Category: Catholic Sexuality

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture
watch-your-step

Watch Your Step

I ran along the river in old town Kaunas, Lithuania. As I considered the convergence of streams most dear to me, my heart overflowed and I ran with abandon. Surging in me were ‘currents’ of St. John Paul ll and St. Faustina, a European team of wounded healers who heal me, an American team par excellence, and a host of new friends from Poland who gathered to initiate Living Waters there.

Heaven on earth until my foot caught a crack in the path and I dove like a senseless animal into the then not-so-charming cobblestones. ‘Watch your step,’ intoned a still small voice.

I picked myself up, bleeding just a little, and took heed. We faced giants at our first Living Waters Training in Eastern Europe. Poland takes seriously its Catholicism—the authority of the Church, and that means defending the role of ordained priests in absolving sins. Living Waters takes seriously the role of the community in bearing one another’s sins so we can be healed. The priests and parishioners who gathered with us had serious questions about our approach; many also had serious divides in their souls that could only be healed by a band of fellow sinners who fought in merciful humility for their chastity.

I battled confusion and suspicion then rose to testify of both the priestly pillars of forgiveness (on which I depend) and the continuous links of being known daily with my fellow ‘lay priests’ on whom I rely to overcome sin. Jesus forged a way for all concerned to say ‘yes’ to Living Waters for the Polish church; most importantly, sinners were set free by the experience of both priestly absolution and the healing power of the ‘one another.’

I bounded out of our retreat center and somehow avoided stabbing my foot on a rusty spike protruding on the path. ‘I know, I know,’ I whispered heavenward: ‘Watch my step.’

The next fight was harder. In preparatory prayer, we discerned that we had to emphasize one plank of Living Waters—breaking the spirit of despair–in these lands trampled by the bloody boots of Russia and Germany then choked by Soviet rule. Our friends had grown up in the shadow of violent inhumanity. Christ Crucified is easy for Eastern Europeans; they must fight to live expectantly in the light of Love, risen and bursting with life.

The Word came in power and delivered many from the spirit of death. Then despair rolled over the team like a fog. We struggled under a stifling heaviness for a few hours. Then we gathered and confessed our affliction to one another; Jesus broke through with hope and joy. Relieved, I ran back to my room and fell promptly into a pothole. I received only a gentle ‘dusting’, no harm whatsoever, as if an unseen being padded my accident. I laughed, brushed myself off, and pledged once more to watch my step.

‘He will command His angels to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.’
(PS 91: 11-13)

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porn poison

Porn Poison

Sin makes you sick. Porn makes you sicker.

The other night, far from home, I had to alter a plane ticket in the wee hours. A couple days earlier, I had disassembled the porn filter on my computer (which I absolutely need to stay off the rot) in order to use the Internet in a foreign land. A thought inflamed my feverish little brain as I rescheduled my flight: ‘You are a free man on the Internet–explore what you will…’

All such roads go down and down. After a few minutes of surfing the slime, I was so sickened by the empty, agitated look of lust on every player that I heaved my computer onto the other side of the room and sought without success to sleep. I felt seasick, like I was rolling on board an undulating tanker. Snippets of sex opened the eyes of my heart to see a host of folks in this nightmarish home porn flick. I had not poisoned myself in a long time. The distance made me sicker.

I gave up sleep and sat upright to stop the spinning, the moral nausea. I stood alone with dirty hands and heart and recited the Mass confession—‘through my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault.’ Only mercy: Jesus waits, ever near, listening for mercy’s cry.

Of course He has members. I waited as long as I could to call my accountability folks and that helped. I told Annette and vowed to put back on the filter (I’ll take Covenant Eyes over Demon-Eyes any day). Done. In the light yes but still bearing the poison, I raced on foot to a nearly parish for Mass. The hot sun seemed to bore a hole through my compromised skin. First reading—Ezekiel 36: 25—‘I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all you impurities and all your idols.’ I did not know the priest but waited for him anyway, hoping he might hear my confession. He did and as he pronounced forgiveness he asked that God restore my eyes to behold once more the beauty of humanity.

The beauty of humanity. Wow. That’s what porn poisons—true sight of man for woman , woman for man. My vision of humanity was desecrated early on by porn, so young that I must choose daily now to see real beauty. And to praise God for it. Mercy alone liberates both. Thank you Jesus.

You need not fight alone. God has members, and some of His best are hosting an in-depth workshop for men seeking to overcome porn and other sexual behavior problems. It’s a 3-day intensive in Kansas from September 15-17th. Register at WWW.MYHOUSEKANSAS.ORG or call 8167866063.

Stop poisoning yourself; reclaim beauty.

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For The Bride

For the Bride

This fall, we advance in three exciting ways for the Body of Christ. Desert Stream Ministries is about helping make the Church a transformational place for sinners, and ultimately, a chaste, merciful Bride for her Bridegroom.

Toward that end, we want to know about:

Our third Living Waters group at St. Thomas More parish in Kansas City
This is the first Catholic parish in America to take up the healing of sexually and relationally broken people. We have faced much resistance, and without help from the Kansas City/St. Joseph Diocese would not be gathering again this fall. God uses all refinement to make our offering more glorious.
We start Tuesday night September 27th.
To apply, contact Becky Turner at morelivingwaters@gmail.com.

Open to Life: Pastoral Equipping for Care of Persons with Same-Sex Attraction
This is a concise, practical, and hopeful 2-and- a-half hours for all Christian leaders who want to be faithful to Jesus in their care of persons facing homosexual issues.
Please calendar Wednesday morning on October 19th, from 930am to noon at St. Thomas More parish in Kansas City.
To register, contact Dean Greer at dgreer@desertstream.org.

Radiant: 40-Days of Prayer and Fasting for the Church, Oct. 12th-Nov. 20th
Desert Stream sponsors a fast at the end of the Catholic Church year every fall. This year, we shall be lifting up each Christian’s commitment to make the Body of Christ a merciful, truthful community for all persons, and ultimately, a Bride worthy of her Bridegroom. We will have a complete guide for this fast available by the end of September.

This fast can involve any kind of sacrifice you desire to make and requires 30 minutes every day for to pray for our pastors and the expansion of our limited love for the Church. We want to share Jesus’ heart for His beautiful, broken Bride.
For more info and a prayer guide, contact aarmstrong@desertstream.org.

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ignite the torch joy of love

Ignite the Torch

‘The Church must accompany with attention and care the weakest of her children by restoring their hope like a torch carried among the people to enlighten those who have lost their way in the midst of a storm.’ Joy of Love, Pope Francis

While Pope Francis magnificently honors marriage in his recent exhortation, he falters in fueling the torch necessary to enlighten persons lost in the storm surrounding homosexuality. Yes, he exposes the lie of constructing one’s own gender ‘self’. But he falls fall short of illuminating Christ Crucified and Raised as the fire that can consume the disordered heart and win it over to holy love.

Pope Francis does not connect the dots. On the one hand he alludes to misbegotten cultural shifts like ‘gay marriage’ and the folly of being tossed about by self-serving, shortsighted desires. He highlights the Gospel passages in which sexual sinners are admonished by Jesus ‘to live more worthy lives’ as His love awakens ‘consciousness of sin.’ Yet his pastoral directives for enlightening persons lost in the gender storm are bland and dim; Francis invokes accompaniment and the law of gradualism and other references to walking with persons in pain. All good—but none adequate to awaken the soul in darkness to the saving light of Jesus.

I longed to hear Francis refer to repentance and sexual sin in the same sentence. He hesitates here. Inspired by the Spirit and commensurate with the damage done, the urgent call for repentance seems in line with Francis’ consistent regard for ‘the immense psychological burden’ that unfaithful adults impose upon children. We serve justice to kids by returning to the Father and casting off destructive identities and relationships. By aspiring to be faithful ‘gender’ witnesses, we the repentant do our part to meet the identity needs of children.

For this, we the Church need to declare the clear and compassionate call for all to turn to Jesus amid confused identities. Repentance is the base on which our eyes are opened and we can begin to make wise choices. Yes we slowly progress in our moral formation, and yes such formation is founded on the Word who exposes our chains and offers Himself as the key.

I now live in a Catholic world where the slight majority uphold gay unions, are intolerant (often cruel) to persons who lovingly refuse to bless ‘gay unions’, and whose clergy men tend to invoke a repentance-free mercy for persons with SSA. Where is the Church who blazes like a torch in order to enlighten her members? Where are the merciful lights to guide lost loved ones home? May God fan into flame a host of blazing lights to light the way in the storm that Francis describes but inadequately guides us through in this turbulent hour.

‘For Zion’s sake, I will not be silent; for Jerusalem’s sake, I will not remain quiet, until her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.’ (IS 62:1)

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Prodigal Pope

Prodigal Pope Embraces the Family (and this family man)

Francis’ long awaited report on marriage and family is good news, a hearty hug of a document that encompasses the best of what marital love can be.

I consumed the 256 page exhortation—Love in the Family—as a hungry man. Pressures on my own marriage and family life had been mounting in the days leading up its release; I needed release from my clouded capacity to be a ‘good-enough’ gift for wife and kids. Like a father embracing his confused son who knew only to turn in the general direction of home, Pope Francis met me; his intention to reclaim and renew the value of marriage nourished me like an empanada thick with meat and vegetables. ‘He set me at His banqueting table, and His banner over me is love’ (S of S 2:4) conveys well the impact of Pope Francis’ fatherly, at times folksy exhortation to this prodigal.

With characteristic tenderness, Francis champions marriage and family as the basic cell endowed with power to transform the world; at the same time, he realizes the anxieties and tensions faced by the modern family. He cites the impact of today’s extreme individualism, consumerism, social networking, and just plain narcissism that renders people immature and unable to see the ‘other’ beyond one’s own effort to find a ‘self’.

Drawing significantly on the ‘imago dei’ (humanity made in God’s image as male and female, Gen. 1: 26, 27) as parsed by his predecessors St. John Paul ll and Pope Emeritus Benedict, Francis summons our capacity as gendered, passionate people to be good gifts to another over the course of a lifespan, a commitment he claims can grow more beautiful over the course of a hard knock life. He melds expertly the ideological with the practical. An extended meditation on the ‘love’ chapter (1Cor. 13) goes hand-in-hand with tough words on why marriage must be ‘open to life’ then tempers the call to fruitfulness with wisdom about family planning, marital communication, and humane parenting. Uncle Francis indeed.

Most interesting to me are his limited references to homosexuality in the document. As you know, I had the privilege addressing some ‘Family Synod’ delegates in Rome last September as to convey an orthodox, merciful approach to persons with SSA. Those synod members wrote reports for Francis from which he created ‘Love in the Family.’

Francis deflates any hope that he has joined the rainbow bandwagon. Twice he states emphatically that ‘there is no ground for considering homosexual unions even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.’ And he extols every child’s need for both a mother and father in order to mature into wholeness. He decries modern gender theory on the grounds that ‘it promotes a personal identity and emotional intimacy that is radically separate from the biological difference between male and female.’

Pope Francis upholds the most vulnerable—children–who before God deserve the most strenuous efforts of both a mother and a father to succeed at marriage.

At the same time, Francis cites the very real difference between biological gender and how we develop a gender identity. He is nuanced and graceful with this distinction, which leaves room for women to lead and for men to dance. Yes we need to make peace with the gender of our birth in submission to our Creator, says Francis, and yes, we must respect diverse expressions of male and female identity. Alleluia. What a pope.

In regards to persons with SSA, Pope Francis directs us back to the wellspring of life, the nuclear family. He instructs family members to love us well so that ‘we might understand and carry out God’s will for our lives.’

I would have appreciated a little more input on pastoral care of persons with SSA (grounds for next blog, perhaps.) Perhaps that is beside the point, or at least a secondary one. Love in the Family reminds me that I am more than a person seeking freedom from disordered desire. I am a husband and a father who possesses the freedom to love well and so leave a legacy of truth and mercy for persons I love most. Thank you, Pope Francis.

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