If someone were to ask you; “how would you like to be remembered by when you pass on” it’s probably not that “he really knew how to sin!” The irony in this is that sin was introduced as part of our heritage from the actions of our first parents which also opened our inclination to continue this practice and offense against God (concupiscence). Even though at first this may sound dreary, God’s infinite love and mercy opened the opportunity to forgo sin and not make it our lasting heritage if we so choose.
St. John Marie Vianney once said: “those who say: ‘I have committed too many sins, the Good Lord cannot forgive me’ is a gross blasphemy. It is the same as putting a limit on God’s mercy, which has none; it is infinite.” The Cure of Ars reminds us that God’s mercy has no limitations regardless of our human condition. Even when we try to limit our opportunity to receive mercy He easily supersedes the best of our human intentions whether positive or negative. St. Vianney eschews the human tendency of losing hope thus settling for a heritage of sin instead of a heritage of grace and mercy.
Understanding our Human Heritage
An interesting characteristic of our human condition is the tendency to seek mercy but yet ignore the opportunity for conversion and renunciation of sin see: Deut 28:15-46; 18:9-22; Ex 16:1-21; Ex 32: 1-14. The protoevangelium in Gen 3:15 sets the stage where God expounds on His infinite mercy to Adam and Eve but yet reminds them of the work they will need to perform both spiritual and corporal. It is His loving reminder of the need to prepare for the one who is to come in order to release the bondages of this first sin. This “New Adam” will perfect the human condition in a way that would open the door for all of God’s children to repent, seek forgiveness and in turn be in full communion with Him. St. Paul echoes this point quite well reminding us that “as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned” (Rom 5:12).
He strengthens this point in Romans (7) where he reveals to us his own struggle in doing the very things he should not do but does them anyway. What he’s trying to tell us is not to settle on a legacy of sin but instead center your actions on Christ Himself. The book of Wisdom expands this point even further; “For God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience (2:23-24).
Keep in mind that the Devil himself wants a legacy of sin established in every single one of us. His demonic desire is a direct assault on the Incarnation because the Devil does not want us to be partakers of the Divine nature, know God’s love, or be reconciled by Him (CCC 456-460). In order not to succumb to a legacy of sin we must be open and honest about our fallibility and place our trust in Christ (Col 3:1-3). Blaise Pascal once said; “Being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think such things” (Pensees, 133).
Establishing a Heritage of Grace in the Family
As a father of four children the last thing I want is to leave a lasting legacy of sin for my children to follow and emulate. I’m called to be cognizant of my actions both verbal and physical because as I just stated the last thing I want is an imitation of my sinful behavior to fall upon them. But yet when I’m caught disciplining my children it is because of an act they’ve imitated from me. In many ways it ends up being an examination of conscience for me as a parent.
Man is called to perform good acts (CCC 1749). This means as children of God created in His image and likeness we are naturally inclined to perform corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Our Christocentric heritage also calls us to obey and be attentive to the voice calling us to do what is good and avoid evil (CCC 1776). We hopefully understand that sin is a rejection of God’s love and looking at this a bit further is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; a failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods (CCC 1849). Our Christian responsibility is to center our very being to Christ which leads to an active renunciation of sin. How can we strengthen our Heritage of Grace within our families while at the same time weaken the heritage of sin? Here are several suggestions to consider:
- Establish a central time to pray every evening as a family i.e. family rosary, Divine Mercy chaplet, Liturgy of the Hours, general intercessory prayers, reading a chapter and verse from scripture.
- Pray over your children every night before going to bed by making the sign of the Cross on their foreheads calling upon their guardian angels to be with them.
- Establish a sacred space within your home consisting of a bible, crucifix and the colors of the liturgical season to serve as a focal point of prayer and to bring and awareness of Christ and the liturgical season.
- Make a daily examination of conscience and go to confession as a family.
- Faithfully attend Mass on Sunday.
- Perform spiritual and corporal works of mercy as a family toward one another.
- Cultivate and Practice the virtue of charity (1 Pet 4:8, CCC 2517-2519).
- Consecrate your home to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
- Remove any distractions that contradict Christ e.g. inappropriate music, clothing, movies etc.
- Pray for Prudence and Wisdom in your daily tasks.
- Call upon the intercession of the Saints at all times and especially during times of struggle.
“O God of my fathers and Lord of mercy, who have made all things by your word, and by your wisdom have formed man, to have dominion over the creatures you have made, and rule the world in holiness and righteousness, and pronounce judgment in uprightness of soul, give me wisdom that sits by your throne, and do not reject me from among servants. For I am your slave and the son of your maidservant, a man who is weak and short-lived, with little understanding of judgement and laws; for even if one is perfect among the sons of men, yet without the wisdom that comes from you he will be regarded as nothing.”
A very intriguing aspect of Catholicism is the free will act to sacrifice and embrace suffering. For many, the notion of sacrifice is already beyond comprehension because of the belief that; “I’ve sacrificed enough.” The irony in this statement is its contradictory nature when placed in relation to Christ’s Crucifixion. The whole premise of God’s convenience toward man is eternal rest with Him in Heaven. Having the praeternatural gift of seeing God face to face and being with Him in Heaven is not a bad proposition, the key is getting there and this is where the notion of inconvenience comes in.
The prophet Jeremiah (12:1-3) offers us a glimpse of how we respond to the inconveniences of the world when he complains to God about the people he has to evangelize and his disdain for their wickedness and their prosperity in it. He goes on to say:
“Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive? You plant them, and they take root; they grow and bring forth fruit; you are near their moth and far from their heart. But you, O Lord, know me; you see me, and test my mind toward you. Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and set them apart for the day of slaughter.”
Jeremiah’s method of dealing with these inconveniences is to simply have God wipe them out. Again the irony here is when pressed to freely obey, listen and follow God many exhibit the same mind set towards God as the ultimate form of inconveniences because of what He asks from us e.g. The Ten Commandments. This tendency develops further when we expand our list of inconveniences to include Christ and the Church thus eliminating every obstacle that stands in our way. We can look no further than the moral inconveniences people find in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony between one man and woman, the inconvenience of living a chaste life, or inconvenience of having a child and respecting the gift of life from conception to natural death.
Our Missionary Responsibility
One thing is for certain if Christ is our aim, we must have a genuine relationship with Him. God’s method for revealing His love was by setting us on a path toward His Son thus eliminating the inconveniences that would prevent us from having a relationship with Him if we so chose. The Catechism (2044) beautifully and clearly strengthens this point with respect to our missionary responsibility;
“The fidelity of the baptized is a primordial condition for the proclamation of the Gospel and for the Church’s mission in the world. In order that the message of salvation can show the power of its truth and radiance before men, it must be authenticated by the witness of the life of Christians. The witness of a Christian life and good works done in a supernatural spirit have great power to draw men to the faith and to God.”
A sound guess as to why some knowingly or unknowingly view God as an inconvenience is a genuine lack of missionary urgency to live out their Baptismal call let alone share their faith with others. Part of this phenomenon is a lack of understanding that they (we) are part of the family of God. And if this is the case then our tendency would be to drift away from God to the point of actually viewing Him as an inconvenience. Again the Catechism (2045-2046) wisely offers us some sound words with respect to this point;
Because they are members of the Body whose Head is Christ, Christians contribute to building up the Church by the constancy of their convictions and their moral lives. The Church increases, grows, and develops through the holiness of her faithful, until “we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” By living with the mind of Christ, Christians hasten the coming of the Reign of God, “a kingdom of justice, love, and peace.” They do not, for all that, abandon their earthly tasks; faithful to their master, they fulfill them with uprightness, patience, and love.
The Convenience of God
God does not cause inconveniences, we do. This reality is most visible in His Son Jesus Christ and the gift He left is in His Church and the means to expound on God’s mercy and love through the sacramental life especially our Baptism. As I mentioned earlier the Prophet Jeremiah had some choice words to tell God regarding the wretched people he had to deal with. God’s response to Jeremiah (12:14-17) fittingly reveals just how simple and convenient God makes Himself available to us:
Thus says the Lord concerning all my evil neighbors who touch the heritage which I have given my people Israel to inherit: Behold, I will pluck them up from their land, and I will pluck up the house of Judah from among them. And after I have plucked them up, I will again have compassion on them, and I will bring them again each to his heritage and each to his land. And it shall come to pass, if they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name, As the Lord lives, even as they taught my people to swear by Ba ‘al, then they shall be built up in the midst of my people. But if any nation will not listen, then I will utterly pluck it up and destroy it, says the Lord.
The premise behind communicating a convincing story is to make it relatable to your audience. In other words show them they are part of the actual story. Any good narrative relies on the existence of natural truths that help anyone come to a realization that this story actually means something to the person.
When the premise behind a good narrative is the actualization of faith, the key word is actualization. Expanding on this a bit further, any sound narrative offers the listener an opportunity to engage the story and at some point assent to the premise of the story and the realities associated with it. These realities or actualizations when associated with Christ for example take on a whole different meaning because the intent is an assent of faith to Christ. But to convince someone to assent to Christ we must first provide the backdrop i.e. the premise behind this assent. And here is where the story needs to be convincing i.e. God’s plan for our salvation and His desire for us to be in full communion with Him.
At the Heart of the Story
Sound catechesis rests on the principal that what you are echoing i.e. teaching is Christ in order to develop an intimate relationship with Him and thus deepen our understanding of His story which we are also a part. When the Archangel Gabriel introduces himself to the Blessed Mother in Luke’s Gospel (1:26-31) his first words were not about himself, instead his very first statement is a direct affirmation from God on who she is: “Hail full of grace the Lord is with you!”
Applying the Annunciation model to our premise on “the story” our first catechetical step should involve an introduction to God’s narrative e.g. where we fit in God’s plan and what we are called to do within this plan. Any sound catechist would tell you that the first preparatory step in teaching the faith to anyone is a clear and precise introduction of God’s story and that His story is also ours and that we are still currently still in it. This basic principle is found again in the Annunciation narrative where after the Archangel Gabriel affirms our Blessed Mother he initiates a second phase of communication by telling Mary that she has “found favor with God.”
A good catechetical narrative aspires to reveal the mysteries of Christ and that these mysteries are not beyond our reach. Let’s keep in mind that the mysteries of Christ can be understood to the degree that we see the process of Divine Revelation throughout history and the development doctrine rooted in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. Even though we tend to speak of mystery as something that cannot be understood at all in relation to God, this is far from the case when we see what has been revealed in light of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. One needs to look no further than the Catechism of the Catholic Church to gain a better appreciation on how the mysteries of Christ can be understood in light of Divine Revelation.
The Centrality of Catechesis is the Kerygma
Part and parcel toward offering a convincing story is setting the stage for a proper understanding on how to live within the story. In other words those we teach should be exposed to the visible witness of our own sacramental life i.e. authentic Christian living which leads to holy action. St. Paul speaks about the need to mature our faith in order to build up the body of Christ (Eph 4:11-13). This particular point reflects the union between the Kerygma i.e. the proclamation of the living Gospel of Jesus Christ and our ability to articulate it through sound catechetical practice, content, and method. The kerygma for all intense purposes sets the stage toward embracing the story of Salvation History; meaning after a specific period of time guiding an individual toward the saving realities of God’s plan for our lives, Salvation History begins to make a little more sense. And this step can take some time depending on the individual’s state in life.
The effective aim of catechesis relies on a clear submission of God’s plan for our lives and how this plan is fully realized in Jesus Christ. Our catechetical instruction cannot be void of the central message of Christ because our way to the Father is through the Son and not ourselves (Jn 3:16; Rom 8:32). This reflects a concerted effort to teach the content of the faith and not be anchored by anything the deviates from what has been echoed (the Deposit of Faith).
What Does a Convincing Story Reveal?
A convincing story reveals truth. And this truth creates a walkway where a person can see him or herself engaging the potentiality of a route to Christ thus having a desire become members of Christ and His Church (Rom 6:3-4).
Part of our fundamental task as catechists is to help people young and old become aware of their vocation and of their purpose in life as a Christian. The study of Christian doctrine thus becomes an opportunity to not just memorize the faith it is an opportunity to help the person become aware of the Church’s doctrinal truths through a personal invitation to enter into God’s plan introduced at Baptism. The Catechism (156) reinforces this point even further:
What moves us to believe is not the fact that revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason: we believe “because of the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.” So “that the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason, God willed that external proofs of his Revelation should be joined to the internal helps of the Holy Spirit.” Thus the miracles of Christ and the saints, prophecies, the Church’s growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability “are the most certain signs of divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all”; they are “motives of credibility” (motiva credibilitatis), which show that the assent of faith is “by no means a blind impulse of the mind.
Effective catechesis reveals that God is waiting for an answer to His personal invitation. This is where the story offers its most convincing position in that God is waiting and not going away no matter how hard we try to replace or ignore Him. Our response of faith is not solely based on our intellectual prowess, instead our response is an unreserved desire to follow God’s loving plan in Christ made more evident by the birth of His only-begotten Son as mentioned earlier in the Annunciation narrative. God’s story is our story, whether we realize it or not. The only way we can truly embrace our doctrinal call and duty is to understand the relationship between our vocation as created beings in the image likeness of God and the response of faith that results from this creation. In other words the symphony of faith rests on the saving realities brought to us by Jesus Christ Himself who is Lord of History.
“But above all it’s the Gospels that occupy my mind when I’m at prayer; my poor soul has so many needs, and yet this is the one thing needful. I’m always finding fresh lights there, hidden and enthralling meanings.”
St. Thérèse of Lisieux
It’s easy to dismiss the influence of the Devil when we are neck deep in our human pleasures. It begs the question do we actually realize what we’re doing when this happens? When one begins to reflect on this question a bit further the Devil appears to be the last person we worry about because of our own self-consumption. One definite illustration of this behavior is the tendency to reject accountability for our own actions creating a “right as I please attitude” because it’s for the greater good of me. And here lies part of Satan’s aim for man, the desire to draw him away from God and draw him inwardly to himself. Interestingly enough Satan’s greatest aim (man’s loss of humility) is also his greatest fear when properly ordered in the human condition. The Catechism for example defines humility as the virtue by which a Christian acknowledges that God is the author of all good. This is exactly what Satan does not want. St. Peter (1 Pt 5:6) reinforces this definition even further:
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you.
Why is sit so important for Satan to draw us away from God? Simply put, the further we distances ourselves from God the greater the opportunity to fall away from His grace and mercy. What better way for Satan to come in and offer alternatives to God. Primary to this desire is an open disregard for the Divine and establishing a sense of entitlement. Let’s keep in mind that Satan had a process in mind on fostering a sense of entitlement when he asked Eve; did God say you shall not eat of any tree of the garden? (Gen 3:1-3) Satan offers our parents a proposition between satisfying their own desires versus their desire for God, a love of self over a love for God.
All this leads to a second and most devastating part of Satan’s aim for man; the love of self above all other things. God becomes an afterthought even though we may try to convince ourselves this is not so. He plays on our incessant need to be happy instead of faithful, ambivalent instead of prudent, prideful instead of humble. His very aim reflects the characteristic he chose to forever be associated with, pride.
The Gift of Humility
Christ reminds us that he who humbles himself will be exalted (Lk 18:9-14). Humility serves as an action of self-abandonment. This means our will and intellect are directed toward a love for Christ and His Church. It reflects a willingness to die to self in order to gain eternal life. This virtue recognizes God as the author of everything good and clearly reveals to us that we are nothing without God.
Humility leads us to have a poverty of heart. This means our preference is Christ before anything else. St. Luke provides us with a great description of a poverty of heart in reference to the cost of discipleship where Jesus asks the Apostles to renounce everything for Him (Lk 14:33).
“All Christ’s faithful are to direct their affections rightly lest they be hindered in their pursuit of perfect charity by the use of worldly things and by an adherence to riches which is contrary to the spirit of evangelical poverty.” (CCC 2345)
One of the central characteristics of humility is the willful act of poor in spirit which helps us to recognize the awesome power of God and his goodness revealed through His son Jesus Christ. In a practical way, we are asked to live out our beatitudinal call i.e. poor in spirit (Mt 5:3) as a way of serving our fellow brother and sister in Christ not only spiritually but corporally as well. St. Gregory of Nyssa echoes this point further describing that the “world speaks of voluntary humility as poverty in spirit; the Apostle gives an example of God’s poverty when he says; for your sakes he became poor.”
St. Gregory of Nyssa reminds us that there is a relationship between humility and our beatitudinal call. When we examine the beatitudes closely, they represent the heart of Jesus’ preaching. The beatitudes fulfill the law of the commandments by placing into action the rule of the faith. The Catechism (1717) strengthens this point even further:
The Beatitudes depict the countenance of Jesus Christ and portray his charity. They express the vocation of the faithful associated with the glory of his Passion and Resurrection; they shed light on the actions and attitudes characteristic of the Christian life; they are the paradoxical promises that sustain hope in the midst of tribulations; they proclaim the blessings and rewards already secured, however dimly, for Christ’s disciples; they have begun in the lives of the Virgin Mary and all the saints.
By nature of our baptismal call we are called to combat our own selfish desires through humility and abandonment to God’s providence. Our actions should not contradict the Gospel but instead should be in unison with our Lord’s desires for us as His children. St. Paul leaves us with a good reminder on how to keep ourselves in a humble manner within the mind of Christ: Pray constantly… always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father (1Thess 5:17).
I am often asked the question: “what is the greatest challenge you face as a catechist?” My response is typically immediate: “it’s the doctrine of ignorance.” When I answer their question in this manner, I typically receive an initial bewildered look, but after a few moments the person begins to understand my response. Let’s put my answer in better perspective, the notion of ignorance on one front is that a person gives the impression to have sound and thorough knowledge of a topic when in reality he does not. On the contrary, what this person says is based on incomplete information which begins the construction of new doctrine not out of malice but out of ignorance. The problem here lies with the tendency to see this ignorance take on a creedal character. In order to avoid the development of ignorance as doctrine our first principle action should involve introducing the person into God’s narrative.
Handling the Doctrine of Ignorance
St. Augustine tells us:
The best method for instructing ignorant men in Christian doctrine, one that will bear much fruit is to ask questions in a friendly fashion after the explanation; from this questioning one can learn whether each one understood what he heard or whether the explanation needs repeating. In order that the learner grasp the matter, we must ascertain by questioning whether the one being catechized has understood, and in accordance with his response, we must either explain more clearly and fully or not dwell further on what is known to them etc. But if a man is very slow, he must be mercifully helped and the most necessary doctrines especially should be briefly imparted to him.
What St. Augustine is revealing to us is that we should be cognizant of whom we are evangelizing and catechizing when dealing with people who have succumbed to the doctrine of ignorance. A first step is by an authentic Christian witness (Acts 2:22-42). Another is to explain his Miracles (Acts 4:8-12), a third is to bear witness to the Love God has for his children through His Son (Rom 5:5-8) and a fourth is we are all called to eternal life (Acts 10:34-43; 13:16-41). St. Augustine is reminding us that our method is not the primary means by which someone will learn the faith and squelch their ignorance. The best method is our genuine witness of Christ in our daily life which is the way by which the person will begin to learn the faith with clarity.
St. Augustine’s Methodology
At the heart of this great Doctor’s methodology as found in his First Catechetical Instruction was the Kerygma i.e. the proclamation of the Gospel. Why is the narration (kerygma) so important in dispelling doctrinal ignorance? Because it involves revealing to the person that he is indeed part of God’s plan by the very nature of his creation. The narration establishes a focal point revealing the salvific reality of the Church and how the Church is the Deposit of faith and morals instituted by Christ.
Pope Paul VI makes us keenly aware of the value of the “narration” when he reminded us that modern man is more willing to listen to an authentic witness of the Gospel (Evangelization In the Modern World, 41). And this is where the apex of conversion, evangelization and catechesis takes hold on the soul, will and intellect of the person. The content of the “narration” involves a genuine love for the Word of God, a willingness to live out the Word and a desire to hand it on to others.
The doctrine of ignorance I argue can be far more damaging to the overall health of a Christian community than anything else. Why? Because it establishes new paradigms of faith and morals, new creeds become the normative way of believing and worshipping Christ without any clue as to whether what is perceived to be true should actually be believed. When dealing with the doctrine of ignorance St. John Paul II lays out a very clear process of conversion which: requires convincing of sin, it includes the interior judgment of conscience, and this, being proof of the action of the Spirit of Truth in man’s inmost being, becomes at the same time the start of a new grant of grace and love.” (DeV 31; CCC 1848)
St. Paul furthers this point by reminding us that we can recover from the doctrine of ignorance by immersing ourselves in the following way:
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:1-2)
Handling doctrinal ignorance is not a catechetical death sentence. It simply means we have to engage in deconstructing what has developed and immerse the individual in God’s salvific plan. It also means revealing to the individual that he is intimately linked to this plan in order to have the opportunity to place himself in eternal rest with Christ in heaven.
Our human desire for both spiritual and physical affection is two of the strongest and most potent aspects of our human existence. It involves quenching the desires of our soul and our senses derived from the soul e.g. intellect, will, reason, logic, and love. When these affections are properly ordered they take on a sacrificial nature versus a selfish one. This reflects a natural disposition toward Christ and freely embracing His sacrificial love for us and imparting unto others. We must keep in mind that the moment sin entered freely into the heart and soul of our first parents our own human faculties would bear the brunt of this first sin. Our desire to live a life centered on Christ is a contested one due to the inclination to sin.
Man participates in the wisdom and goodness of the Creator who gives him mastery over his acts and the ability to govern himself with a view to the true and the good. The natural law expresses the original moral sense which enables man to discern by reason the good and the evil, the truth and the lie (CCC 1954).
The Catechism reminds us that we do indeed have mastery over our acts in order to govern ourselves to choose good over evil through our moral sense. Our own human reason directs us to perform good acts and avoid sinful ones. This order of reason is a gift from God Himself which stems from the divine and natural law that helps us practice these good acts.
Avoiding the Trap of Spiritual Neglect
As I mentioned earlier the human desire for affection if not properly ordered can cloud not only the free mutual self-giving of spouses, it can also deepen this materialistic attitude where the well-being of each other is only taken into consideration when one receives something from the other. The process of spiritual neglect begins with a very humanistic approach to marriage where the male and female simply engage in desires outside of the covenantal act of marriage.
One of the by-products of a spiritually neglected spouse is the disdain one spouse shows toward the other due in part because of a lack of spiritual and human intimacy. This simply means that there is no communication i.e. engagement of the soul. The sacrament of marriage aims to perfect the love of the couple which also reflects a willingness help one another attain holiness in life and bear a love that is both directed at one another and for the creation of children (CCC 1641).
One way to avoid the trap of spiritual neglect is to begin offering oneself as a spiritual sacrifice toward the other in service. We are called to serve one another in fidelity and mutual respect where we look toward fostering the spiritual welfare of the spouse in union with Christ. A good starting point is praying for your spouse every morning and every evening by a simple method of calling upon the intercession their guardian angel or a particular saint.
Marriage as an Act of Prayer
If we read St. Paul’s letter to the Romans very carefully we see St. Paul spiritually carving out a route that man’s soul must take in order to exercise a healthy understanding and living of the dignity of the human person. This theme is especially poignant in chapter seven where he urges us to die to the law of man which in turn frees us to live according to a new life in the spirit (7:4-6). Another example is his exhortation to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (12:1-2).
These particular scripture passages establish an opportunity for us to reflect on the sacrament of Holy Matrimony as an authentic act of prayer centered on Christ. If the basic principle of marriage is man and woman marrying one another under the eyes of the Church this also means that the spouses intercede and offer each other up in spiritual sacrifices.
St. John Paul II tells us that love is always a mutual relationship between persons. . . Love between man and woman is one particular form of love, in which elements common to all of its form are embodied in a certain way (Love and Responsibility pg. 73). Fr. Paul Quay expands on this point in his book The Christian Meaning of Human Sexuality where he reminds us that the Man who truly loves his wife satisfies her greatest need as a woman, her need for the security of a steadfast love and faithful protection. The maturity of love that Fr. Quay describes in man is a result of a commitment to prayer in the marital relationship. It reveals a cooperation with the Divine plan of marriage (Mt 9:33; Jn 4:34) where communication with God serves as the core foundation to any covenantal relationship.
Affirming Your Covenantal Marriage
In any covenantal relationship the ultimate goal is sanctification through the glorification of Christ and not in us. This formula allows us to clearly articulate a genuine love for one another in Christ and in turn aides our understanding of one another as a son or daughter of Christ. This formula also allows us to avoid the possibility of spiritual neglect within the covenantal relationship. Here are a couple of suggestions to consider the next time you begin to experience or recognize the onset of spiritual neglect;
- Husband and wife must reverence each other and the marriage relation, this is essential.
- Total self-giving is the key to successful marriage.
- Love is the key to self-giving.
- Love is more powerful than the intellect.
- Husband and wife must have a love of Christ between them. Without this no human relation is possible.
- Only God can meet all of our needs.
St. Maximillian Kolbe, pray for us!
Blessed Cardinal Newman once said that “Faith is illuminative, not operative; it does not force obedience, though it increases responsibility; it heightens guilt, but it does not prevent sin. The will is the source of action.” When you take a moment to analyze Blessed Newman’s words, they can easily be directed toward the spiritual relationship between parent and child.
One of the constant challenges any human being faces in this world is illuminating any form of faith. Because the human condition is in a constant spiritual tug of war between grace and vice our own free will is in constant need of seeking the Divine condition versus the human one. And because of this very fact, how we either assent or turn away from our faith in Jesus Christ will have lasting consequences to those who witness these acts i.e. our children.
The Parent as the First Evangelist
As a father of four I remember the day I REALIZED that every little thing I did or said around my first born son molded his Catholic world view and that of the rest of my children for better or worse. The first time you encounter mimicked behaviors i.e. mannerisms and words that come out of their mouths you are left wondering where those “things” came from and then all of sudden realizing with a shocked expression that they came from “me.” This becomes the time where we do not want our children to be referenced as “a chip off the old block.”
The manner by which we live out our kerygmatic (Gospel) call is tantamount to what our own children will perceive and apply in daily life. If our faith life is nothing more than a side bar in the grand scheme of the soul then don’t be surprised to see your child act out in the same way. When you honestly and earnestly begin to reflect on these things you have to wonder how our own lack of faith affects those around us especially our children. We are reminded to “be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48) whereas St. Paul tells us that we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12).
The Call to Christian Holiness
The Catechism tells us that all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and the perfection of charity (2013). In other words all are called to holiness. This means that our parental primacy should always be directed toward the spiritual well-being of our children. The book of Hebrews echoes this point reminding us that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (11:1). Our participation into the life of Christ through the Holy Trinity sets the stage to faithfully transmit the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our children and in turn not leave them feeling spiritually neglected. If you think for a minute that a child does not recognize when a parent is not prayerfully interceding for them, think again.
The effect of our own spiritual progress cannot be achieved unless it is intimately bound with Jesus Christ. Our Trinitarian character cannot exist without this fundamental trait because it reflects not only a desire to know and live in Christ but it also reflects a willingness to die for Him by dying to self and embracing His Cross. When we honestly come to our prayerful senses; we know that Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity bearing these sins in order to free us from the bondage of sin. This means that our way of life is directed to actively denounce all manner of sin that takes us away from our duties as authentic disciples in Christ especially toward our children.
Avoiding Spiritual Neglect
A sound way to avoid the spiritual neglect of our children is to first make an examination of conscience and prudently reflect and discern those times you and I have not prayed for our own children. At times, what we as parents are dealing with spiritually often inhibits our capacity to pray for our children because we are so wrapped up in our own devices. Another spiritual method to consider is renewing your baptismal promises. This method allows us to reflect on the Creed which leads us to make a profession of faith to Christ and His Church. By nature of our baptism, we enter into a faithful relationship with Christ which calls us to live out our baptismal call. The Catechism expands this point even further:
The fidelity of the baptized is a primordial condition for the proclamation of the Gospel and for the Church’s mission in the world. In order that the message of salvation can show the power of its truth and radiance before men, it must be authenticated by the witness of the life of Christians. The witness of a Christian life and good works done in a supernatural spirit have great power to draw men to the faith and to God (CCC 2044).
Making Spiritual Progress
Our spiritual aim is to always be in communion with Christ which in turn leads us to freely intercede on behalf of our children. Spiritual progress means a more intimate union with Christ. This union is called “mystical” because it participates in the mystery of Christ through the sacraments . . . the holy mysteries . . . the mystery of the Holy Trinity (CCC 2014). Our way of perfection must reflect the way of the Cross. The Catechism reminds us that there is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle (2015).
As I mentioned earlier our children do have a sense of knowing when we pray for them. Our spiritual progress is hinged on whether our devotion to Christ is reflective of our sacramental living in particular our faithful observance of the Lord’s Day. And this progress will indeed help us stay on course when it comes to the spiritual well-being of our children.
St. John Bosco, pray for us!
The reality of SCOTUS’ decision should not surprise anyone. Many, myself included were sounding the alarm for years that this was eventually going to happen. There was a naive sense that the legalization of same-sex marriage would at best be left up to the states. The human reality of this decision reveals an intimate development that should not only prepare us to evangelize but catechize. What I mean by this is the establishment of a “new catechism of love” by the five Justices of the Supreme Court who affirmed the rite to same-sex marriage.
This “new catechism of love” echoes what the Prophet Isaiah warned about the rebellious people who “. . . carry out a plan, but not mine; and who make a league, but not my spirit, that they may add sin to sin . . . (29:1). In essence this is what the five Supreme Court Justices have done. They have positoned themselves to be the new moral law of the land thus creating a “new catechism of love” that has no distinction between man and woman, nor takes into consideration the well-being of children, the authentic definition of a hetrosexual marital relationship or the proper defense of life and the dignity of the human person. Instead we have by the personal perspective of a few a definition of love that can mean anything to anyone to satisfy one’s own personal gratification.
An Opportunity to Evangelize
The book of Proverbs tells us that whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid (12:1). SCOTUS’ decison while a supposed bruise to the natural order of the human condition does not destroy it. On the contrary it provides us with a great opportunity to witness the authenticity and sacredness of marriage and the reasonableness to witness the joy of authentic love between one man and one woman in holy matrimony. Heterosexual marriage is not extinct though the Supreme Courts ruling may imply this. The Catechism reminds us that the vocation of marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator (CCC 1603). SCOTUS knows it is not the author of marriage, but through its decision proposes to establish in essence a new moral order that rejects God’s creation of man out of love who is created in His image and likeness who Himself is love (CCC 1604).
Again, we have a unique opportunity to express the beauty of marriage and clearly live out our dignity as children of God. We must remind everyone in love that God seals the mutual consent of spouses in marriage and desires a covenantal relationship with us. God established the marriage bond (CCC 1640) which means our call is to live out this bond with joy and grace. Consider these threee points the next time you have an opportunity to discuss the beauty and sacredness of marriage:
1. Be genuine in your evangelism, mirror the image of God toward others.
2. Fidelity and charity must work hand in hand.
3. Ignorance in most cases has become personal doctrine, do not attack, clarify.
Remember, the conversion of hearts begins with how much we are able to love.
Imagine if you were completely docile to the will of God. At first you may think highly unlikely due to the challenges of original sin and our own narcissistic tendencies. However what if God placed a unique and burning desire in your heart to proclaim and exalt Him especially through His Son Christ Crucified. God in His loving goodness constantly desires a covenantal relationship with his children. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us of this fact where God affirms that He will make a covenant with Israel by placing the law within them and writing it in their hearts (31:33).
An often overlooked aspect of our own distinctive nature is that we are offered the opportunity to share the Incarnational reality of the Son of God Jesus Christ in the holy sacrifice of the Mass. The events surrounding His Paschal Mystery culminating in His death and resurrection reflect a sacrificial willingness to embrace our sinful ways through His loving heart. St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians echoes the Incarnational reality this way:
I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (2:20).
Our Moral Responsibility
One of the greatest attributes of the Feast of the Sacred Heart is its emphasis on the union between Christ and man. This may sound obvious to many but when we truly reflect and pray the Litany to Sacred Heart the culminating thrust of this prayer is salvation, trust, communion, renunciation of sin, and hope that leads to our eternal rest in Heaven.
Part of our moral responsibility is exercising the virtues of prudence in temperance because these virtues help us identify and understand the need to seek the will of God and be in communion with Him through His Son Jesus Christ. Thus our moral responsibility is keenly etched in our active participation in the Mass (CCC 1325).
Discerning for and against God
A perfectly good way of discerning for or against God is to engage in the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father). Whatever your current religious state with God may be, it doesn’t hurt to remove yourself for a brief period of time from the distractions of the world and discern God’s will. The Lord’s Prayer offers us several propositions; He is Father, He is with us, He is Holy, and His will permeates both Heaven and earth. This means that man has a unique place in His heart. In other words He loves us so much that He gave us “our daily bread” in the form of His Son Jesus Christ crucified for the salvation of all humanity. On top of this, we are offered the opportunity to seek His mercy and in turn show mercy toward others culminating in the request to avoid the near occasion of sin and be delivered from all evil. This is why when we read the institution of the Lord’s Prayer in Mt 6:7-13 Christ directs his disciples to establish an intimate relationship with the Father and not with the world.
The Catechism reminds us:
The prayer of the Church venerates and honors the Heart of Jesus just as it invokes his most holy name. It adores the incarnate Word and his Heart which, out of love for men, he allowed to be pierced by our sins (2669).
Discerning for or against God does not mean discerning whether you like God or not. This discernment revolves around a genuine and intentional desire to seek someone greater than one’s self. It’s the first step in orienting ourselves to God the Father if we so desire and if we do then the reality of His Son Jesus Christ begins to make sense.
St. Thomas Aquinas alludes to this very point where he calls the Lord’s Prayer the most perfect of prayers because in it we ask not only for the things we can rightly desire, but also in the sequence that they should be desired. This prayer not only teaches us to ask for things, but also in what order we should desire them (STh II-II, 83, 9).
The gift of the Sacred Heart echoes St. Thomas’ points on the things we rightly desire because it is the devotion to the Sacred Heart where we have the opportunity to properly order our desires to Him and in turn helps us discern for or against God. It introduces the opportunity to seek Him from above and avoid the things of the earth (Col 3:3). Sacred Heart of Jesus, pray for us!
Every time I hear the phrase “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side” I often wonder what was so bad about the side you were in. It begs to ask the question; “what was missing that made you leave in the first place?” Blessed Cardinal Newman tells us to; “take things as we find them: let us not attempt to distort them into what they are not… We cannot make facts. All our wishing cannot change them. We must use them.” This is a very poignant statement because it directs the human condition to recognize and affirm what humanity has received and that is an imagery that reflects God’s love for His children.
This imagery embraces greater significance when God sends forth His Son begotten not made, born of a Virgin maiden with the faculties encompassing both Divinity and humanity. He did this so that we would clearly see the love He has for us through Jesus Christ. The Christian narrative reflects an opportunity to squelch any confusion about our identity because this narrative is fully realized in Jesus Christ who is both Savior and King. The Catechism lays out a beautiful “Proclamation” emphasizing our clear identity with Christ;
We believe and confess that Jesus of Nazareth, born a Jew of a daughter of Israel at Bethlehem at the time of King Herod the Great and the emperor Caesar Augustus, a carpenter by trade, who died crucified in Jerusalem under the procurator Pontius Pilate during the reign of the emperor Tiberius, is the eternal Son of God made man. He “came from God,” “descended from heaven,” and “came in the flesh.” For “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father…. And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace (423).
The Seed of Doubt leads to Confusion
Our human condition has a difficult time embracing what is actually good for us. We tend to dive toward an alternative mindset that is always looking for the next best thing. And if we can’t find the next best thing we immediately begin to distort the actually reality of things as Blessed Newman alludes to. The seed of distortion receives its nourishment from the fear of suffering. What I mean here is the fear of not wanting to sacrifice for the sake of anyone person or thing. Since the loss of the preternatural gifts due to the fall of our first parents, the notion of having to suffer for something doesn’t immediately appeal to the human appetite. On the contrary we find ways to distort this reality instead of embracing suffering as an actual gift of grace. St. Peter reminds to;
. . . not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to reprove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you (1 Pt 4:12-16).
The Gift of Corpus Christi
When one begins to take account the significance of Corpus Christ and how this feast reminds us of what Christ did at the Last Supper the state of perpetual confusion many of us tend to live by begins to actually subside. St. Mark reminds us;
And as they were eating, he took bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them and said, take; this is my body. And he took a chalice, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them and they all drank of it. And he said to them, this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I say to you O shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God (14:22-25).
The gift of the Holy Eucharist simply put is the primordial gift left by Christ to keep us on the path of redemption to Heaven. The significance of the Holy Eucharist is the fact that He took on human nature to save us from the state of moral and spiritual confusion causing us to replace Christ’s narrative with a false one. The institution of the Holy Eucharist serves as a reminder of the perpetual sacrifice offered at Mass (CCC 1323).
St. John reminds us that Christ is the living bread that came down from heaven (6:51) for the sole purpose of experiencing the joy of Christ’s love for us. The Feast of Corpus Christ makes sense because the purpose of the Eucharist is to:
Reconcile us with God; to know God’s love; to be our model of holiness; to make us partakers of the divine nature (CCC 457-460).
These reasons sanctify our own human condition to Christ Himself and in so doing clarifies our relationship with Him avoiding the temptation of trying to find an alternative that no matter how hard you try just doesn’t seem to work.
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that is due time he may exalt you (1 Pt 5:6).