Tuesday, November 19, 2013
The Bowery Boys: New York City History: Midnight Cowboy: 25 fascinating, sleazy New York details, a celebration of 42nd Street from an X-rated Oscar winner
The Bowery Boys: New York City History: Midnight Cowboy: 25 fascinating, sleazy New York details, a celebration of 42nd Street from an X-rated Oscar winner: "Where does it tell you to go? Klein's bargain basement?"
Friday, November 18, 2011
For the last 6 years bouts, hereabouts, off and on, and some, I have been studying the discipline of Phenomenology, and its roots, tracing it back through the centuries, I am certain that the silly nihilism of Nietzsche was a "parable" guided by the goofy Western notion of Being that Heidegger had jacked from Aristotle via Parmenides!
Greater still, I am certain that the remedy for the schism involving Religion and Science is at hand, and that “Phenomenology” will compose the convergence toward that unification!
Phenomenology is either a disciplinary field in philosophy. It studies the structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object. An experience is directed toward an object by virtue of its content or meaning (which represents the object) together with appropriate enabling conditions. (It was also a movement in the history of philosophy.) It’s a method of investigation based on the idea that reality consists of objects and events as they are perceived or understood in human consciousness and not of anything independent of human consciousness.
Beguilingly, Phenomenology has been practiced, with or without the name, for many centuries. When Hindu, Buddhist and Catholic philosophers reflected on states of consciousness achieved in a variety of meditative states, or even in Kenosis (see my paper on Flannery O’ Conner’s “Wise Blood” they all were also practicing phenomenology.
In this Facebook “Note” (That no one will ever in a million years read! But will help organize my mental library) I put forward that a Levinasian postmodern understanding of ethics is a hermeneutic that is authentically, (Emmanuel Levinas a solitary thinker who becomes universally influential, all those interested in Levinas and his thought, but also for anyone who wishes to better understand contemporary continental thought and its foundations and implications. Read Emmanuel Levinas: His Life And Legacy and “The Theory of Intuition in Husserl’s Phenomenology”) rooted in the Spirit of Christ and as such is one that Catholics can and already have embraced!!!!!!!!!!!
For example, in studying Meister Eckhart and the Beguine mystics, Mechtild of Magdeburg, and Marguerite Porete argues that Eckhart provided an apophatic ("un-saying") ethics in contrast to the action oriented and rule based moralities prevalent among his contemporaries. "Whereas the penitential system then emerging among the mendicant orders and Aquinas' rule- and virtue-based ethic insist that any human action can be evaluated according to a code or rule, Eckhart apophatically unsays ethical prescriptions, arguing that the just human being is the one who has detached him or herself from all creaturely things, including, presumably, humanly determined moral codes." The dogmatism and fundamentalism that has developed periodically in Christian history is a reactive movement against being open to the presence of the Other and has resulted in violence, wars and a mistrust of plurality.
These reactions turn the "saying" of our salvation history into the "said" of static formulations and totalizing systems. That such movements occurred within Christianity is ironic, as the New Testament, unlike the Old, does not attempt to legislate. As Walter Rauschenbusch points out, the New Testament is rather the expression of a Spirit that entered humanity and fashions our actions by the free compulsion of moral ideals. In our time we require new wineskins for the new wine of our age. In the Modern era the Church has been grappling with finding a philosophy that can serve as an adequate ancilla theoligiae.
While it is true that no one's system of philosophy has ever matched everybody's experience of reality, the need to move past some of the totalizing Rational systems of the Enlightenment is being felt with greater urgency!
|LIFE IS A STATE OF MIND|
There has been great openness to phenomenology in the Catholic Church due in large measure to Pope John Paul II's influence. This subject of natural law was "hugely important" in the assembly, a source said. "The eclipse of natural law in some Catholic moral thinking was a constant theme brought up by the bishops," National Catholic Reporter, but instead hopes to encourage a "serious dialogue between philosophers and theologians" in Catholic universities and other venues. Like The Bright Spot or The Echo, I so lost you way, way back!
The openness of the Church at this moment following the aggriomento of the Second Vatican Council requires a serious prophetic voice that can read the signs of the time. Such prophecy needs to be couched in theological and philosophical paradigms rooted in philosophical methods that assist us in facilitating the kind of Ignation humanism envisioned by philosophers like Maritain, supported by the Council and reflexive with contemporary experience. In Crossing the Threshold of Hope Pope John Paul II signals a reception to the currents of post-modern thought by forwarding Emmanuel Levinas as a philosopher of dialogue suggesting that we find ourselves with Levinas (A Jewish Scholar) very close to St. Thomas, but the path passes not so much through being and existence (classic metaphysics) as through people and their meeting each other through the "I" and the "Thou."
