Is Marriage Defensible?
Orange County Thomas More Society Presentation
November 20, 2013, Fr. Joseph IlloThank you for participating
Thank you, Greg, for that introduction, and to Steve Contungo and all of you for inviting me to your meeting this month. Steve’s children attend Thomas Aquinas College, where I serve as chaplain, and I had the privilege of helping his daughter Sarah with her senior thesis last semester. I am pleased to say that in our college Student Center, we have only three paintings of saints: St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Joseph, and … St. Thomas More. The patron of Catholic jurists is quite well loved at Thomas Aquinas College.
Arguably, Catholics make the best lawyers, since you have 2000 years of legal tradition behind you, and belong to the organization most responsible for developing the western system of rule of law. I saw on your website that you’ve organized an annual diocesan Red Mass. In my last parish, we held an annual Blue Mass to honor and pray for first responders, and a White Mass for physicians, but never quite got the Red Mass off the ground, even though we had a lot of attorneys in the parish. Every time we held a planning meeting, the lawyers could never agree among themselves…. Is a priest competent to speak on marriage?
I’ve been asked to speak on the question of marriage, and of course, never having been married, I immediately agreed. Priests, perhaps like lawyers and doctors, imagine that we are experts in every topic, or at least can talk like we are experts. I don’t claim to be an expert on marriage, but I began life in a marriage (my parents celebrated their 60th anniversary this year), and for 23 years have been “marrying” all the finest ladies in my parish. Not only do priests prepare couples for marriage, and celebrate their weddings, but more importantly we talk them through the difficult times after the wedding, and in the process learn a certain amount of inside information about marriage dynamics. And I might say, that celibacy affords us a certain objectivity, a disinterestedness, when engaging the emotionally-charged difficulties couples must face. Finally, priests study and teach theology, and so are able to apply some fundamental principles to the question of marriage.
One further disclaimer: I am a parish priest by trade, not a professional theologian, sociologist, or legal expert. At my disposal is a basic grounding in theology and many years’ parish experience, but I am not an expert and scarcely the last word on the subject. Although I would suspect you all would be less likely to succumb to the fallacy that “whatever father says is true,” many take what a priest says on a spiritual subject like matrimony as magisterial. My talk centers mainly on natural-law arguments for marriage, although of course it depends on ideas developed in the Christian tradition. We are here to think through this question together, and I encourage your questions and comments after my presentation.What is marriage: framing the question
Is marriage defensible? To answer that question, we must first ask: What is
marriage? It seems an obvious question, but suddenly, nobody can agree on a definition of marriage. But the simplest things in life are often the hardest to define. St. Augustine famously said in the 11th chapter of his Confessions
, "What then is ‘time?’ If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it, I know not."
Robert George, Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University and Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School, has written a little book on this question, along with co-authors Sherif Girgis and Ryan Anderson, entitled: What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense.
Defining marriage turns out to be a complex question, difficult to encompass and articulate. Even this book, which I highly recommend, having made an essential definition, circles around and about that core trying to articulate just what it is. Robert George and his co-authors, however, have come up with a most succinct definition: marriage is a “comprehensive union.” That is, marriage is a union of body and soul inherently oriented toward the generation of new life
. As I will explain, and is perhaps already self-evident, this can only obtain between one man and one woman.What distinguishes the marriage bond
There exist all sorts of friendship bondings among humans: coffee klatches, business partnerships, a grandfather and granddaughter, two bachelor brothers keeping house together, communes of like-minded adherents, from Catholic monasteries to nudist colonies, reading clubs, sports clubs, scout troops, etc. What makes the marriage bond
distinct, and why would the state want to regulate it? The government doesn’t issue “friendship licenses” for hiking clubs, or require divorce procedures for two elderly sisters who had lived together but go their separate ways after an argument. Why does the government involve itself in marriage at all? The reason must be that marriage—the union of will and body between man and woman (ratum et consummatum)—generates new human beings, new citizens, the care and education of whom greatly affects society. Government must help rightly order our societal goods, among which children are the most precious. Children are our future, and our present, and we neglect their health and education to our common demise. Even if we don’t care about children as individuals, our own public security and peaceful retirement depends on them. That’s why you see billboards on the freeway promoting “responsible fatherhood;” even the most radical secularist in “fatherless America” understands that children growing up without parents turn out very badly for everyone concerned.
This, then, is what distinguishes marriage from any other type of human bonding or companionship or relationship: it is naturally and essentially oriented toward children. A side note here: we often fall into the trap of speaking about “traditional marriage,” which concedes that there are
different kinds of marriage. In the western legal tradition, at least until a few years ago, there have never existed various forms of marriage, such as “traditional marriage,” “open marriage,” “flexible marriage,” “same-sex marriage,” etc. Despite the recent iterations of the courts, there is still only “marriage,” which is distinct from any other kind of friendship, companionship, legal arrangement, or human bonding, precisely because it is capable of generating new life. We need to be precise in our use of the term; certainly those who want to redefine it are willing to wage protracted legal battles just to do that; we need to insist on its proper use, for our use of words indeed affects our concepts. So, when I use the word “marriage” in this talk, I’m talking about marriage,
which is the comprehensive union between a man and a woman. Some may argue that this begs the question of what marriage is, but it makes sense to start from the concept as commonly understood before we determine if it should be redefined.“Comprehensive Union”: Total gift of self
Again, let us attempt to define “comprehensive union.” Marriage is comprehensive in the sense that it comprehends everything in the human person. It is total, it is a complete
self-gift of body, soul, mind, and heart. Can marriage be partial—can I be “kind of married?” Is marriage a compromise? For years I’ve worked on Engaged Encounter and Retrouvaille weekend workshops with married couples. Any of those happily married couples will tell you that once you begin thinking of marriage as a compromise—I give 50% and she gives 50%, and maybe this week I can get by with 48%—once I start thinking like that, my marriage is headed south. Marriage requires 100% from each partner. It is not only
a business relationship (certainly it includes
a business arrangement) where contracts are drawn up and one party is not obligated beyond narrow contractual requirements. Marriage requires the whole
person. No-fault divorce, which began the process of redefining marriage forty years ago, reduces
marriage to merely a contractual arrangement. I was talking with my 80-year-old mother yesterday, who has been married for sixty years to my father, and raised six children with him—she knows a thing or two about marriage. She visited my older brother last week, who is caring for his wife after her surgery. “Bobby is caring for her, changing her dressings and her drains, bathing her, feeding her.” She was amazed that this little boy to whom she had given herself fifty years ago was now giving himself to his wife. He could have just hired a full-time nurse (he has hired a part-time nurse so he can get to work), but he wants to care for his wife as personally as he can. This kind of arrangement is not merely contractual
—it represents a total gift of self.“Comprehensive Union”: Faithful and permanent
Marriage is “comprehensive” in that it touches every aspect of the human person and requires a total gift of self until death. Nothing less can hope to bring about happiness in such an intimate relationship. It requires exclusivity, or what we call fidelity (monogamy), because the human person can only love one person at a time. Certainly, we can appreciate and love groups of friends, and both parents, and all our children, but when it comes to total surrender to another person, the human psyche needs a single object of that gift. Ideally, marriage should be lifelong, or “permanent,” because the human person finds it emotionally repulsive to surrender to another in complete trust, to build a life together over many years, only to see it collapse and then have to start over again. A comprehensive union takes all that we have to give, and we find it exhausting to do it more than once. Commonly those who have lost a spouse to death, or gone through a divorce, will tell you that he or she “isn’t ready to do that again” or “is not interested in marriage again.” The nature of a comprehensive union demands that spouses enter into marriage intending lifelong fidelity, even if that goal is not realized in every marriage.
Thus, if marriage is a comprehensive union of mind and body, it demands of that union totality, meaning fidelity and permanence. But fidelity and permanence could be said of same-sex “marriage” as well, although same-sex couplings do not have a very good track record when it comes to fidelity and longevity. You could say the same, however, for most marriages today, after thirty years of no-fault divorce. Most Americans are serial bigamists, if we could say so, a phenomenon of which we are perhaps even more aware here in Southern California.
So what is it about marriage—again, I’m referring to the exclusive, lifelong comprehensive union of one man and one woman—what is it about this type of human relationship that distinguishes it from other types of friendship bondings? It is not sex—anybody can have sex. It is not common interest, or emotional attachments—any kind of group or couple can have emotional involvement, but we don’t call them marriage. “Comprehensive Union”: Orientated toward procreation
The only factor that distinguishes marriage from any other human relationship—and this is my main point—is its inherent orientation
toward the generation of new life. No other human relationship organically results in new life. And if one man and one woman produce a child, then that child needs what we call a “home;” he has a right to his own natural father and natural mother, who are best suited to provide a safe, loving, nurturing, and educating environment for him. Children flourish optimally when their own father and own mother love each other and thus render themselves capable of providing a nurturing environment for their children’s development. Of course, this ideal is not always possible. Death, or irreconcilable differences, or work or war, or illness, may destabilize the relationship between mother and father and break the child’s home apart. But to deny marriage and family life as the norm, as the goal
, of societal development is to deny human nature. You may be unconsciously thinking that two men can be a marriage and a family, but I repeat, because we are inundated with revisionist propaganda: any arrangement other than one man and one woman does not a marriage make, certainly not according to the natural law.
To unpack this a bit further: marriage must be inherently open to the generation and nurturing of human life, or it is not marriage at all. Even infertile couples—either marriages of those who discover they cannot have children, or marriages of elderly people—are still oriented
toward the generation and care of children by the very physical and psychological nature of husband and wife. Not every marriage must bear children to be valid, but every marriage must be oriented and open to new life to be valid. Otherwise, why would the state have any interest in regulating and supporting it? Manifestly, then, marriage cannot be confected between two people of the same sex, because they are incapable of organically generating new life. The question of polygamy is less obvious, but it is fairly obvious that exclusivity—the total gift of self between individuals—recommends itself best to the care of children. If I have children with various women, it is likely that I will favor some children over others, as it is unlikely that I will love all their mothers equally. It’s hard, well nigh impossible, for a man to love two or more women equally with his whole heart; his heart will be divided; and of course, I would say it is even harder for a woman to love two or more men equally with her whole heart. The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother, as they say. A man with two “wives” can only love each mother of his children with part of his heart, and as we’ve said, marriage requires totality, a complete gift of one’s person.The Inherent Link between Sex and New Life
How do advocates of same-sex marriage, or serial marriage, or open marriage, argue against what seems manifestly evident from simple biology and more complex psychology? They do so by refusing to admit the crucial link between sexual intercourse and new life. Before technology permitted us to separate sex from babies (before hormonal contraception, and in vitro fertilization, and artificial insemination, and human cloning), society depended on marriage to generate and educate offspring. Marriage was the best way to provide for a stable and flourishing population. But with the advent of artificial generative technologies, and as the Christian ideals of fidelity and sacrificial love waned, we have quietly been separating sex from babies, and marriage from children, at least in our minds.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, apart from his duties as Archbishop of SF, serves as chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. In June he spoke to all of his priests on the subject: “
To put it succinctly,” he said, “sex is either for babies and bonding, or it is for fun and games.” The two views are mutually exclusive. All the world’s cultures, but most clearly the Christian culture, have defined marriage as oriented toward the generation and rearing of children. But how many of us think of marriage like this today? If I say to you, “marriage is about children,” I venture to think that you would say “no, marriage is about me and her. Marriage is about us
, not any children we might decide to have.” And therein lies the difference. If marriage is just an emotional bond between two adults, if marriage is not intrinsically ordered to the generation of new life, if marriage is essentially about adults, then marriage can take any shape those adults wish. It can be for a year or ten years, it can be with one partner or several partners, it can be with members of the same sex or a different sex, it can be based primarily on financial gain, or sailboating, or travel, or any other common interest. Marriage would have no intrinsic definition if it exists only at the whim of the adults concerned. Only
if marriage is intrinsically ordered to children can we define it in reference to an unchanging biological reality: that is, the generative process. Only
if marriage is fundamentally ordered to offspring does it need to be a monogamous, permanent commitment (most same-sex couples prefer “open arrangements” rather than exclusive, permanent bondings, and there seems to be no inherent reason to prefer one over the other).
We will never understand marriage if we don’t understand the intrinsic connection between sex and babies. One of my friends, who lived in a contracepted marriage for many years and then “went natural,” described procreation as the essential “glue” that holds spouse together. A few years ago, over hors d’oevres and some fine wines at a dinner party, the conversation veered into the decay of marriage over the last fifty years in America. An Episcopalian woman blurted out to me, “Father, it all started with the pill.” I solemnly agreed, but discreetly kept silent on the fact that it was her
church, the Anglican church, that first permitted use of artificial contraceptives at their Lambeth conference in 1930. At the time, contraception was illegal in most state constitutions; it was tantamount to prostitution or mutual masturbation—using another’s (or one’s own) body simply for pleasure, without accepting the responsibilities that authentic love requires. The widespread use of artificial contraception has since radically destabilized marriage, and ultimately rendered the concept of marriage unintelligible. If marriage is not about babies, it is not about anything, and it is about anything.Marriage based on love, not power
When couples come into my office for marriage preparation, I find it effective to lay the cards on the table in the first meeting: “marriage is about children, not only about you.” Couples “in love” tend think of nothing but themselves, understandably, but marriage based on no more than self-interest, or even common interests, does not last a lifetime, because interests change. Married love, to be all that it is designed to be, must be effusive
, to go beyond itself. Since I’m Catholic, and the couples are seeking Catholic marriage, I use the image of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to describe the Christian
ideal of marriage. In the Holy Family, the child was the most important (Jesus), and the woman (Mary) came next, and the man (Joseph) quietly supported both in the background. Post-Christian cultures, like pre-Christian cultures, see family life exactly upside-down from this: the man is the most important, since he has the most power, and then the woman, and last in consideration is the child. These are relationships based on power, not on love, and the divorce culture manifests how deeply we have bought into this. Disregard for the child in non-Christian cultures—evident in abortion, infanticide, child abuse and neglect, and divorce—is the inevitable consequence of power-based societies. We aspire to a society based on self-giving love.“Conjugal” and “Revisionist” views
Robert George and his co-authors describe the current controversy as between two opposing concepts of marriage, what they call the “conjugal view” and the “revisionist view.” You might call the “conjugal” view the traditional view, marriage as understood by virtually all cultures in human history up until the last forty years. In the “conjugal” view, marriage requires a physical bond in addition to an emotional bond, while in the “revisionist” view, marriage requires only an emotional bond. Paradoxically, bodily sex is more important to the conjugal view than the revisionist view, which includes any kind of “open” marriage—divorce, promiscuity, same sex arrangements, polyginy, etc. Only the conjugal view, which requires lifelong exclusivity to one spouse that is open to children, understands the body as a vehicle of a greater love. Only the conjugal view is “natural,” respecting the human body’s functions and structures without manipulating or forcing them into unnatural behaviors.
An interesting scientific fact is that sexual activity triggers the release of neurochemicals in the brain such as dopamine, serotonin, and various endorphins. These chemicals narrowly focus bodily energy and mental attention on one object; they minimize pain and maximize pleasure; they sear into the memory centers of the brain an intense bond with the object of one’s affection. These chemicals naturally lead to permanence and exclusivity with the object of our sexual activity. In merely biological terms, then, our nature seeks to preserve the species by encouraging permanent, monogamous bonding. Sexual bonding is as natural as breathing. If the individual doesn’t breathe, he dies, and if the race doesn’t generate children, it dies. And the best really the necessary
, environment to beget and raise children, on which our social survival depends, is the permanent, faithful comprehensive bond we call marriage.
Sexual union has an objective bodily dimension, what we call coitus, the joining of complementary
sexual organs. But sexuality is broader than mere genital contact—it involves the total person as male or female. Every cell in a man’s body is male, and every cell in a woman’s body is female. In the sexual confusion of our time, some undergo what they call “sex change operations.” This plastic surgery, however, only fabricates non-functional imitations of male or female genitalia. It does not change a person’s sexual identity. You would have to replace every cell male cell in a person’s body with a female cell to do that. George Burou, a Casablancan physician who has operated on over seven hundred American men, explained, “I don’t change men into women. I transform male genitals into genitals that have a female aspect. All the rest is in the patient’s mind.” Sexual union is a matter of body and soul, since the human person is a body-soul composite. Sexual union does not mean merely achieving orgasm; it means the union of bodies and souls that are capable of being so united. Conjugal view in culture: Casablanca
The other night the College showed a classic movie to the students, Casablanca.
It has been some years since I watched the 1942 film, and it struck me how clearly the concept of marriage was assumed in that movie. Ingrid Bergman (the Norwegian beauty “Ilsa”) is in love with two men, but only one of them is her husband. She had been told he perished in a concentration camp when she fell in love with Rick in Paris. When she finds her husband still alive, she leaves Rick so as to be faithful to her vows. When she and her husband find themselves in Rick’s Casablanca nightclub some years later, she realizes she does not have the strength to see him a second time. “You will have to think for all three of us,” she pleads of Rick. Deeply in love with her, Rick thinks correctly, respects her marriage vows, and arranges safe transport for Ilsa and her husband to America. He is left quite alone in German occupied-Africa, but one gets the sense at the end of the movie that Rick will find happiness because he has done the right thing. Despite his seemingly overwhelming feelings, Rick has upheld the permanent monogamous bond between Ilsa and her husband.
People no longer assume that respecting marriage vows is the right thing, because marriage does not mean the same thing it did. It has been some years since vows have taken precedence over “falling in love,” or that feelings trump promises. Behind Rick’s decision to respect the vows his beloved had made to her husband was an understanding of marriage radically oriented toward children and family life. Much more was at stake for Rick and Ilsa than their own emotional bond: at stake were any children that might be born to them, and even more importantly, the children born to any married couple. Rick knew, if I may surmise it, that his adultery with Ilsa would scandalize and cheapen other people’s marriages, and even if only in a small way, lead to the general destabilization of marriage and family life. Adults suffer when their marriages decline, but the first victims are always the children. My last parish supported a sister parish in Vladivostok, Russia. I spent two weeks there one year with a group of parishioners, painting, wallpapering, and building the youth center for our sister parish and got to know the state of Russian society today. The divorce rate is 95%, the economy is irreparably disabled, and more than half of the men in Vladivostok are alcoholics. Soviet Russia, too, redefined marriage, distributed free contraceptives, and paid for people’s abortions. Russia today is a wasteland of human wreckage, especially in places like Valdivostok, far from the wealth of Moscow. It is always the children and the poor that suffer the most when the educated and the wealthy decide to redefine social structures.Marriage: A sacred institution oriented toward human life
Either sex is essentially sacred, or sex is essentially profane. It’s possible to posit aspects
of sexuality in both terms, but it’s not possible to posit the essential purpose
, the final end, of sex in both terms. A minority understands sexuality as essentially salvific, that is, oriented toward an end beyond this world, to the ultimate salvation, or perfect health, of the human being: what we call heaven. To understand sexuality in this way, of course, you have to believe in heaven in the first place. On the other end of the spectrum, another minority understands sexuality as essentially recreational, with no deeper significance than immediate personal pleasure. For this minority, I suppose, transient human pleasures are as much as one can expect from this life. But the vast middle hasn’t thought through the question enough to have any clear ideas about a deeper meaning for sexuality or marriage, which rightly orders our sexuality. Most folks, I would bet, think of sexuality vaguely as something fun and important and a little sacred, but mostly kind of what you make of it. We have not so much rejected as forgotten
the essentially sacred nature of marriage and sexuality.Conclusion
There is much more that can be said on this topic. For example, we must more fully articulate the sociological and psychological benefits of marriage for spouses and children compared to the damage and dysfunction resulting from other forms of sexual bonding. Many studies, most of them disregarded or suppressed by the same-sex marriage lobby, have demonstrated this. We should also look at the legal questions—why should the state be involved with marriage at all? How and to what degree should government regulate marriage? But for our purposes this afternoon, I would just say that once we lose sight of the essential purpose of marriage—that is to generate and care for new life—we have lost any objective definition of marriage. Marriage is about love between spouses, certainly—that is the hook that brings two people together. But it must go further than this. It must blossom, develop, perfect itself in the generation and education of new life, and in every case be open to new life. Even if the spouses are not given their own biological children, their relationship’s radical orientation towards new life defines
their marriage. Without this orientation, marriage cannot be defined, still less defended.
A “scholar of the law”—in other words, a lawyer—asks Jesus a tricky question: “Of the ten great commandments of Moses, and of all the 613 commandments found in the Torah, which is the greatest?” he asks. Which is the one God is really serious about? Which is the commandment I really cannot break if I want to get to heaven?
And Jesus takes his question seriously: “This is the One,” he replies: “Love God.” Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. Love God with everything you’ve got, from the heart. St. Augustine famously said, “Love God, and do what you will.”
But, Jesus continues, “There is a Second Commandment. You, my dear scholar of the law, didn’t ask for it, but you need it as much as you need the First Commandment.” And that second commandment is this: love your neighbor as yourself. “Neighbor” comes from the German nachbar, meaning, “he who is near you.” The guy next to you at that moment. Could be on a bus, could be in class, could be at home in the living room. Whoever is right there, at that moment: he’s your neighbor, and he’s the one you’ve got to love. You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your “neighbors”—they mostly just show up, and often enough, at rather inconvenient times.
Jesus thinks we need this second commandment; in fact, he insists on it, even though the lawyer only asked for one commandment. I wonder why? Perhaps because, well, how do we know if we are actually keeping the First Commandment? God after all is a hidden God, a God of silence. If I don’t love him, he doesn’t throw a fit. If I don’t visit him at Mass or say my morning prayers, he doesn’t frown at me. But, if I neglect to call my mother on Sunday, she might mention it during our next phone call. If I give my roommate the silent treatment, he will reproach me sooner or later (in fact, I don’t have a roommate, but I speak hypothetically). If I don’t pay my electric bill, someone will let me know. Loving our neighbor can be measured. Neighbors keep us accountable, because how I love my neighbor is how I love God (“whatever you do to the ‘least’ of my brethren,” Jesus said—you know, the ones who always get picked last for basketball teams—“you do to me”). Show kindness to that nerd at school, and you show kindness to me. Love your wife when she’s screaming at you, and you love me, Jesus says.
One Law; Three People to Love
So we have two commandments, two people to whom we must show loving kindness: God, and the guy next door. But there’s a third person, and Jesus names that person too: yourself. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But how much do I love myself? A person who treats others badly might observe that he is loving others as he loves himself. He just doesn’t love himself very much. Each of us, after all, is God’s son or daughter, and we are commanded to love each person God has made, including that person who lives inside my own skin.
So, we have three to love: God, neighbor, and self, in that order. Some people, especially those who have had rough childhoods, may need to learn to love themselves before they can love others, but it is certain that love of God comes before everything and everyone. We fulfill that First Commandment first and foremost by praying. “Love consists in this,” wrote St. John in his first letter: “Not that we have loved God, but that he first loved us.” Love of God is essentially receiving his love, not fighting it—receiving it like a little baby receives milk from his mother’s breast, or like a little girl lets herself be scooped up into her daddy’s lap. And that happens in prayer, in silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, or in our room with the iPod turned off, or even on a freeway stuck in traffic, listening, and loving Him back.
This is how Our Lady received God, when the angel came to her. She listened, and she asked a few questions, and she surrendered her whole heart, her whole soul, her whole mind to God’s perfect will. “Let it be done to me according to your word,” she said. Easier said than done, but not impossible for anybody. So let’s follow Our Lady, and give ourselves to God, as he gives himself to us.
Sacred Heart of Jesus by
José María Ibarrarán y Ponce, 1896
The Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Today we celebrate the external feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is properly celebrated on the Friday after the Sunday after Corpus Christi. The Church often celebrates beloved feasts more than once—we just can’t get enough of them! For example, we celebrate the Christmas and Easter Masses for eight days in succession, and the Church often permits us to celebrate a weekday feast again on the following Sunday. Such is the case today. Fr. Hildebrand did celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart with all solemnity last Friday at the 5:20pm Mass, and they even kept the kitchen open 15 minutes longer so we could get some dinner afterwards. We really appreciated that kindness from the kitchen staff—the thoughtfulness of the heart of Jesus. As Mother Teresa was wont to say: “thoughtfulness is the beginning of great sanctity.” On the Feast of the Sacred Heart, we call to mind how our Lord thinks about us all the time; for example, in his thoughtfulness Jesus inspired the kitchen staff to keep the food lines open for us.
Blood and Water
The graces we receive daily from God’s thoughtfulness, however, come at a price, as we are reminded in the Gospel today. There is no love without suffering; no love without sacrifice. Jesus had been crucified, and his body hung lifeless from the Cross. A soldier thrust for his heart to make sure he was dead, and the lance drew a great flow of blood and water from his open side. St. John assures us that he saw this himself. Why would blood and water flow in abundance from a corpse? First, because Jesus, though dead, lives forever, and his heart never ceases to beat, his blood never ceases to flow for the people he loves. Second, the Church is born from Christ’s wounded heart as the sacraments of water and blood—Baptism and the Holy Eucharist—pour out upon the world. He will cleanse us with the grace-filled water flowing from his open side, and he will feed us with the blood flowing from his open heart. Christ’s heart is open to all men and women. It is never closed. St. Paul will often say, “open your hearts to me.” We open our hearts by enthroning the Sacred Heart in our lives. Families and individuals who have enthroned Christ the King in their homes have hearts like unto his, open hearts.
They will look upon Him whom they have pierced
One of the kindest, most open-hearted prelates I have met is Raymond Cardinal Burke. Twelve priests had dinner with him at his rectory when he was Archbishop of St. Louis. He sat at the center of the table, showing kindness to every one of us. It was really like the Last Supper with Jesus. I met him again in Turin, in May 2010. The Shroud of Turin was exposed for a month during the Year for Priests and I was in the city for five days hearing confessions and visiting the Shroud myself. A few of us priests came to the early Mass on Sunday in front of the Shroud, and we found Cardinal Burke in the sacristy. He greeted us warmly, and then at Mass preached on the Sacred Heart (he has a deep devotion, and has spread that devotion to the Sacred Heart in his dioceses). I will never forget listening to his heartfelt witness to the love of Christ, to the blood of Christ, and seeing just 20 feet behind him the blood stains on the Shroud. “They will look upon him whom they have thrust through” (transfixerunt in Latin). Every Catholic church is to have an image of Christ crucified, Christ thrust through, Christ’s open heart, pouring out the sacraments of redemption upon the world. We long to look upon him whom we have thrust through. Let us renew our love for Christ by praying before the Crucifix—by placing a crucifix prominently in every room of our houses, and by enthroning the Sacred Heart in our homes. Deepening our love for him, we learn to love each other. Those who turn daily to the Sacred Heart of Jesus have opened hearts for one another.
We live in a time of cultural decline. As those around us deny truth and mock goodness, and are tempted to close our hearts and hole up in protected Catholic enclaves. Certainly we must protect our children and our culture, but we must keep our hearts open to others, imitating Jesus. He opened his heart, knowing that men would misunderstand him, abuse him, and pierce him. We Christians, we Catholics, choose to become warmer, more charitable, more thoughtful, even as the world around us is growing colder, less caring, less reasonable, and more violent. We can do this only by devoting ourselves to Christ’s Sacred Heart, open and bleeding for the life of the world.
Pope Benedict, and now even more Pope Francis, both urge us to reverence God’s gifts in nature. Some call them “Green Popes;” they actually wear white and are simply “Catholic Popes.” The Church has promoted the good stewardship of earth’s resources since Jesus asked the Apostles’ to gather up the fragments from the loaves and fishes, “that nothing be wasted.” Catholic saints and religious orders practice simplicity and frugality, eschewing the lavish materialism practiced by most cultural elites. Most Catholics, of course, have gone along with our culture’s wasteful disrespect for God’s gifts. But the Church’s teaching and ideal has ever been authentically “environmentalist.”
That the Church authentically respects nature is proven by her respect for the natural processes of the human person. She promotes natural, rather than artificial, family planning. She defends natural, rather than artificial, marriage and sexual practices. And for this consistency in respecting nature she is condemned.
Is it not curious that many “greens,” who advocate strict respect for nature, also advocate decidedly unnatural sexual practices? What true environmentalist would chemically interfere with nature’s fertility cycles? Artificial contraceptives not only throw the human endocrine system into chaos, leading to higher rates of cancer, but they also poison our water systems and kill entire populations of marine life. What real Green would violently interrupt natural reproduction through forced abortion? What person respectful of the natural order would promote homosexual unions, which is found in nature only in aberration? But the most outrageous hypocrisy, perhaps, is the support of “naturalists” for so-called “sex reassignment surgery” (SRS). One cannot change one’s sex just by sewing on fake genitalia and taking artificial hormones. A man cannot become a woman, but only the appearance and artificial illusion of a woman. George Burou, a Casablancan physician who has operated on over seven hundred American men, explained, “I don’t change men into women. I transform male genitals into genitals that have a female aspect. All the rest is in the patient’s mind.” This is not to discount the real pain men and women suffer from sexual trauma. In a sexually-dysfunctional society, an increasing number of people grow up with sexual identity crises. But so-called SRS, while it may grant the appearance of a solution, only worsens their condition. It is a surgical response to a psychological condition, rather like cutting someone’s head open who suffers from depression. (Linked to this blog is a good article on SRS from the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia.)
How is it that we imagine we can change our very nature? Man will always wonder about his identity, which is mysterious. But if we deny the fact that we did not make ourselves, then the mystery of our identity takes on terrifying dimensions. If we doubt God’s existence, we are cast into terrible doubt of our own nature. Without Nature and Nature’s God, we don’t know where we came from and where we are going. This is particularly so in the question of sexual identity.
I got on a bus one night in San Francisco. At the following stop a lesbian got on, dressed in tough clothing with a butch haircut. But she was tired, and her feminine nature was impossible to hide. Also at that stop a transvestite man got on. His long hair, false breasts, and flamboyant clothing did not mask his masculine nature either. The lesbian seemed so feminine compared to him, and he so masculine compared to her—I suppose they were both too tired to maintain their respective illusions. I chuckled at their attempted disguises, and rejoiced in spirit that their natural beauty could not be hidden. Certainly they needed help to accept their nature, but a sex-change operation they did not need. They needed real compassion, not a city-funded mutilation of their natural and healthy organs.
At conception nature makes us male or female. Our sex is written on every cell of our bodies, and determines the development of our brains from our mother’s womb. If it seems that confused people, angry at nature (just as I wrote these words the Superior of the convent here in Peru brought me a newspaper with the news of the bombing of a Boston metro station), are destroying the natural order, let us not be too disturbed. Yes, many will suffer from the chaos gripping our society. All of us will suffer when man disrespects the natural order. But God’s harmony, expressed in this beautiful world, will always recover. We cannot destroy nature, nor even the nature of our own bodies. Nature’s beauty and order, guided by Nature’s God, will always right itself eventually. We are not so mighty as we think: nature will always have the last word.Additional Study:
This morning you will notice I’ve taken the liberty to strew our white marble altar with pink flowers—camelias from the tree in front of Loyola Hall. For today is Laetare Sunday, the one Sunday in Lent on which instrumental music is permitted and flowers may adorn the altar. Your priests and your altars bear rose vesture today, signifying the joy proper to those who can see Easter on the horizon. The Mass Collect today articulates our hope: “with prompt devotion and eager faith may we hasten toward the solemn celebrations to come.”
The Father’s Prodigal Love
On Laetare Sunday, Holy Mother Church spreads the feast of Christ’s greatest parable before us, that of the so-called Prodigal Son. Its vast panorama portrays three characters: the younger son, the older son, and the Father. It is the parable of the Prodigal Father, Rich in Mercy. So Blessed John Paul II named his second encyclical, Dives inMisericordia, on God the Father, which often refers to this parable. It never fails to console him who reads it prayerfully. More than any other, the parable of the Prodigal Son convinces us of God’s tender and undying love for his sons and daughters.
Let us weep: I have lost my son
First, consider the younger son: “Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.” In a shocking act of non-negotiable, in-your-face self-centeredness, he demands from his father half of the family business in cash so that he can waste it in a distant land—perhaps Las Vegas or Miami. We might miss the outrage in his words—“I can’t wait for you to die, old man: give me your money now”—but imagine how it sounded to Jesus’ hearers, who held their fathers in great reverence. The son leaves his father’s home for a “distant country,” which as Fr. Barron points out renders the Greek choran makran, which may be translated “vast region.” The lost son enters the empty lands of his own self-absorption, the vast barren regions where demons abide. He is truly the Lost Son.
Let us rejoice: I have found my son
Eventually, the Lost Son hits bottom, returns to his senses, and resolves to turn back to his father’s house. “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him.” The Father scans the horizon day after day, longing for his son, but refusing to force him. He detects only a glimmer in his son, a small speck on a distant horizon, slowly moving closer. He does not wait, but tucks up his noble robes and runs, not walks, but runs to his son. And all is forgiven. The Father does not even wait for his son to finish his confession: your sins do not matter now. All that matters is that I have you back, safe and sound. You have returned to me.
God is always watching us, waiting for our next move. Thoughtlessly, we fear he watches our every move in order to condemn, waiting with baited breath to accuse us. But this image is not Scriptural. Jesus, in his greatest parable, portrays a Father, rich in mercy, relenting in punishment, always ready to forgive. In the Bible, it is Satan who accuses. The Son and the Holy Spirit defend, not accuse, against Satan’s accusations. “I have come not to condemn, but to save what was lost.”
So the Lord says to Joshua in our First Reading, “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you;” So St. Paul says in our Second Reading, you are a “new creation: God has reconciled us to himself through Christ,… not counting our trespasses against us.” The ring, the finest robe, the fattened calf—all this is ours, if we return to our Father’s house. We can only do that through the grace of Christ.Therefore, Paul concludes, “we implore you: be reconciled to God.”
Three more weeks of Lent
Three more weeks of Lent, and the great liturgies of the Sacred Triduum, open up before us. There is no more propitious time in the year to be reconciled to God. Change bad habits, make a good confession, return to the Word and the Sacraments with your whole hearts, in fasting, weeping, and praying. Return to your father’s house. He will not refuse you. He will run to greet you, with open arms, for my Son, he says, “was lost, and is found. He was dead, and has come back to life again.”
November 4th, 2012
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Every Sunday, the Gospel reflects and fulfils the Old Testament Reading. Moses, for example, prefigures Christ, and the Exodus prefigures Christ’s baptism in water and blood. In today’s Mass, the Gospel actually repeats the Old Testament reading verbatim. It is the famous Shema’ Israel, in Hebrew “Listen O Israel.” The Shema’ is the Hebrew Credo: There is only One God.
In our First Reading, Moses had finally arrived within sight of the Promised Land, and he prepares to die. He parks the entire Hebrew Nation on Mount Nebo, overlooking the Dead Sea and the hilltop fortress which would become Jerusalem. He repeats for them the Ten Commandments, urging them to keep faith, so that they will have a “long life.” In one sense, he means a long and prosperous life in Israel, but in a deeper sense, he points to a long life, an eternal life, in the “Land flowing with milk and honey,” which is heaven. But to get to this Land, Moses exhorts the people with a final word, the Shema’: “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is Our God, the Lord alone! You shall love the Lord, Your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” To this day, faithful Jews place a tiny scroll with these words on their foreheads when they pray, facing Jerusalem. They put little boxes (called Mezuzas) with this scroll on their doorposts, and touch them upon entering and departing their dwellings, as we do with holy water.
The First Commandment: God
1,400 years after that incident on Mt. Nebo, a scribe asks Jesus, the New Moses: “Which is the greatest of all the commandments?” By then, the Jews had not ten but 613 commandments, not counting many traditions and practices. The Catholic Church, by the way, has 1752 laws in our canonical code, and many more traditions and practices. Religion can get rather complicated!
The Scribe who approaches Jesus is no doubt a sincere man. He wants to know the one thing necessary for holiness. The interesting thing is that Jesus doesn’t give the Scribe only one commandment—he gives him two. Here’s the First (the Scribe knew it by heart anyway): Shema, O Israel, the Lord our God is Lord alone.”
If I were in a parish, I would preach my entire homily on this one line, and what it means for American Catholics on Tuesday. We elect the next president of the greatest nation on earth in two days, and on what basis will we elect him? On the basis of God’s Lordship? If Jesus is Lord, Christians in this country must vote for the man who will best respect His will. But I think most Christians will vote for the man who best respects the things of men, not of God, especially the American economy. If we vote for the economy, we will get a man who loves money, not God. And ultimately we will lose both our money and our God. Since this is not a parish, and I’m fairly sure you will all vote your faith, we move on. But be sure to vote on Tuesday, if you haven’t already (I mailed in my vote last week).
Shema, Israel! Jesus continues quoting Moses, to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and strength. We must love God with the whole human person: with our heart (our feelings, emotions, and affections); with our soul (in spirit and prayer); with our strength (our will). But then Jesus adds mind as well (with our intellect). Love of God encompasses every dimension of our human person. His Lordship is absolute—over the food we eat, the movies we watch, our friendships, our sexual sphere, even over our money.
The Second Commandment: Neighbor
Finally, notice that Jesus gives the Scribe not only the First Law, but the Second Law as well, a law that Moses did not mention. It is to love your neighbor as yourself. We cannot love our neighbor without first loving God, for that is the First Commandment. But we cannot not love God if we do not love every other person, even people with whom we are at enmity. “Every person is Christ,” as Mother Teresa would say. Simple, but not easy.
In the end, religion is not that complex. The Church gives us many laws to help us navigate our way to heaven. But in the end, “we go to God with empty hands,” in the words of St. Therese. In the end, God will ask us, as he asked Peter, “do you love me?” If you love me, you will feed my sheep.
November is the month of the end, the end of the liturgical year. It is the month when we consider our own end, and those who have already ended their earthly pilgrimage—the saints in heaven, the holy souls in purgatory. We begin this last month with Christ’s words ringing in our hearts, preparing us for heaven: Shema’, O Israel! The Lord is Our God, the Lord Alone! Love Him, with everything you have, and your neighbor as yourself, that you may have a long life in the Land the Lord your God shall give to you.
It is time to say good-bye. This will be my last “Pastor’s Laptop,” the last in a weekly series that I’ve managed to keep up for 12 years.
What do I love most about St. Joseph’s, and what will I miss? I love the silence just before daily Mass—a good hundred of us quietly awaiting Christ’s Presence in Word and Sacrament. I love the fellowship after Mass, when adults catch up and children race around the fountain, and no one wants to leave. I love teaching PSR classes to eager sixth-graders, Christmas Eve pageants, and all our parish choirs. I love Wednesday staff lunches in the rectory with my dearest co-workers, and the joyful fellowship of Volunteer Appreciation Dinners in November. I love visits to your homes and visits to Memorial Hospital. I treasure reading and praying in the rectory backyard, a little paradise with gurgling fountain, chirping birds, bright flowers, and swaying birch trees.
I will never forget my 12 Lents at St. Joseph’s—KOC fish fry's, Stations of the Cross, Parish Missions, the Easter Vigil, and Sunrise Masses on the east lawn. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed altar server camping trips by the ocean, five World Youth Days, and Confirmation retreats in the Sierras. I will miss morning bike rides on the Briggsmore levy, palm trees around the campus waving in the afternoon breeze, a campus full of flowers, Thursday adventures with my brother priests, and the exquisite communal silence in our Adoration Chapel. I will dearly miss every one of you, whom I have known and loved over these 12 years. I will keep you all in my daily prayers, and ask that you please pray for your onetime pastor.
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It is time to say good-bye, but it is also time to say hello to Fr. Mark Wagner, our new pastor. I know he will love and cherish St. Joseph’s as much as I did. God bless you all!
Homily: Right Relationships
Most of our time and money are spent cultivating “relationships,” and rightly so. Man is a social animal. We cannot be fully human without relationships. From conception, I develop in relationship to my mother, sensitive to her moods and physiological states. I can hear her voice and feel her heartbeat. At birth, I nurse at her breast, and then begin to cultivate relationships with other people—my father, my siblings, aunts and uncles, friends. I begin to understand myself as reflected in their eyes. As I grow into adolescence and adulthood, I begin draw very close to some individuals—best friends, kindred spirits, and for most of us, eventually a spouse and then children of my own. My happiness, my well-being, my sense of myself, all depend on right relationships. But if my relationships are dysfunctional, I will be dysfunctional.
The Holy Trinity: A Community of Persons
Today, Holy Mother Church celebrates the deepest truth God has given us: the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. God is one, but he is never alone. God is a community, a relationship of persons. Three persons in one God. God is relational, and that is why we are hard-wired for relationship, for we all made in his image. The relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a right relationship, and it reveals to us what our relationships can be. The Father gives to the Son rather than takes from him. Life is about giving, not taking. We call this “stewardship.” The Father gives himself to the Son, who receives him; the Son gives himself in return to the Father, who in return receives him.
Our own relationships are dysfunctional to the degree that we reverse this divine model. When I take from another person rather than giving, I turn the divine pattern on its head. On the other hand, when I refuse to receive the gift of another person, I refuse happiness. If we want right relationships, and the vitality that comes from them, we must imitate God’s relationship to himself.
Believing and Doubting Each Other
How do we know that God is a trinity? This we know, for the Bible tells us so: “All power has been given to me,” Jesus says in today’s Gospel. Given by whom? By the Father. “The Father and I are one,” Jesus often said. Jesus and the Father are one, but they are distinct persons. The closest anyone comes to this is in marriage, where two persons become one flesh, one in mind and heart, while remaining distinct individuals.
“Go, therefore,” Jesus continues, “and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus names the three divine persons. And then he extends his eternal relationship to us: “Behold, I am with you always, even until the end of time.” God will always be in relationship to us, even as he is eternally in relationship to himself. Will we be in relationship to him?
A curious verse occurs here: “When the disciples saw Jesus, they worshipped, but they doubted.” We believe in God, or we wouldn’t be here. But we doubt. When really bad things happen to us, or when much is asked of us, we are not absolutely sure God really exists, or that he cares about us. In fact, when a human relationship fails us, we often give up on our relationship with God. Few Catholics maintain their relationship with God through a divorce, or the death of a child. “What kind of a God could do this to me?” we say.
Submitting Our Relationships to God
Yes, I believe in my relationship with God, but I doubt. I believe in my relationship to my spouse, but I doubt. I’m not absolutely sure she really loves me, or that my father really cares about me, or that my children will be there for me, or that my friends understand me. “Women, you can’t live with them; you can’t live without them.” we men say.
The solution to this dilemma of human relationships—we believe but we doubt—is our relationship with Christ. If my friendship with God is alright, my friendships with others will be perfectly alright. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all else will be given to you.
Do you want your marriage to flourish? Do you want a free and life-giving relationship with your parents or your children? Do you want effective relationships with employees, co-workers, and your supervisor? Do want supportive relationships with friends and associates? Do you want a right relationship even with yourself? Then work for a right relationship with God. Take the trouble to pray, to listen to God and even speak with Him, to spend time with him. If I am a man of prayer, my personal relationship with God will be right, and if my personal relationship with God is right, my human relationships will be perfectly alright.
Homily: A Mother's Love
The Bishop is in Love
First, allow me to tell you a joke Fr. Benny told me yesterday, as Fr. Tony had told it to him the day before. It has something to do with Mother’s Day and the Blessed Mother.
Once upon a time a young priest preached at the Bishop’s Mass. Afterwards, the Bishop said to him: “you need to begin your homilies with a story—wake people up, get their attention. Come to my Mass next Sunday and I’ll show you.” So the next Sunday the Bishop begins his homily like this: “I have something to tell all of you: I’m in love with a beautiful woman.” He pauses for effect, and then continues: “Her name is the Blessed Virgin Mary.” So the young priest goes back to his parish and gets up to preach the following Sunday, but catches sight of the Bishop himself standing in the back. He gets nervous, but launches into his homily anyway. “The Bishop is in love with a married woman,” he blurts out, “but I can’t remember her name.”
Mary, our Mother
Her name is Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mary, wife of St. Joseph and mother of God, and we are so joyful to be in the middle of the Month of May, Mary’s Month. This Sunday is not only Mother’s Day (Happy Mother’s Day to our beautiful mothers) but also the Feast Day of Our Lady of Fatima. On May 13, 1917, she appeared to the three shepherd children in a field outside of Fatima, Portugal, to bring peace to a world still gripped in the Great War. Mother’s Day is in May because May is the month of the Blessed Mother. The best gift you can give your mother today is to pray a rosary for her, or even better, with her. I’m going to do that by phone with my mother later today.
They say there is no love like a mother’s love. A mother loves her child simply because the child is. There is no question of the child earning his mother’s love. He can do nothing for his mother, or even acknowledge her love. A mother’s love for her child is absolutely unconditional.
Jesus points to the source of all love in today’s Gospel: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” God the Father begets his Son, eternally pouring out his divine love into Him. The Son does not “earn” his Father’s love—he simply is the Father’s love. But the Son then gives his Father’s love to another—to us. “I love you as the Father loves me.”
If we are good sons and daughters of our mothers, who loved us unconditionally simply because we were born, we give our mother’s love to another. If we are good disciples of Jesus Christ, who loves us with his Father’s unconditional love, we give Jesus’ love to another.
Love’s Two Stages
Because love has two dimensions, two stages. First, we receive love. St. John puts it like this: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us.” We have no love that is not first received; any love I give was previously given to me from another (my mother, my father, my friends, etc). And the first source of all love in the world is God. So: stage one is to receive love from God.
But love must move to stage two, or it is incomplete and will die. Stage two is to give that love to another, to pass it on. If we just sit on the love given us, it dies. So Jesus says, remain in my love by keeping my commandments. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” This I command you, Jesus says: love one another. Love is not a feeling (no one can command feelings—they are beyond our control). But he can and does command an act of our wills, a decision to love. Everyone possesses the capacity to make this decision to love. This is the basic stewardship principle: everything given to us is meant to be shared. That is particularly true of love. Love received is not complete or effective if I don’t give it away.
A Mother’s Love
I can’t earn love, but I can give it away. What does this authentic love look like? Well, look at a mother. She gives her blood during a pregnancy. She gives her milk after the child is born. She gives her sleep for the first two years; she gives immense amounts of her time and her sweat and her attention to her child. And in giving, she receives, perhaps not immediately, but she receives love. It comes not always from the child, but always from God. Authentic love does not look much like what you see on television. It looks a lot more like what you see in your mother, and hopefully your father too.
Which is why we love our mothers. You have taught us to love. You have given us the love you received from God, and have taught us to share it with another by your very sharing it with us. May we honor you, our mothers, by giving the love you have given us, even until it hurts. May we honor our Blessed Mother, who first received Love Incarnate, Jesus Christ, and then gave Him to us all.
Jesus Emptied Himself to the Point of Death
You have just heard the longest Mass reading of the year, the solemn reading of the Passion. It is the only Gospel read dramatically at Mass, in three parts—four parts really, since you take your part too as the congregation. I can’t remember much about the Masses I attended every Sunday as a boy, but I do remember Palm Sunday every year—how long it was, how we would kneel for some moments of silence after Jesus dies, and how strange it was to see the Gospel read dramatically, and even to have my own part to read in it. The Passion Story is the core of the New Testament. Biblical scholars tell us that it was the first part of the Gospels to be set in writing, and then eventually the rest of the details of Jesus’ life were filled in. It is the compact core of our Bibles, the essential summary of our faith; rightly do we read it with high solemnity every year.
Palm Sunday is also the only Mass with two Gospels. The Mass begins in green (with the reading of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem) but quickly turns to red (with the reading of his Passion in that same city). Jesus enters the holy city in triumph, but within days he is strung up on the blood-soaked cross by the furious crowds demanding his death. The crowds’ joyful acclaim quickly turns to violent hatred. How frail we are.
Emptying and being Filled
And yet Jesus never loses sight of his essential mission and purpose. He has come to die for his people, whether they love him or hate him. His love does not fail. And what about us? Brothers, for example, can you love your wife at the very moment that she is screaming at you? That’s the proof of love, when it’s under fire, when you are pinned to the ground.
St. Paul says “Jesus emptied himself … he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” And because of his obedience, God “greatly exalted him.” This is how you can love your wife, or your husband, or your child, or parent, or employer, at the very moment he or she is screaming at you: by self-emptying. You find love bygiving love. You become full by emptying yourself; you become great by becoming little. Some call this God’s Law of the Gift, that life is essentially a gift to be given, and only in giving do we receive. Many people, especially in our secular culture, think this is nonsense. They reject God’s way of glory through sacrifice. And yet … we all know it is true. No pain no gain. No guts no glory. Our secular culture tries its best to live the illusion of “buying on credit,” of just borrowing (or printing up) more money. But it can’t last. There comes a time when we need to stop spending what we don’t have, to empty ourselves, to give rather than to take. This is essentially what Christ did on the Cross. He stopped borrowing and started paying. He paid the price. And now it’s our turn.
Beyond the Cross
Don’t be afraid of blood. It’s the color of this Mass, and the color of our faith. The red blood of His sacrifice, of our sacrifice, waters the green and leafy branches of new life. We will pass beyond our crosses to a life beyond our capacity to imagine, if we stay true to those crosses with Christ. This week is the week to do it. Let’s be constant and brave this Holy Week, staying close to Christ, as did his Holy Mother, at the foot of the Cross. Beyond Good Friday rises Easter Sunday, for those who remain steady to the last drop of His Sacred Passion.