Pontifex: def. Bridge builder. Latin, from pons, pont- ‘bridge’ + -fex from facere ‘make.’
One of the titles given to the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, is Supreme Pontiff. The Pope’s official Twitter handle is @pontifex. When Bishop Robert Barron was the rector at the seminary I am attending, he often gave talks reflecting on the priesthood. In one of the talks he explained that every priest is called to be a pontifex; in other words, he is called to be a bridge. A bridge to where? Bishop Barron explains that priests are to be bridges that people are able to cross in order to have an authentic encounter with Jesus Christ. He went on to explain that the seminary formation process is intended to develop a man to be a sound and accessible bridge.
During seminary the man should mature and be formed that his life is a bridge that people can easily cross to get to Jesus. The man is called to work on areas of his life and seek the grace of conversion in areas of his life that would be obstacles or barriers for people to cross the bridge to Jesus.
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:13-14
There are two books that will be released on June 15th. One attempts to build a bridge between the Catholic Church and people who identify as being attracted to the same sex. The second book is written by someone who admits he is same-sex attracted but rejects the attempts made by many to have sexual attraction be the basis of ones identity.
I want to provide the background behind these two books since they will soon be released to the public. I urge those planning to read them to be an informed reader. Inform your conscience with the principal sources of Catholic faith teaching and settled dogma. Based on what I know of these two books so far, the first book will not authentically communicate the fullness of Catholic teaching on human sexuality and the Sacrament of Marriage. The second book does and it will soon be clearly apparent once they are both realeased. I plan to update this post with a complete review of both books at that time.
Late last year, Father James Martin, SJ accepted an award from New Ways Ministry. This is an LGBT advocacy group that claims to be Catholic. He is turning the talk he gave at this award ceremony into a book that he is releasing later this summer. There’s a problem with this: The Vatican, after reviewing the group, informed the Catholic faithful that this group is not faithful to Catholic Church teaching on human sexuality and the sacrament of marriage. (http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/father-james-martin-wins-award-from-dissenting-catholic-group-66984/)
This is in contrast to The Courage Apostolate; the only Vatican approved ministry for persons who experience same sex attraction. In this video, particularly at the point I have linked to, Father James Martin suggests that advocates at New Ways Ministry can bring “change” to the Church.
During the Q&A time at the end of this talk, a priest in attendance asks Father Martin if he would like to help him create a Pre-Cana program for homosexual couples. The priest asking also admits that he has married a homosexual couple with full knowledge that he was in contradiction to Church teaching on marriage and human sexuality.
Father Martin responds to this question with ambiguity and lack of clarity with regard to the Church’s teaching on marriage and human sexuality. Father Martin asks the question: “What does your Bishop think? Have you talked with him about this idea?” When you watch this interchange, Father Martin sounds like he is conveying to this priest that as long as his local Bishop is okay with setting up a Pre-Cana program for homosexual couples, he is free to proceed and thus reject settled Church teaching on the nature of the Sacrament of Marriage.
Father James Martin’s talk at New Way’s Ministry:
On this and a few other points, it appears that Father Martin is not being an authentic bridge to Jesus. Instead, he sounds like he is building a bridge that leads to the dead end of moral relativism. When each of us encounters the living Jesus, we are called to repentance and conversion from the dead ends and blind alleys of life. Our human sexuality is an area of life that also needs the grace of healing and conversion. It is not immune to the effects of Original Sin.
I have tried to reach out to Father Martin as well as have others. From what I have witnessed, on every occassion and chance Father Martin has had to speak up about what the Church teaches, he remains silent. This is all very disturbing. I pray our priests and Bishops examine carefully what Father Martin is saying and writing. From the talk he gives and other things he has said and has failed to say, I do not think he is speaking authentically and fully from the tradition of the Catholic Scriptures and the magisterial faith teaching on this matter.
I recently discovered that another book is being released in the same month as Father Martin’s. It is being released by the trusted Catholic publisher, Ignatius Press. The book is titled, “Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay: How I Reclaimed My Sexual Reality and Found Peace” and it is written by Daniel Mattson. This name may not be familiar to you yet, but if you make it to the end of this post and go watch the documentary I link to, titled “Desire of the Everlasting Hills”, Daniel is one of the persons featured in the film. (Clicking on the book cover above takes you to the Amazon page where the book will be available for sale on June 15th)
Daniel is also setting out to be a bridge. His bridge does not lead to the dead end of moral relativism. He shares his own authentic story of how Christ called him to conversion and repentance. He shares how Christ has not called him to base his identity on his sexual desires but on his relationship as a beloved son with his heavenly Father. In 2012, Daniel wrote an article for First Things, one of the premiere journals for religion and public life. The article eventually became the book that will be released on June 15th. I encourage you to read his short essay as a preview of what to expect in the book: “Why I Don’t Call Myself A Gay Christian”. You will notice that this book has received strong praise from respected Catholic writers who are faithful to the Catholic Church in their own writings.
A Biblical Motif: The Good Shepherd
This past weekend, we just celebrated Good Shepherd Sunday, with Jesus telling his disciples that He is the Good Shepherd. There is a long biblical history of bad shepherding of the people of Israel that God sends his prophets to warn and rebuke. Father Martin has written well on many other occasions on many faith-related topics, but on the teachings of human sexuality and marriage, he seems to have gotten off track. If this is the case, it would be a betrayal of Christ our Chief Shepherd on this teaching.
Pope Francis famously said that the clergy (or shepherds) of the Church need to smell like their sheep. Someone recently suggested an addition to this exhortation; that clergy not only need to smell like the sheep, they also need to sound like the Good Shepherd.
Pray for our Bishops and Priests, that they may approach this with discerning hearts and warn their people if what Father Martin’s book contains is false teaching. If you have concerns about these things, I would encourage you to bring these concerns to either the priest of your parish or the Bishop of your Diocese in a respectful and charitable way.
Pray also for Father Martin. He bears great responsibility because the public nature of his priesthood has a much wider influence. Pray that if he has fallen into error, that he receives correction in his life from those that are there to help hold him accountable.
Pray also for Pope Francis. He recently appointed Father Martin to the communications office in the Vatican. Pray all these decisions lead to the greater glory of God and that the people of God would be protected from any teaching that would bring harm to their moral and spiritual lives.
Here is some Scripture that should be a sober warning and keep us all humble. God is deeply concerned about how His shepherds lead the Church:
“Lost sheep were my people, their shepherds misled them, leading them astray on the mountains; From mountain to hill they wandered, forgetting their fold.” Jeremiah 50:6
“The priests did not ask, “Where is the Lord?” The experts in the law did not know me: the shepherds rebelled against me. The prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after useless idols.” Jeremiah 2:8
“How stupid are the shepherds! The Lord they have not sought; For this reason they have failed, and all their flocks scattered.” Jeremiah 2:10
“I will appoint for you shepherds after my own heart, who will shepherd you wisely and prudently.” Jeremiah 3:15
“I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep.” John 10:10-13
To Explore Further:
There is an article that responds thoughtfully to the points Father Martin attempts to argue:
NOTE: I want to make clear that I do not claim to agree or endorse everything by this publication.
A better way to build a bridge…
Finally, what follows below is something I offer as a contrast to the approach Father Martin has been taking on this teaching. I want to give an example to show that it is possible to communicate the fullness of the Church’s teaching on sexuality and marriage while at the same time communicating with love and respect.
Articulation of Catholic teaching on human sexuality and the Sacrament of Marriage to Guy Benson, respected political columnist and commentor on news shows:
Guy Benson is a noted columnist and makes occasional guest appearances on cable news shows. He posted on Facebook, recalling the time two years ago when he revealed that he is same-sex attracted in the area of his sexuality. I made a comment below the post and have corresponded to Guy in the past. I think this is an issue we don’t talk about very well or very much so, I wanted to share how I responded to him. Here it is:
“Hi Guy, I’m a Catholic who is in seminary for the priesthood. We’ve talked a few times in the past. I appreciate that you are open to discuss things and you don’t shut down people with positions that differ from you.
I want you to get a sense where the Catholic faith comes from on this issue so there is no confusion and then leave you with something to consider.
The Catholic faith calls us to treat all persons with dignity and respect. The Church also does not call us to judge the desires and attractions of persons. But the Church is called to speak with Jesus’ prophetic voice of Truth and speak up concerning acts that go against the moral law and the natural law.
And even still, God is the final judge of a person’s acts.
At the same time society is called to deter people from committing immoral acts both for the good of the person and the good of society as a whole. So there is a distinction made between a person judging a person by rejecting them as a person or refusing to associate with them and the administration of justice carried out in our society.
And society is supposed to adhere their standards of justice in accord with the natural and moral law. If a society fails to establish laws in accord with natural and revealed moral law, then these laws are unjust and no law at all. For example, laws that treated one race as inferior to another.
The Catholic faith teaches that because of original sin our desires and attractions have become wounded and distorted. Unlike Protestants, we do not say the person is totally corrupted and depraved. But this original sin has had effects and consequences on all of us. St. Augustine early in life before he became a Christian was unchaste. In his case, he sought out sex with multiple women and outside the boundary of the marriage sacrament. So all our desires have become harmed. G.K. Chesterton famously said, “We’re all in the same boat and we are all sea sick.”
The Catholic faith places an emphasis on each person and avoids the cultural trap of labeling groups of people. In Jesus’ day group labeling looked like “tax collectors, prostitutes and drunkards”. Jesus uses names and titles like son and daughter. Today people call groups of people “gays”. The Church avoids basing someone’s fundamental identity on their sexual attraction. Instead, Guy, you are a son of God made in His image.
At the same time the Church teaches that sexual acts committed between people of the same sex are acts that reject one of the intended fundamental meanings of the act, which is procreation, and thus that is why the acts are called disordered.
Let me try using an example. Say a person has normally functioning arms and legs. But the person feels a desire to not use his legs and feet to walk but instead walk using his hands and arms, upside down. We would call this a disordered way of walking because the feet and legs are formed in such a way for walking and arms and hands are not.
A more real example would be when a person has a distorted view of themselves and the need to eat. The desire not to eat as it manifests itself in anorexia is considered a disorder of the persons desire for food.
On the positive side of the teaching on sexual intimacy, the Church teaches that sexual acts are reserved for a man and woman solely within the context of the sacrament of marriage; which is not a relationship that the state or society defines. It is a unitive and procreative relationship and it is intended for a man and woman to become one flesh and for the bearing of offspring. Not only this, Catholic teaching says that Jesus lifted this natural relationship into a sacramental and supernatural one.
So, just as in our country’s founding documents we affirm that the value of the human person and their rights are not defined or issued by the state, neither is the relationship of marriage defined or actualized by the state, but by God.
Now let me return to Chesterton. He had another gem of a saying: “Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies when they become fashions.”
On this issue it would translate: sexual acts that are disordered do not cease to be disordered when they become culturally acceptable or even praised.
Now, here is where most people stop listening.
Because within this fallacy there are two other larger fallacies that have fueled a rapid acceptance of this fallacy. The first one is 1). the greatest expression of love is through sexual intimacy. And 2) you cannot have love, joy, and intimacy in life without the sexual expression of intimacy.
Those are the more deeply rooted and more subtle lies that fuel the bigger lie that all sexual acts no matter what form they take are morally good or neutral. Or as stated above, that sexual acts between people outside the context of marriage as defined by God are not disordered. That same-sex acts are not disordered.
As someone preparing for the vocation of priesthood which includes a life of celibate love, I can witness to the fact that there is a deeper and greater intimacy than sexual intimacy.
If we slow down and look at some Saints their lives bear witness to this as true: Mother Theresa, Francis of Assisi, John Paul II, Maximillian Kolbe, Thèrése of Liseux, and thousands upon thousands of others.
So a natural question would be, how would one live a life when one has sexual attraction to the same sex and at the same time the Christian faith calls one not to act on those desires and calls those actions disordered?
The wide and easy road is to make Christian faith your own subjective experience, to find a group of Christians who have abandoned the teaching on human sexuality and are now calling a fallacy a truth because it has become fashionable.
But I don’t remember Jesus calling us to that road. He called us to a narrow road and he said if we were to follow him on a road it would be while carrying a cross.
So what does that mean? Assigned to a life of joyless doom and gloom?
No, on the contrary, Jesus said “I came that they may have life and have it to the full!”
So here is the deal, we all have strong desires. Some of these desires have become distorted and this makes life harder.
But this is also true: God comes into the depths of our brokenness and transforms it. He went to death and transforms death from being a dead end to the path to eternal life!
Christian faith affirms that there is not one desire in the human heart that God is unable to satisfy. He can harness and channel our desires, even our distorted and wounded ones and direct them to deeper communion with him.
Case in point: We have no record that Jesus was ever sexually intimate with anyone and yet we would say he was the most alive person who ever lived. We would also say Jesus was the most loving person who ever lived and yet he never expressed love through sexual intimacy.
This all sounds nice but are people with same sex desires actually living out this call in their life and how are they doing it??? Yes!
This is perhaps one of the unnoticed realities in the Catholic Church that few in the world have encountered.
Let me give you three links and please give each of them a fair amount of your attention. It may impact your life for the best!”
“Desire of the Everlasting Hills” Documentary Film:
“The Third Way” Documentary Film:
Catholic Ministry (approved by the Vatican) for Persons with Same-Sex Attraction:
“But when the kindness and generous love
of God our savior appeared,
not because of any righteous deeds we had done
but because of his mercy,
he saved us through the bath of rebirth
and renewal by the holy Spirit,
whom he richly poured out on us
through Jesus Christ our savior,
so that we might be justified by his grace
and become heirs in hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:4-8