10 Feb 2019
You ask me, in effect, what can one do in our society, given the problems.
I will write more later, but here is a first answer:
One thing comes to mind immediately: community need not now be limited by space-time. Because of the internet and availability of resources (such as classics from the past), the community may well take non-traditional forms. There are some things that the local community can provide—such as the kinds of socializing and friendships your children need. There are goods that can be provided only by means of a wider reach (as through the internet) and especially drawing from resources in the past.
Second, did you read my most recent posting, “Do no harm”? I am asking if my criticisms of the institutional church, especially, do more harm than good. I may copy part of the conclusion in my longer response, but for now suffice it to note that many in the pews, who could be hurt, are not putting forth sufficient effort in their own spiritual lives. They have been lazy and passive. Yes, they will be hurt But one cannot force them to be free (playing on a famous phrase from Rousseau’s Social Contract). I’ll develop the thought later.
Third, genuine faith (fides caritate formata, faith enlivened by charity) is always needed. Institutional religion does not require or build much genuine faith. Each much make the effort. (“You yourselves must make the effort,” declares the Buddha in the Dhammapada, “the Tathagatha is only a teacher.” You ask, “To whom shall we go?” Well, you asked it in the right context: to the living Christ (not an institutionalized Christ). The living Christ is the inner light. If we will not attend to that light, for whatever reason, what can be done?
Fourth, although I may be wrong, I think that the institutional church, though not all bad, has been highly corrupt, and seems to be imploding in our present day. The community of the faithful needs to endure. I am not convinced that the hierarchy, as it developed historically (bishops—priests—deacons) is any longer the best or a viable solution. The problem is not with the teachings, nor with the Sacraments per se, but with human beings for whom power and position and privilege “go to their head.” I run into one case of this problem after another. And many lay persons are waking up to it. That is why one may say, “Gentlemen, the game is over.”
Fifth, what should one do? On that I shall think, and respond in a second note. If you do not mind, I will develop my response to you (without personal comments, which are unnecessary), and post it online. Your situation is by no means unique. In fact, you are voicing what I have heard, in various ways (less articulate than yours) over the past number of years. And we are hearing a crescendo of troubled voices. What is to be done?
On a personal note, I am not surprised that your response has been to be bothered by more criticisms of the institutional church. I have heard similar responses from a traditionalist friend in Ohio as well. Traditionalistic clergy would dismiss my thinking as “liberal,” which is superficial at best. Your experience in the church and mine have been very different. I have seen far too much to keep silent. Nor do I have a family to tend, and want to believe that the church may offer genuine assistance to them. It may, and it may well harm them. More on all of this later, unless I find nothing useful to say.
Peace in Christ,
11 Feb 2019
Presently I have little of anything to add to what I wrote yesterday. The thoughts that come to mind you may not wish to hear. The most difficult question you raise is, I believe, in effect a classical question of political philosophy: “Then what is to be done?”
We do not wish to have recourse to Romantic solutions: pretending that there are no truly serious problems in our political culture, social institutions, the churches, and so on. There is also the Romantic solution of the Hippie movement, that broke from society and formed communes based on “free love” and hallucinogenic drugs. A more common Romantic or escapist solution shows up in our mass culture, with so much mindless “entertainment” absorbing the interests and time of a large portion of our society. Then there is the escapist movement in the churches; I have seen this first hand from the (usually) young clergy who want to “go back” to the supposedly good old days of the Latin liturgy. In the process, they alienate many of the older folks, who had the style of liturgy to which they had been accustomed ripped from them in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Now some want to restore what was stripped away, but in a more artificial form (more detached from historical evolution in Christianity). In my view, to attempt the kind of removal from society that Benedict of Nursia achieved in the 6th century (based on generations of monks before him) would also be a Romantic revival, an escape that is fruitless because not possible or likely to succeed in this culture. Then there is the seemingly contrary escapism into social activism in politics, society, the churches. Not truly knowing the good or what is to be done, many dabble in all sorts of “social programs.” Often enough, they do more harm than good.
