The Christian Idea of Marriage

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The Christian idea of marriage is based on Christ’s words that a man and wife are to be regarded as a single organism—for that is what the words ‘one flesh’ would be in modern English. And the Christians believe that when He said this He was not expressing a sentiment but stating a fact—just as one is stating a fact when one says that a lock and its key are one mechanism, or that a violin and a bow are one musical instrument. The inventor of the human machine was telling us that its two halves, the male and the female, were made to be combined together in pairs, not simply on the sexual level, but totally combined. The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union. The Christian attitude does not mean that there is anything wrong about sexual pleasure, any more than about the pleasure of eating. It means that you must not isolate that pleasure and try to get it by itself, any more than you ought to try to get the pleasures of taste without swallowing and digesting, by chewing things and spitting them out again.

Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis

This has got to be one of the best and most concise explanations for why sex before marriage is forbidden for Christians. But it still may be hard for people (even Christians) to understand because our society no longer views mankind as an integral (inseparable) union of body and soul.

Many people today act as if the soul does not exist at all, but then would contradict this by saying they believe there is a soul. The reason for the inconsistency seems to be the the false philosophy that is promoted by various forms of media and politicians: the whole separation of church and state mentality. The effect of this on our understanding of the human person is that we compartmentalize what we believe in the public sector and what we believe in the private sector, which is where religion has been relegated to. This false notion is then reinforced by so-called scientists who are really just material reductionists that deny anything spiritual because they cannot see it, touch it, or smell it.

Christians, on the other hand, are called to see the world and mankind as it really is. We were created by God as a hylomorphic union of body (matter) and soul (form): the one cannot exist without the other. (* see note) From this correct understanding of mankind we can see that what we do with the body does in fact have an effect the soul, because you cannot separate the two. And when you use your body in an improper way, as in sex before marriage and especially homosexual activity, then the negative consequences can be felt in your entire being.

Now some people may protest at this point and claim that they feel no negative effects from premarital sex or homosexual activity. I suspect that some of these people, if they were honest, would admit to a certain hollowness within themselves. For the others that do not admit to this, we can explain their lack of remorse on a society that for decades has been filling our minds with the mantra “Oh come on, it’s ok. Everyone is doing it.”

But Christians know that is not true. It is not ok. When the Church says that sex should be saved for marriage (just to clarify – one man and one woman) she is not trying to take away anyone’s fun. She is simply trying to help her children to be truly happy, which can only happen if they are living their lives in accordance with the Truth. And the truth in question here is that mankind is a union of body AND soul. Understanding this and helping others to understand is of great importance.

*Note: At least in this world they cannot exist separately. On the other hand, the Saints in heaven, the souls in Purgatory, and those in Hell exist in a spiritual state until Christ returns and everyone receives their bodies back. God created our souls as immortal and so they cannot cease to exist, but our bodies can and do die as a result of sin. This existence of the soul without the body should be viewed as a Divine concession that has been allowed until all things are restored when Christ returns.

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The Definition of American Politics

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This post comes from something I just read. It seems to me that American politics can be defined with one word – vagueness; specifically, vagueness as defined in the philosophy of Phenomenology.

Sometimes the material we are talking about is beyond us; we really do not understand what we are saying. Much of what people say about politics, for example, is like this. Much of what they say is vague: slogans are repeated, favorite ideas are trotted out, statements made by others are stated verbally but without comprehension. Most public opinion polls measure vague thinking. The human power of speech, the noble power that give us our dignity as human beings, also makes it possible for us to seem to be thinking when we really are not. This is a specifically human way of failing to be what we should be, and it is very important in human affairs.

Introduction to Phenomenology, Robert Sokolowski, p. 105

Of course maybe the politicians really are thinking, but then if that is the case then they are in error about that which they believe to be true. Maybe it is really Americans in general that suffer from the malady of vagueness. Many Americans just jump on various bandwagons – like “marriage equality” – that they hear proclaimed by politicians and the media, assuming that what they are hearing is true and then not really thinking it through.

But I must admit, as Sokolowski points out a few pages later, that I too suffer from vagueness. In fact we all do at one point or another. We cannot begin to learn anything at all unless we start from vagueness and move toward understanding. And that is exactly what we need to do – move toward understanding. Do we really understand the various things that we profess to believe? Or do we just parrot back what we hear others say?

And the Word was made Flesh…

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Today we celebrate one of the most significant, if not the most significant, holy day of the year. Why do I say such a thing? What about Easter? What about Christmas? The fact is that without today, those two events would have never taken place.

We should never forget the full importance of today because this is the day that God became Man. In a way it is strange that we put so much emphasis of the Incarnation on Christmas, the day of our Lord’s birth. But in another way it makes sense. Think about it: whenever a friend tells us they are having a baby we say “Congratulations!” The real celebration, though, doesn’t take place until after the baby is born when we can see and hold the baby. But I think this type of behavior really needs to change for the following reason: our society no longer values the life of the unborn.

There really should be a new emphasis on the importance of today’s Solemnity by the Church, or at least by her members, in order to counteract the misunderstanding of our society. Society claims that the unborn are not truly people, and therefore do not have any right to life, until they are born. But on this, the day that our Lord became one of us, we know that is not true. Jesus did not become a Man only after He was born, or after Mary could feel Him moving in her womb, or when He reached any other stage of development. Instead, He was fully Man and fully God, and truly a Person, at the very moment of His conception.

So how can we mark this day’s importance, even though it is not a Holy Day of Obligation. Theologically, you can let this ‘sink in’ by reflecting today on the fact of our Lord’s Incarnation taking place today. Perhaps go to Mass or spend time praying at your local parish – in Adoration if possible. But I also have some ideas on the practical side to mark the importance of this day. When a friend tells us that they are expecting a new child, then don’t wait until the birth to buy the baby a gift. Instead, go get something special to mark the occasion right then. By so doing you would be making a significant point – that the unborn child is a full member of the family of mankind. You could even tell them that you are doing it in recognition of the fact that Jesus became Man at the moment of His conception. Next, maybe we should start giving gifts to family and friends on this day to mark the occasion like we do on Christmas. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant to still mark the supreme importance of this day. Or another idea would just be to have a party. Uh oh, I hear someone saying, “But it is Lent.” Yes, but it is a Solemnity, and even if this day fell on a Friday in Lent there would be no abstinence or penance required. We should mark the special significance of this day and proclaim to the whole world the coming of our Savior as Man.

The Path of Obedience

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Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 22, 2015

On March 20, which was Friday of last week, I celebrated my fifth anniversary of ordination as a Catholic priest. And so I stand before you today, a priest, but not because I wanted to be, but because I was called by God to do so. You see, no one becomes a priest because they want to, but because they are called into it by God. Now, it is not that I don’t want to be a priest, I do, and I am very happy to be a Catholic priest serving here at Our Lady of the Atonement. (And may it please God to let me stay here for the rest of my life.) But this does not change the fact that I am here as a priest not because I decided to become one, but because God called me to do it – and I, in obedience, followed His calling. And it is this idea of obedience about which I want to speak with you today.

We tend to think of obedience as something negative – like it is an intrusion upon our freedom to do what we want to do. “Oh man, Mom told me to clean my room, so that means I can’t play video games.” This kind of thinking, though, betrays a wrong understanding of freedom. We tend to think in this country that we are free to do whatever we want, but that is not true, because to deliberately choose to do something that is wrong is to misuse our freedom. That is not the reason God gave us freedom. He gave us freedom in order to choose to do that which is good and morally right. In fact, it is necessary for us to be free in order to choose our ultimate good, which is God Himself. And it is in choosing God that obedience comes into play.

Before going on with our reflection on the positive nature of obedience, let us first reflect on its opposite: disobedience. It would be good for us to call to mind the first person that disobeyed God and that would be Lucifer. It was he who was the first to refuse to recognize God as his Creator. It was he who was first to refuse to return God’s love for him. It was he who was first to fail to be grateful to God for all the gifts he had been given. As a result, every act of disobedience thereafter is an emulation of Lucifer’s disobedience of God. And if his is the path that we choose by being disobedient to God in this life then God will let us have what we have chosen – eternal separation from Him as the only source of anything good.

In considering this hopefully obedience no longer sounds like such a bad thing. After all, the path of obedience is the path that Christ walked before us and it is the only path that leads us to Him. We are told today that Christ “learned obedience through what He suffered; and being made perfect He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” Christ was obedient to the will of His Father by accepting the Cross and dying for us. And we must follow His example if we want to obtain the salvation that He won for us. Emulating Christ’s obedience is the only way to be saved. And He tells us this plainly in the Gospel today, “If any one serves me, he must follow me.” There is no other path open to us if we want reach our ultimate Goal.

Now certainly, by being obedient, we will have to give up certain things that we desire because they are in fact bad for us. And that can be hard to do. But, shouldn’t we want to give up things that are bad for us? Is the momentary pleasure we receive from such things really worth the price of our eternal soul? If we think critically and honestly about that question then the only reasonable answer would be no. We know that God made us and that the happiness that He wants for us is more important than any other thing we could possibly want or desire. All too often, though, we settle for something much less.

But, if we want to reach that which we truly desire, then we must follow the path of obedience that Christ walked before us. Yes, we know that such a path will lead us to suffering on this earth, but it does not end there. Christ was abused, beaten, and killed but that is not the end of the story. It is through the suffering and death of Jesus that the Resurrection came about and that the gates of Heaven were opened to all who truly believe in Him.

And so, we have two paths that are set before us: the path of obedience and the path of disobedience. We know who established each of these paths and we know where each path leads. But there is one thing that no one knows except you and that is this: which path will you choose?

Time Flies…

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As the saying goes, time flies when you’re having fun. Today marks for me five years as a Catholic priest and I cannot believe it has gone so quickly. At this time I should really be writing my sermon for Sunday but wanted to take a moment and post the following picture.

That is my son, Jack, vested and ready to serve for the first time – at my first Mass as a Catholic priest. Isn’t he cute?!

 

A Prayer against Discouragement

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I went to confession yesterday. The priest is a friend of mine but it is the first time I have been to confession with him so I found his penance interesting (and that is why I am posting it). As my penance he instructed me to compose a prayer against discouragement and to pray it. Below is the result of my effort, although I wish I could say it like Aquinas or Newman.

O God our times are in your hands. Ever mindful that we can do nothing without your help, we ask that you grant us the grace to not lose heart amidst the constant storms of this mortal life. You have given us your Son as our guide, and even though He stumbled and fell on the way to the Cross, He did not turn back and did not give up. It is your grace that we need to do the same. We ask this you this through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Fear of Death can lead to Life

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I have had many failed attempts at making regular posts to my blog. There are many reasons for this, which amount to a pile of excuses. Recently I have been thinking that a regular post of my morning homily might be possible for the to keep up with. But I am going to try to keep it at 200 words or less so that I can actually get it done without spending a great deal of time on it. As a result, I may not explain things as well as I would like. So if you have questions about what I have written it would be an excellent opportunity to post a comment and I will answer.

Today’s Gospel reading for Mass can be found here. It is the story of the healing of the Official’s son.

The distance between Capernaum and Cana was approximately 20-25 miles. And it must be remembered that this distance had to be covered without benefit of modern conveniences such as buses, trains, planes, or cars. Therefore it would have taken a great deal of time for the Official in the Gospel to come to where Jesus was. We all know why he went to see Jesus – to ask for healing of his son. What we need to ask, though, is what motivated him to go to Jesus? His motivation, it seems to me, must have been the fear of losing his son.

Most parents would have a similar motivation for saving their children and other loved ones. That is why people spend billions and billions of dollars every year seeking cures to their various diseases. Therefore, if a doctor or miracle worker was able to guarantee healing for any disease then the line to see that person would never end.

And yet, healing for every spiritual infirmity is offered to us by Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of Penance. So why don’t the lines for Confession stretch out the door and down the street of every Catholic parish? It seems to me that one answer could be a lack of fear. That being, the fear of losing our soul for all eternity. Fear of losing his son drove the Official in today’s to Jesus. In a similar manner a fear of eternal death should drive us to Christ in the confessional. With a word He was able to heal the Official’s son and with a word – I absolve you – He is able to bring healing to whatever ails our souls. It is true that the fear of Hell is not the perfect contrition that God wants from us, but at least it is a start.

Sharing Christ’s Life

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Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which always has existed and always will exist. Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has—by what I call ‘good infection’. Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.

Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis

Virtue and Grace

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The virtuous agent (person) shows the excellence that is possible in human behavior, just as a superior athlete shows what can be done in a particular game. Virtuous behavior shows how human nature is capable of acting, and it shows thereby what human nature is, since the nature of a thing is most truly displayed when the thing is working at its best.

The God of Faith & Reason, by Robert Sokolowski, p. 64

The Catechism tells us that virtue “is a habitual and firm disposition to do good.” (CCC §1833) In addition it says the “moral virtues grow through education, deliberate acts, and perseverance in struggle. Divine grace purifies and elevates them.” (CCC §1839) The quote above gives us an excellent analogy to help us understand even better what virtue is. Comparing the virtuous person to a superior athlete we see first of all that we ‘learn the game’ of being virtuous through ‘education’ – by being taught by someone who already knows how the game is played. You may have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t know the rules of the game then you will never succeed. Likewise, we should all learn how to be virtuous.

Next, there must be the ‘deliberate acts’ of practicing what you have learned. Just because you have the talent and have been taught the rules does not mean you will succeed. If you stay in the bleachers and watch everyone else practice you will never become great. Likewise, we should all put into practice what we have learned about virtuous behavior.

Lastly, there must be ‘perseverance in struggle’. Even if defeat seems imminent you can never give up. Although I am not happy about the outcome of the game, the latest Super Bowl is wonderful example of this point. Let’s be honest: Seattle should have won that game on the final drive; but, that one player for the Patriots did not give up, caught an interception, and saved the game for his team. Likewise, we should never give up in our struggle against sin. Even if we have fallen into a particular sin a million times before that does not mean it will continue. Therefore, we must struggle against it.

But this is where the analogy breaks down because, unlike the world of professional sports, we have God’s grace on our side. We must remember that we are called not just to be virtuous; as Christians we are called to become like Christ. It is primarily through the Sacraments of the Church that we receive the grace that we need in order to become like Christ. In fact, without grace, becoming like Christ is not even possible because we, as creatures, cannot participate in the life of God unless He gives it to us. And thanks be to God He does give it to us. But there is a catch; even though He freely gives us His grace to help us become more like Christ, He does not force us to use it. Instead, we must decide to cooperate with God’s grace if it is to do us any good.

The Church: Christ’s Voice of Authority

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Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
February 1, 2015

Moses was the one who delivered God’s word to the Israelites in the form of the Law. So when we hear him say today, “God will raise up for you a prophet like me” he must be referring to Someone that would do something similar. And that is exactly what we find in our Gospel today, “immediately on the Sabbath (Jesus) entered the synagogue and taught.” And not only that, but “he taught…as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” And while there are similarities between the two, this is a more wonderful occurrence than Moses receiving the word of the Law from God because in Jesus we have God Himself delivering the message. An analogy might help to see the significance: Moses precedes Christ as your own shadow precedes you when walking with the sun at your back. Even though the path in front of you is visible, everything in the shadow is darkened to your sight. But, when you turn toward the Sun, everything can be clearly seen. In a similar manner, when the Son of God came and shed His light on the teachings of Moses, the people were astounded by the illumination He provided. Remember what happens when you step out of darkness and into the full light of day. At first, you are blinded and cannot clearly make out your surroundings and that is what happened here when Christ was teaching the people with authority. Therefore, in order to assure those present that what they were beginning to see was real and not an illusion; Jesus speaks again with authority and commands the unclean spirit to come out of the man who was possessed.

From this we are supposed to see clearly that Jesus is not like one of the scribes, who only reiterated the teachings of Moses. Instead, He is God – that is the only way He could speak and command with such Authority. And if this is the case – as we Catholics claim to believe – then shouldn’t we listen to and obey Him? After all, if a demon knows better than to ignore the command of Christ, then we who claim to follow Christ must do nothing less.

But, how do we hear Christ speaking to us so that we may follow Him? One answer to this question would be to follow our conscience. All people, whether they are Catholic or not, understand the obligation to follow their conscience. If we think something is wrong, we should avoid it and if we think something is right we should do it. And if we do the right and avoid the wrong are we not following Christ? This seems to be a simple answer of how we can truly hear Christ speaking to us. But there is a big pitfall in regards to conscience that people constantly overlook, which is this: while we do have an obligation to follow our conscience, we also have a duty to make sure that our conscience is properly formed. If our conscience has not been properly formed then it is possible to do the wrong thing while thinking that we are doing right. In regards to this we must understand that things are not right or wrong just because we happen to think they are. Instead, there is an objective reality that we must acknowledge in order to know what is right and what is wrong. Therefore, following Christ is not as simple as following our conscience. We first need a source of authority that can show us this objective reality about right and wrong.

But where can we find this authority? Certainly, as we learned today in the Gospel reading, Christ is that Authority that we need to guide our lives properly. But, He no longer walks physically among us in order to lead us down the path of salvation. One solution to this problem of a need for the Authority of Christ could be Sacred Scripture; because in it Christ still speaks to us. That is a reason that Scripture is read at every Mass – so that Christ can continue to speak to us. But yet another problem arises from this in that Scripture does not interpret itself. Instead, mankind interprets Scripture; and when we, as individuals, hear or read the words of Christ we can be mistaken about what they mean. Proof of this is easily seen when we look at the fractured state of those who believe in Christ. There are a multitude of so-called denominations, each of which is a result of the private interpretation of Scripture. And so even with Scripture we are left with a lack of Authority to lead us safely down the path of salvation. If only Christ were still here to speak to us so that we would not wander off the path.

And yet, He is here and he does speak to us still – people just don’t want to hear what He has to say. Let me explain how He is still with us and continues to speak to us. Our Lord spent three years teaching His Apostles the Truth about the Kingdom of God and told them, “He who hears you, hears me.”[1] And the Apostles then entrusted this “Sacred deposit of the faith” to the whole Church. And it is the teaching office of the Church, the living Magisterium, that continues to faithfully and fully hand on to succeeding generations what it has received, which is nothing less than the complete teaching of Jesus Christ. Therefore, when the Church speaks authoritatively it is in fact Jesus Himself that is speaking to us and guiding us along our way so that we may not stray from the path of salvation.

And yet many Catholics claim that they cannot accept the Authority that Christ has bestowed upon His Church because her teachings don’t make sense to them. Perhaps there is some truth to that. But we must ask: why is it the case that so many Catholics don’t accept the authoritative teachings of the Church? The answer is quite simple – it is due to the fact that their consciences have been formed and their understanding of Scripture conditioned by a source of authority other than Christ: for example the secular media, Hollywood, politicians, books, music, etc. The thinking is that if they see it on TV or read it on the internet then it must be true.

But I think there is a deeper reason why these people won’t accept the teaching authority of the Church and that reason is pride. They simply don’t want to see the Truth of the Church’s teaching because it doesn’t happen to coincide with their own limited opinion. They have heard what they want to hear from the world and have set that up as their standard of truth. And by so doing they claim to know more than Christ.

But salvation is not found in the world. If it were then the coming of the Son of God as Man would have been unnecessary. But we see in our Gospel today that He did in fact come and He spoke with Authority. And He still speaks to us with that same Authority which knows the way to life everlasting. And so the question that remains is this: will you listen?

[1] CCC §87