Deacon-structing Vocations: The Single Life

SingleLife

If there is anything that we learn from reading Scripture is that God calls people. Consistently, every story in the bible, involves a call: Abraham, Moses, Noah, Gideon, Jonah, Samuel, Ruth, Esther, Mary, Paul. Everyone gets called.

God may not ‘call’ us the way He called Moses or St. Paul, or the specific way that Jesus called his disciples, but the bottom line is that no matter what, God will not ask you to do something that you are not capable of doing.

The last couple of weeks we’ve been looking at ‘The Call‘ and ‘Discernment‘; that is, the process of prayerfully making a decision according to God’s plan.

God calls everyone to holiness. That means that all of us are created for Heaven. That’s our final destination. Our Vocation is the best way that each one of us, individually can respond to God’s call to holiness.

Catholics can consider the following vocations: single life, married life, religious life and ordained life. Each one is a special and unique way in which we can know, love and serve God and work towards holiness. God can call us to any job or career, based on the gifts we have, what we are good at doing and what we like to do, but the best way that we can become holy, which is what really matters in life, is by one of these four ways of relating to God and to those around us.

The Single Life

The single life is probably the most misunderstood vocation and the one that gets the least attention. Part of this is due to the fact that all of us are single at some point in our life and so being single feels like a transitional stage. But being single is different than living the ‘Single Life’.  Living the Single Life doesn’t mean you’re waiting to get married or can’t find a girlfriend. It doesn’t mean you’re not sure if you want to be a priest or a sister or brother. The Single Life means that you are committed to a life that’s full of serving others and God, with lots of energy, because there is lots to do.

There is a lot of pressure in our culture to be married, but not everyone is called to be married, nor should everyone be married. Not everyone is called to be a parent and many people who don’t have a desire for marriage or parenting feel that this must mean that they are called to the religious or ordained life. But that may not be the case. If you feel that this is not where you want to be, maybe that is an indication that you are called to the Single Life.

People who live the Single Life have a different disposition towards others. If someone asks me whether I can help them, say on a Friday night, I have to check with my wife. I have to see what my kids are doing. Even people in the Ordained or Religious Lives have specific commitments to their religious communities and are accountable to their superior or their Bishop. But a single person can drop everything and go. They do not have the same family commitments that married people have. This can be a great gift to others. This is why people living the Single Life spend a lot of their time involved in volunteer activities in the Church and in the community.

We learn that in married life we best live out the love that God has for us, a love that is free, faithful, fruitful and total. But this type of Christ-like love is lived in every Vocation. People living the Single Life are able to live a direct reflection of this love in a very specific way with a freedom that is not found in the other three Vocations.

Ultimately it has to do with holiness (read Pope Francis‚ General Audience – Wednesday, November 19). As in all Vocations, if you are called to the Single Life, that means that this is the best way in which God is calling you, personally to respond to his call to holiness. This means that the Single Life is the best way for you to be holy. It is possible that for some, this may be a stage in life and it is possible that you do not choose the Single Life but rather, your circumstances determine that this is your state in life.

Still, even if it is not your first choice to be single, you can have a rich and fulfilling life, serving Christ and others. No matter how you end up there you will find that you are free to do this because you are single. Single people can give all of themselves to God without reserve or distractions.

Next week, let’s look at the Religious Life.


Photo credit: CNS photo/Sarah Webb, CatholicPhilly.com

Deacon-structing Vocations: Discernment

TheThinker

Last week we looked at what Vocation is and what it means to “be called.” Everyone is called to one of four vocations and so at some point in our life, if we want to respond to God’s call, we have to think about where God wants to take us.

Figuring this out may not be easy, but it’s doable. It takes time, prayer, trust, patience and love. Catholics call this “figuring out,” discernment.

Discernment has to do with decision-making. It has to do with distinguishing between several options. We could say that discernment has to do with detecting or perceiving the distinctions between things. It has to do with defining or discriminating between things.

Catholics use the word discernment to describe the process of making important decisions with God. There are many definitions of discernment, but this is my favourite: “A process of prayerful reflection which leads to the understanding of God’s call. It involves listening to God in all the ways that God communicates with us: in prayer, in the Scriptures, through the Church and the world, in personal experience, and in other people.”

God speaks to us in different ways. As the definition above describes, God speaks to us in prayer, through Scriptures, through the Church and the world, through our personal experiences and through those around us. I think that God has a preferred way to communicate with each one of us. In my case, God very clearly communicates to me through other people, through Scriptures and through my past experiences.

God gives us our talents and our desires. God also gives us opportunities. If you have a talent for something, say music, and you also have a desire for that one thing; you desire to play music; you love playing music – and then you God gives you opportunities to play music, then it’s likely that this is an area where God wants you.

At the same time, I don’t know if it matters to God whether we play a guitar or a violin, or whether you are a music conductor or a music teacher. He simply has given you certain gifts and desires, and has given you certain opportunities. What we do with that is up to us.

When you are discerning something, you have to begin by looking at your talents, your desires and the opportunities you’ve had in your life. If I look at my talents and gifts; if I look at what I love to do and what I’m good at doing, those are all indications of what God wants for my life.

Another way to see what God wants for you is to see what opportunities you have. Let’s say that you want to attend a particular university but you win a scholarship to another one – or you have a chance to travel to a different country – maybe God is trying to tell you something. What really works for me is seeing how God has been working in my life: Where have I been? What opportunities and experiences have I had? How has my prayer life been? How do I best hear God communicating with me? These are also good indicators of where God is taking me.

Discernment also involves listening to what others are saying to you. Listening to my family and friends is very important to me. We don’t make decisions on our own and the people who know us, love us and want the best for us can be of great help in finding out what’s good for us. If you have many people telling you that you’d make a great deacon, that should count for something.

Most importantly, you need to be prayerful. (This is why a good spiritual director always asks, “How’s your prayer life?”) After all, discerning is about listening to God’s will. In discerning, we need to speak with God, but most importantly we need to listen to God in prayer.

One way we listen to God is by reading or listening to his Word. Read the Bible. Study the Bible. Learn what God’s plan for humanity and the world is. There’s a good chance that his plan for you has something to do with that.

We also learn about God’s will by learning what the Church teaches. We are not alone in our journey towards Heaven. There is a wealth of information, history, tradition and wisdom that belongs to the Catholic Church. We need to be part of that.

So next time you have to make a big decision, ask your friends and family what they think, pray about it, read the Bible, see what the Church teaches about that particular issue, and see how you feel about it. And take your time. One of Pope Francis’ favourite saints is Peter Faber who said that “time is God’s messenger.” If you follow these guidelines and take your time, you’ll be sure to make the best decision possible.

Discerning our vocation involves the same process. But our vocation is much more important than figuring out whether we’re going to learn a musical instrument or grow up to be a music teacher or conductor. As we said last week, your vocation is not a career or job. It is the best way that each one of us, individually, can respond to God’s call to holiness. There are four ways in which we can respond to the call to holiness. These four are what the Church calls Vocations:

  • Vocation to the single life
  • Vocation to the religious life
  • Vocation to the ordained life
  • Vocation to the married life

Next week we’ll take a look at the Single Life.

Deacon-structing vocations: The Call

2_TheCallVocations
I am in Chicago for the 2014 National Religious Vocation Conference. The NRVC is the association of all religious vocation ministers in the United States. The Conference promotes vocation awareness, invitation and discernment to life as a religious sister, brother or priest. This year is the 25th anniversary of the Conference and the theme of the convocation is “It is good that we are here!” from Matthew 17:47 Yesterday I ran a workshop on tips to using media to promote religious vocations and vocations to the ordained life. Needless to say, I have been thinking a lot about vocations.

In fact, I’ve been thinking a lot about vocations for about three years now (since my own ordination to the diaconate) because I spent the good part of a year working with the Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board to produce three videos to compliment their religious education curriculum on the theme of vocations. The videos are titled Make the Call and are a great asset to any Grades 1-3, 5-8 elementary classes, grade 11-12 high school religion classes or even for parish First Communion or Confirmation preparatory classes.

I remember when I was much younger hearing about “the call.” I don’t think I ever understood what that meant, although I didn’t think that I was going to get a phone call. But I did think that this call from God would be clearer. Little did I understand how God speaks to us in our lives.

The sad reality is that most people don’t feel called. Most people (and I’d say especially young people) don’t even know what they want to do with their life and don’t feel any calling to anything. Part of that may be this idea that we just have to sit idly by the phone waiting for it to ring, when in reality, “hearing” the call is an active process.

Now, I am not speaking about your career or finding a job. I am speaking about what the Church defines as Vocation. Our job or career has to do with our skills and things that we like to do. They have to do with making money and gaining experience. If you’re lucky, you may end up in a job that you really enjoy, that uses your skills and talents and that you feel is contributing to society.

A Vocation may include all that but it is not a job; it is a lifestyle. You can have a job and you can have a career but you are still called to a Vocation. Your Vocation is your life and, specifically it has to do with the call to holiness.

So we can say that a vocation is how we can best live our lives as Catholics and Christians. It’s about service, relationships, community and holiness.

The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word “vocare”, which means “to call.” So a vocation is something that we are called to (which is why we all learned about “the call”).

Through our Baptism and Confirmation all of us have a very important call to represent Christ and we do that by living out our vocation.

This is why we’ve been created: not for our jobs or our careers. Not to make money or to have fun; not even to make the world a better place. We’ve been created to know, love and serve God.

In 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, St. Paul writes: Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

St. Paul is saying that even though there are many ways to serve, it’s all about knowing, loving and serving God and it’s God who activates these within us. That means that it’s God who gives us our gifts and they are to be used for the good of everyone. Our vocation is how we can best get to know, love and serve God by using our God-given gifts for our good and the good of everyone.

As Catholics we believe that our Vocation is how we live the life that’s been created specifically for us. Our Vocation is the best way in which we can respond to the universal call to holiness. This is the best way that each one of us can be holy: It is our means to arriving in Heaven.

There are many ways we can live out our vocation. We can respond to God’s call as a priest or deacon (Ordained Life), a sister, a monk (Religious Life), a wife, husband (Married Life) or as a single person (Single Life). There are lots of possibilities, but that’s not so important; how we figure it out is what’s important.

Next week we’ll look at how we can figure it out.

Deacon-structing: All Souls

Adoration-of-Lamb

Yesterday we looked at the Book of Revelation and how it is a powerful reminder to those who too easily compromise their beliefs. This message is clear right from the beginning of the book with the letters to the seven churches.

After the letters to the seven churches, and after the first vision of the Throne Room of Heaven (Rev 4:5), we arrive at Chapter 5. There is a scroll and no one can open it, except the Lion of Judah (Rev 5:5). Anyone of Jewish origin at the time would have recognized the Lion of Judah to be the Messiah. But when John turns to see the Lion, all he sees is a Lamb (Rev 5:6). Again, I think that most Christians at the time would know who “the Lamb” is. The Lamb proceeds to open the seal and there are seven seals and the opening of each seal sets in motion a series of events that are described (Rev 6).

Just before the seventh seal is opened, we have this heavenly interlude, which is the first reading on the Solemnity of All Saints. All of the sudden we hear about these “servants” of God who will be marked with a seal on their foreheads (Rev 7:3). This is an echo of Ezekiel 9:4-8 where there is a similar marking to spare a group of people from death (not unlike the marking with the blood of the lamb on the doorposts for Passover in Exodus 12:7, 13). In Ezekiel, they are marked with the Hebrew letter “Tau”, which is very similar to the shape of a cross. It is possible that for early Christians, this comment in Revelation would have been clearly referring to those who are marked with the Sign of the Cross.

Then John hears the number of those sealed: 144,000 (Rev 7-4). That’s 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Those verses are usually omitted in yesterday’s reading, but verses 5-8 actually tell us from which tribes these people come. The twelve tribes are the army of Israel. That was the promise to Abraham. It’s possible that the number 1000 merely meant infinite, and so 12 x 12 x 1000 just meant to say an infinite number of the descendants of the tribes of Israel. It could also be 12 x 12 because there are twelve tribes of Israel and twelve apostles. Later on in Revelation we hear about the New Jerusalem: twelve gates with the names of the twelve tribes (Rev 21:12) and twelve courses of stones on which are inscribed the names of the twelve apostles (Rev 21:14). At any rate, it doesn’t mean that it’s a literal number of 144,000; it’s a prefigured number.

