Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Guest Post: In Christ?

My earlier posts on the controversy surroundings sermons by Sen. Obama's former pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright, has resulted in several comments—both on this blog and to me privately. One frequent commentator here, Chrys, work an extensive response that I thought worthy of inclusion on the front page. The title, "In Christ?" is my editorial addition.

As always, your comments and questions are not only welcomed, but encouraged.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory


In light of recent events, many have described the often harsh judgments of preachers on both the left and right as prophetic. I am not so sure. They do not appear to resemble the spirit or character of Christ – and we know that however their words may appear to us, the prophets were moved by that same spirit. If anything, the proclamations of most popular preachers are of a piece with the imprecations of the "sons of Boanerges":

When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But He turned and rebuked them, and said, "You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." And they went on to another village. (Luke 9:54-56)

That we so readily support or at least defend preachers who say such things says a great deal about us. That we can not see the difference between their proclamations – which often express our own sentiments – and those of Christ says even more. I believe that the saints, knowing the Spirit of Christ, would know the difference. I suspect that this is because they know the words of Christ "from the inside." That is, the saints can say "amen" to the words of Christ – above all in their lives. I have begun to realize that perhaps we really do not understand His words as we claim we do. More often than not, it seems that we seek to use them for our own ends or try to tame them by turning them into interesting concepts rather than simply following them. If this is so, it must call into question whether we can really call ourselves Christian.

Consider: Jesus said "Blessed are the poor . . . those who mourn . . . the meek . . . those who hunger and thirst . . . the persecuted." The apostles and saints agreed with His words and showed it in their lives. They honored His words by following them. By contrast, I cannot really claim to understand what He means. In moments of honest reflection, I recognize that I do not really agree with them in principle and am not even close to following them in practice. For example, I view poverty of every kind is an unmitigated evil. Mourning, persecution, hunger, thirst – these are to be resolved as soon as possible. Problems, yes - evils even. Blessings? No. Though I have heard interpretations that seem to make sense, the muted notes that these trumpets sound could not summon me to enjoin the battle in even my most amenable moments. Supposing they could, I am far from clear how I would put these revised notions into practice. Most often, the bright and untamed words of Christ are reduced to the shadow of a preschool maxim: be nice, don't hit, be patient. It leads me to wonder, then, if the preachers peddling this weak brew understand the transforming words of Christ any better than I do.

If we do not follow the way of Christ and cannot understand the words of Christ, let us acknowledge that His way and His words – and the Spirit that informs them – remain largely alien to us. You may disagree with this assessment and claim to understand what He meant. To me, this is more frightening still (if that is possible). If we dare to say that we do indeed understand them, then we have left ourselves no excuse and must be prepared to explain why we have not begun to follow them.

Our behavior would seem to leave us only two options – we either do not agree with what Jesus said or we do not understand what He said. Either way, we need to be honest about where we stand: we are not following Him and we do not understand what He meant because we do not yet share His mind nor His Spirit. Like James and John, we "do not even know what kind of spirit (we) are of." This is certainly cause for fear. At the same time it may be cause for hope, for the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom which may, if we follow it, lead to life.

Monday, March 24, 2008

An Orthodox Limerick

One of the students (Nick Jones who is not only a talented musician, but also is pursuing his Ph.D. in material science at Carnegie Mellon University) in the college group I served while Mary and I lived in Pittsburgh sent me a limerick in honor of my patron saint, Gregory Palamas (that's his icon on the left). Forgive my vanity and "paternal" pride, but I thought it might be something others would enjoy.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

There once was a bishop named Gregory.
He taught of God's essence and energies.
As a pillar of faith,
He defended God's grace.
And, therefore we honor his memory.

Our OCF priest is named Gregory.
Together we sang morning Liturgy.
At the panel discussion,
He, more fierce than a Russian,
Laid the smack down on all sundry heresy.

