Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Anthony Bourdain suicide - What? But why?

Good Day,

If you are reading this blog - perhaps for the first time (welcome!) - it's probably because you really enjoyed watching this intrepid globe trotting explorer and adventurer chef and his uniquely human approach to strangers and to the foods and traditions and kitchens of other nations.

Like You, I really enjoyed watching his creative shows, exploration and discoveries, and the human approach he took to people, so respectful and genuinely interested in others; even to the point of advocating for people enduring difficult or unjust working conditions. He was a real "mensch", a true manly man, and a good man.

Media reports seem to agree that Anthony Bourdain "took his own life" or, to be more exact, "put an end to his own life". Out of respect for him, many I think will avoid asking the obvious question: "Why?" It is a very human question to ask, and one that we do ask so very often in our lives.

Why did Tony put a premature end to his life?

I honestly believe there was nothing wrong with the work he did or how he did it. He is reported to have had many reasons to go on living, including a new love interest. So I don't think we could find fault with any of the circumstances of his life. Check out this CNN report on the occasion of his death dated June 8th, 2018.


This CNN piece was respectfully and tastefully written and it recalls how in his youth he took drugs and found himself addicted to heroin but later recovered. I doubt that this old wound would have caused him to now take his life, or rather, put an end to it. He admitted that he could very well have died in that addicted season of his life, perhaps even should have died. Thankfully, he lived and had the satisfaction of having successfully freed himself or gotten free of this addiction.

In its place, he widened his horizons to truly enjoy the good things of life and, better still, to enjoy them in the company of other lively human beings, acquaintances, and friends. It is undoubtedly true that his past remained present to him, but generally when people overcome their trials they emerge stronger, better, for the experience. So why the suicide? Why not confide in someone?

What about God, or faith?

I am a man of faith, but perhaps you may be a woman or man with no interest in faith, any faith, or on the other hand, you may have some degree of interest in faith in a god, or specifically in the supreme Being generally referred to as God. Whether or not faith means anything to you, with all due respect to you and for your own convictions; I invite you to stay with me for a moment as we reflect on our common interest, Anthony Bourdain, his life and his death.

God and religion unfortunately don't enjoy a good reputation....

It is fair to say that "we" people of faith throughout the generations, times, and places - due to our human failings - have given or created a "bad reputation" for God, probably, but most certainly also for his Church. This is true despite the heroines and heroes members of the same Church who did great deeds and left a wonderful legacy to humanity: think of Abraham, Moses. King Solomon, King David, Jesus himself, Augustine of Hippo, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Sienna, Thérèse of Lisieux, Dorothy Day, Catherine Doherty, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Jean Vanier.... That God and religion have a bad rep is, I believe, a great sadness and tragedy.

It is a choice to turn away from God and / or from religion....

There is no escaping the all too human dimensions of the Christian faith in general, and in my case of the Roman Catholic Church in particular. There is no denying the human limits and wrongs at the hands of both leaders and members of our Roman Catholic faith tradition and all other Christian faith traditions. None of them have escaped being identified as "all too human" in their clergy, in their members, in their buildings and institutions. So, sadly I say, many people have turned off or turned away from all that can be summed up as "religion", by their own choice of course, but at least in part due to the aforementioned "bad reputation" attributed to God or to his Church.

I say sadly because unlike other great religions in which human beings try to reach the infinite, in the unique case of the Jewish faith and, by extension (because of Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish carpenter who had such a decisive impact on human history) the Christian faith as well - both of these faiths are in existence and continue to draw new adherents to this day because God himself took the initiative to begin revealing himself to humanity and never gave up on us until now. No other religions claim to have such clear revelations from God, or if they do, they don't have as credible and scientifically authenticated independent corroborating evidence as do the Jewish and Christian Sacred Scriptures.

To trust or not to trust in God's love... that is the question.

The one clear message in all of this "divine revelation" as attested in the Jewish and Christian Sacred Scriptures is that God loves us and never gives up offering us a true friendship, a genuine bond of family, perfect selfless love, if only we might be willing to put our trust in him. But there's the rub. Since the dawn of time, human beings stopped trusting in God and preferred to trust in themselves, which is of itself a good thing, but by also turning away from our Creator and the love he offers us, we found ourselves isolated and, in a sense, abandoned. We feel abandoned in some deep human way, without realizing that it is we who have abandoned our Creator God. To modify Shakespeare's word, "To trust or not to trust in God's love... that is the question."

Following rules or becoming friends with God?

Jews and Christians can put a lot of effort in following faithfully the precepts of  their faith and yet still not really know God personally or have any love for him because, quite simply, they have not had any real experience of God's love for them. Saul of Tarsus was a prime example of one who was an exceptionally fervent Jew but who knew the God in whom he believed so little that he did not understand he was working against his God in his enthusiastic and fanatical persecution of disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. He would never have changed had not this same Jesus, risen from the dead, made himself manifest to Saul in a life changing experience of the living God.

Saul had this personal experience of God and realized that Jesus was the Son of God who had accepted to die and then rise from the dead in order to reveal to humanity how far God is willing to go to demonstrate his love for us, for every human being. Saul's encounter with the Risen Christ dramatically changed his life.

It continues to be practically true today that we human beings don't change much until we have a personal experience of the living God and know for certain that we are loved by God. It is also true that this can and does happen in a hidden way. The human being who searches for truth, goodness, and beauty and serves these transcendental values in their own life and in the lives of others become "great hearted" human beings. If they did not know God in this life; they will be pleasantly surprised to realize that they know him after their death for the simple reason that without realizing that they revered God himself, they did so in his transcendental characteristics of truth, goodness, and beauty.

Jesus made this claim when he declared "I am the truth, the way, and the life." (John 14:6) Jesus claimed to be the Son of God who had taken on a human nature in order to make the invisible God visible. Being the Son of God, the living Word of God, Jesus could truly claim to be "the truth". In his goodness and mercy - which he abundantly demonstrated in his treatment of sinners and those who suffered from any ailment or trouble - Jesus showed himself to be "goodness" in person. Jesus claimed to offer life in abundance to all who come to him in faith and to offer himself as food for eternal life. Christians hold to Jesus' claims with faith, believing that he is indeed "the life".

Human beings are saved who change and live like friends of God....

People who discover the love of God for them and are changed by his love and live a life of love for others are like those who have found the transcendental values they desire and who in similar ways put themselves at the service of those values in their neighbor. Then, like Saul who changed his name to Paul, there is nothing we are not willing to do in order to please God and to share the good news of his love with others or to share with others those transcendental values.

The one who makes olympic efforts to follow religious and ritual rules and "do" religion perfectly but without knowing personally the love of God still doesn't get the point; whereas the one who becomes a friend of God is highly motivated to love more perfectly. It is the love that motivates the perfection because perfection can never deserve the love. The point of true religion is - according to the root of the word - to re-tie or re-connect with God and accept the friendship and new life of love which he offers. The one who only follows rules and practices without the experience and love of God is still a slave, who may have hope, but won't realize that hope without God's intervention.

It is good for a human being to stand up in freedom and dignity....

Getting back to our reflection on the life and death of Anthony Bourdain, we can say then that it is essentially a good thing that a human being grows up from youth and develops self-confidence and, by successfully accomplishing many things, further develops self-esteem, and by caring for oneself as well as for others, develops true selfless love of self, the kind of love of self that opens one up to selflessly loving and caring for others in addition to oneself, and in doing so paying attention and giving consideration especially those most helpless and in need.

Opening our spirit to awe and wonder....

What the Creator offers us in no way diminishes our capacity to stand on our own two feet; on the contrary. God never wants us to suspend the use of our reason; in fact, when we employ our reason to its fullest extent, we discover that it is actually quite reasonable to believe in a good and just God. Once we reach this degree of intellectual integrity - as many atheist or agnostic scientists have done - it is a small step to experience personally with awe and wonder the incredibly intelligent design of all that surrounds us, the sheer abundance, goodness, and beauty of the world and universe of which we are an integral part, and to open one's heart as well to make a"leap of faith" to believe that there must be an intelligence which designed Creation and that it is benevolent, that is, wants our ultimate good.

Trust lets a human being put down deep roots....

The moment we begin to trust in God is the very same moment in which our tragic human isolation is broken, and we enter into an experience of connection with God, with others, with all of humanity, with all living things, and with all of Creation, the whole universe.... Knowing that we have come into contact with the meaning and purpose of life in the discovery of truth, goodness, and beauty; a human being breaks through the isolation and loneliness that clings to our human nature like the ball and chain around a prisoner's ankle. Trust in a being greater than ourselves allows human beings to put down deep roots into the soil of reality and to find their a strong anchor for life.

Such an experience of God's love, or alternatively of the trio made up of truth, goodness, and beauty, this life changing spiritual experience dispels the dark depressing shadows of the night that cause many sensitive souls to despair and to hasten their departure from this troubled and often troubling world and bring to a premature end their life in it.

So what about Anthony Bourdain?

So if anything may have caused Anthony Bourdain to put a premature end to his rich and abundant life, I suspect that this phenomenon of human isolation and primordial loneliness may very well have been at work in his spirit. A closer connection with his Creator or, alternatively, the realization that in his life he was approaching, touching, and serving truth, goodness, and beauty, would, I believe, have saved him from allowing himself to be swallowed up in those shadows of isolation and loneliness.

When we look around us at the drama of human existence in the great variation of circumstances and conditions in which human beings find themselves - often despite their best and often heroic efforts - there is no denying how formidable those haunting shadows of isolation and loneliness are; which seem to cause even happily married people to feel lonely in their intimate marriage bed and even cause very lively people to feel lonely in a crowd of close friends and acquaintances.

It is pertinently true in our day as we continue to witness an ever lengthening list of wonderful human beings, as well as others who more manifestly show signs of personal trouble, who have put an end or are putting an end - a premature end - to their life on Earth. Clearly, their continued existence in this life had become unbearable, which explains their drastic action upon their mortal existence. What is so sad and tragic is that none of it has to be this way. It is an illusion that our life is unbearable - even in the most dire of circumstances - as countless heroines and heroes have demonstrated by clinging to life and insisting on making a difference even under acute pain and suffering.

I firmly believe what the Roman Catholic Church teaches that in all likelihood those who, in any circumstance, put an end to their own life are undoubtedly suffering some form of dis-ease, a real ailment separating them from their best self, dragging them down into the dark shadows of human isolation, loneliness, and despair.

However it remains true that they are responsible for their own destruction to the extent that they neglected to help themselves or refused the light, love, peace, forgiveness, mercy, and help offered to them within their spirit by the Spirit of the living God who knows each one of us human beings better than we know ourselves, and who knows and loves us on the inside. This is not to be interpreted as taking lightly the issue of suicide... it is very dangerous to risk locking oneself for all eternity in the very darkness of isolation and loneliness from which a suicide is trying to escape!

After all, no human being in their right mind, heart, or spirit would refuse a life rich with abundant access to truth, goodness, and beauty, or would refuse to be the object and recipient of perfect love, unmerited and freely given. Only the darkest and most perverse of human beings would see the face of true and perfect love and would spit at it and send it on its way with curses. Anthony Bourdain showed no such signs of hatred or vindictiveness or railing against life, the world, of God....

Still, we must encourage one another to stay clear of ending our life, but instead, to seek any and all helps to better face our demons and dark emotions such as isolation and loneliness.... We can ask God to help us be more sensitive and alert to such suffering in ourselves as well as in our neighbor and to do all we can to help one another and to appeal to God for his powerful aid, He who loves us so much as he demonstrated in his Son Jesus Christ.

So, dear reader, if the sudden and unexpected death of Anthony Bourdain - or for that matter of anyone known or close to you personally - has affected you, please accept my sympathies for your loss, and my simple assurances of human love and understanding in the midst of our shared human condition; even though we may not know one another.... Though far apart, in God we are never separated, not really, because of his Spirit who brings us together in our common humanity, our common origin in our Creator, and our common destiny in God's eternity.... Those of us who believe that we are all connected in God can pray humble and fervent prayers to the God of all mercy that he may show mercy to Anthony's soul, now that he has for a time left behind his earthly tent which was his mortal body; while we all wait for the resurrection of the dead and the final judgement at the hands of the Divine Mercy itself, our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Not every human relation or attraction need be sexual

It is a good thing and also just that since the civil rights movements in the U.S.A. in the mid-twentieth century other situations of unjust discrimination and twisted relations biased by various forms of prejudice have been brought into the public forum for discussion and remedial action. In the course of various public initiatives to correct unjust treatment of human persons by other individuals, organization, or agencies, much public attention has been drawn to the sufferings of individuals and groups. Our eyes and ears have been flooded with images, sounds, and messages which have tried to raise a positive profile for those deemed to have suffered from prejudice and persecution. That is all to the good.

Unfortunately we human beings not only accomplish what we intend, but all too often we also bring about unintended consequences and undesirable results. What came to be known as the "sexual revolution" of the post WW II era was intended to remove from human sexuality the negative stigma and heavy charges of guilt that in many circles had besmirched the authentic meaning and purpose of human sexuality, making what the Creator made very good and beautiful into something dirty and altogether evil.

In many ways, an in large part thanks to the contribution of Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologians, we now have a wonderful body of literature which brings into the public domain all the beauty, meaning, purpose, and power of human sexuality under the identifier of "Theology of the Body" which we owe to Saint Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla. Young people from many and no religious traditions are being drawn to many variations on this theme currently drawing more and more attention. That is all to the good.

However, our society has also produced a culture which tends to give such emphasis to sexual expression that we cannot blame children and youth who acquire the impression that all roads, all situations, and all circumstances must necessarily lead to sexual expression; otherwise they will never be able to live a fully actualized existence or know happiness or fulfillment. This is not reality, and the current situation could not be farther from the truth.

Not every human relation or attraction need become sexual. In fact, the wide gamut of human literature is replete with themes indicating any number of ways human beings inevitably suffer when the life is improperly or inopportunely sexualized. Sex is a little bit like sugar. Most of the time it is best left unused, allowing each food item to manifest its own natural flavor, but when you add sugar, it is likely that each food's natural flavor will be camouflaged and lost. While sugar is pleasant and does bring pleasure, it tends to override all other flavors, as if all other flavors were forbidden.

In that sense, sex is like a bully. A bully suffers from insecurity in his or her sense of identity and is afraid that, upon entering into relations with others, they will discover the bully's inadequacies and faults and reject him or her. The bully's fear of rejection is so great that he or she adopts a policy of defense by aggression, in a desperate bid to preclude rejection through violent intimidation. Bullies tend to be loud and pushy, taking over and then dominating any situation; as though in their presence no one has any right to exist, or be seen or heard, because everyone else is a potential threat.

Human sexuality is indeed a beautiful, wondrous, and powerful dimension of our being, which is all the more reason for it to be surrounded with safeguards. The Creator designed human beings in two distinct but related genders; so that in relating to each other they might come to experience their complementarity and, under the right circumstances, they might come together in marriage and - bearing and raising children - they might build a family. Within this context the full depth of beauty and meaning of human sexuality can be deployed and developed in the service of their mutual love and service, and the power of their mutual gift in sexual union unfolds in a healthy manner at the service of their union and loving service.

No other situation contains all the safeguards to be found in the marriage of one man and one woman; so that the recourse to human sexual expression in all other situations tends to draw attention to itself rather than to the other. Human sexual pleasure qualifies as an intoxicant, and human history clearly shows that people can easily become addicted to and obsessed with sexual pleasure as much as with any alcohol, drug, or other stimulant.

It is normal that children and youth - who are in the difficult and lengthy process of developing their sense of identity as human beings - it is normal I say for children and youth to be drawn or attracted to others - to individuals of both genders - because what is happening is not sexual at all. Rather, they are being drawn and attracted to particular qualities and traits in other people either because they sense they don't have that quality and want it, or don't have it enough and want more, or think they don't have it or that it is insufficiently developed and they want more of it.

By associating in simple human ways and on simple human terms with others whose qualities we emulate, by the mere association and relationship, we slowly or more rapidly acquire for ourselves something of those qualities and traits. It is as though we graft onto ourselves something of the other that we so admire and desire. It would not only be a mistake to prematurely sexualize such relations, but it would be counter productive and it would all too often short circuit the normal human processes of personality and character development.

Take for example a child or youth who loves the color red. That is all to the good, but it would be ridiculous, infantile, and probably violent for that young individual to go around spraying red paint on every stone, plant, animal, and any other object; as if no other color could be allowed to continue to exist. Red, like every other color, is fine whenever and wherever it naturally occurs, and in harmony with all the other colors.

In like manner, all the sensations and pleasure associated with human sexuality are right and good in their proper context, and provided they don't obstruct or short circuit, or overwhelm any of the many other dimensions of human being, identity, living, and experience.

Many cultures over the millennia of human history have developed rites of passage from childhood or adolescence to adulthood. Most if not all of these rites of passage tend to orient human sexuality towards marriage and family life not only for the perpetuation of the species but also for the good of the individual, of the family, and of the greater clan or tribe or nation.

Any other uses of human sexuality tend to draw attention to sexual pleasure for its own sake by drawing attention away from marriage, family, and the sense of common purpose and meaning in the mutual love, service, and caring inherent in any society. When people stop opening themselves up to the service of the common good, they tend to want to draw all things and all people to themselves, and such movements tend to incite divisions, wars, exploitation, conquest, misery, and death.

If human sexual pleasure could actually satisfy the human being - body, mind, heart, psyche, and spirit / soul - then we could understand giving oneself over to it, but there is overwhelming evidence that human sexual pleasure is at best ephemeral, and because it is so fleeting, no amount of it can ever satisfy. On the contrary, the only way human sexual pleasure can truly satisfy is by employing it the way it was meant to be employed in accord with the design inscribed into our DNA by the Creator.

