Preaching IT: "You Have Heard It Said..." (Fr. Nick Rouch)

PREFACE FROM US:  We believe that God purposefully designed us for a life of fulfillment in Him.  The Church has the mission of faithfully communicating the shape of this design.  Our acceptance or rejection of these truths is the hinge of life, determining whether our lives are fulfilled, or fall apart. We applaud priests who faithfully proclaim these truths, particularly those that are most challenging. As each of us are incomplete, we invite you to join us in the adventure of seeking and responding to this life-giving truth from our loving God.

Our vision is to build out (coming soon) - which will showcase dynamic, faith-filled messages in multimedia and print. Your prayer, recommendations of great homilies, and financial partnership of this nonprofit endeavor are greatly appreciated.  Thank you.
"You have heard it said... but I say to you…"
Fr. Nick Rouch, S.T.D.

(Homily for February 13, 2011 - Corresponding to Matthew 5)

In today’s gospel (Matthew 5), Jesus said three times, “You have heard it said… but I say to you…” Each time he was acknowledging a moral standard that was widely accepted in the culture, but stretching it further and calling the people to a higher standard. The people of his day had minimized the demands of faith and he wanted to restore them to fullness. Certainly, some who heard him thought, “This will be exhausting! Isn’t he asking too much of us?”

In our own day, we have heard many things said in our secular culture, that culture that St. Paul describes in the second reading as the “wisdom of this age.” Our secular culture, which has become indifferent to religion, even hostile to it, has some moral standards which may sound reasonable at first, but Christ is calling us to a different standard. It is as if he is saying to us, “Yes, you’ve heard many things said in the secular culture about right and wrong, but I say to you, I have a higher standard I want you to live by.”

Just as Jesus addressed human life and human sexuality in the gospel, so he addresses them today.
With regard to human life, we have heard it said that:
• Abortion belongs to personal choice and privacy;
• Harvesting of stem cells from a human embryo is scientific progress;
• Prompting death for someone in pain is an act of mercy…

But Jesus says that every human life is sacred, from the moment of conception until natural death, and we need to do all we can to protect, nurture and love each person.

With regard to human sexuality, we have heard it said that:
• Sexual activity that is consensual is morally acceptable;
• To extract sexuality from marriage, procreation and love is its proper liberation from medieval notions;
• That artificial contraception, premarital sexual activity, homosexual activity and pornography are simply unavoidable and part of modern life…

But Jesus says that human sexuality is a gift from God, part of our dignity, and needs to be protected within the holy bonds of marriage, so that it can express love and be open to life.

We need to live by the standard Christ sets, not a secular culture. Certainly, we will experience a tension between these two standards. What we hear from the pulpit, from the Church, and in our conscience, will not match what we hear from the secular media. Yes, there will be a tension. It will not fit together.

And so we have a choice, as Sirach emphasized in the first reading. We have a choice between the standard of Christ or the standard of the world. Why should we chose Christ?
• Because we know that the world is fallen and that the deception of sin has infected the world’s thinking;
• Because we know Christ to be the way, the truth and the life.
• Because we know that long before we decide to follow Christ, he has chosen us, he has loved us.

Ultimately, we say Yes to Christ and to his standard because he loved us so much that he died for us, to set us free and lead us back to the Father. We say yes, because we believe what St. Paul wrote:

“We speak a wisdom to those who are mature, not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away. Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory… Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it dawned in our minds, what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Fr. Nicholas Rouch, S.T.D., is the Vicar for Education for the Catholic Diocese of Erie and contributes extensively to numerous faith endeavors. In particular, he is the spiritual director for our Catholic Women's Gathering.  

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition: Shows Too Little!

Ok, so today I posted on my Facebook page: "SI Swimsuit Edition. Lust is the sport. Women are made objects. Men are made predators. Everyone loses. Literally and figuratively- don't buy it."

Amidst likes and positive comments, I was appreciative to have the dominant, cultural view represented in Mike's reply (not interested in speaking to the choir):

"Gotta disagree. The women are beautiful. Didn't God create beauty to be appreciated? These women are objectified the same way pro football players are. But we can appreciate the ferocity of football without it turning into something ugly."

My reply below. Join the conversation on my Facebook page.
Mike, if we're going to have this conversation, we have to be reasonable about what's going on, and what those managing this industry clearly understand about what is happening.

(1) No one would or should doubt the beauty of the human body. But at the outset, let's keep this in mind:  we're not talking about appreciating the human person in one's totality, which would entail more than a photo. As such, this "appreciation of the body" apart from the full, human person is, by definition, limiting. As John Paul II put it, the problem with pornography isn't that it shows too much, but that it shows too little.

