Becoming One Under God – Theonomy rather than Autonomy or Heteronomy

As one meditates through Lent one reflects on realities one knew about, but which come alive anew. One such was Bp Robert Barron’s citing Paul Tillich’s analysis that peoples and nations alternate between heteronomy (when one’s life is determined by another person or group, such as a father in the family, a government in a nation, or law imposed on one) and autonomy (in which one’s life is determined by oneself). This alternation is often violent, such as when the colonists in what became the United States of America, resenting the order imposed on them by the colonial power, England – basically taxation both for the expenses of governing the colonies and for the benefit of England (many of the colonies were established as investments) staged a violent revolution and then in turn put down the Whiskey Rebellion against the taxes imposed by the new central government on the frontier makers of whiskey. One similarly sees this on the level of the family with the teenager who rebelled wishing to control their own family as they age and have children of their own. For Tillich and even more for Bp Barron the solution was theonomy in which people submit to the rule that stems from God, which is a rule of love in that it seeks the good of the other, not of the ruler. But it is true and principled and not liable to one’s own’s desires. As long as one is run by one’s own desires, there is fragmentation in society and chaos is one’s life – we need to be ordered by another, but the other to be acceptable must be recognized as ordering out of love, which is precisely the nature of God, both internally and externally towards whatever he has created. In other words, good social order requires conversion of heart.

The second element in my reflections was Luke 11:14-23, the demonized boy, who was in chaos, for the demonic is characterized by akatastasia(Greek), i.e. instability. The degree of organization is like that among orcs in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, for they jostle together and even fight as they jog along in companies, kept in order by the whips of those who rule them. The tongue is, in this respect, demonic, for it is a restless evil in Jas 3:8, or, as the person of divided loyalties, unstable (Jas 1:8). The divisive pseudo-wisdom of Jas 3:14 – 16 is indeed unstable (akatastasiaagain), but it is also “demonic.” It is no wonder that in his call to repentance in the next chapter James calls for submission to God and resistance to “the devil” (Jas 4:7). In the case of the boy, once the demonic is expelled the boy is integrated and able to integrate into society. It is interesting to note that Jesus relates the expulsion of such spirits to prayer (and in some manuscripts “fasting” – but the two go together in that fasting is a “no” to this age while prayer is an alignment of the self under God), Lenten disciplines, which align one under God and return one to submission to him.

This relates to the present state of the world, which was well-described in the latest work of Robert Cardinal Sarah, The Day is Far Spent(which will come out in English in September) as described in a recent interview. The West in general (and I would add the USA especially) is in the grip of its passions, or, one could say, a radical autonomy. Thus there is a tendency to impose heteronomy on others, for only a strong power can bring the forces of autonomy to (temporary) heel, which Cardinal Sarah sees as Western imperialism trying to force its (corrupt) values on Africa or, we could add, the desire to use the heteronomous power of government to impose behavior and values on those in society– without conversion of heart – which is why Cardinal Sarah opposes the elements of the social agenda of those who would turn the Church into a social force rather than a spiritual force. He has already called for a return to this spiritual core (a core that draws from the deeper reality of God) in his work The Power of Silence.

This also fits with what Bowen Theory observes that the more anxious, more passion driven, undifferentiated selves are chaotic forces in society, while the true leaders are the less anxious, more thinking, differentiated selves. As Edwin Friedman pointed out in Failure of Nerve(posthumous work after his 1996 death that draws upon his earlier work), the emotionally driven society is what we see in the USA. And he would surely underline that today from a President who goes by his “gut feelings” rather than studies, analyses and reports (and that is what he says he does, although others concur) to an opposition that calls in highly emotional scare headlines for the rising up of “the people” to “demand” this or that. One is not surprised to see writers suggesting that the election of 2020 could bring about a type of revolution.

The solution is hardly in Protestantism, for at a time when the various principalities were asserting their own autonomy against the heteronomy of the Holy Roman Empire, the various Reformers proclaimed a type of autonomy in the principle of sola scriptura. Of course, autonomy was only taken so far, for when the peasants rebelled, Luther was all for the use of the forces of the state to ruthlessly impose heteronomy. Unfortunately, the Church did need reform, and we see it in its championing of the suppression of various reform movements by the Holy Roman Empire (which was indeed threatened). Meanwhile, the various principalities used the various reform movements to give religious sanction to their own aspirations of independence. Martyrs were numerous on both sides. But that also meant that Reformation was an infelicitous title, for while it may have started that way, in the end there was no reform but only a fractured revolution with the parts hating one another almost as much as they hated Rome (and more when Rome became less of a threat). The reform came, but it came in the Council of Trent that in fact codified into Church law 76 of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. But the genie of akatastasiawas already out of the bottle, for now there are 20,000 to 30,000 Protestant denominations (and does this count the many independent churches and house churches?) of every stripe of theology and often factions within the various denominations, factions that ultimately cannot be contained.

At times the Catholic Church has joined some Protestants in trying to use the state to control the autonomy of individuals as in their joint efforts at suppressing abortion. Laudable as the goal is, the means are not the conversion of hearts to a divine order, but an attempt to impose a heteronomy on the destructive autonomy of some, which will in turn lead to the breaking out of a new revolution against that heteronomy, for there will be abuses that will get publicized. The state, of course, is often vary willing to use this desire for state control to gain support for its wider agenda, an agenda that splits the very groups it is using. Thus those desiring health care that would lower the appalling rate of maternal and infant mortality in the USA and those who read their scripture as welcoming the immigrant and especially the refugee are often suppressed, or the attempt is made to suppress them, especially in the evangelical world, because that would give the group less traction with the state, which does not have those other items on its agenda. It is, instead, using the agenda agreed upon to suppress the liberal parts of Protestantism and those parts of society which are happy to side with it. The real god of the state is Mammon (although it is not afraid to give some deference to Mars and especially to Aphrodite – we see this in the numerous scandals infecting both state and church). There seems to be a new division between the various states (with the West, or parts of it, being the new factor in the division), and the battle could get violent. My concern is not the akatastasia, for that is to be expected in an emotionally driven society, but that the Church (and the multitude of ecclesial communities) is far from peaceful and far from a force for peace in that it is participating in the various sides. (I will not discuss how this state of affairs has changed in my lifetime, but simply note that there are reasons that Trinity Evangelical Divinity School spawned what would become the Sojourners community and not a religious community of the right.)

The need, then, is for the Church to be the Church and use the tools of the Church. That is, it should display the opposite of akatastasiain its unity. It should show that it can make peace among waring groups. It should live its contrast-lifestyle, the lifestyle of life under theonomy, rather than trying to impose it by force on others. In the Roman Empire there was abortion and the exposure of infants and all the moral vices that we find today. The Church speaks about them, but mostly to reject such lifestyles for Christians. That is the pre-conversion life. Now the Christian is reborn. And the Church lived love for others, adopting the exposed infants, giving up their negative practices, and helping the poor, the immigrant, the widow, and the orphan, as scripture says, which in part made them an attractive alternative to the society around them and its deities. And the Church did this through proclaiming the power of conversion of heart, of coming under the love-theonomy of God, seen in the upside-down world of the death of their God breaking the power of evil and leading to the establishment of their new community with its new future. Furthermore, the change was visible now in the holy lives (and often holy deaths) of its leaders (whether they were leaders in the hierarchal sense or leaders by their moral example, for some saints never had positions in the church, much less positions in society). That, I argue, is the way forward for the Church, although without divine intervention it is unlikely that we can do much about society collapsing around us. We might, however, be in a position to pick up the pieces as it collapses and after it collapses, whether it collapses into a new heteronomy, a type of dictatorship, whether of the right or the left, or autonomous chaos.

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Sheep and Goats

If you go into the Stone Chapel of Lanier Theological Library on the north edge of Houston, you will see in the dome of the apse a figure of Jesus in a composite view of final judgment, left hand gesturing down and right hand gesturing up. Human beings in the midst of collapsing buildings are heading upwards on his right and downwards into flames on his left. Obviously, the right and left gestures are from Matthew 25, the parable of the sheep and the goats. There the criteria of judgment are how one has handled the hungry, the thirsty, the immigrant, the sick, and the prisoner – the needy of this world, the “least of these.” This behavior, it is clear, is credited as having been done or not done to Jesus himself.

Jesus Last Judgment Lanier Stone Chapel.JPG

This parable has been discomforting to the interpreters of my youth. This is judgment on the basis of works, it was asserted, and surely it must be for “someone else,” either “the nations” (but what does that say about “the nations,” then, that they can be “saved by works”?) or perhaps the Jews (since Jesus was speaking to Jews). Neither of these was satisfactory in that they introduce multiple bases of entry “into the kingdom.” Yet, in a sense, the answer is clear in two factors, one being that commitment and deeds in accordance with that commitment cannot be separated, as James says in Jas 2, and the other being that the same nature of God that we see in the Hebrew Scriptures is also found in the New Testament, and preeminently in Jesus.

God is, as Christian theology teaches, a triune God of love. The Father loves the Son and the Spirit is the love between them being one way that this is put. Each seeks the good of the other as other (for their benefit, not for the benefit of the one doing the loving action), and this is their nature. Creation itself is an act of extending this love, creating a human being who can love and be loved, and who can be drawn into the love-bond of the Trinity. Love, then, is always reaching out to find others to draw into the love relationship.

In the Hebrew Scriptures God shows love towards the Hebrews in rescuing them from bondage in Egypt just as he already showed his love to their ancestors who lived as foreigners, immigrants, in a land they did not own. This divine action, which we have sketched in the briefest of terms, is enjoined upon the Hebrews, upon Israel, in the covenant-making act and the expansions upon it. They are to be holy as God is holy, i.e. set apart, different, like God. So says Lev 19:1-18, which is only one example. What does this look like? It includes doing good to the underprivileged, the vulnerable. This passage concludes with, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus was asked, and he gives an example of a member of a group that the Jews saw as illegitimate immigrants who followed Torah teaching (i.e. the Samaritan Pentateuch in some form) and showed love (was a neighbor to) a Jews, a member of a group that was actively hostile to them. The parable has no benefit returning to the Samaritan, but rather the love is simply seeking the good of the other as other, doing to another what one would want done to oneself. In the Hebrew Scriptures the key groups to reach out to are the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the alien/immigrant. All were without means of repaying those who sought their good; all were vulnerable. God is on their side, for he is love, caring for them. One sees this with hardly a mention of God in Ruth, in which two widows who do not seem to have access to the older widow’s land (which either was not planted or had been sold before her foreign sojourn or, if it had been planted, the one who planted it, relative or not, was not sharing the crop with them) receive divine love, in this case defined as covenant faithfulness, despite the main character being an immigrant from a group that could not, according to the Torah, enter into the people of God, an excluded group. Thus if one was faithful to God, if one loved God (sought his good, his honor, not that anyone could actually add to God’s honor or well-being), one loved that which God loved, which were those on the margins or even outside of the covenant people. There is where one found a face of God to love, where there was someone one could actually benefit, where one could be God’s “hands and feet” or “co-worker,” reaching out in love as God loves.

We return to the parable and see that if one really loves God, has entered into the loving relationship that characterizes the Trinity, then one loves whom God loves, and that is the hungry, the thirsty, the immigrant or alien, the sick, the prisoner (one suspects in the New Testament period especially those captured in war and often exiled and/or sold into slavery). There one sees the face of God, the same face of God one saw in the Hebrew Scriptures, and there one can perform concrete acts that express the verbal commitment one makes in worship settings. Of course, this comes at a cost, and the cost is a type of cross, a dying to self-interest and a seeking of the interest of others, but that makes one more one with God. When Jesus sits on his throne, i.e. exercises his rule, he calls such into his “kingdom,” into a fuller experience of his rule, of his way of life, of the loving union of the Trinity (which would be explicated later), for in following their Lord, their heart and commitment is already there and they are expressing it every way they can in this age of the world and in this life.

What about those “goats?” They have also lived out their commitments. The devil in the various forms of Jewish literature, is involved in self-interest and self-honor. He is the opposite of the first part of the Lord’s Prayer, in a way. He is seeking pleasure, honor, power, and wealth (we might say, security). That is what is offered to Eve and Adam in Eden, that is what the angels who fall seek in 1 Enoch, and that is what Jesus consistently condemns. It is the opposite of love. The hungry, the thirsty, the immigrant, the sick, and the prisoner have nothing to give one; they are of no benefit. Thus they are ignored, or perhaps thrust away, or even exploited. Look at the politics of this world: if our care for the sick can benefit our cause or result in care for us at a later time, then we are for it, but if we do not see that, then we want to privatize medicine, making the sick care for themselves. If the immigrant can gain us votes or a good reputation or be needed workers for our industry (often at exploitive rates of pay), then we are for immigration, but if all we can see is social costs to their integration or a call to accept them and their culture as equals, then we reject them, for whatever reason. This is not a full explication of the politics involved in this country and many other countries, but it sketches the style of reasoning (to the extent that Christian thought and its kin has not been taken up, consciously or unconsciously). The point is that this age is concerned about “us” and, if there is a “seeking the good of others,” there is an underlying “for the ultimate benefit of us.” The giving characteristic of what God describes of love is relatively absent, and certainly there is no cross.

The “goats” may be saying what they like about their commitment to God or to Jesus, but their lives show that their real commitments, their true “faith” is in self. That is their ultimate good. They are like their greater and more powerful antecedents, the Watchers of 1 Enoch (picked up on Jude and 2 Peter 2, among other places), or the devil (in his first century form, ready to put down others for his own exaltation, and leading others in rebellion, i.e. in exalting self against God). Such a “kingdom” is unstable, which is how the New Testament characterizes the demonic. In is in a sense already a fire. And fire is prepared for the demonic (it is not said to be prepared for people, not even for goats, but for the devil and his minions) – they can be given freedom or space to express their nature. That, of course, is not the desire of God for any human being. Yet there is this mystery of freedom, which is necessary for love. God can create space for freedom and yet in his being outside the created order with its time know in his once-for-all knowing its outcome. These have chosen to put their real faith in self, or what they see as self, even if in actuality they are captive to spiritual forces they do not admit exist. They get to burn in the fire they have chosen. In fact, if they were in the presence of love itself, if they were dragged into the sphere of the kingdom, since it is the ultimate opposite of what they have chosen, they would experience it as fire. To the extent their choice of self is a negation of the good, to that extent the presence of Love Himself would be the burning refilling of their negation.

Jesus does not tell us how many are in each group. His purpose is to tell us what choice of the kingdom looks like and what are its results and the results of the negation of this choice. We can hope that ultimately not many choose the negation of love of “the least of these,” although, looking at the world around us, that seems more like hope in a coming conversion than the observation of the apparent actions of the people, structures, and political systems that we see, i.e. of the world.

So, no, faith without works is dead, for it is not true faith. There is no commitment to the love of God if we do not express the love that God is. The more God frees our lungs, the more this is as natural as breathing. It is all grace, but where one sees no evidence of grace there may well be no grace.

And that is why one wants to read, mark, and live Matthew 25. And that is also why one wants to observe its concrete outworking in the life of someone like St Teresa of Calcutta and countless exemplary lives before her, for they show that such entering into Trinitarian love is not only a desirable ideal, but an actual possibility, if one is also willing to take up one’s cross and follow Jesus.


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Restoring Community

I was sitting in a cell group of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, Domestic, as Sr. Carolyn taught, discussing the origins of the BSCD.She noted that John Michael Talbot had had his earliest vision of Christian community in 1971 (see Changes, pg 4), before becoming Catholic in 1978 (Signatures, pp. 105-107; the year before I was ordained in the Episcopal Church). Suddenly, there in the group, it dawned upon me: this BSCD movement (originally, just the BSC) happened in context. John Michael Talbot was not the only one dreaming of Christian community in those days – I did a quick search on my iPad – Dave and Net Jackson had published Living Together in a World Falling Apart in 1974, which arose from a tour of already-existing Christian communities in the United States of America. (It would be followed in 1978 by Dave Jackson’s Coming Together: All Those Communities and What They’re Up to.) Community was “in the air” and in fact, around the world in Germany, it would be our interest in community that would trigger our own diving into the long history of Christian spirituality and our charismatic renewal in 1975, both of which were linked to communities.

As any biblical interpreter or historian knows, context is very important in interpretation and understanding. Let us look at a wider context. At the same time as the rise of Enlightenment rationalism, the West got the fracturing of the Holy Roman Empire into what became the modern nation-state, the fracturing of the Church in the west into what became a multitude of Protestant denominations (often tied to the nation-state in which they were based), and the fracturing of the tribe and extended family into
Western individualism, which exalted the nuclear family over the extended family and often even the individual over the nuclear (or any other) family or tribe. This would develop through the French Revolution (the cry of liberté was central, as were other seminal ideas that would become mantras for those peoples who took up its ideas) and take its deepest root in the colonies that became the United States of America.

Several wars later (on both sides of the Atlantic) the ideal of the independent nuclear family probably reached its height in the USA in the 1950’s. Yet this collapsed in the 1960’s on several fronts. First, the Vietnam Conflict (war was never declared) was highly unpopular (and in many ways equally immoral) and revealed the degree to which Americans were controlled by forces other than themselves. It was accompanied by and followed by a series of other conflicts, some proxy wars sponsored by or supported by the USA, some conflicts in which US soldiers were engaged, none of which, so far as I can remember, had a clear victory, although success was usually declared, and if not, quiet
disengagement). This undermined trust in the collective ideology of the USA and the idea of equality. Meanwhile, the Civil Rights struggle was also going on in the country, which also revealed how little liberty and equality, much less community, really existed in the USA (the issue of Native American rights would come later). During the same period the development of the oral contraceptive pill (while it was first approved in 1960, and continued to be further developed after that, it would take a series of court cases for it to become widely available) was viewed as putting a woman in control of reproduction
(which also meant that the man could abdicate responsibility) and so undermined
the connection between sexual intercourse and marriage/nuclear family. But the
breakdown of unity and community and the conflict between individual liberty
and societal control (i.e. control by the government) led to a predictable reaction, the search for a new type of community. Hippies and the like promoted love and a community without rules, dropping out of mainstream society, while those realizing that there was a need for some structure in community developed communes of various forms, some of which became cults, some of which collapsed quickly, and few of which endured for more than a decade or so.

In this context the development of intentional Christian communities was quite understandable. What was going on in society was clearly not Christian, but neither was the very individualistic Christianity as practiced in many churches and the new parachurch organizations. Surely salvation was more than just “asking Jesus into my heart” and “my personal relationship with Jesus.” And sitting the pew thinking my individualistic thoughts about Jesus seemed a long way from the New Testament. And it was also clear that Christianity had social implications and that it was only in groups
that Christians could either influence society or demonstrate a counter-culture to society. This was the void that spawned the many intentional Christian communities.

Some of these communities drew on precedents. Reba Place and the Bruderhof (Society of Brothers), among others, drew on the Anabaptist tradition (which in turn, at least in its South German form, drew on monastic movements, trying to expand the ideals to an integrated community of families). Others, such as St Gregory’s Abby and Word of God drew more directly on Catholic monastic precedents, although St Gregory’s Abby was Episcopalian in the Benedictine tradition, not Catholic. Others, such as Church of the
Redeemer, Houston, grew out of the charismatic renewal, with the experience of the Spirit being the binding force (it too was Episcopalian). Koinonia Partners was rooted in the vision of one man, Clarence Jordan, a Southern Baptist, and his New Testament-inspired vision of a new society. Others were more eclectic, such as the People’s Christian Coalition (which later changed its name to Sojourners) that developed as a social justice community in the seminary that I attended (although the year after I graduated). Some called on the ecumenical vision of the Taizé community in France. A number developed out of relationships formed in and reactions to the individualism of a variety of evangelical parachurch organizations. One should note that the older communities that preceded the turmoil of the Vietnam era in the USA often developed in the context of a previous era of turmoil in Europe, the Bruderhof in Germany in the aftermath of World War I (migrating to the USA via England and Paraguay during and after Word War II) and that Taizé community in Switzerland in concept during World War II and then being established in France in 1954. A number of communities experienced persecution – the Hutterites being driven into Canada during World War I (with some members martyred), Koinonia Partners undergoing a variety of persecutions, mostly from people who would
have called themselves Baptists, and the People’s Christian Coalition from Christians who tried to get them expelled from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Finally, there is almost always a strong charismatic leader in the foundation of these communities no matter how equal they claim that the status of the members is.

This is the context in which the Brothers and Sisters of Charity was birthed and developed. It is also the context that caused some of the significant developmental pains for the BSC, for a community tends to attract those interested in community, often the semi-gyrovague type who had tried other communities and feel that they finally have found “real community,” and sometimes those with emotional issues needing acceptance and support. It is a wonder that any community survived. Most did not survive for long. For some the demise was quite dramatic: Church of the Redeemer had spawned its daughter communities, Community of Celebration (as each was called) and the Fisherfolk traveling teams, but collapsed internally, in part due to accusations of sexual
impropriety on the part of its founder. The Church of the Redeemer itself lost members to the extent that it could not sustain itself and was closed. The building with its mural in the auditorium that more or less announced its vision was razed. I do not see this as absolute failure, for a lot of good grew out of most of the failed communities. It is only if they see decades of continued flourishing and even spreading as the criteria of success that they are failures.

But my concern is in asking what this context can mean for the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, whether monastic or domestic? Certainly is explains a bit of the look and sound (not of his music, but of his earliest talks) of John Michael Talbot – I can think of a number of other community founders for the time he could have been mistaken for, other than the habit – but that is too superficial. It does explain a bit of the “why then?” and “why those people?” and the like. But again, this is of historical interest and perhaps of systemic interest (communities are an interest of Bowen Theory analysis, just as families, churches, work systems, and even nations). The meaning of this context is in the questions that it raises, so let me name a very few of them.

First, what makes the BSC/BSCD different. It is not an ecumenical community, but a Catholic-based community that is open to integrating in as much as possible others who are not Catholic who wish to be part of it. So, the community is not Taizé, and it is not Anabaptist-based, and so forth. It is very much Catholic. Those who are not Catholic can become permanently professed, but not voting members of the Public Association of the
Faithful. The BSC does exist under the authority of a Bishop and is based in a Diocese. But there is more than just this canonical arrangement. I doubt the cradle Catholics who are part of it realize how often conversations in cell groups or at the Gathering make Catholic assumptions and assume Catholic culture. And the fact that either the final mass or Eucharistic Adoration at the Gathering is the high point makes a significant statement to the non-Catholic (in theory and theology the mass is the high point, but ceremonially and emotionally I doubt that the Eucharistic Adoration can be best). We try to integrate, but unless one is interested in Catholic culture and worship, one will not be drawn very far in. The BSC is Catholic. Fine with me, for I am a Catholic priest. Perhaps it is more difficult for some others.

Second, the BSC was originally Franciscan and now is said to have a Franciscan base with in Catholicism. It certain uses monastic language (although the Liturgy of the Hours is at root Benedictine, even if St Francis used it), habits, and the like, but (1) the Franciscans were a preaching order, going out to preach and coming back to rest, heal, and reflect, and in the BSC most of the traveling, the going out, is done by John Michael Talbot, at least at present, so, with the exception of some short-term missions that serve under other groups at the destination, this aspect is quite limited, and (2) the Franciscans are at present quite varied, as they have been over time, so which Franciscans? Some are quite unorthodox, some quite new age, and some quite orthodox. There is Franciscan simplicity, but that is difficult to explicate over the levels of monastics and domestics – what exactly is simplicity of life? Is it simply an individual choice? Are there rules? I do not know of any of us who approach St Francis in his level of simplicity. Perhaps this will
always be a tension, and I say this as someone for whom the call to simplicity of life was very important in my being drawn into the community.

Third, the BSC integrates the charismatic and the contemplative. Excellent. But how? What aspects of which? And which charismatic? It looks to me like it is the neo-Pentecostalism of the 1960’s and 1970’s that was taken into the Catholic Church during that period with sacramental addition, but without theological revision. That was the spirit of the age, found in many of the books of that period. That is more or less what I
saw at the National Catholic Charismatic Conference for Priests and Deacons in Steubenville, OH, in 1980. But that raises challenges, for, as I have pointed out in a recent blog post, that charismatic movement appears to be dying. (And there are many other charismatic styles than those I mention – what about African styles of worship and charismatic expression, to name one example.) In that same point I also raise issues about how integrated this can be with the teaching on the Holy Spirit in at least Eastern Christian contemplatives. It looks like the eastern contemplative vision is the stressed version in the emphasis on the Jesus Prayer. But all contemplative visions have a good deal of asceticism, and that is difficult.

Fourth, we try to integrate all walks of life, so we have monastic families, couples, singles, and celibates. In the domestic expression we do not make those distinctions, but we do have people in various walks of life, some living in a deliberate cluster, others widely spread from one another. This is such a tricky balance, perhaps more on the monastic side, which has seen more obvious “churn” as people come and go, but in other ways on the domestic side. Nowhere is this seen more than in the relative cultural
homogeneity. Afro-Americans are conspicuous by their absence. We have a few Hispanic members, but they must function in English. In the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston I must be able to function or at least pretend to function in Spanish (I do speak German, but that overlies my Spanish). I have stretched to do so: I have said mass, preached, and hear confessions in Spanish, although the latter with great difficulty. But I will not be able to spread the vision of the BSCD to these cultures and communities if I do not find a way to fully integrate them, and integration means both of us sharing parts of our linguistic and social cultures, not just their learning my home culture. I might add that I find a bit of this challenge with the Byzantine Catholic Church, but I am learning and do have some past exposure to Slavic and Greek culture.

Finally, the elephant in the room is, so to speak, the passing on of our values to coming generations. Now the Constitution does give a procedure for replacing the Spiritual Father (and Mother) of the BSC. Easy on paper, but difficult in practice. I face my mortality and so I can hope that I pass off the scene, either through disability or death, before John Michael, but he too will pass out of active leadership, either through disability or death. The general rule is that groups with a charismatic leader choose a
manager as a leader in the next generation. I could name more than one such group. Some groups do not survive the loss of the original charismatic leader. While we will hopefully face that issue much later (ideally, after my time), the time to start praying about it is now. There is always talk (some of it quite appropriate) about who might be a good next pope well before the current pope dies (or resigns), and so it also proper in Public Associations that elect their leader(s).

Along with this is integrating in the next generation. The Bruderhof allow the next generation to grow up in the community, then send them away from the community for at least two years for trade or university education, and only then, after they know they are capable of living outside the community, are they allowed to return and ask for baptism, which means life-commitment to the community. In that way they ensure that the next generation has made the same type of commitment that the previous generation did. Religious orders do not have this problem, for there are no children. They have to recruit every new generation from “outside,” which has its own advantages as well as risks. The Catholic Church as a whole tries to do both, both evangelism and initiating the young into the Church (the young often actually being members of the Church from soon after birth). We lose a lot, as do other religious denominations. One reason is that our youth grow up in a different world than that which is the roots of the parish in which they grew up. The same is our challenge. The BSC(D), as I have noted, is rooted in the
post-Vatican II 1970’s and 1980’s. Our youth have grown up in a different culture, danced to different music, walked on changed streets. Their perspectives will have to be taken into account in communicating the vision, and that will mean dialogue and a perhaps adjustment. I know from teaching university students that I could not use the illustrations, metaphors, and practices of my early years of teaching with students of my later years of peaching. The illustrations and metaphors did not communicate. The practices were not those of their world of experience. Something analogous to this will
have to happen if we want our youth to integrate into the BSC(D) and rise to leadership in a future generation. The other alternative is to recruit from outside the group, but that has the disadvantage that any group tends to recruit people like themselves – their age and culture and the like. Others may come and try it out, but do not “stick.”

I am indeed not pessimistic at all about the BSC/BSCD, but optimistic. My purpose in the blog was to lay out some (by no means all) of the challenges facing it, in part because it is itself rooted in a particular context and culture (which is why I was attracted to it). The future will involve change, but change is good, if it is healthy change accepted graciously. Regent College, Vancouver, changed its leadership structure and style while I was there. There were some sighs and regrets, but it was good and bode well for the future. The vision of that institution lives on and seems to be prospering. That is indeed my prayer for the BSC/BSCD. It was birthed in a world that needed the restoring of community. That is still needed today in our fractured, individualistic world, even if the shape of the restoration may change over time.

It is indeed interesting what one comment by Sr Carolyn in one cell group meeting can trigger. I guess it pays to pay attention, including paying attention to what the Lord wants to do with such comments.

Posted in Brothers and Sisters of Charity Reflections, Ministry | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit

I have been reading theology and especially spirituality for decades – it is part of my life. As one part of this I have been reading (or having read to me) Bible since I was one year old. Some have joked that I “bleed Bible” when cut. As a result, I am interested in integration. How does one integrate the classic spiritual tradition (and currently the Eastern “lung” of that Christian spirituality) and charismatic experience? And how do these fit with the Scripture? Or must one have a bifurcated life, with theology separated from certain experiences? That is the purpose of the critical examination of the charismatic renewal in the light of Scripture and alongside the spiritual tradition.

I have been part of the charismatic renewal in more than one form: there was the charismatic renewal that we experienced in Germany, which was contemplative, quiet, and did not boast about its accomplishments; there was the charismatic renewal that we experienced in the USA, which was much more exuberant, tended to focus on gifted healers, prophets, and, now, apostles, often trumpeted its successes (e.g. healings, numbers at meetings), and tended to focus on healing and deliverance (although seeking personal prophecies was also important) – it is also often identified with a certain style of exuberant worship; and there was charismatic renewal (although usually seen as a middle way) originally found in the Vineyard movement (and often in groups that are part of the Association of Vineyard Christian Fellowships) that tends to be egalitarian (“everybody can play”), folksy, rooted in the desire for intimacy with God, and simply identifies healing as a part of “doing the stuff” (the “stuff” that Jesus taught his disciples to do), the other parts being “feeding the poor,” and “teaching the word.” Healing in that movement is, at least in theory, more connected with evangelism “in the streets” (i.e. “power evangelism”) than with the meetings (which are seen as training events for taking the power of God and his good news to the streets; healing goes on in “clinics” after the service, which are practice sessions for what to do when one goes out). For John Wimber, the streets were where the action was and doing the “works of Jesus” in the streets was how one gained a deeper knowledge of God and scripture, the slogan being “the meat (the deeper knowledge of Scripture) is in the street.”

I am mostly going to bracket “charismatic worship,” for a number of reasons. First, it is one style of worship growing out of the the 1960’s and 1970’s that fit that culture. Thus, it would take a course on the history of Christian worship (which I have taught at times) to do it justice. Let us just say that much of it is not conducive to contemplation and much of it is forgettable in terms of either lyrics or music. But, then, much of the worship of any age is forgettable, however popular it was in that age. Whether Wesley (Samuel, John or Charles), or Isaac Watts or the music of any other age, the output was prodigious, and those hymns and songs still known and used are relatively few. And the further back one goes, the lower the percentage of musical output that has survived. Furthermore, it is not unified: one has the mass settings coming from the (Episcopal) Church of the Redeemer, Houston, which combined guitar and organ, which are very different from the loud “tinkly” music of the other parts of the charismatic renewal. Musical style becomes problematic when it is identified with, in this case, charismatic renewal, and therefore a “must” for being involved (often then foisted upon a later generation, just like insisting that one is not truly worshipping if one is not using traditional hymns), or when it is used to hype up a group for experience, rather than flowing out of what the group is already experiencing. Music is not the main issue in integration.


Returning to the groups of charismatics, Catholic charismatics have been found involved with each of these groups, although the best-known Catholic charismatic groups have been an uneasy mixture of neo-Pentecostal/US charismatic renewal theology and Catholic sacramentalism. For example, Holy Oil, which in the New Testament is only used by presbyters (priests in typical Catholic parlance; James 5) and the Twelve (Mark 6), is sometimes used by those who are neither; Holy Water, which is not found in the New Testament at all, but does have a venerable tradition in the church, is sometimes used without discrimination and without liturgical context; and in prayer for the sick the healer or healing evangelist is often preferred to anointing by the priest or seeking healing through pilgrimage to Lourdes or some similar shrine, without reference to either Scripture or tradition. Furthermore, the Holy See has at times had to quash the level of intercommunion and mixture of practices, for where the theology is not clear, there can be a lack of discernment where “the body” is actually present. (I will mostly avoid naming names and giving dates, although I could, for they would detract from the main points I am making.)