Human sexual pleasure is intended to draw us away from ourselves towards the other, and upon arriving at the other, to lay our life down in loving service to the other. This mutual self-giving is most eloquent, most complete, most powerful, and most fertile between one man and one woman, because between them, they have all they need to build a life together, to create new life, and to achieve their ultimate purpose and meaning.

A married man and woman practice chastity be reserving the gift of their human sexuality for each other, the man primarily by forgetting himself in the giving of pleasure to his wife as he seeks only to delight in her pleasuring, and the woman primarily by accepting to be cherished only by her husband in the receiving of pleasure from his sustained attention to her, associating her pleasure with his giving of himself to her in such a selfless way on his part.

Celibate men - either religious or priests as in the Roman and Eastern Catholic Christian traditions, but also in other Christian traditions such as in the Orthodox churches - as well as celibate women deprive their human sexual attractions and drives of their attention by simply choosing to refocus their attention and energies to the practice of loving service to others and to God in accord with their proper vocation or chosen way of life. Celibates are freed from the intoxicating powers of their human sexuality, for the most part, and enjoy the freedom to apply all this energy to the other dimensions of their human living and existence.

As in the case of people who refrain from the consuming of refined sugars, celibates develop far more refined capacities to enjoy the subtle differences in the natural flavors of the wide range of human experiencing and living.

Children and youth should be protected in their innocence and allowed all the time they need to develop more fully the wide range of human living, experiences, and relating without the overbearing influence of human sexual expression and hormones attendant on all things sexual. They will be better equipped to understand their human sexuality upon having first developed more fully their human personality and character, freely and without the "polluting effects" of premature sexual expression. Let's put the "bully" of sex away and allow "everyone else in the room" freedom to live and breathe and develop fully.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Elderly parents - impatience or loving interest?

One day as I was visiting my elderly parents, which I did each week, I noticed my impatience with them when either Maman or Papa would say something. It was usually because they seemed to me to be repeating familiar words, phrases or formulas they tended to say at such times or on such topics as the one we were talking about just at that moment. It was almost as if I could finish the sentence for them.

Perhaps I was frustrated because I somehow desired better dialogue or more interesting conversation and we seemed to be caught in a narrow little circle of familiar words. At such times I was probably rolling my eyes, but one thing is certain, I felt as though I wanted to quickly run out and away, to be far away as soon as possible; even though I had probably just arrived to visit with them. They were my parents and I loved them; so it was hurtful to feel as I did rather than feel love and show them my love.

That day, as I noticed my impatience with my elderly parents and in addition noticed how frustrated, hurt, and angry I felt with myself, there was a grace from God to wonder why it was that I felt this way with my parents when I knew full well how warm, kind, gracious, helpful, and loving I was with other people, even with strangers. Then there was an additional grace to realize that the big difference was that with others I was genuinely interested in them and was able to show them my interest, to actively take interest in them.

So why could I not do that with my own parents? Again, it was divine grace that showed me that the main obstacle was with me, because I thought I knew my parents and could know nothing more, learn nothing new from them. Of course right away I understood that this is not the truth. So why did I think that it was? Divine grace kept shining its light on the matter and I saw that it was because after so many years I had become too familiar with my parents; so familiar in fact that I had drawn the hasty conclusion that there was nothing left to know.

Knowledge is the key to understanding and discernment; so it didn't take long for me to take the next step and see that I was quite free to decide to take interest, a new or renewed interest, in my parents, in Maman and Papa, from that point on. It was a source of great joy for me, instead of rolling my eyes, to respond to them with something like this: "Oh, really? Would you please tell me more about that?" Human creativity - such a great gift that we all have and which is amplified by love - gave me any number of variations on this theme with different ways to interacting with these elderly folks, always with a clear focus to genuinely take interest in them and to clearly show them my real interest, as an act of love.

I think they changed a little, but mostly it was I who changed, and it was all the easier for them to go along with this new approach to them, and for most of their remaining years, our visits were more interesting, more lively, within the limits of our own human limitations and the limits of health and time.

I remain grateful to this day - now that Maman and Papa are both with God - for the better times we had, thanks to the extravagantly loving and generous grace of God.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Why does God allow us to be tried, tested, and made to suffer?

Indeed, why does God allow us human beings to be constantly tried, to be tested all our lives, to be tempted at every turn, and in countless unrelenting ways made to suffer?

We believe - and are on solid ground in believing so - that God the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are almighty God, all knowing and all loving. It follows that God who is almighty knows of every instance in which we suffer because of evil, or because we are tempted, or because we are tempted and, no longer resisting, fall into and succumb to sin. Our Roman Catholic, Eastern Catholic, and Orthodox Christian traditions all agree in teaching that evil, temptations, and sin only occur to the degree that God allows them to occur; for without his permitting them, none of these could befall us or come to pass.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola in this "14 Rules for the Discernment of Spirits" taught that God indeed does allow us to suffer in these three ways - evil, temptations, sin - for his good and kind purposes. Jesuits continue today to offer the teaching and guidance of their founder Saint Ignatius, and one way they do it is in terms of spiritual discernment and making good decisions.

Unless one is willing to have faith in God - to believe in the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit - to accept as true and totally reliable that nothing evil can come from God but only good; then there is no way out of the tortuous doubts that come to human beings in the throes of struggles with evil, disease, pain, death, violence, the sins of others, temptations, and our own sin. If God is evil or cannot be trusted to always be good or if there is no god; then we are on our own and we are lost.

In his Ninth (9th) Rule, Saint Ignatius teaches that the drama is not so much about the fact that there is evil (we can understand here in all of its forms including evil deeds, illness, human violence, and natural disasters, without exhausting the list), pain and suffering, temptations, and sin. Now, what is most dramatic and fraught with the gravest of consequences for us and for others, is not so much the evils or temptations or sins themselves, but rather our inner dispositions and reactions to all of these realities of life.

Saint Ignatius makes much of two opposite but related inner states within human beings: spiritual consolation and spiritual desolation, and he devotes several rules to explain how we are to understand what is truly happening within us in the face of these two states, how then we are to govern ourselves under these circumstances, and what that signifies for our life and the lives of others.

So it's not so much the fact of evil or violence but how we react to it, or the fact of being tempted, but how we conduct ourselves in the face of it, or the fact that God allows us to experience these things, but how we respond to the Lord and conduct ourselves in these situations.

To be more specific, when I suffer because of evil or am tempted or sin, if I trust in the Lord and welcome my trial, suffering, or humiliation; then I will certainly come to experience God's consoling love and mercy. However, if I am "tepid, slothful or negligent in (my) our spiritual exercises" (Rule 9) then it will be "through our faults (that) spiritual consolation withdraws from us." This is the first cause "for which we find ourselves desolate" (Rule 9) in the face of evil, suffering, temptation, or sin. God allows these experiences to "purify the intentions of our heart" so that we discover the degree of heat or cold in our faith and devotion to God.

The second cause "for which we find ourselves desolate" would be "to try us and see how much we are and how much we extend ourselves in His service and praise without so much payment of consolation and increased graces." (Rule 9) In other words, a second reason God allows us to experience trials, suffering, temptation, or sin and so find ourselves desolate, is so that we might discover the strength of our resolve to love God for his own sake without looking for "rewards", and, discovering how weak may be our resolve, decide to love God with purer intentions and with a more selfless heart. By this second scenario, God allows our trials to make us stronger in loving, praising, and serving Him and our fellow man and woman.

The third cause "for which we find ourselves desolate" would be "to give us true recognition and understanding so that we may interiorly feel that it is not ours to attain or maintain increased devotion, intense love, tears or any spiritual consolation, but that all is the gift and grace of God our Lord, and so that we may not build a nest in something belonging to another, raising our mind in some pride or vainglory, attributing to ourselves the devotion or the other parts of the spiritual consolation." (Rule 9)

So, first God allows us to be tested and suffer, to be tempted and even to sin; so that we may better know the true intentions of our heart, discover our lack of resolve to love, praise, and serve God and do something about it. Secondly, God allows us to endure these things in order to struggle, resist, and grow stronger. Thirdly, God allows us to endure these things in order to discover the great joy that all good things - including our own life, love, and growth - are God's gift and the result of his gifts. The antidote to pride is wholeheartedly giving all the glory and praise and thanks to God.

The Lord needs us to trust in Him above all things, rather than in ourselves or our own efforts, in the power of others, or in the riches of potential donors... because it is only when we are weak or weakest that God can manifest his power, because it is only then, in our weakness, that it can become evident to the world that the only explanation for the wonders that come about within us and through our poor human efforts is that God must have done it, there being no other possible explanation.

The reason why all the glory must be given to God is that He needs to draw all people to Himself, since He alone spontaneously gives life and salvation. God alone is totally disinterested - not seeking anything for himself - totally focused on the good of the other. God alone is a "self-bestowing being" who doesn't just give things of limited value but gives of his own substance, which is of infinite value. Our human drama is that it is such a challenge for human beings to trust in God rather than trust in ourselves first and foremost.

In fact, that was precisely the scenario of the "original sin", the rebellion of Adam and Eve, the first human beings. They were tempted and seduced by the "stranger" to stop putting their trust in God, to trust first of all in themselves, and rather than expect good things from God, to go ahead and grab whatever they wanted. Why be burdened with gratitude to God when they could rely on themselves?

Well, we all now suffer the consequences of that failed logic, that lie, that untruth, which turned the focus of the human spirit away from the most awesome Being in the universe, the very Source of life and love, in order to narrow and "dumb down" the focus of our human spirit into a navel-gazing exercise which isolates and reduces us to fearful, neurotic, lonely individuals separated from others, from life and love, and from our origin and destiny, which are both in God our Creator. 

Friday, April 27, 2018

How easily we misunderstand

It has come home to me even more forcefully recently how easily we misunderstand one another and give others cause to misunderstand us.

We believe in giving others the benefit of the doubt, wherever this civility is valued, primarily because we understand how easy it is for human beings - failing the opportunity to be fully informed of all the facts and factors involved in any situation - to jump to conclusions which are as deficient as the bases upon which they stand.

What is most troubling in our human condition - post the original sin - is our inclination to take offense and hurt before the possibility of giving the benefit of the doubt even arises in our awareness. One truth or reality that the Genesis account of the creation of man and woman and their subsequent "fall" from grace certainly makes clear, is that we are all suffering - in every generation since then - a profound insecurity in the very depths of our sense of identity and dignity. This insecurity in turn is a grave obstacle to open and trusting relations among us.

The Creator revealed to his creatures the nature and reason for this insecurity and how differently we women and men experience and suffer it.

The man is perennially insecure in his labors, in his relationship with the Earth and the world around him, and in his visceral passion to survive and to provide for his family. Because our progenitor broke faith with his Creator, believed a lie about his Creator insinuated into his mind by the persuasive "stranger", and acted in direct opposition to what he knew first hand to be the will of his Creator - ignoring the very precise warning he had received from his Creator - the man became estranged from his Creator, from himself and his own integrity which he had now undermined, and subsequently with innumerable practical consequences, he became estranged from his world and his place in that world.

In addition and perhaps more seriously, the man failed to watch over and protect the woman when she was assailed by the persuasive stranger. Where was the man and what was he doing when the stranger arrived and approached the woman? What was he thinking when she brought to him the stranger's insinuation and suggestion to ignore the Creator's warning? Why did he not explain to her the error in the stranger's suggestion and motivate her to join him in remaining faithful to the Creator?

We men, as his inheritors, now suffer the very same consequences of insecurity in our dignity and place in the world. We struggle and labor and all our efforts eventually terminate in frustration and the production of "thorns and thistles", spending our life force and energy apparently to no avail.

Why did the seductive stranger approach and attack the woman and not the man? The great respect and reverence Christians inherit from our Jewish sisters and brothers - our religious tradition from theirs - resides precisely in the importance and value given by the Creator to woman as the one who has been designed by God to be the bearer of new life - in the image and likeness of the Holy Spirit who is the "Lord and Giver of life" - even more so than the man, who has been disigned by God to "fertilize" this new life within her, to stand by her, and to cherish her for all that she gives as she pours herself out in selfless and devoted service.

That was the Creator's plan, but now, the woman, for her part, is perennially insecure in her relations, first and foremost her relationship with her husband, her man. Although the account relates that she only knew of the Creator's warning indirectly from the man, she nevertheless knew it to be true and reliable, as God her Creator is himself reliable. Still, she allowed herself to be persuaded by the stranger, accepting as true his insinuations that the Creator was not truthful, nor reliable, but in fact stingy with his blessings.

She was seduced with the desire to be like God, even though she already experienced the fullness of likeness to God in her own being and dignity as woman. She was tempted to no longer trust in God or wait for his blessings to unfold, but instead, to grasp at them and seize them herself, alone, independently of her Creator.

She could still have been saved from her error had her man resisted her proposal, but he didn't. As a result, she not only fell from grace herself but also drew her husband into falling from grace. How could she then continue to trust in him and in his love for her, now that she too began to suffer the consequences of their break from trust in God.

Gone was the intimacy with God that they had until then enjoyed with their Creator in the wonderful garden He had created for them. In their guilt and shame they no longer looked forward to their intimate walks and chats with their Creator in the afternoon warmth of the garden; instead they feared their Creator and hid from Him in their shame.

No longer certain of her man's strength or confident in his love and care, the woman began to suffer uncertainty of being loved. The more she seeks to be reassured that she is loved, the more her man resents being reminded of his failure, and the more he reacts badly in an effort to quell her grasping and, in effects, behaves in a rather domineering way.

Both men and women are not only estranged from each other, and from their Creator whom they now fear rather than seek out, but they are also estranged from the garden and all its wonderful creatures, of whom they are also a part and fellow creatures before their Creator. Gone is the order and peace of the natural environment of Earth, because her caretakers - the man and the woman - have taken a mortal wound in their own sense of dignity and identity, and they have forgotten how to care for their fellow creatures. In their insecurity and fear, they end up pillaging and raping the Earth, never feeling satisfied with a sufficiency, but ever seeking more and more....

They continued to suffer in this tragic way until the advent of the Savior and the realization of the promise made to them by the Creator. In joining the human race through Mary, Jesus of Nazareth has opened up a path of return to the garden and to intimate life-giving relations with the Creator, whom we now know as our heavenly Father. Jesus has obtained for us the forgiveness of all our faults and, in the giving and our pouring of the Holy Spirit, has opened up for us a new way of living, a restoration of the original innocence and life of harmony ever intended by our Creator from the start for us to enjoy in his presence and with his company.

Those who accept his call and invitation and repent of their death dealing practices, committing now their faith and trust in the One and only Savior of humanity, Jesus Christ, are baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit with water and the Holy Spirit and are born again, regenerated, and adopted by God as his very own children. Jesus leads them and sends them out into all the world to extend this good news and opportunity to be restored to grace to all of humanity, to all who will accept the priceless gift ever offered by God to humanity.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Authority and Service in the Roman Catholic Church

Authority and Service as we are called to live them in the Roman Catholic Church

QUESTION:   Does it make sense for lay people to offer spiritual direction and to even become spiritual fathers / mothers to clergymen?

Of course, it is God's intention that we live our lives in freedom and with generosity in the service of divine love. No one is obliged to make particular choices and Saint Francis de Sales advised a woman to diligently seek out the spiritual director in whom she would find the direction she needed and her soul desired under the conduct of the Holy Spirit.

Still, in the kingdom of God each order has its proper place in cooperation with divine grace.

Some ordained priests can not only hear confession and grant absolution, but they also have natural gifts, formation, and supernatural charisms to enable them to also offer psychotherapy and the direction of souls; some are even medical doctors, such that they can do it all.

In the normal course of life, however, God wants each domain to bring its proper activity with its properly competent, trained, experienced, and supervised service provider.

When as a priest I have health issues I must seek out a competent medical doctor as well as pray to God.

When I have trouble with my muscles or joints in addition to prayer I must seek out a physiotherapist.
When I have a moral struggle I must go to confession, preferably to the same confessor, but not necessarily when it is impossible or too difficult to do so on a regular basis.

When I struggle with some form of compulsion or psychological difficulty or blockage or various kinds of interior resistance or recurring emotional difficulties, then it is necessary that I confess to a priest, but it is also necessary that I seek out the counsel of a trained therapist; who has the training and dedication to pay attention to what I share and help me discover deeper understanding about the complex workings of the human psyche in general and of my own self in particular, with all my personal, family, and communal history. In addition, these professionals are responsible to seek out and receive ongoing professional formation and to offer their service under supervision so that they are accountable in the service they provide.

All of this has been proven to be true and effective and it is recognized by our Church as a way of offering and seeking healing and growth that is not only approved but given and blessed by Almighty God.

QUESTION:   In fact the INTERNAL FORUM has always been the privileged field of the church. That is the reason we could be so much convinced that there is a strong link to be a spiritual father with the sacrament of confession. That link is strengthened by the confessional secrets.

The internal forum concerns matters of morality and the human will in our struggle to conform ourselves with the divine law and with the will of God. It is true that the confessional relationship between the confessor and the penitent expressed and symbolized by the "seal of confession" is the privileged place given to us by Christ for the exercise and formation of the human conscience of the believer who is a baptized Roman Catholic.

However, there are other dimensions of our life for which we desire and seek our confidentiality and are able to find it. We also find it with doctors, lawyers, notaries, and other professionals. Whenever these breach their obligation to maintain confidentiality there are sanctions imposed on them by their professional associations.

Nonetheless, I believe and our Church does too, that God offers us more abundant opportunities for personal growth in more diverse professional relationships of help and service within which we can also receive God's help and the healing grace and guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is because in the Church there is at work a harmony of cooperation between the hierarchical gifts (by the ordained) and the charismatic gifts (by all the faithful), and it is the Holy Spirit who maintains the harmony in all of these in accord with the will of the Father and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

That is why a priest can go regularly to his father confessor, and in addition, as he has need for it, he can also go to a therapist for additional help with complicated struggles in his emotions, or psyche, or self-understanding; just as he also goes to a medical doctor or physiotherapist or surgeon for their very specific services.

I can witness to you that at least on many occasions I have been blessed by God through people who were not priests. Of course, I have had incredible experiences of God's presence and power to heal and forgive through priests in confession since my childhood.

Confession was insufficient to help me overcome certain struggles and in the course of therapy with a religious sister who was a psychotherapist I receive incredible help. First, however, for two years I found myself blocked and could make no progress, but she very patiently continued with me until one day, as I waited to see her, the Lord showed me interiorly that when she would open the door to me it would be He, Jesus, who would receive me and care for me.

That amazing grace allowed me to open my spirit to her in trust, not so much trust in her, but trust in Jesus my Lord and Saviour, who for reasons He alone knew wanted to touch my life through the caring spirit and competencies of this religious sister who was also a trained and supervised psychotherapist.

From that point on, now that I could trust her (Jesus in her), I made incredible progress and learned so much more about myself and the interior working of my own spirit and became able to make great strides in caring for myself. As time went by and I faced more difficult challenges, I ran up against new walls deeper within my spirit, within my human psyche, and once again I needed the assistance of a trained therapist.

That is why when I became a resident in a formation and therapeutic program I was so eager to trust the therapist into whose care I was being entrusted. From the very beginning I learned a great deal about myself. The more I opened myself to the therapist, the more he could have insight into me, and so the more he was able to offer insightful help and guidance, and I experienced profound growth and healing.

This therapeutic relationship went hand in hand with the spiritual direction I received from the wonderful woman spiritual director, with the confessor I saw regularly, and with all the other services in which I participated. The Holy Spirit was orchestrating all of those services in order to demonstrate the power and effectiveness of his love for me and the other residents through the different members of the body of Christ dedicated there to our service.

QUESTION:   Jesus Christ himself had private talks with the twelve that he could not disclose to the outsiders! He explained to them for example that in order to chase away some evil spirits they have to fast and pray.

We as priests also have this as members of the Presbyterium and in the privileged relationship we have with our proper bishop and with his officers who are our direct supervisors and superiors. This privileged relationship we enjoy as priests does not preclude or prevent or block or forbid all of the other possibilities we enjoy as I have been describing them above....

QUESTION:   In the Acts of the apostles you know the episode of a certain Simon who wanted to have the same power as the apostles.... To this day simony – the buying or selling of ecclesiastical privileges continues to be strongly condemned by the Church as an act "latae sententiae"... which is the severest excommunication reserved for judgement by the Holy See.

I believe that evoking the evil intentioned Simon in the Acts of the Apostles here is a quotation out of context which has nothing to do with our current dialogue about the role of the laity in spiritual direction and is, I believe, only confusing to bring into our discussion in this way.

That man Simon had an evil desire and thirst for power and this is a thing against which God has spoken very strongly in the Old Testament. Such evil desires open the door to Satan and his demons, which is why God denounces such practices and desires so strongly. This has absolutely nothing to do with a priest benefiting from the services of a doctor, or therapist, or teacher, or professor, of even a lay spiritual director. I cannot denounce this insinuation more vehemently, my brother.

QUESTION:   If then spiritual direction is no longer under the powers of the church let's call that counselling and guidance and not spiritual direction. Otherwise we reinforce a tendency to stir up confusion in our modern society. The role of the priest in our society is becoming more and more overlooked!

It is true that even today some people seem to think that only the ordained clergy are "under the powers of the Church", which is not the case. We are all of us subject to the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ in accord with the will of the Father, the lay people no less than the ordained.

Counselling is a technical term that can only properly apply to a person who has been properly trained, tested, and is supervised to offer a service of counselling. Therapy is also a technical term that is sometimes used interchangeably with counselling but actually brings a little more than counselling.

The counsellor accompanies a person and helps them understand what is happening within them, so that they can conduct themselves with more insight and wisdom through self knowledge and understanding. The therapist can bring a person further through specific strategies to remove obstacles or learn to go around them or to undo "knots" that have tied up our inner processes of life.

Spiritual direction is separate from these two services and activities and has its own very specific objective which is the discernment of the will of God, the presence of God, and the action of God in our lives. It also considers our efforts to align ourselves with God in obedience to his will, to pay loving attention to his presence, and to work together with God under his direction in order to bring about his will in the world.

QUESTION:   Unfortunately this is our sad reality in our parishes where lay people want to take over the role of priests....  Priests have experienced on their own body the consequences of this permissive situation. Lay people think that there are no privileged rights for consecrated people. Whatever these are doing, those can do it too!

There are many sides and dimensions to the church situations which you evoke with this statement.
There is of course the specific role of the priests, as of the bishop, but there are also the roles of the laity. The first role of a priest is to operate as an agent of the mercy of God to build, repair, and maintain bridges of charitable relations within the parish community.

Like Saint Paul, the priest must be willing to endure the cross in order to become all things for all people in order to help them come to Christ and to love one another. He must help them overcome obstacles to understanding, to mutual help, to kindness towards all, to charity in every situation.

When the priest experiences difficulties with people, which is inevitable, he must not take any of it personally, but continue to love people, and when he must point out the teaching of Christ and the Church, he must do so in a dispassionate way, with great kindness, and never using the law as a "club" or instrument of discipline by way of authority through a show of strength. Only in exceptional circumstances and when everything else has been tried are we to resort to the strength of authority, as Jesus only did against the religious leaders BECAUSE they were preventing ordinary people from coming to Him, from experiencing the love and mercy of God.

So we are called to accept to be crucified, in little ways but also in big ways, in the course of our service to the Body of Christ. We are to lead by example in demonstrating the primary principle of charity, after the example of Jesus, who accepted to suffer in order to reveal the true nature of the love and mercy of God. So, as you say, we are called to experience these troubles in our body and well as in our spirit and emotions or psyche.

The thought or desire or appetite for "privileged rights" is a dangerous trap for clergy. Jesus made it very clear that those who wish to be first must accept to be last and servant or slave of all, of everyone, including those whom we find most difficult.

It is true that both the consecrated and the ordained are privileged, but only in a supernatural way, not in natural ways. We have a place reserved for us personally on the back of Jesus' Cross, which is empty and waiting for us. Some saints have called the back of Jesus' Cross the "marriage bed" between the soul and the Beloved who is the Lord Jesus, because it is in that "place" that we experience the intimacy of the marriage relationship between God and the human soul. It is an intimacy more profound than that of Marriage, but Marriage is God's special image and expression of the intimacy the Holy Trinity offers to human souls.

However, when the ordained and the consecrated expect, want, or seek to enjoy in the natural sphere a status of privilege because of their station or role, then they fall into the danger of careerism and clericalism, setting themselves up as separate from the "ordinary laity" and, in this way, superior to them. Much evil has entered into the Church through these dangers, and each step in this direction takes us far away from the Son of God who "came to serve, not to be served".

QUESTION:   According to Canon law, the ordinary minister of Holy Eucharist is a male ordained person. But now things are changing: you will see the activity of extraordinary ministers of the Holy Eucharist as something automatic, not even a basic formation ad hoc! I have seen a lay person doing a transfer of the Holy Eucharist on Holy Thursday, and yet the priest in charge was there! Where is the Church of Christ heading?

What you describe can be an abuse, but it is not necessarily that these lay people are guilty of bad conscience. Most often it is the instability in the availability of priests that over time leads to such a situation. In fact, the Church of Montreal has procedures to avoid such abuses and to gently correct them whenever they occur.

First, when a new priest arrives, he must spend himself generously as a servant of charity and unity in peace. As he observes practices that may be wrong or at least could make room for greater excellence in justice, truth, devotion, and charity; he must take note of these things and bring them to the Lord in prayer.

Second, he must resist the temptation to do violence to the people by imposing authoritative changes, because to do so would express condemnation of people's motives which are usually good, and he would fail to acknowledge with gratitude the service they have been trying to render for the glory of God.

Third, the priest must do his best to express gratitude to all those who offer service and encourage all who come to persevere in their walk of faith with the Lord and in the exercise of charity to one another.

Fourth, in the natural course of time and in ways that do not do violence to people, the priest walks with them and offers gentle leadership through the instruments of collaboration already in place, such as liturgy committee or parish pastoral council, and fabrique, and gradually leads by example, by leadership of prayer, and by bringing teaching and instruction.

An excellent example of a practice undertaken by a newly ordained priest after only two years – a priest who became the youngest bishop in Canada ten years later – was the leadership he offered, with the approval and the support of his pastor, to the liturgy committee. He proposed to them that what would please God and would be for the good of the faithful would be for them, the liturgy committee, to respond to the Pope's call to strive for excellence in the Liturgy.

He proposed that at their regular meetings they slowly read through together the GIRM - General Introduction to the Roman Missal - and that they take notes as they read and discuss it. Their objective would be to examine the excellence of the way they participate together in the Liturgy and to see what they could do to increase that excellence, either be dropping practices that take away from the excellence of the Liturgy, or by correcting errors, or by slowly adding pieces that may be missing.

By proceeding this way, the priests did not need to intervene with "shows of authority" because the lay people themselves saw what needed to be corrected and the priests could then lead them in a discussion of strategies for making the corrections in ways that would not offend anyone but would win the enthusiasm of everyone to do their best for the glory of God and the good of souls and the growth of the Church.

Fifth, regarding the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion or of the Holy Eucharist, as it is also for Lectors, it is the domain and responsibility of the pastor to oversee the selection, formation, encouragement, continuing formation, and mandating of competent members of the faithful to undertake these liturgical ministries for a limited time. 

He can walk with them until a relationship is established and, at an appropriate time, meet them for an informal interview to establish a simple file for each one. Then he can call them all to formation sessions and explain the difference between Ordinary and Extraordinary Ministers. 

He can help them discern whether to continue, he can call others after proper screening, and give them all a mandate at a Sunday Liturgy for a limited period of time, such as one year or two or, at most, three years. They are to understand that the mandate may or may not be reviewed through a process of discernment and consensus.

We have to remember that the first Holy Week, the Son of God accepted to allow his Body to be tortured and his Precious Blood to be spilled all over the earth, in order to demonstrate the true nature of the divine and merciful love of the Father. That violence continues to be done to the Body and Blood of Christ through the ignorance of both clergy and laity, but Jesus continues to allow this in order to continue to demonstrate the true nature of the divine love and mercy of God.

Love requires us to show the utmost love and reverence to Jesus in his Body and Blood as well as in the least of these his brothers and sisters. However, it is divine love that continues to move Jesus to expose himself to abuse at our hands, and we cannot – nor should be attempt – to prevent Him from doing so; as Peter once tried to prevent Jesus from going to Jerusalem to be killed.

Every situation is in God's eyes an opportunity to meet Him, to learn about Him, to be touched by his love, to grow in faith and trust, and for all of us to love one another, and to strive together for excellence under the supreme guidance of the law of love, which is also the "law of the gift" of ourselves in imitation of God who is constantly pouring himself out for us. We must become like Him if we are ever to enter into his presence in eternity, and it is a grace and gift for us to have time here on Earth to correct ourselves and to grow in love.

QUESTION:   If we go back in the history of the Church we will find that these errors have been addressed by competent authorities to avoid confusion in the Church.... I think that this is a sensitive subject to be handled seriously. This is all that I am saying here in my humble view of things... May God bless you.

I quite agree with you, dear brother priest, but as you can see above, the Church cannot tolerate that we, the clergy, go about these serious matters like the religious leaders in Jesus' day who flexed the muscles of their authority but showed no love, no compassion, no kindness, no patience, no tender mercy towards the people, but were only concerned with their own status, their own privileges, their own perfection, their own superiority. They thought nothing about the good of souls.

May you also continue, dear brother priest, to enjoy the blessing of God by continuing to walk in his ways, and may you too, dear reader, enjoy this same blessing of walking in the ways of the Lord!

                Pax + Caritas, Fr. Gilles Surprenant, Montreal