Monday of the 29th Week of Ordinary Time: Being rich in what matters to God

Today’s readings

I don’t know about you, but it’s getting harder and harder to get out of bed these days. I always find that in these waning days of the year, when the mornings are cooler (dare I say “colder?”), and there is less sunshine in the morning, I just want to pull up the covers and go back to bed when the alarm rings. That’s kind of how the year ebbs and flows. So in these days toward the end of the year, our thoughts naturally think of life and death, and the life to come. We approach All Soul’s Day, and Thanksgiving – which is the end of the harvest, – and Christmastime and New Year’s Eve, which makes us think about the end of the year.

We’ll notice, too, that the readings toward the end of the year start to make us look toward the end. The rich man in today’s Gospel parable would have done well to think of the end of things and to get his affairs in order. But he foolishly thought he would live forever, and prepared to enjoy his riches for years to com. Only those years were cut short and his life was required of him that very evening.

The moral of the story, so to speak, is the message we need to hear. We never know how many days will be given us, and so we must always be ready to meet our Lord and Savior. And what we have to be storing up is the riches that will endure in heaven. We must attend to our spiritual life, taking time for prayer and worship. We must attend to the needs of others, serving them as if they were Christ himself. We must live our days in joyful praise of the One who created us. We must be truly rich in what matters to God.

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Much will be expected!

Today’s readings

Of those to whom much has been given, much will be expected.

These words, spoken by Jesus in another place in the Gospels, are very related to the words we hear him speak to us today:

Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.
For the Son of Man did not come to be served,
but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.

The message of the whole of the Gospel is that simple, and the message of the whole of the Gospel is that difficult. We are all called to enter the kingdom of God, but much as James and John, and later all the rest of the Twelve, missed, that kingdom is not one of personal glory but rather of the glory of God, which is accomplished through service and through pouring out our lives for the good of others. There is no other way to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus was very clear about that to his disciples, and that includes all of us, brothers and sisters in Christ. This Sunday’s readings, then, provide a kind of examination of conscience for all of us who would be disciples of Jesus. Each of us has to do that according to his or her own station in life.

A little more than a year ago, I sat down in my room at the seminary and picked up a piece of the school’s stationery and a pen and began to write a letter that I knew would change my life forever. “Dear Bishop Imesch,” I began, “I ask that you would ordain me to the Order of Deacon for service in the diocese of Joliet.” Canon Law requires that this letter be written to the Bishop in the days before Ordination, asking for permission to be ordained, and pledging a life of service and obedience to the bishop and the diocese. Apparently my request was granted, because on November 4th, of 2005, Bishop Kaffer ordained me to the transitional diaconate.

And it has changed my life forever. When I preach the words I just quoted, it is with a sense of fear and trepidation. Because the Greek word diakonia, from which we derive our word “deacon,” means service. Even though I was ordained a priest in June, I don’t stop being a deacon. That level of ordination underlies my service as a priest, and I am bound by my promises to live the life I promised to live last November. And quite honestly, my salvation depends on doing just that.

In the homily of that Ordination Mass, Bishop Kaffer proclaimed the following words, which are part of the Ordination Rite:

This man, our brother, is now to be raised to the order of deacon …By consecration deacons preach the Gospel, sustain God’s people and assist in the Liturgy…From the way he goes about these duties, may you recognize him as a disciple of Jesus, who came to serve, not to be served…

Then he addressed some specific words to me, including these:

As a deacon you will serve Jesus Christ, who was known among his disciples as the one who served others. Do the will of God generously. Serve God and humankind in love and joy…

 

Express in action what you proclaim by word of mouth. Then the people of Christ, brought to life by the Spirit, will be an offering God accepts. Finally, on the last day, when you go to meet the Lord, you will hear him say: “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.”

You can hear, in all these words, how much today’s readings remind me of the commitment I made almost a year ago. Once again, of those to whom much has been given, much will be expected. I have been given the wonderful grace of Ordination to the diaconate, and to the priesthood. I have the opportunity to minister in a community that has welcomed me and accepted me as part of the parish. I have a good place to live, and am taken care of in many ways. I have been given much.

So the question is, of course, how have I lived up to what is expected of me? Have I given of myself unselfishly? Do I sacrifice my own needs and desires for the good of those I serve? Do I remain joyful in service even when the task is hard or the hours long? Am I so addicted to good feelings that I shy away from preaching what needs to be said? Have I reached out to the poor? Have I been dedicated to standing with the sick and the suffering, and those who grieve the loss of loved ones? Is prayer for all of those I serve constantly on my lips? Has love and service been the way in which I approach every situation, meeting, or occasion?

I have to confess that in this year of ordained service, I have not always done what has been expected of me. Sometimes I have failed in these ways and have made my ministry more about me than about Christ. I pray that the year ahead will be a better one, and that I will continue to grow in ministry and most of all in service to Christ and to every person.

What about all of you? Have you received much? We live in one of the most affluent areas of the world. Not negating the fact that we all have difficulties in life, still what we have could be envied by most of the world’s population. We have all received much, and from us, much is expected. As members of the Body of Christ, we have received God’s grace through Baptism and the other Sacraments, and we are called to share that grace with others, according to the example of Christ, who came not to be served but to serve. Listen to these words of instruction from the Rite of Confirmation:

The promised strength of the Holy Spirit, which you are to receive, will make you more like Christ and help you to be witnesses to his suffering, death, and resurrection. It will strengthen you to be active members of the Church and to build up the Body of Christ in faith and love.

The call is there for all of us, and we are to follow it. We have received much, and much will be expected of all of us. So, reflecting on these readings, let us ask ourselves: Have we striven to make Christ present in every place where we are by our thoughts, words and actions? Have we been ministers of the Lord to those who are in need, to the sick and the aged, to those who have no one to care for them? Have we made the present the love of Christ in our workplaces, classrooms, communities and homes? Have we made worship a priority, and have we always gone forth in peace to love and serve the Lord?

Maybe, like me, you would have to confess that all of your life has not been lived that way. Maybe you have had some particularly un-Christ-like moments this past year. Maybe you have been more about being served than about serving others. Maybe you have made it all about you. Join me in repenting of that, and in seeking forgiveness from those you have not served as you should. Join me in praying that the year ahead will find us giving our lives as a ransom for many.

As we approach the Eucharistic table with our gifts today, let us also bring forward our better moments of diakonia, and leave behind the moments where that has not been a priority for us. As we reach out to receive the precious Body and Blood of our Lord who gave his very life for us, let us also receive his strength and Spirit that we may go forth to be the Body of Christ to everyone in our lives and in our communities. Let us repent of our selfishness and greed and reach out to others in generosity and charity. Let us be the servants of all and the slaves of all, so that we might paint our world with the compassion of our Lord. Let us stop trying to get into the kingdom of God like James and John and the others in today’s Gospel, and remember that the kingdom of God is not about us. As Christ gave his very life for us, so let us too give our lives in service to others, that we might be a ransom for many who would otherwise not know the Lord. Let us all raise the bar of our stewardship of time, talent and treasure to the level that Jesus did in giving his life for us. May we all stop making our ministries about us rather than about Christ and those we serve. May we all be renewed in the commitment we made at Baptism, and the commitments we have made to service. Let us proclaim Christ in every thought and deed.

Because … of those to whom much has been given, much will be expected.

Saturday of the 28th Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The greatest prayer of the homilist is that the Spirit will give him the words that God wants his people to hear. That is the prayer that hopefully all of us pray before we sit down to write or plan our words. Then, we do our homework, praying over and studying the words of Scripture. Then comes the scary part: this prayer makes a certain leap of faith necessary. At some point, we have to trust that the words we have are actually the answer to that prayer and then deliver them with confidence.

The same is true on a day-in, day-out level for all Christians. We should all be praying that the Spirit will help us to answer the questions that we sometimes get about our faith. Why does the Church teach some particular thing? Why do you Catholics pray to Mary and the Saints? You could probably fill out the list of questions that you have received all through your life. And each of us is actually on for answering these questions. When you get these questions, you are the homilist! You must pray that the words you use to answer the questions will be helpful to the person asking. You must do your homework, growing in your faith through adult enrichment of some kind. And then you must trust that the words you speak will actually be the words that person needs to hear.

This is the reality that Jesus is teaching his disciples in today’s Gospel. The Spirit is trustworthy. We can trust that we will have the words to answer those who question us, whether they be accusers or people genuinely interested in our faith. For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say. It couldn’t be clearer.

