I’m experimenting with MS Edge browser and plan to use it to better integrate earthpages.org and earthpages.ca. So this is a catchy snippet from my latest entry about St. Gregory at earthpages.ca. If anyone has any ideas about how I could better integrate these two blogs, suggestions would be appreciated! Thanks. MC
When it comes to a God, religion speaks of a higher being that is distant from humanity, one that lives in what may be another world, such as heaven. Spirituality stresses that God is within all of us, and there is no separation between humanity and this greater being. (Source: Article in above tweet)
Every time I see this distinction I get the impression that the person making it doesn’t really know what they’re talking about.
For instance, during Catholic Mass it might seem that some people woodenly go through the motions. To an observer they might appear to mumble words and sit or stand from sheer force of habit. But a mere observer has no idea what’s going on inside their souls.
Speaking for Catholics, some of my acquaintances tell me about their ongoing personal experiences with God, graces, and the spiritual intercession of saints. God is very close for these Catholic churchgoers. Also, the belief about the Eucharist, which many Catholics receive daily, is that the heavenly Christ appears in the flesh, right here on Earth. And for many, that is not just the belief but also the inner experience.
Sometimes when I’m going to Mass and see some unhappy looking passersby near the Church, I’m tempted to say, “Hey Jesus Christ is arriving here in about 10 minutes! Interested?” But I don’t, of course, because I have a pretty good idea what the answer would be.
I bet if a full person, replete with head, arms and legs were to appear out of nothing and broadcast his showtime later that day, the venue would be packed with crowds overflowing out on to the street. But because the Eucharist is a miraculous and subtle transformation/presence of inner substance but not of gross outward form, only some appreciate it, for whatever reasons. And I get the impression that most non-Catholics, especially non-Christians, just think the whole idea is silly.
Anyhow, I digress. The point is, it does no good to make a black and white distinction between religion and spirituality. Not only is it theologically misinformed but from my experience and from talking with other believers, it is misinformed on an experiential level.
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
A new Pew Research survey of 5,122 U.S. adults, (including 1,016 self-identified Catholics) finds that the Catholic church’s share of the religious marketplace is down from 23.9 percent in 2007 to 20 percent in the new survey, conducted in May and June of 2015.
The new survey goes beyond the standard tally of how many people say their religious identity is Catholic. It asks many questions that Pew has not asked before.
Pew found that in addition to the 20 percent who are Catholics, 9 percent of U.S. adults are “cultural Catholics”. Reared as Catholics they no longer identify themselves as Catholic. However, they still consider themselves somewhat Catholic by culture, ancestry, ethnicity or family tradition.
Pew also identified another 9 percent of Americans as ex-Catholics — “lapsed” or “fallen-away” Catholics — who were reared in the church but have turned their backs on it. This would mean that almost one quarter (9 of 38) of cradle Catholics are no longer Catholic.
“We see enormous differences between cultural Catholics and ex-Catholics,” said Greg Smith, associate director of religion research at Pew.
“Cultural Catholics exhibit a significant degree of openness to the church,” he said, “whereas ex-Catholics have cut their ties. Asked directly, ‘Could you see yourself ever returning’ to a Catholic religious identity, 4 in 10 cultural Catholics say yes, but 90 percent of ex-Catholics say no”.
Many of the ex-Catholics have become evangelical Protestants; or Conservative or Reform Jews (almost half of all converts to Judaism are former Catholics).
While the Roman Catholic church is getting smaller, those who remain within the church are stronger in their faith: 7 in 10 U.S. Catholics say they cannot ever imagine leaving the Catholic Church, no matter what. That means that in the future losses should be less.
The Pew survey found that most remaining Catholics align church teachings they consider “essential” to what it means to be Catholic. Leading the list: 68 percent cite a personal relationship with Jesus Christ; 62 percent list helping the poor and needy; 54 percent cite receiving the sacraments and devotion to Mary.
But only a minority see addressing climate change (29 percent) or opposing abortion (33 percent) as “essential” to their Catholic identity. Catholics are evenly divided over whether it is sinful to spend money on luxuries without also giving to the poor. Neither do most see it as a sin to use energy without concern for the impact on the environment.
Rabbi Maller’s web site is: rabbimaller.com
To continue from Part 1, it’s simplistic to say that all forms of mysticism are identical.
They may seem the same to some. But, by way of analogy, people with a tin ear can’t tell the difference between the Beatles and the Bee Gees. In practically every field of human activity we find experts and novices. Experts usually discern differences, great and small, in their subject matter while novices tend to miss them. Why would mysticism be any different?
Rev. Sidney Spencer says,
Before we can fruitfully generalize, we must know something of the different forms which mysticism has assumed through the ages.¹
Having said this, the following is not a comparative study. Readers looking for a good comparative analysis should take a look at Spencer’s book, Mysticism in World Religion (1963).
One could spend a lifetime researching and writing about comparative religion, something I don’t feel called to do. So this post will be limited to a select few Catholic saints and laypersons deemed to have lead holy lives.
Science and Mysticism
Contemporary researchers and skeptics often try to scientifically test the claims of mystics. But choosing a scientific methodology appropriate to mysticism isn’t easy. Science, itself, takes several forms and is variously defined.
Many theologians, for instance, believe that theology is the Queen of all Sciences – a “master science” – because its truth claims originate from God.
Clinical psychologists, on the other hand, tend to emphasize controlled experimental models that involve hypothesized cause and effect, correlation and statistically based predictions.
And, as noted, some philosophers and postmoderns spend untold hours questioning just what science is. Some, like Michel Foucault, tend to see science as nothing more than a modern myth, a discourse created and perpetuated by power.
From this, it seems the best approach for putting interior perception to the test would to combine several models—psychological, medical, sociological, philosophical and theological. Some attempts have been made to move things in this direction, most notably the work of C. G. Jung. But nothing has really become mainstream. Not yet, anyhow.²
The Saints Speak
My article Krishna, Buddha and Christ: The Same or Different? touches on the idea of universal salvation. Universal salvation suggests that hell isn’t eternal or, in some instances, that hell doesn’t exist.
Believers in universal salvation generally say that even cruel, perverse tyrants immediately (or eventually) enter into heaven along with those decent folk who’ve lead good lives.
This can be an intellectually attractive idea. After all, who really likes to think of souls suffering an eternal hellfire?
But after reading the diaries of Catholic saints and holy persons like St. Faustina Kowalska, St. Teresa of Avila, Sister Josefa Menéndez and the Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, among others, one might become skeptical of universal salvation.
These mystics relate their interior visions, which apparently reveal the state of souls on Earth and of souls in the afterlife. Some souls on Earth are inwardly seen as holy and deserving of heaven. But others are trapped within the snares of the devil and doomed to hell unless they repent and change for the better. These mystics also speak of souls residing somewhere between these two extremes. So-called “lukewarm” souls commit various venial sins, such as gossiping or indulging in dishonorable desires. And after death they will undergo purgatorial purification, which itself is no party but, at least, temporary.
These saintly, mystical perceptions are not always oriented towards others. St. Teresa of Avila, for instance, had a vision of a nasty spot in hell where she, herself, would apparently end up in if she didn’t change her ways. Teresa was very frank about her personal battle with evil. In her autobiography she recounts an incident where “my good angel prevailed over my evil one.”3
Josepha Menéndez had regular visions of the horrors of hell, visions which could only be described as disturbing.4
Anne Catherine Emmerich had interior perceptions of ordinary people who were saints, strategically placed by God near centers of great sin and corruption. According to Emmerich these unrecognized saints suffered dearly for others around them, calling to mind the two related ideas of intercession and the taking of sin.
Modern Catholics have picked up on this with the notion of “victim souls.” However, it seems that some fanatics use this as a crutch to make themselves look better than they really are, or as a kind of denial of their own shortcomings. It’s far more attractive for some to blame personal suffering on other people’s sins than to ask themselves what they are doing wrong.
The Polish Saint Faustina Kowalska, currently favored in Catholic circles, claimed to inwardly perceive and intercede for others in spiritual distress. She often suffered and prayed for, she writes, for other people located at a significant physical distance.
Critics of mystical diaries like Kowalska’s contend that Catholic copyists or editors probably added and deleted passages to conform to their Church’s teachings about the eternity of hell. The grand ideological scheme of the Church, critics say, would encourage clerics to meddle with autobiographical texts. In their minds this would be a justified means to an end—a “necessary sin.”
This, of course, is possible but seems doubtful, especially with the more recent saints like St. Kowalska.
The original handwritten pages of St. Kowalska’s diary are available for public scrutiny and not all that she writes about clerics and her religious sisters in the typed and published Divine Mercy Diary is complimentary by any stretch of the imagination. Faustina tells how her religious superiors regularly checked her bedsheets to make sure, so she implies, she wasn’t masturbating or having wet dreams. And she does this humorously, making her sisters conform to the old stereotype of the repressed and suspicious nun. She also tells of impure priests who aren’t worthy to hear a full, uncensored confession.
If covert editing was condoned to put a nice gloss on the Church and its often challenged teachings, why wouldn’t the alleged backroom editors have removed this unflattering material from St. Kowalska’s Diary?
Other critics rightly note that the religious diaries of saints would have been read by a Superior and ultimately by the Catholic hierarchy. The saints, so their argument goes, had to appease the known and imagined biases of their religious superiors, so wrote accordingly.
A good example of this might be found in the medieval saints’ intense disdain for women:
If God loves men and women equally, the critics contend, why would a leading mystic like St. Teresa of Avila – who apparently saw through the veil separating heaven from mere worldly appearances and social conventions – write about her female inferiority?
It is enough that I am a woman to make my sails droop: how much more, then, when I am a woman, and a wicked one?5
Did Teresa really believe in gender inequality or was she just conforming to the prevailing chauvinism of her times?
The idea that saints tailor their writings to please Catholic authorities could also apply to those passages describing the nature of heaven and hell.
Proponents of this view maintain that the medieval saints knew full well they would be risking a fiery death at the stake if they contradicted the Church’s teachings, enforced by the Holy Inquisition.
In a nutshell, some believe that saintly discourse was not just spiritually but also politically motivated. And who knows. In some instances they may be right.
¹ Sidney Spencer, Mysticism in World Religion (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1963: Preface)
² In Intuition and Insight: Toward a Practical Theory of Knowledge I made a rough attempt to develop a working method to assess truth claims derived from interior perception, and to understand some of the factors that could contribute to error. This was an ambitious and daunting task, and the piece is currently in revision.
3 Follow this link » The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus and search for the relevant quotation.
5 Follow this link » The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus and search for the relevant quotation.
Part 1 – One or Many? | Part 3 – coming soon…