Full text: Pope Francis’s Year of Mercy letter

from The Catholic Herald

Pope Francis (PA)

The Pope has written to Archbishop Rino Fisichella

To My Venerable Brother
Archbishop Rino Fisichella
President of the Pontifical Council
for the Promotion of the New Evangelization

With the approach of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy I would like to focus on several points which I believe require attention to enable the celebration of the Holy Year to be for all believers a true moment of encounter with the mercy of God. It is indeed my wish that the Jubilee be a living experience of the closeness of the Father, whose tenderness is almost tangible, so that the faith of every believer may be strengthened and thus testimony to it be ever more effective.

My thought first of all goes to all the faithful who, whether in individual Dioceses or as pilgrims to Rome, will experience the grace of the Jubilee. I wish that the Jubilee Indulgence may reach each one as a genuine experience of God’s mercy, which comes to meet each person in the Face of the Father who welcomes and forgives, forgetting completely the sin committed. To experience and obtain the Indulgence, the faithful are called to make a brief pilgrimage to the Holy Door, open in every Cathedral or in the churches designated by the Diocesan Bishop, and in the four Papal Basilicas in Rome, as a sign of the deep desire for true conversion. Likewise, I dispose that the Indulgence may be obtained in the Shrines in which the Door of Mercy is open and in the churches which traditionally are identified as Jubilee Churches. It is important that this moment be linked, first and foremost, to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist with a reflection on mercy. It will be necessary to accompany these celebrations with the profession of faith and with prayer for me and for the intentions that I bear in my heart for the good of the Church and of the entire world.

Additionally, I am thinking of those for whom, for various reasons, it will be impossible to enter the Holy Door, particularly the sick and people who are elderly and alone, often confined to the home. For them it will be of great help to live their sickness and suffering as an experience of closeness to the Lord who in the mystery of his Passion, death and Resurrection indicates the royal road which gives meaning to pain and loneliness. Living with faith and joyful hope this moment of trial, receiving communion or attending Holy Mass and community prayer, even through the various means of communication, will be for them the means of obtaining the Jubilee Indulgence. My thoughts also turn to those incarcerated, whose freedom is limited. The Jubilee Year has always constituted an opportunity for great amnesty, which is intended to include the many people who, despite deserving punishment, have become conscious of the injustice they worked and sincerely wish to re-enter society and make their honest contribution to it. May they all be touched in a tangible way by the mercy of the Father who wants to be close to those who have the greatest need of his forgiveness. They may obtain the Indulgence in the chapels of the prisons. May the gesture of directing their thought and prayer to the Father each time they cross the threshold of their cell signify for them their passage through the Holy Door, because the mercy of God is able to transform hearts, and is also able to transform bars into an experience of freedom.

I have asked the Church in this Jubilee Year to rediscover the richness encompassed by the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The experience of mercy, indeed, becomes visible in the witness of concrete signs as Jesus himself taught us. Each time that one of the faithful personally performs one or more of these actions, he or she shall surely obtain the Jubilee Indulgence. Hence the commitment to live by mercy so as to obtain the grace of complete and exhaustive forgiveness by the power of the love of the Father who excludes no one. The Jubilee Indulgence is thus full, the fruit of the very event which is to be celebrated and experienced with faith, hope and charity.

Furthermore, the Jubilee Indulgence can also be obtained for the deceased. We are bound to them by the witness of faith and charity that they have left us. Thus, as we remember them in the Eucharistic celebration, thus we can, in the great mystery of the Communion of Saints, pray for them, that the merciful Face of the Father free them of every remnant of fault and strongly embrace them in the unending beatitude.

One of the serious problems of our time is clearly the changed relationship with respect to life. A widespread and insensitive mentality has led to the loss of the proper personal and social sensitivity to welcome new life. The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails. Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe that they have no other option. I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father. For this reason too, I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it. May priests fulfil this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence.

A final consideration concerns those faithful who for various reasons choose to attend churches officiated by priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X. This Jubilee Year of Mercy excludes no one. From various quarters, several Brother Bishops have told me of their good faith and sacramental practice, combined however with an uneasy situation from the pastoral standpoint. I trust that in the near future solutions may be found to recover full communion with the priests and superiors of the Fraternity. In the meantime, motivated by the need to respond to the good of these faithful, through my own disposition, I establish that those who during the Holy Year of Mercy approach these priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation shall validly and licitly receive the absolution of their sins.

Trusting in the intercession of the Mother of Mercy, I entrust the preparations for this Extraordinary Jubilee Year to her protection.

From the Vatican, 1 September 2015

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POPE FRANCIS FOR YEAR OF MERCY GRANTS THAT SSPX PRIESTS CAN VALIDLY ABSOLVE!

15_09_01_SSPX_livesHuge news. This was under embargo till noon, Rome time, which must be honored. [UPDATE: The Bollettino is now available HERE]

The Year of Mercy begins 8 December 2015 until 20 November 2016.

It is about to be announced that the Holy Father has sent a letter to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization about the upcoming Extraordinary Year of Mercy.

In this letter the Pope says that he is granting to all priests the faculty to absolve from the sin of abortion.  He writes: “I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it.”  Interesting way to word it.

He also says that the faithful may go to … well… read it yourself.  Here is a screenshot from the doc:

15_09_01_Francis_SSPX

This is HUGE news.

Read on here for Fr Z’s analysis

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Pope Francis: ‘International community must act to stop anti-Christian persecution’

by Cindy Wooden on Catholic Herald

Syrian refugee children scream as they sit in front of Macedonian riot police at the Greek-Macedonian border

Syrian refugee children scream as they sit in front of Macedonian riot police at the Greek-Macedonian border

Francis said he hopes the beatification of martyred Syriac Bishop Flavien-Michel Malke will give the persecuted faithful ‘courage and hope’

“Do something to put a stop to the violence and oppression,” Pope Francis asked the international community after calling attention once again to the fate of persecuted Christians, especially in the Middle East.

After reciting the Angelus on Sunday, Pope Francis told thousands of people in St Peter’s Square that, the previous evening in Lebanon, martyred Syriac Bishop Flavien-Michel Malke was beatified.

“In the context of a tremendous persecution of Christians, he was an untiring defender of the rights of his people, exhorting all of them to remain firm in their faith,” the Pope said.

“Today as well, in the Middle East and other parts of the world, Christians are persecuted,” the Pope said. “May the beatification of this bishop and martyr fill them with consolation, courage and hope.”

Departing from his prepared text, Pope Francis told people in the square, “There are more martyrs (today) than there were in the first centuries” of Christianity.

He prayed that the beatification would “also be a stimulus for legislators and those who govern so that religious freedom would be guaranteed everywhere. And I ask the international community to do something to put a stop to the violence and oppression.”

The beatification liturgy for Bishop Malke was celebrated in Harissa, Lebanon, on August 29, the 100th anniversary of his death. Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan presided at the liturgy; Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes was present.

In his homily, Patriarch Younan pointed out that the Catholic Church commemorates the beheading of St John the Baptist. Referring to the 1915 Armenian genocide and what is happening today, especially in Syria and Iraq, the patriarch asked, “Why?”

“The secret of suffering one does not understand. It accepts the spirit of Christ,” the patriarch said.

Last summer thousands of Christians in Mosul and the Ninevah Plain in Iraq, including nearly 40,000 Syriac Catholics, were driven out by ISIS militants. The militants have posted multiple videos of beheadings.

Patriarch Younan denounced the passivity of world powers “that boast defending freedoms and abandon to their fate the people” who took the risk of staying in their homelands.

He stressed that not only Syriac Catholics are under threat, but all the Christians of the East — Chaldean, Assyrians, Maronites, Melkites, Armenians and that “when the persecution is not physical it is moral.”

“Where is the conscience of the world?” he asked.

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Doorstop

From Sword of Peter:

Doorstop-WEB-1

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“There will never be a gay pride parade in my city”, says Luigi Brugnaro (mayor of Venice)

Venice-winter_2370349b Venice’s newly elected mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, wants to ban gay-pride parades in this  Italian city. He has become a victim of some of the harshest criticism and hate mail ever since he affirmed: “There will never be a gay pride parade in my city”, and added, “Let them go and do it in Milan, or in front of their own homes.”

When I first heard this news on TV at the start of the weekend, the frowning newscaster made no attempt to hide her strong disapproval of the mayor’s words! (Whatever happened to objective, unbiased reporting?) ‘Here we go again’, I said to myself, ‘we are in for another witch-hunt’ now! Thwarting the desires of the powerful gay lobby to “celebrate” their disorder requires some pretty firm convictions nowadays, and lots of courage. Anyone who does so is in for a rough ride with them and their numerous ‘useful idiots’ who pander to their wishes.

The newly-elected mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro

The newly-elected mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro

Brugnaro, a practicing Catholic, first drew widespread criticism earlier this month, for a decision to remove certain children’s books from public libraries over their pro ‘same-sex marriage’ content and calling such ideas “unnatural”.

The overwhelmingly gay-friendly MSM, including famous pop icon, Elton John (who has a home on one of the islands of Venice) have exploded in an uproar of self-righteous indignation. Elton John used his Instagram page to condemn the moves, calling Brugnaro “boorishly bigoted”. The mayor said the singer was “arrogant” and told him to keep out of Venice’s business.

The mayor’s decision to ban the “Gay Pride” parade down the canals of his magnificent city has nothing in fact to do with this event being the “height of kitsch”, as he has described it, for many would likewise call the annual Venice carnival just that, and yet there are no such plans to ban this event. Instead it has everything to do with a refusal to see the city, this 53 year old businessman-turned-politician has been recently elected to govern, pandering to the homosexual lobby’s aims to glorify sodomy, celebrate the misnomer, ‘gay marriage’, and malevolent desire to further the acceptance of homosexual sex as ‘normal, happy and good’.

The truth of course is that the flaunting of homosexuality (and the acts that flow from its advancement) can only be described as ‘abnormal, distressing and wicked’, but how many politicians nowadays would have the moral courage to infer such a thing as the mayor of Venice has done, first by banning children’s books embracing corrupt pro-gay teachings from the public library aimed at damaging innocent minds, and now in banning a sordid ‘gay parade’ celebration?

Luigi Brugnaro, who says he is not “homophobic” and admits to having “gay friends” (don’t we all?) is not condemning any particular individuals. Once again the usual error is being made: blaming someone who refuses to go along with what is wrong – in this case a “gay pride parade” (the open celebration of the evil of sodomy) – and pretending to make out that his ban is a personal attack on all those of an homosexual tendency! Most of our secular Western governments may have legalised so-called ‘same-sex marriage’, but this has not been done so far in Italy.

Bakers, florists, teachers, B&B owners, etc., and now a local mayor, have all had to suffer the unpleasant consequences of remaining true to their Christian faith, but they have not backed down. What about the rest of us? Are we going to remain silent in the face of so many attacks on our beliefs? Are we going allow only a few brave ‘knights’ to stand up and confront the deformation of our values in the public square, while we remain silent ‘for fear of the wolves’? We should never bow to sin. The more we refuse to go along with the worldly corruption of our Christian heritage, the stronger we shall become. And the closer to Christ.

“An error which is not resisted is approved; a truth which is not defended is suppressed…. He who does not oppose an evident crime is open to the suspicion of secret complicity.” (Pope Felix III and quoted by Pope Leo XIII in Inimica Vis)

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Earth, Sea And Sky

I would like to note a beautiful saying of Mahatma Gandhi … Gandhi refers to the three habitats of the cosmos and how each of these provides its own mode of being. The fish live in the sea, and they are silent. The animals of the earth scream and shout; but the birds, whose habitat is the heavens, sing. Silence is proper to the sea, shouting to the earth and singing to the heavens. Man has a share in all three of them. He carries the depths of the sea, the burden of the earth, and the heights of the heavens in himself. And for this reason, all three properties also belong to him: silence, shouting, and singing.

Today—I would like to add—we see only the shouting is left for the man without transcendence, since he only wants to be of the earth. …

The right liturgy, the liturgy of the Communion of the Saints, restores totality to him. It teaches him silence and singing again by opening him to the depths of the sea and teaching him to fly, the angels’ mode of being. It brings the song buried in him to sound once more by lifting up his heart. …

Right liturgy … liberates us from ordinary, everyday activity and returns to us once more the depths and the heights, silence and song … Right liturgy … sings with the angels … is silent with the expectant depths of the universe, and that is how it redeems the earth.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger Collected Works, Vol 11, Theology of the Liturgy, Ignatius Press, p. 460.

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St. John the Baptist: Beheaded for Defending Marriage

The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist  by Caravaggio

The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist by Caravaggio

At that time: Herod sent and apprehended John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, the wife of Philip his brother, because he had married her. For John said to Herod: It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife. Now Herodias laid snares for him, and was desirous to put him to death, and could not.  For Herod feared John, knowing him to be a just and holy man, and kept him, and when he heard him, did many things; and he heard him willingly. And when a convenient day was come, Herod made a supper for his birthday, for the princes, and tribunes, and chief men of Galilee. And when the daughter of the same Herodias had come in, and had danced, and pleased Herod and them that were at table with him, the king said to the damsel: Ask of me what thou wilt, and I will give it thee. And he swore to her: Whatsoever thou shalt ask, I will give thee; though it be the half of my kingdom. Who, when she was gone out, said to her mother, What shall I ask? But she said: The head of John the Baptist. And when she was come in immediately with haste to the king, she asked, saying: I will that forthwith thou give me in a dish the head of John the Baptist. And the king was struck sad; yet because of his oath, and because of them that were with him at table, he would not displease her; but sending an executioner he commanded that his head should be brought in a dish. And he beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head in a dish, and gave it to the damsel, and the damsel gave it to her mother. Which his disciples hearing, came, and took his body, and laid it in a tomb. (Mark vi. 17-29)

************

Below is an excerpt from the weekly general audience of Pope Benedict XVI delivered on 29th August, 2012, Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist:

“As a last act, the Baptist bears witness with his blood to his fidelity to God’s commandments, without giving up or turning back, thus fulfilling his mission to the end. St. Bede, a 9th century monk, in his Homilies says: St. John, for Christ, gave up his life, even though [his persecutor] had not demanded that he should deny Jesus Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. And he did not keep silent about the truth, and thus he died for Christ who is the Truth. For love of the truth, he did not give in to compromises with those who were powerful, nor was he afraid to address strong words to the one who lost his way to God.

“Now we see this great figure — this force — in his passion, in his resistance against the powerful. We ask: where does this life come from, this interiority, which is so strong, so principled, so consistent, which is spent so totally for God and in preparing the way for Jesus? The answer is simple: from his relationship with God, from prayer, which is the guiding thread of his entire life. […]

Dear brothers and sisters, celebrating the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist also reminds us — Christians in our own times — that we cannot give into compromise when it comes to our love for Christ, for his Word, for his Truth. The Truth is the Truth; there is no compromise. The Christian life requires, as it were, the “martyrdom” of daily fidelity to the Gospel; the courage, that is, to allow Christ to increase in us and to direct our thoughts and actions. But this can only occur in our lives if our relationship with God is strong.”

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Lectio Divina: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Food for the Heart

By Archbishop Francesco Follo

Roman Rite

Dt 4, 1-2.6-8; Ps 15; Jas 1, 17-18.21-22.27; Mk 7, 1-8.14-15.21-23


1)  Pure religion.

After having proposed – divided among five Sundays- the sixth chapter of St John, the liturgy returns to read St. Mark whose Gospel accompanies us on the Sundays in Ordinary Time during Year B. In today’s Gospel – 7th chapter of Mark- Jesus helps the people and the disciples to deepen the concept and the laws of purity. In this regard, we are also helped by the Letter of St. James “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27 – Second Reading of today’s Mass).

For centuries, Jews were forbidden to make contact with pagans and to eat with them in order to avoid contracting legal impurity.

Convinced that religion consisted in the external ritual of the religion coming from God, the Pharisees are scandalized that Christ’s disciples “took food with unclean hands” (Mk 7.2). Believing to obey the laws of God, these objectors of the Master did not eat unless they had washed their hands (Mk 7.3). They identified fidelity to the “God is near” (Dt 4, 7) spoken by Moses, with those “other things” that they were doing “because of traditions” (Mk 7.4).

The first thing to note is that Jesus does not teach at all to disobey the law. He teaches to fight hypocrisy and formalism, to give more importance to the dispositions of the heart rather than to the superficial gestures and rites. On one hand, Christ condemns the distance of God from the heart of men who think to honor Him with the scrupulous observance of the rules prescribed by the law. On the other hand, He shows that “purity” is not a matter of washed hands or lips purified by rituals, but is a matter of the heart.

No food that comes into a man can make him impure, because it doesn’t go to the heart but to the stomach and ends up in the sewer.  Jesus says that what makes him impure is what comes out from the heart to poison human relations.

What is dirty, unclean or impure are not external things, but the bad actions and intentions that came from a heart bad and away from God. God does not exist where there is no heart because it is distracted or closed in fear.

How to return the heart to God? How to approach him?

We approach God “with the frequent purification of alms, tears and the other fruits of justice that make the heart and the body pure in order to participate in the mysteries of heaven.” (St Bede the Venerable).

In short, the religion brought by Jesus cannot be reduced to external rites, a moral code or a doctrine. It is the revelation of God’s face in Jesus’ humanity that comes to tell us that no law, big or small, has meaning if it is not accompanied by love and if it is not consumed in love. Christ and the Gospel bring his love and his law to the human heart and recreate it.

Christian worship is not reducible to the execution of certain rites for a commemoration of past events, and not even to a particular inner experience. Essentially it is an encounter with the Risen Lord in the deep of a heart purified and attracted by a presence that freely becomes encounter and freely can be recognized.

We must understand that our salvation (we can also say our happiness, because the human reflection of salvation is happiness and the human reflection of Christ’s grace is the pleasure of His grace) does not depend on good works done according to the law. Benedict XVI stressed that salvation does not depend on good works done according to the law or works as good and holy is the law (see Rom 7: 12)], but  on the fact that Jesus died for all of us sinners “He loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2, 20)] and that He was and is risen. It is important that, like St. Paul, our heart recognizes that we are “a nothing loved by Jesus Christ.” “I am nothing,” St. Paul says of himself at the end of the Second Letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor 12, 11) and in the Letter to the Galatians “He loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2, 20). A humble and contrite heart is a pure heart and practices a pure and true religion.

2)  Virgin heart[1].

True religion begins with the return to the heart, to which God speaks in solitude, see Hosea 2, 16 “I’ll take you in the desert and speak to your heart.”

If the desert is the place “preferred” by God to speak to us, it is important to remember that the ways of speaking of God are many (see. Hebrews 1.1). In this meditation I will underline three.

The first is nature. Heaven and earth sing the glory of God and the human being can grasp it, understand it and admire it. The first way of talking about God is reality. The world created by God- is the gift that speaks to us of the Giver.

The second are the Word, history, the Bible and Revelation, where God communicates himself directly.

The third is the talk of Christ to our hearts, in the hearts of each of us. It is the heart that rejoices, the eyes that give off light, the sweetness that we feel inside. God speaks especially to the heart, giving those feelings that make us live: feelings of joy, of light and sweetness that give direction and meaning to life.

It is important to understand what the Word that becomes Bread that becomes life is, and what the word that becomes death is. To do this we need a virgin heart. Because it is not only with intelligence that we understand the word, but also with the heart that makes us feel and love it. When one has the Word in his heart and loves it, he freely realizes it[2].

For the consecrated Virgins in the world this realization is apostolic. It is authentically apostolic not because it implies a specific “apostolate,” but because it takes inspiration from the teaching and activity of the Apostles to serve the Church in the world. The Introduction to the Rite of Consecration of Virgins say: “The gift of a prophetic and eschatological virginity acquires the value of a ministry in the service of God’s people and places the consecrated persons at the heart of the Church and of the world” (Introduction, 2). In the Church every gift or charisma takes the form of ministry. In the case of consecrated virginity this ministry, delivered and experienced by a public consecration, is a “work” of service, therefore ministerial, and a testimony “in the heart of the Church and the world.” In the local Church the consecrated Virgins represent “Christian life as a nuptial union between Christ and the Church, which is the foundation of both the consecrated virginity that the sacrament of marriage” (Introduction, 1), namely the two vocations in which the ‘love of Christ is depicted. Virginal love is “to recall the transience of earthly realities and to anticipate things to come” (Introduction, 1) in the world affairs. The consecrated Virgin is an icon of the local Church “in the world but as a pilgrim” (Introduction, 1). The consecrated Virgins are the icons of how it is possible to follow Christ, the bridegroom of whom they hear the word constantly and of whom they nourish themselves in the Eucharist. With the mind and the heart nurtured of Christ, these women live and work in the world bringing with virgin heart the Gospel of virginity, “growing in love in Jesus and in the service of others, a ministry done with dedication free, friendly and humble” ( see. Preconditions). This humility takes root on the virginity of the heart of the person that acts in a way that everything in her “is” given and everything “is” availability to Jesus.

 

Patristic Reading

Golden Chain

Bede, in Marc., 2, 29: The people of the land of Gennesareth, who seemed to be unlearned men, not only come themselves, but also bring their sick to the Lord, that they may but succeed in touching the hem of His garment. But the Pharisees and Scribes, who ought to have been the teachers of the people, run together to the Lord, not to seek for healing, but to move captious questions.

Wherefore it is said, “Then there came together unto Him the Pharisees and certain of the Scribes, coming from Jerusalem; and when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with common, that is, with unwashen hands, they found fault.”

Theophylact: For the disciples of the Lord, who were taught only the practice of virtue, used to eat in a simple way, without washing their hands; but the Pharisees, wishing to find an occasion of blame against them, took it up; they did not indeed blame them as transgressors of the law, but for transgressing the traditions of the elders.

Wherefore it goes on: “For the Pharisees and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders.”

Bede: For taking the spiritual words of the Prophets in a carnal sense, they observed, by washing the body alone, commandments which concerned the chastening of the heart and deeds, saying, “Wash (p. 132) you, make you clean;” (Is 1,16) and again, “Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.” (Is 52,11)

It is therefore a superstitious human tradition, that men who are clean already, should wash oftener because they eat bread, and that they should not eat on leaving the market, without washing. But it is necessary for those who desire to partake of the bread which comes down from heaven, often to cleanse their evil deeds by alms, by tears, and the other fruits of righteousness. It is also necessary for a man to wash thoroughly away the pollutions which he has contracted from the cares of temporal business, by being afterwards intent on good thoughts and works.

In vain, however, do the Jews wash their hands, and cleanse themselves after the market, so long as they refuse to be washed in the font of the Saviour; in vain do they observe the washing of their vessels, who neglect to wash away the filthy sins of their bodies and of their hearts.

It goes on: “Then the Scribes and Pharisees asked Him, Why walk not thy disciples after the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with common hands?”

Jerome, Hier. in Matt., 15: Wonderful is the folly of the Pharisees and Scribes; they accuse the Son of God, because He keeps not the traditions and precepts of men. But “common” is here put for unclean; for the people of the Jews, boasting that they were the portion of God, called those meats common, which all made use of.

Pseudo-Jerome: He beats back the vain words of the Pharisees with His arguments, as men drive back dogs with weapons, by interpreting Moses and Isaiah, that we too by the word of Scripture may conquer the heretics, who oppose us.

Wherefore it goes on: “Well hath Esaia prophesied of you hypocrites; as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” (Is 29,13)

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: For since they unjustly accused the disciples not of trangressing the law, but the commands of the elders, He sharply confounds them, calling them hypocrites, as looking with reverence upon what was not worthy of it. He adds, however, the words of Isaiah the prophet, as spoken to them; as though He would say, As those men, of whom it is said, “that they honour God with their lips, whilst their heart is far from Him,” in vain pretend to observe the dictates of piety, whilst they honour the doctrines of men, so ye also neglect your soul, of which you (p. 133) should take care, and blame those who live justly.

Pseudo-Jerome: But Pharisaical tradition, as to tables and vessels, is to be cut off, and cast away. For they often make the commands of God yield to the traditions of men.

Wherefore it continues, “For laying aside the commandments of God, ye hold to the traditions of men, as the washing of pots and cups.”

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: Moreover, to convict them of neglecting the reverence due to God, for the sake of the tradition of the elders, which was opposed to the Holy Scriptures, He subjoins, “For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death.”

Bede: The sense of the word honour in Scripture is not so much the saluting and paying court to men, as alms-giving, and bestowing gifts; “honour,” says the Apostle, “widows who are widows indeed.” (1Tm 5,3)

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: Notwithstanding the existence of such a divine law, and the threats against such as break it, ye lightly transgress the commandment of God, observing the traditions of the Elders.

Wherefore there follows: “But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me;” understand, he will be freed from the observation of the foregoing command.

Wherefore it continues, “And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother.”

Theophylact: For the Pharisees, wishing to devour the offerings, instructed sons, when their parents asked for some of their property, to answer them, what thou hast asked of me is corban, that is, a gift, I have already offered it up to the Lord; thus the parents would not require it, as being offered up to the Lord, (and in that way profitable for their own salvation). (ed. note: the words in the parenthesis are not in Theophylact)

Thus they deceived the sons into neglecting their parents, whilst they themselves devoured the offerings; with this therefore the Lord reproaches them, as transgressing the law of God for the sake of gain. Wherefore it goes on, “Making the word of God of none effect through your traditions, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye;” transgressing, that is, the commands of God, that ye may observe the traditions of men.

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: Or else it may be said, that the Pharisees taught young persons, that if a man offered a gift in expiation of the injury done to his (p. 134) father or mother, he was free from sin, as having given to God the gifts which are owed to a parent; and in saying this, they did not allow parents to be honoured.

Bede: The passage may in a few words have this sense, Every gift which I have to make, will go to do you good; for ye compel children, it is meant, to say to their parents, that gift which I was going to offer to God, I expend on feeding you, and does you good, oh father and mother, speaking this ironically. Thus they would be afraid to accept what had been given into the hands of God, and might prefer a life of poverty to living on consecrated property.

Pseudo-Jerome: Mystically, again, the disciples eating with unwashed hands signifies the future fellowship of the Gentiles with the Apostles. The cleaning and washing of the Pharisees is barren; but the fellowship of the Apostles, though without washing, has stretched out its branches as far as the sea.

 

 


[1] The word “heart” in the Bible is used nearly a thousand times. Rarely (about 20% of cases) is used to indicate the physical organ that beats in the body.

To the question “Why has God given us a heart?” The most common answer is “To love“. In the Bible, the answer is that God has given us a heart to think and to know “Has not the Lord given you a heart to understand … Eyes to see … ears to hear?” (Dt 9, 3).

The first meaning of the word “heart” in the Bible is to understand, to learn and to know “Teach us to number our days that we may gain wisdom of heart” (Ps 90.12); “Some scribes thought in their hearts … Jesus said to them, why you think so in your hearts?” (Mk. 2.6); “O foolish and slow of heart to believe the words of the prophets” (Luke 24:25)

The second meaning that the Bible gives to the word heart is memory. In the Bible heart and memory are linked and have a strong reference to the life of faith: to remember means to be faithful. “Know therefore and preserve in the heart that the Lord is God … And there is no other god” (Dt 4.39); “These commandments that I give you today stay in your heart” (Dt 6, 6); “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Lk 1, 66-2, 19-2, 51).

The word heart, finally, is also used in the Bible to describe feelings, all feelings and not just love. Joy, desire, gratitude “My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (Ps 84,3); bitterness “It breaks my heart in my chest … My heart cries” (Jer 23.9 to 48.36); confidence “We take heart and wait for the Lord” (Ps 27); God’s love for us and our love for Him “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God … you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today stay in your heart … “(Deut. 6.4 ff.)

For this richness of meanings often in the Bible the word heart indicates the whole person “My heart exults in the Lord …” = “I rejoice in the Lord …” (1 Sam 2,1)

The meaning is the same, but when the heart is highlighted, the person is seen in his interiority. Thoughts, feelings, secret projects and rationality, that is the reason by which a man chooses to live his life, for the Bible reside in the human heart. The human heart is the place where the human being is truly and totally himself, without masks or hypocrisy “I will put my law in the depths of their being, and write it on their hearts … Then shall all know me” (Jer. 31:33 ff.). In anthropomorphic way this vision of the heart is then applied to God himself “My heart is turned within me, my pity is stirred” (Hosea 11.8).

 

[2] For the Sacred Scripture the heart is not only a literary image symbolizing feelings or emotions. On the contrary it is the place where all our being is focused; it is the inner part of ourselves from where our decisions originate and where our decisive experiences live.

The heart is the source of all that man is or decides to be and to do:

“Of you my heart said: seek his face …” (Ps 27.8);

“Rend your hearts and not your garments, and return to your God” (Joel 2:13);

“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me …” (29:13);

“Man looks at appearances, the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16.7);

“From the heart of men proceed evil thoughts, thefts, murders, adulteries …” (Mark 7:21);

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34);

“With the heart man believeth unto righteousness” (Rom 10:10).

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“Late Have I Loved Thee”: St. Augustine – Audio Homily

Saint Augustine by Sandro Botticelli

Saint Augustine by Sandro Botticelli

Yesterday, 28th August, was the feast day of St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430), perhaps one of the best known saints and Doctors of the Church, and certainly one of the most influential. Please listen to this audio homily by Fr. Jacinto (FFI) on the conversion story of St Augustine, who found God after a long journey of searching for his heart’s fulfillment in all the wrong places.

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Advice to Catholics on the “Periphery”, faithful to Church Tradition – Bishop Athanasius Schneider

scheider-1024x495 The Spanish-Language website, Adelante La Fe (Advance the Faith) obtained an exclusive interview with Bishop Athanasius Schneider, first published 10th August, 2015, and re-blogged in full on our blog here. To make his excellent points stand out more fully, we will publish the most important in separate posts on CP&S over the next days.

  Adelante la Fe: Can Your Excellence give some words of encouragement to those priests who, for being faithful to Church Tradition, are isolated and pushed into the background in their dioceses and not given temples where they can officiate Holy Mass in the Extraordinary Form, as well as to those faithful who are deprived of Traditional Holy Mass?

Bishop Schneider: “I would like to say to these priests, seminarians, young people and families: “It is an honour and a privilege to be faithful to the Divine truth and to the spiritual and liturgical traditions of our forefathers and of the saints and being therefore marginalised by those who currently occupy administrative power in the Church. Your fidelity and courage constitute the real power in the Church. You are the real ecclesiastical periphery, which with God’s power renews the Church. Living the true tradition of dogma, liturgy and holiness is a manifestation of the democracy of the Saints, because tradition is the democracy of the Saints. With Saint Athanasius I would like to tell you these words: Those in the Church who oppose, humiliate and marginalise you, have occupied the churches, while during this time you are outside; it is a fact that they have the premises – but you have the Apostolic Faith. They claim that they represent the Church, but in reality, they are the ones who are expelling themselves from it and going astray.”

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Priests Invited to Be Missionaries of Mercy During Jubilee

I will be most interested in the comments to this.

 

Applications Accepted by Pontifical Council

Rome, August 27, 2015 (ZENIT.org)

This Ash Wednesday, missionaries of mercy will be sent forth by Pope Francis during a celebration in St. Peter’s, to spread God’s mercy during the jubilee proclaimed by the Holy Father to begin Dec. 8.

The Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization is accepting applicants for those priests who want to be named missionaries. They will be granted “the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See,” the Pope wrote in Misericordiae Vultus, (The Face of Mercy), the document officially proclaiming the Holy Year.

The figure of the Missionary is described in Misericordiae Vultus number 18.

The Missionaries are to be:

— a living sign of the Father’s welcome to all those in search of his forgiveness;

— facilitators for all, with no one excluded, of a truly human encounter, a source of liberation, rich with responsibility for overcoming obstacles and taking up the new life of Baptism again;

— guided by the words, “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all;

— inspiring preachers of Mercy;

— heralds of the joy of forgiveness;

— welcoming, loving, and compassionate Confessors, who are most especially attentive to the difficult situations of each person.

The Missionaries will be invited by individual Diocesan Bishops within their particular country to give missions or facilitate specific initiatives organized for the Jubilee, with a particular attention given to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Every Missionary must have a letter of recommendation from his local Ordinary or Religious Superior which testifies to the suitability of the priest for this particular mission.

On the Net:

To apply: http://www.im.va/content/gdm/en/partecipa/missionari.html
(August 27, 2015) © Innovative Media Inc.

 

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“There’s No Such Thing as Moderate Islam”: An Iraqi Priest Describes the Christian Genocide

Padre Douglas al Bazi recounts the Christian Genocide in Iraq

by Matteo Matzuzzi on Rorate Caeli

“Wake up! The cancer is at your door. They will destroy you. We, the Christians of the Middle East are the only group that has seen the face of evil: Islam”.

                                                        ***

Rome. “Please, if there’s anyone who still thinks ISIS doesn’t represent Islam, know that they are wrong. ISIS represents Islam one hundred percent.” Father Douglas al Bazi, an Iraqi Catholic parish priest in Erbil, raised his voice during an intervention at the Meeting in Rimini, with a choice of words – in a provocative way and in hard tones – that few had ventured to use so far.

Christian-Genocide He carries on his own body the scars of the torture he underwent nine years ago, when a band of Jihadists kidnapped him for nine days, keeping him in chains and blindfolds along with a broken nose from being kneed: “For the first four days they didn’t even give me anything to drink. They would walk past me saying ‘Father, do you want some water?’ All day long they would listen to the reading of the Koran to let the neighbours hear what good believers they were.”

Soft diplomatic language and fashionable respectability which is used to avoid clashing with various sensibilities, are not for Father Douglas. No room in his words either, for the debates on the more or less high level of moderation inherent in religions. The same goes for appeals to dialogue at all costs with the decapitators and hangmen of old, retired scholars and – even with the caliph himself. Father Douglas’s intervention is not very much in line with some western social and cultural debaters and ‘preachers’ but more along the lines of the local Bishops, such as the Patriarch of Baghdad, mar Louis Raphaël I Sako, who, in his book “Stronger than Terror” (Emi) accused the Ayatollah al Sistani, the highest authority of the Iraqi Shiites, of having remained silent regarding the Jihadists’ persecutions against minorities because “they won’t listen to me anyway”.

Father Douglas Al Bazi is in charge of two refugee shelters for Christians who survived the advance of the black horde – not far from Ankawa. After the marking of houses with the “n” of the Nazarene plus the Christians displaced on the Nineveh plain, a year ago, “from morning to night we receive thousands of refugees” and the exodus continues. “I’m proud to be an Iraqi, I love my country. But my country is not proud that I’m part of it. What is happening to my people is nothing other than genocide. I beg you: do not call it a conflict. It’s genocide”, said the priest, who doesn’t want to hear anything about “moderate Islam”: “When Islam lives amidst you, the situation might appear acceptable. But when one lives amidst Muslims, everything becomes impossible. I’m not here to instigate you to hate Islam. I was born amid Muslims and I have more friends among them than I have with Christians. But people change and if we go to my country, no-one will be able to distinguish the light from the darkness. There are those who say: “but I have lots of Muslim friends who are very nice”. Yes, certainly! They are nice over here! Over there the situation is very different!”

A situation in which regard the vice-President of the French Conference for Imams also had some tough words to say. Hocine Drouiche, also the Imam of Nimes, intervened last July at the European Parliament: “In the world, Christians are being persecuted, hunted down, deprived of work, imprisoned, tortured and murdered. All means are being used to force them to deny their faith, including the ritual of collective rape, considered in some states a form of penal sanction. Owning a Bible has become a crime, religious worship is prohibited and there has been a return to the times of Masses in the caves and the first martyrs”. And the fault, Drouiche had added in a discourse which had not been highlighted very much by the European media”, is contemporary Islam”, which is much closer “to sectarianism rather than a universal, open religion”.

“I believe in the end they will destroy us”

Father al Bazi’s account is of one who runs the risk of being murdered on the street every day: We never know if coming out of the church we’ll be able to go into it again alive. In Baghdad they had the church explode right in front of me. They shot me on the legs with a AK-47, a type of Kalashnikov, and probably sooner or later they’ll kill me”. Yet his faith is solid: “When they put me in chains, during my kidnapping, they tightened a big padlock on my wrists. On the chain there were ten extra rings, which I used to recite the Rosary. I have never prayed it so earnestly as I did in that situation”. “I – added Father Douglas – don’t implore your help. I’m not frightened just as my people aren’t frightened either. I believe they’ll destroy us in the end. But I also believe that we will have the last word. Jesus told us that we need to carry our own crosses, and that is what we in the Middle East are doing. Yet the most important thing is not the carrying of the cross, but following it. And following it means accepting, challenging and committing oneself right to the very end”.

“We need to have patience and carry the cross each day, but we also must react”, said Father Ibrahim Alsabagh, parish priest in Aleppo, echoing him, and reported how the city is now “divided in tens of parts, each one of them in the hands of a different group of Jihadists. Our Church of St. Francis is sixty metres from the firing line. They have already hit many churches, we don’t know when it will be our turn”. Here is why Father Douglas, at the end of his intervention, launched a warning to the feeble West:

“Wake up! The cancer is at your door. They will destroy you. We, the Christians of the Middle East are the only group that has seen the face of evil: Islam”.

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“ISIS has just ripped a community’s heart out”

On 21st August 2015 the Catholic Herald reported: ISIS bulldozes ancient Syrian monastery

Today, 27th August, Emma Loosley in the Catholic Heral reports: ISIS has just ripped a community’s heart out 

The Monastery of Mar Elian before and after its destruction by ISIS fighters

The Monastery of Mar Elian before and after its destruction by ISIS fighters

The monastery of Mar Elian, destroyed by ISIS, was a beacon of inter-faith co-operation

When I first moved to Dayr Mar Elian in the summer of 2001 I was slightly disconcerted when the Qurwani, as the people of Qaryatayn are known, kept asking me if I had met Mar Elian yet. Since he is believed to have died more than 1,500 years ago, I thought that they meant had I seen the sarcophagus, which of course I had. When I said this I was somewhat perplexed to realise that I had misunderstood the question (complicated, of course, by my faltering Arabic and their thick regional dialect).

What the Qurwani meant was: had I spoken to the saint personally? One man told me of walking in the vicinity when a stranger accompanied and blessed him, and he later realised that the man had been Mar Elian (St Julian). The site guardian told me that late at night in the chapel a voice had repeated “God give you health” three times – which he took to be Mar Elian praying for him as he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

I recount this story to try to impress on the reader how central the Monastery of Mar Elian was to the local populace. The saint was a much-loved figure in the town and treated more as a venerable uncle in most homes than a distant exemplar of the faith.

What is more, in the case of that first man who had seen Mar Elian, I don’t know whether he was Christian or Muslim. The Sunni townspeople named the saint Sheikh Ahmed Khoury (Sheikh Ahmed the Priest) and the Christians of the town allowed their Muslim neighbours to place the green satin shroud of a Muslim holy man over the Byzantine sarcophagus in the monastery church. There, on a Muslim satin shroud, rosaries and saints’ cards lay with votive candles lit by those of both faiths.

Much has been written in the last few days about the physical impact of the loss of the monastery. But little consideration has been given to the psychological trauma that currently affects those of us who knew and loved the shrine. Mar Elian, or Sheikh Ahmed, was a very tangible presence in the lives of all who knew the monastery.

Read the rest of the article here

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When a priest adores

Do you realise that Jesus is there in the tabernacle expressly for you – for you alone? He burns with the desire to come into your heart.” – St Thérèse of Lisieux

From Vultus Christi:

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Reading the biography of Virginie Danion (1819-1900), foundress of the community of L’Action de Grâces de Mauron, I came upon this excerpt of a letter written to her in November 1855 by the Bishop of Lucon, Monseigneur Jacques-Marie-Joseph Baillès (1798–1873). It so moved me that I translated it from the French. There is nothing, I think, as compelling as the sight of a priest in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. In an age of locked churches, of churches opened only for “services” — ah! the Protestant ring of that! — it is a rare thing. And yet, there is no more effective way of communicating to souls the truth about the Most Holy Eucharist.

I never go up into the pulpit without seeking to move [souls] to love of the Divine Eucharist, and I often recommend the visit to the Blessed Sacrament. Given that example speaks louder than words, I go habitually to recite Vespers, Compline, and later, Matins and Lauds before the Blessed Sacrament in the cathedral, and at nightfall I make a half-hour’s meditation there. The Lord will, I hope, bless these efforts, by stirring up in a greater number of souls the desire to visit the Blessed Sacrament. I say this only for you, so that your heart may be consoled by it. Persevere in your holy undertaking, in the midst of difficulties and contradictions. The railway cars are overflowing with travellers while the avenues leading to churches where the Holy Eucharist resides are deserted. This is truly the hidden and unknown God. Apply yourself to making Him known, praised, loved, blessed and welcomed.

********************

Ten further quotes from priests on Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament:

“A cloud of incense was rising on high; the people suddenly all bowed low; what could it mean? The truth flashed on him, fearfully yet sweetly; it was the Blessed Sacrament – it was the Lord Incarnate who was on the altar, who had come to visit and bless his people. It was the Great Presence, which makes a Catholic Church different from every other place in the world; which makes it, as no other place can be — holy.” (Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman, in Loss and Gain: The Story of a Convert.) 

“How sweet is the moment in which poor humanity, wearied and afflicted, may remain alone, with Jesus alone, in the Sacrament of Love; for there the Lord, with His flaming heart open, calls unto all, ‘You that are burdened and heavy laden, come unto Me and I will refresh you.’ Happy are those hearts that know how to satisfy the unquenchable hunger and thirst in this heavenly banquet!” (Fr. M.J. Corcoran, O.S.A.)

“If the Blessed Sacrament is Jesus all for us, is it not the most legitimate of conclusions that we should be all for Him? We should be all for Jesus, if Jesus is our all. And what does this mean? Surely, among other things, that the Blessed Sacrament should be to us just the single overpowering fact of the world. Our hands hold Him; our words make Him; our tongue rests Him; our body compasses Him; our souls feel Him; our flesh feeds upon Him, Him, the Infinite, the Incomprehensible, the Immense, the Eternal. Must not all life be looked at in this light, just as the whole Church lies in this light and has no other?” (Fr. Frederick Faber, excerpt from The Blessed Sacrament)

“We adore Thee most holy Lord Jesus Christ, here in all Thy Churches, which are in the whole world, because by Thy holy cross, Thou hast redeemed the world.” (St. Francis of Assisi. N.B. He led his brothers in prostrating themselves and in proclaiming these words before every Church where Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament dwelt.)

“The purpose of Eucharistic adoration is the Divine Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ
[…] The adoration of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament is the end of the Church Militant, just as adoration of God in His glory is the end of the Church Triumphant. A holy rivalry, a concert of prayer, a harmony of divine service should exist between the heavenly court and the Eucharistic court here below, between the adorer and his mother the Church.” (St Peter Julian Eymard)

“All my sermons are prepared in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. As recreation is most pleasant and profitable in the sun, so homiletic creativity is best nourished before the Eucharist. The most brilliant ideas come from meeting God face to face. The Holy Spirit that presided at the Incarnation is the best atmosphere for illumination. Pope John Paul II keeps a small desk or writing pad near him whenever he is in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament; and I have done this all my life — I am sure for the same reason he does, because a lover always works better when the beloved is with him.” (Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen)

“Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is … an important daily practice and becomes an inexhaustible source of holiness […] It is pleasant to spend time with (Christ), to lie close to his breast like the Beloved Disciple and to feel the infinite love present in His heart.” (St John Paul II in The Church and the Eucharist)

“The many wonders of creation can only fill us with astonishment and admiration. But when we speak of the Most Holy Eucharist we can say that here is to be found the miracle of divine love for us…. Has there been, or will there ever be, a nobler or more magnanimous love than that which He has shown us in the sacrament of love? […] When we go before the Blessed Sacrament, let us open our heart; our good God will open His. We shall go to Him; He will come to us; the one to ask, the other to receive. It will be like a breath from one to the other […] When we speak to Jesus with simplicity and with all our heart, He does like a mother who holds her child’s head with her hands and covers it with kisses and caresses.” (St. John Vianney)

“Oh, how beautiful a sight was it to behold our sweet Redeemer on that day when, fatigued by His journey, He sat down, all engaging and loving, beside the well to await the Samaritan woman, that He might convert and save her! Jesus, therefore, sat thus on the well. [John, iv. 6] It is precisely thus that this same Lord seems sweetly to dwell with us all the day long, having come down from Heaven upon our Altars as upon so many fountains of graces. where He awaits and invites souls to keep Him company, at least for a while, that He may thus draw them to His perfect love.” (St. Alphonsus Liguori)

“A Holy Hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament is worth more than a thousand years of human glory.” (St. Padre Pio)

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What Catholics Need to Know About Marriage and Sex, Part II

Posted by Mark Shea on National Catholic Register

[Part I of this post can be read here.]

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Paradoxically, our spiritual God is incarnational. He is not disembodied but has taken on a human nature so that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He communicates his life to us through ordinary, everyday things like water, oil, food, and the love of man and woman for one another. That is why marriage is one of the seven sacraments of his covenant with us—a means of divine grace entering our lives—and why Catholics have to understand that before they understand all the rest of the self-help book stuff about how to find a mate, keep the fizz in your marriage, balance the family budget, or raise sensible kids. We need the Big Picture.

The big picture is that Marriage is about union and fruitfulness, because God is about union and fruitfulness. God is a unity of Persons in love. He is supremely fruitful because out of this Trinitarian love, an entire universe springs and, what is more, human creatures in the universe whom He makes in His image and likeness. So he establishes marriage as a primal human institution and says “it is not good for man to be alone” and “be fruitful and multiply.” (cf. Genesis 2:18; 1:28).

But it doesn’t end there, because we are not merely natural creatures like the rest of the animal kingdom, nor merely clever apes with oversized brains. We are raised by grace to participate, not merely in rational life, but in God’s very own Trinitarian life as “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). So God raises the animal act of sex, like the animal act of eating or washing, to the dignity of participation in his own supernatural life via sacraments such as Marriage, Eucharist, and Baptism.

That is why Pope John Paul II taught that marriage, in addition to being about union and fruitfulness, was also ordered toward the “healing, perfection, and exaltation” of the spouses. Marriage between the baptized doesn’t just lead to the care and nurture of children. It leads to Heaven. Through it, the spouses administer the grace of God to one another. Through it, they incarnate the love of God in the act of conceiving and raising the only creatures in the universe who share the same human nature as the Incarnate Son of God. Through it, and the trials and difficulties that attend it, they grow in reliance on the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit so that they can become fully conformed to the image and likeness of Christ. Through it, the grace of God flows out to the world as a new domestic Church founded on love is formed.

That’s why it’s so urgent that we understand that marriage is a covenant and not merely a contract. In a covenant, a bond of sacred kinship is established and people become family. It is rooted in love, not in mutual enmity and distrust. A contract (such as the odious “pre-nuptial agreement”) is a system for making sure that your enemy doesn’t defraud you. It is founded (like all earthly law) on fear. A covenant is founded on love. So marriage is all about imitating Jesus, who is love incarnate. That is why Paul’s advice to married couples remains as revolutionary and challenging today as the day it was written. So far from blessing the normal pagan domestic arrangements of Greco-Roman culture, in which the husband was all-powerful and could divorce his wife and abuse his children with impunity, Paul instead casts husbands in the role of Christ Crucified and women in the role of His loving Bride, the Church.

In short, Paul’s message is that successful marriage is not some technique. It is the commitment to dying to yourself and seeking the good and glory of the other: lose your life and you will save it. That’s as deeply offensive to us today as it has ever been, because we fallen creatures believe in power, not love. It is the poison that has gnawed at our vitals since the serpent bit us in the Garden. It is pride.

And so, the world teaches us to that life is a power struggle among economic classes, races, men, and women—and between God and us. This is where the Virgin Mary can help us. For Mary’s self-surrendering virginity attacks this false approach to life by showing that it’s about love, not power.

Surrender is death, according to the world. But Mary’s surrender to God leads to the mystery of total dependence on God—and the paradox of happiness through the cross. The Son before whom she kneels is the second Adam who undergoes a defeat far more profound than her own self-surrender so that he may exalt her to a glory above all other creatures.

Similarly, the Virgin paradoxically shows that purity is fruitful, for Mary’s purity reflects and signifies the purity of the Church, the Bride without wrinkle, spot, or blemish. G.K. Chesterton, in one of his typically insightful remarks, noted that heresy has always tended to identify purity with sterility, while Catholic teaching “always connects purity with fruitfulness; whether it be natural or supernatural.” And so it’s one of the strange contradictions of our age that the cultural apostles of sexual insanity constantly denigrate virginity while declaring simultaneously that “sex is nothing to be afraid of,” and desperately urging everyone to have “safe sex.” By this, they mean sex that is something like the Roman vomitorium, where you get all the pleasures of a bodily act, but none of the consequences. With perfect tone-deafness, the emissaries of “safe sex” thereby set themselves squarely against the only two things sex is actually for: union with the beloved and fruitfulness. One may as well say walking through a dry forest with a lit torch is nothing to be afraid of. And, if we’re honest, we are afraid of it—and none more so than the timid creatures who try to keep all the commitments sex implies—promises to husbands, wives, and children—at bay with a thin layer of latex.

We fear fire enough to keep it in the fireplace, but our culture is rapidly losing the elementary knowledge that God has ordained the fireplace of marriage for the fire of sex. The problem is not with wanting the fire, but with not wanting the fireplace. So our culture avoids the blessing of sex and makes it a curse instead. And we do it by making sex artificially virginal and virginity artificially sexual.

The artificial virginity of contraceptive sex boils down to the permanent attempt to strip mine the gold of pleasure from the sacramental union of love and fruitfulness, enthrone autonomy and pleasure, and declare love and fruitfulness “optional” rather than what revelation declares them to be: the very heart of reality. It is the attempt to replace love with power. But as power exalts itself over love, it naturally preys upon the weak, which leads to the artificial sexualization of virginity. For the simple fact is, a culture that despises virginity is a culture that despises children, who are both its weakest members and the last images we have of both purity and virginity.

This sickness has only one cure: the return to making sex sexual and virginity virginal. That is, a return to honoring the sacrament of marriage, which can only be fully honored by honoring the even higher call of virginity.

The world rings with longing for true love and total self-giving. People paid a billion dollars to watch Jack save Rose from the Titanic and bawled over a woman who loves a man so much she will risk death with him, and at a man who loves her so much he undergoes a baptism of death in the icy deep to save her “in every way a person can be saved.” There is a massive hunger for pure self-sacrificing love—and a terrible devouring fear of it, whether it comes in the form of marriage or virginity. That’s understandable: in a fallen world, love and death are twins. They are both forms of self-sacrifice and, in the mystery of Christ, therefore inseparable. So we have only two choices as we face marriage: live our lives trying to get love without death, or else find the courage to take the plunge, however ineptly, and die to ourselves for love. Do the former and we will find only death. Do the latter, and our marriages will lead to life. What is more, we will sooner or later discover that we did not build the road, that Jesus has walked it before us, and that the little voice that prompted us to take that first step of self-sacrifice for the Beloved, and all the steps after that, was his, however faint it may have been. Walk that road to the end, and we will discover it leads to still more calls to sacrifice until we reach the sacrifice of our lives. For as the great Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” That is the secret of a joyous marriage.

 

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