Archive for August, 2010

 

Happy Baptism Day!

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

This has been a banner week for the Suprenant family. Last Saturday, of course, our daughter entered the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. Then yesterday was the fifth anniversary of the finalization of our son Raymond’s adoption.

And now today we are celebrating the 18th anniversary of our daughter Mary Kate’s Baptism–yes, the same daughter who just entered the convent.

We celebrate “Baptism Days” in our family, as we see them–with firm biblical and theological support–as second birthdays. Needless to say, this concept is a real hit with our kids. (So is “birthday week,” but I”ll save that for another post!) We consider these celebrations as excellent reminders to thank God for the mustard seed of faith that was planted in our children–and in us–at Baptism. And it also reminds us of our duty to nurture this life that God has entrusted to us as parents.

We usually at least sing and have cake to recognize the day. Sometimes we will get more elaborate and even light the candle the child received at his or her Baptism. Do the readers of this blog know their Baptism days and those of their children? If so, do you do anything to celebrate these special days? 

Everybody Still Loves Raymond

Monday, August 30th, 2010

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the finalization of the adoption of our youngest son, Raymond. Filled with thanksgiving to our Heavenly Father, I will once again tell Raymond’s remarkable story. For those of you who have already heard it, tough! [more]

Toward the end of October 2004, while I was still serving as president of Catholics United for the Faith, our Tucson CUF chapter underwent a name change, taking as its new patron the recently canonized St. Gianna Beretta Molla. All this took place in the context of a regional conference cosponsored by the chapter.

At the Friday night banquet, I was privileged to introduce the keynote speaker, Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis. Even though the presidential election was only a week away, Archbishop Burke was not there to talk about the role of Catholics in political life, much less who should or should not be allowed to receive Holy Communion. Instead, he was there to tell us about St. Gianna, whose image was prominently displayed during the banquet and throughout the weekend.

Archbishop Burke gave a moving overview of the life of this twentieth century saint: a wife, mother, and physician, who ultimately gave her life so that her youngest child, Gianna Emanuela, could live. Her loving husband, Pietro, was present at her canonization. (For those interested in reading more about St. Gianna, I recommend this biography published by Ignatius Press.

I was already somewhat familiar with St. Gianna, but I was struck by Archbishop Burke’s comment that she’s a powerful intercessor for infertile couples. Even though Maureen and I already had five living children, we have struggled with infertility throughout our marriage and we had already lost six children in utero. We were open to another child, but our “window of opportunity” seemed to be closing.

So, hearing Archbishop Burke’s words, I was moved that evening to pray to St. Gianna for the first time, hoping against hope that our family would be blessed with another child.

The rest of the weekend conference was predictably both tiring and fruitful, and Sunday afternoon the CUF staff members who attended the conference boarded the plane for the trek back to Ohio. On the plane, I pulled out a journal I had been keeping for my (then) three-year-old son Samuel, and I wrote him a letter. It was October 31st, Halloween, the birthday of my dear brother Ray who, with my father Leon Sr., died in 1978. In the journal entry I told Samuel about his Uncle Ray. I also mentioned that his mother and I were still hoping that someday he would have a little brother, if that was God’s will for our family.

It’s a Boy!
 
After two flights and a 45-minute drive, I finally entered my home after midnight and crawled into bed. A few hours later, there was much activity, as we all got up early Monday morning to go to All Saints” Day Mass at our parish. Then, as a feast day treat, our family went to a coffee shop for breakfast to catch up on what had happened the past few days while I was gone. I remember thinking at the time that it was one of the nicest mornings our family had ever had, and I rejoiced to be back with “everybody.” But then I dropped everybody at home and drove to the CUF office. We were closed for the holy day, but I had a few things that needed my immediate attention.

As soon as I arrived at the CUF headquarters, I realized that I needed a phone number, so I called home. Maureen answered the phone. She sounded like she was in a state of shock. I asked her what was going on, to which she replied, “Honey, I just got a call from Florida. We are going to adopt a little boy.”

St. Gianna doesn’t waste any time!

Maureen explained more of the situation to me. The birth mother was due to deliver in two weeks, but she wanted to meet us before she went into labor. In addition, we had to get busy to prepare for this sudden addition to our family.

