Breaking News: Pope Francis Values the Sacrament of Matrimony

Worth Revisiting Wednesday – This post originally appeared on September 21, 2014. (With the Post-Synodal Exhortation on its way this Friday, we thought it was appropriate.)

On Sunday September 14, 2014 Pope Francis celebrated a Holy Mass with the Rite of Marriage inside St. Peter Basilica. It also was on the occasion of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. In his homily during the Mass, Pope Francis made some important connections between the feast day and the Sacrament of Matrimony, between the new life that is found through the Holy Cross and new life that is found in Holy Matrimony.

As to be expected, “the press” captured the opportunity to discuss this significant Holy Mass, especially since popes don’t regularly preside over a Mass with the Rite of Marriage. I wrestled with two different options for a topic for this article: (1) point out the errors of the media; or (2) focus on the truth of what Pope Francis stated in his homily. Certainly we must be ready to stand up for the truth and correct errors. One specific passage from Scripture comes to mind: “Always be prepared to make a defense [Greek apologian] to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15 RSVCE). But in apologetics, there is a danger of focusing too heavily on the errors of our critics and not enough on the reason for our hope: the truth that is found in Christ Jesus (cf. John 14:6).

Pope Picture at WeddingIn his homily, Pope Francis reflected on the first reading of the day, and he recalled that when the Israelites were on their journey through the desert, they became impatient (cf. Numbers 21:4). But married couples, too, as they walk together through the journey of life, can become impatient, even with each other. Pope Francis makes this exact point:

Here our thoughts turn to married couples who “become impatient on the way,” the way of conjugal and family life. The hardship of the journey causes them to experience interior weariness; they lose the flavour of matrimony and they cease to draw water from the well of the Sacrament. Daily life becomes burdensome, and often, even “nauseating.”

This is not a great frame of mind for any married person to be in. Whether you’re Catholic or not, you can recognize that married life can be difficult at times.

Because of the impatience of the Israelites, they failed to see the threat which was about to take them by surprise. “During such moments of disorientation … poisonous serpents come and bite the people, and many die” the pope commented. In married life there are serpents that attempt to attack the husband and wife. The serpents which threaten married life are seeking the death of their relationship. But the Israelites had a remedy to the serpents’ poisonous bites: they could look at Moses’ staff and recover (cf. Numbers 21:8). Likewise, married couples and indeed all people have a remedy, as we learn from our Savior:

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him (John 3:14-17).

Married couples, when facing “nauseating” days and weeks, can gaze upon the Cross of Jesus Christ and recognize a preeminent sign of God’s love for His people (cf. Romans 5:8). Pope Francis expresses his confidence in the One who can bring aid:

The cure which God offers the people applies also, in a particular way, to spouses who ‘have become impatient on the way’ and who succumb to the dangerous temptation of discouragement, infidelity, weakness, abandonment… To them too, God the Father gives his Son Jesus, not to condemn them, but to save them: if they entrust themselves to him, he will bring them healing by the merciful love which pours forth from the Cross, with the strength of his grace that renews and sets married couples and families once again on the right path.

One might be tempted to think: “Of course… the Pope is going to say ‘Jesus is the answer’ and the Catholic blogger is going to agree. For those of us who are really in a troubled marriage, what can we do?” But the pope’s advice is the most real, the most concrete, advice that anyone will ever give us. If spouses try to heal their relationship on their own, they will quickly lose hope and they will fail. But if spouses entrust themselves to the living God who loves them beyond measure, they will be able to love each other with God’s love through the Holy Spirit: “if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12). We always have hope when we trust the One who makes all things new (cf. Revelation 21:5).

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.

Take a Walk

I just came back from a few days of retreat – what a gift! While on retreat, I prayed with a book I had picked up last year, Walking with Jesus: A Way Forward for the Church, by Pope Francis. It is simply a well compiled gathering of some of the Pope’s daily homilies, general audience teachings, and allocutions to different groups; only five sections, it is not a big book, but it is well edited and good food for thought and prayer. As with all things that Pope Francis presents, it is steeped in scripture and the life of Christ.

I purchased the book because the title intrigued me: Walking with Jesus. Sounds like a good idea! But very quickly I discovered the depth of the relationship that God has in store for us through this invitation. Early in the book I came to see this … In Abram’s first encounter with God, he was invited to walk in God’s presence (Gn 12:1). We see Abram as the father of faith and we talk about sharing in the inheritance, the promises God made with him (Lk 1:55), but the promise comes after the invitation – Come, walk with me and I will make you into a great nation …

Later, Micah says it very plainly: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic 6:8, NIV).

And these are just two examples! It is becoming clearer to me how central this invitation is – to walk with God.

Always.

Through the incarnation, Jesus came to walk with us; to show us what it is, means, and can feel like to walk with God; to give us that human experience.

Further into the book, there are the Pope’s general audience teachings on the Sacraments and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. As placed in this book, it highlights how these gifts of the Spirit in and to the Church and the people of God are means to help us to continue to walk with God and with one another.

We’ve all been inspired at one time or another by the poem “Footprints in the Sand,” and it is a beautiful image, but more than looking back and noticing that there were two sets of footprints – that God chose to walk with us, can I hear the invitation to walk with God and to choose to do so?

IMG_0838When I want to spend time with someone, away from work or TV or a crowd, I say “let’s take a walk.” Well, from the beginning, that is what God’s invitation to me [and to each of us] has been. It cannot always be a real “walk in the park,” but for me to intentionally choose to be in God’s presence whether I’m walking, driving, reading, sleeping … because God desires to be a part of my life, my whole life.

So I am renewed in desire to be attentive and to walk with God. I have no greater wish for you than for you to take a walk!

Sr. Kelly Connors, pm, teaches Canon Law for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Valentine’s Day: Love is in the Air

February 14th, what an exciting day! Of course it is the date we celebrate Valentine’s Day. There is more to this day than a simple marketing ploy by Hallmark to create a holiday in which a plethora of cards can be sold, along with roses, boxes of chocolates, and candle lit dinners for two. (Wow that sounds nice. I remember now what it was like before I had st-valentinekids). There is indeed a St. Valentine who is on the Roman Catholic list of saints. However, the details of his life are not entirely clear. He is believed to have lived in Rome and to have been martyred there for witnessing to the Faith in the third century. His feast day was celebrated on February 14th until the revision of the General Roman Calendar in 1969 under Blessed Paul VI (cf. catholic.org), and it is still celebrated in some places.

Valentine’s Day is typically thought of as a day to celebrate love. We as Catholics can be especially joyful when we celebrate the holiday as a day of love. First and foremost we call to mind our God who is love (1 John 4:8). God loved us so much that He incarnated His love in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And St. Paul explains that, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). So if we buy red roses or see others buying red roses on Valentine’s Day, we can reflect on the blood of Christ that flowed from His side on Calvary as a sign of His love for us. We can reflect on the martyrdom of St. Valentine who died because he refused to deny Jesus. If we see people buying chocolates in the shape of a heart, we can reflect on the Sacred Heart of Jesus which burns with love for each of us. And when two people enjoy a candle lit dinner, they can reflect on the sacred meal that is the Eucharist with Jesus who is the light of the world (cf. John 8:12).

February 14th is also the Feast Day of Ss. Cyril and Methodius. They’re two brothers who were bishops in the ninth century. St. John Paul II actually wrote an entire encyclical letter StsCyrilMethodiusabout the two, stating, “THE APOSTLES OF THE SLAVS, Saints Cyril and Methodius, are remembered by the Church together with the great work of evangelization which they carried out” (Slavorum Apostoli 1). Cyril and Methodius are known for playing a major role in bringing Christianity to the Slavic people. They’re co-patron saints of Europe (Ibid.). I am particularly drawn to their story since my ancestors first came to the United States from Poland. And the first Polish pope, St. John Paul II, explained that while the evangelization of Poland stemmed from a few historical events, “the fact remains that the beginnings of Christianity in Poland are in a way linked with the work of the Brothers…” (Slavorum Apostoli 24). As we reflect on how our Catholic Faith has been handed on from generation to generation, from one person to another under the guidance of the successors to the Apostles the bishops, I can reflect on how the Gospel first influenced those Slavic people in the ninth century. At some point, one of my ancestors heard and accepted the Gospel and would hand it on to his or her ancestors or family members.

February 14th is a special day for me indeed. It is a special day to celebrate God’s love and to recall St. Valentine’s courage in proclaiming the Gospel. It is a day to reflect on how the Gospel was effectively proclaimed to the Slavic people through the brothers Ss. Cyril and Methodius. These two set out to a foreign land trusting that the Holy Spirit would guide them to speak and live the truth in love (cf. Ephesians 4:15). And February 14th is also a special day for me because it happens to be my birthday… but I won’t share which one.

Ss. Valentine, Cyril, Methodius, and John Paul II, pray for us!

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

Mercy and Reconciliation

Recently, the Vaticanisto Sandro Magister published a letter sent to him by an Italian professor-priest who, despite his academic activity, dedicates a significant amount of time to pastoral work. While the letter addresses somewhat larger issues, what I found particularly significant is the following observation the author makes concerning the Jubilee Year of Mercy and the sacrament of Confession.

The facts are these. Since the opening of the Holy Year backed by Pope Francis and on the occasion of the Christmas festivities of 2015 – as also since Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been sitting on the throne of Peter – the number of faithful who approach the confessional has not increased, neither in ordinary time nor in festive. The trend of a progressive, rapid diminution of the frequency of sacramental reconciliation that has characterized recent decades has not stopped. On the contrary: the confessionals of my church have been largely deserted.

Despite the anecdotal nature of this observation, I have a sneaking suspicion that it rings true throughout much of the Church in Europe and North America. And while it may come as no surprise to many, I am nonetheless saddened to hear it.

By declaring this liturgical year a Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis is attempting to place front and center the very core of Jesus’ own preaching message. At the beginning of his earthly ministry, Jesus proclaimed: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent (metanoeite), and believe in the Gospel (evangelio)” (Mk 1:15; cf. Mt 4:17). The word which is often translated as ‘repent,’ more literally means ‘change your mind.’ Jesus’ message is a call to conversion, an invitation to accept God’s abounding mercy into one’s heart, soul, and mind (cf. Mt 22:37; Dt 6:5); dying to sin and living a new life in the Spirit (cf. Rom 6:11; 8:10). God had frequently proclaimed this call to repentance to ancient Israel through her prophets. As the psalmist writes, “Oh, that today you would hear his voice: do not harden your heart” (95:7-8). But in the person of Jesus, God’s mercy has taken on human form.

The Latin word for ‘mercy’ (misericordia) contains within it the word ‘heart’ (cordis). To be merciful is to share in the ‘heavy’ (miseria, misery) heart of another. In this regard, God’s mercy is made flesh in the incarnation of His Son; who entered into a fallen world, i.e., “became sin” (2 Cor 5:21), for the sake of our salvation. In Christ, God has taken on our ‘heavy hearts’ in a unique and definitive way. Thus, as the letter to the Hebrews states, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy” (Heb 4:15-6). This is indeed ‘good news’ (evangelion)!

In synoptic gospels most especially, it is clear that Jesus’ mission is one of healing and Rembrandt's Prodigal Sonforgiveness. Again, at the beginning of his earthly ministry, Jesus proclaims that he “did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Mk 2:17), and Jesus’ capacity to forgive sins is a sign of his divine authority (cf. Mt 9:6). This ministry of mercy is one that he enjoined to his apostles (cf. Mk 3:15; 6:7; Mt 18:18); they were to participate in Jesus’ own ministry of healing and forgiveness (cf. Jn 20:21-23). Only God can forgive sins, and this ‘capacity’ (potestas) to forgive sins comes not from priests, or bishops, or even the apostles themselves, but from God’s “Word made flesh” (Jn 1:14), Jesus Christ.

And so, when the Church, Christ’s body (1 Cor 12:27), forgives sins through her ministers, she is participating in Christ’s own ministry and has done so throughout the ages. What we Catholics call the sacrament of Confession or Penance or Reconciliation, is an extension of various scenes contained throughout the New Testament of Christ forgiving the sinner: the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8:1-11), the paralytic – lowered down from the open roof of a house (Mk 2:5, 9), and the ‘sinful woman’ who bathes Jesus’ feet with her penitential tears (Lk 7:48).This mercy, Jesus’ own, is offered to us every time we visit in the confessional.

Often, we view the sacrament of Reconciliation as a “duty” or, even worse, as something

Pope Francis - penitent

Pope Francis – penitent

superfluous. It is no more a duty than it would be to seek Jesus’ forgiveness if he were standing right here before you. It is no more superfluous than it was for the adulterer, or the paralytic, or the sinful woman. Rather, the sacrament of Reconciliation is supreme gift. Through it, and the other sacraments, Jesus fulfills his promise to be with us “until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). In fact, in the confessional, the mercy of God is being offered exactly as if Jesus were standing right here before you.

Thus, for this Year of Mercy, what’s more important than visiting a ‘holy door’ – with all due respect to those involved in this activity – is to visit the ‘holy door’ of the confessional. In the sacrament of Reconciliation, you have an opportunity to visit Jesus. Make that your first stop before visiting his house.

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

The Courtyard of the Gentiles

Courtyard project ParisThe purpose of Pope Benedict’s initiative, which he calls “The Courtyard of the Gentiles,” is to promote communication with human cultures, sciences and institutions. It is a practical implementation of what Pope Francis is calling “a culture of encounter.” Although its first meeting was in Paris in 2011, it is the kind of thing that Christians have been doing since the beginning when Paul praised the Athenians for their worship of the Unknown God (Acts 17: 22). “The Courtyard of the Gentiles” came to mind as I read about Barbara Ehrenreich’s latest book, Living with a Wild God (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2014).

In his speech founding the Courtyard project Pope Benedict noted, “I consider most important the fact that we, as believers, must have at heart even those people who consider themselves agnostics or atheists. When we speak of a new evangelization these people are perhaps taken aback. They do not want to see themselves as an object of mission or to give up their freedom of thought and will. Yet the question of God remains present even for them, even if they cannot believe in the concrete nature of his concern for us. … We must be concerned that human beings do not set aside the question of God, but rather see it as an essential question for their lives. We must make sure that they are open to this question and to the yearning concealed within it. Here I think naturally of the words which Jesus quoted from the Prophet Isaiah, namely that the Temple must be a house of prayer for all the nations (cf. Is 56: 7; Mk 11: 17).”

The Pope concluded: “Today, in addition to interreligious dialogue, there should be a dialogue with those to whom religion is something foreign, to whom God is unknown and who nevertheless do not want to be left merely Godless, but rather to draw near to him, albeit as the Unknown.” (Address to the Roman Curia, 21 December 2009)

When she was 13 years old, Barbara Ehrenreich had the following experience:

The world flamed into life. How else to describe it? There were no visions, no prophetic voices or visits by totemic animals, just this blazing everywhere. Something poured into me and I poured out into it. This was not the passive beatific merger with the ‘All,’ as promised by the Eastern mystics. It was a furious encounter with a living substance that was coming at me through all things at once, and one reason for the terrible wordlessness of the experience is that you cannot observe fire really closely without becoming part of it. Whether you start as a twig or a gorgeous tapestry, you will be recruited into the flame and made indistinguishable from the rest of the blaze.

Was this a religious experience? I don’t know. In an April 14, 2014 Time magazine interview with this scientist, defender of the poor, and atheist, she spoke of this fascinating event. And judging from her interest in publishing a book about it, the experience is still important to her.

And here’s one of two things I want to point out: the experience is important to her not in spite of her scientific training (she has a PhD in biology) but because of it. Her account of the experience and why she has refused to dismiss it should be of interest to those in the Courtyard project or anyone concerned with the relationship between religion and science.

Question: “Are you worried that people are going to think you’ve gone off the reservation?”

Answer: “I’m more worried that people will say I’m crazy. But I was educated as a scientist, and one of the things I learned was that you do not discard anomalous results. If you have a result that doesn’t fit your theory, that falls way off the curve in your graph—I’m sorry, you don’t get to erase that. You have to figure out what’s going on. I’m just opening up the conversation. If in the process I completely ruin my reputation as a rational person and end up in a locked ward, that’s the chance I’m taking.”

Notice that the questioner makes the predictable secularist assumption: religion and science are incompatible because religion is irrational. If you think such an experience is important, you must be leaving the rational world of science. But also notice how Ehrenreich refuses that presumptive cliché: the authentic scientist does not discount what is exceptional. Unlikely things do happen, and they fall within post-Newtonian scientific theories, which search for probability and not necessity. The dismissal of such experiences as Ehrenreich’s is not science but ideology. The task is, as she knows, to interpret it, not to prejudge it as impossible or meaningless.

Here’s the second thing I want to say: in the Christian theology of the Trinity there are two missions. The more familiar mission is the Outer Word, the Logos incarnate, sent by the Father into human history as Jesus of Nazareth. But there is also the pre-verbal, pre-conceptual Inner Word that we call the Holy Spirit, sent into the hearts of all human beings. Tad Dunne has sums up the role of the Spirit this way:

The “Spirit” very seldom is reported in Scripture to deliver a message; rather, it disposes men and women to receive a message. At times this “Spirit” is portrayed as seeking, groaning or wondering. …It seems, then that the mission of God’s “Spirit” is experienced in our inner and immediately-felt wonder, be it the suffering kind that still searches or the enjoyable kind that appreciates the meanings embraced. God is present to us in the unmediated fashion that our own dynamic wonder is.[*]

Thank you, Barbara Ehrenreich, not only for your relentless work in defense of the poor but now, for “opening up the conversation” about your experience. Perhaps your book will give others who feared that they would be branded as unscientific or even crazy the confidence to heed Hamlet’s words:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, 
Than are dreamt of in our philosophy. 

David Hammond teaches theology and church history for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

[*] Tad Dunne, “Trinity and History” Theological Studies 45 (1984), 147.

 

The Domestic Church, Mercy, and Christmas

Today’s liturgical readings—especially the Gospel—highlight, among other themes, the importance and dynamism of the mission of the Christian family.  This is significant in light of the recent Synod on the Family, and because of our pilgrimage of faith within Advent and Christmas of this holy Jubilee Year of Mercy.

By “mission of the Christian family,” I am referring to its three-fold baptismal priestly, prophetic, and kingly calling: to be holy; to proclaim and witness to the truth about Christ and His word (John 14:23); and to be an instrument of love and mercy in our world so much in desperate need…(see Lumen gentium, or LG, 9-13, 31 and Familiaris Consortio, or FC, 50-64 for roughly equivalent explanations of the mission of the Church, shared by its laity and the domestic Church, the Christian family).

Dom church

Mary, a “type and outstanding model in faith and charity” (LG 53), also is a type of the Church (LG 63).  As such, she reflects the three-fold mission of the Church—and therefore of the domestic Church.  Her words at the Annunciation, “May it be done to me according to your word,” from today’s selection in the “Alleluia,” echo the reference to Christ in today’s reading from Hebrews 10, “Behold, I come to do your will, O God.’“   This sacrificial self-offering underscores the core meaning of the baptismal priestly calling of holiness of the Christian family—self-oblation and corporate familial self-giving through prayer and the sacraments (FC 55, 62).  In a special way, in this Holy Year of Mercy, the Christian family must seek forgiveness from God and each other and contemplate the face of mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Misericordiae Vultus, or MV, 4).  In today’s Gospel Reading (Luke 1:39-45), Elizabeth proclaims that Mary is blessed among women, and blessed also by believing that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled.  Her tenacious trust in and loyalty to God’s will is the baptismal priestly model to which the domestic Church must aspire.

In the Gospel reading, the Virgin Mary also illustrates the prophetic calling of the domestic Church by bringing Jesus to others, i.e., to Elizabeth and the unborn infant John the Baptist, and then proclaiming His power and salvation in her subsequent Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55 (just beyond the reach of today’s Gospel reading). The third calling of the Christian family’s three-fold mission—to advance the kingly reign of love—we see as well in our readings.  In Luke 1:39-45, Mary exercised empathy and compassion toward neighbor in her fearless and other-centered journey to Elizabeth, six months into her pregnancy.  “Showing mercy” (from rahkam and Ἔλεος), practically the equivalent of “having compassion,” is the virtue—grounded in humility—most supremely demonstrative of charity.  Pope Francis also specifically beckons us to exercise this virtue during this Year of Mercy: “Jesus affirms that mercy is not only an action of the Father, it becomes a criterion for ascertaining who his true children are.  In short, we are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us…” (MV 9)

What gift can the Christian family—including each of ours, and any family, to the extent possible—give this Christmas to the Christ Child?  As the magi did, so too our families can each (try to) give Him three gifts.  The first is the baptismal priestly gift of itself—of dedicating ourselves as a family, by sacramental grace and prayer, to loving Christ and keeping His word.  The second is the prophetic gift of bringing the truth about Christ and His teachings to others.  And the third is the kingly gift of loving neighbor especially for God’s sake.  In offering this, our families will exercise great compassion, first on members of our own, but also on others most in need—even enemies.

