David Peterman and the Hard Choices of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal

In the midst of all the excitement we have these days, I have a few commemorations of my own.  This month is the fortieth anniversary of entering into the full-time workforce, when I started my brief time working at Texas Instruments in Dallas.   (And yes, a new President then, in that case Jimmy Carter, made an impact, especially since I was doing defence work.)  But it was also the time when I made the decision to skip the Catholic Charismatic covenant community route set forth by the Community of God’s Delight.  It was an important decision for me, but the Community ended up making some important decisions of its own.

One of the people I got to know in the process was Dr. David A. Peterman, who worked at TI.  I’ve discussed that relationship here and won’t go through it again.  In 2009 he gave an address at a leaders conference of the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowships (CFCCCF).  It’s probably as straightforward of an account of at least one community’s experience in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, and helps to answer the question I posted earlier about how we got from the folk Mass and praise service days then to #straightouttairondale now.  The highlighting is that of my friend John Flaherty; my interests in this are a little different, as this piece will show.  But I am grateful to him for posting it.

It’s interesting that Peterman starts his talk with making a connection between the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and some of the theological currents before Vatican II, including the French (Henri de Lubac) and Cursillo, along with those of classical Pentecost.  Both of these streams are bêtes noires to the #straightouttairondale people, but both are important.  In the 1970’s Charismatic leaders tended to emphasise the latter over the former; had they taken a more balanced approach, they would have been in better shape to withstand the problems they ran into later.

The Community of God’s Delight was always an important part of the Renewal in the 1970’s, but it was always apart of the “centre” of the movement in Ann Arbor and South Bend.  Part of that was geographical, part of that was cultural, part of that was the size of the community itself.  But make no mistake: the worship, the Life in the Spirit Seminar, everything they did spoke of that kinship.  That included the authoritarian structure of the Community, which was one reason I didn’t join it.

But another problem–and Peterman does touch on it but doesn’t really tackle the issue–is what I call the “ecclesiastically metastable” nature of covenant communities.  The biggest structural weakness in Roman Catholicism is the parish system, which puts its parishioners into an anonymous collection of people who go to Mass every Sunday.  This is in part a product of Roman Catholicism’s sacramental theology; dispensing same is the key function of the priest and receiving same is the key function of the laity.  As long as that was enough–and Catholic parishes were the social club of people from the “old country”–it worked.  (That’s a warning for Pentecostal churches and their large immigrant churches.)

But as American society changed and people longed for a stronger connection with God and each other than the parish system provided, something had to give.  The Renewal’s answer to this was first the prayer groups and then the covenant communities.  Leaving aside the other problems, this dual allegiance was a kludge, and many of us instinctively realised this.  David makes an interesting statement about this, casting it in the Catholicity issue:

Due to their unfamiliarity and misunderstandings, many bishops had grown very suspicious or even antagonistic towards the Renewal in general, and to covenant communities in particular. Some of this was justified, as there were some Catholics who had left the Church due to their confusion between their experience of Christianity in the broad Renewal and in nondenominational communities as compared with what was perceived as a lesser authenticity in their parish life. That is a story for another talk.

Indeed.  There’s no question that what people experienced in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal led them out of the Catholic Church, both in Dallas and elsewhere.  Had the parish system been stronger, some of that might have been alleviated, and the resources put into “bringing Catholics home” might be put to better use.

In any case, David’s account of the split between God’s Delight (and others) and Steven Clark and the Sword of the Spirit people is interesting for aficionados of the subject.  Also interesting is the long process during John Paul II’s pontificate of turning those communities and groups who had split with the Sword of the Spirit into a recognised Catholic organisation.  The critical moment came in 1985, when Bishop Paul Cordes made the Charismatics an offer they couldn’t refuse (and I mean that in a Sicilian way) to form an “authentic Catholic entity” and the rest, as they say, is history.

But in reality that process of forcing the Renewal back into the Church in a full way had been going on for some time.  The favoured device was the use of Marian devotions as a litmus test of true Catholicity, which led to widespread heartburn for many, another bleed of parishioners and the division or dissolution of many prayer groups and some covenant communities.

David always struck me as a level-headed and intelligent person; the choices he and his colleagues made, in a Catholic context, were entirely sensible.  He, as another PhD holder in the sciences used to say, played the cards he was dealt.  But I think, in the context of an American church with such strong, anti-clockwise forces in it, that the Renewal has been subsumed in other agendas that not only seek to banish the non-Catholic roots of the Renewal from the Church, but the Catholic ones too.  And that’s a tragedy both for those who stayed and those of us who left.  Some of that is due to the polarised, binary way Americans do just about everything and have done it since the 1960’s, and that’s certainly relevant for more than just Catholics.

And there’s a warning for us too.  I’ve seen many of my Pentecostal seminary academics and their friends in the pastoral ministry toy with liturgical and sacramental Christianity.  Our pastor even did an “Advent” sermon series, which would have been unheard of twenty years ago.  But I get the impression that neither their concept nor their execution of liturgy or sacrament is very strong.  If that changes, they need to come to grips with whether (or how) a truly Pentecostal, Spirit-led church can survive in a liturgical-sacramental context.  The experience of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal is not encouraging in that regard, but perhaps someone will learn from their mistakes.  As David said at the start of his monologue, which deserves a full reading:

Human knowledge passes from generation to generation. Essentially what we know is based on what has been passed on to us as well as what we personally experience. But even our experiences are interpreted in light of what we have learned from history. Without the discoveries and experiences of others, we would still all live like cave men. So we all owe a great debt to our predecessors – who’ve put history’s “lessons” into our hands and minds.

The Creation of Men and Angels: Creation of man, and On the singularity of the creation of man. First singularity in these words: Let us make man

This is one in a series from Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries. The previous post is here. More information on the Bossuet Project is here.

Creation of man

“You have lowered him slightly below the angel; you crowned him with glory and honor, and you have appointed to him all the works of your hands.” (Psalm 90:11, Hebrews 2:14) This is what David sang in memory of the creation of man. And it is true that God “has put him a little below the angels:” below, because united to a body it is less than the pure spirits, but only a little below; because like them he has life and intelligence and love, and man is only happy by the participation of the joy of the angels and no other. God is the common happiness for one to another, and from this side, equal to the angels, “their brothers” and not their subjects, we are “a little below them.”

“You have crowned with glory and honor,” according to the soul and the body. You gave him justice, the original righteousness, immortality and dominion over all corporeal creatures. Angels do not need these creatures which are no use to them, having no body. But God introduces man to this sensible and corporeal world to contemplate and enjoy. To contemplate it, as David went on to say by these words: “When I see your heavens which are the work of your fingers; I see the moon and the stars that you have founded,” in the middle of the huge ocean which surrounds it, and you have set the course by a law of inviolable stability. Man should also enjoy the world, according to the uses that God has prescribed: the sun, moon and stars, “to distinguish the days, months, seasons and years.” All the rest of corporeal nature is subject to his dominion: he cultivates the land and makes it fruitful: he uses the seas in its purposes and its trade: they make the communication of both worlds that form the globe of the earth: all the animals recognize his dominion, or because he tames them, or because he employs its various uses. But sin has weakened this dominion and has left us only a few miserable remnants.

As everything had to be put in the power of man, God created him after everything else, and introduced him into the universe, as we entered the banquet hall that which he made for us, after which all is ready and that the meats are served. Man is the complement of the works of God: and when he was made as his masterpiece, he remains at rest.

God honors man: why does he dishonor himself, “by making himself like beasts” on whom dominion is given?

On the singularity of the creation of man. First singularity in these words: Let us make man

Human animal, who lowered himself to “make himself like the beasts,” and often put yourself lower than them so to envy their condition, today it is necessary to understand your dignity by the admirable singularities of your creation. The first is to have been made, unlike other creatures by a command word fiat, but by a council of speech: faciamus, let us make. God takes council in himself, like going to a work of highest perfection, and to say so, of a particular industry, which most excellently highlights the wisdom of its author. God did nothing either on earth or in material nature which could hear the beauties of the world he had built, nor the rules of its admirable architecture; or who could not itself hear by the example of its creator; nor is able by itself to elevate to God and imitate intelligence and love, and like him be happy. For thus to create such a beautiful work, God consults himself, and wanting to produce an animal capable of counsel and reason, he called in some way to his rescue, talking to another self, to whom he said, let us make; who is not a created being, but one thing that is like him and with him, and this thing can only be his Son and his eternal wisdom, eternally generated in his bosom, by which and with which he had made all things to the truth, but he says more specifically in making man.

