Church Teaching & Homosexuality

Reeling from the Supreme Court ruling on ‘gay marriage’ American Christians are quick to react by explaining the biblical teaching on marriage. Practicing Catholics are keen on clarifying the ignorant public on Marriage, a public that often views it as a mere contract of individuals and state. Even if people view human rights as bestowed on the state, the constitution defines rights as protected by the state and endowed by the creator. Likewise Catholics want people to see this isn’t something that the state does.

Yet, I wanted to write something a bit different. I decided to wait for a day that American Catholics were not feeling as if they have lost to the cultural tide. I also wanted to wait for a day when proponents of Gay Marriage were not also feeling as if they have lost to the reactions of the issue dearest to their heart. I do not endorse, nor propose to defend Gay Marriage, this post has a lot more to do with the public perception of the Catholic Teaching of Marriage.

An explanation in defense of marriage, by your average passionate young Catholic typically falls on deaf ears. These Catholics have felt liberated from the oppressive over-sexualized culture by a beautiful Church teaching. They have been instilled with profound personal and spiritual meaning in a way that secular materialism never has. They are then befuddled by how it this beautiful and liberating Church teaching on Sex and Marriage can be ugly or constricting on others. For example, that the Church teaches that I am created in the image of God, I am free from a life of uselessness. Since the Church teaches that I have a life of unique and profound meaning, I am free from a life of meaninglessness. Since the Church teaches that God sent his Son into the world, I am free from a life of loneliness. I could go on.

Each of these profound truths demands that I take responsibility for them, and that responsibility is sometimes scary (because I am a feeble sinner). However, it is still ugly, it is still constricting, it still feels wrong to many people. I could go on about putting aside one’s feelings, but still the truths of our faith make me feel wonderful. (Too many Catholics put feelings aside, but being Catholic FREAKING FEELS GREAT!!!) I am really putting aside the sort of canned cliche response you see on all the Catholic blogs everywhere all the time, that your feelings, gay people, are not important because TRUTH!

See, people do know that the Church opposes Gay Marriage. Forget that we are for families, forget that we are for all the good stuff we uphold, it is Vividly clear to people that we are not for gay marriage. Maybe people misunderstand why we are against it, but they have no doubt that we are against it. So… they are very certain that we are against gay marriage because we “hate” gay people.

When the Supreme Court Ruling passed, the official hashtag is #lovewins. Meaning, were gay marriage not recognized, it would be #hatewins. Such was the case when Prop 8 passed in California, the tagline became No H8. Putting aside the fact that this ignores the many nuances and varieties of opinions which do not favor gay marriage, it is simple enough to be deeply convincing.

It is as clear as day to the world that Catholics hate gay people, that we do not want them to experience love, that we do not want them to experience freedom, that we do not want them to be! (Catholics please re-read that out loud) This is what the world is deeply convinced of at the core of their being. People outside the Church are so profoundly certain of this, that it makes any dialogue impossible. People outside the Church are so profoundly certain of this, that they feel they must do a good thing and prevent the further hurt they experience from all this hate and evil, by outlawing us, etc. People outside the Church are so convinced of this that they must rescue all gay people everywhere from the oppressive and hurtful Church teaching.

Let’s face it, at this time, there are no Secular Liberals locking up Catholics, and subjecting them to electro-shock therapy to cure them from their Catholicism. At this time, there are no Catholics dying of AIDS in a hospital bed, while their entire family believes that they deserve to suffer and die for the lifestyle that they chose. Perhaps Gays are not going through the same sort of physically traumatizing suffering, but American Catholics are not (Just for the sake of focusing on a unique and particular issue, we can talk about Catholics persecuted elsewhere in the world).

The big misunderstanding of the world may not be that they don’t understand marriage. The big misunderstanding of the world is that we actually don’t hate gay people.

Before you, Catholic reading this, want to react with the canned cliche response that we love them, by correcting them, stop, stop for a second, stop for a minute, stop for a good while, and let this sink in.

The world is convinced that we HATE gay people. The world is convinced that we are commanded by the Bible to hate gay people. The world is convinced that the Church, and Popes, and Priests have mandated that we hate gay people. The big misunderstanding of the world: They think we must hate gay people, but we don’t.

The fact that we believe that every person is made in God’s divine image with a wonderful dignity is completely overshadowed by this malignant lie that the “Church hates gay people!” I mean, it is so bad, that people literally think that Pope Benedict, word for word, would tell his bishops, or tell priests, “go hate gay people!” Most people have not the mental acuity to distinguish the Catholic Church from the Westboro Baptist Church.

So, before any explication on the Church’s true teaching of marriage happens, it needs to be made clear that the Church does not teach us to hate gay people. Just as any discussion with scientists needs to begin that the Church not only doesn’t require us to disregard science, any discussion about homosexuality needs to begin with the fact that we believe that they have a profound and wonderful dignity.

Any Catholic that I have talked to, has found that citing the Catechism on this issue human dignity to be eye opening for everyone in the room. People start off with the idea that the Church teaches us to hate gay people, and are stunned to discover that we do not. This is a fact, try it. Try to do this, without making all sorts of sublte remarks about that the Church does not accept gay marriage, or why we do not. If you put this aside for a moment. They know that the Church does not accept gay marriage. They do not know that the Church accepts them as human beings.

I know, it seems risky to let them walk away without a correct understanding of marriage. The fact is, they already have an incorrect understanding of marriage before talking to us, and we have never done anything to contribute to it. There is so much noise out there bogging them in, entrenching them in their error. Rarely do they ever hear the very true Church teaching that each person is invaluable for being made in God’s divine image. It may be worth the risk for people to know the truth, that God loves gay people.

For a person who is gay, lesbian, transgender, etc, some claim to experience a high degree of identity confusion which is itself frustrating. Many, further, have always felt left out, have always felt different &unaccepted. I am convinced that there is a specific degree of pain, unique to a person who experiences a homosexual attraction or inclination, that would, and will be there regardless of what the GOVERNMENT does about marriage. I believe that there is a unique sort of suffering that is not experienced by people who are not gay, lesbian, or transgender, just as there is a unique sort of pain for having a loved die, for having your parents divorce, by being betrayed by a lover, or by being abused as a child.

They only have two things in common, that in this life, they may never experience a full and complete alleviation of this pain. Gay Marriage can’t fix this hurt in the same way that Heterosexual Marriage won’t fix the hurt of child abuse or post traumatic stress. I believe that is only in heaven. Likewise, none of them are beyond redemption, all who experience any suffering, are united to Christ abandoned, rejected, and suffering on Calvary for all of our redemption. That in itself is near to some sort of relief.

This is why straight marriage cannot even be a right created by the state, complete happiness, and freedom from suffering in this life are absolutely futile. Yet, Christ’s response to those who suffer is not simply a demand that they take up their cross, he often relieves them of their suffering. How does he respond to the leper, to the demoniac, to the adulterer, to the sinner, he does not tell them “Pick up your cross, suffering is redemptive!” He saves the comment about taking up the cross for those who are public disciples of the Gospel. Neither does taking up a cross mean that one deliberately seeks out unreasonable suffering, but only accepts the sort of reasonable suffering that may (or may not) happen.

A young person with a homosexual inclination, ashamed that they are not like any of their friends, seeing all the important people in the Church campaign to save marriage from the homosexuals, watching his friends straight parents get a divorce without a bat of the eye. He feels alone, he probably will use drugs, self abuse, unhealthy sexual relationships as a way to alleviate that loneliness. Because he knows that the Church hates people like him, and because even a mild addiction is still weaker than the self-shame in his heart, he would rather wallow in his addiction than experience redemption. It probably felt great for him to acknowledge that he is gay, to tell that to people, to feel some sort of acceptance. An intellectual knowledge of the Truths of the Catholic Faith may not be the first place to go if you are talking to him.

And it may not be this sort of young person that you are talking to, it may be someone who has gone through something similar, it may be someone who has watched a close friend go through that sort of spiritual alienation.

If you are unwilling to enter into the messiness and complication and suffering and terror that a Gays and Lesbians experience, it might be impossible for you to make a breakthrough with clarifying Church teaching on Marriage. One reason that St Theresa of Calcutta is so reputable is that she unflinchingly lived by charity.

For those of us not immersed in the thick messiness of it all, the very true Church Teaching, that they are created in God’s image make take ourselves very far, and may bring them a lot closer to God.

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I retired from making Hip Hop music.

I have already been retired for a long time, but have gotten away with it, until now.

Recently, several Augustinians were asking during an International Augustinian Youth Encounter in Prague, immediately preceding World Youth Day in Krakow. Previously, I had a hip hop presentation. Although, on the planning commission this year, I did not put my name forward. The easiest thing to say is that I am retired. The harder thing to say is that this gift and passion just doesn’t seem to be relevant. This is one thing that I have had to discern and pray about, and it is a sobering conclusion.

Before describing this conclusion, it is important to note: I have no shortage of meaningful ministry in people’s lives. As a campus minister, without using any hip hop music, I make an impact on young people’s lives and connect them to the love of God. I know that I am doing a lot of good.

Is Hip Hop relevant to young people? Not really.

The brand of Hip Hop culture that set me on a positive path in life, is not something that kids connect to today. 33 years ago, I was born during Hip Hop’s first decade, an unstoppable pop culture phenomenon for the first half of my life. Hip Hop music is still cherished among adults my age and older. Adolescents listen to a sort of Rap derived from this, that sometimes seems like something else entirely. I know nothing about that.

When adolescents see a full grown adult immersed in adolescent pop culture, they scratch their heads, perhaps they get creeped out. It is why I refuse to do Snapchat or Vine. Adults that try too hard just don’t connect. Hip Hop and Rap are very wide and diverse things, it is a bit simpleminded to associate the music of a 33 year old priest with that of a 20 year old popular rap artist.

I came to this conclusion after reflecting on how it worked out form me between 2011 & 2014. I believe that the irrelevancy of Hip Hop may help one understand why it just didn’t work.

Before I joined the Order, I really wanted to rap exclusively at secular venues to the unchurched. Between 2001-2004, I found myself increasingly unwelcome. This did help me look in the right direction for my vocation to Religious Life.

Although I only rapped in my bedroom, I requested to give a demonstration to my community of Friars. This was 2008, I was a Theology student in Chicago. I included a brief history of Hip Hop Culture. In 2010, I was asked to give this presentation at an Augustinian Youth Encounter in London. During my next year in ministry as a Student Friar, I was asked to give this presentation in high school and elementary classrooms.

I was influenced by positive Hip Hop music that was not suitable for children. This had nothing to do with vulgarities, or inappropriate content. It had to do with mature subject matter, much the same way that the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquianas is not on your kindergarten teacher’s shelf. My music was not suitable for children, but they clapped and danced a long with it.

Over the course of these presentations, I developed a few songs to educate young people on what Hip Hop was about. I found that I needed to make two albums; Revolution of the Heart would collect all the songs that I had written since entering Religious Life. Thematically, these songs were more spiritually focused. Along Babylon’s Streets collected several songs dealing with Hip Hop culture in general.

Little fan followup

In 2012 I released Revolution of the Heart, and a year later I released Along Babylon’s Streets. These two albums were available online. The music seemed to connect with people as I performed and they claimed to want to listen. I tracked the listens on SoundCloud & Bandcamp, I tracked the follows on Twitter & Facebook. Over the next few years, ~10% of people who listened to my music would follow up.

So I have to do a measurement. During the school year, I minister to 700+ young people. I am there to guide them, mentor them, listen to them. Maybe 50 of them would have gone online to listen to and download. I really have to wonder what kind of impact this music is doing? I was clearly motivated to write this music to deal with life. It was for me. It did not seem to make a difference in people’s lives? This kind of thing is hard to measure. But when I spend this much time working on music, the payoff is not worth it.

Friends don’t ask me about my Hip Hop Music

The exception being the Augustinians or perhaps two friends who contributed to my album (either by rapping or by artwork). It should be made clear, at no time has any Augustinian ever told me I need to give up rapping. That has never happened. At no time, has any authority in the Church, ever challenged the fact that I rapped.

I cannot recall any conversation with a friend that indicated that they listened to my music. Perhaps they thought one song or other sounded cool or catchy. It is clear that I have friends that care about me, or have been there for me. Whether I rap or not goes by unnoticed. I should say, that a handful of generous friends have paid money for my music, knowing that I have something to show the brothers. It would be even more powerful if I heard someone tell my community that my music changed their lives.

My music updates on Facebook and Tumblr did not show up on people’s news feeds because I didn’t pay to advertise.

I released two albums, posted frequently on Social Network feeds, and most of the people I knew never even saw the posts. These were people who willingly subscribed to my public Facebook page. After doing a little research, I realized that Facebook expected independent musicians to pay.

As Facebook and tumblr started using the algorithmic newsfeed, this helped personalize your newsfeed. It put your preferred interesting items at the top. However, this also removed all of the public pages from your newsfeed, unless you paid a price. Considering that I was making so little money in donations, I couldn’t feasibly sustain paying regularly for advertisements.

No practical support from other Catholic Hip Hop artists.

I rapped on stage with Righteous B (a Catholic Rapper), who passively snuffed me on stage at a Steubenville San Diego after I rapped.

Phatmass attempted to gather Catholic Hip Hop artists. Despite giving my music to a few of the artists, I never heard any positive (or negative) feedback. After a thanks for sharing a link or a download, I was completely ignored. Despite follows on Twitter or Facebook from other Catholic Hip Hop artists, It was not clear that they listened or supported. Despite posting links to the albums and songs of other Catholic Hip Hop artists, I never once received any sort of promo from any other artist ever.

I thought that, maybe, some of these artists in Southern California, would see a Catholic seminarian, and support. They had better recording and production equipment. Maybe they would give someone with a vow of poverty some instrumentals to rap over, or some studio time.. My attempts to connect were typically ignored.

I was basically in this Hip Hop thing completely by myself with no practical support from other Hip Hop artists. It was just not the way to go.

Add to the list, Catholic Underground LA, and other Catholic venues which were not interested in providing me an opportunity.

Advancing Technology and my life

The production software that I used was limited, and was amateurish. I purchased professional quality software after my ordination in 2013. The software, and accompanying hardware were difficult to learn. I spent several hours with minimal results. I had just finished and released my album, Along Babylon’s Streets, and creatively needed plenty of time to work before the next one.

I was in my first year of ministry. That took up a lot of time. I was looking forward to my second year of ministry, where I might have more time to develop and learn how to make music with this new software. Within that first month of the school year, my dad got West Nile Virus, It completely and irrevocably turned my entire family’s life upside down. This required so much attention from me for the next 18+ months. School, and ministry were not waiting for me to help my dad get better.

When it comes down to looking at all the things in my life that matter, Hip Hop was only a parlor trick to the kids. They said, Fr Mark rap for us! As if I was doing a quick 10 second card trick. They were impressed for a full 30 seconds, then quickly moved on. I may have poured my blood, sweat, and tears into a song, I may have spent 7-12 months crafting the lyrics and the sound of a specific song, it did not seem worth the effort. My dad had been suffering. Many times, the kids I was ministering to were suffering. Rap didn’t help them or inspire them. Considering how much life needed my attention, Things may have been very different if I had practical support (I am not talking about donations) from the Catholic community. There was none. All that was left was Fr Mark rap for us! Come here monkey and dance!

Having written it all out here, makes it sound sadder than it has felt in actuality. I get annoyed that people want me to rap, but don’t open their minds to the music. It has often felt like a burden. The music that I have made has not made an impact in people’s lives. I have been dealing with that reality for 10+ years. It made an impact in my life, and perhaps that was enough for God to give me a reason to create music.

In a few months, another school year will start. I am going to help this senior class cope with life. I am looking forward to it. My campus ministry team has also changed, and I am going to be working with a much younger group, a group more interested in offering practical support in my campus ministry. I am looking forward to working with them. I am going to be helping our prior with the formation of several student Augustinians this next year, and I am also looking forward to that. I might be doing more for my community this next year to help support our student Friars.

Even if the music or songs that I make have not done much for people’s lives, the fact that a young aspiring Hip Hop artist felt a call to the priesthood has impacted people’s lives. I could go the rest of my life without ever creating another song, and the reality of my vocation is still more impactful. Perhaps it is enough that this positive driving passion in my life was nothing compared to the love that God has shown me.

Movies about Saints my way

Temptation

Salvador Dali’s Temptation of St Anthony

With the Golden Globes finished, and the Academy Awards around the corner, I wanted to publish this long overdue. I often find Catholic Saints film a bore. For fifth grade catechesis, maybe, but not much for inspiration in my faith. For Greater Glory & There Be Dragons pushed the Action and Intrigue. They attempted to make Saint stories suitable for Big Budget / Big Screen Cinema. In 2014, we had Biblical epics picked up by Directors who may have been atheists. The Gospel According to St Matthew, directed by atheist, marxist, homosexual Pasolini, is on the Vatican’s list of top faith films.

While many Catholics dream of big budget, suround sound, 3-D, nationally screened Saint films, I wonder what could be lost. Some saints might get their action sequences. Most saints are dealing with interior dilemmas that just cannot be communicated in the same manner as Big Budget / Big Screen Cinema. You might have to talk to directors who have dealt with smaller scale, intimate portrayals, accompanied by character development. On the one hand, you might limit the audience. On the other hand you might reach an audience (that wouldn’t waste their time on a cheesy sentimental saint film) for an intelligent, thoughtful, artfully crafted film experience around a particular saint.

Classic Film Biopics often portray the subject’s life through a series of episodes. Contemporary Film Biopics typically center around a crystallizing event in the subject’s life. Unfortunately, most Saint films tend to rely exclusively on the classic biopic style. For example, Lincoln dealt with the passing of legislation, rather than entire series of episodes of his life. While the Song of Bernadette (1943) attempts her entire life, Bernadette (1988) captures the apparition event. Most Saint or Pope movies employ the Classic Episodic style Biopic.

Finally, they are portrayed as spiritually unconflicted and morally uncomplicated. That is not always a bad thing, but that would not work for many of the subjects that I haveselected. When I speak of character development, there has to be a mountain in the heart that is moved by faith. There has to be some sort of challenge that they are to face, and that is more meaningful and inspiring than watching a subject never flinch in the face of adversity. I am sure that some people would like to see movies about miracles, stigmata, or zapping fireballs at pagans (see Patrick below), but were we to be approaching stories of human persons becoming saints, it might be the most effective and powerful method. Besides, when you are focusing on covering 60 years in 100 minutes, you miss a the emotion, or you miss the passion

For my proposed ideas, some I have thought about for the past several years. A few have suggestions for a director. I have no interest in suggesting actors, so that it is clear that this list is meant to emphasize how having a skilled director could do a lot more for a film than having some attractive faces.

Augustine
One of my saint film disappointments in recent times was Restless Heart about Augustine. As an Augustinian, I certainly had high hopes. The central theme of Augustinian Friendship as a communal discovery of Truth was absent. The sort of personal conversations among confidants was missing. Sometimes I wonder if you had a director like Richard Linklater, you might be able to capture some of the banter which is essential for a film portraying Augustine. It wouldn’t hurt to also have an Augustinian scholar brought on board to consult, as they do in many other historical pieces. We are, after all, entrusted by the Church with the Spiritual and Theological Legacy of Saint Augustine.

Martyrs
Almost any group of martyrs in the history of the Church could be portrayed as a compelling drama for the big screen. Unfortunately, most Catholics filmmakers are more interested in making something that is okay for children. Films have been made portraying violence while minimizing gore, this would not be that hard. I do think of Cecilia, Felicitas, or Perpetua as possible protagonists if we are dealing with early Rome. Alfonso Cuaron, of Gravity and Children of Men has taken on complicated nuanced dramas, and I could see something like this being taken on by him.

Antony of Egypt
Lets face it, the early desert monks don’t look good on a vintage kitsch prayer card. They are not pasty-skinned enough, dainty blonde enough. Think, weathered face, squinty eyed (Clint Eastwood). The Temptation of Antony is one of the oft-repeated paintings throughout art history, and I wonder what an intelligent film director would do with it, and add his twiest. Because, let’s face it, a film like this could subvert the modern cultural paradigm which sees temptation as either insurmountable or as pleasurable. Out of the other ideas mentioned, this one wouldn’t lend itself easily to lighthearted humor. David Fincher and Tim Burton are two completely different director’s, who would take this in very different directions, but could do something awesome with it.

Francesco d’Asis
Many people’s visions of Francis are as a gleeful sprite gracefully prancing around Assisi singing like Snow White to the little birdies. They completely miss the fact that he left behind his urban dandy of a cloth-merchant old man for the callous hands of a wild and rugged stone chapel. Francis was a short man, kind of like X-Men’s Wolverine. I do believe that a Francis movie can find a good way of mixing playfulness with manliness. After seeing Prince Avalanche, something I would like to find in a Francis movie, David Gordon Greene might be able to pull something similar.

Thomas the Apostle
Christianity has existed in Southern India within a century of Christ’s crucifixion. All of the Eastern Christian Churches often appear different than what we expect Christianity to be. Having a film portraying early Malabar or Malankara Christians would, in many ways, be earth-shattering for our stereotypes of Christianity as a Western Religion. This could even be an enthralling story with Thomas as a supporting character or catalyst, rather than a protagonist. Slumdog Millionaire was a joint operation in England and India, and this would be what I would hope for with something like this, however, I wouldn’t want to see Danny Boyle (who did a work about Saints in Millions), as much as a local director.

Patrick
A few years ago, I saw a Saint Patrick movie, where he was going around zapping pagans with fire. There is a desperate yearning to make a Catholic movie into a big screen spectacle. I find my heart moved by his story, and would prefer to have something more dramatic. Years ago, there was a little Irish animated feature The Secret of Kells (2009). It portrayed a group of Christian Monks creating the Book of Kells. It had its share of fairies and folklore, and was meant to be for children. I have wondered what it were like to have short stories of some of the important Irish Saints: Cuthbert, Brendan, Brigid, and of course Patrick.

Mother Theresa
Here is someone that is still in the popular imagination among Catholics, as well as some secular humanist types. Younger Catholics don’t know who she is. I admit, that I am not a card carrying member of her fan club, and there could be a moment or two in her life that is worth capturing. I am impressed that she caused a ceasefire, she got a Nobel Peace Prize. These could be instances. It is also known that she did not feel internal spiritual consolations for the last part of her life. This is the sort of thing that works good on film. I don’t know that I have an idea of a director for this one (as I am not as familiar with her), but one person suggested Parish Hilton should be cast to play her.

Bonus: Hipster Pope Benedict
Ratzinger was forced to join the Nazi youth. He deserted, broke the law by going to the seminary, and became a priest. It could be a sort of wartime star crossed romance, except falling in love with God, and perhaps enjoying beer and having a friend cat. This wouldn’t go through the rest of his life, in fact becoming the pope would be irrelevant to this story that could be wrapped up in the climactic event of him being accepted into the seminary.

4 unusual, although typical priestly encounters

When random people encounter a priest, they are often ready to open up about their entire life. I find, that when I visit different parishes to preside at Sunday Masses, there is always a person or two who will briefly tell me their life story, or want to know mine.

As I am a “young” or “cool” priest, or perhaps a priest without grey hair or a gut, somehow they find me strangely fascinating. My actual ministry is to high school students at an all boys school, and so these sorts of encounters don’t happen at all where I work. Most adolescent boys like to hear stories from their teachers. Myself included. Yet, they never ask me for my vocation story, quite like the adults or elderly people that I encounter at parishes.

Just yesterday, I literally had 4 encounters that I think could virtually sum up what all such encounters.

Some context: The sophomore class had their retreat at a Catholic Parish. During the day, we used the Parish Hall, the Church, and one of the annexed parking lots for all the activities. We had over 100 students that I was responsible for throughout the day. These encounters were with people who were around the parish, and not any of the students (or faculty members involved with the retreat). It is also worth mentioning, that I was in the Augustinian habit, and that probably had them begin to open up to me.

  1. There to open the Parish Hall, there was a man who quickly asked me to pray for him. He was there the previous day, and I had a chance to interact and greet him. This day, he probably thought he could seize the opportunity and ask me to pray over him and bless him. It often amuses me, that after mass, after the priest has just given everyone in the congregation a blessing, sometimes a person will come up to me for a blessing. I have blessed people after a young adult event, and a line of very young adults come up to me for a blessing. I think sometimes they mistake youth for sanctity, but often I have to remind them that they just received a blessing. In this case the man didn’t. The man, that morning of the retreat, ready to open the Parish Hall, asked me to pray for his family to return to the faith. As an Augustinian, I thought of St Monica. So I prayed with him on the spot for a minute, and asked for the intercession of Saint Monica.
  2. Later in the morning, a woman shouted to me from across the parking lot. She asked if I was a monk, and what kind of monk I was. I had stepped outside of the hall of 100+ students, to move my car. It was near the entrance to unload supplies, and I wanted to keep the entrance wide open. Before I could get to the car, she was already within a foot in front of me, ready to spill out her entire life story. Interjecting her attempts to tell her life story, and how she ended up in San Diego, she wanted to know what kind of priest I was, and if there was an association with the priests that staffed a St Augustine school where she was from. She continued opening up about her life, on several random tangents. I was unsure if she was going to stop to catch her breath. As a pastoral minister, I realize that many people expect me to drop my entire life on the moment of their need. She wasn’t terribly needy, she was obviously a devout Catholic. I had to remind her that I was overseeing an event (I was not just the chaplain there to say mass, I was the man responsible for the retreat, meaning if a student got injured I had to contact parents, I had to ensure they got to the hospital, etc). She literally followed me around to the door of my car, as I was apologizing to her for not being able to set aside the retreat to hear her tell her life story. It is sort of amusing when you think about it. These sorts of encounters do happen at least once at every single parish or Catholic place that I visit, they either want to tell their life story, or want my life story.
  3. During Lunch time, I had just finished saying Mass for the students in the Church, and a Fire Dept inspector was checking the extinguishers. He was ready to open up not so much about his life stories, but about some of his faith experiences. He was the sort of person, who probably rarely has an opportunity to talk about those sorts of things. As he was looking over the extinguisher, and I was cleaning up the sacristy, he was telling some of his story. He was kind of excited to meet a young priest, I don’t think he ever met a priest younger than him, which probably also made him more excited to talk about faith, religion, church stuff, sacraments, etc. Often I will meet people who are somewhat unchurched, but go to Mass with some kind of regularity. They typically favor their religion, but don’t talk much about their faith. Seeing a young priest often gets them expressing their faith. Sometimes I am told (more often by women), that I am too young to be a priest. When I meet men like this Fire Fighter, I wish that there were more young guys in the priesthood that are easy for him to open up about.
  4. Okay, this guy probably wasn’t Catholic, he probably wasn’t there for Church. He saw me in habit on the street as we went between the Parking Lot and the Parish Hall. He wanted to know who we were, and what we were doing. He seemed disturbed by the fact that we were an group of students that were all boys (almost the complete opposite of most people that I encounter). When I explained that we were an all boys school, and that we were on retreat, he responded “Retreat from what?” I could scientifically explain to him the value of single sex education from a secular perspective, and there are enough secular retreats out there. I sort of felt bad for him.

Anyways, that about sums up the four encounters, fourth being a bonus, and not your typical Catholic encounter.

Hotel vs Hostel

On my summer vacation in Portland, I made the decision to stay in a hostel instead of a hotel. I had stayed in Hostels in Europe and South America. It was probably after having stayed at them, I found that Americans generally have a bad impression of hostels.

So it did make me think about, in our consumer, brand name culture, our unnecessary hotels are, compared to most brand name items. Scouting and choosing a hostel may be more work, but not only is it a money saver, it is probably still well worth it.

As I have talked about this, I have found that many people are either scared of hostels, or don’t even know what it is. A hostel is a somewhere between a dormhall and a hotel. There are often rooms with bunks, private rooms, shared kitchens and bathrooms.

  1. Shared Space: As an Augustinian, Augustine’s Rule puts a lot of value in the sharing of goods (whether spiritual or material). Having shared spaces is very Augustinian, and perhaps Augustine may have preferred a hospitality where there is shared space. For Augustine, we encounter God in the places we set up unity, and so we don’t encounter God by locking ourselves up in our hotel room. A Carmelite, therefore needs a cell, and might like a hotel room if it weren’t so extravagant.
  2. Entitlement and Customer Service: American Consumer Culture has taught us that expressing your dissatisfaction gets you results. It is part of our customer service culture. Nobody likes a complainer still. Being in a hostel where you have to share space, requires you to be considerate of other people around you. How Gospel is that?
  3. Passionate Staff: Many hostels do not have large rosters of indifferent staff clocking in and clocking out. Usually the smaller staff is younger, they take ownership of the hostel, and are interested in connecting with the customers. Although you are likely to encounter more people who are not super churchies either working or staying at a hostel, you will find good people.
  4. Wi-Fi: Many hotels see Wi-Fi as an added expense. Forget that you are paying hundreds of more dollars at a hotel, heaven forbid it cover internet.
  5. No Television: Hostels almost never have televisions in the bedroom, some will have televisions in shared spaces, or none at all. Who needs television on vacation?
  6. Unnecessary Amenities: If I saved ~100+/night where did that money go? Shampoo bottles? bed made daily? continental breakfast? Private Television with pay per view porn? Are any of these really worth the extra hundreds of dollars?
  7. Safety: With so much shared space and so many strangers, hostel staff, who are very passionate about what they do, are very keen on not allowing random people to walk in. Hostels set up lockers, where you bring your own combo lock. It might feel obvious that a hotel appears safer, but most hostels care about the safety of their customers.
  8. Food: Although there are hotels with kitchenettes, most hotels expect you to fork out extra cash for room service. Sometimes the nicest part of having a vacation is being able to make delicious food for yourself, and not have to pay 7.50 for a bagel and coffee daily, when you can buy several bagels, and enjoy hostel coffee for five bucks. Having a few budget meals in a hostel can expand your possibilities for finding places.

I have a few caveats. I think an older person who needs a private bathroom, elevators, etc, is in an entirely different state. Also, hostels are great in urban areas, where you can go out and do a lot of walking or using public transportation. Rarely are hostels in remote areas, where you would be better off staying at a resort. Although I don’t mind sharing spaces with others, I still need my own private bedroom. Hostels can be a good thing to do with a group of people, but wouldn’t work for business purposes.

For those curious, while I was in Portland, I ended up staying in two separate hostels located next to two really cool neighborhoods. The first one was Portland Hostel Hawthorne District. Hawthorne had some of the coolest restaurants, bars and culture. The building itself is an experiment in eco-sustainability. This hostel is also part of Hostelling International, which tends to take older nice buildings and fix them up for their use. Hosteling International also separates boys and girls into separate dorms, and prohibits alcohol on the premises. Private rooms are typically available.

The other Hostel was Travelers House in the Alberta neighborhood. This hostel was owned and operated by a younger couple who lived upstairs, and used the bottom house for the hostel. The place was fixed up really nice, and cost a little more than the other place. It may have been somewhere between a hostel and a bed and breakfast.

Making Augustine Viral

Several years ago, I created a tumblr and twitter page for Augustinian posts. These posts primarily consisted of photos, quotes, and other paraphernalia of our Augustinian Life, Spirituality & Tradition. I also wrote several brief didactic posts on these topics. If you viewed my WordPress page, you may have found links to several of the blogs that I have posted there.

I recently brought in another student Friar, Maxime, to collaborate with me on this. I however, have decided to make a few design revisions, and plan on making several posts in the near future. Please consider viewing, following, sharing and linking!

The Needs of the People of God Never End: Crisis Mode & Burn Out

UntitledLet me start off by saying that I have not burnt out, I am not unhappy, I am not miserable, I am not depressed, I am not in bad shape overall. Crisis Mode is acknowledging an impending crisis and taking prudent measures, rather than being haplessly swept into it.

The irony is that I am going to have to curtail my ministerial service over the next several months, coinciding with Lent when people typically give things up. It will be summed up in a few areas: The ministry assigned to me by my superiors, my current family situation, and the gratuitous ministries that I have chosen to limit. Things will not get better magically, but they will ease up on me by summer. Let it be clear that I owe it to everyone I will ever serve to commit to the summer vacation I am currently planning.

Pray for your priests!

This is obvious. Even for those devout Catholics who do seriously care about your priests, and would jump at a chance to help them, and support them in any way, my experience is that the majority of Catholics expect their priests to be impervious to pain, suffering & stress. That, and the needs of the People of God never end. Sometimes people will expect the priests to drop everything that they are doing to minister to them, even drop solitary prayer… Yet, all people still expect all their priests to spend a considerable amount of time in daily prayer.

Since I am a Young Priest, or merely a priest without grey hair, belly, wrinkles, or balding head, I have been in demand. This is not due to any excellence on my part, as for lack of viable alternatives. For instance, I go to various youth ministries or young adult gatherings scheduled on Thursdays, Fridays, or Saturdays when Pastors are at their busiest. On campus, when there is a need specifically for a priest, I am not likely the first (or second) person that is requested.

The work of a Religious Priest, particularly one in a High School was very different before the Council. I often find myself jealous for priests of that era. They could spend all week in front of a crowd of teenage boys, then spend their Sunday mornings facing an alter, offering, and tabernacle. They did lesson plans all week, and weren’t expected to have a homily every Sunday. It is impossible for me to not feel incredibly worn out to be expected to stand in front of an assembly of Catholics, who often imagine that my entire priestly ministry is their exclusive right, and not the students that I have been assigned to serve. I rarely go to Parishes for Sunday Masses.

700+ teenage boys under my Pastoral Care

This ministry is important to me! It really is! Even though the needs of the People of God never end, If I gave myself half-heartedly to fifteen different ministries, where’s the value in that! I have been committed to giving myself whole-heartedly to one particular ministry. Any other ministry I do ought to not interfere with this one.

Catholic High School ministry is a real priestly ministry. Because I am not presiding at several Sunday masses, several baptisms, marriages, quinceneras, etc., it does not mean that I don’t have a full priestly ministry. It boggles the minds of many young Catholics that I am not saying several Sunday Masses in several parishes every Sunday. Each month I coordinate a retreat, that includes: planning, training leaders (many of whom are teenage boys who need a lot of coaxing), cajoling faculty members into participating, booking sites, booking buses, booking catering, chasing down students who don’t hand in permission slips and retreat related reflections. This involves more yelling at kids then I ever imagined my priestly ministry would require, and I think this is because everyone expects the young priest to be more like a sports coach than a spiritual sage. I merely remind people that their pastor keeps the Sabbath Holy on a weekday, I do it on a Sunday.

But let me conclude by saying that I really enjoy doing this. Working with these kids is really meaningful for me. I want it to be clear that I am grateful to be where I am at. Despite their being a full work load, NOT AN INORDINATELY OR DISPROPORTIONATELY HIGH WORK LOAD, this is totally worth every minute. This ministry, all by itself, will probably not burn me out.

My dad’s health crisis and family situation

If you look back to these posts in October & November, you can get some details about this, and maybe see how this has been a psychologically exhausting issue for me. My dad got West Nile Virus in September, recovered from the infection in October, bedridden for a couple months, recovered a bit in November, but since Thanksgiving has shown minimal recovery. Let me make it clear, West Nile Virus infection does not cause permanent physical damage.

My dad has taken a long time to physically recover, such that he will take a really long time to recover. It could be six months, it could be a year. At least he is recovering. This has confronted our family with several very difficult financial decisions. One small mosquito bite has altered the course of my family forever, and there is no return to the way things were before any of this.

For myself, it is a challenge to drive up to LA from SD every weekend when I am free. It is a challenge to spend more time running errands for him than actually spending time with him. It is a challenge to have to get a few voice mails from him every day.

I am sure that people might wonder if I could request a reassignment to something closer and less demanding. Yet, I am filling a position in an institution, and if I leave, the lay administration at school will have to hire someone. I cannot get a substitute for several months. Besides, this would still be quitting, and that is hardly good discernment. A lot of the challenges my family faces will ease up by the time the next school year starts, so I even think it would be incredibly imprudent to just run away and start a whole new stressful transition in life.

Other Ministries

Immediately before all of this happened, I was committed to hearing confessions for a large youth group. I lost track of this. A month ago, I got a request to attend a small bachelor party retreat in a small rental cabin, the groom to be was more a friends friend than my own. All week long my dad was calling me asking me when I was going to visit, and I hadn’t been up in several weeks. I know is seems selfless for me to answer the need that someone has for a priest. Is it not also very selfish and egotistical of me, to pretend to be an invulnerable superhero, who neglects his sick father and students who he has been assigned to minister to?

First Fridays, I assist a young adult ministry. Adoration, Confessions, Benediction, Mass, Praise & Worship, Social & Talk are included. Typically I take Confessions, and concelebrating Mass. I preside a few times a year. Unlike Parishes on a Sunday, this has been the only regular ministry outside of school I find consistently refreshing. Practically, Fridays are the time I can finally drive up to LA to help my dad. Although I might be able to show up at some point over the next few months, I am no longer in a position for them to rely on me. There are a few other reasons.

All Catholic Young Adult Events are off the list. sometimes exhausting, because, even if I go, I am placed on a pedestal, while simultaneously being expected to serve. I can only go to these sorts of things to serve, and never to receive or be refreshed, what a way to end a long day of serving 700 adolescents! One time I remember being asked to give a blessing at the end, only to turn around to find a short line of people in attendance asking for their own special blessing. I am tempted to remind them not to mistake my youth for actual genuine holiness.

Women are another reason. Priests who have abandoned their ministry for a woman have actually hit a crisis, perhaps like the crisis I have. Sometimes I am exhausted at these young adult things because of the looks I get from them. I do remind myself that this shallow affection isn’t for me personally, but for what I do or what I wear. I would rather withdraw than pretend that no risk exists. There are several women I know and trust that would protectively give a talking to to any immature desperate girl who tried to take advantage of me at this time. Since I am not actually required to be here by holy obedience, I don’t see why I would be imprudent in that regard.

Unfortunately, I may also have to limit my activity on this blog.

I do live in a Religious Community, and having them has provided me with much of my sanity. How good and how pleasant it is! Also, I have several awesome friends who have been good to me during this time. Since I really like what I do, and want to have many years serving the people of God, it is urgent that I be mature in this regard. I am sure there are many other priests out there much holier than I am, many priests who are much better at it than I have been in my 19 months, who could do more than I can.