In the 19th century, of the (many) reasons that Catholics faced discrimination from their Protestant counterparts was over the issue of sex. While many Protestants had been swept up in the Victorian-era repression of sex, believing that sex was merely a means to an end and should be avoided except for the procreation of children, that all sexual desire should be suppressed, Catholics took a slightly different approach. Not only did we emphasize the importance of pleasure in sex, we freely talked about it, with Church leaders routinely commenting on sex in homilies or letters to the faithful. For those who thought that what happened in the bedroom was private and was no one’s business in the Church (even God’s?), the Catholic Church was a strange and promiscuous institution that one should be wary of.

Funny how the more things change the more things stay the same. Today, we’re still looked upon as strange by the outside world, but instead of being promiscuous and free we’re now seen as repressed and stuck up. And while our teachings have stayed the same all of these years, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that few people actually understand what’s at the root of these teachings. Why do we say what we do? What is at stake in terms of our definition of the human person? How does sexual activity require responsibility, morality, and (dare I say) even some virtue? Even for married couples, even for those in the privacy of their own bedrooms, the Church stands firm in believing that everything we do should reflect our faith. Marriage does not give someone the free pass to do anything they want just as a driver’s license doesn’t give someone free rein of the highway.

Obviously, there are many ways to exercise this and some may faithfully approach sex without coming to the same conclusions that we do. In fact, even within the Catholic Church, among the faithful and clergy alike, there is great debate surrounding our sexual teaching. To say that simply because someone disagrees with the official magisterium of the Church means that they are not taking this sacred act seriously would be a serious overgeneralization. There are many faithful ways to view the same issue.

What I present to you this week, then, is not meant to be dogmatic teaching inherent to the very nature of being a Christian. What I present is an attempt to understand the logic behind the Church’s teaching. Not everyone will accept this, I accept, but that is not my hope in taking on this topic. In a world so divided on such a controversial issue, my only hope is that people may come to a greater knowledge of why our teachings are the way they are so to engage them more critically in prayer and conversation. We’ve gotten a bad rap on this issue for centuries, and while some of it is certainly deserved, I think the vast majority of it springs from misunderstanding.

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Eight hundred years ago, a little man from Assisi, a man without tremendous wealth, power, stature, or societal influence, set a movement in motion that would leave the Church and world forever changed. That man was St. Francis of Assisi.

Within just a short decade, there were already more than 5,000 friars in countries all across Europe, the Poor Clares had spread to multiple monasteries and established itself as a new way of monastic living, and the penitent movements had received their rule and amassed a larger number even than the rest.

It’s difficult to underestimate the effect that the Franciscan movement had on history. With its great size and diversity came the ability to spread its culture and values, including a number of innovations, in a way that had never been seen before. Constantly on the move, they could respond to the signs of the times, enflaming a people with passion before moving on to the next place. The way they served the poorest of the poor, living humbly themselves, preaching in new and popular ways, and not asking for much in return challenged the secular priests of their day to serve in a different way. The nativity scene and stations of the cross, while not invented by the Franciscans, are popular devotions today because of their insistence on an incarnational way of prayer. And the breviary, the shortened and compacted way of praying the psalms found in every religious house in the world today, was first employed by these traveling preachers.

At every level of the Church, in every country in the world, the Franciscans have not only been present, but have left their mark in irreconcilable ways.

But why? Why didn’t the Dominicans, who were formed around the same time, not grow as quickly? Why did it take the Jesuits, who were founded to do similar forms of ministry, so long to get its first pope (who took the name Francis!) Why haven’t the Benedictines, who have existed for much longer, had such a lasting effect on the imagination of the Church? And why haven’t the countless other religious orders that were founded throughout the history of the Church been able to match what the Franciscans have done in 800 years?

I ask these questions not to put down other Orders or even to shamelessly promote the Franciscans (okay, a little bit of the latter), but simply to marvel at what seems inconceivable: a religious movement started by a simple man like Francis should have never worked at all, let alone have changed the Church and world as it did.

Why is that? And maybe more importantly, what might we learn from the success of this movement 800 years ago in what our Church and world are facing today? That is what I was employed to talk about last weekend at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Arizona. While I can’t repeat all 5 hours of talks, I wanted to share the central points here in this week’s vlog.

I hope it inspires you to join in the movement, in however you can in your situation, and happy Feast of St. Francis to you all!

On Tuesday of last week, the Catholic Church found itself back in the spotlight. Unfortunately, this was not the sort of spotlight that Jesus meant when he said that a lamp should be placed on a stand so that all may see its light. No, once again, the Catholic Church was the center of the world’s attention for the sins it has committed in the abuse of minors by priests and its subsequent coverup. According to a Grand Jury report from the Office of Attorney General in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, as many as 1000 minors had been abused by priests over a 70 year period.

One thousand.

For many, the gist of the story is old news. In fact, the Church had reported similar numbers itself back in 2004 when it had done a full survey of the entire country. The fact that there were so many is horrifying, but not all that new. What is new, though, is the list of perpetrators and the details of their cases. As opposed to 2004, what the world is seeing now is more than just a statistical breakdown, more than just overall generalities, but an actual list of names, details of their abuse, and the ways that the Church systematically covered it up. By no means for the weak of stomach, the report reveals unconscionable tactics that these priests used to lure in minors, abuse them, and even create a network of abusers within dioceses, able to continue their actions from place to place under the shelter of the Church.

Simply horrifying.

And so, once again, the Church finds itself in the spotlight with attackers from every angle. We experience the same hatred and distrust as a decade ago, the same wound being reopened and made worse. And we are left shocked because we put our Band-Aid on and thought that it would have healed by now. There are some in the Church that wonder why there is so much animosity towards the Church again, becoming very defensive, claiming that there is nothing new in this report and that this is all old news. But this wound is too deep to think that it could have healed in short time, to think that it could have healed on its own without tending to the depths of the damage inflicted. No, to its credit, the Church changed some of its protocols and made Churches the safest place for minors in our world today, but it never addressed the structures that led to such a problem, and it never really healed the wounds all around.

And so they fester.

And so we find ourselves bombarded with the same horrible arguments as a decade ago. Some want to use this an opportunity to remove the requirement of celibacy for priests, arguing that this is the cause. But do we really want to say that remaining single and not acting out sexually causes one to be a rapist? Should we be worried about the millions out there not currently in relationships? This is ludicrous. Others want to use this as an opportunity to denounce homosexuality and to purge our seminaries of anyone with a same-sex attraction. But do we really want to say that having an attraction to someone of the same sex causes one to rape minors? That there is a natural propensity in gay men to want to be sexually active with children? This is absurd.

Pedophilia and ephebophilia are not normal expressions of sexual desire. In fact, they are not primarily sexual in nature: rape is more an act of violence than anything else. These things comes from a place of brokenness and distortion, the result of a real disorder. To use this situation as a means to promote an agenda, claiming that celibacy or homosexuality causes one to develop such a disorder and act out in heinous ways, is cheap, scientifically inaccurate, and against what the Church has said about itself.

But most of all, it is a deflection. It is a way of scapegoating an issue so that the blame is placed onto someone else, that we who are not of that category are left feeling innocent, and all the while, the victims themselves are left as an afterthought.

That cannot be our path forward. That cannot be the way we ultimately heal this wound and move on as the light of Christ in the world. More than anything else, the Church needs to recognize and accept the sins that it has committed, willing to accept the consequences for the sake of bringing justice for the victims, rather than focusing on self-preservation. Rather than focusing all our attention on who is to blame so that we can be sure that we’re not to blame, our focus needs to be on having a real sense of remorse, an honest reflection on what went wrong, and a steadfast commitment, above all else, to those who need the most healing. As much as this situation hurts us and we can say that the Church needs to be healed, we are not the victims here. I’ll say it again:

We are not the victims here.

It is only when we are able to fully accept this that the healing can begin. A Band-Aid will not heal this wound. Nor will treating the wrong patient.

Every second Monday of October, residents of the United States celebrate “Columbus Day,” a commemoration of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas in 1492. For many who live in this country, it marks the beginning of our history, the start of European settling in the Western Hemisphere.

For many others, however, the date and commemoration are not things to celebrate. Besides the fact that the Americas were “discovered” thousands of years earlier by the people who had called it home when Columbus arrived, his arrival marked not the beginning of our history but the end of theirs. In the decades that followed, many native nations were assimilated, thrown into slavery, or wiped out, witness to horrible atrocities that would continue into the 20th century. Today, 1492 represents a terrible memory—both for the remaining native people and for European-descended Christians who lament our first ancestors’ actions—of the evil that is possible when greed leads us.

Like all of history, though, it’s a mixed bag that leaves us sitting uncomfortably in the middle without a correct answer. Was Columbus a “bad” guy? I’m not willing to say that outright. As easy as it is to see the actions of a particular historical figure and judge them from the perspective of our current moral lens, doing so is not prudent or fair. While the actions of a historical figure may not be permissible today, we must always remember that we are where we are and know what we know precisely because of the lived experience—and major failures—of those who have gone before us. To impose our value system on a historical situation that was acting under completely different historical situations and values—essentially holding two people to the same rules even though they’re playing a different game—is not a beneficial way to look at history. While I do think that many of the acts committed against the native peoples were objectively against the will of God, we must remember, as in all cases, that our social context, systems of injustice, societal expectations, and limited worldview restrict our ability to freely choose the good.

For that reason, I spend this Columbus Day—or Indigenous People’s Day—or First Nations Day—or the Second Monday of October… day—not focusing on the evil committed by someone of history and accepted as normal by the people of his day; someone acting the way that most acted in their day is not worth commemorating, good or bad. Instead, I spend this day focused on a man who stood against what was normal and accepted in his day, a man who risked his life and reputation to stand for something that was unpopular and unheard of. That man? Dominican Friar Bartolomé de Las Casas, the “Protector of the Indians.”

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It seems like a rule of nature that conflict is inevitable. While the last two decades has been witness to extremely polarized thinking in both ecclesiastical and political debates, the fact of the matter is that people have always been in conflict. We disagree with one another. We get angry. We fight. Such is life. On this side of the Kingdom, I’m just not sure we can avoid it.

But oh do we try.

When I meet someone who has opinions diametrically different from mine, my first impulse is to try to change their mind. I may not open with that, and really, I may not even pursue it in action, but that desire is there. While small differences in opinion are not only good, they’re necessary, there is something deep inside of me that is unsettled when someone claims something I find absolutely ludicrous. I must fix them.

Maybe you know this feeling. If so, then maybe you know what usually happens in these cases: nothing. In my whole life, in all the people I have met and in all of the conversations about politics, religion, philosophy, or the like, I’m not sure if I have ever changed the opinion of someone who started off diametrically opposed to me. Never. Instead, what almost always happens is that at least one of us gets frustrated at our inability to fix the other person and we leave the conversation worse off than when we started: same opinions held but a worse relationship between us.

What do we do now?

More times than not, we just let it go. Rather than carrying the burden of the frustration with us well after the conversation is done, we try to forget the argument and move on with our lives. And on the surface, this seems like our best option: adding resentment to an altogether meaningless conversation is not good for one’s mental or emotional health, and benefits neither you nor your opponent. Letting the conversation go is probably the best thing we can do.

Rather unfortunately, though, we often let go of much more than that. In my experience, when faced with a difficult person or opinion that we cannot reconcile with the way we view the world, we often let go of the person as well. Rather than having to deal with the frustration that such a perspective is out there, and unwilling to accept that it cannot be reconciled with our world view, we employ a defense mechanism that eliminates the problem: we determine that that person or opinion is fundamentally wrong, therefore not of any worth to our lives.

It’s a nice tactic, actually. Able to put someone in a box—no, they put themselves in a box away from reason, not us!—our commitment to them and their ideas disappears. Those people are so messed up, we say. That one is crazy, we think. Why waste time thinking about or engaging people who are so far from right thinking?

And yet, as nice and comforting it is to us, as neat and tidy as it makes our relationships, when we do this, we forget something rather fundamental to our lives: As Christians, we do not have the luxury of writing people off.

As much as we want to solve problems by cutting people out of our lives and forever ignoring them, we do not have the luxury: we are called to forgiveness.

As much as we want to put people down for being “so messed up,” we do not have the luxury. We are called to love even our enemies.

As much as we want to attack others, play the victim, or try to get people our our side against them, we do not have the luxury. We are called to be meek peacemakers.

As much as the world may find certain behaviors and ways of dealing with conflict acceptable, we do not have the luxury. We are called to another world.

As much as we want to hide from issues and people, avoiding conflict and saying that “it’s not my problem,” we do not have the luxury. We are called to imitate God’s justice and mercy in our world, building up the kingdom of God, not just for ourselves, but for all.

There is no doubt in my mind that conflict has existed as long as life has existed and that it will continue long after I am gone. I have no utopian dreams of creating a world in which everyone holds hands and gets along, all thinking and speaking with one voice. This side of the Kingdom, conflict is a reality at the center of our lives. As Christians, that should not free us from being who we say we are—Christians. No, Jesus himself came and lived in a volatile world with conflict all around him. In fact, it is mainly through conflict that we know what we know about him and how we are to live. As easy as it is to buy into the values of the world—to act like the leaders of camps we see around us, to improve our cause by putting down our enemy, to determine for ourselves who is worth engaging and who is not—we need to remember one thing: if we want to call ourselves followers of Christ, we do not have the luxury of letting go of any part of the body of Christ.