A Helper


DOING A GOOGLE ON A First name is such an interesting project: you find a lot of people with that name, of course – people you did not know, some stars, a few politicians, sometimes a saint or scoundrel if there is one that is particularly notable. Names common in other languages sometimes result in graphics of that name in the other tongue. I was hoping for that as I googled “Eliazar” this morning. I found that it’s common among a few ethnic groups, a couple of gentlemen were giving the 1 finger salute to the camera. On the whole first page of graphics, the best Google would give is this t-shirt. But none particularly hit towards my point.

Eliazar came up in our daily office today. In the Office of Readings we read of the youth of Moses in the household of Pharoah. Then we hear of his slaying of the Egyptian who was abusing one of the Hebrews. Moses runs off to Midian where he meets the daughters of a pagan priest who, eventually, gives his daughter to Moses in marriage. The second son of this union is named “Eliazar”. “and the name of the other was Eliezer: ‘for the God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.'” (Exodus 18:4) That was the last line of the reading. “My help” or “my helper” (depending on your translation) triggered something. That is the second time that something is called “my helper” in the Bible. Here it is God. But the first time it’s something God wants to give to the Earthling, the man alone in the Garden. “I will make him a helper”, says God. (Genesis 2:18). Both in Genesis and Exodus, the word used is עֵזֶר ezer. Thus there are two “helps” in the first two books of the Bible: one’s spouse and God. Moses comes to see God as he help after he is married.

Something clicked. For the Christian Sacramental Marriage is a sign not of “love made holy” or even “church permission to have sex” but rather of Christ’s union with his Church, of God’s union with his People. This is why God – and the spouse – are both called ezer. But the spouse is not an ezer on the same level as God! The marital union is the closest we can come on the Earthly level to experiencing this intimate communion, but it is exactly only on the Earthly level. The Spousal Ezer is a sign of something that is coming and of something that is present in a hidden and spiritual reality. The Spousal Ezer is a sacrament, if you will, of what God is for his People. We are not married in heaven because we don’t need a sacrament to experience that union. Celibacy is the commitment to live the union in its experienced reality here.

My spiritual Father sent to me yesterday an article from First Things, published in 2002, called Celibacy in Context. (Unless otherwise cited quotes below come from that article.) The discussion in the article was around the existence of married clergy in the Eastern Tradition and how many wester Christians in the Catholic Church read this as “see, their priests get married…” They turn this into an argument against the Latin tradition of clerical celibacy. The author, Fr Maximus Davies, insists that Eastern practice needs to be seen in the full context of the Eastern ascetic tradition – a tradition to which all Christians are called, not just monastics.

Celibacy in Eastern Christianity is viewed primarily as a form of asceticism. Asceticism means, in essence, to live at the same time on earth and in heaven. It means to understand that everything we see in this life, everything we touch, taste, think, and feel, is in some way a revelation of the life to come.

…For an ascetic, time reveals eternity. The ascetic thus wants to be freed from a merely human way of looking at time as a cycle of work and rest, life and death. Instead, the ascetic lives in time as though in the undying freedom of eternity. Therefore the ascetic prays. For an ascetic, food reveals the heavenly Feast. He is freed from a merely animal attraction to food and instead tastes only the spiritual promise that lies hidden inside earthly appetites. Therefore the ascetic fasts. For an ascetic, possessions reveal the many-mansioned Kingdom of Heaven. The ascetic is freed from the slavery to things by seeing in everything the Creator of all things. Therefore the ascetic gives alms.

…It is the same with sexuality. For an ascetic, all human relationships—even the sexual act itself—reveal divine love. Hidden beneath the surface of all smaller loves lies the immeasurable abyss of God’s love. The ascetic realizes that what other people give him by way of love finds its true and deeper meaning in the One who is the source of all love. Celibacy is the practical recognition of the reality that lies behind the image, of the prototype behind the icon.

Davies wants us to see that celibacy is not a call different or divided from marriage, but rather it is the reality, the spiritual form behind marriage. As the Catechism cites it, celibacy is an eschatological sign. “Virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is an unfolding of baptismal grace, a powerful sign of the supremacy of the bond with Christ and of the ardent expectation of his return, a sign which also recalls that marriage is a reality of this present age which is passing away.” (CCC ¶1619.) In heaven there is no marriage, there we will all be celibate. Here, by grace, we can begin to live this life. Thus, even married folks experience celibacy at times – not “abstaining from sex” but rather something else.

Celibacy is not only a sacramental sign. As we are all called to give away alms as if we do not own anything, as we are all called to fasting as if we don’t need food, so is celibacy a further experiential living out of that reality to when we are all called. See 1 Corinthians 7:29ff.

Human love without celibacy is at best mere sentiment, at worst a form of idolatry.

Who then is called to be celibate? Simply put, every single Christian who is capable of love is called to discipline that love through the asceticism of celibacy. Just as every Christian is called to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, so also every Christian is called to be celibate. Seen in its true context of asceticism, celibacy ceases to be a legal requirement for a small section of the Christian faithful and is revealed instead as an aspect of the universal vocation of all believers.

…Christian celibacy is marriage baptized. Christian celibacy is the revelation of the presence of the Kingdom of God in every relationship. It is the refusal to see other people as things to be used, even for the sake of romantic love. Celibacy means the willingness to see in sexuality not something merely animal, or simply useful or enjoyable, but instead something mystical.

Moses named God his Ezer even after he was married. That’s the key. Even married folks are called to see that God is the reality behind who your spouse is. Celibates are called to live this continually and it is exactly an ascetical choice. But if all Christians (not just certain clerics) are called to live this out in their lives, then every Christian must dig into their marriage, or into their unmarried state, to see that God is the ever-present helper they are really seeking. Your husband or wife is the sacramental sign.

Sacrament is an important word here: a sacrament makes present the reality it depicts, a sacrament effects the thing it describes. Your spouse not only is a sign of God’s help but, in a mysterious way, is God’s help. But you must never forget that, exactly, it is God who is my helper. Your spouse is the mediator or mediatrix of God’s active presence in your life, but he or she is never all of this presence. The spouse is, as we said, a sign of something that is always present in a hidden and spiritual reality. Celibacy (even for married folks) is a call to live into the full reality of that help even now.

Theology of Marriage

Didn’t say it all semester.

The assignment was to pick 15 questions out of 24 or so. This was the review over the whole class.


  1. I.1 What is Love?

POPE ST JOHN PAUL said, “The only adequate response to a person is love.” Love is the correct response, then, to a person present to us: the icon of God. Love is an act of the will to know and do the good of another – rather than oneself. Since God is Love, this act of self-giving is the action of the Father to the Son and the Son to the Father. In the tripersonal unity of God, this shared love is, itself, another person the Holy Spirit. Since God as ground of being is the source of all being, all existence is an act of and participation in this love. To not-love (to use) is to act contrary to being.

  1. I.4 Utilitarian Relationships.

Yes, the Pope’s insights help me to better understand the feelings I’ve experienced in these relationships. It was said in class (is it a direct quote from St JPII?) “The opposite of Love is use.” Most work relationships are, strictly speaking, use-based. Some more than others, of course. When employed by someone who values their relationship with you the experience is much better than when you are employed by someone who only values your body parts and your skills. Thus, the manager in a fast food chain only needs a certain number of hands to perform an exact number of tasks. Hands can be replaced by other hands. An industrial farmer needs only hands (and muscles) to do certain work. The persons involved are not important. A business owner, using his staff for their specific functions, firing and hiring “at will” while not invested in personal relationships is equally failing in love. It feels very insecure in this sort of job. And there are times now – working for a parish where I feel actual love – it’s possible that something happens that triggers an old fear. I realize what that is now. Of course, in our society, we don’t expect our “job” to provide us with “love”. But equally, we should not expect our personal relationships (friendship, marriage, etc) to feel like work.

  1. I.5 Nuptial Meaning of the Body

First, bodies are important. The Human is a Body-Spirit hybrid. Our Bodies express and reveal ourselves and our spirit is the form of our body. The fathers would suggest we are a physical body living in a spirit. It is our bodies that reveal to others who we are. They are the mode and matter of our communion with others as much as bread & wine is the matter of the Eucharist.

Each of us is made for union with another. That union is expressed in self-sacrifice and self-gift. The works of mercy express this, but the most intimate form of gift and sacrifice is the conjugal union. This peak of gift and love is the fullest expression of this mystery so all other expressions of love involving the human body are, as it were, sacramentals of this union. “Awareness of the nuptial meaning of the body … is the fundamental component of human existence in the world” (Theology of the Body). The entire life of a baptized person is engaged in acts reflecting the nuptial mystery.

  1. II.1 Mutual Use relationships

This is an interesting topic because of the number of couples cohabitating. They are, exactly, in a use-based relationship. Perhaps unknowingly they are already experiencing the insecurity and abuse arising in such a relationship. Blatant indicators of this might include objectification of the partner such as sexual comments, bragging about “good catch” etc. More subtle indicators might be jealousy or snarky, emotionally painful comments made toward each other. In class, I thought some of the comments made by “Guadalupe” to “Monty” came close to this subtle level of abuse: she seemed to be looking for a good provider, not a life partner. 

  1. II.2 Pornography

Matt Fradd’s The Porn Myth is amazing. It points out that the initial result is a lack of sexual interest in “real” people: you need to “work” on them. The people in magazines/websites are there for free. But then they become objects. Then, after a while, all people are objects – eventually including the viewer’s own self. It’s not just art: it’s the commodification of persons. Even without the added crime of human trafficking, the persons in the images are treated as far less than they really are – icons of God. Thus, it’s a form of blasphemy as well. Art unveils beauty – porn uncovers skin. How might I uncover this? I would listen for certain clues in the conversation. For example, in a men’s Faith sharing group at St Dominic’s a member shared his trouble with this issue. In response, another man mentioned that his wife had trouble because he was up at night watching YouTube videos one after another. I recognized that this was the searching function that many report in pornography addiction. Quietly I would then engage in conversation one on one to see if this was the issue. Perhaps the fiancee is “concerned with internet use” and that might also be a clue. I would ask if the couple are open to praying and talking about this and, hopefully, lead them to speaking with someone who was a bit more skilled such as a therapist or a spiritual director.

  1. II.3 Committing Adultery with the Spouse.

If one approaches one’s spouse without the proper reverence due the icon of God (Christ to his Church) then the sexual approach becomes one of lust rather than love. All human relationships can break in this way: it’s possible to make friends for the wrong reason, to be kind to someone just to get something back, etc. So, also, it is possible to draw near to one’s own spouse incorrectly. It’s possible to use one’s spouse in a sexual act rather than to make a full gift of one’s self in the nuptial union. The spousal union mediates the Love of God to the other person. As with any human relationship, it’s not really possible, because of human sin, for me to love my spouse as fully as God intends. Yet, if I just get out of the way,  God can love my spouse mediated through me. I might block this love unintentionally, but to willingly do so is to commit adultery in my heart. 

  1. III.2 Celibacy

Marriage is a sign in this world of the union of Christ and his Church. Every marriage is this sacramental sign of an eternal Mystery. The closest humans can come, in this world, to the experience of the unity Jesus prayed for in John 17:21-22, is the consummation of the marriage on the nuptial bed. Every human is called to this unity in Christ. “That they may be one,” Jesus asks his Father. “As you and I are one”.  We can not know this unity fully, yet, because of human sin. But we can live in the sacramental sign of it (marriage). On the other hand, celibacy is an eschatological sign, a mark of things yet to be. In haven there is no marriage bcause the unity of Christ with his Church is consumated. Each of us shall know as fully as we are known (1 Corinthians 13:12). The vocation to celibacy is offered as a sign of that union. As St Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:32-33, “​​An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife.” The celibate man can move through the world as if it is passing away. The married man moves through this world as Christ, sacrificing himself for his bride.

