Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Is There Really Such a Thing as Happiness?

During the crushing times of the Great Depression, my financially restricted family patronized a local grocery store run by a man we respectfully called MR. Thompson. He was a very important person in our neighborhood because he supplied us with the needed cold cuts, veggies, milk and butter. As it often happens in times of social stress, we had great “community” solidarity. Everyone was poor—or so we thought. Everyone was struggling just to survive. And we were impressed with Mr. Thompson’s formidable skills in running his “Food emporium”. And, further, we, with our rough New Yawkese, were awed at his fancy New Hampshire accent whenever, with his loose fitting dentures, he discussed Shakespeare and classical literature. Although he wore a battered old gray fedora all year, a long dirty apron (like the waiters in the paintings of Lautrec) and glasses that kept slipping down his nose, we thought he was very “cultured”.

He had come to New York seeking his fortune and wound up running a tiny food supply store and living in a walk up, third floor, cold water flat. He worked six days a week and saved Sundays for his passion and enjoyment----reading. I recall when I was a high school sophomore just beginning to marvel at the joy of books, he mesmerized me with a re-cap of Goldsmith’s “Deserted Village” which he had read the day before. His eyes sparkled and his voice vibrated with palpable joy as he shared this classic with a dirty necked kid from the streets. He had had a happy Sunday. I was struck by this. An old man with very little of this world’s goods can sit huddled by a primitive stove in a near slum and experience something of what every single human being wants—happiness. How can this be?

I had been raised in the world of the pragmatic. Get a good job, preferably a City job. Move out of this seedy neighborhood. Study only that which will help you get more money. Don’t study useless stuff like poetry or philosophy. Material security is what really matters. Save for your old age. Watch out for your pennies and the dollars will watch out for you.

Endless were those admonitions. And it made great sense in the terrible world of the early 20th century where hunger and street evictions were commonplace. But even in the world of the 21st century where opulence abounds and potbellied stoves are a quaint reminder of an earlier and more restricted era, we see such throwback examples as the Citibank highway signs: “Money can’t buy you happiness but it can buy marshmallows which is kinda’ the same thing.” Energy and time are invested mainly in the tangible and material. One’s hope for happiness is based on the size of one’s bank account. Obviously, without some kind of material resource, human existence would be short lived. Who pays the rent and the food bill and the clothier? Who pays the tuition for the kids’ education? How does one move about without a car? Who pays the medical bills? The list is endless and must be factored into the question. But the needs Pyramid gets to a point where there is something more needed for this elusive quality, so difficult to define, which we call Happiness.

With all our money, we have widespread anxiety, distrust, loneliness, fear, and discontent. We observe something close to a terror of being alone. Why are we so often unhappy in spite of our enormously improved material status? Why is this? What does it mean? What kind of world view allows some one like Mr. Thompson to extract from a limited environment such profound feelings of contentment and fulfillment? On the other hand, how is it that some one I know who owns a $4,000,000 apartment in a very fancy building on the East Side, is miserable on a daily basis? He has money, good health, a successful career, a family, and a reasonable Faith level. What is he missing? Is it genetic? Or emotional? Or social? Or cultural? Or what?

Is happiness a relative thing? I recall that, years ago, the advertising industry used to attempt to plumb such dimensions. How frequently we were bombarded with those eye-catching slogans -- “ Happiness is a Kent cigarette” or “ Happiness is owning a puppy dog” or “Happiness is owning a house in the Hamptons”.

Clearly, happiness has a large subjective dimension in its makeup. What pleases me can be another man’s poison. Is it merely another Rorschach test? Nonetheless, a common variable in this search has to be “contentment” which is some kind of pervasive feeling that the “hand” I have been dealt can be fulfilling, valuable and generally worthwhile. I recall one of my professors in Graduate school telling us how he looked into the mirror each morning, reviewed his assets like health, love, a fulfilling job, friends, a sense of humor, a lively Faith and life, itself, and said to himself: “Not bad.” This is not character dwarfism but the very contrary. The more one appreciates what one has, the more one appreciates life--- and gains even more. This does not lead to smugness, stagnation or indifference but, paradoxically, to personal growth. It leads to the freedom of “looking around” and seeing what is there!

It is ironic that the more one “sees” and appreciates the specific values and goods of life, the more such an emotional treasury expands. It is remarkable that sometimes we cannot recognize the happiness potential right under our noses. Experience endlessly teaches that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. It hardly ever is.

Where does all this lead? One startling conclusion is that Negative factors in life and contentment, (even positive resignation) can make surprisingly congenial bedfellows! It depends on how one views “life.” At the same time, it is interesting that Jesus never promised happiness in this life. He did clearly promise something called “shalom.” This is a profound inner experience of Order. Of Tranquility. Of oughtness. But it differs from happiness which is obviously so difficult to define.. Permanent happiness belongs to Paradise, the state of Heaven, but the deep interior feeling of Things-are-the way-they-are- supposed-to-be is attainable in this Valley of tears. But how?

I suggest that the earthly happiness/ Peace/ contentment constellation would include the following:

1. Living in the Present or one day at a time. Remorse, regret and guilt are often a waste of energy. I can control my Now but not my past or my future.

2. Cultivating a habit of gratitude for the blessings and joys in my immediate cosmos. Constantly recalling the street wisdom of the half-filled glass.

3. Noticing what goes on in my world. Cultivating the habit of seeing the many good things under my very nose. Becoming aware of the phoniness of the “beautiful” people hoopla. Seeing that the glitz of the media is largely superficial and consequently discovering freedom from envy.

4. Instantly halting the first inklings of self pity realizing that the “pity pot” is close to the most damaging human emotion.

5. Cutting the roots of the silliness of perfectionism again realizing that the notion of perfection is an illusion which discourages real attempts at human growth.

6. Getting deeply rooted in God and His truth whereby one finally discovers one’s own value as the Lord’s own child. Understanding, as a consequence, that life is meant to be enjoyed and that having appropriate “fun” is not only permitted by the Lord but is highly encouraged. This is highly linked to an authentic religious way of life which brings that profound joy of the inner awareness of walking with God.

Everyone has a right and even an obligation to figure out the best way to live one’s life. Of course, we can lose that which makes us happy in this life while Heaven is for ever. Yet, we should, it would appear, make the most of what we have in this life and get the maximum of the happiness/peace/contentment potential in our lives. May God and Our Lady direct us to lead the good and merry Christian life.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A Jewish Agnostic’s Discovery of Her God

She was an incredibly bright young copy writer for a leading Ad Agency with responsibility for the Ford account but writhing under an agony of spiritual emptiness. Though Jewish by ethnicity, she was totally lacking any kind of religious anchor. Written over 40 years ago, her self report, which follows, illustrates a fascinating journey from the darkness of “not knowing” to the joy of “arriving.”



I began this journey unprepared. I had no chance to consider, let alone inquire, what the standard things to take along might be, it is probably just as well, because they’re not the sort of thing you can readily lay your hands on. And although I have not reached my destination yet—or know for certain that I shall get there—I wouldn’t have missed this trip for the world. Besides, truly experienced travelers may be right when they say that all you really need to take along is the right spirit, particularly when it’s an unplanned trip. When I set out, that November Tuesday not three months ago, I had no idea I was going anywhere.
Indeed, I was well on my way before I realized just where I might be headed. So far as I knew, the only place I was going that first evening was to “sit in on” a class in Catholic Instruction.

I never would have gone alone. A friend of mine was taking the course as a "refresher" before being baptized into the Church she had accepted four years earlier. Since she had every intention of going alone, this doesn’t say anything about why I went. Except that if she had not, I would not have. But she also went to California last year, and it never occurred to me to tag along. Chalk it up, if you like, to a mind uncomfortably atrophied from disuse, or to idle curiosity, or to the finger of Grace delivering an almost imperceptible nudge to an unsuspecting shoulder. Does it matter much now how I came to that first night? I do know I meant to go only that once, or perhaps twice. I certainly didn’t mean to register for the course. But the woman behind the reception desk assumed—with ample justification, to be sure—that anyone who was there was there for precisely that purpose. So I filled out the card she handed me, feeling the same dull edge of guilt one feels when one accepts an indefinite invitation to visit someone one has no intention of seeing again. I knew I felt uncomfortable; I had no idea how uncomfortable until my sub-conscious acted up and I couldn’t remember of telephone number, which was one of the harmless-seeming bits of information the card called for. I had to ask my friend, adding with a laugh of sorts, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

The class was quite large; there were twenty-five, perhaps thirty people there. Bent upon doing the greatest good for the greatest number, I expect, the priest translated Catholicism into everyday terms for us. In this way, the miracles became God’s Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval of Christ. Similarly, rejecting the validity of the Church’s authority and teachings because individual clerics happened to be notably fallible amounted to “throwing out the baby with the bath water.” My knowledge of theology was pathetically meager; yet I sensed that Catholicism was losing something in the translation. At times, I felt that what we were getting was not only freely translated, but was also an incomplete and perhaps even expurgated version of the “story.” We were told a good many facts about the Church, but the priest, I became increasingly convinced, was not about to go into its essence; he was, I felt, beating about the Burning bush, so to speak.

This life-size church could not be the giant that had captured the allegiance of John Henry Newman? Would Gerard Manley Hopkins have subjugated his rare gift to so down-to-earth a Church? Would its resurgence through the Oxford Movement have terrified Anthony Froude? Would, indeed, so matter-of-fact a Faith arouse the intellectuals of that generation—and others, including her own—to such fierce partisanship’ There had to be more to Catholicism than this! We were, I felt, circling the core. Its essence was not being communicated to us. Any more than “not seeing” communicates the essence of blindness. You don’t have to be blind to see that. Nor did I have to have the Catholic Faith to know that its essence transcended literal definition. Surely, I felt—as must the youngster who, having often heard it said that Moby Dick is the great American novel, finds himself with the Classic Comics version—surely, this isn’t the real thing, surely there must be another version.

During the third week of the course, we heard about “another version”. A friend of Janet knew of another course in Instruction, about which she had heard good things. It was given by the Paulist Fathers. Feeling we had little to lose, we changed courses at that point along the road.

Even before we turned up for the first lecture there, I found out one thing about the Paulist with whom we were to study that put me on my guard, father like a bold-face sign in a language you can’t read, but which you have a vague feeling says “STOP!” His name was Father James B. Lloyd. Which doesn’t hint at what e told Janet when she called to arrange our transfer into his class. Janet told him that she would be coming with a Jewish friend who was interested—but not in converting. That, Father Lloyd replied, was fine. Did she, incidentally, he asked Janet, know that he was Jewish?

