Tuesday, July 26, 2016

What Do Contraceptives, Racism, Xenophobia, and Poverty All Have In Common

Generosity, our sexual passions are about generosity. They are the cries of the child wanting to be listened to, of the poor seeking to be attended to, the immigrant looking for assistance, the unwanted looking for acceptance.

Be generous, be fruitful! This is its constant call. The sexual opiate directs us to forget about consequences in order to help us be life giving.

Children are needy, helpless, and even selfish. If it wasn’t for nature’s assistance we would be inclined to treat them like we often to treat anyone else who is helpless, infirm, poor, or annoying. The crying of our sexual passions is the crying of the child seeking to come into the world. It is persistent, manipulative, and our greatest path to maturation. 

There are various ways that we can handle the cries to be generous; some are licit and some are illicit. To handle the immigration crisis we could build a wall and throw away the key, or we could go through the hard work of discerning who should be let in and who should not be let in. We could listen to our child's needs and discern whether or not we will give them what they ask; or we can throw them in a closet so that they don't bother us. Both approaches will handle the problem, but the means are opposed to each other. 

However, maturely approaching the call to be generous is not the same as always saying yes. The baby is crying, but I don’t necessarily have to give what is wanted; but I cannot simply refuse to be bothered. The same way with the petitions of anyone who is in need. Sometimes saying no is the most charitable thing to do, and I have to uphold boundaries, but I cannot simply cut them out of my life.

This is the fundamental difference between artificial and natural forms of family planning. Artificial forms puts up barriers, physical and chemical, around the call to be generous. It is a means of helping us not to be bothered by such requests. It cut short the hard work of discerning whether or not you should grant the request of the pleading eyes.

Artificial contraceptives (surgical, physical, and chemical) isolates the opiate of the sexual passions for public consumption creating a dependency both inside and outside of marriage. It opens the doors to all sorts of violence, social experimentation, and avoidance behavior.  

 Natural family planning, on the other hand, is hard work. It involves virtue, communication, listening, discernment, and self-knowledge. Like any means, it too can be used for selfish purposes; but it at least does not cut off the conversation with the call to be life giving. It is a mature means of being a generous and responsible steward.

Natural Family Planning calls us to face the selfish tendencies in ourselves so that we can direct those same tendencies in our children. If we cannot live chastity how will we ever direct our children in that work?

And so here we then see the connection between all these realities in our society: racism, xenophobia, poverty, war, and family planning are all the same issue. It is the call to be hospitable.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Thinking Through Gun Control

There has and there will be a lot of discussion about gun control. I thought I might add my thoughts.

Our founding Fathers took a risk when they founded a democratic republic establishing the right of all citizens to vote (women and African Americans eventually, but the principle was there). The danger behind this initiative was the “dictatorship of the majority” i.e. the lynch mob. The skeptics warned that the giving of this power to relatively uneducated and sometimes unvirtuous masses would prove dangerous. It was a danger inherent in all democratic systems; which is why the founding Fathers did not establish a democracy, they established a republic; a system of checks and balances, with the hope that educated and virtuous individuals would be elected by the general populace to lead them. They believed in the general goodness of people. It was a great experiment; which, in the history of the world, has not had a great track record in terms of relative longevity. This is because it depends on a generally virtuous and educated populace.

The right to vote is not automatic; it depends on a certain amount of virtue and education. If we are incarcerated or under the age of 18, for example, we are not eligible to vote; this is the bare minimum established by the law. This is all part of the entire system of checks and balances. It is the same way with the right to employment, driving a car, and so on. Our rights are never absolute, they are always part of a larger relationship.

Having the right to vote is a tremendous power; it is in many ways the power of life and death. It is similar to owning a gun or car. Thus the founding fathers also recognized the right to bear arms; another tremendous risk. They wagered that the danger of such power in the hands of individuals was less than the danger of removing this from the individual. It was also a statement of trust in the general goodness, maturity, and knowledge of the masses.

But, once again, this is not absolute. In situations where the virtue of society breaks down “martial law” can be declared and the populace disarmed. When a populace is disarmed it is many times a statement that the maturity in the general populace is not great enough to administrate this power. Therefore, the amount of legislation governing the use of something reflects the amount of trust and maturity present with respect to the amount of power contained in that thing.