Later that afternoon we talked about a name for the little boy and we selected the name Raymond Leon, not only for the great Dominican canonist St. Raymond and “great” Pope St. Leo I, but also for my brother Raymond, my father, Leon, and Archbishop Raymond Leo Burke, who encouraged the prayer to St. Gianna.

We flew down to Florida that week to meet the birth mother, her family, and the social worker. The birth mother told us she chose our family specifically because of Samuel. She saw that we had already welcomed a biracial child into our family, and so she felt comfortable that her son would likewise be accepted and loved. We also made arrangements with a generous CUF family in Florida who would take in Maureen and baby immediately after the birth, since it takes about a week to get clearance to leave the state. The family was part of our new “Our Lady of Life” CUF chapter!

In His merciful providence, Our Lord ordinarily gives parents nine months to prepare for the rigors of childbirth and caring for a new baby. In this case, though, we had nine days, not nine months. After scurrying to get all our paperwork in order, we received a call on November 10th, the feast of St. Leo the Great, telling us that our son was born.

Family Reunion
 
We put Maureen on the first available flight the next morning, and the baby was only 24 hours old when she first laid eyes upon him. As the birth mother was being discharged from the hospital, she took Raymond in her arms and gave him a long, affectionate embrace. Then she poignantly said, “I’m going to give you back to your mother now.” Then Maureen and little Raymond had privileged one-on-one time as they awaited legal clearance to come home.

Meanwhile, back at the home-schooling ranch, I was staying home with our other children by day and trying to keep up with CUF responsibilities by night. Not only did I develop a renewed appreciation of all that Maureen does as wife, home-schooling mom, and “heart” of the home, but I also quickly went through my cooking repertoire. Thank God for Pasta Roni!

After some anxious moments, including the airline’s refusal (at first) to allow a newborn baby to fly, Maureen and Raymond finally made it home. I picked them up at the airport. What a thrill it was to see them! We got home after the other children had gone to bed, but as Maureen unpacked and Raymond fussed, the children one by one awoke and came into the room to meet their little brother. The experience was part delivery room, part Christmas morning. I’ll never forget that night.

Father’s Joy

Ray was baptized a few weeks later on the magnificent feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. His adoption into our human family was thus crowned by his adoption into God’s family as His beloved child (cf. 1 Jn. 3:1).

With each adoption experience, Maureen and I have come to an ever-deepening appreciation of how the unique gift of adopting a child teaches us something about our Heavenly Father. After all, when He communicates His divine life to us so that we truly become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4), we are thereby brought into a familial relationship with the whole Christ, head and body. While we all have the freedom and responsibility to persevere in faith, hope, and charity, our rebirth as children of God in the Communion of Saints is the pure gift of an incredibly generous Father who delights in His adopted sons and daughters.

Something of the superabundant love and joy of our Heavenly Father is experienced in the human family whenever a child is welcomed into the home (cf. Eph. 3:15). This joy, in part, led us to name one of our daughters Abigail, which literally means “Father’s Joy.” The sudden, surprising arrival of cheerful little Raymond Leon into our home, however, was simply off the charts. The sheer gratuity of God’s blessing, which far exceeds our own limited expectations and plans, produced in our hearts a joyful gratitude beyond measure.

So now this evening, five and a half years later, with Raymond  sitting on my lap and quietly smiling at me, I had to share this story again. Thank you for sharing it with me.

This article orginally appeared, in modified form, in Lay Witness magazine.

Uniting the Children

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Tomorrow we will be taking my daughter Mary Kate to the airport, as she embarks on her new life with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist community in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

We”ve seen this coming for awhile, but I”m not sure anyone is ever quite ready to have their teenage daughter do something like this. But make no mistake: Mary Kate is ready. As for my readiness, I haven”t been so sure!

Speaking of readiness, check out this recent interview given by one of the “oldtimers” entering the Dominican community this weekend–a 2010 summa cum laude Harvard graduate! 

Anyway, last Sunday at Mass many emotions were running through my head. While I honestly can”t think of anything better she can do with her life–and I”m so proud of who she is and of her generous response to Our Lord”s call–I was still feeling a sense of loss.