So what is to be done? For society as a whole, and for millions of peoples, I do not know, nor do I pretend to know. Even for some concrete individuals, I would be hesitant to recommend any course of action, beyond the most obvious: seek to develop one’s own character to the best of one’s ability; to seek not to be “contaminated by the world,” in the sense of the Letter of James; to break from mass culture, mass media, and crumbling political and social institutions to the extent possible; not to get caught up in apocalyptic or Gnostic dreaming; to face reality as honestly and as truthfully as one can. One must cultivate one’s own life in the spirit through study and meditation.
What I recommend not doing is clearly related, but I can be more explicit: avoid attachment to any ideology, including political or religious; avoid attachment to such crumbling institutions as the American political order, mass education, the Christian churches; avoid dependence on institutions to provide for one’s intellectual and spiritual life to the extent possible; avoid immersion in the products of mass entertainment (movies, television, pop music); avoid addictions in all forms. The task is enormous; it is not easy. Much personal effort is required.
On a more speculative note, I wonder how long Western civilization and specifically our political order will survive. An empire such as ours makes many enemies. The most powerful enemy now is Communist China. Although I may be wrong, and hope that I am, it seems that a catastrophic and extremely destructive war between these two “super-powers” could easily occur within the present generation (within twenty years or so). As I see it, we have been digging our own graves, giving the Chinese the technology and weapons to defeat us, or at least to murder millions. But then, we Americans keep murdering millions of our own infants through abortion: all in the name of convenience, which is an embodiment of the god of self. (America is absorbed in self-worship, as anyone with eyes to see can see.)
I shall continue to wrestle with the question, “What is to be done,” but I expect no easy or quick solution at all. We are “too far gone” to be spared by easy adjustments. As I wrote recently, our country is committing self-murder. The disease will run its course, with likely death of the civilization as it has emerged in history. I claim no certain or definite knowledge of the future.
The oath attributed to Hippocrates, ancient Greek founder of the art and science of medicine, has for some centuries been understood to embody the core teaching, “Do no harm.” Although the words are not literally in the original Hippocratic oath, they are surely implied. Often these words echo in my mind, perhaps because my father was a physician, who often told us that too many physicians worked for money, rather than the health of their patients, often performing unnecessary and costly procedures and operations. Our father would often say, “Let nature run its course.” Overall, his medically inspired teaching to his children was: “Do no harm.”
Before applying this principle, we reflect briefly on some of the words of the original Hippocratic oath, as translated by W.H.S. Jones in the Loeb edition, and as reported on Wikipedia online (hence readily available to readers). A few sentences from the original Hippocratic oath:
“I swear by Apollo Physician [Apollo is the Sun god], by Asclepius [god of healing], by Hygieia [literally, goddess named for Health], by Panacea [goddess, meaning “all-cures’], and by all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will carry out, according to my ability and judgment, this oath and this indenture. To hold my teacher in this art equal to my own parents….I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing….I will keep pure and holy both my life and my art. Into whatsoever houses I enter, I will enter to help the sick, and I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm…”
To do good to the patient, and not to do harm or evil, is the clear intent of the phyisicans’ Hippocratic oath. And to do good and not evil is the most succinct summary of human ethics, clearly developed as such in the dialogues of Plato, in Aristotle’s unsurpassable Nicomachean Ethics, in the Hebrew Scriptures, in the New Testament. When St. Thomas Aquinas seeks to express the core teaching of what he calls the “natural law,” he draws on the same teaching: to do good and to avoid doing evil. That is the summary of the divine and natural imperative for human beings.
