Thursday, March 28, 2013

Holy Thursday hope

It's been a long week.  We've been awash in cultural wars in a heightened way this week, and it's easy to feel a little down.  

But now it's Holy Thursday, and we can thank God for two beautiful, inseparable gifts He has given us that we celebrate today -- the priesthood and the Eucharist.  And with these gifts, we have hope.

What better way to experience renewed gratitude than to watch these beautiful Grassroots Films videos ... and, of course, going to Holy Thursday Mass.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Trapped ... finding a voice for marriage

If you ventured into the world of Facebook yesterday or today, you likely found yourself in a war zone. 

Instead of profile pictures of faces, there was a sea of red equal signs and plus signs.  Nearly every status included an opinion on what marriage is.  Angry comments were left on nearly every status.  Slogans were repeated.  Memes and graphics were used to defend a point. 

Earlier in the day yesterday, I found myself in the middle of the non-virtual warzone.  I was standing in the street in between two sidewalks full of those who advocate for the redefinition of marriage.  I was standing in a sea of people who advocate for the preservation of marriage as the lifelong union between one man and one woman. 

No matter where one looked, there were signs representing both sides of the debate.  There were people on both sides using their personal experiences to advocate for why things should be a certain way. 

The fact that thousands of marriage-supporters had rallied at the National Mall and walked to the Supreme Court where they were then surrounded by those (albeit a smaller group) who supported “equality,” “love,” and “freedom” was a fairly accurate physical portrayal of the debate today.

Those of us who support marriage have been invited to discuss our opinions … only if the discussion is on the terms of those who disagree.  So, the issue of what marriage is can no longer be about objective meaning, sacrifice, grace, gift, vocation and procreation.  Now it’s about “love,” “equality,” “freedom,” “rights,” “fairness” and “tolerance.” 

We can’t have these discussions if we don’t first define these terms.  Those who advocate marriage and those who advocate its redefinition have very different understandings and definitions of love, gender, the human person, freedom, compassion and rights.  If we’re invited to a discussion where those terms have already been implicitly defined, then our voice is already taken away. 

You can’t meander onto facebook – or the public square – and say something that opposes a redefinition of marriage without being called a bigot, a hater, a mean-spirited Christian or some other ad hominem remark.  We are unloving.  We are uneducated.  We are cruel.  So they say. 

And there’s the argument of, “But I have a friend …” or “My uncle is …”  This implies that those who support marriage do not have friends or relatives who have same-sex attraction.  That is a ridiculous claim.  Having a friend or relative with same-sex attraction does not necessitate supporting the redefinition of marriage.  Love must often say difficult things.  Saying difficult things is often loving.  Love and sacrifice, love and the difficult cannot be separated into their own corners, prohibited from being in the same room together.  In fact, if you remove one from the room, then you remove them both. 

Yesterday at the March for Marriage, I’ll admit that there were moments when I felt trapped.  Trapped by misunderstood vocabulary.  Trapped by the limits of sound bites and slogans.  Trapped by the polarization that people believe that says we can either allow people to marry someone of the same-sex or we hate them. 

It broke my heart yesterday to see signs from those seeking the redefinition of marriage talking about God not hating them.  Whoever said God hated them?  Sure, the Westboro Baptist Church says it all the time, but are we really taking our definition of Christianity from them?  Anyone who says God hates people who have same-sex attraction clearly does not understand God or love. 

I felt trapped on Monday because the beauty of marriage cannot be expressed in the confines that we have been handed.  The truth is a delicate set of paradoxes:

  •          That God loves people regardless of their sexual proclivities … but God cares how we use our sexuality, and He has given us the Church to guide us in knowing how to best live our sexuality.

  •          That God wants every person to be happy … but happiness does not involve doing whatever we want whenever want.  Happiness is fully becoming who we were created to be.

  •          That suffering is real, and surely those with same-sex attraction experience it in sometimes excruciating ways … but suffering can also bear fruit, and we are all invited to participate in Christ’s suffering by uniting our own.  Without the cross, there is no resurrection.

  •          That freedom is important and we should all be free … but freedom is not doing whatever I want, but having the ability to choose the good.

  •          That we are all created for love … but love is willing the good of the other – the good of the whole person.  Love is not just a matter of feelings and emotions.  It is a matter of sacrificing and dying to self for the sake of another. 

  •          That those who marry are not better than other people … but marriage remains a beautiful call, a vocation, and a path to holiness.

Standing in the sea of protestors on Tuesday morning, and watching the barrage of debate on facebook, I realized that my opportunity to articulate what marriage is and why it is so is becoming increasingly difficult. 

Without words what is left?


Yes, we need to live the truth of love, the truth of freedom, the truth of gender, the truth of gift.  We need to live the good of love, the good of freedom, the good of gender, the good of gift.  We need to live the beauty of love, the beauty of freedom the beauty of gender, the beauty of gift.

If our words are taken from us – redefined, newly connoted, stripped of their meaning – our voice is not also taken.  Witness speaks, even when it is silent.  Perhaps it will be what we are left with, but perhaps we will be given the opportunity then to say more than ever. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

March for Marriage recap and pictures

[Quick note about the pictures ... there are a lot of them, so if you are viewing via your phone, it might take a year or two to load.  Also, the pictures are in order of the events of the March, but do not necessarily correspond with the text that is placed near them.  It's a bit overwhelming to move 28 pictures on Blogger.]

As you know, the Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments today regarding the redefinition of marriage. To coincide with this, the National Organization of Marriage spearheaded a pro-marriage march to the Supreme Court.  I left the house at 8, caught the Metro and walked to the beginning spot on the National Mall.

A very muddy National Mall.

About to round the corner on the way to the Supreme Court building.

My alma mater -- Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Archbishop Cordileone marches with us (center).

The two women in the left corner holding up their wedding rings.

Right around 9 am the marchers began making their way to to the Supreme Court.  I'm not good about estimating numbers, so I really shouldn't make a guess about the attendees.  It was certainly much smaller than the March for Life, but the crowd always seemed to grow and to impress me each time I turned around to see what we looked like.  

Most of the marriage marchers held signs advocating a mother and a father for children.  There were occasional chants of "One Man!  One Woman!" (sometimes punctuated by copious "alleluias" from the charismatic Latino groups).  

We marched up the Mall and then turned onto half of Constitution Ave. (The other half of the street remained open to traffic.This is an indication of the size difference compared to the March for Life when the entire street and sidewalk is flooded with marchers.)  

We passed the Westboro Baptist Church's horribly hateful sign-covered truck.  The March for Marriage organizers were adamant before we began that their message was not ours.

Up the hill we marched.  There were many nationalities represented.  There were signs in Spanish and T-shirts written in an Asian language.

And then we turned the corner.  On the side, I noticed a van or truck for "Capitol Hill Police," and police presence was very strong!

Those who were advocating a change in the definition of marriage were lining both sides of the street in front of the Supreme Court, with signs and chants ("Gay, Straight, Black or White, Marriage is a Civil Right" and "What do we want? -- Equality.  When do we want it -- Now.")

We tried to march forward.  I heard later that those in the front of the march were blocked from proceeding, but I did not see that occur.  Instead, where I was in front of the Supreme Court, we were told to face the Supreme Court, only a couple of feet from the hundreds (thousands?) of redefinition protesters.  We each held our signs high.  There was chanting.  The police were there.  The media were there.

We stood for quite a while and then were told to continue walking.  We began but then noticed others cycling back from where we had come.  So we joined them, only to be told a few minutes later to turn around again.  I wondered if we would be trapped in that zone of dueling signs and slogans.

But we were not.  

We walked past the Supreme Court once more.  Then there was a relatively peaceful walk back to the National Mall for the rally.  

Archbishop Cordileone from San Francisco began his remarks speaking to those who disagree with us, saying, 'We love you.  We are your neighbors.  We want to be your friends.  We want you to be happy."  He went on to explain why marriage must be between one man and one woman.

Others spoke as well.  Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse said that if a redefinition of marriage is passed by the Supreme Court, then the next generation will say, "What were you thinking?!"

Archbishop Cordileone's speech at the rally.
I'll admit I did not stay for the entire rally, so I do not know what every speaker said.  It was good to proclaim the beauty of marriage in the middle of Washington, DC.  But when it comes down to it, a rally, a sign, a slogan and a chant is not going to promote and protect the dignity of marriage as a God-given life-long union between one man and one woman.  

These things defy a soundbite.  A few words on a sign cannot begin to capture the reality of marriage.  A four word chant does not involve listening to the hurt of others and speaking to them of why we truly believe that redefining marriage is not the answer to their quest for happiness.  

Love and Fidelity Network's sign
If nothing else, the march and rally were really a wake-up call.  This is a serious issue and we cannot continue to ignore it.  We need to learn the truth of marriage.  We need to live the truth of marriage.  We need to love the truth of marriage.  Without this, our signs and slogans and chanting are futile.  

It was also an opportunity for each of us who marched to tell the city, tell the nation, tell the world that marriage supports do exist.  They are active.  They are passionate.  They are motivated to defend, protect and live the reality of the gift of marriage.  

A Starbucks CEO, a Microsoft commercial, an Ohio senator and a movie star did not create marriage, nor are they final arbiters in deciding what marriage truly is.  Even the Supreme Court does not have this power.  As the many people who marched today said, even silently with their feet in the mud in the National Mall -- the beauty of authentic marriage is still alive and well and always will be.  

Marching for Marriage

Pray for all those marching in Washington, DC today for the flourishing of authentic marriage.  I'll be there and plan to have a full report of the event.  Please also keep the Supreme Court in your prayers as they hear oral arguments about the definition of marriage today and tomorrow.  These days will have immense implications for our country.  

Monday, March 25, 2013

Pope Francis' first World Youth Day message

When John Paul II started World Youth Day, it had two components.  We are most familiar with the week long festivities at a different country every two or three years, with millions of young people gathering from throughout the world.  But there is another World Youth Day that is truly a day.  Palm Sunday each year is considered World Youth Day and an opportunity for the Holy Father to address the youth of the world in a particular way.  

Yesterday was the first World Youth Day for Pope Francis, and here is what he had to say:

Today in this Square, there are many young people: for twenty-eight years Palm Sunday has been World Youth Day! This is our third word: youth! Dear young people, I saw you in the procession as you were coming in; I think of you celebrating around Jesus, waving your olive branches. I think of you crying out his name and expressing your joy at being with him!

You have an important part in the celebration of faith! You bring us the joy of faith and you tell us that we must live the faith with a young heart, always: a young heart, even at the age of seventy or eighty. Dear young people! With Christ, the heart never grows old! Yet all of us, all of you know very well that the King whom we follow and who accompanies us is very special: he is a King who loves even to the Cross and who teaches us to serve and to love. And you are not ashamed of his Cross! On the contrary, you embrace it, because you have understood that it is in giving ourselves, in giving ourselves, in emerging from ourselves that we have true joy and that, with his love, God conquered evil. 

You carry the pilgrim Cross through all the Continents, along the highways of the world! You carry it in response to Jesus’ call: “Go, make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19), which is the theme of World Youth Day this year. You carry it so as to tell everyone that on the Cross Jesus knocked down the wall of enmity that divides people and nations, and he brought reconciliation and peace. 

Dear friends, I too am setting out on a journey with you, starting today, in the footsteps of Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI. We are already close to the next stage of this great pilgrimage of the Cross. I look forward joyfully to next July in Rio de Janeiro! I will see you in that great city in Brazil! Prepare well – prepare spiritually above all – in your communities, so that our gathering in Rio may be a sign of faith for the whole world. 

Young people must say to the world: to follow Christ is good; to go with Christ is good; the message of Christ is good; emerging from ourselves, to the ends of the earth and of existence, to take Jesus there, is good! Three points, then: joy, Cross, young people.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Quote book

“Femininity is a conquering and appealing feature; femininity in a soul consecrated to God should be so sweet and gentle to draw anyone to it, and then lead them to God... I am glad to be a woman, because the Lord gave to women the gift of intuitive intelligence and it's so good to sense other people's needs, and to be maternal and understanding...”. -- Ven. Carla Ronci

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Key to evangelization?

With the Year of Faith and more talk about the new evangelization, we hear a lot of commentary on what evangelization consists of and what it needs. Some say Twitter or flashy websites. Some say relevant music or welcoming messages.  Some say more programs and bigger conferences.
John Paul II said, while standing in Communism-riddled Poland on his first papal pilgrimage there in 1979:
"Where the Cross is raised, there is raised the sign that that place has now been reached by the Good News of Man's salvation through Love. Where the cross is raised, there is the sign that evangelization has begun. Once our fathers raised the Cross in various places in the land of Poland as a sign that the Gospel had arrived there, that there had been a beginning of the evangelization that was to continue without break until today."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Does difference matter?

We are being inundated by the topic of same-sex "marriage" and genderlessness. These ideas are being normalized in such innocuous ways that it's easy to be blissfully unaware that definitions are changing all around us.  It's on the news websites every time I visit (this senator, this former president, this former secretary of state now endorse it ...), it's in Canada's parliament today as they vote on a bill that would say, "Gender Identity means, in respect of an individual, the individual’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex that the individual was assigned at birth," and it's even on our television commercials.
Exhibit A

Exhibit B


What's the point of gender? Why does any of this even matter? Is it a problem that our commercials, magazines, and newspapers are filled with the idea that gender is simply what we make of it?

Below is a column of mine originally published in the Diocese of Covington's newspaper, "The Messenger" in 2011.

It seems that everywhere we turn we are confronted with questions about gender. In recent months, the Internet, television and newspapers were filled with stories about a family in Toronto that has decided to raise a “genderless” baby, not revealing whether or not their third child is a son or a daughter. A video was released with a speaker addressing fourth graders in a California public school with the message that one can choose a gender based on feelings. A mother appeared on national television to encourage cross-dressing for young children. 

The new message to children that they can do be anything they want no longer centers around being an astronaut or a doctor or an explorer, but that one can be a boy, or a girl, or a boy and a girl, and can create their ideal gender style, just like they can choose their ideal career choice.

But gender matters. We seem to have forgotten that. We seem to think we can determine sex/gender by how we feel. And gender isn’t something reduced to pink, sparkly dresses or playing with toy trucks. Gender is about masculinity and femininity, about different modes of giving and receiving (and we do both, but differently), about being created with absolute dignity, not “sameness,” about a difference that matters.

Gender (sexual difference) is a beautiful reminder that I am not God, that I cannot encompass the whole of reality, that I cannot be everything. There is always someone different from me, “other” than me. And that difference and “otherness” is good. It reminds me that I did not create myself, nor did I create the “other.” I was created. I am a child of God. My life has been given. There are some things about my existence that I cannot determine, but instead am called to receive.

Gender is a beautiful reminder that I am called to love. In seeing that there is another with whom I have unity (the same gift of humanity) and difference (masculinity or femininity), I see that it is possible for me to give to another and to receive from another. I begin to see that love is possible, that love is good and that love is the meaning of life.

Gender is a beautiful reminder that I am called to love fruitfully. When I realize that I did not create myself, that I come from God, and when I realize that I can love another with whom I share a unity and a difference, I can see that my love can be fruitful. It can grow and be more. It doesn’t have to collapse in upon itself. It can open me up to new experiences, new wonder, new gratitude as I watch love unfolded as something I am given and not as something I create, dominate or master.

So, why do we think it’s a good idea to march into classrooms and onto national television shows and into newspapers and tell children, tell parents, tell the world that we don’t need a visible reminder that our life is a gift? In fact, we don’t want a reminder that life is a gift, thank you very much. We’d prefer to take out the mystery, take out the wonder, take out the gratitude, take out the fact that we did not create ourselves.

What a different culture we would live in if we embraced masculinity and femininity as a unique way in which God reminds us of our origin from love, our call to love now, and our ultimate destiny sharing in eternal love with our Creator and Redeemer.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Beautiful moment before today's inaugural Mass

St. Joseph, pray for us

It's a big day for the Church. Pope Francis' installation Mass was at 9:30 am Rome time, and its the feast of our the patron of the universal Church, St. Joseph.
Last year, I shared this meditation by Fr. Boniface Hicks, OSB on St. Joseph's feast. It's so good that I can't help but share it again.
"Flight into Egypt" source
From this we get a better understanding of the insight of St. Bernard of Clairvaux who wrote, "Why did he wish to leave her?... He saw, with sacred astonishment, that she bore a special quality of the divine presence, and while not being able to understand this mystery, he wished to leave her." (Hom. "Super Missus Est") St. Thomas Aquinas reiterates this insight in his Summa Theologica writing, "Joseph wanted to give the Virgin her liberty, not because he suspected her of adultery, but out of respect for her sanctity he feared to live together with her." (Supplementum III, q. 62, art. 3)

Then the angel appears to St. Joseph in a dream and helps him (and us) to understand the following truth expressed by Bl. John Paul II in his reflections on the Sermon on the Mount in the Theology of the Body, "[Christ] assigns the dignity of every woman as a task to every man." And "he assigns also the dignity of every man to every woman" (TOB 100:6). Upholding this dignity "is assigned as ethos to every man, male and female: it is assigned to his 'heart,' to his conscience, to his looks, and to his behavior" (TOB 100:7). St. Joseph is assigned the "task" of Mary's dignity. This task requires two virtues: purity, to see, and modesty, to protect.

Scripture scholarship and the Doctors of the Church reinforce our faith that St. Joseph's purity of heart allowed him to behold a great mystery in the body of Mary. In the purity of his heart, St. Joseph beheld in his virginal bride not the sin of an adulteress but the awesome mystery of God's presence. The body of Mary caused the sacred astonishment of St. Joseph as he beheld the great mystery of divine, spousal love in the language of Mary's virginal pregnancy.

At the same time, St. Joseph recognized the virtue necessary to protect such a profound mystery. He feared that in his human weakness, he might defile the mystery by remaining close. Like St. Peter and the centurion who both said, "I am not worthy," St. Joseph did not consider himself virtuous enough to veil this mystery by his presence; rather he thought he could do so better by his absence. But, in God's gentle Providence, He sent an angel to St. Joseph to reassure him that he protect her mystery by remaining her husband, by taking her mystery with him under his roof.

Read the rest here.

Monday, March 18, 2013

From Top Model to Role Model

If you are in the Cincinnati area, don't forget to head to the Underground tomorrow for a Ruah Woods-sponsored event featuring Leah Darrow.  And if you're not in Cincinnati, check out the option to watch via live streaming.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

One big unexpected gift

Peggy Noonan always has a way with words. Check out her latest op-ed on the election of Pope Francis. To get you started:
I'll tell you how it looks: like one big unexpected gift for the church and the world.

Everything about Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio's election was a surprise—his age, the name he took, his mien as he was presented to the world. He was plainly dressed, a simple white cassock, no regalia, no finery. He stood there on the balcony like a straight soft pillar and looked out at the crowd. There were no grand gestures, not even, at first, a smile. He looked tentative, even overwhelmed. I thought, as I watched, "My God—he's shy."

Then the telling moment about the prayer. Before he gave a blessing he asked for a blessing: He asked the crowd to pray for him. He bent his head down and the raucous, cheering square suddenly became silent, as everyone prayed. I thought, "My God—he's humble."

I wasn't sure what to make of it and said so to a friend, a member of another faith who wants the best for the church because to him that's like wanting the best for the world. He was already loving what he was seeing. He asked what was giving me pause. I said I don't know, the curia is full of tough fellows, the pope has to be strong.

"That is more than strength," he said of the man on the screen. "This is not cynical humanity. This is showing there is another way to be."

Now, read the rest here.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Election of Pope Francis

(When it's created by Grassroots Films, you know it's going to be worth watching.)

New translation of "Love and Responsibility"

I'm excited to learn of this new translation of Bl. John Paul II's pre-papal work, "Love and Responsibility."  The new edition includes revisions made by the late Holy Father in 2001, definitions of key terms and the first published English translation of Karol Wojtya's article, "On the Meaning of Spousal Love."

The book is due to be released in April, and there will be a book launch at the John Paul II Institute in Washington, DC.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cardinal Dolan shares stories about Pope Francis

(Including the fact that the new Holy Father specifically stated that he chose Francis after St. Francis of Assisi)

Habemus Papam!

May God bless our new Holy Father, Pope Francis I!

Unseen at the conclave

When I checked Google News this morning, I was greeted by this bold headline: "More Black Smoke: Cardinals Can't Agree on Pope," followed by these words in the lead:

VATICAN CITY -- Cardinals remained divided over who should be pope on Wednesday after three rounds of voting, an indication that disagreements remain about the direction of the Catholic church following the upheaval unleashed by Pope Benedict XVI's surprise resignation.

When it comes to the conclave, the secular media just doesn't understand. They can only report on what they see, and what they see isn't much. They see the doors of the Sistine Chapel being closed, as the non-cardinals are forced to leave the room. They see black smoke billowing from the chimney. They see pilgrims who stand outside for hours waiting for the first glimpse of white smoke. 
So, with what little they see, they have to construct some sort of a story. Their imaginations kick into gear, and we're left with stories of the cardinals' disagreement over the direction of the Church.
But what's really going on?
There's nothing wrong with using our imaginations to envision what is occurring behind those closed doors. But in my mind, it's something more like this:
- The deep sighing of the cardinal whose heart begins pounding as he realizes that perhaps God is calling him to serve as the next pope.
- The tense voting period as each cardinal prays that the Holy Spirit will guide them, walking toward the Last Judgement by Michelangelo to place his vote in the urn.
- The quiet of prayer in which each man pours his heart before God, feeling the burden of the Church and the weight of choosing a new Vicar of Christ.
- The knowledge of the cardinals that they are surrounded by prayer -- from the Church Militant, the Church Suffering and the Church Triumphant. 
- The lying awake at night wondering what the next day will bring.
These imaginative thoughts are not the stuff of the media's depiction of a political election for the most powerful man in the world award. What can be seen is the lace, the ceremony, the gold, the tremendous art, the kissing of the ring. What cannot be seen is the fear, the burden, the weight of leading the world, the interior crucifixion that takes place when the role of pope is accepted.

What cannot be seen is the Holy Spirit inspiring the cardinals in their role to defend, support and love the Church that has been given to them. And this is what makes the conclave different than any other sort of voting event in the world.

Read more here:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Camp Echo ... coming to Cincinnati!

Ruah Woods is excited to sponsor the first Camp Echo outside of Louisiana!  The Theology of the Body camp led by Dumb Ox Productions just outside of New Orleans has been held for the last few summers.  But this year there will be two camps -- one in Louisiana and one in Cincinnati.

Registration is expected to fill quickly, as participants from across the country attend.  To sign up for the Cincinnati camp as a teen or as a young adult leader, click here.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

An interesting perspective on redefined marriage

I recently came across a Public Discourse article entitled, "I Am Gay and I Oppose Same-Sex Marriage." The experience of the author, Doug Mainwaring, is fairly unique for several reasons. He shares his perspective of the topic here. A quick preview:
Over the last couple of years, I’ve found our decision to rebuild our family ratified time after time. One day as I turned to climb the stairs I saw my sixteen-year-old son walk past his mom as she sat reading in the living room. As he did, he paused and stooped down to kiss her and give her a hug, and then continued on. With two dads in the house, this little moment of warmth and tenderness would never have occurred. My varsity-track-and-football-playing son and I can give each other a bear hug or a pat on the back, but the kiss thing is never going to happen. To be fully formed, children need to be free to generously receive from and express affection to parents of both genders. Genderless marriages deny this fullness.

There are perhaps a hundred different things, small and large, that are negotiated between parents and kids every week. Moms and dads interact differently with their children. To give kids two moms or two dads is to withhold from them someone whom they desperately need and deserve in order to be whole and happy. It is to permanently etch “deprivation” on their hearts.

Read the entire article here to learn more about his perspective on the topic.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Want to know when there's white smoke?

I was hoping someone would do this!  Fellowship of Catholic University Students is sponsoring "Pope Alarm," a service that will e-mail and/or text you when the white smoke begins, giving you a few minutes to make your way to the nearest television or computer to watch the Habemus Papam.  You can sign up here.  

And you might want to read through a related article on the FOCUS blog about how to know who the new pope is amidst the Latin announcement.  

Celibacy and Marriage ... stand and fall together

Fr. Dwight Lonenecker has some insightful thoughts on the connection between celibacy and contraception, and their connection to vocations:
Marriage has therefore become not a sacrament of self sacrifice, but a sacrament of self gratification. Whereas, for our grandfathers marriage was a way to give all, for us marriage is a way to get all.

No wonder the celibate may think from time to time that it is all very unfair. Not only does he give all, but the very meaning of what he is giving is pulled out from under him because the meaning of marriage (in which the meaning of celibacy is rooted) has been destroyed. Conversely, while marriage gives celibacy meaning, it may be now that celibacy may begin to give meaning back to marriage.

Read it all here.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The date of the next conclave ...

It will begin Tuesday, March 12 in the afternoon, following Mass together in St. Peter's Basilica.  

Pray for the cardinals, and if you haven't already, don't forget to adopt a cardinal.  (Apparently, they even mentioned this initiative during their pre-conclave meetings, so I'm sure they appreciate knowing they are prayed for personally.)

"Lent is like a little marriage"

Simcha Fisher has an interesting an insightful piece on the topic here.
I once was in the back of the church with some baby, and so I witnessed a couple who looked to be in their sixth decade of marriage as they hobbled in late. The old man was impeccably dressed as only a very old man can be, with a starched shirt collar standing up straighter than he could himself, his neck shrunken away so that his tie was knotted mostly around emptiness. All his power was concentrated on getting up the granite steps of the church -- and on enduring a constant stream of abuse from his wife, who toiled up behind him, muttering this litany toward the back of his head: "Selfish, selfish, never cared for me nor anyone, never a thought for anyone else, just go on your way, selfish, selfish, and you'll never change . . ."

Read what this has to do with our union with God here.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

When "playing God" is anything but

CNN's story released yesterday about a surrogate mother who was subsequently offered $10,000 to abort the little girl she was carrying has been getting some attention. It's a shocking story at first glance, but I think in reality it unveils the logic behind the baby-making industry. It's no longer about receiving a baby. It's about making one, controlling one, grasping for one.
Crystal Kelley, a single mother of two, needed money. She'd get $22,000 for being a surrogate. Another couple with three children conceived through IVF, wanted another. Crystal became the surrogate. 
Two embryos were implanted in her, and one "took."
The relationship between Crystal and the other mother was good until the diagnosis came. The unborn baby had a cleft palette, heart defects and other issues. 

In a letter to Kelley's midwife, Dr. Elisa Gianferrari, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Hartford Hospital, and Leslie Ciarleglio, a genetic counselor, described what happened next.

"Given the ultrasound findings, (the parents) feel that the interventions required to manage (the baby's medical problems) are overwhelming for an infant, and that it is a more humane option to consider pregnancy termination," they wrote.

Kelley disagreed.

"Ms. Kelley feels that all efforts should be made to 'give the baby a chance' and seems adamantly opposed to termination," they wrote.

The letter describes how the parents tried to convince Kelley to change her mind. Their three children were born prematurely, and two of them had to spend months in the hospital and still had medical problems. They wanted something better for this child.

"The (parents) feel strongly that they pursued surrogacy in order to minimize the risk of pain and suffering for their baby," Gianferrari and Ciarleglio wrote. They "explained their feelings in detail to Ms. Kelley in hopes of coming to an agreement."

The two sides were at a standoff. The doctor and the genetic counselor offered an amniocentesis in the hope that by analyzing the baby's genes, they could learn more about her condition. Kelley was amenable, they noted, but the parents "feel that the information gained from this testing would not influence their decision to consider pregnancy termination."

The atmosphere in the room became very tense, Kelley remembers. The parents were brought into the geneticist's office to give everyone some privacy.

After a while, Kelley was reunited with the parents.

"They were both visibly upset. The mother was crying," she remembers. "They said they didn't want to bring a baby into the world only for that child to suffer. ... They said I should try to be God-like and have mercy on the child and let her go."

"I told them that they had chosen me to carry and protect this child, and that was exactly what I was going to do," Kelley said. "I told them it wasn't their decision to play God." 

There's lots more to the story, which you can read in full here (including the parents' offer of $10,000 if Crystal would abort the child and a revelation of whose child -- genetically speaking -- the little girl was). 

What strikes me about this particular section is the exchange about playing God.  The would-be parents argue with Crystal that she should be "God-like" and not expect the child to suffer.  

But does God do that with us?  On on the one hand, He doesn't force us into suffering, watching us from afar as we squirm in pain, delighting in our anguished cries.  He doesn't make us suffer.  But He allows us to suffer.  And He allows us to suffer precisely because He loves us.  In loving us fully, He desires our love in return.  To be true, that love must be freely given.  To be freely given, we must have free will.  To have free will allows us to choose good or evil.  To choose evil results in chaos -- a lack of communion in the world and a result of suffering.  Our personal sufferings are not the direct result of personal sin, but the suffering in the world is a result of sin that has been unleashed upon the world since the moment of Original Sin committed by Adam and Eve -- and the sin that each of us commits.

So, to be God-like is not to take the child and remove her the gift of free-will (even with its effects) but to raise her in love in order to love others and to grow to become the beautiful young girl she is called to be. If it were God-like to not bring someone into a world of suffering, then none of us would be born.  The fact that sin is present means suffering is present.  And in some way -- physical, emotional, spiritual, mental -- each one of us will experience some suffering in a world that is not fully in communion with God, others, nature and even within ourselves.

But Crystal's response is also telling.  She tells the family that they should not play God.  But they already have.  The fact that a strange sort of custody battle is about to ensue with two would-be parents who wanted to control the coming into existence of a child and a woman who was struggling financially who was willing to have a tiny embryo implanted as part of an economic exchange already bespeaks an unfolding tragedy that is already a result of playing God.  

It's ironic too because in "playing God" the parties involved were anything but God-like.  This isn't to judge their character, their prayer life or any such thing.  But the actions involved (at least up until the point in the story chronicled above) is not focused on the interest of the little girl.  The would-be parents wanted a baby because they wanted a baby.  Now.  And Crystal wanted to carry a baby because she needed money.  Now.  Not because she wanted to be a mother.  

But God gives us existence simply because He loves.  He lets us be without conditions.  There is no money involved.  There are no retractions if we are less than "perfect."  He just gives.  And loves.  

Stories like this one are so interesting to me in large part because the tragedy of these circumstances makes visible the tragedy of donor-conception, IVF and "surrogatehood."  Babies used to come into the world for their own sake.  Now they come into the world for ours.  

You can read the rest of CNN's article about Crystal Kelley and the little girl she carried here.  It's a story worth reading.  And it's also a topic worth reflecting upon.  Does artificial reproductive technology really give children the best?  Or is that a task better suited to the One who is all good, all knowing and all loving?  

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Marching for marriage

There is far more information available about the March 26 March for Marriage now.  You can find the schedule, map, speakers and other details on the official website.

Before you start thinking it's impossible to take a day or two off of work to travel to the nation's capital, head over to the site, gather the necessary information, and pray about the possibility of making a stand for the true nature of marriage.  

Monday, March 4, 2013

Benedict XVI scrapbook

If you have not yet seen this Vatican "scrapbook" of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, then you might wish to spend some time scrolling through and viewing the pictures and quotes from throughout his eight year pontificate.  You can view it here.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Just a pilgrim

Elizabeth Scalia has a beautiful reflection on Pope Benedict's message to America with yesterday's official resignation. Here's a part:
His leave-taking confounded them again. What was happening before their eyes did not equate with American understandings of job identity, power or utility. The strangeness of it all almost seemed to evoke a sense of wonder and if so, that's a very good thing – not just for the press, but for all of us watching in America.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa taught that "ideas lead to idolatry; only wonder leads to knowing." If we are caught in wonder at Benedict's departure, then this "teaching pope" has provided one more thoughtful lesson that could deeply influence Americans willing to ponder it out.

Stereotypes are usually rooted in truth and not for nothing is the stereotypical American described as "optimistic, work-obsessed and materially prosperous". We are accustomed to identifying ourselves not by who we are, but by what we do. And we really are, by and large, optimists. A great deal of that optimism hangs on the illusion – and we love this illusion – that in our "classless" society there resides a world full of choices, and on the idea that hard work brings desired results. We believe success builds upon itself in our pursuit of power, position and prosperity – all of which, in return, assist in our philanthropies, because we also believe that we are a generous nation, eager to do good by others.

Today, before our eyes, Pope Benedict's life and actions addressed all of that. Whatever his departure meant to the rest of the world, it said to Americans and their ideals, "no one is irreplaceable; power isn't everything; not everything is your choice; sometimes bread cast upon the waters comes back soggy."

Now read it all here at the United Kingdom's The Guardian