Fr. John's Letter Archives

Enjoy re-reading Fr. John's weekly bulletin letters for the past year.

He, She or...

06-07-2015Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

Admittedly I am stupefied by the lightening speed with which the issue of transgender and transsexual lifestyles has been normalized in our culture. The issue is probably best symbolized by the very public transformation of former Olympic Gold medalist Bruce Jenner known now as Caitlyn. The way in which the media has promoted his change to her with thunderous applause and the highest accolades outdoes any other historical issue in my lifetime. And as expected no journalist has dared to report on the dark underside of making such a lifestyle change. There are plenty of people who went down this road and deeply regret it (see: "Sex Change Surgery: What Bruce Jenner, Diane Sawyer and You Should Know" ).

This is a major cultural shift that is the crowning achievement of those who want to deconstruct the Judeo-Christian understanding of the human person. And I say cultural because culture is what drives everything: change the culture and you will change people's value system. Pope John Paul II understood this well and it is why he so heavily challenged us to shape a culture of life. Our efforts in that area have certainly born fruit, though there is still a long way to go. As with Abortion, trans/lifestyles, once you understand fully the issue and other solutions you have to ask yourself, "what really is the most loving thing to do" in order to help those with this struggle?

Recently I listened to a discussion that centered on the issue of religious practice and bigotry. The high water mark for Church attendance in the US was in the mid 1950's and at the same time our culture was teeming with bigotry, think of the Jim Crow laws. One of the debaters then concluded that this was proof that religious practice furthered bigotry since after all our society today is less religious and in his mind less bigoted. Well that is a stretch. If you look at the actual religious teachings and doctrines that were taught in the 1950's bigotry and discrimination were considered serious moral offences. Still religiously observant people certainly despite the teachings of their faith bought into the cultural mindset of the age. Or look at Germany in the years leading up to WWII. Hitler and the Third Reich changed the German culture that despite being mostly Lutheran and Christian got German Christians to be accepting of genocide and mass murder based mostly on race despite their obvious violation of the basic religious tenets of Christianity.

It is cultural and not religious values that most people will support when there is a contradiction. So in the 1950's even though the Church clearly taught that racism is sinful many Catholics were overt racists. I remember reading some of the documentation that was put together for the canonization of St. Katherine Drexel who opened schools for Blacks and Native Americans throughout the US and did so with her own money. She would always asked the local Bishop's permission before she opened a school in his diocese. One Bishop who was from the south (and this was in the 1930's) wrote back to her stating: "Madam, I may be a Christian and a gentleman but I am first and foremost a southerner, permission denied". Even for a Catholic Bishop the culture superseded the teachings of his religious practice.

Things are not much different today. When surveys are taken we learn that most Catholics go along with the culture on issues like contraception and abortion and now the redefinition of marriage despite the teaching of the Church. So it would seem that most people go along with the culture first and then whatever part of their religion that does not conflict with the culture. Granted it is hard to stand against the culture when required but that is at this point in history our calling as Christians.

That's why being a Christian is counter-cultural. Back in the last century plenty of Catholics stood against the racist values of the culture. St. Katherine Drexel was certainly one of them along with many Bishops who made sure their Catholic schools were integrated. And they paid the price of being vilified and marginalized, often cut off from the favor of the ruling classes.

So all this is to say that if you plan to adhere to current Church teaching you will be counter-cultural. Maybe this is why Jesus always referred to his followers as the "little flock" and the "salt of the earth" or the "leaven in the dough". We may not be many, that is the faithful who stay adhered to the Shepherd, but we will be the light of the world, offering clear guidance to those who seek to navigate the distorted vision of the human person that our culture so intensely promotes.

It's a long-term strategy and things may get worse before they get better. But success is not the measurement. All that is required is simple faithfulness. Simple but not easy.

Father John B.