Sunday, June 30, 2013

Prophets and Nations

The Old Testament prophets were holy men who were persecuted by kings and ostracized by religious elders. If truth be told, their contemporaries had no use for them. And it is not an exaggeration to say that they were called by God to embrace a thankless job. Yet, several years after they had died, their writings were enshrined into the Old Testament canon. Eventually, they were heralded by the people of God as great men.

To be sure, the writings of the prophets took on great importance for the faith of the Jews long after the prophets were no more. Their work took on great national significance for Israel. Centuries later, after the Apostles were sent out into the world, the writings of the prophets were honored by many nations throughout the world.

Over time it was understood that these prophets spoke and had written the very words of God. Nevertheless, it took the destruction of Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and Judah (the Southern Kingdom) in order for the Jews to realize this. It wasn’t until after Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. followed by the deportation of the Jews from their homeland that the writings of the prophets were seen for what they were- the inspired Word of God!

The suffering that afflicted Israel and Judah was captured in the writings of Habakkuk: “How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord.” (Habakkuk 1:2-3) As for the prophets themselves, during their lifetime they received little respect. They had to be content with being outsiders for the Lord’s sake.

The reason why the Old Testament prophets were met with such hostility when they communicated God’s message was because Israel enjoyed considerable prosperity and comfort at that time. Between the years 1000 and 722 B.C., for instance, not a few citizens had a regular house they lived in and a vacation house. At the same time, however, many Israelites had fallen into idolatry and had practiced the lowest forms of immorality. The poor were neglected. Sexual deviancy was rampant. And child-sacrifices were even performed to appease their new gods.

As for the child-sacrifices, common among ancient pagans, is it not true that false gods demand innocent blood? Yes, indeed!  And to be sure, history repeats itself. Pardon the digression but it seems  that America is drifting towards a new god; certainly not a Greek god like Zeus or a Roman god like Jupiter, but modern the god of the State. Keep in mind that prosperity or political power- by themselves –are no indication that God’s favor is upon those who enjoy it. Historian Guglielmo Ferrero, in his book, Ancient Rome and Modern America, (1914) reminded us of this truth when he said, "A civilization is not always in reality richer and stronger in times when it bears the most visible marks of so being. We are rather apt to find that when it is most dazzling and outward seeming, its decadence has already begun."

In any event, the prophet Amos was from the southern kingdom of Israel known as Judah. He was called by God to minister to the northern kingdom of Israel (Israel used to be one kingdom but it divided into two nations in about the year 922 B.C.). He was just a plain old farmer minding his own business when God called him.

In his book, he briefly mentioned the way in which he was called by God. Such a calling won him no friends among his contemporaries. He wrote the following: “To Amos, Amaziah [ a priest gone bad] said: ‘Off with you, visionary, flee to the land of Judah! There earn your bread by prophesying, but never again prophesy in Bethel; for it is the king's sanctuary and a royal temple.’ Amos answered Amaziah, ‘I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to a company of prophets; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores.’” (Amos 7:12-14)

The prophet Amos and his message was not welcomed by the priest of Bethel, Amaziah. In times of ease, repentance is rarely a popular thing. The rejection of the Amos probably had something to do with what he prophesied to the nation of Israel. He said, “Hear this word, O men of Israel, that the LORD pronounces over you, over the whole family that I brought up from the land of Egypt: You alone have I favored, more than all the families of the earth; Therefore I will punish you for all your crimes.” (Amos 3:1-2)

As harsh as this message was to hear, it was one of liberation. Neither the kings of Israel nor the religious establishment took heed in the prophet’s words. But if the Israelites had taken to heart the Word of God as spoken by Amos, the nation most likely would have been saved. But no, Israel had to learn the hard way…like many nations throughout history. In fact, Israel (the Northern Kingdom with ten out of the twelve tribes) was totally destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.

The vocation of an Old Testament prophet- starting with Elijah and Elisha -was not an easy one; rather, it was lonely and strenuous. The prophet Jeremiah, for instance, is a fine illustration of this very point. The Lord just happened to communicate His Word through his wild series of emotional highs and lows. Things would get so bad for Jeremiah, that he regretted the day he was born. At one point, he cried out: “Cursed be the day on which I was born! May the day my mother gave me birth never be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, saying, ‘A child, a son, has been born to you!" filling him with great joy.’” (Jeremiah 20:14-15)

He, like Amos and Habakkuk, knew what it meant to see his own people- a nation he grew up to love – disregard its great traditions and even the Word of God. And as a bearer of that Word, he knew all too well that a prophet is never accepted in his home town.

Perhaps it is better to say that a prophet is never accepted by the generation he is born into. Most of the time it would take years for people to appreciate the depth, wisdom and value of what a prophet of God had to offer his contemporaries.

I just hope that America doesn’t take as long as Israel took to rediscover what God told us long ago: "For he who finds me finds life, and wins favor from the LORD; but he who misses me harms himself..." (Proverbs 8:35-36)

Friday, June 28, 2013

Peter & Paul: Founders of the New Rome

Reposting for a great feast day:

June 29th marks the great feast day of St. Peter and St. Paul. Some early Christian witnesses claim that these two illustrious Apostles were martyred under the Roman emperor Nero on the same day: St. Peter being crucified upside down and St. Paul being beheaded. Interestingly, their calling to martyrdom seemed to have been traced out by the crucifixion of our Lord and the beheading of St. John the Baptist. Also noteworthy is the pagan legend that two twin brothers, Romulus and Remus, founded the city of Rome between 758 and 728 B.C. And it would seem providential that two brothers in Christ, Peter and Paul, would help bring about a new Rome through the shedding of their blood.

An early Christian account, Liberianus (354 A.D.), records that St. Peter had presided in Rome as bishop for 25 years, 1 month and 9 days. As for St. Paul, he eventually made his way to Rome after having preached the Gospel to the Mediterranean world. These two pillars of the Church, the former an icon of authority and the latter representing the prophetic voice of Christ, would serve as the epicenter of Christianity. St. Ireneaus (180 A.D.), bishop and Father of the Church, attested to this “by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops.”

Yet the sacred authority of St. Peter and St. Paul would not go uncontested. In fact, it was the Roman emperor Nero, a mad man to be sure, who inaugurated the era of Christian martyrdom by using Christians as a scapegoat for setting fire to a district of Rome. Having sensed a political backlash to his arson, he immediately blamed the Christians. Tacitus, a non-Christian historian in the first century, had this to say about one of the first great persecutions of the Church: "Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus…” Indeed, the tortures consisted of wrapping the Christians in animal skins and setting them on fire for all to see.

It was during this wave of persecutions that St. Peter and St. Paul were put to death in 64 A.D. About forty years earlier, Christ foretold the kind of death St. Peter would “glorify God.” He said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." This wouldn’t be the last time a Roman emperor would see the pope as a rival to his throne and seek to have him eliminated. Out of the first 30 popes, 29 died a martyr’s death. As you can see, the first several popes had to be willing to suffer a martyr’s death in order to sit on Peter’s chair. Indeed, for a successor of St. Peter, dying a natural death wasn’t likely in those early years.

During the first centuries, being a Christian in Rome was a health hazard. As such, it begs the question: Why did the Spirit of the Lord lead St. Peter and St. Paul to Rome, the very center of moral and spiritual darkness? Gladiator games, infanticide, and slavery were just a few vices on display there. In fact, St. Peter concluded his first epistle by saying, “Babylon sends you greetings…” First century Jews and Christians referred to Rome as Babylon for two reasons: First, Babylon was a place of exile for the Old Testament Jews when Temple and Jerusalem was destroyed (586 B.C.). Rome was a dwelling place for Jews and Christians away from Jerusalem. Second, as with the construction of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, Rome was an epicenter of godlessness. Yet, St. Peter and St. Paul threw themselves right in the middle of this darkness so as to emit the Light of Christ. They were set apart from the world but ministered in the world. The Catholic Church took it for granted that if Rome could be transformed through the preaching of the Gospel, the light of Christ would be diffused throughout the world.

Retreating from ungodly cities, therefore, was not on the early Christian agenda. In fact, the Apostles and the Church Fathers- most of whom were bishops -took to the streets, exposing themselves to ridicule and persecution. This is a missionary tactic that ought to be revived in our cities. As Fulton Sheen said (and here I am paraphrasing), “Christ did not get crucified between two candles in a cathedral. Rather, died out there in the jungle; that’s where we need to take our message.”

The strength do carry this daunting task out was none other than the grace that came from Christ-crucified. Having the Passion of our Lord burned in their hearts, these two great Apostles saw that God was glorified through setbacks, humiliations, persecutions and martyrdom itself. As such, they did not wince from bearing witness in those places most hostile to the Gospel of Christ. From Rome, St. Peter encouraged those Christians undergoing trials to adopt the same attitude: “In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (I Peter 1:6-7) For St. Peter, suffering was an opportunity to break with sin. He said, “Therefore, since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same attitude (for whoever suffers in the flesh has broken with sin), so as not to spend what remains of one's life in the flesh on human desires, but on the will of God.” (I Peter 4:1-2)

The foundation these two Apostles laid bore much fruit. In the year 313 A.D. Christianity was legalized. Nearly 80 years later, in 392 A.D., it was made the official religion of the Roman Empire. When the Church’s mission was allowed to flourish, gladiator games were banned, infanticide and abortion were declared illegal and the institution of slavery collapsed. Indeed, the world was introduced to the Culture of Life all because the Gospel of Life was preached on enemy territory by men who were willing to endure its hazzards.

St. Peter and St. Paul, founders of the New Rome, pray for us.



Since I wrote, Peter & Paul: Founders of the New Rome, I found the full quote from Fulton Sheen. Recalling the above quote from memory, I captured the essence of what the venerable bishop said but did not quote him verbatim (This is why I made the disclaimer: "And here I am paraphrasing"). Nevertheless, here is the actual quote:

“The laity will have to come to a comprehension that our blessed Lord was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles but in the world, on a road way, in a town garbage heap, at the crossroads where there were three languages written upon the Cross. Yes, they were Hebrew, Latin and Greek, but they could just as well have been English, Bantu or African. It would make no difference. He placed Himself at the very center of the world, in the midst of smut, thieves, soldiers and gamblers. He was there to extend pardon to them. This is the vocation of the laity: to go out into the world and make Christ known.”

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The US Supreme Court Ruling: It’s Impact on the Image of God

Beyond the Competence of Politics:

With the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision supporting same-sex marriage rights, the uphill climb to preserve the sanctity of marriage is suddenly looking steeper. As one priest said to me (and here I paraphrase), “Just a few years ago one could be an advocate for the sanctity of marriage without running the risk of being called a bigot or accused of being hateful. But today, if one was to merely assert on Facebook or Twitter that marriage ought to be defined as a permanent union between a man and a woman, he or she would publicly be vilified, to be sure.”

Given this, it is important to understand how this cultural movement away from the Christian understanding on marriage has gained momentum in recent years. With regard to people’s attitude towards same-sex marriage, there has been a seismic shift in recent years.

We have to first come to acknowledge one important law of history: The law of the land is, more often than not, a reflection of the people’s morality; not the other way around. In fact, when the State attempts to decree or legislate high moral standards among its citizens, history demonstrates that such measures are woefully insufficient.

Although a bad law or ruling can make matters worse, good laws are often ignored or rarely enforced when the people’s morals are on the decline. Or to say it another way: Just as the erosion of marriage is not caused by the government, neither is it to be saved by the government. If truth be told, the legalization of abortion was made possible because the dignity of human life had first been lost in the hearts of too many Americans.

The same applies to the sanctity of marriage. When people grow indifferent to the true meaning of marriage, laws and rulings to follow will reflect that indifference. Hence, the liberty to promote the true meaning of marriage will suffer proportionately. Pope Benedict XVI warned us that, “Very soon it will no longer be possible to affirm that homosexuality (as the Catholic Church teaches) constitutes an objective disorder in the structure of human existence…” But as stated, to recover what has been lost- whether it be the Christian view of marriage itself or the religious liberty to proclaim it –is beyond the competence of politics. In quoting a distinguished jurist, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore once reminded his brother bishops, “If liberty dies in the hearts of men and women, no constitution, no law, no court can save it.”

The Church’s Jurisdiction:

This is where the Catholic Church comes in. Entrusted to her is the “Finger of God” or- to put it more simply –the Holy Spirit. This Divine Finger, if you will, is far reaching. It has a reach beyond any political program of the State. In the deep recesses of the human heart, the Lord writes his law (cf. Ez. 36:25-27). He impresses his image, goodness and love upon that heart. And by creating the heart anew, he makes his dwelling there! In a wondrous manner, therefore, he brings to light what was once obscured in darkness. What before seemed impossible- such as virginity, chastity, monogamy, marital fidelity, indissolubility of marriage and celibacy -now suggest means of accomplishment.

Such is the beauty of the transformation of the heart in Christ. The fruit of this is a -redeemed human sexuality.

However, in actual fact few people know of this truth because few people hear about it; even within the Church. It was once said by a papal biographer that the Catholic Church is the hope and despair of mankind. When her members are world-renouncing and holy, society prospers. But when Catholics become worldly and materialistic, society suffers decline. In other words, what happens to the Church happens to society.

I do wonder if the Catholic clergy as well as lay evangelists and teachers are making the connection for people that the sanctity of marriage as between a man and a woman is inextricably linked to economic and political prosperity. If people are concerned with the latter, then they should be equally concerned with the former. As Pope Leo XIII said, within the circle of family life the destiny of the State is fostered.

The human heart or the soul is the mission field of the Catholic Church. When it goes astray- when the sanctity of marriage and religious liberty no longer find a place there –the Church (at least in America) has to do some serious souls searching. We dropped the ball somewhere along the line. The result of our missteps has resulted in fewer “new” hearts that are conformed to the likeness of Christ’s. In the absence of new hearts, people no longer aspire to the higher law that respects the dignity of human life and the sanctity of marriage. To repeat: A heart that is not inspired from on high cannot aspire to the high moral standards of the Gospel. The divine and natural law, so often referenced in Church documents, will cease to inform human law as it has in recent days.

Same-sex Marriage and the Image of God:

For starters, it is important to know same-sex marriage not only undermines the true nature of marriage but it is an affront on the image of God. In Genesis, God said “let us make man in our image.” Then it states: "Male and female, he created them." If we are to have a correct understanding of God, at the very least, we have to get his image right! And his image- that is, the template and blueprint of who he is -includes one man and one woman. After all, both the masculine principle and the feminine principle come from him.

We can even say that these two principles are mysteriously contained within his nature. Yes, God is Father and God is Son, but the prophet Isaiah likens the Lord to a mother as well. “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15) Therefore, if we as Christians still believe that a marriage between a man and a woman symbolizes who God is-if marriage still says something about Jesus, the bridegroom, and his bride, the Church -then we have to get the image of God right and retain the marriage between a man and a woman as the only acceptable union! If you take away the man-and-woman combination and replace it with something else, the image gets distorted and the very understanding of who we are, how we relate to one another and how we relate to God, is likewise distorted.

Indeed, the proper understanding of human sexuality and the distinction between the male and the female gender- at some level -is absolutely necessary for a lifelong marriage. Moreover, a mother and a father is an image of God for the child. It is through this image that the child understands himself, God and the world. It is not an exaggeration to say the following: the image of God (as represented by a mother and a father and how they love one another and how they love the child) is an instrument of knowledge more powerful than a lifelong education!

The repercussions are even more profound than that of legalized abortion. Hear me out on this! Whereas the abortion issue addresses the dignity of the child’s body- as well as his very life –the challenge of homosexuality or same-sex marriage is broader in scope and even deeper. Alter this image- the primary medium through which we perceive reality and the natural channel through which God fathers us -then everything is thrown off balance.

Moreover, with the sanction of same-sex marriage, the incentive for couples to marry will decrease, the permanence of marriage will be increasingly seen as unrealistic and broken families will become the norm. And worse yet, God himself will cease to be known as he wishes to be known because his image- as comprising that of a man and a woman –will not be held up as the standard in society.

What can we conclude from all of this? What the family loses, the State gains. Political prosperity and democracy presupposes that the citizen is capable of exercising some measure of self-governance. And the institution that is most efficient at teaching self-governance is a strong, intact, traditional family.

If fewer hearts are being renewed in Christ; if fewer people have a respect for the image of God as it exists in a husband and wife or a mother and father; if fewer families are staying together; and if the power of the State has made gains; then Catholics- both clergy and laity –will have to ask ourselves: What could we do differently?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Birth of the Baptist

Reposting: The Birth of the Baptist

St. John the Baptist was born approximately six months before Christ. The Catholic Church celebrates his birthday on June 24th, just as the days are getting shorter.

This great Saint’s birth was surrounded all sorts of ironies. First, on the eighth day, the day of his circumcision, his relatives and neighbors assumed he was going to be named Zachariah, the name of his father. But that was not to be. Instead, Elizabeth insisted that he was to be named John as foretold by the angel Gabriel. Interestingly enough, they did not take her word for it saying, "There is no one among your relatives who has this name." Incredulous, those in the synagogue looked to the man of the house, Zechariah, for his directive. But he was mute, punished some months earlier for not believing the good news the angel Gabriel had delivered to him while he was a priest in the Temple. For some reason Zachariah could not bring himself to believe that he and his wife could conceive a child with God’s help. Nevertheless, Elizabeth had already settled the matter, as if with authority. Despite breaking with family tradition, and with deference to his wife, he wrote down that his son’s name shall be John, meaning- “God is gracious.” Immediately, Zachariah was healed and was able to talk.

Names are important in the Hebrew tradition. New names given by God or otherwise, signify a new and distinct mission. Adam named his newly created companion, “Woman.” Abram was renamed Abraham (father of many) by the Lord himself; Jacob was renamed Israel (struggled with God) by an angel; the name Moses means drawn out of the water; Simon was renamed Peter (Rock) by Christ; and Saul took on the new name of Paul after the Risen Lord had appeared to him on the road to Damascus.

The fact that John the Baptist did not take on the name of his father suggested that he would not follow in his footsteps as a priest. In fact, St. John the Baptist would help usher in a new priesthood by baptizing the new High Priest in the river Jordan. Instead of sacrificing lambs in the Temple, he would spend many a year preparing for his mission in the desert. At the appointed time he would prepare the way for the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. His father, Zachariah, belonged to the Levitical priesthood that served the purpose of foreshadowing the “pure offering” the prophet Malachi foretold; that is, the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the New Covenant. The former consisted of offering mere animal sacrifices which merely symbolized forgiveness of sins, the latter involved a real power from heaven that absolved sins and restored the dignity of the human spirit.

What was said to the prophet Jeremiah was equally applicable to St. John the Baptist: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” Indeed, Jesus, from the Mary’s womb, and through her greeting, sanctified John before he was born. He jumped with joy because the Holy Spirit had entered into his soul as a permanent Guest. And it was this Divine Spirit, in the form of a dove, that would point out the Messiah too him at the river Jordan.

St. John’s calling from the womb is not much different than ours in that every Christian is called to point out the Messiah for others to see. Also, like St. John the Baptist, our calling often transcends what any of our family members or neighbors could imagine for us. It just goes to show us that the biggest plans of all, that is, for our lives, can only come from the Lord who knew us before we were formed in the womb.

The Male Image of God and the Priesthood


The following post, “The Male Image of God and the Priesthood” was not designed to be a quick read but rather, due to its philosophical and theological nature, it is an depth treatment of why it's important to keep the male image of God as well as the priesthood intact. Any change which assigns the feminine principle or feminine image to God or the priesthood implies a radical transformation of the Christian religion into paganism. C.S. Lewis, an Anglican, once said that you can have your priestess...but it will not be Christianity (ps- this is why so many are leaving the Anglican and Episcopal Churches) Why is this? Why can't we call God Mother, Daughter and Holy Spirit? Why can't we have women priests? Take the time to read this post, in piecemeal if necessary, and you might arrive a better understanding as the male-only priesthood. With the egalitarianism (radical equality) so prevalent on in every sector of society, it is important to know some basic principles in order to debunk it and furthermore help people steer clear from it.

Unfortunately, a 500 or 1000 word post would do this topic an injustice. As such, "The Image of God and the Priesthood" amounts to almost 3000 words.

The Male Image of God and the Priesthood: Equality Not  Sameness:

A friend of mine had recently asked his friends how one explains why Christ instituted a male-only priesthood. Because of the emphasis our society puts on absolute equality- forgetting that equality in no way implies sameness –this question gets asked of Catholics quite a bit. As with non-Catholics not being able to receive Holy Communion, a woman not being able to become a priest is a sore spot for many people. Keep in mind, no matter what answer you provide, it is not likely to have an immediate effect on the inquirer. After all, if one subscribes to egalitarianism- the belief that men and women are not only equal but psychologically, sexually and spiritually the same –then this radical version of equality needs to be discredited before they accept the Christian version of equality.

Overview of Three Answers:

In any case, there are three answers you can give. The first is quick and to the point; although true, it is not likely to win over many skeptics. The second answer better utilizes certain principles that are relevant in our entertainment culture. However, I consider this one to be more like an appetizer; hopefully it will lead to another explanation having more depth.

The third one requires that your listener has a long attention span. Most of the time simple answers are the way to go. But for this one, it really is worth it to chew on this explanation and let it settle. Americans, as Tocqueville once said, have an aversion to meditation and deep thoughts. They are more geared towards the practical doing. True enough. Still, I would press on with this third answer as to why Christ instituted a male-only priesthood. Challenge your audience- be it family, friend or co-worker –to think a little deeper and a little broader. I believe this to be the best answer once the other answers have been exhausted. It explains why C.S. Lewis could say: You can have your priestesses…but it will not be Christianity.

First: The Precedent

As I said, the first answer is quick and to the point: Christ instituted a male-only priesthood. The Catholic Church doesn’t have the authority to change it. And that's that! But this is a "...because I said so!" kind of an answer. It may be true but it is not that satisfying to most. Invariably, you will get a response along the lines of: “Well, at the Last Supper, when the priesthood was officially instituted, only Jewish men were present. Why, then, did the Church go ahead and ordain Gentile men in subsequent decades?” I will leave it to you to explain why the ordination of Gentile men (non-Jewish men) and the ordination of women are apples and oranges. Perhaps the second answer will help.

Second: Acting Out Last Supper

The second answer: The Mass is rightly characterized as a prayer, the most perfect one on earth, which is directed to the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. At the heart of this great liturgical prayer is a sacred act or play in which the sanctuary and altar is a kind of stage where the priest plays Jesus. That's right. The priest who presides at the Mass not only recites the words used at the Last Supper when Jesus said, “This is my body...” but he also acts out what Jesus did. Few think of the Eucharistic sacrifice as a play simply because it is often associated with entertainment. Nevertheless, by lifting the host and then the chalice the priest reenacts the part of our Lord at the Last Supper.

Now, even Hollywood can relate to this principle. If a movie were to portray the life of George Washington, for instance, who would doubt that a male actor would be chosen to play his part? True, what happens at the altar is more than just a play or a reenactment. Through the words of consecration the body, blood and soul of Jesus is communicated. Since his body is male in essence, it is only fitting that a male priest mediate the person of Jesus Christ. Indeed, in order to uphold the integrity of the play and the consecration of bread and wine, a male representative is required.

It would seem that the second answer to the question of why only men can be priests is a reasonable one. After all, Hollywood uses male actors to represent men in the story and the same goes from women. No one questions that policy. It would seem in the case of the Mass that requiring male priests to represent Jesus Christ, the Son of God, would apply even more considering the above stated reasons.

When defending the male-only priesthood of Jesus Christ one is almost socially obligated to provide a litany of wonderful qualities of the female sex; as if to apologize for this unchangeable doctrine. But this misses the point. The Catholic priesthood of only men has nothing to do with the personal merit of a man or a woman. The Catholic Church, more than any other religion or institution, honors women throughout the year by celebrating female Saints; most notably the Blessed Virgin who is heralded as the holiest of all the Saints and human beings. Perhaps this is why when the Catholic Faith was most influential just a few centuries ago in Europe, the station of women was elevated far above than what it had been in pagan civilization.

Third: Sexuality, Creation, Redemption

In any case, the male-only priesthood has everything to do with this one fact: Sexuality symbolizes the unseen spiritual world. Indeed, human sexuality and spirituality are so tightly interwoven with one another that to change the attitude or practice of one is to change the attitude or practice of the other.

Man and woman were created in God's image. According to Scripture, God has chosen to reveal not only who he is but the truth of his creation as it relates to himself; especially with regard to God's relationship with the human race. Keep in mind that our culture has become increasingly egalitarian in previous decades. In addition, with the advance of same-sex marriage, the sexual attributes of masculinity and femininity have come to be seen as superficial categories. Some ask, “What is the difference if a child has a father and a father rather than a father and a mother?” “As long as each parent is loving,” they say, “that is all that matters.” Under this radical version of equality, men and women have become neutered to great detriment of humanity.

With that said, we can restore the proper understanding of what a man and what a woman really is by returning to God's revelation. And the bearer of that revelation is the Catholic Church.

C.S. Lewis:

Someone who made a brilliant case for the male-only priesthood was a non-Catholic, C.S. Lewis. In fact, he belonged to the Anglican Church; a church that eventually renounced the male-only priesthood. He points out that God's identity as Father is closely bound up with men being priests; and that God invoked as Father brings to light who we are as his image.

“Suppose the reformer [innovator] stops saying that a good woman may be like God and begins saying that God is like a good woman. Suppose he says that we might just as well pray to 'Our Mother which art in heaven' as to 'Our Father'. Suppose he suggests that the Incarnation might just as well have taken a female as a male form, and the Second Person of the Trinity be as well called the Daughter as the Son. Suppose, finally, that the mystical marriage were reversed, that the Church were the Bridegroom and Christ the Bride. All this, as it seems to me, is involved in the claim that a woman can represent God as a priest does.”

Lewis goes on to say, “One of the functions of human marriage is to express the nature of the union between Christ and the Church. We have no authority to take the living figures which God has painted on the canvas of our nature and shift them about as if they were mere geometrical figures.”

If it doesn't matter that God is invoked as mother or father then it does not matter if Christ is seen as the bridegroom or bride. To reverse the traditional imagery, dare I say the imagery revealed by God, then it is no exaggeration to say that we will find ourselves in a different religion entirely; one closely akin to ancient paganism. With pagan religious beliefs we will soon be led to pagan morality; you know, the good old gladiator games in the Coliseum and the human sacrifices on the pyramids.

Rarely do people follow doctrines or principles- be it revealed or man-made -to their logical conclusions. Nevertheless, the revealed doctrine that the Priesthood of Christ is to be transmitted through men only preserves the correct belief in the Holy Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is also guarantees the doctrine of how God and his people relate to each other and who we really are. Take away the linchpin which binds only men to the priesthood, and the rest unravels. Sad but true, a fine illustration of this unraveling is to be found in the twenty-first century Anglican Church. It has severed so many of its ties with primitive Christianity. King Henry VIII would not even recognize it.
The third answer of why only men are admitted to the priesthood has a lot to do with what C.S. Lewis touched upon in the previous blog.

Fr. Hauke: Women in the Priesthood?

Human sexuality symbolizes who we are in relation to God. Fr. Manfred Hauke, a German theologian, wrote a book published by Ignatius Press with the title, Women in the Priesthood? In it he gives a philosophical and theological exposition on how masculinity and femininity respectively symbolize different modes and attributes of God. Although his work is quite scholarly, I intend to provide a simpler version of his insights. If you like JPII's Theology of the Body then you might take a liking to Hauke's work.

Man: Something He is Not

First, a man represents something that he is not! His spiritual and psychological nature, as well as his physical anatomy, projects outward and as such symbolizes the transcendence of God. In other words, the trait of masculinity reveals that God is beyond us, above us and is without limit. Men are restless creatures by nature; much more so than women are. He is constantly driven outside of himself and outside his domestic environment. Rarely is he content with his surroundings; he seeks to venture beyond the horizon. The discovery of the New World, the first flight across the Atlantic ocean, and the landing on the moon, although dangerous enterprises, were envisioned and accomplished by men. Whether it be the quest to conquer the world or the quest to save it, such ambitions are the making of man's spirit. His ambition to transcend space and time is not only a “guy thing,” but it reveals a strong underlying desire for heaven where there are no limitations. However, in the absence of divine grace, this desire for transcendence can be destructive. Hence, high crime rates, terrorism and dictatorships are often the products of masculinity gone wrong.

Woman: Something She Is

We find, however, man's perfect compliment in the female sex. In contradistinction to men, a woman symbolizes something that she is. What she symbolizes- in her physical anatomy as well as her psychological and spiritual nature -is God's intimacy and his indwelling. She, unlike her counterpart, is much more intuitive and sensitive to relationships. This gives her the moral advantage. Indeed, she possesses a keen instinct which allows her to detect problem spots in marriages and in relationships.

After all, human life has its origin within her. Perhaps this is why the book of Genesis used the Hebrew terms “built-up” to describe Eve's creation. In fact, the expression “built-up” is also used to recount the construction of sacred places; most notably the Jewish temple by King Solomon where God chose to dwell. To be sure, just as God dwelt in the holy of holies in the Temple, and just as he dwells in tabernacles in Catholic churches throughout the world, the female womb would come to serve as a sanctuary of the first nine months of human life. In her, human life begins and through her it is nurtured. It can even be argued that two human beings are never so close as when a mother is pregnant with her child.

Male Image Reveals Distinction:

This leads us to why it is important to retain a male-only priesthood and the masculine image of God as Father and Son. It furthermore explains why creation and the Church is depicted in the feminine. The relationship between a man and a woman in terms of procreation reveals the distinction between God and creation; it further illustrates the relationship between Christ and his Church.

At conception, the unity between the mother and the child is ever so close as mentioned above. With this, the distinction is less pronounced between a mother and a newly conceived child than with a father and a newly conceived child. As a matter of fact, father's child can be conceived when he is miles away. Therefore, the creation of human life, or its beginning, is closely bound up with the mother but not so with the father. Indeed, there is a gap, a physical distance if you will, that inheres between the father and the inception of life. Indeed, it is he who learns about the pregnancy from her.

This distinction is important when it comes to God and his creation. There is a profound difference between the Creator and creation as we know from Scripture. The masculine image assigned to God and the feminine character given to creation preserves the distinction between the two. The Lord speaks and the sea, the land, the moon, man and woman came into being. Hence, creation is receptive while its Creator is proactive. However, if a feminine imagery would be assigned to God such as “mother” or “daughter,” then such designations would convey an entirely different kind of God; one that is receptive like creation itself. He would become confused with the world that he created. History demonstrates this.

Is it no wonder then that New Age spirituality and other forms of paganism have their goddesses and also worship nature? I remember praying in a chapel that belonged to a convent of feminist nuns (I was unaware of their orientation at the time) and I happened to read their invocation of “Mother-Earth” and the “four winds” on their prayer cards. Worshiping God as mother quite naturally leads to pantheism- the worship of creation.

St. Paul reminds us that the world before Christ was replete with this kind of paganism. He said the "exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes."

The Eucharist: The Life Giving Principle

The leads to the last point about Christ the Bridegroom and his Church the Bride. This, as you can imagine, parallels with the logic of God and his creation. Christ, in his masculine nature, takes the initiative and gives of himself in the Divine Liturgy. At the altar, as with the union between a man and a woman, our Lord gives to his Bride, the Church, his body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. We, as his Church, receive him. And this, of course, is done through the priest who is an icon of Christ. Not only through the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar does our Lord assume the male role in giving us the bread of life, or, if you will, the seed of life; but during the Mass the priest, who represents the Son of God, takes the initiative with the greeting. He begins by saying, “The Lord be with you.” And we, the faithful, who play the feminine role, respond, “And with your spirit.”

The male-only priesthood is loaded with symbolic significance. To alter it would lead to a whole new set of theological errors and moral dissoluteness. And although our culture is doing away with gender differences under the guise of equality, we, the faithful members of Christ's Mystical Body, must refuse to go along.

So next time you greet your parish priest as “father,” know that it stands for much more than a man having authority in the church. It should remind us that God has chosen to reveal himself to us as a Father would to a Son; not as a Master to a slave. And for that, we should be eternally grateful.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Listening to God: One practical way

Revised and reposted- Listening to God: One practical way

Many assume that the Life of Christ ended when he ascended into heaven. Catholics understand, on the other hand, that the Eucharist is the extension his life on earth. But in addition to his Eucharistic life, the life of our Lord continues in another form: through his Saints. And when we read about them, holiness begins to make sense…it becomes attractive!

Although God’s public revelation is contained within the canon of the Old and New Testament writings, his wisdom continues through the teachings of his Saints. The wealth of Christ's life overflows through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in souls of his followers. And as for those who lived the Life of Christ to the full- and did well -the Catholic Church holds them up as models to be imitated.

To better understand this life we possess in Christ and to better to live it out, reading Scripture is essential. But a fine supplement to Scripture, indeed an essential supplement, is the writings of the Saints. It is there that the general principles and virtues in Scripture are translated into specific and practical ways to be holy.

In fact, if there were any spiritual exercises the Saints recommended, it was spiritual reading. Just as our way of speaking to God is through vocal prayer, his way of speaking to us is through spiritual reading. We are counseled by the Saints not to do all the talking; listen to the voice of God. It is in this spiritual exercise where we find concrete ways of living out the life of Christ. With this, deception and error are greatly minimized. Truth and moral goodness come to fore. Indeed, the Lord can better teach us how to see the world and our day-to-day relationships as they really exist.

Take for example the subject of humility: Our Lord taught and demonstrated in the Gospel that the first will be last and the leader of all should be the servant of all. But he left it up to the Saints to give practical lessons and examples of how this might be carried out. St. Francis of Assisi, for instance, does just that. He says that being silent amid criticism (i.e. biting your tongue) is worth more to God than ten days of fasting. Like St. Paul, St. Francis was known for blessing those who persecuted and maligned him.

This counsel not only leads to sanctity but it goes a long way in improving relationships; particularly marriages.

Lost opportunities! There are many times husbands and wives could have abated an argument or prevented a display of anger in front of the kids by just peacefully accepting criticism. If, indeed, a correction needs to be issued to the critical spouse, then it is best to do so when the anger has subsided. In any case, to be a peace-maker in these situations, especially when the temptation to defend and justify yourself is strong, is a most pleasing spiritual sacrifice to the Lord; one that will be rewarded.

What is more, when married couples engage in spiritual reading and share what they have learned with one another, they better fulfill their vocation in getting their spouses to heaven. As such, both the husband and the wife can grow in virtue and in grace.

So, go out and by a book about or by a Saint. In learning their ways you will come to understand Christ in a deeper way. Without a doubt, you find that this kind of spiritual reading is an excellent way in which to hear his voice.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Profile of the Early Christian Martyrs

Originally posted on January 11th, 2012.

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.

-John 15:13


The following excerpt is an eloquent and insightful account of the humanity and the heroism of the early Christian martyrs. Taken from Henri Daniel-Rops’ book, The Church of the Apostles and Martyrs (1948).

Beyond Their Humanity:
"As [the early Christian martyrs] faced death, all, from the most famous to the most humble, gave proof of the steadfastness of spirit and a tranquility which frequently aroused the admiration even of those who did not share their faith. We have here a unique collection of witness, given by man to man, demonstrating all that is best and purest in him.

These victims possessed no greater strength than ours with which to face the horrible deaths which they knew awaited them; there was no hypnotic ecstasy blinding them to their reality of their fate. On the contrary, one of the most touching features of their suffering is the simple candor with which the Christians themselves spoke of it. We know that they talked about the subject among themselves in the prisons where they lay awaiting the final moment; they wondered if the executioner’s sword hurt a great deal, if one needed to suffer much to die; they discussed the tortures which they realized would be inflicted upon them. But they overcame the horror of these terrible pictures, which their imaginations so easily conjured up. Very, very few of them wavered at the last moment. Encouraging one another, exchanging the kiss of peace, even more united in the moment of sacrifice than in their everyday lives, where it was only human that discords and dissensions should have existed, they went steadfastly to execution, bearing in their hearts that peace which Christ had promised them.

But it is just as important to remember the meaning which the early Christians gave to these deeds of heroism as it is to remember the heroism itself. There are many ways of being brave, and many reasons for facing death; there are some people whose sacrifice has no meaning behind it…In sacrificing themselves as they did, the Christians of the persecutions were pursuing a very definite object. They were giving their lives for a reality which gave those lives their whole meaning. They were, literally, testimonies in themselves. And for this reason, since according to the ancient legal custom the testimony of the humblest folk- the outcasts and slaves –was always obtained under torture, the word martyr has come to mean both he who testifies and he who suffers death in doing so.

Nevertheless the Christians did not in fact go out of their way to give this testimony, or to put it more accurately, they did not seek to provoke the opportunity for testifying…Not to pursue vainglory, even by the means of the most complete sacrifice, but, whenever it was the will of Providence that testimony should be given not to flinch from the obligation, and to go forward steadfastly, testifying to the end: such, in its wisdom and its greatness, is the moral philosophy of the martyrs’ heroism. They must accept their fate, never seeking to be revenged upon their persecutors: their act of self-denial must be based on love, just as Jesus, on the Cross, forgave his executioners; ‘to live as He lived, to die as He died,’ as one of the greatest mystics was to many years later: martyrdom is the climax to a life entirely oriented towards Christian testimony, the crowning point of that life…

The Effects of Martyrdom:
What were the results of this spoken testimony, and of the even more striking testimony of blood? They were enormous. There is something catching about heroism, to which the human soul, though it may not contain a great deal of nobility, is very susceptible. On several occasions Christians who were merely watching a trial in which some of their brethren were appearing were some way or other caught up in the fervor of the latter’s faith, going so far as to betray themselves by their own shouts of exaltation. This is how Vetius had given himself away at Lyons. The desire to emulate the example of others carried certain martyrs beyond the bounds of self; for what other emotion could men feel who saw their friends dying; and attaining celestial glory thereby, or sons who life the young Origen, watched the execution of their own fathers? Sometimes they would rush, one after another, to take their place on the scaffold. Nothing links the supporters of a cause together so firmly as the bond of blood: it was the seal that ratified nascent Christianity.

Martyrdom had no less profound effect on the pagan spectators. Probably the majority of those in the amphitheater who watched the extraordinary spectacle of these sacrifices derived nothing from them save the gratification of their basest passions. But other feelings are also apparent…Sometimes the spectators’ revulsion at the suffering inflicted on the Christians was so great that their nerve broke: they ended by pitying the victims. This had happened during the time of Nero, and it was to occur again at Smyrna. Certain upright folk were indignant at seeing human beings who had committed no felony treated like criminals, and now and then this reflection alone led to conversion. Even some of the magistrates were moved, and showed themselves not merely humane in their efforts to save the accused, but troubled, even curious about this faith which raised men to such heroic heights….

‘It is the man who loses his life for my sake who will secure it.’ In this short sentence of Christ’s lies the who explanation of the heroism shown by the martyrs; their experience, their sacrifice, has real meaning only when interpreted in terms of a supernatural intention. Of course every human cause can find its fanatics, who are willing to die to ensure its triumph; but properly speaking the martyrs were not thinking of the triumph of their cause in the sense in which one speaks of ‘cause’ in relation to a modern political party or a philosophical doctrine; they were striving after something which transcended the struggles of the earth. They were Christ’s witness and the soldiers of the Kingdom of God.

The Sacramental Act of Heroism:

Thus martyrdom was not only a political fact, the logical consequence of a conflict between a revolutionary doctrine and an established order. It was a fundamental attribute of the primitive Church, a sacramental act, which was granted like a gift, like ‘the Grace of Graces,’ to certain privileged souls, and whose supernatural effects were transformed in turn upon the whole community of the children of God. Absolute faith in Jesus, complete trust in His promise, charity so great that it becomes self-oblation: three theological virtues are fulfilled in the act of martyrdom with a completeness unrivaled elsewhere; the entire Christian experience- moral, ascetical and mystical –finds its most perfect expression in the sacrifice of blood…

Thus, St. Gregory the Great was to write, ‘Christ will truly become a host for us when we have made ourselves a host for him.’ And we think once more of St. Ignatius’ desire to be the course grain, ground in the mill of persecution, in order to become the pure white bread of God…

Quite often, at the very last, He would give them the gift of prophesy, and of supernatural visions. But, more important still, it was through death that union with Christ was achieved. As they face execution these privileged souls bore within them the marvelous certainty that they were being freed from the bondage of their earthly bodies to be welcomed into Divine Bliss, they were going straight to heaven…

The blood that was shed in the amphitheaters absolved and redeemed. It assembled all the merits that man could acquire and consecrated them to the Crucified God. ‘Whosoever dies for the faith,’ said St. Clement of Alexandria at a later date, ‘realizes the perfection of charity.’

Their bodies, in which the Lord had resided- those bodies were part of the Crucified Body of Christ –rapidly became objects of special devotion, the first form of the devotion of the saints…The habit of placing relics under the altar is, therefore, the precise result of this very ancient observance, and the Roman liturgy preserves intact a fundamental connection of the Christian faith when, on the Thursday of the third week in Lent, on the festival of St. Cosmas and Damian, it declares: ‘In memory of the precious death of thy righteous ones, we offer Thee, O Lord, this sacrifice, which has been the principle of all martyrdom.’ There is no better way of marking the affiliation which, through martyrdom, binds the Mass and the Eucharist to the sacrifice of the living God…[I]n remembering the historic role assumed by these defeated folk, these seekers after the Kingdom of God who, by their death, vanquished the kingdom of this earth, we remember that sentence of St. Paul’s, which so aptly expresses the guiding principle of the whole primitive Church: ‘When I am weakest, then I am strongest of all’" (II Corinthians 13:10).



This last passage by St. Paul is especially profound given the topic: “When I am weakest, then I am strongest of all.” The act of killing appears to the naked eye to be the ultimate conquest; and being killed, the ultimate defeat. As the bodies of the martyrs lay there in lifeless form in the middle of the Coliseum, their lives seemingly came to an abrupt and tragic end. But the impact and ripple effect of their spiritual sacrifice had only just begun. As with Christ’s crucifixion, what seemed to be a loss and a concession of weakness for these martyrs, was in fact, the chosen instrument which God would use to sanctify unclean souls, civilize a barbaric human race and infuse love into a world that had turned cruel.

Just as we are trained to see the Risen Christ under the appearance of bread and wine- to see holy water as no ordinary water –to see the Life of Christ being transmitted through the Sacraments –to hear God’s own Word through human language, the early Christians were likewise trained to see through the tragedy of Roman executions. For them, martyrdom was a sacramental offering which had the closest of connections with the Eucharistic sacrifice of the altar. As St. Ignatius of Antioch said, "I am the wheat of God, and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of God." (St. Ignatius was a bishop of Antioch and personal friends with St. Peter, St. John and the Blessed Virgin Mary) Indeed, the loving sacrifice of martyrdom did nothing short of scattering God's graces far and wide. It meant eternal life for the martyr and conversion for sinners.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

You're the man!

The First Reading for Sunday, June 16, 2013:

Nathan said to David: “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘I anointed you king of Israel. I rescued you from the hand of Saul. I gave you your lord’s house and your lord’s wives for your own. I gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were not enough, I could count up for you still more. Why have you spurned the Lord and done evil in his sight? You have cut down Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you took his wife as your own, and him you killed with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah to be your wife.’ Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Nathan answered David: “The LORD on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die.”


What the prophet Nathan was to King David, the Church is to the State. Israel had its kings. But Israel also had its prophets.

The two offices- the former performing a civil function, the latter a religious one –had once been united under one leader. God’s original plan for Israel was that he should rule his people through his divinely anointed leaders through a kind of prophetic charism. In fact, early in Israel’s history, Moses, Joshua and the Twelve Judges were not only chosen by the Lord, but it was through them that he governed and shepherded his people. However, there came a time when the Israelites grew tired of God’s leadership. Hence, they demanded from Samuel, the last of the Judges, to be like other nations. And it just so happened that other nations had kings. Without saying as much, it was the Israelites way of expressing their disapproval of God’s reign over them.

But with this preference for a monarchy, human fallibility and corruption increased ten-fold within the government of Israel. Soon after Saul, the first king of Israel, mounted the throne to govern Israel, God began to raise up prophets to hold the kings accountable. The kingly and prophetic offices, once integrated into one office under the Judges, had been partitioned into two different offices.

This serves as the background for the First Reading (at the top of the page). King David was the second king of Israel. And although he had a heart for the Lord, he was a sinner. To make a long story short, he took a liking to another man’s wife. The woman's name was Bathsheba. But the other man, Urriah, happened to be a loyal soldier of King David. In order to eliminate his competition for Bathsheba, King David had Urriah killed. Indeed, the king of Israel had abused his royal power. Worse yet, he had offended God.

This is where the prophet Nathan steps in. The thing to know about prophets is that they are not servile. They know obedience to civil authority but their obedience is tempered by their obedience to a higher authority, namely, God's. Nor were they concerned in the least about human respect. Political power and social prestige did not deter them from speaking God's Word. This is a great lesson for the Church. As for priests and seminarians who cared too much about what others think of them, Cardinal James Gibbons, in 19th century, addressed these words to them: “You sacrifice principle to expediency, you subordinate the voice of God to the voice of man, you surrender your Christian liberty and manly independence, and you become the slave of a fellow creature."

Nathan was servant to David, but he was no slave. His duty was to speak the words of God to the king; even if these words were one of reproof and chastisement. And as we can garner from the First Reading, the prophet Nathan not only represented God’s justice to the King David, but he also was an advocate for the little guy, namely, Urriah. Sadly, his life was taken from him simply because the king coveted his wife. It is important to note that saying what Nathan said could have cost him his life. But he did it anyway.

Instead of condemning King David outright, the prophet Nathan told a parable. After all, people tend to be more objective about a moral case when it doesn’t involve them. So, Nathan said to David,

"Judge this case for me! In a certain town there were two men, one rich, the other poor. The rich man had flocks and herds in great numbers. But the poor man had nothing at all except one little ewe lamb that he had bought. He nourished her, and she grew up with him and his children. She shared the little food he had and drank from his cup and slept in his bosom. She was like a daughter to him. Now, the rich man received a visitor, but he would not take from his own flocks and herds to prepare a meal for the wayfarer who had come to him. Instead he took the poor man's ewe lamb and made a meal of it for his visitor."

Not knowing that he was the rich man in the story, King David became indignant and exclaimed that the rich man merits death. Then, as if to stand up and point his finger at the king, the prophet said: “You’re the man!” In other words, what you did to Urriah- O King! -is tantamount to what the rich man did to the poor man in the parable. This is why Nathan asked David, “Why have you spurned the Lord and done evil in his sight?” To be sure, God’s punishment did visit the house of David but David himself would be spared.

As bad as David was, he did have a heart for the Lord. As such, he was cut to the heart when he heard the accusation leveled against him. So moved by God’s disapproval, he sat down and wrote Psalm 51. It begins with these words: “Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love; in your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions. Thoroughly wash away my guilt; and from my sin cleanse me...”

The prophet Nathan- probably not knowing what King David would do -courageously reproved him for his injustice. And wouldn’t you know it, the greatest king Israel ever had in the Old Testament was moved to repentance.

The Catholic Church too is a prophet. Like Nathan, she has a responsibility to use her prophetic voice so that the State may know God’s will and- at the very least -have the opportunity to repent of its injustices. But the State can never rid itself of its evils through repentance if the Church should fail to raise her voice and say to the State: “You’re the man!”

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Police State and Christian Confidence

“You will never destroy our sect! Mark this well: when you think you are striking it down, you are, in reality, strengthening it. The public will become restive at so much courage. It will long to know its origin. And when a man recognizes the truth- he’s ours!”

-Tertullian, The Apology (his letter to the Roman magistrate) 190-200 A.D.

Elements of a police state :

Conservative commentators, such as Mark Levin and Mike Huckabee, have recently expressed their concerns about the scandals of the Obama administration as having “elements of a police state.” Disclosures from media reports and congressional hearings suggest that the federal government is using its political power against its own citizens; most especially with regard to those who are politically disagreeable to them.

Even in America, there are consequences when Christianity is purged from the public square. To be sure, the point at which State power ends and where the rights of private citizens begin are more blurred today than ever before. Ambitious politicians will hardly resist the temptation to exploit faded boundaries. As Vladimir Soloviev once said on the eve of the Russian Revolution: "Once the supremacy of one's own interest is recognized and legalized in politics only as mine, then it becomes absolutely impossible to point out boundaries of this mine..."

Emboldening the wicked:

History shows that when politicians make a power grab for the controls of government, they frequently presume that good men will do little or nothing to stop them. In other words, the elements of a police state are not only advanced by the assertiveness of evil men, but also by the passivity of godly men. As Pope Leo XIII said over a century ago, to entertain doubts about our mission is profitable only to the enemies of the faith; for nothing emboldens the wicked so greatly as the lack of courage on the part of the good.  Indeed, the absence of courage on the part of good people in America- and here, I refer principally to Christians –has produced fertile soil for the elements of the police state to surface. Whether or not it goes any further than that is up to the people of God.

Knowing their weakness:

The Catholic Church, throughout her history, has seen the police state come and go. Interestingly, when the police state did come- especially in the twentieth century - too few Christians were able to discredit it and expose its weakness. Neither were they confident in their own position as Christ’s ambassadors. But in order to subvert any repressive regime, its weakness must be known and exploited. This applies especially to what St. Augustine called the “city of man,” which refers to the world. In fact, ungodly and the worldly powers that be may have the veneer of invincibility, but on the inside there looms elements of decay and instability. As Christopher Dawson, Catholic historian, once said:

“And while the City of God is stronger than it appears to be, the city of man is weaker. The forces that appear to make human civilization so irresistible—its wealth, its economic organization, and its military power—are essentially hollow, and crumble to dust as soon as the human purpose that animates them loses its strength.”

Knowing our strength:

The Church Fathers in particular, and the early Christians in general, took this fact for granted. Not only did they publicly attest that political powers and social prestige in their own day were inherently unstable, but they gave voice to cosmic and historic importance of the Catholic Church. For St. Cyprian, Noah’s Ark was but the Sacrament of the Church of Christ. To Hermas, around the year 140 A.D., the pre-existence of the Church was revealed. As for St. Clement, the fourth pope, he styled the Church as the “first born” and that which was “created before the sun and the moon.” St. Augustine went further by teaching that the “Church was in Abel…in Enoch…at one time in the house of Noah alone…at one time…in Abraham alone.” About two hundred years later, Pope St. Gregory the Great said, “The Church produces as many saints as the vineyard shoots.” And to add yet another quote to illustrate the confidence the Fathers had in the Church is from St. John Chrysostom. He said, “The Church is the pillar of the world.”

It can even be said that the more the Church was persecuted by the ancient police state, the more emboldened the early Christians became. They understood that affliction and death for them was life for others. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation.” And in that same letter he also reminded them: “So death is at work in us, but life in you.” The Church Fathers displayed an unwavering confidence that the life of Jesus Christ- as he existed in their souls and as he existed in the Church -was not only a benefit to society, but necessary to it.

What we mean to them:

Tertullian, for one, reminded the ancient state of Rome that it is not they who protected the Christians (that is, when they weren’t persecuting the Christians) but rather it was the Church who protected the State. For instance, Tertullian, a Father of the Church (190 A.D.), wrote a letter to a Roman magistrate reminding him of the dire consequences if Christians were to be eliminated. This letter was written during a fierce persecution against the Church (190-200 A.D.). To be sure, this Catholic priest from Africa could have been killed because of it. At any rater, here is but one short passage from that letter:

“We are but of yesterday, and we have filled every place among you—cities, islands, fortresses, towns, market-places, the very camp, tribes, companies, palace, senate, forum,—we have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods...Why, you would be horror-struck at the solitude in which you would find yourselves, at such an all-prevailing silence, and that stupor as of a dead world...Who would save you, I mean, from the attacks of those evil spirits, which without reward or hire we exorcise? This alone would be revenge enough for us, that you were henceforth left free to the possession of unclean spirits. But instead of taking into account what is due to us for the important protection we afford you, and though we are not merely no trouble to you, but in fact necessary to your well-being, you prefer to hold us enemies, as indeed we are, yet not of man, but rather of his error.”

Not only are we no trouble to you, Tertullian said, but in fact we are necessary for your well-being. What a bold thing to say! And yet such confidence and spirit of magnanimity was common among the Fathers; even as their lives were being threatened. When Jesus said to his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world,” he was not only referring to the influence Christians would have on the individual soul, but on society itself! For the early Church, this divine calling to be the salt for the earth and light to the world was not a dead letter. Its significance was alive and active in her members. They embraced it and made it there own. Hence, they were brimming with a sense of mission and purpose. With this, the early Fathers were able to articulate the kind of dignity and splendor Christians possessed. And you know what? The early Christians believed it!

