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Deacon-structing Marriage part 5: Total love

marriage1
Last week we learned that God not only created Marriage, but He has a design for Marriage. This was the plan from the beginning. When the Book of Genesis says that God created humans male and female in his likeness and image and then he blessed them and told them to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:26-28), he is, in effect creating Marriage. It is in that fruitful and total union that can only exist between one man and one woman that we come closest to being an image of God.

In Marriage, according to God’s design, we come closest to being an image of God because it is in that fruitful and total union that we come closest to loving another person the way God loves us.

So of course the next logical question is, “how does God love us?”

We could spend the next couple of months studying Scripture, doing research, praying and reflecting on our own experience to try to figure out how God loves us, but the work has already been done. So let me save you the time.

There are four qualities to the way God loves us…

  • First, God loves us freely. God’s love is a gift. It’s free. There’s nothing you can do to earn it; there’s nothing you can do to not have it. You can’t buy it. If you don’t want it, too bad; you have it. And all love is free. If it’s not free, it’s not love. Especially married love has to be free. When couples get married in the Catholic Church they make three promises. The first one is that they’ve come freely and without reserve.
  • Second, God loves us faithfully. This is all over Scripture: God’s faithfulness is everlasting. God’s love is faithful, no matter what. You will always have his love. And again, all love has to be faithful. If it’s not faithful, it’s not love. If it has conditions, it’s not love. And faithfulness means forever. Need I say that especially married love needs to be faithful? The second promise married couples make when marrying in the Catholic Church is that they will honour each other for the rest of their lives: Faithful.
  • Third, God loves us fruitfully. This means that it always bears good fruit; it always leads to good things. God’s love makes us better. Furthermore, God’s love is creative. And all love needs to make us better. If love does not bear good fruit, it’s not love. Love makes us feel better, makes us grow and makes us love more. It is always fruitful (which is why sometimes it’s painful). Married love needs to be fruitful. And the fullest expression of that fruitfulness in married love is that it is procreative. The third promise that a couple will make when marrying in the Catholic Church is that they are open to children.

So God’s love is free, faithful and fruitful and all types of love have to be free, faithful and fruitful.

But there is a fourth quality to the love that God has for us that is not necessary for other types of love, except Marriage. That is that God’s love is total.

God loves us totally. God gives each one of us his total love. He gives himself totally to each one of us. That type of love is not required in any kind of love (in fact it’s not appropriate in other forms of love) except in Marriage.

A husband has to pour himself out totally into his wife, all of himself: emotionally, spiritually, and sexually; his body, his dreams, his fears, his baggage, his fertility, his pain… totally, and his wife has to receive him totally – warts and all. In turn, she gives herself totally to her husband: emotionally, spiritually, sexually, her fertility, her dreams, fears, and pain; all her past… everything, and her husband receives her completely and totally. That is what it means to become one flesh.

God loves us freely, faithfully, fruitfully and totally and that is the kind of love that needs to exist in a Marriage, which is why we can say that in Marriage, we come closest to loving another person, the way God loves us: freely, faithfully, fruitfully and totally.

What do you think? How hard is it to live this kind of love in your Marriage? Write to me. And come back next week to learn how to make loving this way in Marriage possible.


Photo credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring


DcnPedro Radio1Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:
pedro@saltandlighttv.org @deaconpedrogm

Deacon-structing Marriage Part 4: From the Beginning

Thanks to Colleen Dulle who reached out to me via Twitter and shared this video that was made by the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Missouri. Great idea to celebrate marriage! (Maybe Noel in his Weekly Round-up could dig up some other videos people have made about Marriage.)

My weekly round-up has been that in the last two weeks, I’ve preached at two marriages. As a Deacon, I don’t get to officiate marriages very often – mostly, deacons do ‘mixed marriages’, that is when a Catholic is marrying a non-Catholic, because in these cases, more often than not, there is no Mass. When two Catholics marry, chances are that the Marriage Rite will take place in the context of the Mass and when this is the case, the presider of the Mass (which, of course, has to be a priest) has to be the presider over the Marriage Rite. Since my ordination in 2012 I’ve presided over 4 marriages, but have had the chance to preach at several others.

Three of the most common Wedding readings are Genesis 2.18-24 (“Therefore a man shall leave his mother and father and cling to his wife and the two will become one flesh”); 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:8 (love is patient, love is kind, etc.) and Matthew 5:13-16 (Jesus talking about divorce and re-instating that the two become one flesh).

I love that word, “cling”. It reminds me of “cling-wrap.” You know the plastic saran wrap that sticks to everything? That’s how a couple has to cling to each other. That’s what it means to be one flesh.

And I love that Jesus doesn’t come up with this out of the blue. He says that “from the beginning it was so….” and then he quotes the passage from, literally, the “beginning”: Genesis 2.

When planning a wedding or deciding to get married, no one ever thinks what God’s plan for their marriage is. But this is a very good question to ask yourselves before you get married: What is God’s plan for Marriage? What is God’s plan for our Marriage? God has a very specific plan for Marriage in general. This is what I’ve been talking about for the last couple of weeks (read part 1, part 2 and part 3).

God has created and designed Marriage. Marriage is not something the Church invented or that randomly evolved out of our need to socially constrict our impulse to procreate. It is not a patriarchal imposition nor is it something that people do because it’s instinct. God planned it. God created it. God designed it.

From the beginning.

God creates the universe. He separates light from darkness, waters from the dry land. He populates the skies with planets and stars and populates the waters and land with plants and animals. Then on the sixth day he creates human beings.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:26-28 New Revised Standard Version)

The first thing God does after He creates human beings is He creates Marriage. In fact, as He is creating human beings, He is creating Marriage: In his image and likeness, He created them, male and female. Then He blessed them and said, “be fruitful and multiply.”

God makes us male and female, with the desire for union and fruitfulness because it is in that union that we become an image of God.

Let me rephrase that: It is in the fruitful and total union that can only take place between one man and one woman that we come closest to being an image of God.

This doesn’t mean that we have to be married in order to be an image of God, but in the total and fruitful union that can only take place between one man and one woman we come closest to being the image and likeness of God, because it is in that kind of union (which we call Marriage) that we come closest to loving another person the way God loves us.

If that doesn’t make your head spin, I don’t know what will. This is what God designed from the beginning.

Let me know your thoughts and come back next week and find out how God loves us.


DcnPedro Radio1Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:
pedro@saltandlighttv.org @deaconpedrogm

Deacon-structing Marriage: Part 3

Marriage3

Last week we looked again at something I wrote in 2009 about the nature and design of Marriage. I am curious to know your thoughts on this and whether you think it makes sense. If there are any moral theologians out there, please comment as you would know better than I whether my argument that all Church moral teaching is based on natural law is correct (and whether my explanation of natural law is accurate).

This past week I read a fascinating article in Spanish about the true meaning of the word “matrimony”. The word, the priest who wrote the article explained, comes from the Latin, “matrimonium” which means marriage, but which in turn comes from “matrem” (mater) which means mother. Why would the word for marriage be based on the word for mother? The article explained that “matrem”+ “monium” in Latin refers to the “office of, or condition of the (or being a) mother”. This makes sense because the “matrix” is the uterus, the organ which enables a woman to become a mother (it’s not clear whether “mater” comes from “matrix” or the other way around). Either way, it’s clear the two words (and functions) are deeply related. (not to mention the relationship between the English words “woman” and “womb”).

The whole point of the article was to show the relationship between “matrimony” and “motherhood.” I am not going to (neither do I propose that the Church does) say that all women who enter into marriage have to become mothers (nor that all women have to be mothers – although all women in a sense are spiritual mothers in a way that men could never be – maybe leave that for another time), however can we learn something from looking at the etymology of a word? Can we deny that marriage is intrinsically related to parenting?

Of course, in English, we seldom use the word “matrimony.” Instead we say “marriage.” Looking at the etymology of the word “marriage” is less revealing. “Marriage” is from the French “mariage” which in turn comes from the vulgar Latin “maritaticum”, from the Latin “maritatus.” All these meant “to be given in marriage.” But the origins of the word “marry” (as in to give oneself, or one’s offspring in marriage; wedlock) is uncertain. Perhaps it comes from providing a man with a “mari” (a young woman). Perhaps there is no relation, but “mari” sounds awfully close to “Mary.”

In Spanish although the word “matrimonio” is commonly used for marriage, the word for “to get married” is “casarse.” To be married is to “estar casado” and you could say that a marriage is a “casamiento.” There is a clear etymological relationship between “casar” (to marry) and “casa” (house or home). Again, can we deny that to be married implies creating a home? Is this related to parenting?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says in chapter 3, article 7 that “the matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.” (CCC 1601.Emphasis my own)

Later it says, “by its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning and glory.” (CCC 1652) I always learned that marriage (and the sexual act) has both a unitive and procreative function. Unitive because it brings the couple together into “one flesh” and procreative because that’s what’s meant to happen when people have sex (I love it when people say that they got pregnant by accident; that’s what’s meant to happen!). But is one function more fundamental than the other? Is it important that the couple be “one” for the good of the offspring? Does the fertility of the union allow for the unity? Is what makes marriage “good for the spouses” the fact that it is procreative? [Even if the couple cannot conceive, if in its nature the sexual act is procreative/fertile, the union is made possible. And, as I have written before, it is in that total and fertile union that can only exist between one man and one woman that we come closest to being an image of God, for in that kind of union (which the Church calls Marriage) we come closest to loving another human being the way God loves us, freely, faithfully, fruitfully and totally. But I digress.]

Is Marriage intrinsically related to the natural ability to parent? By merely looking at the meaning of the word, I would say so. The Church teaches that it is so. What do you think? What does the Church say about couples that are not able to conceive? Why is it necessary for a Marriage to be consummated? Share your thoughts and knowledge with me.

Since we’ve looked at English and Spanish, I am curious to know what the words for “marriage” or “matrimony” are in other languages and what their etymological meanings are. Can you help? Send me your thoughts via Facebook (here below), twitter @deaconpedrogm or email:pedro@saltandlighttv.org.

CNS photo/Ramoncito Campo, handout via Reuters


pedro_edit_edit_editEvery week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:
pedro@saltandlighttv.org @deaconpedrogm

Deacon-structing Marriage: part 2

Marriage2

Last week, I asked for your ideas. How would you define Marriage? The point is not to re-define Marriage, but to try to figure out what Marriage really is and why the Church teaches what she teaches about the true nature and design of Marriage.

The first comment I received was from Rosemarie via Facebook:

“Marriage is a union between one man and one woman.”

My response: Yes it is. But why? Are those the only ingredients necessary for Marriage? What if the one man and one woman are siblings? What is a union? I think we need to go deeper.

I also received the following comment from Monica B:

Many thanks to do this reflection on marriage. I am myself exploring the subject on many aspects as I am separated after 14 years of marriage. To forgive myself for this marriage I had to come to an understanding that this failure took root way before the marriage, in a lack of understanding of an universal law that we sometimes put aside to favor some exterior aspect of our lives: economic, social, political, etc.. In my case, I don’t make decisions based on the heart, mostly the mind.

If we fail to understand the sacrament of marriage is that we are blinded by the illusions of the material aspect of life on earth. We are first a light being in a physical body and there is no effort put in to understand how this ‘soul’ is constructed, how it works within the body. Should be taught at school.

My response:

Monica – this is exactly why I am trying to do this exercise. Wouldn’t it be great if in school, students were asked to logically figure out what Marriage is? I would like us to figure this out with the mind – so often do we make decisions based on the heart alone and when it comes to Marriage, since we are not really taught the Truth about love, Marriage, sexuality and relationships, we go into Marriage with the wrong ideas and expectations. I truly believe that if we spent the amount of dollars we spend on Church Marriage Tribunals, instead on Marriage preparation, we would have a lot less failed marriages.

But you also bring up a good point, since we’re trying to define Marriage and that is the spiritual aspect. We can’t say that Marriage (as nothing in life, especially Sacraments) is purely a temporal, physical, material thing. Marriage is also a spiritual reality and must reflect that. This is in part why Marriage in the Catholic Church is a Sacrament. Earthly Marriage points to the one Marriage which we all will be part of in Heaven; the Marriage of the Lamb – that’s the relationship that God wants to have with us: a Marriage relationship (or at least that’s the closest we can come to describe it with our limited human language). That’s big stuff – and good news!

Monica also mentions in passing something I hope you didn’t miss: Universal law. There is a universal law regarding Marriage. I would like to call it Natural Law. I also refer to this as “God’s design.”

I wrote earlier that “a marriage is a relationship within which sex is guaranteed not to cause any problems, heartaches, disease, issues or any pain.” That is a very rough definition I played around with after researching and meditating at length on this idea that there is natural (or universal) law regarding Marriage. Let me add to it then: We have three ingredients for Marriage so far: (1) one man and one woman in a (2) sexual union that is (3) not just physical but also spiritual.

I’d like to try to bring these three together.  But before I begin to untangle myself out of this noodle soup I’ve cooked, can I draw your attention to a comment that came from Jason Gennaro when I first asked the question in June 2009 — Jason makes an excellent comment that every definition about Marriage has to include God in it.

Read more


pedro_edit_edit_editEvery week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:
pedro@saltandlighttv.org @deaconpedrogm

Deacon-structing Marriage: Part 1

A groom and bride hold hands on their wedding day. Catholic marriages in the United States are at their lowest point since 1965. (CNS file photo/Jon L. Hendricks) See CATHOLIC-MARRIAGE March 19, 2015.

So here we go….

I’ve been sitting here pondering on the SCOTUS decision of last week, legalising same-sex marriage in all of the U.S. and all I kept thinking of was “But, what is marriage?” Who decides what marriage is? Why is marriage of any concern to the state? Who designed marriage in the first place?

As I was thinking, reading and praying about this, I found a series of articles that I wrote 6 years ago. Do you remember Miss California, Carrie Prejean? She, a professed Christian, was put on the spot by Beauty Pageant Judge, Perez Hilton and asked if she thought that same-sex marriage should be legalised in every State.

At the time, this led me to ask the very simple question, “What is marriage?” I asked for your input and received lots of good comments. I’d like to pick up where I left off.

So, this is what we’re going to do. Read “What if I was Miss California” and read my following blog entry, What is Marriage and send in your comments.

I am interested in how you would define Marriage. What are the main ingredients for a marriage? Love? Sex? Gender? The ability to procreate? Faithfulness? What do you think? What is your experience?

Send your comments in via Facebook or Yahoo (by writing a comment here below) or email me your comments to pedro@saltandlighttv.org. I hope to be able to publish some of your comments.

You have a week. Starting next week, we will begin deacon-structing marriage and you’ll know, not only what I think and what the Church teaches, but also why.

Off to the races.

(CNS file photo/Jon L. Hendricks)


pedro_edit_edit_editEvery week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:
pedro@saltandlighttv.org @deaconpedrogm

Deacon-structing life

Birkenau_gate
This is a reflection for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, year B. The readings are Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15 and Mark 5:21-43.

God did not make death. That’s what I kept thinking last Saturday. You see, I was in Poland and last Saturday I had the chance to spend the day at Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camps. All I kept thinking was, “God did not make death.” But there was a lot of death at Auschwitz.

Between 1940 and 1945, some 1.2 million men, women and children were brought to the extermination camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau in Poland. Of these, 90% were killed and of those who were killed, about 90% were Jews. People would be brought to Auschwitz in box cars (for cattle). When they arrived, they would be forced off the trains and separated by gender: men to one side and women to the other. Then they would be separated again: those who were deemed suitable for work and those not suitable for work. If you were found not suitable for work, you would be sent directly to the gas chamber. 75% of the people who arrived in Auschwitz never stayed there; they went straight from the train into the gas chamber. Among them, a Jewish woman converted to Catholicism by the name of Edith Stein and her sister Rosa. Edith Stein was a Carmelite Sister and is now known as St. Teresa Benedicta of Cross.

