“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.’
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.
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.
The fundamental theme of our Holy Father’s encyclical letter is: Everything is inter-connected. God’s Wisdom permeates. The Creator wills the harmony of the cosmos, and He has endowed all His creatures with a part to play in the beautiful symphony, which sounds to His undying glory.
The word we have for the wise ordering of each part of creation: Nature. All creatures have a ‘nature.’ The things that exist are not just atoms in a random cloud. They are atoms united according to the genius of God. That genius has given us creatures a ‘nature,’ a fruitful path to follow.
Abraham never claimed to be perfect. But he followed one guiding light: the fruitful path laid before Him by God. When Isaac came of age, Abraham had one preoccupation: May my son, too, follow the path indicated by God.
Pope Francis pulls no punches in his encyclical. The human race faces a dire crisis. Because we have departed from that path. We have put ourselves in God’s place. The result? Sterility.
Extinction of species. Desertification of land. Hopeless poverty for millions. Exploitation of the weak, because the masters of the machines have no real vigor of their own.
I mean no offense by pointing out the following. Even a gay person–at least one who lives in something other than an utter fantasy world–would have to acknowledge it. Nothing could be more fundamentally sterile than the idea of ‘gay marriage.’ The slogans have it that today’s Supreme-Court ruling means that ‘love wins.’ But, actually, sterility won.
The oxymoron of ‘gay marriage,’ however, is not the only fundamentally sterile thing. It still seems like a silly sideshow, to be honest with you, from where I’m standing. Maybe I’ll go to jail someday for refusing to perform a ‘gay wedding,’ but I regard that as the least of my worries. Divorce, abortion, artificial contraception, wage slavery. Godless hopelessness. These things do the real damage. The act of sodomy is a fundamentally hopeless act, to be sure. But so is looking at pornography, or littering. And those sins are a lot more common.
We have to choose. We have to choose to walk with Pope Francis, and with St. Francis, and with Christ–poor, chaste, and obedient to the Father.
The path of what is beautifully natural always lies before us. We just have to kneel down before God, in order to keep our eyes fixed upon it.
In the 1880’s, the king of Uganda demanded that his pages submit to his homosexual advances. The holy martyrs of Uganda, strengthened by devotion to Christ, refused. This led to a wholesale persecution in the country. The African blood that consecrated today as a Memorial was spilt 129 years ago.
The Vatican calmly foresaw that the compromises regarding ‘gay marriage,’ which were fashionable a decade ago, could never last. “Civil unions” were just a euphemism for homosexual ‘marriage.’
Pope St. John Paul II and then-Cardinal Ratzinger calmly pointed out that allowing homosexual couples to adopt children contradicts the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. They re-iterated what the Catechism teaches, that it is un-Christian to treat a homosexual person unjustly. And that, like all Christians and all decent people, homosexual people are bound by the law of chastity.
Probably the most remarkable thing about the Vatican document of twelve years ago is this: It soberly acknowledges the de facto legal toleration of homosexual acts. In other words, it says: marriage is marriage; the Gospel calls us all to chastity; let’s operate discreetly and prudently to try to help people live a chaste life. Tolerance of evil, humble dedication to good.
The movement that has changed the definition of marriage in so many places since 2003: it does not have to do with tolerance. Tolerance means: accepting something regarded as evil.
We regard homosexual acts as evil, just like pornography and masturbation are evil–because they get in the way of a life of true love. We have a message of Christian chastity to offer.
The “Gay Marriage” movement regards our teaching as evil. But it has nothing to offer, really, other than intolerance of our message.
Find a way, My children, to stretch out your mind, your imagination, and your heart to someone other than yourself. Think not of your comfort, pleasure, satisfaction, or contentment. Think of the other person. Think of his or her prospects, hopes, grand and beautiful plans.
Then say to yourself, I will serve! I will assist humbly in the fulfillment of the dreams of this other precious person!
I think we can say: Finding ourselves moved in this way with respect to the stranger, the alien, the enemy—that requires an extraordinary amount of heavenly grace.
But does not Mother Nature herself move us in this way—to have these kinds of feelings and make these kinds of resolutions–with respect to our own children? Maybe sometimes parents fail in following through on their desires to help their children. But it comes pretty naturally to us human beings to identify with our children, to sympathize, and to make serious sacrifices for their good.
Am I right? I think so.
This is why I, for one, do not understand at all one particular moral crisis of our age.
