In Formation

Saturday, June 1


"Sextasy" and the Fire Within

A disturbing but unsurprising report from Newsweek about "sextasy." In it, we read with painful clarity just how our in-born desire for ultimate union has driven the most eager among us to new heights and depths.

Since Viagra was introduced in the United States in 1998 to treat erectile dysfunction, the little blue diamond has also become a recreational favorite among gay men�as well as teenage �ravers��who use it to enhance the effects of street drugs such as speed, ecstasy (used with Viagra, it�s called �sextasy�) and amyl nitrate, or �poppers.� The consequences can be deadly: Viagra taken with poppers can lead to heart failure. Health officials in San Francisco say illicit Viagra use is contributing to surging infection rates for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.

This is not so much a public health issue as it is a sign of the moral times. Now, it's dangerous for us to read articles like this one. And that's because it's oh so tempting to point the finger at "them," whoever "they" are. Some will surely latch on to this story and say "look at those gays, what they're doing to themselves." Yes, it's tragic. And teens too, growing up in a world (and, we might add, in a Church) that often seems to think that sex really is the greatest pleasure going.

Now don't think I'm dissing sex. I'm not. It's a beautiful gift, a wonderful sacrament that the Church teaches us points beyond itself. The men I trust most know sex is sacramental. They have learned about themselves and about love in large measure through their relationships (including their sexual relationships) with their wives. They tell me they didn't know how selfish they were until they got married, until they learned that sex is best when they focus on loving their wives, not about getting pleasure, but on giving themselves totally to their wives. That's when they feel the pleasure, the union, the being one of man and wife. They don't deny the pleasure. But they say (just as the Church teaches) that the pleasure of good sex, God-ordained sex, is more soulic than orgasmic.

The fire within we all feel is not primarily a fire for sex--even good, godly sex. It is a longing for ultimate union with the source of our being, the soul-deep desire to be One with the God who made us for Himself. Regrettably, we Catholics, we Christians, have not always been good witnesses of this deep truth. Augustine said it famously in his Confessions, when he wrote "We were created for you, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." In my depths, I know he's right. I think we all do, including "sextasy" addicts who are seeking frantically for union, for the only wholeness that will meet their need, the one that only God can fill.

Thomas Dubay, in his wonderful book Fire Within:St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the Gospel--on Prayer, reminds us of the high call God places on all Christians to deep lives of prayer and union with God. In his chapter entitled "Liberating Completion," Father Dubay shows us why no part of us should everwonder if "sextasy" is worth a try:

One of the unspoken premises in the loose sexual morality so widely countenanced both in the general population and in certain ethical circles is the idea that almost nothing may be allowed to interfere with easy access to erotic pleasures . . . . Nowhere in this mindset is a trace of the exalted truth that men and women are made for delights that even on earth immeasurably outstrip the erotic. This exciting[!] reality just does not surface at all in 99 percent of articles and books on sexual morality, but it can be discovered anew if we apply the themes prominent in this volume to questions of sexuality: freedom from selfish clingings . . . doing all for the glory of God (really) . . . passive purifications from all egocentrism . . . unspeakable enthrallment in ecstatic prayer . . . centering one's life on what eye has not seen or ear heard. Viewed from a holistic standpoint, sexuality retains its significance, but it is kept in its proper place. Once it ceases to be seen as the end of human life, it loses much of its tyranizing impulse, an impulse to which the world, the flesh and the devil would give free rein.

Come, brothers and sisters. There's work to do. The world needs our witness. It longs for us to share the truth of Christ that brings the "liberating completion" of which Father Dubay writes, and for which all of us, Sextasy addicts included, long with all our hearts.

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/01/2002 |

Justin Martyr, Inc.

Yesterday, I chimed in on the troublesome news that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has hired a PR firm to spread the word of all the good things they are doing.

The truth is, we do need PR. But, as in most things Christian, it's just the opposite of what we'd naturally think. The Christian PR principles are a bit puzzling to Sitrick and company. They may even (tragedy of tragedies) be puzzling to some of the bishops in our Church. They always include: speak the truth in love. They always include: love your neighbor as yourself. They always include: bless those who persecute you. They always include: be willing to suffer for Christ's sake.

Today, the Memorial of Justin Martyr, it is well to remember that the best PR the Church can ever have is faithful men and women embracing the Cross with Christ, dying--in spirit and/or body--to themselves for the sake of Christ and His Church.

The fact is, the Church in America, for all its whining about Anti-Catholicism here, has gotten a bit flabby, a bit too comfortable. We have forgotten that suffering is the natural state of those who would be like Jesus. We have neglected the hard truths of what the Cross demands. We sought a gospel of Cheap Grace. Simply put, many of us forgot our First Love. We lost our way.

But like a Good Shepherd, Christ is yanking us back to His path, which is, of course, the Via Dolorosa. What a grace we have been given. Our horrors, pain, and suffering are a severe mercy. Let's not waste it! Let's recall what the Gospel means, and to what we have been called.

If we start following the PR principles of men like Justin Martyr, I suspect we'll see some tremendous fruits. As Tertullian said, "The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians!" Let's live the Gospel, come what may. Then, perhaps, we will experience that great springtime of evangelization we've all been eagerly awaiting.

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/01/2002 |

Searching for causes and solutions

Here's a Washington Post article that explores the causes of pedophilia and ephebophilia and the choices perpetrators must make in dealing with their "problem."

The reality, forensic psychologist Prentky and others note, is that some sex offenders, particularly pedophiles, must essentially choose between celibacy or prison. "Sometimes," agreed Berlin, who served as a consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, "what really motivates people is a gun to their head" in the form of the threat of forced hospitalization or probation revocation.

What saddens me is that the "sanctions" that show potential to reform (or control) these priest perpetrators are all at the human, horizontal level: threats of prison, hospitalization, and the like. What about God's judgment? Do these clinicians remind their priest patients of the promises they made when they were confirmed, when they were ordained? That they would love and serve, not molest, Christ's Bride?

We're in dire need of a dose of Gospel sanity to free us from the trap of horizontal thinking. I'm not against therapy as a help. But it better never become the master discourse of Christians. There's sin here, not just sickness.

We can be sure God knows the causes of the abuse. But I doubt God is stuck in a therapeutic model. The Incarnate Word says: repent and believe. We all know there's healing in confession. That's the Catholic way. The glorious truth is that God is more eager to forgive than we are to sin. But forgiveness follows confession. Grace and healing come, as Archbihop Weakland said last night, from the truth. The glorious and gracious Truth is: we are forgiven. Why waste such a grace by pretending we're not sinners?

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/01/2002 |

Friday, May 31


Episcopal Penance

Archbishop Weakland spoke this evening with candor and sincerity, stating how his sins have scandalized and wounded the Church he was sworn to serve.

I come before you today to apologize and beg forgiveness.

I know - and I am sure you do too - that the Church to be authentic must be a community that heals. But I also know - and you do too - that there is no healing unless it is based on truth. In my remarks I will do my best.

I apologize to all the faithful of this Archdiocese which I love so much, to all its people and clergy, for the scandal that has occurred because of my sinfulness. Long ago, I placed that sinfulness in God's loving and forgiving heart, but now and into the future I worry about those whose faith may be shaken by my acts . . .

But I am also aware much self-pity and pride remain. I must leave that pride behind. Each day I will try to leave room for God to enter into my life more and more. Ultimately I understand that the humanity God so loved and sought to redeem, including my own humanity, will be transformed by his loving embrace and grace . . .

I will not question the authenticity of these words. They are the words Catholics use when they are contrite. He spoke the words without qualification or nuance, boldly, repentantly. And for that reason, I am truly grateful. The process of healing in Milwaukee has begun. Come Holy Spirit!

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/31/2002 |

Pope Urges Youth to Answer Vocation Call

At a Mass celebrating Corpus Christi, the Holy Father gave the youth gathered a gentle nudge. He reminded them what a great grace our priests bring us. It's simple: No priests=No Eucharist. John Paul made his case well:

"This people needs the Eucharist. The Eucharist makes the Church be missionary, but can this take place without priests who renew the eucharistic mystery?" the Pontiff asked.

At the end, John Paul II addressed the youth who were present. "If any one feels the Lord�s call to give himself totally to him, to love him with an undivided heart, let him not be held back by doubt or fear," he urged.

"May he express his own �yes� without reservations, trusting him who is faithful to all his promises!" the Holy Father added.


posted by Fr. Steve | 5/31/2002 |

Of midnight calls and animals

Joel Mowbray, a Catholic himself, recently expressed his view that the celibacy rule for priests should not be changed. Among his other arguments, he played up the undivided nature of the priest's commitment to the Church.

Catholic priests have a dual devotion to God and parishioners�there simply isn't room in their lives for families of their own.

A priest recently relayed to me an interesting story: A Methodist minister who taught at his seminary told him that when he was deathly ill at a hospital, he called a Catholic priest, not a fellow Methodist. The minister gave two reasons; 1) he could call a Catholic priest in the middle of the night guaranteed to reach him, and 2) a Catholic priest is able to give fully of himself to others and would not have a family to tend to.

Last summer, this point was brought home to me. One beautiful Sunday afternoon, Jeff (a fellow seminarian) and I were sitting on the porch across from the parish where he was an intern. We saw a man peer into the church. He seemed visibly troubled, so Jeff went over to see if he could help. The man asked Jeff if he was a priest. Jeff said no, but he could call one if it was an emergency.

The man said no. He wasn't Catholic; he just wanted to talk. He had frantically looked for someone at other churches, to no avail. Then he realized he could always find a priest. So he trotted over to St. John's.

His problem? Well, it turns out that the local Unitarian Universalist Church was celebrating "bring your pet to church day." The poor man was fit-to-be-tied. Birds in a cage, he said, that he could understand. Maybe cats. But there were dogs. Dogs! wandering around the church. And not just the small, lap variety.

The poor guy. He just needed to tell someone--anyone--how much this bothered him. And Jeff was there. And he listened. I don't know exactly what he said to the man (perhaps he mentioned St. Francis?), but the man was a different person when he left.

On that Sunday, Jeff, like celibate priests all around the world, was available. This time, it was no midnight death-bed call. Just a chat on a Sunday afternoon about dogs in church. But this man, like everyone who knows anything about the priesthood, knew he could find a priest. And he sought one out, to tell his tale of woe.

Examples like this one and the one by Mowbray don't constitute an argument for celibacy, but they sure show the wisdom of the Church's demand that her priests offer themselves completely for the people.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/31/2002 |

Lord, have mercy . . .

I think we all knew the Vatican letter of 1961 would disapprove of shenanigans like this (link requires free registration) without ever reading it.

A Web site run by a Roman Catholic priest in Pennsylvania that sold videos of bare-chested teenage boys wrestling--ostensibly to raise funds for a severely injured Orange County man--was closed down voluntarily Wednesday.

For the last three years, the association's Internet site has featured photos of youthful grapplers--some as young as 16--with such nicknames as "Corporal Punishment" and "Johnny Heartbreaker."

It also peddled a long list of its own wrestling videos, such as "Back-to-School Bash," "Heat Stroke 2" and "Cabin Fever 2," some shot in a church rectory. The videos sold for roughly $20 apiece. The nonprofit did not file required tax returns that would have indicated how much money it brought in and gave away.

God help us! Are these priests in spiritual direction? Do they know themselves? Do they ever go to confession? How about a firm purpose of amendment? Are they praying at all? The mind boggles; the heart weeps.

Mother Mary, on this Feast of your Visitation to Elizabeth, pray for us.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/31/2002 |

Raising the bar (in 1961)

Michael Dubruiel prints excerpts (with commentary) of the famed "1961 letter" (excerpts posted by Diocese Report) about standards for candidates in formation. The entire document can be read at Petersnet, here.

I'm inclined to agree with Michael that few of the candidates in formation would pass muster. Even so, the ideals espoused are worth revisiting, if only to guarantee that those men in formation would be aware of the high calling to which they (as potential priests) have been called. That is, to holiness. Of course, that is the universal call of the baptized. So, no one's off the hook.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/31/2002 |

Public Relations

Mark Shea makes a very good point when he jabs the Archdiocese of LA for hiring a PR firm to help get it through this mess. The problem is not perception, but the tragic reality. Superficial remedies are not what is demanded.

Cardinal Roger Mahony has tried to stave off questions from the public and media about the priest abuse scandal. More than 30 current or former priests of the archdiocese are now under investigation by law enforcement authorities for alleged sexual misconduct with children.

Hennigan chose Sitrick because the archdiocese "was not doing well in the press. I thought the press was focusing on the very negative aspects without the whole story coming out. Sitrick said the first order of business will be attempting to separate perception from reality.

How just like Hollywood. How unlike Christ. Why not look to the scriptures instead?

For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God's approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps . . . (I Peter 2:20-21)

Two chapters later, Peter goes at the theme again, powerfully:

But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischief-maker; yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God. For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? (I Peter 4:15-17).

Surely part of the Church's suffering (if not the vast majority) is due to our sinfulness. We better learn from it. And change our ways. The Church is not in need of good PR. It needs us to live the way Christ lived:

He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (I Peter 2:22-25)

Just think. If the Sitrick firm had been consulted in 1st Century Palestine, would they ever have approved Jesus' way of showing love? Of having the cross (their equivalent of our electric chair) be the trademark of spiritual renewal? Of course not. But that's just the kind of God we serve. Jesus endured the Greatest Scandal of all--creation killing their Creator!--so we might have hope. His way is the way through this scandal. No tidying up the picture, just the brute facts of our sinfulness and His great love.

What does He say in His moment of deepest anguish on our behalf? Not "look at all the good I'm doing for you," but "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Oh, how true that is.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/31/2002 |

Thursday, May 30


Hello . . .

Mark Sullivan at Ad Orientem gives high praise to the addition at Mundelein Seminary of Msgr. M. Francis Mannion and the Liturgical Institute he directs. And rightly so. The Institute and the team of faculty members Msgr. Mannion has recruited are welcome additions to University of St. Mary of the Lake. As if that weren't enough, Mark also points us to some additional praise from Gerard Serafin.

In his blog, Mark also reported on the Church architecture conference that was held at Mundelein in October 2001. One product of the conference (and the collaboration of Msgr. Mannion, Dr. Denis McNamara, and Franck, Lohsen, McCrery, Architects was a visually stunning plan for a Church of 2010 (Check it out. There are even pictures.). See Mark's blog for more links and details about Franck, Lohsen, & McCrery's current projects and plans.

I know what you're thinking. Why not just link to Mark's blog? Well, it somehow seems fitting that I should say similarly nice things about this place where I study. Thanks, Mark, for reminding me of another reason I'm blessed to be studying at Mundelein. And, by all means, link. He's got a whole passel of pictures. Me? Just plain old text (and a few links here and there).

. . . Goodbye

Father Robert Johansen's review of Goodbye, Good Men has been published in Culture Wars.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/30/2002 |

Quick links

Emily Stimpson has posted all the do's (including her Top-10 list) and the don'ts of Orthodox "pick-up lines." Interesting. And a bit disturbing.

Greg Popcak has some interesting observations about the vocations crisis on Heart, Mind, & Strength in response to my blog, plus some interesting news from Deal Hudson, editor of Crisis Magazine.

Last, a review of a USAToday article on Fr. Paul Shanley and a painfully clever treatment of the Situation (see the post on NASA) at Bettnet. Link away . . .

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/30/2002 |

It's about integrity . . .

John Leo's shooting straight with this post. (Thanks to Mike Hardy, of "Enemy of the Church?" fame, for pointing out the link.)

The way out for the church is not to hunt down and expel every last gay priest, which would be impossible anyway. But it should restore the pressures to keep priests, gay and straight, from acting out sexually, whether by showering with a mature friend or preying on a child. The key principles are easily learned: Maybe celibacy will be changed someday, but if you make a vow to stay celibate, you ought to keep your word. And in the seminaries, Catholic sexual morality should be taught by people who actually believe it. Is this controversial?

Nope. Clear. Crystal clear.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/30/2002 |

Better get there early!

Yesterday, I talked about the vocations crisis, spurred on by a study that compared the number of priests to the number of practicing Catholics. The upshot was that the ratio is better now than it was at the beginning of the 20th Century. That's, of course, a mixed blessing, if it's a blessing at all.

Rather than looking for problems in the dioceses and seminaries (though there surely are some), I pointed my finger at the failure of Catholics to love and practice their faith, to retreat from the Catholic distinctives, and the "tough teachings" of the faith. I haven't changed my view overnight. But, you may recall, I also said there are reasons for hope. Let me offer another.

This one centers on the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Plenty of other bloggers have blogged on confession. Most recently, there was Father Jim Tucker, at Dappled Things. Here's my take:

Not far from our seminary, Marytown offers evenings of recollection every Tuesday and Thursday, complete with confessions, adoration, and benediction. (A related benefit is that they have perpetual adoration. A simply wonderful place.) Well, the news at the seminary about these evenings of recollection is: get there early. The reason is obvious the first time you go. There are lines. And it's not simply that the (minimum of 2) confessors are long-winded. People are coming, seeking the words of absolution as the prodigal did.

Last week, I also got a hopeful email from a woman in LA. Along with wonderfully encouraging remarks about the Little Flower, she added these observations:

Another sign of encouragement: this past Saturday, I was struck by the number of people who showed up for Confession. I went hoping (selfishly) no one would be there due to the holiday weekend and I wouldn't have to wait. Not only were there several penitents, other people came in seemingly just to spend time in quiet prayer. I noticed one man praying the rosary. As I mentioned previously, the news is discouraging here in Los Angeles, as you would well know. I think people are responding by a renewed commitment to prayer for our church and priests.

It's no surprise that this is happening. The Holy Spirit is revealing our personal need for holiness, and the grace of this sacrament is tailor-made, as it were, for helping us reform our lives. It's a sacrament of healing (CCC 1421). Just what the Doctor of our Soul orders.

Calling all Bloggers

I don't have time to link to all the wonderful posts you have written on confession. But, if you want, place a comment with a link to your blog where the interested reader can get your thoughts on this blessed sacrament.

One last thing. Yet again, it involves C.S.Lewis. In a book of reminiscences, his personal physician recounts an occasion when Lewis came to him, feeling particularly unwell and in a general funk. The physician couldn't find any medical cause, so he suggested that Lewis go to confession (yes, Anglo-Catholics do such things). Afterward, Lewis was renewed. Just what we might expect.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/30/2002 |

Wednesday, May 29


If she only knew . . .

Blogging around a bit today, I stumbled across further fillet-ings of Eileen McNamara's "wonderful alternative." The sharpest of them must surely be Domenico Bettinelli's denunciation (there's plenty other good things on his site, too). But there's more. Steve Schultz at Catholic Light weighs in, as does Mark Sullivan at Ad Orientem, and Pat Tyler at Quid Novi, too.

Emily Stimpson
said her piece, twice, and then there's my brief note. Seems Eileen's struck a chord. Or perhaps she just said something so ridiculous that none of us could let it stand unchallenged. Eileen, we bloggers, we're on to you.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/29/2002 |

Vocations crisis?

Emily Stimpson pointed me toward some interesting research (which she found at Relapsed Catholic). And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the bloggin' game is played.

Well, Emily asked for some input from the priests and seminarians at St. Blog's. And, as you know, I'm a sucker for a blog. So here's my take:

First of all, I've already weighed-in on my methodological concerns about Goodbye, Good Men, and my fears that it will be taken as gospel by those who are searching for explanations for why some of our priests have deviated so far from the Gospel.

The argument in this fascinating research summary is that the problem is not a lack of vocations, but a lack of practicing Catholics:

Citing data from the National Opinion Research Center, Sullins said only 30 percent of Catholics attend Mass each week. In the 1960s, there were fewer than 20 priests for every 10,000 weekly Mass attenders. In 2000, Sullins said, there were 27 priests for every 10,000 weekly Mass attenders . . .

Sullins also disputes the notion that parishes-without-priests is a measure of the church's decline. Prior to World War II, Sullins said one-third of U.S. parishes did not have a priest. Today, that number is about one in five. While higher than the 1960s, those figures show the church is healthier at the start of the 21st century than it was at the start of the 20th, he said.

That's a counter-intuitive finding if ever there was one. But I have no reason to doubt his claims. So, what are we to make of the "crisis"? Obviously, it's not good that fewer and fewer Catholics are going to Mass. Solving the priesthood crisis by reducing demands for the sacraments is not exactly Christ's way.

But even on the measures Sullins uses, we have reasons to be concerned. Consider, for example, what you saw the last time you observed a gathering of your diocesan priests. No doubt, the priesthood is graying. To confirm our collective hunch, consider the following sobering statistics from CARA:

The average age of active diocesan priests is 59, and that of active religious priests is 63. Fewer than one in five diocesan priests are under age 45.�

In that light, I'm willing to say there is a vocations crisis. But I won't blame dioceses for keeping all the good men from studying. I won't blame the seminaries for weeding out the good ones. I won't blame gays in the priesthood. I won't even blame the current Situation. (If anything, I think that will create a sense of urgency among men and women of the need for total self-donation to Christ and the Church.)

Those might be small factors at work in the crisis, but I rather think the problem is the same lack of faithfulness that has led to declining church attendance. Simply put, Catholics haven't been living by the Church's teaching. What's worse is that many families are unsupportive when their kids say they'd like to consider priesthood or religious life. I have had more than a few men say they'd love to study for the priesthood, but their parents don't want them to do so. These men are often one of only a few children, and perhaps the only son. Sometimes the families think the life would be too hard, too lonely. And they're right. The priesthood is more like the life Christ led than we'd ideally prefer. But isn't that the point? Isn't that why God calls some men to that special vocation? Anyway, what this means is that families often won't "spare" their sons for the priesthood.

Now that's a vocations crisis. But, thanks be to God! More and more families are reclaiming their Catholic faith. And they're living it. My nephew is nine-years-old, one of six kids (and he's the oldest), and he believes God is calling him to the priesthood. And his parents couldn't be more supportive. I also have good friends who have three young sons. Their mother said she'd be happy if God called each of them to be priests. And their father smiles broadly. Now those are reasons for hope! Families like that prove that the Holy Spirit is at work. Crisis? Yes. But God willing, not for long. Keep on praying.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/29/2002 |

Today's Mass readings

For your daily dose of online reflections on the day's readings, go to Nota Bene and Sursum Corda. Today I thought I'd add my bit, though, because they went straight to an issue I've been wrestling with.

Last night, I wrote about the lure of The Inner Ring, and raised the possibility that some of the present day successors of the apostles may be in its sway. Well, today's Gospel reading from Mark 10:32-45 reveals that there is nothing new under the sun.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/29/2002 |

Please, Eileen . . .

Eileen McNamara offers her readers what she calls an alternative to the Catholic Church. Emily Stimpson's take is valuable, noting, as she does, that schism isn't the answer.

So, what is this alternative Eileen is lauding?

On Sundays, the Rev. DiSanto celebrates a liturgy easily mistaken for the Roman Catholic Mass. ''We have retained the rituals and the traditions and dispensed with those rules that divide us,'' the pastor says. ''We would rather focus on what unites us as Christians.''

There is no membership book to sign, no tithe to make, no hierarchy to obey. The doors of Grace Church are open to all. On a typical Sunday, there might be 50 to 100 people in the pews. ''Why,'' asks the Rev. DiSanto, ''would anyone come to a church they didn't feel free to leave when the spirit moved them?''

It's effectively the Church of the Free Spirit: unstodgy, unstale, unhierarchical. The only problem is that it's also pretty much irrelevant. The Holy Spirit doesn't reform by schism. And, though some might hope that McNamara is actively searching for something similar in Boston, the article is just one more swipe at the Holy Father, Boston's Cardinal Archbishop, and the entire Church Catholic.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/29/2002 |

Voice of the Fathers

In an earlier post, I mentioned some good advice a wise priest gave seminarians the last week of the school year. Earlier in the year, our lone Jesuit faculty member (one of the good ones), provided us some wise words too. At Sunday night Benediction, this Vietnam veteran Chaplain weighed-in on the scandal. He spoke plainly. He began his reflection by talking about his experience waiting to jump out of a plane by parachute in the dark of night. He said life is often like that; we have to move into the unknown. Then he made application to the tragic news of the scandal:

"Some of you may wonder if you're capable of doing the things you've been reading about, wondering how such things are possible. You know that the men who did them sat in chapels just like this one."

Of course, his message was not about fear and uncertainty, but about hope. He gave us three things he said would protect us from becoming like those men. First, he said, "develop a Christological prayer life, one steeped in the scriptures." Second, "develop a strong love of our Eucharistic Lord. He's there, in the tabernacle waiting for you to spend time with Him." And, as I recall, the third thing he said was "look to our Lady for her loving intercession and support." If that wasn't his third point, I'm sure it was "Don't neglect Confession," because that's one of his common themes.

The point, of course, was that abiding in Christ, living as He lived, is how we live in grace. And when we do, there is no cause for fear.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/29/2002 |

Tuesday, May 28


The Inner Ring

Tim Drake says he's putting together an article for the National Catholic Register, and he's asked for confessions about why bloggers blog. Some, he says, have been honest enough to admit it's a bit (or a lot) of narcissism. On a related note, I read a story last week about the social dynamics of blogging (I know, this is unforgiveable: no link!). The upshot was that if no one links to you, you're finished. Or you're just talking to yourself. Based on that story, one blogger (again, no link!) jokingly (though I'm not sure about that) pleaded not to be ignored.

These blogging dynamics coupled with the steady critiques I've been reading about the inner-workings of the hierarchy (those mind-boggling decisions we have seen!) got me thinking. And when I'm trying to figure out what's going on in the world, a C.S. Lewis essay or book often comes to mind. His novels are great, but his essays and non-fiction works are no less spectacular. This time it was his The Inner Ring, an address he gave as a Memorial Lecture at King's College, London in 1944.

It is typical Lewis, fabulous in its analysis of the very human way that hierarchies, official and unofficial, are created and sustained. As I reread the essay, I realized how much light it sheds on all social-dynamics, from that of blogs to that of bishops. With Screwtape clarity, Lewis lays bare the problems of seeking to be "in" for the sake of being "in." Here are (not a few) excerpts. The entire essay is brilliant and worth the short time it takes to read. (Honest.)

I believe that in all men's lives at certain periods, and in many men's lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside.

I am not going to say that the existence of Inner Rings is an evil. It is certainly unavoidable . . . . It is necessary; and perhaps it is not a necessary evil. But the desire which draws us into Inner Rings is another matter. A thing may be morally neutral and yet the desire for that thing may be dangerous . . .

My main purpose in this address is simply to convince you that this desire is one of the great permanent mainsprings of human action. It is one of the factors which go to make up the world as we know it-this whole pell-mell of struggle, competition, confusion, graft, disappointment, and advertisement, and if it is one of the permanent mainsprings then you may be quite sure of this. Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life, from the first day on which you enter your profession until the day when you are too old to care . . .

Of all the passions the passion for the Inner Ring is most skilful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things. My second reason is this. The torture allotted to the Danaids in the classical underworld, that of attempting to fill sieves with water, is the symbol not of one vice but of all vices. It is the very mark of a perverse desire that it seeks what is not to be had. The desire to be inside the invisible line illustrates this rule. As long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want. You are trying to peel an onion: if you succeed there will be nothing left. Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain . . .

The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it . . . . And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside: that you are indeed snug and safe at the center of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that its secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric: for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship. Aristotle placed it among the virtues. It causes perhaps half of all the happiness in the world, and no Inner Ring can ever have it.

All of this makes me think that we simply need to do what God lays before us, without concern for who notices. It's about loving God and our neighbors, and doing whatever bit God has assigned us in the Body of Christ. And, as Lewis says, doing that, we'll be happy. And we'll have friends, to boot.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/28/2002 |

That they may be one . . .

I received an email today from a good friend. I got to know her and her husband during the 18 years I spent in an Evangelical Protestant church. (I "reverted" to the Catholic Church four years ago.) She sent me this very encouraging note:

Naturally, I have been thinking about you a lot given the Situation, as I now know it is called. I prayed some but not much and it was for you not really the Church. A couple of weeks ago our pastor called our congregation to reach out across aisles and hold hands (something we do from time to time) and then he prayed for the Catholic Church. As he prayed I was convicted that I had not entered into the suffering and helped to bear the burden of all my Catholic brothers and sisters. Please know I will be praying.

That's what I call ecumenism. Thanks for your prayers, Alison.

Seminarian update

Thanks to all who prayed for the seminarian friend of mine that I mentioned last week. I spoke with him yesterday, and he is doing well. Over the weekend, he attended a friend's priesthood ordination and his Mass of Thanksgiving. With the power of those liturgies, much prayer, and time to reflect, he is feeling encouraged and hopeful about his vocation again. And that's good news for the entire Church. Thanks for your continued prayers for the many men in formation!

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/28/2002 |

Listening to Jesus

Amy Welborn argues that the need for the bishops is to listen to Jesus. Indeed. (I placed a comment on her blog, hoping to point to this entry, but it failed to link directly. Lesson learned.)

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/28/2002 |

No disputes on this

John DaFiesole of Disputations provides keen insight into press coverage of the Holy Father's suffering, and the broad outlines of his pontificate.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/28/2002 |

Peer-pressured into it, I was.

Actually, the good comments I receive from readers are worth posting. Feel free.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/28/2002 |

Some of the pain Christ bore

An exceedingly sad story from the NY Times Magazine on Sunday (requires free registration). The article concludes with these reflections of a girl who feels she's really a boy trapped in a girl's body:

''Yeah, I'm happy, but I always think, Why did God make me like this?'' he says, looking off into the distance. ''Why couldn't he have just made me one way, either a guy or girl? Because I don't feel like a girl at all, but I have a girl's body. I don't understand why God would do that.''

Many in this day would argue that this is just another (if painful) way to be in the world. But we Catholics, we know better. This is not the way things are supposed to be. This is the result of sin at some level (if only the brokenness in the world that results from Original Sin).

In response, we need to offer Christ's answer to her question, because she's in pain. So, if Christ wills to help this girl become whole, what is the answer?

There's madness afoot, of moral uncertainty, and tolerance of all manner of "difference." Regrettably, the Church's prophetic voice--intended to offer hope to a needy world--has become muted by its own moral failings. So the world suffers. May God call our shepherds back to Himself so the Church they lead can offer Christ's message of hope for the world without compromise. May all the shepherds be salt and light for the world even as our Holy Father is. The Church has been given to the world as the Sacrament of Salvation. And, the world desperately needs us to be the voice of truth and love in the midst of madness. The suffering girls, boys, men, and women in the world desperately need the Light. Let's pray we never again hide it under the bushel of our sin.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/28/2002 |

What would Jesus do?

Psychologist Patricia Dalton offers her perspective on the Situation in an opinion piece in the Washington Post. I agree with some of her observations, among them her lament that the April meeting in Rome did not go far enough:

. . . The solutions put forward included forming a team of church officials to review all U.S. seminaries and strengthening celibacy in the priesthood. But a second, more insidious problem was left untouched: the institutional weaknesses that have allowed this tragedy to go on so long unchecked . . . . The scandal is not the problem of a few errant priests but a symptom of widespread dysfunction. The Catholic church is out of touch with its people, its flock . . .

She concludes with this advice:

Here is what this lay Catholic woman would recommend to the hierarchy. Bring back to active duty the priests who had to leave the church to marry, and consider elevating deacons to the priesthood. Bring lay and religious women into decision-making bodies. Stop telling gay Catholics that they can be gay as long as they don't act on it -- encircle them instead in the fold. Keep asking yourselves, as seriously as the young people in my daughter's youth group do: WWJD?

What would Jesus do? First of all, he would listen to the people. And the clergy need more than anything else to be prepared to listen. As the poet Rainer Maria Rilke once said, "Try to love the questions . . . . Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them . . . . Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually live along some distant day into the answers."

"What would Jesus do?" is easier asked than answered. The Gospels reveal that even His followers often had no clue what Jesus was about. They wanted an earthly kingdom; he offered servant leadership. They wanted to fight; he said "love your enemies."

The ones who knew best what Jesus would do were those who saw their sinfulness for what it was, who came to Him seeking love and forgiveness. The woman at the well, the many men and women seeking healing, Mary Magdalen, the sinner who said in the Temple, "Lord, have mercy on me a sinner." He responds to humility, not suggestions about how he ought to minister. Consider his response to Peter. When Peter doubted that dying was a good idea, Jesus gave Him an earful: "Get behind me, Satan."

There is surely a place for the laity to call the Bishops to live the Gospel, and to offer suggestions for change, but I suspect Dr. Dalton is in dangerous territory when she supposes that Jesus would relax moral teachings to "get in touch" with the people. Those who see their sin for what it is (and Christ's mercy for what it is) know best "what Jesus would do." He forgives them and says "sin no more." Then he says, follow me--all the way to the Cross.

The major problem, it seems, is not that the leaders are "out of touch" with the desires of the laity but that some of them are "out of touch" with the Good Shepherd. They need to recommit themselves to living in Him, with His heart, to feed and tend His Flock. In short, what would Jesus do? He'd listen to the Father's voice, and do His will.

Though the quote from Rilke is wonderful, I suspect the problem in this case is not that the Bishops don't know what they should be doing, but that a few of them have tragically failed to do so.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/28/2002 |

Monday, May 27



What John Paul II said.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/27/2002 |

Are chanceries to blame?

A reader raises a serious question in response to my "screening out the screeners" post below:

I agree with the assessment of the [Catholic Medical Association] about the problem with choosing non-Catholic (or dissenting "Catholic") screeners. However, it seems to me that many people are naive in believing that the high incidence of active homosexuals and dissenters in the clergy and in formation is the result of faulty filters used in the past and that a new, tighter set of screening tests--administered by faithful Catholic screeners--will correct. The problem we're dealing with was created because so many in the hierarchy and clergy didn't want those filters. And, I would argue, they still don't want the filters. "Chose" is the important word in the text you cite. Bishops and formation teams know very well the types of candidates they allow in and turn away, and I don't see that changing.

I don't know if this is the case, but it's certainly worth investigation. If bureaucrats in Chanceries are working their wills rather than that of their bishops, they are de facto shepherds. But bureaucrats obviously don't have the grace of ordination to be overseers in the Apostolic line. Many of these diocesan servants are faithful. However, if those who are making decisions about priestly candidates are agitating for changes in Church teaching, the prime place for change may be the local (diocesan) level.

Now if this reader's more troubling contention is true (i.e., that some bishops are intentionally weeding out faithful men precisely because they are faithful), we need God's help. May God have mercy on their souls, and grant them the grace of conversion. Perhaps even by their June meeting.

In reply to this reader's claims, I must say that the men I study with are orthodox in their views. That makes me doubt that there is a systematic program to "weed out" orthodox candidates in the dioceses that send men to this seminary.

Scandal (Continued)

You might also find this article by Richard John Neuhaus of First Things of interest.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/27/2002 |

Reason enough to blog

Karl Schudt and I were talking after the Chicago priestly ordinations. We spoke about what interested us in blogging. We agreed a central benefit of reading blogs was that we were pointed to interesting links with helpful commentary. We read blogs of those whose instincts we trust. If this or that blogger thought a link was interesting, we probably would too.

Today is a case in point. I probably wouldn't have found this set of articles from the Catholic World Report if I didn't do my daily duty at In Between Naps. Michael O'Brien's essay on his experiences with abuse are informed by love for the tradition, compassion for victims, and wisdom about what should be done. Read it!

Screening out the screeners

I have already weighed in with some concerns about the methodology of Goodbye, Good Men. Here's a precis of his book in article form. In this article, part of the same Catholic World Report special issue, Rose includes some commentary from a Catholic Medical Association report that, for my money, goes to the heart of problems in the screening system that continue in the present. Rose writes:

In 1999, the Catholic Medical Association (CMA) issued a position statement on psychological evaluation of candidates for the priesthood. This paper was drafted by a task force of eight physicians (including four psychiatrists), a consulting psychologist, and a moral theologian. The report began:

"There are numerous reports that mental health professionals who do not support the teachings of the Catholic Church on sexuality have been chosen to evaluate candidates for the priesthood and reject candidates who do accept the Church's teaching on grounds that they are "rigid." There are also reports that some mental health professionals do not report homosexual attractions and conflicts in candidates for priesthood to diocesan officials or religious superiors."

The CMA statement recognized that "the choice of mental health professionals for the evaluation of candidates for the seminary who do not accept Church teaching on sexuality may be based on the belief that such persons would be more 'objective.'" But the group rejected that argument, explaining:

"There is, however, growing recognition that in the mental-health field an objective or neutral approach to the evaluation of a person's mental health is probably not possible nor advantageous. Everyone brings cultural bias to his work: therefore, the growing trend which recognizes the value of matching the therapist to the client. Shared background and culture can be extremely helpful in evaluating mental health. For example, behavior in one culture which might be viewed as pathological, such as the excessive expression of anger, in another, is viewed as expected and normal."

In addressing the qestion of psychological evaluations for seminary candidates, the CMA offered the following recommendations:

"Mental health professionals chosen to evaluate candidates for the priesthood should as far as possible share the cultural background of the devout, faithful, mature candidates they are to evaluate. The professionals should be Catholics in good standing, who support the Church's teaching on sexuality, life, contraception, homosexuality, celibacy of the priesthood, the ordination of only men, and the hierarchical structure of the Church."

I have yet to meet a man in formation who trusted his psychologist-evaluator. In fact, my first question when I went to my interview was "you're going to evaluate me?" And it wasn't because I thought he was going to "find something out" about me. My concerns were not limited to his influence on my future (though that was true). I just would never recommend him to help anyone.

I'm no pscyhologist, but my "gut," where lies rarely dwell, spoke loudly. My gut told me I couldn't trust him. Maybe that was my problem. I will admit that some of his observations were helpful. So, I'm not saying it was a total waste. However, I left his office wishing he (and others like him) didn't play such an important role in saying who should be allowed to study for the priesthood.

There is a great need for faithful Catholic psychologists (or at least those who screen in light of those teachings) to perform pschological screening for seminary candidates. Until dioceses can find enough faithful psychologists, I wonder if we wouldn't do better if we had a diverse group of lay men and women talk with candidates in social settings to ascertain their "fitness" for further formation. For my money, that would be a better test than the view of pschologists who often have only dubious fidelity (and perhaps outright hostility) to Catholic moral teaching.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/27/2002 |

Sunday, May 26


Teaching with authority by suffering well

The Holy Father's suffering is becoming increasingly evident. It was manifest in his travels to the Holy Land two years ago, and is painfully obvious now.

"The condition of the pope is visible to all," said Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. "He will continue to travel within these limitations. The pope notes the big show of affection wherever he goes, and this encourages him."

However, one of the Orthodox churchmen who welcomed John Paul expressed alarm at his condition. Metropolitan Simeon praised the pontiff's mission and goals but said: "I think people around him should tell him he has to stop. He is suffering like Christ."

Though the Metropolitan's concerns surely stem from empathy, I suspect he has never read Salvifici Doloris, the Pope's Apostolic Letter On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering. If you haven't read it, do so today. You'll get a glimpse of the Paschal Mystery, and a window onto ways to deal with the pain and suffering of human life.

In this time of suffering on account of sin in the Church, the Holy Father's willing humiliation and suffering in the eyes of the world is just what we need. John Paul II's love of the Church makes him want to suffer all the more. Yes. Oh, yes. "Suffering like Christ." That's the point, isn't it?

It is no coincidence that John Paul's decline is increasingly visible of late. He's bearing the pain of sin in the Church, united as he is with Christ's sufferings. He is bearing in his body the truths he wrote about so eloquently in his Apostolic Letter. And, now more than ever, his life adds weight to his teaching, just as Christ's did when He gave the Sermon on the Mount. So, when we see him suffer, let us rejoice that he is not wasting it.

He is showing us the way to the Father, just as his Lord and Master did: by suffering well. John Paul II, perhaps especially in these days of pain, suffering and humiliation, provides poignant proof that He is, truly, the Vicar of Christ.

posted by Fr. Steve | 5/26/2002 |