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. 

So in response to the horns of the modern-day dilemma, we might envision the following continuation of our imaginary exchange:  

Knowing their malice, the Synod Fathers said:
"Show us the 'irregular' families of today...
Whose image is on them and whose inscription?" 

They replied, "the world's."
At that the Synod Fathers said to them,
"Then repay to the world what belongs to the world..."

The Synod on the family began with input regarding the challenges families face not to change the Church's core teachings so they more closely reflect the world.  Rather, the pastoral concern was to figure out how to help families become the better-versions-of-themselves they long to be--in order to transform the world.  Following Jesus himself, the Synod Fathers are inviting people of our time to a deeper vision of human flourishing, one rooted in God's vision for marriage and the family "from the beginning..." (Mt 19:4).

This does not mean that the Church should separate itself from those whose current relationships do not meet canonical standards; nor does it mean that the Church should stop inviting people to see the deeper truths of marriage and the family which are made possible by the gift of God's grace.  For the realities of marriage and family belong not to the world but to God:

"...and give to God what is God's."

What is God's?  Our hearts and minds, our souls and bodies.  Our hopes and dreams, our pain and suffering.  Our masculinity and our femininity, our desires and our orientations.  Our parents and our children, our spouses and our siblings.

After all, the Risen Lord Jesus sends his Church to meet people where they are in order to accompany them on the journey to where our heavenly Father wants us to be.  In and through his Church, Christ sends his Spirit to heal all of our "irregularities" in order to make us all holy--including the Pharisees and Herodians. 

This is the deeper "Yes" which alone can disarm the divisive dilemma posed above and sustain unity in the face of potential schism.  After all, Synods are about helping sinners become saints.

Bl. Paul VI and St. John Paul II, pray for us--

P.S.  Click here to check out Pope Francis' Homily on the beatification of Pope Paul VI--timed at the conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, in honor of Bl. Paul VI's prophetic witness regarding the transmission of human life in and through the family.

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”!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Evangelizing Resolutions

St. Vincent de Paul
"Have in you the same attitude
that is also in Christ Jesus."
(Phil 2:5)
Maybe it's just me, but it seems like I miss a lot of opportunities to evangelize.   
Don't get me wrong, if someone is asking an authentic question, I've got not problem talking about the faith handed down to us from the Apostles, or waxing poetic regarding the fact that God is Love.  But it seems like there are so many other moments when I could be doing a better job of witnessing to the reality of God's self-revelation in Jesus.
So, inspired by a few recent events and experiences of my friends and family, I plan on adding the following phrases into my regular repertoire at the start of this new school year:
  1. "I'll be praying for you."  One of my best friends, who also happens to be a great listener, has a totally natural way of responding to people with this phrase.  The other day an acquaintance ended up sharing his Job-like recent experiences--failed business venture and marriage, isolation from his children, health and work issues.  I listened intently, but was at a loss for words.  If had had this phrase on the tip of my tongue, it would have helped articulate what I was feeling from the bottom of my heart!