Saturday, January 10, 2009

Don't mention the truth.

Real life happens.
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Once upon a time there was a priest who drove to a convenience store while drunk. He drove into the store by accident. The police were called and the priest was ticketed and if I am not mistaken, arrested. The story made the local papers. Several Catholics protested and said publishing the story was inappropriate, that it was detraction, and so on. The priest made amends and went through treatment for alcoholism. I think the incident helped a great many others in ways many people may not understand.
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The End
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(No names or places were used in this story. No one's reputation was tarnished. So anyway, a priest and a rabbi and a minister were walking down the street... The priest said, did you hear the one about the nun and the bishop?)

Something I read...



On the economy.
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An older man, Moses Evans, who operates a few shoeshine stands in downtown Minneapolis, was questioned by a reporter from the Southwest Journal concerning his hopes and fears regarding the future. Mr. Evans made this observation:
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"In my business, people buy shoes. They're going to have to keep them up, and if they don't keep them up, they're just spending money. See, I'm not feeling any pressure because I'm a poor man, but I do make a living, and I trust God to look after me. I pay my tithes and try to abide by the law. See that's the only thing you can do. You just can't go through this world thinking that you own something... You don't own anything because when you came into this world, you didn't have nothing..."
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Photo credit: The Flowers of St. Francis; Directed by Roberto Rossellini, co-written by Federico Fellini. 1950

Checking the box...



On sexual orientation.
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When the United States still had the draft for military service, there happened to be a box on the questionnaire one could check regarding the candidate's sexual orientation. A classmate of mine checked it, he later became a woman and looked exactly like Doris Roberts, the actress from "Everybody Loves Raymond". Gosh! What if?
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So anyway, there was just one box. For homosexuality. In saner times, homosexuality was pretty much the only recognized variant in human sexuality that might present a problem in military service, as well as the intelligence service I might add. In the business of espionage it was believed a homosexual could be easily compromised by blackmail. I suppose it would have been the case for the FBI as well, even though it is rumored that Edgar wore cocktail dresses - but you see, that was in private.
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Other than these instances - which were always kept confidential, I have never heard of anyone in government asking people about their sexual orientation until today. I was reading a post on Fr. Blake's blog about how the Brighton City Council is demanding a health care facility to question its residents every 3 months about their sexuality. (These are rather old people BTW.) Anyway, what follows is Fr. Blake's report:
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Brighton and Hove City Council has pulled thousands of pounds worth of funding from a Christian care home because of its religious beliefs on homosexuality.The council withdrew £13,000 of funding when the care home refused the council’s request to ask the elderly Christian residents about their sexual orientation every three months. The home also refused demands from the council that it use images of homosexuals in its promotional literature and show staff a Stonewall presentation on ‘gay rights’. - Read the rest here.
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What possible purpose could such questioning serve? Perhaps there is a concern about discrimination against old homosexuals by health care staff or other residents. I suspect that is simply an exaggerated concern. The laws and protections against the abuse of vulnerable adults are quite adequate without requiring persons to disclose their sexual preferences. Unless of course, staying in the closet is now a crime.

Friday, January 09, 2009

More "Doubt"

Barbara Nicolosi has a very good review...
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The best I've read. An excerpt I particularly agreed with:
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"As a former nun, I admit I got a surge of sadistic thrill out of watching the self-sacrificing nuns prevail over the cigarette smoking, self-indulgent, priest. I had a bellyfull of patriarchy in my convent days. It's truly one of the proofs of sanctity in the Church that the women religious put up with so much petty arrogance from so many priests for so long. (NOT ALL! But there is definitely an old boys club in the Church that is infuriating if you are a woman with half a brain.) I was also intrigued by how the priest/forces of renewal in the Church ended up being the bad guy in the movie. Take that you Spirit of Vatican IIers! - Source
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I know what she means. BTW - I took my anecdote down.

YSL at Christie's



The Yves Saint Laurent/Pierre Burge Auction.
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As anyone in fashion and design, or ready to wear knows, the French couturier, Yves St. Laurent died last year. Since his death, an auction featuring original designs from YSL couture and costume jewelry was held in July of 2008. Towards the end of February of this year - the 23, 24, 25 to be exact - another grand auction of the art and antiques collected by St. Laurent and his companion, Pierre Burge, will be hosted by Christie's in Paris. It will be spectacular, I'm sure. Details here.
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Good quotes.
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“It pains me physically to see a woman victimized, rendered pathetic, by fashion.” - Yves Saint Laurent (Actually, I find it amusing.)
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“We must never confuse elegance with snobbery.” - Yves Saint Laurent (Most do however.)
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Photo source: The Luxe Chronicles - Photo of St. Laurent during the period he was lead designer for the House of Dior.
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More on the life and work of Yves St. Laurent here.

Big buts... More random thoughts on the economy.


"Give to everyone who asks, do not turn your back on the borrower."
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"But people shouldn't ask strangers to help them pay off their debts, or help them pay for school, or ask others to shelter them when they go on a trip, or ask people to help them pay the exorbitant cost associated with giving birth or adopting children."
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Big But...
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I've actually criticized people who have done such things, believing people should be more responsible, and that they ought to work for what they get, and so on and so forth. While that may be true generally, who was I to determine anything about how others earned their living or asked for financial help? I was wrong... really wrong... and totally lacked charity. I was acting, thinking, talking-writing, very self-righteously... and I did not even realize it.
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But - I was wrong.
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Secret pride.
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There is a story from the desert fathers how one of the abbas, on his way to a chapter to pass judgement on an errant brother, before leaving his hermitage, took a large basket and filled it with sand. The brothers met him on his way and asked the meaning of the display. The abba explained that he was coming to pass judgement on a brother, while his own sins poured out unknown behind him like sand.
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Self-righteousness.
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The downturn in the economy has been a great lesson for me. Once upon a time, I had been so sure I had done everything right - paying off all my bills, never carrying credit card debt, saving a big chunk of my earnings, and so on. And then the market crashed. I soon understood I had placed my trust in the wrong place - money, not God. I was proud of my accomplishments, not realizing I too have been a borrower living on borrowed time. Without going into detail, I have realized the error of my ways, and apologize to those I criticized. Oh, and I'm okay financially - just not the "rich" man I thought I was.

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"He then told them a parable addressed to those who believed in their own self-righteousness while holding everyone else in contempt..."



Thursday, January 08, 2009

Random thoughts on the economy and stuff.



The Global Agenda.
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I have trouble sleeping at night - it isn't my conscience keeping me awake, nor worries about the economy, it has more to do with some health problems. But that isn't my point here. I noticed during the night a neighbor's van being towed away - shortly after midnight. Why do you think that was? He couldn't afford his car payments any longer and the van was repossessed. I wonder when the house will be repossessed?
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I said it would happen, and it did today - Macy's announced the closing of nine of their stores - one of them in a north Minneapolis suburb. The Brookdale store has always been a D-list store anyway - meaning, it wasn't a huge money maker, and companies never spent much money renovating the complex, much less stocking it with anything fashionable or high end. Anyway, they are closing, and more store closings are sure to follow.
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Repossessing homes and cars, stores closing, people losing their investments and social security - perhaps these are simply metaphors for the "change" that has been promised...
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Of course everyone knows the economy is bad and getting worse and worse, as Obama keeps repeating. So the solution is to "spend" their way out of it by printing more money and bailing the banking and investment industries out. Sorry - they won't pay your credit bills or forgive your debts however. But will that even matter?
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Isn't printing more money just leading to greater debt? Isn't printing more money what deflates the value of the dollar and leads to skyrocketing inflation? What is really going on? Gorbachev, Sarkozy, Merkel, and Tony Blair? - Yeah, they are all calling for a new world order, a new global economy, a new global capitalism, a new international agenda - and why is Obama supposed to be the leader?

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Something is going on... I have a hunch the economic crises wasn't really an accident.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The sin of Ham


What a story.
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Imagine naming your son Ham - may as well call him Pig - I actually kind of like Pig better. Anyway, my friend Angela (pronounced in the United States: 'angle-ah'), who lives someplace in the Canadian wilderness, is reading the Bible and was perplexed by the sin of Ham as recorded in the book of Genesis. I added my two cents, attempting to explain what I thought the big deal was when he pulled his dad's pants down, but I held back a little. Why? Because I am going to paint it - the sin of Ham that is. I see it in my head - it so has to be painted. I can't show it here when it is finished because it will involve nudity - so I will have to re-open "Up Your Street" as my real art blog. I can show it there.

What father fixed for supper...

The minutia of a country curate's life.
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And don't forget to vote, and for heavens sake, vote often.

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Art: Michael Sowa

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Catholic of the year awards.

What a novel idea.
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My dear friend Cathy has posted her choices for 2008 Catholic of the Year and Dissident Catholic of the Year awards. See her picks here.
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I decided to do my own choice/picks. Drumroll please...
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Catholic of the Year:
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- The shy old lady - I think her name is Mae - that comes to adoration every Wednesday and reads her prayers while kneeling as best she can despite her bad knees. She also attends daily Mass when her knees permit her to walk the few blocks to church. She smiles and nods to everyone she passes, but rarely speaks unless spoken to.
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Dissident Catholic of the Year:
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- The priest who uses his blog to criticize Roman Catholic bishops, clergy, and others who are not big fans of the Traditional Latin Mass.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Mrs. Rabitowitz

A surprising story.
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Before going out to remove snow this afternoon, I put out more food for Mrs. Rabbit. I don't know if I mentioned this, but she sits only a few yards away from the little table I feed her at while I cover the top with food. I always make sure some of it falls on the ground for the mice and the voles. The table is actually an upside-down plastic litter-box that has never been used. It suits her perfectly as she sits on her haunches and feeds herself like a little person seated at a dining table.
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Anyway, as I was putting out the trail mix and baguette crumbs, I heard a little voice say quietly, "Thank you. The food has been especially delicious this winter."
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I looked up, quite surprised to see the rabbit speaking, having moved closer to me, less than a foot away I'd say. "You're quite welcome... err... Mrs. Rabbit." I answered.
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She giggled slightly and proceeded to inform me that her name was Mrs. Rabitowitz. I asked if she was Polish or Jewish and she explained that her heritage was indeed Jewish, but she couldn't be certain about the Polish part. "You look surprised Mr. Nelson, but most rabbits are of Jewish ancestry, although we don't go to temple. That explains why we are often depicted in art bringing eggs to children at Easter. The Catholics are all at Church and we deliver the eggs and candy for their celebrations."
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"Why of course!" I exclaimed, "that makes perfect sense. I just never heard that explanation before."
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"Oh sure, few people know about these things now days," she remarked, tasting a raisin. "For instance, did you realize most dogs are Gentiles, as are cats - although some breeds of cats may be Jewish, especially the Asian cats."
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"Oh..." I muttered distracted by the thought of pets having a particular nationality other than breed, or even a specific religious heritage. "Well I s'pose that would explain the German Shepherds who worked in the concentration camps." I said quietly.
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Mrs. Rabitowitz looked at me somewhat sadly, gave me a slight smile and said, "Adieu Mr. Nelson, and thank you again for such delicious food." And then she hopped away, into the hedge.
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I then went out front and finished removing snow before I drove to the store for more food.
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The End

Philip Seymour Hoffman's Fr. Flynn

Why did he get to be pastor of a parish?
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The film "Doubt" does not tell us if Sr. Aloysius, played by Meryl Streep, went to diocesan authorities with her suspicions concerning the priest's relationship with an altar boy. Although we assume she did not, since she mentions to Sr. James that the Monsignor of the parish wouldn't believe her anyway - hinting at the ol' boys club thing, thus she confronted Fr. Flynn herself. Yet since Fr. Flynn's direct superiors may not have been aware of the accusations against him, it would appear there was no cover-up regarding his transfer and appointment as pastor in a different parish. (Historically we know such matters were covered up and men were transferred around.) Nevertheless, Sr. Aloysius seemed affected by the irony of it all. She got rid of Fr. Flynn, he in turn was rewarded with a parish - where he could be in charge. (In those days the pastor of a parish could sometimes be likened to a feudal lord.)
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Assuming something really was wrong with Fr. Flynn, that he was indeed a pederast - someone who involves himself sexually with adolescent boys - and that he may have had a history of inappropriate relationships with boys, something the former pastor would not have spoken of if Sr. Aloysius would have asked him - although a nun at the former parish would, we understand the ever so subtle statement the film makes about that ol' boys club protection society. Since we have all lived through the shock of the sex scandal and cover-up in the Church, as well as the economic crises it fomented in various dioceses, Catholics in the United States cannot be surprised about that. (Although Mirimax should be congratulated for not exploiting it.)
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Doing everything right.
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There is a short scene where Flynn is at dinner in the rectory with the pastor and another assistant. The monsignor has a tall drink and is smoking a cigar, and he appears to be thoroughly entertained by Fr. Flynn - there seems to be a great camaraderie amongst the three men. They are just regular guys, living and working together; they smoke, they drink, they guffaw - they're just guys who happen to be priests. That was important back then, and to some extent, remains so today I think. Though they wore a cassock, prayed the office, said a Latin Mass (quickly), and fulfilled their priestly duties - it was important not to appear too holy or rigid in those days. Make 'em laugh.
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Although some Catholic clergy may have complained of a cultural anti-clericalism at the time, I believe it was never so pronounced as was the secularism that was admitted into seminaries and priestly life. For the most part, Catholics and non-Catholics alike seemed to be impressed with Roman Catholic clerics and habited nuns. Especially with Cardinals Cushing and Spellman, and Bishop Sheen featured in the news and on TV in their brightly colored cappas, and so on. A priest walking down the street in his clerical clothing always got a nod and some sign of respect from passers-by. (So did nuns for that matter.)
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Going my way priests.
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Priests like Fr. Flynn performed their duties faithfully of course, although I think it was becoming increasingly important for secular clergy at the time to be perceived as the regular guy - Bing Crosby's Fr. O'Malley. Wearing sweatshirts, playing sports, rough-housing, teasing, joking, and so on. Outward piety and devotion outside of Mass wasn't always evident or desired. (Nuns playing baseball were hot too - I think June Allyson played one.)
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In fact, I remember more than one parish priest telling me or my dad that it wasn't healthy for me to be spending so much time reading the lives of the saints, visiting the Blessed Sacrament, praying the rosary, and so on. I recall a friend of my brother's telling him that I could never get into the minor seminary he would be entering because I was too pious. I don't know if what his friend said was true or not - but that was the message I got all along. Much later, another friend told me how one of his school mates was reprimanded for kneeling in the cloister of a Benedictine abbey he entered to say a prayer before a very large crucifix - the monk told him, "We don't do such pious things here."
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Back to "Doubt".
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I digress however. Maybe I'm over thinking the film, but all of the above is what I gleaned from that short scene in the rectory, as well as Sr. Aloysius' surprise Fr. Flynn became a pastor elsewhere. Flynn came off as one of the guys - guys could never admit anything like pederasty or homosexuality - that was unheard of. No member of the laity could ever believe it, much less a nun. Unless of course you were Sr. Aloysius; a practical nun, a mature nun, a woman of experience, a spiritually dried up old bag who could see through all the lace and satin, smoke and bells, titles and honors. She knew about the ol' boys club. Certainly not everyone in the hierarchy or priesthood was like that - she knew it and I know it - but there were those who were.
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They often appeared to be the most normal, most integrated personality of the bunch. Often academically brilliant, good humored, gregarious - attractive personalities, and solidly Catholic, albeit not at all rigid. Of course many evolved to be more progressive, but not all - which is the tricky part. Some did all the right things spiritually - perhaps even appearing more pious or devout, whatever the case - they were masters at the art of deception, perhaps even deceiving themselves that what they did was loving and compassionate, but not at all evil. I think Fr. Flynn said something about that when he was speaking with Sr. Aloysius - he emphasized the importance of love and compassion in dealing with people.
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Love and compassion frequently covers a multitude of sins.
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Note: I am not suggesting priests should act or behave in any particular way, that they shouldn't be "guys" - or that normal dinner conversation, smoking or drinking, as shown in the film is bad or suspect. In the context of the story, I caught a subliminal message of an old boys club attitude, as well as how easily a perpetrator of sexual crimes could possibly blend in with his peers, and so on.
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That's all.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Spiritual direction and deception... some thoughts.

God told me...
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I noticed Pat Robertson came out with his predictions this weekend, not unlike psychics are wont to do, only Robertson claims God told him - implying he has his knowledge from a higher authority...
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I think the fact that religious men and women claim such personal communications and messages from God is a pretty good sign that "faith has dwindled among the sons of men, empty follies they talk, each one with his neighbor." (Ps. 11) Modern men and women have "itchy ears" looking for religious novelty and revelations, along with signs and wonders, while neglecting the good they ought to be doing for their neighbor.
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Presumption of assumption.
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St. John of the Cross writes about such people who have a high regard for supernatural communications as "testing God" by their efforts - even when their spiritual directors, persuaded by their personal attachment to extraordinary revelations, ask the person under their care to to request some sort of spiritual knowledge. St. John says that God is displeased with such entreaties and does not even desire them. He points out that these people often act in accord with their revelations, and because of their attachment to the so-called prophecies, their faith is more rooted in these things rather than God.
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St. John writes, These souls "find natural satisfaction in them (revelations) and fit them naturally into their own way of thinking." Although "they often err exceedingly, and are taken aback at the unexpected outcome. Then doubts come to the fore concerning the divine origin of these revelations, since events do not come to pass as they were led to believe. (This is especially true of those who listen to such mystics and who placed their trust in their pronouncements.) They presumed two factors; 1) That the revelations were from God, since from the beginning they firmly adhered to them. Yet this adherence was probably due to their natural inclination towards them. 2) That since the revelations were from God, events would unfold according to their anticipation."
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Such people are easily deluded because God's revelations or locutions are not dependant upon natural understanding and do not always come to fulfillment according to human expectations, much less in accord with their literal sense. St John warns; "Though they (such revelations) may in themselves contain certitude and truth, they do not always have it in their causes and in our way of understanding them."
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Seeking spiritual direction.
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I would never presume to discuss the issue of spiritual direction as regards a person discerning a religious vocation, or one living in the religious state. Indeed, I have no capacity other than experience to discuss the subject even for lay people. Therefore, what I say here is strictly personal opinion and should be taken as just that.
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That said, a person ought to avoid spiritual direction from someone who claims to be a mystic; that is, one who claims to obtain direct knowledge from God or some saint in their (the penitent) regard, no matter if the person is a priest, a religious, or a lay-person. Alsso, one ought to remember that spiritual direction is not a matter of telling a person what to do, nor of trying to convince them to do this or that, but it is rather a mutual listening process with the purpose of guiding the soul to holiness. It is not therapy or psychological counseling.
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In fact, though priests today happen to be better educated than any other time in history, I believe few are qualified to be authentic spiritual directors in the traditional understanding of the process. Even if they have their degrees saying they are. I believe many newly ordained, no matter how pious and faithful to the Holy Father and Magisterium - in other words, orthodox - are ready to be spiritual directors in the classic sense. Of course they ought to be available for counsel and direction concerning the keeping of the commandments and living the ordinary ascetic life expected of a Christian, but rarely are they qualified to deal with such issues associated with so-called spiritual communications, much less mental disturbances or illness and its cause. (In such cases, other than acting as a confessor, the priest should refer the penitent to a psychiatric professional.)
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Ordinary means of spiritual direction.
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What I am really getting at is this, the average Catholic who prays daily and frequents the sacraments, hardly needs or requires a spiritual director, simply because most direction is received through homilies, confession, spiritual friendships and spiritual associations, as well as good reading from approved sources.
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Many times, especially in the case of emotionally needy persons, and those who happen to be very impressionable - male or female, young or more mature - one can be attracted to a particular priest on account of his outward piety, attractiveness, and/or sensitivity in dealing with penitents. The penitent, albeit of good will, can easily deceive herself that their attraction is purely spiritual, and therefore harmless. I think younger priests need to be especially cautious here, as does the penitent.
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Mutual admiration.
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Many people who have grown accustomed to spending much time in prayer, reading many spiritual books, imagine themselves saints already and seek a spiritual director who suits their fantasy and taste, flattering their progress in the spiritual life, long before virtue is proven, or prayer is more than an occasional interior consolation, and so on. Many of us lay people imagine ourselves to be very holy if we spend a few hours a week in adoration, attend daily Mass, or recite the Liturgy of Hours on a more or less regular basis.
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If we happen to have led wicked lives in the past, or have come through some great temptation or trauma, and experience the least hint of a remarkable conversion, even an experienced priest can think we are holy and very special. That is unfortunate, because then spiritual direction can become a pretext for mutual admiration and approval - a sort of spiritual recreation, rather than helping the soul enter the narrow way that leads to life.
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Two things to think about.
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"Never take a man for your example in the tasks you have to perform, no matter how holy he may be, for the devil will set his imperfections before you." - John of the Cross
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"Perfection does not lie in the perfections the soul knows it has, but in the virtues our Lord sees in it. This is a closed book, hence one has no reason for presumption, but must remain prostrate on the ground with respect to self." - John of the Cross
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Note: All thoughts from John of the Cross are taken from his Collected Works. It should be remembered that St. John wrote primarily for contemplative cloistered religious, hence his counsel should be digested accordingly for lay-people, conscious of their completely different lifestyle and state in life. Try to imbibe the aroma or spirit of his writing, rather than drinking in the literal interpretation. And do not forget, I am not qualified to interpret his work, but I am simply writing from my personal understanding. The contemporary soul ought to be wise as a serpent even under the care of a spiritual director.
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I recommend reading, "Spiritual Direction and Meditation" by Thomas Merton, as well as anything by Fr. Dubay on spiritual direction, before searching for a director.