Wednesday, October 15, 2014

He who has ears, let him hear

In the past few days, I have had a number of conversations with friends and family about the mid-Synod document that was released by the Vatican on Monday. So many have voiced their concerns, because most of their information comes through the channel of the media. Educated, rational people, faithful Catholics who do their best to live out the teachings of the Church are confused because of what they hear the leaders of our Church considering.

These are not your average schlep to Mass maybe on Christmas or Easter Catholics. Neither are they the Sunday Mass Catholics who simply go through the motions. They have struggled against the culture to raise their families and live their faith according to the teachings of the Church, against the cultural tides, suffering in union with Christ, who comforts them in their times of trial.

They feel confused, and, dare I say, slightly betrayed by the prospect of our Church leaders caving in to the culture that they have been bravely living in and battling with. These families are not without struggles. Their lives are not unaffected by divorce, contraception, abortion, fornication, adultery, or homosexual behavior. In their experience of living out their faith, they have been confirmed in the wisdom of living according to the truth of the Gospel and the law of the Church, not because it "punishes" their loved ones who stray, but because their loved ones are tortured by the lifestyles they lead apart from the law. It causes them great suffering to see their loved ones misled by a seductive culture that promises happiness and leaves them with inconsolable loneliness.

Church leaders who seek to evangelize the culture at the expense of following law that is rooted in traditional moral teachings cannot expect a great yield. In Matthew 13, Jesus speaks to us in a parable that is very appropriate for our present moment, in the crossroads of a critical decision about where we should concentrate our efforts.

"A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away. Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundred fold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear" Mt 13:3-9.
Dear Synod Fathers, I ask you, in light of these words of Jesus, in seeking to provide relief to those whom you suggest suffer because of the law, have you become blinded to the possibility that you might be focusing your efforts on how to best scatter seed on thin, rocky and thorny soil? Christ himself assures you that these efforts will come up empty. By affirming the beautiful teachings of the Church that have brought so many of us into deeper union with Christ, you fertilize the soil that has already produced much fruit. By holding fast to the law and the traditions of the Church, you can lovingly continue to remove the rocks and the thorns and make more rich soil available to those in whom the Holy Spirit is already working.

St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Following Jesus' example of pastoral action as the Good Shepherd

In the midst of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, there have been some questionable notions that have been promoted by some Church leaders as “pastoral.” One is the so-called “pastoral” technique of “graduality,” in which certain moral obligations are, in a sense, relaxed with the expectation that the person whose dedication is lacking will be moved by the outreach of the Church. Another presumed notion of “pastoral” action calls Church members to avoid language that is precise because its use could be inflammatory, thereby supposedly shutting down any opportunity of showing the merciful love of God. In the name of “pastoral sensitivity” the faithful have even been cautioned against bringing up certain topics, such as contraception, abortion, and homosexual behavior, because these issues are said to prevent the Church from reaching out. These notions about how the Church should proceed in relating to its body reveal a fundamental flaw in the understanding of what “pastoral” means.
Pastoral action is rooted in the image of Jesus, as the Good Shepherd. “I know my flock, and they know me,” (Jn. 10:14). This is why the calling of the Extraordinary Synod on the family is a good action. The Holy Father, as the head of the Body of Christ acts as Christ. He desires to know his flock. This is a great good, but it is also a risk in our modern time, since so many of the sheep are misguided and a great number of the shepherds have decided to follow where the sheep decide to go. Good shepherds know that they must stand firm and guide the sheep away from the wolves and thickets in which their horns can get tangled. Shepherds should know from years of experience what the sheep need to be guided and protected. Otherwise, the herd thins very quickly.

Pastoral action is love and law, united perfectly. To love is to will the good of the other. God wills that we have all the goodness He has to offer, and He has made us to desire the love that only He can give. Through the study of Christian anthropology, philosophers and theologians have been able to come to a deeper understanding of the essence of the human person. Humans innately desire union with God, union that can only come from following His laws that He has written on every human heart and has further defined through the authority of the Church. In softening these teachings for the sake of “reaching out,” Church leaders risk delaying the union that the Holy Spirit seeks for a great many souls. They become the shepherds who allow unruly sheep to lead the rest off a cliff.

Pastoral action is grounded in true and quiet humility that seeks only to draw focused attention to the matter at hand. Its fruit is clarity and union among those who honestly seek holiness. It does not promote unity for the sake of doctrine, but it rests peacefully in holy division (Mt. 10:34), always welcoming those who are touched by a moment of grace, by an event of transformation, by a tearful recognition of one’s own sinfulness. Church leaders who constantly chatter, using terms and phrases that are ambiguous and misleading, become accessories to unholy division, causing the faithful to doubt and argue among themselves, and further blocking the process of true conversion by confusing the message of the Gospel. They become shepherds who give unclear signals to the sheep, causing them to scatter in every direction, according to their own misguided instincts.

There are a good number of pastors, true shepherds, who have been so dedicated and disciplined in guiding their sheep that the sheep themselves have become conditioned to function despite the occasional bad shepherd that comes their way. These sheep know to stay out of the thorny bushes, they can smell a wolf coming from miles away, and they know where to go for nourishment. Thankfully, a good number of these sheep exist, but they are becoming weary of steering their misdirected brothers and sisters away from the shepherds who have these new ideas about shepherding. Strong leaders, clear teachers, and humble servants to the truth of the Gospel are needed in this modern time. Please, dear pastors, don’t fall into the temptation of thinking that shepherding has changed all that much from the time of when the Good Shepherd walked this earth.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The faces of courage

Last night, my husband and I had the privilege of hearing a story about God's extraordinary intervention of grace. We attended a local Theology on Tap gathering to which a speaker was invited to share his very personal story of healing and redemption from the loss of innocence in childhood all the way up through his very active participation in the homosexual lifestyle.

His journey began as a young child, searching for love and acceptance, only be met with fear and violence in his household. His stepfather and older brother viciously abused him all throughout his developmental years, and his escape from this situation only took him further into a life of abuse by his own addictions. He entered the social scene in New York at the hight of the homosexual surge in the seventies. By the time he left New York, about ninety percent of his friends had died because of the AIDS epidemic.

This humble man recounted instances in his life where he had known the hand of God was leading him out of the darkness and into the light. His conviction that he was miraculously preserved from AIDS and completely healed of Hepatitis-B in order to spend the rest of his life "making up for what I did." He credited the prompting of his conversion of heart to Mother Angelica, who spoke the truth with love through his television set.

After stealing time away from his partner to watch Mother Angelica, this man named Paul went to his first confession in 35 years. He knew he had to take steps to heal and overcome his addiction so deeply ingrained, so he reached out to Courage, the apostolate that helps people with same-sex attraction live chastely, according to the teachings of the Church that are founded upon principles of natural law.

One of the challenges Paul encountered on his road to recovery was the hardship of having to drive many miles into another diocese to attend Courage meetings, as his own bishop was not supportive of his request to establish a group within his own diocese. He appreciated the clear teaching about chaste living, not wanting to be patronized by a softening of the Church teaching which had been encapsulated by the strength and no-nonsense style of Mother Angelica, whom he had come to cherish.

I think there are many things that we can take away from Paul's testimony. One is that love crosses seemingly insurmountable obstacles to bring people back from the brink of self-destruction. We should not lose hope for our loved ones who have been seduced by the darkness of the culture. Secondly, our modern inclination to make truth more palatable by chipping away at it in the interest of "pastoral sensitivity" is misguided. Mother Angelica was famous for telling it like it is, but there was never any doubt that she loved her viewers with an insurmountable love, one that reached right through the television set and set their hearts on fire.

Since Paul's conversion, and through his affiliation with Courage, he has generously and bravely agreed to share his story of God's love and redemption in his life with a wider audience. His testimony, along with the testimonies of two other courageous souls who struggled with same-sex attraction is available to view on Vimeo.

Please join me in praying for them. Their witness to seeking holiness will undoubtedly touch hearts, but it will also pierce the consciences of those who will not want to let go of their addictions without a violent fight. God bless and protect these brave men and women who sacrifice and risk everything to testify to the truth.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Giving birth to hope

As many of you have now heard, Baby Shane, the Facebook celebrated baby who was diagnosed with anencephaly, has been born, baptized, and welcomed to heaven in a short span of roughly four hours. His parents have chronicled their journey, inviting the world to celebrate and suffer with them in this transforming life event. Their brave smiles conquered fear and death with an inspiring hope in eternal life.

I learned about another mother this week who is bravely and hopefully embracing suffering in a most profound way. She is a young mom with a loving husband and four small children. After having been diagnosed with terminal cancer, her message to the world is selfless indeed. "I know that people look at my story with small children, and they have a hard time looking, but it's not the absence of God's goodness. It has caused us to look for love and embrace each moment with our children."

These two mothers share an indomitable hope in God's love and His plan for our lives. They have reached out through social media to share, to inspire, and to evangelize our culture which in desperate need of faith, hope, and love. Thank you, young moms, for your witness. Your sacrifices are touching hearts and calling us all to live more deeply in the presence of God, uniting our sufferings to Christ Jesus.