Saturday, October 07, 2006

Hard but good (Sunday homily)

Wow, that’s hard!
Jesus just talked about divorce and remarriage
tougher than any bishop or priest wants to do.

This is why the Church cannot recognize
a second marriage, after a divorce,
unless it’s determined the first marriage
was not valid as a sacrament.

When folks in a second marriage
can’t receive the Eucharist, this is why.

Is this hard? Yes—it’s hard.

Last Sunday, Sister Joan Clare and I
met with the youth group, talking about vocations
to the religious life and the priesthood.
The question of celibacy—
remaining single for the sake of the Kingdom—came up.
"Is it hard?" someone asked;
don’t you miss not having a family?

My answer was, sure it’s hard.
And yes, I would have liked to have had my own children.

I told them, what I want is all the good parts
of being married and having a family—
but none of the hard parts.
That’s what we all want!
So, whether its marriage and family, or celibacy,
we can either say, "it’s too hard—I can’t do it"…

Or, we embrace the challenge—the Cross—and say,
"I don’t know why this is my path, but it is;
I don’t know why it’s so hard.
But—if I walk it with Jesus Christ,
it will lead to my salvation."

What we learn is that, in the end,
the hard parts are the good parts!

Now, may I just point, here, how all this
amplifies the old-fashioned wisdom
of postponing various levels of intimacy,
until we’re "old enough"?

Parents, I know how you have to struggle
against the tide of our culture.
It’s hard to be "Dr. No" day after day after day.
I realize you have to choose your battles.

But it is necessary that you do fight these battles,
and draw the line.
You say No to things for reasons
your children may not understand—but you do.
Even on questions of clothing and modesty,
as well as dating and relationships.

This is where just waiting makes so much sense:
Waiting just to begin dating,
waiting further, for exclusive dating—
and, of course, waiting till marriage
for sexual intimacy.

Boy, is that old-fashioned!

But it makes sense:
As I said,
we want all the fun parts, but none of the hard parts.
So, if we front-load the fun stuff—
the romance and the physical stuff—
when will we deal with the hard parts of intimacy?

What often happens is they show up, years later,
like unpaid bills. After marriage, after children.

And if we didn’t gain the maturity and depth
of painful self-denial when we were dating,
we’ll face it, even more painfully, later on.

And this is why, I think, the Church’s teaching
on openness to the gift of life, to children, seems hard.
Because it makes no sense
if we think self-denial makes no sense.

Natural Family Planning is only "too hard"
if we find several days a month
of abstinence, "too hard."

But please note this:
in addition to Natural Family Planning
being totally consistent with Church teaching,
being safe, healthy, natural, and effective…
Couples that embrace Natural Family Planning
get divorced far less often.

Why? I’m not sure.
It could be that frankly embracing self-denial
at the powerful core of our being,
where the drive for gratification seems so strong,
radiates out into the rest of our lives,
and helps us die to self in all the other ways.

Yes, it’s hard. But it’s good.

For those of us given the gift of children—
and not all are—nothing is more gratifying.
If we don’t, or can’t, have children,
or we’re beyond the age to have children,
it’s still true that what makes life meaningful
is not what we get for ourselves,
our financial security, our careers,
but how much we give ourselves away.

It’s hard—but it’s good.

The first reading from Genesis,
and the second, from Hebrews, make clear
that God believes we can do it!

God created us, not to be mere wild animals,
but something higher.

When God became a human being,
he became "lower than the angels"—but in doing so,
he lifted us up higher than the angels!
Did you know that?
You and I are higher than the angels,
because we call God—Jesus—our brother!

God became man to walk the path of the Cross.
He knew we already faced it;
he came to make it a path of salvation for us.

The Cross is not easy! Nothing is harder.
But it is the path of salvation—
it is the way that leads to true Life.

Yes, it’s hard—but it’s good.


Anonymous said...

Friendship dating - going out in a big group - is a great way of mixing with the opposite sex and it allows us to find the one who might possibly be 'the one' and so we progress to courtship dating which, we hope, will lead to marriage.

The nuns always told us to keep away from proximate occasions of sin and boy were they right. The late night conversations in the car, the sexy movies - we know where they could lead.

Anonymous said...

Awesome homily, Father.
Hope you're feeling better...God bless!!

Anonymous said...

"This is why the Church cannot recognize a second marriage, after a divorce,unless it’s determined the first marriage was not valid as a sacrament."

And the Church -- at least the Church through its American-based tribunals, that is -- has, of late, bent over backwards to accomodate those divorced American Catholics that seek an annulment so that they may remarry.

I think it warrants mention to point out that while American Catholics make up only 6% of the world's Catholic population, American marriage tribunals issue approximately 80% of all the annulments granted worldwide each year. In the United States, roughly 90% of the petitions for annulment are granted. By way of contrast, only 37% of annulment petitions are granted in Italy.


Save Our Sacrament Fact Sheet

"Annulment is now a form of divorce in every way but name, and the church [hierarchy] refusal to acknowledge this is deeply corrupting. Moreover, the Catholic annulment procedures hurt children, are cruel to former spouses, force applicants to misrepresent the past, mock well-meaning priests, and drive many thousands out of the church. It is a disaster." -- James Carroll,author of Constantine's Sword

Fr Martin Fox said...


Any process can be abused; but I don't see that there's anything wrong with assisting people who wish to seek a declaration of nullity as they have the right to do (that is, to seek it).

One reason statistics from the U.S. suggest a high rate of such declarations being granted is that it is customary, if a case is presented, and the tribunal examines it and finds it wanting, it will often, at that point, invite the petitioner to withdraw the petition and avoid a negative determination. This will inevitably skew the rate of such declarations being granted.

Also, may I say that James Carroll doesn't have a lot of credibility; you might want to cite someone who actually loves the Church and her Faith, rather than being hostile.

Tracy said...

I think I am going to start printing these out (the ones about abstaining and waiting to date/pre-marital sex and put them in a booklet for my sons. Then, when they reach the age of "unreason" I'll hand them "Fr. Fox: It's NOT Just Your Parents Being Mean, this IS Church Teaching (and WHY)!

Thanks for sharing your homilies every's good to hear the truth being preached!

Deacon David Oatney said...

When I wrote on my blog this morning about today's Gospel and the nature of matrimony, I promise that I didn't know what you were going to say! As usual, you said it far better than my poor words could accomplish

Deacon Jim said...

As we discuss Catholic marriage, let's just for a moment put aside all the legality talk, and all the focus on sexual abstience and focus on one thing: Saints in our midst. Couples faithful to their commitment through years of struggle, through bouts of umemployment, through raising mentally or physically handicapped children, throuh sharing and carrying one's partner through his or her personal weaknessess. For getting up each morning and offering their lives together as one, no matter what, for the glory of God. That's the hard part you speak of. Let's celebrate these saints among us.

Anonymous said...

Nicely done, Father. I like how you blended several disparate topics that people need to hear about in one homily - marriage, divorce, annulment, chastity. I am glad to see priests brave enough to handle those issues in front of a public perhaps not always willing to hear them. Perhaps that is another "Hard but good" for a priest, eh?

Anonymous said...


One other thing that may lead to more declarations of nullity here in the U.S. is due to lack of formation in marriage preparation. How many people get married and "zone out" or "have their fingers crossed" when the celebrant asks the questions: "Have you come here freely? Do you promise to welcome children?" These questions are sorely misquoted by me, however, I wonder how many folks really understand what is at the heart of these questions.

Anonymous said...

Father, I don't dispute that American Catholics have a right to seek an annulment. My concern is that American tribunals issue entirely too many decrees of nullity. Moreoever, the reasons American tribunals now give in support for these decrees (e.g., "lack of due discretion" and/or "lack of due competence") tend to make a mockery of both Christ's teaching and the sacrament of marriage itself.

When cannon lawyers are boasting to the former Mrs. Kennedy that "There isn't a marriage in America that we can't annul;" when a disproportinately high number of annulments come from the eastern seaboard of the United States; then, yes, annulments have become, in practice, a form of "Catholic Divorce in every way but name."

Shattered Faith, by Shelia Rauch Kennedy

In 1968, there were 338 annulments granted in the United States. In 1998, that number had skyrocketed to 50,498.

Anonymous said...

Just as the priest/sex abuse was a scandal, so too, is the "catholic divorce" (annulments) the scandal among the laity. 50,000 plus annulments from 1968 to 1998 says it all. I don't think this is what our Beloved Lord had in mind when he said "what God has bound together, let no man put asunder." And today, that especially applies to
Neal at Wouldn't you agree, Fr.?

Suffice it to say, I believe our Blessed Lord was laying it out in black and white terms, no sugar coating and no wiggle room for those who want to bail out. In other words, "for better or worse, richer or poorer, til death do you part" is what the King of Kings had in mind. The last several years I have been amazed how some priest have fashioned our Lord's words to not mean what they really mean. Having been blessed to be married to the same woman for almost 30 years, I have to say that when Our Lord said, " . . .let no man put it asunder," that "man" our Lord is referring to first is "ME"! Wouldn't you agree, Fr.?
Peace to all.

Anonymous said...

Father -

A very interesting post, and as a lifelong Catholic, I fully understand it. Unfortunately, it also underlines why the Church and I have a gulf between us that I often fear cannot be bridged.

Here is why: my wife was married in the Church and later divorced, for the simple reason that her husband was having an affair and chose to dissolve the marriage. This decision was made by him and not her, and she was faithful during that marriage.

She has hesitated to pursue Nullity because she has been told that there would be contact made to both sides and that they would likely have to meet in person in front of the Tribunal in order for a determination to be made.

This, of course, would rip open an incredibly painful part of her past, one she simply does not wish to open.

Because of this, we married outside of the Church, and I have not had Communion for more than five years. That does not affect my belief, or the belief in the teachings, but I will say that I feel the innocent victim or a tragic circumstance I had nothing whatsoever in creating. My prayers are that I will be forgiven by God since it appears beyond the capability of the Church itself.

There simply must be a way to resolve this dilemna, but I am lost as to how to proceed.

So, in summary, there are always complications....

With warm regards,
Charles Boyer
Raleigh, NC

ps -- Thank you so very much for this blog. It is a light.

Anonymous said...

well said