20 October 2016

An additional appointment

Returning to my office in the Catholic Pastoral Center Monday morning, I found a new Decree of Appointment from His Excellency the Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki, Bishop of Springfield in Illinois, dated October 12th. The text of the decree reads as follows:
By this decree, I appoint
to be EPISCOPAL DELEGATE FOR MATRIMONIAL CONCERNS, with the delegated power to grant dispensations and permissions for the marriage of parties in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, effective immediately and for as long as he holds an office in the diocesan Curia.
What are these dispensations and permissions that I can now grant?

Before we consider what specific dispensations and permissions I can now grant, we should first distinguish between dispensations and permissions. To do so, we must remember that canon law does not function in the same manner as American civil law.

The Code of Canon Law defines dispensation as "the relaxation of a merely ecclesiastical law [as opposed to a divine or natural law] in a particular case" (canon 85). A dispensation "can be granted by those who possess executive power within the limits of their competence, as well as by those who have the power to dispense explicitly or implicitly by the law itself or by legitimate delegation" (canon 85). When a dispensation is granted, the law remains but it is lifted, if you will, from a particular individual.

The most common dispensation Catholics request is from the obligation to abstain from meat on the Fridays within the season of Lent (cf. canon 1251 and 1253). If a dispensation is granted for "a just and reasonable cause," the law remains in force but for the person to whom a dispensation is granted (canon 90 § 1). An example here may be helpful.

Some years when I was on pilgrimage in Turkey following in the footsteps of Saint Paul, we were taking an excursion to Korykos Castle in an attempt to fight off jet lag. As we made our way on the bus, our guide explained that the road would soon split, with the road to the right being for cars, buses, and trucks, and the road to the left only for cars. This was unfortunate, he said, because we were a bit behind schedule and the road to the left - which we could not legally use - was faster.

We got stopped by a stoplight before the road split and a police car happened to pull up alongside the bus. Our guide stepped off the bus and, after talking with the police returned to the bus and told the driver to take the road to the left, the road only for cars.

Given what he had just told us, we were all a bit confused. He explained to us that he told the police we were running behind and asked if we might use to the road to the left to save some time. The policeman said yes and gave his name in case another policeman should pull us over. He gave a dispensation to all of us (I do not know if Turkish law technically gave him that power, but he did so); the law remained in force, but not for our bus. American law, unfortunately, does not work like this.

A permission, on the other hand, is foreseen in the law itself and must simply be requested before it is granted. A permission is not a relaxing of the law, but a following of the law.

There is - so far I can foresee - only one permission I will be asked to grant. The Code of Canon Law contains this declaration:
Without the express permission of the competent authority, marriage is prohibited between two baptized persons of whom one is baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it and has not defected from it by a formal act and the other of whom is enrolled in a Church or ecclesial community not in full communion with the Catholic Church (canon 1124).
To put it perhaps more simply, a Catholic is ordinarily bound by law to marry another Catholic. (For more on what the Church means by ecclesial communities [more commonly - if inaccurately - known as Protestant churches], see the important document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith titled "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church.")

Using the power of the keys, the Church prohibits marriage between a Catholic and non-Catholic Christian because she knows that differences in religious faith and practice can cause great strain on a marriage, particularly once the couple have a child or two (cf. Matthew 16:19). Even so, there may be times when the granting of a permission for what is called a Marriage of Mixed Religion may be beneficial. It may, for example, be of a spiritual good to one or both of the spouses or there may also be a well-founded hope that the non-Catholic will seek to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church.

Before the competent authority decides whether to grant a requested permission for a Marriage of Mixed Religion, he must be certain the following stipulations have been - or will be - met:
  1. the Catholic party is to declare that he or she is prepared to remove dangers of defecting from the faith and is to make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power so that all offspring are baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church;
  2. the other party is to be informed at an appropriate time about the promises which the Catholic party is to make, in such a way that it is certain that he or she is truly aware of the promise and obligation of the Catholic party;
  3. both parties are to be instructed about the purposes and essential properties of marriage which neither of the contracting parties is to exclude (canon 1125).
The permission for a Marriage of Mixed Religion is most always when requested, but it does not have to be granted; indeed, if one of the requirements for the permission is not or will not be met, the permission cannot be granted.

The most common dispensation that is requested is from the impediment of Disparity of Cult. Using the power of the keys (cf. Matthew 16:19), Holy Mother Church binds a Catholic to marry another Catholic, Moreover, Catholics are required to enter into marriage "before the local ordinary, pastor, or a priest or deacon delegated by either of them, who assist, and before two witnesses" (1108 § 1). In additon, "the rites prescribed in the liturgical books approved by the Church or received by legitimate customs are to be observed in the celebration of a marriage" (canon 1119). In common language, all of this is known as the canonical form or marriage.

These requirements came about several centuries ago because of an increasing number of secret marriages, that is, of marriages entered into through the exchange of consent of the couple without any witnesses present (it is, after all, consent that makes the marriage (cf. canon 1057 § 1), not the exchange of rings or the lighting of candles or mixing of sand). As husbands sought to have these secret marriages declared null to the detriment of the wives, the Church imposed the obligation for Catholics to marry in the presence of a bishop, priest, or deacon and two witnesses. 

Because we no longer have many secret marriages, it may seem strange for the Church to continue to require Catholics to marry according to the Church's form when she does not require it of baptized non-Catholics whose marriages are valid. The Church continues this requirement as a recognition that marriage is a public good; because marriage is not simply a private affair but impacts the community, it is right that it be celebrated and entered into in a public ceremony.

It sometimes happens that, by way of example, a Catholic wants to marry a baptized non-Catholic whose father is, say, a Lutheran minister. The non-Catholic may strongly desire his or her father to witness their marriage and so the Catholic will petition for a dispensation from the impediment of disparity of cult. If the dispensation is granted, the Catholic is no longer bound by the canonical form (though he or she would still need to receive permission to marry a non-Catholic, which would, presumably, be granted at the same time). 

There are other principle dispensations that may be requested, that from the impediment of consanguinity and that from the impediment of affinity, but those are not commonly requested.

For those keeping track, the current list of my appointments is as follows:
  • Parochial Vicar of St. Agnes Parish, Springfield;
  • Associate Director of the Office for Divine Worship and the Catechumenate;
  • Chief Master of Ceremonies to the Bishop;
  • Diocesan Judge of the Diocesan Tribunal; and,
  • Episcopal Delegate for Matrimonial Concerns.
Please remember me in the charity of your prayers as I seek to faithfully carry out the duties entrusted to me.

16 October 2016

Homily - 16 October 2016 - Moses and the Sign of the Cross

The Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Nine hundred and fifty years ago this past Friday, King Harold II Godwinson and William, then Duke of Normandy, campaigned against each other at the Battle of Hastings. Having recalled the strategies employed in this pivotal conflict, I find myself rather intrigued by the military tactics employed by Moses against King Amalek. Whereas the two claimants to the English crown made use of volleys, charges, and even a feigned retreat in the battle that saw the end of Saxon rule over Britain, Moses, after sending Joshua to the front line, went up a mountain, sat on a rock, and extended his hands in prayer (cf. Exodus 17:8-13). It is a curious battle strategy, to be sure, yet it was successful one. Why?

Before exploring this approach of Moses, we might do well to explore the names of the persons involved in this battle. The ancient Romans had something of a proverb that said, Nomen est omen, the name is a sign. Sometimes it proved true, and sometimes not. According to the rabbis, the name “Amalek” means the “people who lick blood.”[1] Because the Lord God said to the sons of Israel, “No person among you shall eat blood” because “the life of the flesh is in the blood,” this was akin to calling Amalek and his people grave sinners and evil doers (Leviticus 17:12, 11). When Moses then, whose name means “drawn from the water,” engaged Amalek he battle, Moses battled against sin (cf. Exodus 2:10). Aaron, whose name means “mountain of strength,” and Hur, whose name means “fire,” assisted Moses in this fight.[2] As Moses prayed with the aid of Aaron and Hur, Joshua, whose name in Hebrew is the same as our English Jesus and whose name names “the Lord saves,” was victorious over sin (cf. Matthew1:21).

Here, then, we have a case where nomen est omen is true, where names are indeed signs. However, before we seek to understand what is signified for us in these names and in this battle tactic, we have to remember a key principle to the reading of Sacred Scripture; we have to remember that, as Saint Augustine said, “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.”[3]

The early Christian Tertullian pondered what light the New Testament could shine upon this Old Testament battle. He saw in the action of Moses a foreshadowing of Christ on the Cross. He asked:

But, to come now to Moses, why, I wonder, did he merely at the time when Joshua was battling against Amalek, pray sitting with hands expanded, when, in circumstances so critical, he ought rather, surely, to have commended his prayer by knees bent, and hands beating his breast, and a face prostrate to the ground; except it was there, where the name of the Lord Jesus was the theme of speech – destined as he was to enter the lists one day singly against the devil – the figure of the cross was also necessary, through which Jesus was to win the victory?[4]

Saint Justin Martyr agreed with this interpretation and said, “In truth it was not because Moses prayed that his people were victorious, but because, while the name of Jesus was at the battle front, Moses formed the signed of the cross.”[5]

If we, then, wish to be victorious in our battles with temptation and sin, if we wish to trample Satan and his legions, then we, too, must fight with the sign of the Cross and the name of Jesus. This is why the Sign of the Cross “is a formula not to be spoken lightly.”[6]

But there is something more, for as Moses engaged in battle with the name of Jesus before him, he needed the support of Aaron and Hur to form the sign of the Cross with his body. “For that reason the people conquered when they performed works not carelessly but with full consideration and virtue – not with faltering souls nor with a wavering disposition but with the stability of a firm mind.”[7] Is this not why Jesus spoke to the people “about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary” (Luke 18:1)? Is this not why Saint Paul says, “remain faithful to what you have learned and believed” (II Timothy 3:14)?

As we collected our prayers together at the beginning of this Holy Mass and presented them to the Father, we asked of God two particular graces. We prayed first that we might always conform our will to God’s, and, second, that we might serve his majesty in sincerity of heart (cf. Collect). We do not often give enough attention to the prayers at the beginning of Mass, but they contain a trove of spiritual insight.

If we wish to truly conform our will to God’s and recognize his lordship over our lives, if we wish to live in sincerity of heart as we serve the King of heaven and earth, then we should frequently remember the Cross, the sign of the Lord’s love for us and of his victory over sin and death. The sign of the Cross is, on the one hand, a most simple gesture and, on the other, a most profound statement of faith. To often do we enter the church, dip our fingers in holy water, and make some hurried gesture as if swatting away flies, not recognizing the great power that is in the sign we should make.

When we enter the doors of the church, we pass, as it were, from earth to heaven and doing so we become aware of our sins. We make the sign of the Cross to place ourselves at the service of the Lord Jesus Christ and to remind us of his grace and mercy. Indeed,

by signing ourselves with the Cross, we place ourselves under the protection of the Cross, [we] hold it in front of us like a shield that will guard us in all the distress of daily life and give us the courage to go on. We accept it as a signpost that we must follow… The Cross shows us the road of life – the imitation of Christ.[8]

It is on the Cross that we see the fullest sign of Jesus’ loving obedience to the Father, and for this reason the Cross shows us how to conform our will to the Father’s and how to serve his majesty in sincerity of heart.

The faithful have been signing themselves with the Cross for nearly two millennia now. We treasure the sign of the Cross because it calls to mind the essential elements of the Christian faith. Indeed, the first mention we have in writing of the sign of the Cross comes from Tertullian, who died in 220. “At every step,” he said, “when going in and out, when putting on clothes and shoes, when washing ourselves, when kindling the lights, when going to sleep, sitting down, and in every action we place the sign of the cross on our foreheads.”[9] We would do well to do the same, and to do so with attentive reverence and love, fully conscious of the sign we make, without being ashamed of doing so or afraid of being seen to do so in public.

On the day of our baptism, the priest or deacon, together with our parents and godparents, traced the sign of the Cross on our foreheads. As the minister did so, he “claim[ed us] for Christ our Savior by the sign of his Cross.”[10] The sign of the Cross is, then, a sign of ownership; it is the sign that marks us out as belonging to Christ and to no other. The Bishop, likewise, traced the sign of the Cross on our forehead with the sacred Chrism when he sealed us with the seven-fold gift of the Holy Spirit. We, too, make the sign of the Cross on our foreheads – and on our lips and over our heart - at every Mass when we prepare to hear the words of the Gospel so that we might keep the Lord Jesus in our mind, on our lips, and in our heart.

Like Moses, we, too, have been drawn from the water, from the water of Baptism, and so we, too, are called to fight against temptation and sin, relying on the strength that Jesus gives and on the fire of the Holy Spirit, keeping the Cross always upon us. If we entrust ourselves to its power by keeping the Lord in our mind, we can learn to conform our will to his; if we keep the name of Lord on our lips, we can serve his majesty; and if we keep the Lord in our hearts, we can live in sincerity of heart, living in the truth of love.

If we intentionally devote ourselves to staying within the shadow of the Cross and to lifting it high, the Lord will turn his eyes toward us, he will rescue us from eternal death, and bring us into the glory of his presence. There, we shall gaze upon the wondrous beauty of his Face and know the joy of his merciful love forever (cf. Psalm 32:18-19). Amen!

[1] Cf. David Patterson, A Genealogy of Evil: Anti-Semitism from Nazism to Islamic Jihad, Cambridge University Press, 2011, pp.43,244.
[2] Cf. Pope Saint Gregory the Great, Dialogue with Trypho, 97. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament Vol. III: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Joseph T. Lienhard, ed. (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2001), 92.
[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Quaest. In Hept., 2.73. In Catechism of the Catholic Church, 129.
[4] Tertullian, Answer to the Jews, 10.10. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament Vol. III, 92.
[5] Saint Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 90. In ibid.
[6] Thomas Howard, If Your Mind Wanders at Mass (Steubenville, Ohio: Franciscan University Press, 1995), 53.
[7] Saint Ambrose of Milan, Letter 7 (37).33. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament Vol. III, 92.
[8] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, trans. John Saward (San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 2000), 177-178.
[9] Tertullian, in Klemens Richter, The Meaning of the Sacramental Symbols: Answers to Today’s Questions, trans. Linda M. Maloney, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1990), 132.
[10] Rite of Baptism for Children, 41.

09 October 2016

A Wedding Homily - 8 October 2016 - The "still more excellent way" of the Cross

Wedding of Allison Stupavsky and Austin Menz

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

We have come together this afternoon, in this church dedicated to the honor of God and of Saint Anthony of Padua, to witness the exchange of consent of Austin and Allison. We have come together to celebrate with them as today they “establish between themselves a partnership of their whole life,” which, by its very nature, “is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children.” They will begin this partnership in this church because marriage has “been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament” (canon 1055).

On behalf of Austin and Allison, I greet you, their family and friends, and welcome you in the name of Christ. I thank you for the love, support, and encouragement which you give to them by your presence today and which you have shared with them in the previous days, weeks, and years. I am confident they will be able to count on you in the days, weeks, and years ahead for this same love, support, and encouragement. Now, my friends, before we witness the exchange of their promises to live their lives together in committed love, I ask you to allow me to speak directly to the couple; you, of course, are welcome to listen in.

Austin and Allison, we, your family and friends, and I, the Church’s minister, are truly happy to be here with you today. You have invited us to share in this joyful day, this day that is itself a precious gift from the Lord Jesus Christ who calls each of us to himself and is yet another sign of his “still more excellent way” (I Corinthians 12:31). This way is the way of authentic love, of a love that “does not seek its own interests,” but is instead ever concerned about the good of the one who is loved (I Corinthians 13:5). In this, we see that love is – more than anything else – a choice. The emotion of love comes and goes; sometimes we feel loved and sometimes we do not, but our emotions are not always reliable or consonant with the reality of a given situation. This is why the highest form of love is not an emotion but, rather, an act of the will.

It is to this still more excellent way that you have discerned the Lord Jesus calling you to join your lives together in holy matrimony. Saint Anthony of Padua once wisely noted that “although marriage is a good thing in itself, it does bring with it considerable danger.”[1] What does he mean? In the bonds of marriage, a husband is bound to care more about his wife than he cares about himself. Likewise, in the bonds of marriage, a wife is bound to care more about her husband than she cares about herself. Because a sacred bond joins those united in holy matrimony, marriage brings the considerable danger of more opportunities to sin by not living up to the promises made between husband and wife before God and his Church. But this considerable danger is why Jesus raised the natural state of marriage to a sacrament, to infuse it with his grace and to provide a supernatural aid to those called to live the still more excellent way of love in marriage.

There is a temptation today to over-romanticize marriage, to think that it will automatically bring a life of bliss without any difficulties whatever. The reality, however, as any honest couple will tell you, is not quite so picture perfect. Marriage is difficult and requires compromise, patience, and gentleness. Like the Christian life in general, marriage is simple, but it is not easy. Marriage is simple because, at its core, it involves only one thing, namely, that every day each spouse must desire the good of the other above his or her own good and labor to obtain that good for the beloved. In this, marriage daily requires self-denial and, for this very reason, is not easy.

The great J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, reflected on the reality of marriage in a letter he wrote to his son Michael in 1941. Then, after twenty-five of his fifty-five years of marriage to his beloved Edith, Tolkien wrote these words:

Faithfulness in Christian marriage entails that: great mortification… No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial. Too few are told that – even those brought up ‘in the Church’.[2]

Tolkien here speaks of a danger for the groom in marriage, but lest some think marriage brings no danger for the bride, we might note the temptation of the wife always to be right. Marriage, for her, too, requires deliberate conscious exercise of the will, that is, self-denial. I do not want the two of you to be unaware of this.

We see something of this in Saint Anthony of Padua’s commentary on the opening line of the Gospel passage you have chosen for us today. Jesus warns us rather sternly, saying, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Saint Anthony said that “to say truly, Lord, is to believe with one’s heart, confess with one’s mouth, and attest by one’s deeds. To have one without the other is a denial.”[3] We might paraphrase the Lord’s words this way; “Not everyone who says, ‘I do,’ will enter a happy, blissful marriage.” If you wish to, as the fairy tales say, “live happily ever after,” you must daily believe in the love Jesus has for his Bride, the Church; you must confess his – and your - love for your spouse; and you must attest to this love – both yours and Christ’s – by your deeds. To simply say “I do” without believing in the power of grace to strengthen your promise, without repeatedly confessing your love, and without demonstrating your love with outward signs is a denial of your promise. How, then, can you ensure you do this each day of your married life?

Jesus says to us today, “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock” (Matthew 7:24). He spoke these words at the conclusion of his great Sermon on the Mount, something of a guidebook, if you will, for following faithfully after him. Later, he summarizes the Sermon on the Mount with these words: “[H]e who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39).

If you, Austin and Allison, would have your marriage survive the rains and floods and winds of this world intact, if you would have your shared home not collapse, if you would survive the dangers that marriage brings, then you must be joined together at the Cross of our Lord and build your life together upon its foundation. It is as Saint Bruno said, “While the world changes, the Cross stands firm.” We see the tremendous love Jesus has for his Bride displayed most fully on the Cross. It is this same love that you must reflect for each other and for the world. Through your married love, you must become sacramental signs of Jesus’ love for every person by daily believing in it; by dialing confessing it; and by daily attesting to it.

To become such a sign of love, to become a sign of this still more excellent way, is not easy. This is why Saint Anthony of Padua called marriage “a good thing in itself,” even as he cautioned of its dangers. Tertullian focused more on the goodness and beauty of marriage, saying,

How can I ever express the happiness of the marriage that is joined together by the Church, strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels and ratified by the Father? ...How wonderful the bond between two believers with a single hope, a single desire, a single observance, a single service! They are both brethren and both fellow-servants; there is no separation between them in spirit or flesh; in fact they are truly two in one flesh and where the flesh is one, one is the spirit.[4]

If you join yourselves to the Lord’s Cross, your marriage, too, will stand firm. You will keep your promises and, having been found faithful to each other, the Lord Jesus will welcome you both into the Kingdom of heaven. Then, in the end, you will know that “love never fails” (I Corinthians 13:8). Amen.

[1] Saint Anthony of Padua, Sermon for the Second Sunday After Pentecost, 10. In Saint Anthony of Padua: Sermons for Sundays and Festivals, Vol. II: From the First Sunday After Pentecost to the Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost. Paul Spilsbury, trans. (Padua, Italy: Edizioni Messagero Padova, 2007), 46.
[2] J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter to Michael Tolkien, 6-8 March 1941. In The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Humphrey Carpenter, ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), 51.
[3] Saint Anthony of Padua, Sermon for the Eighth Sunday After Pentecost, 11. In Saint Anthony of Padua: Sermons for Sundays and Festivals, Vol. II, 198.
[4] Tertullian, Ad uxorem, II.VIII.6-8. In Pope Saint John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 13.