Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Dr. Vost and I drew from a number of resources in preparing our program for EWTN Radio about the Gifts of the Spirit (both the seven traditional from Isaiah 11 and the "charisms" discussed by St. Paul in Rom.12 and 1 Cor.12), and I thought it would be a good idea to post links.  I beg your forgiveness for beginning with our own works.  Within those however, we share more extensively what we were able to touch upon on the radio, as well as summarizing points from several of the works recommended below:








Other links of interest:
International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services  (located in Vatican City)
U.S. Catholic Charismatic Renewal National Service Committee


And for my discussion of the Charism of Tongues, please click here, for a separate blog post on the issue.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Catholic Take on the Gift of Tongues

"There are furthermore special graces, also called charisms after the Greek term used by St. Paul and meaning 'favor,' 'gratuitous gift,' 'benefit.'  Whatever their character - sometimes it is extraordinary, such as the gift of miracles or of tongues - charisms are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church. They are at the service of charity which builds up the Church." 
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2003

Please note that what follows is a Catholic understanding of tongues.  I have no delusions about it being the definitive understanding.  They are my personal reflections, excerpted from Chp.4 and Appendix VI of my The God Who is Love: Explaining Christianity From Its Center

The Purpose of Praying in Tongues

If you have never been exposed to it, you are probably wondering why someone would want to pray in a language they do not understand. It is a fair question, no doubt about it. I cannot claim to give God’s final answer, His rationale for tongues. I can speculate though, given the texts of Scripture[1] and the opinions of myself and others.

First, I believe that tongues allows us to open our spirits to God - to express our deepest longings, our most profound inclinations of love to Him. Because we have been fused to Jesus, we are caught up into His Loving of the Father (in the Spirit). Praising God in tongues is an earthly manifestation of the Son’s eternal adoration of the Father – manifested through members of His Body. Through this charism we are given the opportunity to express things our conscious mind could never adequately formulate.

The second benefit builds upon the first. Not only does tongues allow someone to praise God, but also to intercede– the Holy Spirit allowing a person to pray Jesus’ intentions for the members of His Mystical Body. It is a visible manifestation of something going on within the soul of every Christian:
…the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:26-27).
The third value I see is the potential for personal spiritual development. Paul said in First Corinthians that “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself” (14:4). One way this spiritual edification occurs is for a person to yield to tongues in the knowledge that they are worshiping and interceding on behalf of other members of Christ’s Body. They are, in a sense, allowing the Head of the Body, Jesus, to more fully conform the intercession rising from earth to Heaven to that of His sacred heart. In cooperating with Him, the Christian’s soul progresses in grace, being molded more in Jesus’ image and thus more responsive to the stirrings of the Spirit. When Paul said that the person who speaks in tongues builds himself up he was not saying that that was the only way a Christian is built up interiorly; that is foolishness. The same happens within souls whenever they cooperate with the Lord’s will. For example, when a Christian serves someone in need they have allowed Christ to meet that person’s need through them, and the Christian’s soul grows in the image of the Master. 

Humility before God is the final value I see in tongues. What is more childlike than “babbling” before our Father? With the gift of tongues one yields to God in a simple but concrete way, trusting Him to supply each word in turn. Such an act can build faith - the type of faith necessary to pray with a sick person, or speak out what you believe are His words to a prayer group (or your classmates). Tongues is a gift which has benefited me personally.

I do not, however, believe that everyone needs to receive it. The Holy Spirit knows what each of us needs to progress in grace, and He wants to bestow those gifts in abundance. It is our part to be open, not to dismiss any gift He wants to give: “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). Charisms are no guarantee of personal union with God. When a charism is manifested it only means that at that moment, that individual was open enough for God to work through them. Jesus warned that on the Day of Judgment there will be many who say, “’Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? …and do many mighty works in your name as well?’ to whom He will reply, “I never knew you; depart from me” (Matthew 7:22-23). The evidence of a person’s union with God is not charisms, but how much they love with Jesus’ Love (His Spirit).
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Should Every Christian Receive the Gift of Tongues?

There are some believers who hold that without evidencing the gift of tongues a person cannot have been “baptized in the Holy Spirit.” There are others who do not go that far, but claim that each Christian has a prayer language, if they would only yield to it. I am convinced, from looking at Scripture and the face of the Church today, that both positions are in error. I will restrict myself to explaining my disagreement with the latter position since those reasons automatically apply to the former. 

First, I do not see the gift of tongues always accompanying the “release” of the Spirit in Acts of the Apostles. We are told in Acts 10:45-47 and 19:6 that tongues accompanied the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on new Christians; in the second example this occurred when the Apostle Paul laid hands on the newly baptized. In Acts 8:14-17, however, we are told that the Holy Spirit came upon the newly-baptized Samaritans through the laying on of Peter and John’s hands – but without a mention of tongues. An oversight on the author Luke’s part? Well, consider also that there is no mention of the three thousand who were baptized on the day of Pentecost receiving tongues either. In fact, if you went through all the other conversion stories in Acts you wouldn’t find another mention of the charism.

St. Paul is clear that tongues is not an integral part of everyone’s Christian experience. In The First Epistle to the Corinthians he wrote:
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess the gift of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol” (1 Corinthians 12:27-13:1).
At this point some “charismatic” believers will object to my citation of the above passage. They interpret Paul as saying that not all Christians should expect to speak a prophetic message in tongues, one in need of interpretation; but every Christian should expect to pray in tongues. I acknowledge that the gift of tongues has two different manifestation – but I see no justification for dividing it up into two different gifts. In the list of gifts given in First Corinthians 12 Paul listed tongues – just tongues; he did not speak of a gift of praying in tongues and a separate gift of speaking in tongues.  He then went on in Chapter 14 of the same letter to discuss different manifestations of this one gift – primarily a gift of prayer, but sometimes a gift of prophecy when combined with the gift of interpretation. Notice how Paul goes back and forth between the terms “speaking” and “praying” in the following passage:
Therefore, he who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also. I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how can any one in the position of an outsider say the “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may give thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than you all; nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue (14:13-18). 
When you come together…if any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silence in church and speak to himself and to God (14:26-28).
Do you see what I mean about the terms praying in tongues and speaking in tongues referring to one and the same gift?  In time I experienced both forms. When I was finally moved to speak a message in tongues at a prayer group I wasn’t receiving a new gift; I was only moved to direct toward others what up until that time had been directed only toward God. (An interpretation in English followed and the group heard the message the Lord had for them.)

I think that the overemphasis some Christians have placed on tongues flows from the blessing it has been in their own lives – because it has been a great blessing for them they conclude that it should be a blessing received by all. It is a pretty common human reaction. The reality, however, is that the Holy Spirit decides which gifts each member of the Body needs to best fulfill their assigned task:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit…To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith…to another gifts of healing…to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy…to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills (1 Cor. 12:4-11).



[1] Paul stated in his First Epistle to the Corinthians that “A man who speaks in tongues is talking not to men but to God. No one understands him, because he utters mysteries in the Spirit” (14:2). It’s evident that St. Paul saw a value in tongues, “I should like it if all of you spoke in tongues” (14:4) and “Thank God I speak in tongues more than any of you” (14:18).


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Not Your Average QUEEN

Praying the Rosary as I walked today, I really felt inspired to think about the mystery of Mary's Coronation as Queen of Heaven and Earth.  Probably 90% of the times I have prayed this mystery in the past year, I have thought about how each of us are called to persevere in following Jesus and receive the "crown of righteousness" at the end of our lives (2 Tim.4:6).


Today however I really wanted to focus on Mary's experience of receiving not just a crown of righteousness, but of Queenship.  And I was immediately struck by how different this Queen is.  Most women destined for queenship were born into nobility.  From their earliest days they were surrounded by the finest things and taught the ins and outs of high society.  The best are taught that royalty bear a responsibility toward the care of their subjects, but those subjects are kept at a distance.


