Humanae Vitae and the Words of Christ in Scripture

“God did not make death, nor does He rejoice in the destruction of the living.  For He fashioned all things that they might have being; and the creatures of the world are wholesome, and there is not a destructive drug among them…”  (From this month’s first liturgical reading, Wisdom 1:13-14).  Hmm….

Today marks the 50th year anniversary of the encyclical Humanae Vitae, written by Blessed Pope Paul VI, 1968, about which the U.S. Catholic Bishops state that it “provides beautiful and clear teaching about God’s plan for married love and the transmission of life.”  That it does, including reaffirmation of the Church’s constant and arguably infallible teaching (according to the Ordinary Magisterium, the conditions for infallibility of which are presented in Lumen Gentium 25) concerning its condemnation of abortion, sterilization, and contraception.  In addition, Humanae Vitae foretells that, if the Church’s teaching on contraception is ignored, then we, society, would see the following.  First, widespread contraceptive use will “lead to conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality.”  Second, men will lose respect for women and treat them selfishly.  Third, widespread contraceptive use will be a dangerous weapon among those public authorities who are unconcerned with moral vision and obligation.  Fourth, increased use of contraception will lead people to think that they have unlimited dominion over their bodies.

Of course, with the exception of couples who reaped the benefits of fidelity to the teachings of Christ’s Church on sexuality (of which Pope Paul VI also spoke), the world—including many in the Church—dismissed the wisdom of Humanae Vitae and plunged more deeply into the darkness of corruption and sin.

“What came to be through Him was life, and this life was the light of the human race.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:3-4).

So what does the Light of the world, Jesus Christ, have to say about contraception and abortion in Scripture?  Surprisingly to many, and strikingly, some very strong words. Dei Verbum and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (110) assert that to discover in Scripture the sacred author’s intention, “the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture,” among other things.  Perhaps in error in ascertaining these conditions, a common mistranslation in the Bible occurs in Saint Paul’s Letter to the Galatians 5:20 and the Book of Revelation 9:21, 18:23, 21:8, and 22:15, in which the word pharmakeia or its cognate is most often rendered sorcery, witchcraft, magic spell, or magic arts.

Pennyroyal

In the ancient Greco-Roman world—not unlike the Ancient Near East—practicing magic was prevalent.  It involved the use of evil spells, curse tablets, contraceptive and abortive potions (specifically, often herbal drinks, pastes) and, less often, generally deadly poisons (all called pharmakeia), amulets, and love potions.  The contraceptive and abortive potions were numerous and highly demanded; examples were silphium and acacia to contracept, and pennyroyal tea to abort.  Written documentation of contraception and abortion go back to nearly 2,000 B.C.  In Scripture, one example of a sterilized, contraceptive act apart from pharmakeia is in Genesis 38:6-11.

In antiquity, pharmakeia was the Greek word for these potions, and their users typically distinguished between contraceptive and abortive blends, although they both were categorized as pharmakeia.  These were commonly and more effectively used methods to contracept and abort, and so were representative of contraception and abortion in Scripture.  Church Fathers and early ecclesial documents, such as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, also refer to and condemn these anti-fertility practices.

In Scripture, to refer to this as generic magic or sorcery misses the specificity for which pharmakeia was intended.  In the Old Testament, contraception and abortion also were practiced in this way.  In the reading from Wisdom above, the Greek words for “destructive drug” are pharmakon olethru.  This may refer to both deadly poison and abortive potion, since its immediate context refers to the integrity of creation and generation of life, over and against death.  Exodus 22:17, because of its feminine identification and overall context, and Malachi 3:5, because of its context, also are likely references to contraception and abortion, or at least to sorcerous activity (keshef in Hebrew) that includes them.

The immediate context of the above references to Galatians and Revelation was condemnation of common sins that centered around sexual immorality, murder, and idolatry.  Idolatry was frequently associated with temple prostitution and its consequences.  So, in Galatians, Saint Paul condemns acts of sinful nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lewdness, idolatry, pharmakeia, and several more.  The context here, and in the following, does not favor pharmakeia meaning the much less frequented administering of deadly poison to members of the general population, and this overtly homicidal meaning would be particularly redundant on those lists that include murder.  Pharmakeia may have been that broadly intended—referring to contraceptive and abortive potions and occasional administration of poison—but probably meant the former restrictively.  An exception is Revelation 18:23, in which pharmakeia seems to refer specifically and metaphorically to deadly poison.

So, the translation probably should read as follows in Revelation.  Rev 9:21 lists murders, contraceptive and abortive potions (pharmakeion), sexual immorality, and thefts.  In Rev 21:8 and 22:15, the risen Jesus Himself condemns certain representative sins.  Rev 21:8: “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the sexually immoral, the ones using contraceptive and abortive potions, the idolators, and all practicing falsehood—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning Sulphur.  This is the second death.”  Rev 22:15: After pronouncing eternal blessing on the righteous (see 22:11 and 22:14), Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, declares, “Outside are the dogs, the ones using contraceptive and abortive potions, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolators, and all who love and practice falsehood.”

Why would Christ condemn contraceptive and abortive potions?  Simply, I think He does so because marriage is a profound, intimate union (Genesis 2:24), procreation is a divine blessing and mandate of this union (Genesis 1:28) for those who are able, children are a gift (e.g., Psalm 127:3), and children in the womb are acknowledged as really alive and sacred (e.g., Psalm 139:13-15, Jeremiah 1:15, Luke:1:39-45).  To deliberately sterilize sex, or worse—murder an unborn child—is a serious offense against God and the human person.  I think Humanae Vitae is just beautifully and boldly echoing the divine and exalted plan for married love and the transmission of human life.

 

Mark Koehne teaches Sacred Scripture for Saint Joseph’s College Online Theology Programs,

Love in Marriage (Magnificat Booklet): A Review

Love is patient, love is kind… yet, despite St. Paul’s clear enumeration of its characteristics, love is – for most of us – somewhat elusive. We try to describe it, we try to live and experience it – but it’s not as easily apprehended by us as we’d like.  Love thrills us, confuses and disappoints us, warms our hearts and speaks to our deepest longings. We think we know what Love is, how it should guide our lives and inform how we treat each other; but we don’t know the half of it. Reading St. Paul’s beautiful First Letter to the Corinthians won’t help our understanding unless we’re willing to take a deep dive into Love’s mystery, and reflect on it honestly and with purpose. But how can we do that, especially if we’re not used to reading the Scriptures, or if Biblical language doesn’t always “hit home” with us? Enter Pope Francis and his Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia: The Joy of LoveThis sweeping document explores the Scriptural, Magisterial and Pastoral implications for living andloving authentically, especially in the context of marriage and family life. It’s an important document, and one that will be studied by theologians and those involved in ministry to families for years to come. For the average layperson in the pew, however, reading any Papal document (especially one over 200 pages long) is a daunting task. Thankfully, that task is made easier with Magnificat’s companion booklet, 

Love in Marriage, Pope Francis on living and growing in love. At a little more than 100 pages, this tiny booklet makes the Pope’s thought and words accessible to everyone. It also unpacks one particular aspect of the Papal document and makes it manageable: the meaning of Love.

Love in Marriage focuses specifically on Chapter 4 of Amoris Laetitia, in which the Pope fleshes out St. Paul’s “characteristics” of Love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, and its implications for how we love as married couples, children, priests and religious, and single people. He begins by acknowledging that the passage is “lyrical” – and certainly its poetic beauty probably leads many Roman Catholic couples to choose it as one of their wedding readings. But a closer look reveals that the Apostle isn’t peddling poetry or “pretty words.” As Pope Francis goes through the brief passage line-by-line, he breaks open its words and introduces us to their deeper meaning for our lives. We learn that the words Paul uses to describe love (patient, kind, not irritable or resentful, hopeful, etc.) go far beyond the “surface reading” we often give them, challenging us to consider our relationships with those close to us as well as people we don’t know, and learning to love everyone as God loves. This reflection on Love is given in the context of a document focused on marriage and family; but Love is our common, human experience, and a way in which we image God. The Pope’s words call us to a deeper understanding of Love, and how each of us can love generously and well, whatever our state in life. For this reason, Magnificat’s companion booklet is an invaluable resource for anyone seeking to follow Christ by learning to love as He does.

The booklet unpacks each section of Chapter 4 by reproducing the Pope’s words, and offering opportunities for reflection. It takes Paul’s characteristics of Love word by word, as the Pope does, and offers readers the opportunity to more fully understand Paul’s meaning. Each section of the booklet begins with the papal text, then provides three modes of reflection: On The Text, About My Life, and To Conclude. Each area of reflection asks specific questions about the meaning of the Pope’s teaching on that section of Paul’s letter, how it applies to my life and relationships, and where Paul’s (and the Pope’s) words about Love lead me in prayer, and in taking positive steps toward acting on Love in my life. Some of the questions are specifically directed toward one’s relationship with a spouse, but can be easily adapted for all of our relationships: between friends, family members, co-workers, and people we meet in the course of our everyday lives. (For example, one question asks “Do I make an effort to think and speak positively about my spouse?” We can easily replace the word spouse with boss, co-worker, best friend – or that person we find it especially hard to love.) The questions help readers to more deeply consider the demands of Love, and identify the areas where we need God’s help to love each other better. Each time for reflection ends with a moment for prayer, first inviting readers to pray with one’s spouse, or within the quiet of one’s own heart – “I want to say: I thank you…I’m sorry…Please…” – and then providing a brief prayer to say alone or together.

Whether one is married, single, widowed, or a priest/religious, the act of speaking a thought or prayer aloud (or in our hearts) is powerful. Every one of us wants to say – needs to say – I thank you…I’m sorry…Please. In our world of noise, distractions, and rough-and-tumble interactions on social media, this moment of reflection on gratitude, sorrow and forgiveness, and asking for what we need – or how we can help another – is a welcome respite. For those of us for whom saying any of these words is difficult, their repetition throughout the booklet (after having reflected deeply on each aspect of Love) is helpful in breaking down our interior walls and leading us toward the healing God wants to give us (and to others through us) with His Love.

Despite its title, Love in Marriage is for anyone who wants to grow in their experience of God’s love, and learn how to better give and receive Love in their relationships. The booklet can be utilized in a number of ways, and would be an excellent diocesan/parish resource for both marriage preparation and enrichment programs. Its study of Love is ideal for young adults discerning their vocation to marriage or priesthood/religious life. It can be used in parish study groups, or by individuals who want to “dip their toe” into the water of Papal documents, and get a feel for how to read Scripture with a reflective heart. The booklet can help each of us to appreciate the call to Love found in every state in life, and how it is lived in marriage and family, consecrated life, and in the lives of those who are unmarried. Love in Marriage is a book for everyone, and it will help its readers to learn to love more openly, more fully, and with greater reliance on God.

In the end, Love isGod Himself, and He’s calling each one of us to follow Him in the way of Love that leads us to an abundant life (Cf. John 10:10 ) here and now – and on the path to an eternal life of Love with Him.

Ann Koshute teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online Theology Program.

A Second Chance

We continue our series on the Mystery of Death reflecting on the physical and spiritual care of persons as they near the end of life.

 

Thanks, God, for letting me do it right…this time.

In August, 1973, my family returned from Puerto Rico to my home in Wisconsin.  My parents took high school students there during that summer to learn about the culture and language.  I was thirteen then; my sister was almost sixteen.  My parents and sister were linguists and absorbed themselves in the culture and Spanish.  All I wanted to do, though, was play basketball…

Life in Wisconsin returned to normal with school fast approaching, except for one anomaly—my father’s skin and eyes turned yellow.  He was diagnosed with hepatitis. Later, his health care providers correctly diagnosed him with pancreatic cancer and he underwent chemotherapy in the fall.  He lost his hair and quite a bit of weight. He would get bruised and cut from falling, and lose control of his bowels.  As an eighth grader concerned—to a fault—with image among my peers, I resented my father’s appearance and frailty.  I treated him unkindly during his time of greatest need.  Instead of being compassionate after he got “cut up” following a fall, I was mean-spirited.

My father was in and out of the hospital.  Even though I was a scrawny little runt in eighth grade, I still played football.  Once, visiting my father in the hospital, he asked me if he could see my next game.  I said, “sure!”  He asked me where to go and where exactly to sit.  I told him where the game was being held and exactly where to sit—far away from where anyone would identify him as my dad!

I do not think my image problem could be reduced simply to diminished or nullified culpability because of the early adolescent “stage” through which I was developing along with its accompanying insecurities.  Sure, maybe that was a part of it, but my pride and unkindness were tangibly real.

The last time my father was in the hospital, he was seemingly unconscious.  In tears, I apologized to him for my shameful, despicable behavior.  Did he hear me?  Sometimes hearing is the last sense to go.  I will never know, at least in this life.  Shortly after, he died.  I failed.

Fast forward: in August of 2008, I moved my mother, residing in Beaver Dam, WI, into an assisted living center in the same city because of her immobility and rapidly declining health.  As a widow, she lived in the same home in which she and my father reared me starting when I was a five-year-old.  My mother was a professional pianist and instructor whose social and professional connections extended well beyond Wisconsin.  Though my wife, children, and I resided in La Crosse, Wisconsin—almost a three-hour drive from my mother—Beaver Dam was her home.

The moving transition was strange, difficult, and necessary.  Her little assisted living apartment—with piano—was actually quite elegant.  My mother’s time there was limited, though.  Her heart was weak, and she suffered from circulatory problems.  She was, in general, weaker than she should have been. (My wife and I think this could have been due in part to an undiagnosed chronic Vitamin D deficiency.)

Then, in late October, she was taken to emergency care to treat pneumonia.  She stayed in the hospital, and was taken to a nursing home to recover.  She had a series of setbacks, and never returned to assisted living.  Her circulatory and respiratory systems further deteriorated, though she remained lucid.  Her health care team asked her if she wanted to be designated “full code”—to resuscitate her if she had a respiratory or cardiac arrest—or “DNR,” meaning “do not resuscitate.”  She could not decide, and left it to me. (My only sibling, Julianne, died in 2002.)  I became her power of attorney.

To discern correctly, I consulted the Church’s teaching on the matter and prayed…and prayed.  I knew that a full code procedure in my mother’s case would be very invasive, painful, and even crushing, literally, i.e., chest compressions could break her ribs.  In consequence of a full code, she would be sedated, unconscious, and dysfunctional with no prospect of improving a seriously declining condition.  Conversely, my mother would soon die in consequence of an arrest accompanied by a DNR designation.  Among other sources, I consulted the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of ‘over-zealous’ treatment.  Here one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted” (2278).

I discerned that the DNR designation was the correct (though very difficult) choice.  With double pneumonia and accelerating weakness with difficulty breathing, she was taken out of the hospital two more times during Christmas week and placed in a nursing home where my family could visit her more easily. Then, a few days into the new year, she slipped into a dying phase.  The staff noninvasively applied an oxygen mask to support my mother’s breathing.  Their action throughout impressed me and corresponded to Church teaching, e.g., the Catechism, 2279, states “Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted.”

Because of my wife’s support and care for our children, I was able to spend significant time with my mother during the last month of her life.  This included the last few days and nights on a cot at her side, watching and helping my mother die with courage and grace.  These were among the most profound and memorable moments of my life.  I also am grateful my family could play music at her funeral, and I could give the eulogy.  I thank God for this amazing, grace-filled, moving opportunity to show my gratitude and love as a son…and for giving me a second chance.  “I thank you, Lord, with all my heart…Your love endures forever!” (Psalm 138:1, 8)

Mark Koehne teaches moral theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online Theology. Programs.

I Do, For Now

 

Pope Francis Coleman blogRecently, our spontaneously-tongued pontiff, Pope Francis, made comments to journalists regarding his impression of the current state of marriage in the Church (readers of Italian can find his comments here, under Terza Domanda).

“It’s [i.e., marriage is] provisional, and because of this the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null. Because they [the hypothetical couple] say, ‘Yes, for the rest of my life!’ but they don’t know what they are saying. Because they have a different culture. They say it, they have good will, but they don’t know.”

Many individuals have rightly taken issue with the Holy Father’s words here. Responses have come from canon lawyers, clerics, and lay scholars alike. I shall not wade through all of these critiques, nor attempt to clarify what the Pope “might have been trying to say” about the current state of marriage in the Church. Rather, Francis’ comments reminded me of a conversation I had with my wife regarding this same subject. At the time, she was actively involved in parish ministry and witnessed first-hand the poor catechesis and cultural deformity from which many couples seeking sacramental marriage suffered. On one occasion she voiced her concern to me in words very similar to those of Pope Francis; essentially stating that these couples had no idea what marriage means.

We ought to be very careful, however, when we play the cultural “blame game” for all of society’s ills. As a professor – and perhaps firstly as a human being – what concerns me most is the abrogating of moral responsibility. Moral responsibility comes from freedom, and freedom comes from our ability know and will. Pleading ignorance is a way of saying that I was not free to make a choice because my ability to know was substantially compromised. In many situations, of course, this happens when the truth is actively withheld from a particular party making a decision. But the culture in which we live cannot change what our bodies are, or what they do, or the nature of a promise. While Christ’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage is a part of divine revelation, the fact that marriage establishes a binding relationship – a relationship signified and consummated by a marital act – is not. To claim that “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null” due to ignorance, therefore, undermines the human capacity to apprehend any natural moral truth or reality. Our culture, I would argue, does not prohibit us from understanding the concepts of marriage or permanence or indissolubility but, rather, facilitates in an ever more increasing fashion our desire not to live in accordance with these realities. As with original sin, it weakens our wills more than our intellects.

As a married man, I understand the temptation to say that knowledge about marriage must be gained first-hand. There is wisdom in that belief, but one cannot push that sentiment too far. Saying “I do” at the altar cannot be considered “free from ignorance” only if accompanied by the depth and breadth of knowledge about marriage that one would only possess after 10 or 20 or 30  years of married living. That is a reductio ad absurdam. So yes, Holy Father, the husband and father in me – with a half-smile – agrees: they don’t know what they’re saying. But as a freely thinking and willing human being I must disagree: they know what they’re saying, but only their cooperation with God’s grace will enable them to live what they have promised.

Anthony Coleman teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Enthronement Reflection and Re-Consecration – What a Month!

This past Friday we celebrated the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which happens to be a very special day for my husband and me. About six years ago, we had our home enthroned to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. When you enthrone your home, you acknowledge Jesus as the Head of your household. You place a prominent picture of Him in your home for all to see. On the day of Enthronement, you invite your family and friends to participate in a short series of prayers, and in our case, we also had our home blessed that day.

When you enthrone your home, Jesus makes a series of twelve promises to you:

  1. I will give them all the graces necessary for their state of life.
  2. I will establish peace in their families.
  3. I will console them in all their troubles.
  4. They shall find in My Heart an assured refuge during life and especially at the hour of their death.
  5. I will pour abundant blessings on all their undertakings.
  6. Sinners shall find in My Heart the source of an infinite ocean of mercy.
  7. Tepid souls shall become fervent.
  8. Fervent souls shall speedily rise to great perfection.
  9. I will bless the homes where an image of My Heart shall be exposed and honored.
  10. I will give to priests the power of touching the most hardened hearts.
  11. Those who propagate this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart, never to be effaced.
  12. The all-powerful love of My Heart will grant to all those who shall receive Communion on the First Friday of nine consecutive months the grace of final repentance; they shall not die under my displeasure, nor without receiving their Sacraments; My heart shall be their assured refuge at that last hour.

Source: Sacred Heart Apostolate

It never ceases to amaze me when, both strangers and friends alike enter our home, we always hear them say, “It is so peaceful in here.” They say it with their eyes peeled on the portrait of Jesus that hangs on our mantle, with statues of St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary, anchored on each end of the mantle.

In the past six years Jesus has poured out many blessings to my husband and me. He has set my heart on fire to evangelize in His name. Yet it is promise #11 that I treasure the most; to have my name written on Jesus’ heart forever!

