Archive | August, 2015

Why We Care About Marriage (Part 3)

26 Aug

As we discussed in the previous post, marriage is a sign of God as the eternal exchange of love before time began.  Marriage represents this truth because the husband and wife commit and give themselves as a gift to each other. The married couple images God as a communion of persons.  God’s wisdom in establishing marriage as a union between one man and one woman did not stop with signifying Him “as it was in the beginning.” Marriage also signifies God as He “is now.” We have come to experience and know God through time, and so this is the second aspect I would like to explore.

Marriage is a sign of God’s loving existence during time.  In fact, St. Paul reminds us that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent His son . . .” (Gal. 4:4).  Every sacramentally married couple is called to be a sign of Christ’s love for the Church.  By the way a married couple loves each other, they bear witness to the reality that God is a God who is passionately in love with His People, faithful to His promises, and generously merciful and life-giving.

In fact, this truth is at the core of the vows that the bride and groom exchange at the altar. The vows are what establish the sacrament. No vows, no sacrament. The couple has to promise to love each other in the same way that Christ loves the Church. If they are not willing to do that , then they do not become a sacrament.  Let’s look at those vows more intently.

If you have not been to a Catholic wedding recently, let me refresh your memory.  The priest or deacon who is officiating the wedding asks the couple three questions.  The couple is asked is they have come freely.  Next, the couple is asked if they promise to be faithful to one another, and finally, the couple is asked if they will be fruitful and receive children lovingly from God.  Freely, faithfully, and fruitfully are the three hallmarks of Christ’s love for the Church, so for Her part, the Church is doing its due diligence to make sure the couple is not being tricked in any way.  The Church is essentially asking the couple, “Do you want to be a sacrament?  Do you want to be a sign of Christ’s love for the Church?  If you do, we will proceed to the exchange of the vows.” Continue reading

The Lost Art of Hospitality

25 Aug

tim's articleHospitality is a lost art in the world today. Through fear, indifference, or just being too busy, we often overlook the simple needs of others right before our eyes. The world could use a little more hospitality. The Church offers a rich history of models of hospitality that may help us today–in our professions, homes, and parishes.

St. Benedict of Nursia (480-547) is often called the “founder of western monasticism.” In The Rule of Benedict, which still guides many contemporary religious communities, he instructed his followers to receive guests with deep, sincere love. His pastoral concern for visitors is rightly held up as an example for those in the hospitality industry and indeed for all Christians.

St. Benedict stressed the importance of  the reception of guests.  His rule outlines how he wants the monks to handle the arrival of pilgrims, the poor, and other guests to the monastery. He writes that “all guests who arrive should be received as if they were Christ.” St. Benedict exhorts his monks to follow the pattern of prayer and welcome, and then to wash their feet, give them food, and provide them a bed. Basic acts of service are essential to the art of hospitality, as they meet the physical needs of the pilgrim. The saintly monk knew that the higher spiritual journey must begin with prayer, but that practical human needs must be provided, or else the pilgrims journey will go awry. Once rested, satiated and clean, the guest can now more eagerly seek the Lord without encumbrance.  

Not just for hotels anymore

How can this 1,500 year-old practice be used in our world today? In our homes, parishes, and retreat centers!

The call to hospitality is part of Gods revelation for all families, found in both Scripture and Tradition. St. Paul exhorts the Romans to “welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom 15:7). His message to all Christians is nothing shorto of a universal call to hospitality–tapping into the welcoming grace that softens our evangelistic efforts and invites and comforts those in need. Christ accepts people as they are, loves them as they are, and invites them into deeper communion. This is our call as well.  

More Christian families need to find ways to welcome Christ in the stranger, the guest, and the pilgrim. As St. John Paul II stressed in Familiaris Consortio, his famous 1981 document on marriage and family: “In particular, note must be taken of the ever greater importance in our society of hospitality in all its forms, from opening the door of one’s home and still more of one’s heart to the pleas of one’s brothers and sisters.”

Opening the doors of our homes and hearts is the constant call from Paul of Tarsus, who heard that call from Christ Himself, to our contemporary Church leaders. Hospitality should simply flow from the living heart of a Christian who sees Jesus in all those people around him or her. The Christian family must not become a closed circle, any more than the Church can become a closed membership group. We are called to be open and “exercise hospitality” to all.  

One reason that hospitality has become something of a lost art in our world comes from the lack of understanding of how to practice it. Primarily, hospitality is not about the host, but about the guest. We ought not try to change the guest, but to accommodate our spaces for them. Thus, anticipating their needs accurately is essential to good service. Benedict identified this point as he assigned “suitably competent” brothers in the guest kitchen and “sensible people” whose hearts were “filled with the fear of God” to run the guesthouse. Those competent and sensible people can see the needs of their guests almost before they realize their own need.

Similarly, the sensible hostess of a Christian family can supply her guest with clean linens and towels (an obvious need) while now also supplying an extra power strip in the guestroom (a more recent need, with increased electronics). One gets better at hospitality with practice, as is the case with any other habit or virtue. Thus, the Christian family should seek to invite guests to dinner, to stay with them, and to pray with them. 

Open to the “circle of grace” 

Following the Rule of Benedict with regard to the reception of guests can enable the Christian family to remain open to the circle of grace that lies before them. As Abraham hosted the three angels at table in the Old Testament (cf. Gen. 18-19) and grace flowed from that encounter, so too can the modern family receive grace through hospitality.

In this context, reflecting deeply on the famous icon of the Trinity by Andrei Rublev, we can see that the three angels at Abrahams table form an “open circle”  that is at once complete and yet at the same time allows for the viewer to join. We are called to Eucharistic communion at that table. The icon serves as a window into the nature of the hospitality of both Abraham (whose generosity was repaid many times over, as father of many nations) and of God Himself. Therefore, divinized hospitality (magnanimous love for others) is the goal for Christian families, as it was for the monasteries of St. Benedicts day and age.  

This active disposition of generous openness is a distinctly intentional pro-life, pro-family stance. With the mentality that “theres always room for one more,” the Christian family can stand counter-culturally for life in every way, such as through their openness to Gods blessing of fertility, through natural birth, adoption, or foster care. With the mentality that “we always have a seat for a guest,” the Christian family can live out the call to open their doors, calling the stranger into communion, making them a stranger no longer.

This practice of generous service can then lead to the virtue of magnanimity, literally a “great-souled” effort to give generously, in the right way and at the right time, a holy hospitality that will “unknowingly entertain angels” (Heb. 13:2).

 

Why We Care About Marriage (Part 2)

17 Aug

glory be

In the previous post, I discussed how God used my own marriage to witness his love to the people around us. I outlined that my wife and I are by no means special in this call, but rather it is a call that we all have. It is with this reality of God wanting to “minister through your sacrament” that I wish to discuss the current marriage debate in our culture.  What is it about marriage that is so important to us Catholics?  It is not merely a matter of holding on to what we have always believed in, and that somehow we are locked into an archaic, arbitrary, and stagnant definition of marriage.  We believe so strongly in what marriage is because we believe so strongly in “why” marriage is.  Marriage points to something beyond the man and woman.  The committed love of the husband and wife is a sign of something greater than the man and woman.  Lost in the debate over the definition of marriage is this reality for Catholics, and perhaps this is the providential moment in history to clarify this beautiful reality.

When we say sacrament, one thing we mean is “opportunity to encounter Christ”.  Every sacrament is a sign of something greater.  In other words, a visible reality makes present an invisible reality.  With the Eucharist, the visible bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, and thus, the invisible God is made manifest, and we encounter Christ.  While the physical eyes see only bread and wine, the eyes of faith allow a follower of Christ to see and experience His mysterious presence.

With marriage, the man and the woman are also a sign.  They are the sacrament.  With physical eyes, one simply sees a couple pledged to one another for a mutual fulfillment of happiness, but eyes of faith allows one to see something beyond a happy couple.   So, what does the happy couple tangibly represent to a person who views life through the lens of faith?  What is the greater reality they represent?  Ultimately, they point us to the reality of God and His permanent, life giving love for His people.

Most Catholics are familiar with the “Glory Be” prayer.  It proclaims that we give glory to the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit,, “as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be”.  This prayer opens us to three distinct time periods, before time, during time, and after time.  If God created marriage to be the sign of His loving presence and reality, then it makes sense that marriage would point to these distinct aspects of God’s existence: before, during, and after time. These three time periods of God’s reality are the 3 aspects of the sign of marriage that I would like to explore.  Only with this understanding do the moral teachings of the Church make sense.  When we forget the roots of what and why God has created marriage to be, then the Church teachings on marriage and family seem arbitrary and exclusive.

First, marriage is a sign of God’s existence as a “Communion of Persons” before time began.   Before anything in the material or spiritual realm was created, God existed as an eternal exchange of love.  The eternal person of the Father so love the person of the Son, and in return, the Son so loved the Father that their love is a third person who we call the Holy Spirit.  We understand the Holy Spirit to be the love between the Father and the Son, and this eternal exchange was flowing before time began and before He created the new life of the human race and all of creation. (cf Jn 1:1-5) Marriage in the same way exists as the foundation of the family, and exists as a “communion of persons” before the relationship brings new life into the world.  The husband and wife through the gift of themselves expressed through intercourse participate in bringing new life into the world.  This is one of the ways that the communion of husband and wife is a sign of the Communion of the Trinity as eternal love.  Marriage is the sign that awakens us to the greater reality of God’s eternal exchange of love from before time began.

This aspect of the Sacrament of Matrimony sheds light on why the Church recommends to couples to not live together before the bond of matrimony exists and likewise to not engage in sexual intercourse before the bond exists.  Which comes first in the sacramental meaning of marriage, the family or the bond?  The bond forms the family, and when a couple lives together without the bond present, they are not being truthful with their actions and thus, are not being an accurate sign of the Trinity.  God created marriage to signify this reality, and when a couple is a counter sign, the Church is there to help them realize that they were created for more than simply a more convenient living situation.  The relationship of man and woman and its great potential is a sign of the dignity of man and woman, and the Church has the obligation to always protect human dignity even when it is unpopular.

The unfortunate thing is that the Church is falsely stereotyped as simply having its teachings on cohabitation and premarital sex for the purpose of ruining people’s fun, and thinking so little of sex.  The reality is that the Church thinks so highly of the couple and their sexual relationship that it wishes to help couples maximize their sexual relationship by living it out as it was intended in marriage.

When a couple either engages in sexual activity or has children outside of the bond of matrimony, they are communicating a false message about who God is.  Remember that God existed as a communion before he entered into the activity of producing life outside of Himself, and so the couple communicates falsely that God did not exist in this reality, but His creation of life is arbitrary and not rooted in an intentional plan of faithful love.

With that said, does every cohabitating couple know they are conveying a false message about who God is?  Absolutely not, most couples when they enter into a sexual relationship or move in together are trying to express the love they have for one another, and they simply do not know that they are falling short of what their relationship could be.  It is up to us who do know better to help them realize they were created for more and to not settle for a counterfeit version of love.  Mercy is the approach.  Let us who do know be heralds of God’s abundant mercy starting first with our own commitment to live  as a radical sign of God’s goodness through our own marriage.

I know that I never heard any of the beauty of God’s plan for marriage as I was growing up.  I heard a lot of people tell me that I should not have sex before marriage, but they never told me why other than it was a sin or that it broke a commandment.   Even God’s commandment is understood properly in the context of His plan from the beginning.  If we only say, “Don’t do it because it is a commandment.” We make God seem like an arbitrary dictator who is out to ruin our fun and that He is withholding something from us.  We fall victim to confirming the image of God that Satan tempted Adam and Eve in the garden.  The serpent convinced Adam and Eve that God was withholding happiness from them and that He could not be trusted.  If Adam and Eve fell prey to this false narrative and they were operating with a much higher intellect and will than we are after the Fall, then do we really think our own children will fare much better when society tells them the same false narrative about God withholding happiness from them?  It is incumbent on us to share the good news of God’s plan from the beginning and His desire to maximize our happiness that he has established the “rules” of marriage.

Like any good parent, God does not have His “rules” just to see how He can spoil His children’s happiness.  God wants to protect us and keep us from perpetuating the false narrative with the way we live our lives.  Truthfully, each of us is n advertisement for something by the way we live.  Some of us advertise for the baseball team or football team we cheer for by wearing their logos, some of us advertise for our favorite musical artist or television show by posting on Facebook.  These are relatively harmless in the grand scheme of things, but the daily choices we make concerning the way we live our lives makes a statement about who we are.  Let us be mindful of this reality, and choose to advertise for the true meaning of marriage by being a radical and passionate sign in marriage.

Why We Care About Marriage (Part 1)

12 Aug

bride-and-groom-768594_640June 28, 2003, was one of the most joyful and significant days of my life as it was the day I married my wife, Libby.

We were planning to work full-time together as youth ministers in the same large, suburban parish in the Twin Cities, and this was part of the excitement as we headed toward our wedding day. Our mindset was, “Not only will we be missionaries for Christ bringing the good news of His love to teens, but we will be doing it together as married missionaries!  What could be better?!”

During our engagement, like many couples marrying in the Church, we met several times with our pastor. I don’t remember everything he told us, but the one thing I do remember is his telling us that our most important ministry to the youth and other parishioners we were preparing to serve was the ministry of our marriage. We really didn’t have any idea what he meant at the time, even though we took him seriously.  We thought we would run some good programs for teens that would awaken them to their relationship with Christ. But as the first few years of our marriage and youth ministry unfolded, it became clear what our priest was trying to teach us.

Don’t get me wrong, we were qualified and competent youth ministers, but the greatest thing we ever did for our parish community was the witness of our married love for one another in the midst of great suffering. Libby and I faced the great trial of having two of our infant children pass away from a rare genetic disease. Both our son Peter and our daughter Gianna died when they were about three months old, about 18 months apart.  Our sacrament gave us access to limitless grace, and since grace is God’s life within us, it sustained us through that difficult time, giving us the strength to witness to God’s love in the midst of tremendous suffering.  We could not have imagined when we said, “I do,” nor would we have chosen, that our suffering would be the primary witness that Libby and I would proclaim, but yet it was the opportunity we had. Trial can often be the occasion for a wedge to form between couples, but our faith turned us to one another and to the Church in a deeper way than we imagined. Our suffering brought us closer together, and that closeness was a sign to all in the parish of our trust in God and one another.

Let me give a few examples.  Continue reading