Ready…again

 

Nativity of Mary Catholic Church3jpg

I am ready to write again. You will likely read and notice a few differences though. For one thing I do not intend to cover up my weaknesses quite so much anymore. Do not get me wrong—God has done huge things in my life and I do not wish to in any way glorify my less-than-perfectness either. However, too often I have seen, and not just in others but in myself as well, the tendency to put my best foot forward and keep the other one hidden out of sight, so to speak.

I sin daily. Most if not all (actually all, whether intentionally, consciously or not) of you reading this do so as well. We also live in a day and age that is unprecedented in its ease to fall in various ways, in particular sexually. That particular discussion may make some of us uncomfortable—I know it does in my life. But I still fall in areas, and that is one of them. I have been celibate, in that I have not had nor have I sought person to person contact with another human, male or female, since 1999. That is nearly 17 years, and the last 10 as a Catholic Christian. So far so wonderful, right? Yes—and no.

Before you go congratulating me on such an accomplishment, I will openly say that my mind is at times a virtual cesspool. My computer too. Living alone with the WWW at my fingertips has some built in occasions of sin, and I cannot pretend I never have allowed myself to become trapped from time to time due to that combination. I have seen lately a multitude of articles by people who “used to” struggle in this area, and that is truly great and inspiring. I can take nothing away from that and am not attempting to do so. But what of those who have yet to overcome? Those who try all the techniques of prayer, fasting, daily Mass and rosary, and every other good idea on the lists of those who have “made it?” And still fall more than flat into the sewer after doing so?

And that is where I am at. Overcoming, and failing. Overcoming again, and then falling worse yet. Celibate but not chaste. Born again virgin but occasional internet whore. All of that can describe me and more. Not always but sometimes. In between such moments I do indeed seek God in the ways mentioned and have not given up hope. Not at all. But it can be deathly discouraging to be the one who does not quite seem to get over this area of what is a sometimes intense struggle. Reading of other’s victories can, at times, have the unwitting effect of tempting a person such as me to near despair. If I really wanted the victory, if I was truly consistent, if I honestly came to the “end of myself” (whatever or however that may look like) I would be able to write one of those victory articles too instead of one which sounds like I have given up on all that I hold sacred, which I nearly have at times, by the way. More than you the reader know. And not so long ago either.

But one thing keeps me going. What God has started within us, He does tend to finish. In fact He promises to do so. Every one of us are works in progress, even if that progress seemingly comes only in fits, starts, and restarts. And a lot of us fall into that category in one way or another, not necessarily in lustfulness but perhaps with gluttony, jealousy, or numerous other inner and outer wars. Traps exist for all of us, and for some they are lifelong struggles. Mine certainly has been longstanding to say the least.

Perhaps you are the person who watches the infomercial about the 300 LB woman who is now a sweet 120 and size 8. And, instead of being excited, you find yourself medicating your discouragement by going to the kitchen and getting some Ben and Jerry’s plus a spoon as you continue to watch the anorexic model on TV tell her tale. In my case perhaps it is a sense of utter loneliness that makes it easier to imagine being surrounded by beautiful and youthful folks who do not notice my many flaws. That is the power of pornography and cyber.

My point is this. Victory does not come in a one size fits all package. Some are delivered from certain of their sins instantly and never understand why that same deliverance does not occur with in the next person. Others fight a long battle but, once they are on the winning side for a few months or years, begin to lose compassion for those of us who keep messing up. And neither of those groups realize that very pride may lead them one day into something worse. I once knew of a young man who was instantly delivered from drug addiction, with no withdrawals of any kind. He fell in love with Jesus and his life was genuinely changed. I knew him personally and can attest to his sincerity. Yet, a few short years later he had an affair with a married woman from the church. The struggle within him was not gone but had only morphed into a new weakness. That story is scarily similar to many of us I think. The roots of our battles, the besetting ones at least, go deeply and at times lie dormant, waiting for the next way to become manifest. We do well to admit this to ourselves and others.

So yes, expect some honesty, some of it painful not just for you to read but me too, in what I pen going forward. When I posted on Face Book a few months ago that I had failed in chastity if not in person at least online, and that someone was possibly interested in quite literally exposing me due to what he rightly saw as my hypocrisy, I was overwhelmed with the response of probably friends, most Christian but even a few who were not, who gently supported me, as well as some who wrote me privately and admitted to their own struggles. Ironically a fellow Catholic writer was the only person who felt the need to tell me how deeply disappointed she was in me, and strangely that one response is the one I think about the most even still.  The lesson I would gently say to that person if she is reading this is that most of us know our failures already, and do not need them to be thrust at us, especially if we have confessed them to God and the world already. Yes there are consequences as she deftly pointed out to me and I am willing to pay them as God sees fit. I took time totally away from writing precisely due to this situation during all of Lent and used much of that time to do some serious reflecting so that I could come back fresh and new after Resurrection Sunday. Instead I skipped Mass on Easter and did it all over again after a beautiful Holy Week. And my first thought after yet another such major failure was to never write again but to go into permanent hiding. Not so however. Not with the God of second chances who we love and serve.

Today I have been to confession and, yet again, I have been forgiven. And my penance this evening was to sit silently in the church sanctuary before the Blessed Sacrament and let God speak to me. That was it. Not 50 decades of anything. Just let God be God in me.  In doing so, I came to believe that He does want me to write, and not just about this topic hopefully! But I have to do so with more humility and each time as a “wounded healer.” I do not have all of the answers yet, even for myself, and I will not guarantee to God or the reader that I will never slip into the abyss again either. But that was never my story anyway. Mine is one of Divine Mercy, and not only for the octave of Easter. God’s to me, and, very hopefully, mine to others who also are as flawed as I am. And that is many of us. Many of you.

