Category Archives: family

Leading in Our World

Dear Folks,

What does it mean to be part of the royal family of God? Last week I wrote about Jesus as prophet, priest, and king, and how we are to participate in those three roles as well, or perhaps, how Jesus exercises those roles through us. I think in these days we need to think more about the royal role, in which we are called to be leaders in this world.

In the book “Leadership Without Easy Answers” by Ronald Heifetz, he says that a leader points to the reality that calls for adaptive change and keeps the conversation focused on the

relevant issues.

We can tell the story of the Gospel, and also the story of how the world looks through the Gospel lens. This involves a vision of what it is to be human, and what makes for a good life. How many people think it’s important to have a good life? What does that even mean?

Have we thought about it? I would suggest that many (most?) people presume the question has been answered and charge ahead focused on immediate issues without regard to the

larger picture.

There are always tensions between Christian belief and the accepted beliefs of society. Right now, there is tremendous, fierce tension on the understanding of being male and female, on the meaning of sex, on the meaning of family, and the sanctity of

life. These are all connected, and the Catholic understanding shows to live that leads to human flourishing.

Mary Eberstadt in her book “Adam and Eve After the Pill” tells about how the sexual revolution has done great harm, but even though there are mountains of data, people refuse to recognize it. She compares it to the days of the Soviet Union, when there was a huge amount of evidence that their system caused tremendous human suffering, but so many refused to acknowledge it. There is a great “will to disbelieve.” I would also recommend “The Truth Overruled” by Ryan T. Anderson, which goes into more detail about the fierce resistance that meets any dissent.

As long as people look at their identity being all about their feelings, people will not be able to develop a solid sense of self, and a profound and stable vision for life becomes harder and harder. As long as people look at sex as a toy, it will facilitate treating other people as toys, easy to use and discard. Conceiving children becomes an inconvenience rather than a vocation, and life without abortion become unthinkable. If marriage is whatever we feel like it being, it will not have a solid foundation, and we lose the central crucible for forming people to be part of civilization. Our society has so much violence, so much anger, so much loneliness, so much misery. I’m reminded of Mahatma Ghandhi being asked what he thought of western civilization, and he said, “I think it would be a good idea.”

If we share the beautiful truth about how God made us for love, and what love really is (as in not a feeling but a decision) how the way we share ourselves is central to the good life.

This leads to an understanding of the authentic gift of self and the fullness of human life. We can recognize our feelings and know that they are important, but they can come and go and can mislead us. We can present a vision of what marriage is that will lead to a

society that flourishes. The conversation might start with some questions, like “Why does human life matter?” “What is marriage and why does it matter?” “Is loving a person different from loving ice cream?” Who knows what will follow from that?

By developing our ability to present the Catholic faith, the Catholic vision of how Jesus reveals to us what it means to be human and being able to do it in a compelling and inspiring way, we can be leader in the world.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

The Catholic Understanding of Mary

Dear Folks,

Mary is a key figure for Advent. Brant Pitre’s book “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary” is not only for those who love Mary and love the Bible, but for anyone who wonders if there is Biblical basis for all the Catholic teaching on Mary (spoiler alert: yes). He shows very powerfully how the Old Testament and the New Testament are woven together into one large story of salvation. We have (I hope) all been taught that the New Testament is foreshadowed in the Old and the Old is revealed in the New. The foreshadowing is called a “type” and the reality fore-shadowed is called the “antitype.” We see Noah’s flood and the passage through the Red Sea are types of baptism. We read in the blessing of water in the baptismal rite, “The waters of the great flood you made a sign of the waters of Baptism, that make an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness. Through the waters of the Red Sea, you led Israel out of slavery, to be an image of God’s holy people, set free from sin by Baptism. ”“Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned – for up to the time of the law, sin was in the world, though sin is not accounted when there is no law. But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam, who in the type of the one who was to come (Rom 5:12-14).” St. Paul will go on to contrast the sin of Adam (type) and the gift of Jesus (antitype).We also see that Moses, David and even Joseph were types of Jesus. Eve is a type of Mary. This explains why Jesus called His mother “woman,” which otherwise makes no sense. Eve was called “the woman” in Genesis and didn’t get the name Eve until after the fall. Pitre will explain that Mary is not only the new Eve, but the new ark of the covenant and the new Rachel. He will explain how all this was recognized by the Fathers of the Church in the early centuries. This is not new. He also suggests reading what the Second Vatican Council said about Mary in the Constitution on the Church (See Lumen Gentium 52-68).This, of course, is not just for apologetics or for interesting Bible study. First, it helps us see how God’s big plan of salvation is all woven together. Next, if you read Edward Sri’s “Biblical Walk Through the Mass” you can see that the Bible and the liturgy are woven together in one large reality. Having done that, we will have the practice to be able to see how our story is woven into that very story of salvation history and understand our lives as a journey with God. Second, it helps us appreciate the person of Mary of Nazareth. She is not just a theological football or doctrine of the Church. She is a person, and lives in heaven, enveloped in God’s love. She loves us with a mother’s love and prays for us. This is part of the rich gift that God gives us, drawing us into His family. If there is one thing we should understand in our day and age, it is that family matters. A lot. I remember as an undergraduate talking to someone from the Reformed Bible College about the saints. She said that she didn’t see the need for this because Jesus is enough. I am pleased that even then I thought to say that would be a compelling argument if we believed that God would give us the minimum necessary. I believe He gives us the maximum possible because His love is infinite. This season we see to sharpen our attentiveness to the gifts that God gives. This a place to start. Blessings, Fr. Jim

Marriage and the Cross

Dear Folks,Our Gospel talks about marriage, divorce, and natural law. Why would Mark put this in the section of his gospel that deals with the cross? At Jesus’ time, there was a strong belief that aman could divorce his wife for a number of causes, and I’m told some rabbis taught that if a wife burns her husband’s dinner that was cause for divorce. Clearly, practice like this wouldencourage many men to come to marriage thinking about how it was going to benefit them.Jesus’ is calling people to see marriage more in terms of gift of self. There may be great benefits and joys in marriage as in many forms of giving oneself, but it doesn’t work if our central focus is on what I’m going to get out of this. This is true of many ways we give ofourselves, like priesthood and friendship. Marriage is unique, however, and plays a unique role in the story of salvation.Consider how our relationship with God is compared to marriage. “I will rejoice heartily in the Lord, my being exults in my God; For he has clothed me with garments of salvation, and wrapped me in a robe of justice, like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, as a bride adorns herself with her jewels (Isaiah 61:10-11).” The book of Hosea is all about comparing God’s relationship with Israel to a husband’s relationship to an unfaithful wife. Psalm 45 is essentially a wedding song. Song of Songs is essentially a wedding song, and many people have found in it a deep sense of God’s tender love. Ephesians 5:21-33 compares marriage to the love between Christ and His Church and calls it “a great mystery.”If anyone is thinking that this is just a nice metaphor, why would it be called a great mystery?What if God deliberately made people male and female, that they be suited to give themselves to one another in a unique way, that would teach us about how God is calling us to union withHim? Our union with God is meant to be free, total, faithful, and fruitful, and so is marriage.Mark chapter 10, Jesus is asked about divorce, and at that time, there was discussion about what was required for divorce. He goes back to the beginning, the very beginning, and locatesthis discussion in the core of how we were created.Matthew will give some more detail in Matthew 19:1-15. Remember, the Gospel writers don’t tell all they know (See John 21:25), so they must be selective. There is a clarification about ifthe marriage is unlawful (v. 9, and that leads to a discussion beyond what I can do here). The apostles are shocked and think Jesus’ high standards means it is better not to get married.Jesus tells them that not everyone is made for marriage.In the Gospel of John, we see that John the Baptist’s job was to introduce Jesus. The Baptist will use two images for Jesus: The Passover Lamb (John 1:29) and the Bridegroom (John 3:22-30). We will see these two images brought together in the wedding feast of the Lamb in Revelation 19:7-9. See also Revelation 21:2 and 9. Both are images of total gift of self.When people get married, they are holding their whole lives in their hands, and making a decision that cannot be undone. I’ve dealt with a number of people who have been divorced or are going through divorce, and I’ve seen clearly that divorce does not make it go away (no one has contradicted me on that).This is a huge topic, but if there is one takeaway from what I’m saying, it is there is more to marriage than most people think, and we who think Jesus’ teaching is important have a challenge of expanding the conversation in society for the good of all.Blessings,Fr. Jim

From His Family to Us All

Dear Folks,
In these two weeks we celebrate the Holy Family and the Epiphany, and they touch on the
root of God’s whole work. We see a pattern where God makes family, and when it falls
apart, to bring things together.
It begins in Genesis, with the story of Adam and Eve. In this story, God makes Adam and
Eve and calls them to be the beginning of family. Then things fall apart. The story of the
Tower of Babel is a story of God’s people being dispersed and alienated from each other
because they tried to do things their way instead of God’s way. Noah and the ark is a story
about trying again. God picks a family, not a village, not a nation, but a family. From there
comes the new beginning.
God’s plan to gather His people together as one reaches a new phase with the beginning of
the nation of Israel. When God begins the nation of Israel, he starts with a family, the
family of Abram and Sarai (later Abraham and Sarah). From them will come a people from
whom the plan will unfold. Everything is laying the groundwork for the Gospel. The
people of Israel get scattered, and Isaiah prophecies God gathering them together (see, for
example Isaiah 60:4), and also starts talking about the gathering of all the nations (see
Isaiah 2:2-5). The Gospel Story begins with a family: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the Holy
Family.
The Magi represent the nations, those beyond the nation of Israel, who are called to be part
of God’s people. They were drawn by the star because they were open to goodness, beauty
and truth. (Herod wasn’t.) We the Church, God’s family, are meant to be light to draw the
nations. If we do our job right, those who are open to goodness, beauty and truth will be
drawn to Jesus by our light. In short, we are called to be stars.
Family is key. It is in family we are meant to learn empathy, responsibility, and what it
means to be part of something larger than ourselves. That is where we need to learn to
manage our emotions and be aware of how we affect one another. We are meant to learn
the difference between right and wrong and taught in practice to put our own will in second
place for a greater good. These are the sorts of virtues that enable a civilization to thrive.
Everything I’m hearing and reading says that we as a society are experiencing a decline in
all these things, and an increase in violence. If we want to turn that around, one place to
start, perhaps the place to start, is to strengthen the family.
For several generations in the western world, the understanding of family has diminished
until it is seen as just a lifestyle choice based on personal desires. The current arguments
about what is marriage and what is family are just the latest symptoms. How to begin to
rebuild it? There are three resources that I’ve encountered this year:
“The First Society,” a book by Scott Hahn unpacks what this is about and what it is
not about (for example, it is not about nostalgia for “Leave it to Beaver”).
“Defending Marriage” is a book by Anthony Esolen. His approach is more literary,
and rather than making rock-solid arguments for each of his positions, he weaves
together a vision for us to imbibe, and lets us consider if this speaks to us. He is not
concerned at all with using politically correct language, so let the reader beware.
For those who have access to Formed.org there is a very good one hour talk by Trent Horn
called “How to Talk about Marriage and Same-Sex Unions.” He lays out what would be
the basis of any productive discussion on the issue.
The human project is filled with striving for ideals that we cannot completely fulfill in this
life. If we lose sight of those ideals and we are left to follow our feelings and preferences,
then civilization crumbles. If we strengthen our sense of our highest ideals and strive to live
up to them as best as we can, we will be a light to all who seek.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim