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Saturday, November 22, 2014

NO DEATH RITUALS: Miscarriage has no funeral

by Susan Fox

My poetry teacher said, "Blues poetry is about being in the hard place. So now we are going to write about death ." 

Death Rituals celebrated in context of community are necessary for healing deep grief over the loss of a loved one. Unfortunately, in a miscarriage these rituals do not take place. I had two miscarriages.  My father died when I was four, and my mother tried to protect me by keeping me at home during the funeral. This was a mistake. 

Lunch at the Space Needle; second child lost.
I was sitting on the toilet, bleeding his loss.
No sitting with the body; no praying for the dead…
My son saying, “Mommie, in your belly, the baby’s dead.”

When my Daddy died, I bounced on his bed.
Got home from New Orleans: “No funeral,” Mom said.
Under a grey blanket, I was left behind.
No sitting with the body, no crossing the line.

The first child came out whole.
Took him to the doctor: they want to know.
They took my baby’s body, his familiar head.
No sitting with the body, no crying for the dead.

Mom had a funeral; came the town.
Amazed, mourners passed me, greeting the crowd;
“Didn’t she love her?’ I wore red.
I was finally sitting with the body and praying for the dead.

"The blues is an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one's aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and then transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism. As a form, the blues is an autobiographical chronicle of personal catastrophe expressed lyrically." (Ralph Ellison)

Read another Blues Poem for An American Lost by the same author.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Walk by Faith, and Not by Sight: The True Story of Blind Hiker Bill Irwin

by Susan Fox

“Stand firm, and you will win life.” (Luke 21:19)

By everyone’s evaluation, Bill Irwin was a failure.
Bill Irwin, the first and only blind man
 to hike the Appalachian Trail
with only his Seeing Eye dog Orient

A womanizing alcoholic with four failed marriages, who had lost his sight, Irwin was severely depressed.

Then his son called him, confessed his cocaine habit and asked for his help. Bill spent a week in rehabilitation with the young man, constantly planning his escape back to a mindless alcoholic haze and his five-pack-a-day smoking habit.

Suddenly on the last day of his son’s rehab at the graduation ceremony, Bill Irwin introduced himself, “I’m Bill Irwin, and I’m an alcoholic.” The crowd at the rehab center was stunned as he’d spent the entire previous week denying just that.

He didn’t know how those words came out of his mouth -- except by the grace of God. After that he joined Alcoholics Anonymous, and experienced a profound conversion to Christ at the age of 49.

‘When I told people I was born again, it was more than a cliché to me. A part of me that had been dead as a tent peg had come to life. It had changed my entire purpose for living,” Bill wrote in his 1992 memoir, “Blind Courage.” Irwin died of prostate cancer on March 1, 2014, at the age of 73.

After his conversion and after he stopped smoking and drinking, Bill prayed: “Lord, I’m so grateful for all You’ve given me and all You’ve done for me. If there’s ever anything I can do as a way of saying thanks to You, I want you to know I’ll do it, whatever it is.”

Be careful what you ask for because God apparently decided that Bill would be a fantastic model of “walking by faith and not by sight.” In fact, Bill was about to discover that God cannot be perceived with the senses, but He can be seen clearly without them.
White Blaze markings
show you are still on the Appalachian Trail
God was calling Bill to an impossible task: walk the 2,168-mile Appalachian Trail, the longest continuously marked hiking trail in the world. The only problem is that Bill could not see the White Blaze markings on the 14-state trail from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine, nor could he “see” the majestic views along the trail.

Bill Irwin and Orient, part of the
team they called the "Orient Express"
Nevertheless, accompanied only by his Seeing Eye dog, Orient, he completed the journey in nine months in 1990 and along the way became a symbol of hope for millions of other physically challenged Americans and a witness of patient endurance for all Christians blindly struggling in the Wilderness.   

Now filmmakers Paula O'Neal (Producer) and Clint Ross (Director), are recreating his journey as a narrative film called Blind Courage. The story deserves to be told! Bill’s witness to the value of human life is vitally important in these times when the best medical professionals have begun to define handicapped lives like Bill’s as “futile.”

