I have not been writing blogs or short essays on politics in America recently, because nearly anything that I can write or say is being said more intelligently by a number of others now, and especially by Professor Victor Davis Hanson. I highly recommend all the articles he is writing on what is taking place in our country. The one element I may be adding to his analysis is seeing what the “Progressives” and “Socialists” are doing in America as another case of a Gnostic mass movement, essentially similar to the Puritan Revolution, the French Revolution, Communism (in Russia, in China, and so on), and National Socialism (in Germany). Search online and you will find Professor Hanson’s analysis of our hard core left in America.
27 Feb 2020
To family and friends,
When I receive emails, especially from one of you, that keep repeating the ugly, hateful propaganda that I read about and hear daily from the mass media in our country, I respond. If you do not want any response, stop attacking Trump and those who are conservative. You can just say nothing, and do not call names, or attack political opponents.
I hear no similar talk from anyone else in my life—no one. People here are commonsensical and show little interest in national politics—and surely no interest in “changing the world.” What is true here in Montana is true of much of our country away from large cities, especially on the two coasts. Rather than promote all of this “social change,” we are content to live our lives in peace, to work, to recreate. Politics is not a high concern to most Montanans. Nor was it in South Dakota or Iowa. It is so refreshing to live among people who are not obsessed with hating political leaders and their supporters with whom they disagree.
At least since President Trump was elected, the left in America has undertaken a sustained character assassination not only of the President, but of his supporters. My goodness, one stupid woman even carried around the likeness of a severed head of Trump, and passed that off as comedy. It is sick and promotes hatred and violence. So do the “Antifa” attacks seen in cities such as Portland. Or the constant political nonsense from Democrats and the bureaucracy in DC. Consider that the leading elected Democrat in our country sat behind the President when he delivered his State of the Union a month or so ago and visibly tore up her official copy of the speech (intended to be placed in the public record). I’ll bet such open and wanton disrespect has never been done before in our history.
Leftists do not realize, or do not care, that they are destroying our country. The policies promoted or tolerated are destroying our traditional way of life. Leftists voice disdain, hatred, for what many of us hold dear. Talk about disrespect! What else is being spewed on MSNBC, CNN, ABC, etc, on a daily basis? And from self-important fools such as Schiff and Pelosi in Congress? What a disgrace to our nation the hard core left is. What I see in these actors is hatred, and under that, their will to power. Why hate Trump? Because he gained what the left most wants: not eternal life, not true happiness and peace, but political power to “transform the world,” or “save the planet,” using phrases from Obama.
From my studies of mass political movements since the late Middle Ages, I am increasingly convinced that the “Progressives” in America are a totalitarian mass movement. There is no essential difference between our hard-core leftists and the Communist movements in Russia that gained power, or the National Socialists in Germany, or the Castro revolution in Cuba. They also were motivated by claims to expert knowledge, to know what is best for humanity, a strong will to power to impose their “dreams” or “visions” or “plans” on everyone else, and their hatred and attempted annihilation of political opponents. Whatever stands in the way of these extreme ideologues is subject to constant attack, to “resistance,” to hatred.
What I am writing would be understood and appreciated by nearly everyone I know personally. We non-leftists see what is being done to our country. Trump has brought the activities and motivations to the surface, because he is the target of so much vituperation day after day. He has not “drained the swamp” (a phrase Pelosi used when she first became Speaker of the House years ago), but Trump has exposed the swamp.
What you may or may not realize is that the entire fabric of our country is being destroyed before our eyes. Under the name of “politics,” the “progressives” are effectively undermining not only our Constitution, but our Republic, our limited Government, the work of the Founders, and the entire basis of our American way of life. Marxists always loved “globalization,” and disrespected individual countries—until they gained power, and sought to “build Socialism in one country” (a phrase used by Soviet leaders, but it fits the Nazis and Castros as well). The demand for more “centralized political power,” to “fight climate change,” is another leftist ploy to advance their “vision.” These “dreams” in effect undermine and destroy the way of life of everyday citizens who want to mind their own business and live in a degree of freedom.
This is what I have been watching with disgust. The left is destroying our country. The best way to see their tricks is to hear the charges they level against their opponents. Everything the left does is smoked out by these charges. It is not the Trump administration that sought to destroy political opponents; it was the Obama administration and Democratic leaders, supported by their followers in government and the mass media. Want to see the tricks of the “progressive left”? Stand back and listen to the charges they level. It has been one huge smoke-screen to mask from the American people exactly what they have been doing. And why? To gain power to “transform the world” (again, Obama’s phrase, lifted from Marx).
It seems that many Democrats and Socialists and Progressives (using their own labels) do not see what is happening. Well, do you think that the Bolsheviks and National Socialists saw that they were destroying Russian or German society? Hardly. Or if it was seen, it was embraced: the traditional ways must be destroyed to pave the way for our “brave new world,” borrowing a phrase from Shakespeare’s Tempest. The ideologue does not accept reality as it is, but is hell-bent to force his or her “vision” of change on everyone else. That is the disease that is destroying our country. “Don’t tread on me” is being torn up by wealthy, powerful leftists in our country seeking to impose their will on everyone. Again, this is essentially the Gnostic enterprise that has caused major wars and social upheavals in our civilization since the late Middle Ages. It is not new. “Progressives” do not know, or want to know, just how similar they are to the self-styled “Puritans” who rocked and killed and destroyed in 17th century England, or the “Enlightened” ones who brought so much upheaval to France and Europe in the late 18th century. Or the Communists or National Socialists. Folks, "we’ve seen this movie before." But some refuse to admit that they are falling into this pattern of human destruction.
Wm. Paul McKane
Saints are not perfect. But they love God more than themselves. And they love their neighbor—the person in need right near them.
Politics is the religion of true-believing leftists in America. Ignoring God, what else do they have to “change the world,” their “god”?
“Blessed the one who blesses God; blessed the one who curses God; cursed be the one who ignores God.” A saying of the rabbis.
The gift of life is to be cherished and lived well. To hate or to kill another is an attempted assault on the Creator of all.
From the moment of conception to natural death, each human being belongs not to himself or herself, but to God, first and foremost.
Christ is made visible when one human being lovingly tends another.
All ways of worship or serving God are not equal, but each one deserves respect unless it is self-deceiving or human-abusing.
Are our country’s best days behind us, or ahead of us? In truth, we do not know; our fate is ever in the balance. Nothing is assured but individual death and eventual death of our society.
Live each day, each moment, as if it could be one’s last. It may be.
Do not delay doing and being what are most essential: truly to love; to speak the truth; to do one’s best; to seek God in all and above all.
Be grateful for the joys and the sorrows that come one’s way. Joy is far more pleasant, but the sorrows of life can build character, if accepted with a humble attitude.
“You are not your own; you were bought with a price.” St. Paul
A human being who cannot rule himself, herself, surely is not fit to seek to rule anyone else.
What is it but hypocrisy for one to espouse “egalitarianism” while living in a mansion, or having considerable wealth?
If you seek political power, live like the lowly person in your midst.
The best teachings of ethics and politics come through setting a good example of a life well lived.
If you want to see society “share its wealth,” why not begin by sharing all that you have?
The poverty of Jesus and St. Francis speak far more convincingly, far more eloquently, than all the slogans and programs of political activists.
Is it not strange for the Pope to speak about accepting all immigrants into one’s country when he lives in a walled city-state that does not welcome immigrants?
The talk about “climate change” in a political context is primarily being used as a means to gain overwhelming power over others.
The extreme left in American politics—self-styled “progressives” and “socialists”—is the nucleus of a major totalitarian political movement, unlike any seen in American history.
What hypocrisy and pretense to hear a man or woman talk about the disasters of “climate change” when s/he travels around in a private jet—or lives in a very large house.
What is there about Americans—and not only our young people—who are so easily duped by idealistic fanatics who promise so much and deliver so little?
Anyone who will not serve God wholeheartedly is enslaved to himself: his ego, his opinions, his delusions, his desires.
Many Americans in fact live in slavery today: slavery to themselves, to their desires, to their lust for power, to their greed, to their childish thinking.
“Thinking themselves wise, they became fools.” We see the truth of these words in our “educators,” “experts,” “scientists,” “entertainers,” and other know-it-alls.
A man of science may know a little in his chosen field of study, but when he opines on any other subject, he often displays more ignorance than “the common man,” who lives by common sense.
Institutions of “higher education” in America have become purveyors of many untruths, much pride, and sheer foolishness.
If you want to see a “ship of fools,” walk around on an American college campus, and just listen to what people are saying, and watch what they do.
Lack of spiritual maturity and virtues in many Americans have contributed mightily to the growth of our enormous Federal Government.
There is no substitute for personal self-governance; without a self-controlled population, we are veering between near anarchy and a growing totalitarian political regime.
America, watch out! You are becoming more of a totalitarian political society than were National Socialist Germany or the Soviet Union.
Our Federal Government has shown that it has the tools and often the will to control, to dominate, and to destroy.
The modest Federal regime conceived by our Founding Fathers, and enshrined in the Constitution of 1787, has swollen into an unrecognizable Leviathan.
By allowing our governments to become so large, so powerful, we have betrayed our modest, republican roots.
One often becomes like what he hates. We hated National Socialism and Soviet Communism, and behold what we are becoming in the name of “Progress.”
May each of our citizens love God and love our fellow citizens, but learn to be skeptical of those who hold political power—as our Founding Fathers were. They knew what was in the human heart.
The will to power, the lust to dominate others, is, together with cruelty, the most demonic force in the human heart. There is no one who must not struggle against such forces.
The most dangerous demagogue or would-be political leader is the one who assures you of how pure their own motives are, and how all they want to “to serve the people.” Beware the beast in the heart.
The most dangerous political leaders in America have presented themselves as good and loving human beings, who seek only to serve the public good.
We are all deeply flawed human beings; some just hide it better than others.
A good person knows and admits his lack of goodness; a wicked person is self-deceived, and seeks to deceive others.
If a politician is widely praised by journalists in the mass media, it is very likely that that politician is dangerous, and a potential demagogue.
Most people—including most political commentators and journalists—are easily fooled by those who smoothly present themselves as good, well-intentioned, intelligent.
The most dangerous political leader is the one who many believe is highly virtuous and worthy of following.
In a society such as ours, a political demagogue is known by the friendly smoothness of his words and ways, as a “real man of the people.”
Better a leader who is clumsy and obviously flawed than one who presents himself or herself as a political “savior.”
How real “climate change” is best left to a fair and detailed study by climatologists; it is “beyond my pay grade."
An enormous political danger in our society and in others in this century is the use of “climate change” hysteria as an excuse to amass enormous power in the hands of the ruling class.
America has a small “elite” ruling class. They are most easily spotted by proclaiming themselves “friends of democracy,” even as they seek and hold much power themselves.
“Science is a sacred cow.” There is much wisdom in that old formulation.
Beware of those who lust for power and mind-control under the guise of being “experts” and “scientists.”
A real man or woman of science desires to stay far away from anything to do with political power.
It is not Aristotle but Karl Marx who sets the pattern for many of our “learned folks” today: the goal of their “science” is “to change the world.”
Anyone who seeks political power is thereby demonstrating that they must be viewed with much healthy skepticism.
