“Why does He eat with sinners?” The Pharisees asked. We know the answer: “Because He came to call sinners.”
But what about shunning? Sometimes you have to refuse to eat with certain people, in order to retain some kind of personal integrity. We would certainly have to refuse to eat with militant white supremacists or plotting terrorists.
After all, Lord Jesus said: “If your brother sins against you, tell him his fault, between you and him…If he does not listen, take one or two brothers with you…If he refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be to you as a Gentile.”
St. Paul wrote: “Do not even eat with anyone who bears the name of brother, if he is guilty of sexual immorality, greed, idolatry, reviling, drunkenness, or swindling.”
Seems to me that the most-confusing gray area for us right now involves “gay marriage.”
On the one hand, a “marriage” ceremony missing the necessary man or woman to complement the other woman or man—that certainly offends God. Offends all the good, honest, faithful husbands and wives who have ever sacrificed and co-operated as friends in order to bear children and raise a family. Offends everyone who tries to use the word ‘marriage’ in an honest manner.
The very idea that two people of the same sex can ‘marry’ lies so far beyond the pale of honesty, in fact, that we probably do best just to ignore it. Better to see the whole pretense for the pitiable charade that it is. And try to respond with compassion.
Because, on the other hand: Some men do fall in love with other men, and some women with other women. And we cannot say that everything about such friendships is evil. That would not be true, at least not in every case.
And the aspect of the friendship that is evil may not be any of my business. Since homosexual marriage isn’t “wrong”—it’s simply impossible—then homosexual immorality remains a purely private matter, in and of itself. And private immorality only becomes my business when someone involved chooses to make it so.
We traditional Christians rightly resent the “gay lobby” for going on the warpath and trying to force our hands against our consciences. But that means we also have no right to go on the warpath, either.
We can’t go to any gay “weddings” as joyful guests. But, by the same token, we can’t cut people off, either—at least people who haven’t made any threats of violence. Family Fourth-of-July picnics and Thanksgiving dinners don’t need to become morality battlegrounds. Sometimes it’s perfectly Christian to pass the potato salad, smile, and talk about the weather.
Papal infallibility. The Lord gave St. Peter and his successors the authority to settle disputes definitively, including disputes about the most-sacred things.
Not long ago, I had a conversation with a thoroughly charming Episcopal priest. He prefers to celebrate the Holy Eucharist facing the same direction as the people, what we call ad orientem. He also gladly celebrates same-sex weddings.
In June of 2015, the US Supreme Court found that a man has the right to marry another man, and a woman the right to marry another woman. This put the US in harmony with the supreme legal tribunals of most western-European countries.
The following fall, the Synod of Bishops, meeting in Rome, quoted a Vatican document from 2003: “homosexual unions are in no way analogous to marriage.” Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Exhortation the following spring. He did not say anything on his own authority as Successor of St. Peter on this subject. He simply quoted the Synod Fathers’ quote.
In other words, the Successor of St. Peter has not spoken on the subject of gay marriage since 2003. I think we can safely say: in the ensuing sixteen years, the extent of the dispute has increased exponentially. Pope John Paul II intervened on the subject rather quietly, albeit directly. In 2003, few Catholics imagined that such a thing as same-sex “marriage” would ever really enter mainstream thinking in the Church. But now it’s something that a Catholic priest and an Episcopal priest discuss casually over a beer.
In fact, we know well that huge segments of the Catholic population in the western world do not understand why same-sex marriage is impossible. Nor do most people understand the harms done by maintaining the fiction of “same-sex marriage.”
Isn’t this a situation that cries out for the intervention of the Successor of St. Peter? To settle this dispute among Christians by calmly recognizing all the arguments in favor of same-sex marriage, including acknowledging the genuinely Christian basis in them–and then explaining why none of those arguments actually touch the principle according to which same-sex marriage is impossible? To explain that we love all people; that we stand on the side of people dealing with same-sex attraction; but that the sacredness of Holy Matrimony partakes of the divine fruitfulness, whereas the mutual masturbation of two men or two women falls beneath the dignity of a human being.
Seems like the world desperately needs the Successor of St. Peter to speak about this, with love and clarity.
But we have to face a hugely disorienting fact. Leaving to the side the question of whether or not Pope Francis would want to help us in this way, the fact is: He couldn’t, even if he wanted to. He does not have the requisite personal credibility to settle this dispute. Neither side of the argument would recognize him as someone who could speak with integrity on this.
May God help us. We pray at the altar today for deliverance from tempests, since we stand on the rock of St. Peter’s declaration of faith. We trust in Providence; we believe in the divine design. May the Successor of St. Peter always do the right thing. Even if maybe the right thing for him to do rhymes with ‘design.’
Holy Scripture does not exactly answer this question. But the order in time matters much less than the order in being.
We human beings, alone among the animals, can conceive of the world as a whole, as God does. We alone can give distinct names to all the various parts of the world, the creatures that make up God’s creation. Alone among the animals, we form a spiritual bridge between the earth and the mind of God. The marriage of a man and a woman gives us a visible image of the union between God and mankind brought about by the God-man, Jesus Christ.
We know that the pro-abortion, “pro-choice” position betrays the truth. One way you can tell: the very euphemism that the pro-abortion movement chooses for itself. “Reproductive rights.”
Algae “reproduce.” Plants, bugs, other animals—they “reproduce.” Human beings marry. Human beings have families.
If you use words that apply to lower creatures to defend your position when it comes to human beings, you can be sure that you have strayed into a territory where violence reigns. “Reproductive rights” is a phrase from Orwell’s 1984, a mask to cover over systematic bloodshed.
On the other hand: Love. Marriage. Family.
That is the way that God gave to mankind, in the garden, before the Fall. The original gift of God—love, marriage, and family–makes Valentine’s Day happy.
“Thirty rouble for your sportshoes Nike! Forty rouble!”
The fartsovschiks whispered to us, a class of eighth-grade American boys, on streetcorners, during the cold, windy Moscow March of 1983. One evening we encountered some of the last Soviet-era stilyogi themselves, our teenage Muscovite peers. They wanted to hear Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” on a Sony Walkman which one of us had.
Through the communist era in Russia, the stilyagi rebelled–by wearing Western clothes and singing Western pop songs. Even in the 1980’s, fartsovschiks risked prison to traffic in this kind of contraband. Under Stalin, in the forties and fifties, the stilyagi themselves could go to prison camp for wearing zoot suits or listening to jazz.
Now, political campaigns in the U.S. often include charges that the incumbent party has led with un-American tyranny or authoritarianism. Paranoia about election rigging doesn’t seem to me to serve any purpose, especially when there’s no evidence.
But: can we identify a reigning ideology which our powers-that-be maintain, even at the expense of the truth? A state-sponsored mythology that provokes free-thinking people to rebel?
Yes, and it has to do with birthing babies.
The Soviet Union never had a post-WWII baby boom. The Bolsheviks made abortion legal in 1918. Through the twentieth century, demographers came to identify “the communist system” as a scientific factor–a fertility suppressor in and of itself.
Doesn’t a below-replacement-level birthrate indicate an unhealthy society–pretty much, by definition? Young people living under Soviet rule had to contend with Marxist uniformity poisoning social life. The stilyagi of 21st-century America have to deal with the mythology of the sexual revolution.
No zoot suits. But what about this:
We do not accept that pornography has a place in a civilized community. We reject the idea that such abusive and disgusting trash can be “mainstreamed.”
We believe in marriage. We believe young people have the courage to make commitments. We believe that God provides for couples that trust Him.
Stilyagi literally means “stylish people.” What could be more stylish in 21st-century America than a church wedding involving a lot of kneeling and praying–with no pets, no prenups, and no preening?
Also, how about these three principles:
A child has a right to be conceived in his/her mother’s womb, by his/her father.
A child, once conceived, cannot intentionally be killed.
No one has a right to engage in sex that is inherently unfruitful.
Doesn’t seem like a reasonable person could quibble with any of these. Of course, these basic principles of marital decency and societal fertility leave procured abortion, artificial contraception, IVF, masturbation, and sodomy on the cutting-room floor. Where they all belong.
The Soviet regime eventually succumbed. The unholy Playboy/Planned Parenthood regime will fall one day, too. In the meantime, we can cultivate our zoot-suit rebellion by seeking the holy joy of real Christian chastity.
Some of us read all the teachings of the popes, through the years. And some of us listen to a lot of Prince.
We all know of course that Pope St. John XXIII convoked a meeting of the world’s Catholic bishops fifty years ago…Vatican II. We know that Vatican II marked the beginning of “the New Evangelization.” The world of today needs the Gospel message, just like the ancient pagans that Paul and Barnabas visited needed it.
Those of us who read all the papal teachings know that one theme runs through everything since the end of World War II. One theme: How can you just leave me standing, alone in a world so cold? The popes’ theme is: Building a civilization of love.
A civilization: an organized, stable community of peoples, based on one fundamental fact: Every human being possesses the dignity of many, many sparrows. As the Lord put it: The Father’s eyes are on the sparrow. Not one falls to the ground without His notice. But you are worth more than many sparrows, child.
A civilization of love. “I give you a new commandment,” says the Lord. “Love one another. As I have loved you, laying down My life for you, spreading My arms out on the cross for you, shedding My life’s blood for you, offering My death in agony to the Father for you…saying I Would Die 4U, and then really doing it–in just that way,” says the Lord,” you must love one another.”
A civilization of this kind of love. This kind of trust. This kind of selfless attention to others. The popes have said for two generations–since the end of World War II, they’ve said: You say you want a leader. But you can’t make up your mind. I think you better close it. And let me guide you: The human race has one hope for a good future. Building a civilization of love.
Naïve? Politicians and pundits tend to misrepresent and misconstrue papal teachings to make them sound like what they want to hear, and then they dismiss the real meat of what the Church stands for as pie-in-the-sky naiveté. “Of course the pope stands for world peace, universal health care, and a moratorium on the death penalty. But that’s because he’s naïve.” “Of course the pope stands for the right to life of the unborn and an end to pornography and all sexual exploitation. But that’s just naïve.”
Is it? Really? Is our Catholic vision of a civilization of love naïve? Let’s look at it like this. When the Lord Jesus commanded us to love one another, with a love like His, was that naïve?
I, for one, would say the opposite. I would say that all the teachings of Christ boil things down to pure practicality. We either love, trust, and give ourselves to each other as children of the same heavenly Father, or… we play video games all the time? Or binge-watch Zombie Apocalypse? You don’t have to watch Dynasty to have an attitude.
The teaching of Christ and the popes is the opposite of pie-in-the-sky, the opposite of naïve, because really we have no choice. The commandment of love casts our whole human destiny in stark relief: One the one hand, love and trust that leads to the cross, and to the hope of a better future. On the other hand, a lifeless abyss of selfish, lonely boredom. Love come quick. Love come in a hurry.
During the past two generations, while the popes have exhorted us to civilize ourselves with Christ-like love, they have repeatedly pointed out that it all starts with family life.
The original civilization of love: the family. Mom and dad loving each other like Christ loves, loving the children like Christ loves, the children loving each other, and mom and dad, like Christ loves. Practicing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, right at home. Patience, forgiveness, instruction, encouragement, a cool refreshing glass of water at an appropriate time, putting things away when asked, cleaning the room, never treating anyone like a slave.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has re-emphasized, with new urgency, the importance of family life in building a civilization of love. In his recent Exhortation to us, he cites the passage we have for our second reading at Holy Mass, St. John’s vision of heaven: “I saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming out of heaven from God.”
No offense to anyone with their various pastimes, but St. John did not write: “I saw the new Jerusalem, coming down from heaven, prepared like Lane Stadium.” St. John did not write, “coming down, like a shiny new Camaro,” or “a killing purse and boots for a night out with the girls.”