In writing these little essays, am I doing good, and avoiding evil? I often ask myself this question. While I write only what is true to the best of my understanding and judgment, I am aware of an existential problem: It could be that in criticizing the churches, the hierarchy, our American way of life, and so on, my words will serve to weaken attachment to these, at a very time when there is so little for many to cling to for some sort of guidance and direction in life. That is a risk I have been taking. If my words cause one to try to dump the Christianity of the churches without having a living spiritual foundation, then they may do that person harm. If the best that one can do is to attend church (or synagogue), keep the customs as taught, share in the rituals, and be a patriotic citizen of his or her country, then that is what a particular person ought to do. If someone cannot bear the criticisms I offer of institutional Christianity and our present American way of life, then he or she may not be able to rise above the flaws and failures; keeping still and minding one’s own business may truly be what is best for that person. Only I would add this warning: beware of the subtle poison of “see no evil, hear no evil…”
The examples of Moses, of the Buddha, of Socrates, and of Jesus are often before my mind’s eye. These four men had more to offer human beings than any others I know in the course of human history. Each one was the carrier of a major spiritual breakthrough to humankind; two of them paid for the truth they spoke and lived by rejection and death at the hands of authorities in their societies. By divine intervention, Moses broke from Egypt, and led the Chosen People to freedom under God. The Buddha, borrowing from the rich Hindu spiritual traditions and practices, suspended beliefs in gods and religious practices for the movement into the abyss of peace and silence beyond all world-immanent content (whether real or imagined). In leading human beings forth into true freedom and enlightenment, both Moses and the Buddha implicitly or explicitly broke from their cultures and traditions. Socrates did not urge an exodus from Athens, but as he claims in Plato’s Apology, he had been sent by the God as a “gad-fly” to sting the Athenian people and wake them up to reality. The Athenian powers that be chose the unexamined life, which is mental death, over questioning one’s life and hence living in uncertain truth. The lover of wisdom Socrates gladly accepted physical death over certain mental-spiritual death of the unexamined life. Sentenced to death by poison, Socrates declares, “Now it is time to go, I to die, you to live; whoever of us has the better fate is unknown to anyone, except to the God.” As for Jesus, as far as we know from the textual evidence, he was and remained a faithful Jew; he attended synagogue, kept the feasts (especially Passover), revered the Law and the prophets. But above all, Jesus was utterly faithful to the God who had spoken to Moses, “I AM WHO AM.” It was this living and true divine Presence, unencrusted by doctrines and rituals, that Jesus presented to those who “listened to his word.” Did Jesus do harm? Only to those who hardened their hearts to the divine Presence active in and through him. To those who listened and responded in openness of heart, Jesus was Christ the liberator, who declared, “Before Abraham was born, I AM.” To those who chose ritualized tradition over ever-seeking God, Jesus was another false Messiah, who had to be silenced: “Crucify him.”
The Christianity of the churches has often become a stumbling block to men and women seeking to live in openness to truth. Those with more enquiring minds open to philosophy, or those who desire to practice meditation drawing from Hindu-Buddhist traditions, have often been criticized, or told to “be quiet,” or even not to read philosophy or to practice “Eastern meditation.” Ironically, the portrait of Pharisaical teaching and practices so denounced in the pages of the New Testament is often presented before our eyes by clergy in the churches: “Do as I say, not as I do.” Some of these clergy who condemn “non-Christian philosophy and religions” are themselves products of mass secular culture, including superficial pop-psychology. And above all, humanity remains humanity, and spiritually dull, power-seeking, and money-loving men and women often push their way to the top of the human heap, assuming leadership roles in the churches. Christian clergy are all-too-often as self-satisfied, as self-important, as spiritually insensitive as the Pharisees caricaturized in the Gospels. Frankly, often enough, the “faithful” in the pews may be in a similar boat. Far too many do not want the hard reality of living in uncertain truth; they prefer to remain more or less asleep in their certain untruths. They fail to ask searching questions, or call clergy to account for their shallowing preaching. In short, for those with enquiring minds and open-spirits, the churches today are all-too-often inhospitable places.
Generally, the Christianity of the churches often adds to the spiritual and mental diseases of our age, rather than help alleviate them. Ours is indeed a sick era in history. (Whether sicker or worse than other eras is not here the question.) Many human beings in our midst are suffering from a spiritual and intellectual wasteland within. From what I have seen of Protestant and Catholic churches, this wasteland is largely ignored, covered up, or increased, rather than treated with appropriate intellectual-spiritual therapy. In other words, as I survey the non-wondrous landscape of Christianity, I see so much damage being done, and insufficient good for our people. But if a truly needy soul is genuinely nourished by attending church, by singing hymns, by listening to stale or insipid preaching, by praying comfortably in public, then I am happy for that person, and would encourage him or her to continue. However, each of us must be radically honest with ourselves, and ask: Am I being nourished, becoming a better human being, by sharing in the religious practices of my church? If the answer is “yes,” that would indicate that one may well continue on that path. And yet, each one should also answer a more probing question: am I doing all that I can to grow spiritually, to be awake and alive during my own lifetime, or am I being spiritually lazy, and depending too much on outer rituals and actions?
