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. ↩
Surprisingly, the best description on the Vatican’s recent “Synod on the Family” comes from New York Times Op-Ed Columnist, Ross Douthat. Here it is:
The Vatican always seems to have the secrets and intrigues of a Renaissance court — which, in a way, is what it still remains. The ostentatious humility of Pope Francis, his scoldings of high-ranking prelates, have changed this not at all; if anything, the pontiff’s ambitions have encouraged plotters and counterplotters to work with greater vigor.
And right now the chief plotter is the pope himself.
Francis’s purpose is simple: He favors the proposal, put forward by the church’s liberal cardinals, that would allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion without having their first marriage declared null.
Thanks to the pope’s tacit support, this proposal became a central controversy in last year’s synod on the family and the larger follow-up, ongoing in Rome right now..
But if his purpose is clear, his path is decidedly murky. Procedurally, the pope’s powers are near-absolute: If Francis decided tomorrow to endorse communion for the remarried, there is no Catholic Supreme Court that could strike his ruling down.
At the same time, though, the pope is supposed to have no power to change Catholic doctrine. This rule has no official enforcement mechanism (the Holy Spirit is supposed to be the crucial check and balance), but custom, modesty, fear of God and fear of schism all restrain popes who might find a doctrinal rewrite tempting.
And a change of doctrine is what conservative Catholics, quite reasonably, believe that the communion proposal favored by Francis essentially implies.
There’s probably a fascinating secular political science tome to be written on how the combination of absolute and absolutely-limited power shapes the papal office. In such a book, Francis’s recent maneuvers would deserve a chapter, because he’s clearly looking for a mechanism that would let him exercise his powers without undercutting his authority.
The key to this search has been the synods, which have no official doctrinal role but which can project an image of ecclesiastical consensus. So a strong synodal statement endorsing communion for the remarried as a merely “pastoral” change, not a doctrinal alteration, would make Francis’s task far easier.
Unfortunately such a statement has proven difficult to extract — because the ranks of Catholic bishops include so many Benedict XVI and John Paul II-appointed conservatives, and also because the “pastoral” argument is basically just rubbish. The church’s teaching that marriage is indissoluble has already been pushed close to the breaking point by this pope’s new expedited annulment process; going all the way to communion without annulment would just break it.
So to overcome resistance from bishops who grasp this obvious point, first last year’s synod and now this one have been, to borrow from the Vatican journalist Edward Pentin’s recent investigative book, “rigged” by the papal-appointed organizers in favor of the pope’s preferred outcome.
The documents guiding the synod have been written with that goal in mind. The pope has made appointments to the synod’s ranks with that goal in mind, not hesitating to add even aged cardinals tainted by the sex abuse scandal if they are allied to the cause of change. The Vatican press office has filtered the synod’s closed-door (per the pope’s directive) debates to the media with that goal in mind. The churchmen charged with writing the final synod report have been selected with that goal in mind. And Francis himself, in his daily homilies, has consistently criticized Catholicism’s “doctors of the law,” its modern legalists and Pharisees — a not-even-thinly-veiled signal of his views.
(Though of course, in the New Testament the Pharisees allowed divorce; it was Jesus who rejected it.)
And yet his plan is not necessarily succeeding. There reportedly still isn’t anything like a majority for the proposal within the synod, which is probably why the organizers hedged their bets for a while about whether there would even be a final document. And the conservatives — African, Polish, American, Australian — have been less surprised than last fall, and quicker to draw public lines and try to box the pontiff in with private appeals.
The entire situation abounds with ironies. Aging progressives are seizing a moment they thought had slipped away, trying to outmaneuver younger conservatives who recently thought they owned the Catholic future. The African bishops are defending the faith of the European past against Germans and Italians weary of their own patrimony. A Jesuit pope is effectively at war with his own Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the erstwhile Inquisition — a situation that would make 16th century heads spin.
For a Catholic journalist, for any journalist, it’s a fascinating story, and speaking strictly as a journalist, I have no idea how it will end.
Speaking as a Catholic, I expect the plot to ultimately fail; where the pope and the historic faith seem to be in tension, my bet is on the faith.
But for an institution that measures its life span in millennia, “ultimately” can take a long time to arrive.—Ross Douthat, 17 October 2015, New York Times op-ed
NB Fr. Nix writing now. Certain professors from my alma of Boston College and other Universities wish to silence Ross Douthat in their letter to the editor of the NYT. Notice that they sound like Glavlit, the group that was in charge of censoring all publications and broadcasting for state secrets in the former USSR. Of course the ultra-elite friends of Pope Francis want to keep Ross Douthat’s secular prophesies at bay, considering how they want to slowly snow the whole Catholic world. Best not to alarm the stupid sheep until liberal totalitarianism has fully taken hold of Our Catholic Faith.