Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

31 October 2012

Determined, Daring, Devout

As Election Day draws near, our minds turn to the various candidates who are putting themselves out there not merely as potential decision-makers, but as embodiments of the American Dream.  Our nation holds in great reverence the so-called “self-made man or woman,” the person from any walk of life who encounters the right circumstances, takes initiative, and achieves great things.

The saints have made the honor roll; they are our “Who’s Who Among the Children of God.”  But our respect for them far surpasses the celebration of opportunity-takers or rugged individuals; rather we are really worshipping the God who made them for Himself, supplied what they needed, and became their greatest fan.

We can reflect today upon a few faces in the Church’s family portrait.  Ready to mind comes Francis of Assisi, a deacon, a friend to the poor and to all God’s creatures; Teresa of Avila, a teacher of mysticism and reformer of consecrated life; Damien of Molokai, a caregiver to lepers who himself became afflicted; or the recently canonized Anna Schaeffer, who was injured in an accident and became an example of patience in suffering.

It should not surprise us that many of the saints maintained a kind of defiance to human preferences in favor of what they truly believed was the will of God for them.  Gianna Molla was a physician but more importantly a wife and mother who permitted her own death for the life of her unborn child.  Lucy refused an arranged marriage to a pagan man and suffered great torture for her decision because he exposed her as a Christian during a time of persecution.  Thomas of Aquinas, renowned philosopher and theologian of the Church, had been put on the fast track to become Abbot of a Benedictine monastery but desired instead to become a Dominican friar.  His dismayed family even had him kidnapped and imprisoned, but he escaped to pursue his heart’s desire.

Christ our Savior is our model of holiness.  He wills to conform us (with our consent) to His image, but His plan doesn’t destroy our individuality.  It seems to have the opposite effect, accenting everything worthy about each person, especially as we place this or that characteristic at the service of God and people.  That’s what saints do, and holiness results.  It doesn’t get much more complicated than that.  As for the miracles necessary for canonization, we can let people worry about that after we die.

30 October 2012

I Say A Little Prayer For You, Joe Z.

In the summer of 2004 my father and I drove to the headquarters of an auto dealership to pick up the first car I personally paid for (though never paid off, as I have developed a habit of shedding cars before the last slip is torn off--remember the payment book?).

On the way I stopped at a convenience store to fill up the gas tank of my soon-to-be old car.  (Altruistic motives, I guess.)  On the way home, Mom called to let me know that the authorities called the house because a car registered in her name drove off without paying for the gas.  The matter was settled without incident, though with embarrassment.

While Dad and I were having a pleasant conversation, we were listening to WRTI, Temple University's classical and jazz station.  Dad was a captive audience (captive to the songs, not the son).  A few miles before reaching the Wawa, a rather enjoyable song came on.  I kept listening for a while, digging the melody and the percussion; but we didn't have all day, so the song had to go on without me.  After fueling, however, I was pleased to hear that it was still in process. The pianist tagged on an old song, which I recognized as "Poinciana"--a clever inclusion!  After the song ended, the DJ continued an enlightening conversation with the producer of the song, Joel Dorn; but what was it?  When I got the chance, I went online to find out the title and artist: "Maleah," by Les McCann.  It was part of an old album newly released on CD, entitled "Les is More," which I summarily purchased.

The McCann CD came with a sampler of other music compiled by Dorn, including a tune played by Rahsaan Roland Kirk, whom I'd never heard of before.  What a piece of work--the song and the artist! Some time ago I discovered a YouTube video of Kirk and Co. giving a live rendition of a different song: the Bacharach/David standard "I Say A Little Prayer."  Judging by the arrangement and the audience, one wonders whether everyone in the video was on drugs when it was filmed.  Mind you, one doesn't need drugs to enjoy the video, either from an artistic standpoint or for the entertainment unwittingly provided by the morbidly serious onlookers.

You will notice that Kirk plays at least two instruments at once.  Several members of the saxophone family surround him, and he deftly dispatches tight harmony with an aggressive groove.  Note, too, the capable sidemen, who along with Kirk put an interesting spin on an otherwise placid piece (placid according to the signature style of Dionne Warwick).

