Friday, April 29, 2016

Safe Sex?

Hanna Drexel gave birth to Catherine Drexel, the future St. Katherine Drexel, in 1858, and died two weeks later due to complications. She was the wife of the extremely wealthy philanthropist Mr. Francis Drexel. Later on, in 1890, Elizabeth Drexel, the sister of Katharine, became pregnant but became gravely ill and both the child and the mother died.

70 years later, in 1960 the world was introduced to a concept it had never really known; the concept of safe sex.  10 years later this concept was followed by another one, safe marriage.

This is how artificial contraceptives, divorce, and the modern devaluing of marriage are related. Safe sex leads to the need for safe marriage.

Before these dates most people understood that calling sex “safe” was like calling war safe; like risking something but without consequences. Without risk the value of sex fell sharply, as did marriage. Without value it had no meaning and without meaning it had little to do with love. Love involves risk, the real possibility that you might lose everything, including your life.

Therefore, an artificial contraceptive is actually artificial sex; a chemically created possibility, pornography in pill form. Sex and marriage became impersonal; as if they are a game we play. Instead of launching out into a spine tingling adventure, we stay in the back yard and play simulations of little consequence.

But the advent of our sexual passions signals the point in which we become adults; we are no longer playing games.

Love never fails. . . . When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up my childish ways. Now we see only an indistinct image in a mirror, but then we will be face to face. Now what I know is incomplete, but then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1Corinthians 13:8-12
Maturing is always the conforming of our lives to the risky nature of marriage and sexuality, not conforming sex and marriage to our expectations and life style.  
From a purely materialistic stand point pregnancy is a disease that causes pain, deformation, and even the possibility of death. It is something to be cured and prevented. From this starting point artificial contraceptives make pregnancy the problem; not our behavior that created the situation.
We need to move back from the artificial to the real. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

It's All About The Body

If the body has little value what value does the covenants that we make with the body have?

If my flesh is not real food and my blood is not real drink what significance is the love that I show with the body?

What kind of communion can be made without the body?

“Take this and eat. . . take this and drink. . . this is my body. . .this is my blood of the new covenant.”

When a mother takes her baby to her breast she says “take and eat, this is my body, of a new covenant of love.”

When she conceives life in the womb she says, “take and drink, this is my blood for the establishment of an everlasting covenant.”

A man and a women take each other in the sexual union and say “take this body, I risk it for you, and give it up for you, for the establishment of a permanent commitment.”

Soldiers give their lives on the battle field, friends embrace each other, business partners shake hands, and the list goes on.

Covenants and community are forged through the giving of the body. If the body means nothing, then so do the covenants that they forge. When that goes is there anything left but force and coercion?

During this Easter time we see in the Holy Saturday account given in the Gospels a microcosm of ourselves. As in this story, we also live in a world that has not directly experienced the resurrection; we receive only reports of this event. Of all the days in the Gospels this one reflects our position. In the individuals at play in this narration we we see a variety of reactions to the situation, to the body.  

There is the example of the Pharisees who sealed the tomb and placed a guard. Fear of the body, fear of new life; the solution is more guards and more restrictions. More guards on the borders, higher fences and more red tape to keep out the new life from coming in. Sealing the womb off and making it a tomb, keeping it barren. We declare war on the body with knife and scalpel in order to reinforce a false image of ourselves. The solution to our problems is force of arms.

There are the two disciples on the road to Emmaus who are disillusioned with the way of Christ; of doing the right thing. Their hope had been that Christ would be “the one to set Israel free.” Political salvation, we just have to find the right political system, the right technology, the right leader. If we just get the right Supreme Court Justices in there then everything will work out. If we just put more money into science we can figure out a way.

The other disciples are also disillusioned. Apathy, despair, disheartened by their failure they cut themselves off, isolationism. How does Peter deal with it all? Well, he goes fishing. Isolation and diversion; it’s all pretty hopeless, so let’s just have a good time.

There is, though, another response; the response of the women who went to the tomb. They sat there in prayer, anoint the body with reverence, went to visit the tomb with a pleasing offering. The solution they proposed was prayer and reverence for the body.

The body isn’t a problem to be fixed but is the focal point of reverence. 

Prayer, worship, reverence for the body; these are the paths that reestablish community. This is why, among many other reasons, the Church promotes reverence of the body. It is not a commodity, not a threat, and not a problem to be fixed; but it is the path to communion and love.     

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

How Much Should I Pray?

In the history of the Church there have been many models of prayer that have been given to Christians for daily prayer. There has been the model of the daily Rosary, the daily Holy Hour, and the Liturgy of the Hours among many others. Often people of devotion create a combination of these devotions. All of these help us create parameters for our prayer life.

While there is so much that can be said about daily prayer and what we should commit to; I want to approach this question from a particular angle by beginning with the question; “What are we obliged to pray?”

So, what are we required to pray by the demands of our Baptismal Covenant? That’s simple, the celebration of Sunday Mass is the only pray we are obliged to pray. That’s it, Sunday Mass. Yes we can talk about the requirement of the other Sacraments, but I want to stay focused here. Only the prayer of Sunday Mass is strictly required of us.

What does this mean? This means that a Christian could have a fulfilling spiritual life simply by fully participating in the celebration of Sunday Mass. They never have to pick up a rosary, attend a Stations of the Cross, go to a Holy Hour, etc. . .  They simply need to participate in Sunday Mass every week.

Compared to the Muslim faith of several times a day, this is very simple. We just need to pray once a week.

However, notice that I used the word participate, pray, celebrate and not “attend.” Merely sitting in the pews on Sunday will not fulfill this commitment. A true prayer is the most important event of our entire life and this means that the Sunday liturgy must be the highest point of our entire week for us to truly reap its benefits.

Essentially the Church is saying that, if we merely made the Sacrifice of the Mass on Sunday the center and apex of our entire week it would be sufficient for our Christian Spiritual life. Even more, not only would it change us but it would change the world.
If we did this one thing well it would be sufficient. Not many things, but one thing; a focused and directed spiritual life, the Sunday liturgy.

Once we establish the Sunday liturgy as the high point of my week then my entire life takes on a different focus and becomes a prayer. Now any acts of piety that I might add to this becomes properly orientated. 

So, perhaps now we can approach this question of daily prayer life from a different perspective beginning with the question, “How can I make the celebration of Sunday Mass the high point of my entire week?”

What would that look like?

Well, here are some practical points that come to mind for me in terms of a Sunday worship centered spirituality.

We can first start by knowledge; to know the Liturgy and its parts. How are the parts related, where is it trying to lead us, what is it trying to communicate to us. To know the Liturgy so well that you could stand in the priest’s shoes; that you could participate in Mass even if you were the only person there with the priest.

To become an active participant in the life of the Church is another important element of this Sunday centered Spirituality. If you have worked and suffered with the Christian community your communion with them at the Altar will be amplified. Are the cares and concerns of Christ and his Church your cares and concerns? Are you on fire for the mission of the Church, both locally and globally? Do you care for the parish as much as the pastor? Do you tithe, do you do ministry at the Church? Does the Pastor know your name? This is more than activism; this is about loving the Church and holding it and the world in prayer.

Using different habits can also aid us in our prayerful preparation for Sunday Mass. Looking ahead, knowing the liturgical year and which Sunday is being celebrated. Even planning on the calendar the Sunday Mass you will be attending a week in advance can be helpful.

Along with that, taking the readings for the Sunday and meditating with them during the week can be a helpful tool. Prayerfully read them in silence for an hour or so. Pretend that you have to preach on them; look up commentaries and reflections, look them up in the Bible and see what passages come before and after. Above all ask how they apply to you at this moment in your life. Make it a reference point for your week.

The regular practice of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is also part of this preparation for Mass. Monthly, every 2 weeks, or even weekly (according to one’s needs) is an important part of forging a real Communion with God and the Church that translates directly into a greater participation in the Liturgy.

But even tending to the small details can greatly aid our anticipation for Mass. Don’t go to Mass as if it’s an afterthought; something you happen to remember to do and rush around trying to get there on time. Go to Mass at an ideal time, dress well, prepare for it several hours in advance. Set out your best cloths for Mass the night before. Avoid putting other engagements before and after Mass. Arrive at Mass 30 minutes, 20 minutes early and intend to tarry after Mass. Spend time in prayer after Mass, hang out with the community after Mass, read what’s happening in the bulletin. Waist time with God, turn off your phone and take off your watch. This is the most important event of your week; this is the most important gathering you will participate in.

 These are but a few ideals as to how one can create a Christ centered, Ecclesially centered, liturgically centered spirituality. Now we can begin to bring in all the other habits of prayer and discern if and how we might use them because now we are asking the right set of questions: “How does my prayer life make the celebration of Sunday Mass the center and apex of my Spiritual life? ”  

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Intimacy is the Path to Joy

“If the Jubilee does not come out of your pockets, it’s not a true Jubilee. You understand?” said Pope Francis in his general audience(February 10, 2016); and it’s so true . Joy comes from generosity, there is no other path.

This is something we get all wrong so many times; joy and intimacy. In Justice Anthony Kennedy’s statement concerning same sex marriage he stated that same sex couples wish “not to be condemned to live in loneliness” which expressed a fundamental flaw with regard to our understanding of marriage and intimacy. Marriage is not a solution for loneliness. No one should seek marriage because they are lonely, and if they do they will probably end up destroying it. They should seek marriage because they want to give themselves unconditionally to another, to bind themselves to something they cannot walk away from.

The solution for loneliness is not sex and marriage. In the same way joy and intimacy does not spring forth from constantly striving to have a good time. These are initial levels; these are the first steps toward relationships and joy. We must go deeper.

“No greater love is there than to lay down one’s life for another.” This is the height and font of true intimacy and joy. Sacrifice and contemplation, vulnerability and covenant; these are the paths to true community, true joy. 

Therefore, intimacy has different levels; like a mountain that we are climbing. As we climb this mountain of intimacy we experience greater joy. If we stay on in the realm of relating on the surface life looses its joy. We become paralyzed, unmotivated. 

With this in mind, the very summit of this hierarchy is the heroic act of laying down one’s life. It is the spring at the summit rolling down to all the other levels.  It is the true north of our compass toward which we need to orientate our lives. 

Further down the hill is the confession and forgiveness of sin. To reveal one’s weakness to another and to be received and forgiven is one of the highest forms of intimacy. A couple who comes to the place where they are vulnerable about their sinfulness, even their infidelity, can achieve a very high form of intimacy and it can truly be an experience of joy.

Underneath this I would place the intimacy of silence, prayer, and contemplation. Bishop Fulton Sheen once stated that the best friend is the one you can waist time with in silence. Not a cold, indifferent silence, but an intentional permission to be in silence. A couple or community that can pray together, be in silence together, and can give each other space for their own spirituality has reached a very mature place in their relationship.

Related to that is the capacity to speak about matters of Faith. Our faith life and journey is at the depth of who we are. It is a hallow, sacred place in our soul that needs the utmost respect and which we often have great difficulty sharing with others. This often includes our doubts and questions concerning faith. Couples will often talk about many things before they will talk about Faith and thus it always a great sign of maturity when that transparency exists.

Receiving and expressing anger and fear is another high water mark in a relationship. Coupled with this is the capacity to talk respectfully and honestly about things we disagree about. To have one’s feelings and thoughts received and respected is a real source of affirmation and joy.

Along with this is the capacity to give and receive corrections. Here we can also place here the capacity to ask for assistance; to give and receive charity.

Below these high points is the experience of suffering together; the mutual enrichment of going through a tough experience. While this is connected to all that has been said above; sometimes suffering through an experience can still remain shallow unless it moves toward the higher levels of intimacy.

Sharing thoughts, dreams, secrets and finding a mutual resonance in ones aspirations is at this lower level. Depth is starting to form, but we are still in the clouds; it hasn’t met the hard path of reality and fidelity.

Down here we finally find sexual intimacy. It is one type of intimacy, one type of joy. It is neither necessary for our health or satisfaction in life. We need intimacy, we do not need sex. It is at this level because, although it has a level of vulnerability it is coupled with the biological passions which have one end, to make us forget about consequences. It has the great ability to create dependency and to hamper discernment and maturation. This is part of the reason it needs to be joined with covenant.

Finally we come to the level of hanging out, having fun together. Having food, drink, play, and talking about the superficial things vital for a healthy community. We can’t stay there, though, if our relationships are to be fulfilling. This is often a challenge in Church communities and groups. The recipe for attracting crowds is simple; find out what people want and give it to them. The Church can attract the crowds, but eventually it has to turn around and speak about crosses and covenants, confession and contemplation. This is where the crowds dissipate; but for those who continue they find the source of true joy.    

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Conceived in Rape

No, this is not about abortion.

I am about to step into a reflection on a topic that is fraught with land mines and trip wires. It is a very narrow path, one step either way could be unbalanced. So, angels and saints, and all you theologians out there, keep me from error.
The other day I was reflecting with someone on the implications of In Vitro fertilization. This individual, fully respecting the immorality of the process, wondered what such a condemnation implied for those who were conceived in such a way. Were these children in some way imperfect, a mistake, or even “evil?”

My response led me to reflect that there are many immoral ways that life is conceived. There are those who are conceived in rape, those conceived in adultery, those conceived in fornication, and many other examples. There are many ways that life is conceived through sin, there are many instances where something beautiful was initiated in spite of the sin connected to it. All of these lives are precious.

