Friday, May 31, 2013



" Nothing Is so dead as yesterday's news" snarls my editor at the Daily Sentinel or the Schnorer Gazette. "Like the Arab's tent they will be folded up and carted away" says the Psalmist in the Holy Scriptures. " Winston Who?" asks the hip second year student at an English high school. Who cares about Hammurabi or G. Washington or Woodrow Wilson? I'm today, man, and I'm into computers and DVD's and Rap. I'm not interested in Benny Goodman or Tony Bennett or Kate Smith. It's Puffy and Eminem. It's today that grabs me! Everything passes. Nothing is permanent! This is what I hear as the leitmotif of my environment. In effect, the modern personality seems, to me, to have little use for the rear view mirror of history. It's constantly asking the outside environment: " How am I doin'?" and "tell me right now."


But while we all are familiar with the old gig that he who is unaware of the mistakes of history is bound to repeat them, the "today" or " now" mentality does have some validity and rationality to it.


Some years ago, a Paulist priest, famous for his quiet holiness and universal popularity died in the Mother House in New York. Following the funeral rites, at which there was flowery and abundant verbal appreciation, the 40 priests trooped to the Refectory for Lunch and manifested behaviorally a fact of life. The dead priest was never mentioned once by any of the clergy present. It was as if he had never existed. We have done our duty, we said, symbolically, and we have dispatched him to his reward and now we can forget about him, operationally and get on with our own lives.


As cold hearted as this seems, it probably reflects a factual aspect of human functioning. This can occur even in blood linked relationships, even in spousal loss. If the underlying dynamic is "out of sight, out of mind", isn't it utterly inane to imagine that we will be widely remembered once we pass off this worldly stage? If this priest had been motivated largely by what other people thought of him, with the illusion-hope that he would be fondly and often remembered after his death by frequent allusions to his work and goodness, he would have been a deeply distorted human being- - - to say nothing of a confused and underdeveloped priest. The priest in question was the exact opposite of such distortion. He was the serene, confident man of God - - - - meaning that he deeply believed in the Pauline principle of having his life profoundly interface with the Lord's.



This means that one's primary motivation is to Honor the Lord in ALL things as much as possible! With such a life framework, he and enlightened ones like him found that highly prized commodity: FREEDOM of spirit! This also means that one lives in the Present Moment, probably one of the keys to a truly peaceful and, hopefully, happy life. This kind of free man can truly enjoy his earth experience without the frenetic bustling around to impress the world. He is able to "let go" of the past wherein he may have bungled some aspect of his life and at the same time not torment himself about what "Might" happen in the future. He finds that it is all right to " live one day at a time." Such interiority IS possible with the help of the Almighty Lord! We call such help Grace!



If such a motivational structure were to dominate a person's interior life, human affirmation and acknowledgement, while pleasant and heartwarming, would take a definite second place. Primary to his interiority would be the quiet strength, the clarity and affective validation that come from knowing that he lives for God's honor and glory. Whether or not his good works are known and appreciated by others is irrelevant. He is already rewarded and validated. His dynamic of life is focused on the Divine approval, not the human. He is keenly aware of the spiritual dictum: GOD WHO SEES IN SECRET, WILL REWARD IN SECRET. There is no driving compulsion to trumpet his virtues over the national radio! Hence, his conscience is at peace.

For the mode of his life, he consults, under God, his own heart and mind, not some one else's. He manages his life without the terror that someone might not approve his choices. I cannot live my life, he says, with the constant need to be assured by others.


If God is foremost in any human soul which tries to honor Him in all one does, it would mean that everything in life is meaningful, particularly, conscious choices. There is, henceforth, nothing insignificant in life. As a byproduct, one experiences freedom and peace. The variations of this kind of interior freedom become incalculable.


When we speak of someone deteriorating to the despicable level of the " people pleaser," we mean someone who is emotionally dominated by the " other." David Reisman, years ago, differentiated the other directed from the inner directed personality, in the sense that the former LIVES to say what he thinks another wants to hear and does what he thinks the other wants him to do. In Biblical thinking, the people pleaser sees, not as God sees, but as man sees!


He tries persistently to ingratiate himself into another's good graces, fears rejection above all things and simply does not possess his own soul. Affirmation is his oxygen, recognition, his daily bread. He is reluctant (often unable) to stand alone. He is anything but a Jonathan Livingston Seagull type. He is a conformist, a yes man, a political dweeb who dares not to disagree especially with those who, he thinks, have some kind of power. He finds it difficult to say NO even when common sense and good spirituality would indicate otherwise. He needs everyone to like him—and more!. Saying No for the people pleaser is to risk the disapproval/ rejection of the "other". And (surprise!) there are even people pleasing psychotherapists who want to take EVERYONE under their benign love and care. Obviously, they should return to their own therapy to find balance - -and quickly! Ultimately, the people pleaser loses respect for himself and the respect of others which he so desperately craves.


