Do you feel unlovable or disqualified?

Jerry Novotny OMI – One of the most painful things we can ever experience is being made to feel that we don’t belong. All of us have experienced this sometime in our lives. For example, some people are made to feel different because of their race or ethnic background. All around us we see the damaging effects of racism in society just because of the color of another person’s skin or age. We can also be made to feel different because of our job. Other times, people can be made to feel “less than” because they struggle with physical limitations, mental illness or just feeling different from others without knowing why.

We find cases like this throughout the gospels. Take for example the leper in the Gospel of St. Mark 1:40-45 which centers on the problem of people “not belonging” among us. Many of us today have been singled out like the leper in Mark’s gospel. In those days, lepers suffered a particular kind of ostracism. People found them disgusting. They were not allowed to enter openly into towns. Wherever they went, they had to yell out “Unclean! Unclean!” to warn others that they were nearby. Imagine the pain and loneliness that those lepers must have felt.

You can almost hear the desperation in the leper’s voice as he approaches Jesus. He is taking a big risk. Jesus could have turned His back on him and told him to get away. The crowd with Jesus might have also started yelling at him. But he realized that Jesus was his only hope. He had no other choice and nothing to lose. And what does he find in Jesus? Nothing but love and compassion. Not only can Jesus heal him, but Jesus wants to heal him.

Which brings us to the theme of this article. “Do you feel unlovable ordisqualified?”  You are not here on this planet Earth by accident. You were created especially by God for this time and place. Some of us might have a pretty clear idea of what God’s plan for us is. We are living it out every day. For many of us, however, God’s plan might not be so clear. Life has taken us in so many directions that the way ahead is murky and bleak. Wherever you find yourself today in life’s journey, be assured that God is in control. He loves you. Like the leper, not only can Jesus heal you, but Jesus wants to heal you.

One way God does this today is through the Catholic Church. The Holy Spirit works through the universal church, teaching us how to work through our difficulties and like the leper ask for help. Whatever particular type of “leprosy” we may be suffering from – whatever way we may be feeling that we are unlovable or disqualified – the healing we seek can be found through Christ, in the Church.

Recently, Pope Francis has come out with the document “Fiducia Supplicans” on the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings. Initial reaction by mass media and many others was to criticize and condemn the document. Headlines like: “Pope Francis approves blessings for same-sex couples”, “Pope Francis authorizes blessings for same-sex couples”, “American Catholics Split on Pope’s Blessing for Gay Couples”. As usual, lots of verbiage with little room for facts. I wonder how many people have actually read the document. As Catholics, we should not accept at face value what the media tells us. We should step back for a moment, study the new document and try to understand for ourselves what the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us through his successor Pope Francis. Yes, Pope Francis is Peter for us today. Peter means rock. Pope Francis is the rock for us today. And in Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, “On this rock I will build my Church, and death itself will not have any power over it.” Do we really believe this? Or do we place the mass media interpretations above the teachings of the Catholic Church. Do we choose life or death?

After being bombarded by a series of tweets and articles from the media, I sat down and read the new Vatican document, not once but a number of times and was amazed how the document reaffirms the Church’s teachings about marriage and upon this basic foundation presents a pastoral approach how to broaden our understanding of Blessings. In this article, how to include the gay community, people who are struggling and seeking God in the midst of their weakness and their confusion. This new Declaration, approved by Pope Francis, offers a pastoral and theological reflection on the meaning and value of blessings, and how they can express the Church’s closeness and mercy to those who seek them without any preconditions.

The Pillar’s article is excellent: [“Fiducia supplicans”: Who’s saying what?]. Reading the texts from different countries and quotes by a large number of bishops, we see that this new document is in accord with the previous teachings especially in regard to marriage, between one man and one woman, a bond for life being open to life. And that this pastoral blessings for people in these irregular situations is a real reform and development that is in light with church documents and teachings. This is a time to take one step forward within the Holy Spirit’s guidance, not making statements that go against the teachings of the church. Let’s step back and realize that these successors of Christ actually recognize the reform and and continuity of church teachings, to live the value of this text. It’s a time for us to grow and move forward as a universal church feeling secure in God’s tremendous love.

Briefly, let me quote directly from the document itself:

#1. (definition of blessing) “The great blessing of God is Jesus Christ. He is the great gift of God, his own Son. He is a blessing for all humanity, a blessing that has saved us all. He is the Eternal Word, with whom the Father blessed us ‘while we were still sinners’ (Rom. 5:8), as St. Paul says. He is the Word made flesh, offered for us on the cross.

#6. (“union” blessing) It should be emphasized that in the Rite of the Sacrament of Marriage, this (“union blessing”) concerns not just any blessing but a gesture reserved to the ordained minister. In this case, the blessing given by the ordained minister is tied directly to the specific union of a man and a woman, who establish an exclusive and indissoluble covenant by their consent. This fact allows us to highlight the risk of confusing a blessing given to any other union with the Rite that is proper to the Sacrament of Marriage.

#8. (purpose in general) Blessings are among the most widespread and evolving sacramentals. Indeed, they lead us to grasp God’s presence in all the events of life and remind us that, even in the use of created things, human beings are invited to seek God, to love him, and to serve him faithfully. For this reason, blessings have as their recipients: people; objects of worship and devotion; sacred images; places of life, of work, and suffering; the fruits of the earth and human toil; and all created realities that refer back to the Creator, praising and blessing him by their beauty.

#20-21. (“individual” blessing) [20] One who asks for a blessing show himself to be in need of God’s saving presence in his life and one who asks for a blessing from the Church recognizes the latter as a sacrament of the salvation that God offers. To seek a blessing in the Church is to acknowledge that the life of the Church springs from the womb of God’s mercy and helps us to move forward, to live better, and to respond to the Lord’s will. [21] In order to help us understand the value of a more pastoral approach to blessings, Pope Francis urges us to contemplate, with an attitude of faith and fatherly mercy, the fact that “when one asks for a blessing, one is expressing a petition for God’s assistance, a plea to live better, and confidence in a Father who can help us live better.” This request should, in every way, be valued, accompanied, and received with gratitude. People who come spontaneously to ask for a blessing show by this request their sincere openness to transcendence, the confidence of their hearts that they do not trust in their own strength alone, their need for God, and their desire to break out of the narrow confines of this world, enclosed in its limitations

#25. (preconditions?) When people ask for a blessing, an exhaustive moral analysis should not be placed as a precondition for conferring it. For, those seeking a blessing should not be required to have prior moral perfection.

In a nutshell, let’s look at the following example: A married couple comes up to a priest and ask, “Father can you bless us?” The answer is YES. “Father can you bless our union?” The answer is NO. The document clearly states that we can bless the couple as individuals but we cannot bless their union. I think what is lost on many people is the fact that a we can bless the sinner but not the sin, we can bless a murderer but not his murder. We can bless the same sex couple but we cannot bless that which makes them a same-sex couple namely the union.

As sinners, we are not perfect. The path to Christ is a step by step process. We ask God to Bless us each day, to assist us, to give us His strength, His light, His power, His grace. As #33 states clearly: God never turns away anyone who approaches him! Ultimately, a blessing offers people a means to increase their trust in God. The request for a blessing, thus, expresses and nurtures openness to the transcendence, mercy, and closeness to God in a thousand concrete circumstances of life, which is no small thing in the world in which we live. It is a seed of the Holy Spirit that must be nurtured, not hindered.

There is a lesson in this for us. A lesson we can learn from the Gospels and teachings of the Catholic Church. Whatever particular type of “leprosy” we may be suffering from – whatever way we may be feeling that we are unlovable or disqualified – the healing we seek can be found in Christ. What is this church except a place where broken, sinful people gather to experience the love of God. All of us, without exception, are carrying a burden of pain. Some of it is caused by others. Some of it is the result of choices we have made. Whatever the case may be, in the Catholic Church we have come to find comfort and healing in gathering with others who share our pain in one way or another and who turn to God as the only one who can save us.

Sin by its nature tries to isolate us. It whispers that no one can know what we have done because it is too shameful. The devil wants to make you an outcast. He wants to keep you in the cold and the dark so that you will be afraid of stepping into the light of God’s love. He wants you to believe that you are too far gone for anyone to help you. Or he tries to convince you that you can improve yourself on your own with no one’s help. But that is a lie.

A curious thing happens in the story of the leper. Though Jesus tells the leper not to tell anyone what Jesus did for him, he can’t help himself. He is so full of joy and amazement at what Jesus did for him that he has to “publicize the whole matter.” What happens as a result? Before, it was the leper who couldn’t go openly into towns and had to stay isolated in uninhabited places. Now it is Jesus who takes the place of the leper and becomes an outcast Himself.

That is what we are also called to do. Now that we have encountered the love and mercy of God, we have to reach out. We have to become outcasts ourselves, sharing the loneliness of those who have no place in our society.

Jesus can heal and Jesus wants to heal us. In the teachings of the Catholic Church, we find the healing we seek. The same Jesus who healed the leper is present in the Eucharist. As long as we realize that each one of us, in one way or another, is an outcast, then Jesus can reach us with His healing touch. It might only come gradually over time, but it will come. And as we are being healed, we must give that same love and mercy to others.


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