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Ignatian “Summer-Soul” Workout Plan: Part 2

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 01:00

Spiritual athletes, have you been whipping your soul into shape with the first five steps of the Ignatian “summer-soul” workout plan? [Click here for Part 1 if you missed it!]

If so, awesome. Keep it up!

If not, now’s the perfect time to renew the commitment for the second half of the summer.

Here are five more connections between physical and spiritual exercise, followed by a practical spiritual workout for each point. 

As a reminder, don’t try to do them all at once. Start with one or two of the tips that you think will be most helpful for you and adapt them to your physical and spiritual needs. 

Warning: The spiritual workout journey will be difficult, but totally worth it. Trust the process! 

[Click here for Tips 1-5]

6.) Listen to the Music 

I personally prefer to run on the treadmill with some base-bumping beats in my headphones to motivate. Just as listening to a certain song might make me run faster, music can have the same effect on our “spiritual workout.” Think of music as a great supplement to both physical and spiritual workouts. It can get both the physical and spiritual heart pumping. One word of caution: just as the act of listening to music is NOT the physical workout itself. Sometimes just listening to an inspiring, moving, or religious song does not necessarily mean you’ve prayed.

Spiritual Workout Tip: Try starting your prayer with an instrumental track that sets the mood for you. Just one soothing and calming song may be enough for you to mentally and spiritually prepare to enter into prayer. In fact, don’t be afraid to play a little music in the background while you pray if it helps you concentrate.

Check out this compiled list of songs, videos and articles that might help set the scene for your prayer. Try searching “Meditation music” on YouTube or create a playlist of songs on Spotify that really get your soul on fire for God. And if Spanish music moves you (as it does for me), you can always check out Fr. Cristobal Fones, SJ’s playlist of one of his latest albums: “Tu, mi hermano” (“You, My Brother”). And the spiritual beat goes on… 

7.) Find Motivation When Times Get Tough

High school coaches often tell their athletes very fiercely: “If a day comes that you don’t want to workout or go to practice, that is precisely the day you most need to go.” I was told these exact words by my Jesuit spiritual director in high school about the practice of daily Mass. In other words, this same sentiment applies to both our athletic and spiritual life. The need for daily discipline and commitment to the team and to personal athletic development is required of any great athlete or team. Similarly, the grace of “disciplined” prayer, not done out of personal toughness or perfectionism, but out of a sense of real “commitment” to something or Someone greater than yourself is one of the greatest gifts bestowed by the practice of daily prayer. After all, love is not a feeling. Love is a choice. And that requires commitment.

Spiritual Workout Tip: Unite yourself in those moments of great resistance to prayer to the Passion of Christ. Jesus himself in the Agony in the Garden did not WANT to die on the cross, but freely chose to love at all costs.1 An older Catholic devotional I once read had a meditation where one contemplated why Jesus chose to die on the cross while in the Garden of Gethsemane. The author of this text creatively proposes that when the angel appeared to console Jesus, he saw “YOU” with him. Jesus chose to die for YOU– out of radical love for your particular soul. Think of that person, situation or purpose that will make you choose to pray or love at all costs. Is just being with God enough of a reason to pray? For some it might be, for others, they might need a little “tough love” to get them motivated. 

8.) Get Yourself a Saintly Coach

Even professional athletes respond to the orders, advice and suggestions of a coach that has their best interest in mind. Growth is only possible when we are challenged to step out of our comfort zone. The same is true in our spiritual life when we use coaches or guides to help push us to grow. So don’t be afraid to take Jesus, Mary, or any other saint as your personal trainer or life coach. In fact, since very early on in life, Jesus himself had two coaches in Mary and Joseph. Who would have taught Jesus to work, pray, and love if not his own earthly parents? If Jesus was willing to take on a life coach for himself, who are we to say in our spiritual life, “I’m good. I’m my own coach.” While human nature might settle for that, sometimes it takes that other voice to remind us: “You can be better.”

Spiritual Workout Tip: Explore the lives of the saints and see if there is any one saint you would like to learn from or whom you identify with. In fact, you might want to remind yourself of your Confirmation Saint. Whichever saint you turn to, he or she can function as a life coach for your spiritual journey. This saint can be a source of strength that teaches you to do good. 

Daily quotes from inspiring saints can provide just the right motivation needed to move beyond small personal projects and risk being part of a more universal project- building the “Kingdom of God.” Thanks for your words, Coach Iggy

9.) Share Best Practices

Going to the gym might begin as an individual practice for the purposes of greater health, a more toned physique, or just because your doctor said so. But it might take on a new purpose once you begin to see the positive benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Once you have built a repertoire of techniques, skills, tips, and workout routines that work for you, you might be more willing to help another answer questions regarding their own health. Here’s the kicker, once you start experiencing the benefits of prayer, or begin growing in a life of greater freedom and charity, then your desire to share that gift with others increases exponentially. You will want to share it with all those you encounter. This is why your spiritual fitness no longer belongs exclusively to you.

Spiritual Workout Tip:  Pray with the following Gospel passage. Jesus said to his disciples after the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”2 The ultimate source of the light in your life is God, NOT you. Thus, the end of prayer must always be to glorify God…and not to glorify yourself. Prayer is intimately bound to all those around us- which is why we pray for one another and have the communion of saints praying for and with all the Church. 

10.) Don’t Be Afraid to Mix It Up

Studies in exercise science constantly point to avoiding “plateauing” or “stalling.” If you only do the same kind of exercise over and over your muscles adapt to certain exercises, and muscle growth stalls. A technique known as “muscle confusion” has been promoted by physical trainers to combat this effect.3 In essence, it’s all about changing your routine to keep your body engaged. This type of technique is key not just in the physical exercise realm, but in the spiritual as well. How often have you said that prayer is boring, repetitive, or tiring? Being creative in prayer is key to keeping the soul actively engaged.

Spiritual Workout Tip: Don’t be afraid to spice up your prayer life. While the universal Church gives us a specific Gospel passage to pray with every day of the year, we can’t be afraid to introduce our imagination into the mix. For instance, instead of just reading the Gospel passage of the Last Supper and meditating on the exact words, you might want to try a spiritual exercise technique known as “imaginative contemplation.” Place yourself within the scene and imagine yourself speaking to Christ during the first Eucharistic feast. Is there something you notice about Jesus’ gaze, hand gestures, tone of voice? Encounter God through actively engaging your imagination, and you might be amazed at the results.

You can also use a variety of different prayer styles. For example, the Rosary might help you connect with God. Or another of these time-tested methods of prayer, such as Lectio Divina, Meditation, Liturgy, Spiritual Reading, etc. As a spiritual trainer, Jesus is always ready to meet us exactly where we’re at, and in total freedom. So don’t get tied down to only one way of praying.

*****

In summary, three things are certain when doing any of these or other Spiritual Exercises: 

  • There is not a single second, minute or hour spent in intentional prayer before God that will not be used by God for our growth and spiritual well-being (whether we feel it or not). 

