Thursday, February 23, 2012

What lurks beneath?

An excerpt from Blessed John XXIII's diary cites St Francis de Sales. He says, "One of the similes used by St Francis de Sales which I love to repeat is,'I am like a bird singing in a thicket of thorns'; this must be an inspiration to me. So I must say very little to anyone about the things that hurt me. Great discretion and forbearance in my judgments of people and situations: willingness to pray particularly for those who may cause me suffering, and in everything great kindness and endless patience, remembering that any other sentiment or mixture of sentiments, Macedoine, as they say here, is contrary to the spirit of the Gospel and of evangelical perfection." Great words! If you and I are to be "fishers of men, and not keepers of the aquarium" we will need to go to people and places where our hands may get dirty. It may mean that arrows being flung at you have nothing to do with you or I, but rather hurts people have buried. Life is messy and sometimes we need to enter into the mess to bring healing and hope. Keep singing, as Francis De Sales says, even if you are in a thicket of thorns.

Consider the amazing story from the life of Fulton Sheen. The story is retold here from Patrick Madrid's book Search & Rescue. Madrid is emphasizing the need to listen with our heart. He relates: "There's a remarkable story about the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen that illustrates what a master he was at listening with his heart. Before giving a talk at a parish one evening, he was dining in the rectory with the pastor and a young associate priest. The young priest strongly criticized the Catholic Church for her wealth, prodding Archbishop Sheen with pointed questions about why the Vatican didn't sell its holdings and valuables and give the money to the poor. Sheen gave the standard explanation but that didn't satisfy this priest. He continued badgering the Archbishop, scoffing at the Church's opulence. After a few frustrating attempts to answer the argumentative priest's challenges, Sheen took the priest aside out of earshot of others. The Archbishop fixed the younger man with a steely gaze, 'Father how long have you been stealing from the collection basket?' The look on the young priest's face said it all, and his story tumbled out. He had been skimming money from the parish collection basket for some time, and his wrath against the Church's 'wealth' was the pressure-release valve for his soul, a way he could relieve some of the accumulating pain and anxiety of his guilty conscience. Rather than stop his sinful activity, repent, and go to Confession, he chose the path of haranguing the Church for being 'too wealthy.' Imagine the power of God's grace working in that priest's soul at that moment, all because Archbishop Sheen listened with his heart, and not just with his ears. How was Sheen able to discern this deep issue lurking below the surface of the arguments? Only God's grace can account for it."

In my own pastoral life I have found this to true as well. Madrid cautions us to think that there is some deep hurt lurking beneath every disagreement. Some people have simple disagreements with church teachings but I have heard more horror stories of couples approaching a parish for baptism-longing to find healing and hope for a child, only to be turned away. Sometimes they never come back. Steve Ray, in his parish mission in December, noted that Calvary Chapel proudly announces that most of their congregation nation-wide is ex-Catholics. What are we to do? We are to be the bird that sings in the thicket of thorns.

As a seminarian I heard an amazing testimony from a young woman at Human Life International. It was a conference just before the National right to life march. Shared how she became pregnant in college and chose to have an abortion. She became more hardened and more bitter and endured a series of hearbreaking relationships. She had two more abortions. She became more vocal and more boisterous in her disdain for church teaching. She marched, she wrote letters, all in the name of "women's rights" One day, grace intervened in a powerful way. She went to the local public library and "accidently" found herself in the Birth section of the library. She picked out a book on the development of an unborn child in the womb. She opened the page to the page that had the exact stage of development of the last child she had aborted. It was like lightning struck. She was a puddle of tears. The story has had a very happy ending, however. She became reconciled with the church and now works for Project Rachel and is on her way "to becoming a saint." I shared this story in a homily at my previous parish. After mass I was stopped by a young woman who said "Father, I am that woman." I looked at her puzzled. She said "Father, I have had three abortions. I do not know why I came here this evening but I guess I was supposed to hear you." She then encouraged me to speak out because there are many hurting women who need to know that healing and hope is possible.

In the movie Seabisquit, my favorite movie, Jeff Bridges asks Red Pollard, "Son, why are you so angry?" Red had been abandoned by his parents during the depression and was a man drifting when the opportunity to become jockey for Seabisquit arose. Red and Seabiscuit both found healing in their mutual relationship. Silent No More, Project Rachel, and many other organizations are out there for the express purpose of bring hope and healing to women who have been hurt by abortion. There are many wounded healers out there just waiting to extend a hand of compassion. You and I are to be the bird who sings in the thicket of thorns.

When I hear headlines screaming "women's rights!" I ask myself the question. What hurt lurks beneath?

Lord Jesus, bring healing and hope to people who have been hurt by the church and healing and hope to women who are ensnared in the "culture of death."

St. Polycarp pray for us!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Search and Rescue-How to bring friends and family back into the Catholic Church

Today is Ash Wednesday. A day of prayer, penance, and renewal. The season of Lent is a reminder of our baptism as it culminates in the Easter Vigil and renewal of baptismal promises on Easter Sunday. It is also a time of year when we have an opportunity to reach out to loved ones. St. Paul, in today's second reading tells us that "we are ambasssadors for Christ." To be an ambassador is to represent, or speak on behalf of someone important. You and I are ambassadors of Jesus Christ. If you went to mass this morning you received blessed ashes on your forehead. I have a little more real estate on my forehead so my ambassadorship is quite clear!

