Monday, September 19, 2016

Looking to Jesus: The Vocation of the Family (AL, Ch. 3)

Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation on Marriage and Family

How many times does the Holy Father use the word "tenderness" throughout chapter three of The Joy of Love?  Enough to focus our attention on the interpretive lens he wants us to use when thinking about Christian teaching on marriage and the family:

"The mystery of the Christian family
can be fully understood only in light of
the Father's infinite love revealed in Christ,
who gave himself up for our sake
and who continues to dwell in our midst."
(AL, n. 59)

This Trinitarian tenderness stands at the heart of the Church's vision for marriage.  The gift of the Son continues to flow through the outpouring of the Spirit in the spousal covenant of marriage, now redeemed and restored by Jesus (nn. 62-63).

The Trinitarian roots of marriage and family also shines forth in Pope Francis' reminder that "The family is the image of God, who is a communion of persons" (n. 71). Thus, the Sacrament of Marriage draws husband and wife into communion not only with each other, but also with the Lord: 

"In accepting each other, and with Christ's grace,
the engaged couple promise each other total self-giving,
faithfulness and openness to new life...
The sacrament is not a 'thing' or a 'power,'
for in it Christ himself 'now encounters Christian spouses...
He dwells with them, gives them the strength
to take up their crosses and so follow him,
to rise after they have fallen,
to forgive one another, to bear one another's burdens'."

(n. 73)

Needless to say, Pope Francis is not some out-of touch idealist. He is painfully aware of the "imperfection" and "complexity of various situations." He responds, therefore, in the most really-real way possible--that is, by emphasizing the always-greater reality of God's grace: "Seeing things with the eyes of Christ inspires the Church's pastoral care for the faithful who are living together, or are only married civilly, or are divorced and remarried. Following this divine pedagogy, the Church...seeks the grace of conversion for them; the encourages them to do good, to take loving care of each other and to serve the community in which they live and work" (n. 78). 

For those who might be hoping that Church teachings will change to reflect the widespread use of contraception or the encouragement of same-sex unions, Pope Francis clearly reiterates the vision of marriage which comes from Jesus himself, reaffirmed by Vatican II and all of our recent popes. Indeed, he speaks to the fact that conjugal union is ordered to procreation "by its very nature." As the Holy Father puts it, "The child who is born 'does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment'" (n. 80).

Finally, given that the family is the sanctuary of life, Pope Francis expresses outrage about attacks on human life from within the family itself: "it is a horrendous contradiction when it becomes a place where life is rejected and destroyed."  Je also reminds us all of the true value of properly formed consciences on this matter when he adds that, "those who work in heath care facilities are reminded of the moral duty of conscientious objection" (n. 83).

Let's continue praying for an authentic renewal of a Christian vision of marriage and the family which takes into account the splendor of life and love: As Pope Francis reminds us again and again, with tenderness: "The Church is good for the family, and the family is good for the Church" (n. 87)!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Fifteen Years Later...

Everyone who is old enough remembers where they were fifteen years ago on 9/11.  For those who lost family members or friends, for those who were eyewitnesses, for those who were among the first responders...the day is literally and figuratively seared in their hearts.

With so many reflections and remembrances to ponder, perhaps our most patriotic gesture in commemorating this tragic day is to keep the survivors and the family members of victims in our prayers.


For some reason, this year's anniversary brought out a host of new questions: What if I were among those who called out sick that day and didn't go into work at the World Trade Center?  What if someone else on my team had volunteered to make a sales call in my place, or delivered the food order to help simplify my route, and so my life was spared? 

What if someone had led me out of the building, and I know that I could have never done it by myself? It seems that fifteen years would feel like the blink of an eye. I would like to think that my gratitude would still be overwhelming--and that in some meaningful way I would try to honor the memory of whomever had played such a role in saving my life.

I wonder if such a thought experiment could help me grow in a deeper appreciation of Jesus' gift of self on the Cross.  If I put myself in Barabbas' place, recognizing that I was the guilty one somehow set free, might I  appreciate that Innocent One was on Calvary that day instead of me?  If I put myself in the Beloved Disciple's place, might I begin to see the Scriptures being fulfilled before my own eyes:

"...he was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity.
He bore the punishment that makes us whole,
by his wounds we were healed." (Is 53:5)

Maybe this year's commemoration of 9/11 can help us reclaim the memory of when we first really realized that Jesus' death was a sacrifice for each of us personally--for you and for me, here and now.  Freely, intentionally, and selflessly: Jesus continues to invite me to stand at the foot of the Cross with his blessed Mother and realize that God himself has taken up all of my brokenness, all of the wounds I have inflicted on others.

The Lord Jesus wants us to realize that there is nothing left to fear because "It is finished" (Jn 19:30).  He wants us simply to live each day with a grateful memory of the Gift--whether it's been fifteen or fifty years since we understood that we live because of the One who has set us free.


Let's pray that those who still mourn the loss of loved ones on 9/11/01, and all those survivors who still suffer from that day of darkness, may know that the Wounded Healer continues to walk beside them each day.  Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us--

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Only Adequate Response amid Political and Cultural Confusion

“Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses
than to teachers,
and if he does listen to teachers,
it is because they are witnesses.”

(Bl. Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 41)

Chas Fagan's St. Teresa of Kolkata

The witness of our newest St. Teresa is simple but provocative: It was the decision to do little things with great love--for the Lord's beloved least, those who are most undesirable and most unwanted.

The great love with which Mother Teresa rattled the world was simply a matter of willing the good of those who are most in need.  It was a matter of loving those who are most Other, those who are most despised, those who are most easily dismissed and discarded.

This is the answer in a world seemingly turned upside down and inside out.  It is the necessary and sufficient Response to increasing turmoil; it is the only way to right-size the disorders of our day. 

Indeed, the way of self-sacrificing love changes everything it touches.  It provides a piercing new perspective on those whom we may have previously feared or written off or ignored.

So, in honor of St. Teresa of Kolkata, perhaps we might consider naming those whom are the least in the world as we see it today.  Are they: 
  • immigrants and refugees?  
  • the elderly or the unborn or the incarcerated?  
  • the unemployed or the underemployed?
  • the homeless or the home-bound? 
  • those trying to survive in violent neighborhoods or in failing schools?
  • the disabled or those with special needs of any kind?
  • addicts of all kinds?
If we actually dared to identify those most in danger of being dismissed as "unclean" or "unworthy," then we would be poised to find some small thing to do on their behalf.  If we could do just one small thing with great love, we would walk the path of Mother Teresa, sharing the love of Jesus with those on the margins.

Perhaps it would be praying for our these little ones of the Lord--it's a spiritual work of mercy, after all.  Perhaps it would be finding some way to learn more about their perspective or their challenges, to find points of contact where we might make some small gesture of solidarity on their behalf.

Isn't it time to take measure of our love?  If it is to be truly Christian love, then it cannot stop with our family and friends. Indeed, to paraphrase a quote from St. Francis de Sales, one which Mother Teresa seemed to embody: "The measure of love is to will the good of the Other, without measure."

St. Teresa of Kolkata, pray for us!

P.S. Mark your calendars for Friday, 9.9.16, and join Catholics around the U.S. in a small gesture filled with great love--a National Day of Prayer for peace in our communities!

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Passion of John the Baptist

Caravaggio's "Salome with the Head of John the Baptist"

"Amen, I say to you, among those born of women
there has been none greater than John the Baptist..."

(Mt 11:11a)

The question for John centered on God's revealed plan for marriage and family. The Baptist saw the situation clearly, and he courageously followed his convictions from prison to the platter.  There was no "personally opposed but..." for this very public figure.

Yet how would a post-modern and allegedly pluralistic people view this story?  Might they ask whether John went to his gruesome death needlessly?  Might they wonder whether he was simply out of touch with the times, or whether he was just too outspoken about his private opinions?

Even more dramatically, by today's standards might people view the Baptist as being guilty of judging Herod and Herodias--and, therefore, rightly condemned for such "hate speech"?

And what about the fact that Jesus praised John for such an intransigent and seemingly intolerant stance? Did Jesus himself have the whole marriage thing wrong?  By today's standards many people might wonder how the "Face of the Father's Mercy," as Pope Francis describes the Lord Jesus, could be so harsh as to say, "Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others...Whoever can accept this ought to accept it" (Mt 19:12). 

According to the deconstructive claim of radical secularism, the only truth about marriage is that there is no truth about marriage.  If the reality of marriage is not something given, then it must be  something determined by those in power.  Marriage and family become whatever the Herods and Herodiases of our time say they are.  Anyone who dares to challenge this so-called new normal--with questions such as "Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’"? (Mt 19:4)--must be silenced.


The obvious challenge for Christians of the 21st century remains the same as the one which the Baptist confronted:  How to speak the truth with love?  John clearly struck a chord with Herod, who used to like to listen to him, even though the Baptist perplexed him.  John was unafraid of the fact that darkness always strives to swallow up the light; he knew that the only constructive stance against injustice is to dissent.  Complicity with a lie only perpetuates the silencing of truth. 

John was able to speak with love of the one who is Love by rooting his life in the simple Christ-centered prayer: "He must increase; I must decrease" (Jn 3:30).

The question of our day regarding marriage and family: Whenever our moment(s) of Christian witness may arrive, will we have the courage of the Baptist to protect and promote God's beautiful vision for human love?  Will allow our worldly desires to decrease so that the very presence of the Lord might increase in our minds and hearts?

If so, then we may well find ourselves sharing in the passion of John the Baptist--served up on some proverbial platter.  But we will have the joy of hearing these reassuring words from the Lord:

"...yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (Mt 11:11b).

Monday, August 22, 2016

Praying for a Gratitude Attitude

Good and Loving God...

A gift is neither earned nor guaranteed;
help me embrace each day as your gift to me.

"All good giving and every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights"
(Jas 1:17);
prompt me to pause and offer a Pater noster at the first signs of light.

Your grace and blessings come in disguise throughout my daily life;
surprise me with your presence where I would least expect it.

Asking for eyes to see and ears to hear gives me a heart to love;
ensure that my love never looks, sounds or feels ungrateful.

Ingratitude is the aboriginal temptation from the ultimate Ingrate;
may the Queen whose soul "proclaims the greatness of the Lord"
crush its callous head. 

Heavenly gifts to which I cling soon shrivel up
like yesterday's manna in the desert;
empower me to cheerfully give away all I've received.

Giving thanks conduces to thanksgiving;
remind me that the perfect act of thanksgiving
is one offered with and through Jesus in the Eucharist.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit...