Tag Archives: John Paul II

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

October 24: Pierced by Love

‘The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and Church.’(CCC 1617)

Jesus gave all; on the Cross, He pledged Himself to us as Bridegroom to a Bride. There is no richer or deeper expression of spousal love than Jesus pouring out His life for us at Calvary. He forged a bond with us there that is like a marriage but actually much more. Our Creator vowed to make us His own through death; He released a river of blood, water and Spirit that has power to enable us to love Him in return.

He honors our choice. Will we dodge the Cross or look at it straight as God’s ‘yes’ to an exclusive bond of love with us? That’s the rub, that’s why we remain at a safe distance. Spousal love requires faithfulness. And we tend toward other lovers. While revealing God’s marriage pledge to us, the Cross also reveals our adulteries.

If so, don’t run from your divided heart. In light of other lovers, ask yourself: ‘Who really loves me? Who authentically cares for me, weeps for me, bears with me, fights for me because (s)he loves me—who I am—and not because of anything (s)he gets from it?’

Perhaps like me you can answer honestly: only Jesus loves me perfectly. The Cross invites us to return to that fountain of perfect love and to allow its flow to prime our hearts. Let tears of remorse flow: not the regret of having broken the rules (although we undoubtedly have), but rather the sorrow of having betrayed the best relationship we’ve ever had. Jesus espoused Himself to us at Calvary, and if we have said to yes to Him there, then His spousal light will reveal our infidelities.

Perhaps for the first time, Love invites you to look at your adulterous heart. Don’t run or turn against yourself. Let the truth of His undying pledge of love for you recapture your heart. Enter again His tender and strong river: water to cleanse you, blood to give you new life, Spirit to revive your hurting soul. Remember, unlike a mere spouse, He is the Bridegroom who makes a way for willing hearts to become faithful lovers. He is making us His Bride, responsive and clean, transformed by Love alone.

Please join us as we pray for:

1. Eastern Midwest Region, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Amy Van Cott – Coordinator: Strength and vision for Amy, for existing groups and to see new groups established.

2. International Theology of the Body Congress (www.tobcongress.com): Advance for beautiful teachings of John Paul II throughout the world.

3. RHN: Prayer for Anne Paulk, as Executive Director, protection and provision for her and her three sons and extended family.

“Courage for Pope Francis, that he would ensure that the Church becomes a clear fountain of transformation for persons with same-sex attraction!”


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Merciful Discipline 6: Humbled, We Shine

This is the sixth post of six in the Merciful Discipline Series. A complete list of available posts will be at the end of each article as they are made available.

Merciful Discipline 6: Humbled, We Shine

‘When You disciplined us, we could barely whisper a prayer.’ (IS 26:16)

‘Christ’s abiding presence in the midst of our suffering is gradually transforming our darkness into light.’ Pope Benedict

The sexual abuse crisis in the Church brings us to our knees. We do not kneel politely but painfully, a sprawl rather than a pose. On behalf of those felled by the weight of a priest’s perversion, we too stumble and fall. Behold the scandal we share: the Greek word ’skandalon’ means stumbling block, a sizable obstacle in the path of another’s salvation.

Pope Benedict is right. Our ‘skandalon’ has “obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing.”

Lent redeems our falling by redirecting it. Lent points us to another stumbling block, the Crucified Christ (1Cor 1:23), who draws us magnetically to Himself amid the suffering and shame of abuse and its cover-up. He invites us to fall forward into Himself, the sole Source that can bear the unbearable. Any momentum toward obliterating the stumbling block of sexual abuse in the Church begins facedown before the Cross. We repent for the disintegration of lives, the shattering of trust, and how abuse mocks the Church and her championing the dignity of each life.

Shame is transformed into substantial good at the Cross. Just as there is a momentum to the evil of abuse, fanning out like fissures from an earthquake, so repentance before the Crucified overcomes evil. Jesus Himself assumes the web of wounds and rouses the darkened Church, preparing her to shine once more. Our resurrection is founded on His justice and mercy. We arise in humbled passion for the integrity of our Church.

Brimming with new life, we must act. Shame’s transformation requires more than mystical transactions. Will we follow Benedict’s call to bear witness with our very lives of a transparent, integrated Church who lives the truths she upholds?

From the beginning of his papacy, Benedict faced a hemorrhaging crisis of abuse. He realized that the dignity of all people, beginning with the education of children, required the transparent integrity of the Church. To him, sexual abuse was more than an isolated problem of priestly perversion; it signaled a disturbing shift in the entire culture toward sexual values that dehumanized others.

‘Children deserve to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. They should be spared the degrading manifestations and crude manipulations of sexuality so prevalent today.’ (Address to US Bishops, 2008)

Degradations and manipulations like the priestly abuse of children! More than ever, we need a humbled witness from the top down of sexual integration. What does it mean to live chastely? How do we acquire self-control and pass it on to a generation already exposed to more filth than at any other time in history?

The church must reclaim its beautiful (and bravely counter-cultural) teaching on chastity–beginning with her priests. We must discover together how Jesus and His community help us to actually integrate God’s will for our sexuality into the fabric of our real lives. That means more than preaching another round of conservative sexual ethics; we must also wrestle honestly with our ‘ethos’–our desires and conflicts.

Jesus wants to transform our hearts–our affections, our attitudes, our motives– that we might embody a living morality. Repentance before the Crucified is key. While sexual abuse is the ultimate ‘disintegrator’, Jesus’ redeeming power in our lives always points to integration, toward wholeness. The stench of abusive priests must be overcome by the fragrance of those priests who live chaste lives through the cross and its community. Following their good lead, we too can embody what it means to offer our chaste selves to one another.

We the laity must do our part. As the numbers of priests are declining, we must increase our commitment to transparent service of the Church. We can ensure that our dioceses have solid systems in place for responding quickly and impartially to abuse charges, and especially to the abused. These systems must become normative!

The abuse crisis has struck an inspired blow against clericalism. It has altered her ‘in-house’ mentality, and she is learning to yield substantial control to empowered laity and civil authorities. As with any organizational shift in values and praxis, this will require time and vigilance on the part of all.

Change takes time. Change is taking place. We now have a better grasp of the horror of priestly abuse and how to prevent it than we had 10 years ago. In spite of our problems, the US Church has exemplified candor for the worldwide Church whose abuses are just beginning to be revealed. Their ‘skandalon’ is ours; we have much yet to endure. We can do so through the One who endured all in order to transform our shame into glory.

Abuse has struck us down, but we are not destroyed. (2Cor 4:9) Our dying is not fatal. We see life-signs–the fruit of God’s purifying, disciplining hand. He is judging clericalism, and inspiring a more humble, candid hierarchy; He is weeding out ill-equipped candidates for the priesthood and empowering solid clerics and laity; He is calling the Church to a new integrity in how she embodies her truth.

Merciful discipline. God is having His way with His Bride.

‘The truth must come out; without the truth we will never be set free. We must face the truth of the past; repent it; make good the damage done. And yet we must move forward day by day along the painful path of renewal, knowing that it is only when human misery encounters face-to-face the liberating Mercy of God that our Church will be truly restored and enriched.’ Dublin Archbishop Martin, 2010

‘We must be confident that this time of trial will bring a purification of the entire Catholic community, leading to a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate, and a holier Church.’ John Paul II

‘For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake, I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines forth like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.’ (IS 62:1)


The Merciful Discipline Series of Posts (updated with each new post as they become available):

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Mercy From Rome

While doing a conference in Denver many years ago, a vigorous young man introduced himself to me as Christopher West; he was then the ‘marriage and family’ guy for the Archdiocese of Denver. He loved our emphases on healing through the cross and community. And he wanted me to have a copy of John Paul II’s book: The Theology of the Body, the late great pope’s sweeping take on human sexuality.

Wow. What a meal. For the next couple of years I slowly ate what I now regard as perhaps the most thorough and profound theological work on sexuality. It is a large meal, but not inaccessible. It undergirds the pope’s native compassion with truth: the truth of what our sexuality is for, not just what we should flee, and the deeper meaning of masculine and feminine communion in the divine plan.

Brilliant and relevant, prophetic and yet deeply, richly human; it reinforced what I knew but deepened and expanded the truths already gleaned from Ray Anderson, Karl Barth, and Emil Brunner. On planes and trains I would read a section and take notes on it. I would then meditate on the notes before tackling another section.

It prepared me for the battle at hand, the fight for God’s image in humanity being waged on every continent. In that battle, I needed reinforcement.

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How Jesus Restores Marriage

Marriage matters. The quality of care between spouses matters. Generations to come are impacted by that quality, or the lack thereof. To paraphrase John Paul II, how husband and wife care for each other impacts the dignity and destiny of those they influence.

Especially their children. Kids are those most impacted and least heard in battles surrounding marriage. Jesus loves kids. He hates it when they are stumbled by broken, selfish parents. So He acts to restore marriage for the good of all: restoring first the parents, who can then offer themselves well to their children.

Jesus loves His image in humanity. He reiterates the power of marriage as male and female in Matt. 19: 4-6 when He decries the effort of any created thing to separate the two whom God has joined as one.

Paul takes this a step further when he describes Jesus as the true image of God in humanity. (Col. 1:15) The Apostle claims that Jesus created all living things, and can redeem what was lost or broken through His sacrifice on the cross. (vs.16-20)

So Jesus is the embodiment of God’s image, and the Creator of that image in us. That gives Him awareness of who we truly are (who He made us to be), how we have fallen, and what needs to happen so that we can be restored to His will for our humanity. That has significance for our covenants.

Jesus indwells marriage through His Spirit when we invoke His name and power. It is as if we are saying: “Jesus, You who are God’s true image, indwell this expression of Your image. Make it what You will. You authored it: sustain and redeem it. Renew it daily as we as one look to You–the One true image from whom this ‘image’ draws its meaning.”

Jesus is the faithful covenant-keeper. He so hates the dividing of one-flesh that He fights for the quality of that unity. He does battle on behalf of marriage: first in His dying, second in His risen life. He is mighty in Spirit to raise us up to love the other when our hearts are weak and divided. He grants us grace to love beyond what we are capable of.

He wants our children to have a legacy of love. So He is at once tender and fiery toward us in our faithlessness. He burns with both mercy and judgment toward wayward spouses. For His name’s sake. And for the sake of children that will bear the mark of infidelity unless their parents submit to the Creator and Restorer of that marriage.

Jesus declares with mercy and might on behalf of children: “Let marriage be honored by all, and let the marriage bed be kept pure!” (Heb. 13:4) Vote YES on Proposition 8.

“Jesus. We honor You as the true image of God in humanity. We look to You as the Source of our care for the other, and our Restorer where we have failed to love this other well. Open our eyes to the impact of our marriage upon children. Lord have mercy.”

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Boundaries and Marital Sexuality

Sexuality is intense and powerful. It can unite humanity in the most creative way imaginable; when misdirected, sex kills. Mason writes: “Marriage is the only weapon man possesses against the brutalizing passion, the primitive passion, the mindless explosiveness of the raw sex drive…The very existence of marriage heaps coals upon the head of profligacy (sexual immorality).”

I write this back in my boyhood home. 34 years ago, I first began to wander the beaches in search of anonymous sexual encounters with men. Men died for their lusts then. We infected one another with all manner of disease. Then came the AIDS virus. Even when it was named, few stopped the craziness. Our enslaving ‘liberty’ was too precious to us; we had come too far to be restrained. Most of my friends from that era are dead.

Today the gay movement is stronger than ever in my home town. It is one of three cities in California most in favor of gay marriage. The town’s sunny perversion thrives; just under half of its city officials are gay, wealthy, empowered, and without restraint.

All of us need restraint. And we need to acknowledge the shame that has marked all of our sexuality. That is not a matter of a naming a particularly perverse background. Shame shrouds us all. It resulted from the fall—Adam and Eve’s intensely felt emotion of exposure when God named their rebellion. Today we all live east of Eden.

Shame renders sexuality a mixed blessing indeed. It is either nasty, sought out furtively on the sly, or threatening—a big monstrous mess to be avoided at all costs. Even in marriage, our offering to one another may prompt more conflict than confirmation.

Boundaries have power to reclaim marriage. A union born of permanence and fidelity, protected by boundaries, challenges our shame-based reactions to sexuality. It shows us a better way. Marriage commands: “When I said yes to you for life and sealed that yes with my body, I said no to everyone else!”

Marriage provides the boundary for sexual love; our vows to each other are the basis for trust. And in the sanctuary of that trust, in the authenticity of our vows to be faithful, we find a remedy for our shame. Mason writes: “In the marriage bed, bonds of love and trust must be forged that will be strong enough to contend with the sin of shame.” The good news?  We can forge those bonds. And in those boundaries we can lie down with our spouses in peace.

God has given marriage that authority to enable man and woman to once more realize what it means ‘to be naked and unashamed.” (Gen. 2: 25) Mason again: “Marriage reclaims the body for the Lord, making pure and holy and clean again what has been trampled down in the mud of shame” John Paul II takes it further when he described sexual intercourse in holy matrimony as “an icon of the interior life of the triune God.”

I love marital sexuality; I am honored to partake with Annette of that bit of heaven on earth. Protected by the truth that our offering to one another is exclusive, sexual intercourse is redeemed from shame and confirms over and over our vows to love each other as one-flesh until death.

Honor Marriage for the good of all. Vote YES on Proposition 8.

“Reclaim our vision of sexual love in marriage, O God. Help us to see how a marriage with boundaries reclaims sexuality from the grip of shame. Free us from the myriad ways we and those we love have misused sexuality and so been subject to that shame. Grant us courage to set and keep boundaries. Strengthen the boundaries of marriage in this day, O God. Let no created thing divide what you have joined and guarded through holy matrimony.”

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