It has been stated many times that if you want to get closer to Jesus, seek out Mary, for she will lead you to Him. Yet for me, it was the other way around! With the Enthronement of our Home to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, it was Jesus who brought me closer to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

About four years ago, I was inspired to read Father Michael Gaitley’s book, 33 Days to Morning Glory. It is a modern day version of Consecration to Jesus through Mary, initially established by St. Louis de Montfort. I started the “retreat” on the Feast of St. Anthony of Padua (my favorite saint) and concluded the retreat 33 days later on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Every year since, I re-consecrate my heart to Jesus through Mary, beginning on June 13th, by re-reading 33 Days to Morning Glory. Every year, due to my growth in faith, and with the eyes of faith, I learn something new about my spiritual mother, Mary by re-reading this book. If you are looking for a way to grow closer to Christ and His mother, I highly recommend both enthroning your home and consecrating your heart to Jesus through Mary.

For information about enthroning your home: www.sacredheartapostolate.com

For information about consecrating your heart to Jesus through Mary, you have two options to consider:

  1. 33 Days to Morning Glory, by Michael Gaitley, MIC
  2. Consecration to Mary by St. Louis De Montfort

Virginia Lieto teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online. Her new children’s book Finding Patience was recently published. She blogs at www.virginialieto.com.

The Joy of Love: A Joy to Read?

“I do not recommend a rushed reading of the text” (Amoris Laetitia 7). Pope Francis gives this great advice in his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, The Joy of Love, which is certainly the most important to follow for interpreting the document as a whole. The pope encourages families to read the document “patiently and carefully” (Ibid). And it seems clear that Pope Francis desires all people to read it since, “everyone should feel challenged by Chapter Eight” (Ibid., emphasis added).

It contains an authentic vision for marriage. Pope Francis constantly challenges culturally accepted norms which have hurt family life. This document is strange in that you could find yourself saying “yes, yes yes,” in many instances. But then after reading the document in its entirety, several ambiguous points leave you feeling uneasy for their lack of clarity. Let’s start with the clarity.

The pope warns against “an extreme individualism which weakens family bonds…” (AL 33). Pope Francis thanks families who remain faithful to the Gospel. He encourages and speaks warmly about parents who raise children with special needs (cf. AL 47). The pope is clear that same-sex relationships cannot be equated to marriage because, “No union that is temporary or closed to the transmission of life can ensure the future of society” (AL 52). Later Pope Francis affirms, “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family” (AL 251). The pope speaks out against “various forms of an ideology of gender that ‘denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences…’” (AL 56). He then says, “Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator” (AL 56).

Pope Francis constantly refers to his predecessor, Blessed Paul VI, in citing Humanae Vitae. Spouses must respect the procreative meaning of sex and, “no genital act of husband and wife can refuse this meaning…” (AL 80). Artificial contraception is not a possibility. Similarly, the pope condemns abortion (cf. AL 83). In rather strong words he explains to parents that, “it matters little whether this new life is convenient for you, whether it has features that please you, or whether it fits into your plans and aspirations” (AL 170). The couple must respect life in all circumstances.

Chapter Four serves as an exegesis of St. Paul’s great explanation of love found in 1 Corinthians 13. The pope gives practical advice, “never to let the day end without making peace in the family” (AL 104), which calls to mind Scripture (cf. Ephesians 4:26). In this chapter he challenges how the word “love” is “commonly misused” (AL 89). This is clear in the fact that a husband could say “I love my wife and I love that song” in the same sentence. It does not require sacrifice to “love” a song, but it does require self-gift and personal sacrifice to love one’s spouse.

Joy of loveAt various points Pope Francis clearly and unambiguously reaffirms that a marriage bond is indissoluble and he also explained that this should be seen as a gift, not a burden (cf. AL 62). The pope actually quotes the Old Testament book of Malachi, “For I hate divorce, says the Lord” (Malachi 2:14-16; AL 123), and later goes on to proclaim that, “Divorce is an evil and the increasing number of divorces is very troubling” (AL 246). He minces no words when he describes the reality of divorce and also the affect it can have on children.

But there are some statements in this document that are ambiguous. Please call to mind that the pope has encouraged everyone to read Chapter Eight of Amoris Laetitia. And I propose that that is the problem, not everyone has the ability to interpret what the pope is suggesting. At times it seems you need a degree in Moral Theology or Canon Law to get at the heart of what he’s saying. There’s ambiguity around the issue of what constitutes a mortal sin. “Hence it can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace. More is involved here than ignorance of the rule” (AL 301). In other words, some people who commit grave sins are not guilty of mortal sin, beyond cases of invincible ignorance. Pope Francis does cite the Catechism for this proposal: “Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors” (CCC 1735). One problem with what the pope proposes is that he doesn’t seem to address the fact that any sin, whether venial or mortal, will affect the soul and the individual’s relationship with God, albeit in different ways. The Catechism also teaches, that venial sin, “impedes the soul’s progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good” (CCC 1863).

Many people were turning to the pope for clarity on whether or not civilly divorced and remarried Catholics could receive Holy Communion, even though this has been addressed by St. John Paul II (cf. Familiaris Consortio 84). The pope encourages help in the Sacraments. He reminds priests that the confessional is not a “torture chamber” and that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the week” (AL 305 [footnote 351]). However, we don’t get a clear explanation of whether or not civilly divorced and remarried persons can receive Holy Communion. And again, keep in mind that the pope encouraged all people to read this section of the document.

Amoris Laetitia is a document which provides great encouragement to families. Certain passages merit extremely close reading, such as the passages about civilly divorced and remarried Catholics. But you can’t judge the entire document based on a couple of paragraphs and footnotes. Overall it was a joy to read it and I encourage you to do so “patiently and carefully.” Let’s continue to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us as we read and unfold what Pope Francis has taught us in The Joy of Love.

Edward Trendowski is Director of the Office of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Providence and teaches pastoral theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Authentic Love and the Discovery of Fire

The gospel for the 5th Sunday of Easter Cycle C contains one of most powerful admonitions that Jesus offered his disciples:  “I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34).”  I’d like to share a true story about a young couple from Chicago that will help explain the profound meaning of this gospel.  Peter and Linda were both just 21 years old and had been dating for almost two years.  Peter planned to ask Linda to marry him.

One evening, Peter and a friend were involved in a horrible accident, and Peter was thrown from the car.  He suffered a severe concussion and ended up in a deep coma.  The doctors told Peter’s family and friends that he probably wouldn’t survive.  Even if he did, he would remain in a comatose state.  In the sad days ahead, Linda spent all of her spare time at the hospital.  Night after night, for three and a half months, Linda sat at Peter’s bedside, speaking words of encouragement to him, even though he gave no sign that he heard her.  Then one night, Linda saw Peter’s toe move.  A few nights later she saw his eyelash flutter.  This was all she needed.  Against the advice of the doctors, she quit her job and became his constant companion.  She spent hours every day massaging his arms and legs.

Eventually Linda arranged for Peter to go home.  She spent all of her savings on a swimming pool, hoping that the sun and water would restore life to his motionless limbs.  Then came the day when Peter spoke his first word since the accident.  It was only a grunt, but Linda understood it.  Gradually, with Linda’s help, those grunts turned into words – clear words.  Finally, the day came when Peter was able to ask Linda’s father if he could marry her.  Linda’s father said, “When you can walk down the aisle, Peter, Linda will be yours.”

Two years later, Peter walked down the aisle of Our Lady of Pompeii Catholic Church in Chicago.  He had to use a walker, but he was walking.  Every television station in the city covered that wedding, and newspapers all over the country published the story with pictures of Peter and Linda.  Celebrities called to congratulate them.  People from as far away as Australia sent them letters and presents.  And families all over the world with loved ones in comas called to ask them for advice.  Today, Peter is living a very normal life.  He speaks slowly, but clearly.  He walks slowly, but without a walker.  Peter and Linda even have a lovely little baby girl.

The story of Peter and Linda is a beautiful commentary on the words of Jesus in John’s gospel:  “I give you a new commandment: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.  This is how the world will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

If there is one thing that we desperately need in our world today, it’s to rediscover the power of Authentic Love – self-giving love.  Jesus is calling us to a relationship with others modeled on his love, a love that Saint Paul describes so well in 1 Corinthians 13.  This is a love that we’re never tired of hearing about, a love that we want for ourselves, a love that we are called to extend to others: “a love that is patient, a love that is kind.  It is not jealous, pompous, or inflated.  It does not seek its own interests, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth, a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things, a love that never fails.”  The story of Peter and Linda illustrates that this kind of love has tremendous power.  It has the power to change the world.  It has the power to bring people back from the brink of death to life.  It has the power to bring people back from hopeless sickness to perfect health.  It has the power to inspire people all over the world and give them new hope, as Linda’s love for Peter did.

In the early 1980s, an unusual film was playing in movie theaters across the nation.  It was called The Quest for Fire.  Its French producer said that it fulfilled a lifelong dream.  He had always dreamed of celebrating in film the discovery of fire, for it was the discovery of fire 80,000 years ago that saved the people on planet Earth from total extinction.  It was the discovery of fire that made it possible DSCF1884for them to make tools for survival and to protect themselves from the cold.

Today, people on the planet Earth are beginning to worry again that we are headed for total extinction.  Today, people on the planet Earth are beginning to worry again that we are teetering on the brink of a global disaster.  This time, the danger comes not from something basic like the lack of fire, but from something even more basic – the lack of Authentic Love, the kind of love that Jesus preached, the kind of unfailing, unconditional, self-giving love that Linda had for Peter.

This makes us wonder and ask ourselves a profound and frightening question.  Will someone 80,000 years from now make a movie to celebrate the rediscovery of Authentic Love in the 21st Century?  Will someone 80,000 years from now make a movie to celebrate the only thing that saved our planet from extinction?  Will someone 80,000 years from now make a movie to celebrate the outpouring for Authentic Love that came forth from the Christian community in the 21st Century and changed the world?  Only the future and only the Christian community will be able to answer that question.  Only you and I, and millions of Christians like us, hold the answer to those questions somewhere deep down in our hearts.

This gospel is an invitation for us to look into our heart-of-hearts today and see how we ourselves are answering that question by our own lives of Authentic Love – especially within our families, for we must begin to change the world in the family, or we won’t change it at all.  “I give you a new commandment.  Love one another, and love them as I have loved you.”

“Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of Authentic Love, and then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will discover fire.”      Teilhard de Chardin

 

Deacon Greg Ollick teaches sacred scripture for Saint Joseph’s College Online. He is a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Atlanta and runs The Epiphany Initiative website.

To Be Like a Child…Again

In his gospel account St. Matthew describes a moment in which Jesus interrupts His preaching to bring a child before the crowd. He commands them, “unless you turn and become like children you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” It’s easy to gloss over this statement as simply a call to trust in God. After all, children are the epitome of trusting. They look up to us adults who are bigger, stronger, and know lots of things they don’t. Children place themselves in our hands and believe we’ll take care of them. Likewise, we should trust that our heavenly Father knows better than we do, and that He’ll take care of us. All of this is true of course; but there’s much more to Jesus’ words.

It was during the Divine Liturgy on the Sunday before the Fast began that Jesus’ words about being children suddenly struck me. Perhaps it was the convergence of hearing the Koshute 3 2day’s Propers (recalling Adam and Eve, who were both the Original Children and First Parents), Fr. Popson’s homily on the importance of mercy and forgiveness, and the sound of children crying, cooing and laughing. It all got me to thinking about how I approach the Fast, and my relationship with God in general. The Fast is not just my chance to repent, but to begin the process of living a converted life. To do this requires not only personal discipline and the guidance of the Church, but childlike wonder. Consider the snow, which for adults is a back-breaking commute spoiler. But a child sees in the snowflake a world of wonder. Put many flakes together and new possibilities open up. Children make angels, snowmen, forts, and projectiles with which to torment friends and siblings. The point is that where adults first see obstacles and nuisance, the child sees novelty, beauty and creative opportunities Of course we have responsibilities, and things like snowstorms do require our attention. Our maturity and experience are necessary to protect children and ourselves; but it can also wear away at our own sense of wonder.

We’ve all experienced a child’s meltdown. Either as a parent or an observer, we know that sometimes a child needs a moment (or twenty) away to calm down. Yet when I heard the sounds and watched the movements of children on that Cheesefare Sunday I thought of my own proper and often mechanical disposition before God. I know when to sit, when to bow, and when to bless myself. Children aren’t as well disciplined because they’re still learning (and we have a duty to teach them), but the wonder they possess – even if it’s only in fleeting moments throughout the hour – are moments of praising God I can only hope to achieve. Children look at the icons (really look – not just stare straight ahead at Father’s back). They point up to the ceiling at the larger-than-life Jesus watching them, and they wave at Father when he emerges from behind the mysterious screen to bless. They turn up their little faces and open their mouths to receive Jesus just the way they receive their nourishment at breakfast or dinner. Children aren’t always still or quiet, but they are often engaged in the Liturgy in a way I’m not. The child wonders what’s going on, while I take it for granted – and check my watch a few times. Sure, the child doesn’t understand most of what’s going on. But when the priest brings out the chalice and we say to a child, “There’s Jesus,” he actually looks for Him.

The Fast is interminably “slow” when I mistake rigid adherence to the law (leaving no room for the “surprise” of encountering the living God), with authentic spiritual maturity. No, I shouldn’t get up in the middle of Father’s homily, babbling and waving. And, no, I shouldn’t throw a tantrum on a Lenten Friday and demand a burger and piece of chocolate cake. To act in such childish ways is not proper to who I am as an adult, or a person striving in the Faith. Adults must be adults; children are counting on it. But as I make my way through the Fast, seeking God’s mercy – and learning to love Him and others more intimately – I won’t be successful unless I heed Jesus’ words and become childlike. If I squash the wonder and pure delight found in seeking and meeting Christ, then I will never grow up to be God’s own precious child.

“To be a child means to owe one’s existence to another, and even in our adult life we never quite reach the point where we no longer have to give thanks for being the person we are.”  Hans Urs von Balthasar

Ann Koshute teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Mary and Advent (Or, Why Legos Just Don’t Satisfy the Infinite Thirst for God)

Worth Revisiting Wednesday – This post originally appeared on December 7, 2014.

My kids are into Legos right now. They are perhaps not my favorite toy, to which the bottom of my foot will testify.

Legos

But Legos—excuse me, interlocking brick construction systems—are at least an interesting case-study in human desire. To wit: Kid A desperately wants Lego Set X. He thinks, speaks, and dreams of Lego Set X. He obtains Lego Set X—rejoicing! He constructs Lego Set X. It’s fun.

On the day after comes the Great Letdown. Onto desiring Lego Set Y!

We adults may not try to fill the God-hole in our hearts with Lego sets. Then again, maybe we do.

Or perhaps we go for more Grow out of legossophisticated alternatives. Like the iPhone 6. Or the right job. Or the great relationship. But we are still just overgrown kids, vainly throwing Lego bricks into an infinite hole and wondering why we still feel lousy.

All of this points to the providence of having the Feast of the Immaculate Conception right smack in Advent, on December 8. The season of Advent these days has become the time to advert to our infinite desire for God amidst and despite the relentless consumerism of December. The purity of Mary, which is the product of her Immaculate Conception, releases her to drink deeply from the only well that satisfies human thirst: the truth and love of the triune God.

Mary fully allows the Father to achieve what Fr. Robert Imbelli in his beautiful book Rekindling the Christic Imagination calls “Christification”:

Christians are called not merely to the imitation of Christ but to participation in his own life, gradually becoming transformed from their old self to the new self, recreated according to the image and likeness of their Savior, who loves them and, in the Eucharist, continues to give himself for them.

The icon is the Mother of God of the Inexhaustible Chalice, a classic Russian icon. Mary calls us to come and drink from that chalice that never runs dry, the eternicon 3al, self-giving love of her Son Jesus. Like Christ arising from the chalice, so are we, as little Christs, resurrected into the newness of Christian life by his Eucharist grace. The Christification that God has achieved in Mary, he wants to do for each of us. What Mary has allowed God to do for her, she wishes us to experience through her maternal care. And we will, if we say fiat as she did.

This, then, is the hope of Advent: the hope of transformation into Christ, the satisfaction of those infinite longings for the triune God. This is the hope we bring to others. “The New Evangelization is not about a program,” Fr. Imbelli writes, “but about a Person and about participation in the new life he enables.”

As cool as Legos are, that’s much, much better.

Angela Franks teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

 

I am not able to be selfish anymore

“For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it…” (Ephesians 5:29)

I was recently in a conversation with someone who is a new father. He was commenting to me about the challenges of being a parent. Then in bold honesty he said: “I’m not able to be selfish anymore…” as if he was lamenting the lost opportunity to focus almost exclusively on himself (he is married, hence the “almost”). I have to admit the honesty was refreshing in a way. It also contributed a point to an ongoing reflection I have been having on the Sacrament of Matrimony and its relationship with the Eucharist (cf. Sacramentum Caritatis 27).

The following might seem out of left field, but bear with me. Blessed Pope Paul VI’s Paul VIreasserted in his encyclical Humanae Vitae that there is an “inseparable connection, established by God” between the unitive significance and procreative significance “which are both inherent to the marriage act” (Humanae Vitae 12, emphasis added; cf. Gaudium et Spes 51). In other words each act of sexual intercourse is unitive for the spouses and must be open to life. However, couples who exhibit a “contraceptive mentality” (cf. Evangelium Vitae 13) seek to avoid new life in some cases because it is truthfully difficult to raise children. Especially for the mother who has to give of her body so that another human being can grow inside her. It is evident that sacrifice is required. In theory parents are not able to be selfish anymore.

I find it amazing to reflect on the Scripture passage which says that women will be saved through childbearing, “provided [they] persevere in faith and love and holiness, with self-control” (1 Timothy 2:15). I don’t think St. Paul was attempting to say that all women are saved only through childbearing, especially since he encourages virginity at another point (1 Corinthians 7:34). However, there is a Eucharistic dimension in the great mystery of the generation of human life that may easily get overlooked.

St. Paul urges the disciples in Rome to offer their bodies as a “spiritual sacrifice” that is pleasing to the Lord (cf. Romans 12:1). Women, and men, can give glory to God with their bodies (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:20). One of the beautiful realities of the Eucharistic sacrifice is that Jesus’ disciples can be united with His one-time sacrifice which is made present at Mass. The Catechism explains this profound mystery in the following:

“In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of his Body. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ’s sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering” (CCC 1368).

The lives of the faithful can be “brought to the altar,” as gifts to the Lord, to be united with the sacrifice of Christ. Spouses can offer the gift of themselves, offering all that they are, including their fertility, in response to God’s plan of salvation and the generation of new life. Each spouse can reflect on the words of our Lord in the institution narrative: “This is my body which will be given up for you, do this in remembrance of me.” These words can simply inspire a spouse to give of himself or herself completely for the life of another in the conjugal act of love. This is particularly the case when a mother conceives in her womb and a new life grows inside her.

There is the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative significance when spouses unite as one flesh. The unitive significance is aimed at communion and the procreative involves sacrifice which is open to new life. And this brings us to my reflection on the Eucharist. The Eucharist is of course a communion meal in which the members of the Body of Christ are united with Jesus. Concurrently the Eucharist is a sacrifice in which Jesus offers Himself as a gift of self and we have the opportunity to respond with the gift of our self. And the gift of our self can lead to “new life” as we’re transformed to be more like Christ. Also there can be new life in the Spirit for those who encounter Christ through us. In other words when we receive the Eucharist we must respect the unitive (communion) and procreative (sacrifice) significances of this great mystery when our flesh unites with the flesh of our Lord.

Yet, when we go to receive the Eucharist we may approach simply because we want the “communal” or unitive significance. We want to be united with God and with each other and this is praiseworthy. However, there is also the inseparable significance of sacrifice through the gift of ourselves in response to Christ which is open to the Father’s will and new life in the Spirit. We have to be ready to give our lives as a spiritual sacrifice which gives glory to God. Let’s avoid an analogical “contraceptive mentality” when we receive the Eucharist in which we don’t give ourselves completely to Christ. So as we approach Jesus in the Eucharist we should say to ourselves: “I’m not able to be selfish anymore…”

Edward Trendowski teaches marriage and family ministry for Saint Joseph’s College Online.