I have fond memories of the day I heard "Maleah," not only because of the song itself and the many others that have come my way as a result, but more importantly because it was one of the best and last extended conversations I had with my father, who died three months later after a protracted battle with lung cancer.  I was going on 28 when I embarked on this exercise in personal responsibility.  Dad shared his appreciation at being asked to join me in picking up my first new car.  This was pretty neat, coming from a man who, like many of his age, expressed his feelings with stoic reserve.  In addition, it was not the first time that he noted my ability to navigate major highways without causing undue concern in the passengers.  (This was before the awful temptation of txtng while drvng.)  One of Dad's real gems in an automotive context: "It's not you I worry about; it's the other [fool]."  Neither Dad nor Mom wielded/wield a college-level vocabulary, but they had/have a way with words.

At the Serra Club's dinner in honor of the 2003 sacerdotal harvest

Joseph Robert Michael Zelonis, I say a little prayer for you:

Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth finds its origin, have mercy on your son and servant Joe Z., who in his days pleased God.  Forgive his sins and weaknesses.  In Your good time and according to Your good pleasure, may we reunite joyfully in the Kingdom of limitless love.

29 October 2012

Priestly People

"God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has freed you from sin, given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and welcomed you into His holy people.  He now anoints you with the Chrism of salvation.  As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of His Body, sharing everlasting life."

Whether or not this prayer was recited at your Baptism, the sacrament "hard-wires" you to Jesus and His Church.  As Jesus fulfills by nature the three-fold office of Prophet, Priest, and King, the grace of Baptism equips you to undertake the three tasks of evangelization, sacrifice, and care.

Christ the Prophet

To evangelize is to declare Good News.  In his Catholicism series, Fr. Barron reminds us of how a royal emissary would announce "eu-angelion! eu-angelion!" to townspeople, thus alerting them to the "good tidings" of military victory.  What is the Good News for us?  The first reading from Jeremiah summarizes it in a manner appropriate to the First Covenant: the Lord has delivered the faithful remnant after a time of exile, and has brought her to a place of refreshment and consolation.  God's action on Judah's behalf stems from their covenant relationship--"I am a father to Israel, Ephraim is my first-born."

Christ the Priest

To sacrifice is to take what belongs to us and to destroy it, make it useless.  We offer God what we value in order to demonstrate that God is our greatest prize.  The Jews sacrificed animals and produce by burning them.  Sometimes they would partake of the sacrificed animal in order to show their connection with the destined Recipient.  In the same way, we partake of the Eucharistic sacrifice that Jesus offered for our salvation so that we may become one with Him and with each other.

The letter to the Hebrews speaks of Jesus as High Priest, an office familiar to the Jews as their chief representative and offerer of sacrifice.  Jesus differs radically from the Jewish High Priests in that He is both priest and victim.  As God incarnate, He perfectly restores Communion with God even as He uniquely enters into our human limitations and frustrations.

Christ the Shepherd

To care is to approach people with great respect for their dignity, not in a patronizing or humiliating manner.  Jesus even asks Bartimaeus what He could do for him.  He does not reduce His Lordship to the status of a customer service representative or Santa Claus.  The stakes are higher than what we want for Christmas, or the next gadget.  Rather it involves our sight--our willingness to perceive the Presence of God wherever He may be found.  To awaken another person to awareness of, and reverence for, that Presence is the best thing anyone can do for another.  All of us can exercise pastoral care in our thoughts, words, and actions; in our communal participation in the sacred liturgy; in our daily moral living; and in our prayerful openness to Church teaching.

This weekend gives us a double whammy in the U.S. observance of Priest Appreciation Sunday within the worldwide Year of Faith.  While all men and women are priests by virtue of Baptism, certain men among the baptized present themselves to the Church, who in God's name forms and calls them to the ministerial priesthood.  In a total and visible way ordained priests exercise the threefold office of Christ as teacher/evangelizer, sanctifier/sacrificer, and shepherd/caregiver.

Among all Christian bodies the Catholic and Orthodox retain the priesthood to offer the Lord's mystical sacrifice.  Holy Mass is more than the Church "walking down memory lane," remembering what Jesus did for us so long ago; rather, it is earth uniting with heaven in the worship of the Thrice-Holy.

Chris the Prophet, Priest, and Shepherd
(Congratulations to Bishop Cullen, my Ordaining Prelate, fifty years a priest!)

As a priest for over nine years, the only sufficient response for my participation in this legacy of love is gratitude.

"Let us give thanks to the Lord our God."  "It is right and just."

20 October 2012

Word From Your Mother (Church)

The priests of the diocese met this week for our annual workshop.  This year the topic was the Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI.  As Father Joseph Ratzinger, he was a university professor and theological consultant for the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago.  Almost thirty years later Pope John Paul II put him in charge of the Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  Ratzinger headed that congregation until he was elected pope in April 2005.  For his entire priesthood, and especially since his ascent to the Papal Throne, he has been setting forth a comprehensive understanding of divine revelation.  In 2008 the pope called a worldwide synod of bishops to discuss The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.  Benedict synthesized the fruits of the synod into a document called Verbum Domini (The Word of the Lord).  One of my former seminary professors, now the rector of the Pontifical College Josephinum in Ohio, gave us a series of presentations on the document Verbum Domini.

I share with you now one fruit of this week’s presentations, a topic that secured my interest.  In Verbum Domini the Holy Father mentioned a time-honored method of prayer called Lectio Divina, or "Divine Reading."

Lectio Divina has four parts: reading (lectio), meditation (meditatio), prayer (oratio), and contemplation (contemplatio).  The Holy Father posed a probative question for each part.  First, “What does the biblical text say in itself?”  Second, “What does the biblical text say to us?”  Third, “What do we say to the Lord in response to His Word?”  Fourth, “What conversion of mind, heart, and life is the Lord asking of us?”  Pope Benedict also mentioned a quasi-fifth part, action--not technically part of the method, but far more than an afterthought: ”What specific action does the text invite us to take?”  

Just as God has fashioned reality by His Word of Truth, He desires to influence our understanding of reality according to that Word.  The "divine perspective" is not only true, it is comprehensive--"Catholic" in the fullest sense of the word.  On World Mission Sunday, we reaffirm that every prayer, personal or communal, joins the Church around the world and throughout the ages.  In terms a Scripture student or seminarian would understand, Christian prayer is "synchronic" and "diachronic."

Returning to the consideration of Lectio Divina, we can take up today's second reading from Hebrews and ask the five questions.  Your prayer will yield something different from mine, but I offer mine as a sample.

(1) Any reliable commentary or critical footnotes will help us to acquire the literal sense of the text, if such is not patently obvious.  This passage reminds us of Jesus’ intimate identification with mankind through His incarnation; it extends even into His experience of temptation and suffering such that He knows what it means to be weak, to need help.  Our Lord’s gracious act gives us the confidence to seek Him in time of need.  

(2) We must allow ourselves, individually and communally, to be challenged by the inspired text.  God isn’t distant and cold.  God isn’t out to get us.  As High Priest, He has offered Himself for me.  He accompanies me in life through trials as well as joys.  Trials remain a part of my life, but when I offer them to God, when I unite them with His all-encompassing suffering, I have nothing to fear.

(3) Here we engage in any applicable form of prayer: adoration, thanksgiving, contrition, and supplication.  “Thank you, Lord, for being Present to Me.  I am sorry when I have willfully ignored You.  I want to ask for help with these problems, so that I may better serve You in others.”

(4) The content of this prayer results from God's gift and our openness to that gift.  “I have not served You when I failed to show compassion for…”  “I have neither sought nor accepted the Church’s teachings with respect to the sanctity of human life…”  "Lord, You demonstrate Your love for me so often, and I now surrender my hesitation to accept that love."

(5) The action in question may involve a more concerted attempt to identify with a difficult person's personality, struggles, etc.; research and prayer on the Church teaching on human life, especially as one's vote will affect the future of religious liberty in our country; the repetition of an affirming phrase in Scripture in moments of self-doubt.

Taking this ancient approach to the inspired Word of God, we can develop a greater appreciation for His continued Presence.  It leads us, appropriately, to the Bread of Life, broken open for us after we have broken open the Word.  

16 October 2012

Reading "The Wreck," Stanza 4-5

I am soft sift        25
            In an hourglass—at the wall
        Fast, but mined with a motion, a drift,
            And it crowds and it combs to the fall;
    I steady as a water in a well, to a poise, to a pane,
    But roped with, always, all the way down from the tall        30
        Fells or flanks of the voel, a vein
Of the gospel proffer, a pressure, a principle, Christ’s gift.

In the fourth stanza of The Wreck of the Deutschland, G. M. Hopkins offers several vivid images to convey the serene resolve of a soul infused with grace.

The sand that slips into the bottom of an hourglass: it moves quickly and inexorably, yet gently.  "Mined with a motion" is the title of a book on Hopkins' poetry.

According to the notes on the poem, "the well is fed by the trickles of water within the flanks of the mountains."  "Roped" lends obscurity to the passage, yet one may say that the grace that flows from the heights is what provides both the matter and form of the well's contents.  The mountain ("voel," in N. Wales) in-forms the well; the Source feeds the receptacle.

Several epithets apply here to grace: (1) The Gospel proffer--what the Gospel puts forth: salvation, vitality, nourishment and hydration; (2) A pressure--compare to "a motion, a drift...[that] crowds and...combs to the fall";  (3) A principle--a "first thing," an immovable, immutable standard; a "foundation" (the other half of the hendiadys "Principle and Foundation," which begins St. Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises); (4) Christ's gift--epithet with the most obvious meaning.

Our Reverend Poet illustrates the dynamic-static tension underlying all reality.  Heraclitus, my favorite pre-Socratic philosopher, was known to say, "War is father of all things" (Polemos pater panton).  He posits the constant of change ("One does not step into the same river twice," etc.), while other pre-socratics would favor what abides.  Hopkins, true to the "both-and" Catholic way, finds room for activity and stillness, locating them both in himself, and, it seems, in God as well.

+ + + + +

I kiss my hand
            To the stars, lovely-asunder
        Starlight, wafting him out of it; and        35
            Glow, glory in thunder;
    Kiss my hand to the dappled-with-damson west:
    Since, tho’ he is under the world’s splendour and wonder,
        His mystery must be instressed, stressed;
For I greet him the days I meet him, and bless when I understand.  

Where can God be found ("wafted")?  Nature's hymnodist offers three praise-worthy suggestions: the light of the stars, the sound of thunder, and the setting sun.

The acting of kissing one's hand is a form of respect that might be lost on newer generations.  One elderly Hispanic nursing home resident bids me farewell in this manner when I leave her room.

God must be discerned ("stressed") in these wonders of nature; the detection of His presence is neither automatic nor effortless.  The encounter of God in these or other created realities is an occasion for gratitude.

13 October 2012

The Life of (Father) Reilly

This time last week I had the privilege of playing the organ for the Mass of Christian Burial for Father Joseph Francis Reilly.  Since then I turned 36, developed Ulnar Neuritis (which is slowly healing; I couldn't type very much over the past couple of days), spoke for a few minutes to Msgr. Charles Pope about his experience as a prolifically blogging diocesan priest, and carried on each day's given labors.

Last night my Facebook news feed displayed the blog of seminary classmate Fr. J. C. Garrett, a close friend of Fr. Reilly who also attended his funeral.  Fr. Garrett wrote this insightful post in tribute to Fr. Reilly.  My decision to write about Joe feels like a case of "monkey see, monkey do," but I know in my heart it isn't.  The feelings and ideas have been stewing since Joe's death.

Joe and I graduated from Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary High School (Pottsville, PA) in 1994.  Three of us from a class of 64 students entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary that fall.  While two of us became Catholic priests, we also have one Orthodox priest and perhaps one more on the way.  Need I mention that the NBVM classes of 1993 through 1997 provided three other Catholic and Orthodox priests besides me and Joe?  It must have been something in the water.

In reality, I would attribute these priestly vocations to: the fidelity and joy in our families; the strong religious climate in our communities; the holiness and humanity of the priests, religious, and laypersons who formed us in our parishes and schools.  Ultimately the inscrutable call of God accounts for such a bumper crop.

In a high school as small as ours, it was hard not to be associated somehow with someone.  Joe and I came from different towns and didn't participate in many of the same activities, but both of us had been well formed in the faith and were very much involved in our parishes.  Activities such as the National Catholic Youth Conference (Indianapolis, 1991) and World Youth Day (Denver, 1993) were, I believe, pivotal moments in our respective faith journeys.  We had a mutual teacher and friend in Fr. (later Msgr.) Bernie Flanagan, our sophomore and junior year theology teacher.  Joe and I were sacristans, responsible for caring for the school chapel and setting up the gymnasium for school Masses.  Proximity to the Sacred Mysteries is a tremendous benefit of Catholic education.  It is hard for me to understand how Catholic school students can become nauseated by divine things!  To be sure, neither of us was ripe for canonization, but we made it through high school relatively unscarred by the world.  As the events surrounding Joe's death have reminded me, the class of '94 is a good bunch.

Joe and I traveled together, would go to dinner together, and otherwise enjoy each other's company in our eight years together at Overbrook.  There our friendship grew beyond the confines of the high school experience, for it was enriched by what we learned, how we worshipped, how we strove to live, and how we prayed; in a word, by the Catholic faith.  Seminary was more of a fishbowl than high school.  Tensions were inevitable.  I can speak more credibly for my own defects, which never abated despite the quality of our formation ("Grace builds upon nature," said Aquinas).  In the later seminary years, Joe and I gravitated toward other classmates.  Distance especially increased when Joe's formation was extended by an additional year in a parish setting; nonetheless our interactions remained enjoyable and enriching, if less frequent.

I knew that Joe had a difficult time in his parish assignments, before and after ordination.  None of us have had an easy time, free of challenges.  I myself am no stranger to "taking things hard."  People's limitations (mine and theirs) are often difficult for me to tolerate.  Early in life I developed a very strong dependence on others' opinions of me, real or perceived; only in the past five years or so have I been making progress with that.

In the summer of 2007 Joe took time and space away from active ministry for personal growth; only months before, I had returned from the same program in which he was participating.  We would talk on the telephone and run into each other at diocesan functions--the same level of contact that many priests maintain with each other.  I knew that Joe began to feel alienated from fellow diocesan priests, and my own attempts to reach out diminished over time.  My last attempt fell around his birthday five months ago, when I met up with his dear mother and she gave me his phone number (the one I had was out of service for some time, and I didn't know whether he'd received my last couple of e-mails...or my last voicemail).

Having reviewed the footage, this Monday Morning Quarterback attributes the outcome of the final  quarter to several possibilities: misperceptions, passage of time and proliferation of responsibilities; fear of rejection; and/or practical indifference.  Now people have reminded me that the choices in a friendship "go both ways," but I render no judgment on his part.  Time has run out; eternity is another matter.

Msgr. John P. Murphy, pastor of St. Thomas More (where Fr. Reilly completed his pastoral year), preached the homily for Joe's funeral.  He offered valuable insight into Joe's struggles and hopes for a return to active ministry.  I never knew firsthand where he stood in that regard, not that it would have made any difference in my heart and mind.  Both Msgr. Murphy and Bishop Barres noted that Joe's death (of natural causes, though still quite unexpected) offers us diocesan priests the challenge to keep in touch and to offer support, especially when a brother is struggling; and who isn't at some point?

(L to R: Fr. Zelonis, Fr. Reilly, and Fr. McFadden of Phila. Rome, 2003.)
So now Joe is in the best position to know my disposition toward him, which was never unfavorable, though perhaps unexpressed.  The whole ordeal is, to use an appropriate cliche, "in God's hands."  He knows well what is in man's heart.  With his particular skill set and ill set, this much can be said for Fr. Joe Reilly: he loved the Lord Jesus and His holy Mother, loved his family, loved the holy Catholic Church, loved the priesthood; and loved people.  He wanted to do right by all of them: a worthy task for life.  Through whatever trials I have faced and may yet face, I pray that my own heart may be so purified that Joe and I may concelebrate the eternal Offering of Peace and Sacrifice of Praise.


As I receive links to other people's accounts of their friendship with Fr. Reilly, I shall post them here.  A diamond's brilliance should be appreciated from many angles.
From Robert Badger
From Fr. J. C. Garrett

11 October 2012

Something for the Ladies

Leah Darrow, a blogger for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), writes about True Womanhood in a piece that, frankly, I as a man wish I'd heard from a woman about women when I was younger.

FTW: her sampling of Fulton Sheen on woman's role in civilization.

Tribute to All my Brother Priests

Bishop-elect Joseph E. Strickland of Tyler, Texas, has been blogging for some time under the title "The Running Priest," and the blog is called RunFatherRun.

He shares with us this tribute to priests that I present for your reflection.  We are not supposed to "toot our own horn," despite the fact that I play the trumpet.  I do appreciate the Bishop-Elect's post.  He describes the sort of situations that we may face at any time, and the sort of needs to which we must attend.

Prayers certainly are helpful, and welcome.

10 October 2012

The Thought That Counts

Upon the completion of my thirty-sixth year I received numerous good wishes from Facebook friends.  When people reach out to me in any way, I often think of Hopkins' ditty "To him who ever thought with love of me."  Ya wanna hear it?  Here it goes:

The voice here is Christ, who promised similar rewards for offering so much as a cup of cold water to a disciple (cf. Mt 10:42), and who considered deeds done to "one of the least" as done to Him (Mt 25:40).

Earthly favors are all well and good, but Jesus can give "the look of love" that prompts repentance and redemption when we need it most.

What would you prefer?  I thought so.  And that is what I desire for not just my Facebook friends, but also my parishioners, blog followers, visitors, and all the rest!

09 October 2012

Doctor, My Eyes Cannot See the Sky

On Sunday Pope Benedict XVI conferred upon Saint Hildegard of Bingen and Saint John of Avila the status of "Doctor of the Church."  Their writings (and, in St. Hildegard's case, musical compositions) bear value for Church teaching, the Sacred Liturgy, Christian prayer, and/or the moral life.

According to the Holy Father, the two new doctors together summarize "the ideal in Christian life, expressed in the call to holiness" which, in its turn, catalyzes the "call to mission."  The example of their unique lives
draws us to look with humility at the fragility, even sin, of many Christians, as individuals and communities, which is a great obstacle to evangelization and to recognizing the force of God that, in faith, meets human weakness. Thus, we cannot speak about the new evangelization without a sincere desire for conversion. The best path to the new evangelization is to let ourselves be reconciled with God and with each other (cf. 2 Cor 5:20). Solemnly purified, Christians can regain a legitimate pride in their dignity as children of God, created in his image and redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and they can experience his joy in order to share it with everyone, both near and far. [emphases mine]
"Fragility, even sin": the Holy Father distinguishes the two because sin originates either in weakness or in malice.  We see the latter all the time; and everybody else is guilty of it!  Perhaps fragility is more prevalent.  Everybody means well, though he does not always do well.  In the moral context I would define fragility as the perceived difference between one's intentions and actions.  The moral agent intends to do well, but at the last moment of choice, does not do what he or she intends.  We have no better example than Saint Paul: "What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate" (Rom 7:15 NAB).

Many persons are becoming increasingly concerned with the persistent and debilitating notion that their every action, word, or thought is a sin.   Religion and spirituality speak of this condition as scrupulosity.  Recent research of the medical community identifies scrupulosity as a species of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD, not to be confused with Ordo Carmelitarum Discalceatorum- the link is to a valuable periodical published by their Washington D.C. province).  The Redemptorist Fathers (whose founder, St. Alphonsus Liguori, suffered from scruples) have largely accepted the insights of modern medicine and have incorporated them into their pastoral efforts (read Fr. Thomas Santa's valuable article here).

OCD occurs across the human spectrum to varying degrees.  The better part of it is method, organization, and steadfastness, which non-sufferers also exhibit--and sometimes jokingly label OCD.  Perhaps many high achievers have channeled their excessiveness to good effect, with or without therapies.

The scrupulous person pays undue attention to "the rules," with an intense (and often inaccurate) perspective.  We are told in the above-cited OCFoundation article that "there is no evidence that the moral or religious character of scrupulosity sufferers is any different from that of other people."  Like those in the general population afflicted with OCD, religiously scrupulous people may be more or less virtuous, or attend religious services more or less, than non-scrupulous people.  Whether or not they are in fact committing more objective sin than others, the thought of it bothers them more.

We may tend to envision all scrupulous people among the devout, as observant of religious practices--"to a fault," to their own agony and to the pathos of loved ones.  But many scrupulous people do not attend church because it seems better for them to refrain, both physically and mentally, than to go occasionally and fear repercussions, or to go and become upset by their distractions or failure to say all the words properly.  (Did the revised translation pose any problems for the scrupulous, I wonder?)  For non-observant people who choose to absent themselves from Mass, their course of action seems to them to be the best way to arrive at healing.

Under the presumption that every baptized Catholic would do well to act in accord with his or her identity, faithful sacramental participation is the best course, especially when "managed" with spiritual direction and, when appropriate, psychological counseling.  This was the professional opinion of Doctor John of Avila, whose Letter to a Soul Suffering from Scrupulosity is worth reading.  He notes well how the scrupulous become so consumed with themselves--with the concern that they are not pleasing to God, that they have failed Him, or that He might turn on them at the very hint of offense.  This nagging feeling (and it is just that--a feeling, not a fact; no moral value to it) may prompt them to say, "To hell with it" and to act out that feeling by suicide, either in one fell swoop or, as most people do, on an installment plan.  Failing to see "the sky"--the all-consuming love of God for them and for the many--they may become hardened to the Source of all good and to His design for our days.

In these times when so few (as few as 20% of Catholics) attend Mass regularly, we want to encourage every Catholic, regardless of mental/emotional health, to "become who they are" by immersing themselves in the Christian Mystery.  Our world, beset with laxity, could stand a greater moral and religious conscientiousness born of trust in God's everlasting love.

To return to Pope Benedict's address cited above: Christians would profit to recover their dignity as God's beloved, and share with others the fruits of their conversion.  That ongoing process is what we call "evangelization."

+ Incidentally, certain musically inclined (or googling) readers may recognize the title of this article as a reference to a song by Jackson Browne, who shares my birthday.  Find some interesting interpretations of the cited song here.

06 October 2012

Marriage: A Three-Ring Circus

It is said that marriage is a three-ring ceremony: the engagement ring, the wedding ring, and the suffering.  Spouses usually seek the first two rings with great excitement.  Nobody looks for the third one; it just comes.  But the third one lends meaning to the first two: when a married couple works together through their trials, purification and transformation result.  How much more so with God, who forged with the human race a “new and eternal covenant” by becoming man, by living, suffering, dying, and rising from death as man!  Thus the author of the letter to the Hebrews can proclaim that Jesus was “made perfect” through suffering.  His choice to enter most deeply into human existence redounded to our benefit: in Jesus mankind gained not a mere good moral example or kindhearted friend in times of need, but a Savior “bringing many children to glory.”
         Husbands and wives have the great privilege of participating in a design that points to “the beginning,” how God created man to be, in His image and likeness—that is, capable of communion and called to communion.  As Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are a Communion of mutual life and love, so are husbands and wives and children.  No created thing could be for the man what a woman could be: a “suitable partner” to become “one flesh” with him in conjugal union.  Together open to the divine abundance, spouses may become parents and form a “domestic church,” a setting to learn what it means to be truly happy, healthy, and holy.  Every domestic church experiences trials born of human weakness and sinfulness.  Those families endure who reverence the commitment that they have made and that God has made to them.  Through our repentance and conversion, God works great wonders in our midst.
         In light of this Good News we can recognize more clearly the obstacles posed to this divine ideal.  The misuse of the gift of sexual union spurs a variety of dysfunctions.  Today in particular we lament the tragedy of abortion.  Outside of our lawn have been posted 144 white crosses—one for every American baby aborted every hour: a “gross gross.”  Under the ridiculous mantle of “reproductive rights” our land has not just tolerated, but really encouraged, the problem that fouled everything up in “the beginning”: the union that exists for the bonding of spouses and the co-creation of babies now is broken.  As a result, sex ends up fulfilling neither function.  Babies have become a necessary evil; whenever and however possible, they can be avoided for the sake of convenience.  Spouses do not truly come together through sexual union, and marriage slowly becomes an obstacle to personal freedom.  How one can vote for a candidate that supports “reproductive rights” is beyond me, and more important, beyond the Church, and even more important, beyond human reason.
         When it comes to abortion, more and more people are starting to embrace the truth.  By God’s providence, painful experiences are becoming a source of healing.  But there are a host of other serious concerns: the promotion of same-sex activity and marriage, the foisting of mandatory access to contraception, the scientific creation of embryos for genetic selection, and so forth.  According to polls, many Catholics join their non-Catholic and secular counterparts in promoting these things.  It is no surprise that certain political candidates endorse most of these issues as a kind of “package deal.”  It makes sense, because these errors all have one origin, and they all tend to one tragic outcome.  Please investigate and embrace the time-honored, experience-proven truth about the sanctity of human life, and join in promoting the culture of life and love that originates in the heart of Christ.  The future of the Church depends on our commitment to the truth, both in our voting and in our daily choices.