So, if there is a great out cry for gun control then it must reflect that the general populace does not have maturity to use such devices; which may be true. As a whole, do Americans have the virtue to possess fire arms? If not, do Americans, as a majority, have the education and virtue to exercise other rights like voting or driving a car?

Is not the governance by a few virtuous individuals greater than governance by a large number of people with no discipline? This has been the question for the ages.

This gets me to my main point; removing guns is only a band aid solution, it is not addressing the central problem. It is dealing with the superficial.

If our present times are truly more violent than in previous time, if mass shootings are happening with a greater frequency; then we need to ask ourselves “why is the general populace, who, in the past, have always possessed their own fire arms, suddenly acting in such immature ways?”

Perhaps we do need more regulations on our fire arms; but this can only be because the general populace is generally immature.


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Marriage, Annulments, and Amoris Laetitia

The JOY of Love!

Ever since the Holy Father issued his document on Marriage (Amoris Laetitia) I’ve been eager to add my two cents to the commentaries floating about. I’m late to the discussion, but perhaps my reflection will be more thoughtful than some. 

It took me a while to read the document; but I encourage everyone to read it, especially if you are concerned about it, especially if you’ve read negative commentary on the document. There is so much more to this document than a discussion on annulments and remarriage.

Let's begin by setting the record strait, Amoris Laetitia is not a repudiation of the fundamental principles of marriage.

Of the 264 page document only one chapter, 15 pages, is dedicated to the subject of the Church’s relationship with the civilly remarried and a pastoral approach to their situation. The rest of the document is a reflection on the whole spectrum of realities surrounding married life such as love, raising children, family life, dangers to the institution of Marriage, and the value of chastity.

13 times the document reiterates the indissolubility of marriage; 8 times it repudiates “same sex marriage; and a whopping 20 times it argues against artificial contraceptives and abortion. The document always speaks of marriage in the frame work of “family.”

This document is not the cesspool of a liberal agenda seeking to conform the Church to modern trends. On the contrary it gives us this beautiful definition of marriage:

“Christian marriage, as a reflection of the union between Christ and his Church, is fully realized in the union between a man and a woman who give themselves to each other in a free, faithful and exclusive love, who belong to each other until death and are open to the transmission of life, and are consecrated by the sacrament, which grants them the grace to become a domestic church and a leaven of new life for society.” 292 Amoris Laetitia 

This is the truth and beauty of marriage which the document wishes to offer us.

With that said, let’s get to the heart of what everyone is talking about. Let’s talk about Annulments. 

A marriage is a public commitment. It is a relationship between the man, the woman, God, the Church, the state, any children in this relationship, the extended families united by this relationship, and the entire human community. It is a public affair; and so it cannot be legislated privately. It is not only a discussion about what is good for this couple; it is a discussion about the very integrity of the institution of Marriage, about what is good for humanity as a whole.

Therefore, a couple cannot privately decide to walk away from a marriage and the state can’t simply decide to allow someone to walk away from marriage. The state is subordinate to the institution of marriage because marriage is before the state. The state can only witness, guard, and support marriage; it cannot dissolve it. This is where the conflict arises.  

A couple can, for grave reasons, live apart; be physically and legally separated. The state calls this divorce, the Church calls this civil separation. While the state sees divorce as including permission for remarriage the Church does not. But it’s not simply the Church that doesn’t recognize a second marriage but marriage itself does not recognize a second marriage. A second marriage nullifies its very self.

This means that a person who is in a second marriage is living in a persistent act of adultery, a persistent disregard of their vows and the institution of marriage, and a persistent act of scandal. This is why such an individual cannot receive the Sacraments. They persist in their sinful activity, there is no true spirit of repentance. As long as they continue in their second marriage they are at odds with the institution of marriage and thus at odds with the Church.

In light of this there are two things that need to be emphasized here. First of all, divorce in itself is not the issue. If there is a good reason for a civil divorce then a couple is free to obtain it, and in certain situation it may be morally obligatory to seek one out (cases of physical abuse for example). A couple rightfully obtains a civil divorce in so far as this divorce is not understood by them to be permission to remarry. Their vows are intact, they are forever husband and wife, even if they never see each other again.