  • Prayer is not only powerful when you “feel” it, but rather its power lies more in actually “doing” prayer- because prayer is done by God first. In other words, it is more about opening ourselves to allow God to work in us. So when it comes to prayer (and I guess Nike athletics?)… Just do it!

  • In the same way that a nutritional diet asks you to renounce consuming sugars, unsaturated fats, and bad cholesterol in exchange for a slimmer, happier and overall healthier lifestyle, the Spiritual Exercises have been described as learning to be free from”… i.e. disordered affections, sins, past, etc. in order to become free for”… i.e. doing God’s will, loving more radically, living fully alive, etc. This goal must always be at the forefront of any Spiritual Exercise.

If the goal of a “summer bod” is to get more eyes to look at our physical appearance, the goal of prayer and our “summer soul” is to allow God’s eyes to look upon our reality, creating a heart within us that resembles that of his Son, Jesus Christ. 

This is the ultimate goal of any Ignatian prayer.

Categories: Things Jesuit

Catholic 101: Intro to the “Liturgy of the Hours”

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 01:00

God, come to my assistance.
Lord, make haste to help me. 

One of the first things I was given as a Jesuit novice was the book Christian Prayer: The Liturgy of the Hours, a one volume version of the Liturgy of the Hours. A couple of things crossed my mind at that moment: “What the heck is the Liturgy of the Hours?” and “How am I going to figure out how to pray this in the next five minutes?” There were all these ribbons in the book, and I watched as the second year novices skillfully moved between different parts of the book without batting an eye or missing a line. How was I going to figure this all out?

I’m happy to report that over the past few years, this prayer has become a regular part of my prayer life. I’ve prayed it alone (most of the time). I’ve also prayed it in community with others, sometimes speaking and sometimes chanting. Let’s be honest, the chanting has been a little rough.

There is a misperception that the Liturgy of the Hours is just for ordained or vowed religious, but here’s the thing: it is open to all to pray. “The Liturgy of the Hours, the [Second Vatican] Council tells us, is our association with Christ in singing that eternal hymn of praise.”1 All of us are invited to pray the Liturgy of the Hours with each other, whether that happens to be alone in our rooms, with a small group before a daily mass, or with a larger monastic community. 

One of the first questions I had when I started praying it was: “why is it called a Liturgy?”  We call it a liturgy because it is a public prayer of the Church (like Mass or the other Sacraments), which includes hymns, psalms, readings, and prayers according to the liturgical calendar. The Church distinguishes liturgy, which is public prayer, from private devotions, like praying the rosary. 

The Liturgy of the Hours has a long history in the Catholic Church. But surprisingly, recalling my own arrival at the novitiate, it isn’t very well known. I was talking with a good friend, and fellow theology student, about what her first reaction was when she heard about the Liturgy of the Hours. She came back with three responses from her and a couple of other theology students: “Never heard of it,” “It’s beautiful, but I’m tired,” and “Not interested.” So I figure these three responses are a good way to frame this brief introduction to this prayer.  

“Never Heard of It.

That makes a lot of sense! Most Catholics may be vaguely aware that it exists, but have never had the opportunity to pray with it. Very briefly, the Liturgy of the Hours is based in the psalms. There are five “hours” during the day: Morning, Daytime, Evening, Night, and Office of Readings. They do not actually take an hour to pray, each one can be about 15-20 minutes.  

Night prayer is my favorite one, although it can be a little dark at times. For example, Friday night prayer is from Psalm 88 featuring the line, “Darkness is my only companion.” But the sun has set by the time I’m praying it, so there’s something fitting about those words. 

The Liturgy of the Hours also consists of a four-week cycle, and it has different prayers available for certain feast days. Timothy Gallagher puts it very nicely saying, “It is first and above all a prayer of praise; then, immediately after that, a prayer of intercession for the salvation of the whole world, for the needs of all the members of the Church and all the people in the world.” 

Anyone can pray this. If it sounds a little complicated, that’s okay. There is a great app, iBreviary, which offers a user-friendly approach to praying it. Basically, you pick the hour of the day you want to pray, and just scroll your way through the psalms, antiphons, and prayers in order. No ribbons!

“It’s beautiful, but I’m tired.”

True! This prayer of praise is rooted in the psalms, and if you pray all five hours for four weeks, you go through almost all 150 psalms. The psalms are beautiful because they reflect the variety moods of our life: happiness, anger, sadness, praise, gratitude…you get the point. 

For most of the hours we begin with this line, “God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me.” I find this line incredibly beautiful because it often sums up how I am feeling, and it recognizes at the beginning of prayer that I need God and I can’t do this on my own. 

As for feeling tired, I’m with you, but this is the great thing about this prayer. There are five times you can pray with it throughout the day, and you don’t have to do all five. Maybe all you have is 10-15 minutes at lunchtime. Well, that sounds like a great time to pray afternoon prayer. And if you fall asleep while praying, that sounds like a great invitation to rest with God.  

“Not Interested.”

Fair enough! This is just one way of praying, like the rosary, the Examen, Ignatian contemplation, or lectio divina. They are all great ways of praying. This is one more tool for growing closer to God. Sometimes in our lives one form of prayer may be better for us than others. The invitation to pray the Liturgy of the Hours is always available, and it can be a source of nourishment in our lives.  

If you’re interested in trying out this prayer, I recommend starting with the iBreviary app and choosing a time of day that might work well. If you want to go beyond the app and use the book with all the ribbons, I recommend asking for someone’s help as you pray through it. You will learn quicker by actually practicing it than reading instructions. And you will be surprised at how quickly you can pick it up, too.

Try it out for a week, and see how it goes. Even if you are praying it by yourself, you aren’t praying alone. You are praying with those around the world who might be on their own too, those gathered together, and the entire communion of saints. 

Joan Chittister, O.S.B. has centered her life on this prayer as a Benedictine. She says this about prayer: “We go to prayer to be transfigured ourselves, to come to see the world as God sees the world, to practice the presence of God, to put on a heart of justice, of love, and of compassion for others.”  Praying daily with the word of God, either in daily scripture or through the Liturgy of the Hours, helps us, little by little, to see the world, our neighbors, and even ourselves as God sees us.  

Categories: Things Jesuit

Do My Genes Fit?

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 23:33

I am adopted. Just days after I was born, I became a member of the Immel family. At that time, my brother was around, who is adopted, and we were 18 months away from my sister showing up, who is also adopted. It’s probably the first thing my siblings and I knew about ourselves – thoughtful parents and children’s books helped us understand a funny word – ‘biological’ – to distinguish between the people who made us (biological parents) and the people who were raising us (parents). 

For Christmas this year, my dad gave us a genetic testing kit, hoping that we might better understand our stories. As an adopted child, I do have a small amount of information about my biological family, but much remained unknown. I was, until recently, a genetic secret.

I delayed in submitting my test for a while, but after my sister discovered she is nearly 50% Finnish, I joined the fray.

***

So, who am I?

I’m 99.7% European, mostly descended from ancient Alpine-Celtic and Germanic populations – French and German. I’ve never thought of myself as French or German, so to celebrate, I considered ordering poutine (even though it’s a Canadian thing, I think) and bratwurst at a brewpub in my hometown.

I can smell ‘asparagus aftermath’ when I pee. I do not have dimples or a cleft chin. I do have detached earlobes and blue eyes. I also have a decent ear for musical pitch, which the test told me I would have. And, I’m likely to have a slight unibrow.

The test also predicted that I wouldn’t have a bald spot. 87% of people with results like mine don’t have one. In fact, they said I won’t experience any hair loss at all, at least not before the age of 40. 

Wrong. I’m already super bald. Like, I shave my head because I’m bald. Like, I have a hashtag to deflect my sensitivities around baldness – #NoHairNoCare. 

Needless to say, the test wasn’t 100% accurate, and it doesn’t claim to be. I am a deep sleeper, I am not afraid of heights, and I love cilantro, though the test suggested otherwise.

A friend told me the test would provide information that could be helpful and/or encouraging. The information I got is certainly interesting. But helpful? Encouraging? I’m not sure. It’s a clear-ish picture of what I am, but something is missing. The fundamental question lingers.

Who am I?

***

The other day we were at a pool – me, my siblings, mom, dad, nieces and nephew. I was in my hometown taking a break after finishing three years of challenging work in Chicago – a time of transition, to be sure. Large umbrellas cast cooling shadows in the bright summer sun. Beer cans left condensation rings on matte glass table tops. The rattle of a diving board sounded every ten seconds or so. Eyes closed, my mind wandered for a moment to a few of my former students and coworkers. I felt caught by the way they weren’t present to me anymore and how much they changed me. 

Then, my nephew shouted my name, and I looked at my family. I was struck by how unlikely it is that we are together – I share no genes with any of them. My mom and dad met at a New Year’s Eve party and later adopted three kids who could have come from anywhere. 

Who I am as revealed by the test, confirms some deep and problematic realities. Being 99.7% European illuminates my whiteness, my privileges, and my socialization in America. It illuminates the systems that have shaped me and how I am in the world. It reminds me of things I won’t experience and fears I don’t carry all the time. No one will ask me to go back anywhere, I won’t be targeted for anything, and policies don’t need to change for me to be safe.

The test doesn’t do it all, though. It says nothing of the role faith has played in my life. Or of what it has meant to encounter others as I have. Or of what mistakes I’ve made. Or of what it means to be a part of a family like mine. Or, of the love I’ve been offered over and over. 

As much as I try to run from it, the deepest answer to the question – Who am I? – will be hard-earned in the quiet chasms of my mind and heart. It is a question I may never answer fully. A friend Patrick once said that where we come from – our genes, origins, privileges – hold us captive. But, my choices matter moving forward, as they always have. For some reason, I understand that now more than ever. Where I am headed remains a hopeful mystery, a story yet to be told. 

-\\-

Photo by Matthew Simmonds from Pexels

Categories: Things Jesuit

“Spider-Man: Far from Home” and Seeing Beyond the Illusions

Fri, 07/12/2019 - 01:00

[SPOILER ALERT: This article contains significant details from the movie Spider-Man: Far From Home]

Appearances can be deceiving.

We’ve all heard this line many times in our lives, and it can become cliche. “Of course, not everything is as it seems!” But we need that reminder from time to time in our lives. We need to be reminded to look beyond the illusions of outward appearances to uncover what is best for us and what we are called to. The plot of Spider-Man: Far From Home is based on this very truth. 

The film takes place in the wake of the events of Avengers: Endgame. What is the world supposed to do in the absence of Iron Man, Captain America, and Black Widow? 

Early in the film, Peter Parker receives a memento from the late Tony Stark, a pair of glasses with a note that says “to the next Iron Man.” The glasses contain an operating system called EDITH which gives Peter access to tremendous power, including the ability to access other people’s technology and control weapons systems.

Meanwhile, there is a new hero in town, codenamed Mysterio, who is from an alternate dimension and is fighting monsters based on the four elements. After working with him to combat the last monster, Peter decides that Mysterio is worthy of the glasses and their enormous power. He makes a judgment based on what he’s seen.

But appearances can be deceiving.

As soon as Peter Parker leaves the room, Mysterio reveals his true identity as a master of illusion who is trying to become the world’s next great superhero by creating artificial disasters that look and feel genuine. The monsters he fought were clever fabrications. Through his illusions, Mysterio hopes to win people to his side and to believe in his illustrious charade.

And even when Spider-Man realizes his great mistake in handing over such tremendous power to an inherently selfish man, he has to figure out what is real and what is an illusion. Mysterio and his crew can manipulate what people see and hear with relative ease, and they play into Spiderman’s greatest fears when he tries to stand in their way. Even in defeat, they can change others’ perceptions of reality through a clever narrative. What is Spider-Man left to do?

*****

We face the same question. What do we do when appearances can be deceiving? How do we know if what looks good at first is really something that is unhealthy? Or harmful?

For example, I might think it is a good idea to work late into the night on a particular project because I’m in the zone. Sure it’s not urgent, but now I won’t have to worry about it the next day. It appears to me that getting the burden off my shoulders is exactly what I need. But instead, I find myself cranky the next morning because (surprise!) I did not get a good night’s sleep.

Was that really what I wanted? Was it what I needed? No, but it sure felt that way at the time. What would have been far better for me would have been to stop working at a reasonable hour, wind down, and get a good night’s rest so that I could go into work the next day refreshed instead of drained. The appearance of working ahead was actually an experience of overworking myself to my own detriment.

As another example, imagine walking down the street and encountering someone sitting on the sidewalk begging for change. The surface-level appearance might convey a person of little worth, discarded by society like the trash laying nearby. But our Christian faith reminds us that such appearances can be deceiving. In this person, we can encounter Christ himself. 

Instead of looking away, you could stop to say hello, offer a granola bar or snack to eat, or introduce yourself and ask the person’s name. You might catch a real glimpse of the value that God sees in this human person, just because you didn’t make a judgment based on appearance.

At various points in our lives, what appears so clear at the moment actually hides the truth. Instead of just blindly going with the flow, we need to be people who look deeply at situations and people around us, because there might be something deeper below the surface influencing us: a desire for attention, the hope for perfection, or some preconceived prejudices.

Yes, appearances can be deceiving, but when we look deeply, we can start to see the reality in front of us. We will continue to make mistakes, misreading desires and making judgments, but we are not alone on our journey. In the film, Peter Parker had his friends who helped him see through the illusions. He was able to work together with others to overcome Mysterio and take up the torch of the superheroes who had gone before him. We too have our own systems of support along with the guidance of our faith to help us see more clearly and lead us towards what we really want and towards what we are really called to.

Categories: Things Jesuit

Would They Really Ordain Married Men?

Sun, 07/07/2019 - 23:01

On June 17 the working document for the Pan-Amazonian Synod, to take place later this year in Rome, was released. And it’s been causing waves. The main question asked is one that has potential to affect the whole Church — would they really ordain married men? And what does that mean outside the Amazon?

The question is important and it will be widely discussed in the coming months. But I want to recall another time that question was asked in South America — and why.

 

The Controversy of Married Clergy

 The Pan-Amazonian Synod has been controversial ever since its proposals came to light. With the release of the preparatory document we finally have details on over a dozen concrete proposals, an uncharacteristic specificity for this type of working document.  But even with new details on the full program of the synod, one topic above all others — the possibility of married clergy — is in the news. 

Comments in February from Jesuit priest Francisco Taborda caused the first big stir. The Brazilian theologian, speaking in an interview with Crux, confirmed that married priests would be on the agenda, “so that every community … can have the Sunday Eucharist.” 

He noted that with the shortage of priests, many communities have to reserve the Blessed Sacrament for weeks or months at a time to have regular access, a near-impossible feat with wheat hosts in the humidity of the region.

Taborda’s remarks on substituting a more resilient flour in Eucharistic hosts caused enough ruckus for the Vatican to issue a response, but without any reference to married clergy. 

When the Instrumentum Laboris (working document) was released, the media coverage had eyes only for the possibility of married clergy.  The New York Timesheadline was zealous if not misleading: “Vatican Opens Door to Limited Ordination of Married Men as Priests.” 

As Jesuit theologian Víctor Codina sees it, this is one of the serious risks in even putting married clergy on the table: that the media will only cover the controversy. But the synod’s full name points to ecology as the key issue (as I hope to explain in another article). It’s an important issue in Francis’ pontificate, as best expressed in his encyclical Laudato Si’. And it is impossible to understand the Amazonian Church — its poverty, its stance toward the rest of the world, the demands on its clergy — without comprehending the relationship between indigenous peoples and the land.

If the Pan-Amazonian Synod is controversial, I would contend it is because we lack the context — where does these proposals come from?. Oddly enough, there is precedent for this: the same crisis and the same response.

Ordaining viri probati, trusted men in stable families, may seem like a radical solution, but it can hardly be understood except as a seemingly proportional response to a real crisis.  The Church has been thinking the same thoughts for several generations, and unless we see that pattern, we might mistake recent proposals for feverish radicalism instead of serious but urgent pleas. 

 

Another Time, Another Place

In many parts of the world, the Catholic Church suffers from a clergy shortage. But not like in the Amazon. Some 70% of communities do not have a priest to celebrate the Eucharist on Sundays. The Diocese of Alto Solimões, at the border where Brasil, Colombia and Peru meet, has only 15 priests to serve over 120,000 Catholics. And some indigenous communities have gone as long as 10 years without even seeing a priest.

Though the Amazonian region is now at the forefront, in the late 1960s and early 1970s the great challenge for the Church’s work among indigenous peoples in South America was among the Quechua- and Aymara-speaking peoples of the Andes. 

As Jeff Klaiber, SJ writes in his magisterial history of the Church in Peru, a crisis of native vocations dates to the 19th century. 1 In the colonial period, South America could import Spaniards to supplement what was lacking, but independence ended that. From the 1940s to the 1970s, Peru and Bolivia (among other countries) welcomed foreign missionaries from North America and Europe, where the vocation boom of the post-war era seemed to be the perfect solution for the local clergy shortage. 

But even with the influx of gringos, the demographic explosion of the 20th century made it impossible to keep up. The missionary impulse was more of a band-aid than a long-term solution.

In 1968, Bolivia had a population of about 4,000,000 people, but just 899 Catholic priests. Of them, 701, about 78%, were foreigners, and 690 were not even from Latin America. 2 And in Peru, as of 1973 there were 2,459 priests to serve a Peruvian population of 13,000,000; of them, 61% was foreign-born. 3 

Naturally, the long-term response was to promote native clergy. But there was a huge problem to ordaining native clergy in the Andes: there weren’t any to ordain.

In Andean culture, “only one who is married is considered a mature person,” as one Bolivian bishops’ conference document put it. 4 Though Andean highlanders have been Catholic for centuries, the celibate priesthood was never a viable path for most of them. They never abandoned their culture’s emphasis on family life as the basis for community. 

The real-life consequences of this were shocking for North American missionaries. The non-native clergy worked for decades to foment native vocations with little to show for it. The Maryknoll fathers opened a seminary near the Peru-Bolivia border, but with over 800 seminarians over 24 years, they only managed to produce 14 indigenous priests. 5

As journalist Penny Lernoux puts it, “Aymara boys who entered the seminaries were viewed as strangers who had left for another culture.” And that meant they would be considered outsiders or sell-outs upon return, and certainly not full members in their communities. They had to take on a foreign language, a foreign culture and even a foreign Catholicism to become priests, an impossible task for most. 

So bishops and clergy asked Paul VI to consider allowing a married clergy to overcome the cultural impediment. Supposedly the pope who oversaw the implementation of Vatican II was not closed to the idea, but his advisors were less thrilled with what they disparagingly referred to as “married peasant priests.” 6

Without a married clergy option, the Latin American Church in the Andes and elsewhere devised elaborate systems of catechists and married, native deacons to help keep the Word of God in local communities. They already spoke the native language and could develop cross-cultural skills faster than missionaries. 

The latter proposal for deacons sank in Bolivia after several years for various reasons, among them Aymara understandings about how authority should rotate through the community that probably would have impeded a married, native priesthood as well. 

While catechists are still a critical part of the Church apparatus in the Andes as the have been since the 16th century, they cannot confect the Eucharist. And as the synod proposals indicate, the inaccessibility of the Eucharist is a key problem at hand. 

Though the Vatican seems more open to the proposal today than fifty years ago, ordaining viri probati provokes the same anxieties now as it did then. Some worry that the candidates for ordination, men from rural areas who are probably without access to higher education, would be dangerously undereducated. Others claim that a regional exception to clerical celibacy would function as a “point of no return,” allowing the change for other regions if not the universal Church. 7

Frankly, we don’t know how these tensions would be resolved in real life. They can hardly be ignored, regardless of who is making the critiques. But neither should they be an absolute deterrent. However, only the Amazonian Church, with Francis’s blessing, can attempt a solution, married clergy or no. 

It seems to me that it’s not so much an issue of a watertight proposal in theory, as a perseverance and charity in praxis. The question, then, must be, can we think with the Church? Can we accept the insistent movements of the Spirit within it rather than dwell on frustration and details?

 

Can We Think With the Church?

The post-conciliar experience in the Andes is not identical to the contemporary situation in the Amazon, but the deep historical resonance should give us pause. 

The failure to resolve this dilemma means that many Catholics could continue to go without the Eucharist, a serious but not exclusive concern. Further, the divisions in the Church that show themselves in polarized reactions to the synod proposals might only deepen in the course of the global conversation on the topic. 

It is a challenge to think with the Church when the Church herself is contemplating whether she would really make such a drastic change. There is something to be said for accepting the real attractiveness of this solution despite its problems. However, I believe that the integral ecology that is supposed to be the center of new evangelization efforts in the Amazon region overcomes this yes-no decision before us. 

Next week, I will dig into the ecological crisis of the Amazon and its implications for the Church. Instead of asking what married clergy means, the coming synod asks: what does it mean to have a pastoral conversion so that the Church might fully preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Amazon? (Instrumentum Laboris 5)

Categories: Things Jesuit

United We Stand: Rapinoe, the White House, and World Cup Glory

Fri, 07/05/2019 - 01:00

As the USWNT marches into the World Cup Final this weekend, the team’s star forward and co-captain Megan Rapinoe has filled headlines with her back-and-forth exchanges with President Trump, turning attention away from the team’s on-the-field victories to polarizing ideological battles.

Controversy erupted after Rapinoe publicized her contempt of President Trump several days ago. When asked if she was excited about visiting the White House, as many championship winning teams do, Rapinoe responded, “I’m not going to the f***ing White House. No. I’m not going to the White House.” Rapinoe is not the first athlete to reject the prospect of visiting the White House. Basketball superstars Lebron James and Stephen Curry both voiced that they were unwilling to go to the White House during last year’s NBA finals. The current NFL champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, were disinvited after players voiced their opposition of the NFL’s insistence that players stand during the anthem. These players, however, were not representing the country at an international tournament. This makes Rapinoe’s situation unique.

Rapinoe, who identifies as a member of the LGBT community, has protested against social injustice in the United States prior to this year’s World Cup by kneeling during the National Anthem at two USWNT home games.1 After her comments about the president, some people took to social media to voice support for the athlete, while others expressed that she should not represent the U.S. at the international stage.

Why would we support Rapinoe? Let’s start with the sport itself. One of the most captivating things about the “beautiful game” is the way it can unite people. You can travel around the world and speak the shared language of the sport: football, futbol, soccer. Much like a shared faith, it can allow you to connect with people from completely different cultures and life histories. The World Cup is a world-wide celebration of that unity that soccer creates. It provides a spark of hope that ignites a fire to warm entire nations. That experience of hope irresistibly draws people into its embrace. Strangers become friends, enemies become allies, and differences are set aside in the pursuit of a common goal: lifting the trophy. That is why we can support Megan Rapinoe, a fierce competitor whose fiery playing style inspires her team to win. 

So why are people upset at Rapinoe? There’s a reason that Rapinoe’s off-the-field words have unleashed controversy. She is introducing divisive political rhetoric in the midst of what should be a time of nation-wide unity. As every person knows, U.S. politics and culture is fragmented, and it seems to grow more and more so every day. We are approaching another election season that promises 24-hour news cycles of dirty laundry, personal smears, and news spin. It’s hard to get on Twitter without battling micro-bouts of desolation and despair. In the midst of that, we look to sports as a buoy of joy and creativity, something the USWNT provides in droves. Then Rapinoe dragged U.S. soccer into the heart of political polarization. The dirty laundry is now hanging in the middle of the soccer field—personal smears and news spin envelopes the beautiful game in its chokehold.

That is not to say that the USWNT is supposed to ignore the realities their fans face, such as political and social injustice. The team itself is waging an ongoing legal battle to earn the same amount of money as their male counterparts. Simply put, the USWNT are a fighting squad. They have the right to fight to earn equal wages. The fighting spirit is burning in the hearts of these women. At its best, that fire draws people together. 

Which brings us back Rapinoe’s comments regarding the White House. To be clear,  Rapinoe does not need to be agreeable and silent. She has the right to her opinion and to express it publicly. But the country would benefit if the USWNT could rise above the political muck that oozes through every American television screen. Accepting an invitation to the White House does not mean endorsing the president’s policies. If anything, it is a chance to voice personal concerns face-to-face. It is a chance to embrace Pope Francis’s call to build a culture of encounter.

Athletes influence more people than almost every other group of people. They can be powerful co-creators of a culture of encounter. A culture that recognizes the dignity of each person. A culture that fosters unity through a desire to understand. Rapinoe knows that she is admired and listened to by millions of people. That is power, and that power comes with responsibility. Does that mean she has to support injustice? Of course not. Does that mean she has to like President Trump? Of course not. But all of us, including Trump and Rapinoe, should be willing to lay down arms and get out of our deep ideological trenches in which we find comfort. There’s middle ground between those two trenches, and it doesn’t have to be a battlefield.

 

//

Cover image courtesy of FlickrCC user Joel Solomon.

Categories: Things Jesuit

God’s Grace in the LGBT Community

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 23:30

Daniel — a vulgar but charming Vietnam vet — has led me up the hill of Market Street in San Francisco to the front of Holy Redeemer parish in the Castro neighborhood. The sun is setting on a beautiful Wednesday evening as a crowd of people who are homeless slowly gather around the colonial style church for the weekly four course meal offered to those in need. 

Holy Redeemer parish is a staple in the largely LGBT Castro neighborhood. In the 80’s they were one of the first places that took in people who had contracted AIDS to accompany them as they died. The church has grown to become a haven for LGBT Catholics. 

I had taken a bus from St. Paul, MN to San Francisco to start my Jesuit pilgrimage here with nothing but my North Face backpack, 20 dollars, the desire to get to know this community and, and the hope of finding somewhere to stay indoors.

The people in charge let me jump in to volunteer, and I am cast as an assistant to handing out extra bags of food to those who cannot fit in the church basement. The regular volunteer is a man of about 50 named Jeff, who is himself agnostic but regularly helps at this weekly meal. 

I tell him a bit about myself and that I am a Jesuit novice on pilgrimage hoping to get to know the parish. I cannot help but mention that I don’t know where I’m going to stay the night, and ask if he has any ideas. Unfortunately, he does not. 

After talking for about 45 minutes or so he excuses himself for a moment to take a call as I continue visiting with guests in line. When he returns, to my surprise he says to me, “I was just talking with my husband and if you would like, you can stay at our place tonight.”

I am ecstatic and relieved, but also hesitant. I was deeply grateful, but my admitted unfamiliarity with LGBT individuals and fears about not wanting to cross Church teaching left me uncertain. Was I giving implicit support to their marriage? If I said no would they be offended? What did they think of me as a Jesuit in formation? Would they ask what I thought of their marriage? Would they ask about my own sexuality? Contradictory convictions and desires ping-ponged around my brain.

Despite this, after pondering for a bit in my mounting anxiety about having a safe place to stay, and seeing their generosity, I accepted his offer. So after finishing at the church, we drove to his home.

***

Upon arriving I met Jeff’s husband Randy, who greeted me kindly. They lived in a two bedroom house with an unfinished basement. They gave me one of the bedrooms with a queen sized air mattress. I soon learned they were also hosting Randy’s nephew and his wife downstairs in a makeshift 3rd bedroom. 

They immediately offered me a shower, which after three grimy days of riding the bus, was like heaven on earth. I soaked for quite awhile. Only afterwards did they tell me of the mandate to conserve water. They didn’t tell me before because wanted me to take as long as I wanted.

The following morning I was greeted with fresh brewed coffee, San Francisco sourdough toast with cashew butter, and fruit. Jeff was up early, and we chatted for several hours. He asked about what I was doing, where I was from, and about my vocation to the Jesuits. 

