Archive for the ‘Human Nature’ Category

Strong Reactions — 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

March 3, 2020

My childhood memories of summer include the Osseo City Pool. I remember having fun in the water with friends, the 80’s songs playing from the lifeguards’ boombox, and the big brown door with red letters, warning something like: “Danger, Deadly Chlorine Gas, Staff Only!” As you might imagine, I never ventured into that room. Another memorable experience from my youth involving chemicals happened some years later. My science teacher, Mr. Hall, placed a bucket of water into the snow outside of our high school. Then, using tongs, he carefully dropped into it a chunk of pure sodium, and quickly backed away. The water steamed and bubbled and exploded a couple of times. It was intimidating and awesome. Two potent chemicals: chlorine and sodium. What happens when you combine them? You get sodium chloride. Today, this compound is present in the environment and inside of our homes. It’s in the oceans, on our streets, and even in the food we eat. Sodium Chloride may sound dangerous, but you know this common compound by another name: it’s salt.

Sodium Chloride (a.k.a. Salt)

Salt preserves, salt disinfects, and salt also adds flavor. Salt can preserve food from spoiling. In the days of sailing ships, unrefridgerated salted-pork could safely feed a crew for three months at sea. Salt has been used as a disinfectant and cleaning product since ancient times. The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans employed salt water to treat cuts, wounds, and mouth sores. Even in 2010, a study from the Mayo Clinic found that gargling warm salt water reduces cold symptoms, including sore throat pain and mucus. And you know firsthand from a lifetime of eating that the addition of salt can make an otherwise bland dish taste much better.

Today, Jesus tells his disciples: “You are the salt of the earth.” Like salt, Christianity is found all over the world, preserving its good, purifying its evil, and adding flavor to what would otherwise be bland, meaningless life. And yet, like Sodium Chloride, Christianity is irrationally feared. This is nothing new. Listen to this second century Letter to Diognetus describing how Christians are present throughout the world, both helpful and good, and yet feared and opposed:

“Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. … With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign. And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose [their children to death]. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh.”

“They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of Heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.”

Why does the world oppose devout Christianity? One reason is they imagine believing Christians behave like sodium in water, boiling hot with hatred and intolerance and violent in their reactions. Yet Christians’ allegiance to Jesus and his teachings on mercy, love, and the value of every human person are the best antidotes to mankind’s natural hatred and indifference toward others. Who is more responsible for sharing bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, and clothing the naked in world history than Christians in general and the Catholic Church in particular?

Another reason why worldly people oppose Christianity is that they think our faith is lethal to life’s pleasures; they fear that embracing Christianity would asphyxiate their happiness, like breathing chlorine gas. This too is nothing new. In Roman times, Christians were charged with “hatred of humanity” because the Romans believed ‘a lover of man should love what men love.’ The Early Christians would not partake of common sins for passing pleasures while, at the same time, living joyful lives. Joyful even at their martyrdom. As Diognetus’ pen-pal observed in the second century: “The world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because [Christians] are opposed to its enjoyments.” And so it is today. When we tell the world some things it loves are false roads to happiness the world hates us for it.

Jesus said, “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. … In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” So what are we to do? First, realize that the modern animosity to Christianity is nothing new. Don’t wait for that cultural hostility to pass; it won’t pass in our lifetimes. Next, never accept or act like your faith is a shameful thing. Jesus declares: “You are the light of the world. Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” If you are a Christian, Jesus wants the people around you to see something different in you and wonder, “What’s your secret.” Be unafraid to tell them the truth, “It’s my personal relationship to Jesus Christ and his Holy Church.” Cooperating with Christ to live like this saves souls and transforms our world.

There is another, more literal translation of Jesus’ words in our gospel: “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world”: “You are the salt of the ground… You are the light of the cosmos.” Through your life, and every Christian life however humble, Jesus would reveal his divine light to the world, the glory and love that sustain the cosmos.

A Well-Nourished Tree — Funeral for Lois Eastman, 93

November 9, 2019

I offer my personal sympathy and the condolences of St. Paul’s parish at the passing of Lois, whom you know and love. In this church, 69 years ago, Lois married Jerry, her husband of 42 years. They went on to be blessed with six children. Today, we pray for Lois to have a special place among God’s children at the wedding feast of Heaven. No brief homily can capture the full mystery of a Christian life. At funerals, I just try to preach about one true aspect of the departed person’s life that reflects an important lesson for us with Jesus Christ and his Church.

Lois’ family told me a number of stories about her, and one theme I noticed was her fierce independence. For many years now, until quite recently, Lois always lived on her own. Not long ago, when her children suggested she use something to help her keep her worsening balance, she replied, “Canes and walkers are for old people.” Lois was 93 years old. Lots of people are set in their ways or stubborn, but here’s the really remarkable thing: not long after that remark to her kids Lois actually took their advice and started using a cane. In this and other things, Lois’s independence did not prevent her from accepting the help she needed.

Years before she absolutely needed a cane, Lois had trouble negotiating steps. But she would drive somewhere, by herself, with a plan: ‘someone will help me up and down the stairs when I get there.’ She would show us and say to someone she saw, “Hey, you over there, can you help me?” If the streets were icy in the wintertime, she would stand by her car until a person came along to help her up the curb and across the sidewalk to where she was going.

Lois was fiercely independent, but she acknowledged her need for help – and Lois knew she needed Jesus. Lois prayed every night, and until a couple years ago went to Mass every day, every day of the week except Sunday. (That’s because she went to the Sunday vigil Mass on Saturday night.) She sat in front pew to hear Jesus’ word and receive his very self. Lois knew that other people needed him too, so she would pick people up to bring them to church and brought our Lord in the Holy Eucharist to others at their houses or nursing homes.

We all want to be free. We all want our lives to be full and fruitful. And Jesus wants that, too. But people imagine that living their best life means keeping Jesus away while we do our own thing. Do you keep Jesus at arm’s length? Hear then the Parable of the Solitary Tree:

Once upon a time, there was a tree. This tree wanted to be free, to be its own tree, free to do its own thing, and not rely on anyone. So it told the Sun to go away, along with the rain clouds above it, the air all around it, and the ground beneath it. And the tree soon found itself in cold darkness – thirsting, gasping, and falling. Realizing its serious error, the tree asked, the tree begged them all to return, and they returned to the tree; which then lived and grew and produced much fruit.

In the same way, you and I were never meant be completely independent. Almighty God, the source and the sustainer of the universe, is not a solitude, but a Trinity, a loving communion of persons. So we are most fully ourselves when we’re connected to God and each other through Jesus Christ.

Pray for Lois, but do not fear for her. You know how she loved and relied on Jesus. And if you’ve been away from Jesus, I urge you to call him back and return to his house, his Church. Do not be afraid to rely on our Good Lord. To quote one of Lois’ favorite songs:

If you wonder how long he’ll be faithful
I’ll be happy to tell you again
He’s gonna love you forever and ever
Forever and ever, amen.

Heeding Our Earthly Mother & Heavenly Father — 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

July 5, 2014

Readings: Zechariah 9:9-10; Romans 8:9,11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

A Wall Across the Road

Imagine an wall built across a road which has stood for as long as anyone can remember. The Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton suggested that when confronted by such a peculiar sight:

The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

It is said that human history has been constantly repeating two phases, summed up in two concise phrases:

First, “What could it hurt?
And second, “How were we supposed to know?

All of us are children of the same holy Mother, the Church. And she is united with God, our loving Father. Moms and dads sometimes tell us, “Don’t touch that–it will hurt. I know it glows enticingly, but it will burn you. We’re not saying this in order to control you or to make you miserable, but because we love you. We want you to be safe and happy.

Red_Hot_Coiled_Stove_Burner_3_by_FantasyStockWe then have three options in how we respond: Either we can touch the forbidden thing for ourselves and experience the pain firsthand. Or we can observe others who have touched the thing and learn from them (though they sometimes hide their pain and tears, even from themselves.) Or, and this is the best response, we can trust in the words of our Mother and Father and never get burned.

Sometimes the wise and the learned of this world refuse to see the truth, but to the little ones, to the childlike, the truth is revealed and they welcome it. In our first reading from Zechariah we find a prophesy about the Messiah. The Savior is not coming on a warhorse, but on a donkey—not as a conqueror imposing his will upon the earth by force, but meekly, inviting us to trust in him and freely embrace his will.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

This week’s Supreme Court’s verdict in the Hobby Lobby case comes as good news for religious liberty. However, we must keep praying. Though the five-to-four decision is a positive sign, religiously affiliated non-profit groups are not safely out of the legal woods yet. Many people of goodwill support Catholic institutions in their conscientious refusal to facilitate things they consider gravely immoral, but I wonder how many observers understand why Catholics have any objection to contraception and sterilization to begin with?

People fail to realize that contraception is not something new. For thousands of years, people have used various barriers, chemicals, and techniques to prevent the marital embrace from being fruitful. And most have never heard that before 1930 all Protestant denominations agreed with the Catholic Church’s teaching in condemning contraception as sinful. Most people have not realized what could be wrong with putting asunder what God has joined in the marital act; separating love-making from an openness to life. And though few recognize the harmful impact that contraception has on families and society, its consequences were not entirely unforeseen.

Pope Paul VI

In 1968, in the midst of a sexual revolution made possible by the birth control pill, some believed the Catholic Church would “update” its consistent teaching on contraception. (“What could it hurt?”) Instead, Pope Paul VI shocked the world with orthodoxy. His encyclical, Humanae Vitae or “Of Human Life,” was one of the most controversial documents of the twentieth century, yet the pope’s four predictions of what would happen if contraceptives gained widespread use have proven true:

  1. A general lowering of moral standards throughout society.
  2. A rise in infidelity.
  3. A lessening of respect for women by men.
  4. The coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.

What is more, a contraceptive mentality has so pervaded our culture that healthy fertility is treated like a disease and conceived children are treated like a cancer. Because of procured abortion, in any room of people under 40 years old, there is on average one person missing for every three people you see. This is the fruit of a contraceptive mentality. (“How were we supposed to know?”)

Whether the Catholic Church teaches on indecent images, fornication, cohabitation, same-sex relations, divorce and remarriage without annulment, in-vitro fertilization, abortion, drug use and drunkenness, euthanasia or suicide; for every “no” in her teachings the Church proclaims a greater, more foundational “Yes” to love and life and true happiness. As St. Paul tells us:

“Brothers and sisters, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

Will we be childlike enough to listen to our Father in heaven and our Mother on earth? Learn from Christ and take his yoke upon you, for according to his promise you will receive rest. His ways require sacrifice, yet compared to the yoke of sin and death which comes with the ways of the world, Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light.

Why Didn’t Jesus Stay? — The Ascension—Year C

May 11, 2013

Today, Jesus ascends with his human nature into heaven. He takes his seat at the right hand of the Father. There Jesus enjoys the greatest honor and intimacy with his Father and from heaven he reigns and intercedes for us. Yet I wonder on this Feast of the Ascension, “Why didn’t Jesus remain visibly with us, here on earth? Why not lead us as our king down here so that we could see and hear him?”

Some would argue that Jesus was limited by his humanity—that Jesus’ human nature prevented him from being at more than one place at a time. They would say that Jesus could preach today in Chicago or heal the sick in Rio de Janeiro, but he cannot do both simultaneously—reigning from heaven allows Jesus to be more present to every place and every person. However, Jesus is not limited in this way by his glorified human nature. Several saints have manifested the gift of bi-location during their lifetimes. Most recently and famously, St. Padre Pio was often at more than one place at the same time. Surely, if Jesus’ saints can possess this power then the Lord Jesus would as well. Furthermore, Jesus demonstrates that his humanity can be more than one place simultaneously through his Real Presence in the Eucharist. Though veiled under the appearances of bread and wine, the entire living person of Jesus (including his body and blood, soul and divinity) is truly present in the Eucharist.

So if Jesus can be physically present in as many places as he wishes, why is he not visibly reigning in millions of places in roles here on earth? For instance, why isn’t Jesus the pastor at every parish church and the bishop in every diocese? One major reason why Jesus rejects this approach is that he wants us to share in his work, his mission, and his glory. Jesus wants you and I to have a part in saving our family and friends and the world. Jesus prayed to his Father at the Last Supper, “As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world,” (John 17:18) and Jesus told his disciples after his resurrection, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). You and I are sent to do and continue the works that we have seen Jesus do. As Jesus once said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). It is not easy to live as Jesus Christ in the world, but this is our great vocation. For this reason, we must receive the force from on high. Pray for the deeper gifts that the Lord wants to give you through the Holy Spirit, whose coming in power we will celebrate next Sunday.

Hoy, Jesús asciende con su naturaleza humana al cielo. Jesús se sentó a la derecha del Padre. Allí Jesús disfruta del mayor honor y la intimidad con su Padre y él reina e intercede por nosotros desde el cielo. Sin embargo, me pregunto en esta fiesta de la Ascensión: “¿Por qué Jesús no permanecen visiblemente con nosotros, aquí en la tierra? ¿Por qué no quedarse aquí como nuestro rey para que nosotros pudiéramos verlo y escucharlo?”

Algunos podrían argumentar que Jesús estaba limitado por su humanidad-que la naturaleza humana de Jesús no poder estar en más de un lugar al mismo tiempo. Dirían que Jesús pudo predicar hoy en Chicago o curar a los enfermos en Río de Janeiro, pero lo no puede hacer ambas cosas al mismo tiempo—reinante desde el cielo permite que Jesús sea más presente a todo lugar y persona. Sin embargo, Jesús no se limita de esta manera por su naturaleza humana glorificada. Varios santos han manifestado el don de la bilocación durante sus vidas. Más recientemente y famosamente, San Padre Pio fue visto a menudo en más de un lugar al mismo tiempo. Seguramente, si los santos de Jesús pueden poseer este poder, entonces el Señor Jesús lo haría también. De hecho, Jesús demuestra que su humanidad puede haber más de un lugar al mismo tiempo a través de su presencia real en la Eucaristía. Aunque velado bajo las especies del pan y del vino, toda de la persona viva de Jesús (incluyendo su cuerpo y sangre, alma y divinidad) está realmente presente en la Eucaristía.

Si Jesús puede estar presente físicamente en tantos lugares como él desea, ¿por qué Jesús no reinando visiblemente en millones de funciones aquí en la tierra? Por ejemplo, ¿por qué Jesús no es el pastor en cada parroquia y el obispo en cada diócesis? Una gran razón Jesús rechazado este método es que él quiere que compartamos en su trabajo, su misión y su gloria. Jesús quiere que ustedes y yo tener una parte en salvando a nuestras familias, y nuestros amigos, y nuestro mundo. Jesús oró a su Padre en la Última Cena: “Como tú me enviaste al mundo, yo los envío también al mundo,” (Juan 17:18) y Jesús dijo a sus discípulos después de su resurrección: “Como el Padre me envió a mí, así yo los envío a ustedes,” (Juan 20:21). Ustedes y yo estamos envió a hacer y continuar los trabajos que hemos visto hacer a Jesús. Como Jesús dijo una vez: “Ciertamente les aseguro que el que cree en mí las obras que yo hago también él las hará, y aun las hará mayores, porque yo vuelvo al Padre,” (Juan 14:12). No es fácil vivir como Jesús Cristo en el mundo, pero este es nuestro gran vocación. Por esta razón, debemos recibir la fuerza de lo alto. Ore por los dones más profundos que el Señor Jesús quiere darte a través delEspíritu Santo, cuya venida en el poder vamos a celebrar el próximo domingo.

The Unique Shepherd — 4th Sunday of Easter—Year C

April 20, 2013

Last weekend I traveled across Minnesota for my friend Bernadette’s thirtieth birthday party. I also met her fiancé, Glen, who is a farmer. We visited Glen’s farm and saw his flock of sheep in the barn. Watching the sheep was a fun experience for me and serious research as well. Both Jesus and the Scriptures talk a lot about sheep. As today’s psalm says, “We are his  people, the sheep of his flock.” I studied this flock to see what I could learn.

I had never realized how timid sheep are. When we entered the barn they ran away to the far end of the barn. The new lambs in their smaller pen tried to hide their noses in a corner away from us. I was a little disappointed. I would have liked these sheep and lambs to be friendly, cuddly, and affectionate, but they were skittish. When Glen walked near them they had a small stampede. Glen said the sheep will come near if they see that he is about to feed them hay.

I felt somewhat disappointed in the behavior of the sheep. Then I wondered how much we resemble these sheep in our relationship with the Jesus the Good Shepherd. As members of Jesus’ flock we often neglect to approach him unless we need or want something from him. We often feel afraid to come too close to him because we fear what he might ask of us. Does Jesus feel contempt towards us, his flock, because of our neglect and timidity? No, he holds us tightly, and ‘no one can take us out of his hand.’ Jesus is unlike any other shepherd. Jesus has done something no other shepherd has done. Jesus has become a lamb among his own flock.

In Revelation, John sees Jesus as ‘the Lamb who is in the center of the throne who will shepherd us and lead us.’ Our shepherd is a sinless lamb. I have never been a sheep myself, so I do not truly understand what they experience. But Jesus truly understands our human condition. As Jesus said of his sheep, “I know them, and they follow me.”

Perhaps Glen’s flock fled from him because he does not live in their barn and fields with them. But our Lord Jesus Christ, like ancient shepherds, remains with his flock always. Encouraged by his constant devotion to us, let us hear his voice and follow him. Let us pray to the Lord always, and not merely when we want something from him. And let us come closer to our Good Shepherd, receptive to whatever his will for us may be.

La semana pasada viajé a través de Minnesota para la fiesta de cumpleaños trigésimo de mi amiga Bernadette. También conocí a su prometido, Glen, quien es agricultor. Visitamos su granja y vimos su rebaño de ovejas en el establo. Mirar las ovejas fue una experiencia divertida para mí y una investigación seria también. Tanto Jesús y las Escrituras hablan mucho de ovejas. Como el salmo de hoy dice: “Somos su pueblo y su rebaño.” Estudié este rebaño a ver qué podía aprender.

Nunca me había dado cuenta de lo tímidas ovejas. Cuando entramos en el establo huyeron hasta el extremo. El nuevo corderos en la pluma más pequeña trataron de ocultar sus narices en un rincón alejado de nosotros. Yo estaba un poco decepcionado. Deseé estas ovejas y corderos ser amigable, tierno y cariñoso, pero estaban nerviosos. Cuando Glen caminaba cerca de ellos tenían una pequeña estampida. Glen dijo que las ovejas se acercará si ven que él está a punto darles de comer heno.

Me sentí un poco decepcionado con el comportamiento de estas ovejas. Entonces me pregunté cuánto somos como las ovejas en nuestra relación con Jesús el Buen Pastor. Como miembros de rebaño de Cristo, a menudo nos olvidamos de acercarse a él a menos que necesitamos o queremos algo de él. A menudo nos sentimos miedo de acercado demasiado a él porque tememos lo que él puede pedir de nosotros. ¿Tiene Jesús nos desprecian, sus ovejas, a causa de nuestra negligencia y timidez? No, él nos sostiene firmemente, y ‘nadie puede sacarnos de su mano.’ Jesús es diferente a ningún otro pastor. Jesús ha hecho algo que ningún otro pastor ha hecho. Jesús se ha convertido en un cordero entre sus ovejas.

En Apocalipsis, Juan ve a Jesús como ‘el Cordero, que está en el trono, quien será nuestro pastor y conducirá nos’. Nuestro pastor es un cordero sin pecado. Nunca he sido una oveja a mí mismo, así que no entiendo realmente lo que experimentan. Pero Jesús realmente entiende nuestra condición humana. Como dijo Jesús de sus ovejas, “Yo las conozco y ellas me siguen.”

Tal vez el rebaño de Glen huyó de él porque él no vive en su establo y sus campos con ellos. Pero nuestro Señor Jesucristo, como pastores antiguos, permanece con su rebaño siempre. Alentado por su constante devoción a nosotros, vamos a escuchar su voz y seguirlo. Oremos al Señor siempre, y no sólo cuando queremos algo de él. Y háganos acercarnos a nuestro Buen Pastor, receptivo a cualquiera que sea su voluntad para nosotros sea.

The Desert Problem—Thursday, 16th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

July 21, 2011

This morning I would like to talk with you about something I call “the Desert Problem.” We see it with the children of Israel during the Exodus. They had seen the ten plagues that were afflicted on their Egyptian oppressors. They had seen the Red Sea split before them. They heard God speak so powerfully and intensely with Moses at the mountain that they trembled. They accepted God’s covenant. They saw, they heard, but then they forgot. The Israelites seem to always be sinning in the desert and we can feel annoyance at them. However, we should not judge them harshly, for their story is our own. We also struggle with the desert problem.

We come to dry and difficult places in our own lives, too. When we face difficulties we too often forget what we have seen and heard and give in to depression, despair, and sin. The solution to the desert problem is the refreshing water of memory. When you are in a desert you need water, but you don’t need to dig a new well every time you need refreshment; you can go back to an old and reliable well. Before you come to your next desert, think of times in the past when you knew God was close, perhaps an intense consolation experienced in prayer, or a providential miracle you’ve witnessed in life. And when you enter your next desert (or if you find yourself in one now) recall these memories to mind and be refreshed in faith. ‘Blessed are your eyes, because they have seen, and your ears, because they have heard,’ but to remain faithful to God in the desert you must remember the great things of God you have seen and heard.

Teachings Hardly Heard — 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

July 10, 2011

Like the rains that come down from heaven to water the earth, so we are called to live lives of self-gift, fruitfulness, and peace. Jesus comes down from heaven to give us life, to free us from futility and slavery to corruption. But sometimes when Jesus preaches, people hear without understanding and the evil one steals away the seed of truth He sows. For others, worldly fear and the attraction of riches prevent Jesus’ word from bearing fruit. But when His word lands on a person of openness and discernment, it bears a great fruitfulness for that person and others.

What are teachings that we as Catholics have tended to hear but not understand, to glace at but never really examine. What are the teachings of Jesus Christ’s Church which we hardly hear with our ears and toward which we are most tempted to close our eyes? These are the issues about which clergy are most hesitant to preach. Nevertheless, Jesus wills that we hear these things with our ears, understand them with our hearts, and be converted, that He may heal us. Please pray now, for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that your heart may receptive to His word.

One area about which we hardly hear with our ears is the harm in sensual or romantic fantasizes.

For men, this temptation tends to be toward indecent images. For women, it tends towards things like romance novels. With these things, a person looks at another, or imagines being with another, without ever touching them, but that does not make sensual or romantic fantasies o.k. or harmless. Recall how Jesus said, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

What is the harm in these things? Real love is only found and shared in the real world. Sensual or romantic escapism leaves behind those we are called to love. Compared to these fantasies, no real man or woman, no wife or husband, can possibly measure up. These fantasies can be addictive and they change the way we look at and relate to others in daily life.

If books, magazines, or movies tempt you in this way, throw them out. If the internet is the gateway to fantasy, place near the monitor a picture of someone you love. Commit yourself to loving the real people in your life, for that is the only place where real love is found.

Another topic about which we hardly hear is the harm of contraception.

In the beginning, upon creating the first man and woman, “God blessed them, saying: ‘Be fertile and multiply.’”  To unite husband and wife in love, and to bless the world with new human life, God designed the one-flesh marital embrace. God created and wills this embrace for life as well as love. Contraception, however, separates life from love, to the harm of both.  This must not be done for as Jesus said, in the context of marriage, “What God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

Forms of contraception are not new, they’re actually quite ancient. And from the start, the Catholic Church has recognized the wrongness of intentionally contracepted acts. In fact, as late as 1930, all Protestant groups agreed with Catholics on this principle (before they began to splinter off.) If the constant teaching of the Church of Jesus Christ is not persuasive enough, consider the fallout of contraception.

A contracepting couple closes off their marriage, their embrace, to life. Therefore, if they unexpectedly conceive a child, the little one is not felt to be a gift from God but a mistake. Whenever the surprise blessing of a child is considered to be a curse, love for that child is wounded, and even the unspeakable becomes tempting.

Contraception also threatens the love of couples. Pope Paul VI foresaw this danger, as he wrote in Humanae Vitae, “It is also to be feared that the man who grows accustomed to contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and psychological equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, and no longer as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.” Contraception separates life and love to the harm of both.

What then does the Church ask couples to do; to have as many children as they physically possibly can? No—For serious physical, psychological, economic, or social reasons, a couple may limit their marital embraces to her cycle’s naturally infertile periods. This is called Natural Family Planning (or NFP) and its methods, when used as directed, are as effective as the pill. But unlike the pill, Natural Family Planning has no unhealthy side-effects, is not an abortifacient, and conforms with God’s will. Practicing NFP is fruitful within marriage, whether God blesses a couple with more children or not.

A third subject about which we do not hear is the harm of fornication, or partaking of the marital embrace without the covenant of marriage.

Body language speaks, and the message of the body in the marital embrace is one of total self-gift. It says, “I joyfully give myself to you, all of me, completely and forever.” Fornication, however, makes this language of the body a lie. Unless a relationship has been sealed, before God and the world, in the bond of marriage, either one of the couple can back out at any time, and the couple knows this. It’s always in the back of their minds. For this reason, these couples tend to repress anger and complaints, avoid facing problems in their relationship, and put off the hard questions about their future together.

The embrace of man and woman naturally forges strong emotional bonds between the couple. In marriage, that’s a good thing, but before a marriage this clouds judgment and can plaster over serious flaws, serious cracks, in a bad relationship, at least for awhile. And what if their embrace conceives a child they don’t think they’re ready for? The woman, to preserve the relationship, may be tempted or coerced toward an unspeakable choice she’ll always regret.

Cohabitating couples can slouch into marriage; sometimes the man doesn’t really choose marriage so much as finally give in to others’ expectations. Then, after their wedding, nothing really seems different from before, and psychologically, the assumptions of their dating relationship carry into the marriage. Once their wedding day (which wasn’t as special for them as it should have been) drifts further away into the past, and marital difficulties inevitably arise, the old idea, the old escape hatch of breaking up and moving out, naturally returns, increasing the risk of divorce.

Fornication and cohabitation expose a person to emotional and spiritual pains, decrease one’s chances of marrying the right person, and increase one’s chances of divorcing in the future. No matter where you are in your dating relationships, Jesus Christ calls you to pre-marital chastity, for true love is found in purity.

A final topic about which we hardly hear is the harmfulness in acting out according to one’s same-sex attractions.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, “The number of men and women who have deep-seated [tendencies of this kind] is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”

It is important for all of us to remember that a temptation, whatever it is, by itself, is not sin. Unless we go out looking for temptation, we are not responsible for the temptations which our genetics, upbringing, or environment send our way. What important is how we respond to our temptations, whether we give in to them and fall, or if stand strong with God like His saints before us.

As a Christian, and a fellow sinner, it would be wrong for me to look down on anyone. God loves everyone like He loves me. But at the same time, it would not be loving for me as a follower of Jesus Christ to say that acting out on one’s same-sex attractions is o.k. or harmless. The Old and New Testaments and the constant teachings of Christ’s Church are clear.

People of the same sex may be friends, even the dearest of friends with each other, but they’re not meant to be lovers. Man and wife were made each other. Their masculine and feminine differences compliment and complete each other and husbands and wives, as mothers and fathers. This is seen physically, in their marital embrace and in the conception of new life; but also psychologically and spiritually as well, in faithful marriages that last a lifetime. Persons of the same sex do not have this complimentarity and to ignore truth this leads to suffering, for such relationships are unhealthy for one’s body or soul. The tragically higher rates of promiscuity, transmittable diseases and cancers, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, and attempted suicide, point to the brokenness of these lifestyles. (And one notes that these comparatively higher rates are found not only in our country, but also aboard, like in the Netherlands where such relationships are more common and much more socially accepted.) Jesus calls these brothers and sisters of His and ours to a different, better, happier way of life.

Regardless of our temptations, there is hope. Freedom from sin and joyful peace are possible for all of us, by the grace of Jesus Christ the support of one another. For example, Courage international is a Catholic organization which ministers to help those with same-sex attractions live chaste and happy lives. For more information about Courage groups in our area, or about how to enroll in Natural Family Planning classes see me after Mass or give me a call. If you are cohabitating and wish to return to chastity but you don’t know how you as a couple can practically achieve it, talk to me. God has solutions for those who seek His will. May the seeds of Jesus’ teachings find rich soil in your hearts and bear an abundant harvest for you and for others.

Independence Day Homily

July 4, 2011

What is the most important and the most famous sentence ever coined in the English language? I believe it was a declarative sentence, of thirty-five words, published two hundred and thirty-five years ago today.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Like a passage of Sacred Scripture, this sentence from the Declaration of Independence was more profound, and would effect more providential good, than its human authors ever imagined.

In their original context, these words from the Declaration of Independence were written to justify the American colonies’ separation from the English crown. At that time, many people believed in the divine right of kings, that a monarch had been invested by God with supreme authority to rule. There was precedent for this in the Old Testament, where God chose Saul, David, Solomon, and others to rule His people as anointed kings. In declaring that “all men are created equal,” the Founding Fathers were rejecting the idea that some men are born royal while others are born common. They further asserted that God Himself endows every man with certain rights, and that any government which deprives men of these rights may be justly replaced by its people. In this way, the signers justified the American Revolution.

How much did the Founding Father reflect on how their words about the equality of all men applied to men of color, such as those enduring intergenerational slavery? How much did they consider what these God-given rights required for the female segment of mankind? I would say that these words, like a passage of Sacred Scripture, carried truths more profound than their human authors knew.

These were providential words, for they have been, and continue to be, instrumental in the work of advancing and defending the rights and dignity of all people, from conception to natural death, in our country and around the world. Wherever our nation has failed to embody these words, we look back with shame; but wherever we have honored human dignity, these represent our proudest moments. Martin Luther King Jr. called these words our nation’s creed, and like him we have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights….”

This Fourth of July, let us thank God for this great gift to our country. Let us praise God for endowing each one of us with dignity and rights which every person and every government must respect. And in the future, let us remember and remind our neighbors, that if our country allows government and men to become our gods, human dignity and human rights will be swiftly brushed aside. Like the Psalmist, may our country always say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,my God, in whom I trust.”

The Babel Project — Friday, 6th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

February 18, 2011

Why did God break up the Babel project? What was wrong with lots of people working together toward this common goal? Perhaps the problem was that they were trying to “make a name for” themselves, that is, a new identity for themselves, different from their status as God’s human creatures. Building up to heaven, they were trying to become as gods without God. The tower of Babel was a temple for the worship of themselves. God broke up their endeavor because of the harm it would have caused to themselves and to the world.

That city, in itself, was no threat to God above.  The Lord had to “(come) down to see the city and the tower that they had built.” God was untouchable, invulnerable, and immortal. But this changed in history, with the Incarnation. The Son of God became touchable, vulnerable, and mortal. He did this not only to save us, but also so that our human nature could be transformed to something greater.

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came down from Heaven as tongues of fire. He rested upon them and they began to speak in languages that people of any nation could understand. They were temples of the Holy Spirit. They were a holy city, whose foundation is God.

As St. Augustine wrote, the City of Man and the City of God exist side by side in this world. The City of Man is imaged by Babel. The City of God is imaged by the Church. The City of Man is destined for destruction, but the City of God will endure forever.

Fear of Death — Friday, 3rd Week of Ordinary Time—Year I

January 28, 2011

God permits us to feel a natural aversion to death. This is healthy and for our good. (Imagine what the world would be like if everyone were completely indifferent as to whether they lived or died.) However, for faithful Christians, there is no reason to be terrorized by a fear of death.

If you remain close to the sacraments and rooted in daily prayer you have no reason to be afraid. Maybe you feel ill-prepared to die, but like the seed that grows without the farmer understanding how, God is preparing you for the unending life of Heaven in ways you don’t even perceive. Like the mustard seed, we may go into the ground as seemingly small and weak human beings, but we will rise with a greatness and power that even delights and blesses the angels of Heaven.

A natural aversion to death is healthy, but for Christians a fear of death is out of place. For, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, “We are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life.”

4 Truths of Human Nature

June 18, 2010

Who We Are Before God

In relating to God (especially in prayer) it is important to know who and what we are. In short, each one of us is Loved, Limited, Sinful, and Good. These are four truths of  our human nature.

1st Truth:  You are Loved

The Denial:  “God doesn’t love me.”
This Denial’s Consequences:  Sadness, Anxiety, Resentment
The Truth:  God created you in love and holds you in love. Jesus loves you, and Mary, angels, and saints (on earth and in heaven) love you, too.
The Fruit of Living in this Truth:  Peace, Trust, Love

[Lord,] you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you? But you spare all things, because they are yours, O LORD and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things! (Wisdom 11:24-12:1)

God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:9)

This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. (John 15:12)

2nd Truth:  You are Limited

The Denial:  “I don’t need God. I can do anything, if I just believe in myself.”
This Denial’s Consequences:  Pride, Frustration, Folly
The Truth:  You are, and will always be, God’s limited, finite, and dependent creature.
The Fruit of Living in this Truth:  Humility, Patience, Communion

When I see the heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars which you arranged, what are we that you should keep us in mind, mortal man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:4-5)

If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor; if the Lord does not watch over the city, in vain does the watchman keep vigil. In vain is your earlier rising, your going later to rest, you who toil for the bread you eat: when he pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber. (Psalm 127:1-2)

I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

3rd Truth:  You are Sinful

The Denial:  “I don’t have any real sins.”
This Denial’s Consequences:  Impenitence, Corruption, Sin
The Truth:  Even after baptism,
concupiscence remains, inclining you to sin.
The Fruit of Living in this Truth:  Contrition, Conversion, Sanctification

No one is good but God alone. (Mark 10:18)

…All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. If we say, “We have not sinned,” we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 5:8-10)  

4th Truth:  
You are Good

The Denial:  “I’m worthless.”
This Consequence:  Sadness, Shame, Despair
The Truth:  Your human nature remains good, despite wounds and weakness.
The Fruit of Living in this Truth:  Joy, Hope, Fruitfulness

Then God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. … God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” (Genesis 1:26,31)

[The Gentiles] show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge people’s hidden works through Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:14-16)

some true and helpful things to remember about God’s attitude towards you: 

  • God not only loves you, He likes you, too.
  • God works all things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28); including every evil that befalls you and your own past sins.
  • God is easily pleased, and hard to satisfy.