Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Heterophobia Anyone???

WELL I am in the midst of reading the document released today by the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) and, surprise, surprise, the "new" document sounds AWFULLY familiar. It suggests, among other things, that GLBT persons are to be welcomed into the Church but not to receive Holy Communion unless attempting to live a life of chastity.

WHERE IS THE NEWS IN THIS??? I was driving home, just after Mass tonight, and heard a short "blurb" about it on the radio that at least hinted that no one with same sex attracted tendencies would be able to receive Communion, and I had to fight with myself all the way home saying "What would I do if they denied me the Eucharist"?

Well they aren't doing any such thing, as I knew in my heart of hearts was the case. They are simply reiterating what has been traditional Catholic teaching all along, and what both the Catechism and Vatican documents have spelled out for years.

Interestingly, the only group interviewed to "represent" us who struggle in that area was the group DIGNITY, who is a pro-gay Catholic group that yearly goes to the nation's Cathedrals on Pentecost Sunday to try and force the priests and Eucharistic ministers to give them Holy Communion, and then get great publicity in the local and national media when they are refused. I personally witnessed someone nearly shoving one of the faithful ministers over and "grabbing her Eucharist", and then bragging about it afterwards. Only 2-3 years ago I might have been on her side of the fence, but afterwards, in love, I went over to her and told her my story--that I too had same-sex attraction but loved the Eucharist too much to let my old life control me anymore. She began yelling at me, saying "You can't tell me what to do--GOD TELLS ME WHAT TO DO!" and suddenly there were perhaps 10 or more of the group, wearing their rainbow sashes, all witnessing this encounter. I then told her that I was simply sharing my story, wished God's blessings on her, and walked away. This was a month after I was confirmed, and I will just say God gave me the boldness I needed that day--inside me there was a "whole lotta shakin' goin' on" hehe. But this was Pentecost, and a month earlier I was sealed in our wonderful Catholic Church with the gift of the precious Holy Spirit. "You shall receive power", so the book of Acts tells us, when the Holy Spirit comes upon us, and that day I simply was a vessel.

Don't let the media tell you that the Catholic Church is "mean". I struggle every day--but I have had more peace in the last year, since returning to Holy Mother Church and Holy Mother Mary, the only real "Queen" I need (play on words intended), than in 15 years being "OUT".

Yes, homophobia is alive in the Church, and it is evil, as is all discrimination. But HETEROPHOBIA is equally alive in gay activist groups such as Dignity and the Rainbow Sashers, and others who have chosen willingly to not live by Church guidelines. I know--I have been there. I just wonder why David Morrison and Courage were not called on for a TRULY "alternative" view--that chastity IS possible, at least a worthy goal to work towards ( I still have a ways to go but HONEY I am going!), and that the power of the Sacraments and our Lord are worth every bit of trouble. Why didn't the news cover that?

If you wish to see some opposing views, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Catholic-Bishops.html?_r=1&oref=slogin is the New York Times article, and http://www.usccb.org/dpp/Ministry.pdf is the full document from the USCCB website.

Monday, November 13, 2006

For My Seventh Day Adventist Cousins

I have some dear Christian cousins who happen to belong to the 7th Day Adventist movement. The below letter was in response to one from each of them, condemning the Eucharist, praying to Mary, and questioning the accuracy of the "Passion of the Christ" movie, gently reminding me that those who played it in were "just actors". What initiated our communication was the post you see here regarding my "Journey". Apparently they are more concerned about me being Catholic than whether I live a holy life or not. Neither of them mentioned my former gay lifestyle, but one did say she was glad I was "finding Jesus". That same one sent me two thick books by Ellen G White, the "papess" of Adventism, and the book was page after page of attacks on the Roman Catholic Church, and the other one was about the Passion, and had numerous inaccuracies such as stating that Mary Magdalene did not believe Jesus was risen until Peter and John had checked it out for her (the Bible as well as Church tradition teach PRECISELY the opposite), as well as stating that even the non-fallen angels did not realize that satan was evil at first! Talk about being steeped in traditons of (wo)man!!! I sent the letter below, as well as a booklet that is also in article form on the Catholic Answers website (www.catholic.com I believe), called PILLAR OF FIRE PILLAR OF TRUTH. It answers a lot of Protestant objections to our Faith in quick fashion, and I figured that they would not read a 200 page book (even though they expected me to!), so anyway this is a first attempt at heavy duty apologetics to family. I will keep you "posted", and please keep them in prayer.

