Thursday, March 28, 2013

He Was Good but Did you know this about him?


A good friend of mine had just died and I was deeply and appropriately saddened. I was singing his character, personality, goodness and achievements when someone said "Yeah, but did you
know the scandal he was involved in years ago?"
His disclosure which I
wish I had
never heard, upset,
angered and disoriented me. I have wondered all these years why the informant felt the need to upend my personal perception of a fellow human being—and a deceased one at that! Why tell me that juicy morsel?

What kind
of dynamic is it that depresses a person to hear another
lauded? What kind of

is it that urges one to tear another down? Whatever it is, it is loaded with smallness of heart and
personal cowardice. The maligned one is rarely present to utter a word of self defense. Such gleeful eagerness
to destroy

is hardly
one of the more lovely of human characteristics. It is despicable
behavior and generally
contemned in
the inner human soul --and apparently disapproved, also, by the Lord. He speaks bluntly of it through the Psalmist when He says in Psalm 101…."He who slanders another in secret, I will reduce to silence…."

The basis of the universal distaste for backbiting, I think, is deep in the very fiber of human nature since even the Mosiac Code itself, so probably intrinsic to the human being, thunders the right of all to a fundamental good name or reputation. '' Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." In Catholic thinking, by penumbra and emanation processing, back biting (or detraction as it is technically called) which might involve the ugly truth about a person's history, is forbidden as is calumny which involves untruth or lies about a person's history.

There are obviously times in human affairs when such revelations are necessary and appropriate such as law enforcement and government/ business clearances for sensitive posts. Perhaps, in spiritual direction it can be helpful to encourage discouraged penitents by revealing the early weaknesses of persons who went on to achieve outstanding holiness.

Generally, In Catholic thinking, our dominant factor is the understanding of what has been called The Constant Resurrection." All human
beings are broken and vulnerable and, as such, are vulnerable to error and sin. Of course one can push this "envelope too far."

An example of this envelope pushing is the unfair categorization of religious people as hypocrites. There are those who are profuse in their criticism, for example, of devout Catholics who sincerely attend Mass and strive to keep the Commandments. They are called silly as well as broken. Yet, their calling simple Catholics "hypocrites" sounds more like a projection of the critics own guilt onto others. Of course, there are hypocrites in the Catholic Church on every level which should not be surprising in the light of the sin called Original. But the inductive leap from the particular, here, to the universal is truly uber Olympian. Rationalization is a sport as old as human functioning. But this appraisal is not about any specific group, only about the mercy of the Lord Who puts our sins behind His back and lovingly forgives those who are repentant and Who calls us to "now" living. How far do you go in making allowances for brokenness?

But about human weakness. Even the great committed Apostle Paul reminded himself to be careful lest he who had preached to others, might also fall. It was Paul, himself, as young Saul who had been guilty of infamous treatment of the new sect which followed Jesus of Nazareth. Do we focus on his early still plastic spiritual life or do we marvel at his work when he matured?

Then there was the Big Fisherman, Peter or Cephas who, somewhat boastfully, stated that though others might desert the Lord, he never would. But because of his panic and overwhelming terror he avowed publicly that he didn't even know Jesus. Yet he repented of cowardly denial, atoned and went on to become a prodigious saint and the first Vicar of Jesus on earth.

And Mary Magdalene who has become the great model of repentance and a saint after a "spotty" past is a case in point. Augustine of Hippo, likewise, after a very sinful early life (sinful according to his own words) became the great lover of God, great Christian intellectual and a spiritual model over the centuries for literally millions of people. Even the universally loved Francis of Assisi, the little poor man, had a wild and irreligious youth before he reformed and became a truly holy man.

There is a plethora of examples for every level of human experience. Ignatius of Loyola was a soldier who lived the usual wild life of the military of that historical period with little thought of God or the Godly life. He became the founder of the monumental Society of Jesus and a canonized saint. Blessed Raymund Lull of Majorca who was a notorious womanizer, reformed, repented sought absolution and atonement and subsequently became the patron saint for those who lust. There even is a saint from 7th century England, St. Caedmon (or Caedwilla), a former murderer, who repented when Jesus appeared to him. He is the patron of killers who seek repentance. St. Pelagia was a harlot. St. Margaret of Cortona lived with her boyfriend and became a single mother. In more recent times, the murderer of St. Maria Goretti, profoundly repented and spent the rest of his life atoning until he became amazingly saintly.


Even in our own 21st century we have the touching example of a prominent politician who was guilty of truly loathsome behavior in his earlier life but who repented, sought absolution and atonement with a subsequently admirable life. He has been ruthlessly criticized by some who ignore God's grace and who demean human nature by refusing to admit the possibility of human improvement. The insistence of focusing on past mistakes while Ignoring sincere and real growth in goodness smacks of not only pettiness but even more of denial the power of God.


The list of repentant lives is endless. And the moral is hope. The spiritual practice is "Where is he now spiritually, this person with the spotty past? How does he live now? Can I meet him as he is, not as he was?" Nothing sinful one has done in the past disqualifies the call to sainthood


One might, of course, have thoughts about the reverse situation, one in which the early life is admirable but the final years are filled with illness, dementia, impairment even pathos. Even the great blessed John Paul II, the Great, the majority of whose years were filled with glory and impact but whose final years were tragic and pitiful, is, indeed, also a case in point. But the focus is different. Here the respect and admiration of the past is clear. One understands the present because of the inevitable ravages of time itself. There is no attack on the personhood while in the previous instance, smallness of heart and touches of malice rule the ungenerous soul.


Perhaps, the past can never truly be forgotten but with the help of God's powerful help one can see the past in perspective. Repentance can be real. Holiness is possible for everyone, no matter what the past. If only we could be generous of heart and trusting,, wouldn't life be more meaningful and encouraging for everyone with all of us being winners ?

Chastity and the Anger of the Catholic Left


It is and always has been the explicit and unequivocal position of the Catholic Church that Chastity, as considered under the Virtue of Temperance, is the obligation of everyone. There is no exception. Fully aware of the failures of some of its own members, even those of very high standing, nevertheless the Church has taught perennially that it is the Will of the loving and provident Lord that all persons must restrain, and correctly direct but not repress, the sexual drives which all human beings possess.

"Catholic" anthropology (and, of course, theology) believes in a great aboriginal calamity , technically termed "Original sin" which is deep in and integral to fallen human nature. It is described by the Blessed apostle Paul as doing what I do not want to do and not doing what I want to do. It has been likened to an inner tension which must be properly controlled or even in Plato's thought as the powerful horse one strides which needs the strong management of the rider. It is described as one font of seven negative inclinations called "Capital sins" one of which is lust or the inappropriate use of sexual drives. Lust is considered as antithetical to love in Catholic thinking. Actually, these inclinations are merely inclinations and not sins as such but which can incline the person to actual sin. Hence, Catholic spirituality has always been sensitive to "occasions of sin", i.e. those specific factors such as people, places, things and which are to be assiduously avoided because their specificity might lead a person to sin. This is a basic, elementary Catholic attitude and very deep in the Catholic psyche.

In the light of the above, it is difficult for the average, especially well educated Catholic to fathom the anger or what borders on rage which surfaced in Toronto, Canada, about a chastity focused activity offered at the Catholic Student Centre ( or Newman Centre). This Centre while not sponsored in any way by the University of Toronto, offers a wide variety of optional programs to students which are meant to foster deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and His own Catholic Church.

Surprisingly, though clearly distinct from the University, one of the academic Vice Presidents strongly urged the Parish to drop this basic Catholic activity which is totally congenial to the Church's thinking and simultaneously optional to students. One wonders what led this academic to invade religious space with the weight of a high Campus position. The activity is a religious and optional program, called Courage, presenting a Chastity program for Same Sex Attracted persons. Courage was personally blessed by Blessed Pope John Paul ll and Cardinal Trujillo of Family Life Office in Rome. The anger/rage reaction comes from persons portraying themselves as "Catholic" with protestations only of concern for the well being of the local Parish.

The negative reaction is surprising because of the clarity of the official Catholic thought (Catholic Catechism) which is as follows:

  1. Under no circumstances can they (homosexual acts) be approved CCC 2333
  2. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. CCC 2358
  3. Homosexual persons are called to chastity CCC 2359
  4. Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman CCC2360
  5. Sexuality by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses is not something simply biological…….it is an integral part of the love by which man and a woman commit themselves totally to one another until death…

To ignore the Church's teaching is surely one form of disrespect for Christ and His Church but to misquote, misinform and even calumniate is totally unacceptable. A former helper from the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas and an openly homosexual Catholic is quoted with a series of appallingly false allegations about the Church approved movement of Courage.

He is quoted in the local newspaper with the following allegations:

  1. Courage people are taught that they should pray to be made "straight."

    This is utterly false. A few seconds perusal of Courage literature would enlighten him that Courage works for the attainment of Chastity. It does not "re-make' people psychologically. Should some one pursue heterosexual orientation possibilities, such a choice is personal and not any stated goal of Courage which seeks only the attainment of living out God's will for living chastely. The basic human needs for friendship, intimacy and love are accomplished in chaste relationships with God's grace and the sanity of sexual sobriety.

  2. Courage teaches the young, confused and frightened that they are damned, i.e. going to eternal hell.


    This is also false. Deep in the structure of Courage, as in the universal Church, one finds the palpable awareness of the Mercy of the loving God. Courage, like the Church, always speaks of the ever present welcoming by God Who yearns to offer forgiveness for any sin. Like the Church, Courage will speak of the mercy offered to the woman caught in adultery but always with the necessary and often omitted requirement of Jesus---"Sin no more.." or don't do it again. Renovation of sinful ways is necessary. This is quite different from saying that being homosexual by orientation sends a soul to hell. Again nowhere in Courage does one find anything even remotely resembling the charge published in the paper.


    One wonders if the person quoted is simply following his own agenda. Some persons can twist facts, realities or truth attempting to harmonize their personal behavior which conflicts with universal Catholic norms. Perhaps, they do not accept the Catholic teaching as noted above that homosexual acts are sinful. If that is the case, then, they are in real trouble with conscience strictures and integrity issues. This involves moral dissonance which ultimately, under honesty, demands either submission to what The Lord teaches or personal severance from the Church whose teachings one rejects.


Such inner confusion and turbulence is sometimes found even among clergy who struggle personally for the homeostasis of inner drives, One such sad priest whom I knew insisted that he would stay in the priesthood with the hope that he could change Church teaching from the inside. He was totally blind to the whole notion of unchanging truth. We hear constantly from the Holy Father, now Emeritus, Pope Benedict XVI, that the true modern danger is Moral Relativism, and that there is Truth beyond evolution or personal desire. There is an Absolute Truth woven into the very existence of God. Overall we are facing the creeping advance of De-constructionism which means, ultimately a world of no essences, disorientation and an idea/emotion Tower of Babel.

  1. The same person mentioned above claims that Courage teaches homosexuals that they are defective.

If the accuser attended even a backwoods school of journalism, he might remember the elementary rule of "checking your sources and facts." Courage ( in other words reflecting the official Church teachings) teaches that homosexual persons have a disordered tendency which is disordered only because it can lead to that which is intrinsically evil, i.e. homosexual acts. Again tendency does not mean sinful any more the tendencies stemming from the Great Aboriginal Calamity, called original sin are sinful. Tendency to anger or laziness or greed or lust or envy is not sin. It is merely tendency which does need struggle, with God's grace, for pursuing His holy Will.

Courage, then, specifically notes that the tendency in itself is not evil, nor is the person, only the behavior. Nowhere does the Church, nor Courage, say that the homosexual person is defective any more than is anyone else. For further research on this point, the accuser might consult Cardinal Ratzinger ( who later achieved an even more clarifying stature on this point) in his Pastoral Letter to Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons (PCHP).

The meaning of Courage is the same meaning as the Official Church, love of God and fellow human beings. Courage exists to help persons who wish it the support that Christ can give to open hearts. It is not suppression or discrimination Courage offers but Love. It is an offering accompanied by the Cross which some reject as impossible. When Jesus offered His own Body and Blood, some walked away murmuring "This is a hard saying" Jesus did not modify His Words to stem their walking. The Eucharist is here to stay no matter how hard it is. Analogically, so is Courage.