The sacrifice of our wills, our passionate effort to share Christ and His words, and our compassionate love for Him in our neighbor, at home and far away—inspired and guided by the Mother of the domestic Church—will transform our families, our culture, and our Church.  This can be our gift to the Christ Child during this Advent and Christmas season and Holy Year.

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

Open the Doors Wide – Let God’s Mercy Flow!

This Tuesday, Pope Francis ushers in the Jubilee Year of Mercy! I have waited for this day, since the announcement occurred this past spring, via the reading of Misericordiae Vultus, the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Jubilees do not come along every day; that is why the magnitude of this event is deemed extraordinary. The graces offered this year should not be taken for granted, or worse, dismissed by the faithful.

Our world suffers from turbulent events; abortion, suicide, euthanasia, gun violence, terrorist attacks and wars. Bottom line we kill each other, and/or ourselves. We do the farthest thing from God’s will; to love one another as the Father has loved us. We desperately need God’s Mercy. As a human race, we have truly spiraled downward. We need His loving touch of Mercy to lift us from our self-made abyss of sin and suffering.

Through God’s mercy we heal. Through God’s mercy “we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives” (MV 3). When we receive God’s mercy through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God replaces our guilt and shame with joy. That joy emanates outward for others to see. He fills us with true Christian serenity; Christ’s Peace. That sense of Peace also emanates outward in our Christian witness.

What can we expect during this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy?

  • On December 8, 2015 Pope Francis will open the Holy Door of Mercy, “through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope” (MV 3).
  • On December 13, 2015 the Holy Door of Mercy opens at all cathedrals throughout the world.
  • During Lent 2016, Pope Francis will send out Missionaries of Mercy; designated priests, enabled to “pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See” (MV18).
  • On March 4-5, 2016, we can participate in a worldwide initiative called “24 Hours for the Lord” where the Sacrament of Reconciliation will be offered in every Diocese (MV 17).
  • On November 20, 2016 the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy will come to an end, but with the knowledge that Christ’s Mercy is endless and always readily available to everyone.

What can we do to make the most of this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy?

  • Allow God to surprise you (MV 25).
  • Embrace the call to mercy (MV 18).
  • Listen to the Word of God (MV 13).
  • Make an effort to reconcile yourself to God through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
  • Refrain from judging others.
  • Be merciful toward others.
  • Recognize the suffering of others and express compassion.
  • Partake in the Corporal Works of Mercy (feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned and bury the dead) (MV 15).
  • Partake in the Spiritual Works of Mercy (counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offenses, bear wrongs patiently, and pray for the living and dead) (MV 15).

I’m psyched! I’m ready to receive an outpouring of God’s Mercy. I’m ready to do my part in participating in the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. How about you? Open the doors wide! Let God’s Mercy flow!

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.

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.

Prayer: Experiences of Inner Room and Upper Room

Worth Revisiting Wednesday! This post originally appeared on October 26, 2014.

“The fire of the Holy Spirit was sent down upon the Apostles at Pentecost in answer to their fervent prayer; ardent prayer in the Spirit must always be the soul of new evangelization and the heart of our lives as Christians.”

– Pope Francis (General Audience, May 22, 2013)

elgreco descent of the hsPrayer. Sometimes we make it so difficult. I am not sure why. Maybe we think it needs to be very formal or formulaic? I know that I thought that for a very long time. There is certainly a place for formal prayer, be it communal, such as during the Mass or the Liturgy of the Hours or even private, such when use a formal written prayer. In fact, we Catholics have a love affair with our prayer cards, books, and other sacramentals, including candles, statutes, and icons. This is an excellent thing because “they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1670). They are, though, simply means, not ends in themselves. Means to a conversation with God or maybe more precisely, a dialogue. We might not consider it a dialogue. Fervent prayer, ardent prayer, in the way that Pope Francis is calling for is an on-going dialogue with God throughout our day, an awareness of the action and activity of the Holy Spirit permeating our lives. It is a seeking for God and finding God in all things, in every moment and in every place. St. Teresa of Avilaencourages us to be seekers of God and St. Ignatius of Loyola calls us to “find God in all things.” St. Vincent Pallotti puts the two aspects together, as was often his way, and challenges us to:

Seek God and you will find God.
Seek God in all things and you will find God in all things.
Seek God always and you will always find God.”

We certainly need to take time to be in communal prayer like those in the Cenacle or Upper Room at Pentecost. We also need to be in private prayer, setting aside time to go to our “inner room, close the door, and pray to [our] Father in secret” (Matthew 6:6). The Holy Spirit, though, is active and alive everywhere, if we but open our eyes to see and our ears to hear.

Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C., is Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center and teaches for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

 

“What in the World is a Catechist?”

Today is the memorial for St. Charles Borromeo, a patron saint of catechists. St. Charles charles borromeowas a bishop during a period of confusion in the history of the Church. He was the archbishop of Milan from 1564 to 1584 while the Protestant Reformation was still young. But St. Charles sought to teach the truth. He was instrumental in the creation of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, what would later be called the C.C.D. In order to teach the Faith effectively St. Charles believed that it was incumbent on Catholic Christians to live the Faith that they were preaching. During a famine in Milan he is said to have fed about 3000 people daily for three months (Lives of the Saints 364). On the memorial of this great saint let’s reflect on what Pope Francis can teach us about being a catechist.

In a Mass to celebrate catechists, Pope Francis described the vocation of a catechist as someone who keeps the memory of God alive. The catechist invites others to reflect on God’s presence in their lives. The pope stated,

“A catechist is a Christian who puts this remembrance at the service of proclamation, not to be important, not to talk about himself or herself, but to talk about God, about his love and his fidelity – to speak and to transmit all that God has revealed, i.e. the teaching of Christ and His Church in its totality, neither adding nor subtracting anything” (Pope Francis, Mass to Celebrate Catechists 2).

The catechist speaks about God. You might be thinking: “No, really? Thanks for the tip!” But how often do we invite others to encounter the living God? “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you,” is the simple kerygmatic message that Pope Francis proposes (Evangelii Gaudium 164).

This brings us to the second point of what Pope Francis said. A catechist does not add or subtract anything from the teachings of Christ and His Church. A catechist will often have to teach on sensitive issues; the issues cannot be ignored. The pope has spoken out publically on many hot button issues. While speaking in the Philippines the pope warned about “ideological colonization.” He went on to warn: “The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life” (Pope Francis, Speech for Meeting with Families, January 16, 2015).

The pope was calling to mind that marriage is between a man and a woman, a point he raised again in his homily at the opening Mass to this year’s Synod of Bishops. The pope also has described the importance for husband and wife to be open to life. “Openness to life is the condition of the Sacrament of Matrimony. A man cannot give the sacrament to the woman, and the woman give it to him, if they are not in agreement on this point, to be open to life,” he said in an in-flight press conference. But Pope Francis also quipped that Catholics do not have to “be” (insert: breed) like rabbits to be “good” Catholics. Rather they should exercise “responsible parenthood” (cf. Humanae Vitae 16; CCC 2368).

After his visit to the US, on his flight back to Italy the pope reaffirmed “…a sacramental marriage is indissoluble. This is not something the Church can change. It is doctrine; as a sacrament, marriage is indissoluble.” Finally, in the pope’s 2015 encyclical, he stated: “Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion” (Laudato Si 120). We are not being consistent if we express a desire to care for the environment but do not respect human life from conception until natural death.

Pope Francis has taught these Church teachings as we would expect any pope to. He has also surprised many people by his desire to speak and live the truth in love (cf. Ephesians 4:15), something St. Charles did well. From these two men we learn to have compassion for the people we catechize.  This means that we will “suffer with” them (Latin compassio) and accompany them on their journey:

“I remember when Saint John Paul II said: ‘Error and evil must always be condemned and opposed; but the man who falls or who errs must be understood and loved… we must love our time and help the man of our time’ (John Paul II, Address to the Members of Italian Catholic Action, 30 December 1978). The Church must search out these persons, welcome and accompany them, for a Church with closed doors betrays herself and her mission, and, instead of being a bridge, becomes a roadblock: ‘For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren’ (Heb 2:11)” (Pope Francis, Homily at Mass to Open Synod).

The catechists and the rest of the Church’s faithful (CCC 3) must serve as that bridge to an encounter with Jesus Christ. It’s essential to “meet people where they’re at.” But we don’t leave them there. We accompany them on the journey as we respond to the universal call to holiness together.

St. Charles Borromeo, pray for us.

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