Today is the day of your patron.
Through his prayers may you overcome Satan.
We miss you a lot,
For through you we've been taught
Of the joy of God's love, our vocation.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Race, Politics, Power and the Gospel

A friend of mine recently asked me my thoughts on "the myriad recent news clips about Barack Obama's pastor, Rev. [Jeremiah] Wright." Rev. Wright, for those of you who don't know, is pastor of the largely black Trinity United Church of Christ in the South Side of Chicago and a man that Sen. Obama credits as having played a central role in his own Christian faith.

I have posted below my response in an edited and expanded form.


While I try and avoid partisan politics, even with my friends, I found Rev. Jeremiah Wright's position as reported in the press and defended, or at least excused, by his supporters to be troubling.

On the one hand, the positions that he seems to advance are more than intemperate, they appear to be the paranoid ravings of a very angry, and even racist, man. An interviewer on NPR, hardly a John Birch Society stronghold, asked the Rev. Otis Moss, who replaced Wright as pastor of Trinity, if similar intemperate and racial charged language would be acceptable from a white American (or for that matter, and Asian-, Mexican-, or other hyphenated American)? Even granting the centuries long history of gross injustice against African-Americans, and laying aside both the Civil War in the 19th century and the Civil Rights Movement in the 20th, Wright's position is unacceptable.

Theologically I think you have put your finger on the key point. No matter how angry, and not matter how real the offense, Wright's language is not the language of the Gospel. Nor is it the language of the Prophets of the Old Testament. The biblical witness is clear, and even harsh, in its condemnation of injustice and those who commit it. At the same time, every prophetic denouncement is followed by a call to repentance ground not in human failure or anger, but God's mercy and willingness to restore us to communion with Him and each other. At least in what I have heard, and this has only been snippets and second hand accounts, Wright emphasizes condemnation, and even a kind of repentance, but the mercy and forgiveness that leads to reconciliation seems wholly absent.

While I am sympathetic with, and even in admiration of, the willingness of liberation theologians such as Wright to condemn injustice, these condemnations typically only mimic the biblical witness. At its core liberation theology is not theology, but political philosophy, specifically Marxist political philosophy. It is not founded on the mercy of God, however much it appeals to that mercy, but on class hatred and warfare. Again, I am very sympathetic with the anger expressed by Wright (and others who have suffered great injustices for that matter). Only willful blindness keeps us from seeing how that the poor and weak among us are exploited economically, politically and socially by people of greater means.

Having said this, I think we need to be careful that we not understand "the weak" or "the poor" in purely or even primarily political or economic terms.

It is not a social class per se that is exploited, but rather the weakness of individuals. This weakness is often physical, social or economic. But it can also be moral and personal. Precisely because they focus on the former and typically overlook the later, much liberationist theologizing is a romantic and sentimentality about the moral qualities about they identified as "the poor." This romanticism is troubling to me not only because it is untrue, but because it is degrading to the very individuals that the liberation theologian is trying to help. To be clear here, I am not saying this out of any theoretical view of the human condition, but as someone who grew up poor and who has ministered for over 25 years as a layman and then a priest in impoverished communities.

Yes, there is much that those of us with relative wealth and social privilege can do for our neighbor that we do not do. But if we have learned anything from the Gospel and the failures of the Great Society, while it is true that there is always more we can do (since the poor will always be with us), it is also true that there is only so much we can do, at least without the cooperation of those who we would serve.

Toward the end of his book, The Physician's Covenant: Images of the Healer in Medical Ethics, William F. May argues that medical ethicists cannot be concerned solely with the ethics of health care providers. If there are ethics for the healer, there must necessarily also be ethics for the patient. Failure to articulate the moral obligations of the patient to care for his or her own health is to neglect the full moral implications of illness and our care of the sick.

