Thursday, December 8, 2011

I Am a Catholic. I Fear for My Civil Rights!

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York in a television interview (EWTN, 8/7/11) spoke of the frightening, chilling and unpublicized dimensions of the recently passed Same Sex Marriage law in New York State. He and other New York state Bishops had been calmly assured by State officials (some Catholic) that the new Law would have no real impact on the Catholic community in the State. It was just about the private needs of the Gay community, nothing more. They were told not to “worry about it.”

It would have no impact, they said, on forcing priests and deacons to perform such ceremonies nor on anything else the Church does officially. Even some Catholic lobbyists, whether innocently or not, seemed quite sure that 1) the bill would not pass and 2) even if it did there was nothing for the Church to fear.

Yet, barely three weeks after its passage, said the Archbishop, the rumblings are audible. There are noises indicating that pressure will be brought to force Catholic institutions, for example, to cave to the requests for adoption from Homosexual couples. This would be making the Catholic Church, in her own mind, complicit in sin. Patently, such a coupling (active homosexual and active Catholic) is oxymoronic. Such a phrasing is blunt yet completely consistent with the Official Catholic position that “…under no circumstances can they {homosexual behaviors} be approved…” (#2333 Catechism of the Catholic Church). Same Sex “marriage” and Catholicism are contradictories. Hence, the so-called “innocuous” law could attempt to force the Catholic Church to deny itself.

Yet, it is now becoming possible that if the Church fails to comply, lawsuits very probably can follow. There looms the unbelievable possibility that, in effect, the Government can restrict or take away the freedom of Catholics to follow their consciences. We have already seen the pressure on Catholic physicians and nurses to engage in procedures which clearly violate their personal consciences. There is apparently little room in modern medicine for the young doctor who will not perform abortions, tubal ligations, assisted suicide and the like. The Catholic nurse who wishes to follow her own conscience is told to seek employment elsewhere. Such advice was given by a politician in Massachusetts to young medical people who wish to be authentic Catholics and as well as caring health workers. The Archbishop cited the judge who recused himself from a case involving practices which are unacceptable to Catholics and who was given his walking papers soon afterwards. How far can this inroad go?

The very first point of the First Amendment is not freedom of speech nor of the Press, but freedom of Religion. This surfaces a smoldering outbreak which has been tightly controlled by a kind of mutual agreement. There has been a conspiracy of silence on all sides to avoid the inevitable conflict between Americans about what religious freedom really means.

What happens when the Church refuses to submit to the demands of what we consider evil? Are we shut down? Our charity projects, our institutions even our churches? Does the New York Times chastise us in a lead editorial while Bill Keller chuckles away? O tempora! O mores! How dreadful that would be! Are we terrified lest we “lose” tax exempt status—even though such status has been granted by statute and cannot be withdrawn by the IRS? Does the Catholic plight go to the Supreme Court? Does occasional Catholic impertinence cause some Catholics to whimper and whisper that perhaps we should “give in” and have some Peace at any Price or just settle for whatever we can get from the “Massa’”? What is happening to us? Are Catholics becoming wimpy? Have we forgotten the courage of our Forefathers who sang and meant “Faith of our Fathers—we will true to thee unto death”?

We have heard the endless cautions and analgesic nostrums that “ at least we have Catholic politicians-----“ I have been told that “don’t make waves…” is the politically wise route for aspiring Catholics to follow. As some wit has pointed out we would do better with Mormons representing us in Government. Many of these so-called Catholics whip out their Rosaries and Ash Wednesday smudge only when convenient and helpful for their careers. Otherwise they are indistinguishable from outright secularists in their contribution to the Nation. Serious Constitutional scholars are pointing out more and more that religion has a legitimate and historic place in the Public Square but the trend is to make the Square truly Naked of religious thought. This is a thorough misreading of the Constitution. But more frighteningly, there is arising a trend to forbid us from speaking within our own Churches themselves on matters such as homosexual behavior and coupling. We are challenged thusly: What has that got to do with religion?”

What happens if I preach, write or argue that homosexual behavior is sinful, unnatural, self destructive and toxic? What if I protest the manipulation of young minds when the Government will insist on teaching children in the 6th grade the correct techniques of using condoms? And using bananas or cucumbers as teaching props? Or that having two mommies or two daddies is just as good or the same as having one of each? Will I be arrested for breaking the “law” when I protest such brutal mental seduction on children? It has happened in Canada where a Catholic Bishop was threatened with Government censure if he continued teaching in the Media what his Church holds about homosexual lifestyle. Is there a budding American style Gestapo? What do I do when I am instructed by the Government to pay the benefits for the “partner” of my homosexual employee? Are we to be reduced to puppets? To quaint museum pieces of an ‘earlier and less enlightened era”? Or just to obey our neo-Fascist leaders. Our modern “with it” criterion sounds alarmingly like “Do what you want in the privacy of your home. Don’t make it public because it might offend some one.”

When I am told that other religions have no problems with such trends, I have to say that my conscience cannot agree with what I see. So does my Church which teaches that some current teaching and behavior mock and irreverence God Himself. I must say that, in my eyes, these trends are poison for my countrymen and the ideals of America. I cannot uphold them. Should I, consequent to my preserving my principles, fear for my religious and civil and constitutional rights? It looks like I, at a heavy price, shall have to defend my values and hopes, I and all others who see what I see. Am I to be forced to repeat the principle of St. Thomas More with his “ I love my King, but I love my God more”?

Let me be on guard and defend my Country, my God given rights of worship and speech and what we really[1] stand for.
1. The Constitution, the Declaration of 1776 and the historic beliefs of the Founders like G. Washington, John Adams and J. Madison.

You Think You Have It Bad?

“I thought I had it bad with my bunion until I saw a guy with no feet.” Maybe it is still my headache and it hurts but it is a mosquito bite compared to the unbelievable suffering of others. Let us take an example.

Tom was his name. Tall, handsome, intelligent, he was at the top of his game. Being highly educated he had a great job. He dined and danced at least twice week with beautiful New York women. He was witty, quick and charming. He had his own classy bachelor pad. He knew wines, both red and white. He was the proverbial life he party. At 33, he had it all. Or so it seemed.

He was delighting, one evening, in a glorious dinner with a lovely woman when suddenly he dropped a glass of red wine as he was “toasting ”her loveliness.” There was no warning. There was no symptom. This was the beginning of a 25 year crucifixion of what he calls the “insidious” nature of a breakdown called Parkinson’s Disease or PD for short. This is a very serious, progressive, neurologic disease involving extreme rigidity of limbs, uncontrollable shaking, difficulty in walking and loss of speech.

There was much experimenting with medications, dosages and mixtures. Much consultation. Much testing. Finally, the complicated surgeries with their tensions and fears, with their sometime relief and improvement. There was the exultant hope that the scourge of PD was controlled. He had temporary relief and was able to resume his life somewhat as previously. But it struck again and again until he had to resort to “walkers.” No more job. No more joyful events as of the past. His ability to negotiate by speech was gone. With his superior intellect he had been able to persuade and negotiate deals and contracts. Now he cannot speak. It is as if that great mind and great vision are locked and trapped within outside walls. Are they prison walls that seal him in? That capable mind, however, refuses to be conquered and continues to work and function as he remains a master of the computer through which he is able to communicate all his thoughts, feelings and fears. He bravely faces, with his halting gait, the terrifying task of maneuvering the wild pace of New York City. He reads and researches the latest work relative to his malady. He simply does not quit.

Somewhere we read that God fits the back to the burden. At least my Irish grandmother told me that many times. As I look at Tom and marvel at his courage and Faith, I tremble interiorly as I doubt my own inner strength to cope. I think I have crosses. I am humbled and awed by Tom. Wouldn’t anyone? Where did he get his strength and persistence? Where did he get his resourcefulness so to adapt that he has meaning in this Cross?

Is it temperament? Or fatalism? Or some series of humanistic/social aphorisms? Or intelligent realistic assessment and resignation? Or what? Perhaps each of these might play a part in Tom’s attitude. But none seems strong enough to explain his remarkable adjustment and never ending sense of hope.

It seems to me that the most significant factor in this man’s remarkable coping is his Faith. He has a profound awareness of God’s Presence. He has a striking sense of God’s Will---that difficult to understand dimension for which there are rarely satisfying answers. It is his enormous trust in the loving God that carries him through. Sophisticate that he is, like the great spirits of history, he possesses the difficult virtue: child like (not childish) Faith. He knows somehow that there is a purpose and meaning in his suffering. But not knowing why makes it harder. That the God Who loves him would allow this to happen is difficult to fathom.

How much more difficult it must be for those who have no Faith, no sense of deeper meaning. Does life have anything more to offer than the stressful treadmill of competing for a promotion? Or a bigger house? Or a fling at Club Med? Or heavily troubled by the unending financial demands of life? Why is Tom’s attitude so much more rare than it used to be? Has society become too secularized? Has the ACLU’s anti-religious stance subtly become the norm?

To cope with such crushing physical suffering like Tom’s is bad enough but to be without the strong support of knowing the Lord would be misery multiplied. To base one’s life on an eternal surety is one way of making sense out of inexplicable tragedy.

What is Healthy Sexuality?

Some years ago two Paulist priests, in separate radio encounters, debated Al Goldenstein, the publisher of a “newspaper” called “Screw”, which in today’s rating system would probably be XXX. Both priests later described their opponent as surprisingly respectful and cordial. ‘Surprisingly” because Goldstein advocated the absolute contradictory of the Catholic Church’s stand on sexuality. Al had contended vigorously that for good health, man should feel little restraint about acting sexually in whatever form he wished. There should be few or no limits, few or no boundaries. Any desire, any sexual fantasy could be acted upon, whenever possible. Thought, word or deed. It was hopefully within the law. Any restraint or denial could lead to a neurotic consequence and result in what his crowd called “sexual repression.” This was apparently a horrible condition which exceeded things abysmal.

The ends to which such a viewpoint might lead seemed not to bother Al a whit. The terrible, inevitable emotional and spiritual consequences, strewn all over the human landscape, seemed to be utterly out of his intellectual ken. However, Al, the great advocate of “no holds barred living”, is rumored presently to be in “disturbed emotional straits”. If the rumor is true, it would be highly consistent with what society has seen over the centuries to be the fate of undisciplined living. The libertine usually pays a depressing price. But should we be surprised when we have created an environment of sexual confusion?

If it weren’t so truly sad, one might get a laugh out of a depressing news report concerning the Big Pooh Ba of sexual self indulgence, Hugh Hefner. Poor old Hugh, in silken smoking jacket, and with mottled old face, tries to laugh off the supreme embarrassment of a libertine. Some girl (apparently decades younger than he) had either called off or left a “marriage” with Hugh because he was unable to meet the basic physical requirements for marital coitus. If life’s meaning is primarily linked to one’s genital prowess/experience and linked to the untrammeled, promiscuous and prodigal use of those “faculties”, and such a one becomes impotent, unable to fulfill the act of consummation, then we have classic irony.

One wonders whether the frenetic behavior of the libertine is an unconscious attempt to reassure the self that ‘I am really sexually capable in spite of my secret misgivings. I am not impotent. I do have power.” Is sex being used as a tool, not really valuable as an expression of authentic love, but largely as a personal sedative for one’s own shriveled psyche? Or even for personal narcissistic “good feeling”? Is the problem with the Als and Hughs of our confused society not sexuality but self esteem? It is more than that “it feels good.”

I personally watched one of the night time Network Television shows which, in the often feeble attempts of that medium’s thrust to influence national interiority, presented a hospital death scene of an old man. As a sympathetic nurse listens, the man sums up his resignation to the Final Experience by saying, “I’m ready. I can’t have erections anyone.” No meaning beyond that? With no sexual pleasure life is not worth living. What about Honor? Love? Loyalty? Obligation? Intellectual excitement? Joy in simple living? Loving relationships? Others? God? Is viewing life through one’s genitals ultimately superficial living? I think there is a deep, transcendent awareness in human beings that the view espoused by Goldstein, Hefner et al. is inaccurate, imprudent and non-pragmatic. Human beings feel that there has to be something more! How often there arises the pathetic and frantic cry” of young experimenters-- “Is this all there is?” It has never permanently worked even with its charismatic and slick champions. It never really profoundly, lastingly, satisfies. The Don Juans, the Casanovas and the Romeos of history have, most often, been, not happy figures, but tragic ones.

Regardless of the heated and sometimes clever presentations of libertine leaders, we know in our honest moments that the above does not truly describe what is meant by “healthy” sexuality. The sadness which follows sexual scandals in education, religion, Penn State, medicine and law is inherent in sexuality gone astray. Yet, one might ask again why we should be surprised when we ourselves have created the field out of which has come this madness. Destruction of boundaries to contain the power of sexuality are omnipresent. The shallow insistence that unrestrained sexual behavior is grownup and mature is clearly a mask or pretense to cover the desire to act out primal interior drives like lust. Patrick Carnes who entitles his famous book “Don’t Call it Love!”, rips off such masks even by the book’s title. Sheer sexual satisfaction alone doesn’t deserve to be named Love! There are adult males driven to molest young boys who have organized into what is called “Nambla” or a national group for man/boy love. On the face of it, one immediately thinks “oxymoron.” This is an extremely lame attempt to justify a particularly virulent form of lust. Calling it “healthy” is way beyond even the murkiest concept of maturity.

The spokesmen of sexual non-restraint level the criticism that proponents of traditional sexual maturity somehow neurotically fear or hate sexuality. This is, of course, absurd when one studies the teachings and suggestions of authentic champions of the beauty of real sexuality. Pope John Paul II and the scores of adults who understand his insights about Love and Responsibility are the real champions of the Sexual. They understand that sexuality is a beautiful gift from God which is to be fully enjoyed and cherished as a priceless blessing within the Covenant of Marriage. The physical, as component of the nature of “person”, is beautiful and admirable, and meant to be respected. Much human experience attests, however, that, outside of marriage, deep sexuality fulfillment generally does not come anywhere near the joy intended by the Creator. A little honesty would be so welcome after one consults the depths of one’s psyche. Besides, one might recall that marriage is meant not only for the enjoyment and needs of the couple. There is also a serious social concern: the matter of children! That would make a great debate!

In any event, what is abundantly clear is that the messy and drab description of sexuality used to begin this essay is certainly not healthy. Nor is the opposite extreme. The stern joyless Puritan who sees the Devil in every natural admiration and appreciation of physical beauty is hardly healthy. That uptight person needs a balanced therapist to help him reach for sexual balance, not the wide eyed Al Goldsteins of any era. While Hollywood generally glories in unfair exaggeration to hold an audience, the movie “The Dirty Dozen” depicted the character Maggot (as ably portrayed by Telly Savalas) in a revolting and yet dimly clinically accurate manner. Maggot was consumed interiorly with burning lust for beautiful young females whom he could never attract or win. Yet, in the anger of his perceived rejection, he spouts Scripture, calls women harlots and wishes them ill, even death. All the while posing as the upright and worthy citizen, the emissary of the Most High. Such a personality (even if exaggerated for dramatic purposes ) while purporting to be the upholder of social mores and purity is a sick and sexually obsessed soul. Perhaps some of this pathology creeps into the drum beating of some alleged defenders of society. If there are screaming, wild eyed Carrie Nation types with their symbolic axes out to destroy what they consider to be immodest or excessive expressions of sexuality, one can marginalize them intellectually as relatively unbalanced. This is not healthy sexuality. Having some mediocre “artist” attach “fig leaves” to great works of art (in the name of “Purity”) is hardly “grown up.”

Well then, what is healthy sexuality? After centuries of debate with Plato and Augustine and Sappho and Aquinas, experimentation, failure, witch hunts and book burning, human beings still argue the question in terms of their own opinions, bias and subjective conditioning. Certainly this writer, after ninety years of living, is the same. I have a view largely based on my Faith (as I believe revealed by God Himself) and my own experience both as a psychologist of 45 years practice and as a priest of 63 years as a confessor. Most of my “subjects” have been Catholic (with a few priests) , a sprinkling of Protestants (and some Ministers), a small Jewish clientele ( with one Rabbi) and an occasional unbeliever, probably agnostic (a term basically meaning “ I don’t know”).

While Pope John Paul II was probably the best and most profound articulator of the beauty of sexuality, his profound and scholarly style did not touch the Beer and Bowling crowd. The sweaty, T-shirted, loudmouth types hanging out in bars and backyards were probably more touched by the thinking of a gentle Italian Bishop right out of the Brooklyn sidewalk. This successor of the Apostles was able to convey the astonishing fact that sexuality is more than sex! And even that sometimes sex is not about sex at all!

Bishop Francis Mugavero, with many, many years of Social Work experience, wrote an epic pastoral letter to the Catholics of Brooklyn detailing insights into sexuality both from a Catholic and psychological point of view. He made a distinction between sex and sexuality which struck me as novel but enlightening.

The former (sex) concerned behavior and physical dimension the latter (sexuality), spirit and dynamism. Sex would be the various intimate and physical expressions of love between husband and wife while the latter focused on the drive (and need) within all human beings for closeness, friendship, empathy, affection, love and understanding.

Within this type of thought, Jesus, Himself, would possess in His human nature true sexuality which He offers to the whole human race. It would be the bond that ties humans together. It would be the charity ( agape or love) between parents and children, grandparents and grandparents, and close friends. It would be the filia so beautifully described by C.S.Lewis in his famous book “Four Loves.”
It does, at the same time, indicate the difference between the sexes and allows much for the important and basic factor of self identity. Of course, sexuality makes men and women different. Vive la difference! Extremists who say men and women are just the same should open their eyes and take a “good look.”

Genuine sexuality would generally be non-physical, although it could include modest kisses and fraternal hugs. The God given drive would be properly directed by the virtues of continence and chastity. It would be warm and unafraid. The additional dimension of eros (again delineated by Lewis) belongs to the holy state of Marriage where the complete pleasures of sex are blessed under the Divine Smile. Does one need to consult Biology 101 to understand that complete sex is intrinsically linked to the pro-creation of a human being under God? Does Dr. Stork bring babies in his little black bag? Perhaps, the modern sophisticate could benefit from a heart to heart talk on the Birds and the Bees! Are we floating in an ocean not only of selfishness and immaturity but of an incredible film of ignorance and superficiality?

True sexuality would have the ability to give and receive love. It would be understood as a reflection of God’s love for all. It would be highly seasoned by the profound awareness of one’s own infinite value as validated by the supreme sacrifice of Jesus for each and every one of us. Its hallmark would be interior peace and a cleansing sense of walking the walk of the Lord! The non-discipline of the libertine and the icy aloofness of the “Puritan” would be unwelcome in such a spiritual/psychological home. How could the phony faces of sexuality interface with I Cor. 13 of the blessed apostle Paul? It might be a helpful measure when one searches for Healthy Sexuality!!!

Historically, the Catholic Church which vigorously defends the beauty and good sense of chastity, can exemplify by its own membership the balance we seek. We have seen pathetic examples of the two extremes listed above—and on every level. We have seen corruption and hypocrisy. We have seen rigid, unloving, revolting personas masking as “Pure.” But we have also seen unbelievable examples of the beautiful balance of the many inbred drives woven into the glory of chastity. We have seen liberating examples of sinners becoming warm, repentant and loving saints. From Mary Magdalene to Augustine to the killer of Marie Goretti, we see the Constant Resurrection through the powerful help or grace of the Almighty Himself! We have seen literally millions of woman and men find the balance so ardently desired! Further, appropriate fun has always been the hallmark of the sexually healthy.

There is always hope. But the one entrapped in unhealthy life styles has to see and hear it first! How does one who feels so caught in the vicious web of merciless sex gone wild, hear, even faintly, the words of liberating Hope? People who can really love and really care for fellow human beings can only hope, themselves, that by prayer and example and judicious words, they may aid some poor soul to find the peace and fulfillment of healthy sexuality.

New York City , Dec. 2011
Advent: Meditating on the glory of the flesh within the Incarnation of God.