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Archive for March, 2010

Great ( Holy) Wednesday, March 31, 2010

This day is also called “Spy Wednesday,” the day designated by the Western Church, as the one on which we recall the first betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot in his collusion with the Sanhedrin, while Jesus was himself at Bethany where he was anointed by Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus. The spikenard oil she used was expensive, and so a controversy broke out among the apostles over what seemed to them an extravagance, and frivolous behavior on Mary’s part, especially given the fact that the oil would have fetched a good price at market and the proceeds could have been better applied to feeding the poor.

The power of this day is in the parallel themes of betrayal/ second-guessing, and a costly, unhesitating generosity.

On the theme of betrayal, we can all painfully recall moments when those close to us have acted without  forethought in ways that hurt us. Maybe they revealed a confidence, or chose to openly criticize us in front of others, perhaps making use of knowledge that they could only have had because they were so close. Much in the news these days, and far more serious, are the stories of flagrant infidelities; promises broken that wound whole families and tarnish reputations.

Very often, the one committing the act of betrayal is well-intentioned if misguided. In the case of Judas, he was the dupe of the Sanhedrin. He envisioned a rapprochement between Jesus and the Sanhedrin. His real sin was in being so blinded by his own egoistic vision of how things should evolve ( and his inflated sense of himself as more politically astute) that he failed to accurately read the motivations of shadowy and secret alliances, and the deeper vision of the one he truly had hoped to serve.

When we let people draw very close, they become the most dangerous people in our lives. They have intimate details of our habits and usual whereabouts and our soft spots and vulnerabilities. The old cliché “you hurt the ones you love” is all too true. We are given a treasure to hold when people offer themselves to us in deeply personal ways. Our faithful stewardship of that gift is a spiritual imperative. In acting, we must always ask: In whose interests am I acting? To what degree is it mostly about my needs, agendas, priorities and beliefs, and not theirs?

There are certainly betrayers among us, and those who one day can become so. One only need look at the depth of enmity expressed between once trusting but now estranged partners in a marital breakup to see the tragic miscarriages of love. More important on this day, however, is the “spy” (or betrayer) within. It is a day on which to think back to the moments when our own better judgment was absent, and when we acted so foolishly as to cause someone dear to us to suffer through our words, deeds, or sins of omission.

There are also those times when we feign friendship in cultivating a politically valuable relationship. In those moments, we deceive and are disingenuine,  using the other person for our own ends. (We have all been there either dramatically or in more subtle and nuanced ways). The Gospel calls us to a very high standard of conduct. It demands so much more from us by way of fidelity and follow-through on our commitments and vows. It also demands that we move swiftly to forgive those who wrong us through a thoughtless word or deed for there, by the grace of G-d, go we.

We live in a time when vows seem anachronistic. This is the age, after all, of the pre-nuptial agreement, and the so-called “trial periods” of living together. We suffer cultural paranoia and so risk losing the joy attached to firm and unshakeable vows in which our fidelity, though surely to be tested, is proven resilient and robust. In achieving such relationships, we move, as Teilhard de Chardin captured in his writing, toward the “Pleroma,”  or the Fullness of the Christic vision.

What are the vows that I have taken? Today is a good day to renew them and consider the history of my faithfulness to them and where, when, and why I fell short.

On the matter of the anointing with precious oil by Mary at Bethany, I can certainly appreciate the frugality expressed in the Apostles’ objections. The act seemed wasteful and careless. Of course, this is the epitome of homo economicus, a strong feature of the current zeitgeist. But there are other considerations. In Mary’s gracious act of expending the precious oil, she, in one movement, foreshadows the Chosen One, the death on the Cross, and the later anointing of Jesus’ crucified body  with the precious oils as mandated by Jewish custom of those times. Her intent, in the moment, spontaneously and without calculation, was to signify, viscerally and sensually, the deep personal meaning of her vow to Jesus, her devotion, and Christ’s unshakeable vow to the World; to be its Light!

My daughter has her best friend joining her in our home this week for a few days. My wife and I are delighted to see her again and extend the warmth of our home to her. We have worked pretty hard over the last few weeks to make things ready. We wanted her to feel an important part of the family. We have (and would always) go the extra step to make the time and the space special, and invest the resources to do so.