For Levinas it is precisely in the free ethical response to the other in the world that our selfhood emerges. The absolutely other (God) does not at all limit our freedom, it calls it to responsibility, founds it and justifies it. The "same" is a term that Levinas uses to refer to our intellectual thought systems that are disrupted and destabilized in the encounter with the Other. The Other, precisely because it is other and absolutely alterior, stands outside of our own self-same system "here below". This relationship with the other puts into question the spontaneity of one's destiny allowing for human change, resiliency and organic growth throughout life. This dynamic, the dynamic of revelation is not a harsh one. The phenomenological method brings us closer to the things themselves by positing direct experience of the other as prior to comprehension and language. Levinas writes, "The essential contribution to the new ontology can be seen in its opposition to classical intellectualism. To comprehend the tool is not to look at it but to know how to handle it. To comprehend our situation in reality is not to define it but to find ourselves in affective disposition. To comprehend being is to exist. All this indicates, it would seem. a rupture with the theoretical structure of Western thought. To think is no longer to contemplate but to commit oneself; to be engulfed by that which one thinks, to be involved. This is the dramatic event of being-in-the-world."
There is a hesitancy to enter into reflection on Ideal concepts in both Levinas and classic Catholic Modern theologians like George Tyrrell. Tyrrell noted, "When we say, 'first holiness and then truth' we are speaking of the truth of explicit understanding which is attained by after-reflection on that truth which is always implicit in holiness and quite inseparable from it." Levinas writes, " Ethics is not limited to preparing for the theoretical exercise of thought which would monopolize transcendence." In recent times the phenomenological method has found it's most well known Catholic theological expression in the voice of Karl Rahner!
Karl Rahner, however, was still close to the Heideggerian ontology criticized by Levinas when it came to his critique of the kind of Modernism current in Catholic circles in the early twentieth century. Rahner wrote "what is called "modernism" in the classical understanding lives by the conviction that the concept or reflection is something absolutely secondary in relation to the original self possession of existence in self-consciousness and freedom, so that reflection could also be dispensed with." Such a criticism might well be leveled against Levinas and the entire postmodern school. However, reflection is not dispensed with in either classic modernism, at least Tyrrell's form of Modernism nor in Levinas' reflection of ethics, and not being, as fundamental for metaphysics. What is "dispensed with" is reflection on ideal concepts, not original experience. In fact, as Oliver Davies comments on Levinas' later work Otherwise than Being, "The principal theme of Otherwise than Being can be summarized as an exploration of the relation between a non-ontological transcendence (or what Levinas calls "saying") and the realm of consciousness, representation and being (the "said"). Rahner clearly saw this problem when he wrote,
“The coming revelation of God, eschatology, the trace of the Other, is not the introduction of a teleological system nor the orientation of history. It is a response formed without image and without mediation. Meister Eckhart in one of his sermons says "The just person seeks nothing in their works. Those that seek something in their works or those who work because of a 'why' are (serfs and mercenaries). And so if you want to be transformed by and transformed into justice, have no [specific] intention in your works and form no 'why' in yourself, either in time or eternity, either reward or happiness, either this or that.
Such works are in fact, dead. Even if you form God within yourself, whatever works you performed for a purpose are all dead, and you ruin good works ... It is a characteristic of creatures that they make something out of something, while it is characteristic of God that he makes something out of nothing. Therefore if God is to make anything in you or with you, you must first have become nothing. Hence go into your own ground and work there, and the works you work there will all be living. This is why he says, "the just lives." Because he is just he works, and his works live." As Schurmann comments, "The just man no longer looks for support elsewhere; nor does he let his acts be determined by external precepts. If he strove for conformity with exterior laws, his acting would simply be legal. The just man who acts out of intimate assimilation with justice "is" just in the same way that the reflection of a beautiful face is beautiful; totally by another and yet totally in itself." For Eckhart the "desire for a land not of our birth, for a land foreign to every nature, which has not been our fatherland" as Levinas described metaphysical desire is characterized by a radical dissimilarity between God and creatures. "All creatures are mere nothingness. I do not say that they are small or anything at all: they are mere nothingness." This dissimilarity is absolute. God is completely alterior. Schurmann writes that from the history of doctrines, this entire theme of nothingness and dissimilarity can easily be traced back to the Saint Augustine. When Eckhart speaks of unglicheit, the country of dissimilarity he can claim either the authority of the regio dissimilitudinis in Augustine or that of the foreign land in the psalms. This dissimilarity does not lead to a fatal world-denying gnosis. Christianity has always had a place for Plato's Ideas while at the same time affirming the goodness of creation. Far from neglecting the world or seeing it in a dim-witted framework as so many neo-Platonist and Gnostics did, Eckhart saw creation as the utterance of God. "The Father speaks the Son from his entire power and speaks him in all things. All creatures are words of God. My mouth expresses and reveals God but the existence of a stone does the same and people often recognize more from the actions than from words.... All creatures may echo God in all their activities. It is, of course, just a small bit which they can reveal." In a similar fashion, Levinas sees the world as containing the trace of the other.
|Dali's "Cross of Saint John Of The Cross"|
Rahner articulated the demonstrability of a holistic interpretive understanding writing "In the fact that man raises analytic questions about himself and opens himself to the unlimited horizons of such questioning, he has already transcended himself and every conceivable element of such an analysis or of an empirical reconstruction of himself. In so doing this he is affirming himself as more than the sum of such analyzable components of his reality. Precisely this consciousness of himself, this confrontation with the totality of all his conditions, and this very being-conditioned show him to be more than the sum of his factors." We must bear in mind that subjectivity understood from a Levinasian perspective is not a private universe, a sealed interiority, but an unparalleled attention, a response to what is outside, the most outside of which is the other human being. Certainly God but additionally history also stands outside of us.
Although history ought not constitute the totality of understanding, we do need to stay connected to the living streams of our tradition. Traditio can be distinguished from traditum in that traditio is understood as the mode of transmission itself while traditum is the actual handing down of something from generation to generation. Traditio therefore can be understood in a phenomenological manner. Tradition curbs, trains and moulds one's own subjectivity. Michael Casey points out that tradition is assailed from both the left and the right. He writes, "The left attacks it because the past is identified with the forces of conservatism; it is understood, to use Margaret Mead's term, as 'coercive' rather than instrumental'. It imposes its own way of viewing situations and responding to them so that development is blocked. On the other hand, memory is rejected by the right because it is subversive to the status quo; memory knows another time. It relativizes the present and so can offer an alternative to current ideology--which may be why J.B. Mertz speaks about the 'dangerous memory of Jesus Christ.' In reference to interpretation of the Torah, Levinas writes: "What allows one to establish a difference between a personal originality brought to the Book and the pure play of amateurs' (or charlatans') illusions is a necessary reference of the subjective to the historical continuity of interpretation, is the tradition of commentaries that cannot be ignored under the pretext that inspiration come to you directly from the text. A "renewal" worthy of the name cannot circumvent these references, just as it cannot circumvent the reference to what is called the Oral Law." The Christian tradition approaches with similar reverence natural law. However, the interpretation of natural law in our day has its own limitations in terms of facilitating an Levinasian ethic that needs to be critiqued.
Natural law has produced a very act-centered morality, a kind of Catholic utilitarianism, when the historical role of Catholicism has always been to insist on the transcendence of the human person, on the belief that utility is not the ultimate criteria for human choices. Yet natural law's anthropology is so hyperteleological that the wonder before creation, and before one's fellow creatures, that is proper to the soul is lost, and the relationships that follow are diminished in their richness, their humaneness. Surely the most important thing to know about the human person from the story of Genesis is that we are created in the image and likeness of God, and it is that belief which, through the centuries, has been the surest bulwark against dehumanization." That notion needs to be amplified and can be assisted through Levinas' hermeneutic that it is not the last judgment, but each judgment in time wherein morality is found. One sees the emergence within science and medicine of the human person being understood holistically rather than mechanically or technologically. The removal of the ground of natural law, or the delightful "lapse of the ontological order", does create a sense of instability. However, it is precisely that instability which is necessary to shake us out of our complacency and call us into the world, the existential, in which we live; where the other meets our Desire. Morality, actually, living a just and happy life is the consummation of a life viewed through the optics of ethics. Ethics is not understood theoretically but in terms of a living, holistic response to life.
