All posts by Matthew Heinrich

Matthew Heinrich is a deacon for the Archdiocese of Chicago. He enters his 13th year in seminary. He attended the high School seminary (Archbishop Quigley), went to St. Joseph (at Loyola), continued at Theological College in Washington DC (Catholic University of America) where he earned his PhL. He currently studies at Mundelein Seminary working towards his STB, STL. He loves philosophy, has studied Greek, and fell in love with Patristic thought. He is a huge Chicago fan--Cubs, Bears, Hawks (2013 Champs!), and Bulls. The views expressed by the author are his alone, they neither reflect those of the diocese he studies for nor at the seminary where he studies.

Jesus Expelled

[An exegesis and reflection on Mark 1:40-45]

In the readings this week we may consider the primary themes that of ‘expulsion’ and ‘re-entry.’ A man, in Leviticus, when he was declared unclean by the priest or by the community was expelled for the safety of the whole. He had to cry out “Unclean!” to warn others of his passing and live outside the community of believers.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus cleanses a leper who comes to him. He says with heartfelt sincerity, “If you will it, you can make me clean.” Jesus, pitying the man, expresses His divine power and says, “I do will it. Be made clean.” But our Lord also gives him a command: Tell no one; go to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses provides. Jesus is allowing this man to reenter the community and to join himself fully to the people of God.

Yet the cleansed man disobeys Jesus. We are not sure, but the evidence that the Gospel provides suggests that he did not go to the priest and instead he told everybody of the affair. At first glance, this man would seem to be doing Jesus a favor: he is proclaiming the power of God to the people and others, in turn, flock to him!

But in disobeying Jesus, this man effectively expelled Jesus from that same community He came to serve. The Gospel tells us that Jesus remained in a deserted place. Everyone “came to him from everywhere.”

Initially we may admire those in the Gospel who go to Jesus and seek Him out, but the Gospel is framed in a way to make us pause and reflect on the truth it teaches.

Jesus wants to enter the community of believers but, along the way is stopped by a man seeking His mercy and His healing. We too go to Mass, receive the Sacraments, and seek Jesus in good faith; this I believe. Yet a multitude rush to Jesus when one receives what he desired. In our own hearts we have many competing desires, wants, and pains. While we recognize our need for Jesus, when all of these things in our heart rush to Jesus at once they may indeed be healed, but it also leaves Jesus outside of us.

Jesus wants to enter into our communities, our families, and our hearts. When we go to Jesus with our wants and needs we are, in a sense, in control. When we allow Christ to come to us we allow Him to be in control and to heal what He needs to heal at the core of our being. Our core wound is our separation from the perfect love of God.

Of course we should pray for healing and help, but when we get better or when we weather a storm, how often do we find ourselves returning to the same old sin, the same old habits, and the same old wounds over and over again? Sometimes going to Jesus isn’t enough, and it isn’t what will actually heal us. We need to allow Jesus to come to us and we need to receive Jesus on His terms.

This is difficult because Jesus may comfort us or He may challenge us. Many of us are in the habit of asking, but few reflect on the act of receiving His love and His grace, which He bestows readily and freely.

How, then, are we to allow Jesus to enter into our community, our homes, and our hearts? It begins, first, with prayer. Getting away for a moment and praying for ourselves, not just for our wants but for something far more important: His mercy. Jesus came to express the power of God, yes, but the power of God is expressed most profoundly in His love and mercy. Prayer prepares our hearts to seek and receive the Lord. Thus silence is also essential to receiving Jesus.

Moreover, reading the Scriptures openly and prayerfully helps us to receive God. In reading Scripture without agenda or expectation of one, we allow the word of God to speak to us. Scripture speaks to us where we are in our lives and, I guarantee to you, it also reveals to us what we need to hear – whether it is consoling, rebuking, or challenging.

Among other things are spiritual directors, the Sacraments, the teachings of the Church – all given to us to allow us to meet Jesus according to His desires and not on our own terms. While some directions, some Sacraments, and some teachings may seem contrary to us, they work more deeply in that they teach us to be humble and they teach us to reflect on what we truly desire: the desire behind all desires. Namely, the One and True God who desires that we be one with Him, as the Father and Son are one.

This day do not expel Jesus from your hearts, but hear His voice, do as He commands, and wait for Him. He will enter the homes of all who prepare a place for Him.

Against Those Who Call Religious Art Idolatry

Often times Catholics are called pagans and idol worshipers for depicting Christ, expressing Him in religious art, and expressing Him in statues. This is true in depicting the saints, angels, and the like.

I find these arguments very strange. The most commonly cited “proof” is from Exodus 20:4 and similar passages: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (KJV).

This is certainly true, especially when considering that the Israelites fashioned for themselves a golden calf and, in various ages, many other idols of Cannanite, Babylonian, and Assyrian gods. In these times God was without image. From Genesis and throughout the Old Testament God is not described as having proportions or form but rather as expansive, immense, and beyond comparison. Images, or more specifically similes and metaphors, were used to describe the power, love, and greatness of God, but no images were fashioned. Moreover John the Apostle attests that “no one has ever seen God” (1 John 4:12 RSV). So why, then, do Catholics portray Christ as well as God the Father, and God the Spirit?

There are logical proofs for such actions and dispositions, but they are logical proofs grounded in Scripture and the reality they portray:

It begins with the reality of Christ himself: that He is the Word and that He is God. This Word is the “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15) and He “reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature” (Heb 1:3). Similarly this all-powerful and glorious Word “became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). Thus God, who was in former times had revealed Himself in shadows and imperfect things, such as the prophets and the Law, now revealed Himself in his perfect Son. The source of light is not seen in darkness, and we are all blind. But Jesus Christ, who gives sight to the blind, is “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12). We not only beheld Him with our eyes but, as John said, we have also “looked upon [him] and touched [him] with our hands” (1 John 1:1).

Jesus was truly God and truly man, something to which Scripture and faith attest. Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Jesus (cf., Jn 17:21). All who believe in Jesus Christ have come to believe because they have heard about Him from those who believe and who were sent out just as Jesus had been (cf. Jn 17:18). Similarly, the power of Jesus is described, just as the power of God had been described as of old, but now the power of God is expressed in image and flesh. This is how John the Baptist could say “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (Jn 1:29), and how Stephen could say, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).

Catholics depict Christ because He was seen both in His earthly flesh as well as His heavenly glory, both in Christ crucified and in Christ risen. Paul proclaims and preaches “Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23) and John looked upon the power and image of Christ the King in the book of Revelations. Thus not only was God seen but He was described. While, for example, His resplendence in heaven is described in metaphor and prophetic language the person of Christ is described as being who He is: a man who was humbled and humiliated on earth but now rules both heaven and earth in the fullness of power.

Thus, because we proclaim Christ and his life which was real, which was seen and touched, and which revealed the fullness of God and his plans. The Father has truly “made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will” (Eph 1:9) through Christ Jesus, and the light Jesus provides is His life as model, truth, and guide. As such, when Catholics express Christ in stained-glass, in a crucifix, and in various media, it is because we are expressing the truth that Christ, in His very reality and image, reveals God to us. It was once blasphemous to portray God with graven images since no one had ever seen God and God had not yet revealed Himself to the nations. Similarly it was contrary to the law to eat certain foods until Christ had made them clean. Yet in these last days God has revealed Himself by His only-begotten Son and His Son showed us the way we should go in power and in truth.

The images we fashion of Christ, of the Spirit (as dove and fire), and the Father (similar to the Son) are expressions of the reality of Christ. In the eastern traditions of Catholicism and in among some of our Orthodox brethren, only Christ is portrayed as a theological point that the Spirit and Father are both never seen or described, but that the image of Christ is also the image of the other two. I think the iconography of the east also has powerful and rich meanings behind it. Catholics too express the reality of God revealed through their art. Calling it blasphemous and idolatry is not only ignorant but foolish in light of the Gospel.

A Christmas Message

This season of Christmas we recall the powerful words of Scripture, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). Christ became man to be with us and to experience life with us. He lived an authentic and real human life with all of its many aspects.

I know during this time of year we often recall our many family members and friends who have died and how, even in this happy time, we miss them. Even I lost an uncle who was very dear to me on December 23rd last year. It is at these times, however, that I ask Christ to be with me. I pray for our faithful departed and families, always asking Christ to be with us as truly as he was a man here on earth.

I began wondering, then, what it means that Jesus experienced life like us in the following way:

Can you imagine how many people came up to tell Jesus about a death in the family, fear because of illness, anxiety because of unemployment, or divisions among their families? Jesus shared a great deal in the pain and hardship of our daily lives with us. Likewise, imagine those who came up to him saying, “I am getting married” and “my wife and I are finally having our first child.” Jesus went to weddings, celebrated at religious events, and spent his time sharing in the many joys of human life. We can relate to these events that punctuate our lives as well. Jesus through his ministry gives us that divine example. By his words and actions he always expressed the same thing, “I love you” and “Do not be afraid, I am with you.”

This time of year we also remember that Jesus Christ is God Himself. He alone can free us of the chains of sin, misery, regret, and death. Through him everything came into being and he sustains every individual instance in his love. For God is love and his entire being expresses love for creation and, in a special way, for us. Our great God who spoke and created all things became subject to our frail humanity for our sake.

So it is this day that we say, “A king is born to us!” and “God has visited his people!”

He came to us as one of us, and he understands each and every one of us. Yes, he even understands our weaknesses, our regrets, and our sinfulness. He ever and always calls us to himself and calls us to believe in him. For it is in believing in him, putting behind our sins, and following him that he will give us the “power to become children of God” (1:12). Through this power we can endure all hardship and, having run our course in this life, reign forever with him in heaven—a gift he so graciously gave to those who endure with him.

Let us, therefore, follow our great King this Christmastime. His every action has said from the beginning, “I love you and I am with you until the end of time.” Let us, by our lives, say the same.

Considerations About the Synod

In light of the many articles and comments arising from the recent Synod on the Family, I would like to offer some thoughts on the topic at hand that may be helpful for others who are attempting to follow the news on this issue. In any academic setting, and even in every investigative setting, one must first look at the source and, from there, investigate what others are saying about the source.

In this instance the “source” is not much of a source. It is a written document, yes, but as a written document it only serves to chronicle what has been spoken of at this time. This document carries with it no legislative power in the Church. Many people are surprised of the language used concerning homosexuality and others and have praised its content, but these praises are only sung by people who have no desire to investigate what the Church has already said. Websites, such as Human Rights Campaign, have opened up their article on the Relatio saying,

The preliminary but potentially ground-breaking document released today by the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops asserted that LGBT people have “gifts and talents to offer the Christian community,” and, for the first time, referred to LGBT couples as “partners” instead of sinners.

Moreover the Huffington Post, “the bastion of quality journalism” as readers call it, reported that,

A day after signaling a warmer embrace of gays and lesbians and divorced Catholics, conservative cardinals hit back strongly Tuesday (Oct. 14), with one insisting that an abrupt-face on church teaching is “not what we are saying at all.” …

The summary document, presented to the media by Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo, immediately provoked the fury of conservatives about how he and his colleagues were interpreting the spectrum of views aired on the synod floor.

In typical fashion, holding a stance on anything is considered a sort of conscription into an ideology whereby one forfeits his reason and knowledge in favor of some safe and accepted rule. At least that’s how I read this excerpt saying that ‘finally those conservatives are getting some pushback.’ Compassion and warmth can not, apparently, come from anyone considered “conservative.” What I dislike about this article in particular is how it tries to pit two groups against one another.

Both conservatives and liberals have overreacted to this synod. Sadly it has become yet another instance where even the Church is labeled as having two camps. Catholics who can not debate topics with integrity and honesty, even if they get heated, are neither liberal or conservative but rather just bad apologists.

With that said I’d like to make a few points as there are those who have spoken to me saying, “Is the Church going to cave in to societal pressures?” while others have said, “Finally the Church is recognizing gays and homosexuals on (more) equal footing.”

I. As Catholics we need to exercise patience.

All too often I think we forget that we live in history. With 2,000 years of Tradition, traditions, and development we casually quote Nicea, Trent, and Vatican II among others as singular events. These were Ecumenical Councils that contained debate, (fierce) disagreements, and in the fire of competing intellects, language refined six and seven times over. The Church does not shy away from disagreement, debate, and asking difficult questions.

The Acts of the Apostles ought to give Catholics some rest about how the Church proceeds. First the Church in local communities identify a problem of disagreement and proceed from there. But even in local churches there can be “no small dissension and debate between them” (Acts 15:2). Likewise, when brought to the assembly of Apostles and presbyters, there was still “much debate” (v.7).

Thus we as Catholics should not be afraid of debate because we never have been. While others may consider us to be doctrinally locked into a singular way of thinking this is far from the truth. Nevertheless we are constantly confronted with new information and problems. All of us share in the task of transmitting the faith with intentionality which includes us bringing the Gospel to each new problem.

This task requires patience. Just as Christ was rejected and accepted in His day, we are no different. If we really do believe in the organic growth of the Church and her understanding, we ought to judge the fruit of this synod when it is in bloom, not now. In our patience we, meaning all sides, must listen to each other and be open to correction.

II. Homosexuals and others should be co-laborers to the Gospel

Homosexuals and others in more difficult categories are in a difficult spot. Many are isolated from the Church while those who do stand up for Church teaching are rejected as self-hating and enemies. Having grown up in environments where gays were ridiculed and, likewise, seeing how easy it is to demean those I misunderstood, I have challenged myself in the following way:

  • What is science (biology, psychology, etc.) actually saying about homosexuality?
  • Can I, being critical enough to distinguish descriptive or ideological claims, understand the challenges they face if they do indeed wish to walk the path the Church does?
  • Can I use this information to better understand human sexuality and our humanity?

We must be able to affirm the teachings of the Church on marriage and family while also being what we are called to be: one. I still recall being labeled as a certain type of person because I am from Chicago. I was told what my work ethic probably was, among other things. Being labeled as having this or that moral quality, having this disposition, or other pre-determined traits is not only insulting but about as reliable as “blood typology” common in many Asian countries.

It is easy to fall into the trap that “everyone deserves love” and “Who are you to say I can’t have sex?” Sex does not complete us, no matter how good it feels. What completes and perfects us is holiness. Our individual human perfection comes from both our vocation (what I, personally, am called to be by God) and a growth in love that imitates God’s love.

Thus, when we work with others, treat all persons with dignity and all ideas with scrutiny, carefully exploring how those ideas do or do not fit with the Gospel. “Test everything, hold fast to what is good” (1 Thes 5:21).

III. Be informed

This synod, while not the best PR episode we’ve had in a while, has opened up some discussion. Confusion has that effect sometimes. Can you, as families, sit down and discuss the synod? Can we as Catholics openly debate with ourselves and be vulnerable enough to acknowledge our ignorance on certain issues?

Nothing reveals ignorance better than conversation, which is why most of us are usually silent, even among friends. We must fortify ourselves with humility and speak with one another about Scripture, Tradition, and the Church. More than that, we should not look with disdain at Rome or our Church as if they have nothing to teach.

The only way to abolish ignorance is through investigation and, after investigation, testing it against the intellects of believer and non-believer alike. Our children can teach us, as can our elders. No one knows through whom the Spirit will speak and how, but no one is beyond scrutiny and testing. Love of knowledge is one thing, but a love of wisdom is another thing. Wisdom orders all things and no one receives wisdom except through prayer.

Some of us will assent easily and others assent with difficulty, but we should all be open to truth. No one will believe the Church has that attitude unless we practice it ourselves.

Beware what Crosses the Jordan

The following was a reflection I prepared for my prayer group, but I am also indebted to them for some of the insights that followed. The following Scripture, from Joshua 7:1-9, sets the stage for this reflection.

But the Israelites acted treacherously with regard to the ban; Achan, son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah of the tribe of Judah, took goods that were under the ban, and the anger of the LORD flared up against the Israelites.

Joshua next sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth-aven and east of Bethel, with the order, “Go up and reconnoiter the land.” When they had explored Ai, they returned to Joshua and advised, “Do not send all the people up; if only about two or three thousand go up, they can attack and overcome Ai. You need not tire all the people: the enemy there are few.” About three thousand of the people made the attack, but they fled before the army at Ai, who killed some thirty-six of them. They pursued them from the city gate to the Shebarim, and defeated them on the descent, so that the confidence of the people melted away like water.

Joshua, together with the elders of Israel, tore their garments and fell face down before the ark of the LORD until evening; and they threw dust on their heads. “Alas, Lord GOD,” Joshua prayed, “why did you ever allow this people to cross over the Jordan, delivering us into the power of the Amorites, that they might destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell on the other side of the Jordan. Please, Lord, what can I say, now that Israel has turned its back to its enemies? When the Canaanites and the other inhabitants of the land hear of it, they will close in around us and efface our name from the earth. What will you do for your great name?”

This scene in Joshua documents the first major battle after the Israelites enter the promised land. Moses has very recently died and Joshua is now the leader of the people. After their victory over Jericho and crossing the Jordan the wandering people of Israel now have a concrete view of the land promised to them. They traveled through the desert and were beset by famine, in-fighting, and dissatisfaction. Moreover they endured betrayal, idolatry, and many scourges.

Finally they had reached the Promised Land with the full hope of conquering the land and establishing a people rooted firmly in God. Yet the first battle in this Promised Land, not even a major one, was a defeat at the hands of a weaker foe. While joy and elation came with the Israelites so too did avarice and complacency.

Now I do not write this to accuse anyone of of being plagued by greed and complacency at this moment, but the Exodus story and the story of the settling of the Promised Land is also a powerful allegory for our own personal spiritual journey.

There are many battles and difficulties we face in life. Similarly there are many moments we look forward to: ordination, marriage, a big job, a new family, more money, a cute girl, etc. When we reach these objects of hope and desire there is also the great temptation of complacency—being content with what we have and becoming lazy with regard to self-knowledge and humility.

In Joshua one man, Achan, becomes avaricious for the gold and wealth won from battle and keeps it for himself. His own greed infects the people of Israel and results in the disastrous consequence related above. In noble matters and seemingly simple, bodily matters none of us are immune to the desire for more—more difficult still is that what we desire may not necessarily be “bad,” but the desire is bad because of its aim. Complacency and greed are self-centered and self-oriented. Ultimately it turns people and things into objects of desire and more dangerously objects that I deserve.

In my own spiritual direction I have looked for the undercurrents of jealousy and avarice that have invaded my habits and dispositions. I have been able to see how stress, disappointment, and dissatisfaction have guided my feelings. Sometimes I find myself envious of those who have more than I do or something nicer than I do because they have more money. Other times I’m upset that I put a lot of hard work into something for little to no encouragement or recognition. These dispositions can manifest themselves instantaneously and feel more like reactions than conscious decisions. If that is the case then it is likely that my feelings about money or recognition have been nurtured by my own desires. Those desires then have become habits and predispositions toward subsequent events.

We must always be on guard about what we desire and who we desire. The moment we feel as if we “have it all” leads to ruin. That moment where we feel we need everything does the same. Humility guards against both extremes. Humility accepts what we are and what we are not.

What guards against the poison of greed and complacency? Here are a few suggestions:

+Accountability: make yourself accountable to others for your spiritual well-being. Confide in friends or relatives whom you trust to be on the lookout for patterns you wish to eliminate (or grow).

+Prayer: Honestly present to God what you are struggling with at this very moment. Pray also for the insight to know yourself more fully and to love yourself for who you are and are not.

+Guidance: Spiritual direction with someone practiced in prayer and the movements of the Spirit can aid us in recognizing patterns we cannot see. While your priest may be a good starting place it does not need to be him out of necessity. He may very well help or direct you to someone he feels can best guide you. Moreover one must also pray about who should guide them.

These are three small ways to strengthen ourselves on our own spiritual journey to the “promised land.” Like the pilgrimage the Israelites made in the desert our own pilgrimage will be filled with wandering, confusion, idolatry, anger, betrayal, and crises of faith. These trials are only bearable with the help of others who wander with us and guide us. Entrust yourselves to the care of others and be a Christian who is trusted to do the same.

New Language for Speaking about Homosexuality?

One of the more popular, misunderstood, and challenging problems Catholics face today is the topic of homosexuality. I think of the many great strides we as a Church and as a culture have taken in speaking about it. In the same way, neither side whether secular or religious, has spoken more clearly on the subject. Catholics, at the very least, have always been very good at making distinctions. The process of making distinctions is not just good philosophy and theology, but it also aids in our practical and charitable responses to what we experience.

When we respond to homosexuality we should know what it is. Moreover, when someone is homosexual it does us little good to categorize that person according to preconceived notions about their sexual activity, sexual purity, or moral state. In fact I’ve usually seen these reactions as one’s own personal, moral blindness than as a useful discussion geared towards understanding something so as to respond to it more effectively.

That being said, I also see among many Catholics, (more understandably, perhaps) secular homosexuals, and supporters of “gay rights” a departure from language such as “disordered.” A great deal of language focuses on “natural” sexual desire. It should be granted that the word “nature” (or “natural”) is not as clear as it first appears, but some have achieved a greater sense of clarity about it.

Part of my worry is that even good, Catholic homosexuals have found the language of “disorder” offensive and disheartening. My worry is not so much their individual feelings about the word, but it does bring forth the valid question as to whether or not our language about homosexuality is unsound, invalid, or ineffective.

This is also not as easy to determine right away. Our language could be unsound if it simply isn’t true or because we are operating under false premises. It may be invalid simply because what we do know about the human person and human sexuality is not properly expressed (i.e., our conclusions may not be properly derived from our premises). Our language may be ineffective as a result. Effectiveness is not only a matter of truth but also rhetoric. Speaking ineffectively is just as damaging to an argument as it is to be untrue or be lacking logically. This also accepts that, like Jesus, some people simply will not accept what is true—but this should stop us from pausing and considering our own words.

Should we discard the use of the term “disordered,” then? I am inclined to say ‘no’ for the time being. I say this for a number of reasons, some of which I’ll list:

(1) Scientifically speaking we do not know what causes one to be homosexual, in what way they are inclined, exactly, or to what degree one is a homosexual. Furthermore, as part of our species, what function or role does homosexuality play?

(2) The notion of “disordered” is often improperly univocated. There can be disordered states of being and there can be disordered acts. An act whose content or purpose is “good,” such as sex, but which is realized improperly is disordered. Thus both homosexuals and heterosexuals can engage in “disordered” sex.

Something that is disordered, however, is both simple and complex. An eye that cannot see is “disordered” insofar as it can not operate according to its purpose. A keyboard whose keys work except the “t,” “h,” and “e” is unable to fulfill its function adequately.

Thus something can be “disordered” either in execution (i.e., how it’s carried out) or through inability (i.e., it’s incapable of doing what it should).

Catholics hold that the purpose of sex is unitive and procreative. The act of sex is reserved as an expression of marital love. This does not mean that sex must result in procreation. Marital sex must be open to the possibility of procreation lovingly, otherwise that act of sex is disordered. Thus to be truly married and have sex according to the order established by God, the couple must execute the act in an “orderly” way (i.e., they must be married, freely have sex, truly love one another, and be open to (one of) the natural consequences of sex) and both must also be capable of fulfilling these criteria in order to be “ordered properly” in the first place.

(3) We should not be afraid to label ourselves as “disordered,” homosexual or heterosexual. Sin itself is a disruption of “order” insofar as all sin is contrary to God’s will. One who is addicted to masturbation acts in a disordered way. One who is prone to spreading rumors and gossip acts in a disordered way. Those of us who do not go to mass on Sunday act in a disordered way. Those who do not forgive others for their transgressions against us act in a disordered way.

Many of us, because of family history, genetics, or circumstance are also born into a state of greater probability for certain sins or vices, whether we want them or not. We are all born into an existence both ordered by grace and disorderly because of sin.

And so…?

My intention is not to “solve” the problem we have since I do not believe we have the full tools to solve it. I have some self-criticisms that I will briefly connect to my points above:

(1) Sifting through today’s science (biology, sociology, psychology, etc.) on the subject is at times biased, confusing, and willing to promote certain findings for reasons that aren’t always “scientific.” Nevertheless honestly engaging what we are discovering about human sexuality, along with their impulses, are necessary endeavors. Regardless of a lack of scientific clarity those of us who do minister to or interact with homosexuals (etc.) must recognize them as persons created in the imago dei.

(2) My hope is that there is still clarity and a lack of clarity in the term “disordered.” How do we call homosexuality, the state of being, “disordered.” For too long we considered someone who was openly homosexual as one who was by necessity sexually active and predatory to the same sex. This is simply untrue, otherwise we would have to bring the same complaint to heterosexuals.

Homosexuals, by virtue of their homosexuality, are still fully capable of practicing virtues, discerning right from wrong, and making rationally informed choices. Thus their homosexuality is not a disorder to their will and, perhaps one could even say with confidence, their souls.

Their biology is another matter. Their homosexuality does not affect their internal or reproductive organs. In fact we have seen cases of homosexuals who have a desire to reproduce yet, for obvious reasons, can not do so by means of their ‘native’ sexual inclination.

Sex has the ability to improve (or deteriorate) intimacy and trust, to procreate, and give pleasure. In what ways does our insistence on procreation cloud our understanding of sex. I remain, however, a firm believer in the premise that procreation is one of the biological purposes of sex, to which pleasure and intimacy aid in the realization of a new human life.

(3) Perhaps this is too negative a view of the current state which we live in. Some are more willing than me to speak of the goodness of the world/state/circumstance we live in. On the one hand any of us are capable of loving another and love is the only means to break the cycle of sin, since it is only love (according to Paul) that is eternal. Since we have the capacity to love does this mean we are more ordered than disordered? In many ways there is a greater confusion over the terms “evil” and “sin,” in my view, than terms such as “homosexuality” and marriage.

It would be good for all of us to consider more deeply the difficulties at hand with intentionality and patience.

To that end I would suggest two documents by the USCCB for your consideration:

The first is “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers” (1997).

The second is “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care” (PDF, 2006).

Redemptive Suffering

The fear of suffering, pain, and death may seem like unconquerable mysteries. My time here at CPE [Clinical Pastoral Education] has helped me to understand, via experience, that they are not necessarily things that need to be conquered. No amount of faith excludes us from experience pain, loneliness, and death. Money, power, and other earthly things often make these three experiences worse as well.

