Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Inconvenient Truth About The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

I have watched with great fascination how ordinary and famous people alike took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge by posting a video of them being doused with ice cold water and tagging someone to do the same. The goal of course is to raise money for the ALS Foundation to help find a cure for ALS (a.k.a. Lou Gehrig's disease). There is really nothing wrong with that, but if you are planning to join the ice bucket bandwagon please consider reading this blog post first. There is more to this than meets the eye.

The Ice Bucket Challenge and Lou Gehrig's Disease Research

The Ice Bucket Challenge aims to raise awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease. According to the website of the ALS Association (ALSA), here is how it works:

The challenge involves people getting doused with buckets of ice water on video, posting that video to social media, then nominating others to do the same, all in an effort to raise ALS awareness. People can either accept the challenge or make a donation to an ALS Charity of their choice, or do both.

Posed in this manner, there is nothing morally problematic about the nature of the challenge. Accepting the challenge does not require any donations, but helps promote the primary goal of raising ALS awareness. Those declining the challenge are encouraged to “make a donation to an ALS charity of their choice,” but there is no legal or moral obligation to do so, nor is there any requirement that a donation go to ALSA. Naturally, those who accept the challenge are also free to make a donation to an ALS charity. Some, such as the schools of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, are choosing to accept the challenge while also making donations to other organizations that promote awareness and support for persons with ALS.

Since the challenge started trending in late July 2014, it has successfully raised awareness about the disease on a dramatic scale, accomplishing its main purpose with great creativity and fun. It has also generated more than 40 million dollars in donations to promote research into causes of ALS and the development of new treatments.

Given its size and the significant amount of research, awareness, and support work with which it is involved, ALSA has been the primary recipient of many if not most donations resulting from the challenge. ALSA has also helped to promote the challenge on its website and through social media in accordance with its good aims as a charitable organization.

The public attention and funds being directed toward ALSA as a result of the Ice Bucket Challenge raise an important, but not widely known moral concern: ALSA also advocates for human embryonic stem cell research, including through funding for specific research projects. As indicated in the Advocacy Archive section of their website, they were active in encouraging expanded funding for embryonic stem cell research as soon as President Obama took office: “Earlier this month, the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, of which The ALS Association is an active member, sent a letter to President Obama urging him to quickly lift the restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.” Another advocacy group for patients with ALS, called Project ALS, is similarly on record encouraging human embryonic stem cell research.

In its Instruction Dignitas Personae, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith speaks clearly to the moral problems with the use of embryonic stem cells, even for noble and therapeutically effective ends:

The obtaining of stem cells from a living human embryo ... invariably causes the death of the embryo and is consequently gravely illicit: “research, in such cases, irrespective of efficacious therapeutic results, is not truly at the service of humanity. In fact, this research advances through the suppression of human lives that are equal in dignity to the lives of other human individuals and to the lives of the researchers themselves. History itself has condemned such a science in the past and will condemn it in the future, not only because it lacks the light of God but also because it lacks humanity” (n. 32, quoting Pope Benedict XVI).

ALSA acknowledges that there are relevant ethical concerns surrounding the use of embryonic stem cells: "The discovery that human embryonic stem cells can be isolated and propagated in the lab with the potential of developing into all tissues of the body is a major medical breakthrough. But it has raised ethical concerns." When asked about the ALSA position on human embryonic stem cell research, Carrie Munk, a spokeswoman for the Association, noted in an e-mail to Religion News Service that the organization primarily funds adult stem cell research: “Currently, The Association is funding one study using embryonic stem cells (ESC), and the stem cell line was established many years ago under ethical guidelines set by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS); this research is funded by one specific donor, who is committed to this area of research,” she said. “The project is in its final phase and will come to an end very soon.” Nonetheless, the organization does not clearly rule out the prospect of funding for ESC research.

Potential donors seeking to support laudable causes, such as research for cures to serious diseases, face the challenge of exercising due diligence, so that their funds are properly utilized and not misdirected or otherwise targeted by an advocacy organization to support immoral projects.

When foundations have a generally sound list of activities but promote an intrinsically immoral activity as well (such as abortion, human embryonic stem cell research, or contraception), donors must consider the serious matter of the fungibility of donated funds. Whenever we participate in fundraising for such organizations, even if they assure us that specified funds will only be used for activities with an ethical profile, it can end up being little more than a shell game. In this sense, there is a real danger that our fundraising activities may not only engender scandal, but may even contribute to the perpetuation of grave evils like abortion and human embryonic stem cell research. The duty to affirm the dignity of human life, and associated questions of scandal resulting from a lack of clarity, can become more significant—with a corresponding need for caution about where the funding is going—when Catholic authorities or institutions such as dioceses and schools are involved.

Donors who are concerned about the misuse of funds by groups such as ALSA, Project ALS, or others should consider notifying those organizations of their reasons for choosing not to donate, encouraging them to cease advocacy and funding for ESC research, raising awareness about the immoral destruction of human life through embryonic stem cell research, and donating to alternative ALS research and advocacy groups that do not support or promote human embryonic stem cell research. Several examples of such groups can be mentioned:

The Cell Therapy Foundation specifically promotes adult stem cell research. On their website, it is possible to donate in a directed way to specific research, including ALS:

Compassionate Care ALS offers much-needed care and treatment for people living with ALS (instead of focusing on scientific research and the development of therapies):

Massachusetts Citizens for Life reported in a recent newsletter that the ALS Therapy Development Institute (, when asked on the phone about this issue, said they do not support research with embryonic stem cells “because they think induced pluripotent adult stem cells are the best avenue to a cure.” The newsletter also noted that “they do not have a principled objection to using embryonic stem cells but said they understand the gravity of the issue and would be very public if they change their position so donors and potential donors would be aware.”


The Ethicists of The National Catholic Bioethics Center
The Ice Bucket Challenge and Lou Gehrig's Disease Research
August 22, 2014
© 2014 by the National Catholic Bioethics Center

[P.S. Feel free to forward this info as long as you include the source I posted above. Thanks.]

Monday, August 25, 2014

Come Follow Me

We just concluded our annual Courage retreat centering on the theme 'Come Follow Me'. I arrived late in the retreat and had actually no idea what the theme was and oh what a surprise! The week prior to our retreat I saw the 'Come Follow Me' signage twice and it kind of struck me as odd. So when I found out that the theme for this year's retreat was 'Come Follow Me', I took it as a sign to really reflect on the ways that I am not heeding His call to follow Him. If there's one thing I learned from the retreat, it is that no matter what our state in life is - married, religious, or single - the universal call is the call to love.

On this blog post, I am going to feature someone who has said his big yes to the Lord's call in an extraordinary way and that's no other than our wonderful retreat master Fr. James McTavish, FMVD.

It is not difficult to look for the address of James McTavish in the quiet, middle class Varsity Hills subdivision in Quezon City (Metro Manila). When asked for directions, bystanders will immediately point to a gated compound where the 'kano' lives. But that is not entirely accurate.

McTavish is a 42-year-old Scot with the laid back demeanor of a bachelor in his 20s. The Cambridge-educated doctor greets his visitor in carefully woven Filipino before shifting to genteel-sounding English articulated with a distinct rhetoric accent.

McTavish, however, did not originally plan to become a priest.

"I studied in Cambridge in England and became a surgeon. That was the only thing in life that I wanted to be. That was my vocation. That was my calling. And even when I was younger, the only thing I wanted to be was a surgeon," he said.

"After I qualified, I wanted to do a surgery...and as part of my training I did six months of plastic surgery," McTavish added.

Things took a different turn, however, when he was invited to work in Sydney, Australia in 1998. He explained that working in Sydney gave him time for some quiet reflection.

"I had the chance to have some time out - I was far away from my family, I was far away from my friends. And in that moment, I did something which I haven't done in a few years - I went back to church."

McTavish said the experience of regaining the habit to listen to Mass gave him peace "in the middle of some uncertainties about the future." During this period, he was invited to a prayer meeting by some sisters of the Fraternidad Misionera Verbum Dei, a religious order under the ambit of the Roman Catholic Church.

"What the sisters started to teach me was how to pray with the Word of God, and then I started to find out that the Church teaches that, when we pray, we speak to God. But when we read the Word of God, God is speaking to us," he said.

He then started to feel that there were certain changes in his disposition as a doctor.

"I became more patient with my patients," he quipped.

"I noticed that I became more the Word of God in my life. And in the middle of these changes, I was enjoying more and more. I started to go running. I had so much energy and I wasn't wasting it in crazy nights out with my friends. And I found myself more focused with more energy for doing the right things and avoiding the things I should." he added.

At 29, he experienced his first retreat. It was during this retreat that he decided to become a missionary for Verbum Dei.

Leap of Faith

Being called to priestly life is all about trust in God, according to McTavish.

"When you say 'yes' to the enter religious life, you're taking a little bit of a leap in the dark. And I didn't know that I'd come to beautiful Philippines. I didn't know I'll be in Quezon City. I didn't know I'd become a priest. I didn't know I'd be teaching moral theology in Ateneo de Manila University or UST [University of Santo Tomas]," the priest said.

He spent about two years for his formation course with Verbum Dei in Cebu and spent some years studying in Cagayan de Oro. Subsequently, he studied in Rome for four years leading to his ordination as a priest.

McTavish said that spending his time with the Verbum Dei community helped fortify his resolve to become a priest.

"I found that the Lord gathered people from different walks of life and of course it gave me more peace when I met others who have been called also. That's the beauty of community," he said.

Spreading the Word

Verbum Dei (Latin for Word of God) is a religious order founded by Spanish priest Fr. Jaime Bonet in Majorca, Spain in 1963. The community was granted Pontifical approval by Pope John Paul II as an Institution of Consecrated Life in 2000. Currently, Verbum Dei is present in about 33 countries spread throughout the five continents.

According to McTavish, "The mission [of Verbum Dei] is, first, to form apostles. This word really means people who are mature in their faith. The second mission is spreading the Word of God."

"Our advocacy is to make Jesus more known through prayer with the Word of God," he added.

Currently, McTavish teaches moral theology and bioethics at the Loyola School of Theology in Ateneo de Manila University and UST. He is also the author of the book Choose Life, which is a book that delves on moral, spiritual, and scientific issues about life and the dignity of human life. You can grab a copy of the book at any St. Paul's Bookstore nearest you for only P350.


"If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come follow me." - Matt 19:21

Friday, August 15, 2014

On the Assumption of Mary

Today, August 15, we celebrate the glorious feast of the Assumption of Mary.

“Open the portals! The Queen is approaching. Lift up, O eternal gates!”

The endless parade of the blessed crowded about the wide-open gates of heaven. There was tense expectancy, such as one finds along a line of march as a parade approaches. A roadway of clouds billowed the pathway from an uncorrupted grave to an incorruptible throne.

At last, borne by angels, the lovely Lady arrives. It is the first Assumpton Day, the Assumption of Mary. The heavenly throng gasps with admiration. The celestial singers burst into song. The angels hurry to and fro to catch a glimpse of her and to tell their companions of her beauty.

Jesus waits at the open entrance, throws His arms about His Mother, leads her triumphantly and happily to the very throne of the heavenly Father, who leans forward and places solemnly and smilingly upon her beauteous head the crown, as the Holy Spirit, heavenly Spouse of the Virgin Mother casts warmth and light upon the welcome newcomer.

Sweet scene of Mary’s bliss! Who can measure her happiness? Who can count the throbs of joy in her heart: joy that now her lonesome life on earth without Jesus is over; joy that now she has Him, never again to lose Him; joy that now she can enjoy His company without the interruptions of earth or sense; joy that now she can help everyone on earth who is devoted to her Son; joy that all the honor and all the praise and all the glory is given to her because of her Son; joy that the very crown she is wearing as the Queen of heaven and earth, is given to her because she is the Mother of Jesus.

Our Lady assumed into Heaven! Entering body and soul into the presence of the Most Blessed and Eternal Trinity! The Assumption of Mary! Her sufferings, great beyond all measure, are nothing now as she finds her reward in the greatness of the Infinite God. What eternal joy in His possession; what peace in being eternally possessed by Him – surely the richest reward for the obedient Handmaid of the Lord.

Our reward is likewise the possession of the same Triune God – our way to Him is likewise along the same royal way as tread so humbly and submissively the feet of our obedient Queen. Her last recorded words in Sacred Scripture, her counsel to the servants at the wedding feast, applies to us with equal and unfailing force: “Do whatever He tells you!” Our obedience to Christ is our way to joy and peace.

Mary’s death was caused by love that consumed her heart; her death was not meant for punishment nor expiation, hence there was no violence nor was it painful, since she was preserved from the dominion given to death by sin. According to an opinion accepted since the Middle Ages, Mary’s death resembled Christ’s, because she accepted it voluntarily out of humble and loving obedience; so, she died of love in the strict sense of the word. Death came to her in the form of the weakening of the body caused by the supernatural might of Dying Love. Her natural vitality was exhausted by love-longing, by the strength of an ecstasy of love and her great love moved God to cease keeping her alive. Mary’s death was a holocaust of love where the sacrifice offered long before at the foot of the Cross in poignant and spiritual anguish was at last completed.

This feast, the Assumption of Mary, was instituted, according to Saint Bernard, in the very time of the apostles.

Ave Maria!

(Reposted from Pro-Life Philippines FB page.
Source: Feasts of Our Lady by Msgr. Arthur Tonne, and The Woman of Orbit)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Why A Gay Porn Star Became Catholic And Staying in the Church

No matter how dark or sinful one's past is, there is always hope and redemption in Jesus Christ. This is amazing grace.

by Joseph Sciambra

Although I had been raised marginally Catholic, I never really considered myself a believer. As a child, I was rather innocent and understood nothing. By the time I was in my teens, my parents forced me to be Confirmed. I stood in front of the Bishop, got the blessing and anointing, but didn’t believe for a single second. When I went into the gay world, I thought of my residual Catholicism as something that needed to be overcome. And, like most of my compatriots, who were also former Catholics, because our matriculation in the Faith had been mediocre to downright heretical, it was not that tough to accomplish. That sloughing off of all that I had never really known or understood left me open to all sorts evil influences that seemed to temporarily fill my innate lonely sense of emptiness.

After that, although I never realized it until the end, my entire life became increasingly desperate. While I falsely thought that I was just exploring my new found freedoms and sexuality, I was actually in a perpetual state of restlessness: always exhaustingly alert and questing for the next big opportunity: from an endless parade of guys to gay porn - it never materialized. Wanting something to hold onto, I turned to the occult - and was again left cold and empty. I was deaf, yet God was calling me. Only, because I had become filled with evil and hate, I misinterpreted this beckoning as a plea to further degrade myself. In an instinctive way, I was punishing myself, because I knew that everything was out of control and because I was powerless before my seemingly uncontrollable passions.

When I suddenly realized that my endless experimentation was leading me to a premature death, I knew that I had to quickly make a decision to change or stay where I was and die. At those final minutes, the Lord Jesus Christ made things very clear to this stubborn and willful little speck of dust: He held out His hands, one restrained the demons that had been chasing me for years, the other was palm out and bursting with His precious blood. I didn’t know why, but I reached out for the wounded hand. Instantaneously, the demons were gone. For the next few days, I laid in bed: asking God over and over gain to forgive me. Every gross and disgusting thing I had ever done kept replaying in my head; the bed became like the floor of hell. I had to unburden myself, but I didn’t know where to go.

Unconsciously, I turned to The Bible. Flipping feverishly through the pages; the whole book could have been written in some space alien language; I understood not a single word. Mysteriously, leaping off the onion skin paper was the beautiful scene of St. Mary Magdalene being forgiven and released from the constant torture of seven devils. I needed Jesus; where was He? How could I find Him? Then, two incidents in The New Testament struck me: the Roman Centurion going to Christ, begging Him cure his servant; “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed.” and the other Centurion, Cornelius, who told St. Peter: “Four days ago, unto this hour, I was praying in my house, at the ninth hour, and behold a man stood before me in white apparel, and said: Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thy alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.” This all brought back the most vivid memories that I had of Jesus, the VHS tapes of 1950s Biblical epics that my father bought and showed us as kids: especially my favorite, “The Robe,” about a Roman soldier who is the self-declared king of orgies, later crucifies Christ, then begs forgiveness from the man who denied Him three times. I longed to go to Peter.

Then, I could have gone anywhere. For, after a second-rate education in the Faith, and since being away formally for over a decade, my ties to Roman Catholicism were weak at best. But, I remembered the Sacrament of Confession; I probably hadn’t been since being forced to go back in the 8th grade, right before our graduation. Growing up, I had always thought of it as a thoroughly stupid practice: kneeling before some man behind a screen and telling him my sins. I didn’t believe in sin. As far as I was concerned: porn, masturbation, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, and even drug use were far from wrong - they had merely been deemed wicked by angry eunuchs who wanted to keep the rest of us from having any fun. Well, all these years later, I realized: I was so wrong. Even though I was emotionally and physically sick, I wanted to crawl back to that little box and confess. I needed my AA moment: to stand up before God and say out loud what I had done and that I was sorry.

Somehow, I tracked down a priest I had met in my late teens, who struck me as particularly pious, and I dropped my sins on him like a ton of rotting garbage. I hated carrying it around and just wanted God to have it. Here, take it, take it - I thought to myself. It felt amazing. The priest was rather unphased and coolly certain - sort of like that image of Jesus I saw on my deathbed. He said, I needed to go back to Mass. Idiotically, I was somewhat surprised. Oh yeah, Mass - I forgot about that, I mused. While the seeming magic of Confession drew me back, the Mass still felt useless and mundane. I hated going to Mass as a boy: whether being marched there by our teachers, or dragged out of bed and pushed out the door on Sunday by my parents - going to church was drag. Blessedly, the same kind priest who heard my Confession invited me to the Latin Mass. Latin, that was the language the nerdy kids studied in high school, I thought. With nothing to loose, I showed up. Now, everything was different from my memories of youth. There was silence, reverence, and humility. I kneeled and could not get back up. I bowed and just stayed there. Jesus was back. He was there. His hands in front of me. His body became the Eucharist; and His blood in the chalice. I quivered and thought I was in front of His throne. When it was time to receive the Lord, I didn’t want to walk to the altar, but would have preferred groveling up the aisle on my stomach. I looked at everyone else proceeding towards the priest; I didn’t want to go. Inexplicably, I rose, and took the host on my tongue.

What had just happened? I thought for sure I would die - as the Lord could only strike someone like me down. But, He didn’t. I lived. I lived. I was alive. Jesus saved me. And, He wanted me. For the first time in my life: I believed in Him. The insolent and gullible little boy who threw it all away got a second chance. I no longer felt alone anymore.

I will never leave the Catholic Church. For, to do so, I would be returning to the same empty existence of despair and desolation that almost cost me the eternity of my soul. Because, only death persistently awaits in my old life; and I choose to live.


About Joseph Sciambra:

Joseph Sciambra was born in 1969, in Northern California, not far from San Francisco. He grew up in a stable and loving home while attending Catholic parochial schools from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Early on, the dark shadow of pornography would cloud his entire childhood and teenage years. Throughout the 1990s, Joseph lived around the homosexual culture of the Castro District, offering him rare insight into the daily lives and struggles of many gay men. Later, he became an amateur porn actor and escort. In 1999, following a near death experience, Joseph returned to the Love of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. Since then he has written extensively concerning the real-life issues of pornography, homosexuality, and the occult. He received his BA from the University of California at Berkeley in Art History and his MA from Sonoma State University.

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. - Isaiah 1:18