Category: Catholic Sexuality

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Broken and Beautiful

What relevance is the Resurrected Christ for those struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction? Or with any other profound sexual problem?

As one who shares that struggle, I often feel like the rather clueless disciples, stumbling about in the dark with the risen Christ. Disoriented by mixed signals from the church and world, ‘harassed at every turn’ (2 Cor 7:5), I fail to see Him among us.

And yet in blessed moments, He opens our eyes and we see Him as He is. His tender power surpasses our deepest need and transcends moral abstractions. In an instant we realize that our need is only Him—His Real Presence, the life of the world becoming our life, the center in which we rest, the anchor of our soul, sure and steadfast. (Heb. 6:19)

Mysteries, all, made tangible by His body, broken for us and beautiful. It is fitting that only at table together, in the breaking of the bread—the re-presentation of His crucifixion, of His brokenness, that the disciples’ eyes were opened to behold Jesus in His resurrection, His wholeness.

‘When He was at table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him…’ (Lk 24: 30)

I am convinced that we shall behold the Risen Christ only when we discover Him in His broken body.

A few nights back I revisited the beauty of that brokenness. We gathered as one body at our Living Waters Training; there I taught on overcoming sexual brokenness through the advocacy of the Church. Given the unusually high levels of confusion in our culture today over same-sex attraction, I felt compelled to urge all same-sex strugglers (approximately one-third of the group) to come forward. The remaining folks–‘the traditionally-broken’—came forward to lay hands on them and impart power from on high.

God brought such freedom. The Risen Christ met us in acknowledged brokenness and revealed Himself to us: tender power to raise those deadened by fear and confusion and to make us one body.

If we want to know Him, the Risen Lord, we must be known by them: His body, broken and beautiful.

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Intimate Authority Holy Week Meditations, 4

Mary Magdalene anoints the feet of Jesus Christ, watched by the apostles. Original Artwork: Engraving by W Greatbach after the painting by Rubens. (Photo by Spencer Arnold/Getty Images)

This is the fourth post of my Holy Week Meditations for 2012. Please click here for the archive list of posts as they become available.


Intimate Authority: Holy Week Meditations, 4

Mary Magdalene, in her recognition and reliance upon her Merciful Deliverer, became authoritative in holy love. Tears of remorse became gratitude. Peace, love and joy dwelt in her depths now. Degradation and accusation became distant relatives that she could refuse.

You could say that sexual brokenness, surrendered to Him, made her strong. Her weakness invited His power; whenever tempted by the old kingdoms, she had only to draw near to Him. Her gender made a difference here. She possessed that beautiful responsiveness which Jesus, the whole Man, cleansed and ignited with holy love. He became her center; His pure, strong light lit her from within.

Her redeemed womanhood, combined with her moral vulnerability (we are usually not delivered from all susceptibility to our pasts), forged a dependency upon Him that was qualitatively different from that of the other disciples. While other men had shamed and fractured her further, Jesus’ presence set her free. Her wholeness was bound up in His life, her holiness in the intimacy they shared.

In gratitude, she gave all that she had to Him. That is evident in another extravagant display of worship. Mark describes her anointing Jesus with oil, breaking open an intensely fragrant and expensive bottle and pouring it over Him in front of everyone! Like the Pharisee in Luke 7, Jesus’ band was not impressed by Mary’s slavish, wasteful ‘worship.’ (Mk 14: 1-11).

Mark’s account differs significantly from Luke’s. It takes place just prior to Jesus initiating His Holy Supper with the disciples. Luke recounts Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with her tears and with oil, but Mark describes Mary anointing His head, a sign of familiarity with Him. She knew Him now, and like any devoted woman, understood what Jesus’ male friends didn’t. Jesus was going to die.

She was anointing His body for His death. In the old kingdom, Mary must have used such oil to enliven her customers. She saved the best for last, to inaugurate the New Kingdom opened to all through the Cross. Mary had surrendered all to Him and Jesus redeemed it all, even the tricks of her trade, to fulfill His purposes.

Marvelous to me is her obedience in light of the social shame she still provoked. ‘Some were indignant’ (v. 4); the scorn started early on with the Pharisee in Lk 7 and continued with Jesus’ disciples until the end. ‘Once a bad girl, always a bad girl…’ The traditions of men endure, even in the twice-born. The beauty of Mary? Shame never stopped her. She endured the shame for the joy set before her, the gift of knowing Him intimately and loving Him extravagantly.

What is costly worship for you? What do you offer Jesus that is often misunderstood by others and yet gives glory to Your Creator and Redeemer? I think of my peers with histories of same-sex attraction (a hard enough disclosure) who audaciously testify that Jesus is setting them free from its domination (harder still to confess in our gay-friendly age). For every ‘Amen’, that witness of Jesus’ redeeming power provokes a shake of the head or even a warning to not damage someone by giving them false hope.

What do you offer publicly to Jesus that is costly, fragrant, and scorned? May Mary’s worship set you free to worship Him with renewed audacity.

‘Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing for Me…I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.’ (Mk 14: 6, 9)

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Intimate Authority: Holy Week Meditations, 3

This is the third post of my Holy Week Meditations for 2012. Please click here for the archive list of posts as they become available.

Intimate Authority: Holy Week Meditations, 3

Intimacy with Jesus made an ex-prostitute the bearer of the most important event in human history.

God entrusted a woman, not one of the 12, with Christ’s resurrection. That’s why the Roman Catholic Church names Mary Magdalene the ‘Apostle of Apostles.’

Mary’s surrender to Christ was marked by weeping and lingering, two earmarks of loving another with all one’s heart. Such sustained intimacy gave Mary authority. Such reliance on Jesus gives us authority.

Mary’s life also demonstrates how Jesus exchanges our false attachments for His faithful, unfailing love. False intimacy is no match for His Mercy. And false intimacy can be a degrading and cruel master. God wants to elevate our sexuality to the level for which He intends it—the authentically human in which our desires are subsumed by a passion for Himself and thus transformed.

No easy or tidy task. False intimacy dehumanizes us and the enemy of our souls fights hard to keep us bound. Satan rules a kingdom of unrealities that seems real enough to seduce us until it cripples our capacity to overcome evil with the good. The face of Mercy in Jesus Christ shines on us then picks a fight with that kingdom. Mercy takes hold of our hearts and asks each of us: who will you serve?

Weakened by devotion to the sensual gods, subject to the scorn of the Pharisee without and within, our change seems hopeless. But God’s Kingdom in Christ is true, and is thus far more powerful than the silky illusions of our enemy.

In the sexual arena, I have witnessed deliverance—the clash of one Kingdom overcoming the lesser one—occurring after relationship with Christ is established. Like Mary, we need to know Him first, to trust His advocacy amid the shame of our weakness and religious judgment. And He needs to know that we will serve Him alone. He does not want to purge a house that has no intention of staying true to its owner; Jesus knows that demons return 7-fold to the fickle home. (Lk 11: 23-26)

He is faithful. Relying on Him alone, we cooperate with the Master as He thoroughly cleans house from the ungodly residue left by our false intimacies.

Mary exemplifies this. After she lingered with tears at Christ’s feet next to the Pharisee and joined the disciple’s band, Jesus delivered her of seven demons. (Lk 8:2)

Intimacy invites deliverance. We recognize Him and we rely upon Him, going where He goes, and He in His powerful mercy, cleanses us. I love the ease and naturalness with which Mary’s deliverance must have occurred. The closer we get to Him, the nearer we come to freedom, even from dark and destructive things that are so familiar we do not even recognize them as evil.

We must never romanticize or trivialize false intimacy. It is costly. Sexual violations of all sorts invite unclean spirits to lodge themselves in our depths and to hide there. But when we realize as Mary did that Jesus is not going to reject us and that our cure lies only in nearness to Him, then we will be unafraid to come into His Presence. We will not be shocked at the cleansing He has yet to do!

Annette and I each experienced significant deliverances from unclean spirits long after our walk with Jesus began. Mine involved familiar spirits tied to longstanding exposure to pornography, hers involved a spirit of control that she relied upon after the devastation of rape from an adult relative when she was 4-years-old. Our ‘Kingdom clash’ occurred willfully and prayerfully with the help of trustworthy, discerning saints. After the tussle, we each had a new authority to choose Life and to resist mental and moral strongholds that we had tolerated.

We must not be afraid that our residual brokenness will contaminate Christ or His community. We just enter in as Mary did—looking for every opportunity to worship and serve Him. He knows our hearts. We can know that no matter how broken and yes, still unclean we may be, He will deliver us!

The key is not coming under the Pharisee—the accusing, critical gaze. Like Mary, we must exercise courage to come as we are, our ragged, divided hearts intact, and cast ourselves upon His merciful feet. Like Mary, we must learn to weep and linger there. Our deliverance will come, is coming, will come!

Leanne Payne says it like this: ‘In seeking only Him who is our righteousness we begin to see more clearly and purity of heart and life ensues…Jesus assures us and we know most certainly that He will remove the wheat from the chaff, that He will transform the desire where and when necessary, and that He will elevate it to higher places when our perception of His will for our lives is too low.’

Deliverance strengthens our reliance upon the Deliverer, and grants us a godly fear of sin and spiritual darkness. We should have a holy regard for the kingdoms of this world, especially those we have participated in. We remember Mercy, the grace He gave us to know Him and to follow Him alone. We become a people of One House, One Kingdom, united with Christ. Where else can we go, how else can we live? He alone has the keys to life.