So I am back. Humbled. Maybe even a bit humiliated. But real. And working on the underlying issues that make certain sins so attractive to me. God willing, perhaps I can help some of you do the same even while you help me too. Then perhaps the ugly sins I have committed can be somehow used for something good. And so can yours as well, if we just do not ever, ever give up. Blessed Easter.

My latest…and one of my best…from “Catholic Stand”

I do not say the above to brag, not in the least, but rather because I believe it has an urgently important message…the story of my friend Andres is compelling and sad, and beautiful, all at once. If someone you know struggles with SSA (same-sex attraction) or perhaps you do, there is huge hope. His story is worth a read, and I consider it a privilege to know this young man, and to write about him.  God bless. And please share! 

http://www.catholicstand.com/sex-attraction-courage-live/

A Confession…And A Challenge

 scrubbing bubbles logo

FIRST an explanation–I am sharing this difficult post because I know I am not the only one out there who has gone where “no man should go” on the Internet. Actually that includes the women too, but it is even more a men’s problem and so I address it as such.
In the last months I have “discovered” a different kind of chat room online. In the past, when I have visited sexual sites, which I have from time to time even as a Catholic Christian, it has primarily been to view pictures or videos, or, at times, as the name indicates, just “chat,” usually through text or instant messaging. But recently I have stumbled upon sites that are actual live cameras. You can speak to the performers as well as watch them. And here is what I have discovered:
1)  Most of those who perform are from incredibly poor nations.
2)  Many of them are doing this, not because they wish to but because they have sick or needy family members or are desperate for money or work in order to support themselves.
3)  A lot of them are really nice people. A number aren’t.
4)  The site owners sponsoring such sites take generally 2/3 or more of any money the performer earns, even if it is done from their own camera and home. Many of those owners are rich and getting richer in the process. And the entertainers remain sometimes near penniless.
5)  It is far more addicting to speak to “real” humans than to look at even the most well-filmed videos who cannot interact with those of us who struggle in such areas.
Now none of that should come as a surprise to us who, from this affluent nation, think we are living in “poverty” when we do not have the money to order our favorite pizza or have our weekly steak dinner and wine on occasion. Desperate people, such as the performers above mentioned, do desperate things, and then doing those things simply makes them more desperate. One, a young man from Russia who I befriended offsite for a bit, once told me he had no reason to live. Pretty sad for a person who has enviable good looks and a boatload of charm when needed.
My latest excursions into this world have, ironically, come at a time when it seems God has been the most real to me and given me new and greater opportunities to share my conversion story. That too should not be a surprise, as satan would like nothing more than to derail us or cause our words for God to seem as lies.
And that brings me the reason for this post–there is a particular person of late who I have spoken with online, one I met in one such room, who is also a Catholic Christian from the Philippines and who I have corresponded with outside of the chat room on a friendship level. Tonight, after a very good Confession this morning, I wrote him the following (slightly edited for length and detail) just to let him know that those chats cannot continue. It was not easy for me to do. I have been celibate, at least on a face to face ‘real time” basis, for the last 16 years, and realized around a decade ago that this was God’s calling for me on a lifetime level, although I have at times and on occasion admittedly questioned that. But I remain convinced that  it is, and I am okay with that. Usually. Celibacy does not mean blindness or lack of need for companionship though. And sometimes we go for that comradeship  in the wrong places or at the wrong times, even as Christians. I will just speak for myself and say I do anyway. Now you know.
I do not yet know what his reaction will be when he reads what I wrote–I hope it will be positive and understanding. But it may not be. And, if not, I want to be sure in either case that I have done all I can for his soul and mine too. We are, after all, our brother’s keepers, and I have not done so well in this case, as well as in a few others. So once, for all, I would simply say I am very sorry–and having received God’s forgiveness, I ask for the same from any who I have hurt by my incredible weakness which I allow to rule me from time to time. Please read on, and when you are done, say a prayer for him, and one for me too. Thanks and God bless. Here is the message I sent to him:

me

11‎:‎49‎ ‎PM

Well here is the reason I have been needing to talk with you. Here goes: As you pointed out, I am a “real” Catholic. When I do into rooms such as online flirting rooms, I do not act like it. You said I do not need to apologize. But I do. I was, for a very long time, 35 years in fact, away from the Church. I did many things during those years that I am ashamed of. And I will not deny I have been tempted much lately. Using our Lord’s name in vain, using his gifts to us of body and soul for our own sake and not His,  all of these things are wrong.

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This is not meant as an excuse but I tend to do these things when I am tired, angry, under much pressure, not feeling good, and the like. My dad passed away 2 months ago and it has been a very tough time for me financially too. So it is easy during such times to want to escape, to go into a world of beautiful men (or women) or lustfulness, just in order to feel better for a short time. But I find it never works. In the end I am always sorry.‏

11‎:‎55‎ ‎PM

I went to a beautiful Confession today and a huge burden was lifted. But it left me with a problem too. I have a new friend, and that is you. I wish to talk to you, remain your friend, and get to know you as a person. But I want to do it in a pure and holy way and not in a sinful way. Can we do that? I hope so. But it will mean not talking when you are online taking off your clothes for me or for others. I will never judge you or your heart for your actions, that is not it at all. I am just trying to protect myself. So if we can limit our talks to email for now, and be good friends, but not sexual, I will gladly remain your friend and hope that you will also do so.‏

11‎:‎59‎ ‎PM

The bottom line is this, I like you very much. But I love God even more so. Even though I have acted like I did not. For that I do owe you this one last apology, and a commitment that it will not happen again. But being a genuine friend and brother to you, that I can do! And would like to if you would also. I hope to hear from you soon. And I thank you for being a kind and good person.

