Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Jesus, Christians, intimacy, and you - 5.

My last post represents a decision to publish my notes from this retreat by Fr. "Red" Eugene O'Reilly, C.Ss.R. to our English priests. My third post in this series was mostly a long digression from our priests' retreat, in which I looked at our human sexual faculties as a gift from God, one which is very powerful and calls for constant purification of our motives.

We ended noting that friendship is the best context within which married couples can manage their sexuality and the rest of us can harness our sexual energy. Our most basic challenge in life is to become more honest, better, kinder, and gentler human beings, and friends help each other take steps in that direction. I experience intimacy as I come to trust another enough to allow the other to see into me. Not only is it possible for both married and single to live life fully and be chaste, but chastity actually allows us to enter into much more intimate relationships, with much more honest and transparent motivations.

In our relationship with Jesus as Lord, the centurion shows us that another element of intimacy is being willing to allow the other to see what our situation is, to admit to the other our weakness, vulnerability, or helplessness. Once the centurion allowed Jesus to see his helplessness to do anything more to help his sick servant, and showed his willingness to let Jesus have the last word, then Jesus was able to do something for him and his servant. Because God is of course stronger, wiser, and has more time, it makes perfect sense for us to allow God to have the last word, which requires letting go of our opinions, demands, and expectations.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Jesus, Christians, intimacy, and you - 4 - (retreat notes).

I began this series of reflections on a retreat by Fr. Eugene "Red" O'Reilly, C.Ss.R., given to a good number of our English priests at Maison de la Madonne, at Cap de la Madeleine, Trois Rivières, from September 11th to 16th, while still at the retreat. I was surprised to find that that his remarks and reflections stirred up so many thoughts in me, particularly regarding human sexuality, which is such a source of suffering and struggle for many people today. In the last two posts I developed fairly involved reflections on our human sexuality, and realize that in order to mine as much of the gold as I can from this retreat I should begin by publishing my retreat notes. These notes follow below.

Sunday night.

Warning: These notes are generally not direct quotes of Fr. "Red", but include his words as well as I could catch them out of the air, my own thoughts merging with his, and comments that I make to myself, either in the 1st person (I find that... We must...) or 3rd person (Priests experience...) and so on. If anyone wants to know at some point what is "Red's" and what is mine, ask.

People who have been in our lives have either been contributing, leading me to where I am going, or opposing, making it difficult for me to be where I am. Where I am, we are, is no accident. "Red" gave a brief overview of his life and vocation, sharing his gratitude for al these people and God's call. This week will focus on JOY and COMPASSION, which are essential for the priesthood and for the Church.

It is not easy to live in the present. We can get caught in the past, and we can apprehend the future. Only the present is mine, ours, God's gift to us.

Monday morning.

Remember the Baltimore Catechism? "We're made to know, love, and serve God now and forever in heaven." This definition of our destiny is true, but incomplete, which makes it effectively inadequate. This is because God also longs to love and serve us. This at first sounds outrageous, but it reminds me of the nun who told a young priest that when we pray before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament exposed, what is happening there is not only that we are contemplating Jesus Christ present in the Holy Eucharist, but also that He is contemplating us. God loved us first, remember, as St. Paul put it? That means God has been looking upon us with love even before we realized He exists, or knew who the Blessed Trinity are. If contemplation is also adoration, gazing with love at the Beloved, then we'd have to agree that God adores us, contemplates us, gazes at us with love. When we do these things, we are simply responding to God who does them first.

That God also longs to love and serve us can be seen in the countless ways in which what the Gospels recount about Jesus can also be understood as being about us. For example, at Jesus' Baptism, the Father's voice was heard to say, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Everyday, this is also addressed by God to us. We are pleasing to God our Father. He loves us and calls us. He loves us as we are and also calls us to be, to become, more.

How do we feel about ourselves? For some of us our seminary formation did not enhance our view of our own worth. It did not give us a healthy, positive self-image. Some of us were not encouraged to develop close friendships. In fact, at some times and in some seminaries there was a fear of particular friendships. This was often actually a fear of sexuality.

In some seminaries and houses of formation, we were told, "We'll take you apart and then put you back together in our own image, the way we want you to be, with no individuality, creativity, or sense of responsibility. We saw many of our creative, independent, and talented guys leave. The rest who stayed behind obeyed the rules. You could not question authority. Strange practices were imposed such as wearing a "discipline" - a wire with barbs - around a leg or arm underneath the clothing, or self flagellation. There were to be no demonstrations or assertions of personality or individuality. Such practices did not forster the notion of being good, or having anything good to offer.

Labels were put on some men in formation and they stuck. After that, they were never trusted with responsibility ever after, which is so sad, so tragic.

to be continued...

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Jesus, Christians, intimacy, and you - 3.

In the previous two posts, we appreciated the privilege it is for priests to go away for 5 days or longer at times for a retreat, when lay people - especially those with family responsibilities - generally can't do that. However, we did explore what it is possible for women and men to do, either with the help of trusted relatives to watch over the children or by going separately, to procure for themselves some days or even hours of retreat experience. Retreat means withdrawing for a time from the hubub of routine activity and constant flow of demands from those for whom we are responsible.

A key theme of our retreat and of life for every human being for that matter is that of intimacy. Though we may have been hindered from naturally developing an ability to open ourselves up to others in intimate and trusting relationships; it is possible even now to take steps towards authentic human intimacy. Simply defined, intimacy is what we experience when I let you see into me. Naturally, we can be afraid of doing that because of what may happen if we do. If you really see me as I am, you may not like me any more and may just walk away. I also run the risk that you will use what you find out about me and use it to other ends that will damage me or my reputation.

We also examined how it is that for many today, especially younger generations but not exclusively the young, the Hollywood "romantic" culture rapidly going around the world is taken for cash: intimacy equals sex. In fact, the truth couldn't be more different. It is a misconception which identifies sexual, genital activity as the most intimate human experience there is. At this point in my previous post, I took off from the reflection shared with us by our retreat preacher and began to ponder the whole area of sexual activity and its relationship to human intimacy. It is true that physical human contact does convey feelings of an intimate nature, and sexual expression evokes and involves among the most intense human emotions, but sexual activity by itself is not human intimacy.

For example, it's possible for those involved in the sex trade - both women and men - to so completely deny or shut down their personal feelings that they can engage in sexual activity as a commercial transaction, apparently remaining cool and collected, only pretending to experience feelings to satisfy the other person. The truth is that even this is an illusion, because we cannot shut down our feelings. What really happens is that these persons suffer damage to the capacity for genuine intimacy God has given them. It is not without hope, however, since Jesus came as a doctor for the sick, to forgive sinners and heal the lame and wounded.

Those engaged in the sex trade may even, for a time or an occasion, activate to some extent their capacity for compassion, and may even feel pity for those to whom they grant favors in exchange for money, feeling sorry for their pitiful existence and loneliness. The truth, however, is that such activity abuses the capacity given to us by God to give and receive human tenderness, and hardens the heart, as it were.

Moreover, it employs sexual power in ways that are manipulative, a mockery of human love, and ultimately destructive of the characters, emotions, minds, and souls of the persons engaging in them. Using our sexual powers, either for personal gain or in an attempt to strengthen a romantic relationship, but with no unconditional commitment of marriage, is a mockery simply because sexual imtimacy communicates something absolute, total, or permanent. Each use of our sexual powers in a transitory or occasional way, for one night or for limited duration, contradicts the significance contained within our sexuality itself.

If the entire life is not given as a gift in marriage, then any enjoyment of sexual favors is a violation of each person's integrity, or a commercial transaction, or a trivialization of something deep and holy, a betrayal of the permanence of genuine intimacy, or the predatory theft of affections already given to another in the case of a married party. Even misused, our sexuality feels good and may even seem right, until the contradictions and partial truths begin to sink in, and the cracks become visible, resulting in the painful tearing apart of what was not intended or meant to be permanent.

People who engage in sexual activity as a kind of sport in which they test and push to the limit their ability to conquer the hearts, at least temporarily, of those who are unwary and hungry for tenderness, or simply to accumulate "trophies" are the most to be pitied. They leave behind them a trail of wounded or broken hearts, turning their own heart into the coldest and hardest stone. Ultimately, they are destroying their own capacity to become truly human beings and authentic human persons. Their victims probably have more of a chance to become good, kind, compassionate, and truly loving people than those who violated them.

Then, there are those who simply enjoy the emotions involved with sexual arousal and activity. It's more like a hobby or drug for them. The people with whom they get involved don't really matter to them. Others don't really exist for them as people, but more as objects that they find attractive, try to obtain, perhaps collect, enjoy for a time, until they tire of them or find others that seem more exciting. Today's heartthrob gets dumped on tomorrow's trash heap. This is rather crude language, but it seems to be the only way of honestly depicting this kind of sexual predator, for this is exactly what this kind of personality is, a hyena on the prowl looking for a meal, a snack, to devour and feed a growing sexual appetite.

Perhaps a very large portion of people are more honest and sincere than any of these. They genuinely desire to find friendship that may lead to or include after a while an openness to sexual activity. Sincerity is good, but even sincere misuse of sexuality will result in either damage or delayed development of our God given capacity for tenderness and love. There has traditionally been more variation between men and women in their readiness to engage in sexual activity without a marriage commitment.

Women eager to take for themselves the liberties taken by men become, like them, more inclined to act out of physical urges of attraction and make advances of a sexual nature. Male sexual sensitivities are physically external, tending to activate more rapidly, which is why males without discipline are dangerous predators; so in many societies, women are raised to resist all advances until after a marriage commitment is secured. The good of society suffers is women surrender their sexual virtue and become as undisciplined as men. Men serve society better by acquiring the discipline of virtuous women, who know how to conserve their favors for their eventual spouse.

Both women and men need to develop character and discipline in order to rein in their feelings of arousal, learn how and accept to delay or deny physical satisfaction, and make room for human relating at a deeper level of complete respect and friendship. It is generally accepted that in comparison with men women are far more interested in relationships and friendship. Perhaps it is because their sexual sensitivities are more internal and diverse - linking up physical, emotional, psychological, and even spiritual realms - and also because of their closer bond to the maternal world within which life is transmitted and nurtured.

Both men and women have attributes desirable to the other, but as males are at first more subject to their physical impulses and tend to act in a way that's more directly focused on sexual gratification, women are in a position to take advantage of this situation by taking more time to explore their feelings and motivation. They are more focused on their relationships, including that with God, which tends to delay at least a little the onset of full blown sexual attraction. When women keep a cooler head for a while, they can take more time to decide their course of action: to allow themselves to be attracted, to manipulate the man to try to get what they want, or to disengage. Men can also manage a cooler head by going into their faith relationship with God, opening up to and getting support from family and friends, and working off their emotions through vigorous physical movement, exercise or sport.

Eventually, though, both women and men do decide to engage in sexual activity, as we can observe in the culture and society around us. Many deplore the fact that young people engage in sexual activity at a younger and younger age. This is sad, because until a human being is fully mature - in body, mind, heart, psyche, and soul - it is very difficult not to be overwhelmed by the sheer raw power of our sexual faculties. In other words, it's almost impossible for young people not to become addicted to the whole range of sensations in the body, emotions in the psyche, images in the mind, fantasies in the imagination, and movements in the soul that all relate to activating our sexual powers. The tragedy here is that once our personality is overrun by all this high intensity experiencing of sexual power and effects, it is difficult to pay attention to the far more subtle but deeper affairs of the heart and soul, such as friendship, fidelity, loyalty, commitment, trust, love, and, yes, intimacy.

That is why God's plan for human beings is so beautiful, meaningful, and effective. Men and women have been created by God to be complementary. This means that we each have attributes that are either unique, stronger or weaker in one than in the other, or else oriented differently. The differences are intended by God to challenge the other, requiring the exercise of freedom and will to endure the challenge and make the effort of continue in the exchange, in the dialogue, in the cooperation, and in collaborative ventures together.

Our differences are also designed to fit into one another in a complementary manner; so that together, women and men can make quite formidable human beings. The products of our relating, working, playing, caring, and living together in civil society draw out of men and women an ongoing commitment to care for, build, create, nurture, and multiply life and activity. The more men and women relate to one another in normal, honest, and gentle ways, the greater discipline they can exercise over their sexual faculties and feelings, because they are learning to consider one another as persons rather than treat one another as sex objects.

In marriage, the mutuality required for a single man and a single woman to commit to each other their entire selves and lives is astounding to the point of seeming quite impossible, were it not for the love that binds them together. Their individuality pulls them constantly in opposite directions; while their love ever pulls them toward each other. Their gender differences constantly push the other beyond their comfort zone into the realm of growth, purification, pain, and greater vitality; while their willingness to ever renew their interest in and care for the other draws the other into the warmth, healing, and safety of unconditional acceptance, kindness, and love.

However, because of the raw and incredibly volatile power of their sexual faculties, it is still possible for a husband and wife to prop each other up in an addiction to sexual pleasure that is simply a comfortable mutual arrangement, a kind of contract or commercial transaction. In either case, whether they are mutually considerate and practice a great deal of selflessess, or whether they are entirely self-absorbed and supporting each other's sexual addictions, or somewhere in between; God's plan goes further into the realm of generativity.

As married couples conceive and then bear children, the utter dependence of each and every child for many years and the ongoing dependence of children until the emergence of adolescence and young adulthood, draws them into a process that is guaranteed to push them beyond comfort, control, mutual arrangements, far into the realm of selflessness. Couples unable to bear children often adopt and experience the same benefit of being drawn out of themselves into a life of selflessness and loving care. Those unable to adopt find other ways to spend their energy in caring ways for those in need of love, care, and compassion.

People who marry without having attained an essential minimum of human character and maturity - though in their 20's, 30's, or older - in effect are really children having children; it is among such parents that occasionally some shake, strangle, or otherwise abuse their infants to death at the extreme, or simply neglect them or treat them as personal possessions, trophies, or accomplishments. It is very difficult, but by the grace of God not impossible, for children to become fully functioning, compassionate, honest, and gentle human beings if their parents are entirely absorbed by their own desires, impulses, and self-serving considerations.

The better human beings parents are, the more advanced the starting point they provide to their children. However, even so, the kind of rearing parents give or fail to give to their children has great influence on how their children will develop or fail to develop into good human beings. Children need to learn boundaries, the difference between good and evil, responsibility, that there is a hierarchy of good things, respect for living things, and a whole host of values, character traits, and a variety of disciplines necessary for living a good, just, honest, kind, loving, and meaningful human life.

So many parents over the years in sharing with me have said they deplore the lack of a proper school for parenting beyond what we can learn from our elders, families of origin, the families of friends with a better developed family culture, reading, and so on. It would be great if someone created a school for parenting with theoretical learning as well as practicums and internships! The family is the fundamental school of humanity, and it would be a necessary and wonderful thing to shore it up, so that it also becomes an effective school of holiness as well as wholeness.

Without maturity of character and personality, it becomes difficult to see that there is any difference between sexual satisfaction - which is ephemeral - and mutual care, which is deeper and generally more lasting. To put this in the simplest terms we can, I cannot know whether you truly love me as long as by being with me you are getting something, some pleasure or satisfaction, back. However, if I am sick, stink and can't do anything for you, am in bed and need your care for a long time, I get angry with you and treat you badly, and you keep coming back to care for me, and keep putting up with my terrible moods and treatment of you; then it begins to look like you really do care for me just because of who I am, and not because of any goodies you may be getting from me. Incidentally, this is also true for how we relate to and treat God: as three real though divine Persons that we try to appreciate, understand, and love, or as the provider of all the goodies of which God is capable.

God in the Bible says that the human heart is tortuous beyong reckoning; who can understand it? For this reason, it is so difficult to know the authenticity of the other person's friendship and love for me, or the authenticity of my friendship and love for another. In fact, we can only know the true nature of our own character or that of any other human being once they have breathed their last breath and are dead. Only then is their life complete. Only then can we judge the whole life as a single, complete reality.

In the meantime, we need to test and judge one another, and even ourselves, and never take for granted that our current state of emotions is pure and genuine. We are created by God to appreciate and delight in all the good things He has created, but our human nature is fallen and we are inclined to self-indulgence; so we must freely choose to embark on a journey of testing and purification of our thoughts, emotions, words, motives, decisions, behaviours, and actions.

Friends become friends because they accept to put up with each other along the way, and to help each other engage more fully in this personal purification and growth. This is why God is truly our ultimate friend, as Jesus revealed Himself to be for his disciples and for us. Now, at this point, I can return to reflections coming from our retreat preacher and some of the echoes within me as I ponder his words.

to be continued....

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Jesus, Christians, intimacy, and you - 2.

Last post we began to reflect on intimacy and what hinders or helps it, and that God wants us to enter into a deeply intimate, meaningful, joyful, and fulfilling life. We may still be carrying heavy baggage given us by others that cause us to be afraid of letting anyone see who we really are or see into what we are like on the inside, what we are thinking, feeling, desiring or what we find meaningful, beautiful, interesting. If when I was young a parent said "You have no will!" or a teacher said "You'll never amount to any good!" or a friend said "You're really dumb!" or the herd treated me like I had fleas, and I believed these untruths and actually became these labels; then it's as if I myself closed the door on any possibility of life, success, accomplishment, joy, love, or happiness.

It may be out of weakness, misery, sinfulness, or even wickedness that people say such terrible things to children or youth or young adults or young parents or anyone. The only way we can turn the page, get unstuck from the past, and move on into the present and into our future is by acknowledging the malice and destructiveness of the evil words or actions done to us, understand the shadows from which they came, forgive the poor, miserable souls for being in such darkness as to say or do such things to us, ask God's help to be glad to be alive right now, and take a step into our own future. God sent his Son into the world in Jesus to reveal our own goodness to ourselves; that we might take responsibility to live our life as the gift it is.

It is a very satisfying, womanly, or manly thing to do this for ourselves, and out of simple gratitude for God's gift of life to us from our conception until this very moment now accept to be delighted by our very heartbeat, breath, sight, hearing, touch, thought, and movement of soul. What a wonder my life is, what an intricate complex organism, operating with such harmony and order! What a gift I am from God to me and to the world. Why surrender all the responsibility for our present condition to others who won't perhaps care enough to change or apologize for what they did to us? Why leave our present potential and future happiness in the hands of those incompetent to build us up, when there are others who already love us or will when we meet them, and when we can be the first ones after God to love the gift of life we are being given?

So this is good news: to realize that we are created in the image and likeness of God our Father, that He intends us to take an active part in creating the person we are even at this very moment becoming, just through the decisions we allow ourselves to make. Jesus was the Son of God come to the Earth in a human life like ours, not only to reveal to us the Father's love but also to show us what that divine life can look like in a human form. In other words, we can be just like Jesus, not through our own efforts alone, but by following the path opened up for us by Jesus. He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." He openly admitted owing everything to his Father, relying on his Father for all things, ever seeking to know the Father's will, and ever longing to do it.

This is the path He invites us to walk. Of course, as He lived in the world, so do we, and today, we live in a culture that hardly understands the first thing about intimacy. When one asks young people what they understand as intimacy, all too often the answer is sex. There is a general impression or misunderstanding that runs deep and wide throughout contemporary society that sex is the way to find intimacy. Why is this a misconception? Lots of factors are at work. God had a plan for human life and happiness, but we gave in to curiosity and temptation and allowed ourselves to go away from God's plan, prefering to try out and experiment with other plans, opinions, or impressions. Another reason is that sex is so very powerful that nothing can stop us from getting intoxicated and addicted to it except true intimacy.

As in other areas of life, such as furniture or artwork or clothing, the quality of authentic materials, artistry, and craftsmanship shows up the fraudulent imitation or forgery. God designed our character structure, inner dynamics, and sexuality in such a way, and invested our human sexuality with such power for tenderness, that it can be kept from becoming violent and destructive only through a lifelong commitment of marriage between one man and one woman, with at least the possibility of children. This formula allows for a delicate balance between freedom and vulnerability and saves the husband and wife from the tyranny of control or domination that tends to result from sex on demand.

The lure of addiction remains ever present in the very power of our human sexuality, and it is kept at bay only through the disciplines of awe and wonder at the power and gift of our fertility on the one hand, and of the constant effort to allow the other to see into me on the other hand. It is not intimacy when I pry into my spouse with 20 questions as soon as they open the door or open their eyes in the morning. Prying not only does not invite intimacy, but even tends to close the door on it. No, I can only wait with trust and anticipation - as I accept to bear the burden of my own self and solitude - for the moment when you will take me into your confidence and allow me that precious glimpse into you. Then I must be as Moses before God in the burning bush, take my shoes off, and know that I am standing on holy ground.

The marriage commitment can - in the light of this - be seen as a true covenant, a commitment of one's whole life to be there for the other, as husband and wife, for the rest of our lives; so that we can be there for one another and allow for these intimate moments of disclosure. Only then can the coming together in a sexual and loving embrace express something that is true, namely, that we have already uncovered each of us our self to the other this day, and recognizing each other's self as good and holy, embrace each other's self in a tenderness that focuses on the beauty of the other. In this holy moment, where God reveals his vitality and love through both of them, the husband and wife lose all awareness of their own self as they gaze into the eyes of the beloved and delight in the depths of human personhood and love concealed yet revealed in those eyes.

Their touching is not at all a grasping, but rather a reverent contact with the other in all the mystery and beauty concealed within. The encounter they have just had on this day or in recent days, added onto all their previous encounters, sharing, and living together, draws them into the depths of the other's person. Their communion elicits the desire to give oneself to the other, allowing the other to gaze into one's eyes, to enjoy one's voice, to delight in one's fragrance, to embrace one's self. Sexual union is then simply allowed to happen by the married couple as a revelling in physical union with the other that alone fully expresses each spouse's desire to be fully for the other.

This embrace is only fully true and honest when it also respects and does not interfere with the other's fertility, which is an essential part of the person, and not a disease to be treated with drugs but a gift from God to be held in awe and wonder. This holy embrace designed by God is not about sexual prowess, or about 1001 positions, or about obsession with the intensity or duration of the sexual flutter. In fact, it is not about the self at all, but rather about joining with the other in a way that honors the other and is wholly attentive to and absorbed in the other. I must tell you that all these thoughts were not at all from our retreat preacher, but from what I have learned over the years. I include them here as a necessary reality check in reference to our preacher's observation that there is much confusion today of sex as intimacy, while in fact they are two separate realities designed to be one. We are however today in grave danger of separating them to our own peril.

We can see then that true intimacy can only happen in a relationship between one person and another. If we see another only as a desirable object that can fulfill my needs or desires, then that person doesn't really exist in my eyes as a person; not yet. For a time, we may simply by coincidence happen to simultaneously consent to fulfill each other's wants, desires, or needs, but that's simply a good business transaction, juicy contract, or beneficial partnership. It is not yet a meeting of persons. As soon as one does or says something that is not agreeable to the other or declines to fulfill the other's wishes exactly when and how they want it, then it breaks down, and the "honeymoon" is over. Reality hits.

Then what? Well that's actually the first real opportunity for such a starry-eyed couple or enthusiastic friends to discover the other as a real person, different from me, and not just a reflection of my own self as in a mirror. It's my first chance to leave behind my love affair with my own self and its wants and needs, and to discover the other, and further discover within me a capacity and willingness to put the other person first, to take interest in the other even in areas that are not my preference, and to invest the energy required to discover all that I do not yet know about the other, all that the other has not yet chosen to reveal.

It's a messy thing a human being, with the result that open, honest, authentic human relationships are also messy. The beauty of it though is that the more I let you see into me, both the beautiful and the ugly, and the more I discover that you still love and accept me; then the more intimacy I experience with you - I feel you closer to me because you don't run away. As I sense your sincere interest and genuine acceptance of me, I find myself becoming willing to trust you more. The more I open myself up and allow you to see into me, the more I accept the risk that you may hurt me. The people who hurt us the most are those to whom we have revealed ourselves the most, those we have trusted the most. Such hurt is simply another test and opportunity of friendship, bringing forth the possibility of regret and repentance in the offender, and understanding and forgiveness in the offended.

Letting you see into me is really a kind of nakedness that is actually more difficult than the physical kind. Authentic human openness is a true nakedness, without which the nakedness expressed appropriately in marriage is actually a fraud or even a mockery. Openness and trust are essential to true friendship, but physical nakedness is not. In fact, overt sexual expression is inappropriate outside of the marriage relationship. This divinely revealed truth flies in the face of commonly accepted practice in our "Hollywood culture". The confusion of intimacy with sexuality leads so many to consider sexual expression as a right or necessity, but it isn't at all. What we cannot do without in order to become fully human is intimacy, but we can live this fully without genital expression.

The truth is that trust and openness expose us more than nakedness to injury. Such vulnerability deserves confidence, that is, it deserves to be kept in confidence by the friend who has been privileged to glimpse this revelation of self by the other. To betray such confidence outside of the friendship is a kind of prostitution, a kind of bartering in the fruits of intimacy in order to gain ephemeral and empty pleasures: showing off, boasting, out of pride, competitiveness, or other shallow motivation. It isn't long before such trafficking in the fruits of trust and intimacy isolates the sinner and others come to realize that the fool is not worthy of trust and deserves to find themselves alone so that they can reflect on their sin and perhaps repent and change. Otherwise, they lock themselves in their own prison of isolation, loneliness, and the misery of hell.

On the other side, it's not catastrophic if we are betrayed, or people don't like us, or someone is angry with me, or I don't meet everyone's expectations immediately all the time. Life is tough, and it's their turn to get over it. Meanwhile, I need to carry on with the adventure of living and trying to remain open at every moment to the intimacy that is possible, with God's help and love. When others hurt me, they provide me an opportunity to forgive. When I hurt others, they give me a chance to regret it, apologize, seek their forgiveness, and change.

Jesus was the freest human being ever to walk the Earth. Even his enemies admitted that He wasn't afraid of anyone, was not influenced by a person's status or wealth, was not afraid of creating a stir or scandal, or even of losing his life. It was more important for Jesus to be an honest, genuine human being that to be a model Jew who observed all the rules and practices. It's not that He deliberately ignored or threw out all the rules and practices, but rather that He prioritized attentiveness to people, to the person. He came to reveal the Father's love for people, and He called everyone to buy into this same priority.

Jesus was filled with the joy of being loved by his Father, and proclaimed that the really good news was that the Father loved everyone with the same love. In fact, He loves us so much that He is willing and eager to go so far as to feel our suffering and make it his own. God is above all things compassion for his human children. This is not the kind of message people were used to hearing. Jesus accused religious leaders of piling up on the people's backs rules that they could not observe and that in effect threw them out of the Temple, out of God's favor and presence. Meanwhile, they who were rich and resourceful could find ways to observe all these rules, with an army of servants to assist them, and they had such little compassion for people that they didn't even lift a finger to help them in their misery. That was the point of the parable of the rich man and the poor beggar who died at his door, starving.

In summary, the real question of intimacy - whether we enjoy intimacy or not - has to do with our willingness to let chosen others see into us, with the attendant risk that we will get hurt. Left to ourselves, the fear of hurt is probably too great for us to be willing to venture it, except perhaps in the exuberance of youth. Jesus has come to show us that the love of our Father revealed in Him, his Son, a love without limits, is what can fill us with the love and strength we need to venture into intimacy, to live life more fully, to give the same love we receive in Him. We may not yet be able to allow the whole world see into us and have intimacy with us as Jesus did. He fully opened Himself to the pouring out of his very life blood, and deliberately gave his life and blood as food and drink, bread and wine.

However, we are to begin today, accept to be loved by God today, and accept to love another today, and give another a glimpse into our inner person. May you be so bold and so trusting in Jesus, who is so worthy of our trust, as to engage ever more fully and deeply into this great adventure of life, and in the Spirit of God yourself become ever more fully human and divine.

Jesus, Christians, intimacy, and you - 1.

It has been a busy weekend for this pastor, since my last post. Friday to Sunday, I prepared for Sunday ministry and preaching, prayed with and gave the Anointing of the Sick to a few people, continued to host our new associate pastor - there are always so many things to learn in a new house and assignment - visited my aging but very dear parents, and made final preparations for this annual English Montreal Fraternal Gathering and retreat. I picked up our retreat master or preacher, Fr. Eugene "Red" O'Reilly, Redemptorist, at the airport in Dorval and we arrived here for supper Sunday night. Our associate pastor kindly delayed his departure in order to be able to pick up and drive one of our elder veteran priests on Monday morning. We are at the beautiful and extensive marian shrine of Notre Dame du Cap de la Madeleine near Trois Rivières, Province of Québec.

Every good retreat draws our attention to Jesus, the One Saviour of the world. It is because the journey is long, the journey of faith, even though life on Earth may seem short, that we need to go into the wilderness, to a quiet place, so that we can allow our spirit to rest in the Spirit of God, and once again discern his voice speaking to our hearts. Unlike what we construct in this world, where things tend to last or stay where we put them, at least for a while; our interior life is constantly in flux and we are ever creating as it were the person we are becoming through our decisions.

You may say, and rightly so, "Hey, Father, consider yourself lucky to be able to get away like that! With our family, and work, it's really difficult if not impossible for us to do that." You're right. We priests consider ourselves privileged, blessed to be able to go on retreat like this. One reason we need to, as part of our labor and job description in ministry, is because we spend so much time pondering the Word of God and concerning ourselves with the affairs of his Kingdom and the Church, and sharing the burdens of his people; that we actually need to go into the wilderness in a regular way just to remember who we are and find again our own mind, heart, and soul underneath all that is yours that we accept to bear with you. If we completely lose track of who we are, then we will no longer be of much use to you and will tend to go into "auto mode". If you catch us doing that, maybe we need encouragement from you not to wait any longer and go ahead and seek out a time of retreat.

So, you're right, but you're also wrong. I mean that it's not true that you can't go on retreat yourselves. True, you may not be able to go away, both husband and wife, and leave your little children behind. However, if they're older and can manage on their own, with their grandparents or other reliable and committed person to watch over them and assure the continuance of their routines, then there's no reason why you shouldn't consider both going, say, on a weekend retreat. It would not only be a graced time to bring you closer to God and allow Him more deeply into your life and soul, but He would also bring you both closer to each other, and renew your deep love of your children, and refresh you, and send you back with renewed vigor to love and to serve those entrusted to you.

If you can't both go on a weekend retreat at the same time, you may be able to go on it one at a time. If that's still too difficult, or you've never been on a retreat, then you can try a smaller bite. There are twilight retreats that go from late in the afternoon to early evening. Now that's something you can probably manage, either together or separately. The point I'd like to make with you is that, whatever your situation and conditions might be, God always has ways and means to refresh you in mind, heart, soul, and body, and He's always available to fill you with his mercy, love, kindness, and renew in you the freedom and vitality of the children of God by means of the Holy Spirit and his power. He does need your consent to work with, and awaits your decision to seek out the information and decide on an opportunity and go for it. We need to take the step and allow Him to do the rest.

What follows is not a transcription of our retreat preacher's words, but a reflection from my own spirit in response to his words, as I look back at his opening remarks on Sunday evening and the four conferences he has given us since then. Perhaps you may find in this ongoing reflection something that may help you come closer to Jesus or simply realize how eager Jesus is to come closer to you, that you may have the divine life He offers, bringing your human life to abundance and fruitfulness.

Fr. "Red" began by having us consider all the people and influences that have shaped who we have become, in particular how our formation either enhanced or hindered our ability and willingness to be open to the kind of intimacy that allows for a truly human and authentic life. There have been times past and perhaps still today when priests and religious were formed to fear intimacy, to fear their own frailty. This approach often applies as a solution to the dangers of human frailty a discipline of obedience without thinking. It is a blind obedience. You do this because I tell you to do it. Don't think. Don't trust your ability to make your own decision, but just obey. It is true that Jesus gave a lot of importance to his obedience to his Father's will, but this is not exactly the kind of obedience He practiced.

Catholic Christians who are older remember learning that we were made, created by God to know, to love, and to serve God. Fr. "Red" proposed that as true as this tenet of faith is, its expression in our catechesis was not entirely complete, because it left out the other side of this truth, namely, that God also longs to love and serve us. I remember hearing about a contemplative nun who once told a young priest that when we spend time before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, what is happening is not just that we are contemplating or attempting to adore God. God always precedes us, and like any truly loving parent, is also contemplating and "adoring" or loving us. He radiates upon us with love as that parent radiates upon their child with love.

Now, the formation we have received both as people, human beings, and as Christians, may not always have enhanced our ability to appreciate this reality about God. The very thought of God loving us calls for an intimacy of acceptance and response, and this is very much connected to our capacity for intimacy among ourselves, with other human beings. Sadly, there has been and probably always will be, such fear because of the possibility of sexual misconduct or acting out, that a disciplinary response which relies too much upon excessive authority doesn't really help a chld or youth to develop their own conscience and will, both their ability and willingness to make the discipline their own. Instead, we may have raised or be raising people who will only behave according to our values when they think someone is looking or out of fear of being caught and punished or fear of having love withdrewn.

Such fear of punishment is the lowest level of moral development, and doesn't really allow for independent thinking or decision making. My own thought, in light of those recent scandals in the military here and there, is that if an authority undertakes to deconstruct a person's character in order to rebuild them according to the accepted model currently valued by the military authority, they may not realize that they are actually severing the ties within the person between values and conscience. At the other end of society, we are discovering so much about what influences our thinking and behaviour that it is becoming increasingly common for people to blame conditions around them for their actions. In both cases, we are witnessing a society where we are more and more loath to accept responsibility for ourselves and rather inclined to blame someone else, anyone else, or even everyone else, for our own behaviour.

What is tragic about this is that, only through our own responsible decisions, do we grow as persons and become more fully human beings. Further, only as I accept who I am and take responsibility for my decisions, can I see anything good in myself. If everyone else is to blame and I see nothing good in myself, I will be so afraid that others won't like what they see, won't love me, that I will avoid revealing myself to others at all cost. In such a case, intimacy is impossible, but without itimacy, there can be no happiness, no meaningful existence, no personal encounter, and no real communion of persons. This is because, fundamentally, intimacy is what happens when I allow another to "see into me - into me see".

This is what happened when God came to the Earth in his Son, Jesus. He allowed us to see into Him, into God. More than that, Jesus then reached out to people and called them to receive his words and to accept the love being offered by God the Father through Him, his Beloved Son, whom He sent into the world to reveal Himself to us; that we might have life in Jesus and have it abundantly. Jesus even said that He gave us his joy and wanted our joy to be complete. This is a view of life that is at the heart of the kingdom, or reign, of God, and is completely different from other views of life prevalent in our world. What is exciting and at times excruciating is that we bear both views within us at the same time, and from time to time, in varying degrees. Letting the world, the weakness of the flesh, or the devil have the upper hand brings us into misery, but allowing God and his Spirit to have the upper hand and unite us to Jesus brings us into joy.

to be continued...

Thursday, September 08, 2005

God is calling you. Does your heart hear? Seeing love return in the eyes of one we have loved - this is the joy of priesthood and parenthood.

This entry is about being fully alive, breaking through the veil of superficiality that causes one to feel bored with life, feeling at one with all the other creatures in the world around us, and seeing the radiant Presence of God in everything - the great undercover wonder who takes delight in enabling us to participate in his own work of creation and of giving life - it's about hearing the call to participate fully in living and in giving life to others. November 30, 2006. Feast of St. Andrew.

This is a very fascinating place to be after eleven years, with just one little year to go in my current assignment. The first few years were an awesome challenge, and I even felt then that I might be in over my head. At the same time, there were those really great hearts who lost no opportunity to give a word of encouragement, to lend a helping hand, to offer a kind gesture or sage word of advice. People are amazing, and without thinking much of what they are doing, at times reach high levels of excellence in their outlook, speech, behaviour, and action. People like that really do make the world a better place, despite those that make a lot more noise or wreak havoc and destruction.

It is so very deeply satisfying when they say that my presence, word, attitude, action, or example has really touched, inspired, encouraged, or challenged them, because some of them do that for me. The sharing of a common journey, the collaboration in a single important task, the mutuality in that intercourse of persons who happen to breathe the same air on the same planet at the same time while discovering the same hidden mystery at the very source of it all... incredibly intensifies the wonder of just being alive. This alone is already the kind of stuff that inspires poets, playwrights, composers, philosophers, theologians, wives and husbands, mothers and fathers... yet there is more!

The middle years of my time here became increasingly active and productive, but most importantly of all, they challenged me even more to go beyond my comfort zone, grow in generosity, and learn even from those younger than me. The wonder of other people is that, however young, each person has character virtues or strengths, abilities or experiences that they hold or use uniquely, and this challenges and encourages me to open my spirit to greater possibilities. Difficulties, obstacles, apparent failures, and even discouragement can serve to push us beyond the limits of what we thought was possible. The most fascinating and puzzling area of life seems to me to be where we are most weak, vulnerable, helpless, or powerless. I have been stable in one place and the same assignment long enough to have accumulated a long list of what might be called personal failures, or failed personal attempts to accomplish this or that. In turn, this opens up the awareness of my own personal limits.

You'd think that as a person open to the supernatural and to the spiritual dimension I would have had a better grasp all along of the boundary between what I can myself accomplish and what can only be possible to God. Perhaps it's the eternal youth in me that still feels overly responsible for the world around me, or the child in me that never learned very well to ask for help, or again the current context in which so much is expected by so many of the priest or pastor, or is it simply our common human condition from the time of our origins that causes me and us to daily struggle valiantly on as though it were all up to me, to us?

In the midst of it all, there are deep joys for me these days and today. As what we call the "pastoral year" - the year of the caring we receive from God in churches - ended and now starts up again with the coming and going of summer; I have been taken hostage, no, rather set free by an unexpected and disconcerting realization. It's not a new invention, but it is certainly fresh and impactful for me. All these very wonderful and unique people keep coming back to this church, and it's not because of me. It's because of Jesus Christ, the One Saviour of the world. He died, but rose again from the dead - the "first fruits from the dead" - who came into the very midst of our darkness to seduce our hearts, enlighten our minds, heal our bodies, and to restore the vigour of our wills, and so to lead us out of the darkness into his own wonderful light.

Though He truly is the "all in all" of God; yet is He so kind and considerate as to remain among us and work still within us, but under cover, under the cover of spirit being, existence, speech, and action. He could accomplish by himself the salvation and lifting up of every generation of humanity, but He continues to submit himself to the Father's plan and will that as many of us humans as possible might come to the life changing satisfaction and delight of participating as partners in this ongoing transformation of people and their lives, beginning with our own and the lives of those we love.

What is it that covers Him up? In large part, it is the network of illusions that we nurture that nothing happens without us or me. This is the perspective of the child of two, who naturally thinks that all that is new to them isn't known to anyone else. As we move away from that time of innocence, we varyingly try to resist opening our self to others and to persist in serving our selves. All this static of self blocks the waves of divine vitality radiating from God, and we just don't "tune in" to the "godcast", we miss the happenings, we reject the gift of faith which alone clears the static and opens the receiver.

This is the joy I receive as gift these days, to rediscover more deeply than ever before that we are all the work of God - even though it is his pleasure that we have a part and take delight in taking up our part - so that all that is real, beautiful, true, good, and loving, all that lasts, comes from Him. It is ours to notice, see, hear, accept, and receive, to use, develop, say, do, and accomplish, in partnership with God and with each other. What brings me joy in this is not the mere idea of it, but the all-pervading realization of it, the conviction of it in my gut, the bright perspective of it illuminating all that I concern or busy myself with, the humbling magnitude of it as I go on relating to and collaborating with others. How can any thing ever be the same again?

Another pulse within this same joy came tonight. Some of us diehards got drenched mucking around in the rain playing golf through the front nine holes, and then went for cover in the form of a good shower and change into dry, warm clothes; while only three really passionate players went on to play the bottom nine. That was fine. We shmoozed over appetizers and drinks and then along came one of our fine recruits. He didn't play but joined us among those who simply came as part of the "supper shift" - priests invited over the years and who remain on the active list because they either have come or at least answered the invitation. It's all about fraternity, the simple joy of being with these other men we love and who love us, mostly because of Jesus. We have in common Jeremiah's experience: Jesus seduced our souls and we let ourselves be seduced by Him.

It's all about just being there together, sharing one another's company, anecdotes, and friendly intercourse. Then it happened. The young recruit, about seven years into his personal formation and professional training, shared with me what it's like for him to be at this point in the journey, and how vital it also is for him to be so very intimately caught up in the saving relationship with Jesus, our Saviour, our Lord, and the Beloved of our souls. What an awesome thing it is to see happening in another life, another soul, another person, the very same mystery of existence beyond human sight and only visible by faith. This undercover Jesus is truly a wonder, to accomplish such similar effects in so different lives, all the while respecting the fragile yet intricate web of freedom and discretion that makes up each unique human being.

I already have the joy of knowing that this is the very same pattern that happens in the lives of all these dear brother priests, some of whom I know much more intimately than others. It is very touching to see it happening anew in someone still in the early stages of the formation years, because that is when you feel so small in the face of what you are gradually preparing and committing yourself to do for the rest of your life. To be a Roman Catholic priest is to commit yourself for the rest of your life to do the impossible, all that you cannot possibly accomplish, but which Jesus can in you, as He has been doing for two millennia. It's awesome to be called and to freely and gladly respond and accept to be part of something like that.

It's very much like the awesome mystery into which a woman and man enter when they fall in love and leap into the precipice by joining their destinies to each other and get married, preparing and committing themselves to bring into this confused and even dangerous world an undetermined number of brand new, fragile human persons to share in the eternal destiny offered us all by God the Father in his extravagant bounty. What an awesome, timeless ecstatic experience it is to gaze in wonder into the eyes of your child, a unique, individual little person who didn't exist before, and who only exists now because your committed love joined you to your spouse in your committed love, and this love between you, making you one, has multiplied you, and you are lost in the contemplation of this new life, which is looking back at you with a response of unconditional love, gratitude, joy, delight, and innocent wonder!

It is the same for a priest whenever he gazes into the eyes of any and all of God's children whom he has the privilege and honor of serving, as he notices the power of God passing through him into their lives: healing their wounds, forgiving their sins, restoring their dignity, intensifying their love, filling them with gratitude, giving them hope, enthralling them with new vision of the mystery of the Holy Three in One, restoring their will to courageously do battle with temptation, sin, and evil in the world, strengthening their hearts to endure all the trials, difficulties, opposition, persecution, and burdens of life; so that they may acquire an ever expanding capacity for love, peace, joy, delight, contemplation, passion, fruitfulness, generativity, endurance, hope, and faith.

If you are a single Roman Catholic man and have been moved by this account, perhaps God is calling you to consider the life and ministry of the priest, who is given by Jesus a share in the saving ministry He came to Earth to begin. If such is the case, open your heart to Jesus with me and make your own a prayer something like this:

"Dear Jesus, You who came to the Earth to reveal to humanity the love of the Father and to save us from our sins, lifting us up to live a life of love beginning on Earth and continuing into eternity; if You are calling me, please let me know. I open my mind, heart, soul, and body to You. I am willing to explore the possibilities, and to find within myself the freedom to respond to your call, with your help. Let your Holy Spirit enlighten me and guide me every step of the way. Thank You for touching my spirit. Please continue to reveal yourself to me. Lead me to some of your other disciples, who will help me to discover your ways. Amen."

I unite myself to you in the praying of this prayer. Feel free to email me by entering a comment through the hotlink below, or else to contact a Roman Catholic priest of your choice. May God continue to bless you along this amazing adventure of life on Earth and eternal life in Heaven!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Being a good neighbor to the younger generations: The Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Women's League are amazing brothers and sisters.

It is both an honor and a thrill for me as a pastor to see men of St. Thomas a Becket Parish establish a Council of the Knights of Columbus here. This comes just at the time when I've been really discovering the Catholic Women's League for the first time. The League has been here in this Parish for over 30 years, and I've been here for 11 of those, but have been slow to really grasp the true nature of this amazing women's organization. Without being related in any way, the League and the Knights have a deep kinship in their purpose, objectives, and meaning.

In early 2004 I was mandated by my bishop to serve for five years as Spiritual Advisor to the Archdiocesan Council of the CWL in Montreal. From my very first contact with these women, I was deeply impressed by the quality of their sisterhood, the depth of their love for God, the intensity of their caring for all women and their lives, the warmth of their love for priests, bishops, and deacons, and the strength of their loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church and affection for all Christians and Christian churches. I have been in such awe of these ladies these past 20 months that I wonder that all Catholic women are not members of the League.

My understanding of the workings of the League and my admiration for the women who persevere through the difficulties of life as active members and who dedicate their time, effort, and generosity in service to the life, activity, work, and vitality of the League have only increased with every convention I have attended at the diocesan level twice, and the provincial level once, and at the national level twice. The CWL magazine The League is a high quality witness to the vitality of this organization of Canadian women, and there's a lot more out there than can be reported in the magazine at any given time.

My greatest surprise, which must be because I'm really slow on the uptake, was to discover that the main purpose of the League is the spiritual development of its members. Wow! Where have I been all these years? Every parish and pastor that has a CWL Council may very well consider themselves blessed, and be eager to work more closely with the Executive - especially the President and the Chairperson for Spiritual Development - for the growth of the Council and for the good of all the Catholic women in the parish and of all women in society.

Similarly, the Knights of Columbus have as their main purpose the spiritual and the human development of their members, the srengthening of men for the sake of their wives and families through solidarity at the Council, provincial, national, and international levels, the defense of the clergy and the Church, and the protection of life and the defenseless among us. The Knights were founded in Connecticut almost 200 years ago by a simple and poor parish priest with a few of his leading men for the purpose of coming to the aid of their men who were defenseless immigrants, hard put by poverty and prejudice to find gainful employment, shelter, and food for their families. Life is still hard, even though we are surrounded by affluence, and there are still many men, at all stages of life, who find themselves hard put and alone.

More than ever before, both women and men have a need for the support of their peers and elders, in a venue where they can rely on the integrity and loyalty of others to be there for them, and where they can find the opportunity to use and develop their own abilities and gifts in a way that will help their peers in turn and have a good impact on society at large. These two magnificent organizations deserve our support and are worthy of the trust of younger generations. With the help of their pastors, the elder generation can find within themselves the trust to allow the younger ones to share in the leadership and perhaps take us where we would not think to go.

We were young once and took the opportunity to shape our organizations as we thought best. Now it's time for the young to do so in their turn. First, though, we need to go out to the young and walk with them in the current conditions of their lives at home, work, and school, and in their neighborhoods. As Jesus asked in telling the story of the Good Samaritan, "Which of these three made himself a neighbor to the man in need?" We wlll find joy and inspiration in spending a lot of time in prayer before the Lord, that He may show us how we might creatively find ways to make ourselves a neighbor for the women and men of today.

The CWL theme for this year is "Companions on the Journey." As these younger women and men find in us companions on their journey, they in turn will discover our best kept secrets: that they have a fraternal organization which they can make their own. Women have the Catholic Women's League of Canada, and men have the Knights of Columbus. Young men under 18 also have the Squires of the Knights of Columbus, and the CWL is contemplating a gathering of young women under 18. Contact your local parish council of the CWL or the K of C. Allow the strength of these brothers and sisters to give you a lift and provide you with an opportunity to discover the best in yourself, and have the deep satisfaction of making a difference in your own life and in the lives of those around you.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Sexuality makes us capable of tenderness but sex is for husband and wife. Nurture helps children embrace their gender identity.

On page 20 of the Montreal Gazette today an article reports brain scan studies of women that tried to see whether drugs might help solve some of the sexual dysfunction or dissatisfaction in women as these drugs appear to be doing in men. Some of the researchers appear to have been puzzled by the greater complexity of the processes connecting the body to the whole inner self in women in comparison with men regarding the factors that contribute to sexual satisfaction. Honestly, does it take a college education and post graduate degrees in science to realize what any married person or grandparent can tell you? Even young people who are awake to the world around them realize that women of all ages care a lot about their relationships and that they see sexuality as tightly connected to relationships.

Men also care about their relationships, but they seem to move more easily from one friendship to another; whereas women tend to invest emotionally a lot more than men. Men tend to be more cavalier about how the relationship develops and about all the feelings associated with it. It's not that women care and men don't, but it's more a question of degree. Women seem to be wired for more intensive attention to their relating; whereas men seem to be wired for more intenstive engagement with the natural world and all its concerns.

Now, these are general statements, and of course there are vast differences of degree even from one person to another. What has shed the most light of all, in my view, on the gender differences between men and women is the research done by Dr. Jeannine Guindon and the formation applications she derived from her research as applied in the Institut de Formation Humaine Intégrale de Montréal, which she founded three decades ago. Working with classic psychological principles, she demonstrated how the development of the human person includes the acceptance of one's gender mode. The male mode is intrusive, while the female mode is inclusive. This mode is rooted in the body, in the sexual organs, but also generalizes into the rest of the body and to the overall behavior of the person.

As children develop into adolescents, if they are encouraged, mentored, and loved with selfless love, they may more easily be willing to embrace their own gender mode. It becomes their preference, and they then need to learn to make use of the other mode. Men can learn to be inclusive, and women can learn to be intrusive. However, if children have insufficient encouragement, mentoring, or are loved with a love that is excessively self-serving, girls may develop into women holding in contempt their own gender mode and instead prefer the male mode, but wielding it more aggressively than they otherwise would. Boys may become men afraid or disrespectful of their own gender mode and instead take refuge in the female mode, sitting in judgement on the male mode as violent and evil.

Without referring to religious faith or the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, Dr. Guindon demonstrated that there is a natural design in the complementary differences between men and women. Their differences constantly and inescapably challenge each other to go beyond the comfort zone, and only when they do is it possible for both to grow as persons and expand their own capacity for selfless love and friendship. Religious faith adds a capacity and willingness to forgive one another and to serve the other by building each other up with ever increasing generosity.

For us to fixate on the biological mechanisms involved in sexual gratification and to put all the eggs in the basket of chemical manipulation is like paying $50,000.00 for a car and straining one's brain to find more creative ways to use it as a door stop or lawn ornament. It' absurd. There is far more to the human person than biology and chemistry. These processes, real as they are to scientific eyes, are intimately bound up with the inner processes of mind, heart, and soul. Without these, you can no more understand human relating than someone from Mars might understand that car on the lawn without the keys or operator's manual.

We are an orchestrated movement of the ebb and flow of the inner workings of the body, emotions (heart), psyche (mind), and spirit (soul). The body wants tenderness, warmth, respectful and caring touch. The heart wants stability, reliability, faithfulness, loyalty, friendship, selflessness, and a multifaceted love. The mind wants meaning and purpose, significance. The soul wants being, existence, life now and without end, eternity, and it wants these things in mutuality, in reciprocal relationship.

The overall result of the simultaneous operation of these multilevel processes within the makeup of each human person, given the varying degrees of lack of development or accomplished development; is a profoundly varied spectrum in the expectations of each person in their relationships. Sexual touch must be preceded by all of these, otherwise it is empty, incomplete, ephemeral, or an outright lie or even a violation.

The wisdom of the Bible's report of God's plan for human beings and marriage is that only a truly stable and permanent relationship even begins to reach the level of involvement and commitment that can ever satisfy the profound expectations that a woman has of her man, of her husband.

Meanwhile, for every single human being, our sexuality - both in our gender identity and in our being enfleshed persons - is actually by design what equips us and makes us capable of experiencing and showing tenderness by expressing the value of other people and of our relationship with them through forms of touching and contact that are not explicitly sexual and do not involve the sexual organs but do enhance our overall feeling of being alive and enjoying the other's presence and company. This companionship crosses over into explicit sexual intimacy in husband and wife because their life long mutual commitment with openness to children lends truth and authenticity to physical union and pleasure. In all other cases the taking of such pleasure is merely trafficking in sex and counterfeit joining.

For further reading, see The Theology of the Body, and The Acting Person, both by Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II.

Monday, September 05, 2005

So many people are on edge - don't let the "crazies" upset you - pray for them!

Today I went to Cap-de-la-Madeleine to reconnoitre our English Montreal Priests' Retreat, which will run from September 11 to 16. We care about our brothers priests and want them to have a good retreat week. On the way back, I got a glimpse of what Snoopy feels like when he's in the World War II mode and is being hunted by the Red Baron in an aerial dog fight! There were several pick-up trucks and ATV's speeding, zigzaging, and considering 6 inches enough separation from other vehicles. I could feel the hair stand up on my arms, and it took way beyond my strength of character to resist blowing a gasket, it took grace!

What is going on in the lives of these people, whatever their age might be, that they would have such little regard for the value of their own life, lives of passengers if they had any, or the lives of everyone else on the road? We're not even touching on the question of regard for others, respect for the sensibilities of other people on the road, even the simple recognition that other drivers are people too, they are actually human beings, with the same right to live, to breathe, to be safe, and to be at peace! Why are these other drivers so much on edge? What is their wound? Why are they unconscious? How old were they when they were first violated, and what was it that happened, so that now they must violate anyone in their way?

Then I remebered what happened to Brother Roger Schutz of Taizé a few weeks ago. I find it was no coincidence that he was stabbed in the throat. True, the unfortunate woman suffers from some form of madness or deep illness. Still, I can't help but find it significant that a man who for many years faithfully bore witness to Jesus, the Word of God, by his own words and life, should in the end to all appearances be attacked in the very spot where his body formulated the words of this testimony.

John the Baptist was a voice crying out in the wilderness who came to give witness to the Word of God. Of course, the Word is more important than the voice; so John was glad that Jesus attracted his disciples away. Then, through Herod and his household, the evil one found a way to attack that voice and silence it. He cut off his head. Perhaps the evil one got fed up of Brother Roger and stirred up this confused woman.

One thing is certain. We must heed Jesus' warning to be awake and alert, and be on our guard against the wickedness and snares of the enemy, the devil, who goes around like a lion roaring for his prey. Through prayer, conversion and Reconciliation, service to the poor, and adoration of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, we must open the door of our heart to Jesus who ever knocks, and invite Him in to sit at table with us. We need his love and mercy, we need his grace and strength, otherwise, we can succumb to the dark influence of the evil one and find our passions aroused and our wrath inflamed over matters that in the end matter little.

All we can do is let the "crazies" go, and pray for them, that in time they too may wake up to the goodness and value of life, and respect others and the right order of things. At the very least, when we pray for them as they drive off with some of the paint from our car, the Lord restores us and keeps us in his love and peace. God bless you.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Love seeks the truth and truth loves deeply: Jesus and tax collectors

As I prepared the homily for today's Sunday worship, a question from the weekly homily service "This Sunday's Scripture" by Twenty-Third Publications really turned me on my head. Considering Matthew's Gospel verse: "Treat him as you would a Gentile or tax collector." the author asked, "How did Jesus treat Gentiles and tax collectors?" Wow. Until now, I had considered this an instruction or advice to reduce one's dealings with that person who refused to admit their wrongdoing, apologize, or change.

This plucky little question changes everything. It boldly faces eyeball to eyeball the common impression that people who go on and on about love are soft on the truth, and that those who are sticklers about truth and morality have little use for the love discourses. At best, they might concede the need for "tough love", meaning discipline without compromise. They interpret Jesus' treatment of the Scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites as an approach to be applied to the faults of everybody else.

Jesus' words to these spiritual leaders were hard not because they were sinners. We are all sinners. No, it was because they refused to accept Jesus' invitation to get closer to God, and even worse, hindered those who wanted to respond to Jesus' call. They were abusing their positions of authority. Jesus' approach to sinners was much like that of John the Baptist, who called everyone to wake up and repent, because the time is short. He attended first of all to the lost sheep of Israel, and did not go out of his way to attend to Gentiles or tax collectors. However, He was open to them and quick to welcome them at the first sign of faith or repentance.

Consider the faith of the Roman centurion whom Jesus warmly receives, and commends for his faith. Jesus engages the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well, looking for her faith to refresh Him. He pushes the Syro-Phoenician woman's buttons in order to get her to express her faith and immediately responds to her. He spots Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree and invites Himself to dinner at this tax collector's house, sensing the man is ripe for repentance. He gives Levi the nod right there in his tax booth and calls him to join his fledgling band of apostles. Levi unexplainably accepts, and takes the name Matthew. He becomes a new man. In his joy, he invites Jesus to a party at his house in His honor, and Jesus not only comes, but He coolly sits amid other sinners and undesirables, making Himself at home.

What would it look like if we were to imitate Jesus in his treatment of those who either don't know or don't care about our beliefs, values, and morals, or of those whose life or career choices put them in opposition to what we hold to be right, good and true? We thought that we should oppose such people tooth and nail, take every opportunity to defend what we consider right by condemning those we consider wrong, and certainly avoid their company, doing nothing favorable towards them that might in any way "reward" their evil behavior.

Perhaps the ultimate question here is: "Are love and truth compatible? Can they co-exist?" They certainly did in Jesus, who made the bold claim: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through Me." Jesus taught the truth without compromise, yet received sinners warmly. He loved his disciples; yet He rebuked Peter when the apostle set himself in opposition to the Father's will. So it's not a choice of either truth or love, but rather a complementary union of both of them. We are to love God with all we have and are, and love others as we love ourselves; while at the same time clinging to and proclaiming the truth. Jesus made no compromise about the truth when He spoke, preached, and taught; yet He left people free to draw their own conclusions, receive the truth in freedom, and abide by it out of goodness. If we are to follow Him, then we must leave them free as well.

It is inevitable that at times it falls to us to try to correct others, but if we do so from this perspective Jesus gives us as an example; then we will go about this fraternal correction in a way that is respectful and kind. We can still love others while we adhere to the truth, goodness, and righteousness. Doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong does not hinder us from loving others. On the contrary. At the very least, we can love others apart from their behavior. God raised the bar to the highest possible level by loving us despite our sins. He is Father to us, and the good parent still loves his children, even when they misbehave. He can punish, without interruption in his love. This is the new standard God sent his Son Jesus into the world to reveal. It's not impossible; in fact, we can't become fully human or fully alive without it. How's that for a shocker?

God loves us better because He knows we are sinners. The quality of his love is far superior to that of the one who only loves us when we are without sin. The gauntlet is down. God expects and invites us to love others in the very same way He loves us. Love and truth are not only compatible, they are joined at the hip. One cannot be fully what it is without the other.

As I realized this today and shared the insight with those who had come to worship the Lord, There was a quality of freedom and joy in the air and in our hearts. It is true what Jesus said, "The truth shall set you free." True freedom causes joy to erupt, because we find ourselves in the very air breathed by God, with his very life coursing through us. This is exactly the lift we need to embrace the love and truth combo and practice it, extending it to others. We need to resist our miserly human inclination to exchange the gift of love for an equal weight of the coins of truth. This is the bill of goods, the hybrid of belief and attitude that drives much of our human society, business, and culture. It doesn't have to be that way. There's a new paradigm, and its value is incalculable. We cannot buy it, but we can receive if for free if we are willing to give everything we have and our very life itself in order to make room for it. It is simply too big to take in if we try to keep all the old furniture. Which will you prefer?

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Gospel is being proclaimed all over the world today. Have you heard of Alpha?

The Alpha Course developed over the past 30 years as the Holy Trinity Brompton Anglican Church equivalent of our Roman Catholic Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. In the late 80's and early 90's it took a very "user friendly" form and is sweeping across the face of the Earth like a good brush fire.

It is also called "A Practical Introduction to the Christian Faith." Currently in Canada, we are engaged in what Alpha Canada calls the Annual Alpha National Initiative which this year is taking the form of a "Prayer Blitz". The whole point is to give people of today who are searching for meaning and purpose in their life an opportunity to personally meet Jesus Christ, who is not dead, but risen from the dead, the first human being to do so.

That He is also Son of God is the main reason why He was the first one to rise from the dead. This also explains why He has so much to offer every human being alive and walking the Earth at this moment and in every generation and in every circumstance of life: youth, on campus, in homes, in community centers, in prisons, in the workplace, in the military, in a Catholic context, and in pubs and restaurants! As Paul preached the good news in the public square in Corinth, so too any setting can become an ideal opportunity to proclaim and share the good news today.

Alpha Canada's hope and plan is to draw together the collaboration of Christian churches of all denominations; so that the entire nation can be invited to "attend and Alpha Supper in a church or other venue near you" and have the opportunity to go to "an Alpha Course near you." Who is Alpha for? Anyone who is searching for more, who is beginning to feel that something is missing, that there has to be more to life than what they have found to date.

If that's you, then Alpha is first and foremost for you. If you have a friend, or relative, work colleague, or classmate who is always asking you questions or who is also searching for more, why not invite them to go check it out with you?

If you can't get the hyperlinks, here are some URL's you can check out.

Alpha Canada: http://www.alphacanada.org/

Find a course near you: http://www.alphacanada.org/courses/search_course.php

Worldwide: http://alphacourse.org/

In the U.K.: http://uk.alphacourse.org/

Friday, September 02, 2005

"It's a Wonderful Life!" is the story of a simple Christian. Jesus is still the best Good News we've got.

Man, it's been a long time since my last post, and I just wiped out 3 paragraphs by trying to insert a hot link before saving as a draft. My old brain isn't as sharp in some ways as it once was. In any event, on April 1st, John Paul II was dying, and the next day he breathed his last. His death had a profound effect on millions of people. The real question is how deep and extensive is the impact he had upon us while he was alive? This question is what makes the classic film "It's a Wonderful Life." such a beloved movie, especially at Christmas time, and that's no coincidence!

Most people can tell the difference within them from relating to one person or another but may find it harder to know what effect they are having on others. Pope John Paul II knew much about the effects he had on people, because that has a lot to do with just being a Christian and more do to with also being a priest, let alone a bishop or the Pope, Bishop of Rome. I just went today to visit with a brother priest and friend the exhibit at Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal entitled "Saint Peter and the Vatican. The Legacy of the Popes." Walking through history, as it were, stirred up a whole lot of significant memories in me.

I remember the day Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was elected Pope John Paul II. It was my first year of seminary formation for the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church, and on October 16, 1978 the new pope came out and addressed all of humanity, exclaiming "Do not be afraid to open wide the doors to Jesud Christ!"

Those words were like a blazing sword of fire cutting through my spirit like a hot knife through butter, only it wasn't something painful, on the contrary. It was rather like the lightning stroke one feels when one suddenly falls in love. There is a moment of recognition: "This is really good, beautiful, rich, precious... and I want it. I want to give myself to it, to him/her." or "Hey! That's what I've been looking for, or this is who I am, but I hadn't realized it until now. This is who I want to be from now on, and completely!"

The surge of power that went through me that day has left an indelible impact in my spirit, no, more than that, what happened in me that day was alive, and it lives still in me, and goes on growing, developing, and bearing fruit, like a tree. This is one way to recognize the power of God at work within us, in a human life.

Pope John Paul II was where he was because since the age of 16 or younger he had become familiar with this living power, and had come to recognize it in the form of three persons known to Christians as God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He had become so enraptured by these divine Persons, that even as a young man he found the freedom and enthusiasm to freely surrender his life to an unending relationship with them in a life of service out of love.

This is what it means to be a Roman Catholic priest. A bishop leads and cares for priests as well as the faithful as a father, and the Bishop of Rome is the bishop among equals chosen by the others to care as a father for all the others as well as for all the Catholic Christians in the world.

No human being could be so bold as to claim to be able to do such a thing, unless he were insane of course. However, it is a commonplace belief for all Christians that what is impossible for humans becomes suddenly possible when we accept to be in partnership with God. It is the divine partnership of the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit that made Pope John Paul II such a powerful figure and effective servant of humanity.

Would you believe that you can have the same kind of experience? Well, it's true! Even if you have a hard time in believing in God! All you have to do is want to do it and go ahead and do it. Just call out from within your spirit, the center within where your heart and mind and psyche and body become one, and say, "Are You really there? Please let me know, and in a way that I can know that it must be You because there could be no other explanation." Then brace yourself and see what happens.

Keep in mind a few things. The eye sees by being sensitive to electormagnetic waves we call light. The ear hears by being sensitive to dynamic sympathtic waves we call sound. The skin feels by being sensitive to air waves we call breeze or wind.

The soul or spirit perceives by being sensitive to "movement" or "touch" within itself. It's like the example I gave above of what happened within me when I heard Pope John Paul's first words to the world. It's also like what happens to us when we're with a really good perosn and friend. There is movement within us, we are touched by who this person is, what they say, how they feel, the way they look at us, the care they show us, and so on. We are changed by this person and are no logner quite the way we were before this encounter.

It is that way with other human beings, and it is also this way with the three divine persons. Why shouldn't it be? A person is a person. So, go ahead and call out. Talk to a Christian you know who has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, his Father, and the Holy Spirit. Talk to a pastor, or go to a church.

Find out where there will soon be an Alpha Course near you - go check out the Alpha Canada website. What have you got to lose? You have everything to gain, both now on earth, and for ever in the eternal life beginning after death. Jesus is still the best Good News humanity has ever had or will ever have! Don't just take my word for it. See for yourself! If the hotlink feature isn't working, so here's the URL: http://www.alphacanada.org/

Friday, April 01, 2005

Pope John Paul II was a living witness to Jesus Christ, and to the reality that Human Civilization is ever in progress, a construction site....

We now approach another Advent and Christmas season, and it's a year and a half since Pope John Paul II died and went to his eternal reward. What an instrument of God this man was, that at the time of his dying, death, funeral, and its aftermath he drew more undivided attention from people of all nations and faiths as no one had ever done before in such a way that gave so many people a glimpse of the human bond that unites all human beings that it was reminiscent of what we call the "spirit of Christmas". May these days be an occasion of a fruitful reflection for you on the meaning and purpose of life in light of the revelation of God given to humanity in Jesus Christ! November 27th, 2006.

Christ is risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!

As we witness Pope John Paul II serenely and prayerfully surrender his life into the merciful hands of his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, I am filled with emotion and with memories, ever since that day October 16, 1978 when, at the beginning of my first semester at St. Paul University Seminary in Ottawa, I witnessed Karol Wojtyla be elected Bishop of Rome. "Be not afraid to open the doors to Jesus Christ!" he proclaimed. He has profoundly marked my life of faith and inspired my ministry as a Roman Catholic priest and pastor.

Often, in the course of shepherding the people of God entrusted to me or who simply come up to me or call, I have reflected on countless life issues and situations. Inspired by Pope John Paul II's dedication to preaching and teaching the truth and to showing pastoral charity to believer and unbeliever alike, I have accumulated some reflections in such questions as: Why go to church on Sunday?

What is the significance of praying the Rosary - how is that in accord with Jesus' command that we pray to his Father? Why do Catholics give such attention to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and isn't that taking away from the worship we owe to Christ the Lord?

In fact, Catholic and Orthodox faith in Mary's God given privilege of having already shared in the Resurrection of Jesus is supported by St. Paul to the Corinthians, in his first letter, where he says that Christ is the first fruits of those to rise from the dead, followed by those that belong to Him. It is clear then that Christ valued his own Mother above all others by sharing the grace of resurrection with her first.

Other questions often asked are such as these: Of what value is prayer, and of what use is it for couples to pray together? Why does the Roman Catholic Church make such a fuss over sex and why has the Pope been so conservative about sexuality? Why do the youth at World Youth Days cheer Pope John Paul II when he appeals to them to safeguard their chastity?

Is the Bible true or is it just a myth? What's wrong with a Catholic Christian or any Christian joining a Masonic lodge, the Free Masons? Why don't more recently ordained priests want to celebrate Mass for our family or group, when our previous pastor/priest would celebrate Mass for us at home or for our group?

There are many more questions that come up, and you will find many of them given excellent treatment by Fr. Thomas Dowd in his blog.

Let's continue to pray for our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, now and beyond his hour of death, that the Lord may grant him a swift entry into eternal life and the reward of his banquet table; notwithstanding any regrets or shortcomings or sins he may have on his conscience. God bless you and your loved ones!

Monday, March 07, 2005

You don't need adrenaline rushes and extreme sports to feel alive. What a ride it is just really being a Christian, and even more so a R.C. priest!



www.march4marriage.ca


www.march4marriage.ca



I can't believe it's already been 2 months since my last post... and I thought that I "was back". Well, I was back from a wonderful sabbatical experience in Chicago, and back into the amazing adventure of pastoring a parish here in the Archdiocese of Montreal. There is so much to engross a pastor and completely fill his time. I mean, everyday I awaken to life as a Christian, let alone to that of still being a pastor in a parish full of vitality and activity, where people gather to be strengthened weekly or even daily on their pilgrimage to the "Lord's House" and their life as Catholic Christians in the world.

As Christians, we observe and bump into so much that is not true, evil, or ugly, in life around us and even within us, and we are to refuse no battle. However, we have limits and at times must learn to choose our battles, or engage in those in which it is clear that we must. We ever seek the Lord's guidance, and He most often speaks to us through our loved ones, those to whom we have committed ourselves in a loving relationship, or one of caring and responsibility. Our God is ever helping us to be the best child, sibling, spouse, parent, godparent, friend, employee, or employer that we can be. We give glory to God by doing even small things well, with excellence, and with great love.

The thread that runs through my previous recent blogs going back to the sabbatical experience in Chicago last Fall continues to occupy me daily. Every day, what is of the utmost importance is that I remain awake and relate in a lively way to our Beloved "tri-personal God", in whom I can also remain awake, attentive, and available to others, my neighbor, in my personal family and in the family of faith, in which I live out my Christian calling as a father, a shepherd, in the Lord to his people.

As a priest, I certainly don't need to do extreme sports or drugs in order to have the impression that I'm still alive. I do find it odd that so many today need to ride the edge of death in order to feel even a bit alive or to get a rush of adrenaline in order to feel they're not dead yet. It's a sad and dangerous thing to allow oneself to become so desensitized by the brash noise and strident posturing of the fringes of our culture that ordinary living seems somehow unreal to people. It's becoming increasingly true for many that if they could see themselves on T.V. they would finally know that they are alive and that their life is real or worth living, because all through the day, as they are actually living their life, they do not feel alive, or their life doesn't seem real or of value to them.

I am in the thick of my own "reality show" every moment... most especially when I come before the Lord to entertain his marvelous presence and be entertained by Him - which is what prayer is about - and when I go to people or receive them here in my office or in church, but also when I am alone with my thoughts and a wave of new thoughts comes in like the new tide, and I just know that some of these are a gift from the Lord, shedding so much light on many things.

I shared a wonderful moment of fraternity with a close priest friend today... we chatted and shared what's happening in our lives, then we prayed together, had some breakfast, and then went out into the arctic cold and did some cross-country skiing for an hour and a half, came back chatting, and had some lunch together, before going our separate ways. Because we share the great adventure of the priesthood, we once again reflected very deeply on what we are going through, what we see the Lord doing for his people through us, and where the tide of God's grace seems to be leading us.

Once again, it was my great privilege this weekend to hear the confessions of many, older and younger, and witness the faith journey of those for whom our Beloved Jesus suffered and died, that they too might have eternal life at the heart of God, beginning even now, and lasting into eternity. We live in a culture indifferent to hostile towards God and the values He has given us to live, and we really need to "be astute or cunning as serpents and innocent as doves" in order to realize what's going on in the world and not be taken in by the lies and deceit, the lust and the greed, and the power games.

I continue to work on my research project on pastoring in the parish setting, and have also written some reflections on intimacy in married couples and prayer for them and engaged couples. I am still learning to "upload" documents to my website so I can link them to his blog. I'm not as fast as the younger generation, but with time I know I will be able to do this. It's a wonderful thing to be involved in this new mode of "instant publishing".

In addition to the ongoing seasons and tasks required in the preparation of the Sunday Liturgy, faith education for all ages, sacramental ministry, and personal guidance, there is the oversight of the various ministries and ongoing renewal of leadership, as people eventually leave one thing to do another or spend more time with their families. As well, as we approach my final year as pastor, it will be both useful and necessary to call the faith community into a spiritual exercise of good discipleship by reflecting on and giving an account of our stewardship as members of this Parish and in the various roles we have each undertaken.

These reflections and reports will become a historical record which will compose an ongoing Parish History. Our webmaster can already see interesting possibilities for posting elements of our history and activity on the web. So many things... important and exciting activity... Like I said, I don't need to take anything to know that I'm alive. Just being a priest and trying to do my best with God as my partner is an incredible ride! Reality in spades!

To be continued....