(2) And what exactly are we appreciating of "the body"? If you're being true to that claim, are we being presented with God's designed beauty in all bodies, involving a wide range in body ages, types, sizes and poses? Hardly. We're talking about a particular, culturally-construed stereotype of body, in mostly-naked, seductive poses that essentially say "take me."  More than just evoking beauty, they're meant to arouse.  These portraits are not appealing to men/women of any great ascetic or spiritual appreciation (though this could be the case, but let's be real...), but to that which is most primitive.

(3) If you knew behind the scene, the commercially-driven insecurities associated with this world, particularly for the women involved but extended to all women-- and how it carves out a false masculinity... you'd see it makes dupes of us all (see my article on this, with a great, corresponding documentary film clip).

(4) I'm not declaring any particular person lustful, nor suggesting to what degree they may be lustful, but if the driving force is that "sensual" thing in someone, meant between a husband and wife, of an intimate nature-- it is, as Jesus Christ said, adultery: "I tell you this, if you look lustfully upon someone you have committed adultery." (Matt. 5:28) Let's be honest. These portraits derive their power (SI's largest distribution and money-making edition) precisely in their capacity to incite men into a sexual relationship, albeit in the realm of imagination/ internal. I don't know of a single wife who would be "ok" with her husband being sexually engaged with another woman at any level. There's nothing private about a man giving part of himself to another woman. It is patently and relationally destructive.

(5) The test. Would you mind your wife, daughter, mom on the front cover?

Not my rules. Not my design.  But you know what, I know it to be true. We live in a veritable sea of real destruction in individual lives, marriages, and an entire culture... all because people have come to accept this objectification as benign.  Heart, body and soul - I have vowed, and my wife deserves, my total, complete self-gift (as much as I am able with God's grace). Our love says "all of me." This total gift is God's design for our transcendence, our means of literally imaging and participating in the Trinity.  The apple is shiny, and seemingly benign, but it is poisonous. Don't buy it. God desires for us great things, not evil, but leaves the choice to us.

The Lion ISN'T Sleeping (Tonight)

"Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8) Peter was speaking to Christians. You can lose what you had. What was saved can be lost. Vigilance is good... even better, radical dependency on God... we need Him every moment.

This exhortation is not a warm, fuzzy, happy thought... but anyone who fails to recognize (this) truth lives in ignorance, and remains even more vulnerable. One can pretend the lump near their lymph gland will go away, but guess what... beyond the feeling may be a truth. You need to go to the Doctor.

On the moral landscape (equally applicable as the medical example!), my wife and I have been leading Pre-Cana (marriage prep) retreats for years... literally hundreds of couples, not one would say they expect to get divorced, yet statistics reveal 50% will. There are common characteristics of those who do. Many want it "their" way-- with a Christian appearance... for a day.

Experience proves time and again-- beyond our subjective ideas and opinions.... there is a "law", a contour of how God designed us (like the lump on the lymph gland): You can't really break the "law," only ourselves against the "law." It begins in small, "benign" ways... admission of ideas that are contrary to God's plan....

The greatest tragedy is that this truth has been reduced to cliche, cold dogma, empty rules... versus a living, joy-filled, relationship that is authentic... in which we are all working it out... often amidst the mess of others and ourselves.

Don't turn away from Him because of your/others' mess... He made us weak so that we'll seek. Without our radical need there would be no basis to call Him "Lord." If we weren't in trouble, there would be no need to call upon Him as "Savior."

He fashioned us for Himself... He loves you. Call upon Him.

The Blue Nail Polish, Saint-Making and Stepping Out

Amidst their other literary interests, our children invariably return to their various saint books and Glory Stories CD's (etc.). Of course, we're delighted. More and more often I see in them glimmers of virtue that put me to shame. Sports' metaphors work in our home: while they all get that our playing field is about sainthood, our 7 year old Grace of late has her eyes fixed on the Finish (yes, this is the same "Amazing Grace" who framed her Dad for his bad words in the Chernobyl Diaper story in Catholic Exchange).

While my wife is making supper, Gracie pulls up. Steph inquires, "So Grace, how's the saint-thing going?" In her dramatic, exasperated tone, Grace's eyes twinkle: "[Exhale] I discovered ONE thing. To become a Saint... it's way, way, WAY more than just being very, very, VERY good. You have to do things that you REALLY DON'T want to do!"

