Archive for the ‘Chastity’ Category

The Catechism on Current Events

June 19, 2016

On June 12, 2016, a gunman murdered 49 persons at a gay nightclub in Orlando. Discussions of terrorism and new gun control laws have followed. Below are teachings from The Catechism of the Catholic Church:

On Murder & Terrorism (CCC 2268, 2297)

The fifth commandment forbids direct and intentional killing as gravely sinful. The murderer and those who cooperate voluntarily in murder commit a sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance.

Terrorism threatens, wounds, and kills indiscriminately; it is gravely against justice and charity.

On Persons with Same-Sex Attractions (CCC 2357-2359)

Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

On Government Authority (See CCC 1897-1927)

Every human community needs an authority to govern it. … Its role is to ensure as far as possible the Common Good of the society. The authority required by the moral order derives from God… (see Romans 13:1-2.) [Authority] must not behave in a despotic manner, but must act for the Common Good as a moral force based on freedom and a sense of responsibility. A human law has the character of law to the extent that it accords with right reason, and thus derives from the eternal law. … If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, “authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse.” (Pope St. John XXIII) The Common Good consists of three essential elements: respect and promotion of the fundamental rights of the person; development of the spiritual & temporal goods of society; and the peace & security of society and its members.

On Legitimate Self-Defense (CCC 2263-2264)

The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. “The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor. … The one is intended, the other is not.” (St. Thomas Aquinas)

Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow: “If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. … Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.” (St. Thomas Aquinas)

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Heeding Our Earthly Mother & Heavenly Father — 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

July 5, 2014

Readings: Zechariah 9:9-10; Romans 8:9,11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

A Wall Across the Road

Imagine an wall built across a road which has stood for as long as anyone can remember. The Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton suggested that when confronted by such a peculiar sight:

The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

It is said that human history has been constantly repeating two phases, summed up in two concise phrases:

First, “What could it hurt?
And second, “How were we supposed to know?

All of us are children of the same holy Mother, the Church. And she is united with God, our loving Father. Moms and dads sometimes tell us, “Don’t touch that–it will hurt. I know it glows enticingly, but it will burn you. We’re not saying this in order to control you or to make you miserable, but because we love you. We want you to be safe and happy.

Red_Hot_Coiled_Stove_Burner_3_by_FantasyStockWe then have three options in how we respond: Either we can touch the forbidden thing for ourselves and experience the pain firsthand. Or we can observe others who have touched the thing and learn from them (though they sometimes hide their pain and tears, even from themselves.) Or, and this is the best response, we can trust in the words of our Mother and Father and never get burned.

Sometimes the wise and the learned of this world refuse to see the truth, but to the little ones, to the childlike, the truth is revealed and they welcome it. In our first reading from Zechariah we find a prophesy about the Messiah. The Savior is not coming on a warhorse, but on a donkey—not as a conqueror imposing his will upon the earth by force, but meekly, inviting us to trust in him and freely embrace his will.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

This week’s Supreme Court’s verdict in the Hobby Lobby case comes as good news for religious liberty. However, we must keep praying. Though the five-to-four decision is a positive sign, religiously affiliated non-profit groups are not safely out of the legal woods yet. Many people of goodwill support Catholic institutions in their conscientious refusal to facilitate things they consider gravely immoral, but I wonder how many observers understand why Catholics have any objection to contraception and sterilization to begin with?

People fail to realize that contraception is not something new. For thousands of years, people have used various barriers, chemicals, and techniques to prevent the marital embrace from being fruitful. And most have never heard that before 1930 all Protestant denominations agreed with the Catholic Church’s teaching in condemning contraception as sinful. Most people have not realized what could be wrong with putting asunder what God has joined in the marital act; separating love-making from an openness to life. And though few recognize the harmful impact that contraception has on families and society, its consequences were not entirely unforeseen.

Pope Paul VI

In 1968, in the midst of a sexual revolution made possible by the birth control pill, some believed the Catholic Church would “update” its consistent teaching on contraception. (“What could it hurt?”) Instead, Pope Paul VI shocked the world with orthodoxy. His encyclical, Humanae Vitae or “Of Human Life,” was one of the most controversial documents of the twentieth century, yet the pope’s four predictions of what would happen if contraceptives gained widespread use have proven true:

  1. A general lowering of moral standards throughout society.
  2. A rise in infidelity.
  3. A lessening of respect for women by men.
  4. The coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.

What is more, a contraceptive mentality has so pervaded our culture that healthy fertility is treated like a disease and conceived children are treated like a cancer. Because of procured abortion, in any room of people under 40 years old, there is on average one person missing for every three people you see. This is the fruit of a contraceptive mentality. (“How were we supposed to know?”)

Whether the Catholic Church teaches on indecent images, fornication, cohabitation, same-sex relations, divorce and remarriage without annulment, in-vitro fertilization, abortion, drug use and drunkenness, euthanasia or suicide; for every “no” in her teachings the Church proclaims a greater, more foundational “Yes” to love and life and true happiness. As St. Paul tells us:

“Brothers and sisters, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

Will we be childlike enough to listen to our Father in heaven and our Mother on earth? Learn from Christ and take his yoke upon you, for according to his promise you will receive rest. His ways require sacrifice, yet compared to the yoke of sin and death which comes with the ways of the world, Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light.

The Seven Deadly Sins & Seven Lively Virtues

March 6, 2014

Pride is lowered by Humility

Envy is opposed by Admiration

Wrath is tamed by Forgiveness

Sloth is stopped by Zeal

Greed is relinquished by Generosity

Gluttony is moderated by Asceticism

Lust is controlled by Chastity

Which lively virtue will you focus on growing?

 

Teachings Hardly Heard — 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

July 10, 2011

Like the rains that come down from heaven to water the earth, so we are called to live lives of self-gift, fruitfulness, and peace. Jesus comes down from heaven to give us life, to free us from futility and slavery to corruption. But sometimes when Jesus preaches, people hear without understanding and the evil one steals away the seed of truth He sows. For others, worldly fear and the attraction of riches prevent Jesus’ word from bearing fruit. But when His word lands on a person of openness and discernment, it bears a great fruitfulness for that person and others.

What are teachings that we as Catholics have tended to hear but not understand, to glace at but never really examine. What are the teachings of Jesus Christ’s Church which we hardly hear with our ears and toward which we are most tempted to close our eyes? These are the issues about which clergy are most hesitant to preach. Nevertheless, Jesus wills that we hear these things with our ears, understand them with our hearts, and be converted, that He may heal us. Please pray now, for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that your heart may receptive to His word.

One area about which we hardly hear with our ears is the harm in sensual or romantic fantasizes.

For men, this temptation tends to be toward indecent images. For women, it tends towards things like romance novels. With these things, a person looks at another, or imagines being with another, without ever touching them, but that does not make sensual or romantic fantasies o.k. or harmless. Recall how Jesus said, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

What is the harm in these things? Real love is only found and shared in the real world. Sensual or romantic escapism leaves behind those we are called to love. Compared to these fantasies, no real man or woman, no wife or husband, can possibly measure up. These fantasies can be addictive and they change the way we look at and relate to others in daily life.

If books, magazines, or movies tempt you in this way, throw them out. If the internet is the gateway to fantasy, place near the monitor a picture of someone you love. Commit yourself to loving the real people in your life, for that is the only place where real love is found.

Another topic about which we hardly hear is the harm of contraception.

In the beginning, upon creating the first man and woman, “God blessed them, saying: ‘Be fertile and multiply.’”  To unite husband and wife in love, and to bless the world with new human life, God designed the one-flesh marital embrace. God created and wills this embrace for life as well as love. Contraception, however, separates life from love, to the harm of both.  This must not be done for as Jesus said, in the context of marriage, “What God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

Forms of contraception are not new, they’re actually quite ancient. And from the start, the Catholic Church has recognized the wrongness of intentionally contracepted acts. In fact, as late as 1930, all Protestant groups agreed with Catholics on this principle (before they began to splinter off.) If the constant teaching of the Church of Jesus Christ is not persuasive enough, consider the fallout of contraception.

A contracepting couple closes off their marriage, their embrace, to life. Therefore, if they unexpectedly conceive a child, the little one is not felt to be a gift from God but a mistake. Whenever the surprise blessing of a child is considered to be a curse, love for that child is wounded, and even the unspeakable becomes tempting.

