Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Little Ball of No Account

I had offered myself, for some time now, to the Child Jesus as his little plaything. I told him not to use me as a valuable toy children are content to look at but dare not touch, but to use me like a little ball of no value which he could throw on the ground, push with His foot, pierce, leave in a corner, or press to His heart if it pleased him; in a word, I wanted to amuse little Jesus, to give Him pleasure; I wanted to give myself up to His childish whims. He heard my prayer.

At Rome, Jesus pierced His little plaything; He wanted to see what there was inside it and having seen, content with His discovery, He let His little ball fall to the ground and He went off to sleep. What did He do during His gentle sleep and what became of the little abandoned ball? Jesus dreamed He was still playing with His toy, leaving it and taking it up in turns, and then having seen it roll quite far He pressed it to His heart, no longer allowing it to ever go far from His little hand.

St. Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul

Reflection – Just back from retreat, I don’t feel like jumping back in with more of Humanae Vitae, so we’ll skip that series for this weekend (cuz it’s my blo-og and I’ll write what I want to, write what I want to…).

One of my texts on retreat was Story of a Soul. Therese is my oldest and dearest friend among the saints—I first read her autobiography when I was about 20 and we have been buddies ever since. I suspect we might be related; my maternal great-grandmother was a Martin, that part of France is where much of the Canadian emigration came from, and there is a distinct family resemblance between Therese and many of the women in my family.

Be that as it may, we are spiritual kin, if not physical. And this passage is classic Theresian spirituality. The context is her disastrous (as it seemed to her) trip to Rome and her humiliating experience of petitioning the Pope to be received into Carmel at fifteen and being kindly turned away, and the seeming vanishing of her last earthly hope for an early entry to her vocation.

It is easy to look at this event from a position of worldly scorn and dismiss it as adolescent vapors at best, narcissistic entitlement at worst. It is easy to roll our eyes and talk about neurosis and immaturity and a hundred other reasons why it is proper to despise the spoiled little girl from Normandy. Many do; many have.

It is easy to point out that, if Therese had been at all versed in the ways of the world, she would have known that it was not the Pope, but the Vicar General of the Bayeux diocese who was watching her like a hawk throughout the pilgrimage, who really mattered here, and that his good opinion of her was more weighty in the long run (which is quite true, and in fact everything turned around dramatically upon their return to Lisieux).

But she was not versed in worldly ways (thank God), nor were her father or elder siblings seemingly, and fifteen year old girls are not known generally for their long view of things and sober mature perspective. And (this is the glory of Therese), none of that matters. The point is her heart was broken, rightly or wrongly, wisely or foolishly, and she saw in that breaking of her heart Jesus taking her at her word and piercing her like a little ball of no account that He could do with as He pleased. And this is how the silly little girl from Normandy became a very great saint, one of the greatest.

It occurs to me that the Lord, upon the birth of this little child, rubbed His hands together in heaven and said ‘Ah, now here’s a challenge! Here is a life made up of a succession of nothings, trivialities, ordinary events, joys, sorrows—not even terribly long by any human reckoning… and a heart aflame with love. Let’s show these foolish human creatures of mine just what it takes to make a great saint: nothing… and love.’

And this is the great glory and beauty of Therese. It is not that her life is extraordinary. It really isn’t. Heck, I’ve been to Rome, as have millions upon millions of people. It is not an extraordinary life; it is that she saw in every movement of her life a movement of Jesus. In joy, Jesus was embracing her to his heart; in sorrow and desolation, he was piercing her, throwing her into a corner; in dryness and aridity, he was asleep, having completely forgotten about his little ball.

And she loved Him enough, had a nobility and greatness of spirit enough, that this pleased her, even through her adolescent tears and (perhaps) overdone emotions. She was generous enough and humble enough to offer herself as a ball to child Jesus, and to see in the ordinary trials of life his acceptance of that offer. And that’s what it takes to make a saint in this world—not great deeds or epic sufferings, but great love and generosity that makes every deed, however small, an act of love, every sorrow, however small, an act of abandonment.

All about Jesus, all directed towards Jesus, nothing without Jesus, nothing except Jesus – this is the Theresian spirit, and it is at once great enough to be the basis of life for the truly great ones of the earth, and little and humble enough that a child or the most broken, weak, and degraded person in the world can live it and be made holy.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Back From Retreat - With A Change for the Blog

Hi, folks! Just checking in here, back from my five-day retreat. It was very blessed, and (most blessed of all) very, very quiet...

Without getting into a lot of personal stuff, which I tend to avoid getting into in my blogging, I have felt for some time in my life that I am just a bit lacking in the 'quiet' aspect of things. I am a busy priest, all things considered, and most of it I consider to be fairly immoveable objects.

I do a fair bit of spiritual direction, have ever-growing (it seems) administrative responsibilities in Madonna House, and a wide variety of writing and speaking commitments, among which is this blog. The blog itself is not a burdensome thing - I write my posts in the quiet early morning hours, and have them posted before my work day begins, generally. I actually find writing the blog to be a meditative exercise, on the whole.

I went into the retreat feeling quite certain that something had to give, though, in my life. Things have been just a bit too busy, a bit too hectic, a bit too noisy, and what has primarily suffered in my life has been personal prayer and silence, recollection and space for listening to God. And of course, as that suffers, everything else suffers in consequence, right?

There are very few things in my life that I can change, in terms of reducing my involvements and commitments, nor do I especially want to, as I love being a priest and being involved with the work of God in the lives of my brothers and sisters as I am.

I can change one thing, however, that is a source of 'noise' in my life. And so, I am going to turn off comments on this blog. Not because I can't take criticism (I have a hide like a rhinoceros, truth be told) or because I want to suppress debate (e-mail me!), but because I simply don't have time for them, anymore, and it's one thing I can cut out of my life without a whole lot of fuss.

Comments have not been a huge part of this blog, and the vast majority of my readers seem to come here strictly for my posts and not for whatever discussion may happen. And, with a few notable exceptions, I don't think the comments have added too much to the blog, on the whole. So, farewell to comments, for now anyhow, and hello to a quieter... well, blog, anyway, if not life.

Other changes may emerge in days and weeks ahead - I anticipate perhaps not blogging every day as I have been, but we'll see. Peace to you all, and know that among my prayer intentions on my permanent list is 'all my blog readers'.

I Beg to Differ

While I'm off on retreat, I thought I would reprint the five most popular posts of all time on the blog. This one is originally from October, 2012. Enjoy!
In order to make possible a future of peace for coming generations, our first task is to educate for peace in order to build a culture of peace. Education, whether it takes place in the family or at school, must be primarily an education in those spiritual values which give the wisdom and traditions of each culture their ultimate meaning and power. The human spirit has an innate yearning for beauty, goodness and truth. This is a reflection of the divine, God’s mark on each person! This common aspiration is the basis for a sound and correct notion of morality, which is always centred on the person. Yet men and women can turn towards goodness only of their own free will, for “human dignity requires them to act out of a conscious and free choice, as moved in a personal way from within, and not y their own blind impulses or by exterior constraint” (Gaudium et Spes). The goal of education is to guide and support the development of the freedom to make right decisions, which may run counter to widespread opinions, the fashions of the moment, or forms of political and religious ideology. This is the price of building a culture of peace!

Address to Government and National Leaders, LebanonSept 15, 2012

Reflection – Well, meanwhile this week in Ontario a government cabinet minister declared that the Catholic school system will no longer be allowed to teach that human life is sacred from conception to natural death.

Ontario recently passed a sweeping ‘anti-bullying’ law, the primary effects of which seem to be that the Catholic school system can no longer teach Catholic sexual morality and now, fundamental Catholic values of respect for human life. Apparently, the law of the land now in Ontario is that no one is allowed to be a bully… except the government.

The effect of this law, and this approach to civil society, is not an education in peace and tolerance. Children are actually being educated in power politics. The real lesson of the day, class, is that whoever seizes the reigns of power gets to control the speech and ultimately the lives of others.

This is not peace; this is tyranny. This is incipient fascism. Those of my blog readers who do not like my habit of using that word… well, you don’t live inOntario! Count your blessings.

The Pope’s words here are very telling, very important. A true society of peace and tolerance requires, demands, a commitment to freedom of speech and conscience. People must be allowed to freely grapple with competing view and voices in order to freely choose the true, the good, the beautiful.

Some counter the Pope’s words by pointing out that the Catholic Church has not exactly been renowned in its history for its commitment to freedom of thought and conscience. There is  some truth to this, yes. But that actually makes his words that much stronger. Basically, the Catholic Church has a long history of mistaken policy about religious freedom and the coercion of conscience. We have been down that road and paid a heavy price for it (essentially, the Protestant reformation). We have also repeatedly apologized for it, not that anyone noticed or remembers.

Disallowing the Catholic voice calling for religious freedom is like discounting what a recovering drug addict has to say about cocaine and meth because, ‘well, he did it!’ Yes, he did, and so he knows where it leads, right?

There is a pernicious and dangerous idea growing in the formerly Christian nations of Europe and North America that peace and tolerance require the suppression of speech and the squelching of minority views. It is like we believe human beings cannot bear to be exposed to differing opinions. This is not a path of peace, but a path to a power struggle to the end—whoever wins gets to suppress everyone else’s views.

Peace and tolerance require education in virtue and character. We need to be strong enough that we don’t fly into a homicidal rage or collapse with the vapors when someone tells us abortion is wrong, or that abortion is right, that marriage is between a man and a woman or that marriage is whatever the government decided it to be last week, that contraception is a grave moral evil or that contraception is the best thing that ever happened to women.

We need to have some back bone here – all sorts of people think all sorts of things, and the only truly peaceful society is one is which we all get to have our say and teach our children what we believe. Otherwise, the goose-stepping jackboots have arrived at our door step and we appear to have invited them in and offered them a cup of tea.
Well, I beg to differ, and I will continue to say so on this blog and wherever else I can. So there.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Fascism Redux

While I'm off on retreat, I thought I would reprint the five most popular posts of all time on the blog. This one is originally from March, 2012. Enjoy!
Christianity has understood itself to be the religion of the Logos, to be a religion in keeping with reason. When it identified its forerunners, these were primarily, not in the other religions, but in that philosophical enlightenment which cleared the road from the various traditions that cluttered it in order to turn to the search for truth and to turn toward the good, toward the one God who is above all gods. As a religion of the persecuted, and as a universal religion that was wider than any one state or people, it denied the government the right to consider religion as part of the order of the state, thus stating the principle of the liberty of faith.

Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, 47-8

Reflection – We live in a time of creeping fascism. I know, I know—this is something I tend to harp on a bit on this blog, and it may get a bit tiresome. I promise I won’t mention contraception this time, OK?
I also know that the word ‘fascism’ has been devalued in recent decades to become a synonym for “I don’t like you very much, you poopy-head!” A mere term of invective drained of any positive content.

But fascism is an actual political philosophy, and it is a growing one inCanada, the States, and Europe. It is, simply put, the philosophy of the exaltation of power of the state over all other social entities. Mussolini summed it up as “Nothing but the state, nothing without the state, nothing outside the state.”

In other words, the government has the right to call the shots in virtually every area of human life, without exception, and virtually every area of human activity is to be guided and governed by government policy, without exception.

The fascist regimes of the 1920s and 30s were ‘hard fascist’—jackbooted repressive regimes, brutally imposing the state’s authority by the most violent and thuggish means. And a ‘strong man’ at the head of it, making the trains run on time and promising peace and security through an all-powerful state apparatus.

The increasingly fascist regimes of the 21st century are ‘soft fascist’—made up of ever-expanding thickets of regulations and ministry policies crafted by faceless nameless bureaucrats in back rooms and enforced not so much by prison camps and executions as by a system of punitive fines and fees and inspections that force us all to live our lives under the constant watchful eye of our state overlords.

Well, this is the world we live in, and it is unclear how we can change it at this point. Simply voting for a different political party next time doesn’t seem to do it; they’re all in on it, apparently! And the courts seem to be on the side of the state most of the time (witness the recent Canadian Supreme Court decision that all families in Quebec must allow their children to be taught that all religions are equally true). Violent rebellion is not an option for a Christian—which I guess leaves us with prayer and fasting!

But we have to be clear: the two bulwarks against fascism are, and always have been, the family and the Church. The family is prior to the state and has inalienable rights that the state must not transgress; the Church is not an organ of the state, and must vigorously resist government incursions into its operations.

As governments continue to overstep their boundaries in more and more intrusive ways, this means we have to be willing to accept persecution. It’s unfortunate, and we don’t welcome this. We wish that those faceless nameless bureaucrats and their elected bosses would come to their senses and realize the grave harm and evil done by fascism to basic human flourishing. But they don’t seem to be doing that.

In all this, though, the Church has a great opportunity to emerge as what it truly is: the great defender of human liberty and the rights of individuals, families, and other social groups against the state. And in this defense of liberty, to proclaim the gospel of Christ with renewed vigor and appeal—we are to be free in political society because we are made eternally for the freedom of love and truth, and this is vouchsafed to us by the revelation of God in Christ of his plans and purposes for human life.

So the crisis (and I do believe it is just that) of fascism in the 21st century, painful and unpleasant as it is, is a moment of hope and an opportunity for evangelization for the Church. So let’s take this opportunity, with prayer and fasting for sure, but also with bold proclamation of the freedom of the Gospel and the kingdom of God which surpasses all earthly kingdoms and stands as their eternal judge.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Loving Wingless Chickens

While I'm off on retreat, I thought I would reprint the five most popular posts of all time on the blog. This one is originally from June, 2013. Enjoy!
I write the way I do because (not though) I am a Catholic. This is a fact and nothing covers it like the bald statement. However I am a Catholic peculiarly possessed of the modern condition, that thing Jung describes as unhistorical, solitary, and guilty.

To possess this within the Church is to bear a burden, the necessary burden for the conscious Catholic. It’s to feel the contemporary situation at the ultimate level. I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed.

It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it, but I you believe in the divinity of Christ you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it. This may explain the lack of bitterness in the stories.

The notice in the New Yorker [a review of her collection of short stories A Good Man is Hard to Find] was not only moronic, it was unsigned. It was a case in which it is easy to see that the moral sense has been bred out of certain sections of the population, like the wings have been bred off certain chickens to produce more white meat on them. This is a generation of wingless chickens, which I suppose is what Nietzsche meant when he said God was dead.
Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being

Reflection – This is mighty profound stuff here. Often when people quote Flannery O’Connor, this one letter to her friend who chose to be anonymously identified as ‘A’ in the collection comes up. It is packed with gems: a generation of wingless chickens… you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it… the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable… if you believe in the divinity of Christ you have to cherish the world at the same time as you struggle to endure it.

I write this post with some difficulty. I am aware that my blog readership is largely American, while I am Canadian. The United States Supreme Court yesterday struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, largely paving the way for a wholesale legalization of same-sex marriage throughout the nation. In Canada, we crossed that particular Rubicon quite a number of years ago. I am aware of the pain and distress of many of my American Catholic friends, and I share it with you, along with the real fears of religious persecution that in my view are anything but fanciful.

So… what to say. I deliberately looked for this letter of O’Connor’s, because I think she is pointing out the way we have to walk in our difficult times. That is, we have to go deeper. The time for superficial Christianity is over. And by superficial Christianity, I do not only or even primarily mean rote prayers and mechanical routine. I don’t even primarily mean lukewarm compromising practice of faith and morals. All of that, yes, but really what I mean is that we have to plunge into the depths of Christ in these matters. We cannot stay on the surface, railing and ranting about the evils of the government or of society, or railing and ranting about the evils of the bishops and the clergy, or floating along in some haze of unawareness of any of these evils, or looking for easy answers in the surrender to the spirit of the age or the retreat into a cozy Catholic enclave.

All of that is, or at least easily can be, superficial Christianity. We need to plunge into Christ. We need to plunge into the passion of Christ—his passionate love for the world that led him to die for the world, his passionate mercy and tenderness that bore not a trace of sentimentality or laxity.

We need to become lovers. The flocks of wingless chickens have increased in the sixty years since O’Connor wrote this letter. People believe love means you can do with your genitals anything you please; people believe that what is a clump of cells in the womb is turned into a baby by the mere act of locomotion a few inches down the birth canal; people believe any evil can be justified if it accomplishes something good, something we really, really want.

The moral sense has decayed and degraded, and it is hard to see how or where it will end. We need, not to rant and rave and rail, but to love. Only love creates, and what is needed now is not endless wrangling and controversy, but a new creation. Only love can make the beauty and truth of the good visible, and that is the pressing urgent need of our day. We need beauty, and only love is truly beautiful.

And it is the Church, with all its faults and failures, that feeds us with Love each day in the body and blood of Christ. So it is the Church that alone makes it possible for us to get through these hard times. And that is my word today for my American readers, and for the rest of youse guys, too. God bless you, and keep your chin up.

Update: Welcome, Sheavians! I just finished writing a whole series of posts, further reflecting on same sex marriage and the challenges of loving as we try to present the Church's views on the matter. Click on the 'same sex marriage' label at the bottom of this post if you are interested in seeing what I have to say.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Most Beautiful Thing in the World

While I'm off on retreat, I thought I would reprint the five most popular posts of all time on the blog. This one is originally from March, 2013. Enjoy!
To how many does Christianity really seem ‘something big, something growing, to which we can give ourselves up completely with joy and enthusiasm’? Do… unbelievers… observe on our brows the radiance of that gladness which, twenty centuries ago, captivated the fine flower of the pagan world..? In a word, while we are fully alive to the blasphemy in Nietzsche’s terrible phrase [that God is dead] in its whole context are we not also forced to see in ourselves something of what drove him to that blasphemy?
Henri de Lubac, The Drama of Atheist Humanism
Reflection -  This is a quote from my thesis research, not by Joseph Ratzinger. The book cited is one of the truly great books of the twentieth century, and great in not being toooo long and technical, either.
I always cherish, if that's the right word, the saying attributed to Nietzsche that he would be persuaded of the truth of Christianity a bit more readily if only Christians looked more redeemed. There is truth to that. Do we look happy that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead and has brought us the sure and certain promise of eternal life and bliss is we should only believe in Him and follow Him in the obedience of faith?
Does our faith, in fact, make us happy? This sentence I just wrote above - what effect does it have on you? Just empty words on a computer screen? Or the very center and substance of life, a transforming fact that all your days center around and that is the constant refrain of your mind and heart.
God loves us. Love has been poured out in Jesus Christ. This love is saving, transforming. It pulls us out of the death trap of the world, of our broken and battered humanity, and lifts us up to the very heart of God, to the very heart of life and love and splendor of glory.
Do we believe this? Then... why is there so little joy in our lives, in our countenances, in our voices, in our homes? I'm not trying to lay a guilt trip on anyone - God knows I only have to look in the mirror if I want to see a lousy Christian! But we have to be clear that the world, so badly in need of conversion, is mostly not going to be converted by logical arguments, certainly not by angry harangues, and not even by really good social justice programs or other forms of political advocacy, good and proper as those might be.
The world is converted by beauty, and beauty starts, not with painting a magnificent icon, composing a gorgeous chorale, or carving a sculpture from ivory or marble. Most of that kind of beauty is beyond most of us most of the time.
The most beautiful thing in the world is a human face, radiant with joy. It is the joy shining from a face of one who actually believes that Jesus is who Jesus says He is, and really did what we say He did, and really is present in, with, around us continually. This is the most beautiful thing in the world, and it is a beauty within all our grasp. It is this beauty, and the love, the friendship, the genuine charity that accompanies such a beauty, that will re-Christianize our world.
God is not dead... but we can act at times as if He is. We can keep God pretty firmly hid away in our heads, our hearts, the 'place of the skull' where the dead Christ lay.
Well, He cannot be confined there. He bursts forth from there, every time. Even in Lent, Christ is risen from the dead (a***lu**). And it seems to me that a great prayer of Lent, and of life, is that we truly do believe in all this stuff we say we believe, and that we have the grace and courage to show it forth in how we live, how we carry ourselves, what we show forth to the world.
Really, do we have any idea of our own greatness? Of the thunderous, splendiferous, magnificent reality of what it is to be a baptized Christian. Do we not know that we are God's temple? It is so very amazing to be what we in fact are, and the world really does need to know about it. Let's think about how our face can be one of those ten thousand faces that show the Father's love to the world.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Slavery of Desire

While I'm off on retreat, I thought I would reprint the five most popular posts of all time on the blog. This one is originally from Dec, 2011. Enjoy!
Moral obligation is not man’s prison, from which he must liberate himself in order finally be able to do what he wants. It is moral obligation that constitutes his dignity, and he does not become more free if he discards it: on the contrary, he takes a step backward, to the level of a machine, of a mere thing.
A Turning Point for Europe?, 36
Reflection – I’m on a roll here—from Marxism to scientism to today’s passage, describing just why a binding moral law is the only safeguard of human happiness and dignity.
This passage really undercuts the moral theory of ‘consequentialism’ – that model of morality which says that the only moral principle binding on us is to do that action which we deem will have the most overall positive effect. So we can torture prisoners who may (or may not) have information about future terrorist attacks, since to abuse and debase one human being is a better consequence than the deaths of thousands.
We can abort a baby who is going to be born in difficult circumstances: better that the life be ended just as it begins rather than ‘condemn’ the child to lifelong deprivation. And we can have sex whenever and however we wish, as long as all are consenting adults (although even that last word is being disputed by some): the obvious pleasure of sexual activity is a good consequence not obviously undercut by any bad ones. Telling lies is good if it spares pain or gets you what you want.
Consequentialism is rampant in North America—I can’t speak for the rest of the world. It is the assumed moral theory by almost everyone, even Catholics, even ‘conservatives’ (see torture example above). And it is entirely wrong.
For one thing, it is useless as a practical tool to measure morality. We can never know all, or even very many, of the consequences of our actions. Every action we take has ripple effects that wholly escape our powers of observation or prediction. Even our past actions have consequences we cannot gauge, so how can we evaluate our potential future actions? We just don’t know how this or that action is going to play out, consequence-wise. So to say we have to evaluate all the consequences of a deed to make a moral judgment about it is impractical in the extreme.
What we do know is the immediate moral content of what we are doing. If I am physically abusing a prisoner in my control, if I am participating in the killing of an unborn child, if I am using my sexuality as an immediate means of self-gratification, if the truth means nothing at all to me, then I know I am contravening human dignity. The act itself contains its own moral status.
Ratzinger’s point is that all of this moral weight given to the acts themselves really is a matter of preserving human freedom and dignity. Without this strong moral sense, we are reduced to the level of the beast or the machine, just recklessly pursuing our own interests and desires. No deeper consideration, no deeper concern for the fullness of our humanity and the humanity of the other. Far from releasing us from the prison of morality, amorality casts us into the prison of the rampaging ego, the slavery of desire.
To live a moral life is to live as a free man or woman, pursuing the good, the true, the beautiful even when it causes me pain or is the occasion of great sacrifice and struggle. This is the grandeur of the human person: that in this world of exigency and brute physical law and force, we frail creatures of flesh can stand in freedom and choose to live as sons and daughters of God, in goodness, justice, and charity for all. Without this, we are beasts or machines, nothing special at all. Our choice.
Update: Welcome, Sheavians! Uhhh, Sheavites? Shea-valanche? While your here, enjoy the scenery - I'm talking these days about tattoos as a response to persecutionMae West and the Immaculate Conception, and beingcommitted to the truth while we sweep the floor or clean the toilet. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

On Retreat

So, I'm off for my annual silent retreat this evening. Pray for me, and please know that I will be praying, am always praying, for all my blog readers.
The blog will continue, as I thought I would revisit my five most popular posts of all time, which I have scheduled to re-post each day. It's always funny and a bit mysterious to me to see what posts end up being the most read.
I will put comments on moderation, though, since I am not here to receive and respond to them.
I'll be back Saturday.

I'll Be Damned if I Do That!

It is to be anticipated that perhaps not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching. There is too much clamorous outcry against the voice of the Church, and this is intensified by modern means of communication. But it comes as no surprise to the Church that she, no less than her divine Founder, is destined to be a "sign of contradiction." She does not, because of this, evade the duty imposed on her of proclaiming humbly but firmly the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical.

Since the Church did not make either of these laws, she cannot be their arbiter—only their guardian and interpreter. It could never be right for her to declare lawful what is in fact unlawful, since that, by its very nature, is always opposed to the true good of man.

In preserving intact the whole moral law of marriage, the Church is convinced that she is contributing to the creation of a truly human civilization. She urges man not to betray his personal responsibilities by putting all his faith in technical expedients. In this way she defends the dignity of husband and wife. This course of action shows that the Church, loyal to the example and teaching of the divine Savior, is sincere and unselfish in her regard for men whom she strives to help even now during this earthly pilgrimage "to share God's life as sons of the living God, the Father of all men."
Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae 18

Reflection – The first sentence of this paragraph is a master of understatement. Uh, yeah… we can anticipate that not everyone will easily accept this teaching. Yep. That happened. I don’t suspect that Pope Paul VI anticipated the firestorm of dissent and outright rebellion that followed upon the publication of HV, which was fairly unprecedented, at least in the modern age, but he certainly realized that there was an urgent desire for the Church to change its teachings, and that there would be some resistance to it.

More than one commenter, in the course of this weekend series I’m doing on HV on the blog has asked me ‘what are you trying to achieve?’ Well, this paragraph answers that question. Namely, that as a member of the Church I have a duty to proclaim humbly but firmly the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical. I must not declare lawful that which is unlawful, since it is opposed to the true good of man. And in doing this, I am convinced that I am contributing to the creation of a truly human civilization. And, I am trying to help people.

It cannot be stressed too much that the Church’s self-understanding is that it is not the author of these laws, but the servant of God who is the author of these laws. Those who honestly want, expect, and even demand with considerable emotion that the Church change its teachings are really asking the Church to betray God, as we understand God.

I fully realize that many people (not all, but many) have a different understanding of God than that of orthodox Catholic teaching, and a different understanding of what God asks of us in the area of human sexual morality in particular. But we who are Catholics of orthodox faith believe the doctrine that is encapsulated, in a sense, in HV, of the divine and human meaning of human sexuality and its implications for what is or is not moral sexual behavior, is from God, and we deny or alter it at the price of rejecting God, rejecting Christ.

For us, in other words, to change these teachings would be to consign ourselves to Hell. For others who sincerely and in good conscience do not believe that this doctrine is from God, it may not be so – I firmly and totally leave the judgment of hearts to the One whose job it is. But for those of us who have received the ancient Catholic faith of the ages, believe it to be of divine origin, and affirm its truth (which is what I mean by the phrase ‘orthodox Catholic’), to deny this faith because lots of people do not like it would be precisely and simply, to be damned.

Well, I’m damned if I’ll do that! I like having people like me as much as the next guy, and I’m not really a quarrelsome fellow, particularly. But so be it. It helps that I do, in fact, personally know lots and lots of people—hundreds, really, since as a priest with twenty-plus years of ministry to families, I have met quite a few faithful, orthodox Catholic believers—who are striving to live the Church’s sexual teachings, either by living chastely as single people, abstaining from sex until marriage, or by living their married sexuality according to the law of God taught by the Church.

And they are not miserable people, in general. Life is hard, for everyone really, and so we can never paint a rosy idyllic picture of human life in this world no matter what moral path a person takes. But the fruits of obedience to God’s laws as taught by the Church that I have seen in my years of ministry have given me nothing but confirmation that the Church is indeed right, that it is the servant of human happiness, and that it is contributing to building a genuine human civilization.

And the fruits of disobedience to the laws of God as taught by the Church that I have observed in my life have, to put it politely and simply, given me no reason to doubt the Church’s wisdom in this matter. And so I will continue to teach the orthodox Catholic faith. Why? Because I believe it to be true, and truth is a good thing.