Archive for the ‘Human Dignity’ Category

Can Computers be Persons?

September 17, 2022

By Fr. Victor Feltes

In recent years, the question of artificial intelligence (AI) possessing personhood has become a hot topic of debate. Some believe that AI could one day achieve sentience and become its own entity, while others believe that personhood is something that can only be attained by beings with a soul. The Catholic Church has not yet taken an official stance on the matter [a debatable claim –Fr. VF], but it is an interesting question to consider. For example, if an AI became self-aware and could think and feel for itself, would it have the same rights as a human being? If an AI was created with the sole purpose of serving humans, is it ethical to treat it as a mere tool?

The preceding paragraph was not written by a human being but generated online by a LaMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications). I gave the program GPT-3 the instruction: “Write an interesting introductory paragraph, including an example, for a Catholic article on the question of artificial intelligence possessing personhood.” The paragraph above was its first five sentences of its output. The accompanying illustration above was also created online using the image generation program DALL-E from my submitted prompt: “A robot touching a monolith (like in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’)”. GPT-3’s paragraph and DALL-E’s image each took less than a minute for computers to produce. We can expect computers to be capable of even more amazingly sophisticated things in years to come. This leads to the question: “Can computers be persons?

Gaudium et Spes, the Second Vatican Council’s document on the Church in the modern world, says “[man] is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself.” But this teaching was written in 1965, when Seymour Cray had only begun building the earliest supercomputers in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. Could mankind now fashion a new type of rational creature, a self-aware being endowed with an immortal soul? There are philosophical and theological issues with that proposition. First, if an AI were ever self-aware, how could we know? A computer need not be conscious to say “Hello, World!” according to its programming. Second, I am aware of nothing in divine revelation which suggests God would begin imparting souls into the works of our hands. Various electronics may be equipped with sensors and speakers and means of motion but I do not believe any of them will ever truly see or hear or speak or walk. As noted in René Magritte’s famous painting “The Treachery of Images,” a mere depiction of a pipe “is not a pipe.” Pope Francis spoke about this fundamental difference between man and machine, persons and things, in a 2019 address at the Vatican:

The inherent dignity of every human being must be firmly placed at the centre of our reflection and action. In this regard, it should be noted that the designation of ‘artificial intelligence,’ although certainly effective, may risk being misleading. The terms conceal the fact that – in spite of the useful fulfillment of servile tasks… functional automatisms remain qualitatively distant from the human prerogatives of knowledge and action. And therefore they can become socially dangerous. Moreover, the risk of man being ‘technologized,’ rather than technology humanized, is already real: so-called ‘intelligent machines’ are hastily attributed capacities that are properly human.

I cannot see Catholicism ever attributing personhood to complex machines, but I predict that others will begin to in the coming decades. As new applications are programed to increasingly replicate human conversation and emotion I could see young people imagining them as their real friends. As anthropomorphized technology’s creative feats far surpass our human abilities, I could even see some adults revering them as wise and powerful idols. If so, then these passages of Psalm 115 will find a new fulfillment: “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths but do not speak, eyes but do not see. They have ears but do not hear, noses but do not smell. They have hands but do not feel, feet but do not walk; they produce no sound from their throats. Their makers will be like them, and anyone who trusts in them.”

The potential of AI is very exciting, and yet it also holds dangers. The 5th Psalm reflects, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and a son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him little less than a god, crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him rule over the works of your hands, put all things at his feet…” Let us honor our Creator, defend the primacy of human dignity over all earthly creations, and never worship the works of our hands.

His Power Shall be Known to his Servants

July 2, 2022

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Today’s psalm tells us: “Shout joyfully to God… proclaim his glorious praise. Say to God, ‘How tremendous are your deeds!‘” When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and the Soviet Union dissolved two years after, I remember my dad remarking that those were things he thought he would never live to see. It seemed like Russian power would dominate Eastern Europe forever. But then, the Soviet Union suddenly collapsed, something which no one — not even the C.I.A. — saw coming.

At Fatima in 1917, before the Russian Bolshevik Revolution, the Blessed Virgin Mary accurately warned that Russia’s errors spreading throughout the world would cause wars and persecutions of the Church. But Mary said, “In the end, my immaculate heart will triumph.” In 1984, on the Feast of the Annunciation, the day when we celebrate the conception of Jesus in his mother’s womb, Pope St. John Paul the Great consecrated Russia and the whole world to Mary’s immaculate heart. Seven years later in 1991, on Christmas day, when we celebrate Jesus’ birth, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as leader of the USSR and the Soviet flag was removed from atop the Kremlin forever. The Evil Empire ended, not with millions of deaths from nuclear blasts, but peacefully. This was a great miracle orchestrated by heaven.

Shout joyfully to God… proclaim his glorious praise. Say to God, ‘How tremendous are your deeds!‘” The Lord has brought about another tremendous victory in our time, and we do right to recognize and joyfully praise his glorious deed.

Once Wisconsin became a state in 1848, we quickly passed laws respecting the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. In 1849, our state legislature outlawed abortion in all cases (except to preserve the life of the mother) and then, in 1853, our state government abolished capital punishment. Whenever possible, we do not kill people, not even people who are guilty or highly inconvenient, because killing is not the way of Christ and his Kingdom. We are instead to show merciful love for all.

In 1973, Wisconsin was one of thirty U.S. states which prohibited abortion at all stages. But that year, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe vs. Wade (a decision which even pro-abortion legal scholars acknowledge lacked constitutional justification) legalized the killing of unborn children everywhere in the United States. In response, for forty-nine years, pro-life people prayed and marched and voted. Through thousands of organizations across the land they provided moms better, holier, more loving options (like adoption) and practical resources (like diapers, formula, cribs, and clothes). Yet, despite their persistent efforts, many pro-lifers doubted they would ever live to see abortion end anywhere in our country. Last month, after seven sets of seven years of prayer and sacrifice, the Supreme Court returned the issue of abortion to the states. Wisconsin abortion laws were never repealed. And so, this Fourth of July weekend, Wisconsin is a pro-life state once again.

Today Isaiah says, “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her, all you who love her; exult, exult with her, all you who were mourning over her!” Nurslings shall be carried in her arms and fondled in her lap; they shall now find comfort. “When you see this, your heart shall rejoice… the Lord’s power shall be known to his servants.”

The date on which the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade (June 24th) is usually the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. In future years we will mark the anniversary of this victory by celebrating the birth of him who leapt for joy in his mother’s womb in the presence of the newly-conceived Christ. But this year, 2022, St. John’s day was superseded by an even greater feast which is always celebrated on the third Friday after Pentecost. This year, Friday, June 24th was the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Indeed, in the end, his Sacred Heart has triumphed.

The reversal of Roe is a landmark victory, but of course there remains much work to do. “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest,” and be open to being sent yourself. Like the seventy-two in today’s Gospel, Jesus Christ sends us forth to those he seeks to save. Wishing peace on everyone, peace to each house and peace in every household, we shall defend and extend his Kingdom’s Culture of Life throughout this land and around the world. And though literal demons will rage and resist us, we shall not be afraid but prevail, for Jesus, his mother, and the angels are with us for the victory. “When you see this, your heart shall rejoice… the Lord’s power shall be known to his servants.

 

Called to Seek & Save

January 22, 2022

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
  because he has anointed me
  to bring glad tidings to the poor
  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
  and recovery of sight to the blind,
  to let the oppressed go free
  and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

—Luke 4:18-19

In the beginning, God created everything by His words. When God created the first human being, He created him out of the dust in His own image and likeness. God’s creation was perfect, yet Adam and Eve chose to disobey God. Instead of following his instructions, Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, bringing darkness and death into the world. But God did not abandon them. He gave them hope by sending them a savior who would be born from the seed of a woman and would crush the head of the serpent who tricked them. This Savior would save His people from sin and death. From that moment on, God’s mission started.

In our time we have a wonderful saint, Mother Teresa, who continued God’s mission to the poor, the orphan, the refugees and all those who are considered least in the society. Mother Teresa was born in 1910 in Yugoslavia in ordinary family. At the age of twelve she had a call from Jesus to serve the poor. When she was eighteen years old, she left her home to join a community of Irish nuns. One of Mother Teresa’s first assignments was to teach in the school, Later she discovered that God was calling her to do more. She received a second calling, “a call within a call.” She left the convent life and started to work with the poor in the streets. She started this mission with 5 rupees, which is Indian money worth less than a penny. People witness her nuns ministering to the suffering Jesus whom they encountered in the poor, especially those who were dying in the streets. She quickly attracted both financial support and volunteers. This is the way God continues His mission even today.

Today’s first reading is a beautiful scene of Nehemiah, who was a layman, not a priest, not a king. During the Babylonian exile, Nehemiah served under the Persian king as a cup bearer, a position of great importance and influence with the king’s court. Nehemiah was a man who was dependent on God, always praying, always seeking to be sensitive to God’s will in his life. One day he had a chance to speak to the king about helping the people of Israel to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. Under Nehemiah’s leadership, the Jews came together to accomplish the goal of reconstructing the walls of Jerusalem, Judea’s capital city. Nehemiah and Ezra led the spiritual renewal of the people and directed the political and religious restoration of the Jews in their homeland after the Babylonian captivity. God shows us how He can take an ordinary layman like Nehemiah to continue His extraordinary mission to His people.

The mission begins in the heart of God. God sent his only Son to this world to save His people. Jesus’ mission was to save that which was lost. Jesus was convinced that he was able to fulfill his mission because God had anointed him with the Holy Spirit. When Jesus entered Zacchaeus’ house He said, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Jesus had just been criticized for going to the house of a sinner. Jesus responded by affirming His mission to save the lost; sinners whose reputation for sinfulness was not a reason avoid then, rather, it was a reason to seek them out. In Matthew chapter nine, when Jesus went to Matthew’s home for dinner, while he was at table, once again Jesus was criticized for “eating with the tax collector and sinners,” and once again Jesus responded by stating of His mission “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.” Jesus’ mission was to save His people. Jesus did not passively wait for the lost to come to Him, but He went after them. He explained His mission in the Parable of the Lost Sheep (in Luke chapter fifteen). In this parable, Jesus talks about a shepherd who loses his sheep and leaves the rest of his herd to find that lost sheep. Jesus concludes this parable saying “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous’ persons who need no repentance.”

The Church by its nature is missionary because her founder, Jesus Christ, was the first missionary. God the Father sent God the Son Incarnate in Jesus into the world with a message of God’s love and salvation. Thus, the evangelizing mission of the Church is essentially the announcement of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, and salvation, as these are revealed to mankind through the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. How should we evangelize? By exemplary and transparent Christian life. The most powerful means of preaching Christ is by living a truly Christian life — a life filled with love, mercy, kindness, compassion, and a spirit of forgiveness and service.

A Treasured & Entrusted Child — Funeral Homily for Adelaide Marie Borofka

April 26, 2021

The dominant culture in the days of Jesus’ public ministry oftentimes did not treasure children. A firstborn baby boy might have value to a Roman father, but a baby who was a girl, or malformed or disabled, or simply unwanted might be killed or abandoned in the woods, exposed to die. The early Christians, however, rejected infanticide and adopted foundlings, raising them as their own. This is reflected by a first century Christian text called The Didache (also known as “The Lord’s Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations”) which commands: “You shall not procure an abortion, nor destroy a newborn child…” From where did the Christians get this countercultural concern for all children, born and unborn? From our Lord Jesus Christ, of course.

Adelaide Borofka feetThough children are small and weak, Jesus says, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” They have no wealth or worldly power, but Jesus says, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus, calling a child over and putting his arms around it, says, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus says that children are to be treasured and loved like himself: “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.” Jesus says, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” In just the same way as a good shepherd hates to lose even one of his many sheep, Jesus says, “it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.” Indeed, ‘Jesus loves the little children, all the little children of the world.’

So even when a child dies without baptism, we can entrust them to God’s mercy with great hope, that the love of God which has brought us into being will transform the painful mysteries of the Cross into a reunion of Easter joy. In the midst of any tragedy, we always have a general Christian hope that God will bring good out of what is bad. But in regards to little Adelaide it appears that God has granted us a special, particular consolation. This is Veronica’s story, which she has given me permission to tell you, and which she wants me to share for your benefit.

On Easter Sunday, Veronica began to feel severe abdominal pain. She was admitted to Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire with a blood pressure so high that she was in grave danger of suffering a stroke, even dying. Then, through an ultrasound, it was discovered that the child within her, the child she lovingly carried for seven months, no longer had a heartbeat. Around 2 AM on Monday, April 5th, while she was in great physical and emotional pain, her husband Zach and their gathered family members were praying a Rosary with her. Veronica was praying along with them, off-and-on, as she could manage. And in the midst of all this painful suffering, as she paused with her eyes closed, she saw something. Even though Veronica is certain that she was awake at that moment, she beheld something remarkable. Before I describe Veronica’s experience and what she saw, I will speak briefly about private revelation.

As Catholics we believe that Jesus is not dead, but risen and living. We believe that his saints in heaven are all alive with him. We believe that Jesus and his saints and angels know us, that they care about us, and that they continue to lovingly help us here on earth. We believe visions, messages, and miracles still happen in our day. And sometimes instances of these phenomena are judged by the Church’s authority to be “worthy of belief.” However, unlike public revelation (which consists of Sacred Scripture and the apostolic teachings in the Deposit of Faith) private revelation, even when officially recognized by the Church, is not binding to be believed by all the faithful. I am not personally qualified to make any official judgment for the Church about private revelations, but I tell you: if I did not personally believe that what Veronica saw was of a heavenly origin, I would not be about to share it with you.

Veronica, with her eyes closed during that Rosary in the hospital, saw a woman standing before her bed. There were pretty, puffy, white clouds behind the woman and to each side of her. And rays of sunlight from the left peaked through gaps in the clouds. The woman wore a dazzling, bright white gown. The fabric of her beautiful, full-length dress looked like satin. It had a modest scoop neckline and sleeves that went down to her wrists. The woman also wore a blue, cathedral-length veil of traditional lace, which extended down to the floor. She was dressed similarly to a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary from Germany which Veronica’s grandfather had given her years before; a statue Veronica used to play with as a girl.

The woman had long, curly, dark hair, snow white skin, and beautiful blue eyes which gazed at Veronica. The expression on the woman’s face was very pleasant, calming and peaceful, concerned for Veronica and reassuring. Veronica says “she looked absolutely beautiful and gorgeous,” such that, “no model could compare.” The woman’s lips moved as she slowly spoke with a very feminine, light and calming, beautiful voice, which echoed with some reverberation. And this is what she said: “Veronica, do not be afraid. I will take care of this child as I have taken care of my Son, Jesus. Do not worry and do not cry.

In this vision, Veronica held in her hands her swaddled baby, wrapped in the gray swaddling cloth she had bought for its birth. (Veronica did not yet know whether she had a girl or a boy, since Adelaide had not yet been delivered.) Hearing the Virgin Mary’s words gave Veronica great relief, for who could be better than the Blessed Mother to care for her lost child? Veronica raised up her arms in the vision, completely entrusting her child to Mary. Mysteriously, Mary remained where she stood but seemed to come closer. Veronica says, “I handed her my child and then she was gone.” The entire vision was very brief, perhaps just ten or fifteen seconds, about the length of one Hail Mary prayer.

Veronica was left with feelings of peace, calm, reassurance that everything was OK, and wonder that the Blessed Mother would make herself known to her. Veronica did not share her story right away—she was worried people might think she was crazy—but after this vision she began comforting those gathered around her bedside. When her mother began to cry, Veronica told her, “Don’t cry, you don’t have to cry.” As St. Paul told the Corinthians, “[God] encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Veronica is saddened, of course, still grieving and mourning, but not crushed or depressed like one might expect. She always had faith in God and Jesus Christ, but this experience has reinforced it, and she desires the same growth in Christian faith for you. “There’s beauty in the suffering,” she told me, adding, “I just want everyone to know what I know and to feel the peace that I feel with God and his love.” This the Lord Jesus Christ’s wish for you, too. Clouds may limit our vision in this world, preventing us from seeing all that God is up to, but even in the hardest times rays of light still shine through. This light comes from the Lord Jesus who loves us, who treasures little Adelaide and who also treasures you.

“Whose Image is This?”

October 18, 2020

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Pharisees hated Jesus and were plotting how to entrap him in his speech, to cancel him though a politically incorrect gaffe. So they devised a cunning scheme in hopes of getting rid of him for good. In those days, Israel was under the pagan rule of the Roman Empire. The Jews resented this foreign occupation of their Promised Land and many favored a religious rebellion. The Romans’ chosen puppet-ruler and vassal in that region was King Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who had slaughtered the infant boys of Bethlehem. King Herod’s supporters were called Herodians and, being the Romans’ collaborators, it was in their interest that the Roman taxes kept being paid. So the Pharisees sent their disciples along with some Herodians to ask Jesus a gotcha question about taxation.

They prepare their trap for Jesus beginning with flattery, hoping to disarm him: “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” Now if Jesus answers that the Roman tax should not be paid, the Herodians will have him arrested, and Jesus will end up imprisoned or executed by Herod like his friend and relative, St. John the Baptist, was. But Jesus, knowing their malice and ill will, said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” They handed him the Roman coin. “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” In other words, since Caesar creates the coins and the coins bear Caesar’s image, each coin is somewhat his already, they al belong to him, and one denies Caesar’s rightful claims on them at one’s own peril. Of course, Caesar’s authority is not unlimited; God’s authority is higher. And where Caesar’s rule conflicts with God’s, the earthly government should bow to the Kingdom of God.

Unlike people who lived in the past under the Roman emperor, we as American citizens have the right to vote to elect our leaders. In fact, voting is our moral duty. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, our “co-responsibility for the common good make[s] it morally obligatory… to exercise the right to vote”. (CCC 2240) Perhaps because of the Covid pandemic you are hesitant to visit a polling place on Election Day this November 3rd. If so, realize that you can request a Wisconsin absentee ballot from your local election office for any reason by Thursday, October 29th, eleven days from now. So there’s no reason we cannot safely vote.

But you might still be questioning, why should I bother? With the millions of votes to be cast in our state, what difference does my one vote really make one way or the other? It’s true, your single vote is unlikely to decide an election. But imagine if we all lived in together a forest, and one night a blazing wildfire surrounded our village on every side. When the cry went up for everyone to grab a water bucket and help fight the flames in the pivotal hour, would you? It’s true that your individual effort would be unlikely to decide the fate of our village, whether many lives were lost or saved, but how could you not be ashamed if you failed to answer the call? Or, picture a raincloud consisting of water droplets. A downpour is made of many such drops, and if any one single drop refused to fall it would probably make little difference below, but what happens if every drop has that attitude? The land would stay in deadly drought and the heavens would not renew the face of the earth with new life. Millions of us voting would transform our society for the better — provided of course that we not only vote but vote well.

There are many issues in this and every election, but which issue is the most important? Recall Caesar’s coin. He makes them and they bear his image, so they belong to him. Likewise, God makes human beings, we bear his image, so every life belongs to him, and we deny God’s rightful claim that we respect human life to our own peril. Psalm 139 praises God in these words: “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made.” Each new human life is created by God and precious to him. But since 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion, an estimated sixty-one million little ones in our country have been killed in their mother’s womb. (That’s an average of more than one million a year.) These killings continue now, and it’s horrific. Sixty-one million deaths is like killing every person in every city in the State of Wisconsin… ten times over. If that happened would that be a big deal? Would it matter? How evil would that be?

In January of this year, when fifteen bishops from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska visited Pope Francis at the Vatican for their once-every-five-years ad limina audiences with him, the Holy Father affirmed our U.S. bishops’ teaching that the protection of the unborn is the preeminent issue and priority of our time. “Of course, it is,” Pope Francis said. “[Life is] the most fundamental right… This is not first a religious issue; it’s a human rights issue.” In 2016, Pope Francis wrote: “I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life. In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father.” Our Holy Father is right. The intentional killing of unborn children is an ongoing grave evil that the Lord wants us to help end.

If we had been alive in America back when slavery was still legal would we have opposed slavery and worked to free slaves? If we had been living in Germany during the Holocaust would we have helped to protect Jews? We would all like to think so, but how much are we doing today? In one hundred years’ time, when school children learn about our present day, will they wonder scandalized at how we could be so indifferent, so blinded, to such cruelty in our midst?

In this election we are called to vote to protect life, but realize that voting is only a small sacrifice. It costs you nothing more than some minutes of your time. We are called to do more. Pray, fast, offer penances for the end of abortion, for in the words of St. Paul, “our struggle is not with flesh and blood but… with the evil spirits…” Donate, contribute your wealth, time, and helpful goods, to organizations that help new parents to choose life. Together with our personal witness, our pro-life words and loving example, God will change hearts and minds. By our work of faith, our labor of love, and our endurance in hope, many lives and many souls will be saved, and together we will rejoice in the victory of life for the Kingdom of God.

Prophetic Parables

July 19, 2020

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Why does Jesus speak in parables? Why does he use symbolic stories to teach about our salvation and the Kingdom of God? One reason Jesus employs parables is revealed by the story arc of Matthew’s Gospel.

After being baptized by St. John the Baptist and spending forty days in the desert, Jesus begins preaching and calling his first disciples. Then he proclaims his famous Sermon on the Mount through chapters 5, 6, and 7. As with parables, Jesus’ teachings in that sermon employ images – such as putting a lamp under a bushel basket, or serving two masters at once – but Jesus tends to explain his symbolisms there pretty clearly: your good deeds must shine before others, and you cannot serve both God and wealth. After his great sermon, Jesus works amazing miracles, healings, and exorcisms for two chapters, increasing his renown. Next Jesus commissions and sends forth his twelve apostles but warns them of coming persecutions. His disciples must be courageous; division and sacrifice will be inevitable, but they are promised great rewards. And then, Jesus faces doubters, answering John the Baptist’s disciples, chastising the disbelief in the familiar towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, and finally (in chapter 12) the Pharisees appear in force.

The Pharisees were those whom St. John the Baptist had called a “brood of vipers,” that is, a family of poisonous snakes; cunning predators, quick and deadly. They see Jesus’ hungry disciples picking and eating grains and complain, “Your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the sabbath.” They see a man with a withered hand in the synagogue and question Jesus, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath,” so that they might accuse him. And after Jesus performs an exorcism, the Pharisees denounce him, “This man drives out demons only by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons.” It is in Matthew chapter 12 that the Pharisees first take counsel against Jesus to put him to death. When Jesus realizes this he withdraws from that place and begins to teach in parables without explaining them to the crowds.

Today’s gospel says, “He spoke to them only in parables.” When his disciples asked him last Sunday, “Why do you speak to (the crowds) in parables,” Jesus’ response might have confused us: “This is why I speak to them in parables, because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.” Doesn’t Jesus want to be understood? Yes, by any of good will. Those who approach him with love, or at least an open mind, can ponder his parables and gain from them, while those who hate him will ignore his stories as being (in their eyes) irrelevant nonsense. As Jesus says, “To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” If Jesus had come out and announced “I am the Christ, and I am not only the Messiah but also God incarnate in your midst,” his earthly ministry would not have lasted three Passovers. His parables allow the humble to become enlightened while providing his haters no ammunition against him. In Jesus Christ (and St. Paul after him in the Acts of the Apostles) we see that we should be shrewd against opponents in the midst of doing good, while recognizing that conflict with the mob may ultimately prove impossible for us to avoid.

Another reason Jesus preaches with parables is because we human beings love stories. Stories stick with us better than bare teaching alone. And the images Jesus uses are relatable for all generations – sowing and harvesting, wheat and weeds, bushes and birds, and making bread. All these things are very likely to exist until Jesus comes again, even if that proves to be thousands of years from now.

Yet today, some sixty-six generations after Jesus preached, one might wonder during moments of discouragement whether the promises Jesus makes in his parables will ever come to be. We see good and evil growing side by side. Will the Son of Man ever come with his angels to gather the good and confront the wicked? Will those who cause others to sin and all evildoers ever be compelled to stop and the righteous be blessed to shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father forever? If that feels improbable now, consider how impossible Jesus’ prophetic parables must have seemed in the era when he first preached them.

The Kingdom of Heaven,” Jesus said, “is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds (that any passing bird might gobble up), yet when fully-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.” Jesus is a mustard seed buried in the earth – who would have imagined anything more to come of him after he died? His Church is also a mustard seed, threatened to be consumed by the nations from the beginning. Yet today the Church of him who rose from the dead has members that dwell in her from every nation.

The Kingdom of Heaven,” Jesus said, “is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” Three measures of wheat flour weighs about fifty pounds, yet the admixture of a little yeast can change and raise up the entire batch of dough. So it has been with Christianity mixed into this world by the Bride of Christ, the Church. To take one example, slavery was ubiquitous in Jesus’ time, but today it is condemned around the world today because of the influence of Christianity. Wicked human traffickers still exists in our day, the Chinese government is operating concentration camps with slave laborers right now, and that is unacceptable. But these perpetrators must hide their deeds from the world only because Jesus Christ and his Church have changed and raised up the world’s understanding of human dignity.

Jesus’ prophetic parables have been proven true. His words have been fulfilled in history despite every earthly expectation. Whoever has ears ought to hear. Whoever has eyes ought to see. And whoever has an open mind can accept that Jesus Christ will come again with judgment on this world and salvation for his people.

Uniting All Peoples

May 30, 2020

Pentecost Sunday—Year A

Did you know that the Feast of Pentecost actually predates Christianity? This solemn Jewish feast (called Shavuot in Hebrew and Pentecost in Greek) was established by God to celebrate and give God thanks for Israel’s wheat harvest. On this day, seven weeks after Passover, the Jews were to bring the first fruits of their harvests and present these in a basket at the Lord’s Temple. This is why “there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven” present in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit descended on Pentecost. The Christians, who had been praying the first nine-day novena for His coming, were transformed by the Holy Spirit’s power and began proclaiming Jesus Christ in the streets. At the sound of it, a large crowd of these visiting Jews gathered, astonished and confused, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. In amazement they asked:

“Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”

At this, St. Peter (suddenly emboldened by the Holy Spirit) proclaims the Good News about Jesus being the Resurrected Messiah that is the Christian Gospel. He urges the crowd: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. … Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized and about three thousand persons were added that day.

Today, the solemn Christian feast of Pentecost celebrates the blessed gift of the Holy Spirit upon the earth and the harvest of the first fruits; men and women gathered from the nations and presented to God’s Church. As Jews and converts to Judaism, they were of many races and languages, they were of many cultures and countries of origin, but they were all called to be one in Christ. In time, the Holy Spirit led the apostles to see that this call to salvation was immediately accessible to non-Jews, to Gentile people, as well. Every person is created by God, loved by God, and called to close relationship with God through Jesus and his Church. In the words of St. Paul, “Through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Individuals are unique, one from another, so each person must be taken as they come. While we have differing backgrounds and talents, different material resources and gifts of the Spirit with which to serve, each person has equal worth before God. Yet a society apart from God will never fully honor that dignity. The people of Babel sought to build a great city reaching up to heaven. While working together apart from God’s truth and grace, however, they could bring about great evils in this world. (History is littered with such cultures and subcultures; you can know them by their fruits.) At Pentecost, the Lord undoes Babel. The peoples of many languages are reunited, becoming citizens and co-builders of the City of God. From where comes peace and true unity on this earth? Let us be led by the Holy Spirit and one with Jesus Christ that all peoples may be united in the one Kingdom of God.

Transfiguring Our Perception of Others

August 6, 2017

Today, Jesus hikes with his three closest apostles, Peter, James, and John, to the top of Mount Tabor in Israel. And there, Jesus is transfigured before them. His face shines and his clothes become intensely white. Then they hear God the Father speaking from a bright cloud that envelops them, declaring: “This is my beloved Son.”

In the Incarnation, some two thousand and seventeen years ago, the Eternal Word became Flesh, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity became Man, and the divinity of the Son of God became veiled within a human nature. It has long been my sense that Jesus is not changed or transformed at the Transfiguration so much as his apostles are allowed to glimpse him more deeply as he really, truly is: God from God, Light from Light. This light shines from his face as radiantly as the sun and from his body such that the fabric of his clothing is brightly illuminated like a thin lampshade.

When the disciples become frightened after hearing the Father’s voice and fall prostrate on the ground, burying their faces, Jesus comes over and touches them: “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raise their eyes, they see Jesus once more the same way as they had always seen him, and yet they see him differently now.

If we saw Jesus tomorrow while buying bread and milk at the store, or if Jesus visited our place of work, or came to our front door, do you think we would recognize him? I tend to doubt it. Many of the Jews in Jesus’ day noticed nothing extra special about him. “Is he not the carpenter’s son?” The Prophet Isaiah foretold of the Messiah that ‘there would be in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him.’ Even Jesus’ close friends sometimes had a hard time recognizing him after his Resurrection. The most famous example of this was on the Road to Emmaus. But by the gift of God’s grace, with the Breaking of the Bread, the eyes of Jesus’ disciples were opened and they recognized him in their midst. The reason I doubt that many would recognize Jesus amid their everyday lives tomorrow is because so few of us recognize him among us today.

In the very early Church, a man named Saul had a murderous hatred for the first Christians. One day, was traveling to Damascus, Syria to arrest any Christians he might find there and bring them back to Jerusalem in chains. As he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul asked, “Who are you, sir?” And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” This man went on to be converted to a Christian. We know him today as St. Paul.

Note how Jesus does not say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting my Church,” nor “Why are you persecuting my people.” He says, “Why are you persecuting me?” Jesus identifies himself with his people and his Church because he is personally present within them. At the Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples, “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me… You will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.” Jesus speaks of his mystical presence within us our and neighbors at other times in the Gospels as well.

At the Last Judgment, Jesus tells us he will say to his saved sheep: ‘Whatever you did for one of the hungry, or thirsty, or naked, or sick, or imprisoned little brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’ And then Jesus will turn and declare to the condemned goats: “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” These goats, Jesus tells us, will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous sheep to eternal life.

And so you see, recognizing, loving, and serving Jesus in other people must be a top and serious priority for us. Yet how many people do we interact with each day with so much thoughtless indifference? We speed past other people like so many unnoticed trees and cars as we drive along our way of life. Sometimes we even take the people living in our own home for granted, treating our family members worse than our mere acquaintances. Many failed to recognize Jesus’ importance in his day; while we overlook the importance of people in our midst today. As C.S. Lewis wrote:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

So how can we begin to behold and relate to other people in the manner we ought, as Christ would have us do? Jesus himself was open and loving towards everyone. I would suggest two steps: First, ask for the gift of God’s grace at this Breaking of the Bread on the Feast of the Transfiguration, that your eyes may be opened to truly see others. And second, begin a habit of praying for, say, five or ten people every day whom you’ve never thought to pray for before. For example, the cashier who gave you change yesterday, that politician whom you dislike, the suffering people of North Korea, your child’s best friend, your quiet co-worker, and the person whom you heard just died. And then, the next day, chose another new collection of people to pray for. This practice will reveal to you your inter-personal, spiritual blinders, and help you to begin tearing them down. Let us ask Jesus to transfigure our perception of others so that we may see them more in the way that he beholds them, with love.

America’s Greatness

July 5, 2017

In 1956, Peter W. Schramm’s family fled communist oppression in Hungary. The 10-year-old Peter asked his father, “But where are we going?” His father said, “We are going to America.” “Why America,” Peter prodded. His father replied, “Because, Son, we were born Americans, but in the wrong place.”

Other nations have been self-defined by their ancestral blood, but America has united people from all around the world. Other nations have self-identified by their ancient soil, but our country could fully incorporate other lands that desired to join our states. America is unique because America is founded upon an idea: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These providential words echo the great Christian doctrine of universal human dignity.

Where America has failed to embody these words, those are our greatest shames; such as our past crimes against Native and African Americans, and against unborn Americans today. Yet wherever we have honored and defended human dignity, those represent our proudest accomplishments; including our abolition of slavery, our liberty and legal equality at home, and our defense and liberation of peoples abroad.

When some people are asked what makes America great they cite our wealth and military power. But if these alone were our criteria for greatness, then the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate would be a great man and Jesus the Nazarene would not. The true measure of our greatness, like all true greatness, comes from our likeness to the Lord. May God bless America to be a greater, fuller blessing to all, until Jesus Christ returns and his kingdom is perfectly established on earth.

The Catholic Catechism on Immigration

September 21, 2015

Paragraph 2241:

Catholic AmericanThe more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin.  Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.

Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption.  Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.

Starving the Beast

July 22, 2015

A Baby Held In Hands

According to 2nd Vote, a consumer research app, the following corporations have all made direct contributions to Planned Parenthood—the group which sold and performed more than 327,000 abortions in our country last year:

Clothes & Body: Avon, Bath & Body Works, Converse, Dockers, Johnson & Johnson, La Senza, Levi Strauss, Macy’s, Nike, Unilever, Pfizer

Charities: American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, United Way

Finance & Insurance: American Express, Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, Fannie Mae, Liberty Mutual, Morgan Stanley, Progressive, Wells Fargo

Food: Ben & Jerry’sPepsiCo, Starbucks, Tostitos

Industrial: Energizer, Clorox, ExxonMobil

Tech: Adobe, AT&T, Expedia, Groupon, Intuit, Microsoft, Oracle, Verizon

It is not a sin for a person to use the products or services of these Planned Parenthood supporting companies (since the customer’s connection to abortions is so very indirect and remote.) However, it might do good for many of us to cease, wherever possible, giving these companies our business and to let them know our reason why. For example:

Dear Sir or Madam,

It has come to my attention that your company has given direct contributions to Planned Parenthood, a group that has killed millions of innocent human beings. Because of this, as far as possible, I will no longer be your customer and I will encourage others to do likewise. I urge your company to reconsider its support of Planned Parenthood.

Sincerely,
{Signed}

[Links to each company’s feedback page are provided above.]

Finally, it should be noted that the largest single contributor to Planned Parenthood is not any of these companies, but our own government. In the 2013-2014 fiscal year, Planned Parenthood received $528.4 million in taxpayer-funded health service grants and reimbursements. Efforts to end this public funding of Planned Parenthood are also worthy of our support.

Source:  The Daily Signal – “Meet the 38 Companies That Donate Directly to Planned Parenthood

Ezekiel’s Consolation — Tuesday, 19th Week of Ordinary Time—Year II

August 12, 2014

Readings: Ezekiel 2:8-3:4; Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14

The Lord GOD said to me: “As for you, son of man, obey me when I speak to you: be not rebellious like this house of rebellion, but open your mouth and eat what I shall give you.” It was then I saw a hand stretched out to me, in which was a written scroll which he unrolled before me. It was covered with writing front and back, and written on it was: “Lamentation and wailing and woe!”

He said to me: “Son of man, eat what is before you; eat this scroll, then go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth and he gave me the scroll to eat. “Son of man,” he then said to me, “feed your belly and fill your stomach with this scroll I am giving you.” I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. He said: “Son of man, go now to the house of Israel, and speak my words to them.”

How can a message of “lamentation and wailing and woe” taste sweet in the prophet’s mouth? Ezekiel found the message sweet because it meant God was neither blind nor indifferent to the evils in his midst and that these evils, one way or another, would not continue forever. Either sincere conversion or painful events would soon check his people’s wickedness. This was the prophet’s consolation. Jesus says:

If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray?

Guardian Angels by JHS MannIn the parable of the Lost Sheep, we focus on the lost sheep’s consolation while forgetting the ninety-nine’s desolation. The flock may fare just fine, but they will find the experience quite unsettling. Jesus tells us:

Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.