We require a fresh vocabulary to couch our experience. I have suggested in this essay that a phenomenological vocabulary rooted in a Celinean ethic, one such vocabulary, conception and methodology that can assist us.... ... ... Levinas concludes Totality and Infinity by writing that transcendence or goodness is produced as pluralism. "The work of justice and peace is not a political conception identified with the end of combats that cease for want of combatants, by the defeat of some and the victories of others, that is, with cemeteries or future universal empires. Peace must be my peace, in a relation that starts from an I and goes to the other, in desire and goodness, where the I both maintains itself and exists without egoism. It is conceived starting from an I assured of the convergence of morality and reality, that is, of an infinite time which through fecundity is its time." That time is, as it has always been--is now. Chronos!
Karl Rahner, Foundations of Catholic Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity,
And stop listening to Whacky “Evangelists”. We have something deep here, more then you can fathom, how far down the rabbit hole do you want to go?
For whom do we take the time to write?
The Ek-stasy of the carnival:
Outside time, a transport. A time for play – not work or production, incalculable activity without ends, telos, death.
The economy of time is the first process to come under the control of capitalism. Marx, the Grundrisse.
Every one consumes.
“X” marks the spot.
A paradoxical time for the other in the primary process of desiring-production.
“Finally, we, the dead…”
… a striving, a-desiring, unconscious of death, ends, goals – a teleological suspension of the ethical.
That’s laughter: an uncontrollable seizure.
The sad clown. Kafka with his wicked sense of humour, rarely allowed himself to laugh aloud and he never spoke an excessive word.
K and the priest in the Trial. A guard stands at the door.
Death. The door is closing now…
all you had to do was ask the question.
Hamlet – a play, a tragedy: to be or not to be – that is the question.
Weighty questions of gravity, duty, existence.
The weight of the cross on Being, pressed down by the hand with an opposable thumb that holds the pen.
“If only I keep this little matter just lightly concealed with my hand…”
Man looked back towards his origins for the meaning of human existence and saw that way was blocked now – by an ape.
“Esteemed gentlemen of the academy! You have done me the honour of asking me to present a report to the academy concerning my past life as an ape. I regret to say that I find myself unable to comply with your request thus formulated…”
Transport. The end of the book. The beginning of writing.
Writing menaces the breath, the spontaneity of communication.
Incorporate a time capsule. Bury it in the earth.
A written formula.
Time is the Other
(of “space: What you damn well have to see.” Joyce)
A strange statement!
A shibboleth… you say
Tout autre est tout autre.
Derrida. From the Gift of Death.
ALL IS GRACE,
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
When God says that He is being and if what He says is to have any intelligible meaning to our minds, it can only mean this: that He is the pure act of existing.
Beyond all sensible images, and all conceptual determinations, God affirms Himself as the absolute act of being in its pure actuality. Our concept of God, a mere feeble analogue of a reality which overflows it in every direction, can be made explicit only in the judgement: Being is Being, an absolute positing of that which, lying beyond every object, contains in itself the sufficient reason of objects. And that is why we can rightly say that the very excess of positivity which hides the divine being from our eyes is nevertheless the light which lights up all the rest: ipsa caligo summa est mentis illuminatio.
When St. Jerome says that God is His own origin and the cause of His own substance, he does not mean, as Descartes does, that God in a certain way posits Himself in being by His almighty power as by a cause, but simply that we must not look outside of God for a cause of the existence of God.
"Merton on God"
The one big concept which I got out of its pages was something that was to revolutionize my whole life. It is all contained in one of those dry, outlandish technical compounds that the scholastic philosophers were so prone to use: the word aseitas. In this one word, which can be applied to God alone, and which expresses His most characteristic attribute, I discovered an entirely new concept of God—a concept which showed me at once the belief of Catholics was by no means the vague and rather superstitious hangover from an unscientific age that I had believed it to be. On the contrary, here was a notion of God that was at the same time deep, precise, simple, and accurate and, what is more, charged with implications which I could not even begin to appreciate, but which I could at least dimly estimate, even with my own lack of philosophical training.
Aseitas—the English equivalent is a transliteration: aseity—simply means the power of a being to exist absolutely in virtue of itself, not as caused by itself, but as requiring no cause, no other justification for its existence except that its very nature is to exist. There can be only one such Being: that is God. And to say that God exists a se, of and by and by reason of Himself, is merely to say that God is Being Itself. Ego sum qui sum. And this means that God must enjoy “complete independence not only as regards everything outside but also as regards everything within Himself.
What a relief it was for me, now, to discover not only that no idea of ours, let alone any image, could adequately represent God, but also that we should not allow ourselves to be satisfied with any such knowledge of Him.
Bebert was a Montparnasse tabby, born probably in 1935. He met his second master in occupied Paris in late 1942. "Magic itself, tact by wavelength," as his master described him, Bebert was to be left behind when the master and his wife, Lucette, decamped for Germany in the dread spring of '44. Bebert refused separation. He was carried in the travelling sack. The voyage led through lunar bomb craters, strafed rail lines, and cities burning like mad torches. Under bombardment, Bebert, almost starving, became lost, but rediscovered his master and Madame. The trio crossed and recrossed the collapsing Reich. In a last, despairing lunch, they reached Copenhagen. When the Danish police came to arrest the unwelcome guests, Bebert slipped out across a roof. Caught, the legendary beast was caged in a pound at a veterinary clinic.When his master was released from jail and was recuperating, Bebert had to be operated on for a cancerous tumor. "But the Montmartre tom had been around the block. He withstood the trauma and made a speedy recovery, with the slower and wiser serenity of aging cats, faithful, silent, and enigmatic." ...Sphinxlike in years, Bebert, the secret sharer, died in a suburb of Paris at the end of 1952."After many an adventure, jail, bivouac, ashes, all of Europe...he died agile and graceful, impeccably, he had jumped out the window that very morning...""It is Berbert I want to write about--Bebert the arch-survivor and the incarnation of French cunning,"
Thursday, October 6, 2011
What is RCIA?
By Mike Murphy
I think identifying the core principle or principles of the RCIA process is key to understanding how the RCIA can be fully integrated into parish life. As I listen to and correspond with other RCIA team members and pastoral leaders, through classes at The Archdiocese, and The Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation (VLCFF) an adult religious education and faith formation via the internet. I am on my Level II courses in receiving my certificate. I hear a lot of different opinions of what those RCIA core elements are.
Here are some basic RCIA core values that come to mind for me:
1) Provide a safe place for faith sharing. Almost no one speaks in our current RCIA, it was after the Easter vigil that we found out that we had 2 cancer survivors in the class. After 9 months the group members didn’t even know everyone in the groups name. Some people never spoke the whole class. We never got to fully know some of the people, or hear their stories, which is a shame and says little for our faith formation.
2) When I did RCIA my main purpose was to facilitate the formation of disciples of Jesus Christ, not dominate it. People are smarter then most think. They bond, even over the language barrier. I have found it best to perhaps introduce a topic, by reading scripture, watching a segment on DVD, or inviting a topic from the group. Then go around the Circle so as everyone participates, or at the very least checks in. The team members are to encourage sharing provide positive affirmation to the shy ones, and to facilitate or curb some of the group members that just like to go on and on. The group can then freely participate in expressing their thoughts with out the fear of being made fun of or interrupted by an authoritarian “leader” who more often the not, knows very little and just wants to exercise their ego.
3) We are journeying with fellow adults; so adult-learning principles should shape our gatherings. I have found we don’t bring God to the other, but find God in the other.
It’s not just about learning the liturgy it’s about becoming engaged in it! The original meaning that Jesus clearly intended has nothing to do with a particular dogma or doctrine, Catholics, or Protestants. It has even less to do with church membership, its liturgy, rubrics, vestments, candles, or a hierarchy. It has everything to do with “initiation” with the experience of Jesus. Imitating the life of Jesus Christ and sharing God’s kingdom values here on earth. The easiest way to get out of following Christ, is to worship him.
4) I must emphasize the crucial role sponsors play in RCIA. I always thought Brian would be an excellent Sponsor Coordinator. I gave him some books and a DVD on what it means to be a Sponsor, Also a Knights of Columbus Article that was publish I wrote on Sponsorship using the Flannery O’Conner title “The Life you save may be your own” see attachment. Meet your Catechumen at the entrance to the church. The Catechumen shouldn't have to walk into church alone. If your Catechumen misses Mass, make a follow up call. if you have to miss a Mass, if possible find a substitute to be with your Catechumen.
Show your Catechumen how to bless him or herself with holy water from the font. Introduce your Catechumen to new parishioners each Sunday. Encourage fellowshipping by greeting and handing out hymnals or attending other Church events. It is your job to make him feel part of the community.
Show your Catechumen how to genuflect and bow. For instance, if the tabernacle were in the sanctuary, behind the altar, you would genuflect before entering your pew. If the tabernacle were off to the side or in a separate space, you would bow to the altar before entering your pew. My main point is that personally I felt nervous during Mass. Many of us have not fit in or been involved in a community in a very long time. I was convinced that I didn't belong, that everyone was looking at me and thinking; what is he doing here? Then I started asking myself the same questions.