Catholics can sometimes be reticent about sharing their faith. I hope this changes. At the closing mass of the 20th World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, Pope Benedict XVI had the following comment in his homily: "Help people to discover the true star which points out the way to us: Jesus Christ! Let us seek to know him better and better, so as to be able to guide others to him with conviction." How do we help others discover Jesus? Patrick Madrid, in his book Search And Rescue-How to bring your family and friends into-or back into-the Catholic Church, provides us with a systematic approach. Quoting St. Francis of Assisi, Madrid notes: " Evangelize at all times and if necessary use words." In chapter 3 of the book Madrid focuses on the Apostolate of Friendship. St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, once said, "May your behavior and your conversation be such that everyone who sees or hears you can say; This man reads the life of Jesus Christ." I will quote directly from Madrid's book: "God's grace and your authentic Christian example can do more to win souls for Christ than all the biblical or historical evidence in the world. So your search-and-rescue mission must be suffused with prayer, good example, and friendship. The more you rely on prayer, good example, and friendship, the more effective you'll be. The more you pray in particular for the person you want to draw home to the church, the more efficacious your prayers will be. The more you work at cultivating virtue and setting an unostentatious, joyful, authentic example of Christianity in your own life, the more people will be drawn to ask what the secret of your happiness is. 'Do nothing at all unless you begin with prayer' said St. Ephraem the Syrian. Without prayer, even your best search-and-rescue efforts will fail." Madrid then shares with readers the remarkable conversion of St. Augustine and the persevering prayers of his mother that helped facilitate the conversion.

Madrid then addresses some of the obstacles we will face: "Your adversary in your search-and-rescue mission isn't the person you seek to rescue. Rather, it's the blindness, the indifference, the hostility, and bad information, the ignorance, the sin, or any of a number of other impediments that block his path home. Those are the adversaries you can vanquish through prayer. In this way, the phrase,'search and rescue' takes on a deeper, richer meaning. You're called to rescue your friends and family from imprisonment-imprisonment in sin, in confusion, or in darkness (or in all three). If you doubt the importance and power of prayer in the face of seemingly insurmountable resistance, recall the story of Joshua and the Ark of the Covenant. Joshua and the Israelites were to confront in battle the inhabitants of the fortified city of Jericho. The Israelites were outnumbered, and the defenders of Jericho were protected by high, stout walls that ringed the city. For seven days, the Israelites marched silently around the city walls, praying and bearing in front of them the Ark of the Covenant. You can imagine how puzzled their enemies were at that odd sight. On the seventh day, the Israelites blew their horns in unison, and the walls of the city miraculously crumbled. You may know someone who seems absolutely unwilling to listen to your message. His fortress of disinterest or hostility toward the Catholic Church may seem, like Jerich, insurmountable. Reaching him may seem impossible. If that's the case, do what Joshua and the Israelites did: Pray!"

Inspiring words. St. Francis de Sales won back the entire Chablais region of France, some 60,000 people, through an apostolate of kindness and letter writing. You and I, with Jesus and the Blessed Mother, can participate in a wonderful search-and-rescue mission to bring back Catholics into the fold. Future blog posts will discuss how to handle situations where people have been hurt by the church.

St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Francis Xavier, patron of the missions, pray for us!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Total Vision of Man

George Weigel, author of Witness to Hope, a biography of Pope John Paul II, calls Theology of the Body a "theological time bomb waiting to go off." Perhaps this is the time. Yesterday, in the Hartford Courant, two women gave differing views on the HHS mandate and contraception. They were both Catholic and the presentations were worlds apart. This shows us the state of the world today. However, it is a wonderful opportunity to show the richness, the beauty, and the depth of Catholic teaching on human sexuality.

There is a lot of anger out there. Patrick Madrid in his book Search and Rescue-how to bring family and friends into-or back into-the Catholic Church. Pat relates a story of being on a plane and proudly showing his family to a woman seated next to him. The picture was of his wife and eight children ( Pat now has 11). As he notes, he may as well have given the woman a rattlesnake. She went on to share her anger at church teaching on abortion (she had three) and behind pointed fingers told him of the pain of the last one being the result of a date rape. He expressed his condolences and the conversation soon ended. When I announced my decision to study to be a priest, I quickly found out how much I was going to have to suffer for the truth. A young lady I had dated in New York gave me a litany of things she found wrong with the church, including treatment of women. A young man castigated me for Church teaching on birth control. I remember sharing this with the vocation director for the Diocese of Bridgeport (my diocese at the time), surprised as I was at the ferocity of the attacks. He assured me at the time that it was not necessary to have all the answers. I had yet to take a class on theology and felt so inadequate to give a reasoned response.

I have since learned that Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body is the reasoned response to the anger that is still out there. Maybe it is time for the Theological Time bomb to go off. The title of this blog is "Total Vision of Man." This is the phrase Pope Paul VI used in Humanae Vitae. Perhaps Anglican author and theologian CS Lewis says it best: "There are no mere mortals..everyone you and I encounter has an immortal destiny." In his catechesis on April 2 1980, Pope John Paul taught: "I think that the answers Christ would give to the people of our time and to their questions, often so impatient, the one he give to the Pharisees would still be fundamental. Answering those questions, Christ would refer above all to the 'beginning.' Perhaps he would do so all the more resolutely and essentially in that the interior and at the same time the cultural situation of modern man seems to be moving away from that beginning. It is assuming forms and dimensions which diverge from the bibilical image of the beginning into points that are clearly more distant." The text in question is: Mt 19:3 "Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning 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. Whaat, therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.'" Later in Mark 12:2 Christ also refers to the "beginning". To understand the "total vision of man" we need to know who he were in the beginning. Jesus would say the same thing today. Unfortunately we are looking at the issues of birth control or contraception through the eyes of original sin. For man and woman to "rediscover" themselves in the original man and woman is to rediscover what our relationship should be with the Lord.

This is where it gets exciting. We are invited to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. The Mass is the Book of Revelation. If "in the beginning" means that all of creation is nuptial and that Jesus Christ has married the human race as the Bridegroom to the Bride, then the mass takes on a whole new meaning. We can actually state unequivocally that there is a close parallel between the mass and the marriage bed. What? I said it. So did Pope John Paul. He states in Theology of the Body 116.5 that spouses experience language of the body "as the language of the liturgy." As Christopher West notes in his book Heaven's Song, "by the very fact that Marriage takes place in the context of the Eucharist, we see how the liturgy itself brings 'these two signs together (marital union and Eucharist), making of them the single great sign, that is a great sacrament (TOB 95b:7) As we said earlier, this means not only that spousal love and union are modeled after the liturgy, but the Church's whole liturgical ritual is modeled after spousal love and union (TOB 117:6). Consider the following words from Fulton Sheen:" Now we've always thought, and rightly so, of Christ the Son on the Cross and the mother beneath him. But that's not the complete picture. That's not the deep understanding. Who is Our Lord on the Cross? He's the new Adam. Where's the new Eve? At the foot of the Cross...How did the old humanity begin? With the nuptials. If Eve became the mother of the living in the natural order, is not this woman at the foot of the cross to become another mother? And so the bridegroom looks down at the bride. He looks at his beloved. Christ looks at his church. There is here the birth of the Church. As St. Augustine puts it, and here I am quoting him verbatim,'The heavenly bridegroom left the heavenly chambers, with the presage of the nuptials before him. He came to the marriage bed of the Cross, a bed not of pleasure, but of pain, united himself with the woman, and consummated the union forever. As it were, the blood and water that came from the side of Chirst was the spiritual seminal fluid.' And so from these nuptials, 'Woman, there's your son' this is the beginning of the Church."

The CCC states that "Alreday a nuptial mystery." Pope John Paul II asserts that the visible sign of marriage is "the foundation of the whole sacramental order" (TOB 95 b:7) What are we saying in all this? The Catholic Church realizes that sex and marriage is an incredible good. This good comes from the fundamental "in the beginning" of our human existence which is nuptial (two becoming one flesh). This nuptial mystery existed "before the foundation of the world" but became a reality with Jesus Christ and was consummated with his death on the Cross. Not just was the Church born with his death, but he was consummating what was at the heart of existence and the heart of the Father: a nuptial mystery. This nuptial mystery gets "re-presented" at every liturgical celebration where Catholics partake in the marriage of the Bridegroom (Christ) and His Bride (the Church). I will steal a passage from Christopher West's book The Good News about Sex and Marriage: " Where do we become 'one flesh' with Christ? Most specifically in the Eucharist. Again, we use sexual love only as an analogy of God's love. The eucharist is obviously not a sexual encounter. But, applying the analogy, the Eucharist is the sacramental consummation of the mystical marriage between Christ and the Church. And, continuing with the analogy, when we receive the body of our heavenly Bridegroom into our own, like a bride we conceive new life in us-God's very own life. As Christ said, 'unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you.'"

This is great news! Through the sacraments we receive healing and hope. Through reconciliation we can win the struggle against Adam and original Sin. Through frequent reception of the Eucharist married couples can participate in what Pope John Paul II called the "primordial sacrament." If St. Augustine can be converted from "Lord, give me chastity, but not yet" to a life of sacrificial love, then the same can be true of us. As Aslan invited Lucy, Peter, and Edmund to come "further up and further in", Christ is inviting all of us to come to a deeper, richer appreciation for the beauty of church teaching on sexuality and marriage.

I think I here a Theological Time Bomb beginning to go off.

All you saints, Pray for us!

Blessed Jacinta and Blessed Francisco Marto, pray for us!

Friday, February 17, 2012


Dear friends,

I am aware that there are many typos and grammar mistakes in my posts. For the record, I do not spell check. I do not edit. I write. I try to write with grammatical precision and correct spelling. Sometimes I hit the wrong key. I feel, more importantly, that you receive something that is raw, something that is real, and something that can elevate.


Fr Walter Nagle

Is the Catholic Church teaching on contraception a "tradition of men?"

A frequeently heard phrase these days is the assertion: "Jesus never preached against contraception so isn't this another 'man-made' tradition of the Catholic Church?" Op-ed pages and blogs have been a-buzz with this question. It is a fair question, so what is the answer?

Christians in the evangelical world may or may not agree with the church teaching on contraception however they are rallying around people like Chuck Colson and Mike Huckabee who yesterday said "we are all Catholic now." While addressing the scribes and pharisees and Mark 7: 6-8 Jesus has some harsh words: "Well did Isaian prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts...You disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition. He went on to say, 'How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition." There is a similar reference in Matthew and references in Paul to the "traditions of men."

So, are Catholics guilty of following "the traditions of men?" The answer is no. For Catholics it is important to realize that we follow two pillars: the pillar of the Word of God and the pillar of Sacred Tradition. One cannot be juxtaposed against the other. If something is not explicitly stated in scripture that does not mean the teaching is not may have been part of the living tradition of the church for centuries. Catholics do not believe in "Sola Scriptura." Scripture evolved as a process. As Catholic apologist and baptist convert Steve Ray asserts, at the Ascension Jesus did not yell down "don't forget to read my book." The Apostles would have looked amongst themselves: what book? It was only in years following the death and resurrection of Jesus that the church decided upon a canon of scripture. The operative word in the last sentence is "Church". Unlike Born Again Evangelicals who have to rely on their own interpretation of Scripture, Catholics realize that it is "the church" that is, as St. paul says " the pillar and foundation of truth." (1 Tim 3:15). Because of the promise of Jesus to Peter " you are rock and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it" (MT 16:18)Catholics can rest assured that the teaching magesterium of the church will preserve the truth about Jesus Christ. And indeed it has. As I mentioned in an earlier post every Christian denomination held that contraception was evil until the Lambeth conference in 1930. On his facebook page today Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong shared this following quote from the leader of the Protestant Revolution: Martin Luther-"Onan must have been a malicious and incorrigible scoundrel. This is a most disgraceful sin. It is far more atrocious than incest and adultery. We call it unchastity, yes, a Sodomitic sin. For Onan goes in to her; that is, he lies with her and copulates, and when it comes to the point of insemination, spills the semen, lest the woman conceive. Surely at such a time the order of nature established by God in procreation should be followed...He was inflamed with the basest spite and hatred...Consequently, he deserved to be killed by God. He committed an evil deed. Therefore God punished him...that worthless fellow..preferred polluting himself with a most disgraceful sin to raising up offspring for his brother." Harsh words indeed. Martin Luther expresses here his contempt for the anti-birth mentality of Onan. One parenthetical comment here, the Catholic Church presentation of teaching in this area is much more positive today.

But I digress....the key issue is authority. The Catholic Church has the authority, because of Peter, to speak definitively on these issues and it has with Casti Connubii and Humanae Vitae. But lets go back to Jesus. Although he did not expressly express opposition to contraception he certainly laid the groundwork for what we now know to be Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body. Let's consider again that account in Mark 7: 6-8. In this passage Jesus was admonishing the Jews for their surface approach to their religious practices. Jesus is going after the heart. Later in this section he notes:"'Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine?' (Thus he declared all foods clean.) "But what comes out of a person, that is what defiles. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from within and they defile." Ouch! Is anyone standing after that list? Notice, he references "unchastity." Contraception would fall into the category of "unchastity" although it is not explicitly stated. Jesus also says "Blessed are the pure of heart in the beattitudes." Purity of heart does apply to contraception because Pope Paul VI warned in Humanae Vitae: "I can also be feared that the man who becomes used to contraceptive practices, may in the end lose respect for his wife, and no longer care about her physical and psychological well being, will come to the point of considering her a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer his respected and beloved companion."

Further developing the argument that the Catholic Church position on contraception is not a "tradition of men" consider the following words from Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, The Gospel of Life: " No less critical in the formation of conscience is the recovery of the necessary link between freedom and truth. As I have frequently stated, when freedom is detached from objective truth it becomes impossible to establish personal rights on a firm rational basis: and the ground is laid for society to be at the mercy of the unrestrained will of individuals or the oppressive totalitarianism of public authority." Sound familiar? (HHS mandate?) Pope John Paul II also states: "The work of educating in the service of life involves the training of couples in responsible procreation. In its true meaning, responsible procreation requires couples to be obedient to the Lord's call and to act as faithful interpreters of this plan. This happens when the family is generouly open to new lives, and when couples maintain an attitude of openness and service to life, even if, for serious reasons and in respect for the moral law, they choose to avoid a new birth for the time being or indefinitely. The moral law obliges them in every case to control the impulse of instinct and passion, and to respect the biological laws inscribed in their person. It is precisely this respect which makes legitimate, at the service of responsible procreation, the use of natural methods of regulating fertility. From the scientific point of view, these methods are becoming more and more accurate and make it possible in practice to make choices in harmony with moral values. An honest appraisal of their effectiveness should dispel certain prejudices which are still widely held, and should convince married couples, as well as health care and social workers, of the importance of proper training in this area. The Church is grateful to those who, with personal sacrifice and often unacknowledged dedication, devote themselves to the study and spread of these methods, as well as to the promotion of education in the moral values which the presuppose." I do not think to many people have read or heard those words. As our country debates contraception and abortion it is heartening to hear such clarity of truth.

One last note. Catholics and Protestants both believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and is One with God. If Jesus is the Son then certainly He must have been there when God created the world and spoke the words in Genesis 1: 28, "And God blessed them and God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves over the earth." Children are always a blessing of God. Mother Teresa once said, "how can you say there are too many children, that is like saying there are too many stars in the sky!"

Do we have the faith that God will provide all our material and emotional needs if we are open to life? Who knows, maybe another Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein or Steve Jobs is out there just waiting to be born....just waiting for a wife and her husband to say "yes" to the God of Life!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Passionately Loving the World

Tonight the dalmatian Ian is going for top honors at the Westminster Kennel Club in New York City. A number of years ago I was able to attend the show because our Boxer named Swan was enetered-officially she was known as Jacquet's La Cynget. The show is a spectacle and the finals should be full of many laughs tonight. May the best dog win!

Today is also the feast of St. Valentine (?259 AD). St Valentine is known for resisting the Roman Emperor Claudius and is reported to have been imprisoned for defiantly performing the sacrament of matrimony for many Roman citizens. St. Valentine pray for priests to courageously preach the truth about marriage and family!

One courageous priest who lived and ministered in a difficult time was St. Josemaria Escriva. St. Josemaria may be known by people who have read the DaVinci Code or who have seen the movie. The DaVinci code was not an accurate portrayal of the Work or of its founder St. Josemaria. I wish today to share excerpts from a groundbreaking homily he gave at an outdoor mass at the University of Navarre on October 8, 1967.
"We are celebrating, therefore, the most sacred and transcendent act which man, with the grace of God, can carry out in this life. To communicate with the Body and Blood of our Lord is, in a certain sense, like loosening the bonds of earth and time, in order to be with God in heaven, where Christ Himself will wipe the tears from our eyes and where there will be no more death, nor mourning, nor cries of distress, because the old world will have passed away. (Rev 21:4). This profound and consoling truth, which theologians call the eschatological significance of the Eucharist could however, be misunderstood. And indeed it has been, whenever men have tried to present the Christian way of life as something exclusively spiritual, proper to pure, extraordinary people, who remain aloof from contemptible things of this world or at most, tolerate them as something necessarily attached to the spirit, which we live on this earth. When things are seen in this way, churches become the setting par excellence of the Christian live. And being a Christian means going to church, taking part in sacred ceremonies, being taken up with ecclesiastical matters, in a kind of segregated world, which is considered to be the ante-chamber of heaven, while the ordinary world follows its own separate path. The doctrine of Christianity and the life of grace would, in this case, brush past the turbulent march of human history, without ever really meeting it......Surely this confirms in your minds, in a tangible and unforgettable way, the fact that everyday life is the true setting for your lives as Christians. Your ordinary contact with God takes place where your fellow men, your yearnings, your work and your affections are. There you have your daily encounter with Christ. It is in the midst of the most material things of the earth that we must sanctify ourselves, serving God and all mankind. I have taught this constantly using words from holy Scripture. The world is not evil, because it has come from God's hands, because it is His creation, because 'Yahweh looked upon it and saw that it was good (Gen 1:7). We ourselves, mankind, make it evil and ugly with our sins and infidelities. Have no doubt: any kind of evasion of the honest realities os daily life is for you, men and women of the world, something opposed to the will of God. On the contrary, you must understand now, more clearly, that God is calling you to serve Him in and from the ordinary, material and secular activities of human life. He waits for us every day, in the laboratory, in the operating theater, in the army barracks, in the university chair, in the factory, in the workshop, in the fields, in the home and in all the immense panorama of work. Understand this well: there is something holy, something divine, hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it."

These are inspiring words. These are words that correspond to earlier posts concerning the Catholic approach to the world. The world is not evil to be avoided at all costs. Rather, the Catholic approach to the world is that "it is good." St. Thomas Aquinas noted that to live a life of Christian virtue we must live a life that properly orders all the human goods. Pope John XXIII knew this well. When looking at plans for a new Vatican building he wrote the words : "Non summus Angelus". The arhitects were confused. Non Summus Angelus translated to English means "we are not angels." Apparently the architects neglected to include plans for bathrooms! No, we are not angels. We are creatures of flesh and blood. The church knows this and for those who have studied Natural Family Planning, nothing can be more natural than getting in touch with the natural fertility cycle of a woman so that husband and wife can correspondingly live in accord with that rhythm. Let the words of St Josemaria Escriva sink in. When you read newspaper articles critical of the church stand on contraception and portray the teaching as outmoded, outdated, or impossible to live. Remember, there are a silent minority who are quietly living the Christian message that Escrive espouses and that the Church upholds. By choosing to be open to life these young couples and families are fulfilling their vocations to become saints and they are serving as leaven in the world.

Happy Valentine's Day

Friday, February 10, 2012

Evangelium Vitae-why the discussion on contraception matters

People do not tend to read large church documents anymore. One such document they may not have had ann opportunity to read is Evangelium Vitae. Listen to one particularly poignant passage: " By living as if God did not exist," man not only loses sight of the mystery of God, but also of the mystery of the world and the mystery of his own being. The eclipse of the sense of God and of man inevitably leads to a practical materialism, which breeds individualism, utilitarianism, and hedonism. Here too we see the permanent validity of the words of the Apostle: 'And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct' (Rom 1:28). The values of being are replaced by those of having. The only goal which counts is the pursuit of one's own material well-being. The so-called 'quality of life' is interpreted primiarily or exclusively as economic efficiency, inordinate consumerism, physical beauty and pleasure, to the neglect of the more profound dimensions-interpersonal, spiritual and religious, of existence.....Within this same cultural climate, the body is no longer perceived as a properly personal reality, a sign and place of relations with others, with God and with the world. It is reduced to pure materiality: it is simply a complex of organs, functions and energies to be used according to the sole criteria of pleasure and efficiency. Consequently, sexuality too is depersonalized and exploited: from being the sign, place and language of love, that is , of the gift of self and acceptance of another, in all the other's richness as a person, it increasingly becomes the occasion and instrument for self assertin and the selfish satisfaction of personal desires and instincts. Thus the original import for human sexuality is distorted and falsified, and the two meanings, unitive and procreative, inherent in the very nature of the conjugal act, are artificially separated: in this way the marriage union is betrayed and its fruitfulness is subjected to the caprice of the couple. Procreation then becomes the 'enemy' to be avoided in sexual activity; if it is welcomed, this is only because it expresses a desire, of indeed the intention, to have a 'child at all costs' and not because it signifies the complete acceptance of the other and therefore an openness to the richness of life which the child represents. In the materialistic perspective described so far, interpersonal relations are seriously impoverished. The first to be harmed are women, children, the sick or suffering, and the elderly. The criterion of personal dignity-which demands respect, generosity, and service-is replaced by the criterion of efficiency, functionality, and usefulness; others are considered not for what they 'are', but for what they 'have,do, and produce.' This is the supremacy of the strong over the weak."

