Tag Archives: virtue

Holy Authority

16 Nov

Image result for serving others“If you are a King, . . . save yourself.” As we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King this Sunday, we gain an important lesson in authority that we can apply to our families.

The scoffing onlookers (i.e., those who did not know Christ) represent the mistaken idea that authority is meant for the benefit of the one who possesses it. Christ teaches the opposite: True authority is given for the benefit of those served, while giving those in authority the opportunity to grow in virtues such as justice, mercy, and generosity.

In marriage and parenting, it can be easy to sit back and wait for others to earn our service or respect, but that is a self-serving attitude and a misuse of authority. Christ calls us to something greater and more fulfilling. Respect is gained when it is given. Joy is gained when service is offered.

For practical applications of other-centered authority and love, click here.

The foregoing is this week’s installment of the “Marriage Minute,” produced by the Marriage and Family Life Office of the Archdiocese, which attempts to view the Sunday readings through the lens of the Sacrament of Marriage.

 

Joyful Communion

3 Nov

Image result for faults shape up spouseThis Sunday’s Gospel reminds us that our ultimate destiny is heaven. We married couples may hear this message and wrongly assume our mission is to point out our spouse’s faults and “shape them up.” We may also think our spouse’s irritating qualities are chiseling away our imperfections. As common as these two viewpoints are, they paint a miserable picture of marriage.

We forget that heaven is joyful communion with God. What if, instead of dragging each other along, we supported each other by encouraging virtue? What if, instead of focusing on our spouse’s faults, we focused on convincing them that we love them unconditionally? What if we lived the marriage we always dreamed we would? What if we could prepare our spouse for heaven by practicing joyful communion here on earth?

If you desire such “joyful communion,” but you want a practical plan, check out Archbishop Naumann’s Joyful Marriage Project at www.joyfulmarriageproject.com.

The foregoing is this week’s installment of the “Marriage Minute,” produced by the Marriage and Family Life Office of the Archdiocese, which attempts to view the Sunday readings through the lens of the Sacrament of Marriage.

 

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).

 

Homosexuality and the Catholic Church…

22 Jul

Mackelmore Rainbow triangleWe can’t change, Even if we tried, Even if we wanted to

I am sure I’ll never forget where I was when I learned that the Supreme Court mandated that same-sex “marriage” was now the law of the land. I was driving to work when I heard Macklemore’s rap song, Same Love. It is that idolized pop song with the infectious hook sung by Mary Lambert, “I can’t change, even if I tried, even if I wanted to.” I thought it strange the playing of a so-last year song, so I flipped to NPR and sure enough they announced, “Supreme Court Declares Same-Sex Marriage Legal in All 50 States”. I realized that Obergefell v. Hodges is now my generation’s Roe v. Wade.

I lamented that nothing is going to be the same after this. What followed astonished me, a rainbow flag affirmation campaign that Kodachromed almost half my Facebook friends. Many of these rainbows were on Catholics from across the country and some even taught at Catholic schools. A significant number of Catholics approve of same-sex “marriage” and they think the Church should and someday will officially recognize and bless lesbian and gay sexual unions as the equivalent of man and woman marriage. These Catholics think their Church teaching on sexual morality can change. They think their Church will change. Ironically those who believe it is wrong to compel someone with same-sex attraction to change are trying to compel their Church to change.  While Catholic pastoral practice, the way we treat people who self-identify as gay and lesbian can and will likely change, Catholic teaching on the inherent immorality of homosexual sex will never ever change, because it can’t.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued in 2003 a great document for every Catholic to review on the question of legalizing same-sex unions called: Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons . They sum up the Church’s teaching on the nature of marriage in the second paragraph: “The Church’s teaching on marriage and on the complementarity of the sexes reiterates a truth that is evident to right reason and recognized as such by all the major cultures of the world. Marriage is not just any relationship between human beings. It was established by the Creator with its own nature, essential properties and purpose. No ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman, who by mutual personal gift, proper and exclusive to themselves, tend toward the communion of their persons. In this way, they mutually perfect each other, in order to cooperate with God in the procreation and upbringing of new human lives.” Furthermore Pope Benedict taught that certain issues are NOT NEGOTIABLE and among the defence of life from conception to natural death he included: “recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family – as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage – and its defence from attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different forms of union which in reality harm it and contribute to its destabilization, obscuring its particular character and its irreplaceable social role”. Popes often clarify the teachings of their predecessors in teaching the Faith but they never directly contradict. The media often spins Francis’ charitable remark of “who am I to judge?” as a sign that the Pope will contradict 2,000 years of moral teaching. Such a false hope confuses Catholics and the public because of a failure to understand that like Lambert’s sirenic voice chants Church teaching can’t change, even if Francis wanted it to.

Rainbow tinted Catholics who celebrate the legalization of same-sex marriage really need to reflect upon the Catholic faith they purport to have. Each week as Catholics we each solemnly proclaim, “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” To be an apostolic Church means you believe in the teachings of the Popes and the Bishops in union with them on matters of Faith and Morals, and that those teachings are never going to essentially contradict themselves across time. Pope Francis cannot proclaim that homosexual acts are good and admit same-sex couples into the holy sacrament of matrimony any more than he could add another person to the Trinity (even if he wanted to add the Virgin Mary). As Catholics we hold a radical belief. The belief that God became man in the person of Jesus Christ and that he established a Church with a perfect deposit of faith that cannot be amended. To deny this Church’s teachings is to that extent to deny Christ. With this Church he left a special gift of his Holy Spirit that the Pope and the bishops in union with him cannot teach error to the faithful regarding faith and morals. Since the Church for so long has clearly taught that homosexual acts (not people) are wrong, the Church cannot now bless or condone these acts. If as a Catholic you think the Church should change its core teaching on homosexuality, you will literally have to wait an eternity for this to happen.

So rather than frustrate your salvation and confound your parish family, what is a rainbow Catholic to do? Should you just leave? Oh Heavens no, please don’t jeopardize your salvation by jumping off the ark. However, now is the time for a serious revaluation of your Faith? Rather than subversively wait for the Church to become as “enlightened” as you and the church of what’s happening now, you should actively wait on the LORD and take this contradiction to God in study and prayer. The Catholic Church does not want us to be unquestioning robots that follow orders but rather actively engaged believers whose faith always seeks understanding. If you think the Church is wrong because you want to affirm your “gay” friends and relatives fine, but don’t just sit there, start wrestling with the angels. Start to question why you believe what you do and why the Church teaches what she teaches. One beautifully elegant question that is guaranteed to open you up to the guidance of the Holy Spirit is, “If the Catholic Church turned out to be right, how is that it could be true?” Study and pray till you see how you can stay and still be the person of integrity that God calls you to be. As Catholics we are not members of a club, we are disciples of Jesus Christ with his Catholic Church as our guide. Discipleship takes discipline and let’s be honest, this is hard. A faith that never engages a difficult teaching is not much of a faith at all.

So Catholics in our quest to not appear homophobic let’s not become Christophobic by outright rejection of the teachings of our Church. Macklemore is right that “If you preach hate at the service, those words aren’t anointed. That holy water that you soak in has been poisoned “. However, how hateful is it to tell a lie to someone who wants to be lied to by confirming that person into a sinful practice. If the homosexual act is really a sin then we are loving no one by its encouragement. For, “when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death.” (James 1:15) As Catholics we must seek and preach the truth in love or then we really do risk poisoning our holy water.

 

 

Virtuous Sex

14 Jul

One of the common objections we hear to using Natural Family Planning (“NFP”) is, “I want to be able to have sex whenever I want to, and the birth control pill allows me to do that.”

The desire to be “one-flesh” with one’s spouse is understandable and even noble. In fact, God has attached the greatest of pleasure to sexual union because He wants married couples to engage in this most intimate of conversations. It may sound scandalous, but God truly desires that husbands and wives make love, and it brings Him great joy when they do so, provided their coming together is serving to bring them closer together and not driving them apart.

Given a choice, my four-year old daughter Maggie would have ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Most reasonable parents would never in a million years let their children have ice cream as their main food source. While Libby and I are not perfect parents by any stretch of the imagination, we are “reasonable parents” in this area. Maggie eats foods other than ice cream much to her disappointment. I hope she will thank us later. Everyone agrees that eating whatever you want and whenever you want will not make you happy in the long run.  Ice cream can be a most enjoyable dessert on the appropriate occasion. It takes discipline to discover the right time and place to enjoy this delicious treat.

Just as ice cream should be enjoyed at the right times and for its intended purpose, so should the sexual union of husband and wife. Sexual union is not intended to be an “on demand” feature of the married relationship. Unfortunately, our culture has developed an “on demand” mentality for all sorts of things: music on Spotify, movies on Netflix, television shows on the DVR, and Google with information.  The pervasive “on demand” thread of the culture can penetrate the fabric of the married relationship. Contraception fosters the “on demand” mindset because its underlying assumption is that “sex is just another activity that my wife and I do, and therefore, we should be able to do it whenever we want.”

Much like my daughter, Maggie, is being shortsighted when she wants ice cream at every meal, “on demand” sex is not good for the health of a marriage. The truth is that sex is not just another activity, but it is the most intimate of conversations that involves the entirety of the spouses; it is a total gift of self. An “on demand” attitude reduces the meaning of sex to self-gratification.

NFP fosters the necessary virtues that help couples realize the true gift of the marital embrace. The fostering of virtue is the fourth reason why St. John Paul II believed that NFP is different from contraception.  With NFP, the couple has the opportunity each month through conversation with God and each other to ask the question, “Is this the right time to come together?” NFP allows the couple to know the woman’s fertility, and therefore, if the couple has discerned that it is not the right time to have a child, then they abstain from the sexual union during the fertile time. If they have discerned that it may be the right time to bring a child into the world, then they come together during the fertile time.

NFP maintains the proper respect for the dignity of the spouse because it allows the couple to maintain the discipline of coming together when the couple has mutually agreed  to do so. In other words, sometimes the couple has to say “no.” Contrary to pop culture’s belief, saying “no” is possible, and even good under some circumstances, as it communicates to the spouse, “You are worth waiting for!”

I’m certainly not saying that couples should limit their sexual union unnecessarily, but NFP does open the couple to the possibility of saying “no” for the good of the other.  JPII was convinced that NFP helps build the character of the couple and in particular helps spouses grow in self-mastery.  Why was self-mastery so important to him?

Because self-mastery leads to greater freedom! In the eyes of the world, freedom is doing whatever you want whenever you want, but true freedom lies in the ability to do what is good. When a husband learns to temper his desires for sexual union because his wife is unable to come together, JPII would say he grows in possession of himself. Only when one possesses himself can he make a true gift of himself out of love.

Think about it in these terms: I can only give something I possess; I can’t give what I don’t have. NFP teaches me as a husband to always think and do what is best for my wife. It makes me a better man. If I am unable to say no to a sexual urge, then am I truly a free man? Only slaves and addicts are unable to say no.

And if I am unable to say no, what does my “yes” really mean?

Contraception leads a couple down the road of slavery and addiction where they are not free to focus on what is good for the other. Instead, it builds a culture of instant gratification within the relationship.

Our culture rightly puts a high premium on freedom, but we must be careful as to how we define this important word. Fortunately, we do not have to settle for a counterfeit version of freedom. JPII invites married couples to embrace the fullness of genuine freedom offered by NFP—a freedom expressed in mutual, sacrificial love that seeks the true good of our spouse.

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.

Going Deeper

7 Jan

Pope as CatechistAfter a Christmas hiatus, it is time to continue our overview of Pope Francis’ apostolic letter on the new evangelization (Evangelii Gaudium, or “GE”).

When most people think of “evangelization,” they think of the initial proclamation of the Gospel (the technical term is “kerygma”), that invites people to a new relationship with Christ.

Yet, as Pope Francis points out, when Christ sent out His apostles as missionaries, He gave them this instruction: “Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). The Holy Father sees in this instruction the need for ongoing formation and maturation, what we traditionally call “catechesis” (GE 160), which is part of the larger process of evangelization.

For those of us familiar with CCD and School of Religion programs, we must admit that sometimes we think of catechesis as primarily intellectual formation—a “class” that one has to attend. Yet the Holy Father is clear that catechesis is not primarily doctrinal, but about growing in grace and virtue (GE 161), recognizing that it is always the Lord who initiates the process (GE 162).

Pope Francis acknowledges the normative role of Church teaching on catechesis (GE 163), but offers further reflections that are significant for our time. One point of emphasis is the heart of the Gospel, the kerygma, which is both Trinitarian and Christ-centered. Just because it comes “first” doesn’t mean it can be forgotten later (GE 164). Rather, all catechesis must continually circle back to the heart of the message, which means that God’s saving love must be stressed ahead of religious and moral obligations (GE 165).

Pope Francis emphasizes the role of mystagogic catechesis, which is catechesis that is liturgical and involves the entire community (EG 166). This is just one more way that the Pope is emphasizing the need for catechetical formation that affects the entire person (not just a “head trip”) and one’s environment or culture. Like Pope Benedict, Pope Francis emphasizes the role of beauty in catechesis, including new forms or modes of beauty that are meaningful to today’s seekers (cf. EG 167). Catechesis also has a moral component, and the Holy Father decidedly prefers a joyful, positive approach that presents the moral life as the quest for authentic wisdom, self-fulfillment, and enrichment (EG 168)

Perhaps the most striking insight that the Holy Father gives us in this section is his call that all members of the Church be initiated in the “art of accompaniment” (EG 169), which in some ways reminds me of some of the writings of Blessed John Paul II, especially Crossing the Threshold of Hope.  This simply means that the Church needs people who can help lead others closer to God (EG 170). Those who serve as spiritual mentors must be good listeners (EG 171), fostering spiritual growth and the development of virtues in a spirit of patience and compassion (EG 171-72). Also, spiritual accompaniment isn’t an end in itself, but is part of the Church’s never-ending mission to bring the Gospel to the world. As the Holy Father says, “Missionary disciples accompany missionary disciples” (EG 173).

Pope Francis ends this section of the apostolic exhortation by stressing that Sacred Scripture is at the heart of all Church activity (EG 174). The Church evangelizes only to the extent she continually allows herself to be evangelized through the ministry of the Word. For that reason, the Pope invites all believers to become intimately familiar with Scripture, which he calls a “sublime treasure” (EG 175).

Thanksgiving 24-7

14 Nov

At least in my experience, God’s will is not always been easy to discern, even with the assistance of prayer and spiritual direction. Sure, I know the boundaries of moral decision-making. For example, under no circumstances may I legitimately choose to do evil, even to get something good. Further, I must fulfill the duties and obligations that go with my state in life as a husband, father, grandfather, deacon candidate, and employee.

But what exactly does God want me to do? The answer usually isn’t black and white. We make what seems to us to be the right choice, and pray that God will bless our sincere desire to do His will and that He will continue to make His will for us known with ever greater clarity.

For this reason, I think that one of the most remarkable verses in all of Scripture is 1 Thessalonians 5:18, in which Saint Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, writes: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

So while we might struggle in discerning our vocation in life, whether to take a certain job, or even how to spend our next vacation, when it comes to giving thanks–in other words, manifesting the virtue of gratitudeGod’s will is right there in Scripture for all to see. There’s absolutely no mystery or guesswork about it. God explicitly wills that we give thanks in all circumstances.

Many times in Scripture we hear Our Lord say something along the lines of “Let those with ears hear.” In other words, He’s telling the crowd not simply to let His teachings go in one ear but out the other. I think 1 Thessalonians 5:18 is one of those verses that requires an attentive, meditative disposition if we are truly going to “get it.” Continue reading