There has been a lot of mixing and separating in the movement. For instance, John Wimber borrowed from the classic charismatic movement, but (at leaest in theory) only to the extent that he could integrate it with a quieter more contemplative “seeking God” and an evangelical theology. That did not mean that Pentecostal/neo-Pentecostal/charismatic folk of the classic type did not try to influence the movement (as conference speakers, for instance) or infiltrate the churches (as people with “experience” who thought they knew better “how to do it”) – for a while John Wimber’s meetings and the associated Vineyard fellowships were “where the action was,” so they were attractive to the charismatics who sensed that their own movement had peaked and the Spirit seemed to have “moved on.” That was indeed what was happening by the late 1980’s. But on the other hand, even though Wimber himself could talk about “bishops, priests, and deacons” as the structure of the church at the time of his release of the Canadian Vineyard movement as an independent body (which was a borrowing from classic Anglican and Catholic Church structure, as well as the New Testament and early Fathers), Wimber and the Vineyard board split with Toronto Airport (at that time Vineyard) Christian Fellowship over its emphasis on phenomena (earlier critiqued by Jonathan Edwards – phenomena happen, but prove nothing), and, concomitantly, with Global Awakening (Randy Clark being instrumental in both) that also focused on new apostles and prophets, strategic spiritual warfare, and large group revival, while still maintaining that they exist to equip every believer. There is clearly a sense in which this is true – they do encourage believers to pray for healing – and yet is there really any expectation that all will become like the “anointed healer” or “prophet” or the like? The “impartation” from above gives the impression that that there will always be a hierarchy of gifting, but that hierarchy is not the hierarchy that Wimber was thinking about.

There will always be a tension between this latest version of the charismatic movement and the Catholic Church. First, its theology is clearly Pentecostal-evangelical with the language of “saved” and “anointing” and “baptism in the Spirit” being used freely. Second, its ecclesiology is, well, individualistic and charismatic. By “charismatic” one means that in the movement (and similar movements) there are those who are apostolic and/or prophetic, but totally independent from apostolic succession in the Anglican or Catholic sense or even any of the larger Protestant bodies. They are ordained “from above” (although often there are services of ordination in which there is a type of circular ordination) – no qualifications other than “the Spirit,” no screening process, let alone formal education (some do have formal education, but it is not a qualification per se, and it is sometimes seen as something they have managed to overcome), and very very little in the form of accountability structures. They claim tens of thousands of affiliated congregations, many of them splits from other congregations. One wonders what the average size of a congregation is, but while there are some larger congregations, the total Sunday attendance is probably in the hundred thousands. From the Catholic point of view this is the multiplication of separated brethren without accountability structures and with a multiplication of grand titles. The Catholic Church has always believed that it can learn from separated brethren, but it has also been concerned with the tendency to recruit from Catholic ranks and to undermine Catholic theology.

However, the above is just descriptive of the situation. The central concern of this post is the question of integration, i.e. the theological and practical authenticity of any claim to the reception of the Spirit and whether that fits with the Scripture and tradition, including the spiritual tradition.

The Charismatic movement in the USA is aging and its numbers have been decreasing (movements like the Global Awakening may not yet have peaked, although the information I have received is that certain of its churches have declined). It obviously has not been fully satisfactory to many of its participants or to the church at large. Why might this be?


First, there is a failure to deliver on its promises. People are promised power (a dangerous promise, spiritually), and they are shown apparent power in the large gatherings, but few actually experience the power in their day to day lives. Great statements are made about breaking the power of this or that principality or spirit over this or that area. Great prophecies are proclaimed. Great healings are hoped for (on the basis of some real healings). The people eventually realize that little or nothing has really changed.

Second, there is the failure to deliver on holiness. The Pentecostal movement arose out of the healing-holiness movement of the late 1800’s, which also spawned groups such as the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Many Pentecostal churches have “holiness” in their name or “sanctification” as one of their pillars. But, without accountability structures and with great power in the hands of pastors, apostles, prophets, and “anointed leaders,” the promise of holiness has been less than fulfilled in virtually all of the forms of the movement and in the charismatic movement flowing from it. On the local level, individuals have been abused by prophetic words and/or by being blamed for the death or continuing sickness of a loved one because they, it is claimed, “lacked faith.” Pastors and youth leaders have abused money, sex, and power, and have done so with relatively impunity. Only lately do we observe a more consistent demand for accountability as victims come forward. Many of the most high-profile prophets, apostles, and “anointed leaders” have publicly “fallen,” sometimes to be restored to ministry in a relatively short period by some of their colleagues. Indeed, this was part of the reason for the break between John Wimber and the “Kansas City Prophets.” Other situations are swept under the rug, their victims blamed, and the wound continuing to fester. The waiting rooms of abuse counselors fill up. Now, there are lots of holy men and women of God in these movements, to be sure, but the fact is that there is every reason to believe that sexual abuse, to name one issue, is just as prevalent among these groups as among mainline denominations and the Catholic Church. Where then is real renewal? The difference between such groups and movements and mainline denominations is that unlike, say, the Episcopal Church, accountability, clear rules, and abuse prevention and detection training have not been implemented, partly because of there being no structure to implement them. And unlike the Catholic Church there is no Dallas Charter (most instances of abuse pre-date the 2002 Dallas Charter that established a procedure of training, reporting, and resolving these issues, and any I have read about since 2002 appear to have been swiftly reported to law enforcement authorities, if illegal, or to have swiftly led to suspension from ministry and investigation, if immoral but not illegal, or, better put, breaking canon law but not civil law). The fact is that power, including if it is spiritual power, gives great temptations to corruption, so money, sex, and abuse of power will continue to be problems. Without accountability structures that have real authority, there is no way to remove the perpetrators. And without the centralized training, it is difficult for a church or denomination or movement to move from seeing such acts as “sin” or a single “fall” to be repented of, to seeing them as psychological problems to be treated, to finally realizing that they are addictions or major character flaws and permanently disqualify one from ministry (which are the stages that Bishop Anthony Taylor, the Catholic Bishop of Little Rock, says that the Catholic Church in the USA had to move through over 50 or 60 years). Wherever in the Catholic Charismatic movement or in any other form of the Charismatic movement up to the present there have been such failings, they have left wounded, disillusioned, and often, unfortunately, bitter people in their wake. Holiness is not an option, and, if lacking, the only appropriate recourse is retreat to a hermitage or other place of penance until one gains mastery and self-control.

Finally, there are the theological issues which make integration of the charismatic movement difficult at times, more or less depending on its form:

The baptism in the Holy Spirit language, for one, is problematic. It was developed from the crisis sanctification language of the 1800’s and there is no doubt that people often have a series of peak experiences marking their lives. But theologically virtually all Christian traditions connect the baptism in the Holy Spirit to Christian initiation (Pentecost in Acts 2 being an exception, for the Spirit does not “come” until Jesus physically leaves this dimension), and in the Catholic Church and a number of other traditions this is sacramentally expressed in the use of properly blessed oil. Furthermore, the experience of glossolalia is neither common in Christian initiation in general nor universal in Acts. Paul, in fact, does not connect glossolalia to conversion-initiation at all. As long as this language continues to be used in this way, people will remain confused and disappointed, and all the more as they become theologically aware. It is unfortunate that the Catholic Charismatic movement took this language over from Pentecostalism, for which there was a clear series of crisis conversion as an older child or adult (taken over from what was developing in conservative evangelicalism) to which was added crisis sanctification/baptism in the Spirit. This just does not fit with Catholic theology.

The focus on the Spiritual gifts of 1 Cor 12 is also problematic, not in the insistence on their still being operational, but in how they are made central out of context. The Catholic Church has focused more on Isa 6:2-3, which is reasonable because all Christians are “in Christ” and therefore should expect those Isaianic gifts of the Spirit to be present in them. These gifts also mesh with the “fruit” of the Spirit in Gal 5:22-24. What is characteristic of both lists is that they are behavioral and ethical and indicate connection to God, which should be universal aspirations of every Christian.

The gifts of 1 Cor 12 are ministry gifts. Paul explicitly states that not every Christian has any one of the gifts in that list, not even tongues (the attempt to get various versions of tongues, some being languages – either of human being or angels – and most being the “prayer language” of someone simply does not fit the texts contextually or linguistically). Instead Paul is giving a list of examples of gifts that one may have, a list that starts with speech coming from wisdom (known from the wisdom books of the Old Testament, from James 1 and 3, and from Isa 6), then speech coming from knowledge (what one knows of scripture, or, presumably, the natural world – linguistically this would notrefer to a revelation, but to the inspiration to apply or properly interpret knowledge), next come the related trust in God/Jesus (that may come from listening prayer, an awareness of what God wants to do in a given situation, although Paul does not make that explicit – his point is that the Spirit inspires trust), various types of gifts of healing (we do know that in Mark 9, for instance, there were some things that the disciples were not gifted to heal, while earlier it is clear that they had been gifted to heal many things, presumably in different situations), working wonders, prophecy (visions and oracles, for that is how the term is used in Hebrew Scripture; in Acts it is rarely used for foretelling, and when it is so used, it is a warning with a present application; later in 1 Corinthians Paul speaks of it as upbuilding and convicting in its effect), discernment, linguistic ability (certainly needed as the church reached across cultures and linguistic groups, as one sees in Acts 2, whether one was aware of what one was saying or not, whether one had the gift of learning language or the instant appearance of language), and the ability to interpret languages (again, clearly needed in cross-cultural ministry, whether the Spirit’s gifting was evident in how quickly one learned or in instant understanding). There is no reason to believe that these are not fully operational today, for they are clearly still needed. I have personally experienced all of them at one time or another. But the is not Paul’s point. Paul is taking some examples and stating that they are equally gifts of the Spirit, that no person will manifest them all in a given group setting, and that no person has a monopoly on them, for “to each is given.” The point is that together they serve “the common good.” They do not validate one’s spiritual experience or status, they do not belong to a few, they do not create a gifting hierarchy – they work together for the good of the community. That is why love is more important than any gift (1 Cor 13) and that is why glossolalia (speaking in a foreign language, learned or unlearned) should only be done if the person or someone else interprets for those who do not speak that language. It is the unity of the body and the upbuilding of all that is the point. Likewise, those prophesying should not interrupt or otherwise disrupt one another, and there should be few enough oracles that the leaders of the community can evaluate them – all individuals are mixed bags of holiness and depravity, so all gifts will tend to be at least somewhat tainted by our desires and the like. People are to desire the “higher gifts,” which appear to be those that most strengthen the community and speak to outsiders. Thus, glossolalia is of limited value, for it may be irrelevant in a group in which all speak Greek, but it should not be forbidden, so long as it is interpreted, for even if one is not aware of the fact, perhaps someone is there who needs to hear some key phrase or message spoken in their mother tongue.

Paul (assuming that he is the author of Ephesians) does speak of individuals characterized by certain ministries in Eph 4, but the gifts are the people, not the ministries. The gifts are apostles (I doubt that the Twelve are meant, but rather missionary-church planters like Paul, for such people also appear in the Didache and are not allowed to stay in a local church but must move on after a rest), prophets, evangelists (one thing that I am not, although once in a while God surprises me by using me this way), and pastors and teachers. Again, the list need not be complete, but exemplary. The purpose is the same as in 1 Cor 12: for the common good, i.e. for “the equipping of the saints,” for “the building up of the body of Christ.” They serve the servants of God. Nothing to get proud about, folks.

That, in brief, is what biblical studies might contribute to the discussion, and ignoring the context makes the whole seem questionable and difficult to integrate. Likewise, the typical charismatic teaching on “faith” is linguistically problematic and often pastorally disastrous. It becomes our work, not God’s gift. Equally problematic (in contexts in which the language is used) are the teachings about “mantles” and “anointings” and “impartation.” They are also quite in contrast to Catholic teaching, if one is a Catholic.

The point is that if one speaks enough of these theologically questionable teachings, eventually at least those with some theological education see through them. The wise leader knows this, which is why John Wimber would contract with me, for example, to “take apart” his teaching on an issue by issue basis. That is, he asked me for a 5 to 10-page or so paper summarizing the biblical teaching on a topic with no holds barred when it came to disagreeing with him. I was not the only one so “privileged” (I put “privileged” in quotes because, while I did feel honored and trusted to be asked, I also experienced sending in a paper and before receiving any acknowledgment, receiving a communication from across the continent from someone wanting me to defend it because Wimber had sent it to him as “the official Vineyard position!”), which is good, for it is in the multitude of counselors that there is wisdom. Let the scholars argue it out and look carefully at the evidence that they produce for their positions. Likewise, there are consequences of ignoring Paul’s teaching, consequences that often mean the dissolution of the community that one is not building up.

Yet there are gifts that everyone should seek and obtain, for they are available in Christ, and those are the Isa 6 and Gal 5 gifts. But they all are connected with an ethical lifestyle, even an ascetic lifestyle (in Paul’s words, “crucifying the flesh”). And that is what triggered this post. Last night I was reading St Seraphim of Sarov, On Acquisition of the Holy Spirit(no press is listed, but I got it from and its ISBN is 9781499236965). Now this seems to be a poor translation of a transcription of a discussion with St Seraphim, and the discussion must have taken place before Seraphim’s death in 1833. To understand it one must realize that “saved” essentially includes sanctified, ready for the beatific vision, and that in fact the beatific vision or intimacy with God is what the acquisition of the Holy Spirit is. For Seraphim almsgiving and other acts of ministry (including the ministry gifts of 1 Corinthians) are simply means of preparing one’s heart for closeness to God, and they only function this way if done for Christ. St Seraphim also includes “crucifying the flesh” in this category, naming fasting in particular. The most productive way of preparing one’s heart is prayer, and he was no wimp when it came to prayer: he prayed for hours in his hut kneeling upon a stone.

Now the various gifts of the Spirit and then some are attributed to Seraphim, but not claimed by him. He did his duty in the church or focused on prayer in his hut. He does not talk about miracles. But others did, and the writer of the work experience Seraphim’s clairvoyance when the old man simply says that he realizes that the writer started his spiritual seeking quite young and had still not found what he was seeking after having consulted many spiritual men (the writer fills in how this meshed with his experience). I would suppose that Paul would call this prophecy. But Seraphim does not speak of this or of any other miracle attributed to him. He refers to himself as “humble Seraphim” and to the writer as “your Godliness,” although the writer refers to St Seraphim as “father.” While Seraphim’s exegesis is spiritual exegesis, almost Philonic in places, and while one is sometimes not sure whether it is the translation or poor biblical memory that brings in some inaccuracies, the tenor of the book is clear: like John of the Cross, or Teresa of Avila, Seraphim (and, as well, the Philokaliain general, which I happened to be reading later in the night, in particular Diodochus of Photiki) sees the purification of the soul as critical to obtaining intimacy with God, and this is the goal of the Christian life. Purification comes through the sacraments, through prayer (especially), and through righteous deeds, which include ministry done for the sake of Jesus, especially almsgiving. Thus while all of Paul’s gifts of the Spirit are not just accepted, but, according to other accounts, experienced in the life of Seraphim, he pays little attention to them, for they are just tools for doing the ministry God has called him to for the sake of Jesus. In other words, he is determined to put on Christ, to receive the virtues of Gal 5, to become like Jesus, and he does so by laying down his life for others, as Jesus did. God gives the needed tools for doing this, the “charismatic gifts” being one and only one aspect of this, and not the most important one, and for that he is thankful, but, in a sense, hardly notices, for of course God would give the gifts necessary to do his will, and all Seraphim wants to do is thank the giver. His concern is the conquest of the passions, bringing them under the control of the mind informed by Christ.

This puts charismata in context. It brings me back to the contemplative focus on the gifts that I found in Germany in the Rufer Movement (Ruferbewegung). But it takes me beyond that into the holy men and women of God down the ages practicing the same disciplines and the same gifts. They often renewed the church, although at times they were islands of piety in the midst of corruption. Yet rather than anger or outrage, they expressed sorrow and prayer. Here are charismata in the context of the whole of church history. And now I know why I have been uncomfortable with the charismatic movement even while enjoying the gifts and the fellowship – there is often an “us” – “them” mentality, “us renewed and with it” ones over against “them, the dead and unspiritual and hierarchal” ones. I have called myself a charismatic, and basically that is correct, if it means accepting the gifts listed in 1 Cor 12, and expecting them to function in my life and the lives of others. But what I have longed for all the time is to forget the gifts and simply use them as they are needed by this or that occasion and become a man of the Spirit, to experience the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. Then they are integrated as Paul would have them integrated.

If I succeed in that acquisition of the Holy Spirit, do not expect me to blog about it. To experience the Spirit in that way, says St Seraphim, is to lapse into silence, as he did for some 13 years, three outside the monastery and 10 within. The silence is both the silence of deep humility in face of the all-knowing God, and the inability to express the inexpressible, which may well mean that there will be lot of silence (loving silence) in heaven.



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Davids 2018 Advent Update

Fr. Peter and Judy Davids’ 2018 Advent Update




As we live in the Advent tension between the awaited
celebration of the incarnation of our Lord and the awaited revelation of his
rule, we thought we would sum up our year under three headings:


1. Judy, while still dealing with post-infectious
cardiomyopathy, was able to take two significant trips: first, in May she
traveled with her sister-in-law and sister (pictured below left) to Maui for
the wedding of her nephew Jeremy Turner to his fiancé Kristen; then, in late
July she traveled alone to Canada to the homes of two of our children and was
able to have time with all of our children, their spouses, and our
grandchildren. Peter is jealous, but she did what we could afford and what one
of the families could assist in financing. Meanwhile Judy continues as a cell
group leader for the Brothers and Sisters of Charity Domestic group meeting in
St Clare Monastery where we live and she continues her spiritual direction and
pastoral counseling ministry based in the monastery. 


2. June 30 Peter retired from all positions in the
Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, which means that he has no
“official” job nor salary/pension, although he is very active as a supply
priest in the San Jacinto Deanery of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and
also for St John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church. On Nov 23 he was in The
Netherlands for the thesis defense and graduation of a PhD candidate he had
been co-supervising remotely, which may have closed off his teaching career. He
continues as NT Editor of Word Biblical Commentary and on the editorial board
of the Bulletin of Biblical Research. Of course, he also has his own writing
projects. We are pictured above at Peter’s retirement celebration.


3. Finally, after our both managing to get to his
birthday celebration on July 1, Peter’s younger brother Robert succumbed to
cancer on July 30, while Peter was attending the Catholic Biblical Association
in Denver. Peter, as well as our son Ian, was able to fly to Washington DC for
the funeral (Judy was in Canada). That is a significant transition in the
history of the Davids men, for now one has joined the previous generation in
the presence of our Lord, and it is only the oldest two who remain here. 


Obviously, many other significant events took place this
year, but these, we felt, were the major pivotal points of the year. We wish
you a blessed Christmas celebration and good entry into the new civil year.



Above right is Robert Davids between his
two brothers Peter and John on his birthday


May you have a blessed
Advent, Christmas, and New Year

For our King and his

  Judy and Peter


We remain at the same address as last

6921 Cutten Parkway, Houston, Texas, 77069, USA or for
personal email

713-314-7886 (Peter) or 832-398-9519 (Judy). 

Peter publishes occasional blogs on and we
try to keep our webpage ( more or less
up to date.




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Responding to Evil – Biblical and Eastern Christian Perspectives

There is no minimizing or ignoring the fact that reports of evil actions are swirling about the Catholic Church in the USA, many of them are true, at least in essence. It is also true that the perpetrators are apparently largely in the past, for the reason these evils have come to light is that the worst perpetrators were brought to court and/or have been dealt with by the Church (that is, most of the perpetrators were active before 2002, when the Dallas Charter came into force). Many of the perpetrators are dead and others are retired. (May any who have committed indictable crimes quickly be indicted!) Most (one hopes) of what remains to cause scandal (beyond the fact that men still bound by evil will always manage to evade even the best screening processes and get into the church) is that at least some in the hierarchy seem to have covered up the activities of some of the perpetrators (and only further investigation will show whether it was through a widely-shared ignorance of what today is appropriate response or whether it was through deliberate covering up for their own purposes) and ignored the activities of some others, even promoting them within the hierarchy. Now so far as I have read those accused in this latter category did not do anything illegal (like sexually abusing minors or rape of adults), but are accused of things that are totally immoral and destructive of the human person (such as using their positions of power and authority to gain sexual favors from younger men, who were nevertheless above the age of consent, even if vulnerable due to other factors). This is more difficult to tease out, for one does not have the help of the courts and their ability to both force and protect testimony, one has to realize that many of the victims (some of whom may have turned into perpetrators) may still be active in clerical ministry and so may be reluctant to put their careers on the line, and some who have information cannot testify due to the seal of the confessional (although (1) both victims and perpetrators probably seek out confessors who do not know them, (2) many confessions are anonymous in that the priest does not see and could not recognize the one confessing, and (3) any priest graced as I am forgets most confessions – my experience is not only that I ask God to take the “folder,” the memory, from me, but that after an hour or more in the confessional I cannot remember who said what, except in the rare situation of someone who deliberately seeks me out as a confessor and then confesses face to face and reminds me of their previous history – in other words, if brought to court I could almost always say, “I have no idea if they confessed to me and, if they did, what the content of the confession was,” not that I would divulge information anyway). I am also convinced that the actions being requested by the USCCB will, in the end, bring closure, if not justice (when it comes to sexual abuse, even of adults, justice is a very relative term, for no penalty can restore the spiritual, mental, and sometimes physical health of the victim), but in Rome’s slow and careful manner (which is no more slow and careful than that of, say, a grand jury, although it would operate under a different law). If I fear anything, it is that premature resignations and retirement of prelates (or those alleged to have been involved in predatory homosexual groups) will short circuit careful investigation. If a state law has been broken, the courts can pursue the retired (assuming that the statute of limitations has not run out and that the person is capable of standing trial, mentally and physically), but if it is church law, the ability to force testimony and cross examine those no longer in active ministry is much more limited, for, so far as I can see, the only penalty available is the most severe, removal from the clerical state. In other words, the immediate satisfaction of someone’s resignation under pressure (which often does not include an admission of guilt on the principle issue) may preclude “getting to the bottom” of the issues. On the other hand, there is a final judgment, and God’s justice will prevail – nothing is done in hiding that will not eventually be known.

