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

27 July 2013

I Hate Divorce, But I Love The Divorced

Our local daily recently featured the efforts of several area churches that offer informational and supportive programs for the separated and divorced. One participant happily noted that the Catholic Church is "beginning to recognize that divorce is real."

This and other quotes are best understood in their contexts: the whole article, the whole interview (much of which didn't likely make the article), the life of the speaker, and so forth. Articles are necessarily selective, and therefore are subject to scrutiny and contention.

Articles also can foster genuine dialogue, the mutual search for truth-in-charity. To that end, I would affirm that the Church has always recognized divorce, in the sense that it's a reality, that people do it. Recognition, permission, and approval are three different words.

Divorce long predates the Church. In Dt 24:1-4, Moses recognized that couples already were divorcing on the basis of "something indecent" that the man found in the woman. Neither the laws nor the culture admitted reciprocity, whenever the woman might have found indecency in the man's conduct. Earlier, in Dt 22:13ff, Moses treated a divorce scenario that involved dishonesty (as many do, from both parties!). Then you have the prophet Malachi, whose biting sound byte says it all: "For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel" (2:16; for context see 2:10-17, if not the whole book--it's short).
With curiosity I note that Mal 2:!6 expresses divorce with the Greek participle ἐξαποστείλῃς  ("sending away"), rooted in [ex]apostello, the origin of apostle.
Jesus declared Moses' divorce laws to be a concession, "by reason of the hardness of your hearts" (Mt 19:8f), and reaffirmed the primordial arrangement: "Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate" (19:4-6).

The Church cannot fight the fact that the civil law may terminate the civil dimensions of a marital contract. The Church cannot fight the fact that men and women cease to live together as husband and wife (which often happens long before the civil divorce date, indeed long before the physical separation). For the Church, or anyone, to claim that these are not realities would be insane.

When the woman in the above article praises the Church's recognition of the reality of divorce, I suspect she means to praise her parish and other congregations that are offering forums for compassion, education, and support, even if local-level support has taken a couple of decades to materialize.

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In 1980, a Synod of Bishops first addressed the marital problems that Catholics and others face within the positive context of Church teaching. In conjunction with that synod, Pope John Paul II wrote Familiaris Consortio.  In 1997, Pope John Paul II addressed the Pontifical Council for the Family in response to their meeting "On the Pastoral Care of the Divorced and Remarried."

To summarize the 1997 document:
  • The Church will do what she can to assist the baptized who have attempted non-sacramental marriages, affirming the grace of God and the Church's maternal compassion even while affirming Church teachings.
  • Remarried Catholics are welcome in the Church. Like everyone else, they must listen to the Word of God and engage in prayer, repentance, and charity, so to foster genuine hope for their eternal salvation.
  • Special attention must be paid to the formation of children born to non-sacramental marriage, as well as to their "support network" (close influences among their family and friends).
While non-Catholic religious bodies may sanction second-plus marriages, the Catholic Church maintains that a sacramental marriage remains binding until the death of a spouse, or until the validity of the bond has been disproven by the Church Tribunal's scrutiny. This latter situation is called the "declaration of nullity" or "annulment," for short. It does not intend to pass judgment on the good intentions of a couple, but rather whether the consent they exchanged truly gave rise to the Sacrament of Matrimony. Tribunals rely on the honest testimony of the petitioning spouse and those enlisted to offer corroborating testimony.

Divorced but not remarried Catholics are encouraged to remain faithful to the Sacraments, to prayer, sacrifice, and charity. They must also preserve the integrity and chastity of their initial bond, because it is considered sacramental and binding until proven otherwise. We recognize that many Catholics initiate dating and indeed courtship after (and often before!) civil divorce; to deny this would be as foolish as to deny the reality of divorce itself. These couples must preserve chastity like any other unmarried couple, and must also avoid giving the "wink-wink" impression of being as married as anyone else "except for the technicality."
I recall (and still shudder at the recollection of) one best man who publicly declared of the  groom, "It's about time he makes an honest woman of her (the bride)." A ceremony of the highest solemnity will not make a dishonest person honest. Grace builds upon nature.
As far as I am aware, this couple is no longer married to each other.
"But when the Son of Man comes, will he find valid marriages on earth?" #thingsJesusneversaid

For various reasons some Catholics attempt subsequent marriages without seeking a declaration of nullity for their first union. And there are situations in which the couple had sought a declaration but the Church would not grant it (by far the minority, and for reasons that are beyond the scope of this article, and my competency, to discuss). The Church owes compassion to Catholics in this situation, though they may not partake of the Sacraments of Eucharist or Reconciliation until the initial bond (and any intervening bonds, where applicable) is declared null and the current marriage is solemnized ("convalidated") by a duly-authorized priest or deacon of the Catholic Church.
Some finer points on these matters are treated by this 1994 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Here as always, it is most prudent not to act on one's own intentionally isolated judgment of conscience, but rather to consult a qualified external source on the local level (e.g. a parish priest, deacon, or pastoral minister).
This teaching is hard to accept, but personal experience in my own family attests that it can be accepted and lived, though patience is needed during the time of ineligibility to receive the sacraments, and during the annulment process.

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The Reading Eagle article did not specify whether these post-divorce programs were assisting the (validly or invalidly) remarried. Whether or not remarriage is involved, these spiritual initiatives are laudable. Alongside our premarital preparation programs, they express the Church's ardent care for souls, as well as her insistence upon the sacredness of Holy Matrimony.

26 July 2013

More Like Eleazar

My news feed fed me this fervorino attributed to our currently reigning Holy Father:
"We need saints without cassocks, without veils - we need saints with jeans and tennis shoes. We need saints that go to the movies that listen to music, that hang out with their friends. We need saints that place God in first place ahead of succeeding in any career. We need saints that look for time to pray every day and who know how to be in love with purity, chastity and all good things. We need saints - saints for the 21st century with a spirituality appropriate to our new time. We need saints that have a commitment to helping the poor and to make the needed social change. We need saints to live in the world, to sanctify the world and to not be afraid of living in the world by their presence in it. We need saints that drink Coca-Cola, that eat hot dogs, that surf the internet and that listen to their iPods. We need saints that love the Eucharist, that are not afraid or embarrassed to eat a pizza or drink a beer with their friends. We need saints who love the movies, dance, sports, theater. We need saints that are open sociable normal happy companions. we need saints who are in this world and who know how to enjoy the best in this world without being callous or mundane. We need saints."
Since this statement surfaced amid the goings-on of World Youth Day, I figured that Francis must have said it there. In an attempt to find the precise context, I found this article by Deacon Greg Kandra at Patheos.

Then I caught sight of this moderate chastisement from Mary Rezac of the Catholic News Agency.

Gulp! Not Francis, huh?

For an instant, I considered turning in my Catholic Bloggers' License. Had I not done so voluntarily, I would be escorted out of the CBL headquarters with my head covered, paparazzi snapping away. One count of disseminating false information, endless counts of substandard writing...

At this point, I don't know who said the above, but somebody did; and he or she should be commended for it. Because it's true.

A man named Eleazar died and appeared before the Lord. Eleazar lamented that he wasn't more like David, or Esther, or Samuel. The Lord answered, "Why weren't you more like Eleazar?"

The Communion of Saints is as diverse a bunch as there will ever be. Christ is the only mold, and the peculiarities, technological and artistic expressions, of each age are more compatible than older generations give them credit for.

Here is one of my favorite poems. Its authorship is certain.
Seek first the Kingdom of God, and you will get all the appreciation you need

20 July 2013

Convincing Love

Pardon the span since my last post. I was gainfully occupied with treasured friends and my Father's world.
Mount Shasta (CA). Trust me when I say: This is not a postcard.
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In the daily Prayer of the Faithful book that our parish uses, I found this petition on Friday:
For those who have trouble comprehending the teachings of the Church, that they are surrounded by the love of believers and influenced by God's grace, let us pray.
That's not one for the folks at Unvirtuous Abbey, but I could rephrase it according to the UA standard:
For those who, when it comes to Church teaching, don't get it or won't get it, let us pray.
Our PoF book was kind enough to suggest a good intention to adopt, namely that people receive who and what they need to grow in faith. The desire for a positive outcome is the mark of a good petition!

We speak of "faith" in terms of content (what adherents believe) and relationship (the adherent's lived experience as a believer--among believers and non-believers, viewing earthly realities, pleasant and unpleasant, in light of the Reality known as God). These dual aspects illuminate each other; together they illuminate the adherent along life's journey.

According to the period in history, personal temperament, etc., people seem to gravitate toward one aspect or the other--the content of faith or the relationship of faith. The exclusion of either causes conflict and not clarity.  I'm no Church historian, but for sake of example we might wonder whether the years around councils are more concerned with content than relationship. Insofar as the Second Vatican Council is termed a "Pastoral Council," one might conclude that it concerned relationship (the Church's with modernity) more than content. But we don't ever really have one without the other, as the wealth of conciliar documents attests.

Regarding faith troubles, we can derive much consolation from this dictum of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman: "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt" (here is the context). We're not "in trouble" with God simply because we're having a hard time with a particular article of faith, with a paradox of faith, or (most often) with the mystery ("problem") of evil. God punishes no one for being a thinker; we tend to do a bang-up job of it ourselves!

For those who are disposed to it, God's grace assists the assent of the intellect and the consent of the will. Faith takes work; it truly does not "come naturally." Therefore nothing can substitute for divine intervention, the second component of the above petition. Without grace, the believer's adventure would be impossible, and indeed unnecessary.

Yet we cannot ignore the first supportive element: "the love of believers." Consider the famous dictum from St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians: "So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (13:13). Love (caritas, agape) will be the last theological virtue standing at the end, but not a moment before. Until then, believers can offer hope to their fellow strugglers precisely by the steadfast witness of their love.

(I say, "fellow strugglers," for who among us has coasted through this life's journey without finding or making reasons to question the reality and/or relevance of God?)

Let's not make it any harder for people to believe by our uncharity! Instead, let our love be as "surround sound" that dispels the noise of world, flesh, and devil.

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I should add that the petitions in this Prayer of the Faithful service often relate to the day's Scripture readings. What for this case?  Exodus 11:10--12:14 has enough material for one post.

To put it mildly, Pharaoh's obduracy was uncharitable. It was one of myriad difficulties behind alien Israel's doubt of YHWH's wisdom, power, and love. Did Pharaoh "cause" that doubt? Did Israel's lack of food, water, security, or anything else, cause it? Even if Israel's difficulties added up to 10,001, they did not cause her to doubt.  The People of God failed to acknowledge God's consistent actions on their behalf, no matter how often and how marvelously He acted.

The biggest factor behind Israel's unbelief was their worship of comfort. Not "interest in," not "preference for," but worship of. Yes, Israel had a great deal of hardship; perhaps their entire inspired corpus is, in a word, a history of hardships--some dealt from within, some from without. Believing, struggling readers will recognize their own story in its pages. But they will also recognize the invitation to love-infused faith, which alone helps people to make sense of suffering.

Not to disparage the narrative integrity of the First Covenant, we who have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16) will supply Something missing from its sacred pages. This declaration from the Catechism will help:
If God the Father almighty, the Creator of the ordered and good world, cares for all his creatures, why does evil exist? To this question, as pressing as it is unavoidable and as painful as it is mysterious, no quick answer will suffice. Only Christian faith as a whole constitutes the answer to this question: the goodness of creation, the drama of sin and the patient love of God who comes to meet man by his covenants, the redemptive Incarnation of his Son, his gift of the Spirit, his gathering of the Church, the power of the sacraments and his call to a blessed life to which free creatures are invited to consent in advance, but from which, by a terrible mystery, they can also turn away in advance. There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil. (CCC 309, bold emphases mine).
Note well: Though Christ's entire mystery constitutes "the answer," it doesn't provide automatic, comprehensive conviction. His grace, my consent, your witness remain: these three!

The LORD was asking Israel to do a strange thing: discharge a detailed preparation of a lamb as if any minute now they had to get moving! At the outset, the prospect of leaving Egypt had some promise, but it wasn't very long before the mobile misfits longed for their fleshpots and melted their gold into a calf. The whole affair was a crisis of faith.

Judging by Moses' reactions, he often became as flustered as his fellow wayfarers. "Moses' wrath flared up, so that he threw the tablets down and broke them on the base of the mountain" (Ex 32:19). "Listen to me, you rebels!" (Num 20:10) And my favorite: "If this is the way you will deal with me, then please do me the favor of killing me at once, so that I need no longer face this distress" (Num 11:15).

During the second rant, Moses struck the rock twice when God's only directive was to "order the rock to yield its waters" (Num 20:8; 11). That act of disobedience constituted a lack of faith in the Lord's mercy. God would have sent the stream at Moses' mere word, which would have astounded Israel more readily than smacking the rock (which is how I imagine the two pulses--delivered with no ceremony whatever!).
Moses On Strike
Moses' doubt didn't help the Israelites along their wilderness wandering. Likewise the rants of Christ's priests have no salutary effect "for our good, and the good of all His holy Church." (Not that their ineffectiveness has ever stopped me...)

But God knows whom He chooses, and may He be praised for His forbearance with us! Help us, Lord,  to surround the doubtful with convincing love.

07 July 2013

Properties of Marriage, Properties of Discipleship

Recently I wrote about marriage, especially in light of the recent decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, which will allow states to redefine marriage by popular consent (and who knows what sort of consent will be popular or acceptable down the pike?). 

That homily/post supported a Catholic writer’s open online letter to priests and bishops, which urged us to preach the authentic Catholic faith no matter what the response. If I were to preach about one topic ad nauseam, it would be marriage and family life, because it is a common denominator with uncommon value.

The Scriptures comment on the essential properties of this great sacrament. The Gospel illustrates the qualities of marital fidelity and permanence, though within the specific context of apostolic labor. Jesus encourages seventy-two disciples to conduct themselves with innocence and simplicity. God’s servants must learn how to cope with the natural restlessness and fickleness that comes with their commitment. It seems understandable that they should “stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered.”

Regarding that last point: I know I’m a finicky eater. I’m most grateful for the accommodations that our pastor and cook make for me, and I know that compromise is crucial. Regarding the matter of stability: I’ve only been at Holy Guardian Angels for 5 ½ years, but on a few occasions I've felt that I needed to move. It still comes…and goes…and comes back! At this point in my short life it’s hard to imagine being in the same assignment—or shall I say, relationship—for, say, 15 years (as our pastor has spent thus far). Now, the diocesan priest’s primary purpose is to serve the whole Diocese according to its needs, so there is no expected guarantee of residential permanence. Spouses pledge permanence not to a location, but to a person; and they fulfill that pledge one day at a time.

St. Paul’s words to the Galatians allude to the totality of the marriage covenant, on the basis of Jesus’ total investment of Self, to the extent of crucifixion and death. The topic of circumcision and other Jewish laws was of some concern to the Galatians, and Paul makes clear that these signs of commitment do not compare to the rebirth that comes from Christ. Paul suffered greatly so that this rebirth could extend to the Gentiles. In the same way, happily married couples will do and endure whatever is necessary within reason to preserve their union. 

Soon-to-be-Saint John Paul II was a devotee of the sacrament of marriage; he spent much time and much ink in its promotion. In one document he spoke of what spouses devote to their sacred bond, namely their bodies, their instincts, their feelings and affections, their deepest aspirations and their freedom (Familiaris Consortio, 13, quoted in CCC 1643).

The first reading from Isaiah considers the fruitfulness of God’s covenant with Israel, which extends to every individual and couple. The prophet employs earthy language (there is nothing earthier than a mother and her suckling child) and promptly refers it to material prosperity. Scots economist Adam Smith commandeered Isaiah’s phrase, “The Wealth of Nations,” for the abridged title of his 1776 treatise on capitalism. Isaiah makes it clear that God provides both the principal and the interest, even though one must presume the freedom of the investor. In the same way, God blesses a marriage with children when the material conditions are present. 

According to the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, marriage is ordered toward the procreation and education of children, “and it is in them that marriage finds its crowning glory.” Children unwittingly assist their parents in the fulfillment of their marital calling, which is nothing less than their personal and communal path to holiness (Gaudium et Spes, quoted in CCC 1652). Whether or not their marriage is physically fertile, a couple must see their children as a gift and not a right to be obtained by any means. When couples invest themselves in marriage with permanence, fidelity, and joy, their marriage becomes fruitful, whatever form that fruitfulness may take. No vocation to marriage, consecrated life, or priesthood, flourishes if the person is consumed with himself.

We cannot help but recognize the many imperfect and often sinful situations among us: failed marriages, serial marriages, children born outside of marriage, children born outside of natural conception, children affected by failed marriages, marriages strained by pornography, infidelity, same-sex activity, individuals and couples who have compromised their fertility by contraception or who have at some point refuted it by abortion; not to mention the cavalcade of dysfunction in which every individual and family shares. These realities do not deter  the Church from affirming the whole truth of married love. God respects our freedom regardless of how we use it, for reasons He knows best and we know impartially. At every conscious moment we must reaffirm our desire for heaven and recommit to the choices that are conducive to it.

We can never forget, however, that God also makes a total commitment of Self. His care for us is ever constant and extensive. As married persons, consecrated religious, and priests strive to remain faithful to our respective vocations, the Lord Jesus promises the power we need to recognize and resist Satan’s wiles, a power we must develop through prayer, the sacraments, charity, and virtue. Divine sustenance in this life is consistent with eternal life, wherein, with indelible ink, our “names are written in heaven.”

04 July 2013

Your Will is Yours

I know we're currently in the liturgical season of Ordinary Time, but let me make a plug for my favorite Stations of the Cross: Everyone's Way of the Cross (1970) by Fr. Clarence Enzler. We often used it in my home parish.
The old cover...not even the oldest!
Originally it was called "Everyman's Way of the Cross." A more enlightened era solved that problem! To be honest, I hadn't realized the changes until I discovered an older copy. Kinda like archaeology, ain't?
Say what you will about 70s holdovers: I still like EWOTC because of its spirituality. The author's premise is that everyone is Christ's "other self," and therefore ought to act accordingly not only in grand trials, but also--especially--in life's ordinary moments.

This approach applies to every baptized person's identification with Christ as priest, prophet, and king. Every priest shares in that identity in a particular way, as expressed in that awesome moniker, alter Christus. An awesome responsibility not just for priests, but for all the baptized. Whether Enzler was trying to downplay sacerdotal uniqueness or elevate baptismal dignity, one may never know. (I would favor the latter, which in fact does not accomplish the former.)

Persons who pray the Liturgy of the Hours frequently read the Psalms; as a result, and through the Holy Spirit, a phrase from a psalm or canticle often comes to mind at appropriate times. Lines from EWOTC also occur to me in this fashion.

During a recent conversation, I thought of this one from the ninth station (I had to look it up, as I couldn't recall its precise origin):
"No force on earth and none in hell can take away your will. Your will is yours."
This came to mind because I was talking to someone who was feeling trapped by family difficulties. It's easy to allow other people, even our own family members, to impinge upon our freedom. "S/he demands too much!" But how much, and what sort of allowance, do you give him/her? Before long, if you want to be well, you have to look closely and honestly at your own responsibility in the matter, accept what you can change, be willing and courageous to change what you can, and seek the wisdom to discern the difference. Does s/he, or anyone else, make you feel this way or that? One may retort, "Well, you can't choose to feel, can you?" Perhaps not, but you can choose what feelings to entertain. You can weigh them against the truth, even when the truth doesn't seem as clear as you'd prefer it to be. And what sort of factors muddle the truth, anyhow? Fear tops the list; and you are free to add your own.

Human beings are going to experience fears. When Jesus says, "Fear is useless, what is needed is trust" (Mk 5:36), we might feel further disappointment in ourselves for fearing someone or something. "Aw, that's not what disciples do!" Well, run that assertion by the Apostles to whom Jesus felt it necessary to say that.

Trust--faith--is needed; but trust is more than feeling that "everything's gonna work itself out." That's an important dimension, but it doesn't present the complete picture. Faith involves action. When we begin to experience fear, we need to get in the habit of asking God as soon as possible what the proper response is, whether it take the form of words, actions, or (usually the case) some combination of these.

The devil can toy with our imagination and our memory, but he can't toy with our intellect and our will. It's not easy to pause and consider the distinction between these human faculties in real time, in the midst of a challenging situation. Spiritual companionship helps: it helps to have on hand someone who can help you to seek consoling yet challenging clarification. And it helps us to seek that clarification explicitly, open to whatever he or she may offer. In the event that such a friend is not readily available, remember that God is! If at times it sounds to us like we're complaining, we can be grateful that some listeners (human and divine) are willing to listen to us; but beware that some of them may ask us what we're willing to do for a change. Who'd blame them for it?

Eventually we are once again reminded of our deepest freedom, where God is present, whereby we can make it through another day.

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Now this day is U.S. Independence Day. At this national moment there are voices announcing threats to religious freedom in our country, with proposed mandates for contraceptive and abortifacient coverage in health insurance. This is supposed to be of particular concern to Catholics, who have steadfastly held the immorality of artificial contraception.  But this ought to be of particular concern to all Americans, who would not be forced by any human power to violate fundamental freedoms.

Will we allow this to happen--specifically, will we allow this coverage to become mandatory? Will it result in more restrictions on the basic liberties of Americans? Will enough people care? It may depend on what freedoms seem to be restricted at the time. What's one more?
People might be willing to endure certain restrictions if they don't feel the undesirable effects of those restrictions. If they do feel undesirable effects, they will have to summon the motivation to make the necessary changes and consider their options. But nothing will happen until the discomfort level is high enough. People will complain, but their current options will seem rather limited, so that's as far as it will go.

"They demand too much!"