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Reflecting Upon the Abuse Crisis

154164358031183741 (7)The clergy abuse issue just never seems to let up.  Today there was a headline in THE WASHINGTON POST, Three Teens Allege Abuse by Catholic Priest in D.C.” A Capuchin parochial vicar from Sacred Heart Church was charged with a single count of second degree sexual abuse and brought to the D.C. Superior Court in shackles.

The dark tragedy of clerical abuse of minors conflicts with a core element of the Church’s identity.  The mission of every priest is to be a spiritual father— teaching, nurturing and healing his flock.  The center of the priestly vocation is his role as a vehicle for the forgiveness of sins.  Any priest who would harm or corrupt others stands in stark violation of his sacred calling and the mission of the Church.  When the scandals first emerged, many disbelieved the allegations and assumed that none of it could be true.  Today, that mentality can no longer be substantiated.  While individual cases may or may not be credible, the issue is real and some priests have failed us and violated the trust we had in them.  Excuses cannot be made.

Given the type of violation we are discussing, it must be admitted that efforts at healing will fall short.  How does one restore trust when it is violated so egregiously?  Clergy abuse of minors signifies a profound attack against innocence that leaves a lasting wound.  That is why people come forward decades after such assaults.  Lives are changed forever.  Many of those assaulted abandon the faith.  Others are hampered in their later relationships and suffer from trust issues.

The comeback that “we are all sinners” does little to soften the blow about such infidelity.  Yes, it is true that the history of the faith is one where corruption and sin has infected both leaders and followers.  But, we argue as well that the true legacy of the faith is written with the lives of the saints.  We have not always been successful at the discernment of spirits.  We struggle to distinguish those who really walk in holiness and those who only put on a show.  The Church is holy because Christ is holy and the Church is his mystical body.  This is the case, even though the Church is composed of sinners.

The apparent but largely unreported fact that abuse is even more pervasive outside the Church does nothing to ease our disappointment and shame about misbehaving clergy.  The Church should be above such violations of decency.  We rightly expect a lot of our priests.  Celibacy which should be the shining treasure of Catholic ministry is subjected to ill-repute and questioned as either the cause or situation that enabled wrong doing.  Apologists argue that the celibacy is not the problem but rather the solution— if priests will follow through with their promises.  What we need are shepherds and laity courageous enough to embrace the hard truths that confront us and to fully cooperate with God’s grace in the sacraments toward the cleansing of our ministries.  This will necessitate a full acquisition of the truth; in other words, a realization that the problem is not largely one of pedophilia but of sexually disordered and frustrated men who are mostly but not entirely homosexual.  The proof of the pudding is the number of pederasts who have also broken their promises with adults and older teens.  Of course, if such men kept their promises this discussion and need for purification would be largely mute.  However, promises have been broken and in ways that demonstrate a lack of commitment to faith, holiness and prayer.  They loved God too little and sought satisfaction where it was forbidden to them.

What most of us once regarded as rare and aberrational has proven to be more serious than we imagined and devastating for thousands of children and their families.  Compounding the problem, many wrongly targeted the victims and witnesses that came forward for resulting scandal instead of disciplining rogue clergy and removing them from ministry.  We must continue corrective efforts.  We must perfect policies to protect our youth while insuring a process that safeguards innocent clergy from charges that are not credible.  My worry today is that there is an intense malice that clouds the subject, one that focuses upon any and all clergy, regardless of the truth.  Mercy toward the guilty will not bring restoration to ministry or escape from censures and punishment.  Justice toward the innocent must protect the rights and sacerdotal dignity of priests who may be falsely charged or condemned by association.

Reflecting upon how we might personally respond to the scandals facing the Church, here is a good list:

  1. Stay put and do not abandon the Barque of Peter— remember the words of Peter, where would we go?
  2. Keep faith in Christ and in the Catholic Church— do not stop believing.
  3. Remain faithful to the Mass and the discipline of prayer— offer our own fidelity in reparation for the unfaithful.
  4. Acknowledge our own faults and seek mercy in absolution— while not all sin cries out to heaven, we are all sinners needing forgiveness.
  5. Open your mind about the issues facing us and grow in the faith— as believers we must always know and proclaim the truth.
  6. Continue to live for others in acts of Christian charity— such is an antidote to the selfishness that has manufactured this situation.
  7. Avoid hate and calumny, exhibiting a heartfelt sacrificial love and mercy— if we are to face the devil then we must put on Christ.
  8. Clean your house of that which conflicts with our Gospel witness— we should have no part in the hypocrisy that makes this matter worse.
  9. Seek the purification of the Church from any satanic enemies within— the poison in the mix must be expelled, even if it means the end of individual ministries.
  10. Fight for justice and healing toward the oppressed, wounded and innocent— the dignity of persons must always be safeguarded.

 

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How Do We Get Out of This Mess?

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His Enemy Came and Sowed Weeds All through the Wheat

These are dark days for the Church.  One of my friends even said, “These scandals make me feel ashamed to work for the Church.” I well understood.  At every Mass a priest mentions and prays for his bishop by name.  What if a bishop should disappoint you or you discover that one was likely a reprobate?  I suspect a number of priests have paused or recently winced during the saying of the Eucharistic prayer.  In any case, we are called to pray for the good and the bad, always remembering as priests that we are all sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God.

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Jesus’ apostles often disappointed him— one even betrayed and despaired, taking his own life.  I suppose the best of priests are wounded healers.  Nevertheless, there are certain sins that cry out to heaven.  I am reminded of one of the parables:

“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” (Matthew 13:24-30)

Is it time for the harvest?  It is so very hard to separate the weeds from the wheat.  Indeed, the weeds threaten to strangle the wheat.  We desperately want to see the weeds bundled and burned.

The Devil Made Me Do It

Alarmists about Vatican II regularly cite a quotation attributed to Pope Paul VI that “from some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.”  While I neither have a naïve celebratory nor a pejorative view of the Council, I do feel that a diabolical attack upon the Church extending back to the very beginning of the incarnation is reaching a fever pitch in these latter days.  The assault targets both clergy and lay.  The complicit backdrop is a culture where sexual perversion is increasingly regarded as normative, where immigrant families are derided as criminals and subhumans and where mothers argue for the choice or right to murder their children.

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Just as Christ is the fulfillment of the ancient promise for redemption given our first parents; the devil is all about broken promises.  He corrupted Adam but failed when it came to Jesus and that failure fills him with an eternal spite.  He numbs consciences to the truth about the sanctity of life and the dignity of persons.  He hardens hearts, not merely against charity but even about what should be obvious in regards to compassion, mercy and decency.  Truth is an immediate casualty but so is the love that beckons to us from the Cross.  We become comfortable with our sins and selfishness.  Divine commands become weak suggestions.

Christ was tempted but could not fall; however, we still struggle with the brokenness of the first Adam.  Apart from Christ we are destined to fail.  The world pampers our pride.  The flesh entices our senses.  The devil seeks to oppress and even to possess us.  Satan has a burning hatred for us and the Church.  He lost the war against Christ but continues to corrupt and steal in skirmishes for individual souls.  We should not pretend that the devil is a fool.  He knows that the best way to hurt the Church is to undermine her ministers— as goes the priesthood, so goes the Church.  It was only a matter of time that this crisis would turn to the bishops given that they possess the fullness of priesthood.

Jesus redeemed us and yet some would return to their bondage of suffering, sin and death.  We hear the devil speaking through the mouths of his slaves all the time:  “I am not a saint so why try? May we always be going to hell but never get there.  You can’t tell me what to do.  If it feels good then do it.  It is my body.  Everyone is doing it! Those foreigners are all drug dealers and rapists!  I’ll run over anyone who gets in my way!  Going to church is a waste of my time.  To hell with her brains, I want her for her body.  We don’t want his kind around here. It only becomes a baby if you want it.”  Yes, I am convinced that the devil has a hand in this abuse scandal; but, of course, none of the guilty can escape personal culpability.

Man Has Made Himself the Measure of All Things

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Everything is salted with sensuality and eroticism: television, movies, music, books, art, the internet, etc.  Fifty Shades of Grey becomes a bestselling book and it leads to sequels and films, affirming that pornography has truly gone mainstream.  We feed our children to demons, not only with abortion but by eroticizing adolescents— dressing them as provocative adults, putting makeup on babies, romanticizing their juvenile relationships and allowing them to set the rules in our homes (giving them everything they want).  We fill their heads with profane music and delight in their dancing, much as did lecherous Herod over Salome.  Nevertheless, denying our own cooperation in sin, we point the finger at others when lines are crossed.  Man imposes his strictures of fad as dictates over natural law, the height of lunacy. Few are willing to admit that gender confusion and same-sex unions have fashioned a twisted parody of marriage. A political correctness mislabels the clergy scandal so that it cannot be adequately addressed. We clamor about a few pedophiles when the problem remains a cabal of unsated homosexual pederasts.

Forbidden are a host of words and concepts like purity, chastity, virginity, temperance, obedience, duty, sacrifice, etc.  Truth is no longer “what is” but simply “what we want it to be.” A Christian society has largely vanished.  Many elements of the Church have given up the fight and have been seduced.  Custody of the eyes is virtually impossible.  If there remains any element of shame from damaged consciences and complicity in scandal then it is brushed aside by critics upon others.  We find much of this transference in how the Church is faulted, especially her clergy.  A problematical infestation of active homosexuals is ignored or tolerated because the culture wants to affirm and normalize homosexuality.  Thus, the errant priests who largely target males are labeled as “pedophiles” when in actuality they are essentially repressed homosexuals acting out with other men or committing pederasty with older minors. (I must quickly add that this judgment should not diminish a respect for persons or insinuate that all homosexuals are a danger to minors. We need to be sympathetic to those who seek to be chaste and celibate, even if they should not be welcomed into holy orders.)

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Where do we go from here?  Silence is not the answer; indeed, it becomes part of the problem.  Moving the men around is not the answer; like shipping the trash out to sea it only makes a problem for others somewhere else.  Much of the damage evades healing, at least in this world.  What is done cannot be undone.  (Many of us hoped and prayed that this problem was largely behind us.)  Now we know that most of us will be long in the grave before these troubled seas are calm again.

The late cardinal-priest Avery Dulles was a prophet about this problem, urging adequate protections for innocent priests but also alerting the bishops that they should not exclude themselves from inspection, reprimand and public penance. When these issues first began to make headlines the USCCB recommended a day of penance for the laity to pray upon this issue— but the criticism was rightfully made that the laity would prefer to see the bishops and priests on their knees.  The situation with the disoriented and misbehaving clergy might have been a symptom of a sick society and a repressive Church but still people were right to argue about the blinders that some of the shepherds were wearing.  I suppose the issue of fault is often connected to liability and lawyers.  It should be about contrition, amendment of life and penance.

The revelations during the last few weeks have caused many of us who love the Church, clergy and laity alike, to weep as we have prayed.  How can we win back the confidence of God’s people as credible witnesses to the Gospel? The flock has every right to be upset at the many allegations of misconduct and the passivity from bishops in protecting our children.  Where was accountability in all this?  How could anyone move up the ranks of the hierarchy when there were sordid rumors and even past settlements for sexual misbehavior?  Many of us are shaking our heads; it is so unbelievable.  And yet, like throwing gasoline into an open fire, there are many in authority claiming “I did not know” or “We thought we could morally reform the man” or “A few of the details need correction or clarification.”  No one should be falsely charged, either in the commission of heinous acts or as concealing that which cries out to be known; however, missteps were made and we will never move forward while there is a refusal to accept responsibility for how matters were handled.

I’m Mad as Hell and I am Not Going to Take This Anymore!

Most bishops do not regularly live and work in parishes.  They may not be fully aware of how angry people are.  I am reminded of the 1976 movie Network where the television newscaster shouts, “You’ve got to say: I’m a human being, g-dammit! My life has value! So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”

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As I said, the faithful have every right to be upset.  They deserve good and holy priests.  They should expect that their bishops and priests would love and protect them, especially the children.  Will we see more empty pews?  Will needed funds dry up?  I cannot yet say, although I have heard more than one person say that he or she will be cutting back.  As with the lawsuits and large monetary awards to victims and their lawyers— we could also end up victimizing the faithful in the pews and the needy in our communities. While the Church’s moral authority is compromised, we are still a voice and helping hand for the oppressed and the poor.  What will happen to them if our resources are stripped away from the Church?

A Proposal for the Future

I have a hard time believing some of the things I am hearing.  I do not want to believe it all.  The deteriorating situation signifies bad news in terms of our credibility in proclaiming the Good News.  Again, what must we do?  Msgr. Charles Pope writes:

“As a lower-ranking priest I cannot issue demands or send binding norms to those in wider and upper ranks of the hierarchy, but I do want to say to God’s faithful how powerfully aware I am of their justified anger and agree with their insistence that something more than symbolic action or promises of future reform is necessary.”

At the end of his article at the National Catholic Register, he states:

“Remember, too, not every bishop or priest is equally to blame. Some are suffering as much as you are. However, no one, clergy or lay, should exempt himself from the task of summoning the Church to reform and greater holiness.”

That is exactly the case and I would like to applaud his courage and forthrightness in saying so.

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It is my view that only something drastic will make any difference in the current climate of anger and distrust.  I am only a priest and maybe a poor one, but here are my suggestions:

  • There should be a new review board given over entirely to the laity (men and women) where bishops could participate as observers and advisors (on ecclesial protocols as well as canonical and theological questions.)
  • While certain facets of professional secrecy and the seal of confession would have to be respected, there should be no secret agreements and a general transparency in the process.
  • There would need to be collaboration with the Holy See, not only to modify certain canons of the Church (returning to the explicit language of the 1917 code), but to create an independent canonical board and to facilitate canonical trials.
  • This review board should also become a clearing house for charges against clergy, especially bishops; priests would be able to share what they know without fear of reprisal in their dioceses.
  • There should be a general purge of those in the upper hierarchy who have tolerated active homosexuality or who have failed in their duty to protect vulnerable persons and the young from predator priests (through either silence or shuffling clergy elsewhere).
  • There should be a bill of rights for priests to insure justice and due process in determining innocence or guilt along with a provision for legal representation (an innocent priest should not be reduced to bankruptcy in trying to defend his good name while Church lawyers defend bishops).
  • Continue to insure that those who have abused or harmed minors would be permanently removed from Church ministries.
  • Insure that all programs of priestly formation also include regular psychological evaluation from a therapist who assents to Church teaching on human sexuality, not minimizing issues like consensual heterosexual relations (fornication), homosexual acts, masturbation, pornography and/or a general discomfort around women.
  • Forbid seminary formation to anyone who has committed homosexual acts and permanently remove any priests from ministry who violate their celibacy in committing them.
  • Suspend a priest from active ministry who has violated his celibacy with heterosexual acts, requiring either his laicization or that he spend five years doing penance in a monastic environment along with appropriate counseling prior to returning to ministry in another (arch)diocese.
  • Reparation for victims that brings some degree of healing and help to those harmed while not destroying the resources that rightly belong to those in the pews and to those assisted by our charity and justice initiatives. (Do we have to review the “corporate sole” model?)
  • Promote policies that both protect vulnerable persons and yet insure fair and just treatment for those accused.
  • As witnessed by Pope Francis, bishops should be required in all cases to live a very modest lifestyle with no more perks than those given to the poorest priest.
  • A penitential reform within the Church that would fully restore the Friday fasting and abstinence practices of the past for everyone and add particular acts of penance (over and above this) for all bishops and priests.
  • A daily campaign of praying the Rosary and/or the Liturgy of the Hours for the sanctification of priests, the fidelity of the Church and the conversion of sinners.
  • Restore the Prayer of St. Michael the Archangel to the liturgy, either at the end of the bidding prayers or at the conclusion of the Mass (Satan needs to be uprooted).

Reverse the Pyramid: Faithful Laity Can Save the Church

This is one of those situations where the good suffer along with the bad.  The true “sensus fidelium” is not with dissenters, but with the faithful laity and they are the ones through their prayers and intervention who will now make a difference. Everyone should pray for the Church. Dialogue with the bishops and priests must be fair and open.  This is not a situation the bishops can fix.  As one person said to me, “Their credibility is shot!”

pyramid inverted

I noticed online that a few of the Hollywood celebrities have added their two cents (mostly negative) to this crisis in the Church.  It would seem to me that when it comes to scandal they should be the last ones to talk, but I suppose it makes good fodder for deflection.  Pointing to the sins of others takes the attention off one’s own. Years ago when these scandals first broke, I asked an elderly priest (who has since gone to God) about such matters.  He explained that he was surprised about the child abuse but that the problem of errant priests was not new.  However, he explained, the Church treated transgressions (as when a priest fell with a woman) entirely as moral ones, not focusing on psychological issues or any kind of pathology beyond the man’s control.  It was presumed that after a reprimand, going to confession, a retreat and a verbal assurance of repentance— that a priest might be returned to ministry.  Evidently, when it came to some of them, and particularly regarding disordered urges and an attraction to youth, no such assurances could be trusted.

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There has been a great deal in the news about allegations of misconduct by Cardinal McCarrick.  He has resigned from the College of Cardinals and Pope Francis has ordered him to pursue a “life of prayer and penance.” There is not much more that I can say about what has come out about Cardinal McCarrick.  He was a great communicator and extremely charismatic.  We clashed years ago when I openly opposed the practice of giving Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians.  I am still deeply troubled about such policies, although the scope seems to be expanding to include invitations for those in adulterous unions to take the sacrament and even to receive absolution.  How can the mortal sins of enabling murder or committing marital infidelity properly dispose one for the divine mysteries?  I shake my head.  Maybe I am too stupid to understand?  I promised him years ago that I would pray for him daily.  Now, more than before, I am dedicated to keeping that promise.

The Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on sex abuse in the Catholic Church was hard to read.  I became overwhelmed by grief and wept.  How could this happen?  Priests are called “Father” and fathers are supposed to protect, nurture and heal their children.  My next emotion was anger.  Men broke their promises and they lied about it.  Others were so afraid of scandal and litigation that they apparently kept silent.  Was this the Church for which I sought to be a priest by entering the seminary 40 years ago?  Our faith is ultimately not in weak men but in Jesus who is God come down from heaven to save us.  Given all the negativity and the painful stories, how is it affecting the people in the pews?  (I am planning a monthly parish program on the saints.  That is where we find the real legacy of the Church.  We will focus on those who faithfully ran the race and won their crowns.)

Years ago when I heard that Cardinal Wuerl was coming to Washington I was delighted as I had been a fan of his catechism, The Teaching of Christ, going back to my college seminary days.  His little book, The Mass: The Glory, the Mystery, the Tradition, co-authored with Mike Aquilina, is a real gem and a useful tool in teaching about the Eucharistic liturgy.  As one of his priests, it is hard to hear all the criticism from his time in Pittsburgh.  It seems to me that he did so very much to make a positive difference in protecting children.  Did he stumble at some point?  I am certain that there are many families and victims appreciative for what he tried to do for them.  There has been some talk that the Grand Jury Report got a number of particulars wrong.  I am not in possession of all the facts and so I will leave it up to others to figure out.  I will keep him in my prayers, especially in the Mass, and urge our good people in the pews not to despair.

