Friday, December 10, 2010

Advent , Mary and the Incarnation

During Advent we are called to meditate more deeply on the mystery of the Incarnation of our Lord.  That God took flesh and shared in our human nature is a profound event that changed the world forever.  As is God’s way, he uses the service of human beings to help in His plan of salvation, and in the case of the birth of Christ he called on one person in particular to help make His plan a reality.  I am writing of our Blessed Mother.  In these days we have two feasts that of the Virgin Mary that show how God prepared her to serve Him as Jesus’ mother and how He continues to act through her to spread the Gospel of Christ.

On December 8th we celebrated the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.  In this feast we remember that Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin.  This was not for her own sake, but rather to prepare her to be the mother of God.  This feast was important to Don Bosco. On that day, in 1841, he began the Salesian mission to the young by giving a simple catechism lesson to a homeless boy who had wandered into the church where the Saint was preparing to offer Mass.

On December 12th we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  The appearance of Mary in Mexico in 1531 was a great gift to the people of that country, and the Holy Father has asked that this gift be shared with all of the Americas.  She came to bring hope to a people experiencing great trials.  The faith was still young and the Church small when Mary appeared to Blessed Juan Diego, but in the years that followed the Gospel spread and Church became strong.

In these feasts we learn two things.  First that God gives us gifts and graces so that we will use them to spread his Gospel.  Mary did not receive the gift of the immaculate conception for any other reason but to make her a suitable mother for God’s Divine Son.  God gives us gifts and graces as well, and we are called to use them to extend His Kingdom on earth. In Don Bosco we have a clear example of one who used the talents he had for the spread of the Gospel.  The second lesson is that Mary is still working to spread hope to the world.  She continues to draw people to her Son Jesus Christ by being our loving mother who is always close to us.  Even now, in the glory of her ascension, she is obedient to the will of her Son and Lord.  May we follow her faithful example.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Marriage and the Creative Power of God

In my last reflection we examined married chastity.  But I did I leave out one aspect of this virtue; that for the marriage act to be considered chaste it needs to be open to the creation of new life.  The Church has, from the first century, interpreted this to mean that artificial means of birth control go against the natural law of God and are to be avoided.  This is not an easy teaching to accept and, I can testify, not an easy teaching to preach and defend.  But we can not avoid things that make us uncomfortable if we are to truly grow in our life as Christian disciples.

In 1968 Pope Paul VI promulgated the encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life) that restated the traditional Christian teaching that artificial methods of birth control go against God’s plan.  The Pope wrote that the ready availability of artificial birth control would: 1) increase the temptation to infidelity in marriage; 2) eliminated the need for self control in marriage, making it easier for spouses, especially husbands, to pressure their partners into having relations against their will; 3) make it more difficult to promote chastity among the young; 4) open the possibility that governments might force these devises and drugs on the public in order to achieve social policy goals. 

This message was not well received by the faithful, and by many priests as well.  Studies have shown that the vast majority of the faithful in the United States ignore this prohibition, and many priests don’t defend it.  Those who oppose this teaching argue that the use of artificial birth control takes economic and emotional pressures off of couples, by allowing then to regulate births at will.  At the time it was argued that with these pressures alleviated marriages would be happier, and divorce rates reduced.  It was also argued that the wide use of birth control would reduce unwanted pregnancies, thus reducing the numbers of abortions. 

Since the pill was introduced fifty  years ago divorce rates have sky rocketed, as have out of wedlock and teen pregnancies.  Abortion on demand has become the law of the land, and roughly 1.5 million babies are aborted every year.  Birth control devises are distributed in some cities to young people in schools, and some countries like China use forced sterilizations and abortions as means of social engineering.  While we might not be able to prove scientifically that these things are related, it is hard to argue that the ready availability of birth control has prevented these problems from developing.

In light of these realities I would argue that Paul VI  was a prophet.  But his wisdom was not his own.  As the successor of Peter he had the help of the Holy Spirit.  He also made it clear priests needed to promote this teaching in light of mercy of Christ, who came to be our savior, not our judge.  It is in this spirit that I offer this reflection. 

So ends these reflections on marriage, though I’m sure we’ll be returning to the topic now and again.  I hope they have been helpful to you.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Fidelity in Marriage: Chastity

This time around we will continue our look at marital fidelity by reflecting on chastity.  When we think of chastity nuns, religious brothers or priests usually come to our minds first.  We may also think of unmarried people who are called to abstain from sexual relations until marriage.  But in reality, all of us are called to live a chaste life.  The difference is that each person lives this virtue out in a different way, depending on whether they are single, are a priest or have taken religious vows, or are married.  Chastity in marriage means that the couple recognizes that their relationship is exclusive and that the sex act is reserved for that relationship.  In this way we see that chastity is not the same as celibacy.  Unmarried people, priests and women and men religious live celibate lives.  This is not the case for married persons.

Though married chastity implies an active love life, there ways of sinning against this virtue.  Adultery is an obvious offense against chastity, but it is not the only one.  While married persons are not called to celibacy, their chastity demands mutual respect.  No one is has to have sex if they don’t want to.  To force a spouse against his or her will to have sex is a grave sin against married chastity, as well as against the dignity of the offended partner.  The conjugal act is a sacred sign of the covenant between woman and man.  Pornography is a grave sin against this reality for those who act in, produce, distribute and watch such material.  Prostitution, going to “gentlemen’s clubs,” and any internal attitude that makes others objects to be used rather than persons with dignity to be respected are offences against chastity, for married and single people alike.

Living a life of chastity means that we recognize that everyone is our neighbor, deserving of respect.  We know that everyone is an individual with a history, dreams, goals and a destiny.  They are not objects to be used for our own satisfaction.  For this reason Jesus goes as far as declaring that willfully impure thoughts are equal to adultery (Mt. 5:27-28).

We have left out one aspect of married chastity.  That is that married love should be fruitful. We will dedicate the last installment of this series on marriage to the topic of the
Church’s teaching on birth control.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fidelity in Marriage

In these reflections so far we have seen that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, for life.  The next topic we will reflect on is the importance of fidelity in marriage. 

Marriage is an exclusive relationship.  When a man and woman marry they are saying, “you are the one I want to spend the rest of my life with, and I forsake all others, giving myself entirely to you.”  This is a radical commitment, for Scripture tells us that a married couple becomes “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24, Mt. 19: 4-6).  In a spiritual way husbands and wives are joined together in a covenant of love.  They share all material goods, becoming partners and helpers to one another.  Their union is fruitful, for true love is not selfish, but seeks to share itself with an ever widening community of persons (in this case the community formed is the family).  This spiritual union finds its physical expression in the couple’s sexual union.  It is the concrete sign of the marital covenant.  In their loving embrace, the couple express their love for one another and share in the creative act of God.  Because sex in marriage has such a high purpose adultery is a grave sin against the unity of the sacrament.

Last  time we reflected on annulment and the tragedy of divorce.  While adultery is not a grounds for annulment, it is undeniable that many couples find it impossible to continue to live together after one of the spouses has been unfaithful.  Ideally the offended partner should forgive his or her repentant spouse and resume married life.  In the day to day reality this is not easy.  Even if the couple stays together, their relationship is often changed for the worse.  Marital infidelity destroys trust, and its loss is not easily regained.  Because of this it is important for couples to fight the good fight every day to stay faithful.  Marriage is not simply a private relationship.  When the two individuals become one, and then have children, they are forming a family.  The family is the basic building block of society and the Church.  When families are strong and unified, so is society.  Family life is difficult to maintain, even in good times.  Adultery places a strain on the family that often times proves too much to bear.

Next time we will continue our reflection on marital fidelity by reflecting on chastity.  It is my hope that we can come to understand that all people, married and single, are called to live this virtue.  The difference will be how they live it out.