• Our Blogger

    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Recent Posts

  • Recent Comments

    Karl on Still Looking for Clarity in t…
    John on Ask a Priest
    Karl on Still Looking for Clarity in t…
    Megan on Ask a Priest
    Karl on Still Looking for Clarity in t…

Reflecting on a Papal Homily

I wanted to give some extended thoughts about the papal homily on Friday.  The Gospel reading was from Mark 10:1-12:

“Jesus came into the district of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds gathered around him and, as was his custom, he again taught them. The Pharisees approached him and asked, ‘Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?’ They were testing him. He said to them in reply, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They replied, ‘Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.’ But Jesus told them, ‘Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. 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.’ In the house the disciples again questioned Jesus about this. He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’”

The Holy Father stressed in his homily that Jesus “doesn’t respond as to whether it’s licit or not; he doesn’t enter into casuistic logic.”  We are told that the question was a trap.  It had previously circulated what Jesus would say.  At the Sermon on the Mount where he gave us the Beatitudes, he had already stated:  “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.’ But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery’” (Matthew 5:31-32).  The rejection of the authority of Moses might be interpreted as opposition to God.  Our Lord avoids the trap of this charge (their “casuistic logic”?) by placing the question in the context of creation and not the Mosaic Law.  Divine authority has precedence over that of Moses, who makes a human decision to allow a writ because of their hardness of hearts.  Our Lord, as he so often does, re-frames the question, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” Much more fundamentally, he answers that marriage is the enduring reality or truth and that there is no such thing as divorce.  That is why he can so immediately associate divorce with adultery.

Is this faithful to the text?  It seems clear here and even more so in the Gospel of Matthew that while Jesus does not fall for the tricky question, he does render a response that goes beyond the given parameters— beyond Mosaic or Church laws— adding his voice to natural law.

When I reflected on the Scripture text, I had to wonder if Moses did what many of the bishops and theologians are trying to do today— to sidestep a teaching that seems too difficult and arduous for many to follow.  I do not believe that the various requests for clarification from the Holy See are attempts to trick Pope Francis.  The requests are coming from his friends who likewise love him, the Church and Christ.  The question was “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?”  Jesus’ response was clear.  He cannot abandon her because there is NO such thing as divorce!  When his apostles ask about it, Jesus is blunt— the human construct of divorce leads to adultery.  Note that our Lord does not shy away from using the word, “adultery,” a biblical term that certain churchmen are insisting we avoid so as not to hurt feelings; thus we now speak of couples in “irregular unions.”  I hate to say this but the casuistry seems to be on the other side.

The new question can be framed very simply.  “Can and should couples who are cohabiting and/or living in adulterous situations be invited to receive Holy Communion and be given absolution in the sacrament of Penance?”  There are only a few responses that respect the constant truth and teachings of the Church:

(1)  If the care of children or the needs of the partner demand that the couple remain together, and if there would not be dire scandal, an internal forum solution might be permitted where the couple live as brother and sister.

(2)  While it might seem severe or heartless, given the gravity of adultery, the Church could rightly insist that the couple separate.

(3)  The members of the irregular union might seek an annulment of the prior bond; if granted, the union could be regularized with a convalidation.

(4)  If an annulment is not possible and the couple cannot separate, they would be urged to attend Mass but not invited to take Holy Communion.  If the prior spouse should die then the marriage could be convalidated.  If the irregular partner should die, the remaining member could be absolved in Penance and again take Holy Communion.

The option being argued the Malta bishops and by Cardinal Coccopalmerio is not one that reflects the perennial teaching of the faith, or more recently that of Pope John Paul II.  The Cardinal directly teaches that if the adulterous and/or cohabitating couple means well, then they could be invited to take Holy Communion.  While this might appease the subjective and make people happy at the moment; objectively it would constitute the sin of sacrilege as the couple in mortal sin are not disposed to the graces of the sacrament.  There must be contrition and amendment of life.  Both here are compromised.  While adultery might still be regarded as sin, such a change in discipline would wrongly indicate that it was no longer regarded as serious or even mortal.  Given the growing dissent, we need Pope Francis to give a magisterial answer to the confusion that emerged from his exhortation.  That answer should also reflect continuity in discipline and teaching.  Indeed, all he has to do is assert that Cardinal Müller has spoken for the Holy See.  The good Cardinal recently asserted that those in irregular unions who want to receive the sacraments must practice “perfect continence.”  He further stated:

