Archive for May, 2004

Same Sex Marriage – the Revival of a 12th Century Heresy

Sunday, May 16th, 2004

Preached at St. Joseph Church, Woonsocket, Rhode Island, on May 16, 2004, the day before civil “marriage” between two men or two women became legal in Massachusetts, a mile up the road from my parish.

Homily — 6th Sunday Easter May 16, 2004

St Dominic Receives the Rosary from the Virgin Mary (Carlow Cathedral)

St Dominic Receives the Rosary from the Virgin Mary (Carlow Cathedral)

When I go up to Somerville near Boston to visit my sister, I sometimes take a walk up to McIntire and Moore Booksellers in Davis Square to look around. This book store is kind of a unique place, much like the rest of Somerville and nearby Cambridge. McIntire and Moore sells “new used” books — almost every book in the place has been in print for twenty or more years, but they all look like they’ve never been touched. I’ve bought two of them if you don’t believe me.

But besides this, the bookstore has a punk rock record store/nightclub feel to it. It’s kind of a hip place to be. It has that atmosphere Borders Bookstore spends ten of thousands of dollars trying to get but doesn’t achieve. All the signs are hand painted, the Talking Heads are playing on the stereo system, and you know you’re within a five mile radius of Harvard University.

So there I was, taking this all in and waiting for some new used book to interest me, when I hear a young man near me say something very strange to the woman with the purple hair behind the cash register: “Do you have any books on the Albigensian Heresy?”

As David Byrne and company kept the funky beat going in the background, the girl with the purple hair said “the what?”

“The Albigensian Heresy. I think it was in the 12th century.”

“Do you know the name of the author?”

I swung around with my clerics on and asked if I could be of assistance. The young man asking was a lot less radical looking than the cashier, your typical Bostonian urban college student. I told him I knew a little about that heresy, that it began in the 12th century from southern France and as a result St. Dominic formed the Dominican Order to defeat it.

We couldn’t find any books on it. Since it didn’t look like the guy was a religion major, I asked him why on earth did he want to learn about Albigensianism. He told me “the New Yorker Magazine had a neat article on it a few weeks ago.”

“The New Yorker Magazine — you sure?”

“Yup. It was pretty interesting.”

When I got back to my sister’s house, I told her about what happened and she said, “oh yes, I remember seeing that article but I didn’t read it. Here it is” — my sister is a subscriber to the New Yorker.

I must admit I knew very little myself about the heresy until I read the article. The main error the Albigensians fell into was that they saw the material world to be evil. Everything done by the body was sinful. Eating was a mortal sin. Walking was a mortal sin. Relations with a spouse were as sinful as relations with any other person. Wanting nice possessions was a mortal sin.

Everything you did with your body was equally sinful, except for one sin — to have children was the worst thing you could do, because it created more evil matter. And killing a person was a little less sinful, since you are freeing a person from their evil body. Actually, to kill yourself was considered a good thing, comparable to martyrdom, and hundreds of Albigensians did that to be freed of their bodies.

Thousands of people bought into this heresy, and it’s not too difficult to see why not, because if everything is forbidden than everything becomes doable.

Strangely enough, the New Yorker Magazine article which described these things was actually sympathetic to the heretics, kind of winking at their transgressions. Albigensianism was made to look “cool,” which is why this college student was asking a purple haired girl if she knew of any good books on this religion.

After praying and thinking more about this, I have come to the conclusion that after 700 years, the Albigensian Heresy is back and stronger than ever. The only difference is that the neo-Albigensians say matter isn’t evil or good, matter is just meaningless.

Tomorrow, on May 17, we will see another logical conclusion to this philosophy in the state just north of us. Massachusetts tomorrow will become the first state in our country to change the definition of the word marriage, a word that since the beginning of recorded history has meant the civil union of a man and a woman.

How has this happened? Is it like the movie and comic book X-Men, is humankind now evolving into a radical new thing? Or is it like the book A Wrinkle in Time, just made into a TV movie last week, have humans on planet earth expanded their cosmic consciousness due to scientific advancements? Or is it just further down the slippery slope, a further decay in the apple that on the outside looks shiny and fresh, but on the inside is full of creeping rot, an undermining of the foundations a civil society is based upon?
What would Jesus think of same-sex marriages? What would the apostles think of them?

In the first reading, there’s some problems occurring in the early Church in Antioch, and so they send men to Jerusalem to ask for answers from the Apostles. The Apostles say to them it is the decision of the Holy Spirit and us that such-and-such is to be done. The voice of God and the voice of the Church are now one, because Jesus is one flesh with His Bride the Church.

And the Magisterium, the apostolic teaching authority of the Church now based in Rome, has spoken regarding this current problem, as everyone knows: it is the decision of the Holy Spirit and us says the Catholic Church, that there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.

But how did we get to May 17, 2004? Why can’t we see the obvious? Because we have made the material world something meaningless in our modern world.

The Albigensian Heresy came rushing back to us in the 1960s with the Pill. The Pill made it possible to separate the unitive and procreative dimensions of our sexuality. People were able to be sexually active without the troublesome risks and responsibilities of children being born.

Everyone in the 1960’s accepted this separation of babies from the sexual act. Everyone that is but the big bad Roman Catholic Church. It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and us says Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae that it is gravely sinful to separate the unitive and procreative dimensions of the sexual act, based on the nature of the human person and the human body.

But we didn’t want to hear it, it would spoil the fun. So in order to justify the Pill, we became neo-Albigensians. The human body was meaningless, it was the spirit of love that mattered. So we went on not heeding the successors of the Apostles, and the 1970s brought in the next two phases, the sexual revolution followed by the gay rights movement.

Our culture was powerless to condemn extra-marital or homosexual actions, since one of the main reasons they are wrong is that they aren’t open to life, and neither are most heterosexual actions within marriage at this point. So we ultimately had to accept the gay lifestyle in our culture. But that was OK now, because the body was meaningless anyway. It was love that mattered.

Finally the last piece of the puzzle came with the advent of test tube babies. Now one can go to Lincoln RI and make a baby in a Petri dish. Two women can have a baby without a man getting too involved. What does it matter that a child doesn’t has two fathers and no mother or visa versa? The body doesn’t matter at all.

That’s wrong. From both a natural and a supernatural basis, the body has profound meaning which affects our moral life.

On the natural level, the family unit of a man and a woman is the best place psychologically to raise a child. Traditional marriage needs to be given privileged status in our society because of this. Homosexual persons should have the same rights as others, but not the special rights given to married people.

On a supernatural level, we believe that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The invisible God became a human, giving profound meaning to the body. And even if the Son of God hadn’t become Incarnate, our bodies still have spiritual significance.

What do we do now? Well, how was Albigensianism defeated the first time? The main weapon which defeated this heresy was the Holy Rosary. It was there in France at this time that the Rosary became a popular devotion of the people. There is even a pious tradition that the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Dominic and gave him the Rosary, saying “with this you will defeat the Albigensians.” Whether that apparition actually happened or not, St. Dominic did bring people back to the faith by the Rosary, and for 700 years that heresy was defeated.

And I am certain that this new outbreak of the same heresy can be conquered in the same way. Take up your Rosary, grab the beads in your hands, and realize you are praying to a woman now body and soul in Heaven. Meditate each day on the mysteries of our Faith: How the invisible God took Flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and was born into a family of one man and one woman; how in order to free us from our sins Jesus’ Human body was pierced and His blood was shed, and how Jesus rose from the dead in His human body. Pray that our culture comes to realize how God made us body and spirit.

Pray also for me and all priests and bishops. Soon it may be illegal to preach a homily like this. That might sound incredible to some of you, but it is already illegal in some countries.

For example, the April 19, 2004 issue of US News and World Report, on page 14 states that “In Sweden, sermons are explicitly covered by an anti-hate-speech law passed to protect homosexuals. The Swedish chancellor of justice said any reference to the Bible’s stating that homosexuality is sinful might be a criminal offense, and a Pentecostal minister is already facing charges. . . .In Ireland last August, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties warned that clergy who circulated a Vatican statement opposing gay marriages could face prosecution for incitement- to- hatred-legislation.”

The Church will continue to preach the truth in love, be it legal or illegal to do so. God forbid that I as a priest of Jesus Christ stop proclaiming His Gospel in its fullness. But perhaps the next time I give a homily like this, I will get a transfer back to living in my last parish — at the State Correctional Institutions in Cranston, half a mile up the road from St. Mark Church! If so, I’ll send you letters.

Until then, next time you see a Boston college student talking to a girl with purple hair about medieval heresies, hand them both a Rosary, OK?

“Pro-choice” Politicians and Holy Communion

Sunday, May 2nd, 2004

Homily — 4th Sunday of Easter May 2, 2004

The Good Shepherd, Catacombs of Saints Peter and Marcellus, Rome, 3rd c.

I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and mine know me.

Our Lord presents Himself in John Chapter 10 as the Good Shepherd, the model for all religious leaders who spiritually shepherd sheep. The Good Shepherd, the Good religious leader, Jesus says, gently leads the sheep of his flock to where the safe Green pastures are; The Good Shepherd often leaves the 99 sheep safely grazing on the hills and seeks after the 1 lost sheep of his flock; The Good Shepherd guards the sheep against the wolves that seek to devour the sheep; Finally, if necessary, our Lord says that the Good Shepherd must even lay down his life for his sheep.

And some days, it is not at all easy to be a Good Shepherd. Some days, the combination of lost sheep, prowling wolves, and severe weather conditions can make shepherding extremely challenging.

Such has been the case these days, in the lives of our shepherds, the Bishops of our Roman Catholic Church in the United States. Because of certain current events in our country, an internal matter of Church discipline — something that deals with things that only go on behind the Church doors — has come to the forefront of the world’s attention.

The issue came to a head of sorts on April 23, 2004, when Cardinal Francis Arinze, the head of the Vatican Office for the Discipline of the Sacraments, stated at a press conference that Catholic politicians who are “unambiguously pro-abortion” are objectively speaking not to be given Holy Communion.

Since presently in the United States, there are a good number of high profile, “unambiguously pro-abortion” politicians who profess to be Roman Catholic, and since these unambiguously pro-abortion Catholic politicians are frequently seen receiving Holy Communion every Sunday at Churches across the country, this statement by Cardinal Arinze certainly caught people’s attention, and made the phones ring in Bishop’s offices throughout the U.S. from the likes of the New York Times and CNN for their comments. In response to the statement, the U.S. Bishop’s Conference has set up a task force to study the issue, and to decide whether or not every diocese should be denying communion to politicians who continue to support legal abortion.

Clearly our shepherds have their shepherding cut out for them. For to be Good Shepherds in this situation, they have no choice but to walk down two very narrow and very treacherous paths: The path of refusing someone the sacraments because they are publicly sinning and refuse to repent; And the path of getting indirectly involved with politics as Church leaders.

The Good Shepherd, even any Shepherd, realizes that it is best to avoid at all costs going down either of these extreme paths. But at times, these paths must be taken. At times if the shepherds don’t take these paths, they put the innocent sheep at great risk; they lose the one lost sheep; they cause others led astray by him to be lost as well; and they give the wolves free reign in the pasture. At these times, if the shepherds don’t take these treacherous paths they betray their calling and fail to be Good Shepherds after the Heart of Christ.

The paths our Shepherds must walk down are treacherous because many people today have big misconceptions about these two issues. Some times we hear people say “the Church shouldn’t be trying to influence political elections.” The Church for the most part agrees. The political realm should have a rightful autonomy from the religious realm, and visa versa, but this autonomy is not an absolute one. For example, when a priest or a bishop violates a just civil law, the state has every right to prosecute that man. Likewise, when a politician breaks a moral law, or legislates an immoral law, the Church also has every right and in fact a moral obligation to speak out against this injustice.

This is why when we look back on things like the Holocaust, slavery, and communism, we always ask the question “what did the Church do when this was happening?” Certainly, the bishops who were vocally opposed to antisemitism in Nazi Germany, the cruel slave trade in America, and the communist gulag in Russia were the Good Shepherds of their day, while the ones who were silent because this was a political issue were those Jesus calls the “thieves and robbers” (John 10:8). The Good Shepherds cannot be silent when innocent human lives are legally being killed in our country at a rate of thousands per day. As Pope John Paul II said in the Encyclical the “Gospel of Life,” all Catholics have a “grave and clear obligation to oppose” any law that attacks human life. If to fail to oppose such a law is a grave sin, how much graver a sin is it to support such a law?

Another misconception is that no Catholic can ever be refused Holy Communion by a priest, that the sacraments are never to be denied any Catholic who requests them. Again, most of the time, this is correct. To deny the sacraments to a person who shouldn’t be denied them would be a terrible sin on the part of the priest, and the Church teaches this. As the saying goes, “the faithful have a right to the sacraments.” But this also is not an absolute right.

I as a priest, and all priests, also have an equally grave moral obligation to deny communion to any Catholic who publicly and persistently is acting contrary to Catholic teachings. This isn’t saying the person is evil, or even that he should know better. The person may even be sincerely following his conscience, but since what he’s doing is both objectively immoral and well known to the public, that person must be refused the sacraments to avoid scandal and for the person’s own good.

Finally, Church law is clear (see Declatation by the Pontifical Counsel for Legislative Texts, June 24, 2000) that the shepherd who is to determine these tough and individual concrete cases is first of all the parish priest who is immediately responsible for the particular community. Since it is the parish priest who is so to speak “in the trenches” (or to keep the analogy going, “in the pasture with the sheep” (but not “out to pasture”!)) and knows most intimately the community and what is and isn’t public knowledge, it falls first to him to make the prudential judgment regarding who if any in his flock is “obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin” as Canon Law phrases it.

But what if a priest thinks a certain group of people should be denied communion, but his bishop tells him to not deny those persons? Unless the Vatican has made an official statement, the priest is bound to follow the Bishop’s order and give Holy Communion to those persons. But no Bishop could contradict Rome’s official judgments. (And by the way, Cardinal Arinze’s comment isn’t an official Vatican judgement, it was just a comment made to a press reporter.)

My brothers and sisters in Christ, probably very soon we will get the official word (and perhaps, if not from our bishops, from Rome itself at the upcoming world Bishop’s synod) as to whether or not “unambiguously pro-abortion” Catholic politicians will still be given the Holy Eucharist in our country.

While good Catholics can disagree as to what the best sanction for these people should be, all Catholics must agree on the following: that to create and pass laws permitting the killing of innocent human life (which is what abortion is) is always gravely immoral; that those who actively support such laws commit objectively evil acts; and lastly, that even if they aren’t denied, they personally shouldn’t receive Holy Communion — not until they repent by going to confession and by publically renouncing their former pro-abortion position. May these men and women, to whom we otherwise owe the greatest respect and gratitude for their civil service, choose to repent of their pro-abortion stance by taking hold of the graces God right now so desires to give them as baptized Christians and as civil leaders.

And may the Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Conception and the Mother of Christ the Good Shepherd, guide the Shepherds and the Sheep to green pastures in this new springtime the Church now finds Herself in.