Theological Reflection: Confession

This week, I was approached by a woman at the RCIA who wanted to go to confession right away. Although she did not specify the reason (and of course I did not ask), I surmised that she had felt convicted by what we had been studying in the course of the lesson, and the gentle action of the Holy Spirit had moved her heart to repent and seek reconciliation with God and the Church. When she learned that I was unable to hear her confession right then and there, she asked me to help her make an appointment with the pastor at the earliest available time. 

The urgency of her desire to repent and be reconciled to God made an impression on me. In fact, just the day before, I had been in a similar position, feeling convicted by my conscience of a grave sin and in need of repentance and absolution. Because I am a seminarian and have personal connections with various priests in the vicariate, I was able to text a priest friend, drive out to his parish, go to confession that same hour, and stay for dinner. This woman felt the same compunction of heart, but did not have the luxury I did of such easy access to the sacrament of the Lord’s forgiveness. Although I could have passed her off to the parish office to make an appointment through the usual channels, I went to some extra effort as an intermediary working on her behalf to get her on the pastor’s schedule as soon as possible, following the pastor’s own advice: “Being pastoral means ‘more work for me.’”

This encounter highlighted for me the profound connection between the Sacrament of Penance and the overall process of conversion for candidates, such as this woman, who have previously been baptized in a non-Catholic ecclesial community. To be sure, the guidelines of the Archdiocese of Portland state that “in preparation for reception and completion of sacramental Initiation, and at a time prior to and distinct from the Rite of Reception, [such] candidates, according to their own consciences, should receive the Sacrament of Penance,” since this sacrament “provides grace and help to continuing conversion.”1 The same guidelines indicate that “it is fitting that such candidates celebrate the Sacrament of Penance in a communal setting with other members of the Catholic community, especially during Lent,” which is in fact a normal and scheduled part of RCIA every year in our parish, although “it is also possible to arrange a communal celebration specifically for the candidates, or to allow them to approach the sacrament privately.”2 

To my mind, it seems pastorally desirable to make the latter option as freely available as possible to such candidates. This woman had the courage to approach me and make an appointment, but there may be others who are afraid to do so, or are perhaps unaware that they can even go to confession before they are formally received into the Church. Therefore, as a priest, I would like to let the candidates for RCIA know from day one that if they are baptized, they are invited to approach the Sacrament of Penance at any time. They are free to come to the regularly scheduled confession times of the parish or to approach me any time they see me and ask for a “quick confession.” I would make it my promise to them (and the parish as a whole) that, unless I am directly on my way to a sick call or a meeting, etc., I will always honor those requests. Furthermore, I would make it my goal to be present at the RCIA nights as often as I can, every week if possible, precisely to be available for such requests. (My pastor has been good at being present, but he was not there that night; if he had been, I’m sure he would have heard this woman’s confession on the spot!) It may be more work for me, but it will mean a lot to them. 


Footnotes

  1. Archdiocesan Liturgical Handbook (Portland, OR: Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, 2018), 6.36.4. Cf. Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (1988),482; National Statues for the Catechumenate (Washington, DC: National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1986), no. 36; Code of Canon Law, cann. 844 §4, 959.
  2. ALH, 6.36.5.

Live Not By Lies

This reflection was given after Holy Mass at St. Mary’s Parish, Eugene, OR on the feast of St. John Paul II, October 22, 2020. The audio is available here.


The Rule of Saint Benedict begins with this question. “‘Is there anyone here who yearns for life and desires to see good days?’ If you hear this and your answer is ‘I do,’ God then directs these words to you: ‘If you desire true and eternal life, keep your tongue free from vicious talk and your lips from all deceit; turn away from evil and do good; seek and strive after peace.”

Yet Our Lord in today’s Gospel asks us a very different question: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?” And before we can answer, “yes, Lord, of course!”—”No, I tell you, but rather division.” 

These are difficult, challenging words. 

What we must understand first is that where there is truth, there is always division. Truth is the light which shines through the fog and the darkness of the world, exposing the shadows of error and deception and revealing the shape of things as they really are. But as St. John says, “the hearts of men preferred darkness to light.” So wherever the truth is proclaimed, it is a sword which separates not only what is from what is not, but those who believe it and live by it from those who prefer to live by useful, comfortable, familiar lies. It is, in fact, a bright line drawn down the middle of our households, our families, our society, our nation, our Church, and even (if we are honest) our own hearts.

Of course, truth is more than just a set of propositions to be believed. Truth is, in fact, a person. “Ego sum via, veritas et vita,” says the Lord: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” And as our Holy Father of happy memory, St. John Paul the Great, whose feast we celebrate today, taught us in his encyclical entitled The Splendor of Truth: “Called to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, ‘the true light that enlightens everyone’ (Jn 1:9), [we] become ‘light in the Lord’ and ‘children of light’ (Eph 5:8), and are made holy by ‘obedience to the truth’ (1 Pet 1:22).”

Ah, but now at once we see what it means that the Lord came not “to establish peace … but rather division.” The truth which Jesus Is and was sent to reveal—the truth, for example, that we are made in God’s image, male and female; that we belong to Him; that we are not autonomous and self-sufficient, masters of our own little lives and destinies, but creatures made by the hand of a great Creator, sinners in need of redemption and sheep in urgent danger from the wolves; that God who loves us wills to save us; that we are faced with a grave and urgent choice, whether we are for Him or against Him!— that truth not only divides; it crucifies. “For the hearts of men preferred darkness to light.” 

And so St. Simeon, holding the Christ child in his arms, prophesied to Mary that this baby God was “a sign which shall be contradicted” (Lk  2:34), spoken against.

Now, the disciple is not greater than the master. If we follow the truth, the narrow way which is Christ, we too shall be contradicted. We must expect to be mocked, misunderstood, rejected and abused, to suffer separation even from loved ones, to face slanderous and vile insults and worse from a world which hates us because it hated Him first (cf. Jn 15:18). 

Very well: fiat. Let it be done! But if we leave it at that, it looks like a bleak and lonely road indeed. “This is a hard saying; who can accept it?” So listen again now to the Lord’s words at the beginning of today’s Gospel: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”

That urgent fire in the heart of Jesus which he longed to set loose upon the world is the Holy Spirit, that Spirit Who so inflamed the apostles at Pentecost that they went fearlessly to the ends of the earth and gladly accepted martyrdom for the splendor of the truth they proclaimed. That’s why Saint Paul prays that “the Father … may grant you, in accord with the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power through his Spirit.” We need the Holy Spirit, not only to make us strong enough to proclaim the truth and live by the truth, not even just to reveal the truth to us, “the length and breadth and height and depth,” but to transform us into the truth of who we are.

We are indeed made for peace, but that peace comes only from living in the truth of who God is and who we are, and becoming through obedience who we are meant to be. 

To seek and strive after that peace means to seek and strive after and live by the whole truth of Christ. We must “live not by lies”: not by the lies of the world, not by the lies of the Devil, not even by the lies which make up our false selves. We must renounce all such lies, be divided from them, to live in the truth. And only obedience to the truth, in the end, will set us free to live the life of God. 

Come, Holy Spirit. Come, Thou spirit of truth. Come and teach us all things. Come, transform us. Come, unite us to yourself.

Theological Reflection: Holy Matrimony

When I told my pastor last week that we were doing a module on matrimony, he shared with me about a delicate issue which often comes up in his work preparing couples for marriage. Cohabitation is not only extremely widespread in our day and age, among Catholics as well as non-believers; it is commonly understood in the secular culture to be the “responsible choice,” a prudent way to test your compatibility with your partner in the close quarters of common life, a kind of trial run before “tying the knot.” Most young people of my own generation would not dream of getting married without first having lived together as a couple. Father Nelson remarked that he often struggles to know exactly what to say to these couples, who come in good faith asking to be married in the Church, yet who have sometimes already been living together for months or years. The pastoral judgment required is whether to insist that the couple separate, at the risk of driving them away, or allow them to continue living together (emphasizing the need for them to live as brother and sister in perfect continence) and risk their falling into grave sin, as well as jeopardizing the future health and longevity of their marriage.

Although cohabitation per se is not a sin, Father Nelson mentioned that couples who live together before their wedding day may be less free in giving their consent to the marriage as a result of their cohabitation. Even if they live together chastely, the lives of a couple cohabiting before marriage necessarily become more “entangled.” They have the same residence; they share common possessions, and perhaps finances and debts. There may be a concern on the part of one or the other party of where they will live or how they will get by financially if the relationship should fail. It is, moreover, a matter of fact that most cohabiting couples are also fornicating couples (the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults actually defines cohabitation as “involv[ing] the serious sin of fornication”1) and that “many children are born to these relationships, which are not founded on a permanent commitment.”2 All these factors and more can weigh on the minds and hearts of the cohabiting couple and tip the scales of their discernment toward marriage, such that one or both may no longer find themselves entering into the matrimonial covenant in utter freedom. 

Their prior living situation would also appear to shift the meaning of the sacrament from the beginning of a new life together as husband and wife to the mere “ratification” or “blessing” of an existing de facto union. Our Holy Father of happy memory, Saint John Paul II, stressed the following “basic principle: in order to be real and free conjugal love, love must be transformed into one that is due in justice through the free act of marital consent.3 Apart from the risk of diminished freedom, which can put the validity of the marriage itself in doubt down the line, another subjective danger to the cohabiting couple is that the habits of mind they will have undoubtedly formed during their time cohabiting before marriage will then carry over into their married life as husband and wife, blurring “the essential difference between a mere de facto union—even though it claims to be based on love—and marriage, in which love is expressed in a commitment that is not only moral but rigorously juridical.”4 An unmarried couple living together are free to separate at any time if the relationship becomes difficult or inconvenient (albeit to the great psychological harm of the abandoned spouse and any children of the union5). Human nature being what it is, the couple who have become habituated during their period of cohabitation to thinking “in the back of their minds that if things become really difficult, they can always go their separate ways”6 are naturally more likely to divorce.

If a cohabiting couple came to me as a priest for marriage preparation, I would apply the official pastoral guidelines of the Archdiocese of Portland: “Absent children, [cohabiting] couples should ready themselves for marriage by a time of domestic separation. Where a cohabiting couple already has children, the good of the young may require the couple to remain living together, but in chastity and continence.”8 If there are other special circumstances which make separation difficult or impossible in a particular case, I would allow them to continue living together (as brother and sister) as they prepare for marriage, but this would be exceptional. In general, I would require them to separate. I would take special care to impress upon all such couples (1) the need to be able to give their utterly free consent to the marriage and (2) the reality that, once married, their relationship will be permanently and essentially different. To this end, I would lead them through an examination of conscience to help them see if anything about their living situation is placing undue pressure on one or both of them to marry. I would also tell them unequivocally that cohabitation is by no means a kind of “trial marriage,” but a poor facsimile of married life which, far from preparing them well for their future as a couple, tends to set a couple up for future failure. I would tell them the best thing they can do for their marriage is to separate and “practice chastity until they are sacramentally or canonically married. They will find this challenging, but again, with the help of grace, mastering the self is possible — and this fasting from sexual intimacy is a strong element of spiritual preparation for an enduring life together.”9


Footnotes

  1. United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2006), 410, at https://www.usccb.org/sites/default/files/flipbooks/uscca/files/assets/basic-html/page-438.html.
  2. Archbishop Alexander K. Sample, “Pastoral Guidelines for Implementing Amoris Laetitia in the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon” (May 4, 2017), 6, at https://d2y1pz2y630308.cloudfront.net/14211/documents/2017/5/050417%20AL%20Guidelines%20with%20Letter.pdf.
  3. Pontifical Council for the Family, “Family, Marriage, and ‘De Facto’ Unions” (July 26, 2000), §22, at http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/family/documents/rc_pc_family_doc_20001109_de-facto-unions_en.html.
  4. John Paul II, “Discourse to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota” (January 2, 1999), qtd. in “Family, Marriage, and ‘De Facto’ Unions,” §22.
  5. Cf. Rick Fitzgibbons, M.D., “The pope seems to be missing the real dangers of cohabitation. It’s time for the Church to get serious” (November 18, 2016) at LifeSiteNews, https://www.lifesitenews.com/opinion/cohabitation-unions-a-risk-to-marriage-adults-and-children.
  6. Kansas Catholic Conference, “A Better Way: A Pastoral Letter to the People of God in the Province of Kansas Addressing Cohabitation before Marriage” (June 4, 1998), ed. Damian Lenshek, 8, at https://www.kofc.org/un/en/resources/cis/cis308.pdf.
  7. According to a study reported in American Family Association Journal, July 1993, couples who cohabited before marriage had a 50 percent higher chance of divorce than couples who did not cohabitate.
  8. Sample, “Pastoral Guidelines for Implementing Amoris Laetitia,” 7.
  9. Ibid.

Theological Reflection: Confirmation & Holy Communion

In the Liturgical Handbook of the Archdiocese of Portland, great care is taken to emphasize the unity of the sacraments of initiation. For example, our parishes are instructed that “in teachings, discussions, and publications regarding First Holy Communion, it must always be clear that the candidates are, by Baptism, already members of the Body of Christ and living in communion with the Lord. They are to be welcomed into full Eucharist sharing,”1 which, as the Catechism teaches, “completes Christian initiation. Those who have been raised to the dignity of the royal priesthood by Baptism and configured more deeply to Christ by Confirmation participate with the whole community in the Lord’s own sacrifice by means of the Eucharist.”2 The First Holy Communion of children or new converts is to be understood as the crowning glory of their Christian initiation: the grace given in baptism, brought to “completion” in Confirmation3 and restored in the Sacrament of Penance4 is all for the sake of that “communion in the divine life”5 given in the Most Holy Eucharist.

Last weekend, I was able to participate in a Mass at which three of our young parishioners received the Sacrament of Confirmation. They were the last of this year’s cohort of confirmandi, who have been receiving the sacrament in groups of two and three at various Masses (to avoid large gatherings) since the spring. Closer to Advent now than Easter, I joked with them that they were coming in awfully late in the game! Later, however, after reading Mr. Clark’s comments about the restored order of the sacraments of initiation practiced in the Diocese of Honolulu, I reflected that all of our confirmandi come in rather “late in the game.” In the Archdiocese of Portland, children are to be enrolled in catechetical programs preparing for their First Communion “when they approach the age of reason,”6 which is understood to be at “the completion of the seventh year,”7 while “young Catholics who were baptized as infants are confirmed in the freshman or sophomore years in high school.”8 In practice, this means that our young people receive Holy Communion at age seven and Confirmation around age fourteen or fifteen – some seven or eight years later! 

The great delay seems to contradict the logic, described in the above quoted passages, by which Christian initiation presses on from one’s Baptism as an infant through Confirmation, by which the baptismal grace is completed, toward the sacramental union of one’s First Holy Communion, the telos and climax of the whole process. When I brought this up with him, my pastor commented that Confirmation is sometimes treated as a “carrot,” a prize which can be dangled in front of parents to entice them to bring their children back to Mass and enroll them again in religious education classes. Sometimes, he said, the families disappear after their children’s First Communion and we don’t see them again until Confirmation. There is a fear that if we were to restore the order of the sacraments of initiation practiced in the early Church, with Confirmation preceding First Communion, those families would never come back again! 

Apart from the questionable practice of withholding the graces of the sacraments from young people who need them in an effort to manipulate their parents into coming to Mass (if this is in fact the motivation of some), I can’t help but wonder whether part of the reason for these families’ disappearance in the first place might not be our own inconsistent sacramental logic. By and large, the Christian faithful understand the supreme importance of Holy Communion. When their children are admitted to Communion at age seven, but Confirmation is delayed until almost a decade later, they may wonder how important Confirmation really is. Taken out from its natural place leading up to and preparing for Communion, it seems a bit like a vestigial organ, of uncertain necessity. This may lead to the invention of new meanings for the sacrament in an effort to justify its continued importance, such as “marking the ‘coming of age’ of a candidate,”9 an interpretation which the Archdiocese has lately condemned.

The decision to restore or not to restore the ancient order is entirely up to the Archbishop. I know he has discussed it with his Presbyteral Council. As a priest, however, I can be mindful about teaching the people in my sacramental preparation programs about the ancient order of the sacraments, the essential unity of the three sacraments of initation, why we presently celebrate Holy Communion “out of order” (due to Pope Pius X’s desire for children to receive Communion at an earlier age), and why Confirmation is still necessary even after First Communion for the completion of baptismal grace. I also want to be careful never to treat Confirmation as a “carrot,” as my pastor said. If families are disappearing from Mass after their children receive their sacraments, then I want to visit them, like a good father, and ask them what happened. If we have an epidemic of disappearing families, then there are surely urgent problems in the liturgy, catechesis, adult faith formation, or the life of the community which need to be addressed and reformed. 


Footnotes

  1. Archdiocesan Liturgical Handbook (Portland, OR: Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, 2018), 10.12.2.
  2. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 1322.
  3. “Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace” (ALH, 9.1.4). Cf. also CCC, 1285.
  4. “This sacrament [Penance] is rooted in baptismal grace and leads toward complete reconciliation in the Eucharist” (ALH, 10.11.10).
  5. CCC, 1325.
  6. ALH, 10.10.4.
  7. ALH, 10.6.2.
  8. ALH, 9.8.6.
  9. ALH, 9.1.5.

Time is Life

“The saying ‘time is money’ is familiar, but a more correct version of it would be ‘time is life.’ Our life is measured out in time. What we spend time on is what we spend life on. Père Ghislain Lafont applies this truth to prayer:

I remember that one day a novice came to ask me: ‘But what does it mean to give oneself to prayer? What is praying?’ I proposed to him this definition: ‘To pray is to give time to God.’ Time, that is, a quantity measurable on one’s watch, because I believe that time is life. A man who uses his time to pray . . . truly shows to what point this activity directly ordered to God is important to him. It is a manner of laying down one’s life.”

—Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius and Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass

Theological Reflection: Baptism

This morning at St. Mary’s, we celebrated the rebirth of three infants by water and the Holy Spirit. The ceremonies of Baptism were celebrated beautifully and with great joy by the families and their loved ones in attendance. Among the many splendid rites, I was especially struck today by the anointing with chrism upon the newly baptized infants’ heads. At once, the fragrance of the chrism seemed to fill the church and, since I was carrying the jar of oil and the cotton balls used by the priest for the anointing, lingered also on my hands for hours after. One child had been crying frantically since the water was poured over her head, but when she was anointed with the chrism, she became calm. The exultant prayer of the Bride in the Song of Songs came to my mind: “Draw me: we will run after thee to the odor of thy ointments!” (Song 1:3).1 Is there any odor more beautiful in the world than the smell of this Chrism of salvation, by which the Bridegroom of souls first draws us to Himself and makes us His own?

St. Thomas teaches that “in the sacrament of Baptism something is done which is essential to the sacrament, and something which belongs to a certain solemnity of the sacrament … The use of water in Baptism is part of the substance of the sacrament; but the use of oil or chrism is part of the solemnity.”2 Although inessential, strictly speaking, to the valid and licit celebration of the sacrament, it is most fitting that the newly baptized infant be anointed with chrism to signify outwardly the glorious, hidden reality of his new identity in Christ. The ritus explanativi provided before this anointing in the Rite illustrates well its theological meaning: “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as members of his body, sharing everlasting life.”3 The use of sacred chrism here in particular, since it is employed also in the ordination of priests and the consecration of bishops, churches, altars, chalices and patens, emphasizes that the child has been set apart (analogously to the way that priests, churches, and sacred vessels are “set apart”) by Christ himself to be a part of “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people” (1 Peter 2:9). By the “sheer gratuitousness of this grace of salvation,”4 the newly baptized child will forever be numbered among those blessed ones to whom the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom proclaims the mysterious words: “Holy things are for the holy!”

Sacred chrism, being a mixture of oil and balsam, also bears its own innate symbolism:

Olive-oil, being of its own nature rich, diffusive, and abiding, is fitted to represent the copious outpouring of sacramental grace, while balsam, which gives forth most agreeable and fragrant odours, typifies the innate sweetness of Christian virtue. Oil also gives strength and suppleness to the limbs, while balsam preserves from corruption. Thus anointing with chrism aptly signifies that fulness of grace and spiritual strength by which we are enabled to resist the contagion of sin and produce the sweet flowers of virtue.5

I wonder how much of this beautiful symbolism is understood by the Catholic parents and godparents who witness the anointing! Despite the otherwise excellent way in which the priest led the people through the Rite today and catechized them about its meaning, this anointing was given with no further explanation than the Rite itself provides. As a priest, I would like to preach often on this sacred anointing, since it expresses so much of what is given invisibly in Baptism and also of the future glory for which Baptism prepares these children: “However young, they are bathed in [Christ’s] light, his heavenly grace and his peace. Moreover, by making in Baptism as it were his or her first steps along the path of faith, the child is directed toward growth by grace in human and spiritual maturity so as to attain ‘the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph 4:1) and, knowing and loving him, to inherit his promises.”6 I would like the parents to smile and give glory to God in their homes when they catch the odor of the sacred chrism on their newly baptized little ones, recalling with holy awe that He Himself has now set their son or daughter apart, like themselves, “as members of his body, sharing everlasting life.”


Footnotes

  1. The Holy Bible: Translated from the Latin Vulgate with Annotations, References, and an Historical and Chronological Table (New York: P.J. Kennedy & Sons, 1950).
  2. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III, q. 66, a. 10, at New Advent, http://www.newadvent.org.
  3. Ordo baptismi parvulorum (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2003), no. 62.
  4. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 1250.
  5. Patrick Morrisroe, “Chrism,” in The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 3 (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908), at New Advent, http://www.newadvent.org.
  6. Archdiocesan Liturgical Handbook (Portland, OR: Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, 2018), 7.1.7.

Like a Thief in the Night

This reflection was given at Morning Prayer at St. Mary’s Parish, Eugene, OR on the feast of St. Monica, August 27, 2020. The audio is available here.


“Behold, I am coming like a thief,” says the Lord to St. John. “Blessed is the one who watches and keeps his clothes ready, so that he may not go naked and people see him exposed” (Rev 16:15).

And again: “If you are not watchful, I will come like a thief, and you will never know at what hour I will come upon you” (Rev 3:3).

How striking, that Our Blessed Lord now compares Himself to a thief! Let us take care to understand him rightly. The thief of souls, after all, is the Devil, who climbs into the sheepfold “to steal and slaughter and destroy” (Jn 10:10). He comes in the dead of night while the hired men are sleeping; they leave the sheep and run away at his approach (v. 12). But Our Lord, the Good Shepherd, comes so that His sheep “might have life and have it more abundantly.” He “lays down his life for the sheep” (v. 11).  

It should surprise us that our Shepherd now tells us He is coming “like a thief.” Indeed, the whole point is to surprise us. St. Augustine says, “The Lord comes in two ways. At the end of the world he will come to all generally; likewise, he comes to each man at his own end, namely in death … and he wished both to be uncertain.” St. Jerome adds, “The Lord wished to set down an uncertain end … so that man would always be awaiting it.” “Stay awake! For at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Mt 24:42,44).

“Christ, therefore, compares Himself to a thief, not as regards the act of stealing, but as regards silence and secrecy” (Cornelius a Lapide). 

But why does the Lord will to keep us in suspense? Why will “neither the day nor the hour” be revealed until the Son of Man appears (Mt 25:13)? Why will the rightful King of Heaven and Earth return at His Second Coming to claim His kingdom “like a thief” rather than the conqueror He Is?

One possible answer, proposed by the great Scripture commentator Cornelius a Lapide, is so “that the uncertainty may be a keen and never-failing stimulus to us in the practice of every virtue. For … if men knew when they were most likely to die, at that time only would they seek to repent, and they would make a show of diligence around that hour. Therefore, in order that they might be diligent, not only at that time, but continuously, throughout their lives … God caused them not to know the day or hour.”

This is true, and profitable to remember. “Time flies; keep death before your eyes.” As a wise old priest I know told me not long ago, “I don’t have any more time to waste.” Neither do I. Neither do you, no matter our age, our health, our plans for the future. In the same vein, a traditional Catholic prayer worthy of daily meditation reminds us:

“Remember, Christian soul, 
that thou has this day, and every day of thy life: 
God to glorify,
Jesus to imitate,
A soul to save,
A body to mortify,
Sins to repent of,
Virtues to acquire,
Hell to avoid,
Heaven to gain,
Eternity to prepare for,
Time to profit by,
Neighbors to edify,
The world to despise,
Devils to combat,
Passions to subdue,
Death, perhaps, to suffer,
Judgment to undergo.”

But something, perhaps, is missing from this sober interpretation. Let us consider one small detail, easily overlooked, from the Lord’s revelation to St. John: “Blessed is the one who watches and keeps his clothes ready.” Recall the parable we heard last week about the man who comes to the marriage feast without his wedding garment. This garment represents nothing other than charity, that garment which every Christian is to put on over all his other virtues and good works, which binds them all together. 

We cannot enter eternal life if we are not clothed in charity. Therefore, the Lord reminds us again today of the urgent need not only to stay awake and keep watch “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12), but to remain in His love (Jn 15:9), dressed in the spotless white garment of salvation, ready for the summons to the wedding feast! 

This, in fact, is the difference between the anxious fear of the servant, striving for perfection because he is afraid that his Lord will catch him in some fault and reject him when He comes, and the longing of the Bride for her Bridegroom, who seeks to make herself pure and spotless for her Beloved—not because she fears rejection, but because her love for Him spurs her on to nothing less. 

She it is who cries out with such wild joy in the Canticle of Canticles: “The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, skipping over the hills. Behold, he stands behind our wall, looking through the windows, looking through the lattices!” (Cant 2:8-9). 

And this is the voice of the Lord, who comes “like a thief,” peering in through her window in the dead of night: “Arise, make haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one, and come. For winter is now past, the rain is over and gone …  Show me thy face, let thy voice sound in my ears: for thy voice is sweet, and thy face is beautiful” (Cant 2:10-11, 14). 

Why does the Lord keep us in the dark? To spur us on to practice virtue and seek perfection, yes, but perhaps also to inspire in us a greater desire for His coming. 

“At the end of life,” says St. John of the Cross, “we will be judged on love alone.”

Listen to the words of Saint Monica at the end of her earthly life. “Son,” she said to her dear Augustine, whose conversion she had won by many tears and long years of suffering, “as far as I am concerned, nothing in this life now gives me any pleasure. I do not know why I am still here, since I have no further hopes in this world. I did have one reason for wanting to live a little longer: to see you become a Catholic Christian before I died. God has lavished his gifts on me in that respect … so what am I doing here?” (Confessions, IX, 10) 

In my short time here at St. Mary’s, I have met already several faithful, older people who have asked me the same question. Just five days after she posed it, Saint Monica passed from this world into the eternal life to come. Perhaps the Lord was waiting only for this last, most perfect sigh of the saintly mother’s heart: the realization that she wanted nothing now but Him alone.

“After telling about her death, her sorrowing son adds: We did not think that hers was a death which it was seemly to mark with repining, or tears, or lamentations, seeing that she died not sorrowfully … because we knew what her life had been, her faith unfeigned, her sure and certain hope.” (Roman Breviary at Matins, third lesson on the Feast of St. Monica)

Let us, then, dear friends of Christ, taking Saint Monica as our model, stay awake, and wait upon the Lord, clothed in the garment of charity and fired by love’s urgent longings, so that when He comes and knocks, at a day and hour we cannot now predict, we may be ready at once to open the door and go away with Him. “Truly, the LORD is waiting to be gracious to you; truly, he shall rise to show you mercy. For the LORD is a God of justice: blessed are all who wait for him!” (Isa 30:18) 

The Wedding Garment

This reflection was given at Morning Prayer at St. Mary’s Parish, Eugene, OR on the feast of St. Bernard, August 20, 2020. The audio is available here.


“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son” (Mt 22,1). There is “a great mystery” echoing in these words: do you hear it? “I speak in reference to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5,32), the great mystery of the love of the Bridegroom and the Bride thrilling through the very heart of God and down through the history of creation and salvation. For who else can this beloved son of the king be, the Son for whom His Father prepares a joyful wedding feast, but Our Lord Jesus Christ? And who else can His bride be but the Church, whom He “loved” so much that he “handed himself over for her to sanctify her … that he might present to himself the Church in splendor” (Eph 5,25-26), St. Paul says, as His own spouse?

In his magnificent poem, “Romance of the Creation,” St. John of the Cross, the great poet of divine love, imagines an eternal dialogue between the Father and the Son:

“I wish to give You, My dear Son,
To cherish you, a lovely bride,
And one who for Your worth will merit
To live forever by Our side.

And she will eat bread at our table
The selfsame bread on which I’ve fed:
That she may know the worth and value
Of the Son whom I have bred,
And there enjoy with Me forever
The grace and glory that You shed.

‘Thanks to You, Almighty Father,’
The Son made answer to the Sire,
‘To the wife that You shall give Me
I shall give My lustrous fire,

‘That by its brightness she may witness
How infinite My Father’s worth
And how My being from Your being
In every way derived its birth.

‘I’ll hold her on My arm reclining
And with Your love will burn her so
That with an endless joy and wonder
Your loving kindness she may know.’

‘Let it be done, then,’ said the Father,
‘For your love’s surpassing worth.’
And the moment he pronounced it
Was the creation of the Earth.”

The poem continues to describe in dazzling splendor the creation of the heavens and the earth, the stars, the oceans, the heavenly hierarchy of angels – last of all, the human race. And this is the wedding which the eternal Father has prepared for His Only Son: the union of our humble human nature with His own divine glory:

“Then, to a deathless music sounding,
Bride to Bridegroom will be pressed,
Because He is the crown and headpiece
Of the Bride that He possessed.

To her beauty all the members
Of the just He will enlace
To form the body of the Bride
When taken into His embrace.

Tenderly in His arms He’ll take her
With all the force that God can give
And draw her nearer to the Father
All in one unison to live.

There with the single, same rejoicing
With which God revels, she will thrill,
Revelling with the Son, the Father,
And He who issues from Their will,

Each one living in the other;
samely loved, clothed, fed, and shod.
She, absorbed in Him forever,
She will live the Life of God.”

Dear friends of Christ, realize the height of the glory for which you were made, and to which we are all invited! The Father sent His servants, the apostles and prophets, and in the end His Son, to gather us in to the feast – not only to witness this union – but to become the Bride. Little and lowly though we are, we were made from all eternity for union with God. 

It was for this that you were clothed in white on the day of your baptism and instructed to “keep it spotless until you arrive at the judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you may be rewarded with everlasting life” (Rite for Baptism of Children).  And this white wedding garment signifies nothing else than charity, as the Apostle says: “Over all these [virtues and good works] put on love, that is, the bond of perfection” (Col 3:14). Love is a bond; it unites the lover with the beloved. And it is love, and only love, which will unite us to God. 

Now we understand why this poor man who came improperly attired to the wedding is punished so harshly by the king. It’s not a matter of violating the dress code. “He [who] enters in to the wedding feast, but without the wedding garment,” says Gregory the Great, “has faith … but not charity” (Catena Aurea). I’m sure it will not come as a surprise to you to hear that there are many in the Church, in the pews, even in the seminaries and the holy priesthood, who have faith, but lack love. Faith is good and necessary, indeed indispensable—by faith we come to believe in the love God has for us—but as the Apostle teaches, “if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing“ (1 Cor 13:2). Faith is a means to an end; it is a stepping stone to charity. In heaven, faith and hope will pass away; love alone, “the greatest of these,” remains forever, because love alone unites us to God.

“Many are called, but few are chosen,” says the Lord. All are invited, we might say, but some do not wish to come. Others come only so far, but lack the resolve to come all the way: “I will answer the invitation and come into the hall, into the Church, but I will not put on the garment of charity which Our Lord offers.”  Why? 

Here Saint Bernard, whose feast we celebrate today, may be of some help to us. The Church honors Saint Bernard with the title of “Doctor Caritatis,” the Doctor or teacher of charity. Saint Bernard distinguishes four stages of the growth of love in us; we might call them four steps in putting on the garment of charity.

In the first stage, which he calls “carnal love,” we are drawn to the love of Our Creator simply by considering all the gifts He has freely given us, His creatures: free will, self-awareness, hearts capable of loving, an intellect to comprehend the truth, the beauty of the world, the love of our families. One need not even be a Christian to love God with this kind of love. But it is more about the gifts than the Giver.

In the second stage, as we come to know God better by faith, we begin to love Him for what more He can do for us. This is the way children in the faith love the Lord. Saint Bernard calls this stage “mercenary love” because it remains self-interested: “It is weak, for if this hope [of gain] is removed, the love may be extinguished, or at least diminished. It is not pure, as it desires some return.”

But gradually, over long experience and many trials and failures, our love is purified. We begin to love God with what St. Bernard  calls “filial love,” that is, as sons and daughters love their Father, for His own sake, because He is good and beautiful, trustworthy and true. This is more and more an unselfish love, indeed a self-forgetful love, for the more our hearts are occupied in loving God, the more they expand and take on the dimensions of His love. This is the love that regards our neighbors and even our enemies as ourselves. This is the love of great martyrs and saints. 

Yet there is even a fourth stage of the growth of love in us. Saint Bernard simply calls it “pure love.” The characteristic of the fourth and most perfect stage of love is that we “learn to love ourselves for God’s sake. This is to love the self that God desires, to love God’s will for the self: and so it means the final purging of the will from self-aggrandizement and desire for control. It is ‘to be emptied out of oneself, to be brought almost to nothing’ (X. 27), to accept the reality of God as entirely definitive of one’s identity. The self has no other will than God’s. Its only prayer is: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Dr. Margaret Turek, Notes on Monastic Spirituality)

You may notice this is precisely the opposite of our culture’s present obsession with self-care and self-esteem. The wisdom of the world holds that we must love and provide for ourselves before we can love anybody else. So long as we continue to make the anxious cravings of our hearts the primary object of our concern, our love remains weak and imperfect. The wisdom of God, which is folly and a stumbling block to the world, but to us our salvation and our hope, is that if we are ever to learn to love ourselves in truth, we must first fall in love with God in a quite absolute way, such that we abandon everything to Him. In the beauty of His eyes, we will see ourselves reflected, and come to love ourselves there, as He loves us.

“This is a hard saying. Who can accept it?” Yes, the ideal is high, and this is why many refuse. It is one thing to believe, another to surrender oneself to a love as demanding and all-consuming as this. But if we strive to advance in love and place our trust in Him, throwing ourselves confidently on His mercy as often as we fail, the Father looks on our feeble efforts with great tenderness and will soon lift us up to the heights of perfection. And the reward for which we strive is the greatest of all, the only reward any lover worth the name has ever sought: to possess the Beloved and to be possessed by Him forever. 

Lord Jesus, in your Most Holy Name, grant that every one of us gathered here today in your Church may come to the wedding banquet clothed in the garment of pure love. May all of us, whom you have called, find the way to light, to love, to life. 

Called to Communion: Pastoral Considerations for Same-Sex Attracted Catholics

It is well established that same-sex attraction constitutes an inclination of the sexual appetite which is intrinsically and objectively disordered.1 This paper is not intended to defend or explain this definition, a project which has been undertaken abundantly well already by scholars more apt to the task. Although it will be necessary to touch on these questions to some extent, this paper seeks rather in a pastoral spirit to find what hope may be offered to those faithful Catholics who experience same-sex attraction and for whom it “constitutes … a trial.”2 To be sure, Jesus extends to each one of us the call he offered to his first disciples: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24 DRB).3 The Catechism aptly recalls this divine invitation in the case of Christians with same-sex attraction, calling them to “unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”4 However, it must be acknowledged that the cross weighs particularly heavy in their case, since their disordered desires are rooted precisely in that area which makes us most fully human: the sexual urge, which drives man to express at the level of the person—physically, emotionally and spiritually—his natural desire and capacity for self-gift and personal communion. Too often, therefore, the call to carry the cross and die to self in this area may be heard by same-sex attracted Catholics as an insurmountable challenge, akin to a permanent denial of that which is most human in them, that call to communion in which man most fully finds himself and realizes his human potential.5

It is not sufficient to ask Catholics suffering under the burden of same-sex attraction, who are seeking to live holy lives and submit faithfully to the Church’s magisterium, to merely bear their crosses without offering them also some grounds for hope that their deepest and most distinctively human aspirations—desires which are God-given, even if distorted by sin—may be fulfilled. This paper is an attempt to do just that. Drawing on the teaching of St. John Paul II, I will argue that those who suffer with same-sex attraction, being made for communion in the image of the Blessed Trinity, are called to a generous life of self-gift and may find their fulfillment as human persons in such a life, no less than those who experience the sexual urge in accord with the divine and natural order. I will then consider the Lord’s invitation to virginity for the sake of the kingdom in Matthew 19:12 as a “live option” for those who experience deep-seated same-sex attraction, arguing that, though they may fall into the category of those who are born eunuchs or made eunuchs by men, this in no way excludes them from also making a voluntary and generous offering of themselves to God in a life of committed spiritual virginity. This commitment constitutes a path by which such persons may satisfy their deepest inclinations to love and gift, entirely and without reservation, and live a fruitful life in generous service to God and his people.

Called to Communion

At the heart of St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” is the fundamental conviction that God, Who is Love, created man and woman out of love, for love.6 This concise statement reveals much about the nature and destiny of human beings, as well as the nature of God, our creator and exemplar. God subsists in an eternal and reciprocal exchange of love: the Father generates the Son in a perfect and eternal “event of absolute, self-surrending love,”7 giving over His own divinity to the Son, a totally free gift by which He gives Himself utterly and holds nothing in reserve; the Son, receiving the Father’s self-donation, gives Himself freely and perfectly back to the Father in an eternal, reciprocal, loving assent to His Sonship. The generative love of the Father begets the filial love of the Son in an “eternal interplay of divine freedom, since this filial disposition is the infinitely free response of love engendered by love.”8 Furthermore, this love engendered by love is fruitful in the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son. Thus the Blessed Trinity is a communion of three divine persons in one Godhead constituted by an utterly free, eternal, perfect, fruitful, and loving exchange.

Because we are made in the imago Dei, we human beings are likewise “called to communion,” to fruitful self-donation and mutual belonging. In fact, man and woman, made in the image of God, constitute together an imago Trinitatis on the human plane, a “true and living icon”9 of the divine communion of love which is the Blessed Trinity. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” says YHWH in Genesis 1:26. Commenting on this verse, St. John Paul II writes, “Before creating man, the Creator withdraws as it were into himself, in order to seek the pattern and inspiration in the mystery of his Being, which is already here disclosed as the divine ‘We’.”10 The pattern of God’s own inner Trinitarian life, of loving self-surrender and communion, thus becomes “the eternal pattern of the human ‘we’, especially of that ‘we’ formed by the man and the woman created in the divine image and likeness.”11 It is precisely together that man and woman constitute an image of the Trinitarian communion of God. 

The complementarity between man and woman is thus written into human nature from the beginning as a fundamental and irreducible characteristic at the service of communion. It belongs to the “stamp” of the divine and Trinitarian nature which God has impressed upon us from the moment of the creation of our first parents. However, St. John Paul II distinguishes a still more fundamental sense in which we are made in God’s image. Prior to imaging the divine nature in the complementarity of the sexes, man is stamped with the imago Dei in the very fact of his being endowed with a rational nature, that is, with the capacity to know and to love. Man’s being made in the image of God at the level of his rational human nature is “prior, not only in the chronological sense, but rather in the existential sense”12 to his being made in the image of God as male and female. If we were not first made in God’s image by being rational, that is, capable of knowing and loving, then the Trinitarian likeness in the communion of human persons made possible by the complementarity of the sexes would be unintelligible.

This is well illustrated by the second creation account found in the book of Genesis. In the beginning, Adam stood alone between God and the rest of creation, a bodily creature like the animals, yet endowed with a rational nature like God. He experienced a radical need for communion, being made in the image of communion itself, yet found none of the animals capable of satisfying this need; he could know and love them, calling them by their names, but they did not have the capacity to know and love him in return. Therefore, the Lord says, “It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a help like unto himself” (Genesis 2:18), that is, a creature endowed with the same rational nature as Adam himself, such that she can know and love him as she is known and loved by him. To be sure, Adam realizes when he sees Eve—“bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh!” (Gen 2:23)—that he was not just seeking any other rational creature, but also a certain hitherto unimagined “communion of complementarities.”13 Man, before the creation of woman, could not have conceived of the great gift of the complementarity of the sexes; he could only desire one “like unto himself,” capable of making a free return of love for love. The creation of Eve reveals to him the possibility of a true communion of persons, not only in reciprocal knowledge and love, but in bodily, emotional and spiritual self-gift and mutual belonging, and thus a more perfect realization of the imago Trinitatis

Nevertheless, it should be a consolation to same-sex attracted Catholics that “the first and most essential aspect of [the imago Dei] is on the level of rational creaturehood.”14 If, through no fault of their own, such persons do not experience the natural attraction of man to woman or woman to man in the sexual urge, they are not for that reason excluded from the possibility of communion. Same-sex attracted persons are still “stamped with the image of God in love and gift” at the deepest level of their nature, and thus are both made for and capable of “the real warmth of rational human communion: the remedy for man’s deepest solitude.”15 In fact, John Paul II teaches that, since

the need for betrothed love, the need to give oneself to and unite with another person, is deeper and connected with the spiritual existence of the person … it is not finally and completely satisfied simply by union with another human being. Considered in the perspective of the person’s eternal existence, marriage is only a tentative solution of the problem of a union of persons through love.16

If their disordered experience of the sexual urge prevents them from seeking that communion in marriage, then persons who suffer from same-sex attraction may find a way of fruitful and generous self-gift in a different expression of betrothed love found in the tradition of the Church.

Called to Virginity

It cannot be denied that the intrinsic and objective disorder of same-sex attraction constitutes a real obstacle to giving of oneself in betrothed, spousal love in the normal way. This obstacle may be considered analogously to that experienced by the first two kinds of eunuchs mentioned by the Lord in conversation with his disciples in Matthew 19. This conversation occurs just after Jesus has spoken a prophetic word against divorce to the Pharisees: “Moses by reason of the hardness of your heart permitted you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so … Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery” (Mt 19:8-9). It is in this context that the disciples shrewdly remark, “If the case of a man with his wife be so, it is not expedient to marry” (v. 10). 

Without reading the disciples’ comment uncharitably, one cannot help but detect in their words a hint of utilitarian calculus, seemingly weighing the risks of a lifelong commitment which cannot be broken and judging it more prudent to remain celibate. Jesus, however, shifts the terms of the discussion with his reference to three kinds of eunuchs. There are eunuchs “who were born so from their mother’s womb,” he replies, “and there are eunuchs, who were made so by men: and there are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:12). His reply distinguishes between those who are incapable of marriage because of a physical defect (those “who were born so”) or else due to the action of another (those “made so by men”), on the one hand, and those who voluntarily forsake marriage “for the kingdom of heaven” on the other. Crucially, the Lord speaks to his disciples here not in the categories of expediency and convenience, as they had begun the conversation, but in terms of sacrifice and generosity: “He that can take, let him take it” (v. 12).

John Paul II’s interpretation of this passage is crucial for understanding Christ’s call to take up the cross of virginity for the kingdom as an invitation to loving and generous self-gift. “It is a characteristic feature of the human heart to accept even difficult demands in the name of love, for an ideal, and above all in the name of love for a person,” writes the Holy Father: 

the love for Christ himself as the Bridegroom of the Church, Bridegroom of souls, to whom he has given himself to the end … In this way, continence ‘for the kingdom of heaven,’ the choice of virginity or celibacy for one’s whole life, has become in the experience of the disciples and followers of Christ the act of a particular response to the love of the Divine Bridegroom, and therefore acquired the meaning of an act of spousal love, that is, of a spousal gift of self with the end of answering in a particular way the Redeemer’s spousal love; a gift of self understood as a renunciation, but realized above all out of love.17

Far from a life of self-indulgent “perpetual bachelorhood,” chosen to avoid the responsibilities and risks of radical self-commitment to a spouse, or else a resigned and bitter celibacy into which one is forced by some exterior or interior necessity, then, the choice to live virginity for the sake of the kingdom is a particular and radical kind of self-donation, a free gift of love made in response to Him who “first hath loved us” (1 John 4:19). Indeed, John Paul II calls this gift of self to God in spiritual virginity “an act of spousal love,”18 the essence of which is that “two people give themselves each to the other”19 in a quite absolute, irrevocable way, as Jesus insists in his dialogue with the Pharisees. It is an act of “the fullest, the most uncompromising form of love,” which “consists precisely in selfgiving, in making one’s inalienable and non-transferable ‘I’ someone else’s property.”20 The exterior form of the commitment differs for the spiritual virgin in that it is made not between two human spouses, but between a creature and his Creator; the “interior form” of the commitment in the human heart, however, insofar as it involves “the will to give oneself, entirely and without reservation, to God,”21 is the same. Therefore, it is an act truly capable of fulfilling man’s deepest and holiest aspirations to love and gift.

Furthermore, such a generous commitment of oneself to Christ the Head necessarily entails also a gift of self to his Body, the Church. The Head and the Body cannot be separated; neither then can one’s commitment to spiritual virginity for the kingdom as an act of betrothed love for Christ be separated from the supernatural and spiritual fruit of that betrothal, that is, service in charity to the members of His Body. The spiritual virgin is “to have a deep care for them, expressed in service, such that there is a real and enriching personal communion.”22 This service may take many forms. John Paul II muses that it might be expressed in “the relationship of a doctor with his patient, or in a teacher, who devotes himself with utter dedication to the education of his pupil,” or even by “great public figures or apostles [who] devote themselves to many people at once, people for the most part personally unkown [sic] to them, whom they serve by serving society as a whole.”23 It is for the individual to discern the particular path by which they will best serve the body of Christ, listening to the voice of God, the Bridegroom of their soul, with due attention to the needs of their community and loving, filial obedience to the Church. Finally, it must be reiterated that this life of service will only be personally fulfilling insofar as it is the spiritual fruit of the person’s betrothed love for Christ the Head. Service in itself is insufficient to slake the desires of the human heart, which desires not only self-gift, but “the giving of the individual person to another chosen person.”24 Thus the spiritual virgin’s life of service must be the fruit of their communion with the Lord, not a replacement for it.

This path of spiritual virginity is open to Christians who experience same-sex attraction, just as it is to those who experience the sexual urge in the natural way: “He that can take, let him take it” (Matthew 19:12). Whether these followers of Christ were made eunuchs “from birth” or “by men,” that is, from biological causes, psychological trauma, or other undiscovered reasons—and the Catechism acknowledges frankly that the “psychological genesis [of same-sex attraction] remains largely unexplained”25—the words of Jesus reveal that the dignity of making a free choice to give of themselves is not denied them by the fact of their condition. There is an irreducible difference between those eunuchs who are made so and those who choose to become so for the kingdom of heaven. Those who are made so have had no choice in the matter. Their choice lies in how they will live out their lives: seeking communion in vain by gratifying their sensual and sentimental desires, a quest which is doomed to failure since, as John Paul II puts it succinctly, “only if it is objectively good for two persons to be together can they belong to each other”26—or following the difficult road of “renunciation … realized above all out of love,”27 a daily death to disordered desires which enables a life of truly generous gift and communion.

Conclusion

In conclusion, far from condemning same-sex attracted persons to a lonely and loveless life, Catholic moral teaching acknowledges that such persons are radically made for communion and self-gift. In so doing, the moral tradition of the Church firmly rejects any notion that same-sex attracted persons are defined by their disordered inclinations, as if same-sex attraction constitutes a kind of fundamental identity distinct from that of persons who naturally experience the sexual urge as an inclination toward members of the opposite sex. Rather, the Church affirms that same-sex attracted persons share the same fundamental orientation as all other members of the human family, by virtue of their being rational creatures made in the image and likeness of God: the inclination to generous love, to self-donation, to communion. The Church further acknowledges such persons’ fundamental dignity and freedom to choose a way of life which will allow them to give of themselves to another, in accordance with their own objective good as human persons and the objective good of the other, as well as with the whole divine and natural order, and therefore in a manner which affords them the opportunity for real self-fulfillment as human beings in the image and likeness of their Creator. If the normal means of betrothed love, that is, matrimony, is closed to them, the Lord invites them to walk the path of spiritual virginity for the sake of the kingdom, a commitment to self-giving which is no less generous, no less radical, no less fruitful, and no less fulfilling of their deepest inclinations as human persons. Those who choose this path will no doubt encounter difficulties, but in daily renewing their commitment in love for Christ, “they can … gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection,”28 that eternal beatitude in which alone our hearts may all find their rest.


Footnotes

  1. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 2357-8.
  2. CCC, 2358.
  3. The Holy Bible: Translated from the Latin Vulgate with Annotations, References, and an Historical and Chronological Table (New York: P.J. Kennedy & Sons, 1950).
  4. CCC, 2358.
  5. Cf. Paul VI, Gaudium et spes [Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World] (7 December 1965), §24.
  6. Jeffrey Froula, lecture on Theology of the Body (Menlo Park, CA: St. Patrick’s Seminary & University, 15 January 2020).
  7. Margaret Turek, SD-5211: The Trinity – Course Reader with Commentary & Notes (unpublished manuscript, 2019), 134.
  8. Turek, Course Reader, 133.
  9. Francis, Amoris Laetitia [The Joy of Love] (19 March 2016), §11.
  10. John Paul II, Gratissimam Sane [Letter to Families] (2 February 1994), §6.
  11. Gratissimam Sane, §6.
  12. John Paul II, TOB 5:3, in Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, trans. Michael Waldstein (Boston, MA: Pauline Books & Media, 2006), 148.
  13. Froula, lecture (15 January 2020).
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Karol Wojtyła, Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), 153-4.
  17. John Paul II, TOB 79:9, in Man and Woman He Created Them, 436.
  18. Ibid. Emphasis mine.
  19. Karol Wojtyła, Love and Responsibility, 96-7.
  20. Wojtyła, Love and Responsibility, 97.
  21. Wojtyła, Love and Responsibility, 252.
  22. Jeffrey Froula, lecture on Mystical Virginity (online, 20 April 2020).
  23. Wojtyła, Love and Responsibility, 98.
  24. Ibid.
  25. CCC, 2357.
  26. Wojtyła, Love and Responsibility, 131.
  27. John Paul II, TOB 79:9, in Man and Woman He Created Them, 436.
  28. CCC, 2359.

Spiritual Resources for the Coronavirus

Dear friends,

Praised be Jesus Christ!

I know our lives have all been turned upside down by this growing pandemic. For my part, the seminary was shut down last week and all of us students sent home to our various dioceses. Public Masses have been cancelled nearly everywhere. In my archdiocese, they are suspended all the way through Holy Week. Our familiar routines have been put on hold; friends and family are separated as we shelter in our different places; freedoms long taken for granted are curtailed, and even our lives of faith can be shaken by the absence of the sacraments and the closing of churches.

It is a time of great uncertainty and fear for many. But for that reason, it is also a time of great spiritual opportunity. It is no coincidence that this is all taking place during Lent!

And make no mistake, friends. God is very near us!—more so than ever in this time of suffering and distress. The mercy of His heart reaches to the depths of the abyss of our misery to raise us to the heights of divine love.

The bishops and priests of the Church are doing great work throughout the world to remain spiritually close to the faithful: live-streaming Masses, hosting parish groups online, hearing confessions in parking lots or on porches behind glass. In addition to uniting myself to their prayers and remaining faithful to my own prayer, especially of the Divine Office and the rosary for the salvation of the world, I feel called during this time to make a little offering of my own for the spiritual benefit of those who are cut off from Mass and the sacraments.

Therefore, in addition to my usual weekly podcast, I will be offering daily reflections on the Gospel read at the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite for as long as Masses are suspended here in the Archdiocese of Portland. These will be short spiritual reflections of 5-10 minutes each, intended as food for your own meditation and life of prayer, and as inspiration to live extraordinary lives of love in the midst of suffering and hardship! The reflections will be published as part of the normal In Your Embrace podcast. If you are already subscribed, they will show up in your podcast player as usual, beginning today. If not, please subscribe to get the latest updates.

I will also be hosting a weekly contemplative Bible study called Song of Ascents online through Zoom, a video-conferencing platform. We will be reading the Mass readings assigned for the coming Sunday in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite on Saturday nights at 7pm. It is “contemplative” study in that we are listening together for the movements of the Holy Spirit and for the Word which God is speaking to us in our particular circumstances through the treasury of readings selected by the Church. These readings are layered atop one another as a kind of “compound lens” through which we can read anew the mystery of His love. All are invited to join, and you don’t need any special equipment or software: just a computer, phone or tablet with a camera. Click here to join the video chat.

Let us keep one another very close in prayer and draw near to the heart of the Trinity, the fount of divine love.

Yours in Christ crucified and risen,

Matthew