Tag: St. John Paul II

UK’s “Catholic Herald” Reviews My Study Guide on St. John Paul II’s “Letter to Families.”

So, Francis Phillips at the Catholic Herald (UK) just reviewed a study guide that I prepared for St. John Paul II’s Letter to Families. The Letter was written in 1994 to…

Logo of the French Marriage Movement

Logo of the French Marriage Movement

So, Francis Phillips at the Catholic Herald (UK) just reviewed a study guide that I prepared for St. John Paul II’s Letter to Families. The Letter was written in 1994 to participate in the United Nations “Year of the Family.” While more than twenty years old, in many ways it couldn’t be more relevant.

Archbishop Chaput wrote the Forward. I provided the Introduction and the study questions. Phillips notes that there are two consistent aspects to the Saint’s work:

  • He was a philosopher and his work can be difficult to read, but
  • It’s worth it because he presents the Church’s teaching on marriage and family in all its beauty.

One of the study questions I proposed was:

Contemporary Western culture has separated radically the human body and the human spirit, to the point at which the two are often understood as wholly separate realities that have nothing to do with each other. Does this common mentality affect the way Catholics tend to think about the body, sexuality and marriage? Why and how does this tendency need to be corrected?

Phillips concludes that this is the key question that the 2015 Synod on the Family will have to address. I’m honored by his her recommendation. And the more I think about it, the more I think he’s she’s onto something. There’s no doubt that the extraordinary Synod last year generated a lot of confusion…for a lot of reasons. Good questions were raised about the irregular situations, especially the admission of the divorced and remarried to Communion. But those questions can’t begin to be be answered without clear anthropological and philosophical understandings which are then further developed by theological considerations. That’s a lot of work. Too much to be done in what is essentially a two-week working group of a few hundred bishops from around the world, most of whom don’t know each other. (If you’ve any doubt, think back to the last committee meeting you participated in…)

But it is work that can be begun by the upcoming Synod in 2015. I could be wrong, but I don’t see any other way of addressing not only the irregular situations, but those of the millions of people around the globe who want to live marriage and family as the Church proposes and find themselves in very ordinary situations that require preparation, enrichment, sustenance, and aid. In fact, this is what St. John Paul II called “the norm” in n. 5 of his Letter:

During the Year of the Family, prayer should first of all be an encouraging witness on the part of those families who live out their human and Christian vocation in the communion of the home. How many of them there are in every nation, diocese and parish! With reason it can be said that these families make up “the norm”, even admitting the existence of more than a few “irregular situations.” And experience shows what an important role is played by a family living in accordance with the moral norm, so that the individual born and raised in it will be able to set out without hesitation on the road of the good, which is always written in his heart.

He continues –

Unfortunately various programmes backed by very powerful resources nowadays seem to aim at the breakdown of the family. At times it appears that concerted efforts are being made to present as “normal” and attractive, and even to glamourize, situations which are in fact “irregular”. Indeed, they contradict “the truth and love” which should inspire and guide relationships between men and women, thus causing tensions and divisions in families, with grave consequences particularly for children.

And I’ll leave you to look up the conclusion of that paragraph…

What he wrote more than two decades ago seems as if it had been written for exactly the time we live in.

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3 Things You Can Expect From Synod 14.

Here are three things you can expect from the Synod – Chaos. The Vatican is not Italian. It’s Roman. Do not try to impose your standards on it. You want Romans to be in charge of things like food, fashion, all things epicurean and aesthetic. They do bureaucracy well if you think bureaucracy is a good thing in the first place, hence a Vatican that almost everyone acknowledges needs to be reformed/re-orged/rebooted/re-everything. Look at this. This is how Romans park their cars.

Here are three things you can expect from the Synod – Rome is a colorful place, to say the least, and it has certainly left its stamp on the Vatican.

  1. Chaos. The Vatican is not Italian. It’s Roman. Do not try to impose your standards on it. You want Romans to be in charge of things like food, fashion, all things epicurean and aesthetic. They do bureaucracy well if you think bureaucracy is a good thing in the first place, hence a Vatican that almost everyone acknowledges needs to be reformed/re-orged/rebooted/re-everything. Look at this. This is how Romans park their cars.  5869762-Smart_parking_in_Rome_Rome
    Actually, this picture doesn’t do them justice. It’s a little too organized. But still, note the directions of the cars. I love Rome and Romans; if you know them, you understand the Vatican better and you don’t allow yourself to be uber American and maniacal about media. Instead, you do as the Romans. You know, when in Rome, and all that… You ignore the chaos and go about your life, you use the chaos to your advantage either to create more chaos, or to get away with something, or you sit back and enjoy the entertainment. Take your pick. Why do you think Pope Francis arranged for two consecutive Synods on the family (and perhaps even a pre-Synod of sorts)? It takes time to sift through chaos.
  2. Ambiguity. Again. This. Is. Rome. This. Is. The. Vatican. #ThisIsTheUniversalChurch. You really think this is easy? Sometimes we barely agree on the articles of the Creed. Give everyone a little space to work things out and wrap their heads around things. Let them get over personal, geographical, political, and every other kind of difference so that they can see what they have in common. The great thing is that all of this chaos is making clear exactly what work needs to be done. St. John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio was largely ignored; so now things are even more of a mess than they were when he wrote it in 1981, after the 1980 Synod on the family. To change that, there’s going to have to be a lot of clear teaching. It’s everyone’s job, not just those who speak from the pulpit. St. John Paul II spoke of the “mission” that we all have to the family. Instead, way too many people ignored him or went back to sleep.
    Part of a monument inside St. Peter's, Rome.

    Part of a monument inside St. Peter’s, Rome.

    So now we’re back facing the tired arguments of the 70s as if the 1980 Synod on the family and Familiaris Consortio never happened. Start teaching. If you don’t like what the Catholic Church teaches, well, be honest. Decide whether you can work your mind around what she teaches or whether you can accept it without understanding it. If you can’t, then in good conscience, you really should find something that fits more with your beliefs. But, first, check out what the Catechism has to say about conscience and the “work” of forming one’s conscience. It really is work. It’s difficult. Part of that work is taking place now at the Synod. It’s messy. That’s normal.

  3. No change in doctrine.The Church cannot change her doctrine. A recent example (recent in terms of a 2,000 year old entity), is contraception. Pope Paul VI formed a commission to study the question of whether contraception could be consistent with Catholic teaching. It hadn’t been so far, but maybe something had been missed. The majority of the commission voted to approve birth control. Guess what. Despite majority opinion, Church teaching did not change. In fact, the confusion ensuing from Humanae Vitae proved fruitful in many ways. It demonstrated that there was a clear lack of teaching/understanding. After all, if the pre-Vatican II Church had been so strong, how could the sexual revolution have happened? Catholics as a whole had been experiencing a crisis of faith. Councils don’t get called except to address a crisis. There was no 1950s golden age of Catholic faith. Had there been, I maintain that the response to Humanae Vitae would have been very different and Catholics would have been a strong and beautiful witness that may have even kept the sexual revolution from happening with the quasi sexual intensity that it did. But the confusion paved the way for St. John Paul II’s theology of the body, a much needed presentation of the beauty of sex, marriage, and the family. I’ve also commented that Cardinal Kasper’s remarks have also borne fruit that we needed, albeit perhaps unintended by him. I’m convinced that more good will come. We just need to be patient about the process even if we don’t like it.

    Things in Rome have a way of lasting, despite the Romans and the various invaders.

    Things in Rome have a way of lasting, despite the Romans and the various invaders.

So what can you do in the meantime? Here are some suggestions –

  • Have a drink, if that’s your thing.
  • Go for a run.
  • Spend some quality time with family, friends, etc.
  • Listen to music.
  • Wash your hair.
  • Organize your sock drawer.
  • Count the blades of grass in your yard.
  • Read Familiaris Consortio.
  • Read Humanae Vitae. (C’mon, it’s a short document. The Vatican English translation is arguably better than the Pauline edition.)
  • Have an opinion on marriage prep or annulments? Find out what you really know. Ask about your diocesan or parish marriage prep program. Read the annulment paperwork on the marriage tribunal’s page of your diocesan website. If they don’t have it posted, call and ask.
  • Read something to enrich your understanding.
  • Spend time in quiet contemplative prayers and let yourself hear God speaking to you.
  • Let the Holy Spirit do its work.