In the midst of this turmoil, I am more concerned about calls for anger, even rage, and angry demands of church authorities for this or that action, often immediate action, and often by means of pressure tactics within the church. I am not concerned about those actions coming from outside the Church, for that is not my area of responsibility (as Paul makes clear in 1 or 5). Those in the world will use the methods of the world. But I am concerned when they come from within the Church, and I have heard several instances of precisely that, stemming from even level from the lay to the episcopal. I am concerned because I do not see such calls as spiritually healthy for any of those involved, nor as witnessing to the kingdom of God. Why is this?

Let us start from the beginning. In Holy Scripture the first sin is that of Eden and it starts with a demonic temptation that leads “the woman” to examine the “fruit” (that functions as something of a negative sacrament as the tree of life is a positive sacrament) and see it as desirable. In other words, it is what would later be called the sin of gluttony. Now it is true that after this reference there is another reference to the fruit as something “to be desired to make one wise” (RSV), which previously has been described by the snake as “being like God,” so there is merit in the Western Church making pridethe first of the seven deadly sins, but the fact that the roots of gluttony are mentioned first are why the Eastern Church puts gluttony as the first of the eight (evil) thoughts. The demonic gains control through the seemingly lesser gate (“I know that I should not eat it because it is too much, or prohibited, or otherwise improper to eat) and then continues to distort the person. The relationship with God is broken by shame and guilt, and the sexual relationship of man and woman is distorted, and finally in chapter 4 we come to angerand violence. By Genesis 6 violence fills the earth. Whichever end on starts at, Eastern or Western, there is a chain of dominoes falling, if not in the primary individuals, then in the succeeding generation(s), and somewhere in the middle there is anger. Psychologically, the hormones and neural firings of anger are not that different than those of fear, sexual arousal, or other intense emotions. In fact, if any of those responses are triggered, and if the context changes, one can slip from intense anger into intense sexual arousal (or fear) and vice versa. Indeed, physiological excitement, such as running or other more intense exercise, can also turn into or exaggerate such emotions via a trigger event. It is fascinating how the Holy Scriptures are at least subliminally aware of this.

Anger itself does not get good press in Holy Scripture. While the Hebrew Scriptures would take quite a discussion (especially since the words for “enemy” and “anger” can indicate opposition to someone and not just emotion), there are too many references to deal with in this post. Instead look at the New Testament. Jesus’ demonstration in the Temple is often cited as “righteous anger,” but I agree with N. T. Wright that it is best interpreted as an acted-out destruction of the Temple that resulted in the relatively brief cessation of sacrifices showing the ultimate result of the people’s behavior, the destruction of the Temple – it is a prophetic demonstration much like Jeremiah’s shattering of a piece of pottery. Jesus does “look around with anger” once (but not in all the synoptic gospels), although he does not act on the feelings. And he does name things clearly, sometime negatively. But, just as we never see Jesus laugh, we also never see him giving in to anger (or fear). He seems to calmly go about doing what he is called to do, even if he has to deal with internal struggles, feelings, and temptations. Anger, in fact, shows up in many of the vice lists in the New Testament as something that either disqualifies one to inherit the kingdom or as something that one is to do away with. Anger, if it is not to become sinful, is something that one should deal with before sundown. And, of course, there is James 1:19 – 20, “19 Know this, my beloved brethren. Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, 20 for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.” (RSVCE) Slow down; listen; silence (although at times one must speak truth calmly); and slow to anger. But the “slow to anger,” seems to mean: deal with anger before it comes to expression, “for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.” In other words, for James there is no righteous indignation, justified expressions of anger (and Jesus speaks to that as well in Matthew 5), or other ways we condemn angry outbursts in others but claim that ours is justified, even righteous.

There are many reasons for this condemnation of anger. First, anger is ceding control to the emotions, which certainly in Eastern thought means that the “noetic mind” has lost control. Second, anger is opening the gate to the demonic that seems to operate most easily on the emotional level. Third, anger disturbs our peace and focus on God, so we are no longer listening to divine instruction. Fourth, anger has no place for love, mercy, or forgiveness, the characteristics of Jesus. It is, in fact, a characteristic of the demonic, seen in James 3 and 4, but also elsewhere in both the New Testament and Patristic thought. It is also an injury to the self: one person has sagely said, “Anger is what we do to ourselves when someone else hurts us.”

Now, I am not suggesting for a moment that forgiveness means saying that something is OK or allowing a person to continue their evil behavior if we are in a position to non-violently hinder it. Instead, forgiveness is releasing the person to God, handing the issue over to God, and letting God be the judge (think of Jesus on the cross in Luke or Stephen about to be stoned in Acts); anger is taking judgment into our own hands, whether verbally, in the demands that we make on others to act, or physically. Forgiveness is active in that it hands the matter to God and trusts God to act in his time and his way. It may be that God asks us to interpose ourselves, to sacrifice ourselves, in the situation; i.e. to absorb the evil into ourselves, as Jesus did on the cross. But that sacrifice is not passive; it is active. The death of Jesus shattered the gates of hell, the blood of the martyrs brought down much of the violence of Rome, and Pope John Paul II’s trip to Poland, not to accuse others, but to announce the kingdom, triggered the fall of the communist regime. Yet one does not do this to be effective, for that is mere pragmatism, but because it is the way of love. One does it because one is conformed to Jesus.

Love is the seeking of the good of the other as other. That is a high demand. What would someone like the Elder Thaddeus say? He lived through WW II and Tito’s Communist regime, so he was not ignorant of evil. Nor were all of the monks he dealt with saints. He would say, first, that one should be sorrowful for the other, saying, “What is he or she thinking?” Their thoughts have been taken captive, the demons are in control, they are headed in a bad direction – this calls for prayer for the person and mourning over their sad state. And this calls for repentance, both repenting for the individual and repenting for one’s own sins, which, however seemingly small, open a crack in the wall to evil forces. We all participate in the sins of the few, even if it were just an improper joke, for instance, or an angry word. This is one side of the response of love, prayer and fasting, both for the individual and for how our imperfections (even those unknown to us) are part of the great system that weakened our brother or sister. This calls for seeking the gift of tears.

The other side of love is calling upon the name of Jesus. In Eastern Christian thought this would be the Jesus Prayer. We lift up our hearts to God and call upon the name of Jesus, calling upon him to act in us as well as in “them,” delivering us and them from the bondage brought about by the demons.

Finally, there is a need for openness, not the opening of the confessional, for that is between the individual and God, but a transparence about our actions: in the type of case cited above, stating publicly that so and so has been relieved of duties until the charges made against them are adjudicated. Of course, that also means stating that so and so has been cleared of charges and return to ministry, if that is indeed the outcome, or stating that he or she has been permanently suspended from ministry/assigned to a life of prayer and penitence/removed from the clerical state. And, we should also be clear in our minds and, as appropriate in our communications, that the victim assistance coordinator is offering the victims, whether below or above the age of majority, whatever care and assistance they desire and can receive.

The Scripture says, “Rebuke not an elder, but entreat him as a father” (which I think is better than the RSV of 1 Tim 5:1).  The trial-by-internet, demands for this or that reform – angry demands at that, and calls for resignations are surely rebuke and worse. And it goes on to say, “Never admit any charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses” (1 Tim 5:19 – Paul is presented as writing to an apostolic delegate in this whole passage – he, Paul’s representative, is not to rebuke, but entreat; he, Paul’s representative, is to not accept any charge until it rises to Old Testament levels of evidence (presumably, as defined by Pharisaic interpretation, for Susanna, among other works had made Jews aware that witnesses needed cross examination and other safeguards). And, yes, Paul goes on to say, “As for those [in context, elders] who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (1 Tim 5:20), so there is a place for public “rebuke” by the highest church authorities (since the passage is addressed to Timothy), but only after due process, clear indication that the behavior was a serious breach of love (which is what all sin is) and that it was “persistent,” not an accident or slip.

I do believe that a serious investigation, a calling of witnesses and looking through documents, needs to be done – in private, so that those against whom charges do not stand up are not irreversibly slandered resulting in their inability to minister effectively. Let there be careful oversight so that any investigation is clearly on the up and up. I do not believe that any investigation carried out under Church sponsorship will be accepted by the world, for even if all the investigators were laymen and laywomen of the highest level of training in investigation, the fact that they were appointed (and presumably paid) by the Church would injure their credibility before the world. I do not believe that any reform could totally eradicate all abuse by clergy (the Dallas Charter has been revised at least 3 times as it is), for men whose hearts are captured by evil (before or after ordination) will continue to offend, if not in terms of the law, at least in terms of Christian morality; that is human nature. Reform is an ongoing process, yet people will always slip through. Furthermore, since our sins (angry outbursts, internet porn, gluttony in its many forms, etc.) will continue to weaken the whole, including the priesthood, perfection cannot be reached until we all are perfect. Yet I believe that proper safeguards, most of which are in the Dallas Charter, will minimize the incidences. Sadly, each incident, however isolated, will bring up the whole mess again in people’s minds, especially in the minds of those outside the church. I do believe that prayer and fasting, tears for our sins and the sins of others, and humble tearful petitions to the higher authorities to take what action for reform that they can, is the way forward at all levels of the church: anger, war (except in prayer), demands, political pressure, and the rest are reactive and therefore systemically counterproductive and the use of the ways and means of this age, and therefore spiritual counterproductive. Furthermore, they only strengthen the demons, as the Eastern writers would say.

For the most part, with such prayer, repentance and tears in the background, let us get on with what I hope is “business as usual” – spreading the good news, catechizing those who turn to Jesus, and drawing closer to God, even as we admit that we do so with egg on our face.



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The Elder Thaddeus Meets Edwin Friedman: What do they have to say to the latest clergy sexual abuse revelations?

We live in anxious times with all types of black and white thinking, herding, and other anxious behavior described by Rabbi Edwin Friedman in Failure of Nervein 1996 (he was writing on it when he died ini 1996, for the work is posthumous), although one should probably read his classic Generation to Generation first, for that focuses on the church/synagogue. However, if one reads Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, one discovers that a lot of the ideas that Rabbi Friedman expresses in terms of Bowen Theory or, broadly speaking, psychology, the Orthodox spiritual tradition knew about for centuries, although they expressed them in their distinctive Christian terminology. I shall weave them together here against the background of the interim report of the grand jury in the Pennsylvania clergy sex abuse scandal that first hit the news three days ago, for I think that these wise men have a lot to say.

I first noticed the that the interim report was out when I saw a new bulletin flash on my Apple Watch. I did not bother to follow the bulletin, for I knew two things: first, that there would be a lot of highly anxious comment and reaction, and, second, that it would be a day or two before enough of the facts had been digested that one could formulate a calm, nonreactive response. It was not that I was not interested, although in many ways it was “more of the same” hitting a new area of the country – we had seen those issues crop up in Ireland, Boston, and numerous other places around North American and Europe – it was that I knew that we would not really know what the report said for some days and that it would take more days to think through the issues. But Pennsylvania was special to me. I had lived near Pittsburgh from 1976 to 1982. Two of our children were born there, and one is buried there. I had seen sexual abuse scandals hit the church there, although it was the Episcopal Church and the sexual abuse of vulnerable adults. I had been called back to Pittsburgh (my diocese of canonical residence as an Episcopal priest) in late 1995 for mandatory sexual abuse prevention training. Furthermore, my father had lived in Philadelphia for years, starting in 1921, so the eastern part of the state raised feelings for me as well. Yet in a sense this scandal was an advance over older ones. This time the news was about a grand jury investigation. That sounded good, for perhaps there would be some approximation of justice, even if there were no indictments yet, since it was an interim report. Still, this was not victims coming forward with allegations that had not been carefully examined or which were denied by Church leadership. This was a grand jury investigation with the relative safeguards and protections that such entails and the relative certainty that indictments and convictions would eventually come.

But these are anxious times – the last election cycle should have shown that in spades – and this interim report raised lots of anxiety, even if no one has been found guilty in open court yet, or even indicted. The news cycle demands immediate response, despite the fact that the report was long, detailed, and, I should think, a painful read (as a seminarian I know confirmed from his reading of the first 90 pages). It took reading, thinking, praying, consultation, and, I would hope, weeping. The Elder Thaddeus would focus on the praying and weeping, for one is not only weeping for the wounds of the abused, but also for the lost souls of the abusers (or, he would say, the demonic entrapment of those men). Yet the news cycle was demanding immediate statements and action, for in a week, perhaps in two or three days, there would be another emotional issue demanding anxious attention. So, the commentators made their anxious reports and people responded. Within an hour or so, perhaps minutes, of the first headlines on my watch Facebook posts started to flash up. A Scott Hahn post on another subject was interrupted by an anxious comment about how one could go to such a church. Comment was everywhere. What one noted was that it did not appear that anyone commenting had actually read the report, but rather they were relying on the news reports, perhaps their favorite news commentator. One also noted that the comments either had no solution, or else had no realistic solution. Within the church there were calls for lay rebellion against the bishops (a good American response to many things – toss the government out) or perhaps departure from the church or even the total investigation of the church by law enforcement personnel. Conservatives blamed it on homosexuals (although even the first news reports noted that there was heterosexual abuse, and, besides, pedophilia is different from homosexuality), and more liberal people were quick to blame lax bishops for a “coverup.” Of course, there were no appeals to history further back than the 1940’s, the earliest dates included in the interim report. There was no asking (that I saw) as to whether a particular course of action fit the canonical structure of the church, Catholic theology, or biblical teaching, within the church, or whether, in Protestant or Protestant-like calls to abandon the church (or atheist calls to abandon the faith) there was not an ignoring of the dirty laundry in their own basket (the rate of sexual abuse in evangelical churches and groups that work with youth such as the Boy Scouts is about the same as it is in the Catholic Church, at least according to any study I have read and my discussions with professional counselors). There were, of course, condemnations of the Vatican and bishops, including the USCCB, for not giving a quick response.

The fact is that the Vatican and the bishops, or at least some of them, were reading the report, consulting historical precedents, consulting with one another, and probably also asking what had or had not been done in this or that particular case. What is clear is that two days later the Vatican did make a statement and it was calm, not sensational, and empathic. Within three days more than one cardinal, including the president of the USCCB had made statements. Again, they were statements that showed calm deliberation. I did not see any quick fix solutions. There were calls for background psychological checks and the like on seminarians – but these are already in place and have been in place since something like 2002, the date of the earliest form of the Dallas Charter (later revised in 2005, 2011, and 2018). Now perhaps there are some dioceses that manage to get around the Charter and its call for mandatory sexual and physical abuse prevention and detection training (in my diocese one also must take an update module every quarter), background checks, and psychological evaluation. I was a vocations director for 3 years and what I saw was the Dallas Charter audit process being taken seriously, background checks being made for anyone in contact with children or youth (and a single felony conviction for anything meant a fail), and psychological evaluations that were read with some care. Furthermore, all of this was required by the seminary before admittance. In the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston the same is true for applicants for the permanent diaconate. They also do marriage evaluations and home visits. And let us be clear, if any diocese is getting around such requirements, there should indeed be appropriate discipline. But, as the Vatican statement noted, the reported abuse in the interim report of the grand jury ended about 2002. Horrible as all that stuff beforehand was (and for those still living, is), it sounds like Virtus training with its mandatory reporting requirements and the associated background checks actually worked in most cases. You will never reduce the incidence to zero in a fallen world, but it looks like the incidence was reduced significantly. The histrionic demands for change might better be focused on clearer implementation, although at times it gets a bit paranoid as it is. And such anxious enforcement is what one would expect in an age such as ours, and the anxious atmosphere is caught by the children, which means that in “solving” (as best one can) one problem we can create another, anxious, fearful children.

We should note that the Vatican (and the USCCB to the degree that it is involved in enforcement, although that is not its core canonical role) is in a bit of a bind. First, the cases mentioned in the interim report go back to 1940, and if a relatively new priest were 26 years old in 1950, he would be 94 today. A seven-year-old victim from 1950 would only be 75. The victim might well be living, but the perpetrator is less likely to be living. The bishop who mishandled a situation in 1975 would also likely be deceased today. In other words, of the 301 priests mentioned and the bishops who may have heard about the abuse, a good percentage would no longer be in active ministry and some would be deceased. They would be difficult to investigate and of course could not be prosecuted. Second, in those situations in which prosecution by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is possible, whether of perpetrators or of failure to report by the bishop (which I take it would be the bishop’s legal issue), the Catholic Church must keep its nose out (other than turning over requested documents and encouraging those who were not confessors to the accused to testify), for fear of prejudicing the case or being seen as interfering with the course of justice. This means waiting until indictments are handed down and prosecuted. I do not hear anyone recognizing that there are limitations on what can be done now by bishops or the Vatican. I am sure that anyone against whom a creditable accusation is brought will be immediately suspended from ministry and lose their faculties, as I have seen in other situations, but conclusive Church judgment would have to follow the final judgment of the courts. This is not the immediate response that is being clamored for.

Finally, when a relatively long historical period is involved, one has to realize that best practices and community standards change over time. I was a military chaplain in the US Army Reserve serving with regular units in Germany in the mid-1970’s. I did a lot of what I called, “Pre-divorce counseling,” i.e. counseling soldiers whose wives had left for the USA who really did not have many options. I used the best tools I available, in particular Rogerian techniques, but more than once I felt like I had had a morning of failures. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s I did more training in counseling. It was then that I learned about family systems, among other things. I talked with my teacher about how guilty I felt in the light of my new knowledge about how I had treated those soldiers. “Peter,” the response was, “those tools did not exist back then. They were created in the mid-1980’s.” Likewise, what was best practice and wisest pastoral practice in the 1960’s or whenever might well be “coverup” or “failure to report” today. We know now that pedophiles are very likely to reoffend; we realize now that keeping abuse quiet so that the victim and their family not suffer “shame,” actually sticks the victim with ongoing inner shame. The awareness of these insights came at various times before, say 1990, but they did not come all at once and did not come all over. I did not hear of them in my counseling training in an evangelical seminary in the late 1960’s. Therefore, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, mandated by the Church Insurance Corporation, made me fly from Vancouver to Pittsburgh in 1995 to get updated. And I am sure that there were similar updates for Episcopal bishops. Once I was “updated,” I could be held responsible (although in my case I had picked up a good deal of the information half a decade earlier in counseling training). The long and short of this excursus is that to determine the culpability of a bishop or pastor in a “cover-up” one has to determine not just what was the law at the time (the law tends to lag behind psychological and pastoral knowledge), but what were the best practices of the time – even if now we know that they were absolutely flawed. A physician the bled a patient in 1780, resulting in a patient’s death, might be just doing his duty to the best of his knowledge. A physician who did that in 1980 would be guilty of malpractice and more. Obviously, the place in the historical development of the understanding of predation where a given event took place has to be looked at in determining moral culpability (legal culpability would be more interested in what the laws were at a given time).

Where does Edwin Friedman come into this discussion? The above was written to, first, lay out a bit of history and then explore the complexities of the issue. The point was to slow down the processing, lower the emotional level, and give control over to the thinking brain versus the limbic system. Only as this happens can we get out of the cycle of anxiety and reaction in which we live.

What I see in the statements [which you can download here] by Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, president of the USCCB, who was a young priest in Pittsburgh back in the 1970’s, and Cardinal Burke speaking for the Holy See, and also those of Cardinals Dolan and O’Malley, shows the effect of dialing down emotion and doing more analytical thinking. That included indicating where the Church could have done better, what the Church has done with respect to three clergy named in the interim report who were ordained in New York, and what the Church plans to do in the near and longer-term future, which, interestingly, includes using lay experts to help in setting up confidential reporting structures and producing independence from a bishop against whom complaints might be lodged. The emotional tone is sadness. The diction is clear and logical. The documents are clear about when what can be done – there are no promises of Nirvana in the immediate future, but of step-by-step progress.

I think that Elder Thaddeus would agree with Friedman’s concerns, if he could understand the language. The Elder Thaddeus’ language is that of prayer. As we become agitated we become fascinated by the details of the situation, even voyeuristic. We have lost focus on God and are giving, in his terms, the demons an entrance through our noetic mind. The use of the Jesus Prayer will help defeat the demons and return out focus to God and enable us to meet our duties in the situation with calmness, peace, and divine grace. The Elder Thaddeus lived through both World War II and Tito’s communist rule, so he has some credibility when it comes to calmness, peace, and divine presence in the midst of turmoil.

