Monday, October 29, 2012

Social Costs of Pornography

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Readings for Sunday, October 28/ 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 126:1-6
Hebrews 5:1-6
Mark 10:46-52

“Every priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people.”

This passage has always stuck out to me, especially as I discerned and pursued a vocation to the priesthood, because it clearly reminds me of who I am. I am a sinner, beset by weakness. I’m not better than anyone because I’m a priest. I’m not holier than anyone because I’m a priest. I have a past, parts of which I’m not particularly proud of, but I am not confined or defined by it. Rather, I am defined by the life I choose to live as my life moves forward and the same goes for all of us. We have all done things in our lives that were sinful, but the reality is that God’s grace is bigger than anything in the past and the Mercy of God is so generous that even the most grievous offenses are forgiven instantly when we simply come to open our hearts to the One who died to ransom us for Heaven. There is always hope.

For the past several weeks we’ve all been hearing the presidential and vice-presidential debates, the ads on TV, the news, webpages and other media sources talk about all of the things going on in the world today, particularly the problems that must be addressed. We’ve heard endless discussions on things such as the economy, foreign policy, energy, and a list of other things. But one thing that I haven’t heard a word spoken about is actually one of the most destructive forces in our world today, and that destructive force is the reason you received those white ribbons when you came into Mass today: pornography.

I came across a book a while back that really interested me because it was a book entitled The Social Costs of Pornography, but which wasn’t written from a religious perspective. For the Catholic Church or a group of religious people to write a book against it would be for the world to chalk it up as religious belief trying to justify itself by coming up with facts to back up beliefs. Instead, this book is written by regular people who have to deal with the effects of pornography in our world: lawyers, psychologists, sociologists, computer techs, and other professionals who see it every day in the people they serve. This book comes together to give us some disturbing information.

 A few facts to show the scope of its reach:
-$100 billion dollars is spent on pornography each year.
-45% of teens view it regularly; not occasionally – regularly!
-90% of children between 8 and 16 years of age have viewed online pornography.

Some might see those numbers and be unconcerned because they think pornography isn’t really a problem. It is simply a private thing that doesn’t affect anyone and those who act it out are doing so freely, so what’s the big deal, right? Well, the big deal is that it is destroying the culture around us by destroying the way that we interact with other people.

For starters, the people who are in the videos or images are often there not because they enjoy it but because they’ve been coerced. Many who have been able to get away from this industry describe how drugs were offered to the actors and eventually they became dependent upon them, such that they were willing to do anything for the camera in order to get another high. Also, human trafficking is a major problem, as there are an estimated 13,000-15,000 people who are bought and sold into this market of sexual exploitation each year; slavery is still going on in our world today.

The part that is more notably affecting the world outside of those actors and producers is not much brighter. The statistics and findings of the report in that book on the social costs of pornography indicate a number of very serious problems – and below is just a small portion of the findings. The fact that internet pornography is so readily accessible on phones, notepads, computers, and every other electronic device means that it is there at our fingertips 24-hours a day, which encourages addictive behavior. Divorce lawyers indicated that nearly 25% of divorce cases indicated pornography use as a major factor in the separation.

But more fundamentally, it distorts the view of the human person. It has been noted that the problem with pornography not that it shows too much of the human person but that it shows too little. A picture or video cannot capture the soul of a person, it cannot show the whole person who is there but rather reduces them to their body parts. Pornography essentially makes people who are meant to be loved into objects that are used instead and this transfers into normal social interaction. Thus, users of pornography find it more difficult to enter into actual intimate relationships because they are unable to truly love but rather are gratifying themselves at the expense of the other. This means that faithfulness in marriage and relationships in general is drastically decreased. Also, users are constantly fed lies that distort the reality of true intimacy, hide the negative effects of unfaithfulness and extra-marital sexual encounters, and fail to provide any accurate depiction of what it means to be a man or woman and how to interact with the opposite sex. In general, pornography takes everything that can build up the human person and strengthen family life and does the exact opposite. Is it any wonder that as the dignity of the human person is denied in our world we see an increase in violence, promiscuity, and addictive behavior? This evil silently destroying our country and unless we personally and communally take a stand against it, we will continue to see the family and human person become less and less honored in our world.

So I end with this – pornography affects each and every single one of us. If it is affecting you or has in the past because of your use of it, there is always hope. As I said at the beginning of the homily, there is no sin that Christ won’t forgive and for that reason we don’t have to be bound up by the sins of the past. In fact, Christ longs to free us from these sins and to bring us to wholeness because we weren’t created for slavery and sin but for freedom and life eternal. We simply need to come to Him with open hearts, recognizing that Christ has the power to do anything. Like Bartimaeus in the Gospel today, we must cry out for the Lord and know that we are heard and He desires to effect the healing the same as He did for Bartimaeus.

For those not affect by it personally, thank God and pray for those who are. Pray for our youth who are being bombarded with it. Pray for families being broken apart by it. Pray for those still caught up in the industry themselves. God’s love is being our understanding and His grace works in powerful ways if we call upon Him and Our Blessed Mother is a perfect reflection of that love and all grace passes through her hands, so let us also pray through the intercession of Mary, Undoer of Knots, that the bonds of sin might be broken and true freedom would be known by all.
For more information on pornography and getting help:

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Servants for Many

Jesus Jokes!
Readings for Sunday, October 21/ 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Isaiah 53:10-11
Psalm 33:4-5, 18-20, 22
Hebrews 4:14-16
Mark 10:35-45

Did Jesus give his life up for all people or for many people?

Back in Advent, when the new translation of the Mass began to be implemented, one of the significant changes was that of the consecration prayer for the wine, which was changed from Christ’s blood being shed “for you and for all” to it being poured out “for you and for many”. Many began to wonder at this point – had the Church’s theology changes? Were we becoming more exclusive? And most significantly, did Jesus only die for certain people while leaving the rest on their own? The answer to each of those is a resounding ‘No!’

The reason the reason the translation was changed to indicate ‘for many’ rather than ‘for all’ is because of the scripture passages this weekend. When the Lord spoke those blessed words over the chalice at the Last Supper with the disciples, he used the term meaning ‘for many’ so as to implicitly point to the fact that He Himself is the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. Jesus is the one the Isaiah prophesied would come to give His life for sin that others might find life, and to justify humanity through His suffering. Jesus is the one that would come to ‘justify many’. How then do we reconcile such statements with the words of St. Peter, whose First Letter tells us that, “Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit?

Catholics believe and have always professed that Christ died not for a few people but for the whole of humanity. In taking on our flesh, we were all joined to Him in the justification that took place in His death. But the reality is that we each have free will and must choose to receive the gift of salvation that God offers to us. To say that Christ died ‘for many’ can in a sense be a positive statement indicating the large number of souls that have found eternal life through Him. But the flip side is the sad reality that not all are saved because not all desire to be saved and not all live according to the commandments of Christ and merit that salvation. Salvation is open to all, we just have to take the steps to open ourselves to receive it. And the Lord gives us a clue today on how that happens: by becoming servants.

When we think of becoming servants toward others we often think of doing acts of charity, like that done by Christ in the washing of the disciples’ feet. We think of the corporal works of mercy - feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and so on. But with the context of these scripture passages today, we see that the greatest act of the servant is His death that brings life. And since we are supposed to be imitators of Christ Jesus, we are called in the same way to put ourselves to death that others might find life. For some in the history of the Church that meant a martyrdom of great physical suffering and death; for us it means a martyrdom of a different kind.

St. Jean Vianney once said, “What will convert [a soul] is the sanctity of your own life.” The service we are called to by Our Lord is that of dying to ourselves daily, a sort of bloodless martyrdom, so that we can be people of holiness and help bring others to the faith, Christ Jesus and salvation. This sounds like  a huge task, but it is surprisingly simple and we get a few pointers in the scriptures today.

First, we must have a relationship with Jesus Christ. When Our Lord asks James and John what they wanted from Him, He already knew the answer. He simply wanted them to speak with Him and say it themselves; He wanted the relationship aspect because He knew it was important for them. The same applies with us – He doesn’t need us to say anything to Him because He knows it already, but He desires it because we need that relationship to find life.

Second, we must go to the Sacrament of Confession or Reconciliation. To be free to walk the path of holiness we must let go of the burden of sin in our lives. The Letter to the Hebrews commands us to “confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” The font of God’s Divine Mercy flows with abundant grace, but many unless we actually make use of it, it is there in vain.

And lastly is that more commonly understood sense of service. After we have come to know Christ and experienced the freedom from sin that He bought us at the price of His blood, we are called to go out and live the Gospel – to do the corporal works of mercy, to speak about Christ, to spread the Good News that we have been redeemed and that many will be saved if we but open ourselves to the gift held out to us. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Having Faith

Reading for Sunday, October 14/ 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Wisdom 7:7-11
Psalm 90:12-17
Hebrews 4:12-13
Mark 17:17-30

“At this statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”

As we hear this statement about the Rich Young Man in the Gospel going away sad, we should feel a similar sadness in our own hearts. The main point is not that the young man is so caught up in the worldly possessions he own. This is a story of a great lack of faith – he followed all the laws and commandments, yet he did not have faith in the Divine Lawgiver or the promise of heavenly treasure. It is because of his lack of faith that he does not come to know Christ. If that thought doesn’t evoke sorrow for him within our hearts, it’s time to do a little soul-searching because if we have come to know Jesus Christ personally in our own lives and experienced the incredible gift of being friends with the Lord, it should hurt us to see others come so close to Him and not experience the same.

This past Thursday, Pope Benedict XVI began the Year of Faith, lasting from October 11 of this year until November 24, 2013. Thursday was the 50th Anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th Anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. But that wasn't the primary reason for the Holy Father calling this Year of Faith. Rather, it was because of what he has identified as a 'profound crisis of faith.' Namely, the world around has lost the sense of God, faith, and anything other than what the world around us offers. To combat this, this year is supposed to be one in which each of us focuses on our own “authentic and renewed conversion to Christ” so as to be more compelled and better able to share our Catholic faith with the world around us; and our Gospel passage today gives us a beautiful outline of how to do so.

St. Mark’s description of the young man running up to Jesus seems to imply some urgency on his part; he has something important to ask. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” How do I get to Heaven? This is an important question and one which all of us should have asked ourselves before and must ask again from time to time. This is the first point in authentic conversion to Christ – we must realize that we have been created for something more than this life. We have been created for Heaven and that inheritance awaits us, but we must first walk the path to get there.

This brings us to our second point in conversion to Christ. Upon hearing the young man’s question, Our Lord recalls the Commandments. In speaking of these laws, Jesus is telling the young man the actions that must be done or avoided. This is necessary because doing what God desires is the path to Heaven. For us today, this path is quite clearly marked out for us by the Church. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the teaching of Jesus Christ has remained the same in its essence for nearly 2000 years. This faith has been beautifully preserved in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a book published 20 years ago under the guidance of Blessed John Paul II that outlines all the essential elements of our Catholic faith. We Catholics must know our faith so that generations after us can benefit from the beauty and wisdom of the teaching of Christ just as we have.

Upon hearing the Lord’s response about the Commandments, the young man says that he follows all the Commandments. Then something unexpected happens - Our Lord invites the young man to go an extra step and place his trust not in commandments or created things, but in Jesus Himself. He says simply, “follow me.” This personal invitation to relationship with Jesus is the key to personal conversion. Surely we must long for Heaven and we must know the teaching of Christ on how to get there, but most important of all is the relationship with Jesus Christ. Without this there is no conversion, there is no change of heart. The Letter to the Hebrews, written years after the death and resurrection of the Lord reminds us that “the word of God is living and effective” – Jesus Christ is still alive and very much at work in the world and in our lives. In the same way that Jesus looked at the young man and “looking at him, loved him” He does the same with us. In this moment Jesus in all of His glory is looking at each of us, loving us and inviting us to renew our commitment to follow after Him.  The Gospel passage etches into history the reality of the young man’s lack of faith. Let us today begin a new story wherein each of us is etched into the memory of our family, friends, and community around us not as a person who lacked faith but rather as a person who was fully alive with faith in Christ Jesus.

And how do we become those people of renewed and vibrant faith? We can read about our faith, we can put faith into action by acts of charity, and we can come to various classes and meetings to build us up in faith. But most of all, we must simply draw closer to Jesus Christ and know in our heart that He is alive and He loves us. This knowledge can only be found in prayer. So, in the end, while we are called to do many things, we must done only one – pray, pray, and pray.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Respect for Life Sunday

Readings for Sunday, October 7/ 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm 128:1-6
Hebrews 2:9-11
Mark 10:2-16

The more I hear confessions and the more I become aware of my own sinfulness, it becomes increasingly clear that the problem is not the litany of sins that we name when we go to confession but rather is the one sin that can often go unnamed - pride . The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines pride as “undue self-esteem or self-love, which seeks attention and honor and sets oneself in competition with God.” This competition with the Lord is simply the necessary first-step to sin – we put our human will against the God’s Divine Will and then we make the choice in favor of ourselves.