No. Heaven meets earth like: a bride meeting her husband. Like a bride and groom at the altar, consecrating themselves in a permanent little civilization of love. Sign o’ the times, mess with your mind, hurry before it’s too late. Fall in love, get married, have a baby, call him Nate.
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, marriage involves the greatest form of friendship, after our friendship with God. Pope Francis says marriage “is a union possessing all the traits of a good friendship: concern for the good of the other… intimacy, warmth, stability and the resemblance born of a shared life.”
Let’s grow old together, building a civilization of love, starting right at home. There will be peace for those who love God a lot.
As we adults prepare to exercise the responsibility of voting, we must keep the following people in mind:
The innocent and defenseless unborn children who have no rights. Abortionists slaughter them with impunity, by the thousands, every day.
All our children, who deserve to grow up in a society where the law preserves the bond of marriage between parents.
The potential victims of the immigration enforcement called for by Messrs. Trump and Cruz.
Re: #3… We cannot imagine that any genuine justice lies in a specious attempt to distinguish “legal” from “illegal” immigration. From the point-of-view of the immigrant, the “legal” immigration of three, four, five, or six generations ago differs in no way from the “illegal” immigration of the past two generations. What changed was the arbitrary stipulations of American immigration statutes.
Did our undocumented neighbors have the option of coming to America legally, but failed to exercise that option, through their own blameworthy fault? Hardly.
We have to start with the fact that our neighbors are our neighbors. Can any decent person support the proposal that the government remove some of my neighbors by force, for no good reason? No.
In fact, even now Trump’s and Cruz’s ideas have the effect of terrorizing whole families. If we have any decency and Christian love, we will rush to declare that we ourselves have no share whatsoever in such cruel nonsense.
…Now, we pastors do not have the duty to tell anyone how to vote. But as a shepherd of souls I say to you, dear reader:
We must think of 1. the innocent and defenseless unborn babies, of 2. all children, who have the right to a home with mother and father, and of 3. our undocumented neighbors who have no legal rights.
If we vote without thinking of these brothers and sisters, who have no vote, we will face a rigorous judgment for our negligence, when the Day of the Lord comes.
My fiancé and I are getting married in Virginia, a simple backyard wedding. Our brother in law needs a sponsor to be our minister and is already ordained. Would you be willing to sponsor him and then we would need to get approved by the county of — to perform the ceremony. Please let us know if that is possible. Thank you for your time.
Sincerely, [names of couple withheld]
Dear — & — ,
I congratulate you on your engagement. May the Lord pour out His blessings on you.
I’m sure your brother-in-law is an estimable gentleman. It would be a grave violation of our sacred trust, however, for any Catholic priest to do as you propose. We priests must always follow the Church’s laws, which require that marriages occur in a church.
Maybe you could think about getting married in church? Asking the Lord’s blessing on your married life?
If you don’t have a church you regularly attend on Sundays, you are welcome at St. Andrew’s (in Roanoke). I would be happy to meet with you to help you plan how to prepare for the sacrament of marriage. (It would involve becoming Catholic, if you aren’t already–but Catholic marriages are the best!)
We all play, all the time, the most challenging and sublime of all sports: getting to heaven.
The moral law never struck me as rocket science. God comes first. No sacrileges, swearing, disrespecting legitimate authorities, killing, adultery, stealing, lying, lusting, or being greedy.
The Sixth Commandment binds neither more nor less than any other commandment. That said, the Sixth Commandment certainly means: Husband and wife lovingly conceiving babies = good, sex otherwise = bad.
Raymond Arroyo interviewed one of the prominent Synod-on-the-Family Fathers last week. “Two different Cardinals interpret paragraph 86 in polar-opposite ways, Your Eminence. One says divorced-and-remarried can receive Holy Communion without an annulment. The other says no way. Explain, please.”
Raymond’s expression, as the Archbishop of Washington replies that disagreements like this “are just a part of life”–priceless.
Here’s the thing: We priests need to know what we are about when we hear people’s confessions. People sin against the commandments all the time. People sin against the Sixth Commandment all the time. God forgives. Christ shed His Precious Blood so that we could be forgiven.
That said, in order to give absolution, we confessors have to hear a resolution like this: “I’m sorry I did it, and I won’t do it again.” One of the fundamental ‘dynamics’ of a confession, if you will.
Now, as noted above, sex is either 1) marital or 2) sinful. Between “I’m married to him/her” or “I am not married to him/her,” we do not find any middle categories. I really do not intend here to wax rhetorical. And Lord please preserve me from being obtuse. For me, this is a purely practical matter. The question simply is: How is a priest supposed to give absolution to someone who confesses sex outside of marriage, but does not intend to stop?
Yes: Plenty of people receive Holy Communion without also practicing the equally important habit of going to Confession regularly. And maybe some people exercise “discernment in conscience” about their marital status without going to a priest to confess. I have nothing to say about any of that, other than: Everyone should go to confession once a month. (I try not to make it my business to judge the actions of people who don’t ask me to judge them.)
But I feel like I am completely missing something when high-ranking prelates suggest that maybe I could handle penitents somehow differently…??? Doesn’t a penitent’s marital status determine everything, when it comes to the Sixth Commandment? And doesn’t it really go without saying that neither the penitent nor I have the authority to settle disputes about someone’s marital status?
I don’t think I exaggerate if I say: If either the penitent or I thought that we could unilaterally annul marriages, then we really might as well not bother with the business of a confession in the first place. After all, have I not received the authority to absolve sinners because of a public ceremony in front of an altar involving an irrevocable commitment on my part? If public commitments, entered into as acts of religion, do not really bind, then… well… ah… consecuencias muy malas.
“Pastoral accompaniment,” “reaching out,” “emphasizing mercy.” What do these shibboleths mean? I enjoy visiting people in their homes; I enjoy sitting and talking at coffee hours. I have never refused Holy Communion to any adult who approached either with hands folded and mouth open, or with two hands open and ready.
But if someone comes to confession and mentions having sex outside of marriage, what am I supposed to say? You have to make a decision to live without that, at least until it’s not a sin anymore. What kind of coach would I be, if I said anything else?
I think that, perhaps, the more genuinely merciful thing for us to say, when we speak about things like divorce, would be:
We believe marriage is for life. We believe in big families. The world might greet divorce with a ho hum. But we weep. The world might think weddings mainly mean clothes, cake, and photos. But we think a wedding means an unbreakable covenant with the Lord of life.
Also, when we human beings recognize that the game we play ends with death, and we win by getting to heaven, then whether or not I get to have sex with this or that person right now becomes a matter of relative insignificance.
PS. I still think the most truly and fundamentally confusing thing that has happened in decades/centuries is what happened on February 11, 2013. If we find ourselves confused now, it’s because somebody took a liberty that does not really belong to us shepherds, on that particular day.
Let’s take one brief moment to consider some of the things the Church governs, and some that She does not. After all, the Church does not govern everything.
Church does not govern penalties in the NFL, for instance. You could read the Code of Canon Law cover-to-cover and find nothing about ‘holding’ or ‘ineligible man downfield.’ The Church does not govern parliamentary procedure in the U.S. Congress. No canon treats the filibuster. The Church does not grant patents or trademarks. And no priest or bishop would claim that his office qualifies him to judge a chili cook-off.
But: marriage is one of the things which the Church does govern. We believe in the separation of Church and state; we respect other Christian groups and other religions, also. But the Church does not hesitate to claim ultimate legal authority over holy matrimony, whenever at least one baptized person is involved.
This makes sense, after all, because marriage is inherently religious, and inherently communal. A marriage is a marriage because a man and a woman make vows to God. Getting married is, fundamentally, an act of faith in God. And getting married always involves not just the two individuals, but also their families, the children the Lord may someday give them, and all the other people who will relate to the couple thenceforward as a married couple.
