Category Archives: Catholic Church

Good Friday; our words are approximations of eternity.

Before we begin… a few pointers to help you get the most from our celebration of Good Friday.

Firstly, it’s not just the person of Jesus that’s rejected, it is God’s truth! He is Truth in human flesh. It’s also Truth – absolute Truth – that’s rejected.

Secondly, I’d like you to notice in the opening lines of the Gospel that when they go to arrest Jesus they don’t know who they’re looking for. He’s not a big name in society!

Thirdly, I’d like you to notice that the State and the religious leaders do their best to get rid of Jesus, but in their best efforts to get rid of him they’re actually fulfilling God’s will! The wisdom of man is foolishness to God!

Image of Christ crucified 7But most of all I’d like you to notice that Jesus suffering is redemptive. If you redeem something you give something away to get something back. God gave his Son to get us back… “to ransom a slave you gave away your son!” (Easter Proclamation: Exsultet).

This is the Mercy of God. Mercy is the heart of God and it’s the heart of the Gospel. Mercy means that there is ultimate Justice! For only if Justice has been transgressed can anyone be merciful. To put it in legal terms; only if a ‘law’ has been broken can anyone be merciful. So if God is merciful then there is an absolute law, God’s law, by which we are all judged.

If we think of what it means to be merciful ourselves we know that to be merciful costs. It’s difficult. Perhaps some of us are so hurt that we cannot be merciful, and if we are to be merciful it will be like crucifixion. There you have it… there you have it in your own experience; the seeds of the eternal. Therefore if God is to be merciful, God must suffer. Only if we live in a meaningless universe can it be otherwise – only in a world where words are empty and meaningless, meaning only whatever we want them to mean at any given time. But unknown to ourselves our words are approximations of eternity.

Here’s a way to get inside God’s Mercy. He died without sin for you. He died without sin on your behalf. Therefore you will die without sin if you allow Jesus Christ to ‘wash’ you. If he died without sin for you, that means you’ve done it! Put it this way: If you owe a debt and can’t pay, what happens? Now supposing someone else pays the debt on your behalf, what happens? You’re free! Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world? How does he take them away? By taking them on himself.

Here’s an exercise for those who struggle with guilt and at the same time a lesson for those who think that there’s no sin at all – two extremes to be avoided, everything is a sin (broadly equates with the past) and nothing is a sin (broadly equates with the present): Focus on the figure of Christ crucified on the Cross… Now imagine him calling your name… “Paddy, Paul – whatever your name – I did not die on the Cross for you to bear the burden of your sin.”

When that comes as grace, you’ll cry!



Fifth Sunday of Lent: Jesus answers the Greeks and Stephen Fry too!

"If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too." John 12:20-33 / Caviezel, Passion of Christ

“If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too.” John 12:20-33 / Caviezel, Passion of Christ

In the Gospel today (John 12:20-33) we find Jesus turning toward Calvary.

The position he’s faced with equates to something like a diagnosis of terminal cancer without a morphine pump – without any kind of pain relief, comfort or consolation, nothing but the reciprocal love of his Father!

He takes the tsunami of human suffering that’ll soon crush him, and he uses it to teach us. All that’ll happen to Jesus is not just about him, it’s equally about us, it also represents human suffering and ultimately the death of every single human being.

The first thing Jesus does is place death in a far reaching context. Jesus describes death in terms of the necessity of a wheat grain falling on the ground and dying before it can reach its full potential. Death is not final but the necessary door to fulfillment.

Next, he says that if we serve him we must follow him. It’s easy to miss the brutal quality of this command. Jesus issues it while speaking of his suffering and death; “wherever I am my servant will be there too.” It’s as good as saying; you’ll have your share of human suffering, you’ll have your agony in the garden, your scourging at the pillar, your crowning with thorns, your crucifixion, you’ll follow my path – and children will get bone cancer! Thus the Greeks who “should like to see Jesus” get their answer, as does Stephen Fry; you’ll see me but don’t expect that you’ll be spared suffering and death.

Next, he echoes the cry of every person facing suffering and death but he does so while adding the extra dimension that places death in a momentous context. He puts this human cry in the form of a question to God: “What shall I say? Father, save me from this hour?” After all, I’m only 33 and there’s much I still want to see and do. He answers his own question: “But it was for this very reason that I have come to this hour.” He presents us with the inevitability of death, with the necessity of death if we’re to reach the fullness of our potential. Significantly he then adds, “Father, glorify your name!”

The Risen Christ. "If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too."

The Risen Christ. “If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too.”

This is a question we all face. What if we cure everything that brings death; what’ll we do then? Where will we go? How will we control the population of the earth? State controlled fertility and euthanasia? Most importantly how will we cope with living endlessly?

Imagine if time can’t reach fulfillment. We’ll go mad.

The message of Jesus is that time does reach fulfillment, for each one of us, through him, with him and in him, and the door to this fulfillment is death, death in him.

Newstalk loves a sound-bite! Bishop Kevin Doran.

Bishop Kevin Doran also said that lesbian/gay couples aren't parents. We all know he means that at least one is not the biological father or mother!

Bishop Kevin Doran also said that lesbian/gay couples aren’t parents. We all know he means that at least one is not the biological father or mother and that the role of either a father or a mother is deliberately excluded.

While being interviewed on Newstalk radio (09.02.2015) Bishop Kevin Doran certainly gave the proponents of same sex marriage #SSM quite a few sound-bites to run with!

Later that day on Twitter I was asked by @NORTHANNE: “Do you think comparing homosexuals with those suffering an affliction like Down syndrome and Spina bifida is acceptable?”

On first reading such a comparison does seem unacceptable. But let’s place the bishop’s comments in context. Bishop Doran is not making a direct comparison between homosexuality and Down syndrome or Spina bifida but rather stating the Christian belief that not everything that occurs in natural life is attributed to God’s direct design.

So the question arises then; where does the homosexual orientation come from? For the Church this is the critical point. If the homosexual orientation is by God’s direct design then the Church is wrong in her teaching about homosexuality, plain and simple. In fact, we should all be advocating a yes vote in the marriage referendum. On the other hand, if the orientation is not by God’s direct design then where does it come from? Is it one of the many variations of natural life that we do not attribute to God’s direct design?

Bishop Doran made the point that we don’t know; the words he used were “the jury is out on it.” Bishop Doran could have added; we’re still waiting on science to give us the definitive answer. But whatever the answer when it comes, one thing is certain, revelation can’t contradict the truths of science!

Here’s a link to Jack Quann’s coverage of the interview including audio links:

Lent: Hey world leaders! Don’t you get it? The kingdom of God is for the future of the earth and its inhabitants.

Hey world leaders! Don’t you get it? The kingdom of God is for the earth. It’s God’s programme for the future of the earth and its inhabitants. Let me explain.

Is Jesus of Nazareth the Son of God? What do you think?

Is he the Saviour of the world?

We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God who is profoundly interested in our welfare, not just as individuals but as the human race – the body of humanity on the face of the earth at any given time. He’s interested in us collectively, as we evolve.

He came to give us a future. Most of us will think of that future as eternal life – somewhere to go in the end. So religion gets pushed out, worse still, so does God!

But God is equally interested in the human race as we live out our lives on earth. It’s the daily living out of our lives together that’ll decide the future, both temporal and eternal.

This is the significance of the kingdom of God. In Mark’s Gospel (today’s Gospel Mark 1:12-15) Jesus begins his public ministry with the proclamation of the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God is the rule of God in human hearts, in human affairs. Only when God rules our hearts and our affairs – collectively – can we be sure of a future on earth that won’t end in ruin, in disaster. Thus Jesus call to repentance. The kingdom of God is about peace on earth, it’s about true prosperity. What other purpose could the Incarnation possibly have?

So, we must decide. Is the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth the Christ, the son of the living God? Is he the Saviour of the world?

The kingdom of God is the rule of God in human affairs, the guarantee of our collective future. It's the politics of God!

The kingdom of God is the rule of God in human affairs, the guarantee of our collective future. It’s the politics of God!

If he is, then, logically, the removal of Christ from Irish public life can only mean that the perceived progress associated with his removal is nothing more than the illusion of progress. It’s progress that’ll end in disaster. The kind of progress that came disguised as the Celtic Tiger. All in the name of a republic! There’s no darkness worse than the darkness that comes disguised as light! “if then, the light inside you is darkness, what darkness that will be!” (Matthew 6:23)

Unless, of course, this Saviour intervenes again.

Now that’s an interesting thought. That’d be quite a task! Look what the world wants to do with his original intervention!

It’s Lent; time to decide: Who are we really following?

Fatima: God is very democratic!

Pope Benedict XVI visits Fatima, May 2010.

Pope Benedict XVI visits Fatima, May 2010.

I’ve always been fascinated by the details of Fatima.

While watching the various DVDs about Fatima it becomes very obvious that this attempted intervention of God in human affairs caused great suffering; for the children and their parents and for the local ecclesiastical and civil authorities.

Having watched the DVDs it’s the trauma caused by the apparitions that jumps from the screen. What was it all for? What did Our Lady and ultimately God want to achieve? The answer takes most people by surprise.

Firstly, Our Lady asked that people stop offending God. So much trouble just for that! One must conclude therefore that offending God is a very serious matter.

Secondly, as if to emphasize the point, Our Lady then went on to request reparation, the repair of the hurt caused to the heart of God by human offences.

How are we to do that?

Papa17This is very striking. We are to appreciate Holy Mass. We are to partake of the Eucharist, to believe, adore, trust and love her Son Jesus Christ truly present there. Fatima clearly indicates, without room for doubt, that neglect of Holy Mass and the proper worship of the Blessed Sacrament amounts to neglect of the person and the work of Jesus Christ, and causes great suffering in the Heart of God. When working with children (using an animated DVD) I always remind them that when the Angel came to visit the children in Fatima, the Angel didn’t come with a can of coca cola and a bag of crisps! No, the Angel came with the Sacred Host and a Chalice. Why? Because that’s how God decided to remain with his people. In the message of Fatima the Eucharist is central because God intended Eucharist to be central until the end of time. The Eucharist is God-self and God’s work in Jesus Christ – it can’t be any more central than that!

Furthermore Our Lady taught the children to offer sacrifices (particularly the difficulties and sufferings of life) in reparation. This is a common theme in the lives of all the great Saints – they offered their sufferings in reparation while working tirelessly to relieve the suffering of others.

Reparation sounds difficult but it’s not – not even for children. Again, when working with children I ask them to imagine if one of them clobbered me. Then I ask them to imagine another child apologizing on behalf of my attacker and offering to make a cup of tea for me; one child is hurting me, the other is making reparation, trying to repair the damage.

But the full meaning of Fatima goes much further and connects the state of human affairs directly to humankind’s relationship with God.

During the apparition of July 13th Our Lady said that if people do not stop offending God another and more terrible war will break out – obviously meaning the Second World War.

We understand the Second World War to have been the result of Hitler coming to power in Germany. However, Our Lady suggests that the Second World War happened as a result of people offending God. In other words, when we choose against God we choose to put in place a chain of events that eventually, ultimately, causes great suffering to ourselves, to the body of humanity.

Thus during the 20 odd years between the world wars people are given ample opportunity to change or set the course of world events. This of course makes God very democratic – certainly not a dictator or a tyrant. We’re free to choose life or death, good or evil. We make the choices. At the very least Fatima implies that humankind’s well-being depends on an intimate Communion between the creature and the Creator.

Now, if offending God or otherwise determines our common human future then there arises a critically important question; what kind of a future are we creating for our children?

Indeed we might ask; what kind of a future are we creating for Irish children when a religious ethos is considered to have no place in the schools of a modern republic?

More generally, what hope is there for a culture that attempts to exclude religion from public life?

Every ‘problem’ calls us to spiritual growth – the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

‘Spirit’ Confirmation Programme 1.

Learning about the Gifts of the Holy Spirit!

Learning about the Gifts of the Holy Spirit!

Briefly, we’ll look at just two of the seven gifts of the Spirit – it’ll give us an idea of how important they are.

Perhaps during the week the parents – teachers too – might adapt or simplify my words and engage the children with the ideas I’m presenting.

Firstly, Wisdom; what’s that? Firstly, it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. Therefore it doesn’t belong naturally to human nature. It’s a gift given by the Holy Spirit and when we receive it, we know (instinctive-like) that it’s in the spiritual life and not in health and wealth that we find lasting security. Those who don’t have the gift will naturally look for their security in everything from health to wealth.

Secondly, Understanding; what’s that? When we receive the gift of understanding we penetrate the truths of our faith. As we receive it we move from faith into certainty. Those who do not have the gift are always unsure, wobbly, blown this way and that, they lack conviction about God.

The gifts make a big, big difference. They’re synonymous with the spiritual journey into God (synonymous = equivalent in meaning, expressing the same idea). The gifts of the Spirit are the road into God.

Now, tell me, how many of you guys just want to get this part (Mass) over with?

Well, to be honest I was like that when I was your age. And I stayed like that through most of my teenage years.

Until one day in 1983, the 19th of July – I will never forget the day – I was at home with my father. There was a fire and tragically later that day my father died.

Now apart from the grief, something else happened. I started to ask serious questions about the meaning of life. That one event, and the questions it surfaced within me, changed the whole course of my life.

I believe we’re offering you answers to questions that most of you haven’t even started to ask. (I’m in favour of Confirmation at a later age!)

So the ‘Spirit’ team has produced a programme to give you a good experience of Confirmation in the hope that when (and if!) you do begin to ask the deeper questions, you might remember this positive experience of Confirmation and return to look in more detail.

Meanwhile, some things I’d like you to know and remember. I would like you to know that it’s in the spiritual life – the spiritual life is our life with God – that you will find true and lasting security.

If I could I’d love to spare you the futile effort of trying to find lasting security in this world, in just about everything from health to wealth.

I would like you to know that there’s no difficulty in life that can’t be overcome by spiritual growth.

I would like you to know that every challenge, every difficulty – even if it looks like there’s no way out – every suffering, every sickness is a call to spiritual growth; that it doesn’t have to end in meaningless despair.

Even if you make a complete mess of your life, I want you to know that the mess is nothing more than God’s way of calling you to spiritual growth, to do things differently, to do things his way.

No matter how many times you fall, no matter how many times you fail, remember, every fall, every failure, is God’s call to spiritual growth.

Finally, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, like Confirmation itself, like all the sacraments, belong to the spiritual life and it’s there – and only there – that we receive them.

So, do you have a spiritual life? Yes? No? No! I’m going to be really cruel to you; then what are you doing here?

Click the video links below for a summary of Pope Francis’ catecheses on the gifts of Wisdom and Understanding. (Credit: Rome Reports)



Satan is forced out of hiding by spiritual growth! Fourth Sunday, Year B.

The struggle between Pio and Satan became more difficult when Pio freed the souls possessed by the Devil. Pio recounts being physically beaten! Father Tarcisio of Cervinara said, "More than once, before leaving the body of a possessed, the Devil has shouted, "Padre Pio, you give us more trouble than St. Michael"; also, "Father Pio don't steal the bodies from us and we won't bother you."

The struggle between Pio and Satan became more difficult when Pio freed the souls possessed by the Devil. Pio recounts being physically beaten! Father Tarcisio of Cervinara said, “More than once, before leaving the body of a possessed, the Devil has shouted, “Padre Pio, you give us more trouble than St. Michael”; also, “Father Pio don’t steal the bodies from us and we won’t bother you.”

This weekend we begin the Confirmation ‘Spirit’ Programme. We’re beginning with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The purpose of the gifts is to make us holy, like God. They’re the means by which God draws us into his own life, the Divine life.

Some of us will know them, particularly those of us of a certain age – we were taught them ‘by heart’ as we used to say. My mother can still list them – at 83 years. We’ll look at just two, briefly, the first two, Wisdom and Understanding.

Wisdom; what’s that? Firstly, it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. Therefore it does not belong naturally to human nature. It’s a gift given by the Holy Spirit and when we receive it, we know (instinctive-like) that it’s in the spiritual life and not in everything from health to wealth that we find lasting security. Those who don’t have the gift will naturally look for their security in everything from health to wealth.

Understanding; what’s that? When we receive the gift of understanding we penetrate the truths of our faith. As we receive it we move from faith into certainty. Those who do not have the gift are always unsure, they always lack conviction.

Now, the thing about the Gifts of the Spirit is that they can be difficult to understand. If you go looking for an explanation you’ll find multiple explanations, nearly all different, or at least they appear to be different.

Here’s the reason. The gifts come from the Holy Spirit. Therefore they’re supernatural. They’re not naturally part of human nature. We’ve almost lost this sense. This is the root of the difficulty with explanations. The gifts are known only by experience and cannot be really known outside the spiritual life and spiritual growth. So our understanding of the gifts tends to reflect the point where we stand on the scale of spiritual growth. That’s the reason we get so many different explanations.

Overall, in my lifetime, there’s been a tendency to reduce the gifts to the purely natural. I think this reflects the decline of Catholicism generally.

"The devil can confuse the most brilliant mind." Padre Pio

“The devil can confuse the most brilliant mind.” Padre Pio

Now, similarly – and this is the point I want to make about today‘s Gospel (Mark 12:21-28) – spiritual evil, both satan and unclean (evil) spirits, cannot be understood outside the spiritual life and spiritual growth.

The essence of the spiritual life is the death of self. This is the reason true religion will never be popular. The death of self is the last thing we want to hear and we ‘naturally’ fight it all the way, sometimes spending a fortune trying to avoid it! As John the Baptist said; “I must decrease and he must increase” (John 3:30). Here’s the point: Only when we’ve spiritually advanced to the point where we’ve truly died to self and started living for God alone, only then will we come face to face with spiritual evil. Only then will satan and the unclean spirits manifest themselves directly to us and become a part of our experience. It is spiritual maturity – a full complement of the gifts of the Holy Spirit – that forces satan out of the shadows, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.” Satan was always there, hidden, unseen, but now holiness forces him out. If only Jesus could get the same recognition from us!

So, we’ve looked briefly at both ‘extremes’ if you like, the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit on the one hand, and satan and the unclean spirits on the other, and we’ve seen that our understanding and knowledge of both is determined by where we stand on the scale of spiritual development.

“Excellent homily” she said, but “very misleading, the apostles were married.”

Recently a lady approached me, “excellent homily” she said, but “very misleading, the apostles were married.”

She was referring to this:

“It (celibacy) is a rule of life that I appreciate very much, and I think it is a gift for the church,” Francis told reporters aboard a plane returning to the Vatican. “But since it is not a dogma, the door is always open.”

“It (celibacy) is a rule of life that I appreciate very much, and I think it is a gift for the church,” Francis told reporters aboard a plane returning to the Vatican. “But since it is not a dogma, the door is always open.”

Of course the lady is correct. Celibacy is a discipline, not a dogma. There is evidence to suggest that at least some of the apostles were married. Indeed my lady friend reminded me that Jesus had cured Peter’s mother in law, so Peter was married (Matthew 8:14). But there’s another possible interpretation open to us here. Peter’s mother in law, now enjoying full health, starts to wait on Jesus in Peter’s house. Doesn’t that seem odd? It’s Peter’s mother in law rather than his wife that waits on Jesus. Where is Peter’s wife? Perhaps she’s out somewhere. But there’s another possibility; Peter was widowed at the time of Jesus call. It’s another possibility.

It’s important too that we take note of the apostle John. We know he was celibate and that he seems to have held a special place in Christ’s heart, perhaps due to his celibacy. At any rate, we’re told repeatedly that he’s the one Jesus loved (John 13:23), and as Christ was dying it was to John that he entrusted his mother (John 19:26).

My lady friend’s argument follows the familiar logic; the apostles were married so therefore priests should be allowed to marry. For many people this historical fact is all the proof needed to abolish compulsory celibacy. But there is another perspective, that of the teaching of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. The teaching asks serious questions of married apostles and possibly even prevails over the practise.

In the Gospels we discover Christ’s call to a radical discipleship, Mark 10:21 “There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor… then come follow me.” It’s a call the apostles heard and embraced, some of whom were married, others unmarried. The Gospels suggest that the first apostles were extremely challenged by Christ and if we accept the Gospel accounts of Christ’s teaching then there’s little doubt that the apostles themselves, both married and unmarried, must have understood that Christ’s call to self denial extended even to marriage, “… there are eunuchs who have made themselves that way for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:12)

In fact, based on the evidence of Christ’s own teaching in the Gospels the first married apostles must have felt challenged about their married status. I’d go so far as to say that they even felt disadvantaged! This is not conjecture. The evidence indicates that this is exactly what happened. In the teaching of Christ and consequently in the early Church the practise of celibacy and virginity was highly valued, “what about us? We have left everything to follow you… I tell you there is no one who has left house, wife, brothers, parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not be given repayment many times over…” (Luke 18:28, Matthew 19:29). No wonder it was valued! But something even more significant happened, married couples, responding to the teaching of Christ practised continence within marriage, among them there were surely some of the apostles.

So it’s much too simplistic and even misleading to argue that the apostles were married so priests should be allowed to marry. The historical reality is much more nuanced than that.

Life went on after Christ and the Church developed. There are major figures, none more so than St. Paul, a strong supporter of celibacy, 1 Cor 7:32-35. In fact, this is a feature of the first millennium. There is no proper law of celibacy. Instead, the significant figures in the Church tend to recommend celibacy. Generally, the important figures in the early Church together with the higher members of the clergy practised celibacy.

So the picture is one of married and celibate priests, in tension to some degree, but it’s necessary to concede that it’s Christ’s radical call heard in the Gospel that’s causing at least some of the tension, “If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children… he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). It should go without saying – but I’ll be cautious – that there are other factors at work in shaping these developments, not least a rejection of the goodness of human sexuality, a certain disdain for the sexual that had pockets of support but usually ended in heresy.

Eventually celibacy became compulsory for priests in the West. It’s with glee that some people point out that this happened because the Church didn’t want to lose its property to priest’s families. This may be true but it’s certainly not the complete truth. It conveniently ignores how celibacy and virginity never disappeared, and how the practises were highly valued by Christ, and by the Church from the very beginning, and how they are rooted in the call of Jesus Christ to leave everything and follow him.

There’s one further nuance that’s necessary to note. In the 11th century the Church split between East and West – temporarily – but reconciliation would bring with it two different traditions regarding celibacy. The Eastern Orthodox Church kept their tradition of a married clergy. But even this is nuanced; a single man cannot marry after Ordination, and to this day bishops in the East are drawn only from the celibate priests. So the tension between the historical practise of married apostles and priests, and the radical call of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels remains evident.

In conclusion we can argue:

1. Celibacy is a rejection of the sexual and it’s goodness.

2. It’s a kind of ‘spiritual worldliness’ on behalf of the Church. It’s about the Church protecting its assets.

3. It’s a response to Christ’s call to leave everything.

Take your pick.

Then ask yourself why you’ve made that particular choice?

If you think there’s an element of all three, to which of the three should we give precedence?

Me? I go with the call to leave everything although I’m not particularly good at it!

Philomena, the film: What might God make of it?

If you haven’t seen the film, Philomena, I’m sure you’ve heard about it! It’s the true story of a young girl who became pregnant outside marriage in 1950s Ireland.

IMG_0860Before going any further I must admit that I haven’t seen the film but I have just finished reading the book. I was surprised by the book – not the pregnant outside marriage in 1950s Ireland story-line – but the level of promiscuity portrayed in the sections of the book dealing with Michael’s (Anthony’s) adult environment in the United States. I found it quite shocking and it’s dominating my initial thoughts about the book. Nonetheless the book has copper-fastened my belief that every child should have a right – an unassailable human right – to know his or her father and mother.

The book also got me thinking about what God might make of it all? So I’m going to do just that – look at the matter from God’s perspective. God’s perspective is effectively the will of God. The will of God is always in our best interests. It’s the true Paramount Principle because it’s the only guarantee of human well-being. Can we establish the will of God for the women portrayed by the character of Philomena? Yes, we can – but it’s not likely to be welcome – we may not like what we find!

So I’ll ask the obvious question: Is it the will of God that a young single girl should find she’s pregnant?

Essentially, it’s a question about the context of sex. Catholicism argues that sex belongs toIMG_1007 love – most will agree with that much – but Catholicism goes further, defining the love required as married love, but a very particular married love that can be dissolved only in death, i.e., sacramental married love. Catholicism believes the physical act of sex has its own innate meaning; sex is the seal of a reciprocal gift of self which is irrevocable and therefore sex belongs to sacramental marriage.

I appreciate I’m threading on dangerous cultural ground here but we can say with confidence therefore, no, it’s not quite God’s will that a single girl should find herself pregnant. But it’s equally not God’s will that she should be abandoned as in the case of Philomena. At the moment Philomena fell pregnant she became – borrowing the Gospel image – like a vulnerable sheep needing the Shepherds special care.

Still, whether we like it or not, from a faith perspective we must also factor in Christ’s condemnation of fornication as a sin (Mark 7:21-23). The Catholic Church cannot deny the existence of an objective moral order, to do so is to deny the existence of God. If there’s no objective moral order then there’s no need for redemption, and if there’s no need for redemption there’s no need for Christ. We save ourselves!

The tragedy is that many of the women portrayed by Philomena feel ashamed of their big secret. Yet from the Cross Christ says to every sinner – I did not die on the Cross for you to bear the burden of your sin. That’s redemption – it refuses to collapse the moral order, refuses to deny the reality of sin, yet, it sets sinners free.

Next question: Is it the will of God that the young girl should seek an abortion? It is never God’s will that human life – from conception to natural death – should be directly terminated. In fact during the Rite of Baptism I have started to thank mothers, single or otherwise, for choosing life.

Next question: Is it the will of God that the young girl should be incarcerated in the name of ‘care’ and be forced to give up her baby for adoption, for a donation to her carers? I think I have made the answer obvious by now, no, absolutely not.

Next question: Is it the will of God that the same young girl should be abandoned by theIMG_1017 father of her baby (let us not forget the father’s sin; fornication and possibly adultery), her parents and family, and society generally? The answer is; certainly not. Abandonment is not Gods will. Whom exactly was Christ abandoning when he died on the Cross?

So from the perspective of the will of God what do we find when we begin to examine the lives of the women portrayed by Philomena? We find that the people involved directly and indirectly in a young girls crisis pregnancy all sinned and the young girl’s sin is in fact the least of the sins involved. No doubt about it; Jesus wept every step of Philomena’s journey – for everyone involved!

Finally, let’s remember there is no reason why a single mother (or a single father for that matter) can’t become the greatest Saint that ever lived.

“Unlike other great religions, Christianity has never proposed a revealed law to the State and to society, that is to say a juridical order derived from revelation. Instead, it has pointed to nature and reason as the true sources of law – and to the harmony of objective and subjective reason, which naturally presupposes that both spheres are rooted in the creative reason of God” Pope Benedict XVI

Accusations of hoIMG_0662mophobia, religious fundamentalism and even suicide statistics fail to engage with Catholic reason concerning homosexuality

Ì too had the privilege of hearing Mary McAleese being interviewed by Pat Kenny recently. I was enthralled as she spoke of her modest lifestyle while studying in Rome. In the course of the interview about her book ‘Quo Vadis’ which is about Collegiality in the Code of Canon Law, she addressed the issue of homosexuality using suicide statistics and argued for a change in Catholic Church teaching. When she’d finished I was deeply troubled.

As I recovered I was struck by her use of suicide statistics – essentially the use of personal tragedy to argue for a change in Church teaching. I also noted her focus on the creature rather than the Creator. The discussion was about gay men and the Catholic Church – God was hardly mentioned! Surely, when it comes to judging the Catholic Church’s position on a particular issue the deciding factor must always be God’s will? After all, God’s will is the only guarantee of humankind’s well-being.

Of course, this view is diametrically opposed to the view that men and women know what’s best for the human race. That’s democracy. But Christians follow Christ. He alone is the Saviour of the world, not majority opinion! So the Catholic point of departure is always God’s will, in this case God’s will concerning homosexuality.

Now strange as it might seem when Catholicism seeks to propose laws to the State the appeal in the first instance is not to revelation but to nature and reason. Nature and reason then are Catholicism’s defence against the invalid charge of homophobia. Of course, like all reasonable people I accept that there are homophobic people in our midst but I do not accept the use of the homophobia blanket to smother every opposing argument. I find such blanket-smothering of opposing views to be really fearful!

The real fears within Catholicism have nothing to do with homophobia. Firstly, as a Catholic I fear sin, particularly the enculturation of sin. Catholicism doesn’t fear the human person – nothing could be more ridiculous – Catholicism fears sin. Besides, Jesus Christ came to save us from sin, not in sin! Secondly, I share with Catholicism the terrifying fear that we might “tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders” Matt. 23:4. Do you seriously think that men like John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis, and the majority of faithful Catholics have not struggled with such fear in our consideration of homosexuality? We certainly have and therefore Catholicism looks to the harmony of nature, reason and revelation. Where else can Catholics go?

Appealing to nature and reason the Catholic Church then argues as follows: male and female God made them, and so it is; we discover men and women, male and female as the essential dynamic of creation. We discover that the various parts of the male and female body are fit for sexual purpose, actually fit together and serve a very important purpose, the transmission of human life and the survival of the human race, while sexual intercourse itself implicitly speaks the language not of ‘trial’ love, but of Sacramental love; I give myself completely to you in love. What’s the alternative taken to its logical conclusion? In other words, the physical act of sexual intercourse innately means or is connatural with the mutual irrevocable gift of the whole person that is Sacramental marriage. As such Catholicism concludes that sex belongs to Sacramental marriage, love unto death, love that shares Gods creative work, love that bursts forth in the transmission of new life in all its forms. It may be idealistic (and difficult!) by humankind’s current standards but surely it’s the true meaning and purpose of sex as it exists in the mind of God. Surely as believers, notwithstanding our failures, we can agree on this much.

We also notice that there are exceptions occurring naturally, for example infertility, and among some men and women something very different, an attraction to their own sex. While the origin of homosexual attraction is unclear it is nonetheless real and cannot be denied, no more than we can deny heterosexual attraction.

However, the acting out of the attraction is considered to be contrary to Gods will because to put it bluntly, if not crudely, the parts just don’t fit together! The male body is not designed to facilitate sexual intercourse with another male, just as the female body is not designed to facilitate sexual intercourse with another female. The homosexual act lacks complementarity (meaning the fitting together of all aspects of the human person as male and female) and the potential to transmit human life. Thus Catholicism concludes that in so far as homosexual attraction leads to sexual activity that excludes complementarity and two becoming one in new human life it is objectively disordered. The key Catholic question here is; what is sex for?

We’re left then with a very important question; where does homosexuality come from if its expression is not part of Gods will? Some will respond instantly and perhaps with some outrage; how dare you attack my very person, of course homosexuality is part of God’s design; it’s the way I’m made!

Firstly, the Catholic Church seeks to attack nobody. We are all made in the image and likeness of God. Catholicism seeks only to uphold God’s rule in human affairs.

Secondly, in the context of a Christian worldview ‘the way we’re made’ is quite nuanced. In fact, it’s ‘the way we’re made’ that creates our need for salvation.

Thirdly, even if the origin of homosexuality is genetic and biological the same argument can be made for heterosexuality but with the additional evidence of the complementarity of the human body as male and female together with the potential to transmit human life. When compared to homosexuality, heterosexuality ticks extra boxes. These are substantial additional boxes and they cannot be ignored even in the face of suicide statistics. Consequently Catholicism gives the nod to the expression of heterosexuality as Gods design.

The perceived weakness in Catholic argument is its dependence on the physical which is countered by the principle that the evidence of male and female physicality and their complementarity whereby two literally become one in a new human life is not accidental but the primacy of Gods order. The bottom line here is; is there a God-designed order in terms of human sexuality? The Catholic Church says absolutely; it’s obvious! If there is an order then we can trust it. Life would be so much easier if the Catholic Church changed its teaching, but would a change be in keeping with God’s will? That’s the critical question.

There’s one further aspect I’d like to explore, namely Christ’s love for the marginalised which is increasingly used to argue against various positions held by the Catholic Church, including the Church’s position on homosexuality. The context in which Christ’s love for the marginalized unfolds is invariably the work of conversion. Too often commentators fail to mention the inner dynamics of Christ’s love; it is always targeted with a distinct purpose – go away and don’t sin anymore. So we simply cannot argue that Christ was compassionate therefore we should accept homosexual expression as part of God’s plan. No, Christ’s compassion had one purpose; not the blanket acceptance of humanity but the conversion of humanity.

Thus for the Catholic Church the issue is not about fear or prejudice, or homophobia, or any of the usual reasons advanced by liberal Catholics and non-Catholics alike, but about intellectual honesty endeavouring to ensure that humankind remains within the parameters of Gods will, since remaining within the realm of God’s will or recourse to Divine Mercy are the only guarantees of human well-being.

This is a massive call. Catholicism doesn’t make such a call lightly, rather, it’s a call made before God in fear and trembling with eyes fixed firmly on the harmony of nature, reason and revelation. The bulldozing accusation of homophobia simply refuses to address the Catholic argument. Instead, adapting Paddy Manning’s words on Twitter, proponents of the homophobia bulldozer “get to create a ‘crime’, charge people with it, and be judge and jury!”