings so that there might be some indication for each particular teaching how important it is.  Of course, humans being humans, controversy and acrimonious debate would immediately ensue amongst faithful Catholic theologians, let alone everybody else.  It would still help knuckle-draggers like me.)

“There is an idea among some Protestants that all sin is equal. Although tacitly recognizing that certain sinful actions are morally worse than others, they seem to get hung up on the idea that any sin is imperfection and any imperfection will keep someone out of heaven (this is why Jesus—who is perfect—must stand in our place). If this is the case, then any sin will send someone to hell, so any distinctions in gravity among sins is pointless. Therefore, all sin is equal. Sometimes they will quote St. James, who writes, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” ( James 2:10).

Now, common sense tells us otherwise. A Hyundai and a Lamborghini are both cars, but they are clearly not equal! All broken laws are broken laws, and anyone who breaks the law is a lawbreaker no matter which law he broke. That does not, however, mean that there is no hierarchy within the law. Indeed, it seems evident from numerous passages of Scripture that various sins can result in varying levels of punishment. Jesus tells the Pharisees that they will receive a greater condemnation for their actions (Mark 12:40). He tells his disciples that anyone who will not listen to what they say will be judged more harshly than Sodom and Gomorrah (Matt. 10:14–15). James warns teachers that they will be judged more severely than others ( James 3:1). St. Peter says that for those who have come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ but then again defile themselves with the world, it would have been better if they had never known the way of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:20–22). John records Jesus saying that Judas has a greater sin than Pilate ( John 19:11).

We perceive a similar hierarchy when it comes to good works. Several times in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that certain actions will lead to greater rewards (e.g., Matt. 5:11–12, 6:1–6, 16–20). How is it that these greater rewards are gained? Jesus said it’s according to what people do (Matt. 16:27). This concept is illustrated in the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14–30) and repeated by Paul in Romans 2:5–6: “He will render to every man according to his works.” Paul also distinguishes between the reward received by those whose good works endure and those whose do not: “If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved” (1 Cor. 3:14–15; cf. Rev. 20:12).

But although many Protestants typically shy away from assigning salvation-merit to good works or damnation- judgment to evil works, many agree there is indication that these very things are taught in Scripture. Evangelical apologist Norman Geisler, for example, lists degrees of happiness in heaven and punishment in hell as an area of agreement between Catholics and Evangelical Protestants: “As to the degree of punishment, Roman Catholicism holds that ‘The punishment of the damned is proportioned to each one’s guilt.’ Augustine taught that, ‘in their wretchedness, the lot of some of the damned will be more tolerable than that of others.’ Just as there are levels of blessedness in heaven, there are degrees of wretchedness in hell.”80

In Principle Protestants Agree: Moral common sense and Scripture teach that not all sins are equivalent.

In Particular Catholicism Affirms: Sins are not equivalent— either in seriousness or their effects on salvation.”


-by Robert Kennerson

https://www.wilmingtonfavs.com/medieval-philosophy-2/thomas-aquinas-on-the-neoplatonic-hierarchy-of-virtues.html

“Like Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas directly addresses the Neoplatonic theory of a hierarchy of virtues. The theory makes an appearance in the Summa Theologiae, where Aquinas, like Bonaventure in the Collations, does not attribute the theory to Porphyry but to Macrobius.40 The fifth article of question 61 (Iallae) asks: “Are the cardinal virtues appropriately divided into political, purifying, purified, and exemplar virtues?”41

After citing some Aristotelian (and one Ciceronian) objections that seem to arise from Macrobius’s account of virtue, Aquinas allows Macrobius to cite his own authority, whom Aquinas has no reason to doubt is “Plotinus, along with Plato.” To mediate this dispute, Aquinas appeals to Augustine, who says, “the soul must follow something so that virtue can be born in it; and this something is God, and if we follow Him we shall live a moral life.”42 From this, Aquinas concludes:

“…the exemplar of human virtue must pre-exist in God, just as the exemplars of all things pre-exist in Him. In this way, therefore, virtue can be considered as existing in its highest exemplification in God, and in this fashion we speak of exemplar virtues. Thus the divine mind in God can be called prudence, while temperance is the turning of the divine attention to Himself.. The fortitude of God is His immutability, while God’s justice is the observance of the eternal law in His works.”43

Aquinas’s discussion here recalls the words of Porphyry, cited above, concerning the exemplar virtues: “wisdom is nous cognizing; self-attention, temperance; peculiar function [justice], proper action. Valor is sameness, and a remaining pure of self-dependence, through abundance of power.”

