The Christian Life Should Be Lived at 45°

There’s something spiritual and practical I’ve learned about Mass facing the people: It’s all about the angle. One of the dangers for the priest who celebrates facing the people is that he so focuses on the people that he is forgetful of God. However, one can reason that it also wrong for the priest to pay no mind to the people he so loves and for whom he celebrates the Mass.

In my own parish I am blessed with a rose window in the back of Church that draws my attention (See photo detail at right of the center oculus of the widow). And the angle is perfect, 45 Degrees. I say it’s perfect,  because, looking at that angle,  I can see both the Lord and the people. At the top of my visual field it the Lord whom I worship and,  at the bottom of my field of vision, are the people who are the members of his body and for whom I minister.

And this is a paradigm for life: loving and seeing God and loving and seeing my neighbor. At 90°, my field of vision lacks either God or the people God loves. For example, if I look straight up (90°) I am looking toward God, but not the people God loves. If I look straight forward (90°) I am looking to the people I love but not the God I love. At 45°  I can see both.

The Christian life should be lived at 45°.A life directed only to God but mindless of our neighbor is incomplete for it lack the whole second table of the Law (love of neighbor). A life wholly devoted to man and humanitarian endeavors, but forgetful of God is not spiritual at all. It is merely social activism and it neglects the first table of the Law (love of God). It is at 45° that we find the proper balance for life.

Disclaimer –This reflection is not a liturgical reflection per se. I am not attempting to enter the debate about Mass facing the people vs. Mass ad orientem . It is a simple fact that 95% of the Mass I have celebrated over 21 years have been facing the people and  have learned a life lesson from this. There are very good arguments to be made for Mass at the high altar facing to liturgical East. And there are also good reasons not to make that change now. This is not what I wish to discuss here. Only the life lesson I have learned, that life is best lived at 45 Degrees.

Here is an interesting video that takes up the theme of 45°

The Politician and the "Private" Sin: Christine O’Donnell Runs Afoul of the "New Morality"

Christine O’Donnell, the Republican nominee for the US Senate from Delaware has surely run afoul of the advocates of the “new morality.” She has most surely transgressed by speaking against, premarital sex, homosexual activity and masturbation. The ABC News video below speaks of her positions as “eye-brow raising.”

Now this is not a political blog and I am not attempting to enter a realm where I am unskilled and uncomfortable. Further, I am not trying to make a hero of Christine O’Donnell. It has been my experience with politicians of every stripe that if you expect them to be real heroes in the moral realm, they will almost always let you down. Sadly Ms. O’Donnell is already showing signs of backtracking by indicating her statements (especially about masturbation) came from a time when her faith was “immature.” In “Kennedyesque” fashion she is quoted in the video below as saying her faith will not be her guide, just the Constitution when she goes to Washington.

Since it has come up in the news, I want to discuss Catholic teaching on masturbation. Clearly Ms. O’Donnell’s remarks on that topic have elicited many negative reactions from derision to scorn. And yet the consideration of masturbation as a sin is standard Catholic teaching.  Hence the scorn and derision, the laugh-out-loud ridicule that anyone would take such a notion seriously reflects also upon Catholic, and I would argue, Biblical teaching. So let’s look at the reasoning behind Catholic teaching on masturbation and why it is considered sinful.

First let’s be honest, masturbation is a hard topic to talk about. Many people experience significant embarrassment in relation to this topic. Many even struggle to say the word out loud. It is, for many, a humiliating matter to discuss in confession, or with others. It is the “private” sin. Some use euphemisms in their mentioning of it: “solitary self abuse” or just “self abuse.” Others refer to it with irreverent words and phrases I cannot repeat here. But the fact is, many are hesitant to discuss masturbation. Parents struggle as how and what to teach their children. Children struggle to speak to parents. Priests and educators in Catholic schools often dread to raise the topic in mixed company. And so the pattern goes. Hence this teaching is poorly understood or even known by many.

What is wrong with masturbation?– At the heart of masturbation is sexual fantasizing. To the degree that this fantasizing is willful, one commits sin. Consider this passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matt 5:27-30)

In understanding this passage we need to begin with what it means to look at someone with lust. While there is some debate as to its exact meaning we ought to exclude a few things from it. First it is not wrong or lustful to experience some one as being attractive. It is a normal thing for a man to see beauty in a woman, or a woman to find a man handsome. This is not lust, it is a God-given appreciation for beauty and part of the essential attraction God himself has given to draw men and women to each other in marriage and ultimately to procreation. Secondly, it can be a rather common occurrence that sexual thoughts occur in the mind about someone we find attractive. This is usually a spontaneous thought and may not be willed at all. It just occurs and we usually dismiss it as inappropriate. This too is usually excluded from the notion of lustful  thinking because it is not willed and hence is not a sin,  if it is not entertained.

But where lust begins is when we begin to fanaticize sexually about someone in a way that is willful. We have these thoughts and not only accept them but also entertain and dwell on them. This is where looking lustfully begins. Now this look may be of a person right before us or it may be the inward look of the imagination of some one we know or have imagined. This is what makes masturbation sinful for it clearly involves fantasizing about sexual activity about some one not our spouse. It is a a form of lustful looking or lustful thinking. To the degree that it is connected to pornography, its sinfulness is increased. So the essential wrongness of masturbation is the lustful thoughts that accompany it.

