Sunday, November 16, 2014

Concerns over Cohabitation

With so many pivotal questions on the church's table at present, it is certain that the most monumental of all challenges is that of finding the wisdom to bridge the intent of Christ with the modern concerns of caring for His sheep.As this is no small task, and certainly one too complex to be adequately addressed by my politically dis-inclined mind, I am nonetheless compelled to explore the topic because of the great injustice it is to find such impediments to the sacramental life.

It is widely reported that many couples today are not marrying, choosing to cohabitate instead without the "slip of paper" simply because there are so many financial (survival) obstacles that come with it.
I will say up front,that as far as cohabitation is concerned from a theological standpoint, I borrow a bit from Pope Francis' book the line,  "I remain a "loyal daughter of the church."

I also admit that there are serious, practical obstacles in our modern world that make choosing traditional marriage unduly difficult.These need to change if we as catholics hope to, as St. Augustine says, "build the City of God."

(It also must be affirmed that financial issues are not the only reasons cited for the as to why we are cohabitating in greater numbers.It is also true that my millennial generation suffers from an inoordinate fear of commitment,comorbidly believing,among other things, that one must have vast sexual experiences before settling down
But that is another article.)

I merely propose for timely consideration how secular "marriage" laws have created many varying and valid concerns which are so foreign to the Church's view of matrimony, that we now have the conundrum of copious "irregular situations."
We train the best of our theologians to go to task representing the church to the world in  this game of Intellektual Gymnastics. This is no true game however, as very real people are the ones invested,having placed their bets on these integral players needed to build an emergency bridge between the ideals which the church exists to uphold and the society where her faithful live under dual citizenship(even though temporarily.)
For instance...
Elderly folks lose much of their Social security benefits simply by signing a civil marriage license.
Impoverished mothers lose even more of their public assistance benefits if she is blessed enough to actually have a man commit to her and her children.
And, for those who would like to be married in the church but are without a civil marriage license, the church will not witness their sacramental marriage,as if there could be no sacrament without Ceasar's approval.This is truly tragic.

With the well-known financial impact of fewer job opportunities, higher student debt, and the fallout of the recessed economy, many people are not considered by others to be "good candidates" for civil marriages (simply) because of  financial baggage.They cannot "afford" their God given vocation.
In these all too common situations, many people would otherwise civially marry but unfortunately, there are often complicated reasons for not doing so that were not part of our cultural landscape in years past.
It just seems to me a terrible injustice that one should be pressured by fears of losing health insurance,Veteran's benefits, or other means of survival into forgoing their vocation which is very truly one's "means of salvaton."
In these instances, marriage becomes the opposite of what it is meant to be.Matrimony becomes,quite like children have, a liability rather than an asset.

As the question is asked over and over, "What can we do to help' the family?'" -we may consider spending our time doing research to find practical ways of re-orienting society towards making it more conducive to healthy marriages and family life .
We need family- friendly laws.We need just wages.We need paid maternity leave for mothers and fathers.We need more ethical business practices.We need...a lot more that I wish I knew how to identify to convey my point here.

We live in a time where the incentives for cultivating family life have lacked the trendiness so characteristic of the modern civil law making of the past couple generations. Instead, the popular mantras of the collective media consumer have been focused on the rights of the" individual" but not for the building up the individual to be stronger members of the community.Rather, the individual's right (to do anything they choose ..fill in the blank) comes at the great expense of what is good for the community.Thus, paradoxically, the intrinsic needs of the individual suffer in the end from a lack of strong communities.

I do not presume to have the answers as to how we ought to go about building these bridges between doing on earth as it would be in Heaven (as it would be in Eden) and how it is being done in a neo-pagan society. I can only offer, for what it is worth, that if Rome wants to aid catholics in their individual vocations and encourage marriage for the greater good, it would be advantageous to remember how the landscape of civil marriage punishes those who desire to approach the Altar of the Lord with practices that are based on ideologies of a false freedom.A freedom can hardly be called such when the only "freedom" that is protected is that which ensures the individual can do as they wish.

Matrimony cannot be as God intended it to be-the building block of society- until society begins to rebuild the honor due to God's most basic,stabilizing and natural union.
To be continued...

Monday, November 3, 2014

Of Hypocrites and Holiness: the Struggle for the Survival of the Ideal in our Institutions

In this world, the tired moniker attributed to anyone who claims to uphold a moral standard but who cannot live that standard perfectly is  "hypocrite."
Obviously, all of us want to see the integration of our authority figures:our  leaders,governing bodies, and even our first teachers-our parents-"practice what they preach." It is as imperative to the mission of any institution as it is to evangelization and catechesis within the family.
But is this stringent notion of perfection possible in a fallen world?
To say no is discouraging, and to say yes is woefully disappointing.
But, if not, what does this say about how we govern the church, with all its very challenging moral standards that strike the Gentiles of day (and the faithful alike) as rigorously opposed to their moral malaise?
We are all on our way to holiness, and, in the meantime it is we same folk that are bequeathed the necessary social institutions that characterize a civil society.
As an idealist with enough disillusion to make me peppered with a certain bit of realism-I sometimes question my own expectation of perfect integrating my beliefs and actions.
In society, we blame church leaders and politicians for constantly professing a law that even they seem to not believe is possible to attain.
Does that make them "hypocrites?"
All too often this is in fact, the most applicable term and we should not be afraid to apply this word when necessary.
However, analogously, as a parent there has been many a time the words coming out of my mouth as I instruct my children serve to sear my conscience because I know I am asking more of my kids than I expect of myself and imposing standards that I cannot even master.
Some parents think that they cannot ask their kids to do something they would not do.It is with this fear of having "hypocrite" thrown at them that we have lost many a parents' authoritative voice,and thus, have an epidemic of undisciplined youth.Some of these youth are now the adults, these authority figures....
It is in fact a great safeguard God has built into parenthood-this desire to challenge our kids to the very best-because in effort to not be hypocrites, we are continually challenged ourselves every time we admonish our children.
We demand greatness and because of that, we must ourselves aspire to it as well.
But what happens when the authority figure misses the mark?
I have asked the question myself  whether any authoritative body,whether it be  judges at city hall or parents at the dinner table, should even expect integration of our idealistic laws because to do so would either cause the demise of authoritative bodies as they "come down to realistic level" or it would cause a posturing of triumphalistic phariseeism in the ordinary folk who would be aspiring to appease authority they are subject to.
How do we avoid the breakdown of authority if authority cannot live in continuity with what they impose on their subjects?
Being that we need to uphold the authoritative infastructures of society because their importance outweigh even the accusations leveled at them, it seems there is no way around the that dissonance that routinely separates ideal and reality.
Perhaps the better question is if we should allow authorities to *make*  laws based on our weaknesses and our almost certain moral failures? Or if we continue to make rules that are out of the reach of those subject to them?  
As frustrated as I become with myself and with the sometimes careless, "true" hypocrisy of institutions around me, I have asked too what would happen to authority as we know it if institutions over time changed laws to reflect current laxity of our mediocre, depressed culture?
This approach would never cease to erode society.
And very quickly it would accomplish anarchy.
This decisive time is coming in our age as it has to so many other great nations before us and yet the Dionysian intuitive calls out from the inmost core of us all when we see the rational Appolonian distort his own virtues into placing the law above human good.
The question must remain always active within the sphere of its interpretation, but never go so far as to corrode the the principle on which the law is based.Laws may be changed because a new application of it becomes necessary, but when the proposed new law is directly contrary to the principle virtue of its parent law, we have rupture, not continuity.
Authentic development of both civil and ecclesial law comes as result of understanding  how to apply principles to a constituency who is far from the mind of their leadership,not changing the principles because no one can live up to it.Any new interpretations should foster momentum *towards* the virtue of a just, preceeding law.
The institutions we serve will endure long after we are charged with the responsibility to uphold them.We serve something greater than ourselves.
And often, in the name of mercy, we aim to placate mediocrity when we ignore what is known about the trajectory of human behavior and the likely outcome of natural human tendencies.Instead of allowing the failure to be named what it is, left understood and dealt with as an exception rather than the rule, we lower the proverbial bar and diminish the imagination of our youth by vaccinating them against utilizing their natural (and supernatural) aspirations for greatness.
Authorities both secular and in the church have a responsibility greater than many of its lay citizens can ever imagine.Certainly there are those who are two-faced, who speak out both sides of their mouths and then laugh about how they manage to pull it all off over tea.
These are hypocrites; persons who could never learn how to authentically interpret laws because they cannot even integrate their own rationale and behavior.Hypocrites do not uphold the law simply because they do not care to.

Then there are those of us who are simply poor mortals serving something greater than us and timeless; who care deeply for what they serve and give all they can until they have given it all.These servants who strive in good conscience to reform what within their institution is sour because they believe in its overall goodness.They are not hypocrites.
Instead of leveling this overly used accusations against,well-everyone, perhaps we should consider that some service occupations demand more than any human can consistently live..and these occupations endure because those serving them give all they can in their corner of the world and in their time until their efforts simply exhaust or affect change if necessary.
Let us admire the latter for what they did give to society for as long as they could give it.Because of them, ideals endure beyond their own time and place.
Those of us who are parents have our own authority to uphold.It challenges us to be consistent when we rule mightily over our kids'eating habits while still bringing soda in the house for ourselves.The kids will inevitably accuse mom of not doing as she pontificates, and, if mom loves her kids enough to want them to eat better, this will motivate mom to change.This lifts up the struggling sloth within all of us rather than instilling our sloth in our kids.
While we would do well to remember all persons of authority serve some institution greater than the individual who happens to be presently in the office of service,we also should know that our institutions will only fair as well as the authorities materialize the values they uphold with their lives.
And so the structures of our institutions must remain conservative in its demands while still dealing with individuals on an individual basis.

I have learned the importance of upholding the image of a strong institution whenever possible-whether it be marriage, church, state, or schools.
And I continue to learn the hard way how to be the most authentic interpreter of the values necessary in my own family institution.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Wisdom Attend-Quote Oswald Chambers

"No man by mere high human wisdom would dare undertake a step for Jesus’ sake unless he knows that the Holy Spirit has directly spoken to him; and until He comes, I shall not go."  -Oswald Chambers

Monday, October 6, 2014

Wisdom Attend-Quote East and West

The West could stand to begin valuing their own history which
is too full of iconographic worship and incarnational and communal catechesis written into it's liturgy, if we could but excavate it.

"Even apart from the liturgy, church life in the East has never become an exclusively clerical preserve. Lay theologians and preachers, permanent deacons and subdeacons, lay representation in the government of the Church are all common. And the Eastern clergyman, generally married, does not belong to a social class above his flock. Go into any Greek village in the cool of a summer evening, and you will find the local papashaving an ouzo with the men of his flock, a villager distinguishable from his fellows only in coiffure and dress. Chanceries in the East are always overflowing with the laity, peasant and merchant as well as dignitary, who have come to seek a favor, redress a grievance, or to pay their respects.

This inevitably has its effect on worship, which in the East has remained a true leitourgia or public service of the whole community. Hence there is no question of any need for a ‘liturgical movement’ to bring the piety of the people back to its source in the prayer of the Church. The East has never known the separation of spirituality, theology and ecclesiology from liturgy, with the consequent denigration of piety into individualism finding its expression in private prayer, meditation, and devotions in the face of inaccessible, clericalized public rites.

Present strenuous efforts in the West to forge once again the link between individual piety and the public prayer of the Church highlight the case with which Easterners situate their spiritual life within the cadre of liturgical prayer. If we were to ask Eastern Christians which of their devotions were “private” and which “liturgical”, they would not know what we were talking about. It is all one: popular piety is liturgy, the very life of the local church."

– Robert Taft, SJ. “The Spirit of Eastern Christian Worship” in Beyond East and West: Problems in Liturgical Understanding. 2nd ed. (Rome: Pontifical Oriental Institute, 2001), 153

Playing with Fire: Exploring the Proper Role of Conscience in the Christian Life


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  In our lived experience, the human person is constantly seeking answers to difficult questions and uncovering deeper truths – axioms, moral codes, proverbs – that serve as guideposts for a good life.  Experience further demonstrates that, no matter how hard we try, we do not have all the answers we long for all on our own.  In the search for truth, both on the communal and individual level, we discover that that we must have a voice of prominent authority to be submitted to; a voice which we must obey.

As Catholic Christians, we know that the revelation of truth does not consist in a majority vote.  Morality is not invented in democracy, after all, but emanates from divine revelation found in Scripture and Tradition.  In all things, the Christian soul listens for the voice of the Holy Spirit.  In humility, we seek to be guided by an authority greater than ourselves.  However, on a communal level, when we are questioning the virtuous application of a moral principle because the morality of a proposed action is not known to be inarguably and explicitly definitive, there indeed must be prudential decisions made. 

In the objective arena of the Church, these decisions and discernments are made through the Apostles' successors, the bishops, in communion with the Holy Father.  Through them the Spirit resides and leads the Church.  We adhere to the voice of the Holy Spirit resounding throughout those entrusted with the Episcopacy.  When teachings are promulgated, the faithful trust Christ's promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church. Because even the church herself has commented on her own bounds of imposing authority, it is important that we understand too the degree to which our assent is expected. A conflict in conscience regarding God’s very existence is quite distinct from one’s questioning the decision of a diocesan marriage tribunal.Still, there are times our own internal voice simply differs from those beliefs to which we have been accustomed.  When a discerning conscience arrives at a crossroads in which it must either adhere to the prescribed norm or diverge from it, a sincere heart wants to know if he is truly being led by the Spirit or the self.It is a naive soul that may think they are objective and unbiased in their search for truth.

 The human person can rarely be said to have a clearly defined distance from their own interest.  Yet how do we know if our momentum in a conviction that is contrary to a norm is authentically the Spirit stirring us to help affect the change of a wayward law or if our objections indicate mere licentiousness?In our soul searching, we often desperately wish God would just make clear the questions we have and the answers we seek so we can just obey and feel safe in an assured right path to salvation.  

But heaven is not like this.  To grow closer to God requires ongoing, living, breathing attentiveness and being actively receptive to the promptings of the Spirit within us.  There are questions and deliberations of conscience we just cannot place under the bushel basket; things that never let us off our internal hook.  When faced with a conflict between what our consciences propose and the Church defines, how do we know which voice to listen to?

In as much as we can speculate about the authenticity of our own claiming conscientious objection to Church teaching or discipline, there are a few questions we could ask to discern if our objections to a particular norm is the result of the Spirit leading us to be used as instrument to bring forth authentic change to Christ's body or merely license to dissent for personal motivation. 

 1. Do we desire a change in everything we object to merely to support our own personal affairs?

2. Would we still believe if the conviction did not support an immediate benefit to our own lives any longer?  If the act was of no personal benefit whatsoever would we still defend its rightfulness?

3. Just how many divergences do we have?  How many issues can one really have before one crosses the line into almost being completely at odds with a given set of laws?  At some point, one passes over from prayerful discernment and questioning into separating oneself from the Body.

4. Am I merely having trouble articulating what I firmly believe or can I not explain it because I have no valid argument to start with?  (Just because someone cannot articulate or defend their belief does not discredit the belief itself.)

Without the controversial "conscience clause"  we would have a very different faith as we know it.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church says in paragraph 1790 that “A human being must always obey the certain judgement of his conscience.If he were to deliberately act against it, he would condemn himself.” Before we can come close to feeling justfied in doing so however, we must take a good, long  look at how formed or uninformed are we on moral matters.How much prayer, research and counsel have we sought out? Even these things alone cannot save one from the risk of acting outside the norm.Yet, for good or ill, there is something to be said for the importance of valuing the gift of conscience given to us in accord with our Creator’s respect for our free will.

Many saints followed their conscience through the sorrow of anathemas into exile only to be vindicated long after their death.  If it were not for a small group of faithful who defended Christ's divinity, under the leadership of Saint Athanasius, it is likely the Church (if it managed to persevere as an entity) would be a mere fan club of some gifted homilist named Jesus. 

Perhaps most notably is our recalling that the apostles had no special decree from God, no secret knowledge which told them explicitly that Jesus was God.They had only their faith; their conscience to tell them, for some mysterious reason, they should follow this man anywhere, come what may. History is filled with stories of others who have balanced heroic courage, authentic humility, and obedience to their conscience and who consequently suffered ridicule.  We are all deeply in their debt.

All things work for those who truly act with His will utmost in their mind, and because of these heroes our church has rooted out many an evil we wish we could erase from our Christian history.Therefore, it is no little thing to have to consider what our conscience may positing to us.It is a commonly understood refrain that one cannot be condemned for sinning if they are obedient to the church..even if the church ends up later in time to rescind a particular judgement or directive given.One's obedience in doubt is sufficient to absolve them.   

However, one definition of hell that sums up, albeit abstractly, the Christian soul's journey in life suggests that hell is "the chosen fate for those rejecting graces and promptings of God to them." And, in times of discernment, I am reminded of how many good changes that could not have come about without the response to a radical call to courageous virtue.  I admit it is unsettling in this earthly life to have no one telling you what to do and how to do it to attain salvation.

But if one believes in the Christian testament at all, it is to believe in one certain thing: those souls acting on sincere, good will would never place themselves outside of heaven.  As C.S. Lewis encouraged, "It is safe to say that only the pure of heart can see God, for only the pure of heart want to."  It is not only safe for one's own soul to obey the church, but good to do so.  No saint would simply call for any rebellion for the sake of itself, as this is more worshiping a statue made of salt than it is being a salt for the earth.  But sometimes, the letter of a given law undermines the spirit of that law to the point of a ridiculous and ineffective obscurity and sincere discernment must be undertaken.  

There is no lack of issues worthy of debate in our own church nor in our culture at large.Whether we are toe-to-toe with our brethren regarding preferences in liturgical worship or the laxity of tribunals hearing annulment petitions to abortion and euthanasia,our conscience serves as something of a window to the Spirit. A misinformed conscience may be like a dirty window, yet it is not our duty to ignore it, rather to cleanse it before we listen again.It is a sixth sense given to be used, developed continually and respected.And though the commission in the very catechism itself behooves us not only to pay attention to our conscience, but to form it rightly with a duty to follow it, this appeal to conscience in gray areas of faith has become a divisive issue in the Body of Christ.Some say our authentic conscience would never prompt an action contrary to what the Magesterial teaching obliges us to, and if it does, this is a sign that our conscience is misinformed, or worse-the prompting of a sinister spirit is at work.Conscientious objection becomes written off as a mantra for those invoking loopholes to excuse sin.Indeed this can very well be true.

While these perennial battles for authenticity abound in the the church, it does remind us that the rule of faith and teachings found in the Catechism itself, encyclicals, and other such authoritative guidance that seek to preserve the objective truths of the faith, do so on a basis unaccompanied and uncompromised by pastoral concerns of application to individual persons.It is critical for the faithful to understand the moral and ecclessial imperatives in this light, lest we run the risk of both undermining both the letter of the law and the spirit of it as well.It is imperative to have faithful pastors who interpret the letter of the law to see that the spirit is best kept without seeking to alter gospel principles.This local and personal synthesis of the faith is best achieved in intimate communication and relationship with our local Bishops,confessors,and advising pastors.

As catholics, we are accustomed to (and rightfully so) look for guidance in the written words of the church when a discerning conscience propels us to do so, and we as laity must especially never neglect the importance of the interpreting of these "rules" by the shepherds given to us by Jesus for this explicit purpose to teach, govern, and sanctify.The objective must be upheld at the same time that the individual remains the priority.

In trying to get to the heart of the matter in our discernment, we must seek to uphold what is ideal without tainting or changing it, in name or otherwise, all the while accepting that we live in an imperfect world that will never reflect in perfect actuality these ideals we strive for and profess.To become saints is not to pose in perfection but to acknowledge we have "missed the mark" when we have,and to also raise awareness of those issues which may not be specified as clearly as could be in church teaching, thereby in themselves having defected from Jesus' true intent in giving them.

Deeper insights into teachings have always been brought about by the Spirit leading one authentically to explore further what was handed to us through divine revelation.Much of the conservatism lauded today is the progressive's success of yesterday.Ongoing, organic development of the revealed,objective directives and principles must be applied to imperfect recipients without compromising either the letter or the spirit of the law.

As a soul in the discernment process, we take all of this into account. 

Some say that one plays with fire when risking the soul in any digression of conscience.  Indeed, we do play with fire.  However, presuming we have taken dutiful pains in praying, silently listening to God, seeking guidance, and forming our conscience to the best of our ability, we really cannot do much more than hope we are playing with the fire that is none other than the Holy Spirit himself.

In our discernment, we would do well to remember the obedience and the courage of one very scared young woman, a Virgin dedicated to the temple who, at the Spirit's direct invitation, indeed played dangerously with "Fire."  

Mary’s hearing, seeing, and subsequent “Fiat” to the Archangel Gabriel would be the modern day equivalent to the girl next door having what one would call a “vision” of sorts; an experience unable to be explained by ordinary human logic.This experience was one wherein she was sure that she was to say “Yes” to something that would appear to others to be scandalous.What is more, she had to have enough trust in the fact that what she was hearing was of God to begin with. How many of us have had the same experiences, where we knew we would be chastised or mocked for such a thing that could not be understood by others?

Mary answered that proposal. 

She not only was faithful to her promises to the temple, she became the temple..
the sanctuary of our living God.  

Let us pray, listening to the Spirit, discerning wisely before the Blessed Sacrament, with the obedience and courage of Mary.If we must play with fire,let us do so employing our faith and our reason. This is the best hope one has in the challenge of discerning the Fire of the Holy Spirit from mere smoke and mirrors.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Wisdom Attend-Quote

A man who is eating or lying with his wife or preparing to go to sleep in humility, thankfulness and temperance, is, by Christian standards, in an infinitely higher state than one who is listening to Bach or reading Plato in a state of pride.  -C.S.Lewis

Tres cool dudes. :*)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

In this Veil of Tears...

"Heaven is no further from the eye
than is the sun veiled with clouds,passing by.
What you love will become your bond-
do you mourn to the veil, or see beyond?"