In a similar fashion, I think we need to be careful that—in our own areas of moral concern and care for our neighbor—we not neglect either our own moral obligations, or the moral obligations of those we serve. Speaking personally for a moment, it is here that I experience my greatest frustration as a priest with the general pattern of pastoral life in the Orthodox Church. Too often priest and parishioner collude to exempt each other from their respective moral obligations under the Gospel. Our appeals to economia no more exempt Orthodox Christian laity and clergy from our obligations then do Wright's catalogues of the real and substantial injustice committed against African Americans exempt him from using a temperate rhetoric that follows more closely the very biblical witness he invokes.

That said, I am concerned that there are many, and not only in the Black Church, who either support, or at least excuse, Wright's rhetoric.

My concern is not only that which I outlined above. However uncomfortable it may make us, it seems that for many of us, the American Experiment (of which I am a most enthusiastic supporter by the way) is a failure or at least not working as well as others of us might imagine. I am at a loss as to how to understand this in way that would lead us to the very reconciliation I find lacking in Wright's sermons. Wright's failures on these issues are his own, but my own certainly share a family resemblance.

What I am saying is this: While I disagree with his rhetoric, I think that Wright and his supporters are giving voice to something that is very real and which cannot be dismissed simply because of its (objectively) poor theological articulation. The fact of the matter is that my intellectual and theological precision and erudition tends to suffer most when my physical, psychic or spiritual pains are greatest.

How much more is this likely to be the case when I am giving voice not simply to my personal suffering, but the suffering of my people?

I agree with Wright on this, the questions about race that he and other are asking are important ones. At the same time though, and mindful of my own failures, questions of race, class, culture and sex, are always and everywhere questions of power and as have no other answer other than that given by Christ in His Body the Church. I can't help but wonder if "the myriad recent news clips about Barack Obama's pastor, Rev. Wright," aren't a call to the Church to take on more fully and intentionally our obligation to save, renew and unite all things in Jesus Christ.

Well, anyway these are my thoughts on the matter.

Thanks for the question.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Repulsive Truth

From The Habit of Being, by Flannery O'Connor:

I am mighty tired of reading reviews that call A Good Man Is Hard to Find brutal and sarcastic. These stories are hard but they are hard because there is nothing larder or less sentimental than Christian realism. I believe that there are many rough beasts now slouching toward Bethlehem to be born and that I have reported on the progress of a few of them, and when I see these stories described as horror stories I am always amused because the reviewer always has hold of the wrong horror.

(Quoted in Paul Elie, The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage, pp. 267-68)

The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally . . . there are long periods in the lives of all of us, and of the saints, when the truth revealed by faith is hideous, emotionally disturbing, downright repulsive.

(Elie, The Life You Save, p. 269)

Recently, when I came across these words by Flannery O'Connor, my mind turned spontaneously to the not only recent scandals in the Orthodox Church, but also my own failures and the trails I have undergone as an Orthodox priest.

We, alright, I, easily fall into a pattern of thinking about the Church and the Christian life that is sentimental and thus untrue. There is something about the Gospel that lends itself with surprising ease to being twisted into a sentimental fantasy. I say this not to implicate the Gospel, but simply to establish the human fact that we, that is to say, I, prefer warm feelings about Christ and the Gospel to the hard truth of Christ and the Gospel. As O'Connor says it so directly, because I am a sinner, and more often than not an unrepentant sinner, I at times find the Gospel hideous, disturbing and "downright repulsive." And in finding the Gospel like this I do implicate not Christ in wrongdoing, but myself.

The response that many of us make in this situation is to try and soften, sentimentalize, the Gospel. Think for example of how Christian iconography of angels as sword wielding warriors has been transformed into something all together different. Our cultural images of angels are no longer that of heavenly warriors, but of plump, toe-headed, apple checked children. Popular and precious though these new angels are, they are not the angels of the Old Testament or of classical Christian hymnography and iconography.

They are, in a word, sentimental.

