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Grounded 3

A Lent unlike any other: rather than beef up devotion, I find myself reducing spiritual intake. Much of the time I find myself gaping at a Franciscan cross in my living room. Reduction. That’s how I cope in quarantine.

This invasive virus is made worse by wars of words—partisan bickering, lay people pontificating on the latest covid-19 sound bite, weird prophesies that otherwise discerning people blast through the virtual universe. Fools rush into our fortresses. Reduced. To Jesus. Amid many words, I want the Word.

Only One opened my blind eyes and gave me life. Gives me life. Besides staring cross-eyed, I’m reading over and over the last two Sunday Gospels. These are miracle stories, our miracles, which we can personalize as an antidote to our paralysis.

The Word of light opened this blindman’s eyes (John 9). Jesus didn’t quibble about what made me blind (‘born-that-way’, etc.) He just chose to heal me as to glorify Himself (vs.1-5). And He walked with me every step of the way as I grew to discover Him: first the prophet, then the healer, then at last, the Son of Man. The blind see, wisemen go dark, and ‘blessed is the one who takes no offense in Me,’ says the humble King (Lk. 7:23).

The Word of life summons me daily. Lazarus (John 11) stank of death, and grieving loved ones lost sight of the real Jesus as the stench rose. ‘He wouldn’t have died had you been there, Jesus!’ said his intimates; ‘Let us die with Lazarus!’ Hard to say what disturbed Jesus more: the death of his friend or how grief distorted their spiritual sight. As Jesus’ friends, perhaps we too trouble Him with bent vision. And I wonder if my reduction will result in greater faith or the ‘worldly sorrow that brings forth death’ (2 Cor. 7:10). I heed Him, as He commands Lazarus’ tombstone to be rolled away then insists of the dead man: ‘Come forth!’ (vs. 38, 43)

The Word speaks a better Word to us: ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life; the one who believes in Me will live’ (Jn 11:25). Endowed with power to accomplish what He wills, the Word goes forth (Is. 55:11) and will raise His grounded ones.

‘I am under vows to You, O God. I will present my thank offerings to You. For You have delivered me from death, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.’ (Ps. 56: 12, 13)

Please take time to watch our video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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Forging Young Fathers: Shoring Up Foundations

Marco Casanova and Andrew Comiskey

Best way to prevent moral collapse of pastors? Train them to grow in robust chastity.

It must be evident early on that a young man seeking the priesthood/pastorate engages with God and others consistently about his sexuality. That means that the candidate is integrating his masculine powers of life and love with his Christian commitment. Open and aware, he is allowing his passions to be ordered by the Passion of the One. You could say he lives in the convergence of two streams: the life-flow of Jesus’ blood and water and his own more troublesome waterway of desire. The latter is subject to disorder, which snags or steams up the waters.

I, Marco Casanova, encountered Living Waters as a candidate of the Catholic priesthood. Now as Assistant Director of Desert Stream Ministries, I plainly see the significance of shoring up the foundations of our future “fathers.” Such work is essential to the health of the Body, the Church.

Coming into the light as a seminarian is no easy task. Yet the implications liberated me. The Spirit of God set me in a flow that was inspired and new. I’ve been pondering Ezekiel 47. The stream from the Temple “entered the stagnant waters…making them fresh” (Ezek 47:8). Jesus’ flow of blood and water stirred the stagnant call of Eden in my life, from which I had assumed exception. I felt immobilized because of same-sex attraction. I was missing something profoundly human. Heck, even the Son of God “worked with human hands…thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart.” I wanted to love in a human way, that was ordered and in the flow of the Father’s plan. Such a plan is written in me. It’s written in all of us, according to Eden. I was just late to the garden! That’s okay; the Savior came for such as these.

I have much respect for the good Rector of Kenrick-Glennon seminary, Fr. James Mason, and his human formation team member—Psychologist Dr. Susan Harvath. Their life-force of forming men rests on a simple thesis: “Reveal yourself!” For them most of the necessary prep is realizing a kind of “affective maturity”: making sure these young men are alive to their development as men and show evidence of normal desire and good moral action by which they guide those “waters” well. They deliberately challenge any way young men seek to bypass the hard task of masculine integration by claiming a “spiritual” call when in truth they are just dodging the hard work of growing up. Awesome! Human formation needs to take priority over mystical or intellectual development.

Obviously, Protestant pastors differ, in that they can marry, while Catholic priests must demonstrate a healthy longing for marriage so that their renunciation of it for the Kingdom’s sake is actual, not a bypass. In either case, overseers must make decisions about a pastor’s readiness to be ordained based upon the evidence of growth in robust chastity—the maturity to love a woman honorably and, if necessary, to deny themselves that love for the sake of the Gospel.

Living in the light, “revealing myself,” has been the recipe to my freedom. I wanted to become a priest for most of my life. It was an aspiration I held deeply. It was a pursuit in which I undoubtedly found Jesus. When I felt a strong aversion to even question my becoming a priest, I knew something needed stirring. If I wasn’t free to let go of becoming a priest, I wasn’t free to say yes to it. Leaving the seminary is not the worst thing in the world. Forsaking human love based on a disordered exemption is indeed worse, not only for the Church, but for the man. It robs something profoundly human from him, something essential to any father, biological or spiritual. The call to celibate priesthood is a high call. Therefore, it demands a deep stirring in any future priest. Stir now. Don’t waste a day.

[1] Gaudium et Spes, no. 22.
[2] Susanne Harvath, Paul Hoesing, Ed Hogan, and Jim Mason, Seminary Formation and Transitory Same-Sex Attraction: A Proposal (St. Louis: Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, 2019).

Please take time to watch our video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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Grounded 2

‘Hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has…?’

Hard to identify each little loss—they blur into a haze. Maybe familiar Lenten sacrifices like rich food and wine, or the absence of family and friends with whom to share the leanest of fare? (You can’t ‘zoom’ a meal).

Or is it the now familiar infusion of fear in those around you which challenges your peace? You know, that vow to stay calm, to not let ‘it’ get you. Unless you have no nerve-endings, ‘it’ (covid-19) bangs on your door each time you witness people better than you losing breath. Agitation in the outer courts, clamoring for your core…

Jesus in the Eucharist centers me like nothing else. Partaking of the Body and Blood daily has become for this Catholic convert the centerpiece of my worship. Yep, that is what I miss most in the lockdown—no Holy Meal.

Don’t get me wrong: I love singing simple songs of love to Jesus, hearing Scriptural exhortations to armor oneself in faith, and receiving inspired prophetic prayers. But nothing will do like Christ-in-me, the reception of Jesus in the inner courts, fortifying this warrior in the most profound way.

It took time to get there. I was raised Episcopalian where a slightly diluted Catholic take on communion prevailed; I valued the meal but did not know its Subject. Later charismatic versions were super casual, tough to interpret in their myriad forms. Leanne Payne tutored me in an Orthodox version which opened my heart to more. Then a two-year prep at a local parish before becoming confirmed.

I could hardly wait, for I embraced the Catholic view, as you may well know, that insists on priestly prayers (in the line of Peter) to transform the elements into a re-presentation of Jesus—His real body and blood–every Mass.

Quite a claim. I aspired to this edible Jesus and lived with increasing hunger until that Easter Vigil 9-years-ago. Jesus ‘satisfied my desires with good things’ and I’ve not looked back but knelt forward in daily Mass ever since. Until now.

A virus got in the way. Church doors are locked, no opening in view. I hunger for Him. I can remember Him and many healing meals, can meditate on the Word, and prayerfully agree with Annette about His goodness over our family, but I cannot consume Him. Big loss. I ache for Him, not unlike the wait ten-years-ago.

Only now I’ve ‘tasted and seen His goodness’, passed into Him, consumed and been composed by Him. I hunger and thirst for the One.

If there is a purpose in this ‘ache’, Pope Benedict said it first and best: ‘Do we not often take the reception of the Blessed Sacrament too lightly? Might not this kind of spiritual fasting be of service, or even necessary, to deepen and renew our relationship to the Body of Christ?’

I guess he means that it’s ok to hunger a little, to not take for granted what one now expects. Perhaps many of us do not savor enough the Gift of the Holy Meal.

So I wait again. Help me, help us, O God, to hunger patiently.

‘…If we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.’ (Rom. 8: 24b, 25)

Please take time to watch our video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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Overcoming False Intimacy

I became a man through confronting my pastor for partaking of his sheep, e.g. emotionally and sexually manipulating a host of single women. My efforts were unwelcomed: the pastor duped his overseer, blamed us for being overly rigorous, and turned our colleagues on the pastoral staff against us. For the first time in our lives together, Annette and I (and Desert Stream Ministries) were homeless.

I loved this man but he refused to see the power of his position, the misuse of his body and other bodies, and its impact on the congregation. His moral blindness diminished the power of the Gospel. The community shrank for a couple years until more women came forward and the overseer served justice by replacing him.

Shepherds with sexual integrity serve justice; they give the sheep their due. No confusing messages, no lingering hugs and longing glances—an intact pastor lets his sheep be sheep and makes no sexual or inordinate emotional demands upon them. Such clear seeing and solid limits result from good moral formation before ordination. The pastor-in-training makes peace with his sexuality, is aware of its power, and learns—in the power of the Spirit–to restrain and direct desire for the good of others. For the sake of the Gospel.

But. Sometimes the runner stumbles. Good men begin the race with noble intentions. Yet under the weight of multiple pressures, dormant weaknesses may resurface and become wicked. I have known many men whose unmet need for connection finds a human outlet, which overwhelms their good judgment and goads them to break sacred bonds all the way around. Lord, have mercy. We can and must pray that such compromised shepherds come to their senses. Unlike the pastor I referenced, many do not defend their divided lives. The eyes of their heart open to the damage done and they cry out for mercy.

We recently had the privilege of standing with a pastor who, admittedly weak in areas, has fought hard and out loud for his integrity. In a dark season, he fell back into some old patterns. We as a community served justice with mercy. He was broken and vulnerable before us. Each person honestly expressed pain over his compromise. We had felt his distancing and denials; we conveyed some mistrust and asked what he would do to prevent this from happening again.

Return to his first love. This pastor was successful, much sought out; the roar of ministry had deafened his ear toward Jesus’ still small voice. He committed to reordering his life around adoration of the One. ‘…the answer to the problems that beset so many priests, causing them to fall into patterns of sin, is the friendship I offer them.’ ()

Reveal himself constantly to a small band of brothers. We urged him to redraw his commitment to two or three trusted colleagues with whom he vowed to be utterly, prayerfully honest. None of us surrounding him were pastors, and thus, we could not wholly grasp his burdens. But his pastor brothers could, and we insisted that he forge a community that would be mutually refining. He also promised to let his overseer know his struggle and how he was handling it; at the same time, he knew that daily ‘truth-telling’ would have to be homegrown, not hierarchical.

Reclaim robust chastity. He became a pastor based on his commitment to growing in chastity, a virile integration of his sexuality that would free him to confirm others with clarity and conviction. We confirmed that earthy call and called him to agree once more with Jesus’ ‘yes’ to power from on high to live a united, pure life—body, soul, and spirit. ‘We need that wholeness from you,’ we said. Mercy liberates justice, then justice is served by shepherds whose ordered desires ‘lead us besides still waters’ where we can ‘lay down in green pastures.’

Please take time to watch our video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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Grounded 1

My dreams reveal one frustrated guy. I wake up half-smiling at the heart’s antics: I can’t get out of the room or parking lot, no exit, strange humiliations where others have the upper hand and I am out-of-control. This lockdown may just make me loony. In that way, I am a thoroughly fallen American—you know, manifest destiny, don’t fence-me-in, smaller-the-government-the-better kind of stuff.

I am glad for Jesus’ mercy on my stalled but seething heart. And for His Church. On what may be the last homily I’ll hear in person for a while, Father Justin (what a guy) preached on the Samaritan woman. He centered on the fact that Jesus ‘had to go through Samaria’ (Jn. 4:4) in route to Jerusalem. Better put, He chose to go out of His way into this compromised and slightly hostile land in order to extend mercy to a compromised, slightly hostile woman.

Justin’s point? Jesus will go to any length to find you. He will tear up the map, overlook your rebellious thoughts and actions, and pierce every veil in you that repels ‘living water.’ He’ll wear Himself out just to look into your eyes and love you. Lockdowns give you a lot of time to just be loved.

Annoying. I want to act! I don’t want to be the object of desire, I want to be the subject, doing what I want! Well, well. Times have changed.

I was musing on how my roving heart is particularly unsuited for now when I ran into a woman (bad word choice; I kept a polite distance) for whom I had prayed but never met face-to-face. Abbey and I had seen her at different coffee joints; she was evidently trying to erase her womanhood and had adopted a male name.

We both caught her name and brought it into staff intercession. For about 6 months we regularly lifted her up and then, voila, she appeared. Grateful to shake off my self-concern for a moment, I gently told her that Jesus had placed her on my and another colleague’s heart, and that we felt a bit like we knew her as we gathered to pray and caught something of the Father’s love for His very special daughter. Simple. ‘God loves you that much,’ I said and went on my way.

My lockdown may well be an occasion to pray for Samaritans and to enter more deeply into His merciful heart for them. For all of us.

Please take time to watch our video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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