Archive | July, 2012

Pope’s Intentions for August

31 Jul

Following are the Intentions of our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI for the month of August, courtesy of the Apostleship of Prayer:

  • Prisoners.  That prisoners may be treated with justice and respect for their human dignity.
  • Youth Witness to Christ. That young people, called to follow Christ, may be willing to proclaim and bear witness to the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

The month of August is also traditionally dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The heart of Mary is venerated–and not adored as the Sacred Heart of Jesus is–because it represents her burning love for Jesus, her virtue, and her deep interior life (cf. Lk. 2:19, 51). Through our devotion to the Immaculate Heart, we pray that we may likewise grow in love and virtue.

Devotion to the Immaculate Heart has received a new impetus over the past century because of the visions given to Lucy Dos Santos, oldest of the visionaries of Fatima, in her convent in Tuy, in Spain, in 1925-26. In the visions, Our Lady asked for the practice of the Five First Saturdays to help make amends for the offenses committed against her heart by the blasphemies and ingratitude of humanity.The practice parallels the devotion of the Nine First Fridays in honor of the Sacred Heart.

On March 25, 1984, in an act that was universal, solemn, public, and collegial, Pope John Paul II consecrated the entire world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

They Are Crying

27 Jul

Earlier this week, I was doing some research for Archbishop Naumann and came across a back issue (December 1998) of First Things, a magazine brought into prominence by the late Catholic convert, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. While my research was on an entirely different subject, I stumbled upon the following entry in Fr. Neuhaus’ signature column “The Public Square,” which I thought I would share. Since Rick Santorum is no longer a presidential candidate, I thought I could affirm his heroic pro-life stance in this episdode independent of political considerations. Here is what Fr. Neuhaus wrote:

In Letters to Gabriel (Briefly Noted, October), Karen Garver Santorum includes a moment that should not be forgotten. In the Senate her husband Rick Santorum was in 1997 leading the fight on behalf of a ban on partial-birth abortion. Senator Barbara Boxer of California, in opposition, thanked the women who had had such abortions for coming forward with their stories and declared, “They are crying. They are crying because they do not understand how Senators could take away an option. They are crying because they do not believe that those Senators truly understand what this meant for their families.”

Santorum said in response, “The Senator said she hears the cries of the women outside this Chamber. We would be deafened by the cries of the children who are not here to cry because of this procedure.”

The Washington Post described what happened next: “Republican Sen. Rick Santorum turned to face the opposition and in a high, pleading voice cried out, ‘Where do we draw the line? Some people have likened this procedure to an appendectomy. That’s not an appendix,’ he shouted, pointing to a drawing of a fetus. ‘That is not a blob of tissue. It is a baby. It’s a baby.’ And then, impossibly, in an already hushed gallery, in one of those moments when the floor of the Senate looks like a stage set, with its small wooden desks somehow too small for the matters at hand, the cry of a baby pierced the room, echoing across the chamber from an outside hallway. No one mentioned the cry, but for a few seconds, no one spoke at all.”

Reality Church

26 Jul

Business Lessons Learned from Reality Television — sxc.hu/ba1969

Surely one of the “lowlights” of today’s culture is “reality TV.” These programs have no plot, no substance, and no enduring value. And ironically, one hallmark of “reality TV” is that it’s eerily unreal. Staged spontaneity is neither good drama nor real living.

Tragically, the radical subjectivism of our secular society that’s reflected in reality TV has crept into the popular understanding of the Church. In fact, it’s everywhere, from so-called “do-it-yourself” liturgies to “experience-based” catechesis. It’s present in the alarming trend to treat definitive Church teachings as merely a la carte items on the Catholic menu. We see it, too, in the democratizing elements in the Church, reflected in recent decades by dissident organizations such as Call to Action and Voice of the Faithful.

These and similar developments suggest that in sending His Son to redeem us, God had no clear plan or structure in mind for applying the merits of Christ’s sacrifice and gathering all men and women to Himself. And so, many people do not avail themselves of the miracle of Pentecost, by which the Holy Spirit unites us to God and to one another in His Church. Instead, many opt to become “Babel Christians” (cf. Gen. 11:4), choosing to build an ecclesial edifice, such as it is, according to their own whims and preferences.

Against this backdrop, we have Lumen Gentium (Light of the Nations), the central document of the Second Vatican Council, which examines the mystery of the Church. Vatican II employed many terms and images to describe the Church, but perhaps the most fundamental and profound concept the Church uses to describe herself is “communion.” By this is meant the Church’s role and mission to unite us with the Trinity and with one another.