Aquinas’s words are surprising because up until this point in the Summa, he has been speaking of virtue primarily in the political sense; “man is a political animal by nature,” and “manz comports himself rightly in human affairs by these [political] virtues.”44 But Aquinas acknowledges the philosophical necessity of understanding the political virtues as having their origin in higher virtues. Thus, in answer to the objection that Aristotle says it is inappropriate to attribute the virtues to God (NE, X, 8, 1178b 10), Aquinas answers that Aristotle must be speaking of the political virtues 45—for surely we would not want to deny to God any excellence of activity. And again, to the objection that the virtues concern the regulation of passions, and so could not exist if the soul was completely purified of passions, Aquinas says this is only true of the political virtues. Beatified souls, however, are without the passions of wayfaring souls; it is these souls which achieve the purer virtues. 46

To the objection that the purifying virtues cannot be virtues since they involve “flight from human affairs,” Aquinas agrees that “to neglect human affairs when they require attending to is wrong.” But otherwise such flight is virtuous. 47 Here, Aquinas appeals to Augustine, who says: “The love of truth needs a sacred leisure; the force of love demands just deeds. If no one places a burden upon us, then we are free to know and contemplate truth; but if such a burden is put upon us, we must accept it because of the demands of charity.”48

The purifying virtues, commonly called the contemplative virtues, are the virtues of “those who are on the way and tending toward a likeness of what is divine.” In agreement with Porphyry’s description of these virtues is Aquinas’:

Thus prudence, by contemplating divine things, counts all worldly things as nothing and directs all thought of the soul only to what is divine; temperance puts aside the customary needs of the body so far as nature permits; fortitude prevents the soul from being afraid of withdrawing from bodily needs and rising to heavenly things; and justice brings the whole soul’s accord to such a way of life.49

Above these are the “purified” virtues. Porphyry would attribute them only to the gods (all those other than the “father of the gods”), that is, to immaterial souls; Aquinas, in keeping with this, attributes these virtues to the souls of men who have been beatified— and even, it seems, to saints in this life:

…prudence now sees only divine things, temperance knows no earthly desires, fortitude is oblivious to the passions, and justice is united with the divine mind in an everlasting bond, by imitating it.50

Love,
Matthew

40 Albertus Magnus also mentions this Neoplatonic theory, attributing it to Plotinus (Albertus Magnus, Super Ethica Commentum et Quaestiones 2.2; 4:12; 5.3; 7.11).

41 ST1-2.61.5: “Utrum virtutes cardinales convenienter dividantur in virtutes politicas, purgatorias, purgati animi, et exemplares.”

42 Ibid., corpus: “Respondeo dicendum quod, sicut Augustinus dicit in libro de Moribus Eccles., oportet quod anima aliquid sequatur, ad hoc quod ei possit virtus innasci: et hoc Deus est, quern si sequimur, bene vivimus.” The citation of Augustine is from De Moribus Ecclesiae Catholicae 1.6.

43 ST1-2.61.5, corpus: “.exemplar humanae virtutis in Deo praeexistat, sicut et in eo praeexistunt omnium rerum rationes. Sic igitur virtus potest considerari vel prout est exemplariter in Deo, et sic dicuntur virtutes ‘exemplares’. Ita scilicet quod ipsa divina mens in Deo dicatur prudentia; temperantia vero, conversio divinae intentionis ad seipsum…; fortitude autem Dei est eius immutabilitas; iustitia vero Dei est observatio legis aeternae in suis operibus, sicut Plotinus dixit.” Cf. Quaestiones de Virtutibus Cardinalibus 1.4 (“Utrum virtutes cardinales maneant in patria”): “.fortitude divina est eius immobilitas; temperentia erit conversio mentis divinae ad seipsam; prudentia autem est ipsa mens divina; iustitia autem Dei ipsa lex eius perennis.”

44 ST1-2.61.5, corpus: “Et quia homo secundum suam naturam est animal politicum, virtutes huiusmodi, prout in homine existunt secundum conditionem suae naturae, politicae vocantur: prout scilicet homo secundum has virtutes recte se habet in rebus humanis gerendis. Secundum quern modum hactenus de his virtutibus locuti sumus.” Cf. 1-2.61.1, corpus: “.dicendum quod, cum simpliciter de virtute loquimur, intelligimur loqui de virtute humana.”

