Category Archives: Catholic Church

Ash Wednesday Thoughts: “Dust Balls” Are We.

In my youth, Catholicism was the epitome of “them.”  It was a given that Catholics were not even Christian for they “believed in Mary.”  But as I’ve aged I have increasing respect for them, not unrelated to my discovery of a Franciscan priest in Albuquerque, NM, Richard Rohr.  I received via email yesterday an email from a blogging friend in Australia which included a powerful poem about “Ash Wednesday” which I will share at the end of this post.

I have faint memories of the term “Ash Wednesday” from my youth and young adulthood but these memories were tainted by the anti-Catholicism.   This brings to mind another blogging friend who I kidded with the label “Dust ball” in reference to her interest in “Mother Earth” and the biblical notion of us being “dust of the earth.”  For we are all “dust balls” bouncing around on this granite “dust ball” for a few decades with the innate, egoic tendency to take ourselves more seriously than we are.  This absence of humility fails to appreciate the emphasis that the Catholics offer with this Lent season event, symbolized with a smudge of ash on the forehead.

Humility is often confused with cravenness.  But this is related to what Carl Jung noted as two extremes of the same human egoic complex—ego inflation and ego deflation.  The “inflation” is taking our selves too seriously, but the “deflation” is not taking ourselves seriously enough, failing to respect the glory of just “being” here.  But in each instance the emphasis is on our “self” as in our ego.  The alternative would be true humility, “a condition of complete simplicity, costing not less than everything.”  Human nature is prone to focus on what we know to be reality, always a self-serving endeavor, failing to recognize that this “knowing” usually excludes so many who lie beyond that culturally contrived pale.  Humility involves letting that “pale,” i.e. “boundary,” dissolve a bit so that we can include some of those that we have heretofore excluded.  Sounds a bit like Jesus, huh?

Blessing the Dust
A Blessing for Ash Wednesday

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

Did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

–Jan Richardson

Advertisements

Catholicism, Politics, and the Peril of Ideology

Ideologues, those entrapped in their self-serving ideology, can never recover from this malady.  They are like alcoholics who, in recovery-culture have the axiomatic bromide, “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.”  The culture of recovery uses this bromide to address the truth that even those in recovery are still an alcoholic and always will be.  And I personally must confess that I am an “ideologue” in recovery and will always be, a fact that is certainly related to by persistent focus on the peril of ideology and threat of “ideologues.”  This ideological malady is intrinsically related to this gift of thinking that makes us driven by instinct alone.

Religious culture of our day illustrates this problem just as does our political culture.  Religious people are susceptible to being so intoxicated with theology and religious tradition that the essence of their spirituality is obliterated by their enslavement to their ideas, the, “letter of the law.”  An identity plague with this malady is often so entrapped in his ideas of himself, in “ideas” about his spirituality that he is unable to recognize and acknowledge that his spirituality is largely, if not completely, “performance art.”

There is a related story in the news which broke yesterday about the Pope having fired a prominent member of the House of Cardinals, Theodore McCarrick, for his history of sexual abuse.  The evidence against this 88 year old man is extensive and could no longer be ignored by the Catholic hierarchy.  But this aged man persists in his innocence even in the face of overwhelming evidence that he is guilty.

I would conjecture that this man is a “good” man with the life-long spiritual emphasis of his career; for, “good men” can do very bad things.  But “good men,” steeped in the rigid structure of faith can gradually reach the place where their piety is so self-serving that they can and do overlook their gross “badness.”  It is possible that this ex-Cardinal truly does believe in his innocence as “ideas” are so intoxicating that they often keep us trapped in self-deception, even though this dishonesty is so apparent to those looking on.

This is now glaringly obvious in our political system with prominent politicians so obviously guilty of blatant lying yet be so unaware of their dishonesty that they can readily accuse their foes of, “lying.”  Yes, this is hypocrisy, but it is quite possible that some of these “hypocrites” really do believe what they are saying for being trapped in their ideas about themselves it is quite possible they do not believe they are lying.  But this is a human malady, not merely one exclusive to religious leaders and politicians.  It is very human to cling to our ideas of ourselves, our self-percept of our identity, rather than consider that beneath the surface there are unsavory dimensions to our psyche that need to be given the light of day occasionally.  But this “unconscious” dimension of our life is too readily kept buried as our “conscious” beliefs, “i.e. ‘ideas,’” about ourselves will not allow the darkness to be acknowledged.  This “darkness” would disrupt and even devastate our “ideological” identity even though spiritual teachings often present the notion that “in the darkness” there is, “light.”  As Auden summarized this wisdom poetically, “And Truth met him, and held out here hand.  But he clung in panic to his tall beliefs and shrank away like an ill-treated child.

Paean to Pope Francis

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class. We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all. And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: We need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: We will meet one another there.”  (Read more, including discussion of the contest of this quote at: http://www.snopes.com/politics/quotes/popeatheist.asp#xwbkSGqYxMVhujwy.99inj)
Pope Francis is one of the most courageous human beings I have seen in my life time, a true example of “speaking truth to power.” The above quotation has been circulating on social media and stands out and is deeply appreciated by all of us who recognize when someone is daring to step outside of the “box” that he finds him/herself in and offer an authentic word. And Pope Francis finds himself in one “hell” of a box for the Catholic Church is monolithic, steeped in rigid tradition that does not want anyone to “think outside of the box.” But, this epistemic closure goes far beyond the Catholic Church as I don’t see anyone else in christiandom daring to “think outside of the ‘christian’ box” and offer a prophetic word. Theologian Paul Tillich authored a book of sermons, “The Shaking of the Foundation” in which he voiced the need of Christianity in the mid-twentieth century to find a prophetic voice in the din of its burgeoning echo chamber.

Of course, Pope Francis is meeting resistance within the Catholic church and even from American politicians who do not like him daring to suggest that his faith has anything to do with such “mundane” and “unholy” things like, say, climate change. These politicians are driven largely by a fundamentalist faith which practices a “pie-in-the-sky, by-and-by” theology in which this world we live in, and the bodies in which we live, are only a means to the end of getting to heaven where we will spend 39 quatrillion years fawning over Jesus, not realizing that Jesus is really more mature than to even permit that!

Pope Francis realizes that the Christian faith is more than a doctrinal creed which, if taken too literally and seriously, will only be used to create and perpetuate a Christian echo chamber in which we “bask, agreed upon what we will not ask, bland, sunny, and adjusted by the agreed upon lie.” And yes, in this case the teachings of Jesus become a “lie” when they are used to hide behind, deny reality, and oppress others in the name of “faith.” W. H. Auden, the author of the above quote, also noted, “The divine and the demonic often speak the very same language.”

Christians have a hard time understanding how their dogma, centered on the Holy Bible, can embody epistemic closure in which they are merely “thinking within a ‘christian box.’” But the New Testament clearly warns of this temptation, repeatedly warning of those who mistake “the letter of the law” for “the Spirit of the law.” When this mistake is made, we are guilty of “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” (2 Timothy, ch. 3) When any suspicion of this error confront those self-imprisoned in this “box,” they merely “shout a little louder” their dogma and heap disapproval…and sometimes worse…on those who have brought “discomfort” to the safe little world in which they are ensconced.