Sunday, October 26, 2014

Our Spiritual Fathers


Some people live under the sign of their horoscope.  But what if, as Catholics, we are spiritually linked to the Holy Father who was pontiff when we were born?

My gut intuition is that our spiritual Holy Fathers have something personal to say to each of their sons and daughters.  So do you know who was pope when you were born?  Do you have a favorite saying or inspirational passage from your spiritual Holy Father?  Are you a Pius XII, a John XXIII, or a Paul VI Catholic (like me)--or are you part of the "Catholic boomer" generation, born during the epic papacy of John Paul II?  Wherever each of us falls demographically, we are blessed to be on an incredible run of holy Holy Fathers, so we can rest assured that they are interceding on our behalf.

Maybe our spiritual Holy Fathers complement the work of our earthly fathers and our baptismal Godfathers, supplementing where there were deficiencies or failures and reinforcing where there were solid foundations laid for us.  In honor of the recent beatification of Pope Paul VI, I'd like to share some "gratitude attitude" for his ongoing role in my life.

After guiding the Second Vatican Council to its conclusion, Paul VI stood courageously and prophetically on at least three major issues which have helped shape who I am:
  1. A voice for Christian non-violence.  Paul VI's call before the United Nations, "No more war. War never again!", has been echoed by his papal successors.  With the horrors of the bloodiest century in human history in mind, Paul VI realized the potential for destruction posed by ever-escalating military capabilities.  He saw this threat as a failure for humanity.  Having become bumper sticker favorite, his most famous half-quote on the topic bears brief mention.  After all, "If you want peace, work for justice," is best understood when the second half is included, "If you want justice, defend life"!  This call to defend life without waging war awaits men and women with the creativity to work for authentic justice and peace, for all those who are most vulnerable.
  2. A visionary for evangelization.  Pope Paul VI's Evangelii Nuntiandi, "Evangelization for our Times," served as a springboard the New Evangelization.  Elaborating on Vatican II's universal call to holiness and to mission, one of its most powerful phrases still rings out:  "The Church exists in order to evangelize."  Implied, of course, is the deep anthropological insight that the human person longs to be evangelized.  We are a people on mission to others who, like ourselves, need a personal encounter with Jesus' saving love.
  3. A "white martyr" for marriage and the family.  Paul VI courageously defended Vatican II's inspired teachings on marriage and the family (see Gaudium et Spes, nn. 47-52).  Largely vilified for defending the Council's rejection of artificial birth control and its vision that marital love requires a complete gift of self, the following passage from Humanae Vitae (n. 17) merits honest self-examination by societies which have rejected God's vision for human sexuality, marriage and the family.  After predicting the some of the logical consequences of separating procreation from sexual union--a general lowering of moral standards and the objectification of sexual partners, Paul VI warns of political and social consequences:

    "Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife."
These societal predictions from 1968 are stunning, given implicit and explicit one-child policies in Asia, widespread legal acceptance of abortion as a solution for unwanted pregnancies, and our nation's ongoing tug-of-war regarding the HHS mandate. 

On a personal note, I am grateful for having had a college professor with the courage to make her students debate and discuss this "hot button" encyclical from Paul VI.  My own children--Paul VI's spiritual grandchildren--are a sign that his teaching will continue to bear much fruit for generations to come.  Although many Catholics have made decisions regarding this important topic without having had a chance to review the Church's holistic and life-affirming vision, John Paul II's subsequent "theology of the body" built on Paul VI's insights and continues open many hearts and minds. 

In closing, if you are open to praying to your spiritual Holy Father for wisdom and guidance at key points of your faith journey, I guarantee he's waiting to intercede on your behalf.  After all, when we recite the Creed and profess belief in the "communion of saints," we affirm our faith in these intimate inter-generational relationships.  For we know that there is a "cloud of witnesses" who continue to urge us onward.

Blessed Paul VI, pray for us--

Monday, October 20, 2014

Of Synods, Sinners, and Saints

"The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization":
The Extraordinary Synod of Bishops 2014
The Pharisees and the Herodians join forces in trying to skewer Jesus on the horns of a dilemma, hoping to cause a schism among his followers.  But what if this is the story line not only of a recent Sunday Gospel (Mt 22:15-21), but also of the recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family?

Might we imagine the following variation on the passage noted above:

The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap the Synod Fathers in speech.
They sent their disciples to them, with the Herodians, saying,
"...Is it lawful to reach out to those in 'irregular' family situations or not?"

A simple "Yes" to this question would worry those who are concerned about truth:  Will the Church be faithful to her mission of safeguarding God's unchangeable teachings?  A blunt "No" to this question would worry those who are concerned about mercy:  Will the Church be faithful to her mission of offering God's universal gift of salvation to the world?

In the Gospel account noted above, of course, the Pharisees ostensibly care about observing the letter of the law, and they resent that Jesus invites sinners and tax collectors to a new life.  As collaborators with the Romans, the Herodians are concerned about making accommodations with the worldly powers-that-be, and they resent that Jesus brings a counter-cultural vision of the human person to those whose hearts are yearning for something more.

Both groups resent that Jesus holds truth and mercy together.  When Jesus says, "For the Son of man has come to seek and to save what was lost" (Lk 19:10), he in unafraid of calling "the lost" lost, even as he seeks them out and offers them a fresh start.  Thus Jesus reveals that presenting the truth without mercy is not truthful, just as offering mercy without the truth is not merciful. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Life vs. Indifference

Respect Life Sunday 2014

"I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly."
(Jn 10:10)

But we live in such confusing and disorienting times.  The attitude seems to be "whatever"--as in "whatever goes," and "don't bother me".  Indeed, Pope Francis maintains that "a globalization of indifference has developed"; he writes that, "Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people's pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else's responsibility and not our own" (EG, n. 34). 

So would we even recognize the abundant life if we saw it--or if it reached out to touch us?!  And are we even able to weep at the suffering of yet another "masterpiece of God's creation"?

Each October, the Church's celebration of Respect Life Sunday is intended to help us overcome our indifference.  If the theme seems at times politicized and polarizing, it may be because there are so many confusing and disorienting "Life" issues to sort out:

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Mystery of God
Each Sunday, Catholics around the world profess faith in a God who is higher than the highest height, and yet closer than my inmost self: "I believe in one God..."  This initial and most fundamental affirmation of the Christian faith immerses us in the Mystery of God. 

But our God is not a puzzle which we need to solve, or a logarithm which we must comprehend.  Rather, our God is a Person with whom we enter into relationship.  Indeed, St. Paul speaks of God as the One in whom "we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).  We always already exist in relation to the Mystery of God, so the question for each of us becomes how we might grow in awareness of and openness to this living Presence.

But who is our God, and what are the implications of believing in him?

Our God is neither identical with his creation nor separate from it; our God is not an abstract or anonymous Power which kicked creation down the proverbial hill and then retreated to watch the show from a distance.  Rather, our God reveals his very name--"I AM" (Ex 3:15)--in order to assure us that He is not just one being among many.  Our God IS the very act of existence itself. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Our Trio of Heavenly Helpers

Wouldn’t it be comforting to know that someone’s literally “got your back”—both physically and spiritually?  And wouldn’t it be nice to receive signs about God’s plan for your life—not to mention additional healing and wholeness as needed?!

Almighty God is God, of course--so infinitely grand and expansive that billions of stars move and have their being within him, so infinitely small and still that he is closer than our inmost selves. Therefore, we can always to “straight to the top” with any and all of our needs. 

However, in the wisdom of God’s loving plan since the dawn of time, his angels stand ready to help us on a moment’s notice.  Among these special “helpers,” the most powerful and most revered are the three archangels whom the Church celebrates on September 29th:  Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.  Though they often act without being noticed, we can catch glimpses their respective missions:

          Michael:  The Warrior, who leads the battle against Satan and his minions. 

      Have you ever seen the face of the Evil One in the contorted look of someone intent on doing you harm, or in the pained look of someone enslaved in their evil?  If so, the mere mention of Michael’s name is enough to terrify this enemy.  Indeed, the St. Michael Prayer is one of the Church’s most powerful in its arsenal of resources.  It reminds us that our life is a matter of spiritual warfare: “St. Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle”!