While there is much to criticize in Luther's famous, or maybe infamous, characterization of the Christian as manure covered by snow, there is no denying the psychological fitness of his words. If I do not at times see myself as "manure covered by snow," or a rough beast "slouching toward Bethlehem to be born," I am just not paying attention.

The fact that there are scandals in the Church, while always unacceptable, ought never to be surprising. Whether we like it or not (and quite frequently our irritation suggests, we do not like it) the treasure of the Gospel has been entrusted to earthen vessels (as the Apostle Paul reminds us). The life of the Church, the life of the Christian, my life, is the work of God's grace transforming, sinful, and morally and emotionally frail humanity, evermore into the likeness of the Trice Holy God.

And while this work goes on around us and in us all the time, I easily can lose sight of it because I have chosen not to look at myself with the hard eyes of Christian realism.

Recounting her habit of reading the Summa Theologica by St Thomas Aquinas before bed, O'Connor writes that "if my mother were to come in during the process and say 'Turn off that light. It's late,' I with lifted finger and broad bland beatific expression would reply, 'On the contrary, I answer that the light, being eternal and limitless, cannot be turn off. Shut your eyes." (Elie, p. 268) Sentimentality, romanticism, these are the ways in which I close my eyes to the eternal and limitless divine light.

Refusing however to close my eyes to the light of the Gospel means that I cannot help but see the real imperfections and limitations that afflict not only Church leaders, but each human being, and (most uncomfortably of all), myself. As I said at the beginning of this essay, O'Connor's words cause me to think about the scandals in the Church and my own failures and trails as a priest. While not universal in its explanatory power, sentimentality seems to be a common theme throughout.

There are times when the Gospel and a life committed to following Christ will have the feeling of being brutal and sarcastic. It may be how I feel about myself or other people or my situation. Or, and just as likely, it may be how others perceive me. And yes, to follow Christ might very well mean I find myself in situations that I find "hideous, emotionally disturbing, downright repulsive." But how could it be otherwise? Christ is Divine Light in the darkness of human sinfulness.

Christ pours out His grace, and life, and love, and light, into lives that are marred darkness, indifference and decay. If it were otherwise, it would not be redemption that we received. And so we might ask ourselves as we encounter the sinfulness of others, and for that matter our own, of what use is a god who almost, but never quite, redeems us? Of what use is a church is almost, but not quite, filled sinners? Of what use is a believer who almost, but not quite, believes and is faithful to Christ in the face of his own and other people's sinfulness?

O'Conner has expressed well the real and only scandal in the Church: the Gospel. For all that in my better moments, the Gospel attracts me, in my weaker moments, this same Gospel is a repulsive truth. But it is precisely to me in my weaker moments that the Gospel call is spoken:

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation (Rm 8:6-11).

The real scandal in the Church is not that bishops and priests fail. We all of us fail.

Nor is it a scandal that we are surprised when they, and we, fail.

No the real scandal in the Church is the Gospel. The real scandal, a scandal we seem to work to keep at arm's length, is that Jesus Christ, has by His own death on the Cross has reconciled His enemies, His killers, to Himself and entrusted His Gospel to us who are only newly reconciled and only weakly established in grace.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Suffering of Self-Creation

Maximos' notion of the gnomic will points us to one of the greatest, and most bitter, ironies of human sinfulness. My self-referential turn leads me not to myself, but to a life of ever increasing estrangement from self. This comes about because this turn to the self comes at the expense of my relationship with God in Whose image and likeness I have been created.

As a consequence of my estrangement with God and self, there arise in me as well an estrangement from my neighbor—who now becomes for me, and I for him, my enemy—and the created world. Think of events that follows immediately after he and the Woman have eaten of fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. What has happened to me as a consequence of my inward turn? I no longer seek out God. And creation is no longer for the arena of my encounter with God, it is rather where I try, futile, to hid myself from God. I find myself now lamenting with Adam:

Woe is me! The Serpent and the Woman have deprived me of my boldness before God, and I have become an exile from the Joy of Paradise through eating from the Tree. Woe is me! I can no more endure the shame! I once was king of all God's creatures on earth; now I have become a prisoner, led astray by evil counsel. I was once clothed in the glory of immortality, now I must wrap myself in the skins of mortality, as one miserable and condemned to die. Woe is me! Who will share my sorrow with me? But, Lord and lover of mankind, You have fashioned me from the earth and are clothed in compassion: Call me back from the bondage to the Enemy and save me! (First Sticherion at Lauds, Sunday of the Expulsion of Adam from Paradise)

Like Adam, my life, my will, is not obedient, not loving. I have become a self-referential being and become a slave to my own finitude and mutability. The very dynamism that ought to open me evermore to divine glory, instead now drags me down evermore into a life of shame and degradation. It is this life of self-perpetuating and deepening humiliation is a result not of any withdrawal of divine grace. It is rather a consequence of my withdrawing from divine grace and more and more into myself.

I am forever constructing and reconstructing my view of reality. And with each construction, with each reconstruction, I deviate further from God, my neighbor, creation, and self. It is this that, in the Christian East, that is the real consequence of sin. Death of the body and physical illness are only the symptoms of my spiritual death. And it is from this living death that Christ's comes to save me.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Expecting More Than Creation Can Give

When we try and acquire things through the exercise of our will it is as if we are trying to see with our ear, or hear with our eyes. The "carnal will" is the human will that loves something other than God. It is not even necessarily that we love the gift more than the Giver. The simple fact that we loving something other than God is sufficient to undo us and cause our downward spiral into grief and our subsequent neurotic flight from our own life. Once we exercise our will in the service of our desire for people, things, wealth, possessions, we kill off by little steps any gratitude to the Creator.

Centered as it is on the self and the desires of the self, the gnomic will is a stranger to gratitude and blinds us to the reality that creation is gift to be received from God. And as our lack of gratitude grows creation, and eventually even God Himself, become merely instruments in the service of my own self-satisfaction. Creation, the things of creation, and even my understanding of God, all become substitutes for God. Or, to use Augustine more economical mode of expression, lusts.

If these lusts are not resisted, they eventually become habits; without even thinking about it, I begin to relate spontaneously to people, events and things in terms of how they can please me, gratify me, promote my agenda and me. Eventually, I become enslaved to the habit of my lust. I can no longer live, except that I exploit the world around me for my own selfish ends. Ironically, the very things that—at first anyway—brought me pleasure and even happiness become my master and I become their slave.

The problem then, for Augustine, is not (as it is for the Manicheans) the body, but the will. Sin arises not out of the body, but out of the will's attachment to the body rather than to God. In effect, I sin because I prefer the body and the things of the body (for example, sense knowledge, emotion, food, drink, pleasure, status, etc.) to God. And so Augustine says:

Thus with the baggage of this present world was I held down pleasantly, as in sleep: and the thoughts wherein I meditated on Thee were like the efforts of such as would awake, who yet overcome with a heavy drowsiness, are again drenched therein. And as no one would sleep for ever, and in all men's sober judgment waking is better, yet a man for the most part, feeling a heavy lethargy in all his limbs, defers to shake off sleep, and though half displeased, yet, even after it is time to rise, with pleasure yields to it, so was I assured that much better were it for me to give myself up to Thy charity, than to give myself over to mine own cupidity; but though the former course satisfied me and gained the mastery, the latter pleased me and held me mastered (VII.5.12).

But again, the real perversion, the real corruption of the human, is not desire as such. It is rather that, as Augustine says in Book IV of his deceased friend, that we expect from creation what we can only reasonably, truly, expect from God: To be a worthy object of the human will.

For Augustine, unlike Horney, the will is not the vehicle of human desire, but the faculty that attaches us to God. And it is from that attachment that our identity arises. It is less that our will is damaged, and more that our will is attached not only to the Eternal God Who does not change, nor even to temporal, created realities that are in constant flux. No the "problem" of the will is that it is attached also, and even primarily, to itself.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Grief & the Gnomic Will

Stepping back and with the advantage of age and spiritual maturity, Augustine comes to the self-realization that his sorrow, for all its unique features, was not his alone. Augustine's grief is the grief of the Old Adam. "I was miserable, and miserable too is everyone whose mind is chained by friendship with mortal things, and is torn apart by their loss, and then becomes aware of the misery that it was in even before it lost them" (Bk IV.6.11). It is for Augustine this chaining of the will through our attachment to the created rather than the Uncreated, that is the true human misery: "Woe to the madness," he writes, "which thinks to cherish human beings as though more than human!" (Bk IV.6.11) Possessed by this madness, we find ourselves in a place of inconsolable grief and sorrow. And in this state we can make Augustine's words our own:

Within in me I was carrying a tattered, bleeding soul that did not want me to carry it, yet I could find no place to lay it down. Not in pleasant countryside did it find rest, nor in shows and songs, nor in sweet-scented gardens, nor in elaborate feasts, nor in the pleasures of the couch or bed, nor even in books or incantations. . . . [E]verything that was not what he was seemed to me offensive and hateful (Bk IV.7.12)

We are now in a position to say that what Horney identifies as neurosis is really something much more profound then we might have at first imagined. The grief, frustration, anxiety, and aggression that Horney describes as symptomatic of the neurotic, is the psychological manifestation of a life that has lost its transcendent focus. To be human is to be a self-transcendent being. This self-transcendence is not part of human nature, as is for example, the will. We are not by nature transcend. It is rather that the human person is called by God to a transcendent way of life.

Yes, the transcendent, or the spiritual dimension, I would hold, is the distinctive quality of the human person. But we, I, am only a spiritual being, a self-transcendent being, in response to a call that comes to me from outside the created dimension. To lose sight of this, is not simply to misunderstand the spiritual aspirations of the human person. It is rather is to reduce our highest aspirations to merely a subjective choice, a fleeting desire (and all desires are fleeting) and rob the person of the very gift of a transcendent life that we would foster.

Again, Augustine is remarkably helpful here. In Book VIII he addresses the question of the human will. Contrary to what we sometimes imagine, Augustine's besetting sin is not sex, but ambition. On the one hand he wants to pursue Truth—he wants to devote himself to the contemplation of God. On the other hand, he has worldly ambitions. In a moment of blinding clarity about himself (and the human condition) he says that

[It] was no iron chain imposed by anyone else that fettered me, but the iron of my own will. The enemy had my power of willing in his clutches, and from it had forged a chain to bind me. The truth is that disordered lust springs from a perverted will; when lust is pandered to, a habit is formed; when habit is not checked, it hardens into compulsion. These were like interlinking rings forming what I have described as a chain, and my harsh servitude used it to keep me under duress. . . . And so the two wills fought it out—the old and the new, the one carnal, the other spiritual—and in their struggle tore my soul apart (Bk VIII.5.10).

Augustine would agree with Horney that there is something wrong in human willing. But where Horney tends to see the will as damage, like a broken bone, Augustine sees the will more as misdirected. Our frustration comes from a will that is not damaged, but misused, turned to things in addition to God.

In the next installment, we will look more fully at the effects our turning will to things other than God.

Friday, March 07, 2008

We Ought Not To Grab the Gift

Psychoanalytic theory brings to our attention not only the importance of the human will, but also (and contrary to the unreasonable anthropological optimism of the Enlightenment) out "loss of capacity to wish for anything wholeheartedly." But what psychoanalysis terms "neurosis" is by no means an undiscovered country. Rather Horney points out something long recognized both by the biblical revelation and classical Christian spirituality has recognized as the symptom of a life lived separate from God. Neurosis is simply the gnomic will turned inward; the neurotic is so because he picks and chooses among which aspects of himself are to be valued.

More fundamentally, the neurotic is such because he has not only turned inward, but also against, himself. Rather than receive his life as a gift from God, the neurotic makes life a project to be completed. And rather than seeing his or her limitations and inconsistencies an invitation to transcendence, the neurotic instead organize them according to an artificial and ever more restrictive hierarchy. As Christos Yannaras says in his Elements of Faith, this is a reduction of the spiritual life to the merely "ethical." That the neurotic's ethics are false not because the irrational, but precisely because they are rational—they are deduced with great clarity from rigidly held first principles about his personal identity and value (p. 57).

But, as we will see I hope in a moment, in this you or I, the religious systems we cling to, are no different from the neurotic. Like the neurotic I too forget that "life and the expression of life is an event of communion." (p. 57) In The Confessions, St Augustine, that master psychologist of the spiritual life, looks inward and explores his (and our) own double mindedness (see James 4.8), his own propensity to live life according to his own artificial and ever more restrictive views of how life "ought" to be.

In Book IV the mature Augustine looks back on his youth and reflects on the unexpected death of a dear and unnamed friend. His words capture the anguish he suffered at the loss of his boyhood friend:

Black grief closed over my heart and wherever I looked I saw only death. My native land was a torment to me and my father's house unbelievable misery. . . . I hated all things because they held him not, and could no more say to me "Look, here he comes!" as they had been wont to do in his lifetime when he had been away.

Reminiscent of Horney's description of the self-estrangement of neurotic from his own conflicting desires, Augustine says that in his grief he became "a great enigma" to himself. And when, as he says, "I questioned my soul, demanding why it became sorrowful and why it so disquieted me, . . . it had no answer." (Bk IV.4.9)

While we might be tempted to ascribe the depth of Augustine's feelings to the immaturity of the adolescent, Augustine quickly rejects this explanation. His words and the feelings they embody are not simply the result of the melodrama of a callow youth. No, he sees in the depth of his grief over the loss of his friend the more general suffering of the sinful human will who attachment to God is no longer singular. And so, as Augustine writes,

If I bade [my soul], "Trust in God," it rightly disobeyed me, for the man it held so dear and lost was more real and more lovable than the fantasy in which it was bidden to trust. Weeping alone brought me solace, and took my friend's place as the only comfort of my soul (Bk IV.4.9).

I will, in the next installment, examine the symptom of this lack of trust in God and subsequent estrangement from self: Grief.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory



We Broke 15,000!

Hey everybody! We had over 15,000 hits as of Wednesday of this week!

Thank you! and please keep visiting, commenting, and spreading the word.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Bartholomew invited by the pope to participate in the synod of bishops

AsiaNews reports that in "spirit of Ravenna," Pope Benedict XVI has invited Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to participate in the upcoming meeting of the Catholic bishops from around the world.

The article is re-posted here for your information and comments.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Benedict XVI has invited ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew to take part in the upcoming synod of bishops, scheduled for October, and to give an address to the assembly, together with the pope himself.

The news of the invitation, not yet released by Vatican sources, comes at the conclusion of Bartholomew's visit to Rome for the 90th anniversary of the Pontifical Oriental Institute, during which he met with the pope. The invitation to attend the synod came during lunch yesterday. In itself, the presence of representatives of other Christian Churches and confessions is a normal practice for synod assemblies, ever since Vatican Council II invited the "fraternal delegations". What makes this event significant is the personal invitation extended to Bartholomew, the solemnity reserved for this, and the atmosphere in which it took place.

In regard to the meeting between Benedict XVI in Bartholomew, there has in fact been talk of the "spirit of Ravenna", meaning the meeting of the "Mixed international commission for theological dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church" held in Ravenna from October 8-14, 2007. The final document of the meeting - although it was released by a commission, and is therefore not binding - was described as "an important step forward" by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the pontifical council for Christian unity, although "the road to full unity is still a very long one".

The document, Cardinal Kasper explains to Vatican Radio, "speaks of the tension between authority and conciliarity, or collegiality, at the local level, meaning that of the diocese, and at the regional and universal level. The important step is that for the first time the Orthodox Churches have told us yes, there exists this universal level of the Church, and there is also conciliarity, collegiality, and authority at the universal level; this means that there is also a Primacy: according to the practice of the ancient Church, the first bishop is the bishop of Rome, there is no doubt of this. But we did not speak of what the privileges of the bishop of Rome are, we only indicated the praxis for the sake of future discussions".

But the ecumenical patriarch will not only be present at the 12th general ordinary assembly of the synod of bishops that will be held at the Vatican from October 5-26, 2008, on the theme of "The word of God in life and mission of the Church". It seems, in fact, that Bartholomew could personally lead the delegation that the patriarchate sends to Rome every June 29th to take part in the celebration of the feast of Saint Peter and Pau

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Have We No Place to Stand?

Continuing my last post of neurosis and the gnomic will, I would argue that one consequence of the gnomic life, or if one prefers a neurotic approach to the spiritual life is an ever growing sense of isolation. This experience of isolation, I would suggest, is in fact inescapable since the exercise of gnomic will undermines a life of communion. Why do I say this?

Living by own idealized self-image means (and here I return to Horney) that I am "driven instead of being . . . the driver" of my own life. My idealized self-image, precisely because it is false, or at least unrealistic and out of balance, causes me to see the world around me as one that is "peopled with enemies ready to cheat, humiliate, enslave, and defeat" me (p. 101). Why is this world so hostile, such a threat? Because even if the world of persons, events and things affirm my own idealized self-image, I eventually come to realize that, just because they are there, other human beings disturb the placid flow of my own fictitious self-image in much the same way that rocks disturb the flow of water in a river.

Tragically, choice undermines autonomy.

And so I find myself structuring my life in such a way so that that I can avoid any "questioning or criticism from outside, any awareness" of my own failures "to measure up to the image" of myself that I have created. To remain undisturbed by "any real insight into the forces operating" within me, requires that I "restrict" my life. My life must become increasingly restricted, I must evermore narrowing the nature my encounters with others, "lest [I] be exposed to such dangers" that make inevitable the contradiction of the story I tell myself about myself. To maintain my idealized self-image I must be every vigilant, always "the mastermind" of my own life. Failure in this regard leaves me vulnerable to "an admission" of powerlessness that I find unbearably "humiliating" (p. 110).

Over the years I have come to realize that I am especially vulnerable to the image that I, and others, have of the priesthood. In this I am no different than any other priest, minister, rabbi, imam or shaman, or (for that matter) human being. But for a complex of psychological and sociological reasons, clergy seem especially vulnerable to a life "dependent upon the endless affirmation from others in the form of approval, admiration, flattery—none of which, however, can give . . . more than temporary reassurance" (p. 110). For reasons not simply of our own choosing, clergy often find ourselves "on a pedestal" and are even more prone to the common human tendency to "tolerate [the] real self still less." As a consequence we are therefore also more prone to "rage against [our real self], to despise [it]" even as we "chafe under the yoke" of others, and our own, "unreasonable demands" (p. 112). I recognize this tendency in myself, and not a few of my brother Orthodox clergy as well as Catholic and Protestant clergy friends. Horney describes this the neurotic's constant wavering "between self-adoration and self-contempt, between [the] idealized image and [the] despised image, with no solid middle ground to fall back on" (p. 112).

The lack of middle ground, or so I would suggest, is the chief psychological consequence of the gnomic will. Or maybe more accurately, it is our futile quest for a middle ground of our own creation that is the chief consequence of the gnomic will. No where is the futility of this quest seen then in our approach to religion in general and the Gospel in particular.

I will, in my next post, turn our attention to the psychological difference between faith as a choice and faith as a gift.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory