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 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.

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? ”