It is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.

For forty years, the people of our land have intentionally and legally ended the lives of roughly one million unborn children annually. What would the opposite of receiving Jesus look like, if not this? Jesus warns us:

See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.

This represents a warning, because God’s angels are fearsome and righteous creatures. Let us earnestly pray for our country’s conversion to a culture of life. Yet we too share Ezekiel’s consolation, for one way or another, this evil in our midst will not go on forever.

Enduring Despite Scandal — 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

July 17, 2011

I know of a man who was called and chosen to lead, to preach, and to be a minister on behalf of Christ. Good and powerful things were done through his ministry and he was respected by many Christians. However, despite outward appearances, this man was a sinner (a great sinner,) and when his sins became known he brought great scandal to the Church. It was revealed that he had repeated stolen from funds collected for the poor. It also became known that he had betrayed Christ, his people, and his vocation in a vastly more terrible way. So terribly, in fact, that Jesus said, “It would be better for that man if he had never been born.”  (Better for him if he had never lived life outside his mother’s womb.) This man, who preached the gospel, who worked mighty deeds, who drew crowds to Jesus Christ, was the Apostle Judas Iscariot.

Could you imagine being one of those Christians who had been evangelized by the Apostle Judas? What if he had preached the gospel and ministered in your hometown? Imagine how your faith might be shaken by his sins. How tragic it would be if any Christians had parted ways with Jesus Christ, the apostles and the Church because of the scandal of this one man.

Though the one, apostolic, and Catholic Church is holy, she does contain sinners. Jesus said that there would be weeds that grow alongside the wheat. It has always been this way, and so it shall be, until the separating harvest at the end of the age. There have been terrible sinners among the Church’s popes and priests, her lay men and women; children of the evil one. Yet, these sinners, should not make us forget about the Church’s many canonized and uncanonized saints, the children of the kingdom, through whom far greater good has been done.

Like the mustard seed Jesus described, His Catholic Church, which began as a speck in history, has grown into the largest of plants, a peaceful dwelling place which brings together all peoples. And like the yeast in the dough that Jesus spoke of, the works and teachings of His Catholic Church have raised up the whole world for the better. For instance, the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world and she has been the defender of universal human dignity through the centuries. The modern world accepts the concept of universal human rights as a given because the Catholic Church first championed human dignity by her teachings and deeds. Despite the sins of some of its members, let no one say that the Catholic Church has not been a source and a force for good in the world.

We see that Jesus foreknew what Judas was freely going to do. Jesus said, “Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?” “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” (He said this in reference to Judas.) Why did Jesus, who knew all the while what Judas would freely do, permit him to remain in their company? One could rightly say it was because the Father had ordained it so, or that it was necessary to fulfill Old Testament prophesies, or so that the Son of Man and Savior of mankind would experience the human suffering of betrayal by someone who knew Him well and should have loved Him. Perhaps there are one thousand true reasons for it in God’s providential plan, but I am convinced that one of these reasons is this: So that in the future, whenever one of Jesus’ own betrayed Christ’s Church, be they a member of the clergy or laity, it would not destroy our faith in Christ.      Ultimately, the only person our Catholic faith depends upon is Him, and Jesus will never let us down.

For those who have been alienated from the Faith because of scandals, let us pray whatever the offense, that no Judas shall keep them away from Jesus Christ and His Church.

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.

Independence Day Homily

July 4, 2011


What is the most important and the most famous sentence ever coined in the English language? I believe it was a declarative sentence, of thirty-five words, published two hundred and thirty-five years ago today.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Like a passage of Sacred Scripture, this sentence from the Declaration of Independence was more profound, and would effect more providential good, than its human authors ever imagined.

In their original context, these words from the Declaration of Independence were written to justify the American colonies’ separation from the English crown. At that time, many people believed in the divine right of kings, that a monarch had been invested by God with supreme authority to rule. There was precedent for this in the Old Testament, where God chose Saul, David, Solomon, and others to rule His people as anointed kings. In declaring that “all men are created equal,” the Founding Fathers were rejecting the idea that some men are born royal while others are born common. They further asserted that God Himself endows every man with certain rights, and that any government which deprives men of these rights may be justly replaced by its people. In this way, the signers justified the American Revolution.

How much did the Founding Father reflect on how their words about the equality of all men applied to men of color, such as those enduring intergenerational slavery? How much did they consider what these God-given rights required for the female segment of mankind? I would say that these words, like a passage of Sacred Scripture, carried truths more profound than their human authors knew.

These were providential words, for they have been, and continue to be, instrumental in the work of advancing and defending the rights and dignity of all people, from conception to natural death, in our country and around the world. Wherever our nation has failed to embody these words, we look back with shame; but wherever we have honored human dignity, these represent our proudest moments. Martin Luther King Jr. called these words our nation’s creed, and like him we have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights….”

This Fourth of July, let us thank God for this great gift to our country. Let us praise God for endowing each one of us with dignity and rights which every person and every government must respect. And in the future, let us remember and remind our neighbors, that if our country allows government and men to become our gods, human dignity and human rights will be swiftly brushed aside. Like the Psalmist, may our country always say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,my God, in whom I trust.”