Law of Freedom

The perfect law of freedom. James 1:25

Our readings at Holy Mass this past Sunday focused our attention on the Law of God. Now we read from St. James’ letter about this law.

St. James had written, “The Father of lights willed to bring us to birth by the word of truth, that we may be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.”

‘The word of truth.’ Sounds like this word could very well be a law. Do our readings give us nothing but moralizing about keeping the Law? Duty. Submission. Law, law, law–maybe makes us think, ‘I don’t want to. But I will.’ Grudging obedience to the Big Man.

resurrectionBut let’s reflect a moment. We come to birth—spiritual birth, birth ‘from above,’ as the Lord Jesus put it—we come to this birth not by our own obedience, but by hearing the news that Christ has triumphed over death.

The ‘word of truth,’ the fundamental law, is Christ’s gracious gift.

For us that means liberation—the freedom for which He has set us free by His death, that we might share in His undying life. He won eternal life for us while we still languished in sin. His loving mercy, His indomitable will—not that we submit to limits, but that we thrive without limit in the kingdom of heaven—all this comes before we do anything. This is the word of truth by which we come to spiritual birth: Christ is risen.

Of course, to hear this word and to believe means submitting. It means saying to the wounded Jesus, Who loved us to the cross, ‘My Lord and my God.’

And we want to do good in return. We want to return love for love. So the Law, the perfect law of freedom, is: To love as Christ has loved us and given Himself up for us.

The Marriage-Law Titanic


I do not hold myself out as any kind of sage, and certainly no scholar of law.

But I can honestly claim to have had at least one conversation per day, for the past twelve years, on the subject of marriage. Not marriage as a theory or concept, but marriage as a practical fact, as in: “Father, I want to get married.” “I want to be married.”

That’s because, for twelve years, I have happily served as an officer of marriage. As an officer of marriage, I must look at marriage in one particular way: as a binding contract, publicly made.

The marriage covenant binds spouses in this special way: You renounce the option of having sex with anyone else for as long as the person lives. The contract is: I will have sex with you, and only with you, until death.

marriage_sacramentAn officer of marriage therefore has one primary obligation. He must assure himself that both parties who propose to marry each other are, in fact, free to do so. As the suffering of poor Hagar shows us, bigamy doesn’t work.

Simple enough, it would seem.

But: of the thousands of conversations about marriage that I have had, a good 85% of them involve doubts about this.

“But, Father, she has a divorce from the courthouse in Guilford County, North Carolina.” “Father, my first marriage was before a Justice of the Peace in Hawaii.” “Father, I’ve never been married before.” “And your fiancée?” “Well, she’s been married five times. But she’s not Catholic.”

A big mess. And at the heart of the matter lies the question of jurisdiction. Who has the authority to officiate a marriage?

Holy Mother Church has never conceded to any other authority the power to legislate how marriages begin or end. But we officers of marriage have to deal with the endless mess that has been created by other authorities claiming to do so, a mess that burdens and confuses people who want to act in good faith, people who really want to get married and enter into the binding contract in an honest way.

No one has authority over how marriages begin and end, other than God. The idea that any other authority can govern marriage: this is what has produced all the painfully impractical situations that burden so many people. One of the things that I have heard people say lately is that the Catholic Church needs to get out of the civil marriage business and deal with marriage solely “as a sacrament.”

But, as an officer of marriage, I can say that that will not work. An officer of marriage must, out of justice, always give the benefit of the doubt to a marital contract that has been publicly declared. Otherwise you risk, as an official, being a party to the crime of bigamy. If someone, who wants to marry, got married before, to someone else, no matter what the circumstances, I have to presume that the person is not free to marry now.

So the idea of the Church getting out of the civil marriage business is exactly backwards. It’s the state that needs to get out of the business of declaring marriages valid or invalid.

scales_of_justiceSecular governments have produced the mess we now have, by granting divorces. The Church has not produced the mess. The Church’s laws are clear and commonsensical compared to the unmanageable and almost-always-unfair labyrinth of secular divorce law.

Like I said, I make no claims to special legal knowledge. I appeal only to my practical experience as an officer of marriage who likes to help people get to a stable situation in life.

From the point-of-view of a practicing officer of marriage, I just want to say this: The decisions rendered by the Supreme Court, which were announced yesterday, are impractical. Impractical to the point of being genuinely ridiculous.

For about a century and a half, the secular state has presumed to have authority over marriage. She does not possess that authority. By presuming to do what she doesn’t know how to do, the state has done untold harm to many people, mainly women and children.

Maybe 2013 will be the year when the conscience of the Western world begins to realize that the marriage business operated by the secular state is an un-moored disaster zone. It’s like the Titanic after being struck by the iceberg.

Where Laws Come From (Part IV)

Last week we reflected a little bit on where babies come from. The final question we have to tackle in our four-week series: Where do laws come from?

Civil laws govern the land, protect us, keep us from hurting each other. The laws of the land help to foster a good life for everybody. Our civil laws express our common ideas about the bounds within which we must live.

We believe in freedom—we Catholics, we Americans. We believe that leaving people to follow our own individual lights leads to the best society. But we can’t believe in absolute freedom. We need laws. We cannot co-exist in peace without laws.

One theory has it that the authority of laws comes from a “contract” among all the people who come together to form a community. Laws bind because each individual consents to their authority. This theory, however, does not quite convince on every point. An incarcerated criminal does not consent to the law that puts him in jail. He would likely prefer not to be there. But, if he’s guilty, he deserves to be imprisoned, whether he consents or not.

So let’s look for a more solid theory of where laws come from. Another theory proposes that human laws have authority because they express God’s law.

Continue reading “Where Laws Come From (Part IV)”

The Verdict

God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him…

And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. (John 3:16-19)

“This is the verdict.”

Can it be a co-incidence that when we come to church this week, when our national airwaves are full of justice finally being done on our enemy, we hear the most famous verses of the Bible, and one of the verses is: “This is the verdict.”

Verdict. Verum dictum. True word.

The truth harries a man who has done evil. We can run; we can blind ourselves; we can fill our heads with noise to provide a distraction. But the truth will not go away. The truth waits. It is patient. He is patient.

Christ came as the light of the world. He came to restore us to our original dignity. The dignity of man is to be a flute that harmonizes with the divine orchestra in a springtime fantasia. The dignity of man is to abide in peace with everything that is beautiful and true.

But Christ is patient about shining His light of truth. He let His life be snuffed out by evil men.

The truth is patient. He can afford to be.

Continue reading “The Verdict”

Courtroom Drama

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery.

They said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”

“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

They went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him.

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

She replied, “No one, sir.”

Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” (John 8:2-11)

Let’s step into this gospel passage. Let’s get into it ourselves, like a scene on a stage. Where do we fit into the scene? Let’s find ourselves in it. The Lord Jesus, the Pharisees, the adulteress, the bystanders…where are we?

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Come on, seventy degrees. Come on, baby. So close. Don’t be afraid. Come to papa!

…The Law of Moses bound the Chosen People to a weekly day of rest.

The Law of Death gave the human race rest from sin.

But this is the everlasting Sabbath: To believe in God and the One Whom He has sent…

…On the art beat:

The Sacred Made Real” in the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art is NOT TO BE MISSED.

If you do not visit the National Gallery of Art between now and May 31, you will have MADE A BIG MISTAKE…

Opera buffs:

Did you know that Scott Joplin wrote an opera? It is called “Treemonisha.”

They performed it recently at the Atlas Theatre, in my humble Northeast Washington parish.

Here is some of the cast singing one of the ditties:

…St. Patrick’s day is great. But let’s face it. The big day of the week is Friday, the Solemnity of St. Joseph.

All the laws of penance and abstinence fall by the wayside in honor of the holy Patron of the whole Church. (Click HERE if you want to get siked-up for St. Joseph’s day.)

Approval-Seeking Missiles

As I sat listening to testimony about the D.C. Council’s “Same-Sex Marriage” Act, the key question that emerged in my mind is: Why is this happening?

To listen to all of the Council members and most of the witnesses at the hearing, the answer would be: It is happening became this is a matter of justice and human rights. “Marriage equality” is the civil-rights cause of our era. It is something that “obviously makes sense.” (Mary Cheh)

Mary Cheh
Councilmember Cheh

All of this, however, is manifestly untrue. Most of the witnesses who testified against the bill objected to the exclusion of District voters from the debate. The powers that be in the city government refuse to refer the same-sex marriage question to the ballot box. Councilmember Catania took it upon himself to lecture Bishop Jackson about 19th-century voter referendae.

It certainly would make sense to refer the question to the voters. But even if every citizen of the District insisted that someone was suffering an injustice over who can get a marriage license these days, there still wouldn’t actually be any injustice.

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Red Rocks + Sunday Homily

Voice of the Caps
Voice of the Caps
Cannot tell you what a comfort it is to turn on the radio and listen to the eager Canadian voice of Steve Kolbe.

The Caps are tearing it up, people!

God made them male and female.

…A man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two become one flesh…

What God has joined together, no human being must separate.

(Mark 10:6-8, 12)

In his teaching, our Holy Father Pope Benedict insists on certain ideas over and over again. One of them is: Religion is not purely private.

Continue reading “Red Rocks + Sunday Homily”

Making Some Noise in this Democracy


Yes, we won.

But I rest my case about #17. (Zero t.d.’s)…

Long-term readers will remember that, one year ago, Archbishop Wuerl insisted that we priests make certain points in our Sunday homily. He did it because prominent Catholic politicians had misrepresented the teaching of the Church.

wuerlHis Grace had to insist again today that we priests within the city limits make certain points.

Faithful readers also may recall that P&BD recently published a Q&A about “same-sex marriage.”

It appears that the D.C. City Council will soon act on this matter.

Here is your humble servant’s homily for today…

“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.” (Mark 9:37)

The Lord Jesus taught us that we must become like little children. We must depend on Him for everything, like a little child depends on his mother and father.

Continue reading “Making Some Noise in this Democracy”

Soldering 101

Last month I received a very warm compliment after Mass.

captain kirkBut yesterday I got the best compliment EVER:

Father, we love to listen to you preach.

You have a kind of tone when you speak…

It’s like Captain James T. Kirk! You talk like Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise!

…Here is Captain Kirk’s homily for this beautiful Sunday:

The Law of the Lord is perfect. –Psalm 19:7

We human beings are complicated. Some of us are more complicated than others. But all of us are complicated, compared to other creatures, like squirrels and dogs. Squirrels and dogs follow instinct. We, on the other hand, make choices.

We are unique creatures on the earth. We have free will. The problem is that we don’t exactly know what to do with it.

Continue reading “Soldering 101”