—25 Feb 2020
To be continued
It is not enough to criticize so-called education in America for failures and for poor performance. Failures of our political institutions, especially on the state and federal levels, to govern well and to enact justice are reaching a truly dangerous level that jeopardizes the survival of this regime. The mass media are powerfully engaged in “re-educating” the American public in the image of extreme left-wing “progressivism” to guarantee the death of traditional American beliefs and ways of life, and to usher in an era of extreme left-wing domination in all facets of our lives. These problems are enormous and deserving of analysis. For the present purpose, I’ll focus on churches in America, and most particularly on the Catholic Church as it is today—not in the glory days, perhaps, of generations or centuries ago. Rather than nourish our people in developing sounds spiritual lives, our powerful religious institutions have generally failed in that critical mission.
As a Benedictine monk and priest in the Catholic Church, it would be expected that I would not criticize the institutional Church, but quietly and submissively ignore the evident flaws in the Church and members. It is in effect an unwritten law of the Church that priests do not publicly criticize the institution and fellow clergy, lest they be condemned or at least ostracized. I’ve already been condemned and ostracized within the established Church; the only thing left to be done with me might be more public censorship, or a forced “laicization,” or physically being gagged, or secretly “taken out” by some “accident.” Or any voice such as mine is simply ignored, relegated to the “ash heap of history.”
Reflecting on what I have observed from more than forty years as a practicing Catholic—and during most of these years as a Benedictine monk and as a parish priest—the predominant sense in me is one of strong disappointment at what the Church has become. The primary failure of the Catholic Church has been its neglect of the spiritual, moral, and intellectual well-being of parishioners across the country. For decades, left-wing ideologies have replaced genuine spiritual formation, as numerous churches and religious orders became far more interested in “social justice” and “transforming the world” than in sharing in the wholesome, life-giving transformation of human beings into the living Body of Christ. Political preaching and social action replaced spiritual formation.
I saw this pattern intensely in my hometown of Missoula while I was a high school student. Although not a Catholic at the time, I attended some Catholic Masses and spoke with several priests, and was amazed at the focus on leftist political change. With trepidation I later returned to serve as a priest in western Montana, given what I had seen in Missoula; but I returned to be near my elderly parents in their late years. Soon I was smacked with reality: the priest in Missoula whose “Mass” I attended made up the entire liturgy, rejected references to Christ dying for our sins and his resurrection, had women do the blessing over the gifts, radically changed the “words of institution” themselves, and so on. He did not celebrate the Catholic Mass at all, but officiated at a feel-good quasi-religious service with social justice teaching and “egalitarian” practices. As a Benedictine monk-priest accustomed to actual Catholic liturgies, I was shocked, and discussed what I saw with that priest. He was friendly, and assured me (as I recall) that he was being “ecumenical” and “inclusive.” Without saying anything to me at the time, he probably thought of me as some “ultra-conservative, traditionalistic Catholic,” which I have never been.
A few weeks later I encountered a similar but less extreme pattern in the parish to which I was sent to serve as an associate pastor, in Kalispell, Montana: left-wing political ideology had clearly replaced the proclamation of the gospel, and the faithful were malnourished. The proclamation of Christ was too much for the pastor and the staff who quickly had me removed for being “too traditional” and “dividing the parish.” These political ideologues had a monopoly on the “truth” in that parish, and did not want it threatened.
Meanwhile, evangelicals in this country have often doctrinalized and propagandized the faithful with what is essentially bibliolatry—worship of a book rather than the living God. Their preaching may appear to be more authentically “Christ-centered,” but it is often a highly subjective, even Gnostic spirituality which they impart, that says, in effect: “I know that I am saved; either believe as I do, or you are going to hell.” And they “believe in the Bible as the word of God.” In short, the churches—Catholic and Protestant—have largely failed to nourish the faithful in Christ. Our people are spiritually “running on low.”
I am profoundly disappointed, scandalized, and frankly, disgusted to a high degree at what I have seen in the churches in our country. The institutional churches clearly seem to be far more focused on making money and protecting their own institutional existence than in providing solid spiritual formation for the faithful. In this sense, as with our educational establishment, so with the churches: there is much that could and should be called a “con game”—a confidence game used to acquire monies from the unsuspecting. Here I am thinking not only of such fundamentalistic groups as the “Latter Day Saints” (Mormons), but also of evangelical churches, mainline Protestant churches, and the Catholic church. What I have seen has been deeply disturbing. As no few Catholic and other Christians would admit: “the church seems to be all about money.” In a word, this is disgusting. As an elderly priest said to me on several occasions: “In France, follow the woman; in the Church, follow the money.” Standing back and examining our church life, it does seem to be “all about the money.” That is at least true far, far, too often, and to a high degree.
There is also the enormous problem of bad men parading as clergy. I encountered first hand the case of a diocesan priest who stole huge sums of monies from his parishioners offerings—all done through various deceits. He was indeed a deceitful, clever, and greedy thief in clerical garb. And what was the official reaction to his con games when some of us brought his criminal actions to light? Whatever was thought, that thief still functions in public as a Catholic priest. As his superior told me, “The priests feel entitled” to steal monies from parishioners. Clearly, bishops overlook such actions, as long as chanceries get their required take ($$) from parishioners. If bishops took strong action against thieving priests (as well as deacons and bishops), there would probably be a clerical uprising on their hands, or their own public condemnation for one reason or another. Fellow priests keep silent—whether because they share in the same activities, or just refuse to “get involved,” lest their own sins be exposed. For turning in this priest as a thief, I was effectively ostracized by other Catholic clergy in that diocese.
The problems of wickedness in clergy include far more than stealing, lying, and deceiving the faithful. As noted, the main problem is the neglect of the parishioners’ spiritual lives. But there is more blatant evil that shows up. I doubt that there is any priest serving in this generation who has not seen other priests who are active, heavily drinking alcoholics—a reality for years covered up by their more sober “brothers.” Even to a far greater degree, I think every priest knows himself or other priests who are living active sexual lives while pretending to be “celibate.” (As several clergy told me, “I vowed not to marry; I did not promise not to have sex.”) Whether its sex with children, adult women, or adult men, problems of clerical sexual abuse are rampant and have been disguised and hidden. Why? If the “faithful” knew the truth, they might cease giving money to keep the institution alive, or keep their own parish open. Or perhaps the belief is that it is better to deceive the faithful than to “scandalize them” with the truth. Well, they have been deceived, and increasingly, as these evils come to light, they are scandalized, and no few walk away from the Church altogether. Examine the declining church attendance, and wonder why. (The main problem remains the failure to form the faithful in Christ.) The threat to “close the parish” hangs as a sword over many faithful, and serves to keep them quiet and “obedient” to the hierarchy. Catholics often love their parishes, and would do anything to keep them—even turn blind evils to rampant evil, or bring bad or poor-performing clergy to light.
That there are some men serving in the priesthood who are good and noble, I do not deny. I have personally known some virtuous and Christ-centered priests. However, priests usually keep silent in the face of evils, and in effect are co-opted by the system into “obeying.” “Shut up and obey” is the unspoken rule imparted to clergy and to religious in the Church—and indeed, to the faithful as well. Oftentimes the non-ordained have seen some of the serious problems—grand theft, priests or bishops sexually acting out, widespread failure to nourish the people spiritually—and they, too, have kept silent, because they have also imbibed that unspoken rule: “Shut up and obey,” with an additional phrase for parishioners: “And pay up—or your parish will be closed.”
I have no recommendations for “how to reform the Church.” I truly do not know what would be best, nor what could actually work. That the institution and many of its personnel are spiritually and morally corrupt should now be clear to anyone willing to see and to admit the truth they see. (Willful blindness has been strongly evident in clergy—and in Catholic and Protestant faithful—for centuries.) What is more likely than sane and healthy reform would be that the institutional Church and the priesthood keep limping along, giving lip service to “reform,” and “calling wrong-doers to account,” while in reality, virtually nothing is done in most cases—unless legal pressure is brought to bear, as moral suasion does not work on men of truly low character. And worst of all, the faithful are spiritually malnourished, and often do not know it, or know how to seek spiritual nourishment. They’ve been taught to be “good Catholics,” rather than good and prudent human beings who truly seek God. And priests are praised for being “men of the Church” (that is, obedient to the hierarchy) rather than men of Christ and the truth. In short, there is much spiritual and moral sickness in our churches, which only genuine and sustained return to Christ and God can heal. All else is “window-dressing” and more deceit.
For writing and posting this short blog, I should not be surprised if official permission for me to function as a priest in the Church be withdrawn. I accept the consequences of daring to speak the truth as I see it—I will “shake the dust off my feet.” For centuries, churches (like other political and social institutions) have survived cloaked in deceit and cover-ups. As it is, I receive no financial support from any Catholic institution (or person), nor do I seek it; hence, I cannot be thrown off the “gravy train” that serves to keep some good clergy quiet.
Fr. Wm. P. McKane, OSB
17 February 2020
Painful—not pleasant—to see and to understand
That what I took for education in America
Is not worth much at all, much of it an empty show.
Even worse, my “education” was not worth much,
Although I had some good teachers and professors.
Were we deceived, or did we deceive ourselves,
Thinking that we were “educated,” had some learning,
But in reality, we are clever fools and often scoundrels?
Having graduated from high school, from undergraduate university studies, from “earning” a Master’s and then a doctorate (Ph.D); and having studied in the monastery and an additional three or four years of graduate work in theology for ordination—I must ask: Was it worthwhile? How much money was spent on this “education”? More importantly, how many years of my life were to some degree wasted being “educated,” but not truly becoming educated in any real sense of the word? What could I have done with my life that would have been more worthwhile than “earning degrees,” especially in so-called “political science”?
“There’s no use crying over spilled milk.” Now in my seventieth year, I surely cannot redeem so much lost time, or make good on this so-called “education.” On the other hand, I am genuinely thankful for some things I learned, and for some of the good teachers who sought to inspire, instruct, guide me in learning. My mind often returns to Miss Bradley and Miss Stevenson, grades 5 and 6 at P.S. 15 in Crestwood, New York. These two matronly, unmarried women were genuine teachers, and surely helped to educate me in a good sense. And I had other teachers in school, high school, at in the universities at which I studied who were educators, and not mere instructors. And I studied a number of works that were well worth my time—Greek tragedy, Shakespeare, Aristotle’s Ethics, Plato’s dialogues, the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, some other works of philosophy and theology. The study of classical Greek was some of the most useful learning I did (as well as studying Latin, Spanish, French, and German). So not everything was wasted by any means.
What is it I missed? Growing up. I missed the development of practical skills, and learning common sense through physical work and dealing with people outside of “academia.” I learned virtually no skill with my hands, other than typing, and a little keyboard work. What I really missed was a solid personal, emotional, moral foundation from home life, and then opportunities to develop “life skills” learned. My early life and upbringing were so disordered and often painful that it nearly guaranteed that anything learned would be “bookish,” and not of much use to one so stunted within. I could say, “I tried,” but as one hears in AA, “triers are liars.” So I shall not claim that I actually tried. On the contrary, often I wasted time and “goofed off” in my “education,” and rarely was I challenged to work hard, truly to apply myself to studying. Hence, overall, much of this “education” was for me a waste of time, and much of that is my own fault.
More than this I need not write at this time. Anything said about education in America may be painful to hear, so I limit myself now to a few sentences:
Much of what is offered in our schools and universities is propaganda and a con game. Why do so many students attend colleges and universities, and learn so little? What they receive is very expensive brain-washing, and a removal from the kinds of work in life in which young people might properly grow up and mature. Education in America is largely a vast effort of malformation. Enough said for the present.
Wm. Paul McKane
17 February 2020
Below we explore problems of unbelief and faith, of a genuine desire to find God and the experience of God’s absence in our lives, including perhaps our experiences in Christianity today. It seems evident to me that for many years now, “churchianity” has not provoked questions and seeking in the minds of those who attend, but rather “belief,” “obedience,” and monetary contributions. This kind of Christianity is in serious trouble dying, in effect “dying of experiential atrophy.” It is not reaching into the hearts and minds of inquiring men and women.
This problem of unbelief in the churches is part of the background for the first of the two following prayer-poems; the first one below (A) was written on 28 January, the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas. The speaker in the poem is longing for a sense of God’s presence, for a “touchable God,” and not just for religious services, books, clergy, and so on. Although the way of expressing the experience of absence in the churches used in this tanka-poem may not speak to many, in effect, it does express what in our culture feel and think.
Then on 29 January I found in my mind a response to the prayer, and that response was written up as a tanka-poem, and was given the title, B. “Christ’s Crown.” The solution employed in this poem would probably be highly rare, but it is a graphic way of communicating Christ’s presence for his people.
Please be aware that these two tanka-poems are literary compositions, and not meant to be historical documents or psychoanalysis. To what extent they are true to my own present experience, is not what matters for you. The use of “I” here may be a literary device, and not necessarily refer to the writer. What matters is that you truly seek God; and if these poems aid you in that process, then they are useful for you. If they do not aid you, please do not waste time trying to figure out about whom they may be written. I hope that they speak to you.
(Greek words below: Selene is the Greek goddess identified with the Moon; Aphrodite is the Greek name for the goddess of love and beauty; her Roman equivalent was Venus. Venus-Aphrodite is the divine wonder you see in the night sky, and may know as the planet Venus. By the way, when I see the planet Venus, I think of the goddess of love and of beauty; do you? Or have you become more secularized than you may realize or want to admit to yourself, and “just see a planet” (whatever that may be).
The third section below (C) is a reflection on someone called “a friend,” words that are not fully applicable for the reasons explained. It was the best I could do at the present time to understand a set of human experiences that I find genuinely baffling, mysterious.
I will conclude the present blog with this section. Whether or not I will have anything more to write in time, I do not know. I follow the lead of questions, insights, thoughts, and feelings that emerge into consciousness. Writing them down is a way to exercise fides quaerens intellectum: faith seeking understanding, an activity that remains my foremost mode of praying or seeking God.
A. A Prayer-Poem to Christ
I try to love you,
And I hope to love you well,
But Jesus, Spirit,
I need to love you enfleshed,
Not just untouchably.
You give me some friends
from whom I can feel your love,
And see your work hands,
And hear your voice speak and sing:
In friends you show your love.
You dwell within me,
Within each human being;
Rarely do I sense
That you are present to me,
Often I feel sheer absence.
After Christmas Mass,
Late night in the home of friends,
I beheld your face,
Glowing on the joyful face
Of a beloved friend of yours.
Present in this host,
Who gathered friends for you,
Your own Eucharist--
Not until Mass was finished,
And we spoke, did I behold you.
Not in Eucharist
Do I find you, Lord Jesus;
Not in the blood of Christ
Do I taste your forgiveness,
But in human kindnesses.
If some find you, Lord,
In religious rituals,
Or in the word preached,
Or music sung, or prayers,
That’s between you, Lord, and them.
I’m not hearing you
Speak in words read, preached, or prayed;
Nor in bread and cup;
Nor in my lone emptiness;
I’m receiving you through friends.
That’s now yesterday;
I do not know how you will come
Into this human being,
Not yesterday but today.
I hope to hear you
As I pray and read your word;
I hope to find you
In my mind’s searching for you;
All your ways need disclosing.
You surprise me, Lord,
Coming when and as you will;
A true Eucharist
Is when you choose to break in,
Not when we seek to force you.
Without an awareness of you;
There’s no divine word,
Unless you unveil the mind
To hear you speaking within.
Religious rites, rituals,
And the Mass itself
Have become too empty to me,
As empty as my spirit.
I’m mindful of your presence:
Awesome mountain skies,
Starry heavens, Selene,
And Venus Aphrodite.
Hearing Bach’s music
Raises my heart up to you;
Bach’s faith wings my soul
With Christ alive in glory--
But in churches, emptiness.
Help me understand,
Lord God, what is happening;
Why many today
Feel your absence, as I do,
In religious services.
In many humans
What am I finding of you?
Even in some friends
I sense more of your absence
Than your life-giving presence.
In what forms, Lord God,
Do I sense your true presence?
That is my question
To ask you, and to explore.
Where do I find faith in God?
What can I do, Lord,
To renew trust in you here,
Present not absent,
Alive now, active right now,
Even in, with, and through me?
I try to love you,
And I hope to love you well,
But Jesus, Spirit,
I need to love you enfleshed,
Not just untouchably.
Engaging in sex,
Would I feel and love you, Lord?
Engaging a friend
In conversation with you
Would I find you present then?
Living, true God, guide
My search for you in darkness
Or in light, sunshine,
Cloudiness, or winter storms;
Be my guide home to you, Lord.
—28 January 2020 Thomas Aquinas
B. Response: Christ’s Crown
My heart is pounding;
I had to rise to write words,
Simple, clear, and true--
Truth as I understand it,
Truth as it emerges now.
I should have seen it,
Perhaps. Years prepared for this:
Thoughts, feelings, loves, desires, all--
Blending together in one.
You were standing there
In your home, talking, laughing;
And Christ was present,
Although through faith-love, not flesh,
Visibly to my spirit.
And Christ said to me,
“You need me to be with you
In a special way?
You find the churches empty,
And still you love your one Lord?
Here I am for you.”
And Christ in spirit approached
As you were standing there,
And he merged right into you,
Into your body and soul.
And Christ said to me,
“Here I am now for you. Watch,
Listen and observe,
Love, obey, imitate me
In and through this man, your friend.
He does not perceive
What you are seeing in him.
He does not yet know
That you find the Risen One
Truly present here to you.
He’s my disciple,
A good and faithful servant;
So listen to him,
Learn to be a better man,
Through his living example.”
Should I tell him, Lord,
What you have shown me today?
Is it our secret,
Or reality to share,
To make known to my good friend?
If I say to him,
“I am your disciple now,
You are Christ to me,”
Would he, could he, understand
What may seem strange or untrue?”
“I have crowned your friend
With my own loving presence;
He does not see me
As you do, present in him,
In human flesh, blood, spirit.
You see with love’s eyes,
Illumined by living faith.
He sees with the Church;
You see me Risen in him--
Two modes of disciples’ faith.
Tell him what you see,
And give time to understand.
He’s heard this before,
But not told him so clearly.
He’s a faithful Catholic.
He sees in his priests
And finds in the Eucharist
The Lord whom he loves;
You see in him the same Lord,
Filling you with awe and joy.
You’re my disciples,
Both faithful and loved by me.
I’m nourishing you
In, with, and through each other:
Enjoy the Eucharistic feast.”
—Wm. Paul McKane
29 January 2020
C. An Addendum.
My desire for God leads me on a voyage that clearly ranges beyond the walls of buildings, and even outside of liturgies, scriptures, prayers. Presently I am seeking God primarily through writing, as I must reflect, question, think, write, and refine what is being written. The preceding two little poems turned out to be (unplanned) a unit of analysis: longing for God’s enfleshment, and awareness of his Christ-presence in a “friend.” In this final section I include a brief poem-meditation in which I seek to understand what it is that I experience in this person who is “More than a Friend,” a phrase I recognize was applied to a hog in the musical, “State Fair.” One should never take himself / herself too seriously, eh? Whether the person referred to is real, or a figment of my imagination, or a writer’s “mask” in the Nietzschean sense, I leave for the reader to question—if s/he wishes to do so.
More than a Friend
The friend mentioned in some of my poems is not as real as I would wish.
It seems as though a composite form emerged within my mind,
And soon became enfleshed in black and white
As I would write a little poem upon an empty page.
The one behind the “friend” differs from anything I have written;
No words of mine can do justice to this nameless one.
And this much I also firmly believe: what dwells behind my words is more real--
You are more real, more intimate, and more worthy of respect--
Than anything I could possibly put into words.
“Who are you?” I asked you, out of wonder and ignorance.
I’ve known from our first meeting—as with any being, really--
That you transcend my limited understanding.
I’ve also intuited from our beginning that in seeing you,
I’m gazing into the darkly mysterious depths of God.
I’ve known that truth intuitively since that first moment
When I descended the stairs, and you were there,
Eyes meeting eyes and completing some strange spiritual circuit
As if God were responding to God in two human beings.
You remain a mystery to me, and perhaps so now more than at first.
On some levels, in some ways, you may be ordinary,
Or enough so that you can fairly well disappear into a crowd.
But not to my eyes that track you, for I have seen within you
What many others have probably never seen, perhaps could not.
The fundamental response of my soul to you may differ from love.
You are not comfortable, are you, with such words as “I love you,”
For which you have your reasons, your history, your charming ways.
In no way do I take offense at your reluctance to hear such words.
We both may inchoately sense that such words are imprecise.
What I really intend, but probably have never said, is stranger.
Perhaps the best that I can presently do in expressing
What I think and feel about you is this: I am in awe before you.
Possibly not unlike Moses at the burning bush on Mount Sinai,
Or Christ’s inner band of disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration.
I am awed and filled with wonder and joy by what I experience in you.
If I concentrate on this experience, my soul or body may begin to tremble,
Or tears inexplicably flow from these old eyes unused to crying.
Whether you know it or not, I cannot tell, but I’ll share this truth:
When I behold your face, or form, or hand, or hear your voice,
Then my heart or soul or something softens and melts within me--
My soul is stripped, laid bare; and I am defenseless before you.
Some may call it “infatuation,” or “being in love,” or “being emotional."
I think that it is more like reverence before the presence of God.
And then some might call my feeling for you “idolatrous.” Why label it so?
I have implored you to be with me as I draw near to death. Why?
Because you are the most intimate and tangible link I have to the living God.
Blest is my soul, not cursed, but supremely blest, to find in you
An ever-living sacrament of the world-transcending God.
Will this sense of awe and reverence for you fade with time?
I hope that it will wax, not wane; for this gift is life-changing, and delightful.
But with this gift I stand divinely warned: If in any way I violate the sacred bonds
In your life, and in mine, God’s special gift to me would vanish.
I must allow no thought, no wish, no hope, to mar what is truly holy.
You are not my spouse, nor lover, and something different than a friend.
You are one in Christ through whom God is transforming me.
—Wm. Paul McKane, OSB
31 January 2020
Part A. On Praying to God in Christ Jesus
We begin again with Benedictine wisdom: “Pray as you can, and do not try to pray as you can’t.”
How I can’t pray now: As with many Christians during this period, I have been scandalized and disgusted by some of the crimes I’ve experienced at the hands of clergy, who have often gone uncorrected, and permitted to continue their ways of operating. And many of them have neglected their primary duty: to help form Christ in the hearts of their congregants, of the people to whom they’ve been sent. I’ve also been simply “turned off” by some clergy’s shallowness and inability to proclaim Christ effectively to those present. I find attending such services a waste of time, and so I stay away.