Second, individuals who are “remarried” are excluded from Baptism, Confirmation, Absolution, and Holy Communion not because their sin is particularly grave but because they are persistent in their sin. No sin can be forgiven if we have no intention of stopping the activity. Thus, the reason that a serial killer can be absolved of sin and a person in a second marriage cannot is because in the latter there is no sincere repentance.

This then is our starting point for understanding the marriage rightfully; which Amoris Laetitia affirmed over and over.  

However, while affirming this reality, the Church also affirms that there are some vows that look like marriage vows but are not. This is often because there is a serious disconnect between the nature of marriage expressed by the vows and the intentions of the parties involved. Some examples are the following:

1.     A couple intentionally excludes the possibility of children from their marriage. Their “I do” was incomplete because they were not open to children and family.
2.     A spouse withholds important information from their partner before marriage.
3.     A couple enters into marriage and one of the parties clearly does not understand that marriage is about self-giving and intended for the good of one’s spouse. They are unsupportive or abusive from the beginning.
4.     One or both of the parties does not believe that fidelity is essential in marriage. They show little restraint from the beginning with regard to adulterous activity.
5.     At the time of the vows one or both of the parties were under duress and pressure to get married or were not fully self-aware (intoxicated) at the time of the vows.
6.     One or both of the parties believed that if the marriage didn’t work out they could always get a divorce. They did not believe in the indissolubility of marriage.
7.     There were prior vows of celibacy.
8.     A Catholic party marries someone in a civil court without dispensation from the Church. 

These, and several other reasons, are grounds for recognizing a marriage as invalid, or null. These grounds must be present at the time of the vows and have persisted throughout. Thus, an adulterous affair by a man after 25 years of faithful marriage is not grounds for an annulment. A couple, who, at the beginning, chose not to have children, but then had a conversion of heart, would not necessarily have grounds for an annulment. Furthermore, a situation where a person, after 30 years of marriage, turns to alcoholism and violence does not necessarily constitute grounds for annulment. Everything that occurs after the exchange of vows only has value in so far as it indicates to something defective at the times of the vows.

This is what an annulment case is about. An annulment case is where one or both of the parties present their evidence to the Church arguing that their marriage was defective at the time of the vows.

Here we need to elaborate on some of the points already made.

First, all marriages are presumed valid until proven otherwise. Therefore, children born in a nullified marriage are not illegitimate because at the time of birth the presumption was that the union was valid. There was no positive intention to have them born out of wedlock.

Second, these are public vows, so they have to be publicly proved to be invalid. There must be sufficient evidence to declare them null. Individuals cannot come together and judge their own case. Without sufficient evidence the marriage is presumed valid because the wellbeing of the institution of marriage as a whole takes priority.

Third, a declaration of nullity is not a declaration of guilt for anything. This is the external forum, the judgment of peripheral evidence. The internal forum, the judgment of conscience, is beyond any human court. 

So, now that we’ve summarized what an annulment is; let’s talk about this means.

First, no one needs an annulment. Let me state this again for emphasis; no one, in the strictest sense of the word, needs an annulment.

No one needs an annulment because marriage does not arise out of necessity. We do not enter into marriage out of obligation. No one has to enter into a second marriage. It should not be a desperate act.

Even in situations where couples who have been in their second “marriage” for several years; there still exists the counter cultural possibility that, recognizing that they are not being true to the vows of marriage, they part ways. A demanding proposition, but one that reflects the truth about marriage (and what a witness it would give to the world!). Marriage is marriage, and I have been untrue to marriage.

No one “must” have an annulment; and the Church is not unjust if it doesn't grant an annulment. The Church did not create the situation; it can only help them help themselves by calling them to live authentically. These are the vows that you made; your path to total human flourishing is to live in fidelity to them.

This is the full meaning of what we are saying and it needs to be the starting point from which we start talking about mercy and possibilities. Otherwise marriage and annulments are just empty processes. If the first vows were non binding what does that say about the current vows. I help no one by giving an empty document. 

Second, this is not about a mean, over bearing hierarchy imposing some law upon a couple. This is not an ad extra process where the individuals involved are passive recipients of a verdict. On the contrary, the protection and honoring of the institution of marriage is the responsibility of all, including the couple applying for an annulment. A couple or individual seeking an annulment must zealously seek the truth and should desire a straight answer from the Church with a willingness to live authentically. It is a cooperation of all the parties to find the truth and to live in the truth.