What the Church means by an “ecclesiology of communion,” or even by the Church as the “Family of God,” is a huge topic. Here I want to emphasize that this image of the Church provides an essential corrective to the radical subjectivism and relativism that drain the life out of the Church’s evangelistic efforts.

The Church, after all, is at once an objective and subjective reality. By “objective reality,” I simply mean that we can talk about the Church in the third person, as an “it”–or better yet, since the Church is the Bride of Christ and our mother, “she.” The Church already has meaning, shape, and structure that God has given to her. She is what she is. When the Church invites us to “communion” with her, we participate in her life. We enter the reality of the Church, not the other way around.

At the same time, the Church is not indifferent to our participation. Rather, she desires to bring all men and women into the fold. As part of the “communion” of saints, we no longer stand outside the Church as mere spectators, but instead we can in some sense refer to the Church as “we”–not because we have authority or a “vote,” but because we have grace.

This dynamic is reflected well in Sacred Scripture. The Bible is the inspired Word of God that objectively records God’s plan for mankind. Yet it also is ordered to our entering into the pages, as we take our own place in salvation history.

This truth is also reflected in the fact that we use the word “faith” in two distinct yet related ways.

When we refer to “the” faith we’re talking about the height, depth, and width of the deposit of faith–all that God has revealed to us through Christ for our salvation. The deposit of faith is revealed truth, so it is not negotiable. Rather, in docility and obedience to the Holy Spirit, we must conform ourselves to the objective data of divine revelation.

At the same time, we rightly refer to “my” faith, which refers to our own personal acceptance of what God has revealed to us through His Church. Even more fundamentally, it refers to our own personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the one Savior of the world.

These two meanings of faith necessarily go together. Jesus has stern words in Scripture for those who would profess a personal belief in Him yet reject His teachings and commands. At the same time, accepting the Church without a living relationship with our Lord is of no avail. It’s like having a body without a heart.

In the Greek, the Church is considered a “mysterion.” In Latin, this is rendered both as “mysterium” (“mystery”) and as “sacramentum” (“sacrament”). The Church is in the nature of mystery, as it entails spiritual realities beyond our perception and comprehension. But the Church is also in the nature of sacrament, and as such is called to be a visible sign of Christ to the world. Because of this, our own communion with or connection to the Church is not just personal and spiritual, but also communal and visible.

The concept of “communion” implies a principle of unity. The contemporary question of “how much can I dissent and still be considered a Catholic?” implies a principle of disunity or plurality. It really is a wrong-headed and spiritually dangerous question. It’s like asking “how unfaithful can I be to my wife and still be considered a married man?”

“Visible communion” with the Church means, among other things, professing the Catholic faith and submitting to legitimate Church authority. After all, in matters of faith and morals the Church teaches with the authority of Christ, who told His apostles, “He who hears you hears me” (Lk. 10:16). The rejection of such teaching is a sin against the virtue of faith.

Some Catholics today assert the right to decide for themselves which of our Lord’s teachings they are willing to accept. They stand in judgment of the Church as their own pope, picking and choosing among Church teachings.

However, if we only accept doctrines that “work for us,” then we’re not talking about faith, because faith entails the acceptance of all that Our Lord has revealed through His Church, based on His own authority. Mere agreement is not the same as faith, because then we’re putting Christ’s teachings through an approval process, rejecting anything that seems unacceptable to us.

Once we admit the possibility of dissent from definitive Church teaching, there really is no principled basis to limit this cancer in the Church. How many of Christ’s teachings can I reject and still be His faithful disciple?

All of this matters because our salvation depends on our cooperation with the undeserved gift of sanctifying grace that unites us to God and to one another. “Visible communion” may reveal our vital signs, but grace is our source of life. The challenge for lay Catholics everywhere is to allow this new life to transform us and, through us, the world.

When Christ comes to us, most especially through the gift of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, it’s not to diminish, impede, or conceal His light, but to multiply it. He uses each one of us as His lamps in the world. We are the “light of the world” only insofar as Christ shines through us, as He did through she who was “full of grace.” All generations call Mary blessed (Lk. 1:48) because of the marvelous way she “magnified” the light of Christ through her cooperation with divine grace.

May our Lady, Mother of the Church, draw all her children into more perfect communion with her Son, who truly is Lumen Gentium, the Light of the World.

For What Do We Pray?

24 Jul

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes struggle in formulating my prayers of intercession. Often I am tempted to pray for my own selfish interests and comfort, perhaps for my team to win (and for the team(s) ahead of them in the standings to lose–which in the Royals’ case is just about everybody), for balmy 75 degree days (not too many of those lately), and that my kids live happily ever after (after they set me and the missus up at a nice retirement home near a golf course).

Even when I go out of myself to pray for others, I can be at a loss. For instance, when we hear of tragedies such as what occurred last week in Colorado, how do we raise our grief and concern and compassion in a meaningful way?

I don’t claim to have all the answers to these questions, but I have come across two things lately that can help shape our approach to intercessory prayer. First, there is this paragraph from paragraph 33 of Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical on Christian hope, Spe Salvi:

“When we pray properly we undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well. In prayer we must learn what we can truly ask of God–what is worthy of God. We must learn that we cannot pray against others. We must learn that we cannot ask for the superficial and comfortable things that we desire at this moment–that meager, misplaced hope that leads us away from God. We must learn to purify our desires and our hopes. We must free ourselves from the hidden lies with which we deceive ourselves. God sees through them, and when we come before God, we too are forced to recognize them. . . .”

We don’t know how to pray as we ought (cf. Rom. 8:26), so we need to allow the Holy Spirit to purify us and to teach us to seek in prayer what is truly good for us and for others.

Also, I’ve been reading a wonderful little book entitled A Deacon’s Retreat by Deacon James Keating. He identifies four intentions that are especially “worthy of God,” given the deacon’s unique role as leader of the prayer of the faithful at Mass:

(1) Holiness, for ourselves and for others in our orbit of relationships and responsiblities.

(2) For the strength and grace to faithfully live out our vocations (and not depend on our own steam).

(3) For the welfare of others. It has been said that it is God’s job to think of us, while it is our job to think of others.

(4) Deacon Keating says we should “intercede for those who are severely suffering because they are on the cusp of losing faith or truly entering the paschal mystery and becoming saints.”

For these and all the intentions that we hold within our hearts, Lord hear our prayer!

The Gift of the Eucharist

20 Jul

God loves us not because we’re good, but because He’s good. In fact, God in His goodness loved us so much that, despite our sinfulness, He became man in the fullness of time. He redeemed us by His own blood and opened for us the gates of heaven. We have received no greater gift, and we have no greater cause for thanksgiving, than Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross for us.

Even more, through the Eucharist, Christ’s sacrifice is continually made present and effective in our lives. “Eucharist” literally means thanksgiving, as the gift of Christ to His Church elicits our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

We do need to recognize the fullness of the gift of the Eucharist–that Our Lord is truly present under the appearance of bread and wine, and that He gives us the grace and the power to live the Gospel when we partake of this Sacrament. To fully appreciate the gift of the Mass, our eyes must remain fixed on Jesus and this tremendous gift.

That should go without saying, but in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, our focus can be diverted to ourselves if we’re not careful. Many of the liturgical controversies that we’ve endured in recent decades would dissipate if we really believed and truly appreciated what is happening on the altar. We can’t feed ourselves, we can’t save ourselves. Thank God that He sent His Son to feed us, indeed, to save us.

The gift of faith in Jesus Christ, truly present in the Eucharist, is inseparable from our faith in the Church. Scripture says that in marriage the two truly become one (cf. Gen. 2:24; Mt. 19:5). Scripture also calls Jesus Christ the Bridegroom and the Church His Bride (cf. Eph. 5:21-33). If that were the case, it would take an act of violence–a spiritual divorce, if you will–to separate Christ from His Church.

The Church, after all, is the Body of Christ extended through space and time. Even more profoundly, she is the family of God and our true home. The Bible is our family album. All those who are alive in Christ are truly our brothers and sisters in the communion of saints. Christ is the one source of eternal life for the whole world, and this life flows through His family, the Church. We are grateful for the gift of the Church and for the witness and intercession of the company of saints.

Becoming a Child

18 Jul

I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.

I think these words of Jesus, taken from today’s Gospel, should beckon us to meditate on our most fundamental identity. At Baptism we truly became “children of God” (1 Jn. 3:1). In fact, Jesus goes so far as to say we must become like a child even to enter the kingdom of God (cf. Mt. 18:3). What does this mean?

I think of one of my sons, who as a small child would fold his hands not only to say “Amen,” but also to say “please,” “thank you,” and “certainly I would like a banana.” He not only had a rudimentary sense of his utter dependence on his mother and me, but he also trusted that we would provide for his needs. This trust would become a surge of joyful expectancy as I would proceed to care for him.

While we may be adults in the world’s eyes, we’re still children in God’s eyes. We are utterly dependent upon Him for the life of grace freely given us at Baptism. He cleans up our messes through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and He feeds us with the true bread from heaven.

And, as a Father who truly understands and desires what’s best for His children (cf. Mt. 7:9-11), He disciplines us, even though as it occurs we might not fully understand His purposes (cf. Heb. 12:7-11). And, as children who joyfully and confidently await Our Father’s blessing, we begin to see, with St. Thérèse, that prayer is “a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy” (Catechism, no. 2558).

Lessons for Today

16 Jul
Three things jump out at me in today’s Gospel, which is taken from chapter 10 of St. Matthew’s Gospel.

(1) God’s sense of humor.

Today is the 22nd anniversary of my becoming engaged to Maureen, so I find it very amusing that in today’s Gospel Our Lord would say, “I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set . . . a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

A little piece of Suprenant family trivia: I was waiting for the next Marian feast day to propose, which was July 16th, Our Lady of Mount Carmel. However, like this year, that feast fell on a Monday in 1990, so I actually proposed the preceding Saturday. (Hey, if the Church can move the Ascension to Sunday . . .)

And, joking aside, my wife’s care for my mother in her old age and infirmity was incredibly edifying to me and a tremendous witness to our children.

(2) The lost life.

Our Lord gives us the paradox that if we truly want to be happy, if we truly want to live, then we will lose our lives for His sake. In this teaching we find, among other things, a wonderful catechesis on the deadly sin of greed (aka avarice, covetousness), which is a disordered love of getting and possessing.

Greed involves a failure to trust in Our Heavenly Father’s goodness, so we seek security in worldly realities, rather than in God alone. But a security built on worldly realities is a security built on sand, not solid rock. Or, as the soon-to-be-canonized Blessed Kateri, might say: “You can’t Tekakwitha when you die.” (Sorry about that!)

(3) The prophet’s reward.

We also hear in today’s Gospel that whoever hears the Apostles (and thus their successors) hears Christ Himself, which is a commonly cited biblical support for the perennial teaching regarding our belief in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. But there’s more here. When we support the Church and her leaders, we are supporting Christ Himself, and when we support the work of our bishops, missionaries, and the like, we share in their “reward.” In other words, just as formal cooperation with sin makes us guilty for the sin, so also such formal cooperation with the mission of the Church fully makes us partners in the “new evangelization.”

The Business “at Hand”

12 Jul

In the readings at Mass this week, we’re hearing quite a bit about the “Kingdom of God” or “Kingdom of heaven” as Our Lord builds His Church. It’s not something far away, we hear, but “at hand” (Mt. 10:7).

I’ve found that the “proclamation of the Kingdom” as a mystery of the Rosary provides vast opportunities for meditating upon the Gospel. Jesus’ entire public ministry comes within its purview, as it provides a crucial and expansive bridge between the Infancy and Passion narratives.

Yet, the proclamation of the Kingdom in some ways is the most intensely personal and focused mystery. Jesus’ words, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk. 1:15), apply specifically to each one of us and demand a daily response of faith (cf. Lk. 9:23). This mystery points to our own liberation from sin and our acceptance of the sublime gift of divine sonship (cf. Gal. 4:4-7), a gift that far exceeds our wildest dreams.

Here the various extraordinary signs Our Lord used—and through His Church continues to use—to manifest His Kingdom and strengthen our faith come into play.

Miracles that we can see with our own eyes grab our attention. Jesus performed many such sensational signs–curing the sick, expelling demons, feeding the multitudes, and even raising the dead. In today’s Gospel, He gives this power, this authority, to His newly chosen Apostles. Still, Christ did not come to make us “ooh” and “aah” in amazement. Nor did He come as merely a social worker extraordinaire to rid the world of all suffering, hardship, and injustice, even as He calls all His followers to help renew the face of the earth and transform the temporal order through our own works of mercy (cf. Mt. 25:31-46).

Rather, He came to work a far greater miracle. He came “to free men from the greatest slavery, sin, which thwarts them in their vocation as God’s sons and causes all forms of human bondage” (Catechism, no. 549). Other miracles are but signs that point us to this more profound reality.

The miracle of our redemption carried a hefty price tag. As St. Peter says, we were ransomed from the futile ways of our fathers by means of the precious blood of Christ, the lamb that was slain (1 Pet. 1:18-20). The critically acclaimed film The Passion of the Christ magnificently—and graphically— depicts the intense sufferings Our Lord endured for us so that we might truly become children of God.

We need the eyes of faith to see and appreciate the gift of eternal life as adopted sons and daughters of God and heirs of heaven, a gift that God in His loving providence has marvelously interwoven into the fabric of our own personal histories.

May we meditate frequently upon this miracle of grace that is being worked within us even now. Yes, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!

Gay Parenthood

10 Jul

One argument offered in support of same-sex marriage is that children raised by same-sex couples have no more problems than children raised by their married biological parents. Aware that a major impediment to their agenda is public concern about the welfare of children raised by same-sex couples, gay activists have encouraged researchers to “disprove” this concern. They offer their “findings” to the courts in marriage cases.

The majority of these studies do not compare children raised by same-sex couples with those raised by married biological parents, but with children raised by single mothers or in other less-than-ideal circumstances. Further, many of these studies have been shown to be externally or internally invalid. And in some cases, researchers simply ignored their own findings and skewed their conclusions to fit their agenda.

Persons with same-sex attractions (SSA) are human beings. It’s natural for them to want to experience the joy of having children: to love, to nurture, to leave a legacy. There’s nothing wrong with a woman wanting to become pregnant and bear a child, or a man wanting to experience the joy of seeing his son grow into manhood or his daughter develop into a beautiful woman.

Yet children are not trophies, or a way to meet one’s personal needs, or props to help forward an ideology. People aren’t a means to an end; they’re meant to be loved for their own sake. Therefore, no one has a “right” to a child. It’s children who have the rights. When circumstances separate a child from one or both biological parents, adults should try to create a situation for him or her that is as normal as possible. No matter how honorable the intention, no one has the right to compound the tragedy of separation from biological parents by subjecting a child to another suboptimal situation.

At this point, children raised by same-sex parents are being subjected to a massive social experiment not undertaken for their benefit, but to further the gay rights agenda.

Activists might claim that couples with SSA are “rescuing” children by adopting them out of poverty or other hard circumstances. Although laudable, this intention doesn’t negate the real problems caused by same-sex parenting—problems deeper and longer-lasting than material deprivation. This argument also loses force when one considers the many roadblocks to adoption faced by stable, well-to-do married couples. Same-sex adoption doesn’t necessarily provide more homes to needy children; it often keeps those children away from married couples who would otherwise adopt them.

Of course, when reproductive technologies are used to create babies for same-sex couples, these children aren’t being “rescued” from anything. Instead they’re being intentionally (and immorally) conceived to be placed in suboptimal situations. At best, this is treating the child as an object, a possession, without regard to what may be best for him or her.

On pp. 218-19 of her outstanding book, One Man, One Woman: A Catholic’s Guide to Defending Marriage (Sophia, 2007), author Dale O’Leary summarizes the risks to children of same-sex parenting as follows:

(1) Each of these situations is either fatherless or motherless. Children flourish when they can identify with a parent of their own sex and feel loved and accepted by a person of the other sex.

(2) These children are fatherless or motherless because of adult decisions–often based on a need to feel validated or “complete”–not unavoidable circumstances. Either by adopting them or conceiving them artificially, their care-givers deliberately choose to deprive their children of a mother or a father.

(3) In every same-sex household, one or both parents have no biological relationship to the child. Often compounding the situation are complicated and often contentious legal and emotional relationships with sperm donors, surrogate mothers, former spouses, and ex-partners.

(4) Persons with SSA have a psychological disorder rooted in childhood trauma, which can negatively affect their relationships, their attitudes toward the other sex, and their attitudes toward parenting. They are also more likely to have psychological disorders and therefore are more prone to engage in behaviors that might negatively affect their children.

(5) Adults with SSA are part of a community that views itself as oppressed and in conflict with the greater society. This at-war-with-the-world stance places a burden on the children.

(6) Homosexual behavior is considered sinful by many religions, and same-sex parenting is otherwise stigmatized to some degree in mainstream society. The majority of people in most communities believe marriage should be between one man and one woman. Right or wrong, this can’t help but isolate the children raised by same-sex couples, creating feelings of differentness and inferiority.

(7) The community of adults with SSA tends to have attitudes toward sexuality that encourage sexual experimentation and don’t adequately protect minor children from exposure to sexually explicit materials and sexual exploitation.

A New Birth of Religious Freedom

4 Jul

As the Fortnight for Freedom comes to a close today, we do well to take to heart these words of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. of Philadelphia:

“Religious liberty is an empty shell if the spiritual core of a people is weak. Or to put it more bluntly, if people don’t believe in God, religious liberty isn’t a value. That’s the heart of the matter. It’s the reason Pope Benedict calls us to a Year of Faith this October.

“The worst enemies of religious freedom aren’t “out there” among the legion of critics who hate Christ or the Gospel or the Church, or all three. The worst enemies are in here, with us–all of us, clergy, religious, and lay–when we live our faith with tepidness, routine, and hypocrisy.

“Religious liberty isn’t a privilege granted by the state. It’s our birthright as children of God. And even the worst bigotry can’t kill it in the face of a believing people. But if we value it and want to keep it, then we need to become people worthy of it. Which means we need to change the way we live–radically change, both as individual Catholics and as the Church.”