More importantly, what can we do that would facilitate a genuinely Christian response?

First, as Edwin Friedman would say, we need to be less anxious people ourselves. If we are living in fear and anxiety we can never function as a healing presence. The Elder Thaddeus would say that our anxiety and anger are giving the demons a channel into our mind. Our disturbed thinking will affect others through the spiritual world. We have to deal with this problem through prayer, including asking for God delivering grace. Then we will be able to pray in peace and tears for both the victims and the perpetrators. Rather than judging the perpetrators or being angry, we should be asking, “What are/were they thinking?” We realize that they have been taken victim themselves through their lack of watchfulness and are trapped in the chains of the devil. Whereas some would speak of addictions, the Elder Thaddeus sees the spiritual forces behind the addictions. In other words, he has reversed the foregrounding and backgrounding of the Epistle of James (James focuses on the human, but then in Jas 3 and 4 he points to the demonic behind it).

But that means asking where the demons are taking us captive. That means asking where our responsibility lies. For instance, the use of pornography is rampant in at least the North American Church. But when you participate in this, you are participating in the abuse of the men and women involved (and even if they are themselves profiting, they are at the same time being abused, caught in a web of evil). What are you doing to stop this? Is appropriate blocking software installed if this is even a bit of a problem for one or if your devices can be accessed by minors? Is it clear that your household has a zero-tolerance policy? And can you explain why to your children, if you have them? My point is that while we are not in a position to do anything about those “really bad guys” out there, we may well be enabling by being involved in a culture of sexual laxity. It is no accident, I suspect, that this scandal came to light at the 50thanniversary of Humana Vitae. Widely ignored by some Catholics and misunderstood by others, this document does point to the heart of a healthy sexuality. And that is the trick – stressing the positive so that the negative seems less attractive or at least shows up for what it is. The demons are doing pretty well in getting the focus off Humana Vitae. Other examples of this type could surely be found.

Another piece of advice on this is to turn off the TV. You do not need it. When the various public media are doing their job, they are reflecting our anxieties back on us, amplifying them. Edwin Friedman discusses this in Failure of Nerve. No, you do not need to be informed. That is a lie unless you are in the news business or are required to prepare a digest for your boss. For most of us a headline or written weekly digest is enough, and even that is not necessary all of the time. If you see a discussion on Facebook, skip it. And do that especially if it has a video attached. While I disagree with parts of his analysis, Marshall McLuhan did point out that some media immerse us in them and others require us to work to supply part of the content. When you see a commentator on TV talking breathlessly or with great graveness about a situation, perhaps with pictures being flashed up from times to time, you are getting his or her emotions as well as whatever analysis they give. You are getting visual cues, including body language, and audio clues, including voice tone. You are also getting emotive words. “This is terrible.” “This is intolerable.” Etc. Your anxiety level raises. You feel you must do something. But you are functioning out of your emotions, not out of your intellect. You do not yet have all the facts. In fact, one of the insidious parts of modern society is the denial that there are facts: if I like it, it is true, and if I do not like it, it is “fake news.” But that is a statement of like and dislike, for no checkable facts have been adduced. If I applied that type of reasoning to scripture, it would have as many holes in it as Jefferson’s Bible. So, watch out for media that involves all of our senses and can end run our thinking to get directly our feelings. Generally, print is better than visual media, and print with footnotes giving sources is the best. But do not drop your guard. Footnotes can give an appearance of authority without being accurate unless one actually reads them and checks the documents they refer to. Also look for emotive trigger words in print. I have seen pamphlets for radical groups (the radical right in this case) that were quite misleading and very emotive. Chick Comics is another example that comes to mind. So, limit media, use a print article that you can analyze (And ask what evidence did he/she give for that statement?), and avoid TV period. We have a TV in our apartment, but only used it for TV during Hurricane Harvey, and then turned it off after a bit for it was just keeping us stirred up. Basically, we use it to play videos by Bishop Robert Barron or Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, among others. We have free TV on our AT&T devices, 30 channels worth. I doubt I ever use it. I have the package because it gives us unlimited high-speed data and also works in Canada. I do not have the time for the other noise, nor do I want to go through the effort needed in quieting my emotions after listening to some commentator. I do not want to be part of the problem by living in a stirred-up state.

Second, sexual abuse is a boundary violation. Usually it is more about control than about sex. Always it removes boundaries. What are we doing in our sphere to preserve boundaries and not cross beyond people’s comfort zones? If we can break one boundary in the name of Jesus, we open the person to the breaking of more boundaries. Let me give some examples of limits and then of ways that limits are crossed. I am Virtus trained. I know that I can give side hugs, but not front hugs. I know that I can high five a child, but not touch their rear end. And the list goes on from there. I also know that I should not touch anyone unless they agree to it (or in an emergency, I suppose I might grab a person who was falling without asking permission). So if I am praying for someone, I ask, “May I lay my hand on you . . . ?” I indicate the place I want to lay my hand unless it is obvious (such as the top of the head in the rite of the anointing of the sick). I do not touch unless I am given informed consent, so to speak. I am creating a culture in which the person knows, whatever culture they are from, that their personal boundaries will be respected. Our Christian communities have not always been that careful. We do that as a group (“Everyone hold hands and lift them up!”) and we do it individually, for I have seen people who assumed they could lay hands on a person, perhaps many hands, without taking either their physical condition or their comfort into account. I am glad that John Wimber made it clear in the Vineyard movement that one asked before laying hands anywhere. And I wish that before people said, “Let’s join hands” or the like, they made it clear that those uncomfortable should feel free to participate in their own way. I once brought a man to a charismatic meeting in an ecumenical setting. The man was from a culture in which people did not touch. At one point in the meeting the leader instructed all to join hands and lift them up. When a woman beside him took his hand that did just that, the man walked out of the meeting and never returned to a charismatic meeting until the day of his death. That was a boundary violation. Not chargeable abuse, but a step in that direction. And especially since it was a woman, the man probably felt unfaithful to his wife. I doubt it crossed his consciousness, but he may also have felt sexually stimulated. It was abuse and experienced as abuse. I cringe when such things are encouraged in charismatic circles with the implications that one is not open to the Spirit without such. The German charismatic movement I knew did not need this to be open to the Spirit (and I saw a lot of Spirit there). Furthermore, the spirit that one opens a person to in this way may not be Holy Spirit. Are our communities, prayer groups, or personal behavior grooming people for sexual abuse – totally without our intending to? Do people leave feeling abused?

I might add that kneeling, standing, and sitting, even prostrating, are different in that they are non-contact and individual. But I personally often preface a liturgy (if newcomers are there) or (in the Episcopal Church where it was licit) added to the liturgy, permission to do otherwise. Rather than “meekly kneeling upon your knees,” I might say, “meekly kneeling as you are able.” But this is being appropriately inclusive. It becomes abusive if in your heart you judge someone who does not kneel or take some other posture you think that they should. They sense this judgment and feel the peer pressure. That is what the Elder Thaddeus would say.

Third, honor and support your leaders. If you do not like your leaders, leave that to God. St Augustine dealt with the issue of unworthy leaders in his discussions about the Donatists. St. Francis certainly dealt with unworthy leaders, not by criticizing them, but by showing deep humility. David had every reason to do Saul in, for Saul was unrighteous seeking his life (“stand your ground”), but instead he would not touch “God’s anointed.” Likewise, when Elijah was told that there were 7,000 who had not bowed the knee to Ba’al, he was not told to organize them to overthrow Ahab. If I cannot understand why a bishop did this or that, I say to God, “Father, I do not understand this, but I leave the situation in your hands. You are the judge of all the earth, not me. Show me how to live in peace and humility in the situation.” If charges are brought against a bishop, I pray, “Father, I pray that it is not so, but if these charges are true, may you bring about your type of justice your way.” Then I leave it. God is the judge, and I am not. That is what James says (Jas 4:12). If I were appointed to a commission to that had the responsibility of discipline, then that would be another issue. But praised be to God, I am not and am very very unlikely ever to be. I want to find something to respect in every leader; maybe, then, God will find something to respect in me.

I might add that I have worked in a small Chancery. I have seen what a bishop does. I did not always understand all he did or does (after all, he does not have any occasion or requirement to explain everything to me), but I did understand that I could not do the job better than he, that I could not do the job at all. I wonder why there are people out there who seem to think that they could? Thanks be to God that as a married priest I will never be a bishop!

Fourth, this is the time to raise your giving. And I am serious about that. On the one hand, your pastor and bishop need funding to go smoothly while they could be distracted by the issues of abuse, especially if you are in a diocese directly affected. On the other hand, they need extra funds to deal with the situation. Every diocese has a VAC, a Victim Assistance Coordinator. (My wife was a VAC for a year or two.) If there is a situation of abuse, whether by clergy or by a lay person working for the church, including volunteers, the first thing that is done is that the legal authorities are informed, the second is that the diocese is informed, and when the diocese is informed the VAC springs into action, doing what they are trained to do and hoped they never would do. The VAC contacts the victim and offers help. Now the VAC may well be a trained counselor themselves, but what they offer is usually not their counseling (since they are an agent of the diocese) but that of a trained professional independent of the diocese. However, the diocese pays. There may be other expenses due to the abuse (what if the victim goes into deep depression and cannot work?), other professionals needed (perhaps the abuse created a situation that needs medical treatment), and all that is arranged for. Furthermore, even if the diocese did everything “according to the book,” the diocese may still be held liable and end up paying damages. Therefore, regardless of whether or not the bishop accepts the offer, an offer such as, “Bishop, a group of us realize that there are expenses involved in connection with the Safe Environment office/ office of the VAC, whatever happens in the end concerning this case. Can we help you raise funds or raise funds ourselves to support these remedial activities without burdening the diocese or sapping the DSF? We would want to do it in such a way that people know that the DSF still deserves their support, that this is over and above. And we want to do it in such a way that it is double-blind, that the diocesan officials, much less the victims, will not know who is contributing and those contributing will only know that the funds are going towards expenses connected with the general situation.” The Bishop may feel he must turn the offer down, but I suspect that even if he did that, he would in private thank God in joy and thanksgiving for the support his people in a time of loneliness and criticism.

There are other issues that could be covered and other things that could be said. But I wanted to show that situations such as this could and should be met with a less-anxious, thinking response/ with a response the comes from the peace of God and is rooted in prayer and love-in-action.

I know of Edwin Friedman’s work because I have done post-graduate study at an institute that he founded and have taught what I learned. I know the Elder Thaddeus’ teaching because for some reason I happened to have purchased his book months ago, simply due to its title, and happened to have finished reading it this week. It was a happy coincidence.

Rabbi Friedman, thank you for showing us the way to a more thinking, more differentiated response.

Elder Thaddeus, thank you for showing us the teaching of the Holy Fathers. If you are indeed where I expect you are, pray for us.



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