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A Bridge to ?

If you are looking for a recommendation of Building A Bridge, the book by Fr. James Martin SJ about building communication between the LGBT community and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, you will not find one here.

First, it is twenty dollars for the hardcover book that I was able to read in about a half an hour. It is also from a secular publisher, HarperOne an imprint of Harper Collins.

The book addresses a simple issue between the Church and LGBT community, a lack of communication and empathy for one another. Martin calls both sides to stop making hurtful comments and to begin to listen to each other. His basic message is that once both sides stop yelling at each other, they will begin to communicate with each other. They both will be better off, apparently, when they all get along.

Martin, beyond this concept, never brings forth a goal to this exercise and this is where the book fails.

The Catholic Church is not here to be a religious theme park where all happily get along in the joy ride of life. The Catholic Church is the Body of Christ and each member is part of that Body. Each person, from Baptism, has a mission to witness to Christ and his call to holiness and salvation. Jesus, in fact, calls us His witnesses. Therefore, our role as Catholics is to bring the message of the Gospel everywhere we go by our life.

We do this as a parish community. The lone wolf will fail. The community needs to be Christ centered and each person and family needs to be Christ centered as well. Each of us needs to take this mission seriously.

When I was in the seminary, I learned the practice, encouraged through listening to a recorded priest retreat by Archbishop Fulton Sheen, of a daily holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament. It is a practice that I keep daily and I know it is the most important part of my day besides Mass. That is because as a priest, I must live in a deep friendship with Christ and praying before the tabernacle is where I spend time with my friend.

My goal is not only eternal life for myself, but to do my best to lead others to eternal life as well. This is more important to me than anything. Note, I do not do this terrified that I am not doing enough to know Christ, I am rather in prayer so that I can fulfill my vocation in service to Christ for others.

I am also who I am and I bring all of it, my good times and bad, my joys and disappointments, my successes and failures into my daily prayer and my constant prayer. Why? Because that is how Christ encounters me and I encounter Him. However, life is a progress, I grow in my experience with Him and this is where I change over time.

So, I expect Christ to call me to a deeper way of living and a deeper way of knowing Him. In short, I expect Christ to call me constantly more and more to conversion. He never stops calling and I never stop converting. God help me if I do.

I remember at a deacon’s ordination the bishop, whose name I have long forgotten, taught that the celibate must have a deep prayer life in order to life as a celibate and I heeded that warning to this day.

A deep prayer life also means at times, exciting prayer life. One of the most profound life-changing experiences I ever had in my life was living for a week as a hermit in the high deserts of the North American West. Another practice is going to the grounds of the Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville at night, long after the place had closed and the sun went down, and speaking out my prayer for the most needy of my parishioners. Prayer must be exciting at times and good prayer is fruitful. There are many other experiences and methods. I also use Bible study as part of my daily prayer.

The celibate must live in this prayer.

None of this comes out in Martin’s book. He just writes that LGBT Catholics and the church hierarchy must listen to each other, drop the rhetoric and get along. This is why I won’t recommend it, for he does not delve into the vocation of coming to know Christ well enough to be His witness, regardless of our struggles and life experiences.

Nowhere in Catholic teaching does it say that one who is not sacramentally married cannot have deep intimate friendships with others and the saints taught that they are a must. What the teaching forbids to hetero and homosexuals is sexual expression outside of a sacramental marriage.

St. Aelred of Rievaulx, whom Martin also does not quote and is believed to have struggled with same sex attraction--another term Martin does not like--teaches in Spiritual Friendship (Cistercian Publications; 2010) that a true friend is one who leads one to Christ. So any Catholic must delve into the depths of what that means for him in his quest for union with Christ. He or she must have good friends with whom one can share the journey on the road to Christ. The goal must also be the same goal as all good Catholics, encountering Christ daily until we meet face to face and He says to us: “Well done my good and faithful servants.”

However, that also means that we need to understand that we are too weak to do this on our own and we need to appreciate these weaknesses.

St. Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians talks about being attacked by a thorn in his side, an angel of Satan, he calls it, that causes such a weakness in him that he prayed for it to be removed. Many consider this weakness to be an illness. I do not. An angel of Satan does not give saints diseases, because his goal is to destroy souls. Gabriel Amorth the late Vatican exorcist writes in his book: An Exorcist Tells His Story of an exorcist being at the side of Mother Theresa as she lay dying because that is one soul the devil wanted to rob. The same can be said for the Apostle to the Gentiles. Of course, Satan wanted his soul as well, but as St. Paul relates, God allowed this struggle within because in Paul’s weakness he had to rely on Christ’s power and in weakness that power becomes perfection.

For those struggling with any weakness that leads one to sin, that struggle will lead one to rely on God’s grace and will end in holiness and salvation. However, it cannot happen if we dismiss the whole concept and call weakness an accepted variation.

I remember, early in my priesthood, I was counseling an alcoholic who after many years of sobriety became weak and imbibed into drunkenness. Intensely discouraged he felt a total loser. I explained that his weakness although led him to fall off the wagon after many years was his key to holiness. This struggle would lead him to Christ. The fact that he immediately sought counseling shows that he recognized how much he needed help in his weakness. My role was to help him get back to his discipline.

It is in this path that Martin discounts and the reason is that he is bringing secular values into the Christian struggle. Maybe the hierarchy can be more accepting of the “gay” person, but cannot deny him the road to holiness and salvation by dismissing his struggle and weakness as misunderstandings of Catholic doctrine.

However, there are admonitions to be heeded.

Many years ago, I was writing for probably the most traditional Catholic newspaper in the country: The Catholic Twin Circle. I had the opportunity of writing an article of a man who was dying of AIDS who taught teens abstinence was the real option not condoms. In journalism that is called a "man bites dog" story. He explained that there are five steps to putting on a condom correctly. “In the heat of passion you are going to stop take your condom package and go Step 1 . . .” He said sarcastically. He warned against a false security.

However, he also called out the hypocrisy of parents who visited their dying sons, only to discover that they had AIDS through homosexual practice. He explained that the the parents would immediately walk out of the hospital room, never to return. He would call them three weeks later to say: “Your son has died.” They would say thank you and hang up the phone. “But,” he added. “They still attend church every Sunday.” This is form of abandonment and is not Catholic practice at all and no Catholic should believe that it is.

Do I recommend this book? No, it is too superficial and even secular. What I do recommend is recognizing that regardless of the temptations you struggle with whether you are married or single, homo or heterosexual, struggling with an addiction or not, having a faith crisis or not, it does not matter: invite God into every aspect of your life and let Him lead you to the Kingdom in the way already He has set out for you. Know that no matter how saintly or vicious you may be, you will be called more and more into a deeper and deeper conversion. Meeting this challenge is what bears great fruit for the Kingdom of God.

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