“Lonely” Doesn’t Always Mean “Alone”

God uses our solitude to reveal Himself to us. But we have to let Him in.

Long, long ago, before I was born, there was a girl group called, believe it or not, the Dixie Cups, who had a hit song called “Chapel of Love.” There was a line in the song that said:

“We’ll love until the end of time, and we’ll never be lonely anymore.”

 Could it be? Is marriage the ultimate panacea for loneliness? Are married people really never, ever lonely?

A lot of single people believe it is. And a lot of formerly single people who married just to escape their loneliness have learned the hard way that it’s not.

Loneliness is a part of the human condition. Everyone experiences it. Sure, people who live isolated lives are sometimes lonelier that those who live with spouse and/or family. But not necessarily. Who hasn’t felt ever felt lonely even while surrounded by a crowd of people?

Apparently Pope John Paul II understands loneliness, too. (Not surprising, since he had lost his entire family by the time he was in his early 20’s.) He deals with it at length in his Theology of the Body. Since all of us – married, single, religious – experience loneliness, I thought it would be a good idea to take some time today to see what JPII has to say about it.

In the book of Genesis, God created Adam, “And it was very good.” Adam is created in the image and likeness of God. All of creation existed as a gift to Adam. And yet, the first thing God said after creating Adam was “It is not good for man to be alone.” Adam is created to give himself in love to another human person – and yet, there is no human person to whom he can give himself.

The Holy Father says that Adam was experiencing “original solitude.” He was realizing that he was different from the rest of creation. He had not just the capacity to give himself in love to another person – but the need to do so. JPII speaks of “personal subjectivity” – Adam needs to exist, not just in his own life, but in the lives of others as well.

But that “other” is nowhere to be found. Adam can’t create her. She will be a gift from God, and Adam must wait on that gift.

The Holy Father says that the waiting is important. Original solitude is important. To use a very un-theological phrase, “You don’t miss the water ‘til the well runs dry.” It is only in that original solitude that Adam discovers his capacity and his need for self-gift. Without that experience of loneliness, he wouldn’t be able to appreciate and treasure the gift of another human person in his life.

Eve is, of course, created for her own sake, not Adam’s. But her presence in Adam’s life is a gift from God, just as Adam’s presence in Eve’s life is a gift. But that gift, as beautiful as it is, does not completely overcome original solitude. Adam and Eve each stand alone before God, and no matter how close they may be to each other, that reality is never far from their minds. That other person cannot and will not fill the space in the heart that is meant for God alone.

Do you know why I love the Theology of the Body? Because we are Adam and Eve. It’s about us.

So our loneliness can be good. It helps us appreciate the gift of others in our lives. More important yet, it helps us get in touch with our need for God.
But that’s only the case if we use that loneliness. If we run from it, if we wallow in it, there’s no benefit.

How do we use it? I think I’ve found the answer to that in the writings of Gabrielle Bossis. She was a wealthy French woman – a single woman – who in the 1930’s began hearing locutions she believed were from Christ. Those locutions are recorded in a book called He and I. Whether you believe these messages were actually from Christ or not, the messages contained in them are astoundingly beautiful. For example, on loneliness, Christ says:

You do everything – work, prayers, thinking, talking – just as though I were there, and I actually am there. Don’t you find that infinitely wonderful? When you wake up, I’m there. When you rest, I’m there. So you can say, ‘He never leaves me alone.’ This is what makes your solitude divine. (p. 96)

Here’s what it all boils down to: We need to be alone in order to realize that we’re not alone. When we live in the state of grace, Christ is present to us. He’s not up in heaven listening to our prayers on some kind of two-way radio. He’s right here, at our side. He’s living every moment of our lives with us – loving us, caring about us. And He wants us to acknowledge Him, to love Him and talk to Him and share with Him.

It’s easy to see loneliness as a curse. I know I do. We want to run from it. We make busy work, watch TV – anything to escape from ourselves and our solitude. But I’m learning that perhaps I need to learn to run the other way – to run into the solitude.

Because sometimes God hides His best gifts in unexpected places.

The World’s First Online Class for Single Catholics

It’ll be practical, it’ll be fun, it’ll be taught by . . . me!

Well, the show I’ve had a love/hate relationship with for years is finally going off the air. Friends is finishing its final season.

It’s easy to see why I would have a problem with the show. The Friends’ morality was, well, a little too friendly. These six highly attractive characters had sex with virtually every person they dated. What’s worse, they gave the impression that this was normal dating behavior. That’s not a message I want young teenagers – or anyone – to see.

But it’s easy for me, as a single person, to see why the show is so popular. It’s very funny, of course, and the characters are so well developed that the viewers really do come to see them as friends. But, more important than that, the show is attractive to single people because, in many ways, it depicts single life as we wish it was.

The theme song of the show says “I’ll be there for you.” And they are. They live together. They eat together. They hang out together. Rarely is a Friend alone for long.

The average single person’s life, on the other hand, would make very bad TV. There are no charming or eccentric neighbors constantly popping in. Meals are often eaten in front of the tube (watching, ironically, Friends.) Single people are frequently alone – and that makes for a less-than-entertaining TV viewing experience.

I’ve been writing for quite some time about unmarried singles and their need for community. Pope John Paul II says that, as human persons, we are all called to life in “the communion of persons” – communities where we live, not just for ourselves, but with and for others. That “communion of persons” is built in for families, and for religious communities.

It’s a little tougher for the single person to find.

Parishes would seem like a natural place for single adults to find real, authentic community. After all, isn’t that what a Catholic faith community is supposed to be all about? But most Catholic parishes haven’t caught up with the demographics. Single adult Catholics didn’t exist as a population a generation or two ago. And so most parishes revolve almost exclusively around families. Singes wonder where they fit in – or if they fit in at all. Many parishes have “young adult” groups, but most of these cater to the twentysomething crowd, and are more socially than spiritually oriented.

As I said, I’ve written a whole lot of articles about this phenomenon. But beyond reminding people to acknowledge and include the singles around them, I haven’t been able to offer much by way of solutions. After all, I live in Denver, and other singles live all over the country, and there is no real way for me to offer anything to them.

Until now.

Thanks to the wonders of internet technology, and a partnership with the Heart, Mind and Strength University for Living (HMSU), this spring I will be offering the world’s first online course for single adult Catholics. It will be called “Flying Solo in a Noah’s Ark World,” and it will deal with the real issues that single adults face in trying to live out their faith on a daily basis.

First of all, this will not be an “academic” class with an emphasis on regurgitation of information. This will be a practical class, with an emphasis on understanding ourselves, and on building the skills to live more fulfilled lives. I want to go beyond the usual fare offered to singles and delve into the deeper questions singles ask. “Where do I fit into the Church?” ”Does God want me to be single?” “How do I find the love of my life?” “How should I live while I’m looking for the love of my life?” “How do I deal with loneliness?” “Where can I find community?”

More than that, I want this little class to foster community. I want to bring single people together, to share their hearts and share their lives. I want to help create a virtual “communion of persons.” 

It’ll be like our own little episode of Catholic Friends.

For more information, go to www.hmsu.com

Women and The Passion

Finally, Jesus is portrayed as a real, masculine man – who loved and respected women.

I saw The Passion of the Christ last night. I don’t think I’ve quite recovered yet.
It was an amazingly powerful experience. I knew it would be difficult for me, because I’m squeamish by nature. I closed my eyes a lot. By the time I left, my whole body hurt. 

But it was so, so worth it.

The overall point of the movie, of course, is almost too enormous to grasp. He went through all of that for me. He didn’t have to endure one minute of that torture. But he chose to, for me. And not only that, but He suffered because of me. My sins somehow put Him on that cross.

In my whole life, I’ll never fully absorb that.

I was particularly struck by several aspects of the movie. First of all, this is the first movie I remember where Jesus is portrayed as a truly masculine man. All of the other “movie Jesuses” I recall were sort of vaguely effeminate men with quiet voices and gentle mannerisms. This Jesus is a man. I like that. One would have to assume that, since Jesus was God made Man, he would perfectly embody the ideal of true masculinity. I don’t know who told all of these other producers that the masculine ideal is reflected in a wimpy guy with a faraway gaze, but I’m glad Mel Gibson saw it differently.

And, flowing from that, I was struck by the way He interacted with women. Granted, I was sort of “tuned” to that wavelength. Just last week I taught a class on Women in the Church. In preparing for the class, I leaned heavily on John Paul II’s apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem. The Holy Father, in that letter, discusses at length how Jesus related to and interacted with women. He respected them. He delighted in them. He befriended them. He showed interest in their opinions. He protected them. He made them His disciples. He constantly acknowledged their incredible dignity as image and likeness of God. 

It’s one thing to read that. It’s quite another to see it play out on the screen.

Toward the beginning of the film, there is a charming flashback where we see Jesus playfully teasing His mother. I loved that scene. Jesus is so real, and the genuine human love between Him and His mother is so beautiful to see.

In another flashback, Jesus is delivering the Sermon on the Mount, in which he admonished his listeners to “love your enemies, pray for your persecutors.” Important, of course. But it also reminded me of another admonition He gave in that same Sermon: “You have heard it said ‘thou shalt not commit adultery.’ But I tell you, any man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart.”

I’ve always known that is a powerful, important scripture passage. John Paul II based the whole second series of his Theology of the Body on that line. But in the context of this strong, loving, masculine Jesus, it takes on a whole new depth. It’s as if He’s saying “These beautiful women are created in My image and likeness. Not only are you not to abuse them – you are not to entertain ideas about abusing them. They are precious in my sight, they are entrusted to you and you are to respect and treasure them.”

And then there was the scene where the adulteress is being stoned. I never saw so clearly before how Christ is protecting her – a strong, compassionate man standing up to an angry mob on behalf of a woman who is considered “unclean.”
All of this was such food for thought for me. We live in a culture that still can’t figure out what to do with women. Some see us as “objects” to be used for sexual gratification. (Or, in the “religious” version of that error, they see us as objects that they’re not allowed to use for gratification – we’re more like “walking occasions of sin” who must be avoided as much as possible.) Others see us as some form of “alternative men” who won’t find fulfillment unless we’re acting like men and doing their work.

Jesus saw (and sees) us for what we are – His image and likeness. He loves us and respects us as women. Maybe knowing He sees us that way can help us see ourselves that way.

As we were leaving, I though about Ephesians 5. You know, where Paul says, “Wives be submissive to your husbands.” Men love to quote that passage. Of course, they always forget the passage that comes after it: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself up for her.” Somehow, I doubt that men who have seen The Passion will be casually throwing that passage around any more. This whole ‘gave Himself up’ part could be a little more difficult than they had anticipated.

See the movie. Look at Jesus, and at how He gazes at each soul – women and men -- with whom he comes into contact. Look at the way He suffers. And tell yourself one thing, over and over:

“He did this for me.”

MTV Meets the REAL “Real World”

Jackson and Timberlake showed the world how low the "entertainment” industry has sunk.

I was almost ready to send Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake a thank you note.

Don’t get me wrong. Like the rest of America, I was appalled at their vulgar, tasteless “wardrobe malfunction” during the Super Bowl halftime show. And, for the record, I don’t believe anything “malfunctioned,” except perhaps the parts of their brains that regulate stupid decisions. I believe they knew exactly what was going to happen. 

So why the thank-you note? What good could I possibly see coming out of such a tasteless debacle?

It’s quite simple. For the first time, Middle America really met the MTV elite who have been out to influence their children. And those insulated elites met the Middle America they didn’t really know existed.

And neither one liked the other very much.

Most people my age still think of MTV as the music video network we watched in high school or college. It’s songs with little skits. Sure the women may be a bit scantily clad, and the lyrics might be a bit suggestive, but it’s no big deal. After all, the suggestive lyrics will go right over kids’ heads, just like they went right over our heads when we were younger. (I was 25 years old before I realized that Peter Frampton’s “I’m In You” was about sex.) They don’t watch MTV themselves, but they don’t see any harm in letting their kids watch it.

Well, on Super Bowl Sunday, you got a glimpse of your children’s MTV. Not what you expected, was it?

It wasn't just the “wardrobe reveal” that was problematic. The whole show was tasteless. Kid Rock wore an American flag as a shawl. Justin Timberlake groped Ms. Jackson as he sang about having her naked by the end of the song. That’s not suggestive -- it’s obscene. And it’s not the kind of obscenity that’s going to go over any child’s head. It’s blatant.

Jackson and Timberlake both admit that they planned a “surprise” for the end of the show. The claim that the “wardrobe reveal” wasn’t supposed to be as revealing as it was – that Jackson was only supposed to be stripped down to a little red bra. I don’t buy it. As a friend of mine put it, “Do you think she was wearing one of those ring thingies on the other side?” I doubt it. And, as they walked off stage, Justin Timberlake was reportedly smiling and telling reporters “We love to give y’all something to talk about.” It was only after he began hearing the negative feedback that he expressed remorse.

Oh, and one more thing about that walk off stage. Janet Jackson’s “people” met her and wrapped her in a red, white and blue blanket to cover her up. Did they just happen to find that blanket lying around backstage? Or did they have it there because they knew what was going to happen? And why cover up anyway? Ms. Jackson had just flashed 72,000 fans in the stadium, and another 80 million or so at home. Why the sudden attack of modesty in front of a few stagehands?

So why would these two cook up a scheme like this? Because, in their world, it’s the way things are done. Jackson is releasing a new CD. Timberlake apparently just wants attention. In their world, you get attention by “pushing the envelope” just a little further, shocking the audience.

But they forgot who their audience was.

MTV’s primary audience is young, impressionable kids and adults who still think like young impressionable kids. In that world, singing about getting naked is commonplace. A girl would have to expose a breast (or French-kiss Madonna) to get any attention. 

But Super Bowl fans are not MTV fans. They’re the parents of the MTV fans – the parents who didn’t know what was happening on MTV. 

But now they do. And they don’t like it.

I think Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake honestly thought this was “no big deal” – or at least not the big deal it turned out to be. They live in an insulated “entertainment industry” world. They hang out with “entertainment industry” friends. And that world doesn’t hold the same values that the rest of us hold. Cameron Diaz, Timberlake’s girlfriend, saw “nothing wrong” with the show. People magazine is calling Timberlake, Jackson and MTV all ‘winners’ in this scandal.

Are they winners? Will their little stunt pay off? They will if they get what they wanted – more attention, more record sales and more money.

It’s up to us to see that doesn’t happen. Janet Jackson’s new CD, Damita Jo, is about to be released. Don’t buy it. Justin Timberlake is about to sign a multi-million dollar endorsement deal with McDonalds. Email the people at McDonalds and tell them that, if Timberlake goes on as a spokesman for the company, you’ll be searching elsewhere for your happy meals. FCC chairman Michael Powell has brought the matter before Congress. Let your congressperson know what you think.

Don’t let vulgarity pay.

Prayers for Fr. Benedict

The world still needs him. And so do I.

I want to tell you about one of my heroes.

His name is Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR. He is a Franciscan priest -- the founder, in fact, of his order, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. He is a psychologist – easily the most insightful, brilliant Catholic psychologist I have ever known. He is a deeply holy, wonderful man who has given his life to Christ’s Church, and in particular to Christ’s poor.

And, as I write this, he is lying in a hospital bed, fighting for his life.

On January 11, Fr. Benedict was struck by a car while crossing a street near the Orlando, Florida airport. He sustained numerous broken bones and a significant head injury. And, as a result of the trauma, this 70 year old priest with a weak heart suffered a heart attack.

Since that time, Fr. Benedict has been unconscious, in a “medical fog” from the medications given to dull his pain, protect his heart and keep him alive. I am told that he has recently begun to open his eyes, mouth words and slowly emerge from the “fog.” God willing, by the time you read this, his long road to recovery will have progressed further.

Many, many thousands of people are praying for Fr. Benedict. Many of you are familiar with him and his work. But, for those of you who aren’t, or who are hearing all of this talk and not exactly sure who this man is, I wanted to share a little of what I know about the man. It’s a difficult task, because he has done so much, so beautifully, in so many different areas. So many who’ve know him better could say so much more. My experience with him has been in the realm of psychology and chastity. Thousands of others could tell of his work with the poor, with priests, and other missions and activities I don’t even know about. But he has had a profound impact on me, and I want to share that.

I first became acquainted with the work of Fr. Benedict back when I started giving talks on chastity. I was reading everything I could find on the subject, so of course I bought his The Courage to be Chaste. I fell in love with this little book. I maintain to this day that it is the best book ever written on the subject of chastity.

Having worked with many, many people who were struggling mightily with chastity, I wanted to understand that struggle better. I want to simply say “try harder.” I wanted to understand why people who understand chastity, who want to live it, sometimes fail so consistently. Fr. Benedict’s book did that. Of course, as I write this, I can hear him saying, “It’s called Original Sin.” And it is. But Fr. Benedict never stops there. He synthesizes spirituality and psychology in a way no one else does. He helps make sense of it all. And his insights brought a depth and an understanding to my work that I would never have found on my own.

In the early 90’s, I spoke at a conference where Fr. Benedict was also speaking. I desperately wanted to meet him. At the speakers’ dinner, he was mobbed by other who, like me, wanted to introduce themselves. It’s never been my style to jump into a fray like that, so I just sat down at the table and said “God, if you want me to meet him, you’re going to have to arrange it.” A few minutes later he walked over, sat down next to me and said, “So I understand I’m supposed to introduce you before your talk. I suppose I should get to know you a little.”

That was one of the best gifts God has ever given me.

I’ve seen Fr. Benedict at many events since then. I always think he won’t remember me. And he always does. We’ve chatted over coffee. He’s advised me on my ministry. I haven’t spent a lot of time with him, but he’s been a huge influence on my work. Whenever I’m writing or speaking about the psychological influences behind our efforts to live chastity, I’m drawing on the insights I’ve gained from Fr. Benedict.

Ironically, I’m writing this column not from my home in Denver, but from Washington DC. I’m here for the week. Why? Because I was registered to attend a week long class on Psychology and Spirituality at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences. It was to be an entire semester class, crammed into five very full days. It was to be taught by Fr. Benedict Groeschel.

Obviously the class was cancelled. I was devastated to hear of the accident on so many levels – because I love Fr. Benedict, because he does so much for so many in this world – but selfishly, because I had been so excited to take this class. Can you imagine? An entire week of “sitting at his feet” absorbing this great man’s wisdom. It would have been amazing.

As I said, as of this writing Fr. Benedict has taken a very encouraging turn. He is responding. He seems to be out of immediate danger. His friars are asking for prayers for a full, complete recovery. I join them so wholeheartedly in that prayer. The world is not ready to lose Fr. Benedict. He has so much to teach us – about God, about love, about ourselves.

Please pray for Fr. Benedict Groeschel.

For more information on Fr. Benedict’s condition, go to www.franciscanfriars.com

We’re the Catholic Church, Not MTV

Teenagers don’t want flash. They want the truth.

I’ve been working with teenagers for 18 year. Yes, eighteen years – since I was barely out of my teens myself. I’ve learned a lot about teenagers in those 18 years. One of the most important lessons I learned early, and it’s been reinforced ever since.

I remember one of the first talks I ever gave – at St. Finn Barr’s school in San Francisco. The teachers told me that the kids, collectively, had a very short attention span. Twenty minutes was as long as they could possibly listen. I assured the teachers that I’d watch for signs of fidgeting, and wrap up the talk as soon as I sensed I was losing their attention.

An hour and a half later, the kids had already voluntarily skipped recess, and they were begging to skip lunch so they could keep listening.

I had no visual aids, no multi-media presentations, no sock puppets with cute messages. I'm just myself, sharing the truth with them. And they were eating it up. 
When I move in youth ministry circles, I hear a lot of talk about how “this generation” needs a lot of stimulation. They were raised on Sesame Street and MTV. They can’t or won’t focus for long. Everything has to be high tech, loud, and multi-media. If we want to deliver a message to them, we have to dazzle them.

I disagree.

Yes, that talk I gave at St. Finn Barr’s happened 18 year ago. Those kids are nearing 30 today. (Oh, good heavens. I feel faint.) But the kids I spoke to last week and last month are no different. In fact, the only difference is that I’m older, and theoretically more “out of touch” with their generation.

I still give them no music, no multi-media presentation, no extreme sports demonstration. I’m just a (gulp) middle-aged woman talking to them about God’s plan for sex and love. And they still listen -- for a long time. When I have no time constraints on a talk, I usually speak for about an hour an fifteen minutes. I gave one last year that ran over an hour and a half – to several thousand teenagers. They were with me the whole time. The talk ended with a standing ovation.

I’ve been giving talks for 18 years. I know when an audience is fidgety. I speak at the occasional all-school assembly where the audience is captive and half of them would rather be outside smoking or shooting hoops. Those talks don’t run so long. But a vast, vast majority of my teen audiences stay enthusiastically connected for an hour or more.

Please understand, I’m not bragging. If I were the creator of the subject matter that keeps them spellbound, I would be justified in bragging. But I’m not.
I’m trying to make a simple point. God’s truth is simple, and it’s powerful. Teenagers – and adults – are hungry for that truth. When we’re presenting that truth, we don’t have to apologize for it, and we don’t have to wrap it up in a lot of MTV style hype.

If you don’t believe me, listen to them. I’ve had teenagers come to me, concerned about an upcoming event, and say, “We just don’t want it to be a typical youth event with a lot of flash. We just want substance.”

That’s not to say teenagers aren’t picky about what they hear, or that they’ll sit through just any old talk. They hate condescension and they can spot hypocrisy a mile away. They’re a lot more likely to trust someone who treats them with respect, and who understands their experience. A little humor helps. And no one speaking to teens should ever, ever try to act like a teenager unless the word for his or her age actually ends in “teen.” Otherwise they’ll be laughed off the stage.

But a sincere, articulate, spirit-filled person doesn’t need any high-tech “props.” Teens see that stuff all day long – and most of what they see is a much higher quality than we could ever reproduce. We’re the Catholic Church, for crying out loud. Why would we want to compete with MTV? We don’t have the budget for it. 

Bear in mind, I have no objections to well-produced multi-media presentations, or to extreme sports demonstrations or anything else. They aren’t immoral or objectionable in themselves. Go ahead and use them if you really want to. Just don’t offer them instead of substance, don’t let them drown out the message, and don’t feel obligated to use them or buy into the idea that teens won’t listen to you without them.

Today’s youth aren’t hungry for multi-media presentations or extreme sports. They’re hungry for love, hungry for the truth.

And we’ve got that.

Right to Die or Right to Kill?

Terri Schiavo needs protection, not starvation

I’m getting tired of hearing how “right wing zealots” are denying Terri Schiavo her constitutional “right to die.”

For those of you unfamiliar with the Schiavo case, let me summarize. In 1990, a 26-year-old woman named Terri Schiavo collapsed in her home. No one knows why. She lapsed into a coma, from which she emerged several weeks later. Since that time, she has been in what doctors call a “locked in” state. According to her family’s web site, “she is responsive to stimuli, interacts with her environment and her loved ones and is capable of communicating in limited ways. . .”

After emerging from her coma, Terri’s doctors noted her efforts to speak and her responsiveness to external stimuli. She was able to eat Jell-O and was speaking words. But after a 1993 court settlement awarded Terri 1.2 million dollars, her husband and guardian Michael Schiavo – who had promised to use the money to rehabilitate and care for Terri “for the rest of her life” -- ordered that her rehabilitative therapy be stopped. As a result, Terri once again lost the ability to eat, and a feeding tube was inserted nourish and hydrate her. In 1998 Schiavo petitioned the circuit courts of Pinellas County, Florida to end her life by removing her feeding tube. After a protracted legal battle between Schiavo and Terri’s parents, the court ordered in the fall of 2003 that the tubes be removed. They were indeed removed, which would have caused Terri to die of starvation and dehydration within 10 to 14 days. But Florida governor Jeb Bush and the state legislature intervened, passing “Terri’s Law” and requiring the reinsertion of the tubes while the matter is examined more thoroughly.

And so Terri Schiavo’s life hangs in the balance.

Many in the media are hailing this as a “right to die” case. They say that Terri is in persistent vegetative state, that she has no hope of meaningful life, and that she should be allowed to die.

But make no mistake – this is most definitely not a right-to-die case. It’s a right-to-kill case. And the stakes are high, not just for Terri, but for all of the vulnerable, disabled people of the world.

First of all, numerous doctors have observed that Terri is not in a persistent vegetative state. The state of Florida defines persistent vegetative state as "a permanent and irreversible state of unconsciousness in which there is an absence of voluntary or cognitive behavior and an inability to interact purposefully with one's environment." Terri is in no such condition. Videotapes show Terri closely watching her family’s movement, verbalizing in response to questions, responding to simple commands, and laughing when listening to her favorite music. No fewer than ten physicians are on record with the court saying that Terri was aware and her condition could improve with therapy. In fact, a Nobel nominee in medicine, Dr. William Hammesfahr, has offered to treat her and provide her rehabilitation without charge.

And then there are the issues surrounding her guardian and husband, Michael Schiavo. Schiavo has repeatedly denied Terri the rehabilitative therapy recommended by medical professionals treating her. He has also repeatedly ordered that Terri not be treated for life-threatening infections, and blocked “swallowing tests” that would determine whether Terri could be taught to eat without her feeding tubes. Schiavo has also blocked tests that would determine if Terri sustained bone damage around the time of her collapse, clarifying lingering suspicions that her collapse may have been the result of abuse at Schiavo’s hand.

In 1995 Schiavo moved in with girlfriend Jodi Centonze, and in 1997 the two announced their engagement. The couple, still cohabitating, now have two children together. And yet Schiavo refuses to divorce Terri.

And what of Terri’s wishes? Schiavo and his brother claim that, in casual conversation, they heard Terri say that she wouldn’t want to be ‘kept alive by machines.” Her parents vigorously deny that she ever made any such comments. 
Even if Terri expressed such a wish, was it an offhand comment or something she had reflected deeply upon? And was she really saying that she’d want to starve to death? Those close to her believe that she is now making every effort to communicate that she does not want to die.

Terri Schiavo is aware of her surroundings. She feels pain. And starvation is not a painless way to die. It is, in fact, a particularly torturous and cruel death.

No, this case is not about the right of a terminally ill person to refuse useless life-prolonging treatment. It is about the right of an adulterous, neglectful and possibly abusive husband to sentence his wife to a slow, excruciating death.

If Michael Schiavo prevails, Terri will not be the only victim. The world will become a far more dangerous place for all of those who are disabled and unable to speak for themselves.

Someday, that could be you or me.

For more information, go to www.terrisfight.org

Should JPII resign?

The Pope’s continued presence in office teaches us some things we don’t necessarily want to learn.

I listened to my “favorite” radio talk show the other day. It’s the same one I wrote about last year, the show whose host considers himself an “expert” on Catholicism because he converted briefly in order to marry his now ex-wife. He’s the one who called the Pope “Carl Wojciehowicz,” apparently confusing him with the dimwitted detective on the 1970’s sitcom Barney Miller.

Well, he’s at it again. He thinks the Pope should resign. Yes, our resident authority on all things Catholic believes that it’s time for the Holy Father to step down. Why? Because it’s “bad PR” – it doesn’t “look good” to have such an aging, infirm man leading an enormous institution like the Catholic Church.

Normally, I wouldn’t think twice about the rantings of such an obviously ignorant person. But I’m bothered for one simple reason – he’s not the only person I’ve heard make this suggestion. Other people -- people I consider good, faithful Catholics -- have also suggested to me that they believe it’s time for the Holy Father to hand the reigns over to someone younger. They see John Paul II -- obviously old and infirm – and wonder if he is still “up to” the task. They believe the Church would look better and more in touch with the world with someone younger and more dynamic at the helm.

Of course, everyone is entitled to his own opinion. But it occurs to me that the people calling for the Pope’s resignation don’t really understand the Papacy. And they definitely don’t understand the phenomenon that is Pope John Paul II.

It’s natural for us, as Americans, to view to Papacy as primarily a political office. And what are politics about in post-Camelot America? Perception. Popularity. Polls. It’s not about what they’re doing. It’s about what they appear to be doing. They hire stylists and publicists and “image consultants” – all so that the public perceives them in some sort of culturally acceptable way. They’re simply trying to tap into popular culture and deliver what they believe that culture wants.

And our culture wants youth. Vigor. Sex appeal.

John Paul II obviously has none of those. He is an old and very sick man. He’s clearly suffering. When we see him in public, he doesn’t like he’s doing much of anything. His face lacks expression. He can barely speak. When I saw him in the spring of 2001, I though “If I felt like he looks like he feels, I’d just want to get out of here and climb into bed.” It’s hard to imaging him running a vast and complex institution like the Catholic Church. 

But he is. Quite effectively, according to insiders close enough to know. His mind is still razor sharp. He still maintains his daily schedule. He gets up at some hideously early hour every morning, prays and celebrates Mass. He participates actively in the administration of the Church. He writes. He travels. 

But he’s doing something else as well. He’s very deliberately teaching us something. He knows that our modern culture worships youth, health and beauty. Because of that, we tend to shun the sick and the elderly. We move them into homes where we don’t have to face their weakness and infirmity. We lobby for their “right” to die and get out of our way. We see no value in their experience and wisdom, and we certainly see no value in their suffering.

John Paul II is forcing us to face that which we try to avoid. He’s old. He’s sick. He’s suffering. And yet, he refuses to go away quietly. He still has something to offer us – his holiness, his wisdom, his incredibly gifted mind. In remaining in his office – and in the public eye – he reminds us that all of the elderly, the sick and the infirm have something to offer us. They aren’t “defectives” to be hidden out of sight. They are the image and likeness of God, living among us. 

Which brings us to the deeper lesson of John Paul II. The papacy isn’t a political office. It is primarily a spiritual office. The Pope is an alter Christus. He is Christ’s presence on earth. What did Christ do? He suffered. He suffered because He loved. He gave Himself – down to the very last drop of blood – out of his all encompassing love and compassion for His people. Our redemption came, not just through His life, but through His suffering. Through Him, we find meaning in our own suffering. We can unite that suffering to His, and thus participate in His act of redemption.

That’s what John Paul II is doing. He knows there is work to be done. He wants to make the biggest difference he can, to bring as many of us to Christ as possible, before he passes on to his eternal reward. And so he continues to push himself, to spend himself down to the very last ounce of his strength – for us.

Personally, that’s the kind of guy I’d like to keep around as long as possible.

You Are the Company You Keep

If you want to be more like Christ, try “hanging out” with him more often

So I owe you another column on prayer, don’t I?

Last time, we talked about why we pray. Prayer isn’t about obligation, about “saying your prayers” and getting enough words in to earn points with God. Prayer is about relationship – about being with the One who loves us. And He does love us – madly and passionately. He delights in our company. He wants us to come to Him.

Yes, prayer is about deepening that relationship. But that’s only the beginning. Through that relationship, we change. You know that old saying “I can tell who you are by the company you keep”? Nowhere is that more true than in the spiritual life. Spending time with God makes us more like God. Spending time with Christ makes us more Christ-like.

How does that work? Several ways. First of all, there’s the time we spend prayerfully meditating on His Word in Scripture. The goal of any relationship is to get to know the other better, right? But that’s a little tricky with God, since we can’t just go out for coffee with Him and chat about every little thing. Oh, He comes along whenever we go out for coffee. And He listens when we chat about every little thing. But the two-way communication gets a little tricky, what with God being primarily spirit and all. It’s hard to hear Him when He talks back.

That’s why, to learn about Him, we need to study is revelation to us – the Scriptures. He wants us to know Him – enough that He revealed Himself to His chosen people, and later came down to earth to introduce Himself in person and save us from the mess we’d gotten ourselves into. And, so that people of all generations could know Him, he gave us a divinely inspired record of His revelation – the Sacred Scriptures.

So reading the Scriptures is kind of like chatting with God at the coffee shop. It’s the best way to get to know Him as He really is. It’s the best assurance we have that the God we know and understand in our heads is the real God, and not just someone we’ve made up in our heads and we’re calling “God.”

Thus the importance of reading Scripture prayerfully. When we sit in His presence and ask for His grace, He speaks to us through His Word. And that helps us to know Him better.

Prayer also changes our will. Most of us pray when we want something. We beg and plead and grovel and make all kinds of promises if God will just give us this one tiny little request. And there’s nothing really wrong with that. God wants us to come to Him with our needs. Jesus told all kinds of parables about people knocking and nagging.

But prayer is much more than a 1-800-CALL GOD request line. He doesn’t always give us what we want. But He gives us what we need – and He knows much better than we do what that is.

So implicit in any prayer is asking God to bend our will to His. We want what we want because we want it. He sees the big picture, and knows what is really best for us. That may not be what we want at the moment. But given how much He loves us, we can be sure that what we really should want is what He wants for us.

So prayer builds our relationship with God. It helps us to get to know Him, and it makes us more like Him. Essentially, in prayer, God gives us gifts. Graces. And that’s good.

All of which leads to the question: how should we pray?

This is the part I always struggled with. What am I supposed to be doing while I’m praying? How do I keep my mind from wandering? What is supposed to be happening? Am I supposed to be having some kind of ecstatic mystical experience like the saints were always having?

This is one area where spiritual direction has really helped me. First of all, my primary prayer time doesn’t happen at home any more. It happens in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. As my spiritual director told me, “The wall doesn’t become Jesus.” The Blessed Sacrament does. I’m physically with Him.

What do you do when you’re there? It almost doesn’t matter. Sit in His presence. Talk to Him – about what you’re feeling, what you’re struggling with, what’s going on in your life. Tell him about your loved ones. Sit in silence and listen to Him. Say prayers that help you focus on Him. Read Scripture. Read the works of the saints. Write in a prayer journal.

Most importantly, don’t worry too much about it. Just show up. Try to go every day if you can. Stay long enough (at least 15 minutes) to let your mind slow down and focus on Him. Don’t go looking for great spiritual experiences. Just ask Him to take the lead. 

And whether anything “happens” or not, know that you spent time with the One you love -- the One who loves you.

Older Women/Younger Men?

It's a hot new trend. But do either of them understand what relationships are really about?

So is it a bad sign when the AARP starts talking about your dating life?
The AARP, for the young and unenlightened, is the American Association of Retired Persons. They really have no relevance to me on any level except the fact that I’m American and a person. As much as I love the concept of retirement, I’m nowhere remotely near the age where anyone would expect me to retire, or even to seriously plan for retirement. (Okay, I’m sort of doing that. But my current retirement savings wouldn’t keep me in peanut butter and jelly for a year.)
And yet, they recently released a study on dating that lumped people my age together with people their age. Maybe they’re trying to appeal to a younger audience, or to get people used to saying “dating” and “AARP” in the same sentence.

The article was about how older women are dating younger men. It created an interesting picture in my head. It seemed to me that any woman the AARP would refer to as “older” would be one very elderly broad. I imagined a young, muscled stud pushing her wheelchair with one hand while holding her oxygen tank with the other.

Not quite. They featured a picture of Hollywood’s new “it” couple – 40 year old Demi Moore and 25 year old Ashton Kutcher.


But Demi and Ashton have obviously started some kind of trend, because the next day in the grocery store I saw a headline on the cover of Oprah Winfrey’s magazine: “Younger Men! Enjoy One Today.” 

What an appealing headline. Younger men are now apparently the dating equivalent of an ice-cold Coke.

This article summed up the mentality of the older women/younger men trend quite nicely. It was written by a 45 year old woman married to a 31 year old man. She’s quite enthused about the “benefits” of younger men. They lack “emotional baggage” because they haven’t lived on the planet long enough to acquire an ex-wife or a string of ex-girlfriends. Nor have they been here long enough to acquire bad backs or stiff joints. They can fix your computer because they grew up playing at the keyboard. And, best of all, because they didn’t grow up with stay-at-home mothers, they don’t mind marrying a woman who expects to have a career.

I was struck on a couple of levels. The whole article was about what he (younger man) could do for you (older woman.) In fact, it struck me that most of the complaints she had about older men (read: men her own age) were the same complaints these younger men would probably have about her. Aging body, emotional baggage – are women suddenly immune? Estee Lauder can only do so much to help. In the end, Mother Nature wins every time.

I’ve always told teenagers that the main problem with young girls dating much older men is that men like that don’t want a woman, they want a child. And when the child inevitably becomes a woman, they’re no longer interested in her. The same works here. These healthy young studs will age. I don’t know, maybe these older women are just assuming they’ll be dead by then. Heaven help these men if the old broads are still around.

And these men don’t “expect” their wives to stay at home? First of all, the problem with this scenario is that these same men actually expect their wives to work. They don’t expect to have to support a family. They were raised believing that a wife has to “carry her own weight” financially. They see no value to the stay-at-home mother role.

Of course, it all seems moot to me anyway, since a majority of these well-past-forty women couldn’t give these younger men children without donor eggs and rental wombs anyway.

It was the perfect summary of what’s wrong with dating today. It’s all about the consumer mentality. What can you do for me? How could you bring me pleasure right now? I don’t see a whole lot of interest in the future. Even marriage is simply “taking the next step” -- moving the benefits into the house for convenience.

Marriage, as I understand it, isn’t about “what can you do for me?” It’s about total self-donation. It’s about the dignity and well-being of the other person. It’s about dying to self for the sake of the other, and for the family that comes from that union.

Age-wise, I honestly don’t care who marries whom. Yes, big age-gaps look weird – regardless of who is “May” and who is “December.” But I’m much more interested in their attitude towards each other. Do they see marriage as self-donation – as dying to self for the sake of the other person? Do they truly see themselves as linked to the other, for better or for worse, for life?

Or are they just looking to “enjoy each other” today?