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.

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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?

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.

PROMOTING “JUSTICE”–the tricky balance between COMPROMISE and COLLABORATION in the Marriage issue…

Rita and John's Marriage Certificate
Rita and John’s Marriage Certificate (Photo credit: mary hodder)

I want to be clear as fine crystal on something to all who read this page or my blog–I am not “promoting” same-sex “marriage. I have been, in my life, all over the map on this issue, both before and after returning to Catholicism, and only lately have I realized what has bothered me about both views. I think what I am “for” is protection against injustice. Period.

As to the marriage issue, I would personally have been far more comfortable with some type of “reciprocal benefits” afforded to same-gender couples without bringing marriage into the equation at all. Or, as some have suggested, simply making all marriages “civil” only, and then allowing the individuals involved to decide on whether or not to have them blessed by someone of their religious affiliation or not.

But, as one of my Facebook friends said to me the other day, what would have been required for that to occur was an unprecedented collaboration from what are obviously polar opposite viewpoints, and like it or not, I think in reality we were at a juncture this week where that was not going to happen, at least not here in sunny Minnesota.

So then one must begin to look at the next best option, prays, and hopes for the best solutions for all concerned. And I for one believe we have been fighting this battle so hard and long that I fear the repercussions from the alienation, whether intentional or not, that is currently felt by the SSA/LGBT communities from most organized religion, and in particular my own Catholic Faith. And that too is an occasion for sin, and can become a stumbling block towards the faith and even salvation of others very fast.

So I would just say I am cautiously optimistic here. MN has very possibly set some examples on how the work can be respectfully done, just for one example by inserting the word “civil” in front of the word marriage on the bill, a last-minute suggestion incidentally by a Republican State House member. I think that points towards the idea I pointed out at the beginning regarding separating the religious from the legal aspects of adult commitments to other people, whether traditional marriage or other. Perhaps others dealing with this issue will consider this same idea as well in the future.

I know that some are deeply concerned, and I am as well, that the more “traditional” religious side may not be protected enough in the bill as it currently stands, and I echo that concern. But that is now what we need to work on. The marriage issue, at least for MN, is all but settled. How we live with it becomes the next mammoth question.

Another FB friend suggested to me that he had no problem accepting LGBT persons (and I believe him), but he was not going to call such unions “marriage” since they are not. I truly understand his point, but would only say that semantics are not the main issue here. From pretty much every LGBT person I have spoken with, I think that the word “marriage” has become very important to them primarily due to the fact that civil unions (at least as they have been passed thus far in other states), have not in fact given the same rights and protections as those in traditional wedded relationships.

Now one can argue that point until the cows come home and go back to the barn, but like it or not that is the thinking which exists, and passing a “civil union” which is for “those other folks” while reserving the rights of a “real” marriage only for heterosexuals does create a certain status of “separate but not quite equal,” and in a year or two both opposing groups would be at this same battle all over again–and again. So I am not, personally speaking, sure that is the answer either.

That same person suggested that pretty much everyone already “accepts” LGBT people–not true, sadly. I wish it were. I am old enough to remember a time when, in the small rural area of “Minnesota nice” where I grew up, a 17-year-old young high schooler was supposedly drunk, fell in front of an oncoming car, and was driven over by (I believe) two cars before being finally pulled off the road, dead and bloodily so.  What really may have occurred was far more sinister if true. It had been rumored that this young man was “one of those types,” and was apparently beaten in a corn field and then thrown on the road for it.

The saddest part is, we will never know for sure which happened. Most involved, both on the law enforcement side and the possible perpetrators, have since passed on and it is difficult if not impossible to get concrete evidence in such a case 55 years later.  But I am 57 and it was in my lifetime. Yet no one–and I mean no one–ever spoke of it all the years I was growing up.  I learned of it less than a decade ago. And I for one do not want the world to go back to that kind of “silence is not-so-golden” world either. It was horrible injustices such as that which caused the LGBT rights movement to begin initially, as I shared in the last post, and that too is every bit as non-negotiable in Catholic teaching as the very complex marriage issue.  The Catechism states that “every hint of” unjust discrimination towards those with SSA issues is to be avoided.

That is a strong statement. It means not to even allow anything resembling discrimination to exist if at all possible. I have heard some take that same phrase and say “see it says we can discriminate as long as it is not unjust.” A fair reading will quickly show that was not ever the point. The point was and is to stay as far from, not see how close one can get to, discrimination against those with homosexual tendencies and behavior, whether one agrees with it or not.

So to me it is about rights and justice. And they must exist for both those of us who favor and support traditional marriage, which we as Catholic Christians view as a holy sacrament ordained by God, and those who see it purely from a secular viewpoint. Both need to be protected. I just pray that we can, now that it is here, learn to very honestly “collaborate.” If we do not, we all lose. Soon.