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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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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 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

153444973830414067 (3)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 itself, the height of lunacy. Few are willing to admit that gender confusion and same-sex unions place sick minds over otherwise healthy bodies and make a twisted parody of marriage.

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 homosexual infestation 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 largely repressed homosexuals acting out with other men or committing pederasty with older minors.

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Where do we go from here?  Silence was not the answer; indeed, it became part of the problem.  Moving the men around was not the answer; like shipping the trash out to sea it only made a problem for others somewhere else.  Much of the damage cannot be healed.  What was done cannot be undone.  Many of us had 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 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 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 hiding 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 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 should 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 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 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).

The 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.  Pray for the Church and dialogue with the bishops and priests.  This is not a situation the bishops can fix.  As one person said to me, “Their credibility is shot!”

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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 our 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.)

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, 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. Separating 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 live out charity in our parishes and 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. This 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’

 

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[32] Fourth Sunday of Lent

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Reading:  2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23 / Psalm 137 / Ephesians 2:4-10 / John 3:14-21

The first sentence of our reading from 2 Chronicles gives us the setting:  “In those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the LORD’s temple which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.”  God’s people had broken their covenant with the Almighty and thus had forfeited divine favor and protection.  Israel had fallen and now the same fate would come to Judah.  The demise of the remaining Jewish kingdom of Judah extends through the apostasy of their last four kings, culminating in the Babylonian invasion and the exile of God’s people in the Jewish diaspora.  They had lost everything and were no longer a nation of their own.  Many years later the Persian king Cyrus the Great would conquer the Neo-Babylonian Empire and authorize the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem. Many of the exiles would then return to their homeland.  The history of salvation had seen God’s people start out as a family and then become a tribe and still later a nation.  Now there is a transitioning into a religion.  They would have limited rule of their own, but only as supervised or oppressed by others— a situation which would last through the Roman acquisition of their territories and the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.

It was in light of the diminished power of the tetrarch Herod (who imagined himself a king) and the Sanhedrin, many who were fearful stooges for the occupying power that the Jewish people longed for a Davidic Messiah who would vanquish their foes by force of the sword.  When Jesus entered the stage of world events, the religious leadership saw him as a threat to their position.  Many of the people were drawn to him and yet they quickly became despondent when he emphasized a heavenly kingdom over an earthly one.  He was not the kind of Messiah they wanted.  His message of loving and even forgiving their enemies infuriated the zealots.  When it came to the legal requirement of carrying a soldier’s armament, he urged them to do so for two miles (while the law said no more than one).  They wanted someone who burned with hate like themselves.  It seemed that instead of a military liberator, Jesus was a friend of Romans.  Indeed, the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate wanted to set him free, but though bribery, disappointment, and fear, Jesus would be condemned to death.  The cry of the crowd, “We have no king but Caesar!” would ironically signal how the fall of Israel and Judah were now complete.  A new people would come forward, made up of not only the Jews, but from all the nations— all who would believe in Christ and in his kingdom.

The second reading emphasizes how this new kingdom comes in the person of Christ.  “God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ.”  The Church as the Mystical Body of Christ is also one with the kingdom— the New Israel or New Zion or New Jerusalem.

The psalm echoes the longing of God’s people in Babylonian exile.  They struggled to maintain their identity while surrounded by pagan believers and their stories about false deities. The Babylonians worshiped several gods, the chief one being Marduk.  Much to the chagrin of the Hebrews, the Babylonians were true idolaters, positing the presence of their deities in their statues and temples.  As they became increasing enculturated, many were tempted to abandon the faith of Abraham.  The prophets urged them not to forget and to stay faithful to the true God that had called them.  The exile would last some seventy years.  “Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you! How could we sing a song of the LORD in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand be forgotten!”

Turning to the new dispensation, while much of the Jewish leadership would renounce Christ, there were a few that did not.  Among them were Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.  Jesus told Nicodemus that “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  This was and is the essential Christian kerygma.  When God’s people were sick and dying from snake bites, Moses had crafted a serpent on a staff or pole.  Those who looked upon it were healed.  The serpent was a sign of death; but this sacramental changed it into a means for hope and life.  Jesus would be lifted up upon a cross, also a sign of despair and death.  Nevertheless, the redemptive work of Christ and his subsequent resurrection changed it for us into a sign of hope and eternal life.

Salvation is based upon an acceptance of Christ.  He is the source of grace.  There is no other way to the Father.  We are saved, not because we are good or faithful but first because Jesus is goodness and is faithful to the mission given him by his Father onto the Cross. He is the LIGHT in the darkness.

The darkness is Satan and yet he masquerades as light.  Indeed, one of his names is Lucifer, meaning light.  He is the false light that would lead us astray.  He is the dark force that numbs consciences to the truth.  Jesus gave sight to the blind, healed cripples, gave hearing to the deaf, restored lepers, raised the dead and yet the hearts and minds of the religious leadership were closed to him and they rejected him.  Indeed, they wanted him dead and gone.  How blind could they be?  How deaf to his message?  Is it any different today?  The Church speaks out for the sanctity of human life and for the dignity of persons— and yet the leaders of this world are still quick to hate and so selfish that even babies are disposable.  Many people say they believe or are enlightened but they remain in the grips of bigotry and violence.  Many say they care and yet they promote pornography and an industry that reduces people, especially women, to the level of meat or flesh.  Separated from God, we do not know how to be good.  The devil exploits this darkness.  He distracts us from Christ.  He breathes his cold breath over hearts that should be warmed by sacrifice and grace.  There are all sorts of attacks against the Church and believers who witness with conviction.  Why?  “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.”

We must shine with the LIGHT of Christ, even if it should illumine that which in ourselves still needs repentance and conversion.

  • Have we ever blamed God for problems and faults of our own making?
  • Do we really believe that God is always faithful and ready to forgive us?
  • Do we place greater confidence in the world than in the values of the Gospel?
  • Are you stumbling in darkness? What is the true light of our lives?
  • What forces around us desire to extinguish the light of Christ in our souls?
  • How have we helped others to find their way as believers or are we stumbling blocks?

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.

 

Sexuality is Who You Are Not What You Do

We are sexual beings.  Even the celibate knows himself as either male or female.  The word sex is often wrongly reduced to activity.  It is actually expressive of our identity or who we are.  It is for this reason that the U.S. Bishops went forward with the “Marriage Matters” campaign against so-called same sex marriage.  Marriage is an exclusive bond between a man and a woman.

Reductionists perceive sexuality as an action and one that can be measured or judged.  It sacrifices the element of mystery as a quality of a person’s inner being.  It is also narrowed to consequences.  Pregnancy and birth are inhibited as one would a disease.  The prospect of a stable or singular relationship is often spurned in favor of momentary pleasure or a thill that might employ any number of sexual partners or none at all.  People “have” sex instead of “being” their sex.

I recall a paperback fantasy story (the title escapes me) in which those cast in hell became more bestial.  Everything and everyone became more eroticized in hell.  Women became more endowed in breasts and curves.  The men discovered that their genitals grew and they lost almost all self-control.  One man tried to sneak into heaven but raced back to hell when he observed the gradual disappearance of his male sex organs.  Despite these peculiar elements, the author tried to avoid the more grievous vulgarities in his composition so as to promote certain moral truths. While interesting fiction, I would contend that he got the situation basically wrong.  We become more and not less of what we are with judgment in the afterlife; men and women in heaven will never stop being male or female.  Joseph is still the foster “father” of Jesus and Mary will always be the blessed “mother” and the New Eve.  There will be no concupiscence in heaven.  There will be no marrying or giving in marriage— except for the marriage banquet of the Lamb.  There will be perfect self-control.  There will be unity in Christ.  We will relate to one another as brothers and sisters, men and women— not as sexless drones.

While angels may be without gender, such is not the state of human beings.  Male and female is how we are made and it is how we will be remade.  God’s grace will perfect us but we will still be who and what we are.  The divine economy will give us a share in immortality but God will not unmake our identity.

Frequently in these arguments, critics will point to St. Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:28 that in Christ “there is neither male nor female.”  This does not mean that men and women are interchangeable or utterly the same.  What it does say is that men and women alike are called by Christ to be disciples.  We all have the capacity for faith and to benefit from the saving graces of baptism.  I have engaged in past debates where critics used this passage to argue for women’s ordination.  However, it does not apply to anything more than our universal priesthood in baptism.  The tradition coming down from Christ and the apostles is that the ordained priesthood is reserved to men.  Men are seen as living icons for Christ.  They signify the divine bridegroom at the altar with the Church as his bride.  A woman priest would suffer from the same critique as would same-sex marriages:  the marriage analogy would be transformed into a lesbian caricature that could only feign priesthood.  The true priesthood, the Mass and sacramental absolution would be lost.  Gender is not an accidental element but a substantial quality of human identity.

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.