Category Archives: marriage

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

Focus on Love

Dear Folks,

The essence of the Gospel is the gift of self. The Lord gave Himself completely for us, not withholding the last drop of His blood. By His Pascal Mystery, He empowers and invites us to receive that gift, and to give ourselves to Him in return. In this exchange of love is the fullness of life, the fullness of freedom, and the fullness of joy.

There are two problems. One, we are free simply to refuse. We can choose to live for ourselves and our desires alone. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 16:25; see Luke 17:33 and John 12:25).” The other problem is more insidious and more dangerous. It is the false gift of self. It allows us to tell others (and often ourselves) that we are really committing ourselves, but the reality is different.

We all know about people who claim to be your friend when it is convenient for them but ignore you when it is not. Sometimes people make a commitment and either never intended to keep it or change their minds when they find out it will be harder than they thought.

This can take many forms. In the Scriptures, there is a continual problem of false gifts to God. God teaches His people how to be in relationship to Him (in the Old Testament this is embodied in the Torah, and in the New Testament it is embodied in Jesus). People keep trying to make it something less. Isaiah 1 and Psalm 50 are about those who offer ritual sacrifices but do not follow God’s teaching, as if they could just buy Him off and continue to do what they wanted. The scribes and Pharisees in the Gospels were classic examples of those who went through the motions, but their hearts and minds did not belong to God, and they refused to be corrected.

The Scriptures make an analogy between our relationship with God and the relationship between husband and wife. The book of Hosea, Ezekiel 13 and 23, and other texts compare idolatry with adultery. God made sex as the ultimate gift of self between husband and wife and the power to generate life. People keep trying to make it something less, and that has caused serious harm to people’s lives, to families, and to society as a whole. People are exploited, children are neglected or considered disposable, and people lose the power to connect on a deep level. To use it as a toy, a sport, or a casual interaction harms the people involved. All of Catholic sexual morality is to preserve its power as authentic gift of self.

Some do charitable work but are less concerned about what will really help people than about feeling good about themselves or having other people praise them.

This Sunday we read the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). This story, unique to Luke, is a story about authentic charitable work. It involved an emergency, and someone who helped with nothing to gain for himself. His friends would never praise him for helping a Jew, in fact, they would probably sneer in disgust (such was the hatred between Jews and Samaritans). The man he helped would probably be angry he was helped by a Samaritan, and there could not be expectation of gratitude from him. He took a risk stopping in a dangerous place, used his own resources, and now had to walk instead of ride. He even left himself open to extra cost. He probably even had to deal with a feeling of disgust himself for this victim.

We remember that Jesus Himself is the perfect model of selfless love. He was already on the highest throne in heaven, and had nothing to gain by saving us, but He did at great cost to himself. This is the challenge He gives us today.

Blessings,

Fr Jim

Woman at the Well: a Surprise

Dear Folks,

Today, Jesus meets a woman at a well. Brant Pitre’s excellent book “Jesus the Bridegroom” talks about gathering all the people of God to be the bride of the Lamb. The Bible has a couple of powerful images of meeting a bride at a well (Isaac, through a servant, with Rebekah in Genesis 24, Jacob with Rachel in Genesis 29, and Moses with Zipporah in Exodus 2:16:21). Pitre will point out various details in common between these stories and the story of Jesus at the well, which means that a Jewish audience who knew their Torah would instantly make the connection. A man meeting a woman at a well made them think of marriage.

Jesus talks about being the source of living water. We will see again that He will talk about living water in chapter 7 during the feast of tabernacles (the feast of booths): “On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and exclaimed ‘Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says; “Rivers of living water will flow from within him.”’ He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified (John 7:37-39).” According to Gail Yee’s “Jewish Feasts and the Gospel of John”

she talks about the last and greatest day of the feast. “On the seventh day, the priests pass through the Water Gate and encircle the sacred altar seven times with the waters drawn from the pool of Siloam (p.79).” There would be other rituals with water during the feast. It would happen at the time of harvest, which was the beginning of the rainy season (there is no rain in Israel during the summer: rain happens in the winter, so imagine cisterns getting dry). In that context Jesus makes His declaration.

Pitre argues that when Jesus tells the woman at the well about living water, He refers to baptism, seeing how it follows from so much about baptism in Chapter 3 and the beginning of Chapter 4. Baptism gives the Holy Spirit (John 1:32 and 3:5) and the Spirit reminds us of the truth (John 14:26)

Jesus breaks down barriers between people. Jesus is about bringing people together. This woman was a Samarian, and very much an outsider. We don’t know the details of this woman’s story. She has had five husbands and was living a sinful lifestyle with a man with whom she was not married. Was she in her situation because she made some really bad choices, or because she was treated horribly and this was the only way she could find to survive, or maybe a combination of the two? The fact that she is coming to the well at midday suggests other women were shunning her. In Israel, you run errands early in the morning before it gets hot, and at mid-day you work inside. Jesus loves people regardless of their sins, but also takes their sins seriously (nowadays people assume it has to be one or the other). He doesn’t explore the state of her soul, but the basic facts of her situation. The fact that He knew that and didn’t treat her with contempt was probably a new experience for her. He did not berate her, simply told the truth, and she knew what the score was. Nowadays, it has the extra complication that many people, including many practicing Catholics, believe that many sins are not only not sins, but positive goods, and that calling them sins is actually hateful. Still, we are called to lead with love and respect, to trust the power of the Spirit given to us in baptism, and to point to the truth. Jesus offers a more abundant life (John 10:10) and it is for us to point to that life and show it in our behavior.

I suggest getting more and more deeply engaged in the Gospel of John will help us see how His truth all connects and how to point to it with our words and actions.

Blessings

Fr Jim

Jesus the Bridegroom

Dear Folks,

We read the story of the wedding at Cana in John 2. We look at the image of marriage throughout the Bible, we see it is often used to illuminate God’s intentions for us. In Isaiah 61 and 62 also in the Book of Hosea, we see married love as an image of God’s love for us. Rabbis, Church fathers and spiritual masters have long seen the Song of Songs as an Image of God’s tender love for us. In the Gospel of John, we remember that John the Baptist’s big job is to introduce Jesus, and he uses two images to describe Him: The Lamb and the Bridegroom (See John 1:29, 36; John 3:29). Both are images of the gift of self. The sacred author will bring these two images together at the end of the Book of Revelation (See Revelation 19:6-9 and 21:9-10).There is a movie with Kirk Cameron called “Fireproof.” It is about a firefighter whose marriage is on the verge of splitting up, and he is ready to give up. Then his father gives him a copy of a book called “The Love Dare” which is a forty-day challenge to build one’s relationship with one’s spouse. This is put out by evangelical Protestants, but there is nothing in them to offend Catholics. The book gives the philosophy and explains the challenge of each day. We are reminded that Christians are not called to follow our hearts but lead our hearts. Love in Christianity is not a feeling, but a decision to seek the good of the other. It is not something that we fall into and out of, but something we nurture and build. Feelings are important, but they can come and go, and often they lead us in the wrong direction.The Love Dare has forty different challenges to be intentional about certain virtues involved in marriage. The first is “Love is patient.” Let’s face it, we all need patience, and we all can grow in our ability to be patient. This is about taking a day to focus on being patient with one’s spouse. The next day is “Love is kind.” While patience is reactive, kindness is proactive. One can take a day and look for opportunities to do nice things for one’s spouse that would make that person happy.In our society, many look at marriage as a lifestyle choice based on personal desire rather than a vocation of service and sacrifice based on natural law. The enemy will always present us with inferior substitutes for God’s gifts, and they will seem more attractive at first, but then betray us. If this can help more people to have more successful and joyful marriages, that would be enough reason for this effort, but there is more. When we say that marriage is a sacrament, that tells us that it illuminates God’s love for us and the response we seek to give to God. As we grow in our ability to love other people in relationships, we can gain insight into living the marriage of the Bride and the Lamb, how we can better love Jesus. With some adaptations, the same program could be an exercise in discipleship. As a husband might be extra attentive to being patient with his wife, so a disciple could be patient with God’s people. Or, perhaps, when things go wrong, be patient with the challenges that God allows us to face.As we think of all the joys and virtues of marriage, knowing that earthly marriages are imperfect, we can reflect on how God’s love for us brings all good things to perfection. Accept no substitutes.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim