Chris Codden’s Column from the March 14th Edition of the Visitor

As we begin these 40 days of Lent, we are called to pray, fast and give alms.  Our prayers and fasting are urgently needed for the impending decisions facing the U.S. Supreme Court and their rulings in two very important cases:  Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and a related case, Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius.

These two cases challenge the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate which requires employers to provide employee health insurance that includes contraceptives, including abortion-causing drugs, and female sterilization.  Challenging this mandate are Hobby Lobby, a Christian-owned family business based in Oklahoma, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Mennonite owned furniture manufacturer based in East Earl, Pennsylvania.

These cases involve the question of whether a business, as well as its owners, have a right to religious freedom under the First Amendment.  For Conestoga Woods, their suit states that it would be “sinful and immoral” for them to pay for or support certain forms of contraception as required by compliance with the Affordable Care Act.  Hobby Lobby’s suit says, “The Green family’s religious beliefs forbid them from participating in, providing access to, paying for, training others to engage in, or otherwise supporting abortion-causing drugs and devices.”

The question at hand then is whether the religious owners of family businesses, or their closely held, for-profit corporations, are free to exercise their religious rights which are being violated by the application of the contraceptive-coverage mandate of the Affordable Care Act.  These cases will be heard on March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation.

Another case involves the Little Sisters of the Poor who are seeking to uphold their right to carry out their vows of obedience in their service to the poor where the elderly and dying are cared for with love and dignity until they pass into eternal life. They adhere to the teachings of the Catholic Church and uphold the dignity of each human person, especially those deemed weak and vulnerable.

The suit seeks protection not only for the Little Sisters, but for other Catholic organizations who provide health benefits consistent with their religious faith. This is a different issue since the Obama Administration has offered an exemption for religious nonprofit organizations, but to receive this partial accommodation, they have to sign the two-page form and send it to the “third-party administrator” of their health insurance plans.  This is in essence still providing the coverage through someone else or it is like asking someone else to sin on its behalf or providing services that destroy human life, contradicting their very mission to respect it.  The Little Sisters suit is now waiting for the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to rule.

What is at stake in all of these cases has little to do with healthcare.  If it was about true “healthcare,” the HSS mandate would have included life-saving drugs such as medications for high blood pressure, diabetes, or chemotherapy.  If it was about “healthcare,” Kathleen Sebelius would have concerned herself with more important aspects of health, instead of mandating pills, products and procedures that actually destroys health and life.

What is at stake is what we mean when we say “freedom of religion.” Over the past years, many have come to equate “freedom of religion” with “freedom of worship,” that people are free to believe (or not believe) whatever they want, as long as it stays in the confines of four walls with a steeple.

The U.S. Bishops address this in their 2012 document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. “Some question whether it is appropriate for the Church to play a role in political life. However, the obligation to teach about moral values that should shape our lives, including our public lives, is central to the mission given to the Church by Jesus Christ. Moreover, the United States Constitution protects the right of individual believers and religious bodies to participate and speak out without government interference, favoritism, or discrimination. Civil law should fully recognize and protect the Church’s right, obligation, and opportunities to participate in society without being forced to abandon or ignore its central moral convictions. Our nation’s tradition of pluralism is enhanced, not threatened, when religious groups and people of faith bring their convictions and concerns into public life. Indeed, our Church’s teaching is in accord with the foundational values that have shaped our nation’s history: ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’”

 

Chris Codden’s Vistor Column on Valentines Day

One of my favorite holidays (besides Christmas and Easter) is St. Valentine’s Day.  As a child, I enjoyed making Valentines for each of my classmates, constructing the special envelope or box to accept cards and reading each card I received.  It is no wonder then, that I enjoy the giving and receiving of those treasures today.

Maybe it is because we treat one another a bit nicer when we intentionally sit down to write thoughtful notes, or maybe it is because chocolate is sometimes involved, or moreover, maybe it is about how Christ teaches us to love, not for what we get, but for the joy we give. Our hearts turn away from ourselves, even if just for a minute or two, that makes the world a better place.

Pope Francis released his 2014 Lenten message last week, which illustrates this point:  “God’s becoming man is a great mystery! But the reason for all this is his love, a love which is grace, generosity, a desire to draw near, a love which does not hesitate to offer itself in sacrifice for the beloved. Charity, love, is sharing with the one we love in all things. Love makes us similar, it creates equality, it breaks down walls and eliminates distances. God did this with us.  (Vatican City, February 4, 2014)

Nowhere more important for us to show this love is in our own homes.  The love for our spouse and family is where we begin.  Blessed Mother Teresa reminded us that:  “Spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your own home. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbor . . . Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.”

As spouses, on the day of our marriage, we make wonderful promises in front of a myriad of people.  We show a PDA (public display of affection), we profess our love openly, and we pray for God’s grace and blessing.  In the months and years after that, we may not exhibit those same actions as freely, forgetting the importance of expressing our love and devotion and take it for granted.  But it is important to take the time on those special days (and the not-so-special days) to show our love for each other, to grow the love we so easily shared on our wedding day, to rekindle in us the understanding that “I love you because you are you and Christ entrusted you to me.”

In 1994 on the occasion of the International Year of the Family, the U.S. Catholic Bishops released a statement called Follow the Way of Love.  In the pastoral message, the bishops reminded married couples to:  “renew your commitment regularly, seek enrichment often, and ask for pastoral and professional help when needed.”

Renewing our commitment regularly can be as simple as making intentional time to talk, uninterrupted by the TV, telephone, the children, etc. to share our hopes and dreams with each other.  It is in those precious moments to say words of affirmation, express gratitude for each other and to enjoy physical closeness that speaks to the very heart of the beloved.

Seek enrichment often can also be simple.  Most marriage counselors and professionals recommend married couples make an annual retreat.  Worldwide Marriage Encounter is an excellent experience that assists couples in building better communication techniques, while fostering the profound relationship Christ has called us to in the Sacrament of Marriage.  (To find out more, go to wwme.org).  Many times retreats or workshops are available through the parish or community.

Ask for pastoral and professional help when needed.  Many couples find themselves in situations that are very difficult to work through on their own.  This is not a sign of weakness and can take great courage to admit that outside help is necessary.  Our diocese is blessed with many good Christian counselors for those times.  It can truly assist couples to rebuild their relationship and find their way to a happy and holy marriage.  For a trusted counselor in your area, your pastor can be a helpful resource.

God wants us to lead happy, holy lives serving each other, our families and the Church.  He rejoices with us in the good times and provides His infinite grace in the difficult days.  May we take this opportunity with a little help from St. Valentine, to renew our love for one another and to help get our spouse to heaven.

USCCB Releases New Video on Marriage

The US bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage has released the third video in its catechetical series for the promotion and protection of marriage. El Matrimonio: Hecho para el amor y la vida (Marriage: Made for Love and Life) is a 30-minute film in Spanish with English subtitles, accompanied by a bilingual study guide.

El Matrimonio invites viewers into a story about a faithful marriage of 50 years and a young man and woman skeptical of marriage. The film and study guide address all four catechetical themes of the Marriage Unique for a Reason initiative: sexual difference and complementarity, the good of children, the common good, and religious freedom.

www.MarriageUniqueforaReason.org.

 

Family matters being put in spotlight by Pope Francis

This column by Chris Codden was featured in the November 22 issue of the Saint Cloud Visitor

Pope Francis has called for the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to be held from October 5-19, 2014, dedicated to the “Pastoral Challenges to the family in the context of evangelization.”

In my work, this is a really big deal.  According to the Code of Canon Law, an “extraordinary general session” of the synod is held to “deal with matters which require a speedy solution.” This will be only the third extraordinary synod since Pope Paul VI reinstituted synods in 1965, designed to advise the pontiff on specific subjects.

In 1980, after the deaths of Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul I, Blessed Pope John Paul II convened the Fifth General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome, September through October 1980.  The subject was, “The Duties of the Christian Family in Today’s World.”  The idea of a synod on the family was that of Pope Paul VI, but was wholeheartedly embraced by Pope John Paul II.  While this was not an extraordinary general assembly as the one next year will be, it did offer forty-three propositions.  Pope John Paul II took the information from this synod and, on November 22, 1981, gave the church his “Apostolic Exhortation on the Family” or “Familiaris Consortio.”

Familiaris Consortio is a prophetic document that outlines the “precious value of marriage and of the family,” in only a way that Pope John Paul II could. I have read and reread it countless times and feel, with each reading that it could have been written yesterday.  At the beginning of this exhortation, John Paul states:

At a moment of history in which the family is the object of numerous forces that seek to destroy it or in some way to deform it, and aware that the well-being of society and her own good are intimately tied to the good of the family, the Church perceives in a more urgent and compelling way her mission of proclaiming to all people the plan of God for marriage and the family, ensuring their full vitality and human and Christian development, and thus contributing to the renewal of society and of the People of God.

In the document, Pope John Paul II outlines the Church’s vision for marriage and the family, the role of the Christian family and its pastoral care.

The Extraordinary General Assembly that will be convened next year will focus on some similar concerns, with an emphasis on evangelization.  This is just phase one of Pope Francis’ work.  Phase two will be an Ordinary General Assembly scheduled for 2015 which will develop working approaches for the pastoral care of the human person and the family.  Also slated for 2015 is the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.  At this point it is unsure if or how that will fit into these synods.

As with other synods, much work is done prior to the convocation.  A preparatory document was released last week that outlines the list of concerns it hopes to address, ranging from cohabitation, same-sex unions, influence of the media on the understanding of marriage and family, legislative measures that devalue marriage, surrogate motherhood and lack of participation at the sacraments, particularly marriage and penance.  The statement includes a series of questions each diocese is invited to reflect and submit answers, particularly on pastoral approaches.

When you consider that we are a global church, input may be varied depending on culture and customs.  Yet, unfortunately, too many of these concerns are universal.  In the midst of this process, there will be some that will try to push their own agenda.  I have already received two requests for input from non-official outside sources, who have taken the questions and skewed them to reflect ideologies not embraced by the church.

The goal of all this vast effort is to bring people to Christ.  The Preparatory Document for the synod cites:  “The teachings of the faith on marriage is to be presented in an articulate and efficacious manner, so that it might reach hearts and transform them in accordance with God’s will, made manifest in Jesus Christ.”  What will flow from this work by so many is a greater understanding of what it means to follow Christ in our God-given vocation.

In his recent encyclical, Lumen fidei, Pope Francis speaks of the family as, “The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city…”  May we pray for our bishops as they participate in these coming opportunities that the Holy Spirit guide them as they shepherd and guide families in their care.