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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

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


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


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Young Lungs for Marriage

Please join us in Spirit (or in person) as we fight for marriage (and a new generation) in Washington State on Friday, February 3, from 4-7pm (pst) at Hillcrest Chapel, 1400 Larrabee, Bellingham, WA, 98225. For more info, contact Ann Armstrong at aarmstrong@desertstream.org.

Young Lungs for Marriage 

As the Washington State Legislature strives to adopt ‘gay marriage’, let us raise our voices to declare the truth that never changes and that always brings hope.

Hope for the integrity of marriage, and hope for freedom from sexual bondage needs to be proclaimed in this hour. How else will this generation—the first to forego marriage while championing the rights of gays to do so—hear the truth that can set them free!

Compelled by the youthful zeal of those who have grown up in an increasingly ‘gay-straight’ world, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire is now leading the drive for ‘gay marriage’ in her state.

Gregoire cites her daughters ‘who have grown up with kids who’ve got two moms and two dads, and they just think that this generation needs to get over it.’

That’s the kind of in-depth analysis that our lawmakers now employ to alter the most influential relationship in the world: ‘Just get over it’, as if marriage is an inalienable right that any group can claim as its own.

Might we pause a moment and remind ourselves that marriage belongs squarely and only to the realm of male/female, for the sake of protecting the new life created there, not to mention providing a witness of dignity and honor for sexual love for generations to come?

Might we pray that a new generation of voices might arise in Washington and throughout this land that could testify to the searing effect of sexual brokenness as well as the beauty of man for woman for each other in holy matrimony?

That is the best way to counter the all too pervasive ‘just get over it and stop discriminating against gays’ view espoused by the Governor’s daughters, and now sadly by the Governor herself.

I think of Kevin, our beloved intern from the middle of Washington state who early on began to explore his homosexuality only to discover that his lover could not offer him the completion he sought; broken, he returned to Jesus (and an amazing mother and father), found a Living Waters group in Seattle, and began the arduous, glorious process of becoming the man God created him to be.

Today he wants to do nothing more than to proclaim the truth that sets men and women free, the real justice that breaks chains and opens blind eyes. Recently, his story was featured on an MTV special: ‘True Lives’, which revealed not only his homosexual brokenness but the beauty of aspiring and securing one’s intrinsic dignity through the grace of God.

Might we pray for ‘young lungs’ like Kevin who knows better than to settle for ‘gay marriage’? Might my generation summon ‘sons and daughters’ who can testify to the unchanging truth of the import of marriage? Regardless of times and seasons, kids deserve more than two mommies and daddies. Neither our lawmakers nor their children nor we should buy the lie that justice is served by ‘gay marriage.’

Woe to us who are silent in this hour when marriage hangs in the balance. Let us lift up our voices and support the only meaning under God for marriage: one man committed to one woman for the sake of the new lives created there.

Please join us in Spirit (or in person) as we fight for marriage (and a new generation) in Washington State on Friday, February 3, from 4-7pm (pst) at Hillcrest Chapel, 1400 Larrabee, Bellingham, WA, 98225. For more info, contact Ann Armstrong at aarmstrong@desertstream.org.

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Heritage 2011

Heritage 2011

A dear friend recently eulogized his mother with these words: ‘You have given me the heritage of those who fear Your name.’ (PS 61:5) The Psalmist refers to God as the giver; my friend added to that his acknowledgement of the faith he inherited from his good, god-fearing mother.

I contemplated the reference to fearing God. What does that mean? Uncomfortable with fear in our therapeutic age, certain that all shame is bad and that honoring anything greater than ourselves is a set up for abuse, we refuse to link fear with faith in God.

What a loss. To me the fear of God takes our faith and trust in His goodness and anchors it in His holy power. Fearing Him means a healthy reckoning that He is God and we are not, that He alone holds the keys to life and death, and that we do well to take His ways seriously and make them our own. Or else.

Or else what? I don’t know for sure, but I don’t want to find out the hard way. Nor do I want my kids to meander in misty notions of grace without the hard truth of sin’s consequences. Annette and I have made it our absolute priority that our kids know that their main inheritance is the fear of the Lord. It’s not education or good humor or well-intentioned acts—it’s about knowing God as revealed in Christ Jesus, full of grace and truth.

This year, Annette and we are grateful that each of our kids is centered in God. After many detours, they love Him and possess a healthy fear of Him. They respect His power as well as the power of sin; they try to steer clear of those strongholds most familiar to them.

This year, Sam fought to remain free from friends he could not handle and free for fellowship. He has also worked really hard this year to become financially responsible. He intends to become a middle-school teacher.  We witness the success of his efforts to grow in godliness. He has a deep heart for God and for weak humanity.

Katie is excelling at Beeson Seminary in Alabama. She has found her niche as a budding theologian and a woman who loves the Church. Both are rooted in humble reliance on God. She re-upped to serve on one of our healing teams before she left. She told me she did so because she felt weak in some relational areas, and to serve others was a good way to stay clean and strong. What a daughter, a Christian after my own heart!

Nick married beautiful Meg last May. He was already busy in his Pittsburg-based seminary, running marathons—as focused as one dares to be. The day before the two wed, he received an offer to come on staff at a turned-on Anglican parish in Kansas City. He took the job, and life changed fast. Nick amazed me in how he cared for Meg in this process of rapid change. She chose to leave a good job back east and Nick took seriously her loss and needs. Much competes for his attention, but Meg wins first place. God has trained him in the way of love.

Greg and Christina celebrated their first year anniversary last September after landing his first job in a law firm in Colombia MO. The year preceding, Greg fought hard to secure a job. Caught in the undertow of the recession, his high-standing as a graduate meant little to nothing. The way that he endured multiple, exhaustive interviews to no avail amazed me. He struggled to not fear his law-school debt or to doubt his own adequacy. He feared the Lord, and fought hard to stay centered in what was true. He lives out his heritage well.

Annette and I have sought one true thing: that our kids would receive the heritage of ‘those who fear His Name.’ We are deeply grateful for those of you who prayed and fought for our godly fear. Thank you.

In 2012, may the Lord bless and build you up in your inheritance as children of a holy, loving God.

‘His Mercy extends to those who fear Him from generation to generation.’ – (Luke 1:50)

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