November 12, 2006

Hi —

Thanks so much for your books and encouragement. They are very deeply appreciated. I don’t really have any questions as such, (at least not at present) but I do have a few thoughts or reflections on your note and books. I certainly am already aware, as you are, that those who played in the “Passion” movie were imperfect people, and I hope that I did not give the impression that I thought otherwise, or that I thought Mel Gibson was somehow infallible in his interpretations of those events either. It was simply a movie, as you said, however, at least in my opinion, probably the best and most accurate portrayal of the Passion that Hollywood has ever turned out. I was simply saying it deeply inspired me, particularly in the fact that Jim Caviezel, who played Christ, is a deeply committed Catholic Christian in his personal life who, unlike many “Hollywood” types, has not compromised his career with such things as doing nudity or questionable movies, even long before the part of Jesus was offered to him. That in itself is, unfortunately, pretty rare in Hollywood these days, especially for a relatively unknown young man trying to build up his career in that crazy industry! When I heard him speak last year, he shared movingly about how it felt to be on the cross in apparently near freezing weather for days at a time, suffering greatly while playing the part (was struck by lightning 2 separate times, was accidentally beaten “for real” a couple times while filming the scourging scene, which incidentally they actually kept in the movie (so at least portions of that particular scene were not just “acting” on his part), developed hypothermia, and damaged his rotator cuff! Although it was hidden, of course, he also used a Walkman with Christian worship music such as Michael W Smith and others while hanging on the cross day after day just to help him get through many excruciating hours of filming, besides starting each day with much personal prayer, attending Mass, and devotion. He said none of this in a bragging way, but rather to show how deeply and inwardly he personally was changed by playing this part, and I truly believe that the Lord did choose him as an instrument for that particular role, just as He chooses each of us in our various roles in life. He never implied that he had a full sense of the true depth of how much Christ really suffered for each of us, only that it had really helped draw him to God in his daily walk, and I am certain it did.

I want you to know I have always had the utmost respect for your walk with Christ as well, and hope you realize I too have been a Christian for many years, although certainly have had times where I have not lived it fully. My purpose in sharing my “journey” was simply to let people in the family know where I was at these days in that area. I am sure it was probably puzzling to many, including yourself, when one day I was a supposedly “happily married Bible based minister” and then quite suddenly (although it was not as sudden as people may have thought at the time) became divorced and left the ministry. I now realize that God had His Hand on me during all of those years, but as we sometimes do, we run and hide like Jonah at times. I am certainly not proud of parts of my life during those years but deeply thankful that Christ never left me nor forsook me, and that my former wife too has forgiven me for any hurts I caused to her as well. It is good we serve a God of mercy, isn’t it?

Lastly, I want to say this carefully, but, after spending much of the weekend perusing the books you sent, I am pretty sure we are not going to see eye to eye on Catholicism, nor was I aware until recently of how adamantly opposed Ellen G White was regarding the Faith I and several in my family belong to. I also realize that she was a product of her times, living in an era where Catholics and Protestants did not work together but rather attacked and hurt one another constantly, (and both sides were very guilty of this), and that many huge strides have been made on both sides since the time of her writings to understand one another better. Yes, there are still major differences but not in regards to the Trinity, the belief that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God (many are surprised that the Catholic Church teaches this, but it, in fact, always has done so), in salvation through faith in Christ and His one sacrifice (the Mass does not repeat the sacrifice of Calvary but rather draws us into it, giving us a chance to appropriate it in our own lives), and the fact that we not only are to commit ourselves to Christ personally but to live it on a daily basis. That is why some think we believe in “salvation by works”, something your denomination also has been falsely accused of by groups who believe in “once saved always saved” and other such doctrines.

Thankfully, Ms. White also briefly mentioned in the “Great Controversy” that she believed there were true Christians within the Catholic Church, even though she disagreed deeply with some of our other beliefs. In the day and age she wrote that, I am sure that was considered a fairly revolutionary statement by many, so certainly on that point she was far ahead of her time. The bottom line to me, as I told your sister, who also wrote to me, is that we make a true and heartfelt change of heart, repenting of all known sin, and turn to the Cross of Christ for our salvation and redemption. On that key point, both your church and mine certainly agree, and perhaps on the rest we may need to “agree to disagree”. In return for your gift to me, I have enclosed a copy of a small booklet regarding my Faith too, and ask that you read it prayerfully, just as I have read your generous information regarding Adventism. It is always good for us to learn about the beliefs and perspectives of other Christians. I too wish you Happy Holidays, only I will be daring and say “Merry Christmas” hehe. Again thank you for both your help and especially your prayers. They mean a lot to me.

Much Love,

Your cousin Richard

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Carefully Charismatic

As a cradle Catholic until age 15, then spending the next 20 years in charismatic circles, including 12 as an Assemblies of God minister, all I can say is AMEN BROTHER!!! I returned to the Church just over a year ago, and was determined when I came back that I would never give up the charismatic side of myself--and I haven't. BUT...What I have found, however, in the miraculous liturgy of the true New Testament liturgy of the Mass, is something far more charismatic than anything I experienced in those years outside of the Church. Shortly after I returned to the Church I visited a "charismatic Mass", during which the priest actually stopped the liturgy just after the Consecration and, as he held up the Body and Blood of our risen Lord in the appearances of bread and wine, he and the entire congregation stopped and "prayed in tongues" over it! I am sure the intent was good, but I don't think Jesus needs us to pray over Him! A silent awe and holy bow before the true miracle of His Real Presence in the Eucharist would have been so much better, in my opinion. But it was missed that day. I also have a sister, a Catholic charismatic for many years, and recently I visited her prayer group as well. There was no priest present, no mention of Mary or the saints, and at the end the leader exhorted all of us to "go and prophesy to everyone we met that week"--whether at work, home, or church--talk about the "God told me" syndrome! That scared me.I still believe in speaking in tongues and use my "prayer language" in my private devotional times, but have no desire to join a charismatic prayer group, Catholic or otherwise. Give me a Rosary, and let me pray the Hail Mary as a background "prayer language" as I meditate on the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord. Even if I have no other words to pray, those will do just fine by me.And give me the Sacraments, especially Reconciliation and the Eucharist--nothing is more miraculous and "charismatic" than they are! I wonder how I ever missed that all these years.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Who is Stephen Francis?

When I came back to the Church, I had never been confirmed. As a young teen I had been very inspired by the story of St Stephen, stoned to death for his faith in the book of Acts, and intended to take his name. 35 years later, when I returned to the Church one rainy morning, I learned that I had come back on both Rosh Hashanah (Jewish feast of new year and therefore new beginnings) AND the Catholic feast of St Francis of Assisi, a saint with a checkered past who left his wealth and comfort to give his all for Christ. When I was finally confirmed, I took the name STEPHEN FRANCIS, tying together my Catholic faith from the early years until now, and even those in between. It was truly a NEW BEGINNING for me.

My Return to the Faith of my youth

October 4, 2006

My Journey Back to the Catholic Faith

This is a “short” summary (much more could be told indeed) of events that led me, after nearly 35 years, to renew commitment to the Roman Catholic Faith just one year ago today, a process that actually began during Lent of 2004, and culminated with my reception of the sacrament of Confirmation during the Easter Vigil Mass on April 15, 2006:

1) In spring of 2004 I saw the most stirring movie I had ever seen, promoted by Catholics and Protestants alike, “The Passion of the Christ”. Besides stunning me to tears and then utter silence, even after seeing it twice, the Catholic origins of this movie and those involved (produced by Mel Gibson and starring Jim Caviezel as Jesus), definitely planted a “seed”—A small beacon of light that told me we all truly belonged together, and that those few who would question the Christianity of these two devout men could not possibly be right. In short, I at least instinctively realized that truly committed Catholics could also indeed be a “real” Christians as well! It now seems silly to me, but, although I always had known some Catholics who were very committed to Christ, I did not realize, nor had I been taught clearly (even during my Catholic years and formation when much younger) that being Catholic and having a personal relationship with Christ was supposed to be the norm and not the exception.
2) Although I had renewed the habit of daily prayer and Bible reading around 5 years ago, when I became part of a very lively and evangelical local Methodist church after a number of years of not being in any church regularly (and in fact exploring quite extensively other alternative forms of spirituality such as Tarot, astrology and other similar paths), I still found the need to dig deeper into the Word of God, especially after watching the Passion film. I bought many books, teaching CDs, and listened almost constantly to a Christian (however not Catholic) talk radio station in town and learned much about the Bible in ways I had never even studied during 4 years of Bible College or 12 years of ministry through the Assemblies of God. My hunger kept growing to learn more, but I was troubled by the hyper Calvinistic teachings constantly being reiterated such as God choosing only certain people to be saved by “election”, for example, and also the heavy anti-Catholic sentiments I heard from many of these very educated and respected teachers who had far better Bible backgrounds than me. Something was wrong here.
3) For the first time since I “came out” as a gay man in 1991-92, I also found myself questioning the true “gay agenda” I was hearing about so often. It seemed to have quietly moved from true tolerance of another’s lifestyle to almost a forced approval, and this really came to a head just over a year ago when I attended a GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender) sponsored rally at the State Capitol about the proposed marriage protection amendment. I initially went there to lend my support, and found myself leaving in the middle of the rally after a speaker representing a prominent GLBT lobbying group in Minnesota gave what seemed to me almost a “hate speech” on the Bible, her point being that “authentic” people of faith had no right to believe differently than she did! It gradually became more and more clear to me, both through this and other such incidents, that, although I have a gay orientation, I could not continue standing with the ideals of a subculture that had so much animosity to another group I also belonged to, and that being Bible believing committed Christians! I felt extremely torn about this, but realized that both sides were feeding and fueling the anger of the other, and began to believe this would never be settled either through legislation or the courts. I started to feel like the proverbial “man without a country”, but I had always, all the years I was “out”, very sincerely told God that if it ever came to a point like this I knew I would choose Him over a lifestyle that was for this world only. It isn’t that I suddenly thought all gay people were wrong on every issue, didn’t deserve basic rights, or were condemned inevitably to hell, but I did know that, if I was ever to be effective in my own walk with God and sharing Him with others, I might have to seriously consider making a lifetime commitment of celibacy, no matter what my personal views might be. I actually was not far from this anyway, as I had not dated in some years, but I had always kept that door open, just in case the “right” guy came along. Somewhere in the path to this decision I read a book called “Beyond Gay” by David Morrison, a former gay activist who had become evangelical and then turned—you guessed it—Catholic! He shared some concepts I had never heard before, a sort of middle of the road approach to what he and the Catholic Church call “same sex attraction”. His belief is that celibacy is necessary in order to be in obedience to the Church, but that celibacy does NOT necessarily mean trying to “be straight”—he, in fact still shares a home with his former partner and the love of his life, but, in his words, has “worked through the codependency” they once shared as partners, and they live platonically as best friends, having done so for years now. While that approach might not work for all, it was an option no one on either side of the issue had ever even suggested to me in the past. He further taught, also in agreement with the Church, that chastity and holiness were God’s requirements, whether gay or straight, and that centering oneself around a person’s sexual identity tended to be the wrong “center” in the first place, since we were literally created to love and serve God as the true innermost core of our lives. Ironically, after 12 years in the ministry followed by 15 years in the GLBT world, I had come to nearly identical conclusions, but did not realize anyone else had! Suddenly I “had a country” once more, and yet again received another nudge towards the Catholic Church, by someone who had been down a very similar path, both in his faith walk as well as his political and personal insights into the GLBT landscape and where it was headed.
4) Nearly simultaneous to this, in my other continued studies, I became strangely gripped with the story of 5 evangelical Protestant missionaries from the United States who, as young men in their 20s and 30s, were murdered in Ecuador by a tribe they were attempting to reach with the Gospel during early 1956 (2 weeks after I was born, to be exact). While a huge news splash at the time, it was later largely forgotten, but I recalled as a newly committed Christian in my teens and also as a young adult reading some of these stories, and my former mother in law had in fact even gone to Northwestern College with one of the missionary couples involved! I learned that a documentary had been made in 2004, “Beyond the Gates of Splendor”, and that a follow up Hollywood production by the name of “The End of the Spear” was being released in early 2006. By this time it was summer of 2005, and I was buying up every book written about this gripping and heroic tale, and re-reading them with a different set of lenses than I had many years earlier. One of the most amazing parts of the story was that Rachel Saint, a sister of Nate Saint, who was one of the martyred missionaries, and Elisabeth Elliot, the widow of Jim Elliot, another in this amazing group of 5 brave men, along with their little girl Valerie, had actually gone in to live with this tribe and eventually reached them for Christ, so their family members’ blood had indeed not been spilled in vain— and a tribe that had once been one of the most violent in all of known history had, in a few short years, become instead one of the most peaceful because of the love and forgiveness of these 2 amazing women! During my hours of research and reading on all of this, however, I discovered something both a bit unsettling and yet intriguing to me—Elisabeth Elliot’s brother Thomas Howard, the former chief editor of the leading evangelical publication “Christianity Today” and a well known Christian leader in his own right, had become Roman Catholic! Knowing the heritage he had, being connected to one of the most well known and admired Protestant families in America, I was utterly taken aback to think he would choose to convert purely on his own, thinking maybe he had married a Catholic Christian, or some other more “justifiable” reason, but I did a bit more digging, and found that he had indeed truly come to believe in the teachings and ideals of traditional Catholicism, and even had written a book called “Evangelicalism Isn’t Enough”, as well as several others about his own journey to the Faith.
5) Although still not yet even considering, at least consciously, a comeback to Catholicism for myself, I did not doubt Dr. Howard’s sincerity or commitment to Christ, but I did find myself very full of questions. I found myself watching EWTN (Eternal Word), which is the Catholic cable television station), and, surprisingly, liking much of what I saw. I found an almost total absence of the kind of bigoted bashing I had been hearing from much of the “religious right” (as well as a few fairly opinionated liberals, I might add), and yet noticed a very fervent and, yes, personal, commitment to Christ and to true holiness from the priests, sisters and dedicated laypersons who had various programs on the station. In short, I saw a far more balanced approach to life in general. One program was particularly captivating as well as challenging to my mind. It was called “The Journey Home”, hosted by Marcus Grodi, a former minister (Presbyterian) turned Catholic, and each week his guests included those who had indeed either come back to the Church or who had found their way to it after much prayer and study. I also learned that Thomas Howard and his wife had even been guests on this show in the past! Another thing I learned was that that Catholic Church had a new and revised official Catechism, which was very comprehensive and basically a systematic theology of the entire core of current Catholic belief and practice—over 800 pages worth in fact—I bought one, and found myself studying nightly, Bible in one hand, as it were, and Catechism in the other. Question after question I had started out with began to fade away, and I recall realizing finally, as I had long since begun to suspect but until then had not been able to put into words even to myself, that a “true Catholic” who really followed his or her faith as outlined in the Catechism was indeed a “true Christian” in the most evangelical sense as well, even if somewhat different terminology was used! As I stated earlier, I always had known that some Catholics were Christians, but I did not really until that point believe that Catholicism honestly taught correct Christianity “from the top”, so to speak. In other words, I believed they were Christians in spite of Rome, not because of Rome—now I learned I had been wrong about this my entire adult life! I had also heard of another former Calvinist minister by the name of Scott Hahn, who was now a noted Catholic theologian, and began reading a book by him and his wife Kimberly—“Rome Sweet Home”—and, while skeptical, page by page I saw that many of his points were compelling. I read the book in nearly one sitting, and, after nearly throwing it across the room a few times in both fear and frustration, I finally recognized one night that I really could be Catholic again—and should be. The very next morning, October 4, 2005, I went to Reconciliation (confession) for the first time since high school and re-entered the Church of my upbringing. I am not saying it has not had it rocky moments, and there are still unanswered questions, but I know I am “Home where I Belong”, as the old Gospel song goes, and, through a strange and totally unexpected set of circumstances, met, in person, both Scott Hahn and Jim Caviezel within a week of becoming Catholic again! Then, only one week after that event, I was at another seminar and met Steve Saint, who is the son of Nate Saint, one of the missionaries who died 50 years ago, and I had indeed come full circle. Only God could have pulled that off! By the way, the “right” guy did indeed come along, and His Name is Jesus Christ, who I love and adore with all of my heart and soul. I do not need another. It is definitely good to be home.