We know it’s not a literal number because John never sees 144,000 people. He hears about them and then he looks. What does he see? Not 144,000 people, but a great multitude that no one could count (Rev 7:9*). They are not from Israel, but from every nation. Not from just the twelve tribes, but from every tribe, and not just those who speak Hebrew, but from every language.

And who are these countless people? They are the saints. They are standing before the throne. They are robed in white -– white is the colour of joy and victory. (Note how many times this colour is mentioned in Revelation.) They have palm branches (an echo of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem?) and they are singing, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.” And then the angels (that we’ve been told are myriad) and the twelve elders (the apostles, perhaps?) and the four living creatures respond with seven acclamations (again the number seven): “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever and ever!”

A very similar scene was described in Revelation 5:12. This is what happens in Heaven. This is the heavenly liturgy. And we are told who these people are: they are the ones who’ve come out of the great ordeal (Rev 7:14). It’s easy to conclude that these are the martyrs, but since they’ve “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb,” it could also be that they are merely all who have been baptized — all who have died in Christ (Rev.14:13); Those whose names are written in the book of Life (Rev 21:27); Those who are witnesses (Rev 6:9); Those who’ve been ransomed (Rev. 14:34);  Those for whom the Lamb was slain (Rev 5:9). That’s all of us. That’s all souls.

And this is good news. Seats are not limited in Heaven. Everyone is welcome. Later on we hear about these “servants” of God — the great and small (Rev 19:5). That means all can be servants of God. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, young or old, male or female. It doesn’t matter if you’re struggling with living a virtuous life. And all of them are blessed and invited to the wedding banquet of the Lamb (Rev 19:9). They are blessed! No one is perfect, but everyone is created to be blessed, to be holy. Everyone is created for sainthood.

There is one last tip that you need to know when reading the Book of Revelation. It could be read as a chronology of events — all these things happen sequentially. But perhaps a better way to read it is as if all these things happen simultaneously: the seals are opened at the same time that the plagues are sent. The letters are read as all of this is taking place. All the while, around the throne is the Lamb, who is God, surrounded by the twelve elders, the four living creatures and the myriads of angels and the countless multitudes of people like you and me, who worship continuously. And maybe this doesn’t describe what is to take place in the future for us, but something that happens right here, right now. The heavenly banquet is right here, right now. The wedding feast of the Lamb is right here, right now.

Every time we gather around the Eucharistic banquet, we gather around the throne, with all the souls in purgatory, with the multitudes from every nation, every tribe and people and language, and we say, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And every time we do so at Mass, the twelve elders, the four creatures and the myriads of angels fall on their faces and worship God singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”


* Note: In the same way that John hears about the Lion of Judah and then sees the Lamb, here he hears about the 144,000, but he sees a multitude that no one can count. What he hears is the promise; what he sees is the fulfillment. One is not a replacement of the former, but rather a reinterpretation. Some scholars suggest that these two groups (the 144,000 and the great multitude) are a single group, which John sees from a different perspective.

 

Deacon-structing: Halloween

Capuchin-Crypt

I have many friends who do not participate in Halloween activities. They refuse to do so because they believe that Halloween is a pagan holiday. Some even go as far as saying that it is a Satanic feast.

I’ve always felt that there’s nothing wrong with participating in Halloween activities. After all, I don’t believe that when we dress up or go door-to-door looking for free candy, we are celebrating anything in particular. But, I too have heard about the Celtic Samhain festival of harvest and I do believe that there are crazy things that happen today on Halloween night, even occult rituals. So I went to do some research.

Turns out that most of our present-day Halloween traditions are deeply rooted, not just in our Catholic faith, but in specific activities that were done in order to celebrate our saints and the souls of the dead.

As you know, Halloween is an abbreviation of the term “All Hallow’s Eve,” which means “the eve of All Saints” (“hallow” means holy). I don’t need to tell you that, since the first century, Christians have been celebrating and remembering the “spirits and souls of the just.”

Originally the feast to honour Christian martyrs was on May 13th. Pope Boniface IV established it as the “Feast of All Martyrs” in 615 on the date that the Roman Pantheon was dedicated as a Church to Mary and all the martyrs. In 844 Pope Gregory IV moved the feast to November 1st.  By 714 the feast included not just all the martyrs, but all the saints as well. Pope Sixtus IV established November 1st as a holy day of obligation and gave it both a vigil (All Hallow’s Eve) and an octave.

Most of our present-day Halloween activities are a remnant of activities which were associated with the vigil of All Saints Day. For example, it was a practice to fast before the feast (as we still do before Lent) so people ate all the things that they were not suppose to eat on the feast day. In fact, just as with the eve of Ash Wednesday, pancakes were a popular fare. In England “soul cakes” were another food traditional for this feast. And people would go door-to-door, begging for a soul cake and promise to pray for the people’s dead relatives in exchange for the treat.

It’s true that the Celtic new year harvest festival called Samhain took place around the same time of the year. I’ve read that the Celts believed that during this time of the year the wall between the living and the dead was open, allowing spirits of the dead to come into ‘our world’. The way I understand it, the tradition of carving pumpkins into Jack-o’-lanterns is a left-over from this festival. This was merely of practical use, since the shell of the gourd or turnip would literally serve as a lantern. Inside the carved out pumpkin the people could also bring home an ember from the sacred bonfire.

But it was also a Christian belief that during certain times of the year, the veil between the afterlife and this life was thinned. Christians believed this to happen at Christmastime, as well. And so, traditions came to include practices to ward off spirits and honour the dead. It’s a belief that fire wards off evil spirits, so churches lit candles and held bonfires in cemeteries. In Spain, people visited graveyards and consecrated the graves with holy water. This is still done in many countries where people visit relatives’ graves, pray for them and even bring them special foods.

There is also a very marked tradition in the Catholic Church to venerate the bodies of saints, literally. We have bones and skulls that we venerate as relics. This is not done for morbid reasons, but rather because we believe in the tangible: all God’s creation is good. This may be the reason why when I typed “bone chapel” into my search engine, I found at least nine, all over Europe, including the famous Paris Catacombs and the Capuchin Crypt in Rome. Imagine a chapel where there are piles of skulls or wall-art made with human bones. Halloween or venerating our saints?

The Catholic concept of memento mori or “remembering our mortality” is as old as Christianity itself. We believe that we need to remember our death. Not because we’re obsessed with the macabre, but because it is through our death that we are brought to new life. Tertullian in his Apologeticus says that sometimes, during a victory parade after a war, the triumphant general was followed by a slave who reminded him, “Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! Memento mori!” — “Look behind you! Remember that you are but a man! Remember that you’ll die!” It doesn’t take a long look through classical Christian art to find these memento mori themes. We’ve all seen the paintings and architecture featuring skeletons — look for The Dance of Death by Michael Wolgemut or search “the Danse Macabre,” which was also represented in music, poems and plays. And we’ve all seen Caravaggio’s St. Francis in Prayer, where he is portrayed with a skull. St. Francis’ symbol is the skull because, we are told, he often contemplated death (like Hamlet). But there are other saints, such as St. Jerome, St. Ignatius and Mary Magdalene, who are often depicted with skulls.

What was not as easy to find out was where the whole dressing-up tradition came from. Do we dress like “death” to remind ourselves of our death, or to scare off unsuspecting spirits? There are so many conflicting accounts of the origins of why we dress-up for Halloween, that I am to conclude that no one really knows.

I did find out from various sources that the custom of going door-to-door in costumes or “guising” developed from Christian customs in Western Europe. Guising is recorded as taking place in Scotland in the late 19thcentury where people in disguise visit homes and are rewarded with cakes, fruit and money. In other cultures, this going door-to-door, whether in costume or not, included having to perform a song, dance or poem in order to receive the treat.

Since there are other Christian feasts, which include fasting, it makes sense to me that the eves of such feasts would have been “celebrated” with wild parties, dressing up in costumes and a carnival-like atmosphere. In fact, in Panama, young people still paint their faces and dress up as “devils” on Carnival Tuesday. So, I guess, if you’re going all-out feasting before the fast, why not really go all out?

So where does the idea that Christians are against Halloween come from? Something else I read, which also makes sense to me, is that after the Reformation, in many places, Catholic feast days were banned. And so when All Saints goes, so does All Hallow’s Eve. This is where the Christian objection to Halloween is born. When Christian Protestants come to North America and bring some of these now-secularised traditions, the licentious partying by adults is toned down and the traditions are emphasized among children. This describes Halloween in North America for most of the 20th century. It is in the latter part of the century that adults have been increasingly going to costume parties.

So, that’s the extent of my research. And it was part of the content of a previous episode of Perspectives: The Weekly Edition. Not sure how much is true or not, but if I learned anything, it’s that we shouldn’t be scared of evil or of death. Evil and death exist, but Christ already triumphed over both. This Halloween, when you honour our saints and your beloved departed, remember your mortality. Whether you choose to dress up as death or a princess (or not dress up at all), remember that after the night of death, always comes the light of life.

Deacon-structing: The Law of Love

MissionofLove

A reflection for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, year A. The readings are  Exodus 22:20-26, Psalm 18, Thessalonians 1:5c-10 and Matthew 22:34-40.

Which is the greatest commandment of the Law? This was a real question at the time of Jesus. People would gather around the water cooler at work and talk about which commandment was the most important. It’s like today, everyone talking about whether we need more security at the Parliament or people talking about which diet is better or what we need to do to be happy. That was a question that a journalist once asked Pope Francis: What is the secret to happiness; the secret to having joy in your life.

The scholar of the law in today’s Gospel reading is not just trying to trick Jesus – he’s actually asking him a real, valid question that people had at the time – like the journalist asking Pope Francis what’s the secret to being joyful.

Let me give you a little background. Today, in post-Temple Judaism, which we call rabbinic Judaism (maybe some of my Jewish readers can correct me if I get this wrong) – we commonly accept that there are 613 commandments in the Torah: 613 commandments in the Law of Moses. This does not include the 10 commandments. We’re talking about all the other commandments contained in all the 5 books of Moses. These are called the Mitzvot (mitzvah means law; mitzvot is plural). Many of these laws have to do with priestly service. The Levites were the priests and they had very specific laws as to how to do their job and how to offer sacrifice and serve at the Temple. These are the levitical laws and most of them are in the Book of Leviticus. There are also laws about food; what to eat, what not to eat and how to eat (like not to eat worms found in fruit, Lev 11:41 or not to eat the limb removed from a living beast, Deut. 12:23, or not to slaughter an animal and its young on the same day, Lev 22:28).

There are laws about offering sacrifice and about ritual purity and impurity (what makes one pure or impure); laws about marriage (like marrying a widow of a brother who has died childless, Deut 22:5), about clothing (like a man shall not wear women’s clothing or a woman not wearing men’s clothing, Deut. 22:5); about agriculture and how to breed your animals (like not to sow grain or herbs in a vineyard, Deut 22:9 and not to cross-breed cattle of different species, Lev. 19:19); about idolatry (like not to tattoo the body, Lev 19:28, or plant a tree for worship, Deut 14:1). There are also criminal laws and laws about judicial procedure and punishment; laws about property (like never to settle in the land of Egypt, Deut 17:16). There are laws about employment and how to treat your slaves; laws about how to conduct business; laws about how to treat the stranger and the foreigners (like  in today’s first reading from the Book of Exodus), how to treat the poor and unfortunate; laws about prayer and blessings; laws about signs and symbols (like every male offspring must be circumcised, Lev 12:3) and of course, laws about God. A good Jew knew about all these laws. Pharisees were strict with all these laws and a scholar of the law, was, well, an expert in all this Law.

So when this scholar asks Jesus the question, he may have been trying to trick Jesus, but he’s asking a very real question that people had at the time. And Jesus responds well. He responds with a prayer that every Jewish person at the time knew and very Jewish person today knows very well, the “Shema”: “Hear, oh Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength” (Deut 6:4-6). This is the prayer that every Jewish person prays first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I imagine the scholar and the people accepting the answer and beginning to walk away and then Jesus saying, “wait, I’m not done. There’s another part. This is the greatest and first commandment, but there is a second, which is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” These were two separate commandments, one from Deuteronomy 6 and the other from Leviticus 19:18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” Again, every Jew would be familiar with that scripture passage, but no one would have thought to put the two together. Love God and love neighbour. Jesus says they’re the two greatest commandments.

And that makes perfect sense. We cannot pretend to love God if we do not love our neighbour. And all those who love their neighbour, are loving God. The Vatican II Document, The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church (Lumen Gentium -#16) says that those who through no fault of their own have not come to know God, but strive to live a good life, can achieve salvation. I think that means that those who love neighbour, can find eternal life, even if they do not know or think they do not know God, because in truly loving our neighbour, we love God.

What doesn’t make sense to me is that it is a commandment. We do not love because we are commanded to love. I do not love my wife or my family because the law says I have to love them – I love them… well… because I love them. God is love. God has loved us first. He loves us into creation and we, in turn, love him as a response to his everlasting, perfect, total love. If today you feel you have not experienced the perfect love of God, ask him, as you receive the Eucharist, to open your heart to receive His love. Ask Him to let you feel His love. He gives himself totally in love in the Eucharist. Open your heart to receive him love. Respond to His love the way the beloved responds to the love of the lover.

Our love our neighbour, is also a response to God’s love. Our love of neighbour flows out of the loving response to the love of the Father. That is why the Mass is not just about coming here to receive God’s love and keep it to myself. At the end of Mass we are sent on a mission: Ite, missa est. Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord. Take this love you have received and go love your neighbour and make disciples of all nations.

And do you notice that there is actually a third commandment that is implicit in those two? Love God; love neighbour and love yourself: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” It implies that we must love ourselves. Again, it makes sense. You cannot love God or neighbour if you do not love yourself and if you love God, then you will automatically love neighbour and self.

A few years ago I went through a phase where I had all these buttons. I collected them and had them attached to my backpack. I must still have them somewhere. Someone gave me one that had the letters J O Y. It spells “joy”. But it stands for “Jesus”, “Others” and “Yourself”. It is a reminder of how these three loves have to be ordered. First we love Jesus, we love God. Then we love others. That’s important – that’s the love of the cross: the vertical love of God and the horizontal love of neighbour. But if those two are in place, then automatically there is the third one of loving yourself: Jesus, Others, Yourself. It spells JOY.

In the time of Jesus they wanted to know what was the greatest commandment. Today we want to know what brings us Joy. It’s the same answer.

Deacon-structing: Mission

homeless man

Photo credit: A homeless man reads while sitting on a street corner in Washington in 2007. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

If you’re in the Church, it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore our missionary call. This is all Pope Francis talked about during his first year of papacy: go out to the peripheries; get out of the sacristies; go and make disciples of all nations. In a way, the ground was prepared by Pope Benedict with the Year of Faith and with the Synod on the New Evangelization.

Most of us know about the universal call to holiness. That message was preached over and over again during the papacy of St. John Paul II. But did you know that there is another universal call? We all have a universal call to mission

What does that mean? First of all we have to put our missionary call in its rightful place: Our Church doesn’t have a mission; the Mission has a Church! Jesus Christ left us a Mission, out of that Mission rose the Church.

And the Mission is very clear: Go and make disciples of all nations. In his book, Divine Renovation: From a Maintenance to a Missional Parish, Fr. James Mallon says that if you study the original Greek, the great commission from Matthew 28:18-20 hinges on the verb “make,” Jesus tells us to ‘go, make, baptise and teach,” but none of those make sense outside of the context of “make disciples.” That, according to Fr. Mallon, is our Mission: make disciples. That is why we go, and who we baptize and teach.

Fr. Mallon also says, as the title of the book reflects, that we need to move away from a maintenance mode in our parishes, to a missional mode. Anyone who works in an organization that has a clear mission, or that relies on promotion understands this concept. What drives our work is our mission. This is why organizations have mission statements. We have to be missional in our approach to everything we do. And this “missionality” is not just for “missionaries”, or priests and deacons or for those in the religious life. It’s for everyone. If you are baptised, you have a universal call to holiness, yes, but also to Mission. I guess that is what St. Ignatius meant when he said that we are responsible for our own holiness and also for the holiness of others.

So, how do we do that? First I would propose a change in attitude. People who truly believe in something (saving whales, providing universal healthcare, vegetarianism or even promoting one superior race of humans, abolishing slavery – pick your belief of choice) are successful only to the degree that they make that mission their life. But if you truly believe in something you are not thinking about making that thing your mission; you live it. So the first thing we have to do is really believe in the message of Jesus Christ. But more than that; we have to have an encounter with Jesus Christ, because Christianity is not just a belief-system; it is a relationship. When you fall in love with someone, you want to tell the world. One of the reasons why the Church is not “telling the world” is that we have not fallen in love.

Once we’ve fallen in love, once we’ve come to accept and believe everything Jesus has commanded, this will drive our lives. (And volumes have been written about how we “fall in love”. It begins with an attraction. Then we want to know the beloved; we learn as much as we can about the beloved; we spend time with the beloved….

Maybe that’s where you are. Maybe you have had an encounter with Jesus Christ. Maybe you have fallen in love but you’ve bought into the idea that faith is personal and private; that it’s ok to believe it but we shouldn’t share it or “push” it on others. Maybe that attitude is comforted by the idea that we are to “preach the Gospel and if necessary use words.” Let me correct you: Faith is personal but it is not private. We are meant to share it and it is meant to motivate every aspect of our lives. And, how are we to go, make, baptise and teach if we don’t use words? Actions are good, but we must use words. (I’ve written about this already in a previous post.

If that is where you are then all I would suggest is a slight shift in thinking. Begin to live intentionally. Begin to live our Mission.

Here’s what I propose. Most of us are comfortable with occasionally giving money to someone on the street. How about we find a way to let them know that we are doing what we are doing because of Jesus Christ. I agree this is may be difficult or even make you feel awkward. A simple “God bless you” after you drop the coin in the person’s cup may be the place to start.

If you are a deacon or priest (or a religious sister or brother), how about you make a point of going out in your community wearing your clerics (and your habits) and be present. Go to the coffee shop, go grocery shopping. That in itself is a witness and we don’t need a plan of evangelization in order to do that. (A note to Deacons – I am not proposing that you wear your clerics when you go out to dinner with your wife. Make it intentional. Put on your clerics and go to the coffee shop with the strict purpose of evangelising by being present in your clerics, not just for the sake of wearing clerics or pretending you are a priest.)

Did you know also that this Sunday, October 19 is World Mission Sunday? It’s a day set aside for Catholics worldwide to recommit ourselves to the Church’s missionary activity through prayer and sacrifice. It’s always celebrated on the second last Sunday in October. St. John Paul II said that World Mission Sunday is “an important day in the life of the Church because it teaches how to give: as an offering made to God, in the Eucharistic celebration and for all the missions of the world” (Redemptoris Missio 81).

This year for World Mission Sunday we are focusing on the words from Matthew 16:18 “I will build my Church”.

(Read the Pope’s message for World Mission Sunday 2014. )

Depending on where you are, there may be special intentions at Mass, a special prayer or even the homily, dedicated to this theme.

There may also be a special collection in your parish for the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. This money gets distributed among the missions and missionaries of the entire world. But more importantly, on this day, we are asked to pray for missions and missionaries and we are asked to spend an hour in adoration for missions around the world. How about, when we pray for missions and missionaries, we also pray that our lives become more missional?

And tell me how it goes. What do you suggest? How will you make disciples today?

 

Deacon-structing: Natural Law Part 3

Newly married couples kneel as Pope Francis celebrates marriage rite for 20 couples during Mass at Vatican

So far in part 1  and part 2, we looked at how natural law is usually defined and how some of these definitions cause confusion. I also offered a definition that has always worked well for me. It helps to repeat it: Natural law is the law that says that all things work best or yield the best results when used according to their nature.

As you can appreciate, this definition is not relative, but absolute. If you want the best tomatoes, you have to use the tomato plant according to its nature. If you don’t, you may still have pretty good tomatoes, but there will be no guarantee that the plant will yield the best results. The only way to guarantee that the plant will work best or yield the best results is to use it according to its nature. The key word here is the word “guarantee”.

Natural law applies to everything even morality. If you put any question you may have about morality to the “natural law” test I believe that you understand all Catholic moral teaching.

Since the current synod of bishops is about marriage and family, let’s look at how natural law can apply to our sexuality.

Sex works best or yields the best results when used according to its nature (or if you will, according to its design).

So, how do we know the nature or design of sex? We look at the circumstances under which it is guaranteed to work best or yields the best results.

We could spend the next three days figuring this out, by exploring each and every sexual scenario to see which would yield the best results. But this work has already been done by St. Pope John Paul II in his Theology of the Body, so I am going to save you the time and trouble. (I’m sorry, but if you want to do the work, ask the right questions and be honest with your answers, you’ll come up with the same results.)

The sexual act is guaranteed to work best and yield the best results when it takes place in the context of a relationship that is free, faithful, fruitful and total. This type of relationship is called marriage. Marriage is the union within which the sexual act is guaranteed to be free, faithful, fruitful and total. That, we can say, is also the nature of marriage. It is under those circumstances (when marriage is free and faithful and fruitful and total) that it is guaranteed to work best and yield the best results. This means that when marriage (and therefore the sexual act) is not free, faithful, fruitful and total, it may work – it may even be good – but it is not guaranteed to work best and yield the best results.

So, forced or coerced marriages (not free), or marriages that take place under duress (as in during a pregnancy) are not guaranteed to work best or yield the best results.

Marriages where the couple does not commit to an exclusive relationship, as long as they both shall live (not faithful) are not guaranteed to work best or yield the best results.

Marriages that are not fruitful – and this does not only mean they have to be fertile – but that the love has to bear fruit; it must lead to good things, always, because love always makes us better and leads to good things – are not guaranteed to work best or yield the best results. As to the fullest expression of the fruitfulness of the sexual act in marriage, which is that it is pro-creative, it doesn’t mean that couples have to be fertile. It means that in its nature, the sexual act has to be fertile. So an infertile couple is still participating in a sexual act according to its nature. A sexual act that in its nature is not fertile is not using the sexual act according to its nature.

Lastly, a marriage where the couple does not commit to loving each other totally, does not commit to total giving, is most certainly not guaranteed to work best or yield the best results. This is why we refer to marriage as a covenant and not merely a union or arrangement. This is why marriage is not just “two people who love each other, living together.” A marriage has to be free, faithful, fruitful and total. That means that the couple has to love each other freely, faithfully, fruitfully and totally. It means that the sexual act has to be free, faithful, fruitful and total. It means that the couple has to give themselves to each other freely, faithfully, fruitfully and totally.

If the couple cannot (or refuses to) give of themselves to each other totally, then it’s not a marriage. It may be love, but it is not a marriage, because in its nature, marriage is total. That is the only way that it is guaranteed to work best or yield the best results. That is why the Church teaches that any use of the sexual act, outside of the context of marriage is immoral.

The reverse is also true: When sex is not used according to its nature or design, it is not guaranteed to work best or yield the best results. I don’t need to explain all the problems that people have because of our sexuality not being used according to its design (as described above).

The difficulty that we have with this is that most marriages are good or just ok. Some marriages are very good, but are they working best or yielding the best results? Can I love my wife freely, faithfully, fruitfully and totally all the time? Can I give myself totally – my whole being, my emotions, my fears, my sexuality, my body, my intellect, my fertility, my baggage, my dreams – to her all the time? Can she receive me totally and in turn give of herself totally to me? Probably not, but we sure can try. That’s what makes a marriage. That’s what we strive for. That’s what we commit to every morning when we wake up and we live our marriage vows on a daily basis. This should be a standard for how we live all our lives. We don’t settle for the least common denominator; we strive for God’s design in every aspect of our lives!

Once we figure out through the natural law test, what the nature of marriage and sexuality is, we can strive to live it. Don’t you want to live your marriage the way God designed marriage to be? That is certainly guaranteed to work best and yield the best results!

I truly believe that if we ask the right questions and we are honest with the answers, we can put anything to the “natural law” test and understand all Catholic moral teaching.

If I was at the synod and was asked to make a presentation about natural law, this is what I would say. What would you say? Let me know your thoughts on this.

 

Deacon-structing: Natural Law – Part 2

tomato
Last week
 I explained that I was surprised to see how much confusion there is surrounding the topic of natural law. If the Church needs to use the natural law argument in order to explain morality and especially sexual morality, we need to find a better way to explain it. Here’s my contribution:

If you type “natural law” into your Internet search engine, this is what you’ll get:

nat•u•ral law (noun)

  1. a body of unchanging moral principles regarded as a basis for all human conduct.
  2. an observable law relating to natural phenomena.

This is actually not a bad definition. Natural law refers to a law that is absolute, it is unchanging. It does not change based on cultural, social or experiential differences: What’s true for you is true for everyone.

Last time I mentioned that it was St. Thomas Aquinas who came up with the doctrine or notion of natural law. He based this idea on the notion that first there is an “eternal law”.

In his Summa Theologiae, Aquinas begins by defining law. Laws are the rules by which a ruler rules. Aquinas assumes the notion that rulers rule for the good of the governed. If God is the ruler of the world, the idea by which God governs the world, for the well-being of the world, is called “eternal law.”

This is where the definition that we looked at last week from Prof. Hittinger of the University of St. Thomas, Houston comes into play: According to Aquinas, natural law is the participation of rational creatures in eternal law. Question is whether that “eternal law” imprinted in the hearts of rational creatures. Has God imprinted his eternal law in the nature, essence or design of his creatures? If so, that imprint of God’s eternal law in his creatures is natural law.

Since all beings in creation act according to their nature, it can be deduced that all beings act according to natural law, i.e. the law that God wrote in their beings (their design), and this law is a participation in God’s law, which exists for their well-being. It’s easy to understand if we’re speaking about tomatoes or chipmunks; they can’t act except according to their nature. But rational beings? Can we human beings act against our nature?

This is where the problems begin because human beings have freewill. (Can we say that it is in our nature to have free will?) In fact, a better definition is that natural law is “human beings’ participation in eternal law, through reason and will.” That means that we humans have to use our reason and will in accordance with the eternal law.

Are you confused yet? If it sounds like you’re back in grade 12 philosophy class while the teacher drones on, I do apologise. It does get complicated.

But it doesn’t have to be. Here’s how Dr. Janet Smith explains natural law (or my adaptation of her definition) and how I’ve been explaining it for years:

Natural law is the law that says that all things work best or yield the best results when used according to their nature.

Think of that tomato plant. If you want it to work best or yield the best tomatoes, you have to use it according to its nature. You don’t stick in the closet and forget about it. That is not the nature of the plant. The nature of the tomato plant is that it needs water and sun. There may even be different species of tomatoes that have slightly different natures; some grow better in the sun, others in shadier areas… I don’t know (gardeners, please help), but you get my point. How do we know the nature of the specific tomato plant? We look at how it works best or yields the best results.

And it doesn’t just apply to “natural” things or thing “in nature”. Take my car for example. My car works best or yields the best results when I use it according to its nature or design. If I put honey in the gas tank, it’s not going to give me very good results. The design of the car is that we have to put gas in the gas tank. Furthermore, if I do all the things that I’m supposed to do, according to the design of the car; change the oil every 5000kms, rotate the tires, etc. (who does all those things?) it is guaranteed to work best and/or yield the best results.

That doesn’t mean that if I don’t use the car or the tomato plant exactly according to their nature, it’s going to be a disaster. If my car is not yielding the best results but at least it gets me from point A to point B, who cares? I operated my last car for 5 years with a leaky master cylinder by bleeding the clutch every six months. Not the car’s nature, but good enough for me – and saved me $2000. (What human beings do when something is not working best or yielding the best results is that, instead of trying to find out the nature of the thing, we just make do, or try to change the thing’s nature. More on that next week.)

It’s easy to understand this when speaking of tomatoes and cars, but what about when it comes to human beings? How do we know the nature of human beings?

Same way we know the nature of a tomato plant: we see how a human being works best or yields the best results. I guess, we’ve figured this out by trial and error. We know now that smoking is bad for you; that it’s good to drink eight glasses of water a day; that we need to sleep 7.5 hours a night; that aerobic exercise is good… Once we can determine how the human person works best or yields the best results, we’ll know human nature. The human person is guaranteed to work best or yield the best results when used according to its nature.

The reverse is also true: When we use something or behave in a way that goes against natural law, things don’t work best or yield the best results (or they are not guaranteed to work best or yield the best results). So, if I listen to music that’s too loud, and therefore am not using my ears in the way they were designed to be used, I may damage my ears. Or if I smoke, therefore using my lungs in a way that goes against their nature, they will not work best. As I said earlier about my car, if I do one thing or another that goes against my nature, according to what God designed for me, it may not be the end of the world, but it will harm me. It may harm my ears or my lungs, or it may harm my spirit. It may also harm my relationship with God, because that is also written into our hearts as part of our nature.

And this applies to everything and especially when it comes to Catholic moral teaching. If you want the guarantee that something will work best or yield the best results according to God’s design, then you must use it according to its nature.

It’s actually not that complicated. If you have a question as to why the Church says that something is immoral or sin, put it through the natural law test. I’m sure you’ll be able to figure it out.

Next week, let’s look at some concrete examples as to how this can apply to sexual morality.

Deacon-structing: Natural Law- Part 1

Synod

I was struck this past June when I read the Instrumentum Laboris, or working document for the 3rd Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will take place from Oct 5-19, 2014. The Synod, or meeting of Bishops, will focus on “pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelisation” which is why everyone refers to it as the “Synod on the Family”. About 100 participants, including the presidents of all Episcopal Conferences, will attend the extraordinary synod.

There actually will be two Synods: After the “extraordinary” or “preparatory” one this year, there will be an “Ordinary” General Assembly October 4-25, 2015. The goal of this year’s Synod is to set the agenda for the big synod of 2015. The theme for next year’s synod is “Jesus Christ reveals the mystery and vocation of the family”. This second synod, will also include experts and above all else, families.

The working document the synods was put together by the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops and, for the first time, came as a result of a questionnaire that was released in Nov 2013, as part of the preparatory document, which included 38 questions on various topics ranging from the Church’s teachings on family, natural law, and pastoral care to difficult marital situations, unions of persons of the same sex and irregular marriages. The intent of the questionnaire was to get grassroots feedback on these issues and although delivered to local bishops, religious congregations and Catholic groups, many bishops, as in the diocese of Austin decided to post the questions online in order to receive feedback from their faithful.

The result is the above-mentioned Instrumentum Laboris, a fairly complete document that is divided in three parts:

  1. Communicating the Gospel of the Family in Today’s World
  2. Pastoral Program for the Family in Light of New Challenges and
  3. An Openness to Life and Parental Responsibility in Upbringing.