With this in mind, I began to wonder if the words of Qoheleth are not as negative as they appear: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (Ecc 1:2). Earthly things will pass which also means these things, both good and bad, will pass. Yet this does not ease the blow of the mystery of suffering and death. Even if they pass away they still remain with us our whole lives.

For me, this mystery is one that is only solved by the Cross. The cross is, for me, the foundation of my theology, the ministry I do. The cross is the Incarnational moment where love and suffering meet. Love, because “God is love” (1 Jn 4:16), and suffering, because the human condition is deeply affected by sin and death (Gen 3:16). Christ took upon Himself the entirety of our human condition. While this expressed itself in His person I believe it was brought to completion by His sacrifice. It was only in His death that He was able to “reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col 1:20).

How do I approach this theology? First, if Christ chose to take on all of humanity, He also took on pain, loneliness, and death in all completeness. He did not run from them but endured them and experienced them to the full. Thus any ministry inspired by Christ must be a ministry willing to encounter and experience all of the human condition.

Secondly, did not Christ, through His actions, reconcile all things to Himself? If this is the case, He also reconciled what is lowly and base to our human existence. Thus in ministry, encountering what is base, disgusting, and disturbing is an opportunity to encounter Christ in the same capacity as that which is lofty, beautiful, and joyful. There is no discrimination in what Christ assumed in our humanity. He became like us in all things but sin (cf. Heb 4:15).

As such, in my mind and in my ministry I attempt to approach a Catholic theology of suffering. The primary way is the Catholic view of suffering or, more specifically, redemptive suffering.

What do I mean by redemptive suffering? Only this: that our suffering when united to Christ shares in His mission of salvation. How is this so? Christ is married to the Church as Her spouse and the “two [have] become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). Moreover “no man hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church, because we are members of his body” (Eph 5:29-30, cf. Eph 5). We are by virtue of our baptism joined to Christ and the Church.

We are joined to the body of Christ such that we are one with Him. “This is a great mystery” (Eph 5:32). Yet Scripture proclaims that as Saul persecuted the “disciples of the Way” Christ himself said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? … I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:4, 5). Lastly, Paul himself says, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24).

Christ entrusted His disciples with His Spirit to carry out His mission of salvation to the whole world and to all ages. The Church was established as His bride and He Himself is the head of the body. We are extensions of His Body. We share in the sufferings of those to whom we minister (and we ourselves also suffer). Christ identifies with us, especially with those who suffer (cf. Mt 25:40), should we not also identify with Him in turn?

Christ assumed humanity so as to redeem it, thus with confidence I say He also redeemed suffering. The suffering we experience can be joined to Christ who even after the Resurrection complained to Saul that He himself was being persecuted. Christ’s suffering continues in His Body, the Church, because we live in a world redeemed but not yet saved. We too, in joining our sufferings to Christ, suffer for the sake of His Body (cf. Col 1:24).

And indeed “he did this once for all when he offered himself” (Heb 7:27b). Thus we too “must present ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12:1). This means that the suffering I experience in myself and others can be effective in Christ’s saving work for the one who suffers (and even myself). When I share in the suffering of another, I attempt to share in the suffering of both Christ and the individual.

If only I’d allow myself to do it more often.

Note: This post and ones following are part of a series I hope to begin. Namely I intent to explain, Scripturally, Catholic theology that I find has an active role in our lives. I further plan to reflect in ways deeper than the surface level, e.g., “God is love and thus we’re called to imitate Him.” In this particular piece I look at the notion of “redemptive suffering” and offering you a means of looking at it that’s reflective and applicable.

Theology of Suffering

When I was a teenager and with the Boy Scouts (i.e., Venture Scouts), I went to Manatoba, Canada to do a Northern Tier trek canoeing expedition. We arrived at a small town with a population of about 90, and got on a little puddle-jumper plane that flew us over the beautiful landscape and dropped us off in the middle of a lake. We told them where we planned to be in 10 days and off we went.

About two days into the trip we were going along a river with high reeds on either side. We stopped and discussed our path at a fork in the road: take a 2-mile detour by canoe or portage through a wet area. Our guide told us that the portage would be about “a third of a mile” and the water would be “maybe up to your knees.” Neither of these things were the case.

The portage may have been one of the most miserable experiences I’ve had. Mud, water that was at times up to my hips, hidden branches that tripped me, caught me, and at one point could have cased me to drown. I was, at best, 150 pounds and was carrying at least 35-40 pounds of equipment plus heavy, wet clothes. Some three hours later, after a lot of cursing and frustration, we made our destination with still a lot of travel left in our day.

 

This situation captures the feelings I have towards a theology of suffering. Indeed, from a distance things may seem simple and we can reassure ourselves about the probable course of suffering, at least until we get there. I consider the looming task before me as I begin CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) where every seminarian spends a summer intensive at a hospital doing hospital chaplaincy.

Therein we are spiritual care providers to anyone and everyone. We may confront traumatized patients, broken families, and frustrated staff members. Any theology is informed by experience and yet suffering is surprisingly one of our weakest theologies. While it is true that we all suffer and have experienced the suffering of others, it also seems to be the case that we attempt to distract ourselves from the ultimate reality that suffering reveals: death.

It is hard to accept that suffering is natural despite it being perhaps the most natural thing of all. Suffering, in a very profound way, helps us to understand the Cross, but it is not enough to speak in moral platitudes or theological maxims. Indeed, Christians receive the whole repertoire of “God will not leave you” or “God is with you.” In the seminary the common and, in my opinion, misguided phrase “offer it up” comes up frequently.  However true these sentiments may seem, I have found that in my own experience they alienate rather than alleviate.

Suffering can be reduced to something superficial, where minor injuries aren’t that important, and where feelings of hopelessness are addressed by merely telling someone to have hope. Certainly some complaints and problems are minor and are annoyances to others—being a complainer myself I know all too well it can wear on people. Yet sometimes minor problems reveal something deeper, namely our struggle with suffering, death, and our perception of what we “deserve” in this life. I call to mind those famous words.

My soul is full of troubles … I am reckoned like those who go down to the pit … like the slain that lie in the grave … your wrath lays heavy upon, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. … Every day I call to you, O Lord; I spread out my hands to you. … O Lord why do you cast me off? Why do you hid your face from me? … Your wrath has swept over me; your dread assaults destroy me. The surround me like a flood all day long; the close in upon me together. You have caused loved one and friend to shun me; my only companion is darkness” (cf. Ps 88).

And, moreover, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mt 27:46). This very quote of Jesus is from Psalm 22. While verses 22-31 speak of God’s faithfulness, His glory, and how he lifts up the afflicted, we first have to get through the first twenty one verses.

The Incarnation is a theology that includes the Cross. “Incarnation” makes us think of Christ sharing in our humanity, but what has he shared in? In the hospital, “incarnation” and “cross” have met: blood, broken bones, hopelessness, fear, pain, defecation, a loss of control, abandonment, betrayal, schism, and waiting in silence.

As a chaplain, it would seem like we’re sent into this circumstance and situation to lift people out of this mire but in a strange way we are not asked to lift up but step down into it. In that strange and wonderful way we, by sinking into the depths we also lift to the heights. Why? Because by acknowledging suffering and experiencing it, especially with others, we do lift each other up. Perhaps this is why the phrase “Duc in altum” (Lk 5:4) can both mean “go into the depths” and “go to the heights.”

No one catches fish without first casting your line to the depth they swim at. We don’t experience the Resurrection if we don’t experience the Cross. Christ could not redeem all unless he had sunken lower than all.

 

As we returned from Canada, somewhat worse for wear, we all laughed about our experience and remember it even close to a decade later. That experience didn’t detract from the beauty of the place or the time I spent there. I may never want to do it again, but it is inseparable from my experience. I was only able to say “thank you” after I said some other words less thankful. This encompasses life and suffering is the glue that holds it all together, it seems.

It would seem strange that in a place of death or, at the very least, a place entrenched in its inescapable realities I might find life. Most of all I’m called to love these people and consider their life, counted by the world as pitiable and worthless, with a sort of divine dignity.

May the Son who died for all give us all life, even if we have to walk through the muck first. “So teach us to number our days that we may obtain wisdom in our heart” (Ps 90:12).

Reflection on the Holy Land

When visiting my family in March I received many questions concerning “What was your favorite part of the Holy Land?” Perhaps they were looking for certain answers concerning beautiful places. I admit that swimming in the Dead Sea was a neat experience and seeing Middle Eastern markets, landscapes, and people were interesting as well.

This being said, many people answer that the best part about the Holy Land was seeing the places where Jesus and the Apostles walked. This is also wonderful and I cherish these memories. My favorite part about the Holy Land, however, was learning to love Scripture again. Learning about the ancient and modern history of places we hear about every year in Scripture. In some ways it is putting an image and a story to the story we hear about.

For example, we hear that Amos was “among the shepherds of Teko’a” (Amos 1:1) and I got to see first-hand what shepherds do and the mountain of Teko’a itself. I got to experience and imagine the life of a simple shepherd traveling up and down the countless hills, praying for rain so their flock could eat, setting up their tents when they found a place to stay for a month.

All of a sudden Amos is called by God to proclaim His word in the Northern Kingdom, Judah. A shepherd with no attachment to politics was called to condemn the corrupt king Jeroboam even though he was a resident of Israel in the Southern Kingdom. So Amos left everything he had and followed this strange and terrible call: to condemn the Northern Kingdom for abandoning God, for practicing injustices, and for whoring themselves out to foreign powers.

Then Amos was to return to Israel to preach a similar message. It’s not hard to imagine if you see Amos as a plumber, a teacher, a doctor, an electrician, or as some other day-to-day worker. Who will the Lord call? How will I respond?

These landscapes brought these thoughts alive. In a way, you really do walk in their shoes, and there’s a lot of walking.

One landscape that was my absolute favorite was the Sea of Galilee. A popular spot for many, but watching the sun rise over the sea was beautiful. The area is remote, away from major populations or construction, so you could sit by the sea, much like Ss. Peter, Andrew, and John and see the sun rise. Jesus, who spent a lot of time in Galilee, perhaps appreciated the relative silence of this place.

The Middle East is a land of commotion, sometimes discrimination, and sometimes violence. This was as true 3,000 years ago as it is today. Finding silence and peace is always at a premium. It’s a land, unlike the United States, that makes you realize how precious silence is.

I prayed for the intentions of many in the Holy Land, keeping in mind all your generosity and love to me. In fact, I would say that in my lowest moments it was remembering everyone back home in prayer that made me strong. It’s another grace from God that I cherish very much. Being so far away made me realize how close we all are, and how our prayers make all distances seem close, both on earth and across the chasm of life and death.

Thank you for your prayers. I will be ordained in just about a month. Please continue to pray for me.

My Desire for Marriage

As I approach ordination to the Diaconate after 12 years in the seminary it’s easy to think about the many “what ifs” in my life. Things such as career, money, jobs, a wife, children, and even a permanent home are things I’ve given up in pursuit of this call. A call, however, is both something desirable and undesirable. When it comes to vocations I call to mind that “when you were young, you fastened your own belt and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will fasten your belt for you and carry you where you do not wish to go” (Jn 21:18). Any walk of life requires sacrifice and any vocation, in my view, goes against the grain of our desires.

While the Apostle Matthew was called, “rose and followed him” (Mt 9:9), this is not true of all followers. Calls demand a response, not necessarily a wholehearted desire for the content of that call. Peter himself said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk 5:8). Isaiah lamented, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lip in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Is 6:5a). Jeremiah complained, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth!” (Jer 1:6). All types of people are represented in Scripture. The overwhelming majority are those who aren’t too keen to do what God has asked of them—it’s not bad to see ourselves in them.

The Lord responds to our response. “Do not be afraid” (Lk 5:10). “Whom shall I send?” (Is 6:8). “To all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you to speak I shall speak” (Jer 1:7). The formula of God’s call is uniform: He reassures us and says, “Do I send whom I have not chosen?” (cf., Is 42:1). This is true because “it was not you who chose me, but I who chose you” (Jn 15:16). Then he tells us rather bluntly, “You will do as I command” (cf., Dt 12:32). We must confront the reality that life is not what I want but what God wants in His time and in His way. Prayer sharpens our hearing, but it is time, grace, and the Church that makes us desire His will as if it were our own.

The call is, for some, a process of constant humiliation, disappointment, frustration, and difficulties. Yet, “Await God’s patience, cling to him to do not depart, that you may be wise in all your ways. Accept whatever is brought upon you, and endure it in sorrow; in changes that humble you be patient. For gold and silver are tested in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation” (Sir 2:3-5). I know what awaits me from others moving forward: disrespect, hatred, dismissive attitudes, and many other things. I know that in my own heart there is a fear of timidness, complacency, and apathy. Yet God has cared for me with those who love me. He has cared for my heart by giving me peace, courage, faith, and hope. I’ve come to find that all things in me are good but not fulfilled. No one can fulfill himself and love is never fulfilled except from outside of myself. This is His gift to me: the love of God and neighbor is my own fulfillment.

Having given up everything to follow Him I approach a new chapter in my life: sacrificing personal desire for the sake of those sheep whom Christ said to feed and shepherd. I will soon experience this call and experience it with the people of God, and there are many trials and many blessings herein.

As I prayed about these things in my heart I called to mind the couples that I will marry. I called to mind that they too are called and respond as all men do to God’s call. I thought of my friends with children and the unique opportunity that having children offers in your life, but I also considered the many trials they will experience. In a life that is, by necessity, “focused on the things of this world” (cf. 1 Cor 7:33-34). What hope is there for a married couple and, I thought, what could I say to them to take the concrete experiences of their life and see God?

This, then, is my desire for marriage: that couples reflect on the fact that their relationship truly reflects the Divine Life and to keep this close to their heart throughout their own trials.

Only parents can experience God as a parent. Reflect that God calls us sons and daughters, too. A child comes forth in pain, crying, but it is met with love. The child is needy, depriving sleep from one’s eyes and peace from one’s mind, yet it is loved because it is life and the “fruit of my body” (cf., Dt 28:4). Throughout his or her life, their suffering is your suffering, their anxieties are your anxieties, and their joy is your joy. When they are sick you heal them. When they are scared they run to you. When they are arrogant they turn from you. When they are bad they anger you. When they are away they sadden you. Through it all these emotions are intensified because of the love with which you first loved them.

Your spouse, the one whom you love, was a co-creator and cooperator in your own love. You share life and you share hardships, even if each one bears it unevenly. Your love changes you and it is completed by being received and then returned. This too is the life of grace. This is a life of faith in as concrete a manner as one can experience it. This is the God of the Old Testament and New in as intimate, reasonable, and accessible way as one can approach it.

Any child becomes a sign of God’s covenant with His people. Know that your feelings for your child are merely a fraction of what God feels for you. Yet despite your child’s suffering that result from his wickedness, from misfortune, or persecution your love for him remains undaunted. If a mother or father’s love can endure evil and even death, how much more does God’s love endure through our sins and the sins of of the world!

Jesus promises that “his burden is easy” and his yoke light (Mt 11:30). Life has shown us that it is not easy. “Much labor was created for every man, and a heavy yoke is upon the sons of Adam” (Sir 40:1). Christ said this, however, because not only is this life of imitating God possible, it is peace for the soul. For “when a woman is in labor, she has pain because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world” (Jn 16:21). This is love God shows to those who return to Him, love and peace we all have access to.

Life for both of us, ordained or married, is a unique call from the others. It is a life of responsibility unlike any other. This is a gift given to us, even if it doesn’t always seem good or desirable. All life is a gift, no matter the type, since we are all pilgrims on one path—may our feet not stray! We have all been called.

His response is simple: Be not afraid, follow me.

Let it happen to me according to your word.

Good for its own Sake?

I’m not sure why this came to my mind, but I was praying Daytime prayer and these lines struck me:

Come children and hear
me that I may teach you fear of the Lord.
Who is he who longs for life
and many days, to enjoy prosperity?

Then keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from speaking deceit.
Turn aside from evil and do good
seek and strive after peace.

The Lord turns his face against the wicked
to destroy their remembrance from the earth.
The Lord turn his eyes to the just
and his ears to their appeal. (Ps 34: 12-18, Breviary)

I was struck because I recall a number of conversations I have concerning goodness. Whether it’s on the topic of gay marriage, ethical living, a good life, and so forth I get comments ranging from “I don’t know if you noticed, but people are very happy without God” (literal comment) and the more understandable “You don’t need to believe in God to be a good person.”

I’ll let it slide that I already believe they’re good by virtue of their being created and existing. Those who live according to justice, mercy, and charity are even better for they show their faith by their works. The psalm says, after all, “turn aside from evil and do good.” The psalmist has spoken that in order for a long life and prosperity one must do the good. The Bible never shies away from telling us to do good. Note that many days is a long life. The psalmist, however, tells us whoever longs for life itself–the first in the list of life–must do good. Length and prosperity are secondary to life itself which is precisely a life spent doing the good.

It’s no wonder that atheists and non-believers of many sorts are happy when they do good. That’s the very essence, if you will, to life itself.

The difference here is that the whole of this phrase begins with fear of the Lord. Scriptures say that it is the beginning of wisdom. Fear can take on many forms too. Some fear punishment and do good out of fear. Others do good out of recognition of what is good, loving it because it is life-giving. Some believe that those who believe in God only do the former and those who don’t believe only do the latter!

This is the section of Psalm 34 that brought me around to this reflection:

If men who believe in God sin they are doing what is wicked and deprive themselves of life. This is also a choice, but they choose sins because they are advantageous, opportune, or pleasurable despite the risks and (at times) the costs. We who sin do what seems good (or even evil) at the cost of what is truly good. How does the non-believer also not succumb to such temptation of doing what isn’t good in favor of his own good? The answer is that he succumbs like all the rest of us; he is not special and we are not special either.

If one were to take the mention of God out of the phrase above it would seem like a normal thing to say: the one who desires a long and happy life should do good and avoid evil. Yet those who truly know themselves know how often their will rebels against their reason–desire trumps reason far too many times.

This is why Sirach says “The knowledge of wickedness is not wisdom, nor is there prudence in the council of sinners. … there are those with little understanding who fear God, and those of great intelligence who violate the law” (Sir 19:18, 20).

Knowing the good is also not a love of the good and one who says he will simply love the good for its own sake knows in his heart if he speaks the truth or if he is a liar. “There is a shrewdness keen but dishonest, which by duplicity wins a judgment” (19:21).

Some, atheist and Christian, are more disciplined than me but few men will always love the good. Those who believe in God make an appeal to Christ for the helplessness of our dilemma but I do not know what appeal an atheist can make other than that of his own will. We have a tendency in general to glorify the will. The will is important in choosing the good but we are sorely mistaken if we think knowing what is good will make us choose it.

The Psalmist rightly recognizes this. He says that all of wisdom and a good life must come from a fear of the Lord, that is (1) a recognition of His supreme goodness, (2) a recognition that He will, in the end, enforce that Law, namely that goodness and righteousness will endure and wickedness and injustice fall away, and (3) it is He who calls us to do what is good.

(3) is so very important. Goodness as an idea is a concept, one to be apprehended and used. But God is a person and so goodness itself is a personal relationship–it is something experienced and grown. No one apprehends a person by simply knowing him but by being in a relationship, a loving one, with the other. Sin is betrayal. In fact it’s labeled as infidelity in marriage.

Those who say they will do good for its own sake may do good for the sake of someone else (society, human beings in need, loved ones) but I do not think the phrase is accurate: “I do good for its own sake.” No, they do good for the sake of something else.

It’s still good, but it’s not a relationship with good, merely knowledge. And the Christian who sins acts against both person and knowledge, something far worse. The one who does good for its own sake does it for He who is good.

An idea can be forgotten and remembered, and little changes.
A person may hurt another, but there is great power in reconciliation. There’s a great growth of love in forgiveness.

The Problem with the New Evangelization

God bless the effort of the New Evangelization. It encapsulates, I think, what many of us faithful Catholics have desired to see (more) publicly for years. Even in my youth I always wondered how so many faithful Catholics relied on their opinion as opposed to integrating the words of the Church, words I found as very beautiful. This is, of course, a reflection in my adult years on my youth. Here’s what it may look like:

“Mom, we learned at school today …”
She replies, “That’s great, honey!”
“What do you think?”
“That’s good, I just think a little bit differently.”
“Why?”
She then proceeds to explain that her experience or ideas tell her that things are different.

It teaches kids that personal experience trumps teaching–an ironic parenting technique. Kids grow up and learn many good things but then there’s the real world. Sex is a reality, contraception is a safe reality, etc., etc. They grow up, they use what they’ve been taught that’s useful and the rest is their best judgment.

There’s always room for experience in life. Experience teaches us and forms us. Experience, however, and our experiences, are not principles of action. Experience tests the limits of principle. They help us gather data in order to form principles or see patterns at work.

If one says, “In my experience no one ever listens to you if you use the Bible” is an experience stated as if it were a principle. One who says, however, “With Protestants I’ve found Scripture is effective but with atheists and agnostics reasoning and philosophy are more profitable.” This is experience that indicates a certain prudence. Prudence is a virtue and a sort of principle (Always act prudently) and experience helps us see what that looks like.

I. Witness

This digression aside, I am happy Catholics are coming out in droves to defend the Church, to be public with their faith, to yearn for clarity and understanding, to confront evil in society, to desire God through prayer, to (gasp!) read Scripture, and to dedicate their intellects for the search of a truth greater than all of us as opposed to opinions which are less than themselves. This is a good thing. Lord, give success to the work of our hands!

My concern, however, is that we progress like soldiers to a battlefield as opposed to progressing like lemmings toward a cliff.

What do I mean? The word for witness is “martyr.” Being a witness to the faith is being a visible sign of Christ’s saving love to the world. Witness is public, it’s living in such a manner that what you believe is evident from your life. In many cases this is a powerful tool for conversion: one learns in the most concrete way, that is by example, that the faith is livable and it can make you happy (regardless of your state in life). This is evangelization in its simplest form, right? I’m not inclined to think so.

In my view witness attracts and evangelization holds onto. No amount of well-crafted, balanced words will make someone Christian. Only God can produce that sort of effect in our lives and only He can penetrate our stony and prideful hearts. Witnessing to the faith reveals God to the world. It shows those who look on, those who are doubtful, that God is active in the world and personally in our lives. Recall from the Gospel of Mark that Jesus is declared the Son of God by a man only when He dies on the cross.

Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. The veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion who stood facing him saw how he breathed his last he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mk 15:37-39)

Truly Jesus Christ was the perfect witness, the perfect martyr. The cross symbolizes many things: sacrifice, love, and rejection. It symbolizes much more. The cross stands as a strange image. It draws people to it, whether by disgust or hatred for it, for sorrow of it, or admiration of it. That’s the life we’re called to lead: a life that is a witness to the cross. “But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14).

 

II. Evangelization 

Evangelization, however is different. Perhaps an image will illustrate what words cannot. Christian life is a fire. Witness is the light of that fire but evangelization is the warmth. We are drawn to a fire by its light yet we are compelled to stay by its warmth.

Evangelization contains with in it catechesis, apologetics, preaching, among other things. Various people have certain gifts given to them by the Spirit: some are able to teach and defend the faith while others are able to effectively convey the Gospel message. The USCCB has defined for us the goal of the New Evangelization:

In a special way, the New Evangelization is focused on ‘re-proposingthe Gospel to those who have experienced a crisis of faith. … Pope Benedict XVI called for the re-proposing of the Gospel “to those regions awaiting the first evangelization and to those regions where the roots of Christianity are deep but who have experienced a serious crisis of faith due to secularization.”

So many of us label our work, our millions of blog posts, and our efforts as “evangelization.” This is simply not the case. There is always room for us to relay an experience of strength-in-crisis given to us graciously by Christ. There is room for us to lament insufficient theology, culture, or some offense, but it is not evangelization.

If we are to truly evangelize this culture we cannot simply propose a perspective or practice apologetics (i.e., defend the faith from attacks). We must proclaim the Gospel, that is proclaim the positive claims and truths of revelation, Scripture, and Tradition. If you want to evangelize you must study these things (studying history, science, philosophy, popular culture, etc. doesn’t hurt either).

We would all do well to remember that “the wisdom of what a person says is in direct proportion to his progress in learning the holy scriptures–and I am not speaking of intensive reading or memorization, but real understanding and investigation of their meaning” (Augustine, On Christian Teaching, IV.para 7).

Likewise, “Eloquent speakers give pleasure, wise ones salvation” (Idem.)

Evangelization requires prayer, study, and reflection. It also demands a certain training in rhetorical arts, such as clarity of conveyance, force of images, and knowledge of what will speak to the listener.

So many of us, myself included, feel that we further the cause of evangelization by saying nice words about our experiences of grace and prayer. But this only serves as a light in the darkness. Without a serious commitment to Scripture we give a light without warmth.

The New Evangelization is, as many have pointed out, not new in its message. Rather, the “newness” of it all is perhaps best described as a new ‘zeal’ for the labor so badly needed.

So those who are attempting to try something new my recommendation would be: look to Scripture, look to prayer, and that beauty which is ever ancient, ever new. Thereafter look to Tradition, the Fathers, and the Church. In all this, being an active member of the Church is all the more important: support your local church, your priest, and make yourself a public witness there for our charge is to not only draw new souls to Christ but strengthen those whose spirit fails within them.

Continue to shine the light of Christ to the world by your witness and do not cover it with anything. But in order that they might say, Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us? (cf. Lk 24:32) it is necessary that we begin with Moses and all the prophets, interpreting them what refers to Him in all the Scriptures (24:27).

We can do this in many ways. How you decide to do so is your task. Do not draw anyone to the light but leave them cold.

Our love will keep others close but those who struggle are not looking for us and we are not anyone’s fulfillment. Rather we are like John the Baptist, a voice crying out in a world that denies truth and embraces the self.

Rather, the Law of the Lord is their joy (Ps 1:2a) and O God, you are my God–for you I long! For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts, like a parched land, lifeless, and without water (Ps 63:2). Give them this. Do not show them that it exists, but say to them as John did, “Behold the Lamb of God” and do it in such a way that those who listen hear what you say and follow Jesus (Jn 1:36-37). Only then will our joy be complete (3:29-30).