Friday, May 26, 2023

Here I Am. Send Me.


A lot of hand-wringing and angst-tweeting by faithful Catholics with the in-your-face juggernaut of corporate Pride, Inc. as the month of June is peeking its colorful head around the corner. It can often feel like a David and Goliath situation and I don't blame our brethren for staying in their safe spaces and raising cain from a keyboard. Real life is sloppy and often unscripted. A lot of times, even though people won't always admit it to themselves, people are just trying to figure things out as they go.

I spent the afternoon having lunch with a now-friend who is a member of our parish community. I listened intently to him for an hour and a half relay the tales of the pre-indult period spent fighting to sustain the Latin Mass in our diocese, from the early 1960's til not too long ago. He (and his elderly father) were in the trenches: invested in time, money, energy, and spiritual capital to keep the flame of tradition alive when everything around them was working to make sure it was snuffed out for good; the "Latin Mass celebrated in a hotel" were not just fairy tales from a time long long ago. They also endured hostility from all sides, and were not immune to in-fighting as well.  At times it was barely a flicker of light in a vast darkness, and I don't think many people newer to tradition realize what was endured during those early days. 

There were no blue-prints or script for how to go about fighting these battles; but they knew what was at stake and that it was worth fighting for. I admire that, as I admire my now-friend, even if there is a lot I am still working through myself and how little I still know about the history of the Council and the tumultuous wake it left faithful Catholics in. In speaking (or rather listening) to him, it became clear that there is no 'perfect way' of going about these things, and the only ones who get it right are the Monday-morning quarterbacks and critics highlighting the shortcomings after the fact. 

I'm a little bit of a thinker, but it's more outweighed by the impetus to 'do.' I loathe meetings and conferences and talking ad nauseum when it isn't followed by action. When I reflect back on my time spent in the Lion's Den of San Francisco Pride six years ago when I took a red-eye out from the East Coast to SFO to witness to the 1M+ attendees there to the truth of the Gospel, there were many times I thought to myself "What the hell am I doing? I just dropped $700 on a flight to stand in the middle of a mob of gay activists and BDSM hedonists for four hours and hand out rosaries and witness to a people who want to hear nothing of what I have to say, then fly back the same day. And I have an abject fear of crowds to boot! Why, why am I doing this? I don't want to do this!" The answer was pretty straight-forward: The Lord through the Holy Spirit sighed "Who shall I send? Who will go for us?" and before I could think twice or second-guess it, I replied: Here I am. Send me! (Is 6:8)

I didn't know what to expect, or what I was expecting. It seemed like a fool's errand. But as I have lived as a Catholic for the past twenty five years, my inner convictions in one area have stayed firm: if I can bring even one person to Christ and the Gospel and the truth of the Catholic faith, I can die having lived a good and purposeful life. In that massive sea of rainbow fish, there may have been one soul swimming upstream in his mind but not knowing where he was going. It was raining men all day, but I was fishing--not with a massive net on a commercial ship, but with a single rosary line on a clapboard tugboat. Souls are often won one at a time, and even that one soul you may have to fight and plead tooth and nail for. 

So, I went. I remember feeling like a fool, but also at peace for having the assurance of the Holy Spirit that at least in that moment, I was doing what God was calling me to do. Not bitching, not complaining, but taking action. It was a good lesson for me, and one I kept close to my heart years later. 

The funny thing is there was a moment when I felt the Holy Spirit clearly saying GO and I hesitated for an hour or so. We were on vacation at the time, and I remember when I was checking available flights online (an hour later, as I was hemming and hawing and thinking this was crazy), the one I was going to book suddenly jumped up $200 more than the one from an hour before. It was the only flight out of PHL that came back the same day, but it was going to cost me a good bit more. So I booked it. It was a good lesson--when the Lord calls, don't hesitate to answer. 

 I should mention too I work in an extremely LGBTQ friendly-Marxist environment, so it felt especially tenuous and I was fearful of any professional repercussions were I to get caught up in any media presence, etc. A lot of those fears were unfounded. A valuable lesson I learned from a civil-rights activist (which I quoted from in my article Christian Men, Take the Beating) and took to heart was this:

"They made black people experience the worst of the worst, collectively, that white people could dish out, and discover that it wasn’t that bad. They taught black people how to take a beating—from the southern cops, from police dogs, from fire department hoses. They actually coached young people how to crouch, cover their heads with their arms and take the beating. They taught people how to go to jail, which terrified most decent people.  

And you know what? The worst of the worst wasn’t that bad. Once people had been beaten, had dogs sicced on them, had fire hoses sprayed on them, and been thrown in jail, you know what happened?

These magnificent young black people began singing freedom songs in jail. That, my friends, is what ended the terrorism of the south. Confronting your worst fears, living through it, and breaking out in a deep-throated freedom song. The jailers knew they had lost when they beat these young Negroes and the jailed, beaten young people began to sing joyously, first in one town then in another." 

If you know what's right, you don't count the cost. You fight for it. You go where you are called. You obey the Lord. You take the beating. 

I found in a deep-recess of my email my reflections from that day in the belly of the beast. It's interesting to read it now, because I, too, get comfortable in my little Catholic bubble, my safe space. I don't want to look like a fool. I have a lot to lose. But there is a danger, too, in not obeying the Lord, passing by opportunities to witness, ignoring grace or signal graces or gut-feelings, not only speaking when you should hold your tongue but holding your tongue when you should speak, or only speaking when you should be marching, or only marching when you should be locking and loading. 

We are called to labor and work, and we don't need to always do it perfectly, with imaginary Catholic critics in the back of our heads pointing out all the things we are doing wrong. Half the battle is showing up, and when you live by faith you are given your marching orders but not a crystal ball. The Lord gives us what we need to know in that moment, and not before. 

I may be accused of getting things wrong more often than not--but it's harder to accuse those who seek to be faithful and follow and back it up with the imperfect labor of the the second son, the one who says, "I won't go," and then puts his gloves on.  

So, do the work. Don't worry. After all, you are called to be faithful, not successful. 

Sent: Sunday, June 25, 2017 at 08:21:35 PM EDT


It has been a marathon day, and I'm pretty spent, but God is so good. A few reflections from SF Pride while it's fresh in my mind:

The first is that everyone was pretty pleasant and free-spirited for the most part. There was not a lot of belligerence, no yelling and minimal confrontation. These are not "bad people," but as i see it, they are lost, hurting people, and also other people just going along with the crowd. There was a lot of drugs in the air, you could smell it everywhere, so maybe people were just happy I don't know. Joseph is very mild mannered and polite and admits that his presence there is a bit of a Johnny Appleseed operation. People didn't know what to make of us. I think they were so pleasant because there were many gay-affirming churches present at booths and I guess they thought we were just members of another one of them, since we were wearing shirts that said, "Jesus loves gay men and women." Which is true, but hard to go into it on the street...that Jesus everyone without exception, loves us so much he wants more for us than what we degrade ourselves to. It was boots-on-the-ground ministry and hard to connect one-on-one, so we gave out rosary bracelets and a card with Joseph's website, I think in the hopes that they will visit the site after the parade at home when things aren't so crazy. Joseph said his site gets about twenty times more traffic in the days after Pride. I remember the first post I read when I found his website was 'Hell is For Real' about his near-death experience. I think that's what struck me about the day, what I made mention to Susan: this parade, this's not reality. It's somebody's reality, but it's not what is really true and really real. It is as if there is a cliff behind the curtain, and nobody really sees it. For four hours I wore a smile (a genuine one, mind you) and said more "God bless you's" than I could count. But on the inside I was breaking up at the offenses against our Lord, the perversion. I offered up the soreness, the sunburn, the hunger and thirst to The Lord in the hopes he would pardon such offenses, an act of reparation that pales with what he endured on the cross for us.

Something interesting note as well was that this really was a quasi-religious event, albeit not in the traditional sense. There was a procession of sorts, down Market Street. There were men in underwear dancing on platforms wearing angel wings. One man was dressed as the pope in mockery, blessing people...another, Our Lady, a kind of blasphemous Madonna. Why would they do this? Like Satanists who do not have Black Masses at a Methodist church, or an Episcopal church, or a Baptist church...they mock the Catholic Church, and desecrate the Eucharist. And it was very similar here. Satan mocks, and he doesn't bother to mock what has no power. But there was also a hunger here, a hunger for God and what is religious and even Catholic...but not on God's terms. It was a perverted substitution. There was also a legitimate sense of a craving for love and affirmation, but somewhere along the line a hurt, a trauma maybe came in and something must have failed along the way. Joseph has written about this. You wouldn't believe how many rosary bracelets we gave away, people wanted them, but in a way in which they did not understand.  There was dancing and laughter and happiness, but it felt like a facade because like Joseph, I know what's on the other side. It is easy, so easy to go along with what is around you, when you are surrounded by it as the majority, and it's even seen as good. But it was like...I felt like I was in an alternative universe where everything was upside down. It didn't shake my faith, but it made me fearful of God's judgment. God has been so patient with us, and I think that time may be running out, and so I pray the rosary every day and if anything flying out here has convinced me to start fasting and offering up sacrifices for conversions. Because there is really nothing we can do on our own, the force against us is to strong. We need God. NEED Him. And prayer is an indispensable weapon in this fight.

One thing that bothered me was seeing children at an event like this. I thought of my own children, and so many other children...toddlers, pre-teens, and adolescents...who are just being born into this confusion and won't know any different.

Joseph made an interesting point too, that there were many corporate sponsors of the event, a lot of backing. It felt like Goliath, honestly...a powerful force to be reckoned with. I felt like a needle in a haystack. I had peace and an assurance of being on the 'wrong side of history,' because it was evident that this was the history of man, not God, for God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor 14:33). It made my heart heavy, but only because as a Christian I was finally entering into the fray; it was new to me, but not new to human history, for the world will hate us because it hated Him first (Jn 15:18), and we'd better get used to it if we want to be Christ's disciple.

My final reflection is that the scene was just saturated with sex. It's like you get numb to it. And that's not how God intended sex to be. There was no modesty at all, and I'm not talking in a prissy kind of way. I wasn't scandalized by it per se, but it's just...if people knew the power and holiness of sex as God intended it. I don't know. It's like a secret, but one that God wants us to know. There was a part of the parade where people would engage in all kinds of perversions, and Joseph said in the past he has gone over and prayed over that area, you know outstretching his hand and all. And people would react violently, the way demonics would react to being exorcised kind of.

I can't help but think the Church has let people down. I'm not talking about the Catechism or the Holy Spirit's assurance that the gates of Hell will not prevail against Her. I'm talking about waffling and wavering in practice. The temptation to be liked is so strong, and I'm sure those in ministry and pastoring have made the mistake of capitulating so as not to be hated. Well guess what? If you're not hated for your faith, it should give you pause. Because we are past time for dialogue and understanding. You'd better pick up sides and get on your knees when you see what we are up against, the way Satan has his way in the world. Now, I'm late to this fight, so maybe I'm just as much to blame. But the narrow path is becoming more clear to me as the only way to be saved. It should have been clear from the start.

I'm tired and sunburned, hungry and thirsty, and I thank God and give him praise for the opportunity to offer it up these pittances and to taste some of the derision and sorrow He experienced as he hung for us, men of the mob who favored Barrabas over the very Son of God. I don't know why he called me fly out here from Philadelphia. I hope maybe we touched one person. God bless Joseph for his endurance and compassion and commitment to Truth in a way that is not always understood or accepted as normative, and to people who most of us would not minister to. What a blessing to go into the trenches with him, even if just for a day. And thank you thank you thank for all your prayers, they sustained us for sure.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Analog Memories: Falling In Love and Coming of Age in the 1990's


I still remember my first heartbreak. I was seventeen years old, and worked in the summer portaging canoes at a tubing place on the shores of the Delaware river. I had just gotten my license, and my parents would let me take the blood red Plymouth Reliant K to work since my father was off from teaching in the summer. I was stationed a few miles down the river with another guy; we would spend time waiting for customers to pull up on shore, then we would load and rack their tubes and canoes. The guy who ran the establishment, our boss, was a stern German who came over to America and ended up buying the tubing place. After work on the weekends we would go to one of the local guy's houses in Upper Black Eddy and listen to DJ Krush and smoke bowls and talk. I would drive home at 20mph. 

I fell in love that summer. Her name was Jessie, and she was a punk rock girl from Jersey with a boyfriend who didn't treat her all that well. We worked together at the tubing place. She was short, with short hair, and the sweetest girl I had ever known. We liked a lot of the same emo, SKA and punk bands--MxPx, MU330, Less Than Jake--and I made her mixed-tapes as a token of my affection. She was also a Christian. I found a poem I wrote to her in my archives, dated August 1997, that at the time I felt captured the inebriating excitement of young love before the age of the internet. 

August Night 

The night is sticky

    But shivers run my spine

Crickets sing alone

    Yet create perfect harmony

An orchestra under the stars--

A perfect ending to an August night.

Moisture taken in

Heels knock together

Sweat mingles with dew

Mind moves the speed of a dragonfly's wings


Relaying a lone scene not soon to be forgotten.

Sleep doesn't come that night

It's much too sticky for sleep.

The crisp air has not smacked me yet.

It was an innocent love, but it wasn't reciprocated. Although we spent the summer working together and occasionally getting together to hang out late night on playgrounds and looking at the stars in farmers' fields, and I knew she had feelings for me, she was loyal to her boyfriend and eventually decided it wasn't right for her to spend time with me in that way. It was my first real broken heart, and it took my breath away. I would drive late at night listening to Led Zeppelin's Achille's Last Stand and wondering how to get out from under the crushing feeling; on occasion I would ride my bike to her house across the river just to see if from the road I could see her in the window.

Because I wasn't a Christian in high school, I had no qualms about drinking, though it was never out of control or anything, and never really on my own. Every few months there would be a buzz about someone's parents going out of town and they were throwing a party. Everything spread through word of mouth, "Are you going to so-and-so's house tonight?" Everyone had house phones; I kept a little book in my wallet of phone numbers; the A-list friends you knew by heart. No cell phones, no GPS. You just found out about things and found your way to them by one way or another. We had the internet, I think, but nobody really spent much time on it. Parties were an analog affair. I was friends with everyone--the "jocks," the skaters, the goth kids, the theater kids. Our star cross-country runner was a thin red-headed Irish kid with alcoholism in his family. I remember at one party he was drinking from a handle of vodka, paused and turn his head to throw up, and then resumed the conversation and drinking as if he was just blowing his nose. He went on to win the state championship that year. 

I worked in the summers--cleaning rich people's swimming pools, waiting tables, testing welds in a propane factory--in addition to my regular jobs, and picking up various jobs through a temp agency. Before I started working when I was 16 (in addition to having worked delivering newspapers every morning starting at age 12), we would spend summers at Fannie Chapman, the community pool--making crank calls on the payphone, drinking cans of A-treat and buying Swedish fish for a penny a piece, and exploring in the woods. Occasionally we would get swept up in a "walnut war" where we flung black walnut pods the size of golf balls at each other and would have to take cover behind trees. One time one of the Andriocchio twins got hit straight between the eyes with one and it almost knocked him out cold.

We also played something called "Town Tag" where we would walk into town after school and split up into two teams. You could go into stores and occasionally we would climb up the fire escapes onto the top of the buildings to elude the other team. Afterwards, we would spend a few dollars at Nuts Plus on candy and other things.

I typically walked or biked to school, and it was either a mile or so by way of the street, or I could cut through backyards and across the railroad tracks to shorten my "commute." Occasionally my friends would pick me up on the way. My best friend was a Christian who didn't drink or smoke, but was always looking for something to get into. One time after class we did a drive-by of the school in his blue Camry with a semi-automatic paintball gun and made a mess of things. We were laughing and driving away when we noticed in the rear-view the female janitor (who we had dubbed "Dances With Trash") was jumping in her truck and chasing after us and ended up having a high speed chase, though she never did catch us. I felt bad for Dances With Trash, even years later, as she was probably left to clean up our paintball graffiti. She didn’t deserve that.

In middle school, there would occasionally be fights in the parking lot behind the white paneled Methodist church adjacent to the school. To this day I have never thrown a punch in my entire life and wouldn't even know how to fight, but these were pretty big affairs which, like the parties we would go to, would just spread analog style by word of mouth. People would gather in a circle of bodies and the two parties would go at it with fists. 

There was a abandoned railroad station near our house where I still remember meeting Big Ben Williams and some other guys to pore over the centerfolds in a pilfered Playboy from his dad. My parents never taught me about sex--you just kind of pieced together second-hand info from friends and classmates and did your best to figure it out as you went along.

We would follow those same SEPTA R5 lines on the weekends on foot, Stand By Me style, just to have something to do. We walked them as far as we could and told each other stories along the way. We had a rope swing, too, that was in a secret spot in the woods but that a lot of kids knew about, where we would spend time getting air and swimming in the creek. There was a four foot high concrete drainage tunnel that cut under the bypass we would use to cut down the walking time between friends' houses. You would scrape the spine of your back after a while. Late nights on the weekends we would go to Perkins and order bottomless mugs of coffee and smoke packs of Camel Lights at the table, inside. Seems unfathomable to do something like that today....something from another era. 

And it was. It's a unique thing as a Gen Xer to straddle between two worlds--knowing what life was like before the ubiquitous use of technology usurped and co-opted and instant-sized everything. The nostalgia of being young was mingled with a time when you were just bored and creative and up for anything to fill time. Everything was in real-time. It wasn't innocent, but it wasn't completely debased either. Time wasn't logged; moments weren't saved, apart from in your mind or with a Kodak point-and-shoot. 

It's hard to recapture the suffocation of heartbreak at that age, or the exhilaration of checking voicemails from your friends on the cassette tape after a week of vacation, or the anticipating of picking up your developed film from the photo kiosk where every-picture-counted, or hearing your favorite song on the radio and rushing to hit the stiff "Record" button on the tape deck, or getting a letter from a friend in the mail and taking it to a quiet place out back to read it. The last of the analog eras. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

A Practical Guide To The Works Of Mercy


One of the lamentable pendulum swings in the Church today is to associate the works of mercy we are commanded by the Lord throughout scripture to perform with the "SJW" camp. It's not an unmerited reaction: at the small CINO college where I used to work, the Catholic identify of the institution was summed up in a pithy "we do service." And indeed, the students made sandwiches for the homeless, ran clothing drives, and visited the elderly sisters in the convent's nursing home.  All good things that we are called to as Christians--and all things a secular humanist could do just as well. 

So what makes Christian charity different? Love undergirds everything in the true Christian life, as the Apostle writes, "let all your things be done in charity" (1 Cor 16:14), while charity comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and an unfeigned faith (1 Tim 1:5). 

In the fourth chapter of his epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul also writes of the different gifts of the Spirit given to the brethren:

"And he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and other some evangelists, and other some pastors and doctors, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Ep 4:11-12)

Likewise, the Church lays out for us once again a "both/and" charge to do the works of mercy-- corporal and spiritual. Whereas a Social Worker (who may or may not be Christian) may devote his or her life to the former as a matter of vocation (in the secular sense), a devout Christian may see his work primary as spiritual in nature: praying, making reparations, etc. And indeed some cloistered religious do devote their life to this noble calling 24/7 (Carthusians, Carmelites, etc) 

But for many of us lay persons living in the world, I think a both/and approach is appropriate for our state in life. The degree to which we are able to serve and in what capacity given our constraints varies, but I do think many of us do structure our lives in a way which precludes much "space" for charity--the way we often given "from our surplus, not our need" (Mk 12:44) when God calls for first fruits. As Catholics, we know we are capable of structuring our lives to put "first things first," i.e., the Divine Law, as evidenced in making Sunday Mass and the laying fallow of the Sabbath a priority regardless of our schedules and circumstances. But do we also prioritize the practical exercise of charity to evidence our faith in the same way?

It is harder to do when we see the exercise of charity and the works of mercy as an obligation (which it is) rather than an opportunity and means of blessing for both giver and those that receive it. This is not always easy to do, especially for those who tirelessly work in fields in which their exercise of this work goes unappreciated and taken for granted. But this, too, is a blessing from the Lord, who sees in secret and repays in kind (Mt 6:4). And the Lord makes this a practical opportunity, for "when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind; And thou shalt be blessed, because they have not wherewith to make thee recompense: for recompense shall be made thee at the resurrection of the just (Lk 14:13-14).

So, we are called to exercise charity, to perform the works of mercy--both corporal and spiritual. So, what are they, and what are some ways we can live them out in a concrete manner? See below (note, in the interest of brevity I may share some links of things I've written already on the particular work of mercy from past posts):


Feed the Hungry

Give Drink to the Thirsty

Clothe the Naked

I am grouping these three corporal works together because in the hierarchy of human needs and in our modern society, they can be performed simultaneously. At our old parish, we would pack snack bags with granola bars, fruit, sandwiches, etc with bottles of water and do a "walk around the block" before Mass so our kids could hand them out to the veterans and others who seemed like they could use some nourishment. We also encouraged them to pray beforehand and ask the Holy Spirit to "send someone" into their purview to receive this offering.

In recent years we have pulled back on donations to formal charities and instead have also prayed for opportunities to exercise this in a way that hurts a little more with particular families in need. In more than one occasion we were made aware of large families in which the husband had been laid off, or injured; in many of these instances the families were not destitute but it was also harder for them to qualify for aid (the "fall through the cracks" dilemma) and we wanted to simply ease the burden for them. In every circumstance so far, they were eventually able to get back on their feet and use the money for groceries, mortgages, and other necessary expenses. I try to write the check quickly, for an amount bigger than I would rationalize if I was using my head, send it off and forget it was ever written. 

Visit the Imprisoned

This work of mercy, too, can be a literal application. It took me a while to get clearances at our local county prison, but once I did I made monthly visits to both large groups of men (to read the scriptures to them out loud) and to individual inmates. Not everyone may be able to do this, but in lieu of physical visits there is always the opportunity to be a pen-pal to someone who is incarcerated. What's nice about this is even busy homemakers or working dads can carve out a half hour to write a letter and all it costs is the price of a stamp. When was the last time you got a letter in the mail? Isn't it nice?

Shelter the Homeless

Sheltering the homeless can be taken literally, but for many of us with families and small children, it is not always prudent and takes discernment. However, one thing we have done as a family is host families of limited means for a few nights whose child with cancer needed treatment at a nearby city hospital when Ronald McDonald house was full. We did this through this organization, which is not religious but nevertheless provides a good service for those who may not be able to afford hotel accommodations. 

Visit the Sick

This afternoon my daughter and I paid a visit to an elderly woman in a rehab facility. This is really low-hanging fruit that really cheers the neglected Christs in places like this, many of whom do not have families to visit and suffer from crushing loneliness. We brought some flowers from the yard in a jelly jar and a Miraculous Medal on a chain as a small gift. We stayed and chatted for about ten minutes total. It's also a nice thing to do with your kids, since the elderly seem to really love seeing them. I got the contact from our parish secretary who knew of shut-ins and those unable to get to Mass. It wasn't complicated, took no special skill, and took all of half an hour. 

Bury the Dead

This is one where many us, unless we are undertakers, may not do. We have a funeral to go to in a couple weeks, but are of course not actually doing the burying. But we did have a Mass said for the deceased, which is a great spiritual benefit to their souls. 


Admonish the Sinner

See my post Why (and How) To Admonish a Brother In Charity. This can be a very hard work of mercy, and takes discernment, but may save his soul in the end. 

Instruct the Ignorant

I had a co-worker mention that she went to Mass recently because her son was going through CCD and doing his first Penance. I knew she didn't go to Mass regularly, but mentioned she received Communion. I mentioned (as charitably as I could) that the Church expects us to go to Confession at least once a year, and always when we are in a state of mortal sin, and that not attending Mass every Sunday and HDO is a mortal sin. I emailed her a detailed examination of conscience and told her to read it and encouraged her to join her son and make use of the Sacrament of Penance. She admitted she is a "bad Catholic" for rarely attending Mass outside of Christmas and Easter and never going to Confession. But at least she can't claim ignorance now.

Sometimes we need to pop people's bubble as a spiritual work of mercy, regardless of how uncomfortable it is and how badly they have been catechized so they no longer have any excuse. We can do it charitably, but we need to do it when we have the opportunity, or we will be judged just as harshly as a sin of omission.

Counsel the Doubtful

Comfort the Sorrowful

My wife is good about being available to women with things like a kitchen table and a cup of tea. She's a good listener, and a good encourager too. Many people today are struggling with doubts and anxiety, and we can encourage by making time and space for them in invitation. As St. Paul says, "encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing" (1 Thes 5:11) And when we encounter someone who is downcast and hurting, we share their cross, mourning with those who mourn (Rom 12:15). "Love and hurry are fundamentally incompatible. Love always takes time, and time is the one thing hurried people don't have."

Bear Wrongs Patiently

See what this looks like in my post By Your Words You Shall Be Condemned, where I cover some of St. Ambrose's treatise on the matter. 

Forgive All Injuries

Forgiveness can take really deep work, and grace is necessary for it to be perfected. See Forgive Quickly, Before You Change Your Mind. If we do not forgive our brother, our heavenly Father will not forgive us. So it's important!

Pray For The Living And The Dead

See my article The Tender Favor of Indulgences for more on this efficacious and much neglected work of mercy.


We will be judged on our tangible charity (Mt 25) and true religion is caring for widows and orphans (Ja 1:27). But it doesn't have to be complicated! As mentioned above, a lot of these are low-hanging fruit, and don't take any special skill--just charity, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit given to anyone who asks (Mt 7:11). You may also find you do not hit all of these, and that's okay too. But it's also okay to "try out" different works to round out your character as a Christian. These are just some suggestions, and I only share what we have done not as any kind of merit, but to give some tangibility and examples of what one can do. The perfect is the enemy of the good. As one of my friends is fond of saying, "half the battle is just showing up!"

Monday, May 22, 2023

Confess Your Sins While You Still Can


One of the worst tragedies of the modern Church is the downplaying of sin--both its reality and its effects. The number of ignorant Catholics who have not been taught the necessity of repentance through the Sacrament of Penance to rejoin the chasm between our Creator and creature severed by mortal sin are legion. Even if one is not in mortal sin, but guilty of venial sin and imperfections, the Sacrament is a great grace to strengthen one's spiritual life and encourage compunction that should not be taken for granted.

Though individuals must answer to their Maker for every idle word spoken at the Judgement (Mt 12:36), there is also a great and terrible judgement reserved for those priests and bishops who did not do all they could to preach the message of the Baptist, the harbinger of the Christ: "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand" (Mt 3:2). And likewise the words of St. Peter, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). And our Lord to St. John: "Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you" (Rev 3:3)

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die (Ecc 3:1), and we do not know when that hour comes (Mt 24:42). 

So for those who lay sick and dying, who have been baptized as Catholics, one would think they would be desirous to confess their sins out of compunction and receive the grace of being washed clean. But alas, we often die as we live. Thankfully the Church in Christ's mercy is given the sacrament of Extreme Unction/Last Rites, otherwise known in the new Catechism as Anointing of the Sick. From the 1992 Catechism:

“The special grace of the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has as its effects: the uniting of the sick person to the passion of Christ, for his own good and that of the whole Church; the strengthening, peace, and courage to endure in a Christian manner the sufferings of illness or old age; the forgiveness of sins, if the sick person was not able to obtain it through the sacrament of penance; the restoration of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of his soul; the preparation for passing over to eternal life” (CCC 1532)

And from the Catechism of Trent: 

"As all care should be taken that nothing impede the grace of the Sacrament, and as nothing is more opposed to it than the consciousness of mortal guilt, the constant practice of the Catholic Church must be observed of administering the Sacrament of Penance and the Eucharist before Extreme Unction."

And yet if we die as we live, it is not uncommon for modern Catholics today to 

a) either brazenly or ignorantly receive Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin

b) have gone for years without confessing their sins in the sacrament of Penance

c) feel no need to confess, either due to ignorance, faulty catechesis, or their culpability or willful refusal to make use of the Sacrament

So, when it comes to the hour of death, we are fortunate to have the grace of Extreme Unction/Anointing of the Sick to prepare us for our Judgment and final repose. 

But notice the bolding in both Catechisms (my emphasis): that the expectation is that if one is to receive anointing of the sick and receive the grace of forgiveness of sins though the sacrament, the inference (from the new CCC) is that if the sick or dying person IS able to confess and make use of the sacrament of Penance. If a priest is called in to anoint, the sick or dying person should be informed that the constant practice of the Catholic Church must be observed of administering the Sacrament of Penance and the Eucharist before Extreme Unction

This responsibility lies on the priest to inform the person of this necessity. But were the sick or dying person refuse to confess their sins, and had the opportunity to do so (after all, the priest is right there, and assuming the person was in their right state of mind, should ask him first to hear their confession) but did not and instead has the attitude of "just give me the anointing" (without confession)--isn't that a problem? And for the priest who were he to not ask the person "do you want to confess?" before anointing, or if he goes ahead with the anointing regarding confession unnecessary--is he himself not culpable?

It is not uncommon for those on hospice and those in hospitals with terminal illnesses to lose their sense of reason, in which case they may not be able to confess because they are not in their right mind, but can still make use of the Sacrament of Anointing. But I think this is a different scenario than one who has their reason and feels no need to confess, yet sees the Anointing as "covering all the bases" including forgiveness of sins without having to confess them.  This seems like a grave dereliction in my mind of both priests who neglect to insist upon Confession before anointing for those in their right mind and capable of it, and those ordinary Catholics who see no need for Confession but presume upon the forgiveness of sins without it. 

What do you think, reader? Am I reading too much into this? I am not trained in canon law or moral theology, but I would think the surest way--outside of perfect contrition, which is possible but rare--is to follow the good thief Dismas and confess with sincere contrition one's sins while they still are able, and to refuse to do so when given the opportunity is perilous. 

If a priest is available to anoint, he is available to hear one's confession. To spurn that opportunity thinking it is not needed seems gravely misleading. And for a priest not to encourage it and instead gloss over the need to confess (if one is in a state of mortal sin and able to confess) is culpable himself.  For no one enters the Kingdom of Heaven who is not sincerely penitent. God is both merciful and just. Dying is serious business, and it weighs on me in these kinds of circumstances that presumption reigns in the vacuum left by neglecting to preach the necessity of confession and conversion. 

Comments are open. I am, as well, to learning more and being corrected if I'm off base. I especially value the input of priests and religious more learned in sacramental theology than I am to shed light on this dilemma. 

Sunday, May 21, 2023

What Should A Catholic Family Look Like?


Occasionally I get slightly self-conscious because although we are Catholic through and through, and our faith is the most important thing in our life, we don't always comes across as the most "Catholic" of families. We have been known to have family dance parties in the kitchen to top-40 pop songs from the radio. We don't pray the rosary consistently every night as a family (though my wife and I do make every effort to pray it daily on our own). My youngest wears urban hand-me-downs I got from a black family in Philly, and my daughter refuses to wear long dresses. My humor is sometimes off-color.

On the flipside, we home school, my oldest son serves the Latin Mass, we say grace before meals, and we have Catholic books, art and crucifixes throughout the house. We love the Lord, we love our faith, and we try to live it out where it matters. 

We are heading to our monthly poetry recitation after Mass this morning with our co-op, and I was joking around with my wife that I should recite Gregory Corso's beat poem Marriage (published in 1960), which begins: Should I get married? Should I be good? Even though I didn't live through that time period, the Beats were a huge influence in my life growing up--for better or worse. I wanted to write like Jack Kerouac, who threw syntax and conventional form out the window and banged out his epic novel On The Road in 1957 on a single scroll of typewriter paper. The Beats were critical of post-war American conformity, typified by jobs, marriages, and suburban domesticity, and I shared Kerouac's affinity that "the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!""

But Kerouac died un-enlightened, suffering a massive abdominal hemorrhage at the age of 47. The New York Times obit interviewed his wife the day after, who told reporters, "He had been drinking heavily for the past few days. He was a very lonely man."

"I'm not a beatnik. I'm a Catholic," Kerouac used to make a point of telling reporters. And he was. The late 1950's and 1960's were marked by an upheaval of conventional social mores, and Kerouac was no exception to being swept up in this wave of throwing off shackles--of syntax, of dogma, of sexual morality, of what was expected of a good American citizen.

And yet the irony is that as huge an influence as Kerouac and the Beats were on my teenage and young adult years, I saw the writing on the wall: no one was happier, no one was enlightened, and their sexual forays didn't bear fruit worthy of eating. When I met my wife and ultimately got married, I wasn't asking the question "Should I get married? Should I be good?" or feeling like I was succumbing to social convention based on the expectations of others. Rather, I said to myself, "I want to get married, because this is good."  And it truly has been.

I do from time to time get a case of the shoulds, mostly related to how we look "on the outside" as Catholics while other homeschool parents are living out the liturgical year with little crafts for their kids, and families are going to Catholic Family Land, etc. But as the saying goes, "comparison is the thief of joy." I certainly don't want to give scandal by doing anything contrary to the faith or in morals, and I think we're good there--because if we weren't, none of the externals matter. 

But is there a 'typology' or what a Catholic family should look like? I don't think so, and I'm not going to make some bullet point list of things you can do to look more Catholic as a family, either. To be honest, I think the bigger problem is that for many American families who are Catholic and may even go to Mass every Sunday, they are largely indistinguishable from the culture at large. 

So, what should a Catholic family look like to those on the outside? I think first and foremost, as we see in today's Epistle from 1 Peter, "Before all things have a constant mutual charity among yourselves; for charity covereth a multitude of sins. Using hospitality one toward another, without murmuring...that in all things God may be honored through Jesus Christ, our Lord." (1 Pt 4:7-11) Catholic families should have charity as their mark, and joy as the plate it is served on. 

I do remember that when I was in high school and before I was Catholic going to a friend's house and noticing a picture of the Sacred Heart on the wall. I thought to myself, "What's that?" but it always stuck with me…and I came into the Church a few years later.  So, Catholic art is a good thing, and can be an external mark as well that has the potential to lead others to curiosity, and perhaps ultimately, salvation through grace. Saying grace before meals in public, or praying the rosary on the train, can be good things if it does the same .

I do think some people get it in their heads that they have to "dress the part" or use churchy language all the time, or any other number of things in order to stake out their Catholic identity especially if one is trying to figure out "how to be Catholic" and what that looks like externally. That's all fine and good, but to the degree it comes from a spirit of comparison or even a kind of spiritual covetousness, it would be better to eschew those externals and focus on inner conversion, prayer, and charity and let the rest eventually take care of itself. We don't wash the outside of the cup first, but the inside (Mt 23:25). 

Writers try to find their voice by borrowing from other writers and trying on their style, as I did with Kerouac. But over time, my confidence in both my identity as a Catholic, a husband, and a writer grew, and I found I didn't need to try to sound like x, or write like y, or dress like z. I could just be myself, and be that well, as St. Francis de Sales was so fond of exhorting. 

 A true Catholic identity is more like a blush that subtly highlights rather than a bright red lipstick meant to draw attention to itself. So, to the extent you are loving the Lord, honoring him in worship, being charitable to your neighbor and the poor, and raising up your children to do the same, you're most likely on a good track.

Friday, May 19, 2023

It's Okay To Hug Your Son


I once had a conversation with a man with same-sex attraction (SSA) about his childhood. His parents were immigrants from Sicily; his father had a vineyard and worked hard. Like most men of his generation, he was the strong, silent type. He loved his son, but never showed it physically through any kind of affection or affirmation: no, "I love you's" or "I'm proud of you." It was clear as this man recounted his childhood that he has a deep and unfulfilled yearning for those things which were never received. 

It's not appropriate to put this man's decision to dive headlong into the gay lifestyle on the shoulder of his father, and there were probably other factors at play; but it seemed clear that the things he most wanted from his father that went unrequited he sought in the arms of male strangers in bathhouses and BDSM lairs. 

I grew up in an affectionate household. We're not Italian, so it wasn't loud and expressive necessarily; but my father was not stingy with displays of affection for my brothers and I. Hugs and talking (not just about the weather and external things) were common. My grandfather died when my dad was just getting ready to graduate college, so I think that left a deep and painful hole for him. My grandmother struggled with depression and my father was an only child. When my dad had his own children, it was clear we were the most important thing in his life, and he let us know it.

The "Silent Generation" had their own post-war ghosts and the trauma of the Great Depression to deal with; we all do the best we can under the circumstances. But we live in different times now. The Millennial dads I see seem to all pride themselves on taking an active role in their kid's lives. They unabashedly change diapers and help with housework (typically), and take their kids to playgrounds and such. They are "active dads." 

As a Gen X'er, I tend towards these things as well, but am a little more hands-off with my kids, though. One thing I do make a habit of, though, is hugging my sons (and daughter, of course) and telling them I love them, often. Maybe it's because of how I was raised by my dad, but it seems healthy to do so. I probably am lacking in the discipline and follow-through department (though we haven't spared the wooden spoon when they were younger), but they seem to be pretty well-adjusted. 

One of the things I hate most about the gay-everything lifestyle it has completely quashed the potential for healthy heterosexual fraternal displays of affection between men. Homosexuality makes a sexualized idol of the male ethos, a thing of fantasy and an object of desire. It makes it harder for heterosexual men to have a deep and abiding relationship with one another that isn't tainted with that gay specter that has made it's way like MSG into everything. 

But anyway, back to the title of this post. Yes, it's okay to hug your son. It's good and healthy. It's good to tell them you love them and are proud of them, even if you are the strong silent type; in fact, such words probably carry more weight if you are, since you might use your words sparingly and the ones you do use mean something, Probably one of the most painful things about losing a parent or a child is that you can't physically experience them anymore--the hug you might long for simply isn't possible anymore, and that can be felt acutely. 

So while your kids are still young (or even if they're older), go ahead and hug them. Tell them you love them. You never know how long they'll be around to experience it.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

A Good Name


You may or may not have noticed some drama in the Catholic, Inc. world lately over who can or should speak publicly at which events and with whom they associate themselves with (if not, Eric Sammons can give you some background here). There are a lot of big and medium names either hopping on or pulling out of certain events on the circuit; for those who have discerned for whatever reason to withdraw from certain engagements, you have Tim Gordon calling on Twitter to "shame the cowards" and replace them with "high-T chads" (whatever that is), while Patrick Coffin is threatening to sue for libel those who take it upon themselves to raise red flags about his views. You're either a "spineless coward" or a "brave truth-teller." There is no in between. 

I generally don't make a thing of attending Catholic conferences (especially "on-line only" ones). One exception was driving to Detroit a few years ago to attend a Street Evangelization conference. I mostly wanted to connect with others like myself involved in this apostolate to "talk shop" and make contacts in this work. It was also nice to finally get to tell Dr. Janet E. Smith in person after her talk that "You are the reason why we have our youngest child." (she smiled and said she never gets tired of having people tell her that).  I found her character relatable, since she seems to have an open mind and is amenable to changing her position when it needs to be reformulated based on new evidence. She's also very funny, and a sense of humor is always a good sign when I interact with anyone.  

It can't be easy to be a big name in the Catholic world, as you have to walk a tightrope a lot of times, and your daily bread is baked in the oven of your personal faith. I wrote about this in Don't Quit Your Day Job. I think God in His mercy has spared me from making any money or getting any notoriety in the Catholic (TM) world. 

This whole ordeal brought me back to the story of the revered Orthodox saint Nektarios, whose life and story is recounted in the excellent film Man of God (2021). Nektarios was passed over as Patriarch because he was not politically astute, gave all his alms to the poor, and lived a virtuous life. His good name was slandered, and he was essentially exiled to work on a remote island. He did not attempt to correct or repudiate the claims, but endured them and often did his charitable works in secret. 

The thing that struck me about Nektarios as a man of God was his dispassion--not in the stoic sense, but along the lines of detachment. He is unconcerned about his reputation or good name (there is a great scene where one of his spiritual sisters/nuns pleads with him, "why don't you SAY SOMETHING?" when he is being calumniated and he puts his finger to his lips and points skyward in silence). As Catholics (especially as Catholic men), emotive responses (anger, worry, jealousy) come from a lower appetite, and although we are not stoics who see emotion or passion as negative in and of themselves, we must in the Augustinian sense have control over them as a matter of temperance. The man who has no self-control is not a detached man. I for one have a lot of work to do!

Dispassion (or rather, a detachment from the passions) does not mean we do not think hard or love deeply. It means we are in control of our emotions and do not act reflexively. It means we answer to One, who is God, and recognize that He is the one who renders our ultimate judgment. It also means we live with the possibility of enduring misrepresentations of those who have something against us, but that we do not return the action as a matter of Christian charity. This is all the exercise of virtue for the One who sees in secret. 

I have never been invited to speak at a Catholic conference anywhere, so this is not really my dumpster fire to be concerned about--I'm simply observing the smoke. I do think if someone believes in the message of a conference, and are willing to endure whatever fallout comes from it by way of the peanut gallery, they should speak. But also, if they've discerned not to, they shouldn't be "counter-canceled" as a "spineless coward." It's also unfortunate this drama clouds over what has the potential to be a sharing of wisdom and hope, even if you have to sift through some fringe stuff to get there. 

But can we live the life of a Christian without these conferences? Yes, we most certainly can. For those who speak, it is a platform and some monetary compensation. For the attendees, one would hope they would grow in faith, hope, and love so as to live better lives as disciples.  But is it true? It is beautiful? Is it necessary? I'm not sure if it is. 

So, besides a quick prayer for those caught up in the lose/lose situation of having to discern whether or not to attend these various conferences, I will lay the topic to rest. There's a lot of work to be done!

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Getting On Base


I re-watched MoneyBall the other night. It's based on a true story of a former ball player-turned-MLB scout and General Manager of the Oakland A's, Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt), who attempts to rebuild the "runt of the litter" A's on a limited budget. He recognizes major league baseball is an "unfair game" where there are rich teams and poor teams, and they are the poorest of the poor. 

Billy knows it's either business as usual of managing the decline and keeping things status quo, or "thinking differently" with an unconventional approach. He takes a chance on Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill), a young statistician with a degree in Economics from Yale and pilfers him from the unappreciative Cleveland Indians so he can run numbers for him. "Baseball thinking is medieval," Brand tells Billy, "They are asking all the wrong questions. And if I say it to anyone, I'm ostracized, I'm a leper." It takes a lot of calculated risk on Billy's part, putting his faith in a different way of doing things (statistical analysis) and in Pete himself. If Billy fails, he fails big and can be easily written off with his "little experiment." But in reality, he has little to lose...because they are losing already.

You can see this "medieval thinking" in a great scene with Billy in the board room with all the scouts trying to replace three of their top players. As his managers go around the table trading their insights about players and potential, Billy knows nothing is going to change because his old-school colleagues are acting as if it's business as usual. In fact, they don't even see the problem.

"You guys are just talking. Talking. Lalalala. Like this is business as usual. It's not."

"We're trying to solve the problem, Billy."

"Not like this you're not. You're not even looking at the problem."

"Okay, what's the problem?"

"Look Billy, we all understand what the problem is, we..."

"Okay, good. What's the problem?"

"The problem is we have to replace three key players in our lineup..."

"Nope. What's the problem?" 

"Same as it's ever been. We've got to replace with what we have existing...."

"Nope. What's the problem?"

"We need 38 home runs, 120 RBIs, and...."

"Wrong. The problem we are trying to solve is there are rich teams and there are poor teams. Then there's 50 feet of crap. And then there's us. It's an unfair game. And now we've been gutted, organ donors for the rich. Boston's taken our kidneys, Yankee's taken our heart, and you guys are sitting around talking the same old good body nonsense like we're selling jeans, like we're looking for Fabio. We've got to think differently." 

Billy sees the potential to rebuild in "cheap players;" that is, undervalued players with various defects who have been passed over by everyone else who nevertheless have potential to do one thing: Get on base. He doesn't care if they are walked or whatever; their on-base percentage is all that matters to him. Getting on base eventually translates to runs, which means wins...and Billy wants to win, not just manage a mediocre decline to maintain the status quo. 

He meets resistance from his managers, scouts, and team at every turn, and for a while their initial losing streak seems to prove the inevitable: that the experiment has failed. But Billy sticks to his plan while he's "taking it in the teeth" from everyone, and little by little, base by base, things start to turn around. It's a big gamble...but it pays off in the end, and fundamentally changed the game of baseball.

In a way, the Church--from the individual parish to the KOC to the Bishops themselves--is like those old guys in the board room: they might recognize but can't answer the question "what's the problem?", and when they try to, they use the same line of thinking that worked fifty years ago.

The Church today is like the Oakland A's in MoneyBall. There have been a few players willing to "try something new." One is Church of the Nativity in Timoninum, Maryland, where the pastor there took a playbook from Rick Warren and attempted to overlay what worked with Protestant pastoral initiatives on a Catholic framework. Whether that is appropriate or not to do is up for debate. My family and I were curious about it a number of years ago after reading the book Rebuilt, which details the parish's transformation. It was kind of a Protestant-Catholic fusion which was unconventional to say the least. It was a novel "success" in the sense of bringing more people into an otherwise dying parish in an bold manner, and I at least give the pastor and his team credit for at least doing something beyond "business as usual." 

We see the Holy Father taking initiatives to "make a mess" of things. We see a Synod on Synodality trying to democratize the Church. We see the Knights re-doing their regalia. All in the hopes of "bringing people in." 

I'm just a guy on the ground. But I have to be honest, I think they are are not seeing the problem in it's entirety, because they are not asking the right questions. And if they are, we must admit, many are not willing to break out of the mold to address it because "business as usual" is not working--but anything else is simply too risky to "how we have always done things." And so it is Band-Aids on a nicked aorta. 

So, what is the problem? 

Is it we don't have enough parish programs? That we need more youth ministry?

Nope. What's the problem?

Is it the laity need more of a voice? More participation of women? 

Nope. What's the problem?

Is it culture? That we need to "get with the times" and be more inclusive?

Nope. What's the problem?

Is it that people are leaving Catholicism for Orthodoxy, or their local mega church? Are we not hardcore enough? Not welcoming enough?

Nope. What's the problem?

What's the problem?

What. Is. The. Problem.

We're asking the wrong questions, and I believe the problem is we have lost faith. We have lost faith in the Church, Her apostles, and the hierarchy. We have lost faith in the supernatural, in grace, in miracles. We have lost faith in the ability to transform the culture, because we are losing the battle for culture. 

But here's the thing--we have everything we need; the solution to "the problem" is right under our noses. 

We have the Truth. We have the promises of Christ to never abandon his Church. We know how the story ends, that He conquered death by death. We have the power of the sacraments, and the example of the saints--who were the moneyballers throughout history, who thought differently and were willing to suffer and labor and be ostracized because of their unfailing faith in the promises of the savior (Lk 9:1-25). 

Our Lord sent the disciples out one by one to "get on base." He didn't discount Saul because he was persecuting the Church, but chose him as His appointed messenger (Acts 9:1-25). We can see Paul opposing Peter's reticence to eat with the uncircumcised (Gal 2:11-14), which was a radical departure from everything Peter ever knew. But the New Covenant does not work while still holding on to the Old, for no one puts new wine in old wineskins (Lk 5:37). For the Lord Christ is "doing a new thing" (Is 43:19).

In order to get base runs, we need to do the hard, risky work of thinking differently. We can't be saying to ourselves, "I'm a good Catholic," or "I go to Mass on Sundays," or "I write checks and volunteer at my local parish." These are all good things, but they are the wrong questions. The question we should be asking is, "Why am I not a saint? Why am I not trusting the Lord when he promises we will work miracles in his name?" (Lk 10:9). 

We do not think big because we do not have faith. And even if we have faith, we must be willing to go out into the vineyard and do the work. Otherwise we become like the brother who says to the father  "I will go" and does not (Mt 21:28-32).

At the end of MoneyBall, Billy is recruited to be the new General Manager of the Boston Redsox, because their owner believes in what Beane is doing and that the "business as usual" dinosaur of MLB thinking needs to change. While tempted, Billy ultimately declines the $12.5M offer (and the chance to become the highest paid GM in history), and stays with the A's. The Sox ultimately go on to win big that season using Billy's "Moneyball" approach, but Billy has no regrets. He has already won the ultimate game. But he didn't get there with a "business as usual" approach.

We can often feel like we're on a losing team remaining in the Church. We are a laughing stock to the world, and the hierarchy is full of hypocrisy and cronyism. We are hemorrhaging believers from the pew, and our priests are aging out. We might be tempted towards Eastern Orthodoxy, or non-demoninationalism, or atheism, or something altogether. For those who remain, it can sometimes feel like the band of misfit players on the Oakland A's. But as the story ends, those players know the wins are in them; they just need someone to inspire them to dig deep and find them.

Wars are won battle by battle. And as any general knows, you have to think differently to win. Runs are scored base by base. It doesn't matter if you get on base by a walk or a home run. We need to start thinking differently as Catholics--we need to do the work of becoming saints not to be an all-star, but because by doing so we inspire our teammates to greatness, to be their best selves--who God made them to be. Some are pitchers, some are catchers, some play left-field. Some are lefties, some are righties. But we get to Heaven together as Catholics--every player matters.

As a Church, we need to get on base. We need to take the risk of looking like fools, of getting out of our comfort zones, of believing with everything we have, and of sacrificing for those who are lost. We get on base, we score runs. We score runs, we win. Maybe not in the eyes of the world, but we're not playing for them. We must think big, not mediocre. We are competing for the crown which never fades.  And we must run our race to win (1 Cor 9:24). 

Monday, May 15, 2023

Made Up

Have you ever noticed that with MtF transitioners, there is much energy and attention put into the external adornments of their new perceived identify? This should be obvious, but even for those who have undergone surgery to snuff out the last vestiges of their maleness, they still make a point of designer lipstick, eyeshadow, jewelry, clothing, color schemes, hairstyles, etc.?

And yet, St. Peter exhorts bonafide women that 

"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves" (1 Pt 3:3-5)

Why does he say this? Is this a reflection of the culture at the time? Or is there something more here?

Those who claim to be trans, like all men, are children of God and as such have an inherent dignity. But because of their dysphoria and attempt to change their unchanging nature, they compensate their lack of inherent feminity in the same fashion that St. Peter describes above: with external adornment. They do not see their inner self as gentle, quiet, and of unfading beauty; instead, it is inner-turmoil, discord, confusion, unrest. And so the make up becomes the mask.

If you've ever met a holy woman, a good woman, a beautiful woman, you are struck because their inner nature (which is gentle, quiet, and of unfading beauty) is "worn" and accentuated externally without kitchy adornment. A man attempting to adopt this tender poise which is not of his nature will naturally come off as gaudy and counterfeit, no matter the grade of lipstick or shade of the blush he uses to try to mask his inner tortured nature. 

I learned a lot from this (long) podcast with Jason Evert and it is clear he is doing good work with a heart of compassion in this area of speaking the Truth in love to those with gender dysphoria. One of the things that really impresses me is he takes the time to affirm the personhood of to those who claim to be trans and says, "tell me your story," and gives them his full attention. He also asks the right questions to get to the heart of the matter. They often share their hurts, their struggles, and their fears with him in those moments--because let's face it, many of us just don't do this, either because of lack of exposure to this population, or because we don't care to do the hard work it takes to love there. 

The fact that male transitioners adopt this kind of external mimicking of what they think a woman is and how she should look should underscore for women the words of St. Peter to be wary of such overt adornment.

I want to make the point that St. Peter is not speaking to this modern population in his epistle, but to the women of the church, with his admonishment. This is because, like the pearl of great price which is the Gospel (Mt 13:46), and the kingdom of heaven which is within (Lk 17:21) the pearl of a woman comes from the inside out. It is more precious than gold (Ps 19:10; Prov 13:15), and those who see that inner beauty are the ones worthy of it.  

On the contrary, when a woman has not taken into herself the seed of the Gospel, external adornment becomes necessary in most circumstances as a means of masking or compensation. When a woman of God uses a pinch of blush or a bit of lipstick, it is to highlight her inherent femininity, not try to convince you of it--because she doesn't have to. She is confident in her standing as a child of God, a vessel of life, and a pearl of great price. 

This is what women should strive to develop, and to learn from other women of such standing how to do so. For it is a of great worth in God's sight, and also for the man who has the eyes to see such beauty. In contrast to those beauty aids which seek to conceal and mask, any such external adornments a woman employs should be used as a subtle highlight to reflect that beauty within.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

The Glorious Servant St. Martin de Porres


On my A-list Rolodex of saints is St. Martin de Porres. Born in the 16th century in Peru, he was abandoned by his father and endured discrimination on account of his being mixed-race. He was not permitted orders initially with the Dominicans, but was accepted as a volunteer to perform menial tasks around the monastery. 

I have admired St. Martin since I became Catholic for his meekness, patience, and care for the poor and sick. In our family we try to emulate and learn from his charity and generosity, which he exercised with great abandonment. He accepted poverty for himself, but whenever he received any sum of money or goods, he immediately gave it to those in need, sometimes getting a beating for it in exchange for being so "reckless."

We have a relic of St. Martin which we recently lent to a friend who faced a strange but potentially life-threatening infection in her thumb. The doctors, our friend's husband informed us, were sure the infection was bad enough that it would require amputation. She abandoned herself to St. Martin and prayed with the relic over her thumb, and her husband did as well. We prayed at home for the glorious servant's intercession as well. 

Wouldn't you know, the husband texted me not long after, saying that the techs at the doctor's office said her hand was healing so well they thought they were witnessing a miracle. The wife brought the relic to the office and showed it to the staff. Her thumb has now almost completely healed. A miracle of faith, in our minds at least.

Deo Gratias, glorious servant St. Martin de Porres!