There you have it. And now the challenge–do you too need to go to a potentially embarrassing Confession? If you do, I can only suggest to go for it without further delay or excuse. And, if in the process, you find there are some you need to mend fences with along the way, do that as well. Whether they respect  you or not afterwards, you will be at peace. Totally. And no one can ever “blackmail” you either, whether emotionally or otherwise. And that  too is a great feeling.

My Mother’s Own “Journey Home”–Mary Elizabeth Evans

mother

Mary Elizabeth Evans–

1922-1991

 

 

 

 

 

Today (1-9-15) would be my mother’s 93rd birthday, and after her passing in 1991, we came across some poetry she had written.  Particularly after my last posting, I wanted to share this one about her journey back to the Roman Catholic Church:

 

This morning I knelt

As my soul sought release,

I heard Jesus’ voice

In the words of the priest

 

How I longed to go back

To the Church I had known,

Within her still walls

To kneel and atone

 

I thought I could leave her

My Mother disclaim,

Forget that she loved me

And called me by name

 

Oh the scenes I remember

Within Her sweet fold,

The farewells to loved ones

The memories I hold

 

The times that I knelt

At the altar and prayed,

The joy of Communion

The vows that I made

 

I ne’er could forget her

The Church of my youth,

Too long have I loved her

Her beauty and Truth

 

Though far did I wander

From her in my pride,

In longing, my spirit

With her did abide

 

This morning I knelt

To pray and atone,

My heart filled with joy

At last I was Home!

Written By Mary Elizabeth Evans

8-20-1970

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This is the Nativity of St Mary Catholic Church, in rural Waseca, MN.  My mother was baptized and received the Sacraments of Initiation (First Communion and Confirmation)  here, and I too was baptized here on December 31, 1955 on a cold MN winter morning just over 56 years ago. The building later became a historical landmark, and then was inexplicably torn down a number of years ago.  After I returned to the Church in 2006, I visited the spot where it stood with my godmother Mary Burns and two of my sisters.  Many others in my family were baptized, married, and buried through the ministry of St Mary’s.  This picture is courtesy of the Waseca Historical Society.

Church of the Nativity of Our Lady (in front) ...

 


 

January 1st, 2015 – Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (catholicjules.net)

TRIGGERS TO UNCHASTITY—10 WAYS TOWARDS SPIRITUAL “GUN CONTROL”

DESERTEAGLE

I have been celibate for many years now, even from a time before I came back to the Catholic Church, and one would think I had therefore “made it” in my battle for purity of heart and mind, which goes beyond celibacy and is, in fact, one of the definitions given by Merriam-Webster for chastity. I haven’t. This became particularly clear to me lately when I found myself ( or rather allowed myself) the “luxury” of going online and seeking out not one but a few chats that were less than edifying or helpful to my Faith or to the faith of others. Although anonymous, and technically sitting home alone, in my heart, and this is what Jesus looks at, I committed adultery before our God.

Obviously one time is too many, and I will freely admit this has happened on not one but a number of occasions. In working on breaking what has been a stronghold in my life, I have looked within myself and up to God for answers to the root causes for what is ultimately a complete waste of time and energy. Below I have listed just a few of those roots, and while there are many more I am sure, these seem to be the ones that most often trigger that type of behavior within me. My strong hunch, and statistics bear this out unfortunately, is that I am far from alone. I have read (although statistics vary somewhat) that somewhere between 30 and 50% or more of clergy have viewed pornography or been involved in cyber sexual activity at some point during their ministerial lives. That is to say nothing of course of the Christian lay person whose statistics are higher still—however our priests and ministers are the leaders we each look to for spiritual guidance and help. But I think that the first step towards breaking a habit is admitting that we have one, and I therefore wish to do so today, and humbly ask for the prayers of all reading this. I will pray for you too, because as I say I am pretty sure others among us in the Christian world carry the same burdens of guilt and pain. So if my experiences can help someone, just perhaps they will have had some small meaning, even though they are most certainly not God’s best way of teaching us! In any case here is a list of points of pain which, at least for me, tend to push me towards sexual as well as other sin, and I might suggest you write your own list if this is indeed your struggle. Write it out, pray it through, and then confess it to God—and if you are a Catholic Christian please do so through your priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Believe me he is not surprised with anything you may tell him. He may even benefit from your honesty in fighting his own battles, especially if he is one of the 50%. Here goes:

  1. ANGER—I find this to be very high on my list of battles. I am not one to express anger a lot and most people see me as a calm and collected person. But it is there. Ephesians 4:26-27 tells us “26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil.” [1]But if you do not express it, at least to the Lord in prayer, that will be exactly what you end up doing. We are not meant to stuff our anger in our back pockets or anywhere else. We need to find constructive ways to both recognize it and admit it, at least to ourselves, and then to God, who knows all about it anyway. It may be based on many things, such as disappointment in people around us, fear of pain or financial loss, or a hundred other things. But anger is very often based on fear, and fear, when given into, is in reality a lack of trust in a God who honestly knows best what we need at any given moment in life. I think this is on the top or near top of my list because it comes to us in so many ways, and even all of the rest of the triggers, at least on my list, tend to have anger mixed in somewhere.
  2. LONELINESS—I do not think of myself as a particularly lonely person, as I spend all of my days on the phone at work and evenings resting up for the next day. I also, at least in general, have a strong prayer life, both with daily Rosary as well as the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and spontaneous prayer throughout the day, plus I at least attempt to take time for the Word of God each day too, either through daily Mass or the liturgical readings from Sacred Scripture from the Mass if I miss it for whatever reason. My life should therefore be utterly full of Jesus and people—but sometimes, truth be told, it just isn’t. And if I were married with 10 children I would find that to be true too. Those of you in that situation surely know what I am talking about. We all have dry periods when we simply do not feel fulfilled in our vocations, or understood by even those closest to us. And that resulting loneliness is a very real pain.
  3. EXHAUSTION—a wise priest once told me that physical exhaustion affects everything from moods to the ability to fight temptation effectively. We cannot always get the rest we need, nor the proper diet, but both should be high on our aims. Our bodies truly are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and we owe it to God to give Him a good home. Simple and true.
  4. SEXUAL DESIRE—I am pushing 60 and I have not lost neither the ability nor the desire to procreate. What I have lost however is the proper situation in which to do so. Learning to give this over to Christ and lay it at the foot of the very Cross where a young, masculine and vital Jesus hung naked for each of us should give the needed graces to overcome. Jesus knew what sexual desire was, after all He co-created it with the Father and the Spirit. Very bluntly He felt every possible feeling, including overpowering sexual desire, while yet, as Hebrews tells us, remaining without sin. It is here that meditating on the crucified Christ and His Wounds, whether through the Stations of the Cross or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, can be of a very real help. “For the sake of His sorrowful passion…” I must be willing to lay my passions at His wounded feet. But I am the first to admit this is easier said than done. On the other hand so was Calvary.
  5. BOREDOM—why we as believers are ever bored is actually a mystery, but it does happen. Generally this occurs when we are attempting to escape responsibility. King David, the man after God’s own heart, failed Him in the most miserable way possible by staying back when he had been called to lead the armies of Israel in battle. Instead he spent the time creating his own “live porn show” by watching Bathsheba wash herself on her rooftop, and then let it lead to both adultery and murder. The consequences are always far more serious than we plan them to be. And there are no victimless crimes. Psalm 51, probably the most penitential passage in all of Sacred Scripture, was written by King David as a direct result of this dark, dark chapter from his otherwise bright and God-fearing life.
  6. “EASY WAY OUT”—Pleasure is not wrong but rather a gift from God. The path we go about to find it is more at issue here. The great Christian singing group of the 70s and 80s, the 2nd Chapter of Acts, had a line in one of their powerful songs which states “taking the easy way isn’t an easy way.” Truer words would be difficult to find. Life only becomes more burdensome when we add the weight of unconfessed sin and lack of repentance. There is nothing “easy” about it.
  7. TAKING CONTROL—to me this is one of the strangest yet most tantalizing reasons to fall—I frankly get a certain thrill, and not only sexually but in other ways too, when I sin by either the internet or other means, sexually. For one thing it is taboo—“stolen bread is sweet” as Proverbs tells us. I think it makes a person, at least this person, feel alive, vital, and powerful somehow, or perhaps an odd combination of all three. But it leaves us more powerless in the end. Remembering the end result before I begin is key here.
  8. UNBELIEF—as I mentioned earlier in the point about anger, it is very easy to somehow think that God does not know our best interests or perhaps at worst plans to withhold them from us for some sadistic reason known only to Him. The sin of Adam and Eve was exactly this, in that they had it all and did not believe that they did once Satan was able to convince them otherwise. Sacred Scripture is replete with such examples, such as Abraham being promised a son and then becoming impatient and impregnating Hagar instead of Sarah. The entire Middle East issues of today would have never occurred if only he had waited for the Lord in this one thing, thousands of years ago. God’s ways simply are not our ways. I forget this, and you as well, to our own peril and too often that of many others.
  9. PRAYERLESSNESS—essentially we all have 24 hours each day. The exact same period of time we use to tell ourselves that we do not have time to pray or get to Mass or whatever other duties God has put before us to do can easily become boredom, recklessness and finally abandon. I find that if I use my time to “do the do’s, I won’t have time to do the don’ts.” Yet that simple message seems to be a lesson I have to learn over and over, and do not always succeed at even still
  10. ANXIETY—it is not a sin to feel anxious, and sometimes we simply are seemingly mercilessly overwhelmed. That is particularly true of those of us who carry any form of generalized or other anxiety disorders. But all of us have had that feeling from time to time. However it is nonetheless a sin to use that condition, whether the temporary kind we all manifest occasionally, or if a permanent medical condition, as an excuse to relieve those feelings or numb them by false means, whether alcohol, drugs, TV, sexual escapism, or in any other way we might use to mask them. And sexual lust is very high on that list of temptations during anxious moments. Jesus gives us the answer here through St Paul in Philippians 4: 6-7 6 Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.[2]But He is merciful enough not to leave it at simply telling us not to worry. Instead He tells us to let our requests “be made known” (and for the record He knows them already!) to the Lord, and then guarantees that the peace of God will fill us up. Note He does not say how long that process may take, but He gives us the assurance that He will keep us, if we allow Him to, on the right path during the interim. We block our own chance for peace when we run from the God of peace.

Finally I think we owe it to others, if we can and if we are able to do so without becoming unduly tempted again, and at least on a few occasions I have actually been able to eventually minister to those I first met in a sexual chat room or other dubious website. I surely do not as a general rule recommend that form of evangelization, but if we are able to do so without it becoming a further occasion of sin to us, and if we can, through God’s grace, bring some small blessing to someone we have previously sinned against or led into sin, we owe them that much I think. If nothing else we absolutely owe them our prayers of reparation. And none of these points above are a “cure.” Remaining close to Christ and the Sacraments are the real and ultimate answer in controlling ourselves. But sometimes we need to take other concrete steps as well. Sexual sin, at least for me, and at least in my mind and heart, is an ongoing day by day battle. I once heard a priest share openly that he had struggled in similar ways for a full 20 years and was finally just now finding the path of victory. While admitting it to others might be embarrassing, it would be far worse to pretend we are perfect when we are so far from it. That is why I write this.

