Category: Catholic Sexuality

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Messy, Joyful Easter

I woke from a fitful sleep, jet-lagged and already critical of the things that awaited me at morning Mass. I countered with a prayer for humility and tolerance of things I dislike like dour congregants and uninspiring music. After all, it is Easter! Jesus is walking through walls and telling folks to get their hands off Him then insisting that they lay hands on Him—all kinds of messy, unpredictable stuff.

I cringed slightly as I eyed the cantor for the morn; golden in her intentions, her voice hurts me. As she geared up for the processional hymn, she appeared shaken like a diver peering into the pool below and realizing it may not be deep enough. But she soldiered on and was soon joined by the booming off-key voice of a visiting pastor whose joy in serving us that morning overtook all else.

His sheer exuberance invited us all in to celebrate: Jesus is alive, and that changes everything. Like my critical spirit. Listening to cantor and pastor make a joyful noise at once delighted and convicted me. God is so much bigger than my snide critique. He wants to blow open our defenses, walk through our walls, and rouse us to cooperate with Him in dissolving others’ defenses against the Holy One.

The pastor grinned from ear-to-ear as he showered us with the waters of cleansing (a cool Catholic thing for the several Sundays of Easter); I obviously needed to renew my baptismal vows that Sunday! And I found that if I sang along with the cantor during the offertory I could not afford to be critical of her. The pastor sermonized powerfully on how community is essentially for grasping the hope of new life—we behold the glorified One together. I was proud to be there.

I left Church joyful, expectant. I wanted to give new life away. Later on I ran into a guy whom I had met a few years back. At that time he announced to me rather arrogantly that he was a ‘gay Christian’ with a new boyfriend. Things had gone badly for him: I could tell from his few words and demeanor that he was suffering. Though he did not recognize me at first, I did him and I told him specific things I had not ceased praying for him in the last five years. He was speechless and teary-eyed.

Messy, joyful Jesus is on the move. Walk through walls with Him. It is Easter and that changes everything.

Download PDF

Behold the Lamb 5: Liberty and Loss

A young Catholic priest who participated in a recent Living Waters Training engaged a lot with our mostly evangelical crowd; he got kicked in the stomach a few times by persons who introduced themselves to him as ‘having become Christians after they left the Catholic Church.’ Ouch.

What they meant, I think, was that they found a ‘spirited’ personal bridge to Jesus in one of many gatherings where their young-adult-ache for Him was quenched by a more dynamic spirituality than what they experienced as Catholic kids.

Beautiful. But also costly. On this 500th year anniversary of the Reformation, in which we celebrate the freedom to change and change again our approach to how we gather as Christians and why, it may be wise, even healing, to consider the downside of ‘start your own’ church movements. (Will we ever forget Robert Duvall’s film ‘The Apostle’ in which he ordained himself through the laying on of his own hands?) Don’t get me wrong. I value many of the lifeboats launched from the leaky vessel that the Catholic Church had become by the 16th century. But I also witness the fissures of ‘reform’ that continue to fan out, fractures that fracture people who conclude in their confusion: ‘I need not gather at all.’

One example may be church leaders who insist on a particular facet of the Gospel based on their ‘leading’, often in response to what they did not like in their previous church/movement. That can result in two ills: the malformation of the saints due to a skewed Gospel and also an unwitting rejection of members who don’t/can’t line up with the particular emphasis of the visionary leader. A colleague of mine with some identity conflicts had no choice but to leave an effective evangelistic movement because her pastor assured her that the church would not invest in the healing of her or anyone else’s soul.

Related but worse are pastors who fall into serious error and, having created a system of impotent eldership in which they are virtually unchecked, perpetuate their errors. That includes (but is no way limited to) churches which bless sexual immoralities, including LGBT+ liberties; that may also relate to a strain of ‘hyper-grace’ churches that refuse to give formation to members as to avoid ‘legalism.’

More dangerous still are ‘Spirit-led’ leaders who add ‘thus saith the Lord’ to their disagreements with persons. Rather than sort out conflicts rationally and relationally, these shepherds resolve conflict by the sheep either putting up or shutting up. A tragic subset here is shepherds who cloak lust in ‘love’ and use spiritual power to seduce. These wolves make rabid the sheep and deserve the millstone Jesus reserves for them (LK 17: 1, 2).

Lastly, I notice some losses and limits to churches founded on young-adult vitality: that post high-school season in which persons are most inclined to establish an identity founded upon Jesus Christ. Many of these gatherings are glorious! Yet one does not stay a young adult forever, and when that season passes, these ones may grow out of ‘church’ altogether and determine nothing else will do, especially the relatively stodgy churches of their pre-revival youth. Older ones who invest here may find themselves beside the point. A quiet servant I know worked tirelessly at such a ‘young’ church for 20 years then began to realize that no-one there cared much about her. She left and no-one noticed. She struggles to engage with any church now.

That is the problem and the opportunity. We need the body. We need healing when our churches let us down. And we have choice. We can forgive her, we must forgive her, or a part of ourselves dies. We are the body, and to be at odds with any part of her is to be divided in ourselves.

This Lent, I implore you to forgive that part of the body that wounded you. Jesus took the hit at Calvary for nothing less. If you extend the mercy you have received to that part (it does not mean you agree with it!), you do your part to heal yourself and His beautiful, broken bride. I then urge you to exercise your freedom to discern where you are to take your place once more. We cannot say we love Him without standing with them. Again.

‘Jesus, in accord with Your Word, we confess that we have become like ‘those who have given up meeting together.’ Rather, we ask for mercy to extend to our church wounders and the power once more to ‘consider how we might provoke one another onto love and good deeds…and all the more as we see the Day approaching’ (Heb. 10: 24, 25), the Day of Your return for one glorious Church.’

Download PDF

Behold the Lamb 4: Refining Fathers

God always honors His Word and sacraments even if His servants act dishonorably. For example, I once had a pastor whose stellar preaching (some of his word-pictures still shed light for me on complex truths) coexisted with a trail of confusing seductions he initiated with women in our congregation. God’s Word prevailed (through our efforts and a long wait)–he was finally disciplined–but until then the congregation breathed toxic air. God sustains the faithful but sheep still suffer from sleazy shepherds. How much better for fathers of the faith to prepare for leadership through the splendid, humbling task of becoming chaste?

Here’s the rub. Due to the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, in which entire dioceses have been brought to their knees by multi-million dollar settlements for victims, the Church is now super wary of any sexual vulnerability in her priests and religious. In the sexual arena, avoiding litigation seems the Church’s greatest goal; she fumbles at forthright, compassionate dealing with her fathers and mothers who actually need help in order to become chaste. ‘Just be chaste, don’t be known’, she conveys today.

To misquote Simone DeBeauvoir: ‘We are not born chaste, we become it.’ How else do we grow into integrated men and women unless we come into the Light with our misdemeanors before they become felonies? How many priests and diocesan workers do I know who fall regularly into masturbation/porn cycles, habits born of disintegration that keep them disintegrated, hobbled by shame and wounded in their self-gift? Having sinned weakly, does each one have a responsibility to come boldly to the throne of grace? Of course!

But that requires context for church leaders, especially those who always handle the confessions of others. Does the Church provide clear, merciful, powerful, and effective relationships through which these ones can break fear and silence and quicken the journey toward self-mastery and gender integration? Today’s Church, though clear on the requirement of priestly chastity, fails to invite most priests into the messy process of becoming chaste. In part due to the litigious mess she is in. I can almost guarantee you that the majority of priests will not take a seminary course on sexual integration this year.

That is at least short-sighted. Failing to provide wise preventative measures for her weak servants sets the Church up for further scandals and reveals an unloving, unreal expectation toward them. Everyone, especially her saints, is sexually broken! Lust in its myriad forms touches all of us. So must we as the Church provide real life opportunities for leaders-in-formation to be rightly formed in the sexual arena, without fear of being buried for being broken. Better to breakdown in the arms of the saints than to break another through lust.

My wife Annette is right. She claims that ‘the best preparation for ministry lies in discipleship: persons gathering long enough with safe, powerful saints in order to know themselves honestly in their sexual and relational depths, and to be known by Jesus through these members of Christ.’

At first I thought she was overstating her case. She was not. We as the Church must guarantee that our ‘Fathers’ do not go–it-alone. We have seen what happens when they do. Fathers and Fathers-to-be especially need refining love. Bring it on God.

‘Make Your Church wise and tender and strong toward her servants. Help her to love them like a good mother and father, only better. Reveal Your almighty tenderness to prodigal elder sons and daughters, O God; give them a fighting chance to come clean and become whole. You can only love us if we expose ourselves to love. Make Your Church a place of where we can come broken, boldly.’

Download PDF

Behold the Lamb 2: Domesticating the Lion

Yes, Jesus is at once Lion and Lamb, our Almighty Creator and Redeemer who surrendered to our sin and its consequence of death. The Lion became the Lamb.

Yet His sacrifice makes little sense if we fail to comprehend who He is as Lion. Literary images help. In his ‘children’s’ books on Narnia, C.S. Lewis tells us more about the God who roars with love than a host of philosophical tomes. There we discover Aslan who is always good but not safe, the God who never harms us but who allows us to hurt in order to become whole. Lewis gives us a King Cat with claws who upholds us but eludes our comfortable, controlling grasp of Him. His thoroughly masculine love is endowed with power to win us over; as He dies to pledge Himself to us, He commands a choice–will we pledge ourselves to Him?

In brief, Aslan is exciting. He does more than personify a sacrificial death. He becomes One worth dying for. Why then are our images of God so banal, so dull, as dimensional as perfect, pastel cards of the saints?

Lewis’ friend Dorothy Sayers writes: ‘So that is the outline of the official story—the tale of the time that God was the underdog and got beaten…became a man like the men He made, and these men broke Him and killed Him. This is the dogma we find so dull—this terrifying drama of which God is both victim and hero…If this is dull, then what, in Heaven’s name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Jesus never accused Him of being a bore; they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified Him meek and mild, and recommended Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.’

As a 7-year-old Catholic, I must confess that my greatest grief with the historic Church is that many who surround me seem dead to their own inheritance. That we process dully to feast on the Lion who became the Lamb to gain us, shedding neither a tear nor leaping for joy, amazes me. I want to cry out: HE is here! HE wants you! You need not feed on garbage; EAT GOD!

Or maybe many of my peers have never been alive to Him. Yes, maybe aware of their family tradition, or a vague peace in participating in the familiar ritual. But never really knowing Him! I recall my friend, the son of a well-known Catholic healer, recounting why he became an evangelical: ‘I grew up Catholic but was clueless to who Jesus was. I needed a Baptist to make clear to me what the Cross was all about.’ Another ‘cradle’ Catholic: ‘I always appreciated the sacraments but understood them only in the light of Love, the truth that Jesus died and rose again to have a personal relationship with me.’

Archbishop Vigneron of Detroit writes in his splendid pastoral letter, ‘Unleash the Gospel’: ‘The core message of the Gospel can only be proclaimed effectively by a first-hand witness, one who has met the Lord personally and can speak of what He is doing in one’s life.’ We need ‘a radical openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit’ if we are ‘to invite every person into the fullness of life that is found in Jesus Christ alone.’

So we repent on behalf of our churches who claim to gather around the One but who often fail to light the fire of Jesus in our hearts.

‘Sorry God for concealing You in our abstractions and paring Your claws. In our dullness we have hidden You from those who will perish without You. Forgive us for contributing to a tidy Church for the obliging rather than an exciting, messy place of encounter between sinners and the Lion who became a Lamb to win us over. We ask for mercy to forgive church ‘faces’ who failed to make You known; set us on fire with Your blazing love. May we not lose time bemoaning our church ‘misses’ when You have ignited us to become ministers of Your unfailing Love.’

Download PDF

Smoke, Not Fire

Two weeks ago, a Roman Catholic priest from Milwaukee came out as ‘gay’–made by God that way–to his congregation in an effort to integrate his ‘gay’ self and to help LGBTers follow his path to authenticity.

Blazing a trail with his fiery witness? Nah….Father Gregory Greiten’s effort leaked poisonous gas into the Church; he made smoke, not fire by reducing the God who answers His children with fire to a toothless ancient who wearily confirms our fractured lives. For this Jesus suffered an agonizing death and descent into hell? The smoke that shrouds and chokes, not the fire that illumines and awakens our authenticate selves, is the effect of churchmen who render God impotent.

I struggle to include in a brief blog all the errors in Greiten’s thinking. Let me try.

First, there is no such thing as a ‘gay’ person, if by that one means an individual who is intrinsically rooted in same-sex attractions. That is a popular myth. A person is not born a homosexual or a transsexual or a bisexual. He or she is born to realize her or his dignity as a beloved daughter or son of the Father and as a gendered gift to the whole world. Father Greiten disagrees; he purports that ‘God created him to be gay.’ Says who? Not God…

Secondly, Greiten confuses one’s feelings with an identity. I suspect, like many persons (myself included) with a history of same-sex attraction, the depth and persistence of such desires can tempt one into forming a ‘self’ around them. But such identity formation is alien to the call of Christ. He invites every follower to surrender all other identifications and to take up the Cross as the mark of the new and true self (JN 12: 25). Every priest should know this. If a fatherly leader loses sight of that Cross, how dull the vision for a weaker son! Smoke, not fire.

Thirdly, every priest should know that the Church names homosexual desires as disordered in that they frustrate openness to life: the unitive and procreative purposes of our sexuality. Jesus upheld His Father’s will for man and woman together to constitute His plan for sexual love (Matt. 19: 4-6). Of course many live far from that reality. No matter! God has made a way for persons with disordered desires to be drawn into His merciful gaze and so be ‘loved out’ of every other identification, especially one based on disordered desires. That a priest should base an identity on disordered desires, then urge others to follow his example, is beyond me. Better put, because Jesus’ love has shattered every effort of the ‘gay’ world to name and animate me, I would say that Greiten’s example is beneath me.

Fourth, what to say to the response to Greiten’s witness? His congregation gave him a standing ovation, and apparently his Archbishop blessed his ‘coming out.’ That is for me the worst news of all. It reflects a worldly church nearly dead to the power of the Gospel. Nearly dead. I would put her in St. Paul’s category of being ‘struck down but not yet destroyed’ (2Cor. 4:9). She lives still because Jesus’ lives just as I live today to the beauty of Jesus and my wife and kids and grandkids and a whole new horizon that Jesus opens for every longing, broken heart.

The Church must reclaim her truth and her witness today. You who like me share a history of disorder vanquished only by the greater love of Jesus—let us arise in this hour and become the Church who illuminates the Cross amid shadow and smoke. Let our lives shine forth the glory of Him who authors and redeems true personhood.

Download PDF
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: