Saturday, July 26, 2014

On the 'spirit' of the Catholic Blogisterium

Heretics tortured and nailed to wooden posts.

"You don't know of what spirit you are." - Luke 9:55

As a foreword, I should explain that I don't always read comments left on my blog if they are too long - I'll skim them, but often do that a bit later.  I did that last night.  I also read a couple of blog posts on other blogs the long commenter(s) write.  I may be wrong, but something is off - way off.

I've written before that people have to be careful what they read, especially by people who claim special spiritual insight, discernment of spirits, and sensitivity to the 'signs of the times'.  As Fr. Angelo Mary Geiger writes:
[T]he autonomous personal conscience sometimes lays claim to a false discernment when it sets private revelation and presumed personal graces against the magisterium.   The desire for union with God sometimes leads individuals to attach themselves to extraordinary manifestations of the “spirit,” but in such a way that weakens their attachment to the Church.   Thus, Catholics continue to embrace New Age spirituality, or some dubious private revelation, or a personal insight even though they know that their conviction runs contrary to Church teaching or discipline.
The discernment of spirits is so important today because there are many voices competing for our attention, and it is all so easy to assume that that what we hear, or even what we think and say comes from God. - Fr. Geiger

The blind man who falls will not get up alone in his blindness, and if he does, he will take the wrong road. - John of the Cross

People who pray often have spiritual experiences and feelings - sometimes they are authentic, although sometimes they can be the result of natural reasoning accompanying a spiritual feeling - which makes it seem like spiritual insight.  (That being the case, it doesn't mean we are holy.)  The devil likes to play games with us - he likes to confuse and he likes to convince.  At any rate, there are guidelines in spiritual direction and it is best never to esteem these experiences or become attached to them.  Many, many, many good people are deceived that way.  Feelings are not a gauge of spiritual anything.  (How did you feel when Pope Francis was elected?  It doesn't matter.)

Get a grip.

One exchange in my combox dealt with these things, springing from a sort of anxious concern that the Church is governed by the anti-Christ - the upshot being that anti-Christs are beginning to be seen hiding everywhere.  The phenomenon reminds me of St. Teresa of Avila's statement about people who see the devil behind every column, saying she is more afraid of such people than the devil himself.  Scripture tells us that anti-Christ is in the world, just as the devil prowls about the world looking for someone to devour.  We know this stuff already.

Again, I think Fr. Angelo Mary identifies the problem here: "The desire for union with God sometimes leads individuals to attach themselves to extraordinary manifestations of the “spirit,” but in such a way that weakens their attachment to the Church."  That's a huge problem - on both sides of the imaginary fences our divisions have built.

"My Lord Jesus, I want to love You but You cannot trust me." - St. Philip Neri

Lord!  You can't trust Terry!  I write from personal experience.  For all the 'spiritual' consolations and experiences I may have had, I never ever remained faithful.  No matter how exalted I believed my 'spiritual understanding' I fell again and again.  My learning, my studies couldn't even deter me from falling back into sin.  My monastic formation, my penances, my countless hours of adoration, fasting, pilgrimages, they couldn't save me - 'put not your trust in horses' as the psalm says.

Because of my great pride I used to say things like, "I have more understanding than all who teach me because I do your will."  It makes me cringe today.  I thought because I lived chastely I was in union with God's will.  I think I may have even said things like what I read in my combox, "I'm very good at discernment, I can spot a phony a mile away."  Or, "I've got a pretty good track record on discernment - I've helped a lot of people."  And how many people must believe the following about themselves or another: "I think God is using me for this or for that and I see myself as this apostle or saint, I've been given this or that ministry."  Yet by whose authority?

God desires the least degree of obedience and submissiveness more than all those services you think of rendering Him. - John of the Cross

Once again I go back to my favorite spiritual master, St. John of the Cross.  I fear I may misappropriate some of his sayings, or understand them in a too personal interpretation, but his writing has often brought me back after serious falls which resulted because of pride and imagining that I was secure in what was really self-opinion and vain rejoicing in spiritual goods.  Hence, I often think of his "Censure of a nun".  He wrote to the prioress saying the 'censure' wouldn't be so difficult a task if the nun wasn't 'so spiritual'.  It seems to me many bloggers may fall into that category, a situation made worse by a theology major or a religious ed. certificate.

Censure and Opinion... a paraphrase of John of the Cross.

In the affective manner with which these souls proceeds there may be five defects manifesting a lack of the good spirit.
  • First, it seems they bear within themselves a great fondness for possessing things and earning a living from the blog, whereas the good spirit strives for detachment in the appetites and leads one to fulfill the duties of one's state in life. 
  • Second, they are too secure in their spirit and have little fear of being inwardly mistaken. Where this fear is absent, the spirit of God is never present to preserved the soul from harm, as the Wise Man says [Prv. 15:27].  "I have a pretty good track record ..."
  • Third, it seems they have the desire to persuade others that their experiences (or interpretation of prophecies and the 'signs of the times') are good and manifold. Persons of a genuine spirit do not desire to do this, but, on the contrary, desire that their experiences be considered of little value and despised, and this they do themselves.  (In other words, they do not esteem their spiritual insights and apprehensions.)
  • Fourth-and this is the main fault-the effects of humility are not manifest in this attitude. When favors are genuine, as these people concludes theirs are, they are ordinarily never communicated to a soul without first undoing and annihilating it in the inner abasement of humility. And if these favors had produced this effect in these souls, they would not have failed to say something about it, and even a great deal. For the first thing the soul esteems and is eager to speak of are the effects of humility, which, certainly, are so strong that they cannot be disguised. (I may be stretching it with this one.)
  • Fifth, and here I depart entirely from St. John's list - the claims made concerning the crisis in the Church are in opposition to the teaching magisterium and authority which belongs to the Church.  It is the Church Fathers who will discern the current situation in the Church and the world and it is their responsibility to discern and define the signs of the times we live in.  As the Rule of St. Benedict reminds us:  "You have placed men over our heads." (Ps 65[66]:12).

Don't believe me though - you can't trust me either.  Believe what the Church teaches.  Do what the Pope and the Synod Fathers say - and if some give bad example - don't do as they do - but do as they say.  Don't go to strangers online who sometimes are in it to make a living - they are 'divided' by that very fact.  Remember, you can't be holier than the Church.  Don't go to strangers online for spiritual direction.

Humility - strive for humility - with great confidence and love in the mercy of God.

Allow yourself to be taught.


  1. There is also the danger of being preoccupied with our own sinfulness and the sins of others. All rather negative stuff. But God’s goodness is in every soul – and that’s the real challenge for all of us, seeing the goodness in others and oneself; recognising the wheat and not just the darnel. But we get caught in the trap of disfiguring others and finding fault. That’s the devil’s work and he’s happy to sit back and let us get on with it. It’s not Good News. :(

  2. "The rules of St. Ignatius Loyola" can be read on blog "Sentire Cum Ecclesia". Those 18 rules for "Thinking with the Church" were composed as an addition to his Spiritual Exercices and represents a reply to the Protestant challenge. the work of the Jesuits in defending the faith must be looked at in the context of the Counter-Reformation as wrote Fr Charles P. O'connor in an article "The Counter-Reformation: St. Ignatius and the Jesuits" on blog Ignatius Insight. in 1540's, St. Ignatius wrote that "many parishes were without clergy and not a single priest had been ordained for twenty years, and monasteries lay desolate, and 9/10 of inhabitants had abandoned the faith."

  3. There are essentially two rules I go by in reading Catholic blogs and websites and in writing my own blog, which you covered in this post. The first is loyalty to the Catholic hierarchy. When someone thinks he/she knows better than the Church, that he/she knows more than the bishops and the Holy Father and is basically more Catholic than the hierarchy, it is time to move on.

    I also live by this quote from Pope Francis:

    "If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. "

    Anyone who is 100% certain, not of Our Lord or His Church, but 100% certain of himself, as Pope Francis says, that is the proof God is not with him.

    Those two rules, sadly, eliminate about 80% to 90% of Catholic blogs and websites.

    The Catholic blogosphere is in chaos.

    1. Excellent commentary. I could not have said it with such clarity either. I'm glad my days of hanging out on certain blogs where one upmanship was the norm and drama reigned, are over.

      One comment made recently here on Terry's blog in response to something I posted had me thanking Jesus. I thanked Him for not gifting me with the ability to know "with any certainty whatsoever" His will nor that of the Cardinals when given the most holy and monumental responsibility of having selected Pope Francis as successor to Benedict.

      My mind flipped many times over in even attempting to understand such a gift.

  4. The Catholic blogosphere is in chaos.

    You're not kidding.

    It's a fertile field of pride and conflict.

  5. Here is a song from a Protestant "Christian Rock" musician, but it is one which I think fits this theme quite well (I think it was written contra many tv evangelists):

    So many on the web are like this. I fear it's a temptation for me, at times!

  6. Once again, Terry, you show us the value of reading the writings of the saints more fully.

    Book 2 and part of Book 3 of the Ascent of Mount Carmel should be must reading for any Catholic getting on the internet. Here it is online for anyone wanting it.

    It's very sad to watch, really. Prayer is helpful.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I'm pretty sure God loves you even though Madonna's your spiritual director.


  7. A theology degree sure doesn't guarantee salvation. For that matter, allowing one's self to be taught is more complicated than it seems:

  8. Pope Francis had this to say at the weekend... before a group of evangelicals...
    He went on to cite the story of Jacob who, during a time of famine, sent his eleven sons – ten of whom were guilty of betrayal, having sold their brother Joseph – to Egypt to buy grain. There, they once again found Joseph, who in the meantime had become the vizier. “When we walk in God's presence, we find brotherhood”, asserted the Pope. “When instead we stop, we scrutinise each other too much, and we set out on another path, that of gossip. … And in this way it begins, from the first moment the division of the Church began. And it is not the Holy Spirit who causes division! … From the very beginning there has been this temptation in the Christian community. 'I am from this group, you are from that one', 'No! I am the Church, you are a sect', and so on. … The Holy Spirit creates diversity in the Church … diversity, rich and beautiful. But, at the same time, the Holy Spirit creates unity, and so the Church is one in her diversity. To borrow a phrase used by an evangelical, a phrase I love, it is the 'reconciled diversity' of the Holy Spirit, Who creates both of these things: diversity in charisms, and harmony in charisms”.

    To offer an image of how unity in the Church could be, Pope Francis first described a sphere, all of whose points are equidistant from the centre. This, he said, was an example of uniformity, and “the Holy Spirit does not create uniformity”. “Let us imagine, instead, a polyhedron: it is an example of unity, but with many different parts, each with its own peculiarity and charism. This is unity in diversity. This is the path that we Christians take, giving it the theological name of ecumenism: we seek to ensure that this diversity is harmonised by the Holy Spirit and becomes a unity; we seek to walk in the presence of God to be blameless”.

    1. Thanks bg - that is beautiful. It is amazing to me how the Pope's words seem so simple yet upon reflection they are deeply meaningful and profound. He is such a gift to the Church.

    2. Beautiful? Do you realize that this is not what the Church has taught all along? Unity in diversity and each having its own "peculiarity", in the context of non-Catholic Christians, used to be a matter of heresy and apostasy. Now, we have this sense of non-Catholics Christians needing not convert to the Catholic Faith, because somehow the peculiarity of each individual sect is desirous.

    3. "Martha, Martha, you are worried about many things, one thing only is important."

      Leave the pope alone. Bigger things are coming.


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