Now it may be popular today to ridicule anyone who sees masturbation as wrong and to make light of masturbation as of no account. Yet, the Lord did not have this attitude. He actually speaks quite strongly in the passage above using vivid hyperbole, (exaggeration), to underscore that this is something to take seriously. In indicating that the eye should be gouged out or the hand be cut off, he is not speaking literally. But the Jewish expression amounts to saying that it is a more serious thing to sin in this way that to lose your eye or hand. He goes on to warn that lustful thinking (a widespread problem today) can lead to hell. So, we ought to consider again if we choose to make light of lustful thinking and masturbation. The Lord did not take this attitude and neither should we.

The Struggle is Recognized – It is a true fact that many people, especially the unmarried, struggle to be entirely free of this sin and there may be things that limit a person’s freedom. But making light of the sin is no way to win a battle. Balance is necessary so that a person who struggles with this sin is not devastated by a morbid, unproductive guilt, but neither are they unmotivated by a false presumption that nothing is wrong here.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks well and pastorally on the sin of masturbation:

By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. “Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” “The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of “the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved.” 

To form an equitable judgment about the subjects’ moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability. (CCC #2352)

Hence, one will notice that, while the Catechism is clear to state the sinful nature of masturbation there is also pastoral recognition that there are factors that make this sin difficult for some to overcome. While it is an objectively serious sin, there can be subjective matters that lessen culpability (blameworthiness).

Time will prove where wisdom lies – So the Church is not a prudish mother with no sensitivity. But sex has a purpose and a place: it is oriented to the marital relationship, to procreation and it’s place is thus marriage. Masturbation strays from this and is also rooted in the lustful thinking condemned by Jesus. The world may laugh, but the Church is being faithful to the Lord’s teaching here. These days the Gospel is out of season, but the the Lord, through St. Paul, told us to preach it even when it is out of season (2 Tim 4:2). Let the world laugh, but time will prove where wisdom lies.

A final thought. Masturbation as indulging fantasy is also problematic. It is generally not a good idea to indulge in a lot of fantasy. When this is done the real world can seem less appealing, even disappointing. Sexual fantasizing involves imaging the perfect and ideal sexual encounter. The other person is perfect, wholly willing and when pleasure has been achieved they vanish. This is not real. In the real setting people are not perfect, do not share in identical preferences and pleasures. Real people have moods, imperfections and inadequacies as well as good qualities. Further, a spouse does not vanish after sexual intercourse. They remain there with needs, struggles, ups and downs. Real sex is with a person and happens in relationship. (Clearly this relationship should be marriage). Masturbation side-steps all this and imagines something quite unreal. To indulge this is unhealthy and can lead to unrealistic expectations.

The use of pornography can escalate this unreality dramatically. Air-brushed photos of relationless sex often depicting exotic and extreme versions of sexual behavior can destroy appreciation for normal, natural sex with a real person in the relationship of marriage. Pornography and sexual fantasy are very unhealthy in terms of preparing one for the real relationship of marriage. It is no wonder that in these lustful times so permeated with pornography that marriage and family are so devastated.

Sober, Serene and Scriptural about Sex

Author’s note: I am away this week preaching a retreat for priests in Connecticut. I may post some new material this week but I also thought in my absence to re post some of my older articles that some newer readers may have missed. Here is one I posted back in Sept 2009:

When I was in high school back in the mid-1970s catechism in the Catholic Church was at a low point. I remember making a lot of felt banners with slogans like “Gather as God’s People” and so on. We also had a lot of “rap sessions.” Now back in the 1970s Rap Music was unknown. So what was meant by a “rap session” in those days was an informal discussion usually conducted in a circle with issues that interested young people. Now a teacher may have tried to guide the discussion, but usually we teenagers dominated the discussion. We often tweaked the teacher by bringing up controversial issues and then taking exotic or extreme positions, meant to shock. We were playing the teacher. But since relevance was so highly touted in those days and adults seemed desperate for us to like them, we played the system and we played it well.

Point is, I learned very little in religious education in the 1970s. We were largely on our own in terms of learning doctrinal and especially moral issues. Among the issues critical to teenagers is sexuality. We got little or nothing in terms of instruction about that. Most of us had some awareness that there were teachings against premarital sex but why it was considered wrong was vague to us. We just sort of figured the Church had “hang-ups” and was in general “hopelessly out of date.” Our parents too were from a different, more repressed time, so what did they really know?  Or so we thought. The generation of the 1960s just before us had blown the roof off everything. They were hip and free. Most of us took our clues from them. After all, when you’re a teenager, you usually look for the more permissive opinions.

Through most of this the Church was silent. Not, officially, but at the local parish level little was really done to counter the sexual  revolution that had taken place a mere ten years earlier. I really regret that no one ever took the Scriptures and read me what God had written. I figured there was nothing wrong with premarital sex since God had only said not to commit adultery. I wasn’t married and so couldn’t break that, or so I wrongly thought. I just figured the prohibitions against premarital sex were hang ups of adults and clergy. But that God had something to say directly to me was never shown me. I think it would have made a real difference in my attitude had I seen premarital sex forbidden by God, right there in black and white, in the Bible. But it was not until years later, in the seminary, that I was finally shown such texts.

I would like to exhort teenagers and young adults to be familiar with what God teaches about pre-marital sex (or fornication as the Bible calls it). I would also like to admonish adults who are parents to be sure to teach their children what the Scriptures say about sex and sexuality.  To that end, I have a attached a PDF document (see below) which summarizes about a dozen New Testament texts wherein God speaks clearly to the questions of sexual morality, in particular pre-marital sex. As I have noted, the Biblical word “fornication” is the word that corresponds to what we call today “premarital sex.” Hence, “Fornicator” means one one engages in premarital sex. There are a very few places in the Scriptures where the word fornication (in Greek Porneia) is understood to mean sexual misconduct in general. But usually fornication simply means premarital sex since there are other terms for adultery (moichao);  and homosexual acts (arsenkoites). The passages in the PDF document all treat of fornication (premarital sex) and in each case God spells out very clearly that God it is wrong and a serious sin. Please share these texts:


But why does God say it is wrong? Is he just trying to take away our fun? No indeed. But God is trying to save us a lot of pain and to protect and dignify marriage. Consider some of the following reasons that God’s teaching makes sense:

  1. To Protect Marriage and Family – Sexual intercourse is a gift given to the married. God wants to strengthen marriage with a special gift that only the married enjoy. It is a great pleasure and thus helps make marriage attractive. It also draws the spouses to each other frequently and helps to knit them together in a stronger bond because of a shared joy. But the unique and restricted place of marriage for this pleasure is essential. If this pleasure is made available by a culture before or outside of marriage then marriage is both delayed and threatened by infidelity. Notice how much weaker marriage has become in a promiscuous time such as ours. Thus God wants to strengthen marriage as his first reason to limit sexual intercourse to marriage.
  2. To Protect Children – Children are also protected by God’s prohibition of sex outside of marriage. Obviously children need and deserve to be conceived in an environment that is stable, committed and loving. Marriage prior to engaging in sexual intercourse is a matter of justice and premarital sex is injustice. Children conceived outside of marriage are at high risk for abortion. And, although it reamins true that it is good when life is chosen over abortion, it must be admitted that Children in single parent families are raised in irregular and less than ideal settings. God wants to protect children from all this. And don’t tell me that contraception can prevent all this. Contraceptives have a high failure rate, aside from being immoral. Notice that abortion has gone up, not down since contraceptivces have become more widely available. Likewise, out of wedlock births have gone up, not down since contraceptives arrived on the scene. God wants to protect children and give them the best.
  3. To Protect the Individual – God wants to protect individuals from all sorts of ills. Promiscuity brings all sorts of woes: sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancy, AIDS, broken families, single parenthood, broken hearts, objectification of women,  abortion, adultery, Children without both parents,  and on and on. God loves us too much not to tell us the truth and insist we live it.

So, another post that is far too long. I’ll end. But spread the word! God loves us and wants to save us some mileage. If you struggle with sexuality, don’t despair of God’s mercy. But don’t call good what God calls wrong. Repent, try to stay chaste. If you fall, get back to confession and start again. In the end, the truth will set us free.

Here’s a video from Archbishop Fulton Sheen recorded back in the 1970s. Sadly it never made its way to my catechism class. But the video sparked my reflection and memories this evening as I post. In it he explains the need for boundaries and rules.  I post here only an excerpt. The full 29 Minute video where he goes on to talk about sexuality is available here: Bishop Fulton Sheen on Youth and Sexuality

Mind your Mind: On The Reverence of God for the Mind

There is a tendency in the modern age, at least in the Western world,  to trivialize the human person. One of the ways we do this is to say, in so many words, that it does not really matter what a person thinks or believes. All that matters is that they behave well. Hence if a person is a good citizen, pays his taxes, does not beat his wife, is kind to children and animals then it doesn’t matter what he believes. But this trivializes us since we were made to know the one, true God, to know the truth and, knowing this truth be set free (Jn 8:32). God’s plan for us is more than good behavior from some humanistic perspective. Rather he offers us a complete transformation, a new mind and new heart that is attained through personal knowledge and experience of him. Now all of this will surely affect our behavior but we must be clear that God is offering us something more than being nice in the sight of men and getting along with people.

One of the ways Scripture expresses what God is offering us at a deeper level is the appeal to the mind that so frequently occurs in the New Testament. The very opening words of Jesus as he began his public ministry announce the invitation to receive a new mind. Sadly most English translations do not well capture what the Greek text actually reports Jesus as saying. Most English renderings of Jesus opening words are “Repent and believe the Good News”  (cf. Mark 1:15; Matt 3:2). Now to most people “repent” means to reform your behavior, to do good and avoid evil, or to stop sinning. That is its most common English meaning. But the Greek word is far richer than this. The Greek word is Μετανοείτε (metanoeite) which most literally means  “to come to a new mind.” It is from the Greek  meta  (hard to translate perfectly in English but it often indicates accompaniment, change, or movement of some sort) and nous or noieo; (meaning mind or thought).  Hence metanoeite means to think differently, i.e. Reconsider, to come to a new mind. So what the Lord is more fully saying is “Come to new mind and  be believing in the Good News”

Thus Jesus is not saying merely that we should clean up our act he is inviting us to come to a new mind that he alone can give us. When we think differently we will surely act differently and hence metanoeite can and does include a notion of reformed behavior. But notice that it is the result of a new mind. When we think differently by the new mind Christ will give us we start to see things more as God does. We share his priorities, his vision. We love what He loves, we think more as He does. This then effects a change in our behavior.