People pleasing is dumb! Even if it is widespread! It never works. It only hurts! It is a self destructive putdown to BEG others to accept you and applaud you and affirm you! God already does, in the light of which people pleasing becomes glaringly dopey! People rarely ever do what the P.P. so urgently seeks. The P.P. vibes out the pathetic and futile message: "I'll kiss the floor. I'll grovel. I'll deny all my own convictions if you will only love And accept me." Catholics believe that with God's help one can learn to affirm one's self. There is no need to degrade oneself but there is a fundamental need to become aware of one's own dignity and value.



People pleasing is not a pretty personality picture and is basically antithetical to what Catholics call the " saintly" person. The gallant Ignatius of Antioch when insulted by an Emperor, railed at the mighty one and demanded that he SPEAK NOT THUS TO IGNATIUS THE GOD BEARER. The holy person does not let brutes and bullies push him around. Turning the other cheek does NOT mean that Christ expects us to be doormats. See His example. See His dignity and His refusal to " butter up" those who could save Him from pain and death.


This Christ-centered free person discovers that there is life after " rejection." He can breathe and laugh and walk even though some one dislikes him and whom he might displease. He discovers that being approved, loved and admired by everyone is a myth and an illusion. There will always be those who will reject him and always those whom he dislikes. One also discovers that the world's population is not consumed with and focused on his every little action or inaction. He finds out that most of the time "others" simply can't be bothered or don't care. He no longer has that paralysis of inaction stemming from his fantasy of negative judgment!


What ergs of energy the people pleaser wastes within the great gift of life given to him by a loving Lord! This is counter productivity to the "ultra" degree. This distortion misses the central point: God gives us life that we may enjoy it!


Without being narcissistic, one can - - with authentic spirituality-

take good care of one's self and still be " good" to others. And it can be genuine holiness to have some appropriate FUN in life. As the great Teresa of Avila pointed out: " A sad saint is a sad sort of saint." The dour, depressed, pouting cynic hardly reflects the profound joy of the one who walks with God.


Finally, what we need for happiness in life is a satisfactory relationship with God and an awareness of His communication to us of our own basic worth, regardless of what we do or what others might think of us. That communiqué is ready and waiting. All anyone has to do is ask for it! But one does need to know Whom to ask!


Should We Cohabitate Before Marriage?

Often when I have questioned the prudence of young people considering cohabitation before marriage, I am met with the quizzical look and the "now" remark: "C'mon, Father, get real." I am told that living together before marriage is a good way for couples " to find out whether they really get along." I am reminded of the high cost of living and how two can live more cheaply than one and that everyone is doing it. Marriage is just a piece of paper, anyway. What's the difference? Besides, it's good preparation for marriage. And all the facile, mindless bromides and rationalizations that pass as "street smarts." This is popular "thinking" as evidenced, for example, in a National survey of high school seniors which found nearly 60% approving this trend. In fact, a new report shows that half of all first marriages are now preceded by cohabitation.


The Catholic Church, however, has traditionally insisted that marriage is a "holiness producing institution", a sacrament, and that the sexual component is truly holy but strictly reserved for a man and a woman in this specific state of marriage. Cohabitation is, in this view, inappropriate (or more bluntly, sinful, as is any use of sex outside of marriage). Obviously, such a stance in this era is counter-cultural, almost radical. Of course, some young Catholic couples disobey their Church and do cohabit before marriage and sometimes even substitute such a relationship for marriage. They join the 4 million unmarried couples now living together (compared with less than half a million 40 years ago.) Clearly, they act counter to Catholic teaching.


But it is heartening to read of the monumental study out of Rutgers University (Feb. '06) which challenges the popular thinking by publishing the opposite viewpoint. This study runs utterly opposite to the cheerful illusion that it doesn't really matter whether or not couples cohabit before marriage. I have heard some uninformed Catholic priests make such observations (perhaps I should say non-confrontational or peace at any price priests). But this professional challenge is based on sociological and psychological grounds, not on religious ones. Somehow, the voices of the secular are heard long before the Clarity of God's will.


It is entitled "Should we live together before marriage? What young adults need to know about cohabitation before marriage." As part of the New Jersey schools' National Marriage Project, researchers David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead conclude that "cohabitation does not reduce the likelihood of eventual divorce; it fact it may lead to a higher divorce rate."


Their major findings include the following:


1.    Living together before marriage increases the risk of breaking up after marriage.

2.    Unmarried couples have lower levels of happiness and well being than married couples.

3.    Living together outside of marriage increases the risk of domestic violence and the risk of physical and sexual abuse for children.


While these findings are factual, the reasons for their reality are not clear. What underlies the findings? Why is this so? The authors state: "Although cohabiting relationships are like marriages------they typically differ in the levels of commitment and autonomy involved." The results obviously did surprise many people but the report stated: "Perhaps the most obvious explanation for the striking statistical association between cohabitation and divorce is that the people willing to cohabit are more unconventional than others and less committed to the institution of marriage." Professionally, I can recall from my many marital counseling cases how often the roles of commitment and autonomy formed the fundamental core of interpersonal discord. But how much more so must it be with cohabitating couples who have anemic commitment and infantile notions of autonomy?


I submit the glaring case of two Catholics living together for a year with huge interpersonal problems. She, with a fancy Catholic college background and desperately wanting marriage, he, an inactive lawyer with a comfortable trust fund on which to live , with an obsession for roller skating, expensive restaurants and no interest in marrying. They had low commitment and high self centered autonomy. When they consulted me for some kind of mediation, he blatantly stated to her : "I have no responsibility to you. I owe you nothing…" This after a full year of living together with required sexual intimacy. With an infantile idée fixe, he insisted that sex was better without marriage. Marriage, with all its added responsibilities, would only spoil the pleasure. He asks: Why rock the boat? Does it take a Henry Kissinger I.Q. level to predict the future of this "relationship"?


The shrill ever present modern battle cry " I have a right to happiness" rings hollow here. Their "happiness" level was abysmal even as their grim sexual life was rapidly becoming jaded.


Apparently, the pattern of low commitment and high autonomy is hard to
unlearn. Popenoe and Whitehead, along with other researchers found that the cohabitation attitude which is pervasively operational in these couplings, changes people's view of marriage itself. The study suggests that cohabitation moves people either to make marriage less likely or if marriage takes place to make it less successful.


That specter lurking in the background of cohabitating life is always whispering sotto voce the "anytime breakup" possibility. With no strings attached either partner can pack up and steal away into the sunset seeking the elusive "Mr/Ms Right." Should this occur the battering and bruising of the psyche (especially of a woman) can be incalculable. Obviously, there are no real assurances in cohabitation where commitment is so essentially tenuous. This is particularly problematic in the case of the "serial" cohabitator. The authors have concluded "the experience of dissolving one cohabitation for another generates a greater willingness to dissolve later relationships…" Hence, less real commitment and greater risk for a future marriage.


It is stated that the study may hold the answer to the question why pre-marital cohabitation should affect the stability of a later marriage. Despite its intrinsic narcissism, the "I owe you nothing" message is the warp and woof of cohabitation. When the young guy says to me "Get real, Father" how can I help him see the reality of the dangers of cohabitation? I'm sure no one is totally immune from his environment so how could this underlying sense of instability not influence a cohabitating relationship?


The "elephant in the living room" of this problem is assiduously avoided by those who beat the politically correct drum. The "elephant" is the low level of happiness of the cohabitors! This study courageously faces what happens within the relationship itself. Get this surprising finding! "Cohabiting couples report lower levels of happiness, lower levels of sexual exclusivity and sexual satisfaction, and poorer relationships with their parents."

It is also noted that within two years about half of all cohabiting relationships are terminated. It is either complete breakup or marriage. And after five years only about 10% of couples are still cohabiting.


It is noted that the annual rates of depression among cohabiting couples are more than three times that of married couples. Further women in these relationships are more likely than married women to suffer physical and sexual abuse. These statistics indicate that aggression is at least twice as high among cohabitors as it is among married people.


A Great Britain study (quoted by the authors) found that "compared to children living with married biological parents, children living with cohabiting but unmarried biological parents are 20 times more likely to be subject to child abuse, and those living with a mother and a cohabiting boy friend who is not the father face an increased risk of 33 times. In contrast, the rate of abuse is 14 times higher if the child lives with a biological mother who lives alone…"


For those who are concerned about the welfare of children might well ponder the concluding statement: "….the evidence suggests that the most unsafe of all family environments of children is that in which the mother is living with someone other than the child's biological father. This is the environment for the majority of children in cohabiting couple households…"



Where is the outrage from the Media? Where are the flamboyant champions of children's right? Why has this information not been publicized? I thought that the public has a right to know the truth. Is there some kind of slanted, selective reporting at work here? I recall the outcry when the Catholic Church opposed the use of condoms in Africa as the means to contain AIDS. While a detour from the focus of this paper, the example illustrates my bewilderment. The Church was assailed by the usual invectives . Backward. Anti-progressive. Un-real. Non-compassionate. All the usual pejorative adjectives. But why, in this case wasn't I told the whole truth? For example, South Africa has reached a 22% infection level of the entire population in spite of a massive inundation of condoms? Or that Botswana where condom sales rose from 1million to 3 million now has a rise in HIV infection cases from 27% to 45% among pregnant women? Or that Uganda with a 43% Catholic population has 4% HIV-infected adults following not condom use but abstinence. Uganda uses the National motto: "Change your behavior,, change your behavior.." Why am I not told the truth? Was the repression of the facts based on personal bias?


This media selectivity "covers up" the truth about Cohabitation. The truth is:

"If you want to be married for a lifetime, then you should know that cohabitating promotes the opposite outcome." And as the Rutgers report says: "Despite its widespread acceptance by the young, the remarkable growth of unmarried cohabitation in recent years does not appear to be in children's or society's best interests. The evidence suggests it has weakened marriage and the intact two-parent family and thereby damaged our social well being, especially that of women and children."


If current society were to have no real interest in maintaining a fairly healthy level of the marriage state, we would not only have gone collectively insane but we would also be committing massive social suicide. It would mean the end of the American Experiment as we have known it. The perspicacious among us are fueling the movement to educate American youth not only about the dangers of cohabitation but also about the drive for same sex "marriage." Both of these corruptions are serious enemies of Marriage. The country should know this. The hypothesis of the study follows: "…..society wide, the growth of cohabitation will tend to further weaken marriage as an institution…….particularly, if one or both parties had cohabitated with some one else or brought children into the relationship."


Can we get the word out? Can we stop institutionalizing cohabitation and get back to revitalizing marriage? How do we publicize the findings of sociology and psychology as they try to catch up with the Wisdom of God? After all, it was the Lord, Jesus Who made marriage a Sacrament. I don't recall Him ever attending parties for fornicators or sodomites!
When the Lord God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses, He did not stipulate a time limit or statute of limitation after which Cohabitation and Same Sex unions would become holy. C'mon, USA, get really real!!!!!!



Forgiveness and the Oafs of My Life


(OAF: a.k.a. bungler, cad, bounder, rascal, blunderbuss, scoundrel, varlet, klutz, bull-in-the-china shop, etc.)






The oaf of my life constantly makes pejorative remarks about John Paul II, my Pope, whom he calls a Neanderthal Pollock out of touch with the times who should be put away in some remote nursing home in Warsaw. This even though he knows that I respect and admire the Holy Father. He says tasteless things about the recently deceased and highly loved Ronald Reagan stating he was really a dunce with dyed hair and rouged cheeks, who didn't know what was going on and who thought he was acting in a B movie. He hopes Ron is now burning in hell. He (sometimes the oaf is a she) snidely comments on my personal devotional life insinuating that my "childlike" devotion to the Mass and the Eucharist and the Rosary is "arrested development" and that I should move into the 21st century and "lighten up." This is usually followed by a forced, theatrical and sneering laugh.


He dismisses with a flick of the hand the sacrificial work and life of the "New" nuns who wear identifying religious habits, who follow a strict regimen of daily prayer, who are personally poor and who actually do something for the suffering and the beaten of the contemporary world. I voice my admiration and appreciation for them for which I receive the knowing look from the superior being, mocking my short sighted vision. He suggests that they should likewise move into the 21st century and be like the other "sisters" who have shed the habit and the strict religious rule, who smoke and have a beer with the boys while doing their "apostolate" working in a travel agency or running some secular civic office. Of course, they say this is only temporary until the Church wises up and ordains them priests. Meantime, they have to balance their personal checkbooks and keep an eye on the oil level of their Toyotas.


When I defend the Church's teaching on sexuality, the oaf of my life springs into high gear attacking not my fairly reasonable theological/psychological positions but ME! In spite of his oft repeated plea for diversity and openness he resorts not to "argumentum ad rem", the issue at hand, but to argumentum ad hominem", the attack on the person. Somehow my sexual observations on porno and homosexuality and shacking up are (to him) real indications of my rigidity. His refusal to allow me to articulate my own view becomes a bane to me - - an irritation - - -an anger. His insensitivities go on and on. And, of course, it bothers me ---that I am so vulnerable to diversion from my planned spiritual course by oafish behavior. Why is he so mad at me? Why am I so mad at him/her? What goes on in me that I am so upset?


Nevertheless, in spite of my advanced age and my years of prayer and grace and spiritual direction, I am strongly tempted (after powerful, negative, interior or exterior language - &*$*#@ ) - - to knurl my arthritic hand into a bludgeoning fist and belt him smack into his oafish, varlet face!!! If the Oaf is a "she" I would, obviously, need some variation to that procedure.


But however valid or healthy my visceral tendency might be, I am constrained by a higher impulse which might be reason or maturity or common sense or pragmatism or spirituality or the Gospel or my Catholic Faith. I am called by the Master, Jesus, NOT to act on my impulses but to act on my spiritual background. Yes. Yes. But how to implement the Godly call!!!


Bruce Marshall, the elegant English writer, gave me a concrete clue in his captivating novel "Father Malachy's Miracle."

It is so good, I think, that I present it in its entirety since I prefer mystery to vagueness, and blind Faith to irritating, diluted, saccharine do-good idioms.


" A fat man climbed into the same compartment as the little clergyman, a fat man with a face that was so red and pouchy that it looked like a bladder painted to hit other people with – at an Italian carnival. He sat down, or rather threw himself down, in the corner opposite the priest and began to read a pink paper in which the doings of horses and erotic young women were chronicled at length. He was followed by a middle aged woman who had a peaky, shiny nose with a funny little dent in the middle and whose hat was one of those amorphous black affairs which would have been, at any moment, out of fashion in any country.

The priest was distracted from his meditation. It was impossible he told himself, with a wry, little, mental smile, to think competently of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost proceeding from both, with such a bulging, red face in front of him and such a peaky, peering woman placing her parcels, here, there and everywhere. How hard it was, here below and with the material and the temporal crowding out the spiritual and the eternal, to love one's neighbor, how hard and yet how necessary. For the soul behind that bulging red face had been redeemed by Christ just as surely as had been his own, and Our Blessed Lord, while He hung on the Cross, had seen the funny little dent in the middle of the peaky, peering woman's nose just as He had seen the broad, bland visage of Pope Pius the Eleventh, and so merciful was He, loved it just as much.



And yet it was difficult to imagine bulge or dent in heaven, unless among the many mansions, there were one which should be one-tenth Beatific Vision and nine-tenths Douglas, Isle of Man. Of course, if it came to the point, it was difficult to imagine the majority of contemporary humanity in any paradise which did not syncopate Saint Gregory and whose eternal sands were without bathing tents and casinos.


He closed his eyes again. If he must love his neighbor, he would love him without looking at him. He closed his eyes and not only did he close them, but he kept on repeating the reflex action in his brain so that, with the bulging red face and the peaky, peering woman, away went the compartment, the train, the station, the world; and, as Scotland went swinging after Scandinavia and Spain came scampering after and Australia flew to join the stars, he was alone with God.


A great nothingness was before him, a great nothingness that was Something. A great nothingness that was All; and in the warm freedom from the tangible he knew his Savior and was absorbed by Him."




I have always known what I SHOULD do with the Oafs of my life

but have rarely succeeded. Now I will keep my eyes closed. My eyes of curiosity. Those eyes which demand that the world see things through MY perception. I intend to practice a kind of psychological "custody of the eyes" to put into real practice what the Master requires!



I will, after the example of the little clergyman called Fr.

Malachy, remember that Jesus the Christ, Who is God, Who

though mutilated by His own creatures, dies forgiving, loving the

Oafs of His life. Let me not be absorbed by red, pouchy faces

of whatever stripe nor by the peaky, peering, nosy, gossips

in ridiculous role poses. Let me keep my eyes closed and let me

be transported into that great Something which is God and Mary

and all my saints whom I hold close to my heart.


May I find my Spiritual Blinders which can make me free!!!!




Thursday, May 30, 2013

On recovering from culture shock









WNBC AND ME: Is God Really Relevant?


When I was a skinny young priest ( with a reasonable amount of fading red hair ) I interviewed ( professionally ) hundreds of people from entirely different educational, religious, political, ethnic backgrounds as I sought to surface an answer to a perenninally nagging question in my own soul. Does God really matter to people? Does His (?) Presence enter profoundly into the lives of human beings? Or is "it" merely some kind of socially acceptable mechanism which engineers of the human scene encourage as a means of tranquility of the social order? In effect, does God REALLY matter? Are the secularists right when they argue for some kind of non-theistic but consentually agreed upon mode of behavior for universal benefit? Are they right when they say that this is all the human being or society needs ?



I asked these questions under my guise as a television inter viewer on station WNBC-TV ( channel 4) in New York City during the years of 1958 until 1973. While anecdotal data are not really sufficient to prove a point, innumerable testimonies from a very large " N " ( as they say in statistics ) can give some reason for tentative convictions. How does one accurately interpret the hidden meanings of things people say? Or how does one trust one's own intuition or sense of another's in touchness with THE GREAT OTHER ?



When I interviewed Mother Teresa of Calcutta with her famous "fan" Malcolm Muggeridge, the immersion of God in her world fairly shrieked out in the studio into the camera. The Presence of God was EVERYTHING to this woman. Tiny in stature, quiet in voice, wrinkled lined face, rough hands--- she was a giantess ! Her motivation, her work, her charity, her love all stemmed from a total awareness of God. But Mother Teresa was some one almost out of human time. she was utterly one in billion. How many Mother Teresas are there? Or could be?


How many Malcolm Muggeridges are there? He was brilliant, creative, suave, witty—even sarcastic—successful in many careers even in espionage. In Calcutta, he was told by innumerable photographers that there was no way a picture could be taken of the Room of the Dying (in Mother Teresa's hospice). The light conditions were simply too atrocious. Yet, the unmakeable photo in his film WAS made . Malcolm insisted that it was a Miracle!!!! Miracle or not, he boldly proclaimed God's intervention. On public television, yet ! Was God relevant to his life? It certainly seemed to be so …..









And there was Big Jim Farley, the President Maker, who flatly denied that there could be anything contradictory between his open, obvious Faith and his equally open and obvious political savvy. He reported, in his interview with me, going to confession behind the High Altar in Cairo, Egypt with a casual taken for granted " that's what all Catholics do" demeanor. To Big Jim, God's influence in his life was basic.

It was unthinkable , in his mind, that Jim Farley could function as ably as he did without the help of the Lord. Relevance ?

No -- rather--- entirety. Pervasive ! Total ! Jim Farley continued his public worship of God long after he left public life, unlike other politicians who, while in office, pointedly carry Bibles leaving Divine Service ( in front of cameras, of course) but whose worship somehow abruptly ceases when they leave public office.


And Jackie Gleason, a theatrical genius in his own way, who made a huge impact in a competitive and ruthless business ! Without an entourage, he came with his usual red carnation and surprising ly quiet manner to do two completely spontaneous interviews. They were totally impromptu since he had no idea what I would ask him ! His sharpness and instant comprehension were staggering to me. But even more so was his open and almost Biblical childlike style. No fudging.

No evasion. With open admission of his failings, he spoke of his complete trust in God's mercy and his own belief in the life after death !!! This was no secularist who would use God only as a concept or as a convenient politic-speak. Jackie Gleason really believed in God and (though with some reservations) God's implacable love for him. Did God mean anything in this man's life? It seemed to me to be obvious that it did.










And the incomparable William F. Buckley Jr who unapologetically and with complete panache easily voices his own belief in God's Presence and seems stunned at another's inability to see the obvious which he sees. We discussed some apparently cerebral topic like " The Morality of Nuclear Warfare" but which WFB quickly turned into a theological question with profound spiritual consequences. Professor John Cuddihy has recently quoted Bill as asking " How can we discuss ethical questions if we cannot bring up God?" This resonates fully with me as I recall my interview. I further ask how can there be ANY morality without God? Perhaps, ethics—in a way—is possible if we define ethics as a series of mutually and consentually agreed upon criteria of behavior which can change as society changes. Morals are deep set into the very being of mankind and which as explained by Ray Kerrison of the New York Post: " When God gave the 10 commandments to Moses, He did not say that these are good only until 2000 ad."


Bill Buckley has his interesting series of little movements—his eyes bulge, his tongue slicks out, his ears wiggle— his voice is resonant and crisp-- his tie hangs diagonally as he leans back in casual elegance—his pen points into the air—he clutches his clipboard---but his message is` ( as his book proclaims) NEARER MY GOD. Is God relevant to Bill Buckley? The question is rhetorical.



Another of my guests, Tommy Loughran, the light Heavyweight champ of the World, would outbox the best, knock some unconscious , but would finger his beads in public, oblivious to the world.

Did God mean anything in Tommy's life? Relevance is the word!


While one could go on citing such believers almost endlessly, one has to boggle at those who seem not to believe that God has any force in their personal lives. It is the old Deist notion: God made the world but abandoned it to its own pitiful devices. But perhaps in assessing the secularist mentality the focus should be on "..seem not to believe."

I recall interviews with guests like David Merrick of Broadway, David Susskind of television fame and Al Capp with the prosthetic leg and the nervous giggle ( who created Lil Abner and his girl friend, the physically endowed Daisy Mae and B.O.Plenty and the whole Dogpatch gang)


None of them seemed aware or interested in God's Presence and His involvement in human life. Their conversation level was on the mundane or at best on the "Good Face" for example, Merrick made a feeble attempt to show how chaste and self restrained young Show people are. ( I, from a show business background , had to blink twice and swallow hard to keep a straight face in that interview). Yet, I sensed some kind of almost frenetic energy desperately trying to make sense out of so much nonsense, absurdity and illusion.


Under the breezy façade of Ed McMahon, I sensed some kind of hunger, some kind of spiritual need. And likewise behind the dulcid tones of Mel Allen. And from the trumpet of Dizzy Gillespie and under the bewildering verbiage of Jeanne Dixon . I heard a scream of SPIRITUAL HUNGER or was it SHALLOWNESS!

Archbishop Jacavos saw the real vision. So did Rabbi Marc Tannebaum and Eli Weisel who spoke of the hell of the concentration camp. Even the smooth talking, articulate professional politicians, good men, knew somehow that there is SOMETHING ELSE !!!!! Govenor Dick Hughes of New Jersey and Governors Wilson and Carey of New York could articulate well the limitations of human effort.


There is an elderly Jewish woman in my swimming club who works for HUNGER PROJECTS and who claims ( I think rightly) that everyone has a hunger of some kind. Mother Teresa held that modern human beings are sickened with loneliness in spite of all the high powered programs to fill our time. What IS the human being looking for? I recall interviewing ( in a different television setting) the noted and flamboyant writer Norman Mailer whom I liked instantly as a warm, interesting, intelligent if confused man. He caroused verbally all over the studio with spectacular talent but with a somewhat pathetic emptiness. After five marriages and numerous liasons ( his report ) he still seemed restless and unfulfilled. What would do it? What was he seeking?


I have interviewed psychiatrists, politicians, clerics, educators, athletes, show people, married, single, homosexual, heterosexual, extraordinary and very ordinary folk, black intellectuals like Roy Wilkens, Ken Clark, Bayard Rustin, Jewish leaders from Israel, UN diplomats . I have been the confidante as psychotherapist, spiritual director, friend of hundreds of people over my 56 years of priesthood ---- I hazard a theory ! While every one basically has the same need and nature, regardless of age, religion, race, era, culture, ethnicity there is the BASIC God question in all of us. But the ANSWER to the question is what?


The Greeks had a word for it. Consult Paul at Athens where the intellectual Greeks somehow knew that a Supreme Being (or God) was the very essense of Reality. They had an altar TO THE UNKNOWN GOD!!!! The essence of being human is to be incomplete and anxious and depressed by itself. When all the baloney is sliced and spiced up, the answer is offered by a high level saint, philosopher, and psychologist, Augustine of Hippo, who in his Confessions ( more correctly translated as " testimonies" cf. Garry Wills) in this ancient and penetrating manner:








What is Happiness?

Is there Really Such a thing as Happiness?



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Can a Priest Lose His Faith?


Can a Priest lose his Faith?


It was at one of those unplanned casual meetings of priests that I was profoundly shocked at my own naiveté and ruffled by the ruthless nature of reality "up close". There were six or seven clerics in the group with varying backgrounds, disparate talents and psyches. One of them, not young but somewhat "long in the tooth", startled me by his nonchalant observation that the world will never come to an end.

Innocently, I asked how his statement squared with the Second Coming of Christ, the Final Judgment and the Resurrection of the Dead. Giving me that look of the Illuminati and tinged with a touch of pity for my Ignorance, he suggested that I get into the 21st century. Although I am simple of heart, 92 and peacefully set into a belief in a loving God made man in Jesus Who left a teaching Church to guide us to eternal life, I pushed him (perhaps goaded is a more precise word) into further reflections on Catholicism.

His eyes, rheumy with an alarming blankness, fixed on me as he responded to my probing. All religions are the same, he said. There is no need for evangelization. The Church is incorrect. It must modernize and get into the present time. All people go to heaven. Sin is a myth. Masturbation is perfectly normal.

My shock today is that I was shocked at all. I had been taught very early in my life all about the human tendency to sin, the weakness of the will and the darkening of the intellect through the great aboriginal calamity called Original sin.




With apologies to the holy Biblical Pharisees like St. Paul, only a modern Pharisee and phony would be startled by human perversity. Yet here I am with extensive years of experience as a priest plus over 50 years of professional experience as a licensed psychologist, shaken to my core about a priest who sounds like he lost his Faith!

Is there something special or very different about loss of Faith in the case of a priest? What could be basically different? How could he continue honestly to remain a priest tacitly appearing, by staying a priest, to give full belief and support to the Church in which he does not fully believe? Does he experience the dis-stress of Cognitive dissonance so clearly demonstrated years ago by Festinger? Does he have a turbulent interior?

Has he really lost his Faith? Perhaps. But there may be something else operative here. I am reminded about Freud's famous caveat. "Things are rarely, if ever, only what they seem." Many years ago, as a young priest I was asked to give a Priests' retreat "somewhere" during which I received a similar jolt. A priest retreat-ant told me that he did not believe in God anymore. And, of course, I reacted with alarm and asked how he could celebrate Mass and preach with such a mind set. He airily replied that the Mass was a great platform for "community building" which was now his vocation. After a bit of primitive probing, I discovered that he was deep into sexual practices which apparently had conflicted with "old fashioned" views of priesthood. Dropping the God dimension allowed him to continue, as if on a purely secular basis, his real interest and concern for others. Dissonance personified. Yet he did enjoy the public life of the priesthood and basked in the popularity of those who cheered his "progressive" policies. No prayer. No Eucharistic visits. No spiritual reading, only the latest in Social Work techniques and possibly the New York Times.

The rheumy eyed cleric mentioned earlier turned out to be a priest with serious sexual difficulties as result of which he no longer is permitted to "perform" as a priest in public. The obvious question is whether or not there is a link between his sexual (and punished) lapses and his patently heretical utterances spoken through a clearly observable "repressed" anger.

When I was a graduate student at NYU and proudly wearing my clerical collar, I was approached by a middle aged classmate who whispered to me that he used to be a priest. With my curiosity aroused tinged with a probable salacious interest, I eagerly sought the details of his narrative, especially since my dissertation was on former Catholic priests.

He presented a noble story highlighted by a profound rebellion against unfeeling out of touch American Bishops who had no concern for the poor but who loudly screamed about the evils of contraception. So, like a clerical Robin Hood, he left the priesthood to work for the poor. However, sometime later he invited me to dinner at his home in suburbia. An elegant, classy, upper case home, presided over by— you guessed it--- a good looking, charming gal. He talked incessantly about the public school system and his hopes of being appointed soon to the post of Principal or top dog. When I, in my astonishment, asked what happened to the "poor thing", he, well oiled with several glasses of very good wine, replied: "Oh, I needed that to get angry enough to leave."

It sounds strangely like Freud's "displaced allegation" or as the toughs in Hells's Kitchen used to say: " It ain't a question of the Trinity. It's a question below the belt buckle." Of course, there may be all kinds of turbulence other than sexual in the troubled priest's soul. Avarice and ambition have always been great energizers. Who really knows? We do know that such dissonance, whatever its source, makes not for inner peace, love and the spread of Catholic life but rather unhappiness, bitterness and destruction. But why should it happen at all, this so called "loss of Faith"? What happened that he should be so vulnerable? Further, what might the average priest do to safeguard his personal "Pearl of Great Price"?

Psychological research has often been, thank the Lord, most helpful in aiding us to appreciate the influence of environment, familial matrix, peer pressures and experience, temperament, cultural mores, and genetic/DNA input on how we act and even who we are. But religion teaches us something even more telling—the amazing and powerful Grace of the Lord which can do utterly fantastic things. And yet it does appear that Grace of Faith which is a gift can be spurned, misused and lost.

I recall one of my fellow students in the major seminary who was the envy of us slower, more plebian types, for his talents, his personality, his apparent holiness, his overwhelming superiority. As a priest, he was spectacular, particularly in his powerful preaching. Another Sheen, they said. Yet after some years of glamorous success, he "fell in love." With another man. After leaving the priesthood, he made his living as a Maitre D'. a greeter, in a restaurant. Before he died, he insisted that there be no religious factor in his funeral. None. He had long since given up even ambiguous prayer. He became a complete unbeliever. How could such sadness and "tergiversation" happen?

From what I can see there are two things to forestall the sadness of the loss of Faith, especially for a priest. The Eucharist and the Blessed Mother. So many others feel the same way. Archbishop Fulton Sheen, for example, writes about both in his autobiography, "Treasure in Clay."

"It is impossible for me to explain how helpful the Holy Hour has been in preserving my vocation…………the Holy Hour apart from all its positive spiritual benefits, kept my feet from wandering too far. Being tethered to the tabernacle, one's rope for finding other pastures is not so long. That dim tabernacle lamp, however pale and faint, had some mysterious luminosity to darken the brightness of " bright lights."


"despite the unglutted beast that strains in the body of every priest, she (Blessed Mother) held onto the leash to tame its madness…..she changes eros to agape..she really loves me – and if she can love me then Christ is with me…"

The priest so busy going to theatres and watching Television junk, who doesn't pray before the Tabernacle or to say the Rosary is more vulnerable than clay. He is a setup, hyperbolically predictable for "trouble." In spite of my age and experience, I am still amazed when priests and religious tell me that it has been years since they "fingered" a Rosary asking Our Lady for help and love. The super busy priest whom I know, says he has no time but we all know "way down deep" that there is time if we really want to make it. In fact, the priest has been seduced into a state of darkened awareness. But why? And how?

It was the great Apostle Paul who warned himself to be careful lest he who had preached to others might also become a castaway. It looks like anyone can be severely tested in matters of Faith----clergy and laity alike. In fact, even Cardinals. Tests and temptations are one thing but outcome is another. John Cardinal O'Connor, Archbishop of New York, Admiral of the United States Navy, Author, Ph.D, confessed publicly of his own war time trial of Faith in the South Pacific. Wracked by loneliness and frequent periods of profound silences, he clung to the Eucharist for resolution. He spent many long hours in a corrugated roofed chapel in physical darkness lighted only by the small red tabernacle lamp. He wrestled with his God and heard many times the Biblical Voice: "My grace is enough for you." As we know he went on to fabulous Church leadership and high national impact in a future which was then unknown to him. Probably his Faith issues made him even more fit for the role the Lord had chosen for him.

Yes, priests can and have lost their Faith. But it is not the temptation that matters. It's what we do with it that matters. It is the grappling and the wrestling and the trust in God that matters, even and especially in periods of utter darkness and spiritual pain.

I wonder how many fallen priests would have been "saved" if they sat before their Eucharistic Lord every day and faced Him with their difficulties. I wonder how many could have been consoled if they had knelt at the Blessed Mother's knee and asked for her help!

The title of this essay asks a question which rhetorical. The implication however is real. Priests can and do lose their Faith. Priests who lose the Faith could have been helped. When a gift such as Faith, to say nothing of the glory of the priesthood, is no longer seen as valuable and precious, it will soon end up on the dung heap. The priest who doesn't pray is not only a misnomer, but someone who has lost his "vision" as well as his way. To my wavering priest brother, I paraphrase, a little, the urging of Mel Brooks:

"Don't be stupid

Be a smarty

Come and join the praying party"

Join up! Or re-enlist! The rewards are stupendous!




Friday, May 10, 2013