We had both known only that I was Jewish; and only I had known how Jewish. Not that my family were religious Jews. They never took me to a synagogue. But I was at home with Jewishness as my parents knew it and instilled it in me. In accordance with their view, they taught me Yiddish and Jewish history and introduced me to Yiddish literature. Cultural identification—propagation of their culture—was their way of expressing their conviction that, in a world where Jews, even the most assimilated who conscientiously wanted no part of their Jewish heritage, might die because in the eyes of Gentiles they remained, then and forever, Jews—in such a world, my parents felt, one must live as a Jew? Then, if one were to die at Gentile hands, it would be because one had more of Jewishness than “Jewish blood.”

My father died when I was nine/ my mother when I was eighteen. After her death, I sought a new center. Because I no longer had some one to belong it, I sought some thing. And I sought it first in the observance of Judaism. But I was only made to feel my aloneness more severely; perhaps because there is so much of Jewish ritual a woman cannot perform. I did not find the sense of community, the comfort—the direction—I was
looking for. My sense of cultural identification did not increase; neither did it lessen. It seemed unrelated to the religious observance that I continued to “walk through.”

Thus I came to the first class with the priest who said he was Jewish. This man in the clerical collar was not devoted to the popularization of his Faith. He was, in his mid-thirties, and often looked younger for enthusiasm. This enthusiasm he offered without modification, but, one sensed, also without working at it, to his class. He offered them, as well, precision, succinctness, directness. He laughed easily. He often gestured broadly, not always consciously one felt, to indicate the enormity of the Universal Church—flashing rather extravagant cuff-links in the process. He conveyed a distinct sense of strength, reinforced but not based upon his physical bearing. Above all, although not oppressively apparent, was his contentedness. And, of course, there was the Jewishness. This last poked at the forefront of my mind again and again. I had for many years been self-conscious about my being Jewish; now I began to be self-conscious about his being Jewish.

I found myself making asides to Janet. When the Father made a particularly erudite point, I remarked that it was his Jewish half speaking. We speculated on his name: It was so blatantly not a Jewish name. Might the middle initial “B” stand for Bernie? My somewhat tasteless comments paled—but persisted—before my increasing suspicion that this man might be a threat to my position in that class—to my “observer” status. Surely one of the major obstacles to a Jew’s conversion to Catholicism is a fear of cultural betrayal—of forsaking his people, of negating their oftimes bare survival. This fear did not up and leave me; but it was quelled by the very fact of this man’s vocation. That he was a Jewish priest did not refute the notion of betrayal—but it did refute its inevitability. I was not on the verge of an instant conversion—I was a million light years or so away—but I knew then that if anyone could bring about my conversion this priest was that man. I was dismayed—but not enough to turn back lest I be confronted with the rightness of his Faith.

In the midst of this turmoil, a thousand questions unanswered, a hundred new doubts and self-doubts vying for my attention—and his help—Christmas came. We had come into Father Lloyd’s class toward the end of a course, I knew, and the fact that it didn’t coincide with the other course we had begun presented no great difficulty to my mind. But the fact that the course was now over—did. A new course wouldn’t begin until mid-January. I wondered whether or not I’d come back then. But what I really wondered about was the they didn’t see how foolhardy it was to give me this month in which to reconsider the wisdom of prolonging this journey into unknown country. I had not counted on Midnight Mass. My going there was not, of itself, unusual. I had been going to Midnight Service for more than ten years. And I had almost always chosen a Catholic Church to go to on Christmas Eve, because of the music, because of the pomp, because the worshippers seemed so much more—well, involved than in a Protestant Church.

I had, I recalled, envied them their involvement. But I had not begrudged it. Any more than I begrudge their voices to the children in grade school who could sing, who didn’t have to be a “listener” like me. It didn’t lessen the attraction music had for me. But it did make me feel an outsider, it did make me feel inadequate. It did make me feel keenly that I was ungifted. At Mass, too, I had always felt ungifted; as if God’s gift of faith were, like singing, a talent I didn’t have.

From the beginning this Midnight Mass was special. I had heard the Paulist Choir before; but never had their song seemed to transcend the star-embellished roof of the Church and reach for the real stars beyond. We had excellent seats; before, I had always kept to the side and toward the back, reluctant to displace those who really belonged. I felt no such reservations this night; and used by vantage point wholeheartedly. I took in everything, the festive altar, the flock of nuns, the priests of the order who, not participating in the Mass, came in singing and in pairs and took seats in the front pews. It was some time before I began to get jittery. Father Lloyd was not among the non-participating priests. Nor did he appear in front of the altar with the Fathers who were about to begin Mass. I felt loss grip me: my precarious tie with this place was fast slipping apart. Mass began. I tried to concentrate, in vain. It was full fifteen minutes after Mass began that Father Lloyd slipped down a side aisle and back toward the Sacristy. When he emerged, it was to pass in front of the altar, genuflect, then continue past the front of the Church and up the other side aisle. Only then did it dawn on me: he was to give the talk!

It was a sober talk, long for a Midnight Mass sermon. It was also cautionary. Father Lloyd talked about the tangents on which we stray from the central theme of Christmas—from its only real point. Then he extended his arm and wrist and hand and forefinger toward the crèche at the front of the church, until he seemed to touch the Infant in the cradle, and he said: “That Baby is God.” He had said it slowly. And then he said it once more. “That Baby is God.” And then there He was—for a second I would have sworn He was there.

The moment of recognition was fleeting. But I knew I had felt it. The way you know you have felt pain, even after it has gone and you cannot recapture its intensity: A shadow of its quality remains. Outside the Church, Mass over, I teased my friends: Did they know that it was my “beginner’s luck” that accounted for the fact that Father Lloyd, out of the some forty priests in that home base of the Paulists, had been chosen to give the talk? I did not mention my moment of recognition to them: what could I have charged that up to? And the other things. Little things. Like the time Father Lloyd said, “Do you know what we would say today if someone made the claims Christ did? We’d say: “who does He think He is, Almighty God?”

I thought it was a genuinely witty point and repeated it around. In a day or two I noticed that people’s laughter was great in proportion as was their devoutness: my avowed atheist and agnostic friends laughed little more then politely. Then I realized: it was really an
“inside joke”. And since when was I inside—even enough to “get” Father Lloyd’s joke? A little thing, to be sure, but then how does one size up a growing comfort in Church? Does one credit the quiet in an empty church with my sense of peace there? With my inclination to pause for breath there? I live alone; my apartment is as quiet as I like, and I generally keep either the phonograph or radio on when I am not watching TV. A little thing? Not in my eyes. Not now. And especially not during those weeks between classes when the peace was bright shining new—and sustained me.

For the first time, I could glimpse Faith, even though it wasn’t right in front of my eyes. For the first time, I felt, rather than knew, what these two lines by George Herbert are all about:
Methought I heard One calling, Childe;
And I reply’d, My Lord.

No, Faith had not burst forth full blown within me. But I felt the stirrings, like a half-grown fetus in the womb makes itself felt, declares its intention to be born—and to live.

My disinterest had vanished. My interest had not only grown, it had altered. I knew now that I had a real stake in the classes. Not quite like Saint Joan’s, I joshed myself, but of half the same shape. Without being able to pin down a moment in time, I had become committed. Not to the Church. But to the course of Instruction—to following the road, upon which I was still and repeatedly surprised to find myself, until the end. To see what might be there for me. When classes began again, I went with more enthusiasm than equilibrium. My faith was shakier than a newborn colt: it clearly could not stand on its own two feet. It wavered; it collapsed. But my faith in my self-sufficiency, in my ability to go on without faith, was shakier still.

That first class wass the hardest—it still is. The lecture was about the existence of God. I was not about to deny God’s existence at this juncture. But I wasn’t interested in not denying Him: I wanted to affirm him: And it was a strange God whom Father Lloyd confronted us with. A God of Justice—A God of Justice cum mercy even—that I could comprehend. But a loving God—or, to pin down the problem precisely, a God who loved me? If this were the God of Abraham—let alone the God of Job—He must have undergone a successful analysis, to have become so much less exacting, so much more giving. What Father Lloyd—what the Church—faced me with was a God who seemed too good to be true.

That week I went out and bought a medal of St. Jude. Which seems to me to say more about possibility than impossibility.

I had been going to Mass, but not regularly. The only thing I had been doing consistently—religiously, so to speak—were attending class and listening to the Sunday morning interview broadcasts Father Lloyd mediated. And then, the last Sunday of the
current series, I found myself with a choice to make. There was a special Mass that morning, in celebration of the conversion of St. Paul. In order to attend, I would have to miss half the broadcast, half the last broadcast for months.

I went to the Mass. It was a Pontifical Mass and quite exciting to see. But I think I was excited as much by my decision as by the ceremony. I had to recognize the milestone? The Mass meant more to me than the program. And I could see beyond: I was not, irrevocably bound to celebration about Catholicism; Father Lloyd was not longer my sole tie with St. Paul’s.

That evening I was at the movies. During the second feature I became restless. I wanted to be off: I wanted to be in church. I left the movie theatre and hurried to Blessed Sacrament, our parish church. That evening, for the first time, I touched my right knee to the floor.

That was a week ago, I go nearly every day to church now. But, how often I go to church is less relevant, it seems to me, than how far I must yet go—to the Church. Damascus is still beyond my horizon. When I go to bed, the Agnostic’s Prayer is still the one I say. When I kneel then, it is to tell God that, I cannot yet imagine His loving me, I am willing to try. And I am more than willing to know and love Him. God willing.


Ultimately, she was baptized into the Catholic Faith and became the prototype of the ideal lay Catholic. She was a daily communicant, deep into parish activities and generally the kind of Catholic the Church hope to see in this world. However, she met a famous Theologian from a prestigious religious order and fell deeply in love with him. They married with the intent to show, by leadership and example, what the ideal Catholic couple should be . In time, the gloss dissipated and their marriage broke up. Her interest in and quest for the spiritual life continued, however, and she found ethnic and spiritual rest in Judaism. She sees her quest as going from agnosticism to Catholicism which helped her to find God and finally to Judaism. Her affection and respect for Catholicism continues even to this day. I, as her instructor who baptized her a Christian, can understand her journey. Being half Jewish I know the great pull to the People, we call Jews, God’s chosen ones. She even now believes in Transubstantiation as an insight to the Holy Eucharist but feels truly at home at last. Is there any other response than wishing her God’s blessing and peace now that she is 70 years old?

