Monday, May 25, 2015

"Yes" to Persons, "No" to Ideologies-- Part I


The recent "Yes" vote to redefine marriage in Ireland reminds me of a line uttered by a former theology professor regarding the abortion debate:  A Roman Catholic nun, she summarized her own confusion about the issue by asking, "Who could be against life--and who could be against choice?"

Analogously, the dilemma of our day seems to be, "Who could be against marriage--and who could be against equality?"  To stand against choice or against equality seems at best ignorant and at worst bigoted.  To say "yes" to redefining marriage seems the loving, affirming and inclusive option.  After all, if marriage is such a good thing, then how can it be denied to anyone who wants to pursue it--on whatever terms they set? 

Like abortion rights advocates before them who introduced their campaign as a "women's issue" and ultimately attempted to translate it into a civil liberties and human rights issue, those who champion the redefinition of marriage have much emotional momentum directed on a similar social and political trajectory.  The "Yes" vote in Ireland, along with the arguments leading up to the impending U.S. Supreme Court decision, may also confirm an instinct that others have voiced:  Christians have lost the capacity to speak convincingly in the face of prevailing sex and gender theories. 

Whether we have misread the signs of the times or misunderstood the logical implications of the sexual revolution as they continue playing out, somehow we seem to have failed to give witness to the deeper "Yes" about the human person.  Perhaps our own complicity with a culture of contraception and sterilization have paved the way for a world of sex without children and children without sex.  Perhaps the tragic saga of priest sex abuse has paralyzed us, since the vast majority of crimes were homosexual acts with post-pubescent boys.

Perhaps our own efforts to reject problematic ideas with which we disagree have been interpreted as a dismissal of persons with same-sex attractions.  Perhaps our attempts to embrace persons with same-sex attractions led us to make too many compromises with an uncompromising gay culture.  Whatever the fault lines have been, shame on us for not yet having found the proper footing to address this challenge. 

After all, Jesus' timeless teaching about marriage still stands: Marriage is something which precedes and pre-dates human society, and marriage is not for everyone.  Indeed, perhaps the Lord's analysis of the three groups who are not meant for marriage should be revisited in light of current cultural questions:
“Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives,
but from the beginning it was not so....
Not all can accept [this] word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so;
some, because they were made so by others;
some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

(Mt 19:8-12)  

The Good News revealed by Jesus is that we are precious sons and daughters of a heavenly Father, who knows and loves us more intimately than we could ever imagine.  Our fundamental identity is determined by this relationship, not by our sexual orientations.  Our future destiny is defined by the interplay between our free will and God's transforming grace, not by our sexual attractions or desires.  Marriage is not a civil right but a sacred calling for men and women who are called to bond themselves to a spouse, in order to become father and mother for any children born of their loving union.

The Good News revealed by Jesus is that we have been liberated from the false freedom of simply doing what we want or what we feel like doing; we are offered a new life of that authentic freedom embodied in the person of Christ himself, who renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom.  This new life is articulated in the Beatitudes: Purity of heart is available; the chaste integration of sexual powers within our eternal soul is a real possibility. 

This is the deeper "Yes" to persons which Christians must continue to articulate.  It is as beautiful as it is joyful.  It is a achievable, thanks to God's grace.  (For anyone with a same-sex attraction, this life is heroically witnessed by the group appropriately named "Courage"--check out, or EnCourage for family members.)

If disciples of Jesus have failed to give witness to this liberating message of divine mercy, then shame on us.  If we have failed to demonstrate what a sacramental marriage is, and how it differs from worldly cohabitation or from sterile sexuality, then perhaps we are even partly to blame for the movement to redefine marriage.  We must find ways to give compelling witness to the "Yes" that is too often confused with a "No".
By standing for traditional marriage and against the prevailing gender theory, Christians are not "against" persons with same-sex attractions, nor are Christians "against" equality.  Christians are "for" all those who are open to the possibility that marriage, like life itself, is something.  It is in the interest of society as a whole to respect both marriage and equality, lest they both be distorted.
(NB: Next week's installment will turn to the issue of resisting ideologies.)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Commenced and Commissioned

Holy Spirit window in St. Peter's Basilica

Is it just a coincidence that the month of May delivers not only glorious graduations but also Pentecost as promised? 

Every farewell kiss suggests a fresh start.
Every closing chapter opens its own sequel.

The rite of passage which is a graduation carries with it the promise and the hope of something more.  Though commencement exercises imply change and uncertainty, people with a purpose can stride forward in confidence and trust thanks to divine providence.  Courageous Christians can freely will God's Will for each unfolding stage of life's journey, saying "Yes" to the plan of the Master.

Every movement forward points Somewhere.
Every mission originates in Someone and brings its own Somehow.

The commencing of this season hearkens to Jesus' sending of the Apostles: "Go out into the whole world and proclaim the Good News".  He promises not to leave them alone, of course, but guarantees the Advocate, the Spirit of truth, who leads his friends to all truth.

Every sending forth is always a sending with.
Every sending with is always a sending for.

When commencements become commissions, they open our eyes to the prayer of "epiclesis" in the Mass--the great "invocation" or "calling down from on high" of the Holy Spirit.  As the gifts on the altar are transformed before the eyes of witnesses, so those who embrace their emerging futures become the persons the world needs them to be; they are made whole and holy, by accepting the Spirit who bonds Father to Son.

Every movement forward in the Spirit manifests itself as mission.
Every mission descends upon Christ's disciples like the dewfall.

May the pivotal "Omega points" in our earthly pilgrimage always help us embrace the awaiting "Alpha opportunities," and may these various new beginnings bring us closer to the Beginning who is himself our ultimate End--

Come Holy Spirit,

Monday, May 11, 2015

Life During the Eclipse

Can you remember where you were twenty years ago? 

It was 1995 and, in many ways, it seems like yesterday.  But in other ways, to paraphrase the rock and roll classic, it was long ago.

One of the enduring highlights of 1995 was that Pope John Paul II issued his prophetic encyclical entitled "The Gospel of Life" (Evangelium Vitae).  Although his call for a civilization of love in response to the emerging culture of death warrants much more detailed discussion, one of his insights bears a timelessness that speaks as eloquently today as it did twenty years ago: It is the image of the eclipse.

Our now canonized Holy Father argues that we are living during an epoch of human history marked by the eclipse of the value of life itself.  During an eclipse, of course, everything is gray and ambiguous.  There is no clarity or direction.  The "whatever" mentality seems to reign.  Anyone who has ever experienced the contemporary confusion about issues related to human life knows how perplexing the eclipse can be.

In a passage which sounds shockingly similar to themes from Pope Francis' papacy, John Paul denounces the violence against children in particular, caused by poverty and malnutrition from "unjust distribution of resources," as well as the "scandalous arms trade" and the "reckless tampering with the world's ecological balance" (EV, n. 10).  However, he also turns attention to another category of attacks: "...these attacks tend no longer to be considered as 'crimes'; paradoxically they assume the nature of 'rights', to the point that the state is called upon to give them legal recognition and to make them available through the free services of health-care personnel" (EV, n. 11; emphasis in the original).

Monday, May 4, 2015

Mightier than both Pen and Sword

What if twenty minutes could change your world--and the world?! 
Would you (re)commit to praying the Rosary?

Our Lady of the Rosary


An old friend of mine once asked, "So, how do you pray the Rosary?" 

I was taken aback because I knew he already knew how to pray it, and I slowly realized he was how I, personally, prayed the Rosary.  Naively, I thought there was only one way--i.e., by repeating the words of the prayers.  So, when I turned the question back on him, he shared the idea of inserting the names of specific people within each prayer (e.g., "Hail Mary...pray for X, now and at the hour of death"). 

He also liked to connect a different intention to the meditation designated for each decade.  Who is someone I know going through their own agony in the garden, or being condemned, or being mocked and abused, or taking up his or her cross, etc.?  He even spoke of praying the Rosary while driving, and offering each prayer for the various people he passed along the way.  Talk about snuffing out road rage :)
Since then, I've often taken his advice.  In particular, I enjoy "riffing" on various names in the spirit of a jazz musician--starting with one family member, friend, colleague, neighbor, or public figure, and then seeing who comes to mind with each successive prayer.  It is always amazing to follow the trail of names that the Holy Spirit calls forth!

I've also taken to adding a phrase after the holy Name of Jesus, which stands at the center of each Hail Mary.  Usually, I like to link the phrase to the mysteries of the day:  For example, "...blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus, now risen from the dead" or "now seated at the right hand of the Father" or "now sending the Spirit to renew the face of the earth," etc.  This subsequently led me to reflect on the ways that various mysteries are interwoven, but that's a story for another day.
However we might like to pray it, the time for the Rosary is now.  If setting aside twenty minutes seems like running a full marathon with no training, consider starting with one decade or even one heart-felt Hail Mary each day.  I'm convinced that, if we build these muscles, then we will have nothing to fear.  After all, the demons themselves quake at the thought of this spiritual exercise!

From Our Lady's initial gift of the Rosary in the 13th century, through the amazing events at Fatima in the 20th century, saints and sinners alike have given witness to the transformative power of this prayer. Recently, a Nigerian bishop's vision of Christ has pointed to the Rosary as the answer to the menacing presence of Boko Haram in his homeland. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Shepherd through his Sheepdogs

There are times in life when we clearly see and hear the Good Shepherd. 

It may be the hand on our back, compelling us to do the right thing when everyone else is taking the easy way out.  It may be the still, small voice deep in our heart, giving us just the right words at just the right time for just the right person.  It may be the peaceful presence which surprises us time and again in our prayer, filling us with consolation and strength to continue our journey.  It may even be one of those dramatic crossroad moments, when a new direction for our life presents itself, as if personally predestined for us from the dawn of time.

However, if your life is like mine, most of the day-to-day guidance from our Shepherd comes through his well-placed and persistent sheepdogs.

The Shepherd's sheepdogs help protect the perimeters.  They reign in his beloved little ones and keep his flock in close community with one another.  Our sheepdogs may take on different forms at different moments or stages of our lives, but their bark is unmistakable as long as we haven't wandered too far afield. 

We may hear our sheepdog through encouraging words from a friend or colleague, when a task seems too daunting or the day seems too draining.  Our sheepdog may speak through the words of some spiritual reading, which seems to leap off the page as if written directly for our particular situation. Our sheepdog may take the form of family obligations or commitments we've made to friends, which stretch our capacity to love and draw us out from our too-small selves.  We may even see the shadow of the sheepdog in the form of a mysterious doctrine or confounding moral teaching of the Church, which keeps nipping at our conscience for further examination.