The Real Alternative

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Mysticism needs a reality check

This is one of the better articles on mysticism I’ve seen in a while. Not only does it gently rebuke those Christian fundamentalists who proclaim that mysticism is “of the devil.” But it also mentions how Evelyn Underhill, one of my favorite writers on mysticism, points out as far back in 1914 that the word mysticism means different things to different people.

To a Zen monk, mysticism might mean stopping one’s thoughts and living in the moment. To a Hindu, it might mean feeling a psychological expansion, making the ego and worldly affairs appear trivial.

Most conventional Catholics interested in or claiming to be mystics seem to frame their approach, experiences and understanding within some – but usually not all – of their Catholic teachings, legends and practices.

Over the years I’ve heard some pretty questionable claims from some self-proclaimed Catholic mystics. One element that unconfirmed mystics seem to have in common is that they believe they have no need for dialog or spiritual direction. In their minds, they are right about practically everything.

English: Evelyn Underhill. Author given as Wil...

Evelyn Underhill via Wikipedia

But who among us is without some kind of human limitation?

Because we are all limited, I believe it is essential for budding mystics to receive some kind of direction from another person or persons. I don’t believe a Catholic must necessarily see a Catholic spiritual director. That may help in traditional situations where everyone shares the same beliefs without question. In common parlance, if it’s a good fit, why change it?

But for Catholics uncomfortable with aspects of the greater Catholic culture, guides and critics from other traditions and with different perspectives might be more appropriate in keeping them real.

This reminds me of another type of mystic I have encountered. I call these creative souls “wildflowers.” Unlike the well cared for “hothouse flowers” of traditional Catholicism, the wildflowers are just out there. I’ve found them in the most unusual places, each different but definitely tuned in.

One had pink hair and worked in a record store, another was a ‘normal’ looking man who owned a milk store. And yet another lived in my apartment building back in my student days. These wildflowers seem to be able to access subtle, interior insights without really having to go to any kind of church or temple.

Sometimes I wish I was more like the wildflowers. But it seems I am something of a hybrid between a wild and a hothouse flower. I need the Catholic Eucharist to stay on top of things. However, I do approach my religion in my own way. I don’t do this to be rebellious. On the contrary, I feel it’s important to approach one’s religion by the spirit rather than the letter of the law.

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

~ 2 Corinthians 3:6

This is a basic Christian teaching that sadly, I think many Catholics have forgotten with the rules, regulations and hypocrisy that might be turning so many thinking people away from discovering something truly glorious.

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Today’s Top Tweets – With a bit more commentary than originally intended…

It is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, probably because it’s colder up here and our harvest is earlier than in the US. Today is a holiday but we had our family dinner last night. I’m up early this morning but not really in the frame of mind to make long comments. So I’ll just offer a few one-liner thoughts that came to mind as I looked over these stories:


1 – I always thought that the crucial distinction was between genuine authority, on the one hand, an oppressive authoritarianism on the other hand. This article seems to confuse that:

2 – This is a complicated issue but I think an alternative voice is something to at least consider, even if one does not entirely agree:

3 – I have to admit that I have wondered who was really hacking whom. We cannot know. But at least we can read everyone’s allegations about everyone else:

4 – For many years I’ve felt that the melody in pop tunes is often stronger than the melodies in many classical compositions. And even the arrangement. If one actually tries to do pop, one realizes that it is NOT simple. Even simple sounding songs involve an incredibly complicated process. Same thing with EDM. Some people disparage it as music some guy or gal “creates on a laptop.” Well, let me tell you. You don’t just create songs on your computer by pressing a button. It takes a lot of technical and theoretical knowledge, talent and time. If you don’t believe me, compare the electronic stuff I’ve done so far (a hobbyist who is still learning) with commercial songs. Big difference. So big that sometimes I get discouraged.

5 – To folks unfamiliar with St. Faustina, this final Top Tweet article might appear to be one of those hokey accounts that you see in some sensational books, magazines and web sites. But this is actually different. St. Faustina wrote a diary in the early 20th century that has become popular among Catholics interested in mysticism. I have read most of the diary. I got bored about 3/4 of the way through. But I think I read enough to get the gist of it.

This tweeted article ignores that mysticism and spiritual direction in the Catholic Church are not as clear and simple as the cherry picked passages seem to indicate. Faustina also writes in her diary that she learned not to confess everything to confessors, especially if she felt they were inexperienced. She even made a joke implying how ridiculous her fellow sisters (nuns) were for regularly checking her bed sheets to see if she had been masturbating. Later in the diary Faustina writes (or apparently writes) that she learned it is a great sin to not follow her superiors. She learns the value of “holy obedience.” To the Catholic Church’s credit, these seemingly contradictory passages were not edited out. And they probably could have been.

At times I have felt that Faustina was a naive young Polish woman, easily influenced (and psychologically abused) by some members of the Catholic Church. She suffered a lot, she also saw Jesus a lot whom she says consoled her; then she got sick and died young. My point is that what she calls “holy obedience” might be her putting a bit too much naive trust in a somewhat hypocritical and corrupt religious organization. Or it might not be. I don’t know.

I am just being honest about how I have thought about this issue over the years. It seems a lot of Catholics enjoy and reinforce fairy tale simplicities. But life is rarely like that. And if one really wants to be a mystical saint in the 21st century, I’m not even sure they could be within the rigid and often deceptively simple confines of today’s Catholic world. What I saw while discerning a possible call to the priesthood was a religious culture that cries out against the “evils” of secular society but in actual practice doesn’t really seem any better or worse, morally or economically.

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So I guess I’m “uneducated” for believing in spiritual powers?

I usually don’t like the Huffington Post too much. The articles often seem sort of safe, mainstream and politically correct. But this article, well, I don’t know where to begin. Maybe it’s mostly about promoting a film, I’m not sure. If so, it’s a film I admittedly haven’t seen. So my comments are based solely on the article.

When I read articles like this I usually think skip it, it would take too long to critique. Too many reservations. And how much good will it do to write down my opinions, anyhow?

English: A Roman Catholic priest baptizes an i...

A Roman Catholic priest baptizes an infant as his parents look on. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So maybe I’ll just leave it at that. And if anyone wants to discuss this through the comments area, please feel free to do so. Every now and then I get tired of trying to dismantle a thick, brick wall.

If people want to believe that mental unwellness is predominantly some kind of medical ailment, let it be. I wonder, however, how many folks adhering to that belief will really get better. As one Catholic priest I discussed this with once said, “Satan likes to use psychiatry.”

Not that I want to get caught up in a polarized discussion between materialist psychology on the other hand, and uncritical Catholic orthodoxy, on the other hand. I think both perspectives could learn from each other. But unless I have totally misunderstood the intent of this Huff article, it seems to give emphasis to one side of the debate, which for me is inadequate.

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Catholic Church in decline in US

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What is the difference between religion and spirituality?

A lot of folks say that religion and spirituality are different. Some go as far to say that people go to church merely for social, emotional or aesthetic experiences. But this is a gross simplification, one influenced, I think, by the new ‘religion’ of science, which has brainwashed many.

Would the Catholic Church, for instance, have lasted over 2000 years if it was just about club membership, laughing, crying, and pretty sights and sounds? Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s sociological study, Commitment and Community suggests that most cults dwindle away and die after their charismatic leader dies. Not so with Christianity. The death of the leader made Christians even more committed, to the point of willingly undergoing cruel death at the hands of the ancient Romans.

Contrary to what the materialists say, many real, living people report experiencing a purely spiritual indwelling at their church. They also report feeling a great sense of peace, transformation, and a unique kind of spiritual elevation. It’s not quite the same as going to the bingo hall, the dance club or the football game. The funny thing is, those adhering to the new ‘religion’ of science tend to ignore or reinterpret these real life reports of church-centered spirituality to make them ft with their materialistic way of seeing things.

Even some who critique science and lean toward a Gnostic (gnōsis is a Greek word for “knowledge”) type of spirituality often say that religion and spirituality are like oil and water. They’ll never mix.

But for me there’s an overlap among religions and spirituality. They need not be mutually exclusive. Moreover, we’re all different, with our particular needs evolving to suit different stages of our lives. So we hear stories about firm fundamentalist Christians trying to convert people in their youth, who later in life question their beliefs and begin to explore new interpretations of ancient scripture (e.g. Bart Ehrman). Or the Catholic Mother Superior who drops out of her convent to become a professor, where she hopes she will encounter less chauvinism and institutional hypocrisy.

I’ve talked with many people whose needs are always changing. And I’m one of them. Why should life be any different? We’re not sterile creatures locked up in a test tube. We’re living, breathing, organic creatures thirsting for meaning in an apparently meaningless creation.


The Pope’s absurd statement about Trump

Only God and Trump know for sure if he is a Christian. For anyone else to say otherwise is truly shocking… especially someone with such stature as a Pope.

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I Was Raised A Catholic

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When we think about these four ways to describe the Church, perhaps it’s a bit easier to say ‘We are the Church.’ As it celebrates the sacraments, the Church makes Christ visible to the world.

Source: I Was Raised A Catholic