Faith and Life

Family is the Permanent Catechumenate that the Sacrament of Marriage Needs

Pope Francis, in union with the overwhelming majority of Catholic bishops, priests, deacons, and lay faithful, has a deeply pastoral concern about the current state of marriage. In a recent address to students at a marriage and family life course in Rome, the Holy Father called for a permanent catechumenate for the sacrament of marriage, noting that “marriage is not just a ‘social’ event, but a true sacrament that involves an adequate preparation and a conscious celebration…the marriage bond, in fact, requires an engaged choice on the part of the engaged couple, which focuses on the will to build together something that must never be betrayed or abandoned.”

By calling for a permanent catechumenate, Pope Francis rightly recognizes that, for whatever reasons, couples are not being adequately prepared for marriage. In the short weeks or months that couples are required to meet with their pastor and take the required marriage preparation program, they receive crash courses in Sacramental Theology, practical “adulting” habits (basic finances and interpersonal skills, for example), and the moral and mechanical aspects of the human reproductive system. This is a lot to expect two people to understand and permanently incorporate into their worldview during a brief period of instruction.

It is interesting to note that the Holy Father appears to emphasize the instructional nature of a potentially permanent catechumenate on marriage:

So many times the ultimate root of the problems that come to light after the celebration of the sacrament of marriage is to be found not only in a hidden and remote immaturity suddenly exploded, but above all in the weakness of the Christian faith…the more the journey of preparation is deepened and extended in time, the sooner the couples will learn to correspond to the grace and strength of God and will also develop the ‘antibodies’ to face the inevitable moments of difficulty and fatigue of married and family life.

Taking his words at face value it is reasonable to conclude that the Pope’s vision for a permanent catechumenate of the sacrament of marriage would look something like a subject-specific RCIA program: robust pre-sacramental instruction and a period of post-sacramental mystagogia.

If that is the intention, it is, in all charity, a misguided solution. In the US, the general consensus among lay faithful about the Church’s marriage preparation programs is one of aggravated tolerance: bureaucratic red-tape and hoop-jumping are common descriptors. Certain outside-the-box initiatives, such as pairing engaged couples with long-time married couples for formation, seem to meet with some success, but have the double effect of accentuating the deficiencies of the predominant programmatic models.

But his use of the word “catechumenate” is curious, and worth careful consideration. In Church history, the catechumenate was an extended period of formation before admittance to the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion. Once initiated, the faithful supported each other in living out their witness to the faith they were formed in. Following that model, a catechumenate for the Sacrament of Marriage would include the same elements: a long period of formation before admittance to the sacrament, and post-sacramental communal support to live in witness to the theological, pastoral, and practical realities of the initiated.

That sounds a lot like the role of family.  holyfamily

Family is the primary formative environment. Our earliest and deepest impressions of marriage come from watching our parents, our aunts and uncles, and our grandparents. The significant theological connections between marriage, Christ and the Church, and the communion of Persons in the Holy Trinity are either cemented or contradicted in our sub-conscious depending on how early and often these things are spoken of and embodied in family life.

In Familiaris consortio, Saint John Paul II contemplated the immense value of the family to the Church and a life of faith. Calling it the “Domestic Church,” the saint expanded on his own profound declaration to the Church in Australia that “as the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.” Whether intentional or not, Pope Francis’ call for a permanent catechumenate for the sacrament of marriage circles back to the unique role of the family in the life of the Church and her long tradition of defending and articulating that irreplaceable value.

That brings us to the reality of the current crisis in marriage. The Church does have a long and beautifully articulated tradition in regards to marriage and the family, but somewhere along the line the natural family unit drifted from the larger parish family, and ceased to authentically imitate the divine image. In short, what is preached ceased to be practiced. We could call it a spiritual divorce of sorts; the mutual gifts of natural- and community-family ceased to reciprocate in imitation of God himself. The family, at every Christian level, is not acting in conformity with the truth of Divine Revelation.

What can the Church do to reconcile herself as a family and address the crisis surrounding the Sacrament of Marriage? She can prioritize the following:

Consistency of theological instruction: For those involved in marriage preparation, does the program or personal counsel prioritize the theological richness of marriage? Is the majority of a participant’s time spent contemplating how his or her participation in the sacrament will manifest the truth about God himself? Is the joy and excitement of this reality consistently infused into the formal preparations?

The institutional Church making an authentic reinvestment in families: Prioritize funds for family programs and activities like schools, sports, and clubs. Many families want to donate their time, talent, and treasure to support parish sports and a parochial school. A lack of personal funds are a detriment for some lay faithful, but for many, seeing the institutional Church prioritize funding for institutional needs over family-focused initiatives is a painful blow that encourages personal disengagement.

Prioritize a familial environment in small ways as well. Make it a point to highlight important milestones in the life of parish families: births, baptisms, weddings, and anniversaries (include Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders!). Welcome newcomers and visitors personally. Publicly support the presence of small children and special needs persons in all aspects of parish activity.

Co-dependent with this is a revitalization of the institutional Church to her apostolic and pastoral roots. The lay faithful yearn for shepherds who are simple, honest, joyful, and trustworthy, as Christ himself is. Be that for us.

The lay faithful making an authentic reinvestment in the Catholic faith and the Church as a second home and family: Go to Mass every Sunday. Get involved in parish groups and activities. If there is a need, fill it. Get to know the priests and fellow parishioners. Attend formation classes and Bible studies. Be the family that the larger Church family needs us to be.

Catechesis · Resources · Uncategorized

Authentic Love and Morality Courses from the O’ahu Faith Formation Conference 2018

On June 22-23, I had the privilege of participating in my first faith formation conference as a facilitator. It was a blast! I had students from high-school age to golden years, and their thoughtful questions and comments during our time together was as humbling and informative to me as I hope my courses were for them.

If you are interested in either of these topics, feel free to download the PDF for the course. It is nothing fancy, and they are designed for beginner and beginner-intermediate adult audiences, but is an excellent resource for you to use in your own formation or your particular ministry. If you are short on time, my articles on complementarity and teaching the virtues will help you get your feet wet.

I always welcome feedback, so if there is something more you’d like to see please let me know! I will give you advance warning: the Authentic Love course is a first draft of a larger project that I am partnering with the Diocese of Honolulu on, so expect that course to get a lot bigger, more in-depth, and a lot more fun!

My Beloved-Diocese of Honolulu

Moralia Course-Diocese of Honolulu

Catechesis

Teaching the Cardinal Virtues: All Fun, No Fuss

I am currently preparing to speak on two topics at a diocesan conference for the first time, ever! I’m a giddy mess of facts, anecdotes, and random tidbits of far-flung Church teachings that I am organizing as a coherent narrative for my audience. Oh, and one of the two topics is that perennial favorite: Catholic morality.

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My talk on morality is centered around conscience formation, and of course the cardinal virtues make an appearance. As I collected my thoughts and random points of doctrine and Scripture, I came up with a fun way to help students of all ages remember the cardinal virtues AND connect them to the 1st Commandment as found in Deuteronomy 6:5 and repeated by Christ in Luke 10:27; “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind.”

To help students remember the cardinal virtues, have them stand up straight with their arms out from their sides (like a cross). Point at each of the following as you explain: prudence is your head, where you reason out what brings you closer to or farther from God. Justice is at your chest, the “seat” of your soul which communicates God’s image and likeness. Fortitude is your feet, for it takes courage to take a step in the right direction. Temperance is your arms, which embrace what is good and push away what is not.

And how does that connect to the first of the Greatest Commandments? Fortitude, the heart: “Lord don’t let my heart fail me now.” Justice, the soul. Temperance, your strength to say “yes” to God and “no” to sin. And prudence, your mind.

What do you think of this little mnemonic? I see it being a fun way to get students of all ages engaged in Scripture, theology and practical morality without it being too heavy or boring, or having it be forgotten in a month. If you try this out, please let me know how it works for you!

Simple Things

Profound Quotables from BXVI’s “Jesus of Nazareth”

Long on my “need to read” list, I chose volume one of then-Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth for my Lenten reading, and finished it right after Easter began. The book shook me to my Church-nerd core, and I think my head exploded after every third page or so. For instance: offering evidence that Barabas the “thief” was truly a political rebel leader and therefore appeared more like the traditional messianic figure that Israel was expecting (hence why the people chose him over Jesus!). Or the implication that the “Our Father,” given to the disciples at their request to “pray as he does,” is literally the prayer that God the Son prays to/with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.

I love little details like this! But this holy and misunderstood servant of God was firing on all cylinders, and the results are as profound as they are Church-trivia worthy.

If you never read this book, or haven’t read it in a long time, I offer below my top 10 tabbed quotes for your enjoyment and reflection.

On the role of prophet:

His task is not to report on the events of tomorrow or the next day in order to satisfy human curiosity or the human need for security. He shows us the face of God, and in so doing he shows us the path that we have to take.

On the multiplication of loaves:

This miracle of the loaves has three aspects, then. It is preceded by the search for God, for his word, for the teaching that sets the whole of life on the right path. Furthermore, God is asked to supply the bread. Finally, readiness to share with one another is an essential element of the miracle. Listening to God becomes living with God, and leads from faith to love, to the discovery of the other. Jesus is not indifferent toward men’s hunger, their bodily needs, but he places these things in the proper context and the proper order.

On Jesus’ Third Temptation throughout history:

The Christian Empire attempted at an early stage to use the faith in order to cement political unity…The powerlessness of faith, the earthly powerlessness of Jesus Christ, was to be given the helping hand of political and military might. This temptation to use power to secure the faith has arisen again and again in varied forms throughout the centuries, and again and again faith has risked being suffocated in the embrace of power.

On the Beatitude of Mourning:

The mourning of which the Lord speaks is nonconformity with evil; it is a way of resisting models of behavior that the individual is pressured to accept because ‘everyone does it.’ The world cannot tolerate this kind of resistance; it demands conformity. It considers this mourning to be an accusation directed against the numbing of consciences. And so it is.

On the thirst and hunger for righteousness:

Does someone achieve blessedness and justification in God’s eyes…because he has declared his opinions and wishes to be norms of conscience and so made himself the criterion? No, God demands the opposite: that we become inwardly attentive to his quiet exhortation, which is present in us and which tears us away from what is merely habitual and puts us on the road to truth.

On a pious Rabbi’s struggle with Christ as “Lord of the Sabbath,” and how it confirms Jesus’ teachings:

Jesus understands himself as the Torah–as the word of God in person…[Rabbi Neusner] is concerned with the consequences of Jesus’ centrality for Israel’s daily life: The Sabbath loses its great social function. The Sabbath is one of the essential elements that hold Israel together. Centering upon Jesus breaks open this sacred structure and imperils an essential element that cements the unity of the People of God…Communion with [Jesus] is filial communion with the Father–it is a yes to the fourth commandment on a new level, the highest level. It is entry into the family of those who call God Father and who can do so because they belong to a ‘we’–formed of those who are united with Jesus and, by listening to him, united with the will of the Father, thereby attaining to the heart of obedience intended by the Torah.

On the “Our Father”:

The Our Father does not project a human image onto heaven, but shows us from heaven–from Jesus–what we as human begins can and should be like.

On the meaning of the divine name (“hallowed be thy name”):

God establishes a relationship between himself and us. He puts himself within reach of our invocation. He enters into relationship with us and enables us to be in a relationship with him. Yet this means  that in some sense he hands himself over to our human world. He has made himself accessible and, therefore, vulnerable as well. He assumes the risk of relationship, of communion, with us.

On why Jesus speaks in parables:

Jesus is not trying to convey to us some sort of abstract knowledge that does not concern us profoundly…He shows us God: not an abstract God, but the God who acts, who intervenes in our lives, and wants to take us by the hand. He shows us through everyday things who we are and what we must do. He conveys knowledge that makes demands of us; it not only or even primarily adds to what we know, but it changes our lives.

On the reaction of the Prodigal Son’s Brother and the temptation of the righteous:

…bitterness toward God’s goodness reveals an inward bitterness regarding their own obedience, a bitterness that indicates the limitations of this obedience. In their heart of hearts, they would have gladly journeyed out into that great ‘freedom’ as well. There is an unspoken envy of what others have been able to get away with. They have not gone through the pilgrimage that purified the younger brother and made him realize what it means to be free and what it means to be a son. They actually carry their freedom as if it were slavery and they had not matured to real sonship. They, too, are still in need of a path; they can find it if they simply admit that God is right and accept his feast as their own. In this parable, then, the Father through Christ is addressing us…encouraging us too to convert truly and to find joy in our faith.

Uncategorized

What I Wish Everyone Knew About Catholicism

Do you love everything about the Catholic Church? No? Then this is for you. Yes? This is still for you.

I’m not writing this to convert non-Catholics or make all Catholics theologians. All I want, all I really want, is for everyone to know a few basic things about Catholicism. If you hate the Church, I hope this will help you hate it less. If the Church scares you, I hope this helps alleviate your fears. If you love your faith, but have a hard time telling others why, I hope this helps you start that conversation.

1. The Church does not invent Her teachings.

A common misunderstanding about Catholicism is that ecumenical councils make Church doctrine. Encyclicals and Bulls as well. The Nicaean Councils are often portrayed as the beginning of the Church’s teachings on Jesus’ divinity and Trinitarian theology. Vatican I instituted papal infallibility. Humanae Vitae started the ban on artificial contraception. In fact, councils are the terminus for doctrinal development. Encyclicals and bulls are maybe halfway markers at best. Councils and papal writings only come after a deviation from the universal custom is introduced, spreads, and causes confusion among the faithful.

This misunderstanding comes, understandably, from the fact that not all Church doctrine is explicitly stated in Scripture. Catholicism is not a faith of literalism, however. There are many historical facts in Scripture, but Catholicism doesn’t presume that Jesus covered every single point of doctrine explicitly; just because it’s not named doesn’t mean its not waiting in the wings. Take infallibility for example. Catholicism offers specific Scriptural allusions to papal infallibility (Mt. 16:18; 28:18-20; Jn. 14, 15, 16; 1 Tim 3:14-15; Acts 15:28), but it’s not mentioned specifically. However, the early Church acted in a manner that shows papal infallibility existed in principle. Peter, and the bishops of Rome after him, acted as the deciding vote in all serious ecclesial matters. This was not forced on the other major sees like Alexandria and Constantinople–they willingly sought out Rome to end disputes authoritatively. It took almost three hundred years after Christ’s resurrection for the principle of papal primacy to be questioned. Not long before the divinity of Christ was brought into question, incidentally.

All of the “non-explicit” doctrines of the Church are considered theological conclusions: those that logically follow direct revelation. It is much like a flowering bulb. A bulb is a plain, simple thing, but contains much more than it seems. The flower that results at the end was always the intent of the bulb, despite the bulb not being beautiful, colorful, or waft a nice perfume. This is how the Church understands and approaches Her teachings: as a reality already in existence, if not fully sprouted at a particular time.

2. The Catholic Faith is a fundamentally positive one.

If you aren’t feeling guilty about something, you aren’t doing Catholicism right, right? At least that’s the stereotype that I remember from my Protestant childhood. The problem for me, however, was that when I looked into Catholicism I couldn’t find any real basis for the relentless association of the faith with guilt and negative reinforcement. For instance, did you know that of all the creation myths that exist only the one held by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is completely violence-free? And the fact of Jesus’ non-aggression against his detractors and executioners is a deliberate sign of consistency with this myth?

I think that a combination of the Old Testament being rule-heavy and how one is taught about the Incarnation has a great deal to do with Catholicism being perceived as largely guilt-inducing, negative, and condemning. There’s not much that can be done about the Old Testament being rule-heavy (and violent, to boot) other than put it into context. Not the context of its fulfillment in the New Testament, but in this fact: man is always the instigator of violence and negation in the Old Testament. God neither punishes nor judges a single soul without being severely provoked.

The Incarnation is a bit trickier. It’s possible to look at Jesus and dismiss His perfect human nature because, well, He’s God. Of course you would have a perfect human nature if you were united with God. But, ha ha, because Jesus took on human nature it automatically became united with God for all of us! That’s the point of the Incarnation. The Incarnation is proof that our fallen human natures can, in fact, be perfect too. This is why the Incarnation is central to Catholicism and the source we direct our hope to.

3. The Church is fundamentally pro-choice.

Don’t believe half of Catholic doctrine? That’s fine. Don’t think that its humanly possible (or even natural) to refrain from sex until marriage? Ok, then. That’s your choice, and its one that Catholicism insists you have the right to. Man’s free-will is an integral part of Catholicism, but its often overlooked because people are looking for the cultural version of free-will. Cultural pro-choice means being free to determine your own truth. I will believe what I feel is right, and respect your right to believe what you feel is true. This perspective is also why so many struggle with point number one above: truth has become subjective.

Catholicism doesn’t make truth. Catholicism doesn’t change truth. Catholicism only professes Truth, and stands at attention, waiting for your choice. Which brings me to my next point…

4. God does not condemn anyone to Hell.

God created man in his own image and likeness. Does it make sense that He would condemn a part of Himself? Jesus took on human nature so that we “may have life, and have it abundantly.” That doesn’t sound like someone who wants to throw you out in the cold, does it? The entire point of salvation history is salvation. Hell, or eternal damnation, is “the state of those who definitively reject the Father’s mercy…[Hell] is not attributed to God’s initiative because in his merciful love he can only desire the salvation of the beings he created. In reality, it is the creature who closes himself to [God’s] love. Damnation consists precisely in definitive separation from God, freely chosen by the human person and confirmed with death that seals his choice forever.”* Theologically speaking, this doctrine is a derivative from points 2 and 3.

The notion of God “condemning” anyone to Hell is a legacy of the early Protestant communities. The 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith states, “but the wicked, who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments.” Calvin professed the doctrine of predestination, where God determines a person’s eternal state independently of the person’s actions. Southern Baptists speak often of God’s judgment on sinners.

Hell is a popular appropriation of hate groups and bigots. Homosexuals are going to Hell, Black/Asian/Latino people are going to Hell, Muslims are going to Hell, even Christians are relegated to Gehenna simply for being. The reality of Hell is quite terrifying, and is also easy to use as a disciplinary tool. But these are bastardizations of what Hell means, of what it is. We all know this instinctively, which is why Westboro Baptist Church has yet to catch on in civilized society.

* * * * * * * *

I could go on and on about various theological points that are important, if not critical, to Catholicism, but I think these four points set the right tone for anyone who approaches the Catholic faith for any reason. What do you think?

*Quoted from Pope St. John Paul II’s General Audience on July 28, 1999.

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Teaching the Concept of Eternity to the Twitter Generation

My catechism lesson for this coming Sunday is an introduction to the Person of the Holy Spirit. This necessarily includes a discussion of the Blessed Trinity and how each Person relates within the whole. Which means big, clunky words. Begetting. Begotten. Procession. Spiration. My students are eleven and twelve, and I’m fairly certain that the extent of their Trinitarian knowledge is sparse: We call God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and they’re connected somehow. The doctrine of the Blessed Trinity is one of the most mysterious and difficult to grasp fully. It is also the single most important doctrine for understanding anything about everything else. And I have 45 minutes, maximum, to lay a solid foundation for the rest of their Catholic lives. No pressure, though.

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I think the most difficult thing to understand about the relationships of the Blessed Trinity and the language used to describe it is that it’s grounded in the concept of eternity. It’s hard for sixth graders to think long term as a general rule, but our entire culture is inculcating a prepubescent fixation on the short-term. Communication technology that gives us instant access to the global community is great. Fast cars are great. Expedited shipping from Amazon is great. It’s all great, but it’s turning mankind into permanent twelve-year-olds. For the average pre-teen, reality is based on the sensual, not the intellectual. Truth comes from what you see, what you feel, what you know through touching. The intellectual reflection that follows sensory input is perfunctory, not because this state is fundamentally stupid but because there is not enough time given over to considering one thing fully before the senses are assaulted by some new stimulus.

up_doug “Squirrel?”

This rapid-fire way of development is universal to this age-range in a human life, but our addictions to Twitter, 24-hour news, and Candy Crush are symptomatic of the fact that somehow, in the crush of human progress, mankind started putting petal to metal before remembering to check if the brakes worked. I think, in this era of individualism and instant-gratification, we have become so conditioned to moving so rapidly that our concept of eternity, and metaphysics in general, can only reach as high as empiricism. And frankly, the tighter man limits the concept of eternity the harder it is to justify and maintain any moral system, let alone that which comprises two-thirds of Church teaching.

Arguments against marriage equality, the incompatibility of the ethical-political system of Libertarianism with Catholicism, opposing the death penalty and assisted suicide, and many other modern ethical issues we Catholics are obligated to defend all stem from the concept of eternity that is rooted in the Blessed Trinity. How, then, do we understand and convey the concept of eternity in the Blessed Trinity to the Twitter Generation? I think I’ll start with St. Augustine…

Give love. Get love. Never stop doing either.