Matt C. Abbott
November 22, 2009
Attention Christian men: Listen to Father James!
By Matt C. Abbott

Readers may recall some of my previous columns that featured quotes from, and writings of, Father James Farfaglia formerly with the Legionaries of Christ and currently a priest of the Diocese of Corpus Christi, Texas. He is also the spiritual advisor to Hope House, a home for unwed mothers, and was recently appointed to the board of directors of Human Life International.

Father James has authored and published a book titled Man to Man: A Real Priest Speaks to Real Men about Marriage, Sexuality and Family Life. All proceeds from the book's sales will go toward the founding of a Catholic elementary school in the diocese. Click here to see Father's official Web site for Man to Man.

The following is the book's Introduction in its entirety. Thanks to Father James for allowing me to reprint it.

Introduction

    Heroic men have always inspired me. Saints, military generals, and famous presidents have always provided light and direction during my life. Men like Paul, Athanasius, Thomas More, John Fisher, Edmond Campion, John Vianney, Miguel Pro, Oscar Romero, John Paul II, Pope Benedict, Washington, Lincoln, Reagan, Patton, MacArthur and Eisenhower are all men I admire very much. They are all lighthouses: men who, within their own historical circumstances, stood up to the plate and lived their lives with heroism.

    My dear brothers in the Lord, today, as men, we are constantly being challenged.

    If a Catholic priest wants to be faithful, mature and authentic, he has to live out his life rooted in the One who has called him. All of the traditional support for priestly life is gone.

    Most priests have no support from their bishop. Most priests have to stay away from the very people they need to be close to; i.e., their brother priests. Many times priests are persecuted by their parishioners, too. However, true priests will find solace in a deep friendship with Jesus and comfort provided by a few faithful parishioners.

    Married men can feel isolated and alone as well. At work, most Catholic men are surrounded by overly-demanding bosses and lazy co-workers. On the home front, their neighbors are indifferent and their families are crazy and dysfunctional.

    Aside from the murky waters that real men, be they men who are priests or men who are married, have to wade through every day, real men are constantly challenged by a culture that is sexually out of control.

    A young priest recently told me that young, attractive women were putting slips of paper with their telephone number in the pocket of his clergy shirt. The priest is a real priest and the women are young parishioners. What has happened to young Catholic women?

    A man wants to sit down some evening or on a Sunday afternoon and watch sports on TV, and he constantly has to dodge disgustingly provocative commercials. A man wants to check his e-mail or do some work on the Internet, and he is frequently tempted with pornography. We cannot even buy a bottle of milk or a pack of cigarettes without being accosted by some loosely-clad woman on the cover of a magazine.

    So, why am I writing this book?

    For some reason I have never been indifferent to anything. Ever since I was a child in the 6th or 7th grade, I could sense that something was wrong in our Church and in our country. I could tell that they were both falling apart. My eyes have been open for a long time. Some people think that I am too much and too negative. I respond to them by saying that I am a realist.

    If the house is burning, get a hose and put out the fire. If someone is trapped inside, we need to go in for the rescue. Only the cowards would watch from the sidewalk and do nothing.

    I love heroes. I loathe cowards.

    My dear brothers in the Lord, I know that as married men you are challenged every day. I am writing to you in order to encourage you to remain faithful and to be a hero.

    I suppose you are wondering how a celibate Catholic priest can write a practical book about the sacrament of holy matrimony. This is a good question I have often asked myself as well. Where are my practical insights coming from?

    First of all, I was not born in a vacuum. I do have a family, too. I grew up with a wonderful mother, father, brother and two sisters. I was surrounded by the love of two sets of grandparents and my great-grandparents as well.

      "I also am mortal, like all men, a descendant of the first-formed child of earth; and in the womb of a mother I was molded into flesh, within the period of ten months, compacted with blood, from the seed of a man and the pleasure of marriage. And when I was born, I began to breathe the common air, and fell upon the kindred earth, and my first sound was a cry, like that of all. I was nursed with care in swaddling cloths. For no king has had a different beginning of existence; there is for all mankind one entrance into life, and a common departure" (Wisdom 7: 1-6).

    Secondly, I have been a priest for more than 20 years. I have spent most of my priesthood in the confessional and in my office spiritually directing married couples, especially young couples. Although they have learned a lot from me, I have received much more. Their affection toward each other and their perseverance in their struggles have reminded me that love is tender and eternal. My pastoral work as a parish priest also reminds me of the tremendous responsibility I have to shepherd my people to their eternal reward in heaven.

    Thirdly, my formation at Magdalen College was very practical. Our professors were always very down to earth. My college roommate, James Hickel, has also been a tremendous source of concrete knowledge about marriage and family life. He is one of 17 children. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, he has been able to move down to Corpus Christi to assist me in the foundation of St. Helena of the True Cross of Jesus Catholic Church, a new parish in the Diocese of Corpus Christi.

    Our long conversations about the practical details of married life, usually accompanied by cigars and libations, have been a tremendous source of practical knowledge. Jim, as a husband, dad, grandfather, professional educator and contractor has some very deep insights into fatherhood, sexuality, and married life.

    Finally, the other practical source of knowledge comes from who I am: a celibate Catholic priest.

    Because the modern view of sexuality is so distorted, most people, even fervent Catholics, seem to think priests have no interest in women or marriage. They seem to think priests became priests because human love did not interest them. This distorted view is not helped by the numerous scandals caused by homosexual men who have infiltrated the priesthood or immature heterosexual men who have been unauthentic and promiscuous. It amazes me when I consider that most Catholics, deep down inside, believe celibacy is impossible and that even faithful priests have to have a woman hiding in the rectory closet somewhere.

    Please allow me to dispel this ridiculous distortion once and for all. Celibacy is a great gift for the Church. Despite all of the bad publicity, many Catholic priests are faithful and profoundly happy.

    Once, when reading a book about the history of celibacy in the Catholic Church, I found this rather interesting passage I would like to share with you. Here lies the most important reason why I can speak to you about marriage.

      "The average husband and wife, who remain faithful within marriage, may be probably are happy sexually, but they cannot be described as particularly experienced. The average celibate priest, by contrast, acquires through the confessional an insight into the variety and power and problems of sexuality denied to most married couples, indeed to many psychiatrists...Priests have often told me that the very absence of direct experience in sex, which can be confusing and lead to prejudices, can make their approach to dealing with sexual problems of parishioners more objective and successful. But a point far more important than any of these is that the particular concentration on devotion to God made possible by celibacy also makes it far more likely that a priest can reciprocate God's love with its own intensity, and so inevitably receive more in return. And the love which God gives us is the source of all grace and wisdom. The more we are capable of receiving, the more likely it is that we will take right courses and lead others along them. So what the celibate priest loses in direct experience of sexual love and that loss, as I say, may not be great he more than makes up in the wisdom and patience and understanding God imparts to him" (Paul Johnson, "The Quest for God: A Personal Pilgrimage," quoted in Thomas McGovern's Priestly Celibacy Today, p. 196).

    My dear brothers in the Lord, I am writing this book for you, man to man, with deep love and concern so that you will be happy in this life and eternally happy in the life to come. One Sunday night in December 2006, I awoke at 3:00 a.m. and quickly wrote out the titles of the chapters of this book. I have never experienced this kind of inspiration before. The desire to write the book was something that kept bothering me for the next couple of weeks. So, I decided God was telling me something and perhaps using me. I quickly decided to take some time off and write the book. I knew I had to get away from the parish and I also knew that I needed a quiet, peaceful place that would help inspire my reflections. I have never used vacation time to write, but I thought, why not? So, here I am, on a small island off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, writing to you, the heroes of the modern world.

    The book you are about to read is very practical and down to earth. Before we can discuss the sacrament of marriage and sexuality, we have to first begin to understand what it means to love. For this reason, the first chapter takes a look at the Christian virtue of love. The second chapter immediately examines lust as a distortion of love and the third chapter looks at the virtue of chastity, which is the correct way to love. After the discussion on the sacrament of marriage and some very practical aspects of sexuality within the sacrament of marriage, the book looks at the obstacles to a good marriage and the means that are necessary for a successful marriage. Before the concluding exhortation, the book examines the relationship of a father with his children.

Related links:

"Our Lady of Guadalupe" (Father James' e-parish)

"Illegitimi non carborundum" (Father James' blog)

© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, Media and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He has been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR and WLS-TV in Chicago, and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.

(Note: I welcome thoughtful feedback from readers. If you want our correspondence to remain confidential, please specify as such in your initial email to me... (more)

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