Why does the Catholic Church exclude homosexuals?

As I was driving home from work yesterday, the topic under discussion on the radio was “Why does the Catholic Church exclude homosexuals?”  It reminded me of the recent kerfuffle when Phil Robertson’s comments on the sin of homosexual behavior caused him to come under attack for being “anti-gay”.

This misunderstanding of Church teaching happens far too often so I thought I’d address it here.  First and foremost, GOD LOVES EVERYBODY!  It doesn’t matter if you’re a sinner or a saint, God loves you.  That certainly applies no matter what your sexual orientation might be.  You’ve heard it said, “Hate the sin.  Love the sinner.”  That, in a nutshell, is the Church’s teaching.   During Jesus’ time on earth  He was constantly under fire for hanging out with sinners.

To really understand this, I recommend Christopher West‘s excellent series on the Theology of the Body.  But, here’s the short version of what the Church teaches

The sex act is a gift from God, when it’s used as He intended it.  Sexual activity is to be between a man and a woman, married to each other, and open to the possibility of children.  Anything else is a mortal sin.  If any one of these three things is missing, then ia beautiful gift from God becomes sinful.  (Including homosexual sex, premarital sex, extramarital sex, bestiality, sex with children, and any sex where artificial means are used to prevent pregnancy).

“Be fruitful and multiply”, He told Adam and Eve.  It can’t be much clearer than that.  Married love is part of God’s plan.  Anything we do to mock God’s plan is mortally sinful.

The radio talkers also talked about the Church’s position on artificial birth control.  They said that some large percentage of Catholic women use it.  That may be true.  But, and this is a big but, the use of artificial means of birth control means that the couple is not open to having children.  The sex act changes from a blessing from God to a sin against God.  How sad.

The important thing for us to remember is this.  The Church didn’t make this stuff up.  People say that we Catholics have too many rules.  The reality is that the Church has no rules when it comes to membership.  You’re not going to be thrown out of the Roman Catholic Church for being gay; for living with your boy (or girl) friend; and you’re not going to be thrown out for taking “the pill.”  The Church has no way of knowing what you’re doing and even if she did, “Hate the sin.  Love the sinner.” still applies.

At least half of the couples who come to me for a Catholic wedding are living together.  Do I still marry them?  Of course I do.  But I also council them to stop.  Obviously, if they don’t get hit by a train between now and their wedding day, they always have a chance to go to confession at the last possible minute.  And the good news is that if they do go to confession right before their wedding, cohabiting is a sin that they won’t commit again.

The thing is, we don’t sin against the Church.  We sin against God.  The Church doesn’t exist to condemn sinners.  She exists to help us avoid sin.  She teaches us what’s sinful and what isn’t.  If we choose to ignore a particular teaching, we don’t hurt the Church, we hurt ourselves.  If our hypothetical engaged couple does get hit by a train, they’re going to have to stand before Jesus and explain why they chose to ignore His will.  That won’t be pretty.

Palm Sunday

Why do you suppose that we read the Gospel on Palm Sunday as a play?  Why don’t we just read the Gospel the same way we do the other fifty-one weeks of the year?  The reason is because the Church wants us to participate; to be part of the scene that took place so many centuries ago.

Notice the transition that takes place in a half hour during mass.  At the beginning we all waved our palm branches and welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem.  “Huzzah!  Alleluia!  Jesus is the Messiah!”  Yet, now, just barely thirty minutes later we’re demanding that He be put to death.  “Crucify Him!”  That’s what you said, isn’t it?  It didn’t take long for us to turn on Him.

What happened in that week so long ago was almost as fast, especially if you measure it by the yardstick of history.  Just a couple of days and the chief priests and the elders convinced the people that Jesus wasn’t who He said he was.  He was a fraud! He was a liar!  The people had been duped!  The mob mentality took over and Jesus was killed.  His former friends and followers demanded that a murderer be released, not Jesus.

When we play our part in this story, we’re reminded that Jesus died for our sins.  Our sins were the reason He had to die.  Every time you and I commit a sin, it’s like we’re yelling “crucify Him” all over again.  Every time we lie or cheat or take a stapler home from the office, we’re yelling “crucify Him!”  When we talk about someone behind their backs or when we turn our backs and look the other way when millions of unborn babies are killed, we yell “crucify Him!”  

The time that elapses between our worshipping God and singing His praises at mass and our turning on Him with our actions, can be just minutes.  C’mon, we’ve all done it.  We exchange the sign of peace, receive Holy Communion, then we leave church and pull out on Lafayette Avenue and someone cuts us off.  We react by yelling or giving them the one-finger salute and there we are, “crucify Him!”.  Sometimes we even pass judgement on  others while we’re still here in church.  We haven’t even left the building and we’re yelling “crucify Him!”

Fortunately Jesus’ response if always the same:

“Forgive them, Father.  They know not what they do.”

1st Sunday of Lent

 

Temptation.  It’s everywhere.  We live in a secular world that goes out of its way to discourage us from living Christian lives.  Our kids see things on television, in movies, and even in video games that tempt them to sin.  Prime time television brings things into our living rooms that just a few years ago would have been scandalous and would have never gotten past the censors.  With very few exceptions it seems like anything goes.

 

Today’s Gospel is all about temptation.   Jesus has gone off by himself in the dessert.  Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit led Him into the dessert to be tempted by the devil.  Why in the world would the Holy Spirit do that?  Didn’t Jesus have enough problems already?  But there He was and the devil was waiting for Him.

 

He told Jesus to turn a stone into bread.  But He was fasting and refused to be tempted.  “One does not live on bread alone” Jesus said.  Think about that.  During Lent there are two days when we’re not supposed to eat between meals, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  Most of us, those of us 60 or older don’t even have to do that.  Some of you may give up snacking entirely during Lent.  We all know it’s not easy.  The devil tempts us just like he tempted Jesus.  The Holy Spirit will give us the strength to follow a fast if we let Him.

 

Then the devil “showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.”  “All this will be yours if you worship me”, a ridiculous statement if I ever heard one.  Who did Satan think he was kidding?  All these things were already Jesus’.  He had no need for the devil.  But Jesus’ refusal to go along with the evil one was meant as an example for you and me.  How often has he tempted us with things that have no lasting value?  Jesus said, “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.”  His words are meant for us.  He knew the devil was never going to worship God.  He’d already been thrown out of paradise.

 

Then the devil led Jesus to Jerusalem and made him stand on the parapet of the temple.  “Throw yourself down from here for it is written, ‘He will command His angels to guard you and:  and with their hands they will support you lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”  Another stupid statement from the prince of lies.  Jesus already commanded the angels.  In fact, our responsorial Psalm today makes that exact promise to you and me.

 

“For to his angels he has given command about you,

that they guard you in all your ways.

Upon their hands they shall bear you up,

lest you dash your foot against a stone.”

 

In the first reading today from Deuteronomy Moses reminds the people that God has saved them from their Egyptian captivity and given them a land of milk and honey.  He saved them and He saves us!  In the Gospel Jesus shows us how to save ourselves, by refusing to be tempted by the devil.

 

But Satan is no fool.  He knows what he’s doing.  He’s taking over the world by flying under the radar.  His greatest achievement is convincing so many of us that he doesn’t exist.  How many of us REALLY believe that there’s an evil spirit who wants to take us away from God?  Isn’t it just human nature?  Aren’t we tempted because we’re just imperfect creatures?  No, we’re tempted because there’s a spirit that wants to tempt us.

 

I remember growing up that sometimes in Saturday morning cartoons, a character would be tempted to do something wrong.  Remember Sylvester the cat?  He would be tempted to eat Tweety Bird.  The devil sitting on one shoulder would try to convince him to go ahead and make Tweety his lunch.  The angel on his other shoulder would be begging him to be good and leave Tweety alone.  It was cute and it was funny and the angel would always win because otherwise, there wouldn’t be any more Sylvester and Tweety Bird cartoons.  It was a morality play aimed at five-year-olds.

 

If you really think about it, we’re all Sylvester the cat.  We’re all tempted.  And we all have angels, we may call them our conscience, telling us to do the right thing.  But we’re human and we’re all subject to the temptation to sin.  We have a natural tendency to sin which is called concupiscence. It’s a ten-dollar word that means we’re going to sin unless we call on the grace of Christ to strengthen us.  We need those angels to bear us up lest we dash our foot against the stone.

 

It’s no coincidence that the Church gives us this reading from Luke’s Gospel as we begin the season of Lent.  It’s a time of penance, but it’s also a time of spiritual renewal.  Jesus spent 40 days in the dessert.  He was tempted by the devil but He stood strong.  The last line tells us that “When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him FOR A WHILE.”  Even Jesus, the Son of God, was never free from attacks by the evil one.

 

How many people have fallen for the devil’s promises?  He promises them power and glory and they go all in.

 

Just this week we’ve had a wonderful example of someone who is giving up power and glory for the good of his fellow man and for the good of our Church.  Pope Benedict XVI is one of the most powerful men on earth, maybe THE most powerful.  But as he’s gotten older and his body has begun to fail him, he’s going to give it all up to live a life of seclusion because he doesn’t think he has the strength to do the demanding job of leading a billion Catholics.  He didn’t have to retire.  It’s been hundreds of years since a Pope has given up his position.  He could have hung on to the job enjoying all the glory that comes from being the successor to Saint Peter but leaving the actual running of the Church to others.  But that wouldn’t be right.  I can’t even imagine how difficult a decision it must have been.  But here, at the beginning of Lent, he made his choice setting an example for all of us.

 

Imagine giving up a job where hundreds of thousands of the faithful show up to hear you speak; to cheer every word you say, to live a life of total seclusion.

 

Soon a younger man will take Benedict’s place and he’ll live out his life in peace and quiet, spending his days in prayer for you and me.

 

You and I will never have to make such a difficult decision, but we WILL be tempted and we will have to draw on the strength of the Holy Spirit.  Don’t be fooled by Satan who has done a great job of convincing us that he’s not around anymore.  He’s here just a surely and you and I are here.  God promises us an eternity of good things, but the really good things have to wait until we leave this life.  Satan promises us good things too, things that we can enjoy right away.  That’s the trouble with sin.  It’s always disguised as something good.  And it offers immediate gratification.  You and I have to be strong enough to forgo those things that will make us feel good today for a life of never ending bliss that is to come.

So, for the next 40 days we’ll exercise our will power.  We’ll do our penance to remind ourselves that sometimes we have to give up something now for something that is to come.  That’s when we rely on the Holy Spirit and those angels who will bear us up.  Man DOESN’T live by bread alone.  “It is written’ You shall worship the Lord, your God, and Him alone shall you serve.’”

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time–Thou Shall Not Kill

If you pick up a newspaper or turn on the news on television, you can’t help but be a little dismayed; a little frustrated.  The problems in the world, and here in the United States, seem to be so big and complicated that they can never be fixed.  How do you deal with TRILLIONS of dollars of debt?  How do you resolve the problems in the middle east that were going on even before Jesus walked the earth?  How do you stop crazy people from shooting school children?  What’s an individual like you or me supposed to do?

 

I think we start by doing what Father Paul suggested last week.  You and I have to become great Catholics.  As Matthew Kelly says in his book, Rediscovering Catholicism, we have to become the best version of ourselves that we can be.  But the $64,000 question is what does that mean?  What are you and I supposed to do?

 

Here’s what it doesn’t mean.  It doesn’t mean trying to be a copy of someone else.  We’re surrounded by great saints in our church.  It’s good to study them for inspiration.  But we can’t BE them.

 

All the way in the back are Saint Louis IX and Saint Wenceslas.  They were kings.  I hate to burst your bubble or shatter your dreams, but I can almost guarantee that none of us is ever going to be a king, or queen.

 

Some of our saints were martyrs, including our patron, Saint John Nepomuk.  Martyrdom is kind of an express lane to heaven but chances are that none of us is going to be murdered for the faith.

 

Saint Albert and Saint Ludmilla were also martyrs.  Agnes of Bohemia helped establish the Poor Clares.  Every one of these saints has a story and none of us will ever be them.  If we try, we’ll just be a poor imitation.  It’s very seldom that we recognize the SECOND person to do anything.

 

OK, that’s what it DOESN’T mean but the question is still on the table.  What DOES it mean.   Maybe the answer’s in today’s readings.

The first reading is from the latter part of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  “For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her vindication shines forth like the dawn and her victory like a burning torch.”  How does this passage apply to us today?

Further on he says, “no more shall people call you ‘forsaken’ or your land ‘desolate, but you shall be called ‘my delight’ and your land ‘espoused’.  Most of us are old enough to remember when the United States was the moral leader of the entire world.  It wasn’t that long ago.  We were “one nation under God” with liberty and justice for all.  Our ancestors, including the people who built the church you’re sitting in today, made dangerous, treacherous, trips across the ocean to come to America.  They didn’t come here for the food.  They came here because this was a place where they could live and prosper.  I wonder what they would think of their new home today?

“I will not be silent…..I will not be quiet.”

 

In the second reading Saint Paul is writing to the Christians in Corinth.  The Corinthian community was bitterly divided.  They were divided on the economy, on whether or not they had to follow Jewish dietary laws, even whether women should cover their heads while they prayed.  Like the United States today, there was no middle ground.  Everybody was fighting with everybody.

 

The biggest issue for the Corinthians was about using spiritual gifts.  “My gift of healing is greater than your faith.”  “My mighty deeds are greater than your gift of prophesy.”  “My gift of discernment is greater than your gift of speaking in tongues.”  And on and on.

 

What Paul is telling them (and us) is that every gift from God is equal in His eyes. After all, He’s the one who gave them to us.  And He gave them to us for a reason.  If you have the gift of healing, that’s great.  Use it!  But just because you’ve received this gift from God doesn’t make you better than anyone else.  If you’re a prophet, then prophesy.  It’s a great gift, but that’s what it is; a gift.  The prophet is no more or less important than the speaker of tongues.  Stop being divisive!  Work together! “One and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as He wishes.”

 

Last, but definitely not least we have the famous Gospel story of Jesus at the wedding feast at Cana.  It’s His first miracle.  It’s a good lesson in humility for all of us sons and daughters.  Jesus wasn’t ready to enter public life.  “My hour has not yet come”, He says.  So, why does He perform the miracle.  Because his mother told him to.  He was the Son of God, the third person of the Trinity.  He was there when the world began.  But like any obedient son, He listened to His mother.  What does Mary say to the servers?  “Do whatever He tells you.”  Exactly what she says to us.

 

So, there’s our answer.  Be the best Catholic you can be.  Don’t try to be some kind of “super Catholic”, just be the best you can be with the gifts that God has given you.  He gave us our gifts for a reason.  Use them.

 

Don’t be silent.  Don’t be quiet.  Build up the kingdom one person at a time.  It may seem like an insurmountable task but remember that there were TWELVE Apostles.  Today there are over a billion Christians.  The Apostles had no television.  They had no Internet.  Just twelve guys traveling around the Middle East telling Jesus’ story.  And look at what they accomplished.  I don’t know if the Apostles were so successful because of the works that they did, or if it was because of their prayer.  I suspect it was a combination of the two.  They didn’t do anything that you and I can’t do.

 

Use your gifts, whatever they are.  Paul tells us that every gift is equal in the eyes of God.  Whatever you do, don’t be envious of someone else’s gifts.  We’re all better at some things than at others.

 

Finally, “Do whatever He tells you.”  That’s what’s wrong with the world today.  Too many people, including so-called Christians, have forgotten what He told us and continues to tell us.  There’s a great debate right now about guns.  Should we have them?  Shouldn’t we have them?  Are there some kinds of guns that nobody should have?  By way of full disclosure, I belong to the NRA.  I enjoy going to the range once-in-a-while to blow holes in paper targets.  I actually find it relaxing.  But I don’t hunt.  I don’t see the enjoyment in killing other creatures for fun.  I don’t care if you do.  In fact I applaud you for helping control the animal population.  If you kill an animal for food, there’s no problem with that.  If God didn’t intend for us to eat animals, He wouldn’t have made them taste good. Hunting’s just not my thing.

 

But, I also believe in a God who told us “Thou shall not kill.”  If we all believed that, then it wouldn’t matter if nobody had a gun or if everybody had a gun.  With very few exceptions it’s NEVER OK to take a human life.

 

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the tragic Roe vs. Wade decision. More than one million unborn children are killed in the United States every year.  There are no guns involved; just medical tools.  By comparison, there are about 16,000 homicides each year, about 11,000 involving a gun.  If you do the math, that means that for every person shot to death in our country, 91 unborn children are killed before they have a chance to draw their first breath.  Maybe we need to teach people to value EVERY human life before we attempt to solve one particular form of murder.  Do you really think it’s just a coincidence that most of our national problems have come about since we made abortion the law of the land?

 

There are nine other commandments that, if we all followed them, this would be a much better world.  That’s where we have to begin.  We have to live the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, and the Beatitudes ourselves.  Then either by word or by example, we need to pass those values on to others.

 

Our greatest mission in life should be to take others with us to heaven.  The government isn’t going to do it.  The Church has to do it and the Church is you and me.  If just twelve men could grow the Church in spite of huge opposition, there’s no reason why we can’t do the same today.  There are more than twelve of us here today.  We have to remember that anything is possible with God.  If we want our children and grandchildren to grow up in a better world, it’s up to us to get the ball rolling.  We owe it to them and we owe it to our ancestors who built this church for us.

Abortion

OK, I have to do this.  I’ve been thinking about it for several days but today’s Gospel (Luke 1:39-45) made my decision for me.  The story is about Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.  The presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb makes John in Elizabeth’s womb “jump for joy”.  Two unborn infants:  one the Son of God and one the prophet who would go before the Lord to prepare His way.  We’ve heard this story countless times and it may never occur to us that this story could have ended differently.

ABORTION!

Think about it.  Mary was a young girl.  Although she was engaged to Joseph, clearly this wasn’t his child.  “Modern society” would council Mary to terminate the pregnancy.  She was too young to take on such responsibility.  Planned Parenthood would have the “solution” to her “problem”.

Then there’s Elizabeth.  She’s an old lady.  Surely delivering a baby at her advanced age would be very dangerous.  She might even die.  Even if abortion were illegal,  she would fall under the so-called “exception” for danger to the mother’s life.

I’m not saying that anyone is walking around today with God in their womb, or even a prophet.  But who else have we killed?  Maybe the person who would have found the cure for cancer.  Maybe the person who could broker peace in the Middle East.  Maybe the person who could save Twinkies.  We’ve killed millions of children in this country since Roe vs. Wade became law.  If just one percent of those children, and they were children regardless of what the abortion-rights folks call them, if just one percent had been men and women of great promise, imagine what a difference that would have made in the world.  Ten percent or twenty percent?  Who knows?

People ask what’s wrong with this country?  That’s easy.  We’re killing our potential.

What I’m about to say may offend you, but please hear me out.  The tragedy that took place in Newtown, CT is beyond belief.  I can’t begin to imagine how awful that must have been and will continue to be for the parents and loved ones of those who were senselessly murdered.  The outcry has been world-wide as it should be.  Even one child is too many to lose to violence.  But, in the week that’s passed since the Sandy Hook massacre, hundreds of babies have been killed by abortionists and no one bats an eye.  It may be a bit of a stretch, but what if one of the millions of children we’ve killed by abortion was meant to be the person who would have stepped in and prevented the killings at Sandy Hook?  Just a thought.

Where’s the outrage for those children?  Many of the same people who are demanding that the government do something about mass murders support the extermination of millions of kids and call it a “woman’s right”.  Sorry, it just doesn’t make sense to me.

Wednesday of the 3rd Week of Ordinary Time

For almost a week I have been praying and reflecting on the tragedy of Newtown, CT.  Earlier I posted my initial thoughts, but I wasn’t really sure how to deal with this event, especially so close to Christmas.  As usual, I found some real inspiration in a video by Father Robert Barron.  Rather than try to come up with something of my own, I’d like to share his video with you today.

US Bishops: Joe Biden is a big fat lying liar

“No religious institution, Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic Social Services, Georgetown Hospital, Mercy Hospital, any hospital, none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide,” Biden replied. “That is a fact.”

Today the United States Bishops issued a statement saying, in effect, “Hold on, Joe.  It ain’t so”.  The HHS mandate issued by the Obama administration will force Catholic institutions to do exactly that.  Their statement said, in part:

Catholic employers “will have to serve as a vehicle, because they will still be forced to provide their employees with health coverage, and that coverage will still have to include sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients,” the USCCB statement said. “They will have to pay for these things, because the premiums that the organizations — and their employees — are required to pay will still be applied, along with other funds, to cover the cost of these drugs and surgeries.”

More than a dozen lawsuits have been filed by Catholic organizations to stop the mandate, at least as it applies to them.  Logic would tell us that these institutions wouldn’t waste their time and money on these suits if Biden’s words were true.  Quoting Ryan,

“They’re infringing upon our first freedom, the freedom of religion, by infringing on Catholic charities, Catholic churches, Catholic hospitals,” Ryan said.”

A missed opportunity

As moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC pointed out, this is a historic election in that both VP candidates are Catholics.  She asked them how their Catholic faith affects their stand on abortion.  Unfortunately this taylor-made opportunity to speak on behalf of the Church was wasted by both Candidates.  I expected the (nominal) Catholic Biden to drop the ball, but Ryan’s response was disappointing as well.  Biden claimed to be personally opposed to abortion but went on to say, “But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews.”  In other words, the 69 year old, male, Biden wouldn’t have an abortion himself, but it’s fine with him if others do.  Quite a bold statement and clearly a misrepresentation of the Catholic faith.

It’s no wonder people, both Catholic and non-Catholic, are confused.  When the 2nd most powerful man in the United States makes such a statement, it’s no wonder that faithful Catholics get the idea that abortion is OK.  After all, the Church remains silent when he and others make such false statements about our beliefs.  No, Joe, when you vote for laws that permit the murder of innocent unborn children. you’re just as guilty of the sin as the person who actually has an abortion, possibly even guiltier because your actions permit many, many immoral acts.

Sadly, Representative Ryan’s comments were only slightly better.  He said that he opposes abortions with some exceptions.  I’m not sure how you can say that life begins at conception, but some lives are more precious than others.  There are any number of ways to deal with an unwanted pregnancy that don’t involve killing the child.  Rape isn’t a capital offense for the perpetrator, why should an innocent child conceived as a result of rape have to face the death penalty?

Our Catholic faith is a beautiful thing.  It’s a shame that neither candidate used the opportunity of being on the national stage to say so.  I wouldn’t expect it from Mr. Biden  but Mr. Ryan’s response was very disappointing.