Saturday, July 23, 2016

Sunday Homily - NFP Awareness

When you pray say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Addressing God as Father is amazing enough. But this should blow our minds: Men share a title with God, the title of Father. We’re going to see that all men are called to fatherhood in some capacity. Fathers generate life. The most obvious example is natural fatherhood. Most men are called to natural fatherhood where they and their wives, together with God, procreate new human life for the building up of the Kingdom.
Then there are men like me involved in supernatural fatherhood. I don’t have biological children but people call me father because of my role as spiritual father. This goes all the way back to Apostles. St. Paul talks about being a spiritual father as he is writing to his spiritual children.
Then there are also men who never marry and never have biological children. In their vocations, they are called to generate life for the Kingdom as well. They are called to lay down their lives and be fruitful in imitation to Christ so that others can have life. St. Paul reminds us today in his letter to the Colossians, talking about Jesus: “He brought you to life along with him.” These men build up the kingdom in any number of ways like teaching, serving, coaching, praying. There is no limit to the ways to generate life.
So, getting back to natural fatherhood, if building up of the Kingdom is important, then fatherhood continues for decades into the lives of their children as they are reared and educated to be citizens of God’s Kingdom. What an awesome responsibility!
To show the Father’s love for us, Jesus gives some obvious examples of fatherhood in the Gospel today. But procreating and educating his children is only half of the task of fatherhood.
The man is also called to make a gift of self for the good of his wife.
Today begins Natural Family Planning Awareness Week. NFP is a tool that is very helpful to ensure both sides of the coin of fatherhood are kept intact. It’s practice helps a man generate life in a generous and responsible way and at the same time make a full gift of self to his bride.
Nothing is held back, especially not his fatherhood.
Because of this, many priests, including myself, require NFP classes in marriage preparation. The numbers speak for themselves. Couples who practice NFP have a divorce rate approaching zero, and report that they are more satisfied with their marriages. While the rest of the culture has a divorce rate of 50 percent.
In our first reading from Genesis, what was the grave sin of the people of Sodom that God wanted to destroy it? They were using their bodies in ways that God did not design them to be used. They were using God’s gift of their sexual faculties not to generate life, but to generate lust and corruption. They were using each other in acts that were completely sterile. Not only were they sterile, they promoted death and destruction. God is not the God of death and destruction. He is the God of life and love.
Throughout the entire Judeo-Christian tradition, until recent decades, fertility was seen as a blessing and sterility was seen as a hardship. But in our present culture at large, fertility is seen as a liability, as something to be suppressed. That is contrary to God’s plan. Fertility is not something wrong with our bodies, but something right with our bodies. Women’s fertility doesn’t need to be suppressed by dangerous drugs and hormones. It just needs to be understood. And God gives us the ability to understand it. These are the skills learned in NFP.
The conjugal embrace of husband and wife is not only good, but holy. It’s God’s primary way of strengthening their bond with each other and bringing new human life into the world.
Saint John Paul II explained in his The Theology of the Body: “[W]hen the conjugal act is deprived of its inner truth because it is deprived artificially of its procreative capacity, it also ceases to be an act of love.”
God’s design is that the conjugal embrace has both a unitive and procreative meaning, open to love and life. There is an inseparable connection between these two meanings. In the contraceptive mentality, a separation occurs and the full gift of self is diminished. The act now says, I am holding back part of myself from you. NFP is the way to live responsible generosity if a couple prayerfully discerns they have a grave reason to avoid pregnancy.
This is definitely a counter-cultural message. In the culture, people are treated as objects more and more. Our own national government mandates that health insurance programs provide contraception without regard to the deeper effects on the human person.
Really, it all comes down to who has the more adequate understanding of human nature. I’m going to side with St. John Paul II and His Theology of the Body. I’m going to side with the Church and her 2,000 years of the most brilliant minds in the world pondering both the natural law and everything God has revealed. I’m going to side with the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit that Jesus guaranteed the Church would have.
Because of this, the Church will always support what is best for marriages because marriage holds families together. And that’s important because families are the building blocks of society. Strong families means strong society where people can flourish. That’s God’s plan for the human race.
The contraceptive mentality has become such a part of the culture that we are allowing it. I mentioned that on Fourth of July Weekend, when we were observing the Fortnight for Freedom. In the case involving the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Supreme Court instructed lower courts to hear further arguments. In March of 2012 all the diocesan bishops of our country acknowledged that the contraceptive mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services is indeed a persecution because it forces people to provide services that have been deemed inherently evil by natural law reasoning.
But the outrage was relatively small. Vast numbers of Catholics yawned and said it’s no big deal. In November of that same year Many Catholics voted to reelect the same officials who put the contraceptive mandate in place.
Many Catholic dioceses, universities had to file law suits for protection from the mandate. Charities affiliated with religious organizations found themselves in the same threat. Priests for Life and the Little Sisters of the Poor were looking at steep fines that would have put them out of business. The owners of Hobby Lobby, my friend who owns a meat processing company, and many other private citizens, who own companies that employ people, faced the same threats.