There is an old saying that goes: Sow a thought, reap a deed. Sow a deed, reap a habit. Sow a habit reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny. Notice how it all begins with the mind. Our mind shapes our decisions, habits, character and ultimately our destiny.

The mind is the deepest part of the human person. It is not always possible in Scripture to perfectly distinguish the words mind and heart. Sometimes they are used interchangeably sometimes distinctively. But for our purposes here, the mind can be understood as the quite similar to the heart in that it is at the deepest part of the human person where thought, memory, imagination, and deliberation take place. The mind is not to be merely equated with the brain or simply with the intellect. It is deeper and richer than these. It is not simply a function of the physical body but more fully it involves the soul. The mind is where we live, think, reflect, ponder, remember and deliberate.

Hence, in appealing to the mind, God is offering a transformation to whole human person for it is from within the mind and heart that all proceeds forth. Good behavior is a nice goal but God does not trivialize us but only trying to reform our behavior, He offers much more by offering to reform US.

Thus, what a person thinks and believes DOES matter. In our hyper-tolerant times where tolerance is one of the few agreed upon virtues left, we want to brush aside the details. We are almost proud of ourselves as we affirm that people can think and believe whatever they want so long as they behave well. Well perhaps a person is free to think what ever they please but we are foolish if we think that this does not ultimately influence behavior. Our dignity is that we were made to know the truth and thus to know Jesus Christ who is the truth and the only way to the Father (Jn 14:6). Hence our dignity is not just an outer transformation but an inner one as well. In fact it is an inner transformation that most truly leads to an outer transformation.

Here are a few more texts that refer to the mind as the locus of transformation and and also the main battleground where grace must win. Without a transformed, clear and sober mind we will give way to sin and every form of bad behavior. Transformation starts with the mind. My comments on each text are in red.

  1. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom 12:2) Note, transformation comes by the renewal of our minds.
  2. The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness…..For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their senseless minds were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools….Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. ….he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Rom 1:17ff selectae)  Notice here how a suppression of the truth leads to a depraved mind and a depraved mind to shameless and depraved behavior. It begins in the mind which is the real battleground
  3. Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires (Rom 8:5) Again, the sinful nature proceeds from a worldly mind. Those who have received the gift of the Spirit and embraced it fully have their minds set on what God desires. The remainder of Romans 8 goes on to describe the complete transformation of the human person that results from having a mind set on what God desires.
  4. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 cor 4:4) This text says simply that worldly thinking leads to spiritual blindness
  5. So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. You, however, did not come to know Christ that way…..put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness(Eph 4:17-24) The bad behavior of the Gentiles comes from a mind that is frivolous and darkened. But the new mind we have received from Christ gives us a new (transformed) self.
  6. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. (Phil 3:19) Destruction comes from a mind set on earthly things.
  7. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (Heb 8:10) God wants to transform us interiorly not merely improve our behavior. He wants to give us a new mind and heart that have his law written deeply in them.
  8. The double-minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8) When the mind is impure or divided, the ways, the behavior is corrupted.
  9. Therefore, gird the loins of  your mind; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:13) A sober and clear mind that assertively seeks God’s will will lead to a self-controlled and hopeful life.
  10. The end of all things is near. Therefore be of clear mind and self-controlled so that you can pray. (1 Peter 4:7) In turbulent times a clear, sober mind is necessary so as not to lose control of one’s behavior and also to be serene enough to pray.

This song says “I’ve got my mind made up and I won’t turn back ’cause I want to see my Jesus someday.” This is a lively Carribean medley by Donnie McClurkin.

Correcting the Sinner is not”Being Judgmental.”It is an Essential Work of Charity.

In today’s Gospel there is a Scripture passage that is “too well known.” I say this because the world has picked it up almost as a club to swing at Christians. The text is used almost as if it were the whole Bible and it is used to shut down any discussion of what is right or wrong,  what is virtuous or what is sinful. Even many Christians mis-interpret the passage as a mandate to be silent in the face of sin and evil. It is a passage “too well known”  because it is remembered but everything else in the Scriptures that balances or clarifies it is forgotten. Here is the passage:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matt 7:1-5)

Any time the Church or an individual Christian points to a certain behavior as wrong or sinful, inevitably wagging fingers are raised and an indignant tone ensues which says something to the effect, “Ah, ah, ah…’re being judgmental! The Bible says, judge not. Who are you to judge your neighbor!?” etc. This is clearly an attempt to shut down discussion quickly and to shame the Christian, or the Church into silence. To a large degree this tactic has worked and modern culture has succeeded in shaming many Christians from this essential work of correcting the sinner. Too many are terrified and simply shamed when they are said to be “judging” someone because they call attention to sin or wrongdoing. In a culture where tolerance is one of the only virtues left, to “judge” is a capital offense. “How dare we do such a thing!”  The world protests, “Who are you to judge someone else?!”

But pay careful attention to what this Gospel text is actually saying. The judgment in question is not as to the question of right and wrong. Rather, the judgment in question regards punishment or condemnation. The next sentence makes this clear when it speaks of the measure we use. The measure in question is the level of condemnation, harshness or punishment that is used. A parallel passage in Luke makes this clear: Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven…. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you (Luke 6:36-38). Hence the word “judge” here is understood to mean an unnecessarily harsh and punitive condemnation. To paraphrase the opening verses here would be to say, “Be careful not to be condemning for If you lower the boom on others, you will have the boom lowered on you. If you throw the book at others, it will also be thrown at you.”

Further, the parable that follows in the passage above about the plank in one’s eye does NOT say not to correct sinners. It says in effect, get right with God yourself and understand your own sin so that you will see clearly enough to properly correct your brother. Hence, far from forbidding the correction of the sinner the passage actually emphasizes the importance of correction by underscoring the importance of doing it well and with humility and integrity.

In these times one of the most forgotten virtues and obligations we have is the duty to correct the sinner. It is listed among the Spiritual Works of Mercy. St. Thomas Aquinas lists it in the Summa as a work of Charity:  [F]raternal correction properly so called, is directed to the amendment of the sinner. Now to do away with anyone’s evil is the same as to procure his good: and to procure a person’s good is an act of charity, whereby we wish and do our friend well. (II, IIae, 33.1)

Now to be sure, there are some judgments that are forbidden us. For example we cannot assess that we are better or worse than someone else before God. Neither can we always understand the ultimate culpability or inner intentions of another person as though we were God. Scripture says regarding judgments such as these: Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart (1 Sam 16:7). Further we are instructed that we cannot make the judgment of condemnation. That is to say, we do not have the power or knowledge to condemn someone to Hell. God alone is judge in this sense. The same scriptures also caution us against being unnecessarily harsh or punitive. As we already read from Luke, Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven…. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you (Luke 6:36-38).  So in this text “to judge” means to condemn or to be unmerciful, to be unreasonably harsh.

Scripture commends and commands Fraternal Correction: I said above that the Gospel from today’s Mass is, in a sense “too well known.” That is, it has been embraced to the exclusion of everything else, as if it is ALL the Bible has to say about correcting the sinner. But the fact is that over and over again Scripture tells us to correct the sinner. Far from forbidding fraternal correction, the Scriptures command and commend it.  I would like to share some of those texts here and add a little commentary of my own in Red.

1. Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matt 18:15-18) Jesus instructs us to speak to a sinning brother or sister and summon them to repentance. If private rebuke does not work and, assuming the matter is serious, others who are trustworthy should be summoned to the task. Finally the Church should be informed. If they will not listen even to the Church then they should be excommunicated (treated as a tax collector or Gentile). Hence in serious matters excommunication should be considered as a kind of medicine that will inform the sinner of how serious the matter is. Sadly this “medicine” is seldom used today even though Jesus clearly prescribes it (at least in more serious matters).

2. It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened….I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men; 10not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you. (1 Cor 5:1-13)  So the Holy Spirit speaking through Paul commands that we “judge”  the evil doer. Now again in this case the matter is very serious (incest). Notice how the text says he should be excommunicated (handed over to Satan). Here too the purpose is medicinal. It is to be hoped that Satan will beat him up enough that he will come to his senses and repent before the day of judgment. It is also medicinal in the sense that the community is protected from bad example, scandal and the presence of evil. The text also requires us to be able to size people up. There ARE immoral and unrepentant people with whom it is harmful for us to associate. We are instructed to discern this and not keep friendly company with people who can mislead us or tempt us to sin. This requires a judgment on our part. Some judgements ARE required of us.

3. Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any sin, you who are spiritual should recall him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. (Gal 6:1-2) Notice we are called to note when a person has been overtaken in sin and to correct him. Note too that the text cautions us to do so in a spirit of gentleness. Otherwise we may sin in the very process of correcting the sinner. Perhaps we are prideful or unnecessarily harsh in our words of correction. This is no way to correct. Gentle and humble but clear, seems to be the instruction here. It also seems that patience is called for since we must bear the burden’s of one another’s sin. We bear this in two ways. First we accept the fact that others have imperfections and faults that trouble us. Secondly we bear the obligation of helping others know their sin and of helping them to repent.

4. My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:19) The text is ambiguous as to whose soul is actually saved but that is good since it seems both the corrected and the corrector are beneficiaries of fraternal correction well executed.

5. You shall not hate your brother in your heart: You shall in any case rebuke your neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him. (Lev 19:17) The text instructs us that to refuse to correct a sinning neighbor is a form of hatred. Instead we are instructed to love our neighbors by not wanting sin to overtake them.

6. If any one refuses to obey what we say in this letter, note that man, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not look on him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother (2 Thess 3:14)  Notice again the medicine of rebuke even to the point of refusing fellowship in more serious matters is commanded. But note too that even a sinner does not lose his dignity, he is still to be regarded as a brother, not an enemy. A similar text from 2 Thess 3:6 says  We instruct you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to shun any brother who walks in a disorderly way and not according to the tradition they received from us.

7. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom (Col 3:16)  To admonish means to warn. Hence, if the word of Christ is rich within us we will warn when that becomes necessary. A similar text from 2 Tim 3:16 says:  All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. Reproof and correction is thus part of what is necessary to equip us for every good work.

8. And we exhort you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all  (1 Thess 5:14). Here fraternal correction is described as admonishing, encouraging and helping. We are also exhorted to patience is these works.

Well there are more but by now you get the point. Fraternal correction, correcting the sinner it prescribed and commanded by scripture. We must resist the shame that the world tries to inflict on us by saying, simplistically, that we are “judging” people. Not all judgment is forbidden, some judgment is commanded. Correction of the sinner is both charitable and virtuous. True enough it is possible to correct poorly or even sinfully.

We have failed to correct – But if we are to have any shame about fraternal correction it should be that we have so severely failed to correct. Because of our failure in this regard the world is a much more sinful, coarse and undisciplined place. Too many people today are out of control, undisciplined, and incorrigible. Too many are locked in sin and have never been properly corrected. The world is less pleasant and charitable, less teachable. It is also more sinful and in greater bondage. To fail to correct is to fail in charity and mercy, it is to fail to be virtuous and to fail in calling others to virtue. We are all impoverished by our failure to correct the sinner. Proverbs 10:10, 17 says He who winks at a fault causes trouble; but he who frankly reproves promotes peace….A path to life is his who heeds admonition; but he who disregards reproof goes go astray.

The following video is a bit home-spun but it basically captures the problem that Christians face and explains pretty well some of the distinctions I am making here: .

Was the Black Community Targeted by the Abortion Industry?

June is Abortion Awareness Month in the African American Community. It is a tragic and curious fact that just over 30% of the abortions in this country are performed on African American women. But the African American community is only 12% of the US population. This means of course that the Black population is strongly over-represented in terms of abortion deaths. Hence the need for an abortion awareness month in the Black Community. Recent statistics from the Guttmacher institute indicate that  1784 Black children are killed by abortion every day in the USA.

Why are African American children five times more likely to die by abortion than white children? Like all sociological phenomena, one simple explanation is not enough. Surely the breakdown of the Black family structure is a factor. High poverty rates must also be influential. Others explain that women in poverty often have less access to contraceptives and other “health-care” that might help prevent “unwanted” pregnancies. But others also note that the Black community was historically targeted by Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. Currently 78% of Planned parenthood clinics are  located in minority neighborhoods. I would like to take a brief look at this historical phenomenon.

Margaret Sanger’s “Negro Project” – I do not propose to give a complete description of the origins of Planned Parenthood. You can read a more through description of that history here: Margaret Sanger and the “Negro Project” and here: The Pivot of Civilization . But fundamentally Planned Parenthood’s founder, Margaret Sanger was a believer in Eugenics. This was a theory that held that certain races of the human family were inherently inferior and that they should be eliminated from the gene pool through the use of contraceptives, sterilization and even abortion. Doing this would help “purify” the human race of undesirable traits (negative eugenics).

Where were these undesirable traits found in the human gene pool that Eugenicists sought to minimize or remove? You guessed it, darker skinned peoples such as African Americans, Gypsies, and various indigenous peoples had these “undesirable” traits, tended to live in poverty and were targeted for reduction and elimination by the eugenics movement. The movement became quite widespread by the 1930s and influenced Adolf Hitler in his genocidal programs.

Here in America a chief proponent of eugenics was Margaret Sanger. In 1922 Sanger wrote against outreach to the poor since it caused them merely to become more numerous:

The most serious charge that can be brought against modern “benevolence” is that it encourages the perpetuation of defectives, delinquents and dependents. These are the most dangerous elements in the world community, the most devastating curse on human progress and expression (from page 108 of her book The Pivot of Civilization).

In 1926 she began to propose sterilization for those who were “unfit”:

It now remains for the U.S. government to set a sensible example to the world by offering a bonus or yearly pension to all obviously unfit parents who allow themselves to be sterilized by harmless and scientific means. In this way the moron and the diseased would have no posterity to inherit their unhappy condition. The number of the feeble-minded would decrease and a heavy burden would be lifted from the shoulders of the fit (in the Birth Control Review Oct. 1926).

The Eugenics movement used the word “moron” to describe those caught in the cycle of poverty and attributed their inability to escape that cycle as evidence of their inferior genes and poorer mental capacity. By 1929 she chose to target African Americans especially for her “benevolent” outreach establishing her first clinic in Harlem. By 1939 she began her “Negro Project”  establishing clinics and locating them especially in poorer neighborhoods to “encourage” Blacks and other poor people to reproduce less. The distribution of contraceptives was her primary strategy.  She saw Black ministers as “useful” in her campaign and rather infamously wrote to her Regional Director Dr. Clarence Gamble:

The minister’s work is also important and he should be trained, perhaps by the Federation as to our ideals and the goal that we hope to reach. We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members (Letter to Gamble, Dec 10, 1939).

After World War II the Eugenics movement was discredited so Margaret Sanger adjusted her rhetoric and spoke of trying to “help the poor” and of “promoting better health” but the method, the plan and the targeted groups remained the same. Today it is instructive to note that the usual location of Planned Parenthood Clinics remains largely poor Black and Latino neighborhoods. After 1973 Planned Parenthood added to its arsenal by becoming the largest provider of abortions in this country.

Was Sanger successful? Well, as noted, African Americans are 12% of the American Population. But just over 30% of abortions are performed on Black women. Some conclude to moral problems in the Black Community. Others conclude that the Black Community has been targeted. You decide. Today as noted, 78% of Planned Parenthood clinics are located in minority neighborhoods.

In an interesting twist of fate, Whites and Northern Europeans (races that Sanger and the Eugenics movement would have considered most “fit”) bought into contraception in a big way after 1965 and now themselves face a kind of demographic implosion. Meanwhile many “Third World” races and nations (considered by Sanger and the Eugenics movement as “inferior”) are now set to demographically dominate the world. I have written of the demographic implosion of Europe here: Contraception is Suicide

As stated above, the high rate of abortion in the Black Community is likely complicated and surely cannot be reduced to one thing. But the targeting of the Black Community cannot be dismissed as a factor. The quotes from the distant past might be dismissed by some. But the current location of most Abortion “Clinics” in Black and Latino neighborhoods cannot be so easily dismissed.

The trailer is below and features a series of quotes from proponents of Eugenics (Sanger among them) in the early half of the 20th Century. Make sure you have a strong stomach before you watch since the quotes are ugly and horrible examples of racism that has thankfully and hopefully has abated to a large degree.

Here is another video that effectively addresses abortion using a hip hop format:

The Problem of Privacy: God is Watching….And So Are Many Others!

At the bottom of this post is a remarkable video from CBS news that indicates that if you have or use a digital copier, everything you have copied on it going back years is stored on a hard drive in the copier. The drive is evidently so large in them that they can store over 20,000 documents and hundreds of thousands of pages. Hence if you have ever photocopied personal materials containing social security numbers, checking info, personal data, etc, it is on that hard drive. The CBS news crew showed how easy it is to remove the hard drive and download its contents. It’s a stunning little segment and I recommend you watch it and share it with 500 of your closest friends.

Now I have titled this blog post the “Problem of Privacy”  and I mean it in two senses.

The first is the usual sense that many of us are experiencing something of an erosion in the privacy we have come to expect. Our data is out there in cyberspace and can too easily be intercepted by the nosey and the criminal. GPS devices help track our whereabouts, Internet browsing habits are retained at search engines, “cookies” in our computer also track our habits.  YouTube faithfully records our viewing habits and do our cable boxes. And,  as you can see in the video below,  just about everything we have ever copied on any copier built after 2002 in dutifully recorded and kept. Why I am not sure, but it’s there for the viewing. In many ways our life is an open book. In some ways having our info out there is a convenience. In other ways we are alarmed and suspicious. But in this sense privacy has become a problem. There is less and less of it each day. And look out, those full body scanners on the way at airports.

There is a second sense however in which I use the the phrase the “Problem of Privacy.” In a very important way we must remember that there has never been anything private about our life to God. He sees everything. He is the searcher of minds and hearts. The Book of Hebrews says that to him everything lies naked and exposed (Heb 4:13). No thought, deliberation or action of ours is hidden from God.

One of the problems of the modern age is that we are too easily forgetful of the fact that God witnesses everything we do. In school settings I have often reminded students pretending they had done nothing wrong: “Now be careful! God is watching and he knows everything you do. He also knows if you are lying to me! You might get away with something with me but you won’t avoid God!” But it is not only children who need to be reminded of this. God sees and knows everything we think and do. In this sense there is no privacy. God is watching. Deep down we know but our weak minds forget. And when we do remember our crafty minds try to reinvent God by saying dumb things like, “God doesn’t  mind” or “God understands”  or “God will not punish.”

So, absolute privacy is an illusion. We may well be able to carve out some privacy from one another and well we should. But we should not seek privacy from God nor can we. There is something increasingly medicinal about practicing the presence of God. The more we experience that God is present and watching the more we accept him on his own terms and do not try to reinvent him, them more we do this the more our behavior can be reformed. A little salutary fear can be medicinal while we wait for the more perfect motive of love to drive out sin.

And, frankly too, acknowledging that not only is God watching but others are too can also have some good effects. We may not approve of  their ability to see us, but in the end it can help to remember that they do. A few examples might help illustrate what I mean.

  1. Internet Porn – As a confessor the sin of Internet pornography has increasingly found its way into the confessions I hear. One of the things I try to remind penitents of is the fact that when they are on the Internet they are out in public with a name tag on. All their browsing habits are stored both on their own computers and out at the sites they visit and the  browsing engines they use. If they think they are  merely in the privacy of their own room they ought to think again. Personally, this knowledge keeps me far away from bad sites of any kind on the Internet. There is a kind of salutary fear in knowing that I am out in public when on-line. The same is true for cable TV. Those boxes send data  about what I watch and how long,  back to the Cable company. My browsing and viewing habits are known to those who might wish to find them. Frankly it keeps me out of trouble. I hope other virtues do as well, but remembering that I am in public is very helpful.
  2. The same is true for e-mail and other forms of Internet communication such as face book and blogging. Once you press send, or publish, you’ve just made history. The contents of what you have said are out there to stay. You may delete it, but it will stay as data on servers for as long as the sun shall shine. Be very careful what you say for no matter how private you may think it is, it is not. You are always in earshot of some server which loves to keep your data. What you type in the darkness will be brought to light and what you post in secret will shouted from the housetop. Here too I am assisted by this fact. I may not like that what I send or post is ultimately public. But in the end it makes me careful about what I say or type.
  3. Accountability has also been a help in my life. As a priest I think it is important to live a rather transparent life. I almost never just slip away from the rectory. I always tell someone on the staff where I am going, at least generally and when I expect to return. I am a public figure. Sure I have some privacy up in my rectory suite but over all I make it a rule to account for my whereabouts. I also usually wear my clerical attire as I go about (except on a day off). There are surely times when I expect the rectory to be a private home (after 9pm) but here too I live with three other priests and though we have our separate apartments, the communal quality of the rectory also provides a salutary kind of accountability in terms of personal behavior.

