Saturday, February 25, 2006

A Psycho-Social View of Same-Sex “Marriage”

Any attempt to demonstrate the destructive essence of Same-Sex “marriage”, if based on religious reasoning, will usually be brushed aside by the average American as “Bible thumping” craziness. Even more rejecting is the historical sense of fair play whereby we hold that all citizens must be treated in the same way with equal rights for all. On the face of it to prohibit a certain group of Americans from enjoying the joys and rights of the marriage state---because of non-standard sexual orientation---might seem unfair, un-American and discriminatory. Particularly, this might be true if is one is non-religious or morally/ socially uninterested. I am reminded of the Preacher who said that the trouble with the country is ignorance and apathy. One of his listeners yawned and said of the troubling item, “I don’t know and I don’t care.” Perhaps, our citizens are uninformed about Same Sex Marriage (SSM) or worse perhaps they are indifferent.

Yet, our American society has enacted, currently and historically, some discriminating laws which prohibit a certain class of people from engaging in certain behaviors. We prohibit those under 16 from driving a car. In some states we prohibit a certain class of people from drinking alcoholic liquors—if they are not of a certain age. There is some discrimination going on here—which most Americans accept as fair and correct.

Why does Society do this? By what right does Society pass these kinds of laws?

Tim Leslie, a California congressman, insists that the real case against SSM is social.[1] The origin of society’s right to pass certain kinds of laws focuses on the General Welfare. Certain practices, rather than benefit society, will destroy it. He argues that since Government is obliged to promote the General Welfare, it has the profound duty to protect children from the ill effects of drinking as well as to protect society in general from the dangers associated with youths driving powerful machines on public roads. These are called Prudential Judgments. Along these same lines, the General Welfare dimension can be reasonably applied to the case against SSM.

So, to the social and psychological questions.

Does society derive any benefit from two men (or two women) having sexual pleasure with each other in a kind of “marriage”?

Does society derive any benefit from a man and woman having sexual pleasure with each other in marriage?

If the reason for marriage is primarily for two people to have sex with each other, then there is no difference in the coupling—in terms of Purpose of marriage. Then, indeed government has no need or right to insist that Marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman. Assemblywoman Sally Lieber (D. California) remarks “I don’t see how my marriage is any more moral that the same-sex couples I know.” As Tim Leslie observes this makes sense only if marriage is primarily for companionship and sexual pleasure.

If marriage has a deeper reason more beneficial for society’s good, then Sally’s remark seems somewhat superficial. Indeed, her superficiality is confronted in the street smart talk of my youth in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, where the observation of homosexual coupling was evaluated by the colloquial expression “the parts don’t fit.” One male genital plus one male genital equals nothing. One female genital plus another female genital equals nothing. In these cases, we can say that one plus one does not equal two. What does this imply? The plain truth of history is that the heart of marriage is the begetting and education of children. The happiness of two same-sex attracted persons – as such - does not produce definitive benefit to society. Families with children do!!!!

In the experience of the human race, the family is the very bed-rock of all things. Virtually, everything that happens in society, “for good or ill” can be traced back to family and family life. So, the basic reason for opposition to same sex “marriage” is that it would not only undermine marriage as it exists, it would effectively destroy it. Marriage is very weak in our times but it would be cheapened unbelievably should SSM be legalized. Marriage would become just another choice among others. Marriage would be enormously weakened. We would slither with greater speed down the slippery slope of social distress, confusion and Chaos.

Leslie argues that SSM would mean huge increases in marital infidelity and broken homes obviously inclining children toward all kinds of antisocial behaviors. Apart from the uniformed and apathetic, it is obvious, even from “Gay” sources[2], that only emotional fidelity is usually required, not sexual fidelity. Mary Mendola[3] studied 400 homosexual couples and found a definite distinction between sexual and emotional exclusivity. Leslie opines that this translates “into an almost unfathomable degree of sleeping around.” He reports on an Amsterdam study which found a cheating average of 8 partners annually. He notes that the average active homosexual has between 100 and 500 different partners in a lifetime! He notes a study which showed that 26% of homosexual persons have had 1,000 or more sex partners in a lifetime! On the other hand, most studies of heterosexual marriage stability report that around 75% of husbands are faithful and that 85/90% of wives are likewise. Explanation is patent. Emotional and sexual fidelity are linked.

So, against such a background, does one speak of gays “adopting” unwanted children? Generally, children growing up in a traditional home have problems but of a significantly diminished degree[4] over those who are from an SSM background. They have better emotional health, engage in less risky behaviors, less likely to engage in premarital sex and do better educationally and economically. But one of the most powerful arguments for traditional marriage and the standard is complementarity between the sexes. Regardless of wisecracks from Television comics, Dan Quayle had a point. Mothers have unique emotional gifts for children unlike the unique gifts which fathers have. Tim Leslie refers to a study of character traits by David Popenoe of Rutgers University which basically demonstrates that “…both dimensions (sic: male and female) are critical for an efficient, balanced and human child rearing regime.” The obvious conclusion is that SSM can never contribute to such optimal rearing of children. Leslie also notes that SSM partners are not only more promiscuous, but more prone to physical and mental health problems, die sooner and have short duration of their relationships. Is this a healthy world in which to raise children?

More frightening is his citation from the journal Adolescence which reports that 29% of children adopted by homosexual “parents” have been molested by one of the parents as compared with 0.6% of molested children with heterosexual parents. Being adopted by homosexual parents apparently increases the risk of incest by a factor of about 50.

To bring in the red herring of the menopause marriage in an attempt to justify the SSM movement is illogical. A basic principle of logic is that one does not equate the “particular” with the Universal. Here the anatomical parts “fit” ---something one can value from Nature’s point of view.

Leslie notes, also, that the pro-SSM group fails to take into account the experience of institutions which relaxed strictures against admitting same-sex attracted people. It is almost laughable when one hears how vigorously lobbyists pushed for the admission of gays into the Catholic priesthood on the grounds that the celibacy strictures would aid the Gay to be chaste. In spite of the hype and the sentimentality and pleas for tolerance, the Catholic Church suffered a terrible scandal mainly because of unchaste homosexual priests. Almost 90% of all cases involved homosexual priests. Sadly, we find even now that there is woeful sexual infidelity among homosexual Catholic priests.

Leslie frightens us even more when he quotes activist Michael Signorile who says “that the goal is to fight for same sex marriage…to debunk a myth and radically alter an archaic institution…. the most subversive action lesbians and gay men can undertake… to transform the notion of “family” entirely.”

It is, then essential, that SSM not be declared legal since it would seriously damage our society and culture. Traditional marriage must be upheld as the central piece of our society. Otherwise, Leslie warns us, there will be an unprecedented societal breakdown and disintegration never before seen in our country. It is time for Americans to avoid ignorance and apathy but to become informed and involved.

[1] The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage, Crisis Magazine, 2004
[2] The Male Couple; McWhirter and Mattison 1984
Gay couples must tolerate infidelity for the marriage to survive
[3] The Mendola Report; Only 26% of gay couples believe total commitment is necessary. 1980
[4] The Case for Marriage White and Gallagher, Doubleday, 2000

Friday, February 17, 2006

Weak Catholic Religious Education: How it Affects Faith

In 1936, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, February 11th was a momentous day for devout Catholics. The apparition of the Mother of God at Lourdes to a simple peasant French girl was celebrated de rigueur in the uncomplicated household I called my home. For nine mornings and evenings, a Novena, we devoted ourselves to this powerful Celestial protector called Our Lady of Lourdes. Under the strong will of my Irish Grandmother and the sweet but unyielding direction of the Holy Cross Sisters, all of us (with the exception of my Jewish father), dutifully attended Mass each morning and services at night where we heard stirring sermons on God’s power and His desire to gift us provided we asked Him through the Great Lady we called Our Blessed Mother.

We made our petitions which ranged from requesting good health or a steady job to finding my beloved lost dog, Mickey Finn. We lit candles with a little prayer. After waiting on long lines we went to “Confession”, received absolution from our sins and resolved to amend our sinful ways. We dropped our nickel or dime in the poor box and felt very good about ourselves. We felt kinder to our fellow human beings, lied less and helped to clean up after dinner.

The huge Paulist Church was literally packed each Novena night. Unless one came reasonably early, standing room was the only option. The side chapels were crammed with folding chairs. The men sat on red pillows placed on the steps leading up to the great Sanctuary where we would witness the Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament at the conclusion of each evening ceremony. Faith was rampant. The Grace of Jesus fell like rain. Out of such a socio-religious matrix came the Greatest Generation, those who survived the Great Depression and the suffering of World War II.

Within such a matrix, however, it was easy to be actively religious. It was easy to incorporate one’s spiritual beliefs into daily life. But it was taken for granted that there was something to incorporate. Our meaningful spiritual life presupposed a whole structure of religious doctrine which we, as children, year after year, learned daily from religious Sisters. These “Nuns” had a special kind of infallibility which was “ Sister sez…..” beyond which there could be no question. Sister told us we would have a serious obligation to worship God each Sunday through the Holy Mass. We would receive Jesus in Holy Communion, not as a symbol but the Lord Himself. We could have our sins forgiven through the sacrament of Penance. We would have reasonable certainty about the Truths of the Faith through the leadership of the Pope, the Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth and the successor to Peter the Rock.

We could pray to a dazzling array of saints who were scholars, doctors, soldiers, beggars, married, single, rich, poor, Japanese, Irish, African and American--- all ready to help us in times of grief, fear or puzzlement. The Sisters taught us to aspire ourselves to such spiritual heights and to believe that it is possible for us, too, aided by the grace of the Lord we worshipped. Life made sense while we acknowledged absurdity and weakness. The large answers were clear even if the crosses remained difficult and painful. Catholicism for us was more than a Creed or philosophy. It was a pervasive way of Life. Affectively, we were close to God.

Unless one has been living in the Gobi desert for fifty years it is obvious that there has been a change in the Catholic way of life. On Feb. 11, 2006, 70 years later, there was hardly a mention of Our Lady of Lourdes. Today the great Paulist Church is hardly ever packed to the doors. There is merely a sprinkling of communicants. There are no more Holy Cross Sisters to open the young souls to the glories of the Faith. There is open and sometimes heretical dissent from the core Teachings of the Faith. Nearly one third of Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Unbelievably, some priests doubt the Truth of Transubstantiation, alleging that Community building is more important than Faith. “Visits” to the Blessed Sacrament are rare. Making the Stations of the Cross as a devotion is a quaint anachronism. To see some adult “making his beads” (saying his Rosary), even in the case of Religious, might raise some “progressive” eyebrows. Catholic leaders, including Popes, are categorized and dismissed as Neanderthal, former young Nazi or mere Italian bureaucrat.

Few Catholics go to Confession. Many believe it doesn’t really matter what religion one professes. Some Catholics support abortion programs believing one’s immediate conscience trumps revealed Truth. Many Catholics support Same Sex “marriages” while others practice homosexual behavior with a mindset justifying illicit sexual pleasures. And of course, these persons often blatantly announce that –yes they are Catholics who go to “Church” often, have their children baptized or married in the Catholic manner and send in an occasional check for charity. They apparently see no dis-connect between their personal lives and the abstract Catholicism they murkily profess. This is, at times, publicly manifested in the cases of “Catholic” politicians who bristle whenever Bishops challenge them in the public forum.

What happened? Of course, there are many possible variables which have contributed to this sad state. The possible list is long. I suggest that one measurable variable which has fed into the decay is very weak religious instruction. But one suspects that many modern Catholics don’t even know what traditional religious instruction means. In their traditional ability to joke about their own weaknesses, my Jewish family told me this relevant story. A rich Jewish entrepreneur wishes to have his new Jaguar blessed. He approaches an Orthodox rabbi for the blessing who asks innocently: “What’s a Jaguar?” A Conservative rabbi similarly responds: “What’s a Jaguar?” But a hot shot/modern Reform Rabbi responds: “What’s a Blessing?”

Many modern Catholics will innocently wonder “what’s traditional religious instruction?” They usually lack the warm flexibility and confidence of the Jewish soul which has been refined in the furnace of bigotry and hatred. The Jew learned to laugh at himself in his quest for survival, seen tragically in the example of the Russian and Polish stettles. Not so with the modern sad Catholic, who might, in fact, be in objective heresy or schism. He is defensive and dour. His anger and depression is getting more widespread. A psychologist might wonder whether or not we are witnessing a colossal unconscious adolescent rebellion against a parental figure!

Some years ago, a columnist of the liberal National Catholic Reporter, himself the recipient of the riches of Catholic tradition, nostalgically pined for the glory of his religious youth. He watched the so-called religious education of his children, with dismay, where the dominant instruction core was not the Eucharist or grace or prayer or Lourdes but rather an elusive goal of “self esteem.”

Under the influence of so many Catholic educators, some of whom I met in my own graduate psychology work, the Religious ed. Programs focused on “feeling good about your self.” It was implied that a warm navel gazing stance would be more helpful for happiness than an awareness of life’s purpose and the means of reaching eternal happiness with God and inner peace in this life.

This columnist wrote of the Catholicism of his youth which was taught like a Gorilla triumphantly thumping his chest. He compared this past glory with the present state of religious instruction which features rills and rocks, running streams, sheaves of wheat flowing in the wind, quasi-animism and which, effectively, focuses, not on God , the Lord and Master, but on the self. The result is an uninformed, pallid, pale “religious” pablum.

Such an enormous disservice to the Catholic people is staggering. And the weakness is not confined to the laity alone. The New Oxford Review (April, 1997) challenged a Catholic bishop of Colorado who announced that he would never, in the future, preach against any kind of sin from the pulpit, lest some one might be offended!!! To speak of abortion or homosexual acting out for him is now out of bounds. He can’t challenge any sin because it might damage some one’s self esteem. The sinner might feel rejected or guilty! He is saturated with the “new” Catholicism but alas, what happens to those who look to him for guidance? Where is the call to repentance? Where is the awareness of the “Cross” so deep in the Faith and devotion of ’36?

We thank God for teachers like Bishop Fabian of Nebraska who will not be silent about sin. Thank the Lord for Dr. James Dobson and Billy Graham and C.S. Lewis who teach the deep truths of God. The Catholics of ’36 were raised on the simple Baltimore Catechism and have been condemned ever since as being underdeveloped and rigid. In spite of actual limitations of such a religious formation, Catholics of that time knew something of their Faith and they acted on it. By comparison with today’s disorientation and desert wandering, l936 looks “pretty good.”

Will we ever see the vigorous, enthusiastic Faith of my youth? Oh, yes, but not in our time since it will take a generation to erase the excesses and mistakes of the recent past. We need real teachers who, truly informed, are not afraid to speak God’s truth. We need real people who value goodness above popularity. May Our Lady of Lourdes protect us.

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

What Does it Mean To Be A Priest?

(An Answer of an 83 Year-Old Priest)

I was ordained a Catholic priest on May lst, 1948 by a tall, gray haired, distinguished, stately Bishop who instructed me and my classmates about the "state" we had just entered. But what was that "state" of Priest? What did it mean? What had happened to me?

That very day, a young Paulist priest, about six years into the priesthood and whom I viewed as an "older" chap, casually remarked to me that I would spend the rest of my life trying to figure out what DID happen to me! Now, with my typical late reaction tendency after 56 years of "priesting", I begin to plumb even further what he implied. And with some apprehension. I have a sense of the unsettling priest-insight of " Take back Thy Power." And it slightly frightens me. But what Power? Let me muse on Power in the priesthood.

In 1946, a Russian woman, Baroness Catherine de Hueck or Mrs. Eddie Doherty, addressed over 400 seminarians, all of us preparing for the Catholic priesthood at the Catholic University in Washington, D.C. She was a woman of remarkable charisma who emanated the very essence of a mysterious "power." She vibed out some kind of energy which permeated the huge hall. She spoke with remarkable vigor of her work in establishing centers for the hurting poor, the dirty poor, unwanted and rejected by "clean" citizens. She had gotten "in there" and had hurled herself into the sad and grim world of poverty. We were almost dumbstruck with her emotionality.

Yet, as impressive as her observations were to us about our duty to engage in the social needs of our age, she utterly bowled us over with her view of "priest." She urged, pleaded, cajoled us to remember that, once we were ordained priests, to "walk among the people - - - and you will strew blessings along your way…." She didn't urge that we should be great scholars or preachers or fund raisers or policy makers. She said: " Just walk among the people. Walk among the people." What was her meaning?

That was so, so long ago and it has rung in my heart down through all these years. I can still hear her proclaiming that admonition - - -It has been an integral part of my own spirituality and identity. In that statement is contained, I think, the core of what priest is. In there is the profound reality of what really did happen to me that joyful day as I knelt before Bishop Stephen Donahue.

When I was a little kid in St. Paul the Apostle grammar school in New York, the Holy Cross Sisters taught us something about a "seal" or " character" of Baptism. It was as if God had stamped the soul with some kind of Mark whereby the lucky one was "adopted" by the Lord in a very special way. Once one was "sealed", it was forever. We intuited by some kind of pre-articulation that there was no way one could be UN-baptized. No matter what kind of child of God I became, good or bad or ugly or nice, I would always have that Divine Father for eternity. I would carry that "seal" or Mark with me where ever I would go; wherever I should "walk". Whatever I would do, consciously or not, I would make my way "Marked" for God. Were I to rant later in my life and "resign" from that Childhood, my membership would remain intact in spite of any personal rebellion or sin. My resignation would be inoperative. I would simply be an inactive, non-practicing child of my Heavenly Father.

There was some kind of "power" in this marking. (or as Sister called it "Character") My prayers, my actions, my thoughts, my feelings were all suffused with this foundational level of "being." We were also taught that there was an advanced state of such "being" in a sacrament named "Confirmation" where we would be more deeply marked by the Holy Spirit and gifted with Fortitude whereby we would be prepared to endure and suffer and even fight for the Ancient Faith. All this by some kind of Power from elsewhere which we believed to be from the Lord. Now it was to be no longer I but the Lord working through me in my day to day Christian life. I carried these "markings" with me everywhere I went. Conscious awareness was not necessarily called for - - it just was!!!

Living in such a framework made it easy for me to move into the towering world of the Priesthood. We were taught (and I deeply believe it) that through the Sacrament of Holy Orders we were profoundly Marked a third and final time (and THIS is the point) as ALTER CHRISTUS, or Other Christ! From henceforth, we would be empowered to act in the very Person of Jesus, Himself.

This would mean that I, a dirty necked kid from Manhattan's tenements, would through the PRIESTHOOD of Jesus, take bread and wine and "transform" such into the Body and Blood of The Lord!!!!! This profound Marking would be with me and in me, as a very part of my essence, for eternity! Whether I became another Iscariot or another Xavier, I would be priest forever. And, further,I would be a priest whether I was conscious of it or not. We were constantly reminded of the Scriptural point: You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek, not according to Luther or Bing Crosby or Joe DiMaggio.

Graham Greene portrayed the insight marvelously well in his engrossing novel, THE POWER AND THE GLORY in which he describes a bad priest, a drunkard, a lecher, an exploiter of the poor but who, through the power of the priesthood can and does celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass for the Catholic faithful. They personally know his faults but they also know his "ghostly" powers. In effect, it is again not I but "HIM Who strengthens me….." This is why even a proud priest has to be humble at the Consecration of the Mass when the Transubstantiation occurs!! He knows that it is not he who does this miracle every day……he acts only " in persona Christi…"

With an insight that the Catholic laity has owned for centuries, the priest is treated with incredible respect even with all the scandals of recent years. It is certainly not because of the human side of these men, but because of the Alter Christus understanding.

The Knight of Columbus of the 3rd degree have a special commitment to protect and enhance the Catholic priesthood. Many Catholics still respectfully open doors for priests, give them seats of honor, call them "Father" and seek counsel and guidance from them - - - - in spite of the smearing and cheapening of the Office by some unworthy clerics. And why? Because of the "Mark" - - the quasi-metaphysical Branding of this priest soul!!! The Christ is present in this vessel of clay in a way nowhere else to be found. This is all about the Presence of Jesus.

This is also a huge unreachable feeling about Christ. It was almost humorous that during the filming of Mel Gibson's masterpiece THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, some of the workers on the set, moved by the sight of the actor, James Carvezial ( 33 years old with initials, J.C.), made up as the Redeemer, would kneel as he passed by. They were so deeply into the Passion of Jesus that they were impelled to reverence the Master - - even though it was ONLY a very good man taking the role.

This clearly surfaces the erroneous notion that the priest should be " one of the boys." Perhaps, painfully, the priest realizes that he is set apart and that he one of God's "special ones." He can never be like one of the "guys" and be true to his calling. He might use Marine language. He might hang out in Bars. He might engage in whoring. He might get seduced by money. No matter what - he is "set apart." Such a realization has become such a burden for some priests that they have "left" the priesthood in an attempt to get out from under the guilt of being "Another Christ."

To be a priest with this understanding that I am another Christ and that I cannot have the consolations of other men and that I am set apart, means a huge loneliness in my life. It means that I, like Jesus also must have my personal Gethsemane.

So, to set a man into the priesthood without his understanding the Mark of the Lord on him and the terrible price that he must pay for his privilege of being Christ in the world would be cruelty personified. I recall a young priest who "left" and returned to his former life, telling me that in the Seminary he was in GRADUATE SCHOOL and not in formation to be a priest. It was as if he were preparing for dentistry or journalism or public relations. Another young priest who likewise returned to his secular life mocked the notion of "seal" and testified that he never heard the "Poof" of the Holy Spirit marking him as priest. Without an identity of alter Christus, the priest is severely hampered in his personal growth and happiness.

The poor judgment of seminary personnel and/or their theological shallowness has allowed such young men to think of priesthood as a job or profession or social engineer. The harm done these students is incalculable. Obviously, we are beginning to reap the unhappy effects of the poor leadership and training of recent decades. Clearly, the priest's power stems from his being set aside by the marking of Ordination. Obviously, again, the greatest expression of this power is the Mass where he offers God back to God in the most Perfect Worship possible to man. As correct as is the notion of "Meal" at the Mass, - - Sacrifice is more theologically central to our Meaning. Emphasizing the "eating" as paramount can feed into a more humanistic or even narcissistic notion of Worship.

The great Fr. James Gillis CSP, reminded me as a young priest that a Priest who does not offer "sacrifice" is a misnomer. Priest instantly implies offering a Sacrifice. I am enthused when I hear the beautiful Gospel hymn WERE YOU THERE WHEN THEY CRUCIFIED MY LORD? because I can almost shout: Yes Yes Yes I am there every day when they crucify Him because I offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which re-presents Calvary for me.

I am appalled and saddened when I learn that some modern priests will not say Mass UNLESS THEY HAVE TO. Does such a priest not know who he is? That when he says Mass, Jesus moves in him as in no one else? Does he know that when he gives Absolution HE forgives the sins of man In the person of Christ? That AT THAT MOMENT in one sense he IS Christ? I doubt this unenthusiastic priest knows who he is. I doubt that he sees his own identity as a priest.

I tried to make the point with a woman Eucharistic minister in a Nursing Home who told me of the many confidences she received from the residents.
If I could only hear confessions, she said, I could be of such help! I suggested that she could hear as many confessions as she liked. There is, however, an essential point to be noted. She couldn't absolve from sin. Only Christ can do that and Christ does it through His priests. Only THEY are so marked and empowered!

So when a priest is overcome with what he is and he cries out in a spiritual terror: Take back Thy power, one can appreciate this man's feeling inadequate even if so honored! And always in his deepest self, he knows that others of his culture were more worthy and smarter and more sensible and braver and better looking and endlessly better suited than he. But always he knows that it is not a question of chosing but of being chosen.

Finally, the Russian was right. Let the priest simply walk among the people. Let the Christ blessings be strewn along the way. When the priest walks, Christ walks in a special way in him because of the Marking. This is Christ's man and if one looks deeply enough with Faith and some theological sophistication, this is Christ.