Jackass for the Hour: Chapter 29 – We praise the darkness
It was the first Friday of the trial. Cardinal Francisco opened the session, saying, “We commence the proceedings again with a prayer, this time led by the Special Prosecutor, Sister Nice, who is recognised by the Pelotani as an expert in psychology, sexual-abuse and problems living celibacy. She was recommended by Cardinal Froben. Sister… if you would…”
“Let us pray,” she said, walking to the centre of the stage and throwing her arms wide. “We sing to the mountains; we sing to the sea; we sing to the blessing of you and of me,” she began, pointing at the crowd and then to herself. “We praise the darkness, we praise the light, our sharing, our growth, all our insight. Mud and water, fire too, we breathe forth Sophia, for me and you too.” She was about to go on, but thought better of it. She said “Amen” on her own, and then went back and sat down. Cardinal Francisco looked disappointed with the rest of the crowd.
Sister Nice started without waiting to be given the floor. “On the one hand, Alex, I’m happy with the sharing style of this trial. Sharing is what I do. On the other hand, I am disappointed that
there are no psychological reports on you.” She waited for a response, used to getting answers in this way. But there was no reaction. “Perhaps,” she said, “this is not your fault. We sometimes have difficulties with bishops.” There was still no answer. “I am authorised to suspend the trial and any subsequent penalties,” she lied, “if you indicate that you would like to be evaluated. From what I see of the images, it will take some years of work. This may be the break you have surely been waiting to come your way.” The silent tranquillity of Father Alexámenos bothered her. “Of course, the last session of the trial is a good place to begin our appraisal,” she concluded.
Bishop Athanasius had not put Alexámenos through any testing. He knew of many candidates whose test results had described them as angels but who turned out to be abusers virtually from the day of their ordinations, as was being admitted by some of the psychologists who favoured abusive personalities, those who are nice, who go along with the ‘team’ by never criticising the abusiveness and lack of Faith of others. Bishop Athanasius knew that the screening of candidates so as to weed out any Judas could proceed much more effectively in a radically different manner.
Cardinal Fidèle handed Sister Nice a piece of paper upon which he had written a question Cardinal de Colines had requested be asked. It was one of the few things that could end an ecclesiastical career, something in which Father Alexámenos had no interest. “Tell me, Alex,” she said, reading the note, “do you have a family history of mental illness?” Again, Father Alexámenos did not answer, but dropped his head in sadness, but not because there was any such history or because he didn’t love those who adopted him. Sister Nice did know of his adoptive parents, but did not know that his biological parents had been brutally murdered when he was young. His birth parents weren’t insane or otherwise inappropriate as parents. Sister Nice, quite brilliant in her own right, did suspect that her presence there was for political purposes, and understood that this question could well be politically motivated. Since she did not like being used, she did not mind that Father Alexámenos did not answer. “Alex,” she continued, “I understand you are saddened to be reminded of your past. Perhaps you had been hoping that your case would have gone through San Francisco, which still has fabulous opportunities for cases such as yours.” There was still no answer, so she went on to her favourite questions: “What is your biggest success in life? What is your biggest failure? What is your biggest dream? If you would answer, you would see how we could scientifically help you achieve what you want. You do have issues.”
He despised the stupefying shallowness of Pelagianesque pseudo-scientists, being content instead with God’s providence. Frustrated with his non-cooperation, she chose something easier, threatening him first like a schoolmistress: “Don’t confuse my name with my temperament. I was born in Nice on the Côte d’Azur. Nice is my family name.” The session was in English, so she added, “Nice rhymes with geese. What’s your favourite colour?” There was no answer. “Excuse me… Hello…” she taunted. “I know you’ve given the U.S. bishops trouble for their approval of some types of ‘sex-education’ and some ‘child protection’ programmes. That doesn’t bode well for you, Alex.”
Padre Emet, don Hash and Father Alexámenos had remained seated for the opening ‘prayer’. Don Hash had been engrossed in drawing the scene that they were in, for he had a talent for line-drawing. He passed his work to Father Alexámenos, who studied it with gravity and, stone faced, passed it to padre Emet. The two priests looked at the old friar, who was studying the paper as if it were the important document for this session, perhaps a psychological evaluation that no one knew about. Sister Nice was watching with interest. When padre Emet, whose face was without expression, looked up and saw his two penitents, who now had the slightest smirks on their faces, he, and then all three of them together, laughed. And they had a good laugh. Everyone on the stage appeared normal in the drawing except for the three priests themselves, who all had the head of a jackass. “Pope Innocent had it right,” said padre Emet, citing that Pope’s revision of rule of life for the Little Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel written by Saint Albert of Jerusalem. Pope Innocent wanted to ensure that plenty of jackasses for the hermits’ necessities were certainly licit for them to have: “Asinos… prout vestra expostulaverit necessitas, vobis habere liceat.” Padre Emet was the only Carmelite who had memorized the entire rule in Latin.
“Something about jackasses, is it?” asked Sister Nice. Carpe Diem started braying in the room to the side of the stage upon his hearing of the word jackass. Sister Nice, bewildered, simply said, “Laughter is cathartic; it is best to share nicely.” She wanted to be included in the ‘therapy’. “Perhaps you would like to draw something.” Ignored, she demanded, “Alex, what’s your sexual history?” He didn’t answer. She added, “It’s usually the first question. Everyone has a history.”
Padre Emet leaned forward and said into his microphone, “Not everyone, Sister, but if you are going to make a Confession, I suggest you do it on your knees in a Confessional.” This made the crowd laugh. Padre Emet immediately followed this comment with another: “It is true, as the psalmist says, that God knows we have all fallen away, becoming corrupt, so that there is no one who does good, not even one. But Sister, your emphasis on sexual sin is rather unusual. It is true that Jeremiah, as so many of the prophets, uses the terminology of wanton fornication, saying, so wonderfully: A wild she-ass familiar with the wilderness, sniffing the wind in her lust! Who can restrain her in her heat? All who seek her will not be wearied. In her new moon they will find her… Like the shame of a thief when apprehended, just so is the house of Israel to be shamed, they, their kings, their princes, and their priests and their prophets; however, Jeremiah left room for the remnant of faithful jackasses. Not everyone needs to Confess as you indicate for yourself, Sister. Lust for applause is prostitution, as was said by Pope…” But he was interrupted by Carpe Diem, who escaped from the care of his mother and eluded the Swiss Guards, coming out onto the stage, braying loudly, “Ee-aagghh, ee-aagghh,” stomping his feet, as he had once seen on television.
Sister Nice simply insisted: “Well, Alex, I’m waiting.” The Hall became intensely quiet.
Father Alexámenos thought the assumption that all priests had ‘sexual histories’ was effectively blasphemous, as if our Lord would not chose those whom Saint John called virgins in the Apocalypse. He knew her assumption was demeaning to the priesthood as such, and to those training for the priesthood. It merely indicated that the light in the eyes of sexual history seekers was darkness. “How great is the darkness!” he almost said, repeating Christ’s words in his mind. “Voyeuristic blindness necessarily sees what it wants to see,” he thought.
“Tick-tock, tick-tock. We’re waiting, Alex,” heckled Sister Nice. “It’s a question asked during Apostolic Visitations of seminaries.” She did not add that those asking such questions, effectively abusing seminarians, had been severely reprimanded, no matter what the answer was.
Father Alexámenos remembered the stories of those who had been asked such a question by psychologists and ‘spiritual directors’ as a way to begin an abusive relationship – common in the 1970s – regardless of the answer. He knew that the question could not legitimately be asked outside the internal forum, whether this was defined as spiritual direction or Confession. Yet, psychological ‘profiles’ were, in reality, public record, though used for feigned ‘spiritual direction’, itself rarely, if ever, practically treated as being confidential. He had heard of many seeking spiritual direction in the Confessional according to the age old wisdom of the Church. He was certain that questions regarding ‘sexual history’ had to be occasioned in spiritual direction and Confession by what the person himself said. He thought it would be a disservice to respond to an assumption. Assuming guilt by association, coincidentally having the same profession as some abusers who abused their profession, was no way to proceed. He would rather look guilty than proclaim an innocence she did not want to and would not accept. “Saint Gerard Majella, like Christ, knew what he was doing,” he thought, recalling the story he had heard about the young saint being falsely accused of rape by a girl his age because he didn’t accept her advances. Saint Alphonsus had thrown him out of the newly founded Redemptorists. Saint Gerard didn’t defend himself. After some months, the girl repented and publicly confessed; her baby had not been fathered by Gerard, but by a low-life vagabond in the village. Saint Gerard was vindicated.
Sister Nice let a full minute pass. “I see, Alex, that your emotion betrays you. I read emotions like a book, infallibly.” Her imagination ran wild as she followed her usual hermeneutic-of-suspicion methodology used for group ‘sharing experiences’.
Father Alexámenos, instead, was recalling being raped as a child soldier. He was thinking about his declared ‘marriage’, at twelve years of age, to a girl of the same age, who had been a child soldier with him, and who had been killed when the government of Benin had stormed the rebel camp where they were being held, a raid in which he had been seriously injured.
“Have you ever had heterosexual experiences?” asked Sister Nice. “I’m looking at these images from Haïti. You can answer if you want… With the same images, I can ask you if you have ever had any homosexual experiences…” She gave a signal to one of the technicians, who hit a button which lowered a large projection screen down over the Crucifix of San Damiano and the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “If you have repressed the memories already, I can help you with modern technology, putting the images up on the screen…”
Don Hash could not believe the Cardinals were not stopping this, for they would have remembered the scene when Carpe Diem had met padre Absj the first time.
Father Alexámenos was thinking of Saint Paul’s admonition that it was shameful to speak of such things, fabricated as they were, for this would be to continue in ignorance. Fatherly governance had to be implemented in the Church. He objected, “But Sister…”
“You can talk!” Sister Nice mocked, interrupting him. “Please, go on!”
“Sister,” repeated Father Alexámenos, “in having the screen lowered over the Crucifix of San Damiano, you cover my sin. Speak about that instead of this slander. Put the screen up and show everyone what I have done to Jesus, the very Son of God. My sins are written out in the scars on His body.” Father Alexámenos was sickened by the thought that he might be used to perpetuate the abuse of the children of the shantytown with the images being shown once again. The images were also a slander against him, and were damaging the priesthood and the Church because of the interpretation being put upon them.
“Jesus isn’t here with us,” asserted Sister Nice. “We carry a happy memory of Him. I am His mouth, hands, feet. Pay attention to me, Alex. Now, the first thing to know is that there is no such thing as ‘sin’. Enlightened people speak of ‘indicators’ of underlying psychological conditions.”
“If you cannot find Jesus, Sister, you are looking in all the wrong places, looking right past Him, around Him, in any direction but toward Him. He is calling you. But you are holding your hands to your ears. He is lifting you up, but you pull away. You will know when He finds you, so to speak, when you receive His mercy for your sins, when you show His mercy to others, not reducing salvation to psychology, but helping, in your own way, to bring others into the adoration of God. Psychology can be a good thing, if it is used correctly. However, in these times…”
“Our purpose here is to help you, Alex,” interrupted Sister Nice. “And our help for you is mercy. Spirituality blossoms in psychology. We will deal with just some ‘indicators’, Alex.”
“By covering up this Crucifix, Sister, you cover up the gravity of any sin, for in sinning against others, we sin against God.”
“If that is the case,” said Sister Nice, “you certainly do have much for which to answer.”
“Christ is the answer to our Heavenly Father for us all, Sister. If you would only…”
“Do not think, Alex, that we are refusing to forgive you,” interrupted Sister Nice. “You do not need our forgiveness. The ‘sins’ about which you speak are none of our concern. I repeat that we are interested in certain ‘indicators’. If anyone needs forgiveness, it is God.”
He thought he failed in his attempt to have the screen raised. He prayed silently, “Jesus, grant that your own priesthood might be defended this day. Grant that your immaculate Bride, Holy Mother Church, might not be dragged through the mud of such false testimony.”
Sister Nice saw his anguish as an admission that he fully remembered and recognised and admitted to what everyone thought they might see in the images. “I understand, Alex,” she said with condescension, “that showing the images would make you uncomfortable. I don’t think we will need to show them.” However, she did not give the technician a signal to have the screen raised, leaving it lowered as a kind of threat. Instead, she asked, “Are you living your promise of chastity, Alex?” Sister Nice did not like his silence, but still had some confidence about what she thought she had read in his emotions. “Surely you don’t think that nakedness is evil?”
“Caveat emptor!” exclaimed Father Alexámenos. “The greatest sign of repression is trying to sell the denial of the divine punishment of knowing oneself to be naked after Adam’s sin.”
“We’re looking for self-possessed persons, Alex, those who say, ‘I’m comfortable with me.’”
“What God the Father wants, Sister, is not a self-possessed priest, nor one merely possessed by Christ. He is to be one with Christ, seeing the Father, in Faith, through, with and in Christ.”
“Are you a paedophile, Alex?” When he did not answer, she adeptly changed the style of questioning, though in a patronising way. “I realise that the cameras might be making you shy, Alex, so I’ve decided to proceed by asking you an easy to answer question, but this time not about your favourite colour. There is no bad answer to the question I will ask. No one is ever ‘bad’. We are all simply ‘at unease’ in one way or another. Now, Alex, tell us, what kind of psychological testing do you recommend for seminaries?” There was still no answer. This surprised her. But then she said, “I think I understand, Alex. I shall rephrase the question. Is there any screening of candidates that you would like to see take place in seminaries outside of the minimum requirements mentioned in Canon Law, for instance, that a candidate not be burdened with any outstanding debts, and that he have good health and academic capacity, and so on. In other words, would there be any way for you to weed out those who would put others at risk?
“Yes,” replied Father Alexámenos.
“Please, go on,” said Sister Nice. “We are all ears.”
“The Sacrament of Confession,” he said simply.
“You’ve got to be joking,” she said, feeling left out of the fatherhood of the priesthood ever since she was a “girl altar-boy” as the newly coined phrase in the early 1970s had it. “That optional cathartic exercise you call ‘Confession’ may pinpoint an external expression of a psychological condition, but sacraments do not help people to grow. They may, in fact, only contribute to a crippling guilt complex. The only growth possible comes from psychological self-examination, digging down into one’s past, looking back where we’ve been…”
“You mean like the ploughman who puts his hand to the plough and then looks back,” asked Father Alexámenos, citing Jesus’ words of condemnation.
“That’s exactly what I mean, Alex. We help save each other. It is scientific fact. Psychology is a scientific, spiritual experience. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is merely affirmation. It’s the Sacrament of Niceness. In my parish, I’m in charge of the incense thurible. I take one written negative experience from each person after a sharing session, and then place it over the embers. I don’t see how this kind of sacrament could possibly be a way to weed anyone out of a seminary.”
Offering her an exact, modern, ecclesiastical history, Father Alexámenos said, “It’s not only a question of method, but of the priest’s will to govern, to be a Father. The reason why your crooked furrow, non-Christian, feral psychology has replaced the Sacrament of Confession, of Penance, obliterating the dignity of the human person by destroying a personal meeting with Christ, is that, according to people like you, there is no such thing as sin. For you, these negative experiences are merely deviations from the expected norm of one’s community, a norm statistically established as the lowest common denominator. Any semblance of the Sacrament is reduced to a cathartic affirmation ceremony. That is not what I have in mind.”
“Pray tell, Alex. What is on your mind?” She could not help but smile at her own cleverness.
“The Cross,” he replied.
“It’s quite clear that you have sadistic tendencies, Alex. From what I hear, you have a fixation on suffering, pain and negativity. We try to relieve people of their agony. We can help you.”
“God’s not interested in pain, Sister. The Cross is the greatest expression of Charity that…”
“Oh, do tell us more about nice things,” encouraged Sister Nice.
“First of all, sin is to be understood as being just that, sin,” insisted Father Alexámenos. “In a seminary, one should go to Confession once a week or fortnight, and not as a psychological catharsis, but as a friend confessing to a Friend, to Christ Jesus, who forgives sin and grants the grace to His friends to stay far from sin. One stays away from sin by being closer to our Heavenly Father through, with and in Christ, set on fire by the purifying flames of the Holy Spirit. In the absolution given by the priest, it is not just as if, but it is through the instrumentality of the priest that the very crucified hand of Christ Jesus grants this absolution. During the absolution, one is overwhelmed with His goodness and kindness, and is strengthened to give, until the next Confession, and on until heaven, a truly Catholic witness to the Fatherhood of God Himself…”
“Alex, I’m sorry to interrupt you – since it’s taken me so long to get you to talk – but I would like you to tell me the difference between an examination of conscience for your style of Confession on the one hand, and looking into one’s past in psychology on the other. I really think they are quite the same, which makes me ask what your problem with psychology is.”
“Confession is entirely directed to another Person, Jesus; the examination of conscience is done in view of the standard of the goodness, the Charity He is, in profound reverence before Him. Without that Standard and reverence, we cannot know our sins. With Christ in view, our sins, from which He gives us the grace to repent, become an occasion for us to praise His mercy. One says: ‘I am sorry for having sinned, for, by the grace you give me, I recognise that I offended the love you have for me, love which now draws me to praise your goodness and kindness.’”
“And what about psychology?” asked Sister Nice. “We lead people to the Garden of Eden.”
“It’s just the opposite,” he replied. “You have a person look into himself, into nothingness. You don’t present any other standard than the lowest common denominator that statistical analysis can establish. Your ‘standard’ is derived from a particular kind of people who have sought help in a particular culture, time and place, even from the very person under scrutiny. But what I say is too kind, for psychologists of the past – to whom you all run – read their own personal, lowest common denominator into their methodologies, which, though fabricated in one culture, are foisted upon another. A spiralling vortex of the lowest common denominator can’t be helpful, sucking a person down into a repression of what is unapproved by that make-pretend ‘common ground’. It’s hell, Eden without Redemption, self-affirmation or humiliation, but always repression.” Knowing that hatred of man begins with hatred of God, and thankful for the critique of modern psychology he had from Jacinta and Bishop Athanasius, Father Alexámenos then asked, “Where do your ‘cures’ stop, Sister? Is there never a sin which needs forgiveness? no Natural Law to follow? no grace in which to rejoice? Isn’t glutting oneself on imagination for a ‘healthy repression’ abuse? Many methodologies of modern psychology are counter-productive.”
“Alex, you’re not answering my question. And anyway, no one should be exempt from our evaluations. In Silver Spring, we’ve been leading the way in psycho-phys…”
“In bitterness, people lose Faith and commit the very crimes they hate. Those who mandate, participate in, or provide your kind of psycho-physiological tests risk going straight to hell.”
“But the ‘Theologian’, the Promoter, promotes us, is with us, as are most of the ‘orthodox’ Catholic media,” replied Sister Nice. “Putting all this up for dialogue was the Congregation for the…”
“Sister, parodists ignore that Christ shed His Blood for those whom they attack for money. Vocations will flourish and we will have Fathers as priests only when Truth and morality reign. If a candidate manifests a disordered life – and they all must be told that it is gravely sinful to keep any so-called ‘chaste homosexuality’ hidden from a Confessor – then his Confessor must mercifully withhold absolution unless the seminarian promises to leave the seminary. Any similar disorder noted by a Confessor in a priest or bishop requires a similar plan. If the disorder is noted outside of Confession, there is to be no hesitation to resolve the situation for the good of the Church. And don’t forget. The Pope just recently condemned the atheism of the Pelotani.”
“He did not! Besides, Augustine said to love the sinner and hate the sin, to use your terminology” retorted Sister Nice, disliking what sounded like a witch-hunt to her. “‘An unknown psychological illness’ is the reason for dismissal of priests. It’s meaningless, but it works. We don’t compromise our values.”
“Unknown, Sister Nice? How ironic… In Augustine’s letter 211 you so badly paraphrase, he speaks of decimating the troops, sending them away for stated reasons. Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle’s suspension years ago of so many priests in one day was nothing. God pared down Gideon’s troops from thirty-two thousand to just three hundred. It has to be done morally, God’s way. If someone is disordered sexually, or continuously slanders others, or is forever lying or stealing or blaspheming or drinking to excess or taking drugs… whatever… then the Confessor, without breaking the seal, must demand his departure. In Wisdom 14:9, the Holy Spirit says: ‘Equally hateful for God are the sinner and his sin.’ The sinner is not to be loved because he is thought of as a victim of his own sin. Christ, in redeeming him, loves the sinner while he is yet in sin in the sense of wanting to bring him to conversion, to salvation. Christ never accepts anyone as they are, but transforms them in grace. To say anything else is blasphemy.”
“At least you put hetero and homosexual indiscretion on the same level,” replied Sister Nice.
“No, Sister. One perverts nature; one goes against it. Sexual sins are always grave. I think the Vatican issued a document about homosexuals and the seminary in 2005. I haven’t yet read…”
“I recommend it,” interrupted Sister Nice. “It spoke of the Spiritual Director and Confessor as being nicer than you would want, Alex. It also presented homosexual tendencies as a natural – even if transitional – stage of adolescence. The tendencies are there while the progression of adolescence is ‘not yet superseded’, a phrase necessarily indicating the temporal progression of adolescence as such, meaning that God created homosexual tendencies as a phase of adolescence. The document does hold, admittedly, that the result of this creative time is an objective disorder if these tendencies occur in people who are younger emotionally than they are chronologically and biologically. But the phrase ‘not yet superseded’ is a start. We will learn more, progress more.”
“Sister, that’s how militant homosexuals in the media understood that non-Papal document, which I assume was published by the Congregation for Catholic Education. But if what you and the media say is true about it, I can only say that no one ever claimed that the Roman Curia couldn’t regretfully employ or consult a militant invert, Sister, who is trying to make inversion into the policy of the Roman Curia. He should be removed, even if, incredibly, he teaches at…”
“You are too severe, Alex,” said Sister Nice. “That document instructs us to treat those in the ‘gay culture’ with profound respect and sensitivity. I would use the word delicacy.”
“Your pandering ‘delicacy’ only reinforces hell. Treat people normally. Insist on conversion! Using the word ‘gay’ for that hell… canonising sodomy, calling it a ‘culture’ is criminal…”
“Whom are you accusing, Alex?” asked Sister Nice with an air of judgment.
“If the phrase ‘gay culture’ is used,” Father Alexámenos replied, “it was probably inserted by someone who didn’t understand the Americanism, and may have already been clarified.‘Not yet superseded’ may refer to a problematic adolescence, with the result that emotional non-integration suffered for however long results in homosexual tendencies. Isn’t that true?” Sister Nice was speechless. “I haven’t read it,” he said, “It’s a guess. Well?” There was still no response. “Your non-answer speaks volumes, Sister. The only reason that a seminary investigating committee had to implement that ‘doomsday’ document – as it was too optimistically called – is because many bishops refused to be bishops. They cried: “No governance, ever! We’re optimistic! We’re Nice!” They send the Church to hell, delegating responsibilities in preparing priests to case workers and administrators, who are worried more about political correctness and finances than in forming dedicated priests. The result remains bitterness and financial ruin.”
“But Bishops want us to provide observations on seminarians to committees of lay people who are finally the new gatekeepers,” said Sister Nice. “And since our consultancy in the Roman Curia is shifting to the Congregation run by the Cardinal of charismatic liberation theology…”
“After that document came out,” interrupted Father Alexámenos, “even supposedly orthodox ‘formation teams’ admitted that they were delighted that, in their interpretation, the Vatican was pushing for seminary staff psychologists, who would ‘accompany’ the seminarian in an intensive introverted examination for all the years of the candidate’s ‘formation’, and this with the express purpose of discovering his ‘orientation’. It does not matter, they say, what that orientation is, as long as the candidate is chaste. But homosexuality can never be an identity or be blessed with the word ‘orientation’, and heterosexuality is neither a tendency nor a mere orientation to which one never quite arrives, but is, rather, completely natural, blessed by God. Certainly, no one is conceived with homosexual tendencies; no one can legitimately choose this or other disorders.”
“You’re homophobic!” said Sister Nice. “Have you no space for eroticism in your thinking?”
“Sister, honest eroticism comes with spousal openness to procreation. All else is a lie. And Christ’s eros, His desire to be one with His Spouse, the Church, with the wedding vows He took at His wedding banquet, the Last Supper, His total self-giving – “This is my Body and Blood” – vows consummated with His Sacrifice on Calvary, is not sexually erotic; it’s about mercy founded on justice. Look at Him, Sister, tortured to death on the Cross. Your psychologists instead provide self-fulfilling prophesies, not content until he or she time-travels with his or her guinea-pig seminarian into his pre-adolescence, ‘guiding’ him with ‘values clarification’ until he ‘admits’, for instance, to playing sports more with boys than girls, and then to ‘admit’ that such ‘homosexuality’ is to be overcome or completed as an identity as adolescence comes to a close.”
“And what could be wrong with values clarification? That’s exactly what we do,” she said.
“These formators,” he said, “think that no one has a psychological age consonant with chronological age, and that their ‘clients’ suffer an adolescence ‘not yet superseded’, concluding that ‘chaste homosexuality’ is ‘proof’ that tendencies are not deeply rooted. But from what I hear, that is not what the document says. All tendencies of those who have suffered such things must be overcome three years before ordination, and not just be ‘under control’. They will not accept that there are those who are not, never were, nor will be inverts. These formators, who so easily hoodwinked the ‘orthodox’ Catholic media, want to redirect ‘sexual energies’, however perverted or inverted, so that all good works, like orphanages, will be in reaction to this sexual energy, a kind of “chaste” but still ‘hot-to-trot’ do-gooder who’s nothing more than a scandal waiting to happen. No one redirects and transforms ‘sexual energies’ into a life of sanctifying grace. Even Pelagius would have balked at such a sick reductionism. Instead, the Lord provides those He takes to Himself with His own Charity, goodness, honesty, transforming them in the integrity of His Life.”
“All pre-adolescents and adolescents are homosexual,” she said, ignoring his comments.
“Pre-adolescents,” replied Father Alexámenos, “have friends predominately of their own sex as a way to discover aspects of their own sex through the hilarity of, for instance, competition, and by rejoicing in the goodness of the other. This is refined later by way of an exhilarating appreciation of the complementarity of the other sex. This is not inversion or growth out of it. There is latency. Latency is not homosexual.”
“We’ve worked hard to have full sex education from kindergarten onward. But you make it sound as if we are abusing seminarians,” stated Sister Nice as an accusation.
“They are your words,” he replied.
“You have no sense of mercy,” she responded. “We help people feel comfortable. We accept people where they are at. God loves us where we are at. I know many excellent priests who are proud to be homosexual and chaste,” objected Sister Nice, “and they are all called ‘Father’. I’m sure that you, Alex, would have to admit, from your point of view, that ‘grace’, as you call it, can make such a priest feel comfortable as a Father to his parish family.”
“Feeling comfortable isn’t the point of life, Sister. Christ died to have all die to themselves and live for Him. God’s transforming grace is sufficient for those who suffer, for whatever reason, inclinations to commit homosexual acts, however deeply rooted such inclinations are. Some are made integral by way of a vigorous spiritual life. Saint Paul speaks of such disorders as ‘past tense’ for some. If someone continues to suffer, they should know that God can bring good out of evil, so that their suffering is transformed into a Cross. Humility, with God’s grace, washes, sanctifies, justifies, thus enabling prostitutes and sinners to enter heaven. Yet, Church documents cannot be ignored. There is a difference between a normal priest, who is a Father to his parish Family of Faith, and the priest you describe to be homosexual and chaste. While the normal priest wants to bring the Charity of Truth to all of the children of the Faith, the other, faithless priest, proud to be homosexual and chaste, cannot bring the Charity of Truth to anyone. The faithless priest lives a lie, and fears to offend people with Truth taught in Charity. His partial truths affirm others’ weakness as he does for himself. He lives a life of ‘damage control’ against the Faith, suppressing the Truth. He cannot be a good priest, any kind of Father to his parish family.”
“I know many excellent homosexual priests who have the support of their parishes,” protested Sister Nice. “They are so nice, always energetically doing nice things as very nice persons.”
“That doesn’t say much for those parishes, Sister. They are describing misdirected affection arising from a disorder that busies itself with niceness. Such priests deceive themselves and others with niceness taken to be the sum total of their lives. They are dangerous and must be removed by their bishops. I’m sorry to say that bishops often leave such priests in place, praising them. This is an attack wrought by Sodom and Gomorrah against the Church, an attack on Revelation, religion and children. It attempts to replace the Mass with niceness, but it is only the mercy given to us by the Sacrifice of the Mass, Christ Jesus, who is the Revelation bringing us true religion.”
“That’s not the answer I want to hear,” said Sister Nice. “Everyone will ‘wonder why the hell I am asking you this,’ but, tell me… What is spiritual direction in a seminary for?”
“Spiritual direction, Sister, is not for introspection…”
“Of course that’s what it’s for,” Sister Nice interrupted. “Along with helping the candidate discern a vocation, what good is spiritual direction for besides introspection?”
“Consider the bad example of the American Catholic Bishops Conference,” began Father Alexámenos. “The bishops demand that seminarians speak about each and every temptation, so that instead of temptations being conquered in the grace of Christ who turns us to Himself, and thus being an occasion to grow in the spiritual life, temptations are shoved constantly in the young man’s face. The so-called ‘spiritual director’ taunts him to consider with care and detail each and every temptation, leading him into sin, and having him build up a storehouse of temptations to dwell upon at any time in preparation for his touchy-feelly, warm and fuzzy sharing sessions. This is supposed to make him a man of communion with his so-called ‘spiritual director’, who is little more than a voyeur with a mandate from the Episcopal Conference and the Vatican’s Congregation for Education [ – now from the Congregation for Clergy – ] to read himself into the seminarian, transferring his own rubbish into the seminarian. What scares me is that the very lay people who rightly attack sexual abuse love to see this kind of abuse go on, feigning that it protects them. This is an almost tangible hatred for seminarians, who, instead, suffer being raped in this way for years on end, and not only by the spiritual director, but by the whole formation team, and beyond. We haven’t even begun to see the fallout coming upon us because of this, the faithlessness expressed by a lack of fatherly governance by the bishops.”
“I’m very patient, Alex. Tell us what you think spiritual direction is for?”
“It’s about friendship with Christ,” he replied, “knowing the glorious Cross, which…”
“The Cross! Again! That sounds like a terrible friendship,” exclaimed Sister Nice. “It’s so negative. You’re so negative. Sacrifice, Cross, suffering, accusation… Words express who you are. You must be so miserable. Alex, let us… let me help you. I can help you.”
“That’s another proof that psychology and the spiritual life are not to be identified, Sister.”
“You make too much of the spiritual life as being different from psychology,” she replied. “If you don’t want to equate them, at least admit that spiritual direction and the sacraments can have no effect on people who are not undergoing psychotherapy. After all, grace builds on nature.”
“In your view, Sister, your psychotherapy never ends. Therefore, grace never arrives. Why not condemn everyone to hell? But you still equate psychology and the spiritual life. Yet, even babies can be baptised and live in the sanctifying grace of the Holy Trinity. If your psychology is what bishops foist upon seminarians – a ‘doctrine’ understood as a democratic humanism which you claim to be inspired by Christianity – then they are creating a more entrenched generation of inverted priests. Laity think they are safer, and bishops think they’ve covered themselves, but I’m praying that seminarians will wake up, and stop their being abused by the generation that committed almost all the sexual abuse to begin with. Grace builds on nature not because nature prepares for grace, but because grace lifts nature up, transforming weakness into the holy Cross. Instead, for you, psychology replaces actual grace, even while you deny sanctifying grace. You don’t accept that someone can be truly holy and be carrying the holy Cross of the weakness of original and personal sin, the suffering of the justice for which puts us on our knees before the Holy Sacrifice.”
“Alex! You are so special, so spiritual,” mocked Sister Nice. “I’ll have you know that your Bishops Conference says that the human formation of seminarians is linked to spiritual formation by the Incarnate Word and the fact that grace builds on nature and perfects nature.”
“To be ‘spiritual’, Sister, one must live with a heart of flesh. The decontextualising statistics of your psychology despise the body in ‘favour’ of an ideologically reconstructed soul. But let’s demythologise what the bishops do with Saint Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, 3:17-18. Paul says the veil covering the mind of any Jew is lifted by the Lord simultaneous to the moment that he turns to the Lord. That man, says the Apostle, will have freedom in the Lord’s Spirit. Paul also says that a Jew, who is now fully Catholic, is mirroring the Lord’s glory, being transformed into His image, from glory to glory, as is accomplished by the Lord’s Spirit. It’s received from the Lord, Sister. Paul says that God removes the veil, at which time a man turns to the Lord. We don’t turn to the Lord by removing the veil ourselves. Yet, the bishops say in the first person, that moved by the grace of the new Covenant, we make ourselves available to God’s work of transformation. And that making ready a place for the Lord to dwell in us and transform us we call formation…”
“But that’s exactly what we do!” exclaimed Sister Nice. “I couldn’t have phrased it better.”
“In the end,” interrupted Father Alexámenos, “the bishops say that they themselves remove the veil before the reception of grace, whether baptism or any further growth in grace. We can, of course, assent to what the Lord does if we are able, but we cannot prepare ourselves. If we could, nature would have to understand super-nature, but we cannot. A would-be charismatic might absurdly practise speaking in tongues, or a would-be contemplative might think that if he is just quiet enough, he’ll go to heaven, but the Lord redeemed us while we were yet sinners.”
“But I learned tongues,” she replied. “I place myself into nirvana. Why talk about sin?”
“Sister, the bishops reduce Saint Paul to saying that it is only when we have nature made ready psychologically that grace will finally build upon nature. They also boldly say that nature will never be fully integrated with the vocation of chaste celibacy. For the bishops, there is no grace, or they repeat with Luther: ‘Simul iustus et peccator… Just and sinner at the same time.’”
“Being ecumenical is a virtue, Alex. After all…”
“Just remind me, Sister, did Saint Paul prepare himself for the Lord on his way to Damascus by persecuting Christ? Did the Lord not reject Saint Paul’s spiritual programmes of trusting in the Law and, then, asking the Lord to get rid of his weaknesses? If I remember well, the Lord told Paul that the strength of His grace shines through weakness. I wonder if the bishops think that the Jews should go through their formation programme so as to lift the veil. Perhaps the bishops think the Jews need the gradualism of various thresholds, say, for instance, the threshold of…”
“You may be the first truly evil person I have ever met,” interrupted Sister Nice, outraged.
“Spiritual direction,” insisted Father Alexámenos, “is about coming to know the weight of the glory of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s about what the priest says in the Person of Christ, ‘This is my Body being given for you in Sacrifice; this is my Blood being poured out for you in Sacrifice.’ Christ wed Himself to the Church through these wedding vows. The priest is likewise wed to the Church. Yet, the bishops have reduced spiritual direction to…”
“So, Alex, Jesus conforms priests to Himself, destroying their identity, living through them…”
“Christ doesn’t destroy anyone’s identity, Sister. He reveals the Most Holy Trinity and who we are, in grace, in God’s presence. He lifts us up, drawing us beyond ourselves in grace, having us look to the Father through, with and in Himself. We are filled by the Holy Spirit with the flames of Charity between the Father and the Son. The same Holy Spirit intercedes for us as He adds new members to the Body of Christ. Jesus does not destroy the identities of His priests who say, ‘This is my Body… This is my Blood…’ but rather leads them to know who they are. Spiritual direction helps one to live these truths on human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral levels.”
“Now you’re almost talking about psychology,” Sister Nice interjected.
“Spiritual direction, Sister, is not entirely unlike the friendships of priests who actually live their Faith fully. The profundity – and honesty – of such Faith-filled friendship is magnificent… the enthusiasm, the wit, the shared weight of the glory of the mission of bringing the Cross and resurrection to all… the power of this friendship, enlivened by the graced privilege of being able to say the words, ‘This is my Body… This is my Blood…’ the heights of these conversations and the humility of receiving absolution from one another in the presence of Christ, the Priest, is…”
“But that’s not my experience in parishes as an Ecclesial Minister,” protested Sister Nice.
“What is more,” Father Alexámenos added, “is that the priest has the joy of being a Father in the Family of Faith, with so many children, brothers and sisters. What a grace to be with them.”
“Admit that you only see a few of your parishioners on weekends,” said Sister Nice, “and maybe for Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals. Counselling is where it is at. Your life is boring.”
“You should read the novel I’m writing about it called The Table,” said Father Alexámenos.
“Oh! An autobiography!” she exclaimed. “I’m writing one as well.”
As she kept repeating her last five words, making one of the prelates laugh. “At any rate,” Father Alexámenos continued, “if a priest offers Mass and provides the Sacraments, especially Confession, and guides his flock in prayer, visits the sick, gives spiritual direction, catechises young and old, involves them in corporal and spiritual works of mercy, amidst his thousand other duties, then he knows himself to be a Father to his Family of Faith. He sees grace at work, not because he does anything, but because Christ works while he himself is hidden in Christ in God. It’s a blessed life.”
“So, there is no down side?” asked Sister Nice with unhidden cynicism, making herself laugh by repeating in a sing-songy voice once again the words “I’m writing one as well.”
The crowd looked at her, aghast.
Up next: Chapter 30 – We want transparency and accountability in the Church
© International 2005-2018 – George David Byers