Posted: 27 Jul 2017 09:22 AM PDT
By Fr. Daniel Doctor:
As a priest, one of my roles is to be a spiritual physician. So, when those sick from sin and evil and its effects can come to the sacrament of confession, they can be relieved of them. The priest plays a vital role in our spiritual lives because he can diagnose the root cause of these spiritual illnesses that a soul can suffer from and can offer relief. As a priest in many different parishes throughout our diocese, but also looking at the America Catholic Church at large, my diagnosis as a spiritual physician is that our world, our culture, and in some cases even our Church, is suffering from a form of spiritual cancer. This form of spiritual cancer is unlike anything we physicians have seen before. This form of spiritual cancer metastasizes at a very fast rate and affects everything that it comes in contact with. It even seems, at times, that no solution or remedy… that no matter the spiritual practice, penance, or acquired virtues we develop, seem to be able to weaken its hold on us or even slow its rate of growth once it takes hold.
When we look back over the great Traditions of our Catholic Church, the great craft Our Lord has given to us priests to wield brings about our own personal holiness and our neighbor’s as well. This craft, this art, these skills which have been passed down to us by all those great saints, great spiritual physicians of old, we come to an understanding that our spiritual lives are not based on our feelings or ruled by our emotions. As a physician, I can’t offer cures that don’t work, or just based on how I feel today. My priestly action to help Our Lord cure or relieve the sufferings of others or the effects caused by sin is based on a rational science taught for over 2000 years. It is called the Science of the Saints and this Science offers a cure for the evils and sinfulness we see in the world and in our own lives.
According to these great Saints, the only known cure for this kind of spiritual cancer that is affecting our lives and our world is Eucharistic Adoration. When you come before our Lord in Adoration, Our Lord’s mercy and love radiate the spiritual cancer within us (that is, the sin and evil and its harmful effects.) And if we spend enough time in His presence, it radiates to the cellular level. As St. Paul taught “the wages of sin is death” and death is at work within those who live in sin. Our Lord, on the other hand, replaces the damage done by sin and evil at the deepest level within us, with His very presence transforming death into life.
We priests offer no other cure than the Divine Physician Himself! Who wants to penetrate our very selves at the deepest level with His most gracious and incredible Love, at the very level of our cells if you will.
Therefore, God begins to do His work in us: healing us, transforming us, helping us to be Holy, to be like Him. And as the cure works its course throughout us, we begin to be created anew, transformed into His very self. The cure for all the spiritual cancers and evils in our world is Jesus Christ and His wonderful presence in the Blessed Sacrament. Remember the words of our Lord, “Go and learn these words; I desire mercy not sacrifice,” and that Our Lord came to “call sinners not the righteous.” So, have we gone and learned the meaning of these words? Do we put them into practice? We all need Eucharistic Adoration in our lives if we ever hope to make it safely into the harbor of Heaven.
If we admit, and rightfully so, that we have sinned and are now infected or affected by those sins, we need the cure that radiates from the Heart of our Savior in the Holy Eucharist. To overcome being sick from the effects of our former way of life, we need a nurse to bring us all the way back to health. This nurse, God also provides in the healing and loving help we receive from the Mother of God, most especially from her Rosary.
You see, my brothers and sisters, the Rosary has two very important effects in those who pray it. First, it is a formidable weapon (!!) against any further infection from sin. It is a defense weapon against evil and its effects. Secondly, it teaches us the moral virtues, by reflecting on the mysteries. It is an offense weapon, offering to us a sure way of attacking the sins we need to learn to overcome, so that we live in a way that we no longer commit them.
The Blessed Virgin, being both a good Mother and life-giving Nurse, not only wants us to heal and get well. She does not wish any further or future damage to come to us. The greatest way to avoid future evil is by developing the virtues, which Mary’s Rosary gives to those who pray it. These the spiritual strengths and grace given to us by Our Lady help or fortify us against any future evil or its effects.
That’s why I love Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. He personifies the very core of what the Science of the Saints teaches us. At a very early age, he began sneaking out of his house very early in the morning to attend Mass. At the age of 7, he started Eucharistic Adoration giving an hour everyday and no one in his family knew.
His friends remarked of him, “you never saw him anywhere without his rosary in hand.” What an awesome thing to say of any Catholic! At the age of 14, he make his first Holy Communion and continued to received Our Lord every day until his death at the age of 24. He once said he was so blessed that Christ came to him in Holy Communion everyday that he had to return that love in acts of charity. When asked by his friends why he was always so happy, he responded, “How can I not be? I have Christ within me.” When a friend retorted, “How can you be so sure?” He responded, “I receive Him everyday and he has never refused me His presence.”
As Giorgio grew older and had more control over his schedule, while he was at college studying mining engineering, he would love to spend all night in Adoration. When asked what do you pray for he said, “I pray for all the youth of the world who are sinning” and for their conversion. At a very profound level Giorgio understood something we do not and it came to him in all those hours of Adoration, in all those countless rosaries, and bouquets of flowers he would bring to our Lady. It was a love story and the love story was about how God came down to a soul, the soul of a little boy, and transformed him into a Saint.
Giorgio was an athlete, a world class skier and mountain climber, a social leader and a political activist of his time even getting arrested for his religious beliefs. More than once he got into a fist fights to defend it. He was a college student working on his advanced degrees in Engineering. At his funeral Mass, over a thousand people from his hometown of Turin, Italy showed up. Why? Because of all those hours of love that he received from Our Lord and our Lady. He could not contain it, he had to spread it around. And so between all his social, political, and religious activities, as well as all his studies and family responsibilities, he still fed and took care of the health and physical needs of thousands of people. He would go into the poorest areas of Turin to care for their needs. Giorgio was one of the wealthiest Bachelors in all of Italy. Yet no one knew, not his friends, not his family, all the secret works of charity and acts of devotion to Our Lord and His Mother that he performed. But, even in all that he gave to poor, it is believed that he caught polio meningitis from them. Giorgio gave every ounce of himself to love others, even though in the end that is what killed him.
And now I think my spiritual best friend Giorgio looks at us with some pity, but with great encouragement. As Pope Benedict said of him, “Giorgio shows us that holiness is possible for all of us.” Why? Because what he did to become holy and a saint is something all of us can do, all of us should do: Eucharistic Adoration most especially at night and over night and praying the Rosary. That’s it, nothing less, nothing more. Just those two simple things, done with great love and persevering devotion directed his life and can make us saints, too. It did it to Giorgio and it can for you, too. Because these two devotions, more than any others, can make us holy.
Blessed Pier Giorgio was “no pie in the sky” Saint. He was quite practical and he had a vision of how we can and must help each other. As he said, the great gift that we Christians have is the gift of persuasion but we seldom use it. We don’t persuade others to be holy. We rarely persuade others to Eucharistic Adoration or to pray the Rosary. We have all these wonderful opportunities to help others become holy, if we would just persuaded them to do it. When you take the time to read over the letters that Giorgio sent to his friends and that his friends sent to him, you can see the great influence he had on their holiness and their belief that they could become holy. Because they could see it in him and he always encouraged and persuaded them to keep going to the top, to
keep climbing in their search to find and reach for God.
One of his closest friends once remarked, “He could convert you by making the sign of the cross.” Wow!! Simply making the sign of the cross could convert somebody!! How often we make it so sloppily and without much thought, like we are swatting flies, and all the while we could be converting somebody by our actions, by our devotions done reverently. This is what I think, and what most people, especially the youth, find so attractive about Blessed Giorgio. He is just like us, trying to make friends, trying to get though life, trying to get though college, and all the complexities of family and friends that go with it, and reaching – trying to get to heaven. But by some great miracle, that we all seem to miss, it was simply right in front of our face… all time.
As your priest and a spiritual physician, I hope I have persuaded you to take care of your spiritual health and to visit your spiritual physician often. Also, I hope I have given you a guide to better-improve your spiritual health. This is the power that the Communion of Saints have. They teach us, reveal to us how to be holy, how to be friends of Christ, how to save our souls. It is beyond words to express how important it is to read the lives of the Saints and realize what we can learn from them, beyond words to even describe the wonderful grace-filled effects that come to us from Eucharistic Adoration or praying the Rosary. So fill your lives with them.
St. Paul and the normalizing of homosexuality
We have the joy and privilege to be a leaven for good in society. That's an exhilarating vocation. It means working for as much justice and virtue in human affairs as we can. We have a special obligation to serve the weak and the poor, and to treat even those who hate us with love.
But while we're in the world and for the world, we're never finally of the world. And we need to understand what that means.
Writing in the mid-first century to "all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints" — and despite the dangers and frustrations he himself faced — St. Paul said, "I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek, for in it the righteousness of God is revealed ..." (Rom 1:7, 16-17).
Paul's Letter to the Romans became a key text of the New Testament. The Church has always revered it as part of the inspired Word of God and incorporated it into her thought and practice. The books of Scripture, even when they're morally demanding, are not shackles. They're part of God's story of love for humanity. They're guide rails that lead us to real dignity and salvation.
That's a good thing. Much of human history — far too much — is a record of our species' capacity for self-harm. The Word of God is an expression of his mercy. It helps us to become the people of integrity God created us to be. As Paul reminds us, we're "called to be saints."
Sometimes Scripture's lessons toward that end can be hard. But God cannot lie. His Word always speaks the truth. And the truth, as Jesus tells us in the Gospel, makes us free. This is why Christians must never be ashamed of God's Word — even when it's inconvenient.
In an age of sexual confusion and disorder, calls to chastity are not just unwelcome. They're despised. But that doesn't diminish the truth of the words Paul wrote, or their urgency for our own time.
Which brings us to the heart of my comments this week.
In Romans 1:21-27, speaking of the men and women of his time "who by their wickedness suppress the truth," Paul wrote:
"... for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools….
"Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
"For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error."
If reading that passage makes us uneasy, it should. Many of Paul's Roman listeners had the same response. Jesus didn't come to affirm us in our sins and destructive behaviors — whatever they might be — but to redeem us. Paul's message was as resented in some quarters then as it is now. In an age of sexual confusion and disorder, calls to chastity are not just unwelcome. They're despised. But that doesn't diminish the truth of the words Paul wrote, or their urgency for our own time.
What we do with our bodies matters. Sex is linked intimately to human identity and purpose. If our lives have no higher meaning than what we invent for ourselves, then sex is just another kind of modeling clay. We can shape it any way we please. But if our lives do have a higher purpose — and as Christians, we find that purpose in the Word of God — then so does our sexuality.
Acting in ways that violate that purpose becomes a form of self-abuse; and not just self-abuse, but a source of confusion and suffering for the wider culture. The fact that an individual's body might incline him or her to one sort of damaging sexual behavior, or to another very different sort, doesn't change this.
This can be a difficult teaching. It's easy to see why so many people try to finesse or soften or ignore Paul's words. In a culture of conflict, accommodation is always the least painful path. But it leads nowhere. It inspires no one. "Fitting in" to a society of deeply dysfunctional sexuality results in the ruin that we see in so many other dying Christian communities.
In his recent book Building a Bridge (HarperOne), Father James Martin, S.J., calls the Church to a spirit of respect, compassion and sensitivity in dealing with persons with same-sex attraction. This is good advice. It makes obvious sense. He asks the same spirit from persons in the LGBT community when dealing with the Church. Father Martin is a man whose work I often admire. Building a Bridge, though brief, is written with skill and good will.
"We cannot remain reluctant to speak about the beauty of the Church's teaching on sexuality and sexual identity for fear that it will appear 'unloving,' 'irrational,' or 'unreal.' We need to love the world enough to speak about the Christian vision of sexual reality..."
But what the text regrettably lacks is an engagement with the substance of what divides faithful Christians from those who see no sin in active same-sex relationships. The Church is not simply about unity — as valuable as that is — but about unity in God's love rooted in truth.
If the Letter to the Romans is true, then persons in unchaste relationships (whether homosexual or heterosexual) need conversion, not merely affirmation. If the Letter to the Romans is false, then Christian teaching is not only wrong but a wicked lie. Dealing with this frankly is the only way an honest discussion can be had.
And that honesty is what makes another recent book — Why I Don't Call Myself Gay by Daniel Mattson (Ignatius) — so extraordinarily moving and powerful. As Cardinal Robert Sarah writes in the Foreword, Mattson's candor about his own homosexuality, his struggles and failures, and his gradual transformation in Jesus Christ "bears witness to the mercy and goodness of God, to the efficacy of his grace, and to the veracity of the teachings of his Church."
In the words of Daniel Mattson himself:
"We cannot remain reluctant to speak about the beauty of the Church's teaching on sexuality and sexual identity for fear that it will appear 'unloving,' 'irrational,' or 'unreal.' We need to love the world enough to speak about the Christian vision of sexual reality, confident that God's creation of man as male and female is truly part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ we are called to proclaim to a lost and confused world.
"We need to be a light for the world and speak passionately about the richness of the Church's understanding of human sexuality. We can't place the Good News of the Church's teaching on human sexuality under a bushel any longer, for the world desperately needs the truth we have (p. 123)."
Spoken from experience. Spoken from the heart. No one could name the truth more clearly.