Fr. Anthony chose Eucharistic Prayer III. I really like this particular Eucharistic Prayer. One phrase that has had rich meaning for me through the years is, “Father, hear the prayers of the family you have gathered here . . .” as I’2012-04-24 18:34:54′ve written frequently on the image of the Church as the “family of God,” as well as on the “parish family.”

But last Sunday it was the next line that really struck me:

“In mercy and love unite all your children wherever they may be.”

Even though Mary Kate will be in a cloister nearly a thousand miles away, we will still be united in God”s mercy and love, particularly through our participation in the Eucharist and in the life of the Church in general (a “communion of saints” thing). This is another one of those teachings to which we give notional assent, but every now and then we have moments in which a truth of the faith penetrates us in a more real, experiential way. I”m not really “losing” my dear Mary Kate at all!

Now, I”m the Dick Vermeil of Catholic fathers (I”ve cried all 23 times I”ve seen It”s a Wonderful Life, if that”s any indication), so I”m sure I”m going to shed some more tears. But they will be tears of joy and thanksgiving. 

It”s all right here in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 2232-33):

“Family ties are important but not absolute. Just as the child grows to maturity and human and spiritual autonomy, so his unique vocation which comes from God asserts itself more clearly and forcefully. Parents should respect this call and encourage their children to follow it. They must be convinced that the first vocation of the Christian is to follow Jesus: “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). . . .

“Parents should welcome and respect with joy and thanksgiving the Lord”s call to one of their children to follow him in virginity for the sake of the Kingdom in the consecrated life or in priestly ministry.”

Non Sequitur

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

At the heart of the proclamation of the Gospel is the call to conversion. This call goes out to all of us, to turn to Christ and to continually deepen our relationship with Him. This is to a large extent a matter of the heart, but sometimes we need to critically examine our thought processes. Discovering flaws in one”s logic does not of itself produce faith, but it does level the playing field so that the call to conversion may be heard anew.

Today, I thought I would offer a “top ten” list of non sequiturs (“it-doesn”t-follows”) that I”ve run into, with a brief explanation as to why they involve logical fallacies.

(1) “I don”t always feel like going to Mass on Sunday, especially if I”m out late on Saturday or there”s a good football game on.”

Therefore: “It’2012-04-24 18:34:56′s okay [i.e., not a mortal sin] if I occasionally miss Mass on Sunday.”

We don”t always feel like doing the right thing. In fact, feelings are not a reliable guide to making good decisions (Catechism, no. 1768). What would even be the point of morality if whatever we felt like doing always happened to be the right thing to do? We know from personal experience as well as from the teaching of the Church that that”s not the case. Also, this thought process makes Sunday Mass appear as merely an obligation, and not as the source and summit of our lives as Christians.

(2) “Fr. X sexually abused a minor.”

Therefore: “The Catholic Church is evil. (And all priests are perverts.)”

If Fr. X sexually abused a minor, then he is a pervert and a criminal, and he should be prosecuted to the same extent as anyone else who commits such acts. But to judge all priests and the Church as a whole based on the bad acts of individuals is an illogical (and at times malicious) leap–and one that our society would not tolerate with respect to any other demographic group.

As a matter of pastoral governance, mistakes have been made in the past regarding the handling of priest abusers, but even that doesn”t lead to the conclusion that all priests are sex offenders (the overwhelming majority aren”t) or that the Church countenances the behavior of the Fr. Xes of the world. The Church, following Our Lord”s teaching, especially in Matthew 18, has always considered the sexual abuse of minors a gravely sinful act (see for example Catechism, nos. 2353 and 2356). 

(3) “Annulments are just Catholic divorces.”

Therefore: “I should be able to divorce and remarry in the Church without the hassle and delay of the annulment process.”

This is the one clearly false premise in this list, as annulments, or “decrees of nullity,” are distinct from divorces. So here we need more teaching on marriage, especially on the indissolubility of marriage. As Our Lord said, “What therefore God has joined, let no man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6).

But even accepting this perception, there is a double standard at work here. Virtually nobody would attempt a second civil marriage (with the first spouse still alive) without first obtaining a civil divorce. Otherwise, they”d be committing the crime of bigamy. When it comes to a Christian marriage, the ultimate arbiter is the Church, not the state. Yet, many people act as if the permissive divorce laws of the state should exclusively govern realities that “God has joined.” For more on this topic, check out this article.

(4) “It”s legal.”

Therefore: “It”s morally acceptable.”

Not all actions that are legal are morally good, and not all illegal activities necessary entail an action that is morally evil in itself. In legal terminology, which one would get in a cursory viewing of Legally Blonde, some acts are malum in se (bad in themselves) and others are malum prohibitum (bad because they”re prohibited, such as various regulatory laws, etc.).

Even in our jurisprudence, then, some actions are bad, or evil, in themselves. This badness doesn”t come from the law, but from something that existed before the penal codes were written. Here of course we”re talking about the natural law, which is not dependent on the “democratic process” or having a majority of favorably disposed judges. So, the fact that abortion may be “legal” in the eyes of the state does not mean that it has ceased to be an abomination in the sight of God (see Catechism, nos. 2070-73).  

(5) “Catholics are not ”single issue” voters.”

Therefore, “I can vote for the pro-abortion candidate because there are many issues and surely on some issues he or she is preferable to the pro-life alternative.”

The fact that Catholics are not “single issue” voters does not lead to the conclusion that all issues are more/less equal. Abortion is a distinctive issue for three reasons. First, it involves the fundamental right to life itself, which is a prerequisite for any and all other rights we possess. Second, if that weren”t enough, the victims are the most vulnerable in our midst and unable to speak for themselves. And third, unlike most political issues, this is a black and white moral issue where there is a right side and a wrong side to be on as Christians and as men and women of goodwill. So a certain prioritization of issues is certainly called for. On this, I refer readers to a joint pastoral letter issued during the last election cycle by Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Finn of the greater Kansas City area.

(6) “Everyone has the right to be happy.”

Therefore, “Homosexual activity and even homosexual relationships should be approved by society, and the Chuch will have to come around on this issue.”

When this person says “happy,” he or she doesn”t mean happy in the deepest sense. Basically, this person is saying that a person, or in this instance, “consenting adults,” have the right to do whatever they want to do. What he or she is really talking about is “license,” which is human freedom disconnected from the truth. One cannot be happy apart from God and apart from striving to do what is pleasing in His eyes. If human happiness resides in God alone, as all the saints have attested, must we give legal recognition to his or her disordered attempts at happiness (to the detriment of the moral fabric of our society), or do we lovingly offer them another way? 

(7) “The Church”s teaching on birth control is not infallible.”

Therefore, “The Church”s teaching is wrong.”

Here we get into all sorts of futile arguments as to whether the Church has made an “infallible” ex cathedra statement on the subject, or at least has taught on this subject in such a way that it partakes of the “ordinary Magisterium” of the Church. Basically, people are looking for loopholes. They want the Church to be wrong about this, so they need to lay the foundation that such an error is possible (without bailing on the Church altogether).

The fact of the matter is that the Church teaches the truth in matters of faith and morals. When it comes to moral evils, the Church typically does not issue infallible pronouncements. Does that mean that the Church”s moral teaching is up for grabs? Of course not. And the Church has noted that the sinfulness of contraception is also a precept of the natural law (cf. Humanae Vitae, no. 14), and the natural law does not change (Catechism, no. 1958).

(8) “Things seemed to go haywire in the Church after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).”

Therefore, “Vatican II is the problem, and its so-called ”reforms” must be reversed immediately.”

Maxwell Smart might say, “This is the old post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.” Literally this means, “After this therefore because of this.” In other words, it”s bad logic to conclude that simply because one thing happens after another, the first event was the cause of the second event. Now Vatican II did bring about some significant changes in the Church”s life, but most things people point to as the bad fruits of Vatican II are things that (a) would likely have happened even without Vatican II and/or (b) reflect a mistaken (or mischievous) interpretation of the Council”s provisions. Taken to the extreme, this fallacy has led some who are “more Catholic than the Pope”–or at least “more Catholic than Vatican II”–to walk away from the Church. “Pre-Vatican II” and “Post-Vatican II” are not two different churches, people!

(9) “All human beings are born with God-given dignity and value.”

Therefore, “Illegal immigrants have the right to citizenship and to free healthcare insurance coverage.”

Obviously this is a complex, divisive issue that requires a new way of thinking that can break through partisan divisions.