A half hour or so into our conversation, he said, “And just to let you know, you can ask me about anything: my faith, our marriage, our lives, anything.” I took up his offer, and like an open book he revealed his own history, his struggle with faith, and the joys of his marriage. 

Never once did Jeff or Randy ask me to open up in the same way they were willing to. They didn’t ask about my own orientation, what my opinions were about Church teaching, or what I thought about the morality of their marriage. They put no condition on my staying with them. In fact, the first morning with them they told me I could stay another night, or for the entire 30 days of my pilgrimage if I wanted, no questions asked. 

They took me on a trip they had been planning to Sonoma to see the Catholic missions along the way, and the town itself. They bought me lunch, offered me wine, took me on tours, and drove me through a beautiful redwood forest. Randy showed me a women’s Carmelite monastery he was connected with in town. They showed me the ocean, and took me to Golden Gate Park and Golden Gate Bridge.

Jeff and Randy were the most hospitable, generous, and welcoming people I met on my pilgrimage. Compared to Holy Redeemer parish itself, homeless shelters, a Catholic Worker House in L.A., a young adult Catholic intentional community in Denver, the Missionaries of Charity in Gallup, New Mexico, and other priests I met, nobody welcomed me with the unconditional generosity and openness that Jeff and Randy did. 

***

Through my relationship with Jeff and Randy, I grew in the invaluable gift of empathy for LGBT persons in the Church. In them, despite the fact that their lives did not totally conform to Church teaching, I experienced undeniable beauty, love, and generosity. 

However, Randy and Jeff were not simply the token “gay couple” I met in the Castro. Their gift to me reached far beyond empathy. They were the face of Christ on my pilgrimage. How they treated me, they welcomed the stranger, fed the hungry, comforted the afflicted, housed the homeless, and intimately shared their very selves. They brought me God’s truth and providence with their actions. 

I hold Jeff and Randy in my heart when I see the current tumultuous climate for LGBT people in the Church. This is a time where gay and lesbian teachers are fired from Catholic schools, LGBT children continue to be bullied, ostracized, and left on the streets by religious parents, and gay priests are blamed for the horrible abuse crisis, among other things. In the midst of this demonization and discrimination, Jeff and Randy are a shining light to me of the goodness and love LGBT persons can bring to others. This has to be recognized in order to make prudent and loving decisions about these people’s lives in the Church.

-//-

Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

Categories: Things Jesuit

Brebeuf: A Time for Sorrow and Hope

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 02:00

The divides in the U.S. Catholic Church were on full display last week. While many expressed pride at being “Jesuit-educated,” we are mourning the lack of healing in our Church and the degree to which the LGBT community continues to be marginalized.

The leaders of Brebeuf Jesuit College Preparatory School in Indianapolis refused to fire one of their teachers. In response, the Archbishop of Indianapolis revoked Brebeuf Jesuit’s ability to call itself Catholic. The Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus is standing by the school. 

The precipitating incident in this standoff is the Archbishop’s demand that Brebuef fire a teacher who entered into a civil same-gender marriage two years ago and the school’s ensuing refusal. In the Archbishop’s statement, he argues all employees at Catholic schools are ministers, and that anyone openly contradicting Church teaching cannot serve in this ministerial capacity. As the leader of the archdiocese, it is in his purview to make these requests as overseer of faith, morality and Catholic education. However, as Brian Paulson, S.J., points out in his statement, the intervention of a diocese in employment matters of an educational institution managed by a religious order is unprecedented

As for their decision to not terminate employment, Brefeuf Jesuit’s Board of Trustees chose to follow their informed conscience. In their statement, the trustees wrote: 

“After long and prayerful consideration, we determined that following the Archdiocese’s directive would not only violate our informed conscience on this particular matter, but also set a concerning precedent for future interference in the school’s operations and other governance matters that Brebeuf Jesuit leadership has historically had the sole right and privilege to address and decide.”

What do we take away from this moment? First and foremost, this is a painful, wounded experience of division in the church. This conflict reveals with awesome clarity the deep divide there is in the U.S. Catholic Church. While the Church’s teaching on same-sex marriage was the point of disagreement this time, there are also other issues where significant numbers of Catholics are in tension with official teaching. These debates create fault lines within the Church and drive some people out of the pews while others remain firmly in place.

The Archdiocese seems to desire clarity in its application of Church teaching regarding marriage. Brebeuf is unwilling to cooperate with an action that would threaten the human dignity of one of its teachers. Those who prioritize doctrinal clarity may find themselves tempted to declare the Archdiocese “right” and Brebeuf “wrong.” Those whose instinct is to stand against the continued targeting of the Catholic LGBT community may be inclined to announce Brebeuf as “right” and the Archdiocese “wrong.”

We do not want further polarization in our Church. We support and stand with Brebeuf Jesuit and the Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus for refusing to cooperate with the further marginalization of the LGBT community. However, for us, as young Jesuits, the clash between Brebeuf Jesuit and the Archdiocese evokes less pride over being Jesuit-educated and more sorrow for the widening division of our Church. As such, this does not feel like a time to celebrate, as these events bear witness to the seemingly-expanding disconnect within the U.S. Catholic Church.

What happened at Brebeuf Jesuit could very well happen again at many other Catholic schools. Catholic schools have avoided knotty issues of LGBT employees and faculty for a long time, but those days may be over. As America reported in 2018, the employment of over 80 persons have been terminated due to issues with sexual orientation in the past decade.

Moreover, the pressure from outside groups that are self-appointed guardians of Church teaching has only increased. The loud, virulent noise made by these groups is deeply uncharitable, and pushes bishops and school leaders into painful confrontations rather than meaningful dialogue. As Pope Francis reminds us, our call is to facilitate grace, not conflict:

“The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open…Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.” Gaudete et Exsultate, 47.

Last but far from least, it is a matter of genuine sorrow that there should be conflict between a Jesuit school and their local ordinary. We are sons of the saint who devised the “Rules for Thinking with the Church,” and we are committed to obedience to the hierarchical Church. However, we find ourselves torn when parts of the Church are in conflict with one another.

Like so much else in the Church today, the conflict is a false one: between affirming Church teaching and affirming Church members. We are stuck in a Groundhog Day nightmare in which the teachings of the Church are routinely seen to be invoked without regard for the lived experiences of its most marginalized members, with very little sense for how the two sides might be bridged. 

The need for reconciliation is real and urgent. Pope Francis has repeatedly called the Church to a deeper practice of “encounter.” Without openly and humbly taking the time to encounter “the other,” no matter who they are, what role they have in the Church, or how much we disagree with them, reconciliation will be impossible.

What we most need now is a way through this impasse, one that bravely faces conflict but also loving gazes upon the human condition. Until then, conflicts such as these will have no winners, only losers.1

Categories: Things Jesuit

When “I’m sorry” is not Enough

Sun, 06/30/2019 - 23:01

What makes for a meaningful apology?

Apologies are difficult. They are difficult for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they are hard because we don’t know what we should say. Sometimes they are hard because we are embarrassed by what we did and by why we did it. Sometimes they are hard because our feelings are not where we want them to be; we don’t feel true contrition yet. Oftentimes they are hard because we have trouble believing that healing is possible. Whatever the combination of reasons, I was reminded in a recent podcast that no matter the situation, a good apology can go a long way towards healing both parties.  

This American Life published a podcast titled, “Get a Spine!” Among other things, it highlights an apology given by Dan Harmon, a co-creator of Community, to one of his former female employees, Megan Ganz. This apology was centered around how he had abused his power to try and win her favor for several years in the workplace. After she had turned him down, he treated her cruelly until he was eventually fired, ostensibly due to ratings.

This is a serious and prolonged case of sexual harassment that caused his employee a tremendous amount of hurt and confusion. Dan tried to apologize several times, but Megan told him they weren’t good enough. Finally after about 5 years , he delivered a very meaningful apology while recording one of his podcasts. It was an apology that even Megan Ganz, the former employee, accepted; she said so publicly.

I want to break down the text briefly, then offer hope for future apologies.

To my understanding, Dan’s apology was effective because he not only put a great deal of effort into it, but it was specific, empathetic, sincere, and authentic.

First, it was specific. Dan admitted to exactly what he had done wrong and explained each point as well as he could. He expressed specifically, albeit with some of meandering, what he had done that was so wrong. In sum, he admitted to the following things:

  1. He deceived himself about the significance of the attraction he felt for Megan.
  2. He deprived Megan of the opportunity to receive meaningful feedback on her writing since his motivations were always mixed as a supervisor.
  3. He abused his power in several ways through all of this ordeal.
  4. He lied about his feelings for another to his girlfriend at the time.

 

Being specific is extremely difficult because it requires digging into and then sitting with the motivations behind our actions. In the podcast, it’s clear that Dan feels the most distress at how much he was able to deceive himself when it came to acknowledging that feelings he could not control were heavily influencing his decisions. That is difficult to sit with because recognizing it doesn’t mean it won’t happen again and it means admitting to how weak we can be. Shoot, I’ve been motivated by fear, jealousy, and anger many times. It has necessitated several apologies whether to others or God. Being specific about the causes behind our actions is very difficult, but a necessary part of the most meaningful apology someone could give.

Second, it was empathetic. Dan admitted that he didn’t know exactly what it must have felt like on the receiving end of these abuses of power, but he acknowledged that it must have been very difficult and was incredibly unfair. Even though it is impossible to know exactly another person’s experience, it is possible to acknowledge with contrition some sense of the hurt the other must have felt.

As crazy as it might seem, you can be empathetic in a meaningful way after having caused the harm that person felt. Your emotions in the present are different from your emotions in the past. Circumstances change and your own motivations become clearer with time. Everyone experiences fluctuations in their emotions and if your apology also includes some explanation as to why you feel differently, empathy can be more easily received.

Third, the apology was sincere. Dan was clearly creating it as he was recording his podcast and being very intentional about every word that he said. His pauses punctuate the depth of this thought which betrays the strength of his conviction. He meant what he said and said what he meant. That doesn’t mean everything he said was right or perfect, but the apology came from his heart.

Frankly, this is encouraging because the more we struggle with making an apology the more sincere the apology will be. I’ve spent hours trying to name specifically why I did something. This has included journaling and conversation with others. Ultimately, that struggle is worthwhile because it will not only inform the apology, but helps me have the assurance that I am feeling sincere contrition.

Finally, and this was perhaps the most difficult one, his apology was authentic. Dan managed to create his own apology without much direction from Megan. He had asked her how to apologize during a 5 year period after the incidents had unfolded, but Megan had denied him an easy answer because she wasn’t sure either. Part of the effectiveness of this apology is that Dan came up with it on his own after careful thought and investigation. The entirety of the apology was made and delivered by Dan.

The same must be true for our own apologies. We oftentimes have to craft them ourselves and we always have to deliver them ourselves. The crafting can be very difficult because sometimes the other person doesn’t know what they want to hear, but we need to say something. It was true in the example above. I’ve sometimes coached friends on what I need to hear from them and, funny enough, it actually helps when they listen and say, “I understand.” Delivery too is difficult since you must be the one to do it. The delivery can happen via text or phone or video or in person, but it has to be crafted and delivered by you somehow.

Apologies can be incredibly difficult for a variety of reasons, but a meaningful apology includes being specific, empathetic, sincere, and authentic. The most important thing to remember and the best lesson we can take away from Dan’s podcast is that healing is possible for everyone and an apology can go a long way towards facilitating it.

***

Image courtesy FlickrCC user ashish joy.

Categories: Things Jesuit

Catholic 101: Planning a Catholic Wedding

Fri, 06/28/2019 - 01:00

So you’re engaged…Congratulations! Now that your parents and grandparents have been called, the “He/She said yes!” photos have been posted, it’s time to get down to details. And boy there are a lot of them! Among the first of them is likely to be finding a parish where you should have your wedding and setting a date.

Disclaimer: Before we dive into this, let’s just state the obvious: It is ALWAYS better to sit down with someone who knows what they’re doing instead of trying to figure it out on your own. This person will guide you through every step of the way. What I’m offering here is just a resource for couples to help begin planning your Catholic wedding.

“How do I start the process?”

Contact your local pastor first. Every Catholic church bulletin I’ve ever seen has a number to call if you are looking to plan a wedding. You’re probably going to actually have to pick up a phone and call (your phone can actually be used as a phone!) instead of emailing, but check the bulletin to make sure.

“We’re new in town and don’t have a church that we usually go to. What do we do?”

If you don’t have a place that you usually attend, you can find out what parish’s territory you live in pretty easily by calling your local diocesan office or by a web search. You could also find a parish that you would like to attend, or a church that is convenient for you and give them a call.

“We have a church that we usually attend, but it is UGLY! How do we find a prettier church to get married in?”

Here, liturgists would want me to say that the parish where you currently go to church is the most preferable place. Why? That’s your community of faith—the ministers, the people, the environment where you are living out your Catholic faith. Even if it’s a 1960s brutalist spaceship church (apologies to the Benedictines of St. John’s abbey), this is the space (ship) where you belong and are living out the Gospel in community.

If you’re just picking a prettier church, you could end up in a space that is separate from your regular worshipping community. Ideally, a wedding is a celebration for the whole worshipping community, and not just invited guests. It’s a chance for the whole parish to come together and celebrate God’s work in their lives. I get that you don’t want a bunch of randos showing up at the expensive reception, but I think that a destination parish impoverishes what the sacrament of matrimony is celebrating.

“So I HAVE to get married at my local parish?”

While it is preferable to do so, there are, of course, really good reasons to get married in a different church than the one that you usually go to:

  • You might be getting married in a place closer to family or friends.
  • You might want to get married in the church at the college where you studied.
  • Maybe you are still trying to find a church where you fit in.
  • Maybe you are having an enormous wedding and your guests won’t fit.
  • Maybe your home parish is booked on the only weekend you have free.

The list goes on. In these cases, it is perfectly acceptable to get married in a different church than your local one. You can contact the church where you want to get married to see what the process will look like to get married there even if you are living elsewhere.

“Do I have to get married in a church? I want an outdoor wedding!”

While there are exceptions, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has more or less said that Catholic weddings are to take place inside a church. The church building is a physical space where the Church gathers to perform its sacred rituals.

So, not to put too fine a point on it, the Church prohibits outdoor weddings. Of course beaches and mountains are beautiful and are certainly places where you can encounter God. But the church building is a central focal point for the community to celebrate its life together.

If you really want to explore the possibility of an outdoor wedding—say at an outdoor shrine—you will have to have a really good reason and then get the permission through the diocese.1 Talk to your local pastor about how to proceed.

“How long ahead of time should we contact the parish?”

How far in advance depends on the church, the time of year, how important a specific date is, etc. Some churches ask for a year in advance, but at least six months is also common. There are no requirements in canon law for how long you have to be engaged but the advance time is important so that all of the marriage preparation can be done.

“Marriage preparation? What is the church going to ask me to do?”

Once you contact the pastor, he will want the both of you to come in to begin the process. The actual process itself differs from diocese to diocese, but in general the preparation involves a few steps.

First, the process is catechetical—an opportunity to think, pray, and talk about the theology of marriage. Think of it as a kind of “Theology of Marriage 101” where the couple receives some pastoral education about the sacrament. Second, the process is investigatory—a series of questions to determine whether each party is “free to marry” and doesn’t have any impediments.[Footnote. With marriage there are sometimes reasons why you can’t get married, and these reasons are called impediments. An obvious example: you can’t marry someone you’re closely related to like your parent or sibling (even if you’re adopted). A more common impediment is that you can’t marry someone who is already married. Other examples include someone who is ordained, like a deacon, priest, or bishop, or someone who has made a public vow of chastity like a religious sister or brother.] Third, the process is interpersonal—an opportunity for you to grow in knowledge of one another, frequently by doing a marriage preparation inventory like FOCCUS to help start discussion about important issues that married couples face, and through a weekend marriage retreat.

“What do I do if I’m not marrying a Catholic?”

For this question, we have to approach the answer from two different perspectives: 1. The perspective that concerns the religious affiliation of the couple; 2. The perspective of what the ceremony could look like.

1.) The Couple

The Catholic Church sees non-Catholics in two groups: baptized non-Catholics (like Protestants) and non-baptized non-Catholics (like Muslims, Jews, Hindus, even a non-religious person who was simply never baptized). Let’s look at both groups.

A.) Marrying another Christian: “Mixed Marriages”

If your spouse-to-be is a baptized non-Catholic (like a Protestant), then you will need to seek permission through the diocese to enter what is called a “Mixed Marriage.” Your pastor can direct you to the appropriate person at the Diocesan office to get that permission.2 Before the diocese gives permission, three conditions must be met:3

  1. The Catholic party will promise to make a home that is hospitable to Catholicism and to do what is in their power to baptize and raise any children Catholic.
  2. The non-Catholic party is informed of the Catholic party’s responsibilities from #1. Just to be clear, the non-Catholic party does NOT have to promise anything. He or she just has to be informed of the promise being made by the Catholic partner.
  3. The couple receives instruction about the theology and nature of marriage.
B.) Marrying a non-Christian: “Disparity of Worship”

If your spouse-to-be is a non-baptized non-Catholic (whether Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, or just non-religious who was never baptized), then you will need to seek permission to enter a “Disparity of Worship Marriage.”4 Here, you will likewise need permission through the diocese,5 and satisfy the same three requirements mentioned in the previous paragraph.

2.) The Ceremony

So far, the Catholic Church presumes that the Catholic party will be married in a Catholic church by a Catholic minister, normally a priest or deacon. If you are not marrying a Catholic, the Church suggests that the ceremony might be a better expression of your marital union if it does not include Holy Communion.6 The reason is simple: do you really want half the congregation not coming up for communion? Or worse, feeling excluded? So in that case, you can have readings and a homily, the exchange of consent (vows), the nuptial blessing, and then head to the reception.

However, it’s also quite possible if you’re marrying a non-Catholic that having a Catholic wedding in a Catholic church with a Catholic minister might not be well-advised. Your spouse-to-be’s mother or father might be a minister in their church; they might have a very strong tie to their denomination; they might just simply not get/like/trust Catholics. The Church foresees this pastoral necessity and provides for something called a “Dispensation from Canonical Form.” This is another permission given through the diocese7 which allows you to get married by a minister of another tradition, in their ceremony, in their building, by their minister. The only set requirement is that the ceremony be public.

“What if my spouse and I got married outside the Catholic church, but we want to get it recognized now?”

Here, the process is fairly simple. Contact your local pastor, and he will likely take you through some questions, get copies of your baptismal certificates, and all that jazz. Second, you will likely go through some kind of marriage preparation, just like any other couple who is getting ready for the Sacramental celebration of marriage. Finally, you will have some kind of public ceremony where you will exchange consent before one another, the Church’s minister, and at least two witnesses. You’re done!

“What if one of us has been married before?”

This question is one of the more potentially complicated questions regarding the Catholic celebration of matrimony. If you or your spouse-to-be have ever been married in any way whatsoever—in a church, by the justice of the peace, or by an Elvis impersonator at the Forever Chapel in Las Vegas—it is essential to inform the person who is preparing you for the Sacrament. If either of you has been married before—again, in any way whatsoever—the question is whether that marriage was valid, and whether you are “free to marry” or not.

There are a few scenarios where your previous marriage or that of your spouse-to-be appears valid, and before being able to marry again, you will need what is called a “declaration of nullity,” more commonly called an “annulment.” Examples of scenarios that would require an annulment include:

  1. A Catholic marries another Catholic by a Catholic minister.
  2. A Catholic marries a baptized non-Catholic by a Catholic minister.
  3. A non-Catholic marries another non-Catholic in any circumstance at all—merely civil, religious, or by Elvis.

The third scenario is the one that confuses most people. “Why does my non-Catholic spouse-to-be need to follow Catholic procedures and get an annulment?” It’s a fair question, but I think that the answer makes a lot of sense. At its core, by recognizing the validity of non-Catholic marriages, the Catholic Church is making a profound statement towards ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue. The Church is saying that these other denominations as well as civil authorities are perfectly competent to celebrate marriage in their own traditions. If the Church didn’t require your non-Catholic partner to get a declaration of nullity, it would be the same thing as saying, “Non-Catholic marriages don’t really count.” Imagine the damage that would do!

Congratulations!

With these important details and decisions in place, you can get started on all the other details that planning your wedding day will entail: seating charts, flowers, band or DJ, buffet or served meal, open bar or cash bar…

Regardless of how you decide on those details, always remember that from a Catholic perspective, it’s important to remember that marriage is a Sacrament—an outward, external sign of the internal reality of God’s grace. In other words, when you and your spouse get married, you are providing to the whole Church a witness of God’s love for all people everywhere. And that is something worth celebrating!

Categories: Things Jesuit

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