I am reminded of John Cardinal Newman’s work on the Arian crisis and St. Athanasius when so many of the bishops had fallen into heresy. He concluded that in the fourth century the laity were the heroes who had saved the day for the true faith. While the Lord will be the one to ultimately separate the weeds from the wheat or the goats from the lambs, we need to trust our good lay men and women today.  I am not talking about dissenters but the homeschooling family, the teacher in the parish school, the volunteers running the bible study, the Blue Army lady always rattling off her beads in the lonely church, the teenager eager to serve Mass, the Knights of Columbus men who actively live out charity in communities, the virtuous souls who march for life and stand outside abortion clinics praying for the unborn and their parents, the reader faithful to his service, the altar guild ladies who help set up for the liturgy, etc. Allowing the laity to take the lead may be hard for bishops as it seems to be a surrender of their authority; however, in truth this is precisely the kind of humiliation that may restore their moral jurisdiction as servants of the Most High God.

Statement from the Archdiocese of Washington to Pastors

Many of you have addressed the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, as well as the Archbishop McCarrick matter in homilies or comments to your parishioners.  Cardinal Wuerl requests that you not shy away from addressing these matters again in a spirit and manner that you feel appropriate. He also requests that you include in your Prayers of the Faithful the following intercession:

“For young people and our most vulnerable that they remain safe and protected, and for those survivors of abuse whether by power or violence, especially by the clergy who have not lived up to their call to holiness. Let us pray to the Lord.”

Finally, as a concluding prayer after the Prayers of the Faithful, he requests the following Prayer for Healing Victims of Abuse from the USCCB:

God of endless love,
ever caring, ever strong,
always present, always just:
You gave your only Son
to save us by the blood of his cross.

Gentle Jesus, shepherd of peace,
join to your own suffering
the pain of all who have been hurt
in body, mind, and spirit
by those who betrayed the trust placed in them.

Hear our cries as we agonize
over the harm done to our brothers and sisters.
Breathe wisdom into our prayers,
soothe restless hearts with hope,
steady shaken spirits with faith.
Show us the way to justice and wholeness,
enlightened by truth and enfolded in your mercy.

Holy Spirit, comforter of hearts, 
heal your people’s wounds
and transform our brokenness.
Grant us courage and wisdom, humility and grace,
so that we may act with justice
and find peace in you.

We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

FROM CARDINAL WUERL:

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Episcopal Support as Pope Carries Out Reform

Statement Regarding Archbishop McCarrick

Statement on PA Grand Jury Report

Statement in Response to Grand Jury Report (in full)

But Judging Credibility in Abuse Cases Is a Tough Call

“I Met with Every Victim” (TV Interview)

FROM OTHER SOURCES:

Scapegoating Cardinal Wuerl

Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report Debunked

Pope Francis is on the Side of the Victims of Pennsylvania Abuse

The Good Ole Shepherds Club

Bishops will Have to Sacrifice Power & Privilege to Resolve the Abuse Crisis

Bishop Morlino: ‘Homosexual Subculture’ a Source of Devastation

After PA Grand Jury Report, Will Laws Change to Better Protect Children?

US Bishops Express Anguish Over Abuse Reports

Active Homosexuality in the Priesthood Helped Cause This Crisis

Janet Smith to Bishops: ‘Save the Church — Tell Everything’

God the Father & Priestly Fathers

This discussion emerged within a series of comments from what is commonly regarded as an Internet troll or spammer.  Typical of such efforts, the critic here uses the “cut-and-paste” method of extracting text from old anti-Catholic works and then inserting the material (without attestation) into the comment fields or message boards of others. The style change is the usual give-away.  The modern media allows even a silly and ignorant anti-Catholicism a voice to plague Catholic sites and to tear down the faith of weak Catholics.  While many would erase such comments, I try to turn them into teaching moments. 

RONIE:

Mister Joe, I am sorry but I will not call you as others address you. Christ said call no man Father.

FATHER JOE:

I have discussed the issue of priestly fatherhood before, as well, but let me repeat myself:   

“And call no one on earth your Father; for one is your Father, who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9).

This is an example of a Scriptural literary form known as Hebraic Hyperbole. It is like the passage that admonishes tearing your eye out or cutting off your hand or foot. It is a way of speaking to give heightened emphasis. The fundamentalist reads everything as if the primary language is English and the author contemporary. This is also an example of taking a verse out of context and distorting its meaning. Verse eight says to call no one Rabbi or teacher. However, do we not use this word all the time? Further, if this line is absolute against Catholic priests who possess a spiritual fatherhood, then what about our foster fathers and biological fathers? It would have to apply there as well. Almost no one would agree to this. It is a wonderful sign of respect and relationship. The matter about which the Lord is concerned is that his disciples not imitate the Pharisees in their pride and hypocrisy, lording their positions over others. God is the true and ultimate Father of all. If any fatherhood does not flow from and participate in divine fatherhood, then it is a lie and oppressive. St. Paul speaks of himself as a spiritual father in his first letter to the Corinthians and admits that there are other such fathers, although not many. The shortage of vocations to the priesthood is still a matter with which we must deal.

[In speaking of our priorities] “He who loves FATHER or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).

[About marriage] “For this cause a man shall leave his FATHER and mother, and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Matthew 19:5).

[Placing discipleship to Jesus first] “And everyone who has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or FATHER, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall possess life everlasting” (Matthew 19:29). {see also Mark 10:29}

[Abraham is called father] “For this reason, it depends on faith, so that it may be a gift, and the promise may be guaranteed to all his descendants, not to those who only adhere to the law but to those who follow the faith of Abraham who is the FATHER of all of us, …” (Romans 4:16). {see also Romans 4:11-12,17}

[Treatment of elders] “Do not rebuke an older man, but appeal to him as a FATHER” (1 Timothy 5:1).

[Enduring trials] “For what ’son’ is there whom his FATHER does not discipline?” (Hebrews 12:7). {see also Hebrews 12:9}

[My favorite and very similar to calling the priest, Father] “I am writing you this not to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many FATHERS, for I became your FATHER in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Therefore, I urge you to be imitators of me” (1 Corinthians 4:14-16).

RONIE:

Dear Mister Joe, this is in regard to your answer to me and the text:

“Matthew 23:9 – And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.”

Sorry but I have to say this, you are out of context. The “Father” in the above text refers to “God the Father,” which is Spiritual, and the verses to which you refer, like Matthew 19:29, Mark 10:29, Romans 4:16, refer to our earthly fathers. The fathers of our flesh must be called fathers, and as such we must give them reverence; but God only must be allowed as the Father of our spirits, (Heb. 12:9). Our religion must not be derived from or made dependent upon any man. Our flesh fathers do not have authoritative power over men’s consciences in matters of faith and obedience, in which God and Christ are only to be attended. Christ’s sense is that he would have his disciples not fond of any titles of honor at all. Much less would he have them assume authority over men, as if they were to depend on them— as the founders of the Christian religion— the authors of its doctrines and ordinances— and to take that honor to themselves which did not belong to them. Neither would he have them even choose to be called by such names, as it would lead people to entertain too high an opinion of them. It would take off of their dependence on God the Father.

You know Mister Joe, these titles the scribes and Pharisees love to be called. Kindly check your verse in 1 Corinthians 4:14-16. I notice that there is a text “for I became your father” which is not found in the Greek text. I more agree on this verse found in the KJV below:

1 Corinthians 4:14: “I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.”

1 Corinthians 4:15: “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.”

1 Corinthians 4:16: “Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.”

FATHER JOE:

The proper title for a cleric is Father, Reverend or Pastor. Why should I spend any time with a person who begins with a deliberate act of disrespect? But given that our Lord would want repentance and conversion for both the ignorant and the bigoted who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, I will try to make a short response. Admittedly, I have little confidence that anything I might say will penetrate the walls fabricated by those who are obstinate against the truth and closed to the movement of divine grace.

You begin by seeking to “clarify” this text: “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9). Actually it is best that we look at the entire section and our Lord’s use of Hebraic hyperbole (verses 1 to 12):

Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

The authority of the Church instituted by Christ would eventually supersede that of Moses and his successors in leadership, the Pharisees. The bishops of the Catholic Church sit in the seats of the apostles. The popes govern from the Chair of Peter. Jesus establishes both a new People of God and the accompanying authority. Our Lord was critical about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and pleaded with his apostles that it should not be so with them. He gave them the example of the foot-washing and urged humility in service. The hyperbole stresses that the ministers of the Church should not seek earthly rewards, titles and esteem, but rather that imperishable treasure of being in right relationship with God. The titles rabbi, father and teacher (or master) would continue to be used. Even St. Paul speaks of himself as a spiritual father. Lost in translation is the peculiar Hebrew form of stressing a point by pushing a matter to absurdity: call no man father or teacher or rabbi; if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. These matters were never meant to be understood in a literal fashion. Apart from the truth of Christ, no one is a genuine teacher. In conflict with the fatherhood of God, no fatherhood is genuine.

You say that my reference to “father” is out of context. You must be kidding! You are the one who gives no real context at all. Indeed, you treat Scripture as if it were written originally in English. Instead of respecting the message and historical setting, you offer an illogical and contrived explanation that goes against the practices and writings of the early Christians. They were close to the source and were in a position to know the truth. They did not understand this text as you do.

The text cannot be dissected as you attempt. The meaning is that there is no true fatherhood which usurps or conflicts with the fatherhood of God. This includes both spiritual fathers (as with St. Paul) and with our biological or adopted fathers. Matthew 19:29 and Mark 10:29 speaks about the family of the Church and the communion of the saints. Romans 4:15 makes mention of Abraham as our father in faith. God calls him forth and his family becomes a tribe and later a nation. He is a crucial starting point in the history of salvation.

The texts you cite either contradict or do not support your view. The Church sees herself as a family and addresses God in her prayers as FATHER MOST HOLY. Priests, bishops and popes are spiritual fathers in that they perpetuate the teachings and mission of Jesus Christ. The Church fully subscribes to the understanding of her membership as brothers and sisters to one another. In faith and baptism, Jesus is our elder brother and Mary is the queen mother. We are adopted sons and daughters of our heavenly Father. The reference to earthly fathers means any type of fatherhood here on earth. Our mortal fathers, no matter if biological, adopted or spiritual, must reflect divine fatherhood or else they are false. There is nothing here that says that biological fathers are exempt. Further, your citation of Romans 4:16 is in reference to Abraham, not almighty God. He is called the father of all.

Parents are the primary educators of their children in the faith. They constitute the “little church.” You wrong Christian fathers by reducing them to roosters who service hens. St. Paul tells us that the Christian husband/father is the head of the home just as Christ is the head of the Church.

You next write (uncorrected here as above for grammar): “Christ’s sense is, that he would have his disciples not fond of any titles of honor at all, and much less assume an authority over men, as if they were to depend on them, as the founders of the Christian religion, the authors of its doctrines and ordinances, and to take that honor to themselves, which did not belong to them, nor even choose to be called by such names, as would lead people to entertain too high an opinion of them, and take off of their dependence on God the Father.” What you write is absolute gibberish. Indeed, your run-on sentence even defies linguistic diagramming. And yet it makes more sense than what you usually write. Of course, you did not write it. You stole it. You plagiarized. You borrowed the work and genius of another to foster the pretense of knowing what you are talking about. These are not your words, but those of one who was a polemicist against Catholic claims. As I said before, you prefer parroting the enemies of the Church instead of learning objectively and directly from her own mouth. These words come from an EXPOSITION OF THE ENTIRE BIBLE written (between 1746 to 1763) by John Gill.

The commentary here is not your own and I dislike dialoguing with cut-and-paste intellectual thieves. However, despite this and the convoluted language, I will try my best to parse it out. Our Lord was not so much against titles as he was concerned that “show” not replace “substance.” The title “apostle” itself becomes one of great distinction. Our Lord was often called “master” or “teacher” or “rabbi.” He explicitly gave his authority to his apostles and sent them out to baptize the nations. He explicitly gave Peter the power of the keys and the power to loosen or bind over sin. He tells him, after the resurrection, to feed his sheep and to care for his flock. It is quite evident that Jesus gave them such authority as shepherds to the community. This authority would be passed down to others. Failure to see this demonstrates your blindness to important passages in the Word of God. Jesus, himself, was the founder of the Christian religion, i.e. the Catholic Church. He is the ultimate source of revelation. He would send his Spirit to insure the Church’s fidelity to the truth, the doctrines and ordinances that men should know and follow. As I have mentioned before, the great apostle Paul spoke about himself as a spiritual father. There was no prohibition, either about the title or the function. The spiritual title of FATHER given to a priest in no way detracts from the fatherhood of God. Indeed, he becomes a flesh-and-blood symbol of God’s abiding love and mercy in the faith community.

Just because the Pharisees allowed their titles to go to their heads does not mean that such must always be the case for others. The title “father” is an expression of endearment.

“I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you” (1 Cor. 4:14).

Paul admonishes the Corinthians as his beloved children. There is definitely a fatherly relationship.

“For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15).

This is a somewhat archaic Protestant translation. A better translation is the RSV, also Protestant (but acceptable to Catholics):

“For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

The reference to “father” is in the Greek text as is the term for being begotten of a father:

ἐὰν γὰρ μυρίους παιδαγωγοὺς ἔχητε ἐν Χριστῷ ἀλλ’ οὐ πολλοὺς
πατέρας ἐν γὰρ Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ
διὰ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου ἐγὼ ὑμᾶς ἐγέννησα

“Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me” (1 Cor. 4:16).

More than followers, he is literally urging them to imitate him. He sends Timothy as his emissary and calls him his “Beloved and faithful son in the Lord.” The spiritual fatherhood of every priest is akin to that of the apostle Paul.

A brief aside:

While I might sound harsh at times (in this and other posts), it is hard not to become emotionally involved about matters that priests take very personally.  Critics would strip priests of their spiritual fatherhood and label them as minions of Satan and/or the anti-Christ.  There have been a few deletions of the more insensitive material in this particular post.  

Is it impolite for a priest to offer correction and to be blunt? 

Is it rude to speak the truth? 

I received criticism to this effect, and apparently from a Catholic.  But the person in this post, and those narrated in others, often do not come for a sincere and simple discussion, but rather, to ridicule the priesthood and the Church.  I try not to be hurtful.  I avoid foul language.  Nevertheless, I stand by my negative assessment of such anti-Catholicism and the poor people who swallow and spout it. Some people are moved by gentleness and others must be shaken up a bit.  We see this in the ministry of Jesus where he was gentle with the outcasts and marginalized but harsh with others like the scribes, lawyers and pharisees. 

Teaching Authority: Is the Pope the Holy Father?

The Papacy is one of the favorite targets of anti-Catholics. I recently read one who contended that calling him “Holy Father” was the equivalent of calling him God. How anyone can give such silliness any credence is beyond me. The title signifies that the Pope functions as a father to God’s family. He is a visible sign of the unity and authority of the Church founded by Christ. Even though Christ’s true father was almighty God in heaven, is it not beyond a doubt that he treated his foster father Joseph with all the respect one would render such a parent? Sure. Similarly, the Pope functions as a kind of foster father over the People of God. He is the successor of St. Peter and the Vicar of Christ. As the term of unity for the Church, the Pope’s fatherhood is modified with the word holy. The Church is holy, not because of the presence of a sinful membership, but because Christ is holy. He sends his Spirit to sanctify the Church and to safeguard the authority he established. Turning to a more mundane level, all our men should function as holy fathers in their families and in the community. It is an element of male identity which can be amplified by the transformative presence of Christ.

While it is true that the overture, “Holy Father,” is noted in the Scriptures in reference to God, it appears in a passage stressing the unity of God’s people who enter into the divine life and love, itself. Christ is the ultimate term of our peace and unity; however, he has given us teachings, sacraments, and authority to manifest and express these sacred realities. We read in John 17:11-12:

“And I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep in thy name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one even as we are. While I was with them, I kept them in thy name. Those whom thou hast given me I guarded; ….”

Note that he who shares in the one priesthood of Christ, from the lowliest clergyman to the greatest of bishops, accepts unto himself the title of father. This is the pattern given by Christ for his family of believers. Our fatherhood is to make real and to point to the one who is the Father of all. Following in the footsteps of Jesus, we still take seriously the charge of guarding those given to us by God. As Christians, we bear the name of our Lord in our identity and address all our prayers to the Father Most Holy– God in heaven. There is no confusion in the affectionate titles of reverence given priests and Popes and the wondrous Fatherhood of almighty God.

This same critic contended that Catholics look upon the Pope as the Holy Spirit. Absolutely crazy! He concludes this wild idea from the fact that the Pope and Bishops are protected by the Holy Spirit in offering authoritative teaching and interpretation of Scripture. However, Protestants also take sides between conflicting ministerial authorities and publish many tracts and books on religion, even on the internet. If we are only to rely on the Bible and personal interpretation, then logically they should have no books at all; indeed, other than quoting Scripture, it would seem that no minister, even an anti-Catholic one, could tell another believer what he can and cannot believe. Of course, such is not the practice. Every anti-Catholic bigot has made himself into his own Pope– and without the universal authority given by God, I should add.

In seeming opposition to the Catholic position of a divinely established authority to help us properly understand the Scriptures, anti-Catholics like to cite 1 John 2:27:

As for you, the anointing that you received from him remains in you, so that you do NOT NEED anyone to teach you. But his anointing teaches you about everything and is true and not false; just as it taught you, remain in him.

The Catholic Church does not deny the value on a personal basis of invoking the Holy Spirit so that we might remain in the truth. Indeed, there is a traditional prayer to this effect often recited by Catholics before reading the Bible. However, this in itself does not negate the presence and/or need for a universal authority to assist us in the truths of God. The words in this quotation were directed toward many in the Church leadership, too. The admonition of this letter is not against the teaching authority of leaders in the Christian community; after all, John himself who writes this letter under the inspiration of the Spirit is also exerting something of his own authority as an apostle. (Remember, the bishops are successors of these apostles!) The warning in John’s words is to remain faithful to the truth given to you (plural), the Church, as opposed to the heretical teachings of the Gnostics who at that time sought to dilute the membership and to alter the Gospel. Gnostics were a false Christian sect who denied the humanity of Christ. They failed to understand how an earthly Jesus could be revelatory of the Father. John’s words are in defense of the incarnation of Christ as one of us. There is nothing here contrary to Catholic faith.

Mean-spirited, anti-Catholics insinuate that the Pope is the beast of Scripture prophecy and that he is an anti-Christ. This maligning of an office and the men who have filled it is quite tragic. If it were not for the strength of the Popes and the Catholic Church, we would be following the superstitions of the Mongul horde or the religion of the Islamic invaders. So much for thanks! The Popes and the Church have preached Christ crucified for two thousand years; and the price we receive in return, is a share in that crucifixion at the hands of people who claim to follow Jesus. Although originally referring to Gnostics, and not Catholic Christians by any standard, the letter reviewed here does offer some wisdom regarding anti-Christs who oppose the true Church and faith (1 John 2:18-19):

Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that the antichrist was coming, so now MANY ANTICHRISTS have appeared. Thus we know this is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of our number; if they had been, they would have remained with us. Their desertion shows that none of them was of our number.

This “last hour” is literally the interim between Christ’s death and resurrection and his second coming. These “antichrists” are adversaries of Christ, false teachers, who distort the faith handed down to us in the Catholic community. Apostate teachers prove their faithlessness by abandoning the true Christian community. Was this not what the original Protestant reformers did a number of centuries ago? Is this not what a number of former Catholics have done in our own day? Certainly it is. We are the Mother Church going back to the early apostolic community. Reformers may have taken a few sacraments and our book, the Bible with them, but their breech was an assault upon the Church of Christ. Again, we find that passages ignorantly quoted by the foes of the Church actually vindicate her reality and mission. Charges of apostasy fall back upon the anti-Catholic pseudo-Popes. We need to pray that the Holy Spirit will enlighten them to the truth before it is too late.

Priests are Often Addressed as Father

ANTI-CATHOLIC ASSERTION

Catholics are wrong to call their ministers, “Father,” a title that is reserved to God.

“And call no one on earth your Father; for one is your Father, who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9).

CATHOLIC TRUTH

This is an example of a Scriptural literary form known as Hebraic Hyperbole. It is like the passage that admonishes tearing your eye out or cutting your hand or foot off. It is a way of speaking to give heightened emphasis. The fundamentalist reads everything as if the primary language is English and the author contemporary. This is also an example of taking a verse out of context and distorting its meaning. Verse eight says to call no one Rabbi or teacher. However, do we not use this word all the time? Further, if this line is absolute against Catholic priests who possess a spiritual fatherhood, then what about our foster fathers and biological fathers? It would have to apply there as well. Almost no one would agree to this. It is a wonderful sign of respect and relationship. The matter about which the Lord is concerned is that his disciples not imitate the Pharisees in their pride and hypocrisy, lording their positions over others. God is the true and ultimate Father of all. If any fatherhood does not flow from and participate in divine fatherhood, then it is a lie and oppressive. St. Paul speaks of himself as a spiritual father in his first letter to the Corinthians and admits that there are other such fathers, although not many. The shortage of vocations to priesthood is still a matter with which we must deal.

[In speaking of our priorities] “He who loves FATHER or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).

[About marriage] “For this cause a man shall leave his FATHER and mother, and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Matthew 19:5).

[Placing discipleship to Jesus first] “And everyone who has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or FATHER, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall possess life everlasting” (Matthew 19:29). {see also Mark 10:29}

[Abraham is called father] For this reason, it depends on faith, so that it may be a gift, and the promise may be guaranteed to all his descendants, not to those who only adhere to the law but to those who follow the faith of Abraham who is the FATHER of all of us, … (Romans 4:16). {see also Romans 4:11-12,17}

[Treatment of elders] Do not rebuke an older man, but appeal to him as a FATHER (1 Timothy 5:1).

[Enduring trials] For what “son” is there whom his FATHER does not discipline? (Hebrews 12:7). {see also Hebrews 12:9}

[My favorite and very similar to calling the priest, Father] I am writing you this not to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many FATHERS, for I became your FATHER in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Therefore, I urge you to be imitators of me (1 Corinthians 4:14-16).

Concerns About the e5 Movement

SEE THE NEW NOTES AT END OF POST

fullofhimself.jpgBefore I begin, I have to acknowledge that the tragedy of the Macfarlane breakup and Habisohn’s involvement (he is the founder of e5) has colored my remarks about the e5 movement. I am a hardliner against divorce and have an immediate knee-jerk reaction to anyone or anything that seems to compromise the indissolubility of marriage.

Here is an email that has become part of the record (which elicited a response from Cardinal George and his theological advisor, Rev. Lodge):

I have a friend whose husband regularly corresponds with Habisohn and has signed up for his e5 group. My friend is having serious marital problems and in a personal message from Habisohn to my friend, he wrote, “Stop with the selfish pursuits of your own desires. Your desires might just be the worst thing for you. And ultimately its his [your husband’s] duty under God to discern such things. He has to answer to God for you.” (7/3/03)

The “e5” fasting program is taken from Ephesians 5: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” Here is how this regimen from Steve Habisohn is explained by Bud MacFarlane, Jr.: “Jesus gave up his body for his bride, the Church, and we give up our bodies for our brides through fasting. It’s a perfectly chivalrous act, and it will make the woman in your life feel like a princess.”

It is not clear how such a penance “directly” builds up or supports a marriage. While certainly there are benefits to fasting as part of our mortification and penance as Catholics, many of us are left scratching our heads as to how it can cause a drastic transformation or how it signifies “a man taking on suffering to help a woman.” The middle term in all of this seems to be missing. The sacrifices to which the Letter to the Ephesians alludes come with ordinary fidelity and human mortality– these are connected with the cross of Jesus. The husband is told that he should be as willing to lay down his life for his wife as Christ did for his Church. However, this does NOT deny reciprocity on the wife’s behalf. St. Paul’s understanding of the wife’s subjection or submission is a reminder that she must also be willing to sacrifice everything for her beloved. The teaching about the husband’s headship does not deny the wife’s complementary sacrifices for her husband. It is an important point where I find the purported e5 perspective to be somewhat shallow and one-sided. In any case, if we are only talking about once-a-month fasting, then it seems to be a harmless business; but, is it more than this?

Macfarlane cites a series of themes in the e5 movement:

NO TALK – He contrasts this step with being a man of action.

I would submit that men should both talk and act. Action can be misconstrued without clear communication, first. Men err in removing themselves from their wives and in trying to solve their problems unilaterally. This almost never works. While we certainly need quiet time for prayer, do not underestimate constructive talking (dialogue) with the spouse. Many times marriages fail because of poor communication skills.

We should avoid the “passive-aggressive” route in dealing with our shared problems. An example of this is when one spouse is silent because of rage or disappointment. One can also “punish” the spouse in indirect ways. Imagine a response like this: “Having a wife like you forces me to do extra penance and fasting just to stay with you!” Dialogue that does not tear down the other, sometimes orchestrated by a third party counselor, can be quite helpful in opening the lines of communication for healing and growth. It is okay to be a man of action, but the action must be appropriate. The man of action is also one who communicates clearly and appropriately– with the beloved and with God.

I am a big fan of married couples praying together, offering up petitions of love and caring for one another. Why not?

When I went to the e5 Website, I read this:

“Do I tell my wife? There are two answers No and Yes. It really depends on your situation. By telling one’s wife one might risk spiritual pride or she may even discourage you. However, in other situations by telling one’s wife you are allowing her to participate in the e5 Women part of e5 Men. She can actively pray to receive God’s graces merited for her. Often wives are greatly encouraged and gain new hope by knowing that their husband is laying down his body for her. I’m sure there are infinite reasons for both approaches depending on the situation. These are just examples to help you start thinking of the specifics of your situation. It’s ultimately your call.”

Isn’t this a bit crazy? What about the family supper table, the meal that in a Christian home is a “figure” pointing to the Eucharist? What about the wife’s concern over the details of that meal and her concern for her family?

CALLING ALL MEN – I would acknowledge that most of us have hurt the women in our lives but is the e5 strategy really a comprehensive curative? As I said before, fasting as part of our prayer life is fine, but it is not in itself sufficient to heal marital problems and there is no direct or immediate tie-in with Ephesians 5.

threedandies.jpgBANDS OF BROTHERS – Maybe I am misconstruing this movement, but as I read Macfarlane’s article I am increasingly anxious with the rationalization that fuels it. Is it merely an all boys’ club of men fasting for their wives, future wives, and girlfriends? Fasting may sometimes be the easy road out and not a true scaling of the cross at all. You can fast all you want and still let your women down.

TENS OF THOUSANDS – Macfarlane becomes a virtual cheerleader for the e5 Men. He writes, “Imagine the power of having such a vast army suffering for your bride.” It may be an exageration on my part, but he speaks as if a marriage can be saved by supernatural intervention alone.

Marriages are saved neither by committee nor by warfare. They are saved by love, mutual respect, and genuine interpersonal sacrifice. Suffering means loving your spouse even when he or she does not seem all that lovable. It means working long hard hours to keep a roof over your heads, clothes on your bodies, and food in the stomachs of your children. For the husband, his joy is his wife’s happiness and the wellbeing of his children. You do not need an army of men suffering and fasting for your wife. You need one man, husband and father, to sit at the table with her for dinner and thank the good Lord for all that he has done for you.

FORTRESS OF FLESH – Fasting can mean a degree of suffering, but so can dieting. What changes their meaning is the intention.

The devil hates true mortification and prayer. We sacrifice in the flesh to live more in the spirit. But, it is not magic. Further, the devil can take advantage of this mentality and reverse matters if we are not careful—urging us to hate our flesh or to substitute fasting for other obligations in our faith and family life.

Macfarlane writes: “When you fast, you and Christ form a fortress that protects the woman you love.” It is a sweet sentiment, but theologically how does it work? I still do not see it. How does it protect her? If anything, the way this e5 business is explained in the article, it seems to cut her out of the equation.

SUPERNATURAL FIREPOWER – Yes, adopting the military analogy in vogue here, we do need spiritual ammo. As Catholics this armory is replenished by God from many sources: fruitful prayer, the depository of grace merited by the saints, the sacramental life, and ultimately the redemptive sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. We are alerted to the dangers posed by the devil, the flesh and the world. As with his books, Macfarlane sees things in sweeping apocalyptic terms. This is okay as one element, however, the personal battles we face are rooted in the practical here-and-now.

We must be careful not to focus our attention so deeply into the metaphysical and eternal that we lose sight of the physical and temporal. Practically speaking, too often, lacking what one needs in him- or herself, we look elsewhere.

Yes, we trust in God’s protection and we cooperate with it. But look at what he says in his article:

“Our Lord did not merely suggest that some demons can only be driven out by prayer and fasting. Guys, listen up. As a man you will find it extremely satisfying to pull back that bolt, calmly load a Wednesday of bread and water into the chamber, then start pumping round after round into the soft white underbelly of the Dragon of Death. This is war, and you and I were made for war. It never gets easy, but that soft thud you are going to hear is the sweet sound of the dragon, which has been hurting your wife, hitting the ground.”

