Saturday, December 29, 2012

Why Every Woman Should be a Mother and Every Man a Father

Motherhood is one of those indispensable positions.  We really can't do without it.  The same is true of fatherhood.  Catholics hold that every child has a right to a mother and a father.  Although some instances make this impossible, outside of anyone's control, to purposefully deprive a child of either parent is to violate their rights and to act contrary to their dignity.  We each begin life as a child, with a calling to be sons and daughters.  As we grow older we gain a new vocation, to be mothers and fathers.  This is universal to every person who has ever or will ever live.
      A vocation is a calling, it is what you are called to be.  We each have many vocations.  Some people are called to be priests, they have a priestly vocation.  Some people are called to be doctors, having a medical vocation.  Every little boy is called to be a son and every little girls is called to be a daughter.  As we travel through life we discover ever more vocations.  Our very first vocation is to be children and we never grow out of our vocations, for heaven belongs to such as these.
      Vocations are never callings to receive, they are always callings to give, to the gift of self.  As children we gave ourselves in trust and obedience.  We trusted our parents and teachers to guide us and so we obeyed them.  In so doing we gave up our own desires and gave ourselves over to them.  As adults we gained a new calling, to be more than children, to be parents.  Every man is called to be a father and every woman is called to be a mother.  Not necessarily a biological father or mother.  If this were it would make life awkward for Catholic nuns and monks and priests.  It would also be very unfair to those men and women who can't have children.
      Nevertheless, all men and women are called to a type of motherhood or fatherhood.  We are called to give ourselves to those who may find themselves under our authority, to be worthy of the trust they are called to place in us, to guide for their sake and not for our own.  This is the servant leadership Christ taught us. We so often think that having the position of power entitles us to privilege and honor, it makes us better than those we have authority over, but Christ came as one who serves.  You see, the essence of God is love and the essence of love is humility, to place another before ourselves.  This is the essence of being a parent, to wield whatever power you may have for the good of another.
      The president may think he is the ruler of the free world, but the truth is your parish priest has more real power in his pointer fingers and thumbs than the United States President has in the whole of his office.  However, the priest does not seek to force his will on others or enrich himself at their expense.  Rather, he pledges himself to poverty, chastity and obedience.  In his voice is found the greatest power ever bestowed on mortal man, and yet he does not benefit from it in the slightest.  He wields it only for the good of others.  This is why we call him father.
      Within the womb of a woman is found another great power.  The power to bring forth life.  A man is necessary for the first fifteen minutes or so, but after that his involvement is more or less voluntary.  It is within the woman's womb that this new life finds incarnation, where it is nurtured for nine months, where the mother literally gives herself to her child, providing it with her own nutrients and sheltering it within her own body.  The relationship between a mother and child for that first year of life is the purest embodiment of what it means to be a mother.
      Within the Church we find nuns and religious sisters, women who have pledged themselves to be be the mothers of the world.  They give themselves to God in the three vows or solemn promises of poverty, chastity and obedience.  In this way they give themselves not only to God, but to us as well.  Although they will never be biological mothers to anyone they become spiritual mothers to all.
      To give ourselves in love, for the good of others, is to find the meaning of our existence.  For adults, this means to be a parent.  Sometimes to our own biological children, sometimes by adoption and sometimes to some person we have never met before and may never see again.  This willingness to be a parent is more than just something we do on occasion, it is a state of being.  You don't get to be a mom or a dad on a part time basis.  Every moment of every day must contain the willingness to be a parent to whomever may have need of us. 
      This is part of the reason the Church opposes contraception.  When we create physical barriers to pregnancy in the midst of sexual union we close ourselves off from our purpose of self giving love, from being moms and dads.  Even Natural Family Planning can be contrary to God's will for us if it is done from a desire to avoid having kids.  That is, NFP can be done for the sake of being a better parent to those who are already here.  Neither it nor any other form of birth control should be used for the purpose of avoiding our parent vocations. 
      Every woman is called to be a mother and every man is called to be a father.  Sometimes we get to be mothers and fathers to our own kids.  Sometimes God has other plans for us.  Sometimes we only get to embrace this love for an hour.  Sometimes for a lifetime.  Sometimes our openness to parenthood leads to us being parents.  Sometimes it doesn't.  What really matters is the openness.  God is always open to being our Father, but we have to let Him.  We too ought to be ever open; open to being mothers and fathers, open to being sisters and brothers, open to being sons and daughters.  As long as we are open to love, we are growing closer to God.  The second we close ourselves off, we have lost sight of our very purpose in being and have condemned ourselves to a misery of our own making.

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Santa or Jesus? Must we Choose?

Christmas is soon upon us.  Yesterday we had the first snow to stay on the ground.  Today i bought a few more Christmas gifts.  Tomorrow i post a blog on Santa Clause.  The day after tomorrow is the fourth Sunday of advent.  It is a good time to contemplate what Christmas really is and what it should mean to us.  Every year we hear our pastors or priests talk about how the Christmas season, the love and the self sacrifice, should not be restricted to only one month, they should extend throughout the year.  And yet, every year when the Christmas decorations come down, so too does that Christmas spirit.
      I have a problem with people who say Santa isn’t real.  I stopped believing in him when I was around 10 or 11 years old and didn’t regain that faith until college.  Today I absolutely believe in Santa, 100%, and if you know me you know I can defend my beliefs.  I have heard many people discuss the differences between Santa Clause and Jesus and how Jesus wins on every comparison. These
people are missing the point of the great Saint who spreads so much joy each season.  When people place him above Jesus that is a problem, but nor should they be in competition.  Santa's gifts aren’t the physical ones left under the tree, and he doesn’t travel the world on a sleigh pulled by nine reindeer.  All of these ideas are symbols for deeper truths which Saint Nicolas is trying to teach us.  Christ is constantly working through Saint Nick and Saint Nick is constantly pointing us towards Christ.
      Saint Nicholas is a real historical figure born around 270AD in a little town called Patara, in modern day Turkey.  His parents were wealthy Christians who passed on their love of Christ to their son.  They died when he was still fairly young, probably early teens.  However, they had done such a good job passing on their faith that young Nicholas devoted himself and his inherited wealth to serving the poor and the needy in his community.  When he was old enough he became a priest and soon after the bishop of Myra, a larger town to the east of Patara.  He is remembered for his love of those in need, especially children and the many miracles and stories attributed to him.  One story says he punched Arius at the council of Nicea.  He is one of my favorite Saints and i could write this entire post on the historical figure, if you would like to know more in that regard look here.  Today, i am more interested in the myth.
      When people place Saint Nick and Jesus in conflict with each other the gifts are often the central focus.  "Santa gives material gifts and thus supports materialism, Jesus gives spiritual gifts and so He denounces materialism."  For many this is enough to condemn Santa as a usurper.  I would suggest that this is not necessary, that the true gifts are the same.  The material gifts attributed to Santa are symbols of these true gifts, the gifts of faith, hope, and love and the message of salvation.
      Nicholas was a bishop and even to this day Santa Clause dresses in red, the color of Bishops.  The role of the Bishop is to guide and serve.  He is a husband to his church and a father to his congregation.  If we are disobedient to God we cannot receive the gifts of the Spirit.  So too, if we are naughty we cannot receive the gifts Santa brings.  This is not materialism, this is symbolism.  Being obedient to our parents teaches us how to be obedient to God.  This obedience is necessary for salvation, the greatest gift of all.
      As a bishop, Saint Nicholas was single.  Mrs. Clause can be seen as a construct for the Church as the people of God. She teaches us of the role of a bishop as husband.  But more than that, she teaches us of our responsibilities.  Just as a wife needs to support and encourage her husband, so too must we support and encourage our bishops.
      The sleigh represents the Church as a structure, as the institution through which we receive the sacraments.  Just as Santa has his reindeer, the bishop has his priests.  As the reindeer bring the sleigh and its gifts to the children of the world, the priests bring the the Church and its gifts to the children of God.  We see this in Rudolph's red nose which glows so bright that it serves as a light to guide the sleigh.  In every Catholic Church there is a red light, a candle burning near the tabernacle.  It symbolizes the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  Just as Rudolph's red nose guides Santa's sleigh, the Eucharist must guide the Church.
      And who are we in all this?  We are the elves who make the toys.  We display our faith and hope and love in the world.  When we do this we produce the proofs that draw people deeper into God.  But unlike the elves who stay safely hidden away in the workshop, we must be in the world drawing people into the Church where they can receive these gifts.
      Christ has granted Santa an infinite supply of presents.  Every time a gift is given in Santa's name this great saint gives a gift of his own to both the giver and receiver, a gift containing not toys or earthly wealth, but the three greatest gifts of all, the gifts of the Spirit, the gifts of faith and hope and love.  Perhaps the reason these three greatest gifts of Christ tend to leave the world when the Christmas decorations come down is not because people forget Christ, but because they forget we are His workers, not just in December, but throughout the entire year.  Christ has empowered Santa to further the message of salvation, but we must participate in this.  Just as Santa has no gifts to give without the elves, our bishops will have no one to bestow their gifts upon unless we are out there winning souls.
      We do not need to choose between Santa and Jesus.  We have been called to a New Evangelization.  Perhaps if we ask him, Santa will help us in this.  He has a great deal to tell the world if we are willing to give him a voice.

Merry Christmas
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Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Five Catholic Solas

Some time back a fellow blogger circulated a list of five Solas.  Now, he wasn't a Catholic.  In fact, his list was meant to conflict with Catholic theology, to show the differences.  Its been awhile since he put it up, but i felt a desire to write a response piece. 
      Mr. Calvin, who put forth the original articular, gives the following list;
  • Sola fide ("by faith alone")
  • Sola gratia ("by grace alone")
  • Sola scriptura ("by Scripture alone")
  • Solus Christus or Solo Christo ("Christ alone" or "through Christ alone")
  • Soli Deo gloria ("to God alone be the glory")
      Given my extreme laziness and very rusty Latin i'm going to leave my responses in English.  If one of my readers feels called to translate my list into Latin i would find that amusing.  It should be mentioned, my list should not be seen so much as a point by point critic, but rather as a Catholic alternative.  There are some points upon which Calvin and i would agree, although i shall do my utmost best to ignore them for the remainder of this post.
      The Five Catholic Solas, which i put forth, are these;
  • By Grace Alone
  • By Love Alone
  • By the Word of God Alone
  • God Alone
  • From God Alone is the Glory
      The first point on my list is grace alone.  More observant readers will notice that Mr. Calvin has already used this term.  In some ways it is a point were we would agree, but i think Calvin takes faith too far.  For Catholics it is all grace, we contribute nothing of ourselves.  Everything we have to offer, even our faith, we have only by the grace of God.  If my faith is of myself i would have cause to boast.  We are not saved by some combination of faith and grace.  We are saved by grace alone and everything else, including faith and works, flow from that.
      My second point is love alone.  We are saved for love, through love and on account of love.  God saved us because He loves us so that we might love Him.  Because God loves us, He is not satisfied to simply ignore our deficiencies.  He is compelled by love to heal us, to reconcile us to Himself.  God is love and we cannot begin to understand God apart from love.  It is for and by love that we were made in the first place.
      This third one is pretty straight forward.  The Bible alone is insufficient.  Scripture alone cannot explain where it came from, how we know what is and isn't scripture.  Scripture alone cannot address series differences of opinion within the Church.  Perhaps most grievous is that one must look beyond scripture to to find the very idea of scripture alone, it's not found in the Bible.  In professing the Word of God Alone we affirm the need for and value of both scripture and tradition and the need of the
Church to interpret it.  We profess the Word of God alone, but we do not limit this to only that which is written.
      God Alone is perhaps the foundational tenet of Catholic faith.  All the others are contained in this one.  God is the source and means of everything.  Salvation comes from Him, forgiveness comes from Him, the Word of God is His word which He enables us to interpret through His grace.  I have expanded this from Christ alone to God alone in order to emphasis the roles of the Father and Holy Spirit.  Christ is not alone, we cannot come to Him unless we are first called by the Holy Spirit, and this journey does not conclude until we arrive at the house of the Father.  Additionally, i want to emphasis that even when God works in and through others, it remains God Himself who does the work.
      In this final point, it is perhaps a very small change grammatically, but it is a very large change theologically.  In the original, to God alone, any praise not directed towards God directly is wrong.  To attribute glory to anything outside of God would detract from God.  In recognizing instead, that all glory flows from God, we are free to praise popes and saints and small children because the glory we see in them is of God.  They do not detract from God, they reflect God.  In proclaiming From God Alone is the Glory, we recognize that to praise truth, goodness and beauty, wherever they are found, is to give praise and worship to Him who made them.  We give glory to God when we recognize the grandeur of His creation.

      By Grace Alone - This first point reminds us that we can go all things through God who strengthens us, but we can do nothing apart from Him.  Everything we have we have through His grace.  Everything we do, we do through His grace.
      By Love Alone - This second point reminds us that we were made by love and for love.  Apart from love our lives have no purpose, no meaning.  We owe everything to God's love and are now called to share that love with the world.
      By the Word of God Alone - This third point reminds us that our own intellects are insufficient.  We must be guided by the Holy Spirit if were are to know anything of God.  Our understand comes from Sacred Scripture and Tradition, interpreted by the magisterium under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
      God Alone - This fourth point reminds us that we exist only by God's continuing choice.  Our very existence is grounded in Him.  He needs no one else but we desperately need Him.
      From God Alone is the Glory - This fifth point reminds us that no matter where we may encounter truth, goodness or beauty; it is God's glory being manifest.  We in no way detract from Him in praising His creation.