Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Spiritual Malnutrition in Modern America

I was surprised to hear that Ann Romney had been Episcopalian and converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormon faith) when she met and was dating Mitt.  When I heard that her family was of Welsh background I was particularly curious as while there are some Welsh Anglicans they are fairly rare, the Welsh being mostly evangelicals—Baptists and Wesleyans in particular along with various “free Church” Congregations.  The Anglicans in Wales are usually quite Low Church but high income—the upper crust sort of people.  Working class Welsh—and Mrs. Romney’s grandfather was a miner—are either non-religious or, as I said, evangelicals.  It turns out that Edward Davies, Mrs. Romney’s father, an immigrant, had been raised in the Free Church tradition but was strongly opposed to organized religion.  This may have been due to the heavy and rigidly Calvinist bent of the Welsh Evangelicals which is dour enough to suck all joy and life out of you like one of Harry Potter’s Dementors.  The Davies family rarely went to Church and while Ann identified herself as an Episcopalian, I can’t find any mention of her ever being formally received into or confirmed in the Episcopal Church. 
But it isn’t Ann Romney whom I want to write about today. It is rather the Episcopal Church.  Thinking—until I started to research—that Mrs. Romney had been a cradle Episcopalian I was going to bring up the subject of how the Episcopal Church has been gutted of its membership—dropping 40% of its membership over the last 40 years.  What has caused this loss?
Actually I think the loss is even more dramatic—many of the Episcopalians I know, indeed most, are people who have joined the Church over the last 40 years meaning that the number who have left is even greater than 40%, the converts taking the place of perhaps another 20 or 30%.  An Episcopalian priest friend of mine—who himself is a former Catholic priest—says that about two-thirds of his congregation of 350 members joined the Episcopal Church as adults.  Many of these are, like the priest himself, former Catholics.  They feel more comfortable in the Episcopal Church because they are in second marriages, or they are in gay unions, or they feel emarginated in the Catholic Church because of their support for “liberal” causes.  “Father Joe” said too that there are a number of regular attendees at his parish who still call themselves Catholics but are just more comfortable worshipping in an Episcopal Church because it is more “inclusive” and “welcoming.” 
“Father Joe” said that in addition to converts from Catholicism he has about an equal number of people who have come from other Christian faiths—particularly evangelicals—who are drawn to the Episcopal Church (they say) by the more formal liturgy.  “They like the music—and the language of the Prayer-Book.  These are the ones who are most resistant to liturgical innovations and they love the ‘thees’ and ‘thous’.”  Some of these “pass through the gastro-intestinal tract of the Episcopal Church and into the Roman Catholic Church because they want even more ritual than we can give them, but they tend to become Latin Mass Catholics.  I even know of one or two,” the priest said, “who used the Catholic Church as a changing station for Russian Orthodoxy.  But people on that sort of spiritual journey are generally just restless and not religious.” 
What has caused the exodus from the Episcopal Church?  Liberal Protestantism in general has gone into decline since the heady years of their support for the Civil Rights movement and Anti-War movement of the Vietnam years.  Those were exhilarating times for liberal Protestants in general and Episcopalians in particular.  But the subsequent causes—feminism, abortion rights, gay rights—the Churches have embraced have been much more polarizing.  Yet I think the affinity for the Episcopal (and Presbyterian) Church for liberal agendas doesn’t really answer the question of why their membership has declined.  While a minority of former Episcopalians have either gone into the schismatic Anglican groups such as Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) or moved to more evangelical Churches, the majority have just stopped going to any Church or attend a church of their choice on a sporadic basis or as need for a funeral or wedding occur.  American society is overall far less churched in 2012 than it was in the Ozzie and Harriet years of the Eisenhower administration. 
I think—and I could be wrong—that another reason that Church attendance and membership has dropped in the mainline denominations, including the Episcopal Church, is that the churches had become little more than a social event.  The preaching is often bland and sufficiently vague to make sure that no one is offended and the liturgy is often the triumph of form over substance.  I think a focus has been lost on the saving work of Christ and how that saving work intersects not with some future afterlife, but with the demands of faithfulness in the here and now world.  This brings me back to one of my theme songs—the lack of substantial spirituality in contemporary American Christianity.  I have written before on this issue as it relates to Catholicism, but I think the problem is much wider.  Anglicanism has a strong spiritual tradition both with the Caroline Divines and the Oxford movement.  Methodism too in Wesley has a strong spiritual heritage that leads the Christian to look honestly at himself and what much change for fidelity to Christ.  I think the various “Bible Churches” and other pseudo-evangelical groups present a distortion of this spirituality—not a willful distortion just a failure to capture the real thing—in the sort of emotional theatrics of mega-church worship and people find their “faith” satisfied even as a child would rather fill-up on Cotton Candy rather than Broccoli and lean meats.  The meat and potato spiritual diet found in Ignatius Loyola or John of the Cross or John Wesley or Teresa of Avila or Lancelot Andrews or Jeremy Taylor requires a discipline that the musical surge and stage lighting of a Joel Osteen or a Pete Wilson or a Brad Powell or a Pat Robertson supplants so that the believer can “feel the feeling” without having to confront the challenge.   The mainline denominations, Catholicism included, needs to get back to its deep spiritual roots and find the sort of faith that sustain contemporary Christians in a post-Christian world. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Mothers and Bishops Who Drink Too Much

Today is the feast of Saint Monica.  Monica has always been held up as the pious mother praying with copious tears for the conversion of her son, Augustine.  Read the Confessions, however, and you get a different picture.   Had Monica done her duty as a Christian mother and had her son baptized in infancy or early childhood, Augustine claims, he would not have strayed down all the wild and wicked ways of life (which, again, if you read the Confessions aren’t that wild and wicked, in fact are far from lurid, disappointing even).   But Monica and her non-Christian husband, Patricius (Patrick—you didn’t need to be Irish in the ancient world to have that name) had ambitious plans for their son, career plans that baptism would have impeded, and so he went unbaptized.  At that time, Christians were not allowed—by Church discipline—to study the great  non-Christian (I am avoiding the word “pagan”) authors—Cicero, Virgil, Livy, Terence —whose prose and poetry set the literary style.  Augustine studied hard and indeed excelled in rhetoric—equivalent to the study of law today—and had a successful career as an academic and then in the Imperial service, but to Monica’s horror he never did join the Church in those salad years.  His life, as I said, was not that dissolute—he lived in a long-term common-law marriage with a woman to whom he was faithful and with whom he had a son whom both he and Monica adored.  The son died in adolescence.  Augustine was prevented by law from marrying his companion as they were of sufficiently different social strata (she much lower) and the Empire had laws prohibiting such matches even as many State Governments in the 19th and first half of the 20th century prevented interracial marriages.  Monica, interfering in the most intimate details of her son’s life, indeed found her son a more suitable match and broke up the relationship with his son’s mother, forcing Augustine to send the woman away.  He said that losing this woman was like having his heart torn from his breast, but he did as Mother said.  What a wus!  He is one of my heroes, though, and I think the Confessions are one of the most beautiful books written.  And one of the most touching scenes in the book is the final conversation Augustine and his mother have in Ostia as they wait for the ship to return to their native North Africa.  Monica was never to make the journey, dying shortly after this conversation.    
Augustine also tells us in the Confessions that his mother had a drinking problem—indeed even as a child she seems to have had an alcohol addiction.  She would overcome it in her adult life a la George W Bush by totally refraining from alcohol.  
Speaking of Alcohol issues, yesterday I mentioned San Francisco Archbishop-Designate Salvatore Cordileone.  Cordileone is known for his vehement opposition to same-sex marriage as well as for his love for the bejeweled ornaments and long silk robes with which he has tricked himself out as Bishop of Oakland.  His Grace was arrested the other day for a DUI. We all make mistakes and we need to have compassion on one another for various moral failures such as getting drunk.  His being drunk shouldn’t be a problem for his assuming his new duties, but his lack of prudence and responsibility in getting behind the wheel of a car requires a reconsideration of whether he can handle the responsibilities of such a post as he is about to undertake.  Perhaps if he chooses to undergo evaluation and treatment (note, I say evaluation and treatment as evaluation can determine if there is a serious problem here or merely an indiscretion) in a facility such as the St. Luke Institute or the Southdown Institute he can learn important things about himself that will prepare him to be a good and wise pastor to the flock entrusted to him.  Such places have helped many priests and religious come to terms with themselves and find grace in the midst of the chaos of their lives.  This brings us back to Saint Augustine.   So many people think that Augustine is obsessed with sin but when you read the Confessions, really read them, you see that Augustine talks about sin because it was in the brokenness of his life that he found the mystery of Grace.  He is the Doctor Gratiae—the Doctor of Grace.  May Archbishop Cordileone find Grace in his life through exploring his failures and may he become the compassionate and wise bishop that was Augustine. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Note on the Costume of Prelates

Archbishop-Designate Salvatore Cordileone
of San Francisco processing through the
streets of the Bay Area--seriously,  not
making this up!

You may have noticed that I don’t post the comments that come into my blog as it isn’t my intention to hold discussions but rather to present little known aspects of history or to make commentary on current situations in the light of the Church’s previous experience.  When I do get a question or a comment that merits some attention, I do try to respond indirectly.  In my last posting, I showed a picture of François de Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon,  (1651-1715) Archbishop of Cambrai (1696-1715) and it included a picture of the Archbishop wearing a blue mozetta over his rochet.  I had an inquiry asking if Fénelon were a Sylvesterine Benedictine as, my correspondent (an obvious lover of arcane knowledge) reminded me, until Paul VI reformed the costume of prelates in 1969 prelates  who were Benedictines of this congregation wore blue.  But the answer is no—Archbishop Fénelon was not a religious but rather that the custom of bishops and archbishops wearing amaranth purple (actually a red tending towards the purple) is a fairly recent phenomenon.  Previously this reddish color was reserved for monsignori of the papal household.  The Gilbert Stuart portrait of John Carroll, the first Catholic Bishop for the United States, has Carroll in a green mozetta.  Only those bishops and archbishops who, in addition to their responsibilities in their own dioceses, were made honorary members of the papal household wore the amaranth purple habits.  Sometimes people ask why monsignors dress like bishops when in fact historically it was bishops who began dressing like monsignors.  This reminds me of the old joke that while we don’t know when Jesus instituted the priesthood—was it the Last Supper (Do This in Memory of Me) or Easter Night (Whose Sins you Forgive are Forgiven), we do know when he instituted Monsignors.  You can find it in Matthew 6:28.  “See the lilies of the field—they neither toil nor spin; yet not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these.”  In any event, in the middle of the nineteenth century it became all but universal that a man, on being made a bishop, was also automatically named an honorary prelate of the papal household and the green or blue episcopal habit disappeared in favor of the red.  The relic left behind, however, is that on his coat of arms a bishop’s (or Archbishop’s) hat is green, not red.  And the cord by which his pectoral cross is suspended is intertwined green and gold, not red and gold. 
Archbishop John Carroll, a man of
more restrained taste
Until the reforms of Paul VI, bishops (and Archbishops and Cardinals) of the monastic and mendicant orders wore choir vesture of the same design as secular prelates but of wool (not of silk) and in the traditional colors of their orders.  Thus most Benedictine prelates wore black; Franciscans grey; Dominicans  and Cistercians, white and black; Carmelites, brown and white and so on.  Prelates who were religious of the various societies and congregations (as distinguished from the “Orders”) such as Jesuits, Theatines, Oblates, etc. wore costumes of amaranth red (bishops and archbishops) or scarlet (cardinals) but of wool or broadcloth in deference to their vows of poverty rather than the silk of the secular clergy.  It made for a more colorful Church and was a bit more fun.  In 1969 however, Paul VI made drastic changes in the vesture of prelates.  He not only standardized the choir habit of all Western Rite prelates in color and design and fabric, but he abolished from papal ceremonies the cappa magna—the great cape with a train of nine yards that bishops could wear in their jurisdiction and Cardinals could wear wherever they wished.  He didn’t forbid prelates from wearing it in their own dioceses or Cardinals from wearing it outside the Diocese of Rome, but the vesture almost died out.  It has received a recent resurgence through the pomposity of such distinguished hierarchs as Raymond Burke, George Pell, Dario Castrillón-Hoyos and now Archbishop-designate Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco.  Of course in San Fran Archbishop Cordileone will fit right in wearing a long train of silk.  I’m sure he won’t be alone in his penchant for lots of silk.          

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Heresy Still With Us

Archbishop Fenelon, a
saintly proponent of the
Quietist Heresy

In a recent post (August 19), I mentioned the heresy of Quietism.  Quietism basically posits that the soul, when it comes to its perfection, is completely at rest in and submissive to the Will of God and that spiritual and moral perfection consists in this state of absorption in the Divine.  Many of the great mystics such as Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross speak of the union of the Soul with God as the pinnacle of prayer—but they don’t define that union as perfection but take the spiritual journey further to where the soul is transformed in its loving union with God and by its loving union with God so that it, the soul, can love with the same love with which God loves.  That may be confusing, but let’s put it this way—for the Quietists the soul gets off the train a station early, preferring to “rest quietly” in the love of God rather than continue on to its destiny of loving God and (and this is crucial,) neighbor.  This is what was meant by the quote of Innocent XI condemning Quietism in my previous entry (August 1) by speaking about two bishops who were proponents of this heresy—that the one prelate loved God too much while the other loved his neighbor too little. Quietism falls into the trap of focusing solely on the love of God without due concern for love of neighbor.    
Quietism still exists in the Church today—and in fact is quite alive and well in contemporary Christianity.  The “Christian” whose concern is for ritual and ceremony while ignoring questions of poverty and injustice is typical of the Quietist heresy.   The “evangelical” whose concern is with the “Law of God” and so is anxious to prevent same-sex marriage and abortion but who has indifference to the sufferings of those at the lowest end of the socio-economic scale is yet another.  Indeed, evangelicalism has long been associated with Quietism—a tragic fate for genuine evangelicalism.  In the centuries old struggle of Protestantism to maintain the doctrine of salvation by faith alone, the inherent relationship between faith and works has been lost and a pseudo-Christianity that permits charity and justice to be optional characteristics of discipleship has emerged.  This was only exaggerated in the American experience by untrained lay preachers in 19th century Methodism where faith came to be measured by religious or pious “feeling” rather than by concrete commitment to practical discipleship.   Even Catholics have fallen under the spell of what is truly the great American heresy—“feeling” religion.  Whether it is the “liberal” who wants the emotional high of a frantic and frenetic liturgy with drums and dancing or a pseudo-traditionalist who thinks that for the Mass to be the “most beautiful thing this side of heaven” it must be in Latin and facing the wall, “form over substance Catholicism” reflects the Quietist tendency to let one’s feelings be the guide of all things good and holy.  There is, in fact, nothing inherently wrong (nor inherently more sacred) with the Drum and Dancing Mass or the Solemn Tridentine Mass or any Liturgy on the spectrum between.  We each have our own preference for worship style, but what our Catholic faith demands in its orthodoxy is a relationship with God in which we mature beyond our pious comforts and find ourselves purified of the desires for our personal spiritual consolations so that we may be totally at the disposal of God’s Will for us to love our neighbor not merely on the natural level of human affection but on the Supernatural level of Charity—that is, of loving others with the Love that fills God’s Own heart and not merely with the emotions that spring from ours.  A Christianity which ignores the requirements of societal justice (notice, I am avoiding the more narrow term “social justice”) is off track when it comes to orthodoxy. It brings to mind the axiom of Saint John Chrysostom
"Do you wish to honour the body of Christ? Do not neglect it when you find it naked. Do not do it homage here in the church with silk fabrics only to neglect it outside where it suffers cold and nakedness”.  
I say this in the context of visiting a parish that was once known for its commitment to make concrete the principles outlined by the Social Justice magisterium as found in Mater et Magistra, Gaudium et Spes, and Popolorum Progressio but now where the priest busies himself only with a wide range of pious devotions.  A parish that ten years ago was packed out for three liturgies on Sunday now has two Masses with a combined attendance of less than 300.  The pastor is proud that they have adoration every day and a variety of novena devotions for each day of the week, but it is clear that they have lost their sense of mission and consequently have lost the essence of the Gospel.  There is nothing wrong with a devotional life, but prayer that is meant only to engender pious feelings and does not impel us from the Church into the World armed with the Good News of Jesus Christ and a compassion for the least of his brothers and sisters is not true prayer and is not our Catholic heritage.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Are We Straining Gnats and Swallowing Camels?

Paul VI--author of Humanae Vitae
 Behind the “Fortnight For Freedom” and controversy over Catholics and Obamacare as well as the complaint that the good Sisters of the LCWR are too concerned about social justice and not sufficiently vocal about “Catholic Issues” such as speaking out against Abortion and in favor of the Church’s stance on birth control, is the magisterial demand for agreeing with the teaching of the Catholic Church on the inherent sinfulness of artificial methods of family planning. 
How, in heaven’s name, did contraception become the litmus test of being a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ?  I am not denying the importance of the Church’s teaching.  I have read Humanae Vitae—several times, including when it was first issued—and I think Paul VI had some very crucial insights and issued some dire warnings that time has borne out.  While accepting the magisterium on this matter as the present “state of the question” for us Catholics, I do think the teaching needs to be critiqued to see if the scientific premises on which several presuppositions of the teaching rest are valid.  The reproductive sciences have made huge discoveries just in the past quarter century but much of the Church’s theology of sex is still influenced by fourth century Augustinian biological notions borrowed from Galen (Aelius Claudius Galenus c. 120-200 AD).    This need to maintain an ongoing critique of theological teachings in the light of ongoing developments in the physical and social sciences affects other questions as well—same sex relationships, masturbation, in vitro fertilization, and perhaps medical use of stem-cells and even abortion.  I am not saying that these teachings should be fundamentally changed, but every “truth” needs to be constantly re-examined as the human erudition from which the knowledge of that “truth” is derived is itself expanded. 
But again, let me ask, how did contraception become the litmus test of being a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ?  It is one teaching among many—how did it come to the top of the Catholic identity checklist?  (Well, actually it is probably 2 or 3—after abortion and maybe something else: I don’t know, same-sex marriage, women priests, Catholic Campaign for Human Development, voting against Obama—something like that.)  How did something as divisive as contraception rise to the top of the list?  And a somewhat broader question: why, in fact, do we define morality in terms of bedroom behavior?  The Church’s magisterium considers morality from a variety of vantages and over a variety of fields—social justice, human rights, economic justice, business ethics, truthfulness and integrity, duties of citizenship.  Why is it that in practice we boil it down to what some people (for the most part, “other people”) on the most occasional of opportunities do in the privacy of their homes and in the exclusiveness of their most intimate relationship?  Why have we as a Church turned ourselves into voyeurs who, like maladjusted teenagers, give a priority to speculating on what other people are doing in bed?  Why aren’t we more worried about children locked into cycles of poverty in our inner cities? Or refugees in the Sudan?  Or the rights of the Palestinians?  Or corporate greed?  Come to think of it, why is a man who loots his employees retirement fund not only able to go to communion without embarrassment but is honored with a papal knighthood when a mother of four who takes the pill made to feel unworthy of the Body that was broken for her and the Blood that was shed for her?  Of course, in the smackdown of the nuns, word came from pretty far up the ladder (not the very  top, however) that we should be more concerned about stopping gays from being given economic equality with married couples than we are with children who are hungry or mentally ill people living on the streets.  Something is wrong here, but then I think we have all known that. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Fear of Spirituality

Archbishop Fenelon
Sorry for the hiatus—every so often I get swamped with things and the blog falls back in priorities, but I want to return to a topic we were discussing a week and more ago—the tensions about the liturgy in the Church today.  I had written in my entry of August 13th  of the dearth of spirituality in the Church today.  This is tragic in a faith that has a heritage rooted in the personal encounter with Christ by his disciples, male and female, reflected by its scriptures and flowering in a history of mysticism from the profound experiences of Paul and John the Divine through the Desert Fathers and Cassian, Ephrem the Syrian and Pseudo-Dionysisus and John Damascene, Bernard, Francis, and Julian, a Kempis, Ruyersbroeck and Tauler, Teresa, John and Ignatius, deSales, Marie of the Incarnation, and Brother Lawerence, Thérèse, Elizabeth of the Trinity, and Edith Stein—not to mention Gertrude of Helfta, Beatrice of Nazareth, Richard Rolle, Hadjewich, Dom Augustin Baker, and countless others all the way down to Thomas Merton, Jessica Powers, and Mother Theresa.
Some intellectual historians speak of “the suppression of mysticism” as a reaction to the Quietist heresy of the seventeenth century.  I think there is something to this.  Ever since antiquity the Church has been afraid of “illuminism,” the idea that one should be guided by an “inner light” that trumps the faith of the community.  Several of the heresies that tore apart the ancient Church were driven by this passion for radical subjectivity.  The Montanists—among others—embraced this conviction that it was The Holy Spirit that spoke to the individual believer and that such personal inspiration reflect a sort of ongoing revelation that could overrule even scripture.  It was in reaction to this radical religious individualism that the Church early developed a commitment to the idea that the truth resides not in the individual, even the inspired individual, but in the community’s collective discernment.  Here is found the sensus fidelium—the living faith of the faithful—as the guarantor of orthodoxy.  Along with the scholarship of the theologians and the pronouncements of the magisterium, but even more foundational than the scholarship and the magisterium, the sensus fidelium was the bulwark of orthodoxy. 
Illuminism continued to haunt the Church throughout its history.  It surfaced again at the time of the Cathar heresy in the 12th and 13th centuries and it haunted the nightmares of the Spanish Inquisitors in the sixteenth century.  There was a revival of illuminism at the time of the Protestant Reformations and indeed it would seize and shape the Radical Reformation—the Reformation of the Anabaptists in Holland and Germany and the Quakers and Shakers and Diggers and Fifth Monarchy Men in Protestant England and its American colonies.           
Despite the Church’s vigilance against illuminism it would raise its head in the sixteenth century in a particular incarnation referred to as Quietism.  Quietism rejected the more extraverted and extravagant manifestations that illuminism had held before.  Indeed it shadowed Catholic orthodoxy so closely that most Quietists though they were secure within the teaching of the Church.  Moreover, many of its proponents were genuinely holy people, just a bit too holy. Quietism can be compared, perhaps, to a good cell gone rogue in the body that becomes cancerous but which had once been a healthy part of the body. 
Classic 17th century Quietism was so close to Catholic orthodoxy that much of what some of its writers wrote—Archbishop Fenelon for example—is perfectly orthodox, indeed sound Catholic spiritual reading.  Sometimes perfectly sound Catholic spiritual masters, Brother Lawrence for example, were accused, or at least suspected, of quietism when their doctrine is quite sound. 
Quietism’s best description was given by Innocent X in his condemnation of the heresy.  Referring to two leading spiritual writers among the Quietist faction, Archbishop Fenelon of Cambrai and Bishop Bossuet of Meaux, the pope said: “Cambrai loves God too much, Meaux loves man too little.”  Quietism is the heresy which stresses the love for God to the point where love for neighbor becomes unimportant.   One priest described it, in its contemporary manifestation, as “the heresy of the daily communicant.”  It certainly is alive and well today hiding in the pious life of the Christian Pharisee.  But rather than look at its modern manifestations in this posting, I would suggest that we look at the fear that it caused on the part of many bishops and priests that led to a “suppression of mysticism” in the Church from the 17th through the 20th centuries.
The broader heresy, illuminism, had always caused fear on the part of the orthodox in the Church—and not without reason. Attempts to discourage people from a life of deep personal prayer, of contemplative prayer, and to limit themselves to pious practices had long been a common error on the part of some Church authorities.  Both Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross refer to this in their writings.  Teresa tells her readers not to be afraid of contemplative prayer and says that she herself had been dissuaded from it for many years thinking it was for souls more educated, more virtuous, more advanced than hers, but she had eventually understood that Christ calls all of his disciples to the intimacy with him that can be found in such prayer alone.  John of the Cross likewise tells his readers that he is not writing for some select group of spiritual proficients, but to encourage all his readers to undertake contemplative prayer.  The Jesuits have always been anxious to share the profound experience of their founder, Ignatius Loyola, in the cave at Manressa and thus offered the Spiritual Exercises in order to guide others along the path of contemplation marked out by Ignatius’ conversion experience.  Francis de Sales was anxious to bring spirituality to ordinary souls and so we have his Introduction to the Devout Life. Yet at the same time these saints were marking out the path of prayer, there were voices warning people not to go down that road.
While all religious had been ordered to daily periods of “mental prayer” in the sixteenth century by Clement VIII, this time was often filled by one person reading aloud a meditation or at least various points on which all gathered were to meditate.  Sometimes devotions involving meditation such as the rosary or the Stations of the Cross were prescribed for this period.  Mental prayer, for those allowed to practice it, became highly structured with an invocation of the Holy Spirit, an act of contrition to prepare, the formation of specific resolutions drawn from the prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, an act of thanksgiving and other conclusions being prescribed leaving little time for the actual meditation.  What time was left for the individual often turned to more theological reflection than attentive and silent listening to God’s stirrings in the soul.  There was a fear of such stirrings.  One had to report any such stirring to one’s spiritual director for confirmation and directors were aggressively managerial over their subject’s spiritual life. 
Also, and I think under the influence of Jansenism (the other leading heresy of the 17th century) “spirituality” took an excessive interest, a compulsive interest, in the moral conduct of the individual under direction.  Prayer retreated into the shadows and the spotlight shown on morality, not solely sexual morality but certainly emphasizing that field of behavior.  A relative degree of moral perfection became the sine qua non of the spiritual life so that many people began focusing on sin in their lives rather than the grace being offered in a relationship with God.  The premise was that one could have no relationship with God as long as sin was substantially present.  This false assertion alone locked the doors of the Castle of the Soul against many who otherwise might have advanced far in the spiritual life—and been converted in the process.  More and more, a life of deep prayer was becoming the unique prerogative of the  cloistered nun or monk.  The most the rest of us could do was frequent confession, occasional communion (don’t’ forget daily communion was not allowed until Pius X at the beginning of the 20th century), and our devotions. 
The suppression of mysticism, the discouraging of people from pursing contemplative prayer, mentioned in my last blog entry, has left a great spiritual shallowness in the contemporary Church.  Moral integrity became a pre-requisite in the minds of many—including clergy—for a relationship with God rather than the fruit of that relationship.  This created an obsessive fascination with sin rather than an emphasis on grace in Christian life and has perverted much spirituality over the last three centuries.  And this, in turn, I think is much the root of what is unhealthy in the life of the American Church today. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Worthy Servant and A True Evangelist

Last week, one of the most remarkable men I have ever met was called home to God.  He probably won’t get more that a footnote in most books that tell the history of the Catholic Church in the United States but the effect of his work of over sixty years of priesthood is greater than that of most of the bishops who lead dioceses and his evangelical fervor to serve the gospel to his final breath at age 88 is worthy of a saint.
Ralph Beiting was a native of the diocese of Covington Kentucky, a diocese in which he would serve his priestly ministry.  Even before he was ordained he had a passion for the poor of Appalachia—an area in which the Diocese of Covington is located.  Although Beiting’s family were themselves poor by most standards—and this was the depression—he knew how blessed he was compared to the heartbreakingly wretched poverty of the “mountain-folk” of Appalachia.  After only a year of ordination he was made pastor of a parish “the size of Rhode Island.”  There was no church.  There was no rectory in which he could live.  And there were very few Catholics.  There was, however, huge suspicion about Catholics, and especially Catholic priests, from these uneducated rural people whose religious experience were mostly in snake-handling “pentecostal” assemblies or independent Baptist-style churches where the ministers were no better educated than the souls entrusted to them.  Father Beiting (actually he was named a Monsignor in 1970 but always just called “Father Beiting”) knew that his mission wasn’t just to the Catholics and he knew that the needs of his people—all his people of whatever religious background—wasn’t primarily spiritual.  There was need for health care and education.  There was a need for safe-havens for abused women and children.  Many of the people needed decent housing—few had electricity and fewer had indoor plumbing—even a kitchen sink.  Prejudice was rampant—not only against Catholics but even more so against African-Americans.  Smaller groups of Hispanics and Native Americans also suffered from the prejudice.  Children had no hope for their future and no pleasure in their childhood.  In 1957 Father Beiting and another priest,  a Father Kamlage, used their own money to buy a piece of property and start a summer camp.  It was not a specifically “Catholic” camp but a Christian camp—one where any Christian child would feel welcome in the faith—and remember this was several years before Vatican II and ecumenism.  Even more dramatic—it was racially integrated and this, in the Old South, was a dramatic breakthrough.  This was before Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement.  Because the camp was not segregated, the Diocese of Covington would not sponsor it but that did not stop Father Beiting and the camp was incorporated on its own.  It was also about this time that Father Beiting founded the Christian Appalachian Project an interdenominational not-for-profit organization that offers a wide variety of services tending to the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of people in Appalachia.  It is the 12th largest human services charity in the United States.  Father Beiting was not one who did things the old-fashioned way of keeping Catholics in their ghetto and just leading them in their devotions.  He had a radical approach to ministry that few understood at the time.  He was a pioneer Apostle.    
But Father Beiting was not just a social worker—he was an evangelist and his passion to provide for the bodies and minds of his neighbors was matched by a desire to touch their souls with the Word of God.  Living in an environment of fundamentalist preachers, he adopted their style and bought a truck and a sound system and drove around preaching the gospel wherever he could set up shop—in the small towns of eastern Kentucky,  in parks and recreation areas where people had gathered, in the parking lots of taverns and small rural restaurants.  He didn’t say Mass on these circuits.  He brought some musicians to sing gospel music and he preached like few Catholics then or now know how.  His style of street preaching showed the local people that Catholics had the gospel and were centered on a saving faith in Jesus Christ.  He won over many people who had once been suspicious of him—and once he won them over he put them to work making a difference in Appalachia.  He may not have made them Catholics—and that was not his intention—but he opened their eyes to see that the Gospel calls us to serve the needs of the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters.  He did not, however, neglect his priestly duties and he built over 20 Catholic Churches in the areas where he served. 
I met Father Beiting only once.  He said Mass one day at a parish I often attend.  It cost me.  I don’t know how he did it, but I left church that day with an empty wallet although I had arrived fairly flush.  He was already in his mid-eighties but a man of great vitality and energy.
Friends of mine often drove down to Kentucky to help him in his various projects.  Father lived in a converted garage that had become a two-room apartment.  He would turn over the bedroom to guests and sleep on a cot himself.  From his front door, you could look up and see the mountain-top vacation home of a prominent American fundamentalist “evangelist” to which the “evangelist” would be helicoptered in and out from his offices in Virginia.  That is a different kind of Christianity and a gospel that I suspedt is not quite faithful to that of Jesus. 
But (pseudo) Evangelicals aren’t the only ones to hear in the gospel only what they want to hear.  Another native of Covington—one who did not stay there to serve the poor—is Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore.  Explaining why he was switching from Kentucky to study for the Archdiocese of Washington, Lori told his seminary classmates at Saint Pius X Seminary in Erlanger KY that “there is no upward mobility in Covington.”  Well, no there isn’t if you want to claw your way up the hierarchy, but as Father Beiting’s life shows us—if heaven is your goal, there is plenty of upward mobility in the Appalachian hills of Kentucky. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Genuine Issue of Religious Freedom

Rudwan and Nancy Dawod, The Sudanese
activist, a Muslim, has just been released 
after having faced charges in the Sudan for 
his work reconciling Christian and Muslims. 
 When we talk about threats to religious freedom: here is something substantive.  A week ago, one of my readers sent me the following article by John Zogby and Tom Prichard.  The Rev. Tom Pritchard, an Episcopalian priest, is one of the founders of Sudan Sunrise. Dr. John Zogby is a Senior Fellow at Catholic University’s Institute for Policy research and Catholic Studies.

                    By John Zogby and Tom Prichard

Rudwan Dawod, a Muslim from the Darfur region of Sudan and non-violent activist, is jailed in Khartoum on charges of terrorism awaiting a verdict on August 13.  If convicted, Dawod could be sentenced to death.  Dawod is a project director for the Washington, DC-based charity Sudan Sunrise, leading an initiative of Sudanese Muslims planning to rebuild the Catholic Cathedral in Torit, South Sudan.
Since the independence of South Sudan, on July 9, 2011, the northern Sudanese regime of Omar al Bashir has been increasingly belligerent towards Sudan's Christian minority.  In April three churches in Khartoum were burned by a mob as police and security officials looked on in tacit approval.  Dawod, a Sudanese citizen married to an American and living in Springfield, Oregon, was grieved by the news of the burning of churches.  He set his sights on rebuilding a church with Sudan Sunrise as a symbol for Sudanese Muslims who stand for peace.
Passing through the Washington area on his way to Sudan, Dawod met with Imam Mohamed Magid, the President of the Islamic Society for North American, who is Sudanese by birth, who wholeheartedly endorsed the project.  (See,
Dawod met with Bishop Johnson Akio in Torit, South Sudan to present his vision.  Bishop Akio enthusiastically responded, proposing that the best symbol for peace would be to rebuild the Cathedral in Torit.  The Cathedral was twice destroyed by forces from the North, and more than 1,000 worshippers gather each Sunday under a makeshift roof near the Cathedral ruins.  The Cathedral was first destroyed in the 1960’s, and then again in the 1990's in the second civil war, in which an estimated 2.4 million Southern Sudanese were killed and 4 million were displaced.
Prior to meeting Bishop Akio, Dawod estimated that he had 200 volunteers. That number grew when Dawod presented his vision to the leaders of the mosque in Torit, when an elderly Imam recounted how the mosque was built in 1941 with help from Christians who contributed financially and with volunteer labor.
Following their meeting, Bishop Akio traveled to the Vatican, where he spoke about the initiative on Vatican Radio.  Dawod proceeded to present the vision to Muslim leaders in South Sudan, and South Sudan government officials, and to make it public by announcing it on radio and through Southern Sudanese newspapers.  The initiative was enthusiastically received in the South by Muslims, Christians and by the government.  During a lull in the project, Dawod traveled to Khartoum to visit his family and renew his Sudanese passport.
This was Dawod's first return to Khartoum since he had been featured in an Al Jazeera English documentary about the growing Arab Spring youth movement Girifna (which means "fed up" in Arabic).  When Dawod arrived in June, non-violent demonstrations against the government of Omar al Bashir were gaining momentum.  Bashir is under indictment by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in Darfur.  While in Khartoum, Dawod helped organize a non-violent protest, a right protected by the Sudanese constitution.  During the demonstration Dawod was abducted by government security agents and beaten until unconscious.  His father, brother and others were abducted the same evening, and their house was ransacked by government security officials who stripped it of anything of value, even the earrings from his sister's ears.
Held for several days in a "ghost house," Dawod was tortured by security who tried unsuccessfully to force a (false) confession that he was a CIA agent organizing a terror cell preparing to place bombs in Khartoum market places.  Dawod was also beaten specifically for opposing the burning of churches.
Dawod's trial has garnered coverage in national media in the US, although often he is described simply as an Arab spring activist with no reference to his leading a Muslim effort to rebuild a Catholic Cathedral.  Also, news media seldom report what it was that Dawod found inspiring about his hero and friend, the late former NBA legend, Manute Bol.   Manute lost 240 family members during the 22-year civil war in Sudan, yet he would say, "Muslims are not my enemies.  They are my brothers.  The problem is the government in Khartoum."  When Manute, a Catholic, was asked why he would have such an attitude towards those he could consider his enemies, he would say simply, "God says we are to forgive."  Manute repeatedly stood up for oppressed Muslim populations in the north of Sudan and dreamed of building schools across South Sudan that would welcome children of Christian, Muslim, animist families and from whatever tribe.
It was through volunteering with Sudan Sunrise to help build Manute's school that Dawod not only came to know Manute, but also his future wife, Nancy.  They were married in 2010.  In 2011 Dawod lead a team of young Muslims from Khartoum who with Sudan Sunrise's help delivered a truck load of relief food to refugees and local needy in Turalei.
Nancy and Rudwan's first child, a daughter, is due in September and will be named "Sudan".  Nancy's prayer is that Rudwan will be safely home for Sudan's birth.
The verdict and sentence, due on August 13, could range anywhere from acquittal to the death penalty.
The US embassy has been sending personnel to Rudwan's trial, and the US House of Representatives Sudan Caucus has issued a call for Rudwan's release.
Despite being beaten for opposing the burning of churches, Rudwan Dawod and his volunteers remain committed to rebuilding the Cathedral in Torit.  The only obstacle that remains is funding.   Rudwan's volunteers and Bishop Akio and his diocese see the strategic importance of this symbol of peace, but unfortunately they do not have the capacity to fund it.  Bishop Akio and the volunteers hope is that one positive outcome of Dawod's ordeal is that the Torit Cathedral will be built as a strategic symbol of peace, as well as the schools of which Dawod and Manute Bol dreamed of building across South Sudan.
For more information, go to and

Rudwan was released today by the Sudanese Government and will shortly be able to return to the United States

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Need to Keep a Cool Head Beneath the Mitre

Would someone tell His Grace
of Baltimore that we use wine,
not Kool Aid for Holy Communion
 A friend of mine, a layman, had dinner the other evening with his bishop.  He and the bishop are close personal friends and Michael says that it is a break in the prelate’s cycle of loneliness to have a few drinks and supper with him.  I am sure it is.  This friend is a warm and sensitive fellow and I would guess that the bishop gets the personal affirmation that is often lacking or, is suspect when it comes from the clergy.  Being a bishop is a lonely career.   I gather from Michael’s remarks to me today that the topic of conversation was much to do about the “crisis” of religious freedom.  This particular bishop is a good man but—and maybe because he is a good man—simple, even naive.  I don’t mean to say that he isn’t intelligent; he is bright enough but he lacks a critical analytical mind.  And I know from some of the statements he has made in talks and in the diocesan newspaper that he has drunk the Kool-Aid being served out by Archbishop Lori and a few others about how our religious freedoms are under attack by the current administration.  I do think that we need to be vigilant about our freedoms but I am enough of a historian to know how in the past demagogues have fanned prudence into paranoia and good citizenship into totalitarian regimes.  (I am currently re-reading William L. Shirer’s classic, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.)  
The following article appeared in the news a week or two back. 
PITTSBURGH (AP) — A southeastern Pennsylvania Church and a youth pastor are facing criminal charges for a mock kidnapping of a youth group  that was meant to be a lesson in religious persecution.   
The Glad Tidings Assembly of God in Middletown and 28-year-old Andrew David Jordan  of Elizabethtown were charged Friday with false imprisonment and simple assault, said Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marisco 
The church staged the event in March. Mock kidnappers covered the teenagers' heads, put them in a van and interrogated them. Neither the young people nor their parents were told beforehand that it wasn't real. The mother of a 14-year-old girl filed a complaint with police.
"This is a sad case for all those involved," Marisco said, adding that while the church's and Jordan's intentions were not necessarily harmful, "they in essence terrorized several children."
What is this fascination with religious persecution?  Whether it is a misguided youth minister trying to impress on his church’s young folk that they may have to stand up for their faith someday or an entire conference of Catholic Bishops sounding the tocsin that our liberties are being stripped away by the Obama administration because employees of Catholic institutions are being given access to contraceptives we need to dial back on the paranoia.  I am not saying that we should not be vigilant about our liberties but I am saying that it is nothing less than criminal (not to mention seriously sinful) to yell “fire” in a crowded theater just because the concession-booth lady turned up the flame under the tea kettle.   Our society is losing all rationality as it continues to polarize into two opposing factions and the Church’s mission is to reconcile the divisions not compound the panic by exaggerated and unfounded accusations.  There was a day in American history when the Protestant citizenry believed with all their heart that we Catholics were out to rob them of their religious liberties and impose Catholicism on them against their will.  Their fears were not without basis as until 1965 Catholic doctrine did indeed teach that when we Catholics became the political majority we had an obligation to establish the Catholic Church as the official religion of the American people and proscribe other worship.  But American Catholics were good citizens who disregarded their Church’s demands on them to overturn the civil liberties granted by our Constitution and confined the authority of the Church to its proper sphere—faith and morals.  We knew that the magisterium was wrong when it came to the question of religious liberty and, indeed, at Vatican II with the Decree Dignitatis Humanae the magisterium came around and corrected its mistaken view.  And today too we need to use our own prudential judgment in political matters.  While we must agree with the Church on questions of doctrine and moral values, and while our politics need to be rooted in our moral principles, we must insist on the sovereignty of the individual conscience in how those values are applied to concrete political decisions. While we do that, however, we should not portray situations with exaggerated claims that we are being “persecuted” when the civil law is not being tailored to our views.        

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Paul Ryan and the Catholic Cafeteria

Thomas Aquinas
 Vice-Presidential nominee Paul Ryan is a cradle Catholic.  He attended public schools in Janesville WI and Miami University in Oxford Ohio where he became interested in the writings of liberal Austrian economists Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, and the American, Milton Friedman.  Now one of the tricky things is to understand that when you talk about “liberal” and economics, you are not talking about “liberal” in the ordinary sense we use it today—a political liberal.  To the contrary—usually those who espouse economic liberalism (which is unrestricted free-market capitalism) are politically conservative.  Economic liberalism is the foundation for “Big Business” and is geared to the issues of corporate good rather than the interests of the working and consuming classes.  Congressman Ryan is also a devotee of the late philosopher/novelists Ayn Rand.  In a 2005 speech he said

"I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are and what my beliefs are. It's inspired me so much that it's required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff.  . . .the reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand. And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism."
Congressman Ryan claims that his social and economic philosophy is rooted in the works of Saint Thomas Aquinas though it does not appear that he has ever studied Thomas in any depth.  Indeed nothing could be further from Thomas’ vision than the radical individualism of the atheist Ayn Rand for whom the individual was the only focus of “the good” whereas Catholic social theory has held for the “common good,” an idea that Congressman Ryan labels “collectivism.” 
While Congressman Ryan is with the Church on specific issues of the right-to-life of the unborn (he is not consistently pro-life but anti-abortion) and same-sex marriage, he differs from Catholic teaching in other areas such as the rights of immigrants and rights of workers to organize for collective bargaining.  More the point, however, is that he lacks a Catholic understanding of the nature of society and the primacy of the common good over the interests of individuals.  Some of his other stands are troubling as well. 
It is unrealistic to expect a politician today to form his political philosophy totally in accord with his religious faith.  No one else does.  That is unfortunate.  But Paul Ryan shows us that cafeteria Catholicism is the norm. It seems that no one but a bishop eats a full meal these days, and most of those gentlemen could afford to lose some weight.     

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Biden Catholics and Ryan Catholics

Well, the choice of Paul Ryan for the Republican Vice-presidential nominee has thrown a barking dog in among the Catholic chickens.  Liberal Catholics are appalled; conservatives delighted.  Of course, at the present we have Catholics slated for the number 2 slot in both major parties, though—and I could be wrong—I don’t believe that I have heard that it is certain that President Obama is keeping Vice President Biden on the ticket.  There can always be a switch though Biden has certainly been a team-player—with a more than occasional foul, of course—with the President. 
I was away over the weekend and in my room at a beautiful retreat house in the mountains, was a copy of Catholic Digest.   I hadn’t seen this little magazine in years.  Someone had written to it asking about the possibility of the “Social Justice Catholic Church” being reunited to the “Orthodox Roman Catholic Church.”  The columnist responding made it clear that the “Social Justice Catholic Church” is and consistently has been well within the boundaries of the “Orthodox” Roman Catholic Church.  But the question was interesting because it shows how successful elements of the religious right have been in pushing those Catholics who support the very causes of social justice taught by the magisterium—opposition to the death penalty, rights of workers to organize, rights of access to education, health care, housing, and other necessities, human rights and freedoms (worship, speech, association, press), equal dignity of women, rights of women and children, rights of people to migrate—how Catholics supporting magisterial teaching have been emarginated within the Church by those whose politics ironically differ from magisterial principles.   For some who consider themselves to be “faithful Catholics” there are only two magisterial points that matter—opposition to abortion and to same-sex marriage.  They condemn “cafeteria Catholics” while they themselves hit only the coffee-bar of Catholic teaching. 
At the end of the day, one has to say that both Paul Ryan and Joe Biden are practicing Catholics.  Neither Paul Ryan nor Joe Biden are the Catholics they should be.  I am happy to see them both at communion on Sunday Mornings, I wish both of them would bring their religious faith more into their politics.  More to my concern, however, is that there are increasingly two Catholic Churches in this country.  There are historical reasons that go back a long way—actually into the early nineteenth century with the split between the old time Maryland Catholics whose heirs are today’s “liberals” (and Joe Biden Catholicism) and the “new immigrant Catholicism” of the 1840’s whose heirs are the “conservatives” (and Paul Ryan Catholicism.)  (See entries for January 21, 23, 26, 28, March 7, 9, 2011, January 6, 7, 2012)  When you know the history of the American Church you know that both groups have long and strong roots; the challenge today is to keep them together at the same altar sharing the One Bread of Christ’s One Body.