It has never been easier for people to obtain the gifts of the Church. It’s the malady of the rich–those who are given too much too easily lose sight of its value.
Read the rest here]]>
Edith Stein divided up the prayer of the Church into the public (liturgy and Eucharist), and the private (solitary dialogue with God). My prayer life is incredibly lopsided toward the former. One of the many downsides of being so warped is that no matter how much I know about God, in fact no matter how much I know God, I am still mismolded by the Church’s imperfect language.
The Church’s public liturgy is not obsessed with God as male, but its poor wording naturally leads to misunderstanding in the deepest sense possible. My own soul contains the problem of the day, and God is conflated with Father.
This problem is no where more obvious than when trying to live out the acts of the penitent. A good examination of conscience is impossible for me when I only think of confessing to God as Father, because such a limited view of God shrinks my conscience and my awareness of my relationships and responsibility. When I think of God as Father, I think of a loving, just, and merciful God who created me in HIS own image, allowed me to be born with the stain of sin, knows all of my weaknesses, and sent HIS only son Jesus to redeem me. I think that HE graciously provided the Church so that we can have the sacraments here on earth as means of grace our our way to finally live with HIM in heaven forever.
I know all of the rules set forth by the Church, and I obey them. I never knowingly disobey them1. I even maintain the appropriate Catholic sense of guilt for not doing quite enough, without it mattering what exactly enough is (um, that part was a joke. Laugh. Haha).
With this understanding of God in mind, I have very little to confess. And when the Holy Spirit somehow breaks through and gets me to confession, priests are often quite ready and willing to remind me that God is Father. God is Father. Father is pleased with me for making a point of knowing what should be on the checklist, and then checking it off.
And priests are busy. They do not have time for people who don’t understand that God is Father; for people who do not understand that only those sins that violate the Father’s commands need to be confessed. If one does not have the most fearsome of universally mortal sins to confess, then one should start out every confession with “bless me father for I have sinned. It has been 11 months and 30 says since my last confession.”
If reconciliation simply means confessing my sins to Father Priest who sits in the place of Jesus as mediator between me and Father in heaven, then it is of incredibly little use in my life. It is, in fact, a complete puzzle why God should have chosen so many amazingly wonderful sacraments, and then tossed in one that is all but pointless. After all, the only people who need to confess to Father are those who are so far from God that they would never bother to confess.
I first realized the extent of this problem two years ago during Advent. I knelt in Church examining my conscience, and finding nothing. And then I looked at the crucifix and saw a sister hanging there. And instantly I felt it all: the knowledge of my sins, the perfect contrition, the complete awareness of my utter brokenness and horror at how I had broken the God who loved me through death.
Last night I realized it all over again. As I said my act of contrition, I realized that despite the happily generic word “God,” I was saying it to Father. I had sought reconciliation because I had been given an understanding by a God who transcends such human categorization, and in fact demands more words in order to not be trapped by that one male word. But, going through the motions of confession, I was once again returning to the limiting understanding of God which keeps me away from the grace of reconciliation.
And that, I suppose, was one of the reasons that my stomach remained tight, even as I left the confessional amazed at God’s grace. The Holy Spirit was clearly present, but was being quenched even as I said the words for the purpose of accepting the sacramental grace into my life.
I have been formed to confess to Father, and unless I actively counter that tendency, confession is meaningless in my life. There is the grace to overcome my inclination, but every day I must accept it instead of absorbing the limiting understanding pressed upon me by miserable language.
To whom do you confess? Do you share my tendency to confess to a loving, just, and merciful Father? If so, do you find it helpful or harmful? Has your understanding of reconciliation radically changed, and if so, how has it changed the way in which you embrace the practice?
1. That was true when this was written a month or two ago. It is no longer unambiguously true, but that is the subject of another (hopefully forthcoming eventually) post on reconciliation.]]>
Perhaps that is true, but even if it is, the solution must be as much the work of the priests as the laity whom they insist should be more frequent penitents.
I once waited in line for almost 3 hours for a chance to confess at a penance service. It is typical for the local priests in small New England towns to help each other out by coming to each other’s parishes for penance services, but apparently not enough were willing to come this evening. There were at least five priests there, but presumably either the pastor did not think it worth risking a low turn-out and “wasting” his brother priests’ evenings by having them drive half an hour to hear 5 confessions, or else not enough priests were willing to respond to the request and show up for a penance service at a parish that was entirely out of their official responsibility. In any case though, anyone who had hired a baby sitter for the evening, or was sick, or had other good reasons to limit their time either had to get one of the first few spots in line, or else was unable to confess that evening.
There have been many more times when I would show up at 3:05 when confessions were scheduled from 3-4pm on Saturdays, only to find the line so long that after waiting for almost an hour the priest would have to apologize and leave to celebrate mass, while several people still waited for confessions–many of whom were presumably looking forward to receiving the Eucharist, but would now have to wait another week. Did you read that sentence? Look at it and imagine confession lines 10 times longer and twice as rambling, and you’ll have the right idea.
Yesterday I arrived at church just as confessions were scheduled to start. There were already 5 people in line in front of me. A few minutes later there were two more people behind me, and another man who had walked out after he realized how long this would take. The pastor walked by with decorations in his hands. He saw the situation, went to the back of the church and got the priest who was supposed to be hearing confessions. I hoped that the pastor would pull up a chair the way did sometimes during Advent and Lent, and hear a few confessions. But he left without ever saying a word.
By the time I walked into the confessional at least 6 people had left the line without having their confessions heard. Based on the number that were in line behind me, and how soon mass started, I suspect that at least 10 more were turned away without their confessions being heard.
I have no idea what the pastor was doing that day. I have no idea what the other priests in residence at the parish were doing. I have no idea whether the priest hearing confessions was caught up in something supremely important and really could not have come sooner.
All I know is that somewhere along the way, perhaps starting with the archbishop himself, many pastoral decisions were made. And these pastoral decisions made it so that many people approached confession, but had to leave without receiving the sacrament.
The pastor and priest hearing confessions are not young men. Undoubtedly they have been through a lot and are rightly jaded. They know that balance is important, and that God isn’t actually going to condemn anyone to hell for not being able to confess due to long lines. But I sincerely wished that a younger, rosy-eyed priest with visions of sainthood had been there in order to at least volunteer to return to the stuffy confessional after mass and hear the remaining confessions for anyone who could stay.
The truth is that sometimes the lines for confession are as long as the lines for communion, and it is a lot more work for priests.
People don’t just fail to go to confession because they don’t value it. The truth is that many of us value confession exactly as much as priests do, and that balanced value of confession means that we are willing to put in the equivalent amount of work. In my mind, an hour once a week for a priest (you know, the uber-religious person whose actual job is showing up to run church-stuff) is pretty much the equivalent of 20 minutes every 5 years for a lay person (you know, the person whose job is something other than religious stuff) when it comes to confession.
Yes, there are many priests out there who place great value on the sacrament of confession. But there are also many who don’t think that it is worth sitting around in an empty confessional for hours a month just to catch a few more souls that can’t make it to the standard confession times.
The lines for confession may be “short” but in my experience the lines of faithful priests willing to hear confessions are often disproportionately shorter.]]>
But I have been working on draft posts about celibate marriage for much longer because I think that the misunderstanding surrounding the Church’s teaching on marriage causes very real harm in very real, very normal marriages.
One of the most common errors that I have seen embraced by Catholics is the idea that a marriage must be consummated in order to be valid. I do not regularly talk with people in real life about their sexual relationships, but many times when the topic of natural family planning comes up for newlyweds, someone will say something about how the couple must engage in sexual intercourse on their wedding night in order to consummate the marriage and make it valid.
This is a theological error which is deplorable due to its consequences in real life.
It is certainly good for a newly married couple to consummate their marriage at whatever appropriate time they so desire. But it is quite bad for them to be pressured into a poorly timed first sexual encounter due to the mistaken idea that they are not really married until they consummate their marriage!
The spiritual benefit of not rushing consummation should be obvious from the readings offered for the wedding liturgy. There is a reason that the Church suggests a reading from the book of Tobit where the couple spend the first three nights of marriage in prayer rather than in “their own wedlock.” In fact, the Douay-Rheims offers this translation:
Then Tobias exhorted the virgin, and said to her: Sara, arise, and let us pray to God today, and tomorrow, and the next day: because for these three nights we are joined to God: and when the third night is over, we will be in our own wedlock. For we are the children of saints, and we must not be joined together like heathens that know not God.
Sure, Tobias had to be more than a little scared in order to make such a point of honoring God rather than lust, but the point is simply that every Catholic should see the goodness of offering oneself to God prior to giving oneself to one’s spouse sexually!
The practical reason for not rushing consummation is, if anything, more obvious. Most couples in our culture go through elaborate wedding rituals which leave them to start married life in a state of pure exhaustion. While exhausted sex may be fine later in marriage, a couple who has engaged in an entirely chaste courtship should be only vaguely familiar with each other in terms of physical intimacy. I am convinced that “betrothed love” allows for greater physical intimacy than that which is otherwise appropriate, but there remains a large distance between what the newly married couple should be familiar with and consummation.
It is nothing short of a tragedy that so many couples who deeply desired to love each other well are led to hurt each other and their marriage by exhaustedly hurrying through what should be a long delightful process, and in the name of making sure that they are really married!
There are, of course, couples for whom consummating the marriage immediately is appropriate for many reasons. But I have heard so many stories of young women who look back on their wedding nights as one of the worst parts of their marriages. And many of them were under the impression that this misery was actually required by the Church!
Stepping back to take a look at what the Church actually teaches about marriage should enable us to correct this problem and appropriately encourage soon-to-be-married couples to do exactly what is appropriate for them to most fully express their married love. For many that would mean not consummating their marriages on their wedding nights.]]>
When thinking about celibate marriages it is essential to differentiate between a valid marriage and a consummated marriage. All real consummated marriages are by definition valid, but not all valid marriages are consummated. In fact, every valid marriage is for a time valid and not consummated.
Of course there are many celibate marriages which are consummated since one only needs to engage in conjugal intercourse once in order to consummate a marriage. In the same way that some priests are celibate but not virgins, so a couple could engage in conjugal relations prior to choosing celibacy. This is the case with many Saint couples, and we know it because they had children prior to renouncing conjugal relations.
But what about those who choose a pure Josephite marriage? What about virgins who marry with the intent of never consummating the marriage? The status of their valid marriages is clear under canon law.
When is a couple really married? When they give consent during the wedding: “The consent of the parties, legitimately manifested between persons quali-fied by law, makes marriage.” When vows are exchanged a couple is married. They are not in some state of limbo prior to consumation, they really are married.
What are the fancy Latin names for unconsummated and consummated marriages? “A valid marriage between the baptized is called ratum tantum if it has not been consummated; it is called ratum et consummatum if the spouses have performed between themselves in a human fashion a conjugal act which is suitable in itself for the procreation of offspring, to which marriage is ordered by its nature and by which the spouses become one flesh.”
Is consummation assumed by the Church? “After a marriage has been celebrated, if the spouses have lived together consummation is presumed until the contrary is proven.”
Can we just assume that those crazy enough to not consummate their marriages must not have been validly married in the first place? “Marriage possesses the favor of law; therefore, in a case of doubt, the validity of a marriage must be upheld until the contrary is proven.”
But what about if a marriage is not consummated and one wishes to marry someone else? “A person bound by the bond of a prior marriage, even if it was not consummated, invalidly attempts marriage.”
But what about the fact that the Pope can dissolve unconsummated marriages, even if he does not do so? The whole point is that dissolution is necessary to free spouses from marriage because the marriage is valid, even though not consummated. If that were not the case then they could simply get a decree of nullity.
But I have never met someone in a celibate marriage. It can’t be real! Thankfully, experiencing something personally or knowing someone who has is not necessary for something to be real.
But this doesn’t make sense. Have you considered that perhaps you should do more reading about Catholic marriage?
Why would anyone do this? Because they were called to.
But what would the point be in marriage without sex or children? Celibate marriage does not necessarily without children. The couple may have children prior to taking vows of celibacy, or they may adopt. And the “point” is the same as it always should be with vows of celibacy: to follow God in the way that one is called. Ask yourself what point there is, besides carnal desire, in any marriage where the couple is either infertile or avoiding children. And you will have something of your answer.
Maybe there was a point in celibate marriage back in the early days of Christianity, or maybe the Middle Ages but it should not be allowed now! Take it up with your local Ordinary.
So, what was your point with all of this? Simply that consummation is not necessary for validity, and that if married couples mutually choose to never engage in conjugal relations they violate nothing in Church law.
What other protestations do you think I should add to my list?]]>