What worth is this discernment if the couple has already declared their own verdict. If we come into the process seeking “the verdict that I want,” a rubber stamp to do what I’ve already decided to do any ways; what does that say about our relationship to the Church and respect for the vows I made?

So, if this is the teaching of the Church concerning marriage and annulments: whatever is Pope Francis talking about that is getting everyone unnerved?

One of the issues that is being discussed is the very process of discerning a marriage case. Yes, the principles of marriage are immutable, but not the process of judging an annulment case. These are means “by which” the case is discerned; useful processes for discerning well. Let us remember, this is about discovering the truth, about taking every precaution out of respect for the sacredness of marriage. Most cases take at least a year or 2 before a judgement is provided. The process is generally a good one, and it is important to take our times with these things.

But neither should the process be unnecessarily burdensome or cumbersome; and this is part of what Pope Francis and others have been talking about. Reviewing and cleaning up the processes of what is unnecessary. Part of this review is about exploring the possibility of moving some of this discernment process to the local level; to the priests and ministers in the parishes. What this might look like is still being discussed. In the history of the Church the process for discerning annulments has swung from being very centrally legislated to being more locally legislated. Whichever way the process is formatted the end goal should always be the same, the truth. The couple seeking an annulment should want the most thorough review of their case.

It is also important to recognize that many in our secular times are not entering into Marriage with the same sense of Marriage as the Church proposes. Many of them enter into it with a real openness to Divorce as a possibility. Some have even questioned if we can really accept marriages by the state as true marriages because of the predisposition against indissolubility. I've often wondered if civil marriages as a whole could be annulled in a process similar to a Lack of Form Case; but those are just my musings.

Another part of this discussion is whether or not a Catholic in a civil Marriage can receive the Sacraments. This is slightly different than the question of whether or not someone is actually married. This is because what impedes someone from the reception of the Sacraments is the fact that an individual is guilty of committing a grave sin. This means that the individual involved needs to have knowingly, intentionally, and with substantial freedom committed a grave injustice. Here there are three areas to consider. First, a person’s true guilt is something that no human court can judge, much less a minister distributing Holy Communion. Second, does the individual have sufficient freedom to do what they need to do. The ideal fulfillment of the law would be that an individual, realizing that their second marriage is invalid, does the heroic thing, and separates from their companion. This would be very praise worthy, but in some situations remarkably heroic. Can we really hold someone guilty of a grave sin if they do not have the fortitude to leave their companion of several years with whom they have several children? Do they really have sufficient freedom to be guilty of grave sin? The third element is scandal. If a person is a public sinner is it right for them to receive Holy Communion? If they are publicly known to be in a second marriage can they publicly receive the Body and Blood of Christ? Many argue that they cannot, Pope Francis seems to argue that there is a possibility; that this is an internal forum question. 

This is the type of question that Pope Francis in exploring. He is not giving up on the ideal. The external forum is still valid; but so is the internal forum. Pope Francis does not have any conclusions for this type of discussion; he is merely looking for ways to be compassionate without being inauthentic.

Something else to consider, and this is related to refining the process of obtaining an annulment; is to realize that Pope Francis is speaking to a very big Church. Obtaining an annulment in the United States is nothing like obtaining one in many other countries. I had a case in my office recently involving a prior bond. A prior bond is when you marry someone who was already married before, rendering it definitively null. It is one of the easiest annulment cases you can have; all you have to do is prove a prior marriage. However, this case turned into an exhaustive internet investigation in a search for witnesses and documents spanning over several years. In one sense this case was an open and shut case, we just had to prove it with documentation, which turned out to be more complicated than it sounds. Now the individuals involved in this case had access to the internet, the advantages of education, American infrastructure, and other assets. I can only imagine this same process trying to take place in a Third world country without internet, with snail mail, with little infrastructure or access to documentation, and perhaps with a individuals of limited education. What took us months might have taken years, if at all.

The situation on the ground gets messy. When I visited Honduras I witnessed that many Catholics did not get married in the Church because, among other things, there were no priests. Pope Francis addresses this situation particularly in the document. Individuals living in a natural marriage without a Church blessing because of difficult situations is a common reality in Latin American countries. Should they be allowed to receive the Sacraments?

No, we should not give up on the ideal; but how can we give room for a gradualism. This is what Amoris Laetitia is struggling with. Here in the United States we have a very functional annulment process with all sorts of means at our disposal; in other countries not so much. We so easily see things through the lens of local situation; every once in a while we need to expand our perspective.

My final note on all of this is to state that Pope Francis didn’t state anything definitive on the subject. In the entire chapter on the subject of remarried couples and the Church he never once said, “This is the way it’s going to be.” I will say that his public wrestling with delicate nuances made me a little uncomfortable, and I can see why some are rattled by the document. In the end, though, people will hear what they want to hear. I feel he was simply trying open the discussion a little broader than it has been in the past.

The true nature of marriage concerns all of us; let us continue to express its beauty to the world.



Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Are we what we eat or where we reside?

There are so many medical commercials! With their long disclaimer's and uncomfortable topics; there is a TV commercial for everything from Diabetes to Viagra.

There are also a lot of commercials about the dangers of smoking and drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers. Along with that, eating healthy  and exercise are the latest necessity. There are so many infomercials about exercising.
I did notice, however, a marked decline in advisories about the dangers of drugs. It seems the push for the legalization of some drugs has dampened "this is your brain on drugs, any questions?"

As you can see; I probably watch too much TV.

Being health; keeping the organism functional and efficient, doing regular maintenance to it keeps going as long as it can. A noble cause, it is good to value the gift of the body.

There just seems to be something missing. 

As I looked at these commercials I realized we were missing a bigger picture. While we are all very concerned about the health and good order of the body, there seemed to be little to nothing about the health and good order of the family.

We’ve done a good job of promoting the health of the body but not about the health of the structure that the body resides in, the relational order. It’s a closed and near sighted vision; as if we are independent units with no connections.  

For example, there are no commercials that provide help for struggling families who are facing divorce. No psychologist saying, “call and talk to us today, we can help.” There are, however, the occasional lawyers who will help you get the most from your divorce.

There are no advertisements for marriage preparation programs. There is no representative saying “Do you want to start your marriage right, reserve a spot in our program.” We are all concerned about universal health care; but very few funds, if any, are given to marriage preparation and support.  

There are no commercials about the dangers of premarital sex and how it undermines the marriage covenant. On an extremely rare occasion they will talk about the danger of STD’s and teenage pregnancy.  There is nothing about the dehumanizing nature of porn and how it cultivates infidelity and a rape culture. No public service announcements about the destructive nature of adultery. No man standing up with a nice background music talking about how adultery destroyed his marriage.

No commercials about help for expectant mothers; adopting children. Lots of commercials about adopting dog and cats.

Plenty of talk about same sex marriage.

Even when they talk about the destructive nature of sex trafficking, prostitution, and assault it is all about the damage it does to the victim. Nothing about the damage it does to the nature of the family and the community.

In fact, the message is “We have dysfunctional families; and we’re proud of it.” There are no normal families, why are you judging.

However, when the organism of the body is dysfunctional we spare no expense. We fight to recover what was lost. When cancer cells start to do their own thing, be creative with proper cell functions; we act swiftly. But creativity with the family structure doesn’t bother us. Same sex marriage, multiple partnerships, In Vitro fertilization, surrogate mothers, ect… there is no natural relationship/structure that the human body/person should be a part of.  

A healthy body is all that matters; what else do you need? You need a healthy home? 

Society hasn’t forgotten sin, it’s simply chosen which sins it wants to discourage. Being unhealthy is the probably one of the biggest. Smoking, alcohol, drug addictions, being overweight, not taking care of yourself; these are the sins we throw our resources behind.

The sins against marriage are generally ignored, and this is perhaps because they are often seen as contrary to the health of the body, the individual.  

The whole organism needs to be healthy; body, soul, marriage, family, and community.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Spiritual Maturity

What does it mean to be mature?

Physically it means the capacity to bear fruit; to produce offspring. This is the high point of physical development.

On the level of basic human development, the level of human virtue and adulthood; we can say that we have really become an adult when we are ready to have children, to raise a family. We cease being children when we are ready to take on the level of commitment necessary to support a marriage, children, and family. We remain a child in so far as we resist those types of challenges. We remain underdeveloped.

But what is spiritual maturity? What does it mean to be “spiritual,” to be a Saint?” This is something different; and I would propose that spiritual maturity takes human and physical maturity and perfects it. I would propose that that spiritual maturity is identified by the capacity to take our children and offer them to God.

In the Old Testament this is reflected to us in the story of Abraham who took his son to be sacrificed. In the book of Exodus it is by the redemption of the first born that the people are saved.  In the Gospels Jesus states that anyone who would not leave wife and children, father and mother, for his sake was not worthy of him. The theme is repeated at various points in scripture; all must be offered for it to be fulfilled, even your children.

This is different from indifferentism.  When I was a seminarian one of the interview questions we were asked was “Would you be willing to have a Family?” The question was meant to confirm our human maturity. We needed to embrace human maturity, the universal call to have a family, before we could turn it into a gift. Celibacy does not bear fruit if it springs from a lack of willingness to have a family; if it is seen as a way to stay a bachelor or be perpetually juvenile.

But this does not only apply to those who make perpetual vows of chastity. It applies to everyone.  Some parents do this when they see their child enter religious life or the army. Others offer up them up when their children take rebellious ways and they have to entrust their path to God. Still others are invited to do so through infertility and illness. Those in the single life offer them up as they embrace chastity and wait upon the Lord. The invitation comes in various forms. All must be offered to God.

This is fundamentally different from spiritual maturity expressed as “freedom.” Freedom from kids, freedom from limits, freedom from commitment; so that an individual can get in touch with their “true self” their real “spirit” and expression and therefore reach their “true potential” (maturity). This vision of spiritual maturity places an individual in a state of perpetual adolescence. This is where religious life is different from the couple who simply “doesn’t want to have children” so that they can enjoy life. This is escapism. True spiritual maturity is the claiming of one’s paternity and offering it to God.  

Friday, May 13, 2016

Why Can’t Women be Priests?

I was going to wright about Annulments and Marriage in light of the Holy Father’s document Amoris Laetitia; but now, being in this fast paced world, I have to write about Ordinations; because now the latest headlines is “Deaconesses.” Personally, I’m kind of thrilled by this discussion that the Holy Father is starting up, and there is so much to say about women “Deacons;” but you can’t really jump into the discussion of Deaconesses unless we address this other question, “Why can’t Women become priests?” (which I have been wanting to write about as well)

To begin this discussion I think it is necessary to for us to go up to 30,000 feet and start with the big picture. 

First, every vocation is both for its own good and the good of the community as a whole. “The greatest among you must be the servant of all.”  A couple should only enter into marriage after considering if this marriage is for the good of all. Individuals should only enter into a sexual relationship after they have considered its effect on the children that will be conceived, the integrity of the institution of marriage, and the good of my partner and family. A woman should only become a mother if she has reasonable certitude that this is a good for the whole. A man should only become a priest if it is a good for the whole, by the consent of the community, and for the good of the Faithful. We enter these vocations in order to die to self. To make them a power play is to deform their nature.

Continuing with that, every vocation is at the service of the other vocations. From different vantage points, each vocation is of a greater or lesser value in relationship to the other vocations. In the realm of nature and necessity motherhood is the highest vocation. Women and children are at the center of all human industry and striving. Those who rock the cradle rule the world; and the Christian mother is the primary catechist and creator of the domestic Church, the Christian home. Her work is the center of all our efforts. In the order of grace the highest vocation is the universal call to holiness. No one is more conformed to the image of Christ than the Saint; there is no higher vocation in the Church. In the order of sacramental signs the Eucharist is the center, and the priest is united to that sign as the man who stands in the person of Christ and breaks bread. All of this emphasizes what is written in scripture; we are all one body, and each vocation has its own excellence according to its own category; all united in love.

Furthermore, no one has an absolute right to a particular vocation, and to insist on an absolute right is to threaten the integrity of the vocation itself. Taking it by force and coercion will destroy the gentle gift of the spirit; and every vocation must be discerned with the greater community because it is a gift to the greater community. There are certain parameters that each vocation requires, and there are many men who cannot become priests for a variety of reasons. Some are health reasons, others are psychological impairments, moral impediments, and so on. Every vocation must be discriminating or it loses its integrity.  