However, this envelope kept expanding as I thought about it some more. For many years there has been much discussion about “white privilege.” This topic embraces a whole world of topics; colonialism, white suburbs, eugenics, equal employment, proselytizing, and the list could go on. Historians talk about the destruction of the Native Americans, the slavery of the African Americans, The manipulation of the Central American Countries, and so on. There are numerous examples of the way that races of Western Europe have despoiled and raped in order to secure their dominance. In the end we confront the stark reality that every advantage I possess- education, food, health, security, and even my very life- has been won by violence.

It’s not simply white people. Every lineage, every race, has a heritage of sin and violence. There is nothing that we have that is not obtained in some way through sin.

This leads us to the dilemma. We can either say, “There is no sin,” and excuse everything, or we can say, “We are all guilty,” and we are all condemned.

In the beginning of Genesis we have the narrative of Adam and Eve and the fall. Whether or not you agree with this narrative as a historical fact or not is irrelevant for this discussion. What is essential is that the narrative speaks of the primordial innocence that is at the heart of all morality. It says “this is how it should be but sin ruined it.” This is not only a historical reality but a reality each individual understands in their present life. It is a constant reality for every age and every person.

What we are talking about is original sin; the fact that we were all “conceived in rape;” that our life and privilege, every gift and advantage was won through sin. 

Often when we talk about forgiveness we stay with sins that we can easily “justify.” We conceive of forgiveness as concerning petty sins that “everyone does.” In the same way, as long as “original sin” remains abstract we can handle it. Real sin, though, like genocide, murder, rape, abuse, etc. . . . , how can you “justify” something like that? Well, we can’t, but boy do we try. We say things like, “it’s not as bad as that group,” or “you would do the same in my shoes,” or we simply denying the truth of the event or its sinfulness.

And yes, we should be afraid, because the wages of sin is death, and, like the blind lady of justice, the angel of death is indiscriminate. All the first born were to be stricken in the land, no one was to be spared by their own merit; because all merit is forfeit by the wages of sin. We have nothing to offer.

This is the message that the scriptures keep giving us; there is nothing that we can say or do to justify ourselves. I have nothing to stand on.

No justification is possible, but for God all things are possible, and that is the beauty of redemption.

So, why are we still trying to justify ourselves; feverishly preparing our defense. A Christian realizes both that no justification is possible and no justification is necessary for those redeemed in Christ. “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it.” The Christian is the one has faced and continues to face his sin and the sin of his race in the manner of Isaiah “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips,” but without fear.  We are like Jesus before Pilot who gives no response to the accusations because there is no justification that is possible and none that is necessary.

This is why the Christian brings Peace to the world through every act of reconciliation, every act of confession. They do not excuse their sin, the sin of their parents, or the sins of their fellow Christians but courageously confesses the truth and lives in the truth because Christ is our peace. This is the work of redemption, of Baptism and Confession; this is the source of the freedom of the children of God. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A World Without Borders

Of late the rhetoric about borders and immigration has been pretty intense. Only a few months ago the conversation focused on our Southern border; but now, with Syrian refugees, the conversation has broadened with everyone making some pretty nonnegotiable statements. There isn’t much room for dialogue or compromise as everyone postures for their election bids.

In light of this; here are some of my general thoughts concerning borders and immigration.

First, the conversation is very polarized. If you are for border security and regulations then you must be against immigration and if you are for easing the border restrictions then you don’t care about security. There is no middle ground and there is no discussion. No one is asking questions like, “What is the process for someone to enter the U.S. legally?” “Why is that process in place?” “Is it a fair process?” “What other process can we put in its place?” The average person doesn’t even know what it takes to enter the U.S. legally. I know I don’t; and I haven’t seen anyone put any effort into explaining it. Most presentations that I’ve seen simply pull on heart strings and present stories of hardship. No one is talking about the issues, and that is the greatest loss.

Second, borders are a beautiful thing. In the creation story of Genesis God separated the day from the night, the land from the sea. The creation of borders is the act of creation itself; it is the foundation of beauty, contrast, individuality. My body is a border, lines are borders, laws are borders. The attraction and resistance of the different forces in the universe makes the foundation of all uniqueness. Without boundaries and borders, law and force, there would only be entropy and nothingness. As romantic as the concept of a world “without border” sounds, it is not the real desire behind that phrase. What we really desire is the harmony of the many, the respect of boundaries.

Third, borders are good for immigrants. The laws, systems, and force necessary to make and sustain a border are what immigrants seek when they come to another country. They flee from their lands because there is no security, law, or opportunities. It does not help an immigrant to flee from one situation only to find the same situation on the other side. Immigrants prosper because of strong borders that keep the chaos they are fleeing out.

Every organism must have a membrane that is both permeable and ridged. We are always in relationship with others; and societies are always in relationship with other societies. The greater the harmony between societies the more permeable the border can be. The more hostile and disorganized the outer environment the more impervious the border must be. Not all borders can be treated equally; but no country can live in isolation, ignoring the situation of its neighbor.

Nature abhors a vacuum. People go where the jobs and opportunities are available. If there was a desperate shortage of opportunities in our country then they would not come here. So, the concept that immigrants are taking our jobs from us doesn’t make much sense. When the U.S. economy slumped in the past few years, so did the rate of immigration. If there is a lot of immigration there must be a lot of opportunities.   

We help immigrants by stabilizing their native land. The best border control policy looks to stabilize weaker countries; to actively work for their wellbeing. However, this is not always possible; some systems resist our assistance and must heal themselves.     

Finally; even if we must exclude someone from entrance into our country we are still bound by charity to assist them in any way that we can. While borders create a beautiful diversity; it is our shared human nature that draws us to relationship and charity. To undermine their humanity through racism or violence is to undermine our own.  

Thursday, October 29, 2015

What Do You Need To Do To Prepare?

Marriage preparation, Baptism preparation, Confirmation preparation; my vocation is full of preparatory processes. Programs, retreats, interviews; there is a whole lot that I do with others to help them enter into these events well disposed.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing it all with the right approach. Everyone needs to reevaluate their approach every once in a while and lately I’ve been reevaluating my approach, especially with regard to marriage preparation.

You see, often times they come to me and we sit down to talk things over. We get to know each other, I make sure their are no obvious impediments to marriage, and then I lay out the “requirements,” the series of programs, that they “have to” attend, in order to get married in the Catholic Church. Now, obviously I present it them with words that express “opportunity” and “possibility,” and these programs are truly helpful for them, and most receive the requirements with a cooperative spirit. However, it seems so passive. It seems to simply answer the question, “What do I have to do meet the requirements;” what  forms need to be filled out, what processes need to be completed to make someone else happy.

Now, I think most couples do take these programs seriously. Always trying to error on the side of the good nature of people, I think they try to be honest and cooperative. However, even from the best of them, the vision presented to them is one that is minimalistic, which is partly the fault of the guides themselves. “Do this program and you’ll have marital bliss.” What perhaps we should be saying is, “These are some programs that we provide and require that might help you in YOUR OWN PROGRAM of marriage preparation.”

My thought is this; what if we began our marriage preparation programs by helping couple create their own program of marriage preparation? What if we asked them to create a program and modify it with them? What if we could provide a template of questions that would help them make a program, resources and ideals by which they could fill in the blanks? It could be like a reform of life program which each couple makes for themselves and then one that they make together.

Ownership of my own marriage preparation: the making of a covenant with the director by which they can keep me accountable. Isn’t that how they prepared us in seminary? Isn’t that how we should be approaching marriage preparation with our couples?

But this isn’t just something for wedding preparation, but something we might apply to all the formation programs: RCIA, Confirmation, First Communion, Infant Baptism, even to annulments.

Even to Annulments, that hot topic that is all over the media in the Catholic world these days. I just find it humorous how, on one hand, the whole world is focused on what the Church will say about remarried individuals but on the other hand they could care less. They’re all sitting around waiting for the Church to affirm their conclusions, just like when they were sitting around waiting for the Church to “authorize” artificial contraceptives.

A mature Catholic should approach the annulment process as a collaborator; as a blood hound for the truth. Not a blood hound for “the results that I want,” but with a sincere desire to be true to themselves and the vows that they made. Their approach should be, “These are the vows I made, ‘till death do us part,’ and I am willing to be faithful to those vows even if we can’t live together, and I humbly ask the Church, as the primary witness of those vows, to hold me accountable and judge whether or not these vows between us were sincere and true.” In other words, it should be founded on a spirit of detachment and collaboration in the process of discernment. Matthew 19:3-6 is not the concern of some Canon Lawyers who legislate from on high but something I embraced upon my Baptism and Confirmation as the fullest expression of marriage. It is as much my responsibility to honor as any Bishop or priest.

In the end, I think we all need to reconsider how we are approaching Church programs. Too often we fall into “Parent/child” models and thus create something that is external. True transformation comes from covenant and ownership of our own preparation, our own discernment. When we desire to be challenged and pushed then beautiful things happen.