Reflections on loving God, being Catholic, being a woman, being ill, loving life and anything else that comes to mind.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Rather Than Preach to the Choir, We Need to Preach to Lapsed & "Cultural" Catholics

Post-Comfortable Christianity and the Election of 2012


Shortly before he died in Oxford in 1988, the Jesuit retreat master and raconteur, Bernard Bassett, in good spirits after a double leg amputation, told me that the great lights of his theological formation had been Ignatius Loyola and John Henry Newman, but if he “had to do it all over,” he’d only read Paul.  “Everything is there.”  There is a temptation to think that God gave us the Apostle to the Gentiles in order to have second readings at Sunday Mass, usually unrelated to the first reading and the Gospel.  But everything truly is there.  Paul was one of the most important figures in human history, and a great character to boot.  That is, a character in the happiest sense of the word.  “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain” (1 Cor 15:10).

Tragedy and comedy intertwine, ultimately issuing in glory, whenever he is on trial.  He longs to live and to die in the same breath: ”For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:210).  Whenever he is on trial for his life, he invokes a forensic brilliance to save the very life he is willing to sacrifice.  Just as Jesus who had come into the world to die, slipped through the mob in Nazareth because his hour had not yet come, so does Paul become his own defense when on trial, ready to die by God’s calendar and not man’s.  In Caesarea, he confounds Antonius Felix, the Roman governor of Judaea and Samaria, and a little later he does the same  to the successor of Felix, Procius Festus.   The best court scene is Paul before Marcus Annaeus Novatus, who had taken the name of his adoptive father Junius Gallio, the rhetorician and friend of his father Seneca Sr. whose son Seneca, Jr. was the noble Stoic.  Nero forced Seneca’s suicide, but before that, in Achaia where Gallio was proconsul, Paul was bit of a Rumpole of the Bailey, in how he played the jury like a piano to the frustration of the judge.  The point is this:  Paul, both innocent and shrewd, was willing to suffer and did so regularly, as he was not loathe to recount at length, and he was also ready to die, but as death comes but once, he wanted it to be at the right moment.

There is in Paul a model for Catholics at the start of the Third Millennium which began with fireworks and Ferris wheels but is now entering a sinister stage.  Like Paul, it is not possible to be a Christian without living for Christ by suffering for him, nor is it possible to be a Christian without willing to die for him when he wants.   The Christian veneer of  American culture has cracked and underneath is the inverse of the blithe Christianity that took shape in the various enthusiasms of the nineteenth century and ended when voters were under the impression that they finally had a Catholic president.

This new period is not “Post-Christian” because nothing comes after Christ.   We can, however, call it “Post-Comfortable Christian.”  Niebuhr, looking out from New York’s Neo-Athens on Morningside Heights with its Modernist Christian seminaries and highly endowed preaching palaces and office towers of denominational bureaucracies, caricatured the Messiah of mainline religiosity: ”A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”  The virtual collapse of  those institutions on Morningside Heights, is mute testimony to the truth of his irony.

The bishops of the United States have asked the faithful to pray for religious liberty, now facing unprecedented assault. The national election in November, 2012 will either give Christians one last chance to rally, or it will be the last free election in our nation.  This can only sound like hyperbole to those who are unaware of what happened to the Slavic lands after World War I and to Western Europe in the 1930’s.   St. Paul  was writing to us when he wrote to the Galatians and Corinthians and Washingtonians – or rather, Romans – in his lifetime.

Unless there is a dramatic reversal in the present course of our nation, those who measured their Catholicism by the Catholic schools they attended, will soon find most of those institutions officially pinching incense to the ephemeral genius of their secular leaders, and universities once called Catholic will be no more Catholic than Brown is Baptist or Princeton is Presbyterian. The surrender will not come by a sudden loss of faith in Transubstantiation or doubts about Papal Infallibility.   It will happen smoothly and quietly, as the raptures of the Netherworld always hum victims into somnolence, by the cost factor of buying out of government health insurance.  Catholic businessmen with more than fifty employees will be in the same bind.  Catholic institutions and small businesses owned by those with religious and moral reservations about government-imposed policies, will wither within a very short time, unable to bear the burden of confiscatory tax penalties. As analysts have figured, an employer offering a health plan that does not comply with the preventive services package and other requirements under the federal health plan could be subject to a confiscatory penalty. The fine, imposed through a civil penalty or excise tax on a non-exempted religious employer could be as much as $100 a day for each employee insured under a plan at variance with federal law.  The burden would amount then to $36,500 for each employee.

Add to that the approaching discrimination against Catholics seeking positions in commerce and public life.  Catholics will not be suitable for public charities, medicine, education, journalism, or in the legal profession, especially judgeships and law enforcement.  As the bishops, by the acknowledgement of many of their own number, failed to articulate the cogency of doctrines on contraception and other moral issues,  so will they now, despite the best intentions, not be able to stem the radical attrition among native Catholics whose eyes are on mammon, and among recent immigrants whose privileges are guaranteed only if they vote for opponents of the Church.  The general election of 2012 may rally the fraction of conscientious Catholics among the sixty million or so sympathetic Catholics. If their influence is not decisive, and the present course of federal legislation accelerates, encouraged by a self-destructive appetite for welfare statism  on the part of ecclesiastical bureaucrats, the majority of Catholics with tenuous commitments to the Faith will evaporate, as did the lapsed baptized in North Africa during the oppression of the emperor Diocletian.

Should the present direction of the federal government be endorsed by a reiterative vote in the November elections, more blatant threats to the Church will begin, culminating in a punitive suspension of tax exemptions on church properties, once the Church’s moral precepts are coded as offenses against civil rights. The test case in this instance will be what is known in Orwellian diction as “same sex marriage.”  In the Supreme Court case, McCulloch v. Maryland, argued in 1819, the same year that Daniel Webster reduced Chief Justice Marshall to tears in the Dartmouth College case which vouchsafed private charters,  Webster said: “An unlimited power to tax involves, necessarily, a power to destroy.”  Chief Justice Marshall, an antecedent of Chief Justice Roberts, said “That the power of taxing (the bank) by the States may be exercised so as to destroy it, is too obvious to be denied, and that the power to tax involves the power to destroy (is) not to be denied.”

St. Paul would have understood this. After all, he lived through its precedents. His self-defense in the secular courts showed his disdain for bravado and theatrical martyrdom.  He enjoyed common sense, reason, and native intelligence in outwitting evil, for he knew as did St. John Vianney, who was not as bright as the student of Gamaliel but whose heart was at least as large, that “the Devil is stupid.”  Because of that, the Devil can only get his way with the help of stupid Catholics.
This year offers the best and possibly last chance to see how many actually obey Christ’s pastoral instruction in a conflicted world:  “Behold, I am sending you out as a sheep among wolves, so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). (

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Cranial Sacral Therapy & The Dignity of the Human Person (Pt. 1)

Several weeks ago I had an experience that caused me to flashback to the 1st time I was raped. I'm ready to write about portions of the experience, especially what I've learned about the trigger & how this whole experience relates to being a faithful Catholic. I don't want to identify the other person involved so please forgive the somewhat tortured use of language - writing w/o personal pronouns is difficult. Regarding comments, please remember, this is a Catholic blog. I ask those who want to leave comments referring to Cranial Sacral Therapy (CST) to limit themselves to the Church's teachings on New Age practices which can be found in the Papal Encyclical, Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life (JCBWL). Those who want a CST blog need only search the web to find a great many.

I've discovered my 1st issue is delineating what happened & giving some initial thought to the other person involved. How do I respond to someone who knew my story, knew the horrors I faced in my childhood, had also experienced similar horrors, was, I thought, a very dear friend & yet chose to try to force memories from me?

My friend presented cranial sacral therapy (CST) as a gentle massage technique that helps engage the parasympathetic nervous system. One thing the parasympathetic nervous system does is allow us to enter deep relaxation & deep relaxation aids healing. Before I began sessions, I researched the parasympathetic nervous system & read a book about CST,  Your Inner Physician by Dr. John Upledger. The book raised some serious questions. Upledger sees CST as a way to access what he calls "the inner physician." My friend found the idea attractive & on some levels it is but it's also wrong. We talked about it a couple of times & I insisted that all healing comes from God. God has fashioned our bodies to participate in His work of healing & has given some people knowledge & talents that allow them to participate in His work but He has not given us an "inner physician" that when accessed will tell practitioners of CST how to heal our bodies. My friend agreed that healing comes from God & told me that practitioners of CST don't exactly know how or why it works. That didn't bother me because my doctors don't know how much of the medication I take works.

Another issue for me is that I don't like being touched in certain places. We're not talking about private areas, just places that feel weird when touched. My friend was happy not to touch me on those areas & though I had some other concerns, they were so vague, I didn't know how to express them & I thought all was well. Given that my friend & I seemed to be on the same page in terms of being faithful to Church teaching & this was a dear friend whom I trusted, I thought we could address any other issues when I had the words to express them.

After a few sessions of CST, my rheumatologist felt the fibromyalgia was improving & that my left knee, which has damage from rheumatoid arthritis as well as years of dancing, was better. I told several friends in DC about CST & how it was helping me & they were thrilled. Then my financial situation changed as did my friend's schedule & essentially, a couple of months passed w/o any CST sessions.

I kept asking my friend to get together so we could dance & then one day, my friend asked me to be a guinea pig to try out what had been recently taught in a workshop. We decided to get together, eat, dance & then have a CST session. During the 1st part of the session while working on my left thigh, my friend, told me I had some "congestion" in the thigh. The muscles were twitching. My friend asked if it twitched on other occasions & since I had experienced occasional twitching in that thigh, I affirmed it had. Throughout the time of working on my left leg, my friend spoke to me about what was happening. As my friend worked on my leg, I experienced a disturbing series of images: I was watching young children playing in what seemed to be huge, spent cartridge shells - so huge, a child was able to climb inside. They were on the edge of a garbage heap; the image reminded me of the favelas in Brazil. Suddenly, a jeep drove up & a blond man of Nordic appearance wearing fatigues & a leather cowboy-type hat shot the children. Blood, flowing from the cartridges, covered the ground; I knew the children were dead. I also knew I had never personally experienced anything of the sort & thought it was based on my awareness of Brazil's history of killing street children. It never occurred to me to wonder why those images arose at that moment.

Then my friend moved to work on my head & began pressing against it. Almost immediately my friend asked if I was okay. I replied, yes. At that moment, I was okay. My friend kept pressing & pressing. I felt my hair being gathered up & pushed aside as if my friend was trying to get to my scalp. As I used my hands to cover the part of my shoulders that I didn't want touched, my elbows were bent. All of a sudden, my arms began shaking uncontrollably like the beating of a hummingbird's wings & then I was reliving the 1st time I was raped when I was 4 years old.

Previously, in therapy, I had explored memories of the rape. Memory is odd. It has dimension just as time & space do. My previous memories were akin to viewing a 2D picture. That night, my friend "upgraded" me to 3D, even 4D memories. As my friend continued to press my head & my arms continued to beat uncontrollably & I kept reliving the rape, I wanted to say stop but my mouth wouldn't speak. Finally, I said something such as, I'm not doing very well here. I recall "my friend's" voice - silky, enticing, icky - asking me if I wanted to stop. It made no sense that "my friend" would ask me such a question. Why didn't "my friend" just stop? I finally pushed out the word, YES. "My friend" stopped, finally. Then that silky, icky voice was asking me if there were any memories I wanted to share. My arms continued to beat uncontrollably, the images that had been triggered continued to play in my mind & heart, I was so cold I felt I'd never be able to get warm & "my friend" was asking me if I wanted to share memories?! It was bizarre! Absolutely bizarre! I said no to sharing memories & asked for blankets. I wanted to know why my arms were shaking & didn't stop. "My friend" said something about memories. Then, "my friend" told me of feeling "resistance" in my head. But "my friend" had not mentioned resistance while actually pressing my head. I wanted this person out of my house. I went into fight or flight mode, became really nice (though I wanted to hurt "my friend"). I said & did whatever was necessary to appear normal so "my friend" would leave. When I was alone, I curled up in fetal position under a blanket & watched a video until I was finally able to sleep.

The next day, the 4D memories wouldn't stop. I didn't know what was happening to me. "My friend" & I were both at a social occasion. I had tried to walk across the room so we could speak & felt as if I'd hit a wall. Suddenly, I was utterly fatigued & in a great deal of pain. I asked another friend for a ride home. That evening, I called friends in DC & learned I was having serious flashbacks (I'd never experienced anything so horrid). One friend told me she had wanted to warn me about CST but hadn't because it seemed to be helping. I told her that in the future, she was to warn me. After explaining what was happening to me, she suggested I search for "CST + new age." When I did, page after page appeared; I couldn't read them at the time. On several occasions, that 1st week, I tried talking to "my friend" & simply couldn't; I felt happy when I missed a phone call. Following the suggestion of another friend, I sent "my friend" an email saying the CST had triggered flashbacks & I wasn't able to talk now. I avoided going out & spent most of my time hiding under a blanket on the sofa. On Saturday, close friends were celebrating their daughter's birthday. I went to the party since it would force me to go out & buy groceries (I kept putting it off 'til I hadn't any food left). Being around so many people hurt. I wanted to scream. After a few minutes, I left to get groceries & returned home. At Mass, the next day, I begged God to help me - I hadn't cried; I couldn't cry. I began to sob & sob. That day, I discovered I could be around 1 or 2 close friends but crowds were out. Later that week, I learned there are some people I'm just not comfortable being around & I have no idea why. During a "Fortnight for Freedom" homily, I ran out of the church because the homilist was graphically describing episodes from the time of the Cristeros war. A week later, I demanded a friend stop relating similar graphic scenes.

Over the past few weeks, I've gone from a basket case to a bit better. Since seeing a therapist may be a valid possibility, I asked for help finding someone. Thus far, I've seen him twice. He said it's sad that I'm not speaking w/ "my friend" & I agreed at the time. But after giving it some thought, I'm not so sure it is sad. Had "my friend" felt "resistance," told me about it, explained what it might mean & what might happen, if I had then given permission to continue & experienced flashbacks as a result, it would be sad because I would have chosen to take the risk. But I wasn't given an opportunity to choose. I don't think that's the way friends behave.

I realize I'm relieved not to talk w/ "my friend." I feel as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I now know CST is extremely dangerous but I haven't the energy to try to convince "my friend." Oh, eventually I'll talk w/ "my friend." I'll even refer "my friend" to information on why CST is so dangerous & in opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Right now, I'm recovering from an infection & then there's a course of chemo to undergo. Life is already filled w/ responsibilities. I'd be foolish to add more.

In part 2, I plan to write more about the dangers of CST, how it's opposed to Church teaching & the ways practitioners fail to respect the dignity of the human person.