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A Reflection on the Lord’s Prayer

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Having celebrated this morning the memorial Mass for St. Francis of Assisi, I am inspired by the votive Gospel reading (Matthew 11:25-30) to reflect upon the Our Father. This may seem a bit odd as the reading was not about the Lord’s Prayer, per se, but rather a different albeit neglected oration with similar attributes. Jesus announces, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.” This much, any of us as believers could recite. However, unlike the Our Father, this was Jesus’ personal prayer. There was no request to teach the gathering how to pray. The Lord’s Prayer is given to us as one that reflects the human condition of weakness and sinfulness. Like us, Jesus will be tempted in his humanity; unlike us, he will surrender himself into the hands of the evil one so that we might be delivered. The prayer here speaks of his unique identity as the divine Son of God: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

Note that it begins much as does the Lord’s Prayer as an oration of praise addressed to the Father. Heaven is also mentioned although here it is clear that he has lordship over both heaven and earth. We are given a quick glimpse of our Lord’s relationship as “the Son” to the Father. This is not figurative language or pure analogy. It is expressive of his very identity. (Note that at his baptism in the Jordan the identity of Christ as the beloved only Son of God is revealed; when it comes to our baptism, our identity is changed— we become adopted sons and daughters to the Father.) We are summoned as “children” to trust God in our communication with him and in the life of faith. Ours is not a detached or malicious deity. He loves us and wants the best for us, which is union with him. Suffering and death come into the world through sin. While the dark mysteries are not immediately brushed aside, we have in Christ one who is in solidarity with us. Indeed, by enduring the price of sin, he redeems us. A distinction must be made between the active and passive will of God. The Father did not send his Son into the world because he directly willed for him to be tortured and murdered. That would image God as monstrous. The reason or motivation for his coming is made clear in the reading: “Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.” The mission of Christ is to be faithful to his Father’s will— to do whatever it takes to fulfill the divine saving plan. Both here and in the Our Father, the providence of God is accentuated, “thy will be done.” The reading continues: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” We know that his situation is not entirely comparable to our relationship with the Father because we are purely human and Jesus is the second person of the Holy Trinity. He is God made man. Nevertheless, he gives us something of his relationship as our own.

Interestingly, this prayer in Matthew appears in the Gospel again tomorrow (Saturday, the 26th Week of the Year, Cycle 1) albeit from Luke 10:17-24. Prior to the prayer, the text states: “At that very moment he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit . . .” This is an important lesson for us as the great Christian revelation is that of the Trinity. Jesus reveals to us the face of God. He patterns for us how we are to pray to the Father, through the Son and by the Holy Spirit. Our Lord prays in the Spirit. Saturday’s text from Luke also precedes the prayer of Jesus with the return of the seventy-two disciples sent out by the Lord. We are told they come back rejoicing and say, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” Jesus responds, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky.” A link can be drawn between this and the ending words of the Our Father where we pray “deliver us from (the) evil (one).” Ours is a jealous God. He will not share us. If we belong to him then the devil can have no part of us!

More than any other prayer, the oration that is held in common by all Christians is the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father. While there are a few variant English translations, we all recognize it and it is a staple in our liturgies. It is the one prayer that we have memorized. Until recent times, most Catholics could also recite the Our Father in Latin, something which the Vatican still promotes so that visitors to Rome from around the globe can recite this prayer in unison. Note that the prayer for peace and its sign is placed immediately after the Lord’s Prayer in the Mass. This is no accident as both the ritual and the prayer from the lips of Christ immediately signifies the unity of the believing community in Christ. We should exhibit caution that while it is memorized, we should never say it mindlessly or mechanically. We would not want to lose sight of the treasury of prayer types that make up the whole. It has been called the perfect prayer. Our Lord gives it to us as both as a prayer to be said and as a formula for other prayers. These are words that we must make our own if it is to be a true dialogue with God. It is the one prayer that is essential to a person’s daily prayer and spiritual life as a Christian.

During the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord introduces the Our Father. “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8). Why did the ancient pagans babble with many needless words? First, they were speaking to a false deity. As such they were really talking to themselves, trying to convince themselves, despite their frustration that someone was listening. Nevertheless, there was no response— no intervention— just a painful silence. Second, some of the pagans believed that if they could stumble upon the true name of God then all their wishes would be granted. They literally babbled long strings of nonsense words for this purpose. This was no genuine speaking in tongues, but a one-sided and deliberate effort at magic or sorcery so as to manipulate the deity. It was not intelligent conversation just fruitless gibberish. Nothing came from it. Third, some sought to pamper God just as they did people of power or high station or wealth. They were moved not by a desire as creatures to give praise to the Creator; no, this was simply an effort to ingratiate themselves so as to court favor. Such people were often very weak and fearful in character. The more anxious they became the more they talked and talked and talked. Fourth, the pagan priests in particular would often shout and repeat their petitions— almost as if their deity were deaf or had to be convinced to respond. This stood in stark conflict with the intimate union that Jesus shared with us by giving “his” Father to us as “our” Father and suggesting a back room, hidden away, as the best place to privately pray.

Note that those who know each other often need few words. I have known long-term spouses that can communicate to each other with a look or a nod. God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what we want. More importantly, he knows what we need. He hears all prayer, even that which is said in a whisper while we are alone. We do not have to make a big show about prayer and faith. The main thing is that it remains real. The Lord’s Prayer helps us to render true prayer.

Certain anti-Catholic critics will use our Lord’s spurning of the babbling prayers of the pagans to attack upon our recitation of the rosary. But such an argument collapses as there is definite content to the rosary, i.e. the mysteries of faith. Others, particularly the “once saved, always saved” apologists will argue against persistence in prayer. This latter view crumbles because we are urged to pray always. Note the story about the mistreated widow in Luke 18 who prevails against an unjust judge because of her persistence in wanting justice. Jesus commends her to his listeners. If she can find justice from a bad judge, just imagine how well our petitions will fare given that the divine judge is all good and loving. Our Lord tells his listeners not to lose heart when they pray and that it is a “necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary” (Luke 18:1). Patience and persistence is really more for our sake than for God’s. While the Christian will humbly acknowledge divine providence, our petition prayers ideally express what we really want, the desires of our hearts. This speaks immediately to our relationship with the Lord. Is Christ our true treasure? Do our hearts belong to him? What do we really want? God knows what we really need. It has been said that God answers all prayer. A catechist friend teaches, “Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes no and sometimes not now.” I would add that often the asking itself is the true answer as it breeds a sense of dependence upon the divine. When the answer does come it is often a gift unexpected but what we really need.

I think part of the answer for which we are looking is hidden in the Catholic mystery of purgatory. We are taught that this purification rightfully begins in this world. Often we pursue penance and various mortifications. But we are also purified and transformed in our daily life of prayer. The response of God and his timing brings us to a continual conversion or changing by grace. This is also expressed in the Our Father, to put on Christ, to have the will of the Father. Any questioning experiences a reversal. Those least enlightened and transformed will ask, “Why doesn’t God give me right now what I want?” The person who has walked with the Lord for a while will ask, “Why is it that I am still restless and fail to want what God wants in my life?”

Christianity is not sorcery and the Our Father is not a magical incantation. Christianity is the end to magic and superstition. The words of the Lord’s Prayer are precious but they also constitute a formula to assist us in putting together our own personal words when we pray. Further, prayer is a back-and-forth operation. We talk to God and then we pause and find quiet in ourselves to listen for God’s whispering to our souls. This is not self-deception. It is something wondrous and real. The conversation with God must be authentic if it be constitutive of a worthwhile and personal relationship in faith. Remember that Catholic-Christianity is not a book religion or one of philosophy and rules. At its very heart, Christianity is a personal and communal relationship with a person, with the saving Lord. It is Jesus who draws us into the mystery of the Trinity. He is our mediator to the Father. Remember, our orations are made to the Father, through the Son and by the Holy Spirit.

How are we to pray?

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:7-13).

1. To Whom is Our Prayer Addressed?

As mentioned before, we address the Father as a people who have been brought into a more intimate relationship with God. We are not merely creatures appealing to the Creator but adopted sons and daughters to our heavenly Father, kin to Christ and children of our Queen Mother Mary. We are invited into the family of God. The Holy Spirit makes possible this saving faith. Otherwise, neither believing nor prayer would be possible. While we are naturally wired for God as demonstrated by all the efforts at sacrifice and worship toward a deity around the world and throughout human history; the God of the Jews is revealed as a loving Father. He is the Abba or “papa.” We are his little children. It is this God who surrenders his only Son so that we might be saved from our sins. Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit. He works his miracles by the Holy Spirit. He raises himself from the dead by his own power, the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God is extended to us in faith and baptism. We become temples of the Holy Spirit— a people regenerated or “born again.”

Our posture as we approach the Father in prayer is not comparable to the oppression humanity endured as the devil’s property. Redeemed or bought at great price, we are no longer slaves but sons and daughters.

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:14-17).

Note that we address God by denoting that he is in heaven. Heaven is by definition where God is. One might even say that God is heaven. Those who would live in heaven must live in God. The Trinity will be our eternal home.

“As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God” (Galatians 4:6-7).

We are literally heirs to the kingdom of heaven. It is in Christ and by grace that we will be divinized— members of the family of God.

2. Summoned to Give Glory to God with the Angelic Hosts.

The angels of God always keep their sights upon God and give him eternal glory. We are invited into this chorus of praise. Our rejoicing comes with the acknowledgment of God’s holiness, “. . . hallowed be thy name!” At Mass we have the Sanctus where we cry, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Holiness is more than a description of God or a divine attribute. One might regard it as a name. Indeed, the Trinity is intimated by the Sanctus, the triune holy God; he is three co-equal divine persons in one God or divine nature. What is holiness? It signifies something of the divine otherness. When possessed by men they are transformed into the likeness of Christ. Saints are not self-made and it is so much more than being good. Foremost, a saint is a sinner that has been forgiven. God extends something of his own mystery and plants himself into the souls of men. We become temples of the Holy Spirit and new Christs for a world that still needs to encounter Jesus.

The pattern when praying is always to begin with praise. It conveys the basic posture of the creature to the Creator and the Son to the Father. Other forms of prayer will eventually pass away. Giving glory and praise to God is not only foundational to the spiritual life but to the order of creation. The sung praises of the heavenly hosts is the symphony or music of all rightly disposed creation. If there is a discordant note or break in the harmony, such is reserved for the devil and his indentured pawns. Those who keep faith with Christ have every reason for their “sure and certain” hope. The righteous man or woman (not self-righteous) knows joy even before crossing the threshold from this world into the next. He or she already carries something of eternal life.

The Mass gives us the Gloria, a wonderful expression of praise which ushers forth a real sense of the Church in pilgrimage giving praise in unison with the Church in heavenly glory:

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to people of good will.
We praise you,
we bless you,
we adore you,
we glorify you,
we give you thanks for your great glory,
Lord God, heavenly King,
O God, almighty Father.
Lord Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son,
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us;
you take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.
For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High,
Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

It is a peculiar but authentic side-effect in the spiritual life that when the creature (the lesser) gives glory to the Creator (the greater) that something of the divine shines back upon the one rendering praise. We laud God as holy and thus make ourselves into recipients of his holiness. That which is praised, is shared or reflected back. We can only be saints because we participate in the holiness or divine otherness that is God. The one human person that supremely participates in this holiness is the Virgin Mary. She is preserved from sin and made holy because the All Holy One enters the world through her. She becomes an exemplar for God’s other children as to how we can be transformed by grace. Note the humble posture of Mary in Scripture. The pattern of praise that Jesus sets for us is realized in his first disciple. The Church echoes her daily in the Magnificat when reciting the Liturgy of the Hours: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.”

3. It is in Giving that We Receive.

The liturgy, our prayers and even the life of charity consist of elements of giving and receiving. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The pattern is clear. The kingdom breaks into the world through the person of Christ. Then we respond by taking up our crosses and following him. The obedience of those on earth should mirror the fidelity found in heaven. The back-and-forth and the many prayer types in the Our Father also find witness in the great prayer of worship, the Mass. We encounter the Lord in his Word and we respond with praise and alleluia. The Gospel is proclaimed and we respond with affirming the Creed and petitions. God has given us the grain of the field and the grapes of the vine. We take them and make them into bread and wine. Next, we offer them to God that they might become the body and blood of Christ. Given to us again, we offer the Lord to the Father as the one acceptable sacrifice. He gives it back once more for Holy Communion. We take what we have been given and then give it to others as a people sent on mission. We cooperate with God but the initiative remains with God. We would have nothing to offer— we would be nothing— apart from the movement of God and his gifts to us. While we are called to obedience and to be sentinels of the kingdom, the kingdom of God breaks into the world according to his providence and not by human labor and whim.

