By Christopher Stefanick Forgive the title. I couldn’t resist. I do respect Pat Robertson for the good things he’s done, but as a lifelong youth minister, I don’t think his support of the movement to legalize recreational pot use is one of them. I fear doing so would make pot use even more commonplace among teens.
Time is starting to carve wrinkles into my face and is slowly plucking hairs from my head.
So, the Denver Broncos didn’t get to play in the Superbowl. Tebow, no doubt, was praying they would. Though I know of a priest in Boston who was praying for the New England Patriots during their victory on Jan. 14. I guess that’s proof, once and for all, that Jesus is Catholic.
Something can be learned from every scandal. I lived and worked in the San Gabriel region of the Los Angeles Archdiocese for almost five years. Gabino Zavala was the bishop assigned to our region.
I remember visiting my dad’s work when I was a kid in the early 80s. He was part of what was an elite workforce back then: The few, the proud—the computer programmers!
Last year a bill to legalize civil unions was defeated in Colorado. The legislation will be back again when Colorado’s legislative session begins in January.Civil unions are basically marriage under a different name—a distinction without a difference. One of the rallying cries of the proponents of gay marriage is that young people overwhelmingly support it.I’m sure that if polled most young people would support a four-hour school day, though their opinion is generally overlooked in such important matters. Since it is not being overlooked with this issue, I think it’s worth considering what they actually think about gay marriage and why they think it.According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, a decrease in age directly corresponds to an increase in acceptance of gay marriage. Among those 65 and older, 30 percent support gay marriage. Among those ages 30 to 64 that number increases to 47 percent. And among 18- to 29-year-olds it is 65 percent. One might safely assume the number is even higher among high school age youths.It seems that most young people, Catholic or not, are all for gay marriage, or at least they aren’t opposed to it. But I’d like to add one very important caveat: they aren’t supporters of gay marriage because they think it’s the right thing for society, nor because they think homosexual activity is morally acceptable. I think they support gay marriage and civil unions because they’ve been carefully taught not to apply any critical thought to the issue at all.Young people, especially teens, have big hearts—so big that if you move their hearts they’ll forget their heads. I think that has been taken advantage of (perhaps intentionally, perhaps not) by proponents of gay marriage.I don’t think young people are being encouraged to ask questions like: “What is marriage?” “Where does our definition of marriage come from?” “What does natural law have to say about this?” If that last question is irrelevant, “On what are we to base our rights and our laws?” “What is the purpose of marriage in society?” “What impact does gay marriage or civil unions have on children?” “What impact will this have on religious organizations or parents of schoolchildren that refuse to recognize gay marriage?”Such questions have been side-stepped in public Senate and House committee hearings at the state Capitol by story after story from same-sex couples, many of whom are good and decent human beings who love one another and want the same legal status as their hetero-counterparts.What’s happening in Colorado’s Capitol isn’t unique to this issue. And the picture painted for everyone (especially making an impression on youths who are led powerfully by emotion) is clear: To even ask such questions is callous, at best.Young people need to know that an ethical teaching or a piece of legislation pertaining to sexual activity or marriage is not the same thing as bigotry or discrimination.In the words of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput: “The nature of marriage is a matter of common sense and long tradition, it precedes the coming of Christianity by many generations, and it is not simply a ‘religious’ issue. Marriage has long been recognized as a lifelong relationship between one man and one woman that exists for the benefit of children and the protection of women” (Denver Catholic Register, March 2).Our sexual ethics and the laws enshrining marriage aren’t only written about in theology books, but in our bodies and in our experience. Marriage isn’t something mankind invented; it’s something we’ve figured out in every corner of the globe, almost universally, throughout recorded history. We have no right to re-create what we didn’t create in the first place.Such opinions are by no means discriminatory. The Church applies her sexual and marital ethics to everyone evenly, across the board, regardless of their sexual identity or marital status. I do not feel discriminated against because the Church has strong, natural law based teachings regarding what I can and can’t do as a married man.I realize that there are good people who would disagree with me very strongly on this issue. I have no right, nor the credentials to judge them or anyone. But I do have an obligation to judge actions, including sexual activities, so that I know how to act, and to define things like marriage, so that I know how to pass civilization on to my children. Wherever you stand on this, let’s encourage young people to think their way through this issue without the fear of being labeled cold-hearted bigots for it. Doing so doesn’t make them judgmental or cruel. It makes them rational.
As I knelt staring at St. John de Brebeuf’s skull through the glass case at the Martyr’s Shrine in Midland, Ontario, I thought about the courage of our founding fathers of faith in North America. In 1611, Jesuit missionaries first set foot on our continent. Within 40 years eight of them, (whose feast day is Oct. 19) gave up their lives near the Georgian Bay and in upstate New York. This quadricentennial of the Jesuit mission gives us cause to look to our spiritual roots. Much like the setting sun, we often see the full beauty of the saints as their mortal light exits this world. This is especially true of martyrs. The following is a brief summary of a few of the deaths of these Jesuits, which sums up the heroism with which they lived. When St. Isaac Jogues was received into the Jesuits his superior asked what he desired. His response: “Ethiopia and Martyrdom.” “Not so.” was the reply. “You will receive Canada and martyrdom.” After years of ministry among the Huron, St. Isaac Jogues was captured and tortured by the Mohawk Indians. On the verge of execution, he escaped and was smuggled back to France by the Dutch. He quickly rose to “stardom.” Everyone regarded him as a living saint and national hero. The Queen of France even stooped to kiss his mangled hands, fingers missing, having being cut or gnawed off by his torturers. St. Isaac could have retired in the safety of France but returned to his mission as soon as he was able. He was killed by a Mohawk brave with a tomahawk. St. Charles Garnier was ministering to his Huron village when it was attacked. He ran from one burning cabin to another, baptizing and comforting his people when he was shot in the upper chest and lower abdomen. After regaining consciousness he saw a wounded Huron writhing across the room. He pulled himself up and struggled toward the dying man to help him. An Iroquois brave noticed and killed him with his hatchet. He died with hand outstretched, reaching to minister to the wounded. St. Rene Goupil was a layman who worked side by side with the Jesuits. When St. Isaac Jogues was captured there was a time when St. Rene could have easily escaped but chose to stay with his friend. He endured weeks of disfiguring tortures, during which he comforted and converted fellow captives who were suffering a similar fate. He was tomahawked while walking side by side with Jogues for teaching a child how to make the sign of the cross. He fell to the ground saying the name of Jesus. St. Anthony Daniel had just finished celebrating Mass with his Huron friends at sunrise when the war cries of the Iroquois rang out through his village. He went to those who had been butchered to comfort and baptize them in their last moments. When the Iroquois were headed toward his church to burn it down he sprinted toward them and commanded them to stop. They did for a moment, stunned by this unarmed man’s courage. Then they brought him down with muskets and arrows. St. John de Brebeuf was a huge man with amazing courage. Though he lived under constant threat of death, a fellow missionary wrote, “Nothing could upset him during the twelve years I’ve known him.” He was the first missionary to enter Huronia. In time he became like one of them. He wrote instructions to those who wanted to join his mission starting with, “You must love these Huron, ransomed by the blood of the Son of God, as brothers.” Though he could have escaped, he chose to die with them when Iroquois raided their village. The younger St. Gabriel Lalemont, who had looked up to St. John, remained and died with him as well. Together they underwent some of the most gruesome tortures of any martyr in history for endless hours. Through it all they comforted their fellow captives. John reminded them, “The sufferings will end with your lives. The grandeur which follows will never have an end.” Seven years after their deaths, the daughter of an Iroquois chief was born in the very tribe that killed them. She is known today as Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be beatified, proving true the words spoken by Tertullian 1,400 years before these martyrs entered paradise, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church!” These men set out into nations where a violent, gruesome death was constantly before them. We set out into an increasingly anti-religious culture where we might lose a few friends for standing up for the truth, or at worst, get mocked or sued, but probably not tomahawked. They set out on canoes into uncharted waters filled with tribes who were hunting them down. We set out in our cars to work or the supermarket to bump shoulders with a world that needs to be reminded of God through our words and our charity. If only we had a little of the courage of our founding fathers in faith.
World Youth Day is a mighty experience, not just for those who came home in late August to tell us their stories, but for the whole Church. It gives us hope, and for good reason.
Denver pilgrims got front row seats to the riots that took place in Madrid to protest World Youth Day. They broke out just outside of our hotel. Thankfully, no one was hurt. The incident was spun by many mainstream news outlets around the world with the same choice words. Google “lavish party for the Pope” and you’ll be amazed at the lack of originality in reporting. To cite one outlet, the Denver Post posited that “Thousands of protesters…took to Madrid’s streets to decry the expense of a rock festival-style, million-strong youth party for Pope Benedict XVI at a time of economic crisis…in time for lavish World Youth Day celebrations.” The spin accomplished by this reporting gives me media induced vertigo. To set the record straight, in case you were successfully spun: World Youth Days is not a luxurious party for a megalomaniacal octogenarian that drains a different nation’s economy every three years. Anyone who has been to a World Youth Day would chuckle at the choice of the word “lavish” to describe the experience. Have you ever waited 90-minutes to use a porta-potty? I have! Only at World Youth Day. It’s a pilgrimage in the truest sense. While vacations are for rest and luxury (if you can afford the latter), pilgrimages tend to be packed with redemptive suffering. This can be especially true at a World Youth Day. Even if pilgrims attempt to avoid austerity, it has a way of finding you when you’re in a crowd one million strong. There’s simply no way for a city to gracefully accommodate such numbers. World Youth Day pilgrims are often hungry, thirsty, tired, and without access to bathrooms, among other basic necessities. Though miraculously they’re usually smiling! As for World Youth Day being a “party for the Pope,” you’d be hard-pressed to find a single pilgrim who would describe the purpose of his trip in those terms—the Pope included. Labeling it a “party for the Pope” is like labeling the Democratic National Convention that took place in Denver a “party for Obama.” World Youth Day is a celebration of Catholic youth with the Pope. Are they excited about the Pope? You bet! But that’s a far cry from the occasion being a party “for” him. And as far as World Youth Days hurting the economies of host cities, nothing could be further from the truth. According to the executive director of World Youth Day Madrid, Yago de la Cierva, not a dime of the event’s expenses came from the taxpayers of Madrid. Thirty percent was from donations and 70 percent from fees the pilgrims paid. But the irony is that even if protestors were correct about the source of the funding, some basic math would reveal that they still have no good reason to protest. World Youth Day brings in about one million visitors who spend at least $20 per day for at least six days. That's a minimum of $120 million—though event organizers estimate that World Youth Day will pump $144 million into the local economy. Even if the city had put $70 million into the event, it would have doubled on the investment for its people. Perhaps the rioters should turn their anger toward math illiteracy. Only a people steeped in the dogmas of the “culture of death”—wherein humans are always seen as a “drain”—would overlook the obvious financial blessings of a crowd one million strong. The good news is that even if a riot is thousands strong and reaches a violent pitch, if it happens in a crowd of a million most of those present won’t even notice it! This was the case in Madrid. While our Denver pilgrims had the unfortunate experience of getting a bird’s-eye view of the riots, most pilgrims weren’t even aware it was happening. The culture of death was muted by the sheer multitude of joyful Catholic young people celebrating the beauty and universality of their faith. Along those lines, it could well be that this article is your first wind of any bad press at all about World Youth Day. That’s understandable. If you Google “World Youth Day,” there’s so much Catholic news, positive press, and so many youth group websites that it takes several pages to find a negative story from mainstream media. Maybe what constitutes “mainstream” is changing. A million youth that just got home from Spain probably think so.
Relativism is the philosophy that there is no objective reality, but that truth is relative to what each person thinks. We’ve all encountered relativism in statements like, “Jesus is God for me, while Vishnu is God for someone else,” “You have your truth, and I have mine,” or, in regard to issues like the abortion debate, “You can’t impose your morality on another person.” This “agree never to disagree” philosophy is considered necessary to guarantee peace, tolerance and equality in a pluralistic world. Conversely, people who think we can know the truth in moral or religious issues are considered intolerant, bigoted and maybe even downright dangerous. In defense of those who have the audacity to claim to know the truth about who God is or how we’re supposed to live, myself included, I have to point out that nothing could be further from the truth. Some of the most intolerant people in history were not believers, but relativists! Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy, is one clear-cut example. Early in his political career, he wrote: "Everything I have said and done in these last years is relativism, by intuition. From the fact that all ideologies are of equal value, that all ideologies are mere fictions, the modern relativist infers that everybody has the right to create for himself his own ideology, and to attempt to enforce it with all the energy of which he is capable. If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories and men who claim to be the bearers of an objective immortal truth, then there is nothing more relativistic than fascism (“Diuturna”)."Since Mussolini didn’t recognize any objective reality—moral or religious—to which he should conform, he invented his own moral code and enforced it on everyone he could. If truth is really relative, why not?! And while it might seem that if we could just “imagine there’s no heaven … no hell below us … no religion, too,” then we could “live life in peace.” The 20th-century proved John Lennon’s dream wrong time and again. People in the 20th-century who imagined that there was no “objective immortal truth”—no heaven, hell and no religion—made many of the crimes committed in the name of faith look like child’s play. Take communism, for instance, with its strong commitment to atheism. In one small communist country alone, Cambodia, 1.7 million people died at the hands of the government from 1975 to 1979, with entire families, including infants, being put to death by the tens of thousands if they were a perceived threat to the Communist Party. To be fair, the average relativist wouldn’t go as far as Mussolini or the communists of Cambodia, but the modern world is increasingly full of examples of relativist intolerance toward those who believe in objective truth. Take, for example: • Regular lawsuits backed by the ACLU to forcibly squash any mention of God out of the public square to cater to a few intolerant atheists.• The college student in California who was threatened with expulsion after she said a prayer for a sick teacher on campus with his consent. • A civil rights organization that protested a statue of Jesus found on the floor of the ocean.• The Christian print-shop owner in Toronto who was fined for choosing not to print promotional materials for a gay and lesbian group.• The attacks on conscientious objection rights that currently allow Catholic doctors and hospitals to refuse to participate in providing abortions. It seems that a new relativist inquisition is picking up steam. And, of course, it is being carried out in the name of “tolerance”! Contrast these examples of intolerance with a “religious absolutist” whom most people remember: Mother Teresa. She believed beyond the shadow of a doubt that she was right and other faiths were wrong when it came to the divinity of Jesus Christ. But could you imagine new videos being found and released on YouTube of her kneeing a poor Indian in the face because he didn’t accept the message of Christianity? The idea is ridiculous. Her faith motivated her to a life of service to everyone regardless of creed or lifestyle—from feeding Hindus living in the slums of Kolkata to starting New York City’s first AIDS hospice and much more. I’m not trying to rewrite history with this brief article. Atrocities have been committed by people of faith too. But an honest look at history shows that religious and moral absolutism doesn’t necessarily make a person intolerant, nor does a lack thereof. It depends on what a person believes, not if he believes. So to all who would use the rod of “tolerance” to beat the faithful into submission for claiming truth, I make this humble request: please tolerate me.
I’m a proud husband and father of five. Like the joys and pains of marriage, the joys and pains of fatherhood far outweigh what I could have expected. I have to laugh when not-so-young adults tell me they don’t want to get married because they aren’t ready for kids. Can one possibly be ready for a child? I have five and I’m still not ready for the first. I certainly can’t afford the first! No doubt, there are legitimate reasons for waiting to start a family. But if everyone waited until they felt completely ready reproduction would come to a grinding halt. Thankfully, an overwhelming surge of love kicks in the moment a new parent looks at his child. That love equips him more effectively than any amount of formal training or money ever could. In addition to realizing my ill preparedness, fatherhood has also brought me face to face with my limitations. Childbirth makes it clear at the outset that parents are in over their heads—part of something far bigger than they are, something they can never fully control. This is true in a special way for dad. As much as I want to feel like we’re a “team” during childbirth, I know deep down that shouting “RUN!” from the bleachers doesn’t make me a New York Yankee. I’ve stood by my wife through five c-sections. (Yes, she is a saint.) But accompanying my sense of feebleness during that operation is indescribable joy. With each birth I’ve known that I stood in the most privileged two foot square space on earth, next to my wife as she brings new life into the world, strapped cruciform to the operating table. I wonder if Joseph felt that way, standing at the crèche as both contemplative and sentinel. The overwhelming experience continues when I get to carry a child from behind the safe walls of a hospital and into the world. I always want to ask the nurse, “Are you sure you’re letting me take it?...out there?” Suddenly it’s clear that everything has changed when I load the precious cargo into the car seat. The world looks different. All that is precious and valuable is now in that car. Hands on the wheel at 10:00 and 2:00. I hadn’t driven that cautiously since Driver’s Ed class! But alongside the terror of driving in L.A. traffic with an infant and post-op wife I found a new courage welling up in me as well. It’s the courage of a hero willing to lay down his life, the courage of a wolf willing to kill or die if anything presents a threat to its young. It’s the force of a million years of evolution combined with the power that comes from the grace of office. It’s the power of fatherhood. The second a father takes flight with his family from the safety of the hospital into a world of sin, traffic, and ever encroaching need, he becomes the wall that stands between that child and the world—the image of God, the protector and provider. Despite the stark realization that I’m far from almighty, fatherhood gave rise to something infinite inside my chest. I’ve been on the roller coaster of fatherhood for twelve years now. It’s tried and tested me in every way imaginable. Before kids, I was ready to canonize myself. I was so patient. Apparently it’s easier to be patient when no one is trying your patience. Some of my friends without children are still very patient and they have wonderful advice for me. And as cute as they look from a distance, children are crazier than I had imagined. Thank God they’re small. Add four feet and 150lbs to a two year old and no one would be safe. Imagine coming home from work and finding a 6’2’’ man naked in your hallway covered in marker, angry at the world because he can’t look up and see his forehead. It’d be time to call the cops. Yet in the midst of the insanity and constant noise I’ve found new steel in my soul. It’s not as polished as it was before children, but each ounce of virtue in me has been purified by fire. I’m a bit charred, but I’m real now. (No doubt, my celibate friends have experienced similar purification through their ministries!) Ill prepared, powerless, terrified, a bit broken…overwhelmed with love, luckiest man alive, mighty protector, man of steel…that is fatherhood. Twelve years after the first birth I’m still not quite ready for all this. How does a 35 year old let his preteen girl know how much he loves her? How does he talk to her about her crush, or bond over how awesome Taylor Swift is? How does he ride the waves of puberty hitting his home like a tsunami? I’ll let you know when I have it figured out. But I’m blessed to stand here, in over my head since day one, between her and the world. Here I’ll always stand, as my father always will for me.
May 11, 2011 marked the 30th anniversary of the passing of Robert Nesta Marley, more popularly known as Bob Marley. He’s known by other titles as well: “The king of reggae,” “the first Third World superstar,” “The Honorable Robert Nesta Marley,” and, by Rastafarians, as “The Prophet,” or “The Teacher.” There have even been efforts by Jamaicans for him to be declared a national hero. What many don’t know is that Bob Marley can also be called a Christian. He was baptized into the Ethiopian Orthodox faith before his death in 1981. Marley had become a zealous Rastafarian as a young man. The dreadlocks and pot smoking that became central to his image weren’t just accessories to a rock star lifestyle. They were pillars of Rastafarian faith. Rastas believe that cannabis removes mental barriers to enlightened thinking, and they base their dreadlocks in Old Testament law. As debatable as these doctrines are, it’s clear that a sincere faith in God and service of his people were the driving forces in Bob’s life and music. One doesn’t have to dig deep into his lyrics to see Marley’s faith. In “One Love,” named the song of the millennium by BBC, Bob sings, “Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right.” And in songs like, “Forever Loving Jah” (“Jah” is the Rastafarian word for God), Marley is clearly praying, not just performing. Praise to “Jah” can be found throughout his music. Bob wasn’t just a secular rock star. It’s probably more accurate to say he was a religious musician who had made it in the secular world. And when Marley wasn’t praying with his music, he was using it to fight for peace and equality, giving a voice to the marginalized in Jamaica and throughout the world. Bob’s fame overlapped a particularly turbulent time in Jamaica’s history. His musical career had so much social influence that he was the target of an assassination attempt in 1976. Two days later, with his would-be-assassins still on the loose, he took to the stage to perform with two gunshot wounds. Asked why he’d take such a risk, he answered: “The people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off. How can I?” His musical career was clearly motivated by more than fame and fortune. “If my life is just for me,” he said, “my own security, then I don’t want it. My life is for people. That is the way I am.” Marley developed a friendship with Ethiopian Orthodox Archbishop Abuna Yesehaq who had been sent from Africa by the Emperor Haile Selassie I after he found out that many in Jamaica were worshipping him as God incarnate. (This belief is the center of Rastafarianism.) Father Lloyd Malakot, currently the chief priest and administrator of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Jamaica, knew Archbishop Yesehaq well. He shared with me how the archbishop won Bob and many Rastas over through the witness of his love and respect for them. When police were arresting Rastas and shaving their dreads before releasing them, he went to the commissioner of police and stopped the persecution. Archbishop Yesehaq became close friends with Bob who donated to his ministry, even giving him one of his houses in which the archbishop lived for years. Years of friendship and charity earned the archbishop the right to be heard and, according to Father Malakot:“Bob cried when the archbishop invited him to conversion and to give his heart to Christ. He decided to accept baptism.” Bob’s baptism is marked by the heroic conviction with which he lived his life. For some Rastas, conversion to Christianity is tantamount to sacrificing the sacred cow. Yet this man who had become the international icon of Rastafarianism converted anyway, deeply upsetting many people, including some of his closest friends. Marley showed a willingness to renounce everything in his pursuit of God. The late archbishop who baptized Bob several months before his death spoke of his deep faith in a 1984 newspaper interview with Jamaica’s Sunday Gleaner: “I remember once while I was conducting the Mass, I looked at Bob and tears were streaming down his face. ... When he toured Los Angeles and New York and England, he preached the Orthodox faith, and many members in those cities came to the Church because of Bob. … When he was baptized, he hugged his family and wept, they all wept together for about half an hour.” Judy Mowatt, one of Bob’s background singers, recalled in an interview with The 700 Club (www.CBN.com), that she got a call from Bob’s wife as he was dying. “She said to me that Bob was in such excruciating pain and he stretched out his hand and said ‘Jesus take me.’” That prayer was answered on May 11, 1981. He was only 36. “Many Rastaman call him the prophet,” Father Malakot said. “Even myself as the chief of the Church in Jamaica, I saw he was a prophet in his own right. His music was inspired by God. It was an expression of his belief that the Lord was with him. And he inspired so many people to enter the Church. Many are inspired by him, even now, to convert. Five months ago I baptized a Rasta priest with his big dreadlocks who came into the Church with his wife.” I’ve seen many T-shirts depicting Bob’s smiling face with a pot leaf next to it. I’d like to create a T-shirt of Bob’s face with a cross next to it instead.
Secular media often breezes over the most important of details. The oft repeated headline after the announcement of John Paul II’s May 1st Beatification was, “Pope Benedict XVI puts John Paul II on the fast track to Sainthood.” HELLO! Did you notice the Sister who was miraculously healed of Parkinson’s? Secular doctors examined her and couldn’t explain it. Doesn’t that deserve a headline? But I can forgive the media because I tend to overlook life’s most important details too. What made John Paul truly great was that he never did. There are few people throughout history with the impact and charisma of John Paul II. Who can forget watching his funeral and seeing world leaders sitting like little school boys and girls before his coffin, still reverent, still humble in the presence of this imposing figure with size thirteen shoes! But lest we breeze over the most important details, what made this man of immense shoes truly great was his immense love for every person he encountered. In "Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way" he wrote, “I don’t like the word ‘crowd,’ which seems too anonymous; I prefer the word ‘multitude.’” Even though he led the world’s 1 billion plus Catholics, he didn’t minister to the masses, but to the individual. He noticed each person in his path. He also reflected in the same book, “I simply pray for everyone every day. As soon as I meet people, I pray for them, and this helps me in all my relationships…I welcome everyone as a person sent to me and entrusted to me by Christ.” This attention to each person is summed up in an encounter of John Paul II with San Diego’s Bishop Robert Brom. Brom's first meeting with the Pope occurred in 1963 during the second session of the Second Vatican Council. Brom was a seminarian at the North American College and Pope John Paul was the auxiliary bishop of Krakow. Brom and several classmates were leaving the Church of the Gesu after a visit there when some Polish seminarians with Bishop Wojtyla were entering. At that time Brom and his classmates briefly met the man who would thereafter become the Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow and the first non-Italian Pope in 455 years. Subsequently, Brom forgot all about the exchange. In 1983 after his appointment as Bishop of Duluth, Bishop Brom in the context of his first Ad Limina Visit met Pope John Paul for what he thought was the first time. However, John Paul, looking into Brom's face said, "I think we have met before." Brom assured the Holy Father that they'd never met. "I believe we have," insisted the Pope, but Brom was equally sure they had not. After all, a meeting with the Pope isn’t easily forgotten! Some days later, during the same Ad Limina Visit, the secretary to the Holy Father, then, Monsignor Stanislaw Dziwisz, now Cardinal, approached Bishop Brom to say, "Don't argue with the Pope, he remembers when he met you." "When?” Brom asked. "In November of 1963 outside the Church of the Gesu in Rome." Brom's memory refreshed, he asked Monsignor Dziwisz, "How can he do that?" to which Dziwisz explained that for John Paul to meet another person is to encounter God.It was only years later in another Ad Limina Visit toward the end of the Pope's life that John Paul brought up the subject again. One on one he asked Brom, "How many times have we met, and when was the first time?" to which Brom responded properly. John Paul slapped the desk and with a smile said, "Finally you remember!"Pope John Paul II’s influence, position, and impact on the course of history made him a very, very “big deal.” But his superhuman love for each individual he encountered is what made him truly “great.” And it’s that holy love of God beating in the heart of a man that is about to get him beatified. It’s not his power, social impact, or his charisma as a leader.It was this superhuman love that enabled this octogenarian with Parkenson’s wearing a roman outfit to draw more teens than Justin Beiber. It’s this love that moved people to tears standing a mile away from him in a crowd of a million plus. They felt personally loved because they were. Here is my confession, which I’m comfortable making because it’s probably yours too: In the midst of my busy life it’s easy for me to forget to tell the people I love that I love them; to unintentionally let quality family time slip between my fingers; to forget to call friends; to forget to take care of myself; to get so caught up in the “tasks” of my work that I don’t have time for the people my work is serving. It’s so easy to overlook the most important things in life, namely, the people God has placed around me. I need to take a lesson from one of the busiest men in history who never overlooked what mattered most. Blessed Pope John Paul II, help me to be truly great. My thanks to Bishop Brom for his help filling in the details of his story!
Okay, I admit it. I have Bieber Fever. I caught it from my preteen daughter after I took her to see “Never Say Never.” It’s a low grade fever, though I’m thinking of starting a men’s support group. It’s not his music (which is decent), it’s his potential as an accidental evangelist of millions of preteens that has me excited about him. Did I say millions? I meant tens-of-millions.
The lessons packed in the love songs that are getting the most radio play today all seem to have a similar theme: if it isn’t dysfunctional, it isn’t love. Take the song "Grenade" for instance, wherein Bruno Mars sings a litany of pains he’d endure for his beloved, ranging from catching a grenade, to throwing his hand on a blade, to taking a bullet through his brain. His beloved is evil, it seems. According to the song she’d “smile in (his) face then rip the brakes out of (his) car.” Her response to his “loving” rant is total indifference. He goes so far as to lament that if his body was on fire she’d watch him burn in flames. Yet, despite all this, at the end of the song he still sings, “I would die for you baby, but you won’t do the same.” It seems that Bruno has so effectively broken the stereotype of the emotionless, standoffish male that he has become the psychotically needy girlfriend. Good boy, Bruno. Contemporary, feminized society has trained you well in the ways of “manhood.” The lesson of this song is clear: if it isn’t co-dependence, it isn’t real love. In a recent drive to work I turned the radio dial in a vain attempt to avoid Grenade only to find it on three other stations. Moving on…In one of the most popular songs of 2010, "Breakeven," singer Danny O'Donoghue laments after a hard breakup, “I’m still alive but I’m barely breathin’.” Everyone who has had their heart broken can relate with those words. But he goes on to sing, “What am I supposed to do when the best part of me was always you?” Romantic words? Yes. Emotionally healthy words? No. No offense Danny, but if the best part of you was her I can see why she dumped you. While a couple is called to unity, individuals still need to maintain autonomy for a relationship to be stable and lasting. If people lose themselves in one another, soon there is no self to give to the other. The lesson of "Breakeven": if it isn’t enmeshment, it isn’t love.In the song "Animal" by Neon Trees, vocalist Tyler Glenn sings, “We’re sick like animals…I won’t be denied by…the animal inside of you…Take a bite of my heart tonight.” Tyler, you and anyone who looks like you won’t be dating my daughter. The lesson of this song is echoed in countless others: if it isn’t promiscuous, it isn’t passion. And Miranda Cosgrove, a Nickelodeon (i.e. children’s TV channel) actress, in "Kissing You" sings to her boyfriend before an audience of millions of pre-teen girls, “When I’m kissing you it all starts making sense!” And answers to questions like, “Are you the one I should trust?” become “crystal clear…when I’m kissin’ you.” The lesson of this song is that physical intimacy is the way to discern if a given relationship is the right one. I hate to break the news to you, Miranda, but that feeling you’re getting while kissing him is oxytocin. It’s a neuro-peptide released during physical intimacy that decreases your ability to reason and increases your ability to bond. It produces the polar opposite of clear thinking. Furthermore, when you’re engaging in heavy kissing with your boyfriend, Miranda, I can almost guarantee that he’s not thinking, “You’re the one I should trust.” It’s more likely that he’s thinking, “You’re the one I should do more with than kiss.” I’m not even going to attempt to tackle what most rap songs say about relationships because their content, packed with sexual deviance and hedonism that border on violence is more fitting for a hard core porn magazine or a "Law and Order SVU" episode than the radio. I don’t mean to sound like an emotionless Spock of a man. The songs I mentioned, with the exception of "Animal," do have some redeeming themes, and they all have great melodies. But they dismantle the prerequisite for love in the minds of the desperate pre-teens who are listening: self possession. If a person is stable enough to stand on his own two feet without falling into enmeshment and co-dependence, then, and only then, can he give himself in love to another. And if love is contained by modesty, chivalry and purity during dating and engagement, then, and only then, can it become an internal fire that nothing can put out. In the words of John Paul II, the “fire of pleasure … burns quickly like a pile of withered grass.” But the flame of purity creates a fire that doesn’t consume its host.Thanks in large part to misguided love songs, teens tend to mistake things like co-dependence, enmeshment, and promiscuity for love. It’s funny how the things they come to look for in dating relationships are precisely the things that set them up for failed marriages.Parents: Pay attention to what your teens are listening to and turn those songs on your car radio into teaching moments. You might get eyes rolled back at you in reply, but what that really means is: “Thanks for looking out for me, Mom and Dad.”
It’s hard to imagine the confusion of a teenager who is convinced that he’s gay. More unimaginable is the pain he must experience if he’s bullied for having effeminate characteristics. Since July, at least four teens and one college student who considered themselves gay ended their lives after being repeatedly bullied. It’s safe to assume that there were more factors that led to these suicides, but bullying certainly played a key role, and it highlights the sad reality that many schools aren’t doing enough to protect kids —and that includes kids with same-sex attraction. The Church agrees with gay-rights activist groups in that people with same-sex attraction, “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity (and that) every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2358). In the words of Pope Paul VI on tolerance, “The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life or religion” (Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, 5). But when it comes to school bullying, most gay-rights groups go beyond protecting teens to promoting homosexual behavior. Such groups are more active in schools than parents might imagine.Groups like GLSEN (Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network) have done extensive work to protect teens with same-sex attraction from bullying. They provide training and resources to more than 4,000 gay-straight alliance (GSA) student clubs in high schools and colleges across North America. And the recent bully suicides have been turned into talking points to encourage the proliferation of GSAs. The Canadian government has even recently taken aggressive steps to ensure that such clubs find a home in Catholic high schools, though some school districts have stood with their bishops in rejecting this proposed solution to the gay bullying problem. The good news is that GSAs have been shown to help decrease bullying. The bad news is that, enmeshed in their efforts, there are “dogmas” of the gay-rights movement that are arguably as harmful as bullying, albeit in more subtle ways. To sum up a few of these dogmas: • Sexual desire is equated with personal identity. • Since desire is identity, teens need support “coming out” and announcing their sexual preference to the world in order to fully embrace their “true selves.” • Abstinence is unrealistic. Teens need to be taught “safe sex.” • Schools, and society at large, need aggressive policies to stop “heterosexism,” that is, traditional Judeo-Christian ethics that would identify heterosexuality as the norm in sexual behavior and desire. How are these dogmas harmful? Regarding the belief that sexual desire is identity: If the goal of these clubs is to help people with same-sex attraction feel less isolated, making them feel inherently “different” from everyone else isn’t the way to do it. Mother Teresa, who started New York’s first AIDS hospice, refrained from calling people “homosexual,” instead she called them “friends of Jesus.” It’s helpful to remember that “the orientation of an act is homosexual or heterosexual but the person is not” (Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops). In other words, homosexual desires and even activity do not define a human being. The identity dogma can end up being a gay recruitment tool. Many well-balanced adolescents experience a passing phase of same-sex attraction. And some teens who have experienced sexual abuse or who have a deep “father wound” might be temporarily repulsed by the opposite sex until they address their wounds. I’m not saying that same-sex attraction is always passing or curable. But if adolescents make the mistake of identifying self with desire, homosexual activity might seem inevitable to them—and they’ll be at a higher risk for giving in to their desires. If they do, what could have been a passing phase for some might end up being a life choice. (I am not implying that all those who teach this dogma are intentionally recruiting teens.) Equating sexual desire with identity makes homosexual activity seem natural. You can’t help but do what you are. This belief, coupled with the dogma that “coming out” is healthy and necessary, and the “safe sex” education provided in GSAs, sets the stage for sexual promiscuity, which only exacerbates the problems these clubs are trying to battle: teen depression and suicide. Studies show that sexually active boys are two times more likely to be depressed, and girls are three times more likely to be depressed, with 12- to 16-year-olds being six times more likely to attempt suicide. It’s safe to assume that homosexual activity carries the same risks to a teen’s fragile emotional state. Finally, the dogma that natural law and Judeo-Christian ethics is “heterosexism” or “homophobia” can isolate teens from anyone who disagrees with them: “You are different and they are bigots.” And, of course, one doesn’t even consider a bigot’s viewpoint. A challenge from parents or pastors to live in sexual integrity and virtue might be dubbed “hate speech.” Remember, the Church calls ALL people to live chastely. No doubt, the Church’s challenge for people with persistent same-sex attraction to live a chaste life is no easy path, but it’s certainly not “hate speech.” As difficult as a chaste life is for people with persistent same-sex attraction, it’s easier than the host of emotional and physical problems that active homosexuals are at a disproportionate risk for enduring. (Studies show these risks are the same in places that are fully open to homosexuality. See www.narth.com for research.) Parents, pastors and counselors need to respond with compassion and support when a teen trusts them enough to tell them they have same-sex attraction. (Your local “Courage” chaplain can give you advice in how to do so. See www.couragerc.net for more info.) That response needs to include protection from bullying, but it does not need to include the encouragement of a homosexual lifestyle. There are plenty of highly effective programs available to help schools prevent bullying that are not also saddled with an agenda. Such programs, rather than GSAs, are a good way to ensure that teens with same-sex attraction receive an education with safety and dignity.