What binds my hobbies together?

I’m a man of too many hobbies. I like backpacking, sailing, astronomy, photography, woodworking and electronics tinkering. Long ago, as I was applying to become a deacon, one of the people I met with pointed out how many of those hobbies are introverted in nature. He pointed out that people who have leadership roles often have introverted hobbies as a way to “get away” from their leadership related interpersonal issues. And to that end, he encouraged me to make sure I kept some of those hobbies despite the added burdens of becoming a deacon.

But recently I saw two similar quotes about the sailing and backpacking communities. One was an example of a sailboat that detoured hundred of miles to help a disabled boat that had lost its mast. The captain spoke of how this was not charity on his part but a “law of the sea”.

The other was a quote about the backpacking community by Jon Tullis:

“If everyone in the world took care of each other the way folks do out on the trail, and if everyone approached each day with as much hope and optimism as hikers do, the world would be a better place.”

What occurred to me is that while most of my hobbies definitely ‘scratch my itch’ for my introverted side, they also very much have a community of people who are uncommonly supportive of each other. Sailing and backpacking have explicit ethical principles of putting the needs of others above one’s desires. But if I look at the others, in particular astronomy and woodworking, they have a collaborative/cooperative thrust within their communities that is pretty noble as well.

I bring this up not to brag, but to encourage others to find similar things in their life with their interests. We live in a cynical and selfish world that too often lacks in compassion. The more time we spend interacting with that world, the more we too become jaded and cynical. We too will bend towards being selfish.

We need to find communities that counter-act this, to have relationships with people who are self-less and giving, who put the needs of others above themselves. In part, this is what our families are for. I would also hope that our interactions with members of our parish communities are similar. But I don’t think that is enough. We need to see it in others who are “outsiders” as well. So I think it would be wise for us to look at the communities we interact with and take stock… which of them bend towards being just like the rest of our cynical and selfish world and which bend towards something more noble?

And I think we should use the results of that introspection to change our priorities to emphasize those places that encourage us to live by a higher code of ethics and self-less-ness.

Reflection of the Day (ROTD)

For those who have talked to me in the last few months, they know that my summer plans didn’t exactly go as expected. I had two big trips that I’ll review:

The first was a big “RV” trip where we rented a travel trailer to hook up to my truck and did a big loop around the Southwest. Minus minor detours, the basic driving path was Home -> Reno, NV -> St. George, UT -> White Sands, NM -> Tucson, AZ -> Reno, NV -> Home. It was a total of 3400 miles in 11 days. The goal of the trip was two-fold, to see a bunch of national parks (Zion, Grand Canyon North, Petrified Forrest, White Sands and Saguaro) and to do a bunch of Astronomy stuff, including visiting the Very Large Array in New Mexico as well as trying to get some imagery of our own in some really dark places (Lunar Crater, Kaibab Forrest and SW New Mexico).

Even though we completed the loop, I’d have to say the trip was a failure. The first astronomy stop was too windy to get good imagery and then we broke a suspension spring on the travel trailer while driving a gravel road to the 2nd site in Kaibab Forrest a few days later. And that started a series of dominos falling where everything after that, while completed, was never quite on track, including never getting any good astronomy done. Frankly I tried to cram too much into one trip, with too many risky things plan and then paid the price for that aggressiveness.

The second trip was for my son Andrew and I to hike the John Muir Trail. It too ended up being a debacle. We originally had a permit to start on July 14th on the Mt. Whitney side of the trail. But with 2023 having been a historic snow year, there was still too much snow on the trail at that point. With about a week to go to the planned start date, we pulled the plug. That started a month long process of scrambling to get a new permit for later in the season and adjust our plans, including moving my large work vacation. The good news was we were able to get a permit for a start date of August 18th, but it was definitely chaotic and left the summer in an extended period of stasis/waiting.

When the time for the trip came, weather was our downfall. On the 2nd day of the trip, already most of the way up Mt. Whitney, we had to turn around and head back down the mountain due to Hurricane Hilary, which arrived later that afternoon. We hunkered down in the town of Lone Pine as the eye of the storm passed overhead the following day (the center of the eye was just 3.5 miles to the east of us). We ended up stuck in town for 5 days, first because of the storm itself, then because all the roads were flooded/closed and finally because we couldn’t get a permit to get back on the trail. We finally got a permit to start at Piute Pass, and missed nearly 100 miles of the southern part of the trail.

After that we had a good week of hiking, covering over 70 miles and making it to Red’s Meadow. However, when we arrived there, another storm was brewing. This one was likely to dump a notable amount of snow over Donahue Pass. (You’ll remember the storm if you saw the news headlines about Burning Man turning into a mud pit.) We again got off the trail to ride out the storm. But when the storm was even worse than anticipated, we “cried uncle” and phoned family to come pick us up.

Needless to say, this was not how I had hoped the summer would go.

Ever since, I’ve been having a feeling of disquiet in my soul. I’ve been feeling like I’m missing something that I’m called to do and I’m filling that hole with as many distractions as I can, in some vain attempt to avoid discerning that call. I’ve made discerning what this is a big part of my daily prayer routine.

I haven’t yet come to any firm conclusions, but I have a growing sense that I’m called to write more. I used to do a lot of it. I used to be a prolific sports blogger, so much so that it ended up resulting in a side job doing sports reporting for Rivals.com for a handful of years. I also in parallel wrote a Catholic blog. Later I turned toward longer form writing. I “currently” have 3 books that I’ve either outlined or written at least a chapter of… but I haven’t done any meaningful work on them for a few years. Something in me thinks that I’m called to return to writing more frequently.

So, all of that is a long way of saying that I intend to explore that intuition by doing a “Reflection of the Day” (ROTD) most days moving forward. Stop by here to see what’s on my mind.

A blessed Easter!

(Sorry for the lack of posts. I should have anticipated the busyness of the final weeks of Lent. I’ll get back to my series on the Extraordinary Form shortly.)

I hope everyone had a joyful and blessed Easter Sunday. I know I did.

Every year, the Holy Week and Easter Sunday services bring some new thought to my mind, some new little nuance of theology or grace or liturgical brilliance that hadn’t affected me previously. This year was a fascinating one, and one that might be due to it being my first year as a deacon and thus my first year where I was serving at all the liturgies.

There’s so much that goes on during Holy Week and just about all of it has a rehearsal. I had an all-day retreat for the RCIA Elect on Saturday before Palm Sunday, Palm Sunday Mass, performed 2 wedding for RCIA Elect on Monday, Parish Reconciliation service on Tuesday, Rehearsal for Holy Thursday on Wednesday, all 3 Triduum services including same-day rehearsal for both Good Friday and Easter Vigil. It was a pretty darned taxing week.

And for the last couple days, the Tabernacle was empty. That’s how I felt by the end: running on empty.

Thus there was something very powerful watching a fellow deacon put Christ back in the Tabernacle at the end of the Easter Vigil service. It was the completion of a long journey. It was a moment that brought everything to completion. Christ is back home where he belongs after the long journey of Holy Week.

To say it moved me deeply is an understatement. The journey was both complete and in some way made more sense than it did than when I was struggling through it. And now all of that angst and taxing work was finished, it all made sense, and I was at peace.

First experience with the Extraordinary Form

My family started a new tradition last Lent: The Lenten field trip. We go somewhere faith related that the kids haven’t been before. Last year we went to the Cathedral in Sacramento. We both did a guided tour (which was fascinating) and went to Mass. Then, since we were already downtown, we combo’ed it with a trip to the state capital.

This year the original plan was to go to a Spanish California Mission, probably in San Francisco. Unfortunately our weekends in Lent got sucked down pretty quickly and we needed to find something smaller.

So the backup plan, that we exercised yesterday, was to take the family to Saint Stephen the 1st Martyr parish in Sacramento. The parish is served by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. This is who they are in their own words:

The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter is a Society of Apostolic Life of Pontifical right, that is, a community of priests who do not take religious vows, but who work together for a common mission in the Catholic Church.  The mission of the Fraternity is two-fold:  first, the formation and sanctification of priests in the cadre of the traditional liturgy, commonly called the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite, and secondly, the care of souls and pastoral activities in the service of the Church.


In other words, they are experts in the Extraordinary Form, aka the Latin Mass. If someone in the Sacramento region wants to see the Extraordinary Form, this is the place to go. They’re the priests who know it best and do it at it was intended.

And the simple reality is that I’ve been wanting to go for a long time. I’m a fan of “smells and bells” Catholicism. I’m often frustrated by movements to make the Church “more relevant” or “more accessible”. They very frequently run roughshod over beloved Catholic traditions without any consideration for what they’re so willing to discard.

And the worst part of movements like that is that they are backfiring. If you talk to young people, they find “Youth Masses” boring and uninspiring. The attempts to find music that moves them merely shows how “out of touch” the choirs at your average Catholic parish are with the music teens enjoy. It’s like Grandma trying to dress like a teenager. It comes off ridiculous.

If that weren’t bad enough, if you talk to young Catholics about what they see in the Church that inspires them, it’s exactly the opposite: The Extraordinary Form. This year alone I’ve had 3 RCIA attendees, all young, leave our parish for St. Stephens. And I’ve got a 4th who just started coming to RCIA who may go the same route.

Thus, it was time for me to go and see what it was all about and the family Lenten field trip was the perfect excuse.

I’m going to break my observations into a number of different posts, one per day. Today I’m just going to focus on pre-Mass portion.

We arrived at the parking lot 20 minutes before the lone High Mass of the day (there were 3 other Low Masses) only to find that there were no parking spots left. (Ever seen that at your average parish?) Luckily there was plenty of street parking and so we were able to find a spot just outside the parking lot. As a seasoned Catholic I know the first thing to do when encountering a full parking lot is to rush inside and see if there’s going to be an available pew for the family.

Upon first entry into the Nave of the Church, I was optimistic. It was half full, perhaps a little more. But it turns out that was quite deceptive. Every single open spot had a Missal or a sweater over it. Clearly this is a Church that allows for people to save lots of seats. (This by the way is a pet peeve of mine, but I’m willing to accept every parish has their traditions.) Everyone gets there early, it looks like a half hour or more early, saves a seat and goes on to other things. The courtyard was indeed full of people.

We managed to find 4 folding chairs in the back of the Nave so we had the kids sit down and Wendy and I stood, knowing we’d be standing the whole time. Oh well, right? At least the kids had seats

But not long after we sat, I realized the back of the Nave was also where the confessional was. And in fact, there were 3 of them, all occupied with both people and priests. Perhaps this shouldn’t have surprised me, as this was the norm back in the day, but for me, I haven’t seen confessions just before Mass on a Sunday in my entire life. (I’ve seen them before the Saturday vigil Mass, but when I’ve seen that, it always ends ~30 minutes before Mass starts so the priest can prepare to serve at Mass.)

So while I saw the doors there, I didn’t think much of them. I didn’t think to consider whether they might be confessionals because who would be using them right now even if they were? I was so focused on finding a seat, getting the lay of the land wasn’t my top priority.

The next thing I learned, after the first person came out of the confessional, was the back two rows of pews, behind the main entry way, was not for general seating, but instead for the confessional line. Thus we were amidst that line and generally in people’s way.

Everyone was nice about it, they knew we had nowhere else to go.

This was actually a second answer for why there were so many pew spaces reserved. What otherwise appeared to be people already standing along the back wall of the Nave was in fact a long line for the confessional. These people would be waiting for and going to confession all the way up through the 1st 30 minutes of Mass. The 3 priests in the confessional were not scheduled to serve at Mass that morning, and continued hearing confessions as Mass started and continued. When people finished saying their confession, they’d go to the pew spot they had reserved well before Mass.

I must admit, if there’s a good reason to have reserving of seats before Mass, being in line for the confessional seem to me to be one of them. Although it seemed by the time Mass was in full swing that this accounted for only about half the reserved seats, perhaps even a bit less.

The other thing that was notable, and it became more clear as more people filtered in to take their reserved seats, was the demographics of the group. My home parish has a pretty good makeup of families, but we wouldn’t dare to hope for the demographics at St. Stephens. The group was almost entirely young families with lots of kids. The average number of kids was somewhere in the 6 per family range. Tons of babies. I’m sure there were some elderly people, but they were so overwhelmed by the number of young families, I sure don’t remember seeing them. Pope’s St. John Paul II, Benedict and Francis have all talked about what a thriving parish should look like. There’s no doubting that both by the demographics and by the frequent sounds of children and babies, this was it at it’s pinnacle.

And they all started filling the pews, so that the place was packed by the time Mass started.

(and I’ll pick it up there tomorrow)

Reminder: Debt enslaves

I was watching a documentary about the Fyre music festival debacle and subsequent fallout. Among all of the other massive moral failings, most notably fraud piled on top of fraud, with a large helping of arrogance and pride on the side, was a more subtle re-occurring theme: The promoters had no way out once they got the ball rolling due to the debt they had incurred.

Basically, they had a vision for a large music festival and they went about promoting it and organizing it. Somewhere along the line they realized they were unlikely to be able to deliver on what they were promising. Depending on who you believe, this was somewhere between 6 months and 2 months from the start of the event.

And of course the ethical thing to do at that point is to call off the event and refund all of the money for the tickets sold. The problem was the money was already at least partly spent. They had leased property and bought all sorts of materials, as well as had many laborers and subcontractors working for months to prepare for the event.

Thus if they had called off the event, someone who was owed money wasn’t going to be paid. Whether it be not refunding the tickets or not paying for the materials and salaries, or even some of both, they just didn’t have the money to meet all of their financial commitments. Someone was going to be shorted.

As a result, even when the organizers had grudgingly come to realize they couldn’t successfully hold the event, they couldn’t admit it to themselves. The only solution was to find a miracle that would save the event. If they could somehow pull it off, even if it was much less than promised, the ticket money wouldn’t have to be refunded and they could pay all of their people.

In other words, they were enslaved by their debts. They had no choice to walk away. They had to push forward, even though at some deep level they were marching towards their own demise.

I think we all need to be more aware of this… the way that debt enslaves. Whether it is a large mortgage, a car that is hard for us to afford, or our credit card bills, they force us into behavior we otherwise wouldn’t do. How many people keep working for an unethical company because they can afford to quit, because of the debts they owe? How many people make career choices they otherwise wouldn’t because of their debt, particularly their college debt?

We all must be much more careful about incurring debt. If we want the freedom to follow Christ, we must have the financial freedom to do so. Yes, we need to earn enough money to live and that can at times limit our financial freedom. But for someone truly committed to service, it is amazing how little one can live on. And at any point in our lives we can choose to live much more frugally if we feel called to some sort of service by God. But we are robbed of that freedom if we have debt.

Even if we can afford our debt service based on our current careers and income, we are prevented from changing away from those careers and income levels because there is debt to be paid that relies on that level of income. We become a slave to our current lifestyle.

If you don’t have debt, I ask you to seriously consider the above before incurring it. If you are already in that trap, the good news is it is merely an indentured servitude and I encourage you to make the changes needed in your financial lifestyle necessary so as to be able to pay off that debt as quickly as possible.

Because the simple fact remains, you are not truly free the way God wants you to be free as long as you are in debt.

Tell the kids: Vocations are careers

I just got back from a parish vocations committee meeting. We are always trying to find ways to encourage priestly and religious vocations. Our pastor was talking in the meeting about how we can encourage vocations at ages younger than most of us think.

That reminded me of something that constantly surprises me. When the issue of vocations comes up around the parish, I often mention that the easiest way to get a child thinking about a vocation is to include it in the list of potential careers children might consider. Put it there right next to doctor, lawyer, engineer, mechanic, business manager, teacher and what have you. Priest or nun belong in that list.

What is very disappointing and very surprising to me is how much that suggestion is often considered very surprising. “I’ve never thought of doing that before!?!” That’s the most common response I hear. Seriously, 3 out of every 4 people respond that way. Like it’s some sort of massive revelation. It’s very disappointing, but it makes me want to shout it from the rooftops, because I think it really works.

I think there are three main reasons that parents and mentors don’t often talk about religious vocations with children:

  1. They actively think it’s a bad choice. There’s a number of different reasons for this. One is celibacy. They can’t imagine a life without sex being very enjoyable and so they assume the life of a priest or nun must be torture. This is getting worse the more sexually obsessed our culture becomes. Another is poverty. They are too attached to their materialistic lifestyle and they can’t imagine living a life of financial simplicity. A third is that they just don’t see holiness is all that appealing. They find their sins too enjoyable and couldn’t imagine a life without these indulgences.
  2. They don’t want to give the impression of “forcing” them into it. Just like there are people who become doctors or lawyers or engineers because their parents strongly encouraged them to do so, there are people who do the same thing with a religious career. There’s a tinge of #1 in this one as the same people who wouldn’t be so careful with over encouraging one towards being a doctor, would be very careful with the priesthood. Why? Because at a subtle level they imagine it’s not a very good life, particularly if one was forced down that path.
  3. They just in general don’t spend much time talking about religion, particularly with their kids. Our lives are very busy and unfortunately our faith too often ends up on the bottom of the list. I think this is particularly true for families. Children’s sports, extra-curricular activities and social groups will gladly take every waking moment of your life if you let them. All of them demand to be the top priority. Too often faith ends up at the bottom.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time on #1 right now (as this post would get ridiculously long). But I think numbers 2 and 3 can both be partially solved just by making religious vocation part of the career discussions that go on in families.

Because almost all families find at least a little time to talk about careers. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is such a common question, it’s a cliche. Then of course there’s the “what colleges are you thinking about?” question. Introducing the idea of a seminary as a possibility could be part of that.

I don’t think it takes that much. As long as it’s part of the career discussion and the family regularly receives the sacraments, plus a little bit of prayer time… that’s all God needs to start calling someone to a life of service as a priest or nun. It doesn’t have to be over bearing for fear of #2. It can just be part of that natural discussion. It won’t take setting aside time like some ‘birds and the bees’ discussion that every parent loathes to find time for.

No, it’s just part of the natural growing up process and considering one’s career. I ask everyone to make it a part of any discussion they have with a child about future careers.

Who is hurt most by our sins?

I think a lot of the time we tend to think of sin in terms of how they hurt others. Depending on the person, they may think about how sin offends God and others may think about how our sins hurt other people. And of course this is true. Many of our sins hurt others and all of our sins are an affront to God.

But too often we overlook how our sins hurt ourselves. Even the sins that hurt others, hurt ourselves. But then there’s a whole class of sins that mostly just hurt ourselves.

I’m an over-weight man. I eat too much. I’m a habitual glutton. There’s no getting around it. And it hurts me constantly. I love backpacking and hiking. I love to sail. I love to ride my road bike around the region. But my ability to do those activities has been limited a bit in the last year because I put on a fair amount of weight. It’s been really disappointing to me because I had lost a lot of weight in the prior couple of years, but now I’ve gained all of it back.

But the specifics of my sins and struggles is not the point I’m trying to make. The bigger point I’m trying to discuss is how our sins enslave us. Every time we give in to them, we have less freedom, less control over our lives.

I think that’s one of the reasons Lent is so important. Lent is an opportunity for us to exercise control over temptations. At some level I don’t think it even matters if the temptations we master during Lent are the ones that most torture us. In fact, I could argue it is best if we don’t try to tackle our most difficult temptations.

Think about it. If you want accomplish something huge, you don’t start with the huge thing. No, that’s a recipe for failure. Instead we have to start small, with something we’re capable of. Then over time we can build up to what we have set our sights on.

So when we give up chocolate or soda for Lent, we’re making a first step towards mastery over our temptations. It may not be a big step, but it is something. And once we’ve built that skill (or re-established that skill), then later we will be more ready to tackle that larger thing in our life.

My overall point, and I’m saying this to myself just as much as to my readers, is don’t give up on mastery of your temptations. If you’ve failed at your larger Lenten disciplines, at your desire to turn your back on the worst of your temptations and bad habits, don’t give up! Perhaps what is needed right now is to return to something simple. Go back to chocolate or soda. Or if even that’s too much, find something even smaller. Something that you think you can stick to for the rest of Lent.

Then, after this Lent, perhaps you’ll be ready to take the next step.

Should we be canonizing so many Popes?

There was an interesting opinion piece arguing that the recent trend of canonizing so many popes needs to stop.

As a bit of a Pope history buff, it is an interesting historical note that up through the middle of the 6th century just about every Pope was made a saint. But then it started dropping off, notably after St. Pope Silverius. Up to that point 54 of the first 58 Popes had been canonized.

After that it started a slow decline. Here’s the breakdown by century:

  • 5th century (so pre-Silverius): 11 of 12
  • 6th century (Silverius’ century): 7 of 14
  • 7th century: 9 of 20
  • 8th century: 5 of 12
  • 9th century: 4 of 19
  • 10th century: 0 of 23
  • 11th century: 2 of 21

After St. Pope Gregory VII, who’s reign ended in 1085, so late 11th century, there were only two Popes whose reign was before the 20th century who were canonized:

  • St. Pope Celestine V (1294-1294)
  • St. Pope Pius V (1566-1572)

But the 20th century, as the article noted, has seen a pretty significant resurgence. The 20th century had 8 Popes and half of them have been canonized, including the 3 of the last 4 (and that 4th one was only Pope for 33 days).

So at some level something has changed. But one wonders if it is really what the article writer, Professor Massimo Faggioli, suggests. He points to a movement towards papal supremacy. But I just don’t buy that.

First of all, he’s got the dates all wrong. Yes, the 1st Vatican council, which he points to, formally defined papal infallibility, but frankly the power and prestige of the Pope is not at all defined by that dogma. Students of Catholic history know that Papal power peaked just before the Reformation. In the High Middle Ages there was no one who had more sway over the world than the Pope. We’re aren’t using a calendar (the Gregorian calendar) named after the Pope who promulgated it in 1582 for nothing. (1582 is a over a half century after the start of the Reformation, but his power took centuries to wain from it’s pre-Reformation peak.)

And this doesn’t just apply to his secular power. Ever since the Orthodox/Catholic split was formalized in 1054, over precisely the issue of the Pope’s doctrinal authority, the Pope has had great and nearly unquestioned doctrinal authority of the Church from top to bottom.

This is why I’d argue that Papal power and prestige is looking at the wrong thing. Far more interesting, timeline wise, is the rise and fall of the Papal States. The Pope was the monarch of the Papal States. They were first established (officially anyway) with the donation of Pepin in 756. And the Pope was it’s ruler until it was subsumed by Italy in 1870. (Forgive me for glossing over a lot of nuanced and complicated history.)

With that in mind, go back and look at that by-century catalog of papal canonizations. It’s the 8th century when things really changed. The change was not instantaneous, but it sure looks to me like the arc of the movement away from canonizing Popes is best explained by the rise of the secular power of the Pope. Popes were picked more and more for their secular administrative and leadership skills and less and less for their holiness and doctrinal leadership. Obviously I’m painting with a broad brush, but I think trend-wise it is appropriate.

Which would also suggest why in the 20th century we’re seeing a resurgence. With the collapse of the Papal States, the papacy has returned to being primarily a spiritual leadership position. As a result, is it really a surprise that we’re seeing a resurgence of holiness of those elected to the position?

Said another way, from a canonization perspective we could break the Church into 4 eras:

  • Pre-Edict of Milan (313): 100% Canonized (32 of 32)
  • Post Milan, Pre-Papal States (756): 61% (36 of 59)
  • Papal States era: 6% (10 of 164)
  • Post Papal States: 44% (4 of 9)

It’s hard to argue with those groupings both from a historical significance stand point and how starkly the rates of Canonization changed when the Church transitioned from one to the other.

So while I think it is reasonable to ponder and debate whether we should be canonizing so many Popes, particularly to do so as quickly after their death as was done for St. Pope John Paul II, I’d argue that that ‘Pope worship’ and idolization is not what is going on here nor should be the basis for that debate. It doesn’t stand up to scrutiny against the backdrop of Catholic history.

(Hat tip to Deacon’s Bench for bringing my attention to the article)

Aren’t we all frauds?

I watched a movie last night, who’s plot was about a man who had been dumped by his longtime girlfriend and was struggling to get back to dating again. He had two problems. The first was he still genuinely missed his old girlfriend and he didn’t know how to put that behind him. The second was he had lost his confidence to approach women.

The movie shows him doing a number of awkward attempts at approaching women. Half of them started with him trying to present himself as someone desirable. But it wouldn’t take long for the woman he approached to challenge him on his “resume” and then he’d crumble, having been exposed as a fraud.

The other half of the time he’d attempt the opposite approach, coming from a position of vulnerability. We’d admit he missed his girlfriend and talk about how horrible his life was. The result was always the same: a very sympathetic woman who had zero romantic interest in him.

And then he’d torture himself about what he should do since neither approach was working.

The resolution to the problem was that he kept working at it until the day came, unbeknownst to him, that he had genuinely healed from the pain of having been dumped. That night he approached a woman and came from a position of both genuine interest in her but also a humility that didn’t require inflating his “resume”.

Isn’t this the journey we’re all trying to make? (and I don’t just mean in romance) Aren’t we all trying to get to a place of authenticity?

I think this is a big part of what the journey of Lent is about. We’re all frauds. We’re all sinners pretending to be saints. But at the same time, we know it is not ideal to wallow in our sinfulness. And we don’t know how to split the difference between being a fraud and wallowing. Sure, there are times when we can do no better than wallowing, but it is a moment when we need others to serve us and help us. God calls us to be servants, not to be served.

No, instead our goal is to reach that place where we accept our own sinfulness and the cross that it comes with. But instead of wallowing and being stuck in one place, we find the strength to do the hard work of carrying our cross. To proclaim to the world: I am a sinner but I am carrying my cross, doing my best to journey towards sainthood.

The debt we owe God and our forefathers

I’ve recently been on a kick of watching rock climbing documentaries. (Of course that included ‘Free Solo’, which I may comment on later.) One of them was one I had seen a few years ago called ‘Valley Uprising’ which was about the history of rock climbing in Yosemite going back to the early 50’s.

The movie spends a fair amount of time on the culture of rock climbing throughout its history and the rebellious nature of much of it. Much of the movie it glorifies it.

As Catholics, we need to be careful when it comes to counter-cultural things. Our faith is *VERY* counter-cultural, even when most people in the culture are Catholic. Even when most people embrace the basic principles of Christ, His radical call of living a self-less lifestyle will always elude most people. The human condition just has too much pride; too much selfishness for everyone in any society to embrace Christ’s call in its fullness.

So we’d better be careful before we write off a counter-cultural movement.

The general ethos of the rock climbing community, particularly of the historical elite climbers (i.e. before corporate sponsorship made it so the elite could squeak out a living that way), is one of poverty for the sake of rock climbing. They’d live on very little and camp right by the rocks.

But yet again, we’d better be careful before we write off a movement that embraces intentional poverty… there are plenty of those within the Church.

But yet I couldn’t escape a feeling of disdain for their overall lifestyle choices and the glorification of those choices in the documentary. And I think it came down to the debt they refused to admit they had…

All of us have life because our parents and their parents and their parents before them, made the sacrifice to be parents. All of the conveniences we have, everything from roads to safe drinking water to metals to computers, are the result of the innovation of past generations. We benefits greatly from the past sacrifices of others.

I think we all have a responsibility to contribute to that on-going development of humanity. We have a debt that needs to be paid if we can feel justified in taking advantage of all that led to us.

It doesn’t have to be parenthood, although I think it is a very good way. It just has to be the pursuit of some human excellence for self-less reasons. It can even be something that you fail at, as long as the goal was to in some way contribute to the opus of what we have all been given.

And I just don’t see that in much of the glorification of obsessive and life long pursuit of excellence in some hobby… at least not as it plays out in our current era. I think there are many hobbies that contribute to the world. I’d even argue that rock climbing could be one of them. But the key to me is why is one doing it. Is one doing it so that the hobby can be a way for more people to enjoy God’s creation? Or are they doing it as thrill seekers or for fame and glory?

In fairness, I think the answer varies from person to person. I’m tempted to believe in the noble pursuits of John Salathe, Royal Robbins, John Bachar, Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold. It seems to me they saw something noble in rock climbing and desired to perfect it for the overall good of the world. (But in fairness, I don’t know any of these people outside of a handful of documentaries and a few dozen articles, so I could be overly charitable to some or all of them).

In contrast, I can’t see anything noble in Dean Potter, Warren Harding or Jim Bridwell. Although, just as much as I must admit I don’t know those I admire well enough to properly judge, I could just as easily be being too quick to condemn the above people.

But taking a step back from the actual people to the conceptual, it seems there are two groups: Those who are climbing to walk away from any sense of the greater good and are doing so for personal and selfish reasons. And right beside them are people, perhaps living very similar lives, who are there for the pursuit of something noble and good.

And my hope for the climbing community is that they could see the difference (and if this documentary accurately portrays things, I don’t think they currently do). That they could see the difference between someone who is a leach, that has no sense of the great gift of life they have been given and a responsibility to give something back, and someone who climbs with a profound sense of the wonderful creation they have been given and their responsibility to give something back to it.

Process and methods are important

A big part of my heart was overjoyed by the news that Governor Newsom is putting a moratorium on the death penalty in California and considering commuting the death sentences (but not life imprisonment) of everyone on death row. It is long past due that Californians recognize the futility of the death penalty:

  • It’s extremely expensive, costing an average of $1.1 million at trial and $175k extra a year per inmate for their special treatment (both housing and appeals).
  • In practice very few are executed, only 13 since it was re-instituted in 1976 in California. In that same time, at least 70 died of natural causes, 24 committed suicide, and 6 died of other non-natural causes (drug overdose, murder, etc.). (I say “at least” because the above data is from 2015).
  • There’s no meaningful scientific evidence it is a significant deterrent to committing capital level crimes.
  • Similarly there is no evidence it brings peace to the families of the victims. If anything, the constant appeals and legal wrangling prevent them from moving on with their lives.
  • At the same time, all of these appeals and length legal processes are important and valuable. 5 people in California were convicted and sentence to the death penalty only to later be exonerated. Without those appeals, it would greatly increase the chance that someday an innocent person would be executed.

So, even if one isn’t willing to listen to a moral/religious argument about the sanctity of life, it still seems like there’s a strong argument to say “Why are we doing this? What’s the point?”

So thank God for those who fight against the death penalty. And I am *mostly* thankful for Governor Newsom’s decision.

Why only “mostly”? Because I’m a big believer that the process by which we accomplish things is *EXTREMELY* important. There are so many unintended negative consequences when things are done in under-handed ways or when things are rushed at a faster pace that the public is ready to accept.

Obviously we’ll never know the alternate outcomes, but I think it is possible the civil war could have been avoided and we still could have eradicated slavery in the US by the end of the 19th century. It happened in many other places around the world in that same time without over a half-million lives being lost.

I’m not enough of an expert on the matter to speak intelligently to the specifics of how the civil war could have been avoided. All I know is that the 2nd half of the 19th century saw profound change on the subject throughout the world in countries far and wide, from Brazil, to Cambodia, to the Ottoman Empire, to the Netherlands, to Spain, to Cuba. It’s not unreasonable to think that given more time, the US could have made the transition without resulting to civil war.

Obviously I don’t think the death penalty will result in anything as extreme as a civil war, but I do think it could have notable societal impacts of a negative nature. The simple reality is that both the American and California public are adamantly for the death penalty. In California, propositions to overturn the death penalty have been put before the voters multiple times in the last 20 years and every time they have been soundly rejected.

To make matters worse, Newsom said *NOTHING* in his campaign for governor about this. The only quote that any reporter has dug up was not even from the campaign but 2 years earlier when he was lieutenant governor but advocating for the most recent proposition to overturn the death penalty. To quote from the article:

While campaigning for the death penalty repeal measure in 2016, Newsom told The Modesto Bee editorial board he would “be accountable to the will of the voters” on the death penalty if he became governor.


Update… I found a more complete quote in a video from that same interview:

I have enormous sensitivity and respect for people that disagree. And so my position has always been, if ever I was in a position to actually be accountable… would be accountable to the will of the voters. I would not get my personal opinions in the way of the public’s right to make a determination of where they want to take us (inaudible) the death penalty


I think Newsom had a responsibility to be honest during the governor campaign. He needed to say that if elected he would consider putting a moratorium on the death penalty and commuting the death sentences of everyone on death row. I think this is particularly true considering his quote from 2016 that implies exactly the opposite. Might he have lost because of that? Perhaps. He won by a pretty sizable margin so perhaps not. But this is an issue that gets a lot of people worked up, even a lot of Democrats that voted for him.

But risking losing is exactly why it is what he should have done. The right answer is always to act with integrity and try to convince the opposition of the rightness of your cause. Deception and going back on one’s promises leads to great angst in the population.

I think a great deal of the political angst we see in society today, that has led to the polarization of our country, is due to decades of deceptive and underhanded behavior by politicians and political parties. People are sick of it and running to more and more extreme measures to try and combat it. If we want to fix this, what is most needed is politicians with integrity and honesty. It’s more important than their specific policy positions (within reason).

So, while a big part of me is joyful today, I must admit there is a tinge of fear and disappointment. I’m not sure this was the right way to go about this.

Can we have both female deacons and married priests?

Two hot topics for Catholic insiders has been the investigation Pope Francis launched into whether the Church might be able to have women deacons and, separately, whether the Church will allow more married priests, starting with South America.

Starting with the female deacons, from what I understand an investigation was completed and handed to the Pope. It more or less said that there were women deacons into the early middle ages and many of them had a ceremony when they became women deacons that looked nearly identical to the ordination ceremony of male deacons. There’s less clarity in the similarity of their roles however and they seemed in many cases to have been chosen to do things that would be imprudent to have men do, like baptizing adult women (which was often done nude).

In what seems like a completely different topic, there’s an upcoming council where the issues of expanding the ranks of married priests will be discussed. From what I understand there’s a huge shortage in South America, particularly in remote areas like the Amazon.

A very interesting article in Crux discussed some of the concerns with increasing the number of married priests. One of them was this:

There is also a fear that ordaining viri probati would create a caste system in the priesthood. Less educated, married, and ordained under special circumstances, these priests would be seen as second-class clergy in the Church.
When the permanent diaconate was first established, the term “lay deacons” was often used to describe the new clergy. Even today, permanent deacons labor under rules on using clerical dress and titles that seem more concerned with making sure no one confuses them with priests than on making sure people know they are clergy. Viri probati priests could face similar problems.


It seems to me that a hidden (or at least infrequently talked about) dichotomy exists between these two thrusts. I’m not expert enough to know whether the Church could or should ordain women deacons. I’ll leave that to the wisdom of the Church and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

But what *IS* clear is that there will be no women priests. The Church has been pretty clear on the subject. Pope John Paul II wrote a whole document on it – Ordinatio Sacerdotalis – and Pope Francis has re-iterated that thought.

So it seems to me that if we are concerned about the fact that there might be a caste system between different types of clergy (and make no mistake, deacons are clergy) and women could never be priests, allowing women deacons would permanently ensure that caste system existed. There would be a class of clergy who were fundamentally ineligible to be the other types of clergy. It would further the divide between deacons and priests.

Having married priests on the other hand would seem to re-unite the priests and deacons. If we had some of both, it would suggest that they shared more in common than before, where only one had married members. The fear is that married priests would be seen as “lower” the way today’s deacons are often seen.

But that issue is resolvable (and in my opinion is slowly being resolved). I’d even argue that married priests may help to resolve the issues. In my opinion, part of what makes deacons seem “lower” is that we are “part time” ministers. We aren’t employed by the Church by nature of our ordination. We have to provide for our own income for us and our families. This makes us appear as a less dedicated, less engrossed in the day to day life of the Church as priests, who are full-time employed by the Church.

Having married priests would I think open doors to employed deacons (if the Church is supporting the priest’s family, they could conceivably do it for the deacons too) or if the Church went the other way and married priests were “part time” it would hopefully eventually lead to an understanding that employment is not the fundamental thing that shows where our hearts fully lie.

All of this is a long way of saying that I think the Church is likely faced with a choice: It can either widen the wedge between deacons and priests by ordaining women, and thereby make it even harder to imagine a world with married priests (since the lone example of married clergy are now further from the priesthood) or work harder to re-unite all levels of clergy, and by necessity accept that it means that women can not be deacons.

But, perhaps there’s something big I’m not seeing. I’m very open to other ideas on the subject. Thoughts?

Thoughts on Jesus in the desert

Today is the 1st Sunday of Lent. The common theme for all 3 years of the Lectionary is Jesus in the desert. What came to mind when I was preparing to proclaim the Gospel is that there are two different vantage points to look at temptation:

  1. From the viewpoint of the person doing the tempting… the devil in this case.
  2. From the viewpoint of the person being tempted… Jesus in this case.

Because I don’t want to have constantly clarify my words, for the remainder of this post I will use the word tempt (and it’s variants) for #1 and the word entice (and it’s variants) for #2.

I don’t know if I’m alone in thinking this, but I’ve always thought of Jesus as having not been very enticed by the Devil’s tempting. Sure, those are pretty big and powerful things to tempt someone with:

  • You’re hungry? Here’s a way to get some food.
  • For most human beings, the prospect of power and honor is very enticing.
  • Similarly, the desire to show off our capabilities, to prove how awesome we are, is also very enticing to most of us.

But I tend to think of Jesus in perfect terms, usually in divine terms, or when I think of Him in human terms I think of him as being the perfection of human behavior. So, while the rest of us would be pretty enticed by the Devil’s temptation, I generally assume that Jesus wouldn’t have been similarly enticed.

But is that right?

We should also remember that Jesus was fully human during His time on earth. Part of what we believe about the human condition is that we have those temptations that are very enticing to us. It differs from person to person, but we all have multiple things that entice us greatly. For me, food is on that list. I struggle with my weight (losing the battle too often). The sin of gluttony is one I confess all too regularly. But for others, beyond massive hunger, they aren’t much enticed by food. For them it might be lust or sloth or greed. Some of us struggle with many enticements.

Thus it seems fair to assume that Jesus too, being fully human, had his things that enticed him. And the Devil, being capable of seeing things us humans can not, had to be well aware of what to tempt Christ with. And so, one has to think, that Jesus was indeed much enticed by what the Devil was using to tempt.

The question then becomes, if Jesus was so enticed, as enticed as we are when we fail to resist the enticement, how was it that he was able to resist? We all have so much experience with the temptations of the world catching us at our weakest moments, when we lack the fortitude to resist what entices us, and us falling into sin. How did Jesus do better?

I think that’s where my first instinct of assuming that Jesus wasn’t all that enticed comes from. I have a hard time believing that someone could be so enticed and still resist. But that might also be the most powerful lesson in this passage from the Gospel.

Jesus found the strength to resist by tapping into the divine. No matter how much He was enticed, no matter how much *we* are enticed, God offers us His strength to combat it. It may be difficult for us in our humanity to believe that or to trust God or to reach out to God enough to grab onto that strength, but Jesus demonstrates that it *IS* possible. He was enticed by the Devil in the most comprehensive way the Devil could conceive. The Devil wanted nothing more than to turn Christ against His Father. Yet Christ found the power to resist in God.

I think if we can all learn that lesson, to believe deep in our hearts that we can resist any temptation no matter how enticing it is, by tapping into the power of God, we’d be far better off.

Do you fully love your spouse?

I’ve been exposed to a number of difficult marital situations in the last few weeks. I can’t go into the details, but it’s heart-wrenching stuff. There are deep wounds that threaten to sever their relationships… perhaps permanently.

One of the things that can be very difficult is to well communicate what true love looks like, without overstating things. How does one make it clear that there are times of abuse or serial infidelity where separation is absolutely necessary but that doesn’t mean we are excused from our promises to self-less love beyond normal human means? Worse yet, how does one well communicate what the criteria might be to determine when one insists on a separation is acting selfishly or whether it is actually self-less?

This is particularly difficult when the issue of divorce in those difficult cases comes up but the Church rightly says that divorce is not itself grounds for an annulment. How can the Church say it is right to be separated, perhaps for the rest of one’s life including divorce, but at the same time say that there is still a marriage there?

While praying about how to speak about this, a parallel occurred to me that I think is worth pondering. It may not be a complete parallel, but I think it at least helps re-frame the conversation in terms that make sense to most people:

Ask yourself “How would I respond if it was my adult child, instead of my spouse, who was acting this way?”

You see, I think we as parents more naturally get self-less love with our children. We will *always* love our children and they will be our children “until death do us part”. Even if they murder or rape someone… they will still be our children. Even if they cheat on their spouse, your daughter/son-in-law who you’ve come to deeply love, you may be very disappointed in your child, but you will still love them.

Even if they get addicted to drugs or become physically abusive, and you have to separate yourself from them for the health of the family (and yourself) and it may be many years before you can have any sense of reconciliation… you will still love them. They will still be your child. Even if you never can see them again because they never repent of their sins and their harmful behavior, you will still love them and they will still be your child. And you will always be hoping and waiting and praying for the day that this comes to an end and you can hold your beloved child in your arms again. And you will do everything in your power to ensure that you won’t do anything to create non-essential barriers to reconciling.

That is self-less love. That is the love we are called to for our spouses. It is a love that is both realistic about the current problems and what must be done, but at the same time is time-less and unbreakable. I think it might be that if we ask ourselves “If my adult child were to do what my spouse has done that has hurt me so badly, how would I respond?” we might just be able to see more clearly the sort of love we are called to for our spouses.

Charitably reading others and a ‘joyful’ Lent

Our parish hands out ‘The Little Black Book’ reflections for Lent every year. For those not familiar with them, they are a booklet that has 2 pages dedicated to each day of Lent with a reflection of that day. They say it should take about 6 minutes each day.

I have to admit, I wasn’t too pleased with today’s reflection. It starts with “Before the latest revision of the Roman Missal, one of the prefaces for Lenten Masses thanked God because ‘each year you give us this joyful season…'” The reflection then goes on to talk about why the word joyful is used.

This is my objection: The text of the Missal was changed for a reason. The Church has itself decided that joyful is not the right word. Why are they insisting on sticking to a word that the Church has decided was not right?

To make matters worse, the reflection in the Little Black Book isn’t arguing that Lent is joyful, it is arguing that Lent is a positive thing. To use it’s words, “If I make this a good Lent, I’ll find myself a happier person.” I also speaks of Lent being “invigorated, energized, enlivened…”

And that I would agree with. Lent is a positive thing. I’d bias towards words like holy, edifying, reconciling, purifying and strengthening, all of which are positive things. And so while my choice of words may have been slightly different, I’d overall agree.

Which makes it all the more baffling to me why they’d stick with an unnecessary reference to a Missal translation we haven’t been using for 8 years. Why!?! And I was tempted to assume their motives were less that honorable. That they were “obsessed” with the old translation and couldn’t let it go. But then I read the ‘about’ page in the back of the book:

“In 1999, Bishop Ken Untener … decided to create a Little Black Book. … Bishop Untener died 15 years ago, on March 27, 2004, but his writings, talks and homilies are the basis for the reflections on the right-hand side of ‘Little Books’.”

Which brings a great deal of clarity. I suspect the reflection for the day today has been the same since 1999 or at least since 2004. And the care-takers of this ministry are trying very hard to be as true to Bishop Untener’s writings as possible. And so they’re stuck with a difficult problem. They’ve got the words he used and decided are best for this day of Lent, but they reference words that changed in the Missal 6 years *after* his death. How are they to reconcile this? Do they find some other writing of his to substitute even though it is not the thought he had for this day? Do they change the overall wording and risk perhaps changing the intended message he wanted? Or do they add a quick preface to the text to indicate that these were the words before the Missal change so as to leave his text as intact as possible?

Obviously they chose the last route. And while I might argue it would have been wiser to go with the middle option, it’s hard to argue with the good intentions of the care-takers of these booklets. There’s no reason to presume they’re “obsessed” with the old translation. It’s likely quite the opposite.

The point of all of this is that we need to be really careful when we get frustrated with others, particularly when we take it to the level of assuming bad motives. Most of the time there is so many things that contribute to a persons decisions and actions. Most of the time we’re unaware of much of it. And while we may have still argued for a different decision than the one we made, I’ve found that most of the time, when I learn the back-story of a decision/action I disagree with, I find that my ability to ascribe negative motives to them usually goes away.

Our society is in a really bad place in this regard currently. Far too often we find the flimsiest excuses we can find to ascribe bad motives to others. We’re waiting for the opportunity to condemn.

But this is not what Christ calls us to. We are called to assume the best of others. We are called to remember that everyone is made in the image and likeness of God.

Perhaps this is yet another thing we should all be working on this Lent.

The failure of Lenten resolutions

I know it seems odd to write on the 1st day of Lent about failing at our Lenten resolutions, but a big part of what makes me choose my disciplines for Lent is whether I think I can stick to them. So the topic of failure is on my mind right from the start.

It seems to me there’s a parallel between New Years resolutions and what we’re “giving up for Lent”. Much of what people give up for Lent are things that are bad for them. Indeed, my list includes soda and cookies… two things that are not helping my waist-line. What concerns me about this parallel is the failure rate of New Years resolutions. Interestingly, 64% are successful for a month (so only 36% have failed by that point), but 80% have failed by the 2nd week of February. 4 1/2 weeks in January plus at most 2 weeks in February… that’s 6 1/2 weeks, which is the length of Lent.

While I don’t have exacting data, the New Years data suggests the majority of Lenten resolutions will have failed before the end of Lent as well, assuming similar failure rates. Although some suggest that the accountability of the faith community as well as the fixed timeline (compared to a New Years resolution that generally is meant to be a life-long change) make it so that Lenten resolutions are more successful than New Years resolutions.

But I think there’s something else that can be different about Lent and indeed about any Christian resolution for change… forgiveness and renewed resolution. There’s something about a New Years resolution that make it seem like once you’ve failed, it’s time to give up… at least until next year. There’s a collective feeling of “Well, we tried. Oh well!”

Hopefully we don’t have this sort of feeling about our Lenten resolutions. If you give up chocolate and give in to temptation, the right answer is to say a prayer asking God for forgiveness and then re-doubling your efforts. This seems more in line with our cherished beliefs about Gods’ forgiveness.

We believe forgiveness and redemption is possible for everyone. While there are many that society will write off as being irredeemable, as Christians we’re called to believe that anyone, no matter how big their sins, can be transformed. This is a great gift to the sinner. Without the possibility of redemption, few would turn their lives around.

This is just as true for the little sins. We can keep returning to the confessional over and over with the little things we struggle with. We’re allowed to try time and time again to overcome our temptations. So where the New Years resolution tends to have a ‘once-and-done’ feel, hopefully when it comes to our Lenten resolutions, even when we momentarily fail, hopefully we have the fortitude to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, ask God for pardon, and begin again.

May we all have that strength this Lenten season.

What does “lay down one’s life” mean?

I was doing a morning Lectio Divina reflection on John Chapter 15. In it, Christ says “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life one’s friends.” (verse 13)

Of course when we read that, our first thought is generally about what Christ later did: He died on the Cross for all of His friends… US! And so I think it is only natural for us to think in these terms. But what if that’s just the first layer of the onion, a layer that could possibly be an obstacle to us growing in faith?

How often is death actually asked of us in service of others? Not very often, right? So how are we to change our day to day life to conform to that truth? If all we’re doing is spiritually preparing ourselves for the unlikely possibility that someday we may be called to die for God, it seems like we’re not really doing all that much, nor is it something we can test ourselves against to see how we’re progressing in love of God.

Luckily, I think there’s another layer below that. What if we make the word substitution of “giving” instead of “laying down”? It still fits the literal/top layer. We can give our life for our friends. That terminology is often used for someone who died for another.

Yet at the same time, giving our life can also mean that we dedicate every moment of our life to another. We speak of giving our life to our spouse or our children and by that we mean that we no longer use our days for our own benefit, but give those days of service to them.

So I think it is better if we understand this passage in two ways. The first literal way is worth keeping and valuable. But we should also see it in terms of service of God and our fellow man. We can “lay down” our life by every day making the self-less decision to serve God. We can transform our perspective from one that is selfish and mostly concerned with what is for our own good into a life that is self-less and where every day is given to the service of others.

That’s something we can work on getting better at every day. That’s something we can measure whether we’re making progress in our relationship with God. That’s something that come the end of our life we can have hope that we’ll hear the refrain we all hope to hear: “Well done, faithful servant.”

Aim high and try again

I have to admit, the last 36 hours have not been my finest. Not that anything horrible went wrong, but I succumbed to some of my bad habits that tend to torture me. What’s worse is that the last few weeks have been very good in those same areas, so the last day and a half has felt like a big step backwards.

While reflecting on how to recover from this setback a few thoughts came to mind that I thought worth sharing:

  • Most of the time, the wrong reaction to setbacks is to set our sights lower. Of course there are exceptions to this. There are times when we will we set our goals delusionally high and it ends up being an obstacle to both success and peace in our lives. But I think that’s the exception, not the rule. Generally, the right path is to aim high and be ready to work on a recovery plan if we fall short of that. I think this is something to keep in mind as we make our plans for Lent. Let’s make plans that are both semi-realistic, but also stretch us a bit. Let’s aim high.
  • Prayer is so essential to success. And not just praying, but making sure it’s good prayer. I’ve been in a very good prayer habit the last few weeks, but Wednesday morning I was a bit tired and I let myself treat it to mechanically. I said the words, but my head and my heart weren’t there as much as they should have been. In retrospect, it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise that later in the day when my temptations came calling, I wasn’t well prepared to resist them.
  • Speaking of which, here is a prayer that I made spontaneously a couple of months ago and I find it to be surprisingly effective at resisting my temptations: “Holy Spirit, give me strength and fortitude over my temptations. Protect me from Satan as I tell him – “You have *NO* power over me!” I say this prayer the instant, and I mean right away, whenever I feel tempted to something. I’m actually surprised how well it works. But when temptation came calling Wednesday afternoon I was in enough of a prayer rut that I didn’t say that prayer.
  • Finally, I am reminded that it is never God who ceases to offer us fortitude and protection, it is our weak humanity that chooses to walk away from it. God is always there. We just have to choose to tap into the graces he offers us.

So, let us aim high, be vigilant in our prayer lives, and when we fall down, let us pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and try again.

Thoughts on gay priests

I just finished reading a blog post by Jennifer Fitz that is an open letter to gay priests and generally a response to an article in the New York Times where they interviewed a number of gay priests, mostly anonymously. While the post is a bit more coarse than I would write, it well sums up my thoughts, both on the NYT article and generally how we should view gay priests.

When I read that NYT article I was very frustrated by how it was framed. It acted as if priests who are attracted to other men are in some different situation than priests who are attracted to women. Or frankly, that they’re all that different from the rest of us when it comes to sexuality in the most important sense: We’re called to have restraint and mastery of our sexual desires.

Is it any easier for a married man to be respectful of his wife’s need for sexual abstinence during the 2 to 6 months surrounding the birth of a child? Does the desire for sexual intimacy magically go away during those sorts of times? Could it perhaps be harder for us married men because we have strong personal and intimate memories of the joys of sex with our spouses when we must be celibate for long periods of time?

Perhaps that last question pushes the boundaries of rhetorical truth, but the point is we’re all called to show sexual restraint and even for a married couple there are more days than not where we have to do that.

And that means that there is both good news and bad news for priests who have attractions to other men. The good news is that we get that it is difficult. We may not know what it is like to be attracted to people of the same sex, but trust us, we know what it is like to have resist sexual temptations. And so we’re pretty sympathetic. We’re ready to support you in whatever way we can, just like we’re ready to support any other priest who is struggling with temptations, sexual or otherwise.

But that bad news is that we’re not ready to offer you any sort of special privileges or indulgences either. We’re happy to have you serve us as priests, no matter what your sexual temptations are. But just as we are called to sexual restraint in our marriages, you’re called to sexual restraint in your vows to the priesthood. You don’t get a pass just because your sexual temptations are homosexual in nature. Your job is to proclaim the Gospel including Christ’s call to self-less love, not lustful desire. Our job is to hold you accountable to that same Gospel.

But here is where I’m ready to admit there’s been an issue that needs to be addressed: There’s a massive disconnect over what the term “gay” means and thus I think many people are talking past each other and misinterpreting others.

And it’s as simple as this: Does “being gay” mean you’re sexually active?

I don’t know why it has been so hard for people to admit this disconnect. It feels like in certain circles, even those with very different perspectives, there’s a desire to not admit the disconnect.

My proposal would be to not assume. Or if you must, assume that the speaker is using the term gay in a way that is most reconcilable with your perspective. Christ does call to assume the best of others, yes?

By way of example, when a priest with homosexual attractions hears someone say that the “lavender mafia” is responsible for the sexual abuse crisis, assume that what they’re saying is that it is not the homosexual attraction that is the issue, but that there’s a group of priests who are showing insufficient sexual restraint and encouraging others to do the same. Thus, this culture of encouraging illicit sex is encouraging those with temptation to either pedophilia or ephebohilia to act on their temptations. Assume that those who speak of a “gay problem” do so not to attack your ministry nor an attack on your attractions or temptations, but that there is a problem with sexually active priests.

The same goes for the inverse case, when a priest says that he is gay, people should not assume this means he is sexual active. It is merely admitting that the preponderance of their sexual attraction is towards people of the same sex.

If we could do this, get to a place where we both recognize that there have been places within the clergy that have been undermining the collective vows of celibacy and at the same time honoring celibate priests who have same-sex attraction as good and noble men, I think we could go a long way towards both addressing the sexual abuse crisis while also helping priests find peace with the Church’s attitude towards their temptations.

Unusual way we could help the poor

I’ve had a developing thought that gained clarity yesterday as I was preparing to get passports for all of my children…

The process of getting a passport looks daunting at first. The application form has *FOUR* pages of caveats and conditions. They speak in terms that are confusing and hard to understand. But once I started wading through it, it turned out to not be that bad. All I needed was to fill out a form with basic identifying info most people know by heart and have all of us (both parents and the kids) go to the appropriate post office with their birth certificates and photo ID for the parents.

Yet It took me a good hour to figure that out. It talked about all the various documents I needed, but it turned out that all of those things were satisfied by the kids birth certificates. But that was not at all clear at first. It started with precision of all the various ways one could establish each of the documentary evidence one needs to provide (and there were many). I think this was because they wanted to “make it easy” for someone who may have some of the other options, but not readily have their birth certificate.

However, in their attempt to “make it easy” they actually made it quite daunting. It was overwhelming. And I thought to myself, what if I was poor or transient? How much more overwhelming would this be at a library computer than in the comfort of my own home with a filing cabinet full of saved documents?

Government needs to find ways to make things simpler. Part of the libertarian push-back we’re seeing in society is because government has done a very poor job of keeping things as simple as possible. In this case, it should start with that simple list I mention above (birth certificate, ID, picture (if you don’t want to pay to have it taken at the PO)) and then have links for people to follow if they don’t fit the normal situation.

Or another example… when I was laid off, we had a 2 month window where we weren’t going to have health insurance. We could have paid for cobra to keep my existing insurance, but “Obamacare” (correctly called the A.C.A.) supposedly made it a lot easier and we’d likely get a government subsidy while both Wendy and I were unemployed. But actually getting it was a *nightmare* of documents and bureaucracy. I eventually acquiesced to a bureaucrat who wanted to do it the wrong way based on my reading of the relevant forms because I was sick of fighting her. But I thought to myself, this is going to come back to bite me. Sure enough, we got a $1000 fine come tax time for not doing something right.

Thus a similar thought went through my head… how is this helping the poor who can’t afford health insurance? Are they really going to be able to fight their way through this bureaucracy? What do they do when they get a fine like that for not following every step just right?

So, if we want to actually help the poor, not just pretend to help the poor, we have to make the processes for government *MUCH* simpler. Every time a middle-class white-collar family struggles with government bureaucracy we need to say, if it’s hard for a person with this many resources to do this, it’s too complicated. We are failing our poor people, the people who government is supposed to be looking out for, by having such a complicated governmental system.