Some of those cases have been solved, but not all.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Fortnight for Freedom

Nothing fails like success. 227 years ago, the framers of the Constitution of the United States put in place several checks and balances in a system of government that splits power into three branches. This system has worked very well for the most part for more than two and a quarter centuries, hence the success.

Here is where the failure comes in. Since the system has worked pretty well for 227 years, we have become complacent. Even though we may not trust individual politicians, we seem to have a great trust in the governmental system as a whole. We don’t have to be paranoid, but on the other hand, we should not think that we are immune to some of the evil that is brought about by other governments of the world.

Furthermore, we need to remember that politics does not happen in a vacuum. We elect politicians, and they make policies, and those policies have real effects in people’s lives. We should never shrug off politics as “politicians being politicians.” And we should never think of rooting for politicians and political parties in the same way we root for athletes and sports teams.

I'll come back to that point below, but first, let’s fast forward to March of 2012. The Catholic bishops of every single diocese in the United States pointed out that the Catholic Church is being persecuted by the federal government. The bishops asked all Catholics to observe a Fortnight For Freedom from June 21st to July 4th. These dates not only encompass the feast days of saints who stood up to government tyranny, but also the day when our nation observes independence from tyranny. This persecution comes from the Department of Health and Human Services, a department of the Executive Branch of the federal government. The persecution comes in the form of forcing employers to provide contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion inducing drugs to their employees. The Little Sisters of the Poor are still tied up in a law suit with the federal government over the issue and is currently on hold with the Supreme Court.

Later that same year, the president was re-elected, so the same Executive Branch stayed in power. The persecution continued, and exit polls show that about half of the Catholics who voted in that election, voted to keep in power the very branch of government that was persecuting the Church.

Now, we once again find ourselves in an election year. It would be nice not to have to discuss political issues. But the outcomes of elections have real effects in people’s lives. Some elections are literally life and death decisions.

Here are the things that we know will happen for sure:
  • A new president will take office on January.
  • That new president will run the Executive Branch of the federal government.
  • That Executive Branch will have a Department of Health and Human Services.
  • That Department of Health and Human Services will either persecute the Catholic Church or will not persecute the Church.

Here are some another things we know for sure:
  • There is a vacant seat on the Supreme Court.
  • Justice Antonin Scalia, a faithful Catholic, died a few months ago.
  • The new president will appoint a justice to fill the vacancy.
  • The senate will approve or disapprove the appointment.
  • One third of the senators in the legislative branch are up for reelection.
  • This year, Ohio has one senator up for reelection.
  • Whoever wins that election will have a say in the approval of a new Supreme Court Justice right away.

And it doesn’t stop there. Other seats on the Supreme Court are likely to come open in the first term of this new president. Last week there was a rumor that Justice Clarence Thomas, a faithful Catholic, was thinking about retirement. There is a very strong likelihood that the new president will appoint two Justices in the first term of office.

These justices will either be pro-life or pro-abortion. They will either be pro-life or pro-euthanasia. They will decide many cases that will come before them intended to protect the innocent in the womb or destroy the innocent in the womb. Last week the eight members of the Supreme Court voted 5-3 to strike down a law in Texas that would make abortion clinics as clean and safe as any other ambulatory surgery clinic.

As I mentioned above, we can notice a cultural similarity in sports and politics. We can get emotionally attached to sports teams and athletes; and we can get emotionally attached to politicians and political parties. But there is a huge difference. If we are highly emotional toward a sports figure or team, we might become a fan (which is short for fanatic). This could lead to us cheering, spending money on tickets or related goods, or spending time following said team or athlete. This is about the extent of it. No matter how much we cheer or spend, our efforts will have absolutely no bearing on the outcome of any sporting contest. The athlete will not play better or worse depending on the fan cheering from home.

Now, imagine we get highly emotional toward a politician or political party. This emotion could lead to votes and campaigning. Votes and campaigning can lead to the person or party taking office. In office, these elected officials will make policies. These policies will have real effects in peoples’ lives. Some of these policies will literally be the difference between life and death.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Pro-life

Usually during an election year I have the opportunity to point out from the pulpit that we need to elect a pro-life president because the new president may have the opportunity to appoint a Supreme Court Justice. We should be reminded of two things:
1. Supreme Court justices make decisions that literally mean life or death to innocent human beings.
2. Supreme Court justices are appointed to the bench for the rest of their lives.
Electing a pro-life president this year is even more important. The way things look now, the new president WILL appoint a justice to the Supreme Court very early in his or her term to fill the current vacancy. Moreover, at the time the new president takes office, four justices will be over the age of 82.
In the coming months and years, the Supreme Court will decide constitutionality to numerous pro-life laws that have recently been passed. Many of their decisions will mean life or death for the innocent.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Trivial and the Important

After offering the 5 PM Vigil Mass on Saturday night, one man from our unofficial Saturday dinner club asked me if I would be joining them as usual. I replied that I could not because I was going to do something really stupid. I was going to the Bengals game. You see: kickoff would be at 8:15; being a night-time playoff game, it would run longer than normal; I live an hour and a half from the stadium; and I had the 8:30 AM Mass on Sunday morning. But I can seize the opportunity just this once and put up with being tired the next day. Plus I appreciate sports. I have played most of the ones that are common in our culture today.

I had a great time at the game, catching up with the friend who invited me, and seeing some good plays on the field. But it was a stark reminder of the societal flip flop that has taken place over the last few decades. When I arrived at the parking lot adjacent to the stadium, the thousands of people tailgating in their orange and black clothing were the first to clue me in that the important has become trivial and the trivial has become important. Already their were long lines for the porta-potties. Already, the women were avoiding the one that was covered in vomit from a fan who had already celebrated too zealously, and the game had not yet started. 

Just a few decades ago, it seemed there was a three-tiered hierarchy. The most important things to get excited about, even culturally, would be those of infinite value and those with eternal consequences. The next level in the hierarchy of needs would be the ability to survive with adequate food, water and shelter. Then, after we are in good standing with the things of the first two levels, there are games. Play is important. Human beings are unique in the world because we have the ability to play games, but they are meant to be trivial, superfluous and enjoyable.

Since people get really excited, there are billions of dollars to be made, and those savvy at marketing are capitalizing big time. The sporting event is the new American liturgy. Athletes are the new gods. The fans drape themselves in the clothing of the athletes. They study the athletes and know their statistics. The fans display raw emotion, at successes and failures of the athletes with colorful, vulgar language and bodily gestures. It is even complete with liturgical dancing. Resting only momentarily, there are 24 women paid to dance suggestively the entire time. This might seem extra, but the people who are in charge of marketing the full "experience" of the game know exactly what their dollars are getting them. All of the things for sale, food and drink, and even the architecture of the stadium play into the total message of what is important. No liturgy is complete without music. There was plenty of it in the tailgating areas and during the game.

In the midst of all of it I began to wonder how we would ever see the important regarded as important and the trivial regarded as trivial. How could people realize games are good but they are just games? In the grand scheme of things, in the eternity of the cosmos, it does not matter which team is victorious in the contest. Since there is big money involved, it will matter to some people in this life: the players, coaches, and those who bet on the game. If only the fans could use their passion for the game as training in the true contest between good and evil in the world. If only those 24 dancing women could know their infinite dignity being made in God's image.

Since there are so many billions of dollars at the top of the industry, those at other levels in the world of sports are drawn into the greed. It seems that decades ago, children would play sports at leisure and still have time for interaction with family, especially their parents. Now it seems that parents are pushing their children to try every sport possible, not for exercise or enjoyment, but just in case of the off chance this child might have some special hidden ability to be the next great one to strike it rich in the pros. Now it's all about winning.

Even though the societal flip flop if the hierarchy of importance has taken place, the seeds of it are nothing new. St. Augustine warned the people of North Africa of an over-emphasis on their adoration of play actors and charioteers over a millennium and a half ago. 

In the correct ordering of the three-tiered hierarchy of the important and trivial, we would study God not athletes. We would study the saints, the ones who are victorious over the real forces of evil. "Evil" in sports is just pretend because the opponent comes from another city or school district. Maintaining the middle tier of the hierarchy, we uphold the importance of food, clothing and shelter for ourselves and those we love. Finally, sports would be regarded as good but trivial, not ends in themselves. They would be means to a greater end. From games we can learn virtues like team work and patience. We can get exercise thus leading to better stewardship of the body which is a gift from God. But these bodies will decay in death. What have I stored up that has infinite value and will last for eternity?


Friday, October 16, 2015

Why Not Show the Product?

On Columbus Day many students and workers had the day off. 11 parishioners and I joined up with 40 Days for Life at the Planned Parenthood abortion facility in Cincinnati for an hour of prayer.
Even though the CEO of Planned Parenthood recently admitted that 86% of the money they earn comes from abortions, the word "abortion" is nowhere to be found on the extensive list of services listed on this huge banner attached to the building.
Maybe abortion services fall under "All Options Counseling" or maybe under "Birth Control Options" which are both on the banner. Some people use abortion as a form of birth control, but the "birth control" usually refers to an artificial way to prevent pregnancy, some of which do cause early abortions.
For more information, click this.
The abortion industry is the only industry that does not want anyone to see its product, not the dead child, nor the emotionally broken mother who chose the abortion. Now it seems they are even shying away from the word "abortion" which used to be a nice euphemism for killing the child in the womb. Maybe people are starting to realize what it actually is.
Finally: I imagine this promotional banner was paid for at least in part by the $500,000,000.00 this organization receives in our tax dollars.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

One More Soul

Back on July 19th, three parishioners and I headed over to the Athenaeum for an evening lecture on marriage. It was Sunday of NFP Awareness Week.
Part of the deal was for our little group to have dinner on the way. We went to the new B-Dubs in Anderson Township by the seminary.
After ordering food, I walked into the men's room. I walked past a man changing the diaper of a newborn baby. On my way to the sink, I walked past the same man and baby. Since he was busy with the diaper changing, I don't know if he ever looked up at me or noticed my collar.
I remarked: "Looks like you have a brand new one there."
He replied: "Yeah, she's a month old," and immediately added: "and she's our second, so I think we're done."
I was at a loss for words. As I washed my hands, I was thinking, "Why is this complete stranger telling me something so intimate and personal about his family?" With no reply, I went back to my party at the table.
Once at the table, I told the parishioners what happened. I acknowledged that a complete stranger in the men's room just shared with me--a complete stranger--that he is either going to stop having sex with his wife, or one of them is going to alter his or her fertility. Why is he telling a complete stranger something so intimate?
Having studied the devastating effects of contraception and sterilization on marriages, I had a desire to respond to this young father. I could see where he was sitting in the restaurant with his wife, the baby, and an older couple, probably his or his wife's parents.
I told the group of parishioners that I really should reply in some way. After all, it was NFP Sunday. I wished I had a calling card to give him. One woman in our group offered me a blank deposit slip. The back of it was plain white where I wrote: "onemoresoul.com". Now all I had to do was think of a smooth way to pass the note to the guy and minimize any embarrassment.
As our meal was wrapping up, I noticed that the young father was not in his chair at the table with his family. Even though I was taken aback that he shared intimate details of his life with me in the men's room while changing his baby's diaper, I headed toward the men's room in case I might be able to give him the note. As I walked past the bar, the young father was coming toward me. As we passed, I held out the note and he took it from me. I added: "You shared some really intimate details with me in the men's room earlier. Check this out. You'll find some excellent information." The guy didn't say a word. He seemed more dumbstruck than I was earlier.
About a week later, I was on the phone with a woman who works for the Catholic Church. She told me she just got back from maternity leave. I congratulated her and asked the name of the baby. She told me the baby's name and added that this was her fourth and final child. Once again I was dumbstruck asking myself: "Why is this woman, whom I have never met telling me such intimate details about her life?" She is either telling me that she and her husband are going to stop having sex, that something went terribly wrong with the delivery of this new baby rendering her infertile, or that she or her husband are going to have one of their bodies altered to become sterile.
This woman knows I am a priest. I would hope that someone who works for the Church might know the teachings of the Church as they have been handed down from Christ over the centuries.
Even though I find it surprising, I know it's really not about telling a stranger something intimate. There is a cultural disdain for new human life. It seems that once someone notices a new baby, the mother or father has to "apologize" by saying: "I'll never do it again." So few really know that Christ and His Church have the best plan for marriage and family. The culture at large will never know it until the lay faithful witness by being open to life. The ones who are open to life are the most joyful people I have met. They have found the freedom and fulfillment Christ offers through the teachings of His Church.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

NFP Awareness - Sunday Homily

“They were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” Jesus easily slips into this role because he is the Good Shepherd. A good shepherd is always kind and supportive. And a good shepherd brings members of the flock to the truth when they get off course. This is what Jesus did for people in his time. Then there are countless times when he tries to get the Pharisees back on track when their ideas take them off course.

We just heard in our first reading from Jeremiah: Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture… Who are the bad shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock? Anyone who goes against Christ and the teachings of the Church he founded.

Our modern day culture misleads and scatters the flock in countless ways. Pope Francis calls it a throw-away culture. Pope Saint John Paul II called it a culture of death. The culture of death has many symptoms. 
In order to fight against some of the symptoms of the culture of death, the Church gives us Natural Family Planning Awareness Week in the week ahead. The culture of death promotes things like artificial contraception or sterilization as a “fix” to the “problem” of fertility. The Church reminds of that those things are beneath our dignity. We are beautifully, wonderfully made in God’s image. We are made for more. Our bodies need understanding, not chemicals and alterations to healthy organs that function as they should.

Does a good shepherd ignore these so he doesn’t have to unpack the difficult issues? Or does a good shepherd point out the problems with artificial contraception destroying families? Woe to me the shepherd if I mislead the flock. Sure, NFP isn’t for everyone. But we all need to know about it so we can share it with people who are misled by the lies of the culture. Yes contraception is a problem because it’s unhealthy for the human body, but it’s especially problematic because of the harm it can do to relationships.
We are made for lasting relationships.

Simple biology shows us the conjugal embrace has two meanings, procreative and unitive. It’s procreative because it’s God’s way of bringing new human life into the world. And it’s unitive because it’s God’s way of bonding a man and woman in married love for the rest of their lives. Powerful bonding hormones are activated. People who are open to both the unitive and procreative meanings of the conjugal embrace are presumably giving themselves fully to each other. Ideally, there is a full self-giving for the benefit of the other.
Sounds like love, doesn’t it… Nothing is held back, not even one’s fertility.

When a barrier is placed in the way, there is no longer a full self-giving. Now something is held back. We would never say to a spouse, “I love you except for your fertility.  Hold back that part of you. I’m not interested in all of you.” So we shouldn’t say it in our actions either.

So we see that diminishing the procreative meaning can easily diminish the unitive meaning of the conjugal embrace as well. Imposing barriers in this most intimate of settings can quite often manifest itself in emotional ways too. If the physical barriers are in the way, it becomes easier to put up emotional barriers or communication barriers as well.

As human beings, we are designed to have a very powerful unitive bond, but we can do things to diminish it. The worst thing about contraception and sterilization is that they reject God’s design and his plan for our happiness. Furthermore the contraceptive mentality feeds the despair of the culture that life is not worth living. But life is worth living.

NFP or Natural Family Planning keeps the unitive and procreative meanings of the conjugal embrace intact while effectively helping married couples space children if they need to for grave reasons. NFP is more effective than contraception but without the destructive side-effects. And it has proven to enhance marital love rather than diminish it. It forces the husband and wife to communicate, thus building their relationship, rather than taking the risk of using the other for selfish reasons.

47 years ago Pope Paul VI predicted what would happen if the use of contraception became widespread. He was correct on every prediction. Divorce rates would increase. They have: from 6% in 1960 to more than 50% now. Disrespect of women would increase. Men would become more irresponsible. Marital infidelity would increase. There would be a general lowering of morality.

As Christians, we are called to trust completely in the Lord. If we look around, we see that those who seem open to his plan for their lives also seem to be the happiest. Our culture tells us that one way will bring happiness. But Christ proves that his way of self-giving love is what really brings happiness and lasting joy.

Those with little regard of Natural Law reasoning or morality are forcing upon the American people a contraceptive mentality. Our own federal government, which has coercive power over its citizens, is forcing almost all employers to literally buy into the contraceptive mentality that destroys families, the building blocks of society.

Just this past week, the Little Sisters of the Poor lost a court case that says they have to provide these things and abortion-inducing drugs to their employees. The sisters are not allowed to live out the convictions of their faith.

NFP Awareness Week is not about condemnation. It’s an invitation for us to learn God’s plan for authentic happiness. It’s an invitation to learn what the Church teaches and why. Then we can bring the good news of the Gospel of Life to the world. We all know people who need to learn it as well. Let’s have the courage to trust in the Lord and invite others to the happiness that only He can bring.