Category Archives: Marriage

A Catholic Traditionalist’s View on the Family and the Church in Today’s World

Here is a talk on the family by Michael Matt of The Remnant newspaper. Those of you who know of him know he is a staunch traditionalist within the Catholic Church. I am currently of two minds when it comes to the traditionalist position. Having come from a Protestant background I have a strong allergy to anything that smacks of protest. However, I do find myself sympathizing a great deal with the traditionalists.

I am curious what other think of his take on the state of the world, the Church, and the family today, as well as his thoughts on how to combat the problems he outlines. Is Michael Matt on target, or not? Does his understanding of our current situation make sense or is it too one way or the other?

As for The Remnant newspaper, I find it an interesting resource. Sometimes it’s a bit too shrill for me, and sometimes I find myself saying, “Stop fretting so much and trust in God.” But I also like their history and, while they oppose much of what is going on in the Church today, they remain faithful Catholics and in communion with the Church and the Pope. This, I think, is very important.

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Cardinal Burke lectures on marriage and its challengers within the Church today

A great many people, both inside and outside the Church, will find much or nearly everything Cardinal Burke says in this lecture to be offensive in one way or another. However, he does an excellent job of laying out the Church’s traditional and dogmatic position on marriage in light of the main issues facing this position today. I believe it is worth listening to in its entirety. This (assumed) fact — that of traditional Catholic teaching and that many Catholics’ would take offense at its plain spoken expression — says volumes about the state of the Church today. I predict that the next council of the Church will be on marriage.

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Carmelites Today: Two Examples

Not very far from my home is a Carmelite Convent. It was founded in 1957. I believe there are only a handful of nuns living there, and I believe they are all quite advanced in years, but I am not sure. I have been interested in the life of prayer and contemplation. Since reading Cardinal Robert Sarah’s amazing book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise I have become even more interested in silence and its role in the life of faith and the pursuit of holiness. So I’m curious about communities who live out lives of contemplation, prayer, and often silence.

I am also curious about why a woman would enter a convent. These two videos show some of the life inside a Carmelite convent, one in England and the other in New Zealand. The first is very beautiful, but I wonder how many women would seek out such a place. The second shows what appears to be a more vibrant life and younger nuns. Of course every video has a perspective and manipulates the material to its own ends. Regardless, I find both fascinating.

Again, I can’t say whether either one of these options presented is attractive. I don’t know what young or old women think and feel about such things, except what they say in the videos and, frankly, it’s still mysterious to me at some level. Regardless, the first video seems to present a convent of old women taking care of very old women. There are just no young women at that place from what I can tell. The second video seems more attractive, more vibrant. Still both places seem to have merely a handful of nuns. I wonder what such a video (or film) might show if one had been made a hundred years ago. Would we have seen convents of hundreds rather than a dozen or less, and of all ages more well represented?

Because of my own proclivities I noticed the nuns in the first video take the Eucharist in the hand, while in the second they recieve it on the tongue. Does this matter to the life they live? Does this reflect their ages — the older nuns in the first and the younger in the second? I have heard religious groups with more traditional practices are growing while others are fading. I can’t tell from the videos, but I wonder.

Finally, I love that there are nuns, and we need their prayers. As I wrote previously, we need more nuns (and sisters).

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I officiated a wedding

It was my first time doing such a thing. When I was asked I wasn’t sure I could say yes. I became Catholic several years ago, and this was not a Catholic wedding, so I was not sure what the rules are. But my research (much thanks to Catholic Answers) said it was okay within parameters I was willing to follow, so I said yes. My wife and I counseled the couple as well. I was humbled to be asked, and felt it a great privilege to be a part of this couple’s starting out together.

wedding prayer

photo by Daniel Odegaard

Here is the text of what I said at the wedding:

Karly and Jackson I want the two of you to take a good look at all the people who are here today. Go ahead and look at them. These are people who are dear to you, and you are dear to them. There is no denying the fact that the two of you are loved, and this day is important to a lot of people.

And I must say that Maricel and I have enjoyed spending time with the two of you over the past several months. It’s been a blessing to us, and I hope it has been good for you as well.

And this points out a very important thing – though making the commitment to get married is a very personal decision, it is also a very public one; it is a decision that is made and lived out within a community, and it affects, and is affected by, the lives of that community. None of us will be the same after today. So in case you are feeling just a little overwhelmed about all the attention, know that it’s not just about you, even though it is about you.

Before we get to your vows I want to take a few minutes and say a few words about marriage. I say these words based on my own experience and convictions that have come about because of my marriage to my beloved Maricel. I also say these words because of the conversations Maricel and I have had with the two of you. And because this is so important, I wrote out what I’m going to say. So I hope you don’t mind that I’m going to read to you.

For many here, and I hope for you too, what I will say will be nothing new. But weddings are important moments for all who come to witness, to celebrate, and to be reminded of the joy and goodness of marriage. In other words, it’s not just about the two of you getting hitched, it’s also about all of us reaffirming our own commitments to what marriage is, and to live in the light of those commitments.

The two of you have chosen, and are declaring today in front of these witnesses, to become ONE. We are told in Genesis 2:24 that in marriage a man and woman are united together and become one flesh. These words are also repeated by Christ. Today you two will be united in the mystery of marriage and you will personally and publically begin your life as one. This is an incredible idea to ponder – to be one.

But let’s make sure we are clear on a couple of absolutely critical and fundamental facts of this amazing oneness. First, becoming one in no way diminishes your individuality. Karly you will still be you. And Jackson, you will still be you. True oneness does not negate who each of you are as unique individuals. In fact, the mystery of oneness in marriage means that you two should help each other to become more fully, more completely yourselves. Jackson, you should dedicate your life to helping Karly become more beautifully, more wonderfully her truest and best version of herself. Karly, you must be dedicated to the same for Jackson, to become his truest and best version of himself.

But I also must say that, even though you start today being one, you will live out the rest of your days together becoming one. In other words, it takes work to be one. Marriage is something you dedicate yourselves to. And you need each other to do this. Your marriage, if you work at it side-by-side, and in cooperation with God’s grace, will become ever more perfectly and ever more completely what marriage is – that is, what it is meant to be.

You also need this community. We are all here today with you, not only to be witnesses of your vows to each other, and not merely to celebrate this day, but also to declare to you that we will support you and encourage you on your journey. As I said earlier, this decision you have made and are making is being done within a community. We are all here because it’s that important to us.

And secondly, this brings us to something perhaps even more fundamental. You see, we make a big deal out of getting married by having weddings, by gathering as a group like this, doing these formal ceremonies, and then making a party out of it. The reason is because getting married is not merely some legal agreement, or a contract where the two of you meet in the middle somewhere. The commitment of marriage is, rather, a covenant. Instead of saying “I’ll do my part as long as you do your part,” or “I’ll carry this half and you carry that half,” a covenant is a promise of persons. It’s one person saying I commit myself to you, I give myself to you, I pledge my very being to you and to your welfare, your self, your holiness. Not only is this amazing, but you see, when two people pledge themselves to each other in marriage it is a kind of miracle. There is nothing ordinary about a covenantal marriage.

In fact, Christians have always referred to marriage as sacred. It’s not just another thing we do, it’s a sacrament. In other words, it’s an outward sign of an inward grace that has been instituted by Jesus Christ. In fact, the language of marriage is the language of God’s relationship to us. It is, in effect, the language of salvation itself: God and His people, Christ and His Church, the groom and his bride. And God can work in your lives in many ways. And He has already been working in your lives since before each of you were born, creating the families and communities into which you were born, in which you were raised and in which each of you have been formed.

Now you stand here ready to enter into this special grace of God, that of marriage, created by God since the beginning of time, blessed by His only Son, and given to you as a special work. It is both a beautiful and a challenging privilege offered to you as you submit yourselves in love to each other. And as you do the work of marriage, may God continue to work in and through you, to bless each other, to bless us, and to bless the world.

But now I must address the issue of sin. You see, for how wonderful and good marriage is in its very nature, marriage can also be a struggle. Why? In his letter to the Christians in Rome, the Apostle Paul writes about his struggle with sin. He says that all too often he does the things he doesn’t want to do, and conversely doesn’t do what he knows he should. He then says he finds a war going on in his soul. He desires righteousness, he desires goodness, to be loving and virtuous, but that desire is constantly being sabotaged. Something deep within him is again and again warring against his ultimate desires. If we are honest with ourselves we all find this principle in each of us, whether we are married or not. It’s a struggle common to us all. We are all in the same boat.

In marriage one cannot hide from this reality. Ironically, and I say this with the utmost seriousness, this inability to hide is one of the great gifts of marriage. In many ways marriage seems designed to make this inner struggle more evident. But instead of seeing this as something to avoid, welcome this truth. Only by knowing the truth of yourselves will you then feel the honest and authentic need to turn to God and call to Him for His grace and mercy. Only with this knowledge can you develop genuine empathy for each other. Knowing the two of you as I do, I am convinced that you already know this in part, and will continue learn this more fully. In fact, I truly believe you will come to embrace this.

So let’s remind ourselves of the goal. We want to be holy, truly loving, imitators of Christ. The apostle Peter says that we actually become partakers of the divine nature, that we would become like Christ who gave Himself for us. And what joy it is that now, because of this covenant you are entering into, each of you has a partner, that is one another, to help you on this profound and glorious journey. There is nothing either of you can do of more importance, or that carries more weight, than to follow Christ in the totality of who you are.

So then how do you deal with these demands, and strive for this reality? It begins with the grace of God through Christ. For Christ gave us the example of how we should live when He came into this world, humbling Himself even to the point of death, and then rose again that we might have life. He did this for you Jackson. And He did this for you Karly.

Christ dwells with you and in you. He gives you the strength to take up your crosses and so follow Him, to rise again after you have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ, and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and abundant love. It is in loving each other and giving of yourselves as Christ gave Himself for us that you will live out the covenant of marriage and become one.

I know that both of you desire to do good in the world beyond yourselves. You expressed to me and Maricel that in your hearts is the calling to do works of mercy, to help those in need, to serve and bring Christ to others. This is a noble calling and, in fact, we are all called to do these things. I want to emphasize that it will be your marriage, and the oneness you build together in Christ, that will not only be a powerful witness to the world, but will be the source of your strength, the foundation from which you can best extend your love to others. Work first on your relationship with Christ and with each other, and in your parenting if God blesses you with children, and the rest will follow. This, in a very personal way, will become the way you two seek His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these excellent and noble things will be given to you as well.

Finally, love is to will the good of the other as other. Jackson, your desire for Karly ought to be that she should become the woman of God she is meant to be. Karly, your desire for Jackson ought to be that he should become the man of God he is meant to be. You are not to use each other, and I know you believe that. But I must say that marriage is not a cure for loneliness, or merely a way to provide physical intimacy, or the way your going to get happiness. It’s not about what you can get from the other, or how you can make the other conform to your short-term needs. To love each other is more than having feelings for each other, it is to actively desire the very best for each other, to serve each other to that purpose. And this requires that each of you become students of each other, spending your days finding out more and more about how each of you uniquely embodies the image of God. Enjoy the romance, but even more revel and rejoice in goodness, in the pursuit of holiness, and in love that endures.

My prayer for you is that you would live in the light of these truths, and in the love of Christ; that you will give of yourselves to the building up of each other towards holiness; and that your marriage become the greatest blessing you ever receive short only of your final glory in the kingdom of God.

I am truly excited (and I know we all are) for both of you and this new journey you are beginning.

And now, Jackson and Karly, we have come the time for you to pledge yourselves to each other.

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Bishop Robert Barron on the Family

Here is a great talk given by Bishop Robert Barron on the family.

I like just everything about this talk. Among many interesting and profound things he says, and he says a lot, I found one thing that really jumped out at me at 47:15. He says that if the “great figures of Vatican II” (Henri de Lubac, Romano Guardini, Joseph Ratzinger, Hans Urs von Balthasar) could see that today 75 percent of Catholics do not go to mass regularly they would view their project (Vatican II and all that it anticipated and was meant to accomplish) as a failure. Bishop Barron says Vatican II was meant to revive the Church, in essence to bring more life into the Church. He seems to be saying, however, the evidence seems to point in the opposite direction.

The possible implication is that if all had happened as they thought it would, then our church buildings would be bursting on Sundays, and filled with many faithful throughout the week. It would have been the Catholic Church that defined the idea of Evangelical, and taken that spirit to the world. Instead Catholics left the Church for the Evangelicalism of the Protestants, or just stopped going to Church altogether. This was happening prior to the council, but it exploded since then. The Catholic Church was run over by the steamroller of late modernity and many Catholics were happy to be run over.

I do not think Vatican II caused any of this in the way that some claim, but it played a part. Exactly how is debatable, but one thing seems certain, though the great figures of  the council were noble in their desires, they thought the Church wanted one thing (get closer to God) when, in fact, it wanted something else (push God away, at least away from their sexuality, definitions of marriage, contraception, etc.). They thought Catholics in large part wanted more freedom to be fully alive in Christ, but what Catholics wanted was freedom from the strictures of the Church (from the perceived tyranny of tradition, the un-coolness of the old, from the barriers that demarcated the Catholic subculture from the popular world). In other words they thought Catholics were interested in becoming more Catholic when, in fact, they wanted to become culturally, socially, even theologically Protestant.

I would like to hear more from Bishop Barron on his thoughts about this. Was Vatican II a failure? What would the great figures of Vatican II say?

Just to be clear, Bishop Barron has a generally very positive view of Vatican II. You get a good picture of his understanding here:

…but I’m curious.

Could it be, however/also, that we have too short and too impatient a timeline for a post-council Church revival to rise and flourish? Do reformations take longer? 40 years in the desert, generations dying off? I am increasingly inclined to see the changes brought by the council may still be in their early stages — and that they are leading towards a deeper understanding and celebration of the mysteries of faith, including the depth of tradition, etc. Sometimes one has to move away for a while before returning in order to appreciate one’s homeland. If this is true, then all the troubles that have flowed from the time of Vatican II may actually be step one in the council’s success.

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No slapping matter (or is it?): Thinking about Synods and Encountering Christ

soumela_nicaea_nicholas

An irate Bishop Nicholas slaps troublesome priest Arius across the face at the First Council of Nicaea

Some brief, and probably uneducated personal thoughts on the Synod on the Family, but first…

…and with humility…

There is a lot of discussion and vitriol flying around these days about the family and the Church. It bothers me. Two frequently narrow-minded religio-political groups — Liberals and Conservatives — have been squaring off over questions of divorce and remarriage and the receiving of the Eucharist — and other important matters of marriage, sex, faith, and the Church. I say narrow-minded because Christ is neither liberal or conservative, and neither is the Church. As Christians we know this. At one time or another I have been in both camps (I still am I guess). Nonetheless, I wonder…

Could all this hullabaloo over these tendentious and tender issues be God’s way (perhaps by way of Pope Francis) of calling the Church to account? The Church, frequently in the actions of its members (but not in its dogma), in recent decades (maybe longer), has again and again turned away from the foundational teachings on family and sexuality. Catholics do whatever they want it seems. This is well documented. There’s a lot of interest from all “sides” in the synod and its outcome for these very reasons. What this all means and where it will lead I cannot really say — and a lot of smarter people than I have much to say about these things anyway.

The conservatives, who are people of good will, and who are worried the liberals will get their way (there’s a lot of worry going around), should at least realize the “battle” was lost a long time ago — at least on a cultural/historical level, for God, of course, has lost nothing — and they have also been part of the problem. They may be “conserving” dogma, but some concept of a past culture is probably not worth conserving in some significant sense, at least in terms of a past “golden age” of Catholicism — though I could be wrong. We live in this culture, we are culture, culture is a living, moving thing. I sense many feel the conservatives are only interested in a kind of old-fashioned mono-culture — whether this is actually true I cannot say. However, bulwarks can seem like too much Soviet architecture, and it didn’t take long for many, even good-willed Catholics (or their children), to abandon the conservative project. How did the project “lose” so quickly and so completely? I suggest the Church’s presentation of its core teachings on sexuality and marriage for the past 150 years or so has taken too much for granted, was content too much with externals, and was not sufficiently evangelical in its approach or its language, did not bring Christ first, etc. If your average Catholic cannot articulate the Church’s understanding (and I mean understanding, not merely a recitation of the “rules”) on these issues what does that say? I believe this has caused untold suffering. I could be wrong.

Bishops should bring Christ to others first. Some do. Perhaps most do, I can’t really say. But the world needs Christ and the world seems to say the Church only brings them rules and dry theological presentations of human passions. (This synod could end up being another example of this. Let’s pray it isn’t.) I get that the world rejects Christ too, but shouldn’t it be more clear the world is actually rejecting Christ and not the Church — if that’s the case? It’s complicated, but let’s not accept easy excuses.

And the liberals, who are also people of good will, should realize they are just as much a part of the problem of causing great suffering amongst the faithful as everyone else. Tenderness and mercy is good, truly very good, but they go inextricably together with truth as well. (The same could be said to conservatives.) It’s not a 50/50 proposition — trying to find a nice balance between truth and mercy, between hard reality and tender compassion. It’s a 100/100 proposition — total truth and reality along with total mercy and compassion. (Again, one could say the same to conservatives.) We cannot turn away from our human nature, from the way we are designed, and not suffer. We cannot reject God’s natural will for our lives and not suffer. [Side note: If you are a Christian then you believe God exists and is your creator. Meditate on that.] But we are all at fault, for the real problem of our society, as it has been with every society before us, is our deep and profound brokenness. We must not let our pride prevent us from seeing this. I raise my hand as a guilty offender; I am broken and prideful.

Bishops should not hide the truth from anyone, thinking that truth is too difficult to handle right now — for that person. Bishops who refuse to bring truth, keeping it hidden, are snakes. Gentle smiles and soft hugs don’t make for genuine healing if there is not also truth in those hugs and smiles. Our souls are desperate for love and truth. Tenderness without calling for repentance is a hollow emotion. I can’t say I know any bishop who does this, but I can imagine. Oh that every prince of the Church were an icon of Christ!

And I am constantly confused on these issues. It is easy for me to say, “Who am I to judge.” (Only I do judge all the time and without mercy.) I am forever figuring out how to make good and right judgements, to see clearly, to know what is true. I pray for wisdom. There are people of all stripes whom I love — and love all too poorly. We’re all carrying heavy packs on this pilgrimage. I pray we are going the same way. Pray for me, a stumbling and wayward sinner.

Consider: It is better that we are prodigal sons who eventually find salvation than older brothers and end up in Hell. Think about it.

I do believe that Christ is calling us all to Him — every one of us. We are not being called first or foremost to dogma or to rules or to tradition — even if those things are good. Honestly, I love dogma, but… We are being called to Christ. To Him alone. We must risk that, and let others have the freedom to risk that as well. We do not come to Christ if not in freedom. That includes everyone, not just you or me.

Unless we solve the problem of our brokenness, of this principle of sin within us, we cannot find true joy — and we cannot solve it. We just can’t. Only in Christ can we find the answer to our soul’s longing. That is the gospel, that is the good news. Only by His blood, by His love, in His resurrection, and through His mediation do we have hope and reality of salvation, of our own resurrection. Only by the grace of God do we live. This is not a liberal or conservative issue. Neither “side”, separately or together, has the capacity to contain the radicality of the good news of Christ.

Be neither liberal or conservative, be a radical follower of Jesus Christ. This may mean being open to an encounter with Him — I’m sure it does. Is it not true that we mostly encounter Christ through encountering other people? Are you willing to take that chance? I hope I am — fear and trembling folks, fear and trembling.

I see in Pope Francis a man who brings the evangelism of encounter, and the world is crying out YES! Sadly I read and hear a number of catholics behaving like some of those baddies in the Gospel accounts — they grumble, they worry, they don’t see that their fear is blazoned on their sleeves. There is the constant parsing of the Pope’s every word, fretting over every action, and more grumbling that he is too confusing, sending the wrong message (“What will they think?!” “They’re bound to take that in the wrong direction!!” “Look who he’s meeting with, he’s sending the wrong message, doesn’t he see that?!!”). I get it, the Pope is sometimes confusing to many people — though I have yet to find him so. Some Catholics, sadly quite a lot, are saying the vilest things about the Pope. I think the Pharisees said the same things about Christ. Can’t you just hear it: “He is muddled and confused, and confusing others. Did he really say that?! My God, save us. He is leading us to schism. He wants schism. Just like a Jesuit to play a devil’s game. He’s not a real Pope. Pray for his death.” (Death?!! Yes, some “Catholics” have even said they want him dead. Can you imagine?) I’m not defending anyone, not even the Pope. His naysayers may prove to be right. I just wonder if something is happening (that’s not really the right word, not a strong enough word) according to God’s plan that is calling the Church, and its leaders to account — and in the process bringing about a renewal of sorts (perhaps a re-formation?). So the tensions are good. They point to something meaningful going on. Usually only in suffering do we gain wisdom. Only through struggle do we find the truth.

Anyway, I love this Pope. I don’t expect perfection from any man, but I do find in him a kind of icon of Christ to the world, and not just in his office, but in his words, actions, and person. Think about that. If true, what do our reactions to him say about us? We should examine our hearts if we find him displeasing. Again, I’m not defending the Pope. I could be blind.

So finally, about the synod… I suppose all this is my way of saying I sometimes (secretly) hope the Synod on the Family becomes a big, knock down, drag out fight. I hope true colors fly, and the truth emerges from the smoke. It seems about time the bishops wipe the genial smiles off their faces and they point some fingers and throw some zucchettos — maybe even overturn some tables. Of course I want them to behave with all the of the virtues in full force (love, courage, etc.). They should act always in love — sometimes not being nice is the loving thing to do; sometimes it means to stop hiding their true feelings and ideas under thick theological speak and formalisms. The Pope said to “speak clearly.” More importantly, if there is a crisis, then act like it’s a crisis. This is not, should not be, a political fight. It is a fight for the Church, for the Bride to be ready and perfect and lovely for the Groom when He returns. May Christ be glorified — and decorum be damned, if necessary.

Not to tell anyone what to do, but pray if you care.

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A walk through heavenly architecture

This is a great video. We do not tend to think about architecture much, and certainly not philosophically or theologically. This video is a kind of primer on sacred architecture, and its subject and contents may be more important than we realize.

“It is perfectly legitimate to search for new forms, but these forms must express a symbolic content that remains the same thought the centuries because it has a heavenly origin. Modern builders must listen to and appreciate the suggestions of the chief architect, the Angel of the Temple.” ~ Paul Evdokimov, The Art of the Icon, p. 143

I wonder about this quote. Clearly the main thrust of modernity is the willful shutting of one’s ears to the voice of our Creator. But I also wonder about architecture, and that modern architects have not merely shut their ears when it comes only to church designs, but to all designs. I suppose one could say that modern architecture has become an expression of an incorrect anthropology. Also, can we not say that architecture itself should be seen as a kind of sacramental, that architecture, because it is about being human, must reflect the proper understanding of being human?

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