This week’s Gospel is very appropriate

<blockquote>The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.  He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come. A second time he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.”’ Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.  The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them.  The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come.  Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’ The servants went out into the streetsand gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests, he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.  The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen.”</blockquote>

This is a fitting reading to have in the midst of the debates surrounding the Synod on the Family.  We are told by Cardinal Walter Kasper–one of those whose retirement Pope Benedict was very eager to accept–that the current praxis of denying communion to divorced and remarried Catholics is “unmerciful.”  He claims that those who emphasize “one verse” (actually, two separate occasions) are “fundamentalists.”
Meanwhile, Cardinal Wuerl, the latest Archbishop of Washington, DC, to do nothing about enforcing Canon 915–and who has, rather, punished priests for enforcing it–says that refusla of Communion is a matter of discipline, not doctrine.
They both seem to miss the meaning of this week’s Gospel, that those who present themselves for the Wedding Feast–that is, the Eucharist–must wear a “proper garment”–that is, a clean soul.
The news coming out of the Synod does not bode well for the short term health of the Church or the immortal souls of some hierarchs and the laity they are encouraging to “live in sin” (sorry, we’re supposedly not supposed to say that anymore).  Supposedly, the “working groups” voted on by the Synod Fathers are all very “conservative,” with Cardinal Burke (whom the media had reported would not even be in attendance) being chair of the English language committee, but Pope Francis of “decentralization” and “collegiality” fame, who supposedly convened the Synod to gauge the bishops’ views towards his proposed “reforms”, has now appointed six Cardinals of his own choosing–Wuerl among them–to write the working document.  The exact relationship of those six to the “working groups” is not yet clear.
For the most part, ad hominems and genetic fallacies are at work in dismisssing the few sites reporting on these issues, but even Robert Royal at _The Catholic Thing_ has been reporting that the Synod is exposing deep fissures in the hierarchy, that even the “moderates” are unhappy with the Holy Father’s proposals.
It is true that a properly “pastoral” approach takes into consideration a person’s growth (so-called “gradualism”) and the various factors that play into culpability, etc., but that doesn’t excuse someone from the Sacrament of Reconciliation–it *does* mean that priests should be more merciful when it comes to habitual sin and being encouraging to those who come over and over with the same sins.

Time will tell, and prayer is called for, but it is so very disheartening, having just begun to heal the damage done in the 1960s and ’70s, to have it all come flooding back.

 

St. Francis and the Sultan; the question of conversion

I’ve long been familiar with the account of St. Francis going to Sultan in Egypt, demonstrating his faith, and gaining free passage through the Holy Land (a right which has historically extended to all Franciscans).  Last week, however, I picked up on a detail I’d never noticed before, from at least two sources: the Sultan spiritually accepted Christ.  From a later Evangelical perspective, one could argue the Sultan had been “saved.”  He did not want to openly convert, however, because not only would he have been killed, but so would Francis, and he knew the Saint had greater work ahead.

“The Rapture” and Cosmic Braxton Hicks

The “Rapture” is back in the news, with the mainstream Left Behind remake starring Nicholas Cage hitting theaters.  A writer at the Huffington Post has a great piece dissecting the Rapture theory from a Protestant perspective that’s really Catholic. He gives a great explanation of the difference between the Rapture and the Second Coming, the purpose of Revelation as a liturgical text (see Scott Hahn’s The Lamb’s Supper), and so forth.  However, he misses the other “proof text” for the Rapture, Matthew 24:36-42:

* 36p “But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son,* but the Father alone. 37*q For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38In [those] days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. 39They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be [also] at the coming of the Son of Man. 40*r Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. 42*s Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.

If you’re driving around with a bumper sticker that says, “Warning: in case of Rapture, this car will be unmanned,” you’d better stop and think about what Jesus actually means here: the people who will be “taken” in this metaphor *are the ones going to Hell*: “It will be as the days of Noah.” Noah was left to start the world new without the previous corruption.  The “rapture” if it happens in some literal way, would not be about leaving the good people behind so they don’t suffer; it would be about taking out those who are more evil so the remnant can rebuild.

However, the qualifier of all this that we know not the day or the hour.  We should be watchful and ready, not just for the end of the World but more realistically for our own deaths, and be right with God.

Which brings me to the teaching that begins this whole chapter, 24:6-8:

b You will hear of wars* and reports of wars; see that you are not alarmed, for these things must happen, but it will not yet be the end. 7c Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be famines and earthquakes from place to place. 8* All these are the beginning of the labor pains.

I have never understood why people take, “You will hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not alarmed” to mean, “We should be alarmed!  There are wars and rumors of wars!”  This has been the reading of this passage not just from Protestants but from Catholics, even going back to the ECFs, and it puzzles me.

What just struck me, however, was that, maybe, this is a case where the problem comes from the interpretations being made by celibate males in a “separate spheres” world.  They didn’t know how labor works.

In a world where female midwives deliver babies and the men are off hunting or fishing or farming, and get news, “Hey, your wife just gave birth!”–perhaps in some cultures to barely see the baby–most men just don’t know how labor works, and even in cultures like ours, few pay attention or remember enough to get the metaphor.

“The beginning of the labor pains” is *weeks* of, “I just felt a contraction!”  “I wonder if I’m going into labor!” Then labor itself is often stereotypically long (“36 hours of labor,” and so on).  The childbirth classes say, “It’s never like the movies. You don’t just suddenly go into labor and deliver a baby.”  Actually, our children’s births were “just like the movies.”  My wife’s labors were extremely fast when they came on, but always had weeks of “Braxton Hicks”–which can begin as early as the “second trimester.”  Like most couples with a first, we thought labor was starting every time she had one.  Then, when the time came, it was unmistakable–like true love or aortic dissection.

She started having “really bad back pain,” after we’d spent the day making the final preparations for birth.  We got to the ER 2 hours into labor, and the triage nurse said, “You’re 10 cm dilated!  Why did you wait so long?”
“I didn’t!!  I just went into labor 2 hours ago!”

With the second full-term birth, we were more nonchalant about the Braxton Hicks. Woke up Sunday, February 29, and boom!  Labor, 9 AM-2 PM.

Our son was more the “Is it time yet?”  We went to the hospital, I think, 3 times.   had to cancel a final exam because we thought she was going into early labor.  The third time, we spent the evening at the hospital, and we were now past due date.  We joke that the Dude has never liked change or going places.  The midwife scheduled an induction for the next morning and said to be at the hospital at 6, IIRC.  She woke up at 3 with labor.

The Boy

The Boy

With our youngest, we had just moved into a new townhouse in a new town a week before.  My parents had taken the eldest.  We had two toddlers in a new house in a new town, and had not even finished pre-registering at the hospital.  They were all in bed, and I was up watching a movie when Mary came and told me her water broke.  We jumped in our minivan–which thankfully had OnStar.  I contacted OnStar, and they patched me through to the hospital, so they had some knowledge we were coming.  I panicked about the younger kids and missing the birth.  A security guard came and took them to the cafeteria with her during her lunch break (may God bless that security guard at Lexington Medical Center).  By the time I got into the delivery room, the baby was born.   The doctor had just gotten in there a few minutes before.  As I understand it, the conversation went something like,
“Hi, I’m Dr. So-and-so.  Do you normally–“
“AAAAH!”
Baby.

Over and over, Jesus (and St. Paul) tells us, “Just when they’re saying ‘peace and security,'” “I will come like a thief in the night.”

Fr. Groeschel, Mickey Mouse, and Me

GodsGadfly:

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.

Originally posted on The Lewis Crusade:

Back in 1986, my parents took me to Disney World. It was one of the first times I used a wheelchair. Now, the whole experience was cool, and I thought the characters were “cool,” but I didn’t feel the thrill many children feel about “meeting” the characters since I knew they weren’t “real”. Take Santa Claus: I had a Chestertonian hope that somewhere there was a “real” Santa Claus apart from St. Nicholas in Heaven–I still do–but I always knew the guy at the Mall wasn’t him.

So, too, did I feel about the characters at Disney, and even if I didn’t already think that way, the family friends we were staying with had local friends whom we visited, and their adult daughter was a professional “Mickey Mouse” and talked to us about what it was like.

Plus, I’ve always had a certain phobia, which has gotten worse as I’ve…

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Is it “the Little” Way because it’s Easy or Narrow?

Jen Fitz posted a great reflection on the Feast of St. Therese, entitled, “If it doesn’t cost you everything, you’re not on the little way.” The title pretty much sums up the profound observation. My honorary “name in Carmel” is “John of the Little Way of St. Therese.” There’s a reason for that much deeper than a pious devotion to the Little Flower or even the spiritual connection that the past 18+ years of my life have in a very real way belonged to her.
Anyone with a passing knowledge of Theresa of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face knows that, within ten years of her death at 24, before she was even Venerated, much less Canonized, the future St. Pius X declared her “the greatest saint of modern times.” When Pope St. John Paul II declared her the third official female Doctor of the Church, he said that this girl who had very little formal education but wrote one of the greatest spiritual classics of all time “gave the Church a new doctrine” in her “Little Way.”
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, who was baptized Agnes but took her name in religion from the Little Flower, got her motto “small things with great love” from Therese, though the latter was really just following teachings found throughout the Discalced Carmelite tradition, through Brother Lawrence’s _Practice of the Presence of God_ all the way back to the “great” Teresa of Jesus of Avila, our Holy Mother.
The message of Fatima is very similar to the Little Way: offer up “small” sacrifices. This can often be trivialized a bit, and a deeper understanding of Therese’s life and journey tell us that there’s a difference between “offering it up” in little things and enduring without comment the despair of, for example, being so emaciated by TB that her bones were protruding from her skin (a fact I just learned the other day).
Some make a big deal of Therese’s struggles with the Office and Rosary, which are certainly encouraging to anyone genuinely trying and struggling, but when she said that saying the Rosary was a “penance,,” we must remember that, in the Little Way, and the Way, period, penances are a good thing. Part of the reason the Rosary was a penance was the famous example of the Sister whose relatively noisy manner of praying was very distracting to Therese, who first dreaded that nun’s presence in chapel but so practiced patience in her regard that she eventually looked forward to seeing her–the same with another Sister who treated her badly, but, as the sister says in the Leonardo de Filipis movie _Therese_, “Every time I see you, you smile!”
In short, when we say, “Small things with great love” we all, myself included, tend to emphasize the first part and not think about what the latter means. It means putting as much love as we possibly can into putting up with that unpleasant person or situation.

Scandal versus Scandal, and Controversial Cardinals

I believe that, 10 or 20 years in the future, people will look back on “the Francis Effect” as they now look at “the Spirit of Vatican II.”  In the meantime, we seem to be reliving the 1960s and 70s.
Two cases in point: the upcoming Synod on the Family, which is supposed to be about determining how to more effectively articulate the Church’s teachings, but the media and some cardinals–most notably Walter Cardinal Kasper–are trying to make it about changing teaching.  Meanwhile, there are the still-unofficial rumors that Raymond Cardinal Burke will be removed from his post as Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, in the wake of a book that Burke and other “conservatives” published that upholds the Church’s teachings against Cardinal Kasper’s “approach” to divorce.
Simultaneously, Timothy Cardinal Dolan will grand marshal the first ever New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade to include “gays” marching as homosexuals.  Dolan defends this position by appealing to the “Francis Effect,” and the idea–which he used a year ago to applaud openly homosexual football player Michael Sam for his “courage”–that the Church says it’s OK to identify with a disordered inclination so long as one doesn’t act on it.  Kevin O’Brien asks if he can start a chapter of Irish Adulterers and march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, since–following Cardinal Dolan’s reasoning–having a disordered inclination to adultery makes one an “adulterer.”
Sadly, though, Dolan’s reasoning is not that far off from Kasper’s.  Kasper contends that we cannot know for certain if a couple who are divorced and remarried are living in a Josephite marriage.  Kasper has

accused his opponents of faulty interpretation of Scripture, saying, “We cannot simply take one phrase of the Gospel of Jesus and from that deduce everything.” That would be Luke 16:18, which quotes Jesus saying, “Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”

He apparently has not read St. John Paul II’s _Theology of the Body_, since that’s exactly what John Paul does (though “induce” would probably be the more accurate verb).  Cardinal Kasper heads into dangerous ground by suggesting that those who are divorced and remarried “don’t look like they’re committing adultery,” that somehow superficial happiness and later fidelity can atone for the previous infidelity–neo-pelagianism, indeed!

So, on the one hand, we have “you can be a homosexual, and be in a ‘homosexual relationship,’ and not act on it.”  Then we have “you can be divorced and remarried and not act on it.”  Both propositions are *technically* true.

Then we have the more important question, one of the foundational questions of Christian spirituality and praxis and the juridical question of Catholic governance.  If we set aside Cardinal Kasper’s 1960s theology of “conscience,” let’s focus on the objective viewpoint.  Technically, he’s correct that people can sometimes live in Josephite marriages or similar situations.  Technically, he’s correct that we shouldn’t assume the worst of other people.  However, in practice, his views defy common sense.

Why would someone get divorced and remarried and not act on it? Even if it is possible, and people are willing to (sometimes, they are), the Church should still say, “this is what you’re supposed to do in this situation.”

This is a paradox at work in much of “pastoral” theology and canon law: two meanings of the word “scandal.”  To the world, and many members of the clergy, scandal means rumor-mongering.   If Y knows X is divorced and remarried with no annulment and Y sees X receiving Communion, it is true that Y is possibly breaking the 8th Commandment in one or more respects to be scandalized by it in the secular sense and definitely breaking the 8th Commandment to gossip about it.

However, in traditional Catholic parlance, “scandal” means behavior that encourages other people to sin.  Maybe N is thinking about divorce and follows X’s example.  Maybe B *is* divorced and remarried and thinks it’s OK.  . . .

There are other times where the Church says precisely that we shouldn’t endanger people’s souls by encouraging people to put themselves into a possible occasion of sin, or of setting a bad example.  Another topic being hotly debated in mass and social media is Pope Francis’s example of officiating a wedding of couples who have been cohabiting.  Conventionally, pastors have discouraged marriage of cohabiting couples, although canonically they cannot refuse to marry anyone.  Sacramentally, as with any sacrament, a state of grace is necessary to confer the Sacrament of Matrimony, which is why couples are expected to go to Confession before their weddings.   The reasoning behind discouraging such practices is to discourage setting a bad example.  Since our society is heavily scandalized in that regard already, and in some ways always has been, I suspect the Holy Father is right that it’s better to encourage marriage.

Nevertheless, there is that understanding that people of opposite sexes who are not related by law or biology should usually not live under the same roof because they put themselves into situations of temptation and setting a bad example.

More surprisingly, I was reading an article somewhere recently about the notion of impediments–how, just as an annulment can be granted for inability to consummate, supposedly one of the few reasons the Church will preemptively deny a request for marriage is if one of the spouses is known to be incapable of consummation.  To the question of how that’s to be known without presuming attempts at fornication, I was told that obvious cases include people who are mutilated or paralyzed.

Apparently, go figure, the reasoning is that the non-deformed partner cannot be expected to go through life with a person of the opposite sex and not act on it, that he or she cannot be expected to contract marriage and be continent!  Of course, any argument in favor of such a relationship raises complex issues about those who struggle with same sex attraction, and “what about those who become deformed after marriage” was answered with little more than “That’s complicated.”

So, we cannot expect heterosexuals to live in continence (even though it has been done), but we cannot presume those who are married are having marital relationships, and we can expect people who identify as homosexual, have homosexual “significant others,” kiss in public, and so on, to be courageously living in chastity.

On the other end of the spectrum is Cardinal Burke, who argues in favor of presuming sacramentality in the vast majority of cases.  Perhaps such a presumption is good, but there is much to be said for simplification of the annulment process.

The Miraculous Medal Challenge

I want to suggest a new social media “challenge” to pass along to your friends.  You may be familiar with the miraculous conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne, co-founder of the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, who was challenged by an acquaintance to wear the Miraculous Medal and say the Memorare twice a day.  I have read several versions, but apparently, he was given the challenge on January 8, 1842, and experienced a vision of the Blessed Virgin, and miraculous conversion, on January 20.
If you, gentle reader, are Catholic, get yourself a supply of inexpensive (even free) Miraculous Medals.  Get them blessed.  If you’re *not* Catholic, and are brave enough to try the challenge, get one.  Again, you can request one free from the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal.
Then just say this prayer twice a day:

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided.

Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.  Amen.

If, like Alphonse, you or the acquaintance you’re challenging are a skeptic, atheist, secularist, lapsed Catholic, etc., then you’re just wearing a harmless “charm” for a few weeks and taking about 60 seconds out of your day to recite some pretty worms.  It won’t do you any harm and may do some great good.

If you prefer something more Biblical, try reciting Luke 1:28 and 1:42. :)

Just give it a try.  Set aside all the arguments and ask Our Lady to help you know her Son better, in the morning and in the evening, all while wearing her medal.

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

Again Catholic readers, order some Memorare cards to pass out to your friends you “challenge.

Pass on this link to others.  Explain it in your own words. Just do it.  Imagine what we Catholics could accomplish with a little bit of faith and a little bit of courage to ask our friends to do this seemingly simple pair of activities.  It should come as naturally to us as recommending a book or a movie or a TV show, right?