Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Iron Sharpens Iron: Rethinking how Catholics Approach Each Other and the World

A couple weeks back, my principal wanted to talk about a situation at the school.  In essence, our upper grades were taking trash talk to new and really harmful levels.  It had gotten to the point that suspensions were about to be handed out.  I am not talking about the thinned skinned snowflake like tolerance levels that need to be coddled, no, what was being said was just sinful and needed to stop. Certainly, trash talk and worse is a common staple in today's world.  I remember the 'yo mamma' jokes which were fairly cruel.  The trash talk always seemed to escalate.  Favored targets emerged.  It was a lot of time, energy, and mental creativity misused.  It so happened that someone posted the Into the Breech Video from the Diocese of Phoenix (excellent by the way) in which men were called to become the men God has created them to be.  In that video it quoted  Proverbs 27:17, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man does to another."  It stuck in my craw.  It dominated my prayer.  That's when it hit me.

Our school could have handed out punishments which may or may not solve the problem.  Being a realist, it would have driven the behavior underground.  Kids are going to be kids.  We decided a different tact.  We wanted them to take all the energy and time they spent on tearing each other down and redirect that energy and time to building each other up.  They have become keen on identifying each others weaknesses and faults.  We wanted them to use that energy and intelligence to identify each others strengths and gifts.  Furthermore, in the vein that iron does sharpen iron, we want them to not overlook sin, but to know how to call a person to something better than sin.

The school is a beginning.  I expect the same of myself and my parish.  Make no excuse for sin, make every effort to use the grace of God to build up and strengthen.  Think about it.  Wouldn't you want to belong to a parish where our identified goal is to bring out the best in each other and train people how to bring out the best in each other? Wouldn't you want to be part of a group that expected greatness from you and you could expect greatness from? Wouldn't you want a church that is an oasis in the unrelenting negativity, fault finding, gossip mongering, and character assassination that is today's modern culture, entertainment, and politics?  Wouldn't you want to belong to a parish where we understood beyond the shadow of a doubt that to follow and worship God means looking different than the world? Don't be mistaken, I am not talking utopia...I am talking Navy Seal training.  I am not saying quit engaging this world, but engage it in a radically different way.

Is this not the standard Jesus sets in the Gospel?  Does the unity that Jesus prays for on the night before His death, a unity sealed in His own Body and Blood, not come from the members of that Body strengthening each other?  Do we not receive the Body and Blood of Christ so as to become one?  Does unity come from tearing each other down?  Does it come from viewing each other as the enemy or competition? NO, it comes from us utilizing the grace of God to bolster the strengths and address the weaknesses.

We who claim to follow Christ are called to be as different from the secular world, a world quickly repaganizing,  as light is different from darkness.  We cannot be a light to the world if we look like the world.  Make no mistake, there is NO ROOM for sin, no room for gossip, no room for rivalries, no room for ignoring sin, no room for tearing down our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The devil delights in our rivalries and open warfare!  Every time some one makes a snarky remark about different Mass Rituals (legit ones), every time one sees fit to bypass the levels of fraternal correction given in Scripture and turninto a ecclesial TMZ, every time we openly ridicule instead of seeking to call out better...we have to ask ourselves how much different is our actions from a bunch of grade schoolers trash talking?  Do we imagine for a moment that Jesus will not call us to task for ripping apart what He set in His Body and Blood? Yes, there are abuses happening during Masses and they must be addressed.  That said, does calling for better out of the individuals accomplish that end or will ridiculing them?  Is our end to make ourselves feel superior at the cost of running others down?  Perhaps a Catholic should have a higher modus operendi than a thug!

I am excited to see how this goes.  I pray for a significant transformation in my school and parish.  Don't get me wrong, they are great places now, but as a pastor, I should always be aiming for better.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Why both Married Men and Celibate Priests are Important

The Roman Catholic Priesthood is in the news again.  That is usually not a good thing.  It seems the only time Catholic priests get in the news is when a priest sins, is killed, or when discussion about changing celibacy arise.  The secular world hates the priesthood.    Yes, there are many priests who give ample ammunition to these entities in their disparagement.   There is nothing new in this.  Clergy have been a great source of scandal from the very beginning.  The scandal comes from their unwillingness to live up to the witness that the priesthood is supposed to give: the witness of a man completely configured to the Kingdom of God... a man whose very life points beyond this world.

Essential Witnesses: the Married
Both the married life and priesthood give witness to the Kingdom of God.  They do so in distinct and necessary ways.  In marriage, the husband and wife model the union of the Trinity and the union of Christ with His Church.  They model the life creating love that flows from the Trinity.  They model in their families a microcosm of the Body of Christ, the Church.  The witness of a faith infused marriage and the union it represents is a witness is indispensable in this age of free love (which is nothing more than slavery to lust) and disposable and willfully sterile relationships.  The married man's vocation is first and foremost as husband and father.  While it takes tremendous self-control, self-discipline, and sacrifice, being a husband and father is not a job, but a calling...a vocation. A married man's first priority is always his wife and children.  When that first priority becomes a career, an entertainment, or anything other than his family, the marriage suffers for it.

Our culture thinks little of the married life.  It has so twisted the idea of marriage and family that the bond represents little more than an emotional entanglement that is to be enjoyed until it quits being enjoyable.  That a marriage would reflect the life giving bond of the Trinity is deemed impossible and  replaced with a bond racked with the poisons of artificial birth control, cohabitation, abortion,  same sex marriage and really anything that would render this life giving bond sterile and godless.  For the secular world, marriage is little more than a having a life buddy to do stuff with when one is free from the primary concerns of making money and self pleasure. The dignity of marriage should be so diluted as to not see its specific witness and calling.  To the contrary, when Catholics marry, it should point beyond just themselves.  This is why matrimony is a sacrament; such a witness is hard enough with the sacramental grace of God, much harder to impossible without it.

Essential Witnesses: the Celibate

As much as our culture hates the married life, it hates the priesthood more.  Why? It finds the idea of celibacy loathsome.   That a human being should possess the ability to have complete mastery over their sexual impulses stands in complete contradiction to the endless torrent of sexual licentiousness that makes up the overwhelming majority of modern entertainment and morality.  The truly celibate man is a radical witness to the Kingdom of God.  In Mark12:25 Jesus points out that in the Kingdom to come,  that men and women neither marry nor are given in marriage. This is not because there is something wrong with marriage, but the witness is no longer necessary when the absolute union in the Kingdom of Heaven is now the lived reality.  The celibate priest lives in such a way so as to point to this reality of the Kingdom of God.

The world sees no worth in this witness, in fact, it sees this witness as dangerous.  Why is it the media delights in the sexual sin of a priest that it really doesn't in any other group?  For the same reason that a priest giving in to sexual misconduct does such harm...it is a scandal that undermines the powerful witness.  The world wants to say that chastity and celibacy are impossible.  The world believes that man is just another animal who can be manipulated because they operate only on instinct.  A chaste and celibate person stands as a warrior that frightens the devil and his minions.

The Catholic priesthood is supposed to be a bold witness of self-sacrifice and holiness to a world in desperate need of such witness.  The Catholic priest is to give of himself to God and the portion of the flock assigned him every bit as totally as a husband and father is to give of himself to his wife and family.  The base of both husband and priest is the same; the same virtue, the same strength, the same selflessness and willingness to sacrifice are absolute necessities in both. If this is the case, why should a man not be able to do both?  This question is currently being bandied about.

My own worry about the mingling of these two goods is how does one man give himself completely to two vocations. Is his first priority his family (which marriage requires) or his parish (which priesthood requires).  Will not suffer to the good of the other?  Many will say that protestant, some Orthodox and Eastern Catholic clergy do.  My response is that what is expected of these clergy and what is expected of catholic priests are wildly different.  The danger becomes reducing a vocation to a job.  No more than a married man treats his wife and family as a job does a priest treat his duties to God and His people as a job.  Celibacy frees the priest to give himself completely to God and His people.  In I Corinthians 7, St Paul makes the case that a married man is concerned ( and should be) about his wife...  the celibate man or woman can give themselves over to the service of God completely.

Not Looking for the Easy Way Out

We are indeed in a vocation crisis and shortage.  In crisis, there is tendency to panic and look for fixes that lower the standards.  The idea of a simplex priest is such a panic move.  A simplex priest is ordained to provide sacraments.  That we would want greater access to the sacraments is a good thing.  Indeed in times when the Church is driven underground by persecution, such an answer might be needed.  But when the shortage comes as a result of rebellion against God's will, we are writing a prescription for going further down the rabbit hole.  Make no mistake, at the heart of the vocation crisis is a wholesale rebellion against the witness of celibacy.  When I fought against the idea of priesthood, it was because I wanted to get married...and not for the most noble of interest.  Marriage represented the idea of having a woman who I could legally and morally have sex with.  That I would have to control my sexuality for the rest of my life was far too difficult to endure.  I was falling for the lies of our culture.

Priests aren't just needed because we need people to give sacraments and run parishes.  Priests are needed, and I mean GOOD HOLY priests are needed because the witness that celibacy provides is needed so desperately in this world.  In a culture that truly is godless and believes that all there is is in the here and now, that a man would fly in the face of this and live in such a way as to point to the Kingdom of God and the union that awaits for us is bold and brave.  This witness is not unneeded and disposable.

Forging Forward in Witness
Each man is called to give witness.  The witness of marriage and priesthood are desperately needed...both of them, in their distinct ways.  This is not disparage priests who are married...not at all.  But when we change the standards , we change the outcome.  This can very dangerous.  Yes, allowing priests to marry, or trying simplex priests might provide temporary relief.  But at what cost?  We cannot see the witness of celibacy and its total self giving it shows die.  It needs to be greater, not lesser.  When man wants to compromise away a standard, it is never to our good.

The culture wants us to move away from this great witness which is probably why we need to move  more strongly to it.  Young men should know the heroic witness they can give if God calls them to priesthood.  While celibacy is one component of priesthood, it is the one under attack right now.  Let us pray that this witness of celibacy grow and grow powerfully.  Priesthood is not a job of manufacturing holy stuff, but  a call to offer oneself completely to the God and His people is the heart of priesthood...it is not a job or career...but a vocation.  Pray that our rebellion against this witness dies and we boldly advance to show the world something beyond itself.  For married men that is to model union and life giving love.  For the priest, it is to give completely to God and His people. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Catholic Man, the Catholic Priest as Priest

Every Catholic man is to have as a primary role model Jesus Christ.  Our lives are to be modeled on His strength, courage, self-sacrifice, wisdom, and love.   Do we men get that?  In a world where we model our lives after mere men, even good men we admire like our dads, their and our primary role model is to be Jesus Christ.

I would suppose that the desire to do this would be greatly affected by the image of Jesus we grew up with.   But not all the images are true, in fact, some are demonically false.  The dominant one presented in this culture is a image I call "Jesus the wuss."  This Jesus is one part care bear, one part guru, and about as emasculated as a man can get and still be a male of the species.  He seems to be a bit part actor in a Shakespearean tragedy; a nice guy who dies a tragic death in the overall play of life.    This Jesus makes suggestions for life, almost in an apologetic tone.  But, were we to actually study the Jesus of the New Testament, we get a different picture. 

The Truth of the Matter
The Jesus of the New Testament spoke a Gospel that was so dangerous and revolutionary that it upended everything.  His clarion call flew in face of the Roman Empire, the Sanhedrin, the religious authorities so much so that they wanted Him dead.  This was a man who spoke forcefully, pointedly, and firmly.  While He showed great kindness and mercy, He did not back away from a fight.  He didn't care what His image was or what people thought of Him, He came to preach a Gospel.  He sealed this Gospel willingly in His own Blood.  He went to Jerusalem knowing full well that not just death lay ahead, but an excruciating painful and violent death lay ahead. It is in those last days of His life on earth that He shows Himself to be the great and eternal High Priest.  All priesthood flows from His priesthood. 

From the Last Supper through the Crucifixion Jesus makes a new sacrifice and sets a new covenant.  He is the priest that offers up that sacrifice, he is the slain victim in that sacrifice, and in both He intercedes before the Father for us, the beneficiaries of this sacrifice.  Read that line again.  In this we have encapsulated the type of priests we Catholic men are called to be.  It is this steely eyed, full throated,  wise, and strong priest we are called to be.

I speak directly to married men and priests.  Each in our own way, by virtue of our baptism (and for priests, Holy Orders) are called to share in the priestly role of Jesus Christ.  With our anointing (s) with Sacred Chrism, we are are charged with a share in the priestly role of Jesus Christ.  Day in and and day out ,we are called to offer sacrifice for the good of those placed in our care.

The Sacrifice and the One Who Makes it
Married man, YOU are called to be the spiritual head of your home.  Your wife has duties as well, but you bear the responsibility before God for being the priest of the family.  You exhibit that priesthood by the sacrifice of your time and energy for the good of your family.  Their care and protection, their growing in God's  grace and Gospel is your responsibility.  Some of this you share with your wife, but you are the one called to be the priest who guides and sacrifices within your home.  However, you cannot be a priest on your own, independent of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, given through the Eucharist.  Your priesthood should lead you and your family into the Eucharistic celebration every Sunday!  If your priesthood does not, then you are misleading the portion of the flock entrusted by God to you!

My brother priests, in a even more powerful way, we make present that sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, through the power of the Holy Spirit, through the Mass.  We make the effects of that sacrifice also present through Confession and Anointing of the Sick.  On top of this, like dads and husbands, we too offer up ourselves...our energy, our time, our resources...as a sacrifice as well.  We add to this sacrifice, the sacrifice brought by celibacy, as a way of pointing toward the Kingdom of God.  We pastors are not businessmen selling holy stuff, but men who are to model for the men and boys of our parishes what being a priest of Jesus Christ means.  Our parishioners have a right and need to see in us the fullness of the life and teaching of Jesus Christ and His Church.

When we Catholic men neglect or belittle this sacred duty, it is not merely to the detriment of ourselves, but we poison or starve the flock assigned to us.  Can we imagine the Good Shepherd will take this neglect or abuse lightly?  Something about millstones and being thrown into the sea is coming to mind. 

The Intercessor

Brothers, we don't offer sacrifice for the sake of offering sacrifice; sacrifice has an end in mind.  Christ did offer His life on the Cross just for the sake of a violent death and good example.  No, He offers Himself for our good!  He offers Himself as the Prime intercessor before the Father.  Likewise, what we offer is not a going through the motions, or a lifeless and embittered action.  No, when we offer ourselves up, it is for the good of those who God has placed in our care.  Without intercession, we leave our flocks primed for the predators.  Our actions without God's help will always fall short.

The devil greatly appreciates a neglectful priest.  The devil loves a self-absorbed priest.  The devil great appreciates a husband who doesn't pray for his wife, a dad who doesn't pray for his children, a pastor who doesn't pray for his parish.  These men might believe that are being alert and diligent, but without asking for God's will and protection, they bring a knife to a spiritual thermonuclear war. If prayer is not a part of our lives (and my brother priests, that is not just limited to Divine Office and Mass), we lower our guard and both we and our flocks suffer.  The devil has done well in this society to convince men that religion and prayer are for the women and kids.  It is much easier to strike the shepherd and scatter the flock when the shepherd drops his guard.

Men, central to our core identity is that role of protector; we cannot do this without attaching our identity to the identity of Christ the Eternal High Priest. We can shy away like cowards from our role  before God to lead and intercede for our flocks.  We must lay aside the lies that make us believe that this role is not manly.  True manliness is not measured in muscles, money, and power.  True manliness is in resolve, courage, strength , and determination to follow in the steps of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This is no easy thing, as those foot prints are bloodied by the sacrifice that is necessary.

I believe deeply that the destruction of the family and the priestly vocation crisis is laid at our feet.  To many of us modeled our call as husbands, dads, and priests on a identity other than Jesus Christ.  The Good News is, though, that we can depart from such a false identity and convert to the truth.  Now is the time, men!  Now is the time to reconfigure our identities away from this world and towards Christ the High Priest!  For it is not the world that will judge us in the end...it will be Christ, the Eternal High Priest!  What kind of priest will He find in us?