Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Other Voices Speaking Wisdom Which Led Me To Thoughts On Training Wheels

THe reform of the reform is beginning to look like an attempt to put training wheels back on adult bikes.

There are a number of consistent contributors in the comments section of the NCR that I find really informative and inspirational. So today I offer their comments as a change from my own.

The first is written in response to a trad who was pontificating on the fact that Jesus was a totally law observant Jew and not a revolutionary. It's one of the best things I have read in a long long time describing how one advances in spiritual understanding.

The second deals with the reality of the pre Vatican II church as it was actually lived, not as it has been mythologized by the JP II generations. The vaunted beauty of the Latin Mass paled in significance compared to everything else attached to that liturgy. In more respects than I care to remember, the kind of spirituality it promoted was emotionally abusive. For those who didn't live through it, and want an idea of what it was like, imagine being gay in today's Church.

Submitted by LittleBear (not verified) on Sep. 22, 2009.
"For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Mt. 5:20-21)

I certainly do believe that Jesus was/is revolutionary in his teachings, otherwise Christianity would not be a major branch of religion today---but another division of Judiasm. St. Paul describes his own inner struggle with law especially in Romans 7:7-25. And it takes Paul much of his letters to Romans and Galatians to say what the Dalai Lama says in one oft-quoted line: "You must learn the meaning of the law very well, so you will know how to disobey it properly." (I love this line. It sounds flippant in a way, but it packs huge meaning.)

In other words, one must know and respect the rules before one can break the rules. Let's take a look at Jesus growing up to see how this was a major part of his religious development, his revolutionary development.

In the normal development of his spiritual consciousness, Jesus would have first learned Order. He was taught by his parents the traditions, customs, and the law ---"This is the way we do it." In the books of the Torah, (or the Law), Jesus would have learned the important lessons of identity (Book of Genesis), exclusivity (Exodus), boundaries, loyalty and the necessary discipline to counter the imperial ego found in each human person. Those elements are largely the concerns of the books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy---books that most Catholics and other Christians do not read much, because they are not always "inspiring." But what they do is provide boundaries, absolutes, laws and goals that one starting their religious development needs. (Or as I like to say, they are the training wheels you need before you can ride your personal spiritual bike.)

Secondly, as Jesus was growing into his teens, he would have studied the second section of Hebrew Scriptures (the Prophets) and he would have arrived at the Stage of Criticism. As Catholics, we don't have a really strong background in the prophetic canon---because we only read them in so far as they offer us proof texts for the coming of the Messiah. But these books take up far too much room in the bible to be just that. What Jesus would have learned in reading/meditating upon prophets is that he had to leave behind any false innocence and naive superiority that he may have had---as he would see that his people had not/were not living up to the level of "law". And, just as importantly, he would have had to "search his own heart" to see how he related to God as a Son of the Law.

This was an important stage for Jesus to arrive at (and it is also for us), because unless one can move to this level of a self-reflexive, self-critical thinking---one remains unconscious, falsely innocent and unaware. Thus most people choose to remain in that first stage. They believe that they belong to a special group---highly favored by God. They believe that this group is the best and the center of the world. They may think that this can even pass as holiness, but it isn't that at all.

It takes courage to not only recognize that as individuals, one has been driven by one's ego (call it pride, or sin), but also that as a group (Jewish, Catholic) that we, and our leaders have sinned and done every kind of evil. And it takes a faith, a trust in God to be critical of one's self, one's own system, and of one's own people. It will never make one popular. And as we know, the prophets are always rejected by their own (see Luke 12:50-51) and one is usually killed in some way (physically, emotionally, socially, etc). It is knowing this, that sets the stage for understanding Jesus and the rarity of the third stage of his development or "integration."
Jesus would have learned from the Hebrew Scriptures---the Wisdom books, including Psalms, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, the book of Wisdom, and most especially, the book of Job, to deal with complex issues that cannot be resolved, that allow no closure, that demand trust, surrender and in moving on to a deeper level. God, for example, answers none of Job's questions, but leads him deeper into mystery "But truly it is the spirit in the mortal, the breath of the Almighty, that makes for understanding" (Job 32:8)

In arriving at stage three---Wisdom---Jesus learned patience with mystery, paradox, suffering and its limitations. Jesus is such a dramatic representative of Wisdom--that he ended up creating a whole new religion---a religion that people trapped in stages one and two always misunderstand. This is the genius of biblical revelation. True Wisdom will honor and include both the Law and the Prophets, exactly as Jesus said---and "bring them to completion" (Matthew 5:17).

For Jesus, it is important to 'see' correctly. He states that when one is trying to correct another---"to take the splinter from your brother's eye, to take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother's eye." (Matthew 7:3-6).
Jesus stresses growing into personal transformation, empathy, compassion, patience, most of all, the love of God---without denial, disguise, repression or hypocrisy. Unfortunately immature religious belief creates a high degree of "cognitively rigid" people or very hateful people---who call others, heretics or blasphemers.

Jesus, is always trying to undercut the arrogance, the self-validation, the cold calculation of the ego. The entire Sermon on the Mount makes that quite clear (Matthew 5-7). Jesus clearly sees the pride, self-sufficiency and its resultant hypocrisy as the primary moral problem. "You have neglected the weightier matters of the law---justice, mercy, and good faith" (Matthew 23:23) in favor of temple tithes, Jesus says to the scribes and Pharisees. Although Jesus gives us a clear explanation of the creative tensions between law and God's life (grace) in his six-part litany of "your ancestors said...but I say" (Matthew 5:20-48), the purity codes and group identity markers (Law, Doctrine, etc) soon won out again. It is Paul who aggressively attacks these in both Romans and Galatians.

Since I have already taken up much space here---I will continue in part 2 with Paul. I have placed this in this section on Vatican II Priests---because Vatican Council II was attempting to get us to move BEYOND the juridical definition of sin as a violation of law---but rather a rupture of relationship with God. Something that cannot be put into codas.


Submitted by Aileen (not verified) on Sep. 21, 2009.
After reading through all of the comments again this past weekend, I was struck with a curious thought. It would be most revealing if everyone who made a comment had included their year of birth and the year of their first holy communion... and whether they are laity or ordained..

My real life experience has been that those who so fervently desire to return to the old traditions and ways of pre-Vatican II (or how they imagine it), are too young to actually remember it, and just how burdensome and depressing it could be to live under such repressive and unforgiving rules.

Today’s retro-uber-orthodox would have a rude awakening if they achieved their wish..Most Catholics today are not aware (or perhaps have forgotten?) just how oppressive the situation was. One example among many (for those of us who do remember): ANY divorced person was formally excommunicated for the mere fact of divorce; even the wronged spouse who had been left for another person through no fault of their own, nor had they remarried. Marriage tribunal to address such an injustice was virtually unheard of for the average Catholic in the pew.

Pope Paul VI (post-V2) changed that unjust rule, thankfully..Because laity were considered an inferior sub-culture below clergy, the list of misery perpetuated upon them was long and final.

One reason there was a bumper crop of clergy in those days was because, for Catholics, it was the only game in town. Being ordained, or having a child or sibling who was ordained, provided some modest 'status by association' for their family members among the laity. Some folks today have the illusion that people in the old days were just "more spiritual". Actually, they were pragmatic..

In those supposedly good old days, laity "paid and obeyed" without question... and got their ticket punched for Mass. They got 'zero' input on anything (forget any pastor/parish council).

A woman's only Catholic badge of honor was hinged to remaining continually pregnant during her entire reproductive span. Infertility had the reverse effect, and was considered a disgrace... even carrying a ‘suspicion of secret sin’. Babies born dead (and so unbaptized) were denied a funeral Mass or burial in consecrated ground... the same denial held true for the mentally ill who committed suicide (they were consigned to hell).. (These two things regarding burials and funerals wreaked havoc on the parents and family members of the deceased.)

For women, the only 'holy' alternative to marriage and marathon procreation was to 'take to the cloth' in a convent.

Those are just a few of the nostalgic “goodies” of the good old days that some in today’s Church long for so fervently. There was much more than just the "old" Mass in Latin or the happy black and white Bing Crosby movies. Like so many romantic notions, they tend to fade in the harsh light of day and actual practice. No one was a bit more “spiritual” as a result — only intimidated and guilt-ridden.

To desire a return to those former ways actually approaches being pathological... possibly masochistic..When Pope John XXIII “opened the doors and windows of the Church” and convened the Second Vatican Council, it was this dark oppression and joyless legalism that he sought to remedy. How ironic that today there are some who would take the Church back to that dark, enclosed place where only those who could perfectly keep the rules were welcome, and the hierarchy’s imposed unjust suffering on laity was believed to be the will of God. I can understand why certain bishops would love that arrangement. I cannot understand the appeal to laity.


The dark oppression and joyless legalism is exactly what John XXIII was trying to remedy. The first step was to convene all the world's bishops and let the dialogue flow. The 'Spirit of Vatican II' which have become red flag words to trads, is all about this lifting of the oppression and joyless legalism which was the hall mark of the pre Vatican II church.
Speaking for myself, I'm far more concerned about the return of the mindset that went with the Latin Mass, than I am the return of the 'bells and smells'. I just don't think you can return one without the other. From what I've seen from some recently ordained priests, coupled with the over whelming influence of right wing Spanish apostolates, seems to prove the accuracy of my worry. Adults don't need training wheels.


  1. Love the picture Colleen. Really fits the subject.

    LittleBear's comment is great. He's really done his homework. I've noticed Aileen's comments and they are always really thought provoking. They both, as well as yourself in your blog, are able to put into words what we already know. It is a blessing to hear these words of wisdom.

    The contrast between the spirituality and maturity of all three of you compared to the trads is like night and day.

    I am always humbled when reading those who have such wisdom. To not hear the wisdom or grasp the meaning is to say that one is still reading at a grade school level.

    Jesus was a revolutionary. It's is interesting to note that in my parents old Bible, the men on crosses on either side of Jesus were "thieves." But, in the New American Bible they are "revolutionaries." I really question the translations a lot. They've definitely been tampered with & changed many, many times over the years. Nevertheless, the message of Jesus still gets through to the open heart.

  2. Thanks, Colleen. I find a lot to think about here. It really needs time to digest this. Appreciate your sharing it.

  3. Very true. There seems to be a disconnect between some younger priests, who tend to be more conservative, and more tenured priests. Some of the newer priests I have met (not all) have tended toward dogmatism.