Of the 25% who were found suitable for work, the average stay was 3 months. The number one cause of death (besides gassing) was starvation. I don’t have to tell you the cruelty, horror and inhumanity that went on at Auschwitz and other camps. I don’t need to tell you all the horrible inhumanity and suffering that still goes on every day right here in our streets, but also in the Middle East because of ISIS and in Uganda because of Joseph Kony, and also in so many other places because of human cruelty.

Because of sin. God is not the author of death nor he delights in death.

There was a lot of death at Auschwitz, but God did not make death. That is why Jesus consistently fought against sickness and death. I used to think that it’s not possible that Jesus healed everyone he met. We only hear those stories in the Gospels, but Jesus didn’t heal everyone. I don’t think that anymore. We only hear stories of people being healed in the Gospels because Jesus healed everyone! Everyone who comes to Jesus and touches the hem of his garment or pleads to him for their sick child receives a healing. Everyone who meets Jesus is healed. But it’s not always easy to see the healing and not everyone gets healed physically. That’s because God in his wisdom and awesome majesty is working to get us to Heaven. This life is but a rest stop; we are but pilgrims on a journey. God is healing us so that we can have eternal life. We believe that death is a consequence of sin, but our Faith also teaches that death is a solution to sin – because once we die to this life and we are finally home with the Father, we will sin no more. That’s our faith.

But still, walking through Auschwitz last Saturday, it was hard not to question faith. Nazi extermination camps didn’t just kill 6 million Jews; they also killed some 7 million non-Jews, including almost two million Polish Catholics, some three million Soviet Prisoners of war; over 1 million Gipsies, 200,000 people with disabilities and thousands of people from other ethnic and religious minorities including thousands of Catholic priests and religious. What’s worse is that for many, places like Auschwitz killed God, because it killed faith. Walking through Auschwitz last Saturday, it was hard not to wonder where God was.

God did not make death. God is the God who takes on our suffering. Where was God at Auschwitz? He was on the train, herded like cattle. He was there holding the hand of a little girl as they were taken into the extermination chamber. Where was God? He was on the Cross. God did not make death. God is the God who takes our sickness and our death. He dies so that death can be no more. St. Paul tells us that death has no victory (1 Cor 15:55) and that the last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Cor 15:26). Well, the battle has been won. Death is no more. Jesus Christ has destroyed death. #LoveWins

God is not the author of death. God is the author of life. God is present in every moment of life. Where was God at Auschwitz? He was there in the small act of kindness; the encouraging smile; the strengthening word. He was there in that small piece of smuggled dried bread so that someone could eat. God was present in every heroic act of love, the least of which was the final act of St. Maximilian Kolbe who offered to take the place of a man, a stranger, condemned to death by starvation so he could have the opportunity to one day go home and be with his wife and children. St. Maximilian Kolbe gave his life and that man did survive to go home to be with his wife and children.

God is not the author of death. God is the author of life and we too are called to be authors of life. In everything we do and say, we must always give life. We go to Mass to receive the Author of Life in the Eucharist so we can go out there and give life to others. At the end of the day when you do your Examen, ask yourself two questions: “Who did I give life to today?” and “How did I give life today?” We are called to give life in everything we say and do; St. Paul tells the Corinthians that if they can, they should support the Church in Jerusalem (1 Cor 8). That’s a way to give life. Last week Pope Francis released an encyclical, Laudato Si, on the care of our common home; it’s about caring for creation. It’s about giving life. It’s not just about trees and whales or protecting lakes and the ozone layer, although that is important. Laudato Si is about respecting all creation.

This week’s episode of Creation is titled Respect. If our call to care for the environment begins with a sense of wonder (as we learned in Episode 1) and humans have a special place in the created world (as we learned in episode 2), what does it mean to “respect” creation? I’d like you to watch episode 3, but I will give you a hint: Respect means recognizing the inherent dignity of all creation. That means that when we respect, we give life. [Watch Creation: Respect, this Tuesday, June 30th at 8:30pm ET.)

Giving respect means giving life. It means defending and protecting all human life from conception to natural death. It means defending and protecting marriage and family. It means working for social justice and for the dignity of all workers; for the poor and those in the peripheries. We are called to work for life because God is the God of life.

God did not make death. Everything that comes from God is life. There is a song by Christian singer/songwriter Laura Story called Blessings. In it she sings:

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough

And all the while You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears?
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near?

And what if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise?

When friends betray us, when darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not our home.

This is not our home because there is death in this life and we belong with God who did not make death. Our home is with God, the Author of Life.


Photo credit: The main gate at the former German Nazi death camp of Auschwitz II (Birkenau). Michel Zacharz AKA Grippenn[1] – Own work.


pedro_edit_edit_editEvery week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:
pedro@saltandlighttv.org @deaconpedrogm

——————————–

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering

All the while You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near?

What if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise?

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough

And all the while You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears?
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near?

And what if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise?

When friends betray us, when darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not, this is not our home
It’s not our home

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears?
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near?

What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst
This world can’t satisfy?

And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise?

Deacon-structing Laudato Si (well, part of it)

Arbeit Macht Frei
Laudato Si is so complete and so radical that it will take years for us to unpack it fully. There is a lot there, but one of the themes that has most moved me (and this was not surprising) is encapsulated by this statement from the introduction: “The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickenss evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life.” (LS 2)

For Pope Francis (and for the Catholic Church), there is no difference between the sins committed to the natural ecology and the sins committed to the human ecology. In chapter two, Laudato Si explains that the Creation narratives of Genesis teach that we are called to three fundamental relationships: The relationship between us and God; between us and other humans and the relationship between us and the rest of creation. All three are equal and interconnected (LS 66). When we harm one, we harm the other; when we elevate one, we elevate the other. We wonder why we are in such an ecological crisis? Well, we’re also in a human crisis.

There is a reason however, why today I am particularly thinking about the sins we commit against each other; against other human beings. You see, as I write this, I am in Poland and yesterday I spent the whole day at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Between 1940 and 1945, 1,300,000 people were sent to Auschwitz/Birkenau. Of these, 1,100,000 were Jews. 150,000 were Poles. 23,000 were Roma (Gypsies). 15,000 were Soviet Prisoners of War and 25,000 were of other ethnic groups. Of these, 1,100,000 died at Auschwitz/Birkenau. 90% of them were Jews. The people who arrived at the camp generally did not know what was awaiting them. They truly believed that things would get better. The first thing they saw at the entrance to Auschwitz was the sign over the gate: “Arbeit Macht Frei,” work sets you free. Many believed it. However, witness accounts say that the commandant would greet them saying: “This is a concentration camp- there is no way out other than through the chimney of the crematorium.”

I don’t think I need to go into the details of what these people sufferered. I don’t need to explain the horrors that went on inside these compounds. Having spent the day there, I can only wonder how humans can be so cruel – how we are capable of such inhummanity. The rest of creation does not have the capacity for evil. That alone is reserved for human beings.

In Laudato Si, Pope Francis explains that according to the Bible, the three vital relationships have been broken. This rupture is sin. “The rupture between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations” (LS 6). He says that this is a far cry from what God originally intended and so “sin is manifested in all its destructive power in wars, the various forms of violence and abuse, the abandonment of the most vulnerable, and attacks on nature” (LS 6). I don’t need to tell you that there is evil in the world and we don’t need to go to Auschwitz to figure it out; still, it’s easy to live our lives ignoring that “creation is groaning” (Rom 8).

According to the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oswiecim, Poland, “behind the women’s camp in Birkenau the Nazis built gas chamber and crematorium II. Today only the ruins are visible because before leaving the camp the S.S. blew up the building. About 2,000 people would enter the gas chamber at once, to be suffocated by Cyclon B. They would be standing crushed against one another, holding hands in the cramp of death, so that the commandos had trouble to pull them apart.”

At the same time I learned the story of Zofia Pohorecka, who “at the age of 20 years was imprisoned in the camp in Birkenau. After the war she lived in Oswiecim and she often met up with young German people who were visiting. She spoke to them about her survival and said that it was due to the care her friends gave her when she was seriously ill even though they knew they were endangering their own lives. She testified that friendship, love, and tender care make you strong.”  One need only hear the story of St. Maximilian Kolbe to know that these acts were not uncommon at Auschwitz.

Despite the difficulty of walking through the barracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau, I was reminded that in the midst of all the misery and human degradation one could also witness acts of goodness. This is always the case. But in the reality of the extermination camps, these acts were heroic. We must learn to never give consent to evil and sin. There is Polish Way of the Cross that says that “there is no place where we can be exempted from the obligation to oppose evil and help those who suffer.” Always. You don’t think that one person doing a small act can make a difference? Think again.

I was reminded of what my friend, Rabbi Aaron Flanzraich told me once. He said that God alone has the ability to begin; but He has given us the ability to begin again. We must never forget that. Laudato Si says that “God can also bring out good out of the evil we have done… the Spirit of God has filled the universe with possibilities and therefore, from the very heart of things, something new can always emerge” (LS 80). This is very apparent in nature; many of us have also witnessed it among humans. I guess that is the message of The Cross.

Laudato Si is not just about nature; we recognise the dignity of all creation and human beings have a unique place. We cannot profess a respect for the natural ecology if we do not accept the dignity of all human life. The two are one and the same.

St. Francis wrote the beautiful Canticle of Creation, which gives Pope Francis’ encyclical its name. But today, walking in the footsteps of the millions killed needlessly at Auschwitz I was reminded of another prayer by St. Francis:

“O Lord, make us instruments of your peace,
To sow love where there is hatred,
Forgiveness where there is injustice,
Truth where there is doubt,
Hope where there is despair,
Light where there is darkness,
Joy where there is sadness.
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love.
For it is in forgiving that we are forgiven,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

May this be our prayer always for all creation.


For all complete “deacon-struction” of Laudato Sii, tune in to my conversation with Sr. Damien Marie Savino, on the SLHour.

And don’t forget to tune in for the second episode of Creation, The Human Person, where we address the question of the unique place of human beings in Creation. It will premiere on Tuesday, June 23 at 8:30pm ET.


pedro_edit_edit_editEvery week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:
pedro@saltandlighttv.org @deaconpedrogm

Deacon-structing integral ecology

The UST Creation gang
Very few of us would argue that we have to care for the environment, in fact Pope Francis has said that it is our moral duty to care for Creation (Morning Homily from Feb 9, 2015).

How does this notion square with the idea that Scripture tells us to dominate and subdue the earth? I think the response to that is found in a term that we’ve been hearing about much lately and that will be integral (no pun) to the Pope’s upcoming encyclical on ecology: Integral Ecology.

As you already know, for the last five years I have been working on Creation, our six-part series that looks at the Catholic teachings on the ecology. The approach that we’ve been taking is the “integral” approach. But defining the term is not all that easy (perhaps that’s why we need an encyclical).

As I write this, I am in Lubbock, Texas working on a story on water shortages for our series. I decided to ask my partner on this project, Sr. Damien Marie Savino, FSE, who not only is a Franciscan Sister, but also an environmental engineer and the Chair of the Department of Environmental Science and Studies at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, how she would define “integral ecology”.

Sr. Savino began with the etymology: “Integral means “whole” or “pertaining to the whole” and the word “ecology” comes from the Greek “ecos” which means home (ecology means “study of the home”). Therefore, the term “Integral Ecology” means a truly “catholic” (universal) understanding of ecology (a holistic understanding of our home), which includes the human and the natural ecology.”

So integral ecology means the respect of both the human and the natural ecology. If we disrepect one, we disrespect the other. If you elevate one, you elevate the other.

Sr. Savino was clear to point out that “human ecology” includes the moral structure that is part of our life together as human beings. This means that there is a natural morality (a sense of right and wrong) that we have, which is an important part of our human ecology. So if practicing intergral ecology includes respecting the moral structure. At the same time, the “natural ecology” means respecting the laws that are in the created world, the “grammar of nature” (to quote Pope Benedict XVI), which are written there by the Creator.

Scripture tells us that God “saw that it was good” (see Genesis 1). Indeed Creation is good, but Integral Ecology means recognizing not just the instrumental good but the intrinsic goodness and beauty of all Creation. An apple is good because it is good to eat, but it is also good in itself. We are good because we are Creation.

In relation to humans, Sr. Savino said that “Integral Ecology” means that humans are integral to nature (so that counters the idea that humans are dominators, but not to deny that we have a special place as caretakers who are created in the image and likeness of God). Saying that humans are integral to nature means countering the commoditization of nature, the consumeristic and throwaway culture, utilitarian attitudes and the loss of the sense of the innate dignity of all life. It also calls us to counter the loss of the sense of awe and wonder and contemplation. Sr. Savino added, “when we are truly integral to the ecology we are protecting, we are stewarding and we are mediating creation into its full fertlity.”

This is why Pope Francis says that Integral Ecology is our Christian duty. On that Feb 9th, 2015 morning homily he said that, “a Christian that does not care for creation, that does not make it grow, is a Christian who doesn’t care about the work of God; that work born from the love of God for us. And this is the first answer to the first creation: to care for Creation, to make it grow.”

Being a Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist, Sr. Savino was sure to end by using St. Francis as an example of a truly lived Integral Ecology. She said that his response of reverence, fraternity and praise of God through His creatures exemplifies Integral Ecology. I guess that’s what his Canticle of Creation reflects and perhaps why Pope Francis is naming his encyclical after this Canticle, Laudato Sii (Praised be).

Be sure to join us on Tuesday, June 16, for the premier of Creation with our first episode, Sense of Wonder. It will air on S+L TV at 8:30pm ET and will be available for viewing on demand all that week on our website.

And if you’re still trying to figure out what the Pope will be saying about ecology, why not take a cue from what he wrote about the environment in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium:

From Evangelii Gaudium:

215. There are other weak and defenceless beings who are frequently at the mercy of economic interests or indiscriminate exploitation. I am speaking of creation as a whole. We human beings are not only the beneficiaries but also the stewards of other creatures. Thanks to our bodies, God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement. Let us not leave in our wake a swath of destruction and death which will affect our own lives and those of future generations.[177] Here I would make my own the touching and prophetic lament voiced some years ago by the bishops of the Philippines: “An incredible variety of insects lived in the forest and were busy with all kinds of tasks… Birds flew through the air, their bright plumes and varying calls adding color and song to the green of the forests… God intended this land for us, his special creatures, but not so that we might destroy it and turn it into a wasteland… After a single night’s rain, look at the chocolate brown rivers in your locality and remember that they are carrying the life blood of the land into the sea… How can fish swim in sewers like the Pasig and so many more rivers which we have polluted? Who has turned the wonderworld of the seas into underwater cemeteries bereft of color and life?”[178]

216. Small yet strong in the love of God, like Saint Francis of Assisi, all of us, as Christians, are called to watch over and protect the fragile world in which we live, and all its peoples.

The footnote (177) refers to the Final Propositions of the Synod on the New Evangelization, to which the Apostolic Letter responds:

Proposition 56 : STEWARDSHIP OF CREATION
The Stewardship of creation also serves evangelization in many ways. It is a witness to our faith in the goodness of God’s creation. It demonstrates a sense of solidarity with all those who depend for their life and sustenance on the goods of creation. It shows inter-generational solidarity with those who come after us, and is a clear witness to the responsible and equitable use of the goods of the earth, our common home.


Photo: Some of our Creation team. From L. to R.: Wally Tello (cameraman), Fr. Dempsey Rosales (our Scripture Scholar), Dr. Jim Clarage (our Physicist), Sr. Damien Marie Savino (our co-writer and Catholic Environmental expert), Fr. Ted Baenziger (the orchid lover) and Deacon Pedro. Taken while we were all working on the urban garden on campus at the University of St. Thomas in Houston.


pedro_edit_edit_editEvery week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:
pedro@saltandlighttv.org @deaconpedrogm

Deacon-structing Creation

Creation

A few events the last couple weeks have led me to today’s reflection. Primarily, the fact that the Vatican has announced that Pope Francis will be releasing his second Encyclical later this month and that the topic of this papal document is the ecology. Add to that, the incredible response the news has garnered from both people inside, as well as outside the Church. Indeed, I don’t think any encyclical ever has had so much buzz surrounding it.

Last week I had a conversation with philosopher, Michael Augros, author of Who Designed the Designer (tune in to my conversation with Michael on the SLHour next weekend). In the book, Michael argues that he can prove the existence of God. He then proceeds to make his philosophical argument. But what really stayed with me (and this is nothing new, but it’s always amazing how we can listen to something so many times and then one day it really strikes us) is the fact that he said that our quest to prove the existence of God begins not with big philosophical questions or plumbing deep into questions of matter, mathematics or physics (although we get to those in time), but rather with creation around us. All we have to do is look at the universe around us – the universe that we can know – in order to begin our journey. And because we can all know the universe around us, it is a journey anyone can undertake.

This same idea was shared to me by Dr. John Hittinger, another philosopher and professor at the University of St. Thomas in Houston as we worked on our new upcoming series Creation. I believe John said to me that it was St. Thomas Aquinas who taught that we begin our scientific or natural quest for God by looking at the world around us. I guess this is the notion that is expressed so beautifully in Psalm 19: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”

Lastly, this week I heard a program on CBC Radio’s Ideas on scientific thought. Apparently, it was argued in the program, scientific thought was advanced by the likes of Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon and John Locke by the idea that anyone can know Truth. Truth is knowable by anyone, because anyone can experience the world around us and ask questions. We know that two plus two is four, because we can see that when we take two apples and put them next to another set of apples, there are now four. We can also know more complicated truths through more complex experiments that involve the same kind of simple intuition. Lastly we can know by our senses. This, John Locke argued is the most unreliable way since we can be easily misled by our senses.

All of this came together for me because for the last 5 years I have been working on the above-mentioned six-part documentary series, Creation that looks at what the Catholic Church has to say about ecology. Our first episode begins with looking at the world around us: the sense of wonder.

“What could a pope possibly have to say about ecology?” some have asked. “Leave science to the scientists” others have said. But the Holy Father is not writing a scientific document. This encyclical is not about climate change or about energy. This encyclical will more likely be about social justice and life issues than it will be directly about the science of global warming.

(To read more about the specifics of the upcoming encyclical, take a look at Michael Sean Winters’ The Rollout of the Encyclical on the Environment from the National Catholic Reporter and Fr. Thomas Rosica’s Waiting for Pope Francis’ Encyclical on the Environment.)

How we relate to our environment is ultimately a moral issue. Questions of waste management, agriculture, water shortages and contamination are just as important as any other social justice or human rights issue. In fact, what the Church teaches about ecological issues is the same as her teachings about social justice, economics and human rights issues, issues of human dignity and solidarity and in particular our preferential option for the poor. This is what I will call (and I’m sure the Pope will too) “integral ecology”.

That has been my personal journey with Creation. We began by asking the question, “Why should we care for the environment?” By asking the right questions (we hope) and being honest with the answers, we arrived at what I believe is the right approach (the integral approach) to all ecological issues.

This approach doesn’t say that we should or shouldn’t minimise our waste (necessarily) or that we should or shouldn’t use less energy or stop fracking or even get rid of all landfill. It is the approach that lives in the tension of the natural and human ecology. It is the approach that tries to ask the deeper questions and arrive at the fundamentals. It is the approach that strives to arrive at the universal and objective Truth.

It is also the approach that says that, “God saw that it was good” (see Genesis 1); that “God so loved the world” (John 3:16) and that all creation is groaning, waiting for redemption (see Romans 8:19-22); It is the approach that looks at the universe around us as creation and does not look at this created world from a functional point of view – but a sacramental point of view. It is the approach of St. Francis and St. Bonaventure; the approach of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Gregory of Nyssa. It is the approach of Popes Leo XIII, Pius XI, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It is probably also going to be the approach of Pope Francis. That is the approach of the Catholic Church. It is the approach that requires simply the ability to look at the world around us with a sense of wonder.

Stay tuned for more on Creation as we await the coming of Pope Francis’ encyclical and the premiere of our first episode of Creation: Sense of Wonder, at 8:30pm ET on June 16, 2015.

For more thoughts on second-guessing what the Encyclical will be about, read Cardinal Peter Turkson’s Trócaire 2015 Lenten Lecture, given at Saint Patrick’s Pontifical University, in Maynooth, Ireland this past March.


PedroGM1Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:
pedro@saltandlighttv.org @deaconpedrogm

Deacon-structing Holiness

Deaconstructing_Holiness

The problem with holiness is that we don’t think it’s for us.

We believe that we are made for Heaven. We believe that God wants us to go to Heaven, but how many of us would say that we belong in Heaven? How many of us would say that we are going to Heaven? Sure, we don’t want to presume, but some would not even think that they will be in Heaven.

How many of you would say that you are holy? In fact, more likely, we are to say that “I am no saint!”

But we if we are created for Heaven, then we are created for holiness – for sainthood.

But it doesn’t happen by accident. It happens by the Grace of God. Even St. Paul had to cooperate with that divine intervention he received. He had to accept it and he then had to nurture the seeds that were planted. He didn’t go from persecutor to saint overnight. In fact, I would argue that even after his conversion he had to have many smaller conversions – gradual conversions. Even after he had been on a mission for years, he probably still struggled with temptation and sin. (Ever wonder what the little spat with John Mark in Acts 13:13 that led to Paul’s separation from Barnabas in Acts 15:37 was? Paul was probably difficult to work with. He struggled.) We all do – yes, even Saints.

St. Paul tells the Romans that what “I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Rom 7:15). That sounds an awful lot like me most of the time. He also tells the Corinthians that he struggles with a “thorn in his flesh” (2 Cor 12:7). We may think that this is something nice and safe that Saints have, like blindness or the stigmata or visions of the devil. But what if St. Paul’s “thorn” was that he struggled with lust, insecurity, pride or anger? That sounds an awful lot like me.

Recently I was at a gathering and part of the activity was a sort of “examination” or Church trivia. We were randomly asked questions of our Faith: “How many Sacraments are there? Can you name the Sacraments? Can you name the Precepts of the Church? Can you name the seven Capital Sins? What are the Four Marks of the Church? What are the 10 Commandments? What are the Gifts of the Holy Spirit? How about the Fruists of the Holy Spirit? All the people who were present called themselves practicing Catholics, but most could not answer these simple questions.

How many of us could answer these questions? Do you know how many Books there in the Bible? How many Gospels? What are St. Paul’s Letters? Do you know your saints? Do  you know about St. Gianna Molla or Pier Giorgio Frassati? Do you know about Venerable Satoko Kitahara (Mary of Ant Town), Venerable Matt Talbot or Venerable Pierre Toussaint? Do you know who Louis and Zelie Martin are? Do you know who Archbishop Romero is and that he was beatified last week?

Or for the more advanced, could you name a couple Church Encyclicals? Can you name some Vatican II documents?

At another event (the day before, actually) I was asked what we could do to bring others into the Church. That’s a good question considering Jesus says in Matthew 28: 16-20 that we must “go and make disciples of all nations.” Pope Francis keeps reminding us to be “missionary disciples.” Good question. Let me get to my answer, but first…

Finally, today I met a parishioner at our local coffee shop.  He introduced me to his wife who said she had not been to Mass in a while. She explained that she had some issues with the Church. I listened to her – I tried to meet her where she is. I validated her and invited her to come to Mass when she was ready. I don’t know if that is the right approach, but I think this is what Pope Francis means when he speaks about “graduality” (more on that another time, if you are interested).

These three situations made me think greatly about how we get to Heaven.

Here’s what I thought: holiness attracts. Let’s work on our holiness. What does that mean? It means “work on getting to Heaven.” We have one goal – let’s get there.

How do we get there? We get there together; this is not a personal journey, but a journey as Church. Part of the journey is personal, but we don’t get to Heaven alone.

This is where we must stay connected to the Church. Sure you can have a personal relationship with Jesus by yourself. You may never need to go to Mass or be affiliated with any church – but it’s very hard. If you want to stay connected to Jesus, it’s much easier if we stay connected to His Body, the Church.

That means, learning about the Church. That means being able to know what the Precepts of the Church are. (BTW – anyone know?)

We must read Scripture. We must set time aside every day to pray. Pray every day at the same time, no matter what. Whether you feel like it or not, pray. Pray the Rosary, or listen to Praise and Worship music; go to Adoration or learn to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. No matter, as long as you pray. Heaven is about being united with God. It’s all about God. How can we be united with God if we don’t talk to Him? How can we be united to God in Heaven if we don’t nurture a relationship with Him now?

If you struggle with sin, pray. If you fall, and you will fall, pray, get up, pray, go to Confession and then pray some more. The next day when you fall again, pray some more and go to Confession again. If you never fall, go to Confession anyway. And pray.

Pray. No matter what, pray.

And of course, go to Mass. If the music is terrible and the homilies bad; go to Mass anyway. If you find it irreverent or too pious, go to Mass anyway. If you hate the organ music or miss the way things were when you were growing up, go to Mass anyway. If you don’t understand what the Church teaches about marriage or why women are not ordained, go to Mass anyway. Go to Mass. Receive Jesus in the Eucharist. Adore Him in the Eucharist.

And if you’re really serious about this, get a spiritual director. You don’t have to meet every week; sometimes once every 3 or 4 months is enough. If you are like me and you prefer your Spiritual Director to be a priest so he can also be your confessor, so be it. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter. Either way, seek spiritual direction. We all need direction when we are looking for the right road to Heaven.

After one of those gatherings last week, someone said to me that they would have watched Archbishop Romero’s beatification had she known about it. It’s true that the Church  (and those of us in Church communications) can do a better job at communicating, but today, in this day and age, there is no excuse for not being connected to the Church. There are so many resources available to us. Go to the Catholic bookstore and get yourself a book by St. Francis de Sales or St. Catherine of Siena. Go read St. Therese’s Little Way. If you prefer something more contemporary, read Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain. If you like reading, find something. If you like music, find music. There is so much out there that can help us connect with the Church. And did I mention prayer?

And then, as you “perfect” your journey, with joy and kindness, you will begin to share that Light with others. That’s how we will make disciples of all nations. That’s how we become missionary disciples. And that’s how we will get to Heaven, where we belong.

Write to me and tell me what you think.


Photo: Canonization of St. John Paul II – CNS/ Paul Haring


PedroGM1Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:
pedro@saltandlighttv.org @deaconpedrogm