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Thursday, January 21, 2021

A Catholic wants to come back to the Church... Where do you begin?

You're a Roman Catholic who simply walked away or who may actually have been "drawn" by God to other churches for a number of years. Now, you have begun to feel dissatisfied with various points and elements in those various Christian churches and, ironically, you feel drawn - again by the Lord - to have another look at the Roman Catholic Church.

Where do you begin?

Well, a good place to start would be of course to ask God to guide you as you try to follow his calling and to continue to do your best to walk in the steps of Jesus. Then, as you continue to pray in this way every day, even several times a day and night, take a step. Visit a Catholic church, or if your city is in lock-down and the churches are closed, visit nearby R.C. parishes via their websites. In addition, you can visit Pope Francis via the Vatican website and through various Catholic news outlets "listen in" on Pope Francis' homilies and read his writings.

You could then take a more personal step by getting in touch with your local Parish and then your Parish Priest. If you don't like the reception you get, shake the dust off your feet and try another parish and another priest until you find the "one" to whom the Lord is guiding you; where you feel welcomed, respected, and where you sense you can bring your questions and not be given a "bum's rush".

During this exploration, you will also benefit from praying every day, often during the day - which just means "visiting with God" within your spirit - and opening the Word of God in the Bible to "listen" to the Lord speaking. You can also explore various additional sites and resources on the Internet.

So here are a few links which will help you find additional resources for your ongoing study, reflection, and prayer; as, like Mary the Mother of Jesus, you "ponder" the "things of the Lord and his ways" and allow the Most Holy Trinity to continue to guide and form you from within. You will find below a link to my "Home Page" on Blogger leading to a number of other pages. I regret that I took several hours to put together this email for you, but it provides a good overview of the essentials of the Christian faith and life in response to the Lord Jesus' call in the Roman Catholic Tradition. This is not exhaustive, because after all, this Tradition has been developing for two millennia. Also, most Catholics take a lifetime to become more intimately familiar with all the riches of what God is offering to humanity through his Church in Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

The Pillar, Heart, and Soul of discipleship in Jesus is of course the Most Holy Trinity, God Himself.

God manifests his presence and ongoing creative and life-giving action in Creation, sometimes called the "Book of Creation"; so we do well to walk outside and contemplate the wonders of Creation. This is also done by scientists and us who read their work as they contemplate the intricacies of biology, astronomy, and so on. As we explore we can "wonder as we wander" and send up glory, praise, and thanks to God our Creator.

The Father manifests his will in his Son Jesus as He founds his Church on Simon Peter, aka "Petros" which in Greek means "Rock" or, in American English, "Rocky". There is only one Church as testified in the Nicene Creed, which is common to all principle Christian denominations. Our RC Tradition witnesses to the Church as the "Mystical Body of Christ" of which He is our "Head". Where He has gone first, we hope to follow, that is, through death and resurrection. So the Church is all those who have been baptized, in whom the Holy Spirit has come as in a temple with the Father and the Son, and begun the work of sanctification - also called divinization - whereby the Most Holy Trinity distills into a human soul the divine life of the Most Holy Trinity; granting us to participate in the divine life enjoyed by the Most Holy Trinity in a partial way for now, but which will become full in eternity, in heaven.

So the Church is made up of all the baptized, whether we are aware of them or not, whether they belong to "our group" or not, whether on Earth (the Church militant) or in Purgatory (the Church suffering) or in Heaven (the Church triumphant). At the end of time all things will be accomplished in accord to God's holy will and all will be in their proper places in accord with the choices they have made. Purgatory will no longer exist, for it is simply the "time of purgation" needed by those souls destined for heaven but who are not yet ready for heaven because something of Earth still clings to their soul; such that they are still in need of God's mercy to set them completely free of mortality or "sinful inclination"; until such time as there remains in them only the one holy desire given by God, namely, to love God above all things and to love everyone for love of God.

RESOURCES and PILLARS FOR THE CHRISTIAN LIFE OF FAITH AND DISCIPLESHIP

The Liturgy of the Hours
The Sacred Scriptures
Prayer: alone, with spouse, with family, with community
The Sacramental Life - encountering Jesus in accord with his wishes through his mysteries
Christian disciplines and resources

THE LITURGY OF THE HOURS - The Prayer of the Church - for example in the app Divine Office

The Prayer of the Church - which originated with the "fathers of the desert" who learned the Scriptures by heart and recited them in prayer and fasting to escape the sinful distractions of the big city and await the coming of Jesus in glory or the end of their earthly lives, whichever would come first. Over the centuries this sacred and life giving practice developed into the normal way of daily prayer for clergy - deacons, priests, and bishops - and for religious - all men and women who sought to help each other live the Christian life by turning away from the ways of the world in order to erect a "Christian society" and community, such as in monasteries.

Since Vatican Council II from 1962-1965 in Rome, the Liturgy of the Hours has been renewed in many languages and the laity are invited to pray as much of it as they can; meanwhile the clergy and religious make a life long commitment to pray all the hours daily. You can sign up for it at this link, there is no cost because they work on donations alone, and this link is for today, Thursday. Once you're "in" it, read the brief bio of the saint of the day, Saint Agnes, and then click on the Morning Prayer tab and you will find there a typical "hour" which includes a hymn, psalms, a reading from the Word of God, intentions, the Lord's Prayer, and a concluding prayer and blessing.

Today's Morning Prayer expresses well a key dimension of the life of faith and discipleship in the Roman Catholic Tradition. We understand that Jesus, in Himself as divine pre-existing Son of God and as human son of Mary is in effect and in fact a "marriage" between God and humanity. That is why Jesus refers to Himself as the Bridegroom with his Church (all of us) as his Bride. John wrote that Jesus' first "sign" He performed at the wedding banquet at Cana where he turned water into wine at the request of his Mother Mary. The Wedding Banquet is an image of Heaven where we will be immersed in the joy of the "Wedding Feast of the Lamb of God". DIVINE OFFICE:     https://divineoffice.org/0121-mp/?date=20210121

THE SACRED SCRIPTURES - THE DIVINELY INSPIRED WORD OF GOD - The Bible contains the Jewish Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures - in our day there are many versions available, even on line, such as the NRSVCE - New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition - which is used at Mass in English

The Apostles were the first - actually Jesus was the first as witnessed by Luke in Luke 24:13-35 (Jesus meets the two disciples on the road to Emmaus) - to interpret everything in the Old Testament - the Jewish Scriptures - that applied to Him as the Messiah, the Lord, send by God the Father for the salvation of humanity. Thus began the divinely inspired INTERPRETATION of the Jewish Scriptures as correctly and truthfully applicable to Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

The initial interpretations, teachings, and writings of the Apostles became the letters, Gospels, Acts, and Revelation of the New Testament. After that first generation, those who followed them came to be known as the "Fathers of the Church" and these continued to "ponder" as Mary did the "ways of the Lord" and to further develop this sacred tradition of divinely inspired interpretation of the Old Testament in light of the New. In their preaching, teaching, life witnessing, writing, and dying, these Fathers of the Church made practical applications of the Word of God to everyday living and faith in action.

The Church has prepared a banquet of all this sacred Tradition of the Word of God and the teaching, preaching, and witnessing of the Church in the Liturgy of the Hours, and especially in the Office of Readings, which gives us every day a lengthy passage from Scripture (both Testaments) and a second lengthy passage from the Fathers and Saints of the Church.

In addition, zealous Christians accept the grace offered by God and the invitation of the Holy Spirit to open the Bible every day and "feed on" the Word of God. The Liturgy of the Hours provides a "carefully prepared diet and banquet" from the Lord, and personal reading of the Bible is a more spontaneous initiative and approach. Both are needed: our personal initiative and the guidance God offers us through his Church.

PERSONAL, SPOUSAL, FAMILY, AND COMMUNAL PRAYER - Praying daily alone, with one's spouse, with one's family, and with one's community of faith. You can check out my various web pages on Blogger where you will find an abundance of resources. Here is Father Gilles' "Home Page" with several links to other pages, some of which also lead to even more pages....

Prayer is simply "visiting with God". All the Gospels give witness that Jesus spent a lot of time in prayer with his Father. Jesus' entire life was focused on his Father's love, to do his Father's will, and to commune with his Father. Luke testifies that even at 12 years of age Jesus had a highly developed sense of being called to "be about his Father's business". In the prologue to his Gospel, John declares that "to all who believe in Jesus He gives the power to become children of God. All the baptized are called to remain open to God, to welcome the Most Holy Trinity within them, in their soul, and to be open to communing with the Father, in Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. God grants us to become more familiar, to come to know and to love the Father, and Jesus his Son, and the Holy Spirit. We can pray to each singly as well as to all three together.

Whenever we address one or more of the saints - Mother Mary, Joseph, Peter, Paul, Agnes, Francis of Assisi, Anthony of Padua, Dominic, Benedict, his sister Scholastica, Brother André, Pope John Paul II, etc.... - we are merely "communing" with our sisters and brothers in Christ, and this "great cloud of witness" amplify our own zeal and love of God and encourage us on our way of faith, hope, and love. All good prayers and hymns addressed to one or more of the saints always end with a doxology, that is, giving glory and praise to the Most Holy Trinity.

Prayer alone can be silent, or include "murmuring" or moving the lips, or voicing out loud, or two or all three of these ways. We can let Scripture lead us into prayer, especially the psalms, but there are hymns also embedded in other sacred Bible books, including the New Testament; such as Jesus' own prayer to the Father in John 17 or N.T. hymns also called canticles, e.g. Phil 2:6-11; Ephesians 1:3-10; Colossians 1:12-20; 1 Peter 2:21-24; Revelation 4:11, 5:9, 10, 12; Rev 11:17-18, 12:10b-12a; Rev 15:3-4; Rev 19:1-7. Of course the most famous and frequently used canticles are the Canticle of Zechariah - Luke 1:46-55; of Mary also called the Magnificat - Luke 1:68-79; and of Simeon - Luke 2:29-32.

Spouses and families need to explore and configure their ways of praying together in such ways as to include everyone, to respect everyone, and to include both silence and oral (out loud) texts and prayers. Different postures can also enhance praying: standing, kneeling, prostrations, sitting, lying down, even walking. Intentions can also be voiced and shared so as to create oneness of mind and heart in making intercession to God.

THE SACRAMENTAL LIFE - encountering Jesus in accord with his wishes through his mysteries

Jesus fully intended to remain faithful and fulfill his promise - recorded in Matthew 28:16-20 - to remain always with us: "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." That is why He initiated immediately or allowed the Apostles to develop in response to emerging needs what are now called the Seven Sacraments. You can find a lot on the Internet from Catholic sources, most of which are good and true, but one must always be vigilant.

BAPTISM - Jesus clearly commanded his apostles to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you." 

CONFIRMATION - After his resurrection, Jesus clearly poured out his spirit, the Holy Spirit, onto his apostles. The Holy Spirit confirmed this divine gift at Pentecost by coming down upon and filling all 120 people gathered to wait and pray for "the promise of the Father".

HOLY EUCHARIST - Jesus never intended to leave a "symbolic meal" but literally commanded his Apostles to eat his body "broken for you" and drink his blood "poured out for you" and that they should "do this in memory of me." The Apostles, the authors of the N.T. Letters, and the Evangelists all offer united testimony that they all experienced this gift of Jesus are real, true, authentic, and although illogical from a human point of view, God's wisdom and truth for God's outpouring of his divine life into us who believe and receive Jesus in faith. The N.T. references are too numerous to list here. RC's are under obligation to receive Holy Communion at least once a year during the Easter Season. Since Jesus declared what unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood we have no life within us; it is highly recommended and useful to our soul to receive the Lord at least every Sunday, if not also during the week. During a pandemic such as we now endure, when churches are closed, we are encouraged to welcome the Lord into our soul by way of a "Spiritual Communion".

PENANCE & RECONCILIATION aka CONFESSION - Jesus went about for three years forgiving sins, even that is not what people asked. He was preceded and his way was prepared by his cousin John the Baptist who preached a baptism of water for repentance, declaring that one greater than he was coming after him who would baptize "with Spirit and with fire". Jesus clearly gave the Apostles, in the person of the one He chose to lead them, Peter, the authority to forgive sins or to retain sins. This has always been clearly understood from the time of the Apostles through the time of their successors, later known as the "Fathers of the Church".

How this "mysterious encounter" with the Risen Lord Jesus happened and was offered to the faithful evolved over time as the society changed and the needs of the faithful for repentance and forgiveness changed; until this sacrament took its present form around 1200 A.D. In the early Church, for the first half of the first millennium, the confession of sins was made in public in front of the bishop, and the penance was also public; such as wearing sack cloth with ashes on one's head for months or even years, depending on the gravity of the sin and its impact on the community of faith; such as in the case of sexual scandals or offering sacrifice to the Roman gods so as to avoid execution.

Since the 13th century it has been our experience that the Lord Jesus effectively forgives sins, as He once did in Palestine, and also reconciles the sinner to Himself and to the living Body of his Church, through this Sacrament of Reconciliation consisting of confession to a priest, sincere regret and contrition, a firm resolution to repent and live a life of ongoing conversion, a brief, discreet, and respectful dialogue as needed, absolution worded by the priest and given by Jesus, and an appropriate penance for the sake of reparation and some step or steps towards doing the will of God by prayer or action or both.

RC's are under obligation to confess at least once a year if they have serious sin. However, this sacrament has been experienced universally as a great aid in coming closer to Jesus and opening more widely the gates of our heart to Him and also to forgiving others.

Here is Bishop (Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, CA) Robert Barron's YouTube Channel, where you will find a number of short talks on various topics of interest. He also has his own website and Internet apostolate called Word on Fire where you will find different resources.

CHRISTIAN DISCIPLINES AND RESOURCES

FASTING, PENANCE, ALMS, AND WORKS OF MERCY - Unlike many Protestant denominations which minimize the importance of works and over emphasize the place of justifying faith; the Roman Catholic Tradition has always understood, taught, and preached a proper balance between faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour (by which God justifies us in Jesus' Blood shed) on the one hand, and on allowing this grace of God to unfold and bear fruit, thereby giving honour and praise to God, in a whole variety of practices, such as fasting, penance, and mortification of the flesh, and works of mercy - both physical or corporal works of mercy and spiritual works of mercy - to the benefit of those who receive these acts of love. In 2016 Pope Francis called on all Christians to add an 8th work of mercy: "Care for our common home".

PONDERING THE MYSTERIES OF THE MOST HOLY ROSARY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY - Our RC Tradition understands the practice of praying the Rosary of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and the Life of Jesus to have developed over time from the middle of the first millennium until the middle of the second millennium - over a period of around a thousand years - to the form it has today. Then in 2002 Saint Pope John Paul II published his "Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae to the bishops, clergy, and faithful on the Most Holy Rosary". In this letter he declared the Rosary to be his favourite prayer because in the course of meditating on the Mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary - so many windows in the life of Jesus which also includes his Mother Mary - she actually accompanies us and helps us to "contemplate the light shining on the face of Jesus".

In the history of the Church the praying of the Rosary with faith, devotion, and trust in God has been the occasion for God to work wonders and miracles, as reported in the Wikipedia article linked above. I was told and later confirmed by research on the Internet that in the mid-1950's the Archbishop of Vienna together with all the bishops of Austria - which since 1945 had been occupied, oppressed, and controlled the the U.S.S.R. - appealed to all the faithful of Austria and all people of good will to unite in pledging to meditate prayerfully the Rosary everyday as an offering to God of one million people united in prayer of the Rosary; as a plea to God through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary to free Austria from the yoke of the U.S.S.R.

Well, since 1945 the governments of France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States had divided Austria into for zones of occupation. In the 1950's they talked of re-establishing the independence of Austria, but the U.S.S.R. in particular dragged their feet. In 1954 - the centenary of the Papal Declaration of the God given privilege of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary - the bishops called on the people to pray the Rosary with the intention of reaching one million pledges of daily Rosary praying. Once that goal of one million pledges was achieved and surpassed, on May 15th, 1955 those four occupying governments signed what they called the "Austrian State Treaty"; thereby agreeing to lift their occupation and leave. The treaty came into effect July 27th and on October 25th the country was free of occupying troops. Our Lady interceded with God in response to the people's prayers and God helped the process along which had been stuck and stalled. At the time people were stunned that it actually worked and, especially, that the Soviet Union left.

LIVES OF THE SAINTS, DEVOTIONS, & SPIRITUAL READING - This whole dimension of R. C. Tradition is our "hall of heroes", the stories of our "elder sisters and brothers in the faith", a "great cloud of witnesses" that spur us on to victory in the Kingdom of God. Paul in chapter 11 went through the list of the key Israelite witnesses; so in our time, that would include all the martyrs and saints since Jesus' day. We can only be enriched by getting to know them, allowing the Holy Spirit to activate the "communion of saints" to grant us a living connection with the saints - as we have in our own families on Earth - and confiding in them our hopes and fears, needs and aspirations; that they might join us through the communion of saints in presenting to God our prayers for ourselves and others. The various "devotions to the saints" are like a family home having a "rogue gallery of family pictures", and venerating relics of the saints (particles of their bone or clothing or hair) is like families keeping a lock of hair of their children in the family album. Relics are better and more effective "bonds of love" to the saints because the saints are right now alive in God's radiant Presence in Heaven.

PILGRIMAGES & RETREATS - One can go on pilgrimage as simply as visiting a church or cemetery or monastery or site of supernatural apparitions. A pilgrimage is a journey of faith undertaken by a Christian in order to get in touch with the roots of our faith or with one or more of the saints; for the purpose of growing in faith, in knowledge and love for God, and in personal experience of our faith Tradition and Church. Spiritual Retreats are pockets of time during which we stay put in a particular place in an appropriate environment where we can remain in safety, in silence, in prayer, and hopefully also in community of faith, and there to experience daily spiritual exercises such as the celebration of Holy Mass, communal prayer, and silent adoration.

SPIRITUAL ACCOMPANIMENT, GUIDANCE, or DIRECTION - Since the time of the Apostles, as shown by Luke in 24:13-35, Christian disciples have shared their faith and struggles with one another, encouraged one another, and sought the Lord together. This happens in many ways, at many levels, and with varying degrees of competence and authority. There is in Montreal "The Ignatian Spirituality Centre" which offers spiritual accompaniment and formation at various levels of progress in the faith journey. There are throughout the Church many such centres, but one must always remain vigilant to assure that what is offered does not include any admixture of "new age" confusion that only try to take our attention and focus away from the Lord Jesus Christ.

VOCATIONAL DISCERNMENT, COMMITMENT, & ONGOING FORMATION - The Roman Catholic Tradition witnesses to the development of the Church Jesus founded into dioceses under the spiritual leadership, pastoring, and fatherhood of a bishop appointed by the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, and answerable to him. Each diocese is an independent "living cell" of the universal Church, the Body of Christ. However there is a kind of "oversight" exercised by the Pope and his officers to assure that bishops don't stray from the truth or from the essentials of the RC Tradition, Teaching, and Practice. In each diocese, the Bishop ordains and sends out deacons and priests to assist him in caring for the Lord's flock. These are all responsible and answerable to their bishop. No cleric can just "hop" from one diocese to another; they can only move to another diocese with the approval of both bishops. Here is Montreal Diocese.

FORMATION TOWARDS DISCIPLESHIP & STEWARDSHIP - There is a great variety of materials on the Internet touching on what it means to be a Disciple of Jesus and to exercise good Stewardship as his Disciple. Another document explores these two dimensions of our faith response to the Lord as "Making the Journey of Discipleship & Stewardship". The primary reason why there are such materials is because we can simply benefit from the experience of others, which includes what pitfalls to avoid.

MISSIONARY DISCIPLESHIP - In his letter "The Joy of the Gospel" Pope Francis wrote about our call as Christians to be "missionary disciples" and respond to Jesus' call to go out into our world to proclaim the Good News; so that, hearing our words and seeing our example, people who do not yet know God or his love and mercy might look up towards Jesus and "recover their sight". Here is a report on what Pope Francis means and how that is essential to our faith response to the Lord Jesus in our own lives. Along these lines, here is a R.C. site that gives witness to what the Holy Spirit is now doing, right now, in R.C. parishes throughout Canada, the U.S.A. and around the world. Here is another, more personal reflection on this topic from the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

CARRYING THE CROSS, PERSECUTION, MARTYRDOM, & FORGIVENESS OF ENEMIES - This is a topic and a basic dimension of the Christian faith and life in the steps of Jesus which is often forgotten or outright avoided by denominations or churches preaching a "prosperity gospel", which as Saint Paul warned in his letters, is a "different gospel or different Jesus" than the one he preached. Jesus made it abundantly clear - and all the Gospels testify to this truth - that if we want to truly be his disciples, we must deny ourselves, carry our cross, and follow Him. Moreover, we should not expect better treatment from the world than the treatment He himself got, namely, persecution, false accusation, false condemnation, torture, and death. Some literally follow Jesus in all these steps, but most Christians only do so to lesser degrees. However, there is no avoidance of the cross in one shape or other.

THE COMMANDMENTS & THE BEATITUDES - The Ten Commandments are the absolute minimum requirements for human beings to live a good life, a life that avoids offending God. However, Christians are called to far surpass this minimum, and in his sermon on the mount, Jesus summed up the new life He has come to offer in God in the Eight Beatitudes. These give the key points or elements in our new life in Jesus as children of God. There are unlimited reflections and meditations on the Beatitudes in print and on the Internet. Again, we must be vigilant to weigh what we find and, with the help of the Holy Spirit and the Church's teaching, keep what is good and reject what is defective.

God's peace to you and to your family, dear sister, dear brother in the Lord Jesus.... Happy, Healthy, and Holy New Year!

Friday, January 08, 2021

Entertainment and the related industry vs art that is true and meaningful as well as beautiful and good


Consider for a moment all that is "funnelled" into our senses and memories, minds and imaginations, hearts, souls, and spirits originating in all that has anything to do with what is called the "entertainment industry"....  Human beings have manifested a great variety of artistic forms of expression for at least 30 to 40 thousand years. Until perhaps the advent of radio, television, and then the internet; art usually tried to express truth, goodness, and beauty - the "three great transcendents" - which also put human beings in real contact with absolute values and with our God and Creator. 

I've never seen a "Cirque du Soleil" performance until just recently thanks to a link sent by a friend.... This "show" recorded in a Las Vegas hotel / casino is obviously an expert glorification of the human form, of colour and forms, creative designs, sound and sights, music and harmony, human dexterity and skill, and risky daredevil feats, but with minimal story telling and an apparent evacuation of significant meaning or transcendent values... in other words, pure entertainment.... This begs the question of anything and everything that is done today and has been done for the past century or so in the name of entertainment.

In Cinema, Theatre, on TV, and on the Internet entertainment is a general category that increasingly puts on display scenes and activities we would never tolerate at home in our living rooms or in our churches, and certainly not if the actors or participants were to be our mothers and fathers, siblings, or children. All too often what is being "glorified" is a rudimentary, primitive, or "crude" version of some elements of human life that by their very nature are intended to convey meaning and purpose, truth, goodness, and beauty, and to do so in the context of meaningful relationships oriented to their highest possible purpose; which is selfless, self-sacrificial, and self-bestowing love entirely oriented to the good and the final destiny of the other. 

There is a growing consensus that underneath it all there is a definite conspiracy out of hell to push completely out of the "screen" or out of our minds, imaginations, hearts, and spirits any hint of almighty God our Creator or Jesus, his Son, our Saviour, or the Holy Spirit, or love of neighbour.

All that remains is fascination of the senses... and anaesthesia of the mind and soul.... For the unwary, watching such spectacles leaves the senses satiated or saturated but the heart and soul empty and cold due to allowing one's mind, heart and soul to be distracted for the awesome presence and life-giving love of the Most Holy Trinity; who are always present to us....

It is perhaps on coincidence that the "Cirque du Soleil" was created in Québec, in a society where the reality and presence of God the Creator has been entirely evacuated from the public square, along with any meaningful consideration of the human drama and our ultimate destiny.

That is what makes classic novels, stories, by Charles Dickens and films portraying them, for example, and other creative works of art so significant and meaningful as well as beautiful and "entertaining"....

So, perhaps we are being given all these challenges as opportunities for us to "keep awake" as Jesus often said, and to become more deliberate in our choices, moment by moment throughout our days and nights, regarding all that "comes our way"; in order be not be passive but rather active in selecting with careful discernment what we "allow through the gates" of our senses into our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls. In this way, we can at the same time be more deliberate in attending to the divine Presence of the Three Divine Persons in the Most Holy Trinity; who in turn are here to help us be more attentive, loving, and caring to one another... and even towards enemies. 

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Human sexuality - gift of God which, used otherwise skews our vision, but used in accord with His plan, calibrates our vision to blessedness


 The most casual observer notes that our human sexuality is at the center of life or even dominates our existence on this Earth of Men and Women. In the very midst of this worldwide Covid-19 Pandemic in transition from 2020 to 2021, we can also note developing around us a multiplicity of views, attitudes, "styles", policies, and even definitions of human sexuality.

Facing this veritable chaos, a question demands to be answered by this generation as it has always done to human beings in the past: "Is there or is there not a Creator God?" immediately followed by the further question: "Subsequently, if a Creator God exists; then what about us in regards to Him?"

NO, THERE IS NEITHER GOD NOR CREATOR

To start off, let's explore what in our day has perhaps become or is becoming the dominant opinion around the world. No, God doesn't exist and there is no Creator. OR There may be a god but he is insignificant. In this category of human perspective, we are all of us - we the human beings living on planet Earth in the Sol star system - alone in life. There is no God, nor any Creator; therefore there is no plan or "design" for our being or for our life.

All opinions are of equal value and we must at all costs not impose anything on anybody. This position seems inspired by a "utopian" perspective by which one perceives or at least hopes to head towards a society, a world, a humanity in which there would be mutual and universal respect for one another. It is the beautiful dream of a perfect world. 

Hold on a minute! Let's wake up from this beautiful dream long enough to observe the reality around us but also the reality animating us within. Unless one is in total denial, one must admit that we are very far from this beautiful utopian dream for humanity and human life. What do we make of human dramas marked by suffering? How do we understand the crimes or faults, the departures from the objectives of this utopian destiny? What do we do with the delinquents who, disturbed, disturb others?

There is no avoiding the evidence that in a world without God, without a Creator, there remains only brute force that tries to manage to impose a certain order on this chaos. If the working definition of a god is "an all powerful being"; then in a world without god, the one in charge is the person who manages to impose on others one way or another by imposing on everyone: either by the power of ideas or by power itself. This situation condemns us to live in a whirlwind of opinions, each opinion as valid as any other; but this whirlwind is terrifying and devastating precisely because it is without universal principles, without laws of nature, without fundamental or absolute truths.

If a single person can't be "right"; then no one can be "right". If there is no truth existing outside of us; then all "truths" can claim to be equally valid, and no single truth can impose itself by its own light. A perspective, a world, a society, a humanity, a universe without god or creator is doomed to perpetual chaos and limitless wars - whether at the level of ideas or that of action.

YES, GOD EXISTS AND HE IS OUR CREATOR

A little depressing this perspective without god, isn't it? It's all the more serious if this is really and without any recourse our only true reality. However, to be fair, let's explore for a moment another perspective - notably the one that affirms that there is God, only one true God, and that He is our one and only Creator.

By definition, if a god existes, it must be all powerful; therefore it must be the one and only God. Going forward logically, God must necessarily be our Creator and the Creator of the Universe as we know it. Further, it would be illogical to postulate regarding God that He might be "less" than we are ourselves, we human beings with all of our faults.

For example, God could not possibly be a worse parent than us, than the best parent among us. As a "parent", God must necessarily be more just, more understanding, more patient, more loving, more expert for our formation, and more respectful of our freedom than the best parents are towards their own children.

Another example: God could not be a worse architect than us, than the best architects of all human history. We admire the best, the most beautiful, the most durable structures ever built in human history such as the pyramids, the Pantheon, the Parthenon, and so on.

In our day, even agnostic and atheist scientists find themselves admitting to the evidence - as they push beyond the limits of human knowledge in the domains of astronomy, astrophysics, biology, and other domains as well - that there is everywhere in the universe such a logic, such structures, such beauty, such complexity, and such a quantity of digital information embedded in the very nature of everything; that the being at the origin of all that exists must necessarily manifest unlimited intelligence, goodness, and extravagant generosity....


GOD OUR CREATOR HAS INSCRIBED HIS DESIGN IN OUR NATURE

According to the best that psychology and biology and other related anthropological sciences have to offer; human beings are not "fully equipped" for life until early adulthood, which does vary from one culture to another. All cultures agree though that human beings before puberty are still children, and the changes initiated in them by the process of puberty are the necessary developments that enable children to transition into adults; which of course would be in accord with their culture and society. 

DEVELOPMENT OF THE BODY IDENTITY

During pregnancy, the new human being grows and develops through stages at an exponential rate until all the necessary elements and organs are sufficiently developed for independent biological existence. After birth, during the initial year of life, the baby is all about its skin all over its body and its mouth. Everything goes into the mouth and it just loves being in the water. During this first stage of human growth and development in the world, each person spontaneously acquires and manifests one of two preferred ways of being in the world: passive / receptive OR active / captative. The first waits and expects to receive; while the latter "goes and gets" what it needs and wants. The preference remains with us for life and is by far "easier" for us; while the other "mode" requires effort every time. 

DEVELOPMENT OF THE DOER IDENTITY

Transitioning into the next phase - roughly between 12 and 30 months - the infant becomes a toddler propelling itself along the floor and through spaces with increasing speed and delight. Simultaneously, the toddler "handles" things, beginning to learn to "do things". The toddler begins to speak with more effectiveness and satisfaction and learns to make use of the toilet and even to leave diapers behind. The toddler begins to learn about rules and ways of being and doing "in this family" and "in this house". 

During this second stage of human growth and development in the world, each person spontaneously acquires and manifests on a different level one of two preferred modes of living itself: retentive OR eliminative. Initially, this preference arises during the toilet training stage, but it is a mode of living which generalizes itself to most if not all aspects of living: with cleanliness, but also with money, with other material objects, with doors and windows, with speech, and so on. As in the previous stage of development, the preferred "mode" remains with us for life and is by far "easier" for us; while the other "mode" requires effort every time. 

DEVELOPMENT OF THE INDIVIDUAL IDENTITY

Then, almost as if by magic, somewhere around 30 months - two and a half years of age - the toddler suddenly become an individual: "Me do it." "I can do it." "Let me." Initially, this declaration is more bravado that fact; since the child is merely beginning to learn to do a plethora of actions and tasks. The key here is in the emerging sense of individuality, of personhood, of human identity. This key change is to be heartily welcomed and encouraged. Another extremely important and life-changing development at this stage of life is the child's emerging ability to understand other dimensions of time, namely, the past and the future. Until now, when the parent was not visible or audible, it seemed as though that parent no longer existed. Now the child begins to understand that the parent can be in another room or even out of the house but still exist. The child also begins to understand the delay until tomorrow. The child's life becomes far more complex and of course richer. 

DEVELOPMENT OF THE PSYCHOSEXUAL IDENTITY

Now that the child has become an individual boy or individual girl, they look upon their parents with new eyes. The boy recognizes that he is like his father but unlike his mother, and he spontaneously wants to "shine" in her eyes. The girl recognizes that she is like her mother but unlike her father, and she spontaneously wants to "shine" in his eyes. Each child senses the same gender parent as "in the way" of their desire as a kind of competitor for the opposite gender parent's affections; which is generally believed to be the irritant at the source of the nightmares that crop up between the ages of 3 and 6. It is believed important for the same gender parent to console the nightmaring child and bring it back to its own bed; in this way developing more intimacy with the same gender parent and dispelling that parent's "threatening" quality. 

It is important for the child's further development to have a clear sense of being "like" one parent and "unlike" the other parent in terms of human sexuality. There is a myriad of variation in the qualities and characteristics pertaining to either gender, and many of these qualities and characteristics can belong to both; being as they are primarily human as opposed to masculine or feminine. 

As it happened during the first and second stages of human growth and development, each person is equipped by virtue of their gender to acquire and manifest now at this stage on a third level one of two preferred modes of being in relation to others: masculine / intrusive OR feminine / inclusive. In principle, this preference emerges gradually from the moment of conception, but it is a mode of living in the dimension of relating to others; which necessarily is affected by myriad other factors, not least of which is the family of origin and its relational and emotional environment. 

As in the first and second stages of human development, the "inherent or preferred mode" remains with us for life and is by far "easier" for us; while the other "mode" requires effort every time. However, if the boy's father is not kind or loving or admirable in any way, he may turn towards his mother and begin to "prefer" her feminine or inclusive mode of relating. Conversely with the girl who may turn towards her father and begin to "prefer" his masculine or intrusive mode of relating. 

The possibilities are almost endless, but one thing seems certain: the most effortless path is that of the child who makes itself at home in its biological gender and embraces it as the preferred way of being and relating to others. Having a solid sense of identify based in its own natural reality brings a sense of peace and greater ease in relating to others and to the world. One can then choose the other mode as and when it is necessary or useful; without losing or clouding one's own sense of sexual identity. Men tend to be more spontaneously intrusive and require effort to be more inclusive; vice versa, women tend to be more spontaneously inclusive and require effort to be more intrusive.  

DEVELOPMENT OF THE PSYCHOSOCIAL IDENTITY

As we can see, with the passage of time, the human person develops and emerges from within the original "sprout" which was the newborn infant; at each stage becoming more and more complex and developing more and more characteristics, abilities, skills, dimensions of temperament, colors of personality, preferences, and ways of being in the world and relating to others. By the age of six or so, the child is ready to "launch out into the world" and society. In most societies it is the age to start going to school and often to also begin learning a variety of skills relating to survival, trades, and hobbies. 

It is also the age for participating more actively and energetically in society. Initially, boys tend to gravitate to other boys, and girls to other girls. There is almost always some mixing and matching, but primarily, the boys need one another in order to further develop who they are as boys, just as the girls need one another in order to further develop who they are as girls. 

In their intrusive mode, boys often find fun in "poking" at the girls, teasing them, and generally "getting a rise out of them". Conversely, in their inclusive mode, girls often will "strutt their stuff" in the presence of boys, also teasing them, and generally testing their ability to "attact the boys' attention".  


THE REVOLUTION OF PUBERTY

Not too many would disagree with the observation that puberty effects a veritable revolution in the previously gentle and gradual development of the human being until the age of twelve or thirteen. The age varies in accord with any number of biological and socio-demographic variables, but generally speaking, most boys and girls begin to experience their body producing hormones disrupting their life and further developing physical attributes that until then remained receded or undeveloped. 

Boys experience new fascination with girls, experience rushes of masculine hormones in the company of girls, and initially don't know what to make of their newly erecting male member. In the absence of good formation and male mentoring, boys generally have recourse to their peers and to shady sources of information, and in our day - which is not only sad but tragic - to pornography. 

It makes perfect sense in the "grand design" of our human development that puberty and the revolution it stirs up should not happen until now, precisely at that moment when the boy child and girl child are at the apex of their human development and human skills pre-puberty. They are ready for the challenge of this new stage in their development, which becomes clearer when we consider the underlying purpose embedded in these changes.

THE COMPLEMENTARY CHALLENGES OF MANHOOD AND WOMANHOOD

FOR THE BOY / MAN

For the boy becoming a man, he won't actually be a man yet for at least a few more years. As this time goes by, the greater challenges of life that yet await him will require him to become capable of mastery over his own life. He will need to be able and willing to control his own impulses; lest he become a criminal, an alcoholic, a libertine, or any other perversion of a male human being obsessed only with his own self and cavalier about everyone else. Such a perverted male human being is a drain on society at best and a dangerous threat at worst. 

Many of the current ills of society derive precisely from men who lacked the essential male mentoring that would have put them on the path to further maturation as men and as fathers. In the absence of such male mentoring; they become phantoms of men and a danger to any who approach them. Failing to give the male support needed by their women companions, the children they engender grow up without a proper father and are at risk to become the next wave of irresponsible men and insecure women. 

It's not hard to understand how the period between puberty and adulthood for the young man allows for the passage of sufficient time in order to become "master of his own house", that is, to not only master his own human impulses, but further to develop his ability and willingness to be a good companion and support for the women friendships he develops. All this is in view of eventually finding the right partner for marriage and parenting for family life. 

FOR THE GIRL / WOMAN

For the girl becoming a woman, she won't actually be a woman yet for at least a few more years as well. As this time goes by, the greater challenges of life that yet await her will require her to develop her innate capacity to give and to nurture life, which is the peculiar "genius of woman". It is easier for girls in large families to "test their abilities" by helping to nurture and take care of younger siblings. Some girls practice their skills by babysitting their neighbors' children or younger cousins. Unless girls have proper female mentors; they are at risk to enter into a kind of "perpetual adolescence" in which they become obsessed with their own appearance, the satisfaction of their own desires, and get caught up in never-ending competitiveness with their peers. 

A different dynamic which can be equally destructive is that by which woman let themselves be drawn into competitiveness with men on the merry-go-round of careerism in business and public service. As they are forced to enter into male dominated tracks, they can lose sight of their own nature and calling as women; which can be very disorienting and personally destructive. 


THE MALE / FEMALE COMPLEMENTARITY DESIGNED BY GOD

It is no coincidence that in its western origins marriage has been called "matrimony", which translates literally as "the burden of the mother". It is also why the woman is called the bride and the man is called the bridegroom. The Creator clearly put the focus on the woman who has within her an innate capacity to receive life, to cultivate life, to bring forth life, and to nurture that life to independence. It is a wonderful, beautiful, and extremely fulfilling task, but the Creator designed her to carry out her call and mission in the company of and with the support of her chosen man, her husband, and the father of their children. He is called bridegroom because his calling initially and for the long term is to "groom" or care for his wife, the mother of their children. 

Parenting deepens a man's sense of fatherhood by constantly pushing him beyond his limits today to discover wider expanses and depths of meaning and character within himself; that he is then called to manifest in the world in support of his wife and the mother of their children and also to assist her in raising their children and in working with her to mentor them. By supporting his wife, cherishing her and loving her, he demonstrates to all their children what it means to be a man and the inestimable value that the woman their mother has. 

Parenting deepens a woman's sense of motherhood by constantly pushing her beyond her limits today to discover wider expanses and depths of meaning and character within herself; which she is called to manifest in the world as she nurtures their children, works with her husband to mentor them, and supports her husband and the father of their children. By supporting her husband, respecting him and loving him as she nurtures and raises them; she demonstrates to all their children what it means to be a woman and the inestimable value that the man their father has. 

The more we study the nature and possibilities of womanhood and manhood, and of motherhood and fatherhood; the more clearly there emerges a distinctive design of complementarity between women and men. While single parent women or men actually do accomplish wonders in single-handedly raising children; nevertheless, even these rely on and benefit from the support and assistance of parents and extended family and even friends and neighbors. If it is true that it takes a village to raise a child; then the presence and active participation of a mother and a father are all the more indicated. In fact, until recently tons of studies had been done on the role of the mother; it is only in the past few decades that increasingly more studies have been done on the role and contribution of the father. The previous conviction that the father's presence and role were superfluous is increasingly being disproven. 

WHAT ABOUT CASUAL OR "RECREATIONAL" SEX?

The least that can be said about human sexuality is that it is a power. Like any power, it can be used in accord with its inherent nature and purpose or it can be used in uncharacteristic or unusual ways. Men and women can play at "seducing" others for the perverse pleasure of "conquest" and the associated "pleasure of the hunt". Others may simply opt to indulge in sexual activity for the inherent pleasure of arousal and the related "climax". However, it is not difficult to find consensus on the fact that trivial sex supplies no lasting satisfaction. More significantly, casual sex works against the natural process of human development and maturation; in effect imprisoning the casual sexual activitst in a perpetual state of adolescence, with its incapacity to find or give meaning to life, or to engage in deep relationships. 

Life for people on this path is a battlefield littered with casualties and corpses of the vanquished. There are no lasting or deep friendships here, but only the sad companionships of those who share the battle. How do people end up as casualties on such battlefields? It seems to generally begin with the absence of proper mentors and the initially innocent curiosity which, without mentoring, becomes fascination and then obsession. Engaging in sexual exploration "in the shadows" is fraught with danger, all the more so because our human sexuality is a genuine "power" which is by its very nature oriented to the good of giving life. In the original design by the Creator of the marriage between one woman and one man, this power is a mutual giving of life through love, which then extends the life-giving power to all those generated by their union and loving friendship.   

WHAT ABOUT PORNOGRAPHY AND SEXUAL ADDICITONS?

In the Creator's original design of human beings in a complementary "dual nature" as woman and men, what emerges as of foremost importance is their mutual ability to "see one another" as persons. This was eloquently and beautifully, artistically expressed by Director James Cameron in his blockbuster movie "Avatar" when he has the Navi people greet one another with the expression "I see you!" as they mutually gaze deeply into one another's eyes. See here for a reflection on the process of eroticization.

The trouble with casual sex, sexual play, pornography, and sexual addictions - in fact with any and all uses of our human power of sexuality outside of the loving relationship of husband and wife - is that we risk allowing our eyes and our spirits to wander away from contemplating in love one another's unique personhood and dignity; in order to divert our attention to one another's body parts for the "thrill" that the sight of them can generate within us. By then, the other is already no longer a person with all their dignity, but merely reduced to an object of my desire for my own pleasure. You no longer exist for your own sake or with your own value and dignity, but you are reduced to an object. Herein lies the tragedy.

As in any addiction, it is very difficult if not impossible for a person to get off that merry-go-round by oneself alone. As pornography has exponentially developed and "infected" tens and hundreds of thousands of people; simultaneously, God has raised up public service minded people to develop and offer help for all those who wish to be free of addiction and be restored to the original design and purpose of their human sexuality in the context of a well-balanced sense of identity and dignity. 

WHAT ABOUT GENDER DYSPHORIA OR À LA CARTE GENDER IDENTITY?

If you pay attention to the tons of ink that has been spilled and of saliva that has been expended in the defense of "different or alternative" views of human sexuality that would "discover" or "create" or "set free" or "design" any number of alternative "genders"; what these pretty much all have in common is that they are all "about ME". Throughout human history, the highest human ideals have almost always been about selflessness. The heroes have been those who put themselves at the service of others or of the common good, and who even risk or lay down their lives for others. By contrast, the "lobbies" that champion alternative sex or genders are lobbying governments to lay down laws to coerce the rest of society to conform to their "specific interests" and go so far as to forbid anyone with gender dysphoria from obtaining the benign therapy they need and seek in order to find interior peace and harmony.

The writing is on the wall and is clearly discernible for anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear; as Jesus is quoted as having said some two millennia ago. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Even children are impelled by the Holy Spirit to go out with Jesus as missionary disciples



We had a wonderful "Parish Vitality" conference today... thanks be to God the Father, Jesus Our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, guiding us.... Archbishop of Gatineau Paul-André Durocher gave us a wonderful conference based on his 2019 book "Called By Name, Sent in His Name: Reflections on an Outward-Bound Church." 

A lovely couple in a local family movement group are parents of a six-year-old girl. She is so enthusiastic about God: the Father and Jesus and the Holy Spirit; that she has been talking about God with her classmates at school. However she has been distressed with meeting fierce opposition from kids her age who disagreed with her in various ways about Jesus, saying to her: no he isn't real, or he never existed, or he isn't God, or you're stupid, and so on. 

This little girl definitely has a fiery relationship with God the Father in Jesus and is filled with burning divine love in the Holy Spirit according to her age, but she isn't yet fully "aware" of this in herself. As a result she has not yet learned how to "let God shine" through her and simply share her joy in peace and love which she knows she is receiving from God. 

Sooner or later most Catholic Christian parents will experience something similar with their children, either in their childhood or teenage or young adulthood; whenever their offspring become "taken up" with divine love in their own relationship with God. The challenge of this girl's parents at present is to coach her and help her understand that she is radiant, filled with the presence and the love of God; that because of God's presence she is never alone, but God is always with her, the Most Holy Trinity.

It is not her "job" to convince anyone; so she doesn't need to argue with her classmates who disagree with her, or to contradict or disprove what they say to her to oppose or rebut her. All she has to do is to continue to remain close to God, let God fill her with divine love, and be radiant: sharing with anyone who wants to listen how she knows Jesus and how she knows that she is loved by God the Father and by Jesus and by the Holy Spirit... of course, in accord with her age and ability to understand and to express what she already knows, feels, and experiences of God and his love for her and her family. 

This child's faith is authentic. Seeing her parents regularly go to confession, now at the age of six she asked to also have a confession, outside of and in advance of her preparation process in her parish. She wanted to meet Jesus in this way now and did not want to wait any longer. Her parents were supportive, knowing that she understands and was making a serious request. Thankfully they are connected to a priest who knows the family and was willing to welcome the child, to listen to her, and to see whether indeed she was ready to meet Jesus in Reconciliation; which she experienced as a great joy.

There are undoubtedly other children out there who, like this little girl, have many such experiences of Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit. Any who are impelled by the Holy Spirit to "go out" to others need to be coached; so they can simply relate their experiences with others. The "divine fire" wants to communicate itself to others, but if it is "covered up and jealously guarded" for too long, or the young are discouraged from sharing their faith out of the fear of the parents regarding potential opposition or persecution; then the winds of opposition will eventually threaten to snuff it out.

In the case of this little girl, if any of her classmates show interest and desire to also experience what she has experienced; then she can propose simple ways for them to open themselves up, to pray and call on God on their own as well as by praying together. Her parents and other disciple families they know can help her to learn how to pray with others and, if they are interested and want help, to lead them by the hand and introduce them to the Most Holy Trinity; knowing that God always does the rest and enters into a personal relationship with those who want this and are well disposed. She also needs to realize that God always remains mysterious to human beings in spite of the graced interior experiences of "light, warmth, presence, peace, love, and joy." It is right and good that God, the Divine Being, remains mysterious; after all, we remain mysterious to ourselves our whole life long. 

In a nutshell, I relate this experience of a six-year-old missionary disciple to illustrate one of our greatest challenges as a missionary Church, which is to put in place ways, means, and people to offer coaching in very practical ways to help people in their desire to actually "go out" to others and let the Most Holy Trinity "shine divine light" through them to others. It is crucial to coach enthusiastic disciples in their outreach; lest strong and protracted opposition snuff out their fiery flame of love and zeal for God. Too many such flames have already been snuffed out, but the Holy Spirit is ever ready and eager to fan the flames into a blazing divine fire within them once again.

Decades ago missionaries in India were told by devout Catholics that - although they were following Jesus - they were still going to Hindu or Buddhist gurus because they taught and coached people "how to pray"; whereas the missionaries did not do any of that but tended to focus only on liturgy, catechesis, sacraments, and works of mercy for social justice. This remains one of our greatest challenges and explains in part why our people have become "formed" over centuries NOT to GO OUT to others but only COME IN to their church for nourishment.... As Jesus sent out his disciples "two by two"; so we also need to provide for disciples to have "company on the road" of faith. 

The captain of the Titanic realized more than ever and to a tragic degree how difficult it is to turn a large ship on the ocean; so likewise is it difficult now for us to change our personal and ecclesial ways of being and doing. However, we are "in the yoke" with Jesus and, by the will of the Father, it is Jesus and the Holy Spirit who "do the heavy lifting". All we need to do is to "get with the program" and offer God our weakness, fragility, sinfulness, resistance, and fear, and the Lord will continue his work of transformation in and through us; that God may be glorified in each and every one of us, our families, and our parish faith communities. Like Peter, if we want to "walk on the water", Jesus will say "Come!" We are called to "make that leap of faith and trust."

Peace to one and all and to your families.

                                                   Pax + Caritas,       Fr. Gilles

Thursday, October 22, 2020

The Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, and Lawyers are at it again, only this time, instead of going after Jesus it's Pope Francis!

The nitpickers are at it again. This time it's articles covering the launch of a new Italian film on Pope Francis called "Francesco"; only it's not about him but about the many troubles and issues in the world about which Pope Francis cares a great deal such as: "the environment, poverty, migration, racial and income inequality, and the people most affected by discrimination". He cares about these issues because he cares about people; as well he should as Pope and as well we should, especially those of us who claim to be Christian.

I don't know about you but I for one am becoming not a little irritated at all those apparently so eager or taking such pleasure in attacking Pope Francis because he doesn't go through a litany of condemnations against every human evil imaginable - especially these people's pet peeves regarding "sexual sins" every time he opens his mouth. For people with this mindset everything has got to be black and white. They would have been the first to throw stones at the woman caught in the very act of adultery that the religious leaders brought to Jesus to trap him up over what to do with her. John 8 

The Mosaic Law was abundantly clear: such people must be stoned to death; however, not only the woman but also the man. Where was the man? If they caught her "in the very act of adultery" then there must have been a man. Why did they only bring the woman to Jesus? No doubt that the "one" who caught her in the act was the man himself, but on perceiving that one or more witnesses were about to catch them he decided to switch roles to that of accuser. 

Why did the woman not denounce him? Probably because women are more loving than men generally and it appears she chose to face the accusations alone rather than implicate him. Typical feminine selflessness versus typical male selfishness, and we know what the outcome would have been had Jesus not outsmarted the religious leaders who took on the role of Satan, "the accuser of mankind". 

If Jesus knew that one of those accusers was probably the man who committed adultery with her, since Jesus could read people's minds and hearts, why then did He not denounce the man? Instead he just "wrote in the dirt with his finger".... You see what God is like? He doesn't accuse; rather He gives us time to realize our fault so we can have the credit of changing our own mind and heart. John tells that the men - probably reluctantly because they were looking forward to making and example of the woman and stoning her to death - slowly dropped their stones and walked away, beginning with the eldest. Why the eldest? Because they had lived long enough to have realized by now that they were sinners too; whereas the younger men may still have needed to learn this hard lesson. It is much easier to accuse others than to admit our own sins. The truth is very painful; which is why God is so gentle. 

Well the religious leaders were furious with Jesus showing this woman gentleness and mercy, even forgiving her sins, and letting her go in peace. Why did these religious leaders have Jesus killed? Because he had the temerity to act friendly with known sinners when, in their view, he should have been accusing and condemning them. The ones who are most eager to insist on the full measure of the Law being carried out are generally the ones who have the most to hide; so they try to appear just and righteous themselves in the eyes of others by becoming the loudest accusers. 

So what as Pope Francis big "crime" this time? It wasn't even anything recent that he said or did, but a remark he made over a year ago in an recorded interview which didn't get televised at the time. This time for the sake of the film "Francesco", since the issue of homosexual unions came up, they used that bit of recorded interview. Here's what he said: "Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God... You can't kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered." 

What is so terribly wrong about what Pope Francis said in that previous interview? Those who attack Pope Francis do so because they can't stand the possibility that anyone might "be getting away with anything"... perhaps they might want "to get away with some things" but if they can't; then they don't want anyone else "to get away with anything" either. I won't go so far as to insinuate that Pope Francis' accusers are hypocrites, but it appears they would want the Pope - every time he opens his mouth - to rime off a list of condemnations of people who do all the things that they find bothersome. 

There were times in the past when the Church was a lot heavier on the "accusing and condemning" side of things. At the Second Vatican Council, the Holy Spirit reminded the Church that Jesus came to bring the Good News that: 

"Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God." John 3:14-21 

As a result, since Vatican II the Roman Catholic Church has been rediscovering how to carry on the mission entrusted to her by Jesus, namely, to proclaim the Good News that we are to repent because the Kingdom of God is at hand. As Mark reported it in 1:15, Jesus went about declaring: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." Now Jesus did continue to proclaim this Good News in many ways, mostly be telling parables. Why did He do that? Because He knew, as his Father in Heaven knows, that we're a wretched bunch of sinners and we're generally not ready to repent completely... we need more time... until the day when our time is up.

Jesus never went around grabbing people by the scruff of the neck to yell into their faces: "Hey you! Don't you know what you're doing is wrong... it's against THE LAW! You're breaking one or more of the ten commandments; so STOP IT!" Jesus never does that... Satan is the one who goes around accusing everyone. Check out the Book of Job and you will find that it is Satan who does the accusing. 

You might turn around and argue that Jesus did accuse the religious leaders... so what about that? Yes, Jesus did accuse them, but only because they were HYPOCRITES who pretended to observe the Law so that people would admire them, but in their hearts, they didn't really love God and they hated their neighbours and had nothing but contempt for the poor and those who manifested some external signs that they might be in a sinful condition, or at least that they weren't observing the whole Law.

As if that wasn't bad enough, these Pharisees and Sadducees, Scribes and Lawyers made sure to impose the full weight of the Law on the people, especially on the poor and wretched whose hard lives made it impossible for them to keep the whole Law, and they refused to lift a finger to do anything to try to alleviate these burdens on God's people. Well their behaviour really stirred up in Jesus the wrath of God because He is a jealous God out of love and tenderness for his people, much like a mother springs to action whenever her children are threatened with harm. 

Saul was a Pharisee just like the ones who had Jesus killed and he fully approved and supported the stoning of the Deacon Stephen, our first Christian martyr. Saul went on a rampage to wipe out all the Christians he could lay his hands on until Jesus stopped him in his tracks. Once Jesus appeared to Saint Paul and he realized the error of his way of thinking. From then on, Paul preached it is impossible for us to make ourselves just before God by attempting to keep the whole Law. The Good News that Jesus brought is that God offers to CONSIDER US JUST if only we are willing to believe in Jesus his Son and to admit our sinfulness and poverty and do our best to accept his grace to repent, to change our lives, to turn away from our sinful ways and try to live as children of God. 

How do children of God behave? Jesus commanded us to love God with our whole self and to love our neighbor as our self. He even went further and commanded us: "Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you." Luke 6:27 Well, we certainly aren't loving our neighbor or our enemies by going around trying to "pin the tail on the donkey" for everyone who may behave in ways we don't approve or in ways we consider contrary to THE LAW.

Pope Francis' many accusers just can't stand it when he makes statements like the one he said on a plane 3 or 4 years ago in answer to a question from a journalist about homosexual unions: "Who am I to judge?" That one really sticks in their craw because they want CONDEMNATIONS. Actually Pope Francis' stance in the face of homosexuals or anyone else who may or may not be in a state of sin is the correct stance we should all adopt. Only God has the competence and clarity of vision to judge justly and mercifully. Of course society must have laws and police and courts and judges for the sake of a minimum of law and order. Check out what Saint Paul wrote to the Romans about judging (Rm 2).

However, when it comes to sexual morality, it's not only sexual behaviours that God would take into consideration but also the lives that people are living. Let's put it this way. A married man who has violent sexual relations with his wife, in effect raping her every time, will be judged far more harshly that two men or two women who are in a long term civil union by which they care for each other with tenderness and do their best to live good lives and possibly raise their children. 

No one is condoning expressions of human sexuality that are in discord with God's plan for marriage; however, when God looks at us, He doesn't only see our behaviour, but He looks deeply into our mind, heart, and soul as well as our body. Only God is competent and qualified to judge. We are not to compare ourselves to others or our behaviour to theirs; rather, we are to compare ourselves to Jesus, who is our model. 

Take another example. One day the religious leaders disputed with Jesus over what authority he was claiming by teaching the things He taught. He replied with a question of his own, but they refused to answer; so Jesus told them that tax collectors and prostitutes were entering the kingdom of heaven ahead of them. That really stuck in their craw. 

Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.“Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him." Matthew 21:23-27, 31-32 

Another dimension overlooked by Pope Francis' accusers is that our human society, humanity, isn't identical to the Kingdom of God. Our society is not a theocracy with God as King and everyone on Earth as subjects. Yes, we Christians believe that Jesus is in truth King of the Universe, but not all human beings know or accept that truth yet. Jesus is not the kind of King who goes around clobbering anyone who doesn't kneel down on sight. Remember how He behaved on the day He died? He went quietly, not shouting, not defending himself, quietly, like a Lamb to the slaughter. He loved even his accusers and tormentors and refused to raise his voice against them; letting them have as much time as possible to come to their senses on their own and realize what they had done. 

Islamic countries that abide by Sharia Law from the Qu'ran are in effect theocracies, societies regulated by religious law. If you are caught stealing, they cut off your hand. If you do it again they cut off your foot, and so on. Perhaps Pope Francis' accusers would want him to do something along those lines and condemn all the people whose behaviours these accusers don't like. These are not the Lord's ways.

Pope Francis is teaching us that civil society must have its laws for the common good. Under those laws he said that it would be good for two men or two women living together to have a civil union; so that they would be "covered" by civil law, like everyone else who tries to establish and live in a family. 

Those of us who claim to be Christians and try to follow Jesus and live as children of God live by a different set of "rules" which are actually more demanding. Jesus came to fulfill the Law by raising it to a higher standard: "Love one another as I have loved you." Are we ready to lay down our lives for those in homosexual households? Or for our enemies? Jesus did. He laid down his life for us, and we're all a pretty rough and tumble bunch of hard-hearted sinners. It's difficult to follow Jesus, in fact, it's humanly impossible; which is why we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. We cannot save ourselves, but we can accept Jesus as our Saviour, confess our sins daily, and allow the Holy Spirit to fill us and makes us every day a little more like Jesus, a little more like Pope Francis!