Thursday, October 6, 2005

Can Gays Really Hear Catholic Teaching?

A recent New York Times article on homosexual candidates to the Catholic priesthood brought predictable, immediate and angry reactions. Reportedly, the Vatican is planning an unambiguous official paper for publication which definitely discourages homosexual men from applying for the Catholic priesthood. The reaction has been so strong that according to the New York Times of Sept. 29, 2005, several religious Communities (Jesuit, Franciscan, Dominican and others) are planning to send a delegation to Rome to protest the as un yet published Directive. Another article by John Allen Jr., in the NY Times suggests that Vatican stands are not always as clear as they might seem. He suggests that published decrees are more ideal than practical. Nonetheless, there are many reports of distress from clerical groups. Apparently, some priests are near panic and even rage over this possible publication. One priest speaks of leaving the priesthood after 15 years. Another was in tears. Many have been negatively impacted by these happenings

The official position that candidates with problems of same sex behavior would not be admitted to Catholic seminaries, while theoretically operational, is sometimes less than clear. One unclear (or obscure) aspect of the position is the imprecision of the meaning of homosexual tendencies.

There are many common sense reasons for the Church’s proposed strict policy. An obvious concern is that the enmeshment in an all male society would be exceedingly dangerous and difficult for the average same sex attracted male (SSA) with possible disastrous consequences for those whom he is called to shepherd. In the light of the findings of 2002 1 to believe otherwise is considered naïve. Nevertheless, in that population largely considered “gay”, there are considerable differences which ought to be understood before any fuming or screaming begins.

In the pain management field, a patient is asked to assess his pain on a scale (or spectrum) of 1 to 10 as a way of pinpointing the pain. Analogously, any candidate for the priesthood with the “difficulty”, could be asked where he would place himself on this SSA Difficulty Scale, i.e. how stressful is it for him in managing his same sex fantasies or his temptations to “act out”. What is his sexual history? What are his fantasies? Is he tempted to “haunt” gay bars, bath houses, porno shops, homosexual chat rooms, internet porno? Has he “acted out” in recent years? What is his prayer life like?

Regardless of discomfort on the part of the interviewer or the candidate, all candidates of any psychosexual orientation should be quizzed on details of his sexual maturity. Every candidate should be assessed as to his self perceived capability to live a chaste celibate life. Granting that no one has a crystal ball to predict the future, the Church does deserve some minimal assurance that this candidate can live the difficult life of the chaste celibate. Nevertheless, it is usually understood that because of the deeper narcissistic wound in the SSA person, managing his sexual urges is considerably more difficult than for his heterosexual brother.

Obvious obscurities should be clarified before any seminary possibility can be considered. When a naïve but well intentioned interviewer wishes to give a troubled applicant “a chance” believing totally in the power of God’s grace, he might balance his good intentions with the theological axiom that “Grace builds on nature.” The Church has seen and suffered sacerdotal shipwrecks over the centuries when balance has been ignored. Yet, I choose to disbelieve in the possibility of activistic bad faith as motivation for a modern recruiter.

Therefore should a candidate with a flagrant homosexual background, strong same sex urges, and frequent autoerotic behavior be assessed in the same manner as the devout and believing candidate who has little or no same sex experience and minimal Same Sex fantasy life? Factually, both types have applied to seminaries. Does tendency mean the former or the latter? One point does seem patently clear. A seminary and the priesthood should not be clinics for sexually obsessed (or repressed) individuals. However, the candidate with the occasional but managed “tendency” could be ordained (and has been) to become an effective and holy priest. Such men, ordained to Christ’s priesthood have largely remained faithful to the Lord, the Church and the priesthood itself. Ultimately, it is fidelity that matters, not psychosexual orientation. These are not gay priests. They are men of God with a managed SSA quality. The distinction is essential. Gay is a life criterion. It is a lens through which all things are measured and is a form of political activism.

To the Catholic Church any sexual behavior outside a valid marriage between a man and woman is inappropriate and sinful and in the case of SSA, unnatural. This is a universal application. This, the Church believes, is deep within the very nature of the human being and as such is unchangeable. No protest, no crusade, no committee, no civil law, can change this Truth. There is a clear implication in the Catholic stance of a belief in Absolute Truth. This is a Highlight of the thinking of Pope Benedict XVI as he points out the error of Moral Relativism. We ask why cannot the activist homosexual (gay) hear this? Is it some kind of psychological or spiritual deafness? Is it ignorance? Or evil? Or is there some kind of “infantile”2 reaction when facing a definite NO which frustrates what one wishes to do? Why is this so difficult to hear?

It would appear that some men who are now priests, have been led to believe that same sex behavior can be acceptable to the Lord and consequently to His Church. Tracing causes for this view might include seductive reading, ivory tower seminary professors and Rectors, short sighted recruiters and the like who have, in effect, told these Children of God what they wanted to hear--- “God understands and similar patronizing mantras. In time, they have, in their priesthood, gradually absorbed the fallacy and have affirmed the gay lifestyle, if even non-verbally. And unfortunately, to the ruin and unhappiness of many lives.

This Vatican statement will challenge and confront what these SSA priests have hidden from themselves for years. To “hear” this statement could well mean intense interior conflict and a possible colossal threat to a false identity they have cultivated for years. For “gays” to hear the proposed statement (or the orthodox Catholic teaching on sexuality) could mean facing the terrifying3 prospect of chaste celibacy. It could mean the explicit duty to proclaim the truth about sexuality as taught by the Church. It could mean the obligation to oppose publicly the destructiveness enmeshed in the same sex lifestyle. But, then, how could they deal with the raucous disapproval of the “gay” Community?

Why isn’t the message heard? Perhaps, it is because this is just too much to ask since it would force the gay priest either consciously to live a lie or resign from the priesthood (or leave the Church in the case of the non-ordained). Perhaps, it is because some have been seduced intellectually. One of my recent clients, in his consultation with me, on this subject, was simply astounded that his parents think that there something “bad” about the homosexual behavior. He could not understand how they be so unlettered about the modern way of life. He was astonished that the Church has been so slow in catching up with the “times.” This unfortunate lag will be corrected, he assured me, in the not too distant future.

This seduction is widespread particularly in the light of the highjacking of the American tradition of fair play and tolerance. Rarely do we hear thinking like that of Pastor James Kennedy of Florida who claims that this kind of tolerance is the last virtue of a degenerate society. What does it take to open “ears’? More than Drug store fluid to remove ear wax. It takes prayer, fasting, courage, leadership and Faith. It takes seriously the charge of Cardinal George of Chicago when he reminds SSA people that “to deny the possibility of Chastity is to deny the Resurrection of Jesus.” This was said in response to those SSA Catholics who held that chastity, for them, is impossible.

Ears must be opened. And hearts to the call of the Lord. The Catholic Church has a lonely task in voicing the teaching of Jesus in this desert. Were it not for the support of Evangelical Christians, Orthodox Jews and other groups faithful to the Scripture and Biblical tradition, it would be indeed a most discouraging challenge. It is more than skill or knowledge which is needed. It is the help of Heaven. Under God, let us commend this call to the care of Mary, the Virgin, Queen of Chastity and to St. Michael, the Archangel since ultimately our ruthless foe is not of this world.

1 Most of the research indicate that more than 90% of the priest molesters were homosexually oriented or same sex ephebophiles. Cf. USA Today, John Jay Study, Catholic Defense League among others.
2 Freud notes the “arrested” development of homosexual persons indicating a psychosexual fixation on an earlier level.
3 It would mean discipline, self denial and a sexless life. Some see this prospect as one worse than death.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Is Morality Generational or Innate?

The 22 year old was wholesome looking and a recent Catholic college graduate. He spoke with total confidence and knowledge about this mystery called “life.” He was fully aware, he said, of the difficulties that others may have had but he felt in complete control. He had his life all planned out disregarding the loving advice and concern of his parents and somewhat old fashioned friends. He sat in my office and with unshakeable élan described the blue print of his life. He had a “lover” to whom he was committing himself for life. He just knew that this was it. This was real. This was obviously for ever! As he spoke with typical inexperienced certitude, there was something troublingly “bland” about him with even a slight hint of trance

They met three months prior and were SO comfortable with each other. It was all so different from his awkward and dishonest attempts at heterosexual liaisons. They would be so happy together, traveling, surf boarding and eating at fantastic restaurants. He felt sheer bliss. Idealistic love was available for him. Physical pleasures were only part of his soaring delight. Finally and at last, he was “comfortable” in a relationship, sharing a common love.

The devastation of his parents was insignificant to him. It was regrettable but a mere temporary unpleasantness which would eventually evaporate when they realized how happy he was and how correct his decision was. After all if they really loved him, they would rejoice in his happiness. It would take a little time but with some patience on his part, they would come around to his view and accept his life “partner”. They would get over it. As would his siblings and their children. He was astonished that they thought there was something “bad” about gay living! But, again, after all, they were from another generation while his generation is more liberated and enlightened and which, of course, knows that homosexual love is basically the same as heterosexual love. Values and attitudes change, he said, and he was living in modern times. His parents and others simply have to accept that fact. (Obviously, this unreal infatuation state of being is not limited to the homosexual world. It has been repeated endlessly and historically in the heterosexual world as well.)

His sole reason in meeting with me was to placate his parents who, broken hearted, hoped that I would be able to persuade him to delay his decision. To them living the gay life was unnatural, toxic and sinful. Their profound love for him was the very reason for their suffering—they saw him, their very flesh and blood, seriously considering a self destructive life. For my part, I found a young man totally brainwashed. He would not even consider views different from his own. He was completely closed minded. He spoke only to those who held views similar to his. In his mind, there was no other option. No other way. Hard statistics on the failures of gay unions were brushed aside as irrelevant. Clinical experiences were discounted in the light of the decline in heterosexual marital stability. That he would be excluded from the Eucharist was passed over quickly and easily because his Progressive minded priest mentors had implied that “God understands”---and besides his love for his partner would compensate, should there be any ritual deprivation. The Church, he claimed was not “with the times” and one could confidently anticipate that future thinking would ultimately coincide with his own. Today’s Catholics, if they are current, think for themselves and decide what is right and wrong. They are freed from the priest culture of previous times. So, the thinking goes.

The basic point for him is that notions of right and wrong are generational. His own generation has different values and the older less enlightened one really has to come to terms with the modern realities. There is no such thing as eternal or perennial morality. Everything changes. Shades of Heraclitus and his “everything is in flux” theory. Whatever happened to Parmenides and his theory of permanence? Where is the balance between permanence and change we so ardently desired? Some things never change. Some things do. And there is a gray moral area. Perhaps, it takes maturity and good sense to know the difference and nuance implied in the famous Serenity prayer “Let me know the difference”. The sports writer, Ray Kerrison, once wrote semi-jocosely that when God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses, He reminded His man on earth that these Laws were forever and would not expire in 2005. Some things never change even though adaptation and progress often occur.

Alleged motivations are commonplace with human beings. There is more here than the eye can see. This is not merely intellectual confusion. This is a huge emotional problem which is not solvable by logic or facts. Nor is it easy to face. This young man hungers for something he believes is unavailable to him but which he “illusions” can be gained by perversion. He has to rationalize in order to go ahead with his tragic plan.

However, the superficial and sad approach to life described above is not limited to naïve and inexperienced young people. I have a priest client from “ somewhere” who is 66 years old, is deeply loved by his people and who is profoundly addicted to male “porno” on his computer. His addiction is progressive which factor contributes to the noticeable decline in the spiritual life of his parish. A parish employee who discovered the “secret” by accident, properly and lovingly confronted the priest who instantly denied any knowledge of the origin of these “data”, claiming that some one else must have done it. It was the old Genesis game of “passing the buck.” Some one else is to blame. I am innocent. Meanwhile, the priest is doctrinally orthodox and is the Chaplain for the regional Courage apostolate, a National movement to help homosexual Catholics strive for the mandated virtue of Chastity. He seemed to have two faces, one for the Parish and one for his secret vice.

Further information and data, however, revealed his deep enmeshment in this sick and perverted behavior. He would spend up to five hours engrossed with the “enchantment” even seeking on line membership in some kind of organization giving him access to young males.

In a discussion with his employee, he insisted that there are far more serious affronts to God’s will than mere sexual lapses. It was the tired centuries old game of rationalization. He listed the usual litany of intolerance, racism, social injustice, sexism and homophobia. I have heard so many patients argue that this sexual behavior is necessary to relieve sexual tension. It is not hurting anyone. (Shades of John Donne and his “No man is an island”) It relieves loneliness. It compensates for not having a wife. Everyone is doing it. We are more adult these days and have dropped the old time rigidity. We have new values and deeper understanding of human nature. And endless variations on the theme. The old attempt to ennoble the ignoble by justifying one evil by another.

Yet, way down deep in his soul, he knows that his behavior is evil, that he pollutes his priesthood, and that he betrays his people. He knows he distances himself from his God. Yet, he digs himself deeper and deeper into a vortex of misery. How did this ever happen?

In the beginning, Intellectual seduction. The smart ones talk of “deconstructionism”, that there are no essences, that nothing really is absolute, that everything is relative and so on and so on. Some one holds that it is all right to so behave because…. well, just pick any reason. Anything will do. Little step by little step until, with repeated microbehaviors, one is hooked. It is now necessary to construct some kind of mental mechanism to justify what one really knows to be destructive.

The young 22 year old and the 66 year old are doing the same thing. They have been seduced by the demonic idea that morals change with the times. It is no longer necessary to struggle with inner conflict which no one finds desireable. We note that this is substantially different from Mores. In effect, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI sees this point with great clarity: i.e. the Burning issue of the times is the battle for Objective truth. He knows well, as do those of us of the Great Generation, that Relativism leads to Dachau.

The young man and the priest are terribly important in their own right but an even wider question arises. The survival of civilized living. Only a form of Christianity clear in its own beliefs and its system of authority will have the inner strength to stand up against such alien forces which are attempting to hijack or seduce the world. The two sad illustrations noted above are symptoms of what is brewing. Is there any wonder observant ones are concerned? May St. Michael, the enemy of Lucifer protect us!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Goodness of Catholic Priests

Recently, 43 good men, mostly Catholic priests and a few deacons, spent four days together in a seaside Retreat house in New Jersey, seeking a deeper relationship with their God and searching for better ways to serve His people. There were grizzled, wrinkled, battered veterans among them (one with an oxygen tank to keep him alive and a few others on canes to relieve the crippling pain of arthritis). There were young, wide eyed, “bushy tailed” rookie priests and still others in between.

As a participant-observer, I saw in them a touching, simple, direct piety which I rarely see. I watched these 43 good men, attentive and humble, as they listened to the presentations of a brother-priest, the “retreat master.” Uncritically, they gratefully drank in his words in their wish for an expansion and growth of their own priesthood. I watched them as they sat in the Chapel during their “free time”. Their reverence and devotion to their Eucharistic Lord was patent. There was no doubt as to their belief in the Real Presence of Jesus before them. The silence in that chapel, while profound, was deafening with the vibrations of Faith.

I saw one young priest kneeling before a huge outdoor crucifix, his eyes fixed on the image of Jesus, unembarrassed, utterly oblivious to his surroundings. The uncomplicated sincerity of this scene brought a ‘gulp” to my throat. I saw priests deep in contemplation, gazing out over the sea, with an invisible but plain sign saying “Don’t enter. Talking with God.” I saw others walking up and down the little boardwalk with their Rosaries dangling from their hands, petitioning Mary, the Mother of Christ, the Blessed Virgin and mother of priests for honesty and authenticity in the priesthood.

I listened to a former and successful radio announcer describe the “draw” to priesthood away from the phoniness and glitz of modern media. I listened to a former professional baseball player (and now a pastor) speak concretely and directly how the Lord called him from the diamond to the sanctuary. I listened to raspy, untrained but loving voices as they sang praise to Christ in the concelebrated Masses. I heard a young priest pray aloud that we might know how much we help Him to carry His cross by bravely carrying our own and uniting our pain to His.

Is it the Hand of God I felt when, immediately upon arrival, the mysterious “brother priest” bond became so palpable? Did I not feel this in every mission and hamlet I visited in Africa with any priest I met? African, Irish, English, Dutch, German, American, Spanish, any priest……? These men I had just met, fairly shrieked out a vibe that they knew that they were somehow special to God. Somehow I sensed that this self awareness could be shared in its fullness only with a brother priest.

There was, consequently, a refreshing absence of the New Age posturing of “We are all the same…” Collaterally, there was a unique kind of joy which is unlikely in a more heterogonous society. This joy was pervasive and unlike other gatherings I have attended. We could all afford, in this climate, to openly assent to Lumen Gentium (no. 8) with the Church’s distinction that Holy Orders confers a priesthood different from that of Baptism not only in degree but in kind. One could sense this self awareness even if it was seldom articulated. These men knew that Holy Orders conferred on them alone a special dimension of Christ’s own personal power. These priests were awed by what they are and humbly grateful for being chosen. In this pervasive climate there was no need for pretense or sex sensitive diplomacy. There was no pressure to placate the shrill voices of special interest groups.

The message streaming from the physical setup and the roster of the participants was apparent: “We are men set apart.” It is that very realization which clarifies the obligation to be holy and to be faithful and brave shepherds and leaders. The retreat climate, temporarily at least, freed these men of God from any fear of being called “elitists” because they know the truth, deep within themselves. Priests are different. During this retreat they were able not only to face the truth but to tell themselves that it is the Truth of Christ which ultimately and alone saves anyone. These men were able to be truly honest with themselves this week and to admit their deep inner conviction about being a priest. They admit that it is not basically doing that matters. It is basically being that matters. There is a Being about the Priesthood which is uniquely special. It is even ontological.

This brave and honest point they saw and admitted. They are Other Christs. And other Christs in a way only they possess. Let us be honest. Priests are broken, vulnerable vessels but they have a power no one else has. Does any one dispute this claim? The more a priest knows who he really is and what he really is, the more priestly, under God, he becomes. Being aware of the spiritual mark, the character, the “branding” is more conducive to real priesthood than all the techniques and mechanisms drummed up by ecclesiastical P.R. shills. Facial tics and body language are important to assess but more profoundly, even more pragmatically, it is primary to know “what happened to me when I was ordained.”

This “goodness” sample of the “43” might well be generally representative of the priesthood as a whole. The 4-8% of “evil” priests is saddening and serious but statistically minimal. I am tired of special interest lobbyists throwing in my face the infrequent example of the wayward Bishop or the thieving Monsignor or the predatory priest as if these were norms. Would that this frenetic critic had been at this retreat and had seen the true character of priests. Did he show the same zeal at the faults of Jewish and Protestant leaders? Or the abominable failures of teachers in the Public Schools? Why the gleeful rushing to publicize the occasional failure of Catholic clerics and not those of other groups? Is it because our failures are relatively rare? The Bishop of Bridgeport thought so, years ago, when the Thorn Birds made such a big splash. Bishop Curtis then noted: “It is sensational because it is so unusual. This does not apply to most priests.” The “43” say Amen to that. Perhaps there is some subtle and hidden agenda for the media. Envy or bigotry and evil? Who knows?

However, the Goodness which the “43” signify is the true norm of Catholic priests. By its own weight and power, this very goodness will defuse any attempt to defame Christ’s own priesthood. The street-wise Catholic knows this through the sensus fidelium (the instinct of the faithful). Despite the turbulence of public scandal, the Catholic Church will more than survive. For those who might unnecessarily worry, a little peek into a priests’ retreat (anywhere) will more than dissipate the negatives about our Priests. Goodness is from God and Goodness is overflowing in the Catholic Priesthood. You can bet on it.

Thursday, September 8, 2005

The Difference Between “Organized Religion” and Authentic Religion

The envelope addressed to me, marked personal and confidential, came from Vatican City with all kinds of official seals on it. With a bit of a cardiac tremor, I opened it and read the following opening line: “I am writing to you at the request of the Holy Father (Pope Paul VI)……..”

When the Pope was Cardinal Archbishop Montini of Milan, one of his dearest friends was an Italian Jewish intellectual named Max Ascoli. This intimate of the Pope emigrated to New York where he founded an influential and highly rated journal called The Reporter. In early l964, Max Ascoli, the darling of the Chic set, for some reason unknown to the New York Times, decided to become a Catholic.

He wrote to His Holiness in Rome requesting help in this matter and by a series of strange convolutions, I, the half-Jew, the dirty neck from San Juan Hill in New York City was “selected” for the challenging task of guiding this Intellectual Icon to the Baptismal font. With a faint and terrified heart, I recalled the story of G. K. Chesterton and his own Road to Rome. The intellectual giant of English literature, reportedly, knocked on the door of the local Church to request instruction and reception into the Catholic Church. The local priest, simple and relatively unlettered, was likewise “terrified” at the request of the great GKC and stammeringly suggested to the caller that it might be more appropriate to contact the prestigious Jesuit House not far away. After all, they are the elite of the Church, the scholars and luminaries. G.K. asked the little cleric whether or not he believed the same doctrines which the Jesuits did. Upon a predictable positive reply from the country priest, G.K. said “I want YOU to instruct me.” The rest is, as they say, history. God chooses the simple and the weak for His instruments, chosen not for their skills or charm but for His own Great Plan. I forthwith, enthusiastically accepted Max Ascoli as my “student.”

He came twice a week for his “lesson” arriving in a long, black chauffeured driven limo. He was very tall, leaned unsteadily on a cane, and assessed me up and down with his one good eye in a kind of Long John Silver style. He sat opposite me in my little office and lectured me with a rich and deep grasp of Catholic history and theology. Throughout his superb presentations he inserted the phrase “I love Chriiiiiiist”, said with unmistakable sincerity through his heavy Italian accent. Recognizing that he knew more Catholic theology than I would ever know, I shortened his “lessons” and baptized him in the great Church of St. Paul the Apostle in New York City.

Just after the ceremony, Max hugged me publicly in the Great Italian Embrasio and said for all to hear: “Father, you must excuse me. I am, Italian. I am anti-clerical.” His remark did not and does not upset me. I was, too, and am, on some levels, anti-clerical even though I am a cleric myself. This position is that of the Pope Benedict XVI variety who, as scholars are discovering, is in the Curia but not of the Curia. The distinction is significant. This Pope does not have the careerist logic which so many others cherish. Nor does he view life and the Church and religion primarily through the “prism” of curial politics or bureaucratic logic. Rather, he stands back and approaches life and problems objectively on the basis of genuine conversation with principles, not rigid preconceptions. This insight is taken from the recent book by John Allen Jr. called the Rise of Benedict XVI.

And its application can be enormously important for a balanced Catholic spirituality. I remember my extreme irritation in the Eternal City of Rome when a paunchy, sullen priest, in his food stained soutane and his ridiculous round hat, elbowed me in a crowded bus. I was nauseated by this “organized” religion symbol. I am angered by the arrogant, white cuffed clerical personnel of the various Bureaux (called Dycasteries in the Vatican) who dispense permissions and “favors” as if they were the Lords of some Medieval fiefdoms. I am sickened by the ambitious cleric who longs to wear the purple or some mark of “distinction” to prance around sanctuaries like a strutting popinjay.

Of course, I know of the homosexual priest who has used his exalted status to prey sexually on teen aged boys and of underdeveloped priests who have exploited naïve women. I know of drunken priests and power crazy priests and egotistical priests. I know lazy priests and ineffectual ones[1]. But I also know what Graham Greene describes in his classic book “The Power and the Glory. The Glory of Christ’s priesthood carried in weak vessels of clay, a priesthood which is powerful and beautiful and loving. Greene’s priest is a drunk who fathers a child, who wrings pesos out of poor peasants but who can offer the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass, absolve the sinner and teach people how to pray.

I knew a priest in the Balearics who was paid by the State. He was bored, lazy and empty and “did” the Mass mechanically because it was a job. He was despised by the local community which was largely uneducated and simple but hungering for a lively Faith and not getting It. They had religion. He had Organization. Anti-clerical? In this instance I certainly am. Yet, my religion teaches me that even he was a valid conduit of God’s Grace through the great Sacramental system provided by the Catholic Church Which I love and defend.

I know the Catholic Church has misceants, both clerical and lay. But I know this Church is the One of the Second Chance, the Church of mercy and forgiveness. It has been said that the Catholic Church is not a museum of saints but a clinic for sinners. The Church is not self absorbed, puffy, red faced clerics with piggy eyes. Nor is it the superficial uninformed “social” Catholic who might go to Mass on Sunday for human reasons. Perhaps there are hypocrites who go to Sunday Mass to “show off” their Couture or to exhibit how reverently they carry their Bibles like some Lens lice politicians. But without any rash judgment I know that there are scores of decent and honest Catholics who worship God and not organizations. Their reasons for attending Mass are honorable and adult.

I am aware of the “We are the Church” attitude wherein every shade and level of “Catholic” wants a share of the control and policies of the Church. Clearly, on some level this is true. On another, it is not. The Church is the Faith of History, articulated by the Pope, Christ’s Vicar. It is the Sacraments, the vital prayer life, the rich Catholic tradition and the confident dependence on the Holy Spirit Which has suffused and guided this Church for hundreds of years. This is authentic religion. It is about loving and obeying God. One honestly cannot blame religion if neurotics twist God’s love into hatred. How often I have heard the superficial remark that religion causes wars and holocausts. 9/11 was not caused by religion but by sick minds which distort and pervert. Sick accretions and narcissistic trappings belong to the “Organization” and not essentially to Christ’s Church. During the painful scandal exposures of 2002, Fr. Benedict Groeschel CFR, a noted and valiant champion of Catholicism, said that he would never defend the over bureaucratized offices of the Vatican but only Jesus. In effect, he distinguishes between the “organized Church” which can, at times be corrupt and the authentic Church. One cannot in conscience defend the indefensible. Don’t even try!

That some Archbishop in Ireland fathered a son and supported him for years with Church money or that some high ranking Monsignor in New York will imprudently squire a married woman around to his fancy summer home or that some ambitious Pastor will steal from Parish finances for his memberships fees in elegant Clubs angers and saddens me. But how can it affect my Faith? What have those things to do with my Belief system? Apart from my emotional distress, these things of the Organized Church have nothing to do with me. Those people have to answer to God for what they do. I have to answer for my own misdeeds, not theirs.

Of course, we are angered, enraged and feel betrayed by the sinful behaviors of leaders we have trusted. Yet, it seems hypocritical of the non-Church goers to gleefully point their fingers at human weakness as they, the accusers, now try to justify their own miscreant behavior which caused them to leave the Church in the first place. I don’t think it is cynical to recall the brilliant insight of Sigmund Freud and his highlighting the “alleged motivation” question. The human psyche will allege that the primary reason one acts as one does is a highly noble and rational one. For example, one might say: I leave the Catholic Church because of all the hypocrites in it and all the stupidity and the insensitivity of its leaders. However my real reason is that I am conflicted between the stringent requirements of the Church and my own desires for forbidden behaviors such as abortion, or homosexual lifestyle among others. A nice convenient emotional juggling act! But as it is with phonies in the Organized Religion Crowd so is it with the finger pointers . Hypocrisy and lying to oneself eventually come home to roost!

In the words of the old time talk show host, Jack Paar, “let’s be honest…” The motivations for evil behavior are not religious but psychological. The beautiful motivations of authentic religion do not lead to wars and persecution. Distorted and underdeveloped psyches do. Don’t preach to me about religious wars and the wild eyed shouting of Salem witch hunting ministers or clerics of the Inquisition or fiery incantations of Imams. Let us use our intellects and make distinctions. Authentic religion—let us support and practice it. Let us name distortion for what it is.

As for Max Ascoli. When he, the anti-clerical, was dying, he sent for me that he might receive the Sacrament of the Dying, then called Extreme Unction. He met his God as a truly religious man, fully believing in the Fullness of Revelation in Catholicism maintaining his autonomy as an educated, intelligent and adult man. Perhaps, the clue is that he was grown up and had no need to prolong adolescent rebellion. Max Ascoli, in the opinion of this Jewish, Irish, Catholic priest, is a credible model of imitation. I am delighted with the Catholic Faith and I do enjoy my freedom to be a rational anti-clerical.

[1] Or am I speaking of mankind in general? Might all groups of males be broken down in a similar way?

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

The Wall of Separation: The Myth and Hoax

Many times, my religious views and those of countless others, have been severely criticized for “violating” the Sacred Cow of the Wall of Separation between the State and Religion. The putdowns we receive are usually delivered with the solemn tone and somber mien of the schoolmaster admonishing the rebellious student. This is the end of the matter: no further discussion; no adult dialogue. When I, in my innocence, would ask where is such a separation described in the American jurisprudence, my Betters, with a pained smile, will lecture me about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, Justice Hugo Black, gobbledy-gook legalese and pure hokum.

Meanwhile, Justice Rehnquist, a reasonably well schooled Constitutional Law scholar, writes:

“There is simply no historical foundation for the proposition that the Framers intended to build the 'wall of separation' that was constitutionalized in Everson… The 'wall of separation' between church and state is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned.1”

If this is so, how does one explain the widespread belief in this existent Wall? Who advocates it? Where does it come from? Marc Levin, one of the more pre eminent of contemporary Constitutional lawyers, believes that the Myth has been based on a misreading of a short courtesy note written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1803. This note was written 14 years after the Amendment was passed by Congress. It has been noted that he was not an ideal source of contemporary history relative to the meaning of the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment. He was not even in the United States when the Bill of Rights was passed by Congress.. He was living in France. Yet, the Critics still rely on Jefferson’s words to justify their opposition to almost any government intersection with religion.

In a sense, the King has no clothes on. The Freedom of exercise (of religion) clause clearly states that the government is prohibited from interfering with the people’s free exercise of their own religion. It also prohibits the establishment of a National church having in mind the Church of England whereby a formal union of political and ecclesiastical authority was put in the hands of the State. There was no prohibition against religion but against a Federal or National Church. It is laughable when secular spokesmen quote Jefferson and Madison, the two most secular in outlook, to bolster current hostility to religion. Historically, the widespread belief, at that time, was that Faith was a necessary predicate to liberty. We recall that it was Jefferson who wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all human beings have rights endowed, not by governments or monarchs, but by GOD

He also wrote “.. and can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only (emphasis added) firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?” And his colleague Madison, whose viewpoint is sometimes quoted as justification for “ separation”, wrote that “belief in God is essential to the moral order of the world.” What does it take to enlighten our modern American that opposition to an established church is not opposition to religion in general. How did this truism become so lost to the today’s secular minds? Madison further interpreted Free Exercise to mean no privileges and no penalties. 2 Interestingly, the very day after the First Amendment was proposed, the President was asked by Congressmen to issue a Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the blessings He had poured down upon them.3

What happened? How did viewpoints change so radically? How explain the contradiction between the history of the Republic with its clear intent and the modern near hostility to religion? The first 150 years of our history had multiple instances in which government monies were spent on sectarian religious causes. Note the considerable money spent on the Kaskasia Indians each year to support their Roman Catholic priests until 1897. However, in 1947, in the famous Everson v. Board of Education case, Justice Hugo Black started the Separation Question rolling. He wrote: “No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they are called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion.” “The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.”4

Marc Levin thinks that the Everson case is an inherently flawed opinion. He points out that the absolutist position leads to absurd outcomes and quotes Bruce Fein (once deputy attorney general of the United States) to make the point. “Black seemed to sense the absurdity of his categorical prohibition, which would have required public ambulances to deny service to a cleric who suffered heart attack while preaching from the pulpit. Accordingly, he immediately retreated from his unbending stance----but without saying so.”5

Justice Rehnquist describes the intellectual mess of “separation” thusly:

“In the 38 years since Everson our Establishment clause, cases have been neither principled nor unified. Our recent opinions, many of them hopelessly divided pluralities, have with embarrassing candor conceded that the “wall of separation” is merely a “ blurred, indistinct, and variable barrier,” which is “ not wholly accurate” and can only be “ dimly perceived.” What has apparently happened according to Judge Robert Bork and others is that the Court has intervened not on constitutional grounds but because it wishes to dictate policy. Even some members of Congress, themselves, wrongly think of judges as policy makers.

It has been suggested that Black may have had more sinister reasons for his strange position. He was an ex-KKK member in the 1920s,a time when the Klan was fiercely anti Catholic. Hugo Black junior AND senior had negative feelings about the Catholic Church which they both suspected in the manner of Paul Blanshard whom they avidly read. The possibility of absurd conclusions (from the Black position) have surfaced many times. Note the 2000 Court decision on the prohibition of prayer before a football game on the basis of “the right not to feel uncomfortable.” Such nonsense now trumps the First Amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of one’s religious feelings. Let us ask why so many Americans are displeased with Roe v. Wade after 30 years? One obvious reason is the dishonoring of the democratic choices of the people and the dishonoring of our basic religious rights. In the light of our democratic history and the clear will of the largely religious American populace, the contemporary meaning of this “wall” is absurd.

When human beings become driven by the absurd, they can contradict human nature itself. One might recall the tragic opinion of Roger Taney in Dred Scott v. Sanford in 1856.The humanity of slaves was denied in complete disregard of the more encompassing language of the Declaration of Independence which stated that “all men are created equal.” Such a conclusion derives from ignoring the very Natural Law of God Himself so enshrined in the Declaration. No one, in or out of office, can set himself above the Divine law. Incidentally, neither John Kerry nor Ted Kennedy should feign surprise when they are called upon by the Church to use their persuasive gifts, for example, to reduce the incidence of abortion ( a violation of both Divine and Natural law) and certainly not to be its propagandists.

Douglas Kmiec, Professor of Constitutional Law at Pepperdine University, points out that the tools of Interpretation are cerrtainly the Constitution, text, history and structure. But one must remember, with Lincoln’s insightful reflection, that the Constitution was framed for the philosophy of the of the Declaration, not the other way around. Government is instituted to insure our unalienable rights—which self evidently come from God. Kmiec believes as matter of original understanding there is nothing in the Constitution to discourage religious people from urging government to agree with their public policy agenda. Stephen Carter, the noted Professor of Law at Yale makes the same point in his powerful book, The Culture of Disbelief.

On the other hand, did anyone censure a New York Senator when he, in effect, told an Alabama nominee to the Court of Appeals, that he could not be eligible for the judgeship since he was such a believing Catholic? Does Article VI of the Constitution mean anything when it says: “No religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States”? Dr. Charles Krauthammer, a noted physician columnist, noted after the insulting appraisal by the Senator, that henceforth no serious Catholic should ever be considered for a judgeship.

Whence the changes in religious freedom? We are told by fiery leftists that the Constitution is a living document which should be altered based on the preferences of individual judges in the light of NEW circumstances, like electronic wiretaps and the internet. But, Judge Stephen Markman, of the Michigan Supreme Court, tells us that our Constitution would be an historical artifact—a genuinely dead letter—if its original sense became irrelevant, to be replaced by the views of successive waves of judges and justices, who are intent on “updating” it with contemporary moral theory. Would such “flexibility”, deconstructionism and moral relativism feed even more into the obvious moral decay of our beautiful country? Is there any correlation between characterologic breakdown and the contemporary perception of “the wall of separation”? There are many concerned American thinkers who believe this to be true.

There is something perennial about truth and goodness and God. Secularist groups legitimately have their own agenda but the original American political theory enshrines permanent religious values in its own meaning. A startling evidence of this is the Washington monument which was topped, in 1888, by an aluminum cap with the words Laus Deo (praise be to God). On the 12th, 20th and 24th landings are biblical quotes and prayers carved into the stone. In 1848, a Bible was enclosed in the cornerstone, noting the moral direction and spiritual mood of America at that time. Even earlier, the Father of our country, George Washington, himself, with no apparent empathy with a Wall of Separation, prayed: “Almighty God, we make our earnest prayer that Thou will keep the United States in Thy Holy protection….”

To paraphrase Cicero, even the stones shout out! It is obvious that the secular King has no clothes on! The “Wall” is a myth and a hoax and, in the spirit of the late Justice Rehnquist, should be abandoned. Where is our modern Ronald Reagan who can eloquently shout: “Tear down that wall.” Can we hear the words of the Lord Himself? “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman guards in vain.” (Ps. 127).

I am old and tired but I love my country. I worry over it and pray for it. May the good God bless America and protect her from her own people!

1 Wallace v. Jaffree,472 U.S.38, 107
2 V. Munoz Establishing free exercise, First Things, Dec. 2003
3 Annals of Congress, 914 (1789)
4 everson v. bd. of ed. 330 US, 1,3 (1947_)
5 The Recorder Dec. 27. 1993

Monday, August 1, 2005

What Do These Famous People Have in Common?

The Search for the Single Human Common Denominator

What do the famous people, listed below, have in common? Apart from the demographic and empirical fact of belonging to the human race, they differ significantly in race, creed, culture, financial status, educational levels, nationality, age, talents, interests, hobbies, couture and cuisine styles and a myriad other variables. Is there anything one might find common to all these people? Perhaps it is a Rorschach test. Like looking at cloud formations and seeing what one wants to see. Or is it “quidquid percipitur, percipitur secundum modum percipientis.” Roughly translated, this means we see things through our own personal filters and so interpret them as reality. Let us take a look at this list and see what “variable” we find as a common denominator.


Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Malcolm Muggeridge of the London Times and British Spy. Jackie Gleason, actor, humorist and philosopher. William F. Buckley, Journalist and super conservative. Hugh Carey, Governor of New York State.
Governor John Volpe of Massaschusetts. Governor Richard Hughes of New Jersey. Governor Malcolm Wilson of New York State. Al Capp, creator of Lil’ Abner. Four star General Alfred Gunther, prime military strategist of WWII and Bridge expert.

Jim Farley, maker of American Presidents. Tommy Loughran, World’s light heavyweight boxing champion. Anne Fremantle, English writer and spiritual leader. Robert Rambusch, world class church architect. Cyril Ritchard, star of motion pictures, stage and television. Florence Henderson, Hollywood and television luminary. Miles Ambrose, New York Harbor Commissioner.

Bella Dodd, former Communist organizer. Archbishop Jakavos, Primate of Orthodox Catholics of North America. Rabbit Marc Tannenbaum, voice of Jewish thought in America. Elie Weisel, Jewish writer and Holocaust survivor. George Sokolsky, Jewish journalist. Gene Ward, sports writer. Bill Considine, sports writer.

Harry Goz, as Tevyev in Fiddler on the Roof. Johnny Desmond, Broadway Musical comedy star. David Susskind, Television Entrepreneur. David Merrick, Broadway producer. Frank Blair, NBC-TV commentator. Henry Cabot Lodge, diplomat and politician from Beverly, Mass. Thomas Melady, Ambassador to Burundi-Rwanda, and Uganda. Eamon Kennedy, Irish representative to the UN. Milton Monez, Portuguese Representative to the UN. Mario Amadeus, Ambassador from Argentina to the UN. Dr. Alice Jourdain, Belgian philosopher and University professor. Dr. Detreich Von Hildebrand, German philosopher with International fame.

Norman Mailer, Pulitzer Prize winner and liberal philosopher, Ed McMahon of the TONIGHT show and “heeeeere’s Johnny”. Mel Allen, the voice of the Yankees. Jeanne Dixon, famed psychic. Roy Wilkins, National Director of the NAACP. Dr. Ken Clark, famed psychologist who did early studies on psyches of black children and early race integrationist. Bricktop, Grande Dame of Rome’s night life. Dizzy Gillispie, classic jazz trumpeter. Bayard Rustin, black leader in ‘60s and art collector.

All these and multitudes of others were interviewed on WNBC-TV by a balding, Jewish-Irish American priest, ME! During my television years at NBC, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York City, from 1958 to 1973, I interviewed psychiatrists, psychologists sociologists and paleontologists from the University of Pennsylvania, political scientists from Johns Hopkins University, surgeons, educators, politicians, house wives, actors, diplomats and ordinary folk from the street.

Hence, commonality number ONE! They all, besides sharing basic human nature, experienced a television interview with an outright believer in God. And a further SECOND variable found (through skillful questioning) was that ALL of them were seeking some kind of stable and permanent meaning in their own lives. Even the very sophisticated and apparently totally self sufficient showed glimmers of yearning. Sometimes, this quality was glossed over with the “hip” talk and slight cynicism. But it was there if one had ears to hear. One hears the relevance of God.

A person of Faith simply nods in agreement and repeats the age old wisdom of the great psychologist of Hippo, St. Augustine who summed it all up thusly:


Monday, July 18, 2005

Will the REAL Catholic Church Please Stand Up!

The June 27, 2005 issue of THE NEW YORKER carried a series of letters from a group of self-styled Catholics generally denigrating Pope Benedict XVI in response to a lengthy article by Peter J. Boyer entitled A Hard Faith. Interestingly, there were no letters counseling patience, no “wait and see” letters, no recognition of the towering intellect of the Pope and his quiet, sincere devotion to the Church over many years. This hard veering to the theological left by extreme dissidents illustrates and explains, in part, the current confusion about some basic questions: “What IS the Catholic Church about anyway?” or “What is the REAL Catholic teaching?” or “Who is the Church?”

For example, one of the contributors was a nun, of the “modern” variety who was aghast that some YOUNG seminarians would find her placard (which read Nuns for Kerry) “scandalous.” These young men were not tired old carryovers from the Woodstock era but bright and INFORMED contemporary thinkers. That young Catholics would be upset by a NUN supporting an extremely liberal “Catholic” who voted for abortion rights, same sex marriage, late term abortion and who claimed that his conscience was formed by Pope Pius 23rd, is apparently incomprehensible to her. How explain her “unawareness” of this existential contradiction? Or is it that she is irritated that today’s young people are not buying into her patently obsolete and oxymoronic perception? Is it that Sister can’t understand why young people don’t see HER view of the Church? Perhaps, she might recall that the magnetic and instant bonding between Pope John Paul II and young people was partially because he KNEW WHERE THEY WERE SPIRITUALLY AND EMOTIONALLY!

The same magazine in an editorial (May 2, 2005) innocently comments that certain matters do not concern Faith----like sexuality, celibacy, Choice (presumably about abortion), the use of condoms and stem-cell research (again presumably EMBRYONIC since the Church clearly supports appropriate stem cell research). Such commentators would reduce the Church to the levels of irrelevance which characterize so many of the Main line Christian groups today. They urge us to be like so many others and endorse abortion and same sex marriage. Teach pretty Bible stories, give to AIDS research and be “nice” and don’t dig too deep! Demonstrate for the protection of whales and oppose oil exploration. But do stay on the sidelines of Life. In effect these “modern” thinkers tell the Church what she ought to do and what to teach and how to behave for acceptance into the Politically correct world. Or more bluntly, become religiously castrated!

We saw a certain anguish at the election of a believing and courageous Pope when the “modern” Catholic had hoped for someone who would “go with the times.” Going with the times usually means unimpeded license to implement the politically correct list in the May 2nd comment noted above.

One such disappointed Catholic, on April 19, 2005, shouted, in St. Peter’s Square, “He is the WORST possible choice.” Whom are we to believe? Who can tell us what is the Catholic Church’s true position on life and eternity? Consider even the ROLE of God Himself in our way of life and our political decisions. Is it healthy to have the Lord in the midst of everything? Is a “Public Square” unhealthy and unnatural where religious Faith seems unwelcome and dangerous? Does the Catholic Church acquiesce to a public square stripped of God and religious faith? Incidentally, we might remember that the statement “Jesus is Lord” is not religious but political. Jesus was hung on a cross for His claim of “Lordship.” Christianity was ILLEGAL for the first 250 years of the Church’s life BECAUSE Christians proclaimed in the public square (where the Emperor was ALL) that “Jesus is Lord” not Caesar. It looks to me to be a fairly obvious political focus.

So then, to whom does one go for the REAL Catholicism? Is there any real structure of Orthodox Catholicism? There are so many voices claiming to have the authentic Catholic answer. Is it Catholics for a Free Choice which demands that abortion be removed from the categories of evil? They call themselves “Catholic.” Is it Richard McBrien? Or Charles Curran? Or Gregory Baum? They claim that they, as theologians, though controversial or dissident, are truly Catholic. Is the Theologian more precisely Catholic than Pope Benedict XVI? Or is it that everyone is right and no one has a monopoly on denotative Catholic truth? Didn’t someone note that “tolerance is the last virtue of a degenerate society”? Is Catholic truth to be operationally defined by well-heeled “Catholics” who, without knowing it, have gradually become non–Catholics and who happen to go to Mass for some anachronistic social or political reason? Does political and financial clout empower the Big Names to make theologic decisions over the Faith of the poor, little non-Harvard guy who just about “makes it” in life?

My old Irish Grandmother who went to the Third grade in a parochial school knew the answer with ease. JESUS IS THE TEACHER! In the words of Dylan Thomas, “Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.” Catholicism obviously bases everything on the total belief in and trust of a loving God Who became man and died for our sins and by His resurrection promised us eternal life with Him. This Divine Jesus left His legacy in a Church which He promised would never fail nor (in the ancient formulary) be overcome by “the gates of Hell.” This Church would be harassed and persecuted through the ages by Arians, Gnostics, Cathari, Albigensians, Jansenists, angry dissidents and slick talkers but would always survive, even if bloodied and weakened.

It would be burdened from the start with the Judas type adherent, through hypocritical teachers and evil homosexual priest molesters of young people but would survive. It would produce thousands and thousands of holy women and men whom we call saints, publicly acclaimed or otherwise. It would be entrusted to Peter (Cephas) and his successors whom we have called “Popes.” These Popes in collegiality with those who succeeded the Apostles (Bishops) would articulate the teachings of Christ’s Church with protection from the Holy Spirit of God Himself, and though they, themselves would be weak (like Peter) the TEACHING would be transmitted unscathed.

Jesus left His gifts of the seven sacraments whereby we can become holy. We would become children of God through Baptism. Our sins would be forgiven by the Sacrament of Penance and our souls nourished by the Eucharist. There would be high requirements expected of these Catholics and many would rebel and dissent from basics. Some would break off and create new forms of the ancient Faith--- which would not be Catholicism but another form of Christianity. While thoughtful disagreement about Policy was encouraged, rejection of revealed truth was not. Refusal of Christ’s truth through His Holy Church, mainly the infrequent infallible teaching of the Pope, was considered “heresy.” To dismiss the Pope’s teaching, even in an ordinary form, was considered theologically gauche. To split off from Christ’s own Church was called “schism.”

One clear criterion to determine which group was Heretical or Schismatic or Authentic was to search for the Bishop of Rome or the Pope. The old axiom was: Ubi Petrus est, ibi ecclesia. Where you find the Pope, you find the Church. God’s Will would be gleaned and taught from Sacred Scripture and the Living Tradition. And God’s Will is important for the serious Catholic. Our Catholic Truth would be expressed through the teaching organ of the Church, the Magisterium, always under the protection of the Holy Spirit. Hence, serious positions of Christ’s Church, even if not infallible, are to be taken seriously. A “serious” Catholic does not dismiss, out of hand, a strong if controversial global Catholic position on faith and morals, but considers the position with respect and maturity before considering a legitimate disagreement. But the mature Catholic is exceedingly clear about the REAL Catholic Church. The “marks” are all there for those who “can see”. Pope Benedict XVI and his remark about “studied ambiguity” are of particular relevance here.

Meanwhile, we hear the chilling threats of “dissidents” telling us if we do not “line up” with “Their” thought, millions will leave the Church abandoning her to become just another musty museum! How convenient to overlook the Lord’s PROMISE: “I am with you all days even unto the consummation of the world.” And yet so intimidating! Fr. Ronald Knox, a brilliant English convert and son of the Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote, many years ago, of a future age when there would be a “remnant” of those Catholics who kept the Faith and whose numbers greatly diminished in the face of outside pressures. They would keep the Faith pure and untarnished to hand over to the Lord on His Second Coming. It is somewhat reflected in the Pope’s vision of the “creative minority” whereby the Catholic stronghold (do we call it siege?) becomes highly unified and cohesive. Meanwhile, modern disagreements are not always respectful and issue-oriented but are often resulting in lamentable and vicious personal attacks on the “Messenger.” This technique may have been borrowed from American “dirty” politics whereby one American attacks another, not on the issue, but on the person. Consult the Sen. Kennedy attack on the person of Sen. Santorum in the recent case of the ill woman in Florida.

To dismiss such latent apprehension might be naïve. In an interesting piece by Fr. Paul Mankowski, S.J. entitled “Liberal Jesuits and the Late Pope” a point is made that there was wide spread Wojtyla hatred in his Society (posted April 4,2005, No Sound Off). He illustrates:

1) “…..I’d hear my Superiors pray that Wojtyla come to an early death…..and go unrebuked in that jocular vein that signals sympathy...”

2) Fr. Cyril Barrett, S.J. “….in a bellow that filled a London restaurant, ‘The only thing wrong with that bloody Turk was that he couldn’t shoot straight.’ ”
P. Mankowski assesses the remark: “Note that this is not the language of passionate disagreement, this is hatred, pure and simple.”

3) From a Jesuit academic: “The Society has not sold its soul to the “restoration” of John Paul II.”

4) From a Jesuit Historian: “he is not one of the worst popes: he’s THE worst. Don’t misquote me.”

The author claims that the reason for the hatred is no mystery. There is a pressure for doctrine to change. The venom of critics toward this charismatic Pope was the bitterest in the area where he differed least from his predecessors (and in which his successor will differ least from him) IN REPEATING THE TRUISM THAT DOCTRINE, BEING UNCHANGEAGEABLE, WILL NOT BE CHANGED. Mankowski suggests that these critics did the Pope an injustice in pretending that he is free to unpope himself by altering the deposit of Faith. Even the Protestant politician Newt Gingrich points out that the Pope being the Vicar of Christ can do nothing but speak the truth. He has no choice.

The dreams of the “Progressivists” were frankly “infantile.” They were and are stunned that JPII didn’t make their dreams come true. One thing we do know. What they clamor for is not the Catholic Church. They seek some kind of make-believe Church of their own making without which they will continue to seethe, no matter who is the Pope. Some one jested on a recent TV talk show that disaffected Catholics might join some other Church more to their liking where there are plenty of empty pews.

A similar kind of venom was spewed at Cardinal O’Connor when he was Archbishop of New York basically because he steadfastly taught official Catholic doctrine. This was unacceptable to many and hence he was caricatured and insulted regularly by those who wanted him to change Church teaching!! The plan is to destroy the messenger if he will not change his message to suit the desires of the attacker!

In my own Website, I often articulate what my Church teaches to the chagrin and fury of some of my readers. A recent e-mail to me read thusly: “Thank god [note the lower case] you are close to death [a reference to my 84 years]. You are a …. Supersititious Fascist. You write lies about a natural thing like homosexuality. Your Church is likewise dying. Ha Ha!…………………………”

Another reader characterized me as a “……mean spirited old man…” after I had been interviewed in MSNBC by Ron Reagan Jr. and Monica Crowley in which I stated the simple and loving rationale of the Church towards the same-sex attraction tendency. I am an old bat and dinosaur but I have never been categorized as mean spirited by those who know me. But I plead for adult dialogue on the ISSUE not on my character or on the character of Pope John Paul II or Cardinal O’Connor or anyone who sincerely tries to implement the Catholic teaching.

If one wishes for the Real Catholic Church to stand up amid all the pretenders, one must look at the Teachings and Presence and Traditions and indeed the theology and Scripture which “Rome” represents. But look and study the role of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. Finally, if bias, prejudice and personal desires blind a person who seeks real fulfillment, it is God’s grace that helps one see the TRUTH of Catholicism. A short cut to it: Seek the help of Mary, the Mother of the Lord, the Patroness of Catholicism and ideal of women. She has helped many to inner Peace and ultimate Salvation.

Monday, June 20, 2005

To Speak or Not to Speak! Is Silence always Golden?

Dante of Divine Comedy fame wrote “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in time of great moral crisis, maintain their NEUTRALITY.”

Edmund Burke, the noted British Parliamentarian, wrote “the easiest way for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.” (or say nothing?)

Elie Weisel, the Jewish teller of tales and Concentration camp survivor, wrote “Silence in the face of oppression helps only the oppressor.”

Jesus, the Lord and Master of all sternly reminds us that the “lukewarm” are nauseous to Him ---- a fairly clear implication that serious Christians must take a position on crucial moral problems. Pope Benedict XVI wrote, in 1985, with great lament about those Catholic leaders who teach with “studied ambiguity” when presenting the basic teachings of Catholicism. I am uncomfortably reminded of Yale’s Stephen Carter with his definition of Integrity: the person of integrity must be willing, if necessary, to verbalize his values regardless of consequences. What kind of Christian and masculine responsibility falls on me or on anyone else who seeks God’s approval and one’s own self respect when we speak of clarity of personal stance?

Yet, in Eccl. 3,7, we are told that there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak…” Even the great and brave Thomas More, confronted by legally astute accusers seeking his very life for his refusal to endorse his King’s unruly libidinous behaviors, faltered and hedged and ducked their attacks. He tried, in his own skillful and juridically experienced manner, every way to protect his life-- principally by appealing to the age old legal axiom: TACET, CONSENSIT! Freely translated, this means—“By silence, one gives consent.” Of course, ultimately he was forced to verbalize his position and to face the brutal consequence of openness–his own de-capitation. Sometimes, even saints waffle when facing fearsome possibilities.. Nevertheless we, generally, do interpret one’s silence on a serious issue to be an agreement with the stated proposition at hand.

Perhaps, sometimes, silence is golden. Perhaps, it is prudent and helpful to be quiet in a specific circumstance.. But, sometimes, silence is cowardice. Most of us have seen and, sometimes, even experienced the self condemnation and dislike which comes with “being cowed.” I know that I SHOULD speak, but I do not! Why do I not--even when my own inner cowardice or inertia sickens me, psychically and morally?

Legitimate silence aside, why do we fear to speak up or disagree or confront? What are we REALLY afraid of? How can one possibly understand the “wimp” reaction? Is it that one fears rejection of others? Does one have some kind of unresolved Oedipal conflict whereby he still unconsciously fears retaliation from his parent? Is it that I am never allowed to be in disagreement? Is it all right to be disapproved? Must I always say “yes” to another’s opinion and viewpoint? Is it all right to be the Odd Man Out? Must every one like me? Do I not have a right, as a child of the good God, to think my own thoughts and reach my own conclusions and live by them as I see fit?

The questions are rhetorical and the answers obvious. Yet for many of us it IS a difficulty to speak up when facing evil or wrong or power even though we can get nauseated and revolted with sycophantic, bootlicking “yes men” who seek career advancement or temporary “lollipops” from those deemed powerful and bountiful!

Is it the profound fear of exclusion and social shunning which terrorizes me? I recall the once popular little book -- JONATHON LIVINGSTON SEAGULL -- which details the inner life of a rebellious bird who pulls off from the “herd” because he cannot “fly” with the others in THEIR manner. He seeks his own way, suffers the loss of his past and pursues what for him is authentic. Applied to human experience this can happen only if the person truly believes in his own values and convictions. Hence, Stephen Carter’s suggestion that –first of all—one must know clearly what is authentic and real for him. Secondly, one must live in accord with the inner convictions and lastly one MUST be integral enough to verbalize such values.

I recall a specific example from my years in South Africa under the iniquitous social system called Apartheid. Helen Sussman, a white member of the Parliament, represented the Non-European population of the country (i.e. any one who was NOT white). While I basically disagreed with her Communistic tinge, I admired her fearless insistence on the right to disagree with the overwhelming majority of politicians with whom she served. She was derided, shunned, isolated and mocked. Never did she falter. It was HER own honest view which she persistently articulated as the Political voice of the disenfranchised. Whether she was politically right or wrong is incidental to this paper. It is her integrity which is at issue.

Integrity has to insist that sometimes THERE ARE NOT TWO SIDES to an issue. The grisly Nazi Shoah has one side---an evil one. The rationalization/ justification that Germany needed a “Pure” race is inherently evil and wrong. Fancy talk cannot cover the core rot of this “Plan”. Slavery is always wrong, regardless of the urgent pleas of a growing economy of the South. No one can own someone else. Only God owns us. Same-sex marriage, similarly is evil since it “covers over” inherently sinful behavior with the ambiguous plea for “right to love” and “tolerance.” The argument that NAMBLA, a movement to legitimize sexual relations between adult men and little boys, should be accepted because “it would help boys to mature sexually in a healthy manner”, is inherently evil because it would destroy children almost beyond repair. When a couple perform pseudo sexual copulation in the vestibule of St. Patrick’s Cathedral with the justification that the First Amendment protects their “demonstration”, there is no other side. Such behavior, besides being lewd and offensive in se, is also inherently evil.

The contention of this paper is simply this: integrity shrieks that such patent evil be called by its name! Euphemisms must be exposed as Masks covering over what really “is”. To be silent lest one become unpopular is base. Whether or not Pope Pius XII, in his alleged silence in World War II was strategically wise is strongly debated. Perhaps his silence helped save many lives but today it would appear that “speaking the speech plainly” is appropriate. “Studied ambiguity” should be avoided.

The world is filled with and knee deep with the people-pleasing population. We see all around us, amid the oases of healthy and self-respecting people, the hypocrite who says what he does not believe or denies what he does believe. A prime example is the “with it” Catholic who, needing acceptance by the “right” people, wishes to appear sophisticated to the Georgetown/UN crowd and who joins in the chorus of criticisms and putdowns of the Church—who sneers at the notion that abortion is evil, exalts the “right” of homosexuals to marry and enthusiastically endorses moral relativism and who loudly proclaims to all that HE is a Catholic and was once an altar boy, and perhaps even thought of entering the seminary.. In fact, he is, as was stated in a recent NEW YORKER article, gradually becoming a non-Catholic who happens to go to Mass.

Actually, the person so described is a hypocrite. If he is that faithful Catholic he describes, he has the obligation (as pointed out by Archbishop Chaput of Denver in the May 2005 issue of the Catholic Eye) to speak the truth of soul IF HE IS ASKED!!! If his criticisms and disagreements with BASIC Catholic teaching are what he really believes then, he should resign from the Church instead of pretending to be the devout believer. In either case, he is behaving with deceit. Nor can his behavior be called legitimate dissent (which is appropriate and necessary) since he departs from what is ESSENTIAL to the Catholic position where dissent is Inappropriate. These “Catholics”, of course, might follow an honored family tradition of public worship. Let us pray that there is a sincere spiritual motivation impelling them. Keeping a “nice” public persona, carrying Bibles exiting Churches on Sunday mornings might even have a “bump” upwards in the polls. Particularly if media people are present. Nevertheless, by their SILENCE they show, at least, a disloyalty and, perhaps, a disbelief in basic Catholic teaching. Helen Sussman was not a hypocrite even if “off course” on spiritual matters.

These “Catholics” are, in the street term, “phonies” and from my point of view sadly lacking in Integrity.

Jesus teaches that he who publicly acknowledges Him before the world will be acknowledged before the Father in Heaven. And, conversely and even frighteningly, those who DENY Him before the world will be denied before the Father. But would I be shouting at the wind if I verbalize my own true convictions? Does it matter to any one? Does it help anything? What do I gain other than derision and unpopularity?

In a large meeting of Catholic religious personnel held in New Mexico, convening the day after the November 2004 presidential election, the first two speakers publicly expressed their “depression” at the outcome and deeply lamented the behavior of those Catholic Bishops who dared to try to influence the Catholic vote. They wished that our leaders had kept silent and not made their own values known. Many heads nodded in vigorous agreement.

This writer, as the third speaker, to the contrary, expressed his own euphoria at the outcome, announcing that he had made a Novena ending the day before the actual election aimed at the victory of the “right” candidate. His euphoria included the defeat of a so-called Catholic Senator, the Democratic leader, who had directed legislation uncongenial to Catholic convictions and values. Further, he applauded the bravery and the leadership of those Catholic Bishops who had the moral courage to clarify and publish the guide lines for a true Catholic conscience.

Many of these “Catholic” leaders (mostly self described as Liberal or progressive) looked at me AGHAST, mouths agape, wide-eyed, unbelieving. My expressed views were foreign to their taste and certainly I was considered Neanderthal. But apart from the complex causation of such widely different world views, can we assess the effect of such openness in a public forum? There is very little, if any, change in the thinking of others. The REAL value is within oneself, in the very soul of the one who dares to exercise integrity. Was it not the Bard of Avon who urged: “Above all, to thine own self be true”? It is in the Court of one’s own soul that the meaningful judgment is given. I must face myself ultimately since I can run from me only so long! Yet, obviously, IN THE FINAL analysis, only God’s view of us is what really matters.

So now I ask myself what can “they” do to any of us, if we preface our view with the honest prefix “From my point of view” or “It seems to me” or “It strikes me this way”? Cannot one can learn to disagree without being disagreeable? Perhaps, recourse to the Holy Spirit is the one practical way to handle this very human dilemma. When to speak and when to be silent. It can be a puzzlement. Let us pray for such light and courage. Without it, we probably would profoundly dislike ourselves----in which case, one might ask: Is life worth living? Heaven forbid. Does God make junk? Life is meant to be enjoyed. So, loosen my tongue, O Lord, and give me the courage to speak Your truth with humility, openness and compassion. Take from me fear and brutality. Help me to see that I can be wrong but also that I can be right and with Your help, my brave, if frightened, speech will not only help me but hopefully others of Your children.