Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Oreo Cookies And The Future Of The Reform Of The Reform

Here Oreo cookies actually can describe one small part of twenty first century cosmology.

The following is an edited version of the latest Eugene Cullen Kennedy piece at NCRHis ending paragraph is especially poignant because the truth is neither a person nor an institution can return to the past when the playing field of the present is so drastically altered.

You can't go Rome again

by Eugene Cullen Kennedy on Oct. 07, 2011Nobody would ever accuse the so-called Reform of the Reform of a lack of transparency. You can see right through its almost weekly moves to return Catholicism to the Eden of church life that they perceive on the far side of Vatican II.

Sometimes these moves, such as imposing a literal translation of the Latin on the Mass texts, not only aims to transport Catholics back to somewhere around 1925 but also to restore the "Attend a a Protestant Service/Support a False Religion" mentality that prevailed in that era. The Congregation of Divine Worship now makes clear, in the document Liturgiam Authenticam, that it wants to do just that. It prefers an awkward concrete rendering of Latin "to avoid a wording or a style that the Catholic faithful would confuse with the manner of speech of non-Catholic ecclesial communities or of other religions..." This, according to The Tablet's Robert Mickens, drives "a stake into the heart of ecumenical efforts at composing common texts.".....(Must avoid the scandal of syncretism.)

........Mickens also analyzes Benedict's curial appointments, concluding that, after the internationalization of leadership in the Church that followed Vatican II, he is restoring the Italian domination of key curial positions. What could move the Roman furniture more surely back to the 1925 style than placing the keyboard of the Vatican piano back into the hands of Italians who long ago mastered the intricate sonatas of survival?

Perhaps we should not expect a German Pope to be subtle but he was anything but that when, on his recent visit to Spain, he announced that "I will shortly declare St. John of Avila a Doctor of the Universal Church." Aside from writing Run through that again letters to St. Teresa of Avila ("What you say about God teaching the soul without the use of the imagination ... is safe, and I can find no fault in it.") he is celebrated for his role in the Counter-Reformation. In short, exactly the intellectual hero the Pope wants for the Reform of the Reform......

....Such playing at time travel would be relatively harmless and charming in the way that sunlit autumn leaves are if that is all there was to this massive effort to transport the Church back to the same era sought in the novel, when the notoriously autocratic Pope Pius XI expected Cardinals to remain kneeling when visiting his office on official business, the Mass was in Latin, and equal as mortal sins were murdering somebody, allowing a sexual thought to wait in the vestibule of your mind before you evicted it, or eating meat on Friday. Yes, those certainly were the good old days. (Even as a 7 year old I had real difficulty  understanding why missing Mass was equally egregious to murdering somebody.)
The Reform of the Reform may be better understood not as an exaggerated exercise in nostalgia as much as the debilitating side-effect on being unable to adjust to the Space/Information Age that has ended the division between the earth and the heavens that was the theoretical basis for hierarchical structures. By healing the centuries old presumed rift between earth and the heavens the Space/Information Age also healed the separation of the human person into antagonistic elements of body and soul, flesh and spirit. It is difficult for hierarchs to adjust to the Space/Information Age because they cannot get their bearings easily unless they sit atop an hierarchical array; they fear going into free fall in the universe in which there is no center, no up and no down, and so they want to reconstruct the times and places, the Time and Again of an age before Vatican II in which they feel that they will be comfortable again.

There is something poignant about these would-be time travelers who pull back from the future that is already enveloping them. They remind one of the travelers in the desert described by Freud in explaining the difficulty many people have in letting go of the past. When the sun goes down and the air turns bitter cold, such pilgrims long to return to the remembered warmth of campfires they had left behind them. They cannot return to them because they have cooled to ashes and the winds have mixed them with the billowing waves of sand. The Reform of the Reform is built on just such understandable but misplaced longing, is bound to disappoint those who invest their hearts in its success, may generate centrifugal pressures in the heart of the Church, and one day, long after it has failed, be judged not as an inviting oasis worth a long journey but a cruel and seductive illusion of the unforgiving sands of time.


Eugene Kennedy has written an important piece, which for me at least, will generate a great deal of thought.  Thoughts about why Benedict has returned the curia to Italian hands when we already know there is great corruption on some of those Italian hands.  Thoughts like why would our Roman leadership insist on taking our sacramental vision back along the thought lines of the Oreo universe, where human reality is stuck like frosting between a static heaven and hell;  reduced to praying/begging that God will lift us off the bottom cookie so we mostly stick to the top.  As Kennedy points out, the Space/Information Age not only doesn't support such a cosmology, it negates it. It hasn't been very productive to present the static images of God generated by the Oreo universe to a population  raised with the cosmology of the Big Bang and the physics of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle.  NASA has shown heaven is most definitely not up there or out there somewhere and Exon still hasn't hit hell---even with it's deepest wells.

Of course, Jesus never did tell us to look up or down for God. He told us to look within. God is within us.  God is found internally, not externally.  Just as the truth of who we are as functioning human consciousness is not located in our brains.  Science is still not sure where the seat of that sense we all have of being a discrete "I" comes from. We know a great deal of how our brains work, how memory functions and why it fails, but we know nothing about why people still sense themselves as a discrete whole when for all practical purposes the brain has stopped functioning in any biologically meaningful sense.  As consciousness, we are more than the grey matter stuck in our skulls. For instance, we don't know why in some cases, manifesting different personalities will change core physiological issues like blood pressure, diabetes, and allergies. This seems to suggest that some aspect of consciousness is capable of sending signals which the body responds to on an holistic level.  Another Catholic example of this ability is the stigmata phenomenon.  The only explanation for this offered by the spirituality based on the Oreo universe is God/Lucifer or saints and angels/demons stick their fingers into things--violating the laws of the Oreo universe--and often quite capriciously I might add.  

In my travels through the American West and in my work with Native medicine men and women, they seem to have a different understanding of consciousness/ensoulment.  In their spiritual universe, human consciousness is now, always was, and will be.    Personal soul consciousness is not a separate human state brought on or freed by death.  It is also active before biological birth. Soul consciousness is much greater than our physical experience of it.  Material reality limits it's expression, chiefly through the laws of physics which govern the material universe.  In other words, in this view we are agreeing to limit the expression of our own soul truth when we choose to incarnate. Jesus showed that in many respects the severity of these limits are self imposed through ignorance, cultural/family expectations, and poor spiritual formation.

But then, the universe itself is not just a product of the Newtonian physics governing time/space and matter.  It is also very much a product of quantum physics. The quantum universe can not sustain a spiritual cosmology based on an Oreo cookie. This is a universe which is both holistic and holographic, interconnected, knit by time but not necessarily defined by time, and shares the mind of God with other dimensional universes.  The universe not exclusively about humanity and humanities preferred state in God's eyes.  This universe is one piece of a much larger puzzle in which mankind is no more ontologically important than any other piece of the puzzle--except for one thing.  Once evolution produces the biological complexity necessary to hold a sentient form of consciousness, then those incarnated beings have choice and are free to act in concert with the Greater Scheme of things---or not. 

Once evolution has reached enough complexity to support sentient self aware life, then the free choice which comes with that conscious sentience carries great weight as to how evolution will continue to unfold. This does not describe a dependent disempowered humanity praying that when their personal Oreo is pulled apart that fate will see to it most of the frosting sticks to the top cookie. It describes a humanity fully empowered and willing to hear a great deal of what Jesus taught with open eyes and ears.  It's very very sad to me, that at a time when the collective consciousness of this planet is finally choosing to see that we are all inner connected and no culture can pretend to live in a hermetically sealed vacuum, the Vatican is attempting to recreate Catholicism's own hermetically sealed vacuum.  As Kennedy says, this is a cruel and seductive illusion of the long ago shifted sands of time.  It really is destined to fail.




  1. The big difference is that now the institutional church cannot use the government to keep people in line. I also fail to understand the nostalgia for pre-Vatican II Catholicism as it wasn't as great as the nostalgic think.

  2. i think with his actions as Cardinal Ratzinger, and the destruction or attempted destruction of theological careers, and with his attempts to reorganized the Church, Benedict has become the chief architect of the Structural implosion we are witnessing today. We watch the Church receive with great triumph conservative, homophobic, misogynistic Anglicans back to Catholicism while it fails so many people leaving in much larger numbers for Protestant, and non Christian religions including secularism. This myopathy of the arch conservatives Benedict leads is nothing less than psychotic delusional thought that the Church can return to a past rather than live in the present.

    We have gone way beyond just poor leadership in the RCC. We have gone to schism of the leadership away from the People of God. This will not end well! dennis

  3. Of course i used myopathy instead of the term myopia that I meant in the above note. Sorry.

  4. @rdp46

    I liked your myopathy reference. Maybe the church corporal is suffering muscle disease.

    There is a candy shop close to my home. Just inside the door is a reproduction of "The Angelus" by Jean Millet.


    The store counters and displays date back about 100 years. They have every sort of old-fashioned confection, from fudge and hand made truffles to the types of candy bars that are not commonly found in ordinary stores. There are green leaves, gummy bears, ju-jubes, and hard candies of every description displayed in glass jars. A hand operated cash register stands right beside its more modern counterpart. Just stepping in the store takes one back to a different time. Even senior citizens surely feel some of their youth again. I understand nostalgia and why the octogenarians in the Vatican might view the past the way they do butterscotch.

    The church hierarchy will want a lollipop if it ever takes the shot of reality it needs to get well.


  5. Colleen, so much rich thought here:

    1. I love the Oreo cookie analogy. The hope that we'll end up stuck to the top half: that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, "Beam me up, Jesus."

    2. The Native American understanding of consciousness: what strikes me in your description is that it's deeply non-individualistic. I think that Western culture has defined consciousness in a way that, by the very definition of consciousness, sets me against you. I'm conscious at your expense, because to be conscious means to be me--not you. I hear you say that Native American understandings of consciousness don't go that route--and so we could learn much from them.

    3. The implication of the latest reform of the reform--the liturgical tinkering and now the removal of communion under both species in some dioceses--is that Catholics have succumbed to some kind of Protestant understanding of Real Presence. And so we need these sharp divisions between us and them to return us to real Eucharistic devotion.

    I've been hearing this claim since the latter part of the 1980s, and I have never seen any substantiation at all of the claim that Catholics are waning in Eucharistic devotion and belief in the Real Presence. And so I wonder if what really has people circulating this false meme is this: some people are upset that the distinction between good and bad people at Mass is being blurred, as the entire community now goes to communion?

    The Eucharist used to be a handy tool to shame some folks and keep them in their places. No longer. But I suspect we're headed back down that road with the liturgical changes.

  6. I think you are absolutely right Bill. The Eucharist did serve as a shaming tool in the 'good old' days. It's just so hard for me to imagine using Jesus as a shaming tool. It is so antithetical to everything He taught and was.

  7. Golly... I think that Mr Kennedy's criticism of the magisterium is a bit sharp and sarcastic. It may very well be that Benedict is trying to turn back the clock, but let's not insult him – he is an intelligent man who loves science.

    (Just for the record, I'm on the side of those who think they are turning back the clock, and in a bad way, and I'm a bit scared that they're introducing this new/old liturgy. I think the language is really only slightly more archaic – I was in New Zealand last Advent, where they've already introduced the new translation – but what worries me is what this move symbolises. It seems the focus is to agonise over trifles and make sure they're 'correct', rather than spending energy on setting people's hearts free and bringing them the Good News.)

    I think I would have been able to accept Kennedy's message more if he refrained from the uncharitable comparisons and recognised that these folks are trying to serve the Church in the way that they think is appropriate. I personally think that their decisions are a huge mistake and miss out on the core message of the Gospel, but I believe their mistake comes from a sincere desire to honour God as they understand him.

    In regards to using the Eucharist as a shaming tool, what do you folks think about the withholding of Communion from Protestants? It seems to me that we don't have the right to withhold what Jesus gives so freely for the redemption of the world and the unification of his people... don't know if there are any early-church arguments for/against my thoughts that anyone might know about.

  8. "he (Benedict) is an intelligent man who loves science.” Come on now I have been involved with scientific research in 2 separate medical careers and It is not difficult to understand that Benedict does not even believe in the Scientific Method of discovery and theoretical formulation and “relative” proof of theories. When Father George Coyne objected to some of Cardinal Shonborn's defense of Intelligent Design by showing Shonborn that this method does is not based in the Scientific Method, he was fired by Razi from his job of many years heading the Astronomy section of the Vatican Academy of science.

    Razi has never answered scientists who have shown him that most blastocysts, from 60 to 80%, are not implanted in well functioning Uteri. He continues to say that this research is “just wrong.” He once again uses the argument of Natural Law when the Scientific Method shows truth going in another direction. Fact is that Beni is an authoritarian that does not believe in the Scientific Method. He does however seem to believe that his and magisterial opinions about scientific phenomena are somehow infallible. Some love for science!! Is at all just a lack of resume? Don’t think so!

    When Beni can respect other academics, theologians, scientists and philosophers, perhaps they will respect him. He has very little time left to accomplish this. In fact he also could focus on respect of his own ethical ideas about child abuse so that others could attempt to again respect him and other church leaders.


  9. Dennis, the points you make can not be made too frequently. Natural Law as Aquinas first postulated it was based on exactly zero understanding of the female reproductive cycle. Now that we know far far more, it's as if all that knowledge is still non existent in formulating our reproductive moral theology. We are still attempting to foist an absolutist position on what is really more of a crap shoot.

    What really frustrates me is the utter silence with regards to women who knowingly compromise their in utero pregnancies by using drugs, alcohol, or prescription drugs, or even get pregnant with active addictions. Or for that matter, the women who get pregnant knowing they or their partner are HIV positive. What is the moral price for these actions, or for the men who too frequently engage in sex knowing the outcomes for these pregnancies? If silence is consent, then the deafening silence on these life issues speaks volumes.

  10. Paul, I think your final paragraph says it all. There is no legitimate reasons for withholding from anyone what Jesus gave so freely--and stated it was 'for all'.