It was dark and damp when I arrived late last night to this remote retreat center in the outskirts of Rome, Italy. The once sterling and now decrepit gates blocked my entrance. I pushed. They squeaked. No luck. Bending down like a photographer poised for the perfect shot, I peeped through the gigantic keyhole. Spooky.
A dog roamed the grounds. He was big and burly, but he didn't bark. I wished he had; I wanted someone to know that I had arrived.
The shoulder strap of my duffle bag hung across my chest. My heartbeat was up. I was giddy about what awaited me: uninterrupted silence.
It's what I don't have in an ordinary day as vice-director of a college seminary. I once did a daily count: on average, my desk phone rings 38 times, the international cell phone rings three times, 35 people knock on my office door, 300 e-mails arrive in my inbox and I attend six meetings.
No complaints. Many people wait for calls and visits that never come.
I expect those days will come for me too.
As I start this week of solitary study, prayer and writing, I have the same anxious feeling that I used to have on Christmas morning. My brothers and sisters and I always gathered in pajamas at the top of the stairs. Whispers, giggles. We awaited the word from Dad: “Okay, Come on down.” Joe and I jumped the last six stairs. We knew from experience we would hit our heads on the sloped ceiling if we jumped from any higher. The girls waited for us to do our thing. They were right behind and were the first to take their places around the crèche.
We all knew the pact; no presents without a prayer. “Dear Baby Jesus … Thanks.”
I don't plan on getting any presents this week, besides the gift of uninterrupted silence. But that's plenty.
Thanks to those who are filling in for me; the time is undeserved. I'll try to use it well.
God bless, Father Jonathan
P.S. I've posted below some reactions to Thursday's column about the announced pregnancy of Mary Cheney, the vice president's openly gay daughter. If you haven't read it yet, take a minute now. It will help make sense of the spirited exchange below.
P.P.S. At the bottom, you'll find links to a few articles that I found interesting. Let me know if you like this feature.
Father Jonathan, please explain to me how any of this is your business. As long as the child is cared and nurtured for, neither you nor anyone else, has any say in this. Or are you just trying to stir sentiment against them for the sake of FOX News?
RESPONSE: Ron, sure, I'll try to explain. In fact, I should have mentioned in my column that the only reason I decided to comment on this topic, was that Mary Cheney has chosen to be a public figure and voice. She recently published a book under the title “Now It's My Turn.” When someone like Mary Cheney (or me), puts his or her thoughts into the public square, they affect public opinion, and in that regard, deserve a response. You can be sure I would never try to get a scoop, or comment on anyone's personal life just to stir sentiments.
Jonathan, if you really want to use your forum for something constructive, then why do you preach division rather than preach acceptance. Would you not be making things better by asking people to look past the things that break us apart? Look to Jesus for your inspiration if you can find none in your own heart. Was there EVER a person in history who more wanted to INCLUDE people than Jesus? All people Jonathan. Not just those that he liked or agreed with. He did not sit in judgment of their life choices ... man did that. He accepted. In our world, is there a greater thing you can do for humanity than to preach acceptance?
— Clay (Cincinnati, OH)
RESPONSE: Clay, I don't use this venue to discuss Biblical theology — there are other places for that — but I think you bring up a very important point. The acceptance of people — all people — including those who disagree vehemently with us, is admirable. And as you suggest, it is very much in line with the teachings of Jesus. But I would propose we make a distinction between accepting PEOPLE and accepting their IDEAS or CHOICES. Contrary to what you say, Jesus, in fact, did “sit in judgment of people's life-choices.” He called the Pharisees of his day “white-washed tombs”, for their hypocrisy; he used a whip to clear out the money changers from the temple; he rebuked Peter the Apostle for “thinking like men and not like God”; and so forth. He condemned some of their choices, precisely because he knew how bad they were for their ultimate wellbeing.
In my opinion, when we convert a relative value like “acceptance” or “inclusion” into an absolute value (something that is always good), it becomes dictatorial by negating any objective truth.
First, let me say that I try to read your column every day. I truly enjoy what you write, even though I sometimes don't agree 100 percent. But that is one of the rights that we enjoy as Americans. I think that to tackle this issue and to publish your opinion publicly for the world to read takes a heap of courage. My hat is off to you. Keep writing and saying what you do. Sometimes one voice singing in the dark sparks the chorus.
— Pete, Firefighter/Paramedic
RESPONSE: Thanks, Pete, for your note and for your own heap of courage as a firefighter and paramedic.
I must respectfully disagree with you on your views concerning a gay couple raising a child. I know several gay couples here in Arizona that are raising one or more children on their own and I do not see the "ill" effects on these children. These are healthy, well-adjusted kids that love both of their parents deeply and without question (and yes they look at them both as parents.) How could that be wrong in any way?
In one of the couples, the child was originally in a household that was full of violence and drugs. The mother was a prostitute and an addict; the mother's sister and lover took the child in and raised her in the most loving household you could imagine. The child has since been enrolled in school and has received the kind of love and attention that all people want and need.
I don't feel like I have been able to adequately explain myself but I hope you can understand what I'm getting at.
Thanks for your time and may your god bless you everyday of your life.
RESPONSE: Dave, I think I do get it. What your friends have done to rescue the child from an environment of violence, drugs and prostitution is noble and praiseworthy. My column was about something else; the decision of a woman to become pregnant without any intention of involving the father in the life of the child.
Dear Father Jonathan:
Thank you for all of your FOX News articles.
Your ability to communicate clearly and concisely with your readers without the forced ratings' hype is exceptionally refreshing. I thoroughly commend you for presenting all facts objectively, which can enable a sensible reader to make informed rational decisions on the issues presented. The superb blending of your religious convictions, worldly experience, education and deep thought with reality, is sincerely appreciated. It far surpasses the religious zealot "THOU SHALT/SHALT NOT" approach, and the majority of news commentators' biased and emotionally charged rhetoric.
— W. F, Lieutenant Commander, United States Navy (Ret.)
RESPONSE: Sir, thank you.
In your blog on Mary Cheney, you state the following: "The movement to redefine the family threatens to subvert children's rights. Mary thought the decision to get pregnant with the help of a third party was serious enough to merit a long talk with her girlfriend, but thinks her child should have no say in being born into a fatherless home."
When do children ever have a say in choosing the family in which they are born? I'd wager that most children would prefer to have two mommies, than to be born into a family with an abusive/drug-addicted/criminal traditional father-mother family.
— W.S (Austin, TX)
RESPONSE: Two separate questions there; First, you are right to say babies never have a say in choosing the family into which they are born, but that doesn't eliminate the parents' and society's responsibility to provide children with the best possible upbringing. Who can say that this wouldn't include a child knowing who their biological parents are and having them present in his or her life. While it is not always possible, we should be striving for this. Selling sperm tubes over the Internet, so couples or singles can find personal fulfillment in parenthood, doesn't seem to take this into account. Second, I agree with you that an abusive/drug-addicted/criminal father or mother is not a good idea. But that is a very different issue. Mary Cheney did not choose to adopt one of these needy children.
I am in complete agreement with you on this subject. Believe it or not, it is even worse than you state. What is happening out here in California — I know this for a fact and can provide proof — is that many lesbian couples are going to sperm banks that only collect sperm from gay men, many who are prominent members of the gay community. This is a very common practice in San Francisco. A couple has a baby and raises the child knowing that he or she has "all gay" parents. Afterwards, the couple hopes the child will become another member of the gay community. I found this information out through a woman I met in the antique business; she is raising a son with this setup. I was so shocked to find out about it and know that it is difficult to believe — but it is happening every day.
— Patricia (Carmel, CA)
RESPONSE: Patricia, I had never heard this before. To be fair, I think we should remind readers that while this may be happening in some parts, I would assume most gay parents would avoid pushing any sexual orientation on their children.
Thank you for the kind, reasoning honesty you put into your articles. I rarely follow the writings of commentators, but your entries cause me to think and pray.
I am a missionary working with hundreds of young people each year; the wounds of boys and girls from broken families constantly amazes me, while the abuses, neglect and lack of security are heartbreaking.
As a father, who has adopted many children, I am often reminded that my wife and I are giving our sons a gift. Even though we have to work hard to maintain our relationship with one another, they will grow up with the model and the security of knowing how to relate to both men and women in the family.
I am praying for you as you speak truth with love and reason.
RESPONSE: John-Mark, what you are doing for these kids is admirable!!! Anyone who has ever adopted children from difficult backgrounds knows very well what I am talking about. Thank you!
Perhaps you need to talk to some of the people outside of your circle. There are millions of mothers raising kids out there, with deadbeat, abusive, alcoholic or cheating husbands — many of whom are Catholic and repent for their sins on Sundays. The sooner this silly old world, male dominant thinking ends, the sooner we can progress into a healthier society. The way I see it, thousands of years of traditional unions has only brought us a male dominant attitude and a perpetual struggle for power, which results in never-ending violence. It's not working, Father. Give the lesbians and gays a chance; otherwise, quit trying to patronize people with your hip commentary and sly injection of old scripture that is no more divine than a Mayan pot unearthed in Teotihuacán.
A heterosexual proud to defend the rights of gay people
RESPONSE: Lee, it sounds like your feelings run deep. A point-by-point response probably won't clear up anything. I just wanted to allow the readers to see your point of view.
Dear Father Jonathan,
When your own church and "Family Values" folks can get it right, I will take your advice. Since 50 percent of marriage ends in divorce and over half of new births are to unmarried couples, I don't think you have any room to comment on what we are doing. Most of us are stable, good earners, loving and kind people. We provide a much more stable home than many of the "straight" folks out there. When you can clean up your own side of the street, you may then, and only then, suggest ways to clean my side.
RESPONSE: Jay, while your stats are inflated, your point is correct. The problem of single-parent homes is not exclusive to homosexuals. But I'm glad you see that both sides of the street need cleaning. One small point: When dealing with sensitive issues like this, it is important to be reasonable and not fall into name-calling. I certainly never said homosexuals were unloving or unkind, as you suggested.
In my former career, I was a clinical psychologist and I conducted evaluations for juvenile court, as well as seeing a variety of adolescent and adult clients.
In general, I find discussing these issues with most people to be an exasperating experience. This is because the opinion of the average individual is typically based solely on belief and not on actual experience or, better still, objective evidence. People who abhor homosexuality will generate numerous reasons on why homosexuals should not be parents. People who accept homosexuality will tell you there's nothing wrong with it. Both sides are entitled to their opinions but they need to recognize that their opinions are not facts.
In my review of the literature, at least that available in accepted peer reviewed journals, the facts are muddier than people would like to believe.
Are homes with a mom and dad the best? Sure, when the mom and dad are both stable, healthy, responsible individuals. But you and I both know this is not always the reality in the family.
Frankly, if Ms. Cheney and her partner create a stable, caring environment, I'm sure their child will fare much better than say those of Britney Spears, who were conceived in a heterosexual union and whose dad is involved in their lives.
— Don, Ph.D. (Cleveland, OH)
RESPONSE: Thank you Don, for giving us your professional point of view. I'm sorry I couldn't include your whole note, for lack of space. It will be interesting to research the effect of child-development based on independent scientific studies of growing up in an openly homosexual home. The ones that are accessible now have been administered by lobby groups on each side of the debate. If you have any suggestions, let me know.
A LOOK AT WHAT I'VE BEEN READING
Religion and Culture
Family and Marriage