What we meant to them:

Historians tell us that the twentieth century was the century of martyrs. In fact, more martyrs were made by the modern police state in the twentieth century than by the old pagan state in the first centuries of Church. For instance, during the 1920’s, Catholics in Mexico became acquainted with the brutality of the police state, courtesy of the communists. Scores of faithful Catholics, who refused to bend their necks to the Mexican police state, were hanged or shot by firing squads.

The propaganda of the communist against the Church in Mexico was not unlike the calumny unleashed by the pagans of antiquity. In both instances, enemies of the Church tried to discredit her contributions to culture. They fabricated myths that she was threat to the State. However, in each of those instances, the Church had answer to such accusations. For instance, in 1926 the U.S. Bishops publicly came to the defense of their brother bishops in Mexico in a pastoral letter. And in a spirit of solidarity, they cataloged- in detail –what the Church meant to Mexico’s heritage. Like Tertullian who, with a sense of self-assurance, informed the Roman prelate of the empire’s need for Christians, similarly, the U.S. Bishops reminded the Mexican government that its country once enjoyed progress and prosperity (from 1531 to 1800)- and that it was in every way comparable with its North American neighbor -precisely because of the Catholic Church. Indeed, before Mexico was menaced by revolutionaries imbued with the communist spirit in the late eighteenth century, she enjoyed every bit as much as progress as America did up to that point.

With this in mind, the U.S. Bishops- as if to speak on behalf of the Mexican Bishops -addressed pointed words to the Mexican police state. An excerpt from that pastoral letter reads as follows:

“Take out of your country all that I put in it, and see what remains. You may thrust me out, exile my bishops, murder my priests, again steal my schools and desecrate my sanctuaries, but you cannot blot out history, you cannot erase the mark I made on you—not in a century of centuries.”

And then they added:

“The Church is not fated to die, but she has learned how to suffer. With Him she will be crucified but with Him also she will rise.”

This is Christian confidence at its finest! And yet, this confidence in who we were and what we meant to society was expressed only a century ago. And to be sure, it was the kind of confidence was instrumental in undermining the police state…both in pagan Rome and in Mexico. Yet, within the last fifty years Christian confidence has been quieted and lulled to sleep. Where’s it expressed today and by whom?

Revisit the words of Christopher Dawson on the city of man- the Church Father’s on the cosmic importance of the Church- Tertullian on the social necessity of Christians- and the U.S. Bishops (Pastoral Letter of 1926) on what the Church meant to Mexico, and ask:

Does any one of us exude this confidence? Do we know how frail the powers of the world are? Do we understand how important we are; not because of who we are but because of what Christ can do through us? And finally, can we look back to our nation’s history and boldly point to the countless contributions of Christians and the benefits the Catholic Church has lavished on society? Can we, while placing all of our confidence in Christ, say: "Without us, America is nothing!"

If Christians can answer these questions in the affirmative, then the elements of a police state will be contained and short-lived in America.

Every Day is Father's Day

Reposting for Father’s Day:

I once attended an annual father-daughter dance with my two daughters at a local school. I always appreciate such events because it reminds me just how important fathers are to their daughters. I got to talking to another dad that I’ve known for five years or so. He’s married with two children. Within the last two or three years him and his wife have been more involved in parish ministries. To be sure, the two of them have taken their faith more seriously. But he is a traveling man and as most men do, he’ll let his wife run the household spiritual activities.

I asked him if he initiated prayer in the evenings when he is home. He answered in the negative. I then asked him if he initiates conversation about Christ at home with his two children. Again, he answered in the negative. Incidentally, he went on to tell me that his family decided to go to the Stations of the Cross devotion on the first Friday of Lent at our local parish. His son, the oldest child, put up a little fuss, claiming that they had gone to Mass the previous Sunday. For him, the practice of the Catholic Faith was a once-a-week deal.

Due to my familiarity with the father, I told him outright that it was his responsibility to initiate family prayers to God, conversation about Christ and the Faith and even to teach (informally or formally) his children about the importance about living the Gospel during the week. I then added: "If you do not groom out of your son the notion his faith is only a once-a-week thing, then you will lose him to the world when he goes to college."

I can’t tell you how many relatives and friends of mine lamented that their kids no longer attended Mass once they got into college. And in almost every single case, these disillusioned parents had developed the habit of confining their spiritual activity or the expression of their faith to Sunday Mass. But somewhere along the way their religion became routine. It was no longer a way of thinking and living. Rather, their Catholicism was something they did on a weekly basis.

What many parents did not realize – especially those who were parents in the mid-twentieth century – was that they came from an era or generation that was favorable to Christianity. During the 1940s and 1950s going through the routine of religious practice was sustainable because American culture was somewhat religious. After all, even Hollywood assumed a respectful posture towards the Christian religion during that time period. But that kind of automated religious practice (one more out of habit than real devotion) was no match for the tidal wave the Sexual Revolution was about to create. Is it any wonder, then, why so many priests and religious left their vocations in the late 1960s? And is it any wonder why there was a precipitous drop in Mass attendance in the years to follow?

No. Children instinctively know that a spiritual cause which requires the commitment and sacrifice of maintaining high moral standards- such as the Catholic Faith requires -can be intelligible only if there is an ongoing relationship with Christ during the week. The participation of the Mass presupposes that relationship. If the home is devoid a Christian culture in the home where Christ is an honored guest (not just an honored guest but the King of the Household) then I am afraid even the smallest of sacrifices, such as getting up on a Sunday morning, will hardly seem worth it. Indeed, the child who is trained in the "once-a-week Catholic” routine, will likely lose their faith in college.

This is where the father comes in. Scripture should be enough to prove this point but I will just mention that there are credible studies out there that show the impact a father has on his children’s spirituality, morality and even sexuality. In 1994 the Swiss conducted a study on parent’s religious practices and the effects it has on their children. When the father regularly attended church, his children were much more likely – 33 percent to 40 percent more likely – to attend church as adults; whereas when the mother attended church regularly (with or without the father), only about 5-6 percent of children kept the faith in their adulthood years.

While the percentages in the Swiss study may not be representative of church-going practices among families worldwide, the findings confirm what the Church has always taught: A father’s impact on the individual child is considerable. His role images God the Father. On the other hand, the mother has a great impact on the unity and relationships among family members. Her role images the Holy Spirit who binds the Father and the Son together in love. No doubt, both gifts overlap. But I do believe it is a great error to say that a father’s gifts are interchangeable with a mother’s gifts; as if neither is unique.

Catholic tradition has it that the father serves as a kind of high priest of the family. In fact, St. Paul told St. Titus that a wife should be under the guidance of her husband so that the “word of God may not be discredited.” (2:5) Because this is so politically incorrect, there are, unfortunately, few commentaries on this. But why would the word of God be discredited in such a case? Herein lies the reason why so many families, and even within the Church, are not as strong as they can be. The life-giving power of fatherhood- both supernatural/priesthood and natural/families –is no longer understood even among Christians. In fact, it is considered a threat when any emphasis is given to it.

Take, for instance, what St. Paul says in I Corinthians: “I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you. But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and a husband the head of his wife, and God the head of Christ.” (I Corinthians 11:2-3) To verbally cite this revealed truth in the words St. Paul would make many people cringe. This is why very homilists mention it. After all, the headship and authority of the father is simply deemed to be a threat…even by good Christians.

Yet, this interdependence between God and Christ, between Christ and man, and finally between man and woman is a God-given order through which God communicates himself to humanity. Disrupt this order and you begin to breakdown the Christian religion. You see, the father is the primary mediator between God and his family. Political correctness, egalitarianism or even envy cannot undo this design. As Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius XI taught, the father is the head of the family and the mother is the heart. The father governs but the mother reigns. With that said, when the father is missing in action; when he does not lead the family to God – when he does not prepare his children for the world and most importantly – when he does not prepare his family for eternity, then he creates a void that is very, very difficult to fill. God can undoubtedly communicate his grace to children through a single-mom. Although this works as the exception, it does not work well as a rule.

In any case, the father’s role as the spiritual leader of the family is almost sacramental in nature; it is that powerful! Every day is father’s day. Every day is yet one more opportunity for the father of the family take up his responsibility as the high priest of the household. It is he who must make Christ relevant during the week for his family. He must become the gateway through which his children will enter the world; a world that has become unfriendly to its Redeemer. A degree in theology is not required for this sacred vocation. All it takes are two things: time and love. The rest will follow.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Passive fathers breed angry sons

When boys used to cry, their fathers used to say to them, “You better stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” But today there are not a few fathers who are inclined to do everything in their power to keep their sons from crying at all. And this tendency has been institutionalized to a great extent.

In my social life and profession, I have noticed a trend among many fathers, who, with intentions inspired by compassion and kindness, allow their sons to indulge either in anger or self pity unchecked. In many cases, however, it is not the father’s compassion and kindness that is transmitted to their sons. When excessive whining, complaining or anger is not disrupted by some kind of disciplinary intervention, then boys are prone to habitual anger, even narcissism.

I have worked with- and have been friends with -fathers whose congenial demeanor has served them well in their profession and social life. But their inability to transition into a stern, disciplinary man of authority when their sons act-up or misbehave ends up having unintended consequences.

For one, a child is hard-pressed to respect a parent who does not discipline. Instead of love, the passive father gets ingratitude in return. Second, to acquiesce to the whims of children or to show a reluctance to discipline quite often reinforces bad behavior. Such passivity on the father’s part perpetuates the need for him to yell or raise his voice in giving his son directives. Sometimes this can go on for years. But the saddest display of passive fatherhood is when he begs his children to cooperate. Begging our own children to listen to us is the surest sign that we have given up on our own God-given parental authority.

It is as if today’s parents have lost sight of the value of adversity, punishment and even failure. As to dealing with failure, it is every bit as beneficial for a boy’s development as success. Moreover, being overlooked or ostracized by peers can be occasions for humility. As I recall from my childhood, it was the popular kids who never knew what it meant to be picked-on who struggled with arrogance and self-absorption. Bullying or losing is unpleasant to be sure, but there are many parents who feel that it is the worst of evils. As such, they do everything in their power to protect their children from these unfavorably circumstances. Sometimes, however, being overly protective of our kids can be just as harmful as the bullying or losing itself.

As to the institutionalization of this aversion to losing, sporting events for boys no longer stresses the importance of winning and achievement. This omission, quite often, is in deference to those boys who will inevitably feel the disappointment of loss. Even in the NFL, players get penalized for “taunting” the other team after a great play. From public institutions to sporting events for children, masculine virtues of triumph and conquest are slowly being smothered. Except for a few institutions like the military, boys are no longer being trained to be men.

The training of boys to be men starts with the father. But the father needs the community to reinforce this training. When a boy’s anger and self-pity is allowed to fester unchecked; when I see fathers and coaches do everything in their power to protect a child’s self-esteem at all cost; and when I see a real attempt to dismiss the value of discipline and punishment; kids naturally feel entitled to win. As such, they will not know how to process loss in the years to come. With such an attitude, they are deprived of learning invaluable lessons that come with trials and adversity.

When I attend community activities for boys, I feel like I am watching America make the same mistakes as other fallen civilizations did. For instance, when the Roman Empire was in a downward spiral, there was a gender imbalance of epidemic proportions. Masculinity was in short supply. In fact, these problems were to surface during the third century. Catholic historian, Henry Daniel-Rops had this to say: “The entire moral atmosphere of this epoch was permeated by a new style of feminism, which had been brought from the East by the Syrian princesses of Septimius Serverus’ [Roman emperor] family: women filled the roles of men because the men were wanting…” Men were wanting then, and I fear that men are wanting today."

If truth be told, it was Christianity that served to restore the gender balance by teaching and demonstrating to society what a real man and what a real woman was in Christ. By studying God as Father and Lord in Scripture, people came to understand how a father is supposed to behave. Throughout the bible, God was severe at times and yet at other times he was tender. He was also a God who rewarded and punished. And what is more, in his wisdom, he did not spare his servants from adversity.

Like his Father, Jesus Christ displayed these characteristics. As Cardinal James Gibbons said in 1921: “In His person was shown the excellence and true dignity of human nature, wherein human rights have their center. In His dealings with men, justice and mercy, sympathy and courage, pity for weakness and rebuke for hollow pretense were perfectly blended. Having fulfilled the law, He gave to His followers a new commandment.”

Christian manhood is the highest expression of masculinity. It is neither too aggressive or too passive.  The making of a Christian man, the old fashion way, anticipates the demands of life. It prepares boys for the real world. This world, which is quite unforgiving world, will inevitably test the character of every man.

Unfortunately, many fathers, coaches, and teachers in the twenty-first century are protecting boys from that real world. In so doing, there will be a new generation of boys who will struggle to be men.  Too many of them will not know how to manage their anger and self-pity when the world contradicts their will. It is then that the world will say to them, "Stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about!"

Monday, June 10, 2013

To Turn the Hearts of Fathers

Revised and reposted for new Sky View readers:

"Children who live absent their biological fathers are, on average, at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live with their married, biological (or adoptive) parents.”

To Turn the Hearts of Fathers:

The prophet Malachi foretold that the coming of the Messiah would make men better fathers. In his own words: “To turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers…” (Malachi 3:24) During the Old Testament era, the absence of the Holy Spirit left men’s hearts unaffectionate and aloof. Rulers were brutal to their citizens and fathers were often cold toward their children. As with everything, there are notable exceptions. However, it wasn’t unknown for Roman emperors, the Herod dynasty and other pagan rulers to eliminate their sons if they proved to be an obstacle. Even Absalom rose up and rebelled against his father, Kind David (II Samuel 13).

Before Christ, infanticide was also common in the most civilized parts of the world. And in worst case scenarios, human sacrifices were practiced on every continent. For instance, where the State of Illinois is today, there was an Indian tribe called the “Mound Builders,” also known as the Natchez Indians. This sun-worshipping tribe, it was recently discovered, practiced human sacrifice.

Even with Israel and Judah in the Old Testament, upon falling away from the exclusive worship of Yahweh and thus adoring other gods, succumbed to the ritual of child and human sacrifice. “They immolated their sons and daughters by fire, practiced fortune-telling and divination, and sold themselves into evil doing in the LORD'S sight, provoking him till, in his great anger against Israel, the LORD put them away out of his sight.” (II Kings 17:17-18) This is what unredeemed human nature is capable of. We take it for granted what Christ has meant to the world and the civilizing effect he has had on human beings. As Hilaire Belloc said, one thing stands out, the unquestioned prevalence of cruelty in the unbaptized world.

But out of this darkness, God promised that a new day would dawn for humanity. Seven hundred years before the Incarnation of Christ, the Lord spoke through the prophet Ezekiel: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts.” (Ezekiel 36:25-26) Around the same time Ezekiel wrote his inspired words, the prophet Malachi foretold the mission of St. John the Baptist. As the precursor of the Messiah, he would have a special effect on fathers: “He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17) With natural hearts, after the coming of the Jesus Christ, men would turn toward their children and become the fathers they were created to be. 

In the Christian era, there was a new and generous diffusion of divine grace from heaven. With this, there arose a new understanding of God himself. But in days of old, God was known as Yahweh, the Almighty and the Supreme Being whose name was not to be pronounced. With the coming of his Son, however, the Almighty was also to be looked upon as a Father. St. Paul reminds us: “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:15-17)

Supernatural fatherhood through the priesthood and the natural fatherhood, as it exists in the  the family, collaborate with one another so that the Divine Fatherhood of God may be more fully expressed. In many respects, the priest, in the spiritual order, ideally serves as a template and source of strength for fathers in the natural order. However, when a priest fails to be the spiritual father he should be for parishioners, this deficit has a ripple effect into natural fatherhood. With each younger generation that gravitates away from the blessings of Christ, fathers struggle to live out their vocation. That is, their hearts turn away from their children as it often happened in the unbaptized world. Perhaps this is why the website, could report the following statistics from 2009:

“According to 2009 U.S. Census Bureau data, over 24 million children live apart from their biological fathers. That is 1 out of every 3 (33%) children in America. Nearly 2 in 3 (64%) African American children live in father-absent homes. One in three (34%) Hispanic children, and 1 in 4 (25%) white children live in father-absent homes. In 1960, only 11% of children lived in father-absent homes. Children who live absent their biological fathers are, on average, at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live with their married, biological (or adoptive) parents.”

But the good news is that the font of renewal- that which turns the hearts of fathers toward their children -is at our disposal. God decreed, from all eternity, that fathering His Son would serve as the perfect template of natural or biological fatherhood. And that his Divine Fatherhood would be communicated through the Catholic priesthood. As Catholic seminaries generate more well-formed priests in the twenty-first century, natural fathers who sit in the pews are bound to benefit from this formation. 

The priest who presides over the parish is analogous to the father who presides over his children. Indeed, the parallels are remarkable. Just as the priest, a spiritual father to his parishioners, serves as a channel of sacramental grace for them, so too is the natural father, along with the mother, an image of God for his children. It is through this image that every child comes to know himself, the world and God. No doubt, the impress of the father's personality and character upon his children is a powerful one. It is almost sacramental in nature. As Pope Leo XIII said, "For, according to Catholic teaching, the authority of our heavenly Father and Lord is imparted to parents...whose authority, therefore, not only takes its origin and force from Him, but also borrows its nature and character."

These are deep mysteries of the Faith. For that reason, they are worth exploring. The Holy Trinity, by far, is the most mysterious of all the Christian doctrines. But it is still good to know that through the Holy Spirit, God the Father eternally loves and fathers his Son. Like a mother who binds the father and son together in love, the Holy Spirit is forever turning the heart of the Father towards his Son. It is from that loving relationship- the turning of hearts within the God-head -that the authority and love of fathers "borrows its nature and character." It is there that the balance is to be found.

In a secular age, fatherhood naturally loses its orientation and character. It is no exaggeration to say that hearts turn to stone. But with Christ, the hearts of fathers naturally turn toward their children because they first turned towards God.