Vocations Anyone? – The Sacrament of Marriage

 Someone said to me, “Hey Msgr Pope, you’re talking a lot about vocations to priesthood and religious life. What about marriage?” Hence this article!

  In many ways the Bible is like a wedding album or the story of a marriage. It begins with the story of the creation of Adam and Eve and ends with the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. In between is a beautiful but dramatic story. It is a story of love to be sure, but also a story of a painful loss of love caused by sin and the journey back to find and renew this love again in Christ Jesus. 

God is the Author of Marriage – The Book of Genesis speaks to us not only of our creation but also of our very nature. In the first place, we are made for love because we are created in the image and likeness of God who is love. A second and very important truth taught to us in the scriptural account of our creation is that man and woman were made for one another. God himself declares, It is not good for the man to be alone(Gn 2:18). So God created Eve from the very flesh, the very human nature of Adam. When Adam beheld Eve he was delighted and declared, Here at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh(Gn 2:23). God also teaches in the Genesis account that this in this creative act of His is the origin and understanding of Marriage, For this reason a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.(Gn 2:24).

In Chapter One of Genesis we are also given another important teaching about marriage. Adam and Eve are instructed by God, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it (Gn 1:28). Thus the love of Adam and Eve was to reflect the love of God which is fruitful and life giving. Their love was to bear fruit in their children.

Here then is God’s plan for marriage: a man and a woman in a unity of life and fruitful love so profound that they may be said to be one flesh. Adam sees Eve as his equal, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. He is delighted to behold her and acknowledge that it is not good that he should ever be without her and that he is completed and helped by her. Although the scriptural account does not record Eve’s reflections we may presume they were the same. Alone is was not possible for them to be fruitful and multiply. Alone and apart they could only find death, together as one they would experience gifts of life and the family.

 The wondrous communion of Adam and Eve intended by God and described in the book of Genesis was seriously disturbed by the consequences that flowed from the Original Sin committed by them.   Sin and evil inflicted great harm on the original joy and communion between Adam and Eve. The Catechism describes quite well these sad realities, This experience [of the evil flowing from Original Sin] makes itself felt in the relationships between man and woman. Their union has always been threatened by discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and separation. This disorder can manifest itself more or less acutely, and can be more or less overcome according to the circumstances of cultures, eras, and individuals, but it does seem to have a universal character. According to faith the disorder we notice so painfully does not stem from the nature of man and woman, nor from the nature of their relations, but from sin. As a break with God, the first sin had for its first consequence the rupture of the original communion between man and woman. Their relations were distorted by mutual recriminations; their mutual attraction, the Creator’s own gift, changed into a relationship of domination and lust; and the beautiful vocation of man and woman to be fruitful, multiply, and subdue the earth was burdened by the pain of childbirth and the toil of work. (Catechism 1606-1607). 

Still a noble grace. – Yet despite the distortion caused by sin God continued to point to marriage’s lofty status by presenting it as one of the primary images of his covenant relationship to his people. God was the faithful spouse of his bride, Israel. Through the prophets he reminded his bride that she was espoused to him. Sin was infidelity but God’s love was everlasting and, though he chastise Israel, he would never forsake her. God even used romantic imagery. Consider this example from the Prophet Hosea: “Therefore, behold, I will allure Israel, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her…And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. “And in that day, says the LORD, you will call me, ‘My husband’…and I will make you lie down in safety. And I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the LORD. (Hosea 2:14-20) And so it was that God never cast aside the lofty ideals of marriage. He continued to proclaim them to his people.

Established by Christ as a Sacrament – It is in this context that Jesus proclaimed an absolute return to God’s plan. In the Gospels Jesus proclaims his intention to return to God’s original plan for marriage. Divorce had entered the scene through sin. Jesus came to destroy the ancient power of sin and cancels its effects. He is able to empower couples through his healing grace to live to original vision of marriage given by God. This too is clearly taught in the Catechism: In his preaching Jesus unequivocally taught the original meaning of the union of man and woman as the Creator willed it from the beginning. Permission given by Moses to divorce one’s wife was a concession to the hardness of hearts.(Mt. 19:8) The matrimonial union of man and woman is indissoluble: God himself has determined it “what therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”(Mt 19:6) This unequivocal insistence on the indissolubility of the marriage bond may have left some perplexed and could seem to be a demand impossible to realize. However, Jesus…himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God. It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses that spouses will be able to “receive” the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ.(Mt. 19:11) (Catechism 1614-1615).

The three most basic qualities of Christian Marriage are that it is: permanent, faithful and fruitful. The graces of the Sacrament all serve to create and preserve these realities.

Permanence and faithfulness: Since God himself is the author of every valid marriage there arises a bond between the couple that can never be broken…. It can seem difficult, even impossible, to bind oneself for life to another human being. This makes it all the more important to proclaim the Good News that God loves us with a definitive and irrevocable love, that married couples share in this love, that it supports and sustains them, and that by their own faithfulness they can be witnesses to God’s faithful love. (Catechism 1649)  Marriage helps to overcome self-absorption, egoism, pursuit of one’s own pleasure, and to open oneself to the other, to mutual aid and to self-giving (Catechism 1609)

Fruitfulness: Children are the supreme gift of marriage and contribute greatly to the good of the parents themselves. God’s love is fruitful and marital love is to be a reflection of that love. When God established marriage he instructed the first spouses as to its nature, Be fruitful and multiply(Gn 1:28). So by its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of children.  God grants to parents an awesome dignity when He entrusts the care of immortal souls to them. This of itself helps us to glimpse the high calling of the marital life and helps us understand how crucial and necessary the Sacrament of Matrimony is for the Church and for the world.

I have put this article in a slightly longer pdf format here: The Sacrament of Marriage

Here are a couple of Videos by Fr. Richard Neuhaus, who recently passed away. He speaks on the courage to decide and also the essentials to sustain a marriage.Pray for his happy repose as you view these videos

Praying in Latin?

 detroit-seminary-1955I recently got a question from a reader:

Last week you dealt with a question concerning the “traditional” Latin Mass and by way of contrast the Latin Mass as celebrated in the ordinary form of the new mass. My concern is how to properly participate in this form of the mass in order please God and gain the spiritual benefits of the mass. For instance there are long silent passages in the traditional low mass. Should I purchase a missal in order to best join with the celebrant or are their other ways in which I can participate? Please clarify. Thank you.

There is in fact a very different sense of participation when the Older (Extraordinary) Form of the Latin Mass is celebrated. As you note the Mass is celebrated in such a way that there are long passages that the priest whispers in Latin. Even if one might be able  to learn and follow the Latin prayers such a remoteness is startling to many who have not known liturgy to be celebrated in this manner. I will explain in a moment how one can participate in such a situation but at first it might be good to explain why there is such a pronounced silence at Latin Masses.

Historically the whispered Eucharistic prayer (or Canon) developed in monastic settings where it was not uncommon for more than one liturgy to be celebrated at the same time at various side altars. In those days priests did not concelebrate masses as they do frequently today. Each priest had to celebrate his own mass. In monasteries where numerous priest might be in residence, numerous liturgies might be celebrated at similar times. In order not to interrupt each other, the priests conducted these liturgies with a server quietly. This practice continued into modern times (see the picture above right). Over time this monastic silence came to be regarded as a sacred silence. The whispering of the prayers was considered a sign of the sacredness of the words which “should not”  be loudly proclaimed. (There are other more complicated theological trends that swept the liturgy too complicated to go into here that also influenced the move to a more silent liturgy) At any rate, the practice of a sacred silence came to be the norm eventually even in parish churches. Hence the hushed tones were not an attempt to ignore the faithful who attended or make their participation difficult but it was associated with a holy silence. People knelt,  praying  as the  priest prayed prayed on their behalf. In the past century as literacy increased among the lay faithful it became more common to provide them with books that contained the texts of the liturgy and those who could read were encouraged to follow along closely. Through the 1940s and 50s these books (called “missals”) became quite common among the laity. By the 1950s there were also some experiments with allowing the priest to have a microphone  or to raise the level of his voice so the faithful could follow more easily. These “dialogue Masses” were more popular in some place than others. Sacred silence was still valued by many and adjusting to a different experience was not always embraced with the same fervor, it varied from place to place.  

40 Reasons for Coming Home – Reason # 22 – You were made to praise God.

Reason # 22 You were made to praise God!  Sometimes the Scriptures just say it plain. Ephesians 1:12-13 says In Christ Jesus we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the one who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory. Notice that the text says we exist for the praise of God’s glory. You and I were made to praise the Lord. The old catechechism says that God made us to know him, love him, and serve him in the life, and to be happy with him forever.

It is simple but profound. You and I were made for these fundamental reasons. We were not made for all the reasons that the world says such as: to be popular, rich, famous, sexy, powerful. Most who have tried these things feel unsatisfied and in the end if we live for this we eventually die…end of story! But the truth is we were made for God and exist for the praise of his glory. Our peace and contentment are wrapped up in God and God alone.

One thing I’ve noticed in my life is that it is just plain refreshing to praise God. It resonates within my very being to sing a stirring hymn of praise or meditate upon a refelective song.  There is just no doubt in my mind, I was made to praise to the Lord because when I do there is a wondrous sense of fulfillment within me.

Here then is another reason to come home to God’s house: we were made to praise God. And I promise you, whatever your personality, when you praise the Lord, you will find joy and serene peace because this is why we were made. Below are a few songs of praise in different styles: contemporary, traditional Latin, and Gospel. Pick a video and spend a few moments praising God. But remember, it is best done in Church every Sunday. We’ve saved you a pew.

CONTEMPORARY

TRADITIONAL LATIN – Exsultate Justi in Domino – Translation: Exsult you just in the Lord. Praise befits the upright! Give praise to the Lord on the harp and with ten stringed lyre sing to him. Sing to him a new song, sing well to him with strong voice! For the word of the Lord is upright and all his works are faithful! The Lord loves mercy and justice and of his mercy the earth is full.

GOSPEL

Good Catholic Reading

Looking for some good Catholic reading for Lent or Easter? Sr. Julia of the Daughters of St. Paul suggests some possibilities for your bookshelf. One of the books she reviews is Fr. Robert Barron’s The Strangest Way. I agree with her, it is a marvelous book. Also reviewed are Balthasar’s  Heart of the World  and Hansen’s The Gospels for Prayer. The books she suggests in this video are primarily spiritual reading (rather than history or theology per se). Note also, this video is edited from a longer one and some of the cuts are abrupt but you’ll get the basic point 🙂  By the way, I tried to link the books above to the Daughters of St Paul Bookstore but, strangely, they do not seem to appear when you place them in the search engine. Thus, the links to Amazon!

Reporting on the Church

One of the biggest obstacles to learning about the Church is the misrepresentation by the secular media of the Church, often by means of pithy soundbites. In the last couple of weeks there have been a number of attacks on Pope Benedict XVI for lifting the excommunication of four bishops who belong to the Society of Pius X. The Society is a group that separated from the Church in 1962 when it chose not to accept the Church’s teaching authority with regard to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. The subsequent ordination of these four bishops was not legitimate in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church.

When the excommunication was lifted to make one small step toward the reintegration of the Society of Pius X into the Catholic Church it became public that one of the four bishops in an interview denied the historical reality of the holocaust. “How could the Pope lift the excommunication of a Holocaust denier” was the accusation lobbed at the Pope by the media and even some politicians. Yet, from the perspective of the Church, the lifting of the excommunication had nothing to do with the denial of the Holocaust. Since the Holocaust denial was not the reason for the excommunication, the lifting of the excommunication could not have been withheld because of the denial. It is not the practice of the Church to excommunicate people for lunatic views. Excommunication is reserved for grave sin. For more see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1463).

Yesterday, various papers condemned Pope Benedict’s assertion that condoms were not only unhelpful in the fight against AIDS, but to the contrary could even be harmful. While condemning the Pope for his statement, the mainstream media failed to include that the use of condoms gives only a false sense of security given that the failure rate is higher than many people think. This false sense of security leads to increased promiscuity thus undermining the only true defense against Aids: abstinence. The successful experience in Kenya with a policy focused on abstinence education is one example of this fact.

Both stories are examples of how the secular media fails to appropriately report on the Church’s teaching and practice. It raises the question of where you can find accurate reporting on the Church. It is important for Catholics to know the Church’s teaching and to approach media reporting with a solid foundation and a critical eye. There are a few sources whose mission is to be a daily source of Church news. The Vatican has a news service that can be found at http://www.vatican.va/news_services/press/vis/vis_en.html. Catholic News Service is a U.S. based Catholic news service. http://www.catholicnews.com. A local arch/diocesan newspaper is a good source of local news. In the Archdiocese of Washington we have the Catholic Standard and http://cathstand.org and ElPregonero. http://www.elpreg.org

There is a large body of Catholic magazines and journals that look at Church life from a wide variety of perspectives. Take a look at your parish reading rack or one of our local Catholic book stores to see what they offer. Newman Books is near Catholic University at St. Paul’s College, the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception has a book store, and the Catholic Information Center in downtown D.C. are all good sources.

40 Reasons for Coming Home – Reason # 21 – The Command

Reason # 21 – The Command.   Not uncommonly today I hear some people say that they do not go to Church because they “don’t get anything out of it.” We can address the substance of this complaint in a moment but first it must be said that we don’t go to Church merely to get something out of it. We go because we are commanded by God to do so. The Third Commandment says, “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath.” The Book of Leviticus spells the commandment out for us further: “For six days work may be done; but the seventh day is the sabbath rest, a day for sacred assembly.” (Lev 23:3). Let’s be clear, God is not merely suggesting or requesting that we keep holy the Sabbath, he is commanding it. We are to avoid unnecessary work and to keep “sacred assembly,” Sacred assembly means, getting to Church. The notion that we should simply go because we get something out of it is rather an ego-centric approach and misses the more simple reason of obedience. We ought to go simply because God commands it.

Now we may wonder as to why God commands it. It remains true that God does not command things of us merely for arbitrary reasons. The most obvious answers as to why he commands it would seem to be these:

  1. He has many graces to bestow on us at Mass
  2. He knows we need community and fellowship in order to be spiritually healthy
  3. We need to be instructed in his Holy Word
  4. We need to be fed on his Body and Blood
  5. Alone, we do not have all the gifts we need, but together and with Christ we have all the gifts we need.
  6. We need the blessings and minsitry of the priest who acts in the person of Christ.

Now as to the point that some raise that they don’t get anything out of  Mass there are many possible answers. I would first say that it is a call and reminder to the clergy and to parishes that the Mass and all liturgical celebrations should be well planned, beautifully celebrated, and reverently prayed. The Mass, well celebrated, should never be boring. Every priest or deacon who preaches should be prepared, enthusiastic and prophetic. The choirs, lectors, ushers and others should all be prepared and enthusiastic about what they do. Every priest should celebrate Mass with piety and devotion. So, in the first place I think that we who are tasked with planning and celebrating the Sacred Liturgy should take to heart the complaint that some (not a few) make when they claim to get little out of it.

However, it also remains true that in order to get something out of Mass, everyone has to come prepared and with plans to participate. The Mass is not spectator sport. We are all to pray and take part in the Sacred liturgy. We ought to grow in our understanding of the Mass over the years and be as attentive as possible. In the end, if we  receive Jesus in Holy Communion can we really say we “got nothing out of Mass?” So here is a call to faith as well.

But let’s end where we started. We go to Mass in the first place because we are commanded by God to do so. Hence, even if the choir is off for the summer or my favorite priest is away on vacation, or the new pastor isn’t to my liking etc, we go anyway. We go because we love God and want to obey him. We don’t just go to get entertained. We go to worship God. And God is worthy of our praise, worthy of our obedience. Here’s a reason to come home: He’s worthy of our praise and our obedience.

Getting Ready for Confession?

If you’re preparing for the Sacrament of Confession (which you ought to celebrate sometime during Lent) here is a litany of Repentance. What is good about this approach is that it lists many attitudes and drives that are sinful and thus helps us to look a little deeper, beyond our external behaviors to the deeper dirve that give rise to sin. I have put the Litany in pdf form and you can get it hereLitany of Penance and Reparation

There is also an Examination of Conscience that is pretty good and is available here: Examen

Conversations on Atheism

Posted Comment: “Many young people I know are practical atheists, God and the Church aren’t even on their radar.”

 

Practical atheists? Yes. Not on their radar? I disagree. I think that God and the Church are very much on young people’s radar. The problem is that there are so few opportunities to actually discuss God and the Church in our society which continues to become more secular.

 

Most young people are at least aware that there may be a God and are also aware that the Church has much to say about the fact that there may be a God. Not only that, but our everyday lives remind us of this possibility. Birth, death, sadness, sexuality, science, love, loneliness…all these experiences are opportunities for us to explore the possibility of God and the viewpoint of the Church. Sadly, we often push through that sense of inquiry because it’s not effective and won’t help us pay the rent.

 

Do you want to explore the questions you have about God and the Church? The Office of Young Adult Ministry will be hosting three Conversations at Busboys and Poets at 14th and V Streets NW in April and May. The format for the evening is pure Q&A, and we will have two panelists who will discuss whatever questions the audience. The three topics for this spring are science and faith, sex and contraception, and the GLBTQ community.

 

“[Young adults] said that they need a forum not only where misgivings and doubts can be expressed but also where the teachings of the Church can be clearly articulated in response…much of what young adults feel regarding the institutional Church arises from a misunderstanding of what the Church actually teaches.”

-Sons and Daughters of the Light, USCCB

 

Join us for this unique opportunity!

 

For complete information on Conversations, visit our News and Events page. This event is open to the public.