Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The 40th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae

Cardinal Stafford, of the Sacred Penitentiary in Rome and an American prelate, has a thought-provoking article in the California Catholic daily on his personal review of the events surrounding the publication of Humanae Vitae entitled “In 1968, something terrible happened in the Church”. While it is long, it is a well-written piece that helps to tell the history of the dissent. I will not begin to do justice to his clarity, so please take time to read it.

With the fortieth anniversary of the publication of Humanae Vitae today (promulgation was actually on the 25th, the Feast of St. James), perhaps we ought to recapture what Pope Paul VI wrote. In Humanae Vitae, for a little review, the Pope taught that there is an inseparable, intrinsic link between union and procreation in every sexual act. He stated that acts rendered infertile by artificial means cease to honor this link, and could not be viewed as moral. He predicted that the embracing of contraception would lead to several evils: The objectification of women (and I would add men), the rift of husband and wife and weakening of family, and the intrusion of the State into other affairs (while he meant forced sterilization and abortions, I think that a good read would also include other areas).

There was an immediate outcry of dissent. Dissent, for whatever reason, is never to be taken lightly, and when that dissent is against the Vicar of Christ, one is placing oneself in judgement against the Holy Spirit. With Humanae Vitae, too many dissented without even reading this beautiful encyclical. They 'taught' that one's conscience should be the sole guide in the decision to use contraception (except of course when it was rejected, of course). They belittled the Pope's suggestion of Natural Family Planning as unscientific and unsuccessful (such as the Rhythm method which does not work well because a women's fertility is affected by many variables), and mock the successful methods. We have seen the fruits of contraception and the contraceptive mentality: an increase of 'legal' abortions on demand, at all stages of development and by any means including Partial Birth, the spread of pornography including all sorts of perversions, the rift of husband and wife and denigration of the family, the shirking of responsibility of men who father children, a raise in single mothers, cohabitation, perpetual adolescence especially of men, increase in violent crimes, etc. This is not even to delve into the homosexual agenda or the push for euthanasia. We see that our culture says that the only unsafe sexual act is one of complete openness that could result in the transmission of life. Sex is no longer a gift given among two married adults, but a means of taking pleasure. While not all of these fruits may be solely and directly caused by contraception, there are connections. These fruits of dissension, the fruits of contraception are all around us.

On the other side, though, those who embraced Humanae Vitae, have developed methods and understandings in conformity with the Church. The science behind Natural Family Planning is solid, and freeing. By teaching a woman and man the signs of fertility that can be scientifically verified, a true empowerment has occurred. First, it recognizes that God is God, we are not. For grave reason, a couple may refrain for sexual activity during their joint fertile times (about 100 hours a month). But it also can assist a couple in bearing a child. Instead of treating fertility as a disease with pills and latex, NFP treats it as a state of health, a means of being responsible for one's choices. Women are revered. Those practicing NFP have also gained fruits: open and honest dialog (after all, if you can talk about fertility, what can't you talk about), an openness to life and love, an ability to see children as gifts, an ability to see the other as a gift, a profound respect for all humans, and of generosity in other areas of life. Couples practicing NFP have a low divorce rate. In my experience, couples using NFP and their families tend to be happier.

Following the fruits, I know what tree I want for my parishioners! It makes it easy to preach Humanae Vitae, the Theology of the Body, and in reality all that the Church teaches. It makes the recommendation of NFP programs easy. It reminds me that the Holy Spirit is in charge. I believe consensus for Humanae Vitae is building, despite the critical dissenters. It is simply because 40 years of the fruits of dissent have been far too bitter for far too many, while the fruits of assent sweet and refreshing!

Bishop-Elect LeVoir's Ordination

I have received notification (though not official yet) that Bishop-Elect LeVoir's ordination is set for September 15, 2008 in New Ulm. More details will follow.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary TIme

The kingdom of heaven cannot be bought or sold. It is received as a gift by those who love God and respond to His will for their lives. In this weekend's Gospel, we hear Jesus telling parables about the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, or a pearl of great price, that whoever would find it can immediately recognize its value, then go and sell all that he or she has in order to purchase it. These are beautiful parables for us to mediate on, when contemplating a vocation. But Jesus does only briefly mentions a step that His hearers must have understood - the person who finds it has to be looking for it, and has to know what a treasure or pearl of great value is, in order to know that he or she is indeed in the presence of something worthy of giving everything else in order to possess.

Our society does not value a vocation to priesthood or religious life, at least as Christ and the Church define it. True, the media seems to enjoy running stories of priestly scandal, mock ceremonies, and dissenting voices. When it comes to someone embracing the vocation as it is, they simply do not know what to do, and often reduce the priest or religious to a social worker, a psychologist, or something less. But those who see the true value are willing to give it all up for this one vocation!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The parable of the weeds and the wheat provides some comfort to all who deal with evil, in other words, all who are seeking good. Jesus tells this parable as an explanation of why there is evil in the world (that it was sown by the evil one), and why it continues (because it is too destructive to remove it now). Those who dwell among those who seek destruction and the ruin of souls know that his traps are all around us, that like the roots of weeds, they are intertwined. But we can take comfort in the fact that Jesus promises that they will be removed when He comes again - first those who seek evil to their destruction, then those who have responded to God's will to glory.

But there is perhaps another level here than just dealing with people who are evil. We are all plagued by sins, we all harbor destructive thoughts. We go to Confession, we seek to have them rooted from our hearts and minds, but like weeds, they keep coming back. Like weeds, the smallest part of the root may remain and allow it to sprout back. While it is minimally comfortable to understand that this is part of the human condition, we know that Jesus will remove these evils from our hearts and minds, that He can perfect us.

In discernment, there are times when we do not have a clear understanding of God's will for our lives. Like the weeds and the wheat, we pay attention to the grain, not the weeds. We nourish what is good, not seeking to destroy the doubt. We need to ask Christ to remove the doubts, certainly, but we can respond despite the doubts!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Congregation for the Clergy's Letter to Priests

On the occasion of the feast of St. John Vianney, patron of parish priests, the Congregation of the Clergy has issued a Letter to priests.

Dear brother priests,
On the occasion of the August 4th feast of St. John Marie Vianney, the Curé of Ars, I greet you cordially with all my heart, and I fraternally send you this brief message.
The Church knows today that there is an urgent mission, not only “ad gentes,” but also to those Christians living in areas and regions where the Christian faith has been preached and established for centuries and where ecclesial communities already exist. Within this flock, the mission, or the missionary of evangelization, has as its target those who are baptized but who, for different circumstances, have not been evangelized sufficiently, or those who have lost their initial fervour and fallen away. The postmodern culture of contemporary society - a relativist, secular, and agnostic culture - exerts a strong erosive action on the religious faith of many people.
The Church is missionary by its very nature. Jesus told us that "the sower went out to sow" (Mt 13:3). The sower does not limit himself to throwing the seed out of the window, but actually leaves the house. The Church knows that it cannot remain inert or limit itself to receiving and evangelizing those who are seeking the Faith in its churches and communities. It is also necessary to rise up and go to where people and families dwell, live and work. We must go to everyone: companies, organizations, institutions and different fields of human society. In this mission, all members of the ecclesial community are called: pastors, religious and laity.
Moreover, the Church recognizes that priests are the great driving force behind daily life in local communities. When priests move, the Church moves. If this were not so, it would be very difficult to achieve the Church’s mission.
My dear brother priests, you are the great richness, the energy, the pastoral and missionary inspiration in the midst of the Christian faithful, wherever they are found in community. Without your crucial decision to "put out into the deep" for fish ("Duc in altum"), as the Lord himself calls us, little or nothing will happen in the urgent mission, either "ad gentes" or in the territories that have previously been evangelized. But the Church is certain that it can count on you, because it knows and explicitly recognizes that the overwhelming majority of priests - despite our weaknesses and human limitations - are worthy priests, giving their life daily to the Kingdom of God and loving Jesus Christ and the people entrusted to them. These are the priests who are sanctifying themselves in their daily ministry and who are persevering until the harvest of the Lord. Only a small minority of priests have gravely deviated from this mission, and the Church seeks to repair the harm that they have done. On the other hand, it rejoices in and is proud of the immense majority of its priests, who are good and exceedingly worthy of praise.
During this Pauline Year, and pending the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God to be held in Rome this October, we call those who are receptive to this urgent mission. May the Holy Spirit enlighten us, send us, and sustain us, so that we might go forth and proclaim once again the person of Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected, as well as His kingdom!
I greet you again, dear brothers, remaining always at your disposal. I pray for you all, especially for those who suffer, for the sick and for the elderly.

Vatican City State, 15 July 2008

Claudio Cardinal Hummes
Emeritus Archbishop of São Paolo
Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy

Monday, July 14, 2008

A new Bishop for New Ulm!!!

After a 14 month wait, Rome has responded and given us a Bishop: Bishop-elect John LeVoir from the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis. The post in Italian can be found at the Vatican News Service, though it can be found at Whispers in the Loggia. The Diocese of New Ulm is already awake with the news: Statement by Bishop-elect by Monsignor Grams Statement by Bishop-elect
While I do not know Bishop-elect LeVoir personally, his reputation for being a wise pastor and a holy man is well-established. He is a published author on the thought of Pope John Paul II.

Welcome Bishop-elect LeVoir! Thank you for saying yes!

Here is the Official Press Release:

Pope names Minneapolis Native Reverend John M. LeVoir
as Bishop of the Diocese of New Ulm
New Ulm, MN - Pope Benedict XVI has named Rev. John M. LeVoir, 62, as the fourth bishop of the Diocese of New Ulm, MN. The announcement was made in Washington, July 14, by Msgr. Martin Krebs, charge d'affaires of the Apostolic nunciature to the Holy See. Bishop-designate LeVoir succeeds Archbishop John C. Nienstedt, third bishop of the Diocese of New Ulm, who was named Coadjutor Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis on April 24, 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI. Archbishop Nienstedt remained Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of New Ulm until December 13, 2007 and on May 2, 2008 succeeded Archbishop Harry J. Flynn as Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. Msgr. Douglas L. Grams has served as Diocesan Administrator since December. John M. LeVoir was born February 7, 1946 to Marvin A. and Mary A. LeVoir in Minneapolis, MN. He has two brothers and one sister. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry in 1968 from the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul; a Bachelor of Science in Business degree in accounting in 1971 from the University of Minnesota, becoming a certified public accountant in 1973; a Bachelor of Arts degree in history in 1974 from the University of Minnesota; and a Master of Arts degree in theology in 1981 from the St. Paul Seminary, St. Paul, MN. Prior to his ordination, he was employed from 1971-1976 as a public accountant for several firms and also as an instructor of accounting at the University of Minnesota. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis on May 30, 1981 by Archbishop John R. Roach at the Cathedral of Saint Paul. Following ordination, he served as Associate Pastor of the Church of St. Charles Borromeo in St. Anthony from 1981-1992; Pastor of the Church of the Holy Trinity in South St. Paul from 1992-2004 Pastor of the Church of St. Augustine in South St. Paul from 2000-2004. Since 2004, he has served as Pastor of the Church of St. Michael and the Church of St. Mary in Stillwater.

His publications include: Covenant of Love: Pope John Paul II on Sexuality, Marriage and the Family; Faith for Today: Pope John Paul II’s Catechetical Teachings; and Image of God Religion Series - theological consultant and author. The Diocese of New Ulm is comprised of 15 counties in southern Minnesota, a total of 9,863 square miles. The total population is 285,338 with a Catholic population of 68,087.
On July 14, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI named Bishop-designate John M. LeVoir as the fourth Bishop of the Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota. A date for Bishop-designate John M. LeVoir’s episcopal ordination and installation has not been set.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

In our Gospel, Jesus tells us about the sower and the crop he reaps in various types of soil. The seed is the same for all, but in places, that seed cannot grow. So important is this that St. Matthew never used the word 'seed' in his telling of the story - it is not a variable. What is? The ground! Sometimes, the ground is packed hard. The seed cannot sink in before the birds take it away. Sometimes, the ground is shallow, and the roots cannot reach water and it dies. Sometimes the ground is covered in weeds and the seed grows but cannot grow. Sometimes, though, the seed hits good ground and sinks in roots, grows up strong and sure, and produces a bountiful crop.

We are that ground - our hearts are the place were the seed is sown. Can we allow Christ, the Sacred Sower, till our hearts, give us depth, remove the choking worries of the world, so that we can allow it to grow and flourish?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus invites us to take His yoke upon us. Such an invitation might be seen as a burden, to take a heavy load. However, the terms seem to imply that the yoke is a two-animal yoke as in oxen. A properly-fitted yoke did not increase the load, but because it sat well on the collar of the animal and they were paired, the yoke actually made the work easier. Jesus tells us that this yoke is easy and the burden light, and when we know Him, and His infinite power, the burden on our part is almost nil - we just have to be willing to be yoked!

The yoke can be compared to the promises a priest makes. Instead of being a burden, the promise of celibacy, simplicity, and obedience frees us. Yoked to Christ, we can carry the burden, only with Christ's grace though.