In light of all this, having respected every vocation according to its proper excellence with their end being service; we can then talk about the fact that certain vocations are unique to each gender.  To women belongs the unique vocation of mother and wife. On the contrary, no woman can be a father and husband. No woman can be the strongest or fastest person in the world and no man can nurse a child. Nature has imposed unique vocations and experiences to each gender. So, from the beginning, nature is not an equal opportunity employer. Every person has different parameters that have been given to them by nature excluding them from certain vocations. Seeing these as restrictions to be overcome at all cost will lead us to making war upon ourselves. On the contrary, we should see these natural boundaries as our first reference points in discerning our vocation in life.

Now that we have established the excellence of every vocation and that there are some vocations proper to each gender; we can now talk about the why the priesthood is exclusively a masculine vocation. And right there we already have to stop, because priesthood is so often misunderstood.  We first have to state that there is only one priest, and that is Jesus Christ, and every Christian participates in that priesthood. With that in mind, the most excellent priest is the one who completely offers themselves, who fulfills the Father’s will, in union with Christ. The person most conformed to the priesthood of Christ is the Saint. Let’s take a moment to think about that. The most excellent priest in the Church on Sunday could possibly be that faithful widow in the front pew, or the pious women in the cry room with their toddlers.  Taking this thought even more, all priests are expected to be at Sunday Mass, not simply those who preside. Can you imagine if all who were anointed priest, prophet, and king at Baptism and Confirmation saw their attendance at Mass as equally important as that of the presiding Priest!

So, if we are all priests by Baptism, what is this whole priesthood thing about? Here once again we have to speak of different categories. There are different types of imitation and participation. For example, Martin Luther King was a great man. If I should take his life as a model and motive for myself, striving to live according to the principles he lived, then people would see in me a reflection of Martin Luther King. This is a most excellent manner of imitation, and in one way the most excellent. However, a photograph or video of Martin Luther King is also an excellent likeness of Martin Luther, but of a different nature. Both are excellent in their different categories, for their different purposes.

A man who is ordained a priest is set apart as a type of sacramental sign in himself. He is a different type of likeness than the likeness of the faithful. The faithful make reference to him as Christ not because of his holiness but because of his office.

Every sacrament has its unique sign, and each sign is a direct point of reference to Christ. They are signs that come with the promise of divine action, and they have a set nature. Baptism must be with water, not milk; the Eucharist must be with bread and wine, not cabbage and coke. They are done “in memory” of Christ, as instituted by the Christ and administered by the Church as reflected in Scripture and tradition. They are concrete signs of inward transformation. 

The high point of these signs is the celebration of the Eucharist, the bread and wine that is offered up and takes the nature of the Body and Blood of Christ. However, this sign is not merely the sign of bread and wine; but the sign of bread and wine being offered to us by Christ, by the man who stands in the person of Christ and offers to us (and the eternal Father) the bread and wine. The complete sign is that of a man, set apart as a sign of Christ's presence in a particular way, offering bread and wine. 

The nature of the sign cannot be changed. Just as you can't use chocolate for the Eucharist, so a woman cannot replace a man in this role. 

It is the same with all the sacraments. In the confessional we stand before the priest, who is the concrete sign of Christ, and confess to him as we would Christ. In Marriage we stand before Christ and profess our vows. As with all sacramental signs, the ordained priesthood is a type of visible encounter with Christ, not because of holiness but by consecration. It is of a different order.

This bring us to emphasis that Christianity is the celebration of an incarnational event, a real encounter with the Word made flesh. That God became a particular Man at a particular time and place. Christianity does not preach an abstract “Christ” (anointed one) but “Jesus Christ” who died, rose again, and ascended into heaven. By this very fact masculinity will always be in a different type of relationship to Jesus Christ than femininity and vice versa. As male actors stand in the place of male characters, and female actors in the place of female characters; so ordained men stand in the place of Christ and represent him.

This also means that the Vocation of the Priesthood is not a series of tasks to be accomplished. A priest is not the one who “preaches, does sacraments, runs the parish, etc. . .”A priest is first and foremost a sign, an embodiment of Christ. This is why they are fundamentally different from protestant ministers. A protestant minister is simply someone who does a series of jobs. Seen in this way, of course a woman can fill that role. Many woman can do the “jobs” that I do as a priest and they may even be able to do them better than I do them. It’s not about whether or not men can preach better than women, or run a parish better than women. We might compare it to the office of motherhood. Many men can fulfill the “jobs” of a mother better than some women, but her office is established by covenant, not by capacity. As a mother is mother “forever” so the priest is a priest “forever” even if they are not doing those “jobs.”

All of these, and other reasons, are why only men are called to serve in this role. Not because of personal excellence or holiness, but out of an undeserved grace. And every priest has only one calling, the hill of Calvary. As one priest friend put it “behind the applause at the end of the ordination I heard the hammering of the mallet at Calvary.” This is true for all vocations and in a special way for the priest. Pray for your priests that they will always live according to the call of the Gospel.  

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Legislating Bathrooms

This Bathroom stuff is bizarre 

One day our grandchildren are going to get a good laugh out of all this bathroom stuff. This whole thing, on both sides, is just ridiculous.  

First of all; this is such a first world, rich people, problem. The people in the Third world are just rolling on the ground with laughter. In the third world they are lucky if they even have public restrooms. When they do it is usually a single gas station booth or even an outhouse. In many places you have to pay to use the restroom at the restaurant.

The other reason this is such a first world problem is because these people don’t have the time or resources to be worried about their gender identity; much less the money to even consider something like plastic surgery to make themselves look like a man or woman. They’re happy that they have cloths and food and less about whether their cloths are masculine or feminine.  

It’s all so First World; it’s one big joke.

Which brings me to my second point; public bathrooms are, for the most part, conveniences provided by stores and institutions, for their patrons. Not so long ago few institutions had public restrooms. Only in recent times has the government come in and legislated over institutions that have public restrooms. This was done partly after desegregation in the 1960’s and to provide easy access for the handicapped. We all forget, though, that these facilities are primarily conveniences, a luxury.

Second, this whole bathroom legislation makes no sense. Like all legislation, it’s trying to regulate what should be governed by virtuous living. Whenever virtue decreases legislation increases; but legislation can never replace virtue, which is part of the problem. So let’s talk about why it makes no sense.

A person that is convinced that they are in the wrong body has a handicap, and like anyone else with a handicap they have to make special arrangements for themselves. If a person with this handicap takes the course of trying to give themselves a different body through surgery, then they now look like that sex. As much as I believe that this is not the right solution to their situation, the deed has been done, they no longer look like their sex. Thus, it would make no sense for a woman, who looks like a man, to walk into the women’s bathrooms and vice versa.  

On the other hand; a man or woman who is uncomfortable with the sex that they have been given by nature, should not then go and make everyone else uncomfortable by entering into a restroom that does not correspond to the sex they have been given. Making others uncomfortable because I am uncomfortable is not being considerate and will only end up making everyone, including the said individual, uncomfortable. Like many other physical and mental handicaps the individual may need to make the necessary personal arrangements if they are truly unable to psychologically use the bathroom that corresponds to their sex.

Those who have these inclinations should be seeking to avoid making others uncomfortable, to be considerate; and forcing people to be uncomfortable through judicial acts is not the solution.

These pieces of state legislation, with all their good intentions, are not answering the question, “how do we, in charity, help those who have this disposition?” They are simply antagonistic. What are these store and facilities going to do, put guards next to bathrooms? There is already legislation against voyeurism. If a person, looking like a man, walks into a girl’s bathroom everyone in that bathroom will feel uncomfortable and leave. Why are we legislating this?

And the solution is simple; single, handicap, multi sex restrooms; like many institutions already have; or two single use facilities. This is not rocket science.  

Come now, let’s all put on our big people pants and accommodate.

Let’s face it; there are already many reasons for such facilities. Handicap purposes, fathers who are taking their preschool daughter to the restroom, people who have other psychological problems with public restrooms (severe OCD), etc. . . I mean, already people with same sex attraction are using facilities with us.

Every Christian should be asking “How can I help you?” “I love you –people with same sex attraction and people uncomfortable with your physical appearance- tell me how I can help you?” No, I can’t take a surgical knife and cut off your body parts and marriage is not possible; but other than that, how can I help make you comfortable. How can I make you feel welcomed? I'm uncomfortable having you in the restroom with me, and you need to use the restroom some where, so let me do the charitable thing of leaving so that you can use the facilities. That would be the Christian response. 

So, in the end, these pieces of legislation are poorly conceived and the reaction to them is equally antagonistic. Once again, no one is seeking solutions, it’s all sound bites.