Katie van Schaijik

Where’s the wrath? (3)

Aug. 2, 2009, at 6:03pm

Below is the 2nd part of the comment thread begun under the previous column: Where's the wrath.

Rhett Segall • Aug 11, 2009 - 3:57 pm

We are not God, but Jesus has given us his Spirit and promised we shall do greater things than him.(John 14: 12)

Here are a few references from DvH:

The first is the act of “collecting ourselves”…of ordering all things before the face of God, and referring everything to the great “common denominator,” Christ. (Transformation in Christ, “Recollection” p. 95)
“The same consideration applies to all virtues. In regard to all of them we must…see all things….in the transfiguring light which Christ has spread above them.” (Transformation…”Striving for Perfection” p. 197)

….many virtues are possible only as a response to God in Christ and through Christ, and in a world seen in the light of Christian revelation, such virtues, for instance as humility, meekness, purity, charity.” (True Morality and Its Counterfeits, p. 163)

P.S. I inadvertantly delited myself from responding! Help me get back on!

Katie van Schaijik • Aug 12, 2009 - 6:25 am

As I read them, none of those DvH references comes close to making the question “What would Jesus do?” a practical guide in moral perplexity.

In this connection, I recall a ethics class in Liechtenstein where Dr. Crosby read to us from chapter 2 of Jacques Maritain’s book “Essence and the Existent.”  It was about the absolute uniqueness of each moral personality and each moral situation.  (It was a true personalist alternative to the false relativism of situation ethics.)  He spoke about how the acts of a given saint are “venerable but not imitable,” because they issue from his or her own individuality and interiority in relation to God and circumstance.  The same act that is heroic in one person might be rash and irresponsible in another.
If you can get your hands on it, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

I’ll try to remember to ask Jules about the technical glitch.

Rhett Segall • Aug 12, 2009 - 11:18 am

Thank you, Scott, for the link to the report of the Bishops regarding the pedophilia scandal. It will be helpful in my work in Catholic Education. One of the most difficult tasks is informing one’s conscience regarding controversial issues and you have supplied an important tool.

Katie, your point about the uniqueness of the moral decision is true in one sense and erroneous in another. (DvH deals with this in “True Morality… “ in the chapter on Circumstance Ethics.) It is clear that a person’s situation regarding a moral demand will be unique so far as the circumstances are concerned. However, the principles guiding the decision will be universal. (DvH utilizes the example of Sonia in Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.” Sonia, you will recall, was involved in a dire situation of poverty. In addition she was the sole support of her family. She chose prostitution as a way of handling the situation. What was unique in her situation was her temperament, her family, the social milieu, etc. What was universal was the wrongness of prostitution.) I think that the position you espouse of the absolute uniqueness of every moral situation is a form of Nominalism, i.e. there are no common denominators to various moral situations.

So far as Maritain is concerned, in Existence and the Existent, I think he is saying that in a particular situation, because of a person’s unique temperament, he may be called upon to do something that others may not be called to do. Dietrich Bonheoffer’s decision to participate in a plot to assassinate Hitler is an example. However, Maritain does not deny the application of universal principles. (pp. 50 ff.)

Here’s a further quote from DvH on the imitation of Christ:

“Christ and transformation in Christ are the very themes of the Christian’s life; and this transformation implies that morality is not a mere presupposition, but an essential element belonging to its very core.  Transformation in Christ-the imitation of His Sacred Humanity-is equivalent to the sanctification of which St. Paul says”…this is the will of God, your sanctification.”) (1 Thes.4;3) (Graven Images: Substitutes for True Morality p. 182)

Katie van Schaijik • Aug 12, 2009 - 11:42 am

Thanks for giving me the chance to clarify my position, Rhett.  I am not a moral relativist.  I hold that there are absolute moral norms, relevant to everyone in every situation (which does not change the fact that every person is unique and so, hence, is every moral situation he encounters.)  For instance, it is never okay to kill an innocent person.  It is never okay to commit adultery.
In criticizing the “WWJD” formulation, I had in mind the kind of cases where absolutes are not at issue (cases which compose most of the moral life for Christians). 
For example: someone does me an injury.  Should I suffer it in silence or speak out?  This is a moral question where “WWJD?” is no help.  It is a question offered to my own freedom, which (I maintain) I should answer not by trying to imagine what Jesus would do, but by asking Him, inwardly and prayerfully, what He would have ME do.
It’s easy to imagine choosing to act in a way that is very different from the way another Christian might be choose to act, and that both ways could be found “holy and acceptable”.

Teresa Manidis • Aug 12, 2009 - 11:38 pm

I agree with Katie’s objection to the over-simplified formula, ‘What Would Jesus Do?’, not because we shouldn’t consider our own actions in the light of Christ’s example (after all, we are all called to be ‘Christ-like’), but because, as the phrase is popularly used today, it seems to carry a ‘whimpified’ (where did we get this adjective, by the way?  From Scott?  It’s classic) connotation in our culture; it’s become a kind of a pacifist, non-confrontational slogan (‘Jesus was a nice guy. Can’t we all get along?  All we are saying, is give peace a chance’).  In fact, I saw its spin-off on bumper stickers, before the last election: ‘What Would Jesus Bomb?’ (mushroom cloud offset), with the implication that since Jesus certainly wouldn’t bomb strategic targets in the Middle East then, by extension, our nation’s involvement there was, ipso facto, un-Christ-like, un-Christian and (flatly) wrong.  I believe truth-seeking individuals could have a heated debate, and disagree wildly, about the reasons for Islamic-Israeli conflict, the US’ involvment in Iraq, or what exactly constitutes a just war; but just saying some catchy phrase (or, rather, catchy acronym) and walking away from the debate is neither logical, relevant, or, even, very interesting.

Teresa Manidis • Aug 13, 2009 - 1:03 am

Since Katie has (generously) asked to hear “more of different readers’ sense of what the roots of this crisis are,” my opinion is as follows.

Pre-Vatican II, there was an overly rigid, punitive focus in Catholicism, centering on error-avoidance; if a priest did not hold his chalice, thumb and forefinger exactly so, for example, it was considered a grave (perhaps mortal) sin.  At that time, the (largely Irish) clergy in the US emphasized to the (largely immigrant-based) laity the paramount importance of the sixth and ninth commandments (almost to the exclusion of the other eight), thereby perpetuating their homeland’s Jansenistic tendencies.  All this (as has been commented on in earlier posts), led to an unhealthy, inhibited attitude towards sexuality for many Catholics, along with its attendant shame - and an unwillingness to discuss or confront sexuality – let alone sexual perversions, such as pedophilia.

Vatican II has been called a ‘breath of fresh air’, and an attempt to correct the scrupulosity of the church, at that time. But, post-Vatican II, some abused their new-found liberty, going from the mentality of ‘everything-is-a-sin’ to ‘nothing-is-a-sin’ (moral relativism).  As I have chronicled in my article, ‘Confessions of a Patchwork Catholic,’ 2001, this was the time in history when we had the (unfortunate) clown masses, nuns prancing about in leotards during liturgy - or even women trying to ‘Celebrate the Word’ (after all, who needs men?)  It is not such a stretch to say that, presented with this suddenly permissive and experimental atmosphere, after such a canonistic and repressed experience of the priesthood, those men who may have (secretly, for fear of being found out) already been sexually perverted – or even men who simply did not know how to deal with normal sexual orientation and desire, due to their formation – might begin down the path of pedophilia or homosexual activity.  Both sins could be easily hidden, or covered up later, due to the code of silence (‘Evil protects its own’); and the initial reluctance on the part of the laity to confront (and confusion about how to react to) clerical sexual sin further perpetuated the cycle (later on, as information and litigation became more easily accessible, certain victims eventually spoke out). Continued

Teresa Manidis • Aug 13, 2009 - 1:05 am

There may be some reading the previous post who assume, due to my candid criticisms, that I am attacking the church, or am now one of those ‘bitter people’ Katie’s ‘maddening’ friend tries to avoid – but they couldn’t be farther from the truth.  I love my church – I have always loved my church – and have found in her the surest way to peace and love – the surest way to Christ, the source of all love, that is possible on this earth.  But it is precisely because of this love that I speak out.  How can we, as a church, ‘move on,’ as has been suggested?  How can we ‘forgive’ and simply ‘forget’?  How can we fix what is lacking in our wonderful, fallible, infallible church if we do not squarely face the causes of her ills in the first place?

If a soft-hearted, ‘outcomes-based’ permissiveness (in part) led to the priest sex scandal (and the subsequent ‘cover-ups’) of the previous century, then, as Katie has suggested, perhaps a different approach is called for in the new millennium.  Not a ‘hot anger,’ not a ‘cold anger’; not a vengeful, self-righteous ‘hurling’ of denunciations.  But, as Bill has so picturesquely suggested, maybe by ‘mountain’ climbing, by raising the bar, by increasing the challenge; by holding everyone (even priests, even bishops) strictly accountable for their actions can we (finally) get back to following Christ, and discerning His demanding – yet transcendently beautiful – call in our lives.

Scott Johnston • Aug 13, 2009 - 2:54 am

Nice! I agree very much with your thoughts here, Teresa.

Your remarks hint at something that I believe is absolutely crucial for the continuing renewal of the priesthood in today’s society: a (properly manly, as opposed to a life-diminishing acceptance of wimpification) healthy eagerness to sacrifice oneself for others.

A strong, masculine desire to embrace the cross, to pour oneself out for one’s flock, is essential for a healthy and properly priestly identity.

[This reminds me of a talk I heard Fr. Groeschel give about ten years ago to a group of men I was among on a vocation weekend visiting the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal to check them out. His talk included an admonition, to the effect that “The brothers like to joke and have a good time. But, you need to know—we are very serious about this life. If you are not serious about giving up everything for Christ and embracing the cross, you’re in the wrong place. We aren’t for you.” No slick presentation about how lovely religious life is!]

A second essential item I would add to this is a wholehearted embrace of being a father! Almost any priest I can think of who seems especially priestly and especially adept at projecting an “I’m here for you” demeanor is someone who wholeheartedly embraces spiritual fatherhood. Such priests are forever placing any suffering they endure in the context of pouring themselves out for their beloved children. His attitude is to beg God to help him share in His fatherhood, constantly giving Himself for others.

And it is fairly plain to recognize, these two aspects come together: the sacrifice of a humble father, giving his all for his children. This, I think, is certainly at the heart of the ongoing invigoration of the priesthood.

And, I say, continuing renewal, because such things are indeed already being placed front and center in seminary formation. When I was a Dominican student there were weekly formation talks given usually by the priest Student Master. We heard solid talks about how essential it is to cultivate a strong identity of being a father. These were all emphasized in formation: embracing the cross; a close devotion to Mary; a strong prayer life including quiet contemplation as well as communal prayer; being accountable to each other; and as future priests, having a deeply eucharistic-centered spirituality.

And we not only listened to talks, we discussed these topics in formal group discussion time that often was as fruitful as the prepared remarks. Casual conversation also would often take up these sorts of things.

Other helpful topics included things like cultivating healthy friendships with laymen, observing proper boundaries with women and others, having balance in one’s life (exercise, eating properly, adequate sleep, etc.). The Student Master even brought in a personal friend of his, a layman who was a father of large family, to speak about fatherhood and his thoughts on what bio fathers need from spiritual fathers, and about what is common and central to all fatherhood.

Diocesan seminaries also have (weekly I think is standard) regular formation talks. Along with this, all seminarians have spiritual directors and (usually) regular confessors. And a yearly weeklong retreat is also standard. Also, as part of religious life, my former Dominican community would have monthly house meetings where the prior of the house would give a spiritual talk specifically addressed to the community as a whole. We had daily adoration in the student chapel, and a more formal weekly adoration in the house chapel with incense and benediction every Friday evening. Often, the preaching at daily community Mass (at which a Dominican priest would be preaching to an audience consisting mostly of his fellow Dominicans, with some laymen) was geared toward things relevant especially to religious life, to priestly life, to Catholic evangelical life.

I am mentioning this because sometimes I feel that when laymen write about what the priesthood needs, and what seminaries need, they have no idea of just how much present day seminarians are deeply engaged, in a variety of ways, with a constant dialogue about what it means to be a good priest. And there is so much available to help provide rich food for this ongoing dialog: Scripture (foremost), Church documents about the priesthood and religious life (e.g. pastores dabo vobis), the writings of the Saints and Doctors of the Church (and for religious, the life and spirituality of their founder).

Seminarians today are enveloped by many and varied positive formative influences all stretching toward that day of priestly ordination: private prayer, community prayer, daily Mass, frequent conversation with brother seminarians, spiritual direction, regular confession, formal formation talks, interaction with other priest friends and mentors, academic study of the sacrament of holy orders, regular private formal assessments by formators. By the time a priest today is ordained, he has spent at least a good six years or more preparing for the priesthood, with six major retreats, countless formation talks, many hours of prayer, summers of apostolic service . . . That’s after making it past the initial psychological evaluations (a two day ordeal), the interviews with the diocese or religious order, etc.

Scott Johnston • Aug 13, 2009 - 3:06 am

Forgive me! I am (understandably I hope) passionate about just how solid and thorough the formation was that I received with my brother Dominicans at the Dominican House of Studies. And how much each brother, personally, desires to be a good priest. We talked about it all the time! And these conversations included our own observations of the mistakes of the past, and how we could participate in changing things for the better. It was an ever-constant background to our hours of daily prayer.

Scott Johnston • Aug 13, 2009 - 3:47 am

I didn’t mention the most important and obvious of factors out of my above elements for ongoing priestly invigoration because I assumed it. But, I would like to mention it to be sure this is not left out of explicit consideration: a good priest must identify strongly with Christ, in the sense of being united with Christ, of being completely joined to Christ’s mission. He is ever-aware of his sacramental identity with Christ; that he is, in a uniquely sacramental way, a consecrated extension of Christ’s body for the sake of the salvation and sanctification of others. He stands in persona Christi, and is united with and configured to Christ through Holy Orders. He is especially united with Christ on the Cross in a special way, united with Christ’s suffering, sharing in His priestly self-emptying for others.

Bill Drennen • Aug 13, 2009 - 10:22 am

Excellent comments ALL!!

Katie van Schaijik • Aug 13, 2009 - 10:56 am

I agree with Teresa’s analysis.  And Scott, your description of current seminary formation is encouraging.  The difference between the young, JP II priests and older, formed-before-he-came-on-the-scene priests is definitely felt in the pews.  It’s impossible not to look forward to the day when more of them are mature enough to become bishops.
Meanwhile, we lay people have our own maturing-in-our-vocation to do, do we not?
I would like to add to your excellent point about fatherhood: 
I read an article a few years back about a young Dutch bishop, then newly ordained.  (It happens that I was on a silent retreat at a Benedictine convent of perpetual adoration right after he was named Holland’s youngest bishop.  He was there too.)  Asked about how we might renew the Church in Holland, he proposed that all Dutch priests try to spend some time in America—to get hope and encouragement from the vibrancy of the Church here, and (perhaps even more) to hear themselves called “Father.”  In Holland, priests are called by their official title: “Pastor” or “Vicar” or “Rector”, never “Father.”  He spoke about how much it meant to him when he spent a year studying at Catholic University that wherever he went in America—on campus, in airports, grocery stores, on the street—he was constantly addressed as “Father”, by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  He said it awoke a crucial dimension of his priesthood for him.

Scott Johnston • Aug 13, 2009 - 1:10 pm

Awesome! (though sad that Dutch priests do not hear themselves being called “Father”)

Scott Johnston • Aug 13, 2009 - 1:39 pm

Meanwhile, we lay people have our own maturing-in-our-vocation to do, do we not?

Absolutely! And, properly viewed, we should see that the lay vocation and the priestly vocation do not mature independently. They very much each need each other, growing in wisdom and holiness as they each relate together on the journey toward the Heavenly Kingdom.

Katie van Schaijik • Aug 13, 2009 - 11:13 am

This raises another thought for me:
I think we need a fresh understanding of the image of priest as husband of the Church.  I love the image of “husbandry”—the skilled farmer, loving and understanding his land, knowing all is aspects—which fields are best for which purposes, which need to lie fallow for a time—cultivating it, making it fruitful, serving it with all his energy, tenderness and devotion.
On this score, I wish priests would befriend “JP II husbands”, who are, in my observation, as different in their formation and understanding of their role from earlier generations of men as JP II priests are from the preceding generations of priests.  It might be a key to finding the right relation between priests and laity in the new millennium. The old, patriarchical, authority-figure, father-knows-best ideal has been subsumed in a new ideal of heroic, self-giving service.  I am constantly in awe of many of the men I know who are young husbands and fathers—of the way they love and lay down their lives for their families.
I think if priests grasp this: that their role is at least as much one of cultivation as of authority, things will go well with us.

Scott Johnston • Aug 13, 2009 - 1:30 pm

Yes, Katie! Totally with you. Many Dominican brothers do this naturally already. Unlike religious life in a forgone era, present-day Dominican formators encourage the brothers to keep up healthy friendships with men and women they knew before entering religious life.

So, I noticed that the youngest brothers (not long out of college) kept in contact with their closest college friends. This means that as their male and female collegiate friends get married and start to have kids, the brothers share these experiences with them. And when they are ordained deacons, they often have babies to baptize (even marriages to celebrate!) for close personal lay friends. In fact, as I think about it, because of this phenomenon of the lay friends of the youngest brothers, when they would invite guests to share an evening meal at the Dominican House, often this would mean a young couple with a baby in tow. You might be surprised how often this house of celibate men had little babies around! And it was great!

One of my own former classmates who was ordained a priest this past May (an excellent man) developed a relationship with a wonderful family at one of the parishes where he spent a ministry summer. This family has around 8 kids or so, home school, do things like hunt deer and fish and camp—a very faith-filled, dynamic family. The oldest girl (recently completed an English Master’s and is an aspiring author and literary critic) dresses and butchers the deer her brothers shoot! My friend invited them to DHS for big events, and maintains a friendship with them because he admires them and knows they are a good influence.

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