Let us therefore keep from allowing ourselves to be trapped by the blind ambitions of our passions, neither by that which the world calls luck and fortune. We were made by an obvious counsel, all the wisdom of God, to say so, called. So do not believe that human affairs can move forward one time by chance. Everything is ruled in the world by providence; but especially what concerns men is subject to the provisions of hidden and particular wisdom, because of all the works of God, man is the one from which the worker wants to get the most glory. So let us always be blindly subject to his orders, and place in him all our wisdom. Whatever comes our way unexpected, odd and irregular in appearance, let us remember these words: let us make man, and the particular counsel that gave us being.

The Jewish Club Pans Barack Obama’s Membership

The soon to be former President finds out that a slice of exclusive American history has consequences:

It was founded more than century ago as a refuge for Jewish American golfers being discriminated against, but now a Maryland country club is facing its own exclusion row over whether to admit Barack Obama.

Several members at the exclusive Woodmont Country Club have said an application by the outgoing US president, a keen golfer, to join the historically Jewish club should be rejected because of his Israel policies.

The existence of Jewish and Gentile clubs may seem strange to most Americans, but it remains a feature of the country club scene in many places.  One of those is Palm Beach, where I found this out the hard way growing up there.  Excluded from the Gentile clubs (which were started first,) Jews founded their own clubs.  In the case of the Palm Beach Country Club, support for Israel charities is expected from new members, and I suspect at Woodmont it is the same.

The supreme irony in all of this is that the one person (in Palm Beach at least) who has done more than anyone else to break this Jew-Gentile separation pattern in clubs is none other than Donald Trump, which he did when he made Mar-a-Lago (his Florida White House) a private club.

My advice to well-heeled Evangelicals in the Washington area is to apply for membership at Woodmont.  We’re not Jewish, but after our support for Israel, there should be a reward for that somewhere on this side of eternity.

The Creation of Men and Angels: Perseverance and bliss of the holy angels

This is one in a series from Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries. The previous post is here. More information on the Bossuet Project is here.

“There was a great war in heaven, Michael and his angels against the dragon and his angels: the dragon and his angels fought, and their strength failed them,” and they fell from the sky, “and their place there was no more.” (Revelation 12, 7-8) What is this fight? What are the weapons of spiritual powers? “We have no fight against flesh and blood but against spiritual wickedness in the heavens and in the dark air which surrounds us.” (Ephesians 6:12, 22)

It is not necessary to visualize oneself in this fight, neither the arm of flesh, nor the material weapons or bloodshed as we do: it is a conflict of thoughts and feelings. The angel of pride which is called the dragon, raised the angels and said: We will be happy in ourselves and we will do our will as God. Michael said the opposite: “Who is like God?” Who is his equal? From where does the name of Michael come, that is to say who is like God? But who is in doubt in this fight, as the name of God prevails? What can you, weak spirits, weak, I say, because of your pride, what can you do against the humble army of the Lord, that rallies to that word: “Who is like God?” You fall from heaven like a flash, and your place which was so large remains empty. O what havoc your desertion has been! What vast spaces remain vacant! They will not always be that way, and God will create man to fill those places that your desertion has left vacant. Flee, unhappy troupe: “Who is like God? “Flee before Michael and his angels.

Now there is purified air: the haughty spirits are banished forever: there will be no revolt, there will be no pride or dissension: this is Jerusalem, a city of peace where the “holy angels” united with God and each other “forever see the face of the Father.” (Matthew 18:10) And their happiness assured, they wait submissively for their orders that will send them to the earth.

Holy and blessed spirits, who gave you strength against this prideful spirit who was one of your first princes, and perhaps the first of all? Who does not see that it is God’s name that you put in your head saying with St. Michael “Who is like God?” But who inspired you with this victorious love for God’s name? We are not allowed to think that God inspired you, as he did to holy men, with this invincible and victorious love which makes you persevere in good; and sing in thanksgiving for your victory, that God told one of his saints, “It is to you that they owe their being: it is to you that they owe their lives: it is to you that they are to live happy. ” They have not made themselves better and more excellent than you have; this degree of good they have acquired in persevering, comes to them from you. And another of your saints has said: “The same grace that has raised fallen man, operated in the holy angels the happiness of not falling: it has not abandoned man in his fall, but did not allow allow that the blessed angels fell.” (St. Bernard, 22 Sermons in Canticles, 6)

I love the mercy that made them happy by perseverance; and called by the testimony of your Apostle of the “elect angels” (1 Timothy 5:21) as in us I see in them your only election in which they glory. Because if I said that they glorify themselves, as long as they did it in themselves, I fear, Lord, and forgive me if I dare say it, I fear, in placing them with the deserters, that it gives them credit.

But so what? Did he miss something in the evil angels from God’s side? Far be the thought from us! They fell by their free will and when one asks, “Why did Satan rebel against God?,” the answer is ready: it’s because he wanted to. Because he did not fight as we do the bad lust that traps as evil by strength. His will was perfectly free, and desertion is the pure work of his free will. And the holy angels, how did they persevere in the good? By their free will, no doubt, and because they wanted to. Not having the disease of lust, nor the impulsive inclination to evil that bullies us, they had no need to prevent this impulsive attraction, which inclines us towards good, and which is in men inclined to do evil, the medicinal relief of the Savior. In contrast, in a perfect balance, the will of the holy angels gave only, so to speak, the blow of the election; their choice and that grace helped but did not determine, that choice came out of himself by his own sole determination. It is so, my God; and it seems to me that you make me see that liberty in the idea that you give me free will when he was perfectly healthy.

It was such in all the angels; however, this good use of their free will, which is a great good, and attracts a greater one, which is eternal happiness, can not it come from God? I can not believe it; and I think, if I may say so, to please the holy angels, in recognizing that one who gave them to be like us, life as we have, the first grace as to us, freedom like us, by a particular action of his power and goodness, gave them like us, by action of its special goodness, proper use of good. That is to say, the good use of their free will, which was good but ambiguous, with which one could do right and wrong, God still gave them. How much more he gave them the good which can not be used badly, since this property is nothing other than its proper use? Everything comes from God; and the angel, no more than man, “does not need to glorify itself” by the place it’s at, “but all glory is in God.” (1 Corinthians 1:29, 31) He gave her the initial justice, and more so persevering justice that is more perfect as it is happier, since it has as its reward this changeless strengthening of the will in the good, which is the eternal happiness of the righteous.

Yes, holy angels, I join you to tell God that you owe him everything, and want to perform any duty to him, and that is why you have triumphed over your unfortunate companions, because you wanted to do your duty to whom you owe being, life and justice, while the proud, forgetting what they owed him, wanted to owe themselves their own perfection, glory, and bliss.

Be happy, holy angels. Come to our aid; the countless armies of our enemies perish in a night by the hand of one of you. In like fashion, all the firstborn of Egypt perished in one high, an Egypt which persecuted God’s people. Holy angel, whoever you are, whom God has committed to my keeping, push away these great tempters which continue their fight against God. They argued with the man who is their conquest, and you want them removed. O Saint Michael, o holy angel, powerful protector of the holy people, “of which you offer to God the prayers like sweet incense!” With you I can say without end, “Who is like God?” O holy Gabriel, who is called God’s strength, you who announced to Mary the actual coming of Christ, and had foretold to Daniel coming events, inspire us with holy thought to profit from your predictions. O Saint Raphael, whose name means medicine of God, as with the holy man Tobit, heal my soul from a most dangerous blindness; bind the demon of fornication, which attacks the children of Adam even in the sanctity of marriage. Bind him, for you are more powerful than him, and God himself is your strength. Holy angels, such as you are, “who see the face of God,” and to whom “he commanded to keep us in all our ways,” develop on top of our weakness help of all kinds that God has put in your hand for the salvation of his elect,”for which he has ordered to establish yourself as administrator spirits.”

