Tag Archives: St. John Paul ll

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Weekend in Warsaw

I usually hate to travel during this desert season but I could not resist the temptation to invite myself to the first assembly of 100 Living Waters members and leaders from four robust groups around Poland.

Under the strong leadership of Father Joseph and a national team of clergyman and lay persons, the Poles have taken up this work with an unprecedented focus and strategy. Joseph and tribe translated Living Waters, secured the theological blessing of the Polish bishops for the guidebook, mobilized male and female lay leaders to coordinate the groups, and enlisted Catholic priests—all admitted wounded healers— to work with them from the start. That means these healing groups will have the advocacy of the Church and Her sacramental worship.

Polish St. Faustina and St. John Paul ll must have smiled as I engaged with sinners of many kinds whom Jesus is transforming to take their places as part of His healing army. These sinner/saints embrace strugglers who often have given up on the Church until Jesus encounters them and urges them homeward.

My friend Jacek left the Church to pursue homosexuality and at the nadir of his sensational misery met Jesus in a ‘gay’ bar where Christ audibly asked him: ‘Do you want to belong to Me or not?’ He did, and began his re-engagement with Christ through the Living Waters community. After a history of sexual abuse, many male lovers, and a psychotic break, Karin could not overcome her depression until a friend invited her to the Living Waters pilot group in her city. She found the Man of her dreams who is freeing her from the darkness.

Part of my goal was to instruct all 100 to effectively share how Jesus through His community is satisfying their desires with good things. God confirmed our efforts at our Sunday Mass which featured St. John’s account of the Samaritan woman (JN 4). Jesus encountered one far from God and brought her near to Him through the water that cleanses and the blood that gives new life (‘living water’).

He did so by kindly revealing her false lovers. Jesus loved her thoroughly: exposing her poisoned well in order to satisfy her fully with Himself. Her response was to declare to all who would listen that this Man highlighted her shame in order to surpass it with His glorious love. So we departed Warsaw that weekend, refreshed in the mercy that empowers us to well up like a fountain for all who thirst.

Download PDF
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.

Download PDF
mercy in any language

Mercy in Any Language

‘Divine mercy is the power of God’s love to bring not only good out of evil but the greater good out of evil.’ Fr. Michael E. Gaitley

Several nations gathered in Lithuania last week to enter the ‘Living Waters’ together. Mercy alone transformed bitter cold and wounded hearts into a homecoming for us all. Evenly divided into three cultures, Poles, Latvians and Lithuanians became whole through Jesus’ one broken body. Mercy alone.

Complex tribes and tongues–no match for this foolish American. So God reduced me to mercy. He simply reminded me of my deepest wounds and most stubborn sins and how only ‘living water’ (blood, water, Spirit; essence of Christ Crucified and Raised) set me free. And is setting me free. Settings like this provoke old hurts and sins so I welcomed fresh mercy and gave it away freely. Simple: clever concepts gave way to the river of Almighty mercy.

My friend Abbey Foard sings like a stream of ‘living water’ so she taught us repeatedly the chorus from ‘Good, Good Father’: “You’re a good, good Father: ‘it’s who You are’ (3x), and I’m loved by You, ‘it’s who I am’ (3X).” Simple: He wants His mercy alone to define us. We need to sing the song until it’s our truth.

Then I shared my struggles. I confess the shock of hearing my sins reverberate in three different languages. So be it. I boast of affliction so that His greater grace may rest on me. And them. My wounds are slight in contrast to the historic betrayals of these three nations which endured Soviet rule, especially the Poles who were smashed on every side by German and Russian forces during WWll.

These influences do not end when a treaty is signed and the wall comes down.  Cruelties reverberate today throughout fatherless families in myriad abuses and distortions of intimacy. Only mercy. Only the ‘Good, Good Father.’

God kept the flame of mercy and human dignity alive in these nations through His Church and in particular, two saints from Poland: St. Faustina who reminds us constantly of ‘Divine Mercy’ and St. John Paul ll who reminds us of what it means now to be a gendered gift, no matter how broken that gift may be. Mercy alone.

‘The knowledge of my own misery frees me to know the immensity of Your mercy.’ St. Faustina

Download PDF

Love’s True Freedom

‘Jesus’ crucified flesh reveals the bond between truth and freedom, just as His resurrection exalts the fruitfulness of a freedom lived out in truth.’ St. John Paul ll

We live in a noisy, confusing world of sexual ‘freedom.’ From Hillary Clinton lamenting Indiana’s religious freedom bill on the grounds that it fetters ‘gay love’ to the Supreme Court insisting that feds cover a prisoner’s gender reassignment costs, we are now subject to a new vision of human freedom that excludes any hint of God. Might the Creator and Redeemer of our humanity know something about true freedom?

No stranger to sexual indignities, Mary Magdalene discovered freedom at the Source. Jesus gave Himself to a woman traditionally believed to be driven by disordered desires and demonized by a culture intent on exploiting such women. Unafraid of her impurity, Jesus offered Mary almighty mercy. He became her refuge and gave her a place alongside of Him. Jesus’ powerful Presence in her life delivered Mary from seven demons (LK 8: 2). ‘He did not hand her over to the enemy but set her feet in a spacious place’ (PS 31:8).

Divine love broke the low ceiling over Mary’s life and gave her inspired options. Love alone restored Mary’s human freedom. In love Jesus created her; in love He reclaimed her dignity. She was tempted otherwise, perhaps not unlike a woman today so wearied by broken men that she opens to the affections of another woman or eschews her womanhood altogether.

Jesus rescued her from any number of futile solutions. That’s what real love does: it shames the strong who currently champion any number of civil liberties as the best option for the sexually broken. Will Christians do better than legally securing others in a futile, disordered destiny? We need to impart a quality of love to disordered ones that corresponds to the real ache, the true aspirations of our ailing humanity.

Mary chose the dignity of love that Jesus alone offers. Love became her freedom. And she gave herself freely to His purposes. Do you marvel that Jesus chose her–a formerly demonized, scorned woman–from among all the disciples to deliver the message of resurrection? The freedom of her new life became the glorious vehicle through which all of humanity can say: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ (JN 20:18)

Download PDF

Lust in the Light

‘Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.’ (Rom. 12:21)

All sins are not created equal. Overeaters wear their vice in plus-sized outfits; the slothful bear a gloomy countenance, swathed in grave clothes. Both confess their sins wordlessly. Yet the lustful can radiate good health from overheated frames, giving the appearance of order while driven by disordered desires that if conceived commit violence against all involved. Let’s not compare a breakfast of brownies or dour self-doubts to the one sin that St. Paul claims most opposes one’ own body (1Cor. 6:18) while violating intimacy with Jesus. (vs. 13-17)

Lust is a secret sin that incurs the shame of wasting one’s generative powers; that shame can further isolate the sexual sinner from openly expressing his/her vice. Yet the technology that now drives lust has so obliterated our good shame that we are now nearly shameless, naked and on fire, losing the feeling of exposure which demands what only the Lamb can provide.

With the help of Google fiber, split seconds exist between any lustful thought and a perverse pornographic image that sears itself on the heart, to be recalled at whim. Lust begins with disordered curiosity and ends up disordering our desires by awakening passion it only frustrates. Good gifts we are, yes, but lust lures us to pervert the essence of that gift in cheap exchanges that bankrupt our most precious offering. Even the shameless can feel its futility. Scripture claims that the law is written on our hearts, (Rom. 2: 15), which testify to the truth that God made us to give ourselves only where committed love creates an openness to life.

Any fluency on this topic is because of my sordid history; lust is my most deadly sin. For this I feel blessed shame, a gift in light of my rather shameless background. Growing up on the CA beach in the sexual revolution, we ‘spent’ our bodies to buy new sensations. Although my inclinations were homosexual, lust may better define what drove and derided me. The Catholic Church smartly defines lust as sexual pleasure sought for itself, without the goals of lasting communion and child-bearing, and cites masturbation, pornography, fornication, and homosexual practice as among its expressions (CCC2351-2359). Sexual immorality is an equal opportunity offender. For all who lust, we have an Advocate, the ‘Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.’ (JN 1: 29)

The Lamb leads us to purity, or better put, to chastity, which is the stern and splendid task of integrating our sexuality within both our bodies and our spirits. (#2337) What a long and invigorating adventure! His unfailing love enables our daily surrender to Jesus and His members. Through trustful confession, accountability, and ongoing prayer, He pours Himself out upon us and accesses the heart’s true cry for love and connection. We learn to love real people. Overtime, Jesus helps us to become chaste and so overcome our disintegration, the lustful tendency to dart from real love to fantastic counterfeits.

Along the way, many of us welcome the call to offer our bodies to one person over a lifetime. Jesus and His bride prepared me for Annette. With her I learned to focus my sexual energies in the context of loving a person who was like me and yet profoundly ‘other than me’—body, soul, and spirit. I praise both marriage, and the Lamb who was slain. Together, the two reclaimed for me the gift of sexual love from the distortions of lust.

‘Jesus has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being: He has set us free from the domination of lust.’ (St. John Paul ll, Veritatis Splendor)

Download PDF
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: