It’s Wednesday after vacation week, and I’m still trying to get back into the groove. I suppose this is the mark of a good vacation, one that is so completely relaxing that it’s difficult to resume the harried pace, take up the multiple tasks, deal with the ongoing committments, etc. etc. etc., that brought you to the point of screaming, “I need a break!” in the first place.
A few good cups of coffee in the morning help. Although I started the vacation day with coffee — usually at 6 am, because it’s wonderful to wake up early when all you have to do is figure out how to enjoy the day – it was more to spark some energy for a good three mile walk before the sun became too hot. Getting back in the groove, coffee serves another purpose, to clarify the mind and inspire some motivation to dive into the “to do” list.
It took me three days to begin to sort through the mail that had piled up after a week, including emails and other electronic missives. Even with that, it dawned on me that I could have let things go a few more days and it really wouldn’t have made that much of a difference; I just would have been somewhat disconnected from the world, that’s all.
Sabbath time, vacation time and rest, is a vanishing commodity for many, including me. This last week’s vacation reminded me that I need to spend more time in sabbath practice, to learn how to make it part of the ebb and flow of my life rather than an oasis I’m reluctant to leave.
Photo credit: Anna Olmenchenko @ shutterstock.com
“The Nuptial Mystery of Life in Christ as Revealed in Scripture and Liturgy”
Lecture for Annual Meeting of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy
Monastery of the Angeles, July 10, 2014
Presented by Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone
“Have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?”
“Will you love and honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives?”
“Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?”
These words sound very familiar to all of us; maybe too familiar. We can too easily become immune to the profound reality and awesome commitment these words express and effect: a man and a woman binding themselves to each other for life, in mutual love and fidelity to each other, to bring new human life into the world – new human beings, with an immortal soul, needing the love, affection and material, emotional and spiritual support that only a mother and father together can uniquely provide. I would like, then, in this talk to reflect upon marriage and responsible parenthood in the current cultural context, and then consider its deeper, mystical meaning as revealed in Sacred Scripture and the Church’s liturgy.
The State of Marriage in Society
This “statement of intentions” establishes what is necessary for a canonically valid marriage – all marriage, natural as well as sacramental: free will, and then the three “Augustinian goods” of marriage – permanence (bonum sacramenti), fidelity (bonum fidei) and openness to offspring (bonum prolis). It is these three bona, goods of marriage, that distinguish marriage from any other type of relationship, and identify what it is in nature and define what it is in the law.
Considered in this light, it becomes clear that the current crisis of marriage of which we are all painfully aware has really been going on in our society for a very long time. This latest debate about the very definition of marriage is simply the next logical – albeit thus far most radical – step in the redefinition of marriage in the social consciousness. That is, marriage has already been redefined in the culture, and the law is now beginning to reflect that. Looked at from the standpoint of the three goods of marriage, we can see how this banalization of the concept of marriage has been going on for at least the last fifty years, that is, since the so-call “sexual revolution” of the 1960’s. Just consider:
Permanence: There is no question that the widespread acceptance of no fault divorce dealt an extremely severe blow to the concept of marriage as a life-long commitment. This already redefined marriage as an adult-centered institution based on what the adults look to get out of it. To put it in the terminology that comes to us from the teaching of St. John Paul II, this is the quintessential “utilitarian” norm: one person becomes the means to another person’s end. When the needs of one are no longer being met by the other, the basis of the relationship is gone and the disappointed party can legally back out of it, even against the wishes of the other spouse who wishes to keep the marriage together. Perhaps you, as I, have known people who have been severely harmed by this decision – they wanted to stay in the relationship and keep it working while the person’s spouse simply backed out and filed for divorce. Now, if we add to this the now almost universally accepted practice of cohabitation outside of marriage, and recognize how easily couples move in and out of relationship, whether it’s cohabitation or marriage, we can see that there is not really that much difference the popular mentality ascribes to those who are married and to couples who are not.
Fidelity: Certainly widespread promiscuity does violence to the idea of marriage as a commitment of exclusive fidelity. Commonplace cohabitation also contributes to the loss of the sense of fidelity as one of the defining goods of marriage, even if, of the three, this one does still have some resonance in the popular culture, at least as an ideal. The social changes that erupted fifty years ago also eventually saw such aberrant practices as so-called “open marriages” and “swinging.”
Offspring: We are now witnessing the phenomenon, until recently inconceivable, of couples marrying with the intention of not have any children at all. Remember “DINKS”? With contraception and then – necessarily, given the mentality – abortion, sex has become redefined, no longer understood as procreative and unitive, but seen rather as a means for pleasure. Thus, we have here again the utilitarian norm: the other person becomes a means to an end, rather than an end in themselves. Because the concept of sex has now become disconnected from procreation and, in turn, from marriage, motherhood today is seen as a matter of choice and increasingly a lifestyle choice. We hear absurd things such as, “just because she chose to be a mother doesn’t mean I chose to be a father.” Or the woman who says, “I don’t know how I got pregnant, it wasn’t supposed to happen.” (I have actually heard this one myself!)
When the choice to have a child is simply a lifestyle choice, then increasingly it is seen as a means to fulfillment separated from marriage, for the sake of the adult making the choice, with roles of motherhood and fatherhood becoming interchangeable. Just last Sunday the New York Times had a front-page article on surrogacy, “wombs for hire,” whether the couples are same-sex or opposite sex. And what if the couple decides later they do not want to have the child, but the surrogate mother wants to keep the child and is willing to raise the child herself? As you may know, this has happened, and the surrogate mother was forced to abort the child against her will. What could be a more blatant and outrageous example of a child being treated as an object of desire, a means to an end, rather than a gift of equal value and dignity to the adult and worthy of unconditional self-giving love – what St. John Paul calls the “personalistic norm”?
Sadly, this sort of thing isn’t new. When I was working in Rome – already this was in the late 1990’s – I remember walking past what was obviously a feminist bookstore. And this was just a few blocks from the Vatican, very close to the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. And there proudly displayed in the window was a book with the title, “Self-Insemination.” I thought to myself, “How ironic. When I was young and ‘women’s lib’ was in full force, the question that women who were with the spirit of the times would ask themselves was, ‘How can I do it without getting pregnant?’ Now the question they ask is, ‘How can I get pregnant without doing it?’”
When the two ends of marriage become not only separated from each other but irrelevant, it’s no wonder that many people cannot make a distinction between heterosexual and same-sex relationships, or between marriage and cohabitation for that matter.
So, you can see how all of this has whittled away at the three defining goods of marriage, and therefore at the very concept of marriage itself. No fault divorce was, especially, the pivotal moment, for that put into the law the idea that marriage is for the gratification and benefits of adults and not about the needs and rights of children. But ultimately it can all be traced back to the contraceptive mentality, which is nothing more than the utilitarian norm applied to sexual relations.
“Living together without the benefit of marriage”: remember that old phrase? You don’t hear it anymore. But just what are those benefits? It’s not simply those material perks the government gives to married couples, which seems to be the exclusive focus these days. Most especially, it’s those two “ends” of marriage, the procreation and education of offspring, and the “mutuum adiutorium,” the mutual good and unity of the spouses: the consolation of children, love becoming incarnate, passing on one’s lineage; and the care the spouses give to each other, being faithful, not just in their sexual behavior but in all aspects of their affection and the practical support they give to each other, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health – to have that kind of security, to always count on that other person, who has made a sacred vow to bind him or herself to the other, is a great thing. Notice, it’s not a one-way street: because the benefits are mutual, so are the responsibilities.
The three “goods” of marriage define what marriage is, the three things the spouses must intend in giving their consent for the marriage bond to be put into place, such that if a spouse were to intentionally exclude anyone one of them from his or her consent the marriage would not be valid. The two ends of marriage, on the other hand, define what marriage is for, the purposes for which marriage is ordered: whether or not they are attained, and the extent to which they may or may not be attained, does not invalidate the marriage or minimize its value. However, if the couple willingly places obstacles to the attaining of these ends it does do harm to the marriage in the sense that the marriage does not become that “school of self-perfection” to the full extent that it is meant to be, training the spouses to live ever more perfectly conformed to the personalistic norm, that is, living the spirituality of responsible parenthood at its deepest level, the heart and most intimate part of the couple’s marital relationship: their spiritual-sexual union.
If you think about it, the formula is quite simple and clear: healthy societies are built on healthy, united families; healthy, united families are based on healthy, happy, harmonious marriages; and at the heart of marriage is the spiritual-sexual relationship between husband and wife. It all really comes down to that. The whole point is the plan of God for our happiness: it is clear that in the plan of God marriage is meant to be a faithful, fruitful, life-long union between a man and a woman. This school of self-perfection is necessary not only for the flourishing of the individual but also for society as a whole. That is why societies that don’t manage the procreative implications of the sexual act don’t last for very long. Just look at our inner city neighborhoods: think of what those neighborhoods were like fifty years ago, and what they are like now. Is this not due, in large part, to the scourge of fatherlessness? As someone much smarter than I on this subject put it, when a baby is born, the mother is sure to be somewhere nearby; there’s no guarantee, though, that the father will be. Society needs a cultural mechanism that attaches fathers to their children and to the woman with whom they brought those children into the world. That cultural mechanism is marriage, and it’s the only one there is; there simply isn’t any other. Marriage is the only way societies have figured out how to harness the erotic energy of youth and channel it into this narrow but very fruitful way.
So you can see how the evil one works: it is the Garden of Eden all over again. Just as in the Garden, so in our own time the evil one has infected this awesome plan of God for our own human flourishing and happiness with Him at its root: he attacks the most intimate part of who we are; he attacks the woman’s fertility so that it is no longer seen as a good and as a blessing, but rather more like an appliance to turn on and off at one’s pleasure or, worse yet, as a problem to be “fixed.” And in doing so, he edges the father out of the picture, acknowledging how critical the father is to a child’s healthy development. This, then, instills the utilitarian view: the other is no longer seen and treated as an inherent good deserving of love simply on the basis of being a human person (the personalistic norm). And the evil one does this precisely because he does notwant our human flourishing; no, quite the contrary, he wants our eternal demise.
Marriage and Evangelization
The consequences of all this, then, couldn’t be more serious. But there is even more to it than that. To understand what it is, though, we have to look at the Bible, and then at the Church’s liturgy.
So, let’s begin at the beginning: Genesis chapter one, the first account of creation. As you know, Genesis 1:27 presents the creation of the man and woman as the culmination of God’s creative activity: “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” The next chapter speaks of God creating the man first, and then the rest of creation to be a suitable helpmate for him, none of which, though, meets the mark until He creates the woman from one of Adam’s ribs while he is asleep. In his first Encyclical, God is Love, Pope Benedict, with original insight, sees here a connection between monotheism and monogamy; at the same time he give another original insight in reclaiming the love that is “eros” with a Christian meaning. He says (n. 11):
… the idea is certainly present [here] that man is somehow incomplete, driven by nature to seek in another the part that can make him whole, the idea that only in communion with the opposite sex can he become ‘complete’. The biblical account thus concludes with a prophecy about Adam: ‘Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh’ (Gen 2:24).
Two aspects of this are important. First, eros is somehow rooted in man’s very nature; Adam is a seeker, who ‘abandons his mother and father’ in order to find woman; only together do the two represent complete humanity and become ‘one flesh’. The second aspect is equally important. From the standpoint of creation, eros directs man towards marriage, to a bond which is unique and definitive; thus, and only thus, does it fulfill its deepest purpose. Corresponding to the image of a monotheistic God is monogamous marriage. Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa [emphasis added].
This passage of Genesis is critical, because it sets the pattern for the whole rest of Bible, and for all that will later be revealed and, indeed, for all of salvation history.
We can already see this in the next step through the Bible, the prophets. They frequently speak of Israel’s relationship to the Lord as a bride to her bridegroom. There is also a book of the Old Testament that is nothing but a collection of love poems: the Song of Songs. Why in the world would a collection of love poems be entered into the canon of Scripture? Pope Benedict explains why, also in God is Love (n. 10):
… the reception of the Song of Songs in the canon of sacred Scripture was soon explained by the idea that these love songs ultimately describe God’s relation to man and man’s relation to God. Thus the Song of Songs became, both in Christian and Jewish literature, a source of mystical knowledge and experience, an expression of the essence of biblical faith: that man can indeed enter into union with God – his primordial aspiration. But this union is … a unity in which both God and man remain themselves and yet become fully one. As Saint Paul says: ‘He who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him’ (1 Cor 6:17).
Is this nothing other than the nuptial mystery, that is, the two becoming fully one, yet remaining themselves, each retaining their unique individual identity? This is why the Song of Songs was the most commented upon book of the Bible in the Middle Ages. You may have noticed, in fact, in the Office of Readings for this very day, the second longer patristic reading is from an exposition of Psalm 118 by St. Ambrose, and he mentions there the Song of Songs. And then he says: “We read in Scripture what the Lord Jesus said through his prophet: Open for me the gates of holiness. It is the soul that has its door, its gates. Christ comes to this door and knocks; he knocks at these gates. Open to him; he wants to enter, to find his bride waiting and watching.” So you see, the fingerprints of the nuptial mystery are just all over the place in Scripture, in Tradition, in our entire theological and spiritual heritage.
Moving onto the New Testament, we have various sayings and parables of Jesus alluding to this imagery, such as the parable of the ten virgins (five wise, five foolish) who took lamps with them to go out and meet the bridegroom (Mt 25:1-13). It is also significant that Jesus chose the occasion of a marriage feast to perform his first miracle; his response to his mother, “My hour has not yet come,” is a reference to the consummation of God’s marriage to His people that will be accomplished by his death on the cross.
A truly pivotal passage in the New Testament, of course, is the fifth chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, in which he teaches about the sacramental meaning of marriage, the man symbolizing Christ and the woman the Church. He then points to this as the fulfillment of that prophecy from Genesis: “‘For this reason a man shall leave [his] father and [his] mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:31-32). It is a pity that so many preachers avoid this as too controversial when they have the chance to preach on it, or (worse) dismiss it as no longer valid because it pertains to a previous age when women were considered inferior. Actually, quite the contrary is the case, as St. John Paul II points out in his Apostolic Letter, Mulieris Dignitatem, where he speaks about the mutual submission that the husband and wife must make to each other.
Finally, in the Book of Revelation the culmination of all of history at the end times is revealed by the wedding feast of the Lamb. In relating his vision to us, St. John says, “[T]he wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready. … Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb’” (Rev 19:7.9).
So it is that the Bible begins and ends with a marriage – Adam and Eve and the wedding feast of the Lamb – and it is replete with this nuptial imagery all throughout. God’s Covenant with Israel is a marriage Covenant; it is fulfilled in the blood of Christ on the cross, establishing the new and eternal Covenant between him, the bridegroom, and his bride, the Church. This imagery is then taken over in the Christian liturgy, which traces its inspiration back to the Jewish liturgy in the Jerusalem Temple. There, the altar stood behind a veil marking off the Holy of Holies, where the priest would enter on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) to offer sacrifice for his sins and those of the people. In his book, Jesus of Nazareth, Volume II, Pope Benedict speaks of how the definitive destruction of the Temple, and therefore of the Temple sacrifices, coincided right at the moment that Christianity was established, and the Christians understood the sacrifice of the Eucharist as replacing the provisional Temple sacrifices, as the Eucharist is the re-presentation to us of the one, perfect sacrifice of Christ.
The Christian liturgy is, in fact, heavily influenced by this Temple theology. As the Jewish-Catholic art historian Helen Ratner Dietz explains (in a chapter entitled, “The Nuptial Meaning of Classic Church Architecture” from the book, Benedict XVI and Beauty in Sacred Art and Architecture), the “fourth-century Christian altar hidden by its canopy and curtains had a deliberately nuptial meaning … reminiscent of the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple.” Understanding their Covenant with God to be a marriage covenant, the canopy and curtains in the Temple represented for the Jewish people a “chuppah,” the bridal chamber used in Semitic marriage rituals.
The Christian practice of hanging a curtain between the columns of the baldacchino (the canopy over the altar supported by four pillars) to veil the altar continued throughout the first Christian millennium (see Pope Benedict in The Spirit of the Liturgy, citing Bouyer). This served as a “sacred tent,” sheltering the divine presence, harkening back to the Ark of the Covenant located the within the Holy of Holies. The veil “sheltered” the divine presence. The purpose of a veil is to conceal. What is concealed is what is most sacred, and it is most sacred because it is most intimate – thus, the appropriateness of sheltering it.
Think about our human experience, keeping in mind here that revelation builds on what is already in the created order, it does not superimpose itself upon it: clothing is a veil, it shelters what is most intimate, that is, what most sacred to us about our bodies, which is why we always keep that part of our body veiled. But the veil has to be removed – unveiled, revealed – in order for a marriage to be consummated. So we can understand the meaning of the veil in the Temple being torn in two from top to bottom at the moment of Christ’s death (Mt 27:51): it symbolizes that, through the sacrifice of His Son, God has now revealed what before was concealed to us – His intimate, inner life – and has granted us access to it. The veil, then, conceals what is most intimate – and therefore most sacred – precisely so that it can be revealed to allow the nuptial communion of Christ and the Church. Extrapolating on this, we can see even more clearly the nuptial meaning of the sacrifice of the Eucharist: just as the consummation of a marriage is preceded by the unveiling of what is intimate and therefore most sacred to the spouses, so in the liturgy the marriage feast of the Lamb to his bride the Church is consummated by him giving us his flesh to eat and blood to drink, drawing us into a mystical nuptial union. The Church’s insight into this truth can be seen from the ancient Latin translation (Vulgate) of the verse recounting Christ’s last words on the Cross, “it is finished” (Greek): consummatum est – literally, “it has been consummated.” The drawing back of the curtain before Communion signifies this entering into nuptial union with Christ.
In a retreat given to priests in Ireland, Archbishop Fulton Sheen even spoke of Christ’s blood on the Cross as his “seminal fluid.” We know this, too, from the Fathers of the Church: as God created Adam’s bride, Eve, from his side while he slept, Christ gave birth to his bride, the Church, through the blood and water that flowed from his side while he lay in the sleep of death on the Cross. As the bridegroom, Christ gives the seed of life to the Church; as his bride, the Church receives it, generates new life for his Kingdom through the water of baptism and nourishes that new life through the grace of the sacraments – especially the Eucharist (his blood) – and by teaching his children the truth received from him, the “deposit of faith.” This is why we can speak of “Holy Mother Church.”
This also explains the traditional practice of the “houseling cloth” on the altar rail: in times past, communicants would put their hands under this cloth when they knelt to receive Communion. This was done not only out of respect for any particles that might fall, but it had a deeper symbolic meaning as an extension of the altar cloth. The Eucharist is about bed, board and hearth: the altar cloth not only has the meaning of a table cloth, but all the more it symbolizes bed linen, covering the marriage bed where the Covenant between Christ and his Church is consummated. The houseling cloth, then, was an extension of the altar cloth bringing Christ’s people into that mystical nuptial union through Holy Communion. From this, too, we can understand all the better the importance of worthiness to receive Communion, being in a “state of grace,” a teaching that goes back to St. Paul (cf. 1 Cor 11:27-29). Holy Communion is not a simple gesture of hospitality, much less of affirmation! We should think of Holy Communion not merely as being welcomed to a dinner table but being admitted to a bridal chamber; one must be worthy.
While the practice of the veil in front of the altar (drawn back at time of Communion) has been preserved in the liturgy of many of the Eastern rites of the Church, it has been extinct in the West for over a thousand years. However, the sense of the veil has been preserved in other – albeit diminished – ways up to recent times. Examples of this would be a veil placed in front of the doors of the tabernacle or immediately behind them inside the tabernacle, and the veiling and unveiling of the chalice during the celebration of the Mass. This also gives a deeper meaning to the old practice of women veiling their heads in church. In Christian liturgy, the sacred is veiled, and so again here there is a deeper, symbolic meaning: it is not just a matter of feminine modesty (which in itself is a sign of respect for women, so that men not see them as objects of desire), but consideration given to women as having a special sacred status because they are the bearers of life.
All of this is indicative of a movement away from paganism toward worship of and allegiance to the one, true God; and, it is a movement that happens by way of marriage. Picking up on that point made by Pope Benedict about Adam’s drive for the other that would complete him, Helen Ratner Dietz explains it this way:
… as the ancestors of the Jews gradually emerged from paganism, God let them know that … polytheistic worship of nature deities was unacceptable to Him…. [T]he God of Israel is hetero, ‘other’. He is beyond and before the universe. His bride Israel yearns for Him because He is other. And God, in His own way, yearns for Israel in her earthliness because she, too, is hetero, other than Himself.
When King Solomon in his later years lapsed into the worship of Ashtoreth the earth goddess, thereby denying the oneness and otherness of the divinity, God let him know that there would be deleterious consequences in the next generation. It was with great effort that Israel emerged from pantheism. Pantheism was like a vortex, tugging at Israel to suck her back in, just as today pantheism is like a vortex tugging at the Church [emphasis added].
Likewise for us, there will be deleterious consequences for future generations – there already have been for the current generation; they are the first victims of the demise of the marriage culture, if we think once again of the many inner city neighborhoods across the country as emblematic of the social costs of family fragmentation. But the most deleterious consequence of all if we lose the basic understanding of marriage in the culture is that we will no longer be able to evangelize. And this is not because of the well-documented connection between marriage redefinition and diminishment of religious liberty. Yes, we bishops are very concerned about encroachments of the government on our right to carry out our public ministries in accordance with our moral principles, but, as serious as that is, it is not the most serious threat to evangelization.
When you consider that the entire Judeo-Christian religious tradition is premised on the concept of sexual difference and complementarity in marriage, and then you will understand that, if we lose that concept, nothing of our faith tradition will make any sense in the culture. Precisely because revealed truth is not super-imposed on nature but builds on it – that is, builds upon truths that are accessible to reason alone from the observation of nature – when the culture can no longer apprehend those natural truths, then the very foundation of our teaching evaporates and nothing we have to offer will make sense. The result is a societal reversion to the paganism of old but with a unique post-modern variation on its themes, such as the practice of child sacrifice, the worship of feminine deities, or the cult of priestesses. Since the Church cannot but be immersed in the contemporary society, this is that pantheism tugging at her like a vortex to which Ratner Dietz refers.
Let’s dwell on this for a while, and take note of a similar occurrence that has been going on in society and the Church for an even longer time. Another foundational Christian belief – in fact, thefoundational belief – is the Trinity: God is a communion of three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Moreover, this is not a theory composed by the human mind in order to help us comprehend the mystery of the Godhead; no, this is a truth that God has revealed to us, He has taken the initiative to reveal to us His inner life. But now, for a lot of people, the idea of God as Father is oppressive and offensive, the product of a male-dominated patriarchal society (so the worn-out rhetoric goes). So, if we are going to address God as “Father” we must also address God as “mother” (note that Jesus never prayed to his mother, only to his Father). And of course, we must avoid using the male pronoun in reference to God, no matter how contorted or redundant it may sound (such as the rephrased line from the hymn Let All Things Now Living: “the depths of the ocean proclaim God divine – isn’t “divine” the very definition of God, such that the two are synonymous?).
Why would this be? Is it not because we are now living in a fatherless society? Many people today cannot understand the concept of father, or if they do have a concept of father it’s a negative one because of the experience of an abusive or deadbeat dad. Just look at how fathers (and men in general) are portrayed in the culture, in TV shows and in advertising especially: at best they are superfluous; more often, they are portrayed as buffoons.
Here, as with marriage, God uses what He put in the created order to reveal to us a deeper, transcendent, spiritual truth: His love for us, His very inner life. Now, however, because of the crisis in fatherhood, many people cannot comprehend this basic truth, which is really Good News: God is not distant and uncaring, but is our Father, and loves us with a Father’s love. But that doesn’t seem like such good news to a lot of people.
So you can see what will happen if we lose the understanding of marriage – we will not be able to evangelize – not because of laws that forbid it (diminished religious freedom); rather, given that the entire Judeo-Christian religious tradition is premised on the concept of marriage, if we lose that concept, nothing of our faith tradition will make any sense in the culture. And, just like now some people take pains to avoid using any male reference to God, the same sort of thing will happen with marriage. Now, I’m sure you all are not averse to using the male pronoun in reference to God, but you probably have been self-conscious in doing so in certain contexts. Well, the same thing will be true of marriage. This hit me last year at a meeting of the USCCB, when we were praying Evening Prayer together. One of the intercessions was the following: “From the beginning you intended husband and wife to be one. Keep all families united in sincere love.” Sounds fine, right? What’s wrong with that? Well, we will not be allowed to speak of “husband and wife” anymore. So, a petition such as this will have to be changed to, “From the beginning you intended spouses to be one.”
The Church’s Answer to the Crisis of Our Time
But we have the answer to advancing the new evangelization right within the Church’s tradition. As has happened so many times at critical junctures in the Church’s history, Christ gives his Church, his Bride, just what she needs to respond to the challenges to the Gospel in the age in which she lives.
To illustrate this point at a more recent juncture in the Church’s past I would point to the development of Catholic Social Teaching. Think about what was going on in the world back in 1893 when Pope Leo XIII wrote his landmark encyclical Rerum Novarum, which began this whole body of teaching: the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, and justice in the workforce was the big question of the time. There were all kinds of oppressive practices in labor at the time. As a result, the political philosophy of Marxism was on the rise, with its promise of justice and equality for all. But Marxism is based on a false understanding of the human person, because it is an explicitly materialistic philosophy. It excluded any sense of the spiritual or the transcendent dimension of the human person. And we know what happened. They promised justice and equality, but what resulted were the most brutal regimes in human history. The Church’s response ushered in her tradition of social teaching which is based on a correct understanding of the human person, seeing the human person as primarily a spiritual being with a transcendent end open to God and to eternity. And so it is that we understand work not as merely a means to build up the economy, but as a means to sanctification. It’s one of the privileged places where people, within the context of society, work out their salvation.
Fast forward three quarters of a century, and we see the social and sexual revolutions of the 1960’s, revolutions that promised freedom, but, guess what? The philosophy of this revolution was based on the same mistake, the mistake of a purely materialistic understanding of the human person. What has been the result? They promised freedom, but have produced oppression, people trapped in poverty, cycles of violence, despair. It is curious that we are witnessing in our country now a similar phenomenon to what happened in the Marxist regimes of the last century. An incorrect understanding of the human person will always result in untold suffering. The Church’s response? Thanks to Pope John Paul II we can now look at the world through the lenses of the Philosophy of Personalism and the Theology of the Body, giving us keen insights into the issues the world is grappling with today based on the nuptial imagery of Scripture. Here the promise of true freedom is realized, because we live in conformity with our spiritual dimension and transcendent purpose.
We’re at a critical juncture in the history of our country right now, and I think we as Catholics have the answer that our nation desperately needs, an answer that comes from our spiritual understanding of life and our intellectual tradition. This is a tradition that has continued to develop through the ages. All of these breakthroughs, all of these developments – Catholic Social Teaching, Responsible Parenthood, Philosophy of Personalism, Theology of the Body – they’re precisely great gifts to the Church and developments in her thinking because they have not come out of the blue, created brand new from scratch. Rather, they look back into our tradition, see what was already there, and bring it out into the light and develop it thoroughly, drawing out the virtualities of what was already there implicitly. What was always there in our tradition now becomes more explicit as a response to what we’re facing in our time. At each of these critical junctures of history Christ has given to the Church precisely the breakthrough she needed to offer the world an authentically human alternative to the trail of destruction blazed by defective philosophies and social movements.
It was Blessed Pope John Paul II who pointed out to us that the Bible begins and ends with a marriage, and that it is replete with the nuptial imagery all in-between.
Let us not forget the exhortation with which he began and ended his Pontificate, and constantly reminded us all throughout in-between: be not afraid!
It is easy to be onboard with “be not afraid” when there is nothing to be afraid of, when there is no adversary who might cause us some harm.
“Be not afraid” only counts for something when there is a perceived imminent threat.
I would ask, though: what is this threat?
So far, the only harm we risk incurring is being called names, having to deal with angry parishioners who need extra pastoral care to understand God’s plan in all of its depth and beauty.
Things are actually much worse for our lay faithful.
They suffer in very real ways for taking a stand for marriage – losing their jobs or otherwise having their career advancement blocked, being stigmatized and marginalized in the workplace, at school, and in other communities in which they interact, and even worse things than these.
But for us, it’s just a matter of being called names and getting people mad at us.
So, I say: big deal.
We who are ordained have a great advantage, because we won’t suffer those other things.
So I would say that we should not back down on preaching and teaching the truth in charity.
You know as well as I do that when people finally get the Church’s teaching – not just the “do’s and don’ts,” but what the Church really teaches and why, the wisdom underlying that teaching – they are converted completely.
Especially, the young people.
The most common comment from the young people one hears is, “Why didn’t anyone tell me this before?
It would have saved me untold heartache.”
That’s why God’s plan for marriage, at its very root, its deepest core – the spirituality of responsible parenthood, and the powerful good it holds out for the couple, the family, and society as a whole – is, I believe anyway, the key to the New Evangelization.
It’s that ah-ha moment: “if the Church is right even about this, maybe it’s right about everything else, too.”
The uniquely sacramental character of Catholic worship will help to instill this – if we priests celebrate the Mass properly, reverently and devoutly (and insure its celebration in this way, providing much needed formation and instruction for liturgical ministers), the Church will be renewed for her mission from the heart.
Just think about the married couples you’ve known who are faithful to the Church’s teaching on responsible parenthood and living God’s plan for their married lives – aren’t they the ones who are most generous, most supportive, most faithful and devout overall, and happiest and most secure in their marriage?
When you think about it, the Catholic Church is the world expert on marriage.
No one has been involved with marriage more than we have: for 2,000 years we have been reflecting on it philosophically, theologically and mystically; for 2,000 years we have been legislating on it and dealing with it pastorally; we have the vocabulary, the philosophy and the anthropology, we know how to speak from the perspective of natural law.
We can make the case for marriage better than anyone else.
And we shouldn’t be afraid to do so.
I am reminded of a film I saw on the life of Fr. Jerzy Popielusko with my seminarians last year.
He really did
have something to fear.
In a film clip of an interview with him, he spoke of the suffering of Christ and the apostles, even to the point of death, and he spoke of how the priest must do likewise.
He said: “The role of the priest is to proclaim the truth, to suffer for the truth, and if necessary, to die for the truth.”
The wisdom the Church has to offer us, in light of the social and political trends we are facing today, is precisely what we need to advance the New Evangelization. And the best way to advance it is for each of us to live our vocation well and faithfully. When we do that, we bear witness to the joyful, better way of the Good News. It is both good and new, in fact, eternally new. What gets old is using someone for your own gratification. Giving of yourself, unconditionally to the other, never gets old. Yes, it’s really hard, but when we do that, our vocation becomes what it is designed for: a school of self-perfection, forming us into people capable of giving and receiving love, above all, God’s love, and so we attain our common human vocation: happiness with Him now and forever in the perfection of heaven. So let us prepare ourselves to suffer for the truth: our people are counting on us, and expect no less from us.
I just read Sandro Magister’s background piece on the Holy Father’s visit to Caserta. Did you read it? HERE
ROME, July 23, 2014 – When the news got out, and was confirmed by Fr. Federico Lombardi, that Pope Francis intended to make a private visit to Caserta to meet with a friend, the pastor of a local Evangelical community, the city’s bishop, Giovanni D’Alise, was thunderstruck. He hadn’t been told a thing.
Moreover, the pope had planned his visit to Caserta for the same day as the feast of Saint Anne, the city’s patron. Seeing themselves snubbed, some of the faithful threatened an uprising. It took a good week to convince the pope to change his schedule and divide the trip into two phases: the first a public one with the faithful of Caserta on Saturday, July 26, and the second in private with his Evangelical friend on the following Monday.
The meeting with [evangelical] Pastor Traettino in Caserta is not, in fact, an isolated episode, but part of a broader effort that Pope Francis is making to win the favor of the worldwide leaders of those “Evangelical” and Pentecostal movements which especially in Latin America are the most fearsome competitor of the Catholic Church, from which they are snatching enormous masses of faithful. [The Church is bleeding out there.]
Three days later, on June 4, the pope had a long meeting at his residence of Santa Marta with some “Evangelical” leaders of the United States, including the famous televangelist Joel Osteen, California pastor Tim Timmons, and the president of the Evangelical Westmont College, Gayle D. Beebe.
On June 24, another meeting. This time with Texas televangelists James Robinson and Kenneth Copeland, with Bishop Anthony Palmer of the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches, with John and Carol Arnott of Toronto, and with other prominent leaders. There were also Geoff Tunnicliffe and Brian C. Stiller, respectively the secretary general and “ambassador” of the World Evangelical Alliance. The meeting lasted for three hours and continued through lunch, in the refectory of Santa Marta, where the pope, amid loud laughter, gave Pastor Robinson a high five (see photo). [Yep.]
Copeland and Osteen are proponents of “prosperity theology,” according to which the more faith grows the more wealth grows. They themselves are very wealthy and live an extravagant lifestyle. But Francis spared them the sermon on poverty.
Instead – according to what “ambassador” Stiller reported – the pope assured them: “I’m not interested in converting Evangelicals to Catholicism. There are so many doctrines we will never agree on. Let’s be about showing the love of Jesus.”
But he also told them that he had learned from his friendship with Pastor Traettino that the Catholic Church, with its imposing presence, acts too much as an obstacle to the growth and witness of these communities. And for this reason as well he thought of visiting the Pentecostal community in Caserta: “to offer an apology for the difficulty brought to their congregation.”
Read the rest there.
Moderation queue is ON.
From the Holy See:
the Holy See Press Office given today:
“Regarding visits to America, there have been several invitations that the Pope is carefully considering. The Holy Father has indicated his willingness to participate in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in September 2015 but at the present moment, there are no concrete plans or programs for any visits to the United States or Mexico. Keep in mind that we are still one year away from the Philadelphia meeting.”
Our guest blogger today is Jeremy Harrington, OFM. He coauthors the popular, free e-newsletter A Friar’s E-spirations. To subscribe, click here.
I hate to see people suffer because they worry about the wrong things and misread what God thinks of them. They feel guilty for past sins—sins for which they have been forgiven. They worry that a fleeting emotion, an uninvited feeling, or a persistent temptation is a sin. They demand of themselves inhuman perfection. All these worries keep them from feeling the warmth of God’s love.
With God’s help, we face up to our sins and weaknesses, beg pardon for them, and never forget that we are “beloved beyond all measure.” As St. Francis of Assisi said, “I am what I am in God’s sight. Nothing more, nothing less.” What he’s saying is this: I am a sinner, but a forgiven sinner. I am a work-in-progress. God, in both patience and love, is still helping me to be more like his Son.
Franciscan theologian Michael Guinan asks the crucial question: “What does it mean to be human before God?” He finds two answers in Scripture. One, “To be human is to be a weak, fallen creature prone to sin and death. We cry out to God and God enters our world to save us. . . . As true as this answer is,” Father Guinan notes, “in itself it is inadequate.”
He calls the second answer the blessing tradition: “To be human is also to be created by God, to be God’s image entrusted with responsibility to share in God’s dominion over creation. We have not only been saved by God, we have also been blessed by God.”
Van Breemen follows the blessing tradition in reminding us “to see ourselves as God sees us—beloved beyond all measure.” St. Paul says “the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” He adds, “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.” We are coworkers, co-heirs, daughters and sons of God.
Do you find it easy to “see yourself as God sees you—beloved beyond all measure”? I welcome your reflections or comments. Peace!
Monthlies are notoriously slow, especially in the digital age, when everyone has access to publishing commentary and analysis instantly. That’s not a problem in much of our magazine. The inspirational stories, the profiles of amazing people, the seasonal features, and our many columns keep our content vibrant. But we like to stay close to current events, too. So we try, constantly, to anticipate the future.
What will be in the daily news three or four months from now that will interest you? What can we take the kind of long look at, that the daily or hourly media simply can’t? Or in the case of big, recent news events, how can we offer some type of wrap-up or overview, or how can we help our readers interpret the importance of events?
Such is the case with this month’s cover story about Pope Francis’ visit to the Holy Land in May. We—and select Catholic press worldwide—had the opportunity to go, courtesy of Israel’s tourism ministry. They wanted to demonstrate all of Israel as safe and interesting. They knew we would want to be in Jerusalem, close to the Holy Father, so they provided a way for us to do both. In addition to the papal story, in future months you’ll see a few stories sparked by the things we saw.
At the end of the day, we are able to report on an aspect of this story that, in the mainstream media, kept getting pushed aside in May by the critical, unsettled business of Israel and Palestine. That neglected story was the reason for the pope’s visit: to meet with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and demonstrate a heartfelt desire for Christian unity.
We editors met and talked about many ways to tell the story of the pope’s historic visit. Though there were a number of truly significant events, we settled on keeping our focus steady. It didn’t make the most news, and it’s not the jazziest of the possible stories, but the union of East and West is a huge issue in the Church, one that we Roman Catholics barely understand. Art Director Jeanne Kortekamp and I tried to infuse that story with the jazz of the pope’s trip, especially through photos.
Let us know how we did!
This blog was taken from John’s “Backstory” column in St. Anthony Messenger. To subscribe to this award-winning magazine, click here.
What’s “Joyful” about the Presentation in the Temple in the Holy Rosary. To me, hearing the news about the baby and hearing that a sword will pierce her own heart would be devastating to our Mother Mary. Do you know how it ended up being a Joyful mystery instead of a Sorrowful mystery?
Because it was a happy occasion in the first place. And there is only the one bummer piece of prophesy, and even that one follows from the joy of what Christ brings to the world. All of which is covered by Simeon, who is thrilled, by the way, to get to hold the child in the first place.
At this point, there is no such thing as Baptism. This particular ritual, offering the baby to the service of God in the Temple, is the Jewish version of this happy day. Imagine, then, you take your baby to the Baptism and some old man jumps out of nowhere to wax on about what a very important baby this is. The Savior of the World, this one, and the old man is oh so happy to be able to witness this person’s presence in the the world. The old man prattles on about the immeasurable change this will create. And then he mentions that this will be particularly hard on you, Mom. But your hardships will also help humanity for the rest of time.
Is that so bad? It’s not a Sorrowful Mystery because it’s not a sorrowful occasion. The Jewish ritual of presenting a child to the temple of was an act of obedience and gratitude. It was a way to thank God for the child. If you were doing it today, you might hit the IHOP on the way home to celebrate.
And we’re happy that Mary and Joseph led by example in following the rules. They didn’t have to do that. Jesus is the New Testament with God, after all. They present Jesus, the Lord, to the Lord. We’re happy about that. It shows us that they followed God’s laws. They could have sat home, thinking, “This IS the Lord. He’ll have His own book soon enough.”
Here is a lovely article about how nice it all really is. That should help.
And note that there are a bizzlion depictions of this event in art. And everyone always looks happy.
You can be happy, too.
The other morning during my devotions, I came across the story of St. Philip as he encountered the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26–40), following the resurrection of Jesus and his subsequent appearances to the disciples. First, while I’m familiar with this story, I surprised myself with how little I could recall ever reflecting on it. I think this passage can help us engage in the New Evangelization.
My reflection did not center on Philip’s sharing of the Good News with the eunuch, but on how he got there in the first place. You see, Philip was in tune with the Holy Spirit. So much so that the Scriptures state the Spirit prompted him to go share the Good News, but not in some preplanned or programmed way. On the contrary, it all seems rather spontaneous.