If I did not believe that there is better in store for many of my fellow human beings, I would not write as I do. I would not criticize the Catholic hierarchy as I have done if I did not believe that it is often doing far more harm than good, and if I did not believe that “we the people” could do better than be foolishly submissive to a scandalous and morally deficient body of men. One deceives himself or herself by thinking, “the bishops, priests, and deacons are not perfect, but they are not so bad, either.” To those who deceive themselves, I seek to sound a wake-up call. In reality, however, “the cat is already out of the bag,” many men and women content to be silent in recent decades have come to understand what a wasteland is displayed to them in the ordained clergy of the churches. Frankly, it is about time that more in the pews begin to see the corruption that has been present, but often cloaked beneath clerical vestments.
“Do no harm.” I do not wish to harm the “Christian faithful,” or those more or less simple souls who cannot or will not think through problems in the churches. Many Protestants, for example, remain attached to the “holy Bible” in ways that are not mentally healthy. Still, to read the Scriptures attentively and prayerfully is a good and salutary spiritual exercise, and I would not wish them to cease, but rather, to do so more intelligently and honestly, if possible. Many practicing Catholics remain emotionally attached to the hierarchy and the rituals in ways that are not mentally or spiritually healthy; but to share attentively and lovingly in the sacramental life of the Church may give them some comfort, peace, and sense of the holiness of God. I do not wish to harm any human beings, and surely not simpler men and women who are truly doing the best they can to respond to what they believe to be their vocations, their callings, their faith.
And yet, it is good that each of us asks more questions, and not be content with the status quo, especially as the churches are dwindling in numbers, and often lacking in vitality. After all, Christ called the “poor in spirit” to follow him; he did not call the self-satisfied to remain relatively lifeless on their church pews. Furthermore, the conduct of a number of clergy has been so bad, so wicked, and so destructive, that one must speak out, must act, and must not let personal likes and dislikes cloud one’s vision. Some of these clergymen are bad human beings, corrupt in deeds and in their blind hearts. Some are just plain wicked. Do not be deceived. Worst of all, many in the churches today are being given a stone or a scorpion, when they really need spiritual bread: the living Christ, the truth of reality, and not some pretty substitutes.The “faithful” have been foolishly content with moldy bread and contaminated water.
“Do no harm.” The burden on each of us is not to harm others—nor to harm ourselves. When a bishop has let a priest-scoundrel get away with doing evil for years, that bishop has harmed many human beings—even if he tells himself, “I am being compassionate to a wayward brother priest.” How we deceive ourselves. Far better for the scoundrel and for the faithful who have been cheated and deceived if the wickedness had been publicly admitted, publicly addressed, and the evil-doer had been lopped off the tree as the dead branch he really is. Far better for the molesting or thieving priest to do time in prison, where he belongs, than to parade himself in clericals in public, as if he is a good and faithful servant of Christ. For the sake of its own presumed reputation (which is now lost anyway), the hierarchy has sacrificed the spiritual welfare of the people. And meanwhile, the scoundrel priests laugh, thinking, “I got away with it.” And what happens to the Christians in the pew? They are taught a lesson: “the Church we believed to be holy and good is in reality a corrupt and destructive human institution.” Such are the words I hear from many of the faithful who have been scandalized—not so much by the evils done, as by the excuses, the cover-ups, the pretending that nothing was wrong. As I noted above, stop pretending you are holy, Christian clergy; the cat is indeed out of the bag.
By being so blunt, as honest as I can be, am I doing harm? To those who live enshrouded in pretense, my words no doubt sting and arouse anger. So be it. To those who truly want to live good lives, how can the truth do harm? “Their wounds are foul and festering, yet they refuse to come to Me, that I may heal them.”
08 Feb 2019
07 Feb 2019
I’ll be very brief. If you did not watch Trump’s State of the Union Address delivered on Tuesday 05 Feb 2019, I encourage you to do so. Using search engines, it was needlessly difficult to find the speech, rather than edited versions or critical commentary I used a link from Newt Gingrich, who posted the entire speech on his FaceBook page watch it online
If nothing else, watch the last 20 minutes of the long speech. It includes the peroration, the part of a speech that brings the whole together, and lifts it to its height. The use of a Holocaust survivor; a man from the Pittsburgh synagogue slaughter; the officer who took seven shots taking down the synagogue attacker; and a US soldier who had parachuted into France, and who later helped to liberate Dachau was most effectively done. And then Trump pulled the speech together (the peroration) with some of the most inspiring words I have heard him utter. Even Speaker Pelosi’s face, which had been frozen during most of the speech, registered a faint smile.
I do not know who wrote the speech, but I am sure that Trump had his hand in it. The delivery was excellent, with Trump’s ability to respond to the moment, without being scripted at every moment. His very gifted son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and daughter Ivanka, may have had input into the speech (they are both Orthodox Jews, as you probably know). In any case, as a close confidant of Reagan said last evening, this is one of the greatest state of the union addresses.
I will not send this out to those I know who hate Trump. Their hatred prevents them from seeing the good. Hatred blinds. Let’s not waste time dealing with hatred, because it is a free choice of the will, and only the hater himself or herself can unlock the frozen choice and be open to the truth of reality. No one can do it for them. So I avoid entering into political arguments with haters of any stripe.
Peace and good will,
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things. There is one need: Mary has chosen the better portion, and it will not be taken from her.” In the evangelist Luke’s story, Mary was “sitting at the LORD’s feet and listening to his word” (Luke 10:38-42).
What is the one thing needful? Or is there one In the context of Luke’s story, what is necessary is not serving food, but placing oneself close to Christ and “listening to his word.” To be “in Christ Jesus” means, among other things, that one draws near to God and “listens to his word.” To be a disciple of Christ, first and foremost, one must be attentive to his word; for “Christ is the Teacher; the rest are learners (disciples).”
The one thing necessary is not “being a Christian” in the exterior sense of belonging to a church, or calling oneself “a Christian.” It is not necessary that one be an active member of a religious community, of the priesthood, of an institutional church. According to the passage in St. Luke’s gospel, one must draw near and listen to Christ. Period All the rest can be a distraction, acts of avoidance, trying to “game God,” if you will.
But is the evangelist Luke right to say this? If there is truly “one thing needful” for a human being to do, what is it? “What must I do to be saved?” “How does one enter into life?” “LORD, what would you have me do?” Are these good questions, or misleading ones?
The word that resounds in my mind, as I ask such questions, returns again and again to the simple, straight-forward words of Jesus, for one: “Seek and you will find…” Seek, and do not pretend to find, do not assume you have found, but keep seeking. Seek what? “Seek first the reign of God, and his righteousness,” as Matthew has Jesus speak in the famous “Sermon on the Mount” (MT chapters 5-7). In the background one hears the prophets: “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon Him while He is near.” In a phrase: seek the presence of God.
To seek to enter into the divine presence is, I submit, one way of expressing the one thing needful for every human being to become truly happy and fulfilled. Because we are bodily creatures, we must also seek shelter, food, clothing, companionship. As Matthew also lets his version of Christ tell us, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. Seek first his reign, his way of righteousness, and all of these other things will be added to you.” Or not, perhaps. What does it mean to “seek God’s kingdom, God’s reign”? Not what the chattering voices in churches often tell us: to be members of the church; to put donations in the plate; to “build the city of God;” to work to establish some organization, community, way of life on earth. These are all secondary—as secondary as the churches are themselves. Secondary at best. What does it mean to “seek the Kingdom?” It means to seek to enter into the Presence—“not tomorrow, not today, but now,” borrowing a phrase from Dr. M. L. King, who was speaking then of social action. I am speaking of pre-social action, non-social action: spiritual action.
And what does it mean to seek to enter into the Presence? This seeking is the one thing necessary, the one thing needful. Not church attendance, not giving money, not spending all of one’s time and resources “doing good for others,” however good and beautiful and needful such actions are. Most necessary because utterly foundational for a human life is that a man, woman, or child turn his or her inner heart in the direction of that which is called “God.” Or one can call it “nirvana,” or “inner peace.” All such experiences can be truly clarified only by one who engages in the activity. Do not begin with speculation, and surely not with arguing about that which one ought to seek with the inner heart. Just do it. Whether you begin by calling it “You,” or “God,” or “Peace,” or “holy Mother,” truly does not matter. “Spirit,” “YHWH,” “Krishna,” “Tao.” It does not matter, for it is not confined or limited in any way, and not by any name we little ones wish to give it. Be wary of anyone who tells you, “You must do it my way, using my words.” Baloney. It knows no barriers, no formulations, no doctrinal fixations.
The Christianity of the churches (especially the Protestant and Catholic churches, but probably Orthodox churches as well) have for too long been content to play church, to “get people involved,” to try to organize for action in some way, or just to get folks to “attend the services.” All of these promotions by the churches are secondary at best, and often another form of distraction, a derailment from a genuine life. “For what does it profit a human being to gain the whole world and lose his soul in the process?” What does it profit one to get involved in churchy activities (including liturgies, sacramental, committees, etc) if one neglects to “sit at the LORD’s feet and listen to His word”? What gain is there in any exterior activities called “religious” unless one first and foremost keeps seeking to redirect the heart within: in a phrase, to seek God?
What does it mean to seek God? What does it mean to “seek to enter into the divine Presence?” First of all, it means to let go of the exterior—all things and persons—and to move the mind in silence towards that which is not seen, felt, heard, known. “The Tao that can be expressed is not the Tao,” and the god that can be imagined or even imaged in one’s mind is not truly God, or that which simply is. The God one imagines is not God. To seek God is to become simply present to that which presents itself now: a voice out of a flaming fire, as to Moses “the man of God”; a still small voice, as to Elijah the prophet; “the drawing of this Love and the voice of this calling…”
Ever begin afresh. That which one seeks is like the sun of Herakleitos: it is “new every day.” And what is most necessary, what is seeking the divine Presence? To keep responding to the unknown which is moving you to seek it now. Live a life, here and now, attending and stretching into the unimagined. What can be named is only a name; let it go. What can be imagined is a mere image; let it go. What you have heard said, is a mere reporting, suspend. What you remember, is fading. You—attend now. You are being drawn. Will you respond? Or do you prefer to play doctrinal, liturgical, sacramental, churchy games? Let them all go. You, attend now. For you, as you truly are, are being moved into that which truly is.
And what does this mean? It means not describing in words, but being-doing in practice: No one can fully or adequately explain to another what to be, what to do, for each is being drawn as one is, not as another is. It has its own ways, apparently, with moving each into it—into the unnamed, unspoken, into the abyss of dark stillness. Just do it. No one else can do it for you. You are a unique being, and that means that you must respond as it moves you to respond: making no excuses, clinging to nothing, hiding behind no churches (like Adam hiding from the divine Presence in the garden).
Mary responded as It presented itself to her: she sat at the the feet of Jesus and listened to his words. She was stirred, and she dropped down at his feet, enthralled by his words. This woman became utterly absorbed in what Christ was saying to her. Nothing else mattered to her at that time. She became one with Christ speaking to her. Martha was not even fully engaged in serving food, for she was “anxious and troubled about many things.” Martha was a model of the hyper-active Christian or social do-gooder. Mary is a model of genuine divine service, of true worship. “God is Spirit, and those who worship must do so in spirit and in truth.” Mary, this character in St. Luke’s brief story, is worshiping in spirit and in truth: she is being who she most truly is, doing right now what matters for her genuine life: being in the presence of the LORD, and listening. Mary and the word become one. And ever again, “the word was made flesh,” here and now in Mary, listening.
“Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” For many of us: it is so hard to listen in churches because of so much noise and commotion. “You have made this place a den of thieves,” as Christ says. Much of the training in Christianity received in the churches is precisely how not to be a true seeker of God. The training in churches is to be a busy-body among busy-bodies, embodied in the man who cannot sit still, but who looks around for someone else to watch. So much time wasted in the churches, by the churches. Better to turn the lights down low, and teach the faithful how to sit still and listen to the silent voice. Perhaps we need to suspend our ritualistic services, take out cushions, and just sit still.
And that is what I must do, and will do, right now. “The rest is silence.”
06 Feb 2019
“The word of the LORD came to me:
`Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel:
Thus says the LORD God:
Woe to the shepherds who have pastured themselves!
Should not shepherds, rather, shepherd sheep?
I swear, I am coming against these shepherds.
I will claim my sheep from them
and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep
so that they may no longer pasture themselves.
I myself will shepherd my sheep, says the LORD."
(Ezekiel 34:1-16, passim)
Not only the Catholic Church, but the other Christian churches, too, have often been betrayed by poor shepherding. If you doubt this, where have you been? What one finds in churches are often false shepherds who seek to live a life of ease, and who neglect the spiritual welfare of those human beings in their care. What have they done instead of nourishing their people? “They have fattened themselves for the day of slaughter.”
How many clergy today—Catholic or Protestant—even know what it means to care for souls, to help build up Christ in the mind and heart and soul of each of the faithful? How many so-called “pastors” or “ministers of Christ” are pastors at all? Do not many of them put on clerical dress, but remain (underneath the pretty clothes) all too empty of Spirit themselves to inspire, to guide, to help cleanse, to help heal those in their care? How many so-called “pastors” are going through liturgical motions—often quite empty gestures—and neglect to nourish the people on the living word of God? They think that sticking a host in someone’s mouth or hands is the best way to share Christ. That would be the best way if human beings had no minds—or for minds that are not enquiring, who are truly the “poor in spirit.” These so-called “pastors” and “priests” put on a fancy show, but do not communicate the Spirit of the living God, for they cannot give what they themselves do not have.
How many clergy are so attuned to the word of God echoing within their own hearts that they are able to share that living word with their people? How many are capable of hearing God’s word and trembling before the Almighty? How many can do as the Apostle Paul says, preaching Christ “from faith to faith,” from the faith of the speaker into the faithful heart of the hearer of the word? From what shows up in various churches and denominations: all too few ministers have the trust that comes from a split-open heart. So many are of these clerical cardboard cut-outs are in truth failed shepherds. Why? Not allowing themselves to live under the present Judgment of God, they cannot communicate the powerful truth of divine judgment and mercy to anyone, to man and beast alike.
What does it mean for a man or woman to be a true pastor? A true pastor is a man or woman who daily and frequently presents himself or herself before the presence of the LORD. A true pastor is a naked soul tended by God, because this human being allows the light of the divine Mind to shine in, to reveal hidden secrets of the heart, to judge by divine truth, to convert his or her heart again and again. A true shepherd lives in the presence of God, for God, and for his or her own true spiritual welfare. Living in the presence of God, one ever stands judged; and one who is judged and turns back to God is healed by timely and kindly mercy. Only if a human being willingly stands before the burning fire of God can that person carry the living word of God to others. Frankly, it is that simple, regardless of churchy gobbledygook or hierarchical pretensions. Mere ordination no more makes a real pastor than a wedding ceremony makes a real marriage.
