Updated 27 January 2022
As a kid, I wanted to be like the Greek warrior Achilles. Before going out to battle, an oracle had revealed to him that he had to choose between living an easy and unremarkable life, but would be forgotten forever, or to live a heroic, challenging life and be remembered as the greatest warrior to ever live.
He chose death and glory.
I too wanted death and glory, or at least to do something worth dying for.
Feeling stuck in a world of superficiality, I vowed to follow my brother into the Marine Corps after graduation. Thus, like Achilles, I too could choose a fate of death and glory.
But God had another plan for me. A priest I knew convinced me that God wanted me to be a priest (I did not want it) and that it would be even more heroic to die to myself every day. I could not argue with the logic: if I hated the idea of it, yet did it everyday, then that would be the ultimate death. If God wanted this for me, then who was I to reject it, I thought.
So when I was 18, I got on a bus and became a monk.
That was a mistake.
It turns out the group I had joined had been founded by a charismatic but psychotic serial-lying priest who years later it would become known that he had secretly fathered children through multiple women, had sexually abused minors for decades and had set up an entire global network of monasteries, schools and charities that fed his secret and criminal lifestyle.
But by the time I found this out, I was already too deeply enmeshed to escape.
I spent the next 11 years away from home striving to become a man I was never meant to be. I spent 5 of those studying classical philosophy in Rome, and witnessed firsthand that the scandals were not confined to my religious order but had infected most of the Church hierarchy.
One cardinal had been participating in coke-filled gay orgies with other priests (and got away with it). The second in command behind the Pope had stolen a half-million euros (roughly $650,000) from a children's hospital to remodel his apartment. There were stories of priests raping nuns and bishops turning an eye. And over time, I realized that this behavior, or the enabling of it by those who could stop it, had grown like a cancer and infected almost the entire Church hierarchy.
All around me I saw evil, and yet felt powerless to do anything. It was killing me inside.
Then God spoke to me one evening. I was on an 8-day Ignatian retreat and was having issues with insomnia. While walking around the yard praying a rosary at 3 am, I stood before a giant marble crucifix on the outskirts of Rome, and God spoke to me.
“I do not find glory in your misery, but in your being fully alive.”
You would think that I would have rejoiced at this revelation, but instead I fought it. I had been taught that if I was miserable, then that meant I was doing God’s will. How, then, could he want me to be happy?
I fought him for a few days, but my insomnia (among other things) got worse. Finally, I realized I couldn’t best God in a spiritual battle and I conceded. The peace immediately came, and I began the process of transitioning out of the seminary. I was finally free!
But true freedom, it turns out, would take much longer to come.
Just weeks after I left, my father passed away unexpectedly and with his death, my family home of 30 years went to auction. I was broke, unemployed, and had no place to go.
After having lived in a bubble for 11 years, where I could not so much as have a pencil without permission and where I had no access to internet except for a few Catholic news websites, I realized that all of the sheltering had weakened me and I was not prepared for the world now coming at me full throttle, and nor did I understand it. It was like stepping out of a bomb shelter after over a decade, and not recognizing anything of the world that you saw around you.
Soon I was overwhelmed, deeply depressed, alone, and had given up on the possibility of ever getting out of the situation I was in. Add to that an immense amount of anger at slowly realizing I had been psychologically and emotionally abused for the past decade. And finally due to the sheltering, my lack of financial prowess had made me prone to marketing sharks, who took advantage and left me deeply in debt on credit cards that I could not pay off. I was an absolute wreck.
One cold night, when I had given up the hope of ever changing, I walked over the Commonwealth Bridge in Boston. It was past midnight, and no one would see me jump into the ice water below. No one would know until my body was found floating somewhere downstream perhaps days later.
But God kept me from jumping that night.
And He led me to discover the means for slowly climbing out of debt, and learn the skills that I would need to grow and succeed. I did not simply pray and find my problems dissolve, nor did I apply some magic 5-step formula to succeed, though I did wish that either of those would be true.
As I struggled with suicidal thoughts, depression, and addiction to pornography, I looked for answers. Therapy only seemed to get me so far, and I always got stuck at action.
What can I DO to feel better, to re-write my life and move towards a new path of purpose, virtue and joy? Was it possible to keep my faith when I had seen so much evil in the Church, and when stepping into a church would often overwhelm me to the point of feeling choked?
Completely confused about what was up and down, right and wrong, and where I belonged in the world, I began a 7 year journey of purchasing books, courses, coaching - in short, anything that I thought would help me escape the anger, guilt and shame I felt and the feeling of running on a track that was going nowhere.
Some were helpful, others were not. However, I knew that the key to success was simply not giving up until the hours, days and years of climbing over obstacles had led me to the place where I knew I wanted to be, the proverbial Holy Land, where my desires and God’s were one and the same.
Along the way, I realized that I was not the only man confused and broken. Though their paths had been different from mine many good Christian men had become disillusioned with life, the Church, and their own place in it. And everywhere they looked for leadership, they turned out to be frauds, grifters and hypocrites.
Even as a former Catholic seminarian of 11 years, I found it hard to find my place in the Church. I was repulsed by the tepid, liberal leadership whose “spirituality of love” was vomit-inducing.
But I didn’t find my place among the “Catholic men’s groups” either, whose fetishization of whisky, cigars and ecclesiology seemed pedantic and reminded me of my early years in the seminary, where newbies’ enthusiasm for their sudden growth in the spiritual life made them blindly assume they had already ascended Mt Carmel. Rather than use that supposed holiness to build up the Church around them, they often would turn and hurl rocks at those climbing below them.
What stood at the very apex of the problem was the issue of how the Catholic Church handled (and continues to handle) the abuse crisis. In the case of my religious order, the Church had intervened and installed one of the most eminent canon lawyers in the Church (and a Cardinal) to personally review and oversee the cleansing and renewal of the religious order. Yet he himself was caught privately advising one of the families of an abuse victim to financially settle the case out of court so they would agree to retract the lawsuit (and the accusation of abuse).
He also was fully aware of the ongoing case of abuse of a priest in one of their Catholic schools who years before had raped the children who had gone to confession with him. Despite that knowledge, this cardinal permitted the priest to continue his ministry elsewhere. In his own words, he had not come to address the abuses of the other members of the religious order, but only the founder and advised the leaders of the order to simply put it behind them.
And herein lies the crux of the issue. Men of God, dedicated to stand-in for God here on earth and protect and shepherd God’s people, men who had PhDs in philosophy and theology, who had dedicated their lives to the service of God and his people, had conscience’s less developed than your average convict, for even convicts understand the appropriate response to child abusers…These ‘men’ had usurped the title of Father had no right to it, for they had brought shame to every true father for the entirety of history. They had also sullied the good name of those good priests who in humility and love, had served God’s people faithfully.
It is clear to anyone with half a whit that if the Church had any intention of evangelizing, their first order of business would be to face this abuse like men and defrock any bishop or cardinal who knowingly permitted this abuse.
But that won’t happen, because the problem is not just with the hierarchy, but with her men and women in the rank and file who ignore these egregious atrocities without holding their local priests and bishops accountable. It is true, we often can do little to influence the Church at the institutional level, but we can affect change at our local level.
But we have all fallen asleep, and as men, we have supplanted our God-given responsibilities as protectors of our families and replaced it with ‘niceness’ and ‘gentlemanliness.’
And the true reason for that is because we ourselves have been negligent in our own duties, in the mandate from God to forge first in ourselves the image of God. We preferred ‘bread and circuses’ as the Romans once said: the easy comfortable life, which is found nowhere in the Gospel.
To take back the Church, we must first take back our own lives, become fully responsible for the gap between who we are and who we could be, and who God calls us to be. We must stop the lies we tell ourselves, and look with complete honesty about where we are truly at. Only in truth can freedom and grace then grow.
For me, that is a tall order. Ever since I left the seminary, I have left many things slip. I have lost my bearings, and amidst the chaos of these past years, and the growing disappointment I feel with the Church leadership, I have excused myself from my own duties as a man, allowed myself to accept less than what I was meant to be, thinking that it would only harm myself. But when we rob ourselves of our destiny, we also rob others who were to be blessed by the greatness God intended for us.
I have spent too much time listening to voices who had no right taking real estate in my head, while remaining estranged from my own Creator.
I have taken an accounting of these gaps, and committed myself to shorten them, no matter how many times I fall along the way. And while I fall often, I also commit to becoming more adept at getting back up more quickly. I will indeed run towards my fears, towards my shortcomings, towards the destiny that God has laid out for me in this short life I have left to live on this earth.
Along the way, I will share my story, my struggles, my triumphs, and the methods that I attempt to reclaim ownership for my life and become the man God intended me to be, a man fully alive.