Improving the Prayer of the Faithful

They have been called by many names: the prayer of the faithful, the general intercessions, and now most commonly the universal prayers.

But they are not the prayers of the faithful since they are usually written by an individual. They are really general intercessions, since they are often rather specific, and they are not universal in the sense that they are, by necessity, particular. It would be impossible to cover the full or universal range of human needs.  So even the nomenclature of this part of the Mass is difficult to pin down. This, in turn reflects a merely vague  understanding of the purpose of these prayers.

Further, there is an often disappointing quality to the intentions as they are used today. Some years ago, Peter Kwasniewski, in an article at New Liturgical Movement.org (here), summarized the problem very well.

It is surely no exaggeration to say that throughout the world the quality of these intercessions has tended to be deplorable, ranging from trite and saccharine sentiments to political propaganda, from progressivist daydreams to downright heretical propositions to which no one could assent without offending God. Even when the content is doctrinally unobjectionable, all too often the literary style is dull, flaccid, rambling, or vague. … [There is] problematic content, poor writing, and [a] monotonous manner of delivery.

Additional problems occur when there are people of many different nationalities present and it is felt necessary to have the petitions read in multiple languages. The impression is given that the intentions are directed more to the congregation than to God, who knows all languages and thoughts. I have been at Mass in the Basilica here in Washington, D.C. when as many as nine different languages were used in the Prayer of the Faithful, despite the fact that the vast majority of those present spoke English and/or Spanish. I seriously doubt that there were more than five people in attendance who could speak only German, Mandarin, or one of the other languages used. It quickly gets very tedious as a line of people traipse back and forth to the microphone. Is God the focus of these prayers or are we, in a self-referential concern just checking the diversity box?

It is all so different in the Eastern Liturgies, in which the Great Litany is so artfully woven into the liturgical experience and beautifully sung as well. I have memorized the Great Litany from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (see video below).

History – These intentions were very common in the early Church, occurring at about the same point in the Mass as today. They followed the Homily (note that in earlier days the Creed was typically not said). All of the Fathers of the Church make mention of them. In the beginning, this prayer was recited antiphonally by the priest and the assembly. Over time, the deacon assumed a more prominent role; he announced all the intentions and then the faithful responded with Kyrie eleison or some other acclamation. You can read the Kyrie Litany of Pope Gelasius here: Litany of Gelasius

These intercessions endured until about the 9th century, well past the close of the patristic period. Their disappearance seems to coincide with their evolution into a Kyrie litany and their transfer to the beginning of the Mass. They eventually came to be regarded as an unnecessary appendage and were phased out. In the West they were used only on Good Friday, though they endured longer in certain particular areas. In the East they were never dropped. Today they have been restored to their original place in the Mass, but as noted, are difficult to craft in such as way that they feel integrated more than interruptive, as something to get through, rather than as something that flows from our liturgical experience

In his article (here), Mr. Kwasniewski offers a variety of intercessions, and download links are provided. I have done so for my own use and you might wish to do the same.

I would also like to add that St. Peter Canisius composed intercessions for use in his time. Saints are certainly reputable sources of such things! Here is an article by Mark Woodruff  that details those prayers.

The point is that much can be done to improve the quality of the Prayer of the Faithful, which has remained an amateur outing at best and an ideological hornet’s nest at worst.

Perhaps some benefit can be obtained from reviewing the norms and the history of this portion of the Mass.

The General Instruction in the Roman Missal (GIRM) has this to say about the Prayer of the Faithful:

In the Prayer of the Faithful, the people respond in a certain way to the word of God which they have welcomed in faith and, exercising the office of their baptismal priesthood, offer prayers to God for the salvation of all. It is fitting that such a prayer be included, as a rule, in Masses celebrated with a congregation, so that petitions will be offered for the holy Church, for civil authorities, for those weighed down by various needs, for all men and women, and for the salvation of the whole world. As a rule, the series of intentions is to be

      1. For the needs of the Church;
        2. For public authorities and the salvation of the whole world;
        3. For those burdened by any kind of difficulty;
        4. For the local community.

Nevertheless, in a particular celebration, such as Confirmation, Marriage, or a Funeral, the series of intentions may reflect more closely the particular occasion.

It is for the priest celebrant to direct this prayer from the chair. He himself begins it with a brief introduction, by which he invites the faithful to pray, and likewise he concludes it with a prayer. The intentions announced should be sober, be composed freely but prudently, and be succinct, and they should express the prayer of the entire community (GIRM 69-71).

In the end, I think these intentions deserve better than we have given them. I realize that enthusiasts of the Traditional Latin Mass (of which I am one) may say, “Just get rid of them entirely,” but that is not realistic. They are here to stay, at least in our lifetime. Maybe we can try to do better by making use of multiple sources: ancient, Eastern, and modern yet elegant. I

Here is the Great Litany from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom:

You Forgot! A Reflection on a Central Spiritual Struggle

Don't Forget

Don't ForgetOne of the more basic human problems in our relationship with God is that we forget. Over and over again in the Scriptures comes an almost exasperated accusation from God: “You forgot!” Consider just a few of hundreds of such texts:

  1. You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth (Deuteronomy 32:8).
  2. When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me (Hosea 13:6).
  3. and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery (Deuteronomy 8:13-14).
  4. They forgot His deeds and His miracles that He had shown them (Psalm 78:11).
  5. But they soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel. … They forgot God their Savior, Who had done great things in Egypt (Psalm 106:13, 21).
  6. But they forgot the LORD their God; so he sold them into the hand of Sisera, the commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hands of the Philistines and the king of Moab, who fought against them. They cried out to the LORD and said, “We have sinned; we have forsaken the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtoreths. But now deliver us from the hands of our enemies, and we will serve you”‘ (1 Sam 12:9-10).

Another form of this comes in the refrain of God as the Law is announced in Leviticus and Deuteronomy: “I am the Lord.” For example,

You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him …. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God. You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord (Leviticus 19:31-32).

The ancient rabbis explained this expression in a humorous way. They taught that when God says “I am the Lord,” he means, “Look, I am the one who fished you out of the mud. Now come over here and listen to me.” In other words, “Don’t forget that who it is that is talking to you. I am the one who loves you and has rescued you, the one who provides for you and sustains you. Pay attention. Never forget that I speak to you for your good, not to burden you.”

But as it is, we so easily forget. God’s lament is as true as ever: “You forgot!” We discount the vast and almost unimaginable blessings of each day from the hand of God and grumble at the smallest problem, setback, or slight.

What God is most concerned with is not that we forget small details of the law, but that we so easily forget the wonderful things He has done for us. For indeed, He rescued them from slavery, parted the Red Sea for them, fed them with manna, and gave them water in the desert. He led them forth and settled them in the promised land. But how easily and quickly they forgot His saving deeds!

God’s lament is not about His ego needs to be thanked or repaid for his goodness. God is not vain like man. It is essential that we remember. To remember is to have a healing knowledge.

What does it mean to remember? To remember is to have deeply present in our mind and heart what God has done for us such that we are grateful and different. Grateful people are more hopeful, confident, trusting, and serene. They are more generous, forgiving, and joyful. They are this way because they have not forgotten; they remember how good God has been to them.

One essential solution to our tendency to forget is the Liturgy itself. First, because we read every day from God’s word and remember His saving acts and the teachings of the past. Further, at every Eucharist Jesus repeats His command that we “do this in memory of [Him].” In other words, we are not to live unreflective lives. We are to remember what He has done for us. We are to have present in our mind and heart what He has done for us so that we are grateful and different.

The word amnesia (rooted in Greek) means forgetfulness. A key element in the Eucharistic prayer takes place after Jesus’ command that we do this in memory of Him. It is called the anamnesis, which means remembering, the opposite of forgetting. In the Roman Canon the anamnesis begins after the consecration with the words, “Unde et memores (Wherefore and remembering). The second Eucharistic prayer says, Memores igitur mortis et resurrectionis (therefore in memory of the death and resurrection of Christ).

Yes, remembering is at heart of the Eucharistic Liturgy. And we need it! We so easily forget all the good things God does to sustain and prosper us. Every fiber of our being is created and sustained by God. Everything on which we depend is also created, sustained, and given by God. Every single day, trillions of things go right and trillions of gifts are ours. Yet if one thing goes wrong, we are easily downcast, angry, and despondent. What a disproportionate response! It is primarily because we forget and discount His blessings.

Don’t forget! At best, forgetting makes us grouchy. At worst, it makes us anxious and fretful, even mentally ill.

Remember! Remember the innumerable things God has done for you. If you do, you’ll be more grateful and different.

Pass the Salt and Turn on the Lights – A Homily for the Fifth Sunday of the Year

In the Gospel today the Lord describes metaphorically what a Christian is and what He expects of us. Note five things about what God says:

I. The Definitiveness of His Proclamation The text says, You are the Salt of the earth. … You are the light of the World. … But if salt goes flat it is good for nothing. … No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket.

The Lord is definitive in two ways. First,He says, “You.” He is not talking just to people long ago or to the person next to you. He is not merely talking to your pastor or the Saints. He is talking to you. Youare salt. Youare light. You. It’s too easy to say, “Look at what the Lord is saying to those people long ago near the lakeside.” It’s not long ago; it’s now. It’s you.

The second way that the Lord is definitive isin saying that bothimages depend on us; if we are not salt and light then no one else will be and we will have utterly voided our worth.

The metaphor of salt: You are either salt or you are nothing; in fact, you are good for nothing. As Christians, we have signed up to be specialists. This means is that if we go off and do something else instead, we arenothing and are good for nothing. It’s an all-or-nothing scenario. Jesus says that if you have decided to be His disciple you are either going to do that or else be nothing. You may go on to be a doctor, lawyer, teacher, laborer, or social worker, but the Lord has plenty of those (and so does the devil). Your first and only mission is to be a true and uncompromised Christian; everything else is mere commentary. You may be a great doctor, but if you don’t do it as a clear and visible Christian you are nothing. You may be a skilled social worker, but if you don’t do it as a Christian you are good for nothing. Any non-believer can be socially useful as a doctor or social worker, but only a Christian can be a Christian. If you don’t do “job one,” you are nothing. If you supply your children with every good thing, but do not act as a Christian witness to them and bring them to Christ, you are good for nothing. Any parent can provide his children with material things, but only a Christian can give them Christ. Got it? You’re either salt (a true Christian) or you are nothing.

The metaphor of light: The Lord says that you are thelight of the world, not merely alight. What this means is that if we do not shine, the world is darker; no one can take our place. If we don’t shine by living our faith and proclaiming it, the world is in darkness. Buddha can’t help. Mohamed can’t pull it off. Science and humanism can’t substitute. Either we are light or there is none. Some may call this arrogant, but I just call it Scripture. The Lord said it, not us. We are either light or else the world is dark. And if the world is getting darker, whose fault is that? We need not go far. Too many Christians fulfill Isaiah 56:10, which says, Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep. You may be an exception, but too many Christians are not.

Therefore, notice the definitive pronouncement the Lord makes here. We Christians are either with the Lord or we’re nothing. We’re either light or the world is in darkness.

II. The Dynamics of Salt– When Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth, what are some of the lessons we can learn? Consider these four things:

Salt seasons.Christians are called to add spice to life, to bring beauty, joy, and hope to the world. Joy is the surest sign of a Christian. Even our keeping of the Commandments is a source of joy, as we experience God’s power to put sin to death in us and bring forth order, self-discipline, and holiness. Hope, too, ought to distinguish us from a world that is often cynical and thinks sin is inevitable. To this world we are not only to declare that the Commandments are possible and bring joy, but to demonstrate it in our lives. We are to be zesty, passionate, alive, and free from sin in Christ. Yet, sadly, we Christians are known more for what we are against. Too many Christians are not spicy; they do not really add flavor. They are more like bored believers, depressed disciples, fearful faithful, and frozen chosen. In our best moments, look what spicy things the faith has contributed: Art, music, churches, hospitals, universities, the scholastic and scientific methods, and holidays (a mispronunciation of Holy Days). Our tradition and Scriptural teaching of justice, mercy, love, and the dignity of the human person has blessed the world. Do you bring spice to the lives of others? Do you bring hope and joy? Scripture says, Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you(1 Peter 3:15). That means that people notice hope in you! Do they? How?

Salt preserves. Before refrigeration, people often used salt to cure or preserve meat. The salt killed bacteria and other microorganisms that caused rot and decay. As Christians, we are called to prevent further decay in this sin-soaked world. The truth that we proclaim is meant to preserve people from the decay of sin and overindulgence. Chastity, justice, generosity, and the proclamation of the truth, are like salt that preserves this world from decay. We must be salt. If we are not, nothing else is. Youare the salt.

Salt heals. In the ancient world, salt was used on wounds. It helped to stop bleeding, killed bacteria, and prevented further infection. So, too, the Christian faith. Through our doctrinal and moral teaching, and our living of it, we are called to bring healing to this world, which is wounded by sin, strife, war, jealousy, anger, bitterness, retribution, promiscuity, unfaithfulness, greed, and countless other errors. The Word of God and His plan is a healing medicine for what ails this world.

Salt burns. Yes, salt stings when applied to wounds. We Christians aren’t just sugar and spice and everything nice. When salt is applied to wounds it burns and often brings out loud protest. The truth stings, too. The truth of the Gospel can be irritating to a world that is wounded by sin. But despite the protests of the world, the sting is a healing one. It is driving out the disease of the world and preventing further infection. Just because people protest the Church and howl in complaint at the truth of the Gospel does not mean we have done anything wrong. In fact, protests often show that we are doing exactly what we must.

III. The Destination of Salt The Lord says that you are the salt of the earth. He did not say that you are the salt of the Church. For salt to be effective it has to get out of the shaker! Too many Christians are bold in the pew but cowards in the world. They will speak of the faith in the relative security of the Church and among certain friends, but don’t ask them to preach to their spouse, their co-worker, or even their children; that’s too scary. And don’t even thinkabout asking them to knock on doors, or to go to the local mall and witness, or to stand in front of an abortion clinic.

Salt in the shaker is useless. It has to come out of the shaker in order to make any difference. You don’t salt salt. Witnessing to fellow Christians may have a limited benefit, but it is not really the true destination of salt. The salt has to go forth. When the priest or deacon says “The Mass is ended go in peace,” he might as well be holding up a salt shaker and shaking it!

It’s long past time for the salt (you and me) to go forth. Consider these observations about life in our country today:

    • In the last fifty years there has been an increase of more than a 500% in violent crime.
    • There are more than half a million abortions each year.
    • Since 1970, the divorce rate has quadrupled. The overall number of divorces may have declined recently, but it is due more to people not getting married in the first place.
    • More than 40% of children today do not live with both their biological parents. Since the 1970s, the percentage of children living in single-parent homes has tripled.
    • As the family has broken down, here is what has been happening to our young:
      • a quadrupling in juvenile arrests,
      • a 400% increase in births outside of wedlock,
      • one million teenage pregnancies annually,
      • three million teenagers treated annually for sexually transmitted diseases,
      • a 200% increase in the rate of teenage suicide,
      • a drop in average SAT scores,
      • two-thirds of high school students have experimented with illegal drugs.
    • In the schools, one cannot pray or mention religion, yet condoms are freely available and all sorts of aberrant and alternative lifestyles and philosophies are openly promoted.
    • Parental consent is required for a child to go on a field trip or to get an aspirin, but in many states abortion referrals can be made without parental consent.
    • Our neighborhoods are devastated by poverty, injustice, crime, and despair.

All of this has happened on our watch. It’s time for the salt to work. The world needs the salt to get out of the shaker and do its work of seasoning, purifying, and preserving.

The Designation of Pure lightYou are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.You don’t light light; it is the darkness that needs the light. Light is meant to be seen. There are too many undercover Christians, secret agent saints, and hidden holy ones. Jesus didn’t light our light so that we could hide it under a basket out of fear. He wants the Church, you and me, to shine. The Lord wants every Christian to be a light so that it’s like a city on a hill! He wants us to shine so that we can’t be hidden.

The Details of Light Jesus goes on to say, Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. Let’s consider four things about this light:

The CAUSE of the light – Notice that little word: “Let.” We are to yield to Christ, to allow Him to shine through us. He is the cause of our light. Let your light shine. There’s an old gospel song that says, “When you see me trying to do good, trying to live as a Christian should, it’s just Jesus, Jesus in me.”

The COST of the light– The light is to shine, but there is no shining without burning. Shining costs us something. It may be Christ’s light, but it shines through us. This means sacrifice. It means letting Him use you. It means not always sleeping when you want to. It means not just sitting at home and saying, “Ain’t it awful.” It means getting out and getting involved. It means getting “out there” and risking a few things. It means being visible, targeted, and identified with someone (Jesus) who is hated by many. And in a world that prefers the darkness to light (cf.John 3:19-21), it means being called harsh, out-of-touch, and hateful. There is no shining without burning.

The CONCRETENESS of the light –Letting our light shine is no mere abstraction. Jesus speaks of deeds. Shining involves concrete behavior. Your light shines by the way you live, the choices you make, the behavior you exhibit. It shines when Christians get married and stay married, stay faithful to their commitments, and are people of their word. Our light shines when we tell the truth instead of lying, live chastely instead of fornicating, are courteous and respectful instead of rude. It shines when we respect life, drive safely, and shun reckless and risky behavior. Our light shines when we clean up our language, give to the poor, and work for justice. It shines when we refuse to purchase pornographic, violent, or other degrading materials. Our light shines when we love instead of hate, seek reconciliation instead of revenge, and pray for our enemies instead of cursing them. It shines when we walk uprightly and speak the truth in love, without compromise. That’s when our light begins to shine.

The CONSEQUENCE of the light– God is glorified when our light shines. We do not act or get involved merely to vent our own anger or to fight for our own sake. We are light to glorify God. It is not about our winning, it is about God shining and being glorified. When we do get involved, too often we seek merely to win the argument rather than to glorify God. Often we act in order to garner praise rather than to have God glorified. We need to pray for good intentions, for it is possible to do the right thing for the wrong reason. The desired result is God’s glory not our glory.

OK, now pass the salt and turn on the light!

Stay Catholic Stay Put

Go with me to the year 1969. We are on the Texas border with Mexico not far from El Paso. Three men are leading a protest march arguing that the U.S. Government is not protecting the U.S. border and is allowing illegal immigration to occur is large numbers. The three men are Cesar Chavez, Walter Mondale and Ralph Abernathy Jr. They are the protesters with them argue that illegal immigration in such large numbers is driving down wages and making it nearly impossible to organize migrant workers.

Yes, three prominent Democrats demanding that the Federal Government enforce our borders. Today of course, things are largely reversed and most on the left support practically open borders.

Politics change like that. Issues come and go, coalitions shift and change. What was once thought of as  doctrinaire liberalism or conservatism can switch sides in many and important ways. This is increasingly important for Catholics who too easily cast their loyalties with political parties and cultural trends that come and go, rather than the faith and the teachings of the Lord. Indeed they are more passionate about politics and the latest trends than the faith. This should not be the case. Our loyalty must always be with the Lord and the teachings of the Church which do not change or reflect the times. Scripture and the doctrines of the faith are ancient and stable and we should hold to them wherever the political lines fall. A Democrat should not support abortion, no matter what the party says. A Republican should hold the Church teaching on immigration not simply the language of the party. We need to be Catholic when it comes to the crucial moral issues of our day to include: Abortion, the Definition of Marriage, fornication, cohabitation, homosexual acts, transgenderism, immigration,  physician assisted suicide and the like. Too easily however we will base our views on our politics and jettison our faith. We need to be anchored in the Lord not in the vicissitudes of politics and culture.

Consider some other examples of the many flip flops of politics:

      • Free speech was once the bastion and hallmark of 1960s liberalism. The University of California at Berkeley, Stanford University and many other colleges, were synonymous  with the free speech movement, seeing free speech as almost unlimited. While many Americans were appalled at some of the vigorous condemnation of our country, the burning of American flags, advocacy for forms of government inimical to our system, promotion of “free love,” drug use and other attacks on core American values, free speech largely won the day and withstood challenges to most of its limits. Today however, places like Berkley and Stanford are just the opposite. There are extensive limits to what may be said on many such campuses. Many words are banned, other pronouns and words are required. Students as well as faculty often seek to forbid speakers with traditional or conservative positions from speaking on campus at all and, when they are cannot ban such speech, they show up to shout it down and make a lecture of any sort impossible. Now, it is conservatives who advocate for free speech who seek for the free exchange of ideas on college campuses and elsewhere. On social media, the Left seeks to
      • Conservatives were once considered the natural ally of “Big Business” while  the left saw it  as privileged, undertaxed, polluting, and unjust in nearly all it did. Today however, many if not most large corporations have allied with the left and adopted countless “woke” policies.
      • The Democratic Party was once considered the friend of the working class. Decades of being “down with the struggle “ and advocacy for labor unions, concerns for improved work conditions, worker safety, proper wages and benefits, made the Democratic Party the most likely destination for most blue collar workers and laborers. Today however, many of these same workers often hear from the party that once advocated for them a strong aversion to all they represent. Coal workers, the oil, steel  and auto industries, are often considered by the left to be almost evil and are slated by them for elimination. In the 2016 election an major shift occurred as Donald Trump and the Republican Party became the defender of these industries and workers
      • Conservative Republicans were once labeled as the party of the rich and well landed in this country. “Country Club Republicans” was a designation that sought to portray them as aloof and removed from the care of the everyday person. Today however, it is the Left and the Democratic Party that is largely the bastion of the ruling class. Liberal elites dominate the world of social and news media, entertainment, Hollywood,  government officials, large corporations, university and college faculty and administrators and the like.
      • The news media was once the watchdog of government and big industry, now they are frequently an ally and apologist for them.
      • The cultural left once had a stance that was anti-authoritarian. It was suspicious of government claims and often counseled resistance and civil disobedience against an oppressive government, demanding investigations and accountability. Today the left more often proposes increasing laws and expansive government.
      • Liberals and many Democrats once championed the rights of women and also sought “Title IX” protections to preserve and enhance women’s sports. Now they are on the vanguard of a movement that permits men to call themselves women, enter the locker rooms and restrooms of women, invading their privacy. It is now Conservatives who speak of unfairness and seek to keep women’s sports from dying.
      • The cultural Left road in on a “free love” philosophy. Now theirs is more the language of  sexual abuse allegations and an advocacy of expansive list of dos and don’ts the wake of the “me-too” movement. While that movement raised many legitimate concerns, many on the right (the traditionally regarded prudish party) think may go too far, casting a chill on romance and possibly resulting in the “sudden death” of accusations that are hard to refute.
      • The Republican Party was once the champion of African American civil rights, founded on ending slavery and insisting on their rights and reparations after the Civil War.  Republican votes along with many Democrat votes were also essential in passing civil rights bills by countering the votes of racist Southern  democrats. Today, racial justice is often perceived as a priority of the Democratic Party.
      • President Barack Obama ran in 2008 against Gay “marriage” and in 2012 for it.
      • Finally, and most importantly, when Roe V. Wade invented a constitutional right to abort, that is, kill children in the womb.  At first, Democrats were just as likely as Republicans to oppose this decision. In 1976, the Hyde amendment banning federal funding for most abortions first passed the House, with 247 Democratic votes. Just 22 Democrats voted no. Prominent Democrats such as Hubert Humphrey, Sargent Shriver, Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore and many others were originally pro-life before switching their positions. One of the strongest  statements issued against Abortion was by the Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1977. Sadly he too changed his view in the 1980s as the politics changed. Today the political lines are hardened and there are almost pro life democrats in the House or Senate. It was not always so.

Enough. As can be seen politics is shifty; culture too. Don’t give your loyalty to this world. Are you worthy of Jesus Christ, or are you just worthy of the party or the latest trend? Stay put, stay Catholic.

The Hardening of Hearts Caused by the Deceit of Sin

stubbornThere is a line from the Letter to the Hebrews. In it was an important admonition, especially appropriate for our times:

Encourage yourselves daily while it is still today, so that none of you may grow hardened by the deceit of sin (Heb 3:12).

Collectively speaking, we been hardened by the deceit of sin. Many of us who are older remember times when sins that are openly practiced (and even celebrated) today were considered shameful a mere fifty years ago. Pre-marital sex (fornication), living together before marriage (which many called “shacking up”), and divorce were considered scandalous. “Gay” was a word that meant happy or joyful, and condoning (let alone celebrating) homosexual acts would have been inconceivable to most Americans. The concept of same-sex marriage was foreign and not even imaginable to most. Up through the 1950s, even contraception was considered by most Americans to be a loathsome practice and was often associated with prostitution.

This is not to say that it was a sinless time; it was not. There were indeed some who transgressed. Young, unmarried girls who got pregnant were generally sent to live with relatives or taken into the care of religious sisters until they gave birth; children born under such circumstances were usually given for adoption. But those cases were relatively rare and handled discreetly. There certainly weren’t child care centers in public high schools! So while some did stray, there was general agreement that such behavior was wrong.

Many of these attitudes began to shift in the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Although the tumultuous change of that decade was already brewing in the 1950s it is rightly said that we entered the 1960s through one door and came out a very different one.

The cultural revolution had different aspects. There was a revolution against authority and tradition, including religious faith; a steep drop in church attendance began. There was the feminist revolution, proper in some of its concerns, but also beset by a growing radicalism that ridiculed motherhood and men. And there was the rampant use of hallucinogenic drugs, which devastated the intellect and judgment of many young people. The hardening of hearts by the deceit of sin was underway.

The most long-lasting and devastating aspect of the 1960s was the sexual revolution. The spread of revolutionary sexual attitudes was facilitated by the availability of “the pill.” Thus there arose the evil and erroneous notion of “sex without consequences.” This notion has ultimately led to widespread fornication, consumption of pornography, adultery, abortion, divorce, sexually transmitted diseases, and large numbers of children being raised by single mothers.

The resistance to divorce rooted in religious concerns and the common-sense notion that divorce was harmful to children, had been eroding through the decade as many celebrities began flying to foreign countries in order to be divorced. Slowly, the shock that divorce once caused, began to give way. Prior to 1969, obtaining a divorce was a difficult, lengthy, legal process. But due to growing pressure, states began to pass “no-fault” divorce laws, making marriage one of the easiest contracts to break. The hardening of hearts by the deceit of sin was growing worse. Jesus Himself attributed the desire to divorce to hard hearts (See Matt 19:8).

A nation increasingly hypnotized by fornication and the evil deception of sex without consequences began to show a decline in the rightful indignation at killing babies in the womb. Legal maneuverers to permit abortion had already been underway, but abortion remained illegal in most of the United States until 1973, when the dreadful, immoral Roe v. Wade decision of the Supreme Court made abortion the “law of the land.” The hardening of hearts by the deceit of sin was by now full. Thanks be to God, Roe was finally overturned last year. But the backlash by the left is truly horrifying and show that we still have a long way to go in convincing nearly half of Americans that something as obviously horrifying as abortion is wrong.

Things continuously worsen and the hardening of hearts has seen added to it the darkening of our intellects (see Romans 1:21). Rational conversations about moral topics are becoming nearly impossible.

Added to all of this the is the recent, bewildering rise in the outright celebration of homosexual acts and subsequent approval of same-sex “marriage,” along with the latest cause célèbre, “transgenderism.”

And thus the words of the Letter to the Hebrews ring true:

Encourage yourselves daily while it is still today, so that none of you may grow hardened by the deceit of sin (Heb 3:12).

Sin hardens the heart and darkens the intellect. Many people today hold deeply and stubbornly to errors and are lost in moral confusion. Attempts to disabuse them of such deceptions often leads to venomous accusations of intolerance, bigotry, and hatred. The hardness is deep; the deception is dark. When one grows accustomed to the darkness, the light seems harsh and painful in comparison. The protests get louder as the years go by because as the darkness deepens, the light seems increasingly intolerable.

The text says that it is the deceit of sin which does this. The Latin roots of the word “deceive” present a picture of being pick up and carried off (de (from) + capere (to take or carry away)). The image of one who has been deceived is that of a small animal hanging limply from the jaws of a predator. To be deceived is a very dangerous thing. It means that the devil has us in his grasp; the end will come soon unless we can unlock the jaws of the evil dragon through the grace of mercy that comes from repentance.

Our age, like few others, demonstrates just how bad things can get when we are individually and collectively hardened by the deceit of sin. This has happened to us fairly quickly. It was not that long ago when we were still shocked by the things that many celebrate today with “pride” parades and divorce “parties.” Fornication and shacking up were once considered scandalous. A sex scene in a movie was considered indecent. Many other sins today, such as greed and disrespect for elders and leaders, are also glamorized. That this no longer shocks or surprises us shows the hardening that the deceit of sin can bring.

Ask the Lord for a sensitive conscience. It is a precious gift that is not to be confused with scrupulosity. A sensitive conscience is one that loves what God loves, that values what God values, and that shares His priorities. A sensitive conscience loves God’s law and His truth, and is saddened and productively mournful at the reality of sin, whether personal or collective.

Ask also for the gift to mourn. Scripture says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Mat 5:4). Who are those who mourn? They are those who see the awful state of God’s people (that they do not know God or glorify Him in their lives and that they are locked in sin and its deceptions) and are motivated to pray and speak the truth. They will even endure suffering in order that some may be snatched away from the evil dragon and from the hardening that comes from the deceit of sin.

Lord, heal our land; for we are surely hardened by the deceit of sin. Help us to turn to you. May you use our holy tears to wash away our sins and give us new and tender hearts.

 

Picture This! A Homily for the 4th Sunday of the Year

sermon-on-the-mountThe Gospel passage on the Beatitudes is one of the most familiar. Yet the Beatitudes are difficult to understand because many of them are paradoxical. We do not usually refer to the poor as blessed, but rather the well-off; we do not typically call those who mourn blessed, but rather the joyful.

The word “beatitude” itself means “supreme blessedness.”

First, it is critical to understand that beatitude is not something we achieve; rather it is something we receive. The Beatitudes declare an objective reality as the result of a divine act. The use of the indicative mood in the passage should be taken seriously; we should not transform it into an imperative. In other words, the Beatitudes are more of a description than a prescription. Jesus is not saying that we should be poor or meek and then God will bless us. Rather, He is saying that this is what the transformed human person is like; that this is what happens to us when He begins to live His life in us and transform us; that this is what our life is like when His grace and the power of His cross bring about in us a greater meekness and poverty of spirit; that we will experience being blessed.

Beatitude is a work of God and it results when we yield to His saving work in us.

With this understanding we can see the Beatitudes not as a prescription of what we must do, but a description of what a human being is like who is being transformed by Jesus Christ.

Second, we should consider the Hebrew roots. The Greek word makarioi in today’s text is rendered as “blessed,” but it also corresponds to the Hebrew word asher, which is more of an exclamation. It could easily be translated, “O, the blessedness of ….” When translated this way, it emphasizes that something is being described rather than prescribed.

Third, we must examine the Greek linguistic roots. Makarioi, (blessed) literally means “to make long or large.” We are enlarged or enhanced as a result of God’s blessings. Thus, the term “blessed” as used here describes a kind of stable, serene, confident joy that one receives because of God’s blessings.

Fourth, we should look at the Greek cultural roots. In pagan times, makarioi (blessed) referred especially to the happiness of the gods. They had achieved a state of happiness and contentment in life that was beyond all cares, labors, and even death. They lived in some other world away from the worries and problems of ordinary people. In taking up this term to translate the Hebrew asher, the New Testament teaches on the stability of beatitude, if it is from God. To a large degree it is a stable, deep, and serene beatitude not greatly affected by the vicissitudes of this world; because the world does not give it, it cannot take it away.

There is an old saying that happiness is an “inside job.” Too many people try to find happiness in the world, which is fickle and unstable. The Lord wants to confer on us an inner beatitude that is deeply rooted, stable, and not easily swept away by worldly conditions. In the Beatitudes, the Lord paints a picture of this state of blessedness.

This helps to explain the paradox of some of the Beatitudes. We are still blessed even when poor, mourning, or persecuted. Further, we are confirmed in blessedness by such realities, because they serve as reminders that we are not at home in this world and that God and His kingdom are our preoccupation and the source of our true beatitude.

Let’s explore the Beatitudes and remember that Jesus is saying, “When I begin to live my life in you and put the sinful flesh to death, you will experience the following blessings.”

Blessed are the poor in spirit for the kingdom of God is theirs.

Who are the poor in spirit? They are those who, by God’s grace, have their true treasure increasingly in Heaven rather than earth. They are poor to this world but rich to God. They have learned to depend on God.

All of us are dependent on God, but we may not realize it. The poor in spirit are those who have come to peace in the knowledge that they depend on God for every beat of their heart, for every good thing they have. Humans strongly resist any such sense of dependence or lack of control. Many strive to acquire wealth, power, and resources in order to create the illusion that they are in control—they are not. Ultimately this whole system will fail. It is a recipe for frustration and unhappiness.

Further, control is like an addictive drug. The more we get, the more we need in order to feel less anxious. Our modern age illustrates this. Consider, for example, modern medicine, through which we can control things we never could before: are all our fears gone as a result? No. Humans have never lived so long and been so healthy, yet, we have never been so anxious about our health. Our medicine cabinets are filled with prescriptions and over-the-counter medications. And still we worry! Control is an illusion, an addiction all its own. In the end, it seems we can never have enough of it to feel sufficiently “safe.”

How blessed are those who delight to depend on God, who realize that every beat of their heart is His gift and that everything they have is from Him and belongs to Him! Not only do they realize this; they delight in it. They are blessed because they are free of the countless fears that flow from the endless quest for illusory control.

Now Matthew adds “in spirit” to “the poor” because not all who are materially poor are thereby freed of the obsession with wealth, power, and the need to control. To be poor is not necessarily a measure of what is in my wallet, but what is in my heart.

This world is not the Kingdom, but Heaven is. How blessed are those who delight to know and experience that there is a Heaven! They may be poor in the eyes of this world, but who needs most of it? They already have the Kingdom by faith and that Kingdom is growing for them. The kingdom of this world, however, is passing away.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Who are those who mourn? They are those who, delighting in the Kingdom of Heaven, see the awful state of most of God’s people. They see that so many do not know God or why they were created. They see others willfully locked in sin and darkness. They see still others who are victims of the sins of injustice and oppression. And because of this they mourn, and moan, and pray. This beatitude is the basis of intercessory prayer and deepening love for sinners. Because I mourn, I pray for the world.

The object of this beatitude is rooted in the Kingdom of God and its values, not the passing values of this world. If my car gets scratched or the stock market goes down and I may mourn, but that’s not the type of mourning referred to here.

How blessed are those who mourn over what really matters and who pray! God will console, strengthen, and encourage them. He will cause their mourning to bear fruit in prayer and action for others. To mourn is this way is to be blessed. It is a grief that “hurts so good,” because we know that it brings abundant blessings for the world as it intensifies our prayer and our own commitment to God and His Kingdom.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Anger is a difficult passion. It can be frustrating, but it is a necessary zeal for what is right. Aristotle spoke of meekness (praotes) as the proper balance between too much anger and not enough. Sometimes we merely vent our anger, but at other times we fail to be angry enough, allowing evil and injustice to go unaddressed and un-resisted. How blessed are those who, by God’s grace, have authority over their anger! They do not vent their anger unnecessarily or excessively. They have the zeal and courage to stand up for what is right and to express righteous indignation at sin and injustice.

The meek have authority over their anger and other passions and thus will inherit the earth. Self-control conserves resources, using them appropriately; unrestricted passions dissipate resources, squandering the gifts of God.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

Many fight God and ridicule the values of His kingdom. Chastity, forgiveness, and mercy are objects of particularly derision today. Many hunger for anything but God; wealth, power, popularity, the latest fad—anything but God.

How blessed are those who hunger and thirst for the righteousness and justice of God and the values of His Kingdom! God will satisfy them with the joy of living under His law and they will rejoice to see the wisdom of His ways. They hunger for God’s word and devour it when they find it. They rejoice to see God put sin to death in them and bring about virtue. They are excited and satisfied at what God is doing in their life. They are blessed indeed.

Blessed are the Merciful for they shall obtain mercy.

We live in a world that often prizes revenge and the destruction of one’s enemies, but Scripture teaches that the measure that we measure to others will be measured back to us (Matt 7:2). We are also taught that if we do not forgive others we will not be forgiven (Matt 6:15), and that merciless is the judgment on the one who has shown no mercy (James 2:12). It is misguided and just a bad idea to go around condemning others and “throwing the book” at everyone.

How blessed are those who, by God’s grace, have experienced His mercy and share it with others! They are able to leave most vengeance to God. Though they correct the sinner, they do not feel the need to exact revenge. By showing mercy, they will experience mercy from God. They are blessed indeed.

Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God.

The Greek here is better translated as “single-hearted.” It is so easy for feel torn by contrary drives and wishes. The Book of James says that the man of two minds is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8).

Blessed are those who can say, with St. Paul, [T]his one thing I do. … I press on to the prize marked out for me in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:13), or to say with the psalmist, There is only one thing I ask of the Lord: to dwell in the courts of the Lord and behold his face (Psalm 27:4). How blessed to be single-hearted, to be centered on one thing, to have but one purpose, to be undivided and uncompromised!

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God.

Everyone loves peace but only some are really working for it. True peace can only be based on the truth. Being a peacemaker is more than being a nice guy and overlooking things. True peacemakers announce the Kingdom and bring souls to Christ; they strive for righteousness and justice and announce its demands. How blessed are those whom God inspires with a dedication to such work! They are indeed sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the Kingdom of God.

In life we are going to suffer, so it might as well be for something decent and noble. How blessed are those who, because they love God and His kingdom, are hated by this world! At least they share a common lot with Jesus. They know that only false prophets are loved by all (Lk 6:26). There is a paradoxical serenity that comes from this sort of persecution because it is a sign that we are no longer of this world, that the world has lost its hold on us and thus hates us (Jn 15:19). Forsaking this world and hated by it, they are blessed because the Kingdom of God is theirs in abundance.

In all these ways, the Lord paints a kind of picture for us of the transformed human person. He says, “This is what begins to happen to you as I live my life in you.”

Come and Go With Me To My Father’s House – A Homily for the Third Sunday of the Year

In these early weeks of “ordinary” time, we are being introduced to Jesus and the beginnings of His public ministry. Matthew’s Gospel today describes how Jesus began His public ministry in the wake of the arrest of John the Baptist. Matthew tells us four things about Jesus’ ministry: its context, its content, its call, and its comprehensiveness. Let’s look at each in turn.

The CONTEXT When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled: Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.

The relocation of Jesus northward from Judea up to Galilee coveys some important truths. First, it tells us of the hostility of the southern regions to the message of John the Baptist and Jesus. The area in and around Judea (which included, principally, Jerusalem) was controlled by a sort of religious ruling class (the Sadducees, especially, and to a lesser extent, the Pharisees). Because they were in strong but often controversial control in these areas, they were far less open to ideas that in any way threatened their leadership or questioned the rituals related to the Temple.

And so Jesus moved north to more fertile territory in order to begin His public ministry; the Jewish people in Galilee were less hostile. In fact, the people of Jerusalem often looked down upon them for their simple, agrarian ways and their “rural accent.” But it was more fertile ground for Jesus to begin His work.

There is an important lesson in this: While we must carefully preserve Christian orthodoxy and only accept doctrinal development that is organic and faithful to the received Apostolic Tradition, we can sometimes inadvertently stifle the Holy Spirit, who speaks to us through unexpected people and in unexpected ways.

The Pharisee leaders simply rejected the notion that any prophet could come from Galilee.When Nicodemus encouraged them to give Jesus a hearing they scoffed, Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee (Jn 7:52). Sometimes we can insist upon a single position in matters in which Christians are allowed freedom. For example, there are various degrees of expression permitted in the liturgy; there are also different schools of theological thought that are allowed by the Church.

Balance is required of us.We may prefer Thomistic formulations, Carmelite spirituality, charismatic worship, or the traditional Latin Mass. Such things are legitimate matters for discussion; we ought not to feel threatened by what the Church currently deems to be legitimate diversity. Discovering the range and limits of diversity is an ongoing matter for the Church; we should not permit the field of our own soul to be hostile to Jesus and His ministry, which may come to us in more diverse ways than we would prefer.

How tragic it wasfor Judea that Jesus thought He had to move on to more fertile territory, and what a blessing it was for Galilee that He moved there. But for Galilee there was this boon:The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined (Is 9:2).

The CONTENT From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

We have discussed before the careful balance of Jesus’ preaching. He is willing to challenge and so to say, “Repent.” But He also declares the good news that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Accepting the ministry of Jesus requires that we avoid the two extremes of presumption and despair.

To those who make light of sin and their condition as sinners, Jesus says, “Repent.”It is wrong to presume that we do not need continual healing power from the Lord in order to overcome our sin. Perhaps our greatest sin is our blindness to it. Most do not seem to comprehend how serious their condition is.

The word translated here as “repent” is μετανοεῖτε (metanoeite), which means more literally “to come to a new mind,” or “to come to a new way of thinking.” In our sin-soaked world, a world in which sin is so pervasive as to almost go unnoticed, Jesus says, “Come to a new mind. Understand your condition and your need for mercy and grace. Come to understand that without the rescue that only God can provide, you are lost.” And hence we are told to reject presumption.

But we are also told to reject despair, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. In other words, the grace and mercy of God are available to rescue us from this present evil age and from our carnal condition. Through Christ we are granted admittance to the Kingdom. The Spirit of God can overcome our carnal, sinful nature and bring us to true holiness.

The proper balance between presumption and despair is the theological virtue of hope. By hope we confidently expect God’s help in attaining eternal life. By proper metanoia(repentance) we know that we need that help; by hope we confidently reach for it.

In our own proclamation of the Kingdom we also need the proper balanceexhibited by Jesus. Consider that if children hear nothing but criticism they become discouraged (they despair), but if all they hear is praise they become spoiled and prideful, presuming that everything should be just as they want it.

For the Church, too, balance is necessary.Many people expect the Church only to affirm and “be positive.” This leads to a selfish and incorrigible world and to the presumption that nothing matters (as we can plainly see today). Thus the Church must announce the call to repentance, but must also offer hope and mercy to sinners. She must offer grace though the Sacraments and her preaching, which, with God’s power, makes the Kingdom of God to be “at hand.”

The CALL As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.

In building His Kingdom, Jesus summons men to follow Him.He will train them to be the leaders of His Church as Apostles. The Kingdom of God is not just concerned with calling disciples, but also with developing leaders to provide order and authority in the Church.

Even the most “democratic” of organizations requires authorityand leadership. Without these there is anarchy and a battle of wills. Hence, in the early stages of His public ministry, the Lord calls disciples and also grooms leaders. Consider three things about the Lord’s call.

His ARTICULATENESS He says to these apostles, Come, Follow me.His announcement is unambiguous. Good leaders make clear what they ask, indeed, what they demand. Jesus is clear to set the course and point the way; Heis that way.

His APPEAL –Jesus must have had tremendous personal appeal and exuded a strong, reassuring authority. His appeal to them was personal: “Come, follow Me.” He did not merely say come and “learn my doctrine,” or “accept my vision.” He said, “FollowMe.” So, as we hand on the faith to our children and others, we cannot simply say, “Here is the Catechism; follow it.” Each of us must also take the next step and tell them to follow the Lord with me. We cannot simply parrot what a book says, correct though that book might be. Ultimately we must be able to say, “I am a personal witness to the fact that God is real and that the truth He has given to the Church is authentic and is changing my life.” Our appeal must include the personal testimony that what we proclaim is real and is changing our life: “Come, and go with me to my Father’s house.”

His APPROACHNote that the Lord builds on something they know: fishing. He starts with the familiar in order to draw them to the less familiar. In a way, He is saying that the gifts they are currently using are just the ones they need to use as leaders in God’s Kingdom. Fishermen are

          • Patient They often wait long hours for the fish to bite. Apostles and bishops must also be patient and have the ability to wait for long periods before there is a catch for the Lord.
          • Perceptive They learn to know the fish, their behavior, and what attracts them. Apostles and clergy must learn about their people and what will attract them to Christ.
          • Persevering– They must go through many days in which they catch very little; only through perseverance is there real gain in fishing. So it is with the work of the clergy, who may go long stretches with little to show for it. The Gospel may go “out of season,” even for decades in certain cultures (like our own). The good leader will persevere, will stay at the task.

The COMPREHENSIVENESS He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people.

Note that all of Galilee was His mission field and He covered it comprehensively.He also cured people of every disease and illness. And thus the Church is catholic, and must address every part of the world, providing a comprehensive vision for life. We may not have the power to solve every problem, but we can provide the vision of the Paschal mystery, which sheds light and brings spiritual healing to every affliction. If we are suffering and dying, we must remember that Jesus did as well, but only to rise and be glorified on account of his fidelity and obedience.

For the Church and for the Christian, the comprehensive answer to every affliction isthat we are always carrying about in our bodies the dying of Christ so that the rising of Christ may also be manifest in us(2 Cor 4:10). We seek to bring healing to everyone we can, and where physical remedies are not possible, the truth of the Gospel reassures us that every Friday, faithfully endured, brings forth an Easter Sunday.

Here, then, are four crucial insights from the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. They are important for us to acknowledge and to imitate.

Journey with me back to 1971 (a year of funny hair, to be sure) and listen to this old classic: “Come and Go with Me to My Father’s House.”

Some Basics of Christian Anthropology and How They Speak to Moral Issues of our Day (Part 2)

Note: This is the second of a two-part series. Part one is available here.

At its root, anthropology considers what human beings are and how they have interacted with one another and the world around them over time. While many think of anthropology as a secular study of cultures from ancient to modern day, I propose that there is also a Christian anthropology, one that considers who and what the human person is based on God’s revelation in His word and through our bodies. Indeed, our body is a revelation from God, and by and through it He teaches us.

This essay (consisting of both today’s and yesterday’s posts) is not a complete discourse on the topic. Rather, I selected certain teachings rooted in Scripture and the nature of our bodies that apply particularly well to moral issues of our day. In yesterday’s post we considered a few basic points; today we conclude with a few more.

Each human being exists because of a sovereign, loving act of God.

It is a biological fact that a unique human being comes into existence at the moment of conception. The DNA in that single-cell embryo contains all the instructions needed for it to develop, over the next twenty years or so, into an adult.

However, Scripture indicates that although we come to exist at a specific moment in time, God has always known and loved us: The word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you’ (Jer 1:4-5). Scripture also praises God saying, For You formed my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:13-14). Hence, each of us is specifically intended by God.

This makes every human life sacred. No form of unjust killing can be justified under any circumstances. Each of us is the result not merely of biological processes or human decisions but a sovereign, loving act of God. Our lives come from God and belong to Him. Therefore, abortion, murder, and suicide (including physician-assisted) are grave evils that we must combat. Even capital punishment must be opposed except in rare cases.

Our body is not our own.

A common assertion today is we can do whatever we like with “our own body.” However, Scripture reminds us, You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, glorify God with your body (1 Cor 6:19-20). Yes, Jesus redeemed us; He purchased our salvation at the price of His own blood and His own life!

Hence, our bodies are not tools to simply use as we please. Neither are they canvases on which to display tattoos, cuttings, piercings, and the like. We are not to degrade them by using them for excessive or illicit pleasures or to lure others into sin. I do not wish to divert this post into a debate about tattooing and piercing. While such things are not wholly excluded by Church law or Scripture, anything that deliberately, dramatically alters the appearance of the body we received from God is surely problematic. (The nearly permanent quality of such alterations is also concerning.) Such excesses are far too common today, at least in the U.S.

Because our bodies belong to God, we should ask ourselves, “Is God pleased with the way I regard, treat, and make use of the body He has given me?”

There is a nuptial meaning to the body.

We do not exist by ourselves nor only for ourselves. We are contingent beings and, as such, depend on our parents for our existence. Although we exist for our own sake and thus have intrinsic worth, we also exist for others. Our very body speaks to the most fundamental relationships of marriage and family. Simply put, there is a part of our body that is for another. The male and female reproductive organs are designed for each other. This is biologically evident, though sadly some have lost their way and refuse to acknowledge it.

The denial of the purpose of our body’s reproductive organs is manifest in the approval of homosexual practices that “close the sexual act to the gift of life [and] do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity” (CCC # 2357). It is also manifest in certain heterosexual practices that close the sexual act to the fruit of life and/or use the sexual organs in disordered ways, ways in which they were not intended to be used.

To restate, there is a nuptial meaning to the body. Our body says to us, “I am for another.” Most of humanity realizes this truth through monogamous marriage. A man leaves his father and mother, seeks a wife, clings to her, and the two become one flesh (cf Gen 2:24). Thus, through the husband and wife, completing and complementing each other, a new member of the human family is created. This is the most common realization of the nuptial meaning of the body.

For priests and for religious brothers and sisters who live celibate lives, the nuptial meaning of the body is realized in a spiritual but real way. Religious sisters are espoused to the Lord, the bridegroom of their souls. Priests and religious brothers take up a spousal relationship with the Church, the bride of their souls. Priests and brothers are not bachelors nor are sisters “single women.” No, each lives in a spousal relationship.

What about members of the laity who never marry? Here, I would argue, a distinction must be made. Because there is a nuptial meaning to the body, there is no vocation to the single life per se. However, those who are currently single (including those who may remain that way permanently), may by that state be available to serve the Lord and the Church or community in a more substantial way. For such individuals, the nuptial meaning of the body is expressed through that vocational service.

Marriage has its structure because children both need and deserve the stable presence of their father and mother in their lives.

God did not design marriage arbitrarily. He set it forth as one man for one woman till death do them part, bearing fruit in their children (see Genesis 2:24-25). He did this because that is what is necessary and best for children. Marriage by its nature is oriented to having children. The Lord’s first command to Adam and Eve was, Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it (Gen 1:28).

Obviously, there must be a father and a mother for a child to exist at all, but beyond the conception of children there is the necessary work of raising them. Children need to have their parents reliably present in their everyday lives so that they can depend on them and trust them. Further, a child needs a father to learn the masculine genius of being human and a mother to learn the feminine genius of being human. This is necessary for the proper and best human formation—psychologically, spiritually, and emotionally. Even an unbeliever should be able to see this. The structure of marriage is not an arbitrary arrangement by God for us to toy with at will.

Sadly, we have done just that. We casually separate what God has joined. God intends for children to be conceived in the sexual union of a husband and wife pledged to each other for life. Having sex and having children are inextricably linked to Holy Matrimony, yet today we have largely separated them. As a result of minimizing the relationship between sex and marriage, there are many marriages without children (by choice) and many children without parents married to each other. We do this through sins and misbehavior such as fornication, adultery, divorce and “remarriage.” The current practice of refusing to favor a married heterosexual couple over a single mother, a single father, or a same-sex couple when placing a child for adoption also severs what God has joined. As a result of all these things, fewer than half of children today grow up in a traditional family.

While children might lose their mother or father through death, to intentionally subject them to anything other than being raised by their own parents is a grave injustice.

The common objection to this teaching is this: “Are you saying that a single mother, a single father, or a homosexual couple cannot raise a child just as well as a married (heterosexual) couple?” The answer is, “Yes, that is exactly what we are saying,” for all the reasons stated above. Some will respond with horror stories that occurred with this or that traditional couple, but atypical occurrences do not alter general norms, and “hard cases make bad law.”

God intends sex, marriage, and children to go together. Having sex naturally leads to having children; this is biologically demonstrable.

Sex, intimacy, and procreation belong together and should not be separated.

Contraception, the artificial prevention of conception that naturally results from human sexual intercourse, is an attempt to sever the connection between sexual relations and having children. Even if not every act of sexual intercourse can result in a child, the bodily truth is that sexual intercourse is directed toward having children. That sex is also pleasurable and may be a sign of love and intimacy does not set aside this point. God joins pleasures to the things that are most necessary for us so that we do not neglect them. For example, the purpose of eating food is to nourish the body. It is also true that eating is pleasurable and sharing meals promotes camaraderie. This does not, however, mean that the primary purpose of food is something other than bodily nourishment. God joins pleasure to food because eating is necessary for our survival, thus they are to be together, not separated.

As an analogy, consider a person who was not particularly interested in the nutritional aspect of food, but rather just liked the pleasure of eating and/or keeping company at feasts. As a result, he would eat and drink to excess, vomit it all up, and then return for more. We all wince at such a horror. This is because eating has a purpose that is being trampled upon in favor of lesser aspects. The proper end, bodily nourishment, is subverted when a person eats to excess and merely for pleasure.

This is precisely what contraception does when it severs the relationship between sex, intimacy, and procreation. We would be similarly aghast at a couple who had sex without any love between them, merely for the purpose of making babies for profit (e.g. selling them for adoption or for use as laborers). This makes the same point: sex, intimacy, and procreation belong together and should not be divided as separate pursuits. Every child deserves to be the fruit of the intimacy and shared love of a stably married father and mother.

Contraception facilitates the violation of the norm Let no one separate what God his joined (see Matt 19:6). The legalization of contraception in the U.S. has led to the explosion of promiscuity and all of the accompanying woes, including sexually transmitted diseases, teenage parents, children raised in single-parent households, and the horror of abortion, which has become the “contraception of last resort.” All of this has gravely harmed or even killed millions of children. Some argue that it is perfectly fine to separate the procreative dimension of sex from its pleasure or its promotion of intimacy, but in separating what God has joined we have reaped a harvest of misery and death. Contraception promotes the exaltation of the pleasure and intimacy of sexual intercourse unmoored from its purpose: the serious business of having and then raising children within a stable marriage. The worship of pleasure and intimacy unmoored from their purpose has led to the unbridled lust we see today.

There will always be more to say about Christian anthropology, but allow the points made in today’s and yesterday’s posts to paint the bigger picture: God has set forth an understanding of the human person both in Scripture and through our very body and soul. We do well to take heed of what He teaches.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Basics of Christian Anthropology (part 2 of 2)