Our Lady, the Queen of queens, is so completely different!  She was born into poverty, but with the nobility of a spotless soul.  Her training to be queen was much different:  She worked side-by-side with the other women of her village throughout her life.  She knew the pain of a spouse considering divorce, the ache of widowhood, and the death of a child.  And through it all she persisted in saying "Yes," to God, "yes," to whatever He permitted.  Instead of resting aloof in glory, she is a Queen accessible to the most sinful and most scorned among us, wrapping her motherly arms around us and lifting us up in prayer to her Son.  

She really is a Queen unlike any other, and she has to be -  she sits beside a King Who was crowned with thorns.

Who Does God Use?

“It takes no great military expert to predict the results of a war in which large numbers of the solders do not fight, do not even know there is a war on. The officers are essential, and obedience to them is essential. But an army in which only the officers fights is likely to have no spectacular success in any war, least of all that which the Church is fighting for the souls of men.” 
  – Frank Sheed, 2nd World Congress for the Lay Apostolate, 1957

My greatest joy has always been to speak, and more recently to write, about the Faith. I am not however, a professional theologian nor a philosopher — heck, I don’t even play one on TV. I don’t feel particularly dismayed by that though — my favorite religious works were written by a couple of fisherman, an accountant, and a physician. Whatever our educational and occupational backgrounds, if we will just slow down enough to “sit at Jesus’ feet” and listen to Him for awhile each day (speaking in Scripture, through His Church in the Catechism, during our Rosary meditations) then we’re bound to learn some incredible things, things we will be dying to share with others.

Almost a decade ago, I had the great pleasure of listening to Dr. Scott Hahn speak. The most vivid memory I have of that day was hearing him talk about when Peter and John were hauled before the Sanhedrin, and quoting this verse: “Observing the self-assurance of Peter and John, and realizing that the speakers were uneducated men of no standing, they were amazed. Then they recognized these men as having been with Jesus ” (Acts 4:13). That is the key to being instruments of God. A shepherd boy from Bethlehem, an unassuming young woman in Nazareth, three poor Portugese children — it is those who place their hearts before God, very simply, that He uses to communicate with the world.

I praise God for priests who challenge their flocks, for RCIA and adult ed. programs, for youth ministers and programs like LifeTeen — but it just isn’t cutting it my friends. It’s you and I who have to be raised up and empowered to share the Truth if this cultural battle is to be won, if the deterioration that surrounds us is to be reversed. The Church in the West may still reveal itself as a sleeping giant. If it awakes, we could see a manifestation of Christ come to “full stature.” “It was He Who gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers in roles of service for the faithful to build up the body of Christ, till we become one in faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, and form that perfect man who is Christ come to full stature” (Ephesians 4:11-13).

You know, I often get the impression that we are hesitant to share our enthusiasm for the Faith with youth. “Oh, kids can’t get into the Bible; it’s a completely different world.” “The Trinity? The hypostatic union or the intricacies of moral theology? That’s over kids’ heads!” Really? Are we talking about the same teens whose high schools offer chemistry, physics, and even calculus? The same kids who read and take tests over works of Shakespeare? To hear an eight year-old boy describe The Lord of the Rings ‘ Middle-Earth, or a fifteen year-old girl elaborate on the subculture of Twilight ’s vampires and werewolves, convinces me that they wouldn’t have a problem getting inside the customs of biblical times.

We must live who we are, share what we are excited about with our coworkers and friends. When someone asks if we are reading anything good, we can let them know, “I’ve been going to this study on the Gospel of Luke; I never realized how fascinating the Bible could be…” When someone asks you to pray for them, take a chance: “I will; but is it alright if I pray with you, right now, too?” And if they are willing, take their hands in yours and speak the simple, heartfelt words that enter your mind. Let your loved one experience the Spirit loving and praying for them through you. We don’t need to manufacture opportunities to share our Faith, if we’re just honest about who we are and what animates us, every conversation can become an open door for God to enter others’ lives. Reebok will have nothing on us (Isaiah 52:7)!

But it all comes back to spending time with Jesus — gazing upon Him in the Eucharist, in Scripture, in His Church. It is only by being fused to Him that we “uneducated men [and women] of no standing,” become powerhouses. Only by sitting at His feet will we be able to simultaneously tear down what is false, and establish the Kingdom in its place – “conducting ourselves with innocence, knowledge, and patience, in the Holy Spirit, in sincere love as men with the message of truth and the power of God; wielding the weapons of righteousness with right hand and left, whether honored or dishonored, spoken of well or ill” (2 Cor.6:6-8).

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pentecost, Here We Come!

It's only Tuesday, but I'm already getting excited for Pentecost Sunday.  Jesus said some wild things to the Apostles:   "I am sending upon you what My Father promised; so stay here in the city until you are clothed with power from on high" (Lk.24:49); ". . .these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues . . . they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover" (Mk.16:17-18); and "the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father" (Jn.14:12).


Greater works than Jesus?  Yes, because the Church is the extension of Jesus' life in time and space! (See 1 Cor.12:27 & Eph.1:22)  In His Physical Body the Lord proclaimed the Kingdom in the Judea and Galilee of the first century, but through the Church He has proclaimed it throughout the world - delivering and healing people as He went!  We read how it began in the Acts of the Apostles, but it continues today all around us!


If we're not seeing like the early Church did - and like the saints throughout history have - we need to ask ourselves "Why?"  The only difference I can see between us and a Therese of Lisieux or a  Francis of Assisi is the quality of our "Yes." Lets take a minute or two to think about what we need to say "yes" to, to allow the Lord to "clothe" us with "power from on high."

Monday, May 21, 2012

Hard to Imagine the Afterlife?

I know. St. Paul had the same problem though, “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:10). Right now our knowledge of God is conceptual, we use analogies from this created world to speak of the Totally Other: “now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face…[we] shall understand fully, even as we have been fully understood” (1 Cor. 13:12). Don’t take this “darkness of faith” too hard though –we’ve all been through it before; and it turned out great.

None of us remember our first 40-or-so weeks, but they were lived in complete darkness. Our entire world was that wet, increasingly-cramped space inside our mom's womb. And we couldn’t even begin to imagine that there was this entire world, entire planet, awaiting us outside. We lived beneath our mother’s heart, exposed to its constant rhythm, and yet we had never seen her face! We had grown to recognize her voice, but we hadn’t developed to the point of understanding any of her words. And birth – talk about TRAUMA! All of that amniotic fluid we’ve been swimming in, gone in an instant; our heads compacted and squeezed through the birth canal; the light; the cold; that humiliating slap on the butt! But we finally entered the real world, finally got that chance to see mom face-to-face, to eat through our mouths instead of our belly buttons, and a million other experiences that we’re impossible to conceive of from the darkness of the womb.


Turns out that was just the warm-up; we’re still in utero, and the REAL world awaiting us "outside" remains inconceivable. We’re going to get the chance to enter it though; and just like before, we don’t have a clue when. This time around though, we get to participate in our own growth process. Each "yes" to God allows our spiritual "organs" to develop a bit more. If we haven't come to full term when the moment of birth arrives though, God has a top-notch NICU experience planned for us (the Church calls it purgatory; 1 Cor.3:10-15). Listen to the Apostle John:

"Beloved we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when [Jesus] appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure." (1 John 3:1-3)
 

St. Francis of Assisi was right on, "It is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Hot 'N' Cold

"Someone call the doctor
Got a case of a love bipolar...
'Cause you're hot then you're cold
You're yes then you're no
You're in and you're out
You're up and you're down
You're wrong when it's right ..."

Katy Perry's lyrics always give me something to think about. (My first post was a reflection on her "I Kissed a Girl.") This evening I find them to be a perfect segue for discussing some hard words to hear from Jesus:  "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth" (Revelation 3:15-16). 


Everyone holds up signs reading "John 3:16;" but why not Revelation 3:16? I ask that rhetorically. It's easy to see why not - most Christians prefer a caricature of Jesus to the actual Person recorded for us in Scripture. We prefer an imaginary Jesus, who forgives our failings but makes no demands. The imaginary Jesus never gets upset - unless it's at religious bullies, and they've got it coming, don't they? He came to relieve suffering (because pain, not separation from God, is the ultimate evil) and to teach us that if we'll just be "tolerant" enough of everyone else's opinion (translation = truth does not exist in fact; truth is what we individually believe it to be), peace will finally come.

That is NOT the Person we find in the New Testament - or in any kind of historical research on Jesus of Nazareth. "Caricature Jesus" isn't the type of guy that gets nailed to a Cross! (And calls his followers to join him.) The real Jesus is a passionate lover, who forces us to make a decision, "He who is not with Me, is against me" (Matthew 12:30); "Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth, but the sword" (Matthew 10:34). No, not a sword of physical violence, but of Truth/Reality:

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 12:12-13)

Jesus is like the doctor who has to tell the patient he has cancer; hiding the gravity of the situation, denying the need for aggressive treatment, wouldn't be doing the patient justice.

Recently, a friend of mine (also Catholic) got very excited when she found out I had a blog. I don't think that excitement lasted very long though; when we next spoke she diplomatically told me, "I don't agree with you on many things." She didn't elaborate; and my sense was that it wasn't the right moment to ask her to either. From little things she's shared in the past though, I fear her disagreement has to do with Jesus' s teachings regarding sexuality; and that makes me terribly sad. We are supposed to be in a real, life-giving relationship with Jesus of Nazareth, our brother and God. We can't pick and choose what parts of His message we are going to live by. That's like picking which part of the marriage vow you're going to honor. Oh, plenty of people try to do it...and thus our 50% divorce rate. Hot or cold - thinking that you can exist as "lukewarm" is self-deception. I'm not saying this as someone looking down from a summit; I think I've blogged enough about going to Confession to prove that that isn't the point. Christianity is Life-giving, it gives Divine Life; but only when we fully surrender ourselves to Jesus. We come, broken as we are, sinful as we are, and allow Him to embrace us - embracing Him in turn. We ask for, and receive, the help of His Holy Spirit. And then we have the ability to Love and Live the Reality, the Life that Jesus (the real Jesus) proclaimed!

If you're reading this, please pray for me. Please pray for my friend too - a beautiful, smart, young woman looking for her heart's completion.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mary for Mother's Day

Norman Rockwell's Mary, Queen of Heaven
My mind honestly wasn't on it when I got to Mass; it wasn't until the music leader started singing "On this day, oh beautiful Mother . . ." that I thought to wish Mary a happy Mother's Day.  But she warmly deserves it.  I am amazed when I think of my Grandma Kapler being the mother of twelve kids, but Mary is mother to over a billion!  (See Jn.19:26-27; Rev.12:1-5,17)

And please don't let your mind be troubled by accusations that the honor we give Mary today - and at today's Mass for that matter - takes anything away from the worship we give to God.  We sure aren't worried that the honor we pay our biological mothers today slights Him!  Mary is the daughter of the Father, the Mother of the Son, and the Spouse of the Holy Spirit (as we are all called to be).  Believe me, whatever expression of love you show her, it won't hold a candle to the love and honor Jesus is showering upon her!

Scripture tells us that we are made in the image and likeness of God (Gen.1:26), and that all fatherhood is rooted in Him (Eph.3:15).  Now which of us human fathers ever feels slighted when someone praises our daughter?  Are you kidding?  When someone praises my Lily, my heart leaps!  And my fatherly heart is only the palest reflection of God's!  So don't let this Mother's Day end without telling Mary how much you love her and how much you appreciate her "yes" to God's will.  And thank the Father for giving you such a beautiful mother.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

"Who You With?!"

Such a simple question.  My man Bernie Mac use to start every episode with it.  It's a question that every Catholic in America needs to ask:  Am I with Jesus' Church in what I believe about human life and marriage, or not?  

Because if you're with Christ and His Catholic Church, you are going to find yourselves in direct conflict with the majority of the talking heads you see on the evening news and sitcoms.  Jesus is blunt in today's Gospel, "If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, 'No slave is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you'" (Jn.15:18-20).

Allow me to be equally blunt.  Being a Christian in our society means fighting the fights that need fighting - not with violence, but our willingness to stand up and speak the truth, to remind our society of the objective reality it use to hold to, in the face of jettisoning clear thinking and wrapping itself in the Golden Rule as justification (as our President just did).


