Tag: perfectionism

Religion & Spirituality

Have you noticed that an increasing number of formerly “religious” people identify themselves by saying, “I’m not religious but I am spiritual,”? I suspect that for many it’s because they’d rather say that, than identify themselves as an atheist or agnostic.  Perhaps it’s because they have become disenchanted with organized religions for any number of reasons, but still believe in God and have a need to acknowledge a higher power, without having to profess a particular faith tradition.

I read in a recent report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, that approximately one-third of those who say they were raised no longer describe themselves as ; which means that roughly 10% of all Americans are former s. I’m not sure how many of those “ex-” call themselves spiritual, but I suspect it is a high percentage.

My own experiences in speaking to many folks who do not identify themselves with any religion but identify themselves as spiritual, is that there is often confusion between religious and . A person I spoke to recently told me, “I suppose if I were being admitted to a hospital and they asked my religion, I’d tell them I’m catholic, even though I haven’t gone to in years. If I were to say I’m a spiritual person, it might take too much explaining.” I’ve heard others say, “I’d tell them I’m a ‘recovering catholic’.” It’s this kind of ambivalence or confusion that prompted me to pursue this topic both here and on my blog.

Below, I have a number of links to the topic that I believe will be helpful in our dialoguing on religion and . I have them here as references that you may use when I bring up the topic on my blog. Or if you just want to explore the topic on your own, ly these articles and essays will be useful.

    1. Religion versus Spirituality a Spiritual Problem: Reconnecting Experience with Tradition by David Tacey – I suggest that this article by Dr. David Tacey be read first. I found it very helpful in distinguishing between religion and and realizing how they can work better together than separately. He argues that Spirituality and Religion are becoming disconnected and they need to be re-connected., since they both rely on the other. In his opinion, Religion focuses more on community and worship and, is usually, but not always, based more on an individual’s experience. I personally have a need for both a sense of community and my own sense of awe, when I meditate, read inspirational book, or just discuss a specific topic with someone else. All of these spiritual experiences can lead to feeling of awe.
    2. This is an article by Emmy Silvius, a lay theologian, that appeared in the Australian website – Her commentary is based mainly on Dr. Tacey’s premise of how religion and might be reconnected. Her belief is that Spirituality is not just a selfish, individualistic pursuit, but that it has a community aspect.
    3. The author of this web page asks the question: “I think that Spirituality is believing the universe is alive, and Religion is believing it expects something of you. What do you think?” Good question! Basically, it’s a position the Spirituality believers embrace. (see Mathew Fox’s website) So, what do you think?
    4. The Journal of Religion and Spirituality – This journal has a number of resources that can be very helpful.
    5. Enlightened-Spirituality. There are a number of interesting web pages on this web site. For example if you scroll down the main page, you’ll find information about how a variety of religions describe and practice : Buddhism, traditions of the Jewish Kabbalah, Hinduism, Islam etc.
    6. Interesting interview with Dr. Micael Ledwith – Since he retired as a catholic he has gone on to appear in the groundbreaking film, What the Bleep Do We Know? He has also produced three volumes so far in his own series of DVDs that deal with fundamental matters in relation to spiritual evolution, and three more of which were scheduled for release in 2010/2011. In 2008 Ledwith published The Orb Project, a book detailing his intensive five-year study of orbs, which was co-authored with German physicist Klaus Heinemann. He is currently working on a new series of books titled Forbidden Truth, a three-volume work that focuses on human destiny and the mechanics of spiritual evolution. The interview with Dr. Ledwith and SuperConsciousness Magazine speaks at length about his , his choices, and his passion to know God as himself.
    7. The following reading illustrates some parallels between Native American spirituality and the Buddhist way of life. The authors of this web site chose themes and readings for their proximity to Buddhist teachings. They are not meant to suggest that Native American and Buddhism are the same or share similar historical source, both are different from one another but share some similar viewpoints and religious experiences.
    8. This web site is authored by Orrin Lewis, a Cherokee. He says in his introduction that, “This is my personal homepage – I am old-fashioned and I don’t like to put my picture on the Internet.” He might be old fashioned, but his web site contains a wealth of information besides this article entitled Seeking Native American Spirituality: Start Here.
    9. This article by Jody A. Long, J.D., Near Death Experience, Religion and Spirituality, is described by the author as one of the last frontiers of study surrounds and Near Death Experience (NDE). She also suggests that this is a highly sensitive issue due to the nature of religion. What this study attempts to do is to objectively look at the data submitted by NDErs to the website and to categorize the answers. Questions that are analyzed include pre and post NDE religious preference, and changed beliefs. There are some surprising results that focus on universal and order gained from NDE understandings.
    10. There are a number of rich spiritualities within the catholic tradition. These spiritualities have their origin in great spiritual leaders after whom they are named; for example, Franciscan is attributed to teachings of St. Francis of Assisi, and so on. A particular is a system, or schema of beliefs, virtues, ideals and principles which form a particular way to approach God and therefore all in general.Even though these spiritualities are different, does not mean they are contradictory. They all have their roots in the same Christian heritage and they all aim at the same goal – to love as Jesus loved. The difference is a matter of emphasis. The differences give each approach its unique character traits.To mention just a few of the more familiar: Ingnatian Spirituality, Franciscan Spirituality, Benedictine Spirituality and Dominican Spirituality.
    11. In addition to those from the catholic tradition, here is a website that provides from other faith traditions including: Protestant, Jewish, Orthodox Christianity, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslin.

Faith and Beliefs

I believe that since faith and beliefs are so often confused, it’s important for us to have a clear understanding of the differences. If I were to design a bumper sticker for this topic, it would be, Keep the Faith but Question the Beliefs.

Theologian and Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, Harvey Cox, in his book, The Future of Faith, describes a conversation he had with a friend, who described himself as “a practicing Christian but not always a believing one.” Initially Cox was surprised with his friend’s statement, but the more he thought about it, he came to the conclusion that to call oneself a practicing Christian but not a believing one acknowledges the certainties and uncertainties that mark the of any religious person. When I read his book, I realized I had come to the same conclusion about the differences between faith and beliefs a number of years ago, but I just wasn’t able to articulate it as well as he did. In my case, the more I studied the tradition of the , and the fathers of the , the more I came to the conclusion that many of the beliefs of my pre- II background did not pass the litmus test of my conscience.

My faith was in the Jesus of what Cox calls the Age of Faith, the first three centuries after Jesus died, when the early was more interested in following Jesus’ teachings than making obligatory what to belief about Jesus. The Jesus that I believe in and in whom my faith is grounded in is: the Jesus who gave us the Beatitudes and his example of how to live; the Jesus who focused on compassion for the disenfranchised. As Dr. Cox observed, when he realized how faith and beliefs were not the same,

“To focus the Christian on beliefs rather than on faith is simply a mistake. We have been misled for many centuries by theologians who taught ‘faith’ consists of dutifully believing the articles listed in one of the countless creeds, this came as a welcomed liberation.” Amen!

This webpage provides a number of references to faith and beliefs. It primarily focuses on the Christian tradition. It does not pretend to be all inclusive. The references are meant to be background for future discussions on my blog or as possible sources for your spiritual reading.

    1. From Blind Belief to Enlightened Faith – Reprint from the Theosophical Movement. The following is a quote from the article that is characteristic of the author’s position.

      “Blind belief passing through the fire of reason emerges as enlightened faith, casting off the ashes of exclusiveness, fanaticism and bigotry. If a man of religious belief passed from blind belief to real knowledge and practised the ethics of his own creed, he would soon be forced to discard the exclusiveness of that creed and to embody its universal aspects. Thus enlightened faith comes to birth.”

    2. Faith Versus Belief. Posted in The Thinker by Jeffrey Ellis. In addition to this article there are a number of interesting topics that the website covers.
    1. The Omega Connection – Faith and Belief. A brief but interesting article.
    1. Bill Moyer’s website Faith and Reason, contains a wealth of information about faith and beliefs. It contains dozens of interview of religious leaders from every denomination, scientists who have positive and negative views about religion and in depth articles and programs both in text format or tapes of actual intervies. http://www.pbs.org/moyers/faithandreason/index.html
    2. Harvey Cox, The Future of Faith (New York: Harper, 2009). 16. The author of classic, The Secular City, writes his last book before retiring from Harvard University, on the difference between faith and beliefs and how important this distinction is for the future of faith.
    1. Donald F. Fausel, From Blind Obedience to a Responsible Faith: The Memoir of a Cradle Catholic. (Bloomington, IN. 2010 iUniverse) Fausel’s Memoir is a combination of stories of his pre and post- II, including his time as a catholic , his struggles with many beliefs of the , his dispensation from the hood and his reflections on his ’s journey, back to a responsible faith in his catholic tradition.
    1. Judy J. Johnson. What’s So Wrong about Being Absolutely Right: The Dangerous Nature of Dogmatic Beliefs – This webpage is a commentary that Johnson contributed to her book in the Australian website . After considering some of the major features of dogmatism: the power of dogmatism and its psychological aspects, its intolerance of ambiguity and its authoritarian positions, the author concludes that “It seems reasonable to conclude that, given that features of dogmatism become manifest in social institutions, the challenge for scientists, religious leaders, and politicians – indeed, for all of us – is to open our minds about dogmatic thought; first and foremost our own.”
    1. Faith and Foolishness: When Religious Beliefs Become Dangerous – This is an article in Scientific America, by Lawerence M. Krauss, that offers statistics about the high percentage of respondent who discard scientific facts in favor of their religious beliefs.
    1. What is Belief, What is Faith? This is a video on YouTube by Randall Niles.

      He suggests that beliefs are something we arrive at after a period of time when we intellectually accept a premise, either because of a preponderance of the or beyond a reasonable time, while Faith is when we put our beliefs into action. He provides an interesting but simple example (parable) of a tight rope walker who successfully walks across Niagara to the amazement of large crowd of on-lookers. When he finishes, he ask the crowd if they believe he can walk across Niagara Falls. They all shout yes! He then pushes a barrel across the falls and ask the same question and get the same answer. Next he puts a friend in the barrel and pushes the barrel across the falls. When he finishes he asks if they believe he can push someone across the falls in a barrel. They all respond excitedly, “we believe,” his response to the crowd is, “whose next?” That, says Randall, is the difference between Belief and Faith. Faith requires putting beliefs into action.
    1. Here’s a summary by Meghan Smith, News Editor, of The Gavel Online on March 25, 2011, of an address at Boston College by Vicki Kennedy, the wife of the late senator, Ted Kennedy. It is on faith and political beliefs. She said at one point, as a young girl, growing up in a Democratic family, she actually thought that Jesus must have been a Democrat, because He advocated for all the things that she learned growing up: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and reach out to the poor and disadvantage, all things that were a vital part of her family’s beliefs.
  1. Mark Powel, on Faith vs. Beliefs

    This is a video on YouTube by Mark Powell giving his views of the French Theologian Jacques Ellul on faith and beliefs. On the same You Tube page there are a number of other spiritual topics that Jacques Ellul presents, that are worth listening to.

My Calling to the Clerical Culture

I’d like to share some anecdotal information that I personally experienced both as a seminarian and , who became part of the . There certainly were “benefits” but there was also a price to pay for being put on a pedestal by parishioners as well as people outside the Church, who had some unrealistic images of anyone who wore a Roman collar. I’m not suggesting that my experiences represent the majority of those who were ordained in pre-Vatican II, but I think my experiences can resonate with others who were ordained during that period of time, and for those who are interested, they can vicariously identify with the dynamics of becoming part of the .

In my next commentary, I will move from my personal experiences as a former “cleric”, and consider the concept of the from an institutional, sociological, and psychological perspective. I will first examine the abuse of—and—and addiction to power in the Church, from the Vatican on down. Second, how the perpetuation of has contributed to the sexual abuse of children. Finally, I will propose how I believe that we, the people of God can begin to change this elitist of ism.

Naïve and Immature

I have a section in my memoir entitled My Calling. It describes a casual conversation I had with Father Harry Hinds. He was the director of the Youth Program (CYO) for the diocese of Albany, NY. I worked in his office as his assistant during my last year in high school. One day while we were working on the spring baseball schedule, he asked me what I was going to do after I graduated. I told him I was thinking of going to Siena College to study social work. He asked if I ever thought about becoming a . I told him I thought about it, but I didn’t think I had a calling. The next thing I knew, he was on the phone talking to the Chancellor of the Diocese telling him he had a young man in his office who was thinking about a vocation to the hood. By the end of his phone call, he had made an appointment for me to talk to Monsignor Rooney about my vocation. I was a little surprised to say the least, but part of me was flattered that he thought I was worthy enough to join their club. I was also more than a little naïve and immature. To make a long story short, the next September, I was off to St. Thomas’ a minor Seminary in Connecticut to become part of the . My parents never questioned or pushed my decision, but being “good s”, I sensed that they were pleased with my “choice”.

Seminary Days

I took to the seminary like the proverbial “duck to water”. The sports, the camaraderie,  the feeling that I would have a in that would not only bring me closer to God, but would give me an opportunity to help others to know and serve God. In my puerile mind, I imagined myself as being like Bing Crosby in the two movies Going My Way, and The Bells of St. Mary’s, where he playedFather Chuck O’Malley. For me, being a seminarian was like being a member of a Fraternity. We even had our own song, Ecce quam Bonum, the first line from Psalm 133, “Behold how good and how joyful it is for brethren to dwell together in unity”.  That was also our chosen class song at the major seminary, St. Mary’s Seminary and Pontifical University.

The Hot House

During the eight years I was in the seminary, we were required to spend eight weeks of our summer “vacation” at Camp Gibbons, the diocesan camp for seminarians on Schroon Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. The schedule was much more relaxed than the seminary’s. In the morning they bussed in children from parishes in several towns near the camp for religious instructions. It was a chance for us to teach catechism.  The rest of the day was time for swimming, playing tennis, sun bathing, and living a of luxury. Our colleague from other dioceses accused us of being put in a “hot house” for the summer to maintain our chastity by not being open to the temptations of the outside world. Looking back, I suspect that they were right. Especially, since we were under the watchful eye of our bishop, who spent his summer with us in what he called “his Villa”.  At the time I thought it was just another opportunity to bond with your brother seminarians, after all they would be my major support group after ordination.

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When I was getting close to ordination, one of our neighbors, a non-catholic woman wrote a poem that she dedicated to me. The title was, He Walks with the Hand of God. I just remember the first line or two, a little corny but it was her perception. “Not long ago a boy I met, who my kind of did not covet, for he walked with the hand of God. His air was so proud, and he so perfect, for he walked with the hand of God.” You see what I mean about it being a little corny? Thinking about it now, it’s a little scary—me, perfect?—years later I used to do a workshop entitled Be Ye Perfect: Mission Impossible! I must have intuitively known before my ordination that perfectionism was not achievable, at least for me.

Here’s another example of the perfection that was expected of me. One of the meditations that I often used in the seminary was written by a Dominican , Father Jean Baptist-Lacordaire, who lived in the nineteenth century:

Thou Art a Priest Forever

To live in the midst of the world with no desire for its pleasure; to be a member of  every family, yet not belong to none; to share all sufferings; to penetrate all secrets, to heal all wounds; to go daily from men to God to offer Him their homage and petitions; to return from God to men to bring them His pardon and hope; to have a fire for charity and a heart of bronze for chastity; to bless and be blessed forever. O God, what a and it is yours, O Priest of Jesus Christ!

At the time it seemed like a very quixotic role to play. But even then, I used to wonder, why me? There were so many guys in my high school class who were: smarter than I, holier than I, more popular than I, why was I the chosen one? Looking back, Father Lacordarie’s description of the role and responsibilities of a was indeed a “mission impossible”. The expectations seem overwhelming.  When I expressed my doubts to my seminary confessor, he told me they were just goals and that no one could meet them all the time, and that no one is perfect, we just do the best we can. When I told him about my concern about having “a heart of bronze for chastity”, andthat I was struggling with impure thoughts and temptations, he reassured me that once I was ordained, God would give me the grace that I needed to overcome those temptations.
It was not until I read A.W.Richard Sipe’s book, A Secret World: Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy, published in 1990, I realized just how many other were struggling and often losing their battle to have a “heart of bronze for chastity.”  Sipe is a former , and now is a psychotherapist, who has been engaged in research on the institution of the and ly celibacy for over thirty years. The research for this book presented empirical of sexual activity by almost 50% of the Roman . I wonderedif my seminary confessor knew that there were that many who were ordained and did not ipso facto receive the grace of celibacy. And if he did, would he have given me different advice.

Ordination

At my first mass there was a line of over 200 people waiting to receive my blessing. I realized that it was not Don Fausel they were waiting for, but Father Fausel—but it was still a rather spine-tingling feeling to have everyone from my long lost relatives to Erastus Corning II, the mayor of Albany kneeling at my feet as I pronounced in Latin, “May the blessing of Almighty God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, descend upon you and remain forever.”

After I finished blessing everyone, my boyhood friend, Muggsy McGraw, pulled me aside, and brought me down to earth in his own inimical way, “Look Fausel, you got your butt in a tub of butter, three squares a day and no heavy lifting, don’t screw it up! You got instant status, instant security, and a job for . Yesterday you were nobody and today you’re Father Fausel. Ya get my drift? ” How right he was!

But I was elevated again when I got to my first parish. Like most parishes in those days, there was an older lady that acted as cook and housekeeper for the . We ate at a formal table with a white table cloth, the pastor sitting at the head carving the roast; solid silver eating utensils, expensive China dinnerware, and a little bell to summon the cook for dessert or coffee. I’d come a long way from the kitchen table where my family ate our meals and where I thought my mother ate the neck and wings of the chicken because she liked them.

I remember one morning I went into the kitchen after Mass to let the housekeeper know I was ready for breakfast.  I noticed a note scotch taped to the wall that said, “Father Fausel, turned over easy.” My immediate thought was someone had been monitoring my sleeping habits, until she told me the note was a reminder of how I wanted my eggs. Sitting at that table alone for breakfast, I always felt like the “poor little rich boy.”

Then there was Mamma Leone’s Italian restaurant on West 48th Street off Eighth Avenue, one of the most popular eating places in New York City. When I was a student at Columbia, occasionally several of us cleric types would go there for dinner dressed in our clothes.  We’d be standing outside in a long line, when a Maitre D’ would spot us and rush out to say loud enough so others could hear him, “Fathers your reservations are ready”, and then usher us into the restaurant, leaving dozens of dinners waiting behind . Of course we didn’t have reservations. As I became more accustomed to similar privileged treatment, it was easy to assume it was an entitlement.

In my memoir I recalled an incident about the pastor of the I was assigned to in the Schenectady, NY. It was in the early sixties, I was on duty at the rectory, when I received a phone call from the captain of a police precinct in New York City. He introduced himself and asked if we had a Father Mac (factious name) stationed at our parish. He went on to tell me that they picked him up at a local hotel down near the Bowery and he was “drunk as a skunk” and didn’t have money to pay for the hotel room. He told me they wouldn’t press charges, and asked if we could pick him up. I told him I’d be down the next day and thanked him.  Before hanging up he sheepishly gave me some advice, “Look Father, this poor guy needs some professional help. Our records show that this ain’t the first time we picked him up. You know what I mean?”  The next day I was off to NYC to pick up our pastor. It was a sad one hundred and fifty mile drive back to Schenectady. Father Mac was either apologizing profusely or crying, or both.

This episode demonstrates several things about the : the deference the police captain had for hood, and the willingness he had to cover up for a drunken . Plus my congenital condition of being an enabler and coming to Fr. Mac’s rescue, so he wouldn’t be embarrassed for having been charged with a crime and the parishioners wouldn’t be scandalized by his behavior. The good news is that the other associate pastor in the parish and I arranged a quasi-intervention to persuade Father Mac to get professional help. Which he did!

Priests Need Priests

There were number of us relatively newly minted stationed in Schenectady. A few of us decided we’d like to get together on a regular basis to go out for lunch. The group grew to about eight or ten. We would meet at different restaurant each week, have lunch and chat mostly about what was going on in our parishes, complain about our pastors, gossip about who might be made a pastor, etc. Some of us would play golf together, maybe go to an occasional movie, or go to NYC for a Broadway musical, and several of us when to Cape Cod for a week’s vacation. Our mantra was Priests need Priests. There’s certainly no question about that, who else were we going to relax with or enjoy our free time with? It only occurred to me recently, even though we might talk occasionally about theological issues or the up-coming Vatican Council, it was always on an intellectual level. Even if we discussed mandatory celibacy it was not about our getting married if they changed the rules, it was as if we depersonalized it. As I remember we never talked about feeling or personal problems that we might be struggling with. At least that I was struggling with. Being able to share feelings should have been one of the major reasons the Priests need Priests group were meeting for.

Fast Forward to 2002

On June 12, 2002, my friend John Rusnak and I boarded a plane to Dallas Texas to attend the meeting of the United States Conference of s (USCCB). We were not invited quests of the bishops but where members of Call to Action (CTA). John was the president of the Arizona Chapter and I was a card carrying member. We had been reading the news papers accounts about the out- break of the scandal of pedophile in the Boston Globe, and we were a tad cynical that the bishops would have the integrity to put the best interests of the victims and their families ahead of their history of secrecy of protecting the . As we buckled ourselves into our seats and the cabin door slammed shut, I looked at John and said, “What the hell are we doing going to Dallas?” Neither of us had a rational answer, but our plane was taxing down the runway as we both shrugged our shoulders as if to say—beats me!

Well, here we are ten years later! Little did we think that the sexual abuse of minors would be worldwide.  In the United States most catholics are still not satisfied with the bishops’ negligible response to the sexual abuse debacle, or with the fact that the bishops refuse to acknowledge, and take responsibility for their part in covering up for the perpetrators.

So contrast those experiences I described above, when I was wearing a Roman collar to about forty some years later to the USCCB 2002 meeting in Dallas. In addition to attending some very stimulating workshops, one of the other activities our CTA group participated in was a protest march from a local parish to the luxurious Freemont Hotel where the bishops were holding their meetings. The closest we could get to their hotel was across the street, where we set up our signs of protest and peacefully demonstrated. At one point I had to go to the men’s room. When I tried to cross the yellow tape police markers, I was informed by a policeman, that I wasn’t allowed in the hotel unless I was a guest. When I explained my urgency, he accompanied me into the hotel, turned me over to another officer who told me I would have to give him my driver’s license before I could take care of business. The men’s room that I used was not even close to the room where the bishops were holding their meeting. I guess they weren’t taking any chances.  Since the media was out in full force, the thought briefly went through my mind to make a scene, but nature’s call prevailed.

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The few experiences I described about my as a seminarian and (I have a million of them) might seem rather trivial, but they’re typical of the unearned deference and distinction made between and “ordinary folks” that underlies ism. It’s the same distance that the movement brought to our attention when they pointed out the disparity of the 1% of the top of the economy to the 99% at the bottom. As we definitely were part of a privileged class, not just in those little acts of reverence we were given, but more significant Father was always right. After all, at that time had more education than most of our parishioners. We had spent four years after college studying theology; we had the power to administer all the sacraments; we were always in a place of honor at any parish event. The only ones in the Church that were above us were the bishops and the pope.

Remember as we were at the bottom rung of the latter.  Although there was often a gap between and people, I don’t believe that gap was the same for every , or that most had ambitions to climb up that latter. Nor do I believe that every bishop is equally addicted to the power that corrupts to the point that he loses sight of the children he is suppose to protect from predator , or the disenfranchise in society, and puts his own or the ’s interest first. But given the structure of governance of the , its current , its process of how clerics are groomed, and given the psychosocial up-bringing that many clerics bring to the table, major changes are essential for the future of the Church. Please join me on my next blog, where I will discuss solutions to these issues.