Humanae Vitae 13: Faithfulness to God’s Design

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

I think Pope Paul’s example here is awkward:

13. (People) rightly observe that a conjugal act imposed on one’s partner without regard to his or her condition or personal and reasonable wishes in the matter, is no true act of love, and therefore offends the moral order in its particular application to the intimate relationship of husband and wife. If they further reflect, they must also recognize that an act of mutual love which impairs the capacity to transmit life which God the Creator, through specific laws, has built into it, frustrates His design which constitutes the norm of marriage, and contradicts the will of the Author of life. Hence to use this divine gift while depriving it, even if only partially, of its meaning and purpose, is equally repugnant to the nature of man and of woman, and is consequently in opposition to the plan of God and His holy will.

I wouldn’t disagree with the principle Pope Paul presents here, but many people–not just women–will find the comparison troubling. An act of forced sexuality is a complex mire of sin: brutality, power, cruelty, domination, among other possible qualities. To have a hope of communicating Church teaching on conception, be it in the late 1960’s or today, one must be supremely sensitive to matters of sexuality, and avoid any opportunity for misunderstanding.

But to experience the gift of married love while respecting the laws of conception is to acknowledge that one is not the master of the sources of life but rather the minister of the design established by the Creator. Just as (people do) not have unlimited dominion over (their bodies) in general, so also, and with more particular reason, (they have) no such dominion over (their) specifically sexual faculties, for these are concerned by their very nature with the generation of life, of which God is the source. “Human life is sacred—all (people) must recognize that fact,” Our predecessor Pope John XXIII recalled. “From its very inception it reveals the creating hand of God.” (See Mater et Magistra)

After a bad misstep, the essence of Church teaching is presented here: God is the source and author of life, human beings “administer” this gift to the universe. It’s a beautiful teaching, and through it, we place ourselves at the service of God. The spiritual reasoning behind it is that God moves often enough in surprise and discontinuity, and not through logical organization. It might be that the gift of a child is opportune when parents might not discern it to be so.

In my own experience, this openness did not bear fruit, but it was a personal commitment. My wife and I were able to experience God’s surprise in many good ways in our lives as single people. It was an easy matter for us to trust a providing God. But not every human being, and certainly not every believer is as trusting.


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Misericordiae Vultus 10: The Foundation of the Church’s Life

head of ChristThe very credibility of Christianity is at stake. It is a credibility not based on a more logical set of truths than someone else, or on a lineage of leadership. It is about the imitation of Christ.

10. Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love. The Church “has an endless desire to show mercy.”[Evangelii Gaudium 24]

Is our memory faulty? Or have we not been well-catechized?

Perhaps we have long since forgotten how to show and live the way of mercy. The temptation, on the one hand, to focus exclusively on justice made us forget that this is only the first, albeit necessary and indispensable step. But the Church needs to go beyond and strive for a higher and more important goal. On the other hand, sad to say, we must admit that the practice of mercy is waning in the wider culture. It some cases the word seems to have dropped out of use. However, without a witness to mercy, life becomes fruitless and sterile, as if sequestered in a barren desert. The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more. It is time to return to the basics and to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters. Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instils in us the courage to look to the future with hope.

I have not seen much of this argument lately. It is true that much of modern society lacks mercy. Many actions within the Church, though with a claim to be grounded in Truth, actually resemble some aspects of secular society, especially our more brutal practices that involve bureaucracy.

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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DPPL 286c: The Penitential Dimension of Pilgrimage

STA altar at night smallGod offers us mercy on the journey.  If we are wise, we will accept the offer.

Penitential dimension. Pilgrimage is also a journey of conversion: in journeying towards a shrine the pilgrim moves from a realization of (her or) his own sinfulness and of (her or) his attachment to ephemeral and unnecessary things to interior freedom and an understanding of the deeper meaning of life. As has already been said, a visit to a shrine can be a propitious occasion for the faithful and is often undertaken in order to avail of the Sacrament of Penance(Cf., supra n. 267). In the past – as in our own times – pilgrimage itself has been seen as a penitential act.

This makes absolute sense from a simply human perspective. When we travel, we are quite often out of our comfort zone. Distractions fall away. We might grow weary on the road, and so reach a destination thankful to see loved ones we might have grumbled about. We are dependent on others: for direction, for aid, for food and shelter. Our illusions are not always faithful companions when on the journey.

When the pilgrim returns from a genuine pilgrimage, he does so with the intention of “amending his life”, and ordering it more closely to God, and to live in a more transcendent way.

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

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Diagnosing the Wrong

Msgr Francis Mannion, frequenter contributor at PrayTell via his syndicated essays with CNA, sounds off on what’s wrong with Catholic liturgy:

(N)ot everything is as it should be in the Church’s liturgical life. There is much unease in some quarters, and many people have a vague feeling that something is amiss with the liturgy.

What is wrong? In my opinion, the fundamental problem has to do with the manner in which the liturgy is celebrated.

Speaking generally, I do not give high marks to the way in which clergy preside at liturgy … and the way they homilize.

Lay liturgical ministers are very often trained inadequately, and are unprepared to assist at Mass.

Besides lay and ordained malfeasance, there are two areas in which the condition of the Church’s liturgical life is in very bad shape. These are liturgical music and church architecture.

In other words, this is not heaven. People are people, even clergy. They make mistakes. They possess occasional, if not regular ignorance. They don’t do what they are told, or perhaps more damning, they don’t do as they should.

If Msgr Mannion were a parent, he would feel the same way.

I note that while he does criticize homilies for not connecting to people’s lives, he doesn’t offer up the third criticism (along with music) from the pews: a lack of welcome and hospitality. Also, I note the parish he served before his retirement has three persons on the liturgy-music staff. Is professional staff always the answer to the ills of ecclesiastical activity?

Msgr Mannion also criticizes architecture. To be sure, it is the rare new parish that has much control over that. I notice the Cathedral of the Madeleine (check sibling links to the hypertext above) has multiple images and many pastel hues spicing up its interior. That’s more decoration than architecture, for sure. But the point of how a Church is housed is an important question for the building.

I happen to think God is an opportunist. God takes advantage of (or is fruitful in spite of) our wardrobe failures, our not showing up for Mass (even when we are bodily present), our indifference to preparation, and such. There is a Catholic tradition to allow for this. We do not always seek competence to discern the people in charge of something.

Still, I think Msgr Mannion’s criticism is somewhat more than the elderly neighbor yelling at us, “Get off my lawn!” As a liturgy (so-called) professional, I have to deal with the occasional poor homily, liturgical ministers not showing up, poor choices in clothing, and the like.

I happen to think how we deal with misfortune is a better barometer of our discipleship than our architect, the seminaries to which we send our prospective clergy, and such. Outside of heaven, liturgy will not be perfect. Even great liturgy. The real mark of how close we walk with the Lord is how we imitate him in dealing with the imperfect.

Is the solution to hire the best music personnel and homilist, and hope good liturgy (and faith) trickles down from there? Or is another way indicated? Read the link and tell us what you think.

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Misericordiae Vultus 9d: Summarizing the Gospel of Mercy

head of ChristLet’s summarize the parables of the past two days. This last paragraph deserves careful attention:

As we can see in Sacred Scripture, mercy is a key word that indicates God’s action towards us. He does not limit himself merely to affirming his love, but makes it visible and tangible. Love, after all, can never be just an abstraction. By its very nature, it indicates something concrete: intentions, attitudes, and behaviours that are shown in daily living. The mercy of God is his loving concern for each one of us. He feels responsible; that is, he desires our wellbeing and he wants to see us happy, full of joy, and peaceful. This is the path which the merciful love of Christians must also travel. As the Father loves, so do his children. Just as he is merciful, so we are called to be merciful to each other.

We are beings of intellect and theory–this is true. But we are also beings who inhabit a physical world. Actions in the world appeal to something different in us than theoretical discussions of mercy, salvation, and love. If we are to truly imitate the Lord, we will have to find ways to express the merciful love Christ showed to us.

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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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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