Archive for the ‘General Interest’ Category

 

A Special Christmas Light

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Today is the feast of St. Lucy. She was martyred at Syracuse (Sicily, not upstate New York!) around the year 300 during the persecution of Diocletian. From antiquity she has been revered by Christians, and she is remembered today in Eucharistic Prayer I.

St. Lucy”s name means “light” (from the Latin lux). She is the patron saint of those with afflictions of the eyes, as pious legend says that she received the miraculous restoration of her sight in the midst of her persecution. And as Scripture says, the eyes are the light (“lucy”) for the body (Matthew 6:22).

Advent, as a time of preparation for the light of Christ, is a fitting time to celebrate the feast of St. Lucy. Several countries, notably Sweden and Norway, turn on their Christmas lights for the first time on this feast (fairly late, by American standards!). [more]

Also, Marcelino D”Ambrosio reports that before the Gregorian calendar was revised, December 13th fell on the shortest day of the year. The faithful lighted “Lucy candles” in their homes and burned “Lucy fires” outdoors to celebrate that the tide of darkness and winter was turning with the return of the sun. There is another tradition of making special “Lucy cakes” to celebrate the day.

One of my daughters has a devotion to St. Lucy, and as a child she made it her practice to get up early to make breakfast for everyone on that day.

I”ll leave you with the following reading from today”s Liturgy of the Hours. It”s a selection by St. Ambrose, which describes how holy virgins such as St. Lucy light up their grace of body with the radiance and splendor of their souls:

You are one of God’s people, of God’s family, a virgin among virgins; you light up your grace of body with your splendor of soul. More than others you can be compared to the Church. When you are in your room, then, at night, think always on Christ, and wait for his coming at every moment.

This is the person Christ has loved in loving you, the person he has chosen in choosing you. He enters by the open door; he has promised to come in, and he cannot deceive. Embrace him, the one you have sought; turn to him, and be enlightened; hold him fast, ask him not to go in haste, beg him not to leave you. The Word of God moves swiftly; he is not won by the lukewarm, nor held fast by the negligent. Let your soul be attentive to his word; follow carefully the path God tells you to take, for he is swift in his passing.

What does his bride say? I sought him, and did not find him; I called him, and he did not hear me. Do not imagine that you are displeasing to him although you have called him, asked him opened the door to him, and that this is the reason why he has gone so quickly; no, for he allows us to be constantly tested. When the crowds pressed him to stay, what does he say in the Gospel? I must preach the word of God to other cities, because for that I have been sent. But even if it seems to you that he has left you, go out and seek him once more.

Who but holy Church is to teach you how to hold Christ fast? Indeed, she has already taught you, if you only understood her words in Scripture: How short a time it was when I left them before I found him whom my soul has loved. I held him fast, and I will not let him go.

How do we hold him fast? Not by restraining chains or knotted ropes but by bonds of love, by spiritual reins, by the longing of the soul.

If you also, like the bride, wish to hold him fast, seek him and be fearless of suffering. It is often easier to find him in the midst of bodily torments, in the very hands of persecutors.

His bride says: How short a time it was after I left them. In a little space, after a brief moment, when you have escaped from the hands of your persecutors without yielding to the powers of this world, Christ will come to you, and he will not allow you to be tested for long.

Whoever seeks Christ in this way, and finds him, can say: I held him fast, and I will not let him go before I bring him into my mother’s house, into the room of her who conceived me. What is this “house”, this “room”, but the deep and secret places of your heart?

Maintain this house, sweep out its secret recesses until it becomes immaculate and rises as a spiritual temple for a holy priesthood, firmly secured by Christ, the cornerstone, so that the Holy Spirit may dwell in it.

Whoever seeks Christ in this way, whoever prays to Christ in this way, is not abandoned by him; on the contrary, Christ comes again and again to visit such a person, for he is with us until the end of the world.

Blue Advent

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

I admit it. Most days I pay precious little attention to what I wear. As long as it’s clean and presentable–and still fits–I’m satisfied.

This evening, however, I sought out my best blue dress shirt for tomorrow morning. After all, it’s a holy day, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and I thought it would be fitting to wear blue to Mass in honor of Our Lady.

All this brought to mind a recent discussion about the propriety of blue vestments for the sacred liturgy. In light of that discussion, I think a few points are in order. [more]

(1) The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), nos. 345-46, in its discussion of liturgical colors, does not make allowance for blue vestments. At this time, blue simply is not a liturgical color.

(2) Liturgical color, given its intimate connection with sacred seasons and mysteries, is a matter of “traditional usage.” This is not something the Church will change easily.

At the same time, it is a matter of liturgical discipline that can be changed by appropriate Church authority, and even now more latitude is given in the celebration of special feast days: “On more solemn days, sacred vestments may be used that are festive, that is, more precious, even if not of the color of the day” (GIRM, no. 346).

(3) When I was in seminary in the 80s, I encountered liturgists who were pushing hard for the use of blue vestments during Advent, instead of (or perhaps as a legitimate alternative to) the traditional purple vestments. One of the main reasons that was advanced was the desire to rid Advent of its penitential character as a “little Lent,” a time of preparation and patient expectation for the arrival of the Messiah.

It is true that Advent isn’t penitential to the same extent as Lent, but proponents of ”blue Advent” seemed to be the same ones who supported a host of other liturgical changes that seemed to minimize, if not undermine, traditional values such as penance, sacrifice, and reverence. This is not the mind of the Church on these matters, and given this dubious theological foundation for a “blue Advent,” one should not expect a change along these lines.

(4) The last time I checked, there were Dioceses in Spain that had permission to wear blue vestments for the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. While blue does not seem appropriate for Advent, I think a case could be made for blue on days/seasons connected to Our Lady, such as Marian feasts, the Christmas season, and even Saturdays during Ordinary Time. That’s because Catholic sensibilities do “connect” blue with Our Lady, just as I did this evening. This is seen not only in Catholic art and iconography (e.g., the popular image of Our Lady of Grace), but also in the fact that many religious communities devoted to Our Lady wear blue habits.

(5) Some Catholics are suspicious of any changes or “novelties” in Church practice because of the many unauthorized changes and aberrations that have occurred in the “spirit of Vatican II.”  This mindset is understandable, but a reactionary approach that fails to make appropriate distinctions isn’t helpful.

And at the same time, there is the legitimate concern that renegade parishes will just do what they want in violation of Church discipline as a way of pushing for change. In this regard, they might cite the situation with altar girls or Communion in the hand. The current Church discipline–whatever it may be at a given point in time–should be followed, and when it isn’t, the faithful have the right to make their concerns known to the appropriate Church authorities.

(6) There’s no accounting for taste. A couple years ago I saw a photo of very loud blue vestments that many would find distasteful and distracting even if blue vestments were otherwise permissible. That tacky chasuble isn’t an argument against all blue vestments, but it certainly points to the care that should go into the manufacture and selection of all religious vestments. One thinks of the flaming pink vestments one sometimes sees on Gaudete and Laetare Sundays, instead of a joyful, but more subdued and dignified, rose color.

(7) I have a son in kindergarten who likes coloring by numbers. Using the liturgical colors provided by the Church is not rocket science, and even my young son can figure out what color vestments the priest should wear. I realize that negotiating with liturgists can be an iffy proposition, but let’s do our best to promote a reverent, commonsense approach to following liturgical norms.

And above all, let’s not let these considerations distract us from the sacred mysteries that are being celebrated in our midst this holy season.

Waiting in Joyful Hope

Monday, December 6th, 2010

In last week”s post, “Christmas Don”t Be Early,” I commented on how we seem to be losing our sense of Advent, that “Christmas” begins after Thanksgiving and ends when the last present is opened on Christmas. The rhythm and profound meaning of the Advent and Christmas seasons in many places has given way to secularist and consumerist sensibilities.

Therefore, I was so pleased to read this morning the first pastoral letter of Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, entitled “Waiting in Joyful Hope: A Pastoral Letter to the Church of Salt Lake City on the Season of Advent,” issued last month. The entire letter is only a few  pages long and eminently readable.

Bishop Wester states the problem quite clearly: [more]

“Too often, the season of Advent is overshadowed by the ”holiday season” as we move too quickly into celebrating Christmas. By the time that the actual solemnity of Christmas arrives, many of us are burned out. We are already tired of all the ”Christmas hype.” Christmas has become anticlimactic.”

He then proceeds to give an overview of the Advent season, which is very good, though I disagree with his opinion that Advent doesn’2012-04-24 18:32:59′t have a penitential element to it. I think Advent”s penitential aspect complements and amplifies the theme of “joyful hope.”

He concludes with an exhortation to Catholics in Salt Lake City to embrace the season of Advent for what it is, a season of preparation and vigilant expectation. However, he goes a step further and gives some ideas for celebrating Advent and Christmas that I thought would be helpful to Catholics everywhere:

“Here are some particular examples of what this will entail. Schools should not decorate for Christmas, but can decorate with simple wreaths and greenery. They might celebrate ”Gaudete parties” before departing for Christmas break. I encourage each home to display and bless an Advent wreath where the family can gather for prayer either in the morning, at dinner, or some other practical time. I urge you to hold-off on displaying a decorated Christmas tree until the season of Christmas begins. You may want to incorporate a Jesse Tree in your family”s observance of the seasons. As the season draws to its close, I also invite you to discover the beauty of the 0 Antiphons, which are sung as part of evening prayer from December 17th to 23rd, and are most familiar to most of us in the hymn ”O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

“Once Christmas comes, the season stretches far beyond the 25th of December. It continues until the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord on January 9, 2011. We should leave the decorations which are testimonies to our joy up for the entire season. There is plenty of time for us to celebrate our joy at Christ”s birth and we should make the most of it. You might consider having a Christmas gathering in the parish, or at home with family and friends during this time.”

On a separate note, today is, of course, the feast of St. Nicholas. My kids found candy and a potato in their shoes this morning. For more on this beloved saint, check out this post.

Awakening Consciences

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

In case you missed it, last Saturday parishes and dioceses throughout the world celebrated a “Vigil for All Nascent Human Life.” This unprecedented event was the initiative of Pope Benedict XVI, who presided at the vigil held at St. Peter”s Basilica in Rome.

The Pope”s homily for the occasion beautifully tied together the themes of Advent (the event coincided with the beginning of Advent) and a resounding pro-life message. The following paragraph from the transcript of the homily seems to be getting the most play, and deservedly so:

“There are cultural tendencies that seek to anesthetize consciences with misleading motivations. With regard to the embryo in the womb, science itself highlights its autonomy capable of interaction with the mother, the coordination of biological processes, the continuity of development, the growing complexity of the organism. This is not an accumulation of biological material, but a new living being, dynamic and wonderfully ordered, a new unique human being. So was Jesus in Mary’s womb, so it was for all of us in our mother’s womb. With the ancient Christian writer Tertullian we can say: ”he who will be a man is already one” (Apologeticum IX, 8); there is no reason not to consider him a person from conception.”

For the full text of the Pope”s homily, click here.

  

The Advent of Christmas

Monday, November 29th, 2010

The reason we celebrate Christmas at all should be obvious: The birth of Christ in the “fullness of time” is the most significant event in human history. Despite secularist efforts to change how we reckon time, even our calendar is divided by what occurred “Before Christ” and After Christ, “in the year of the Lord” (anno Domini, or A.D.).

But why December 25th? And when did the Church work this into her own liturgical calendar? After all, the Bible is far from clear on the point. [more]

The conventional explanation is that December 25th was chosen by the Church as a means of “baptizing” the pagan worship in ancient Rome and thereby evangelize the culture. It is true that on December 25, 274 A.D., the Roman emperor Aurelian declared the sun god the principal patron of the empire. This gave rise to the feast of Sol Invictus, or the Birth of the Unconquered Sun. The celebration took place on the Winter Solstice in late December, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, which of course would be a fitting date to celebrate the birth of the sun.

And so the common view is that the Church adopted this date to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the fourth century. Christians of all generations have understood Christ to be the “light of the world,” the “Sun of Justice,” and “morning star,” so selecting this date would be in essence a counterpoint to paganism. If that in fact is the case, that doesn’t render Christmas a “pagan feast.” But rather than pursue that line of discussion, the more interesting question to me is whether in fact this is really how it all came about.

There is evidence that the early Church was interested in the date of Jesus’ birth quite apart from pagan feasts. There was a widespread belief among Jews of Jesus’ day that great prophets were born or conceived on the same day on which they died. This belief carried over into the early Church.

There were two competing dates in the early Church as to when Jesus actually died on the Cross. The Jewish calendar date of 14 Nisan translates to April 6th in the Greek solar calendar and March 25th on the Roman calendar.  Early on, the second date won out, and the feast of the Annunciation–which marks the date of Jesus’ conception by the power of the Holy Spirit–was established on March 25th. Yet we still see the effects of the two separate traditions.

The East celebrated the birth of Jesus on January 6th, the West chose December 25th, which as noted above are nine months after the calculated date of the Passion of Jesus and thus the date of His conception. Eventually East-West cross-pollination brought us December 25th as Christmas and January 6th as the Feast of the Epiphany, or “Three Kings.”

The belief of the early Church that Jesus was conceived the same day He suffered may well have played a key role in dating the Nativity on December 25th. The idea is best attested in the Church in North Africa where Tertullian asserted that Jesus’ conception took place on March 25th. The idea is echoed a century later in an anonymous North African treatise called On Solstices and Equinoxes, where March 25th is again put forth as the day the Lord was conceived.

In De Trinitate, no less an authority than St. Augustine wrote, “Jesus is believed to have been conceived on March 25th, upon which day he also suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried . . . but he was born according to tradition, on December 25th.”

This treatise by Augustine can be dated to about 400 A.D. But it is unlikely that Augustine believed this “tradition” of December 25th to have been established in his own lifetime. In other writings of his against the Donatists, he mentions that they remained attached to Christmas festivals on December 25th while they rejected January 6th as an innovation. Since the Donatists were the fierce “ultra-traditionalists” of their day who came about as a result of the Diocletian persecutions of around 312, it is likely that the December 25th date was well established by then. If this is true, the date of Christmas did not arise in response to paganism.

Other factors support this theory as well. Aurelian’s establishment of the birth of the sun feast at the Winter Solstice was a type a pan pagan revival to unify the various cults around a common holiday and thus shore up divisions and decay within the empire. Of the various cults then in existence many, such as Persian-based Mithraism, had a devotion to the sun. None, however, had any record of a feast associated with the Winter Solstice. This feast appears to be an innovation of Aurelian himself and it is not unthinkable that he adopted it to co-opt Christmas (can anyone say “Kwanzaa”?), even though there are no explicit records of Christmas being celebrated as a liturgical feast in 270 A.D.

While this point merits further research, in the first centuries of her history the Church was not in the habit of “baptizing” pagan customs. Rather, the pastoral priority was to draw a sharp division between paganism and Christianity, as the latter was a persecuted minority religion that could only survive by jealously guarding its identity. The pattern of “baptizing” pagan practices did not generally arise until after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire later in the fourth century.

And of course, a source no less than St. John Chrysostom (347-407) advanced the date of December 25th based on elaborate calcuations stemming from Zechariah’s priestly service in the Temple as described in Luke 1.

But I guess regardless of how the feast eventually ended up on December 25th, whether on biblical or historical calculations, because of the Winter Solstice or to co-opt a pagan feast, the key is that all Christians, from very early times, have known full well what–or Whom–we celebrate on Christmas. May we remain focused on Him as we prepare yet again for His coming into the world.

This article, in edited form, originally appeared on the CUF Blog in 2007.

Every Day Is Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

At least in my experience, God’s will has not always been easy to discern, even with the assistance of prayer and spiritual direction. Sure, I know the boundaries of moral decision-making. Under no circumstances may I lawfully choose to do evil.

Further, I must fulfill the duties and obligations that go with my state in life. But what exactly does God want me to do? The answer usually isn’t black and white. We make what seems to us to be the right choice, and pray that God will bless our sincere desire to do His will and that He will continue to make His will for us known with ever greater clarity.

For this reason, I think that one of the most remarkable verses in all of Scripture is 1 Thessalonians 5:18, in which Saint Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, writes: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” [more]

So while we might struggle in discerning our vocation in life, whether to take a certain job, or even how to spend our next vacation, when it comes to giving thanks–in other words, manifesting the virtue of gratitude–God’s will is right there in Scripture for all to see. There’s absolutely no mystery or guesswork about it. God explicitly wills that we give thanks in all circumstances.

The truth is that everything in our lives, even the tragedies, failures, inconveniences, and sufferings, are part of God’s plan. He doesn’t make mistakes. Everything in our lives affords us an opportunity to grow in the love of God. Of course, when seemingly bad things happen to us, our first response may not be an expression of gratitude, and even if it is, it may be dripping with sarcasm: “Gee, thanks a lot.”

But make no mistake, God wills that we develop the virtue of gratitude–at least if we want to be happy in this world and, even more, in the next. The Eucharist, as the supreme sacrifice of thanksgiving (Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1359-60), continually opens us more fully to God’s superabundant gifts.

In this spirit, I wish all our readers a most blessed Thanksgiving holiday.

A Moral “Condomdrum”?

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

The initial wave of misinformation regarding Pope Benedict XVI and the issue of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS has already passed, and now people are actually examining the Pope”s statements and realizing that there has been no change in the Church”s teaching on contraception.

I think this is the key sentence in the book interview that has produced such controversy:

“[The Church] of course does not regard [the use of condoms] as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.”

First, note that Pope Benedict says flat out that the use of condoms is not a real (i.e., practical, effective) or moral solution to the HIV/AIDS crisis. It”s not a moral solution. And btw, it doesn”t work.

But what about the second part of the sentence? Let”s consider a homosexual male prostitute (in which case there would be no issue of contraception), who is on the journey to conversion. He should not be in that profession, and he should find a ”more human way” of living his sexuality that respects the good of the human person. As possibly a step in that direction, he may begin to use condoms so as to prevent possible harm to his clients. That does not make his conduct morally good. In fact, statistics show that this doesn”t even make his conduct particularly “safe.” However, it could signal that he’2012-04-24 18:33:12′s becoming more open to the good of others, which could eventually lead him to Christ and liberate him from his bondage to sexual sin.  

Janet Smith compared it to bank robbers who started to use blanks in their guns out of concern for others” safety. It doesn”t make the bank robbery morally good, but it does represent a little more concern for all the innocent bystanders, tellers, etc., which in itself is a positive step that could lead to conversion and restitution. In affirming that element of goodness in the decision not to use bullets, one would certainly not be encouraging criminals to practice “safe robbery.” Yet it is possible that the impulse of responsibility that led to not using bullets may be part of a much greater transformation leading the criminals to repent and to be open to God”s mercy.

The message–echoing the Ten Commandments–remains the same: Do not kill. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal.

I guess when you throw together (a) widespread societal rejection of the Church”s teaching on moral issues, (b) journalists covering the Church who really have no understanding of the Church”s teaching on contraception, (c) quotes from the Holy Father that are incomplete and taken out of context, and (d) Pope Benedict using a popular forum to provide a very nuanced theological opinion on a delicate subject–and one on which our own society is completely out to lunch–then you have the recipe for, well, what we”ve seen the past few days.  

Here are some additional links on the subject that shed more light on the subject:

What Pope Benedict actually said

Jimmy Akin

Janet Smith  

 

New York, New York!

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

I was unable to attend this year”s fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). All the same, I”d like to offer a few thoughts on the election of Archbishop Timothy Dolan as the new president of that body.

(1) Image may not be everything, despite the Andre Agassi commercials of the 90s. But it is very important, and Church leadership at home and in the Vatican has been notoriously inept when it comes to public relations. With this election, however, the U.S. bishops got it right. They bypassed the successor-in-waiting (USCCB VP, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson) and chose arguably the best communicator among current bishops, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York. To borrow from the song, he is “making it there” in the most prominent U.S. see, so there is every reason to believe that this gregarious, eminently likable prelate will project the right public image for the USCCB.

(2) Commentator John Allen of the left-leaning National Catholic Reporter likens Archbishop Timothy Dolan to a high octane, populist American version of Pope Benedict. So far, so good. However, from there he asserts that his election is not so much the victory of a conservative over a liberal, but rather a victory of the kinder, gentler “affirmative orthodoxy” of Pope Benedict over the harder edge of conservative ideologues. Those looking for a “no spin zone” may want to look elsewhere!

The main problem with Allen”s assessment is the fact that Archbishop Dolan”s main opposition was Bishop Kicanas, who is unmistakably on the “left,” and who had the distinct advantage of being the current VP of the conference, which usually signals victory. Archbishop Dolan is clearly more “conservative” than Bishop Kicanas. Plus, “conservative” here generally relates to degree of the prelate”s being in step with the Pope and curia. Any and all “conservatives” would vote for Dolan over Kicanas, and they did, despite the (very) small “t” tradition of simply voting for the VP.

(3) The clerical sex abuse issue still trumps just about everything. The bishops clearly were concerned about voting for Bishop Kicanas in light of the troubling revelations regarding Fr. Daniel McCormick, a  sex abuser who was ordained under Bishop Kicanas” watch, despite indications that McCormick was engaging in homosexual activity while in seminary. The facts are still being sorted out, and perhaps the evidence will eventually show that Bishop Kicanas acted appropriately and in good faith. That’2012-04-24 18:33:15′s hardly a foregone conclusion, though, and in light of the Church”s already tarnished public image in that area (see pt. 1) the USCCB wisely went another route. Already activist groups like SNAP–hardly allies of the “conservatives”–are applauding the election of Archbishop Dolan.

(4) George Neumayr of Catholic World Report makes a strong case that the vote for Archbishop Dolan is in part a repudiation of the controversial “seamless garment” approach to life issues. As summarized at the CWN site, New York”s Cardinal John O”Connor pushed for a clear focus on the fight against abortion in the 1980s, while Chicago”s Cardinal Joseph Bernardin preferred the “seamless garment” approach, in which abortion was only one of a number of issues to be weighed in political discussions. For years the “seamless garment” approach has had the upper hand in USCCB discussions–reflecting the dominance enjoyed by the late Cardinal Bernardin and his allies. But now Bishop Kicanas, a Bernardin protégé, has been defeated by Cardinal O”Connor”s successor in New York.

(5) This isn”t like American politics, where the president gets to choose his VP. Still, the election of incoming VP Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville–a “centrist” who is now the odds-on choice to become Archbishop Dolan”s successor–deserves some comment. I”ve always liked Archbishop Kurtz, and I”m eternally grateful that he offered a Mass for my Mom in his cathedral the weekend she died.

What I like most about his election as VP, though, is that he is so forward-looking when it comes to the battle against same-sex marriage. We have to admit that we were asleep at the switch in the years immediately before Roe v. Wade dramatically shifted the landscape. Archbishop Kurtz has been a superb leader in building up Catholic marriage, and he is an able spokesman against contemporary attempts to redefine marriage.

We”ll see how all these points play out, but I think there are some solid grounds for optimism here.

Cloaked in Holiness

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Today is the feast of St. Martin of Tours, a fourth-century bishop and patron saint of soldiers (the last point comes in handy for All Saints” Day parties). Many people especially love St. Martin because of this story that has been handed down through the ages:

Martin was a young soldier stationed in Amiens. On a cold winter day, he noticed near the gates of the city a poor, half-naked beggar. Martin was overwhelmed with compassion for this man. He proceeded to draw his sword and he cut his woolen cloak in half. He handed half to the freezing man and he put the remaining half over his shoulders. The half he kept, known as “St. Martin”s cloak,” was preserved for many centuries as a Christian relic.

That night, Martin dreamed that he saw Jesus wearing the half mantle he had given the beggar. He heard Jesus say, “Martin, as yet only a catechumen, has covered me with his cloak.” After this incident, he immediately went to be baptized. He then hastened to Poitiers where he became a disciple of St. Hilary, one of the greatest doctors of the Church of that era, and from there he became a bishop and one of the most beloved saints in the Church.

While St. Martin’s feast is always a cause for celebration because of his holiness and Christian witness, next year”s feast will be special for yet another reason: It will take place on 11/11/11.

Christian Defense (Not Defensive Christians)

Friday, November 5th, 2010

In the ongoing debates on same-sex marriage, gay activists have tried to sell the public–with some success–on the unsubstantiated claim that homosexuality is a genetically determined condition that is fixed and permanent.

Yet, before making the leap to societal recognition of a “right” to homosexual acts and institutions that support them, gay activists must still confront the reality that their goals are extremely offensive to most people of faith.

The Law of Moses condemned in strongest terms a man lying with a man as with a woman, and all religions that honor Moses as a prophet–Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Mormonism–have held homosexual acts to be sinful. Traditional Christian groups up to the present day, notably the Catholic Church and Evangelical Protestantism, have retained these core moral beliefs, which are rooted in the nature of man and woman and God’s plan for marriage.

Clearly, then, traditional Christianity stands squarely in the way of the gay rights movement and specifically of the push for same-sex marriage. So what”s the strategy for overcoming this roadblock? [more]

Gay activists tend to take two contradictory approaches to this problem, depending on their own set of religious beliefs of lack thereof.

On the one hand, there are gay activists who make no bones about rejecting Jesus Christ. They have conducted a major campaign to link religious disapproval of homosexual behavior with violence against persons with same-sex attractions, equating it to racism and racial violence. Every chance they get they use inflammatory words such as discrimination, intolerance, bigotry, hate, and homophobia in referring to those who assert, especially on religious grounds, that homosexual acts are contrary to God’s law. Their implication is clear: Such religious zealots are the cause of anti-gay violence.

Of course, the fact is that those who commit acts of violence against persons with same-sex attractions are virtually never churchgoers. Christianity strongly condemns violence against persons with same-sex attractions.  Interesting, the cold facts are that persons who engage in homosexual behavior are more likely to suffer violence from gays and lesbians than from others (a 1998 American Bar Association Journal article estimates the prevalence of domestic violence among homosexual couples themselves to be 25 to 33%).

In addition, “organized religion” is frequently presented as the oppressive majority, while the homosexual community casts itself in the role of oppressed minority, thus equating the “gay rights” movement to the civil rights movement or other more respectable and compelling causes. For a very recent example of this “victimhood” approach, see this article on the homosexual community’s attendance at an annual memorial service for Holocaust victims.

Other gay activists with some religious or even Christian sensibilities take a completely different tack. They take the position that the Bible and enlightened Christian morality really doesn’t condemn homosexual activity on the part of homosexuals engaged in faithful, committed relationships. The biblical arguments they use are obviously flawed, but they are enough to appeal to more liberal Christian groups who want to justify the behavior, a la Bishop Gene Robinson of the American Episcopal Church.

And even among churches and denominations that have held the line on the official teaching, we have seen the inroads of gay activists and dissenting theologians sowing seeds of doubt and confusion. One frequently hears, for example, that contrary to Church teaching (cf. Catechism, no. 2357), the sin of Sodom was not homosexual activity but merely inhospitality.

What does the New Testament really say? Here is an illustration, drawn from my previous “Straight Talk” post:

“Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

First, note that there are actually two words in the Greek that are combined to form the word “homosexuals” in the above translation: malakoi (literally, “effeminate males who play the sexual role of females”) and arsenokoitai (literally, “males who take other males to bed”). Despite persistent attempts to relativize or explain away this passage, what St. Paul is saying is beyond reasonable dispute, and it’s entirely consistent with other biblical passages on the subject and two millennia of Christian teaching.

Second, St. Paul is writing here to baptized Christians, some of whom used to engage in one or more of these serious sins. Even though they have now been washed, they are still prone to commit these sins and, if they want to inherit the kingdom, they must not return to such sinful ways.

So, those who engage in homosexual acts are expected to walk away from that lifestyle, and in fact people even in St. Paul’s time were apparently able to do it, with God’s grace. Surely it can be a long, difficult road that can at times involve relapse, but contrary to the modern line that some people are just born that way and unable to restrain themselves, it is indeed possible and necessary to decisively turn away from such a lifestyle.

Finally, there are many sins listed in this passage. While we might not experience predominant same-sex attractions ourselves, we are inclined to a host of other sins, and for each of us the first priority must be to turn away from those sinful areas of our lives.

Still, there is good reason to single out homosexuality for special mention. While many forms of immoral conduct are rampant today, they are nonetheless considered wrong and utterly to be avoided. We don’t celebrate “drunk driving month.” We’re not required to give our employees sensitivity training so that they can be more understanding of the internal conflicts of adulterers. When we condemn corporate crime we’re not called “greedophobes.” We don’t congratulate sneak thieves who “come out of the closet.”

When it comes to homosexuality, though, we are getting bullied and tricked into moving from decriminalization to societal recognition and institutional legitimacy.

As St. Paul wrote, we must not be deceived. Committed Christians hold the key–not only when it comes to playing defense against social engineering, but even more when it comes to proclaiming the truth about human nature and, even more, leading others to the fullness of life in Christ.