This reception requires reflecting upon what the Lord says and does for us. Otherwise, we would be hard-pressed to know his will in our lives. Many people think they are good but, separated from the Lord they do not know how to be good. A son or daughter might advocate euthanasia for a parent suffering pain. A husband might urge contraception to his wife because of pressing financial worries. A friend might suggest to another teen an abortion because of unplanned pregnancy. They might all think they are doing right; however, they are easily led astray when separated from the Church and the content of the Good News (the Gospel of Life).  Formation in the faith, along with prayer and reflection, give us divine guideposts as to how we should live and act.  Otherwise, genuine love is replaced by a terrible and false compassion.

We must all be alert to the danger of devaluing prayer from a dialogue to a soliloquy. Are we communicating with God and allowing him to speak to us? Are we talking to ourselves and simply mimicking God with what we want to hear? While obedience plays an important part in Catholic discipleship, we are not mindless robots or soulless ants. The hands of the soul must be outstretched to receive what the living Word would give us. Indeed, the true disciple hungers for the truth that God wants us to receive and to know. Disposition and appropriation are vital. We must be ready for what God wants us to have. We must make what God offers our own, before any selfish desires or human fears. The pain at the end of a person’s life might be the means of a final purification so as to see God. The self-donation of spouses in the marital act may give their union it’s most precious gift and preserve their union. The unborn child regarded as an inconvenience or an accident may prove to be the person who most loves us in return and makes a positive difference in what would otherwise be a lonely life filled with regret. We have to know God’s will, even in the face of sin, and then trust God’s will in a childlike manner.

Christians should regularly open the Scriptures. It is God’s inspired Word. When we read or hear the Word of God there is a human-divine encounter. Every meeting with God changes us— if we are open— if we want to be in right relationship with God. Catholics should also know their catechism and look up all the attached Scripture passages. There is also utility in following the daily readings of the Mass as well as looking at the prayers. We are people called to both a personal and a corporate faith. We pray alone, among a few friends or family and with the community of faith at the Lord’s Supper (the Mass). The Mass is a participation in the marriage banquet of heaven. Christ is the groom and the Lamb of God. The Church is his bride. Christ instituted the Church so that we would have each other and to insure that his truths and sacraments would not be lost in the passage of time. The kingdom of God breaks into the world, first through the person of Christ and now through the Church, his mystical body.

4. Supplication Emerges from Our Dependence upon God

“Give us this day, our daily bread.” The first prayer that we learn as children is one that comes naturally— intercession and petition. A child asks his mother for a cookie. We make a request of God for a favor. We pray for ourselves and for others. There are some who reduce all prayer to petition. This phenomenon was manifested after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. There was a short while when millions seemed to return to religion. They had lost control. They were desperate and afraid. A year later many of them had fallen away again. Their faith was shallow. They could ask God for things; but, they were ill-equipped spiritually to give. Where was the praise? Where was the thanksgiving? Too often when it comes to “gimme” prayers, there is a lack of balance or focus. If the person does not get what he or she wants, then the person gets angry and stops praying. They are quick to tell God his business but slow to listen.

While prayers of petition might be the most elementary and readily distorted; God indeed wants his children to turn to him. However, we must do so with a profound humility and acceptance of God’s will. The Lord’s Prayer has us pray for our daily bread, that which sustains our life. Yes, this first may be the food for our bellies but it is so much more as well. We are also fed from the table of the Word and from that of the Eucharist. Jesus teaches, “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4). Given how Jesus does not run away from his mission; we must also pray for strength and courage. This was lacking when Peter denied knowing Jesus and the apostles were in the locked upper room hiding. The risen Lord would appear to them and along the beach to heal Peter. We cannot escape the Lord and we should face the challenges that come to us with a witness that celebrates Christ’s victory over sin and death. Whatever this world takes away from us, we know that Christ can give back many times over.

The Bidding Prayers or General Intercessions at Mass constitute a wonderful model for petition prayers. We pray for many needs: the Church, our country and the larger world, for the oppressed or those facing injustice, for the suffering or the sick, and for those who have died as well as for those who mourn them. A number of us regularly pray for an increase of vocations as well as for good and holy priests. Given the tragedy of abortion, most faithful Catholics pray daily for the unborn child, the right to life and that parents will have hearts welcoming toward their children. We can pray about anything— safety, health, solvency, security, belonging, love, etc. A mark of our Christianity is our willingness to pray on behalf of those who hate and seek to hurt us. This is a great measure to the authenticity of our faith and our willingness to imitate Jesus.

Having said all this, such supplications should not be reduced to crass and ineffective magic or superstition. The believer trusts that God knows best. It is not like rubbing Aladdin’s lamp and wishing for a million dollars in small bills. I would also doubt that an angel will come down from heaven with the winning lottery numbers. My credulity is also strained by those who pray during sporting events. While it is okay to pray for a fair match and the safety of players, I am doubtful that God would intervene so that the Redskins football team would beat the Cowboys, even if the devil does have a contract with the athletes from Texas. Countries might pray for victory and for peace during times of upheaval and war; however, I think God is more on the side of justice over oppression. Historically both sides often pray to the same God. I am reminded of the unofficial truce of 1914 during World War One. The leadership of the warring countries refused a papal petition for a hiatus in violence. Nevertheless, the soldiers in the trenches declared their own unofficial Christmas truce. It was said that one could hear the hymn Silent Night simultaneously being sung in the different languages of the combatants. Many visited the enemy camps. Food and drink was shared. The dead were exchanged. Small gifts were given. The peace did not last very long but it was a teaching moment about human brotherhood that still haunts us in a divided world.

Watching the news on television or reading about tragedies in the newspapers often leaves us unmoved. This should not be the case. We have access to news unlike any generation before us. This should become an occasion for prayer, not voyeurism seeking the sensational. We may not personally know the victims of violence or natural disasters but they are still people like us. They need to be remembered in our prayers to God. When possible we can add our donations to those prayers to assist people in a material way, too.

The worse the people, the more we should feel compelled to pray for them. Who knows, a believer may find out when he meets the Lord at judgment that his were the solitary prayers for some poor soul who had no one to care enough to remember him to God. Many will rightfully pray for victims, but how many of us pray for the victimizers? The most they usually receive is the venom of curses elicited from hatred. Over time many poor souls are forgotten. We should pray for those who need jobs and for those who sell themselves and are exploited to make ends meet or to care for children and those who need them. We should pray for those living on the street and eating out of dumpsters; we should also pray for the callous who walk around them each day uncaring. Many have made bad decisions and are locked into destructive behaviors and addiction. We can lend a helping hand and keep them in our hearts and their needs upon our lips. Such prayer can be effective. It is also transformative for the person who is praying and interceding for others. Do we invite others to know Christ as we do? Do we ask them to pray with us? Have we ever asked a friend or neighbor to join us at Sunday Mass? Prayers of supplication are a demonstration of compassion.

5. The Proclamation of the Gospel Begins with the Cry to Repent and to Believe.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Our Lord came into the world to make possible the forgiveness of sins. Here is the root of my vocation as a priest.  Every priest is a minister of reconciliation ordained to extend the saving work of Christ. Repentance makes the ground fertile for faith. We have to let go of what a fallen world offers if our hands are to be free to accept the gift of Christ. (Years ago I remember reading a book by a Pentecostal minister who explained this clause of the Our Father as a bargaining with God: if you forgave others then God would give you mercy in return.) No, there is no such deal.  It does not work that way. We have nothing with which to bargain with God. He holds all the cards. The Lord’s Prayer is not offering us a deal as might be imagined between gangsters; no, rather the prayer is pointing to imitation and how this furthers our new creation in Christ. If we forgive as Christ forgives then we are imitating the Lord. If we love and forgive like Christ then the Father will see something of his Son in us and give us a share in his Son’s reward. The reference to temptation is an acknowledgment of human weakness. It is okay to ask God to avoid certain challenges which might be too much for us. Of course, when empowered by grace, people are often surprised by how much they can endure as a disciple. The deliverance from evil or from the evil one is indicative of the whole meaning of Christ’s redemptive Cross. Original sin made us the devil’s property. Christ redeems us and makes us free.

We want our personal sins forgiven or remitted. We also want true liberation or the lease broken from the house that sin built— the various injustices, sources of hatred and manipulation— indeed, any and all of the framework of sin that would bring us back into demonic bondage. Christ reached out to those who were oppressed, hated, scapegoated, and cast aside. He let them know that they were important and loved. He also healed the sick, forgave sins, exorcised demons and raised the dead. These were the acts by which he gave us a powerful example of counteracting the presence of sin or evil among us. When facing the effects of evil, we all need deliverance prayer and heartfelt contrition. Our sins placed Christ on his Cross. He died for each of us by name. He said from the Cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). The war is over and Christ is the victor. But the devil is spiteful. He fights his small skirmishes for individual souls. We must still battle powers and principalities. Between this world and the next saints will certainly be made perfect but on the way saints are sinners who know they have been forgiven.

 

Living the Faith for Our Children

church familyWe often speak about the failure to transmit the faith to children as entirely the fault of the culture in which we find ourselves.  However, this is only part of the challenge.  As ministers, teachers and parents we need an aggressive witness from our families and faith communities.  First, when it comes to those elements in society that are diametrically opposed to the Gospel, we must be visible signs of contradiction with a decisive and convincing alternative message.  We must quite literally become physical and spiritual roadblocks to those who would travel the path to perdition.  Further, we must find ways to make the truths of Christ more convincing and enticing than the exotic and sinful lures of the world.  It is in this that we become signposts to the proverbial “road less traveled.”  While walls against persons and immigrants are controversial; there should be no dispute for barriers against deadly sin.

“Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).

If these poisons find a weakness in our fortifications then they will raid and destroy us from the inside.

Second, whenever possible, we must make serious efforts to either transform or to dilute the negative or neutral elements in society, making them work for us and not against us as believers.  This requires quite a bit of creativity.  For instance, one critic condemns Harry Potter stories as an introduction to witchcraft and Satanism; another tries to find Christian themes within the metaphors of fantasy.  Admittedly, it will never be as effective as THE LORD OF THE RINGS but since it is not going away, is there a way to read these stories and watch these movies within a Christian worldview and sensibility?  I remember years ago there was a priest on radio who would play the current musical pop hits while giving mini-sermons on them and sometimes pointing out where the sentiments in the songs reflected Christian themes and/or where they could lead us wrong.  Whenever possible, we should seek to further discussions with the young and not rely entirely on the language of prohibition.  The latter often appeals to the rebelliousness that is naturally characteristic of teens.  We cannot utterly protect our children from what our world holds out; however, we can better empower them to face modernity with knowledge and proper discretion.

Too often the negative attitudes of children and teens are merely mimicked from the patterns they observe in how their parents approach faith. Too many departmentalize the role of religion and its values while others practically dismiss it altogether.  Parents and families may not be entirely Sunday Christians and Weekday Devils; but they may lack any fire to take their faith on mission into the world around them.  While the image of the soldier and the Church Militant may not be popular today; we should be even more averse to being reduced to passive pawns of a secular and humanistic modernity that is in enmity with Christ’s kingdom.  The best of Christian parents have a real struggle on their hands and their offspring will be their “own” people; but those that never worship together at Mass, rarely pray and daily live as if there be no God— they have surrendered the battle for souls before it could even begin.  Divine grace may yet save their children, but it will be in spite of them.  It would be so much better if they were instruments for God’s gifts of faith and holiness.

Passing on the faith is not simply a head trip, although the importance of facts cannot be eliminated from the equation.  However, this process, if we can call it that, must be to energize the dynamic of the domestic church.  Parents and older siblings should model faith to the younger ones.  All are called to a genuine personal and corporate relationship with Jesus Christ.  Too often the weak faith of children is mirrored in the malnourished faith of the parents.  Many adults suffer from poor or bad catechesis.  Many do not pray as they should or have an impoverished notion as to the importance and meaning of prayer.  If the children have their catechetical books, do the parents have theirs?  Is daily family prayer a staple of their living?  Do families open their bibles so as to create inroads for God’s communication with them?  Do families talk about or even list the intentions that they bring to the Sunday liturgy?

What is the first step in trying to form the child in the faith?  It begins with a transformation and rededication of parental hearts.  Mothers and fathers must acknowledge their privileged vocation as Christian parents and the spiritual role that they should play.  If children are to be spiritually fed and guided, then parents must first be nourished and strong in the faith.  How many times have I heard parents say that they learned something by looking at their children’s catechism books?  This is not bad but it sad when a thirty or forty year old person admits that he or she only has a second grade level understanding of the faith.  It is even more bizarre when children come home speaking with enthusiasm about their encounter with Jesus and the parents are befuddled since they are essentially strangers to the Lord.  The first step in raising a child in the faith begins with the spiritual life and religious formation of the parents.  Their values will become those of the children.  Indeed, often the anger parents express toward children when they fail to do religion homework or when they do something sinful is misdirected— they blame children for what is really their own guilt.

Parents need to get themselves in order so that they will be there in an effective manner for the children.  I often tell parents to share their walk with the Lord in their faith-talk. Some people, usually those with hardened hearts, argue that asking for forgiveness is a sign of weakness.  However, the opposite is true.  It takes courage for a person to admit fault and to ask for forgiveness.  We are all sinners.  One of the greatest witnesses that a parent can give his or her children, especially during the teen years, is the willingness and honesty to admit fault, to fall upon one’s knees, and to trust in the strength and mercy of God.  Our children will also make mistakes and take wrong turns.  This witness will show them the way back home to the Lord.

Questions for Parents

  • Are you witnessing your faith as you should— married in the Church, going to confession, participating at Sunday Mass, leading your family at daily prayer, and involved with charity apostolates in your parish or community?
  • Do you truly cherish the gift of your sons and daughters, not only caring for their material needs but insuring their spiritual and sacramental formation?
  • Do you really see yourself as a role model of faith for your children and teens, or are you embarrassed by your failure to be a fully committed Christian?
  • What is the positive witness you give your children?  What negative examples do you show them?
  • Given the faith and values you live by now, how do you think your children will remember you?
  • How Catholic do you want your children and grandchildren to be?  Do you want them to be cafeteria Catholics and part-time Christians or would you have them ignited and on fire for Christ?
  • Do you ever faith-talk with your children or is there only silence?  How honest are you with your children when it comes to religion? Have your children ever called you out for duplicity or hypocrisy?

The Nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh & Facebook

153814159378034468I had two posts on Facebook about the nomination and proceedings around Judge Brett Kavanaugh.  The first began simply as a posting of a letter from Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson urging the members of the Knights of Columbus to contact their senators in support of a potential Justice who believes in interpreting the Constitution as it was originally written.  Given the escalating controversy, and not wanting to bring any embarrassment upon the Order, I removed the letter.

Along with this letter there was a CNS news report wherein Msgr. John Enzler (the president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington) acclaimed the virtues of a man he had known since Kavanaugh was 12 years old.  Kavanaugh was one of his altar boys at Little Flower in Bethesda, MD. He thinks he may have baptized his two daughters, he still sees him monthly at his evening Mass, and he works with him at St. Maria’s Meals (a program that serves meals to low-income individuals and families).  He belongs to the Catholic John Carroll Society and helps out with other lawyers and professionals.  Kavanaugh also coaches the girls’ basketball team at his parish and tutors at the Washington Jesuit Academy and J.O. Wilson Elementary School. “His faith really shines through in who he is,” Enzler said. In addition to his volunteer work, Kavanaugh also reads as a lector at his church, the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Washington.  After his nomination, he stated, “members of the vibrant Catholic community in the D.C. area disagree about many things, but we are united in our commitment to serve.”  Msgr. Enzler praised him as a man: “This is your neighbor next door. He’s a great husband, a wonderful father to his daughters, and has lots and lots of friends. He’s very intellectual, of course, but you wouldn’t know it by his demeanor.”

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After the allegations of assault were made, Msgr. Enzler did not back off from his recommendation:  “I know Brett Kavanaugh to be a man of honesty and integrity. My opinion of him is based upon a 40-year relationship in which he’s never given me any reason to doubt his veracity and character. Hopefully the facts concerning the recent allegations will bear out my trust in him.”

One of the few civil comments of disagreement to the endorsement from Supreme came from my dear friend Robert White.  He wrote:

“Fr. Joe, I can’t do that. I think that this is the wrong man for the bench not because of the sexual allegations against him but because I believe that he is coming to the bench with a predetermined mind on other issues relating to the powers of the executive branch of government which will have far lasting negative impact on our freedoms. ‘Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.’ Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790).”

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My response followed:

“(I have to admit that I was a bit surprised by the letter from Supreme.) I have no issue with those who have their own logical and concrete reasons for opposing the nomination although I think every potential Justice has a view of some sort about the separation of powers. My preference is for one that fully respects the demarcation of powers and jurisdiction between the Judiciary, Legislative and Executive branches of government. I think we have seen the alternating expansion of the Executive and Judicial branches due to the unfortunate ineffectiveness of the Senate and Congress to get things done. The Justices should neither create laws nor ‘trump’ those already passed and the President should not rule as a king or despot.”

It was an agreeable exchange.

Next there was a link to a recent television news story with a dear friend and teen that I knew from St. Ann’s in NW DC back in the 1980’s and 90’s.  I thought it was a good interview.  Bettina asserts that whatever the vote, the role of women in the public forum, their presence, rights and needs are in ascendancy and that we are going to have to take more seriously the treatment of women. I may disagree with her about many important issues of the day but none of that takes away from the fact that she is one smart lady. Bettina also notes that this is a lesson or wakeup call for teens that what they do now in high school (and I would add in college) will have lasting repercussions in the days ahead.

https://www.wusa9.com/video/opinion/editorials/off-script/local-women-react-to-brett-kavanaugh/65-8265062

I also posted a link about the Jesuit magazine AMERICA retracting its endorsement for the judge.

https://townhall.com/tipsheet/cortneyobrien/2018/09/28/catholic-jesuit-paper-rescinds-its-endorsement-of-kavanaugh-n2523399

Partisanship and the “party first” mentality, regardless of which side of the aisle, is toxic.

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Turning to the second deleted post, I tried to be creative and used an analogy or story of two children playing in a sandbox where one child throws a bucket at the other.  I was soon thereafter told that I was making light of rape.  Indeed, the initial comment was particularly vicious. Knowing that I was a priest one offered the slur that my remarks were typical since the bishops were hiding boy-rapists. This remark pained me terribly, not only given the recent scandals, but because it was written by someone I care about.  I do not see him very often but I could not love him more if he were my own son.  I deleted the comment.  But it did not take away the sense of pain and betrayal I felt.

I had deliberately tried to steer clear of sexual connotations and was instead focusing upon the issue of timeliness.  The question I was hoping people would ask was how far back do we search to find incriminating evidence for present allegations of wrong doing?  A dangerous precedent was being set.  Allegations without evidence from any moment in a person’s developmental trajectory (even childhood) might suffice to discredit a person’s good name and a lifetime of credible and worthwhile service.  One person commented with a joke about the time of birth.  I took it even further where the unborn child is sometimes wrongly accused as an unjust aggressor.  (It is still my conviction that the ultimate abuse of women is abortion.) A few critics were utterly incensed by the post and comments.

It grieved me that I could be so thoroughly misunderstood.  Both posts and my accompanying comments were about treating people (everyone) with respect. I did poke fun at the investigation into the judge’s youth and yearbook, as well as the somewhat odd but fortuitous keeping of a calendar-diary. But people hear or read what they want hear. I accept blame for a failure to communicate more clearly.  I am saddened more than I can say, especially by the “ad hominem” attacks against me.  President Trump may be the master of that manner of debate, but his critics on the other side of the political divide are also quickly mastering this manner of attack— targeting persons instead of ideas.  Ideas are frequently not discussed; the winner is deemed to be the one who interrupts and shouts the loudest.

In any case, the second Facebook post on Judge Kavanaugh is gone because I got tired of misunderstandings and personal attacks. If I erred in my remarks, I apologize. It was never my intention to hurt anyone or to trivialize either the fear that women feel or the personal violation that is signified by assault.  I would have hoped that people for whom I care and love would have privately messaged me their concerns instead of publicly threatening and condemning me.  (Note that in return I will not share their names here.) I do not have words for how I feel.  I guess that is one of the crosses that come with real love— the pain of discovering that loving and caring is not returned.  The message that some communicate is this, if you disagree with me then you are a bigot, that you are mean and hateful, that you are insensitive, and then may come alienation and disassociation.

It was within the second post that a fellow Knight and I were criticized (should I say condemned) as “middle-aged white males” as if our maturity, gender and ethnicity were crimes. My motives were questioned and emotionally it challenged my own Christian civility. I want to apologize to my brother in the Knights of Columbus for the treatment he received.

It seems to me that sometimes a few words or a posting might touch something deeper and unseen.  It still seems to me that much of what was written in the post and comments was fairly innocuous and cautiously circumspect.  Again, there was no intention or real effort to be offensive or hurtful. There was never any assertion that Christine Ford was lying, just as there was no possible certitude either way about Judge Kavanaugh.  However, it should ultimately matter if an error might bring about the destruction of a person’s good name.  Calumny is still a sin and the possibility of any crime does not negate the wrong of hurting innocent people.  That is what makes this situation so very complicated.  While some critics view the issue of the abuse of women as the only important matter; in truth, we must have a commensurate perspective of the situation.  One of my Facebook friends actually argues that the allegation alone is enough to have the nomination dismissed.  This is not dissimilar from the situation faced by innocent clergy in the face of false charges.  While we want to protect our children and women, are we willing to do so by destroying the innocent along with the guilty?  One of my friends was in the newspapers and she seemed to apply the argument of guilt by association.  In other words, since such parties did happen and boys did misbehave then all boys are probably guilty.  This is not good reasoning.

There was nothing in my post or comments about “sweeping the issue under the rug.”  It was here that a critic cited the bad witness of the Catholic Church.  I guess at this point I was supposed to shut up because given the scandals, priests are presumed by many as no longer having any moral authority whatsoever.

It is true that one of the persons making a comment (man or woman) did make a joke about the culpability of a naked boy baby in a room of nurses.  But that was not my comment.  I did however reference it to speak about the very real bias that some have about men, even from the womb.  Here is what I wrote precisely: “Planned Parenthood could top that, literally arguing that before he was born he was violating a woman’s body as a fetus and thus caused her to question her right to choose. But critics rarely consider that abortion is the most prevalent abuse of women. This mentality is no joke. There was a NOW advocate back in the 1990’s who stated in a rally on the DC Mall that sex between a man and woman was always rape and that to give birth to a male child was to be raped again. As a militant lesbian, she promoted abortion so that male children could be terminated.” This perspective is an extreme, but it is real.  Further, this mentality is just as heinous as the disproportionate numbers of aborted female children in India so as to avoid paying a dowry.

My Knights of Columbus friend and I were singled-out as “middle-aged white males” who because we did not have the worries of women, especially about rape and kidnapping, could not possibly understand.  I wanted to scream, “How dare you— how dare you?”  The post and comment are gone but I was wounded and furious.  “My friend has a family and daughter for which he would lay down his life.  Do you think he never worries about her?  I bought the mace for my goddaughter when she went to college.  I prayed and worried about her every day.  Were you there when I spent the night crying with and counseling a young woman assaulted by her boss?  Were you there when a woman sobbed in my arms after being beaten by her husband?  Were you in the courtroom when I stood by a mother’s side for support as she tried to insure punishment of a man that had abducted her daughter?  Were you there when I held hands with a husband and wife in prayer when we learned that her therapist had taken advantage of the wife?” Were you there when I tried to reaffirm a woman’s self-worth when she equated her boyfriend walking away and not wanting sex with her as rejection as worthless?  Were you there when I received a call after midnight from young teenage girls under the influence of alcohol (after one of those nefarious parties) and needing a ride to get home safely?  Were you there when a man threatened to kill me unless I told him where I had sent his wife and child for shelter against his drunken abuse?  No you were not.  But you think you can judge me.”

Women seemingly have a heightened religious sense.  Priests are surrounded by women.  If I were utterly insensitive to their needs, they would quickly let me know.  During my priesthood I have counseled and aided many women who were mistreated by boyfriends and husbands. I have fought for both the sanctity of life and the dignity of persons. Balancing both compassion and justice, no one should make light of charges of assault or rape, but neither should we presume guilt without evidence. The fact that a senator dissected the meaning of innocuous high school yearbook posts struck me as beyond ridiculous and misplaced. That was the catalyst for the attempt at satire with children playing in a sandbox.

While the posts were still active, I have had to delete a few comments. I reserve the right to do so toward anything that I feel is malignant toward me and/or to the Church. I must ask forgiveness for the deletion of supportive comments in the missing posts. (The upset was ironic as I have never personally expressed either support or opposition for the nominee.)

It is true that I made fun of the wayward process and what I viewed as unfair treatment toward the judge. However, as a pastor of souls I also feel for women who have suffered at the hands of men and who sympathize with his accuser over her allegations. She came across as quite convincing. The judge said that he had no reason to doubt her sincerity in that something happened to her; however, he maintained throughout that it did not involve him. Unless one can read souls, we have no way of knowing for sure. These “he said, she said” debates are often quite hard to resolve. I would urge fairness and justice to all parties. Just as the judge’s little girl urged prayer for her dad’s accuser, we as believers should pray for all involved. Senator John Kennedy had some forceful words for his colleagues, a day after he asked Kavanaugh to “swear to god” that he did not commit the assault against Dr. Ford. “There were no winners in this room,” he said. “All I saw were two people, two human beings in pain.” Very true, but I suspect that if he could see beyond the room, he would also see a whole nation in pain.

ALLEGATIONS

  • Julie Swetnick issued a statement in which she claimed she’d observed Kavanaugh at alcohol-fueled parties where women were mistreated.
  • Deborah Ramirez told The New Yorker that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a drunken dorm party 35 years ago at Yale.
  • Christine Blasey Ford made against Kavanaugh related to a period when she and the judge were in high school. She told The Washington Post that a drunken Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed during a party and put his hand over her mouth to stifle her screams as he tried to take off her clothes.

We are Men and Women, Not Angels

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Biology uses the word “species” to refer to us as “homo sapiens.”  Thomistic philosophers sometimes use it in a different way, speaking of our species as human, albeit as composites. Angels and human souls are without matter, but every material composite has two parts, prime matter and substantial form. The substantial unity of a composite being demands that there can be but a single substantial form. The substantial form in human beings, men and women, is the soul.  This soul is exclusive of any other soul.  However, we are kindred to one another as a species or class.  Material composites know individuation because of their extension or dimensions.  By contrast, angels have no matter and are not composites; thus, every angel as a spiritual entity is a distinct species unto itself.

There is no marriage between angels.  There is no reproduction.  There is no complementarity of gender.  All we can say is that they may have traits that we usually associate with one gender over another.  But even that may be an oversimplification.  What do we know of what angels do or angelic character?  When we try to figure them out we illustrate them as naked human bodies with wings attached.

Why do I make such obscure academic observations?  It is because many seem to be confusing the human with the angelic.  What makes us human men and women is fixed; nevertheless, many are arguing that gender is simply a matter of choice.  While it would not include the quality of gender, angels by their intellect and will determine their unique species at the moment of their immediate creation outside of space and time.  We come to exist in time and within material creation.  We classify pure spirits as angels and even rank them but no one angel is like any other.  Some transgender people today are treating their humanity in a similar way, refusing to be labeled as either male or female.  But do they have this authority, particularly since gender seems to be fixed?  Do they have freedom or choice to embrace legal fictions?

Gender identification is today often called into question and debated.  Growing numbers seem to suffer from a sexual disorientation.  Many feel that they have a gender sense that is in conflict with their bodily composition.  Some have sought to have a legal designation to reassign their gender.  Others have sought through surgery or chemical intervention to change their gender.  The Church would traditionally view such efforts as absurd. The divine determination is taken for granted.  You are what you are… every body part and every cell… your basic DNA… all of it speaks to your identity as a man or woman.  This is the lens through which we know ourselves and how we look upon the world.  We relate as men and women in all our associations and friendships, even in our chaste relationships.

Gender is a differentiation we share with others.  Men and women are human but they come in two sexes.  These qualities are combined with many others, some shared and others unique to our identity.  Here I speak not so much about the accidentals that distinguish us but rather those qualities or elements that defy measurement or calibration.  We are finite creatures but the spark of the infinite both gives us life and keeps us in existence.

The Mystery of Gender Permeates Body & Soul

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An accepted tenet of my classical training is that substantial forms inform all prime matter.  It is within this sphere that we usually discuss creation.  Christians believe in an ordered universe.  God is the source for an intelligent design.  We are not the result of a cosmic accident.  The substantial form is where we locate the properties and unity of an object.  The substantial form for the human person is the immortal soul.  If this soul organizes our constitution and gives us our identity then the soul must also include the element of gender.  Sexuality is not isolated to the body.  There is also a spiritual component.  There is no generic human soul and then male or female accidental renderings of humanity.  Unlike the substantial forms of things, each human soul while having commonality with others is unique.  Since the human soul has no parts it is indestructible and survives the death of the body.  We will be reconstituted in accord with our souls.

Separatist or dualist theologians argue against traditional Christian sexual morality because they treat the person as an operator in a robotic body.  The soul is distinct and not necessarily connected to the body.  They do not regard the body as the real you.  Materialists might have some regard for natural law, but often contend that morality is whatever men want it to be.  They argue that there is no soul that actuates or vivifies you.  They further insist that there is no spiritual operator running a robotic body— there is only the body. Since they judge everyone as merely thinking and loving meat, there are no eternal consequences for our actions to worry us.  They would say do as you want because tomorrow you will be nothing but worm-food.

My own view is one of an intense integralism.  While we are spiritual-corporeal composites, I would place a greater weight upon the composite itself over the body and even the soul.  Bodies without souls are corpses.  Souls without bodies are ghosts.  Neither is a condition to which I look forward.  Our hope in Christ is for the resurrection of the dead, body and soul.  Not angelic beings, it is essential to our personhood and identity that there be a restoration.  The soul is a higher principle in that it has no parts that can break down.  However, our constitution is set as a creature that bridges the material and spiritual worlds.  We are not mere animals.  Alternately, we seem to have little or nothing in the way of angelic powers.  Just as the soul informs the body; the body shares information with the soul.  There are apparent parallel operations between the intellect of the soul and the elements of mind and intelligence found in the organic (the brain).  There is an interposition between the spiritual and material.  Soul and body function as a profound unity.  I suppose this is why spouses can speak of each other as soul-mates.  There would be no marriage if men and women were not sexual beings.  However, this meaning cannot be reduced to the same denominator that defines cats, dogs, horses and other animals.  There is a transcendent factor that permeates the central axis of persons.  Everything the soul or body wants or does reverberates in the other.  Gender or sexuality permeates the whole.

 

An Over-sexed World Does Not Understand Sex

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Analogies scratch at the surface of truth and reality.  Nevertheless, they do allow a certain degree of illumination.  We speak of heaven as an eternal banquet.  We view the relationship of Christ to his Church as akin to the marital bond of a husband to his wife.  Just as there can be no gluttony in heaven, neither can there be lust.  The imperfections in human desires and activities can have no part to play in their eternal dimension.  While we are broken, the moral life demands that we strive toward something of the perfection that awaits us.  Food means physical life.  Marriage means the life of children.  Food gives satisfaction.  Marriage brings the joy of marital union.  God will sustain us and he will feed us with his very self.  Ultimately, the measure of our unity is within the peace of Christ.

It may be that marriage finds itself in trouble within the modern world because people do not know what marriage and sex is really about.  Failure to appreciate the truth damages relationships and makes the marriage analogy incomprehensible.  There is confusion because many refuse to admit that they might be wrong.  Just as certain virgins are anxious about telling others about their inexperience; those with active sex-lives may be reticent to admit that they are regularly engaged in something that they really do not understand.  Persons are often reduced to a means to a selfish end.  Sex is treated as recreation or as something to release tension.  While it should be expressive of a bond, it should not be regarded as bondage.  The abuse of sexual union leads to a whole assortment of ills.  That which should draw people together and make possible personal integrity can inadvertently fragment personalities and cause rifts of infidelity and frustration.  If one has a negative experience of sexual behavior, particularly when it is abusive, then how can he or she imagine that it is good, joyous and holy?  There may be no sexual intercourse in heaven; however, this does not mean that such loving coupling cannot point to a profound intimacy between the divine and the communion of the saints.

Our culture is erotically saturated.  Pornography has gone largely mainstream.  Sex pollutes the media entertainments and advertising.  Many people claim that they have to have it, giving impetus to a drug market where all sorts of dysfunction cures are prescribed.  Nevertheless, while there is a focus on fantasy and the mechanics of human sexuality; there is a paucity of reflection upon ultimate meaning and the theology of the body.  If human sexuality is reduced to an accidental then it might no longer matter… serial marriages, multiple partners, same-sex unions, fornication and even adultery are shifted to the periphery of social life with minimal moral importance.  However, the traditional Western philosophical and religious critic would lament that this is all a lie.  Human sexuality is not accidental and gender is not interchangeable.  There must be a genuine complementarity, sufficient gravity in importance and a lasting permanence.  Our gender identity is a core substantive element.  The union of men and women is not between two half’s but rather two whole’s.  It builds upon who they are, making them (together) something new.

 

The Dark Secret

What is the presumed dark truth that remains largely unspoken by the churchmen desiring a “paradigm shift” in reference to those in irregular unions being invited to receive the sacraments, i.e. the Eucharist and the penitential absolution?

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I suspect that despite objections to the contrary, they really do not believe that there is any lasting bond (sacramental, natural or spiritual) associated with the marriage of men and women.  There was a priest I knew, died some years ago, who ridiculed the very notion that there was a lasting spiritual change in the spouses akin to the sacramental character imprinted upon the soul of men ordained to the priesthood.  While I agreed that sacerdotal ordination was “forever” and that marriage was “until death do they part,” he spurned the notion of any real but invisible tie between spouses other than a psychological one.  His view seemed to me as overly Anglican, as does the Orthodox compromise of penitential marriage.  My thinking upon the question remains unchanged.

Marriage is a perpetual bond.  Our Lord insists that it remains in effect as indissoluble as long as the spouses are alive.  Further, while marriage ends at the threshold of this world and the next, we should all appreciate in Christ that love is stronger than death.  There is something about the connection that changes spouses in an irrevocable way.  They might marry again after a spouse dies; but a mysterious quality remains from the first union.  Something changed with the bond that does not revert back to what it was before.  Given that marriage is reflective of Christ’s relationship with his bride, the Church, this struck me as a necessary truth.  Our Lord will never abandon or divorce his Church.  Spouses give something to the beloved that is singular and that creates a union that is unique and unrepeatable.  A second marriage may have its own value and particular traits; however, while not maligning a second chance at love, the first bond (if real, and in certain cases even when suspect) has a residual or lasting impact or impression.  I am talking about more than mental memories; it is as if the body itself has its own remembrance.  Further, what we do in the flesh has a powerful interplay with the human soul and identity.

Matthew 19:3-9:

Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?” He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss [her]?” He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.”

C. S. Lewis has this to say in Letter 18 of The Screwtape Letters:

The Enemy described a married couple as “one flesh.” He did not say “a happily married couple” or “a couple who married because they were in love,” but you can make the humans ignore that. You can also make them forget that the man they call Paul did not confine it to married couples. Mere copulation, for him, makes “one flesh.” You can thus get the humans to accept as rhetorical eulogies of “being in love” what were in fact plain descriptions of the real significance of sexual intercourse. The truth is that wherever a man lies with a woman, there, whether they like it or not, a transcendental relation is set up between them which must be eternally enjoyed or eternally endured. From the true statement that this transcendental relation was intended to produce, and, if obediently entered into, too often will produce, affection and the family, humans can be made to infer the false belief that the blend of affection, fear, and desire which they call “being in love” is the only thing that makes marriage either happy or holy. The error is easy to produce because “being in love” does very often, in Western Europe, precede marriages which are made in obedience to the Enemy’s designs, that is, with the intention of fidelity, fertility and good will; just as religious emotion very often, but not always, attends conversion. In other words, the humans are to be encouraged to regard as the basis for marriage a highly-colored and distorted version of something the Enemy really promises as its result.