Saturday, June 30, 2007

Can We Communicate Without Understanding?

In my early years as a missionary in South Africa I would be asked, occasionally, to hear the confessions of some Zulu Catholics in the beautiful city of Durban. I knew approximately 20 words in Zulu and my penitents knew slightly more in English. Yet somehow we both knew what was happening. We knew that this was a spiritual moment --- an encounter with Jesus. With the aid of a bi-lingual chart, showing, on one side, in English, the Commandments of God and the Church and, on the other side, “sins” written in Zulu, the penitent could point to the sin and I could easily understand its translation by consulting the chart. Even apart from the chart, we both understood and believed that once I, the priest, pronounced the words of absolution in Latin, [1] the soul was cleansed of any sin and reconciled to the love of the God in Whom we both passionately believed. The One they called Umzimkulu ( the One Who is above all others). We were communicating even if we didn’t understand each other’s language. This type of communication practically shouted a mutual belief that sins are forgiven even if the priest doesn’t get the exact drift of the confession or is a dullard or a cad. Evidently, there are methods of communication which do not require any understanding of words.

In fact, I was well prepared for such interaction by years of attending Mass in the huge Paulist church in New York City prior to Vatican II. Each Sunday, I attended Mass, usually, with at least 600 people. We worshipped almost in total silence except for the periodic ringing of a beautifully toned bell signaling various levels in the service. We all knew exactly the Liturgical “place” of the service. We all knew when to stand or sit or kneel. This was so even though the priest had his back to us facing God, almost as a Regimental commander leading his troops as he stood before a Divine Five Star General. Amazingly, while the Mass was said entirely in Latin with no microphones present on the altar, no one seemed lost. There were “Missals” available with English translations alongside the Latin text, in the fashion of the “Pony –trot” handbook many of us used while studying Greek or Latin. Mostly, however, we concentrated on what was “happening” on the altar. The bottom line was that we were deeply involved in worshipping the Lord without necessarily understanding the meaning of “suscipiat” or “juventutem”. The God message came through “loud and clear”. We were not there to be entertained. We were there to meet our basic obligation to the Lord. And, for the most part, it clearly succeeded. But without understanding the Liturgical words, we approached God with awe and respect.

Even though we were all poor and culturally limited, the sense of Community for my group was palpable. Perhaps, the community feeling stemmed from the common socio-economic poverty level of that period but more probably we were bonded by the Depression, World War II and the notion that the parish Church was the center of our universe. That “center” surfaced in the Mass which hardly any one intellectually understood but practically all deeply comprehended—Faith wise. We all knew and lived under the penumbra of the Great Truths: life and death and Salvation. Jesus and God’s grace. Mother Mary and her love for us. The Ever present second chance. The hope of eternal life exemplified in the dazzling array of saints who were just like us.

Even today when I meet an occasional dinosaur survivor of those days, I am impressed with the clarity, strength and beauty of his or her practical Faith. With them, there was (and is) little ambiguity about the Catholic way of life. Of course, it is inevitable that anyone from that era would almost automatically make comparisons. Today’s disarray and theological dissent within American Catholicism with its anger and power grabs is painful for those of us who knew the pre-Vatican community and unity. In spite of the use of the vernacular, there seems to be less Faith and unity than before. It is startling to learn that there is disagreement among Catholics about the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, for example. It is even more distressing to learn that even some priests doubt the efficacy of their own priesthood and question Christ’s presence under the form of bread and wine.

Of course, it is preferable, in my opinion, to understand what one is saying. I like saying Mass in English but would celebrate in Latin if asked to. I like saying the Divine Office in English whereby I learn more of the Scriptures daily, and savor the beautiful Psalms of David. One of the older priests after the introduction of the vernacular, remarked that saying his Office in English distracted him when he found out what he had been saying all those years in Latin.

Recently, Pope Benedict XVI has opened the door for the celebration of Mass in Latin. He should be applauded for his courage and vision in offering such diversity to those Catholics whose liturgical taste reaches for the graceful solemnity of the traditional ritual. The argument that Catholics, not understanding a strange language, will fall away from the Church, rings hollow in the light of the history of the last 40 years. The emptying of our Churches coincided with the use of words people could “understand.” The translations into English have often been banal, vulgar and even excessive. Some commentators have even suggested that an unhealthy familiarity has arisen to replace the sense of awe so valued in the Pre-Vatican II era. We have paid the price!

However, sometimes, understanding does lead to greater devotion (as in my own case). But, some Catholics, clergy and religious included, testify that sometimes the understanding leads to distraction and less devotion, less awe, less respect. In the instance of the puerile attempt to make the Sacrifice of the Mass attractive to young people, some zealots introduced what has been called “ghastly music” into the service. The inept twanging of poorly tuned guitars, the nasal rendition of modern hymnody and the clumsy positioning of these “pieces” into the Mass structure is dist- racting to many faithful Catholics who endure these cultural barbarisms only with their own insight into the meaning of the Mass. The glorious music of Palestrina and Mozart and Bach even if not understood by the Catholic, communicates a great message of God’s presence and Love to him. Communication without understanding again! But perhaps the Lord speaks to some via the leggy, adenoidal genre. Ah! The beauty of diversity!

How often in my life, when I have admitted my inability to understand much of Sacred Scripture, I have been urged to believe that the Lord speaks to me even though I do not understand! The Holy Spirit would instruct me through the very sacredness of the words I did not understand. Even if I am deaf and/or blind. Fair enough but why can not the same Holy Spirit speak likewise through the greatest form of worship possible, the Mass? As with my Zulu penitents, God speaks His own way through any medium He chooses. Can I find like minded questioners like myself among the Pentecostals and the “Gift of Tongues” folk? Or anyone who believes in meta-verbal communication? God speaks to us in many ways, a beautiful way is the Latin Mass. Good for Pope Benedict XVI!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

On Narcissism OR Why Doesn't the World See How Marvellous I Am?

In a recent public lecture an eminent New York City cleric, while musing on the famous John Donne quip “No man is an island”, perceptively opined that, today, everyone is an island. He suggested that the “ modern” is so turned in on himself that he becomes the center of all things. Everything is measured in terms how “things” affect him personally. He is deep into “peak experiences” which might be rollerblades, trendy restaurants or BMWs. Because of his involvement with himself, he is increasingly alienated and lonely in the superbusy Megapolis which is “Today.” In spite of the numerous gadgets and technical toys he may have, the Modern is often markedly depressed and unhappy. Why is this? Conrad Baars has suggested that the culprit may very well be Narcissism, the modern day disease. Quite correctly, I think, the twentieth century has been called the Age of Narcissism with its intense self centeredness and hedonistic questing.

The term Narcissism comes from an old myth wherein a handsome youth, Narcissus, falls passionately in love with his own image reflected in a pool. Because of his preoccupation with himself, he is unable to hear anyone else say to him “I love you.” He ultimately pines away and dies. He, however, leaves behind a recognizable blueprint for an unhappy psyche, which has been seduced by an infatuating self love and which is accompanied by a tragic unrequited hunger for the ideal lover whom he can never find. Contemporary psychology uses the term to describe a vain preoccupation with self or a preening self centeredness, even slipping sometimes into the auto erotic. The usual triad is vanity, exhibitionism and arrogant ingratitude. Look everybody—here I am! Look, everybody, watch me perform! Why should I be grateful? The world owes me. I deserve it all. And everybody has to like me! I am “teed off” if they don’t pay attention to me and appreciate me! Take care of me, first!

How many times I, like so many others, have seen the juvenile behavior of a 50 year old teenager demanding attention, grabbing the social spotlight or raging because of some kind of “perceived” slight. As one such narcissist told me once, “Say anything about me when I am not here, but don’t ignore me when I am here…” Perhaps such behavior stems from a deep and underlying sense of insecurity. Perhaps, the “bad guy” was poor mothering. Or a poor sense of self esteem and self value. Or perhaps it is as H. Kohut (1977) taught. It is a failure in normal development of the earliest internal images of self and significant others. And there is always the real enemy. Inordinate pride. Or put differently, it means that the narcissist needs some deep instruction and guidance on the meaning of the basic virtue of humility. There are clear parameters of reality, even if unclear to the narcissist, which were established by God Himself. If the Lord’s Reality is not seen, personal chaos necessarily results. It is absurd to believe that I am the Center of the Universe. Yet, in effect, this is the emotional position of the one who suffers (and inflicts suffering on others) because of a narcissistic orientation. He doesn’t seem to know that God is the Center, not the human “I”.

What impels, for example, the high powdered A-type personality, the business tycoon, the educator, the cinema star, the cleric to rush to the “booze” in times of stress? From my own practice dealing with such people, it seems to me that there is a real correlation between heavy drinking and some kind of subjective belief that he is not being sufficiently appreciated, loved or acknowledged. What drives the seductive and insatiable behavior of the person who is competing for the affection of the world? Even his own circumscribed world? There seems to be a huge need to be constantly reassured that he is loveable or capable or appreciated. Narcissism or the exaggerated sense of self importance might well be the villain.

If, in an earlier age, society believed that we are all responsible to some degree for each other in that every word, deed, thought [1] and omission somehow ripples out and affects everyone we meet, the today theme is more “I don’t want to get involved” or “Let George do it” or “ I got mine, Mac.”

In today’s society, it is almost axiomatic to hold that each of us has the right ( by some kind of cosmic, consensual dynamic) to say or do or not to do or think or desire or ignore ----anything we want , whatever we want —regardless of any impact on others. It is almost enough justification to say merely that I desire something to make it acceptable. If I want it, I should have it—otherwise I will be damaged emotionally. The old fashioned but healthy principles of “waiting” for the fulfillment of one’s needs with self restraint and of understanding the notion of delayed gratification, seem quaint and out of step. There is a powerful demon in our midst which demands, not delayed gratification, but instant gratification. Despite the bleeding heart “Human family” drumbeat and the pious lipservice (usually done on the high flown abstract level mode [2]) there is a widespread culture of frightening self centeredness in our Land. We suspect, in agreement with Baars, that the damaging Enemy is Narcissism.

As always, however, there are the beautiful social pockets of altruism which reject selfishness and inspire others to the doing of the “Good.” For example, where we have legal support for abortion for those loathe the inconvenience of birthing and rearing a child, we also have the multitudes of women who unselfishly and lovingly give life and love to little kids who will live forever. Generous and unselfish people? See the Sisters of Life who lovingly take care of the losers and the unwanted. See the Friars of Benedict Groeschel with their youthful, enthusiastic and generous care of the poor, the unwashed and angry poor. See the many volunteers for soup kitchens, nursing homes and meals on wheels. We have the candy stripers in hospitals and high school students who read to the blind. We have the Habitat for Humanity. We have the young undergrads who pray outside abortuaries, risking insult and arrest because they care for others.

So even though Baars is probably right, not everyone is an island. There is great hope under God for altruism because there are good people in our World and God’s Grace is ever available. Nevertheless, Baars is right in positing that something has happened to the “Western” Judeo-Christian soul to make so many of us turn back into ourselves where things are evaluated, basically and concretely, in terms of “Me.” In my eighties, I was saddened (and even shaken) to note a news story about my old alma mater, NYU, in the Village. A survey taken shortly after 9/11 indicated that a large sample of the student body definitely avowed that, even in extreme war circumstances, they had no intention to serve their country. The common theme was “Let someone else do it.” And “ I have to take care of my own career..”

While in my youth (the Pearl Harbor era), there were some scattered “Gold brick” types who personified the “Let George do it” mentality, the overwhelming majority of the population was eager – in some way—to give of themselves to help others. Even to the point of serving in the military. Today we have truly magnificent volunteers in the service, female as well as male, who are willing to donate some years of their lives ( even under very dangerous conditions) to protect God’s good world. However, their numbers are comparatively few.

Narcissism is hardly confined to military service. It is everywhere. In families. In schools. In the pulpit (with the built-in stage for exhibitionism with the startling success of many preachers and evangelists). In offices. Extraordinarily in the theatre. In politics. In the athletic world. In short, wherever you find human beings, you will find selfishness, self magnification and self involvement. And all human beings are flawed and self -concerned because of a great aboriginal calamity that occurred long ago in the beginning of the human race. Catholics call it Original sin. As Captain McNeill told his brilliant, bald Lieutenant in a episode of the TV series “Kojak”, “Theo, this is an imperfect world and I have a lifetime membership in it.” So, of course, our concern is more with degree than with “kind.” Obviously, Narcissism exists in all of us but hopefully might be minimized for everyone’s benefit. But what is possible?

Some analysts suggest that Narcissists contribute a measure of sparkle and wonder to life and should we restore them to the elusive criterion of “ normality,” we would lose their electric contribution to our world. Such advisors counsel that we should accept these persons as they are, love them and appreciate whatever great things they actually do. A colleague of mine suggests that, with an elastic concept of “normal”, they should be considered “normal” if they can keep their “abnormals” to a minimum. Nevertheless, narcissists are not as happy as they seem. They often feel empty and frustrated because of their unfulfilled longings. Psychotherapy is marvelous up to a point but is certainly limited since, by a Catholic definition, it merely clears away the path for further and higher growth. Counseling and therapy should be “vestibule” work. The real answer, as implied above, is in the spiritual world.

How to proceed? Can I get my Narcissist to want to grow out of his misery? Can I get him to pray to Jesus for help? And to the Holy Spirit for enlightenment? Can I introduce to him the concept and later the affect of the Cross of Jesus? And its meaning and its liberty? How can I help him see that there are others in the world, often far more destitute (which can take many forms) than he? How do I get him to see that his glass, like everyone else, is half full and is usually right under his nose as he keeps looking for greener fields? How can I help him to be content (not smug) with his life? How can I help him understand the joy of empathy wherein he might see things through another’s eyes? How can I open to him the joyful glorious feeling of helping others? How can I get him to see/feel the profundity of gratitude? How do I get him to relish the simple things of life, the walking, the smelling of the Rose, the feel of rain on his face, the beauty in so many things, the Presence of God? How do I get him to learn the great art of “offering it up”? The Art of freedom from others’ approval? The art of knowing that ultimately only God’s approval matters?

How do I help him see the suicidal results of living in the “entitlement” mode? How do I get him to sense –even remotely—that God, His Father, loves him with an implacable love even though he is often such a complete schlep? How do I get him to see that Home Runs are not necessarily what make people happy, but rather simple contentment with the deal given them by the Lord of Life? Bottom line, how do I get him to appreciate Reality and its limitations? Or in my terms, how do I get him to see, not only by the aha phenomenon, so beloved by shrinks, but also by the eyes of Faith that he has value—eternally—proven by his Lord dying for him in a terrible, incredibly painful way? This is the Humility we all need. The truth of ourselves with our plusses and minuses but with our beauty before God.

Such idealism! Yet that is the goal. If you know how to implement these ideals as stated, please instruct me. Mean while, I shall pray that the narcissism we all share will be, as my colleague suggested, kept to a minimum.


[1] Contemporary psychotherapy, unconsciously or not, underscores in a subtle way the Jesus observation that merely lusting for another without external actions is certainly a form of “behavior” which has consequences.
[2] It is usually safer to espouse causes away from the actual site problem. The arm chair and the martini make for comfortable and uninvolved Social Indignation. The limousine liberal in Chappaqua is a good example.

Say Either Yea or Nay - The Nauseating of Christ

“I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit [1] you out of my mouth.” Rev.3:21

It is a contemporary truism to say that we live in a litigious society which is ever searching for any possible chance to sue. Attorneys nearly salivating at the wide range of prospects, look for the quick and easy “Buck.” In such a threatening legal climate, restrained and super cautious expression of one’s values and ideas is understandable, especially if one espouses an unpopular cause. Augmented by a near hysterical need to avoid trampling on almost [2] anyone’s sensitivities, modern discourse is heavily characterized by ambiguity, circumlocution and overuse of the word “alleged.”

The high level magazine NEW OXFORD REVIEW published an item concerning a Catholic Bishop in Colorado who stated that from henceforth he will make no comment on the behavior of homosexuals lest he might offend some one’s sensibilities. The editors of NOR rightly confronted the Bishop wondering whether such a constricted verbal prison might not logically inhibit him from commenting on any kind of sinful behavior. They asked whether such timidity would not factually reduce him to the level of a weak and ineffectual spiritual leader.

However, speaking “plainly” without ambiguity and with courage does exact a price. Another Catholic Bishop in Canada who writes a regular newspaper essay, often simply stating (without festooning) the basic Catholic teaching on sexuality, was threatened with jail time by the previous Prime Minister. His offense was to be categorized a “hate crime.” If the PM’s viewpoint were universal every Government would need many more jails since this crime is regularly committed by every loyal Catholic teacher of the Faith throughout the world. Fortunately for everyone, the threatening PM was not re elected and his successor adopted a more adult view of Freedom of Speech and expression. In some societies, however, telling the Truth puts one at great risk. Following Christ’s injunction, quoted above, might exact a great price from many Christians.

A particularly debasing motivation for shading the truth is the insatiable desire in some human beings to be liked by everyone. This is obviously an illusion more suited to the dreamy fantasies of adolescents than adults. Some such emotionally retarded adults are devastated if some one dislikes them. Their criterion for living becomes, not truth, but the quicksand of “ being liked.” It was said of a popular politician that he agreed with the last person he spoke to. He was exceedingly “ well liked” because he said what he thought the other wished to hear. He had little integrity but plenteous admiration.

While the modern fear of some kind of retribution is more intense, there has always been some kind of “watching your tongue” in human history. I remember the well known custom in Ireland of never answering a direct question. Better, we were told, to answer with a question, lest your answer be used some how against you. So, when I was seeking a relative in Ireland, I stopped an old gent in Cork asking him if he knew where my cousin lived. He narrowed his eyes, took out his pipe and said “ Now what would you be wantin’ to see her for, I wonder?” The “I wonder” was said with the famous Cork corkscrew tonality as it phonetically spiraled up and up. Such caution was apparently a carry over from the old penal days when the Irish were terribly persecuted by an occupying foreign power. It was a question of always being on your guard! Don’t ever let them know what you really think. Sometimes, paranoia is understandable.

It is somewhat similar in the accepted custom of illegals lying after they have crossed one of our borders, the Southern one, for example. Better to lie because they might use it against you and deport you if you tell the whole story. Is it not common knowledge that the American Indian became highly suspicious and untrusting of white men because of the double speak used against him? ‘White man speak with forked tongue’ was a well used expression in our Western states.

In contemporary society, it is rampant. Recently, in a pubic televised debate between various candidates for nomination to the Presidency, the question was asked of all of them: “What is your view of Roe v. Wade relative to overturning it?” One of the leading candidates, a self confessed Catholic, replied: “If it is overturned, it is O.K. If it is not overturned, it is O.K.” Nowhere did he indicate to the country what he actually thought about Roe v. Wade. The Catholic Faith specifically teaches that abortion is intrinsically evil and that Catholics must do what they can to protect innocent life, for example, the unborn child. This Pol would not take a position and preferred to take the “middle road”, i.e. the Lukewarm one mentioned by the Lord. It was reminiscent of the noted Television commentator who, when asked about the outcome of a troublesome situation, replied: “Well, it might be right and it might be wrong…” He cashed big checks for such intellectual bravery.

Such nauseating evasion obviously covers not only the religious but also the political landscape. Some years ago, a Catholic woman was running for a very high political office but, for election purposes, wiggled a position on abortion whereby she tried to have her feet on both sides. Worse than the evader mentioned above, this woman misrepresented the Church’s teaching and attributed her liberal position to some priest “advisors” who assured her, she said, that her position was truly Catholic. She dismissed the religious leadership of the local Cardinal Archbishop who insisted on publication of true Catholic teaching. She lost the election possibly because of her shocking religious bifurcation.

Such refusal to take a clear Catholic position on the part of “Catholics” is unbelievable and discouraging to the millions of devout believers. To learn that Catholic Senators and Congressmen vote in favor of partial birth abortion utterly confuses moral people. The weaseling practice to append “so-called” to the term partial birth is further confounding. It is eminently clear that this barbarous practice is the dismemberment of a living child. Is it that these people cannot face the fact of this murder themselves? Are they trying to cover it over in their own consciences? One thing we do know. This usage of “so called” falls under the nausea described by Christ! It is a refusal to call something for what it is! Our people have a right to know what God asks. Ambiguity is not helpful. Clarity is.

The recently deceased Federal Court Judge Richard Casey closely questioned an abortionist in an investigation of the legality of partial birth abortion. He asked the man who had performed many of these procedures whether or not the baby felt any pain during the dismemberment. As the limbs are being pulled from the torso of the child, is there any suffering inflicted on the child? The Professional Killer replied that he never thought of it. It never entered his mind. Really? After hundreds of these “procedures”? Or is it that he unconsciously knows what he is doing and even censures himself? Ducking the meaning of one’s actions and their consequences falls under the thundering condemnation of the Lord. Penumbras and emanations are proper material for discussions in the Supreme Court. They do not belong where the sunlit leadership of Jesus illuminates.

The choice demanded by the Lord clearly involves suffering. One cannot take both sides of a fundamental moral issue where there is only one side. To attempt the lukewarm describes the repulsive practice of engaging in the oxymoronic [3] which is implied in the Scripture. Lukewarm means trying to put opposites together so that everyone is content with the result. One of the worst and most dishonest, I have ever seen is the oxymoronic title of “Catholics for a Free choice”, the “organization” with no members, run for years by the now retired Frances Kissling. The use of the word “Catholic” linked with abortion (choice as euphemism) is an intellectual confliction. It was as if one could be a practicing Catholic and simultaneously/acceptably engage in abortion and the like.

I had the privilege of meeting the Lead Bishop of all the Protestant churches of the Church of Ireland when I was Chairing a Graduate Division at Iona college. He was charming and pleasant, extremely nice to be around. He spoke easily, met all of us with grace, gentleness and ease while wearing a huge red Vest-like front for his Clerical collar. No wonder we all liked him so much. But he had a powerful tool to effect this popularity. He never gave a real opinion about anything. No matter what was being discussed or opined, he would reply “I know, I know..” It was done with charm and an engaging smile but no one knew where he stood on difficult matters. Is that the road to political or ecclesiastical success? Don’t ruffle feathers. Be very agreeable. Don’t ever disagree. Smile……. Don’t take strong positions. Go for the gray area in every thing.

It is easy to understand the accurate and careful reporting of many people who hesitate to make statement because they do not have data at hand. But the one who fears to state his views lest he be punished by social isolation or job loss or physical punishment is something else. It is easy to understand the refusal of someone to answer a specious question which is posed, like the Pharisees, to embarrass another. Yet part of the Christian life is to be Courageous and truthful. It is truly difficult so to live yet we believe that the Lord gives the strength to be open and trusting knowing that He is with us always. When we live as He requests, the inner feeling is clean and relaxed. I have nothing to fear. My Lord My God is with me. My God stands by me, I place all my trust in Him. May it come to pass in the modern Catholic. It is desperately needed.

[1] Some interpretations use the more colorful “I will begin to vomit thee out of My mouth.”
[2] Except Catholicism. See Philip Jenkins on his: “The Last Acceptable Prejudice" (Anti-Catholicism)
[3] oxymoronic: the attempt to reconcile contradictory concepts within the same word or phrase

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Catholic Church, Political Accommodation & Apartheid

The arm chair pundit in the comfortable and safe Ivory Tower often has quick, neat and easy answers for Catholics who live under iniquitous political systems throughout the world. He will confidently assure persons of our Faith that they simply must stand up, be counted, attack the evil regime, rouse the Faithful and drive full steam ahead. Disregard the cost whatever it might be. There is to be no quarter to error or evil.

It sounds gallant, appealing and slightly romantic but it can also be factually damaging for the Catholic Community in certain world areas. In fact in some situations, to follow the heated advice of the pundit might be imprudent. On the contrary, one might cautiously ask “How far can one go, without compromising one’s own conscience, in “accommodating” to a regime clearly in conflict with Catholic teaching and belief?” Or how far should one go? On my Ordination to the priesthood in 1948, I was such an all knowing pundit. Fresh from a world of protected inexperience, I was assigned to work in the then Union of South Africa where that very year the social policy called Apartheid [1] was enacted into law. I would, I fantasized, be a young St. Athenasius, the Hammer of Bigots, challenging, persuading and changing the social and religious face of that Nation. Ah! The shallowness and arrogance of youth.

Apartheid (the last syllable rhymes, interestingly, with hate) was the brain child of Domne Danie Malan, Prime Minister and Dutch Reformed clergyman. Dr. Malan and his associates were highly intelligent, emotionally tough and highly motivated by fear. There was an unbalanced population ratio. Only 1 out of every 7 South Africans was white. But he usually lived very well, with poorly paid, ever available servants, (the males being called “boys” and females “nannies.”) private tennis courts and the occasional swimming pool. He worked hard but his immediate social persona was “baas” or top level guy in the multi-racial society. This superiority was operational, vis-à-vis the non-white, in all situations.

Apartheid was a total social program in which a specific population categorization was determined. One was either a)European [2] / Caucasian or b) non-European. There was no significant “gray” area. The “separateness” was absolute. Trains, buses, theatre seats, water fountains, Church seating, living areas, schools, hospital sections, markets, shops, swimming pools, beaches, all were separate and off limits from both racial directions. The disgraceful American Jim Crow practice was “Sodality Boy” level compared with Apartheid because South African oppression was Legal. Apartheid’s “taken- for- granted- you –are- inferior” impact on the non-European created massive damage to a whole people’s self concept and self esteem. While the American racist shame was brutally effective, it was illegal. As bad as we were with our history so seriously tainted by our own bigotries and oppressions [3], Apartheid was far worse. It was intentionally and conceptually evil.

Apartheid was a prime example of the false equation between the legal and the moral. For example, Parliament passed an act entitled “The Immorality Act” in which immorality was defined as sexual behavior, in or out of marriage, between persons of different races. Should a white male copulate with a non-white woman [4] it is an “immorality” subject to an immediate punishment usually directed to the Non-European. By some strange mental manipulation the male did not act “immorally.” Only the non-white person did. However, it was widely accepted that “legal” equals “ moral”. Nevertheless, such a political pall hung over the whole country in which the Catholic Church was called to proclaim the love and justice of Jesus Christ. What does the Catholic Church do in such a political climate? How do Catholics protest such injustice and evil? How does the Church balance iniquity against the need to minister to God’s children living under such a regime?

An immediate dilemma surfaced in the matter of Catholic schools which were actually financed by the Apartheid government. Even though the fierce Dutch Reformed white majority (of the total white population) lived as if the St. Bartholomew’s massacre was yesterday and even though they referred to Catholics as “die Roomse Gevaar” ( Trans. the Roman danger), nuns, in full habit, Brothers, Priests-in-collar and lay faculty were paid generous salaries every month. Monies were supplied for maintenance, books and the miscellany of academic life. Catholic teaching was overtly part of the daily instruction. Daily Mass was offered during school hours. (Imagine the ACLU and apoplexy were that scheme to operate here!) The Government clearly recognized the “taming” power of religion in society and hence supported our efforts as subsidiary to theirs. In effect, they left us completely free to do our Godly work except for an annual perfunctory visit from the Regional Department of Education which viewed Catholic schools with awe and admiration. [5]

Similarly, in the Paulist Mission program, we, clearly identified as clerics, freely traveled to different cities, and dorps (towns) preaching “Roman” Catholicism, urging Non-Catholics to join our Religion. We preached to non-Catholics to convert, not to dialogue! No one ever tried to interfere. My one exception was when I preached in Domne Danie Malan’s home village, Graaf Reinett, where young Zealots shouting anti-Catholic epithets, stoned the building in which I was explaining the beauty of the Catholic Faith. Otherwise, I never encountered any legal or social difficulty. The Police expected us to sign in and out of every place we visited. Routinely, we refused but, at every occasion, they looked the other way. We constantly broke the law. They knew it and did nothing about it.

Were we complicit with an evil regime? Were we being cowardly and compromising by working there? Were we being disloyal to Jesus by living under Apartheid? There was many intra-Paulist agonizing discussions on this matter and we always seemed to conclude that it was right that Hecker’s sons were working in that beautiful country so stained by greed and selfishness. Would not Catholics and others be in deficit were we not there? Rationalization or justification? Paulists, overwhelmingly, argued that, granting the negatives, it was right to live and work there!
The positive aspects of our work were too concrete to ignore. Was it Machiavellian? Did the good end justify the problematic means? We worked with consciences, which, though clear, were pained by the suffering of so many of God’s children. Statistically, the overseas Paulists who labored so joyfully and successfully in Southern Africa were pleased that they had devoted those years to the African missions.

Being nauseous from the revolting, insulting treatment of our Catholic “non-Europeans” (including brother priests),on the one hand, and sensing, on the other hand, how valuable we were to our brothers and sisters in their search for God, made for sharp inner angst. How does one handle that problem? Does the Church pack up and leave in a huff, leaving the Catholics (of all hues) without shepherding? Does one mount great demonstrations which, in that country would have involved danger of loss of life, property and freedom to evangelize? One can, as did I whenever possible, preach the loving and just doctrine of Jesus Who sees everyone as loveable and worth dying for! One can write, as did I, in Catholic periodicals about Social Justice and the need to treat everyone as one’s brother. The political effects were immediately negligible, if incrementally, for future impact, useful.

There were little things we could and did do. When we arrived at our new parish in Johannesburg, we found three pews in the rear of the Church marked with signs “for non-Europeans.” We instantly removed the signs indignantly announcing that the Church of Jesus was no place for such blatant bigotry. A few of the devout Catholic parishioners protested our action even though they considered themselves as fine practicing Catholics. When the abundant pleasures of this world are close at hand, few are interested in the nobler things of life. It is only when “Pressure” such as when overwhelming and threatening non-white populations are clearly about to engulf the Privileged Few that people will listen and act.

Barring some French Revolution type uprising, the power of Government with its military, police force and “spy” system, is too strong to overturn. The practical question is how does a believing Catholic function under any iniquitous system? How did Pope Pius VII negotiate with Napoleon? I recall that the Pope forgivingly viewed the Emperor’s injustices as “frenzies of human ambition” and that “the Concordat was a healing act, Christian and heroic.” How did we deal with Hitler? And Concordat? Was it wrong? My visceral reaction, being half Jewish, is powerful. I know that had I lived in Munich, in 1938, I very well might have ended up in Dachau. Yet, a reasonable argument might be made, justifying the Church’s “silence” under the Nazi regime in order to protect and serve as many of our Flock as possible.

Some moralists teach that one goes as far as one can (in some kind of “agreement”) without compromising one’s basic conscience (do we battle what that means?). Obviously, there are limits beyond which no Catholic can travel but, using that nasty word, practically, one must find ways to “accommodate” within the moral Catholic conscience. Otherwise, we keep running away. And Catholics lose. The Ordinary [6] of the Diocese of Johannesburg, the largest and most important in the country, was Bishop Whelan whose father was Irish and mother, Afrikaans [7]. He was highly favored by the Government and was rumored to be sympathetic to Programs coming out of Pretoria, the real Center of the Governing class. Yet, as our Bishop, he did encourage, non-verbally, much of the apathy we found in that Catholic family. Nevertheless, within his ambiguous but protective leadership we were able to do “the job.”

However, is there, apart from the heated ramblings of the uninitiated, any real guideline? We Paulists found our own working principles as outlined above. Others, elsewhere, have not. One thing we do know is that it is probably better not to jump precipitously but rather to work within the system and nudge gradually for change. The Ivory Tower pundit dislikes such talk. But perhaps he might consider that we should not analyze the other’s morality until we, as the Native American axiom goes, have walked in his moccasins.


[1] A clumsy word invented by the Nationalist Party attempting to describe the “equal but separate” development of Caucasian and all other racial groups.
[2] In my early years under Apartheid, I would, with more than a juvenile flair, list myself as non-European since I came, not from Europe but from the United States. My smart alec stance brought me and my work nothing but grief. I stood up not for God nor my Church nor my charges but really for my own egotism.
[3] Can one forget the Dred Scott decision of 1858?
[4] “Non white” could mean colored ( the product of earlier sexual relations between a white man and a black woman), or Native (Full blood African) or Asian (a conundrum for Apartheid since it might involve Indians, Chinese or Lebanonese)
[5] They viewed Catholic hospitals, run by Nuns, in a similar fashion. It was an “in” joke that Apartheid government leaders used these Catholic facilities rather than Government ones.
[6] a term used to describe the ruling Bishop of any Diocese. He has full, ultimate authority and jurisdiction within that Diocese.
[7] Meaning great family influence from the Dutch Reformed Tradition of South Africa. Such influence tended to side with the “volk” of African history who were the Apartheid Afrikaaner people.

Dignity and Courage Compared as Ministries to Homosexual Persons

Several years ago, in the Paulist Fathers parish in New York City, there were two different groups ministering to Homosexual persons. One was a Dignity-like group sponsored by the parish in the liberal pastoral care mode. The other was Courage founded by Cardinal Cooke and developed by Fr. John Harvey OSFS with the assistance of Fr Benedict Groeschel and Archbishop Edwin O"Brien of the Military Ordinariate. Perplexed by what looked like unnecessary replication , some interested persons wondered 1) why were there two groups ministering to the same population and 2) was there any real difference between the two apparently competing groups.

In fact, there are important and obvious differences. An immediate framework for understanding the differences can be found in the Five Goals of Courage which were formulated by the Same Sex Attracted1 members themselves. The first and most important goal reads as follows:"Live chaste lives in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality."

A member of the Parish Council had asked me, the facilitator of the local Courage chapter, the direct question: What is the difference between the two groups?" My reply created a flurry of activity when I said: "Courage is the Catholic one." The rationale for that statement is, hopefully explained in the following paragraphs.
Dignity was founded by John McNeill, an ex-priest and ex-Jesuit who had been personally involved with a same sex lover for approximately 20 years. His intention (garnered from his own writings) was to create a support system for those Catholics who, like himself, being homosexual and Catholic, wished to maintain active participation in both areas. This meant some kind of selective and subjective Catholicism. However, Catholicism insists that Chastity (as described in Galatians as gift/fruit of the Holy Spirit of God) is the obligation of all, including "Gays."2

They, however, argue that since they usually lack the option of marriage with the opposite sex, they should be "excepted" from this Catholic teaching which, they admit, legitimately applies to everyone else.

Stripped of any possible obscurity, the teaching basically says that human sexual behavior is limited exclusively to a man and a woman united in lawful marriage. Sexual behavior outside of this state of life (which probably encompasses most of the human race) is considered not only inappropriate but sinful, in se. That many persons consistently violate such an ideal does not destroy the teaching and belief of the Catholic Church. It is intact and basic to the Catholic stance. Obviously, there is much dissent on this point. Indeed, Dignity is listed among the dissidents, arguing that God would not impose such a cross as chaste celibacy on those who have strong sexual drives and needs. Yet, two years ago, in Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago stunned a conference of "Gays and Lesbians" with a counter point. He said: "Anyone who says that chastity cannot be practiced, in effect, proclaims that he does not believe in the Resurrection of Christ." He received an applause which was polite but largely muted.

Fr. John Harvey takes a similar position. In a New York Vicariate meeting of priests, I asked him publicly why he thought there was opposition to the teachings of Courage among some clergy. He replied, "Because they don't believe chastity for SSA is possible." The Dignity-like group which previously functioned in the Paulist parish was facilitated by a layman, an attorney. He was quoted in Chelsea-Clinton News, a small newspaper operating in a heavily Gay area, on the West side of Manhattan, as saying that he never surfaced the Catholic position on chastity but preferred to keep the teaching unarticulated. Each member could decide for himself, with some in "relationships"3, and others not. In the face of such a policy, it is interesting to note that the present Pontiff, as Cardinal Ratzinger, wrote in the PCHP4 that silence, in dealing with Homosexual Persons, is neither pastoral nor caring. He skillfully challenges evasive and non-verbal positions as being "studied ambiguity." Such unarticulated policies are contrary to the very nature of Courage. This contrariety conflicts with the support group as an organization and the very etiology of the word itself. Courage believes that chastity (in the Catholic sense) is all about Love which is open and giving.
The Catholic Church (and, by extension, Courage) holds that only the tendency5 itself is considered to be disordered because it tends towards that which, in itself, is sinful.6 The tendency is towards that which, in itself, is wrong (sex outside of marriage)7 and at least objectively sinful. It is important to note immediately that, in a Catholic view, it is the tendency which is disordered and not the person. Superficial reading or misunderstanding of this point, has, for some people, been translated into a false perception that the Church is saying that homosexual (SSA) persons are disordered. The distinction seems to be difficult for some SSA persons to fathom but, psychologically, the distinction is profoundly comprehensible to many students of the human psyche.

In any event Cardinal O'Connor, the Archbishop of New York, like so many other American Bishops, banned Dignity from his jurrisdiction, forbidding any use of Churches or Church property by that Organization. At the same time, the Cardinal established Courage, publicly, as the only official ministry in his Archdiocese to minister to the Same Sex Attraction Problem. Some Dignity people moved their meetings to welcoming non-Catholic Churches, sometimes attended by priests who motivated either by misplaced compassion or disobedience, conducted underground Masses and the like. Others, unwilling to move out, invented a simple but brilliant solution to their dilemma. They changed the name of the group, dropped the name "Dignity", kept everything else and technically, no one has disobeyed Christ's representative. The word of the Law was kept, if not the Spirit. Hence, McNeill's "vision" can be carried on as "The ministry to gays and lesbians."

It has been my experience of almost 40 years of ministering to SSA persons that most do not want to leave the Catholic Church, their real spiritual home. It is often with bitterness that some leave to join more "inclusive" groups, like the Episcopalian Church which offers them the "Eucharist" asking only a single requirement. Simply the "desire" to receive. Most Dignity people do not want such a switch of religious loyalty. Many are aware of the Catholic hesitancy to accept without qualification the validity of Anglican Orders.8 This conflict means much suffering for these people. Reception of the Eucharist as Catholics requires chastity which, in turn, means foregoing all sexual behavior outside of marriage as defined above. Such a conflict does not exist for Courage members who with clear consciences receive their Divine Lord in Holy Communion, regularly and often. They have submitted to God's will and, by His grace, live lives of peace and good humor. The struggle with temptation is real but manageabble. For the most part, Courage members who work the Program do remarkably well and even achieve high levels of healthy spirituality.

Courage has been accused of damaging human psyches and leading "innocents" into lives of misery. This accusation stems from some kind of wild claim that Courage tries to "rehab" or change people's personality and basic nature. The implication is that the goal of Courage is to make everyone heterosexual. It is difficult to know where such a perception originates since it is totally antithetical to the goals, literature and operation of Courage. The main goal of Courage is a main goal of Catholicism. That is to assist people, with the help of God, to achieve interior chastity. Anything beyond that is not the primary work of Courage. If a member of Courage feels called to Married life, he might well pursue that personal goal. But to hold that Courage tries to change every SSA into OSA [1] is absurd. This Frankensteinian perception must have come from hearsay, ignorance or someone’s personal agenda. The accusation is totally false. Clearly and even clinically, Chastity does not destroy people. It integrates them with themselves. It makes people whole, not splintered.

Courage does not accept the idea that self control or self command is an unhealthy form of repression on anyone’s part, homosexual or otherwise. This is particularly true if the motivation for sexual continence is spiritual. But simply because I desire something does not equate with my right to have “it” whatever it might be. Call it Spiritual exercise or healthy suppression but it is not destroying people’s souls to teach the Virtues of Continence and Chastity. Sigmund Freud used to say that Id behavior (or infantilism) translates into “I want it now. Do not obstruct my desire” but also that adult ego behavior says: “Wait and delay your gratification until the proper time.” It is not unhealthy to re-direct behavior if it is destructive.

Courage believes that homosexual behavior is toxic for the human being and inimical to the Catholic spiritual way of life. Real Adults sense that we cannot have everything we desire because Maturity means adaptation to reality which means some personal limitation for “most people”. So, Courage challenges the trendy notion that because a person has the SSA tendency, he will become neurotic unless he “gives in” to that temptation. The data suggest otherwise. His self esteem rises to the extent that he, the Catholic, can, with God’s great help, fulfill the Christian call to chastity. He, like the Lord, accepts and carries the Redeeming Cross.

In effect, Courage believes that there is a large dimension of the immature and the underdeveloped in the unrestrained SSA person as in any other unrestrained person. Courage believes that re-directing any inappropriate sexual desire into productive and positive channels is psychologically healthy. And perhaps more importantly, spiritually correct. The desire of SSA people for intimacy, friendship and love is normal and right. They, like everyone else, have a right to such riches. However the correctness of their goals, their means to achieve them are highly problematic. Hence Courage strongly encourages friendships which are chaste believing that friendships are not only possible but necessary for fulfilled living. The Courage members of the Paulist Residence group have formulated the term “Platform of Holiness” to describe their growth in holiness and wholeness by working through their “thorn in the flesh” in the Catholic manner. This is done by God’s grace, group support and deep chaste friendships. They have achieved under God, much of the appropriate intimacy and masculine bonding they have sought.

The Catholic “manner” also impacts on anthropology. Specifically on the question: What is a person? Dignity thinking says “I am Gay” as if this were an equation. This implies a personhood deeply colored by “gayness” which views the external world through the homosexual “lens.” The person is defined in terms of “gayness” or sexual terms. The Courage person says more deeply, in a more Gestalt style: “ I am a child of God first. I have a disordered tendency which does not define me as a person. I am more than my sexual drives, desires gonads and tendencies. I am a person –called by God to be holy.”

Still, Dignity people claim to have been "born that way", i.e. homosexual, and hence it would be God's will that they should act in accord with that "destiny.” Rather, says Courage, God’s ideal will is that all people live according to His plan as outlined in Genesis. Obviously, the ideal is not always achieved. So, chaste celibacy is the Catholic resolution of this conflict. Surprising to Dignity people, such a resolution does not annihilate one’s capacity for happiness but enhances it.. There is life after chaste celibacy! [2] Basically, Courage, believes (granting possible predispositional hormonal influence during uterine life), that SSA formation is largely influenced by environmental and familial factors. Any hormonal or genetic factor would have to be triggered by some kind of “other” catalyst for it to become determinative in the formation of an identity.

There have been, up to this time, no credible scientific demonstrations for a biological or constitutional causation of SSA. Many gay researchers have made valiant efforts for such demonstrations but none has succeeded as of now. LeVay, Bailey, Pillard and Hamer all have done extensive studies and trials, none of which is conclusive. It is too simplistic to proclaim that genes, for example, are the sole cause of homosexuality. Neuroscientist, Dennis McFadden of the University of Texas says: “Any human behavior is going to be the result of complex intermingling of genetics and environment. It would be astonishing if that were not true for homosexuality.” In my opinion, SSA is the result of both nature and nurture but it is largely “nurture” or lack of it which is responsible.
Nevertheless Courage follows the “Sentire cum ecclesia” rule. Go with the Church!

It is highly probable that by following the Catholic church’s teaching, one is following the holy Will of God which means peace of soul in this life and everlasting joy with Him in the next. Catholic interpretations of Scripture in this area are consistent. Every Biblical reference to homosexual behavior is pejorative. See Genesis [3] [4], Judges, Lev., I Tim., I Cor. and Romans. Official Catholic Tradition has always seen homosexuality as a negative. The Magisterium which Courage respects as the teaching mode of the Church uniformly teaches the Homosexuality is a disorder. 2,000 years of the common sense in the Judeo-Christian world has seen the homosexual lifestyle as inimical to holiness and God’s will.
Perhaps, the -most telling factor, from a visceral point of view, is observing the miraculous re-direction of so many of the Courage people’s lives. There is real joy, self respect and inner peace in those who had previously been trapped in the homosexual lifestyle for some years. Their description of life in that drab underworld is anything but “gay” (in the older sense of that word). Indeed, It almost seems that the word was conscripted as a reaction formation (or mental mechanism of defense) from facing the brutal truth of acting “gay.” It strikes one as a kind of tergaversation [5] as the gay tries to convince himself that all it well and life is optimal. Young, angry gays shout how happy they are and how “Gay is beautiful.” Do they really believe that? Robert Stoller, MD of the APA writes in his powerful book “Perversion: the Erotic Form of Hatred”that the gay, way down deep in his psyche, agrees, at least in part, with straight society. After these 40 years of listening to SSA interior pain, I see the Gay world as gray, melancholy, lonely, guilty, angry and pain filled. Courage members report , perhaps as an understandable correlation, a heavy use of alcohol in that world. Understandable at least for those Catholic gays who know that homoerotic acts are characterized by the Catholic Church as “never approved.”

Pragmatically, were there no spiritual dimensions involved, choosing the “Gay” or Dignity lifestyle would appear, prima facie, to be absurd and ultimately self destructive if one listens to the depressing accounts from the “aging gay.” But there is a possible way out. It is the Catholic way and consequently the Courage way. It is the path of Jesus who taught that He is the Way highlighted by His Love. One remembers His insistence: “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Courage believes that Chastity is commanded and required by the Lord for real love and fulfillment.

However, there is no 100% resolution to the question of Comparing Dignity and Courage. Obviously, people will stoutly embrace their own insights regardless of data. A young gay priest acquaintance tells me that even though he rejects his own Church’s teaching on this matter, he will remain in the priesthood for “prophetic” reasons. He intends to work to “change” Catholic views on homosexual behavior. Reality would clearly tell him that he is bashing his well intentioned head against a “truth” wall. This might exemplify the life of fantasy so rampant in the Gay world.

Jesus said that we could know “them” by their fruits (meaning not sexual orientation but results or lack thereof). In the line of the old theological dictum—“Raro fit cum tigris”[6], rarely can anyone get AIDS by practicing chastity. Anyone who really wishes to see the truth in this matter might visit a Courage meeting to evaluate the work of the Holy Spirit. Beyond that, attacks on Courage are sheer deconstructionism. Of course, Courage has its own stone wall. Hence, both groups might not be able to listen to each other. But instead of scolding and debating, Courage members might use their time more properly by praying for the sad Catholic Gays and for their liberation from the Dignity equivocation into the bright world of His freeing truth. Did He not promise that Truth would make us free?
Does Dignity bring gays closer to the Church? It is highly improbable. Recently, in a large eastern city a group of “Liberal” priests had operated a center for Dignity type Catholic gays who ignored the Church’s teaching on sexuality as irrelevant. The priests, with great Christian compassion (even if misplaced) felt that they were keeping these dissident Catholics close to the Church and in the Faith by tolerating their illicit behavior. When, however, the Center closed for financial reasons, the Gays were urged to continue their Catholic life in the local Cathedral. The suggestion was declined since the Archbishop of that Archdiocese did not support Gay Marriage. They refused to attend any Mass he celebrated. This, in my opinion, is not vibrant and loyal Catholicism. The well meaning priests were analogous to well meaning but ineffectual parents. This is no way to develop Catholic spirituality and freedom.

Courage members believe that the Catholic Church, founded by Jesus, gives the Map to freedom by her teaching. Dissenting from Catholic teaching and practice, in the long run, is, probably, the basic criterion of difference between Dignity and Courage. But the choice is not merely intellectual and logical. It is also obviously emotional. Therefore, only by the Grace of God can one make the correct choice. Ultimately, Prayer and fasting is the prescription for this situation.


1 Same Sex Attraction, abbreviated to SSA, is the term used by Courage in the belief that it is more respectful and accurate than the more activistic term of "Gay. This will be expanded in the body of this paper.
2 Chastity is threefold: 1) chaste celibacy for those under religious vows or profession 2) chaste single life and 3) chaste
married life, obviously non-celibate
3 Relationship in this context means complete sexual behavior
4 Pastoral Care for Homosexual Persons
5 the drive to have sex with persons of the same sex
6 the sex drive between the opposite sexes is not sinful or disordered, in se, but planned by God for marriage whereas sex
between those of the same sex is disordered and counter to God's plan. Identity wires have somehow become crossed
as with all paraphilias.
7 Sex outside of marriage for anyone is sinful. SSA persons are not being singled out
8 Leo XIII decreed on the Invalidity of Anglican Orders leaving a residual of doubt about the Eucharist in the Dignity

[1] Other sex attracted
[2] Courage members invite any priest who has questions about the Courage program to judge for themselves as to the emotional and spiritual health of the members.
[4] Some interpreters claim that that the Lot story is only about inhospitality whereas others claim that it could also mean homosexuality as well as inhospitality. The townsmen may have also sought sex with the attractive male visitors. Inhospitality and homosexuality are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
[5] in reference to “turning things around” or to reverse.
[6] Rarely does this happen with tigers.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Old Priests and the Mass

Early every morning a group of old priests (usually about 10) meet, in a beautiful little chapel on Manhattan’s West Side to concelebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. They range, in age, from a relatively young 72 to a mature 92. They use wheelchairs, walkers, canes or they shuffle, painful step by painful step to worship their God and to confront their mortality. Their infirmities and medical experience include bypass heart surgery, Myocardial infarctions, crippling arthritis, TKR (total knee replacements), cancer, vertigo, rotator cuff repairs and cataract removal. Almost all suffer from some degree of deafness, moderate to severe. More than occasionally, their brain synapses fire improperly. They are white haired and gray haired and very bald. They, laudatores temporis acti,[1] are men living long past their eras which were the Great Depression, the Great War of 1941-45, Bing Crosby and Frances Langford.

The Mass is in silence with no distraction from guitars or nasal rendition of New Age hymnody which most of them find not only unfamiliar but disturbing. Before the Mass, they gather silently in the darkened chapel before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament reaching for the recommended frame of mind enjoined on them at their Ordination so long ago. “Be like that which you handle.” The sanctuary lamp flickers in the darkness with no sound but the hiss of the radiators which warms in winter or the hum of the A/C in summer which shields them from the brutal New York humidity.

I, myself, am one of these old men. I join them at Mass that I, under God, might draw some strength, resolve and faith from their simple, uncomplicated devotion. I knew them all when they were young and energetic, when they had the proverbial Tiger by the tail. I knew them when they were full of vibrancy and wit. I remember when they were so popular, people would wait for days to see them, as if they were some kind of religious neurosurgeon with incredible skill to heal. Now, for example, one of these, a former clerical “star”, has, after Mass is completed, only three “things to do” to fill his day: Breakfast, lunch and dinner.

No longer do these creaky old clerics receive the wide eyed adulation and admiration of their active younger days. No longer do their phones ring requesting time with the Great Man. No one seeks him out for advice or affirmation or guidance. The applause is gone. There are no longer great crowds hanging on his every utterance making him feel like a King of the Universe. In fact, the lives of these old priests are quiet, sometimes boring and lonely. They watch Television which saturates them with insipid sometimes insulting shows. They read newspapers for hours, carefully noting the obituaries and ultimately the advertisements (with no intent to buy anything). They have, like so many others fellow humans, grown old. This means a loss of power, independence, control, opportunities for mobility and fun. This means peril to their self esteem and their confidence. Always, it can border on depression and unhappiness for the man of God.

One of them who died at 95 used to lament that no one sought his advice about the recruiting process for his Community. He had been an active Director of Vocations in the past, a War Hero, decorated for bravery, and involved in four terrifying invasions in Europe. He, in a fit of pique, once said to me “Why don’t they ever ask me my opinion…” I, now unhappy in retrospect with my words, replied: “Because they don’t care about your opinion….” Though inelegant, this response was probably correct. That is simply the way it is. We are all the same and most probably we acted identically in our own youth.

Against such a sad but realistic background one can appreciate somewhat why these ancients are so faithful and involved in the daily Mass. While it is a formidable and concrete expression of the human need for Community and the yearning for interaction with other congenial human beings, the meaning of the daily meeting is far more profound than the merely natural. Yes, obviously concelebrating the daily Mass is far more bonding than watching late night TV together or even perfunctory breaking bread at a common table. With a kind of Gospel spin[2] on it, we could say that the factual pagan can develop “community” at a sports bar watching the Jets and guzzling beer with the “guys.” Nothing wrong with that but hardly comparable to what happens when a group of priests, old or young, gather to participate in Calvary and the Last Supper. Obviously, these priests “see” Something.

The bonding at the Mass stems from a common belief. These old men, soon to face their God for their personal judgment, believe that they are actually re-presenting Mount Calvary and the crucifixion and death of Jesus, their Master Who, in fact, is God Himself. They believe that they, as Other Christs, ordained as such, are Instruments of something so ineffable that it escapes definition. After years of study, reading, listening, praying, intellectualizing, they cannot really understand but only believe that they instrumentally, as “in persona Christi” priests, bring down Christ Himself on that very altar where they stand. Not in the ordinary sense of Jesus among us by Baptism, prayer or good works, but in this unique Presence of the Lord we call the “Blessed Sacrament.”

A friend of mine, a hard nosed labor negotiator, told me as we were sharing some pasta e fagioli and Italian bread, that should I say the words of Consecration over the bread there, he would get down on his knees in the restaurant—before all other diners—and worship Christ in the “Eucharist.” Without assessing his personal eucharistic theology, he does reflect that sensus fidelium[3] about this Tremendous Mystery which so dominates the lives of old priests. He also reflects how these old priests see the Mass and themselves.

They believe, by their very words, that a change takes place. That which is just bread or wine now becomes the actual Body and Blood of Jesus, Himself. He, the Master is there before these old chaps through their words. Theologians try to explain this by fancy thinking using, for example, the term, Transubstantiation, change of substance and not of externals. But it is the Faith which illumines the heart. Believe it or not. That is what they believe and that is why they are there day after day. Hot days or freezing days. Every day. They are there to meet the Master in a way simply not possible in any other manner. In the Mass, a Sacrifice of the Lord for all of us, the old priests receive consolation and comfort, reassurance of His love for them and His gratitude to them for their years of difficult burdens for His sake. This Mass experience cannot be replaced. I recall the famous Protestant preacher, William Sloane Coffin, remarking “There is no substitute for the Mass…..” Preaching, good works, counseling, teaching, administering, organizing are all good things but none can equal the Mass. Dr. Coffin lamented, however, about Catholic priests, “If those guys could only preach…” He may be right on that but good preaching without the Mass can hardly compete.

But is it only old age that makes these old guys so faithful and loyal every morning? The older priest does notice that apparently his younger confreres do not share his view of the Mass. He asks why don’t the young guys show up for this concelebration? I wonder myself on those cold, cold mornings when my joints ache and I want to stay under the warm covers, why should I, at 86, get up? The young guys don’t. Do they know something I don’t? They are probably smarter and better educated than I, so why don’t they show up? How come they say Mass only when they are obliged to? How come Bishop A. Vaughan, rector of the New York Seminary, instructed his young priests to say Mass every day and not just attend it? How come they say Mass only if there is an assembly present? How come they disagree with Pope John Paul II who in his encyclical De Eucharistia # 31 encourages priests to say Mass daily-even if there is no one else present? How come old priests believe “private” Masses are not private at all but public before the very Court of Heaven with God the Father presiding? With all the Angels and saints? With Our blessed Lady smiling on the priest? Is this a question of catechesis? Or is it a reflection of a different kind of Faith about the Mass?

I don’t know. But I know that these old guys love to say Mass daily because it is the One solid, changeless, meaningful Love we have. Being old is tough enough but to be without the one ultimate support would be, in the words of the kids I knew on the street many years ago, plain “bananas.”

[1] They praise the past. Cyberspace, iPods and "Voice of the Faithful" do not interest them.
[2] Even the pagans do that!
[3] The sense of the Faithful—an instinct for theologic truth. Different from "Voice of the Faithful" which tends more toward political control rather than Catholic devotion.

On Dawn Eden & Chastity

Written from a woman’s point of view, Dawn Eden’s 212 page analysis of chastity is a block buster. Even the clever title , “The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding fulfillment with your Clothes On” boldly challenges the Sacred Cows of the 2nd avenue bar Crowd. Perhaps, even those of the 3rd avenue bar Crowd. The interpersonal fraudulences, the phony conversations so obviously marked by the roving eye searching for a potential “contact”, the in-authenticities, and most of all, the drab emptiness of the un-chaste life are ruthlessly exposed. Her notion of the “thrilled” life of the chaste is essentially different from the contemporary sad notion of the thrill of the chased.

The “hip” stereotyping of the chaste ones as frigid, sexually frightened, up tight and boring does not square with her present thinking or her own personal past experience in the hip world. While, on the one hand, she had the healthy and profound desire to marry her Prince Charming who hopefully would treat her as a Princess sharing her values, at the same time, she had great fear of rejection as well as intimacy, big time. She had huge urgencies which never seemed to be resolved. She was the one who was always “dumped” (her word). One can wonder and even faintly understand why so many young women, in that painful, confused state, have, in effect, thrown good sense and caution to the winds and “hoped” that a little sex experience would open the doors to marriage and romantic, eternal love.

She, like so many other young women on the modern scene, might hear the biological clock ticking, be desperately lonely with little to do beyond watching television and “getting drunk on weekends.” Insert panic into that scenario and one has a recidivistic and insecure way of life. It looks like an emotional Merry-Go-Round which pattern-like probably ends in the same unfulfilling way. It, also, sounds close to what the Shrink world calls “unconscious depression.” She notes (p. 3) that “the most I could hope for, it seemed, was a man who would treat me with “respect”, but who really wouldn’t have any concern for me once we split the tab for breakfast.” She describes as “pathetic” the old game where it was just one more uncomfortable morning after breakfast with her loveless partner oozing with “respect” (at least what qualifies as respect in the dating world). His “I’ll still respect you” line became more than she could bear.

I wonder how any naïve young woman would feel if she heard the locker room talk among young men discussing the “broads” they recently “Conquered” (they usually use another street term, raunchy and inelegant)? There is little “respect” in the descriptions of their exploits. Again, on the unconscious level, it is rather dis-respect they feel for the girl who gave in! In fact, the Morning after guy is handing out Balderdash![1] It is, on the contrary, goodness which wins real, if grudging, respect. The goodness which vibes out from human beings is powerfully attractive and I suspect that on some level, the “modern” yearns for the nostalgia of his own lost virtue. Let us face it ---in some ways, goodness can be very sexy!

Dawn had thought, incorrectly, that by introducing the sexual component into the relationship, she might “control” her lover and nudge him a tad toward marriage. But, contrary wise, she writes of her feelings of being “trapped” and getting none of the goodies promised by the media and popular wisdom. She had the infantile fantasy that merely having sex with “him” would make him love her. It was once again the age old myth of the famous non-equation: “Sex equals love.”

From my private practice, I recall an interview, with a young woman in her mid-thirties, a graduate of a prestigious Catholic college who enthusiastically “slept around” looking for love, closeness and, most of all, marriage. Her dominant involvement was with a middle aged man who loved to roller blade and go to black tie parties but who required a sexual dimension in his relationship with her. She desperately wanted a baby and assumed that her partner would come around to her mode of thinking, especially after a year’s tossing in the hay! In a painful counseling session with them, I raised the question of marriage which totally surprised the Bon Vivant. Not only did he clear the air by surfacing his hip value system which insisted that sex before marriage is far better than after any ceremony, but, with a straight face, he informed the deluded young woman “I don’t owe you anything—certainly not marriage.” Subsequently she suffered severe emotional reactions, becoming an alcoholic with puffy eyelids and another bewildered Modern. How dopey can a young woman be? Or is common sense irrelevant here?

Dawn is too intelligent to irrevocably follow such a tragic regimen. Her intelligence coupled with a gracious turn of God’s grace led her to become chaste whereby she has found a joy she never even suspected was available.

How many times, both as priest and psychologist, I have urged young women to follow the Law of God and the centuries of healthy human experience. Effectively, that means chastity. Time after time, speaking with some of them, I found it exceedingly difficult to dislodge the notion that chastity is some kind of grim, dour No-No. Some kind of symbolic chastity belt by which all joy is repressed, sexual feelings are inherently evil, affection is taboo and love is an academic word meant only for intellectual dissection. Chastity on 2nd avenue apparently means that life is essentially sad. In other words, the perception “on the street” is a total distortion. Is this simply an extension of the unspoken law that if I desire something, I should have it? And that I will become neurotic if I am denied my wishes? Is it 2nd avenue infantilism?

How does one explain and persuade that chastity is so much more[2] than the adult containment of libidinous drives? How does one illustrate that chastity means feeling interiorly clean and almost electrically alive with the creative juices flowing abundantly? How does one communicate the towering feeling of being on the “right side” of God? How does one sing of the energy and the vigor that comes with the new self respect (the running mate of chastity) making one independent of the approval of 2nd avenue? How does one proclaim the Great Feeling of truly enjoying the world and its beauty and not having to be “on the hunt” for a prospective partner for the night? How does one shout how great it is to jettison the Sad Eyes and the brittle, empty “Wit” of the Hip Crowd? How can one articulate the freedom that chastity gives to “behold” another without attempting possession and suffocation? How can one relate how rejection and intimacy fears have lessened and how self confidence and self respect have burgeoned? How to “teach” the Cross of Christ as a resolution for absurdity?

Dawn Eden can answer those questions. And better than most that I have ever read.

But, clearly, this is not just a question of good sense, data, experience and logic. The un-chastity problem stems from fantasy, archaic feelings, rampant urgent longings and biology run amok. If one reviews the reality, women, like Dawn, don’t have to be unchaste. The urge to marry is good and holy as planned by the Loving Creator, God Himself. Males and females are drawn to each other in the marvelous design of God. We surely can say “Vive les XX and XY chromosomes.” The Plan is meant for union, not only for the procreation of the human species (not nature’s trick to ensure survival) but also for complementarity. The Plan is not meant for Dead End one night stands, with the No Strings Attached Baloney, nor for eunicoids and unisexuals. Nor for the absurdity of Same-Sex Unions. Only Men and women can complete each other and, specifically, help each other to reach Holiness in the marital union. This is a good and beautiful Plan to which the overwhelming majority of the human race, at least in terms of completion, can subscribe.

Dawn saw that chastity, in fact, improved her chances for a happy marriage, not jeopardize it. She is a petite, pretty, intelligent, witty woman with a slight but charming stammer. She sees now through the lens of chastity that there is no need for her to flirt or bat her eyelashes at some attractive man or to say whatever she thinks he wants to hear. She knows that she is God’s own child Who loves her and is with her each second of her life. She is a free person. She didn’t need a physical make-over, in the fashion of some female politicos who trade horn rimmed glasses for contact lenses, who exchange dowdy clothes and frowsy hairdos for an expensive and relatively acceptable public persona. Dawn needed a spiritual make-over to rescue her from her “duping” by the ir-real![3]

I heard her discuss her book in a crowded hall recently where young people listened in rapture as she presented chastity--- straight, non-sugarcoated, replete with Scripture quotes, theological insights and thoroughly in sync with Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body. She spoke (as she writes) of closeness with God, through chastity, and its consequent reward of inner peace and self esteem. In a private discussion with her, she opined that should she write the book over she would make a greater point of promoting chastity as an end—for itself. As valid and powerful as is her thesis that chastity is THE way to find one’s mate, her expanded point is even more fundamental. Chastity is the integrating virtue that makes sense out of life. It is a key to inner peace and to that elusive treasure: contentment.

Her book is in my consulting office where I have already recommended it to patients, men as well as women, young and old, hip and square. As stated above, it is a blockbuster.

[1] There is a more colorful street term which accurately describes such behavior which I hesitate to use—in the name of good taste.
[2] Chastity certainly does “contain” sexual behavior as such , but does believe that full, passionate, joyful, physical expression belong only in marriage between a man and united lawfully so. There are no exceptions. In Marriage, sexual expression is holy and highly to be encouraged. Vatican II taught the two purposes of sex are 1)procreation—obvious and 2) “consolation” of the couple. God smiles on their sexual love.
[3] Not un-real, but ir-real or counter reality.