Humanae Vitae 9: Married Love

sperm and eggHumanae Vitae is online at the Vatican site, and the text highlighted below is © Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Another section with common sense and insight, and that goes beyond what passes for common knowledge these days and back in 1968:

9. In the light of these facts the characteristic features and exigencies of married love are clearly indicated, and it is of the highest importance to evaluate them exactly. This love is above all fully human, a compound of sense and spirit. It is not, then, merely a question of natural instinct or emotional drive.

Of course.

Love is a choice. Especially in marriage, but even among relationships outside of a married couple, love involves commitment, sacrifice, and most especially, human will. Will is something that goes beyond heart and head. It is something much deeper. When our head tells us we’re crazy and our heart complains of dryness or indifference, it is the will that sustains our love for another.

It is also, and above all, an act of the free will, whose trust is such that it is meant not only to survive the joys and sorrows of daily life, but also to grow, so that husband and wife become in a way one heart and one soul, and together attain their human fulfillment. It is a love which is total—that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves (a) partner loves not only for what (she or) he receives, but loves that partner for the partner’s own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of (self).

This is well-spoken–could have come from a married person.

Married love is also faithful and exclusive of all other, and this until death. This is how husband and wife understood it on the day on which, fully aware of what they were doing, they freely vowed themselves to one another in marriage. Though this fidelity of husband and wife sometimes presents difficulties, no one has the right to assert that it is impossible; it is, on the contrary, always honorable and meritorious. The example of countless married couples proves not only that fidelity is in accord with the nature of marriage, but also that it is the source of profound and enduring happiness.

This is true. But married couples would likely all attest that it takes more than platitudes and confidence from celibate clergy to maintain fidelity and commitment in times of great difficulty. Marriages last far longer than they did in medieval times, and even a century or two ago. When I see twenty- and thirty-year marriages fall apart, some of the blame has to lie with a certain cockiness on the part of observers.

Finally, this love is fecund. It is not confined wholly to the loving interchange of husband and wife; it also contrives to go beyond this to bring new life into being. “Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the procreation and education of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to their parents’ welfare.” (Gaudium et Spes 50)

This is true, but it gives an incomplete picture of the fecundity of marriage. And I’m not just hinting at adoption, foster parenting, being grandparents, or mentors of young people. Generativity in marriage is not limited to biology. Indeed, one might suggest that there’s a higher calling for human beings, given how we are made as a species. And for believers, there’s certainly a life-giving and nurturing responsibility beyond producing bodies and educating them. Faith formation certainly must sit among marital responsibilities, with nothing likely more important. Any comments?

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Kansas City Sunset

Bishop FinnIt was somewhat surreal today, as the family and I were driving on Broadway through downtown Kansas City on the way to the young miss’s cardiology check-up. I pointed out the shiny dome of the cathedral. A few seconds later I said, “Wave to Bishop Finn.” A few hours later, a friend texted me, “Finn is OUT.”

A perfect example of coincidence, not causality.

Bishop Robert Finn has resigned, and that action was accepted by the Vatican. While waiting for lunch to be served later this afternoon at a restaurant on the way home, I perused a few comment threads on the net. I’m going to thread my own comments through my assessment of other persons.

I think it was on NCRep that one of Bishop Finn’s seminary classmates related some touching details of a personal relationship. As a student in Rome, Robert Finn seemed to have many of the qualities that would get a promising young guy sent overseas or experience and seasoning. Where did it go wrong? I’ve said on this site I found him to be more personable than his predecessor–and I took a bit of heat from one or two others who knew them both, and probably better than I did. My sense of the man is that he is earnest, caring, and somewhat stiff. Maybe a bit aloof. Blame his Rome training with the Dominicans? Opus Dei? His mentors? His lack of experience as a pastor? Clearly, his mentors did him no favors shielding him from parish work where he could gain experience in the deep trenches of pastoral ministry.

Perhaps the deeper sickness is the side of the institution that simply uses people. Uses them up in the case of Cardinal George. Rome knew he was in the throes of a third battle with cancer, but they let him continue in a demanding post for three years after he tendered his resignation.

If I were a friend of either of these men, I might be a bit angry for their ill-treatment. A heroic-minded Cardinal George likely would not have appealed for mercy in his dying years. Didn’t he have a friend who was willing to go to Rome, to Cong-Bishops, or to one of two popes and say, “Let this guy off the hook. Give him a few years to pray, write, mentor, and serve more quietly in some capacity.”

Likewise with Bishop Finn. Was there anyone to commiserate about an imploding diocese with tens of thousands of Catholics off the parish rolls? What were his mentors possibly telling him? Bill Donohue feeding his ego? Bishops telling him to blame the press, the liberals, the clergy, the uppity laity? How was that helpful?

As the women were dozing in the car on the last leg of the trip home, I wondered about the priests who might appear on the terna for Kansas City-St Joseph. How do you rebuild a diocese in a situation like that? Six years or so of young clergy who were mentored by the man now in an early retirement, the ground now yanked out from under their feet. Older clergy split and probably disillusioned if their parishes were the ones with a 20 percent or more drop in parishioners. Parents who, understandably, put their children first. I would have no idea where to start. How many priests will turn down Pope Francis before someone accepts the cathedra at Immaculate Conception?

For this reason, I cannot bring myself to see this day as one of rejoicing or victory, or even relief. There is an immense amount of work ahead. It is always harder to tear down than to build up.

What do you readers think of all this?


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Misericordiae Vultus 6: Mercy is Proper

head of ChristPope Francis calls upon the Angelic Doctor to bolster the case for mercy. Mercy is not for wimps–but that notion is stated in a more theological way:

6. “It is proper to God to exercise mercy, and he manifests his omnipotence particularly in this way.”[Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 30, a. 4] Saint Thomas Aquinas’ words show that God’s mercy, rather than a sign of weakness, is the mark of his omnipotence. For this reason the liturgy, in one of its most ancient collects, has us pray: “O God, who reveal your power above all in your mercy and forgiveness…”[XXVI Sunday in Ordinary Time. This Collect already appears in the eighth century among the euchological texts of the Gelasian Sacramentary (1198)] Throughout the history of humanity, God will always be the One who is present, close, provident, holy, and merciful.

How fitting that such a deep and important topic should be so much a part of the Psalmist’s contribution to Judaism and Christianity. Three psalms are cited next. The 103rd is known as one of the common psalms for Ordinary Time. It is also a frequent choice for weddings and funerals.

“Patient and merciful.” These words often go together in the Old Testament to describe God’s nature. His being merciful is concretely demonstrated in his many actions throughout the history of salvation where his goodness prevails over punishment and destruction. In a special way the Psalms bring to the fore the grandeur of his merciful action: “He forgives all your iniquity, he heals all your diseases, he redeems your life from the pit, he crowns you with steadfast love and mercy” (Ps 103:3-4).

Again, the image of a healer: caring for the needy, offering redemption, and raising to a place of honor. Honoring a creature merely because God can do it. Read a bit more deeply in this psalm to get a fuller picture for reflection. Our response to mercy: gratitude to God, remembering God’s deeds, and a genuine expression of praise. Good liturgy, in a jubilee year and outside of it, could be mindful of the principles given in Psalm 103.

Another psalm, in an even more explicit way, attests to the concrete signs of his mercy: “He secures justice for the oppressed; he gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the sojourners, he upholds the widow and the fatherless; but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin” (Ps 146:7-9).

An echo of Isaiah, isn’t it? It also invites the believer into a partnership with the Lord. His mission is now ours–it is part of the heritage of discipleship. It is not a nice theory, but a plan of action people who consider themselves aligned with Christ:

Here are some other expressions of the Psalmist: “He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds … The Lord lifts up the downtrodden, he casts the wicked to the ground” (Ps 147:3, 6). In short, the mercy of God is not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality through which he reveals his love as that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that this is a “visceral” love. It gushes forth from the depths naturally, full of tenderness and compassion, indulgence and 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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DPPL 282: Martyrs Inspire Early Christian Pilgrims

STA altar at night smallLet’s take a brief look into ancient history:

282. With a few exceptions, pilgrimage did not form part of the cultic life of the Church for the first three centuries of her history: the Church feared contamination from the religious practices of Judaism and paganism, where pilgrimage was much practiced.

Perhaps true. But the early Church perhaps had other things on its mind. It still had the life example of Jesus, the Master who had no place to put his head. Martyrs brought pilgrimage to our attention, though:

During this period, however, the basis was laid for a revival of the practice of pilgrimage with a Christian character: the cult of the martyrs, to whose tombs many of the faithful went to venerate the mortal remains of these outstanding witnesses to Christ, logically and gradually became a successor to the “pious visit” and to the “votive pilgrimage”.

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

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Climate Change

As I was reading Mollie Wilson O’Reilly’s post-game, it occurred to me it’s some contrast with Ross Douthat’s fracture. Perhaps the Church is more governed by the Holy Spirit when people sit down and talk than when one side or another prefers monolithism to faithfulness.

But nobody really won—no one could have won a conflict that never should have happened this way to begin with, one that exposed real fault lines in the church relating to sex and power and the relationship between the two and ended without directly addressing, much less repairing them.

I think the end of hostilities is enough for one day. Or month. I think if the rest of us can sustain a Francis Effect for several years–and preferably on our own without imposition from above–we might yet address those matters of sex and power in the Church. But I think we can all agree the climate is somewhat changed from 1978-2013. Maybe the Church has grown up a bit, and we’re all able to handle disagreements above the table. And give the culturewar an example to follow.

I suspect political commentators will continue to scratch their heads and wonder. But the example is only as good as when it gets followed on the ground in local parishes and dioceses.

Families, presumably, have conflicts unable to be resolved. What good does it do those facing divorce when Catholic institutions can’t reconcile? Gone are the days when a husband could insist on treating a wife like chattel and enforce a marriage by might. I think we need more examples of dialogue with respect for the other. Maybe something will rub off in San Francisco.

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Misericordiae Vultus 5: The Jubilee Ends

head of ChristWe won’t quite get a calendar year of mercy, but it will be close:

5. The Jubilee year will close with the liturgical Solemnity of Christ the King on 20 November 2016. On that day, as we seal the Holy Door, we shall be filled, above all, with a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving to the Most Holy Trinity for having granted us an extraordinary time of grace. We will entrust the life of the Church, all humanity, and the entire cosmos to the Lordship of Christ, asking him to pour out his mercy upon us like the morning dew, so that everyone may work together to build a brighter future. How much I desire that the year to come will be steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God! May the balm of mercy reach everyone, both believers and those far away, as a sign that the Kingdom of God is already present in our midst!

This is really an extension of the prayer begun at the end of MV 4. It seems appropriate to place the Jubilee of Mercy into God’s hands. We’re not going to accomplish much relying on ourselves.

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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Douthat on Breaking, Bad

Ross Douthat is concerned about Pope Francis breaking the Church. He cleverly cites the Walter Murphy novel which came to my mind about two years and a month ago. He lays out the conservative case for disillusionment, but Mr Douthat is one of the more reasonable voices from the front porch. While others show the true colors more in public that they flashed in my email in-boxes over the past decade, I’m not sure he really wants to be there.

Still, Mr Douthat is not perfect. He misses badly on the aspirations of Catholic progressives. He doesn’t quite have a fix on the Murphy book. The young lion is a political commentator and sees the Church’s internal tussles through the lens of an American conservative. That’s not necessarily bad. But it’s like trying to view a situation with one’s right lung. Sure, you can breathe. But where’s the connection to the optic nerve to be able to see?

My sense is that open discussion among bishops and theologians gives the Church some significant benefits.

People, mainly conservatives, can no longer hide in the cassocks of their gurus. If someone has something on their mind, let them speak up. Start a blog. Publish a book. But no longer will they be able to set themselves up as a court of inquisition, declaring other Catholics heretics and getting people fired from jobs.

Discussion will be more out in the open, and as such, people of all viewpoints will be encouraged to a deeper discernment. It will be a discernment not cluttered by the junked remnants of the culturewar. Which was a lost enterprise from the start.

And lastly, if Ross Douthat really wants to get a bead on Pope Francis, I’d suggest he stop pouting with his confreres on the front porch, and make an eight-day Ignatian retreat. I can suggest a few places.

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