Today we are celebrating a Mass of Mary, Help of Christians. This Mass commemorates the freeing of Pope Pius VII on May 24, 1814. Having been driven from Rome by force of arms, the Church prayed through the intercession of Mary for his deliverance, and that deliverance came to pass. Mary continues to intercede for the Church in all kinds of persecution. We can rely on her help to answer those questions of the faith and know that through her intercession, the Holy Spirit will never leave the Church without the words we should say.

St. Isaac Jogues, John de Brébeuf and Companions, Martyrs

Today’s Feast | Today’s readings: 2 Corinthians 4:7-15; Matthew 28:16-20

joguesbrebeuf

 

St. Isaac and St. John were among eight missionaries who worked among the Huron and Iroquois Indians in the New World in the seventeenth century. They were devoted to their work and were accomplishing many conversions. The conversions, though, were not welcomed by the tribes, and eventually St. Isaac was captured and imprisoned by the Iroquois for months. He was moved from village to village and was tortured and beaten all along the way. Eventually he was able to escape and return to France. But zeal for his mission compelled him to return, and to resume his work among the Indians when a peace treaty was signed in 1646. His belief that the peace treaty would be observed turned out to be false hope, and he was captured by a Mohawk war party and beheaded.

St. John worked among the Iroquois and ministered to them amid a smallpox epidemic. As a scholastic Jesuit, he was able to compose a catechism and write a dictionary in Huron, which made possible many conversions. He was eventually captured, tortured and killed by the Iroquois. These eight missionaries received the Great Commission that we heard in today’s Gospel: Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:18-19)

St. John prayed for the grace to accept the martyrdom he knew he may one day have to suffer. He wrote about it in his diary:

May I die only for you, if you will grant me this grace, since you willingly died for me. Let me so live that you may grant me the gift of such a happy death. In this way, my God and Savior, I will take from your hand the cup of your sufferings and call on your name: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

 

My God, it grieves me greatly that you are not known, that in this savage wilderness all have not been converted to you, that sin has not been driven from it. My God, even if all the brutal tortures which prisoners in this region must endure should fall on me, I offer myself most willingly to them and I alone shall suffer them all.

What we see in St. Isaac and St. John and their companions is that we can never relax our zeal for the mission. Whatever the costs to us, Christ must be made known, those who do not believe must be converted, and sin must be driven out of every time and place. That is the mission of disciples in this world, and sometimes the mission results in death. For us that probably isn’t true, but would that we would endure the sufferings of proclaiming an unpopular message to those who need to hear it. Would that we would endure those sufferings with the same zeal for the mission that these French Jesuits did. As I said on the memorial of St. Ignatius on Tuesday, our martyrdom may not be bloody, but it is none the less real. And our mission may not be to a culture so different to us as the Indian cultures were to the French, but that mission is none the less vital to the salvation of the world.

Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr

Today’s feast | Today’s readings: Philippians 3:17-4:1 / Psalm 34 / John 12:24-26

St. Ignatius was a convert to Christianity who eventually became the bishop of Antioch. During his time in Antioch, the Emperor Trajan began persecuting the Church there and forced people to choose between death and denying the faith. Ignatius would have none of that, so he was placed in chains and brought to Rome for execution. During the long journey, he wrote to many of the churches. These letters famously encouraged the Christians there to remain faithful and to obey their superiors.

Obedience was a strong theme for Ignatius, who was very concerned about Church unity. He felt that unity could best be achieved by all being obedient to the bishop and acting in harmony with one another, living the Gospel that had been proclaimed to them. Perhaps the most famous of his letters, though, was the final one in which he exhorted the Christians in Rome not to try to stop his execution. He said to them, “The only thing I ask of you is to allow me to offer the libation of my blood to God. I am the wheat of the Lord; may I be ground by the teeth of the beasts to become the immaculate bread of Christ.”

How well Ignatius knew the writings of St. Paul as we heard from the letter to the Philippians today. Paul rightly reminds us that our citizenship is in heaven. Whatever we have to suffer in these days, we must remember that we are not home yet. We still have the Kingdom of God to look forward to, and we must never be deterred from our journey to get there. Ignatius knew that the way for him to be with Christ was through the martyrdom he would have to suffer, and he did not want to be deterred from going through it.

Ignatius was that grain of wheat that fell to the ground and died, only to become a stalk that bore much fruit. We too must be willing to die to ourselves, letting go of hurts and the pains this life can bring us, so that we might merit the everlasting crown of heaven. Our martyrdom may not be bloody, but it is no less real, and we must be willing to suffer it in order to be with Christ. In today’s Eucharist, may we too be ready to offer the libation of pouring out our lives and being ground into the great wheat of the Body of Christ.

Don’t be afraid of the Light!

[Homily for our youth reconciliation service.]

I confessed to the 3rd, 4th and 5th graders from our school on Friday that I used to be afraid of the dark. I asked them and all the adults present how many of them have ever been afraid of the dark, and – no surprise – almost everyone raised their hands. Don't worry, I'm not going to ask all of you to fess up on that and let all your friends know one of your childhood secrets! But I think we can all agree that at some point, most of us have been afraid of the dark.

When we're in the dark, obviously there is danger. We don't know if there's something we can fall over, or if some other kind of danger is lurking in that darkness. In order to find our way in the dark, we need some source of light to pierce through it all. When I was going to bed when I was little, I used to make my parents leave the door open just a little bit, so that the light from the hall would scatter some of the darkness and some of my fear. For centuries, people navigating through the dark of night would use the light of the moon and the location of the stars to pierce the darkness and lead them safely to their destinations.

For us Christians, too, we need a light to direct us, a light to scatter the darkness of a world steeped in sin, evil and despair. Many dangers lurk in that kind of darkness for us, and if we don't have a light, we could come to a very frightening end. If we were to admit that we were afraid of this kind of darkness, we'd be taking a step in the right direction.

And you all know the kind of darkness I mean. Maybe it's the easy availability and lure of drugs or alcohol. Maybe it's the temptation to copy a paper off the internet, or let someone else do our school work for us. Maybe it's the deep desire to go too far in our relationships, or viewing others as mere objects of our passions. Maybe it's the tendency to judge other people by what they wear, where they live, or where they come from. Maybe it's getting caught up in gossip and idle talk, ruining others' reputations. Maybe it's getting wrapped up in ourselves and our own egos and selfishness, and not reaching out to others, or even putting them down. Maybe it's the times we are quick to argue or fight with parents, family or others. All of this darkness can swallow us up and lead us to very dangerous places indeed.

We need a light to pierce through all of that darkness, if we're ever going to find our way out of it. We began to open up the light at the beginning of our service when we lit the Paschal Candle. That light that stands for Christ, and more importantly, Christ's victory over death through the Resurrection, that light will lead us out of the darkness of our sin. In the Confirmation Interviews I did this past week, many of you picked as a portion of the Gospel you'd like to use in your prayer the brief quote "Don't be afraid; just have faith." Jesus said this to Jairus, the man whose daughter had just died, just before Jesus raised her up. And this is what we want all of you to hear tonight.

Don't be afraid; just have faith. It's easy for us to think our sins have made us rotten to the core, unworthy of God's love, but that's not true. It's easy to think Jesus would have no more time for us when we've turned away from him time and time again, but that's now how Jesus works. It's easy for us to feel unlovable when we've messed up our lives in so many ways, but God's love is different than that. God's love is enduring, reaching out to us through the darkness of sin and evil, and giving us the light that will lead us out toward God himself.

Don't be afraid; just have faith. Maybe you haven't been to Confession since your first Confession years ago. Maybe you've forgotten how to do it. If that's true of you, then all of us priests here want to say "welcome back, and do not be afraid." We will help you to make a good Confession; we will help you to open yourself up to receive the light of Christ that will lead you back to God's love.

Don't be afraid; just have faith. Maybe there's something that you've had on your conscience for a long time now, and you've been afraid to confess it. Maybe you haven't told anyone else about it. Maybe it's something you're confused about. Perhaps you're not even sure it's a sin and you just need to understand the situation better. Maybe you're worried that the priest you go to will think less of you when you confess that sin. Forget all that. Come to one of us and confess it. We've heard a lot of stuff in Confession before and what I can say for myself is that when someone confesses something that has obviously been dragging them down for a long time, I have great admiration for their courage and their desire to make things right with the Lord. Again, we are here to bring you back to Jesus, and if you've come here tonight and don't take advantage of that opportunity, we're going to be heartbroken.

In a few weeks, Bishop Imesch will be here to anoint you with Chrism and Confirm you. We hope that you will be able to do that with the blazing light of a clear conscience and a pure heart. That's probably not where you are right now, but it can be where you'll be in a few minutes. Don't be afraid; just have faith. Know that Jesus who could raise Jairus's daughter from the dead is the same Jesus who will raise you up from your sins. Know that the light you kindle tonight can become the blaze that takes you out of the dark places you might be in right now. If we were able to admit it, I think we'd all have to say that we are or have been afraid of the dark at some point in our lives. But there is no reason – no reason – that we should be afraid of the light.

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Stewardship of God’s Gifts

Today’s readings

It’s a matter of hanging on to things that have no permanence. Those who have wealth will find it extremely difficult to enter the kingdom of God. You see, brothers and sisters in Christ, being wealthy is nice, but it is a lousy substitute for the enduring riches of entering the kingdom of God. Today we reflect on stewardship. Stewardship is a recognition that we do not have anything that is not a gift to us. Even if we feel we have worked hard for the things we own, we Christians must recognize that our ability to work that hard is itself a gift. We came into this world with nothing, and that’s exactly how we’ll leave it. We should therefore grasp onto nothing that will distract us from living our faith and being good stewards of what we have been given. Let us instead grasp on the enduring riches of our faith, that faith which brings us to Jesus Christ, who alone can gift us with the kingdom of God.

At this point a speaker from our stewardship commission continued with a reflection on stewardship.

Friday of the 27th Week of Ordinary Time: The Light of Christ

Today’s readings: Ephesians 1:15-16, 18-19a and Mark 5:21-24, 35-36, 38-42 [Mass for the school children]

I have a confession to make: a long time ago when I was a little kid, I used to be afraid of the dark. When I would go to bed, I remember making my parents leave the door open just a little bit, so that I could get some of the light from the hallway while I was going to sleep. How many of you were ever afraid of the dark?

The darkness can be a really scary place to be sometimes. In the dark, you can’t see who or what may be there with you, and it makes you feel sometimes like you’re all alone. If you’ve ever been outside lost in the dark, you know how scary that can be.

In today’s Gospel, the daughter of Jairus was in a very deep kind of darkness: the darkness of death. Lots of times we are afraid of death because we don’t know what it is like when we die. Ever since Jesus died and rose, we know that we can go to heaven, but back before that, they didn’t think that would happen at all. So it was scary for Jairus’s daughter to be dead.

Darkness can be a symbol of evil, of very bad stuff. Because darkness is so scary, it reminds us of our sins. Remember that I said when you’re in the dark it can feel like you’re all alone? Well, the darkness of our sins is exactly like that. Our sins make us all alone in the world, and we feel abandoned.

I know some of you have done projects about darkness … would you share them with us?

When we’re in the dark we need some kind of light to show us the way. I found this flashlight finally in all the stuff I packed when I moved here to St. Raphael’s. I’ve had this flashlight forever, and it has helped a lot of times when the lights went out, or when I had to look for something in a dark corner of a room. A flashlight can help us see in the dark. What else can help us see in the dark?

Even in the night sky, which is really dark, there is some light. What kinds of things in the night sky give us light?

This star is one that I keep in my prayer book all the time. Most of the time I forget about it, but it actually fell out of the book just this morning. I think God was trying to tell me something. About four years ago now, one of my classmates from the seminary gave us these stars at a prayer service. These stars were supposed to remind us of the God, so that we would let God light our way.

In the darkness of sin and evil, God is the light that we need. In our Church, we have the Paschal Candle that reminds us of Jesus, the light of the world. We light the Paschal Candle at Easter time, for baptisms and for funerals. Let’s light the Paschal candle now to remind us that Jesus is the light of the world.

When we light a candle or turn on a light, the darkness vanishes and we’re not so scared. When we let God come into our lives, the darkness of evil and sin vanishes, and we can rejoice. I know some of you have done projects about light … would you share them with us?

Jesus is the light of the world. In our first reading today, St. Paul prayed that light would flood the hearts of the Ephesians. When the light of God floods our hearts, all the evil and sin can’t have a place to live. Let’s all try to put the light of God’s love in each other’s hearts today.

Monday of the 27th Week of Ordinary Time: Go and do likewise

Today’s readings

“Go and do likewise.”

What a wonderful instruction for Jesus to give us this morning. “Go and do likewise.” Jesus is telling us that those who hear the Gospel must also live it, or it is useless. Those who do not go out and do likewise are like the foolish Galatians in today’s first reading who seem to be abandoning the Gospel and replacing it with all kinds of other rules, including circumcision, that are mere appearances of holiness. Those of us who would call ourselves disciples of the Lord must do better than that. We must indeed “go and do likewise.”

We’ve all heard the story of the Good Samaritan umpteen times so it may all too easily go in one ear and out the other. But we really must hear what Jesus is saying in this parable if we are to get what living the Christian life is all about. As an aside, I must say it is extremely humbling to me personally that the priest in this story was not the good guy. The good person in the story is one that Jesus’ hearers would have expected to be anything but good: the very name “Samaritan” was synonymous with being bad. So for the Samaritan to come out as the good guy was something that made his hearers stand up and take notice. It might be somewhat akin to our saying “good terrorist” or something like that.

Yet it was this person, who was considered to be evil, that knew instinctively the right thing to do. He was the one who bound up the victim’s wounds and led him off to safety and healing. Compassion for others is part of the natural law, something that every person should possess, Christian or not, and for Christians it is certainly foundational to living the Gospel. Turning one’s back on those in need is reprehensible and any who do that are not hearing what the Gospel is teaching us.

The Gospel is not merely for our edification, brothers and sisters in Christ, it is for our instruction. Those of us who would dare to hear it must be willing to go and do likewise.

27th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Doing what we were created for

Today’s readings

Those of you who heard my homily last week know that I gave a reflection on one of the foundational spiritual principles, namely, “it’s not about us.” Today’s readings make it possible for us to reflect on a foundational principle of moral theology, namely, we must always do what we were created for. In the beginning of the third Eucharistic prayer, there is a line that says, “Father, you are holy indeed, and all creation rightly gives you praise.” In my very first test of my very first moral theology class in seminary, that line was quoted and the question was asked, “A rock is part of creation. How does a rock give God praise?” The correct answer, I had been taught, is “by being a rock.” All of creation gives God praise by doing what it was created for. This same standard applies to us humans, but on a much more elevated level, since we are a more elevated form of creation.

Today’s first reading provides a portion of the creation story, specifically the creation of a companion for the man, ultimately concluding in the creation of the woman. Many in the past have seen this story as proof that women are inferior to men, because it was from the man’s rib that the woman was created. But the man was created from dirt, and there is no mention of man’s inferiority to dirt, so I think that myth can be safely dispelled. What we see instead was that both the man and the woman were created by God, and that neither of them had a hand in their own creation or in the creation of the other. Each of their lives was a gift, and that gift is what we should focus on. They were created to be a gift to each other and, as it says at the end of that reading, to become one flesh together.

Both this first reading, and portions of today’s Gospel reading, are familiar choices for couple being married. The reason for that is obvious, that they want to speak to the fact that they were created for each other, which is exactly what these readings tell us. From the very beginning, man and woman were created for each other, and nothing in heaven or on earth can separate them. The love of man and woman echoes the love that God has for all of us, a deep and abiding love which can never end, because God is love itself. When a couple is married, they become a sacrament for the world, a rich symbol of the love of God. So if they are a sign of God’s love for the world, and if God’s love can never end, then no one may divide two people joined in matrimony. This teaching of Jesus has always been the teaching of the Church, and a difficult teaching at that.

The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes says of marriage: “Thus a man and a woman, who by their compact of conjugal love “are no longer two, but one flesh” (Matt. 19:6), render mutual help and service to each other through an intimate union of their persons and of their actions. Through this union they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day. As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union and the good of the children impose total fidelity on the spouses and argue for an unbreakable oneness between them.” (Gaudium et Spes , 48)

Having said all that, I want to make some points and dispel some myths about the Church’s teaching on marriage, divorce, remarriage, and annulment. The first myth is that divorce is a sin which excommunicates a person from the Church and does not allow them to participate in the life of the Church or receive the sacraments. This is false. Divorce is not a sin in and of itself. It may well, however, be the result of sin, and a consequence of sin. Those who are divorced, however, remain Catholics in good standing and are free to receive the sacraments including the Eucharist and the Anointing of the Sick. However, they remain married to their partner in the eyes of the Church and are not free to remarry, unless they receive an annulment. Those who remarry without an annulment have taken themselves out of communion with the Church and are not free to receive the sacraments.

The second myth is that an annulment is really just “Catholic Divorce.” This is also false. An annulment is recognition by the Church that a valid marriage, for some reason, had never taken place. The diocesan policy document on annulment defines it in this way: “Although not every marriage is a sacrament, every marriage (Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Non-Believer, etc.) is presumed to be a valid marriage. The good of all concerned (spouses, children, in-laws, society, the Church, etc.) demands this presumption. In every presumption, the opposite may be true. If sufficient evidence can be shown that a particular marriage is invalid, the original presumption no longer holds. Therefore, when it can be shown that a particular marriage is not a true marriage, or not a sacrament, or not consummated, then it is possible for the Tribunal to declare that the parties are free to marry in the Catholic Church.” (Declaration of Nullity Proceedings, Diocese of Joliet , p.3) The annulment basically states that a valid marriage never happened in the first place, usually because the parties for some reason were not free to marry. These reasons may include extreme immaturity, a previous and previously undiscovered prior marriage, or entering marriage with no intention of remaining faithful or of having children. There are other considerations, of course, and if you need to explore this further, you should contact me or Fr. Ted.

A third myth is that those who are marrying a non-Catholic who had been previously married are automatically free to marry, since the non-Catholic’s marriage did not take place in the Catholic Church. This is false. The Church, as I mentioned earlier, presumes marriages between non-Catholics to be valid, so their previous marriage would have to be annulled by the Catholic Church before a Catholic is free to marry them.

A fourth myth is that the Church always insists that the parties stay together. Today’s readings show that the permanence of the marriage relationship is the intent of God, and the strong preference of the Church. However, we all understand that there are circumstances in which that may not be possible. Fr. Ted and I attended a workshop this week on domestic violence. We would never counsel someone to stay together in an abusive relationship only to see them again at their funeral. That is completely unacceptable. If you are in an abusive relationship, whether the abuse is physical, verbal, or emotional, you need to seek help and safety. The Church will support you in that decision. If you find yourself in that kind of relationship, whether you are married or not, please see someone on our staff immediately.

Finally, there are some misconceptions about annulment proceedings that I want to clear up. First, if you do receive an annulment, that does not mean your children are illegitimate. Many people think that, but that is completely false. Second, people think annulments are too expensive. They are not. The diocese requires a visit to a psychologist or psychiatrist, the cost of which is approximately $150. The diocese also requests $175 for processing the paperwork. But, under no circumstances will an annulment be denied if a person cannot meet those expenses. Having said that, an annulment is not painless. There are all sorts of emotional experiences that an annulment would dredge up, and I am certain they are going to be painful. But that kind of pain is part and parcel of any healing, so when you are in the right place for it, if you think your marriage was invalid, you should speak to a priest who can advise you how to begin the process.

I began this discussion by teaching the moral principle that we must do what we were created for. The whole idea of sin is that it involves us abandoning that principle, by not doing what we were created for, or even doing something that destroys God’s creation. The relationships in our lives can be the source of our greatest joys and our deepest pains. As I have told the couples I have prepared for marriage, the decision to love one another is not something that is done once and for all on the wedding day. The decision to love one another, to be one flesh, is a decision that both parties must make every single day. That may be easy on the wedding day when people come to this Church full of hopes and dreams, with every intent of being one forever. But life often throws them some curves, and sometimes more than one curve at a time. The day-in, day-out living of a marriage is going to mean that one of them might have a rough day, week, month or more at work which will distract them from the way they would otherwise choose to love the other person. Or the raising of children will cause a need for a long discussion on priorities and discipline. Money problems, too, have a way of creeping into the relationship and seeming so huge that they will threaten to tear it apart. In old age, people get sick and often must be cared for on a long-term basis by the other person in the relationship. Life takes us in different directions than we expect at the beginning of life together. But the promise to be one does not go away when times become rough. We were created to help one another through the difficulties of life, and to choose to do anything less than that is sinful.

To be the people we were created to be, we must choose to love each other every single day of our lives. That is true of married couples for one another. It is true of parents and children for one another. It is true of priests and parishioners for one another. Our promise to love one another is a sacrament to the world, proclaiming God’s love for every person he has created. “What God has joined together, no human being must separate.”