Holy Day, Holy Union

I don’t know about you, but I must admit to feeling a mixture of excitement and dread every time Christmas comes around. With shopping to be done, cards to be sent, food to be prepared, rooms to be cleaned … it can all be a bit much. And it doesn’t always help when people say, “Just focus on Jesus, the reason for the season!”

Well, yes, of course he’s the reason, but the season is insane. So insane, in fact, that the preparation can often eclipse the actual holiday. So busy, that the checklist of tasks can keep one up at night. So expensive, that it can rob the heart of the joy of giving. And so secular, that it’s easy to forget Church and our obligations to the Lord during the Advent/Christmas season.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “My brother heard a woman on a bus say, as the bus passed a church with a [Nativity] outside it … ‘They bring religion into everything. Look – they’re dragging it even into Christmas now!'” We can chuckle at this confused perspective, but it’s not entirely inaccurate. The Church has been infiltrated by secular influences that demand celebration but conveniently forget why. Sometimes, when I’m stuck in shopping mall traffic, or up to my eyeballs in wrapping paper and bows, I forget why, too. What’s worse is, I can even begin to resent it!

This morning I read from the prophet Jeremiah, who denounces those for whom God is “always on their lips, but far from their hearts” (Jer 12:2b). My first instinct was to mentally apply this condemnation to Pope Francis for Monday’s release of Fiducia supplicans, a Vatican declaration which uses all manner of flowery gobbledygook to ultimately spread confusion among the faithful while giving non-traditionalists a reason to preen and crow. Laden with praise for Francis’ “fatherly and pastoral approach” (2), this disaster of a statement belies a far darker purpose.

Although technically Fiducia does not alter prior Church teaching on the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman, it invites, even encourages, Catholic clergy to offer blessings upon same-sex couples and those in irregular unions. It parses the definition of priestly “blessing” so precisely as to nearly strip it of its power and mystery: It literally says that “blessing is transformed into inclusion” (19). It further admonishes priests from subjecting the faithful “to too many moral prerequisites (12),” as though such standards oppress rather than serve as sources of true freedom.

The document attempts to assure the baffled reader that clerical blessings are disassociated from any “intention to legitimize anything” (40). Yet there is no question that such a priestly gesture upon a couple living in sin will be interpreted as precisely that. And Francis is not ignorant of this. He clearly anticipates objections, warning in the document itself that “no further responses should be expected” (41), shutting down any hope or opportunity for papal clarification.

This pope is a master at sowing confusion, and he does so by using the words of charity and inclusion to mask what he knows will be heresy interpreted. God may be on his lips, but I fear he is far from Francis’ heart.

These are the initial musings that passed through my troubled mind in my devotions this morning … and I think they are not without merit. My second – probably better – instinct, however, was to apply Jeremiah 12 to my own hypocrisy, particularly in the Christmas season: I mutter under my breath at the hoards of shoppers in my way at the mall, rather than rejoicing that we live in a country where so many people celebrate Christmas. I offer financial donations earmarked for Christmas, but take too much contentment in my anticipated tax deduction. I even get irritated that I have to go to Mass twice this weekend to fulfill my Sunday and Holy Day obligations!

Are my spiritual shortcomings as serious as the Vatican’s theological ones? Maybe not. They’re certainly not as impactful on the wider world. But both reflect a troubling invasion of secular values into what ought to be an entirely Christ-centered matter. Whether it’s Christmas or marriage that is being celebrated, holiness should be at its heart. Guarding the sanctity of both the holy day and the holy union is the duty of all who belong to Christ. Words of true blessing should come forth from lips that honor the Lord above all, whether my lips or the lips of one who has the ear of the world.