Category: Catholic Sexuality

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture
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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Power of Crushed Seed

Power of the Crushed Seed

‘Unless a grain of wheat dies it remains alone. If it dies, it produces much fruit.’

I met Benjie Cruz in Bangkok Thailand, 2000, at our first conference there. He was Filipino, unstable in all his ways, and desired Jesus more than any of his false attachments, including homosexual addiction. My colleague Kin, under power of the Spirit, prophesied that Benjie would lead Filipinos like himself to the cross. I thought Kin was under the power of another spirit.

Next year, we did our first conference in the Philippines where Benjie served our team. First point of team business was confessing our sin. Though there only to transport us, Benjie exposed a spectacular array of sin with trembling and tears. Like most Asians, he suffered much shame for showing his dirty feet to the ‘big’ international leaders. But unlike most Asians, Benjie did it anyway for the joy set before Him. He wanted Jesus’ honor more than the praise of men. He was willing to be crushed for His Kingdom. I began to realize that Kin (and Jesus) were right.

The Philippines is unlike any other nation in Asia: it is the only one where Catholicism took root 400 years ago and where evangelicalism (in its diverse forms) took root under American occupation in the 20th century. In short, Filipinos tend to be open to Christian spirituality. What they are not open to is revealing criminally high rates of childhood sexual abuse that undergirds a host of adult sexual immoralities.

Benjie broke the shame barrier, over and over again, before counselors, pastors, and lay support groups. He did a yearlong internship with us at DSM. He began to integrate as a man. I came to Manila in 2005 to marry him and his beautiful bride Hasel; we have partnered ever since in Living Waters ministry through which he (and team) have built a national network of canals flowing from the cross.

Last week I led a retreat for his leaders where I discovered that after 15 years of ministry, Benjie and crew are partnering with the biggest Catholic community in the Philippines, the largest evangelical church in Manila with branches throughout the world, and with the most influential Protestant graduate school in the country. He is impacting his nation with Jesus’ power to make chaste the broken and unclean. First one must die. Benjie did, and now he is no longer alone. He is fruitful, ‘a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.’

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River Near

Chastity and Mercy 4: River Near

‘She who has been forgiven of much will love much’ (LK 7:47).

Turning from our unchaste ways becomes beautiful when we turn toward Jesus. It’s not only family and friends we violated with our jagged divides; we pierced Him too. He retaliates by releasing a fountain of affection for us (Zech. 12:10-13:2) that cleanses and feeds us like the best mother and confirms us like the best father. St. Augustine said that the Church herself was born from Christ’s wounds– the blood and water released at Calvary (JN 19: 34). I would add that her chastity was born there too as we the divided bathe and become whole in the river of His life, poured out for our freedom.

No-one better reveals the magnetic pull of Jesus’ mercy than the sinful woman in LK 7: 36-50. Somehow she knew that He alone could set her free from the shameful divisions in her life (probably related to sexual immorality). Socially, the religious elite withered her with just one glance to remind her that she was unfit for holy love. That did not stop her. When she saw Jesus dining with a Pharisee, she seized the moment, enduring the shame for the Mercy sitting before her. She threw herself at His feet and offered her all to Him with great sobs of repentance. I like to think of her positioning herself before His flood of blood and water until it engulfed her and surpassed her tears.

All the while the Pharisee looked askance at the messy encounter. The woman had to contend with his scorn and judgment, a divide that had separated her for too long from the Source of her wholeness. No more! Mercy had permeated her in the person of Jesus and she drew near to Him, never to let go of Him as the link to the life she wanted to live. Her faith saved her; she proceeded in peace (v.50).

She demonstrates to all of us who struggle with moral divides and shame that our cure lies in positioning ourselves before Jesus. Our chastity depends on Him. And it depends on the moral effort we make to abide in familiar, intimate communion with Him. The Catechism is clear that our chastity is ‘a long and exacting work’ that can never ‘be acquired once and for all’ (#2342). Yet it is also ‘a gift from God, a grace’ granted to us by the Holy Spirit to become like Jesus (#2345).

The beautiful thing is that we become like Him through Him; we position ourselves before His merciful flood. That should include stirring up the waters of our baptism in multiple confessions, and many trips to the communion table where we unite our ache with the feast of His body and blood. It may involve extended silence before Him, meditating on Scripture, singing simple love songs to Him and listening to Him sing over us. He has given us a host of ways to live in the river. He is near. It is up to us to get in the water.

That means all of us, regardless of our sexual sin. Though no person’s disintegration is exactly alike, the source of our wholeness is: Jesus Christ. It is inspired that we do not know the ‘sin’ of the sinful woman–was it lust, masturbation, pornography, fornication, or lesbian activity? Was she a prostitute, perhaps the victim of rape? All of these are included in the Catechism as offenses against chastity (#2351-2359). We who have fractured and been fractured find freedom at His feet. Like her, may our weeping be assumed in the river of Mercy.

‘Jesus, we love You. We thank You, Lord of the Universe, that You draw near to us in our divided state. Help us to see Your mercy more closely than we see the Pharisee. Thank You that You are our one thing, our everything, the consummate friend. Thank You that You are the gift and the goal of our wholeness. Holy Spirit, remind us of the many ways we can live in the river. May we act on those promptings with surety of will and so contribute to the freedom of many. Grant us patience for the lifetime plan of becoming chaste.’

 

We are looking to hire an Assistant Director for Desert Stream Ministries. Here is the job description if you’d like to know more.

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Mother Yes | Andrew Comiskey

Mother’s ‘Yes’

For the last five years, I’ve wondered why the Church begins each year on January 1st by honoring Mary as Christ-bearer, the one who surrendered all to bring forth the Savior of us all. It’s beginning to make sense: our salvation hinges upon that ‘yes’, just as the life of every person depends on a mother’s consent.

That ‘yes’ took on new meaning for me as I started this year celebrating my amazing mother’s 90th birthday in Long Beach CA. Mom has lived to give to her four children and countless others; her only ‘gift’ request was to be surrounded by her four kids in the family home (same one we all grew up in–who can say that?!). Over two days, we prayed and reminisced together, taking our cues from the extraordinary Phyllis Comiskey who leaves Betty White in the dust.

Mom’s determination to choose life started early, with her birth mother (I’ll call her Sue). Social workers removed Sue as a child from an unsafe home; as a young teen, she found work as a maid in a wealthy home where the son of the house impregnated her. Shamed and cast out, she gave birth to Phyllis in a poor boarding house where she lived alone.

According to an intrepid social worker who researched Phyllis’ origins, 16-year-old Sue was a devout Catholic whose only prayer was for her child to be raised in the Church. Too young and poor to raise Phyllis, Sue placed her in an orphanage. After one long year, a Protestant family adopted Mom, not quite up to her mother’s specifications, but permitted because of their devout faith.

Mom combined faith with a spirit of adventure and industry. She wanted more for her life than the regional confines of the upper Midwest; she worked hard and scored a scholarship at the top woman’s college in St. Paul. She then rejected the offer of a local marriage in order to move to post-war Los Angeles.

There she met my Dad who did not share her faith but the same intellectual curiosity and high regard for the dignity of all people. Discontent with my Dad’s choice of a Unitarian church where his fellow educators socialized, my Mom moved us kids to a traditional Episcopalian Church. She wanted us to know the gift of God in Christ, a witness made easier by her own extraordinary self-giving.

All of us kids remarked on the myriad ways she simply gave to us: verbally, materially, constantly and equally. She secured us in love.

Still, all of her love could not spare us kids from getting caught up in the sexy, druggy idolatry of a CA beach town in the sixties. Dead in sin, all her children needed to get saved. My brothers preceded me in living faith and my mom, seeing the ravages of ‘gay’ life on her son, urged me to reach for more as my brothers had, to say ‘yes’ the One who could guide me onto solid ground.

I followed her lead; her ‘yes’ to God, daily and often under duress, paved the way for all my sibs to say ‘yes’ to God. Even my Dad surrendered to the Source of her faithful witness three days before his death 7-years-ago.

Mom asked us kids what we desire for ourselves if we achieve 90-years. Big if. Nevertheless, I want to follow her example of saying ‘yes’ daily to God. She fulfilled the prayers of her poor birth mother whose only hope for her child was Jesus and His Church. I want my ‘yes’ at 90-years to answer my mother’s prayer for me and to emulate her ‘Marion’ example—surrender to God and generous self-giving that makes a way for others to know Jesus’ unfailing love.

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