Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Sidebar on the Krazies

Saint Teresa of Avila
I just finished reading a paper by a graduate student from Boston College describing how Saint Teresa of Avila was able to escape the limitations normally placed on women in sixteenth century Spain and write her phenomenal corpus of the Spiritual Life.  Teresa had everything stacked against her.  She was a woman in one of the most misogynist cultures of the Christian west.  She was not only a woman, but had a Jewish bloodline that made her doubly suspect to the Inquisition.  She was writing at the time where the Spanish Church, keenly sensitive to the threat Protestantism posed in Northern Europe, had a social paranoia Iover the Alumbrados, a movement heavily dominated by women, who were practicing and teaching mystic practices  without proper Church oversight.  Indeed, the Church had grown exceptionally fearful of mysticism even among the clergy.  (And this is ironic because 16th century Spain was a hotbed of Spirituality with not only Teresa and John of the Cross, but Ignatius Loyola, Peter of Alcantra, Francis Borgia, Juan de Avila, and others.) 
Teresa beat the system by using its own rules and without directly confronting it.  Don’t get me wrong, Teresa had confrontative skills to beat the band, but it was not her usual method.  Her life of profound contemplative prayer endowed her with sufficient confidence to go about her mission by remaining anchored in the security of her knowing herself exceptionally well and trusting in God’s providence.  Her skills at patient understanding and prayer did not simply extend to her overcoming the limitations the Church would normally have placed on her—and did try at times to place on her—but also governed her human relationships.  As a young nun, and visiting with her sister for reasons of health, Teresa encountered a priest who she describes as being “enchanted” (literally, as in the use of a magic talisman) by a local woman who then had become his mistress.  Teresa did not admonish him, scold him, declaim him to the bishop, or shame him in front of his parishioners.  She befriended him, even allowing him to fall in love with her, until he got to the point where he could break the spell.  Indeed, while severe with herself, Teresa was a woman of immense patience with others, a patience that was the fruit of contemplative prayer.  In contemplative prayer we learn to see the world and all whom it holds (including ourselves) with the eyes of God.  It greatly colors our perception. 
The author of this paper speaks how in her contemplative life Teresa overcame the sort of binary relationships that dominate our culture: rich, poor; people of color, whites; liberals, conservatives; women, men.  Her method was to move away from the tension created by the binary relationship and introduce Christ as the third party in the relationship.   How did Christ the other? And then, by means of contemplative prayer, to let aside her own vision to see with the eyes of Christ.   The eyes of God are filled with compassionate love for every one of his creatures.  Why do we have to come into conflict when Christ offers us the potential of reconciliation?
When I returned to my writing , I thought back to Pius V and his Bull, Regnans in Excelcis, excommunicating and deposing Elizabeth.  Elizabeth was giving Catholicism in England a discrete modus vivendi.   Her Catholic subjects could be loyal to her and still good Catholics.  But no, Pius had to speak up for “The Truth.” The only problem is if it were God’s Truth it would have been a reconciling Truth and not a dividing one.  Some people are like that.  Teresa and Pius are both saints; Teresa is a Doctor of the Church, an honor not given to Pius.  Both lived holy lives; only one has been found to be an exemplary teacher of the Church’s Truth—and it isn’t the one who was Pope;  it was the Jewish Lady from Avila.
I think this is what gets me going about the Katholic Krazies.  We have a few on the posting horizon, namely one with the blog “Pope Francis the Destroyer” and the other being the infamous “Mundabor”   whom any number of you keep writing me about, who just cannot think beyond what they perceive to be truth.  (Notice the lack of the capital there.)  All who agree with them—and there don’t seem to be many—are “right”  and all with whom they disagree (most notably Pope Francis) are on the short rode to hell. 
I have read that the etymology of the word “devil” comes via the French diable from the Latin diabolus and the Greek diabolos.  Diabolos in turn comes from two Greek words, dia and bollein: dia means “apart;” bollein means to “hurl” or to “force.”   The devil is the one who divides, who undermines God’s plan of bringing all creation into One in Christ.   (Some dictionaries list dia as “across,” but across not in the static sense of distance but in the more dynamic sense of separation and division.  I am not a fan of literal translation because it doesn’t show one how people of another language actually used the language in every day speech, but to satisfy the devotees of Liturgiam authenticam, a very literal translation of dia bolein would be “to throw across” in terms of a person who hurls insults or slanders “across” at someone else.)  
The acrimonious tones of some of these katholic krazies, and here I don’t mean just the krazier-than-thous like Mundabor and his ilk but a lot of the run of the mill krazies as well) reminds me of the tragedy when twenty years ago or so Cardinal Bernadin established the “Common Ground Initiative” to open dialogue among Catholics of different ideas and perceptions in an effort to establish what we could agree on instead of focusing on that about which we disagree with each other.  He was stabbed in the back by two of his fellow Cardinals, that paragon of Sheparding, Cardinal Law and the grandmotherly old Cardinal Hickey, then of Washington.  It was a lost opportunity for harmony and reconciliation.  And the American Church has paid over and over for this cardinalatial evil.
In the same way a distinguishing mark of the Katholic Krazies today is their opposition to Interreligious and Ecumenical Dialogue.  Lines of division must be drawn in the sand, they insist, to defend and affirm “the truth” against the “heresies” of all with whom they disagree: Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama, President Obama, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Sister Joan Chittester—the list just goes on and on.  But what if the truth they want to affirm isn’t the real truth?  If it is a message of division it is the devil’s truth, not God’s. 
Teresa of Avila, in her day, knew nothing of Ecumenism.  She fretted about all the “Lutherans in hell” by which she meant Calvinists, but didn’t know the difference.  Prejudice, even among the saints, is like that—an expression of ignorance.  But even there it wasn’t judgment she was passing but a compassionate concern for souls she feared were or would be lost.  The lack of “Truth” in others caused her pain, not self-affirming pride. 
I have studied (and taught) Christian mysticism for thirty years.  One thing that I have learned is that there is no deep authentic relationship with God that does not produce compassion as its chief fruit.  Indeed, as I tell my students, the only infallible sign of God’s Grace in the soul is the increase of charity.  Individually and collectively we must pursue the path of compassion—it is God’s path to bring all Creation into One in Christ.    

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