45 ST1-2.61.5, ad. 1: “.dicendum quod Philosophus loquitur de his virtutibus secundum quod sunt circa res humanas: puta iustitia circa emptiones et venditiones, fortitude circa timores, temperantia circa concupiscentias. Sic enim ridiculum est eas Deo attribuere.”

46 Ibid., ad. 2: “dicendum quod virtutes humanae sunt circa passiones, scilicet virtutes hominum in hoc mundo conversantium. Sed virtutes eorum qui plenam beatitudenem assequuntur, sunt absque passionibus.” Cf. Quaestiones de Virtutibus Cardinalibus 1.4: “Dicendum, quod in patria manent virtutes cardinales, et habebunt ibi alios actus quam hie.”

47 ST1-2.61.5, ad 3: “.dicendum quod deserere res humanas ubi necessitas imponitur, vitiosum est: alias est virtuosum.”

48 Augustine’s words are from De Civitate Dei 19.19.

49 ST1-2.61.5, corpus: “.quaedam sunt virtutes transeuntium et in divinam similitudinem tendentium: et hae vocantur virtutes purgatoriae. Ita scilicet quod prudentia omnia mundana divinorum contemplatione despiciat, omnemque animae cogitationem in divina sola diregat; temperantia vero relinquat, inquantum natura patitur, quae corporis usus requirit; fortitudinis autem est ut anima non terreatur propter excessum a corpore, et accessum ad superna; iustitia vero est ut tota anima consentiat ad huius propositi viam.”

50 Ibid.: “Quaedam vero sunt virtutes iam assequentium divinam similitudinem: quae vocantur virtutes iam purgati animi. Ita scilicet quod prudentia sola divina intueatur; temperantia terrenas cupiditates nesciat; fortitude passiones ignoret; iustitia cum divina mente perpetua foedere societur, earn scilicet imitando. Quas quidem virtutes dicimus esse beatorum vel aliquorum in hac vita perfectissimorum.” Cf. De Virtutibus Cardinalibus 1.4, ad. 7: “dicendum, quod virtutes purgati animi, quas Plotinus definiebat, possunt convenire beads nam prudentiae ibi est sola divina intueri; temperantiae, cupiditates oblivisci fortitudinis, passiones ignorare; iustitiae, perpetuum foedus cum Deo habere.’ Mark Jordan has suggested that in ST 1-2.67.1, Aquinas says that both the purifying and the purified virtues remain in patria (Jordan 1993, 239). In fact, in that question Aquinas says that in patria the “formal” element of the moral virtues remains without the “material” element, and Aquinas’ description of what these virtues are like is consistent with the position articulated in ST 12.61.5, that only purified virtues are had in patria.

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

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.

Catechism of the Catholic Church
Sexual Identity

(CCC 2333) “Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out.”

(CCC 2393) “By creating the human being man and woman, God gives personal dignity equally to the one and the other. Each of them, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity.”

Body and Soul

(CCC 364) “The human body shares in the dignity of “the image of God”: it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit:

Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.”

Pope Francis

Encyclical letter Laudato Si’ (2015)

(# 155) “Human ecology also implies another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of an ‘ecology of man’, based on the fact that ‘man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will’. It is enough to recognize that our body itself establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings. The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it.”

(# 56) “Yet another challenge is posed by the various forms of an ideology of gender that ‘denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. This ideology leads to educational programs and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time.’ It is a source of concern that some ideologies of this sort, which seek to respond to what are at times understandable aspirations, manage to assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised. It needs to be emphasized that ‘biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated.’ …It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality. Let us not fall into the sin of trying to Updated August 7, 2019 3 replace the Creator. We are creatures, and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift. At the same time, we are called to protect our humanity, and this means, in the first place, accepting it and respecting it as it was created.”

(# 285) “Beyond the understandable difficulties which individuals may experience, the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created, for ‘thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation… An appreciation of our body as male or female is also necessary for our own self-awareness in an encounter with others different from ourselves. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment.’ Only by losing the fear of being different, can we be freed of self-centeredness and self-absorption. Sex education should help young people to accept their own bodies and to avoid the pretension ‘to cancel out sexual difference because one no longer knows how to deal with it.’

(# 286) “Nor can we ignore the fact that the configuration of our own mode of being, whether as male or female, is not simply the result of biological or genetic factors, but of multiple elements having to do with temperament, family history, culture, experience, education, the influence of friends, family members and respected persons, as well as other formative situations. It is true that we cannot separate the masculine and the feminine from God’s work of creation, which is prior to all our decisions and experiences, and where biological elements exist which are impossible to ignore. But it is also true that masculinity and femininity are not rigid categories. It is possible, for example, that a husband’s way of being masculine can be flexibly adapted to the wife’s work schedule. Taking on domestic chores or some aspects of raising children does not make him any less masculine or imply failure, irresponsibility or cause for shame. Children have to be helped to accept as normal such healthy ‘exchanges’ which do not diminish the dignity of the father figure. A rigid approach turns into an over accentuation of the masculine or feminine, and does not help children and young people to appreciate the genuine reciprocity incarnate in the real conditions of matrimony. Such rigidity, in turn, can hinder the development of an individual’s abilities, to the point of leading him or her to think, for example, that it is not really masculine to cultivate art or dance, or not very feminine to exercise leadership. This, thank God, has changed, but in some places deficient notions still condition the legitimate freedom and hamper the authentic development of children’s specific identity and potential.”

Address to Priests, Religious, Seminarians and Pastoral Workers during the Apostolic Journey to Georgia and Azerbaijan (October 1, 2016)

“You mentioned a great enemy to marriage today: the theory of gender. Today there is a world war to destroy marriage. Today there are ideological colonizations which destroy, not with weapons, but with ideas. Therefore, there is a need to defend ourselves from ideological colonizations.”

Address to the Polish Bishops during the Apostolic Journey to Poland (July 27, 2016)

“In Europe, America, Latin America, Africa, and in some countries of Asia, there are genuine forms of ideological colonization taking place. And one of these – I will call it clearly by its name – is [the ideology of] ‘gender’. Today children – children! – are taught in school that everyone can choose his or her sex. Why are they teaching this? Because the books are provided by the persons and institutions that give you money. These forms of ideological colonization are also supported by influential countries. And this terrible! “In a conversation with Pope Benedict, who is in good health and very perceptive, he said to me: ‘Holiness, this is the age of sin against God the Creator’. He is very perceptive. God created man and woman; God created the world in a certain way… and we are doing the exact opposite. God gave us things in a ‘raw’ state, so that we could shape a culture; and then with this culture, we are shaping things that bring us back to the ‘raw’ state! Pope Benedict’s observation should make us think. ‘This is the age of sin against God the Creator’. That will help us.”

Address to Équipes de Notre Dame (September 10, 2015)

“This mission which is entrusted to them, is all the more important inasmuch as the image of the family — as God wills it, composed of one man and one woman in view of the good of the spouses and also of the procreation and upbringing of children — is deformed through powerful adverse projects supported by ideological trends.”

Address to the Bishops of Puerto Rico (June 8, 2015)

“The complementarity of man and woman, the pinnacle of divine creation, is being questioned by the so-called gender ideology, in the name of a more free and just society. The differences between man and woman are not for opposition or subordination, but for communion and generation, always in the ‘image and likeness’ of God.” Full text General Audience on Man and Woman (April 15, 2015) “For example, I ask myself, if the so-called gender theory is not, at the same time, an expression of frustration and resignation, which seeks to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it. Yes, we risk taking a step backwards. The removal of difference in fact creates a problem, not a solution.”

Address in Naples (March 23, 2015)

“The crisis of the family is a societal fact. There are also ideological colonializations of the family, different paths and proposals in Europe and also coming from overseas. Then, there is the mistake of the human mind — gender theory — creating so much confusion.”

Meeting with Families in Manila (January 16, 2015)

“Let us be on guard against colonization by new ideologies. There are forms of ideological colonization which are out to destroy the family.”

Pope Benedict XVI


Encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est (2005)

(# 5) “Yet the contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced to pure ‘sex’, has become a commodity, a mere ‘thing’ to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man’s great ‘yes’ to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will.”

(# 11) “While the biblical narrative does not speak of punishment, the idea is certainly present that man is somehow incomplete, driven by nature to seek in another the part that can make him whole, the idea that only in communion with the opposite sex can he become ‘complete’… Eros is somehow rooted in man’s very nature; Adam is a seeker, who ‘abandons his mother and father’ in order to find woman; only together do the two represent complete humanity and become ‘one flesh’. The second aspect is equally important. From the standpoint of creation, eros directs man towards marriage, to a bond which is unique and definitive; thus, and only thus, does it fulfill its deepest purpose. Corresponding to the image of a monotheistic God is monogamous marriage.”