What I am ultimately saying is that too much demand for privacy can also be a problem. In the end the Lord intends for us to live in community where we are accountable to others. Some degree of accountability and transparency is helpful and necessary for us. It is clear that there are significant problems with the erosion of our privacy today. We ought to continue to insist that proper boundaries should be respected. However we should also remember that some demands for privacy are unrealistic. At some level we simply need to accept that the being online is the same as being in public with your name tag on. That’s just the way it is, so behave yourself. You might change your name on-line but guess what, it’s really those little numbers that identify you. Mine are: 76.1**.3*.6*5 (I have put asterisks as a form of non-disclosure there are acutal numbers in the place of them). Where-ever I go those little numbers say it’s me even if I lie about the fact that its me. Now we may lament this but I think it is better simply to say, when I am on-line I am in public with a name tag on. There is nothing private about Internet or e-mail or texting or anything else that uses the public airways, or communication lines. That’s just the way it is and knowing this can be salutary.

Finding the proper balance between our public and private lives can be difficult. Surely privacy is to be insisted upon in many cases. But it is also true that overly expansive  assumptions of privacy are neither possible nor always healthy. Being in public will always be a necessary part of our life and being aware when we are in public is important.  You are in public right now because you are on-line.

OK, as usual you all can help by making distinctions, giving examples, and delivering rebuttals.

Before you comment take a few minutes to watch this video. And never sell your copier again without insisting that you be able to destroy the hard drive. This report was a real eye-opener and will make me wary of how and when I copy confidential documents and personal information.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Under Grace, the Law is a Gift

One of the biggest mistakes a Christian can make is to misunderstand the moral law. For a Christian the Moral Law is not just a set of rules we have to follow, it is rather a description of the transformed Christian life. The Christian who begins to receive the ministry of Jesus Christ through grace will see his life transformed. He or she will begin to be more generous, more chaste, more honest and trustworthy. Such a person will begin to think differently, have better priorities, will see sins increasingly put to death. He or she will be more loving, more serene, more confident, more faithful to commitments. The transformed human person, by God’s grace will even begin to love his or her enemy. All of this is a gift, the work of Jesus Christ in the heart and mind of the believer, the fruit of His death and resurrection. It is not ultimately we who keep the law, but Christ who keeps it in us, if we but let him.

That brings us to today’s gospel: John 13:31-35.

The Gospel today contains a mandate that we should love one another. But there is a danger in thinking  that Jesus is saying that we, with our own unaided flesh power are supposed to do this. This of course seems impossible and leads to frustration if we attempt to do it as our own achievement. As soon as we start trying to love people there is some set back. Perhaps they do something to anger us or cause hurt. Love, if it is human, will likely vanish and be replaced by anger or resentment.  That is why it is important to get this gospel right. Jesus is not telling us to love (which may not last) but to allow him to love others in us. He will use our humanity to effect this love but it’s source will be him.

To understand this we need to consider the gospel in stages. There are three stages to this Gospel.

  1. First there is PREREQUISITE. Jesus indicates that the hour has come for him to be glorified. He is referring to his passion, death and resurrection. In this saving act Jesus acquires for us to power to live a wholly new life. In order for him to command us to love one another he must first equip us to do so. He does this on the cross and in his rising to new life. From the cross and resurrection comes a totally new life for us. As St. Paul puts it, we have been raised to new life with Christ (Col 3:1), and again, If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation (2 Cor 5:17) and yet again that since we have died with Christ in baptism we have also risen with him that we might live in newness of life (Rom 6:4).
  2. Next note the POWER– So it is clear that Christ’s death and resurrection empowers us to live the life he describes in the moral Law of the Sermon on the Mount and throughout the New Testament and in today’s Gospel. Notice how  He gives us a new command but links it to what he has already done in us: Love another as I have loved you. In other words, I have loved you and placed my love in you, now you are able and must discover the power you have to love others. Jesus commands us only because he has first equipped us. It is not our love that must love others, even our enemies, it is His love already placed in us that he asks us to draw on. As St. John puts it, We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).
  3. Finally notice the PROOF. Jesus concludes by saying that we will know, that is we will experience, that we are his disciples when we love each other. It is almost as if he is saying, “Try me in this and begin to experience that you DO have this power because you are my follower and some one who has my grace.” So the question for us is ultimately, Do you believe  that the Lord has equipped, empowered and enabled you to love others?

In the end we must remember that we are to live under grace, not the Law (Rom 6:14). This does not mean that there is no law. Rather it means the the Law describes the new life that Christ offers. The keeping of the commandments is not the cause of God’s love in us. Rather it is the result of it. It is but for us to finally grasp and expereince this love and thus be equipped to keep the commandments of the Lord and all they imply.

This video is the high water mark in the movie Fireproof. It is where Caleb finally “gets it.” He has been trying to love his alienated wife out of flesh power and, since she is not responding as well as his ego says she should, he is resentful. But in a moment of grace depicted here he finally experiences the complete and unmerited love of God for him and thus becomes equipped to start loving his wife this way. Would that our lives were as simple as this movie describes, but after this plot had to unfold in 90 minutes. For most of us, finally grasping the love of God for us takes more than one chance conversation in a park. But the central point remains, we have to experience the love of God for us to live more fully under grace. The more we grasp God’s love the more we can keep his law.