  1. III.4 Language of the Body (as spoken to youth group)

The two shall become one flesh is not just poetry: not just a description of what happens. It is reality: what actually happens. Oxytocin is released in your brain. This causes a feeling of bonding and intimacy. God put this in your brain exactly to bond you with your spouse. Your body is programmed to engage in this committed intimacy. Doing something else with your body – with your hormones, with your emotions – is to introduce a lie into your relationships with others. Lies are no basis for love, no basis for growth. Furthermore, triggering this same response in others (these same hormones, that is) sets them up for a major collapse when you’re done playing with them. That misuse is also no basis for friendship or any other relationship. 

  1. IV.1 Car, cell phone, computer, or contraception?

Contraception saves us from being to mercy of our bodies. This in turn saves us from being obligated to control our bodies at all. When our bodies want something we have to choose between the consequences of giving in or not giving in to that desire. There are pills now that can help you overcome diet restrictions without them, for example, lactose might cause embarrassment at a dinner party. You can give in to your desire for ice cream! Of course, you might also gain weight. Contraception means that we can give in to our desires whenever we want without any consequences. That’s why it’s hard to give this up:  we have to face the consequences of not wanting to restrain our bodies.  Of course, the irony is that we don’t want to be subject to our bodies’ “end product” –  reproduction –  so we make ourselves more subject to our bodies’  hormonal cycles. They object because they want the freedom to enjoy the gift of human sexuality without the cost of the intended end. I do not believe they actually know what the church teaches on contraception. I mean they know that they’re not supposed to use it, but they’ve been told that their conscience can make that choice to agree or not. I don’t think they realize that it’s impossible to take the church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality as a standalone:  they are fully woven into the tapestry of Christian teaching on eschatology, sacraments, morality, salvation, and even World Peace (that is, solidarity). 

As with the Eucharist, better catechesis is needed.

  1.  IV.2 G-rated Homily bringing up Family Planning

Friday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time (Years 1 & 2 have the same Gospel): Luke 12:54-59

“When you see a cloud rising in the west you say immediately that it is going to rain–and so it does; and when you notice that the wind is blowing from the south you say that it is going to be hot–and so it is. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”

The readings here are taking a turn towards the Apocalyptic readings of Christ the King and Advent. It would be useful to ask “Do we really even know how to read the signs…” and point out all the ways we avoid reading signs at all – not as “fortune telling” but even the way parents ignore the signs of bad behavior in their kids, or how we always hear interviews of “but he was such a nice guy” after a crime spree. Then ask, can we even read ourselves? Tell the story shared in class about how kids learn to track their emotions in journals, and how – eventually – this is linked to hormonal cycles. Do we even know ourselves well enough to do this? For a daily homily that might be enough to get folks thinking about their lives and applying the Gospel. Sadly this Gospel (nor the parallel in Matthew) is not found assigned to a Sunday. There might be more time to add. But in a daily homily, this pointing towards something could lead to interesting conversations after Mass.

  1.  V.2 Kreeft

The answer is in the middle of page 2. “…the heart of the error of the Sexual Revolution is the identifying of love with sex.” Kreeft’s offering that “nothing less than Jesus will do” reminds me of the Catholic Chaplain at NYU telling the campus Episcopal Peer Minister (me) in 1983, “They don’t need magic or astrology or sex. They need Jesus.” Kreeft continues, “Christianity centers on two equations: God is love, and love is (revealed in) Christ.” This gets to the heart of my comments above in #8: only the full preaching of the Gospel, without hedging and without fear of “what people may say” or “voting with their wallets” will do here. “Christ alone is the answer to the Sexual Revolution. Because nobody else gives us intimacy with God.” The entire article could (should?) be used to initiate a discussion of how sex needs to be included in catechesis not just as a morality issue but as an anthropological issue. For most of RCIA we talk about mystery, spiritual enthusiasm, majestic glory,  and ethereal liturgy,  but we relegate sex to a list of do’s and do nots. 

  1.  V.3 Healy

Christ’s total gift of himself to the Church in the Eucharist is the constant spousal union. Marriage is the primordial sacrament that revealed God’s plan for the world (in a union where all may be one as the Son and the Father are one). This revelation reaches its source and summit in the Eucharist where God and Man are made one in each human being as intimately as God became man in the womb of the Virgin Mary. This union is not something we do but rather something we receive from God. We are then to actively engage it (rather than passively just sit there). This becomes our evangelical action, drawing others into this union.

  1.  V.4 Growth in Holiness

This begins in shared prayer. This can be just a Hail Mary or an Our Father at the beginning, but it should grow into a family practice of bringing things before God. Not just prayer in the home, but prayer at Church. As a monk told me when I became Catholic, “Go to Mass all the dang time.” The couple (and soon, the kids) should be used to seeing a church as part of their daily life. I shared this advice with a friend in RCIA and he one day asked, “Are we spending too much time in Church?” I pointed out that there were 24 hours in a day and we were tithing the day, so it was ok. He and his wife are now Eucharistic Ministers, he’s an MC. He’s thinking of applying for the Deacon’s program. As the family grows, the tradition of prayer will take root and holiness will grow as fruit on the vine. The pray should take root in action: the family should begin to engage in the works of mercy. One of the most direct acts of evangelism in my youth with when my friend Barbara wanted to play after school. She was making Rosaries for missionaries to take overseas! She asked me (a Methodist 5th grader…) to help. Her parents watched, smiling. I have young couples who come to help me in the Outreach ministries at St Dominic’s. They will be raising their children in that faith solidly rooted in daily practice (outside of butincluding Mass). Their kids will be inviting neighbors over to make Rosaries. 

  1.  VI.1 Mallon

Mallon’s overlapping of “Welcome” and Marriage Prep in a model of overall evangelism was very exciting! I would tweak a couple of things in his welcoming process though. Here’s where I would make changes for St Dom’s:

A clear and visible welcome booth (YES!), a welcome packet and also a luncheon. But then I diverge: the lunch should be a chance for present members of the parish to witness to their faith and to invite others into that faith. This can include a discussion of the obligations of parish membership, but at that point, the new folks should be invited to consider things over. It’s not a done deal: we’re a bunch of religious nuts. I mean that in a good way! Do you want to join us? Then the new folks should be given some time. If they decide to commit, there should be an official welcome at that point. In one Episcopal congregation from my past, this commitment was made by having the mentor introduce the person to the parish at Sunday worship. They were welcomed and blessed by the pastor and then could participate fully in parish life.

His description of the marriage prep including Alpha is somewhat revolutionary. I would love it if everyone involved in marriage prep were as committed to the faith as they are to getting “the big day” to happen. Marriage cannot help save the souls of people who are not trying to get their souls saved. MAry-Rose took this point “home”!

  1.  VI.2 Verrett

The line items comparing the marriage process with the formation process of the traditional catechumenate are brilliant. It lays out clearly why this is needed and what it could look like. One thing I have heard at St D’s is that we can’t set up more “roadblocks” if we want people to get married. They will just go elsewhere. I’m not sure if this says anything about morality (we want them married because then they won’t be living in sin). The cynical voice inside of me says two things, one of which I shared in class. “This is about money” and “They won’t go elsewhere, because where else is as beautiful as this place?” If the beauty of the building is drawing them here, let’s use it to rope ‘em in! 

The idea of using other married couples to draw others to a relationship with Christ is good: it assumes that the other couples are, themselves, properly catechized. If the data on who believes the Church’s teachings are any indication, it may take a while to get the parish “up to” being the place described in this document. We sometimes have 3 weddings a weekend. That would mean a lot of couples acting as sponsors/mentors! But it is a person-to-person relationship, exactly, that draws others into a relationship with Christ and so it is likely that the relational process will not only draw the new couple to Christ but also the mentors will be better formed in their faith as well. 

As for me and my house…


The Readings for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)

Ego autem et domus mea serviemus Domino.
I myself and my house will serve the Lord.

On the one hand the lectionary for the Novus Ordo Missae gave us more Bible to chew on. On the other hand, curiously, it allows for it to be more watered down. The same is true in the Daily Office. There are more texts to read… but more options to skip parts we don’t like. The Daily Office skips verses of the psalms that are “problematic”,  and the Mass lectionary allows us the option of skipping whole passages. 
One such event is in today’s Lections where, if so inclined, a parish can skip over all the troublesome bit about “being subject” and just get on with the “love” part. Mind you, the love part has no context without the “be subject” part. But that’s never stopped anyone from editing out things that convict them of wrong-doing… or, as they say today, make one feel unsafe.

The two choices are both listed on the lectionary page for today.

I was assigned this reading as lector so I wrote an email asking which version I was to have ready. The response was be ready to do either but it was up the homilist. I wondered why the homilist picked the shorter one. Then it dawned on me that since he was not preaching on the Epistle, maybe he didn’t want to leave it floating out there without comment. That may be the real reason to skip a passage: so that you don’t have to talk about it when you’d rather highlight something else. That made good and charitable sense. 
But the effect is still the same: we don’t do this passage any more. 

Subversion of the social order was Paul’s special charism: he took things like the political and family structures and turned them to tools for working out our salvation in fear and trembling. God’s providence had placed us where and when we are. So salvation was possible where we are, not needing to run away to another place. All we needed to do is…

Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. 

A monastic in the Eastern Rites understands this from the get go: when a man is about to be tonsured, as the superior is raising the scissors to cut his hair, the scissors are dropped to the floor. The novice is told to pick them up. The rite begins again, except the scissors may be be dropped three (or maybe more) times. Each time the Novice is told to pick them up.

Obedience is where we give up self-will and begin to find salvation. 

Now men had a hard time in Pagan Rome for no free Pater Familias was under any social obligation to obey someone else on a regular basis. Paul puts the man under the obligation to love.

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her,

Paul is here breaking apart the Roman Family, the traditional Roman marriage. Paul is subverting this order. He’s making a Christian Sacramental Action out of a Roman Civic Contract. To a pagan man, a wife was his property. To a Christian man, she was his own flesh. To a pagan, there was a contractual obligation involved. A husband owned everyone in his household.  To a Christian man, his wife and his children were a chance to go to the death in Agape love.

Wives, however, have a built in social obligation to use for this purpose. This is why,

Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.

And a wife of a Christian man would take comfort in the fact that the husband must agape the wife. But even a Christian wife of a Pagan might take comfort in knowing that by obeying her husband, by sacrificing her self-will, she was becoming the best Christian possible using the tools she had to hand in God’s providence.

Paul wanted his folks using the cultural tools and not risking trouble by breaking the local laws unless those laws also broke the law of God. A Roman Pater Familias might send his family starving into the streets, or expose unwanted babies and seniors on the hillside. A Christian certainly could not do so, nor could a Christian stop a pagan from doing so. But, once done, a Christian could open their homes in the name of Agape to those thus abandoned. A Christian could not divorce his pagan wife or her pagan husband. But a Christian should open their homes to those so divorced because of their faith.

Paul’s subversion of the Roman Order was so important that, after trying it out in Rome, he sends Titus to literally take over Crete with this Novus Ordo Seclorum, hoping to change the entire Cretan society by changing the way the family functioned.

Today, when we might hear this passage incorrectly as “Sexist” and “Patriarchal” it is good to be reminded that it is revolutionary to Pagan Romans. 

How do we apply it in today’s culture? Certainly not by recreating the Pater Familias and trying to rule the household with an iron fist. But if we – my household and I – or “your household and you” – choose the Lord what does that mean for us?

The clue is in verse 21. The Greek word describing how we are all to be one-to-another (of which the relationship of Husband and Wife is only an example) is ὑποτάσσω hypotasso from two Greek roots, “under” and “arrangement”. Brothers and Sisters, but yourself under each the other’s arrangement. Let others make choices for you.

This is the same word used in Luke 2:51 to describe Jesus’ relationship (as God) with Joseph and Mary. 

And Paul doesn’t say to do this – as the NABRE would have it – out of “reverence” for Christ. Paul’s Greek says we are to do this out of fear of Christ. The person giving us so much Agape is to be viewed in phobos, in holy awe, in fear. 

This is why it is good for every Christian, lay, monastic, or cleric, to be under obedience to someone. For some of us –  after 50 years as unmarried wild cards in the world – this might be most important. But it must be someone who takes those reins in Agape. This passage tells us it’s not enough just to go to Mass. Submission to another in Love is part of this process. We must stand with Joshua and say “As for me and my house”.

No one is saved alone.