A good friend of mine from high school died recently. It was a tragic death. This was not at all surprising to me because I worried that he would meet an early and untimely death. He died at the age of 37. The sadness and grief I feel are even greater because I knew deep down it would happen. We were very close during a time when youth mingled with deep pain. Both of us struggled with backgrounds marred by broken and dysfunctional forms of love. It was our brokenness that brought us even closer as friends. We had an understanding that our other friends did not. Our wounds bound us together, even if our choices were very different.
As we grew into adulthood, our lives took different paths. We lost touch when I returned to my Catholic roots about ten years ago after a period of wandering and he began to remind me of the tragic character Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited. In fact, it even appears that my friend suffered a violent end in Morocco. Strange since Sebastian spent time in Morocco before finishing his days in Tunisia. He so desperately wanted to be truly loved, but looked in all of the wrong places. The anger, resentment, abandonment, and weakness of the flesh made this journey even more difficult. It makes it even harder for many of us to see God through our own choices, our family backgrounds, and the real and perceived abandonment by others. I have no doubt that the “Hound of Heaven” was on his heels at every turn. Now, in death, I pray that he turned to the God of mercy and found the True Love he sought his whole life.
Our great need for mercy.
These last couple of weeks since I learned of his passing, I have spent a lot of time remembering. It has made me realize even more why we need mercy. Many of us are dealt difficult hands in this life. Our crosses vary. Some of us may be born into poverty, become chronically ill, battle mental illness, come up in dysfunctional homes, and the list goes on and on. We can become battle worn and wounded to the point of which we are barely making it. There are so many people around us, in our homes, or even ourselves who are deeply lonely.
Next month the second part of the Synod on the Family will commence in Rome. Articles, theories, and concerns have been flying around social media for over a year now. Discussion on the Synod is a good thing and should be encouraged. What I have seen in many circles however, is a sense of foreboding that betrays a fear of a change in doctrine that runs completely counter to what we understand the Catholic Church to be. That foreboding is met with glee in many circles who are touting the Church will get with the times and completely revamp 2000 years of moral law in order to please the Zeitgeist of our own age. Both are wrong and neither understands how the Church operates.
First, let’s remember that the Church is not a human institution at her ontological level. Yes, on the outside she looks like an institutional structure, complete with a hierarchy, and extensive array of offices with the Pope at the head. The ultimate reality, however, is that she is the Mystical Body of Christ. Her head is Christ and the Pope is subordinate to Him. Christ Himself promised that the power of Hell would not prevail against her:
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. l will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
This passage from the Gospel of Matthew is often used to explain the Papacy and our understanding of Apostolic Succession. What it also tells us is that what has been revealed to Saint Peter, the Apostles, and the Church is not from earthly realities, but from the Blessed Trinity. The Church’s understanding is that the Holy Spirit will preserve the Deposit of Faith, that which is teaching on faith and morals, from error even in the presence of sinful men and sinful women. This has repeatedly played out throughout the Church’s history.
Tonight I saw a comment (social media provides me with a lot of food for thought) that implied the issues of the West, transgenderism, homosexuality, divorce, adultery, etc. are not the same as the murder, rape, persecution, and poverty overseas or in Third World countries. This was, of course, in response to the Bruce Jenner situation. I do not wish to write on that topic because there are people who would do a much better job on it than me. I pray for him and discuss it with people who bring it up to me, but I do not feel called to that discussion. This comment got me thinking. Have we forgotten about the unique dignity of every single human being? Have we forgotten that Jesus loves every single person? Yes, there are great horrors going on, but many of those are on our own street behind closed doors. The penalty for sin is death and destruction, so how can we think that our culture is somehow better off? How can we think that we don’t need to be concerned about the one lost soul we meet? What does Scripture say?
The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them he addressed this parable. “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. Luke 15:1-7
We can easily fall into the mentality of the Pharisees. I know I do it at times. We can decide that certain evils are greater because we have a visceral reaction to them. Who among us is not appalled by the rape and murder of children overseas? Those are great evils to be sure, but they are not the only evils impacting souls. When Blessed Teresa of Calcutta would come to the U.S., she would observe a great poverty in our country and in the rest of the West. It was a poverty of loneliness, the feeling of being unloved.
The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta
Our country is being torn apart by broken homes, hedonism, materialism, and relativism. The by-products of these philosophies are everywhere. People are screaming out to be loved, but they don’t know where to go. They don’t know the answer. They have never been shown. Instead they have lived lives of abandonment, pain, anger, confusion, and frustration. This is exacerbated and deepened in a culture that lies to them. A culture that tells them that if they only do whatever they want, they will feel better. But, no. This is a quick fix and it leads ever deeper into the pit of destruction and despair. How many women are crying alone in their apartments tonight because they believed the lie that promiscuity would bring them love and acceptance? How many men are drowning out their desire for a deep and lasting love through sexual conquests only to return to their lonely lives afterwards? How many teenagers and adults are struggling with same sex attraction and hating themselves? How many of those live with that deep hate, not because people like me tell them that homosexual sex is a sin, but rather because they know that that sex has not filled the ache they feel within themselves? Homosexual or heterosexual, filling the void through sex doesn’t stop the deep hunger for Love. How many children sit home alone and never see their parents because they are working too many hours? How many parents are trying to buy their child’s affection to make up for their absence? How many children are crying tonight because they were told divorce was coming for their parents? How many inner city kids are craving the attention of a father they have never met or a mother they seldom get to see? How many husbands and wives are living with the pain of adultery? How many people are drowning out their sorrow in drugs and alcohol at this very minute? How many of us (me) use social media to dull the isolation they feel? THIS! This is the poverty of our country.
We tell ourselves that this poverty, pain, and immorality is nothing compared to ISIS, Boko Haram, China, or any country living in barbarism. We don’t equate the two because we don’t want to have to look in the mirror. We don’t want to have to examine our own sins. The sins of others are greater than our own. We don’t want to look at how we are preventing Christ from reaching the people near us. The shouting and yelling at others about their sins does nothing, but make people dig in their heals. Meanwhile, Christ is looking for every single lost sheep. He will leave the 99. He will leave the 6 billion for the one. Have we Christians forgotten that truth? A truth that is so profound, so big, so unbelievable, but somehow we have forgotten to share it with others? We are not Christ, so our yelling at others will accomplish nothing. Instead, we must offer an invitation in charity and truth.
No we cannot confirm people in their sins. We cannot lie to them in order to make them feel better about their choices. But we will never bring people to the pews if all they see is us screaming about their sins. Isn’t this the point Pope Francis is making? He’s not changing Church teaching. He’s pointing out that hurt, wounded, aching, unloved people, need to have a real encounter with the Risen Lord. We need to share our joy and not only reserve it for the people who we decide are worthy because it is quite clear that Christ is interested in each and every single person. We need to show them how Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church is the answer to the longing of their heart. That Christ is the answer to their loneliness, brokenness, and wounds. That the Holy Eucharist is the answer to the meaning of life. To be a saint is to be fully alive. WE need to be willing to enter into their brokenness and pain. We need to be willing to hurt with them because that is what the Mystical Body does. Can you imagine what it is like to have never known love? To only know how to use hedonism to fill up that deep void? They must ask themselves in confusion: Who is This? Love me?! It has to be blinding like it was for St. Paul. It has to be difficult to accept and completely foreign. These are the people we are called to reach out to, but we cannot do it on our own terms. I mean our own individual terms. We must use the greatness of Catholicism, but allow people to find their footing. We need to walk the journey with them in charity and truth. I have known these very people throughout my lifetime and I have failed them. I have failed them.
There are unspeakable horrors around the world. I sit back and watch the news in pain for people most days, but I have no control over what happens in Nigeria or the Middle East. I do weep with them. I do have control over my family, friends, community, parish, and social media interactions. All I can do is fast and pray for those parts of the world I cannot impact, but I do have the ability to share my faith with people who do not understand it at all. To patiently bear their burdens, questions, confusion, flight, and struggle. It is not easy to be converted. It is not easy to agree to conform one’s life to the Most Holy Trinity through Baptism. It is not easy to die to self. It is not easy to let go of greed, lust, envy, gluttony, pride, anger, avarice, and sloth. It’s a life long spiritual battle, but one that we engage in with Christ by our side. It is easier when we fall in love with Christ. Things that seemed impossible slowly get easier. We need to show people how to fall in love with Jesus Christ in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit by our own example. Christ leads us to the abandonment of sin. That is the only way they will abandon sin and begin the life long battle. They will want to die to self because they love God. Do we? Do we want to die to self because of our love of God? We have to ask ourselves that every single day too because we fall and sin and must return to Him in our weakness.
Let us remember in our daily dealings there are a lot of hurting people who need Christ. There is a lot of evil in our own neighborhoods that needs redemption. There is not a single soul who Christ does not desire. A lost soul is a horrific thing. The people in our country who are trapped in the lies of hedonism, materialism, and relativism are prisoners of the Evil One. They too need the Paschal Mystery to break loose their chains. Think about that the next time you call someone a “freak” or other ad hominem. These people are lost and we know the Way. Are we showing people the Way?
As I write this post, tears well up in my eyes for all of the times I have failed in this exact same call. In all of the ways that I fail to show love to the people around me and even the people I encounter on social media. I have a daughter who needs my complete and total love, but I get lost in selfishness some days and fail her. I do the same thing to my husband. These are the people Christ entrusted to me. How many other people have I encountered in my life and failed? Jesus wanted every single one of those people for His own and I failed to serve Him. All power rests in Him, but He uses each one of us to further the mission of bringing the world to Him. Let’s stop being afraid. Let’s stop ignoring His call. We need to trust in Him. He can bring about the conversion in even the most hardened of hearts and he can heal the sins of our age. . We have to be willing lives of courageous virtue and holiness. We cannot just use words to draw people in, our joy and way of life should point to Christ. We have to be willing to love as He loves and search for the one soul he puts in our tracks each day.
Today I am going to write about what I see as the most controversial subject of our time: “gay marriage”. I also believe that this agenda will lead, and has led, to persecution of Catholics and other orthodox Christian churches. It will get very rough in the years to come. This particular series is meant for those who profess to be Catholic. First, I want to start with some observations about people within the Catholic Church and then broaden to wider implications. I will probably write a series, with this one focusing primarily on what the Church teaches about sexual sin.
The Catholic Church is losing the “gay marriage” debate within its own pews at this point in history. That will change as my generation rises up, but for now, many Catholics do not submit to Christ and His Church on this teaching. Quite frankly, this should not come as a surprise to anyone. Large groups of Catholics ignore Church teaching on sexual matters. So let’s clear up some confusion first. A grave sin is a grave sin. Redundant? Yes. Here is what I mean: To knowingly (knowing Church teaching) and willfully use artificial contraception, get a tubal ligation or other types of sterilization, have an affair, engage in premarital sex, divorce and re-marriage (without an annulment), use (look at, watch , read) pornography, masturbation, use IVF, get an abortion, or engage in homosexual acts are all grave sins. There is no difference. Homosexual acts are not somehow more grave than heterosexual ones. For some reason I think that there are people who think that this is the case. Perhaps this is part of the reason individuals who struggle with same sex attraction are so hurt by the Church. Somehow their sins are worse than those of a heterosexual couple. This is categorically false.
Now that I have listed some sexual sins, let’s look at heterosexual couples. A large contingent of people who profess to be Catholic in the pews are engaged in the use of contraception, sterilization, pornography, cohabitation, etc. (I highly recommend investing in a Catechism of the Catholic Church. Every Catholic home should have one!!!! ) They either blatantly ignore Church teaching, putting their souls in great danger, or some may not know Church teaching. Ignorance of teaching does not meet the criteria for mortal sin. However, once you are aware that these are grave sins you are required to go to Confession and stop the sin. If you refuse to stop, I encourage you out of love of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, and you as a member of His Mystical Body, to refrain from the Eucharist until you have been converted to the truth. Pray for conversion. Taking the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin greatly endangers your soul. I say this as someone who has done it in the past. That is about as theological as I want to get in this post.
So why is the Church currently losing this battle in the pews? First, because many people who say they are Catholic are ignoring Church teaching. If they ignore Church teaching on these matters, why not support “gay marriage”? After all, they love each other. Second, there is a deep misunderstanding of what love truly means. In our society it seems that feeling, sentimentality, and attraction are the biggest components. Do homosexuals love one another? Yes, I am sure they do on some level. However, a proper understanding of love is as St. Thomas Aquinas tells us: “to will the good of the other, as other”. Third, I think that many Catholics think that celibacy is too hard for homosexuals. It’s too harsh to expect them to refrain from sexual activity, is one of the complaints made.
The Church’s, God’s, teaching on human sexuality is not meant to be a list of rules from some angry old man in the sky. Rather, since God is pure Love, he knows what is best for us. He knows how we will thrive and attain holiness. Our Lord knows what will kill a soul and He wants to do everything in His power to prevent this from happening. That is why the Church, His Bride, is our guide on this side of Heaven. Most of us would rather listen to the culture, but the culture is leading us to death. Christ leads us to life, and with that comes major sacrifice. It also requires that our lives be blatantly counter-cultural and it also means persecution. Christ was killed on a Cross, what makes us think that we are any different as His followers?
Within a Christian context love means that we desire what is best for someone even if they do not know what is best or choose what is bad for them. Part of the reason Christians are opposed to sexual sin is because they, when grave, kill a person’s soul. If I love someone do I want them to do something that would kill their soul? Not only that, Christ called us “to love our neighbors as ourselves”. That is a tall order and means that we must lovingly bring people to the Truth. So when someone tells me that they blatantly use contraception, cheat on their spouse, or engage in homosexual activity should I just say that is not my concern? As a member of the Mystical Body of Christ does this fit my Baptismal call? No. So the next time someone calls you out on a grave sin, remember it is out of great love and concern for your very soul.
Regardless of what our culture tells us, love requires great sacrifice. If you want to know what real love looks like, take a look at the Cross. Love is total self-emptying. It is the giving of everything we have, and then giving more. Do we all fall short? You bet! That is why we are sojourners. We are on a journey to holiness. It takes a lifetime, and for many Purgatory too. But, the Cross is the ultimate example of how we are to live our lives. That includes fighting against a culture that worships at the the altar of the false god of sex. Sex in and of itself is not love. It is a total self-giving. It is the uniting of one man and one women who have taken been joined in a covenant before God. Two become one flesh.
There are many Catholics who say that it is too hard for homosexuals to be celibate, or chaste. As a Catholic, this is a rather silly assertion. There are hundreds of thousands of priests, nuns, sisters, and brothers who live celibate lives throughout the world. Celibacy has always been seen as a loving sacrifice to Christ, which is why virginity is celebrated in the Church. But, if you don’t believe me, look at the stories of individuals who struggle with same sex attraction who live celibate lives as Catholics. Here is one example.
We must remember that as Catholics we are not called to be a “good person” we are called to be holy; to be saints. They are not the same thing. Hopefully, now you more fully understand God’s desire and love for you. If you are struggling with Church teaching then you need to discuss it with your parish priest. If, Heaven forbid, your priest does not fully submit to Church teaching, then find one who does. A lot of people have been hurt and led astray from “the spirit of Vatican II”. Humanae Vitae and other similar documents require our submission. They teach timeless truths. I pray for your conversion, healing, and strength in the years to come. The next part of this series will discuss how the “gay marriage” agenda is the greatest threat to our religious liberty that we face today. I will then write a post on parenting in an over sexualized culture that wants to convert us to its beliefs, and quite frankly, wants our children.