 

[1] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Eph 4:25–28). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

[2] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Php 4:6–7). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

A SERIOUS MEA CULPA…

My confirmation at St Olaf Catholic Church, April 15, 2006--Minneapolis, MN
My confirmation at St Olaf Catholic Church, April 15, 2006–Minneapolis, MN

If you have known me any length of time or followed me either here or on FB/Twitter, you will know I have been all over the map and a couple planetary globes over the last 3 years or so in my personal quest to understand the Church and where I fit in with her as a single and celibate same-sex attracted male.

I will not pretend to suddenly have all of the answers, as I surely do not, but one thing I realize, even after trying to run from it on several occasions, is that I belong to Rome and Rome to me.

Understanding that point is one thing, and discerning how to follow it is, at least for me, yet another. I have been greatly disturbed during the continued marriage debates and other cultural battlegrounds with both sides, very frankly, and I think that very real scandals can come from extremes in either direction at times.

Think with me first of what a scandal actually is if you will. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary has a number of definitions, but the first two are worth noting in regards to the Church and the questions regarding same-sex marriage:

scan·dal

noun ˈskan-dəl

Definition of SCANDAL

1

a: discredit brought upon religion by unseemly conduct in a religious person

b: conduct that causes or encourages a lapse of faith or of religious obedience in another

2

: Loss of or damage to reputation caused by actual or apparent violation of morality or propriety

I especially relate the first definition to myself, as I have definitely done my share of careless overreacting and, while not with malice, have certainly spoken out of turn in regards to this issue and how both the Vatican and our own Archdiocese have at times handled it in practice.

As you may know, Minnesota was a battleground state and there was, and still is, a deep divide among Catholics as to the recent decision to allow same-sex marriage to begin here in exactly one week from today (August 1).

Part of me was simply glad to see the battle over, at least in my immediate vicinity. That same part of me did actually rejoice, and I freely admit this, because of the very real need for family-type units of all stripes, even those who do not in any way follow or practice the Catholic Faith, to have very clear protections under the law with regard to such things as inheritance taxes, Social Security benefits, hospital visitation, wills, and onward.  And I still see those results as a positive outcome for the most part.

That was one side of me. But another region of my soul was deeply conflicted because Roman Catholicism teaches, and I happen to agree with her, that a truly sacramental marriage in the Church can only be between one man and one woman, and is normally meant to exist for a lifetime. And, not only due to same-gender marriages, but with such public policies as easy “no fault” divorce, even easier contraception, and abortion supposed “rights,” marriage has already taken a horrific beating just since I was growing up in the 1960s.  Speaking of scandal, by the way, when I was a child any divorce was considered to be exactly that. Now marriage is commonly viewed to be, as one woman I know used to say, “as long as you both shall love.”  And that is not what marriage or family is meant to be. The foundational redefinition of this sacred institution started, in reality, long ago.

English: picture of pope paul VI Español: foto...
English: picture of pope paul VI Español: fotografia del papa pablo VI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

SPECIAL NOTE: I found out on my way home from work tonight, after writing this post, that today is the 45th anniversary of Humanae Vitae!!! This was the controversial encyclical penned by Pope Paul VI on this day in 1968 that argued forcefully against artificial contraception, stating it would lead pretty much to the entire list of things I just mentioned. Pretty amazing and prophetic. If you have never read it I will link it here:

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae_en.html

As you read it, you might be surprised at how much Pope Paul VI knew of human nature as well as societal trends. He was clearly ahead of ,not behind, the times. And he suffered for his courage in sharing what he believed God had given to him–and God indeed had done so.

In any case when the announcement came that MN had passed the recent Marriage Act, and defined all marriage as “civil,” something other states who have allowed same-sex marriages to become part of the law have not done, I felt in one sense it was a step in a needed direction, not because I supported redefining marriage as such, but because I believed, and still do, that the sheer amount of animosity between the Church and the LGBT communities which has formed over the years will only get worse and to an absolute crisis point if some type of protections are not clearly put into place. FBI reports, just as an example, have cited a drastic rise in crimes towards LGBT persons here in MN as well as in other places where this battle has come to a head.  My fear was and is that if the Legislature had rejected the proposed changes in marriage law, eventually some of those on the far right side of the issue would be emboldened to do even more of those types of crimes. The noticeable open hostility had begun to frighten me and continues to do so.

All that to say that I see the possibility of scandal and misuse of power existing on both sides, those for “marriage equality” and those not, and I know what it is like to be on the receiving end of that kind of injustice. I know it to a very small extent compared to many others, but I also am far too aware of others who have paid for it through everything from being mercilessly bullied to their very lives, and at least largely the Church has been silent on that particular “scandal” unfortunately. And scandal it is.

So what am I saying here?  I am not suggesting that the Church change her doctrinal stance on this issue, not at all, but that she instead ready herself on a pragmatic level and seriously begin to educate leaders and laity alike in ways to become far  more pastoral and compassionate than in the past.  The “gay issue” is not going to go away, no matter the results of the marriage or anti-marriage movements. And I would feel that way no matter what Church body I was a part of.  Catholics are not the only religious group who are guilty here either.

But then there is the other “scandal,” the one most Christians more are familiar with, and that is the sense of feeling that the LGBT “life choices” are being foisted upon them through the societal changes we all face in regards to these issues. And the argument does not hold up that there are no choices here. The feelings are not chosen, but behavior always is. And I get that too.

I also am clearly guilty of this area of scandal in a number of my Face Book and blog posts near the time of the marriage vote this spring, and for that I profusely apologize. I went from being fairly silent about the issue to sounding and reacting almost militantly against what my Church teaches. THAT WAS WRONG OF ME. EXTREMELY SO.  And for those I offended or hurt by doing those words I very deeply apologize. Further, and more seriously, I allowed myself to give up on Holy Mother Church and ran instead and yet again to easier pastures to graze for a time.  One might think I would have learned better by now, particularly after 2 or 3 other such gallivants, but clearly I permitted something that is usually my strength, which is a genuine desire for social justice and compassion, to become instead my weakness by not staying tenaciously where I belonged and taking a sane and middle of the road approach, and most importantly one which was and is in accord with Church teaching. In other words I blew it.

English: Modern confessional in the Church of ...
English: Modern confessional in the Church of the Holy Name, Dunedin, New Zealand. The penitent has the option to either kneel on the kneeler or sit in a chair facing the priest (not shown) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hence my trip to the confessional yesterday after two months of anger and un-dealt with guilt that had been building up, like it or not.  And the realization that I can never, ever, ever let this or other issues push me away from the Church again.  And the further recognition that either side on this thorny issue can cause scandal and unneeded pain and hurt to others if not handled with both kindness and yet truth.  Both/and, not either/or.

So “Catholicboyrichard” is here to stay, and with a capital “C” this time around.  Maybe one day I will be a grown man in the Faith and can finally change my screen name. I hope so. But not yet.  I have to finish adolescence first.

Mea maxima culpa.

I THOUGHT YOUR NAME WAS RICHARD…so who is “Stephen Francis???”

My confirmation at St Olaf Catholic Church, April 15, 2006--Minneapolis, MN
My confirmation at St Olaf Catholic Church, April 15, 2006–Minneapolis, MN

It is me. The new me. The me who, 7 years ago this last Easter Vigil, received the fullness of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation, just a few months after turning 50 years of age (I am 57 now). The me who had been raised Roman Catholic, left for what became a 35 year journey into the charismatic side of the Evangelical world, 20 within the Assemblies of God or similar groups and the other 15 a much wider variety of spiritual explorations, and who, at age 49, was inexplicably (even to me) drawn back to a Church I had nearly, but never totally, forgotten.

I will not re-hash that time period here for this post, but suffice it to say much good came from it as well as much unneeded struggle. On the positive, at the time I left Rome the average Catholic was not taught or encouraged to spend much time reading Sacred Scripture. In saying that, I need to clarify that Venerable Pope Pius XII, who was Pontiff at the time of my birth in 1955, wrote a beautiful Encyclical on this and did indeed ask the Faithful of the world to do exactly that. Please see:

http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius12/P12DIVIN.HTM

for a copy of this powerful set of words.  I think though that the typical pre-Vatican II family, such as ours, went out and purchased a Bible and it mostly sat on the shelf, or  was read occasionally during Lent, and that done with no real Bible study aids or direction in how to do so.  We did and do hear the Word of God proclaimed each and every time we attended Mass, and even then it tends to be more read or shared from the pulpit than in many “Sola Scriptura” denominations, but if one was to ask the street Catholic of those years to tell you the where or when something occurred (for instance which book of the Old Testament included the story of Jonah and the whale) they would probably look at you blankly and say “go ask Sister Leola.”

Pope Pius XII called Pastor Angelicus, was the...
Pope Pius XII called Pastor Angelicus, was the most Marian Pope in Church history. Bäumer, Marienlexikon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Which brings me to another topic of its own–“who was Sister Leola?” She was in the very last group of nuns in our small rural community that actually looked, in manner of dress at least, like the Blessed Virgin Mary who she represented and was proud to do so. None of this half-habited, mid-calf with panty hose and make up look for her. You knew she was a woman of God, and you did not mess with her. Ever. But Sister Leola had a good heart (and a slightly lazy eye which gave the effect of never quite knowing if she was watching you or someone else when she spoke or taught Catechism classes–a tool I later realized was actually very handy because we as children always thought she “might” be looking straight at us but were never sure!) and was the person I purchased my first Bible from (which I still have incidentally) for $1.00 saved from my paper route. I was in 6th grade, and Vatican II had just ended a mere 3 years earlier. With that had also come an era when the Faithful were once again exhorted even more so to read Sacred Scripture, and she wanted us as near-junior high students to begin doing so. She may have seemed old-fashioned to most of us by the “summer of love” next year following, but she had a vision far beyond her eye problems for helping those under her care and tutelage to stay true to the Lord and the Church.

leola maybe
Sister Leola??? Maybe…

So yes, we did own and read the Bible, but it was sporadic and without much guidance. Entering my 7th and 8th grade years, I began attending an Assemblies of God youth group, and each of them owned their own Bibles and brought them to church, so I proudly began to carry mine as well. And to read it. And to study it, book by book, lesson by lesson.  That is what my years of Protestantism did for me, and it was huge, believe me. Now, when I go to Mass I never leave my Missal at home, as I have retained the practice of following along during each and every reading, and even occasionally taking a note or two. And I check each and every reference, even though they are not announced from the podium (or ambo if you prefer). Again, a gift from my Protestant years. Stories I heard as a young Catholic child now make sense in a way that others without that background very possibly miss. And yes, I know that Jonah was and is its own book, and that the “whale” was actually a “great fish.”

That is what I owe to Protestantism, but even more I owe to those years an understanding of the concept of “receiving Jesus” in a personal way. At this juncture I might bring the ire and irk of some of my Catholic sisters and brothers, but the Eucharist is not where that occurs primarily. Heretic you say? Not at all. I realize and fully accept that our Lord Jesus Christ as received in Holy Communion is the “source and summit” of the Christian Faith. But what good is a “source and summit” if you have little or no faith to walk in before or after? I think much of the lack of passion seen today in our Catholic Church towards living the Faith on a daily basis is due to getting the “cart before the horse” if you will. We are taught to reverence Jesus in the Eucharist, as well we should, but many, and certainly not all, are also under the mistaken impression that, since they were baptized and receive the Sacraments they are therefore “okay” with God. The idea of daily Bible reading seems more than tedious, and prayer happens only when narrowly swerving to miss a passing car on the freeway or during tornado weather.

My Protestant friends might say, “see, you Catholics are not ‘really’ Christians,” and sometimes that may be the case at least in practical if not technical terms, but that is not actually the issue here. Every single Mass offers the same basic components as the most fervent evangelical service. First we ask Christ to forgive our sins, then we listen to the Word, and a short commentary on it, and immediately after we profess our Faith with more detail than the “sinner’s prayer” generally ever has. After that we pray for one another and finally we culminate by obeying Jesus in going to the altar (yes, an altar call!) and receive Him personally in the consecrated host and chalice.  So the message of receiving Jesus personally and then living for Him throughout the week is there, and solidly so. But why did I, and so many others, miss it, or at least miss the element of a living relationship that attempts to make Jesus the center of our lives?

I would contend it is because we are challenged in a vague sort of way to follow Him, but not personally at times. “We” are told that “we all should” live right, love God and neighbor, and to do better this next week than last. But often we are not told how that looks on a daily basis. And “we” tend to think, as I once did even growing up, that, as one older Irish Catholic woman once told me regarding daily Mass, “I don’t want to be too religious, you know.” Now she would never have missed Mass on a Sunday, and most likely had lived a long and faithful life with her husband before he died. She probably had never even heard of pornography, and her swearing was likely at a minimum–at least usually.  She, in reality, was a Catholic Christian who loved our Lord, and understood what it meant to live in a “state of grace.” But yet she also probably lived, perhaps her whole life, largely on her terms. Novenas and fasting were for the nuns and priests, and daily Rosaries for the fanatics and very bored. She had Jesus, and He was indeed her best friend. She was not overly mean to people (unless they really deserved it of course!) and even then she didn’t really “hate” them. Too much anyway.  But like many of us, she called upon Him on an “as needed” basis, and it never perhaps once occurred to her that the joy of Christianity was in the very “religiosity” she was happily avoiding.

That was the state to a large extent of the pre-Vatican II Catholic layperson. To those who wish for those “good old days” when the Mass was in Latin and coming to a distant Jesus was a constant battle need to realize that there was a down side to that era too. And many of us who eventually moved into a more radical discipleship did not find it in the Eucharist (although it was, as I said before, there all along but we sadly did not, as the disciples on the Emmaus road did, “recognize Him in the breaking of the bread”).  He did not seem handily or easily accessible to us very frankly. And conversely we did not know we needed to avail ourselves to Him daily either. Thus came the appeal of a “personal Savior” who was and is beyond all Sacraments or ritual. But in accepting that side of Jesus we rejected another.  What I and so many others did not realize, did not even fathom for whatever reason, was that such a choice was a false dichotomy to begin with.  The Jesus of the Sacraments was and is the Jesus of the daily bread, including the mundane kind. Not only in the Eucharist but before and after. The one we should be praying to “without ceasing,” and who would be there immediately if we did so. My Protestant and particularly evangelical/charismatic friends “got” this. That is why the Bible meant so much to them. It was God’s Word, immediate and fresh. As the Psalms tell us mercy  “new every morning.” By and large the Catholic people I knew did not. And many still do not.

Most, at least the ones I knew,  were in the dubious category of that cradle Catholic woman  mentioned above, who were faithfully Catholic but did not want to be “too” anything.  She knew the rules and followed them, but Jesus was not her life and livelihood. Did I say He was her best friend? I think so still. But He was the kind of “best friend” who had long ago moved away to another city, or at least to the far side of town,  and meanwhile she had to live here primarily without Him by her side or involved in her daily life and decisions. She missed the best in doing so, and did not seemingly have any idea that the Church had lovingly provided ways for her to stay close to Him constantly, starting yes with the Sacraments, but then continuing onward by making our very lives a Sacramental one. In short, knowing Him personally and fully.