The Holy Catholic Church never wanted marriage to become a political issue. The idea that marriage could even be “political”—the idea that people would get all worked-up over whether or not our Holy Father smiled at Kim Davis on the way to his car before Mass—the whole business of marriage as a political hot potato can only strike us as amusingly shallow. Marriage is not a political issue. Marriage is what Jesus said it is:
1. God made us male and female. 2. A man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two become one flesh. 3. What God has joined together, let no man separate.
We should stop anthropomorphizing hurricanes with human names. It's exactly what the hurricanes WANT us to do.
Hard to disagree with my brother here. Nonetheless, we did pray hard yesterday to St. Therese, that she would implore St. Joachim to implore God Almighty to move Hurricane Joachim/Joaquin east. And it happened!
I spent a lovely evening not far from where poor Rowan-County Clerk Kim Davis now languishes in jail. That day, the lake had recently flooded. The locals used the big pools of water left behind on the grassy meadows as impromptu swimming holes.
In those halcyon summer days of 2010, I can’t imagine that any of us at the lake that evening could have imagined that a serious person would ever walk into a courthouse and ask for a marriage license without a member of the opposite sex.
But: “Religious Freedom?” Honestly, friends, what does that phrase mean? If Kim Davis belonged to a hateful cult, which had taught her to believe that God insists on injustice, would she therefore have a right to do other people wrong in the name of religious freedom?
She would not. Mankind must seek justice. And, if Judge Richard M. Berman’s ruling, which has freed Tom Brady from the clutches of Roger Goodell’s arbitrariness for the time being, teaches us anything, it is this: Mankind always will seek justice. Justice is real; written rules and laws cannot fully contain it; fiats rendered without probity cannot squelch our desire for it.
Let’s define “religion” as a matter of justice. We owe our Creator and Lord our worship. The slogan these days calls religious freedom “our first freedom.” But how about: Religion is our first debt in justice.
The controversy that Ms. Davis, God bless her, has somewhat fecklessly blundered into (she has been thrown in jail by a conservative, Catholic judge who doesn’t believe in gay marriage): does it have to do with religious freedom? Doesn’t it actually have to do with the humbler matter of what the word “marriage” means?
The forces arrayed against our heroine insist that all functionaries of every county in every state must participate in a farce that offends not just religion, but the fundamental fiber of family life. But, after all, county courthouses have seen plenty of farces when it comes to couples applying for marriage licenses, going back way before the “gay-marriage” movement began.
“I marry you.” “And I marry you.” Okay! Congratulations. Third, fourth, or fifth time? No problem. Any evident commitment to the duties of parenthood? Oh, yeah. Sorry for asking. It’s a “free” country, after all.
It seems to me that “religious freedom” has to do with matters of belief. We believe that Jesus rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and will come again. We hold to these truths with the firmest confidence, not because we have any way of learning these facts on our own, but because they have been revealed by divine authority; the apostolic testimony to Christ’s Passover has reached us by Tradition, guided by the Holy Spirit.
On the other hand, outside the little crazy house on the road of history in which we live at the moment, people have not believed and will not believe that marriage involves a man and a woman, committed for life. They have known it, and they will know it, based on their spontaneous study of human nature.
Judge David Bunning, who threw Ms. Davis in jail, stipulated that he could not accept any appeals to natural law. But, of course, if nature did not have a law that we human beings must have judges to decide disputed points of our written laws, then Judge Bunning himself would have neither robe, nor bench, nor authority.
Let’s not demean the religious freedom which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council so eloquently taught us about in Dignitatis Humanae. The Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision has made the business of handing out marriage licenses in county courthouses even more a farce than it already was. Unfortunately, Kim Davis, God bless her, seems more like a part of the farce than a champion of Christian discipline.
…Dear married couples, committed and generous, struggling through thick and thin to bring to maturity the gift from on high that is the next human generation! We salute you. You deserve better champions than dear Kim Davis.
In fact, you have them: St. Joseph, his spouse, and her Son. Not to mention the countless married saints in heaven who have understood what the word marriage means, and have made a religion out of keeping it real, for the glory of God.