Address to the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” (January 19, 2013)

“The Christian vision of man is, in fact, a great ‘yes’ to the dignity of persons called to an intimate filial communion of humility and faithfulness. The human being is not a self-sufficient individual nor an anonymous element in the group. Rather he is a unique and unrepeatable person, intrinsically ordered to relationships and sociability. Thus the Church reaffirms her great ‘yes’ to the dignity and beauty of marriage as an expression of the faithful and generous bond between man and woman, and her no to ‘gender’ philosophies, because the reciprocity between male and female is an expression of the beauty of nature willed by the Creator.”

Address to the Roman Curia (December 21, 2012)

“These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term ‘gender’ as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.”

Address to the German Bundestag (September 22, 2011)

“…There is also an ecology of man. Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature, and his will is rightly ordered if he respects his nature, listens to it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself. In this way, and in no other, is true human freedom fulfilled.”

Pope St. John Paul II

Letter to Families (1994)

(# 6) “Man is created ‘from the very beginning’ as male and female: the light of all humanity… is marked by this primordial duality. From it there derive the ‘masculinity’ and the ‘femininity’ of individuals, just as from it every community draws its own unique richness in the mutual fulfillment of persons… Hence one can discover, at the very origins of human society, the qualities of communion and of complementarity.”

(# 19) “…the human family is facing the challenge of a new Manichaeanism, in which body and spirit are put in radical opposition; the body does not receive life from the spirit, and the spirit does not give life to the body. Man thus ceases to live as a person and a subject. Regardless of all intentions and declarations to the contrary, he becomes merely an object. This neo-Manichaean culture has led, for example, to human sexuality being regarded more as an area for manipulation and exploitation than as the basis of that primordial wonder which led Adam on the morning of creation to exclaim before Eve: ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’ (Gen 2:23).”

Theology of the Body

Pope John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, trans. Michael Waldstein (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006)

(# 9:3) “The account of the creation of man in Genesis 1 affirms from the beginning and directly that man was created in the image of God inasmuch as he is male and female… man became the image of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons, which man and woman form from the very beginning.”

(# 9:5) “Masculinity and femininity express the twofold aspect of man’s somatic constitution… and indicate, in addition… the new consciousness of the meaning of one’s body. This meaning, one can say, consists in reciprocal enrichment.”

(# 10:1) “Femininity in some way finds itself before masculinity, while masculinity confirms itself through femininity. Precisely the function of sex [that is, being male or female], which in some way is ‘constitutive for the person’ (not only ‘an attribute of the person’), shows how deeply man, with all his spiritual solitude, with the uniqueness and unrepeatability proper to the person, is constituted by the body as ‘he’ or ‘she’.”

(# 14:4) “The body, which expresses femininity ‘for’ masculinity and, vice versa, masculinity ‘for’ femininity, manifests the reciprocity and the communion of persons.”

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Letter on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World (2004)

(# 2) “In this perspective [i.e., that of gender ideology], physical difference, termed sex, is minimized, while the purely cultural element, termed gender, is emphasized to the maximum and held to be primary. The obscuring of the difference or duality of the sexes has enormous consequences on a variety of levels. This theory of the human person, intended to promote prospects for equality of women through liberation from biological determinism, has in reality inspired ideologies which, for example, call into question the family, in its natural two-parent structure of mother and father, and make homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent, in a new model of polymorphous sexuality.”

(# 12) “Male and female are thus revealed as belonging ontologically to creation and destined therefore to outlast the present time, evidently in a transfigured form.”

Persona Humana: Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics (1975)

(III) “… There can be no true promotion of man’s dignity unless the essential order of his nature is respected.”

Congregation for Catholic Education

“Male and Female He Created Them”: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education (2019)

(# 1) “It is becoming increasingly clear that we are now facing with what might accurately be called an educational crisis, especially in the field of affectivity and sexuality. In many places, curricula are being planned and implemented which “allegedly convey a neutral conception of the person and of life, yet in fact reflect an anthropology opposed to faith and to right reason”. The disorientation regarding anthropology which is a widespread feature of our cultural landscape has undoubtedly helped to destabilize the family as an institution, bringing with it a tendency to cancel out the differences between men and women, presenting them instead as merely the product of historical and cultural conditioning.” ** This entire document deals with gender theory and education. The above is the first paragraph.

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

(# 224) “Faced with theories that consider gender identity as merely the cultural and social product of the interaction between the community and the individual, independent of personal sexual identity without any reference to the true meaning of sexuality, the Church does not tire of repeating her teaching: ‘Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral and spiritual difference and complementarities are oriented towards the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. . . .’ According to this perspective, it is obligatory that positive law be conformed to the natural law, according to which sexual identity is indispensable, because it is the objective condition for forming a couple in marriage” (emphasis in original, internal citation omitted).

Pontifical Council for the Family

Family, Marriage and “De Facto” Unions (2000)

(# 8) “In the process that could be described as the gradual cultural and human de-structuring of the institution of marriage, the spread of a certain ideology of ‘gender’ should not be underestimated. According to this ideology, being a man or a woman is not determined Updated August 7, 2019 8 fundamentally by sex but by culture. Therefore, the very bases of the family and inter-personal relationships are attacked.”

(# 8) “Starting from the decade between 1960-1970, some theories… hold not only that generic sexual identity (‘gender’) is the product of an interaction between the community and the individual, but that this generic identity is independent from personal sexual identity: i.e., that masculine and feminine genders in society are the exclusive product of social factors, with no relation to any truth about the sexual dimension of the person. In this way, any sexual attitude can be justified, including homosexuality, and it is society that ought to change in order to include other genders, together with male and female, in its way of shaping social life.”

USCCB: Various Documents

Chairmen Letter to U.S. Senators regarding ENDA Legislation (2013)

“ENDA’s definition of ‘gender identity’ lends force of law to a tendency to view ‘gender as nothing more than a social construct or psychosocial reality, which a person may choose at variance from his or her biological sex.”

ENDA Backgrounder (2013)

“ENDA defines ‘gender identity’ as ‘the gender-related identity, appearance, or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, with or without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth.’”

“ENDA’s treatment of ‘gender identity would lend the force of law to a tendency to view ‘gender’ as nothing more than a social construct or psychosocial reality that can be chosen at variance from one’s biological sex. Second, ENDA’s treatment of ‘gender identity’ would adversely affect the privacy and associational rights of others. In this respect, ENDA would require workplace rules that violate the legitimate privacy expectations of other employees… Third, ENDA would make it far more difficult for organizations and employees with moral and religious convictions about the importance of sexual difference, and the biological basis of sexual identity, to speak and act on those beliefs.”

Chairmen Statement on ENDA-style Executive Order (2014)

“[The executive order] lends the economic power of the federal government to a deeply flawed understanding of human sexuality, to which faithful Catholics and many other people of faith will not assent… “The executive order prohibits ‘gender identity’ discrimination, a prohibition that is previously unknown at the federal level, and that is predicated on the false idea that ‘gender’ is nothing more than a social construct or psychological reality that can be chosen at variance from one’s biological sex. This is a problem not only of principle but of practice, as it will jeopardize the privacy and associational rights of both federal contractor employees and federal employees.”

Chairmen Statement on Department of Labor Regulations (2014)

“The regulations published on December 3 [2014] by the U.S. Department of Labor implement the objectionable Executive Order that President Obama issued in July to address what the Administration has described as ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ discrimination in employment by federal contractors. . . . [T]he regulations advance the false ideology of ‘gender identity,’ which ignores biological reality and harms the privacy and associational rights of both contractors and their employees.”

Chairmen Statement on the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (2013)

“Unfortunately, we cannot support the version of the ‘Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013’ passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate (S. 47) because of certain language it contains. Among our concerns are those provisions in S. 47 that refer to ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity.’ All persons must be protected from violence, but codifying the classifications ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ as contained in S. 47 is problematic. These two classifications are unnecessary to establish the just protections due to all persons. They undermine the meaning and importance of sexual difference. They are unjustly exploited for purposes of marriage redefinition, and marriage is the only institution that unites a man and a woman with each other and with any children born from their union.”

Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (5th Edition)

(# 53) “Direct sterilization of either men or women, whether permanent or temporary, is not permitted in a Catholic health care institution. Procedures that induce sterility are permitted when their direct effect is the cure or alleviation of a present and serious pathology and a simpler treatment is not available.” (No. 70) “Catholic health care organizations are not permitted to engage in immediate material cooperation in actions that are intrinsically immoral, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and direct sterilization.”

For further related USCCB resources, see:

• USCCB, Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (2009), https://www.usccb.org/resources/pastoral-letter-marriage-love-and-life-in-the-divine-plan.pdf

• USCCB, Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care (2006), https://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/homosexuality/upload/minstry-persons-homosexual-inclination-2006.pdf

• Made for Each Other (video, viewer’s guide, and resource booklet), available at www.marriageuniqueforareason.org

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

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