Also at this time in my life, I am not able to concentrate for praying during church services. I often find them distracting, busy, noisy, and not congenial for quiet and real prayer—more fitting for a public show or performance. There is a cost to staying away from services, however: I miss some of the beautiful prayers, as one hears, for example, from the Book of Common Prayer. I miss prayers of the Catholic Eucharist, the anaphora, if and when these prayers are meaningfully and devoutly prayed, and not recited in an overly cultic manner, nor as if it is the priest’s private prayer, nor if they are rushed through as if the celebrant would rather be watching football. I miss hearing God praised by well-trained and humble musicians, and I miss singing some God-focused church hymns. (But as noted previously and below, listening attentively to good music while in solitude is a major part of my spiritual life.) I have missed participating in holy communion. And I have often missed hearing Christ’s word well preached “from faith to faith,” from the faith of the one preaching into the heart of the faithful. All too often, preaching in the churches has been mediocre at best, and a diversion from true living proclamation of Christ Jesus at worst. I find far more of Christ studying , for philosophy example, than I ever hear in churchy sermons or canned homilies. Finally, I do miss the fellowship of friends gathered at a liturgy.
Praying as I can now: Regarding such problems as we see in the churches, we do well to reflect St. Benedict’s wisdom in his Rule: “Of such matters it is better not even to speak.” Anyone with eyes in their head knows all-too-painfully the spiritual and human short-comings in our churches today. I find it far better for me to avoid gathering in such assemblies, and to seek God in solitude. And especially rather than hear poor preaching, I strongly prefer to meditate on Christ’s word in silence. Anyone open to the Holy Spirit and seeking God can and will hear more of Christ proclaimed to his or her heart by reading scriptures meditatively than by listening to a sermon or homily in public when the minister is not properly attuned to Christ. And this lack of spiritual attunement is blatantly obvious in many churches today. Unless and until I hear otherwise, I shall avoid such assemblies and seek Christ at home.
To this I add: what a joy and privilege it is when I am able to celebrate the Catholic Mass in the home of faithful Christians. Of course I wait until I am asked to do so, as one should not impose his will or preferences on others. What I love in a home Mass is its simplicity, quietness, lack of public show or pretense, lack of those present who wish to be seen in public as “church-attenders.” And above all, praying and preaching can be what they most truly are supposed to be: not talking to a “God out there,” and not preaching at anyone, but sharing Christ’s prayer and word together in faith-filled love. As an ordained minister in such gatherings, I am able to concentrate and share the word in prayer-proclamation, speaking heart to heart. It is what I have long enjoyed doing, when given the opportunity—apart from noisy distractions.
Thanks be to God, I am fully retired from public ministry. I feel no obligation to perform religious duties in public, all the more so as I receive no compensation from any Catholic organization (diocese or monastery), nor do I wish to receive any benefits, given what I have experienced in churches in our day. Only under certain conditions would I be willing to substitute on a part-time basis, by way of exception: If and only if the local priest for whom I would be substituting is seeking to live a good life in truth and charity. (Sadly, such is often not the case, as many of the faithful have painfully come to realize.) Furthermore, if I detect antagonism on the part of the priest for whom I would substitute, I would not fill in.
How do I pray or seek God during this time of my life?
First and foremost, I seek to be attentive to movements of divine presence (“the holy Spirit” or “the Risen Christ”) in my soul, in consciousness. Being open to divine actions either directly in one’s “heart” or from the external world and into one’s “heart” is, I suggest, the living core of praying. What good would it do to recite words at God and not keep listening for ways in which the divine speaks to one’s mind directly or from the outside (as through nature or a fellow human being)?
Second, since retiring to quiet Sheridan, Montana, I have taken far more time to write. This process for me is often done as a conscious exercise in participating in the presence of the Risen Lord in me and with me. As a vessel of the Lord, I am highly imperfect, but a sense of one’s imperfections or even spiritual poverty should not be used as an excuse not to make the hard effort of speaking, acting, thinking, or writing in and with Christ—on the contrary, “He gives grace to the humble, but resists the proud.” (Ordained ministry in public is a ready source of pride unless one takes strong steps to guard against it.) I seek to write in communion with Christ for the benefit of others, as well for myself to grow in love and knowledge of the Lord. Writing in retirement has become my foremost act of ministry, and I do it with the same passion and zeal I had while serving in parishes: With Christ, in Christ, for God’s people in Christ Jesus. Otherwise, how worldly our words, and ultimately, how empty.
Third, I still study and read, but recently have devoted more time to writing. I am seeking to crystalize my experiences and thoughts in writing; when I sense the need to deepen my insights, I return to study. Every day I do some spiritual reading—that is, seeking God as I study. I use a variety of texts for this purpose: not only the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, but most especially other very high quality and enriching writings of which I am aware. Once again, Plato comes to the fore, but other philosophers as well. I’m not averse to reading works by those who shut out God—as did Nietzsche, to his ruin—because in studying them and in thinking about their teachings, I may see the folly of my own ways. Still, my preference is for studying Plato and other spiritually solid thinkers; I need to spend more time now deepening my knowledge of philosophy as Plato lived and taught it. Time here is limited and brief; I must study the best I can find.
Fourth, I am conscious that Christ is working on me in and through some “friends,” and including one who without words challenges me to “get my act together.” One may be alive on earth, or in God beyond death, and still have tremendous and profound effects on one’s life; and Socrates-Plato is not the only deceased man through whom Christ works on me.
Fifth, thanks be to God for the beauty we find in Montana. One of my first spiritual acts each morning is to stand on my deck (as the dogs are let out back, around 0230) and stare up to the heavens to behold the handiwork of the Creator. Thankfully, I do not just look up and see “things,” such as stars or planets, or clouds; I am aware that in the act of beholding, of gazing, the divine is present both in consciousness and in what I am beholding. In this awareness I feel what could be called a “cosmic unity,” or my own active participation in the mysterious Whole. “The heavens proclaim the glory of God,” and display that glory, for those with simple faith. By child-like trust (simple faith), one experiences awe before and in the divine presence. The experience of awe (that includes wonder, love, questioning, seeking, thanksgiving) may be Christ’s foremost gift to me. Have I not been awed by God in what I called “Venus Aphrodite” (better known as the planet Venus), mentioned in some poems recently? How many “Christians” can feel awe before Venus Aphrodite? And I’ve felt awe before God’s presence in human beings.
Sixth, at times I pray in words consciously addressed to God. Sometimes I prefer silence and listening, and other times I let words spring up in me. An example of this springing-up of a word of prayer follows in Part B, “Recollecting Christ’s Presence in human beings.” Sometimes I hear a simple sentence in my heart, such as “Let everything that breathes praise the LORD!” For some friends, recited prayers, such as the Rosary, work best. Remember, “pray as you can,” and don’t waste time trying to pray as you can’t—do not try to be what or who you are not. Genuine prayer is an expression of one’s heart, one’s being, one’s life in Christ. And may none of us seek to impose his / her ways of praying (one’s spirituality) on others. “We are all free in Christ Jesus.”
Seventh, I would be woefully remiss if I failed to mention how often I pray listening to good music. As an example, as I am writing this morning, I am listening to the opening movement from a Bach Cantata (BWV 170): “Contented peace, beloved delight of the soul.” There is no way I can put into words the intense joy and meaning I find in good music, and especially the compositions of the Master, J. S. Bach. Some knowledge of his German language is a great help, but the music also speaks, bringing the attentive listener a profound awareness of Christ: I AM with you, right now!
Concluding reflection: What is the essence of prayer?
Mindfulness of divine Presence. What is prayer, without attentiveness? To what or to whom is one being attentive? To the divine as one understand it, yes. If one thinks of God as only or primarily “far off,” only “in heaven” (in a spatial sense), then what form could the prayer take but words addressed as arrows aimed up at God? If one conceives of the divine as present and active, one need not use words, but can attend lovingly to the presence. The prayer can take the form of resting, as if in the arms of the beloved. Let this suffice for the present.
Part B. A Prayer: Recollecting Christ’s Presence in human beings
Eternal Christ, far more than I can know, feel, or understand:
How often were you drawing me to You through a human being,
But I failed to understand what you were doing, and why,
And resisted your drawing within me? Seeing what you are doing now,
I wonder: how many opportunities were lost in years past?
It is better to render the same insight in more positive terms,
Lest one wallow in sin or failures—a waste of time and to be avoided.
Surely you, Lord God, were present to me in and through Fr. Daniel.
I knew it then, at least at times, with intense clarity and reverence.
When I would touch his hand, there was in me an awareness
That I was touching the hand of Jesus crucified and Risen.
I felt love but more than love, as I do with one who is “more than a friend.”
My inner self was humbled, but not humiliated; I was in awe, not dread;
By faith working through awe I was able to touch the hand of God.
Where else did I experience your presence to me, Risen Christ?
Although not yet in clear consciousness, I felt your hand in my mother’s,
When she would take my hand in hers, as when she clipped my nails.
I saw your hand in my father’s, even when shortly before death,
He wrote out checks to pay bills, or signed his photographs for me.
I have seen your hands break bread upon the altar, LORD,
I have seen your hand hold out the chalice to me: You embodied in another.
Have I seen or felt you, Lord, in my own hands? I do not know,
But I shall ponder that question now raised until I see or do not see.
What I know is how intensely aware of you I was in Voegelin,
How I experienced your mind through Neumeier’s mind--
You present in my mind towards him, and his mind towards me,
As you were drawing us both into communion with you
And I summarized the experience: “When two speak, three are present.”
You have been real to me not only in scriptures, nor in liturgies,
But in and through human beings in their bodily and spiritual presence.
I remember seeing Joe Condon as he lay dying, and I know what I saw:
I saw you, Jesus Christ, both crucified and Risen at once,
Radiating out of the face and head of blessed Joe in his final agony.
Do others see as I see, but not mention it, out of embarrassment, perhaps?
I was alone with Joe and praying when I saw you and Joe dying together.
How many persons have told me that they heard Christ speak through me,
Words for which I was both grateful and humbled, and gently let go?
You have spoken to me through preachers, such as Pastor Wagner;
And how often would I listen to your word proclaimed,
And feel as if wings or hands were in my chest, reaching out?
I cannot imagine my life in Christ without the Master’s witness:
You have so often spoken to me through the music of Bach.
The wonder is not how rarely, but how often you have spoken to me
In and through human voices, music, hands, actions, eyes, faces.
That I saw you looking into me though someone’s eyes, I remember:
Blue eyes penetrating into me, you searching me through those eyes.
But who the person was, or when, has not yet returned to consciousness.
Still, Lord, I have seen you gazing into me, gently, lovingly, searchingly,
And for such divine care for this little creature, I humbly thank you, Lord.
Friend more than a friend, I have asked that we pray together.
You are a long distance from me now in space-time, but in Christ
We are together, and space-time is no hindrance at all.
And so we pray: Open the eyes of our hearts and minds, Lord,
To see you in others, and to revere you in them, respect you in them,
Feed you in them, tend you in them. Keep us all from locking you up
In tabernacles or in churches—and from locking you out of our minds.
Lord, is it wrong for me to ask a special favor of you?
May this friend and I, present together in spirit now,
Find and focus our attention on you, the living Lord of all?
Increase our faith, Lord, that we may be truly mindful of you,
Love you more truly, and obey you from the depths of our hearts.
For any way you work within us and through us, we thank you, Lord.
Make us channels of your divine presence to ourselves and others.
One more thing we ask together now, Lord—together in you--
What is the sacred work you have in store for us? We have both thought
That you have a plan to put us to work together for your glory.
Help us to discern your will for us, and to carry it out effectively with you.
Praying alone but not truly alone, I take your hand in my hand, and listen:
“Love me fervently, chastely, devoutly in those whom I’ve given you to love,
And then you will see what I am doing in you, with you, and though you.”
Wm. P. McKane
01 February 2020
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