Hear God Speaking to You

FR. KILLIAN J. HEALY

Many people never listen to God because they are not aware that He speaks to them. Yet, God does speak. One way to live in His presence is to acquire the habit of recognizing His voice when He speaks. If we do not know that God wishes to communicate with us, or the ways He has chosen, then our passage through life will be devoid of the most perfect of guides.

When does God speak to us? He speaks at all times, especially in prayer. Prayer is a conversation with God. But it is not a monologue. When we pray, then, we should also listen, because a good conversationalist is also a good listener. We do not pray well when we recite ready-made formulas quickly and distractedly. We act as if God has only to listen to us, and that we have no need to listen to the thoughts and desires that He wishes to communicate to us. He has promised, “If thou wilt hear the voice of the Lord thy God, and do what is right before Him, and obey His commandments, and keep all His precepts, none of the evils that I laid upon Egypt will I bring upon thee.”

Unfortunately, many of us have never trained ourselves to listen to His voice. But, if we are to know God’s will, we must listen to Him and obey Him when we recognize His commandments.

But how does God speak to us? God is a pure spirit. Unlike man, He has no voice. If He wishes to speak to us, He must use some means outside of Himself, adapted to our nature, by which He can communicate ideas. He may use things we can see and hear in order to stir our imagination, or He may enter directly into our thoughts.

God speaks to you personally
Does God, then, speak to man? How can we ever doubt it? How foolish it is to read all types of books and neglect the word of God! The Scriptures were not meant only for particular groups of people; they were meant for all men at all times. God is eternal; His words are eternal. Although He speaks to all men, He speaks to us personally.

This does not mean that every person should take the Bible and interpret it according to his own fancy. No, the Church alone isthe divinely appointed authority to guide us in the correct interpretation  of the Bible. The Church encourages us to read it, because she knows that the word of God can enter into our minds and that God, in His own mysterious way, can teach the true way of life, the way of love and intimate union with Him.

St. Ignatius of Loyola felt that God was speaking directly to him, when, on his sick bed, he read the words:

“For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?”

But, we ask, is this prayer? It is at least the beginning of prayer. We listen to these words of Christ; we ponder over them; they awaken thoughts and desires within us. We begin to believe, to hope, to love. Our will becomes inspired, and we break forth in ardent affections, calling on Christ to help us, begging forgiveness, expressing gratitude, performing little acts of adoration — and surely this is prayer.

We often read of visions, apparitions, and revelations in which God spoke to the saints. St. Paul on the road to Damascus is a classic example. And we read in the life of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque that, while she was engaged in prayer, Jesus often spoke to her of the devotion to His Sacred Heart.

Such conversations with God are not rare in the lives of the canonized. But must we in our conversation with God await the appearance of Jesus, of some heavenly voice or extraordinary apparition, some heavenly manifestation from God? Absolutely not. It is true that God does single out some chosen souls to whom He speaks directly and who actually experience the divine power working in them, but these are very few; it is not the way that God ordinarily uses. We should not even desire that God speak to us in this extraordinary manner. We should not expect it. Visions and revelations are not necessary for us to grow in deep love for God. We may fall deeply in love with Him and practice faithfully the presence of God, yet never receive any extraordinary manifestations from Him. These are special gifts, and God gives them to whom He wills, and when He wills.

God speaks to your mind and to your heart
Nevertheless, God does speak to all of us without exception in a more direct way than we have yet mentioned. It is a hidden way, by which He enters directly into our thoughts and desires. Our most hidden secrets are not secrets to Him. He comes right into our mind. Our thoughts are not only our thoughts; our desires are not only our desires — they may also be God’s thoughts and desires. We know we can do nothing without God. Even such ordinary things as eating, breathing, and walking cannot be done without the ordinary help that God gives us. But, in this instance, we are presupposing this natural help of God and are referring to a greater and more noble assistance from Him.

Does God help us in a special way to think good thoughts and to desire holy things? He most assuredly does. For we are living in a supernatural order and destined to a supernatural end, the Beatific Vision. To attain this end, God not only gives us the principle of supernatural life, sanctifying grace, but He also gives us actual graces that help us to perform supernatural actions and thus to grow in the grace of God. These actual graces are, especially, the holy thoughts and desires that God creates in us.

God does not have to use external words and signs to attract our attention  and convey ideas to us. He enters our minds directly. He speaks secretly, noiselessly, as befits the Divinity. It is only by faith that we know He is working in us. For example, God once spoke in a special, hidden way to St. Peter, who then confessed Jesus to be the Son of God. “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona,” said our Lord. “For flesh and blood hath not revealed this to thee, but my Father in Heaven.”

St. John tells us that we will know all things from the Holy Spirit: “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things.”St. Paul says that God enters our very thoughts: “Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.”

God also enters our hearts and inspires us to holy desires. “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God, was listening; and the Lord touched her heart to give heed to what was being said by Paul.”

Thus, the Scriptures and the Church tell us that God speaks to us in the silence of our minds and hearts. He speaks to all men, but all men do not hear Him. God speaks to our mind and heart when we kneel to meditate or to adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament. He enters our mind when the passing things of time excite our thoughts. It is He who gives us holy thoughts to conquer our temptations. It is He who stirs up within us the desire to persevere against all adversaries.

Perhaps we have never realized that God is illuminating our intellect and inspiring our will. Yet He does just that. That is why we are told not to do all the talking in prayer. For, if we continually recite vocal prayers without pausing now and then to think, we will stifle the thoughts and desires that God wishes to excite in us.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux tells us how she listened to the voice of God. “I know and have experienced that ‘the Kingdom of God is within us,’ that our Master has no need of books or teacher to instruct a soul. The Teacher of teachers instructs without sound of words, and though I have never heard Him speak, yet I know He is within me, always guiding and inspiring me; and just when I need them, lights, hitherto unseen, break in upon me. As a rule, it is not during prayer that this happens, but in the midst of my daily duties.”

But we are not only to listen; it would be folly to remain in a state of mental blankness, waiting for God to speak. No, prayer is a loving conversation, and, when the Holy Spirit moves us, it is time to begin our part of the colloquy.

One way, then, to practice the exercise of the presence of God is to listen to God, to be aware that He speaks to us, to be ever conscious that God can use all things to communicate with us.

This article is an excerpt from Fr. Healy’s Awakening Your Soul to Presence of God, which is available from Sophia Institute Press. 

The Holy Eucharist and Holy Matrimony

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

We do not normally associate the Holy Eucharist with the sacrament of matrimony. But we should. Without the Eucharist, there would not be a livable sacrament of matrimony.

What are we saying? We are saying that Christ intended these two sacraments to be related as condition and consequence. The Eucharist is the condition, and matrimony is the supernatural consequence.

Surely this calls for an explanation, and a clear explanation.

Needless to say, this is a most important subject. It is so important that the survival of Christian marriage and the Catholic family depend on it. Am I serious? Yes. The Holy Eucharist is indispensable for living out the supernatural, and therefore humanly impossible, demands that Christ places on those who enter marriage in His name.

My plan is to cover the following areas of this fundamental issue.

  • Christian marriage is a life-long commitment to selfless love.

  • This selfless love is impossible without superhuman strength from God.

  • The principal source of this superhuman strength is the Holy Eucharist.

  • Christian spouses are a living witness to Christ's power to work moral miracles in the world today.

  • The single most important need for Christian marriage is a renewed faith in the Holy Eucharist.

 

Christian Marriage and Selfless Love

Christ instituted the sacrament of marriage in order to restore marriage to its monogamous position before the fall of our first parents.

When some Pharisees came to test Jesus by asking Him: “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for any reason,” Jesus answered and said to them, “Have you not read that the Creator from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ Therefore now they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder” (Matthew 19:3-6).

But Christ did not stop there. He not only told His followers that marriage is a lifelong commitment that no human authority can dissolve. He further commanded those who call themselves Christians to love one another with such selfless charity as to be willing to die for one another after the example of His own selfless love of dying for us on the Cross.

This is Christian marriage as elevated by Him into the sacrament of Matrimony. It is a lifetime covenant between husband and wife, to remain faithful to each other until death. It is also a lifelong promise, made to God under oath, to love one another with selfless charity, enduring patience, and whole-hearted generosity. Even more, it is a solemn vow to accept the children that God wants to send them and educate their children for eternal life in heaven with God.

Since the time of Christ, there have been many breaks in Christian unity. There have been many departures from the Catholic Church. There have arisen numerous churches, calling themselves Christian. Why the departures? Why? The main single reason has been the unwillingness to accept Christ's teaching on the indissolubility and fruitfulness of Christian marriage, founded on selfless charity.

 

Need for Superhuman Strength

It takes no great intelligence to see that a faithful and fruitful marriage requires superhuman strength. Change the word "superhuman" to ''supernatural" and we begin to see what we are talking about.

Catholic Christianity is unique among the religions of the world, whether ancient as among the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans before Christ, or among the living religions of the human race.

Catholic Christianity is unique in making demands on the morality of its believers that are beyond human nature by itself to live up to. The two hardest demands are the practice of Christian chastity and Christian charity. Combine these two virtues in marriage, and we begin to see why Christian matrimony requires, indeed demands superhuman power from God to remain faithful to for a lifetime.

This is what Christianity is all about: living a superhuman life by means of superhuman grace provided by Christ to those who believe that He is God who became man to enable us to witness to His Name.

That is why Christ elevated marriage to the dignity of a sacrament. He had to, otherwise what He commanded His married followers to do would be an idle dream.

There are certain things that human nature, by itself cannot, and the word is "cannot" do. Like what? Like living for a lifetime in loving married partnership, without being seduced by the selfish sex perversion that surrounds us like the atmosphere we breathe.

 

The Eucharist Provides Superhuman Strength

Entering marriage for believing Catholics is one thing. Living in Christian marriage for a lifetime is something else. That is why Christ instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The moment we say, "Sacrament of the Eucharist," we mean a triple sacrament:

  • The Sacrifice-Sacrament of the Mass.

  • The Communion-Sacrament of Holy Communion, and

  • The Presence-Sacrament of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

Jesus Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist to give those who believe in Him the power they need to remain alive in His grace. For married Catholics this means the light and strength they must constantly receive if they are to live out the sublime directives of the Holy Spirit for Christian believers who received the sacrament of matrimony.

They have no choice. The world in which they live is:

  • an adulterous world

  • a contraceptive world

  • a masturbating world

  • a homosexual world

  • a fornicating world

  • an abortive world that murders unborn children in their mothers' wombs.

Not to be deceived by this world, whose prince, Christ tells us, is the devil, Catholic husbands and wives need the light that only Christ can give. He is available with this grace through the Holy Eucharist.

Not to be seduced by this world, master-minded by Satan, Catholic spouses and parents need the courage that only Christ can give. He tells us not to be afraid. Why not? Because, as He says, “Have confidence, I have overcome the world”.

What is He telling married people? He is assuring them that He is still on earth in the Blessed Sacrament; that He is still offering Himself daily on our altars in the Sacrifice of the Mass; that He is literally, physically giving Himself to them in Holy Communion. Why? In order to enable them to do what is humanly beyond their natural intelligence to comprehend and beyond their natural willpower to perform.

Married Catholics have no choice. The psychological pressure from the world, the flesh and the devil is too strong to cope with by themselves.

The Holy Eucharist must remain, if it already is, or become, if it is not, the mainstay of their married lives. This is no option. It is a law of spiritual survival for Catholic marriages and families in every age, and with thunderous emphasis, in our day.

At the turn of the century, Pope St. Pius X identified the first meaning of the section of the Lord's Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread”. The primary meaning of this petition refers to the Eucharist. We are asking God in the Our Father to open the minds and hearts of believers to their need for daily Mass, daily Holy Communion, and some daily praying before the Blessed Sacrament. Why? To provide us with the daily sustenance that our life of grace requires.

I am speaking to proposed Catholics. I am speaking about Catholic marriage. I am speaking to those whose marriage in Christ must be preserved by Christ, nourished by Christ, grow in loving chastity and charity as prescribed by Christ.

Nineteen plus centuries of Catholic-Christianity proves that the Holy Eucharist is absolutely necessary for married Christians to remain faithful to each other, and selfless in their mutual love.

 

Witness to Christ's Power to Work Miracles

If there is one thing that stands out in Christ's visible life in Palestine it is His power to work miracles.

In one chapter after another of the Gospels, Christ performed signs and wonders that testified to His claims to being one with the Father and that, without Him, we can do nothing to reach our eternal destiny.

  • Christ changed water into wine at Cana in Galilee.

  • Christ restored sight to the blind, and speech to the mute.

  • Christ cured paralytics so they could use their limbs.

  • Christ calmed the storm at sea by a single word.

  • Christ even raised Lazarus from the grave. When He told the dead man to “Come forth,” what had been a decaying corpse came out of the tomb as a living human being.

But Christ's greatest miracles were not His power over the physical loss of nature. They were His power to change unbelieving minds to become believers in His word, and unbelieving hearts to become men and women of heroic virtue.

The pagans of the first three centuries A.D. were converted to Christ when they saw Christians practicing chastity and charity.

It was especially the faithful and fruitful love of married Christians that changed pagans into believing Christians and in the process, changed the history of the human race.

Where did the early Christian spouses receive the incredible strength they needed to live in holy, and I mean holy matrimony? Remember, to become a Christian in those times meant to expect martyrdom. Where did married Christians receive the superhuman power to live such superhuman lives? Where? From the Holy Eucharist.

It is not commonly known but should become known that in the early Church Christians heard Mass and received Holy Communion every day. The Holy Eucharist was brought to them in person as they were awaiting martyrdom by fire or the sword, or by being devoured by wild beasts.

We turn to our own day. What Christ did during His visible stay on earth in first century Asia Minor, He has continued doing down the ages by the exercise of His almighty power available in His invisible presence in the Holy Eucharist.

It is the same:

  • Physically same,

  • Historically same,

  • Geographically same,

  • Really same Jesus Christ who worked miracles at the dawn of Christianity, Who is now present in the Blessed Sacrament, offering Himself in the Mass, and received by us in the Holy Eucharist.

What do we conclude from this? Obviously, that married Catholics be witnesses in our day to Christ's power in their lives, as were the Christians who were mangled by lions in the Roman Colosseum, or, like St. Thomas More, were beheaded by order of a lecherous king who discarded his wife in sixteenth century England.

 

The Greatest Need for Married Christians

This brings us to our final reflection. I make bold to say that the single most important need for Christian marriage is a renewed faith in the Holy Eucharist.

There is an outstanding statement in the Gospels about Christ performing miracles. The evangelists tell us that Jesus could not work miracles among some people because of their lack of faith.

Notice what we are saying. We are saying that the Almighty Master of heaven and earth, the Creator of the sun, moon and stars, when He became Man was unable to exercise His omnipotence because of some people's lack of faith. Of course, this means that He could not, because He would not, work miracles where the people refused to submit their minds in humble belief to His Divinity.

Now we turn to our own time and place. Would anyone doubt that in our nation in the last decade of the twentieth century, we need an avalanche of moral miracles to preserve marriage and the family from disintegration by the devious forces let loose in our country today?

Only God can work a miracle, and we need to change the figure, an ocean of miracles in America, as in Canada as in England, and France and Germany and Scandinavia, to mention just a few materially wealthy countries that are in desperate need of Divine Grace where so many are walking in darkness and the shadow of eternal death.

Jesus Christ is the Infinite God who became man. He became man not only to die for us on Calvary. He became man to live with us in the Holy Eucharist.

Catholics living in holy matrimony have a grave responsibility. They are to stir up their faith in this continued presence of Jesus, now on earth, in our cities, in our day.

They are to obtain for themselves and for their contemporaries the power to live their married lives according to the teaching of Jesus Christ. He instituted the sacrament of matrimony to be a constant witness-in an unbelieving world to what only God-become-man can achieve.

This divine power is accessible in the Holy Eucharist to those who have the humility to believe.

 

Prayer

“Lord Jesus, at the Last Supper You gave us Your own commandment to love one another as You have loved us.”

“At the Last Supper, You instituted the Holy Eucharist, in order to give us the grace we need to put this difficult commandment into practice in our lives.”

“Those whom You have joined in Holy Matrimony are to practice this selfless charity day after day, and year after year, until you call them into eternity.”

“They need, how they need, the patience and courage and heroic fortitude to remain faithful to You and to one another in today's Age of Martyrs.”

“Give them, we pray, the light to see that You are with them in the Holy Eucharist, near them by Your Real Presence, and within them in Holy Communion.”

“Inspire them to become Apostles of Charity and Chastity to the married.”

“Eucharistic Lord Jesus, without You we can do nothing. But with You we can restore a broken world to unity in the human family here on earth, as a prelude to our union with You in heaven, in the company of the Divine Family of the Holy Trinity. Amen”.

How to Defend Christ's Presence in the Eucharist


Jason Evert

1. During the Last Supper, Jesus was speaking metaphorically when he said, "This is my body." 

Objections to Christ’s presence in the Eucharist can usually be divided into three categories: scriptural, philosophical, and historical. Whenever discussing the scriptural objections, keep in mind how many different interpretations are out there. William Whalen’s book Separated Brethren was published in the 1950s, and it recorded that there were over three hundred different interpretations of the phrase, "This is my body."

Two Christians with differing views could debate the matter for hours and not make any progress. That being the case, the issue of authority should always be brought up first. If there are at least three hundred interpretations of those four words, how is a sincere Christian to know what Christ meant by them? Whose authority should be trusted when it comes to interpreting the Bible?

If your friend is not favorable to the idea of accepting the Catholic Church as that authority, perhaps he is willing to concede that the first two or three centuries of Christian writings are worth examining. After all, if anyone knew what Christ meant at the Last Supper it would be the apostles and their disciples. The web address www.catholic.com/answers/tracts/_real_pr.htm is an ideal place to find the first Christian exegesis of the words "This is my body."

In addition to the historical evidence, it is useful to examine the language that Christ would have used at the Last Supper. In Aramaic, there are over three dozen words that mean represent or symbolize, but Jesus used none of them in his statement, "This is my body." In fact, a literal translation in the Aramaic is simply, "This my body."

If this phrase were metaphorical, a serious difficulty arises in 1 Corinthians 11:27, where Paul says that if one eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner he will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. In a Semitic culture, to be guilty of another’s body and blood is to be guilty of murder. Yet how could one be guilty of murder if the bread is merely a symbol of Christ? Paul goes on to say that some are dying because of this.

2. But the bread of life discourse in John 6 shouldn’t be taken literally. Elsewhere, Jesus said that he was the door, the gate, the vine, et cetera. Here he is saying that he is the bread, since he gives us spiritual nourishment. 

When questions of biblical interpretation are raised, it is beneficial to read in context the entire passage that is in dispute. The bread of life discourse begins in John 6:22, and the first point to address is the discussion of the heavenly bread. Jesus makes the point that as the Father sent manna from heaven for the physical nourishment of the Israelites, he has sent Jesus for the spiritual nourishment of the world. When Jesus announced this (6:41), the Jews murmured because he said that he had come down from heaven, not because he said that he was like bread. They understood his symbolic statement regarding the origin of the manna, and were scandalized by what it implied: "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven?’" (6:42).

Beginning in verse 43, Jesus replies to these objections. At the completion of his answer (6:51), he speaks of a bread that he is yet to give. The Jews’ understand that he is now speaking in a literal sense, and so they object, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So the Jews first objected because of what Jesus’ initial words meant symbolically, and now they object to what his second statement means literally. Had Jesus been speaking in a metaphorical sense here, this would be the perfect point to clarify his intentions.

Matthew 16:5–12 is one such example where Jesus’ listeners thought that he was speaking in a literal sense, and he had to correct them. In this passage, Christ was warning the disciples of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The disciples concluded that he was speaking of the bread they had forgotten to bring for their journey. In seeing their confusion, Jesus had to reiterate that he was not speaking literally of bread.

Keeping this in mind, look how Jesus answers the Jews’ objections in John 6:53–58: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. . . . For my flesh is food indeed, and my flesh is drink indeed." These words would hardly quell the Jew’s fear that Jesus spoke literally. Following this, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?"(6:60). At this point, we witness the only place in Scripture where anyone leaves Jesus for a doctrinal reason. Had Jesus been speaking metaphorically, what would have been so hard for the disciples to accept?

One last passage worth considering is John 10:9, where Jesus says, "I am the door." Some say that this is the sense in which Jesus’ words in John 6 should be taken. However, no one understood Jesus to be speaking literally when he said that he was a door. The narrative does not continue, "And his disciples murmured about this, saying, ‘How can he be a door? Where are his hinges? We do not see a doorknob.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Amen, Amen, I say to you, I am a door, and my chest is real wood, and my hips are real hinges.’" This is absurd, but it illustrates how shocking Jesus’ words were when he said that his flesh was real food and his blood real drink.

3. If Jesus was speaking literally, then why did he say, "It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail," and "The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (John 6:63)? 

The fundamental misunderstanding here springs from the implication that the word spirit is symbolic. Never in Scripture is this the case. We are told that God is spirit and that the devil is spirit, but no one would conclude from this that they are merely symbolic beings. What Jesus is driving at is that the carnal understanding of fallen human flesh is incapable of grasping spiritual realities—such as the Eucharist. 

If one concludes from the above verses that Jesus was speaking metaphorically of his flesh and blood, a major difficulty arises. The Bible teaches that blood is essentially the seat of life within living things, and thus it is sacred. Every time the Bible speaks of symbolically eating another's flesh and drinking their blood, this is the idiomatic phrase that meant to persecute, betray, and murder (see Micah 3:3; Psalm 27:2; Isaiah 9:20, 49:26). Now read John 6 in light of those that understood Jesus to speak symbolically. "I solemnly assure you that unless you persecute and betray me, you have no life within you. He who does violence to me has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." This is senseless, but it is what his words would have meant if they were symbolic.

4. If a miracle occurs when the priest says, "This is my body," then why doesn’t the bread change? 

This objection is more of a philosophical one, and so you need to shift apologetic gears a bit to address it. What we perceive with our senses is not always a good indicator of spiritual realities.

In the Old Testament, there are several occasions where angels take on human appearances in order to carry out the work of God. Now, is the angel an angelic being or a human being? It would not look angelic. Through touch, smell, sight, et cetera it would appear to be fully human. But it is an angel. If an angel can take on human form, God is infinitely able to humble himself under the appearance of bread in order that we might receive him. In the words the Eucharistic hymn Tantum Ergo, "What our senses fail to fathom let us g.asp through faith’s consent."

5. If we took Jesus’ words literally, wouldn’t that imply cannibalism? 

Cannibalism is when one individual physically eats the human flesh off of another’s body. Catholic or not, the words in John 6 do sound cannibalistic. Even a Fundamentalist would have to say that he eats the flesh of Christ and drinks his blood in a symbolic manner so as to concur with the passage. By the same allowance, Catholics eat the flesh of Christ and drink his blood in a sacramental way. Neither the Protestant nor the Catholic appears to be doing anything cannibalistic, though.

It would have been cannibalism is if a disciple two thousand years ago had tried literally to eat Jesus by sinking his teeth into his arm. Now that our Lord is in heaven with a glorified body and made present under the appearance of bread in the Eucharist, cannibalism is not possible.

6. Besides, the doctrine of transubstantiation wasn’t invented until the thirteenth century. 

Fundamentalists often use this argument in the same way that a Jehovah’s Witness would say that the Trinity was invented in the fourth century at the Council of Nicea. Neither argument is sound because the truth of a particular term should be established by what it means, not by when it was first used.

Transubstantiation was taught by the Church Fathers long before anyone had ever heard of the term (see "The Fathers Know Best," page 34). See, for example, the citation from Justin Martyr’s First Apology (A.D. 151): "The food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus."

The evidence in favor of the Real Presence in the writings of the Church Fathers is compelling and unanimous. In fact, it was not until Berengarius of Tours in the eleventh century that the teaching was denied.

Before, during, and after your discussions on the Eucharist, make sure to pray for the person you are speaking to. While Catholics realize that the Eucharist is of great importance, they often overlook how belief in it leads to the fullness of faith. If a person believes in the Real Presence, then he must accept the priesthood, apostolic succession, and in turn the divine institution of the Catholic Church. These truths are inseparably linked to the Holy Eucharist.

The Assumption of Mary

Tim Staples

There are two texts of Scripture most commonly used to “disprove” the Assumption of Mary.

1. John 3:13:

No one has ascended up to heaven, but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man. 

If “no man” has ascended into heaven, wouldn’t that include the Blessed Virgin Mary?

2. I Cor. 15:22-23:

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.

 

If no one except Christ will be resurrected bodily before the Second Coming of Christ, would that not eliminate the possibility of Mary having been bodily assumed into heaven?

The Catholic response

John 3:13 does not eliminate the possibility of the Assumption of Mary for four reasons.

1. St. John was quoting the actual words our Lord spoke when he wrote, “No one has ascended into heaven, but . . . the Son of man.” Jesus was merely saying that no one had ascended into heaven by the time he made that statement. That was long before the Assumption of Mary.

2. Jesus cannot be saying that no one else will ever be taken to heaven. If that is the case, then what is all this Christianity stuff about? You know, heaven and all.

3. If one interprets John 3:13 as speaking about Christ uniquely ascending to heaven, that would be acceptable. We would then have to ask the question: what is it about Jesus’ ascension that is unique? Well, the fact that he ascended is unique. Mary did not ascend to heaven. She was assumed. There is a big difference. Jesus ascended by his own divine power as he prophesied he would in John 2:19-21: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up . . . he spoke of the temple of his body.” Mary was powerless to raise herself to heaven; she had to be assumed. The same could be said of all Christians. Jesus raised himself from the dead. Christians will be entirely passive when it comes to their collective “resurrection.”

4. St. John is demonstrating the divinity of Christ in John 3:13. Historically, we know St. John was writing against his archenemy, the heretic Cerinthus, who denied the divinity of Christ. St. John quotes these words from Jesus to demonstrate that the Savior “descended” from heaven and was both in heaven and on Earth as the “only begotten Son” (cf. 3:16) sharing his Father’s nature (cf. 5:17-18). Thus, he was truly God. St. John also emphasizes that even while "the Son of Man" walked the Earth with his disciples in Galilee, he possessed the beatific vision in his human nature. In that sense, his human nature (Son of Man) had already "ascended" into heaven inasmuch as it possessed the beatific vision, which is at the core of what heaven is. That is John’s theme in the text, not whether someone years after Christ could be assumed into heaven or not.

I Cor. 15:22-23:

1. We must remember that there are sometimes exceptions to general theological norms in Scripture. For example, consider Matt. 3:5-6: “Then went out to [St. John the Baptist] Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him.” We know that "all" here does not mean "all" in a strict sense because we know, at least, Herod, Herodias, and her daughter, were exceptions to this verse (See Matt. 14:1-11). They conspired to put St. John to death. Not the best candidates for baptism! The bottom line: There are exceptions to Matt. 3:5-6. St. John the Baptist did not baptize everyone in “Jerusalem, Judea and the region around Jordan.” So Mary could be (and is, as we will see below) an exception to I Cor. 15:22-23.

2. There are exceptions to other general norms specifically laid out as true for “all” in Scripture. Hebrews 9:27 declares, “It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Yet we see exceptions to this norm many places in Scripture by way of resurrections from the dead. Not only do we have Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, St. Peter and St. Paul raising the dead in Scripture, but after Jesus’ Resurrection, “the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and [came] out of the tombs” (Matt. 27:52-53). These folks obviously did not “die once.” They died at least twice!      

3. We have examples of other “assumptions” in Scripture. Both Enoch (cf. Gen. 5:24) and Elijah were taken up “into heaven” (II Kings 2:11) in a manner quite out of the ordinary. And so are the "two witnesses" of Revelation 11:3-13. Why couldn’t God do this with Mary?

4. We know that Mary is an exception to the “norm” of I Cor. 15:22-23 because she is depicted as having been assumed into heaven in Rev. 12. “And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun . . . she was with child . . . and . . . brought forth a male child [Jesus], one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (12:1-5). Who was the woman who gave birth to Jesus? Mary! And there she is in heaven!

Is the woman of Revelation 12 Mary?

Many will object at this point and deny “the woman” of Revelation 12 is Mary. They will claim it is either the Church, or, as do dispensationalists, they will claim it is the Israel of old.

The Church acknowledges Scripture to have a polyvalent nature. In other words, there can be many levels of meaning to the various texts of Scripture. So, are there many levels of meaning to Rev. 12? Absolutely! Israel is often depicted as the Lord’s bride in the Old Testament (cf. Song of Solomon, Jer. 3:1, etc.). So there is precedent to refer to Israel as “the woman.” And Jesus was born out of Israel. 

Moreover, the Book of Revelation depicts the New Covenant Church as “the bride of Christ” and “the New Jerusalem” (cf. Rev. 21:2). “The woman” of Revelation 12 is also depicted as continuing to beget children to this day and these children are revealed to be all “who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (vs. 17). The Church certainly fits this description.

In fact, we argue as Catholics “the woman” to represent the people of God down through the centuries, whether Old Covenant Israel or the New Covenant Church, “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16).

The first and literal sense

All we have said about “the woman” of Revelation 12 representing the people of God down through the millennia of time does not diminish in any way the first and literal sense of the text as representing Mary. In fact, there are at least four reasons why one cannot escape including Mary when exegeting Revelation 12 and specifically the identity of “the woman.”

1. “The woman” in Rev. 12 “brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with an iron rod: and her son was taken up to God, and to his throne.” This child is obviously Jesus. If we begin on the literal level, there is no doubt that Mary is the one who “brought forth” Jesus.

2. Though we could discover many spiritual levels of meaning for the flight of “the woman” in 12:6, 14, Mary and the Holy Family literally fled into Egypt in Matt. 2:13-15 with divine assistance.

3. Mary is referred to prophetically as “woman” in Gen. 3:15, Jer. 31:22, and by Jesus as the same in John 2:4 and 19:26. Especially considering the same apostle, John, wrote the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation, it is no stretch to say St. John would have had Mary in mind when he used the familiar term “the woman” as the descriptor of the Lady of the Apocalypse.

4. There are four main characters in the chapter: “the woman,” the devil, Jesus, and the Archangel Michael. No one denies that the other three mentioned are real persons. It fits the context exegetically to interpret “the woman” as a person (Mary) as well.

How do we know Mary is bodily in heaven?

Some may concede Mary to be the woman of Revelation 12, but the next logical question is: “How does this mean she is in heaven bodily? There are lots of souls in heaven, but they don’t have their bodies."

It seems clear that “the woman” is depicted as having “the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown” (vs. 1). Elsewhere in Rev. and in other parts of Scripture, saints in heaven are referred to as the “souls of those who had been slain” (Rev. 6:9) or “the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb. 12:23). Why? Because they do not have bodies! They are disembodied “souls” or “spirits.” But the "woman" of Rev. 12 is portrayed as having a body with a head and feet.

But perhaps even more important than this is the fact that “the Ark of the Covenant” is revealed as being in heaven in Rev. 11:19. This is just one verse prior to the unveiling of “the woman” of Rev. 12:1.

Some may respond at this point: “Who cares if the ‘Ark of the Covenant’ is said to be in heaven?"

This is crucial, because Hebrews 9:4 tells us what was contained within the ark: a portion of manna, the miraculous “bread from heaven” of Old Testament fame, Aaron’s staff, and the Ten Commandments. In fact, it was precisely because of these sacred contents that the ark was so holy, and that is precisely why it is here depicted as having been taken up to heaven.

The question is: Is the Ark of the Covenant depicted as being in heaven a “what” (an Old Testament box made of acacia wood overlain with gold in Exodus 25), or a “who?” I argue it not only to be a “who” but to be the Blessed Virgin Mary for these reasons:

Let’s first take a look at the text of Rev. 11:19:

Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within in his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, loud noises, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.

In order to appreciate the identity of “the ark,” let’s first take a look at the identity of “the temple” that St. John sees as housing the ark. John 2:19-21 and Rev. 21:22 tell us quite plainly that the temple St. John speaks of is not a temple made of brick and mortar.

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”. . .  But he spoke of the temple of his body (Jn. 2:21).

I saw no temple [in heaven], for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the lamb (Rev. 21:22).

When St. John views the temple in heaven, he is not viewing the Old Testament temple. He is viewing the true temple, which is Christ’s body. In the same way, St. John is not seeing the Old Covenant ark. He sees the new and true Ark of the Covenant. And remember: this would not just be talking about Mary but Mary’s body! It was Mary’s body that housed the Son of God, the fulfillment of the various types of Christ that were contained in the Old Covenant ark.

The conclusion is inescapable. Where is Mary’s body? In heaven, according to the Book of Revelation!

A final objection

Some may argue at this point our energy was wasted in asserting Mary to be identified with “the woman” of Revelation 12 because this “woman” is depicted as “travailing” with the pangs of labor in verse 2. Thus, this cannot be the “Catholic” Mary.

Two points in response:

1. No matter which interpretation you choose—Israel, the Church, Mary, or all of the above—all interpretations agree: the labor pains of Rev. 12:2 are not literal pains from a child passing through the birth canal. This really should not be a problem at all. 

2. From the very beginning of Mary's calling to be the Mother of the Messiah, she would have most likely known her Son was called to be the "suffering servant" of Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, and Wisdom 2.

Mary’s “labor pains” began at the Annunciation and would continue from the cradle to the cross, where she suffered with her Son as prophesied in Luke 2:34-35 and as painfully fulfilled in John 19. Mary’s deep love for and knowledge of her divine Son brought with it pains far deeper than any physical hurt could ever cause. A body can go numb and cease to feel pain. But you can’t deaden a heart that loves, as long as that heart continues to love. Mary clearly chose to love. She was uniquely present for our Lord, from the Incarnation of Luke 1:37-38, to the birthing of his ministry in John 2, to the cross in John 19, and into eternity in Revelation 12.

Immaculate Conception and Assumption

 

Catholic Answers

The Marian doctrines are, for Fundamentalists, among the most bothersome of the Catholic Church’s teachings. In this tract we’ll examine briefly two Marian doctrines that Fundamentalist writers frequently object to—the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. 

The Immaculate Conception

It’s important to understand what the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is and what it is not. Some people think the term refers to Christ’s conception in Mary’s womb without the intervention of a human father; but that is the Virgin Birth. Others think the Immaculate Conception means Mary was conceived "by the power of the Holy Spirit," in the way Jesus was, but that, too, is incorrect. The Immaculate Conception means that Mary, whose conception was brought about the normal way, was conceived without original sin or its stain—that’s what "immaculate" means: without stain. The essence of original sin consists in the deprivation of sanctifying grace, and its stain is a corrupt nature. Mary was preserved from these defects by God’s grace; from the first instant of her existence she was in the state of sanctifying grace and was free from the corrupt nature original sin brings. 

When discussing the Immaculate Conception, an implicit reference may be found in the angel’s greeting to Mary. The angel Gabriel said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you" (Luke 1:28). The phrase "full of grace" is a translation of the Greek word kecharitomene. It therefore expresses a characteristic quality of Mary. 

The traditional translation, "full of grace," is better than the one found in many recent versions of the New Testament, which give something along the lines of "highly favored daughter." Mary was indeed a highly favored daughter of God, but the Greek implies more than that (and it never mentions the word for "daughter"). The grace given to Mary is at once permanent and of a unique kind.Kecharitomene is a perfect passive participle of charitoo, meaning "to fill or endow with grace." Since this term is in the perfect tense, it indicates that Mary was graced in the past but with continuing effects in the present. So, the grace Mary enjoyed was not a result of the angel’s visit. In fact, Catholics hold, it extended over the whole of her life, from conception onward. She was in a state of sanctifying grace from the first moment of her existence. 

Fundamentalists’ Objections

Fundamentalists’ chief reason for objecting to the Immaculate Conception and Mary’s consequent sinlessness is that we are told that "all have sinned" (Rom. 3:23). Besides, they say, Mary said her "spirit rejoices in God my Savior" (Luke 1:47), and only a sinner needs a Savior. 

Let’s take the second citation first. Mary, too, required a Savior. Like all other descendants of Adam, she was subject to the necessity of contracting original sin. But by a special intervention of God, undertaken at the instant she was conceived, she was preserved from the stain of original sin and its consequences. She was therefore redeemed by the grace of Christ, but in a special way—by anticipation. 

Consider an analogy: Suppose a man falls into a deep pit, and someone reaches down to pull him out. The man has been "saved" from the pit. Now imagine a woman walking along, and she too is about to topple into the pit, but at the very moment that she is to fall in, someone holds her back and prevents her. She too has been saved from the pit, but in an even better way: She was not simply taken out of the pit, she was prevented from getting stained by the mud in the first place. This is the illustration Christians have used for a thousand years to explain how Mary was saved by Christ. By receiving Christ’s grace at her conception, she had his grace applied to her before she was able to become mired in original sin and its stain. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that she was "redeemed in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son" (CCC 492). She has more reason to call God her Savior than we do, because he saved her in an even more glorious manner! 

