Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Joy of the Cross: We are More Than our Sins

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:2)

Kevin Tierney has written a powerful article at Catholic Lane that tackles the lukewarm (and rather depressing) compromise with sin that the Relatio from the Synod seems to convey.

In his article, Tierney defends (of all things!) the joy of the Gospel - even the joy of the struggle, of the long walk up Calvary and the many stumbles along the way.

Some excerpts (my emphases) ...

The Church no longer speaks of the joy of marriage, but instead about how difficult it is and how so few can live according to its precepts. The danger here is that we create a self-fulfilling prophecy: if marriage and the family are not the joy and fulfillment of man, then we will continue to see less joy and more difficulty. 


When I struggled with living out the moral teaching of the Church, I was never happy. Even when I was happy, I was less than I could be. Thanks to the design of God, that unhappiness drove me to seek answers, and it drove me to the confessional. While I obviously cannot disclose what was said during those sessions, never once did I find a priest who condemned and judged. All understood our struggles with life, and that a life of constant minor indiscretions can be even more dead than a life of only one or two major indiscretions. They practiced true graduality in slowly but surely guiding me towards living out the truth. Yet during all of this, these great priests did several things:

  • They reminded me that I was not called to live according to these sins. If God called me to something, it must be possible.

  • As impossible as it may seem, my struggling would lead to peace if I let Christ give it to me.

  • Following the Gospel provides a joy even during the lowest of times that all the pleasures and comforts of the world cannot match in their highest of times.

Read the whole thing here.

This is the great danger of the politics of "sexual orientation".  It identifies us with our sins.  If a man is sexually attracted to other men, why should that define who he is?  We all struggle against all sorts of sins, some of them quite horrific, but if I (for example) am "oriented" toward adultery, and yet I constantly struggle to cooperate with God's grace so as to be faithful to my wife, am I in fact an "adulterer"?  An "alcoholic" is more than his bottle if and when he begins to turn away from it.  There's a big difference between an alcoholic who allows himself to be dominated by his addiction and one who is vigilant (by the grace of God) in resisting it.

We are more than our sins when (by God's grace) we repent of our sins.

This is never easy, but it is the only way to the joy of Christ about which Kevin Tierney speaks - even though it is the Way of the Cross.

And the joy and grace that comes to us when we take up our daily cross is lost when our bishops and priests are too ashamed to call us to be more than our sins.  "Don't start up Calvary.  It's a rocky road.  Leave the cross by the wayside and relax.  Take it easy.  God loves you anyway."

As Bishop Sheen reminded us, the spirit of antichrist is the denial of His cross.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Approaching what is Real: Don Quixote, God, and the Rest of Us

For they had bartered the reality of God for what is unreal, and had offered divine honors and religious service to created things, rather than to the Creator--He who is for ever blessed. Amen. (Rom. 1:25)

As we drive around the country performing murder mystery dinner theater shows, my actress Maria Romine and I listen to audio books.  We've lately been listening to Don Quixote, the unabridged version, read very well by George Guidall.

It's a 40 hour long production, and we're only about five hours into it.  But we're listening to parts that I've never read (my printed version is abridged).

We've come to the "pastoral interlude" where Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are spending time with some shepherds.  We are beginning to learn that Don Quixote is not the only madman who's a bit too idealistic for his own good.  While Don Quixote has been inspired to become a knight errant, a group of well-fed suburban yuppies have been inspired to become shepherds and live out a kind of pastoral romance while not at the shopping mall.

In this interlude, we hear Don Quixote wax eloquently on the "golden age", a mythical era of chivalry that sounds as if it is set in the Garden of Eden before the Fall.  Then we hear one of the yuppies who's living as a shepherd wax eloquently on his "lady", the disdainful woman he's pursuing, whose scorning of him leads literally to his death.  We also hear from the pursued lady herself, and while Don Quixote bravely rushes to her defense, her own idealism - a kind of haughty virginity, a sort of smug isolationism - is as strained as the rather contrived love of the yuppie shepherds who dote on her.  Their romance is not quite love and her celibacy is not quite purity.

And that's the way we often are, even when we're at our best.  The reason this novel is brilliant is that it examines the complexities of idealism and cynicism.  Don Quixote, the yuppies, their lady - all are really quite mad in a way, and yet all are following ideals - ideals that they can't quite seem to make work in the real world.  (Kind of like all of us!)  And somehow everyone around them gets sucked in to the yarns they're spinning - and yet this is not entirely a bad thing.

What does this have to do with the Faith?

I write a lot on about Unreality.  This is my word for our proclivity to live a lie, a comfortable and apparently controllable lie, rather than living the truth.  We know what it means to "get real" with someone; getting "unreal" is just the opposite.  Unreality is marked by things that are contrived, artificial, and somehow dishonest or untrue.  Examples are Oregon Catholic Press music at Mass, bad art and architecture in the churches, the extremely artificial and contrived weirdness of "Christian Courtship", the false camaraderie of certain groups, cheesy literature and drama (such as Hallmark movies and certain self-consciously Christian films) - and also so much of what we see in the secular culture, especially our favorite fantasy that sex and gender are whatever we choose to make of them, our insane insistence that sex has no correspondence with nature or with reality - and our illusion that meaning has no correspondence with life, that meaning is imposed on life, not discovered in life, etc.

This is all dreadful stuff.  And in a way, Unreality is simply a word for sin.  Indeed, the Laws of Morality and Faith that God has revealed to us are simply the roadmap to Reality (and Heaven) and the Commandments are the "Do Not Enter" signs to prevent us from taking the road to Unreality (and Hell).

Adultery, for instance, is an example of an act that's dripping with Unreality and that always, somehow, leaves a bit of Hell in its wake.  Love and sex between a man and a woman are designed in such a way that sacramental fidelity and self-sacrifice over the long haul bring untold contentment as well as new life.  Fidelity leads to Reality (and, in a way, to Heaven) because God has made Fidelity at the heart of what is Real.  Therefore cheating, though fun, will end up in shipwreck and misery (in other words, Hell) - for someone, at least, is bound to suffer the consequences of the Unreal - even if it's the innocent children who are caught up in it all.  In other words, something like adultery is our way of denying the way things are actually made (Reality) and asserting our own fantasy against it (Unreality), and the pain we suffer (the Consequential) is simply the symptom that we've been doing things wrong, going the wrong way down a one-way street.  God's "judgment" is simply the consequence of denying the Truth and Living a Lie.  Unreality is always, then, a form of sin; and sin is always an assertion of a kind of Unreality.

But, as the book Don Quixote shows us, we are made to spin yarns and to imagine great things that never were, like the golden age of chivalry.  If we were all "realists" or cynics, we would all be materialists and atheists, for it takes a kind of poetic vision to see the reality of God and of His Kingdom.  Our capacity for Unreality may be the misuse of our creative and imaginative function - but without that capacity, we would not be able to apprehend the image of God: not because God is Unreal (He is, on the contrary, the source of all that is most Real), but because our imaginative function is our spiritual "nose" as it were, our ability to sense that which is beyond the immediate.

Fiction is made to lead us to Fact.  But as fallen men, we often misuse our fictive function, for we'd rather become gods than serve one.

Indeed, we often misuse the three major gifts that God has given us that separate us from the beasts - Will, Reason and Imagination.  This trinity of gifts - Will, Reason and Imagination (by the term "Imagination" I mean to include what Tolkien calls "sub-creation") - this trinity of gifts corresponds with the trinity of reality: the Good, the True and the Beautiful.  It is the business of our Will to conform what we do to what is Good; it is the business of our Reason to conform what we think and understand to what is True; and it is the business of our Imagination to conform what we dream and desire and make to what is Beautiful.  All three functions support each other, since the objects toward which they are designed are inextricably interconnected.  What is True is always Good, what is Good is always Beautiful, what is Beautiful is always an aspect of what is True, etc.  We are not ourselves designed to negate this design.  We are not made to use our Will to assert ourselves against the nature of morality, nor are we made to use our Reason to misunderstand the truth that surrounds us, nor are we made to use our imaginations to invent things to fulfill the desires of our hearts that are merely shortcuts or sops, things that give us passing pleasure but that are untrue, unreal.  God gives us these gifts - Free Will, Reason and Imagination - to be ordered to Him - for even though we may misuse them, without them we cannot truly serve Him.

So let me sum this up by speaking in a quixotic manner - and I think, perhaps, I am speaking for many of you.

Sometimes in pursuing my most ardent ideals, I find that I am merely tilting at windmills - or worse, I am hurting others by holding them to the impossible standards that I myself cherish, but that I myself fall shy of, too.  In addition, I waver between cynicism and idealism.  I am often tempted to see my steed as a broken down nag, my lady as the more or less compromised streetwalker that she is, my daily devotion to theater as the rather sordid performances in wineries for drunks and rednecks that these performances often are; or vice-versa, I see in my broken down nag the steed she really is; I see within the streetwalker a hidden lady of dignity and glory, and I see in my drunken audiences immortal souls being lifted up in laughter, being raised for a moment a slight bit closer to the One who made them.  And somehow all of this is true - the dreary reality on the surface and the stunning Reality behind and within it.

And so we pray

Dear God, may we always long for You as the hart longs for water (Ps. 42:1), seeing in You the source of the living water for which we truly thirst (John 4:10).  Do not let us fill ourselves with that which is unreal and which will not sustain us.  Show us our sins that we may repent of them and turn toward You.  Give us the grace "to turn from these unreal things, to worship the ever-living God" (Acts 14:15) - for thy Kingdom is always more real than the false and haughty man-made towers we build (Gen. 11:1-9).  Purify our Will to do what is Good, our Reason to see what is True, and our Imagination to desire what is Beautiful and holy.  And always remind us that the world we are tempted to love too much is also a bit less than fully real, that all of creation is but a "shadow of the things that are to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ" (Col. 2:17).

A Defense of People Who Care - or - Why It's Not Wrong to Be Angry at the Synod

To love is painful.

We don't always admit that, because to care about someone or something is not considered cool.  We like to seem glib and slick and well-adjusted, but speaking as the least well-adjusted Catholic blogger on the internet, let me say a few words in defense of People Who Care.


Kasper, the Friendly Ghost who's been Haunting the Synod

I had taken a short respite from serious blogging these last few weeks (I am, as I just said, the least well-adjusted Catholic blogger on the internet and sometimes it all becomes too much for me), during which time the most noteworthy thing that happened in the Catholic world was the release of the appalling Relatio document from the Synod on the Family.

The reaction to this document was glee from the heterodox, horror from the orthodox and a certain smugness from the "Look at Me, I'm Not Alarmed" crowd.  This latter group has the best of intentions.  On the one hand, they want to quiet what they see as panic.  On the other, they rightly see that this is bound to be a tempest in a teapot, both because the doctrinal teaching of the Church cannot change and also because this is a "working document" that, though official, is not Magisterial.

But, well-meaning though they are, the "Look at Me, I'm Not Alarmed" crowd failed to see something very important, and failed to convey the right kind of (pardon the expression) "pastoral care" of their angry and hurt brethren, the orthodox who feel so betrayed and abandoned by this document (especially those who deal with the temptation of homosexual acts and those who have been victims of divorce and remarriage, a few of whom vented to me privately over this).

The "Look at Me, I'm Not Alarmed" crowd failed to see how much those who were horrified by the document care about the Church, in fact love the Church, the Body of Christ, and are therefore appalled to see the shenanigans going on in Rome.  This is not to say that those who made a show of their ability to Keep Calm do not love the Church; of course they do.  But they simply forgot how painful it is to love something or someone deeply - how hard it is to care, especially when you're bound to get hurt by the person or the people or the thing you care for.

So I say, in defense of those who have been angry, even livid this past week, this is simply your Eros showing.  Continue to love the Church and make a loud lamentation when our bishops sell out Christ as Judas did, either for thirty pieces of silver, or for the approval of the secular world, or for a balm to soothe their own consciences, which could perhaps be troubled by the sinful and disordered lives they themselves are leading.

And remember what I have learned and what people like me have learned.  Most of our bishops are scoundrels.  Generally speaking, these are men who continue to enable the sexual abuse of children and get indignant and haughty when you point this out to them.  They are men who want to be popular and comfortable, and are therefore as far removed for the Spirit of Christ as you can be.  They are men who, themselves, are often given over to a variety of perversions.  Generally speaking, these are men who cannot be trusted - and yet in God's great condescension, He deigns to work through them, and asks us, in all humility, to obey them when they teach on matters of Faith and Morals.

Speaking of the latter, the Vatican backtracked on the most egregious of errors in the Relatio, issuing a more correct translation of the most offensive paragraph.  And CNA, in reporting that, also covered the official guide to the pastoral care of homosexual persons, which is an example of love in action, love that does not pander to the sickness of the times, love that speaks the truth with mercy.

In other words, it is an example of the teachings of Christ (as played out over the millennia and as defended by the Holy Spirit).

It is therefore worth quoting the CNA article at length (my emphasis) ...

In fact, pastoral care for homosexuals is well described in a 1986 document, issued by Cardinal Mueller's dicastery, “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.”

Bearing the signature of the then-prefect, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and approved by St. John Paul II, the letter was delivered to bishops worldwide, providing instructions on how the clergy should respond to the claims of the LGBT community.

Far from being a document of condemnation, the document provided a nuanced response to the issue of homosexuality.

The document stressed that "it is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs."

“Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.”

Pastoral care for homosexuals was also addressed.

“We encourage the Bishops to provide pastoral care in full accord with the teaching of the Church for homosexual persons of their dioceses,” the document read

But – the document added – “no authentic pastoral programme will include organizations in which homosexual persons associate with each other without clearly stating that homosexual activity is immoral. A truly pastoral approach will appreciate the need for homosexual persons to avoid the near occasions of sin.”

Likewise, “we wish to make it clear that departure from the Church's teaching, or silence about it, in an effort to provide pastoral care is neither caring nor pastoral. Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral. The neglect of the Church's position prevents homosexual men and women from receiving the care they need and deserve.”

The document also dealt with the spiritual life.

“An authentic pastoral programme will assist homosexual persons at all levels of the spiritual life: through the sacraments, and in particular through the frequent and sincere use of the sacrament of Reconciliation, through prayer, witness, counsel and individual care. In such a way, the entire Christian community can come to recognize its own call to assist its brothers and sisters, without deluding them or isolating them.”

The approach of the document was thus that of reaffirming the truth of the teaching of the Church, and at the same time approaching with mercy homosexual persons.


And one more thing.

One of my good friends, who is especially hurt by the betrayal of Christ that's being pushed at the Synod, is concerned that this is a crisis of Pastoral Care, not of Official Teaching.  He points out that if the Official Teaching is abandoned at the pastoral level, the Official Teaching doesn't matter, practically speaking.  His position is, "Yes, the Official Teaching cannot change; but it will, in effect, be abandoned in practice."

I would respond, however, that the Teaching of the Church has been effectively abandoned at the parish level and (what's worse) in the living rooms and kitchens and bedrooms of our families for a long time now.

"Only what is true can be pastoral," the above document tells us.  But the care that our pastors have offered us and that we've offered one another has been largely untrue - or Unreal - for a long time now.

This is indeed a Pastoral Crisis, and it matters not whether the Kasperites give a de jure approval to a de facto situation.  Either way, when the rubber hits the road, we are failing Our Lord, and it comes to the same thing.

Either way, this is an example of our failure to love.

But remember, as I said at the beginning, to love is painful.  We must never forget that in our own lives or in the lives of others, especially when we see someone in pain because of how deeply he or she loves.

It is never wrong to care.

If you doubt that, just look at the nearest cross.

Musial in the Morning

Well, my team, the St. Louis Cardinals, were eliminated from the post-season last night, but it was nonetheless my honor to have just now appeared on the Son Rise Morning Show to talk about Stan Musial, the greatest Cardinal ever.

I got home late last night after our murder mystery performance at Canterbury Hill Winery in Holt's Summit, MO, and around midnight my wife asked me, "Why are you going to get up at 6:00 am to talk about Stan Musial on the radio?"

She's a great wife, but sometimes she just doesn't get it.  I would have gotten up at 3:00 am to talk about Stan Musial - on the radio or in my living room.

My friend Jim Sala once told me, "Never marry a woman who can't recite the infield fly rule."  But we can't all be celibate, can we?

Anyway, we're rooting for the Royals from this point on.  And take heart - we know there's a God because there's baseball.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Murder Mystery Photos

Dec. 17 of this year will mark the 25th Anniversary of my first public murder mystery performance.

Here are some photos we've taken along the way ...

With Jenna Fischer, Murder at the Haunted Mansion, 1994.

The original photo is me from Three Strikes, You're Dead, 1998.

Me as Phil Robertson in Death at Duck Dynasty, 2013

Ruth and I with Governor and Mrs. Carnahan, New Year's Eve, 1999

Who Wants to Murder a Millionaire? 2000

Who Killed Julius Caesar?  1999

Me as the Lord of the Dance, Christmas Killing in Kilarney, Holy-Field Winery, 2010.

Me as Robin from Pretty Woman of Death, 2014

Me as Conrad Birdie coming out of retirement - Die, Die, Birdie, 2001

Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara argue over a dead body, Gone with the Passing of the Wind, Evansville, IN, 2010

Me as Principal Borely of Shipley Creek High School, disciplining a student - Hooray for Homicide, 2004

Tonya Cunningham as the Smart Girl and Me as the Jock, Hooray for Homicide, on board My Old Kentucky Dinner Train, Bardstown, 2004

The Horrible Hobbit Homicide, Holy-Field Winery, 2013

Bing Cratchit backstage, I'll Be Homicidal for Christmas, 2010

It's a Wonderful Death, 1994

I've Got Friends in Buried Places, 2001

Me as Andy Griffith, Mayberry R.I.P., 2005.

Joel and Rachel with Betty White, 2008.

A promotional photo from our first show, Murder at Bunny & Clyde's, 1989.  (That's all my hair she's pulling!)

At the Missouri Governor's Mansion with Ruthie Hart, 1999.

Me as Charlie Chan, Murder on the Disoriented Express, 1998.

Me as Columbo, 2014.

Maria Romine and Dave Treadway, My Fair Murder, Holy-Field Vineyard, 2010.

Joel Friend as Sherlock Holmes; Me as Doctor Watson, No Schick, Sherlock, 1995.

As Woody Allen, Slay It Again, Sam, Hill Prairie Winery, 2004.

Me as Woody as a Giant Chicken, Slay It Again, Sam, North Shore Scenic Railroad, 2010

Me as Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, Slay It Again Sam, 2010.

Maria as Dorothy; Me as Larry the Cable Guy portraying the Scarecrow, We're Off to Kill the Wizard, 2012.

The Cowardly Lion (as portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson, as portrayed by me), We're Off to Kill the Wizard, 2012.

Me as Al Gore as the Tin Man, We're Off to Kill the Wizard, Collver Family Winery, 2002.

Me as Gilligan, Gilligan's Island of Death, 2005.

Murder at the Mardi Gras, 1995

Who Killed Captain Kirk? 2000

Louisiana Chesterton Conference

Pastoral Care?

From Joseph Sciambra ...

Lastly, the homosexual orientation should NEVER be “accepted;” on the contrary it should be rallied against; as the only results from succumbing to the fantasy of homosexuality is hopelessness and death. As long as I live, I will never forget a dear friend who lied dying of AIDS; his wasted body covered only with an adult diaper; he looked up into my eyes and said to me: “Joe, it wasn’t worth it.” After that, I went straight back to the porn-shops, gay bars, and sex-clubs of San Francisco; for, the pull of all that was left unhealed inside of me was too strong. At the time, I had no one to turn to; the Church seemed patronizing and feckless, symbolized by the neighborhood gay-accepting Catholic parish; I had no Christian friends; and I felt as if the gay world was the only place I truly belonged. I saw no way out. Thus, herein rests my fear with the Synod’s statements: as they may well encourage some to go into the lifestyle; make it more comfortable for others to stay in it; and take away options for those who may want to leave; in addition, well-intentioned, but thoroughly misguided individuals in the Church will use the verbiage in the statement to further their own ant-Catholic pro-gay agenda. 

An AIDS victim.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Accept and Value My Orientation Toward Adultery! Now! Dammit! Now!

Regarding the document released yesterday from the Synod on the Family, this is what I told my friends on Facebook ...

"Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?"
How are we to "accept and value" their "sexual orientation", when it is intrinsically disordered, and when acting on it is sinful and demeaning?
I agree that homosexual partners often show each other a great deal of sacrificial love, which the document covers - but this above paragraph is simply [expletive deleted]. There's no way around that.  
Sometimes methinks the Holy Spirit has a way too subtle sense of humor, forgive my saying so. The obvious answer to the question, "Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?" is no. No, we cannot accept and value that which is intrinsically disordered. We can accept and value the people, but not their "sexual orientation". Should I expect my church to "accept and value" my orientation toward adultery - which is very strong and which I wish would be accepted and valued?


Tuesday, October 7, 2014


The players from the Cardinals and the Dodgers at Busch Stadium, Game Three of the NLDS.

The National Anthem.

Kerry got her brother Colin and me with a pretty darned good selfie.

A great non-selfie, if I had remembered to take the rally towel out of my lap.

My wife Karen loves me more if I get my hair cut really short.

An old picture from one of our Melodramas, me as the villain about to battle the 8-year-old hero from the audience.

The Missouri River from the bluffs of St. Charles County.  This is where I go to learn lines.