As a catechist and someone who works in 12 step groups, my biggest dilemma is how to prepare that person, and to somehow bring about a desire for change, open to the Holy Spirit, open to living a life of Sobriety with the aid of God. Believe it or not people fight this “Transformation” I do not know why, Freud called it the “Death Instant”. You would think that the fact that a person shows up at an RCIA Class or an AA meeting, that alone meant they were ready to change, to become something new. But this is more often then not false. Change is very scary, as Auden wrote:
“We would rather be ruined than changed,
We would rather die in our dread,
Than climb the cross of the moment,
And let our illusions die.”
It has been my experience that as the Alcoholic has to hit bottom, so must the Catechumen… in a sense. For most this means that they must go to the place of their most wounded and injured self; for some with disabilities and mental/physical issues like addiction, depression this can be easy, for others, it is the place where our marriage didn’t work out, the place where we were laughed at in grade school for wearing glasses, where we weren’t the prettiest girl in high school, where we were picked last for a sports team. Perhaps we’re a member of a minority race, or a gender minority. There is always a place where each of us has mourned and felt rejected. And that is the place were we have to start moving forward from. We have to go to that place and weep. We must go to that place where we have felt an outsider, alone; we must go to that place to meet God.
Nowadays, depression affects as much as 25 percent of the population. Although it has always been a human problem, no one really knows why. But what Christians do know is that God is not silent when we suffer. On every page of Scripture, God's depressed children have been able to find hope and a reason to endure. For example, take 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Nowhere is this principle better seen than in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. Only when juxtaposed with the endless ages of eternal bliss does suffering in this life become tolerable. There is also another contrast here. In verse 18 Paul juxtaposes “transient” things “that are seen” with “eternal” things “that are unseen.” Especially the connection between verse 18 and verse 16. Our "inner nature" is being renewed as we look or while we look at the unseen, eternal things of the age to come. If you don’t “look” you won’t change! The process of renewal only occurs as the believer looks to things as yet unseen. As we fix the gaze of our hearts on the glorious hope of the age to come, God progressively renews our inner being, despite the decay of our outer frame! Inner renewal does not happen automatically or mechanically. Transformation happens only as or provided that we "look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen" We come to God with our suffering.
You can start to experience the inward renewal that the apostle Paul experienced when you come to God with your suffering. God seems far away when we suffer. You believe that He exists, but it seems as if He is too busy with everything else, or He just doesn't care. After all, God is powerful enough to end your suffering, but He hasn't. If you start there, you'll reach a dead end pretty quickly. God hasn't promised to explain everything about what He does and what He allows. Instead, He encourages us to start with Jesus. Jesus is God the Son, and He is certainly loved by his heavenly Father. Yet Jesus also went through more suffering than anyone who ever lived!
This to me is the meaning of RCIA, but what I find really happening in RCIA, in fact its goal, is to simply make “nice” people even “Nicer” and I‘m sorry but that is not what Jesus came to earth for, its clear he didn’t come to make nice people feel good about themselves and give us a sense of moral superiority or one-upmanship over others. The word nice does not even appear once in the Bible. What I see happening for the most part is RCIA, in fact it might be said about most of religion, is nothing more then creating a positive self-image and has very little to do with the search for God. I meet with so many people and it seems there has never really been any journeying, any real encounter any real surrender. It’s all simply going through this morality game, thinking that I am going to bend the arm of God to get him to like me, and to give me a positive self-image so I can feel good about myself. The Irony is true religion leads you initially into an encounter with a negative self-image. The self-help author Scot Peck wrote “Most people seem to simply want to feel well of themselves”. Now this is not an awful thing but it is not what Christ calls us to do. Saint Therese of Lisieux (my patron Saint) put it so nicely in her gentle way: "If you are willing to serenely bear the trial of being displeasing to yourself, the you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter."
I believe most RCIA Classes’ will not be teaching the transformative mystery of the cross until we have a model of mystagogy in catechesis that leads people into that true initiation of that painful and terrifying mystery of the cross, and not just some socialization process of how can I feel good belonging to the Parish. (Which is all fine and good, but which is really a 3rd level concern)
Vatican II made it clear that the order of catechumenate would be reintroduced and that the rites of initiation for adults would be revised, interest in the pastoral application of mystagogy was revived. In 1972, when the Rite for the Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) was established, mystagogy was again given credence in the life of the Church as a Formal step on the path to becoming fully invested in the Catholic life. Since that time some pastoral leaders have paid increasing attention to the ancient notion of mystagogy, attempting to recreate a mystagogical experience much like that of the early centuries of the church. Mystagogy can be seen in the Church back to the time of Christ. In the apostolic era, as the new Church struggled to understand its brand new experience of Christ, early converts could know the initial Christian theology concerning creation, death, resurrection, and eternal life only by participating in the experiences of baptism, Eucharist, and charitable ministry. The Church Fathers did not view mystagogy as simply an initiation to the sacraments but an initiation through the sacraments. The initiation rituals conveyed a reality through which the catechumens would become invested in the life of Christ by experiencing him. Because of this, the Church Fathers insisted that the rituals of initiation be carried out with a great deal of pomp and solemnity and those they incorporate sensual, evocative symbolism capable of reinforcing the mystery of the experience. Modern RCIA leaders have a tendency to interpret the mystagogies of the fourth-century bishops as mere catechetical explanations of the sacraments. (I just finished an awesome book by Cardinal Newman where he defines the sacraments as not only an outward sign of an inner movement of grace, but as also an “instrument of Grace.”) The notion that mystagogical is nothing more than a fifty-day catechesis to aid the converts in their reflection on initiation is an unfortunate and incomplete interpretation; it does not allow mystagogy to flourish throughout the entire period of conversion as the true and proper theology that it is. The brilliance of mystagogy of the early church is that it caused the catechumens to actually participate in the saving activities of Christ through the experiences of baptism, chrism, and Eucharist. For me the real genius of early church Catechesis, and I have discovered much of it through the RCIA library, that I donated to The Blessed Sacrament Library, and witnessed as Lead Catechist under Father Sebastian, is that information was not given to early newcomers, except as it was matched by sacramental experience, in other words real encounters with the holy, and then we will tell you the words. What we have been doing lately is giving catechism answers and words way beyond their level of inner experience of God, which trivializes the entire process. It makes people think they have it when they don’t have it. They’ve taken no journeys with God but they have all the answers. Mystagogy which was the initiation rite into the Cross and Resurrection experience, said that words cannot surpass experience, and that they had to go forward in parallel fashion. The whole reason for dismissals is that the Catechumen could not hear the creed, could not go to communion, until they somehow had experienced communion and experienced what it meant to say, “I believe in one God”. Now the Creed just flows off the tongue effortlessly like they Know what they are talking about, but they do not know what it means! The Jewish people were much smarter when they said; don’t even dare to use the word! Because you don’t even know what you are talking about!
My Last 2 years in RCIA mystagogy was not even taught, I was asked once to correctly pronounce the word for the group and that was it. Instead the class was told that if they did not participate in the 50-day post Confirmation sessions of RCIA, that their Baptism and Confirmation certificates would be withheld. Does anyone realize how childish and counter productive this is? The reason this implemented this was that people stopped coming to RCIA after they were confirmed, what does that tell us? In former RCIA days, the class wept at our last meeting and the Catachuemens of those years still keep in contact and many are parts of various ministries’, we even have reunions and had a party when our RCIA Father visited us from Nepal. As far as anyone holding on to everyone’s confirmation Cert’s, I think they are still holding on to them cause no one cared enough to ask for theirs. My friend just received hers in this month after pestering the RCIA Director for months, only to be dismayed that her “New” Christian name “Veronica” was nowhere to be found on the certificate. You would think that whatever was lacking in the wisdom experience department, would be at least made up for by administrative competency.
When I was dismissed, which I had to go around myself and ask if I was indeed dismissed (all very Childish) I was told that RCIA rested on knowledge and information, not transformation. Knowledge and information, Isn’t that called Gnosticism? Has anyone ever heard of someone being converted by reading a Papal encyclical, or someone quitting cigarettes’ from simply reading the warning on the side, or getting Sober because a medical journal informed him or her that drinking is not healthy? Or you can go to Jail, or to Hell? No, information and laws doesn’t transform lives! While trying to convey this I was accused of teaching against the Ten Commandments. I was interrupted and my presentation was ended. Had The RCIA director heard me out I was simply stating the Law is not an end unto itself, but an archaic starting point, had Joseph followed the Law he would have had Mary stoned, The Law turned Saint Paul of Tarsus into a mass murder! The Law Killed Christ! Its so sad these people believe if they just follow the law and do good deeds, they can talk God into loving them. Don’t they know that you cannot talk God into loving you, and likewise you cannot talk God into not loving you! They think if they believe this dogma and go to church every Sunday they are in good shape. As Augustine observed, That even the devil believes the laws and dogmas of the Church! It’s not about beliefs; it’s about Faith! There was almost no round-robin faith sharing in RCIA, RCIA let everyone share their experience in a safe environment where they won’t meet with often brash and offhand calloused remarks, also if the leaders tried listening to someone else’s voice besides their own, I believe all evolved will benefit. No one knew my friend was a Cancer survivor, there were 2 others in that class also, we found this out during the last few sessions, such a shame, such opportunities lost!
When we’re meeting with inquirers or catechumens, we try to avoid awkwardness. We don’t want to feel awkward ourselves, and we certainly don’t want the inquirers or catechumens feeling awkward. So we talk. We fill up the silence with chatter.
Sometimes that’s a good thing, especially during inquiry. The new folks usually don’t want to be responsible for the conversation. Often, they have come to listen to you tell them what they are supposed to do. Chatting can help put the inquirers at ease. There comes a moment, however, when we have to stop talking. For many of us, that’s difficult.
I don’t have all the answers, but I have some suggestions. First, we have to be comfortable with silence when we are alone. How much time each day do you spend just being silent? No reading, no television, no Internet, no Facebook. Just you and silence. For me, it’s not much time at all. I suppose I could say my prayer time is silent, but usually I’m reading a psalm or going over the list of people I promised to pray for. I’m lining up my day in my head and asking God to help me with all my tasks and projects. If anyone else were in the room, they might say I was silent. But in my head, there is a lot of noise going on. True silence is difficult. Even so, if we are going to be comfortable with silence with the inquirers and catechumens, we have to practice being silent with ourselves.
The next step is to listen. When I was in college, I learned about “active listening.” Most of us have had at least a little training in active listening. I’m very good at active listening, but in order to know when to stop talking, we have listen to what the other person is saying. If we are listening well, we will hear the needs, wants, and dreams of the person we are listening to. We will also hear a lot of what is not being said. Listening well will help to ask insightful questions that will spur more conversation from your inquirer or catechumen. And once you ask a question, stop talking. This is where I get tripped up a lot. If I ask a question that is anywhere close to a vulnerable spot in the inquirer or catechumen, their response is going to be silence. They don’t yet trust me enough to share their vulnerability. So they have to think about it for a second. They have to decide if they want to answer and then carefully phrase how they are going to answer. All this usually takes about five seconds. But five seconds is often way too long for some to wait. Most tend to jump in and fill the “awkward moment” with a clarification of what I meant or a change of subject. At that point, the other person is off the hook and feels no need to answer. So here’s something to try. Next time you ask a question, wait 10 seconds. Then, after you get comfortable with 10 seconds of silence, bump it up to 20 seconds. I guarantee you that in your next conversation, if you can insert just three meaningful questions, each followed by at least 10-seconds silence, and you will learn way more about your “quiet” inquirer than you ever thought you would.
Another tip that works for me is to talk slower. When I get nervous, I tend to be thinking of the next point I want to make, even as I’m making my first point. To mitigate that, I try to think of my conversation in blocks of threes. For example, suppose you want to tell an inquirer something about your pastor. Think of three qualities of your pastor. Describe the first quality in as much detail as you need to. Then imagine yourself taking a sip of water. Or, actually take a sip of water. Then describe the second quality. Take another sip of water. Finally, describe the third quality. Don’t be surprised if, while you’re sipping, your inquirer begins talking!
My final tip about silence I learned as journalist for film magazines. I would tape record all of my interviews while at the same time taking notes. When the interview was over, I stopped taking notes, but left the tape-recorder running. The most compelling part of the interview often happened after it was “over.” The subject would often relax and say something in a less guarded way because the reporter no longer seemed to be gathering information. You might think that sounds a little duplicitous, but you are not using a tape recorder and you are not looking for a scandalous scoop. You are just using your new skill of not talking to give your inquirers and catechumens a chance to say something meaningful. So, when your session is over, thank the inquirers or catechumens for coming, stand up, gather your things, but keep your mental tape-recorder running. And try not to say too much.
Mother Teresa said, “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence…. We need silence to be able to touch souls.” Try some of these tips for being silent and see how deeply you will touch souls.
To Be Continued.