When we know what we've got to do ...

I prayed, and understanding was given me;
I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me.
I esteemed her more than sceptres and thrones;
compared with her, I held riches as nothing.

That was the first reading at Mass yesterday morning, and the Fathers at the Synod in Rome must have been moved by it. Just like the previous Sunday, when the Gospel contained Jesus' clear condemnation of adultery, this week's readings will certainly speak to the heart, but in a different way.

The Gospel yesterday, from St Mark, tells the tale of the devout young Jewish man who wants to know how to gain eternal life in Heaven. Jesus' answer is about respect for the moral law: the ten commandments. And then when the young man says that he follows them all, but still desires to serve God better, Jesus asks him to go a step further and give away all his wealth.

St John Paul II used the same story, but in the version from St Matthew's Gospel, in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor. He uses the story to show how the Lord calls us to be morally good; but that also this desire to  serve God flows from a place deep in our hearts. Deep in our being, we know the truth of the moral law, and we may even already have an idea of our particular vocation.

In the story, the young man knows that God is asking him to do more even than to follow the commandments, and yet when he hears what that vocation is, he turns away sadly because he cannot bring himself to answer that call.

The bishops at the Synod are like that young man; the Lord looks on them and loves them, as he did with the devout young Jew. And yet those bishops, like rest of us, have a good idea of what God is aksing them to do. We cannot hide from God; we cannot deceive ourselves for long as to his commandments. As St Paul writes to the Hebrews, in yesterday's epistle:

"The word of God is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely: it can slip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from the marrow; it can judge the secret emotions and thoughts. No created thing can hide from him; everything is uncovered and open to the eyes of the one to whom we must give account of ourselves."
Let's pray that those good men will search the Scriptures, and that the clear and beautiful teachings of Christ will be allowed to speak to the world. Just imagine a young man going to Christ today and asking what he needed to do to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. wouldn't Christ address him "where he was at" but lead him to a better place? Christ should be a the starting point of the reflections at the Synod.

When Paul VI and John Paul II made moral pronouncements about the way Catholics should live, everyone knew about them. We need a clear list of marching orders for the modern world, in the areas where ordinary Catholics can easily get it wrong. A priest friend of mine recently told me that members of his parish had undergone IVF and produced a series of test-tube babies, one of which was implanted in the mother's womb and subsequently presented for baptism, while the others were left in the freezer in the hospital, for a rainy day ... the priest discovered that the family had no idea that IVF presents a whole list of moral problems and is not permitted by the Church. I have had boys attend my school who were test tube babies, and their Catholic parents were similarly unaware of the issues. One acquaintance, outside the school, is going forward for the permanent diaconate, and I am not sure if he is properly aware of the moral issues surrounding his own children born by IVF, and indeed the ones who still remain in cold storage ...

Another priest-friend recently preached to his congregation about the Synod and told the people that the Church was not going to change her position on access to the sacraments for remarried divorcees. Two men who were in this situation and were regular Mass-goers came to see my friend and asked him if that meant they should not themselves have been receiving Communion for the last few years. When they heard the answer they were a little saddened, but have continued to attend Mass, but not to receive Communion. It is a fair bet than a great many Catholics have somehow not understood or heard about the teaching of the Church, or have a vague idea that the Church no longer has any teaching about such matters.
There is also an incredible blindness about the internet. Many people spend more time on the internet than they do relating to those around them. Internet creates new communities, so that Facebook, for example, threatens the position of the family as the main pillar of society. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Perhaps we need guidance from the Pope.

Then, internet pornography not only destroys the intimacy of marriage, but also makes it increasingly difficult for the next generation of married couples, who are already psychologically and spiritually compromised before marriage. Over time, it does tend to pervert its users who are in search of newer and different thrills; so that even quite young people can become hooked and perverted (not just turned into sex addicts, but also into homosexuals, paedophiles or men who feel the need to be violent and abusive to women in order to gain sexual pleasure). Over the years I have noticed that it also makes people irritable, unreliable, impatient ... It is one of the greatest threats to the family in our modern world. And yet, it could easily be stopped by governments. If governments refuse, then at least the Church should be helping families deal with the problem.

There is also the problem of families who are divided for economic reasons. Social injustices often lead to situations where fathers work away from home for months on end in order to support the families they love. And yet such situations can lead to terrible strain on marriages, and to family break-up. The Church needs to come to the rescue of these people.

Strangely, just about the time when intellectuals of all religions and none are beginning to see and appreciate the prophetic nature of Paul VI's letter Humanae Vitae, some senior churchmen seem to want to sweep it under the carpet. And with the suggestion that homosexual couples should be given unfettered access to the sacraments, there is the suggestion that the magic wand of individual conscience can somehow make the sex lives of such people 'ok' (specifically the mainstays of gay sex: sodomy, mutual and individual masturbation, regular use of hard pornography, etc, etc, quite literally ad nauseam). Where does that leave everyone else? So does that mean it's ok for mothers and fathers, and kids at school too? If so, what's wrong with contraception? Or indeed, with adultery ... Once the taboos come down, can we really hold out against paedophilia? Shouldn't we follow the example of several countries where the age of legal sexual activity just keeps going down and down (12 or 13 in some countries.) Again, all of this is a huge threat to the family.
The Church needs to speak, and act.

There was a time when many good priests wondered if it might not do more harm than good to speak about sexuality. But now, we can see that many good people are being led to this sea of filth and are drowning in it. Clear teaching, lovingly expressed, and resolute pastoral action would be a lifeline from holy Mother Church. The odd thing is that the progressives are not really interested in 'teaching the truth with love' as St Francis de Sales did, but instead in changing the teaching to suit the depraved modern world. This is because they have perhaps forgotten what love really is: something that involves giving and sacrifice, and not just taking.

A saddening truth is not so much the underlying problems have changed. Men have always been tempted to impurity. The devil knows that our creative faculty is one that is tied up in a special way with our relationship to God, so of course he wants to knock it off course. What has changed, as it does in every age, is perhaps the forms that the temptations take; and also the lack of confidence on the part of the Church at providing guidance and support, because of false notions of individual liberty (the freedom to hang oneself is not freedom ...)

And what about purity as a virtue, rather than as an imposition? What about the truth that it is the pure of heart who can, according to the Lord Jesus, see God best? Isn' t this something great to aspire to, and to live out in our individual vocations, whatever they may be? What about the age-old teachings we used to hear from confessors that lack of purity leads to selfishness, to lack of charity, to hardness of heart, even to defective reasoning because of the inability to look up from one's own situation ... ? 

What about the fate of the elderly? Isn't that one of the first things that comes to mind when Jesus says: "It is not good for man to be alone." In fact, friendship, comradeship and kindness are what make it relatively easy to lead a pure life. Loneliness and isolation are what make it difficult. In the past, old people were respected, listened to, loved ... Recently when I was having a heated debate with our local newsagent about the sale of pornographic magazines in his shop, he told me that his main customers were elderly people, and that boys were more interested in football and car magazines.

But how is it possible that there should be Christians who are lonely? What does the Church have to say to those who are? We cannot say simply: "Sorry, you can just remain lonely and isolated, but you must also be pure." Lonely people need to be helped to wholeness. This is true of all those in difficult situations (the divorced; those with a homosexual orientation; the elderly, especially widows and widowers). Legal fixes will not help them. The solutions come from one heart to another: they need to be loved.

Doesn't it strike anyone as odd that the same Church that knows that it is custodian of the sacraments is now being cast in a new light as "the custodian of sex", poised to hand out this healing balm to all those desperate for it? We are hearing the message that easier "guilt-free" access to sex, especially for Catholics struggling with homosexuality, will solve all man's problems. It is a false Gospel, and was already denounced as one by St Paul, addressing the Corinthians.

So, what about a new HUMANAE VITAE, that sets out the Church's teaching on all these subjects in a new and compelling way (as the Catechism of the Catholic Church did so well) but also proposes radical pastoral action to reach out the lonely, the broken, the struggling and also to Catholic families who want to bring up the children in a wholesome and holy way, but need more support to do so?

The central part of such a document could be the family as the school of Christian love; and how, in keeping with biblical traditions on the family, the Catholic family can and must have a transforming effect on society. For a true Catholic family is a wonder to behold, with the wife like a fruitful vine in the heart of the home, the children like shoots of the olive, around the table; fine sons like a sheaf of arrows, and a beautiful wife who reaches her hand out to the poor ...
We know what we've got to do. The bishops know what we need to do. We just need to do it. And God, and the world, are waiting ...


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