Now, one can argue that the “budget” may not have a line item set aside for such an occasion, especially because they are usually not planned well in advance. In our case, we accelerated needed work on the room that would be offered to our friend and guest. We redecorated it (certainly with the longer term future in mind) but with principal focus on making her time with us very special and memorable.

There are times when we spend more than others might, who,  looking “in” at these times of constrained finances, might challenge the wisdom of  unflinching and unreserved hospitality. They might (and have) argued that doing less is more prudent, and that the extras are nice-to-have, but maybe ill-timed. These are well-meaning comments and articulate a reality I recognize, particularly since the economic crash of late 2008. They are offered from an objective and essentially economic vantage point.

Nevertheless, having acknowledged that, our choices are motivated not by objective criteria alone,  but more substantially, by a subjective “enthusmia;” our intent to create a place of relaxation and restoration, a sanctuary of warmth and friendship. In doing so, we extend our love for our daughter to all those that she calls “friend.” This is as it should be. This is spiritual practice ( and very much consonant with the spirit of Franciscan Spirituality).

While one can still be “economical,” life is too short to miss the small chances to add light and joy when given the opportunity to do so. Hospitality, as I wrote in an earlier post, is an advanced form of spiritual practice, and it warrants pulling out our finest linens, dishes, foods, and, yes, the precious oils by which to “anoint” in the names of Love and caring.

The Spirit of Holy Wednesday asks us to retake our vows, redouble our efforts to fulfill them, and recalibrate the sincerity of our loving so that it  transcends the vagaries of politics, economics, and all the many other temporal agendas.

Mark 14:10-12 (King James Version)

10And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests, to betray him unto them.

11And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently betray him.

12And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover?

The Hymn of Kassiani

[written by Kassiani the Nun in the 9th century]:

O Lord, the woman who had fallen into many sins, sensing Your Divinity, takes upon herself the duty of a myrrh-bearer. With lamentations she brings you myrrh in anticipation of your entombment. “Woe to me!” she cries, “for me night has become a frenzy of licentiousness, a dark and moonless love of sin. Receive the fountain of my tears, O You who gathers into clouds the waters of the sea. Incline unto me, unto the sighings of my heart, O You who bowed the heavens by your ineffable condescension. I will wash your immaculate feet with kisses and dry them again with the tresses of my hair; those very feet at whose sound Eve hid herself from in fear when she heard You walking in Paradise in the twilight of the day. As for the multitude of my sins and the depths of Your judgments, who can search them out, O Savior of souls, my Savior? Do not disdain me Your handmaiden, O You who are boundless in mercy.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Great ( Holy) Tuesday, March 30, 2010

“Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”

This day in the Easter cycle commemorates this parable about remaining attentive, vigilant, at the ready to receive the invitation to join in when that offer comes.

Recalling the parable, ten virgins awaited the Bridegroom of which only five were really well prepared when he arrived. The attentive five had procured what they needed by way of oil for their lamps. The other five were lax and put off doing so, and when word came of the Bridegroom’s approach, they begged the well-prepared five for some of their supply. The vigilant five denied them realizing that all of them had equal opportunity and resources to get ready. The “foolish” five then rushed to the market to buy the necessary oil, but the Bridegroom arrived before their return and so they were shut out. The five that had planned were ready and were received with open arms and enthusiasm. The other five were denied access. G-d favors the well prepared.

This is a story about “mindfulness,” a much used, if not abused, word in today’s lexicon. There are many moments in the Gospels ( and, indeed, in the Jewish scriptures overall) about the need to be watchful. It is also a story about the differences between false and true compassion. Doesn’t the Master’s rejection of the five “foolish” ones betray a lack of compassion on his part?

Not at all! He simply holds the lax five accountable; a lesson in “tough love.”  They failed to be ready, so he moved on. They squandered the time they had with trivialities. They allowed themselves to become distracted. Authentic compassion is not saccharine and undifferentiating. Quite the contrary, it respects each person enough to hold them accountable.

We are all accountable for what we say, do, and think. We must answer for who we really are. In facilitating executive leadership development sessions, there are those who invariably return late from a break or from lunch. Some argue that it is best and more gracious to wait for all to arrive. Others contend that at the appointed time, our session continues regardless of who isn’t yet in the room. I am an advocate of the latter over the former philosophy. Out of respect for those who are there on time, I begin on time. The stragglers simply have to catch up.

In these days of political spin-meisters and subterfuge, excuse making and deceptive speech and advertising, the art of lying has been elevated to a seemingly grand and noble art form. The gift of gab and salesmanship has taken a front seat, and quiet leadership, diplomacy, and inviolable integrity, a back seat. With but a very few refreshing examples of notable leaders who are working hard to be otherwise in a terribly dysfunctional system ( e.g., Barack Obama), the choir of demonizers, hate mongers, fear peddlers, and distractors are legion.

It would seem that telling a lie over and over, despite clear factual evidence to the contrary, is held equal to truth in the easily influenced minds of way too many. Whatever happened to accountability? Ignoble and disreputable behavior should result in penalty. In these days of rehab clinics for all things, taking a brief  time away in so-called “rehab” ( e.g., Tiger Woods and the sexual addiction rehab clinic), and all is forgiven. Remarkable, it seems, is the rate of rehabilitation among those with means.

Camouflage, gamesmanship, coercion, lobbying, advertising, bargaining and calling in favors, and buying votes does not a well prepared “virgin” make!

Today is a day for inner diagnosis. In fact, all of Easter week is a time for self-assessment, and this day is set aside as the one on which we test our integrity, our attentiveness to detail, our discipline, or the lack thereof, and the mindfulness with which we step through our daily round. It is a time to ask about whether we too are caught short and find ourselves rushing off to the store to buy some 11th hour oil as we’ve just heard of the Master’s approach. As usual, the best tests are not those that involve big things, but the small ones that betray our careless distractibility.

Yesterday, our gardener was scheduled to stop by the house to pick up the signed contract for his continued work with us over the upcoming growing season. I marked down that he would be stopping by and had the contact in hand when we spoke by phone of his intent to do so. Well, he came by  the house and my wife answered the door and then notified me that he was waiting. I then rushed around my office desperately looking for the contract that was nowhere to be found. Obviously, I mindlessly set it down somewhere meaning, no doubt, to put it out so it would be handy when he arrived.

In effect, when I spoke with the gardener, a very good and hard-working man who cares deeply about the fine work that he always does, a generous and gracious man, I was not really paying close attention. My mind was divided among several things. As a result, I embarrassed myself by not having the contract to give him. He was, as always, gracious and understanding. He laughed it off and said he would catch it two weeks from now when he stopped by to begin the Spring cleaning.

As I meditate on this event today, I  must confess to being like one of the “foolish five” having allowed myself to get fragmented and lose focus and so make a commitment that I couldn’t keep. When I spoke with him on the phone, I was clearly NOT present!. This is a call to fresh action. I apologized for my lapse and I was sincere in that apology but what was also necessary was an immediate change in how I handle planning for meetings after such phone conversations. The only proper response is an accountable one which means one followed by demonstrable and reliable change. There is no excuse. He came out of his way and I wasted his time, and his time is no less important than mine.

This is the meaning of this day. To recalibrate our inner resources so that we are fully vigilant. To practice real, not theoretical zen, in being alive to the compelling NOW, and embrace the real and emergent over the anticipated and imagined.

Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
And five of them were wise, and five were foolish
They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.

– Matthew 25:1-13, King James Version

Final questions: Why ten virgins? Why not two, or four, or six ( three wise and three foolish)? The Bible in fact makes much of the number “10.” It recurs often. For example: the 10 plagues visited upon Egypt, Abraham’s 10 trials, completion of the Lord’s Prayer in 10 clauses, Noah’s completion of the Antidiluvian Age at the 10th generation from G-d, etc. The examples are many. Many commentators refer to the Biblical reference to “10” as symbolic of the perfect Divine Order.

The number ten completes a decade cycle and is a short-hand representation of all numbers. It is the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. The “10” Virgins are symbolic of the entire nation of Israel and the fundamental paradox of maintaining the sacred vigil vs losing heart, focus, and becoming lost on the narrow path of righteousness.

Why virgins and not mature women? Well, this seems more straightforward. The Bridegroom brings experience to innocence. There is more of a trembling expectation among the young and inexperienced, and a mix of intoxicating excitement and profound tension and apprehension about being all the other expects.

When one pictures the scene and recalls that time in life, it is easy to feel the rightness of the parable. To be distracted on the night of the Bridegroom’s arrival is truly a sinful condition. It suggests that the full import of this night and the transformative character of it compared to all others is unappreciated. The foolish virgins betray a lack of right and natural anticipation.

The characteristic enthusiasm of such a night would never permit even the possibility of being so blatantly ill prepared. Is the “Nation of Israel” keeping faith, eyes wide open on the truth, and seeking after true Knowledge, or is she seduced by matters of power, wealth, status, territoriality, gossip, and game-playing?

This day challenges us to answer this query personally.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Great ( Holy) Monday, March  29, 2010

Here in the Northeast, this day has been one of incessant rain and cold: a thoroughly raw and inhospitable day. While the first buds of Springtime have appeared and the forsythia are in partial bloom, it feels as if Springtime has been put on hold,  in stasis for a time. A sheet of dark clouds fills the sky.

I also discovered today that one of the large evergreen trees in our yard fell unnoticed into an adjacent one in a storm of several weeks ago. It is being supported by the other tree but can, with another windstorm, fall and destroy the fence and a shed that it now is just grazing. Other smaller evergreens also fell to earlier storms and the debris is abundant. The task of Spring cleaning will be time-consuming this year.

Inspecting the property for damage and assessing what needs priority attention was well-timed to today’s celebration of Holy Monday.

This is the day on which we recall both the life of Joseph, one whose loving heart made possible the care and nurture of a soter, and also the fruitless fig tree cursed by Jesus: a symbol of Pharisaic and official religious who are full of words but bear no fruit. This day is a time for meditation on who we are, striped of all the public and quasi-public masks. It is a day to contemplate authenticity and what it means to bring ourselves daily to the work of being found fruitful when the Bridegroom comes as Joseph surely was. We are invited by the Spirit to live joyfully and productively in the service of true compassion in the world.

We prepare today, at the opening of Holy Week, with reflection on where we are inauthentic, not truly ourselves, dishonest, uncaring and narcissistic. We are invited to inspect our inner “yard” to identify the priority debris that needs Spring cleaning.

So, the weather today is perfectly well-suited to its mystical import as I meditate upon my own shadow:

  • What fruit have I produced that radiates the Light of Christ?
  • What thoughts nourished such fruit, and what thoughts rob them of needed nutrients?
  • In examining my behavior within the last 24 hours,was I a vigilant steward of the essential teachings?
  • What distracted my vigilance?
  • How will my reflections today shape Holy Tuesday? How do I envision living tomorrow?

Troparion of the Bridegroom

Behold! The bridegroom approaches in the middle of the night,
And blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching;
But unworthy he whom He shall find careless.
Beware, therefore, O my soul.
Be not overcome with sleep,
lest thou be given over to death and shut outside the kingdom.
But arise and cry:
Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O God!
Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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On a visit last week to Fort Lauderdale, I visited the Butterfly Garden with my wife and daughter. The weather was on the warmer side, the sun shone brightly, and the butterfly aviaries were a delight. We spent a few hours walking through the extensive property made up of a small bridge over a well manicured pond, colorful plant life and trees, and, of course, quite a few separate aviaries dedicated to diverse species of butterflies and one set aside for hummingbirds.

The best part of the experience was to sit quietly on a bench surrounded by tens of butterflies and letting them settle on my arms and clothing. Fortunately, the aviaries were not crowded with people so it was easy to sit for a while and appreciate the amazingly rich array of color and patterns. These are among the most fragile of life forms but few are as inspiring. Just before Easter, they served as a marvelous metaphor for resurrection and rebirth given the metamorphosis from caterpillar to taking flight on breathtaking wings ranging from pure white to spotted, turquoise, various pastels, full yellow, and a striking red and black variety ( see the picture above).

It is hard to imagine  being anxious (barring phobias) in such spaces. A sense arises of the inter-connection of all things. What a privilege it is to be conscious and able to savor for days weeks and months to come the experience of a quiet afternoon in the Florida sunshine with creatures such as these.

As I walked and took my many pictures using my cellphone camera (which, surprisingly, captured some wonderful shots), I came upon a white butterfly that sat on the ground in harm’s way already clearly having suffered wing damage. I became immediately saddened at the sight and then pensive at the scene as one tries to reconcile the tragedies of life with its glories. What came swiftly to mind is the rosary and the important juxtaposition of the Sorrowful, Glorious, and Luminous Mysteries. Almost without a thought, I felt compelled to pick up the butterfly and return it to a nearby leaf. It was clear that it was dying, and it felt right that it should do so on a leaf and not against the cold, unnatural pavement.

I am a panentheist and this moment brought that home to me once again. The Spirit runs through all the created. Each natural form is a face of the mind of Ein Sof, the otherwise unknowable. Once again, as creatures with personhood, we know the Divine Presence personally. We feel the Presence more so than we can adequately think the Presence. This is the Gnosis Kardia, the Knowledge of the Heart.

So, on a quiet March day, just a week ago, I was visited by a butterfly who stopped me in my tracks to consider my own mortality, the mortality of others, life’s mysterious transits, and the power of regeneration, resurrection, renewal and the true heaven that emerges in every moment illuminated by authentic compassion.

This is Holy Week in the Western calendar. May this week be a time for you of profound revelatory moments, of transformative experiences, and a deeper dive into the Heart of the Cosmos.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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When I usually think about the matter of our advancement and progress as a species, I, as I suppose many, begin to enumerate technological accomplishments, innovations, and breakthroughs in our understanding of the universe. All that is certainly relevant. But, a simpler, more straightforward, and not sufficiently well appreciated metric is the condition of our public toilets.

Civilization is really less about knowledge and more about compassion, fellow-feeling, watching out for one another, empathy, and caring.  Without these qualities, our advances are cold, and can too easily convert to a merely more sophisticated manifestation of barbarism.

So, how far really, examining the state of public bathrooms, have we truly come?

I never cease to be amazed by the deplorable state of American public toilets. I will spare my reader any of the imagery that I am sure s/he can conjure at the mere thought of American restrooms. If we look at it as a reflection of how advanced we are as a culture, the experiences all Americans and visitors to our shores have had paint a depressing and demoralizing portrait indeed.

I am constantly shocked at what I discover in public facilities. How can people, who no doubt are, for the most part, otherwise fine and upstanding citizens when in the public eye, behave so thoughtlessly when in these private moments in public facilities. To leave the toilets in the way they do suggests a total absence of civilized attitudes and mores. There is a passive aggressive character to what one sees in these places. One’s heart goes out to those who have to put things right who are in the employ of the restaurants and stores.

By contrast, my diverse British, European and Asian experiences suggest far more mindfulness and care in leaving a clean facility the way it was found. There is a cultural maturity that American society appears to have not yet achieved. With the state of public toilets as a measure, we in the U.S. are relatively uncivilized. The behavior is at best adolescent and at worst the product of people who lack even the most rudimentary hygiene and social graces of a toddler.

It seems to me that one cannot talk about spiritual progress unless the words are first made credible by virtue of lifestyle and action. For all the rhetoric about social progress, this is one example of the distasteful truth that our illusory march of civilization is a quite thin veneer; a pretense, a front for violent, thoughtless disregard for others. I imagine that these people, who anonymously deface and defile our public bathrooms, act, for the most part, with what must be a feigned cordiality and at least a modicum of  intelligence in the open square when their behavior is anything but anonymous.

The measure of spirituality is what we do when alone and when others cannot see what it is we are doing. By that reasoning, there is a much distance that we need to travel before we’ve earned the right to be known as civilized society. As a personal practice, I work to be attentive to what I pass on to others from the standpoints of both the quality of my work, and the simpler gestures of care and concern.

Mother Theresa of Calcutta summed it up admirably:

In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.

My own personal campaign involves such small things as:

  • drying off the sink after use with paper towel
  • informing the management if a toilet is clogged or a faucet or urinal is running constantly
  • alerting the management if the waste baskets are full to overflowing vs throwing ( as I see done so often) on the floor in the general vicinity of the wastebasket
  • ensuring that the person who follows me will be glad that I preceded him.

I hear a lot of talk about civility ( and the lack thereof) and I often make comment about it. The talk is fine as long as we are spending our energy to do what’s right on behalf of the next person. Anything less is hypocrisy and sophistry.

It is not the magnitude of our actions but the amount of love that is put into them that matters.

Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.

Good works are links that form a chain of love.

We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.

– Various quotes from Mother Theresa with appreciation for her example

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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This past week information came to light about the historical role of the current Pope in acting as Cardinal in Germany to  silence and bury evidence of crimes against children.

As so often happens, we see the portrait of a leader emerging whose principal concerns revolved around protecting the institution of the church from the consequences of the wrong-doing of one or more of its own. Nothing in all this is new save the fact that it involves a religious celebrity of no less stature than the Catholic Pope. For decades, the church has tragically been a protected venue for pedophiles in almost direct and ironic proportion to the elevation of more conservative dogmatics.

I began life as a Catholic. I was raised in the faith and received my first Holy Communion, Confirmation, and was married Catholic. I grew up respecting the elders of the Church and loved the stories of the miracles performed according to legend by the many saints of the Church. I loved the High Holy Day Masses with the strikingly colorful vestments, the music that was uplifting and transporting, and the scents of the sacred, complements of the Jerusalem blend of incense.

I recoiled even as a young man at the strictness of the church and, like all Catholics, carried a sense of guilt over some ambiguous but nonetheless permanent stain for which the only treatment was weekly penance. I also enjoyed, in an odd “get-it-over-with” way, going to the confessional on Saturdays to receive and perform the Priest’s prescription of so many “Our Fathers” and “Hail Marys”.

I adored my maternal grandparents, Italian peasants really, who emigrated to the United States. My grandfather, a shoemaker by trade, would dress in a suit each week, as would I , and we walked together the mile or so from their home to the local church. It all seemed well-ordered, reasonable, a call to goodness, a weekly pilgrimage to a place of deep loving, the most peaceful and safest of places, the House of the Lord. Little did I know that within such houses of worship throughout the World, young men were being sexually abused. We will never probably know just how many, but already the stories, claims, and cases settled out of and in the courts have rendered the Roman Catholic Church uninsurable in the United States. What is becoming also ever clearer is the global character of the crisis.

This is a tragedy made altogether evil when one adds the complicity of church leaders, the silent Bishops and Cardinals ( the so-called “Princes”) of the church. Any member of the church facing the facts of such evil and darkness has a deeply personal and critically important decision to make. I know many in the Roman Communion that have chosen to stay aggressive supporters of the church while descrying the “bad apples.” This strikes me as too easy, convenient, and self-serving. I know others that have voted with their feet and have left to pursue their own spiritual nourishment among other communions. I find that choice courageous and more truly an act of living in “good faith.”

I left the Roman Church a long time ago based on many years of watching and assessing its doctrinal positions and trying to square these theologically, psychologically, and personally. Too many of the dogmas seemed arbitrary, unnecessary, and even imprudent, and mandatory celibacy was among those things. Once the sins of the church are documented, as they have been and continue to be, there is, in my opinion, no choice but to leave the church entirely and vociferously criticize what she has become.

When leaders harbor criminals and act to protect themselves and their institution over the people who look to them for guidance, they have become morally and spiritually bankrupt and no longer serve as credible witnesses to the Gospel. No manner of beautiful ritual and the comforts of tradition can make this right. The shadow is too long and too deep. To remain a member of the RC church under these circumstances is to collude in the lie that its leadership embodies and faithfully manifests the teachings of Christ.

Deriving no pleasure whatsoever from what seems a logical, moral, and practical imperative, it is my strongest belief now that this church needs to be sanctioned by an exodus of the faithful. To leave her is to love what is true and good in the teachings of the church. To stay is to be an enabler of Machiavellian tactics and political gamesmanship masquerading as religion. No one who harms a child nor anyone who harbors or gives support to perpetuating a system in which perpetrators can hide, can be tolerated and allowed to continue as leaders. They lose their place as esteemed and respected brokers of the Kerygma.

As we approach Easter, I reflect on the teaching at the core, and the mandate it issues to be faithful to Christic teachings regardless of how hard that may be and how uncomfortable should it demand that we abandon what we grew up with, and  all the special and beautiful trappings of which we are so fond. All the trappings in the world cannot undue the wounding of one child made to suffer at the hands of so-called religious, and those who look the other way as a function of political expediency or personal convenience are accomplices to crime. The proper response of the church hierarchy is not a well-argued defense, excuses, and legal parsings of language, but, very simply, abject and unrelenting shame over the horror.

I am disgusted, appalled, and, making it all so much more tragic, not at all surprised as we learn more over time about the magnitude and long-standing nature of the abuses that have and are still being committed worldwide. It is my belief that the Lord would rather save a single child than found or perpetuate a movement dedicated primarily to preserving power and influence. After all, his ministry was essentially a reaction to that same politic that motivated the Sadducees and the Pharisees.

” Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the Earth.”

” Suffer the little children.”

” Whatsoever you do to the least of these you do to me.”

Taking a firm and no-nonsense stand is among the finest forms of spiritual practice.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Norman’s Woe is a coastal reef in Gloucester Massachusetts immortalized by the tragic poem ” The wreck of the Hesperus” written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It tells of the captain of a ship, the Hesperus, who met a fierce storm off the Eastern coast of New England. His daughter was onboard. Other senior crewman offered their good counsel but the captain was filled with hubris and refused to hear it.

In trying to save his daughter from the ravaging seas, he had her strapped to the mast to avoid the threat of seeing her swept overboard by the tall and ferocious waves crashing on deck. Horribly, all perished, including the girl, who drowned as the ship capsized and, having been tied to the mast, was unable to free herself and possibly survive the calamity.

The tale of an innocent’s death and that of all crewman on the reef is a cautionary fable loosely based on a devastating blizzard that in fact did occur off the coast of New England in 1839. The story rings in my ears as I read the wonderful just published book, Breakfast with Socrates, by Robert Rowland Smith.

In this breezy and very accessible retelling of the legacy of philosophy, Smith places each of many of the great philosophers in the midst of our everyday experiences, and we get an opportunity to briefly “dine with them” and imagine conversation on the questions with which we struggle as we navigate the mysteries, triumphs, and travails of our lives. All of this got me to thinking about the enormous treasure trove that is the classics.

Each of the great books, treasures that have withstood the test of time, offer enlightened and ever fresh commentary on our condition. Each of the voices from the ancient choir of the lovers of wisdom offer free counsel to anyone with the courage and mental fortitude to embrace it. Yet, the overwhelming lack of interest, generally speaking, in the classical library remains an undeniable reality.

The cry for relevance, practical plug-and-play utility, and small-minded self-help prescriptions is deafening. It is as if two meals are served: One a banquet of culinary genius, gourmet foods and great wines, and all for free, and it is rejected; while the other,  a grease-stained bag of fast food burgers costing far more than it’s worth, offering unwholesome calories, and containing excessive undisclosed filler materials and meat shot full of antibiotics and hormones, is the one hastily chosen and enthusiastically consumed.

It is time to go back, all of us, regardless of how well versed we are in the classics in general and the writings of the great philosophers in particular, and set up a renewed daily diet of wholesome calories. Furthermore, here’s the irony, like the free gourmet meal, the classics can be downloaded for free.

It is time to learn the lesson of the Hesperus and listen to the counsel of elder sages who speak to us from the deep recesses of recorded history. We can still save the young girl,  the archetypal Sophia, who is the the very soul of Wisdom. We can still rescue her from drowning in the turbulent and vicious seas of postmodernity and 21st century egoism and spiritual consumerism. We can resuscitate her and so revel in the sweetness of her voice, the alertness of her sight, and youthful embrace of the real.

At daybreak, on the bleak sea-beach,
A fisherman stood aghast,
To see the form of a maiden fair,
Lashed close to a drifting mast.

The salt sea was frozen on her breast,
The salt tears in her eyes;
And he saw her hair, like the brown sea-weed,
On the billows fall and rise.

Such was the wreck of the Hesperus,
In the midnight and the snow!
Christ save us all from a death like this,
On the reef of Norman’s Woe!

Excerpted from the poem, The Wreck of the Hesperus, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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