O God, send us your holy angels. Those who served Jesus Christ after his youth; those “who guarded his tomb and announced his resurrection; one who strengthened him in his agony, because Jesus Christ did not need his help for himself, but only because he was clothed in our weakness, and they are infirm members that this consoling angel came to strengthen in the person of their leader.

National Cathedral Doesn’t Really Want to Participate in the Inauguration? Let Bethesda Handle It!

They’re getting nervous over at the National Cathedral:

The Episcopal cathedral is garnering criticism from some Episcopalians – including within the Episcopal Diocese of Washington – for hosting a regular interfaith prayer service as part of festivities marking the U.S. Presidential Inauguration, and for agreeing to send its boys choir to perform at the Inauguration itself.

There’s a lot of Anglo-Episcopal fudge in this piece, from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry down.  I don’t find Anglican fudge very admirable from left or right, so let’s cut to the chase: given the Episcopal Church’s left-wing stand on just about everything, if they don’t really want to be a part in this inauguration, they just need to come out, say it, and pull out of it.  It’s the same re John Lewis and all the Members of Congress boycotting the big event: if they don’t want to be there, it’s fine, don’t even add to the publicity in a response.

Of course, my home church, Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, gave him a standing ovation last month.  That’s enough from an Episcopal church, and IMHO better than anything National Cathedral could do for him.  Bethesda may get dirty looks from the rest of the church, but given that they send a lot of money “upstairs,” that’s about as far as it will get.

The Episcopalians: Trying to Change History While Missing What’s Important

In the middle of a post on her “Rip van Winkle” return to Seattle, Julia Duin makes this observation about growing up Episcopalian:

In high school, we had just moved to Seattle from Maryland, where there was so much social ferment. It even affected the Episcopal church we attended in Severna Park, which was close to Annapolis. I found a letter in the scrapbooks from a friend explaining she had left St. Martins (as had numerous other families) because of its emphasis on politics. The Episcopal church got really into the anti-war movement during that time period. What they missed was the burgeoning Jesus movement that was also happening. I returned to that church when I was a junior in high school and challenged the priest as to why, after 5 years there, I had not heard about the Jesus I encountered later in Young Life at Redmond High School. He felt the message had been there but I had not heard it. I didn’t challenge him at the time, but actually, the message wasn’t there.

The message really wasn’t there, as I discuss in this post about John Stott.   What I was getting was this kind of thing, by a school chaplain who ended up on the Left Cost.  Those who were “Jesus freaks” (or even more conventional Southern evangelicals) either laid very low or were attacked at my Episcopal prep school.  It made swimming the Tiber a lot better cover for what was going on in my life, something Hillary Clinton’s people figured out in this last election cycle.

Duin opens with one of the best descriptions of left-wing gentrification I’ve seen, which is one reason I support #Calexit.

Next Thing, They’ll Start Declaring Students as “Unmutual”

Syracuse University leads the way:

Syracuse University wants student to combat hate and report bias incidents to the administration when they encounter them on campus. Given how broadly the university defines bias, it’s surprising that students have time for anything else.

According to Syracuse, bias involves “telling jokes,” “excluding or avoiding others,” using the phrase “no homo” (does anyone even say that anymore?), making comments on social media, and a dozen other things.

Avoiding others?  Forced socialisation?  Reminds me of the classic series The Prisoner, where in “A Change of Mind” #6 is declared “unmutual” for his independent ways:

The series was, sad to say, prophetic.  Be seeing you!

The Creation of Men and Angels: The fall of the angels

Everything can change, but God: “Nothing is changeless (by itself) among its saints, and the heavens are not clean in his presence. Those he had created to serve have not been stable, and he has found impurity and depravity in his angels.” (Job 4:18, 15:15) A friend of Job said this, and it was not taken up by this blameless man. It was the common teaching of all, according to this idea, “God,” says St. Peter, “did not spare sinning angels, but cast them into the infernal darkness, where they are held with iron chains and large ropes, there to be tormented and kept for the rigors of Judgment.” (2 Peter 4,4) And Jesus Christ himself said, speaking of Satan: “He did not remain in truth.” (John 8:44)

“How are you fallen from heaven, O beautiful morning star?” (Isaiah 14:12) “You bear in yourself the seal of resemblance, full of wisdom and perfect beauty; you were all sanctified spirits in the paradise of your God, covered with precious stones,” lights and ornaments of his grace. Like a cherub with wings extended, you shone in the holy mountain of God, in the midst of blazing jewels, perfect in your ways from the moment of your creation, until iniquity was found in you.” How was it found, from where did it come? Did error creep into the middle of so many lights, or depravity and lawlessness among such great graces? Really everything from nothing always applies. You were sanctified, but not holy like God: you were first set in order, but not as God, the same order. One of your beauties was to be endowed with a free will, but not as God, whose will is the rule of a free, unwavering will. Beautiful, unhappy spirit, you were limited by yourself; admirer of your own beauty, which was a trap for you. You said: I am beautiful, I am perfect and dazzling light; and instead of going to the source from where you had this glow, you wanted as you admire yourself. And so you say, “I will ascend to heaven; and I will be like the Most High.” (Isaiah 14:13-15) Like a new God, you wanted to enjoy yourself. Creature so elevated by the grace of your creator, you have assigned another elevation that you might own, and you wanted to “raise yourself a throne above the stars,” to be like God, yourself and other bright minds that you have drawn in imitation of your pride. Now suddenly “you fell,” and we who are in the earth, we see you “in the abyss” beneath us. It is you who wanted it, prideful angel, and we must not look for other causes other than the defect your own will. God needs neither lightning nor the strength of indomitable arms to hurl the rebels to earth; all you have to do is to remove those who leave him, and only deliver to themselves those who seek themselves. Cursed spirit, left to yourself, it does not take more to lose you. Rebellious spirits who followed, God twisted you in torture without removing your sublime intelligence. You were the workers of your misfortune, and as soon as you are loved yourself more than God, you turned into evil.

Instead of your natural sublimity, you had only pride and ostentation: the lights of your minds have turned to finesse and cunning artifices. Man, whom God had put underneath you, became the object of your desire: and devoid of charity that ought to have made your perfection, you are reduced to the low and malicious occupation of our first seducers, and then the executioners of those you have deceived. Unfair ministers of the justice of God, you experience it first: you increase your torments by making them feel your jealous rigors: your tyranny is your glory, and you are only capable of this as black and malicious pleasure, if one can call it such, that gives blind pride and low desire. You are spirits deprived of love, which nourish you nothing more than the venom of jealousy and hatred. And how did you made this great change? You withdrew from God, and he withdrew: this is your great torture and his great and admirable justice. But it nevertheless did more: he thundered and struck: you groan under the blows constantly repeated by his invincible and indefatigable hand. By his sovereign orders, the bodily creature that you were subject to naturally dominates and punishes you. Fire torments you: its smoke, so to speak, chokes you: thick darkness takes you captive in eternal prisons. Cursed spirits, hated by God and hating, how are you fallen so low? You wanted it, you still want it, because you always want to be beautiful, and that in your untamed pride you remain obstinate in your misfortune.

Creature, such as you are, and so perfect as you believe yourself to be, remember that you came out of nothing: that of yourself you are nothing: from the root of this base origin you can always become sinful, and from there soon eternally and infinitely unhappy.

Beautiful and rebellious, take example from the prince of rebellion and pride; and see, and consider, and hear what a single feeling of pride has made him and all his followers.

Let us flee, flee, flee from ourselves: let us return to our nothingness and place in God our support as well as our love. Amen. Amen.

The Creation of Men and Angels: The creation of the angels

This is the first in a series from Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries. More information on the Bossuet Project is here.

God, who is a pure spirit, wanted to create pure spirits like him, who like him live in intelligence and love, who know and love him as he knows and loves himself, who like him are happy in knowing and loving that first being, as he is happy by knowing and loving himself. By this they are steeped in their root by a divine nature, by which they are made in his image and likeness.

Such perfect creatures are drawn from nothing as the others, and from there, perfect that they are, they are by their nature prone to sin. He only by its nature is not prone to sin, which is itself perfect by its essence. But as it is the only perfect one, everything is defective except him, “and he found the same depravity in his angels.” (Job 4:18)

However is not he who made them depraved: it is not pleasing to God. Only the very good comes from a hand so good and so powerful: all minds are pure in their origin, all intelligent natures were holy in their creation, and God had formed their nature and filled them with grace all together.

He lifted from his treasures minds of countless kinds. From these infinite treasures came the angels, from these same infinite treasures came reasonable souls. There was a difference, that the angels are not united to a body, which is why they are called pure spirits. Instead, reasonable souls are created to animate a body; and though in themselves they are pure and incorporeal spirits, they make up a whole which is mixed with body and spirit, and this is all man.

O God, be praised forever in the wonderful diversity of your works. You who are spirit, you have created the spirits; and doing what is most perfect, you have not denied the being from what is most imperfect. So you also made minds and bodies, and since you have made spirits separated from the body, and bodies that have no spirit, you also wanted spirits who had bodies; and this is what led to the creation of the human race.

Who doubts that you can not separate and unite and all that pleases you? Who doubts that you cannot make spirits without bodies? Does one need for a body to hear, and to love, and to be happy? You who are a spirit so pure, are you not immaterial and intangible? Are intelligence and love not spiritual and immaterial operations, which can be exercised without being united to a body? Who would doubt that you can not create this kind of intelligence? And you told us that you have created such.

You have told us that these pure creatures “are innumerable.” (Heb. 1:12) One of your prophets, enlightened by your light and transported in spirit as among your angels, saw “a thousand thousands who executed your orders; and ten thousand times a hundred thousand who remained in your presence,” (Daniel 7:10) without doing anything else than adoring you and admiring your greatness. We must not believe that by speaking in this way he has tried to count. This prodigious multiplication, done by the largest numbers, tells us that they are innumerable and that the human mind is lost in this huge multitude. Count, if you can, the sand of the sea, or the stars of heaven, both seen and unseen, and believe that you have not reached the number of angels. It costs nothing to God to multiply most excellent things: and it is most beautiful; we can say that is what he excels in.

“O my God, I adore you in front of your holy angels; I will sing your wonders in their presence;” and I will unite in faith and truth to the immense multitude of the inhabitants of your holy temple; of your perpetual worshippers, in the sanctuary of your glory.

O God, who hast deigned to reveal that you have made them in such numbers, you have wanted to teach us that you distributed them in nine choirs; and your Scripture never lies and says nothing unnecessary, named “angels, archangels, virtues, dominions, principalities, powers, thrones, cherubim and seraphim.” Who will attempt to explain those august names, or describe the properties and the excellence of these beautiful creatures? Too content to dare name them with your always true Scripture, I dare not cast myself in high contemplation of their perfections; and all I see is that among the happy spirits, the Seraphim, which are the most sublime and whom you put at the head of all celestial squadrons nearest you, dare not yet look up to your face. Your prophet who gave them six wings, to signify the height of their thoughts, “two to put them before your face two to put them in front of your feet.” Everything is great in your nature and what is called the face and the feet, there is nothing in you that is incomprehensible. The most refined minds cannot support the splendor of your face: if there is some place in you where you seemed closer to them, and which we can call for that reason your feet, they cover with their wings and do not dare look at him. Six wings, they use four to hide from themselves both your impenetrable and inaccessible light and the love and the incomprehensibility of your being. There are left “two wings to flutter,” if one dares say it, around you, without the power to either enter your depths, or fathom the immense abyss of perfection, before whom they beat barely trembling wings, and they can hardly be sustained in front of you.

O God, I worship you with them! I do not dare to mix my unclean lips with their immortal mouths which resound your praises across the sky. I wait for one of these celestial spirits to come touch me with the fire of coals burning before your altar. What grandeur do you show in these purifying minds! And now you show me that the spirits that purify me are so small in front of you!

How Did We Get From Scanlan to #straightouttairondale?

The death of Fr. Michael Scanlan, the University of Steubenville’s long-time leader, has saddened many in the conservative Catholic world, if not refugees from covenant communities.  It’s an event that may not resonate with the majority of the Christian world, but for those of us with any involvement with the University of Steubenville, it’s worth noting.

I’m going to leave to those more directly affected by his actions vis-à-vis covenant communities how to explain that situation.  Suffice it to say that, after lecturing us on visitations from God, the covenant community that absorbed Steubenville’s Emmanuel group came to an end after the visitation of another higher power, namely the bishop.

As someone who chaperoned three youth group trips to the National Catholic Charismatic Conference on Young People and Youth Ministers (1981-3) and attended one leadership conference (1983,) I have an entirely different question: how did we get from the breezy, folk mass and folk youth service format of those days to the stiff, Latinate style (which I refer to by the Twitter hashtag of #straightouttairondale, because its most prominent proponent is EWTN) that is all the rage in conservative Catholicism now?  Why are the same people who thought we were really in touch with God then now promoting something different?

Let me start by giving you a couple of examples of what things looked like in those days.  The first is a little photo montage I put together from my years in the Texas A&M Newman Association, just a few short years before:

The second comes from Steubenville itself: it’s the opening of the 1983 Student conference:

When we look at either of these, and then compare them with what is presented as “normative” conservative Catholicism these days, the difference is, well, striking.  And what isn’t shown is also worth noting: devotions to Our Lady were few and far between (although I confess I saw a rosary so large it took two people to carry it) and not a word of Latin in or out of the liturgy.  The old folk Mass reigned supreme in those days; it’s just about considered blasphemy now.

What’s really amazing is that many of the same people who thought this was from the throne room have joined the #straightouttairondale bandwagon: Bert Ghezzi, Ann-Marie Shields, Ralph Martin, etc.  Scanlan himself “swam the Tennessee” (which is what you would do going to Irondale or Cullman) during his tenure as President of the University. The University’s summary of his years there is as follows:

Over the next 26 years, he transformed the College into Franciscan University of Steubenville and gained for it a worldwide reputation for both excellence in academics and its passionate Catholic faith environment…His success helped spark a restoration of authentic Catholic education in the United States and beyond, with many colleges and universities renewing their Catholic identity and new schools imitating his emphasis on Catholic Church teaching.

But reality isn’t this seamless.  When you throw in the business about the covenant communities (which have been accused of Protestantising tendencies, although the situation is complex) you get the impression that you’re looking at a group of people who started out at one point, ended up at another, and either have no idea they went on a journey or who don’t want to admit it.

I think there are several reasons for this spectacular volte-face:

  • A change in pontificate.  John Paul II was solicitous about putting the RCC’s “house in order.”  A large part of that was to emphasise particularly Catholic practices such as devotions to Our Lady.  That split many an ecumenical prayer group or covenant community, including this one.
  • A belief that traditional Catholic doctrine had to be accompanied by traditional Catholic worship style and practice and traditional Catholic devotions.  This is a mistake we see in many threads of Christianity; we cannot seem to separate what we believe with the style of our worship.  I am aware of the connection (especially in liturgical churches) between what we believe and what we pray, but that has been pretty much set since 1970, except for the English translation changes.
  • The tendency of people in authoritarian institutions to switch sides and party lines as a means of survival.  This isn’t restricted to the RCC; we saw this in the early years of the Church of England, and during the Cultural Revolution in China.  It’s not pretty but it can be explained.

Some people think that the current Pontiff is trying to pull the Church back the other way.  I think that the current Bishop of Rome is a reverend père Jésuite whose goal is to bring back the morale accomodante of the likes of Escobar, Bauny, Sánchez, etc., and that’s always a disaster.

But we must return to Scanlan’s journey, which has now ended.  If I had to pick a song for his funeral, it would be Erich Sylvester’s “Stay With Me,” whose third verse goes like this:

I went to school for a long time
Expecting to stay in a straight line
Until I discovered that great minds
Don’t move in a straight line at all

The sooner that everyone can face the reality that his life and those of many who walked with him were and are not straight lines, the sooner Roman Catholicism will be able to decrease its efforts to bring its departed sheep back home, because not so many will leave.

Sailing the Last Voyage with Newton and Pascal

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