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How Do We Get Out of This Mess?

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His Enemy Came and Sowed Weeds All through the Wheat

These are dark days for the Church.  One of my friends even said, “These scandals make me feel ashamed to work for the Church.” I well understood.  At every Mass a priest mentions and prays for his bishop by name.  What if a bishop should disappoint you or you discover that one was likely a reprobate?  I suspect a number of priests have paused or recently winced during the saying of the Eucharistic prayer.  In any case, we are called to pray for the good and the bad, always remembering as priests that we are all sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God.

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Jesus’ apostles often disappointed him— one even betrayed and despaired, taking his own life.  I suppose the best of priests are wounded healers.  Nevertheless, there are certain sins that cry out to heaven.  I am reminded of one of the parables:

“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” (Matthew 13:24-30)

Is it time for the harvest?  It is so very hard to separate the weeds from the wheat.  Indeed, the weeds threaten to strangle the wheat.  We desperately want to see the weeds bundled and burned.

The Devil Made Me Do It

Alarmists about Vatican II regularly cite a quotation attributed to Pope Paul VI that “from some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.”  While I neither have a celebratory nor a pejorative view of the Council, I do feel that a diabolical attack upon the Church extending back to the very beginning of the incarnation is reaching a fever pitch in these latter days.  The assault targets both clergy and lay.  The complicit backdrop is a culture where sexual perversion is increasingly regarded as normative, where immigrant families are derided as criminals and subhumans and where mothers argue for the choice or right to murder their children.

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Just as Christ is the fulfillment of the ancient promise for redemption given our first parents; the devil is all about broken promises.  He corrupted Adam but failed when it came to Jesus and that failure fills him with an eternal spite.  He numbs consciences to the truth about the sanctity of life and the dignity of persons.  He hardens hearts, not merely against charity but even about what should be obvious in regards to compassion, mercy and decency.  Truth is an immediate casualty but so is the love that beckons to us from the Cross.  We become comfortable with our sins and selfishness.  Divine commands become weak suggestions.

Christ was tempted but could not fall; however, we still struggle with the brokenness of the first Adam.  Apart from Christ we are destined to fail.  The world pampers our pride.  The flesh entices our senses.  The devil seeks to oppress and even to possess us.  Satan has a burning hatred for us and the Church.  He lost the war against Christ but continues to corrupt and steal in skirmishes for individual souls.  We should not pretend that the devil is a fool.  He knows that the best way to hurt the Church is to undermine her ministers— as goes the priesthood, so goes the Church.  It was only a matter of time that this crisis would turn to the bishops given that they possess the fullness of priesthood.

Jesus redeemed us and yet some would return to their bondage of suffering, sin and death.  We hear the devil speaking through the mouths of his slaves all the time:  “I am not a saint so why try? May we always be going to hell but never get there.  You can’t tell me what to do.  If it feels good then do it.  It is my body.  Everyone is doing it! Those foreigners are all drug dealers and rapists!  I’ll run over anyone who gets in my way!  Going to church is a waste of my time.  To hell with her brains, I want her for her body.  We don’t want his kind around here. It only becomes a baby if you want it.”  Yes, I am convinced that the devil has a hand in this abuse scandal; but, of course, none of the guilty can escape personal culpability.

Man Has Made Himself the Measure of All Things

153444973830414067 (3)Everything is salted with sensuality and eroticism:  television, movies, music, books, art, the internet, etc.  Fifty Shades of Grey becomes a bestselling book and it leads to sequels and films, affirming that pornography has truly gone mainstream.  We feed our children to demons, not only with abortion but by eroticizing adolescents— dressing them as provocative adults, putting makeup on babies, romanticizing their juvenile relationships and allowing them to set the rules in our homes (giving them everything they want).  We fill their heads with profane music and delight in their dancing, much as did lecherous Herod over Salome.  Nevertheless, denying our own cooperation in sin, we point the finger at others when lines are crossed.  Man imposes his strictures of fad as dictates over natural law itself, the height of lunacy. Few are willing to admit that gender confusion and same-sex unions place sick minds over otherwise healthy bodies and make a twisted parody of marriage.

Forbidden are a host of words and concepts like purity, chastity, virginity, temperance, obedience, duty, sacrifice, etc.  Truth is no longer “what is” but simply “what we want it to be.” A Christian society has largely vanished.  Many elements of the Church have given up the fight and have been seduced.  Custody of the eyes is virtually impossible.  If there remains any element of shame from damaged consciences and complicity in scandal then it is brushed aside by critics upon others.  We find much of this transference in how the Church is faulted, especially her clergy.  A problematical homosexual infestation is ignored or tolerated because the culture wants to affirm and normalize homosexuality.  Thus, the errant priests who largely target males are labeled as “pedophiles” when in actuality they are largely repressed homosexuals acting out with other men or committing pederasty with older minors.

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Where do we go from here?  Silence was not the answer; indeed, it became part of the problem.  Moving the men around was not the answer; like shipping the trash out to sea it only made a problem for others somewhere else.  Much of the damage cannot be healed.  What was done cannot be undone.  Many of us had hoped and prayed that this problem was largely behind us.  Now we know that most of us will be long in the grave before these troubled seas are calm again.

The late cardinal-priest Dulles was a prophet about this problem, urging adequate protections for innocent priests but also alerting the bishops that they should not exclude themselves from reprimand and public penance.  When these issues first began to make headlines the USCCB recommended a day of penance for the laity to pray upon this issue— but the criticism was rightfully made that the laity would prefer to see the bishops and priests on their knees.  The situation with the disoriented and misbehaving clergy might have been a symptom of a sick society and a repressive Church but still people were right to argue about the blinders that some of the shepherds were wearing.  I suppose the issue of fault is often connected to liability and lawyers.  It should be about contrition, amendment of life and penance.