So back to why I am “Stephen Francis.” Seven years ago this Easter weekend (I write this on Easter Monday of 2013), I found out what the fullness of the Holy Spirit actually meant. When Father Mark laid his hands on me, done so by the authority of the Archbishop, a successor to the first Apostles who had his authority from Rome and the Holy Father (at that time Pope Benedict XVI), I was connected to the early Church and sealed as a Catholic Christian. Confirmation is considered to be one of the “Sacraments of Initiation” and that is why. The other day I read somewhere online that “Confirmation is of the devil.” Not just cold but dangerous words, I would suggest.  I may not have seen my need for it until age 50, but I never once thought it was demonic! That article on the other hand was.  I just thought, and still do, that many receiving it miss its potential impact due to reasons already mentioned. But the reality is there if we just look with the eyes of Faith. It is there in fact even if we do not, but unfortunately many think of it as “graduation” rather than a new beginning. It was never meant as such.  Ephesians tells us that we were “sealed by the Holy Spirit,” and Confirmation ensures this to be true. Gifts of the Holy Spirit will begin to flow from us, with or without our knowledge or understanding of them (although that very understanding is part of the sevenfold gift of the Spirit in fact), but those gifts flow from a Spirit-filled life–one that is God-centered and “other” centered instead of all about “me.”  If that does not occur after being confirmed, it is not because we need yet another Sacrament, called in some in  circles “the baptism in the Holy Spirit.” Please understand I believe charismatic gifts can occur, and do at times, but they are not the sign of having received this sealing. And one of the reasons we often choose a new name at Confirmation is exactly to make that sign real and relevant to us. It is a new, fresh beginning on a deeper level of our baptism into Christ. An extension of it if you will. Can one get to heaven without being confirmed? Yes indeed. But who would want to? It, not “tongues,” is the true and full outpouring of Pentecost for today. And the very lifeline to living out our baptism, which is the Sacrament of initial faith in Christ–and yes, as a personal and living Savior. The third Sacrament of Initiation, as we who are Catholic refer to this trio, Holy Communion or the Eucharist, if received in faith and reverence, then assists in what St Paul told to St Timothy, which is to “stir up” the gifts within us already received at baptism and Confirmation. And the Bible and our study of it fits in like a glove because, before every Eucharist, there is an exposition of the Word of God, first Old Testament, then Psalms (talk about praise and worship time!) and finally the Epistles and the Gospel. These each prepare us as fertile soil and, if listened to attentively, “break up the fallow ground” in anticipation of receiving the living water of the Spirit in what seem to be earthly elements of bread and wine. He (for the Holy Spirit is a member of the Godhead just as Jesus is) then drenches us and points us right back to Jesus the Christ, who is the “author and finisher” of our Faith–and yes the “source and summit.” And that is what Mass is all about, or should be. Every Sunday. And weekdays too.

So (for the third time then) why am I “Stephen Francis?” It is the common, although not universal, practice to receive a new name at Confirmation. Unlike our baptismal name, (in my case Richard Gerard) our Confirmation name is one we ourselves choose, or hopefully God chooses for us but through our own prayers and seeking for guidance  in the matter. It is the “new start” to our “new start” of being baptized initially into the Lord Jesus Christ. And new it is. Even at age 50. It is the signature on the marriage certificate of our nuptials with God the Son.

Originally I was to have been confirmed at age 15, and after much prayer had chosen to take the name “Stephen,” after St Stephen the first or proto-martyr. But when I returned to the Church, for various reasons (written elsewhere on this blog–please see:

http://catholicboyrichard.com/2011/11/12/my-friend-and-patron-st-francis-of-assisi/

for that amazing story) I strongly sensed that St Francis of Assisi was to be my new patron saint. Yet Stephen was my original choice. Then one day it hit me–and the Holy Fathers John Paul I and II had done so as first and second in Papal history, that perhaps I too could take a double name as they had done for their Papacies. Permission was granted and I became Stephen Francis. One represented my original (pre-Protestant detour) saint of choice for this Sacrament, and the other the one who I believe was strongly instrumental in bringing me back home–again see the above listed link for that portion of the story.  I later learned that they were both Deacons of the Church, and while Francis was not martyred, he was the first recorded saint (after possibly the Apostle St Paul) to have received the “stigmata.” This gift was also given to a modern saint, St Padre Pio, who did many miracles during his lifetime and beyond, including one for my family (again listed in my post on St Francis)–and who himself was a Capuchin Franciscan priest.

http://www.sspx.ca/Communicantes/Oct2002/Frenc...
http://www.sspx.ca/Communicantes/Oct2002/French/Padre_Pio_et_le_Novus_Ordo_Missae.htm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He (Francis)  wanted this gift precisely so he would be, in a sense, a martyr for God, and to understand what Christ had gone through on the Cross for him and for us all. We think of St Francis as somehow merrily tripping lover of animals and flowers, and certainly he was at times just that. But he was a serious and tenacious man of God to the death as well. Again so was St Stephen. Both died young (we do not know Stephen’s exact age but just as a guess I am thinking perhaps around 30 or so) and St Francis was 44. Both died for Christ, but more importantly lived for Him, and in neither case did life or death matter to them–only Jesus and Him crucified in their lives. So actually they had much in common.

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What I did not know until this weekend, and it was during “Joan’s Rome,” a short little 3 minute vignette program on EWTN done by a woman who has been a major and accomplished Vatican correspondent (but who somehow reminds me at times of the religious version of a gossip columnist as well), and in any case this lovely and intelligent woman was sharing something I had never known or even heard before–and it was no gossip either for that matter. In Assisi, people still flock to see the Basilica where St Francis is buried. But few know that, nestled in the trees or bushes nearby, is the small ancient Church of St Stephen. Yes, St Stephen the martyr! It was there that Francis, not yet a saint, was baptized as a child, attended Mass growing up, and whose bells rang out his death on October 3, 1226. In fact it is said that, upon his death, these bells rang spontaneously, telling the village of Assisi and the world that an amazing saint had just been granted entrance into heaven. Whether that part is totally factual is irrelevant, of course, but does show the high regard in Assisi and worldwide for St Francis. But before Francis was Stephen!!! And Stephen may well have been some part of his inspiration to be a deacon. And I knew nothing of the “Stephen/Francis” connection until seeing this clip on EWTN mere days ago. I had even debated whether it should be “Stephen Francis” or “Francis Stephen” but finally decided to go with the first combination as it better reflected the chronology of my journey back. Even now it gives me the chills to realize that these two saints, Stephen and Francis, chose me too. And Jesus chose both of them for a form of martyrdom and death to self. And, like me, both were called to be celibate and single.

San_Stefano_Assisi-0001
San Stefano Assisi–Photography by Kenny Kim

I have much to live up to. 

PS–And did I fail to mention that our new Holy Father, just in time for Easter, just happens to have taken the name Pope Francis, the first and only??? Nothing is by accident… Saints Stephen and Francis, the dynamic diaconate team, please pray for us!!!