How many clergy, Catholic and Protestant, merely play church? They squander the time they’ve been allotted to communicate Christ by putting far too much emphasis on liturgical roles and liturgical rules. In truth, that may be the best some of these fellows can do. Instead of standing spiritually stripped before their people gathered in prayer, they clothes themselves in fancy vestments, pre-fab prayers, and canned homilies, for they dare not just open up their own hearts and mouths and speak as the Spirit gives utterance. They cannot do this, because they have been hiding from God behind the walls of Churchianity. And when they preach, it is not words taught by the Spirit to them in prayer, in study, and in life’s experiences; rather, they read words concocted by someone else, taken from a magazine or downloaded online. Do they even bother to credit the source of these borrowed or stolen words? Hardly. They present someone’s musings as their own. And they are usually safe, general, and feel-good babble. Why can they not preach the Word in truth? Perhaps because they are boxed in by fear or a lack of trust. Whatever the cause, they do not listen to the word in the presence of the faithful. They do not pray for the working of the Spirit, letting the divine speak through their mouths into the minds and hearts of the faithful. And why do they not speak in the Spirit by the Spirit, here and now? Because they do not know how to do it, or perhaps they are afraid that too much will be revealed about themselves that they prefer to hide. (Have you noticed how many clergy hide?) Above all, they do not speak by the Spirit—who is not canned or boxed or fixed in scripted words—because they are not men and women of the Spirit. They pride themselves on being “ordained clergy,” but barely anointed by the Spirit of the living God. Rarely if ever does it cross their minds that Jesus was not ordained anything by human beings; he was a man of the Spirit alone.
False pastors—pretending priests, if you will—do not know that a genuine communication of the Word of God in the present, standing with and for God’s people, is the primary means by which a true pastor tends the flock entrusted to his or her care. If this clergy person would truly trust God, and let divine wisdom and understanding speak through his or her mouth, then the faithful would see what it means to have real faith, and not mere churchy belief. No one is spiritually enlivened by churchy beliefs. They are “weary, stale, flat and unprofitable” to themselves, and most unfortunately to their fellow human beings. And even more importantly, if the assigned minister were actually to speak God’s word from his or her own heart to the heart of the faithful, hearts would be nourished on real heavenly food, and gradually set aflame with the same divine Spirit active in the preacher’s heart.
Why is the Spirit not so evident in our churches today? Because those who have been “ordained” or “called” to speak words as taught by the Spirit do not listen to God, do not hear God, are not confronted by God, judged by God, liberated by God. All too many of these clergy-folks are on spiritual life-support, nourishing themselves on stale rituals, written words, man-made rules. How can men and women who are themselves so malnourished truly share in the feeding and tending of God’s people? They can’t.
And frankly, the people in the pews are a major part of the problem. For far too long, for many years, Catholic and Protestant ministers have gotten away with spiritual deadness, for feeding the people psycho-babble and social claptrap. The faithful have not demanded far better from those entrusted with communicating Christ Jesus to them. And why not? Many of the faithful are not so faithful at all! They, too, want a life of ease, of pleasure, of doing whatsoever they want. “God forbid that we be judged! God forbid that we be confronted by the truth! No, no, give us only sweet words, pleasant words, make us smile and laugh at church. Keep that living God stuff far away. We like it much better just the way it is: comfortable, easy, not challenging, not provocative, not anything but easy mush. That’s just the way we want it.”
“And NOW is the Judgment,
that the Light has come into the world,
but human beings loved darkness rather than light,
because their deeds were evil.
For every one who does evil hates the light,
and refuses to come to the light,
lest his deeds should be exposed.
But he who does what it true comes to the light,
that it may be clearly seen
that his deeds have been wrought in God.” (John 3)
Well, “Christian faithful,” have you really been faithful to God? Or have you been faithless? Have you been listening to the voice of the living God, or to your own self-affirming voices? Have you allowed the divine light of truth to penetrate your hearts? Here’s a simple test, brothers and sisters: Before the church service begins, do you even bother to ask the Holy Spirit to rip open your heart to the truth of God? Or are you too busy making faces at babies and babbling to children to bare your soul to God? As Jesus asked Judas, “Friend, why are you here?” Why are you sitting on that pew?
In short, there are two main reasons for the failure of pastors to shepherd human beings: The pastors are often mere churchmen, mere pretenders, largely devoid of the Spirit themselves; and that is exactly what many church-goers want: smiley clergy dressed up, pretty music, and comfortable, non-provocative, feel-good words. In other words, they want to remain as they are: spiritually moribund.
Well, one usually receives from God what one truly wants. God is blameless. We are the ones who have fallen far short of the divine Judge.
—Wm. Paul McKane, MTmonk
02 February 2019
Feast of the Presentation