The Church, more than any other body, affirms the God-given dignity, value, and rights of all people. There are many people in this country who are “undocumented” or “illegal,” oftentimes because their family is unable to survive harsh living conditions in Mexico. Treating these people as mere criminals or worse doesn”t resonate with the Christian perspective.

Yet, automatic citizenship and health insurance for those who have fled to our country (notwithstanding our immigration laws, such as they are) is not a necessary conclusion to be drawn from our premise. Even more so when we imprudently and unjustly burden the next generation with paying for our inability to manage this immigration crisis in a way that is both compassionate and respectful of the rule of law.  

(10) “God is merciful.”

Therefore, “All people [with perhaps noteworthy exceptions, such as Adolph Hitler or Osama bin Laden] will be saved.

This is the error of presumption, or perhaps universalism. Just as we can choose to accept Christ, we can also set our will against Him. If none of that mattered, then “human freedom” would simply be a mirage.

Can you think of any other faith-related non sequiturs?

Right Here, Right Now

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

With my daughter entering the convent this weekend, I find myself thinking about my time with a religious community in the 1980s as I was discerning a possible vocation to the priesthood and religious life. One day, they brought in a well-known retreat master to give the two dozen or so seminarians a day of recollection.

The first words of the priest to begin the day of recollection really startled me. He bluntly said, “None of you are called to the priesthood.” I looked around the room at all the postulants and said to myself, “Boy, Father Tom (the community’s vocation director) sures knows how to pick ‘em!”

The priest then explained that our vocation is “now,” that we must respond wholeheartedly to the Lord right here, right now by being holy seminarians. In five or six years, God willing, the bishop will lay hands on some of us, and then–and only then–would we truly be called to the priesthood.

As it turned out, [more]I wasn’t one of the men called to become a priest. Yet, this important lesson has always stayed with me as a lay Catholic.

A crucial part of the lesson is to seek eternal life right now. This can be quite challenging given the pace of daily life in the world. Further, we already tend to think of eternity exclusively as the sequel to this life. In other words, we live our thirty or sixty or ninety years on this earth, and then when we die eternal life begins.

However, eternal life is a present reality. Sure, in this life “eternity” (literally a dimension outside of time) and temporality coexist, while only after we die will we experience eternal life in its fullness without the admixture of time. But make no mistake–there are seeds of eternity in us now. If there weren’t, we’d have no basis for believing that we will continue to experience life–the eternal, “abundant” life (Jn. 10:10)–after we die.

Scripture frequently presents eternal life as a present reality. For example, in John 17:3, Jesus says, “This is eternal life, to know You, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent.” He doesn’t say, “This will be eternal life . . .”

The present moment is the junction between time and eternity. The past and the future are real, but they are exclusively temporal realities and thus lack the dynamism of “right here, right now.” God’s grace, which plants and nourishes in us the seeds of eternal life, is encountered in the present moment as we strive to live in God’s presence and accept His sovereignty in our lives.

Scripture does present us the case of St. Dismas, the good thief who converted at the very end of his life so that “this day” he was with the Lord in paradise. However, we can’t presume that when we come to the end of our lives that we’ll have the time and proper disposition to accept our Lord’s invitation. That’s a future thing. God speaks to us right here, right now.

We do well, then, to heed the Psalmist’s words, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Ps. 95:7). Or, as St. Paul puts it, “Now is the acceptable time! Now is the day of salvation! (2 Cor. 6:2).

Or, as a retreat master once told a bunch of fledgling seminarians, “Vocation is now.”

And You Call Yourself a Catholic!

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

A student once asked me: When did the term “Catholic” come into play? How did we become “Catholic” from our Jewish roots? I thought these were very good questions, so I thought I would share my brief response with the readers of Catholic Hour.
 
The first recorded use of the word “catholic” (from the Greek word for “universal”) in reference to the Church is found in the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch, a bishop and disciple of St. John who was martyred by the Emperor Trajan in 107. Shortly before his martyrdom, he wrote several letters to various Church communities. These letters have been preserved by the Church ever since. One such letter was the Letter to the Smyrneans, where he wrote in chapter 8:

“See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

Interestingly, Antioch is also the place where the followers of Christ were called “Christians” for the first time (Acts 11:26).

As for the second question, really the goal of all of salvation history, from the time of the fall and surely from the scattering of the nations at Babel, has been to reunite the divided, sinful family of man into the Family of God, the Church. The Church indeed is universal, as it’s the means of salvation for the whole world, Jew and Gentile alike. Surely the Jewish people played a unique role as God’s chosen people, from whom would come Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. In a real sense the Church became “Catholic” at Pentecost, when God reversed the scattering of peoples at Babel (see Catechism, no. 830).

The covenants made to the patriarchs, to Moses, and to King David all find their fulfillment in the salvation Christ brings to the world. As was promised way back in Genesis, through Abraham and his descendants all the families of the earth will find blessing (Gen. 12:3). This blessing is universal. This blessing is Catholic.

 

Seizing the Moment

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

In our daily spiritual lives, moments of decision typically revolve around temptations. We’re trying to follow Christ and abide by His teachings and commands. Then we’re confronted with a situation in which we’re being lured–subtly or overtly, whatever best suits Satan’s purposes at the time–into doing what we know we shouldn’t do.

In these instances, the good choice often involves avoiding a negative, to not do the wrong thing. Yet, battling temptations rather than fleeing them suggests that part of us has already given in a little bit. I know that sometimes even after choosing not to sin I feel somewhat sullied and compromised, because my good choice wasn’t as prompt and pure as it should have been.

I guess we can keep butting heads with temptations, flirting with how much we can get away with before we’re actually sinning, but I’d like to suggest a way out of that mindset. [more]

Instead of having the day’s moral decisions dominated by choices to avoid temptations to sin, as though we’re constantly navigating through a spiritual minefield, why not capitalize on moments of opportunity to grow in the love of God and neighbor? After all, the best defense is a good offense. The first moment of decision in a given day, and one in which quiet heroes are made, occurs the instant we awake. It’s the decision literally to get out of bed. At that moment, we’re comfortable, we might still be tired or not feel so great, and it would be easy to justify hitting the snooze button so we can sleep some more.

Certainly we’re not talking here about a temptation to sin, and sometimes, because of illness or other factors, it’s a very good decision to get a little more sleep.

However, our first waking moment gives us a chance unlike any others to put God first in word and action, to seize a moment of opportunity, to score a touchdown for Our Lord on the opening kickoff. Then we have a certain spiritual momentum, and our day becomes characterized more by the good we are choosing rather than the evil we are avoiding.

I know what a blessing it has been to get up early with my kids to go to a morning Mass even before the first cup of coffee or breakfast (which we then enjoy and appreciate even more after Mass). But whether it’s an act of the will to get up and pray, read Scripture, visit our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, or even go for a jog or walk, if it’s a decision for the Lord, it’s a great way to put Him first and proactively enter into the day.

Sometimes when I pass on my “heroic moment” so as to get a little more sleep, the day still goes okay. Other times, though, I feel as though I’m a half step behind all day, reacting to things rather than really living fully. However, I honestly can’t recall ever having regretted getting up early for the Lord or having a day really “go south” when I put Him first.

As Scripture says, we are to love the Lord with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and that we should instill this wisdom into our children as soon as they rise in the morning (Deut. 6:4-7).

Are the first words out of our mouth at the beginning of the day “All for you, Jesus” or “Just five more minutes”?

The Family That Overtook Christ

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Today is the feast day of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153). For many people, unfortunately, St. Bernard is merely a big, lovable breed of working dog. Even those of us with Catholic sensibilities might not know too much about him. Maybe we remember that he was devoted to Our Lady (which saint wasn’t?), and that he is believed to be the author of the prayer commonly known as the Memorare (”Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary . . .”). But even that’s probably pushing it.

It’s a shame we don’t know more about him, because Bernard was no ordinary monk. His singular holiness, his amazing zeal, his prolific spiritual writing, his founding of dozens of monasteries, his decisive, godly impact on ecclesial and world affairs during his incredible life are all a matter of historical record.

My family recently finished as our dinnertime reading The Family That Overtook Christ (Daughers of St. Paul, 1986). It’s the story of St. Bernard’s remarkable family. His father Tescalin has been declared “Venerable” by the Church, and his mother, Alice, his sister Humbeline, and his brothers Guy, Gerard, Andrew, Bartholomew, and Nivard have all been declared “Blessed.” It’s one of the most edifying things I’ve read in a long time. One of the most challenging, too. The holy siblings frequently attributed their exceptional religious formation to their parents, who truly raised a generation of saints. Isn’t that the goal of all of us Catholic parents? [more]May we single-mindedly lead our families in pursuit of Christ.

Bernard was no ordinary monk. In fact, he is no ordinary saint. He is one of only 33 saints to have been declared a “doctor of the Church,” whose exceptional, timeless teaching is a sure guide for all of us in our own journey to God.

Now maybe some of us have heard of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and a few of us may even have known about the Memorare. But how many of us have bothered to pick up one of St. Bernard’s classic works, such as his Treatise on the Love of God or his commentary on the Song of Songs?

fulfillment3d.gifI realize that these spiritual classics aren’t as readily available in bookstores as the Da Vinci Code. And even if we found them, we might find them a bit daunting or intimidating. That’s why I’m so grateful to Ralph Martin for writing The Fulfillment of All Desire. In Fulfillment, he takes the writings of seven great doctors of the Western Church, including St. Bernard, and presents them in a systematic, easy-to-read way. Heck, even Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the Pope’s personal preacher and retreat master, has heartily endorsed this book for all who want to grow in the spiritual life.

So, in gratitude to God for lifting up holy teachers like St. Bernard of Clairvaux, I’d like to conclude with the opening prayer for today’s Mass:

Heavenly Father, Saint Bernard was filled with zeal for your house and was a radiant light in Your Church. By his prayers may we be filled with this spirit of zeal and walk always as children of light. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Gay Parenthood

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

One argument offered in support of same-sex marriage is the assertion that children raised by same-sex couples have no more problems than children raised by their married biological parents. Aware that a major impediment to their agenda is public concern about the welfare of children raised by same-sex couples, gay activists have encouraged researchers to “prove” that their thesis. They offer these “findings” to the courts in marriage cases.

The majority of these studies do not compare children raised by same-sex couples with those raised by married biological parents, but with children raised by single mothers or in other less-than-ideal circumstances. Further, many of these studies have been shown to be externally or internally invalid. And in some cases, researchers simply ignored their own findings and skewed their conclusions to fit their agenda.

Persons with same-sex attractions (SSA) are human beings. It’s natural for them to want to experience the joy of having children: to love, to nurture, to leave a legacy. There’s nothing wrong with a woman wanting to become pregnant and bear a child, or a man wanting to experience the joy of seeing his son grow into manhood or his daughter develop into a beautiful woman.

Yet children are not trophies, or a way to meet one’s personal needs, or props to help forward an ideology. [more]People aren’t a means to an end; they’re meant to be loved for their own sake. Therefore, no one has a “right” to a child. It’s children who have the rights. When circumstances separate a child from one or both biological parents, adults should try to create a situation for him or her that is as normal as possible. No matter how honorable the intention, no one has the right to compound the tragedy of separation from biological parents by subjecting a child to another suboptimal situation.

At this point, children raised by same-sex parents are being subjected to a massive social experiment not undertaken for their benefit, but to further the gay rights agenda.

Activists might claim that couples with SSA are “rescuing” children by adopting them out of poverty or other hard circumstances. Although laudable, this intention doesn’t negate the real problems caused by same-sex parenting—problems deeper and longer-lasting than material deprivation. This argument also loses force when one considers the many roadblocks to adoption faced by stable, well-to-do married couples. Same-sex adoption doesn’t provide more homes to needy children; it just keeps those children away from married couples who would otherwise adopt them.

Of course, when reproductive technologies are used to create babies for same-sex couples, these children aren’t being “rescued” from anything. Instead they’re being intentionally (and immorally) conceived to be placed in suboptimal situations. This is child abuse.

On pp. 218-19 of her outstanding book, One Man, One Woman: A Catholic’s Guide to Defending Marriage (Sophia, 2007), author Dale O’Leary summarizes the risks to children of same sex parenting as follows:

(1) Each of these situations is either fatherless or motherless. Children flourish when they can identify with a parent of their own sex and feel loved and accepted by a person of the other sex.