The thing is, even though I disagree with those wanting same-sex marriage, I am not a homophobe, a bigot, or "hater." And if you'll give me a moment or two I'll explain why:

First, just because we human beings have the ability to do something, it doesn't mean we should. That goes for everything from the use of nuclear weapons, to girls kissing girls, to purchasing a Kenny G album. Seriously, all of us agree that there are some actions human beings shouldn't perform - murder immediately comes to mind as a universal. I can't think of a culture that celebrates theft, treason, betrayal, or slander either. Now I'm not trying to equate homosexual activity with the malevolent sentiments accompanying any of those activities; I simply want to remind you that objecting to certain behaviors is a trait common to all of us.

I'll continue by saying that each of us have struggles, and some much more than others, with strong impulses and inclinations. I have had occasion to work with young people living with severe autism and other developmental disorders. I see some strong sensory needs and some very startling attempts to have them met- tactile input sought through slapping the teacher or oral-motor sensation through licking fabric. The overwhelming urge is there; the child didn't choose it, and he/she shouldn't be looked down upon for it. At the same time however, those are behaviors not deemed acceptable, and we look for ways to help the child meet his/her needs in a different way. Myself, I have seen some of the people I love most struggle with clinical depression. I've seen them not want to get out of bed, to dread living through the next day; and yet, despite those incredibly strong emotions they had the conviction that they had to go on, that their lives were a gift from God and that however bleak it appeared, they didn't have the right to end them. And thank God they didn't!

So coming at the issue of homosexuality, or any issue for that matter, as a Christian, I begin with the conviction that we have a Father in Heaven with loving, and specific, desires for His children. We can recognize many of these desires by looking at the moral norms common across the entire globe, engraved upon our hearts you could say. There are a number of moral issues however, where God's will seems murky to us - and many of these seem to cluster around how we express ourselves sexually. I don't think we should be surprised by this - the intensely physical and emotional nature of the act is intoxicating; it's very easy to become confused, to begin following our own impulses and inclinations instead of God's, or that should be obvious to us from biology (male and female bodies fit together in a specific way and, biologically speaking, for a very specific purpose).

This is one of the reasons we Christians believe God spoke to the world through the prophets of Israel, even going so far as to become one of us. He came to cut through the confusion that arises from our impulses and inclinations, whatever their root - genetic, environmental, psychological, social, etc. - and make clear His intentions for us. He spoke with compassion for our condition, compassion for our struggles; but He did not mitigate the Truth. Part of that truth is that sexual union is meant to be male and female; it's written into our very anatomy.  Those struggling with same-sex attraction are not helped when we Christians adopt an attitude of, "It's not right for me, but who am I to say for you?" In the midst of depression my loved ones wouldn't have been helped by my saying "Intentionally ending my life isn't right for me, but who am I to say for you?" No, their lives were preserved because of a truth, a conviction, that transcended their psychological bent (and genetic predisposition to depression, in many cases).

When Jesus told His disciples to "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Mt.7:12), and "Judge not, lest you be judged" (Matthew 7:1), He wasn't telling them to withhold judgment as to whether a behavior was right or wrong in God's eyes. That ignores the entire rest of the Sermon on the Mount (three chapters in length); that type of interpretation is a complete betrayal of the context. Jesus' very next words were, "For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged...You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye" (Matt.7:2-5). In other words, if you want to see our Father's will spread through this earth, you have to begin by letting His Truth transform you; only then can you bring it to your brothers and sisters out of a desire for their well-being, instead of from some false sense of moral superiority.  Speaking the Truth in love is authentically living the Golden Rule!

And what is this Truth that we Christians should bring to our brothers and sisters struggling with same-sex attraction? We find it in those first pages of Genesis, in the creation stories God delivered to the world through Israel:

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness..." So God created man in his own image...male and female He created them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply" (Gen.1:26-28).
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed (Gen.2:24-25).

The one God (Who is a plurality of Father, Son, and Spirit) created the sexual union of man and woman - a oneness that brings forth a new, third life - to mirror His own inner Life! Human sexual love reflects the Trinity; it is an integral part of the claim that humanity is in God's image! And this inner life of God consists in a love that is freely given, eternally faithful, and overflows with Life. As it is in Heaven, so should it be on earth; that is God's intention for us. So if you're a Christian walking around with the idea that "sex is dirty," drop it. That wasn't the teaching of the Old Testament, of Jesus, or His Church. If you got that idea from a minister or a devout family member, you've been misled.

But homosexual acts do not have a place in God's plan. The male and female complementarity is completely absent, as is the possibility for new life, a child, to emerge from the union. God's plan has been written into our biological makeup; reproduction is possible only through the union of male and female gametes.

If one wants to come at the matter from an evolutionary standpoint, I think one has to recognize that homosexual sex is aberrant. Natural selection favors those traits which aid an organism to survive and pass those traits onto offspring. In nature's book sex is solely about reproduction; impulses and urges are simply a means to an end. Homosexual sex has quite an enemy in natural selection!

Homosexual acts are in conflict then with God's intention for us, both as reflected in biology and special revelation (through Judaism and Christianity). Up until 1973, the American Psychiatric Association recognized homosexual attraction as a disorder. Our brothers and sisters struggling with same-sex attraction, no matter its origin (whether it be genetic, environmental, etc.), are experiencing a struggle that the majority of us do not. The 1994, Catechism of the Catholic Church expressed it well:

They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's cross the difficulties they may encounter
in their condition
.


These brothers and sisters need Truth, not platitudes like "I'm o.k., and you're o.k." No, we are all members of a fallen race. I need God's grace, and His people's help and encouragement, to keep moving forward under my own crosses, and people facing same-sex attraction need those same supports to move forward in life despite the sexual impulses and temptations they face. For our culture, and especially the Christians within it, to say otherwise is a betrayal of our call to speak the truth in love.

So my Catholic American friends, "Who you with?"  Jesus, or the popular culture you're surrounded by?  Think carefully.  One is eternal and the other will fall like every other great culture that came before.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Enter the Octagon

Does anyone remember this movie from 1980? I was six when it came out and remember my next door neighbor bragging about how his dad had taken him to the theater to see it. I refer to it now because my friend Kathi Strunk (the person crazy enough to say, "Shane, you should start a blog") threw down the gauntlet, "When will Chuck Norris be making an appearance?" I KNOW - Strunk is outta control. I was stymied; how could I bring Chuck to bear on my contemplation of the Catholic Faith? Sure, there's the spiritual warfare aspect - but that's so played. Some other aspect of Chuck's mystique was needed. So I asked the Holy Spirit, and as I proceeded to think about Chuck, the phrase "Enter The Octagon" and this old movie popped into my head.

I realized that Chuck responded, in a highly metaphorical way...involving Ninjas, to the same call as each of the baptized. I've lost you?

Well, when you were baptized, chances are that the baptismal font was shaped like an octagon. You will see exceptions, but throughout history that has been the traditional shape. It goes back to a passage in the First Epistle of Peter: "God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you" (1 Peter 3:20-21)

Amazing - which of us attending a baptism ever stops to think about the significance of the font's octagonal shape, that it is a physical representation of the biblical word? Our Catholic Faith is filled with these kind of things though.

If you find yourself wanting to know more about how the Church's celebration of the Sacraments brings Scripture to life, allow me to point you toward Jean Danielou's classic, Bible and the Liturgy. This insight about Baptism is the first of a thousand. Oh, and take a moment to reflect upon your own Baptism, when you "entered the octagon," by viewing this profound 1980, theatrical trailer. Just as the announcer says of Chuck, we too "find freedom only one way."


(Note: this trailer has no value other than the ultra-manly pics of Chuck Norris. It should not actually be used for mature theological reflection and is unsuitable for viewing by children.)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Eucharist, Mary, and Redemptive Suffering

"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Colossians 1:24).  It is a mysterious but incredible reality:  the suffering God allows into our lives, when accepted and lived with trust in his Love, become an actual participation in the sufferings of the Crucified, allowing us to be formed more truly his image – the very goal of our Faith.  And, as Paul said above, because we are "members of one another" (Rom.12:5; Eph.4:25), this grace is of benefit not just to us, but to the entire Body.  This teaching, far from casting aspersions on the efficacy of Jesus’sacrifice, proclaims its superabundance.  We believe that his sacrifice redeems us so profoundly that it transforms us from mere creatures of God into sons and daughters.  It transforms us into cells of Jesus’ Mystical Body, inserting us into the Life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the only Son. This reality is there in the theology of Paul, and unpacked for us in the teaching of the saints and doctors.  What I had never recognized before was how it was contained in Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist.

 "This is My Body …. This is My Blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many."  This Body and Blood — Jesus received them from his mother Mary.  He clothed himself with her flesh, her blood, and offered Himself to the Father "in" them.  That is the mystery of redemptive suffering that the Lord wants to continue in you and me — to clothe himself with our very persons and lift our sufferings up into his own, making them part of his eternal offering to the Father (Heb.9:14).  As with Mary, he requires our consent to bring about this supernatural reality, "I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).

We see Mary, fully engaged in this Mystery, there at the foot of her Son’s Cross.  Which of us parents haven’t imagined looking up and seeing our own children hanging there in the sun — their bodies ripped, blood flowing down their limbs, suffocating under their own weight.  It is the most monstrous suffering imaginable, but God allowed it into the life of his beloved Mary.  Her Son was dying to redeem the world, and her heart was pierced right along with His (Jn.19:34; Lk.2:35). Jesus was suffering there before her eyes, in the flesh he took from her; but through the chords of grace he was suffering in and through her person, gazing up at him, as well.  Through it all, the Holy Spirit maintained Mary in her fiat , "let it be to me according to your word;" and Scripture tells us that he made her suffering fruitful for the Mystical Body, "[Mary,] a sword will pierce your own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (Lk.2:35).  The mystery of redemptive suffering spoken of by Paul in Colossians 1:24 is graphically manifested by Mary at the Cross.

I don’t see any romance in pain, and I don’t desire it; but part of reality is recognizing that God allows me to pass through it.  It is not an end in itself, but a potentially powerful means: "For Jesus’ sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead" (Phil.3:8-11).  So I need to call out for the grace to unite my sufferings to those of Jesus, to allow him to lift me up toward his Father, "This is My Body…This is My Blood."  I need to pray each day for the grace to persevere through suffering; Jesus told us the stakes are high, "Because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold.  But he who endures to the end will be saved" (Mt.24:12-13).

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Just a Catholic, or "Charismatic" Catholic?

I am very forthcoming about the positive effect the Catholic Charismatic Renewal had on me.  Our name Catholic literally means "universal, all-embracing;" and the charisms that the Lord brought back to our attention through the Renewal continue to be valid and valuable for the Church of today.  (See CCC 800-801, and CCC 2003).  That said, there are so many beautiful spiritualities within the Church - Carmelite, Franciscan, Dominican, etc., etc. - some demonstrative and others more oriented in silence.  The Lord calls us to Himself along different "roads," and we may change the one we travel several times in the course of our lives.  Each road passes through the Sacraments though; that is common to every Catholic's journey.  Other than the seven Sacraments however, it would be incredibly shortsighted of me, of anyone, to try and absolutize his experience, and require it of someone else (1 Cor.12:29-31).  Jesus is the Good Shepherd, not me - He knows what each of His sheep need far better than anyone else.  (Omniscience is funny that way.)


What is my prayer life like in 2012?  Morning offering with my kids.  Daily Rosary on the way to work.  Conversational prayer throughout the day.  The charism of tongues to praise and intercede.  Read the Gospel of the day.  Chaplet of Divine Mercy on the way home.  Some spiritual reading before bed.  The Eucharist every Sunday, and the occasional weekday Mass when my work schedule allows.  Each November, I start the 33 days of preparation for Total Consecration prescribed by St. Louis Marie De Montfort and renew my consecration on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  I also enjoy getting together with a good friend every other week or so to study the Carmelites - Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Elizabeth of the Trinity, Therese of Lisieux, and Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein). I've never felt a pull toward becoming a third order religious and don't feel any desire to refer to myself as anything other than "just a Catholic" - a person who wants to embrace all of the spiritual treasures our Father has deposited in the Church.