One of the most important but neglected spiritual practices is the daily general examination of conscience. No business would last very long without taking stock daily, calculating how much profit was made, etc., and there is no business more important than our soul. Socrates famously said that, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” We could say that an unexamined life is dangerous. It’s important to examine how we are doing fairly regularly in order to improve. When our goal is off in the distance, a little misdirection early in the journey–if it is not corrected–can spell disaster, landing us far off the mark.
The morning offering is a very traditional Catholic practice that seems to be neglected by so many Catholics I run into. Many have never heard of a morning offering. We’re already well into Lent, 2016, but I thought I’d post on this wonderful Catholic traditional prayer. There are numerous prayers that can be said as a morning offering, and you can google them, or find many different versions in Catholic prayer books. The specific form or words of the morning offering, is less important I think than the actual practice of praying the morning offering. The basic idea is simple. When you get up in the morning, you start your day by offering the entire day to God. You offer all of the joys and sufferings that will come that day, as well as all of your work and prayers, for God. Of course you can include other intentions, like for the Pope, your local bishop, etc. Offering your day to God first things is a great way to begin to sanctify your ordinary life. What better time than Lent to begin taking up this traditional Catholic practice. It’s a great way to start the day off right, and it only need take a few seconds. You can always renew the offering throughout the day as you offer specific tasks, or instances of suffering, to God. One of the best resources out there on the morning offering is Michael J. Ortiz’s fine book, Like the First Morning: The Morning Offering as a Daily Renewal. His book cover is the image I used at the top of this post. So let’s start our days off right this Lent, offering what lies ahead to God in advance as we get up to begin the day, facing all the challenges and joys and whatever else lies ahead.
My latest book just came out, Three Skeptics and the Bible: La Peyrère, Hobbes, Spinoza, and the Reception of Modern Biblical Criticism, and is now available from Amazon.com for those interested. It details an important part of the history of modern biblical criticism, showing the political and historical developments that began to lead to a more skeptical treatment of biblical interpretation, like that found so often on t.v. today and in university classrooms across the globe. I’m currently working on a much broader work of the same topic, bringing it into the 20th century.
I once spoke to a teen that wanted to convert to Catholicism. I began by asking her a question, “What does it mean to be Catholic?” Thinking I was the wise teacher and eager to guide her in the faith, I was surprised that her answer would ultimately be a source of learning for myself. She responded, “What it means to be Catholic means to be more and more who we are, who we are called to be, and to be more human.” I wonder what it would mean to the girl if I asked what it means to be married? I surmise her answer might be, “To be married means to become more and more who they were created to be, namely, to be love.”
This is the mission of the married couple. Their mission is rooted and grounded in love, the love of God for them ultimately expressed through the sacrifice of Christ. This love that is given to them through their mere creation is expressed to the world through their mutual, total, life-giving love. They are to be a reflection of Christ’s love for His Church. “And since in God’s plan it has been established as an ‘intimate community of life and love,’ the family has the mission to become more and more what it is, that is to say, a community of life and love in an effort that will find fulfillment, as will everything created and redeemed, in the kingdom of God.”
Debates over music in the Mass dig deep in the dirt of our deepest feelings. So often such disagreements are not grounded in the Church’s doctrine about what liturgical music is and what its purpose is. Here are just a few reflections on the necessity of connecting what is sung with the liturgical text. I often think that if we at least could agree that the liturgical text itself should be sung our disagreements could at least begin at the same point.
Primacy of the Text
Sacred music unites “sacred song…to the words” (SC 112) of Christ’s divine liturgy wherein “God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified” (SC 7). Sacred music, by its nature, is music that has been “created for the celebration of divine worship,” (MS 4) and therefore not just with the sacred text in mind, but primarily for the sacred text. Though singing is itself important (as in the adage about the one who sings well praying twice), the main place is to be given to “singing the liturgical text” (VL 40). Truly, many liturgical texts were “composed with the intention of their being sung” (LA 60). Sacred music is the servant of the liturgy, not vice versa (see TLS 22–23). Tra le Sollecitudini makes clear that the “principal office” of sacred music is to
Sexual intercourse between a husband and wife is a holy expression of the sacrament itself and a reflection of the love of Christ for His Church. It is where the contract is transformed into a covenant. Sex is a renewal of their wedding vows and is a physical expression of the mystery of the two becoming one flesh. “Sexual intercourse in marriage should likewise be a renewal of the covenant the couple first made as they exchanged their promises to be faithful to each other under all circumstances. When they commune with each other in this way they can once again renew their pledge, their covenant, to take each other completely, regardless of the consequences.” Sex is the martial embrace where “the words of the weddings vows become flesh.” At their wedding they take vows of fidelity, indissolubility, and openness to children, then on their wedding night they perfect, complete, and renew these vows with their bodies as they consummate their marriage.
In discerning a vocation to either the married life or to the priesthood it is often counseled to do whatever vocation one thinks will lead to greater holiness. Holiness is the goal of both. Married life can and should lead one to greater virtue and a life dedicated to and a reflection of Christ Himself and a life that trusts in God to bring this to fruition. Pope Saint John Paul II reaffirms this call to holiness of a husband and wife saying, “In God’s plan, all husbands and wives are called in marriage to holiness, and this lofty vocation is fulfilled to the extent that the human person is able to respond to God’s command with serene confidence in God’s grace and in His or her own will.”
The Catholic Church stands in direct contrast to contemporary culture on their belief in the indissolubility of marriage. While divorce is on the rise both in and out of the Church faithful, the Church is the voice in the desert arguing for the permanence of marriage, the importance of commitment and fidelity, and opposed to divorce. “[T]he marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never by dissolved.” Marriage is grounded not in the emotionalism of the couple, not in romantic love, but rather in a conscious decision and consent at the wedding ceremony. Marriage is once and for all. The Churches teaching come directly from the words of Christ. Jesus was asked whether it was lawful to divorce for any reason. He replied:
Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave His father and mother and be joined to His wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate…. I say to you, whoever divorces His wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery. (Matthew 19: 4-10)
The Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Catholic life and it is the “very source of Christian marriage…to which Christian marriage is intimately connected.”  Sacrifice is central to both. “This is my body which is given up for you.” (Luke 22:19). Christ gave His life up for the salvation of the world. To be wed to His bride, He had to sacrifice His life, and ultimately give His bride His body in the Blessed Eucharist so that we may be one with Him. When His bride receives Him into herself the Bridegroom (Christ) and the Bride (you and me) became one in communion.
Holy Matrimony also requires sacrifice as described by Paul in Ephesians 5. A man and a woman are called to sacrifice not merely “in its common connotation of enduring difficulty or of giving up something,” but rather “in its etymological meaning of making holy.” In marriage the man and the women must sacrifice themselves in order to be one with their spouse. Like Christ in the Eucharist, the couple sacrifices their bodies in sexual intercourse. Here, the bride receives the bridegroom and the two become one. John Kippley says, “It is, then, this sacramental offering of self to each other, this true sacrificial offering, that makes morally good and humanly meaningful their subsequent communion in sexual intercourse.”