The Synod, Archbishop Chaput, and Despair

I just read Archbishop Chaput’s intervention at the Synod over at Edward Pentin’s blog at the National Catholic Register and I believe it touched on a major issue in the Church right now. It is not just one in relation to marriage and the family, but also a lack of hope in the Church and the power of the Holy Spirit to guide her. Here is the text of the intervention:

Marriage as a Witness to Hope

“Brothers,

The Instrumentum seemed to present us with two conflicting views: pastoral despair or a decision to hope. When Jesus experienced the pastoral despair of his Apostles, he reminded them that for man a thing may seem impossible, but for God all things are possible.

In mastering nature for the purpose of human development, we human beings have wounded our oceans and the air we breathe. We’ve poisoned the human body with contraceptives. And we’ve scrambled the understanding of our own sexuality. In the name of individual fulfillment, we’ve busied ourselves with creating a new Babel of tyranny that feeds our desires but starves the soul.

Paragraphs 7-10 of the Instrumentum did a good job of describing the condition of today’s families. But overall, the text engenders a subtle hopelessness. This leads to a spirit of compromise with certain sinful patterns of life and the reduction of Christian truths about marriage and sexuality to a set of beautiful ideals — which then leads to surrendering the redemptive mission of the Church.

The work of this synod needs to show much more confidence in the Word of God, the transformative power of grace, and the ability of people to actually live what the Church believes. And it should honor the heroism of abandoned spouses who remain faithful to their vows and the teaching of the Church.

George Bernanos said that the virtue of hope is “despair, overcome.” We have no reason to despair. We have every reason to hope. Pope Francis saw this himself in Philadelphia. Nearly 900,000 people crowded the streets for the papal Mass that closed the World Meeting of Families.

They were there because they love the Pope, but also because they believe in marriage. They believe in the family. And they were hungry to be fed by real food from the Vicar of Jesus Christ.

We need to call people to perseverance in grace and to trust in the greatness God intended for them — not confirm them in their errors. Marriage embodies Christian hope – hope made flesh and sealed permanently in the love of a man and a woman.

This synod needs to preach that truth more clearly with the radical passion of the Cross and Resurrection.”

There is a great amount of despair that is coming out of certain corners of the Church. For instance, the German Church demonstrates a profound sense of despair and loss of faith in its desire to conform to the world rather than the Blessed Trinity. Many in that Bishop’s Conference, not all, have forgotten that our baptismal call is to be conformed to Christ throughout our lives. That means entering into the Paschal Mystery and dying to self, dying to our desires, and inclinations, most especially those which are disordered and sinful. The reason for this is not because God is a cold-hearted authoritarian who desires to rule over us as a tyrant. No, what these men and many throughout the Church who have chosen this world rather than the next, is that God wants us to be fully human. He created us, so He knows what will make us fully alive and fully human. This occurs through an abandonment of sin, which is a difficult and life-long process only made possible through grace.

This despair leaves Jesus in the tomb. It is to scatter because Our Lord has been crucified. Many have forgotten that Jesus has in fact Risen, that He reigns in Heaven, and that the Holy Spirit is who guides the truth and the Church. We cannot give into despair because the culture is against us. The culture has always been against us. Jesus came to give the world a counter-cultural message, a message that goes against the depravity of sin, and the truth that relies on grace. He promised us that we would be persecuted. The question comes down to this: Are we a Resurrection people or not?

A good deal of the ranting and raving at the Synod and on social media comes from those who have lost hope. They see a Church of sinners, a hierarchy of sinners, and a seductive world. Many have cornered themselves into one of two camps: the Church is going to fall apart or we must become like the world. We forget that the answer is neither. It is that we must proclaim the Good News. We must share the joy of Jesus Christ who lives and reigns forever. That with grace all things are possible. We can overcome our sinful inclinations, even sexual ones, by the power of God. It is not by our own power, but Christ’s that will guide us and help us to persevere in the long arduous journey.

Do we truly believe in the power of the Paschal Mystery? Do we believe that God has and will redeem us? Do we believe that Jesus is who he said he is? If the answer is no, then yes, it is right to despair. That means there is no redemption and that human depravity will continue to spiral to deeper and deeper depths. If the answer is yes, then we must stop living in defeat. The world senses our despair and the vultures are circling overhead. Either we believe that Christ will protect the Church from error, or we don’t believe in Him. Either we believe that redemption is possible or we don’t. Conforming the Church to the world is to live without redemption. It is to believe that human beings are incapable of greatness, holiness, and saintliness. If we are redeemed, then we must share that redemption with others. We must be honest about the difficult task. We must be honest that human beings cannot do it on their. This is only possible through Christ.

Many people focus on the sins of the hierarchy. They obsess about a “Gay Mafia” or other agendas within the Magisterium. There have been competing agendas since the beginning of the Church. Today is not unique. Most of us are not in a position to do anything about it except pray. Gossiping and ranting in social media is not a proper response to such concern. Gossip is a sin for a reason. If there are concerns then write to the proper channels, pray, and trust in Christ’s promises. The sins of the hierarchy, the very same sins many of us in the laity struggle with, do not change the Church in her ontological reality. She is the Bride of Christ and protected from error by the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t mean that our sins don’t damage the Mystical Body, but it does not change the Church, nor does it change God.

What if some were unfaithful? Will their infidelity nullify the fidelity of God? Of course not! God must be true, though every human being is a liar, as it is written:“That you may be justified in your words, and conquer when you are judged.”
But if our wickedness provides proof of God’s righteousness, what can we say? Is God unjust, humanly speaking, to inflict his wrath? Of course not! For how else is God to judge the world? But if God’s truth redounds to his glory through my falsehood, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not say—as we are accused and as some claim we say—that we should do evil that good may come of it? Their penalty is what they deserve.

Romans 3:3-8

It is time to stop focusing so much on this world and the sins of our neighbor. It is time for us to live as people in hope and in the glory of the Paschal Mystery. It is through our lives and our striving to live in holiness that people will come to know the truth. It is impossible for us to engage the world if all we do is either project doom and gloom out over social media and in our daily lives, or if we say the Church is “out-dated” and must conform to this age. Neither are truth. Both are a form of despair. Instead, we must do as St. Paul did and proclaim: Christ has risen! Pax Christi.

Forgiving Until It Hurts and then Some….

Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.       St. Matthew 18:21-22

jesusupperroom

Forgiveness is one of the greatest struggles that we human beings face during our sojourn here on earth. In our struggle with sin and the weakness that sin has created within us, it can feel nearly impossible to forgive. Many people deny that forgiveness is their responsibility and they even ignore the above Scripture passage in order to hold on to some long held grudge or hurt. I understand as I have been there, but that doesn’t make it right. In fact, resentment keeps us from growing and maturing in the spiritual life.

Everything that God instructed within Scripture is meant to lead to our ultimate good. Christ teaches us what we need to be fully human and those things that will unite us to the mysteries of His life and the Blessed Trinity. All that He asks of us is in order that we may be conformed (be like) the love found within the Blessed Trinity and that includes forgiveness. Not just any forgiveness, but forgiveness until it hurts, even until we don’t think that we can give anymore. It is actually marriage and motherhood that is teaching me this indispensable truth.

I fail daily in my vocation of wife and mother. I don’t serve as I should. I can become selfish or irritable. I can lose my temper with my daughter and then hurt deeply because of my failures. This is where I am learning that I must forgive quickly and teach my daughter to do the same. I have developed a habit of seeking my daughter’s forgiveness when I fail her. She is only 3 years old, but I want her to hear me say that “I am sorry” and for her to respond with “I forgive you”. Like the virtues, forgiveness is something that can be fostered at a young age and with practice. In learning to forgive early, my daughter will not grow up holding onto resentments and I will learn to overcome some things that I was never taught. She can also teach me to forgive my husband quickly, which I must confess is still a work in progress.

The love I have for my daughter is teaching me a lot about the love the Father has for each one of us. My daughter is also learning to seek forgiveness when she falls short. She may not be able to fully reason in events that have transpired, but she can learn contrition now. My anger at a situation regarding my daughter’s behavior is extremely short-lived. It is always tinged with pain, because I dislike having to punish her, but I love her and she has to learn. This is the same as God’s love for us. He hurts (not as humans hurt, but we understand through language) when we sin, but knows that we will be healed if we repent and come back to him. Contemplate that for a moment.

Perhaps this way of looking at sin will help people to understand why Christ instituted the Sacrament of Penance (also known as Reconciliation or Confession). First, God responds to us in our humanity that is through our body and soul reality. Confession is the uniting of a physical movement: confessing sins, contrition, and satisfaction (penance) with God’s pouring out of sanctifying grace which leads to perfect contrition (Thomistic theology) and the forgiveness of sins.

When my daughter or I sin in our relationship what do we do? We return to one another in sorrow and physically through words voice our need for forgiveness and the other returns the forgiveness.  There is no relationship on earth that allows me to internalize in my seeking of forgiveness. I must return to the person and ask in order to receive forgiveness. Now they may have already forgiven me, but the movement is needed. God requires us to go to the Confessional because we have a tendency to deceive ourselves and we need to verbally state what we have done in the presence of the Church’s representative who is also standing in as the person of Christ. This is how the Church has done it from the beginning, although, it was much more public in the Early Church. There was no “me and Jesus” in the Early Church because the hierarchical nature of the Church and the sacramental reality of the Church opposes such thinking. Not to mention that after rising from the dead, Jesus gave the Apostles (the first Bishops) the power to forgive sins by breathing life into them.

What should be clear at this point is that forgiveness is critical in our journey to holiness. In fact, forgiveness is one of the ways God strengthens and sanctifies each one of us. It is something that we must foster from a young age and encourage in others. If that is not a possibility, then as adults we need to work to establish a habit of forgiveness. If we struggle then we need to ask God for the grace and strength to forgive as he does. Think about it this way, Christ forgave those who crucified Him WHILE he was dying in agony on the Cross. That is our call. Mediate on Christ’s first words to the Apostles when He appeared in the Upper Room after His Resurrection: “Peace be with you.” He returned in forgiving love, even when they abandoned Him.  That is how we must forgive time and time again.  I hope you are having a very blessed Easter season.