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Posted by on Oct 3, 2021

In God’s Image and Equal

In God’s Image and Equal

The readings from the Book of Genesis and the Gospel of Mark for the Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time are frequently misunderstood or misinterpreted. They deal with the relationship between men and women, as well as the question of marriage and divorce. Little, unimportant topics, to be sure…

Let’s take a look at them in their context and see what they are really saying to us.

The first reading is from the second chapter of Genesis. It’s from the second creation story, which addresses different questions than does the first. In the first creation story, everything comes into being in response to God’s word of command, with humans being formed by God in God’s own image – male and female they were created from the start. They represent the culmination of creation, after which God rests.

The order and manner of creation differs in the second story. In the second story, God made the earth and the heavens, but there was no grass nor were there shrubs, because there had been no rain and there were no humans to till the soil. In this story, God takes the clay mud that is found beside a stream welling up out of the earth. From this mud, God forms a man. The Hebrew words include a bit of a pun. “Man” is adam and “mud” is adama. Into this individual, God breathes some of God’s own breath of life and the adam becomes a living person.

After creating the Adam, God planted a garden in a fertile plain (eden) and placed the Adam there. Plants, trees, and all sorts of wonderful things grew in the garden and the Adam was free to eat of them. The Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil also grew in the heart of the garden, and of them it was forbidden to eat.

The Lord God realized that the Adam would be lonesome without a companion, so other creatures were created. This is where our reading today picks up (Gen 2:18-24). Many animals were created, and all were given names by the Adam. But none of them was a suitable companion to him. He remained unique and lonely.

So the Lord made him sleep deeply. While he slept, the Lord took a rib from his side and formed it into another person, this one female. It is absolutely significant that the woman was formed from the side of the adam. If she had been formed from his head, it would mean she was superior to him. If from his feet, she would be inferior to him. But from his side, she was his equal.

When Adam awoke, the Lord brought the new being to him. Adam rejoiced because at last, here was a being that would be his equal and partner. He gave her a name too, again a pun. She would be known as Ishsha (woman) because she had been taken from Ishah (her man or her husband). We know her as Eve. Together they would become one unit, one body, and form new families of humans.

Psalm 128 reminds us of the great gift of husbands and wives living together in peace and raising their families. This is a great blessing bestowed on those who walk in the ways of the Lord. The text includes the notion of fear of the Lord. That doesn’t mean fear in the sense of being afraid of the Lord or of being punished for angering the Lord. Fear in this sense is more a question of the awe that comes from something too wonderful to comprehend or take for granted.

During the time of Jesus, there was a controversy in the Jewish community over whether divorce was lawful. Mosaic law allowed a man to divorce his wife, but the grounds for divorce varied, depending on which group of scholars was looking at the question. A member of one of these groups, a Pharisee, asked Jesus his opinion on the topic (Mk 10:2-16). By this time in history, women had very few rights. A man could divorce his wife. A woman had no such option. If she were divorced by her husband, she was returned to her family in disgrace and most likely would never again be married. Her status in society was completely ruined. Who would take a “used woman” for a wife? Without a man, a woman had no social standing and no rights.

Jesus goes back to before Moses for his response. He reminds his listeners that God created humans as men and women and intended them to become one unit, one body. No other human being should come between them.

In saying this, Jesus sort of side-stepped the issue raised by the Pharisee in public. However, his disciples were not satisfied and questioned him later in private. With them, he was much more direct. Divorcing a spouse and marrying another means committing adultery against that spouse. Very importantly here, Jesus places women on an equal footing with the men on this question. He assumes that a woman might also divorce her husband. The caveat is that if she remarries, she too is committing adultery against her former husband!

This is a hard thing. It’s very important today to remember that a wedding ceremony does not necessarily mean a couple are actually married in the deeper sense of becoming a creative, blessing, unit. That’s why the Church is so careful about marriages and the process for entering into a sacramental union. In a true marriage, there is a recognition that God is present in the relationship and the couple minister the presence of God to each other. Shot-gun marriages are not sacramental. Marriage just because a woman is pregnant is often not free enough to qualify. Marriage because a bride-price or dowry has been exchanged already, if one or the other partner is unwilling to enter the union, would not qualify. A marriage in which there is violence or a partner under the influence of drugs or alcohol does not qualify. When these circumstances can be identified, it is ruled that there was no marriage in the first place and the individuals are both free to marry at a later time.

Our understanding of marriage has grown and deepened through the centuries, but many challenges still arise for any couple who commit to living together as a unit, with a bond created by God. Fortunately, we have a much better understanding of human psychology today and a willingness to look deeper at the underpinnings of relationships among men and women of good will.

The Gospel reading continues with a new topic as well – children. People brought their children to Jesus to be blessed. The grown-ups thought that was not OK. Children were to be seen and not heard. They had no real rights and should not be bothering the master. But Jesus thought differently. Jesus welcomed the children and reproached those who tried to keep them away. Children are the model for all who want to enter the Kingdom of God. All must approach God with the openness and joy of a child.

In fact, according to the author of the Letter to the Hebrews (Heb 2:9-11), all who are brought to glory through the leadership of Jesus are children of the Father. Jesus, “lower than the angels” for a brief time, became perfect through suffering, and brought humans with him back to the Father. Jesus calls all of us brothers and sisters.

Created in God’s image and equal, what is our response? How do we react to one another? Whose love do we respect and support? How do we reach out to those whose lives and ways of understanding are different than ours? Are we open to hear of the ways God’s love shines in the lives of non-binary people? Do we respect people of other cultures whose traditions differ from ours? How do we model loving relationships among our peers and with our children and grandchildren?

In October we are reminded to Respect Life. Life in its many stages and forms. Life before and after birth. From womb to tomb. May we accept the challenges of supporting women, children, immigrants, refugees, old people and young people, binary people and non-binary people, and all those in-between.

We are created in God’s image and we are all equal in God’s sight.

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Posted by on Aug 22, 2021

Decisions and Commitments

Decisions and Commitments

Readings for the Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time tell the story of commitments made long ago and the decisions that accompany the commitments.

We begin once again with the ancient Hebrew people. They have left Egypt, traveled through the Sinai Peninsula’s arid lands for 40 years, and now, under the leadership of Joshua, have entered into the Promised Land. Was the land empty and in need of a large community of people to enter and settle there? No. Were the peoples already living there happy to welcome newcomers? No. Did the peoples living there worship just one deity? No. Might there be some problems? Yes. Yes. Yes!

The Hebrew people were descendants of a few people who had left Ur (in modern day Iraq) many centuries earlier. They had lived in Canaanite lands before moving to Egypt during a great famine. They stayed in Egypt for a long time, growing from the families of the twelve original sons of Jacob (a.k.a. Israel) to be a very large group of people. To prevent their developing an alliance with potential invaders from the east, Egyptian rulers enslaved the Hebrews. Moses, an Israelite child raised by an Egyptian princess, under the inspiration and guidance of God, eventually led the people to freedom and began the 40-year sojourn in the Sinai. In the Sinai, the covenant agreement established with Abraham, from whom they all descended, was re-established. Now, as they at last enter again the land where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had lived, it’s time to reconfirm their agreement.

Joshua (Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b) reminds them of their history and of all God has done for them. Will they remain true to God in this land to which they have come. Will they remember to worship only God, not the gods of the people living there, nor the gods they or their ancestors might have worshipped in the past? Will they obey the Law given to them in the desert, the instructions about how to live in peace and justice with each other and with those non-Hebrews who live among them? Joshua declares that he and his family will do so. The rest of the people respond that they also will do so.

It was a big commitment, especially since they would be living among many other peoples. Through the centuries that followed, there were times when they were faithful and times when they were not. Sometimes they lived in peace with their neighbors. Sometimes they were conquered. They explained these experiences in terms of whether they had been faithful to their Lord God or had not. When they were faithful, things went well. When they were not, things did not. Did God really turn away from them? No, God doesn’t do that. But there are consequences of decisions made and sometimes those consequences are not what we would prefer.

A commitment was made by the Hebrew people that day at Shechem. The decision to abide by that commitment had to be made again and again.

Many of the people who were disciples/followers of Jesus also had to make a commitment/decision after they had seen him feed a large crowd in an arid countryside. They had come to him back in town, wanting to see more miracles. Jesus didn’t give them more miracles. They spoke of the manna in the desert given by Moses. He reminded them that God had provided the manna. He then spoke of bread from heaven that would give the fullness of life to the world. As the conversation continued, he shocked all by declaring that he himself was the bread of life. His body and blood would bring life to the world. And, most shocking of all, they would have to eat his flesh and drink his blood to have this fullness of life. That would be absolutely unthinkable for a good Jew or for members of most other human societies. In cultures that allowed consumption of human flesh, it was often done as a form of respect for the courage or strength of the one who had been killed (if an enemy), but that is not the case for the Hebrew people. Blood was never to be consumed because that was something associated with sacrifice of animals and children to the gods in the surrounding countries. It was forbidden absolutely in the Law. To this day, meat is koshered to remove any blood from it.

Jesus watched as most of his former followers walked away from him and returned to their prior way of life (Jn 6:60-69). He turned to his twelve closest friends and asked them bluntly, “Do you also want to leave?” Peter responded with a great statement and commitment, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” For better or for worse, this Jesus is different and special from all others. For John, this is another statement that Jesus is Divine Wisdom in the flesh.

A commitment was made by Peter and the others that day in Capernaum. This decision led to following Jesus through his life, death, and Resurrection – then out to the rest of the Roman Empire, announcing the good news of God’s love for all of us.

Lastly, we look at St. Paul and his instructions to the Ephesians (Eph 5:21-32) about the relationship between husbands and wives. This is one of the most misunderstood readings in the Bible. Paul does not think in terms of body and soul as making up the human being. For Jews of his time, the human being is something of a flesh/spirit union, not divisible – a whole human being. Paul writes about the relationship between husbands and wives in a style familiar to the Greco-Roman world. This type of instruction typically includes the expectations of children and parents, as well as of masters and slaves.

Paul begins with an amazing statement: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” To be subordinate does not mean to obey blindly or slavishly. Even the word obey doesn’t carry the same meaning we typically give it – that of doing exactly what one is told to do. The idea here is to “listen deeply” to what is being said. This requires a commitment to respect and care for the other person. To listen not just to the words, but also to the feelings and experiences of the other, to give the other person the benefit of the doubt.

Paul instructs women to respect their husbands as they would respect Christ. Then he puts forward the idea that women are like the church, which he describes as subordinate to Christ. He tells the men that they are to love their wives as Christ loves the church, not to lord it over them. This wasn’t the norm in a time of arranged marriages in which a bride price had to be paid and women could be returned in disgrace to their families if their husbands grew angry with them or tired of them. Husbands are to love their wives as much as Christ loves all of us – to the extreme of giving his own life for us. Husbands and wives – wives and husbands, become one body as the church is the Body of Christ. Our marriages are to be as sacred as the relationship between Christ and humankind. It is a great mystery, as Paul notes. Two become one, not just in the beginning of their marriage, but as they grow together through the years.

A commitment is made, followed by many decisions to love.

What commitments have we made? What decisions follow those commitments? It takes a lifetime to discover the answers.

See you at Mass.

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Posted by on Nov 28, 2015

Synod on the Family: A Brief Summary

Synod on the Family: A Brief Summary

KampalaFamily-255x275 Wiki_PublicDomain_The Synod on the Family in October 2015 had as its focus “the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the modern world.” Meeting in Rome for a second time in as many years, and following consultation with members of the Church around the world, Bishops came together to consider the challenges facing families and make recommendations for ways to help couples and families live out their vocations.

The final report to the Pope of the Synod on the Family calls for all Catholics to reach out to couples and families and to attempt to understand and help with their needs and struggles. The church’s teaching on the importance and lifelong nature of marriage between a man and a woman has not changed. However, when people are divorced and remarried or living together without being married, the Catholic community should not reject or abandon them or their children. Catholics who are divorced and remarried outside the Church are not supposed to receive communion. However, the Synod has said that people in this situation should work closely with their pastors to examine their conscience and their relationship with God. In other words, priests and all Catholics should look on these situations from a pastoral standpoint. How do we walk with them? How do we encourage them?

The Synod recommended that divorced and remarried Catholics should be included in the life of the Church as much as possible, even as lectors, catechists, and godparents. Homosexuals should also be welcomed and treated with equal respect and dignity. Pope Francis encouraged the synod to take this approach which focused more on the person’s own conscience as opposed to focusing exclusively on Church law. What is often hard for us to understand is how it is that someone can be doing something that is objectively wrong,like living together without being married, and yet there may be internal reasons of conscience that keep them in this situation. For example, the couple involved may have come from homes in which there was violence or great unhappiness and the thought of marriage for them means repeating what they suffered as children. Sometimes they see marriage as “only a piece of paper.” Yet these couples often show a great deal of commitment and unconditional love for each other and create a happy home.

Some critics are upset that the synod did not condemn people who are not following the rules, arguing that if you are not harsh with them you are approving the wrong things that they are doing. The pastoral approach recommended by the Pope and long tradition of the Church upholds the ideal of how we should live while helping people to see what God is doing in their lives and where He is leading them.

Two reports provide some highlights:




English translation of the final report: Synod 15 – Final Report of the Synod of Bishops to the Holy Father Francis – 24.10.2015

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Posted by on Nov 15, 2015

Synod on the Family: A Brief Summary

Families and Faith: Helping Your Children to be Faith-Filled

woman-and-child-RenoirFamilies today are struggling with the challenge to fit in a day all the things they need to do. School, childcare, meals, commute, work, marriage, parenting, pets, athletics, extended family, finances, church, house, local and broader civic issues, friends, medical needs, and recreation all require thought and planning. Everyone wants their children to be happy and, for parents with faith, this includes wanting their children to be close to God, part of a community of believers, and to have a faith-filled life.

Parenting Styles

Usually families adopt some form of three parenting styles: Authoritarian, Permissive or Dialogue. The style used may vary based on situation and/or age of the child.

Some rules, such as “No running into the street,” start out as authoritarian with a very young child but with older children there can be a dialogue about the reasons. Brushing a two-year-old’s teeth is a decision from the top down (authoritarian). Later on there can be conversations about it. Permissive parenting, in which the children run the house and are allowed to break the rules or to not do the chores is usually never helpful. At times, when a child has exams, she can skip her chores or go to bed late, but that can be decided in a negotiation about the special situation. Going to church for parents with faith will be at the top of the hierarchy of choices about the family schedule. Hopefully the parents know that they need to be there — to hear the Scriptures, the preaching, or to receive the Eucharist. There may be exceptions, but being consistent will make the liturgy a natural and essential part of the rhythm of life. Church can also be a place for other involvements for children, such as religious education, roles in the liturgy, youth group, outreach, or choir. Making the liturgy more meaningful for children by providing a book to read or color can also help them engage in the Mass and enjoy it more.

But all of this will not necessarily help children to have a relationship with God or stay in the Church. A big help in this direction is if the parents have a living relationship with God, can naturally talk about it, and enjoy spending time with their children. The best approach is both organic to the parents’ entire orientation and planned strategies. Parents who know and experience God and the saints in their lives think, feel and do everything out of a spiritual orientation and discernment. In their adult relationships, home/family, work, and the world, everything hopefully is referred to God and what God is loving for them to love (even learning to trust him in little things like losing your keys). Feelings and actions that come from fear can be recognized and given to God (Discernment). If a parent grows in discernment and asks for wisdom and courage, God will give it and everything goes much better. Planning, conversations, and family problems — all are more productive. Everyone in the family can grow in peace, understanding, generosity and trust in God.

Stress and worry are a part of family life. Painful things will happen. Feeling loved by God will not prevent or remove all suffering. It will reduce anxiety and even anger. For the faith-filled family, unavoidable forms of suffering can be understood as a sharing in Jesus’ redemptive work in the world. (Mk. 10:44 ff.) We also know that he never leaves us. He asks us to lean on him and ask him for the grace to bear the heavier loads. Daily prayer — both talking to God and listening to God — can help parents to keep perspective and not take personally the problems that will come. (For work and faith ideas, see: Heroic Leadership by Chris Lowney, Loyola Press: Chicago, 2005. Excellent, well written.)

Protecting Children, then Letting Them Go

One of the biggest issues that comes up in child-raising is that of control. Parents are responsible for working through the process of protecting their children and then letting go of them. Parents pour love, energy, resources, and sacrifices into family life but do not “own” their children, who in fact are gifts from God. At some point, offspring will start making their own decisions and these may not reflect the values of the parents. They may have abilities and desires that are foreign to the parents. There will be a period of time when children are learning who they are and trying out many experiences available to them. If the child has been exposed to a healthy and holy way of dealing with decisions (e.g. trust in God and discernment) in the family from infancy, they have a very good chance of seeking what God wants for them.

Adults and children can develop an interior life with God in which they recognize when they are doing actions from fear, insecurity, laziness, and/or to impress others. Children encounter many negative things in their lives both in themselves and others. Bullying, cheating, and lying are all around them. There is no harm is letting them know about the influence of the Evil Spirit too when they are older. In middle school they will encounter many forms of social climbing and meanness right next to kindness and generosity. Parents can spend time by both listening to the child and talking about the fact that God will be with them as they make the choice to be friendly to an outcast or to own up to a bad choice.

Understanding the developmental stage of your child is important for both their moral understanding and experience of faith. The work of the religious psychologist Dr. James Fowler is very helpful. His work is summarized in an article entitled “How God Invites Us to Grow: the Six Stages of Faith Development” by Richard J. Sweeney, Franciscan Media, Catholic Update, No. CU1087.

Discernment as Part of Family Life

God dwells within us and will help us sort out destructive feelings from those of courage, strength, hope, and self-worth. If parents are doing this themselves day after day and sharing this at times with their family, the children will share their successes in being strong and discerning too. Listening to our kids, wanting to know their interests and worries, will help them to feel understood. The goal is not control. The goal is that we surrender to God our desires, worries, and problems and let him tell us how best to work with them. The prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola called The Examen is very helpful in going over each day what is working and not working in my thoughts and behaviors and what I can ask God to help me with. There are many modern versions of this prayer available. Children can be taught to do this little review without dwelling on the mistakes but simply asking Jesus to be there when I am feeling pressure.

It is not by accident that our present Pope Francis speaks constantly of dialogue and seeking understanding. According to Francis, we should never be frightened of being open to understanding those who disagreed with us. (Pope Francis, homily October 4 in the Mass opening the Synod on the family, St. Peter’s Basilica) To the pope that does not mean that we cannot condemn certain philosophies and behaviors, but it does mean that we must understand and love others no matter what. Once we surrender our lives and our children’s lives to God, we can expect and ask God to help us. (E.g. blind Bartimaeus, Mk. 10:46-52) In his encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis points out that in creating a new human ecology ​​in which we all nurture the Earth, marriage ​and family are a natural base for this kind of universal solidarity. The self-giving of marriage can be taught to children, who can learn to care for the Earth and share its resources with others. Parents and children can forge a strong bond while living these values together. Parents can communicate the ways in which God reveals his love in the beauty, mystery and rhythms of Creation.

Practical Suggestions

Some practical suggestions for family life are to selectively sprinkle in your talk how you react to problems or make decisions out of your relationship with God, find times for family prayer, and ask your kids individually how things are going. One time for prayer is before dinner. Take a little time to ask people at the table if there is someone or something they would like everyone to prayer for. This can also be a bedtime ritual. It is great if parents purchase appropriate lives of the saints and read parts to younger children each night, etc. Acknowledging to a child that you know they have a concern: an exam, tryouts for a sport, a difficult subject at school, a dance coming up and saying, “I’ll pray for you,” is a good thing if it is not constant. Children are very perceptive. If you are sincere and are seeking God, they will be too. But, if God is abstract for you, children will sense this. You might consider seeing if there is a spiritual director in your parish to talk to or a retreat center in the area where you can go on a retreat, spend a few hours, or see a spiritual director. There are also wonderful websites to visit regularly, even for just 10 minutes, that have articles, mini-retreats and music. A wonderful article on prayer,  “Never Lose Heart” by Robert P. Maloney, CM, for example, is found on the America Magazine website.

Discussion (or Reflection) Questions

1. Have I experienced God or the saints ?  In what ways?

2. Do I pray? What kinds of prayer am I familiar with? Speaking and listening?

3. Can I share my faith or thoughts about spiritual things in a natural way or is this difficult?

Image: “Woman and Child” – Renoir – public domain

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Posted by on May 18, 2015

Synod on the Family: A Brief Summary

Pope Francis – Three Words for Family Harmony

Dome of St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica Dome – Public Domain CCO

On Wednesday May 13 at his General Audience in St Peter’s square Pope Francis gave a short address on the three words that are key to family happiness and well being. The three words in Spanish that are essential for health relationships are permiso, gracias, y perdón. In English they are phrases: “May I”,”Thank you!”, and “Forgive Me.”

The Pope said that sometimes in our culture these expressions are seen as a sign of weakness as opposed to a true statement of our respect and affection in our intimate relationships. He stressed the need for this respect for the dignity of our spouses, children and other family members as central to living our faith. Without this underlying bedrock respect and affection, these key relationships can rupture and damage everyone in the process.

Asking for permission is key to affirming others and makes our relationship more intimate and strong. Expressing our thanks is more than a social formality. It is a recognition and validation of our loved ones and an expression of our appreciation for their love. Most importantly, we are showing that we are aware of how important our loved ones are to us. The most difficult, according to the Pope, is “Forgive me.” Conflicts and disagreements — even arguments — are part of any honest relationship. Pope Francis even alludes to serious incidents in which “plates fly.” What is key is to ask forgiveness. Pope Francis advises us to be reconciled with each other before the end of the day. This might not always be possible since we might need more time to cool down. However, Pope Francis is making the point that being reconciled has to be done sooner rather than later to demonstrate that the strength of our love is greater than any disagreement or frustration we may have with each other.

A note on cultural differences may be helpful here. Latin cultures tend to deal with stress by externalizing it. Italian opera is a good example of this. Generally, upset and irritation are not internalized. Voices rise, arms start waving, and everything seems over the top by North Atlantic English-speaking standards. For non-Latin cultures, the expression of stress is usually more muted.  The feelings are not necessarily less intense. Sometimes they are more intense since they are being internalized. This type of culturally conditioned response to conflict requires a different, more low key response. The three expressions still apply but we need to be attentive to the way our families perceive and deal with conflict. Anger, dissension, and disillusionment provide opportunities to uncover and resolve deeper conflicts. Professional help from a skilled counselor can be very useful to avoid undermining and destroying our bonds of love and affection. Politeness, courtesy, and respect are important in our speech, but they also have to be accompanied by changed behavior. As St. Ignatius Loyola says in the Spiritual Exercises “Love is shown more in deeds than in words.” These three expressions are important deeds. They are much more than words and can open the door to improved behavior and the mutual acceptance and loving response to challenges that are central to being happy and making a happy home.

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Posted by on Feb 24, 2015

Synod on the Family: A Brief Summary

The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World

800px-Petersdom_von_Engelsburg_gesehen - public domainThe Synod of Bishops and Pope Francis have asked members of the Catholic community, from both the Western and Eastern churches, to read the draft document prepared at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family last October in Rome and to respond with comments and insights drawn from their own experience of the Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World.

Generally, members of the hierarchy do not consult ordinary members of the community regarding establishment of policies for dealing with pastoral issues such as how to help people prepare for marriage, how to support married couples in their life commitment, how to care for families that are wounded or broken apart, how to help members who are not heterosexual in their orientation, how and when to welcome children into the lives of a family, and how to pass on our faith within our families.

Nevertheless, all of us have some experience in this regard, since all have lived as members of a family. The bishops are asking us to share our experiences and the wisdom we have gained through the  practical challenges of living in families as people of faith.

The document prepared in October 2014 has been published. Each diocese has been asked to distribute the draft document and a questionnaire regarding the information included in the document. The dioceses are to collect responses, and prepare a summary of the thoughts of those who live with its geographic region.

The time frame is short. Responses are needed by the end of the first week of March so there will be enough time to summarize them and return them to Rome before the bishops assemble again in October 2015.

Please read the document carefully and respond to the questionnaire honestly and prayerfully, based on your own experience. Pope Francis and the bishops really want to know what the thinking of the People of God (the Church) is on these matters, because the Holy Spirit speaks through the everyday experiences of ordinary people.

Links to the document in several European languages are included in the sidebar to the right. For readers in other countries, check with your local diocese for the document in other languages.

Surveys for the Diocese of Monterey, California are available at the diocesan website.

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Posted by on Aug 26, 2012

A Refreshing Perspective on Respect, Love, and Obedience in Marriage

Today I’m giving this platform to the Rev. Mr. Patrick Conway, Deacon serving at Resurrection Catholic Community in Aptos. Patrick is Pastoral Associate in our parish, married for well over 20 years, father of 5, and a fine musician. He brings a welcome perspective to the study of scriptures such as the reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (5:21-32) in which Paul addresses the relationship between husbands and wives. With Patrick’s permission, I share it with you.

Elbow Sunday 8-26-2012 Deacon Patrick Conway

Today is officially called the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. But unofficially it’s called “Elbow Sunday”. That’s because in Catholic churches all over the world today, during the Second Reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians when he says that wives must obey their husbands, husbands elbow their wives, and when he says that husbands must love their wives as Christ loves the Church, wives elbow their husbands right back!

Actually, this is a tradition that’s sort of gone by the wayside, because for decades now the Church has made that first paragraph about wives obeying their husbands optional, and most parishes don’t read it anymore, because most lectors, especially women, don’t want to read it, and most Catholics, especially women, don’t want to hear it, and most preachers don’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole! But I, just back from vacation and feeling strong, relish the challenge! Either that, or fools rush in where angels fear to tread!

So, what about it? It says here in the Word of God that wives must submit to their husbands in everything. 12 years ago the second-largest group of Christians (after Catholics) in the United States, the Southern Baptists, included it in their Statement of Faith, and many evangelicals and other Christians also believe and teach that wives must submit to their husbands. So what does the largest Christian Church in the world, the Roman Catholic Church, say about this?

Nothing. If you look at all the current Church teachings on marriage – in the Catechism, Canon Law, teachings of John Paul II, Engaged Encounter, Marriage Encounter – you won’t find a word about it. So now hear this, wives (and husbands): the Catholic Church does not teach that wives must submit to their husbands. Wives, you get to give the final elbow!

Just has it has in the lectionary, the Church has basically dropped or at least de-emphasized that notion of inequality that is wrongfully implied in Paul’s letter. The Church takes the rest of the passage to come up with a wonderful understanding of marriage as an equal partnership in which both husband and wife submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Both husband and wife give one another the love of Christ, loving each other as Christ loves the Church.

It’s like a dance – one partner leads, the other follows. But it’s not always the man who leads. In some things the woman can lead better, and so she should, and her husband should follow. Other times, the wife should follow her husband’s lead. Mutual submission to one another, and always, to Christ. There is no place for domination in this relationship. Domination is a serious and destructive sin, whether it is done by a husband or a wife.

Paul says that the marriage relationship is like the relationship between Christ and the Church, and so it is. But, unlike our relationship with Christ, who is always the Christ to us, husbands and wives take turns being Christ to one another. Now, as a husband, I take very seriously my call to love my wife as Christ loves the Church, and that’s my prayer every day. But every day I see all the ways that I fail to do that, unlike Christ who never fails me. And I see that, regardless of my best efforts to be Christ to my wife, it is more often she who is Christ to me. The greatest incarnation of Christ in my life is, and has been, my wife, whose constant love, faithfulness, mercy, care and devotion never cease to amaze and humble me. She has given herself to me completely, just as Christ has given himself to me. She gives herself to me through Christ, and Christ gives himself to me through her.

But marriage is not just for the good of the married, or even for the children that may come from a marriage. Marriage is for everyone, that is, for the good of everyone. That is Paul’s greatest gift in his teaching about marriage, that marriage is a sacrament, a sign and symbol for the whole world of the relationship between Christ and the Church, between Christ and humanity. Marriage reveals that this relationship between Christ and humanity is not one of divine domination, but of tender, intimate love, like the tender, intimate love between a husband and wife. It is deeply personal.

Marriage is to remind each one of us of what is possible between us and Christ, a tender, intimate, profoundly personal relationship that is truly everlasting. And each one of us is called to this dance of love with Christ, with Christ who has first loved us and who has come down from heaven into our world to give us his love, to give us himself, and who seeks only our love in return.

That’s all he’s been trying to tell us in these Gospel readings these past few weeks, that he’s giving us himself, his whole self – flesh and blood, body and soul, humanity and divinity, and he’s just dying with passion for us to receive him.

May our response to him be like St. Peter’s: “Lord, to whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life and love. We know that you’re the one for us.”

Reprinted with permission.

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Posted by on Mar 4, 2010

Synod on the Family: A Brief Summary

Divided by the Bonds of a Common Religion

When I was growing up, one of the questions always asked when two people began dating  was, “Is she/he Catholic?” It was quite rightly assumed that differences in religion within a marriage could be a major source of stress and potentially lead to break-up of the marriage. In those days, we were just barely past the time that “mixed marriages” took place at the rectory or in the vestibule, and the non-Catholic partner had to promise to raise the children Catholic before a marriage could be blessed. Presumably, sharing the bonds of a common religion would serve to strengthen the marriage.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I married a Catholic man of Mexican ancestry and discovered that we were divided by the bonds of a common religion. Many aspects of his cultural experience of Catholicism were different from the Irish-German Catholic experience of my childhood. (And no, the German Catholic side were not converts.  They had been Catholic for centuries.)

Things we found that differed ranged from the relative importance of certain feast days (those of Our Lady were never to be missed) to questions as “serious” as Friday abstinence (could one eat gravy served on potatoes at a restaurant on a Lenten Friday?).

Fortunately, we were both graduate students in Anthropology and had a vocabulary with which to discuss and appreciate the cultural differences over which we were tripping. Feasts of Our Lady are extremely important in Hispanic culture and, as Our Lady of Guadalupe, she is trusted to handle any and all problems that arise. Friday abstinence from meat has been somewhat optional within Spanish speaking culture since the time of the Crusades. The male head of household had the prerogative to excuse the family from following the rule of abstinence. So the question of gravy on potatoes was moot! Simply a minor cultural difference in the experience of faith and definitely not something requiring confession. (Further research done in the course of writing this post indicates that meat based gravy was never actually prohibited, but general understanding of the rules within my culture of origin excluded it.)

This all came to mind again in the past couple of weeks. One of our daughter’s classmates is also Catholic, from a somewhat more traditional family than ours. On Ash Wednesday, the friend ruefully confessed that she had already forgotten and had a piece of candy that day. She had intended to give up candy for Lent. As it turned out, she had also forgotten (or perhaps never realized) that Ash Wednesday is a day of abstinence. She had packed a wonderful turkey sandwich for lunch that day. When apprised of the fact, she looked at the sandwich, declared, “Well, it would be a shame to waste it,” and ate her entire lunch.

When I was their age, the poor sandwich would have been returned to its wrapper and taken home for another day, or perhaps even thrown away. Some might have chastised the young woman for breaking a Church rule and eating the sandwich. She probably would have felt the need to confess her sin. Blessedly, she does not seem to have such worries today.

So a few questions arise.  How do rules fit into our experience of faith? Why even have rules of fast and abstinence if they aren’t going to be taken extremely seriously? How can religious rules be applied to one group of people and not another? That’s not fair! Aren’t there more important things to worry about than what people eat and when? Should religions have rules at all?

In looking at religion and behaviors associated with religion, Clifford Geertz‘ insight, in “Religion as a Cultural System,” that religion serves both as a model of society and a model for society provides a useful platform for analysis. Religions all around the world have codes of behavior — expectations of how people will act and for what reasons they will act as they do. These codes are normally posited to be the will of the deity. Generally, they uphold the social structure of the society and provide the rationale for the way social interactions occur. The song, “Tradition,” from the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, is an excellent example of the structuring of such social expectations and the recourse to God as their source.

This works pretty well when the religion in question is a small, localized one with a limited number of adherents. With groups that are larger and spread out over a larger geographic area, modifications begin to be seen. As Christianity spread out through the Roman Empire, accomodations were made to make it more understandable to peoples with different geographical, economic and cultural realities. If evergreen boughs are a symbol of everlasting life in a culture, for example, it’s a short jump to include them as symbols in Christian settings as well. But if evergreens mean nothing in a culture, they will often mean nothing in liturgical settings either. For this reason we are careful what we include in liturgy that must of its nature be open to be experienced cross-culturally.

The underlying reason for a practice is also important in analysis of how that practice plays out in the lived experience of a people. If the underlying reason is that there must be atonement for one’s failings, a penitential reason, then denying oneself something good but not necessary for life is often valued. If growth in self discipline is an underlying reason, again, denying oneself something makes sense. If one’s salvation from a nearly eternal cycle of birth and rebirth requires attaining perfection or enlightenment in this life, such practices again make sense. If the reason is that we choose to enter into a time and process of transformation of who we are so that we can be more open to meet our God when He comes, then it again makes sense.

Most religions and “spiritual” movements or quests require their adherents to make sacrifices during certain seasons or as part of their daily life. There is a recognition that we are not perfect and we do not live in a perfect world. It takes work to make things better and to become better persons. We only grow through difficult experiences, not when all is easy. So times of prayer and fasting and  giving alms are commonly found.

The trick in all of this is to keep things in perspective. What is a more serious offense, eating meat on Friday, for example, or betraying a friend? Is it more offensive to God and the community to miss Mass on Sunday because guests arrived unexpectedly or to turn away the guests because one has to get to church? Should we look to larger issues of how we use resources locally and globally in planning the forms our fasting and almsgiving will take? How do our religious beliefs lead us to act in our communities and countries? How do we weigh the relative importance of the wide variety of issues that must be addressed by our representatives when we decide who will represent us in government? Can people of good will take different positions and still be part of our community?

It seems to me that all of these questions and more are reflected in the simple decisions we make about things like abstaining from meat on Friday or wasting the food that has been prepared for us. Some things are simply matters of traditional practice and can vary from place to place or family to family. Others are fundamental issues that go to the heart of our relationship with God and creation. Nevertheless, we must be gentle with each other in addressing them. God does not go around bashing people over the head and we must not either. If our religious beliefs and practices do act as models of the societies in which we live and models for what those societies should be like, and in my experience they do, then let’s be careful to use them to shape a society in which God’s “little ones” are protected and supported, people are free to ask questions, think for themselves, and grow in wisdom, age and grace,  and the resources we have been given can be used wisely to benefit all of God’s creatures, human as well as non-human.

Just as my husband and I found we were divided by the bonds of a common religion, humans are divided by the bonds of our common human habit of designing social systems to meet the environment in which we find ourselves and the perception of reality that goes with and shapes those systems that we design. Only by accepting each other in love, giving up the attempt to change the other into our own image and culture, and laughing a lot as we go along can we be transformed so we are ready to meet the Lord who comes to us telling stories and trusting in His Father’s bounty and love to sustain Him.

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Posted by on Jun 2, 2009

Synod on the Family: A Brief Summary

Late Term Abortion: A Mother’s Story


Robin Young of National Public Radio’s “Here and Now” interviewed one of the patients of murdered late-term abortion provider, Dr. George Tiller.

“We speak with a former patient of late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, the Wichita, Kansas doctor who was murdered on Sunday. She explains why the procedure was so necessary for her.”

Abortions past the 20 week “age of viability” are difficult to justify by pro-choice advocates. How could the loss of one of the three physicians who performs these procedures, which are less than 1% of abortions, represent any moral or clinical loss? The implications for the physical and mental health of families becomes evident in this interview. The values presented in this story are about the desire and wonder of having children, the anguish of carrying a doomed child, the inability of doctors to present the couple with any real alternatives.

An earlier ban on late term or “partial birth” abortions provides an exception for the health of the mother. Aren’t these just cavalier acts of barbarism by selfish women?

What would you do with a child that you wanted very much but who would not survive birth? What would be the most loving and caring thing to do? This is a very compelling story that should give us pause when we want to throw the first stone.

My Late-Term Abortion
President Bush’s attempt to ban partial-birth abortions threatens all late-term procedures. But in my case, everyone said it was the right thing to do — even my Catholic father and Republican father-in-law.
This article provides another instructive example from 2004 published in the Boston Globe.

In this second case, the situation seems to be less clear cut since the birth of this child would have meant a short and very unacceptable quality of life for the child as judged by the parents.

In both cases there were voices which opposed the choices made by the parents. Reviewing both cases is useful in terms of gaining a more nuanced perspective on the ethical and moral issues involved and the struggles of these couples.

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Posted by on Oct 31, 2008

Synod on the Family: A Brief Summary

Marriage and Matrimony – Aren’t they the same thing?

Todd Alan Studio Designs

Todd Alan Studio Designs

In California this election year, we’re asked to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that claims to be for the “protection of marriage.” The proposition, in fact, is one that would take away the legal right of homosexual men and women to enter into the legal contract of marriage. The right was established earlier this year when the California Supreme Court ruled that laws to the contrary were un-Constitutional because they deprived same sex couples of equal protection under the law. (The Court found that domestic partnerships and civil unions did not provide all of the protections of legal marriage.) Proposition 8 is a constitutional amendment that would require a vote of 3/4 of the Legislature to overturn if at some later date we realize that it was a mistake to enact.

There have been a lot of arguments raised on both sides of the issue. Supporters of the proposition claim that marriage was established by God at the time of Adam and Eve, when they were instructed, in the second story of creation, to cling to each other and become one body. (Gen 2:24) In the first story of creation, the un-named humans were instructed to “Be fertile and multiply …” (Gen 1:28) The fact that the creation stories (two of them) in the book of Genesis were culturally based explanations of how things “came to be,” rather than historical or scientific accounts as we know them today, seems to be beside the point. Somehow, granting a legal right to share a life of committed love – with the rights, responsibilities and protections of marriage – to non-heterosexual couples is seen as a threat to the lives of commited love of heterosexual couples who have married.

I attended a wedding last weekend. It was a lovely ceremony that united a young man, of whom I am extremely fond and proud, with a young woman who has become dear to me as well. One of the things that really struck me about the wedding was the degree to which the legal, contractual nature of the marriage was obvious. As soon as the couple arrived before the sanctuary, the celebrant welcomed the assembled guests and quizzed them regarding potential reasons why the couple might not be legally married. He charged each of the two persons seeking to marry to speak out if either of them knew of any reason why they might not legally do so. Then he asked each individually if they had come freely and of their own will to be joined in marriage. Only once these requirements for entering into a legal contract had been established did he move into the prayers and readings of the service.

The ceremony included prayers and blessings for the couple and promises from the families and friends to help and support them in the life they were choosing to enter. The young man and his bride promised to love and care for each other, through all the ups and downs of life, for as long as they both should live. Only then were they allowed to enter into the sanctuary, offer each other their right hands in symbolic handshake on the contract, and pronounce their vows. They exchanged rings as a sign of their promises to each other. The celebrant blessed them and sent them forth out into the world and a new life together.

For this couple, the marriage ceremony included two elements: the legal, civil contract and the blessing of the church community. For many couples, the ceremony includes only the legal, civil contract. In many countries, couples who seek to marry do so in civil ceremonies. If they wish to receive the blessing of the Church, they then go to the parish and enter into the sacrament of Matrimony in another ceremony.

In the United States, we have allowed the combination of the civil and religious ceremonies into one. That, I believe, is a fundamental part of the confusion that has resulted in such controversy. We call both the legal, civil union of the two individuals and the sacrament of Matrimony by the same name – marriage.

Marriage, from the perspective of a social scientist, is a social arrangement developed by members of a culture to cement alliances between families, establish economic units, and provide for the procreation and nurturing of children. In corporate families (see my explanation of this term in another blog post), the head of the family makes the decision about who will marry whom. Those to be married do not necessarily have any choice in the matter. It is a legal contract between heads of families, not between the individuals to be married.

Christians have traditionally taken a somewhat different approach to the matter. Christian marriage, or Matrimony, is a sacrament of the physical love between a man and woman, the union of their hearts and lives and the image of the relationship between God and humans. It was not a rite that required the blessing of a priest as witness until sometime in the twelfth century. The man and woman are ministers of the sacrament to each other. Because men and women are understood to be equals in the sight of God, women have had more rights within Christian communities, at least in theory. The sacrament of Matrimony cannot be valid unless both parties consent to enter into the union. If there’s any lack of freedom or consent, the sacrament does not happen. The legal contractual aspect is null and void. The parties are free to enter into the sacrament with other parties. If the sacrament is judged to have been valid, the contract is upheld and regardless of what civil authorities might rule, the couple is not free to enter into the sacrament with other parties.

One argument against allowing homosexual marriages is that existing civil arrangements, such as “domestic partnerships” or “civil unions” confer the same protection under the law. In fact, since American law is based on precedents from cases dating back hundreds of years, there is no equivalent body of law supporting and/or establishing the legal protections for these unions that are part and parcel of the laws regarding marriage. Domestic partnerships and civil unions are not legally the same as marriages.

(On a related note – Many Catholics have been married in civil ceremonies when their first marriage, blessed by the Church, ended in legal divorce. Do we deny them the legal protections that come with civil marriage contracts when they again wish to enter a committed, loving life together? Should we offer them domestic partnerships or civil unions as their only option?)

Our American legal system is based on the English laws brought by the first colonists. The fact that so many of them were members of Calvinist religious faiths is also of importance in understanding the conflict surrounding homosexual marriage. John Calvin and his followers dropped most of the sacraments of the Church when they separated from the Roman Catholic Church. They kept only Baptism. Matrimony ceased to exist as a sacrament for them. Marriage became a matter of civil law only. That was the way it came to the United States and was enshrined into the law of the land. As an accommodation to those of other religious traditions, ministers of those faiths are legally allowed to serve as witnesses to the legal, civil contract. However, no one is required to have a minister bless his or her marriage. And equally important, no minister of any religious faith is required to bless, or even serve as witness to, the marriage of someone who does not qualify to marry under the laws of his or her faith tradition. That’s why we have a Justice of the Peace for civil ceremonies.  Yet religious communities rightly feel a responsibility to monitor, support and encourage couples who choose to enter into a married relationship. So even when they don’t recognize the sacrament of Matrimony, they want to establish rules to regulate marriage – mixing theology with legal protections.

The issues surrounding this question are complex. They go far beyond the questions of whether people choose their sexual orientation, whether certain behaviors are inherently sinful and whether the majority of adults are comfortable with sexual behaviors that differ from their own.

Legal systems are developed to protect the members of a society. Ideally they protect those with the least power, the minorities among us, those who are different or who cannot protect themselves – the Biblical “widows and orphans” or “God’s little ones.” As our understanding of human psychology and biology has developed and changed and as we’ve learned more about our universe and our place within it, Church teachings have changed. We no longer believe that slavery is OK. We insist that women and children are not the property of their families. We agree with Galileo that the Sun does not revolve around the Earth. And we are finding more and more evidence that sexual orientation is not a choice but rather is established before birth. If God created people not just as Adam and Eve, but also as Adam and Steve and Anna and Eve, who are we to deny them the same legal protections for their relationships and lives together as we grant to ourselves?

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Posted by on Oct 20, 2008

Synod on the Family: A Brief Summary

Fidelius and Diabolus: The Not So Gay Marriage Dialog

Image taken from

Image taken from

Diabolus: How’s it going?

Fidelius: You know we can’t talk – why do you persist?

Diabolus: That might be true if I were the Devil, but what if I’m your conscience?

Fidelius: There are no views but those of the Church.

Diabolus: True, but what about Church teaching, which acknowledges the “Sensus Fidelium” or Sense of the Faithful?

Fidelius: Stop bugging me Diabolus.

Diabolus: How do you know that’s my name?

Fidelius: You’re tempting me to think for myself. You’re torturing me.

Diabolus: No one can control your mind and heart. What’s bothering you?

Fidelius: I will take my counsel from my confessor, not from a post-Pepperoni heartburn!

Diabolus: “Pepperoni.” What a great name! Why don’t you call me that?

Fidelius: You are what you are.

Diabolus: And what is that?

Fidelius: The Tempter, the Evil One.

Diabolus: Have I ever suggested that you do anything wrong? Did I set your eye to wandering or encourage you to blow up when the Angels didn’t make the pennant?

Fidelius: Good people are tempted under the guise of good.

Diabolus: So, you’re a good person?

Fidelius: Yes. Generally, that is.

Diabolus: So then, why are you thinking about “it” again.

Fidelius: What “it”?

Diabolus: You know. Your conflict about gays.

Fidelius: They’re disgusting, you know that.

Diabolus: That’s not an uncommon opinion.

Fidelius: They make me squirm – and now they want to get married!

Diabolus: So, you think that it would be better to encourage them to stay with promiscuity as opposed to having a life of fidelity?

Fidelius: There can be nothing good in an act that is “intrinsically evil”.

Diabolus: So, you mean that you and Cynthia have never done anything “kinky”?

Fidelius: Shut up. We’re married.

Diabolus: My point exactly. You know, pleasure in marriage used to be called concupiscence.

Fidelius: What’s that?

Diabolus: You know – messed up like everything else after the fall of Adam and Eve.

Fidelius: So now you presume to teach me moral theology!

Diabolus: No. You learned it at that expensive Catholic college. Remember – the one you drank your way through?

Fidelius: Yeah, but it was after Vatican II. They weren’t Catholic anyway.

Diabolus: You mean like old Father Sullivan, who came to class in his cassock with the old yellowed pages on St. Thomas Aquinas?

Fidelius: He was different.

Diabolus: Yeah – he made you sweat to get a “C”. Not like the easy liberal that you gave you a “B+” for some beer can “sculpture” you threw together at the last minute.

Fidelius: Yeah, he was real.

Diabolus: Wasn’t he the guy that told you to have a happy sex life when you got married?

Fidelius: How do you know that? That was in confession!

Diabolus: Remember? I was there.

Fidelius: All I felt was so dirty.

Diabolus: You thought that he was going to throw the book at you.

Fidelius: Yeah, but he didn’t.

Diabolus: But there was a sin you didn’t confess.

Fidelius: What do you mean?

Diabolus: You remember. The time you stopped your fraternity brothers from beating up David Farnsworth, the fag?

Fidelius: He wasn’t gay – besides, “fag” isn’t politically correct.

Diabolus: Yeah. That’s why you found him dying in the AIDS ward a few years later at St. Mary’s, when you were helping the administration get their finances in order! A young guy out of business school and you go through the wrong door!

Fidelius: He never had a chance.

Diabolus: What do you mean? We all have free will. We all make choices.

Fidelius: His only moral choice was not to have sex.

Diabolus: He could have had a partner. You know – spend their lives together and all that? Maybe adopt a kid?

Fidelius: It would have been one mortal sin piled on another. He’d be deeper in Hell than he is now.

Diabolus: You don’t believe that.

Fidelius: Well, I heard Fr. Sullivan got to him before it was too late. But Purgatory’s no picnic.

Diabolus: So why did you pay for the Plenary Indulgence for him?

Fidelius: I didn’t pay for it. I just made an offering.

Diabolus: Strange. All this good will. Did you have a thing for this guy?

Fidelius: He was a guy. Got it? Like anybody. He deserved some decency, some respect.

Diabolus: But not a home.

Fidelius: He wasn’t homeless. He was making good money as an attorney.

Diabolus: No one to come home to; just work, parties, the bars …

Fidelius: He knew marriage was for straights. He was a good Catholic.

Diabolus: Yeah right. A gay can be a good Catholic; as likely as the Good Samaritan.

Fidelius: The Samaritan was real.

Diabolus: Maybe – or was he just a way for Jesus to show up the “good” people who had no compassion?

Fidelius: We can’t encourage gay culture. We’d be undermining the family; the basis of society.

Diabolus: Right. We can’t encourage a culture of life and fidelity.

Fidelius: It’s wrong. Remember, God made Adam and Eve – not Adam and Steve.

Diabolus: An interesting piece of demagoguery, but it doesn’t seem very compassionate.

Fidelius: The kids’ll get the wrong idea. They’ll think it’s okay.

Diabolus: Is that why so many gay people hate themselves?

Fidelius: It’s not my problem.

Diabolus: David became your problem when you saved him from that pack of apes.

Fidelius: I would have done it for anybody. Nobody deserves that kind of hate.

Diabolus: So where do you stop on this slippery slope?

Fidelius: It’s easy. The Church says, don’t beat ’em up but don’t let ’em get married.

Diabolus: That’s why you and Cynthia have only 3 kids – after 20 years?

Fidelius: We couldn’t have afforded more kids. You know that. With Cynthia’s problems it probably would have killed her.

Diabolus: So you love your wife more than God?

Fidelius: There’s a difference between God and the Church.

Diabolus: So who’s being the Devil now?

Fidelius: It’s in the Apostles Creed… “I believe in God, the Father Almighty.” Toward the end it says “I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.”

Diabolus: Conscience. That weasel thing you picked up from those liberal priests!

Fidelius: It was a Vatican II thing. I had to write a paper on it.

Diabolus: So you did learn something!

Fidelius: Only because Fr. Sullivan made me re-write it 3 times.

Diablolus: I can’t imagine St. Thomas being on the side of conscience. He was a real theologian – and a saint.

Fidelius: Yeah. It’s a big thing for him – like it was for those Moslems philosophers he studied.

Diabolus: They only blow up stuff.

Fidelius: Conscience. You know – “formed according to the teaching of the Church.”

Diabolus: So why did Aquinas end up on the list of forbidden books so long?

Fidelius: He was accused of subjecting God to human reason.

Diabolus: Well I gotta go. Time “to prowl about seeking the ruin of souls”.

Fidelius: What about me?

Diabolus: You’re hopeless!

Fidelius: Hopeless?

Diabolus: Just the opposite, I’m afraid. No sale here today.

Fidelius: What about gay marriage?

Diabolus: Deciding that by a crowd? I like lynchings. Remember? But you know, it’s not my thing. You should look at that WMD “weapons of mass destruction” bracelet you wear.

Fidelius: It’s WWJD! What would Jesus do?

Diabolus: Yeah. I wonder. Later dude.. out’a here..

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Posted by on Feb 14, 2008

Synod on the Family: A Brief Summary

Valentine’s Day Reflections 2008


February 14 is Valentine’s Day, a day focused on love. Marketers have been promoting their products for several weeks now – trying to convince us that their particular product is the best possible way to say “I love you” to that special someone in our lives. And lots of us will buy something to express our love for those special people with whom we share our lives.

I remember one year when I received a waffle iron for Valentine’s Day. The women at the shop where my husband was getting his hair cut were horrified that he would get a small kitchen appliance for me. But he was right – I was thrilled. I love waffles and the old waffle iron I’d gotten 10 years earlier at a garage sale had finally broken – metal fatigue. It was a wonderful gift. We had waffles for dinner that night!

Valentine’s Day is a feast whose origins are found in legends about holy men who lived long ago. We don’t know much about St. Valentine, or even which man he actually was – there were several Valentines who were martyred in ancient days. The name means worthy and was popular in Roman times.

Many of the traditions related to Valentine’s day had their origins in the Middle Ages. It was believed then that birds began to choose their mates in mid-February, so the day seemed appropriate for celebrating romantic love. Fr. James McSweeney, on his website, has a couple of lovely pieces about St. Valentine and love today.

Another essay I found this morning is by Timothy Chambers, a philosophy teacher at the University of Hartford in Connecticut. He talks about love potions mentioned in old legends and about what is really necessary for love – the stuff that can’t come out of a bottle. Of course, physical attraction is important in human love (and it might conceivably be produced by a “love potion”), but even more important are memories of happy times together, trust and faith in the beloved and the free choice to love in bad times as well as in the good times.

My wish for you today is that you know love. A love deeper than the sea and higher than the sky. The love that fills your being with the unshakeable certainty that nothing can ever come between you and the Lover, between you and your Creator. You are loved and loveable because you were loved into existence and are held in existence by that same love. Just as you are. With all your gifts and faults. You are loved.

Peace be with you. Now and always. Happy Valentine’s Day.

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Posted by on Dec 31, 2007

Synod on the Family: A Brief Summary

The Feast of the Holy Family


The Feast of the Holy Family falls on the Sunday between Christmas and the Feast of Mary, Mother of God, January 1. The readings for the day focus on qualities that make for happy relationships between people, including members of families.

Sometimes when we focus on the Holy Family as the model for family life, we get bogged down with the perfection of Jesus and Mary, the holiness of St. Joseph, and the impossibility of actually living a perfect life ourselves. Then we write off their example as just another bit of pious nonsense that has nothing to do with the reality of crying babies, mortgage payments, difficult bosses, and all the other stresses that come with marriage and family. For those who are not married and/or don’t have children, the feast can seem irrelevant or even be a painful reminder of unfulfilled hopes.

So, I find myself wondering, what is it that makes a family, any family, “holy?” It seems to me that if the Holy Family is to be a model for the rest of us, that must mean that we are also to be “holy.” What made them holy?

Being holy does not mean having no problems or challenges in life. Holiness, it seems to me, lies in how we handle those difficulties that come in every life. After all, without the problems, difficulties, challenges, “crashes,” struggles, “hitting bottom,” or whatever we call it, we would never need to turn to God for help. We could just continue blithely on our way, assuming everything is fine, and in the best American cultural sense, be “rugged individuals” who can make it on our own.

But that isn’t what the spiritual life and journey are all about. Our spiritual lives are about learning from our mistakes, growing in wisdom, reaching out for help and community, being purified in God’s love, so that we can run joyfully to the Lord at the end of our days.

When we look at the lives of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, we find that they were filled from the beginning with many of the same challenges faced by other families. An unexpected, unplanned pregnancy, one outside the marriage; governmental demands that upset a family’s plans; taxes; inconvenient timing of a birth; the necessity to leave home and become refugees in another land; a child who feels grown up enough to go off on his own at the age of 12 without telling anyone where he’ll be; the death of a spouse or parent; a child whose life choices and career don’t meet the expectations of the family or community; the untimely death of a child. All these things were part of the lives of the Holy Family, as they can be part of our own lives. What made Joseph, Mary and Jesus holy as a family was their response to these challenges and their loving support of each other through them.

Joseph’s first recorded response to Mary’s pregnancy was compassion. He did not want to expose her to the penalties of the Law. He loved her and wanted her to be safe. When the angel told him in a dream that Mary had not been unfaithful, he accepted her as his wife. He made a home with her and supported her through the pregnancy and birth. He took her and Jesus to safety in Egypt, again following the instructions received in a dream. When it was safe, he took them back to their home in Nazareth cared for them and made a home for them.

Both Mary and Joseph must have “pondered” many things along the way. Many things did not make sense at the time. They really didn’t know what God had in mind. Jesus was a normal child. He had to learn how to be a man and how to respect and love the people around him. Mary and Joseph taught him by their actions as well as their words, just as we teach our children more by the way we act than by our words. It’s no surprise that people in families tend to share many gestures, facial expressions, attitudes and beliefs. The Holy Family would not have been different in this. The characteristics we seen recorded about Jesus were probably in great part those he learned from his parents.

In this week following the Feast of the Holy Family, as we enter a new calendar year, I hope we can take their lives as ones that exemplify the kind of relationships that result from heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love (Col 3:12-17). These qualities are not ones that stem primarily from feelings, but rather they are attitudes and behavioral choices to which we are all called.

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Posted by on Nov 14, 2007

Synod on the Family: A Brief Summary

What’s in A Word? – To Divorce and Forgive?


R. Rafael Pozos – my oldest son, string bassist, web programmer, and linguist – had an interesting comment on my post about Evangelicals rethinking divorce.

“Interestingly enough, Greek uses the same verb ‘aphiami’ for divorce and to forgive. It implies a very forceful leaving or remission. It’s what the apostles do to their boats and to their families when they go to follow Jesus, as well as what happens when a man dismisses his woman (no term for wife in antiquity really) , and also when an obligation is dismissed. Therefore, it is one loaded word.”

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