With images of things like simply keeping her room clean, Steph inquires, "Like what?"
Grace: "One example is, Catherine wanted to borrow my VERY SPECIAL, blue nail polish, and NOTHING in me... AT ALL... wanted to let her! But I stopped... and smiled... and said, 'Sure'. THAT was hard!"

Oh, if only I could have the same wiring with regard to the "blue nail polishes" of my life! To take seriously this saint-making "game" that so defines our mission and purpose on this planet! Let it be!

And suddenly I was struck by awareness of my ordinary circumstances... situated in a MASSIVE arena, surrounded by a multitude of angels and saints, beyond what the eye can see, but all looking down at me... at us, and cheering us on! Hear the announcer (I hear Howard Cosell), "And there he is taking the field. Oh, oh... he's facing pride again. Can... he... do... it?" Somewhere the crowd are watching instant replays of past successes and failures, setting the stage for the next play. And I become aware of the simple fact that it's not so much that we choose God, but that He has chosen us. Simple awareness of Him, who is Love, the very fabric of our being, impels the totality of our lives. We can do it.

Perhaps it's not that He has stopped speaking, but that we've stopped listening. We've stopped looking at our seemingly "ordinary" lives through eyes of faith. Through eyes of faith we would see that our events and circumstances are not by chance, but are part of a custom-designed playing field intentionally designed by God Himself, for intimacy and fulfillment in Himself. This is the ultimate truth! Believe it!

So through that lens, I can see that launch of our Image Trinity (Catholic family movement), our desire to devote our lives entirely to that mission, almost entirely ignited by God through events that took place a few months ago. The thesis of this might well be an elaboration of God choosing us in the how. He does so through His Heavenly Community. In short, we don't pick saints, they are picked for us. Here is testimony to that.

Just six months ago, in August of last year, Stephanie and I were blessed to be present at the national John Henry Newman conference in Pittsburgh, which had the gathering of many of the individuals associated with Cardinal Newman being named a blessed on September 19, 2010. We were engaged by the National Institute for Newman Studies to produce a 30 minute video. More on that in a moment.

Cardinal Newman (1801 - 1890) was a theological "rock star" for the Church of England, until his spiritual/intellectual journey led him to Catholicism (1845). He is an amazing example of an integrated heart/mind holiness. Particularly for our culture today, Newman's writing and life demonstrated the relational heart of faith, a faith that compels us beyond emotionalism, and the "jump-through-the-hoops", "pick-and-choose," or "whatever-I-want-it-to-be" varieties - but has the right design of the human person (in relationship to God) at the very heart.

The participants of this conference were aware of sharing a very special moment, illumined in a heavenly light that revealed Newman not simply as one who expounded eloquently on the truths of the Christian faith... but was now a powerful intercessor from heaven, one of the blessed. Renown Newman scholar, Fr. Ian Kerr, intimated that Newman's beatification may be quickly followed by his canonization, and being regarded as one of the very few "Doctors" of the Church.

The final production showcases Newman's God-given spiritual, intellectual, and intercessory power at the throne of heaven. The centerpiece is Deacon Jack Sullivan sharing the miracle story that occurred to him, that was admitted as basis for naming Newman as one of the blessed in heaven. The final program, "Heart Speaks to Heart from Heaven: The Newman Miracle Story" (extending his Cardinal motto, "Cor Ad Cor Loquitur" - "Heart Speaks to Heart"), was featured by both CatholicTV and EWTN..

Producing the program was more than a prayer for us, but a life-changing call. We invoked the intercession of Blessed Newman. And through the process became aware that we were called to step out in faith, to devote the entirety of our gifts to a dynamic movement promoting Catholic family life, as an Image of the Trinity.

Thus, our nonprofit Image Trinity, which had been in the prayer-planning stages for many years, was born. We seek to help families fully discover and live out their identity in the context of Eucharistic communities. We seek to do this specifically through dynamic events, resources, retreat centers and multi-media that will reach millions through our partnerships with various Catholic channels. In particular, we're wanting to produce a television series called, "Living IT!" that will showcase families living Image Trinity (get IT?). And we hope to expand our Presence for Christmas in 2011 that will unite people in a world-wide retreat during Advent.

We didn't, and don't know where our sustenance will come from, but trust that others will be moved by the vision and help us.

So, in answer to the question, "How's the saint-thing going?" I guess this would be our purple nail polish. It represents our desire to devote our all, in response to God's call, through the intercession of Blessed John Henry Newman (and Our Lady of Guadalupe). There is a big vision here, with tremendous, real opportunity. We need your prayers and support... to join us in this playing field as teammates, with great hopes that we may join the great "cloud of witnesses" proclaiming the endless praise of God!