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Merciful Discipline 6: Humbled, We Shine

This is the sixth post of six in the Merciful Discipline Series. A complete list of available posts will be at the end of each article as they are made available.

Merciful Discipline 6: Humbled, We Shine

‘When You disciplined us, we could barely whisper a prayer.’ (IS 26:16)

‘Christ’s abiding presence in the midst of our suffering is gradually transforming our darkness into light.’ Pope Benedict

The sexual abuse crisis in the Church brings us to our knees. We do not kneel politely but painfully, a sprawl rather than a pose. On behalf of those felled by the weight of a priest’s perversion, we too stumble and fall. Behold the scandal we share: the Greek word ’skandalon’ means stumbling block, a sizable obstacle in the path of another’s salvation.

Pope Benedict is right. Our ‘skandalon’ has “obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing.”

Lent redeems our falling by redirecting it. Lent points us to another stumbling block, the Crucified Christ (1Cor 1:23), who draws us magnetically to Himself amid the suffering and shame of abuse and its cover-up. He invites us to fall forward into Himself, the sole Source that can bear the unbearable. Any momentum toward obliterating the stumbling block of sexual abuse in the Church begins facedown before the Cross. We repent for the disintegration of lives, the shattering of trust, and how abuse mocks the Church and her championing the dignity of each life.

Shame is transformed into substantial good at the Cross. Just as there is a momentum to the evil of abuse, fanning out like fissures from an earthquake, so repentance before the Crucified overcomes evil. Jesus Himself assumes the web of wounds and rouses the darkened Church, preparing her to shine once more. Our resurrection is founded on His justice and mercy. We arise in humbled passion for the integrity of our Church.

Brimming with new life, we must act. Shame’s transformation requires more than mystical transactions. Will we follow Benedict’s call to bear witness with our very lives of a transparent, integrated Church who lives the truths she upholds?

From the beginning of his papacy, Benedict faced a hemorrhaging crisis of abuse. He realized that the dignity of all people, beginning with the education of children, required the transparent integrity of the Church. To him, sexual abuse was more than an isolated problem of priestly perversion; it signaled a disturbing shift in the entire culture toward sexual values that dehumanized others.

‘Children deserve to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. They should be spared the degrading manifestations and crude manipulations of sexuality so prevalent today.’ (Address to US Bishops, 2008)

Degradations and manipulations like the priestly abuse of children! More than ever, we need a humbled witness from the top down of sexual integration. What does it mean to live chastely? How do we acquire self-control and pass it on to a generation already exposed to more filth than at any other time in history?

The church must reclaim its beautiful (and bravely counter-cultural) teaching on chastity–beginning with her priests. We must discover together how Jesus and His community help us to actually integrate God’s will for our sexuality into the fabric of our real lives. That means more than preaching another round of conservative sexual ethics; we must also wrestle honestly with our ‘ethos’–our desires and conflicts.

Jesus wants to transform our hearts–our affections, our attitudes, our motives– that we might embody a living morality. Repentance before the Crucified is key. While sexual abuse is the ultimate ‘disintegrator’, Jesus’ redeeming power in our lives always points to integration, toward wholeness. The stench of abusive priests must be overcome by the fragrance of those priests who live chaste lives through the cross and its community. Following their good lead, we too can embody what it means to offer our chaste selves to one another.

We the laity must do our part. As the numbers of priests are declining, we must increase our commitment to transparent service of the Church. We can ensure that our dioceses have solid systems in place for responding quickly and impartially to abuse charges, and especially to the abused. These systems must become normative!

The abuse crisis has struck an inspired blow against clericalism. It has altered her ‘in-house’ mentality, and she is learning to yield substantial control to empowered laity and civil authorities. As with any organizational shift in values and praxis, this will require time and vigilance on the part of all.

Change takes time. Change is taking place. We now have a better grasp of the horror of priestly abuse and how to prevent it than we had 10 years ago. In spite of our problems, the US Church has exemplified candor for the worldwide Church whose abuses are just beginning to be revealed. Their ‘skandalon’ is ours; we have much yet to endure. We can do so through the One who endured all in order to transform our shame into glory.

Abuse has struck us down, but we are not destroyed. (2Cor 4:9) Our dying is not fatal. We see life-signs–the fruit of God’s purifying, disciplining hand. He is judging clericalism, and inspiring a more humble, candid hierarchy; He is weeding out ill-equipped candidates for the priesthood and empowering solid clerics and laity; He is calling the Church to a new integrity in how she embodies her truth.

Merciful discipline. God is having His way with His Bride.

‘The truth must come out; without the truth we will never be set free. We must face the truth of the past; repent it; make good the damage done. And yet we must move forward day by day along the painful path of renewal, knowing that it is only when human misery encounters face-to-face the liberating Mercy of God that our Church will be truly restored and enriched.’ Dublin Archbishop Martin, 2010

‘We must be confident that this time of trial will bring a purification of the entire Catholic community, leading to a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate, and a holier Church.’ John Paul II

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

MORE:

The Merciful Discipline Series of Posts (updated with each new post as they become available):

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Merciful Discipline 5: Hopeful, We Fight for the Dignity and Integrity of Our Priests

This is the fifth post of six in the Merciful Discipline Series. A complete list of available posts will be at the end of each article as they are made available.

Merciful Discipline 5: Hopeful, We Fight for the Dignity and Integrity of Our Priests

The fine work and selfless dedication of the great majority of priests should not be obscured by the transgressions of some. – Pope Benedict

I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who will do what is in My heart and mind, and his house will be firmly established. (1 Samuel 2:15)

As a new Catholic, I have a fresh appreciation for the honorable, difficult office of the priest. I rely upon three priests in my parish for daily Mass and confession; each has exemplified Jesus in a way that puts me to shame. Decades of involvement in the evangelical church have not prepared me for the spirit of sacrifice and humility that I see in these three men. I have grown in virtue through their service to Jesus. As I seek to honor Christ, I am committed to honor them, His priests.

The essential role of the Roman Catholic priest plays in the life of each congregant grants us a powerful opportunity. We who benefit from his offering can fight for his dignity, his renewal and his integrity. How? We can prayerfully encourage him and verbally champion him amid the scorn now associated with his office due to the perversion of a few.

We must not mimic the world and bite the hand that feeds us. We uphold him in gratitude and ask for eyes to see the phantom hand that slaps him with each new exposure of priestly abuse. Well over 96% of priests have clean hearts and hands. Might our honor of them be their balm?

Out of these scandals, the entire Church, beginning with her priests, can avoid the pitfalls that made a handful of priests deadly to their sheep. And we the sheep have a role to play in understanding these vulnerabilities and prayerfully empowering our priests to avoid them.

The John Jay Report (‘The Causes and Context of the Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the USA from 1950-2010’) cites the sexual revolution—the moral and socio-cultural quake that occurred in the sixties and seventies, as the driving influence that multiplied the number of sexual abuses by priests in that time period. A moral ozone layer burned off and all of us, including priests, experienced a new nakedness. That ‘unveiling’ was not adequately countered by Catholic seminaries in their choice of candidates and in the sexual formation needed to prepare priests for the moral challenges ahead.

Especially hard hit were priests who suffered from poor social adjustment and who lacked the capacity to form adequate bonds with colleagues. Already isolated, these priests would tend to pursue teenagers—targets who were sexually ‘mature’ but emotionally undemanding.

Add to this the easy access to virtual pornography that an isolated priest might employ to stoke unattended, unacknowledged desires with any false image he chooses.

Cowardly, evil, worthy of the indignation Cardinal Ratzinger expressed in his pre-papal meditation for Good Friday 2005 when he lamented: ‘How much filth there is in the Church, and even those in the priesthood who ought to belong entirely to Him!’

We also must seek to understand these vulnerabilities. Priests who abuse are essentially disintegrated, having never done the hard work of being reconciled to their sexual selves. That requires hard work for a celibate, and for those mentoring him. To know one’s desires and needs and to work them out fruitfully with others while remaining pure: that is chastity. And it is an expression of integrity that we must insist on for our priests.

We must pray and prod for priestly training in self-awareness, mutual confession, and healthy, transparent friendship. That lines up with Benedict’s commitment. In 2008, addressing the US Church in light of the abuse crisis, he said: ‘We [the Vatican] will do all that is possible in the education of seminarians for a deep spiritual, human, and intellectual formation for the students. Only solid persons can be admitted to the priesthood and only persons with a deep personal life in Christ…’

Out of such training, in an increasingly disintegrated world, let us pray that St. Paul’s words may be exemplified by our priests as they stand “blameless and pure, children of God in a crooked and perverse generation, in which they shine like stars in the universe as they hold out the Word of life.” (Phil. 2: 15, 16)

O my Jesus, I beg You on behalf of the whole Church, give us holy priests. You Yourself, maintain them in holiness. O Divine and Great High Priest, may the power of Your Mercy accompany them everywhere and protect them from the devil’s traps and snares which are continuously set for the souls of priests. May the power of Your Mercy, O Lord, shatter and bring to naught all that might tarnish the sanctity of priests, for You can do all things. (1052) St. Faustina

It is more important to have good priests than to have many priests. – Pope Benedict

MORE:

The Merciful Discipline Series of Posts (updated with each new post as they become available):

 

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