Tag Archives: Social

Why Catholic Men are Bored in Church

Although Colorado’s Supermax is the federal prison that is featured on all the TLC shows, Colorado’s death row for our homegrown felons is actually on the Eastern Plains. For my second assignment as a priest, I was sent to a parish containing within her bounds that very Correctional Facility.

Upon arrival, I had a plan to reach not just the Catholics, but all the semi-professed Christians at the prison. I would hold a Bible Study called “What the First Christians Believed,” but not write “By Fr. Dave Nix” on the flyer. It was an immediate success. Many people from all denominations arrived. Great discussion ensued for the first two weeks. However, one non-dom felon with too much time on his hands (imagine that in America’s prisons) had learned…Hebrew. By week three, he jumped on my smallest inference to the Catholic faith, attempting to debate the meaning of New Testament Greek words transliterated into his Hebrew purview. By our fourth meeting at that enormous prison, a fight broke out between the Catholics and the Protestants. The guard arrived to protect me. No punches were thrown, but my cover was blown. As if the cassock hadn’t given it away, they now knew: I was a Catholic.

Numbers dwindled. Within three weeks, I was sitting in my Bible Study room with one man…a single black man from Brooklyn who was getting released in two weeks. That evening, we gazed across the hallway through the classroom windows to see another large room, filled with Muslims doing prostrations. Depressed, I asked him “Why do you think Islam is the number one growing religion in the world?” The man must have learned a lot in his prison sentence; He answered: “Because there you get what you see. No games with God. No loopholes.”

Rewind a few years earlier in seminary. I was saying to my friends that, as a priest, I would not have girls on the altar as acolytes. A formator overheard me and chimed in: “You wouldn’t want to be less generous than the Church.” Ok. I went away feeling corrected and, um, ungenerous.

But it hit me a bit later that the common ground between the two above stories is this: Is the mind of God found in the tradition of the Church or in the Church’s loopholes? Imagine that your 15 year old son or daughter had a curfew of 9pm, and “on very rare occasions” you allow her to come home at 11pm. What if she came home every night at 11pm and midnight? We would rightly conclude that there was something wrong with her sense of fatherhood.

Now consider that the Church has held a great many things sacred for many centuries, and how now dispensations are overruling. We must remember God’s words: “For I the Lord do not change.”—Malachi 3:6. Consider how, under great pressure from progressive bishops, Pope Paul VI hesitantly allowed communion in the hand to occasionally replace communion on the tongue in circumstances that almost seem to read “safe, rare and legal.” St. John Paul II was put under similar pressure to allow altar girls to occasionally join the army of boys on the altar. Dispensation…now become norm.

Did you know that the 1917 Code of Canon Law said that it is “forbidden” to marry a non-Catholic? The 1983 Code of Canon Law similarly says it is “prohibited” to marry a non-Catholic. Both codes refer to the dangers to salvation to the Catholic party (cf. Pope Pius XI’s Castii Conubii.)   I’m not against the Church occasionally granting dispensations to a Catholic to marry a non-Catholic, but when was the last time you heard of a Tribunal reminding the couple that such norms are in place for the salvation of their eternal souls? Was the Apostle Paul’s admonition to be “equally yoked” purely the Revelation of an arbitrary Father? Or, is there any chance Our Father’s original plan was the most generous?

Liturgists (including Chief Liturgists) also need to consider whether rubrics be capricious…or from a reasonable God. For example, Vatican II reads that the Mass should be offered normally in Latin, but that the vernacular language may also be allowed. Which is the rule and which is the exception? Or, consider how Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI notes that even in apostolic times there was no precedent for the priest to face the people during the sacrifice of the Mass. Nowadays, however, that small loophole to the 2000 year-old Catholic (and Orthodox) norm has covered the globe. This was all for the sake of filling the parishes. Has it worked?

A point of dogma needs to be made: It is not just pious devotion, but it is actually the dogma of the Catholic Church that the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church. Thus, in order to understand the generosity of the Fatherhood of God, we must consider the mind of the Church through tradition, through 2000 years, not just modern loopholes.

I think I could summarize Jesus’ message to the Pharisees in one sentence: “Stop playing games with God.” Jesus’ main message to the Pharisees was not to abolish the law (See Mt 5:17) nor overturn the necessity of the commandments for salvation (See Mt 19:17) nor even end liturgical sacrifice (1 Cor 5:7-8.) Living in a country with so many Protestant overtones, we nowadays tend to picture a Jesus who, being a bit of a flippant religious-cowboy, wanted to end the Jewish hierarchy. Even this is not true (See Mt 23:3.) Jesus admits that the Pharisees still remain on the “chair of Moses,” but “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (23:23). In other words, “Stop looking for the loopholes, and start living for God. He does not play human games based in human tradition.”

I believe there is a key to attract men to the Catholic Church. It’s to stop playing games with dispensations in the name of being “pastoral.” I’m not saying a system of hard-core rules is key to making disciples of all nations. Nor am I promoting those ultra-conservative men who talk to their wives like they talk to their daughters (both like slaves.) But think about what that man from Brooklyn recognized in those 20 young black men prostrating at the prison. He saw that these men were attracted to a way of life that was concrete. These Muslim men—most of whom grew up without fathers—suddenly found a solid and clear-thinking system of religion that did not require a PhD in theology to tell you the rules didn’t apply to you if you know how to play this or that theological game. No, those inner-city men had had enough childish games in their adolescence to land them in prison. Now, they had something clear-thinking, something the male mind longs for, even if it sunk its teeth into something as sick and violent as Islam.

If a religion without a loving Father (Islam) has attracted men without fathers, how much more will the plan of a loving Father change our nation if we can be clear-thinking and clear speaking? We don’t want to make Kouachi-brothers of a new militant-Catholic-bent, but see my point: How much more do Catholic men contain a capacity for reaching the inner-cities of America if we can become unafraid of a full Catholic vocabulary? The maternally-run suburbs of America could use some good men, too. We as Catholics have the unique ability to reveal both the mercy of God and the expectations of God to a hurting and very confused nation. The peace in the womb doesn’t begin with women. It begins with men exercising self-control and protecting the women in their lives. It is peace that Jesus seeks to give us, but not as the world gives it.

Most young Catholic men secretly long for coaches, priests and mentors who will actually believe in them as sons. Young men long to see their dads (biological and spiritual) keep the high bar, not found in the confessional of priests who tell the penitent that because his masturbation “is an addiction, it is not done with full consent.” That’s a copout of responsibility for one’s penitents. No man ever wanted to live within a “dispensation” of weakness. Rather, most young men actually respond to a tough coach who believes in them. They want to be told that they can reach the high bar of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They want to give their lives away with other brothers.

In July of 2007, Pope Benedict wrote Summorum Pontificum to again promote the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. He had a very interesting line in there: “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.” This is an important sentence because it shows that God, as Father, does not change His mind for His family, based on the fads and whims of the time. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”—Hebrews 13:8.

Mass attendance statistics are pretty good proof that our hearts resonate with something “eternal” more than “pastoral.” Why? Because there is protection and freedom in God’s eternal order found in the liturgy. There is protection in the house rules, the unfolding of the Universe, the beauty of the Church, the two-parent Family. Rules without relationship leads to rebellion. But relationship without rules leads to a surrender without content—indeed, a surrender that is short-lived.

To be sure, the Gospel is ever ancient and ever new, with new creativities of evangelization growing out of every century of the Church that were surprising and unexpected. But as GK Chesterton wrote: “The more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.”

This was originally published under the title Why Pastoral Dispensations Lose Catholic Men.

Same Sex Attraction: Bearing the Beams of Love

I asked a close friend to write about his experience with same-sex attraction.   His life reflects a poem by William Blake:

And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love,
And these black bodies and this sun-burnt face.
—The Little Black Boy

Each of us has different set of beams of love to bear, so I’m sure that you’ll find his life an inspiration.—Fr. Dave


By CJ:

I am a child of a God. I am a traditional Roman Catholic. I am a traditional Roman Catholic, a child of God who has same-sex attraction.

I have known that I was different since I was young. Ironically, while these confusing feelings were just entering my life, I had discovered the pearl of great price – I had discovered Jesus Christ. I wish I could say that, having discovered Christ, God has removed same-sex attraction and made me “normal.” He has not. This is neither a testimony about someone who experienced such profound healing that he struggles no more.  But neither is it the story of the one who tried religion, failed, and rushed into the lifestyle. I am a child of God who has same-sex attraction and desires not necessarily healing but holiness. True and lasting healing will only come in eternity; but holiness starts here on earth.

True and lasting healing will come only in eternity; but holiness starts here on earth.

I have accepted the fact that this will be a struggle I have for the rest of my life. But this struggle for chastity is no different than the personal struggle that you may be dealing with in your life. The choice is before us every day – will I choose Christ and His love or will I choose that which is counterfeit? It is easy to make my struggle my primary identity, but I see it as only one aspect of my life. It does not define me.

My acceptance of my cross is not one that I embrace simply because it is a cross. A friend of mine recently said to me – I don’t know if it was an attempt to identify with my struggles – that she loved suffering. I recoiled from that statement. I did not ask for this cross. However, I embrace my cross because Christ calls me to pick up my cross and follow Him. I embrace my cross not out of self-pity but because I have experienced His love.

In Bishop Robert Barron’s new series, Catholicism: Pivotal Players, one learns that before St. Francis of Assisi received the stigmata, he prayed for two things – that he would experience the full passion and death of his Savior and, most importantly, that he would feel within himself the love that Christ had to do this major act of sacrifice. St. Francis did not morbidly ask for suffering alone; the joy in his suffering was only because of his union with Christ, and only because of Christ’s love.

A number of years ago, I had gone to a charismatic renewal conference. Although I had gone to Confession, I still beat myself up for the sins that I repented of but in the deepest recesses of my heart, I sincerely believed that God could not forgive me of such sins tied in with my struggles. After reception of Holy Communion, I calmly walked back to my seat and thoughts of past sins rushed through my mind. I cried out to the Lord, asking why, at this most sacred moment, my mind was reminding me of the worse things I had ever done. And He spoke in a still small voice. With each passing scene, I heard “And I loved you even then.” Tears welled up within me, and I truly believe I experienced the gift of tears. Christ loved me in the midst of my sin (Romans 5:8). I often think of Our Lord’s relationship with St. Peter, and how Jesus saw through the sin of Peter’s life to call Him time and again to the greatness to which he was called. Peter definitely did not change overnight, but he proved his love in the end.

For those who have same-sex attraction, there is an ever persistent fear that one will never experience love if one seeks to obey the Church’s teaching. Love in our much confused society is almost always identified with sexual expression, and yet even the Catechism says that sexuality is an expression of a person’s totality of love, including that of friendship. (CCC 2332 1). Human persons were not created for sex per se, but they were created for love and to love rightly. St. Augustine, that prodigal son who cried out that the Lord would grant Him chastity but just not yet, also said: “Set love in order in me.” (City of God XV.22) Those who authentically embrace chastity do so because they have experienced true love, and are encouraged to love others rightly.

As the years have passed, I have become more open about my struggles with same-sex attraction with close friends, most of whom are actively involved in the Faith. Whereas before the very mention of my struggle would cause me to tear up, it instead has provided an opportunity for my friends to show me authentic love. In truth, it was revelation of my struggles to Fr. Dave that has eventually led to writing this article. And, perhaps with a touch of divine humor and irony, I find myself often talking about same-sex attraction and helping others, without necessarily revealing my own struggles with this cross.

A good friend of mine who came out of the lifestyle and is now living a full and chaste life told me that the beginning of his conversion was when someone else he knew was gay told him it was possible to be chaste. That brief witness would eventually lead to his conversion back to the Catholic Church. He is a now a young man in his 20s living for Christ.

Please know that if you are someone who has same-sex attraction, I am praying for you – not that we necessarily be “healed” (though God is certainly capable of this) but that we would encounter authentic and transformative Love in Jesus Christ, and through His Church strive to live holiness in chastity. All I ask is that you would pray for me as well. God loves us so much, but He loves us too much to leave us where we are at.


  1. “Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others.”

On the Separation of Church and State

When Thomas Jefferson used the term “separation of Church and State” it was to assure a group of Baptists that the State would not trample the rights of their community. He wrote:

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”

Jefferson’s insistence upon the “building [of] a wall of separation of Church and State” was to assure that the American government would make “no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This last quote is found both in Jefferson’s letter and the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. But the term “separation of Church and State” is found exclusively in the letter.

Recently, Hillary Clinton gave a talk to a pro-abortion group. Because Christians are the number one opposition to full-access abortion, Hillary said that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.” We should note that not even communist leaders spoke so boldly fifty years ago. They were smart enough to first hide their intentions to begin a state-based religion (atheism.) Only later did governments disarm and kill any dissidents. In fact, governments killed a total of 170 million of their own people during the 20th century.

Few (if any) of these leaders blew their own anti-religion cover by stating that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.” By argumentum a fortiori, we can be sure that Hillary Clinton will make good on her promise to Christians to eradicate any separation of Church and State. Remember, these are her words, not mine, that “religious beliefs…have to be changed.”

Is it my place as a Catholic priest to blog about this? We should consider history:   Very few priestly saints refrained from getting involved in politics. St. Bernard of Clairvaux (a gentle Mary-loving monk) may have been the single most powerful influence on European politics in the 12th century. Or, consider St. Francis Xavier.  He gave his life to baptize hundreds of thousands in the far East in the 16th century. But when Portuguese settlers threatened his beloved Indians with slavery, St. Francis Xavier asked King John of Portugal for intervention. Should the king fail to control his subjects, St. Francis mildly promised the king that he would stand a good chance at experiencing the flames of hell. Even St. Anthony of the Desert, the 3rd century desert hermit, had an enormous influence on secular politics. The deeper he went into the desert of Egypt for solitude, the more emperors found him for advice.

st-anthony

My alma mater, a Jesuit University, has produced Jesuits from my graduating class who are now working at America magazine. One even flew out for my ordination.  I disagree with most of their political views, but I support their right as priests to speak out on politics. Why? Because we priests were not ordained to bless statues and then watch TV. We were ordained to be leaders.

Fr. Michael Orsi, former Ave Maria Law School chaplain, recently spoke at a National Day of Remembrance for Aborted Children. He said: “Let me remind you: the Bible is a political document. The prophets, including John the Baptist, and Jesus, lost their lives because they spoke the truth to power…The Constitution is quickly being destroyed…Unless the right choice is made in November, we may not have a court that is fair and balanced in its interpretation of the Constitution.”

Does he have a right to say this? Fr. Orsi and every priest has two ways in which he can live the Holy Priesthood:

Option 1: Give the sacraments to everyone who is headed to heaven or hell.
Option 2: Derail the train to hell, and then give the sacraments.

The first option will save a few souls, ruffle no feathers, and gain much popularity. The second option will ruffle feathers, compromise the priest’s popularity, and then save a lot more souls—and possibly a country.

Catholics and iPhones

Leisure: The Basis of Culture is a book written by Josef Pieper, a 20th century expert on St. Thomas Aquinas. In this book, Pieper demonstrates that a Christian civilization can not be sustained by technology and production as seen in Protestantized countries like Germany. On the southern and more Catholic side of Europe, we see how Italy and Spain close down business for afternoon siestas. Although Italy and Spain are less and less Catholic every year, they retain some aspects of what was once a Christian culture, namely, leisure. For Pieper, leisure is not laziness but an ability to enjoy the good things of life via contemplation and community.  This includes God and family.

His book has wide appeal to liberals and conservatives. In our slavish age of ironic isolation amidst so much technology, everyone knows that being able to relax with friends or family and a bottle of wine is usually a great gift from God.

But capturing this moment is harder than it sounds in an age of smart phones and Facebook. Furthermore, how do we reconcile the lives of the saints who never seemed to rest?

The reconciliation is very simple: Delineate your time. The key to moving from being a Catholic-in-sanctifying-grace to being a holy-and-joyful-Catholic involves a resolution that is the easiest and the hardest: Turn off your cell phone and Facebook as much as you can. In other words, refrain from mixing activities. If you are going to take a two hour nap, then do it well. If you’re going to talk to your daughter over coffee, then do it with your phone off. If you’re going to make a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament, then make a concrete time in your schedule for it. If you’re going to bike or run for an hour, then don’t delay on the news feed. The current martyrs of the East do not need my advice on sanctity. But in the West, if you want to move from sanctifying-grace to holiness, try this: Pray hard. Love hard. Work hard. Sleep hard. And don’t mix them.

When I’m in a face-to-face conversation (including high school students and priests) they usually text other people while I’m talking to them. I usually say, “I’ll wait til your done.” They say: “I don’t mind.” I kindly say: “I do.” They usually look offended or surprised.  I don’t care, because if we don’t learn how to enter into deliberate engagement, we’re going to lose real intimacy and end up like the artificial world prophesied in the quiet 1997 genome-apocalypse movie, Gattaca.  The only way I can own an iPhone and still be in conversations with real-live humans before me to is keep my phone all day on “Do-Not-Disturb” (moon mode to Apple geeks):

IMG_4164

I’m pretty good at that resolution, but I’ll get to what I’m not good at.

I have a challenge for you below. I guarantee you will be in a better relationship with all loved ones (including God) if you complete these two items for just a month:

1) Pray hard. Love hard. Work hard. Sleep hard, and delineate your time with precision. Opus Dei calls this a “plan for life” but you don’t have to be in Opus Dei to do this. Come up with a schedule that includes prayer and exercise before checking Facebook even once. Sound easy? It’s as hard as fasting from food—and almost as rewarding. The smart phone has become an idol in the lives of most modern day Christians, for we no longer have the freedom of will to reject that slavish perpetual-access of all of our friends to our brain. Perpetual access is actually different from intimate correspondence (like when the mailman came every day, but once!) Remember how you excited you were when you used to receive letters? Because I’m no good at it, my resolution for a year is to relegate all emails, texts and Facebook to a single hour of the day, in the afternoon.   I’ll read more books than blogs.  Some parents may scoff at this as impossible as they wait all day for children’s emergencies, but even this vigilance may be producing neurotic kids and psychotic parents.   Look, I was a paramedic before the age of cell-phones, and I can say:  Lack-of-cell-phones did not impede our aggressive medicine for sick or injured kids.  In fact, we treated kids better before the age of helicopter Moms and Disneyland Dad.

2) Turn your phone off or put it on Do-Not-Disturb mode if you are talking to another person in real life. This sends the message: “You are more important than my phone.” It will make you present to people in a palpable way. When I break it , I apologize profusely (partly because I’m sorry and partly because I know I’m not practicing what I’m preaching.) When I do keep this resolution, I may have numerous texts as I leave a family’s home. This is okay, for rarely is there an emergency;  God gets me news of the dying needing the sacraments in other ways.   As for the friends and family who did text me when I had a three hour dinner, well, they have all come to learn that I get back to texts within 24 hours. No one is devastated because—and this is hard for anyone to admit—an untimely response will not do psychological or spiritual damage in any friend’s life. If it does, then this is called co-dependency. Realizing you’re not needed on text as much as the person in front of you requires humility.

Yes, we can allow a little flexibility to the concrete resolutions I’m proposing since none of us are monks. But neither are any of my readers (to my knowledge) on the nuclear-response-team for the US government.  In other words, it will hurt no one to make concrete resolutions or a plan for life with your cell phone.

A Protestant friend once said something that I have thought about for years: “Dave, God can do more for you than you can for God.” In other words, a life of contemplation of God and intimacy with others will change the world more than me thinking that I am just another savior with an iPhone.

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  1. A couple my age served up a midnight whiskey on an unusually cool summer night in Colorado before I left for Louisiana. We date ourselves as you can see the Dad had a jean jacket for me to borrow.  The five kids were all in bed, of course, except this little guy who would not sleep.

    ***

    The very top picture I snapped across the bayou from my new home.  Notice the bullet holes, perhaps expressing disapproval of the prohibition of loitering if shot by the literate.

Catholic “Vulnerability”

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I had abdominal surgery two weeks ago, so I got sent home with some narcotics. I wasn’t in much physical pain, but I noticed there was a lot of psychological relief in taking the narcotics. I was anxious for an upcoming meeting, so I found myself taking hydrocodone for the calming effects more than for the physical recovery. Any reader who had been in medicine for even a short time should be able to see the alarms of pre-addiction in the previous three sentences. Happily, I caught this too and never finished my prescription. (And the meeting went very well, too.  Of course, this had nothing to do with the narcotics.)

But, it’s not a guarantee that I would have caught the pre-addiction. And even if I did catch it, who is to say I would have wanted to? Narcotics provide an excellent pseudo-peace, and a priest could have easily convinced a surgeon he needed a refill. As a friend of mine says, “You’re a master of your own deceit.” But if I enjoyed the peace of the hydrocodone, I noticed a great irritability as I came off even one pill. It hit me that drugs build a Tower of Babel: An attempt to bring the peace of heaven to earth, replete with a crash (even after one pill.) This really is the nature of all sin: Temporary peace with minimal concern for a future of unintended negative consequences.

This is where vulnerability comes in. Because each of us is a master of our own deceit, there is no way to live the Christian life alone (except hermits who, in the early Church, had to prove themselves through at least a decade of communal monastic life.) When I entered seminary, I thought “The orthodox—we got the sacraments but the progressives whine about community a lot.” But as I’ve gotten older, I have seen that we can’t really walk with Jesus unless we have both.  Live both.

Are we Catholics vulnerable with each other? Forgive a few sweeping generalizations before we get to the good news of the Gospel. Of course there are a lot of exceptions to this, but in my experience “the Greatest Generation” of Americans was too busy saving Europe amidst WWII and raising their baby-boomer kids to even have the time to be vulnerable. The baby boomers faked (and still do fake) the notion that everything is just great in their spiritual lives. But their children have taken a very different approach:

Even outside the Catholic circles, the youth of today are known as a “confessional generation.” Notice that the youth of today put even their suicide threats on Facebook. Their parents find out on Facebook that their son or daughter is suicidal…not in person. It is no wonder that they long for love, for community, for boundaries more than Disneyland Dads can provide. I am convinced that young Christians today—Catholics and Protestants alike—use the term “vulnerable” more than any other time in Christian history. In fact, sometimes that term is annoyingly overused.

But I’ll take it, and here’s why: An open wound is easier for Jesus to heal through His priests if the mystical body gets there first. It takes both Christ the head and Christ the mystical body (small communities) to be able to bring the broken-hearted children of this virtual-generation to the sacrament of confession. A few close friends are needed for support, encouragement and accountability after the initial conversion.

Let me give a prime example. After a late night in adoration, I went to IHOP with a good friend around 2am. He “came out of the closet” to me. I suppose it wasn’t so much a “coming out” because:

1) I already had a hunch.

2) That night he explained that he had fought to live chastely for years.

Thus, it was more of an admission of a lifetime of same-sex attraction than a double-lifestyle. But I wanted to hear his conversion story. Since this was IHOP and not a sacrament, he gave me permission to share with you. 1

He continued to explain that his initial conversion to trust in Jesus came from evangelical television! His reentrance to the sacraments happened through the Catholic charismatic renewal. Finally, the real solidification of living a chaste life as a man struggling with same-sex attraction happened with a very deep entrance into the Mass, the Rosary and Adoration where he found freedom. I had hoped this was the end of his conversion story, but he admitted to me that he still had falls, albeit infrequent.

On top of the Rosary, Mass and many hours of adoration, he needed something more to follow Christ with his heavy cross: Vulnerability with a few friends. Now, let me pause and say that me pointing this out is not placing the Mystical Body of Christ (community) over the Eucharistic Body of Christ (the sacraments.) It means he needed community to live the sacraments worthily, and that the mystical body flows from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass without negating it. My friend told me how he entered the Catholic group Courage. There, he found strength in friends who had also struggled with Same-Sex attraction but strove for chaste lifestyles.

But his greatest success against violent temptations came from his chosen transparency with a few straight men. These friends of his knew how to keep him in brotherly love and sacramental accountability; these were men who could challenge him without condemning him.

The picture I chose for this blog post is above. I shot it just after a storm at Grand Isle, Louisiana a month ago. A storm can be like a surgery: Violent but cleansing. My friend’s descriptions of beating some of his temptations are just this: rough, not-sure-where-God-is, but cleansing if he can just hang on to the other side of the storm.  Obviously, the rainbow is the sign of God’s covenant of love after the storm of sexual purification (literally in Genesis 6-9). My friend’s story is evidence that we Catholics need to reclaim the rainbow as a symbol of extreme sexual purification for Covenantal Love. Love has nothing to do with a “pride” rainbow, for pride is the vice that constitutes the number one prevention of Divine-Covenantal love in the gay community, or any community for that matter. True purification and loss of addiction always comes with a fear of reality, and it is reality that is in some sense the beginning of intimacy with God (hence, what is so bad about drugs.)  God is not chemicals but three real persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who wants us in heaven, “where God Himself wanted to be their Eternal Reward.”—St. Therese. This recipe requires vulnerability, community and conversion among penitents.  The other ingredient is compassionate priests in the confessional.

As I get back on Facebook after being gone 7 years, I am surprised at how many of my priest and lay-missionary friends have 2 or 3 or 4 thousand friends. The point of this post is to say how much better it is to have a very small Christian community of three or four people with whom you can be vulnerable and transparent than 4,000 Facebook friends. The three friends can help you follow Jesus because they can engender an intimacy and accountability that Facebook can not. Maybe even married couples need another couple with whom they can walk the path of genuine, vulnerable accountability.

I think Mary Magdalene may represent the youth of today, as they come in fear before the severe Mercy of the great lover-surgeon Jesus. But in coming to Jesus, they should see that Mary Magdalene was finally naked not in body, but in soul. Jesus ejects seven demons out of her, and maybe His infinite purity transformers her lifetime experience of inadequacy before men. For the first time ever, her vulnerability had paid off.

But it took the courage of St. Mary Magdalene admitting: “Not everything is okay in my life.” And then and only then, the cut of Divine Surgery…is more gentle than we thought. So also with the sacrament of confession for most people returning after a decade.

A friend once wrote me something she gave me permission to share:

Oh I am. It’s a barrier in my relationship with Jesus…a deep wound many ‘prodigals’ have…seeing ourselves as lovable. I cannot grasp, intellectually/emotionally that I am lovable…I don’t believe it. I suspect an ulterior motive…or that I must earn this. Freely given? Seen as precious or unique…there is a blockage there. I can give this, but am embarrassed when someone returns it. I think that Jesus saw this in Mary Magdalene…that she loved Him, and expected nothing. She was utterly grateful that He even allowed her to thank Him for His proclamation of forgiveness and mercy of sinners like herself…so I can’t imagine what it was like for her to receive His addressing of her wounds, in particular. No wonder she never left Him…at the Cross, in the Garden.”

SMM


  1. There is a strange rumor among a few Catholics today that the penitent (the one going to confession to the priest) can release the priest verbally to share his story or struggles with, say, his parents in order to help him. This is simply not true. This is because in the rare case that the priest even remembers the confession (another reason it is the right of every penitent and priest to insist upon anonymous confession behind the screen) the priest is still under pain of excommunication to link sin and penitent by any verbal or non-verbal actions outside the confessional to others. Why can’t the penitent release the priest to talk? Because the information does not belong to the priest or penitent. The information belongs to Jesus Christ Himself who died to establish the sacrament that carries an inviolable seal that can never be broken. (A spiritual directee, however, may bring up issues or sins that overlap between spiritual direction and confession.  The priest needs to be careful, however, to access only spiritual direction, not confession, even if he remembers some overlap.)  In the case of my IHOP buddy, it should be obvious to the reader that he is neither penitent nor spiritual directee. He’s just a really good friend who has struggled his whole life with same-sex attraction and gave me permission to share his story anonymously.

Polish and American Catholicism


NB I was asked why I took down my last post. The reason I removed it is because I believe my impact on that topic will be greater at a more strategic time. I’m under no prohibitions to blog. After all this, I still have no fear to proclaim the truth…but I sense in prayer that my soapbox must wait in order to affect more people after my medical leave is finished (even if my only remaining podium be the internet.)

Like my first great Jesuit spiritual director (Fr. Ralph Drendel SJ) my second great Jesuit has gone to his eternal reward.  Late Thursday night Fr. Raymond Gawronski SJ, went before the face of the Triune God.  May you rest in peace, Ray, and may perpetual light shine upon your soul.

I hope you enjoy this short writing below as much as I do, written in 2009 by Fr. Ray SJ:

Recently, I received a copy of a history of the sixteen Polish parishes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is a tremendously moving story of how the poorest of the immigrants from Europe built the most spectacular churches, at incredible cost. The Basilica of St. Josaphat, most imposing of the structures, at one time boasted the second largest dome in the United States after the United States Capitol. The people who built it were the most despised of the European immigrants, huddled in crowded conditions: and yet, the parishioners of that parish took out second mortgages on their homes, and contributed up to a year’s factory wages in order to build the church to the glory of God.

It is said that when the Germans came to Milwaukee they built factories, while when the Polish came to Milwaukee, they built churches. The church was at the very center of the life of the Polish community. And soon there were schools – grammar and high schools – and benevolent institutions, orphanages and cultural organizations. An opera company.

This is only in Milwaukee. There are a dozen cities – mostly the Lake Cities, Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo – where more or less the same phenomenon occurred. And then a hundred other small towns and villages where coal miners, farmers, and other working folk gave their best to the Church which had been their spiritual home for a millennium.

In the late nineteenth century, there erupted a great crisis in the American Catholic Church. It centered around the issue of who would control the churches. Called the “Trustee Controversy”, the issue was aggravated by the practice of the American hierarchy of removing Polish pastors from their immigrant flocks and imposing non-Poles as the leaders of those flocks. The Poles were seen as fractious and quarrelsome – a recent history of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, commissioned by Archbishop Weakland, described the Poles as “intractable.” The Poles, for their part, felt that since by the 1920’s they constituted 20% of the American Catholic Church, they should have at least some representation in the hierarchy. That representation was very late in coming, too late for the members of the Polish National Church who went into schism by the turn of the century.

The large majority of Poles remained faithful to their ancestral Church. But they did keep a distance from other groups. For one thing, unlike the other major groups – the Irish, the Germans – the Poles in large part envisioned a return to Europe after earning money here. I have heard a scholar say that 70% of all Poles who came to America returned. And then, once settled, they had to deal with the prejudice of those groups, and their own historical experience. Though painful to admit, the Germans under Bismarck were engaged on a policy of cultural extermination of Polish Catholics which, later, became the actual genocide of the Nazis. Anti-Polish prejudice is very deep among the Germans, and this friction continued at some level in America. The Irish who dominated the hierarchy tended to view the Poles as throw-backs to what they themselves had been when they arrived here as “peasants” – and as a group that would have to Americanize, on the Irish model, of course.

By the 1960’s, many Americans had moved to the suburbs. The Polish community, which had finally “come into its own” around the time of World War II, was less prone to move than other communities. They had settled into their neighborhoods around their churches, and by the late 1950’s, they were prospering…

The second catastrophe was the Second Vatican Council. Polish Catholicism was unique: Poland was a medium sized European nation which was Catholic to the core. It blended a Slavic sensibility with a millennium long insertion in the life of Roman Catholic culture, largely influenced by French Catholicism. The devotional life of the Poles was perhaps richer than most, and they boasted a very rich heritage of popular hymns and devotions. It was precisely this that the Vatican Council undercut. So at the very time that their homes were being destroyed, millions of Polish Americans – millions – found themselves quickly dispossessed of their churches as well. Often the location of the churches was ravaged by the construction of freeways which destroyed the neighborhoods, as with St. Stanislaus in Milwaukee and several of the larger churches of Chicago. The neighborhoods themselves had become unsafe, and people were loathe to return to them from the safety of the suburbs.

These developments aggravated what would in any event have been happening through assimilation. However, the Poles were in a disadvantaged position. Other Slavic groups – most notably the Ukrainians, but also the Ruthenians and others – had their own churches with their own hierarchies, whether Eastern Catholic or Orthodox – which remained bastions of their noble traditions and national identities. The Poles were now lumped together with all other Roman Catholics, but they had a very different approach to religion – as to life – than the western neighbors, some of whom had been their cultural enemies for centuries. That is, the values, way of being a human, were radically different for a Polish Catholic than for a German Protestant or even a German Catholic, and though the Irish Catholics had also become a peasant nation living under Protestant oppression, their Catholicism was so heavily Jansenist and bereft of the emotionally charged devotion of the Poles as to seem a different religion.

And so Polish Americans lost – and were stripped of – the heritage that several generations had spent everything they had to recreate in the new world. In its place, they were given nothing but the often tawdry benefits of American pop culture. In the Church, they simply lost any contribution they had to make, as they lost their own identity, and drifted into being simply proletarians.

The Church for her part had been committed to the “Americanization” of all the immigrants. But with the end of this vision, and the rise of multi-culturalism, the Church began a new approach. Suddenly, there were offices of Black and Hispanic Catholics, complete with Black History Month and other such culturally creative activities. Among the older Catholics, it is only the Irish group who have emerged as cultural winners: as time went by, the Irish assimilated less and less. John became Sean/Shawn, James became Shane, William – the ubiquitous Bill – has been becoming Liam.

This effects people in church, because the very hymns we sing come from the traditions that are favorably viewed. But for the Poles, it is as if they had come from nowhere, contributed nothing, were nothing. Their descendants, with changed names, no history, no culture, are truly the poorest of the poor, culturally, no matter how much money they can make. They have been stripped of everything they have by way of human culture.

And it is the Catholic Church, their church, which has failed them utterly. They were the poorest of the European groups, and most in need of support: the American Catholic Church took what they had built – their churches – and left them with nothing. When the wave of Pollack jokes took over the airwaves not only in the United States, but with the spread of American culture, globally, not a single voice was heard from any of the “justice and peace” offices that grow like mushrooms on the modern Catholic landscape.

Enter the Anglicans. Here is a group that have been the enemy of the Roman Catholic Church for five centuries. Most notably, in Ireland, they were intent on crushing the Irish nation and their Catholic Faith. In America, this church was always seen as the church of the rich and powerful. In Britain, it was the repository of the pride of the world’s premier Protestant nation. The “Protestant Episcopal” church was a creation which combined the rejection of obedience to Peter – and identification with Catholic nations, which were seen as inferior – with a stylish adoption of “Romish” traditions and customs. In some deep sense, no doubt, the ancient Catholic spirit of England did find a place in this church. There is no doubt too that there is a treasure of religious culture which has been preserved in this tradition, and which will enrich the Catholic Communion.

But it is a shame – a profound shame – that the Mother Church, in the United States, has let languish and die the religious heritage of a people who were faithful to her from their baptism. A people who followed her teachings on the practice of usury and remained poor when other nations abandoned the Catholic vision and became rich; a Catholic nation that suffered the loss of everything and was itself enslaved but that learned to fight for its own freedom and the freedom of others, unlike the English nation which, to its great shame, went about the world enslaving peoples and destroying their cultures; a Catholic people who, poorest of the poor, tried to give the greatest glory to God in the monuments they built and who were never accepted, who were despised, and in the end, destroyed and discarded as a Catholic presence in the New World, while offices of justice and peace flourished by parroting the slogans and agendas of the rich and powerful elites.

In our desperate Church situation – spiritually speaking – with our unspeakably banal liturgical life, the death of religious orders and indeed spirituality itself, I welcome our Anglican brethren who will bring us something of culture and dignity. But I welcome them to a Church which, to its shame, welcomes the rich and powerful – and politically astute – while despising the simple children of the Roman tradition. Perhaps ’twas e’er thus….
Fall 2009

—Fr. Ray SJ, Fall 2009

Christianity vs. Islam

cross-and-crescent

Today’s feast honors St. Felix of Valois, a 13th century saint who gave himself to be the ransom (replacement) of Christians taken hostage by Muslims.  At Mass tonight, I preached my sermon on St. Felix and the theology of both Christianity and Islam.

Paris Attacks


"ATTENTION

I’m about to go offer Mass for the 150+ victims of the Paris terror attack that has been claimed by ISIS.  The last time France has seen this much violence (besides abortion) was the French Revolution.  How unbelievably insensitive, then, of President Obama to quote the three key words of the French Revolution as the common source of resistance against terrorism:

“We are reminded in this time of tragedy that the bonds of liberté, egalité, fraternité are not just the values French people share, but we share.”—President Obama, 13 November 2015

So, if it’s true that the last time France saw this many murders was the French Revolution, then why has Obama quoted the three suspiciously-delightful red herrings of 18th century terrorism, namely,  liberté, egalité, and fraternité?  Any cursory look at history reveals that the French Revolution’s main goal was to kill as many practicing Christians as possible (one of the goals of ISIS, of course.)

It is all opening my eyes to see that the Apostle John was right: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”—1 John 5:12.  In other words, there are only two sides to this spiritual war, and it is not European versus Arab or Republican versus Democrat.  It is life versus death.  Christians stand for life.  The French Revolution and Islam both stand for death.  Obama has made his colors known, yet again, in standing for the French Revolution and repeatedly overlooking (read: hiding) the goals of Islam.

The problem is that Christianity got lukewarm.  Islam did not.

Around 1900, people laughed at a French-English layman named Hilaire Belloc for predicting that Islam would try to take over Europe again.  Here is his prophetic insight from nearly 100 years ago:

The story must not be neglected by any modern, who may think in error that the East has finally fallen before the West, that Islam is now enslaved—to our political and economic power at any rate if not to our philosophy. It is not so. Islam essentially survives, and Islam would not have survived had the Crusade made good its hold upon the essential point of Damascus. Islam survives. Its religion is intact; therefore its material strength may return. Our religion is in peril, and who can be confident in the continued skill, let alone the continued obedience, of those who make and work our machines? … There is with us a complete chaos in religious doctrine…. We worship ourselves, we worship the nation…Islam has not suffered this spiritual decline; and in the contrast between religious certitudes still strong throughout the Mohammedan world lies our peril.”—Hilaire Belloc