But what about Romans 3:23, "all have sinned"? Have all people committed actual sins? Consider a child below the age of reason. By definition he can’t sin, since sinning requires the ability to reason and the ability to intend to sin. This is indicated by Paul later in the letter to the Romans when he speaks of the time when Jacob and Esau were unborn babies as a time when they "had done nothing either good or bad" (Rom. 9:11). 

We also know of another very prominent exception to the rule: Jesus (Heb. 4:15). So if Paul’s statement in Romans 3 includes an exception for the New Adam (Jesus), one may argue that an exception for the New Eve (Mary) can also be made. 

Paul’s comment seems to have one of two meanings. It might be that it refers not to absolutely everyone, but just to the mass of mankind (which means young children and other special cases, like Jesus and Mary, would be excluded without having to be singled out). If not that, then it would mean that everyone, without exception, is subject to original sin, which is true for a young child, for the unborn, even for Mary—but she, though due to be subject to it, was preserved by God from it and its stain. 

The objection is also raised that if Mary were without sin, she would be equal to God. In the beginning, God created Adam, Eve, and the angels without sin, but none were equal to God. Most of the angels never sinned, and all souls in heaven are without sin. This does not detract from the glory of God, but manifests it by the work he has done in sanctifying his creation. Sinning does not make one human. On the contrary, it is when man is without sin that he is most fully what God intends him to be. 

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was officially defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854. When Fundamentalists claim that the doctrine was "invented" at this time, they misunderstand both the history of dogmas and what prompts the Church to issue, from time to time, definitive pronouncements regarding faith or morals. They are under the impression that no doctrine is believed until the pope or an ecumenical council issues a formal statement about it. 

Actually, doctrines are defined formally only when there is a controversy that needs to be cleared up or when the magisterium (the Church in its office as teacher; cf. Matt. 28:18–20; 1 Tim. 3:15, 4:11) thinks the faithful can be helped by particular emphasis being drawn to some already-existing belief. The definition of the Immaculate Conception was prompted by the latter motive; it did not come about because there were widespread doubts about the doctrine. In fact, the Vatican was deluged with requests from people desiring the doctrine to be officially proclaimed. Pope Pius IX, who was highly devoted to the Blessed Virgin, hoped the definition would inspire others in their devotion to her. 

The Assumption

The doctrine of the Assumption says that at the end of her life on earth Mary was assumed, body and soul, into heaven, just as Enoch, Elijah, and perhaps others had been before her. It’s also necessary to keep in mind what the Assumption is not. Some people think Catholics believe Mary "ascended" into heaven. That’s not correct. Christ, by his own power, ascended into heaven. Mary was assumed or taken up into heaven by God. She didn’t do it under her own power. 

The Church has never formally defined whether she died or not, and the integrity of the doctrine of the Assumption would not be impaired if she did not in fact die, but the almost universal consensus is that she did die. Pope Pius XII, in Munificentissimus Deus (1950), defined that Mary, "after the completion of her earthly life" (note the silence regarding her death), "was assumed body and soul into the glory of heaven." 

The possibility of a bodily assumption before the Second Coming is suggested by Matthew 27:52–53: "[T]he tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many." Did all these Old Testament saints die and have to be buried all over again? There is no record of that, but it is recorded by early Church writers that they were assumed into heaven, or at least into that temporary state of rest and happiness often called "paradise," where the righteous people from the Old Testament era waited until Christ’s resurrection (cf. Luke 16:22, 23:43; Heb. 11:1–40; 1 Pet. 4:6), after which they were brought into the eternal bliss of heaven. 

No Remains

There is also what might be called the negative historical proof for Mary’s Assumption. It is easy to document that, from the first, Christians gave homage to saints, including many about whom we now know little or nothing. Cities vied for the title of the last resting place of the most famous saints. Rome, for example, houses the tombs of Peter and Paul, Peter’s tomb being under the high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In the early Christian centuries relics of saints were zealously guarded and highly prized. The bones of those martyred in the Coliseum, for instance, were quickly gathered up and preserved—there are many accounts of this in the biographies of those who gave their lives for the faith. 

It is agreed upon that Mary ended her life in Jerusalem, or perhaps in Ephesus. However, neither those cities nor any other claimed her remains, though there are claims about possessing her (temporary) tomb. And why did no city claim the bones of Mary? Apparently because there weren’t any bones to claim, and people knew it. Here was Mary, certainly the most privileged of all the saints, certainly the most saintly, but we have no record of her bodily remains being venerated anywhere. 

Complement to the Immaculate Conception

Over the centuries, the Fathers and the Doctors of the Church spoke often about the fittingness of the privilege of Mary’s Assumption. The speculative grounds considered include Mary’s freedom from sin, her Motherhood of God, her perpetual virginity, and—the key—her union with the salvific work of Christ. 

The dogma is especially fitting when one examines the honor that was given to the ark of the covenant. It contained the manna (bread from heaven), stone tablets of the ten commandments (the word of God), and the staff of Aaron (a symbol of Israel’s high priesthood). Because of its contents, it was made of incorruptible wood, and Psalm 132:8 said, "Arise, O Lord, and go to thy resting place, thou and the ark of thy might." If this vessel was given such honor, how much more should Mary be kept from corruption, since she is the new ark—who carried the real bread from heaven, the Word of God, and the high priest of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ. 

Some argue that the new ark is not Mary, but the body of Jesus. Even if this were the case, it is worth noting that 1 Chronicles 15:14 records that the persons who bore the ark were to be sanctified. There would be no sense in sanctifying men who carried a box, and not sanctifying the womb who carried God himself! After all, wisdom will not dwell "in a body under debt of sin" (Wis. 1:4 NAB). 

But there is more than just fittingness. After all, if Mary is immaculately conceived, then it would follow that she would not suffer the corruption in the grave, which is a consequence of sin [Gen. 3:17, 19]. 

Mary’s Cooperation

Mary freely and actively cooperated in a unique way with God’s plan of salvation (Luke 1:38; Gal. 4:4). Like any mother, she was never separated from the suffering of her Son (Luke 2:35), and Scripture promises that those who share in the sufferings of Christ will share in his glory (Rom. 8:17). Since she suffered a unique interior martyrdom, it is appropriate that Jesus would honor her with a unique glory. 

All Christians believe that one day we will all be raised in a glorious form and then caught up and rendered immaculate to be with Jesus forever (1 Thess. 4:17; Rev. 21:27). As the first person to say "yes" to the good news of Jesus (Luke 1:38), Mary is in a sense the prototypical Christian, and received early the blessings we will all one day be given.  

The Bible Only?

Since the Immaculate Conception and Assumption are not explicit in Scripture, Fundamentalists conclude that the doctrines are false. Here, of course, we get into an entirely separate matter, the question of sola scriptura, or the Protestant "Bible only" theory. There is no room in this tract to consider that idea. Let it just be said that if the position of the Catholic Church is true, then the notion of sola scriptura is false. There is then no problem with the Church officially defining a doctrine which is not explicitly in Scripture, so long as it is not in contradiction to Scripture. 

The Catholic Church was commissioned by Christ to teach all nations and to teach them infallibly—guided, as he promised, by the Holy Spirit until the end of the world (John 14:26, 16:13). The mere fact that the Church teaches that something is definitely true is a guarantee that it is true (cf. Matt. 28:18-20, Luke 10:16, 1 Tim. 3:15). 

Why Men Matter

WHY MEN MATTER

+Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

Salina men’s conference, 8.11.18

 

I spent the 1960s studying to be a priest, so I was exempt from the military draft. I never served in Vietnam.  I can’t and don’t claim to know what combat is like.  But I have friends who did serve, and no one in my generation could really avoid the war because it dominated our country’s life for more than a decade.  The Vietnam War intersected with a sexual revolution and a wave of social turmoil here at home that, in some ways, remain with us today.  And yet, along with the war’s bitterness and suffering, there were moments that are frozen in time because they had an impossible beauty.  They can move the heart even now.  I want to focus on one of them.

In your conference booklets, you’ll find a photograph with the title “Reaching Out.”  I want you to study it.  October 1966 saw a series of heavy firefights between American Marines and North Vietnamese regulars in the jungles and hills just south of the DMZ.  This photo was snapped on Hill 484, moments after a hand-to-hand battle for the hill had ended.  The man with the head wound is a gunnery sergeant, or “gunny,” the senior enlisted man in a Marine company. 

Two things are obvious.  The Marines around the gunny are trying to get him to a medic.  And the gunny is doing the opposite – ignoring his own pain to help a wounded young Marine bleeding in the dirt.  What’s not obvious is something outside the frame.  The same Marines had just dragged the sergeant away from the body of their dead company commander, who had called down friendly artillery fire on his own position to keep his men from being overrun.  The beauty in this photograph – what the poet William Butler Yeats called “a terrible beauty” – is the love among men in the shadow of death; men in the extremes of pressure and suffering.  Not a romantic love.  And certainly not an erotic love.  But the loyalty-love of men made brothers by the tasks and burdens they share. 

Men don’t often talk about this love, but it’s real.  It’s the love that enables a man to sacrifice his own life in service to someone or something more important than himself.  It’s the love that takes the male of our species and remakes him into a man.  And that leads us to our theme this afternoon: why men matter. 

It’s an odd question to ask, isn’t it.  Why do men matter?  In a healthy time and culture, we wouldn’t need to ask, because the answer is obvious.  The role of good men is to provide, to protect, to build, to lead, and to teach, both by our words and by the example of our lives.  None of these things is exclusive to men, of course.  Women can do all of these things in their own way, with their own particular genius.  But men have the special responsibility to create a secure and just society where new life can grow and thrive to ensure the human future. 

The trouble is, we don’t live in a healthy time and culture.  We live in an on-going civil war in this country over the meaning of sex, gender, family, marriage, human nature and whether our lives have any higher purpose at all.  And that makes the sound of any sane voice all the more precious.    

Abigail Shrier is a writer based in Los Angeles.  Last month, for the issue of July 21-22, she wrote a remarkable piece in the Wall Street Journal with the title “Masculine dads raise confident daughters.”  If you want some homework from our time together today, find it.  Read it.  And take it to heart.  It’s a better debunking of today’s attacks on masculinity than a man could ever write.  To borrow from just a couple of passages, Shrier notes that 

“My father never hid that he had high expectations of me . . . He admired smarts less than grit, found surface beauty less enchanting than charm.  The woman he admired most was our mother, not for her intelligence or accomplishments, though she had plenty of both, but because of a strength that took his breath away and on which he often relied . . .

“My father’s own unapologetic masculinity made us feel secure . . . [He] never let me get away with self-pity.  Never allowed me to win an argument with tears.  He regarded unbridled emotion in place of reason as vaguely pathetic . . . And when young men didn’t like me or were poised to treat me badly, it was my father’s regard that I found myself consulting and relying upon.  When a man tries to mistreat a woman . . . he is unlikely to get very far with [someone] whose father has made her feel that’s she’s worth a whole lot . . .  [So] Dads, whatever you’re doing for your daughters, double it.” 

The point of Ms. Shrier’s article is the shocking claim – shocking to some people, anyway -- that men and women are different.  They need each other’s distinct and particular gifts to flourish.  In other words, an agenda of demeaning men, effeminizing boys, and trashing chivalrous behavior, which seems to be the goal of at least some of today’s “progressive” politics, does nothing to advance women.  It does exactly the opposite.  It cripples them.

Shrier isn’t alone in her thinking.  Plenty of data exist showing that strong, involved, masculine fathers produce confident, successful, feminine daughters.  And likewise, fathers play a crucial role in forming boys and young men in habits of mature self-discipline and excellence.  Masculinity is learned; and the right kind of masculinity is learned from fathers with deep moral character and other adult men of virtue.  The presence of a loving father radically improves the environment of a family.  It results in lower rates of poverty, less crime, better psychological health, and higher rates of education and career achievement for children of both sexes.  None of these realities is a surprise or a news flash.  All of them are simple matters of social science fact.  Another simple fact is that the absence of a father hits the lower social classes especially hard.  It makes the cycle of poverty and crime even more difficult for single mothers and their children to escape. 

The irony is that, despite all these facts, the leadership elites in many of today’s Western countries have never seemed more skeptical of natural gender roles and never been more hostile to what they describe as “toxic” masculinity.  Examples are legion, and we have limited time, but I do want to share just one of them.  Rudyard Kipling’s classic poem of boyhood, “If—,” was recently stripped from a mural at Britain’s University of Manchester by the self-described “Liberation and Access Officer” of the school’s Student Union.  The reason she gave is that “Kipling stands for the opposite of liberation, empowerment, and human rights -- the things that we, as [a Student Union], stand for.” 

For those of you who don’t know how dangerously regressive and masculine Kipling’s poem “If—,” can be, here’s a couple of stanzas:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise . . . 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue
Or walk with Kings nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the earth and everything in it,
And -- which is more – you’ll be a man my son.

One of the strangest results of my own generation’s – the Boomer generation’s – thirst for sexual liberation is that we now have a regime of sexual Stalinism to enforce it.  Almost any imaginable sexual behavior is allowed and even approved for public consumption -- -- unless men want to be men, and women want to be women, and they want to behave accordingly in a traditional moral sense.  That kind of deviance is suspect.  Sexual freedom turns out to be a grim and exacting business. 

Whining about things doesn’t achieve much, though.  So how do we live right now with some hope and meaning as Christian men?  Sometimes looking to the past makes the way forward easier to see.  So let’s do that.  History is a good teacher.

Medieval knighthood began as a profession of heavily armed male thugs, men obsessed with vanity, violence, and rape.  It took Europe’s warrior class – guided and influenced by the Church – several centuries to limit and channel its dark side.  Chivalry became the code that made this transformation possible.  Chivalry gave knighthood its dignity and meaning.  The true chevalier, or knight, was duty bound by oath to be a man of courage, loyalty, generosity, and nobility of spirit; a man committed to respecting and defending the honor of women, and protecting the weak. 

This same spirit animated the new crusading religious orders like the Knights Templar, which sought to build a new order of new Christian men, skilled at arms, living as brothers, committed to prayer, austerity, and chastity, and devoting themselves radically to serving the Church and her people, especially the weak. 

Of course, the ideals of chivalry and knighthood were often ignored or betrayed.  Then as now, human beings are inventive and experienced sinners – every one of us.  The author Karl Marlantes – who fought as a young Marine officer on exactly the same Hill 484 in Vietnam, two years after the photo in our booklets was taken – says that there’s a reason we humans are at the top of our planet’s food chain.  Our species has an instinctive appetite for aggression that every civilization, and the Christian religion in particular, struggle to tame and redirect.  In that light, the astounding thing is how often and how fruitfully the ideals of chivalry were actually embraced, pursued and lived by medieval men at arms, rather than abused.

My point is this.  C.S. Lewis described Christianity as a “fighting religion.”  He meant that living the Gospel involves a very real kind of spiritual warfare; a struggle against the evil in ourselves and in the world around us.  Our first weapons should always be generosity, patience, mercy, forgiveness, an eagerness to listen to and understand others, a strong personal witness of faith, and speaking the truth unambiguously with love.  For the Christian, violence is always a last and unwelcome resort.  It’s to be used only in self-defense or in defending others.  But at the same time, justice and courage are also key Christian virtues.  And they have a special meaning in the life of the Christian man. 

Men need a challenge.  Men need to test and prove their worth.  Men feel most alive when they’re giving themselves to some purpose higher than their own comfort.  This is why young men join the Marines or Rangers or SEALs.  They do it not despite it being hard, but exactly because it’s hard; because it hurts; because they want to be the best and earn a place among brothers who are also the very best.  Men joined the early Capuchins and Jesuits not to escape the world but to transform it; to convert the world by demanding everything a man had – every drop of his energy, love, talent and intelligence -- in service to a mission bigger and more important than any individual ego or appetite.

This is why the ideal of knighthood still has such a strong hold on the hearts and imaginations of men.  Again, as men, we’re hardwired by nature and confirmed by the Word of God to provide, to protect, and to lead – not for our own sake, not for our own empty vanities and appetites, but in service to others.

 We men – all of us, both clergy and lay -- bear a special responsibility because the Gospel tasks us as leaders.  That doesn’t make us better than anyone else.  It takes nothing away from the equality of women and men.  But human beings are not identical units.  We’re not interchangeable pieces of social machinery.  Christian equality is based not in political ideology but in the reality of the differences and mutual dependencies of real men and women.  As creatures we’re designed toneed each other, not replicate each other.

Men are meant to lead in a uniquely masculine way.  This is why bishops who fail to live up to that standard are so profoundly damaging.  There was nothing effeminate or devious or ethereal or bent about Jesus Christ, or the men who followed him.  The Son of God called men – real men -- to be his apostles, the first bishops.  And the great saint of the early Eastern Church, John Chrysostom, described every human father as the bishop of his family.  All of you fathers here today are bishops.  And every father shapes the soul of the next generation with his love, his self-mastery and his courage, or the lack of them.

In the end, protecting and building up the Gospel in our age is the work of God.  But he works through us.  The privilege and challenge of that work belong to us.  So we need to ask ourselves:  What do I want my life to mean?  If I claim to be a believing Catholic man, can I prove it with the patterns of my life?    When do I pray?  How often do I seek out the Sacrament of Penance?  What am I doing for the poor?  How am I serving the needy?  Do I treat the women in my life with the honor, love, and fidelity they deserve?  Do I really know Jesus Christ?  Who am I leading to the Church?  How many young people have I asked to consider a vocation?  How much time do I spend sharing about God with my wife, my children and my friends?  How well and how often do I listen for God’s presence in my own life?

The Church has lots of good reasons why people should believe in God, and in Jesus Christ, and in the beauty and urgency of her own mission.  But she has only one irrefutable argument for the truth of what she teaches: the personal example of her saints.

So what does that mean?  It means the world needs faithful Catholic men, men with a hunger to be saints.  The role of a Catholic husband and father -- a man who sacrifices his own desires, out of love, to serve the needs of his wife and children – is the living cornerstone of a Christian home.  The Church in this country will face a very hard road in the next 20 years, and her sons need to step up and lead by the witness of their daily lives.  We need the friendship of real brothers in the Lord to be the disciples and leaders God intends us to be.  And there’s no better place to pursue that friendship and renew our vocation as Christian men than right here, today, in the time we spend together as brothers.

I want to end these thoughts by going back for just a moment to that photograph of Hill 484 in our booklets.  Today it’s recognized as one of the great modern portraits of men at war.  But at the time it was ignored and forgotten.  In fact, it wasn’t even published until 1971, after the photographer had been killed in Laos.  You’ll notice that the sergeant with the head wound is black.  The young Marine who’s lying in the dirt is white. 

Those of you who are my age will remember the 1960s.  They were a time of intense racial hatreds and violence – riots in dozens of cities; police water hoses and attack dogs; the Black Panthers and the Ku Klux Klan; and the murder of Martin Luther King.  Racial poison penetrated nearly every aspect of our nation’s life, including the military in Vietnam. 

The sergeant in our photo was named Jeremiah Purdie.  He had a tough young life.  His mother died just a few weeks after he was born.  He grew up poor and the wrong color in a segregated South.  He entered the Marine Corps to better himself and fight for his country; a country that treated him as a second class citizen.  Because he was black, he was barred from a combat unit.  Instead, he was sent to food services school and put on kitchen duty -- more or less as a paid servant.  But he never let the bigotry that he endured infect him.  He never became bitter.  He simply did his job, and did his best.  When segregation ended in the Corps, he transferred to a combat unit, and worked his way steadily up the ranks. 

He’s an old man in our 1966 photo – a man in his mid-30s leading 18 and 19 year olds after a ferocious firefight, most of them frightened, some of them dying.  And all the while he has a piece of shrapnel in his head, and he’s bleeding down his neck.  But his heart and his focus are entirely fixed on someone else -- one of his young Marines, a white kid, wounded in the mud.

Why do men matter?  I study that photo, and I know that at our best, we matter as men because when a man gives himself completely to the needs of others, even to the point of laying down his life for a brother or friend or wife and family, God shows us a particular face of his own love.  And that love draws the world a little closer to the beauty that God intended for us all. 

Jeremiah Purdie won the Bronze Star and left the Marines in 1968, after two decades of service.  But he was never an “ex-Marine.”  There are no ex-Marines.  There are only Marines and former Marines.  He was never forgotten.  Many of the young men he led, both black and white, stayed in touch with Purdie until his death in 2005.  And it will surprise no one in this room that the central passion of his life, from the time he was a young boy, through all of his military service, on Hill 484, and until the day he died, was his Christian faith.  Jesus Christ was the Lord and anchor of his life, not just on that day in 1966, but on every other day before and after.

The lesson today, brothers, is very simple.  Photographs fade.  The legacy of a good man is forever.  We remember the best among us for the excellence of their lives.  But we’re each called, no matter where God places us, to that same kind of witness.  So may God grant all of us, as men, the courage, the grace and the integrity to be remembered in the same way.

 

What Catholics Believe about John 6

Tim Staples

For millions of non-Catholic Christians, Jesus was using pure symbolism in John 6:53 when he declared to his followers, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” The reasons non-Catholics give can usually be boiled down to these: First, a literal interpretation would make Christians into cannibals. Second, Jesus claims to be a “door” in John 10:9 and a “vine” in John 15:5. Do Catholics believe they must pluck a leaf from Jesus the vine or oil the hinges on Jesus the door to get into heaven? So the non-Catholic claims Jesus is using metaphor in John 6, just as he does elsewhere in the Gospels.

Catholic Cannibals?

The charge of cannibalism does not hold water for at least three reasons. First, Catholics do not receive our Lord in a cannibalistic form. Catholics receive him in the form of bread and wine. The cannibal kills his victim; Jesus does not die when he is consumed in Communion. Indeed, he is not changed in the slightest; the communicant is the only person who is changed. The cannibal eats part of his victim, whereas in Communion the entire Christ is consumed—body, blood, soul, and divinity. The cannibal sheds the blood of his victim; in Communion our Lord gives himself to us in a non-bloody way.   

Second, if it were truly immoral in any sense for Christ to give us his flesh and blood to eat, it would be contrary to his holiness to command anyone to eat his body and blood—even symbolically. Symbolically performing an immoral act would be of its natureimmoral.

Moreover, the expressions to eat flesh and to drink blood already carried symbolic meaning both in the Hebrew Old Testament and in the Greek New Testament, which was heavily influenced by Hebrew. In Psalm 27:1-2, Isaiah 9:18-20, Isaiah 49:26, Micah 3:3, and Revelation 17:6-16, we find these words (eating flesh and drinking blood) understood as symbolic for persecuting or assaulting someone. Jesus’ Jewish audience would never have thought he was saying, “Unless you persecute and assault me, you shall not have life in you.” Jesus never encouraged sin. This may well be another reason why the Jews took Christ at his word.

Not Metaphorically Speaking

If Jesus was speaking in purely symbolic terms, his competence as a teacher would have to be called into question. No one listening to him understood him to be speaking metaphorically. Contrast his listeners’ reaction when Jesus said he was a “door” or a “vine.” Nowhere do we find anyone asking, “How can this man be a door made out of wood?” Or, “How can this man claim to be a plant?” When Jesus spoke in metaphor, his audience seems to have been fully aware of it.

When we examine the surrounding context of John 6:53, Jesus’ words could hardly have been clearer. In verse 51, he plainly claims to be “the living bread” that his followers must eat. And he says in no uncertain terms that “the bread which I shall give . . . is my flesh.” Then, when the Jews were found “disput[ing] among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” in verse 52, he reiterates even more emphatically, “Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”

Compare this with other examples in Scripture when followers of the Lord are confused about his teaching. In John 4:32, Jesus says: “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” The disciples thought Jesus was speaking about physical food. Our Lord quickly clears up the point using concise, unmistakable language in verse 34: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work” (see also Matthew 16:5-12).   

Moreover, when we consider the language used by John, a literal interpretation—however disturbing—becomes even more obvious. In John 6:50-53 we encounter various forms of the Greek verb phago, “eating.” However, after the Jews begin to express incredulity at the idea of eating Christ’s flesh, the language begins to intensify. In verse 54, John begins to use trogo instead of phago. Trogo is a decidedly more graphic term, meaning “to chew on” or to “gnaw on”—as when an animal is ripping apart its prey.Then, in verse 61, it is no longer the Jewish multitudes, but the disciples themselves who are having difficulty with these radical statements of our Lord. Surely, if he were speaking symbolically, he would clear up the difficulty now among his disciples. Instead, what does Jesus do? He reiterates the fact that he meant just what he said: “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before?” (61-62). Would anyone think him to have meant, “What if you were to see me symbolically ascend?” Hardly! The apostles, in fact, did see Jesus literally ascend to where he was before (see Acts 1:9-10).Finally, our Lord turns to the twelve. What he does not say to them is perhaps more important than what he does say. He doesn’t say, “Hey guys, I was misleading the Jewish multitudes, the disciples, and everyone else, but now I am going to tell you alone the simple truth: I was speaking symbolically.” Rather, he says to them, “Will you also go away?” (v. 67). This most profound question from our Lord echoes down through the centuries, calling all followers of Christ in a similar fashion. With St. Peter, those who hear the voice of the Shepherd respond: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (v. 68).   

Spirit vs. Flesh

John 6:63 is the one verse singled out by Protestant apologists to counter much of what we have asserted thus far. After seeing the Jews and the disciples struggling with the radical nature of his words, our Lord says to the disciples and to us all: “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” Protestants claim Jesus here lets us know he was speaking symbolically or “spiritually” when he said “the spirit gives life, the flesh is of no avail.” See? He is not giving us his flesh to eat because he says “the flesh is of no avail.” How do we respond? We can in several ways.

1) If Jesus was clearing up the point, he would have to be considered a poor teacher: Many of the disciples left him immediately thereafter because they still believed the words of our Lord to mean what they said.

2) Most importantly, Jesus did not say, “My flesh is of no avail.” He said, “The flesh is of no avail.” There is a rather large difference between the two. No one, it is safe to say, would have believed he meant my flesh avails nothing because he just spent a good portion of this same discourse telling us that his flesh would be “given for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51, cf. 50-58). So to what was he referring? The flesh is a New Testament term often used to describe human nature apart from God’s grace.

For example, Christ said to the apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mk 14:38). According to Paul, if we are in “the flesh,” we are “hostile to God” and “cannot please God” (cf. Rom 8:1-14). In First Corinthians 2:14, he tells us, “The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” In First Corinthians 3:1, Paul goes on, “But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ.” It requires supernatural grace in the life of the believer to believe the radical declaration of Christ concerning the Eucharist. As Jesus himself said both before and after this “hard saying”: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (Jn 6:44, cf. 6:65). Belief in the Eucharist is a gift of grace. The natural mind—or the one who is in “the flesh”—will never be able to understand this great Christian truth.

3) On another level very closely related to our last point, Christ said, “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail,” because he wills to eliminate any possibility of a sort of crass literalism that would reduce his words to a cannibalistic understanding. It is the Holy Spirit that will accomplish the miracle of Christ being able to ascend into heaven bodily while being able simultaneously to distribute his body and blood in the Eucharist for the life of the world. A human body, even a perfect one, apart from the power of the Spirit could not accomplish this.

4) That which is spiritual does not necessarily equate to that which has no material substance. It often means that which is dominated or controlled by the Spirit.

One thing we do not want to do as Christians is to fall into the trap of believing that because Christ says his words are “spirit and life,” or “spiritual,” they cannot involve the material. When speaking of the resurrection of the body, Paul wrote: “It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44). Does this mean we will not have a physical body in the resurrection? Of course not. In Luke 24:39, Jesus made that clear after his own Resurrection: “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

The resurrected body is spiritual, and indeed we can be called spiritual as Christians inasmuch as we are controlled by the Spirit of God. Spiritual in no way means void of the material. That interpretation is more gnostic than Christian. The confusion here is most often based upon confusion between spirit—a noun—and the adjective spiritual. When spirit is used, e.g., “God is spirit” in John 4:24, it is then referring to that which is not material. However, the adjective spiritual is not necessarily referring to the absence of the material; rather, it is referring to the material controlled by the Spirit.

Thus, we could conclude that Jesus’ words, “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail” have essentially a twofold meaning. Only the Spirit can accomplish the miracle of the Eucharist, and only the Spirit can empower us to believe the miracle.

The Beauty of Married Love

Bishop James Conley

Diocese of Lincoln

Marriage is a beautiful witness, but it is always hard.  Family life is hard.  The family is a school of love, and love is hard—it has to be, because love is a share in the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Marriage is a commitment to work for the holiness of another—for another’s salvation—and parenting is an even deeper experience of that commitment. 

Marriage is beautiful because it is a commitment to lay down personal preference, and desire, and vanity, in favor of service to another in imitation of Jesus Christ.

Last week, Pope Francis prayed that the Church would help families to “discover the beauty… not only moments of joy, but also those of pain and weakness.”

The moments of pain and of weakness are beautiful because they can draw us into deeper sacrificial communion with Jesus Christ.  And that is the mission of marriage.

Before he was married, the famous British convert of the last century and prolific author, G.K. Chesterton wrote to his fiancée, Frances Blogg.  He shared with her his hope that their home would be a place of Christian formation—that their family would be a witness to the power of God’s love.  And he wrote especially to express his regard for the beauty of the mundane and the difficult challenges of family life.

“There are,” he wrote, “aesthetic pattering prigs who can look on a saucepan without one tear of joy or sadness: mongrel decadents that can see no dignity in the honorable scars of a kettle.”

Today, the world rarely sees dignity in the “honorable scars of the kettle.” 

Pope Francis pointed out last week that we’ve lost the notion that a difficult and painful marriage can be beautiful.  We’ve forgotten that marriage, and indeed all love, is a kind of commitment to martyrdom.  We’ve accepted a false, vain, and romantic notion of marriage: the idea that marriage is only worthwhile if it leads to constant and immediate gratification, to personal contentment.

The Holy Father said that “nowadays marriage tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. Unfortunately this vision also influences the mentality of Christians, promoting a tendency towards divorce or separation.”

Marriage is beautiful because it is a noble vocation, oriented towards the salvation of spouse and children.  If we forget that, and see “only a form of emotional satisfaction,” marriage will sooner or later fail to supply that emotional fix.   

The vocation of married men and women is to witness to the beauty in their own family life.  This week, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops celebrates National Marriage Week.  Our Church’s leaders will preach about marriage, and advocate for the protection of marriage, and offer resources to married people.  All of this is important.  But there is no greater argument for the importance of marriage than the beautiful witness of married families.

The witness of sacrificial love shocks the world.  When parents joyfully sacrifice for their children, or husbands put their wives before themselves, the world notices.  When families celebrate their joy, and share their sorrow, and see Jesus Christ in the midst of their lives, the world sees Jesus Christ too.

We need the witness of beautiful families now more than ever before. The family is under attack.  Marriage is under attack. And we face the real risk in our culture of forgetting the true and time tested understanding and meaning of marriage itself. The idea that children don’t need mothers and fathers is dangerous.  The idea that men and women don’t need each other is sad.  But nothing will overcome the disruptive ugliness of secularity like the beauty of self-sacrificing, faithful and enduring married love. 

I am grateful for witness of marriage in the Diocese of Lincoln.  Your marriages, and your families, have transformed my heart.  I pray that you will continue to be witnesses.  I pray that the beauty of your marriages will transform the world.

Archbishop Chaput: the truth of Humanae Vitae makes us free

Dennis Sadowski

The Catholic Herald

The Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage, abortion, human sexuality and contraception is rooted in the same respect for human dignity that guides its work for social justice and care for poor people, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput told a Catholic University of America audience.

It is imperative that the church make known why it upholds its teaching, as reiterated in Blessed Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae” (“Of Human Life”), so that Catholics and the world understand God’s plan for humanity, the archbishop said during the April 4 opening session of a symposium marking the 50th anniversary of the papal teaching.

The encyclical is notably known for upholding church renouncement of contraception. It followed by eight years the 1960 U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of the first birth control pill.

Blessed Paul convened a commission to examine whether the historic Christian rejection of contraceptives would apply to the new technology. Most commission members advised the pope that it would not, but Blessed Paul eventually disagreed, saying in the encyclical that the new technology was prohibited birth control.

Blessed Paul’s decision has been widely criticized, Archbishop Chaput acknowledged, with some Catholic clergy, theologians and laypeople refusing to accept it. “That resistance continues in our own day,” said the archbishop, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. He made the comments in a 35-minute presentation to about 200 people.

“‘Humanae Vitae’ revealed deep wounds in the church about our understanding of the human person, the nature of sexuality and marriage as God created it,” he explained. “We still seek the cure for those wounds. But thanks to the witness of St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict, Pope Francis and many other faithful shepherds, the church has continued to preach the truth of Jesus Christ about who we are and what God desires for us.

“People willing to open their eyes and their hearts to the truth will see the hope that Catholic teaching represents and the power that comes when that truth makes us free,” he said.

The archbishop challenged widespread denunciation of the teaching on contraception by those who say church leaders spend too much time on “pelvic issues,” thus obscuring, they argue, the Gospel message of caring for poor people.

“As a bishop for 30 years in the dioceses where I served, that’s three of them, the church has put far more money, time and personnel into the care and education of the underprivileged than into programs related to sex,” he said.

“And it’s not that the critics don’t know this. Many don’t want to know it because facts interfere with their story line of a sexually repressed, body-denying institution locked in the past.”

Church teaching on contraception can be traced to the early days of Christianity, particularly in ancient Rome, where Christians emphasized upholding human dignity, he said.

Citing the work of Kyle Harper, provost at the University of Oklahoma and an expert in Roman history, the archbishop said the Romans “presumed that sex was just sex, one instinctual need among others” and that prostitutes and slaves were “safety valves” to satisfy such needs. But it was the early Christians who “welcomed all new life as something holy and a blessing,” teaching that each person was created in the image and likeness of God, he explained.

Christians also preached that God gave all people free will to act in accordance with God’s commands or against them, he said, continuing to cite Harper.

“Christianity embedded that notion of free will in human culture for the first time. Christian sexual morality was a key part of this understanding of free will. The body was a ‘consecrated space’ in which we could choose or reject God,” he said.

As a result, Christians began demanding “care for vulnerable bodies,” speaking out against slavery and supporting the needs of poor people, and that concern included opposition to contraception, he said.

Archbishop Chaput noted that Christian opposition to contraception continued until the 1930 Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, which determined that while the preferred method of avoiding birth should be sexual abstinence, other methods may be used to prevent pregnancy as long as they fell in line with Christian principles.

“Their minor tweak gradually turned into a full reversal on the issue of contraception. Other Christian leaders followed suit,” he said.

“Today this leaves the Catholic Church almost alone as a body of Christian believers whose leaders still maintain the historic Christian teaching on contraception,” he continued. “The church can thus look stubborn and out of touch for not adjusting her beliefs to the prevailing culture. But she’s simply remaining true to the faith she received from the apostles and can’t barter away.”

Since then, Archbishop Chaput said, “developed society has moved sharply away from Christian faith and morals, without shedding them completely.”

He echoed author G.K. Chesterton, who asserted that society is surrounded by “fragments of Christian ideas removed from their original framework and used in strange new ways. Human dignity and rights are still popular concepts, just don’t ask what their foundation is or whether human rights have any solid content beyond sentiment or personal preference.”

“Our culture isn’t reverting to the paganism of the past. It’s creating a new religion to replace Christianity. It’s that we understand that today’s new sexual mores are part of this larger change.”

The moral conflicts society faces, such as broken families, social unraveling and “gender confusion” stems “from our disordered attitudes toward creation and our appetite to master, reshape and even deform nature to our wills. We want the freedom to decide what reality is. And we insist on the power to make it so,” he said.

Such thinking is manifest in efforts to master the limitations of the human body and “attack the heart of our humanity,” the archbishop added.

Blessed Paul explains that “marriage is not just a social convention we’ve inherited, but the design of God himself. Christian couples are called to welcome the sacrifices that God’s design requires so they can enter into the joy it offers. This means that while husbands and wives may take advantage of periods of natural infertility to regulate the birth of their children, they can’t actively intervene to stamp out the fertility that’s natural to sexual love,” he said.

Because the church’s teaching often was not being followed prior to the encyclical, Archbishop Chaput said Blessed Paul offered four predictions if that trend continued: widespread infidelity and the general lowering of morality; loss of respect for women as they become viewed as instruments of selfish enjoyment rather than as beloved companions; public policies that advocate and implement birth control as a form of population policy; and humans thinking they had unlimited dominion over their own bodies, turning the person into the object of his or her own intrusive power.

“Half a century after ‘Humanae Vitae’ the church in the United States is at a very difficult but also very promising moment,” the archbishop said. “Difficult because the language of Catholic moral wisdom is alien to many young people, who often leave the church without every really encountering her. Promising because the most awake of those same young people want something better and more enduring than the emptiness and noise they now have.

“Our mission now, as always, is not to surrender to the world as it is, but to feed an ennoble the deepest yearnings of the world and thereby to lead it to Jesus Christ and his true freedom and joy.”

Humanae Vitae, A Gift to Women and Men

Susan Selner-Wright, PhD

Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary

A few disclaimers to begin:  Given the statistics on contraception use among Catholics in the US, it is very unlikely that no one here has ever contracepted. And it is impossible that no one here has a beloved family member or friend who is a committed user of contraception.  One reason for this widespread dissent from HV is that it contradicts some presuppositions of American culture which are so deeply engrained that many people just assume they are true and even teach others that they are true without really examining them.

My purpose today is not to condemn anyone but rather to invite everyone to think about the reasoning of HV with an open mind and to consider whether our own dissent from it or the dissent of those we love may be rooted in certain cultural presuppositions that we really might want to reconsider.  The Church’s teaching is rooted in love for human beings. I will argue that some of our cultural presuppositions really are not.

Second disclaimer: What I am going to give you is a professional philosopher’s account of the reasonableness of the teaching of HV. Now it is of course one thing to know that something is true and quite another to act on it.  As Christians we know that one of the reasons for the gap between knowing what’s true and acting accordingly is the Fall—our own sinfulness and that of the people around us often makes it very difficult for us to act on what we may believe is true.  Many people hear the teaching of HV and honestly respond, ok, maybe—but I know I just can’t do that.  I can’t confine my sexual activity to marriage, or if I can do that, I can’t confine it to the times when I’m infertile (or when my wife is infertile). To which the Church’s response must be, “Of course you can’t!  None of us can do anything good all on our own.  We need each other and we need God.”  And in terms of our sexual lives, the good news of HV is that authentically human sexual love involves not two persons, but three: HV claims that sex is designed by God to be the means by which married couples strengthen their own union and cooperate with God in causing other human beings to come into being.  If we are convinced that HV is true to God’s plan for human sexuality, then we must also believe that our good God wants to come to our assistance in getting through the difficulties of living according to that plan.  So, the philosophical approach I am offering needs to be supplemented with theological and the sacramental.

Third disclaimer: earlier this month I was very lucky to attend a three-day conference on HV, where I learned a lot that I wish I had time to convey to you.  There is so much about the current medical research on female fertility and the medical benefits to women when they and their doctors are aware of the information gathered using modern Natural Family Planning.  In today’s NFP, the sympto-thermal methods I’m familiar with are now coordinated with daily direct hormonal tracking (which entails, in laymen’s terms, peeing on a stick) that I was shocked I had not heard about.  The research into the known health effects on women using hormonal contraception is truly frightening, especially the impact on women who begin to contracept before having their first child.   And the way the Pill is so regularly prescribed even to adolescent girls for everything from acne to migraines without consideration of the completely unstudied effect of these steroids on brain development, those statistics really make my feministical blood boil.  There are so many ways in which following the teaching of HV is genuinely in the best interests of women and men purely on the physical level—wider awareness of these facts would surely give people pause if only to wonder why these facts are so little known to the medical professionals entrusted with care for our physical health.

Final disclaimer: I did intend the title of this talk to be provocative—it is controversial to say that the teaching of HV is a gift to women and to men.  But why is that?  Why is the teaching of HV so strange, even threatening, to so many?  I believe it is because HV entails a view of the human person and of our relationship to God that flies in the face of the modern project of the last 400 years and that many of us have been more profoundly shaped by our culture’s embrace of that project than by the Church’s teaching. In order to fully understand the disconnect between the Church and the popular culture, everyone would need to take at least three courses in Philosophy:  Philosophy of Being, also known as Metaphysics, Philosophy of God, and Philosophy of the Human Being, also known as Philosophical Anthropology. One of the big challenges we face now, as in 1968 when HV came out, is that so many people have not been introduced to the philosophical patrimony of the Church, they are not aware of the rich treasure of thought, fully accessible to the human mind, that is available in the teaching of the Church.  And so when the Church proclaims a teaching which is out of the mainstream of popular thought, it is all too easy even for Catholics to conclude that the Church’s reasons for its teaching are not rationally compelling.  Au contraire.

For today, could I ask you to trust me that I am not going to say anything that an open-minded person with typically developed intellectual powers could not understand for themselves, if they had the time and patience to work through it.  Nothing I am going to say requires religious faith to be believed, though many people who do believe what I am going to say do so on the basis of faith and that is fine.  So, please trust me when I say we can offer perfectly reasonable arguments that:

God exists.

God is the creator of everything that is not God.

God is the source of the cosmos.  If the theory of the big bang turns out to be accurate, then we’ll know that God is the source of the big bang.  He is both the source (the efficient cause) and the orderer (the formal cause) of everything else in existence.  Modern astrophysics has helped us to understand that God is the ultimate long-range planner.

The amazing discoveries about the history of our universe are entirely compatible with the Church’s traditional understanding of God’s relationship with the cosmos.  God is the source of the existence and the ordering, the nature, of all else.  In the language of our tradition,the ordering of the cosmos is called the Eternal Law.  Discoveries of electricity, gravity, laws of inertia, these were all discoveries, understandings, of the Eternal Law.  Human beings do not cause gravity, they discover it, learn more and more about it, and then develop techniques of operating according to its already given nature.

Every finite being, that is, every being other than God, is subject to the Eternal Law.  No matter how powerful or wealthy or persuasive I become, if you take me out on top of a tall building and push me off, I will fall—I will be subject to the law of gravity.  And no matter what people who lecture on PBS may say, all material things eventually corrupt, this body will one day give out and I will die.  The laws of nature apply to me, to squirrels, to trees, to amoebas, to rocks.

But, obviously, I am different from squirrels or trees in that there are areas of my life where I have freedom, where I am not simply subject to laws of nature, where I can make choices.  To think about those aspects of human life, our tradition speaks of Natural Law,which is formally defined as “the rational creature’s participation in the Eternal Law.”  Notice right away a possible source of confusion. What scientists have come to call Laws of Nature, our tradition has always seen as part of the Eternal Law, God’s ordering of the universe.  That is not the same thing as the Natural Law, which refers to the fact that rational beings, in addition to being subject to all the Laws of Nature can ALSO understand those laws (though perhaps never completely—at least we haven’t so far).  Further, unlike lower beings which are determined in their actions, human beings have very little “pre-programming” guiding our actions.  Where a squirrel is driven by its instincts to gather nuts at the appropriate time and to care for its young, human beings are free to work or to lounge, to care for children or to go off to happy hour and leave the children to fend for themselves.  This is why human beings have social service agencies and squirrels do not—squirrels in their unfreedom are much more reliable parents than we are in our freedom.

So what our tradition means when it says that rational beings can participate in the Eternal Law is that we can potentially understand the parts that we are just subject to, like gravity, and we can choose to go along or not go along with the aspects of our ordering that we have freedom over.  When the squirrel gathers nuts, he is just obeying the Eternal Law—he has no choice, he is driven by his instincts.  When my husband goes to the grocery store, he is choosing to act in that way, he is consciously participating in the Eternal Law by which animals are ordered, designed, to care for their young.  To use the language of our tradition, he is obeying the Natural Law.

Now because my husband is rational and free, he could take the grocery money and spend it making new friends at a bar. Why doesn’t he do that?  Well, lots of reasons, but one of them is that he is mature enough to realize that that would not be in accord with his own happiness, his own flourishing in the long run.  To think about it in cosmic terms, my husband knows that in God’s ordering of things, he is meant to care for his own physical nourishment and that of his wife and children and to make that a priority over new drinking buddies. He could violate God’s ordering, of course, but since he can’t ever get outside of God’s ordering of things he knows his own flourishing ultimately lies in getting on board with God’s ordering. He has the dignity of choosing to act in accord with God’s design, choosing obedience to an order not of his own making.  His mature obedience to that design is the basis for my mature reliance on him.  And my mature obedience to God’s design is what makes it possible for my husband to rely on me.  That mature obedience is the basis for the unity and fruitfulness of any marriage, or indeed the reliability of any human relationship.

So what does all this have to do with HV?  Well, HV came out at a time when people’s enthusiasm for the human capacity to control nature was arguably at its peak—when we were most caught up in what man can do and most forgetful of the fact that, however fabulous we are, we are still creatures, that we are part of nature, and that our capacity to understand nature is itself a gift from God not some grand achievement entirely of our own.  The 1960s, one might argue, represented the pinnacle of the modern project, the high point of the agenda first set out in the 16thand 17thcenturiesby thinkers like Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes.

Descartes claimsthat man is not a soul/body unity but is rather a thinking thing, a mind, which is somehow associated with a material thing, the body.  He posits that the laws of nature are simply the laws of mechanics and that everything relevant about nature can be understood in mechanical terms. He boldly declares that the goal of science is “to make ourselves . . . masters and possessors of nature.”  The influence of these three claims, the degree to which they are now unquestioningly presupposed in Western minds, cannot be overstated.  By the 1960s Americans had largely bought into the idea that we are meant to control nature rather than act in harmony with its own intrinsic ordering. The environmental movement has made some progress in challenging that view with regard to non-human beings, but with the exception of the return to breastfeeding, we have continued to accept it mostly unquestioningly with regard to our own bodies. To understand why, we must examine another cultural presupposition that spiked in the 1960s, the understanding of freedom as radical autonomy.

Unlike the view of nature as mechanical, which has been tempered by the cultural weight of environmentalism, the misunderstanding of freedom has had no mainstream counterpressure and so has just expanded to the point where we are no longer shocked at the latest way people have decided they are free to act.  A woman marrying a bridge? A dolphin? Herself? No longer a surprise.  A person with healthy limbs seeking an amputation because he identifies as a wheel-chair bound person?  There’s a clinic in London that will accommodate that.  What the heck is going on here?  Well, the seeds sown by William of Ockham (1287-1347) and Duns Scotus (1265-1266) in their voluntaristic theology were reaped and re-sown in the work of later thinkers, including Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)who identifies human dignity with autonomy.  Kant argues that freedom must be understood asautonomy,auto-nomos, subjecting oneself to the law.  He contrasts this with heteronomy, hetero-nomos, being subjected to the law by someone other than oneself.  Now this is very complex—we would spend several days on it in one of our philosophy courses—but what has happened over time is that this understanding of freedom as autonomy has evolved into something Kant did not hold but which our culture does:the idea that freedom means being able to do whatever I want, to be subject to no law at all except that of my own desires.  It is the view of the manic toddler who, when asked, “Who is in charge here?” unhesitatingly answers, “I am.”   Now, the toddler grows out of this fairly quickly (we hope), realizes that he is part of a larger whole and comes to see that he has to make choices in light of that larger whole if he is going to flourish.  The cosmic version of that maturation is our realization that, because we are creatures, our flourishing lies in acting in harmony with the natures which God has given us.  We know that true freedom consists not in doing whatever we want.  We have learned that giving ourselves over to whatever we want whenever we want is actually a form of slavery.  True freedom, as John Paul II puts it, consists not in doing as we like but in having the right, the freedom, to do what we ought.

Now, as I said, Descartes’ idea that we are meant to dominate and manipulate nature has been tempered by culturally mainstream environmentalism.  But the tremendous success of the idea of freedom as autonomy has left one part of nature, the human being, still almost completely subject to Descartes’ project.  The project is now devoted to the domination of the human body by the human mind, literally the de-personalization of the human body.  Freedom as autonomy has greatly contributed to the breakdown of our sense of what human beings owe to their own bodies and also to one another — a big factor in the explosion of loneliness and isolation among people in the developed world. And the rise of freedom as autonomy has made the kind of mature obedience displayed by people like my husband unintelligible.  On the popular view, being mature and being obedient are in contradiction to each other. To obey a law not of one’s own making is to co-operate in one’s own oppression.

HV and the related teachings of the Catholic Church are in some ways the last rationally articulated arguments standing against the cultural forces which are undeniably harming so many human beings today, harming them physically, emotionally, economically and spiritually.  The Church invites us to live out an understanding of ourselves and our relationship to God which would equip us to respond better to all of these woes.  HV is specifically about spacing births in a way that complies with God’s ordering of things, but adoption of its primary principle, the necessity that we harmonize our ways with God’s ways, would renew not only our generative lives but every aspect of human life.

So let’s take a look at HV. If you pull out the copy of the document that is in your folder, I’ll be using that translation (http://www.onemoresoul.com/catalog/humanae-vitae-a-challenge-to-love-p144.html) by Janet Smith, which I think is really the best one available in English. If you turn to page 22, that’s where the document itself begins.  So, the first sentence: “God has entrusted spouses with the extremely important mission of transmitting human life.”  The word “mission” is translating the Latin word “munus.”  If you turn to page 20, at the end of the translator’s introduction, you’ll see her explanation of “munus” which she notes is a word not easily translated into English because it conveys a meaning that is unfamiliar to many English-speaking people, especially in the US.  She says:

Often [munus] is translated “role” as in the role of the bishops or of spouses.  [The Church speaks of Christ as having] a threefold munusof being priest, prophet, and king.  [When it is used for human beings, a] munus[refers to] a task delegated by someone superior in power to another whose assistance he needs, and whom he wishes to honor by having him share in his work.

So if we apply this understanding of munusto the first sentence of HV, what we read is that God has delegated to spouses a task necessary to the generation of new human life.  God “needs” the assistance of spouses and wishes to honor them by giving them a share in the work of generating new human beings.

Now let’s think about that.  My work teaching at the seminary is a munusI receive from Archbishop Aquilla.  He cannot teach all the academic courses that men preparing for the priesthood need, so he entrusts that work to a number of people including me and I am indeed honored by that trust.  But we have to notice a big difference between God and AB Aquilla. AB Aquilla is a finite human being—there are things he cannot do himself and so he mustdelegate.  But this is not true for God.God is infinite and infinitely powerful.  He can do anything consistent with his nature as infinitely good and true and one. And that includes the generation of new human life—God is perfectly capable of making new beings by himself—just look at Adam.

So, since God does not have to give human beings a role in generating new human life, the fact that we have one means that he choosesto need our help.  And he doesn’t have to entrust that role to pairs of human beings—he is certainly aware of the possibility of asexual reproduction.  No, God chooses to involve human beings, and further, PAIRS of human beings, in what is manifestly his very dear wish to generate many new human beings.  So why does he do this?  Well, why does a mother or father ask a child to help making a cake when it could be made much more quickly, effectively, and neatly by the parent alone?  Is it because the parent really needs the child’s help?  No—it’s because the parent knows that it is good for the child to help, in fact so good that it is worth the time and extra cleaning to ask the child for help.  In a similar way, God could easily have chosen not to involve human beings in the generation of new human life or he could have made it an asexual process involving only one human being.  But instead, God greatly complicated his own life and ours by choosing the much messier route of make the generation of new human beings something to be accomplished in cooperation with male and female pairs.  The fact that male and female reproductive organs constitute a complete reproductive system only when used together is not, on our view, a matter of happenstance, it is a manifestation of the design, the order that God intends in creation.

In the language of eternal and natural law, God orders reality in such a way that new human life requires the cooperation of male and female human beings.  That natural design is part of the eternal law.  Paul VI says (page 28),

It is false to think … that marriage results from chance or from the blind course of natural forces.  Rather,God the Creator wisely and providently established marriage with the intent that He might achieve His own design of love through human beings.

Marriage itself and the marital union which consummates it are designed by God for his purposes.  Paul VI goes on,

Therefore, through mutual self-giving, which is unique and exclusive to them, spouses seek a communion of persons.  Through this communion, the spouses perfect each other so that they might share with God the task [operam] of procreating and educating new living beings.

God designed marriage, and he designed it for man and woman to give themselves to each other and to perfect each other in such a way as to be able to better cooperate with God in bringing up children.  In other words, God designed both marriage and the marital act to be unitive and procreative.

Paul VI states that he cannot follow the recommendations of the majority report because they have “departed from the firm and constant teaching of the Magisterium” (HV6) and they have failed to take into account “the whole person and the whole mission (munus) to which human beings have been called” (HV7).  A genuinely holistic concern for human welfare must consider not only the comfort of this life but also one’s relationship with God in this life.  Because he is the source of nature itself, the source of our own human nature, action in accord with his design is most conducive to our own flourishing.

Blessed Paul VI goes on to note that those who have advocated in the majority report for approval of hormonal birth control argue that this is necessary in order to meet “the demands of marital love [conjugalis amoris] or the duty to conscious (sometimes translated “responsible”) parenthood [paternitatis sui officii consciae]” (HV 7).  In order to show that this is mistaken, Paul VI proceeds to explain the authentic meaning of both marital love and conscious parenthood in light of God’s design for marriage.  Marital love, he says, has four characteristics:  It is human, total, faithful, and fruitful.  To say that it is human means that it is a kind of love possible only to beings like us, beings who are simultaneously spiritual and bodily.  Human sexual love cannot rightly be reduced to mere animal coupling, but neither is it a platonic, super-bodily reality.  Authentically human sexual love is personal—encompassing both aspects of both persons: two bodies and two souls.  Notice that this view would make no sense to someone who is presuming Descartes’ understanding of the human being as a mind somehow associated with a merely mechanical body.  For us Catholic Christians, the human body is an integral aspect of ourselves to be understood and respected, not a machine to be manipulated and depersonalized.

To say that marital love is total means that “spouses generously share everything with each other without undue reservations and without concern for their selfish convenience.”  Spouses generously share, that is, they both giveand receivefrom the other, withholding nothing good from the other, refusing nothing the other brings.  For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.  And in terms of the specific concern of the encyclical, fertile or infertile.  To cause oneself or one’s partner to be infertile in order to be available for sex outside of the normal rhythm of female infertility designed by God, is to refuse the gift of each other’s fertility. This is part of why a little later in the document Pope Paul rejects the line of reasoning that as long as a couple is open to children “someday” it is okay for them to render themselves infertile for the time being.  Total acceptance of the other means acceptance now, and if that means one or both must alter their own behavior now, well that’s part of the totality of their love.  The development of self-mastery necessary to confine the marital embrace to natural times of female infertility is the work of conquering precisely the concern for one’s own selfish convenience the Paul VI is talking about.

To say that marital love is faithful means that it is exclusive to these two until one of them dies.  This is not a human convention or a result of evolutionary pressures.  It is what is best for God’s purposes in marriage: the genuine unity of the spouses and the optimal nurturing of their children and of their grand-children.  It is important to see that serial monogamy, which many in our culture seem to see as the highest romantic goal, is anything but unitive and is far from good for children or grand-children.

Finally, Pope Paul says, marital love is fruitful, flowing beyond the good of the two spouses to the good of others.  The most profound fruit of marriage is the human child.  But the love of spouses who are infertile is also called to be fruitful, to stretch beyond the good of the two.  We will return to this in a moment.

According to Pope Paul, given that marital love is human, total, faithful and fruitful, it requires “that spouses be fully aware of their mission [munus] of conscious parenthood [paternitatem consciam].”  And, he says, couples exercising conscious parenthood do four things. First, they “know and honor the responsibilities [munerum] involved in [human biological] processes.  Human reason has discovered that there are biological laws in the power of procreating human life that pertain to the human person.”  In discovering those biological laws, we have discerned that God has designed sex among human beings to be periodically infertile.  Action in light of this knowledge, either to achieve pregnancy or to avoid it, can be in accord with God’s design.  This means that husbands have a responsibility to “know and honor” their wives’ cycle, and do not rightly ask their wives to render themselves infertile in order to be more frequently available.  It also means that spouses are not helping each other by rendering themselves infertile—instead of allowing the reality of the female cycle to prompt both husband and wife to greater self-mastery and unselfishness, artificial contraception sends the message that we hold no such hopes for perfection for ourselves or the other, and that we do not trust God to help us achieve greater perfection.  We sell ourselves short, expect too little of ourselves and each other and God when we simply opt out of God’s design for female fertility.

On the contrary,the second characteristic of couples exercising conscious parenthood is that they are willing to form themselves, to habituate their reason and will to exercise mastery over “the innate impulses and inclinations of the soul.”  Unlike the teenage girl, who may be desperate or immature enough to believe that true love let’s her boyfriend do whatever he wants, mature human love knows that none of us can flourish if we have not learned self-control and that life given over to our lower passions is not a good enough life for any human being that we love.

The third characteristic of couples who exercise conscious parenthood is prudent and generous consideration of their own “physical, economic, psychological, and social conditions.”  Because different couples are in different situations, this generous and prudent consideration does not lead every couple to the same conclusion as every other couple and it may well lead one couple to different conclusions at different points in their marriage.  Blessed Paul VI says such consideration will lead some couples “to accept many children.” Others in different circumstances may rightly discern that there are serious reasons for them to “decide not to have another child for either a definite or an indefinite period of time” (HV10).  Both of these are possible outcomes of generous and prudent consideration.  In other words, a couple may be in circumstances in which they realize that it would be neither prudent nor generous to have another child.  In such circumstances, if their judgment is in fact well grounded, their rational participation in the eternal law will rightly lead them to confine their marital embrace to the naturally infertile times.  They are respecting God’s ordering of things and honoring their God-given capacity for judging the seriousness of their reasons to avoid pregnancy at this time.

In other words,they have the fourth characteristic of conscious parenthood, realizing that their judgments about their married life “must be rooted in the objective moral order established by God” and that “only an upright conscience can be a true interpreter of this order.”  They know that “they must accommodate their behavior to the plan of God the Creator,” and his plan for the fertility of human sexual love.

With these points as background, Pope Paul goes on to explain the necessary relationship between the unitive and procreative aspects of marriage and the marital act.  Just as the sexual complementarity of male and female is necessary for natural generation, the complementarity of unity and fruitfulness is necessary in order to fulfill what God intends for human marriage.  For anyone unfamiliar with this language, complementarity means that two things are really different from each other but they are also necessary to each other.  Paul VI teaches that the unitive aspect of marital love requires the procreative and vice versa.   Let’s think about what this means.  Any act of sexual intercourse can be subjectively affective (rather than unitive) orbiologically generative (rather than procreative).  E.g. Sexual intercourse for the sole purpose of conceiving a child is not unitive and it is, therefore, merely generative, not procreative—it is not in accord with God’s design because the unitive is necessary to the procreative.  This is what Pope Francis is talking about when he saysthat children are entitled not only to the love of their parents for themselves, but to the love of their parents for each other (Amoris Laetitiae172).  The procreativity of a marriage, its capacity to bring new persons into being and to nurture these persons, is tied up with the unity of the marriage. Parents who are genuinely united with each other are able to teach their children aspects of how to be human that cannot easily be taught in any other way.   Procreativity entails unity.

I think it is easier for many people to see that than to see why unity equally entails procreativity.  In terms of the argument of HV itself, it goes back to the requirement that marital love be total:  an act is not adequately unitive if I am actively withholding my own fertility from my husband or if he is withholding his from me.  St. John Paul added immensely to our understanding of this reality by taking the focus off of the contracepting couple’s attitude toward a potential child and focusing more on their attitude toward each other.  He encourages couples to ask themselves,“Are we making gifts of ourselves to each other or are we using each other?”  In her excellent recent article, Angela Franks puts it this way:

Contraception makes sex structurallyabout my personal projects.  An acceptance of the possibility of procreation gives sex an orientation toward an end that transcends the solitary person and opens it to true unity.  On the other hand, a sexual act that has been deliberately sterilized has been turned toward purely subjective uses, and that means one’s partner has become a tool.  Sexual utility is the enemy of sexual unity” (“#MeToo shows the dangers of end-less’ sex. ‘Humanae Vitae’ shows the way forward,” America, 17 April 2018).

Because of the inseparability of the unitive and the procreative aspects of marriage and marital acts, Blessed Paul VI teaches that “every marital act must be per se destinatus[intrinsically ordered] to the procreating of human life” (HV11). Now does that mean that in every marital act each spouse must be continuously conscious that a child could come of this union?  No.  That would be stupid.  What Paul VI means is that there is nothing about the act itself which is ruling out the possibility of a child.  People who are using NFP to avoid pregnancy confine their marital embrace to times they know with as much certainty as any contraceptor that they are infertile. But they have placed no barrier in the way of their total union and they have not manipulated God’s ordering of fertility for their own ends.  If they have serious reasons for judging that it would be imprudent or ungenerous to seek to conceive at this time, then their act is in itself, per se, in accord with God’s design.  And so, even if it is not generative it still has the unitive and procreative orientation that is entailed in God’s design.  It is both unitive and fruitful, refreshing the couple’s capacity to be open to the various ways in which they are called to be fruitful at this time, for example, in their nurturing of children they already have or in their hospitality to others who need the welcome found in their home.

I hope today to have made it easier to see the teaching of HV as a gift rather than a burden, to see its invitation to a life of mature obedience to God’s will as a noble call, not an infantilizing one.   The conviction that God is, that he is the orderer of reality, that awareness of and fidelity to his plan is the only way to authentic, long-term happiness in this life – not to mention the next – these convictions are what underlie the “hard” but life-giving teaching of Humanae Vitae.  Understanding these convictions is the key to reading Humanae Vitae as the gift I sincerely believe it is.

Thank you very much.

St. John Paul II: Missionary of Love and Life

George Weigel

Catholic Education Resource Center

In the early 1950s, during Poland's worst period of communist repression, Father Karol Wojtyła made an interesting discovery while building a campus ministry in Kraków.
 

As he coaxed young men and women out of their shells of reticence and into conversation with him and each other, he found that their most urgent questions didn't have to do with the existence of God or the relevance of the Church; despite relentless communist propaganda and bullying, they were believers.  Their most urgent questions involved love, marriage and family.

What did it mean to love someone else, and for a lifetime?  How could love grow?  How did one raise a family in a political system that tried to fragment the bonds between husband and wife, parents and children?  What did all of this have to do with sex, treated by the communists as a kind of value-free contact sport — free love, Stalinist style?

As he helped his young friends build friendships, and as those first "Wojtyła kids" fell in love, married and began families, the young Polish priest and nascent philosophy professor found grist for his literary and academic reflections.  One of Wojtyła's plays, The Jeweler's Shop, grew out of his spiritual direction of young men and women, his pastoral work in preparing his friends for marriage, and his accompaniment of the young couples whose babies he baptized and homes he visited.  (Some of those young friends later said they had "heard" their spouse's voice in the words of the characters in the play.)

And then there was Wojtyła's 1960 book, Love and Responsibility, another by-product of the author's pastoral work — in this case a philosophical and theological meditation on the integrity of human love and its bodily expression.  There, he proposed an ethic of "responsible love," in which husband and wife each makes a gift of self to the other, and each receives that gift of self in "an encounter of two freedoms."  This, Wojtyła proposed, was an icon of the entire moral life — for a truly human life is one lived as a gift of self to others, not an assertion of self against others, or a use of another for one's own satisfaction.

Knowing all of this about the man he had appointed archbishop of Kraków in December 1963, Pope Paul VI asked Karol Wojtyła to participate in the work of the commission he had appointed to study contemporary problems of marriage and the family, including the question of contraception.  Wojtyła responded by forming a commission of Krakovian theologians to examine these questions and analyze an initial draft of a papal encyclical reiterating the Church's moral objection to artificial means of birth control.

The Kraków commission's report urged that the classic Catholic teaching be explained in a more humanistic way: The responsibility of family planning should be emphasized, for the Church did not teach an ethic of reproduction at all costs; the possibility of exercising responsible family planning through the natural rhythms of fertility should be discussed; and the rejection of chemical or mechanical contraceptives should be presented as a matter of the integrity of love — sexual love artificially sundered from procreation violated the truth about love-as-freegift that had been built into humanity at creation.  Contraception reduced loving to using.

Elements of the Kraków commission report influenced the drafting of Humanae Vitae, which, as written by Paul VI, lifted up married love as a great good and emphasized the honest exchange of self-gift as the moral and spiritual essence of sexual expression within marriage.  But in the cultural meltdown of 1968, very few people were willing to hear, much less seriously consider, what Paul VI had to say — even within the Church.  So when Cardinal Karol Wojtyła was elected bishop of Rome on Oct. 16, 1978, he knew he had work to do.

Drawing on his extensive pastoral experience with men and women trying to live love with integrity, and 30 years of reflection on those encounters, Pope John Paul II embarked in September 1979 on a four-year series of general audience addresses aimed at putting the Church's discussion of sexual love, marriage and family on a thoroughly humanistic foundation.  Creatively re-reading the Old and New Testaments, drawing on insights from contemporary philosophy, and borrowing themes from classic and modern literature, John Paul II developed what came to be known as his "theology of the body" — an extensive reflection on the integrity of human love that has had a profound effect on both the Church and the world over the past three decades.

Here, John Paul II, who would later be called the "Pope of the Family," wove together insights he had been developing since his early ministry as a university chaplain: Marriage is a covenant of love, not a mere contract.  In that covenant, husband and wife should exercise responsible parenthood, building a family according to the virtue of prudence.  The sexual expression of married love is the fullest embodiment of marriage as a covenant of faithful and fruitful mutual donation — the offer and reception of another's freedom, in a bond from which new life is born.

What is "natural" in family planning, the Holy Father proposed, is what best mirrors the dignity of the human person — and that is the family planning that respects the natural patterns of fertility.  So the real question for marital chastity is not so much "What are we forbidden to do in marriage?" but "How can we live a life of sexual love that conforms to our dignity as human persons?"

From his catechesis on the theology of the body and his 1981 exhortation on the family, Familiaris Consortio, to various teachings later in his pontificate, John Paul II said to the sexual revolution, in so many words, "I'll see you and raise you."

Blessed Paul VI had been right: Widespread artificial contraception led to a culture in which men used women and children were reduced to a mere lifestyle choice.  The Catholic Church has continued to proclaim, with St. John Paul II, that the sexual gift of self, freely offered and freely received within the covenant of marriage, is an icon of the inner life of the Trinity, for God is a community of self-giving love and receptivity.  And by being that icon, faithful, chaste and fruitful married love is a way to sanctify the world.

What Freedom Means in the New Babel

Gregory R. Beabout

Catholic Answers

In the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, "the whole earth had one language" (Gen. 11:1). In an effort to make a name for themselves, the people tried to build a city and a tower that rose to the heavens. In response, the Lord said, "Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech" (Gen. 11:7). According to Genesis, in response to the human quest for pride, God introduced confusion by multiplying languages. Each language, with its own grammar and vocabulary, used different terms to describe the same (or similar) realities, so those who spoke Hebrew were unable to understand those who spoke Greek or Egyptian, and so forth. This was the problem of the old Babel.

At Pentecost, the story of Babel was reversed. The listeners were able to understand the apostles because each heard the message in his own language. Instead of raising a monument to themselves, Jesus’ disciples used language to glorify God and to communicate the Good News. In that context, language did not lead to confusion and misunderstanding. Rather, out of different languages, a common understanding was achieved. "We hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God" (Acts 2:11). In that moment, the Church was formed. 

I Say Freedom, You Say Constraint

Those who seek to explain and defend the teachings of the Church find themselves speaking amidst a new Babel. For example, when entering into debates about abortion, we must be aware that "freedom" and "choice" mean different things to different people. Secular defenders of a "woman’s right to choose" see themselves as defending "freedom," and they see Catholics who are pro-life as "opposed to freedom." So, when Catholics (and others) defend the pro-life position as flowing from authentic freedom, we can find ourselves speaking at cross-purposes with secular defenders of "individual choice." Each side uses the same words; we’re both speaking about freedom, but we mean very different things.

In the new Babel, language is confused, not by a profusion of languages, but by the use of the same words to mean different things. One language (for example, English) contains terms and concepts that have more than one meaning; in other words, English has multiple grammars and vocabularies (see What Is a Moral Grammar?" on page 9). 

A Brief History of Freedom

The term "freedom" is particularly prone to the problem of the new Babel. A little bit about the history of the English word reveals how it can mean very different things. 

In Latin, the main language of the Church, there is a clear distinction between libertas(liberty, freedom for excellence) and licentia (license, freedom from constraint). However, as the Church moved to the use of modern vernacular languages after the Second Vatican Council, subtle distinctions in meaning were lost—not only in worship at Mass, but also in a lot of its theological discourse.

The English language is about a thousand years old. (In historical perspective, this means that English is only half as old as the Church.) For the first several centuries of the development of our language, spoken English sounded like German. It would have been unrecognizable to most of us. Modern English began to emerge about 500 years ago. The English we speak is a mixture of German and French because the people living in England were of Germanic background, but their rulers were French.

The English word "freedom" comes to us from Norse mythology. The goddess Fri (also called Frigg or Freya and for whom Friday is named) was believed to be the goddess of love. In the Teutonic myths, Fri remained with Odin, her husband, not because she was coerced, like Odin’s slaves, but because she loved him. For this reason, freedom (from an Old English word meaning "love") originally connoted the bonds of love and friendship. The word "friend" also developed out of this connection between freedom and love, in recognition that we feel most free with our friends and those with whom we share the bonds of love and family. 

In the modern era, however, the meaning of freedom underwent significant changes . During the revolutionary period of the 17th and 18th centuries and with the rise of modern democracies, many secular thinkers began to view the traditional bonds of love and family as an infringement on freedom. Such thinkers used the term "freedom," in spite of its etymology, to signify a lack of constraints, or the ability to do whatever one wants without regard for traditional morality. Influenced by modern individualism, the word "freedom" was sundered from its association with love and marriage; it came to mean the right to do whatever one wants—so long as that desire did not harm the freedom of others. 

But because a word undergoes a change in definition, that doesn’t always mean the older meaning is abandoned. Just as we use the word "keyboard" when talking about computers and when talking about pianos, the modern, secular, individualistic understanding of freedom didn’t wipe out the older notion of freedom. The idea that freedom flows from a properly ordered affection for those one loves still resonates with us, even as we find it natural for artists to depict freedom as a woman (such as the Statue of Liberty) who reflects the loving maternal devotion of the Norse goddess Fri. Despite our tendency to overlook those older meanings, the term freedom can still mean different things in English. Thus, in the new Babel, two people professing a commitment to "freedom" might have two different ideas in mind. One person’s freedom is another’s slavery. 

The new Babel involves confusion, not just about freedom, but also about other moral concepts. While the grammar of secular individualism emphasizes freedom, it also stresses love, justice, and human rights. We are just as likely to hear an exhortation about freedom, love, justice, and human rights on the lips of Hollywood activists and secular intellectuals as we are to hear those words from the pope and bishops. 

Know What Translates—and What Doesn’t

Is there a way to overcome the confusion of the new Babel? How can those who want to share the gospel message do so in a way where listeners hear what is said "in their own language" without resulting in distortions or misunderstanding?

Let me try to outline the beginnings of a solution. First, recall the way that the confusion of multiple languages was overcome on the first Pentecost. Before they were filled with the Holy Spirit, the disciples gathered together and "devoted themselves with one accord to prayer" (Acts 1:14). Prayer and the presence of the Holy Spirit are always the first step to overcoming Babel’s confusion.

But the new Babel calls for solutions that are different in some ways than those that overcame the problems of the old Babel. The problems of confusion and miscommunication are obvious in the old Babel, where people used different words to refer to the same realities. In the new Babel, where competing moral grammars use the same English words to mean different things, we must recognize that beneath the same words, distinct grammars may be at work. The grammar of secular individualism is a way of life that uses the terms freedom, love, justice, and human rights differently from the Catholic faith.

The next task involves becoming "multilingual"—not in the usual sense, where a native English speaker learns Spanish or French, but in the sense that one is able to recognize how words apply amidst distinct ways of life. For some of us, that means gaining a deeper understanding of our faith tradition. Then it means making an effort to understand the "language" of another tradition. In particular, some evangelists may be called to develop a more profound understanding of the secular individualism that shapes so much of contemporary culture.

It may seem that this awareness of multiple moral grammars results in a kind of relativism. I may speak with someone who says, "You’re a Catholic and I’m a secularist. We each speak our own language. And there’s no way to determine whether one is better than the other." However, that response is oversimplified in several ways. 

We tend to assume (incorrectly) that languages are either identical or completely dissimilar. For example, when we learn another language, we commonly begin by assuming that the second language functions the same as the first, but with different words. But as we become more adept at a second language, we realize that certain expressions cannot be literally translated from one language into another. This does not mean that they are impossible to translate. It only means that to capture all of the subtlety in one language, we may need to explain much more in the second language. Sometimes, what is captured in a single word or phrase in one language requires a long explanation in another language. 

Go Beyond Mere Vocabulary

This difference between languages is especially clear when translating stories and poems. To translate a poem from one language into another, the translator must have an excellent g.asp of both languages. Frequently, the best translators of poetry are themselves poets. For example, consider the work of Rhina Espaillat, a poet who was born in the Dominican Republic. Her native language is Spanish, but she now lives in the U.S., and most of the poetry she writes now is in English. She is an outstanding translator of the poetry of St. John of the Cross, the 16th-century Spanish mystic who reformed the Carmelite Order and who wrote beautiful Spanish poetry.

We might be tempted to think either that English is just as good as Spanish or that the two are incomparable (since some things can’t be translated from one language to the other). Each of these views is partly correct and partly wrong. English is just as good as Spanish for some things, but not for everything. The literature of the great Spanish masters, including the books of Cervantes and the poetry of St. John of the Cross, is best in Spanish. Some phrases that St. John of the Cross masterfully turns in Spanish cannot quite be captured in English. But then, along comes a great translator who is herself a poet and a master of the English language; she stretches English poetically so that it captures some of the subtle beauty of the Spanish mystic’s poetry. In the process, English is expanded.

In a similar way, those engaged in Catholic apologetics and evangelization may benefit from thinking about "translating" between the "language" of secular individualism and the language of the Catholic faith. When the task of translation becomes difficult, it may help to recognize that great translators need to be masters of both languages. Of course, not everyone is called to master the grammar of secular individualism, just as it is possible to live a life of deep faith without mastering all of the technical vocabulary of theology and canon law. However, those who hope to evangelize our contemporaries immersed in the language of secular individualism must become more proficient in the grammar of each. 

A good place to start is with a deeper understanding of the way that the notion of "freedom" is used in the grammar of the Church. 

Liberty Enlarges; License Diminishes

The New Testament repeatedly praises the liberty that comes with living an orderly life according to the commandments, a life of loving God and neighbor. For example, when Jesus says that he will give us liberty and set us free (John 8:32), he does not mean free to do whatever we want. Rather, he is stating that those who remain in his word as his disciples will know the truth, "and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32). The apostle James expresses a similar notion when he writes of the "perfect law of freedom" (Jas. 1:25). This is the liberty of one who is a "doer of the word and not just a hearer," the liberty to choose freely what is good and true. In a similar way, St. Paul praises liberty. "For freedom, Christ set us free" (Gal. 5:1). Christ set us free from the slavery of sin so we could direct our lives in a responsible and self-disciplined manner, restoring the integrity that God the Father intended for each human person in creation. This liberty is a force for growth that allows us to mature, developing a more perfect friendship with God and neighbor. The more one chooses what is good and excellent, the more liberated one becomes.

Because "freedom" in English can mean either "liberty" or "licentiousness," St. Paul appears both to advocate and condemn "freedom." At the same time that he praises freedom as liberty for excellence (Gal. 5:13), he roundly condemns licentiousness—that false freedom which is actually bondage to sin and disordered desire (Gal. 5:19). 

The grammar of secular individualism holds freedom as the right to do whatever one wants so long as one doesn’t harm the freedom of others. While this concept of freedom is not identical with the licentiousness that St. Paul condemns, it is also not identical with the ordered liberty that the Gospels celebrate. 

In fact, the freedom which secular individualism praises seems to collapse rather quickly into a consumer mentality that promises individual happiness to those who buy whatever they want in the marketplace. The modern dream of equal freedom for all seems to turn into the shallow pursuit of diversions: video games, Vegas, trips to the mall, NASCAR weekends, and all sorts of highbrow or lowbrow entertainments for distraction. "Shop and be happy." I once saw a bumper sticker that captured the emptiness of this way of life. It said, "I buy things I don’t need, with money I don’t have, to impress people I don’t even like." It is not difficult to get defenders of secular freedom to recognize that their understanding of freedom tends to collapse into empty consumerism. So, the fields are ripe for evangelists who can help explain and defend the Church’s more robust understanding of authentic freedom. 

Pray for a New Pentecost

On the first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon Christ’s followers. The apostolic message was proclaimed in a way that allowed each listener to hear of the mighty acts of God in his own language. Luke tells us that Peter "testified with many other arguments" (Acts 2:40). We don’t know exactly what arguments Peter used on that day, but we are told he exhorted his listeners: "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation" (Acts 2:40). Peter’s message was accepted by 3,000 people who were baptized and who devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread, and to the prayers. "Awe came upon everyone" (Acts 2:43). 

To overcome the new Babel of our time, we need evangelists who can recognize the ways many of our contemporaries are talking past each other by using the same words to mean different things. Many people seem unable to hear the gospel in their own language. In learning to become "multilingual" and in being able to understand secular individualism while also recognizing some of its deficiencies, let us pray that evangelists can speak in a way that is heard by each in his own language. Recall that Luke ends his description of the outpouring of the Spirit after that first Pentecost with hope: "Every day the Lord added to their number" (Acts 2:47).

SIDEBARS

What is a Moral Grammar?

In order to decode the confusions of the new Babel, it helps to be able to recognize and understand competing "moral grammars." But, just what is a moral grammar?

While the term "grammar" is usually associated with the rules embedded in language, some theologians, philosophers and social theorists have stretched the meaning of "grammar" to refer to the order inherent in human actions and a way of life.

In one of the most famous books of Christian apologetics, John Henry Cardinal Newman describes the Grammar of Assent. In this case, Cardinal Newman uses the word "grammar" to mean the order implicit in various ways of affirming belief, especially religious belief.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), whom some people consider to be the most important philosopher of the 20th century, also stretched the notion of a "grammar." Wittgenstein begins his book Philosophical Investigations by reflecting on St. Augustine’s account of language. As Wittgenstein’s thought unfolds, the term "grammar" is expanded to mean a network of rules that determine what does and doesn’t make sense in a particular form of life. 

As a young scholar, Wittgenstein thought that science and logic could explain everything (so that ethics and faith were unnecessary), but as he matured, he came to appreciate that modern science cannot explain everything. Wittgenstein suggested that we can understand the distinctive order in everyday, ordinary language. In his mature thought, Wittgenstein came to realize that theology, like ordinary language, makes sense, not according to the rules of modern science, but according to its own "grammar."

Wittgenstein’s notion of a grammar has been very suggestive for later thinkers. The philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre has spent his career criticizing the grammar of modern individualism and trying to retrieve the grammar of virtue. The sociologist Robert Bellah, in his book Habits of the Heart, argues that Americans tend to speak using the grammar of individualism while engaging in forms of life that unwittingly draw from the older moral grammars of civic virtue and biblical faith. 

This expanded notion of a grammar as the order embedded in human activities or in a way of life has sometimes been thought to imply a kind of relativism. Considered this way, it appears that, just as there is no way to decide if English is better than French, there seems to be no way to tell right from wrong. But this sort of moral relativism is not implied in the notion of a moral grammar. Wittgenstein wrote of "the common behavior of mankind," implying that there is a moral order (a deep grammar) embedded in human activity as such. Pope John Paul II sometimes used the term grammar in this expanded manner. For example, in his message celebrating the World Day for Peace (on January 1, 2005), John Paul II spoke of the "common grammar of the moral law."

Words Don’t Always Mean What We Think

When I was a college student studying in Rome, I had an experience that reveals this kind of confusion with language. I was riding on a train in Italy. Across from me in our compartment was a young Italian woman in her 20s. We struck up a conversation in Italian. My Italian was good enough to carry on a conversation for a while. I knew simple phrases and basic grammar, but I was at a loss to talk about any subject that required a large vocabulary. After an hour or so of talking, the Italian woman suggested that we switch to English. She explained that she had studied English for three years in high school, but that she had never had the opportunity to speak English with a native English speaker. I gladly agreed.

Her first words to me in English were quite puzzling. She asked me, "Are you strange?"

I was stunned. Up to that point, I thought that we were having a very friendly and enjoyable conversation in Italian. I interpreted her to be asking if I was weird or unusual.

As I was thinking about how to respond, it dawned on me that, in Italian, a straniero is a stranger, that is, a foreigner, or someone from a different country. She was asking if I came from I different country. I was relieved.

This confusion in communication wasn’t the result of our speaking two different languages. We were both speaking English. But she was using words in English to mean one thing, and I was interpreting them to mean something else.

Consider also the humorous example of King George I. He is said to have told architect Christopher Wren that his masterpiece, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, was "awful and artificial." Today, we interpret this as an insult. It sounds like the King was saying that the architect’s work was terrible and phony. But in the context of the early 18th century, "awful" meant awe-inspiring, and "artificial" meant "full of great art"!

So, to avoid confusion, it is important that we become aware that terms in English can have multiple meanings. This is a pervasive feature, not only of modern English, but also of life in the modern world generally. Every major modern language faces this problem. As the Second Vatican Council states, "the very words by which key concepts are expressed take on quite different meanings in diverse ideological systems" (Gaudium et Spes 4).

Hold Your Fire on Celibacy

Father Carter Griffin

Catholic Education Resource Center

In response to the sexual scandals among the clergy, Professor David Carlin has proposed opening the priesthood to married men.

Though understandable, I believe his proposal is misguided.  In fact, I think it would be a calamity.  Priestly celibacy is needed today more than ever.

Celibacy is a gift of inestimable value to the Church and to the world at large, the jewel in the crown of the Latin Church.  Celibacy has been valued by the Church from her very beginnings as a way of life that is especially conducive to contemplation and a heart undivided in its love for the Lord, as St. Paul writes to the Corinthians.

Through his celibacy, a priest is conformed uniquely to Jesus, our celibate High Priest.  The priest's heart is dilated to receive and care for others in spiritual fatherhood. He is more fitted to embrace his spouse, the Church, in imitation of Jesus the Bridegroom.  It is a sign, as well, of the kingdom to come and a visible, living reminder that we will never find complete fulfillment in this life.

It is the parish priest, not the enclosed monk, with whom our people regularly interact; if they do not receive these blessings from him, they will, in general, not receive them at all.  These priceless spiritual treasures would be lost or greatly diminished were the requirement for celibacy to be dropped.

Less frequently considered, I believe, are other, cultural treasures of celibacy that we would forfeit.  This cultural witness is particularly needed today in the devastating wake of the sexual revolution which, through permissive divorce laws, the prevalence of contraception and extramarital sexual relations, legalization of abortion, and the epidemic of internet pornography, has taken an enormous toll on our social fabric and damaged countless families and individual lives, especially the most vulnerable — the unborn, young children, and adolescents.

Standing athwart the relentless advance of this permissive ideology — which I believe explains its fascination among secular reporters — is priestly celibacy.  In its way of living sexual maturity as a positive choice of love apart from sexual relations, it offers an important counterbalance to the false sexual wisdom of our time.

Far from sanctioning a kind of contented bachelorhood, intentional celibacy for the Kingdom is a reminder that true love is found not primarily in sexual activity but in the life of charity, which unites us to God and to one another and which alone satisfies our common yearning for love.  Indeed, it is only in the context of charity that genuine sexual fulfillment can be found.

Celibacy shows men and women, regardless of their vocation, that the sexual drive can and must be directed to true human flourishing.  It reveals to the world how to release love from the shackles of sexual idolatry and points the way to a life that corrects the exaggerations of the sexual revolution and gradually heals its wounds.

Through his celibacy, a priest is conformed uniquely to Jesus, our celibate High Priest.

To those who are unmarried, including those who for a variety of reasons will never marry — reasons which seem to be ever more common today — celibate men and women show that an unmarried life can nevertheless be meaningful, joyful, and healthy.  Even for those who are married, there will be seasons when it is advisable or even necessary to abstain from sexual activity.

Married couples may prayerfully discern that they are to abstain periodically in Natural Family Planning with a goal to spacing out births.  Or it may be that couples are physically separated for a time by professional demands or the exigencies of war.  Some couples may decide, as St. Paul taught, to refrain from sexual activity for a period to devote themselves more fully to prayer.  It is well-lived celibacy that most powerfully demonstrates the wisdom and the feasibility of living the demands of chastity in these and similar circumstances.

Finally, marriage is reminded of its own nobility in the choice made by the celibate priest; the very dignity of marriage is what renders it a worthy sacrifice.  At the same time, marriage is reminded of its limits when it is placed in false competition with higher goods, when it is subjected to unhealthy and unrealistic expectations that can never be met by any human relationship.

Forgetting its relative value, that it is a means and not an end, that it is a vocation and not a right, has led to much of the current confusion regarding marriage.  On the one hand, marriage seems to be considered the highest good of life and one impossible to justly withhold from anyone.  On the other hand, this fixation on marriage is contradicted by a comparatively low estimation of the permanence of marriage, of its essential ordering to the generation of children, and of its foundational importance for social cohesion and cultural formation.

The priest who embraces celibacy for the Kingdom offers clarity in the midst of confusion through a living testimony to both the dignity and beauty of marriage as well as its relative value compared to higher goods.

Eliminating the celibacy requirement for priests is not the right way to address sexual transgressions among the clergy.  Good selection and screening of capable, healthy, and spiritually serious candidates for the seminary and solid, integrated, and demanding formation: this is how to address Professor Carlin's laudable concerns.

Otherwise, were we to lose the treasure of celibacy, we would find that we had done little to renew the priesthood and the Church, and done much to diminish her impact and witness in our post-sexual-revolutionary culture by eliminating the incomparable witness of parish priests who have embraced celibacy "for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven."

What Easter Means

by Bishop Robert Barron

In first century Judaism, there were many views concerning what happened to people after they died. Following a very venerable tradition, some said that death was the end, that the dead simply returned to the dust of the earth from which they came. Others maintained that the righteous dead would rise at the close of the age. Still others thought that the souls of the just went to live with God after the demise of their bodies. There were even some who believed in a kind of reincarnation. 

What is particularly fascinating about the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection is that none of these familiar frameworks of understanding is invoked. The first witnesses maintain that the same Jesus who had been brutally and unmistakably put to death and buried was, through the power of God, alive again. He was not vaguely “with God,” nor had his soul escaped from his body; nor had he risen in a purely symbolic or metaphorical sense. He, Jeshoua from Nazareth, the friend whom they knew, was alive again. What was expected for all the righteous dead at the end of time had happened, in time, to this one particular man, to this Jesus. It was the very novelty of the event that gave such energy and verve to the first Christian proclamation. On practically every page of the New Testament, we find a grab-you-by-the-lapels quality, for the early Christians were not trading in bland spiritual abstractions or moral bromides. They were trying to tell the whole world that something so new and astounding had happened that nothing would ever again be the same. 

Over the past couple of centuries, many thinkers, both inside and outside of the Christian churches, endeavored to reduce the resurrection message to the level of myth or symbol. Easter, they argued, was one more iteration of the “springtime saga” that can be found, in one form or another, in most cultures, namely, that life triumphs over death in the “resurrection” of nature after the bleak months of winter. Or it was a symbolic way of saying that the cause of Jesus lives on in his followers. But as C.S. Lewis keenly observed, those who think the resurrection story is a myth haven’t read many myths. Mythic literature deals in ahistorical archetypes, and thus it tends to speak of things that happened “once upon a time” or “in a galaxy far, far away.” But the Gospels don’t use that sort of language. In describing the resurrection, they mention particular places like Judea and Jerusalem, and they specify that the event took place when Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor of the region, and they name distinct individuals—Peter, John, Thomas, etc.—who encountered Jesus after he rose from the dead. Moreover, no one dies defending mythic claims. The myths of Greece, Rome, and Egypt are powerful and illuminating indeed, but there are no martyrs to Zeus or Dionysus or Osiris. But practically all of the first heralds of the resurrection went to their deaths defending the truth of their message. 

Yet assuming the resurrection is true, what does it mean? It means, first, that the customary manner in which we understand the relationship between order and violence—from the Epic of Gilgamesh to “Game of Thrones”—has to be rethought. On the standard Realpolitik reading of things, order comes about through the violent imposition of strength. And if that order is lost or compromised, it must be restored through answering violence. In Jesus’ time, the great principle of order was the Empire of Rome, which maintained its hold through the exertions of its massive army and through the imposition of harsh punishment on those who opposed its purposes. The most terrible and fearsome of these punishments was, of course, the cross, a particularly brutal mode of torture that was purposely carried out in public so as to have greatest deterrent effect. It was precisely on one of these Roman crosses that Jesus of Nazareth was put to death, having been betrayed and abandoned by his friends and condemned by a corrupt tribunal of collaborators. 

When the risen Jesus presented himself alive to his disciples, they were, we are told, afraid. Their fear might not have been simply a function of their seeing something uncanny; it might have been grounded in the assumption that he was back for vengeance. However, after showing his wounds, the risen Jesus said to his friends, “Shalom,” Peace. The teacher who had urged his followers to turn the other cheek and to meet violence with forgiveness exemplified his own teaching in the most vivid way possible. And what he showed, thereby, was that that the divine manner of establishing order has nothing to do with violence, retribution, or eye-for-an-eye retaliation. Instead, it has to do with a love which swallows up hate, with a forgiveness which triumphs over aggression. It is this great resurrection principle which, explicitly or implicitly, undergirded the liberating work of Martin Luther King, Jr. in America, of Gandhi in India, of Bishop Tutu in South Africa, and of John Paul II in Poland. Those great practitioners of non-violent resistance were able to stand athwart the received wisdom only because they had some sense that in opting for the way of love they were going with the deepest grain of reality, operating in concert with the purposes of God. 

Secondly, the resurrection means that God has not given up on his creation. According to the well-known account in the book of Genesis, God made the whole array of finite things—sun, moon, planets, stars, animals, plants, things that creep and crawl on the earth—and found it all good, even very good. There is not a hint of dualism or Manichaeism in the Biblical vision, no setting of the spiritual over and against the material. All that God has made reflects some aspect of his goodness, and all created things together constitute a beautiful and tightly-woven tapestry. As the Old Testament lays out the story, human sin made a wreck of God’s creation, turning the garden into a desert. But the faithful God kept sending rescue operation after rescue operation: Noah’s Ark, the prophets, the Law and the Temple, the people Israel itself. Finally, he sent his only Son, the perfect icon or incarnation of his love. In raising that Son from the dead, God definitively saved and ratified his creation, very much including the material dimension of it (which is why it matters that Jesus was raised bodily from death). Over and again, we have said no to what God has made, but God stubbornly says yes. Inspired by this divine yes, we always have a reason to hope.

Holy Thursday


The night before he died, Jesus gives a strange, mystical speech to his disciples. This was his last will and testament. In the course of this seemingly rambling discourse, Jesus is luring them, for the last time, into his vision of things, which is to say, into a world in which the fear of death has been overcome.

From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus spoke of a divine love that loves us unconditionally, that reaches out to us even when we wander far away, and that loves us even through the terror and darkness of death. Just as he moved into the shame and marginalization of sin in order to bring the light to sinners, now he will move into the darkness of death in order to show us the way through.

Jesus is about to leave this world, and he prays that his disciples might know that they are not of this world. What does this world look like concretely? Well, look around.
The fear of death is like a cloud, like a terrible shadow that falls over human life and experience. All of our proximate fears are reflections of, and participations in, this primordial fear. It cramps us, turns us in on ourselves, and it makes us defensive, hateful, violent, and vengeful.

Further, structures of oppression in our world are predicated upon the fear of death. Because a tyrant can threaten his people with death, he can dominate them and perpetrate all sorts of injustice.

Whenever the strong (in any sense) overwhelm the weak, we are looking at the ways of death.

Jesus came to inaugurate what he called the Kingdom of God, God’s way of being, God’s order. This is an order based upon the infinite and death-defying love of God. What would the world look like under the influence of this love? It would be radically changed, revolutionized, replaced: “A new heavens and a new earth.”

What would life be like if we were no longer afraid? We would live as the saints do—not immune to suffering, but, if I can put it this way, unaffected by it. We would know that we are loved by a power that transcends death, and this would fill us with an exuberance beyond measure.

***

Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.

Spy Wednesday

By Hugh McNichol

One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, 
went to the chief priests and said, 
"What are you willing to give me 
if I hand him over to you?" 
They paid him thirty pieces of silver, 
and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, 
the disciples approached Jesus and said, 
"Where do you want us to prepare 
for you to eat the Passover?" 
He said, 
"Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, 
'The teacher says, "My appointed time draws near; 
in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples."'" 
The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered, 
and prepared the Passover.

When it was evening, 
he reclined at table with the Twelve. 
And while they were eating, he said, 
"Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me." 
Deeply distressed at this, 
they began to say to him one after another, 
"Surely it is not I, Lord?" 
He said in reply, 
"He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me 
is the one who will betray me. 
The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, 
but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. 
It would be better for that man if he had never been born." 
Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply, 
"Surely it is not I, Rabbi?" 
He answered, "You have said so."

Wednesday's Gospel reading preludes the betrayal of Judas. How appropriate then is the sometimes used phrase of, "Spy Wednesday," for this period before our celebration of the Sacred Triduum. The events that lead Jesus to the cross are filled with intrigue, suspense and an impending sense of disaster.

Clearly, the powers of good and evil, light and darkness, sin and salvation are poised to exhibit themselves at the place we call Golgotha. The Joannine account of Jesus betrayal seems to show Jesus' deep understanding of His role as the Messianic fulfillment. Judas in his interrogatory and somewhat cynical half statement of,"Surely it is not I, Rabbi?" provides the catalyst for the process of darkness to unravel. What is so significant about this ,"Spy Wednesday" is that it theologically reflects the daily struggles we all endure in order to accept a relationship with the Lord.

To live the life that Jesus intended for us is a perpetual struggle on a daily basis with good and evil. Sometimes when we are questioned about our transgressions, we, sometimes answer back. "It's not me Lord." But the tranquility of Jesus' realization of His mission provides us with hope in the days to come. Rather than provide a discourse to the Twelve, Jesus calmly recalls the Old Testament references to Him and even shares a piece of food with Judas, simultaneously dipping a morsel into the bowl. We should remember that the act of sharing a meal with others is a deeply rooted Semite notion of intimacy and close relationship. Jesus is sharing the meal, not with strangers, but with intimate friends.

Often, we dip morsels and share food with those we love; we feign intimacy and even deceive one another. Jesus is not blind to the events that are revealing themselves as a result of Judas' clandestine negotiations. Judas has turned on Jesus' friendship and love. We too in our lives are sometimes turned against Jesus' love through sinful and unloving activities. There is a real message here in Jesus' tranquil resignation to the events that are coming. Faith in the love and power of the Father.

As believers in the power of God's love and goodness, Spy Wednesday, should provide a period for reflection and introspective prayer. We need to examine our lives and look for the moments that we have falsely shared intimacy with our brothers and sisters in faith. More precisely, contemplate of lack of true, "communio" in our lives. With Judas' false interrogatory response to Jesus, he reveals his true self. Betrayer. Jesus sees right through Judas' false piety and friendship. Jesus sees right through our own appearances when we falsely present ourselves as holy and faithful followers. Our frail human spirit reflects in our sinful acts and lack of faith.  

Jesus recognizes this and offers new hope to Judas and us. The "morsel" which Jesus offers to Judas is an offering of friendship and love. Some biblical scholars have even indicated that the "morsel" is symbolic of Jesus' Eucharistic manifestation. Judas does not partake of the meal with Jesus, but he was invited just the same. There is a sense that Jesus recognizes Judas' confrontation with the powers of evil. Jesus does not admonish him or chastise him, but permits Judas to engage in this struggle and reveal the implications of his actions and unfaithfulness. There is hope for conversion. There is hope for grace. There is hope in Jesus' acceptance of the Father's plan. There is hope for Easter glory.  

As preparations begin for the Church's celebration of our New Passover ,this Wednesday before the Triduum invites all of us to share in, "Holy Wednesday", not to pursue darkness and evil, but progress on the path of light and life. The Church in its wisdom sees this period of "Holy Wednesday" as a time for personal preparation. Unlike Judas, our preparations should be motivated by the promise of new life in the Paschal Mystery and not a rejection of the "morsel" which Jesus offers to us in friendship and love.

Divine Mercy Sunday

The Sunday after Easter is Divine Mercy Sunday!

How should we prepare for this great Feast of Mercy?

 

Jesus told St. Faustina that this Feast of Mercy would be a very special day when "all the divine floodgates through which graces flow are opened".(Diary 699) Our Lord made a great promise to all those souls who would go to Confession and then receive Him in Holy Communion on the Feast of Mercy, on the Sunday after Easter, which is now called Divine Mercy Sunday throughout the Catholic Church.

Jesus promised that "The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain the complete forgiveness of sins and punishment."(Diary 699) He went on to say "I want to grant a complete pardon to the souls that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion on the Feast of My Mercy." (Diary 1109)

We want to encourage everyone to take advantage of this incredible promise and the additional Plenary Indulgence on this great Feast of Mercy "Divine Mercy Sunday". We want you to benefit fully from these promises, and we also want you to notify all of your family and friends about them too and urge them to return to the practice of their faith!

The Image of The Divine Mercy, which Our Lord requested to be solemnly blessed and venerated on this day, will be on display in our church. Pope John Paul II said that the image portrays the Risen Jesus Christ bringing Mercy to the whole world. Our Lord said "I want the image to be solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter, and I want it to be venerated publicly so that every soul may know about it. I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish". (Diary 341, 48) Please take the time to visit with this Image of The Divine Mercy and venerate Jesus.

Jesus said to St. Faustina "I am offering people a vessel with which they are to keep coming for graces to the fountain of mercy. That vessel is this image with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You". (Diary 327) "The two rays denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls. These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender mercy when My agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the cross. …Happy is the one who will dwell in their shelter, for the just hand of God shall not lay hold of him." (Diary 299)

About the feastday "Divine Mercy Sunday", Jesus said "…tell the whole world about My inconceivable mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon the souls who approach the Fount of My Mercy. On that day all the divine floodgates through which graces flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet.... Mankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of My Mercy". (Diary 699)

Our Lord said "When you go to confession, to this fountain of My mercy, the Blood and Water which came forth from My Heart always flows down upon your soul…" and "Every time you go to confession, immerse yourself entirely in My mercy with great trust, so that I may pour the bounty of My grace upon your soul. When you approach the confessional, know this, that I Myself am waiting there for you. I am only hidden by the priest, but I Myself act in your soul. Here the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy" (1602) Make your confession before Me. The person of the priest is… only a screen. Never analyze what sort of a priest that I am making use of; open your soul in confession to Me, and I will fill it with My light." (1725)

It is required of all Catholics to confess their serious sins at least once every year. If you haven’t yet met this obligation then take advantage of this outstanding opportunity to receive an outpouring of an ocean of graces that Jesus promises on this day. Those who have already confessed their sins should make room for others.

The Church allows for one to go to Confession for up to about 20 days, before or after Divine Mercy Sunday.

Excerpts taken from the Diary of St. Faustina, copyright 1987 Marians of the Immaculate Conception, Stockbridge MA., USA

 

Bulletin insert taken from the www.DivineMercySunday.com website and may be copied and re-produced.

Sacred Heart Parish in Plainville will host a Divine Mercy Celebration on April 8, 2018 at 3:00 pm.  Please make plans to attend in order to receive the graces and the indulgence attached to this devotion.

Laetare Sunday

Sunday Readings
The first reading is taken from the Book of Chronicles 2 Chron:36:14-16, 19-23. It refers to the edict of Cyrus, the king of Persia, permitting the exiles to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, which had been burned by the Chaldeans as a punishment from God for the infidelities of the Chosen People.

The second reading is from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians 2:4-10. In today's extract St. Paul is emphasizing the gratuitousness of the gift of faith which the Ephesian converts have received. This gift which God gave them, even when they were sinners, had united them to Christ, and has given them the right to share in His glorious resurrection and inherit heaven with Him and through Him.

The Gospel is from St. John 3:14-21. This man Nicodemus had a half-open mind as regards Jesus. He was moved by his teaching and miracles. He defended him when his companions were out to have Jesus arrested. He helped to have him properly buried when his enemies had him put to death, but that was as far as he went, apparently. There is no mention of him in the first Christian community of Jerusalem. What held him back, what kept him from giving himself fully to Jesus who spoke so kindly and told him so clearly that he himself was indeed a teacher who had come from God, that he had been offered by God as the sacrificial victim who would save the world? All Nicodemus had to do was to accept his word, "believe in him" and be baptized and he too would have eternal life.

Why did he not do this? The answer is given in the beginning of his story "He came to Jesus by night." He was one of the leading Pharisees and evidently was afraid of what they would think of him had they seen him associating with Jesus. How much more so did he dread what their reactions would be had he become a follower of him whom they called "this impostor." Nicodemus had only half of his mind open to the truth, the other half was closed and barred by his fear of what his own class—the leaders of the Jews—would think of him. He risked his own future happiness in order not to lose the present respect of his sinful associates.

What a foolish man we would all say! Yet, are not many of us often like Nicodemus, when it comes to living up to our following of Christ? There are Catholic men who would like to, and should, go much more often to Holy Communion but are afraid of what their fellow-parishioners, who receive but rarely, would think of them. There are many, far too many, Christians who will not defend or stand up for their religion when it is insulted and attacked in their place of work or in a saloon. There are Christians who stand idly by, and give at least tacit approval, when grave injustices are being carried out by individuals or by local or national groups. These and many more like them are Christian types of Nicodemus, who through fear of losing the approval, the worthless esteem, of their sinful associates, are prepared to forfeit the esteem of God and their own eternal welfare.

Nicodemus probably thought he had made reparation for his lack of openness to Jesus when he assisted at his burial. What value, however, had that work of mercy for one of his frame of mind? There are amongst us today, humanists, most of them ex-Christians, men and women who make assisting their neighbor, while excluding Christ and God, the essence of religion. While the assistance the neighbor receives will benefit him materially, what spiritual or religious value can it have for the humanist who excluded God and our Savior Jesus Christ? Humanism or concentrating on our neighbor to the exclusion of God, is an imitation of religion and a very false imitation at that. Helping our neighbor because he is a son of God is part of our true religion, and the second of the two great commandments of love; but helping a neighbor from whom we have effaced the image of God has not and cannot have any religious value or significance whatever. It is as meaningless as lighting a candle before the photograph of a wife one has deliberately deserted.

Thank God, we have accepted Christ with our whole heart and our whole mind. It is through him that we have been made sons of God. It is through him that we have learned to love God and learned of God's infinite love for us. Because all men are God's sons also, and our brothers in Christ, we will gladly help them whenever and wherever we can because God has commanded us to do so. This is true humanism which sees in the neighbor the workmanship of the almighty Creator, and what is more important still, the elevating effects of the divine Savior, as well.

Excerpted from The Sunday Readings by Fr. Kevin O'Sullivan, O.F.M.

A Sermon by St. Peter Chrysologus

There are three things, my brethren, by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other.

Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God’s ear to yourself.

When you fast, see the fasting of others. If you want God to know that you are hungry, know that another is hungry. If you hope for mercy, show mercy. If you look for kindness, show kindness. If you want to receive, give. If you ask for yourself what you deny to others, your asking is a mockery.

Let this be the pattern for all men when they practice mercy: show mercy to others in the same way, with the same generosity, with the same promptness, as you want others to show mercy to you.

Therefore, let prayer, mercy and fasting be one single plea to God on our behalf, one speech in our defense, a threefold united prayer in our favor.

Let us use fasting to make up for what we have lost by despising others. Let us offer our souls in sacrifice by means of fasting. There is nothing more pleasing that we can offer to God, as the psalmist said in prophecy: A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; God does not despise a bruised and humbled heart.

Offer your soul to God, make him an oblation of your fasting, so that your soul may be a pure offering, a holy sacrifice, a living victim, remaining your own and at the same time made over to God. Whoever fails to give this to God will not be excused, for if you are to give him yourself you are never without the means of giving.

To make these acceptable, mercy must be added. Fasting bears no fruit unless it is watered by mercy. Fasting dries up when mercy dries up. Mercy is to fasting as rain is to the earth. However much you may cultivate your heart, clear the soil of your nature, root out vices, sow virtues, if you do not release the springs of mercy, your fasting will bear no fruit.

When you fast, if your mercy is thin your harvest will be thin; when you fast, what you pour out in mercy overflows into your barn. Therefore, do not lose by saving, but gather in by scattering. Give to the poor, and you give to yourself. You will not be allowed to keep what you have refused to give to others.

Gaudete Sunday - Advent Joy & John the Baptist

John the Baptist is often thought of as a stern, grim figure.  But as a matter of fact, he could be the patron saint of joy!  Maybe that’s why is is the focal point of the gospel for Gaudete or Rejoice Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent.  Joy comes only through humility and repentance.

On the third Sunday of Advent, the penitential purple of the season changes to rose and we celebrate “Gaudete” or “Rejoice!” Sunday. “Shout for joy, daughter of Sion” says Zephaniah.  “Draw water joyfully from the font of salvation,” says Isaiah.  “Rejoice in the Lord always,” says St. Paul.  “Do penance for the judge is coming,” says John the Baptist.

GAUDETE OR REJOICE SUNDAY

Wait a minute!  What’s that stark, strident saint of the desert doing here, on “Rejoice Sunday”?  His stern call to repentance does not seem to fit.

Believe it or not, John the Baptist is the patron saint of spiritual joy.  After all, he leapt for joy in his mother’s womb at the presence of Jesus and Mary (Luke 1:44).  And it says that he rejoices to hear the bridegrooms voice (John 3:29-30).

Now this is very interesting.  Crowds were coming to hear John from all over Israel before anyone even heard a peep out of the carpenter from Nazareth.  In fact, John even baptized his cousin.  This launched the Lord’s public ministry, heralding the demise of John’s career.

BEST MAN, NOT THE GROOM

Most of us would not appreciate the competition.  The Pharisees and Sadducees certainly didn’t. They felt threatened by Jesus’ popularity.  But John actually encouraged his disciples to leave him for Jesus, the Lamb of God.  When people came, ready to honor John as the messiah, he set them straight.  He insisted that he was not the star of the show, only the best supporting actor.  John may have been center-stage for a while, but now that the star had shown up, he knew it was time for him to slip quietly off to the dressing room.

Or to use John’s own example, he was like the best man at a wedding.  It certainly is an honor to be chosen as “best man.”  But the best man does not get the bride. According to Jewish custom, the best man’s role was to bring the bride to the bridegroom, and then make a tactful exit.  And John found joy in this.  “My joy is now full.  He must increase and I must decrease.”

REPENTANCE & PRIDE

The Baptist was joyful because he was humble.  In fact, he shows us the true nature of this virtue.  Humility is not beating up on yourself, denying that you have any gifts, talents, or importance.  John knew he had an important role which he played aggressively, with authority and confidence.  The humble man does not sheepishly look down on himself.  Actually, he does not look at himself at all.  He looks away from himself to the Lord.

Most human beings, at one time or another, battle a nagging sense inadequacy.  Pride is sin’s approach to dealing with this.  Proud people are preoccupied with self, seeing all others as competitors.  The proud have to perpetually exalt themselves over others in hope that this will provide a sense of worth and inner peace.  Of course, it doesn’t.  Human history has proven that point time and time again.  Even the pagan Greek storytellers knew that hubris or pride was the root of tragedy.  Pride always comes before the fall, as it did in the Garden of Eden.

HUMILITY, JOY & FREEDOM

Humility brings freedom from this frantic bondage.  Trying at every turn to affirm, exalt, and protect oneself is an exhausting enterprise. Receiving one’s dignity and self-worth as a gift from God relieves us from this stressful burden.  Freed from the blinding compulsion to dominate, we can recognize the presence of God and feel a sense of satisfaction when others recognize that God is God and honor him as such.  We can even be free to recognize godliness in someone else and rejoice when others notice and honor this person.

But what about John’s stark call to repentance?  How this be Good News?  Because repentance is all about humility and humility is all about freedom.  And freedom leads to inner peace and joy, joy in the presence of the Bridegroom.

This post “Gaudete Sunday – Advent Joy & John the Baptist” is offered as a reflection on the readings for Gaudete Sunday, the Third (3rd) Sunday of Advent, cycle B (Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11; Luke 1: 46-54; I Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1: 6-8, 19-28) and cycle C (Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18).

Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio

 

From a colorful and varied background as a professor of theology, a father of five, business owner, and professional performer Marcellino D’Ambrosio (aka “Dr. Italy”) crafts talks, blog posts, books, and videos that are always fascinating, practical, and easy to understand.  He is a popular speaker, TV and radio personality, New York Times best-selling author, and pilgrimage host who has been leading people on a journey of discovery for over thirty years.  For a fuller bio and video, visit the Dr. Italy page.