Would You Just Try It For Lent?

As I write this, the president will reportedly announce his decision on DACA in the next 24 hours. If he continues to be true to form the decision will be a cruel one.

Justice and compassion for the children of DACA is personal for me. I know firsthand of the sacrifices and hardships they and their parents have made in order to have a new life here. I know firsthand of the contribution the immigrant community—whether documented or not—has made to the culture and community of both Los Angeles, the city where I’ve lived for 44 years and Denver, CO, the city where I was raised.

In the fall, winter, and spring of 1982-83, I suffered through an almost year long bout with suicidal depression. I was unemployed (and, at that time, probably unemployable) and low on funds. This was barely a year after my experience at the Camaldolese monastery where I had experienced the love and intimacy of God more deeply than I ever had before. I had plummeted from the ecstasy of that experience into the darkest time of my life. Many days I barely got out of bed.

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Holy Curiosity

In the almost ten months since I have begun posting weekly blogs, I’ve become aware that if there is a unifying theme to them—I say “if”—I believe it is freedom. I’ve been reflecting on what experiences in my lifetime have inspired my impulse to freedom. I track its inception back to my four year liberal arts education at Regis College (now University) in Denver and to two teachers, in particular. These two teachers, more than any others, encouraged—even insisted—that their students think outside the box.

The invaluable Merriam Webster dictionary app on my iPhone defines liberal arts as: The studies (as language, philosophy, history, literature, abstract science) in a college or university intended to provide chiefly general knowledge and to develop the general intellectual capacities (as reason and judgment) as opposed to professional or vocational skills.

The old joke about a liberal arts diploma was that it and a nickel would buy you a cup of coffee.

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I’m Being Called To Be What???

In February of 1979 I became acutely aware of the fact that I see things differently, that not everyone— maybe not anyone—sees the way I see. I don’t remember when I began to see the sacred in secular symbols. It always seemed normal to me and it didn’t occur to me for a very long time that not everyone saw things this way.

This way of seeing likely developed in high school and college where the Jesuits taught us “to seek the presence of God in all things,” a core spiritual practice of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.

I don’t remember committing to this practice consciously. Then in 1979 I attended the Advocate Experience, an intensive coming out workshop for LGBT community. A friend of mine recently referred to the encounter I had there as a “Baptism of Fire.”

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Do You Want To Risk Sending Your Parents To Hell For All Eternity?

Throughout my life I have been blessed with extraordinary teachers beginning in fourth grade with Sister Jane Mary, who, to my mother’s dismay, insisted all of her students have library cards and use them. Every other Friday afternoon the good Sister marched her class to the corner of the school playground where the blue bookmobile was parked. I loved checking out new books. The problem is that I almost always forgot to return the old ones. Overdue notices with two cents a day fines turned up regularly in the mailbox. My mother would mutter under her breath when she opened mail from the Denver Public Library and berate the good sister (never to her face) about how irresponsible it was to trust a nine-year-old with library card. “This is your last warning,” she would warn me, “from now on the fines are coming out of your allowance. If I get any more overdue notices, I’m tearing up your library card.” She never did.

I still have and regularly use my library card.

From the beginning it has been a gateway to freedom and the exploration of new and previously unimagined worlds and ideas. Reading, attending movies and being taken by my parents to see live touring companies of Broadway shows like Oklahoma, Carousel and South Pacific (before I was in my teens) all contributed to the creation of an inner world far more exotic (and as a child and adolescent far more fulfilling) than my outer one.

My father introduced me to adult literature when he recommended Herman Wouk’s World War Two novel The Caine Mutiny while I was still in grade school. I devoured it. Wouk’s next book, Marjorie Morningstar, was published my freshman year in high school. I was eager to read it although I had no idea what it was about. My mother, who did know what it was about, insisted I get permission from one of the Jesuit priests who taught at the high school. I took the book to Father Lander, the school librarian and told him my mother insisted I get permission before I read it.

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What is Mine To Do?

 

Franciscan friar, Father Richard Rohr is among the most challenging of contemporary spiritual teachers and a long-time favorite of mine. I have at least a dozen of his books on my bookshelves and a drawer filled with his recordings. His CD series, Great Themes of Paul, transformed every bias I had held about St. Paul and, seeing Paul from Richard’s perspective, have come to love and revere him.

For a while I was a Rohr groupie and showed up at every lecture, class or conference he gave in Southern California and I attended several weekend conferences that the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) presented in Albuquerque.

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The Most Beautiful Funeral I’ve Ever Seen

My friend, Joseph Kramer is a visionary and one of the most courageous people I know. Joseph studied for several years to be a Jesuit priest. Then he had his “aha” experience.

One of Joseph’s Jesuit housemates at the Jesuit Theologate in Berkeley, CA took massage training at the Esalen Institute near Big Sur, CA.. Upon his return, he offered to practice what he’d learned on his Jesuit housemates, including Joseph, who at the time was a scholar who lived largely in his head. During the course of the massage, Joseph, in my telling, experienced, for the first time, full incarnation, full embodiment—body, mind and soul perfectly aligned. (Joseph doesn’t dispute this.)

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Meditation Contemplation and Facebook

Fr. John McNeil S.J.

Father John McNeil, S. J. saved my life in the early 1970s and, nearly four decades later, blessed it. He was unaware of our first encounter, but not of the second.

In the late 1960’s—1968 to be exact—my bride Georgia and I moved to New York with visions of Broadway dancing in our heads. Were it not for Georgia I would never have had the courage to leave home (Denver) and pursue my dreams—dreams that I assumed were our dreams. I am indebted to her forever.

In 1973, Georgia asked for a divorce (in our therapist’s office), which completely blindsided me, as I had spent months planning a celebration of our fifth wedding anniversary.

I was left alone in the room with the elephant of my thus far unexpressed homosexual desires. Good Catholic boy that I was, I had never acted on them. Georgia and I lived in the West Village blocks from the Stonewall Inn and adjacent to Greenwich Avenue, at the time, the biggest cruising street in Manhattan. With my hand on a bible I can swear that it never occurred to me that those men were looking at me.

Without the vows I had made to God and Georgia, I was defenseless against my desires and, in no time at all, I was behaving like a kid in a candy store—and Manhattan, in those days before AIDs, was some candy store!

I went to confession and told a priest that I had had intimate relations with another man and I didn’t know what to do.

“It’s too late to do anything,” was his less than compassionate reply, “You’ve already done it!”

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Cognitive Dissonance and Conversion

st-teresa

In my last year of college (1963), Father Edward L. Maginnis S. J., the chairman of the theology department offered a seminar for seniors only. I don’t remember how the seminar was listed in the catalogue, but it was popularly known as “Can a Thinking Christian Be a Goldwater Republican.” This class had little to do with Barry Goldwater and everything to do with tweaking Edwin J. Feulner, the student body president who was a zealot and evangelist for the Goldwater brand of Republican conservatism. This was a somewhat quixotic endeavor to undertake on the campus of a Catholic men’s college during the Camelot years of John F. Kennedy’s presidency; the majority of students were resonating with Kennedy’s call to selfless service which aligned so perfectly with the principal raison d’etre of Jesuit education and formation: “to be a man for others.”

The key word in Father Magnnis’s course title is not, Christian, or Republican or even Goldwater; it is “Thinking”! Jesuits take some justified pride in teaching their students how to think thus abdicating forever the power to tell them what to think. Evidence of the Jesuits’ success and, perhaps, the mixed results can be found in the footnote.*

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