Wow! Pope John Paul II is saying a lot here. The frequent rallying cry for those pushing for the mandate and contraceptives is "women's rights." If one follows the logic of the argument laid out here, what they are saying makes no sense. Contraception and abortion both harm women. As treated in other blogs, Paul VI warns in Humanae Vitae that with contraceptive use there could come the danger that the woman could become an "object to be used." Ask anyone who is on the casual sex circuit. They will tell you straight. Many failed relationships attest to the fact that while lust and sex were certainly present, love was not. Look also how he develops the notion of contraception harming interpersonal relationships on a whole. It makes sense to me. Block communication at the most intimate moment of self-giving and you are going to block communication not just in a relationship or marriage, but in society and in dialogue between nations. When the most fundamental form of communication is blocked in conjugal relations how do you expect a society to communicate. As for materialism, sadly many women who choose to abort a child do so because they do not feel they can afford another child. This is materialism. We need to develop greater trust in the Lord of Providence. God will find a way where there seems to be no way. To the Lord of Life, I pray this evening for that lonely, frightened woman who feels she has no way out. Perhaps she is being forced to have an abortion by a boyfriend or a mother. Please send Angels of Mercy to comfort her and show her the light. Amen


Chastity could use a good PR firm these days. On a daily basis people are bombarded by images of the human body and sexual references in order to sell products. Advertisers know this. Sex sells. Soon the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue will be hitting the newstands. What is chastity and why does it have such a bad reputation? The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives a good definition: "Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy." (ccc 2339) The catechism also notes: "Self mastery is a long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed efforts at all stages of life." (ccc2342)

Again, too often chastity is presented in a negative light, as a negation or deprivation. Actually, the opposite is the case. As the Catechism states, either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy. In Love and Responsibility Pope John Paul II addresses this very issue:" Chastity is very often understood as a blind inhibition of sensuality and of physical impulses such that the values of the body and of sex are pushed down into the subcouncious, where they await an opportunity to explode. This is an obviously erroneous conception of the virtue of chastity, which, if it is practiced only in this way, does indeed create the danger of such 'explosions.' This mistaken view of chastity explains the common inference that it is a purely negative virtue. Chastity, in this view, is one long 'no'. Whereas it is above all the 'yes' of which certain 'no's' are the consequence." Aside from being a positive virtue, chastity is extermely important because, as the Pope states,"the virtue of chastity, whose function is to free love from utilitarian attitudes, must control not only sensuality and carnal concupiscence, as such,but-perhaps more important-those centres deep within the human being in which the utilitarian attitude is hatched and grows." This is why the church is opposed to contraception. It is not just the sex. It is the barrier to becoming a "gift" to the other which is the root of the evil, which combined with utilitarian attitudes that develop deep in the center of the human being when they have given themselves over to the "contraceptive mentality." Pregnancy is no longer viewed as a gift to be received lovingly from God, but rather something which must be avoided at all costs. Don't people see how this can lead to materialism, selfish attitudes, loss or respect for other persons.

Chastity is hard. St. Augustine once commented, "Lord, give me chastity, but not yet!" But if it is presented as a positive virtue which frees one from slavery to the senses and utilitarian attitudes, then we become free to love. Free to give ourselves to another. Isn't this more good new from Pope John Paul's Theology of the Body!

Happy Feast of St. Scholastica

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A reply to Gail Collins of the NY Times 2\9\12

Gail Collins of the New York Times is taking the current national discussion on contraception to new lows. In an Op- Ed piece she states that "religions don't get to force their particular dogma on the larger public." Let me state first of all that the Catholic church does not impose, it proposes. It proposes to its followers and to the rest of the world that there is a better way-to follow Jesus. Following Jesus is hard. The rich young man could not give up his riches to follow Jesus.

Brothers and sisters in the Evangelical world may not be familiar with the book of Maccabees, but Catholics should. In 2 Maccabees 7 we read about the martyrdom of seven brothers and their mother. They were being forced to eat pork in direct violation of Jewish Law. The mother stands before King Antiochus and bravely states to her youngest son now barely alive:" My son, have pity upon me that bore thee nine months in the womb, and gave thee suck three years, and nourished thee, and brought thee up unto this age. I beseech thee, my son, look upon heaven and earth and all that is in them: and consider that God made them out of nothing, and mankind also, so thou shall not fear this tormentor, but being made a worthy partner with thy brethren, receive death, that in that mercy I may receive thee again with thy brethren." 2 Macc 7:27-29 What moving, courageous words in the face of death. In Veritatis Splendor, Pope John Paul II makes the point that the witness of the martyrs always point to truth. It was the martyrdom of the North American Martyrs who were cruelly tortured that allows us to practice our faith today. However, as the Pope points out in Evangelium Vitae, when you move away from the truth to relativism, you fall back into a tyrrany of the powerful vs. the weak. It is always the weak in such a society that suffer. Today the weak are suffering terribly because of the HHS Mandate that seeks to "impose" its morality on the Catholic Church. In essence, just like the seven brothers and the heroic mother in the Book of Maccabees, Catholics are being forced to eat pork in direct violation of their conscience. In Uganda, St Charles Lwanga was cruelly martyred because he refused to submit to the homosexual desires of the king. St. Maria Goretti was raped by a man full of lust, a man addicted to pornography. When she resisted his efforts she yelled out "No, No it is a sin!" He stabbed her repeatedly. She did not die right away but those attending to her in her final moments noted that she repeatedly stated that she had fogiven him. Most remarkably, she appeared to him in a dream and he had a dramatic conversion and once out of jail was actually present at her canonization! The list goes on....St Thomas More who told King Henry VIII that he was the King's loyal servant but God's first.
He died protesting the divorce of the king. Most of the Catholic clergy followed the King and his desires. One who didn't also suffered the same fate: St John Fisher, bishop of Rochester, England. It is not easy to stand up to power or to the king but all of Catholic history demonstrates heroic men and women, filled by the grace of the Spirit, who have done such a thing. We need the prayers of those martyrs today. Underlying all of this battle is the utter contempt that many still have for the Catholic Church. In her editorial Ms. Collins resorts to the oldest form of anti-catholic bigotry: telling a story of how a priest rudely treated her mother. Here are her words: " When I was first married, my mother in law sat down at her kitchen table and told me about the day she went to confession and told the priest that she and her husband were using birth control. She had several young children, times were difficult-really, she could have produced a list of reasons longer than your arm. 'Your'e no better than a whore on the street' said the priest." Was that story really necessary? It only reaffirms the age old edict: Anti Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice. Jesus promised his followers that following him would not be easy be he also promised his grace and his mercy. We are living in a time of great grace and mercy-North American Martyrs and all you saints in heaven, pray for us!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

"I still haven't found what I'm Looking for...." U2

" I have climbed highest mountains....but I still haven't found what I'm looking for." God is a passionate lover. This sometimes gets lost in the litany of "thou shall not's". Christopher West once commented, "why would someone choose to eat from a dumpster, when they are offered the richest foods and choicest wines at the wedding feast of the Lamb?" Remember, heaven is the great wedding feast, Jesus is the bridegroom, you and I are the bride and we are invited to the feast. The devil, on the other hand, offers a counterfeit to love, lust...hence, the dumpster.

John Eldredge is an author whose writings I have followed eagerly. He is a man after God's heart and has a passion to have men discover their "Wild Heart." In his book "Wild at Heart" he posits that somehow in all the theology we have missed God's romantic heart. He notes " that theologians have missed this says more about theologians than it does about God. Music, wine, poetry, sunsets....those were His inventions, not ours. We simly discovered what he had already thought of. Lovers and honeymooners choose places like Hawaii, the Bahamas, or Tuscany as a backdrop for their love. But whose idea was Hawaii the Bahamas, and Tuscany? Let's bring this a little closer to home. Whose idea was it to create the human form that a kiss could be so delicious? And he didn't stop there as lovers know." Eldredge cites the Song of Songs as a good example of God's passionate love. " Your neck is like the tower of Dave, built with elegance....your two breasts are like two fawns...until the day breaks and the shadows flee, I will go to the mountain o myrrh and to the hill of incense." ( Song of Songs 4: 4-6). What, that is scripture? Yep. As Eldredge says, "What kind of a God would put the Song of Songs in the canon of Holy Scripture?" A God that knows that sex is not bad. A God who created everything that is true, good, and beautiful. Listen to Pope John Paul on Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel masterpiece: "Proper portrayals of the naked body teach us in a way that nuptial meaning of the body which corresponds to, and is the measure of, 'purity of heart'" (May 6, 1981)

Because of the incarnation we need not fear finding elements of truth in popular culture. Nobody understood this better than Pope John Paul II. In fact, he once used the example of U2's song "two hearts" as a wonderful example of how two hearts become one in marriage. The Canadian pop music group BNL had a hit entitled "lovers in a dangerous time." Read the Song of Songs. Watch that scene from "A river runs through it" where the two boys run down to the river with the mountains as a backdrop. Take a walk in the woods where you discover the "Cathedral of Pines". Open your eyes on a starry night and marvel that the God of the Universe, the God who created everything true, good, and beautiful, has a passionate heart. He is a romantic lover who will stop at nothing until He has convinced you that he is good. Stay away from the dumpster. Reject the culture that distorts sex and sexuality and Come to the wedding feast of the lamb.

sacrificial love

News outlets are still discussing the HHS mandate. I just read an interesting piece on on how Planned Parenthood used a carefully planned media strategy combined with social networks to completely overwhelm the Susan Komen foundation.

Given the news cycle I thought it might be helpful to discuss sacrificial love and the cross as being the heart of every marriage. At a mass of thanksgiving in Rome following the ordination of a class of deacons I happened to be concelebrating mass with the newly ordained. In very graphic detail on the walls of the church was depicted the martyrdom of the apostles. One of the concelebrating priests jokingly noted, "this is the chapel with the most weddings in Rome and hear we have the martyrdom of the Apostles!" It was a strange irony, I thought to myself, but then I realized, marriage really indeed is martyrdom, martyrdom in the sense of death to self. In his catechesis on Theology of the Body Pope John Paul II boldly proclaims that man's fundamental existence is "Gift." We are to model in our life the mutual self emptying, self giving love of the Trinity. Original Sin turned that upside down and now it is only through the cross that we can get back to the original intent of God for us before the fall. The following excerpt is from Christopher West's book Theology of the Body for Beginners: "John Paul says it was nakedness that revealed God's holiness in the visible world. God's holiness is his eternal mystery of self-giving love-the 'exhange of love' between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Human holiness, in turn, is what 'enables man to express himself deeply with his own body....precisely by means of the 'sincere gift' of himself (Feb 20, 1980)....Here the Pope draws from another favorite passage from Vatican II: 'Man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself.'"

This sincere giving of oneself begins in the battleground of the heart. Listen to these great words from Pope John Paul in a General Audience of July 23, 1980: "The heart has become a battlefield between love and lust. The more lust dominates the heart, the less the heart experiences the nuptial meaning of the body. It becomes less sensitive to the gift of the person, which expresses that meaning in the mutual relations of man and woman. Certainly, that lust which Christ speaks of in Matthew 5:27-28 appears in many forms in the human heart. It is not always plain and obvious. Sometimes it is concealed, so that it passes itself off as love, although it changes its true profile and dims the limpidity of the gift in the mutual relationship of persons. Does this mean that it is our duty to distrust the human heart? No! It only means that we must keep it under control." To keep the heart under control we need education in chastity-something greatly missing in our pornographic culture. A young Karol Wojtyla, before he became Pope, wrote an epic work on human sexuality titled Love and Responsibility. On page 167 he has an amazing quote: "People are unwilling to ackowledge the enormous value ot chastity to human love because they reject the full objective truth about the love of man and woman." Wow! To avoid the pitfalls that Humanae Vitae outlines and for a couple to live fully Natural Family Planning there has to be education in chastity. This inevitably involves the cross-sacrifice, but as a result it opens up communication and leads to a much deeper love. Is this ever discussed in marriage preparation programs? I don't think so. The contraceptive culture does everything to promote Sex for Sex's sake. The church has a better answer. It says if you return to the true meaning of sex through sacrificial love not only will your love increase but actually the sexual pleasure will as well. Dawn Eden outlines this thesis in her book The Thrill of the chaste. She shares openly her personal conversion to Christianity from Judaism and her conversion from a life of one-night stands to a hard earned life of chastity.

We all have to carry the cross. If couples embrace the cross and live sacrificial love in Natural Family Planning they will find the grace is there to sustain them. Where is this grace? The sacraments of the church-particularly eucharist and marriage-the sacraments God intended each of us to depend upon. Not our own strength.

Isn't this great news!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Original Unity

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. It is also sometimes referred to as Candlemas. It is a beautiful feast and one that shows that Jesus is the fulfillment of all Old Testament prophecies. One particular passage in the gospel of Luke is the prophecy of Simeon , Luke 2:34: " And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother, 'Behold this child is destined for the fall and for the rise of many is Israel, and for a sign that shall be contradicted. Nad thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." Wow! Isn't this true for couples living NFP who are "a sign of contradiction" in the world today. We are now seeing the hearts of many revealed on the issue of life. There is a massive PR campaign coming from Planned Parenthood attempting to discredit Catholics by portraying them as hypocrites on the issues of contraception. They are quoting stats from the Guttmacher institute, their own abortion research arm, that show 98% of Catholics are currently using, or have used contraception.

Jesus was a sign of contradiction and so, too, are priests and couples who remain faithful to Humanae Vitae. Let's look at some of the criticisms. Catholics are accused of being puritans or having a puritanical attitude towards sex and marriage. Nothing can be further from the truth. In his catechesis Original Unity of Man and Woman Pope John Paul II takes us back to the garden of Eden. In Genesis when the Lord created the world he stopped back and said: "God saw that all he had made was very good." (Gen 1:31). This is the Catholic approach to the world, including sex and is very good. We also read that "both the man and his wife were naked, but they felt no shame." (Gen 2: 25) Guilt and shame entered the world with original sin and now we have to walk in the darkness of faith.

In Genesis 2:21 we read: "The Lord God cast the man into a deep sleep and, while he slept, took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib which the Lord God took from the man, he made into a woman, and brought her to him. Then the man said, 'She is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, for from man she has been taken.' For this reason a man leaves his father and mother, and clings to his wife, and the two become one flesh." Why is this important, aside from the fact that men have slept with one eye open ever since this event? (LOL). Theologians call this the unitive aspect of conjugal love. God never intended that there be any barriers in communication or intimacy in a married couple. Heart was created to speak to heart. If you remember the last post where Pope John Paul II teaches how we communicate with our bodies, does it not seem foolish to introduce a barrier to that communication? This is what contraception does. It blocks the full unitive aspect of conjugal love. Now, instead, a husband or wife can say You are bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh EXCEPT for your fertility. With a contraceptive culture we have inverted the Lord's command to be "fruitful and multiply". Now Planned Parenthood is promoting a different philosophy: Blessed are the Barren.

Aside from the moral issues, there is also the spiritual aspect that underlies all church teaching on contraception. Do we trust the Lord to give us the financial resources/physical strength/ and emotional stamina that may come from living Natural Family Planning? Or do we say No, we are in control, but we still want you to bless us? Seems foolish doesn't it?

The second issue that Planned Parenthood is using as a drumbeat is the issue of contraception reducing unitended pregnancies and thus reducing the possibility of more abortions. This is a fallacy. In Evangelium Vitae Pope John Paul II rightly observed that the abortion rate is highest where contraception flourishes. Why is this? This is what we call the procreative aspect. If a man and a woman enter into sexual relations without any intent of producing a new life they are going against the procreative aspect of conjugal love. While not every act of conjugal love will end in a new child, the church still teaches that couples be open to the possibility of new life. It is also the contraceptive mentality. I liken this to Jesus saying that anyone who looks lustfully at another has already committed adultery in his/her heart. Tough teaching right? Take as a case point a couple who came to me for baptism prep early in my priesthood. They named the child "Hope." I asked why. They then shared with me how after their third child the husband had a vasectomy. Soon the marriage that once was so full of love began to experience difficulties. They argued a lot and were considering a divorce. Then, the wife said to her husband "I don't think the decision for sterilization is pleasing to God." The husband went through a reveral of the vasectomy and much to their surprise Hope was born shortly thereafter.

The teachings of the Catholic Church on marriage and family are teachings full of hope. They restore to man and woman the original intent of our creator for life and life. Do not be afraid to be a "sign of contradiction." You may be mocked by friends and even family but the heart of Christ was expressed in Humanae Vitae. Be Blessed. Be fruitful. Be Faithful and Be of Good Cheer! God is in charge. The church offers Hope.