“For us marriage is the expression of participation in the unity between Christ the bridegroom and the Church his bride. This is not, as some said during the Synod, a simple vague analogy. No! This is the substance of the sacrament, and no power in heaven or on earth, neither an angel, nor the pope, nor a council, nor a law of the bishops, has the faculty to change it.”

Adultery is serious, not simply because of infidelity between spouses; it spiritually ranks up there with idolatry.  Christ identifies himself with the beloved.  Betrayal of a spouse is betrayal of Christ.

Finding Hope & Not Despair in the Synod

I am troubled that otherwise orthodox Catholic critics are suggesting that the Synod on the Family in Rome will signal a fall into apostasy.  While there may be a number of wrong-thinking priests and bishops, I have confidence that nothing of the Church’s doctrinal integrity will be sacrificed to pastoral expediency.

While the deposit of faith is both fixed and develops, there can be no revocation of objective truths.  Those couples living in second marriages or irregular unions cannot be uncritically invited to receive Holy Communion.  They may come up without our invitation; but we cannot encourage people to commit either mortal sin or sacrilege against the Eucharist.  No degree of penance would suffice unless there is genuine repentance and a firm amendment of life.  Any projected change in discipline or a so-called pastoral provision cannot justify regularizing church life for recalcitrant adulterers.

Despite the derision by angry critics that many priests are spineless wimps, most men in ministry are dedicated and courageous in their service.  Priests who seem to turn a blind eye to scandalous behavior are often in the dark or uncertain about the marital status of others.  The opposite may also be true.  Their apparent passivity may consist of knowing too many facts about which they are duty bound to keep within professional secrecy and/or the seal of Confession.  A priest may do nothing by word or gesture or intimation based upon what he learns in the sacrament of Penance.  This is the case even when absolution is withheld.  Such a predicament does not prevent others from condemning faithful priests who are already suffering when they must treat adulterers, active homosexuals and child-murderers as if they are Catholics in perfectly good standing.

Of course, it is no wonder that many of the laity might expect churchmen to invite blasphemy against the Eucharist when ministers are generally forbidden by their bishops to refuse the sacrament to others for fear of negative publicity or scandal.  We have witnessed for many years the tension of various pro-life groups with certain U.S. Bishops demanding that they turn away from the altar pro-abortion politicians and others who enable the murder of the unborn.  This conflict has yet to be resolved and continues to alienate those who should be on the same side and working together.  In any case, there is a vast difference between a general passivity and a universal invitation.

The Holy See and the Church are servants of the Word, not its master.  The words of St. Paul about fornicators, homosexuals and adulterers cannot be stripped from Scripture or from the constant tradition of the Church.  Similarly, the notion of the “closed-table” finds it roots in St. Paul and the censures of the early Church:  “And therefore, if anyone eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily, he will be held to account for the Lord’s body and blood. A man must examine himself first, and then eat of that bread and drink of that cup; he is eating and drinking damnation to himself if he eats and drinks unworthily, not recognizing the Lord’s body for what it is” (1 Cor. 11:27-29).  While there are different theologies in the Church, they must speak to the same doctrinal truths.  Disciplines and pastoral practices are not geared to circumvent doctrine but to help express and realize them.

What can we expect from the Synod on the Family in Rome?  Compromise would precipitate acceleration in the breakdown of marriages.  I foresee a reaffirmation of the timeless faith with suggestions to redouble our efforts to welcome and bring healing into the lives of our people.  Let us trust our bishops.  Let us work with our people and not against them.  Let us put aside the silly sensationalism in the news and give the living Church the opportunity to teach and minister as she should.  There will be discussion and debate in Rome.  But we have confidence in the Holy Spirit and the Magisterium.  The process can be messy but so is life.  The truth will prevail.

Synod of the Family: Revisionist Proposals, part 2

men_1_sm

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna echoes a few points that will no doubt be discussed at the upcoming Synod on the Family.  (No disrespect is intended to this brilliant man who was the secretary that helped assemble the universal catechism.)

A stable gay relationship is “an improvement” over temporary relationships.

This position reminds me of what my old professor taught at CUA many years ago. It was wrongly argued that Fr. Charles Curran supported the promiscuous lifestyle that was lived out by so many homosexuals. In fact, he only argued, (while still wrongly), that the Church should support homosexuals who lived out faithful monogamous relationships. The difficulties I saw were the twofold condemnations from both natural law and divine positive law. There is no Scriptural qualification that same-sex behavior is okay if not promiscuous. Today, no matter what label we might impose upon it, we have no authority to change reality or what actually constitutes marriage. How then is a stable relationship better? Is it better concealed? Does it inhibit the transfer of deadly viruses? Is there a value in how it mimics heterosexual bonds? Spiritually, I am concerned about the forgiveness of sins and saving souls. Given that homosexual acts constitute the matter of mortal sin, is one not damned with either one partner or dozens of partners? Jumping from one ledge to another on a mountainside might make an appropriate analogy. One might miss the ledge by five feet or one inch, but the resulting fall is the same. Where is the improvement?

Sharing a life, “they share their joys and sufferings, they help one another. They took an important step for their own good and the good of others, even though it certainly is an “irregular” situation in the Church’s eyes.

The irregularity is not simply in the eyes of the Church. This makes the situation sound like it can be corrected with the quick change of an ecclesial rule or guideline. The problem is too deep for such a shallow response.

A shared life might precipitate a degree of needed solidarity and intimacy, but is that enough? I remember a college reporting to alumni that they had a very loving and supportive community. However, this did not dispel fears that the school had lost its Catholic identity. The ancient pagans had instances of wonderful comradery and unity; however, this affiliation was not Christian. Are we not facing a similar situation here?

I have known homosexuals who struggled with their sexuality and were discrete about their disorientation. They regularly went to Confession and those with partners tried earnestly to make the walk of faith with their special friend. Sometimes they failed. But they respected the teachings of the Church and loved the Lord. I knew men and women who took care of their beloved friend even as he or she was dying from diseases like AIDs or cancer. They lamented militants spitting the host into the face of churchmen like the late Cardinal O’Connor in New York. They retreated with disgust from vulgar exhibitions in rallies and parades. They were faithful to love while knowing that there was something broken in their attractions and genital life. Many joined Fr. John Harvey’s COURAGE and sought to share love in celibate service to others and in prayer to God. I lament that we seem to pamper those who demand approbation while neglecting these heroic men and women.

While a negative verdict from the Church about homosexual acts remains, “the Church should not look in the bedroom first, but in the dining room! It must accompany people.”

The negative verdict arises from the sources of revelation. How should one surmount a consistent teaching from both the Old and New Testaments that later finds confirmation in two thousand years of Christian tradition? Until recently, homosexual acts were criminalized in many places. This assertion about accompanying people sounds nice, but are we all walking in the same direction? I would not want to go to hell with other sinners just to appease the niceties of toleration and good manners.  Would the good Cardinal make the same argument if we were discussing polygamy and mistresses? What about those who promote promiscuity, prostitution and orgies? What about the practitioners of bestiality, pedophilia and pederasty? No, I suspect then he would want to put his foot down. I am left wondering.  Could it be that some churchmen just do not believe that homosexuality is all that serious a sin? Our Lord’s house or mansion has many rooms; what we do matters in all the rooms of his house!  No one should be excused from the need for contrition and repentance. Do we really want to throw away this vital component to heralding the Gospel and transformation in Christ?

Pastoral accompaniment “cannot transform an irregular situation into a regular one, but there do exist paths for healing, for learning.”

This leaves me befuddled. He says the irregular situation remains but there are “paths for healing, for learning.” What does this mean? How will making them comfortable with error bring them to the truth?  Or is he addressing the Church?  Is the Church supposed to learn that we were mistaken about a basic issue of human sexuality? Is it wrong to expect the homosexual or lesbian to embrace a non-genital way of loving? Are not our ears being bombarded by the same deviant sex advocates who are demanding acceptance and approval, not just toleration? When asked about the issue, Pope Francis responded, “Who am I to judge?” What he meant was that only God can judge the individual soul. However, as the Vicar of Christ, he can affirm (as he did recently) what is viewed as right and wrong by our Lord and his Church. As sinners, we all need to grow in the truth and to experience genuine forgiveness and healing.

Synod of the Family: Revisionist Proposals, part 1

144201609311261

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna echoes a few points that will no doubt be discussed at the upcoming Synod on the Family.  (No disrespect is intended to this brilliant man who was the secretary that helped assemble the universal catechism.)  Here is one of the controversial points:

A civil marriage is better than cohabitation because it signifies “a formal public commitment.”

I am not sure about this statement.  Both, in my estimation, are bad.  Might we say that one is worse than the other?  And which is worse?  Cohabitation might leave emotional strings, but after a breakup there would be no civil or ecclesial ties to unravel.  The good cardinal seems to think that people are thrown together chiefly because of financial worries; I suspect he is too quick to dismiss the carnal elements and the attitude that “living together” constitutes either a trial marriage or a viable alternative.  He asserts that civil marriages are better, but for the Catholic, what is it really?  Sure, the state would recognize the bond.  Two Protestants or non-believers married in such a way would be truly married, even if only in terms of a natural bond.  However, the Catholic has turned his back on marriage as a sacrament of the Church.  Indeed, in this age of same-sex marriages, we would not even define marriage as does our secular culture.  The bond is not recognized by the Church and thus has no standing before almighty God.  If the marriage fails, a quick declaration of nullity because of lack of canonical form proves this point.  The bond is not worth the paper it is written upon.  Their sexual congress still constitutes fornication and if there were a prior bond, adultery.  How is this good or better?  Will the Church now seek a demarcation within mortal sin?  If the soul is darkened or dead, the persons are no longer disposed to saving grace.  The role of the Church is not simply to help people feel happy or whole but to give them true mercy and joy in the Spirit.  Our mission is to save souls, not to pamper people who have turned their backs on the Church, her sacraments and basic values.  It may be too harshly said, but where Catholics are involved, civil marriages are to cohabitation what Nevada houses of ill repute are to prostitution.  It might give the profession a certain public recognition and standing, but it is no less damning.

Here is another point listed by the cardinal:

“Instead of talking about everything that is missing, we can draw close to this reality, noting what is positive in this love that is establishing itself.”

The good cardinal applies this, not only to cohabitation and civil unions, but also to second unions and same-sex unions.  I will neglect the last possibility in this reflection because I think there is sufficient cause already to reject the assertion for heterosexuals.  That which is missing is paramount and ignoring or excusing its absence leads to a false analysis of the problem.  The fact remains that sexual activity outside of marriage is immoral and sinful.  Marriage is an institution to foster both spousal fidelity and the propagation of the species.  If you are not married, then you have no right to these goods, even if they are feigned.  What do I mean by feigned?  Pretending to be husband and wife does not make one husband and wife.  Similarly, even in marriages, the marital act is what it is.  If distorted by violence or lust, it becomes a parody.  If couples are made sterile through contraception then the basic meaning of the marital act is short-changed and it no longer signifies the bond or renews the marital covenant.  Let me attempt a silly analogy.  A cowboy facing bandits will be thankful for his gun.  However, he will be intensely disappointed when the fighting starts to find that he has no bullets.  Again, that which is missing can be crucial to any scenario.

This notion of finding the positive in sin or wrongful relationships can lead to a distortion in values.  We can say that such tolerance will not affect doctrine, but this has not yet been proven.  Usually the praxis or discipline is imposed to insure a doctrinal teaching.  Certainly I can appreciate compassion and mercy.  We might also admit that certain relationships will take time to correct and heal.  But the problem that many refuse to acknowledge is that there are some relationships and actions that can never be made right.  If a person is married in truth, a second union is adultery— yes, no matter how satisfying and loving is the irregular union.  Living together and sharing sexual congress outside of marriage is not only wrong, it is the cooperation in another’s sin or a spiritual exploitation.  Many couples acknowledge that they cohabitate because this makes sexual activity more convenient.  Is this the positive element we are seeking?  No!  Civil unions provide little extra in terms of foundational substance, especially when there is “no fault” divorce and half of such unions fail.  Couples might say they grew apart, but increasingly the unstated cause of marital breakup is adultery.  Would not kindness to adulterers be demeaning to spouses who struggle to maintain fidelity?

If we look hard enough, we might imagine something positive in the most tragic of situations.  Indeed, I was asked one time about this in regard to hell.  My response was that it was unlikely the devils would find fulfillment in simply torturing damned souls for all eternity.  I suspect that if there be one positive element it might be the intellectual life.  The demons have incredible intellects, albeit without divine illumination.  As creatures without bodies there would be nothing that corporeal pleasure could offer them.  They would probably seek an escape into their minds.  Of course, no matter how high calipered the debates, hell would still be hell.

The love of fornicators and adulterers might be very tender and gentle.  It might be incredibly affirming and life-giving.  The problem is both what is missing and what is supplied instead.  The sacrament is absent and that which should sanctify them brings scandal and grievous sin.  Their union is built upon a foundation of broken promises and a basic deception.  They give what belongs to another.  They give what they have no right to give.  Like a thief, they steal what does not belong to them.

This proposition collapses entirely with a proper definition of love.  Love is ever so much more than feelings.  Love is sacrificial.  Love is a promise kept.  Love is consecrated by God and such lasts a lifetime.

Increasing numbers cohabitate because of financial insecurity.  The bishops should ask, “Are we here to deplore this phenomenon instead of asking ourselves what has changed?”

It is true that there are financial issues that drive couples to live together, although formerly men and women took housemates of the same gender to share a home. Are they less likely to do so today because others will suppose they are gay when they are really straight? I think too great an emphasis is placed on economics as an excuse or rationale for what is happening. In truth, I think there has been an erosion of the meaning and importance of marriage. Many times I have heard young people, particularly those estranged from the Church, say that marriage is “just a slip of paper.” Boys and girls living together do so largely for what the good cardinal might demote as mere fringe benefits. It makes sexual intimacy easier. When young people start spending time with each other their friends will invariably ask, “When are you going to move in together?” A situation that was once judged as scandalous is now judged as routine or expected.

The good cardinal poses “either-or” questions when there should be a two-fold focus.  We are talking about more than living together or cohabitation, but rather about variations of sexual concubinage. The bishops by necessity should “deplore this phenomenon.” Nothing should deflect their disdain. Too often I hear the complaint that we should not shame the girl or couple, especially if they should conceive an illegitimate child. While the Church is pro-life and the baby is innocent; the parents are not. They should be ashamed of themselves, and this goes back to their living arrangements. These are situations where the rights of children are not properly served and there is a heightened likelihood of abortion. The Church’s moral outrage immediately focuses upon what has changed— a lack of shame and a diminution in the meaning of marriage. Of course, then the Church is attacked as intolerant and mean-spirited. We hear echoed a rhetorical question that emanates from those who have no respect for the Church or her authority, “Who are you to judge?” This repudiation of ecclesial moral assessment is then backed up with a listing of all the latest scandals in the Church, particularly regarding pedophilia and pederasty. By comparison, the Church is imaged as the biggest sinner and a hypocrite as well. Critics say we are looking for splinters while we have planks jabbed in our eyes. Unfortunately, objective truth and genuine moral scrutiny is the victim of this back-and-forth. Right and wrong remain what they are even if the one who cites the misdeed is the greatest reprobate on the planet.

Are we really being helpful?  “There is a risk of easily pointing a finger at hedonism and individualism, when it takes much more effort to observe the realities carefully.”

It may be that the good cardinal is critical of the bishops and the Church for making abstract moral judgments without a regard for how the practical situations of people make difficult any fidelity to the divine moral law.  However, the place for pastoral accommodation is in the Confessional, not in general statements of faith.  There has to be a universal standard.  The Church teaches us what ought to be.  The priest in the trenches deals in a proximate way with what is and the effects of original sin.  Saint John Paul II understood this.  He was concise and clear about questions in the moral order.  His theology of the body was the mastery of his genius.  And yet, this same Pope urged priests to show gentleness and compassion to penitents who struggled with the sin of artificial contraception and the manner of their sexual intimacy.  He urged ministers to take people where they found them.  Jesus ministered similarly.  He brought healing and forgiveness to others but nothing of the Decalogue lost its compelling power.  Indeed, some commands became more intense.  The mere hatred of another makes one guilty of violating, “thou shalt not kill.”  The woman caught in adultery is guilty but he saves her from stoning and opts himself not to condemn her.  Rather he forgives her with a warning to avoid this sin in the future.  The writ of divorce is dismissed and those who do so are charged with adultery.  This sounds harsh but it protected the rights of women who were often abandoned and left destitute.

Each case may have complications that surface.  But one would have to be blind not to see how our society is saturated by hedonism.  The natural desire for happiness and the avoidance of pain is amplified to the level where the pursuit of pleasure becomes everything.  While much of the planet suffers squalor and poverty, Western society is enraptured by self-indulgence.  Alcohol, drugs, sexual promiscuity, pornography, and lurid entertainments saturate our environment.  Keeping the proper custody of the eyes becomes virtually impossible.  Everyone from the elderly to the small child is touched by it.

A stark individualism is often praised in American circles and yet while we delight in freedom, often this can come at the price of another’s rights and the cohesion of duty or obligation for family, for community, and for church.  The slogan for the mentality, at least when it becomes terminal, is the cry, “No one can tell me what to do!”

ATHEIST COMMANDMENT 9

“There is no one right way to live.”

Eye-3372-largeAnd what is this supposed to mean? Would the atheist tolerate a radical Islam that covered a woman’s face and body, reducing her to property, denying her an education and life outside the home? Would they turn a blind eye to a pre-civil war south where slavery allowed a genteel life for some and one of brutal servitude for others? This so-called commandment is actually nonsense. The truth is that while there are many different states of life and a certain cultural diversity; nevertheless, there are ways of living that countermand human decency and the laws of God. Keeping harems or same-sex partners would also fall within prohibited acts; however, I suspect the atheist critic wants to make room for deviancy. Once more there is a problem with specificity. Who decides what an appropriate lifestyle is and is not? Failure to make any judgment will lend legitimacy to anything and everything.

The Christian would argue that there is a right way to live and that is to live in right relationship with God and man. Sex outside of heterosexual marriage is a sin. A lifestyle that depends upon the oppression of others is a sin. A life that is addicted to booze and drugs is one that faces imminent destruction. Commercialism and materialism will ultimately fail to satisfy the longing of the soul. We live in such a way, in accordance with our nature, so that we can draw out the best that makes us human. We are social creatures which need to interact with each other in a manner that both preserves human freedom and insures the healthy functioning of society. Putting it bluntly, there are right “ways” of living and there are wrong ways, too.

I am somewhat surprised that that a man who promotes science would suggest this dictum. The Mythbusters devote each episode at dispelling myths and trying to ascertain the truth. There is little truth in this so-called new commandment. As with the proper fuel for a car a protocol before a dangerous experiment or explosion— there is a right way and a wrong or dangerous way to proceed.

This new law is really just an excuse for liberality and unhampered toleration. Not that I think he really means it because I suspect there are elements to the Christian life that he would find personally objectionable. In other words, the rule here is biased with unspoken exceptions. He would stretch the definition of marriage and family. Marriage, itself, might be viewed as an unnecessary human construct. Obviously, the atheist critic would not interpret it as a sacrament configured to give grace.

Man is not the final arbiter of right and wrong. The rejection of this truth is at the heart of many contemporary problems. Everything is politicized, even human behavior. If the law says something is right, many presume that it must be okay. The war against drugs goes badly, so advocates argue for their legalization and taxation. When the prostitution situation resists resolution, there is a lobby that suggests making it legal with defined health or safety standards. Assault against children, even in the womb was reckoned as manslaughter and a war crime but now it is regarded as a right of women to choose. Within living memory homosexuality goes from being criminalized to being protected and promoted as a basic civil right. No matter what the issue or behavior, people no longer turn to ministers or philosophers but to lawyers and politicians.

This process promotes a lie… about human nature, about God and his commandments… and about our sphere of influence. The subjective eclipses the objective. The relative dominates over point of permanence. The end result is that we damage ourselves and all our associations. Not only is there a loss of a sense of sin but also of any concrete definition.

Counseling for Catholic Marriages

Catholics with marital problems should have readily available avenues within the Church for professional counseling in the hopes of salvaging their marriages.

More can be done to prepare priests for this kind of work but I think there is also a need for full-time professionals with training in psychology and intervention-counseling. These counselors should be well-versed with the Catholic faith. If they are not on the same page with us about human sexuality and the value of marriage, then they can escalate a problem instead of being part of the solution.

  • When red lights appear in the Pre-Cana preparation, referrals can be made before marriages in the Church.
  • When problems develop within marriages, referrals can be made to facilitate healing or reconciliation.
  • When questions arise about sexual identity and remaining in good standing with the Church, referrals might be made to assist people in coping and to counteract bias from non-Catholic sources.

While there are good independent counselors who charge fees, I would also recommend that there be professionals hired directly by the Church. Their salaries might be shared between parishes as within deaneries. They would work closely with pastors, while preserving confidentiality, to either prevent bad marriages or to salvage troubled ones. Such staffing should be viewed as serious as religious education directors, office managers and bookkeepers. In any case, a public list of counselors vetted by the Archdiocese should be readily available to pastors and the people they serve.

Catholic marriage counseling is necessarily different from that which is offered by those who do not share our understanding of marriage or our views about human sexuality. These counselors need to discern how a troubled Catholic marriage might be fixed. The truths of faith are integrated into our appreciation of psychology. The goal is to have couples living a daily vocation where there is both joy and sacrificial love. Marriage is viewed as a covenant and as a permanent union. Too many quickly jump to divorce as the answer. Catholics should see that as an option generally taken off the table.

Instead of urging an immediate divorce, a separation might be promoted so as to further the conversation or to prevent verbal and/or physical abuse. If a marriage has terminal problems and cannot be salvaged, then the counselor might suggest an annulment. That is where the pastor and/or the officials on a Church Tribunal would enter the picture. However, this is inherently always a sad or tragic situation. It means that avenues to save a marriage have failed.

Right now we have noble efforts like Retrouvaille but there is a pressing need for something more clinical.

A Few Thoughts about the Synod Relatio & Debates

My head is spinning about some of the things that are being seriously argued at the Vatican’s Synod on the Family. I am already concerned that a Commission was established to look at streamlining the process for annulments even prior to the start of the Synod. It seems to me that if such were a concern then the bishops would then request the Holy See to do so. Will the documents which will be formulated reflect the majority view and Catholic tradition or will there be attempts to steal the show for the minority progressives?

synod-of-bishops

What is it about this new Synod document that has critics saying it signals a revolutionary shift in favor of same-sex couples? It is acknowledged that this “relatio” urges clergy to make “fraternal space” for homosexuals. But what does it say? We read:

“Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a further space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of proving that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”

Are we reading the same document? All I see are questions. Hopefully they are not rhetorical. Do we eject gay brothers and sisters from our churches? No we do not. Can we invite them forward for Holy Communion? Yes, provided that they maintain chaste and celibate lives. Can we affirm or value their sexual orientation? No, we cannot do so. Such would devalue the true meaning of marriage and human sexuality. We cannot move away from the assessment of disorientation or that same-sex carnality is mortal sin.

