Strict Truth About Sex and Gas Planets

[written 2/14/20]

Planet Jupiter clouds from Juno space probe
Clouds on the planet Jupiter, viewed from Juno space probe

You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery. (Matthew 5:27-28)

Economic revolutionaries, social revolutionaries: They can claim to find inspiration in the words of Christ. The Lord wasn’t exactly a “capitalist.” And He never endorsed any particular aristocracy. But sexual revolutionaries? When they look for justifications in the gospels, they run into a brick wall. Because Jesus of Nazareth was death on the sixth commandment. [Spanish]

Better to pluck out your eye than look at someone lustfully. Better to cut off your hand than use it to sin. Lord Jesus made it crystal-clear: when God spoke from Mount Sinai condemning adultery, He condemned every sexual escapade—everything except the one, honest act that makes marriage marriage, through a lifetime of fidelity.

We Catholics do not think ill of sex. After all, our churches would be empty without it. The Lord’s severity on this subject did not proceed from prudishness on His part. He was celibate, but no prude. To the contrary, when He spoke about sex, He evoked the Garden of Eden. Be fruitful and multiply!

But: When it comes to the union of man and woman as one flesh, the holiness of Christ utterly prohibits anything cheap, anything fleeting or libidinously selfish. He chose us for ecstasy and communion that lasts forever. He offered His celibate body on the cross to consummate our everlasting marriage with God. There’s no room at the foot of His cross for anything other than chastity and fidelity in marriage.

marriage_sacramentDoesn’t mean He won’t forgive our falls. He knows what original sin has done to our human powers of self-control. When we succumb to temptation, He picks us up and gives us a fresh start, helping us to pursue again the serenity of perfect sexual honesty. Christ never gets tired of pardoning us weak sinners when we repent.

But the idea that any fruitless, short-term sexuality could peacefully co-exist with the holiness of Christ? His own words utterly anathematize this. Following Jesus means believing wholeheartedly that sex is only for marriage, and marriage is for life.

Now, the whole drama with the bishop and myself has brought the sexual-abuse crisis in the Church back into our minds. I think the most important thing about this is: We need to hear the Gospel of the victims who have spoken out.

Let me explain what I mean. To know the difference between Good and Evil, you have to know what Good is. Otherwise, Evil doesn’t seem evil; it just seems normal.

If we lived on the gas planet Jupiter, we wouldn’t know what a sunset on the Blue Ridge even looked like. But when our eyes catch a glimpse of something beautiful, then we can say to ourselves: We prefer this to endless acid rain.

Jesus Christ gives us the vision of genuine sexual integrity and freedom. We see the selfless chaste love of Jesus. We see the endless fruitfulness of that love. We grasp that Jesus of Nazareth is our brother, Who lived in the true love of our heavenly Father. When that vision of Christian faith penetrates our souls, we can say to ourselves: When it comes to sex, I deserve Blue-Ridge sunsets, and nothing less.

Anyone who ever got lied to, manipulated, or abused, but who then managed to distinguish evil from good, and say: I do not accept this! That person has proclaimed the Gospel. That person has purified the world.

Honest, committed marriage, consecrated by God: That is the true realm where sex can occur with genuine mutual respect. Not counterfeit love, but a friendship, a partnership, a holy bond.

Everyone deserves that, when it comes to sex. That, and nothing less. Jesus was death on the Sixth Commandment not to interfere with our happiness, but to guide us out of the acid rain and into the sunshine.

First Commandment

[written 2/13/14]


Our first reading at Holy Mass today recounts King Solomon’s infidelity to the one, true God. Hopefully that put us in mind of one of the Commandments, namely…

By the grace of Jesus Christ, which He gives us through His sacraments, we can believe in the triune God. We can hope to share His perfect, eternal blessedness. We can love Him honestly, with our whole selves.

God gives us the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. But we have to co-operate with His grace by cultivating them.

We give the true God His due by practicing religion. We daily recognize the grandeur of God’s Providence. We acknowledge that we are but dust and ashes in His sight. We beg His mercy. We praise Him and adore Him. We offer ourselves to Him, in union with His Son Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on the cross.

Thus we observe the most-basic of all laws. We never forget the One Who, in His kindness, delivered us from slavery. The slavery of sin. And the slavery of not even existing at all.

Keeping the First Commandment saves us from the terrible fate of Solomon. His “heart was not entirely with the Lord, his God.”

Fifth-Commandment Way of Life

To give God His glory, flowers bloom, birds chirp, dolphins frolic in the surf, and elephants spray water from their trunks. We give God His glory by… obeying the Ten Commandments. [Spanish]

We could spend all day and all night meditating on which of the Ten Commandments requires the most careful attention. The First sums them all up: ‘I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods but Me.’ We owe Almighty God everything. Without Him we are nothing, quite literally nothing. The only “lifestyle” that makes any real sense: giving everything back to the good Lord, Who gave it all to us in the first place.

paniniThe First Commandment, therefore, takes priority. But can’t we say that the Fifth Commandment shares in the profundity and absolute seriousness of the First?

Why shall we not kill? After all, people have killed each other since the beginning. Of the first two brothers ever born, the one killed the other. We find ourselves enormously disturbed by one school shooting after another, and rightly so. But meanwhile in Syria, death and destruction have rained from the sky for seven years.

Back in the twentieth century, we human beings fancied ourselves “advanced” and “evolved.” But we have killed each other more during the last 104 years than we ever did in all the countless centuries of human history before that. Every day the abortionists of the world bring an end to at least 125,000 human lives. We could easily conclude that killing each other is a normal human thing.

Except: God.

“O God of our fathers, Lord of mercy, in wisdom You formed man” (Wisdom 9:1). He made us “male and female, in His own image and likeness.” He declared through the prophet: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and I consecrated you.” Lord Jesus said: “I came that they may have life.”

The question of the Internet Age is: Is nothing sacred? And the answer is: Yes, human life is sacred. All human life partakes in the holiness of the Incarnate Christ. In Christ, God has united Himself with the human race.

pancakes syrupAfter all, who makes a person? You and I can make pancakes. Or a panini. But who has what it takes to make a person? A unique, unrepeatable, unpredictable, creative, smiling, moody, open-ended person. Google, Inc.? No.

This is what we are saying, we pro-life Catholics. The cynics who rule the planet endlessly babble about how the Catholic Church has a medieval hang-up about abortion and sexual morality. And that we’re overly soft on refugees and death-row inmates. And that we have a fetish for keeping sick and handicapped people alive, who really would be better off dead.

But actually we’re a hundred times more reasonable and clear-headed about all this than Carl Sagan was about galaxies, on his most-lucid days. We have no hang-ups or fetishes or silly soft-spots. We just make it our business to try and recognize the fact: You and me and every other human being—all of us who have these mysterious depths in us: a heart and mind that can know the truth and love our neighbor—we are sacred. Our existence pertains to the holiness of God. We are fruits of His magnificent handiwork.

Therefore: It’s not okay to snuff this out. It’s not okay to crush and destroy this. To kill another human being, by choice—that’s a sacrilege. Even in those cases when a good and just person kills in self-defense—we nonetheless mourn and grieve. Because human life is, of itself, a wonderfully open-ended thing. Human life has only one true “end.” Not death. God.

thou shalt not killThat is why thou shalt not kill—the sacredness of human life. Therefore, the light of faith in the triune God is also the light of peace and tranquility among men. The sacredness of God, and the sacredness of human life, and the sacredness of love for my fellow man—we perceive all this sacredness by the light of Christian faith. Whenever this light of faith does not shine in a human mind, horrible crimes can happen–meaningless violence against the sacred life of a human being. Ultimately, the problem is ignorance. Ignorance of the glory of God, shining forth in a unique human being.

In other words: How could someone do it? How could someone walk into a school, or a church, or a mall, or a concert, and just start shooting? How could someone drop bombs on civilians? Or abort a baby? Or cheer at an execution? Or gun down a rival? How could anyone act with such malice? How? Because darkness fills the mind, where the light of faith should shine.

We mourn and lament that darkness. We don’t answer malice with malice; we don’t pray for revenge. We pray for light, for redemption.

What do things like school shootings mean for us? They mean that we must bear witness. We ourselves must shine the light of faith. That light allows human eyes to see the beautiful divine horizon which shines on a human face. The interior light that makes the Fifth Commandment not just a rule to follow, but a whole way of life.

Commandments Make Wisdom Easier

the prophet Daniel, in the Sistine Chapel

The annual cycle of readings and prayers at Holy Mass concludes this week; the new year begins Sunday. We wrap up the liturgical year by reading from the book of the prophet Daniel.

Daniel lived in exile. The pagan empires had over-run the Holy Land and dispersed the Jews to the four winds. But Daniel remained a faithful Israelite, a child of Abraham and a disciple of Moses—even in a foreign land. And Daniel distinguished himself, even among the Babylonians, as extraordinarily discerning and wise.

Now, what do we members of the People of God have, which the pagans do not have? Well, tons of things. For one: how about the gift that God gave to us on Mount Sinai? Maybe it wasn’t a pure co-incidence that King Nebuchadnezzar regarded Daniel as ten times as wise as the Chaldean sages.

We’ll talk about this more on Sunday. But for the moment let’s pause and give thanks for the enormous advantage in wisdom and discernment that we enjoy, because we have the Ten Commandments.

moses_ten_commandmentsYes, it’s true that God did not spell out anything on Mount Sinai that we could not have figured out on our own. Everything in the Commandments is actually in our consciences, also. But God giving us the Decalogue makes the whole business of acting in accord with our consciences so much easier. It’s like He built a bridge for us over a river—which we would have had to wade across otherwise.

In the pagan world, there’s a huge amount of uncertainty over whether “morality” is even important. But we know that it is—not because it’s an end in itself, but because it involves our relationship with God.

In the pagan world, people dispute over even the most basic principles of good and evil. Many people live with troubled consciences—and the interior agitation that goes with them—just because of moral ignorance. But God has made it so much easier for us; we just have to obey the Ten Commandments.

Granted, morally complicated situations can arise, when we need additional prayer, reflection, and advice, in order to discern good from evil. But most of the time we can stay on the right track—and we can distinguish ourselves as wise and insightful among the pagans, like Daniel—just by holding fast to the ten rules God gave to Moses.

The Commandment Crisis, Part II

Today at Holy Mass we read the Ten Commandments, from Exodus 20. Let’s focus on the third commandment, since God Himself focused on it, by instructing the wandering Israelites to keep the sabbath, even before they arrived at Mount Sinai to receive the commandments.

moses_ten_commandmentsThe Western world has never officially adopted atheism as a principle of government, like communist Russia and China did. (France was officially atheist, but only for six months, during the 1790’s.) Here in the U.S., of course, we officially trust in God, as our money plainly indicates.

But: Hasn’t the sabbath vanished from our life as a nation? And doesn’t that mean that we are, if not atheist in theory, actually atheist in practice? I don’t intend this as a guilt-trip for anyone. Let’s simply consider what the sabbath means for our understanding of reality.

First and foremost, keeping the sabbath means that we put into practice our awareness that God is God. That He reigns supreme in unfathomable, holy goodness and beauty. That everything exists because of His merciful kindness.

Second, the sabbath means that we have immortal, spiritual souls. We human beings occupy planet earth in an utterly unique position, as the supreme pontiffs of creation. Among all the creatures here, we alone perceive the harmony and loveliness of God’s handiwork, and on the sabbath we praise Him and glorify Him for it.

These days supposedly sophisticated people don’t use the words “mankind” or “man.” Instead, sophisticated people say “humans.” But “humans” suggests that we are just one animal species among many. Whales, humans, monkeys, bats, etc. But mankind has a unique destiny, which we attain by keeping the sabbath.

deep seaSomeone rightfully asked me after my homily yesterday: Father, how can you say the crisis of our times involves the third commandment, when so many babies get aborted, in flagrant violation of the fifth?

An eminently reasonable question. But I think it actually serves to make my point. What would move us to such acts of violence? The crushing of innocent life in the womb, so full of promise for the future? The only explanation for millions of abortions and the culture of death is widespread desperate hopelessness.

So, why have we fallen into such desperate hopelessness? Because we have no silence, no rest, no interior space that God can fill with Himself—He Who is our only enduring joy. We never stop to contemplate Him. We have lost sight of the fact that contemplating God is the meaning of life. Life without the sabbath is a living hell. So it’s really no wonder that we have become so unchaste and violent.

But God is still God, of course. And mankind still stands at the pinnacle of creation as high priest. And Christ’s sacrifice still opens the heart of infinite divine mercy.

We can always find sabbath rest for our souls at the Church’s altars. And it seems to me that nothing will evangelize better than our having that sabbath refreshment within ourselves–and inviting others to share in its true joy.

Ten-Commandments Marker

(Today at Holy Mass, while we read our way through Exodus, we come upon the Ten Commandments! Also: we read the Parable of the Sower.)

For some years now, we have endured the spectacle of public disputes about Ten Commandments sculptures. Judges or state legislatures or governors put them up; other judges or appellate panels or officials demand that they come down.

moses_ten_commandmentsLord Jesus declared that some seed falls on good soil, where its roots can grow deep. It sprouts, grows, and yields abundantly. Meanwhile, some seed falls on rocks or poor soil. Either it doesn’t sprout at all, or it lives only a short time and bears no fruit.

I am all for people having the opportunity to read and meditate on the Ten Commandments whenever and wherever possible. Anyone who lets more than a week go by without meditating on the divine Law is asking for trouble on Judgment Day, to be sure.

But the Lord didn’t inscribe the Ten Commandments in stone in the first place for us simply to chisel them endlessly, over and over again, on other stones. No, He gave them to us on stone to remind us that He had written them in our hearts, back in the Garden of Eden—but we did not obey them.

Christ has taught us how to obey them. “Thou shalt have Ten-Commandment sculptures in front of thy capitols and courthouses.” That’s not one of the Ten Commandments.

But “Blessed are the poor, the meek, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, those who hunger and thirst for justice”—that comes from the mouth of the One Who wrote the Ten Commandments in the first place.

The best “memorial” of the Ten Commandments is a humble, God-fearing person who actually tries to live by the Sermon on the Mount.

Morals Free of Pharisaism

Can His Holiness dunk?
Can His Holiness dunk?

As we read in the New Testament, St. Peter gave many moving and penetrating speeches. At the Council of Jerusalem, he articulated a particularly consoling idea. To my little mind, this idea is one of the most wonderful, beautiful, captivating, and invigorating ideas in our religion.

Peter said to the brethren, the shepherds of the Church: “We cannot place on the shoulders of our people a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear.”

Now, to what exactly did St. Peter refer, when he spoke of this ‘unbearable yoke?’

I think it is clear that he did not mean the Ten Commandments themselves. Nor did he mean simply the ritual of circumcising baby boys.

What he meant by ‘unbearable yoke,’ I think, is: A way of conceiving ‘justice’ or ‘righteousness’ that departs from the innate freedom of every human individual to follow his conscience and live as a child of God.

da Vinci “Head of a Pharisee”
Pharisaism had gotten the Jewish nation to the point where an ordinary human life could not possibly meet the standards of righteousness.

A system of moral judgments had been built which no one could, in fact, successfully navigate without departing from the basic principles of morality that naturally arise in a human conscience.

The Lord Jesus referred to this in one of His arguments with the Pharisees, when He excoriated them for teaching people to designate their property as korban, ie. consecrated to God. In practice, this meant that their family members couldn’t have any of it.

What I am trying to say is: One of the things that the New Covenant does for us is to restore us as individuals to the point where we can operate with an honest conscience. The natural moral principles of mankind are spelled out in the Ten Commandments—not as something coming from on high; the Ten Commandments articulate the fundamental distinctions between right and wrong which arise in our consciences.

In my humble opinion, the zeitgeist of our age sags under the burden of a Pharisaical system of artificial morality that the Pharisees of old could only wonder at with amazement. The New Covenant in Christ frees us completely from the complicated moralism of all the contemporary ideologies. I think this is a wonderful and revolutionary idea, really: We do not need to establish our righteousness according to any set of contemporary moral principles, be they ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal.’ We can have peace and live simply and freely by the Ten Commandments.

(I will try to come back to this subject and give some examples of what I mean, from both liberal and conservative sides, if time permits me.)

Our Friends the Ten Commandments

King David harp

First reading at Holy Mass on Sunday: the Ten ___________________.

Let’s briefly meditate on a few of them, and we will discover a wonderful truth. Not only do we love God, but we also love ourselves best by following them.

We can get off to a good start with Commandments #1 and #3, just by going to Mass.

What about #2? You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.

Invoking the Lord’s name in anger, to be sure, violates this one. But what about if we fail to give good example in our daily dealings with others?

Bernardine with ihsWe Catholics represent Christ and His Church everywhere we go and in everything we do. He sends us as His ambassadors. We carry His banner, with the Holy Name of Jesus on it, into every situation in which we find ourselves. We take that Holy Name in vain if we behave selfishly and meanly, or if we are just as ravenous for prestige and pleasure as anyone else.

#4. Honor your father and mother, that you may have a long life in the Promised Land. In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul emphasized how this commandment comes with a promise of blessings.

My own dear, departed dad had some habits that made the years I spent growing up kinda difficult. But somewhere along the line, the Lord gave me a great gift. I started to think of my dad as a struggling human being, just like me. Then I realized that whatever meager masculine strengths of character I may possess, I have my dad to thank for them.

To honor one’s father and mother really means honoring oneself. Honoring one’s elders, one’s country, one’s cultural heritage: all of these are acts of wholesome and genuine self-esteem. The Lord does not ask us to idolize other human beings. But He wants us to love ourselves enough to have reverence for our own origins.

God brought us into being, not from scratch, but through a living history, of which we make a part. Each of us has something altogether unique about our personalities. That unique aspect is like a jewel which sits in the setting of our family background and cultural inheritance. We can’t be ourselves, really, without revering who and what we have come from. And we have the duty of handing on to the next generation all the riches that we have received.

Any other commandments on which we should briefly meditate? While we are on the subject of parents and children, I guess we ought to sink our teeth for a moment into the sixth commandment, everyone’s favorite.

moses_ten_commandmentsSome young people seem to have the idea that Lent is the time of year to fight the battle of chastity. A high-school senior I know, who shall remain nameless, openly declared, in front of his whole class, that he would not touch his girlfriend at all during Lent. I asked him if she agreed with this resolution. He assured me she did.

More power to this young man and young lady. I must say that many of us older Catholics probably think of something else when we think of Lent. Like eating fish on Fridays and putting money in a Chinese-food take-out box for charity. But we can hardly delude ourselves about the seriousness of our culture’s sixth-commandment problem.

Somewhere deep within, we all know that the only genuinely good sex is sex that is fruitful and consecrated by vows of fidelity until death. Anything else is demeaning, desperate, and lame.

But the crassness of our pornography-infested culture can harden people’s hearts. Our movies and tv shows cloud over the light of truth that guides us from within. Our consciences will always move us towards true chastity and the love that makes promises and keeps them. But all around us, on the airwaves, the idea is: casual sex is fine. Masturbation is normal. Sodomy is normal. Blah blah. Etc.

Also, as our Holy Father Francis has pointed-out on a number of occasions, a great crisis of courage besets young people these days, when it comes to getting married. Marriage takes courage. Fornication and co-habitation do not. Living together outside of marriage is the refuge of cowards.

pope-francis_2541160kTo get married and stay married requires constant supplication before God, seeking the help of His grace. Fulfilling the sixth commandment is a matter of supernatural grace. We cannot be chaste by our own power. May God give us all the courage and the genuine self-esteem which can make us chaste. Let’s do like the young man: let’s go to war this Lent against anything and everything that interferes with our faithful and joyful observance of the sixth commandment. Especially visiting the wrong websites.

The truth is that the Ten Commandments, all of them, are among the best friends we have in this life. Let’s make sure we know them cold. Let’s all meditate on them regularly, once a fortnight at least.

May the commandments of Sinai become a ten-stringed harp which plays in our souls. The commandments given to Moses express the fundamental inclinations we all have inside, toward what is good.

God made us to be moral creatures; He made us to be the creatures that follow the Ten Commandments. Birds praise Him by singing. We praise Him by following the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are our human song to God. May we play this ten-stringed harp to Him our whole lives through.

Faith, Obedience PLUS Personal Cris-de-Cœur re: Pope

If you obey the commandments of the Lord, loving Him and walking in His ways…you will live, and the Lord will bless you. If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen, you will certainly perish…Choose life then! (Deuteronomy 30:16-19)

Our beloved Holy Father has chosen to relinquish his pastoral office. He will not give us his promised encyclical on faith.

I will try to step unto the breach, dear friends. My Lenten-Vespers talks will attempt to convey the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas on the virtue of faith. Let’s make a little start now.

Henry V Once more unto the breachWe Catholics propose that Almighty God has personally commanded us to do certain things and avoid certain things. Sacred Scripture contains many explicit commandments. Pre-eminent among all of these commandments are, of course, the world-famous Ten. The wise man emblazons the Ten Commandments on his soul, like an interior tattoo, by frequent meditation on them.

But: Where in the Scriptures do we find the explicit commandment to believe in God? He says, “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no others.” But this is a commandment against false religion, rather than a commandment to believe.

St. Thomas points out: Anyone who makes laws makes them for those who fall under his or her authority.

Now, God knows perfectly well that everyone and everything falls under His authority. But that was not really His point when He made laws for us. He had no need to remind Himself that He is in charge. More to the point: The matter of those who are obliged to obey Him…

We strive to obey the commandments because we believe in the One Who made them. He does not explicitly command us to believe, because we would hardly be listening to Him anyway, if we didn’t believe.

steering wheelLong and short of it: Man stands free before God. He has the authority; we do not. But His authority does not impose itself on us, like the authority of a driver imposes itself on a car.

To the contrary, we remain free either to embrace reality as it is—namely that God is God, and everything else He made for the purposes which He spells out in His commandments—or we may retreat into foolish fantasies of our own, in which we trick ourselves into thinking that we retain control.

Seems like it makes more sense to believe. And, when we believe, the only thing that makes sense is to obey.


Continue reading “Faith, Obedience PLUS Personal Cris-de-Cœur re: Pope”

Humbling and Impossible

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. (Mark 10:25)

One school of interpretation has it that the “eye of the needle” to which our Lord refers in this simile is a very low gate in the ancient wall of Jerusalem, the only gate that was kept open at night. An armed guard would stand watch at this gate. He would allow a mounted man through, provided the rider identified himself as a citizen or a friend. To pass through the low gate, however, his camel would have to kneel down and crawl.

Apparently, this nighttime gate may sometimes have been called “the eye of the needle.” Thus, the Lord Jesus’ audience could have thought of a kneeling, crawling camel, humbly bowing low to enter the city, when they heard His simile about the rich entering the kingdom of God.

Continue reading “Humbling and Impossible”