SHARING: Catholic Cyber-Militias and the New Censorship by Massimo Faggioli

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Catholic Cyber-Militias and the New Censorship
This sort of vitriol is profoundly changing the communion of the Catholic Church. And not just in its ethos, but also in the way it functions.
Massimo Faggioli
September 18, 2017

Fr James Martin SJ / Kerry Weber / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 4.0

Many people were shocked when Theological College in Washington (DC), the national seminary of the Catholic University of America, recently canceled a lecture by Fr James Martin SJ.

The popular Jesuit author was to speak on ideas he raised in his 2014 book, “Jesus: A Pilgrimage”. But the seminary disinvited him because of “increasing negative feedback from various social media sites” related to the priest’s newest book on the Church and gay Catholics, “Building a Bridge”.

The cancellation does not only concern Fr Martin and the Church’s LGBT community. Actually, it should worry all Catholics. That is not only because this was the third time that the Jesuit was disinvited from giving a previously arranged lecture. More seriously, it was linked to a campaign of hatred and personal attacks against the priest.

This sort of vitriol is profoundly changing the communion of the Catholic Church. And not just in its ethos, but also in the way it functions. It signals a new kind of censorship that uses verbal violence to intimidate individual Catholics, as well as institutions within the Church – institutions that exist (also) to protect the rights of Catholics.

The small groups that are behind the campaign that persuaded a prestigious Catholic seminary in the US capital to rescind its invitation to Fr Martin have grown over the last few years. They make up a Catholic cyber-militia that include “news” organizations like the Detroit-based “Church Militant”  and bloggers such as Fr John Zuhlsdorf, an American priest known as “Fr Z” who, strangely enough, is incardinated (that is, belongs to) an Italian diocese, but lives in the United States.

These cyber militants are not alone. Rather, they are part of the “age of anger” from which the Catholic Church is not immune. These groups and individuals are particularly active and influential in the Catholic Church in the United States. Much of this is the result of more than thirty years of episcopal appointments under John Paul II and Benedict XVI, which recast the US episcopate in the image of the “cultural warrior”.

These small groups – active mostly in cyberspace, but also with an impact on the real life of the Church – have felt affirmed and encouraged by the kind of American Church politics shaped in the United States and enforced by the Vatican.

That is until Francis was elected pope. Since then the landscape of the institutional Church in the United States has slowly begun to change.

The saga of Fr Martin indicates several important things. First, it shows that these fringe groups are small but not that marginal or unrepresentative of a particular kind of American Catholicism. Just two months ago, critics of the now well-known article by Antonio Spadaro SJ and Marcelo Figueroa in the Vatican-vetted Jesuit-run journal La Civiltà Cattolica said the authors had exaggerated the importance of groups like Church Militant. But the cancellation of Fr Martin’s talks confirms that these groups have power in the Church and can influence important institutional decisions.

It is interesting to read the La Civiltà Cattolica article synoptically with its criticisms two months after its publication – that is, after the neo-Nazi and white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia and this latest campaign against Fr James Martin.

The second lesson of this story is that what happened to the popular Jesuit author is indicative of a more general radicalization of the conservative backlash – not just on LGBT issue, but also on other matters such as the liturgy.

For example, if a Catholic priest or a bishop today were to celebrate Mass adopting the same type of liturgical inculturation that John Paul II used during his global travels – such as in Central America or in Australia – he would be accused of heresy.

Recall that Pope Francis, despite being deeply rooted in the Church’s tradition, was accused of his supposed lack of conservative orthodoxy very early in his pontificate. That was well before the debate over marital issues that took place within the Synod of Bishops at the 2014-2015 assemblies and was then followed by the publication of Amoris Laetitia. 

In some quarters of the Catholic Church, theological extremism has become mainstream. It is connected to the heated debate concerning the “reform of the liturgical reform”, where certain self-appointed cyber-militias use extremist language of hatred in the defense of Catholic orthodoxy. They see this as no vice and no sin.

But the most important – and worrying – lesson to be drawn from the Fr Martin saga has to do with institutional and ecclesiological issues. Even as Pope Francis has tried to stress the prime virtue of mercy, certain Catholics have ramped up the use of the language of hatred and new channels of intimidation. This is the story of an institutional Catholic Church that is trying to change and the virulent reaction against it.

The remarkable fact is that the victims of this reaction are not only priests like Fr Martin, but also the institutional Church, and particularly some bishops and cardinals. Martin’s best-selling book, Building a Bridge, has been approved by his Jesuit superior and publicly endorsed by two US cardinals (Kevin Farrell and Joseph Tobin) and several bishops.

Other cardinals, such as Blase Cupich in Chicago, have also defended it. It seems pretty clear that the two cardinals with some jurisdiction in the matter, Donald Wuerl in Washington and Timothy Dolan in New York, were trumped by groups like Church Militant – groups with no canonical approval.

We should remember that two years ago Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia took a clear position against the tactics and the spirit of the Lepanto Institute and of Church Militant. This was on the eve Pope Francis’ visit to the United States and the World Meeting of Families in Chaput’s diocese.

This past weekend the Fr Martin’s religious superiors felt the need to issue a public defenseof the priest’s faithful work and good standing.  It was another sign that these new Catholic cyber-militias pose a challenge to the institutional Church different from the usual, post-Vatican II liberal-progressive criticism. Instead, it was more evidence that we now live in a “post-post-Vatican II Catholicism”.

The institutional Church during Pope Francis’ pontificate has begun using the weapon of censorship more prudently than in the past. French Dominican Yves Congar, who was one of the most important theologians to be censored in the 20th century, wrote in his diary in 1954:

“The bishops have bent over backwards in passiveness and servility: they have an honest and childlike reverence for Rome, even a childish and infantile reverence […] For them this is ‘the Church’ […] The ‘Holy Office’ in practice rules the church and makes everyone bow down to it through fear or through interventions. It is the supreme Gestapo, unyielding, whose decisions cannot be discussed.”

We don’t know what Congar would say today. But the situation has changed significantly in absentia of an institutional change. As Martin’s case shows, the Catholic cyberspace has become the new magisterial police and this frightens the institutional Church. Catholic social media is the new Holy Office, but with little or none of the theological and cultural qualifications that the old Holy Office possessed.

There used to be only one doctrinal watchdog. It was in Rome. But local bishops and superiors of religious orders back then could sometimes stand up and defend their priest (as was the case of liberation theology).

This system of institutional control over orthodoxy has now become more complicated. It is one of the perverse effects of a more decentralized Catholicism (a decentralization, by the way, that we really need). Those who are calling the shots now are not the pope, the Roman Curia or the cardinals and bishops. Neither are they the religious orders, theologians or Catholic universities.

Those who appear to be in charge on sensitive issues today are the verbally violent propagandists on Catholic social media. It is ridiculous to use the “both sides” are at fault argument as some have tried to do.  It is all too clear where the Catholic hatred is coming from on social media.

If it were not such a serious matter, one might joke that we now have new kind of imprimatur that comes from the Catholic twittersphere. And the irony is that these new anti-modernist crusaders are the real novatores, the modernist initiators of an ecclesiology that does not exist and that humiliates the Church, including its institutional leaders who seem powerless before the social media pressure.

This is yet another case of the hierarchy’s loss of control over the institutional Church in the last half a century. On the one hand, we see more pressure on ecclesiastical power holders coming from private citizens and organizations with the financial means to fund the Church’s activities. On the other hand, we see the exercise of greater freedom by new Catholic movements, of which the Catholic cyber-militias are a particular subset.

But the case of Fr. Martin also shows that something more is at work. There is now an ecclesiology of Catholic social media that has completely bypassed, not only the way the Catholic Church has worked for centuries but also the way it is supposed to work today.

The Church is a community where the faithful (all of us) have rights – an important purpose of Canon Law.

With the emergence of Catholic cyber-militias, everyone’s membership is at stake.

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@MassimoFaggioli

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SUNDAY READINGS SEPTEMBER 24, 2017 WITH HOMILY (FR.ANDREW GREELEY)

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TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME

Reading 1 IS 55:6-9

Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call him while he is near.
Let the scoundrel forsake his way,
and the wicked his thoughts;
let him turn to the LORD for mercy;
to our God, who is generous in forgiving.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
As high as the heavens are above the earth,
so high are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts.

Responsorial Psalm 145:2-3,8-9, 17-18

R. (18a) The Lord is near to all who call upon him.
Every day will I bless you,
and I will praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the LORD and highly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.
R. The Lord is near to all who call upon him.
The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
The LORD is good to all
and compassionate toward all his works.
R. The Lord is near to all who call upon him.
The LORD is just in all his ways
and holy in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth.
R. The Lord is near to all who call upon him.

Reading 2 PHIL 1:2-24, 27

Brothers and sisters:
Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.
For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.
If I go on living in the flesh,
that means fruitful labor for me.
And I do not know which I shall choose.
I am caught between the two.
I long to depart this life and be with Christ,
for that is far better.
Yet that I remain in the flesh
is more necessary for your benefit.

Only, conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Alleluia ACTS:16-14

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Open our hearts, O Lord,
to listen to the words of your Son.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 20:1-16

Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.
After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage,
he sent them into his vineyard.
Going out about nine o’clock,
the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard,
and I will give you what is just.’
So they went off.
And he went out again around noon,
and around three o’clock, and did likewise.
Going out about five o’clock,
the landowner found others standing around, and said to them,
‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’
He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman,
‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay,
beginning with the last and ending with the first.’
When those who had started about five o’clock came,
each received the usual daily wage.
So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more,
but each of them also got the usual wage.
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,
‘These last ones worked only one hour,
and you have made them equal to us,
who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’
He said to one of them in reply,
‘My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

FR. ANDREW GREELEY’S HOMILY ON TODAY’S GOSPEL READING 2011

Background:

Today’s story is not intended to be a paradigm for labor-management relations nor material for a business school ethics seminar. It has but one purpose, to teach us about the nature of God’s love. All other lessons are not pertinent to the story. It would seem that the outline of this story was well known to those who were listening to Jesus. It was a rabbinic story which ended with those who came at the 11th hour working so hard that they earned the day’s wage.   Jesus characteristically twists the ending in a very different direction. He shows those who came late wasting their time wondering how much pay they will get. The emphasis is not on their industry but on the generosity, one might almost say the crazy generosity of the farmer. That’s what God is like, by human standards his generosity is crazy.

Story:

Once upon a time Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were doing their white wash scam on the local kids. It worked every year. They conned five kids to white wash all the fences. Then when they had finished, Becky Thatcher – you remember her, don’t you? – said to the suckers, come on guys, Tom and Huck are going to take you down to the ice cream score for a cone. Hey, Tom and Huck said, we didn’t promise that. But you’re going to do it, she replied, because you’re nice guys and you want to be generous to these kids. Generous to sucker? Shush, Becky said. You want them to come back next year. Well . . . OK, but next year we won’t. We’re not THAT crazy! Yes, you are said Becky because both of you are very generous people.

GRACIOUSLY SHARING A LETTER OF THANKS FROM ANN

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Mom, Dad, Mark and the wedding party didn’t do very well. Tricia and I were on the phone 24/7 with the state department, White House, DOD, Dutch Military… name it we were on hold with them.
They got off the island yesterday (Sunday) and boarded a cruise ship. They are safely now officially on a cruise!😄 stocked with alcohol, food, water…all I needed to hear was they were safe. Our babysitter had canceled so we weren’t able to go (wouldn’t have been able too anyways). I was going to donate the tickets to you, but then there were questions about name changes, then the hurricane…I thought it be best to donate airline and hotel tickets when I knew there wasn’t a possibility of hurricanes…only the drinks and Bob Dylan song.🙂
For some reason I wrote what I wrote because I wanted everyone to know how greatly you have impacted me, never turned me away when in need and just how special you are to me. I thought people needed to understand you truly are a living miracle. People don’t understand that just because the title of a priest doesn’t mean you only accept catholic individuals. You accept everyone.
If you could get to me sitting in Grannies back room you are a miracle. I was rude, mean, upset, let down and alone to say the least. You still talked to me with kindness and understanding and never judged me for that. You encouraged me to think for myself and to question idealisms I didn’t understand. That opened my eyes a great deal. Just that act alone helped me on my journey.
I never said thank you for that day, and I should have. Walter has been telling me things I didn’t remember, especially about last rights and suddenly I wake up. It really makes Walters’s connection with you more than just spiritual.
I wanted people to know how much you mean to me, my Grannie and my family.
You are such an amazing gift to this world.
I love you and admire you, your strengths and compassion for others. I am sorry and love you very much.
Sincerely yours,
Ann
Plus you know Kamel Emeish  (Father of my best friend since childhood Andrea)…that says a lot too! 😉
Ann, in reply to Fr. Justin’s letter:
I feel a very close bond with you and all the family.  I feel blessed to know all of you and to be part of your lives! How did things go in Martin?  We were all concerned! Love and Appreciation,
Justin

SUNDAY READINGS FOR SEPTEMBER 17TH, 2017 WITH HOMILY (FR. ANDREW GREELEY)

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TWENTY-FOURTH SINDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Reading 1 SIR27:30-28:7

Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.
The vengeful will suffer the LORD’s vengeance,
for he remembers their sins in detail.
Forgive your neighbor’s injustice;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
Could anyone nourish anger against another
and expect healing from the LORD?
Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself,
can he seek pardon for his own sins?
If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath,
who will forgive his sins?
Remember your last days, set enmity aside;
remember death and decay, and cease from sin!
Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor;
remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.

Responsorial Psalm 103:1-4,9-12

R. (8) The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.
Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.
He pardons all your iniquities,
heals all your ills.
He redeems your life from destruction,
crowns you with kindness and compassion.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.
He will not always chide,
nor does he keep his wrath forever.
Not according to our sins does he deal with us,
nor does he requite us according to our crimes.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he put our transgressions from us.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.

Reading 2 ROM 14:7-9

Brothers and sisters:
None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself.
For if we live, we live for the Lord,
and if we die, we die for the Lord;
so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
For this is why Christ died and came to life,
that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Alleluia JN 13:34

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I give you a new commandment, says the Lord;
love one another as I have loved you.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 18:21-35

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
‘Pay back what you owe.’
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused.
Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master
and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”

FR. ANDREW GREELEY HOMILY ON TODAY’S GOSPEL READING (2011)

Background:

The important point in this story is not that the servant earned forgiveness but rather his master granted it spontaneously despite the servant’s unworthiness and then the servant refused to reflect the master’s generosity in dealing with his fellow servant. When we forgive others who have hurt us we don’t do it to earn forgiveness from God but to manifest God’s implacably forgiving love.   One cannot earn what is already there but one can reveal it to others. In fact, the master in this story is God. He forgives simply, generously, and with no strings attached because it is in his nature to do so.   We are already forgiven and indeed from all eternity. All we have to do is to accept forgiveness and reveal it to others.

Story:

Once upon a time a certain man was running for political office. He wanted to in so badly he would stop at nothing to defeat the incumbent. So he indulged in extremely negative campaigning. He told his staff to pull quotes out of context, make innuendoes about his opponent’s personal life, spread false rumors about him, leak incriminating stories to the media, attack his record, pry into the private lives of his children, anything, absolutely anything to turn the public against him. Well, it almost worked. The incumbent’s plurality went down sharply but he was still reelected. The challenger would not concede. Instead he launched a vitriolic attack on the character of his opponent and his family. He defamed you, said a lawyer. Sue the so and so. Will you sue him? The TV reporter asked him. No, said the victor. I understand how he feels. I lost my first try. Does that mean you forgive him? It doesn’t do any good not to forgive.

SUNDAY READINGS FOR SEPT 3, 2017 WITH HOMILY (FR. ANDREW GREELEY)

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Twenty-second sunday in ordinary time

Reading 1 jer 20:7-9

You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
All the day I am an object of laughter;
everyone mocks me.

Whenever I speak, I must cry out,
violence and outrage is my message;
the word of the LORD has brought me
derision and reproach all the day.

I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.

Responsorial Psalm 63:2-9

R. (2b) My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
O God, you are my God whom I seek;
for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts
like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.
R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary
to see your power and your glory,
for your kindness is a greater good than life;
my lips shall glorify you.
R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
Thus will I bless you while I live;
lifting up my hands, I will call upon your name.
As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied,
and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you.
R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
You are my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.
My soul clings fast to you;
your right hand upholds me.
R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.

Reading 2 rom 12:1-2

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God,
to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.
Do not conform yourselves to this age
but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that you may discern what is the will of God,
what is good and pleasing and perfect.

Alleluia eph 1:17-18

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
enlighten the eyes of our hearts,
that we may know what is the hope
that belongs to our call.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel mt 16:21-27

Jesus began to show his disciples
that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly
from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.
Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him,
“God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
He turned and said to Peter,
“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life?
Or what can one give in exchange for his life?
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory,
and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”

Andrew Greeley homily on today’s gospel (from 2002)

Background:

No one wants to die. Jesus does not promise us that we will not die, only that we will not die alone. God took on human form to go down to the valley of death as we all must and to assure us that death is not the end, that tomorrow will be different even when today is the last day of our life, and that we will all be young and we will all laugh again.

Story:

Once upon a time a man was lying in the hospital bed. He was so sick he thought he was going to die, indeed he had begun to hope that he would die just to get rid of the sickness, though he was terrified of dying. Then the Mother of Jesus strolled into the hospital room. He knew it was her because no one ever has a hard time in recognizing her. I’m glad you finally showed up. Lets get this over with. I don’t mind dying. You have to do it once anyway. Now is as good a time as any. I haven’t come to collect you, herself replied. Then why are you here? To tell you how much my son loves you. Oh, the man said, relaxing and feeling the love of which she spoke. I thought you came only to take the dying. You can’t predict what I and my friends are up to . . . Are you still afraid to die? No, not really, now that you’re here. So why don’t you take me home now? There’s a lot of things left for you to do. Don’t worry. I’m always around. And after that the man was ! never afraid of death because he knew someone would take care of him. Hadn’t he sent his mother with the message.

CREATION SPIRITUALITY BY FR. JUSTIN BELITZ OFM

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Creation Spirituality by Fr. Justin Belitz O.F.M.

  1. Spirituality is simply “The way you relate.” Every day you are relating – to yourself, to others, to things, to life experiences, to God, etc. My experience, however, is that most people do not pay attention to HOW they    relate
  2. Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, the saints and holy people of all major religious, as well as indigenous peoples related to all of creation as the expression of ONE Divine, Cosmic, and Unconditional Love Energy. This Energy they referred to as God.
  3. Today, this way of relating is referred to as Creation Spirituality. In this model all creation is ONE. God, for example, is identified as the Love Energy that produces and sustains all of creation. That means we humans are connected in this Love Energy. The human race is indeed ONE FAMILY. If you relate to the universe this way, you will relate to every human being as a brother or sister.
  4. At present, scientists tell us that 13.7 billion years ago there was a cosmic explosion called the Big Bang. From this single point emerged all of creation – 100 billion galaxies. Inside each of these galaxies there are 100 billion stars. In our own galaxy, the Milky Way, there are also 100 billion stars. One of these is our sun.
  5. So where is God in this enormous reality? God is the Intelligence that permeates every part and every aspect of creation. The Universe is expanding all the time but the expansion rate is absolutely perfect. If we were to alter the expansion rate 1 millionth of 1 percent, the entire universe would collapse. God is the intelligence that orchestrates this magnificent reality. God is not outside of the universe directing traffic. God is the moving energy that is within the cosmos supporting and sustaining every part of this glorious creation.
  6. . Please, note that all parts of the cosmos work together to create a vast network that is impossible for us humans to comprehend fully. In cosmic reality, everyone and everything is of equal importance. This is a model that creates “power with” everyone and everything. This way of relating is call Creation Spirituality.
  7. When applied to human beings, the Creation Model imagines God as Divine Love Energy. Unconditional Love Energy is what creates, and sustains in existence, every living being, including the human race.
  8. In an effort to understand God and to find a way to talk about God, the ancient Hebrews thought of God as “breath”. The Hebrew word “Ruach” when pronounced correctly sounds like breath, ‘Ruach’. Ruach cannot be construed as a person. It is a force. The Hebrews compared it to wind because it can be felt and experienced, but it cannot be seen. In this metaphor God is seen as the force we call Life.
  9. This Life Principle is ONE. Life Energy is the same in all living things: plants, animals, and humans. This Love Energy is given freely and equally throughout the cosmos. There is no hierarchy in Love Energy. All are equally blessed with this gift. As Scripture says: God makes the sun shine on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust Mt. 5:45. In this Creation Model of relating, all parts of creation are of equal value and together they share the Unlimited Power we call God.
  10. When you imagine God as ONE Divine Life Energy, then you know that we are connected to every other living being. You realize we all share the same Energy that created and sustains us. With this understanding follows the principle: When I generate and project Love Energy, I generate and multiply that same Energy within me, AND in the external world. When I radiate and share Unconditional Love, I feel joyful and happy AND I become an instrument of God for making our world a more loving place. In this reality I am a co-creator with God!
  11. In the same way that we cannot separate the dance from the dancer or the music from the orchestra, so too we cannot separate anyone or anything from God. We are all ONE.
  12. Because we are connected to all living things in the Universe, we cannot attack another living being, without attacking ourselves. Imagine Frank refusing to talk to his brother, Gus. Frank intends his action to be a punishment for Gus but in fact, Frank is punishing himself. His negative energy will have a negative effect on his life and even on his physical wellbeing.
  13.  

    In the 21st Century, the Creation Model of Spirituality is becoming more common in religions institutions. In the Catholic Church, for example, a gathering of all the bishops of the world met in Rome from 1962 to 1965. This meeting was called the 2nd Vatican Council. It was an ecumenical meeting, which means that representatives of other religions were invited and participated. The purpose of this gathering was to help the Catholic Church (and our world) to get back to the Spirituality of Jesus, which is the Creation Model – one that leads to unity.

     

    One of the major ideas of the 2nd Vatican Council is this: Truth is infinite. Because the material world is limited, no one person or institution can have all the truth. Therefore the Council suggested that Catholics share their understanding of the Truth with other denominations. BUT it also suggested that they be open to the expressions of Truth from other religious traditions. This kind of thinking can help organized religion move toward unity, understanding, love and compassion.

  14.  

     

    Eight hundred years ago, St Francis created a movement (not an institution). His little community was known as the band of “Little Brothers”. In his mind, all of the Brothers were of equal importance. All had a voice in governing the community. Those positions of leadership were called “Ministers” and were to carry out the directives of the Brothers and to serve the needs of the brothers.

  15. Soon after Francis formed the “Little Brothers” the leadership of the Church demanded that Francis create an institution. Over many years, like most institutions, the Creation Model of Spirituality got lost and the ideal of Francis suffered contamination in the form of a hierarchal model of spirituality.
  16. In 1978, the Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart (to which I belong) followed the directives of the 2nd Vatican Council and went back to the ideal of Francis. The Friars gathered all members of the Province for a full week of meetings. With the help of a professional facilitator WE (the rank and file) decided what the priorities and the direction of the province would be. After that we elected our leaders and told them: “This is your agenda.” The body of the province once more took over the leadership of the community and gave direction to those in positions of authority. The leaders now are in the role of “Servant Leadership.” Leadership is once again in the hands of the community.
  17. . In the Creation Model, “Servant Leadership” is the ideal not the “Hierarchical Model” so common in the business world. As you well know, in business the people at the top tell the people down below what to do. It is a “power over” model, not a “power with” model.  At present, there is a huge movement toward Servant Leadership in business. In Atlanta, GA there is a center called Greenleaf Servant Leadership. This organization is training young and old, experienced and inexperienced individuals, in both the theory and practice of Servant Leadership. In this model executives are “servants” not “bosses”. In this model, the purpose of leadership is to create equal relationships among all the employees. Businesses using servant leadership have contented workers who are more productive than the average employee. In this model, employees have a voice in how the company is run. Wages are spread equally throughout the company and employees are dedicated, motivated, and happy.
  18. The Creation Model of relating is also being taught by the Scientific Community. Quantum Physics is proving that the Cosmos in which we live is truly a mystery! Laboratory investigations show conclusively that all reality is ONE. When anyone thinks a thought, the energy of that thought vibrates throughout the Universe. Human thoughts can and do effect physical reality. Science tells us that because of our ability to think, we are truly co-creators of our world. We are not, and cannot be, alone and separate from the Cosmos. We are the Cosmos.
  19. The Creation Model in the 21st Century is effecting people and institutions all over the world. Consider number of countries over the past 50 years that have moved into democratic models of governance. The British Colonial System is completely gone and in its place are independent countries. Today hundreds of thousands of people are leaving countries of dictatorship and violence to find homes in countries where there is equality, understanding and peace.
  20. When you understand the true reality of the Creation Model of Spirituality – that we are all one, one with each other, one with God, one with the Cosmos, and one with all of nature, – your thoughts will change, your perception will change, and your expression of reality will change, all in the direction of Universal Love.

    Credits

Justin Belitz OFM Writes to His Fellow Friars

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Justin Belitz OFM Writes to His Fellow Friars:

Dear Confreres:

I was asked to give you some information about my ministry; so here is a short explanation:

The Franciscan Hermitage is an inter-faith life center. We create and give programs in spirituality

and meditation to the general public. Because we deal with people of all religions (and people of no

religious affiliation) we use a lot of scientific language, as well as theological language. For example, we talk about a contemporary approach to Franciscan spirituality this way:

When you choose appropriate goals and develop

a positive attitude, you create a satisfying life

experience. But, when you choose inappropriate

goals or develop a negative attitude, you create a

dissatisfying life experience.

Justin Belitz OFM with the archbishop of Perth, West Australia, Timothy Costelloe

 

We describe this process as the “Life Mechanism.” It simply expresses this reality: we create our own life experience. Choices, therefore, are very important. This is where meditation comes in.

Relaxing physically and mentally while directing attention inward creates a meditative state (referred to in science as an altered state of consciousness).In this state we become consciously aware of the

Divine Presence that is with us all the time. (Science describes this experience as connection with Universal Intelligence or Cosmic Energy.) In this state there are no limits, not even limits of time or

space.  In this state, “everything is possible with God” (Mk. 10:27)

 

Recall that Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Lk. 17:21). Jesus also said, “”Those who believe in me will do what I do – yes, they will do even greater things…” (Jn. 14:12) What we have done at the Hermitage is create a program called Success: Full Living. This program explains the process mentioned above and introduces the experience of meditation.  Our students range in age from five years to people in their 80s, and individuals from every walk of life. Over the past 30 years we have been able to reach people in many parts of the world.  Our publications are these: three books:

Success: Full Living, a contemporary approach to Franciscan Spirituality,

Success: Full Thinking, an in-depth presentation of meditation, and

Success: Full Relating, spirituality for the 21st century and beyond.

We also have 21 volumes of meditation recordings, a mini-retreat on three CDs, and two DVD

presentations. All of these publications – as well as details about our mission, our programs, and schedules for these programs both in the US and abroad – are available on our website at www.HermitageIndy.org

 

SUNDAY READINGS AUGUST 27, 2017 WITH HOMILY (FR. ANDREW GREELEY)

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tWNETY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Reading 1 IS 22:19-23

Thus says the LORD to Shebna, master of the palace:
“I will thrust you from your office
and pull you down from your station.
On that day I will summon my servant
Eliakim, son of Hilkiah;
I will clothe him with your robe,
and gird him with your sash,
and give over to him your authority.
He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem,
and to the house of Judah.
I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim’s shoulder;
when he opens, no one shall shut
when he shuts, no one shall open.
I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot,
to be a place of honor for his family.”

Responsorial Psalm 138: 1-3, 6, 8

R. (8bc) Lord, your love is eternal; do not forsake the work of your hands.
I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart,
for you have heard the words of my mouth;
in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise;
I will worship at your holy temple.
R. Lord, your love is eternal; do not forsake the work of your hands.
I will give thanks to your name,
because of your kindness and your truth:
When I called, you answered me;
you built up strength within me.
R. Lord, your love is eternal; do not forsake the work of your hands.
The LORD is exalted, yet the lowly he sees,
and the proud he knows from afar.
Your kindness, O LORD, endures forever;
forsake not the work of your hands.
R. Lord, your love is eternal; do not forsake the work of your hands.

Reading 2 ROM 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord
or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given the Lord anything
that he may be repaid?

For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be glory forever. Amen.

Alleluia MT 16:18

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 16:13-20

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and
he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Then he strictly ordered his disciples
to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Andrew Greeley homily on today’s gospel (from 2014)

Background: This story was intended for those followers of Jesus who were worried about the possibility of government persecutions, opposition from other religious groups, and the very slow (as it seemed) progress of Christianity. The story says that, as President Roosevelt said when he was inaugurated on 1933, the only thing to fear is fear itself, blind unreasoning terror that paralyzes our every action. While the story was told to reassure the very early Christians, it applies to us as much as it did to them.

Story:

Once upon a time a group of young hikers were wandering through dense woods. They were singing and having a grand time. As the sun begin to go down, some of them got worried. How are we going to get out of here, they wondered. Their leader, a young woman who was more familiar with the woods better than the others, said confidently don’t worry, I’ll get you out. I know my way around out here. Well, then it got very cloudy, and there was lightening and thunder and the rain poured down. They ran for cover to an old broken down lean to. It rained for two hours. By the time it stopped, it was very dark. The sky was hidden behind clouds and there was no moon to peak out. Blair witch project, someone muttered. One of the girls screamed. One of the boys said there is an animal out there., a big animal and I can hear him. Another girl began to sob and cried out. I’ll never see my family again. Take my hand, said the girl who knew her way around. I know the path even in the dark. Well, they stumbled and bumbled through the forest, tripping on tree roots and bumping up against trees, and hearing all kinds of witch like noises. They all blamed their leader for getting them lost. Some said she was going in the wrong direction and threatened to start out on their own, but they were afraid to do that. Then they got very mean and nasty. Are we there yet they moaned like little kids in a car. They were about to break away from the leader. She said just a couple of more minutes. You know what happened? They stumbled out on the road and their SUV was right there. None of them apologized to the girl who had led them out of the forest.

SUNDAY READINGS FOR AUGST 20, 2017 WITH HOMILY (FR. GREELEY)

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TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Reading 1 IS 56:1, 6-7

Thus says the LORD:
Observe what is right, do what is just;
for my salvation is about to come,
my justice, about to be revealed.

The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,
ministering to him,
loving the name of the LORD,
and becoming his servants—
all who keep the sabbath free from profanation
and hold to my covenant,
them I will bring to my holy mountain
and make joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be acceptable on my altar,
for my house shall be called
a house of prayer for all peoples.

Responsorial Psalm 27:2-3, 5,6, 8

R. (4) O God, let all the nations praise you!
May God have pity on us and bless us;
may he let his face shine upon us.
So may your way be known upon earth;
among all nations, your salvation.
R. O God, let all the nations praise you!
May the nations be glad and exult
because you rule the peoples in equity;
the nations on the earth you guide.
R. O God, let all the nations praise you!
May the peoples praise you, O God;
may all the peoples praise you!
May God bless us,
and may all the ends of the earth fear him!
R. O God, let all the nations praise you!

Reading 2 ROM 11:13-15, 29-32

Brothers and sisters:
I am speaking to you Gentiles.
Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles,
I glory in my ministry in order to make my race jealous
and thus save some of them.
For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world,
what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.
Just as you once disobeyed God
but have now received mercy because of their disobedience,
so they have now disobeyed in order that,
by virtue of the mercy shown to you,
they too may now receive mercy.
For God delivered all to disobedience,
that he might have mercy upon all.

Alleluia MT 4:23

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Jesus proclaimed the Gospel of the kingdom
and cured every disease among the people.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 15:21-28

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out,
“Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!
My daughter is tormented by a demon.”
But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.
Jesus’ disciples came and asked him,
“Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.”
He said in reply,
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.”
He said in reply,
“It is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs.”
She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps
that fall from the table of their masters.”
Then Jesus said to her in reply,
“O woman, great is your faith!
Let it be done for you as you wish.”
And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.

HOMILY ON TODAY’S GOSPEL  (Fr. Andrew Greeley, 2002)

Background:

Today’s story has a heavy theological overlay. It addresses directly an issue which is no longer with us; whether there was room in the church for gentiles and indirectly a question which will always be with us, the problem of diversity. The story is vivid enough that we have no solid reason to doubt that Jesus did perform a healing for a gentile woman. However it is unlikely that the dialogue occurred the way it is written. Probably the author of the Gospel wanted to make the point that faith was not limited to Jews, but gentiles had it too. The lesson for us is that we cannot draw lines which set borders to God’s love.

Story:

Once upon a time a certain family moved into a neighborhood. They were dark skinned and mysterious. They had four or five children, no one was sure how many, and they kept to themselves. The spoke English some of the time, but more often people heard them speaking a strange foreign language with a lot of breathing sounds tossed in. The word spread around the neighborhood that they were Arabs and from Iraq. Well, there goes the neighborhood. Who wants to live in a neighborhood with Iraqi Arabs. They were probably spies for Sadaam Hussein. They obviously had a lot of money because one of their cars was a Mercedes and the other a Lexus; and the mother and the daughters dressed in chic current fashions, over-dressed the other women in the neighborhood said. Sometimes they had parties at which a lot of very suspicious characters appeared, many of them looking like they might be carrying bombs in their suit cases, except they didn’t have suitcases. The rumor spread in the neighborhood that they were either oil millionaires or terrorists, and maybe both. Finally someone called the FBI and reported them. We know about them said the FBI and we’re watching them. The neighborhood set up a watch. Cars patrolled the street outside their house every night. Finally when school began, didn’t three of their dark-skinned kids show up at the door of the Catholic school and weren’t they admitted just like everyone else. A delegation waited on the parish priest and said how come you’re letting those Iraqi-Arabs into our school? It’s not for Muslims or anyone else, only for Catholics. Oh, they’re Catholics all right. Their family has been Catholic for maybe fifteen hundred years. They were Nestorians or something like that but now they’re Catholic. They go to mass at one of their own churches, but they don’t have a school down there. Their pastor called and asked me if we could make room for them, so of course we did. The people left the rectory grumbling, who ever heard of Arab Catholics.

DEBUNKING EDDIE RUSSELL’S CATHOLIC IN NAME ONLY FLAME MINISTRIES

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Debunking Eddie Russell’s Catholic In Name Only Flame Ministries:

 Eddie Russell fancies himself something akin to a pre-Vatican II-styled avenging crusader, taking it upon himself to expose, correct, and abuse wrong-thinking Catholics. In short, Eddie Russell is a fundamentalist extremist; the type that the late Fr. Andrew Greeley advised against arguing with. However, this is not a polemic meant to engage Russell (which, would fall on deaf ears anyway). Rather, as in with a current political leader, this is holding hostilities and aggression to accountability. Additionally, it’s a heeding against Russell’s online aggrandizing, which is anything but Catholic. His perspective, style, social media rhetoric, and antagonizing springs from fear, paranoia, and assumptions in a way that echoes the bizarre Anti-Catholic propaganda of the notorious Protestant Chick Tracts (founded by the late Jack Chick). Like that infamous fundamentalist organization, Russell’s Flame Ministries, abiding in an either/or arena, propagates half-truths to demonize what he clearly does not and chooses not to understand. Like far too many self-styled Protestant evangelists, Russell imagines himself as a super solider and self-appointed prophet for the absolute truth, narcissistically setting himself up as kind of Protestant fundamentalist anti-pope. Of course, fancying himself one the few and elite devout 21st century Catholics, Russell would never speak against a pope, but what he spews is directly antithetical to much that Pope Francis teaches. Indeed, Francis could have been speaking of Russell himself when he warned against the dangers of fundamentalism: “In the Catholic church we have some — many — who believe they possess the absolute truth and they go on sullying others through slander and defamation and this is wrong. Religious fundamentalism must be combated. It is not religious, God is lacking, it is idolatrous.”[1]

Naturally, Russell’s brand of idolatry has numerous targets. Among them is the famous Trappist monk, Thomas Merton. Yet, Pope Francis doesn’t agree: “Merton remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people…Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions… with the fruit of faith which sows peace in the contemplative style. ”[2]  Poor Mr. Russell is not a man of peace and, apparently feels he knows more than Francis, lumping Merton with a group of heretics who have promoted yoga, visualization, and New Age; Oh my!

Apart from his paranoid (and unquestionably) Anti-Catholic iconoclasm, what Russell gets worked up the most up about is anything he subjectively labels New Age. That’s an ambiguous category, but essentially what Russell deems New Age is in fact very old age: Mysticism. Russell, being a dogmatist, would take issue with the likes of Hildegard of Bignen and many other contemplative saints. Merton once reflected that when people say they want a return to the early church, they do not mean the first church. Rather, they mean the medieval church. That would describe Eddie Russell and his Flame Ministries.

Among Russell’s most prominent targets is Fr. Justin Belitz O.F.M. of the Franciscan Hermitage in Indianapolis, Indiana.http://www.flameministries.org/justinbelitz.htm

Having known Fr. Belitz for many years, unlike Russell, I am not on the outside looking in-jumping to half-baked generalizations. Of course, Russell would immediately accuse me of being a Justin Belitz apologist. First; a self-styled apologist accusing another of apologetics is something akin to being childishly labeled a bigot for being bigoted against bigotry. This writing is not an apologetic. Rather, it is confronting the misguided mindset of that old song, “I don’t like what I don’t understand and it scares me half to death.” It is also setting straight some Flame Ministries half-truths.

Let me begin with Russell’s use of an alleged Fr. Belitz quote: “I think that the Christian tradition has done a great disservice to organized religion by concentrating on adoration of Jesus Christ.” ~ Fr Justin Belitz OFM. Only, it’s not alleged. Fr. Belitz has indeed said this, as part of a longer statement, which Russell intentionally (and quite manipulatively) leaves out. I’ve heard Fr. Belitz say this more than once and what Russell omits is as follows… “Not that there’s anything wrong with adoring Christ. However, we should be modeling and following Christ first and foremost, as Christ himself instructed we do.” Indeed, we get so caught up in redemption language that we forget Christ as teacher and prophet. Scripture pointedly warns us repeatedly that we must follow Christ’ example. The entire letter of James tells us that faith without works is dead and, indeed, faith without modeling Christ, renders our faith moot. The late Fr. Hilary Ottensmeyer O.S.B. once gave a homily describing a Satanic theology as one that paints Christ so beautiful, so pedestaled, so inhuman, so perfect that he becomes the quintessential Pharisee. In other words, a Satanic theology omits Christ the prophet in favor of Christ the King. Fr. Belitz was a close friend of Fr. Ottensemeyer and their teachings here are closely related, but not as Russell misleadingly and intentionally paints to demonize Fr. Belitz.

The iconoclastic Russell hypocritically uses imagery for further demonization tools and his style (or lack thereof) is blatantly in the Chick Tract/National Enquirer vain. To hammer his points across regarding Fr. Belitz’ Silva teachings, Russell insets a photograph of a goth girl, with heavy black makeup, waving her hands at the lens, something akin to a modern-day version of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula. It’s so absurd as to be laughable. Russell also uses an image of a wolf in sheep’s clothing to paint Fr. Belitz as a vile occultist. Despite these cheap Protestant fundamentalist styled tactics, Russell has the chutzpah to call himself a Catholic.

In addressing Russell’s demonization of Silva as a mind control straight from the pits of hell, he reads mind control as an outside force (namely, the Silva Method and Fr. Belitz) as taking control of a helpless victim’s mind. Again, Mr. Russell jumps to the assumption of an outsider looking in. Rather, Silva gives tools to help one control their own mind. Essentially, Silva uses scientific language for something very simple-it teaches the importance and vitality of emotional intelligence, which in this day and era, is sorely needed. It also teaches contemplation detached from doctrine or dogma, which is also essential today.

We cannot throw a blanket over or sweep under the rug the multifarious harms caused by organized religion. Bishop Fulton Sheen was aware of this and once said in a televised homily (from the 1960s!) that all too often we (the Church) create our own prodigals through indifference, negligence, and abuses. Fr. Belitz is also aware of religious scars. For a priest who is a heretical Catholic (according to Russell), Fr. Belitz often talks of his own father who had left the Church to become a Jehovah’s Witness. With tears in his eyes, I have seen Fr. Belitz recount how his father became religiously abusive to his faithfully Catholic mother and even refused to allow his own Franciscan son to say mass at home. I’ve also seen Fr. Belitz tear up with joy when sharing how his father, on death bed, came back to the Church. That’s remarkable for a dangerous Franciscan priest, who isn’t even Catholic (again, per Mr. Russell). Ironically, the dangerous Fr. Belitz doesn’t spend his time aggressively fanning the flames of vilification online. Rather, it is Mr. Russell who does that. Of course, it is a given that CINOS (Christians In Name Only) hate their hypocrisy being called out probably more than anything else.

Silva, and even more-Fr. Belitz’ Success: Full Living, Success: Full Thinking and (especially) Success: Full Relating are meditational gateways for everyone, including prodigals harmed by religion. As an artist, I personally prefer Belitz’ own teachings over the science language heavy Silva, and, as a onetime prodigal, I needed an entry point that wasn’t a dogmatic one.

Having grown up in an abuse-laden Pentecostal fundamentalist church, I recognize Mr. Russell’s likeminded fear-soaked brand of proselytizing, judgments, and demonization. It did not surprise me at all to read Mr. Russell painting himself as a charismatic. Like many of the charismatics, he bypasses much in scripture and hones in on the day of Pentecost (with his own private interpretation, which St. Peter warns against) along with apocalyptic doom and gloom. It was because of attitudes like Russell’s that I considered myself a militant atheist when, as a young man, I met Fr. Hilary Ottensemeyer at an art gallery showing of my work. Strangely, a friendship developed and primarily we talked about a shared love of Beethoven. We almost never discussed religion, but when I finally breached that subject sometime later, Fr. Ottensmeyer said: “Every priest has a niche. You have a lot of hostility-I’m guessing from religious scars. That’s not my niche. That’s Fr. Justine Belitz’ niche. He’s a Franciscan. Here’s his number if you want to call him and set something up. In the meantime, we can continue with Beethoven. Fr. Ottensmeyer was once the director of St. Meinrads and he knew what he was doing. Needless to say, I went to see Fr. Belitz and through him (along with Fr. Ottensmeyer) I officially converted to Catholicism in 1992. Again, that’s remarkable for a Catholic priest who isn’t Catholic and, no, Fr. Belitz did not introduce me then to Silva, even though he taught it. As a matter of fact, I did not even take Fr. Beltiz’ Silva and Success classes until a few years ago.

I would like to add that few of Russell’s (questionable) sources regarding the Satanic Silva come from persons who actually took the classes because that’s what bigotry does- it cites other outside looking in bigots to validate their own outside looking in bigotry. Russell also refers to Fr. Belitz’ prayer groups as pseudo prayer groups. I’ve attended many of Justin’s prayer groups at the Hermitage where we actually prayed the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and offered up various prayer requests (a sick loved one, etc). As we take the Eucharist, Fr. Belitz invites us to imagine the light of the Eucharist touching every soul on the planet for world peace, which I suppose is imaging of a sort- that I would hardly call Satanic.

Further, Russell claims that Silva graduates leave, claiming to be ESP masters after yoga meditations in which participants go into a trance and read each other’s minds. I have taken the Silva course, don’t claim to be an ESPer, and not once did I, or anyone else, go into a trance or receive an invitation to read each other’s minds. Nor did we  read each other’s minds at the Hermitage. However, now one person did bring in maple doughnuts, which I have a passionate weakness for. She didn’t know that from reading my mind. She merely noticed that when she brought in an assortment, I went straight for the maple. Additionally, Mr. Russell relays how Silva participants project themselves in the minds of animals, take ESP tests, and have psychic evaluations-none of which I saw or experienced. He claims that New Age spirituality is an extension of theosophy, which promotes a humanistic one world religion. Yes, because, you see humanism is such a vile thing. Regardless, these are the rantings of a conspiracist (who would fit right in with some current, secular fringe movements). All that’s missing is the claim of a potential Illuminati takeover. Besides, I’ve never viewed Fr. Belitz teachings as that ultimately vague New Age.

Now, I want to address another Russell focus: The film, Jesus and Her Gospel Of Yes because I made that film and I should know, more than anyone, what it’s about. Fr. Belitz had a small part in it, at my request. Given the flack that Fr. Belitz has received over it, I’m not sure if, given a chance to change that, I would have asked him, but my initial reasoning was a sincere one. As for the film, Russell again assumes and makes comments on a work of art, while clearly having no understanding of art. The ONLY reason I address the film is because Mr. Russell condemns Fr. Belitz’ participation in this blasphemy. First, the film is a kind of dadaistic performance art piece and I have a long history of doing performance art. Second, the title comes from the concept of the fifteenth century mystical nun Julian of Norwich who uses the phrase, Christ, Our Mother to image the maternal in Christ. Third, the gospel of John instructs: go and spread the good news. News is always new and thus should be an invitation to tell a familiar story afresh. Finally, a quote from Oscar Romero abided when I made it:

The first claim Russell makes regarding the film is that I portray Christ as a lesbian, which is a falsehood. I have one vignette, spoofing the old TV Show Love, American Style in which Jesus and Magdalene reach in for a kiss (but don’t kiss). Why? It’s one of many commentaries I make on the kitsch commercialization on Christ. After all Christ was a prophet, but one would not know that from things like TESTAMINTS (a scripture verse in every mint) and so on (all of which I spoof). I am not mocking Christ. I am mocking the hypocrisy and the vulgar commercialization of Christ by CINOS. I did that because they mock Christ in cheapening and ignoring his teachings and rendering him not much more than an income source. Scripture warns us, point blank, that these will be rejected because they did not welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked. They use the cross as a means to justify Unchristian charity (repeatedly). It’s as old as time itself.

As Mr. Russell informs, I didn’t stop there. I also addressed the prevailing downright misogynistic attitudes towards Mary in Protestant churches. In the church that I grew up in, Our Lady was shown the same respect as a prostitute. Being devout in my Mariology (my Masters thesis was on Marian art), I used a 4th century gnostic gospel, which portrayed her as such, to throw it right back at them. Yet, there are layers underneath all the confusing nonsense of 40,000 plus denominations (!) I show Christ as a woman-like her mother. Why? Because anyone who reads the Magnificat and then reads the Beatitudes KNOWS that Mary had an epic influence on Christ’ spirituality. The Beatitudes clearly spring from the womb and influence of the author of the Magnificat. Perhaps, I was too complex, too symbolic in the way I presented it, but that was my intent.

Another hypocrisy I address in the film is the western acceptance of violence and the demonization of nudity. True to form, many who saw it complained of brief nudity and said not a word about Jesus being brutally shot (in a contemporary setting). Point made and remade. I made the film to prevent myself becoming a prodigal again after I had learned of clergy abuses in the Church, which smacked too close to the church I grew up in, too close to home. Fr. Belitz knew this and not only did he consul me into not leaving the Church, but he also encouraged that art-as-therapy expression and, later, my working for and obtaining a Masters degree in theological studies. Fr. Belitz once compared me to an Augustine type in my boundlessly expansive conversion. I’m also a St. Peter type (whose conversion was gradual) as opposed to St. Paul (whose conversion was instantaneous). Fr. Belitz is astute enough to recognize this and, as Christ instructed, he patiently does his best to keep the door open. Knock and the door shall be opened. However, Mr. Russell would shut that door and lock it.

One of the great beauties I find in the Church is its egalitarianism. Fr. Belitz interprets Catholic as universality through differences. Mr. Russell interprets it as universal through subjugation. Like many self-styled super patriots (another cult), he would say something akin to: accept my interpretation of it or get out, which is inherently Anti-Catholic. Mr. Russell’s point of view is ultimately naïve and one can’t help but empathize with the poor man because we all have been locked in naiveté at different points in our spiritual promenade. However, that does not mean lying down to his many abuses. Some time ago, Fr. Belitz reached out to Mr. Russell and offered to pray for him. Mr. Russell’s response was:” I don’t want you praying for me.” Sadly, that rather sums it up.

*This article was written by Alfred Eaker. Fr. Justin Belitz O.F.M did not authorize the writing or ask it to be written. I did this of own accord, having been compelled to.

[1] https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/pope-francis-continues-his-critique-religious-fundamentalism

[2] https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2017/03/13/dorothy-day-thomas-merton-mlk-and-pope-francis-models-good-citizenship