Adoration, America and Healing: How America can be healed on the 44th remembrance of Roe vs. Wade.
This homily is mostly about St. Joseph. Song bookending homily is Te Ioseph Celebrent (courtesy of the Benedictine Nuns of Ephesus.)
This is a talk I gave tonight on the Cardinals confrontation of Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia. It is canonical, not prophetic. It is based on public revelation, not private revelation.
I asked a close friend to write about his experience with same-sex attraction. His life reflects a poem by William Blake:
And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love,
And these black bodies and this sun-burnt face.
—The Little Black Boy
Each of us has different set of beams of love to bear, so I’m sure that you’ll find his life an inspiration.—Fr. Dave
I am a child of a God. I am a traditional Roman Catholic. I am a traditional Roman Catholic, a child of God who has same-sex attraction.
I have known that I was different since I was young. Ironically, while these confusing feelings were just entering my life, I had discovered the pearl of great price – I had discovered Jesus Christ. I wish I could say that, having discovered Christ, God has removed same-sex attraction and made me “normal.” He has not. This is neither a testimony about someone who experienced such profound healing that he struggles no more. But neither is it the story of the one who tried religion, failed, and rushed into the lifestyle. I am a child of God who has same-sex attraction and desires not necessarily healing but holiness. True and lasting healing will only come in eternity; but holiness starts here on earth.
True and lasting healing will come only in eternity; but holiness starts here on earth.
I have accepted the fact that this will be a struggle I have for the rest of my life. But this struggle for chastity is no different than the personal struggle that you may be dealing with in your life. The choice is before us every day – will I choose Christ and His love or will I choose that which is counterfeit? It is easy to make my struggle my primary identity, but I see it as only one aspect of my life. It does not define me.
My acceptance of my cross is not one that I embrace simply because it is a cross. A friend of mine recently said to me – I don’t know if it was an attempt to identify with my struggles – that she loved suffering. I recoiled from that statement. I did not ask for this cross. However, I embrace my cross because Christ calls me to pick up my cross and follow Him. I embrace my cross not out of self-pity but because I have experienced His love.
In Bishop Robert Barron’s new series, Catholicism: Pivotal Players, one learns that before St. Francis of Assisi received the stigmata, he prayed for two things – that he would experience the full passion and death of his Savior and, most importantly, that he would feel within himself the love that Christ had to do this major act of sacrifice. St. Francis did not morbidly ask for suffering alone; the joy in his suffering was only because of his union with Christ, and only because of Christ’s love.
A number of years ago, I had gone to a charismatic renewal conference. Although I had gone to Confession, I still beat myself up for the sins that I repented of but in the deepest recesses of my heart, I sincerely believed that God could not forgive me of such sins tied in with my struggles. After reception of Holy Communion, I calmly walked back to my seat and thoughts of past sins rushed through my mind. I cried out to the Lord, asking why, at this most sacred moment, my mind was reminding me of the worse things I had ever done. And He spoke in a still small voice. With each passing scene, I heard “And I loved you even then.” Tears welled up within me, and I truly believe I experienced the gift of tears. Christ loved me in the midst of my sin (Romans 5:8). I often think of Our Lord’s relationship with St. Peter, and how Jesus saw through the sin of Peter’s life to call Him time and again to the greatness to which he was called. Peter definitely did not change overnight, but he proved his love in the end.
For those who have same-sex attraction, there is an ever persistent fear that one will never experience love if one seeks to obey the Church’s teaching. Love in our much confused society is almost always identified with sexual expression, and yet even the Catechism says that sexuality is an expression of a person’s totality of love, including that of friendship. (CCC 2332 1). Human persons were not created for sex per se, but they were created for love and to love rightly. St. Augustine, that prodigal son who cried out that the Lord would grant Him chastity but just not yet, also said: “Set love in order in me.” (City of God XV.22) Those who authentically embrace chastity do so because they have experienced true love, and are encouraged to love others rightly.
As the years have passed, I have become more open about my struggles with same-sex attraction with close friends, most of whom are actively involved in the Faith. Whereas before the very mention of my struggle would cause me to tear up, it instead has provided an opportunity for my friends to show me authentic love. In truth, it was revelation of my struggles to Fr. Dave that has eventually led to writing this article. And, perhaps with a touch of divine humor and irony, I find myself often talking about same-sex attraction and helping others, without necessarily revealing my own struggles with this cross.
A good friend of mine who came out of the lifestyle and is now living a full and chaste life told me that the beginning of his conversion was when someone else he knew was gay told him it was possible to be chaste. That brief witness would eventually lead to his conversion back to the Catholic Church. He is a now a young man in his 20s living for Christ.
Please know that if you are someone who has same-sex attraction, I am praying for you – not that we necessarily be “healed” (though God is certainly capable of this) but that we would encounter authentic and transformative Love in Jesus Christ, and through His Church strive to live holiness in chastity. All I ask is that you would pray for me as well. God loves us so much, but He loves us too much to leave us where we are at.
“Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others.” ↩
“How to be a better father” is a talk I gave to men last night. It’s based on St. Peter’s first letter to his own men.
…”to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.”—Luke 1:17
I know this isn’t the most romantic question on father’s day, but as a spiritual father to biological fathers, I think you’ll find this very encouraging by the end of the article.
First, we must understand that it is God who forms the bond of a sacramental marriage when two people in freedom say “I do” and consummate the sacrament that night.
Secondly, what is often called “an annulment” among Catholics is actually better described as a “declaration of nullity.” When a forlorn couple asks their diocese to investigate if they were ever married, the diocese may find real problems and declare it “null.” These problems have to be pre-existent (before the wedding) because a declaration of nullity is basically when the diocese says to the couple: “In our best guess, you never had the ability at the altar on your wedding day needed to consent in freedom to a sacrament.” Notice that this is not an efficacious act, since Jesus said: “What man has put together, let no man put asunder.”—Mark 10:9. Rather, it’s a “best guess.” So, the couple is free to go marry someone else in good conscience, provided they were honest in the investigation.
I once heard that the USA has 25% of the world’s annulments, and I am only slightly less sure that the great majority of these fall under a little code in the Catholic Church Code of Canon Law called “lack of due discretion.” Other reasons are in this footnote here:1
But it was surely to the tune of “lack of due discretion” that Pope Francis recently said that our post-modern “culture of the provisional” means that a “great majority of our sacramental marriages are null, because [the couples] say, ‘yes, for my whole life,’ but they don’t know what they’re saying.”
Now, in defense of Pope Francis, Canon Law 1066 states: “Before a marriage is celebrated, it must be evident that nothing stands in the way of its valid and licit celebration.” We priests are responsible for this preparation, but few of us do anything but the wedding Mass. So, maybe Pope Francis is correct: Post-modern man is too much of a clown interiorly to be able to choose a size of coffee at Starbucks much less a spouse.
If a marital bond is harder to form these days, then annulments should be easier to obtain. Thus, Pope Francis is consistent with his September decision to make annulments easier. It would only make sense to have a high bar theologically to marriage (easy annulments) if he were to couple this to a high bar anthropologically…that no one can meet, hence…his new statement that “a great majority of our sacramental marriages are null, because…they don’t know what they’re saying.” (italics mine)
But this is pure conjecture, and Pope John Paul II saw where this excessively high bar of marriage would take the Church in the West: A world where every married person lives in fear a few years into marriage that he or she did not form a valid marital bond, especially when suffering arrives. “Were my words true at the altar?” We are all broken people with mixed motives and imperfect love as we approach our vocation (single-consecrated, religious life, priesthood, marriage.) In short, we all have “lack of due discretion” as we approach any vocation. Where is the threshold for the extreme cases?
Happily, Pope John Paul II gave very clear parameters on determining “lack of due discretion.” On 25 February 1987, JPII wrote that a “real incapacity is to be considered only when an anomaly of a serious nature is present.”
“[A] real incapacity is to be considered only when an anomaly of a serious nature is present.”
What is an anomaly of serious nature? In Familiaris Consortio, JPII writes that this is only found when “engaged couples show that they reject explicitly and formally what the Church intends to do…[Otherwise, we] admit to the celebration of marriage those who are imperfectly disposed.”— Familiaris Consortio 68. “Imperfectly disposed” are the keywords here. Everyone is imperfectly disposed but still validly married unless there is an explicit and formal rejection of the two goods of marriage: children and unity.
What would an explicit and formal rejection of the Church’s teachings be?
1) People who purposefully planned on zero children. Nada. Zilch.
2) People who never planned on staying married to the same person until death.
Even contraception on the wedding day would not be grounds for annulment, since contraception in marriage does not constitute a formal rejection of the Church. Don’t get me wrong: Contraception inside or outside marriage is still a mortal sin. This is first because “the Pill” is an abortifacient that kills nearly half a billion children a year. Even for less serious methods that were around in the 13th century, St. Catherine of Siena was given a mystical vision of married couples in hell who had simply used the barrier method and not confessed it. So, I’m not saying contraception makes a holy marriage. But it does allow a sacramental and valid marriage. Many of these people have conversions along the way. I praise God: They move from having a valid marriage to a valid+holy marriage.
As for the unitive side of marriage: What if a man thinks of an old lover on his wedding day? Five years later can he look back on his family and tell his wife he had big-time “lack of due discretion”? Not according to Pope John Paul II. Even a whole nest of butterflies in the stomach on your wedding day does not constitute “a formal and explicit” rejection of the Catholic Church’s tenant of monogamy.
If anyone is to blame for all these annulments, it is us priests. We were the first to tell lay people to start doubting the Church’s teaching on contraception in the 1960s. Even nowadays, few priests give the couples any investment in teaching and discipleship. However, my first pastor taught me to never marry anyone I haven’t met with five times, and I still follow this. This isn’t perfectionism. It’s just that most people will follow the Truth in love when they hear it for the first time, even if it means a conversion. Maybe half of the young couples convert. The other half just plays me like a fool since grandma likes the look of a nice old Catholic Church. I try to get these people to be honest with themselves and go find a good justice of the peace or a priest that doesn’t care about them.
But for those who are even willing to try the Church’s teachings with me, I remind them: Jesus favored the bond for His Church as He died for her, even as He saw through time all of the unfaithful family members (and faithful ones), bad priests (and good ones), honest Tribunals and dishonest ones, the Pope-martyrs and even the 5-10 heretical Popes. Jesus loves His messy Church through an equally messy crucifixion. This is His example of marriage.
Thus, imperfectly married Catholic couples: Rejoice! You’re still married despite the debate in the news today. Really, folks, if you’re married, you should consider it great news that you don’t have to be perfect to be married, at least according to John Paul II (and his teachings on this are magisterial, where Pope Francis’ here are off-the-cuff.) All I mean in this post is this: FIGHT FOR YOUR LOVE INSTEAD OF DOUBTING IT (especially based on one comment from one single Pope who was speaking with no infallibility at that moment.) 2
If you got an annulment, I’m not saying you should look back in doubt. The Church has accurately declared many putative-bonds to be null, based on this code “lack of due discretion.” So, I’m not declaring null all declarations of nullity! I’m simply saying that currently married people should not look back and think too much about a possible annulment. This is because on your wedding day you were never made to know all the crosses that would come. Jesus didn’t promise all the answers to the problems of marriage, but He did promise to walk with you through them all. Even if it has been a hard marriage: Be confident that God is with you and that your spouse is with you in a real, sacramental bond. 3
Consanguinity (being of the same blood line)
Not being old enough
Lacking sufficient reason
Coercion, violence, force or grave fear
Previous marriage or religious vows or ordination
Simulation, fraud or deceit on who a person is.
Opposition to monogamy
Opposition to children (absolute opposition, not only the use of contraception. Although it’s a mortal sin, premeditated use of contraception is not enough for a declaration of nullity unless there was an unrevealed and unreversed sterilization.)
Ratam non consummatum (vows at altar but no intercourse ever.)
Conditions on the future (pre-nups)
Refraining from vows or Catholic sacramental procedures. ↩
As for the errors in Amoris Laetitia, this is a stickier problem for us since it is magisterial but non infallible. I agree with Bishop Schneider that parts of Amoris Laetitia are “objectively erroneous.” In theology, a little poison ruins the whole batch. ↩
Crosses are one thing, but the Catholic Church allows for immediate separation when there is danger or violence to one spouse or children. This should happen long before an annulment gets discussed. Code of Canon Law #1153 says “If either of the spouses causes grave danger in soul or body to the other spouse or to the offspring or otherwise renders common life too difficult, that spouse gives the other a legitimate cause for leaving.” They do remain married however, in God’s eyes and the Church’s eyes, unless/until that bond is declared null, and even that must be due to pre-existing violence, simulation, addiction or one of the topics discussed above. Otherwise, they must remain celibate in their separated state. ↩
The basics of annulments can teach us a lot about the beauty of marriage. The first thing to realize about an annulment is that it is not a Catholic divorce. The starting point for why divorce does not exist in the Catholic Church is simple: Jesus said: But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. ’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. ’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.—Mark 10:6-9. No man (not even a priest or bishop or the Pope) can break up what God has put together at a sacramental marriage since an unbreakable bond of love was formed at the words of the altar and at the consummation of the bed.
This means that neither adultery, nor fighting, nor “divorce,” nor even the Catholic Church can break what God has put together. The only thing that can break the bond of marriage is the death of one of the two members. Set me as a seal upon your heart,as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death.—Song of Songs 8:6.
Imagine a man whose body and soul is represented by a 2 x 4 piece of wood. Imagine a woman whose body and soul is represented by another 2 x 4 piece of wood. They can only become one flesh by forming a bond, represented below by superglue. In the Catholic West, the unbreakable bond is formed by the couple at their wedding in the presence of a priest who must witness it to make it sacramental:
In the Catholic East and the Orthodox East, the unbreakable bond is formed by the priest:
Notice that in both cases, two become one via an invisible and invincible bond. (In real life, they’re happily married to each other and pregnant with their fourth.) In any case, the superglue bond is a bond that is essentially not formed by the couple nor the priest, but by God Himself. The only thing that dissolves the superglue is death, for God is the author of life and death. That means that neither a big argument, nor a cute secretary, nor a priest of the Catholic Church can break this bond:
Essentially, in the eyes of both God and the Catholic Church, a “divorce” is a modern myth, for divorce doesn’t exist. This is why Jesus Christ said such shocking words: And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for adultery 1 and marries another, commits adultery.”—Mt 19:7-9.
If a Catholic couple gets married without a priest (or not in a Catholic Church without prior permission from the bishop of their diocese) then this situation is called a “lack of form” in getting married. The diocese’s ecclesiastical court is called a Tribunal. The Tribunal will always admit that two Catholics married outside of the Catholic Church (without a dispensation from the bishop) never actually formed a sacramental bond in the first place. Thus, they declare in about two weeks that there was a “lack of form.” After the necessary paperwork, the couple can marry each other (convalidation ceremony) or they are free to marry someone else because there never was a marriage in the first place. This is one type of annulment process.
But what happens when a Catholic couple got married by a priest and they are not happy with each other 5 years into marriage?
Notice that the bond still remains in this couple’s [feigned] unhappiness. This is why it is so important to really be sure about the person you marry: There’s no take-backs, no “prenups,” no re-dos with another potential spouse in the Catholic Church. The only way the couple can even think about an annulment is by proving that one of them did not have the freedom of will to form a sacramental bond on the very day of their wedding.
When this happens, the Tribunal looks retrospectively (back through time) to see if they had all the ingredients of the glue (especially mental capacity) in their engagement time leading up to the wedding and on the wedding day itself:
If they did not, then perhaps the bond will be retroactively declared null. But this is only a “best guess” about the past. This process is not an assessment of who is currently happy in their marriage. If an unhappy Catholic Couple looks back through their common life together and honestly believes that one of them was not free to marry the other because of mental incapacity, then they can petition that the Tribunal declare their bond to be null (nothing.) “Declaration of nullity” is more accurate than “annulment” because the Church looks back through time at that putative bond and says: “In our best guess, you didn’t have the freedom to consent to a lifetime commitment, so we don’t think there ever was a bond:”
A person is not annulled. A couple is not annulled. A marriage is not annulled. A bond is declared null…sometimes, and even this is a best-guess. It is not an infallible or efficacious act of the Church. It’s not even a privilege-granted. The diocese’s null-paperwork basically says: “We think one or both of you had freedom missing at the altar.” 2
When the Tribunal’s “best guess” on an annulment is objectively wrong in God’s eyes, then we can conclude that God still views the original marital bond as real, even when the annulment paperwork has declared the opposite. Such a declaration from a Tribunal is not an infallible binding of the Church. 3 However, the couple can still still remarry since they were obedient to the Catholic Church that God established (provided they were honest in the paperwork.) But the members of a tribunal will answer to God for denigrating the sacrament of marriage if they handed out annulments carelessly, literally putting asunder what God has put together. In fact, without vigilance and prayer in Catholic Tribunals, the Eastern Orthodox would be justified in calling our Catholic annulment discipline practically the same as the Orthodox concession for divorce, even while Catholic doctrine remains theoretically untouched.
In a “declaration of nullity,” when a bond is thought to have never existed, this is often done under the title of Canon Law number 1095 which is “incapacity for consent.” Perhaps on the day of the wedding there was an unrevealed addiction or a lack of sufficient reason. Or, perhaps it was a lack of prudent discretion or a psychological instability. Is anyone getting married in their right mind? No. (Nor ordained. Vocations are hard.) Thus, there had to be an extraordinary incapacity to form a marital bond (more than cold-feet at a wedding) to start the annulment process. St. John Paul II said of the annulment proceedings that “real incapacity is to be considered only when an anomaly of a serious nature is present.”—St. JPII on 25 Feb 1987.
Canon Lawyers have a term and it is “to favor the bond.” It means that a bond of marriage is given the benefit of the doubt. It seems merciful not to “favor the bond” when assessing if a couple who has applied for annulment should have their bond declared null when they have “moved on” and “moved in” with a new partner of civil marriage. The million dollar question in Rome today essentially boils down to: Is it best for the Tribunal to issue a declaration of nullity just to legalistically get them out of the imputation of sin?
Well, the actual bond on the day of the wedding has to be honestly assessed in view of finding an extraordinary anomaly, not ordinary lack-of-due-discretion. If not, the bond will never be favored in that diocese. When the leanings of a Tribunal are not towards the original bond of marriage, but rather towards a legalistic avoidance of the imputation of sin for new civil bonds to be given free-license, then the opposite effect of mercy starts to take place in a diocese: Couples begin to wonder if anyone has a real mental capability to get married.
Pope Benedict XVI addressed the Roman Rota in 2009:
First of all, there is a need for a new and positive appreciation of the capacity to marry belonging in principle to every human person by virtue of his or her very nature as a man or a woman. We tend in fact to risk falling into a kind of anthropological pessimism which, in the light of today’s cultural context, would consider marriage as practically impossible. Apart from the fact that this context is not uniform in the various parts of the world, genuine incapacity to consent cannot be confused with the real difficulties facing many people, especially the young, which lead them to conclude that marital union is, as a rule, inconceivable and impracticable. Rather, a reaffirmation of the innate human capacity for marriage is itself the starting point for enabling couples to discover the natural reality of marriage and its importance for salvation. Ultimately, what is at stake is the truth about marriage itself and its intrinsic juridical nature…which is an indispensable premise for the ability to understand and evaluate the capacity required to marry.—Pope Benedict XVI’s Address to the Roman Rota on 29 January 2009, 8th paragraph.
In other words, you don’t have to be St. Anne and St. Joachim to form a valid marriage bond. Children deserve Tribunals to favor the bond. Why? Because the souls of children are permanent, so they need a permanent structure of love in which to grow up, even when times get hard. 4 What happens when you start to wonder if your diocese would give you a quick annulment without sufficient reason? At the end of the day, it’s a matter of the marriage covenant in the shadow of God’s covenant. If you know that you’re still married after a big argument—that is, if you know you’re not going to go to the Tribunal for an annulment after a big argument—then you know that God’s love must be something like that: Unbreakable. This is because even a broken man and broken woman’s love are capable of maintaining a dim but real reflection Christ’s unbreakable love on the cross for His bride:
So, do you see why it’s so important who you choose to marry? In the eyes of God, you only get one bond your whole life, one shot at getting your whole family to heaven. Who is the person most likely to do that? The blog ucatholic had a tremendously moving post here.
Perhaps the only practical solution to the endless annulment game is to have priests actually meet with their engaged couples. Yes, priests may actually have to sacrifice time for their spiritual children. My first pastor told me that I should not witness the sacramental marriage of any couple unless I had given them 5 one-hour meetings. A good layman I knew once said that any priest who stacked up more than two annulments a year should be “tried for pastoral malpractice.”
Time to start marriage prep…
Don’t they look excited for my Bible Study on marriage?
But really, here’s the truth: If I’m going to take seven years and six-figures of the laity’s money for my vocation (seven years in seminary, not my annual income!) then I think I can give back five short hours for the laity’s vocation. After all, they do make the promise “til death do us part:”
Here, Jesus is talking about is a separation due to adultery and even in the case of adultery, the Church teaches that a person cannot remarry until the death of one or the other spouse because the marriage bond still exists. Reasons for annulment will be discussed in the next footnote.↩
Other reasons the Church would consider declaring the bond null would include:
- Consanguinity (being of the same blood line)
- Not being old enough
- Lacking sufficient reason
- Coercion, violence, force or grave fear
- Previous marriage or religious vows or ordination
- Simulation, fraud or deceit on who a person is.
- Opposition to monogamy
- Opposition to children (absolute opposition, not only the use of contraception. Although it’s a mortal sin, premeditated use of contraception is not enough for a declaration of nullity unless there was an unrevealed and unreversed sterilization.)
- Absolute impotence
- Ratam non consummatum (vows at altar but no intercourse ever.)
- Conditions on the future (pre-nups)
- Refraining from vows or Catholic sacramental procedures
Before publication, I checked this with a Roman-educated exorcist. He confirmed: “Tribunals bear a tenuous relationship with the ‘power of the keys’ given to the Church. Diocesan tribunals are exercises of a bishop’s particular magisterium, not that of the Church authority as a whole. This means that their decisions do not share the charism of infallibility. So by definition their binding and loosing is not automatically guaranteed to be in line with the Mind of Christ.” ↩
The Catholic Church allows for immediate separation when there is danger or violence to one spouse or children. This should happen long before an annulment gets discussed. Code of Canon Law #1153 says “If either of the spouses causes grave danger in soul or body to the other spouse or to the offspring or otherwise renders common life too difficult, that spouse gives the other a legitimate cause for leaving.” ↩