A Good Man’s Happy Death

TO THE READER: Tomorrow, April 8, 2016, marks the one year anniversary of my father’s death. Many of you read my personal tribute, linked in the first paragraph, to his influence on me in my life, but not as many may have seen the backstory of the actual dying process he and our family, journeyed through with him during those last months. It is in no way morbid–sad to be sure, missing him daily still of course–but a very real joy exists in having seen a long life well-spent.  Here it is once again, and Donald Leroy Evans, please continue to look upon us left behind and pray for us, as we know you will. And a well-deserved rest in peace. We each love you much.

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Just over 2 months ago, my father, Donald Leroy Evans, journeyed into eternity. I wrote elsewhere recently about my own experience with him, bridging chasms we once had, due in large part to my SSA (same sex attraction) struggles and the closeness we later shared in the last number of years since my return to the Catholic Church.

This piece however is about another aspect of my dad and his last few months on this earth. We each pray for a “happy death,” not meaning pain free or with no struggles, but with the Lord Jesus Christ as the absolute center of that holy time which we all one day will face. St Joseph had such a death, and passed on with both Jesus and Mary at his side. That, in essence, is what a “happy death” consists of—no more, no less. This is the story of another beautiful entrance into the next world, and one I was extremely privileged to play some small part in.

My dad had beaten the odds a number of times over the years, having had a quadruple bypass while in his 60s and not long after his retirement. He had quit a heavy smoking habit around 20 years earlier, and, had he not done so, the doctors were convinced he would never have lived long enough to have such a procedure otherwise.

Not long after, my mother was diagnosed with lymphoma, leaving us due to that insidious cancer at age 69, just months short of their 50th wedding anniversary. My dad, while not the most domesticated of creatures, took care of her as best he could, and heroically keeping her at home as she had wished until the very end.

Two years later, he met a lovely woman by the name of Betty Yates. He took full advantage of this second chance for a happy retirement, and they were married in 1997 when he was 75! He had converted to Catholicism at age 18 when he married my mother, and Betty was a divorced Lutheran. It would have been very easy to just marry in her faith community, but he chose to go through a proper and careful process of annulment so that he could marry in the Church.

They spent the remainder of his earthly life together, and during that time he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, had two mild heart attacks, and only through much argument with the heart specialists was he able to have three stents put into his already damaged arteries, again saving his life for several more years. He also developed pneumonia a number of times, and kidney disease began to take its toll on him. Finally, on Thanksgiving night of 2014, the family was called and was told that he was in the hospital with what appeared to be end stage kidney disease. He was 92 by this time, and the option of dialysis did not make sense for his already battered body. He was placed into hospice, and moved into the care center of the assisted living/nursing home facility where he and Betty by then were living. She could still see him every day, and he could get the additional care and help that only hospice can provide. But we all knew that the end was near. Or so we thought at least.

I should add that he had one other love—the casino—and spent at least two-three days a week honing his blackjack skills and making friends, something he did easily all his life. Hospice was not going to stop him from this either. He managed, even while on O2, to get there three more times to see his card playing comrades and to return each time with more money than he had come with! Those skills literally paid off until the very end for this amazing man.

In reading the above, one might not have completely guessed that Christ and the Faith were really front and center for him. Not much could be further from the truth though. When he and Betty married, the both began attending each other’s churches; each Saturday evening worshipping at Catholic Mass together, while visiting her Lutheran service every Sunday. To this moment I am sure there are many from both communities who thought that they both were members of each other’s church, and their picture together graced both parish directories. While different on some key beliefs, they truly were one in spirit.

After I returned to the Church, my step-sister, a former co-worker of my dad’s who had introduced them, decided to become Catholic. My dad, at age 85, became her RCIA sponsor as she was received into the Church two years after I had come back. He obviously took his faith seriously, and it showed.

It was in the last four months of his life, with his kidneys working at just five percent, that he blossomed most though. He knew he was not long for this earth, and decided to have his memorial service (aka party!) while yet alive. We had food, festivity, laughter and tears, and it was on that day just before Christmas of 2014 that I saw for the first time how really ready he was. He loved this earth, and the people here. That was clear until the very day he died. But he had begun to detach as well, not from people but from other things that had once mattered so much to him. We took turns sharing meaningful moments together, and he cried freely and laughed just as much as we did. He was still dad, always cheerful and a bit mischievous, but that day it seemed he was also surrounded by angels, and his trodden face looked like one as well. God was clearly in that place and in charge.

He did better than expected for the next few months, scooting around and never missing a card game—or a Mass. Then, once again, pneumonia came, and he made the difficult choice for comfort care rather than antibiotics. It would now be only a matter of days, and once again the family gathered. Again, instead of gloom, it was a near party atmosphere at moments, and tears during others. He would sleep and awaken, and when he was ready to drift off he just said he was glad to know we were all there enjoying one another’s company. At moments he could not breathe well, and would momentarily panic, but medication and prayer brought him back each time. One time he was having trouble resting, and finally said to his wife “Betty get over here and talk to me so I can fall asleep.” We all roared including her, of course. She, like him, enjoyed life, laughter, and large doses of chatter.

The day before he died, he managed to phone every person who was not able to be there in person, and even made peace with one close family member who had some serious issues with him in the past. He had been trying for months to have her come and visit so that they could talk, but due to time and distance it was not to be. However, in a 3 minute conversation they were at harmony with each other, once for all. That was the kind of man he was. Earlier, not long after his diagnosis, he told me that he could now for the first time truthfully say he loved absolutely everyone. He was never a grudge holder, but, like all of us, had some people he was not as close to as others. Now he simply loved them and wanted them to know it.

Speaking again of detachment, he had always loved sports. A lot. When we were growing up, he would often pull the TV into the dining room during dinner and it was nearly impossible to talk at the table as a result. A couple of months before he died, I recall phoning him and Betty, who answered, told me that the game was on. I asked dad if he wanted me to call back later, and he said, “No, I can talk to you for a while.” A first for everything. The night before he passed away, a basketball tournament was on TV, and we offered to turn it on. He said to us, “No, I don’t want to know if MN wins or not.” What he was really saying, I think, was that it no longer mattered to him, and that his family who was gathering to see him off was all that did. For him, that was a very real and final detach from this earthly life.

One other thing he asked me for during this time was a blessing from Pope Francis. I had been able to obtain one from then-Pope Benedict XVI for his 90th birthday, and he was extremely proud to have that blessing displayed in his room. However, those generally take months to obtain through the Diocese, and I had no idea how I could ever honor his request this time. But I prayed, and I suddenly remembered that I had a seminarian friend from Facebook who was and is currently studying in Rome. I sent him a quick message, and he was able to get not one but two of his fellow seminarians to attend a public audience with the Pope for me. People who attend are told that the Pope willingly extends this blessing to any of their loved ones not present, so they each prayed for that blessing on his behalf and mine too. I then printed him an unofficial but real certificate, and he now had a blessing from Pope Francis as well, which I presented to him at his “farewell party” in December. Amazing how God works in little ways and big.

On the last day before he died, the room was filled with family and friends, and health care staff were coming in and out as well, hugging him, crying, telling him how they loved him, and we as a family were amazed at such an outpouring. His priest also came, and gave him the Anointing of the Sick as well as an Apostolic Pardon. By then he was drifting in and out some but still knew we were there, and shortly after that he fell asleep and, other than occasional moments did not wake up again, at least fully.

The next morning, the day of his home going, it was just me, 2 of my siblings, his sister and my stepmom who were there. We prayed for him together, and later both his priest and the Lutheran minister came and prayed with him as well. The care center had Rosary that day, so I attended and prayed for him with his own Rosary. One of the leaders suggested that they come and pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet over him, which they did. She began to cry when she saw Betty, my Lutheran stepmom, and told her that the rosary she was using was one Betty had given to her as a gift! Powerful indeed. True ecumenism.

Just over an hour later he was gone. But as he was passing, I laid on his arm an antique rosary from Lourdes. Mary was there and readying him. And during the last few hours, he continued to talk, on and off, but not to us, saying such things as “I love you” and “I am doing pretty good.” Whatever was happening during those moments we may never know in this life. But when he took that last breath it was simply done, no pain, and no other apparent discomfort. It was the quintessential happy death. As he kept telling people, “what a way to go.”

Why do I share all of this today? Perhaps I want you to know this great man, just a little. More so, because I want us all to be less afraid of what is coming. I know I am. Without canonizing him, I am yet fully convinced that he was taken directly into the arms of Jesus, Mary, and St Joseph. And my mom too. That to me is a comfort beyond words or tears. It is also a challenge to live better so that one day I too may have such a death and join a holy man, Don Evans. Please join us too.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN “CATHOLIC STAND,” June 13, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

A Post from the Heart…

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This is not going to be the usual blog post. I feel as though I am in meltdown mode and need to share from my heart tonight. I am incredibly sad. First of all my 92 year old dad is very ill. Not a surprise you say–no it isn’t. But it scares me and I will not pretend it doesn’t. Secondly we are going through some major changes at work in regards to computer systems, and neither is that such as surprise as we have been preparing for this for over a year, gone through training and as much preparation as possible, and yet I will not deny it too scares me greatly as it will cause major changes to both the workflow and general order of things yet again. Lastly I had an unexpected conflict yesterday with someone I do not even know in person, and to his credit and mine, and mostly God’s, we were able to work it out. But it still makes me sad. I feel utterly alone, tired, and my coping mechanisms seem to be at an all-time low. I know what our Lord Jesus Christ and the Church teaches and I believe it, and were I in the least an actual saintly sort I would just “bear my cross” with delirious joy but it is not within me to do so this time around. Certainly not within myself at least.

So–I suppose I am just saying I am worn out, discouraged, and frankly feeling that pretty much no one gets it. No one quite gets how tired or how weak I feel, or how angry I am getting at both God and the entire world. And when I do dare to express it, or even hint at it, people unwittingly get into advice mode when I just need a very long and heartfelt hug rather than any particular counsel. I then shut down for a bit and eventually pick myself up and force myself to sound positive and try again. And no one gets how increasingly desperate I feel over and over. Instead they seem to feel I am perhaps coddling myself and they do not see how paralyzed I am becoming inside.

It is no one’s fault as such and this isn’t written to blame a soul. But I think at times we just need someone to let us cry, maybe perhaps even weep, and good old celibate and independent me has no one to do that with other than FB and the social media. I have friends and family and they are precious to me, and I do not take one thing away from them in saying this. But I am at the point in life where there are very few I can turn to in these more sensitive corners of my life, and frankly even those closest to me have their own issues and no time. My intellect gets it but my gut doesn’t.

If you wish to help me then, and I know many reading this will and do, please just pray for me and no advice please. I know all of the “answers.” I do not mean that haughtily, but more so just saying that I am able to dish out the answers as well as anyone I know. It is that application of truth that seems insurmountable just about now. A caring word or prayer are in fact far more to the point here. And it will get better. That I do know. I just do not know when. But I do know that Advent is a season of waiting. And after that comes Christmas. I am hanging on to that hope during an otherwise very dark time in my time. Anyway thanks for reading. And mostly for your prayers and caring.

NOT CRAWLING INTO A HOLE THIS TIME…Why I Blog My Way

Recently someone I had deeply respected told me I had “no docility” in regards to my writings. Perhaps there is some element of truth in that statement, I do not know. Without going into detail I will say though that the statement devastated me. It was said to me in regards to an article I had written, which this person felt needed to be significantly re-written. And I do mean significantly. When I chose not to do so what had, until then, been what seemed to be a warm and gregarious working relationship turned sour and instantly. And although I did not change that particular piece, I then found I needed to step back, prayerfully, and take time away from writing, so that is why you have not heard from me in awhile (nearly 2 months) either here or anywhere else for that matter, with the exception of my personal Face Book page that is.

I also had another experience just this last week where I nonchalantly shared a link to my re-conversion story to another FB ‘friend,” a term by the way I use more and more loosely these days. The person I shared it with was someone who I invited to be part of my FB page, and I had added him due to so many of the wonderful posts he had written. What I am about to say takes nothing away from that. But I realized he probably did not know my story, and so I wanted to share it with him, nothing more or less. What I did not realize when I added him was that he was highly involved in fairly major areas of the arts and cinematic arenas, and somewhat well-connected in the Catholic realms of those circles. I suppose, looking back, that it might have seemed to this person that I was attempting to do some self-promoting as a result, which I was not in the least. I had no idea of his pedigrees nor did I care when I added him. Not at all.

The irony is that the person said to me that he was “riveted” by my story and that he planned, the next day at a conference he was involved with, to speak to some of his connections about it. That floored me obviously but I was flattered of course, and egotistically waited all week to hear back from him about how those conversations had gone. I wrote a short note to him a few days later, nothing pushy but just asking, to see how they had indeed transpired, but heard nothing back, even though I could see he had read my note to him, as FB now graciously shows you when your message has been read. So I wrote another note tonight. I sincerely realize that this person is busy to the extreme, and I in fact was not asking him to do anything in the first place–he had volunteered. But I still wanted to know the status, and wrote politely once again just to ask and to get his feedback, since it had been nearly a week now after he had stated he would be making those contacts, which were to be during the weekend before.

His answer to me floored and shocked me very honestly. He said (I am paraphrasing here but this is the gist) that he simply “didn’t have time” to read everything people sent to him, and that he had someone waiting in the wings for him to read their 70 page story as well so basically to “get in line.” I was hurt by such an answer, since my article is 3 pages type-written and since he, not me, had initially reacted with such enthusiasm and unsolicited promises after he had first glanced at it last week. I wrote him back, possibly a bit less politely this time but suggested he not bother wasting his time if that is what it had seemed to him. I very honestly did not send it to him for some type of script review, and as I said it was he, not me, that had suggested the story be promoted more, which he had more or less promised to do. And that I have in writing.

Here is what I am realizing by such experiences, even within the Catholic Christian world. My story, not by my plan but surely by God’s, has already now been promoted by others in such a way that it has been checked out by at least 150,000 people currently, and most of them have been in the last 6 months or so. I was further approached to write a separate article related to the topics at hand  for Witherspoon Institute’s “Public Discourse” and it was then listed by them as one of their most popular pieces in the last 6 months. Additionally, I have on occasion shared articles which have been listed and linked to  in a very fine blog periodical monthly magazine by the name of “Catholic Stand,” and have had at least 20 mentions of my work in EWTN’s Catholic Register newspaper, online edition. That is not bragging, as it is as much a surprise to me as to anyone. All of the above have been unexpected honors, and I view them as such, believe me.

As it turns out, I do actually know how to write. I did not ask for this gift and I am sure I do not know how to use it as well as I need to. As to “docility” I can always use honest and constructive criticism (which in my humble opinion does not necessitate entire re-writes of essays I have spent hours working on, especially given that I am nearly 60 years of age, have a very, very demanding full-time job and a 2nd one as well, plus several major health issues which drain my strength daily or nearly so), and I do actually listen when someone suggests a change in grammar or tone on a particular paragraph or sentence in my work.

But, as my friend Brandon M says, I write for “me.” I have never written with the intent of sharing my work in the first place, and the fact that so many have actually read it in such varied and numerous venues still floors me continually. I cannot allow it to take me over, however. When blogging becomes more than relaxing and fun then it is time for me to step back and realize that, ego or not, I am not, and most likely never will be, a “professional” writer. Then again that has never been my goal and I am not going to go there now either. My style is my style, and apparently works far better than I ever dreamed it might. To those who do not care for it, I owe no apologies. Don’t read it. By saying that I am not asking anyone to leave my audience either. Not at all. I am simply saying that there is no obligation. Ask my family, pretty much none of them read my stuff, or if they do they are very, very quiet about it, particularly as I have become more conservative and traditional over the last few years. And that is okay. I might wish that they did but it does not affect my relationships with them, nor should I allow it to.

And to those, such as in the second example, who make seeming promises that they cannot keep, I would prefer that they just say so outright as opposed to total silence and I will honestly understand. I might not like it but I would. No one owes me here. But please in any case do not attempt to remodel me into your style. And do not expect me to follow the “blogging world” politics which I do not choose to understand. It will not be happening. If that makes me less “docile” in your view, then so be it. Then again, maybe it is not my problem after all. Sometimes those who say such nonsense have been caught up into a system of human-made expectations that I choose to be free from. At least respect me for that. And do not assume, if I honor you by personally sending my story to you, that I want anything from you either. I honestly do not. I choose to share for two reasons only, and one is that I believe in some small way God can use my very imperfect writing skills, and two, I like and enjoy sharing with those who wish to listen or read, and particularly if I respect the person I am sharing it with. If you do not wish to read it, as I have already said, don’t. But do not act like you are some big-time Hollywood mogul who is politely rejecting a manuscript of some kind during your response. In doing so you insult my intelligence and, more so, my character and offer of friendship. I am not that person and pray I never will be. “Docility” can indeed be overrated.

God bless.

KNOWING THE CONTRARY “ME”– A challenge to any and all who love the non-straight neighbor among you…

witherI was utterly privileged this last week to have an article published in the Public Discourse page of the Witherspoon Institute. I was approached regarding this by Sherif Girgis and Ryan T Anderson, who, along with Dr Robert P George, last year authored an amazing, accurate, and concise study of the marriage controversy facing our nation and beyond, its relationship to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights and needs, and if what is commonly called “marriage equality” is indeed the answer or not. A link to this book is located at the end of this page, and I would highly recommend it to any who may not have read it or wish to learn more on the topic. Having said that…

http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2014/04/13097/

The timeliness of their use of this article amazed me totally, as this very same week a potent new video, while not directly dealing with the marriage issue, was released which delivers a powerful punch in regard to the ever more visible need for the Church to effectively assist those of us from SSA (same-sex attraction) backgrounds to live our Christian (in my case Catholic Christian) Faith more effectively. Among other things, this video touches on many of the ways to reach out with realistic compassion towards those of us who at times have greatly struggled in integrating the Faith with our inner scuffles and sometimes severely wounded pasts, or even presents.

To me the two are one. They each represent the puzzlement and seeming contradiction that is me. In the article I attempt to present some practical ways to connect with SSA persons, and the video does the same thing but in different but complementary ways. Together, read and watched with care, they will show you who I am. This is the “me” you could not figure out before, and who at times has frustrated or disappointed many of you with my moments of anger towards the Church I love while yet wishing to follow her now and always. And I would point out that it is some of you on each side of this timely, thorn covered issue who have felt both the disappointment and even at times a betrayal as you observed my inner and outer tussles over the past few years. These two together will clarify much of that if you allow them to. I hope that you will.

http://www.blackstonefilms.org/films/the-third-way/index.html

I do not ask you to necessarily agree with the concept of a “Third Way.” In fact we may or may not ever see eye to eye on it and that is okay. But I have found it to be based upon what I believe is objective Truth, and the one perfect balance between the late Fred Phelps’ idea of railing against both the sinner and the sin, and the opposite extreme of promoting and imposing upon society the radicalism of the very real actively LGBT agenda which does not plan to stop until same-sex marriage is not only legal but promoted in every church, classroom, and nation. I believe that both extremes are real, and that each are impoverished in that they miss the very real concerns, fears and pains of the other “side.”

So, if you have ever wished to understand your brother, your cousin, your uncle, your friend, your co-worker, and your neighbor, all of who happen to be me, this is that most excellent opportunity to do so. The video is around 30 minutes, so get a soda or cup of coffee and take your time to absorb the many pieces of a story you may have never heard before. The article may take you 15 minutes, especially if you read it without skimming and I would implore you to do so rather than grabbing a sentence here or there away from the context of the rest. Too often today we do this in our blog-infested world, and sound-byte past the most important points in a story or article. Please do not do so this time around.

Thus I am asking for 45 minutes of your time. It is the only time I will ever do so, but I pray that every person I know and who claims to care about me will decide to do so. Your understanding of me would mean the world to me, even if we never agree on the topic. And your dialogue would be so very, very welcome. Please then grant me 45 minutes of your life—you may be surprised at what you learn, not just about me but about yourself, if you do. Thanks so much and God bless.

http://www.amazon.com/What-Is-Marriage-Woman-Defense/dp/1594036225

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“Why I’m Catholic” And Why I Plan to Stay…Catholic

In case you do not know it, there is a great internet site out there by the name of “Why I’m Catholic.” It is a conglomeration of stories of those who either converted to the Church, in many cases quite unexpectedly even to them, or who returned after long or intense journeys away. Or in my case re-returned. And re-returned. And re-returned yet again. Essentially I have been converted, reverted, and rediscovered. Okay you get it. My walk has not been in all cases exactly perfect or consistent.

After I came back to Rome in the fall of 2005, my story was eventually (in the  September 2008 issue) published nationally on the website www.catholic.com  and in their tremendous print magazine, at that time called “This Rock” and now simply “Catholic Answers.” What some of you well know, but not all do, is that even after my “20 minutes of religious fame and flame” from then I went through a period of significant doubts and questions during the 3 year period from late 2010 to early/middle 2013, resulting all told in approximately 12 months outside the Church as such. It was not all at once, but mostly a few weeks or months here or there, and I believe that the longest period “outside the gates of the Eternal  City” was 4.5 months. Each time I would rather (and increasingly so each time) sheepishly came back and each time planned to stay. But then further questions would arise and off I would go again, questing and questioning. And never quietly either.

I believe that now, by God’s grace, that period of doubt and second-guessing God’s work in my life is finally passed. Never perfectly, obviously, but I think I have profoundly realized that God’s purpose in bringing me back after 35 years was not my plan, but His. Period. The late great Etta James tells it far better than I can:

And at least a few of my friends, really several of you, have been extremely patient with me during that rather frightening and confusing period. One who has been so is Steven Lawson, a tremendous young man who has had his own times of confusion, and who began the website “Why I’m Catholic” in early 2011, on the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul. My original story, although updated from when it had been in “This Rock,” was graciously picked up by his site and published there. And at least 21,000 folks have checked it out worldwide, besides the original thousands who had seen it on www.catholic.com.

Steven recently revived and re-launched this site, and I must say it is looking better than ever. The fact that this accomplished young man is the webmaster for one Matthew Kelly (yes, that Matthew Kelly!!!) should tell you something about his skill level, and the fact that he is using those great talents for God should speak to his character.

"Rediscover Catholicism" Matthew Kelly
“Rediscover Catholicism” Matthew Kelly

But just as St Paul needed a “St Barnabas” to bring help build his trust and credibility in the book of Acts, I too needed one to help at least begin rebuilding after my very public (and often contradictory) battles with the Faith I had never ceased to love. Steve has been that person to me in many more ways than one, and recently on his site began a series entitled simply “Struggles.” I was more than privileged to return to his site, this time as a “struggler,” and to present what the late Paul Harvey might call “the rest of the story” since my original journey back across the Tiber in 2005.

