Category: Catholic Sexuality

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Polish Spring

‘See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come.’ (SS 2:11, 12)

Amid abuse and cover-up, confusion from Pope Francis regarding homosexuality and Irish citizens overturning their abortion ban, the Spirit of Pentecost enveloped a hundred of us in Krakow Poland who gathered for our second Living Waters Training there.

We couldn’t stop singing, and the Spirit kept raining on us as we offered our brokenness to the Crucified in tears and joy. Surrounding our songs was a chorus of birds that worshipped day and night in huge trees that flanked us on every side.

Trainings are just that: arduous, messy, shame and glory, revelation amid hard reality. Why now after seven 16-hour-days am I refreshed? All I know is that I was buoyed, as if I caught a current of the Kingdom and knew intuitively how to navigate the waters. Extraordinary.

It is easy for an outsider to idealize this land of St. John Paul ll and St. Faustina. Traditional values are evident (Poland is not sympathetic to ‘reproductive rights’ and LGBT+ aspirations) and create a kind of moral clarity not evident in America or Western Europe. The Church here is cohesive, a national rallying point amid devastating historic batterings. To many Poles, Jesus through His Mother (Church) sustained the nation’s hope and dignity throughout centuries.

Yet good ethics and history can become prison bars unless the Spirit liberates wounded lives. The Poles may be clearer in their devotion to Christ than many Europeans today but they are no less broken by their bloody history, which gave rise to deep patterns of family disorder, including disordered church dynamics.

For these reasons, I take heart that many Poles are facing their wounds forthrightly with each other. I am in awe of men and women we have now walked with for three years who are different people today: joyful, not glum, with a new well-being in their gendered, bodily humanity. They no longer avoid others’ gaze. One young woman whom I first met in Lithuania couldn’t walk unassisted due to the oppression of her sin and wounds. During this training she bounded around the site, taught better than I did, and will return refreshed to her hometown to lead a Living Water group which is changing the culture of her church.

Most importantly, the nine Polish priests who attended the training taught and shared openly about their wounds and sins against chastity. They honored their office by making clear they live through the wounds of Jesus discovered in His broken merciful members. They released deep drafts of mercy for all of us. We exhausted them and each other in laying bare our need for ongoing conversion.

Wearied in doing well, we welcomed the Spirit’s refreshment. He is accomplishing in the Polish Church what we can only hope for. A Polish Spring, welling up with song in the Spirit of Pentecost: He will have His way with His Church.

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Is the Pope Devolving?

In a private meeting with Juan Carlos Cruz, Chilean survivor of clerical sex abuse, Pope Francis reportedly told the ‘gay-identified’ Cruz that ‘God made him gay’ and ‘that you have to be happy with who you are.’

Huh. Always a chance the Pope was misquoted.  If not, I submit the following.

Pope Francis may have changed his views on what he terms ‘gender ideology;’ something he renounced in his last two encyclicals.   ‘Gender ideology’ holds to a distinctly non-Christian understanding of humanity; it demands that we accept any number of gender configurations on the grounds that they are inborn, unchangeable, and normal – morally neutral.  Telling another that ‘God made him gay’ is a pastoral application of ‘gender ideology,’ not a challenge of it.  The good Pope didn’t think it through.

Pope Francis fails to grasp that sexual abuse actually damages a child’s sexual development.  Recent studies show a strong corollary between adults who ‘gay-identify’ and their experience of sexual violation as kids.  Instead of attributing Cruz’s sexual identity to God, Pope Francis should ask him pardon for contributing to his same-sex attraction through a priest’s perverse invasion of his childhood.

Maybe the Pope makes the mistake of compensating for the damage done by giving Cruz a pass.  Letting go of reason, he assuages Cruz’s violation with a platitude like ‘you have to be happy with who you are.’

Jesus took a different approach with the woman caught in adultery.  Fierce, and with wise compassion, Jesus first defended her from a system designed to scourge her, not unlike blame shifting mucky mucks in the Catholic hierarchy who Francis rightly exposed and disciplined.  But Jesus, after every Pharisee dropped his stone, exhorted the woman ‘to leave her life of sin’ (John 8:11).  He didn’t encourage her ‘to be happy’ with her adulterous tendencies in the hope that she might be further fractured by immorality.

Pope Francis gives a platitude to one who needs inspired, fatherly guidance.  His kindness masks the cruelty of an ideology that confirms God’s children in a lie.  I applaud him for stepping up efforts to cleanse the Church of abuse; if this reported exchange is true, I correct him for springing one trap only to set another for the most vulnerable.

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Highway to Holiness

‘Let us make good use of our time. Out steps must conform to God’s call on our lives; let us work out our salvation with fear and trembling and with burning love and zeal for the salvation of our neighbors.’ St. Junipero Serra

I write this from Mission San Gabriel, perhaps the most excellent of the Franciscan churches founded by Father Serra who introduced Christianity to California in the mid-eighteenth century. He endured unfathomable hardships to blaze a highway of holiness from San Diego to San Francisco: he did so by planting a series of outposts, like stations in a relay that could sustain evangelization and discipleship of the native peoples of California up and down the west coast.

Mission San Gabriel, not far from one of our most fruitful Living Waters groups at HROCK Church in Pasadena and closer still to our excellent regional leader Brian Barlow and family, was especially strategic for this ‘highway’. Its fruitfulness supplied many of the needs of the other 11 missions; its success consoled Serra during the last 25 years of his good hard life.

I find a small niche on the side of the original chapel of Mission San Gabriel, the oldest standing building in Southern California, and marveled that Mass has been held in this sanctuary every day since 1771. From my roost I can see grapevines and orange trees which the Spanish padres introduced to CA in the ground of this mission, thus laying the base for the state’s rich agricultural future.

I reflect on Serra’s life as I await a prayer gathering with our Living Waters leaders from Southern California. We shall pray for the defeat of AB2943, still pending in the state senate. We shall welcome Brian and Pastor Gwen from HROCK back from Sacramento where they have spent the day testifying of transformation before leaders who are unsure; these two are heroes, like many today who Jesus is summoning to declare His highway of holiness throughout California.

Of course we shall pray that the bill will die. Most importantly, we pray that the Church rise and shine in glorious unity—each faith community a station in a relay that restores dignity to the fractured.

Like Serra and his padres, our hope is sure and we shall not back down. Serra traveled 24000 miles over land and sea with an ulcerated foot in the last decades of his life to plant the cross in CA. We shall do the same. We like Him shall try to look more for Jesus’ interests than for our own (Phil. 2:21).

Serra’s greatest ‘cross’ was the state—government authority driven by greed and pride that continually thwarted his spiritual plans. He especially hated the mistreatment of his charges–the native peoples—by Spanish soldiers who abused them and so defiled God’s will for them. Native uprisings against Serra and the padres were provoked by military abuses, not religious ones. He grieved then; we grieve now for the abuse that AB2943 inflicts upon the most vulnerable.

Like Serra, we shall not lose sight of the prize, which is the saving of many lives. We fight for wounded lives to have a fighting chance to know the Healer, the One who unites us with the good of our gendered selves and guides us lovingly as we return to the Father in our disordered affections and choose to walk the highway to holiness, seeking through grace to unite our thoughts with God’s best for us.

Amid his multiple afflictions, Serra wrote: ‘All things are sweet to a lover.’ He was espoused to Jesus and like the leader of his order, St. Francis, he kept his eyes and heart fixed on Christ Crucified. I enter now into the old sanctuary and am most drawn to the beautiful image of Francis above the altar gazing with affection upon the small crucifix in his hands. All for love! We can do all things through love, drawing continually from its Source.

Nothing shall stop us. Jesus invites each one of us to become and to declare the way He makes for every willing soul to discover their place among the beloved. Serra died happy, surrounded by the saints. He poured out his life to forge a highway of holiness on which the first Californians—over 6000 persons—were baptized and confirmed as Christians. We follow him today in the Spirit of St. Francis, the Holy Spirit who makes all things sweet for those who walk in Christ.

‘And a highway will be there, it shall be called the Way of Holiness…’ (IS 35:8)

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River Run

As I prepared to run the inaugural half-marathon in Kansas City for 2018, I reflected on the river of mercy Jesus released for us in Lithuania.

We drove half the night from Latvia to Vilnius, Lithuania’s biggest city and source of the Divine Mercy devotion initiated by an uneducated nun in the 1930’s. God gave St. Faustina a vision of His mercy for the whole world, a world on the brink of WWII which would prove especially devastating to Lithuania, Poland, Latvia and the surrounding nations that fell under Soviet rule.

From their depths, inspired by this vision of Risen Jesus with a healing flood flowing from His heart, Eastern Europeans Christians were the first to cry out: ‘O blood and water which gush forth from the heart of the Savior as a fountain of mercy for us, I trust in You!’ (line from Divine Mercy prayer)

And so did Abbey and me as we awoke in Vilnius for the first of three days of equipping the saints there who lead Living Waters group in Lithuania. From my room I could view the Neris River flowing and I prayed that our efforts there would be like a river of mercy for these saints who, having suffered losses I cannot imagine, now entrust themselves wholly to Jesus.

Another marvel—that morning was Divine Mercy Sunday, the day set apart once a year by the Catholic Church to reflect upon and pray for God’s mercy to well up and envelope the whole world. One billion Christians cast themselves on God’s mercy that day: is it any wonder that the mercy levels rise in the Church like Ezekiel’s vision (EZ 47) of the river rising from the temple altar: first ankle deep, then waist high, then a current so high one must swim in the healing stream that makes everything live (v. 9)?

As we entered our meeting room, I viewed the Cross and the Divine Mercy picture and heard the chorus of worship songs featuring the merciful flood gushing from Christ Crucified and Raised: this is Living Waters! Abbey and I did little but expound upon the basic foundations of our healing groups; we then invited all who thirst in the Spirit of IS 55 to immerse themselves in the flood, to linger there and to receive deep drafts of the Father’s love. We invited everyone who knew that their disordered feelings were sourced in love’s frustration: bonds blocked by Soviet oppression and addiction and abuse that curdled normal longings for affection. God moved deeply; in His great mercy, He loved each one simply, deeply, specifically.

He kept raining His mercy upon us; the river rose higher that afternoon. As we worshipped and gathered before the Cross, Jesus freed us to name how we reject ourselves for having particular kinds of struggle. Shame is a relentless robber that tempts us to refuse the mercy that could be ours. We name sins and receive forgiveness but then fail to extend that mercy to our clean yet weakened selves. We all went deeper in the truth that God loves us profoundly in our still-being-healed state and wants us to welcome His river where we are most inclined to turn away in shame.

The evening was simpler still. How can we not refuse the temptation to despair when the waters are rising? Heaviness rests naturally upon many post-Soviet citizens but when Jesus soaks us in His Father’s love, displacing that spirit of alienation and self-hatred, we cannot help but well up like a fountain of mercy for others! Standing in the river, it was easy to break the power of death and disqualification and to arm ourselves in the weapons of hope: peace, love, joy and the holy purposes our Father entrusts to us as members of His healing army.

Back home, I mused upon that Divine Mercy Sunday in Vilnius and welled up with gratitude for my Lithuanian family, and their legacy of mercy that flows throughout the world. I forgot to fear the rough raced ahead and honestly, ran better than I had in two years. I felt myself to be caught up in the current of something greater than myself, and like Elijah ran furiously til the race’s end.

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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.

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