The revelations during the last few weeks have caused many of us who love the Church, clergy and laity alike, to weep as we have prayed.  How can we win back the confidence of God’s people as credible witnesses to the Gospel? The flock has every right to be upset at the many allegations of misconduct and the passivity from bishops in protecting our children.  Where was accountability in all this?  How could anyone move up the ranks of the hierarchy when there were sordid rumors and even past settlements for sexual misbehavior?  Many of us are shaking our heads; it is so unbelievable.  And yet, like throwing gasoline into an open fire, there are many in authority claiming “I did not know” or “We thought we could morally reform the man” or “A few of the details need correction or clarification.”  No one should be falsely charged, either in the commission of heinous acts or as hiding that which cries out to be known; however, missteps were made and we will never move forward while there is a refusal to accept responsibility for how matters were handled.

I’m Mad as Hell and I am Not Going to Take This Anymore!

Most bishops do not regularly live and work in parishes.  They may not be fully aware of how angry people are.  I am reminded of the 1976 movie Network where the television newscaster shouts, “You’ve got to say: I’m a human being, g-dammit! My life has value! So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”

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As I said, the faithful have every right to be upset.  They deserve good and holy priests.  They should expect that their bishops and priests would love and protect them, especially the children.  Will we see more empty pews?  Will needed funds dry up?  I cannot yet say, although I have heard more than one person say that he or she will be cutting back.  As with the lawsuits and large monetary awards to victims and their lawyers— we could also end up victimizing the faithful in the pews and the needy in our communities. While the Church’s moral authority is compromised, we are still a voice and helping hand for the oppressed and the poor.  What will happen to them if our resources are stripped away from the Church?

A Proposal for the Future

I have a hard time believing some of the things I am hearing.  I do not want to believe it all.  The deteriorating situation signifies bad news in terms of our credibility in proclaiming the Good News.  Again, what must we do?  Msgr. Charles Pope writes:

“As a lower-ranking priest I cannot issue demands or send binding norms to those in wider and upper ranks of the hierarchy, but I do want to say to God’s faithful how powerfully aware I am of their justified anger and agree with their insistence that something more than symbolic action or promises of future reform is necessary.”

At the end of his article at the National Catholic Register, he states:

“Remember, too, not every bishop or priest is equally to blame. Some are suffering as much as you are. However, no one, clergy or lay, should exempt himself from the task of summoning the Church to reform and greater holiness.”

That is exactly the case and I would like to applaud his courage and forthrightness in saying so.

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It is my view that only something drastic will make any difference in the current climate of anger and distrust.  I am only a priest and maybe a poor one, but here are my suggestions:

  • There should be a new review board given over entirely to the laity (men and women) where bishops could participate as observers and advisors (on ecclesial protocols as well as canonical and theological questions.)
  • While certain facets of professional secrecy and the seal of confession would have to be respected, there should be no secret agreements and a general transparency in the process.
  • There would need to be collaboration with the Holy See, not only to modify certain canons of the Church (returning to the explicit language of the 1917 code), but to create an independent canonical board and to facilitate canonical trials.
  • This review board should also become a clearing house for charges against clergy, especially bishops; priests would be able to share what they know without fear of reprisal in their dioceses.
  • There should be a general purge of those in the upper hierarchy who have tolerated homosexuality or who have failed in their duty to protect vulnerable persons and the young from predator priests (through either silence or shuffling clergy elsewhere).
  • There should be a bill of rights for priests to insure justice and due process in determining innocence or guilt along with a provision for legal representation (an innocent priest should not be reduced to bankruptcy in trying to defend his good name while Church lawyers defend bishops).
  • Continue to insure that those who have abused or harmed minors should be permanently removed from Church ministries.
  • Insure that all programs of priestly formation also include regular psychological evaluation from a therapist who assents to Church teaching on human sexuality, not minimizing issues like consensual heterosexual relations (fornication), homosexual acts, masturbation, pornography and a general discomfort around women.
  • Forbid seminary formation to anyone who has committed homosexual acts and permanently remove any priests from ministry who violate their celibacy in committing them.
  • Suspend a priest from active ministry who has violated his celibacy with heterosexual acts, requiring either his laicization or that he spend five years doing penance in a monastic environment along with appropriate counseling prior to returning to ministry in another (arch)diocese.
  • Reparation for victims that brings some degree of healing and help to those harmed while not destroying the resources that rightly belong to those in the pews and to those assisted by our charity and justice initiatives. (Do we have to review the “corporate sole” model?)
  • Promote policies that both protect vulnerable persons and yet insure fair and just treatment for those accused.
  • As witnessed by Pope Francis, bishops should be required in all cases to live a very modest lifestyle with no more perks than those given to the poorest priest.
  • A penitential reform within the Church that would restore the Friday fasting and abstinence practices of the past for everyone and add particular acts of penance (over and above this) for all bishops and priests.
  • A daily campaign of praying the Rosary and/or the Liturgy of the Hours for the sanctification of priests, the fidelity of the Church and the conversion of sinners.
  • Restore the Prayer of St. Michael the Archangel to the liturgy, either at the end of the bidding prayers or at the conclusion of the Mass (Satan needs to be uprooted).

The Faithful Laity Can Save the Church

This is one of those situations where the good suffer along with the bad.  The true “sensus fidelium” is not with dissenters, but with the faithful laity and they are the ones through their prayers and intervention who will now make a difference.  Pray for the Church and dialogue with the bishops and priests.  This is not a situation the bishops can fix.  As one person said to me, “Their credibility is shot!”

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I noticed online that a few of the Hollywood celebrities have added their two cents (mostly negative) to this crisis in the Church.  It would seem to me that when it comes to scandal they should be the last ones to talk, but I suppose it makes good fodder for deflection.  Pointing to the sins of others takes the attention off our own. Years ago when these scandals first broke, I asked an elderly priest (who has since gone to God) about such matters.  He explained that he was surprised about the child abuse but that the problem of errant priests was not new.  However, he explained, the Church treated transgressions (as when a priest fell with a woman) entirely as moral ones, not focusing on psychological issues or any kind of pathology beyond the man’s control.  It was presumed that after a reprimand, going to confession, a retreat and a verbal assurance of repentance— that a priest might be returned to ministry.  Evidently, when it came to some of them, and particularly regarding disordered urges and an attraction to youth, no such assurances could be trusted.

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There has been a great deal in the news about allegations of misconduct by Cardinal McCarrick.  He has resigned from the College of Cardinals and Pope Francis has ordered him to pursue a “life of prayer and penance.” There is not much more that I can say about what has come out about Cardinal McCarrick.  He was a great communicator and extremely charismatic.  We clashed years ago when I openly opposed the practice of giving Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians.  I am still deeply troubled about such policies, although the scope seems to be expanding to include invitations for those in adulterous unions to take the sacrament and even to receive absolution.  How can the mortal sins of enabling murder or committing marital infidelity properly dispose one for the divine mysteries?  I shake my head.  Maybe I am too stupid to understand?  I promised him years ago that I would pray for him daily.  Now, more than before, I am dedicated to keeping that promise.

The Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on sex abuse in the Catholic Church was hard to read.  I became overwhelmed by grief and wept.  How could this happen?  Priests are called “Father” and fathers are supposed to protect, nurture and heal their children.  My next emotion was anger.  Men broke their promises and they lied about it.  Others were so afraid of scandal and litigation that they apparently kept silent.  Was this the Church for which I sought to be a priest by entering the seminary 40 years ago?  Our faith is ultimately not in weak men but in Jesus who is God come down from heaven to save us.  Given all the negativity and the painful stories, how is it affecting the people in the pews?  (I am planning a monthly parish program on the saints.  That is where we find the real legacy of the Church.  We will focus on those who faithfully ran the race and won their crowns.)

When I heard that Cardinal Wuerl was coming to Washington I was delighted as I had been a fan of his catechism, The Teaching of Christ, going back to my college seminary days.  His little book, The Mass: The Glory, the Mystery, the Tradition, authored with Mike Aquilina, is a real gem and a useful tool in teaching about the Eucharistic liturgy.  As one of his priests, it is hard to hear all the criticism from his time in Pittsburgh.  It seems to me that he did so very much to make a positive difference in protecting children.  Did he stumble at some point?  I am certain that there are many families and victims appreciative for what he tried to do for them.  There has been some talk that the Grand Jury Report got a number of particulars wrong.  I am not in possession of all the facts and so I will leave it up to others to figure out.  I will keep him in my prayers, especially in the Mass, and urge our good people in the pews not to despair.

I am reminded of John Cardinal Newman’s work on the Arian crisis and St. Athanasius when so many of the bishops had fallen into heresy. He concluded that in the fourth century the laity were the heroes who had saved the day for the true faith. Separating the weeds from the wheat or the goats from the lambs, we need to trust our good lay men and women today.  I am not talking about dissenters but the homeschooling family, the teacher in the parish school, the volunteers running the bible study, the Blue Army lady always rattling off her beads in the lonely church, the teenager eager to serve Mass, the Knights of Columbus men who live out charity in our parishes and communities, the virtuous souls who march for life and stand outside abortion clinics praying for the unborn and their parents, the reader faithful to his service, the altar guild ladies who help set up for the liturgy, etc. This may be hard for bishops as it seems to be a surrender of their authority; however, in truth this is precisely the kind of humiliation that may restore their moral jurisdiction as servants of the Most High God.

Statement from the Archdiocese of Washington to Pastors

Many of you have addressed the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, as well as the Archbishop McCarrick matter in homilies or comments to your parishioners.  Cardinal Wuerl requests that you not shy away from addressing these matters again in a spirit and manner that you feel appropriate. He also requests that you include in your Prayers of the Faithful the following intercession:

“For young people and our most vulnerable that they remain safe and protected, and for those survivors of abuse whether by power or violence, especially by the clergy who have not lived up to their call to holiness. Let us pray to the Lord.”

Finally, as a concluding prayer after the Prayers of the Faithful, he requests the following Prayer for Healing Victims of Abuse from the USCCB:

God of endless love,
ever caring, ever strong,
always present, always just:
You gave your only Son
to save us by the blood of his cross.

Gentle Jesus, shepherd of peace,
join to your own suffering
the pain of all who have been hurt
in body, mind, and spirit
by those who betrayed the trust placed in them

Hear our cries as we agonize
over the harm done to our brothers and sisters.
Breathe wisdom into our prayers,
soothe restless hearts with hope,
steady shaken spirits with faith.
Show us the way to justice and wholeness,
enlightened by truth and enfolded in your mercy.

Holy Spirit, comforter of hearts, 
heal your people’s wounds
and transform our brokenness.
Grant us courage and wisdom, humility and grace,
so that we may act with justice
and find peace in you.

We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

FROM CARDINAL WUERL:

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Episcopal Support as Pope Carries Out Reform

Statement Regarding Archbishop McCarrick

Statement on PA Grand Jury Report

Statement in Response to Grand Jury Report (in full)

But Judging Credibility in Abuse Cases Is a Tough Call

“I Met with Every Victim” (TV Interview)

FROM OTHER SOURCES:

Scapegoating Cardinal Wuerl

Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report Debunked

Pope Francis is on the Side of the Victims of Pennsylvania Abuse

The Good Ole Shepherds Club

Bishops will Have to Sacrifice Power & Privilege to Resolve the Abuse Crisis

Bishop Morlino: ‘Homosexual Subculture’ a Source of Devastation

After PA Grand Jury Report, Will Laws Change to Better Protect Children?

US Bishops Express Anguish Over Abuse Reports

Active Homosexuality in the Priesthood Helped Cause This Crisis

Janet Smith to Bishops: ‘Save the Church — Tell Everything’

 

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The Heat & Controversy Continues…

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The three bishops essentially cite Pope John Paul II. The argument seems more and more with the historical Magisterium itself and settled doctrine. Here is one instance:

“The other principle is that of truth and consistency, whereby the church does not agree to call good evil and evil good. Basing herself on these two complementary principles, the church can only invite her children who find themselves in these painful situations to approach the divine mercy by other ways, not however through the sacraments of penance and the eucharist until such time as they have attained the required dispositions” (John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 34).

When it comes to the “ordinary magisterium” and opinions that conflict with settled doctrine, filial correction is an act of loyalty. Indeed, silence would be the act of betrayal.

While annulments are now free (they used to cost a thousand dollars or more) this is the first year in the Archdiocese of Washington (so I am told) that we have not had a backlog of cases. Many couples in irregular unions now feel that annulments are unnecessary and that they can freely return to the sacraments. I have had several people in my parish drop writing their cases while citing news about the Pope and “changes that are coming.” Misunderstandings abound… but there is also legitimate confusion where there should be clarity.

There are a number of voices that interpret any criticism or request for clarification as disloyalty to the Pope and as dissent.  However, one cannot be a dissenter when he or she stands with the long-standing and immutable doctrines of the Catholic faith.  One critic said that we should immediately discount the remarks of these “no name” bishops.  But note that they quote the saintly Pope John Paul II of living memory!  Further, Bishop Athanasius Schneider is not a “no name” bishop. He is a man dedicated to Catholic truth and one who has paid his dues in terms of faith witness. Although he is German, his family was sent to a gulag by Stalin. His mother was imprisoned and martyred in 1963 for helping and sheltering other Christians and a Ukrainian priest. He grew up in the outlawed underground Catholic Church and took his early sacraments in secret. He is the auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan and titular bishop of Celerina. He has added his voice to many others in regard to the interpretation of Amoris Laetitia. While whole conferences of bishops have offered correctives, as in Poland, there are notable names daily added to the list as having serious concerns. The names (to name a few) include Cardinal Burke, Archbishop Chaput, Archbishop Sample, the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, and two respected Catholic philosophers, John Finnis and Germain Grisez.

Popes can interpret but they cannot reverse or make up new Church teachings. The case must be made, as Cardinal Wuerl suggests, that Church praxis and discipline can change without altering Church doctrine. However, it has not yet been made and many of us cannot imagine how it might be done. One cannot legitimately silence a debate or discussion with ecclesial authority when the overwhelming gravity seems entirely with traditional and perpetual teaching. Those who claim to be following the Holy Father are suggesting that we can invite those in adulterous unions to receive the sacraments, including both the Eucharist and confessional absolution. A number of priests feel, as I do, that this would make us accomplices in the mortal sin of others (who are neither contrite nor who have a firm purpose of amendment).

Marco Tosatti’s sensational blog, in my estimation goes too far. He writes:

“La mia fonte in Vaticano mi ha confidato che ieri sera Bergoglio si è trattenuto a Santa Marta con diversi ‘addetti stampa’ vaticani e ‘consiglieri’ vari per una riunione sul come affrontare questo nuovo ‘imprevisto’ della Correzione dei Vescovi di Astana. La fonte mi ha detto che Omissis era furibondo. E’ andato su tutte le furie. Perchè non sopporta nessuna opposizione. Lo hanno sentito urlare: ‘Se ne pentiranno! Se ne pentiranno amaramente!’. Riferito ovviamente ai coraggiosi Vescovi che hanno ‘osato’ contraddire il neovangelo della neochiesa: l’Amoris Laetitia.”

This is really more gossip and possible calumny than information that furthers the discussion. I just cannot imagine the vindictiveness that the blogger suggests. Absent is the charity exhibited by the many bishops and priests wanting clarification while rightly professing fidelity and respect to the Holy See.

The best posture is to pray for the Holy Father and for faithful and loyal clergy who are trying to safeguard the truth while showing real compassion to sinners. Pray for the couples and families as well… many of us want to bring them spiritual medicine, not placebos.

The Intercession of the Saints

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Taking the side of the Pharisees over the Sadducees, Jesus testifies to life after death.  “That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called ‘Lord’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive” (Luke 20:37-38).  While the gates of heaven were closed before the coming of Christ, our Lord speaks of a genuine communion between the living (on earth) and those heroes of faith who had come before.  Jesus will ultimately translate these souls from the limbo of the fathers into heaven.

Over the years in debates with fundamentalists about the communion of the saints, many of them insist that the saints are sleeping and others that they are alive but cannot possibly be aware of what is happening on earth.  Catholicism would argue that the heavenly saints are alive, aware of us and praying for us.  Admittedly, there is some question as to whether this awareness is part of the fabric of the afterlife or whether it is made possible through a special divine intervention.  We know that in Jesus Christ love is stronger than death.  While our loved ones are taken from our sight, we are still bonded to them in love.  This speaks to the profound mystery of the Church in pilgrimage, in purgation and in glory.

Some of our number have run the race and have won a share in the crown of Christ.  They remain in solidarity with brothers and sisters in the world who are still being tested.  “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us” (Hebrews 12:1).

I do not believe that our guardian angels and the blessed souls watch us as earthly voyeurs might watch a reality television program.  Instead, they are actively engaged.  They reach out to us with their love and worship God with orations of praise and incessant intercession.  They seek to protect us from malignant spiritual entities.  They would have us where they are.  Those in glory are not suffering amnesia about those they have left behind.  Indeed, I suspect they know us better than before because now they see us as we truly are, behind all our posturing and deception.  They cannot force us to the will of God.  But their witness and prayers may help some to find the path to eternal life.  One critic suggested that if the saints were to see their earthly family and friends sinning then it would bring them sadness— and this is contrary to heavenly joy. While it might be hard for us to understand, this is not the case.  Heaven will never be held hostage to sin or hell.  The saints cannot be sad because where they are has no room for sadness.  While they are aware of us, their sights are also always upon God.  The barrier or membrane between heaven and earth will allow such helps as happiness, counsel, and love to pass through; but never sadness, manipulation, hatred or despair.  The heavenly saints like our Lord are now impervious to pain.  This is one of the most profound mysteries for us who must still endure this veil of tears.  The saints implore grace that we might know repentance, conversion and faith.  They pray that we might be courageous in adversity.  They beseech the throne of God to be merciful to us.  Chief among the saints is Mary who loves and intercedes for us with her immaculate and “maternal” heart.

Christ is the way, literally the link between heaven and earth.  This is our lifeline.  This is the real reason why the saints are still aware of us and why we remember them as alive in the Lord.  We are not orphaned by God.  While we await the final judgment and the consummation of the world, we acknowledge that we have not been abandoned.  Christ is present in the proclaimed Word.  Christ is present in his priests who stand at the altar and who offer the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus is present in his person and in his saving activity at every Eucharist.  We receive the risen Christ in Holy Communion.  The Lord is with us when we gather to pray.  The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ.  No part of this body has been severed.  The Church is one:  the Pilgrim Church, the Church in purgatory and the Church in heaven.  We are one in the Lord.  We have been reborn and given a new identity by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

The saints are calling us to the other side of the rainbow.  The Lord calls us each by name.  Heaven beckons to us.

We Will Never Exhaust the Divine Mystery

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The souls of the dead in heaven are divinized as saints by grace but by nature are still human.  We will have a share in the risen life of Christ.  However, we will always be finite creatures.  There can be no boredom in heaven because by intellect and will we can never fully exhaust the divine mystery.  We will be drawn eternally into the depths of knowing and loving God.  This process begins in this world.  We come to the Lord with a faith realized in loving obedience.  God gives us sanctifying grace and we are made sons and daughters to the Father, kin to Christ, children of Mary and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven.  Death makes this orientation permanent.  We encounter Christ, not as strangers but as friends.  Indeed, restricting ourselves to this world, we find that all the saints of the Church demonstrated great holiness while many of their ideas, even in reference to religious faith, often fell short or were erroneous.  Error will certainly end when we pass through the door from this world to the next; but our capacity to understand and to contain the mystery of God will always be limited by our nature.  This truth applies to both angelic and human spirits.

I do suspect there is a profound openness to truth and the gift of love in heaven.  This would conflict with hell where the demons and lost souls know something of the truth but place a limit or barrier upon their knowing and loving.  We experience in this world a similar type of division and adversity where someone says, “I want nothing to do with you!  I don’t want to know anything more about it!  You mean nothing to me!  I disown you!”  The damned probably have a comparable mentality and stagnation of the heart.

Here on earth we receive the risen Lord in the Eucharist.  God feeds us.  There are no sacraments in heaven as there is no need for sacred signs.  The saints see God and the mystery directly.  There is no more faith because the saints see and know God (as well as his truths) in an immediate fashion.  There is no more hope because every aspiration has been realized.  The only theological virtue that can cross the threshold of heaven with us is love or charity.  This love draws us into the Trinitarian life.  The banquet of heaven is literally one course after another.  The pattern is established with the Pilgrim Church.  God will continue to feed us with himself.

As I said in my first paragraph, there can be no boredom in heaven.  This is a far cry from the popular image of lazy angels sitting on clouds playing harps.  The mystery of God can never be diminished.  There will always be more to know.  The more we know, the more we will love.  The more we love, the more we will want to know.  This is the pattern of the finite creature to the infinite Creator.

I can well appreciate that secular critics deny the soul and view the intellectual life as the operation of our brains.  Romantics might speak of the heart as the source of love, but in truth the brain is the place where material memories and thinking takes place.  As a Christian, I would suggest that as a composite of flesh and spirit, the efforts of the brain mimic the powers of the soul.  Brains are not all the same and all of them have limits in regard to learning and to the physical senses.  Brains can also become diseased, causing people to struggle with thinking and remembering the most basic of facts and relationships.  The brain is physical and like the rest of the body, it has parts that can break down.  Parallel to this, the human soul has no parts and is indestructible.  It grants us a self-reflective knowledge that goes beyond the ability of the brain.  We are more than thinking meat.  Memories are not merely stored as electrochemical processes used by neurons but also make lasting impressions upon the human soul.  Just as we are often surprised by the detail of dreams; I suspect we will also be surprised as to what the soul retains after death.  What would a human being be if he was never to forget and we were to ponder matters with perfect clarity?  I suspect that the material brain both enables rational knowing and reflection as well as impedes it.  (In any case, I would not want to define the soul as simply a hard drive or cloud backup of what is in our brains.  There is a constant interworking that is part of the mystery of the human mind as understood by Christian believers.)  What we now see as through a fog or veil, we will see clearly.

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What and who we know, as well as love, survives the grave.  Indeed, it gives us our eternal orientation.  We are either like the wise virgin bridesmaids at the door with the burning lamps or like the foolish one who walk away looking for more oil.  When Christ, the divine bridegroom comes for us, he should find us alert and ready to enter into the nuptial banquet.   If we fail to remain steadfast and prepared, we might hear those terrible words of damnation, “Amen, I say to you, ‘I do not know you.’”

If pride is the overriding sin of the devils, then a lasting humility is the posture of the saints.  Compared to God we may seem insignificant, literally as nothing.  And yet, Almighty God has looked upon us as his children.  I would argue that the prayer that Jesus gave his apostles will have an eternal significance.  The word for “Father” that is used by Jesus is literally the one used by little children.  I suppose we would render it as “papa” or “daddy.”  All of us, even the greatest doctors of the Church like Augustine and Aquinas, may be counted among the babes of heaven.  We are summoned to know and to love God while in this world.  All we know is still just scratching the surface.  Eternity will allow us to continue this exploration of knowing and loving.  Humility is not just the approach of men and women in this world, but of the saints and angels in the next.  We must become like little children if we want a place in the kingdom.  Those who are bloated with pride, feeling that they are all grown up and know enough already will find themselves in hell.  Similarly, all those who place limits on love will also know the loss of heaven.

 

Stuck Between the Rock & a Hard Place

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Who are we going to punish? I worry about this as a priest in reference to the distribution of Holy Communion, absolution in the sacrament of Penance and in terms of preaching a faith message from the Scriptures that might immediately be interpreted as “hate speech.” Passivity and toleration is not enough to appease certain people… it is being demanded that conventional Christians become advocates for sinful behavior. If a priest gives the sacraments to anyone, no matter what their views and lifestyle, then does he not become an accomplice in their sin? Would he forfeit his own immortal soul for causing scandal and violating conscience, the commandments and his sacred duty? For the sake of accompaniment, can a bishop or even pope force a priest to say or do something that he views as sinful and wrong?

Do We Want YES MEN or Prophets of Truth?

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With all due respect to the Vatican, the Cardinal has a point. We must practice what we preach. In this case, social justice starts at home.

VOCATIONAL ASIDES: Do You Have A Story?

A number of years ago (January of 2008), when I posted a few reflections about the priesthood and celibate love, I was almost immediately bombarded by the stories and comments of others, particularly those with negative experiences.  I was taken aback by both the pain and the dissent.  There was also anger against me— as if I had no right to be happy or satisfied with my priesthood and celibacy.  There were three stories in particular that I shared with my blog readers and to which there was additional interaction.  The initial stories came from Jim, Becky and Thomas.

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Artwork by the cartoonist Ian Baker.

Jim’s Story

I studied to be a priest. But there was a special girl that haunted my day dreams and my night fantasies. The rector said to give it time and I did. But, after a few years I found it unbearable. I missed Sharon too much. I saw her during the summers and even that was forbidden. We tried not to call it dates even though we knew they were. She was my best friend. We prayed the rosary and even the breviary together. She missed me and yet tried her best to support me in a vocation I thought I had. Nevertheless, I never dreamed about saying Mass or hearing Confessions. All I thought about was holding Sharon’s hand and looking into her eyes.

One day I said I had endured enough. It was not for me. I raced over to Sharon’s house crying. I told her that if I had any vocation, it was with her and that I was leaving the seminary. She fell into my arms and we shared the first passionate kiss either of us had ever known.

Becky’s Story

I loved Joe. I gave more to Joe than a single girl should ever do. He said he loved me but later I found him with another girl. Instead of saying he was sorry, he laughed at me. I was so hurt and angry. And yet, I was surprised when my world did not fall apart. I had thought about being a religious sister, but my relationship with Joe held me back. I went on a discernment retreat and while at prayer became convinced that there was another lover calling me, Jesus.

I cannot say that I have totally forgotten Joe, but I cry no more and know a joy beyond words.

Thomas’ Story

The rector told us that when we heard our names called by the bishop at ordination, we could take for granted that we had a vocation. He said to brush aside all doubts. In any case, it was the 1960’s and rumors were flying that celibacy would very soon be made optional. We got ordained and then nothing changed. I tried to be patient but then classmates started leaving the priesthood and I felt increasingly alone. Then I met Shirley.

Sexual intimacy and marriage was something I often thought about and heard from others, but had never known. Now I could put a face on my desires as a man. Shirley and I did not mean to fall in love, it just happened. I did not want to abandon ministry and yet it looked more and more like the discipline about celibacy would never change. Shirley pressed me that if we waited too long, we could never have a family. But if I left the priesthood, it would break my mother’s heart. I just could not get myself to do it. Shirley never really forgave me and when she married someone else a few years later she sent me a picture of them. On the back she wrote, “This could have been you!” Another man holds her now. Another man shares kisses with her. I have to live with that and the price of my priesthood.

My Assessment of the Three Testimonials

Jim, there is no blame for a guy who went to seminary and eventually discerned that he did not have a religious vocation. The problem is when guys get ordained and then have second thoughts.

Becky, I am glad that you hear a calling to a religious vocation as a bride of Christ. Of course, one should make sure that the calling is genuine and not just something on the rebound. A religious vocation is not our running away from someone or something but a drawing a closer to someone, our Lord.

Thomas, I am not sure what to say? You should not feel sorry for yourself and neither should you feel remorse about your priesthood. Further, the good of your vocation is not something to be preserved merely because of appearances or even because of the potential scandal and hurt to others, including parents. You made a promise to God and even if priests in the future should be able to get married; there is no reason to expect that anything about a change in discipline would be retroactive. Our celibacy is a great gift and it is permanent. Thank God for it. Be a happy priest!

Does anyone else out there have a brief story to tell?  The invitation was taken up by Chuck and the so-called Reverend Tina.

Chuck’s Story

If you really wanted people to share their vocation stories then you would stop being so judgmental and criticizing everyone who shares their stories and views! You and your friends have no right to judge and condemn priests and nuns who left ministry for marriage.

I met Aggie when she was a senior at an all-girls’ high school. I was a young priest and taught math. I fell for her at first sight. We tried to cool matters but we were not robots like you— but passionate flesh-and-blood people. I told the pastor. The bishop tried to talk me out of leaving. But I could not live without her and no one was going to convince me otherwise. When she turned 18, we moved in together and the rest is history. We have three children, two girls and a boy. Would you tell them that they had no right to be conceived or born? How can a man pledge perpetual celibacy when he has yet to meet the girl of his dreams? It is crazy and unnatural. It is no wonder that the homosexuals have taken over the priesthood!

As for being married to the Church, that is utter nonsense! You can’t go to bed with the Church! You can’t hold her naked warm body against your own! You can’t share your dreams with her or even share an orgasm with her. A man, a real man, wants a woman to love. He needs to feel her body and to become one flesh with her!

You know nothing! You are a poor fool left out in the cold! There is nothing like loving a woman and all your analogies fall short. It is about entwined bodies, legs, breasts, lips, arms and hands. It is awkward and yet beautiful. It is sacred and messy.

Despite the twisted minds and morals of so many in the Church, there is nothing sinful or wicked about sexuality. I could still be a priest and have my Aggie, if only sanity and common-sense ruled. Unfortunately, it does not. The men who leave such a corrupted woman-hating priesthood are not to be pitied but praised and imitated.

Tina’s Story

I am going to tell you a story that I have kept absolutely secret until now.

I am 42 years old and have been a Roman Catholic priest since I was 26 years of age. I went to a liberal seminary in the Northeast US. My grades were exceptional and I got along well with everyone. Currently I am the pastor of a small parish and also do regular hospital ministry. The parish is thriving and the people feel that they are being well cared for. So far, there is nothing unusual, but here is the punch: I am a woman and for the last ten years have been married, albeit only in a ceremony conducted by a Unitarian minister.

How could this be? My twin brother took the necessary physicals prior to acceptance into the seminary. My own female features are slight and I wear a slight restraint around my breasts. I am thin and small. My hair is cut short, like that of a man. I was careful of the showers and in the bathroom during the seminary formation. No one caught on. We had private rooms, so I did not have to worry about a roommate finding out and blabbing.

I received acolyte, lector, my candidacy and eventually ordination to the diaconate and priesthood. I hanged out with the guys who were a bit effeminate, maybe gay, and no one was the wiser. After ordination, I even worked in the chancery for a time.

I became a bit lonely as the years passed and began to live a double life. I would go out for a couple of days, put on a wig and dress and started dating. That is how I met Phil. He knows and keeps my secret. We always said that if I became pregnant I would end the charade, but I guess between my age and regular birth control use, babies were not meant to be.

There you have it, both a woman and a married priest, all in one! None of it makes any difference. My work is as good as or even better than that of any celibate man.

My Assessment of These Two Additional Testimonials

Chuck, your anger against me and venom against the Church tells me that you still have a lot of unresolved issues and resentments.  I will try not to take it personally, but I would urge you to reconcile with the faith (even if on the pew side of the Church) and to find genuine peace.

As for Tina, sorry, I do not believe you. Yes, you heard me right; I am calling you a liar to your face. I bet you are not a priest, maybe you are not even a woman? There is no way that such a thing could ever happen. Given the years of formation and the close proximity of the men, you would quickly be found out. I admit it makes for a sensational story, but a story is all it is. No doubt the fake legend of Pope Joan is very much fueling your imagination. What are you really, a wannabee woman priest? Are you a female minister who wishes she was more? Are you an atheist fellow seeking to further ridicule the Church and the priesthood? Come on— come clean— stop telling us tall tales.

Debbie’s Comments

I only have a quick comment. I was unaware that they were talking about ending the celibacy requirement in the 1960’s. Nevertheless, I priest I know recently said that if my son were discerning, there was still the possibility that he could get married someday. Does the rumor ever end? I wonder how many still think that change is coming soon.

Karl’s Comments

A celibate, faithful priesthood most reflects its inspiration, Jesus.

As a consequence of my divorce I have lived a celibate life and have concluded that a married priest has too divided a set of obligations. Not that this is wrong or impossible but my opinion has been reinforced.

A priest who leaves his vocation is no different than my wife who is an adulterer. It is scandalous. They should repent and return to an appropriate ministry, if that is allowed. It is the honorable thing to do.

Every day in my line of work I engage many women, single and married who are attractive on many levels, including beauty; but a vow is a vow and it can be lived grudgingly or it can be accepted and be an opportunity, not always but sometimes. It will never be such if it is kept in hatred.

The priest who has invited these comments is not one that I would classify as judgmental.  I would describe him as faithful to his Church and its tenets.

Debra’s Comments

When I was a child in the 1960’s, you could never tell your parents about a “funny” priest, brother or nun” without getting slapped.

I used to think as a child that they were given a grace that made them “almost perfect” and so I was repeatedly surprised when I saw Father So-and-So drunk or rude or swearing or acting racist. I was caught off-guard. Of course, this fueled my later “Catholic in name only” teen years. When I became more mature, I realized we were all human and returned to Church practice.  Some priests are more imperfect than others.  I decided to support the Church in whole and to pick the parish where I wanted to attend. My faith is in Jesus, not a particular priest or pastor. Priests and nuns should be respected, supported and loved.  But we should not tolerate bad acts from them.  They need lots and lots of prayers.

Mary’s Comments

Whoever questions celibacy or the martyrdom required of priesthood has not met Jesus. When one meets Jesus, one is called to true heroism. Priesthood is not natural – it is supernatural. Priests can change the world.

Dawn’s Comments

The priesthood is “supernatural”…that sounds very beautiful… almost too good to be true. It is sad that most priests fall far short of it. I am not just talking about them giving into sexual temptations, but also about the “not so nice” side of their personalities.

Priests are flesh and blood men. When ordained do their natural inclinations and desires miraculously fall by the wayside? No, such is not the case.  Yes, God is supposed to give them this supernatural grace to resist their own humanness; and yet, they are still human. The devil will never cease to try and undo a priest. They get tired, cranky, bored, and at times almost apathetic. Many of us have experienced this in the priests we have known.  It is so obvious that many have become complacent and simply go through the motions.

I had a priest tell me in the confessional that I was “unlovable” and that I deserved to be treated badly by my husband. Yes, he said this after I poured out my heart out upon learning that a divorce was pending. I have been “dismissed” by more than one priest when seeking regular counseling. I was told to get professional help when I was really seeking spiritual guidance. My nephew who worked in different parishes as a music director was shocked to hear the awful language coming from the pastor’s mouth. Yes I mean the “F” word. Another pastor pushed him out of his job by being downright mean and nasty to him, picking apart his every effort at directing the choir and selecting sacred music.

Many priests of Jesus Christ fall way short of modeling him as they are called to do. True, perhaps a few bad apples do not spoil the whole bunch; but we must try to stop putting them on some sort of pedestal from which as mere humans they are eventually destined to fall.

I for one will never abandon the one true Church of Jesus Christ because of the poor witness of priests I have unfortunately encountered. We must pray for holy priests— that they will remain strong, pure and steadfast in their promises made before God. One thing we should never do is crucify them for falling. We are all broken creatures and given to a wounded nature. Let us continue to pray for and love our priests. Let us forgive those who have disappointed or hurt us in any way. But also let us not put them on the same supernatural level as our Lord.  If we do then we are setting them up to fall from such heights.

Thomas’ Comments

Marriages fail and the Church offers annulments to help people who want to love and live again. If such is the case for them, then how can we be judgmental against priests who want to get married?

Priests are human, too. They are not cold and heartless machines. They are flesh-and-blood men with all the strengths and weaknesses of all men. They are not supermen!

We have a Church where gays and pencil-pushing eunuchs seek to manipulate heterosexual men with normal drives and needs with analogies of a spiritual marriage with the Church and with fear of punishment and censure. They talk about the grace of celibacy as if it is a drug to nullify sexual longing and the need for intimacy. Men are humanized by women. Relationships with women allow men to become adults.

But, we do not want adults, do we? Adults talk back and we want boys who will behave! The Church forces its priests to remain as children, and yet they live in the bodies of adult men. Pedophiles and pederasts are able to sneak into the priesthood because formation programs leave men generally at the maturation of twelve year olds. They relate to children because psychologically the hierarchy wants them to remain in the Peter Pan mode of stilted development.

When a priest messes with a woman, more so than not, she is the one who seduced him. Don’t get me wrong, she need not play the seductress. All it takes is a normal loving woman to knock down the priest’s shaky house of cards. Priests are taught to see women as a threat to their celibacy. They are told to stay away from them and not to have close female friends. If he is caught having dinner alone with a woman or, God forbid, gives a woman a kiss, the fishbowl gossips spread the alarm and eventually the bishop punishes the man. How dare you act like a normal man! You are Church property! You belong to us, body, soul and genitals! You are to have no views but those ideas promoted by the Church! Do not talk politics because the Church will be sued and forfeit its tax exemption! Do not even suggest that the Church could be wrong, or else! You will be silenced! You will be transferred! Okay, you caught Father So-N-So with another clergyman in a compromising situation— tell no one or you will be sorry! Okay, we had to move Father Juvenile again because he got too close to the kiddies— tell no one or you will be sorry! Okay, you were hauled into court— keep your mouth shut and we will reward you with a monsignor title when you are released! Remember, canon law allows the priest to be punished for causing scandal, so don’t do it! Stay away from Susie and keep your mouth shut! Homosexuals we can handle, but not abandoned women and crying fatherless babies! Are you sure you are heterosexual? Things would be so much easier only if, well, only if.

If celibacy were optional, so much of this scenario would change. There would be a new springtime in terms of the dynamics of ministry in the Church.

Billy’s Comments

Given your history of rigidity on such issues, I am surprised that you allowed Chuck’s words to stand without some sort of rebuttal.  Did you take his challenge about censorship seriously? Let me shake the boat some more.

Keeping promises is one thing, but the negative stereotyping of a whole people is something else. I am sick and tired of homophobes saying that there are too many gay priests or that gay men should be kept out of the priesthood. How dare anyone hold such prejudices and still claim to be a Christian!

Is there anything wrong with a gay caste for the priesthood? After all, the Church does not want gay men to be active anyway. It would seem that those willing to be celibate or at least discrete among each other would be the best way to go. There is no longing for old girlfriends or any seeking to satisfy with other appetites the loss of heterosexual sexual intimacy and pleasure.

Fat priests overeat to make up for their sexual repression. Other clergy drink heavily. Are they being true to their celibacy? No! But they are quickly excused. They are also quick to condemn others, even as they are blind to their own transgressions!

Most homosexuals are not pedophiles or pederasts. Indeed, I suspect there are far more heterosexual abusers in the ranks of the clergy. But, they may be better at hiding their scandalous acts. I heard the one case where a priest married a young girl as soon as legality permitted. We can readily presume that the so-called romance had started well into the past. He covered up his crime by making her his wife. Seminaries should give a preference to gay men. They are the most likely to flourish in an all-male environment and will probably remain in the priesthood with greater numbers than men pining away about breasts and vaginas.

It is also true, at least culturally, that gay men have better musical and aesthetic tastes than straights. Most of my friends among the Latin traditionalists are gay. When it comes to dress up, smells and bells, tassels and cloaks, it takes a gay man to do things right. Ritual and chant is like dance and song. The liturgy is the greatest drama. From Broadway to the Vatican, there are thousands of gay men doing what they do best.

So, come on guys, let’s get with it. The priesthood is our playground and the Church is our stage!

Patricia’s Comments

If we were only living for this world then Billy and Chuck scored big points in this discussion!  If there be all there is, then go for it!  Have gay sex! Use contraception! Try to do it all and split your time and dedication between marriage and a church vocation! Have 1.5 children, keep your career, and maintain your personal time and space— sacrifice as little as you possible can! If that is all you “think” and “feel” will make you happy then surrender yourself to your strongest urges.

On the other hand, if Jesus really rose from the dead, left an authoritative teaching authority, gave us commandments and reminded us that this life is an eye-blink compared to eternity; well, then, we will one day have to pay the piper.  I would like to thank good priests for witnessing not only with their preaching but with their celibacy.  They are signs in their persons of another world with a different set of values— forsaking earthly pleasures for the joys of eternity.

Thank God, for the genuine Christian witness of priests and faithful lay Catholics. Embracing our crosses can bring inestimable joy. Sacrifices given out of love will be rewarded and usher forth lasting joy. As a mother I know that my sacrifices bring contentment and happiness when I look at my children. The priests have peace and joy in sacrificing for the flocks— the family of God.

The priesthood is a vocation, not a career. By all means, do not enter it if you cannot respect the beauty of Church teachings and discipline. Everyone is welcome to hang around, to learn and to try to understand; but it is not a do-it-yourself religion. That’s pop culture, folks.

My Quick Closing Comments

The Catholic Church teaches that homosexuals suffer from a severe sexual disorientation and as such, should neither be ordained nor function as priests. However, everyone should be treated with compassion and justice.

A man can be married to the Church. His love for Jesus and the flock should be all-consuming!

There is my two cents!