This exaltation of self and opposition to the Will of God, though is nothing new. Adam and Eve being brought up in our first reading only helps to connect the links that they were the first to sin against God, choosing to taste of the forbidden fruit rather than refrain. And thousands of years later, as a human race and as individuals, we still haven’t learned our lessons.

As we gather this weekend we celebrate Respect Life Sunday, if we’re honest with ourselves, we recognize that our country today isn’t really all that respectful of  human lives. Each year in our nearly 1.4 million children are killed from the horror of abortion. In the recent universal healthcare legislation, contraceptives to prevent pregnancy will be covered as ‘preventative healthcare’ as if a child were some sort of disease to be avoided at all costs. Additionally, three states have already legalized physician-assisted suicide and other states have begun working to move forward with such legislation. And as each year go by more and more people who suffer from mental, physical or psychological issues are being cast aside as they are said to have ‘poor quality of life’ or have lost their productivity in our society. All of these things and many more are grave injustices that are taking place right before our eyes and we, the people of God in America, have an obligation to work and pray for an end to it and that the Kingdom of God would truly reign in our society.

When Adam and Eve first chose to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they knew it was opposed to the Lord’s command. But they let themselves be convinced by the devil that it wasn’t wrong but that the Lord simply didn’t want them to become like Him. They bought into the lies and tried to change the rules, saying they had the right to eat of the tree. And they merited death for themselves and for us, their children.

Like our first parents, our country’s leaders have looked at the laws that God set up – laws that protected the unborn, that promoted the dignity of every human person from conception to natural death, and worked for the good of all people – and they have listened once again to the lies of the devil. Hearing that little whisper that we know better, that we have evolved, that God and His commandments are outdated, our country has begun to change little by little the laws of God. In addition to those named above, we could easily add the anti-life mentalities of many of our policies regarding immigration, war, the economy, and even sexuality. Ultimately what has happened is that people are no longer regarded as valuable because they have God-given dignity from being created in His image and likeness. Rather, people are valued based on what they can do for others, like products to be used rather than people to be loved.

For that reason we must pray and we must work to remedy these failures to follow after the Divine Will of God. Beginning with ourselves and spreading through our country and our world, we must be people who have a radical trust in God and His Will. In the Gospel Our Lord reminds us that “whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it” and so we must strive to be childlike, accepting as true what the Lord speaks to us through His Church and the Scriptures. This is something unique to our Catholic faith. Other individuals rely upon their own thought, their personal interpretations, and their study of particular things. But as G.K. Chesterton so beautifully put it, “A Catholic is a person who has plucked up courage to face the incredible and inconceivable idea that something else may be wiser than he is.” In other words, we know that God is bigger than us and for that reason we must trust in Him and His Will and defend it until the day He brings us to enjoy our Heavenly reward. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Guardian Angel Prayer

Guardian Angel by Pietro da Cortona
In honor of the Feast of the Guardian Angels, which we celebrate today, here is a beautiful prayer to our guardian angel composed by Fr. John Hardon, S.J.:
My guardian angel, you always behold the Holy Trinity. You are deeply loved by the divine Majesty. You know how desperately I need the grace of God to know what He wants me to do and the strength I need to surrender my stubborn will to His divine will. How I need your powerful intercession with Almighty God. I trust you will hear my prayer and I am confident that with your help I will live my life as a sacrifice of myself to God and thus merit to join you in that celestial glory where you are waiting for me.

In particular, dear angel of God, I ask for the grace to repent of my sin this day and every day. You love God so deeply becuase you understand His love so completely. Ask Our Lord to give me, a repentant sinner, something of your great love for Him, so that I may one day join you in heavenly glory. Our Lord promised that there will be great joy among the angels of God over one sinner who repents. May I give you and your fellow angels something of this joy because of my own generous repentance for my sins. Amen.
Read more of Fr. Hardon's writings about the angels HERE.