Wednesday, February 13, 2013

“Routine” Faith?

“…Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.” Matthew 21: 31b-32

These are the words of Jesus at the end of a parable about a father who had two sons. The father asked the first son to go work in the vineyard and he said no, but then changed his mind and went. The second son said yes right away, but then never went. Jesus then asked, “Which one did the will of his father?” Of course it was the first.

A couple years in September of 2011, Pope Benedict XVI was in his home country of Germany for a pastoral visit and during one of the large Masses he celebrated this was the Gospel reading for the day. His homily at that Mass was very powerful and challenging and I think one part of it is appropriate for an Ash Wednesday reflection. Speaking of this parable he said,

“Translated into the language of the present day, this statement (of Jesus about the tax collectors and prostitutes) might sound something like this: agnostics, who are constantly exercised by the question of God, those who long for a pure heart but suffer on account of their sin, are closer to the Kingdom of God than believers whose life of faith is “routine” and who regard the Church merely as an institution, without letting it touch their hearts, or letting the faith touch their hearts.”

He went on to say, “These words should make all of us stop and reflect, in fact they should disturb us.”

So how is your faith life? Has it become routine? Is being Catholic just another part of your identity that skims the surface of your soul but rarely penetrates into the depths of your heart? Is Jesus someone you know? Is He your best friend, your confidant, your rock, your fortress, your passion, your all and all? Is your relationship with Him the motivating factor in all areas of your life?

Have you ever allowed God to move from being a concept in your brain to a Person dwelling in your heart?? Has the Church ever been a Mother to you, a safe place, a place of community, love, security and refuge or merely another corporate institution? Or perhaps at one point your faith life was passionate and real but has lost its luster?

Well welcome to Lent. Lent is about breaking out of the “routine”. It is about going back to the beginning. It is a “do over”. It is rediscovering that the Creator of the universe considers you His beloved and His greatest creation. It is about being immersed in His mercy. It is about emptying ourselves in order to be filled with all that is good, pure, holy and beautiful. It is about getting our priorities straight. It is about taking the time to develop a personal relationship with Jesus. It is about allowing Him to be the center of our hearts and the foundation we build our lives upon. May we use these next 40 days to break from the “routine” and allow the faith to touch our hearts; to change our hearts.

Dear Jesus, I know I am a sinner in need of Your mercy. Give me the grace I need to break from any “routines” that limit my relationship with You or keep You from fully entering into my heart this Lent. Amen.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Exulted Love

“…the man said, ‘This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’…that is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body. The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.” Genesis 2: 23a, 24-25

So often in our culture today, the Church is accused of being prudish. Media outlets, journalists, and other “experts” opine that the Church is against sex, or hung-up about sex, or worst: that the Church hates sex or thinks sex is dirty. The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. As we celebrate St. Valentine‘s Day this week, let us be clear about how the Church (and God) views sex.

 God created sex. It’s not like he looked down at Adam and Eve one day and was shocked at what they were doing. Sexual intercourse is God’s design and if you read the Creation Story in the book of Genesis it is very clear that God made everything GOOD. So sex is good. In fact, it is more than good, it is holy.

In sexual intercourse, we (humans) have the ability to join God in His creative powers to create something new that never existed before. Each life conceived in the womb is a miracle because at that moment of conception, something new becomes real that was not there an instant before: a totally unique, never-to-be-repeated, union of body and soul that we call a human person; created in the image and likeness of God. God could have brought new people into the world in any way He could imagine, and yet He chose to bring new life into the world through this means. What a wonder! And so it is obvious that sex is a powerful and beautiful gift that God has shared with us.

But God would not share such an amazing and wonderful gift with us without showing us the proper context in which to use that gift. In fact, something so precious and powerful would be held high with protections and parameters in order to ensure that it is not misused or abused.

Think about it this way: do you own anything you consider a prized possession? Perhaps it’s a piece of expensive jewelry given to you by your grandmother before she passed away or a baseball autographed by a famous player given to you by your father when you were young. How do you care for that item? Do you let that piece of jewelry sit around on the coffee table where it can be stolen, lost or broken by anyone? Do you let your boys go to the park with that baseball for batting practice? Of course not. The jewelry is kept locked in a safe or a special jewelry box and only worn for very special occasions. The baseball is kept locked away or encased in some kind of protective display on a high shelf where it will not be spoiled by curious little ones.

In the same way, God has given the Church parameters and boundaries to share with us about the proper use of the gift of sex: sexual intercourse is reserved for a marriage between one man and one woman. It’s that simple. Sex is so powerful, beautiful and holy that it is reserved for within this protective and fruitful bond. And used in any other way becomes a perversion of the gift with untold consequences. Not because the gift is evil, but because of misuse or abuse of the gift is evil.

Despite what your feelings might be telling you, sex in any form or fashion outside of the parameters God intended for it, is NOT love. Only in marriage can sex be as God intended it to be: total, free, faithful, and fruitful. This is why God created sex within the boundaries of chastity, both inside and outside of marriage. Because God loves us so much and only desires our happiness, the most valuable gifts are treated with the most care, especially sex.

So the next time you read Newsweek, over hear a co-worker at lunch or have a friend or family member tell you that the Catholic Church is against sex, or doesn’t know anything about it, correct them in charity and with the great joy of knowing the Truth.

Dear Jesus, help me to respect myself and others in a way that always treats sex with the value You have placed on it. May all marriages be tangible, concrete examples of the total, free, faithful and fruitful love embodied in the Holy Trinity. Amen.