Here’s Philip on his way to wherever, and he gets a sense inside—kind of a inner whisper if you will—”Pssst! Philip, it’s me, God. Go over there and share the Good News with that total stranger. Listen to his needs and help him understand how Jesus will meet them.” Philip did what we may consider kind of crazy and followed this inner prompting to share Jesus. The eunuch converted right there, even asking Philip to baptize him!
Rather than talk about plans and programs for evangelization, if we spent more time getting in tune with the Holy Spirit and the promptings of the Spirit, wouldn’t the New Evangelization have more impact in our lives and in the Church?
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Photo: Wikimedia Commons
In the wake of the decision of the State tethered Church of England to have wyshyps (female bishops), the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham set up a “Exploration Day”.
You know that the Ordinariate was created according to the provisions of Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, for Anglicans who want to be Catholic and want to retain their customs, liturgy, etc.
Benedict XVI is, of course, the Pope of Christian Unity.
Anglicans have a true home in the Catholic Church.
I just read this press release from the Ordinariate:
PRESS RELEASE FROM THE PERSONAL ORDINARIATE OF OUR LADY OF WALSINGHAM FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 27.07.2014
Pope Francis Prays For Success of Ordinariate’s Exploration Day
Pope Francis has said he is praying for the success of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham’s forthcoming “Called To Be One” exploration day, which it has planned with the aim of increasing understanding of the Ordinariate’s purpose and reaching out to those who may feel called to join it.
The endorsement was delivered in a letter from the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, to Monsignor Keith Newton, the Ordinary of the Ordinariate.
The full text of Archbishop Mennini’s letter reads as follows:
“At the request of the Secretariat of State, I have been asked to inform you that the Holy Father Francis, on learning of the national day of exploration entitled “Called to be One”, organised by the various Groups of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and due to take place on Saturday 6 September 2014, wishes to convey his good wishes and prayers for a successful and inspiring event. The Holy Father cordially imparts his Apostolic Blessing upon all those persons who are participating in this significant event and working in any way for the promotion and presentation of the Catholic Faith and the Gospel in Great Britain”.
The Nuncio ends with his own prayerful good wishes for a very successful day.
Pope Francis’ blessing on the exploration day and Archbishop Mennini’s words of support for it follow a statement of welcome for the initiative from Cardinal Vincent Nichols. In his capacity as President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, the Cardinal said: “the Ordinariate both enriches the Catholic Church with Catholic aspects of the beautiful heritage and culture of Anglican patrimony and advances the cause of unity which must be the ultimate aim of all ecumenical activity… I wish you every success with this initiative. I hope it will attract many interested enquirers”.
Last week Mgr Newton warmly invited all those who are interested in the Ordinariate to attend the exploration day “whether because they are considering their future or just because they would like to see more of what we are and what we do” . Mgr Newton’s invitation came in his response to the Church of England General Synod’s decision to allow women to be ordained as bishops. In the same statement Mgr Newton said that, though that decision was a very happy one for many within the Church of England, it made the position undeniably harder for those within the Anglican Church who still longed for unity with Rome.
The Ordinariate was set up by Pope Benedict in 2011 to make it possible for Anglicans who wish to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church to do so, bringing with them much of the heritage and traditions of Anglicanism. Pope Benedict described these as “treasures to be shared”. On the exploration day, each of the 40 or so Ordinariate groups across the country will host a different event, with the common theme of the vision for Christian unity which is at the heart of the Ordinariate.
I am glad to hear of Pope Francis’ prayers for the success of this initiative to help Anglicans come into the Catholic Church.
As Benedict, so Francis.
This week marked two historic anniversaries: The Apollo 11 moon landing and the Scopes “Monkey Trial.” Both challenged our understanding of what it means to be human and even what it means to be a person of faith.
There are still Americans who believe that the 1969 moon landing was faked. Fox broadcast a documentary in 2001 entitled “Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?” and a 2013 IFC offering on the work of directing legend Stanley Kubrick suggests that he helped to create much of the footage. Depending on the pollster, somewhere between 6% and 20% of Americans (and nearly 30% of Russians) believe that Neil Armstrong took a stroll on a Hollywood back lot and not the lunar surface.
And while John Scopes’s insistence on creation theory was a publicity stunt rather than a clash of sincerely held beliefs, 46% of Americans today think he had the right idea—a statistic that hasn’t shifted in 30 years.
Where does that leave us? Are there some who believe we were created by God (with Adam, Eve, the serpent, the garden, the whole nine fundamentalist yards), but that we shouldn’t reach beyond the tallest trees our apish non-ancestors inhabited? Or have we grown so used to being lied to that we resist believing anything at all?
I think it’s OK to accept what can be proven and believe in what cannot. I’m proud that Franciscan Roger Bacon pioneered the scientific method and that the father of genetics was Augustinian monk Gregor Mendel. With countless others in the Catholic intellectual tradition, they show us that science isn’t opposed to God—it’s just one more way to explore and understand the wonder of the created world.
There is a vast universe out there that will take us every bit of eternity to explore, but we can still celebrate what we know of our small corner.
Image courtesy of xedos4, freedigitalimages.net
Located 20 miles north-east of Nineveh, Mar Mattai monastery lies tucked away on top of Maqlub Mountain known to the Assyrians as Tura D’alpayeh.
Mosul (Iraq) (AFP) – Jihadist militants have taken over a monastery in northern Iraq, one of the country’s best-known Christian landmarks, and expelled its resident monks, a cleric and residents said Monday.
Islamic State (IS) fighters stormed Mar (Saint) Behnam, a 4th century monastery run by the Syriac Catholic church near the predominantly Christian town of Qaraqosh, on Sunday, the sources said.
Fighters with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) stormed the Saint Behnam monastery on Monday, located 30 kilometers (20 miles) southeast of Mosul.
“You have no place here anymore, you have to leave immediately,” a member of the Syriac clergy quoted the Sunni militants as telling the monastery’s residents.
He said the monks pleaded to be allowed to save some of the monastery’s relics but the fighters refused and ordered them to leave on foot with nothing but their clothes.
Christian residents from the area told AFP the monks walked several miles along a deserted road and were eventually picked up by Kurdish peshmerga fighters who drove them to Qaraqosh.
The Syriac cleric said five monks were expelled from Mar Behnam. Christian families in the area said there may have been up to nine people living at the monastery.
The incident was the latest move by the Islamic State, which last month declared a “caliphate” straddling large swathes of northern Iraq and Syria, to threaten a Christian presence in the region spanning close to two millennia.
Over the weekend, hundreds of families fled Mosul, a once-cosmopolitan city which is the country’s second largest and lies around 15 kilometres (10 miles) northwest of Mar Behnam.
They abandoned homes and belongings after IS fighters running the city issued an ultimatum for Christians to convert, pay a special tax, leave or face the sword.
Families who were forced on the road and leaders of Iraq’s Chaldean and other churches said Mosul was now emptied of Christians for the first time in history.
Jihadist fighters want to create a state based on an extreme interpretation of sharia — or Islamic law — and have targeted all minorities in the Mosul area.
Other groups such as Shiite Turkmen, Shabak and Yazidis have suffered even more than the Christians, who have largely escaped summary executions since IS swept the region in early June.
Mar Behnam is a major Christian landmark in Iraq and a site where the local community and pilgrims traditionally pray for healings and fertility.
It was built by Assyrian king Sennacherib II as a penance for having his children Behnam and Sarah killed because they had converted to Christianity.
“Christian families have been expelled from their houses and their valuables were stolen and …their houses and property expropriated in the name of the Islamic State.”
“This has never happened in Christian or Islamic history. Even Genghis Khan or Hulagu didn’t do this,” Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako said.
(Hulagu Khan led a Mongol army which sacked Baghdad in 1258, killing tens of thousands.)
An urgent message of
Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako
Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Baghdad
To all who have a living conscience in Iraq and all the world
To the voice of moderate brother Muslims who have a voice in Iraq and all the world
To all who have a concern that Iraq could remain a country for all His Children
To all leaders of thought and opinion
To all who announce the freedom of the human being
To all protectors of the dignity of human beings and of religion
PEACE AND MERCY FROM GOD!
The control exercised by the Islamist Jihadists upon the city of Mosul, and their proclamation of it as an Islamic State, after several days of calm and expectant watching of events, has now come to reflect negatively upon the Christian population of the city and its environs.
The initial sign was in the kidnapping of the two nuns and 3 orphans who were released after 17 days. At the time, we experienced it as a flash of hope and as a clearing of the sky after the appearance of storm clouds.
Suddenly we have been surprised by the more recent outcomes which are the proclamation of an Islamic state and the announcement calling all Christians and clearly asking them to convert to Islam or to pay the jizyah (the tax all non- Muslims must pay while living in the land of Islam) – without specifying the exact amount. The only alternative is to abandon the city and their houses with only the clothes they are wearing, taking nothing else. Moreover, by Islamic law, upon their departure, their houses are no longer their properties but are instantly confiscated as property of the Islamic state.
In recent days, there has been written the letter ‘N’ in Arabic on the front wall of Christian homes, signifying ‘Nazara’ (Christian), and on the front wall of Shiite homes, the letter ‘R’ signifying ‘Rwafidh’ (Protestants or rejecters). We do not know what will happen in future days because in an Islamic state the Al-sharia or Islamic code of law is powerful and has been interpreted to require the issuance of new I.Ds for the population based on religious or sectarian affiliation.
This categorization based upon religion or sect afflicts the Muslims as well and contravenes the regulation of Islamic thought which is expressed in the Quran which says, “You have your religion and I have my religion” and yet another place in Quran states, “There is no compulsion in religion”. This is exactly the contradiction in the life and history of the Islamic world for more than 1400 years and in the co-existence with other different religions and nations in the East.
With all due respect to belief and dogmas, there has been a fraternal life between Christians and Muslims. How much the Christians have shared here in our East specifically from the beginnings of Islam. They shared every sweet and bitter circumstance of life; Christian and Muslim blood has been mixed as it was shed in the defense of their rights and lands. Together they built a civilization, cities, and a heritage. It is truly unjust now to treat Christians by rejecting them and throwing them away, considering them as nothing.
It is clear that the result of all this discrimination legally enforced will be the very dangerous elimination of the possibility of co-existence between majorities and minorities. It will be very harmful to Muslims themselves both in the near and the distant future.
Should this direction continue to be pursued, Iraq will come face to face with human, civil, and historic catastrophe.
We call with all the force available to us; we call to you fraternally, in a spirit of human brotherhood; we call to you urgently; we call to you impelled by risk and in spite of the risk. We implore in particular our Iraqi brothers asking them to reconsider and reflect upon the strategy they have adopted and demanding that they must respect innocent and weaponless people of all nationalities, religions, and sects.
The Holy Quran has ordered believers to respect the innocent and has never called them to seize the belongings, the possessions, the properties of others by force. The Quran commands refuge for the widow, the orphaned, the poor, and the weaponless and respect “to the seventh neighbor.”
We call Christians in the region to act with reason and prudence and to consider and to plan everything in the best way possible. Let them understand what is planned for this region, to practice solidarity in love, to examine the realities together and so be able together to find the paths to build trust in themselves and in their neighbors. Let them stay close to their own Church and surround it; endure the time of trial and pray until the storm will be over.
† Louis Raphael Sako
Patriarch of Babylon for the Chaldean
17 July 2014
The village of Ain Karem (directly west of Jerusalem) has two Catholic churches: one commemorating the famous canticle of Mary (Lk 1:46-55, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord . . .”) and the other the canticle of Zechariah (Lk 1:68-79, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel . . .”). Outside these churches, ceramic plaques provide the text of these prayers in many languages (over 50 for Mary’s canticle).
The Church of the Visitation is at the edge of the city and contains an upper church and crypt built after World War II on the site of earlier Byzantine and Crusader churches. In the 14th century, this shrine was under the care of Armenian monks, but the Friars Minor have been there since 1679. Visitors to custodia.org can find photos, the floor plan, pilgrim accounts over the centuries, and other information via the “Sanctuaries” and “Church of the Visitation” links. May 31 is the feast of the Visitation.
The Church of the Birth of St. John the Baptist is in the city and is built over the reputed site where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived and where John grew up. A Crusader church built there in the 12th century was replaced six centuries later. The Friars Minor arrived in the 17th century. The birth of St. John the Baptist is celebrated on June 24.
This blog was taken from Pat McCloskey’s “Dear Reader” column in St. Anthony Messenger. To subscribe to this award-winning publication, click here.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
I read at Il Giornale today that the prayer read by the Imam in the Vatican Gardens was indeed from the Sura 2, wherein Allah is asked to crush infidels (that’s us) and let Islam triumph over the whole world (that’s us, too). Vatican Radio, at the time, tried to give this an allegorical spin. It didn’t work very well. At a certain point it seems they also tried to edit out the troubling passage.
Suffice to say that an Imam sang: “grant us victory over the heathen/disbelieving/infidel” (Sura 2: 286) in the Vatican Gardens, in front of the Pope, during an “ecumenical” gathering for peace.
I wrote about this, when it happened, in my entry What Did the Imam Really Say? I posted video there and the comments are interesting (especially HERE).
My fast translation:
He wasn’t in a mosque, but in the Vatican Gardens and, a few meters away from him, there was also Pope Francis. It’s 8 June, Pentecost Sunday. In the Vatican, at prayer for peace in the Midde East, there are, with the Pontiff, Abu Mazen and Shimon Peres. But the Sure II read by the Imam wasn’t agreed on ahead of time. This is about a breach in protcol that many have taken as an offense.
The incident, reported by Andrea Morigi in Libero, was for a long time swept under the carpet. The text read by the Palestinian Sunni Imam was not agreed upon ahead of time and the harsh tones about infidels (miscredenti) were not in line with the spirit of the day which had been proposed by Bergoglio during his visit in the Holy Land. “At that moment,” Morigi recounts, “the dignitaries of the three monotheistic religions didn’t bat an eye. Those who knew Arabic pretended not to notice anything, even if the videos of the event show them decidedly embarrassed.” Pope Francis, however, wasn’t in a position to take in the importance of what happened. On an official level, the breach in protocol was immediately minimized: Fr Bernd Hagenkord, the Jesuit head of the German section of Vatican Radio, tried to give another reading of Sura II from the Koran. It’s a pity that the passage read by the Imam was immediately excised by Vatican Radio itself.
Confraternity of Catholic Clergy (http://ift.tt/1mF0mVh) met for its annual convocation July 8-11 in Hanceville, AL, at the priest retreat house of the Shrine of Most Blessed Sacrament
Keynote speaker was the Most Rev. Salvatore Cordileone, Archbishop of San Francisco. Dr. Scott Hahn, Fr. Charles Connor and Matt Fradd also spoke at the conference.
On July 9, twenty-nine priests from across the United States gathered in Hanceville, Alabama for the annual Confraternity of Catholic Clergy convention. For the first talk, they welcomed Matt Fradd, one of a new breed of evangelists and apologists who are conversant in popular culture and are developing creative approaches to reach youth and young adults. Matt brought to the members of the CCC key information and resources for dealing with a pastoral issue which is both pervasive and daunting – pornography.
Matt told the story of his own journey from porn addiction to renewal of faith and a lifestyle of freedom. He was eight years old the first time he stumbled across pornography in the home of a relative. The attraction led to a habit and eventually addiction. Having become an agnostic and cynical about religion, he nonetheless attended World Youth Day in Rome in 2000, which was for him a life-changing experience. His new found faith let him to seek chastity and freedom from pornography. He stressed that chastity does not mean reaching a place where temptation is gone, but a daily choice to love authentically.
The most valuable thing in Matt’s talk was a practical pastoral strategy that any priest or deacon can immediately put to use. He described porn addiction as a seven step “activation sequence” which can be consciously countered by a “deactivation sequence.” He further gave the CCC member priests four questions they can ask of a penitent: How often do you fall? How old were you when you started looking at porn? Have you talked to anyone about this outside confession? Do you want to stop? These questions help the priest assess if the penitent has a serious problem with porn and gives the priest a chance to invite him or her to meet outside of the sacrament for further help. Effective resources for someone struggling with porn include: theporneffect.com, integrityrestored.com, reclaimsexualhealth.com. Finally, Matt provided for each participant in the conference information on the accountability software CovenantEyes and a copy of the book Delivered: True Stories of Men and Women Who Turned From Porn To Purity.
The members of the CCC were grateful to have these new, effective tools for helping people gain freedom in the painful and difficult struggle against pornography.
The second talk of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy was by the renowned Biblical scholar-convert-apologist Scott Hahn. He spoke about the New Evangelization, with the intent of showing that this recent summons of the Church is not a catchphrase, a program, or a slogan, but an urgent priority, rooted deeply in the Church’s mission and nature.
The concept of a New Evangelization goes back to Pius XII, who was searching for new ways to proclaim the Gospel to the modern world. To this end he appointed Angelo Roncalli, the future John XXIII, to lead a commission to see if the Church was ready for a new council to finish the work of Vatican I. Though Roncall concluded that the time for a new council had not arrived, the seed had been planted in his mind, and thus he called Vatican II when he was elected pope. He was followed by Paul VI, who consciously chose to be named after the great evangelizing apostle of the New Testament. In view of the many journeys of John Paul the Great, people tend to forget that Paul VI was the first “traveling pope,” with trips to the United States, Portugal, Uganda, Columbia, and other countries. John Paul II first used the phrase “new evangelization” during his trip to Poland in 1979. It was an unscripted phrase, drawn from his heart, in reaction to the deprivation of faith he saw as the result of years of communist control. He wanted to re-evangelize the de-christianized. The next time he used the phrase was on his visit to the United States, when he saw the need for the gospel to be proclaimed to those whose faith had suffered from secularism and materialism.
The key insight offered by Dr. Hahn for accomplishing the New Evangelization is to see it in light of the sacraments, in particular, the Eucharist. Evangelization is not just a proclamation of the Gospel message, successful when a person responds in faith. It is the beginning of a journey, a preparation for entering the family of God, requiring conversion and catechesis, the final goal of which is the Eucharist. To take part in the New Evangelization means to bring those already “sacramentalized” to find in the Eucharist the abundant grace of salvation which they hear proclaimed in Sacred Scripture. In the New Evangelization, priests have a privileged mission of spiritual fatherhood, becoming spiritual life-givers through the sacraments.
The morning talk for the second full day of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy Conference was by Fr. Charles Connor, prolific author and scholar, Professor of Theology and Church history at Mount Saint Mary Seminary Emmitsburg, Maryland, and host of numerous programs on EWTN. In is talk Fr. Connor set out to compare the insights and spirituality of the priesthood in the writings of the two newly canonized popes, John XXIII and John Paul II. People often try to contrast the two popes, as one being liberal and progressive and the other conservative, but a careful look shows that they present a consistent spirituality on the priesthood.
The spirituality of the priesthood of St. John XXIII is found most clearly in his encyclical on the anniversary of the death of St. John Vianny, Sacerdotii Nostri Primordia, published in August of 1959. He extolls John Vianny as a saint who “attracts and pushes us to the heights of priestly life.” John Vianny was a model of sacrifice and penance, who gave himself tirelessly to God’s people in priestly charity. His faithful chastity produced a generous openness of heart to others. He taught that man’s greatest privilege was to pray, and encouraged a simple form of prayer, in which the Christian pours out his heart in all simplicity, becoming a beggar before God.
John Paul II became pope at a time when many theologians spoke of confusion about the nature and role of the priest. To respond to this trend, he explained and reflected on the theology of Vatican II on the priesthood. One finds his insights expressed in his yearly Holy Thursday letters to priests, his book Gift and Mystery, and his encyclical letter on priestly formation, Pastores Dabo Vobis. There, John Paul affirms that the priest is ontologically configured to Christ, the head of the mystical body and the spouse of the Church. Celibacy is a treasure. The priest is called to a life of prayer, offering himself to the one to whom he has been configured. He is a man who “sits at the school of the Eucharist.” John Paul’s theology and spirituality on the priesthood is completely at one with that of John XXIII. Thus, Fr. Connor concludes, we do not need a new theology of the priesthood, as if priesthood will otherwise become out of date. What we need is a “refreshment” in the eternal truths of the mystery of the priesthood, and for each priest to find his “today” in the “today” of Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
On the afternoon of July 10, His Excellency Salvatore Cordileone, Archbishop of San Francisco, delivered the keynote address at the annual conference of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy. With clear and substantive theological arguments, he exhorted the members of the Confraternity to explain and defend the Church’s teaching on marriage.
Marriage is unique. No other human relationship is based on the three goods (or bonae) of marriage: fruitfulness, faithfulness, and permanence. Sadly, people fail to appreciate the nature of marriage, as is shown by widespread advocacy for same sex marriage. This advocacy, though, has been a long time in the making. By the use of contraception, people have stopped seeing fruitfulness as part of marriage. By the legalization of no-fault divorce, people no longer regard permanence as essential to marriage. (However, in spite of “swinging” and experiments of “open marriage” fidelity does continue to be valued.) Thus marriage in no longer viewed as a way of providing for the well-being of children, but for the satisfaction of adults. It has become re-interpreted according to what St. John Paul II called the utilitarian ethic.
The true nature and value of marriage has been guarded and proclaimed by the church, because it is a natural symbol for the mystical union of God the soul — a union which, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI points out in Deus Caritas Est, the two become one yet remain their distinct selves. The Song of Songs was, for this reason, the book of the Old Testament most frequently commented upon during the patristic period. There are also numerous references to marriage in the New Testament, such as the wedding at Cana, the parable of the ten bridesmaids, the teaching on the mystery of Christ and the Church in Ephesians Chapter 5, and the wedding feast of the Lamb in the Book of Revelation. Perhaps we are less aware of the nuptial imagery present in liturgy and church architecture. A canopy over an altar represents a canopy used at Jewish weddings. Veils used during liturgy, such as chalice veils, or more ancient practices of placing a veil in front of the altar or over the hands of communicants at the altar rail, is reminiscent of a marriage veil. The altar cloth has been understood to symbolize the bed clothes of the marriage bed.
Because marriage thus symbolizes the possibility and hope of intimacy with God, it is of the highest importance that priests explain and defend the institution of marriage. Just as it will be harder for a child to see God as a loving Father when he lacks the presence of a loving father in his life, so it will be harder for people to grasp Christ’s offer of spiritual intimacy if they have no knowledge or experience of the truth of marriage. Archbishop Cordileone thus encouraged all the members of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy with the words of St. John Paul II, “Do not be afraid.” We should proclaim the truth in charity and be willing to suffer for the truth. We have a rich tradition – the theology of the body, a true understanding of freedom, a correct view of the human person, a sense of the transcendent nature of the person. We should not let the pressure of the present culture make us reticent about speaking up on behalf of marriage. We are not in the situation of many lay people who might lose their jobs or be blocked in their careers if they stand up for marriage. If we defend the institution of marriage, the worst that can happen to us is that people will be angry at us and call us names. In fact, defending marriage may even be the key to the new evangelization. When people, especially young people, see the truth of the Church’s teaching about marriage, they will be led to conclude that if the Church is right about this one important area of life, she might be right about everything else too. Archbishop Cordileone offered a final, practical way to participate in the new evangelization – to celebrate the mass with care, reverence and devotion, and thus “renew the Church from the heart.”
The members of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy deeply appreciated Archbishop Cordileone’s thought provoking and inspiring words, and have asked him to continue to work with them as their Episcopal Advisor, which he as graciously agreed to do.
Rev. Peter Pilsner, Deacon Thomas Boucek and Thomas McKenna contributed to this article
Archbishop Cordileone presented with the Pope St. John Paul the Great Award
from Fr. Trigilio for his heroic defense of unborn human life and for traditional marriage
Archbishop Cordileone, episcopal advisor to the CCC, Main Celebrant and Homilist at Mass in Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament