Thursday, July 26, 2012

Water Balloons and Hospital Beds: last chance to be normal

Candidacy for the novitiate of the legion of Christ is a time for a bunch of normal guys to get to know each other and the life they are thinking about entering. And for the most part, that is what it was for me. We were just a bunch of normal guys from different backgrounds trying out what seemed to be a promising future as priests.

Now when you get a bunch of high school aged young men together during the summer, mischief is bound to happen. And it did. That’s normal.

There were a couple of guys in my group that were, you might say, more normal than others. In other words, they were pranksters.

One of the stunts planned at the dinner table and hatched while most everyone was snoring was to move a candidate’s old hospital bed, candidate intact, to a remote part of the building. Not an easy stunt, given the building was built on many different levels and stairs had to be  surmounted. I took part in one of these. But no sooner did we cross a threshold with an abrupt bump, the candidate awoke and said, “Alright, brothers, bring me back”.

At one point these pranksters were able to wheel one candidate out and leave him in the lobby in front of the Chapel door where the novices found him as they made their way to morning prayers. Lots of fun.

But the major event of our candidacy was the attack on the Oaklawn kids.

At that time Oaklawn Academy was using part of the building in Cheshire while the campus in Edgerton, WI was being prepared. One of the candidates, Thomas, noticed the boys were filling water balloons in the bathroom and quickly surmised they were planning an attack on the candidates. Not true, or course, but he was able to convince the superiors. Actually, the superiors in a way encouraged our antics. After all, it was our last chance to be normal before entering the novitiate.

So, after getting all the necessary permissions, the boys were brought out to the steps outside the back of the building for a “group photo”. We candidates had strategically hidden water balloons, and ourselves, in the bushes and on the roof. We also filled garbage bins with water on the roof to douse the little guy with. On the signal, all hell broke loose.

It didn’t take long for the boys to find our stock of balloons and counter attack. All in all, it was great fun, and I’m sure everyone in our group remember this with fondness. Just a bunch of normal guys having normal fun before we weren’t able to be normal anymore without it being a grave sin.

Of course, none of us knew that some of the most enjoyable parts of our young lives were going to be stripped away. We were innocent and enthusiastic and willing to give ourselves wholeheartedly to serve God and Church, maybe to be like our favorite saint or the parish priest that inspired us. Just normal Joe’s.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

That's not legionary

I arrived at Candidacy in Cheshire on August 2, 1986. It was late in the candidacy, only about five weeks left. Imagine, just five weeks of preparation to enter into novitiate life. 

From the very first day the strangeness started.  

I was quickly ushered into the life and activities of the other candidates. My first activity with the candidates was a swim in the “pool”. It lasted only a few minutes until the assistant called us in. When I got to the bathrooms I immediately went to relieve myself. A candidate named James walked up to me while I was doing my business and said, “Brother, that’s not legionary”. “What?”, I asked. He said, “Using the urinal is not legionary”.

Not legionary. How strange.

I never understood how a moral judgment, something right or wrong, something permitted or not could be labeled as legionary. It was a term I heard used many times, but opted not to use myself. Instead, I would refer to the norms. But I guess it is a way of expressing how deeply integrated you are with the legionary speak. It also shows how legionaries take possession of universal norms, making them their own.

As for me, whenever I am in a restaurant or at the mall, I make it a point to use the urinal.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

I thank God every morning

From time to time I go to lunch or dinner with a priest friend who has left one of the new movements in the Church, and we inevitably start to talk about our experiences. When he asks me, jokingly, when I am going back to the legion, I always answer, quite truthfully, “There is not a morning that goes by, while praying my breviary, that I don’t thank God that I am no longer in the Legion.”

I am truly grateful that I am out.

At present I am the pastor of a small, parish, living alone in a small apartment that I have fixed up to my own likes. The pastoral work in the parish needs more work. Structurally, I have renovated some, but there is a lot more to do. In all, I set my pace and am getting things done. I have told this priest and anyone else who asks me, “I have done more in one and a half years in the parish than 24 in the legion. And I am grateful to God for that.

When I left the legion I was a bit worried about my prayer life. And I admit there was a gap where I became a little neglectful. But I have a conviction that I can no sooner get along without a good prayer life as any good Christian or person of faith for that matter. It’s like going for my morning walk: I literally have to force myself out the door every morning. But I don’t start shoving until I have prayed. I do it because I want to, not out of fear, but because I need it. When I get my exercise in, I feel better the rest of the day. When I pray, well you can imagine what God does.

So I am not motivated by fear, but out of desire and love.

The legion preached conviction, but so much of what I was doing in the legion was motivated by fear. I’m sure so many others experienced the same thing. It was not that gut fight or flee type of fear, but a gnawing anxiety that maybe I wouldn’t make the grade or be seen as faithful. Sometimes it was that desire to be one of the favored ones that motivated me to be faithful. Sometimes it was just my pride wanting to show them I was not worthless. Mostly it was the fear of failure.

But in the end I overcame the fear. I accepted my failure. I failed to be the model legionary. I failed to accept the methodology. I failed to walk the walk and talk the talk. I failed, and I am happy I failed, because in failing I have found the truth and overcome the fear. I am so grateful for being a failure. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

"Click" Anniversary

Today marks two years since I left the Legion. It was a memorable day. I entitled it, "Click... and it was over". I can remember the details as if it were yesterday.

I spent the day, my last day in a legionary house, putting back things that I knew I wouldn't need or want. As I went my way, everyone else was just going about their business, diligently working, because to waste time was a big sin. But they sensed that they wouldn't see me again. They knew I was going to visit my family, but my stay in that center had been so unsettling in the previous months that maybe they were hoping for some closure. I don't know. No one said a word.

My superiors knew I was going to travel, but neither one made any arrangements to bring me to the airport. I asked the only other priest that was there, but he had another engagement. So I called a taxi.

I packed my bags, not nervous or excited, just kind of numb. The thought of never stepping into a legionary center again didn't bother me in the least. I was in fact looking forward to it.

A couple of days earlier I had left all the possessions I was interested in at the rectory of a priest friend where I stayed for three months after returning to Brazil.

I waited for the taxi, and as soon as it arrived, I opened the front gate, went back to leave my keys on my desk, walked out to the taxi clicking the gate behind me. And that was that. A twenty-four year chapter of my life was over for good.

What did I think or feel about the fact that no one said goodbye or wanted to see me off? It all seemed absolutely normal. I really didn't expect anything more. It was a typical attitude. I was dead to them. Life went on. I'm sure no one spoke about me or missed me. Legionaries come and legionaries go, nothing more than a leaf in the wind.

It has been two wonderful years. I truly give thanks to God every morning for where I am and how he has guided me.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


I was reading some of the stories on the other day, and the repeated mention of loneliness by some of the girls struck me. In the legion I and others experienced loneliness. For some it was a real cross, for others, less. But it made me wonder why loneliness was encouraged. Not directly, but it was favored by the environment of silence and the norm to avoid personal friendships.

Lonliness is common among those who God has called to serve him in the Church. It is not specific to religious congregations. Among diocesan priests it is prevalent. I have been living alone for about a year and a half, the only priest in a small, growing parish. I am living in a diocese where I did not attend the diocesan seminary. Most priests have friends from their seminaries that the get together with from time to time. Others have family within driving distance.

I realized that I need someone to relate to and talk to. During my retreat a few weeks ago, I made not of that and asked around, “What do you do on Monday?” Monday is generally the day priests take off to rest. Some get together with old friends. But there were others who pretty much just stayed at home doing nothing.

I reached out to a couple of them, and have stated to get together with them. It is so helpful just to go out to lunch or dinner, take in a movie, or sit around and talk.

Now getting back to the topic. To say that loneliness in the legion and the RC is not sought is a mistake. The system was set up just for that purpose. The underlying reason is to dedicate you whole being to God and the mission, and I’m sure that some have a vocation to do just that. But for the rest who have never discerned that vocation and have been brought into the legion, it is sometimes an unbearable cross.

For those who are favored from the beginning and given active apostolates, that cross is less burdensome. But for those who the legion isolated to move them out of the congregation, it is an effective and sometimes devastating tool. Therein lies the cruelty, the psychological abuse and the disregard for personal dignity. It is the abuse of authority that needs to be addressed, the second point of the Vatican Communiqué of May 1, 2010 I would love to have more information on.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A white dove

Yesterday, a prominent Cardinal died in Rio de Janeiro. Eugenio Cardinal Sales died in his home of a heart attack.

The amazing thing is that, as his body lay in state in the Cathedral, a white dove landed on his casket.

I'll let you think about that.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Romans 8:28

I mentioned that last week I was on retreat. It really was a moment of God’s grace for me, because after leaving the legion I hadn’t done a good retreat. The last retreat before leaving was in Rome where I did the 30 day Ignatian spiritual exercises. Since then the weight of leaving and reestablishing myself in my new parish left its toll. I really needed a good retreat.

As I was preparing for this Sunday’s homily, the second reading from St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor 12:7-12), I remembered a certain moment of grace during those exercises in Rome. It was just before lunch in the third week, which is dedicated to the Passion of Christ. I was praying my breviary. The psalm for that hour was Psalm 119 which reads, “It was good for me that I had to suffer”. In Portuguese the word “suffer” was translated humiliated. It read, “It was good for me that I was humiliated.” I stopped in my tracks in the hot summer sun. It was good to be humiliated.

The humiliations that I suffered in the Legion, both the normal ones that everyone goes through, and the extraordinary ones that were particular to me, in the long run were good for me. They stripped away any self-seeking and taught me to want God alone. From this I anchored my personal spirituality in three basic principles that I follow to this day. God loves me with an infinite, personal love; he forgives me unconditionally; and he has prepared a place for me in heaven. There is not a day that goes by that I do not fall back on these principles and thank him for where I am today. “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Rm 8:28).

In no way does the fruit of humiliation justify the means used to humiliate. Each legionary responsible will have to respond before God for that. But that God can bear fruit in adversity, there can be no doubt.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Because you have the right to know.

Blogging again was a good decision. It is a good therapy for me, and I hope that it is useful to others. But the underlying reason for blogging is that you have the right to know what goes on in the legion, and I believe that these errors have not yet been corrected.

It is my opinion that the more those who have lived as legionaries or are still legionaries get the word out, the better chance there will be an authentic renewal of the congregation. I have long believed, while still in the legion and to this day, that if the Legionaries do not receive the results of the apostolic visit as a tool for revising the constitution, then change will only be what the superiors dictate. If the legion succeeds in just gaining cosmetic changes to its constitution with little change to its modus vivendi, these abuses will continue.

Therefore, I invite all who have had any experience with the Legion or Regnum Christi to but aside fear and embarrassment and speak the truth for the world to see. Those who are able should start their own blogs, share their experiences, because the truth will make us all truly free. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


This is big news, and it is a long time coming. During my retreat last week I spoke to my Bishop, Sergio da Rocha. He mentioned that my petition to be incardinated into the Archdiocese of Brasília was brought before counsel and has been approved.

As I said, it was a long time coming. This because Archbishop Sergio was appointed to the Archdiocese in the middle of the process.

Within the next few days I should be receiving this news in writing, which I will forward on to Rome. From there it is just a matter of time and I will be granted a dispensation from the vows that still tie me to the Legion.

Although living diocesan life and named Pastor of a parish, I am still officially a Legionary. Be that as it may, I have not been contacted in these two years since I have left to see how I am doing, to ask my opinion on the renewal process, to offer me any kind of assistance, or even to ask for my help. Once you step out the door, no matter how canonically linked you are to the Legion, you are literally on your own.

Monday, July 2, 2012

How I loved Therezinha

When I was working as assistant pastor in Guadalupe parish in Brasilia, there was a little old woman named Therezinha who I grew very fond of. And she was fond of me. She was short and white haired, walked with a waddle and complained about how her feet hurt. But she would walk to church every morning for Mass, and at a pretty good clip at that.

She was the matriarch of the parish and made sure that everything was just so. So when she would remind me of an upcoming feast day that was important to the parishioners, I appreciated that, especially since LC formation gives no preparation for parish life whatsoever.

Therezinha would take care of me. At the slightest hint that I might be getting sick, she would show up later in the day with vitamin C or a soup she had made for me. It was strange to me, because I hadn’t experience that kind of caring from anyone while I was in the Legion.

I suffered from migraines in the Legion. They used to be fairly frequent, so much so that I would carry medicine around with me all the time to ward off the effects at the onslaught, if of course the superior let me keep medicine.  

I started getting migraines these during novitiate in Cheshire. At that time I didn’t know they were migraines. There was a time when, after asking for some aspirin from my superior and being refused, my only resort was to look for somewhere dark and quiet to hide.  I went to the gym and sat on the stairs behind the stage. I pressed my head against the cold iron railing hoping to get some relief. But since I was outside God’s will, I was nervous and tense, and that only increased my suffering. Before long I was nauseous, and soon needed to vomit.

Once, in Rome, one came on suddenly in the late afternoon. I went to the superior’s door to ask for some aspirin. He was talking to someone else when I got there and the five or ten minutes that I waited were hell. Finally I gave up and went to my room, closed the blind and went to bed. I guess it was sometime after night prayers when I heard the door to my room open. There was a pause, and then the door closed again. Nothing was said, no “Do you need anything? Are you OK?” The next morning I got chewed out for being outside God’s will.

So when Therezinha would care for me, I felt something I hadn’t felt in years. Someone really loved me.

Therezinha passed away a year ago, and I miss her. Her son came to my parish a couple of weeks after she died. He brought me a very old painting of the Sacred Heart that I had noticed in her house and liked. He said, “I’m sure Mom would have wanted you to have it.” It’s proudly hanging on the wall in my house as a reminder of how much I loved Therezinha.