DPPL 286b: Pilgrimage and Exodus

STA altar at night smallThe Exodus event defined a people of God. God continues to lead us on, despite our resistance and revolt:

The exodus event, Israel’s journey towards the promised land, is also reflected in the spirituality of pilgrimage: the pilgrim is well aware that “there is no eternal city for us in this life” (Hb 14, 14), and that beyond the immediate objective of a particular shrine and across the desert of life, we find our true Promised Land, in heaven.

I think I’ve mentioned this before: a friend once said that everything in the Bible is either a Creation or an Exodus. That is why those readings are so central to the Easter Vigil. I wonder if every event of a Christian life can be boiled down as such. I don’t know, but I do look for Creation or Exodus, especially the latter in the various adventures God gives.

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.

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Humanae Vitae 12: Union and Procreation

sperm and eggHumanae Vitae is online at the Vatican site, and the text highlighted below is © Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana. For skeptics on HV 11, Pope Paul offers the argument in favor of marital sexual intercourse being both unitive and procreative:

12. This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which (people) on (their) own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act. The reason is that the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which (people are) called. We believe that our contemporaries are particularly capable of seeing that this teaching is in harmony with human reason.

The stumbling block I’ve heard most often is that the young, fertile married couple is taken for granted as the model on which to base this reasoning. Not every married couple is young, nor are they fertile. For the latter, flaws can emerge which are biological or psychological.

Outside the realm of biology, are married couples of any age or fertility capable of generativity, a wider and possibly more human expression of union?

I would comment on the “supreme responsibility of parenthood.” For the Christian, the supreme loyalty is spreading the Good News. Marriage and bearing children are means to that end. They are not a special “supremacy” different from non-married couples.

And finally, critics of HV are not all capable of seeing “each and every marital act” as harmonious with human reason. Some people don’t get it. Some people deny it. Some people struggle and give up on it. Some adhere in practice and preaching, but reserve skepticism on particulars. In these circumstances, we may well have to rely more on grace and inspiration than mere human reason.

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Misericordiae Vultus 9bc: Forgiveness in Matthew’s Gospel

head of ChristLuke 15 does not exhaust the Lord’s imagination when it comes to preaching mercy. An apostle inquires about limits. It’s a very human question. We are confronted with people who continually disappoint us. What is our stance?

From another parable, we cull an important teaching for our Christian lives. In reply to Peter’s question about how many times it is necessary to forgive, Jesus says: “I do not say seven times, but seventy times seventy times” (Mt 18:22). He then goes on to tell the parable of the “ruthless servant,” who, called by his master to return a huge amount, begs him on his knees for mercy. His master cancels his debt. But he then meets a fellow servant who owes him a few cents and who in turn begs on his knees for mercy, but the first servant refuses his request and throws him into jail. When the master hears of the matter, he becomes infuriated and, summoning the first servant back to him, says, “Should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Mt 18:33). Jesus concludes, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother (or sister) from your heart” (Mt 18:35).

So mercy is not merely a quality between God and an individual in need of grace. Mercy is part of our inheritance as Christians. Will be use it or squander the gift we have received? Just as a person inherits physical features from parents, Pope Francis is right to inquire of our “spiritual genetics.” Do we show evidence of being children of the Father? Or are we pretenders in the divine household? Is our claim to faithfulness, a sacred inheritance, orthodoxy, or what-have-you a credible thing? Or have we deceived ourselves and others?

This parable contains a profound teaching for all of us. Jesus affirms that mercy is not only an action of the Father, it becomes a criterion for ascertaining who his true children are. In short, we are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us. Pardoning offenses becomes the clearest expression of merciful love, and for us Christians it is an imperative from which we cannot excuse ourselves. At times how hard it seems to forgive! And yet pardon is the instrument placed into our fragile hands to attain serenity of heart. To let go of anger, wrath, violence, and revenge are necessary conditions to living joyfully. Let us therefore heed the Apostle’s exhortation: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph 4:26). Above all, let us listen to the words of Jesus who made mercy as an ideal of life and a criterion for the credibility of our faith: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7): the beatitude to which we should particularly aspire in this Holy Year.

The highlighted text is © copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana. You can find the document in its entirety on the Vatican website here.

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Michael Peppard writes here on an upcoming conference on polarization. From his conclusion:

(We) cannot fully escape these cultural forces (at least not without becoming sectarian, the so-called “Benedict Option”) …

At its root, polarization is not necessarily bad. People have different opinions and approaches to life. This works well in when two or more diverse people are gathered because it means that serious challenges can be tackled in different ways.

What is a problem, and even a sin, is when people celebrate their personal difference rather more than they celebrate the overall difference between brothers and sisters in belief.

What do I mean by that? Simple narcissism when people stake a claim that “I am faithful, I am conservative. I am orthodox. I am right.” As a distinct claim from either “I am a sinner” or “We are in this together.”

Noting cultural forces that tear apart our world, nation, and neighborhoods is pulling one’s head out of the sand. But people can make a choice, “I’m not going to be that way. Christ is who I follow; not Rove, Fox, MSNBC, or the 70’s liberals.”

Many Catholics struggle and fail on this front. They have been coopted by the culture. They might think they can make like a Benedict and head to the desert. But the echo of the culture they left behind will likely ring in their heads. Without conversion, the desert pretender will be fighting the demons inside and projecting horns and tails on whatever companions one finds in one’s way.

(I)n all facets of church life, creating spaces for graced encounters across lines of class and color …

Pope Francis calls it accompaniment. Jesus modelled it. More people could do it. It may involve doing things that one doesn’t do while watching tv or surfing to one’s favorite news or church sites. To create space for an encounter, one needs to be opportunistic when the moment presents itself, silent while the companion is talking, prudent when urged to advise, correct, or preach, and willing to learn something. One has to desire the encounter more than the groupie.

Now even as I write this, I’m skeptical of my own proposals. Are calls for transcending polarization hopelessly naïve, as some church historians have claimed? Maybe so, since we’ve been divided on key issues from the beginning, like when Paul got in Peter’s face at Antioch (Gal 2:11). Paul had the naïve, even insane notion that God had opened the covenant to Gentiles. Then again, our tradition holds that these two culture warriors met again in Rome, where they found their unity-in-diversity.

Church history proves that the line between naïveté and hope is not always clear. Or rather, that line doesn’t hold still.

Conferences are fine, I guess. I just prefer ministry.

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DPPL 286a: Eschatology of Pilgrimage

STA altar at night small

286. Despite change, pilgrimage has maintained the essential traits of its spirituality throughout the ages, down to our own time.

And so our tour of pilgrimage history brings us to the present age. DPPL is a significantly long section, which we’ll take in bites over the next week.

Eschatological Dimension. The original and essential quality of pilgrimage: a pilgrimage, or “journey to a shrine”, is both a moment in and parable of, our journey towards the Kingdom; it affords an opportunity for the Christian to take greater stock of his eschatological destiny as homo viator: journeying between the obscurity of the faith and the thirst for the vision of clarity, tribulation and the desire for everlasting life, the weariness of the journey and the rest awaiting, between exile and homeland, between frenetic activity and contemplation(Cf. St. Augustine, Tractatus CXXIV In Iohannis Evangelium, 5: CCL 36, Turnholti 1954, p. 685).

This is very much how I feel with regard to my Christian life. There is a quality of movement, a response to the call of the living God. Today, human beings feel it not only as a religious urging, but also to explore the vast universe, and to move out into it. In all of that we aspire to seek clarity in the midst of obscurity, life from death, rest from weariness, home from exile, and contemplation from ceaseless action.

Don’t forget to check the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy online at the Vatican site.

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Humanae Vitae 11: Observing the Natural Law

sperm and eggHumanae Vitae is online at the Vatican site, and the text highlighted below is © Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

This section will find the crux of the disappointment of many believers back in the 60’s. Still, it’s a good day to read carefully, ponder, and offer comments.

11. The sexual activity, in which husband and wife are intimately and chastely united with one another, through which human life is transmitted, is, as the recent Council recalled, “noble and worthy.” (See Gaudium et Spes 49)

Marital intercourse is a good–glad that this is settled and the pagan influences suspicious of sex have been eliminated from consideration.

It does not, moreover, cease to be legitimate even when, for reasons independent of their will, it is foreseen to be infertile. For its natural adaptation to the expression and strengthening of the union of husband and wife is not thereby suppressed.

This is also good: that conception on its own is not the vehicle for strengthening the sacramental or even the marital bond between a man and a woman.

The fact is, as experience shows, that new life is not the result of each and every act of sexual intercourse. God has wisely ordered laws of nature and the incidence of fertility in such a way that successive births are already naturally spaced through the inherent operation of these laws. The Church, nevertheless, in urging (people) to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life. (See Pius XI. encyc. letter Casti connubi: AAS 22 (1930), 560; Pius XII, Address to Midwives: AAS 43 (1951), 843)

“Each and every marital act” is where many Catholics have struggled and stumbled. It is a high standard, perceived as impossible by some. We have to admit that understanding of human biology has advanced somewhat since the original Pentecost experience of the Church. Certainly, Christian understanding of natural law was a bit less twenty centuries ago. And of course, there is the issue of how much or little natural law was explicitly applied in the early centuries.

Perhaps the reliance on biology is overdone. Human beings are not only subject to some of the laws of nature, but also have self-awareness. That awareness can lead to decision-making which can be a mixed bag of good and bad.

Otherwise, we married couples are given a very high bar indeed.

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Misericordiae Vultus 9a: Luke 15

head of ChristIn addition to the live encounters between Jesus and the needy, the Lord also testifies to divine mercy through parables. These stories reveal a deeper truth, and we should attend to them carefully, looking to all levels of the narratives. In a single chapter of his gospel, Saint Luke has captured some deep truths about the nature of God, as revealed by the words of the Lord.

9. In the parables devoted to mercy, Jesus reveals the nature of God as that of a Father who never gives up until he has forgiven the wrong and overcome rejection with compassion and mercy. We know these parables well, three in particular: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the father with two sons (cf. Lk 15:1-32). In these parables, God is always presented as full of joy, especially when he pardons. In them we find the core of the Gospel and of our faith, because mercy is presented as a force that overcomes everything, filling the heart with love and bringing consolation through pardon.

It is not a coincidence that Luke 15 has an appeal across all ages. The lost sheep is cited at more liturgies of First Reconciliation that perhaps any other Gospel passage. The story of the “father with two sons” (not just the prodigal) has inspired great art, and the surface story is one of the deepest metaphors in western civilization. More recently, we are seeing all three characters play out among the various persons of the Church. And lest we think this modern-day reenactment is just for entertainment, remember the example of the Father is not just for older folks. True disciples are called to imitate the Father’s mercy in its totality, forgiving wayward souls as well as seeking out those who have separated themselves from the community. Somebody’s out on the porch? We belong out there as companions, urging them with another brand of mercy.

The highlighted text is © copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana. You can find the document in its entirety on the Vatican website here.

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