Contraception also threatens the love of couples. Pope Paul VI foresaw this danger, as he wrote in Humanae Vitae, “It is also to be feared that the man who grows accustomed to contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and psychological equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, and no longer as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.” Contraception separates life and love to the harm of both.

What then does the Church ask couples to do; to have as many children as they physically possibly can? No—For serious physical, psychological, economic, or social reasons, a couple may limit their marital embraces to her cycle’s naturally infertile periods. This is called Natural Family Planning (or NFP) and its methods, when used as directed, are as effective as the pill. But unlike the pill, Natural Family Planning has no unhealthy side-effects, is not an abortifacient, and conforms with God’s will. Practicing NFP is fruitful within marriage, whether God blesses a couple with more children or not.

A third subject about which we do not hear is the harm of fornication, or partaking of the marital embrace without the covenant of marriage.

Body language speaks, and the message of the body in the marital embrace is one of total self-gift. It says, “I joyfully give myself to you, all of me, completely and forever.” Fornication, however, makes this language of the body a lie. Unless a relationship has been sealed, before God and the world, in the bond of marriage, either one of the couple can back out at any time, and the couple knows this. It’s always in the back of their minds. For this reason, these couples tend to repress anger and complaints, avoid facing problems in their relationship, and put off the hard questions about their future together.

The embrace of man and woman naturally forges strong emotional bonds between the couple. In marriage, that’s a good thing, but before a marriage this clouds judgment and can plaster over serious flaws, serious cracks, in a bad relationship, at least for awhile. And what if their embrace conceives a child they don’t think they’re ready for? The woman, to preserve the relationship, may be tempted or coerced toward an unspeakable choice she’ll always regret.

Cohabitating couples can slouch into marriage; sometimes the man doesn’t really choose marriage so much as finally give in to others’ expectations. Then, after their wedding, nothing really seems different from before, and psychologically, the assumptions of their dating relationship carry into the marriage. Once their wedding day (which wasn’t as special for them as it should have been) drifts further away into the past, and marital difficulties inevitably arise, the old idea, the old escape hatch of breaking up and moving out, naturally returns, increasing the risk of divorce.

Fornication and cohabitation expose a person to emotional and spiritual pains, decrease one’s chances of marrying the right person, and increase one’s chances of divorcing in the future. No matter where you are in your dating relationships, Jesus Christ calls you to pre-marital chastity, for true love is found in purity.

A final topic about which we hardly hear is the harmfulness in acting out according to one’s same-sex attractions.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, “The number of men and women who have deep-seated [tendencies of this kind] is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”

It is important for all of us to remember that a temptation, whatever it is, by itself, is not sin. Unless we go out looking for temptation, we are not responsible for the temptations which our genetics, upbringing, or environment send our way. What important is how we respond to our temptations, whether we give in to them and fall, or if stand strong with God like His saints before us.

As a Christian, and a fellow sinner, it would be wrong for me to look down on anyone. God loves everyone like He loves me. But at the same time, it would not be loving for me as a follower of Jesus Christ to say that acting out on one’s same-sex attractions is o.k. or harmless. The Old and New Testaments and the constant teachings of Christ’s Church are clear.

People of the same sex may be friends, even the dearest of friends with each other, but they’re not meant to be lovers. Man and wife were made each other. Their masculine and feminine differences compliment and complete each other and husbands and wives, as mothers and fathers. This is seen physically, in their marital embrace and in the conception of new life; but also psychologically and spiritually as well, in faithful marriages that last a lifetime. Persons of the same sex do not have this complimentarity and to ignore truth this leads to suffering, for such relationships are unhealthy for one’s body or soul. The tragically higher rates of promiscuity, transmittable diseases and cancers, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, and attempted suicide, point to the brokenness of these lifestyles. (And one notes that these comparatively higher rates are found not only in our country, but also aboard, like in the Netherlands where such relationships are more common and much more socially accepted.) Jesus calls these brothers and sisters of His and ours to a different, better, happier way of life.

Regardless of our temptations, there is hope. Freedom from sin and joyful peace are possible for all of us, by the grace of Jesus Christ the support of one another. For example, Courage international is a Catholic organization which ministers to help those with same-sex attractions live chaste and happy lives. For more information about Courage groups in our area, or about how to enroll in Natural Family Planning classes see me after Mass or give me a call. If you are cohabitating and wish to return to chastity but you don’t know how you as a couple can practically achieve it, talk to me. God has solutions for those who seek His will. May the seeds of Jesus’ teachings find rich soil in your hearts and bear an abundant harvest for you and for others.

Set To Heaven — 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

February 13, 2011

This morning, consider this important question: Are you a thermometer or a thermostat? In this life, we can live like either thermometers or thermostats. A thermometer (as you know) accepts whatever temperature, hot or cold, that happens to surround it. A thermometer acts passively to the world’s influence. A thermostat, on the other hand, does not submit to the world around it. A thermostat is set to an ideal temperature and strives to attaint its goal.  As Christians, we should be as thermostats, and we should all be set on Heaven.

Do you think about Heaven much? Do you ever meditate on what it will be like? I think many of us get so drawn in by the here and now that we fail to give Heaven much thought. Yet, I think we would all be strengthened by meditating on it more; on what it promises and what it requires.

The next life is a mystery about which we can know a great deal. As Saint Paul says, “What God has prepared for those who love him, this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” For example, we know that there will be no suffering or death in Heaven. The Book of Revelation says God ‘will wipe every tear from our eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order (the way of this world) will have passed away.’

There shall also be no hatred in Heaven. No one with hatred in his or her heart will be able to enter. The Book of Wisdom teaches that God hates none of the persons he has made. He does not always like all the things that they do, but it is His love for each one that continues to hold them in being, and will hold them in existence forever. In order to see God in Heaven, we must become like Him. This is why Jesus forbids not only murder, but hatred in the heart as well. Consider how wonderful it will be to live in Heaven at peace with everyone.

After the resurrection, when our dead bodies are reconstructed from the dust, those who are just will be remade, stronger, handsomer, more incredibly beautiful, than they have ever looked before. Will their perfect bodies have any flaws? If glorified bodies do have “flaws,” they shall be as the wounds that remain in Jesus’ hands and side, beautiful and glorious forever. In this life, the beauty of one’s soul has little relationship to the beauty of one’s flesh; but in Heaven, the holiness of the saints shines out for all to see. 

In Heaven, in this midst of this overwhelming beauty, no one shall lust and none shall exploit another. Lust and exploitation go hand in hand. There is a good reason for the expression “to lust for power,” for lust is about manipulating another for one’s pleasure. Instead of lust, everyone in Heaven shall desire the true good of one another from their hearts.

In this life, temptations will come whether we want them or not, but remember that temptations in themselves are not sins—it is only when we say “yes” to temptation, when we choose to sin as temptations suggest, that we can be guilty of a sin such as lust. Until we can refuse temptation’s invitations, until all lust is driven from our hearts, we are not yet ready for Heaven. This is why Jesus teaches not only against adultery, but against lust in the heart as well. How wonderful it will be to full of love for all, purely, from our hearts, and to receive that same overflowing love in return.

Our lives on earth we are full of questions. But in Heaven, every question which has answer will be answered for us. As St. Paul told the Corinthians, “At present we see indistinctly, as in a [cloudy] mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” Heaven is a place of transparent truth. There, the barriers to communication disappear. In Heaven, we shall know others fully, and be fully known ourselves. No lies nor concealments are possible there, “for there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light.” Until we are free of lies, until we are people whose ‘Yes’ means ‘Yes,’ and whose ‘No’ mean ‘No,’ we are not yet ready to live in Heaven.

If we die in God’s grace and friendship, we may still have some attachments to sin, and be unprepared for Heaven. But, thanks be to God, there is Purgatory, to clean us up and make us perfect, so that we may enter the Father’s house and join the feast of Heaven. Though there is Purgatory, we must always aim for Heaven. If you shoot a bow and arrow and aim carefully for the bull’s-eye, you will probably miss but still hit the target. If you shoot only aiming at the target in general, you will probably miss and hit the ground. So aim for Heaven, lest any of us miss entirely.

Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. So let us not default to world’s standards. Do not be a thermometer. Set your thermostat to the perfection of Heaven. Meditate on it and strive for it, and you will experience the joys and blessings of Heaven beginning in this life.

Willing, Yet Unwilling — 1st Sunday of Advent—Year A

November 28, 2010

This morning, I’m going to tell you the true story of a friend of mine, a person whom I respect, who was once addicted to sensual sins. As he tells the story, when he was 32 years old, he found himself in an intense spiritual struggle; my friend found himself willing, and yet unwilling, to change his life for Christ.

When he would turn and honestly look at himself, at the things he was doing and the way he was living, what he saw was ugly, sordid, and ulcerous. He desired life with Christ. He knew that holiness should mean more to him than all bodily pleasures, but he could not seem to detach himself from his sins. He hesitated to die to death and to live to life. Old enticements tugged at him and softly whispered: “Are you going to part with us?” Doubts kept nagging him, “Do you really think you can live without these pleasures, forever?”

But together with these temptations, other thoughts beckoned to him. He could envision a smiling multitude of saintly men and women of every age, who had lived both chastely and happily. A voice seemed to say to him, ‘You can also do what these men and women did, but none of them did it by themselves. The Lord their God gave it to them. Why do you try to stand by your own strength, only to fall over and over again? Cast yourself on Christ; don’t be afraid. He will not flinch and you will not fall. Cast yourself on him without fear, for he will accept and heal you.’

My friend was both willing and unwilling, attracted to both and repulsed by both. There were times when he would even pray, Lord, give me chastity, but not yet.” One day, these struggles came to a head for him, as he happened to be sitting in a garden outside of his house. Like Adam and Jesus in their gardens, he had come to a crucial moment of agonizing decision. With tears, he cried, ‘Why do I keep delaying to until tomorrow? Why not now? Why not end my uncleanness this very hour?’ Yet he could not find the strength to do it.

As he was saying these things, he heard the voice of child coming from the house next door, chanting over and again, “Pick it up and read it; pick it up and read it.” Thinking this a rather strange thing for a child to say at play, he took it a divine command to open his Bible and to read the first thing his eyes should fall upon. I took his Bible, opened it, and read these words in silence, words from today’s second reading: “Let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.”

That moment changed my friend’s life for as instantly as he finished reading those words he says that his heart was infused with something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away. By this God-given grace, his life began to change, and he went on to become a saint. Actually, you know my friend too, because he’s a friend of yours as well. We call him Saint Augustine of Hippo, and he tells us his own story in Western history’s first autobiography, The Confessions by St. Augustine. [see Book 8, Chapter 11]

All of us here are recovering sinners, and we all struggle with personal addictions to sins large or small. Maybe we find ourselves committing and confessing the same sins over and over again. Maybe we are tempted to doubt that we can really change our lives for Christ. If we try to exert ever-greater efforts of personal will power, and find ourselves failing and falling again, perhaps a new approach is needed.

Instead of making promises and firmly resolving, that this time, somehow, I will amend my life and sin no more, try praying in this way: “Lord Jesus, I want to sin no more, but I have proven again and again, to myself and to You, that I can’t do it. I can’t do it, but You can. Please, give me the gift of your grace. Show me your power working in me. Jesus, live your life through me. I can’t do it, but You can.” Humble yourself and accept the gift of grace. Rely on Christ, for apart from Him we can do nothing. Pray everyday and confess your poverty, and Christ will provide what you need. If we neglect to pray or to humble ourselves, we are showing the pride of a branch that thinks it can produce fruit without the vine. If we do that, we should know that our next fall is near.

This season of Advent is for us to prepare for the Christmas coming of Christ. This year, He is asking us for only one thing; the gift of ourselves. Let us ask for the gift of His grace, so that we may present ourselves to Him, holy, pure, and whole.

[A similiar homily about St. Augustine’s mother, St. Monica.]

Gift of Self — 5th Sunday in Easter—Year C

May 2, 2010

I would like to begin today by telling the beautiful story of a gorgeous young woman named Leah Darrow. Leah grew up in a strong Catholic family in Oklahoma, but when she was in high school she says that her Catholicism started to get “fuzzy.”  By the time she was in college Leah says she had become a “Catholic But.” She would say, “I’m Catholic, but I don’t agree with the Church’s teaching on cohabitation,” or, “I’m Catholic but I don’t see the problem with a couple who love each sleeping together before their marriage… I think the Church is behind the times.”

One evening at college she saw a reality TV show called “Americas’s Next Top Model,” with Tyra Banks and thought to herself, “I’m pretty cute, maybe I could be on that show.” She tried out and got on, but lost the competition, yet she was resolved not to let her TV elimination mean the end of her modeling career. And she was rather successful.  She still recalls her excitement at receiving her first paycheck with a comma (a comma!) in it.

Leah eventually found herself at a photo-shoot high above 5th Avenue in New York that would change her life forever. She came to pose for an international magazine which wanted to help her develop a more risque image. They brought out a number of itsy-bitzy outfits for her to wear.  She picked one out and shooting began. Now Leah says that every model knows not to look at the flash when the photos are being taken (and she insists that she didn’t look at the flash) yet while she was posing, a vision flashed in her mind, three images in the span of perhaps a second or two. This is what she saw:

She saw herself standing in a large white space in the immodest outfit she was wearing. In this scene she wasn’t in pain, but she had the sense that she had died. In the second image Leah was looking up, holding out her open hands at her waist, with the knowledge that she was in the presence of God. In the third and final image, another white flash hit her eyes and Leah saw herself holding her hands all the way up, offering to God all that she had, but in that moment she realized that she was offering Him nothing. For her entire life up to that point, with all of the blessings, talents, and gifts that God had given her, she had wasted them all on herself. If she had died at that moment, Leah knew that she would have nothing to offer Christ.

She came back to reality when the photographer said, “Leah, Leah, are you OK?” She shook her head and said, “No, I can’t.” He said, “Ok, we can go over here.” And she said, “No, I can’t .”  She ran back to the makeup counter, changed back into her own clothes, and ran down 5th Avenue, balling her eyes out, afraid that she might be losing her mind.

She called her dad and said, “Dad, if you don’t come get me I am going to lose my soul.” Dad drove across the country to New York, and when he arrived she wanted to leave town, but he said he couldn’t wait to see the sights; Central Park, the Empire State Building, the Carnegie Deli, “But first we go to confession.” She made a good, tearful confession spanning the ten commandments like she was ordering off the dollar menu: ‘Two number ones, four number twos…’ She came out like a new woman, healed.  Today she goes around telling her story and supporting an organization that promotes modesty in young lades’ dress.

Leah says she was living a very selfish life before her conversion. Perhaps she was confused, as many in our culture, about the nature of true love. In English we use the word love in a broad and ambiguous way.  We say, “I love that TV show. I love the Packers. I love my children. I love my wife. I love God. I love my dog.” But all of these loves are different in kind and degree. When we say, “I love pizza,” or, “I love wine,” it is not really pizza and wine that we love so much as  ourselves.  I love myself, and that’s why I consume pizza or wine. Yet, not all love is easy, warm, and fuzzy. True love is a sacrifice, and often feels that way.

As St. Paul tells us in the first reading, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” And Jesus says in the gospel, “I give you a new commandment: love one another.” Love how? “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” How did Jesus love us? Through a total gift of self.

Now we know from the Gospels that Jesus’ self-giving wasn’t always a ordeal. It was often joyful. Jesus enjoyed going to weddings, dinner parties, and spending time with His friends. But Jesus’ acts of love were the most powerful and manifest when they were hard, as when He was on the cross.

Self-gifting love powerfully good. Someone can live a life of great fame and wealth, but without self-gift their life will account for nothing.  This is the world of difference we see between George Bailey and Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Difficult self-gifting love is also the most powerful witness. Some theologians have speculated that Jesus could have redeemed in other ways besides the cross. (Perhaps a single cry from the infant God-Man would have been enough if that had been the divine plan.) But Jesus dying for us on the cross communicates a powerful message about His love for us. Jesus said, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The way we love should be a witness, it should make us stand out.

Earth is a training ground. Our life here on Earth is training for Heaven. In Heaven, self-gifting is the rule and the norm. If that’s not the sort of thing we are interested in, there will be no place for us to be at home in heaven–and there is only one other place for us to go forever. In today’s second reading, Heaven is seen “coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” It is a revealing description, for spousal relationship prepares us for the life of Heaven.

We are all called to marriage and parenthood, either natural or spiritual. Some are called to live single lives, to enter religious life, or be ordained, in a fruitful spousal relationship with Christ and/or His Church. Others are called to natural marriage and to fruitfulness seen in their spousal love and its natural or spirital children.

Self-gift is the life of marriage. What if there is a priest who does not pray, who does not serve, but who seeks only his own comfort? Such a priest will eventually leave his priesthood. So it is with a natural marriage. If one spouse seeks just their own pleasure, their marriage will seem empty. But if both spouses seek to make a self-gift to the other, they will both be satisfied. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all thing will be added on to you.” If we go for self-gratification, even that escapes us, but if we focus on self-gift, satisfaction comes as well. This is the reason for the Catholic tradition of a crucifix hanging over a husband and wife’s bed.

Jesus has given us a new commandment: love one another. As He has loved us we should love one another. Such love is powerful. It should make us stand out as disciples of Christ. And it prepares us for the life of Heaven, where self-gift is rule.

Leah Darrow Interview on the Drew Mariani Catholic radio show (4/30/10)

Leah Darrow Talk to a Boston Catholic Women’s Conference (2/27/10)

Man’s Mission — Friday, 3rd Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

January 29, 2010

In the beginning, the Lord God settled the man in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it. Then the Lord made the man a partner suitable for himself. Each day had seen God make greater and greater creations and on this last day, God makes His final, ultimate creation: woman.

The man beholds her with joy. He authors her name, which points to his authority, yet this authority is not meant for dominance but service, like the authority exercised by Christ. The man is meant to work to nuture and guard the garden and to nurture and guard his wife.

Before the Fall, all work was free from toil. Work carried with it no pains, no exhaustion, no boredom or strain—only feelings of satisfaction, creative accomplishment, and pleasure like those which we still sometimes enjoy from doing a job well done.

The man was placed in the garden with an important job to do, to nurture and protect, but he neglected his duty, and this led to the Fall. For where was he when the cunning serpent was out of place and out of line enticing his wife towards death? Maybe he was off sleeping on the job, taking an afternoon nap somewhere, like David in the first reading:

‘At the turn of the year, when kings go out on campaign, David, however, remained in Jerusalem. One evening David rose from his siesta and strolled about on the roof of the palace (for he had nothing else to do) and from the roof he saw a woman bathing, who was very beautiful.’

David forgets about his kingly work and duty, to fight the good fight, and from this comes his fall. He exploits the power of his authority and sins against a woman he should to honor and defend.

Our lives are meant to more than just our work, but faithfulness to some form of work before God is meant to be a part of our lives. Our work helps us to be good and to do good for others. Maybe you’re retired now, but if you’re still here on earth then the Lord must still have some important work for you.

What work has the Lord entrusted to you? Be as faithful to it as you ought so that Christ, the new Adam, may grow His virtues in you and harvest good works in you.

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year B

September 20, 2009

Somewhere, in an underground lair, a secret hideout, or a den of iniquity, we find a criminal mastermind, or a mad scientist, scheming a nefarious plot. “Mah-ha-ha-ha,” the villain manically laughs. “Once I unleash my evil plan, evil will conquer the world.”

This is the way of villains as we often find them in comic books. Comic book bad guys love doing evil for evil’s sake. But we should realize that this isn’t why people do bad things in our world. In the real world, nobody does evil for evils sake. Every single person acts to achieve some real or perceived good. Sinners simply go about the pursuit of happiness in wrong ways. Bad people are not bad because they’re trying to do bad things. Unrepentant sinners actually feel justified in what they do.

For instance, in Jesus’ day, influential people said, “That Jesus from Nazareth so obnoxious. Let’s have him condemned and see how he holds up then.  If he’s really holier-than-thou, a son of God, then God will come to his rescue—otherwise he gets what he deserves.” People still rationalize like this today. It’s easy to come up all sorts of reasons for doing bad things rather than what is right:

“Lying? What I said isn’t technically untrue. Besides, it’s only a little white lie.”

“Angry? Is it any wonder that I get so angry when I have to deal with stuff this.”

“Stealing? The way I see it, they make plenty of money, and I deserve more than what they pay me.”

Activities outside of marriage?  “What’s the big deal? It’s all consensual, and nobody’s getting hurt. Besides, we love each other.”

It’s not only “bad people” who say things like this. Each of us fall into embracing lies like these sometimes. But what is the antidote for rationalizing aside our sins? The cure for this is a prayer life with Jesus Christ.

When the apostles came face to face with Jesus inside the house, Jesus began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent, for they had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Coming into Jesus’ presence, who is the embodiment of Truth, the reality of what they had been doing  became clear for them. Their false illusions completely faded away, like the smoke from a blown out candle.

We should spend time in conversational prayer with Jesus Christ every day, allowing Him to form us, build us up, and console us. When you receive the encouragement, confidence, and consolation which Christ is eager to give you in prayer, when He acknowledges you as His own brother or sister, as His good friend, as a favored child of His Father, fears dissolve and you live in peace—a peace in which cleverly-devised excuses are no longer sought for and no longer necessary.

Thursday, 24th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

September 17, 2009

In the Gospel, a notoriously sinful woman learns that Jesus is in town and comes to the place where He’s eating. In those days, Jews ate at table as they laid upon elevated beds, with cushions under their chest or side, and with their feet stretched out behind them. The woman came in, and stood behind Jesus, at his feet, weeping. She came to Jesus because she had heard His proclamation of mercy, that He came ‘not to call the righteous to repentance, but sinners.’

She bathes his feet with her tears. Why doesn’t she fetch water for this?

She wipes His feet with her hair. Why doesn’t she just use a towel?

She kisses His feet repeatedly. Why does she kiss his feet? 

The Gospel does not mention the exact nature of the sinful woman’s past, but perhaps her lips had kissed many, perhaps her beautiful hair had been shared with many, perhaps her eyes had shed many tears, from the great pain that follows impure romances. So the woman uses her own tears, and hair, and lips because she desires to honor God, through Jesus, with her body, in her body, and through her body. Her faith saved her, and gave her peace, a faith she expressed through her body. May our faith be like hers.

Wednesday, 23rd Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

September 10, 2009

In the Gospel Jesus speaks of how great reversals are coming. The poor will become rich, and the rich will be poor. The hungry will be satisfied, and the stomachs of those now feasting will ache. The weeping will find joy, while those joyful will be sad. And those who are persecuted for Christ’s sake will have great rewards.

Does any of this apply to you? Yes, for example, life in the world out there will be very different from these years you’ve spent in school. If you feel like you are among the poor, the hungry, and the weeping at school, take encouragement, because great reversals are coming.

Blessed are you who are poor at sports,
for you perfect more-valuable talents.

Sports are fun, and they are good for building health and character, but ten years from now no one will remember who won at state last year. And it is extremely unlikely that anyone here has a future in professional sports ahead of them. Maybe nobody buys a ticket to come and watch and cheer you using your God-given talents, when you write a paper well, or solve a math problem efficiently. But in the world out there, there are people who will pay tens of thousands of dollars a year to people who have perfected skills like these.

Blessed are you who are poor at sports,
for you perfect more-valuable talents.

Blessed are you who hunger for romantic relationship, but who date little,
for God is preparing a spouse for you.

Realize that it is very unlikely that you ever marry any significant other whom you might have now. Young dating relationships begin and break all the time, but the sometimes wounds they can leave to one’s spirit and to one’s emotions often linger long. You may hunger for romantic relationship now, but if you feast on love before its time your stomach will ache painfully tomorrow. Somewhere out there, God has a future spouse in mind as a gift meant just for you. So preserve your purity and the unwounded integrity of your heart as a gift for your spouse, and you will feast on love together with great satisfaction.

Blessed are you who hunger for romantic relationships, but who date little,
for God is preparing a spouse for you.

Blessed are you who are unpopular,
for you discover how to be a true friend.

It’s true that after high school graduation, you won’t see most of these classmates very much anymore. You might keep in close touch with one or two of them, but most of them will move away from here, or you will move away from them. Don’t mourn thinking that you have too few friends. Christ wills that you would learn how to be a great friend, someone like Himself, rather than someone with great popularity who never knows true friendship. A person with few friends realizes the importance of always showing kindness, respect, and genuineness towards everyone, the popular and the unpopular alike.

Blessed are you who are unpopular,
for you discover how to be a true friend.

 And finally, take consolation in this…

 Blessed are you when peers dislike you,
and when they exclude and insult you,
and denounce you as un-cool or lame
on account of your faithfulness to Christ
for Christ’s opinion is the only one that really matters
and he will reward your faithfulness with happiness.