Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Authority and Responsibility

The other day I was chatting with a Deacon friend of mine and we stumbled upon the topic of Limbo. You know, that place that never was, yet was where the unbaptized babies went? Limbo turned out to be a hypothesis regularly taught until the 1950's, but was thereafter quietly removed
from Catholic teaching as it was never an official doctrine. We discussed how upset mothers of miscarried children were, worried that in going to Limbo their children were denied the bliss of Heaven and the beatific vision. This unofficial hypothesis was nevertheless taught by many well-meaning priests and educators and was believed by these mothers, causing anguish and heartache. At this point, I stated that since a priest taught it, people believed it was true through their authority. He tilted his head and with a broad smile asked, "Do you want to get into it about authority? Clergy don't have authority, they have responsibility."

This took me aback, so I asked him what he meant. He went on to say that bishops, priests and deacons don't have authority in their own right. The authority Christ gives to the Church is delegated. For example, when a steward exercises his authority, he must act in light of his master's wishes. Any steward who makes decisions concerning his master's property of which the master would not approve, will not be steward long. There will be an accounting when the master returns and reclaims the authority given. The recounting of a steward in just this situation is told in Isaiah 22. Jesus himself delegates to Peter this same kind of authority in Matthew 16 using "the key" from Isaiah 22:22 as the symbol of that authority.

So, my friend concluded with a smile, this delegated authority given to Peter, down to today's bishops, is really "a responsibility." Bishops are responsible to teach the truth of the gospel, guide the people of God and administer the Sacraments.

I reflected on this and had to agree. Any bishop, priest or deacon that taught his own gospel or exercised his own authority in the name of Jesus Christ or His Church would place himself out of communion with them.

In the Sacrament of Holy Orders, a responsibility is laid upon these men to lead as Christ would lead, to speak as Christ would speak and to bring into the Church all "who labor and are burdened" (Matt 11:28) so that their master can give them rest.

My friend is acutely aware of his own shortcomings and how his words are taken very seriously given the fact his is an ordained minister of the Church. He has no desire to be an unfaithful steward, even inadvertently.

Therefore we must pray for our bishops, priest and deacons that they remain steadfast in this responsibility. There will be an accounting for every word and deed. For to whom much has been given, must will be demanded (see Luke 12:48).

Birth Control = No Birth + No Control

My wife and I have practice NFP (Natural Family Planning) our entire fourteen year marriage. We have three children and used NFP to help achieve our first pregnancy; our son was born about eighteen months after the wedding. Not long after, we used NFP again to achieve our second pregnancy. Our first daughter was born twenty five months after our son. Around this time a co-worker said something to me (in jest).

Co-worker:  Nicely done; you have your boy & your girl. You’re getting “fixed” now, right?
Me: I’m not broken.

Co-worker: Sounds like something is working a little too well.
Me: I’ll see a doctor about a medical procedure when something is wrong with me, not when things are working well.

We both laughed, but it brings up the point that we treat fertility much like a disease; we get prescriptions, have surgery and buy “gadgets”.  If fertility is a gift designed by God, it would not be reasonable to treat it this way. Going beyond unreasonable, we have actually reached the point where not using artificial contraception is viewed as ignorant and irresponsible. My wife and I take the precise opposite view. Many are ignorant about natural law and irresponsible about sex, so what is the result? No birth & no control. Seems the houses where we live are getting bigger and bigger while the families inside getting smaller and smaller.
Look ma, no kids!!
My wife and I now give talks on sex & intimacy to engaged couples at our parish as part of their pre-Cana. We cover some theology of the body, and once couples hear the logic, they may think it’s a nice theory that belongs in the heavens somewhere, but it’s not practical for real people on earth. We then get into the practical benefits of NFP which have benefitted us, but many have never heard before:

More knowledge fosters better family planning: It’s not only for avoiding pregnancy and spacing children, but also achieving pregnancy. When a couple has trouble conceiving, one of the first things a doctor may do is have them try some aspects of NFP.

You’ll know if you’re pregnant before a doctor can know. Many women miscarry without even knowing they were pregnant.  We knew we were pregnant with our 3rd child not long after conception and noticed some unusual signs, so my wife consulted with a doctor. A prescription to boost a hormone may have prevented the miscarriage of our youngest daughter.

It’s “Green”: It’s free & natural. In fact, there are those who use NFP simply because they prefer to do things naturally instead of artificially (no theological reason). It’s really just common sense. Ironically, as we become more health conscious, we’ll avoid natural things like fat, salt, sugar and pay extra for organic foods, but at the same time, gladly encourage women to pump themselves with artificial hormones via pills and patches.

Communication: It fosters better communication between couples. NFP couples have very low divorce rates. Think about it; whether avoiding or achieving pregnancy, if you’re going to be intimate with each other, you’ll need to stay in “intimate” communication on a fairly regular basis.

It only gets better: We experienced how a women’s cycle can become more regular after having children, which makes NFP easier to do. As you start having children, spacing them out can become more and more important, so the woman’s cycle becomes easier to read. God knows what he’s doing when he designs something. Also, if avoiding pregnancy, the cycles of abstaining and being together mirror a natural dating-honeymoon cycle that continually breathes new life into a marriage.

From here we get into the two purposes of sex that should not be separated (babies & bonding). We use an analogy with food. Food has two purposes; nutrition and social bonding. Suppose you go to a party for pleasure and eat all the food you want, but you don’t want all those calories, so you head over to the restroom afterwards and make yourself throw-up. That’s NOT the purpose of food! Now consider the other extreme, suppose a new one-a-day pill was invented which provides all the nutrition you would ever need and you decided never to eat again. No restaurants, no party food, no dining with family & friends, nothing at holidays, no food ever. This would disorder your social life.

We also explain how NFP is not like artificial contraception when avoiding pregnancy because you are using the gift of fertility the way God designed it. It’s the difference between intentionally blocking something vs. just not participating in something.

When we look throughout salvation history we see a reoccurring theme that is really a reoccurring question. It started with Adam & Eve and continued with Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, his son Joseph, Moses, all the Israelites, the kings of Israel, Mary & Joseph in the New Testament, all the way up to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. The question was and still is: Will you trust God?

My wife and I were also in a “trusting” situation when we started NFP.  All we had was a Church teaching and a class we took; no one we knew was using it back then. No family; no friends. It was hard at times, so we had to face the question head on; will you trust God? We did and we are forever grateful.



Sunday, August 10, 2014

Feed the Children — Teach RE

I was asked to speak about Religious Education, or Children's Faith Formation, at our parish this morning. Thought I might as well share on the blog too...

I’ll be entering my fourth year teaching (what we call) Level 2 Confirmation this fall and I’d like to share a little about why I do it.

The book of Genesis tells us we are made in the image and likeness of God. We all have a will and an intellect.
  • The action of our will is to love.
  • The action of our intellect is to know. To know what? To know “Truth”. This where religious education comes in.

You can think of the truths of our faith as a kind of food for the intellect, healthy food, and kids naturally hunger for this food. If we’re hungry enough, for long enough, we’ll eventually eat something; we’ll eventually eat somewhere, but will it be good food or will it be garbage.

Hello...good food here.

In the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Mathew we hear, “For I was hungry and you gave me food”. This is not only about physical food, but also about the spiritual work of mercy to feed the intellect.

Obey your master!
We all like to think of ourselves as independent thinkers (both kids and adults), but everyone sits at the feet of a master. Will it be at the feet of Jesus through His Church or will it be some talk show host, some politician or political party, a famous actor, rock star or rapper, an agnostic or atheistic author or speaker or some random You-Tuber, or will it simply be the always "infallible" majority. Who will the master be?

If we don’t teach our children someone else surly will (like the guy on the left). Will it be good food or will it be garbage. It’s up to us; and this is why I chose to help feed our children. If you feel called to help, see if your parish is looking for more catechists for the upcoming school year.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The "Dogma" of Consent

We’ve all heard the teaching. It’s an often unquestioned and perhaps unconscious assumption. It acts as a sort of secular dogma. Nothing is morally wrong as long as you don’t hurt others.

But what if a doctor needs to perform a medical procedure on you involving some physical pain or “hurt”? What if an emergency responder needs to damage some of your property in order to respond to an emergency? What about two sadomasochists? They must hurt each other physically in order to satisfy their depravity. The “dogma” is not really about hurting people or property, it’s about consent. If what you do must affect others, it’s okay as long as you have consent.

Let’s work with this idea a bit beyond things that are already legal in some states like gambling, prostitution & recreational marijuana. If two parties consent to making a wager or to exchange drugs or sex for money, it’s all perfectly moral under the dogma of consent, but…

What if black salves consented?
Life for African-Americans in the South after the Emancipation Proclamation was not exactly the America dream. Imagine house slaves working in a mansion for a very wealthy plantation owner. What if they preferred their life as slaves over the prospect of being thrown out into the mean streets of the South to fend for themselves? They could have willfully signed a contract with the plantation owner to forfeit their freedom and remain his legal property. Under the dogma of consent, couldn’t slavery be reinstituted as legal in the U.S.?

What if the Jews consented?
Nazi scientists preformed inhumane experiments on Jewish people against their will. What if they consented? Suppose some old or terminally ill Jews agreed that the experiments on them could provide valuable data to help others? Suppose poor Jews were offered a large sum of money that could be given to their families after their death in an experiment. Would this not be perfectly moral under the dogma of consent?

How about suicide?
This would NOT be about doctor assisted suicide. Suppose a young man no longer wished to live for whatever reason, but alas, the poor guy does not have the courage to kill himself. What can be done? With consent, a friend (or stranger) could agree to shoot him in the head without any fear of reprisals.

Foolish humans!
We will make them consent!
What about date rape?
Are all the date rape incidents at the college level prosecuted? What if the woman gives consent initially, but then violently resists in the heat of the moment.  Too late; she consented, therefore the act is perfectly moral. In fact, if her physical resistance injures the man, perhaps the woman should be prosecuted instead.

…and marriage laws?
If any consenting adults should be able to marry, then it should be any consenting adults. Three or more should be recognized by the state as well as any consenting relatives. If you oppose parents marrying their adult children in order to obtain state offered marriage rights, then you are a bigot that makes groundless distinctions simply because two persons share very similar DNA.

One thing that confounds the Two Catholic Men is how many people will claim that moral absolutes can’t really exist objectively, but they don’t live that way, which implies they don’t really believe it. They actually do accept certain morals that are universal and unchangeable (just like physical laws) regardless of any consent or a lack of. As a side, the existence of moral absolutes or moral laws would reasonably imply a moral law giver, and what a curious thing that would be.

It’s the same kind of contradiction for someone who would deny the existence of physical laws. You would note that they do not live as if they actually believed what they claim (if they are sane). Consider the law of gravity; we attune our life and safety around it. Living in harmony with the law of gravity allows us to live a happy life. Disharmony with gravity will hurt us or even kill us.

It seems, deep down, we all know moral laws exist irrespective of “consent”, but many won’t admit it because it points to so much more. We also sense that we need to live harmoniously with these laws in order to be happy. The fact is, we actually can’t break moral laws, just like we can’t break physical laws. They break us; either as individuals or as a society, so it is vital that we strive to know what they actually are and where they come from.

“In you, O Lord, have I hoped; I shall not be confounded forever.”
- St. Claude de la Colobiere



Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rethinking WWJD

Not everything Jesus said and did was all “lovey-dovey”. Here is a different take on WWJD. It should remind us of a vice called presumption.

“Fear and hope ought never to be without one another, since fear without hope is despair and hope without fear is presumption.”
- St. Francis de Sales

Thursday, July 24, 2014

What Do You Have in Common with a French Prince?

I recently came across this story from a book called 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. The story is about the son of King Louis XVI and was presented in the context of how having positive paradigms can bring out the best in us. The story should also remind us about why we should strive for holiness.

Born to Be King

King Louis had been taken from his throne and imprisoned. His young son, the prince, was taken by those who dethroned the king. They thought that inasmuch as the king’s son was heir to the throne, if they could destroy him morally, he would never realize the great and grand destiny that life had bestowed upon him.

They took him to a community far away, and there they exposed the lad to every filthy and vile thing that life could offer. They exposed him to foods the richness of which would quickly make him a slave to appetite. They used vile language around him constantly. They exposed him to lewd and lusting women. They exposed him to dishonor and distrust. He was surrounded 24 hours a day by everything that could drag the soul of a man as low as one could slip.

For over six months he had this treatment—but not once did the young lad buckle under pressure. Finally, after intensive temptation, they questioned him. Why had he not submitted himself to these things—why had he not partaken? These things would provide pleasure, satisfy his lusts, and were desirable; they were all his. The boy said, “I cannot do what you ask for I was born to be a king.”

One is reminded of the story of Joseph in Genesis. You’ll recall that Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and taken to Egypt by foreigners. Still, the Lord was with Joseph and he retained his dedication to high principles through many difficult trails. As a result, he became second in command in the household of Potiphar, second only to Potiphar himself.

When Potiphar was away from his home, his wife, who lusted after Joseph, approached him and said, “Lie with me.” Joseph refused and said to her, “How, then, could I do this great wrong and sin against God?” It’s the reaction of someone who knows who he is, the son of a King (see Gen 39:7-9). Joseph continued to trust God, his King, and used his gift of interpreting dreams in a straightforward and truthful manner. He prevailed against every trail and eventually became the most powerful person in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh.

Both of these stories should remind us that we too are the children of the King of kings and should behave as such. Instead, with the demise of human character we ask, “What can I get away with?” It relates to the plague of minimalism which can affect every aspect of our lives, including our faith. It holds a premise in the form of a question, “What’s the least I need to do to get by?”

Minimalism is enemy of holiness and the first step to failure. We are to strive for holiness. This is beyond the secular moral advice of “just be nice”. It is also more than a general adherence to the 10 commandments. It is the narrow path. It is a call to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect (see Mat 5:48 & Lev 19:2). It is no easy task because it needs to be a challenge fitting for a child of a King.

"Heavenly Father, give me the courage to strive for the highest goals, to flee every temptation to be mediocre"
- Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Stand Tall

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Temptations with Christ and Bishop Sheen

Bishop Fulton Sheen
1895 - 1979
Bishop Sheen has an illuminating way of presenting the temptations of Christ in his book A Brief Life of Christ. Here it is…in brief of course.

Each of the three temptations from Satan is related to one of three stages of a man’s life. They can surly apply to woman’s life as well, but men may relate better (just my opinion, judge for yourself).

The 1st Temptation:
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:1-4).

This first temptation parallels the first stage of a man’s life; his youth. I’ve heard it said (in this book, pg 55) that the portion of the brain responsible for suppressing impulses does not fully mature until the mid-twenties. In other words, the difference between a twenty-year-old and a thirty-year-old is not just ten years’ experience. The brain is physically different. If you are over thirty, think back on your own life in this light.

If cognitive reasoning skills are underdeveloped, temptations involving the flesh or physical gratification are more difficult to resist; think of a baby or small child. If you have an itch, scratch it. Why resist what comes naturally? “Just do it!” “Obey your thirst!”

It is in our youth that we must learn that our passions are not necessarily wrong, but “eating bread” without God will harm us, meaning that we should reject passions outside of God’s will, even if we must go “hungry”.

The 2nd Temptation:
Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’” (Matthew 4:5-7)

This is a temptation of pride and egotism. The miracles of Jesus always foreshadowed greater spiritual realities and had a point. Jesus was not just showing off.  In the second temptation, it’s as if Satan is tempting Christ to clothe himself in wonders. Mankind will not accept or understand the sacrifice of a crucified God. Stick with the miracles. Fly off the temple and float around the city for a while. That will get their attention. People are bored, so be a magician. You’ll really make a name for yourself then.

And so it goes for the second stage of a man’s life. We wish to make a name for ourselves. Power and prestige set in to tempt a man to the point of narcissism. This can be seen in anything from climbing the corporate ladder to trying to impress others in church ministry, or just spending inordinate amounts of time working on “six-pack abs”. If we were somewhat successful at resisting the temptations of the flesh in our youth, Satan may say to us, “Very well, if you really trust God do something heroic. Be amazing! Make a name for yourself!”

No matter how well someone can quote scripture in a particular situation, it does not mean that he or she speaks in the spirit of Truth. Satan himself will gladly use the Word of God.

The 3rd Temptation:
Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’” (Matthew 4:8-10)

In the autumn of our lives we are drawn to possessions and the security of worldly things. We are not so comfortable with John 21:18 “…when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

We may have avoided the traps of the flesh in youth and the snares of pride in middle age, but it’s hard to let go completely and be “lead where we do not want to go”. Excessive hording of earthly goods and money as economic security gives the illusion of control. This preoccupation will distract us from our treasure in heaven and this happens at the worst time possible, the very end of our lives.

Few believe in the devil today, and that must be just fine by him. I’d imagine he is happy to hear the news of his death. If God is existence itself and calls Himself “I am who am”, then the devil is the father of lies and must be quite happy to remain in hiding and call himself "I am who am NOT".