You Too Go into the Vineyard

20 Aug

vineyardIn today’s Gospel we hear the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mt. 20:1-16). We can approach this rich teaching of Jesus from various perspectives. St. John Paul II reflected on this passage at length in his apostolic exhortation on the apostolate of lay people (Christifideles Laici). He encouraged all men and women to hear and take to heart Our Lord’s words, “You too go into my vineyard” (Mt. 20:4).

Whenever I’ve heard this parable, I’ve placed myself in the role of one of the potential workers. I need to do my part in the Lord’s vineyard. Further, I shouldn’t be envious of those who come into the vineyard later in the day, who nonetheless are equal recipients of the eternal blessings the Lord has in store for those who turn to Him.

Today, however, I was struck by the words of some of the potential laborers when asked why they were just standing there idly. They said, “Because no one has hired us” (Mt. 20:7). In other words, no one has invited them into the vineyard. And whose fault is that?

Through our Baptism, we are called not only to live the faith ourselves but also to call upon others–in endearing, encouraging ways–to join us in the work of helping others to grow in faith and holiness of life. Our Holy Father Pope Francis has emphasized that the Church has to be looking outward. There is a lot to be done in this vineyard.

As one of the men from our Archdiocese who is in formation for the diaconate, I can see that one aspect of being a faithful deacon is simply rounding up workers for our divine Landowner. May we all join together in this great task, which is rightly called the “new evangelization.”

This post originally appeared in August 2013.

Multiplying Mercy

14 Aug

Sermon on the MountThis summer I’ve pounded my head on the table more than once as I’ve tried to help my antsy, highly distractible fourth-grade son learn his times tables. He especially struggles with the 7s. And despite his athletic prowess, the fact that all he has to do is count touchdowns (7-14-21-28-etc.) doesn’t seem to help much.

Just my luck, in today’s Gospel Our Lord turns mercy into a math problem. How often are we to forgive our neighbor? Seven times? Try seventy-seven times (that would be 7 X 11). In other versions of this text, presumably for more advanced math students, Jesus tells us to forgive 7 X 70 times (that would be 490 times).

Is Our Lord really trying to quantify our forgiveness, such that at some point we can comfortably say in good conscience that we’re off the hook, that we don’t have to forgive anymore? Absolutely not. He wants us to understand that we should expect mercy in the measure that we’re willing to give it. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Just as we’re in constant need of mercy, it stands to reason that we’re in constant need of extending mercy.

I expect mercy every time I go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation to confess pretty much the same sins that I already told Our Lord through the priest that I was “firmly resolved” to not commit anymore. How can I then turn around and be miserly to others, and not cut them a similar break? That’s the question posed to each of us in today’s Gospel.

It’s not about math, and it’s not about being a doormat or naive. We don’t have to let others take unjust advantage of us. But we can and must forgive even if we think our spouse, child, friend, classmate, or colleague is not sufficiently “sorry” or committed to change his or her behavior. It’s on them to take our mercy and run with it.

Simply put, our job is to reflect God’s boundless mercy to all whom we meet.

R-e-s-p-e-c-t

13 Aug

My wife Libby and I were married in the summer of 2003. The following spring we settled into a new job, and we moved from our little one bedroom apartment and into our first house. We decided the time was right to attempt the parenting thing.

Because we had been practicing NFP, we knew how to maximize our opportunity for conceiving a child. It was scary and exhilarating at the same time. We didn’t know if we would be good parents or if we would even be able to conceive a child. Yet when we came together as husband and wife with the specific intention of conceiving a child, our marriage was deepened. The experience raised to a whole new level our respect for each other and our sense of awe at the greatness of God for His plan of sexual love. We discovered that our potential fertility was not merely an accidental part of the human experience, but rather expressed something amazing about us as persons made in the image and likeness of God.

“Wow, we are attempting to cooperate with the Creator of the universe in the creation of new life that will exist forever! Who are we that we should be able to do this?”!

For St. John Paul II, fertility is not accidental, but existential. It is an expression of the human person. To withhold or reject fertility is to withhold or reject the whole person. While fertility can be studied through biology, it is not simply biological. Rather, sex and fertility are at the core of our entire being.

For anyone who has suffered the cross of infertility or knows someone who suffers with this cross, John Paul’s perspective makes all the sense in the world. Very close friends of ours have carried the cross of infertility for a number of years. It is precisely because fertility is at their core that their suffering is so great. If fertility were merely accidental, it would not be so difficult. They long deeply to bring another child into this world as a reflection and permanent reminder of their married love. Their prayer is that they would have fertility to give to one another. They cannot imagine keeping it from the other.

As a parent, I feel a deep sadness when my son shares with me something that he does not like about himself. My daughter is only 4, and my prayer is that she always knows the truth of her beauty and goodness, especially when she reaches the teen years and is tempted to find flaws is the way she looks. To boil it down, contraception says, “I don’t like my fertility, and I don’t want to share it with you.” Our heavenly Father sees fertility as a beautiful part of who He created us to be. It saddens the Heart of God when we don’t appreciate how wonderfully made we are.

For John Paul, the difference between NFP and contraception involves two opposed concepts of the human person. Contraception views fertility as a disease, and therefore, must be suppressed. NFP views fertility as an integral part of the human person (see Familiaris Consortio, no. 32). Fertility is not something to be ashamed of or rejected, but joyfully embraced as a gift from God. NFP allows a couple to responsibly cooperate with the Creator in bringing forth new life. What an incredible dignity God bestows on us creatures in allowing us to participate in the creation of a person who will exist forever! NFP cultivates a respect for this human dignity not only toward our spouse, but also our children. The respect does not stop there, though. NFP cultivates a greater respect and appreciation for every human person, because it fosters the realization that every person is made in the image of God.

As we watch the evening news and see war in the Holy Land, conflict between Russia and the Ukraine, and poverty on the rise here in the homeland, we are challenged to have a greater appreciation for human dignity. We may not be able to do extraordinary things to change the course of history on a large scale, but we can allow our own minds and hearts to be changed and softened toward our fellow humans. NFP is a path to foster mutual respect and soften us to see every person as our brother and sister.

Granted, it is a small step, but doesn’t the journey of a thousand miles begin with the first small step? It seems too simple and not drastic enough, but if we are not willing to change as Christians, how can we expect non-Christians to have a greater respect for their fellow humans? To this point, St. Ignatius of Loyola said, “He who goes about to reform the world must begin with himself.” Let’s increase the level of respect in our own families and neighborhoods and do our part to build a culture worthy of our great dignity.

Guest columnist Brad DuPont is a consultant for the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. He credits Dr. John Grabowski’s talk at the 2014 Theology of the Body Congress, “Something Old, Something New: Tradition and Development of Doctrine in the Theology of the Body’s Teaching on Marriage” for inspiring this series of articles.

The Lost Life

8 Aug

Today’s Gospel has, in my estimation, one of the most profound sayings of Jesus: “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). We also find these words in John 12, where Jesus adds that unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if the seed dies, it will go on to bear much fruit.

This is one of those verses we can meditate upon over and over again and still not mine all its riches and beauty.

We can reflect on the “saved life” that ultimately is lost. If we’re all about ourselves and our temporal needs and pleasures, we might seem to be preserving our own lives.  However, in reality we could be “losing” eternal life for lesser, passing goods.

We can also reflect on the “lost life,” which in our world seems like such a waste, yet when it is done for Jesus’ sake–such as by uniting our own sufferings and crosses with His–we find the path to the fullness of life. What a paradox, by daring to give ourselves away in love for God and neighbor, we actually find meaning, purpose, and fulfillment.

What an awesome God we have!

What’s the Use?

5 Aug

marriage1In the last post, I recalled St. John Paul II’s first reason why natural family planning (“NFP”) differs from contraception. Namely, contraception speaks a “language” contrary to that of NFP. Contraception contradicts the “body language” of sexual union as a complete gift of self and a total reception of one’s spouse. Meanwhile, NFP speaks a language of openness to each other as husband and wife. With NFP, a total gift is given and received, which remains faithful to the language given in the marriage vows.

The second reason John Paul develops is similar, but he offers a further distinction based on his deep respect and understanding of human dignity. Because of their dignity as persons, men and women should never be used. The only proper response to a human person is love and acceptance. In the mind of the Holy Father, the opposite of love is “use,” not hate.

We understand this truth instinctively. Think about your reaction to a tragedy being exploited for political gain, or a family member performing acts of kindness simply to get written into the millionaire uncle’s will. Situations like these make us angry, because we perceive that persons should be accepted and loved not merely for what they can do or produce, but rather for being who they are. If this is true in ordinary human interactions, how much more should this principle apply to marriage, the most intimate of relationships?

Obviously, spouses do not set out to “use” one another through the marital act. However, because the conjugal act is supposed to be a complete gift of self, to make a partial gift or to receive a partial gift where one’s fertility is withheld or rejected is contrary to the full love and acceptance that one’s spouse deserves. A contracepted union is not a true union. It reduces the attempted union of husband and wife to a mere activity where each is using each other for a pleasurable goal.

Surely we’re not denying that the conjugal act is pleasurable. Yet, when it is divorced from the true union of the spouses, then it necessarily involves selfishly using each other. In other words, it places the focus on “what am I getting out of this” instead of “what can I give my beloved.” It’s beneath a person’s dignity to give only a partial gift of self or to receive only a partial gift. The contraceptive mentality reduces love from the unconditional love that we all desire to a conditional love or use, which is the opposite of love. Using each other is not in keeping with our human dignity.

The beauty of NFP is that it opens up spouses to a greater respect and understanding of each other. NFP allows for the total giving and receiving of the gift. Speaking as a man, I can honestly say that learning the ups and downs of how my wife’s body works has increased my respect for her and indeed, enhanced my respect for all women. I am in awe of how beautifully and wonderfully made women are. As I look out into the culture, it seems to me that there is a great lack of respect and understanding between men and women, and I wonder if that could be remedied somewhat if we were more open to the gift of NFP.

So why is fertility so integral to our human dignity? That will be explored in the next column.

Guest columnist Brad DuPont is a consultant for the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. He credits Dr. John Grabowski’s talk at the 2014 Theology of the Body Congress, “Something Old, Something New: Tradition and Development of Doctrine in the Theology of the Body’s Teaching on Marriage” for inspiring this series of articles.

Celebrating NFP

29 Jul

nfpLast week, Archbishop Naumann celebrated a Mass to commemorate the 46th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter Humanae Vitae. Yes, I said celebrate. Contrary to popular belief, the Church wishes to celebrate the encyclical that affirms the long-standing and beautiful teaching that the sexual love between a husband and wife is meant for two purposes, to unite the couple more profoundly and to have their love take flesh in the form of new life.

Many believed that Pope Paul VI would allow for artificial means of birth control, and many still believe he should have. Still, there are others who say that the Church does allow for contraception under the name of Natural Family Planning (“NFP”), but is this true? Is NFP simply “Catholic Contraception”?

Pope Paul VI believed there was a significant difference, and St. John Paul II, building on his predecessor’s teaching, articulated five main differences between NFP and contraception in his catechesis on human love in the divine plan that has come to be known as the theology of the body. Over the next few weeks I will explain each of these differences.

The first difference can be called the “linguistic argument.” In John Paul’s view of the human person, the body is not just a collection of cells that happens to be connected to an invisible soul. Rather, the body is what actually communicates and makes visible the soul. The body makes present the invisible mystery of a person’s maleness or femaleness, the two equal but different ways of existing as a human person. You might say that the body speaks a “language.”

We recognize this truth in so many ways. In fact, nonverbal communication is incredibly powerful and, often times, reveals the truth of a situation far more convincingly than verbal communication. Think of a child who tells his mom that everything is “fine,” but his body language communicates sadness through shrugged shoulders, a slumped posture, and a frown as big as a clown in face paint. Any good mother would not believe the empty verbal response of “fine” and but instead would believe what the rest of the body is communicating. We would say that the child’s body is revealing the truth of whole person.

Bodily gestures, like a kiss, communicate affection. This is why Jesus remarks to Judas that he is betraying the Son of Man with a kiss. A kiss is not meant to communicate betrayal and, in the case of Judas, is an ironic and false communication. In John Paul’s thought, body language can speak truths or falsehood in the same way that words do, so it is important to always speak the truth with our bodies. For John Paul, the conjugal act between a husband and wife says in a bodily way what the couple expressed in words at the altar on the day of their wedding. It is a renewal of their wedding vows each time the couple comes together to have this most “intimate conversation.”

In the wedding vows, the couple pledges to give the entirety of their lives to one another as a complete gift of self. The language of the marital act says the same thing, but through the language of the body.

With contraception, the language of the body goes from a language of giving everything to a language of withholding. What is withheld? When a couple contracepts, they say to each other, “I give you everything but my fertility.” Contraception makes the renewal of vows into a partial gift instead of the complete gift which was expressed at the altar.

Obviously, most couples who have contracepted did not intend to speak a language that contradicted their wedding vows. They most likely were a victim of the surrounding culture that offers contraception as the “only reasonable option.” Hopefully, this series of articles will dispel some of the myths about Natural Family Planning and allow couples to find a new hope and way to rejoice in the renewal of their wedding vows.

Many couples are changing the course of their marriage by reconsidering the choice of how to regulate births–and are looking into NFP as a reasonable option. If you have practiced NFP, chances are you know someone who has doubts about it. It is not always easy to have conversations about the beauty and gift that NFP can be to a marriage. Hopefully, this series of articles will better equip you to have meaningful conversations with friends and loved ones.

The truth is that NFP is a treasure that is waiting to be discovered and a source of good news for couples!

Guest columnist Brad DuPont is a consultant for the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. He credits Dr. John Grabowski’s talk at the 2014 Theology of the Body Congress, “Something Old, Something New: Tradition and Development of Doctrine in the Theology of the Body’s Teaching on Marriage” for inspiring this series of articles.

The Other Lawrence

21 Jul

St. Lawrence of BrindisiToday is the feast of St. Lawrence of Brindisi. When reference is made to a “St. Lawrence,” however, we are usually referring to the third-century deacon and martyr who is even mentioned in the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I). This latter St. Lawrence, given his special patronage of those who barbecue, is indeed a fine summertime saint in his own right, but his feast isn’t till next month.

Today’s St. Lawrence (1559-1619) was a Capuchin Franciscan priest who led, even by secular standards, a most remarkable life. One commentator has gone so far as to call him “the greatest man and the greatest saint yet produced by the Capuchin Franciscan Order.” Surely the excellence of his preaching was recognized by Blessed John XXIII, who named him a Doctor of the Church in 1959.

In 2002-03, I published in Lay Witness a series of 12 articles on the Marian teachings of St. Lawrence of Brindisi. Most if not all of these are currently available in the Lay Witness archives. These particular writings were translated into English for the first time by Joseph Almeida, professor of classics at Franciscan University of Steubenville. To view these articles, click here and browse the 2002 and 2003 issues.

I’d like to close with the beautiful Opening Prayer for today’s feast:

O God, who for the glory of your name and the salvation of souls bestowed on the Priest Saint Lawrence of Brindisi a spirit of counsel and fortitude, grant, we pray, that in the same spirit, we may know what must be done and, through his intercession, bring it to completion. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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