Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Role of Catholic Parents in Sex Education

adam In our increasingly cynical world may people assume that sex education is a necessary evil required to protect our children. Such people would argue that we need to protect our children with information about human sexuality. Here begins the slippery slope. Do we need to teach them about what some have falsely called “safe sex?” Do we merely offer them a moral compass and an admonition to abstain until marriage? How much information is appropriate? How much detail about the mechanics? Who should teach this information? The Church has not left us adrift with these important questions. The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, has given us a document entitled, Educational Guidance in Human Love: Outlines For Sex Education (1983) and the Pontifical Council For The Family, has given us a document entitled, The Truth And Meaning Of Human Sexuality: Guidelines For Education Within The Family (1995).

I can only offer a few summary thoughts here. It is strongly recommended that all parents read these documents. Quoting Pope John Paul II, the first document, Educational Guidance in Human Love (1983) strongly emphasizes the fact that it is the parent who is responsible to give clear and delicate sex education to their children. Education in human sexuality should be personal and viewed as an enrichment of the whole person rather than something dealing solely with the body and with selfish pleasure (Guidance 16). Again quoting John Paul II they note, “Sex education, which is a basic right and duty of parents, must also be carried out under their attentive guidance, whether at home or in educational centers chosen and controlled by them. In this regard, the Church reaffirms the law of subsidiarity, which the school is bound to observe when it cooperates in sex education, by entering into the same spirit that animates the parents” (Familiaris consortio 37). The right and duty of parents to be the primary educators of their children in this area is strongly affirmed.

While many commercial sex education programs assume the best approach is an institutional whole class activity with a group of teens, the norm should be that the parents privately and delicately take care of this formation themselves in the home. If the school is involved it merely helps the parents to accomplish this duty and does not take over this responsibility. Educational Guidance in Human Love (1983) offers a whole section on the responsibility and role of the family in this area.  The Congregation clearly acknowledges that the family and not the Catholic school or youth group is “best environment to accomplish the obligation of securing a gradual education in sexual life” (Guidance 48) and then only secondarily the “collaboration of parents with other educators who are co-responsible for formation.”  If fact this document explicitly says that catechesis in the family is the “privileged form” and only “if parents do not feel able to perform this duty” that “they may have recourse to others who enjoy their confidence.” (Guidance 59 emphasis added).  The norm should be that the school helps the parents to accomplish this duty and not that school or youth group takes over this responsibility. The Church’s responsibility is to train the parents to accomplish this task. 

Highlighting the primary role of the family, the Congregation notes, “the role of the school should be that of assisting and completing the work of parents, furnishing children and adolescents with an evaluation of ‘sexuality as value and task of the whole person, created male and female in the image of God’.” (Guidance 69). The role of the school is to add a catechetical dimension rather than to discuss the delicate matters of human sexuality. The content of this instruction would seem to relate to John Paul II’s catechesis on the Theology of the Body.

In the most recent document by the Pontifical Council for the Family, entitled The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines For Education Within The Family, the Vatican outlines four principles regarding information about sexuality. The first principle is that;

Each child is a unique and unrepeatable person and must receive individualized formation. Since parents know, understand and love each of their children in their uniqueness, they are in the best position to decide what the appropriate time is for providing a variety of information, according to their children's physical and spiritual growth. No one can take this capacity for discernment away from conscientious parents. (Truth and Meaning 65).

The meaning of this principle is clear. Young people are not all ready to hear the same information at the same time. Parents are in “best position to decide what the appropriate time is for providing a variety of information.” Secondly the instructional model should be “individualized formation.” Any kind of whole class instruction that touches on the delicate maters of human sexuality, rather than merely catechesis on the dignity of the human person violates this principle at the outset. If this instruction happens without the parent’s knowledge the violation is even graver. It should also me mentioned that an unskilled or poorly trained educator can easily be led off course in this matter by group questions, which the catechist falsely feels they must satisfy with an answer, in a group setting. The fact that young people have legitimate questions does not mean random “on demand” whole class instruction is the best way to answers these questions.

The second principle notes that, “The moral dimension must always be part of their explanations. Parents should stress that Christians are called to live the gift of sexuality according to the plan of God who is Love. . .” (Truth and Meaning 68). The instruction is not merely about the mechanics of human intimacy, but a moral context stressing the dignity of the human person and the purpose of sexuality in God’s plan. Clearly this principle has in mind again the context of the dignity of the human as seen in John Paul II’s catechesis on the Theology of the Body. Unfortunately the Theology of the Body has been commercialized by some groups and the mere fact that a resource has this name in its title does not guarantee that sufficient attention has been paid to this principle.

More difficult to understand is the third principle outlined by the pontifical council:

Formation in chastity and timely information regarding sexuality must be provided in the broadest context of education for love. It is not sufficient, therefore, to provide information about sex together with objective moral principles. Constant help is also required for the growth of children's spiritual life, so that the biological development and impulses they begin to experience will always be accompanied by a growing love of God, the Creator and Redeemer, and an ever greater awareness of the dignity of each human person and his or her body. (Truth and Meaning 70).

These truths are not a separate isolated area of study but part of a comprehensive training in the spiritual life. It is not enough to merely provide information about sex and objective moral principles. This needs to be integrated with formation on prayer and the interior life, with spiritual direction aimed at conversion and intimacy with God. The Pontifical Council suggest the following means; “discipline of the senses and the mind, watchfulness and prudence in avoiding occasions of sin, the observance of modesty, moderation in recreation, wholesome pursuits, assiduous prayer and frequent reception of the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. Young people especially should foster devotion to the Immaculate Mother of God” (Truth and Meaning 71).

Finally the pontifical council advises;

Parents should provide this information with great delicacy, but clearly and at the appropriate time. [. . .] In order to evaluate properly what they should say to each child, it is very important that parents first of all seek light from the Lord in prayer and that they discuss this together so that their words will be neither too explicit nor too vague (Truth and Meaning 75).

While we might accept that there are times for the cooperation of Catholic school and parish youth groups in the formation of young people in human sexuality, the primary responsibility rests with parents to prayerfully educate the children God has entrusted to their care. The pontifical council makes four further suggestions to parents in this area. First they suggest that parents form associations to network with other parents to discuss this issue (Truth and Meaning 114). Secondly parents should “keep themselves precisely informed on the content and methodology with which such supplementary education is imparted” (Truth and Meaning 115). Thirdly the pontifical council notes;

We are aware of the difficulty and often the impossibility for parents to participate fully in all supplementary instruction provided outside the home. Nevertheless, they have the right to be informed about the structure and content of the program. In all cases, their right to be present during classes cannot be denied. (Truth and Meaning 116).

Finally the pontifical council notes,

It is recommended that parents attentively follow every form of sex education that is given to their children outside the home, removing their children whenever this education does not correspond to their own principles. However, such a decision of the parents must not become grounds for discrimination against their children. On the other hand, parents who remove their children from such instruction have the duty to give them an adequate formation, appropriate to each child or young person's stage of development (Truth and Meaning 117).

With these principles in mind let us entrust the care of our children to the Holy Family and especially to the care of our Blessed Mother.

On the First Sunday of Advent,


Monday, November 22, 2010

The New Roman Missal

Although many people are still trying to understand the reason “why?” we need a new translation of the new Roman Missal, the project is moving forward as expected.  Recently the new Roman Missal project has been the subject of inaccurate reports and controversy by the National Catholic Reporter.  It must be remembered that the changes reflect a more accurate translation of the Mass that is already in use.  The translations in other modern languages were more literal and faithful than the English.  The new translation with new hymn books is due to be implemented Advent 2011.

One helpful resource on understanding the changes is the book entitled With One Voice:Translation and Implementation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal, which can be purchased at the Bishop Helmsing Institute Bookstore.

This is a great parish opportunity to engage in liturgical catechesis and to explain the meaning of the Mass. 


Bishop Arthur Serratelli the departing chair of the USCCB  Committee for Divine Worship, issued the following statement [cited by Rocco Palmo];

There has been some discussion recently about a report surfaced through some segments of the Catholic Press regarding the present state of the text of the Roman Missal, Third Edition. A number of facts will hopefully clarify the situation and, in so doing, give us the calm needed to welcome and implement the new text.

First, it is helpful to keep in mind the genesis of the final text that is now being prepared for publication. The International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) prepared for the English-speaking Conferences of Bishops preliminary drafts (“green books”) of the 12 sections of the Roman Missal. After incorporating the feedback and responses of the individual Conferences of Bishops and the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, ICEL then prepared the final drafts (“gray books”). These were approved by canonical vote by each of the member Conferences. In approving the gray books, each conference also had the opportunity to make further suggestions to the Congregation, as was done in particular by our Conference. We submitted many amendments to the texts. The Congregation, working with the Vox Clara Committee, carefully listened to what the bishops said. The Congregation incorporated many of the suggestions of the various Conferences (including our own), combined with their own review and changes, and put forth the final text. The Congregation followed the principles of Liturgiam Authenticam faithfully but not slavishly.

This is the final text now being readied for publication. This process includes a final review and copy edit which, given the size of the text, uncovers some minor questions of consistency, typographical errors, and layout. Those questions are being addressed by the Congregation for Divine Worship. This review has not dealt with the translation itself. The critique that has circulated has necessarily failed to take into account the final version of the text, which incorporates some corrections issued by the Congregation since the transmittal of the full text to the English-speaking Conferences of Bishops in August 2010.

To sum up, there is a final text. It has received a recognitio. As the work of editing and assembling nears completion, there is assurance that the published text will be available in more than ample time for implementation in Advent 2011. It is good to note also that the catechetical preparation for implementation is already underway and has proceeded with much enthusiasm and wide acceptance by both clergy and laity. It is clear at this point in time that there is an attitude of openness and readiness to receive the new text. Let us pray in this time of transition and change that the Roman Missal, Third Edition, will enable all to understand more deeply the mysteries we celebrate.

Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli
November 18, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

‘Authority over Unclean Sprits’ (Matthew 10:1)


Recently a news item surfaced about a two day conference in Baltimore to train Catholic priests about the rite of exorcism.   The secular media reflected general skepticism about the topic. 

The Catholic News Service reported the conference was; “In response to growing interest in the rite of exorcism and a shortage of trained exorcists nationwide.” The story was also picked up positively by the Kansas City Star.exorcism














St Francis- Exorcism of the Demons at Arezzo 1297-99 Giotto Di Bondone (b. 1267, d. 1337)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms our continued belief in Satan and evil spirits or demons.  These beings are spirits or angels who have fallen by their radically and irrevocably rejection of God (CCC 392).  The Catechism reminds us that although Satan has real power as a spiritual being, he is nonetheless a creature, and not infinite like God (CCC 392). 

 In His public ministry witnessed in the Gospels we see Jesus healing many people who are troubled by evil spirits (Matthew 8:28-34; 9:32-34; 12:22-32).  Jesus disciples continued this ministry with His authority (Matthew 10:1; Mark 6:7; Luke 9:1). Upon returning to Jesus after ministering to the people the seventy-two disciples report;

. . .  "Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name." 18 Jesus said, "I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. 19 Behold, I have given you the power 'to tread upon serpents' and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven."  (Luke 10:17-20). 

The rite of exorcism is an ancient ritual that has been part of Christian experience since the beginning of the faith.  One of the early Fathers of the Church, Justin Martyr (100-165 AD) writes;

“For numberless demoniacs throughout the whole world, and in your city, many of our Christian men exorcising them in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, have healed and do heal, rendering helpless and driving the possessing devils out of the men, though they could not be cured by all the other exorcists, and those who used incantations and drugs” (2 Apology 6).  The ecclesial writer Tertullian (160-225 AD) complains that though the Christians defend the Romans from incursions and depredations of devils for free, they are treated unjustly “without the least touch of gratitude for the benefit of so great a protection” (Apologeticus pro Christianis 37). 

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) 5:750, the office of exorcist was established during the third century and the term was used to refer to a cleric who had received the third of the four minor orders.  In modern times the ministry of a major exorcism falls to the priest with special permission of the ordinary.  The Catechism notes;

When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism. Jesus performed exorcisms and from him the Church has received the power and office of exorcizing.  In a simple form, exorcism is performed at the celebration of Baptism. The solemn exorcism, called "a major exorcism," can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the bishop. The priest must proceed with prudence, strictly observing the rules established by the Church. Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church. Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter; treating this is the concern of medical science. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness. (CCC 1673).

Our growing knowledge of mental illness has not eliminated our need for the rite of exorcism.  The modern commercial, movie versions of these experiences are, of course, very inaccurate.  We should place our trust in our daily walk with Christ and in the continued authority of Church in this area.  As the Curé d'Ars said; “The devil is a great chained dog which puts people to flight, and which makes a great noise, but which only bites those who come too close.  (Curé d'Ars, Sermon on Temptations).  Saint Josemaría Escrivá once said,

You carry on the war — the daily struggles of your interior — far from the main walls of your fortress.

And the enemy meets you there: in your small mortifications, your customary prayer, your methodical work, your plan of life: and with difficulty will he come close to the easily-scaled battlements of your castle. And if he does come, he comes exhausted. (The Way 307).


Feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria



Icon of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, with scenes from her martyrdom.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King

Christ%20King[1] In 1925 Pope Pius XI instituted the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King. It is celebrated in our modern calendar on the last Sunday of ordinary time.

Pope Pius XI wished to give honor and glory to Our Lord and King as a means of overcoming problems and difficulties in both private affairs and public and political life. This feast touches on the part of life which is unique to the lay person, the world of temporal affairs. There is nothing new about the call to live our faith through our work and our ordinary life. As our Lord Jesus Christ taught us to pray to our Heavenly Father, we say, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s kingdom is his reign and rule, or God’s divine activity on this earth. In the second reading from Colossians we read that by virtue of our Baptism we have been transferred into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son. By the blood of the cross Jesus Christ has reconciled all things to himself, “whether those on earth or those in heaven.”

In this Sunday’s Gospel reading we are struck by the dramatic irony of the crucifixion and death of our Lord on the cross. A sign was posted over Christ’s head declaring him to be the King of the Jews. The rulers and soldiers derided him in his apparent weakness. Only the “Good Thief,” whom tradition remembers as Saint Dismas, recognizes Jesus as the Christ who will reign from the cross. It is through the cross that the eyes of many will be opened to see not a man dying but the cosmic reality of the Word of God. Christ is the “image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation” (Colossian 1:15). In him “all things are held together.” He is preeminent and “the head of the body, which is the Church” (Colossian 1:18).

This past week Pope Benedict XVI gave an inspiring gift to the Church in the form of an Apostolic Exhortation entitled, Verbum Domini, On the Word of God in the Life and Ministry of the Church. Pope Benedict points out that any use of human language to describe God must be seen as a type of analogy or symphony of voices, which attempts to apprehend the vastness of the Word of God. The Word of God is the Logos, the Eternal Word. He is the “image of the invisible God,” from this Sunday’s second reading. We also recognized the Word is the person of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father who became flesh through the Virgin Mary. Although the Christ event is the heart of divine revelation we can also see the Word in creation, in God’s word spoken in salvation history, in the preaching of the Apostles, and handed on in the living Tradition of the Church (Verbum Domini 7). Echoing St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Pope Benedict reminds us, “while in the Church we greatly venerate the sacred Scriptures, the Christian faith is not a “religion of the book”: Christianity is the “religion of the word of God”, not of “a written and mute word, but of the incarnate and living Word” (VD 7).

In speaking of the Eternal Word we must understand that, “everything that exists does not exist by chance but is willed by God and part of his plan, at whose center is the invitation to partake, in Christ, in the divine life” (VD 8). The Word of is the foundation of all things and the answer to the deepest longings of the human heart (VD 10). After giving us advice on how to properly understand and interpret Sacred Scriptures, Pope Benedict reminds all the faithful, “The most profound interpretation of Scripture comes precisely from those who let themselves be shaped by the word of God through listening, reading and assiduous meditation” (VD 48). After discussing the role of the Word of God in the liturgy and Sacraments, Pope Benedict calls for a greater “biblical apostolate,” but he insists “not alongside other forms of pastoral work, but as a means of letting the Bible inspire all pastoral work” (VD 73). The Bible should be the “inspiration of every ordinary and extraordinary pastoral outreach” (VD 73). The acceptance of the word leads to the mission of proclaiming the word, which for the laity involves bearing “witness to the Gospel in their daily life, wherever they find themselves” (VD 94). In 1925, Pope Pius XI envisioned the Solemnity of Christ the King as means of bring Christ’s kingship to bear on the problems and difficulties of the temporal order and on political life. This calling is directly related to our living the Word in daily life. Quoting Matthew 25, Pope Benedict reminds each of us, “The word of God itself emphasizes the need for our engagement in the world and our responsibility before Christ, the Lord of history. As we proclaim the Gospel, let us encourage one another to do good and to commit ourselves to justice, reconciliation and peace” (DV 99). Pope Benedict also reminds us, “For every member of the faithful Mary is the model of docile acceptance of God’s word, for she “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19; cf. 2:51) (VD 87). Let us turn then to our Lady asking her to help us receive the Word as she did ready to do the Lord’s will.



Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Romancing Vampires?

Recently we have seen a tremendous stpatincrease in interest in vampires in contemporary culture.  Particularly the four Twilight series vampire-themed fantasy romance novels by American author Stephenie Meyer, and their movie spinoffs The Twilight Saga (film series).

A recent newswire reports,  “many religious scholars see the vampire as a mirror of Christianity. He is Christ's evil twin, stealing ideas and imagery from the faith's miraculous tale and twisting them into a sinister parable.” 

The Church has consistently treated the existence of vampires as superstitious folklore. In pagan environments such as early fifth century Ireland we read that, “A Christian who believes that there is a vampire in the world . . . ” is to be anathematized (Canons of the Synod of Patrick, 16). 

On the other hand, if we move to the realm of fantasy, the Catholic Church embraces the visual and literary arts.  It is not that fantasy is condemned but that a particular fantasy may contain elements which are contrary to the dignity of the human person.  In the case of modern vampire books and movies they may be demeaning to women or contain violent or deviant sexual fantasies.  Are the themes in these novels what you want your teenage daughters meditating on?

Recently in 2009, Monsignor Franco Perazzolo, of the Vatican, Pontifical Council of Culture condemned the vampire movie New Moon.  He is reported to have said, “This film is nothing more than a moral vacuum with a deviant message and as such should be of concern.”  Msgr. Perazzolo is not condemning all fantasy or even vampires specifically but the moral qualities of this specific film.  Though I must admit it is hard to the see the positive moral qualities of vampires. :)  The anti-mirror of Christ is Satan in Christian tradition.  We must not, of course, confuse God and creature, as to their being and stature, as if they were somehow equals.  God is infinite in power, while Satan is limited and a creature.

On the Feast of St. Margaret of Scotland,