My biggest prayer for this article is that it may help heal some wounds which may still exist between myself and some of my very beloved Catholic friends who likely felt I betrayed (and perhaps I did but never intentionally so) the Faith, and to let you know I am not going anywhere again. Very simply put, as St Peter once said to our Lord, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Whatever fights or battles I have had or will yet have with my walk, the answer is in Christ and His Church. It is as simple–and difficult–as that.

So, if you have not checked out the “Why I’m Catholic” site, you are in for a blessing. And I have the somewhat dubious distinction of being the only person featured there twice, once with my original story and secondly with my “yes he finally came back to his senses” story!!! Perhaps it will be 25 minutes of fame after all. But far more importantly, I pray it will help some of you who, perhaps less loudly, have had some of the same internal battles as me, whether specifically the same or just doubts or questions in general. If you allow Him to, I can only say God will bring you through. He has done so for me. And is still doing so.

Please read and share both with whoever you wish, and, while numbers do not tell the whole tale, the recent “Struggles” story has, in less than 3 weeks, had over 1200 hits as well. I would love to say I am proud, but mostly I am just very, very humbled. And so very glad that God can take the rubble of our confused thinking and anger once laid at His feet and under His lovely yet blood-stained Cross, making sense of it once again even when I (or you) sometimes cannot.

HERE is the link to the original story:

http://whyimcatholic.com/index.php/conversion-stories/catholic-reverts/item/60-catholic-revert-richard-evans

AND here is the link to the “struggles” section which tells the newer phase in my walk with our Lord Jesus Christ and Holy Mother Church:

http://whyimcatholic.com/index.php/struggle-catholic-same-sex-attraction

One other person I would like to publicly thank as well is one Joe Heschmeyer, who is the primary writer of a tremendously successful Catholic blog by the name of “Shameless Popery” ( http://catholicdefense.blogspot.com/). Joe is a unique young man in that he was a successful Washington DC attorney, pretty much brilliant intellectually, and one of the most authentic examples of Christian kindness I have experienced during my own idiocies and fallacious thinking. He is currently a seminarian besides, and I for one look forward to “Father Heschmeyer” when he emerges in a few short years to come. I in fact hope to be his first confession (you are truly in for it Joe lol!!!). Recently he wrote the following article on the issue of same-sex attraction, and quotes a “friend” in it–that friend was me. He did not know then that our mutual brother Steve Lawson was in process of using my story to launch “Struggles,” but he did know of, and offered to help with, my own battles as they were happening. And it was an offer that meant more to me than he will ever know. And he was not by any means the only one. The link to his site and that article are just below:

http://catholicdefense.blogspot.com/2014/01/taking-people-first-approach-to.html

Even if he had not quoted me, I would surely have recommended this article as it is one of the kindest and most balanced on the topic out there. But the fact that, in one month, God gave me not one, but two “St Barnabas” figures is almost overwhelming to me. Actually it is. Totally. Why these young men would welcome me as a friend is actually beyond me, and those are not just words.  It also restores my faith in God as well as His people, and reminds me not to give up on others who I too may be temporarily disappointed in, just as many were disappointed in me for a time.

I would love nothing more, at this juncture of life, than to sit back, quietly live my Faith, and never write or share about the ensuing battles again–but I cannot. Jesus once said we were not meant to “hide under a bushel basket” and He meant what He said. St Peter knew what it was to deny our Lord during a time of intense pressure and internal conflict, and I have to believe my battles, although certainly to a large extent my fault, happened for a reason too. If one person reading this finds out that they are not alone, and not beyond the doors of an ever-welcoming, however imperfectly, Church, then it will indeed be worth each one.

Maybe that person will be you, who knows?

MEA CULPA PART TWO…

Mea Culpa - Sculpture from Grizedale Forest
Mea Culpa – Sculpture from Grizedale Forest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/350026/marriage-debate-sherif-girgis-ryan-t-anderson-robert-p-george

Having been one who has been so very conflicted about the “marriage equality” debate at times, even recently with Minnesota becoming the 12th state to allow same-gender marriage, and on a personal note as one who happens to be both same-sex attracted (celibate) and a Catholic Christian, I just re-read the article linked above and did so with a different set of lenses than when I first perused it a few short months ago.  These guys (Dr Robert P George, Ryan T Anderson, and Sherif Girgis)  have done their research and homework thoroughly, and more so, share their views with deep clarity and honest charity, not just throwing tickling platitudes towards the actively LGBT community as many who believe themselves to be far more “tolerant” have done at times. Even if you disagree with them totally you cannot read this article or their well-written book without seeing and respecting that.

resources2

On an even more personal note, some of us from my background, me included, have at times allowed the intense hurt or anger which most of us with SSA issues at times feel towards Christians and a society which is less friendly than it would admit to “my kind,” to unfortunately cloud my vision of why the Church, as well as society, benefits from traditional marriage. Sherif clears most of that up in one writing here.

In short, and hence my second “mea culpa” in as many weeks, I unwittingly pushed aside personal conviction and went fully by a seductively emotional impetus, allowing it to derail me more than once while yet trying to remain connected to Church teachings I have at times not always fully understood. And doing that can be misleading, even to ourselves, or perhaps especially to ourselves. Plus it simply does not work.  Without that admission my original “mea culpa” is incomplete at best. So there you have it. Mea culpa two.

Sherif Girgis and his co-authors expertly, and, in the best sense, somewhat cunningly, move past that in this article as well as in their book and moreover cause me to feel that I genuinely matter to them as a Christian brother and fellow human being. And as an equal. I would yet further add that I have had some personal contact with both Sherif and Ryan T Anderson via Facebook, and would be proud, actually very much so, to consider  either of them real-time friends if the opportunity so allowed. While I have not had contact with Dr George, I am pretty sure I would feel much the same with him as well. Far from dividing and conquering, they have helped me to unify and reconcile my sometimes overwhelming and conflicting pulls on this matter, and that is a far larger conquest anyway.

In any case both the logic and conclusions shared here move beyond mere surface rhetoric, and when quietly attempting to tune in to my deepest intellectual honesty as well as spirituality (the kind one has when alone and staring into the  mirror of heart and body at 3 am), the teaching of the Church and body of Christ as clarified in their writings have caused me to yet again dig deeper and to  re-think this issue once for all.  Ironically  I have found myself arriving in a full circle back to what was my original position until I allowed some very real anger, fear, and inner pain to cloud my thinking and affect my overarching attitudes.  In short they are right and I wasn’t.

 And even shorter, it isn’t a matter or who gets to be right anyway. It is a matter of finding Truth and letting it take us where we must then go. And, as I said before, I am done fighting God on this topic or anything else for that matter. He always wins anyway.

CELIBATE BUT NOT CHASTE??? CHASTE BUT NOT CELIBATE??? A Quick Catholic “Snapshot” of SSA Theology

 SUMMER 2013 NOTE: While this post is a bit dated, I am sharing it once again because I have a somewhat different audience than when it was originally blogged. I think it clarifies, not just my opinion, but basic Catholic teaching on both celibacy and chastity, and applies not just to those of us who are SSA but to any single persons.

While the 2012 campaign is long over, I do reference a couple of posts, with links below, regarding meeting US Senator and former (and possibly future!) Presidential candidate Rick Santorum. This is not meant as an endorsement or even a suggestion of who to vote for when the time may again arise in 2016, but does show my journey of skepticism to respect of someone I consider a fine person and sincere in his Catholic Christian Faith. And who is not a homophobe. So here is a chance to dig into a complicated mind (mine) and to at least attempt understanding why I have moved towards a more traditionalist view on the issues of same-sex attraction and the Church. I do not ask for agreement on all that is shared here obviously, but would ask that you read with a mind–and heart–that is open. Thanks.

English: Wide angle View of the altar inside S...
Image via Wikipedia

After the recent articles I wrote regarding SSA (same-sex attraction) and my support of and subsequent opportunity to meet Rick Santorum, I received many kind comments, along with just two who were somewhat less than supportive. Although I already answered them briefly in the comments section of that posting, a few of the points or challenges made by one of the commentators (Tom Veers) caused me to do some thinking about the possible reasons behind his virulent opposition.

He even strongly suggested that I was not following official Catholic teaching in my views on the issues of chastity and celibacy, and his arguments sounded vaguely familiar to me so I decided to do a bit more delving into the topic, both for my own benefit and for that of the readers.  And thus this post. I would like at this point to note that the Santorum posts each received more “hits” than any on this blog so far.  So I know that the topic is of very real interest and concern to many of you, just as it is to me. For your convenience I will include links to both articles following today’s writing.

What I would like to first do is to share Mr. Veer’s initial comment, along with any relevant portions of my own response, and then add his second comment and again mine back to him. After that I will add some points I later reflected upon which I believe may have influenced his thinking and his reasons for believing that I am “radical” in my views on this topic.  I would place the disclaimer here that I cannot speak for him, but I base my thoughts strictly upon what he has already publicly shared on this blog. I would also add that this in no way is to question his Catholic Christian Faith or walk with our Lord, but rather to point out where we apparently differ and why.

First his comments:

  1.                         Tom Veers said:

February 7, 2012 at 8:20 AM

As a conservative, chaste, Catholic who is also homosexual (I find the same-sex attracted talk to be pointless. We do not call heterosexuals “opposite-gender attracted”. As my orthodox confessor says “One can compare it to being right-handed, but that analogy fails after a point, because sexuality affects the entirety of our being.”) I cannot fathom how you support Rick Santorum. He IS a homophobe. Plain and simple. The push for gay marriage is not like the 9/11 attacks. His take on couples who are in a romantic relationship and comparing them to his love of his grandmother is demeaning. Yes, it is disordered attraction, but there is something significantly different about it than compared to the love of an elderly family member.

It is fine to stand with the Church. I proudly do it. She is my mother, even though it is hard sometimes. That being said, she calls on us to stand against homophobia. Having read some of your blog posts I honestly think you are not comfortable with your sexuality and trying to compensate for it by supporting extremist Catholic positions against homosexuality/gay marriage that ARE NOT in line with Church teaching.

You do no service to those of us who want to live a normal life within the confines of the Church with the self-hating rhetoric.

Second my initial response:

  1. Reply

February 7, 2012 at 5:11 PM

I thank you Tom Veers and also ProginMN for your sharing and thoughts, and since both posts are similar I would like to tackle them together if I may. I know that the term “SSA” does carry some negative political connotations to it, which is why some object to it. Ironically so does LGBT, which is why others object to it. We could argue about this side point endlessly but I think I would just prefer to summarize your accusations, which is what they are, that I take some unusual and “extreme” position on homosexuality and same-gender marriage, as utter nonsense.

The clear teaching of the Catechism and every single Vatican document or writing of the USCCB would bear out that I am taking the official Roman Catholic Church stance on this issue–no more and no less. As to my discomfort with my own sexuality, I must smile a bit because I have indeed struggled very hard and wrestled with the Church position every bit as much as you or any of us from our backgrounds do, and have found that this kind of wrestling causes a person to face themselves pretty squarely in many ways–some of which are indeed uncomfortable. Change always is. Ironically a few weeks back I was somewhat attacked for being too “accepting” of my sexuality, and it too was in regards to this very same posting! Strange how different people can read the same article and come to vastly different opinions.

I would just ask you both to remember that words on a page do not always clearly show the nuances one has, and we all have them, within our understandings of what Catholic teaching really is. But extreme I am not. I have always clearly stated that I support basic rights of actively LGBT couples, but that it does not need to be done in a way that promotes or redefines marriage. I have further said that I am not particularly a fan of “ex-gay” or reparative therapy and have shared some of that in my posts as well. I accept myself as a person who has SSA, but I do not allow my sexuality to define who I am as a person. I think your confessor is mistaken if that is indeed what he is saying.

I am a child of the living God, and a Catholic Christian. If that makes me an “extremist” so be it. You might re-read some of my posts and note that I have done precious little compensating or attempting to cover some hidden self-hatred you both think I carry. Possibly you are projecting some of your own discomfort on to me? I do not know that and would not presume to say. And I would ask for that same respect from both of you.

Anyway that is not, at heart, the issue. My hang-ups or yours mean precious little in the grand scheme of things on this teaching or any other Church “hot button issues” here. What the issue does boil down to is, what does the Church actually teach, and can I believe and fully accept it? If not, I need to find another place of worship. If I call myself a Catholic Christian I need to accept Magisterial authority. I would suggest you might ask yourselves some of those very difficult questions if you have not done so already. If you are a Catholic, and I pray you stay within the Church if so, I would challenge you to follow the Church fully.

Finally I would never pretend or mislead you or any other person from a homosexual background into thinking that the goal of celibacy or chastity is some cake-walk. It isn’t. But living outside of your own understanding of God’s moral code is far harder in the long run, and much more stressful. Again I appreciate where you both are coming from, but for now we will need to agree to see this issue differently. Peace.

February 7, 2012 at 11:22 PM

I accept everything the Church teaches to be true. My confessor is not saying that we should define ourselves by our sexuality, but that sexuality, straight or gay, does affect the entirety of our being. Bl. John Paul II says this in Theology of the Body. We should not define ourselves as gay or straight, but to say that it is the same as another trait such as being right-handed or having blue eyes is naïve. We are by our very nature sexual creatures. You don’t seem to acknowledge this or the fact that homosexuals who do accept the Magisterium of the Church are often discriminated against by so-called “orthodox” Catholics, unless they take positions that are utterly at odds with the Church’s call for compassion.

Back to my other point though, which you never answered. How can you support Rick Santorum, a man who thinks that supporting gay rights is equivalent to the 9/11 attacks and has compared homosexual relationships to wanting to marry your grandmother, a proposition that is demeaning. If he was any other candidate that opposed the ridiculous idea that two men could marry I would have no problem. The man has indicated, however, by his public statements on this matter that he is a bigot.

February 7, 2012 at 11:40 PM

Tom I would just suggest you do as I did, having had similar concerns about Santorum in the past. Dig into what he actually did say, and the context of it. You will find he did not make the statements you suggest, at least not in the ways you suggest he did. I find him to be surprisingly (and pleasantly so) compassionate and not the monster that Dan Savage and some other LGBT activists have made him out to be. I get your concerns, I truly do. I would just say to do some further research before assuming the worst about him. And if you choose not to support him that is fine obviously but at least do a bit more homework on it before slandering him needlessly.

As to this right or left hand thing, I do not know where you are coming from. I never suggested sexuality was a simple matter of such a thing. Of course it is a very in-depth part of our lives and of who we are as people. I never once hinted otherwise. And I have even written about the fact that the Church has a long ways to go in the compassion department. One thing that I find very hurtful is people who “admire” me and my story, and then subtly reject my offer of platonic friendship with them. And it has happened to me more than once. If you really have studied my words on this topic you would find I have written on this very thing, on this very blog in fact. And I agree with you that it is painful indeed. But I am not going to reject Church teaching on gay marriage or compromise my beliefs even if some within the Church do so by their unloving attitudes. That is on them, not me.

And believe me, I know it is easier said than done to follow our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church, and I am the first to acknowledge I do so far from perfectly. But you in fact seem very intent on rejecting me as well, as some radical person who does not understand Church teaching and I do not believe that to be the case. If so, please tell me what particular official Church teaching I am incorrect on so that I can correct it. I will gladly do so.

English: No Homophobia logo
Image via Wikipedia

I received no further comments from Mr. Veers, but since a few of his challenges or questions are also common ones from the Catholic actively LGBT community (and yes there is one), I thought it would pay to deal with them and hopefully benefit us all in the process.

First, if you noted the title of this post, I very deliberately pointed out the contrast between two words that many Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, tend to equate with each another—celibacy and chastity.  While the core concepts are certainly related, they are not identical. I bring this up because, from Mr. Veer’s responses, I found myself later wondering if he perhaps believed that a person with SSA could be “chaste but not celibate?”  I bring this up because it was a very real question I myself wrestled with awhile back, and I think it is a very valid question. If you notice in his initial comment, he calls himself a conservative, chaste, Catholic who is also homosexual.” He uses the word chastity but not mention celibacy, nor does he once do so in either of his interactions with me, even when I bring it up. He does however further state that “It is fine to stand with the Church. I proudly do it. She is my mother, even though it is hard sometimes. That being said, she calls on us to stand against homophobia.”  And later in that same paragraph, he suggests that I am “supporting extremist Catholic positions against homosexuality/gay marriage that ARE NOT in line with Church teaching.”

What I find telling here is not what he says, but what he does not say. I have had many contacts with Catholics or those who consider themselves such but who are also open to the idea of monogamous same-gender sexual relationships. All of them would consider themselves in line with Church teaching, as well as “chaste.”  For that reason I find myself wondering out loud if that is what Mr. Veers may be doing here. He also seems far more concerned with Santorum’s (and the Church’s) opposition to legalizing gay marriage than he is about her defining chastity. Again this is not an accusation but simply an observation, and a “teaching moment” if you will on the official Catholic definitions of those words.

First “chastity”—the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), which is by the way a binding Magisterial document which was thoroughly reviewed by the bishops of the entire world before ever being signed off as official by Blessed John Paul II, defines it this way:

2337 Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.

2348 All the baptized are called to chastity. The Christian has “put on Christ,”135 the model for all chastity. All Christ’s faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life. At the moment of his Baptism, the Christian is pledged to lead his affective life in chastity.

Dictionary (software)
Image via Wikipedia

A dictionary definition of this word is as follows:

chastity (ˈtʃæstɪtɪ)
n
1. the state of being chaste; purity
2. abstention from sexual intercourse; virginity or celibacy: a   vow of chastity
[C13: from Old French chasteté, from Latin castitās,   from castus chaste ]

Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
Cite This Source

It may be worth noting that one could actually read this definition and believe that “chastity” is not being violated in a same-sex relationship, particularly if one considers that relationship to be a “marriage,” and by choosing to use only definition # 1 from the dictionary as cited.  I know because I at one mercifully short period of time read it exactly that way, and as a result attempted to compromise my own overall understanding of Catholic teaching on the topic of SSA. Could a person or persons in a same-gender relationship be aiming for chastity?  It could possibly be so, if the above definition was the only thing the Church officially stated on the topic.  But herein lies the problem with reading things out of context, and further with “proof-texting” either the Catechism or the Bible. Just a few paragraphs later the CCC defines, just in case there is any question left, what “chastity” means to a person with homosexual inclinations:

 Chastity and homosexuality

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

Clearly from these three paragraphs, those of us from SSA backgrounds as well as those who are not are both called to celibacy unless sacramentally married within the Church. However celibacy alone is not the ultimate goal—chastity is.

And while Mr. Veers is absolutely correct that the Church is to stand against homophobia, she also tells us how to do so in CCC# 2358 above.  And supporting same-sex marriage legislation is not one of those ways—in fact we are expressly forbidden to do so in numerous Vatican and USCCB documents. Again for convenience I will list links to those immediately following this post. So here is where he “veers” off course in saying that what he considers to be “extremist Catholic positions against homosexuality/gay marriage” are somehow against Church teaching.  One and one still equals two, and either the Church is correct or incorrect on this official teaching. There is not a third option available.  And if she is wrong here, she may be wrong in many other places also. I contend that she is correct. We therefore either both believe and attempt to follow the very important teachings given by our beloved Church on gay marriage, or we do not.  And yet, as Mr. Veers rightly tells us, we also attempt to stand against homophobia as well.  It however is not an “either/or” but rather a “both /and” proposition.

A remark about the word “homophobia” is in order here. I have heard some Catholics and other Christians snidely say “I am not homophobic—I am not scared of gays and lesbians.”  Might I ask you to think that through a bit before you make such a statement? This term, while drastically overused at times, is not in its purest form something to be dismissed so easily. If you are busy being “disgusted” by LGBT people, angry at “them” for not conforming to your standards, and will not associate with “people like that” then you are, yes, homophobic. A phobia is a fear—and if you find the need to treat a group of people, whoever they are, in a different manner or to keep them at arm’s length, is that not a fear of sorts?  And in most cases it is groundless. We who are from that background are not any more likely to molest your children than the married gym teachers at their private Catholic or public schools. We also may not conform perfectly to your idea of masculine or feminine, even if we are no longer active in the lifestyle.  I for one have yet to learn to change the oil in my car, and I prefer a good jazz concert or symphony to a football game any day.  Those differences are superficial though. They do not make us who we are any more than does our sexual inclination towards the same or opposite genders.  So do not tell me you like my writings, but neglect to invite me to your home for a good meal.  And when I do, let your child sit on my lap for God’s sake—literally. They will be safe.   Maybe too you can teach me a little about football, and I in turn can take you to a play or concert or cook you a good meal.  Homophobia is subtle but it does exist, and it includes all of the above and much, much more. And the Church—our Church—tells us to let it go; along with a host of other sins we all tend to carry deep within us. For “unjust discrimination” (CCC# 2358) takes many forms and homophobia is surely one of them.

Lastly I found a fascinating link which supposedly lists the The 8 worst things Rick Santorum has said about gay people.” Since Mr. Veers seems to believe most or all of what is written here, I would like to take just a moment to once again use the word “context.” While I could poke holes in each and every one of these items, I will just choose one or two and share why I do not believe these statements were or are “homophobic.”

Here is a link to the full list:

http://www.breakingcopy.com/rick-santorum-gay

3. Discussing gay marriage: “This is an issue just like 9-11… We didn’t decide we wanted to fight the war on terrorism because we wanted to. It was brought to us. And if not now, when? When the supreme courts in all the other states have succumbed to the Massachusetts version of the law?”

– Speaking to the Allentown Morning Call, February 2004

Veers and others use this statement of the honorable Senator to “prove” he thinks LGBT folks are just as evil as the 9/11 attackers. But read the second sentence, and he was simply comparing the fight for gay “marriage” to 9/11 in one specific sense—neither battle was asked for, and both were foisted upon the nation.  And that, in both cases, now, not later (when it is the law of the entire land) is the time to fight.  He vilifies no LGBT person here.

Here is another one:

7. “Is anyone saying same-sex couples can’t love each other? I love my children. I love my friends, my brother. Heck, I even love my mother-in-law. Should we call these relationships marriage, too?”

– Writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, May 2008

I do not know about you, but I am in some very serious doubt that Rick Santorum has fantasies about his mother-in-law.  He was making the point that, once marriage for same-gender couples is legalized, other types of “love” relationships could indeed follow. And in fact he is correct. There are already moves to allow polygamy and “man-boy” love to be legalized.  What is next??? That is what he is saying here.  He is not condemning anyone in what apparently was meant as a humorous statement.

As stated I could go through the whole list, but I think the point is clear. We need chastity in all of our lives, whether celibate or not. And for those of us who are single, chastity starts and ends with celibacy. Oh, and in case you are not aware, “heterophobia” exists and is alive and well within the LGBT community.  And both are horribly wrong.

Headquarters of the other Catholics :-)
Headquarters of the other Catholics 🙂 (Photo credit: indy_catholic)

http://catholicboyrichard2.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/getting-it-straight-on-same-gender-attraction-and-rick-santorum/