Bishops Fail At Being Human; Seek “Small Laws” to Guide Them

As the US bishops gather in Baltimore this week, I have to admit that I’m so weary of people saying that “the bishops can’t police each other. They have no authority over each other.” Of course this is true, but it completely misses the point.

Why in God’s name (literally) do you need a formal canonical/juridical structure to act like a basically decent, functional human being?

Let’s be honest.  If any other minimally sentient carbon-based life-form saw a colleague doing something illegal or unethical, they wouldn’t need a formal, legal structure to publicly call them out, appropriately shame them for their dereliction of duty, and challenge them to fix it or get out. Social pressure/fraternal correction is a perfectly legitimate cultural intervention that is readily available to the bishops BUT THEY DON’T USE IT!

How many bishops called out “Uncle Ted” despite his behavior being an “open secret” for over 20 years? And even after all that, how many bishops have publicly called out Malone for his gross dereliction of duty in Buffalo? Why not? Because episcopal culture has made an idol out of saving face and making nice. It’s as if the motto of every bishop on the planet is “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”   How does that square with Ezek. 39:8?  “If I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ but you do not speak out to dissuade him from his way, then that wicked man will die in his iniquity, yet I will hold you accountable for his blood.”

Look, if the bishops would just act like basically human, more-or-less socialized, kinda-normal-ish people (much less, witnesses to the gospel), who were capable of occasional expressions of (perfectly appropriate) righteous outrage, we wouldn’t need any “policies” or “canonical structures.”  They would handle things the way any other family handles a brother, or nephew, or second-cousin-twice-removed who was acting like an idiot.  You don’t have any legal authority over those people, but–except in the most dysfunctional family–that doesn’t stop you from hunting him down and telling him that he can either get his stuff together or you and the rest of the family are going to make him miserable until he does. And that doesn’t stop you from continuing to make noise until something gets done.  That’s how healthy families work. They exert appropriate social pressure to maintain basic order and healthy functioning.  That’s what true fraternal correction looks like.  That’s all the “authority” you need.

The USCCB’s debate about juridical structures and canonical procedures is a perfect example of Chesterton’s dictum about small laws. The bishops, failing to follow the basic, unconscious rules that govern the social interactions of every other human being on the planet kvetch that they don’t have enough small laws to tell them what to do.

Ugh. Give thou me a break.

You don’t need new laws and structures.  You need a dose of humanity and an infusion of basic decency.

…And thank you for coming to my (Uncle) TED talk.

Popcaks to Discuss Paths to Healing with Diocese of Pittsburgh

Lisa and I will serve as the keynote speakers for an event hosted by the Diocese of Pittsburgh intended to help clergy, catechists, parish ministers, and other church personnel minister more effectively to those whose faith has been shaken by the scandal of clerical abuse.  Our talk, titled, Dealing with Desecrations: Pathways of Healing for Spiritual Trauma, will explore healthy ways to respond to the spiritual wounds caused by the scandal in the church due to clerical abuse.

We’ll explore research describing the process of recovery from spiritual trauma and other “desecrations,” the term used by psychologists-of-religion to describe events that threaten a person’s faith or make it difficult for people to access spiritual resources in times of trial. We’ll also discuss how spiritual trauma can affect people at different stages of faith development (from childhood to adulthood) and make recommendations for how pastoral ministers can be sensitive to each person’s needs accordingly.

The event, titled, To Whom Shall We Go:How To Accompany Parents, Teens and Children in a Time of Crisis, will be held on October 3rd on the grounds of St Paul Seminary and be open to clergy, parish and diocesan ministers, teachers and catechists. In addition to our keynote, the event will include panel discussions and opportunities for Q&A with pastoral ministers, theologians and canon lawyers from the diocese.

We are humbled to have been asked to assist the Diocese through this difficult time.  Please join us in praying that this event will help to bring healing and grace to the people of Pittsburgh.

Vigano, Pope Francis, McCarrick and the Glamour of Evil

Many Catholics will be familiar with the question, “Do you reject the glamour of evil?”  It was part of the older form of the renewal of baptismal promises.  The “glamour of evil” is a curious expression that I think speaks to the reaction many Catholics are having in the face of the ongoing clerical scandals in the Church.

Wilde Times

I think most people interpret that phrase, “the glamour of evil” to mean that evil can seem superficially attractive.  If we let it, it has the power to draw us in, even when we know its wrong.  As Oscar Wilde famously put it, “I can resist everything…except temptation.”  But I think there is another dimension to that phrase that this scandal is revealing.

More and more, I am seeing otherwise good, faithful people unable to focus on anything but the latest horrifying tidbit to come across their social media feeds, no matter how unsubstantiated it may be.   I see other good and faithful people who can’t resist goading each other, either because each new vile story is just more proof that  “Pope Francis has failed” or just another example of the “vast right-wing conspiracy that’s plotting to get Pope Francis.”

Cardinal Popper

It seems to me that despite whatever good intentions we may have, we are all running the risk of being unintentionally seduced by glamour of the evil that is pouring out of the church. We have inadvertently become obsessed with it,  like some people can’t get enough of those “Dr. Popper” pimple videos on YouTube, or how you just can’t bring yourself to look away from that horrific accident where blood and transmission fluid are smeared across the highway.  A melange of death and gore.

Look Away…Look Away….

Evil is glamorous, not only in the sense that it can be hard to resist being drawn into it, but also in the sense that it can be hard to look away from it.  If you aren’t careful, it’s tremendously easy to stare at it, and stare at it, and stare at it, until you can’t see anything else.  Until everything good, and godly, and righteous, and beautiful has been drained from view, and all that is left is outrage, and anger, and indignation, and disgust.

Pollyanna Need Not Apply

I don’t mean to imply that we should adopt some Pollyanna perspective that simply pretends everything is just fine while the Cathedral burns to the ground.  I’ve read the PA Grand Jury Report.  I’ve read Vigano’s testimony.  As both a pastoral counselor who works with abuse victims  and someone in Catholic media, I can’t afford to not know what’s going on. I am as unfortunately well-informed as anyone can be about all the latest appalling news.

Moreover, I don’t think we can afford to not be well-informed.  As I have written before, this is going to have to be a lay-led reform, and we can’t lead the reform if we aren’t well-informed.

Even so, we all have to remember to do whatever we can to intentionally and consciously drag ourselves out of the cesspool at least several times a day to remember that God is good.  That there is still beauty in the world.  That the Holy Spirit is alive and well. That there are real, hurting people who need to see that someone…anyone in the Church is still capable of love, compassion, and goodness.  And that nothing good comes from swimming in a sewer and throwing sh*t at each other all day long.

RSVP Satan

Whatever “kind” of Catholic you are (left, right, middle, upside-down), whoever’s ox you would like to see gored, maybe we would all do well to pause a few times a day.  Step away from social media.  Hug your kids.  Give thanks to God for something. Help someone who is hurting.  Just…be kind to someone–for God’s sake.  Literally.

Satan is throwing a huge party, and yes, we need to stay on top of it so that maybe, just maybe, we can stop it from turning into a riot that burns down the entire block (or, y’know, theocratic city-state).  But the one thing I can guarantee is that you are not doing anyone any good by sending in your RSVP to Hatefest 2018 and diving into the mosh pit.

Please. I know it isn’t as much fun as raking muck.  I know that it’s hard to resist when everyone, including the highest officials in the church, are acting like competitors in some coke-fueled mud-wrestling tournament.  But please.  Do yourself a favor.  Do the world a favor.  Do the actual victims a favor. And do whatever you can to resist the glamour of evil. Look away.  A little bit. Just enough to remember St Paul’s words. “Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil 4:8).

Yes. Be aware. Be informed. By all means, be motivated to act. But at all costs, in big and small ways, please, be a force for good.  Because even if you don’t join in,  there is plenty of evil to go around right now. And unfortunately, I promise it will all still be there when you get back from your break.

Spiritual Trauma and the Catholic Church: How Do We Heal Our Broken Hearts?

Horrifying.  Devastating. Apocalyptic.

The sad fact is, none of these words are adequate to describe the events described in the recently released grand jury report on multigenerational clerical abuse in Pennsylvania and the PA bishop’s response (or lack thereof). In light of all that has come out about “Uncle” Ted McCarrick, as well as all the news from Chile, Peru, Argentina, and before that, Australia, the PA report is just the latest sign that our church leadership has failed.  Miserably. Catastrophically.  Globally. Sadly, its hard to believe that we are not just seeing the tip of the iceberg that could easily sink the barque of Peter.

Of course, the faithful have always taken comfort in Jesus’ words, “You are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it(Mt 16:17-18).”  These words are true as ever, thanks be to God. Unfortunately, it is clear that many, if not most, of our church leaders have exhibited a leadership style less in keeping with our Lord’s words than with Edmund Burke’s, proving that,  “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

The bonds of clericalism have left our leaders bound and gagged, incapable of even the degree of fraternal correction required to maintain the most minimal levels of human decency and moral rectitude.

Hitting Close To Home
On a personal level, as I read through the PA grand jury report, I unhappily discovered that, as a child, I had a fair amount of contact with at least two of the men who were eventually removed from ministry. One was involved in the parish school I attended for junior high.  I interacted with him regularly as an altar server and lector for school masses.

The other was the asst. vocations director in the years I was discerning the priesthood.  Thankfully, I was never abused.  In fact, neither of these men ever treated me in any way that made me uncomfortable at the time. But I can’t help the sick feeling that rises up in me when I think back on those days and consider what could have happenned had the circumstances been even a little different.  What if I had been alone with them just a few more minutes?  What if they just happened to be a little less in control of themselves that particular day?  What if…?

From Thrones Corrupt
My head is spinning too much for me to offer any coherent thoughts on what we, the laity, need to demand in terms of reforms, but believe me, it’s almost all I’ve been thinking about lately. I read the report just before attending the anticipated mass for the Feast of the Assumption. Our gathering song was Bernadette Farrell’s beautiful setting of the Magnificat. When I got to the line, “…But mighty kings will swiftly fall from thrones corrupt” I found myself bursting into tears. The air went out of my lungs. I couldn’t sing or speak.  Something about that lyric perfectly articulated the feelings I had tried to keep at a professional distance as I read the grand jury’s report. I had to leave the pew to compose myself.

Staging An Intervention
Despite the disorienting effect all this is having—not just on me but all the faithful–the one thing that is clear to me that any authentic reform cannot come from the bishops. Even if there were enough good bishops to enact real reform, as a group, they have lost all credibility to teach or govern, much less sanctify.  Change has to come from us. The laity.  We cannot simply ask the bishops’ permission to lead this effort.  In a spirit of genuine but tough love, the elder children need to do whatever it takes to insist that our drunken parents give us the car keys.  And we must refuse to give them back until we are convinced that they have sobered up.

As I try to think through my own reactions to this crisis, both in terms what it means to my dearly-held Catholic faith and what it demands of me as a prominent lay Catholic and pastoral counselor, a few thoughts come to mind about how we can reclaim our bearings and our faith as we move forward to rebuild the church in Christ’s image rather than the world’s.

Dealing with Desecration
The emminent psychologist of religion, Dr. Kenneth Pargament, describes anything that threatens a person’s ability to access their spiritual resources (e.g., their ability to draw comfort from their faith, their ability to engage in healthy spiritual practices and connect with God, or their ability to seek support from spiritual leaders) as a “desecration.”  A desecration could be sickness, betrayal, doubts and spiritual crises, or other traumatic events that threaten my ability to draw comfort from my spiritual life.   I can’t think of a better word for this present situation.

Unhealthy Responses
Pargament notes that people can have either healthy or unhealthy responses to desecrations.  Unhealthy responses include things like…

-the abandonment of one’s faith

-the complete abandonment of spiritual practices,

extremism (obsessively asserting my “right-ness” even in the face the wrongs I am committing)

hypocrisy (where I decide to hold others to a standard that I, myself, refuse to uphold),

-and demonization of self or others (where I look to assign blame rather than seeking effective solutions).

The Healthy Alternative
By contrast, a healthy response to a desecration involves what Pargament refers to as Centering the Sacred.  It is a three-step process that allows a person experiencing spiritual trauma to sort though the wreckage and establish a foundation for healthier spiritual coping moving forward.

The first step is Recognizing the Limitations of Current Strivings.  That means taking time to reflect closely and intentionally on whether the former approach I took to my spiritual life is adequate for helping me deal with the traumatic events I’m facing.  For instance, perhaps my previous vision of God was “too small” and I didn’t believe that God was big enough, or loving enough, or merciful enough, or powerful enough to handle the struggles I am currently facing.  Perhaps the spiritual practices I relied upon to maintain my connection to God in better times just aren’t sufficient to help me maintain that connection in difficult times.

Rather than simply giving up on God or my spiritual practices, I need to view the desecration I am experiencing as an opportunity to increase my spiritual bandwith.  To allow my vision of God to grow or to reinvest in spiritual practices that are up to the task of helping me stay connected to God, my faith, and my values through this trial.

The second step is Letting Go.  I need to be willing to stop approaching my spiritual life in the same old way and stop doing the same spiritual practices despite getting less and less out of them. I need to see the desecration I have experienced as a challenge to develop a more mature, expansive, and engaged approach to faith than I have previously exhibited.

This is hard.  When we are going through trauma, we don’t want to have to be the ones to change. We’re the victims, after all. We want the circumstances to change so that we can keep being comfortable doing what we always did. But this doesn’t work.  In fact, it just sets us up for new, and possibly more devastating desecrations down the road. We have to be willing to let go and change our approach to our spiritual life and practices so that they are sufficient to bear the burdens we are asking them to carry.

Finally, we need to Center The Sacred.  When we first experience a spiritual wound, our pain, anger, and fear take center stage in our lives.  If we cling to these things—even with the positive intention of protecting ourselves—we will become stuck in a place of emptiness, anxiety, obsession, and rage. We need to make the effort—and it is almost always an effort—to place any spiritual beliefs, practices, and supports that do enable us to stay connected to God, our faith, and our values, at the center of our experience. That doesn’t mean that we ignore our emptiness, anxiety, worry or rage.  It means that we have to work to process those feelings through our faith instead of processing our faith through our feelings.

Sometimes we can do this on our own. Sometimes we require the assistance of a wise spiritual director or pastoral counselor.  But either way, focusing on this process allows us get our spiritual feet back under us so that we can do what needs to be done.

Moving Forward.
Whatever we, the faithful, decide needs to happen to resolve the broader spiritual crisis in the church and among our church’s leadership, we can only begin the process if each of us first pause to regain our  own spiritual center. Authentic change can be motivated by pain, but it can’t be driven by it.

It’s only natural to want to respond to our pain and anger by wanting to jump up and DO…SOMETHING!  And, granted, there is a lot to be done.  But that work will be better served if we can take a moment to work through these three steps for ourselves so that we can regain as strong a connection as possible to our own spiritual resources.  Because, let’s face it.  This is God’s church.  It has to be his plan we follow to fix it.  And we’re going to need as much of his help as we can get to do it.

Prayer Power – A New Study Reveals The True Meaning Of “The family That Prays Together, Stays Together.”

We’ve often heard the phrase “The family that prays together, stays together.” While this adage—originally coined by the Venerable Fr. Patrick Peyton—has rapidly grown in popularity, the Journal of Family Psychology recently conducted a study to evaluate the true effects of couple and family prayer.

The researchers conducted a national study evaluating 198 diverse families in a manner which viewed family prayer as a ritual within religious families. The results of this study demonstrated seven related themes between couple and family prayer and the connectedness of the individuals.

These themes indicated that couple/family prayer serves as a time of family interaction and togetherness, an opportunity for social support, and a means for passing religious practices among intergenerational family members. Moreover, as couple/family prayer included issues of concern for the individuals, couple/family prayer proved to help reduce relational tension between those praying together, and provided feelings of connectedness, bonding, and unity between the couple and/or family. Lastly, couples and families reported that when they felt disunity within their family, they found it more difficult to pray together.

When families experience this feeling of disunity and difficulty praying together, the results of this study suggested that couples and families increase their practice of rituals such as family meals. The participant results showed that “the place of prayer in family life was interwoven in the context of other naturally occurring rituals,” further stating that, “Perhaps, families may begin by considering family prayer as a family ritual that can become as naturally embedded in family life as are these other rituals. Instead of exclusively focusing on praying together, they may consider improving other family rituals and then extend the family’s ability to come together to naturally participate in family prayer.”

Overall, the results of this study demonstrated that couple and family prayer provided opportunities for togetherness, social support, interaction, and connectedness. As stated by the authors, couple and family prayer provides a ritual that is a “potentially unique pathway to family cohesion.”

For more on how to pray as a couple, check out Praying For (& With) Your Spouse: The Way To Deeper Love and tune in to More2Life—Monday through Friday, 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130!

The Pope, The APA, and “Born That Way.” What Science Really Says About Homosexuality

As you have most likely read, recent news outlets quote clerical sexual abuse survivor, Juan Carlos Cruz, saying that Pope Francis told him that his homosexuality “does not matter.”  In Juan Carlos’ words, the Holy Father told him,  “You know Juan Carlos, that does not matter. God made you like this. God loves you like this. The Pope loves you like this and you should love yourself and not worry about what people say.”

What’s Said In the Vatican, Stays in the Vatican

It is hard to know, of course, what Pope Francis did or did not say.  The reports quote Juan Carlos’ recognition of events, not the Pope’s actual words, and no good pastor would ever publicly reveal what was said during pastoral or spiritual direction even if the directee were to make his or her version of those events public.  Such comments are the domain of what the church calls, “the internal forum” and, as such, enjoy an even more serious level of confidentiality than doctor-patient priviledge.

That said, the Holy Father’s reported comments give the faithful another opportunity to address the idea that “science has proven” that LGBT people are “born that way.”

What Science Has To Say

Here is how the American Psychological Association responds to the question, “What causes a person to have a particular sexual orientation?” which is posted on their FAQ page titled, “Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality.”

There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.

So What?

For any Catholic, especially the Pope, to imply or directly state that homosexuality is somehow ordained by God would be both theologically incorrect from a Catholic point of view (see below),  and, even more importantly, scientifically incorrect, since the prevailing, professional view is that we simply don’t know what the origins of homosexuality are.  In light of this, I do find it difficult to imagine that the Pope would have said exactly what Mr. Cruz claims.

Not Lying

Incidentally, I am not accusing Mr. Cruz of lying.  As a counselor, I know that what I say to a client in a session is often repeated to a spouse, child, or other person in a manner that has absolutely no resemblance to what I actually said or meant to say.  The client isn’t lying.  They are simply using their own words to communicate what they honestly thought I meant, or the feeling that I conveyed to them, even if it is not exactly what I said.

I would not be surprised to learn that the Holy Father told Mr. Cruz that God loved him deeply, or that Mr. Cruz’s homosexuality should never be seen as an obstacle to the movement of God’s grace and healing in his life, or that Mr. Cruz deserves the love and support of the Church regardless of his sexual identity, or that God has profound compassion for the struggle Mr Cruz has faced.  All of these things would be thoughtful and authentic pastoral responses to someone in Mr. Cruz’s situation.

Good Pastors Serve The Truth

But a good pastor has an obligation to the truth, as does any Christian.  No client or spiritual directee is ever served well by platitudes, half-truths, or useful fictions, even if they are offered with the best of intentions.  Lying, or misrepresenting the facts, even for a good cause, is still lying.

Even if people were inclined to believe that the Holy Father could arbitrarily change doctrine, even the Pope can’t change science.  The simple fact is, even those scientists who have dedicated their lives to studying LGBT issues, and who would have no objection to asserting that homosexuality was genetic (and, in fact, could be thought to be in favor of such an assertion) can’t bring themselves to make the claim that LGBT persons are “made” to be LGBT from birth.

What YOU Need to Know.

Whatever the Holy Father did or didn’t say to Mr. Cruz, the most important thing for Catholics to know and share with their friends about the Church’s pastoral response to LGBT issues is that neither we nor scientists know why people have the sexual orientation that they do, but that regardless of their orientation, all people are loved by God, invited to share in his life of grace, called to repentance and communion, and deserving of the love and respect of their fellow human beings.

Dr. Greg Popcak is a pastoral counselor, an associate professor of pastoral studies, and the author of Holy Sex!

*NOTE: The following is the what the Catechism teaches about Homosexuality.

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of gravedepravity,140 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”141 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they areChristians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

 

Prayer and the Reality of Distraction

Guest post by Deacon Dominic Cerrato, Ph.D. Director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute Spiritual Direction services

If you’re anything like me, you’re easily distracted in prayer. I don’t think a day goes by when, praying the Divine Office, my mind doesn’t wander somewhere between the psalms and the reading. At times like these it’s not uncommon to become frustrated feeling that we’ve cheated God out of some essential prayer time. As a result, we can strongly identify with Hamlet’s King Claudius who, while attempting to repent of his brother’s murder says, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

While there is some truth to Claudius’ words, we ought not take them too literally. This is because God hears distracted prayers more intently than loving parents hear the words of their distracted children. Attentiveness in prayer is not for God’s sake, but for our own. Focus helps us to concentrate on the goal of all prayer which, if it’s from the heart, is intimate communion with Jesus Christ.

Virtually every saint dealt with distractions in some form or another. In our fallen yet redeemed state, coupled with our human frailties, it’s almost impossible to eliminate distractions completely. The best we can do is minimize those we can, and constructively accommodate those we can’t. The great Carmelite mystic, St. Teresa of Avila, understood this well. Writing in the 16th century, she observed.

I was more anxious for the hour of prayer to be over than I was to remain there. I don’t know what heavy penance I would not have gladly undertaken rather than practice prayer….the intellect is so wild that it doesn’t seem to be anything else than a frantic madman no one can tie down….All the trials we endure cannot be compared to these interior battles…[Yet,] do not imagine that the important thing is never to be thinking of anything else and that if your mind becomes slightly distracted all is lost…think of distractions as mere clouds passing in the sky, momentarily taking your gaze from the Sun of Righteousness…

Properly understood, distractions are anything that prevent us from giving our full attention to God. They are more noticeable when we acquire the habit of prayer as opposed to praying occasionally. Distractions sneak into our interiority, capturing the imagination and diminishing the encounter with God. They arise out of a great many factors typically categorized as the world, the flesh, and the devil. That acknowledged, there are a few things we can do to minimize the number of distractions and their negative impact.

To start with, it’s quite helpful to begin prayer by finding the right place to pray. It should be quiet with just the right amount of light to allow you to see – assuming you are using a devotional, Scripture or even a holy object like a crucifix. Posture likewise is important. For instance, too comfortable a position, like a nice overstuffed chair, may lead to drowsiness. Conversely, too uncomfortable a position, like a hard-wooden chair, may lead to further distractions. Settling down is helpful as well. To the extent possible, we should spend a few minutes before prayer in calming silence, placing ourselves in the presence of God. This disposes us to recognize His voice in prayer so that we may better accomplish His will.

With place and posture set, and the calming accomplished, you may wish to begin prayer by asking our Lord for the grace to stay focused. This is less a challenge with vocal prayer as opposed to mental prayer since the simultaneous “saying” and “hearing” can help keep us focused longer. Timing our prayer may also be quite helpful. If you find you’re too tired to pray night prayer before bed, then do it an hour before bedtime. I can assure you that God doesn’t have a specific time frame when your prayer is heard.

Beyond these practical suggestions, there are a couple of other ways to deal with distractions. The first and most effective of these is just to ignore them as, “mere clouds passing in the sky.” If, while praying, we become aware of a distraction, we should simply let it go and return to prayer. According to St. Francis DeSales, “If all you do is return to God after distraction, then this is a very good prayer. Your persistence shows how much you want to be with God.” This persistence means that, despite the distractions, we are intent on seeking God. If we get distracted 15 times and we return to God 15 times, God is pleased with our steadfastness.

Sometimes, a distraction is not really a distraction. This is particularly true when we’re dealing with a major struggle that dominates our thought process. In this situation, we find it almost impossible to escape the struggle as it continually encroaches on our prayer time. Depending on the nature of the struggle, this could be the prompting of the Holy Spirit calling us to redirect our prayers to that difficulty. This differs significantly from other kinds of interruptions. Where distractions lead us away from prayer into our drifting imagination, dealing with a struggle simply redirects the focus of prayer such that we are still praying. The fact that we’re still praying ought to confirm for us the influence of the Holy Spirit and therefore not a distraction in a strict sense.

Looked at positively, distractions, far from impeding the spiritual life, can provide a means to draw closer to Christ. Though they remain an interior battle throughout life, by cooperating with grace, they become less an irritant and more a routine spiritual exercise.

For spiritual direction, contact us at 740.266.6461 or visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

A Crisis of Authority: Humanae Vitae 50 Years Later

Guest post by Dave McClow, Pastoral Solutions Institute.

In the spring of 1968, almost three years after the Second Vatican Council closed, hope was still high that artificial contraception would no longer be considered a mortal sin.  Rumors circulated that the committee studying the matter would advise the Pope to lift the prohibition.  Reputable moral theologians were also purporting a lifting of the ban.  Certainly some confessors were advising couples based on these expectations, influencing some to contracept.  Then on July 29, 1968, a veritable bombshell was dropped from the Vatican:  in his encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI had retained the prohibition against artificial contraception.

The following day, Catholic theologians, in a political act, publicly rejected the encyclical, running an unprecedented advertisement in the New York Times.  The ad proposed at least three things, according to Ralph McInery’s What Went Wrong With Vatican II: The Catholic Crisis Explained: 1) Pope Paul VI had “flunked theology”;  2) the Pope had no right to “dissent” from his own commission or their opinions and that his function was to go with the vote—the “witnesses”; and 3) for the encyclical to be infallible, it must be specifically declared as infallible.

Crisis of Authority

Since the Council and Humanae Vitae, there has been a mass exodus of priests, religious, and laity from the Church, continuing today with 76% of baptized Catholics not attending Sunday Mass regularly.  The Council was supposed to spur the greatest renewal the Church has ever seen—so McInerny rightly asks, “What went wrong?” (p. 13). He answers that in telling “the faithful that, according to Vatican II, they may safely ignore the Pope as moral teacher and may follow their own consciences, formed according to advice the dissenters are giving…the dissenting theologians have… whipsawed ordinary Catholics between competing authorities and have done untold damage to the Church.” (pp. 145-6)

In short, the dissenting theologians have set up the laity to believe they are choosing between arguments, when in fact they are choosing between authorities.

Over 200 theologians signed the advertisement, setting up a highly successful model of an alternate magisterium that still creates confusion amongst Catholic laity on many matters of faith.  In a 1999 Time/CNN poll, 86% of Catholics “found it possible to disagree with the Pope on an article of faith and still be a good Catholic¼.” According to a Pew Research poll from 2013, a majority of Catholics think the Church should change its teachings on birth control (76%), priests should be allowed to marry (64%), and women should be allowed to be priests (59%).  The dissenters come from both the conservative and liberal factions of the Church.

Did Anyone Read The Documents of Vatican II?

It becomes apparent, however, that liberal dissenters advocating the “spirit of Vatican II” could not read!  What the bishops finally voted on and the Pope promulgated did not, in fact, set up a democratic Church!  Even if they could, church democracies don’t work, as the exponentially fragmenting Protestant churches display.  Yes, the Bible is infallible, but interpretations are not!

The Vatican II documents are clear on the issue of papal authority:  “The college or body of bishops has for all that no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff….For the Roman Pontiff,…has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered” (Lumen Gentium, no. 22).

 

Further, the dissenting assertion that Catholics can ignore the Church’s teaching unless the Pope speaks ex cathedra (infallibly) is also clearly refuted by Lumen Gentium (25): the submission of our intellects and wills [as an exercise of our free will], must be given to the bishops and especially the pope “even when he does not speak ex cathedra.”

It is clear the dissenting theologians have either not read the actual passages from Vatican II, or they are willfully opposing Church teaching.  In the end, the laity suffers the most.

The Vatican’s Response to the Dissent

The dissent has become institutionalized, infecting the entire Catholic educational system.  Almost every Papal document since 1968 has been judged, criticized, and marginalized.  And though the Vatican has responded patiently and clearly, all its efforts have been dismissed.

Conclusion

“Since Catholicism is something we receive rather than invent, authority is absolutely essential to it.”  (p. 147)  It is inconsistent for Catholics to reject the Pope’s/Church’s teaching yet consider themselves Catholic.  The Catholic Church is not a democracy.  In my opinion, the authority of the Pope and the Magisterium function as the immune system of the Body of Christ—and a healthy immune system must reject what threatens the body.

In the name of the “spirit of Vatican II,” the apparently illiterate dissenting theologians have set themselves up as an alternate authority/immune system.  But confusion has reigned long enough! Don’t be illiterate!  Men, read McInery’s What Went Wrong with Vatican II, or better, Humanae Vitae and the Documents of the Second Vatican Council.  Freely submit your intellect and will to the Church’s 2000-year-old-Christ-instituted authority!

 

“He Ain’t Heavy…”: The Death of My Same-Sex Attracted Brother

Guest post by Dave McClow, Pastoral Solutions Institute.

“I don’t believe in hell.  If there is a hell, it can’t be any worse than my life here.”  These were the most striking words from my 55-year-old-same-sex-attracted brother Mark in the last two-plus weeks of his life.  He died February 27, 2017, from throat cancer.  I wanted to remember him here and witness to the abyss of God’s mercy.

It started in May 2016 with a diagnosis, then treatment in August, and two hospitalizations in January 2017 which included a heart attack and a lack of response to treatment.  When my wife and I saw him on February 10th, he was exploring hospice.  This began the whirlwind of two and a half weeks of reconnecting and parting with my brother.

Hell: A Homeless Heart

Mark remembered many more ugly and painful memories from childhood than I did that shook the foundations of my world.  He felt profoundly unloved and was bullied at home and in school.  He was assaulted as an adult for his sexual orientation.  He struggled with bouts of deep depression and would want to die.  He disconnected from our family for decades; he had a “Homeless Heart” (from a song on his iPod).

He had a way of remembering things that kept his wounds open.  In his hell, he did not know that Jesus experienced deep excruciating pain when he said, “I am grieved unto death,” or “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  I share some of Mark’s pain here, because he disliked when people minimized it with clichés, and because I think it made his life more remarkable.

Responding to Hell

Early in our conversations, when he talked about hell, I responded, “I believe there is a hell, but I don’t think you’re going there.  God doesn’t send anyone to hell (see CCC 1033)!  God is love, and he can’t do anything but love you. Because of your free will, he will honor your rejection.  He understands if you are angry at him, that you have been hurt.  But God does not send people to hell—they must request it.”  I continued, “When you die, you will step into love—the love you have never known and always longed for.” He nodded in thoughtful approval, a light in the darkness.

Ugly Into Beautiful

Ironically, I think because Mark had seen so much ugliness in his life, he had a strong sense of and attraction to beauty.  A rehabber at heart, he could make the ugliest houses beautiful!  God is a “rehabber” too, bringing good out of evil.  So Mark had unknowingly lived out a deep Catholic spirituality, making the world more beautiful.

Making Death Beautiful

Death is ugly.  But it was also awe-inspiring to stand at the boundary between life and death with Mark.  We talked about his life, about the end, about his regrets.  I was able to put my hand on his heart, to hold his hand, and cradle his head.  And even when he could not talk, I challenged him to forgive himself and others.  I read him a note of apology from my mom.  He would respond with groans and would calm down when I told him to be at peace.

The Hour of Mercy

On the Friday before Mark died the hospice doctor thought he could go that afternoon or within 48 hours.  So I asked St. Faustina to intercede and let Mark die during the hour of Mercy as a sign to me.  Friday turned into Monday, waiting at the foot of the cross.  I left for a lunch break at 2 PM.  Just before 3 PM, the nurse called me back, saying Mark was on his last breaths.  When I arrived, he had just breathed his last—exactly at 3 PM he had stepped into love.  I sobbed at his side.  He was gone, and I couldn’t believe the time.  I urged him to go toward God’s love.  It had been an absolute whirlwind, an agony in the garden, with deep joy, too.

But God was not finished.  Songs have come into my life at particular times to capture the moment and bring a message of love.  After perusing Mark’s iPod that day, I hit play and heard Queen Latifah’s Mercy, Mercy, Mercy!  I felt God was showering his mercy on Mark from above, and Queen Latifah from below.  I had surrounded him in mercy because (I can’t resist)—“He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”

Not Really the End

We dressed him for cremation in a flannel shirt, cargo pants, and an old pair of work boots.  After all, he was a rehabber.  Now that he has stepped into love, I believe he has a new job from his place in purgatory and heaven, this time rehabbing hearts, making the ugly beautiful.  I sense his presence and blessing and often call on him to help with a hurting client.  Please join me in letting his new-found love “spill over” into our lives (Benedict XVI) to heal broken hearts—please pray for him and to him.

Fear, Men, and The Locked Doors of Our Hearts

Guest post by Dave McClow, Pastoral Solutions Institute

Men are more wired to assess threats than women; maybe that is partly why the disciples hid in fear behind locked doors after Jesus’ crucifixion (see John 20:19-23).  Fear perceives the other as the enemy.  Fear underlies all sin—any attack on the dignity of the human person.  It becomes a problem when we fear the wrong people—like our spouses and kids.  It is not a new problem, since it dates back to the Garden of Eden and the Fall.  In fear, Adam and Eve covered themselves when they understood they could take advantage of each other, and they hid from God in the bushes.

Because God is love, we are a religion of love, as demonstrated by the greatest commandment and a new commandment.  Fear is the opposite of love: “There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).  “Be not afraid” is a thread running throughout Scripture.  And it was a motto, of sorts, of St. John Paul II.

The Locked Doors of Our Hearts

The disciples lived in fear of the Jews, having locked the doors, and it was evening…isn’t this usually when our fears come out?  When we feel fear, we often lock the doors of our hearts, even to loving people, including Jesus.  So what hides behind the locked doors of your hearts?

Jesus appears to the disciples behind those locked doors.  He starts with “Peace be with you,” showing them his hands and side.  I am sure he does this to identify himself; but beyond that, he leads with his wounds.  This is an interesting leadership style, worthy of reflection in a culture that peddles “Never let them see you sweat.”  This motto, ironically, is a perpetual prescription to live in fear of exposure and…to sweat!

Jesus never imposes himself on us.  So we must invite him behind those locked doors of our hearts, where everything is bound and loosed (CCC 2843), into the ugliness where our fears, wounds, and sins have reigned.  For many men, this ugliness is the sin of pornography.  Fear and shame keep us from inviting him in. Satan is the Accuser, but he transfers this job to us, and we tend to cooperate by accusing ourselves!  The Devil’s name means “to separate,” especially from God and others; and separation results from self-accusation.  Freedom is found only in God’s presence.

How Does Jesus Come? 

Once invited, Jesus does not come as a King to judge in power, but as the King who heals—the wounded healer who leads with his wounds.  He comes as Priest to link our fearful hearts to his Father of love, or to Love’s second name, Mercy.  He comes as Prophet not to speak harsh words in love, but to speak the truth of Love Itself to the lies of our fearful hearts.

I imagine him entering my heart, absorbing my fears, pain, and darkness into the wounds in his hands.  But it is not enough to “sweep the house clean,” leaving it vulnerable; it must be filled!  So I imagine the wound in his side that gushed forth the water and blood of our Baptism and the Eucharist, pouring forth his love and mercy, filling the empty space with the fullness of God (cf. Eph. 3:14-21)!  Sometimes I don’t even know what his wounds are absorbing; I just know I calm down and am no longer fearful, and I feel grateful.  And I rejoice as the disciples do!

Loved and Now Challenged!

But he is not done! He continues, “Peace be with you.”  Each time, I understand this more.  Then he stuns with, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  It means we must receive God’s love, as Jesus does—the Father gives himself totally, without reservation, to his Son, an echo of which is heard when the prodigal’s father tells his older son, “Everything I have is yours.”  We are loved first, now challenged.  We must work from love, never for love.

Jesus is sent as priest, prophet, and king, so we are sent as priest, prophet, and king.  We are baptized and made gods—not just adopted, but made sons of the Father through a nature change.  Then we are strengthened with other sacraments.

He is still not done! In his overwhelming generosity, Jesus breathes on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit”—Love himself.  Of course the apostles receive a special authority to bind and loose here, but we are also given the Holy Spirit and must receive him to fulfill the challenge of love!

We fear being unlovable in our sins.  So the Father sends his Son in love as priest, prophet, and king.  We must invite him behind the locked doors of our hearts into those shame-filled rooms.  By his wounds, he leads and heals us to receive his peace.  Then he sends us out with the Holy Spirit as priest, prophet, and king to love others as spiritual fathers!  “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”