This document will provide a guide for the conversations that will be taking place during the synod this October.

What struck me was in the first section, chapter 3: The Gospel of the Family and the Natural Law. I was amazed by what I read, constructed presumably based on the feedback received from the questionnaire. The section begins:

“Speaking of the acceptance of the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family necessarily involves the subject of the natural law, which is often quoted in the Church’s magisterial documents and poses difficulties today.” (20)

The next paragraph reads:

“In a vast majority of responses and observations, the concept of natural law today turns out to be, in different cultural contexts, highly problematic, if not completely incomprehensible. The expression is understood in a variety of ways, or simply not understood at all.” (21)

In paragraph 22 I read,

“The responses and observations also show that the adjective “natural” often is understood by people as meaning “spontaneous” or “what comes naturally.” Today, people tend to place a high value on personal feelings and emotions, aspects which appear “genuine” and “fundamental” and, therefore, to be followed “simply according to one’s nature.”

And

“…the natural law is perceived as an outdated legacy. Today, in not only the West but increasingly every part of the world, scientific research poses a serious challenge to the concept of nature. Evolution, biology and neuroscience, when confronted with the traditional idea of the natural law, conclude that it is not “scientific.” (22)

Further down:

“If some responses refer to a lack of proper understanding of the natural law, several Episcopal conferences in Africa, Oceania and East Asia, mention that, in some regions, polygamy is to be considered “natural,” as well as a husband’s divorcing his wife because she is unable to bear children — and, in some cases, unable to bear sons. In other words, from an emerging point of view, drawn from a widely diffused culture, the natural law is no longer to be considered as applicable to everyone, since people mistakenly come to the conclusion that a unique system of reference does not exist.” (25)

The document continues:

“The demise of the concept of the natural law tends to eliminate the interconnection of love, sexuality and fertility, which is understood to be the essence of marriage. Consequently, many aspects of the Church’s sexual morality are not understood today. This is also a result of a certain criticism of the natural law, even by a number of theologians. “(26) and “Other complaints against the natural law come from the poorest areas and those least influenced by western thought — especially some African states — which cite the phenomena of machismo, polygamy, marriages between teens and preteens, and divorce in cases of sterility or a lack of a male heir, as well as incest and other aberrant practices.” (27)

It was a surprise to me that when speaking about natural law, there is so much confusion. When the idea of natural law was explained to me, it was very clear and I understood it as a very practical, concrete concept. But maybe I’m in the minority. Before I continue, let me ask you: What do you think natural law is? Are you also confused by what the Church means by Natural Law?

The last paragraph of this section offers some suggestions. It is titled: “A Call for a Renewal in Terms of Language”

It reads:

“The language traditionally used in explaining the term “natural law” should be improved so that the values of the Gospel can be communicated to people today in a more intelligible manner. In particular, the vast majority of responses and an even greater part of the observations request that more emphasis be placed on the role of the Word of God as a privileged instrument in the conception of married life and the family, and recommend greater reference to the Bible, its language and narratives. In this regard, respondents propose bringing the issue to public discussion and developing the idea of biblical inspiration and the “order in creation,” which could permit a re-reading of the concept of the natural law in a more meaningful manner in today’s world (cf. the idea of the law written in the human heart in Rm 1:19-21; 2:14-15). Moreover, this proposal insists on using language which is accessible to all, such as the language of symbols utilized during the liturgy. The recommendation was also made to engage young people directly in these matters.” (30)

This paragraph also surprised me. I would not propose that the language is renewed, but merely that we learn to explain the term better (maybe that’s the same thing). And the idea of placing more emphasis on the Word of God is very sensible, but not exclusive to natural law. The way natural law was explained to me, it aligns perfectly with what is found in Scriptures.

Last July I attended a series of lectures in Toronto, Faith in the Public Square. While none of the topics had to do with family or sexual morality specifically, I was amazed that the first two speakers, Dale Ahlquist and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia mentioned natural law. But each defined it in a fairly different way.

Dale Ahlquist said that natural law was common sense. Archbishop Chaput said that it’s in your heart. I have difficulty with both those explanations.

I heard this having just read the Synod’s working document. I had also just interviewed Philosophy Professor, John Hittinger at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, for our documentary series, Creation. In my conversation with Prof. Hittinger the topic of natural law came up. He said that according to St. Thomas Aquinas (who came up with the term “natural law”) “natural law is precisely the participation of rational creatures in eternal law.”

Prof Hittinger continued by saying that “Thomas contrasted humans with other animals whom he said, “Obey eternal law by an impressed instinct or law, by which they behave according to this pattern for the good, but they don’t stop and reflect on the good. Human beings have conscience. We must stop and ask, “Is this good? Or will it catch up with us if we do evil?” This is why the two definitions I mentioned above, I think, fall short. We have conscience. We think about these things. We rationalize. So the perception of what’s “in my heart” can be very different than what’s in your heart or what’s common sense for me may be very different from what’s common sense for you or for someone living in a polygamous relationship in Africa.

No wonder people don’t understand natural law and have a difficulty making sense of it.

But natural law is commonly used to explain morality. Can we explain morality without using the natural law argument? I think we must.

I’d like to propose a different way of looking at natural law. I learned this from Prof. Janet Smith in her famous talk “Contraception: Why Not”.

I use this explanation of natural law every time I do a marriage prep class on sexuality. I use it every time I need to explain sexual morality of Catholic teachings on sexuality, marriage and relationships. I have also used it to explain any moral teaching of the Church. No one has ever told me that it’s not clear. In fact, every time, everyone nods as if this was the most basic obvious thing in the world.

Join me next week as we look at a real practical way to explain natural law.

On a separate note, a Day of Prayer for the Synod was held today Sunday September 28 in the Salus Populi Romanii Chapel in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. Perhaps you can say a little prayer today and every day from Oct 5-19th for the success of this Synod.

holyfamily

Prayer to the Holy Family

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendour of true love,
to you we turn with trust.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer,
authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic Churches.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again
experience violence, rejection and division:
may all who have been hurt or scandalized
find ready comfort and healing.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may the approaching Synod of Bishops
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,
and its beauty in God’s plan.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
graciously hear our prayer!

Amen.