(2) These children are fatherless or motherless because of adult decisions–often based on a need to feel validated or “complete”–not unavoidable circumstances. Either by adopting them or conceiving them artificially, their care-givers deliberately choose to deprive their children of a mother or a father.

(3) In every same-sex household, one or both parents have no biological relationship to the child. Often compounding the situation are complicated and often contentious legal and emotional relationships with sperm donors, surrogate mothers, former spouses, and ex-partners.

(4) Persons with SSA have a psychological disorder rooted in childhood trauma, which can negatively affect their relationships, their attitudes toward the other sex, and their attitudes toward parenting. They are also more likely to have psychological disorders and therefore are more prone to engage in behaviors that might negatively affect their children.

(5) Adults with SSA are part of a community that views itself as oppressed and in conflict with the greater society. This at-war-with-the-world stance place a burden on the children.

(6) Homosexual behavior is considered sinful by many religions, and same-sex parenting is otherwise stigmatized to some degree in mainstream society. The majority of people in most communities believe marriage should be between one man and one woman. Right or wrong, this can’t help but isolate the children raised by same-sex couples, creating feelings of differentness and inferiority.

(7) The community of adults with SSA tends to have attitudes toward sexuality that encourage sexual experimentation and don’t adequately protect minor children from exposure to sexually explicit materials and sexual exploitation.

Dare to Discipline

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

I used to listen to a talk radio host who would say, “In the department store of life, sports is, after all, the toy department.” Surely that’s a useful message for us “weekend warriors.”

But let’s take that comment a step further. In the department store of life, is our faith merely a department–and a “boring” one at that, such as housewares or women’s clothing? If so, then what about the rest of the store? Are there parts of our life that our faith doesn’t affect?

I think it’s very easy to compartmentalize our day. If we’re not careful, however, this could lead to our assessing our spiritual development based solely or at least excessively on explicit religious observance. In other words, we might look to whether we “got in” our Rosary, chaplet, holy hour, or whatever other devotion(s) we set out to do each day, as if these admittedly good things were ends in themselves.

Or we might pride ourselves on our “orthodoxy,” but then check our faith at the door in certain areas of our lives, such as in our business dealings or even our highway driving. Yet deep down we know that religious observance and doctrinal orthodoxy, to be authentic, must inform the totality of our lives. [more]

Our Lord instructed His Apostles to go “make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19). This call goes in a special way to bishops as the legitimate successors of the Apostles. Yet the call goes out to all of us. And when it comes to the family, parents are, in the words of Pope Pius XI, “vicars of Christ” within the home, the “domestic Church.” The various duties of parents described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 2221-31) all point to the vocation of Catholic parents to make disciples of their children. “Disciple” comes from the Latin word discipulus, which means “learner.” But just as being a disciple is more than mere “learning,” making disciples is more than mere “teaching.”

As Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II have emphasized in recent decades, teachers must first and foremost be witnesses. In other words, they must already be disciples themselves. But what are the hallmarks of a disciple, a true follower of Christ? One concise response was given by our Lord Himself when He said: “Anyone who wishes to be My disciple must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Lk. 9:23).

What kind of disciples are we raising if we spoil our children, deny them nothing, and soften the daily requirements of Christian living when they seem inconvenient or burdensome? As far as that goes, what kind of disciples are we?

The word “discipline” comes from the same root as disciple. Discipline is not limited to correcting inappropriate behavior. It’s more about instilling virtue, self-control, and a sense of order in our children’s lives as well as our own. As Scripture says, “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it” (Heb. 12:11).

Discipline is hard work even in the intellectual realm, as sound catechesis requires some memorization. At times it’s easier to give in and let the child do what he or she wants, but such myopic solutions in the long run lead to ruin. But we don’t merely discipline–we “disciple” our children as we draw them around Jesus in the Family of God (Catechism, no. 542).

Our children are watching us like hawks. Sure, they watch me when I’m praying with them or explaining Church teaching to them. But they’re also watching to see how I respond to conflict or disappointment, how I treat strangers, how I use “free time,” and where I turn for refreshment and meaning in life. What do they see?

Our children are God’s, not ours. Yet He entrusts these treasures to us for a time. Therefore, making disciples of our children must always be the top priority. We really need to “bring it” when it comes to their religious education, beginning in the home. What excuse could we possible have for doing less?