Cough…swallow…say, what? He concludes by saying that this dragon might be either your anger or the devil; however, until he makes this qualification, one might wonder if he is talking about his wife?

I have done a lot of counseling over the years and can attest that not all dragons are demonic, many of them are human, male and female. Admittedly, I am perplexed how Macfarlane’s own public actions toward his wife and family can be reconciled with what he says here. But enough has been said about that, if not too much.

As a seminarian, my friends and I used to fast on Monday nights. However, we never saw it in such violent and militant terms. We called our efforts a FASTING FOR PEACE. We remembered all those who were suffering injustice and we prayed for the right to life of the unborn. We fasted for holiness, praying that God might wean us away from his gifts so that we might better focus upon the giver.

Macfarlane sees everything in Apocalyptic terms—even his marriage—and the enemy are “the forces of evil”. Many Catholics, including dear friends, were caught up in this but assuredly relieved when the “three days of darkness” hailed for the millennium failed to materialize, a peculiar fascination that reminded me of the faulty timetable espoused by the Jehovah Witness cult.

Imagery and symbolic language has great value but can sometimes be used for avoidance and misdirection. Many disappointed fans, for instance, are quick to suggest that Macfarlane is under demonic oppression and may need exorcism. His own personal family tragedy seems utterly unbelievable to them. While we can never totally discount the work of Satan, I find that concupiscence and selfishness are the essential culprits in our lives. I can offer no real explanation to soothe their concern for a man so admired and for whom we all care about. What we can do is pray, that at least, is one intrusion that our Lord does allow us into the personal lives of others.

Conversely, I shudder to think that being critical of e5 might get me charged with demonic entanglement. Other than the struggle with my own venial sins, I can assure the reader that I am not involved with the conspiracy of cosmic powers and evil men who seek to keep men of faith “impotent”.

Forget the dragon for a moment. Forget the loaded gun. Marriages are not principally about powers and principalities, they are about dirty diapers, crying babies, doctors’ bills, making beds, fixing the car, going to church as a family, sleeping as husband and wife naked together under the covers, and so much more. There, I have said it.

missterese.jpgSPECIAL FORCES – Other than the first Wednesday of the month, he argues that men can fast for other women on subsequent Wednesdays.

The connection to Scripture is still sketchy and the benefits inconclusive. I am surprised that this article remains on his site given his own witness. Again, notice the military view– fasting men are compared to military special forces, as if a SWAT team is the answer to marriage problems.

It might sound silly, but some wives might just prefer to have their husband at the family dinner table. I have found that wives and mothers are acutely concerned about the bodies of their charges, the husband and children. A wife might readily become concerned, if her husband’s fasting practices expanded and he risked his health. It seems to me that the e5 regimen is something about which a husband and wife must agree and should not be adopted by men unilaterally. Would not a weekly family fast be better, even if not as severe as that proposed by e5?

RECEIVING THE BODY – Notice once more how the spouse is discussed as someone who up to now has been excluded from this regimen of fasting and supposedly prayer, although the article does not mention it so far. He writes: “Your wife will soon discover that a major change is taking place and will want to know how she can be a part of e5 Men.”

This is very presumptuous to say the least. He says that their contribution is profound and complimentary, but what is it? He writes: “Many e5 Women therefore attend Mass on the first Wednesday to mystically receive the sacrifice of our body [e5 Men] by receiving Christ in the Eucharist.”

As a priest, I offer the Mass every day and yet this is an odd twist I have never encountered before. I would suggest that men and women alike would do better to more frequently attend Mass and receive Holy Communion. Both can fast when they would like and do so for each other, while safeguarding their health. The strange business here is that Macfarlane says that the women are receiving the body of these e5 fasting men when they receive our Lord in Holy Communion. I would not say that. They receive Jesus, body, soul, humanity and divinity. The sacramental presence is real. Any kind of “mystical” reception of others, even the husband, clouds the issue and does not have Church sanction as Catholic teaching. The closest thing to it is from St. Augustine when he says that in holy communion we receive our own mystery. But, he is talking about our membership in the the mystical body of Christ.

The sacrifice of the flesh in marriage is in the toil that family life entails. Ideally, any spiritual donation of the body should come along with the physical union of the spouses. Sexual union of husband and wife signifies the true self-donation. They are saying to each other, “I belong to you. I am yours. These arms and hands, these legs and feet, these locks of hair, these eyes that adore you, these lips that hunger to kiss you– everything that I am– is yours.” Our Lord identifies himself with the beloved so that the love of husband and wife finds true sacramental expression. It is raised to the level of prayer.

BEAUTIFUL CREATURES – MacFarlane says something that critics might judge as sexist, but such is a charge that has been leveled at me, too: “The truth is women are the most beautiful creatures in God’s universe. We men know it. Women need our strength and protection.”

This is all fine and dandy, but would not a mother of a son say that her baby boy is the most beautiful creature in the universe? Assuredly so and thus it is best to avoid this kind of general license. Scholastic philosophers judged males as better reflecting an ideal humanity. Such claims do not fare well when examined objectively. They depend upon subjective aesthetics and changeable worldviews. Further, I have known some strong women who defended their husbands and nurtured and protected their children against great odds. Women may be even more capable and thus beautiful beyond the measure of skin and figure, than readily appreciated.

warriorprincess.jpg

Yes, it is true that men and women are not the same, and as much as society tries to lie about it, everything from clothing to books to perfume to movies to home-decorating makes it preeminently true that we are not. However, there is a common humanity and God-given dignity. We know equality in grace and are all called to holiness. Yes, the Scriptures speak of the man as the head of the home, but as Dr. Scott Hahn reminds us, the wife and mother is its heart.

YOU ARE A KING – Macfarlane writes: “The fact is, through baptism you were adopted into a royal family.” This is true, but not just men, but women, too.

We are anointed, “priest, prophet and king.” All of us are called to offer sacrifice, to witness and proclaim the truth, and to recognize the sanctity of life and our dignity as adopted sons and daughters of the Father, brothers and sisters to Christ the King.

A man may be appointed lord of his home, but his wife is the Queen. All families should be modeled upon the Holy Family. Husbands should show the same respect and offer the same support that Joseph gave Mary. Joseph was going to divorce Mary quietly until the meaning of the child of promise was explained to him by an angel in a dream. Mary and Joseph raised their Son in their home, together.

The Macfarlane divorce is a teaching moment. But it is important that we take from this public tragedy the right message.

  • Can you imagine Joseph trying to take Jesus away from Mary?
  • Would he forbid Mary to witness to her Son the lessons she knew as a daughter of Israel?
  • Would he abandon her and then strip her of dignity with a divorce that faulted her for “extreme cruelty” and “gross neglect of duty”?

Definitely not, and neither are these grounds for an annulment.

Couples who marry in the Church make a promise before God to remain faithful, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, until death do they part.

  • A real EPHESIANS 5 MAN does not follow a cult interpretation of inspired Scripture.
  • A real EPHESIANS 5 MAN knows that life is sometimes messy and that true love can bring joy and take us to the cross.
  • A real EPHESIANS 5 MAN lets his wife know every minute of every day that she belongs to him and he belongs to her.
  • A real EPHESIANS 5 MAN does not simply fight “for” his wife but “WITH” HIS WIFE—to make their marriage last and to help their children grow healthy, holy and wise.
  • A real EPHESIANS 5 MAN does not commit physical or verbal adultery with women or spiritual adultery with a ban of brothers.
  • A real EPHESIANS 5 Man does not seek to divorce his wife and the mother of his children– particularly against her will.

Men do not need an army of Kings, as the e5 men call themselves. Rather, they need to know that they share their crowns with their wives, one as king and the other as queen. There may be many thorns in those crowns, but if a marriage is real, none may take them off while there is still life. Even the crown of thorns worn by Jesus was not removed until he had breathed his last. And yet, the kingdom of Jesus is everlasting. We find some glimpse of it in every Christian home because the family is the little Church.

Macfarlane speaks of “men crucified with Christ for the women we love.” But men and women can also play the wrong part in the Greatest Story Ever Told.

Jesus was betrayed with a kiss and abandoned by those he loved. How many marriages have a spouse abandoned, even after public acclamations of affection?

Our Lord was cursed and called all sorts of names. Are not cruel and defaming charges part of the ordeal when marriages fail?

Jesus is stripped of his clothes and is virtually naked upon the cross. How many spouses have been reduced to poverty by divorce and large settlements?

Has not even Bai Macfarlane, for whatever reason, suffered the loss of her children? It is because of her situation that there is a tentative appraisal of e5 from the Church, albeit the Archdiocese of Chicago. Here are those documents as well as a few remarks from a brief interview.

Archdiocese of Chicago / Office of the Archbishop (Selection)
http://users.ameritech.net/webdocs/FrancisCardinalGeorge.htm

January 16, 2004

“Anyone can post information on the Internet – without any license or check for accuracy. This applies to interpretations of Scripture and to information about Church teaching as much as it applies to products that are advertised for sale. I am glad that you are asking about Mr. Habisohn’s ideas, since the fact that they are being communicated over the Internet give’s them no special credibility. Your letter was referred to me by Mrs. Else Radtke of our Family Ministries office, who has also spoken with the wife of the friend to whom you refer in this letter. I am very sorry to hear that a Catholic who claims to follow Mr. Habisohn’s way of living is now in the process of seeking a divorce from his spouse. I believe that the Holy Father’s commentary on Ephesians 5 makes it very clear that St. Paul’s intention was to draw husbands and wives closer to one another and to Christ in his Church, not to drive them apart. In this case, the harm done to spouse and children by divorce is far greater than any damage that could be done by a disagreement over a passage of Sacred Scripture.”

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Chicago

REV. JOHN G. LODGE Responds at Cardinal George’s Request
http://users.ameritech.net/webdocs/Notes.htm

Should a wife orient her will to her husband’s will?

Most exegetes of Ephesians 5 — including Pope John Paul II — would not speak of an orientation of wills that was one way. The Pope is careful to discern the difference between the Church’s relationship to Christ and the wife’s relationship to her husband (Mulleris Dignitatem, 24):

This is especially true because the husband is called the “head” of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church; he is so in order to give “himself up for her” (Eph 5:25), and giving himself up for her means giving up even his own life. However, whereas in the relationship between Christ and the Church the subjection is only on the part of the Church, in the relationship between husband and wife the “subjection” is not one-sided but mutual.

A bit further on in the same section the Pope continues:

The apostolic letters are addressed to people living in an evironment marked by that same traditional way of thinking and acting. The ‘innovation’ of Christ is a fact: it constitutes the unambiguous content of the evangelical message and is the result of the Redemption. However, the awareness that in marriage there is mutual “subjection of the spouses out of reverence for Christ”, and not just that of the wife to the husband, must gradually establish itself in hearts, consciences, behavior and customs. This is a call which from that time onwards, does not cease to challenge succeeding generations; it is a call which people have to accept ever anew.

The Pope, then, is very careful to show how Eph 5:21 teaches an innovation in the relationship between men and women, a new way of reciprocity which has yet to fully take hold in many of today’s cultures. Any ‘orienting of wills’ should be reciprocal and mutual.

Is Steve Habisohn correct in that it is a husband’s duty to discern if his wife’s desires are good for her?

No. The gist of the argument in Ephesians 5 and in the thought of the Pope is that husband and wife should have a mutual sense of care for one another. At times that might mean respectfully and lovingly challenging or questioning the other, but neither spouse has a greater responsibility here than the other.

Mr. Habisohn has simply put out his shingle on the Web and asked for money. He has no special training or background other than his personal study of the Pope’s ideas surrounding the theology of the body. On the one hand, I agree with Mrs. Radtke that, when one looks over the material on his sites, there doesn’t seem to be too much with which to argue. He promotes material related to the Pope’s “Theology of the Body” and Natural Family Planning. Still, if (OMITTED) are accurate in their reporting of Habisohn’s letter to their friend, he over stepped his bounds. He should stay out of the marriage counseling business. Furthermore, his language in the letter he wrote their friend is no where supported in either Ephesians 5 or in the writings of John Paul.

ZENIT Interview with Steve Habisohn on the e5 Men’s Movement

In his interpretation of Ephesians 5. Habisohn states “In a complementary response of total self-gift, the wife orients her will to her husband’s to allow for his gift of self to be given freely. She becomes submissive — which literally means ‘under’ his ‘mission’ — to serve her needs.”

There you have it, I gave the founder of e5 the last word.

********************

My remarks about the Macfarlane matter, the issue of divorce, and an article about e5 have caused a flood of comments that I cannot continue to monitor. Some of them have called me irresponsible and in league with Satan. I am going to save a previous comment in the body of the post, but disable the comment feature. You can still send me emails, but I am increasingly uncomfortable with this discussion. It amazes me that people would fault Bai Macfarlane for fighting for her sacramental marriage and against the evil of divorce, particularly the no-fault variety.

As for the e5 business, it may have its merits, but I took “honest” exception to some things I read about it. I would certainly be willing to revisit the matter or even post honest and sympathetic material that would show how it is usually effective and in agreement with Catholic teaching. But, frankly, there is little information to be found and much of it dating back to 2003.

forrealfamily.jpgI will share with you one exceptional article about it that I discovered on the web. Published in a small area newsletter, it is the best that I have read on e3 so far.

PLEASE KNOW, that while I may come across as overly critical of e5, it is mostly because I am unhappy with how it is explained in the few sources nationally available. However, there is a beautiful essay by Dennis Murphy in LIFE CYCLES that presents a picture of e5 with which I could whole-heartedly accept and make my own.

He writes:

“We join our small suffering with the sufferings of Christ on the cross not only for the intention of being chaste for our wives but for being chaste for other good reasons. I, for example, also offer my fasting for the intentions of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. I try to follow the example of Saint Louis De Montfort by giving all to Mary, especially being chaste. I thought it was good to do something simple, and I knew that something like the fasting was coming for me…I wanted to participate in something meaningful especially regarding the sacredness of intimacy, which so much in our culture wants to trivialize. I struggle some Wednesdays more than others, but I don’t find it difficult to do especially when I think of Jesus suffering and crucified. My fasting is such a drop of water in His infinite ocean of love, but it is still my drop of love. It’s amazing that the Son of God and His Mother would even notice it, and they do.”

This is not only beautiful but spiritually meaty. Here is the substance and the middle term that I could not find clearly enunciated either by its founder or by Macfarlane. It also reflects something of simplicity and humility, which makes theology and a true appreciation of faith possible.

He goes on to say:

“As I have offered up my simple 24 hours of fasting on bread and water, I think of those not only in e5, but anyone who has fasted because the Lord said that some healings need prayer and fasting. The Lord also said that when He was gone, there would be time for fasting. Certainly the assault against chastity in our own wounded culture demands the response of prayer and fasting in order to beg healing from our most chaste Lord and His most chaste Mother. I believe that the e5 men and women who quietly offer up their little suffering join in God’s plan to counter the scandal of evil against chastity.”

This perspective upon e5 is one upon which I can whole-heartedy concur. He convinces me of its utility, at least in the manner that he understands and pursues it:

“Certainly the focus and motivation for any acts are rooted in the gifts of the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist and confession. I go to Confession weekly and Mass or Adoration of the Blessed Eucharist daily as does my wife, Mary Grace. I don’t know what I would do without the blessedness of the Eucharist and the forgiveness of Confession.”

I am tearing as I read this. This is the stuff that should be posted on the e5 website. There is nothing here of men imaged as SWAT teams, but as sinners who seek to be holy men and beter helpmates to their wives as fellow pilgrims. He gives a short but convincing explanation about how the mortification dynamic works with prayer, the sacraments, and in the larger context of a community of faith. There is nothing here of an eletist group or a boy’s club. Whatever he read, this man filled in the gaps for himself, and now he does it for us.

He closes by saying:

“It was so great to read about e5 and the direct defense against all these atrocities against women [attacks on our virtue of chastity] through fasting especially to foster respect for the wife that I love, even though in my weak humanity I fail, the children whom we conceived, who have taught me to understand the depth of the need for maturity and holiness in all areas of life and the Church, without whom I would be lost and overcome in the struggle against sin, and the people of God, whom I am called to humbly serve one person at a time.”

If you want to read the whole article, here is the link:
http://mysite.verizon.net/vzeoqpd6/pnfpn/lifecyc/Lifecycles4-18.pdf

Those wanting to read more about e5 men can follow these links:

e5 Men Website
http://www.e5men.org/pages/

Habisohn: How Real Men Sacrifice for Their Brides
http://www.catholicity.com/commentary/e5men1.html

Macfarlane: Husbands Crucified
http://www.catholicexchange.com/vm/index.asp?vm_id=2&art_id=17344

OSV: A Fast way for Husbands to Pray for Their Wives
http://www.osv.com/periodicals/show-article.asp?pid=786

Belief Net: The Fasting Masters of the 21st Century
http://www.beliefnet.com/story/122/story_12233_1.html

New Oxford Review: Sensitivity for Sensitive Guys
http://www.newoxfordreview.org/note.jsp?did=0703-notes-sensitive

COMMENTS

Eric Scheidler | squarezero.org |

To lay this [Macfarlane] debacle at the feet of Steve Habisohn and the e5men is shockingly unfair. Thousands of men (BTW, I am not one of them) have been participating for several years in the e5 program of fasting and prayer. The marital woes of one of these men hardly constitute a case against the entire program.

Steve Habisohn has never suggested that fasting alone is enough to secure a strong marriage. He has never suggested to men that they not communicate with their wives or share a family dinner. And is one day of fasting per month really destructive of the family meal?

There may be criticisms to be made about the e5 approach, but you offer nothing but a caricature. If you had contacted Habisohn yourself, you might have gotten a more nuanced perspective on what his group is about, including the many men — and women — who have benefited from the once-a-month fast.

Instead you re-hash the attacks against Habisohn and e5 that Bai Macfarlane has already offered far and wide, including the response of a diocesan official to a series of leading questions.

Eric Scheidler | squarezero.org |

Father, I want to make a further comment about your criticism of the e5 Men program. First, I should disclose that I am good friends with Steve Habisohn. He would be the first to agree that he and I do not see eye to eye on all matters, including the headship issue. Indeed, I am disappointed to see a critique of Habisohn’s approach so flawed by bias and sloppy documentation.

The evidence you present here is, in my view, deeply flawed. First, the e-mail quoted at the top or your article. We have NO CONTEXT for this e-mail message whatsoever. We do not know who the “friend” is, or what that person’s relationship may have been to Steve Habisohn — what he may know or believe about the situation which informs his words.

Absent any context, his words look like irresponsible, even misogynistic counsel. They are given the color of grand generalizations about the authority of a husband. But he may very well have intended those words to a particular women about whose situation he knew something WE do not.

Which again points to the singular character of this whole business: what the public knows about the Macfarlanes it knows from only one of them. How, for example, did this e-mail fall into the hands of Bai Macfarlane or her associates? Was permission granted by Habisohn for what clearly is a private communication to be broadcast far and wide on the Internet? Could it be that the “friend” is none other than Bai herself?

Likewise, the critique from Cardinal George’s assistant Fr. John Lodge: How was the e5 Men organization presented to Fr. Lodge? Were, as it appears, statements made to one particular person construed as general laws advocated by Habisohn? Who is the “wife of the friend” involved in this communication? Why were these letters made public, and again, was permission given to do so?

A final remark on the question of demons and marital strife. There is the legitimate problem of a certain kind of pious Catholic seeing a demon behind every challenge or squabble. It’s particularly unsettling to have one’s own role in a dispute attributed to demonic influence!

You say that “Marriages are not principally about powers and principalities, they are about dirty diapers, crying babies, doctors’ bills, making beds, fixing the car, going to church as a family, sleeping as husband and wife naked together under the covers, and so much more.”

I put it to you that you are presenting here a FALSE DILEMMA. These simply aspects of marital life are the very plain upon which the battle between good and evil takes place, where one’s guardian angel and those devils whose special task it is to seek the ruin of one’s soul struggle for decisive influence.

Satan hates marriage, just like he hates each one of us, and he’s going to try to break through every chink and crack he can. Changing diapers! How easy it is for a man to leave this to his wife — selfishly. And how easy for a wife to resent him for it — bitterly. Even this seemingly mundane thing can be matter of real spiritual battle.

To say that a paritcular issue doesn’t involve the “cosmic battle” is, in fact, to say that it doesn’t involve grace. If the battle between good and evil doesn’t involve diapers, then there’s no GRACE involved in diapers, and any mother or father could tell you — and I speak here as the father of seven — that it’s ONLY through grace that you survive the diaper years.

Fixing the car! I know all too well how Satan tempts me when I’m working on a mechanical repair. He would love nothing more for me to lose my temper, swear, rudely rebuke the son who’s too slow getting me the wrench I need. Doctor bills! A man is a fool not to pray for patience before discussing doctor bills with his wife; and no, not because she tries his patience, but because he is a hot-headed fool whose real worry for his families financial state is perverted all too easily into angy words.

And is it necessary to say that the spiritual battle is waged in the midst of that nakedness between the sheets. Pope John Paul II of happy memory said just that — “Becoming one as husband and wife, they find themselves in the situation in which the powers of good and evil fight and compete against each other” (Wed. Audience, 6/27/84).

He connects this fight directly to the marital embrace itself, noting the prayer of Tobiah before lying together with Sarah as her husband.

John Paul II knew that Satan wants nothing more than to undermine the harmony of husband and wife in the marital bed. Tobiah knew it. You ought to know it too.

Reflection Upon the Holy Family

Although I offered a reflection upon the Holy Family at the beginning of my book on prayer, I would like to return to this subject in this post. Reflecting upon the Holy Family, we are not only guided as to what a Christian family should be, but stand convicted in our lives over what it is not. While the modern concept of liberty is often moral license, theirs was responsibility and fidelity. We cater to individualism and a preoccupation with self that runs counter to the claims of familial bonds. The immediate family in the time of Christ was expanded to include aunts, uncles, cousins and others. (Indeed, the brethren of Christ were precisely these other relations.) Catholics realize, or at least should, that our relationship to God and to one another is in the context of family. We are not alone.

While these brief words can only offer a quick brush-stroke on the subject of “family,” a few thoughts might be beneficial. Something is wrong. No amount of beating around the bush or a pretense at greater enlightenment can take away this nagging perception in all segments of society. Determining what is wrong, and for that matter right, is where public debate becomes quickly frozen and polarized.

Politicians clamor about “family values” and then argue about what this means in a pluralistic society. Advocates of alternative lifestyles seek through the media and legislatures to socially engineer the family into something past generations would think unimaginable. It is in the midst of this confusion that we come to terms with that most central of human relationships. If it were not hard enough, even our traditional family units are plagued by communication that is absent or dysfunctional.

God sends his Son that repentant children might be added to his family and given eternal life. And yet, in our sinfulness, we can and often do offer a counter-witness to this truth. I know a couple whose girl ran away at seventeen. She eventually realized her foolishness and sought to return home. However, she discovered the locks changed. Her father had told her that if she went out the door she would not be welcome back. He gave away her clothes and personal things to charity. He would not allow his wife to display her picture. It was as if she had never been born. This couple, with their older daughter, were active in the parish and regularly at Sunday Mass. When their youngest returned to Mass, they refused to sit beside her. They even maligned her to neighbors. I overheard one of her father’s parish friends tell her, “You did it to yourself. You made your own mess, now you have to live with it! This is what tough love means!” Well, yes and no. Tough love means discouraging selfishness and nurturing self-reliance. This was not that at all; it was cruelty. The girl, as it turned out, was not only a foolish teenager, she suffered from bipolar disorder. When I first met her, she was just out of a mental institution and living with her boyfriend and his grandmother. It was either this or the streets. She had nowhere else to go. She had no job because employers did not want a “crazy” girl working for them. When informed of an upcoming family reunion, she decided to attend. Her mother dismissed her at the back door: “You will just embarrass us. I planned long and hard for this party and I will not have you ruin it. Go away.” When her boyfriend smacked her around, she again tried to go home. But they were gone to Europe. The wife confided that with the younger daughter gone, they had regained their freedom, and could finally live for themselves.

As a pastor of souls I have heard many variations of this story. The happy ending of the prodigal son parable is not always revisited in the lives of those who claim to be Christian, and yet, it is precisely the witness that our Lord gave us from the Cross. We read in Colossians, “Because you are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness, and patience . . . Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you” (Colossians 3:12-13). This is the challenge and the transformation for those who would truly be Christian. Neglectful parents today might have astonished the worst sinners and unbelievers of yesterday. Our Lord says, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13; see also Matthew 7:9-11). A rhetorical question is now a frighteningly real one.

Among those who call upon the saving name of Jesus are those who engage in unlawful sexual activity and infidelity, destroy children in the womb, and discard those labeled defective. Instead of a forgiving love, they harden their hearts against those who share their blood and their name. This is the way it is, not the way it should be, and definitely not the way true believers should want it to remain.

Sirach 3:2-6,12-14 points, not to the parents’ obligations, but to those of children, particularly regarding the 4th commandment stipulation of honoring (obeying) one’s father and mother. But increasingly preachers are forced to confront parents. How can a child honor parents if they are dishonorable? When Jesus demanded, “Call no man your father,” (Matthew 23:9), he precisely meant that true fathers, indeed parents of either gender, are only worthy of the title when their role is reflective of the loving and merciful fatherhood of God. Parents have responsibilities toward those whom they give life. Many churches have to offer remedial instructions for uncatechized but baptized Catholics. Their parents failed to take them to Sunday Mass, to teach them their prayers, and to transmit to them our holy faith. This implies that parents themselves do not believe; nevertheless, they are still culpable for the damage to their children’s immortal souls. Such neglect is a form of child abuse and ranks with murder in the hierarchy of sins.

In return, just as we read in Sirach, children have a lasting obligation toward their parents. When parents grow older and need the support of grown children, it is not merely a matter of charity but of duty. However, such a turn-of-events is increasingly considered an unwarranted burden. I know of cases where the children fight each other, no one wanting to take the personal and immediate responsibility for an elderly parent. The children, in some cases, have learned from the example of their parents all too well. I also know good parents who did little or nothing wrong in raising their children; and yet their brood contains both the holy and the wicked.

Familial roles are not limited to a few years but have lasting consequences and obligations. Mary followed her Son and quietly emerges at various stages of the Gospel and in the public life of Jesus. She was his mother at the Annunciation, at the Nativity, indeed, all the way to the Cross. Love brings with it responsibility and often much worry. Jesus was disowned by many of those who knew him; Mary’s testimony of love and loyalty is one that needs to be ours. She always claimed him. Jesus claims her and gives her to us, his new family, on Calvary. As for good St. Joseph, tradition has it that he died in the loving arms of Jesus and Mary. Perhaps this was God’s greatest gift to this noble man? After all, as our Gospel relates, when an angel told him that Herod was seeking Jesus “to destroy him,” Joseph sought refuge for them in Egypt until it was safe to return. The aged guardian of Mary and Jesus might have found it impossible to remain passive when his adult Son underwent his betrayal and passion. When his earthly role was finished, the foster father to Christ was taken from this world to await his Son and Savior in the abode of the righteous dead.

We need to put on the mind of Christ regarding family life. Can we conceive of God being well pleased with parents who killed their children through abortion? Along with contraception that breeds distrust between spouses, the abortion holocaust has attacked the very nucleus of family life. Pregnancy, once called the “blessed state” is now considered a disease to be medicated away. There is no reconciling such a mentality with that in Psalm 128:1-5 where the psalmist praises the wife as “a fruitful vine.” The child, instead of being prized as a precious gift from God, is considered a tragic accident, a problem to be disposed of as quickly as possible. Freedom, or rather license, as well as economic and upward mobility, is all hindered by the presence of a child. We are forced to think of another’s needs and wants before our own. Some just do not want to do this. Sex is recreation, nothing more. Such a mentality is inherently opposed to the Gospel. When such is the point of view of believers in Jesus, one has to wonder if even their concept of God is counterfeit?

Can we suppose that God cares little about marriage vows made in his name “to death do us part?” No, and yet divorce is at an epidemic high. Alternative living arrangements, including polygamy and homosexual liaisons would dismiss it entirely. Some critics argue that the dilemma is not the loss of the traditional family but rather because we are trying to force old codes of behavior (like the commandments) and expectations upon new forms of familial relationships. This post-Christian group insists that transitory unions are ideal and most reflective of modern experience. Some actually say that people live too long for lasting relationships. Prenuptial agreements posit a theoretical doubt in the permanence of a marriage bond, already. Certain states are considering marriages with easy escape clauses and some have even suggested built-in term limits. Logically, if spouses can separate at will, it would seem that offspring might have similar rights? Several years ago a child attempted to divorce his parents.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.