As a so-called case-in-point of past intolerance, the news contrasted this development with the story of Barb Webb who was fired from a Catholic school when she and her partner announced her pregnancy. Similarly, her partner, Kristen Moore was asked to resign from her post as a music director at a Catholic parish. The secular media glossed entirely over the moral issues that extend beyond same sex unions, like the freezing of embryos, donated semen and IVF technologies. All these elements are reckoned as moral evils and sinful.

This relatio is being interpreted precisely as Cardinal Kasper would suggest. The doctrinal truth is eclipsed, if it remains, for the sake of a pastoral provision or slackening of discipline. The same reasoning he uses for divorced and remarried couples is being applied to active homosexuals. I find this reckoning very disturbing. Discipline can be distinguished from doctrine but discipline is always at the service of doctrine. There are doctrinal elements that cannot be ignored. It is contradictory to say that gay acts are sinful and then to value, in any way, homosexuality. It is contradictory to say that marriage is a lifelong institution and that divorce is a sin, while inviting couples to receive Holy Communion who are living in adultery. The truths of Scripture are clear and we must always be at the service of the truth on every level: doctrinally, canonically and pastorally.

The document recognizes that same-sex couples live lives where they render “mutual aid to the point of sacrifice [which] constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.” Critics are saying that this is a crack in the door that may one day lead to full acceptance. I would say that this is not the case. The statement is one that reflects the immediate horizontal human condition but says nothing about the vertical supernatural dimension. It is a mere statement of fact that these couples support each other in their day-to-day lives. However, this does not mean that they are in right standing before God. Mortal sin is still mortal sin. I suspect that there are many “nice and pleasant” people who make good neighbors and yet will suffer damnation and hellfire. We are not saved by simply being nice but by being faithful and obedient to God. The Church can relax certain disciplines but she cannot change divine positive law. My fear is that tolerant language might enable or encourage more sinners to remain within their sins. The Church must be a place for saving truth and grace. She should never be an enabler for sinful lifestyles or blasphemous acts like receiving the Eucharist while ill-disposed or in mortal sin. This document does NOT acknowledge the “holiness” of such couples as was suggested in the Huffington Post article by Antonia Blumberg (1/13/14). It simply asks if we might tolerate with passivity and silence the situation of people living in sin.

I cannot buy this application of any “law of graduality.” No matter how slow might be the movement to holiness; the Church should never compromise on the fullness of truth. Confessors can exhibit great understanding and compassion for married couples who use artificial contraception, with the hope that they will eventually come around to the Church’s understanding of human dignity and the full value of the marital act. It is here that I can well appreciate “graduality.” However, this is not the same as cohabitating, adulterous and same-sex couples. They have no right to a shared bed.  In their regard, where there is neither contrition nor amendment of life, absolution must be withheld. Similarly, while they should attend weekly Sunday Mass, they should abstain from taking Holy Communion. The priest will not usually embarrass people in public but he fails his sacerdotal charge if he does not challenge such couples in private.

This law or better yet, theory of graduality was very much the rationale for the “open table” of Anglicanism. It was hoped that this welcoming to receive the Eucharist would draw others into greater unity. Contrastingly, the “closed table” of Catholicism sees Holy Communion as an expression of an ecclesial unity that is already realized. This is representative of the ancient tradition wherein heretics and grievous sinners were denied the sacrament or even excommunicated. The Church’s censure of interdict would also illustrate this posture. One had to be properly disposed and graced to receive the sacrament. Anything less was judged as blasphemous and scandalous. One should not pretend there is a union that is not truly there. This resonates with the current debate about divorced and remarried couples as well as with active homosexuals. We cannot allow a false compassion to tolerate normalization for the sake of public acceptance while the pastoral accommodation is deceptive to the doctrinal truth and the spiritual state of souls before God. We can move away from using pejorative biblical terms like “sodomites” and “adulterers,” but the underlying reality will remain the same. Does this really serve the summons to repent and believe?

If we change the discipline for those in serious sin and the intrinsically disordered, would we not logically have to open up Holy Communion to others (particularly Christians) who might be in ignorance of the full ecclesial reality but who live moral lives? It is a real can of worms and I would prefer to leave it closed. But that is my opinion.