Indulge me for a moment, and let’s leave a number of moral crises off to the side. In-vitro fertilization involving only the man and the woman who intend to raise the child: let’s leave that to the side. Two men or two women wanting to “marry” each other: let’s leave that to the side, too. Truth is, the idea of two men or two women wanting to marry each other is a red herring, when it comes to genuine moral analysis here. Children with one or both parents who have abandoned them, who need foster care or adoption: let’s leave that to the side.
Let’s just focus on one single thing: in-vitro fertilization involving a third-party donor.
My question is: How is it possible that any human being cannot see how colossally wrong that is? Something that involves the intentional denial to the child of what almost all of us totally take for granted—namely, knowing who my parents are.
How could any rational human being claim to ‘love’ a child to whom you intentionally deny the right to know who his or her parents are? How can anyone not see how unjust, how oppressive, how truly cruel that is? So cruel and so unjust that nothing could justify it. From the beginning, the relationship between the child and the adults who brought about the situation would be totally backwards. The child would serve the interests of the adults, the desires of the adults. But that is exactly backwards from what love really demands.
Next question: How could the justices of our Supreme Court not see that this question is the crucial question of justice in the case before them, involving ‘same-sex marriage?’
Just to engage in a little hyperbole here: If third-party-donor in-vitro fertilization were illegal, which it ought to be, and the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage throughout the whole country, I would not get all that agitated. I would be like, okay, fine. Whatever.
If two men or two women invited me to their ‘marriage,’ but I knew for a fact that no innocent child would ever be conceived in a petri dish and doomed never to know his or her real parents—if I knew that for a fact, would I go to the party, have a glass of champagne, dance the night away?
No, I wouldn’t. But I would stay calm. I would not thunder in anger. I would just try to find a quiet and polite way out of the situation.
But none of that is really the issue. The issue is: children conceived in such a way that they are chattel slaves–separated from parents, heritage, birthright, identity—from their birth.
That is as wrong as wrong can get, my friends. I truly do not understand how a nation of supposedly rational people cannot see that.
Today, in honor of St. John the Baptist’s birth, we present: Father Versace’s Fortnight-for-Freedom jeremiad.
My spiritual life, so far as it goes, consists in: trying to do my duty as a parish priest (which includes a fair amount of praying), visiting the Blessed Sacrament as often as possible, spending a day in total solitude whenever I can, and spiritual reading and mental prayer early each morning.
I hope and pray that this lame little spiritual life will suffice to prepare me adequately to go to prison, when the time comes. Because it seems to me that the question is not whether I will have to spend time in jail. The question is: For which of the two possible reasons will I actually wind up getting arrested, in the end?
Lately, in the early hours, I have been reading St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles, one chapter per day. Chapter 83 of Book IV goes a long way towards helping us understand our position in the Fortnight for Freedom. Book IV covers salvation. In the latter part of the book, St. Thomas explains life after the general resurrection.
Please God we find ourselves among the saved, rather than the damned, we will live in a state of universal brotherhood, perfectly united with God. There will be no more of a lot of things. One of the the things there will be no more of: sex.
Let’s consider universal brotherhood first.
On the news the other day, I heard a “border-security” pundit say, “The officials of this administration, in their heart of hearts, don’t believe that we have a right to keep people out of this country. People who are not murderers or drug-dealers, who just want a job.”
Then an administration official they had on the show immediately denied it. But I wanted to say to the first guy: You got it, brother! Whether or not the administration officials believe it is a secondary issue. The primary thing is: It’s true. No human authority possesses the right to keep peaceful, law-abiding migrants from moving from one place on God’s earth to another, if such be their will.
The fact that the U.S. tries to impede perfectly legitimate migration indicates a major lapse in our Christian perspective on things. It calls into question whether we, as a nation, can really claim to have a Christian perspective on things.
When people migrate into his land, a Christian does not wonder whether or not the migrants have a good reason for migrating. The Christian assumes, as a decent human being, that they must have a good reason. Why would a law-abiding person leave his or her homeland? Must have been forced by extreme hardship and/or grave danger.
So the Christian thinks, What can I do to help?
The idea that a migrant doesn’t belong here? Again, this is something that just does not occur to a Christian mind. This land belongs to God, not the Dept. of Homeland Security.
Of course, God gives us the duty of maintaining law and order. But migrants in search of a stable and peaceful life do not disturb law and order. To the contrary, they have talent and can make contributions that we need in order to have the vigorous society that we want to have.
So: What kind of trouble will we find ourselves in, brothers and sisters in the Lord, because we cannot and do not accept one of the pretensions to authority that the federal government fondles for itself? What kind of trouble will we find ourselves in because we say that the border-control juggernaut operates like an un-Christian, inhumane racket?
Forgive me. I sat in the waiting room at the detention center in Farmville last Tuesday evening, while they were bringing Enrique from the dining hall to the visitors’ area. I saw a shift-change take place. Well-meaning young officers going home, more well-meaning young officers coming on duty. I do not criticize them; they need a good job, just like everyone else.
But: Why? Why does this barbed-wire-fenced compound, holding several hundred good, hard-working people–keeping them away from their families and their jobs–why does it exist? I don’t mean to be cynical. But the border-control business is a racket.
Maybe, though, I will wind up in jail for reason #2.
In chapter 83 of Book II of Summa Contra Gentiles, St. Thomas carefully considers whether we will have sex with each other after the general resurrection at the end of time. We will no longer need to keep the human race going by procreation, because we will no longer die. Ergo, no good reason for sex.
What about having sex just for the pleasure of it? St. Thomas replies:
To indulge in the pleasure of sex without a good reason for having sex reduces a human being to the level of animals. God made sex pleasurable, just like He made eating pleasurable, in order to encourage us to do it, when a good reason presents itself. But when there is no good reason to have sex, it is beneath the dignity of man to indulge just for the sake of fleshly pleasure.
Of course, St. Thomas has the authority of the Lord Jesus Himself behind him here. In the kingdom of heaven, saith the Lord, they will not marry; they will be like angels.
“You’re interested in having children together? Great,” say I, the priest. “Come in to my office and we’ll work on preparing you to get married!” Or: “Ok, not intending to have children? No problem. Live a beautiful single life, like so many great saints have done!”
I have no problem with “gay” people, per se; I have no problem with teenagers who claim to be in love; I have no problem with successful professionals who honestly believe the Lord has something other than baby-making in mind for them, at least for the moment. Great.
But no one in any of these situations has a legitimate reason for taking their pants off with anyone else in the same room. All of us have more important, more constructive, and more dignified things to do than engaging in fruitless sex.
From one perspective, ‘gay marriage’ and the HHS contraceptive mandate appear to present separate political problems for the Church in the United States. But it seems to me that these problems stem from the same fundamental Christian point-of-view, which St. Thomas outlined.
If someone says, “I want to be married, or do married things, but bearing children isn’t one of them,” then I, the priest, representing the Church as an institution, and as an employer, am like: “Um, no entiendo. How can you possibly imagine that I could do anything for you? Other than encourage you to repent of your sins and try to lead a more reasonable, healthy, and holy life?”
Let’s pray. I don’t particularly want to go to jail. I can’t imagine that any of you do, either.
Let’s pray that everyone will calm down and thereby see things more clearly. Let’s pray that none of us have to go to jail simply because we see life from a Christian point-of-view, which governs all our interactions with other people.
Let’s pray that all of us here on earth will receive the grace to repent of our sins and get to heaven together, where we will live in universal brotherhood, with angel-like chastity, gazing upon the unbounded glory of God.
Tuesday evening I was driving west at sunset, heading home after a Richmond meeting. The Blue Ridge came into view, and I thought to myself, “Sure do love Virginia!”
As any nine-year-old could tell you, the ensuing question is, “So do you want to marry it?”
Back in my early days in the seminary, the cool people regularly harped on how His Holiness, the late Pope Paul VI, correctly predicted what would happen in the latter part of the 20th century. He warned the world about the proliferation of artificial contraceptives, that it would lead to widespread abortion, divorce, out-of-wedlock births, increased objectification and disrespect of women.
Hearing this, my budding Thomistic mind said to itself, “These were not exactly ‘prophecies’ in the strict, supernatural sense of the term. But, indeed: Humanae Vitae has some remarkably prescient passages.”
But even the great Pope could never have predicted this. Even he did not foresee that what would eventually land us in jail would be our refusal to allow two members of the same sex (!) to get married (!!!) in our churches. (Just a matter of time now till some of us go to jail over this.)
Humanae Vitae gave us what we needed to hear, in so many ways more than one. The whole business of how we come into the world makes such perfect and beautiful sense by the light of the encyclical’s teaching. Orwell’s 1984 has certainly arrived, when we read in all the papers about the “children” of two men or two women.
May it please the Lord to choose us to die in jail for the truth. The madness that artificial contraception has unleashed in the Western world can only last so long. Because masturbation–which all sex becomes, in the contraceptive culture–really is just pathetic. People who like to see the sun rise and breathe the crisp air don’t have time for it.
So the nonsense can’t last forever. But some of us are going to have to go to jail in the meantime, so let’s be ready.