Lowering the Flag: Confessions of an Ex-Confederate

Posted August 28th, 2015 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

By Robert Fontana

I am an ex-Confederate raised in the Southern Confederacy.  True, the South did lose the war against “Northern Aggression” in 1865, but that just ended the political states that formed the Confederate States of America.  Confederate culture continued throughout the South, reinforced by Jim Crow laws and segregation until, in my judgment, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (though it continues culturally in many areas).  That’s 100 years of Confederate culture thriving in the 11 states that seceded from the Union including my own home state, Louisiana.

I say am an “Ex-Confederate” because I fully identified with this Confederate culture without any awareness of how it was held together by institutionalized racism and terror against Blacks.  I grew up, like many White Southerners, lamenting the “Lost Cause,” the Confederate defeat by those “no good, lying Yankees,” yet grateful to live in the United States, and very glad that slavery was ended.  It was not until about 15 years ago that I retired my confederate flag, folded it up, and stored it away.  I did this after years of spiritual direction and soul searching that helped me unravel an ugly truth about my upbringing that became undeniable: I was bred by my Southern culture to believe in White superiority.  My parents did not intend this, my church and the Catholic schools I attended did not intend this, but the culture in which I was raised did.

How did White supremacy make its way into my consciousness?  Here’s how:  I never heard my father tell a racial joke, but I did hear both his friends and mine tell them.  I have no memory of my parents ever using the word, “Nigger;” instead they said, “the Colored woman” or “the Colored man,” but my neighbors and friends used the “N” word.  If I was doing a job and was not doing it right, it would be common for my boss to say, “That’s a nigger-rig job; do it again.”  If there was a “Colored” who did things right, it was not uncommon for someone to say, “He’s Black on the outside, but White on the inside.”  If I called a White person who was an adult by his first name, my mother would have smacked me.  It was Mr. Mike or Miss Kay.  But I could call a Colored person who was an adult by his first name.  I later learned the reason for this was because as a White boy, I was thought to be the equal of a Colored adult, but not a White adult.

The annual fall festival weekend in our small town had two parades, the Colored parade on Friday night and the White parade on Saturday.  My dad was a band director, and his band always marched in the Saturday parade.  I remember going to the Colored parade as a child.  Even then I could see that their uniforms were poor, worn, and wrinkled, very different from what my father’s band members were wearing.  We had one movie theater in our town.  Colored people had to enter through the alley; Whites went through the front door.  There was a Black Catholic grade school in my hometown that was just 2-3 miles from my home.  I never saw it.  Our Catholic school had nothing to do with the Catholic school for Colored children.

As a child, I read stories about Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in the same way that I read stories about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  They were American heroes, not simply Southern heroes.  Our family visited the Vicksburg battlefield when I was a boy.  I have a vivid memory of being in awe of a Confederate soldier who came up to speak with us.  I thought he was real.  We brought home Confederate hats, money, and swords, and came home ready to fight the war again.  Mom and Dad gave us “the Blue and the Gray” toy set for Christmas, and the Civil War was fought from after midnight Mass until four in the morning.

While on a school trip to Washington D.C. and New York City, we passed through Tennessee. There, I bought my first Confederate battle flag, one similar to the flag removed from the South Carolina statehouse.  It was…well…big, about the size of a large picture window.  I “flew” it in my room at home, and later in my dorm room in the seminary.  I had no idea that for many people it meant racism, the KKK, and White supremacy.  I flew it with the same sort of pride that I did when waving an American flag on the 4th of July.  When I was a freshman in the seminary, a Black student from Alabama came walking into my room.  There was old Dixie hanging in all its glory.  He said, “What’s that?”  I said, “Cool, huh?”  I was clueless as to what it might mean for him.

Thankfully, he and another Black student could see that I was a benign racist.  They befriended me and began to teach me about their experience of being Black in our American society and in our Catholic Church.  I went to Catholic and Baptist churches serving the Black community.  I listened to stories of prejudice and abuse.  I read books such as Black Like Me by J.H. Griffin and Why We Can’t Wait by Dr. M.L. King, Jr.  And I sought help in spiritual direction.

It took me a long time to come to see that the problem was not about racism and White supremacy in the culture; the problem was about racism and White supremacy in me.  I was bred by Southern culture to believe that Whites were superior to all people of color but especially Blacks, and I carried some of that thinking in me.  I had to admit, though I did not want to, that the Confederate flag carried that meaning as well.  The flag did not simply mean pride in the “Lost Cause” to create a new nation 150 years ago, but also prejudice and mistreatment of Blacks today.

This was driven home to me one day when I bumped into an old friend of my parents while visiting family in south Louisiana.  My brother and I had just returned from touring the Civil War battlefield at Port Hudson, Louisiana.  A significant aspect of this battle was that it was the first time that Colored soldiers were sent into combat for the Union Army.  The battle was a disastrous baptism of fire for these ill-trained soldiers, and hundreds were slaughtered by Rebel gunners.  My brother mentioned to me that this older family friend was a “Confederate general” as part of a group of Civil War re-enactors.  When I saw him, I asked him about his re-enactor’s role and then told him about our trip to Port Hudson.  This was his startling response: “We kicked the niggers then, and we will kick them again.”

I was stunned.  I saw hate in this man’s eyes and heard it in his voice.  He was not re-enacting the past, but living in the now.  I took my flag down.  That was over 15 years ago.  I am still very interested in Civil War history and still enjoy reading about Stonewall Jackson and his Valley Campaign, General Taylor and his Louisiana Tigers.  I also admit, if anyone asks, that I am a “recovering racist.”  I am very well aware of how I was raised. This awareness helps me pay attention to treating all people who are different from me with dignity and respect.   But this is not enough. I must confront the institutions and customs that are carriers of bigotry and hate, and flying the Confederate flag is such a custom.  It is past time to take it down.

__________________________________

Please join us for our fall retreat day – “For Freedom Christ Set us Free”  Galatians 5:1

Sunday, October 11, St. Mary-on-the-Lake Bellevue, WA,

9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Christian faith is about more than just getting to heaven.  It is about knowing an interior liberation now, a freedom from not merely sin but excessive anxiety, stress, fear, and loneliness.  At this day of prayer and study we will look at the relationship between “sanctity” and “sanity.”  Through grace, Jesus works in us to lead us to“sanctity” or holiness. Our response to Jesus through grace leads us to “sanity” or mental health. Both are fruits of the Spirit. (Gal 5:22)

 Cost:  $30 (single); $50 (couple)  Presenter:  Dr. Robert Fontana and TBA

To Register:  Send the registration fee plus your name, address, phone, and email to CLM, 7317 Bainbridge Pl SW, Apt 1, Seattle, WA 98136. You can also register on-line by going to Catholiclifeministries.org.  Look to the column on the right, scroll down to “register for an event.”

 

Marriage Musings: Opposites Attract…and Then They Fight

Posted September 7th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in Marriage Jackpot

By Robert Fontana

relational 1relational 2Jane Venus and John Mars are have been married about seven years, have a couple of kids, and are beginning to wonder how they ever married in the first place.  THEY ARE SO DIFFERENT FROM EACH OTHER.  He’s shy; she’s outgoing.  He loves to read, play board games, do the daily crossword puzzle; she loves to bike, swim, and eat out.  They argue over how “she drives,” and he is such a “neat-nick,” and she “overcommits,” and he is such an “Eeyore,” and she is “too busy for sex,” and he “is never satisfied with the sex they do have,” and…  I get all this information from their intake forms.  The last question on the form asks, “When counseling has ended, what do you hope will have happened?”

Jane wrote: I want us to communicate better, and John to have a better attitude about life, and be more fun.

John wrote: I want Jane to pay attention to the details of our life, be less critical and more responsive sexually.

 In other words, they came to see me, each hoping that I could get the other to change, and, in fact, to be more like themselves!  The first thing I do with Jane Venus and John Mars is to ask them how they met, what attracted each to the other, and why they decided to marry.

Jane: We met at a bar.  I noticed him right away, shy, standing off in the corner, very nice-looking.  He would look at me and then turn away.  I knew there was no getting him to talk to me unless I acted first.  So when he walked by me to go to the bathroom I tripped him.  (John laughs and affirms that was true.)  I helped him up,    apologized, bought him a beer, and we talked into the night.  He was so interesting, so different from me: thoughtful, scholarly, and kind.

John: Never in my life did I think such a competent, outgoing, and beautiful woman would be interested in me.  We did things together that I would never have done on my own, like stay up all night on the Summer Solstice to watch the sunrise.

Jane: I married John because he grounded me.  I felt so safe and secure with him.  I loved him and wanted him to be the father of my kids.

John: I married Jane because she took me out of myself and into the world.  She is so alive and free.  I loved her companionship and could not see myself going through life without her.

Opposites attract… and then they fight.  All the traits that attracted Jane and John to one another when they first met and then led to their marriage – how different each was from the other – have now, seven years later, become the very reasons they are fighting – how different each is from the other.  This is common among couples; and it explains why many couples divorce after five to seven years of marriage. The gift of being “different from me” that each spouse brings to the relationship begins to wear thin.  In Jane’s case, John used to “ground” Jane; now Jane feels constrained by John.  In John’s case, Jane used to make John feel alive; now Jane’s free spirit causes John anxiety.

WHAT TO DO? According to the marriage researcher, John Gottman, about 70% of all conflicts in marriages have to do with personality and temperament differences between spouses.  In other words, they are unsolvable.  The issue is not the specific issue at hand, but how each spouse is simply very different from the other.  If couples do not recognize this, they will misinterpret the other’s behavior as being mean and hurtful.  They begin to think that love has left the marriage.  Not so.  Because there is no “right or wrong” solution to these conflicts, what is needed is “communication” and “accommodation.”

Jane still needs John to ground her, but lately it’s been too much.  She needs him to “lighten up a bit” and have fun with her (and the kids).  John still needs Jane to pull him out of himself, but he also needs Jane to be sensitive to his anxieties and his need for “down-time.”

running on beachSpouses who are very different from one another and who learn to communicate about and accommodate to each other’s differences come to an amazing insight: “I would rather be happy than right.”  They stop trying to change one another because they know that it is a useless effort.  The other will not, cannot change.  But in the successful marriage, each spouse can lovingly communicate hopes and needs, and willingly accommodate the other, giving her / his spouse the space to be himself / herself.

I WOULD RATHER BE HAPPY THAN RIGHT!

_______________________________________

Counseling for Mental and Spiritual Health

Sometimes individuals and couples need help with a trained professional to succeed in love and family. Robert is a  licensed marriage and family therapist (associate) and is available for individual, couple, and family counseling.  The best time to call for help is  before it is a crisis.

Contact Information – Cell: 206-651-5058

Address: 4505 – 44th Ave SW, Seattle WA 98116

Email: workonyourmarriage@gmail.com

Web: workonyourmarriage.org

 

 

 

THE MIRACLE OF ADOPTION  

Posted September 5th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in Uncategorized

by Renee Garrot (Lori and Robert’s niece)

reneee ccIt is easy to look back on certain events in my life years later and now see the meaning or purpose they each played in shaping not only the path my life would take, but the person I would become. Yet the events that come to the forefront of my memory are not always the happiest, brightest, or easiest, but they are the ones that have allowed me the grace to experience miracles. My living miracle has been the miracle of adoption.

I was fifteen years old sitting in Spanish class when an unthinkable pain developed in my lower right abdomen. That event will stick with me forever because it changed the course of the life I thought I would live. From that moment, and through the next five years, I lived with pain as if it was an un-welcomed friend. I was diagnosed with a severe case of endometriosis, which is very common in women.

My parents and I traveled all over the South, from doctor to doctor, specialist to specialist, attempting one surgery after the other, praying for relief of this nightmare. After each new treatment, and each new medication and surgery, the endometriosis would grow back like wildfire. Even though I experienced many days where the pain was so horrendous that getting out of bed to walk was exhausting, I had three rays of hope that kept me looking beyond the pain: my family, my school, and my faith.                                    

During this time my doctors were very honest with me, and I knew that my odds of ever becoming pregnant later in life were very slim. Throughout these five years I often asked God why I was suffering so much. He would respond with helping me to understand that I do not need to worry about “why” I am suffering. He helped me understand that my cross would be heavy and my sacrifice would be great to get through this period in my life. In response to my many prayers, He would tell me that at the end of this journey what I will receive will be much greater than the suffering I was experiencing.

These conversations with the Lord gave me courage to make the decision of having a complete hysterectomy at age 20. Yes, it was a huge choice to make at such a young age and it was not one that was made easily. Life for me, from then on, was only about adopting a child whenever it came time. My heart and my mind were for once in agreement and not battling each other. I knew that God’s purpose for me was to adopt.

Fast forward fifteen years, and finally the right man comes into my life who never gave the idea of adopting a child a second thought. It was as natural to him as if he and I were discussing having biological children. My husband and I began discussing the many ways we could go about adopting soon after we were married, but never put anything into action.    After seven months of being married our miracle came from a phone call.

Five days prior to that phone call I left a very lucrative job to go back to teaching. In my former  position I was traveling a great deal and was away from home four out of five nights a week. While away from home one morning, preparing for a training in my former job, the Lord stopped me in my tracks. He called me to forsake everything else and place my family first. The moment I accepted this calling, a huge sense of a “something great is approaching” came upon me. I quit my job that day and went back to the classroom.

The phone call I received five days later was from my father, the man who stood by me as I suffered all those years before, who helped me decide to have the hysterectomy, who allowed me to cry upon his shoulder when struggling with why this was all happening. He called to tell me he knew of a baby who was a day old and was in need of being adopted. How beautiful of a miracle it was that God allowed my father to introduce this child into my life. Two hours later my husband and I were meeting our  daughter and her birth mother in the hospital. A couple hours later we were buying a car seat! We took her home from the hospital the next day and from that day forth the miracles are countless.

renee jasonIt is a miracle that she can call me mommy because there were so many days I doubted I would ever hear those words. It is a miracle she is given the opportunity to have a mother and father and a wonderful extended family through the grace of her birth mother, who so thankfully did not choose to abort her. It is a miracle that she is healthy, happy, funny, full of life (sometimes too much life), so smart, and has been given the opportunity to be curious about the world she is blessed to live in. I see everyday the miracle of my daughter’s relationship with my    mother, which mirrors the relationship I had with my grandmother, for whom my daughter is named.

Why was she chosen to live and not be aborted? I cannot answer that. To me it is a miracle. Looking back on  my life, I know the path I was on led me to my miracle baby, and I know she has a purpose on Earth. It is with God’s love and the miracle of adoption that my purpose is to guide her to find her own.

Renee Garrot is the mother of a vivacious four-year-old, and proud wife to her husband Jason. She is the author of  “The Angel Pillow,” a children’s book for families blessed by adoption.  It is currently available on Amazon and at  https://www.createspace.com/7164006

 

Lowering the flag; confessions of an ex-confederate

Posted August 17th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in Year of Faith
Comments Off on Lowering the flag; confessions of an ex-confederate

By Robert Fontana

I am an ex-Confederate raised in the Southern Confederacy.  True, the South did lose the war against “Northern Aggression” in 1865, but that just ended the political states that formed the Confederate States of America.  Confederate culture continued throughout the South, reinforced by Jim Crow laws and segregation until, in my judgment, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (though it continues culturally in many areas).  That’s 100 years of Confederate culture thriving in the 11 states that seceded from the Union including my own home state, Louisiana.

I say am an “Ex-Confederate” because I fully identified with this Confederate culture without any awareness of how it was held together by institutionalized racism and terror against Blacks.  I grew up, like many White Southerners, lamenting the “Lost Cause,” the Confederate defeat by those “no good, lying Yankees,” yet grateful to live in the United States, and very glad that slavery was ended.  It was not until about 15 years ago that I retired my confederate flag, folded it up, and stored it away.  I did this after years of spiritual direction and soul searching that helped me unravel an ugly truth about my upbringing that became undeniable: I was bred by my Southern culture to believe in White superiority.  My parents did not intend this, my church and the Catholic schools I attended did not intend this, but the culture in which I was raised did.

How did White supremacy make its way into my consciousness?  Here’s how:  I never heard my father tell a racial joke, but I did hear both his friends and mine tell them.  I have no memory of my parents ever using the word, “Nigger;” instead they said, “the Colored woman” or “the Colored man,” but my neighbors and friends used the “N” word.  If I was doing a job and was not doing it right, it would be common for my boss to say, “That’s a nigger-rig job; do it again.”  If there was a “Colored” who did things right, it was not uncommon for someone to say, “He’s Black on the outside, but White on the inside.”  If I called a White person who was an adult by his first name, my mother would have smacked me.  It was Mr. Mike or Miss Kay.  But I could call a Colored person who was an adult by his first name.  I later learned the reason for this was because as a White boy, I was thought to be the equal of a Colored adult, but not a White adult.

The annual fall festival weekend in our small town had two parades, the Colored parade on Friday night and the White parade on Saturday.  My dad was a band director, and his band always marched in the Saturday parade.  I remember going to the Colored parade as a child.  Even then I could see that their uniforms were poor, worn, and wrinkled, very different from what my father’s band members were wearing.  We had one movie theater in our town.  Colored people had to enter through the alley; Whites went through the front door.  There was a Black Catholic grade school in my hometown that was just 2-3 miles from my home.  I never saw it.  Our Catholic school had nothing to do with the Catholic school for Colored children.

As a child, I read stories about Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in the same way that I read stories about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  They were American heroes, not simply Southern heroes.  Our family visited the Vicksburg battlefield when I was a boy.  I have a vivid memory of being in awe of a Confederate soldier who came up to speak with us.  I thought he was real.  We brought home Confederate hats, money, and swords, and came home ready to fight the war again.  Mom and Dad gave us “the Blue and the Gray” toy set for Christmas, and the Civil War was fought from after midnight Mass until four in the morning.

While on a school trip to Washington D.C. and New York City, we passed through Tennessee. There, I bought my first Confederate battle flag, one similar to the flag removed from the South Carolina statehouse.  It was…well…big, about the size of a large picture window.  I “flew” it in my room at home, and later in my dorm room in the seminary.  I had no idea that for many people it meant racism, the KKK, and White supremacy.  I flew it with the same sort of pride that I did when waving an American flag on the 4th of July.  When I was a freshman in the seminary, a Black student from Alabama came walking into my room.  There was old Dixie hanging in all its glory.  He said, “What’s that?”  I said, “Cool, huh?”  I was clueless as to what it might mean for him.

Thankfully, he and another Black student could see that I was a benign racist.  They befriended me and began to teach me about their experience of being Black in our American society and in our Catholic Church.  I went to Catholic and Baptist churches serving the Black community.  I listened to stories of prejudice and abuse.  I read books such as Black Like Me by J.H. Griffin and Why We Can’t Wait by Dr. M.L. King, Jr.  And I sought help in spiritual direction.

It took me a long time to come to see that the problem was not about racism and White supremacy in the culture; the problem was about racism and White supremacy in me.  I was bred by Southern culture to believe that Whites were superior to all people of color but especially Blacks, and I carried some of that thinking in me.  I had to admit, though I did not want to, that the Confederate flag carried that meaning as well.  The flag did not simply mean pride in the “Lost Cause” to create a new nation 150 years ago, but also prejudice and mistreatment of Blacks today.

This was driven home to me one day when I bumped into an old friend of my parents while visiting family in south Louisiana.  My brother and I had just returned from touring the Civil War battlefield at Port Hudson, Louisiana.  A significant aspect of this battle was that it was the first time that Colored soldiers were sent into combat for the Union Army.  The battle was a disastrous baptism of fire for these ill-trained soldiers, and hundreds were slaughtered by Rebel gunners.  My brother mentioned to me that this older family friend was a “Confederate general” as part of a group of Civil War re-enactors.  When I saw him, I asked him about his re-enactor’s role and then told him about our trip to Port Hudson.  This was his startling response: “We kicked the niggers then, and we will kick them again.”

I was stunned.  I saw hate in this man’s eyes and heard it in his voice.  He was not re-enacting the past, but living in the now.  I took my flag down.  That was over 15 years ago.  I am still very interested in Civil War history and still enjoy reading about Stonewall Jackson and his Valley Campaign, General Taylor and his Louisiana Tigers.  I also admit, if anyone asks, that I am a “recovering racist.”  I am very well aware of how I was raised. This awareness helps me pay attention to treating all people who are different from me with dignity and respect.   But this is not enough. I must confront the institutions and customs that are carriers of bigotry and hate, and flying the Confederate flag is such a custom.  It is past time to take it down.

__________________________________

Please join us for our fall retreat day – “For Freedom Christ Set us Free”  Galatians 5:1

Sunday, October 11, St. Mary-on-the-Lake Bellevue, WA,

9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Christian faith is about more than just getting to heaven.  It is about knowing an interior liberation now, a freedom from not merely sin but excessive anxiety, stress, fear, and loneliness.  At this day of prayer and study we will look at the relationship between “sanctity” and “sanity.”  Through grace, Jesus works in us to lead us to“sanctity” or holiness. Our response to Jesus through grace leads us to “sanity” or mental health. Both are fruits of the Spirit. (Gal 5:22)

 Cost:  $30 (single); $50 (couple)  Presenter:  Dr. Robert Fontana and TBA

To Register:  Send the registration fee plus your name, address, phone, and email to CLM, 7317 Bainbridge Pl SW, Apt 1, Seattle, WA 98136. You can also register on-line by going to Catholiclifeministries.org.  Look to the column on the right, scroll down to “register for an event.”

How many Catholics does it take to change a light bulb?  Change?

Posted August 14th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

youth group 051By Robert Fontana

Of course, change certainly does happen in the Catholic Church.  However, it is usually excruciatingly slow.  There is a fight for change going on these days, and two dominant forces in this fight are Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome, and U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke.

Burke wants the church to return to the glory days of Catholicism in the 1950’s.  For him the Church is a monarchy established by God through Jesus to the Pope/Bishop.  Authority flows from the top down, and obedience to truth through the Church is the clearest sign of holiness.  Burke has history on his side, but not Scripture.  The biblical model of Church is a community of disciples with leaders who work together to preserve the unity of the Church (see Galatians 1).  The Church as “Monarchy” has been the dominant model at least since the time of Charlemagne (747-814 AD) and the Holy Roman Empire.  The councils of Trent (1600’s) and Vatican I (1870), which Burke embraces, reaffirmed the structure of the Church as a monarchy.

Pope Francis advocates for changes which are inspired by the example of Jesus, as interpreted by the Second Vatican Council, and by his own experience of living and working among the poor in Buenos Aires.  Pope Francis rejects the notion that the Church is a monarchy.  He sees the Church as a missionary community of Disciples of Jesus, with ordained ministers who are servants within the Church rather than an aristocracy.  He wants love and mercy, not rigid adherence to rules and regulations, to be the defining characteristics of the Catholic people.

Historian Garry Wills argues in his book, The Future of the Church with Pope Francis, that change is the great story of Catholicism.  It is change, states Wills, which has permitted the Church to survive for two thousand years when empires of one kind or another have come and gone.  Change, however, has not necessarily made Catholics closer followers of Jesus.  Here are two significant changes that have happened in the Church.

jesus and childrenJesus practiced and taught non-violence:  Jesus was a pacifist, and, for at least the first three centuries of Christianity, so were his followers.  Yet, for the past 1,700 years, the Church has taught that war waged for a just cause is moral and consistent with Christian faith under certain conditions.  Eventually this led to popes having armies which they used to wage war against heretics, the Christian kings in Europe, and the Muslim nations.  Was this change from pacifism to a just war theory good or bad for the Church?

Catholic/Christian oppression of Jews:   Anti-Jewish sentiments fill the pages of early Christian writings, beginning with the Scriptures – the Gospel of John, and including church councils, and writings of great saints and popes.  Here’s one example from Pope Eugenius IV in 1442:

“We decree and order that from now on, and for all time, Christians shall not eat or drink with Jews…shall not allow Jews to hold civil honors over Christians, or to exercise public offices in the State… All and every single Jew, of whatever sex and age, must everywhere wear the distinct dress and known marks by which they can be evidently distinguished from Christians. They cannot live among Christians, but in a certain street, separated and segregated from Christians…”    (see www.talmudunmasked.com/appendix  )

This vicious anti-Semitism did not formally end until the Second Vatican Council in 1965 when the Bishops declared Jews to be our elder brothers and affirmed the teachings of St. Paul, that the covenant between God and the Jews still holds true today (see Documents of Vatican II, Nostra Aetate).  Was reaffirming God’s covenant to the Jews after almost 2,000 years of denying it, good or bad for the Church?

 

  1. mary magdalenLay people fund the church but have no effective voice. The laity pay for clergy recruitment, training, salaries, housing, vacations, retirement, the purchase of all properties, construction of buildings, materials for ministry, and salaries/benefits for lay employees. Yet, every board of lay people, from the parish pastoral and finance councils, to diocesan councils, to the pope’s council on clergy sex abuse, the laity role is advisory.  The laity have no legal rights in canon law and exercise no power over how money is spent, though we provide all the funding.  This needs to end.  Lay members of boards and committees ought to have decision-making authority regarding how money is spent in the Church.  What do you think?
  2. The Mass reinforces the notion that the priest is “king.” Pope Francis has complained that too many bishops and priests act like aristocrats.  I think the structure of the Mass supports this clericalism.  When Mass begins, the priest processes into the church with ministers of different ranks, much like royalty at court in a 17th-century European monarchy.  Only the ordained are permitted to preach.  This needs to end.  Let the priest presider welcome all to Sunday worship at the beginning of Mass from the pulpit and then invite the community to stand to welcome the Scriptures, the Word of God, as it is brought into the assembly for the proclamation of the Gospel.  And let the priest presider welcome gifted lay people, men and women as preachers of the Gospel.  What do you think?

pope francisChange today.   Just because Catholics have taught something and acted in a certain way for 1,800 years is not enough reason to continue doing so.  Pope Francis is trying to inspire Catholics, clergy and laity, to change how we see ourselves – Missionary Disciples of Jesus– which will effect a change in our behavior.  He urges us to become a field hospital for a suffering world.  This will eventually effect change in Church structure and worship.  My guess is that Cardinal Raymond Burke thinks this is a mistake; I don’t.

A Sunday Homily (I Preached!)

Posted July 27th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

I was asked to help the pastor and give the homily at a local Catholic parish.  I spoke at all three Masses.  Here it is:

jesus“He spoke to them at length in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots.  Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.  But some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. 
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”  Mt 13:1-9

I’m going to need your help with this homily.   When I ask you, “Who’s the word of God?”  Would you reply, “JESUS!”

Let’s practice: “Who’s the word of God?”  “JESUS!”

What is this “seed” that Jesus is “scattering?”  It’s a relationship with God!  And it’s a relationship with God offered to EVERYONE, good, bad, and indifferent!  Remember this.  The “Word of God is not fundamentally a doctrine, a moral concept, rules and regulations, or even a book, but it is a person, Jesus the beloved Son of the Father.  Jesus risen and in our midst.

“Who’s the word of God?”  “JESUS!”

Back to the parable, I want to suggest to you that the various types of soil receiving the seed, describe us. We are all these kinds of soil all the time, at any given moment of our lives.  I am at once rocky soil, shallow soil, soil choked with thorns, and good soil.   Let me give you an example from my own life.

I was raised in the south during segregation.  Church for Whites, another one for “Colored.” Theater for Whites, a separate one for “Colored.”  Drinking fountain for Whites, another one for “Colored.” As a boy I could call a Colored man who was an adult by his first name because I was his equal.  And when I became an adult I would be his superior.  If I had called an adult who was White by his first name my momma would have smacked me for being disrespectful.

confederate flagI read the history of the war of “Northern Aggression,” and grew up with Robert E. Lee and other Confederates as my heroes.  My favorite college football team was not LSU, it was the Old Miss Rebels.  I hung a large Confederate flag in my bedroom at home; and I brought it to college where I hung it on my dorm wall at St. Joseph Seminary. My family did not think we were racist.  We didn’t wear white hoods, burn crosses, or use racial slurs.  We did regret that we had “lost” the civil war; but yes, glad that the country was united and slavery ended.  My culture taught me to believe that Whites are superior to people of color especially Blacks.

“Who’s the word of God?”  “JESUS!”

In this Southern culture, what kind of “soil” was I when I was 13, when I first began sensing the stirring of faith, and yet I flew a Confederate flag? Good soil?  Bad soil with rocks and sand, and choked with thorns?

During a marital crisis, my mom and dad had an experience of God’s love and power that transformed their lives from being Sunday Catholics to daily disciples of Jesus.  One day my father came into my room to share with me about his new relationship with Jesus.  He was “planting a seed” hoping that his story would open me up to a relationship with God; it did.  As I listened to him talk, I had a burning in my heart.  I wanted to know Jesus like he did.

I began to pray, go to daily Mass, read the Bible daily, and, I joined the Legion of Mary.  My apostolic work was visiting people in the local nursing home and the county jail.

Did this new relationship with Jesus in the Church challenge my Confederate identity? NO!  Not one bit.  That seed was planted in rocky soil and wasn’t ready to grow.  Where I did grow was to discipline my teenage sexual energy, treat girls with respect, and visit the elderly and imprisoned.

“Who’s the word of God?”  “JESUS!”

abbey_frgil_seminarians_4130 (1)My relationship with Jesus in the Church led me to St. Joseph Seminary and a friendship there with an African American monk.  Brother Aaron was my first friend who was Black.  He was from New Orleans and had a strong “Black Consciousness.”  One day he came into my dorm room and saw the Confederate flag hanging on the wall.  He asked me, “What’s that?”  I had no idea that it was offensive to him.  I said, “Cool, huh?”  Aaron could see that I was a “benign racist.”  He took me by the hand and taught me about racism in the Catholic Church.  He was planting a seed.  I went with him to Catholic worship at an African American parish and experienced firsthand the different cultural expressions between Black Catholics who were swaying to “Soon and very soon…” and White Catholics from my home parish who were singing “Come Holy Ghost.”

“Who’s the word of God?”  “JESUS!”

What kind of “soil” was I back in the seminary?  Fertile? Rocky? Shallow?  All of the above. Seminary helped me deepen my prayer life and continue my commitment to visit the elderly, and gave me a deep love for the liturgy and liturgical year.   The seed of the Gospel to break down racism in me was planted.  However, it would be another 10 years before I could fully admit that I carried racial prejudice within me, and that it was time to “lower the flag.”  The culture of my youth shaped me to believe that White people were superior to Black people.  My ignorance around that fact meant that I did nothing to change the vicious racial prejudice that my friend Brother Aaron and his family faced every day.  I was complicit in the sin of racism, and didn’t know it.

“Who’s the word of God?”  “JESUS!”

Once I became aware of this, I became that good soil that Jesus spoke about in the parable, the one that produced a 100 fold of good fruit, right? No!  I’m still a complex mixture of good and bad soil, rocky and fertile, who is in a relationship with Jesus in the Church.  I believe this is true for each of us.

flowersJesus, the Sower, sows the seeds of a relationship with God in whatever soil we offer him.  Jesus wants to meet us exactly where we are in our lives, but he is not going to leave us there.  He’s going to grow something good, beautiful, and life-giving even with the “rocky soil.”   In my counseling I sometimes hear a client say that he cannot pray or go to Church because he is ashamed of his life—of his sins and past mistakes.  I would say to all of us, please do not stay away from Jesus because you feel unworthy, because you feel like a hypocrite, because your spiritual soil is too shallow, or rocky, or choked with thorns. You are also “GOOD SOIL.”

Today at this gathering, at this Eucharist, don’t be afraid to bring to Jesus the whole you, the good and the not-so-good, the rocks and weeds of your life as well as the fertile soil.  Ask Jesus to grow something beautiful, good and life-giving in your personal life.  You know he will do it.  It may take time, as in my case, but he will do it.

“Who’s the word of God?”  “JESUS!”

 

 

 

 

“I support the many good works of CLM”

Posted July 16th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew
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Dear Friends, we are raising money for Catholic Life Ministries.  We do work that you believe in.  When you    invest in CLM with a tax-deductible donation, we become your hands, heart, and feet in the work of awakening faith, strengthening marriages and families, counseling the deeply troubled and mentally ill, and building up the  Christian community.  Here’s why one CLM sponsor supports our work:

malletMy Witness/Testimony to C. L. M. Ministries, Msgr. Charles J. Mallet – Lafayette, La..

It all started some 62 years ago!  I was Ordained in 1955, I was appointed assistant pastor at Tony & Evelyn Fontana’s [Robert’s parents] parish church in Abbeville, La.  Robert was “very young.” His youngest brother John is my god-son!  When the time for his [Robert’s] wedding came, I was privileged to be “the Church’s official   witness”!  

 Since 1981, Robert & Lori have dedicated their lives to the “service of the Church” in the area of “Family Life – Marriage Strengthening – Divorce prevention through family counseling – Building strong Christian communities – Youth Camp retreats – etc…etc…. in Washington state &         Oregon…..Montana, California, New Jersey, Texas, Alabama & Louisiana……and even       internationally (e.g. Belize, Central America)!

 To better prepare himself for this precise & complicated ministry, Robert has [through the years] returned to Universities and has sought &  earned degrees (Master’s & Doctorate’s) in related fields…..and with the help of God, has developed a particular competence, creativity, and grace in this most important rock-foundational ministry! 

mallet 2With remembrance at daily Mass & prayer and, with a monthly donation-stipend, I    support the many good works of C.L.M.   May I ask you to please do the same!

 Msgr. Charles J. Mallet – Senior Priest

 If you support CLM, here is where your money goes: 

¨ Your donations pay my (Robert) salary.  I make $36,000 a year.  You are hiring me (with Lori volunteering lots of time too) for CLM’s work – work you believe in: marriage enrichment & preparation; days of prayer, study, and service; youth outreach.

¨ Your donation helps me provide counseling for couples, families, and individuals from a Catholic Christian perspective.  This does not mean I impose my faith on my clients.  It does mean that I pray for them, and   prepare to utilize all the psycho-spiritual resources available to me and them for their healing.

¨ Your donation allows us to offer program scholarships for low-income people, to stipend outside speakers and teachers, to rent office/retreat space, and to pay for office expenses including this newsletter.

Ask the Lord.  Lori and I understand that you get many appeals to help wonderful organizations from across the country.  You know the integrity of our lives and the quality of our work.  Please pray about joining us as partners in ministry to do the work that you believe in.  Should the Lord give you a nod our way, please use the enclosed pledge card to help you determine your level of support.  We have people of modest means who send us $5 a month. Others, who are able, donate $50-$150 a month.  Please also make a commitment to pray for us.  We commit to pray for you every Thursday. You may include your prayer intentions on the enclosed form.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marriage Musings:  Marriage Is Good for Sex

Posted June 20th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in Marriage Jackpot
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By Robert Fontana

From the Research:  Marriage is good for sex.  I know, it’s counter-intuitive.  Don’t all the jokes describe marriage as the end of great sex?

Charlie: I used to have a great sex life.  Mack: What happened?

Charlie: I got married.  Mack, do you know what kind of food kills romantic love?

Mack: No, what. Charlie: Wedding cake.

Mack: Hey, isn’t this your honeymoon?  What are you doing out here on the golf course?  Charlie: I gave my bride a choice between lovemaking and letting me play golf; here I am.

67265858_mlInterviewing hundreds of couples across that U.S., researchers determined what great sex is and who is having it.  Great sex is sexual intimacy that both partners consider to be frequent, enjoyable, creative, and meaningful.  Researchers compared the sexual behavior of three categories of couplings: married, co-habiting, and singles, including those who are divorced and widowed.  MARRIED COUPLES WERE THE BIG WINNERS!

engagedCouples who are married have almost as much sex (2 x’s a week) as their co-habiting counterparts (2 – 3 times a week), and way more than singles who have to work really hard and spend money to have a steady sexual partner.  Frequency is the only category in which married couples lag slightly behind.  Couples who are married are having far more enjoyable, creative, and meaningful sex.  These outcomes are attributed to one significant factor that differentiates married sex from other forms of sexual coupling: COMMITMENT.  Commitment is sexy.  When couples have made a commitment to one another as when they become engaged and/or get married, then sexual enjoyment, creativity, and meaning all skyrocket!  This should not be a surprise.

Married sex is more enjoyable because when two people feel safe, when each knows the other is not going to leave when things get tough, they are able to relax and fully enter into the sexual experience.  Married sex is more creative than other partnered sex because spouses get to practice over the years what feels good and enjoyable; and they are able to adjust as circumstances change.  And lastly, married sex is more meaningful because it means a couple’s wedding vows: “I will be true to you in good times and in bad…I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.” (Hard to beat that for “meaningfulness.”)

Married Sex and Faith –   Sadly, due to a variety of reasons, some people of faith have a hard time enjoying the sexual pleasure that is inherent in spousal physical intimacy.  A spouse may have been taught, as was my mother, that sexual pleasure is a sin.  Mom told me that her mother told her, “It is a sin for a woman to enjoy sex in marriage.”  I think I may have carried some of this bias into the raising of my children because at times I was not fully comfortable talking with them about sexuality.

Recently a woman attending a retreat for couples that Lori and I led confided to the group that she carries a lot of guilt for having sex with her husband.  It was drilled into her by her mother and the church of her childhood that sex outside of marriage was a terrible sin.  What she, as a young girl, had internalized is that “sex was a sin,” and she found it hard to be sexually responsive to her husband.  She had also internalized a very negative body image and thought that she was not very attractive, although, in truth, she is a very lovely woman.  Needless to say, she and her husband reported a very difficult struggle in the area of sexual intimacy.

What do the Scriptures and the Christian faith community teach about sexual pleasure?

Woman Stretching in Bed with a Man Sleeping Beside HerSEXUAL PLEASURE WITHIN MARRIAGE IS AWESOME!  ENJOY!

Okay, that is not a direct quote from Scripture or Church Tradition, but considering the materials available, listed below, I think it is an apt summary:

  • the Book of Genesis in which the writer describes God as being very pleased with his creation of man and woman who come together as “one flesh” and are commanded to “go and multiply” (Genesis 1:27-26, 2:2).
  • The Song of Songs (in the Catholic Bible but not the Protestant one), which is a poetic celebration of erotic love.
  • Paul’s admonition, “Do not deprive one another except for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer…” (1 Cor 7:5).
  • and good Pope Francis who writes: Sexuality is not a means of gratification or entertainment; it is an interpersonal language wherein the other is taken seriously, in his or her sacred and inviolable dignity…In this context, the erotic appears as a specifically human manifestation of sexuality…A healthy sexual desire, albeit closely joined to a pursuit of pleasure, always involves a sense of wonder…the erotic dimension of love…must be seen as a gift of God that enriches the relationship of the spouses… (The Joy of Love, art. 151-153).

Marriage Tip: Make sexual intimacy a priority in your marriage.  Talk about what sexual intimacy means for you as spouses (send me an email for a sexual intimacy inventory: robert@catholiclifeministries.org).

Read about sexual intimacy from authors who will respect your Christian perspective on human sexuality.  Secular magazines, like Cosmopolitan and GQ, seem to me to have very little understanding that great sex most often happens within the context of committed love.  Two authors that I like are Gregory Popcak (www.catholiccounselors.com) and Shaunti Feldhahn (Shaunti.com).  Men and women often have different needs around sexual intimacy.  Understanding how these differences specifically apply to your marriage is important.

THREE VERY IMPORTANT ESSENTIALS TO A HEALTHY SEXUAL LIFE: A good night’s sleep, a healthy diet with moderate use of alcohol, and exercise!

Please post your comments!

______________________________________

Resources for Marriage

Check out our web site at workonyourmarriage.org.  Take our marriage assessment at: http://www.workonyourmarriage.org/marriage-assessment.html

If you live in the Seattle area and need some help with your marriage go to our counseling page: http://www.workonyourmarriage.org/relationship-success-counseling.html

 

 

Chicken Little, the Holy Spirit, You, and Me

Posted May 30th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

By Robert Fontana

chicken littleThis is Pentecost week.  Naturally the story of Chicken Little comes to mind:

There was once a great knight riding upon a mighty horse when he came upon Chicken Little running around the countryside shouting, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling.”   Suddenly, Chicken Little threw himself to the ground, lay on his back, and thrust his legs and wings towards the sky. 

The great knight leaped from his mighty horse and said to Chicken Little, “Why art thou thus lying in the dust?” Chicken Little calmly responded, “The sky is falling.”  The great knight laughed out loud with incredulity and dismay, then said, “And you, little bird, think that you can hold up the sky?” Chicken Little responded, “I does what I can do.”

Francis of Assisi once said, “I have done what is mine to do, now you must do what is yours to do.”

Fr. Thomas Judge, the founder of the Missionary Cenacle Family (1909) counseled his associates similarly.  I do not have the direct quote but it was something like: “Do what you can do.  Do not worry about what you cannot do, but do what you can do!”

There is so much to be done.  It is mind-boggling.  There are so many pressing needs; truly, it seems the “the sky is falling.”  And what I am actually able to do is so small, surely what the great knight said to Chicken Little applies to all of my efforts, “And how can such a little bird hold up the sky?”

fr judgeFr. Thomas Judge, a Vincentian priest, felt like the sky was falling as he, an Irish-American from Boston, tried to minister to the throngs of immigrants filling the slums of the great urban centers of 20th century America.  He had an epiphany when he realized that he was taking way too much responsibility for work that was not his to do.  It belonged to the average Catholic (and Christian) in the pew who was a neighbor to these immigrants, who met them at the grocery store, the warehouse, the butcher shop, and sometimes at the parish church.

He realized if each person would simply take responsibility for being a power for good within the relationships and commitments of his or her own life, something he called the “providence of everyday life,” then much good could be done to alleviate suffering, strengthen community, and provide care for the least among us, especially poor children and the elderly.

12694841 - shining dove against golden raysJudge recognized that the needs of families in general, and of the poor in the slums and barrios specifically, were so great, that it was impossible to create a social program to address them all.  However, if Catholics and other Christians were guided by the Holy Spirit, then the Spirit would direct them to the work that needed to be done within the “providence” of their everyday lives.How do we gain the interior freedom from our own shortsightedness and sins to even be able to act in the service of others?  And where do we get that capacity for discernment to determine what we are to do in this situation and that one, where we are to direct our energies, and what we are to leave for others to do?  Our guidance comes from the “breath of God,” the indwelling Spirit that draws us into the heart of God, the Spirit written about in John’s Gospel.

Lori and I, led by the empowering and indwelling Spirit, have directed out energies towards being a power for good by inspiring deeper faith in God and building strong marriages and families.  We do this through spirituality workshops and reretreats,  marriage enrichment events, marriage preparation classes, family camps, and divorce prevention, if possible, through marriage counseling.  There is so much more “falling sky” that pulls at us – pro-life work, outreach to migrants and refugees, and problems related to homelessness.  All of these important concerns tug at us, they are matters close to our hearts and certainly are within the providence of our everyday lives.  But, at least for now, we hear the Spirit say to us, “Do what I have already given you to do, and leave these concerns for someone else.”  This is not easy.  Saying “no” to important issues and leaving them for others to do feels inadequate…unsatisfying…feeble…and yet, the right thing to do.

Sunday, June 4th, is Pentecost, the great feast of the Holy Spirit. All around our world, “the sky is falling;” there is so much to do.  Do you have a personal relationship with this empowering and in-dwelling Spirit so that you can benefit from the Spirit’s guidance? Ask and the Holy Spirit will help you to discern what is yours to do within the providence of your everyday life.  Then the power of the Holy Spirit will help you (and me) do it!

Post your comments!

IF YOU LIKE WHAT YOU READ ON THIS BLOG SITE, PLEASE CONSIDER MAKING A DONATION TO SUPPORT THE WORK OF CATHOLIC LIFE MINISTRIES.  OUR MISSION IS TO AWAKEN FAITH, STRENGTHEN MARRIAGES AND FAMILIES, BUILD COMMUNITY, AND EMPOWER THE FAITHFUL TO BE A POWER FOR GOOD IN THE WORLD!  Go to: http://www.catholiclifeministries.org/donate/

 

Praying the Stations of the Resurrection

Posted May 14th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

By Robert Fontana

resurrectionCatholics have grown up praying the “Stations of the Cross.”  We have been trained since childhood to walk the path of sorrow and suffering in imitation of Jesus.  We do this so that we are strengthened in our resolve to accept the “crosses” that come our way as we seek, like Jesus, to do God’s will, not ours.  Maybe this explains why outsiders who attend Catholic services often complain that there is, “not much joy coming from the Catholic faithful.”

What if we placed an equal amount of emphasis on Easter and encountering the Risen Jesus as we do on Lent and walking with the suffering Jesus?  What if we sought to encounter Jesus alive and present to us today just as He was present to His disciples in the days and weeks following his resurrection.  Remember, Christian faith in its Catholic form (or any form) is not primarily a doctrine to be believed or a moral code to follow.  It is about encountering a person, Jesus, God’s beloved Son, who is as alive for us today as He was 2,000 years go;  Jesus, who loves us with all the passion and energy of God, and who fills us with His life and breath; Jesus, the Risen One, who frees us to love and be loved.

joyWouldn’t such an encounter bring joy to our difficult and demanding lives! Wouldn’t such an encounter liberate us from the emotional roller-coaster of placing our hope and well-being on how people treat us, the ups-and-downs of the economy, or the latest political news out of Washington.  We would look forward to the Sunday gathering of disciples with joy in our hearts, knowing that the One who is convening this gathering is none other than the Risen Lord Himself!

Lori and I have developed the Stations of the Resurrection to help us and you pray through the stories of Jesus’ resurrection, with the knowledge that the truth of these stories, Jesus alive and present, is happening right now!  The “Stations of the Resurrection” are 13 different episodes from the resurrection stories of Jesus, arranged so that the reality of Jesus’ risen life will unfold before us we pray through them.  These stations are best prayed with others and in a garden or a park if possible.  If you mark 13 stations and move from one to the next, be sure to sing a familiar hymn or Alleluia when moving from station to station.

Each station is followed by a comment from a disciple of Jesus from history (a saint) who knew the risen Jesus personally as we are trying to do so today.  They are living proof that the Risen Jesus continues to be an active presence accompanying all who love Him, regardless of time, place, and station of life.  We are meeting the risen Jesus!  We are hearing His voice!  We are receiving the Holy Spirit!  Alleluia!

The Stations of the Resurrection are too long to put on this blog site.  I’m posting the first two stations so that you have a sense of how they work.  If you would like the entire set you can download them at:  http://www.catholiclifeministries.org/archives/

Post your comments!

Station 1: Jesus is placed in a tomb.

L – We adore you, O Christ, and we love you.  All – Because by your death and resurrection you have set us free.

Joseph of Arimathea…asked for the body of Jesus…he took him down, wrapped him in the linen cloth and laid him in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb.  Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses watched where he was laid.   Mk 15:43-47

All:  Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

 From the Saints: I know of one means only by which to attain to perfection: LOVE. Let us love, since our heart is made for nothing else. Love!…that is what I ask…I know but one thing now – to love Thee, O Jesus! Glorious deeds are not for me, I cannot preach the  Gospel, shed my blood …what does it matter?   St. Therese, the Little Flower

 Station 2: The Women and the Empty Tomb

L – We adore you, O Christ, and we love you.  All – Because by your death and resurrection you have set us free.

The women who had come from Galilee with him followed behind, and when they had seen the tomb and the way in which his body was laid in it, they returned and prepared spices and perfumed oils. Then they rested on the Sabbath…But at daybreak on the first day of the week they took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb; but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  Luke 23:55-24:3

All:  Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

From the Saints:  O living flame of love that tenderly wounds my soul in its deepest center… How gently and lovingly you wake in my heart, where in secret you dwell alone; and in your sweet breathing, filled with good and glory, how tenderly you swell my heart with love.      St. John of the Cross

The practical purpose for Jesus’ suffering

Posted April 13th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

By Robert Fontana

crucifixionIt is important to ask why we focus on Jesus’ suffering.  The answer is two-fold.  We remember his death because it was/is salvific in that it offers all of humanity and creation itself forgiveness, new life in the Spirit, and everlasting life.  But there is a more specific and practical purpose for focusing on the suffering of Jesus, as stated in 1 Peter 2:21: “Christ suffered for you that you should follow in his footsteps.”

The intent of the epistle of Peter, written to Gentile believers, is to help them fully live and witness to their faith in a hostile social environment.  These Christians were unjustly suffering in many ways – ridicule, social shunning, disqualification for public office, with the threat of physical harm as had happened to the followers of Jesus some twenty years earlier during the persecution of Nero.   The writer makes it clear what the practical meaning of Jesus’ death is for them: Christ suffered for you that you should follow in his footsteps.”

What were some of the unjust sufferings that these people endured?  The letter does not identify any specific forms of suffering endured by the Christians receiving the letter.  However, in reading “between the lines,” as well as considering what I know about the life of the early Church and the life of 1st-century Romans throughout the empire, I have some thoughts:

  • They were criticized by the Romans as being “unpatriotic” because they did not offer sacrifice to the emperor, which would be the equivalent today of refusing to say the pledge of allegiance to the flag or not standing while the national anthem was being played. Furthermore, the men in the Christian communities were considered cowards because they refused to serve in the army and fight for Rome.  Certainly such men were not allowed in civic leadership.  (Christian men refused allegiance to the emperor because this would mean worshiping an idol – the emperor considered himself a god.  They refused military service to follow Jesus’ teaching and example of non-violence.)
  • old coupleThe Roman elite ridiculed the behavior of Christians in their own homes. Christian husbands and fathers were dismissed by their Roman peers for being soft and sentimental with their wives and children.  Roman men were to rule over their families as Caesar ruled over Rome.  1 Peter admonishes all believers, to “love one another intensely from a pure heart (1:22) and husbands are to “live with your wives in understanding showing honor to the weaker female sex…” (3:7).   Christian husbands were faithful towards their wives. We get a sense of the difference between Roman and Christian behaviors in the family in St. Augustine’s confessions.  Augustine describes the abuse his mother received at the hands of her pagan husband who frequently visited temple prostitutes.
  • Christian women were not immune from ridicule. They broke from the behavior of their Roman peers who took pride in how they adorned themselves with jewelry, fine clothes, and braided hair.  Roman women could not understand and berated the Christian women who rejected such outward displays of beauty to develop “the hidden character of the heart, expressed in the imperishable beauty of a gentle and calm disposition” (3:3-4).
  • To add scandal to scandal, these Christians welcomed at their agape meal any believer from any social class: rich and poor, slave and free, women, men and children. No one was excluded if they had been “born anew…through the living and abiding word of God” (1:23) and the waters of baptism (3:21 b).  In fact, there was little class distinction at the agape meal.
  • Lastly, these believers did exclude themselves from much that was going on in Roman society: “debauchery, evil desires, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and wanton idolatry, which Paul in another letter describes as “greed.” (See Colossians 3:5.)

joy 2It is probable that Christians were treated as social outcasts and threats to the common good of Roman society as our culture treats Jehovah Witnesses today.  The writer of 1 Peter is trying to help the Christians to whom he is writing not simply get to heaven, but to live full authentic lives of faith within this hostile social environment.  His deeper spiritual intent is to help believers live in complete freedom from the distorted desires of the depraved human heart (as the Romans were perceived) so that they can do the will of God by being a power for good in the world (2:15-16).

And in response to all the slander and hatred which they are unjustly receiving from their Roman peers, 1 Peter urges believers to “not return evil for evil, or insult for insult; but on the contrary, a blessing…” (3:9).

WOW!  There is so much for us learn from in this letter.  I have just touched on a few points.  Yes, one must read this letter with a critical eye and an understanding of what is written that was 1st century behavior and should stay in the 1st Century, e.g. the institution of slavery (2:18), and the unquestioned obedience of wives to abusive husbands (3:1).

I am convinced that we live in an environment that is fundamentally hostile to Christianity specifically, and authentic spirituality in general.  It is a mistake to think that any one political party has the high moral ground over another.  Each is equally immersed in the “world” of power, privilege, position, and possessions made possible by money.

We Christians and all people of good will must live in this world as best we can.  1 Peter gives us insights on how to do it:  “…live soberly, and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  Like obedient children, do not act in compliance with the desires of your former ignorance but, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, “Be holy because I [am] holy” 1 Peter 1:13-16.