Increasingly in the U.S., Canada and Europe, handicapped people -- who once fought for special access to buildings and rest rooms – now have to fight to get medical care because their lives are deemed not worth saving.  If you want this movie to be made, go here to donate before Nov. 22, 2014: BLIND COURAGE THE MOVIE The trailer made me weep.
Brittany Maynard
chose to end her life

Nov. 1, 2014 
Sadly, some people agree with the medical establishment that their lives are not worth living. Twenty-nine year old Brittany Maynard recently became a poster child for the Right-to-Die Movement. With incurable brain cancer, she moved to the suicide state of Oregon so that she could avoid a long and debilitating hospice. She chose to end her life Nov. 1, 2014. In one interview, before her death, she said, “Having this choice (to die) has given me a sense of peace during a tumultuous time that otherwise would be dominated by fear, uncertainty and pain.”

Bill Irwin, were he still alive, could relate to that because when he was 28 years old, he too was diagnosed with a fatal eye cancer that was expected to spread to his brain, causing his death in three months time. As a result, he was on board with the death wish, drinking himself to oblivion. They removed one of his eyes. Luckily, they studied it and determined he didn’t have cancer, just an incurable condition that would slowly lead to complete blindness in his other eye. Bill returned to his workaholic life as a corporate executive and all the little vices he used to numb the pain from a very difficult childhood and his broken relationships.

But God got Bill in the end. After his conversion, he kept getting inundated by family and friends planning trips in the Appalachian Trail. He began to think that God wanted him to make the journey too, but he couldn’t understand how God would ask such a thing.

Bill admitted to God that he was overweight, clumsy, didn’t like camping, and he would make a very bad Christian witness because he didn’t like to talk about his conversion. Plus Bill was blind. Only 10 percent of what they call the Appalachian through-hikers actually completes the 2,168-mile journey. And all of them could see.

Most are injured, run out of money, or become discouraged. These are your experienced hikers, who love the outdoors. But Bill was not like that at all.  The conversation Bill had with God about going on that hike was very similar to the ones Moses had with God when He called him to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt.

"’I am the LORD; speak to Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I speak to you.’ But Moses said before the LORD, ‘Behold, I am unskilled in speech; how then will Pharaoh listen to me?’" (Exodus 6:28-30)

In fact, Moses was so insistent that he was a clumsy speaker that God assigned his brother Aaron to speak for him. So Moses would speak for God, and Aaron would speak for Moses.

To march in and tell the leader of Egypt to “let my people go” must have taken quite a lot of trust in God because Moses clearly was not qualified, and besides he might be killed.

So it was with Bill Irwin. He was not qualified for the task that God gave him. And he was almost killed several times. He met bears, got trounced on by an upset moose, fell down every day numerous times, broke his rib on a sharp rock (and there were many of those), was stranded without water, couldn’t find his way back to his pack when the temperatures dropped, and he almost drowned crossing a freezing river. Every single time God picked him up and saved him.
Scene from Blind Courage The Movie
God calls weak men like Bill Irwin and Moses to impossible tasks so the world can never believe that mere men did incredible things. No, in the Exodus and on the Appalachian Trail, we watch God working through the weakest of men.

Starting out on the trail completely unknown in Springer Mountain, Georgia, he was very quickly overtaken with discouragement. In that sense, he was like the Israelites after Moses led them out of Egypt. They faced the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army breathing down their backs. Moses asked, “What shall we do?” God said, “Go straight ahead.” He told them effectively to walk into the Sea, but before they got there, God had parted the waters and they passed safely.
Screen Shot from Blind Courage The Movie
Actor Bill Oberst Jr. will play the blind hiker
In the Blind Courage Movie Trailer, someone asks Bill, “Ever think about quitting?”

Bill answers: “Every day.”

“How do you know which way to go?” the guy asked.

“I don’t.  I just follow him (the dog).  God leads the dog, and the dog leads me.” In fact, the color blind Seeing Eye dog eventually learned to recognize the white blazes on the trees marking the trail.

Bill writes that God sent little witnesses on the trail to befriend and encourage him. Because of these encounters, the man who didn’t want to engage in Christian witness became an effective evangelist, forming deep friendships along the way.

His first encounter was with a lady named Patty. He was hanging his wet clothes to dry. “After only four days on the trail, I was already a few miles behind schedule. I was feeling guilty and a bit discouraged when a woman’s voice said, ‘Hi, how’s it going?’”

A day hiker, she told him that he was doing the right thing getting his stuff dried out, and it wasn’t a sign of weakness, nor a waste of time. The best part was she told him he looked like a guy who would make it all the way to Maine. That was just what he needed to hear.

Like all through-hikers, Bill had packed too much stuff. He met up with a Forest Ranger and his wife, who modified Orient’s pack using an industrial sewing machine so the dog could carry his necessary load. The ranger helped Bill pick what he would take, and what he would mail back home. He also told him to dump his “dead man’s clothes:” Cotton created the perfect conditions for hypothermia.

Bill no longer regarded the strangers’ kindnesses as a coincidence. He called it “God performing a miracle while maintaining his anonymity.” He was beginning to understand the mercy of God. “That was a big departure from the kind of thinking that had governed most of my life.”

Bill spent 49 years of his life just giving up emotionally. He spent the next 24 years doing the opposite. Many times in his memoir, he said he asked himself why he didn’t give up a task that was difficult even for a sighted man. Then he would come to the conclusion through prayer that God asked him to do this for a reason, and he would just keep putting one foot in front of another.  Bill was developing the Christian virtue of enduring perseverance.  

Consider the Parable of the Sower: "Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The seed, which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.” (Luke 8:13-15)  In Bill’s life, God  planted a seed in a good heart that bore fruit in perseverance. 

Once word got out that a blind man was hiking the Appalachian Trail, reporters from every major media outlet mobbed Bill. He didn’t hesitate answering the questions about why he was doing his impossible hike: he expressed his gratitude to God. 
Blind Courage The Movie
“Why are you doing this Bill?” he was asked in the Blind Courage Movie Trailer.
“To say thank you to God.”
“For what?”
“For savin’ my life.”

Bill Irwin was not a Catholic man, but on the trail he walked he learned discernment of spirits. Catholics divide the movements of the spirit into that of the flesh, the evil spirit and the good spirit. “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1John 4:1) Bill might have been weakened many times by the spirit of the flesh, when he faced pain and discouragement. But he ultimately welcomed the directions of the Good Spirit. For Bill was led to patience in trial.

Bill speaks of the times God spoke to his heart in silence. It frustrated the people who assisted Bill when they would give him advice on how and when to take certain paths along the trail because Bill would never readily agree to their advice. He always said he would pray about it. The desire for prayer is a sign of the movement of the Good Spirit, leading you in the virtue of hope.  Near the end of his journey he evidenced indifference to human success, willing to give up the journey before the end or continue it as God willed. This is another sign of the action of the Good Spirit in Bill’s life. The evil spirit is opposed to humility and obedience.

On the trail, Bill plunged into silence to perceive God without his senses. Blindness is actually a tremendous advantage in a difficult spiritual journey. One will never see God in His Transcendence inside creation, and creation is perceived with the senses. Think of the Apostle St. Thomas, who refused to believe that Jesus had appeared to the other apostles after His death: "Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." (John 20:25)
St Thomas puts his hand in Christ's side
Christ responded to his apostle’s need for sensual reassurance. Appearing again to the apostles, He said to Thomas: "Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing." (John 20:27) Thomas responded, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20: 28)

But Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed." (John 20:29)

Jesus was speaking about people like Bill Irwin. God called Bill to that kind of faith in which man enters the dark night – the prelude to union with God. Literally, one has to become blind to see. “Oh, night that guided me, 
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, 
Lover transformed in the Beloved!” sang St. John of the Cross in his poem “Dark Night of the Soul.” The night is allegory for leaving the world of the senses to seek God in blindness. It’s not a well marked path, and you might not see the White Blazes.

St. John concluded his poem reclining his head upon the breast of Jesus: “I remained, lost in oblivion; 
My face I reclined on the Beloved. 
All ceased and I abandoned myself, 
Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.”

Ah, may we all leave our cares forgotten among the lilies.

May we all take that difficult journey, blindly following the instructions of the Beloved, and listening for the Voice of God, directing us on the trail until we arrive safely nestled in the Heart of Christ at our eternal home.

The real Bill Irwin doing
what he does best
To see a short video clip of the real Bill Irwin near the end of his 2,168-mile hike in Maine:  Bill Irwin Hiking the Appalachian Trail in Maine in 1990

The Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross
On a dark night, 
Kindled in love with yearnings--oh, happy chance!--
I went forth without being observed, 
My house being now at rest.
In darkness and secure, 
By the secret ladder, disguised--oh, happy chance!--
In darkness and in concealment, 
My house being now at rest.
In the happy night, 
In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught, 
Without light or guide, save that which burned in my 
This light guided me 
More surely than the light of noonday
To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me--
A place where none appeared.
Oh, night that guided me, 
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, 
Lover transformed in the Beloved!
Upon my flowery breast, 
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him, 
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.
The breeze blew from the turret 
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand he wounded my neck 
And caused all my senses to be suspended.
I remained, lost in oblivion; 
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself, 
Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.

Monday, November 3, 2014

ALL SOULS' DAY: Priestly Celibacy Witnesses to the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth

 Sermon by Rev. John Paul Shea
Feast of All Soul's Day, Nov. 2, 2014
Saints Peter & Paul Parish, Tucson, AZ

"They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace." (Wisdom 3: 2-3) 

Black Vestments are allowed
on All Souls' Day and
Requiem Masses
Today the Church celebrates the solemnity of All Souls' Day! Yesterday our Catholic Church celebrated the feast of All Saints, those extraordinary human beings who were blessed to be among those who accomplished God’s will in a special way. But today we remember everyone — all the dead -– those who have repented and those who have not, those who were rich and those who were poor, those who were loved by many and those who were loved by few.

We celebrate today’s feast in the fundamental belief that there is a spiritual communion among all in the state of grace, whether they have begun purification in Purgatory, live on earth or are in heaven. 

Today’s feast is a reminder that we are part of a larger community, both living and dead.  We pray for mercy on all souls, including ourselves that we will allow God’s mercy entrance into our lives. We want to allow our Lord to free us from everything that ties us down to this world so that we can fly to the next.

All Souls' Day falls in the month of November when the weather begins to change and the nights become longer. So we are reminded that one day our life here on earth will end and we will face what comes ahead.

Many do not want to think about death. We do not need to fear death, but we should prepare for it. If we strive to keep ourselves pure, we can rejoice in death. 
“The souls of the just are in the hand of God.” That's what we hear in today's reading (Wisdom 3:1-9) And therefore, we remain connected to those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. We should pray for them in the hopes that one day we might live in communion with them.

"The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them." 

What is the soul? Saint Thomas Aquinas described the soul as “the animating energy of the body.” We could also say that our soul is the blueprint of our existence. Evidence of our eternal soul is that we are self-aware, and this self-awareness lives on after death, perfected in our resurrected bodies. Our soul links us to our future home in eternity. Our soul transcends this world even now.

My brothers and sisters, today’s celebration reminds us that each one of us will live forever! This is why Our Lord in today’s Gospel passage speaks so readily of eternal life, reminding us that He came so that everyone who sees Him and believes in Him may have eternal life.

We also are reminded that our choices now will determine the state of our soul for all eternity! This is why our Lord came into the world, lived and died on the cross -- for the salvation of our souls! 

This is true mercy! But we must respond.  He calls us to live, but not for the world because the world has become a place of immorality and corruption. He calls us to raise our minds and hearts to His eternal wisdom.

Today’s first reading reminds us that if we want eternal life then we must first prove ourselves worthy. We are reminded that the souls of the just are chastised a little, but that
“they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself."

My brothers and sisters, the Christian life is not easy! Our Lord’s saving mission to restore our soul to communion with God the Father requires work on our part. It requires that we reject the values of the world! It requires that we pray and make sacrifices for our souls and for the salvation of all souls! 

The foolish  do not understand because most want it easy. The world hates sacrifice. Yet, eternal salvation is not born from comfort. It comes by entering into the narrow gate of self-denial! If we do not grasp this now, then we will face it in Purgatory.

Priests take a vow of celibacy at our ordination. This vow is a stranger to our secular culture, and even Catholics don't understand it. We do not see beyond the limitations of our fallen nature. 

Yet, this is precisely why priests take the vow of celibacy! We want to witness in a special way to the reality of the kingdom of heaven in this life on earth. We are to conform ourselves to Christ as a sign of the future resurrection, when our earthly body will be changed into a heavenly body. But you too -- each in your own vocation -- are called to show forth the reality of heaven by the way you live your lives!

"In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble." 

My brothers and sisters, if we are truly living out our Christian life, we appear foolish to the world! But you know what, praise God because this world is passing away, and God is preparing a place for all who seek Him in His kingdom of justice, truth, and love. 

"Those who trust in Him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love: because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with his elect."

As we come together to celebrate Mass on this special celebration of All Souls, let us remember life is short. And let us pray for those who have gone before us. God bless you.
Fr. John Paul Shea on All Souls' Day.
Have you seen a Mass celebrated in a black
vestment? Larry and I haven't, but that's
because it had fallen out of favor among priests.
The younger priests are bringing this ancient
practice of the Church back.
And that's a good sign. 

Did you enjoy this homily. There are more! You might enjoy: FOLLOW THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD: The Most Perfect Path to Holiness

Saturday, November 1, 2014


by Susan Fox

This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, 'They are my people,' and they will say, 'The LORD is our God.'" (Zechariah 13:9)

 The process of refining gold brings lesser metals or impurities to the surface so they can be broken off later, while the denser pure gold sinks to the bottom of the mold.

The stuff rising to the top is called slag. It is rather ugly. Pure gold is lovely.

It seems our childlike and cagey new Pope Francis has plunged the Roman Catholic Church into this process. Many were shocked to see the slag surface from the Church at the recent Synod on the Family, affectionately called Synod 14 for the year in which it occurred.  But the world rejoiced.

An interim report of the Synod released on Monday, Oct. 13, 2014 seemed to single handedly overturn Christ’s own admonition that a man should cling to his wife, and the two become one.

It questioned why divorced and remarried Catholics could not receive Holy Communion and said that people who self identify by their homosexuality should be celebrated for the gifts that arise from their unchaste behaviors.

Bethlehem Chapel, Brandeis University
This slag has been hiding inside the Church for a good 40 years during the reign of three canonized popes. It has been suggested from the pulpit, mentioned in confession, and discussed behind closed doors. A priest in Boston  hung a rainbow “gay pride” flag over the Catholic chapel at Brandeis University outside Boston during the month of October. More slag.

But when the slag was actually visible in a Vatican document, people were shocked. “Like man, where did that come from?”

I will purge you of those who revolt and rebel against me. Although I will bring them out of the land where they are living, yet they will not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD. (Ezekiel 20:38)

It almost seemed like we orthodox Catholics were all on the same acid trip during these past decades unaware the corrosive forces surrounding us were rising to the top. We did suffer when others, especially others in authority, held these false beliefs and called themselves Catholic. Now the interim report seemed to shake our foundations.

“We may see that attacks against the Pope and the Church do not only come from outside; rather, the sufferings of the Church come from inside the Church.” Pope Benedict noted in an interview in 2010. “This was always common knowledge, but today we see it in truly terrifying form: the greatest persecution of the Church does not come from external enemies, but is born of sin within the Church.”

Is the Church still Catholic?

I went to one small-faith sharing group during this crisis, and everyone there had called a devout family member or a favorite nun to find out if everything was okay. They were all shaken to their core. Some are still muttering.

“The Princesses (cardinals) of the church have all been diagnosed with DDD (Diabolical Disorientation Disorder). It’s very catchy,” said Theresa on Friday (Oct. 31) upset over the Synod and the rainbow flag over her Boston chapel.

Do not despair Theresa! The authentic Catholic Magisterium – the same teaching authority that has carefully guarded the deposit of faith held by the apostles for 2,000 years -- rose up and rejected these paragraphs in the original document.

Cardinals, bishops and priests worldwide spoke out in every way possible via You Tube, News Conferences and their votes. They explained that everyone has gifts to offer the Church, but these gifts do not arise from sinful behaviors, and divorced remarried Catholics cannot receive communion because if they did it would negate the sanctity of marriage. Hallelujah! How wonderful God gave his cardinals the opportunity to teach the faith publicly. So the gold of the Catholic Church shone.

The document was changed by Friday Oct. 17, and the offending paragraphs removed. It was as if the words had never been written. I could not find them anywhere online except at the National Catholic Reporter, a newspaper favoring the offensive positions.

The world didn’t listen. Secular news articles covering this event said the pope’s own cardinals defeated him. The New Yorker magazine called it a “bombshell document,” lamenting the fact that Pope Francis’ immediate predecessors locked the Church into positions on divorce, remarriage, contraception, homosexuality and the celibate male priesthood, which are at “radical variance with the beliefs and practices of the majority of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.” I must have missed the memo. I still believe in the Church’s traditional position on divorce, contraception, homosexuality and the celibate male priesthood. I think Pope Francis does too.

The New Yorker opined that Pope Francis would be hard-pressed to break the Catholic Church out of that “recent mold” set by his predecessors. I think he is trying to do the opposite.

Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand. (Daniel 12:10)

Orthodox Catholics – many of my friends – were in shock, and wondered if indeed Pope Francis had manipulated events so these false positions would be in the report.

Such is nonsense, but the pope’s subsequent remarks made this clear. On Oct. 19, he described the temptations of the Synod:
Ø “The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness, that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them... It is the temptation of the so-called “progressives and liberals.”
Ø The temptation to neglect the “depositum fidei” [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]”
Ø The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfill the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.”

By that he described the temptations of those who changed the words of the interim document so it did not actually reflect what was being said in the Synod, nor what the Church has taught for the past 2,000 years.

“Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.” (Daniel 11:35)

"No disciple is greater than his master"
Pope Francis himself told us not to be dismayed by these temptations “because no disciple is greater than his master; so if Jesus Himself was tempted – and even called Beelzebub (cf. Mt 12:24) – His disciples should not expect better treatment.”

On Oct. 25, the pope clearly spoke against the union called “same-sex marriage.” To the best of my knowledge he is the first pope to do so.  “The family is being hit, the family is being struck and the family is being bastardized,” the pope said, adding the common view in society is that “you can call everything family, right?”

“What is being proposed is not marriage, it’s an association. But it’s not marriage! It’s necessary to say these things very clearly and we have to say it!” He added that “new forms” of unions are “totally destructive and limiting the greatness of the love of marriage.”

Regarding marriage, Pope Francis explained that our society has “devalued” the sacrament by turning it into a social rite, removing its foundation, which is union with God. “So many families are divided, so many marriages broken, (there is) such relativism in the concept of the Sacrament of Marriage,” he cried.

Such sentiments should reassure every Catholic that Pope Francis did not manipulate the synod to devalue marriage or glorify “same-sex” associations.

However orthodox Catholics continued to be uneasy because the pope had also discussed on Oct. 19 at the conclusion of the Synod temptations that might be considered “conservative:”

Ø “a temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.”

By this he did not mean that we should ignore the precepts of our faith handed down to us from the apostles. He already stated that the deposit of faith is to be guarded, preserved, not mastered, not changed nor controlled. 

Pope Francis is right!

There is a tendency in the Church today to hole up inside our walls and never go out. Too often our pastors believe their parish is limited to only the people they see in the pew. Lay people busy themselves cleaning the church and cooking soup suppers, but they won’t visit a neighbor who might be interested in becoming Catholic. As far as I am concerned, this temptation can be laid at the door of both those who call themselves liberal and those who think of themselves as conservative.

I have seen situations where a priest faced with a dying man requesting Baptism refused to visit him because he was too sick for RCIA, the year long process of becoming Catholic. Lay ministers would not send a priest to a homebound Catholic needing the sacraments because she had to phone the Rectory directly herself. Never mind that she was a painfully shy Native American woman who didn’t want to bother anybody. She died without the sacraments on a Tuesday; her family calling vainly for a priest on a day when most priests in her diocese did not work.  She was a victim of “hostile inflexibility.”

I have multiple friends who witness at abortion clinics. They leave their house and go into the community, interact, listen and witness. They wait for the “God of surprises.”

One of them told me last week, a baby was saved on her watch. “We - rather God! - saved a baby a couple of weeks ago at the Abortion Clinic.  The parents-to-be came out absolutely beaming, announcing they'd changed their minds.  We gave them literature and jumped around laughing, crying, hugging and praying!!  There is still good in the world!”

When Catholics are closed inside the small world of a parish, a community and even the Roman Curia, “then you do not grasp the truth,”

the pope said further on Oct. 25. “Everything is working well, everything is well organized,” the pontiff observed, “but they could do with less functionalism and more apostolic zeal, more interior freedom, more prayer, (and) this interior freedom is the courage to go out.”

True witness takes us out of ourselves and into the streets, the pope continued. A Church, movement or community, which doesn’t go out of itself “becomes sick.”
Catholics walk!

 “A movement, a Church or a community that doesn't go out, is mistaken,” he said. “Don't be afraid! Go out in mission; go out on the road. We are walkers.”

It is ironic in light of what happened at the Synod that Pope Francis has spoken many times about the figure of Judas in his talks since becoming pope.
On Palm Sunday, he took the people through an exam of conscience, using various people involved in Christ’s death:  “Am I like Judas, who pretends to love and kissed the Master to hand him over, to betray him? Am I a traitor?”

Mostly recently, he explained that he felt sorry for Judas. Though he may not have been the worst sinner among the apostles, he was the one who walled himself up against mercy.

“Judas, poor man, is the one who closed himself to love and that is why he became a traitor. And they all ran away during the difficult time of the Passion and left Jesus alone. They are all sinners. But He chose (them).”

After he betrayed Jesus with a kiss, Judas – realizing he had spilled innocent blood – hung himself. Peter denied Jesus three times, but he wept and sought Christ’s forgiveness. He became the first pope.

Pope Francis talks about this “night (of Peter’s denial) and the sweetness of Christ’s forgiveness,” which Judas seemingly did not seek.  “How beautiful it is to be holy, but also how beautiful to be forgiven.”

It’s good that Pope Francis has prayed and meditated on Judas’ betrayal. It’s almost as if he was preparing for what would take place in the Synod.

The world betrayed Christ.  Pretending to sincerely love Pope Francis, the world deliberately twisted his message of love into a false acceptance of sin. St. Augustine called these kinds of “false friends” the unfriendly friendlies.

Some cardinals apparently betrayed Christ when they arranged to put those untruthful paragraphs into the first document without the approval of the whole body of cardinals.

But Pope Francis remained tranquil, and firm in his trust in the Holy Spirit, Who was guiding the Synod, forcing the slag from the Church.

How could the impurities in the Church have remained while we had such holy popes: John XXIII, John Paul II and Paul VI? Obviously, many did not read what they wrote about the human family. Now, the Synod on the Family will force all to do so. The Holy Spirit is squeezing the slag to the top where we can all see it, recognize it and reject it.

“Many commentators ... have imagined that they see a disputatious Church where one part is against the other, doubting even the Holy Spirit, the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of the Church – the Holy Spirit who throughout history has always guided the barque, through her Ministers, even when the sea was rough and choppy, and the ministers unfaithful and sinners,” Pope Francis said in his concluding remarks for the Synod.

“And, as I have dared to tell you, [as] I told you from the beginning of the Synod, it was necessary to live through all this with tranquility, and with interior peace, so that the Synod would take place cum Petro and sub Petro (with Peter and under Peter), and the presence of the Pope is the guarantee of it all.”

It certainly is, especially when we can relax and know that the Pope does believe in the sanctity of marriage and the value of chastity.

Entering the refiner’s fire is a harrowing process, but we must put our trust in the Holy Spirit, who will remove all the impurities from our hearts and our Church and turn them into pure gold.

Enjoy this piece on the Synod? See also: Synod on the Family: Treachery in the Vatican?