God is love.
You were made in God’s image.
You are the image of love.
Think about that the next time you look in the mirror.
God is love.
You were made in God’s image.
You are the image of love.
Think about that the next time you look in the mirror.
I call it the “F-word.” As far as I can tell it’s the hardest part of being a Christian. Our sense of justice often won’t let us forgive, and yet it is one of the most important things that Jesus tells us to do. It’s also, I believe, God’s most important and oft-given gift to us. How do we forgive when forgiveness isn’t deserved? Is there ever a time when we shouldn’t forgive? I could go on and give my own ideas and beliefs and conclusions on this subject, but what do I know? I’m no expert at forgiving. I get as angry as anyone else and hold grudges as long as the next guy. But I pray that God help me to change. I pray that God help me to be more like Him. I pray for the love to forgive as I have been forgiven.
Luckily for me Father R. Scott Hurd has written a wonderful little book called Forgiveness: A Catholic Approach. Lisa Helene and I recently read the book and discussed it with a group of friends at our parish. In the book, Fr. Hurd describes forgiveness as a process. A process that does not involve forgetting the injury we’ve suffered and does not necessarily involve reconciliation with the other person. At it’s very essence forgiveness is a letting go of the anger and resentment we hold when someone hurts us. It means wishing our offender well, praying for our offender, and coming to place of peace where we can remember the pain without feeling the anger. This can take time, (it took St. Jane de Chantal several years to forgive her husband’s accidental killer) but it can be done and done only with God’s help.
There is nothing I could say here that Fr. Hurd doesn’t say better. So I’m just going to plug this wonderful book and hope it gets into the hands of all who need to read it!
Have a blessed week!
Tomorrow marks the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the 41st annual March for Life in Washington D.C. I want to take this time to reflect on at least one of the factors that drives mothers, fathers, families, and even governments to the conclusion that abortion is the best solution to a problem that could be best, (but not easily), solved with compassion and a collective sense of responsibility.
Twelve years ago I had a friend who was like a sister to me. We supported each other through bad times and shared the good times. It was, in all regards, a “best” friendship. It came to an end, however in the wake of an unexpected crisis pregnancy. She called me one evening to say she had something to tell me and that she was telling me because she knew I would support her no “matter what.” She had become pregnant by the guy she was seeing and had decided to have an abortion. She was unemployed at the time and battling the relapse of a drug addiction she thought she had kicked for good. I could hear the disappointment in her voice when I said that was a decision I could not stand behind. I tried in vain to persuade her to have the child and put the boy or girl up for adoption. I went to a local Right to Life office and got materials to illustrate to her the risks to her own physical and psychological health. At one point she asked me point blank “Are you willing to adopt it?” I stopped short. The ridiculousness of the question astounded me. “Of course I can’t!” I snapped back. “I can barely take care of myself!” I was working part-time as a waiter and made about $50 a day. I was asking my parents for money for rent every month. How could I be the one to take this child?
I don’t remember much of the conversation after that. She went on about how if I were incapable of helping in any material way, then how could I expect her to provide? My argument was that there was someone else out there with the means to support her child. There were options. All she had to do was carry the child to term. Yeah. That’s all. The bottom line is that the one person who was speaking up for this child was only willing to go so far. My advocacy for his or her life went only as far as what I perceived to be my responsibility. I was willing to beg her not to end her baby’s life but I was not willing to do the one thing she asked me to do that may have actually stopped her. I declined the opportunity to rescue a child bound for abortion.
The story has an all-too-typical ending. She went through with the procedure and we quickly drifted apart. Our mutual disappointment in each other became a constant presence. Eventually all communication stopped. Over the past twelve years I recall those few days that led to the end of our friendship; the arguments over the right to life, the right to choose, whose life, whose choices mattered most. For me the arguments were theoretical. For her, they were real. Was I not symptomatic of our society’s apathy toward those in need? Was I not typical of the congressman who votes pro-life but anti-healthcare? We talk a lot about the sanctity of life. How about putting our money where our mouth is and show that we stand with the unborn and not just for them. There are many who support the war on terrorism, but less than one percent of our country have signed up to actually fight it. Let’s do more than that for those who cannot yet speak for themselves. Let’s stop paying lip service to life and actually do something! Are we who can afford it willing to pay higher insurance premiums so that expectant mothers who can’t afford high premiums can get free prenatal and pediatric care? Are we who don’t have children willing to pay higher taxes so that new mothers and fathers can take extended maternity and paternity leave with full pay and a guaranteed job upon return?
Pope Francis said “It is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life… On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty,” (Evangelii Gaudium) Let us pray that we have the wisdom and fortitude to take the Holy Father’s words to heart and to action.
Have a blessed week!
While there will be ample and necessary reflection and analysis upon yesterday’s landmark decisions in the Supreme Court, I want to pause here briefly and provide a more personal, pastoral reflection. Over the past year or so, I have been listening attentively to two close friends who have been in committed, same-sex relationships for over ten years (longer than my own marriage). In addition, both of these men are committed Christians, one of whom still practices in the Catholic tradition. Their reactions have common themes, but are also quite distinctive and illuminating for me as I reflect on this in a more academic and theological context.
In listening to one friend’s reaction since last fall when the marriage amendment was narrowly defeated in MN, and through the legalization of gay-marriage this spring, and now with the two Supreme Court rulings yesterday, his consistent comment has been this: His struggles with depression, anxiety, suicide, addiction, failed relationships in his early life all stemmed from a deep and abiding sense that he was not OK- that it was not OK to be who he was. There were both internal and external factors to these complex psychological phenomena, of course, but it took him until later in life even to realize and admit that he was gay. Recovery and spiritual and emotional health have only come for him after admitting this and accepting himself as he is. His response to each stage in this cultural development is that the personal significance of these public, legal, and political decisions has been an affirmation that it is finally OK to be himself, not just in his personal life, but in his public life, too. We sometimes get caught up in the political and legal wrangling and forget the deeply human face of such debates. Edith Windsor’s reaction to the decision capture this for many.
My Catholic friend’s reaction is fascinating as well. He takes seriously the church’s teaching on marriage and family, and feels that there is something distinctive to marriage for heterosexual couples who are then able to procreate and raise a family. But he also wants his relationship to be recognized, both by society and by the Church. He hopes there might be some creative ways to recognize the many goods that come from his homosexual relationship, even while recognizing this as distinct from a heterosexual marriage. This poses some interesting middle ground for theological reflection, such as some form of liturgical recognition of committed, same-sex couples. (I recognize here that many people in same-sex relationships feel that it is important to name their love as a marriage, but I am simply commenting on his reflections.)
Personally, I am happy that our political and legal institutions are creating a society and a space where homosexual persons feel validated in who they are. Additionally, I would hope that they would feel the same sense of validation within the Roman Catholic Church (though I can certainly understand why many don’t find this). Let me say this more directly: you ARE loved and welcome in the Church, because we, as the people of God, are all the Church (even if we sometimes struggle to express this love clearly). That is something we can all agree upon, even if we disagree about the theological, political, and legal responses.
Of course, I recognize that I am out of step with some of the magisterial leadership on whether or not to celebrate these legal developments (not on the point about you being loved), but even amidst this disagreement we can all find ways to purify our public rhetoric on these issues. Even as I and others come to a different theological and moral conclusion regarding homosexuality, we can still work together to promote the USCCB’s 2006 more humane pastoral guidelines for person’s of a homosexual orientation (more humane, that is, than the CDF’s 2003 Consideration Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, which relies heavily on the vulgar language of “intrinsically disordered”).
Even amidst disagreement about the moral and legal status of same-sex couples within the Church and within society, we can all agree that we need to work together to make the Church a place where everyone is accepted and capable of finding acceptance, forgiveness, and moral and spiritual sustenance for our journey toward salvation.
On Wednesday June 26, 2013 the United States Supreme Court struck down, as unconstitutional the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman for the purposes of federal benefits. Under DOMA, same-sex marriages performed in states where same-sex marriage is legal were not recognized by the federal government. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops supported DOMA and called the Supreme Court decision “…a tragic day for marriage and our nation.”
How do I feel about this as a Catholic? I have a lot of trouble with it. As I’ve been on my journey back to the faith, I have delved into the Catholic Catechism, I have read about the lives and devotions of the Saints, I have witnessed the love of Christ in the tireless and fearless work of missionaries around the world. I know that I have barely scratched the surface of Christianity, but I cannot help but find great inconsistency between the Church’s message of love and the bishop’s adamant opposition to the union of two people of the same gender. Furthermore, to call the Supreme court decision on DOMA (and the decision not to decide on California’s Proposition 8), “tragic” is to elevate homosexuality to the same level of unholiness as abortion, rape, torture, abandonment of the poor, denial of healthcare to the sick, and the denial of human rights to immigrants. If, for the sake of argument, homosexuality is a sin, I would say it ranks rather low on the list of harmful consequences.
In the Mass readings for this coming Sunday, St. Paul reminds the Galatians “…the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal. 5:14) He did not add “unless your neighbor is gay.” The extreme rhetoric used by the bishops to denigrate the love between two people of the same sex will only serve to alienate a full ten percent of God’s children from the love offered to everyone else by the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us:
In no way is God in man’s image. He is neither man nor woman. God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the difference between the sexes. But the respective “perfections” of man and woman reflect something of the infinite perfection of God: those of a mother and those of a father and husband. (CCC 370)
The first half of that paragraph gives us reason to accept the love of two people of the same sex. The second part gives us reason to validate opposite-sex relationships exclusively. I have yet to hear this contradiction addressed. In order for an act to be a sin, the one committing the sin must be fully aware that the act is wrong. The “imperfect” state of homosexual unions presupposes that homosexuality is a moral, conscious, choice on the part of the homosexual. Science has proven this notion to be false. The Catholic Church has long upheld the validity of scientific discipline. The Church willingly accepts scientific theories on the evolution of man and the origins of the universe as being in harmony with the Christian belief in God as supreme creator. When science and scripture apparently contradict, the common truth is always found. For example the theory of evolution is compatible with the story of the fall of man in Genesis when you consider the “biting of the apple” to be a symbol of man’s decision to trust in himself rather than in God. The moment the first homo sapien had the notion that he did not need God to survive, he conferred on all his descendants the taint of original sin. One might argue that homosexual activity is a moral, conscious choice. But so is heterosexual activity. Any sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful because sex is the deepest and most profound physical expression of love between two people. If the supreme act of love is performed in the absence of the irrevocable commitments made in the sacrament of marriage, then the act constitutes a lie. Nonetheless, temptations to heterosexual activity, inside or outside of marriage, are considered natural. Temptations to homosexual activity are deemed by the Church to be unnatural under any circumstance, by virtue of the fact that such activity cannot lead to procreation, which is God’s ultimate intention for the gift of sexual love. This leads to the often asked and, as yet, unsatisfactorily answered questions,”Why are infertile heterosexual couples allowed to marry? Why is intercourse between men and women who have no hope of conceiving not considered sinful? Why is sexual intercourse between a man and a woman who purposely time their activity to lessen the possibility of conception no longer considered sinful?” These are tired old arguments, but I have yet to hear good answers to them.
This brings me to the biggest question on my mind: Why does God continue to create homosexuals? Their existence defies all principles of natural selection. Whether or not you believe that evolution is a natural process guided by God, homosexuality should have been bred out of the species thousands of years ago. They are far less inclined to reproduce and the prejudices against them by the other ninety percent of humanity has given them a pretty hefty survival disadvantage. Yet they continue to comprise roughly the same percentage of the population generation after generation. Why would God continue to create people condemned to a life of mandatory celibacy? Even the celibacy of the priesthood is a voluntary discipline.
One can point to scriptural passages that clearly refute the validity of homosexual love in the same way devout people of the past pointed to scripture to justify slavery, the spiritual inferiority of Jews, and the “evil” implications of being left-handed. In the last three instances, the Church’s interpretation of those passages evolved as its understanding of God’s world grew. I believe that the teaching on homosexuality has room to evolve. I pray that the Holy Spirit open the heart of the Church I love and enable it to love and embrace all of God’s children so that no one is given reason to avert their eyes from the Way, the Truth, and the Life that is Jesus Christ.
Have a Blessed Week!
Today’s Mass readings are all about forgiveness. In the first reading God forgives David for the sins of murder and adultery. Then Paul reminds us that our redemption comes entirely through Christ. The Gospel tells the story of the penitent woman washing the feet of Jesus with her tears and drying them with her hair. The common thread is that God forgives us if we are open to his grace.
But what about those of us who aren’t? There are occasions in all our lives when we do something we know to be wrong and are not the least bit sorry. We do this for a variety of reasons and under a variety of circumstances. Sometimes we think the transgression is insignificant, (jaywalking, anyone?), or maybe we feel justified in our actions (“He/She had it coming!”). Regret is not a defining aspect of sin, but is it a prerequisite for redemption?
Take the case of a famous (infamous?) unrepentant sinner, Barabbas, the murderer set free in place of the innocent Christ. Barabbas has long been considered a symbol of the ultimate miscarriage of justice, the undeserving beneficiary of the actions of evil men and the insanity of mob rule. But perhaps Barabbas was something more. What if he was a historical precedent for redemption? What if his placement in the story of the Passion is as a symbol of the sinful everyman? Venerable Fulton J. Sheen says as much in his classic Life of Christ. “Barabbas was freed because of Christ, political freedom though it was. But it was a symbol that through his death men were to be made free.” That statement knocked me for a loop! Barabbas was the first sinner to be set free as a direct consequence of the crucifixion! And he wasn’t even sorry for what he did! He probably felt totally justified in his crimes since he committed them in the act of rebelling against the Roman occupation of Jerusalem. An example of injustice or proof of God’s mercy and generosity?
When I was growing up I once heard a priest say “God forgives you before you say you’re sorry.” As an adult I heard another priest say that sin is not “doing bad things”, sin is distance from God. Barabbas’ crimes are described in the Gospel but not his relationship with God. We know nothing of his religious life as a Jew. We may assume he was a criminal who happened to be in the right place at the right time. What if he was a pious man who believed he was fighting for the glory of God like the Crusaders of the middle ages? I’m not excusing whatever he did or justifying evil means to achieve noble ends, but I am starting to look more closely at what redemption truly means and for whom it is truly meant. Are we to be saved by our faith? Our actions? Our repentance? All of the above? Only God knows for sure. Sheen’s take on Barrabas’ place in the Gospel has made me think more deeply about the gift of redemption.
Have a blessed week!
Happy New Year! This morning I discovered an excellent resource from blogger Brandon Vogt for nurturing our relationship with God with the help and guidance of the saints. He picks a personal patron saint for each new year. Throughout the year he reads books about his personal saint (or saints, you can pick more than one!) and asks for their guidance and intercession, thus developing a friendship with them and, consequently, deepening his relationship with God.
To pick a personal saint he recommends the Saint’s Name Generator developed by Jen Fulwiler which will choose a saint’s name for you at random. This was a great resource for me as it saved me from the angst of debating which saint was a good fit for me. Such a decision would be too heavily influenced by my own prejudices and personal tastes. Instead, I left it to the Holy Spirit to send me the name of a guide for 2013. Whom did the Holy Spirit send my way, you ask? St. Elizabeth of Hungary. She is the patron saint of (among several things) the homeless, nursing services, and the death of children. Two things that relate to my work with the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul and one that is all too timely.