Yes, there’s chaos, but this too shall pass. Ignore the alarmists. Anyone who disrupts a Christ-centered peace is doing someone else’s work, not Christ’s. Read Church history. We have always been a rather muddled mess. That’s what proves the Church is divinely instituted. No merely human institution could withstand humanity and all its foibles as long as the Church has.

St. Peter's, with the tomb reaching towards heaven and the arms (braccie) of the piazza embracing and drawing together humanity.

St. Peter’s, with the dome reaching towards heaven and the arms (braccie) of the piazza embracing and drawing together humanity.

 

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Marriage is – Gasp – a Sexual Sacrament.

The National Post  seems to be having a bit of fun with the response of a couple that has been married 55 years and recently gave their testimony at the…

marriageThe National Post  seems to be having a bit of fun with the response of a couple that has been married 55 years and recently gave their testimony at the extraordinary synod of bishops:

“The little things we did for each other, the telephone calls and love notes, the way we planned our day around each other and the things we shared were outward expressions of our longing to be intimate with each other,” the couple said in a joint statement to the closed meeting late Monday.

“Gradually we came to see that the only feature that distinguishes our sacramental relationship from that of any other good Christ-centred relationship is sexual intimacy, and that marriage is a sexual sacrament with its fullest expression in sexual intercourse.”

The audience of celibate men was a bit taken aback.

I have no idea how the audience actually received it, but I find their testimony endearing and honest. The same story reports:

“That’s not what we bishops talk about mostly, quite honestly,” a sheepish British Cardinal Vincent Nichols told reporters Tuesday. “But to hear that as the opening contribution did, I think, open an area … and it was a recognition that that is central to the well-being of marriage often.”

It’s an interesting answer. I don’t expect bishops to be sitting around talking about sex, although sometimes I do think a serious conversation about sex is exactly what the Church needs. But more on that another time.

If the audience was in fact taken aback – again, something which I can’t confirm apart from the article – then it suggests that there’s a very important segment of the Catholic population that has not studied St. John Paul II’s theology of the body (or his very provocative Love and Responsibility, written before he was Pope, as archbishop of Krakow.) Some less academic (not less specific, just more readable) resources include Patrick Coffin’s Sex au Naturel: What it is and Why it’s Good for Your Marriage and Prof. Edward Sri’s Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love.

Yep, marriage has a lot to do with sex. In fact, sex  is the consummation of the marriage. The marriage is only ratified until the married couple consummates (fulfills/completes) it with sexual intercourse, the specifics of which are very clear in canon law, namely vaginal intercourse that is unimpeded by a condom, withdrawal, or anything that would prevent the “deposit” of semen into the vagina.

Yes, there are some marriages which do not engage in sexual activity, starting with the model of Joseph and Mary, the earthly father and biological mother of Jesus. Such marriages are called “Josephite” marriages and are not the norm, nor are they something that should be entered into without serious spiritual direction. Some marriages become sexless after the consummation because of illness, injury, or other factors. Other sexless marriages resulting from dysfunction in the relationship are relationships that need serious attention to be healed.

In general, the Church does not intend for a marriage to be sexless. In fact, quite the opposite. Just skip ahead to chapter six of Karol Wojtyla’s (St. John Paul II’s) Love and Responsibility.

Sadly, the article contains an assertion that because the couple apparently received a round of applause when they told how they welcomed their son and his same-sex partner for Christmas that it’s a sign of a “homosexual agenda.” Maybe, but I think that’s a stretch. To my mind, that’s a family trying to keep itself whole and together. Just because we welcome someone who lives differently than we might, it does not necessarily follow that we endorse their choices.

Again, there are lots of layers to both of these issues. The National Post seems to have skimmed the surface. After all, sex sells. Sex and the Catholic Church really sells.

 

 

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