Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Repost from 2008: Visiting the Squalor of the Real Stable of Bethlehem

My pre-Christmas meditations were mostly about the stable. The one that Christ was born into. The one that He lives in, in my heart.

These meditations were partly fueled by a story that was sent to me before Christmas by Hilary Rojo. (Hilary and her husband Mac organized the pilgrimage I took to Israel in 2005.)

Hilary's story was about the couple's experiences as they went to Bethlehem to attend Midnight Mass one unspecified Christmas Eve. They had gotten tickets months in advance, and they looked forward to the chance to celebrate one of the holiest nights of the year in one of the holiest spots in the world.

As I had found out when I was there, Bethlehem is Palestinian controlled. Our Israeli-driven bus had to park in a garage on one side of the border. Then we had to walk down a street and through a security checkpoint in a building where rifle-armed guards strolled on open catwalks over our heads. When we exited the building, we were in Bethlehem. We had to get into a Palestinian-driven bus and continue our journey to the Church of the Nativity.

When the Rojos got to Manger Square in front of the Church of the Nativity that Christmas Eve, the din was hellish. As more and more people poured into the square, the press of bodies was so intense, it sometimes was hard to breathe. The way Hilary told it, the Palestinian soldiers who provided security stood by and laughed among themselves at the tourists as they pushed and shoved each other trying to get to the head of the line. A flying wedge of Germans elbowed by them. Young Palestinian children pushed into the crowd to pick pockets.

The Rojos were dismayed even further when then they saw the soldiers only allowed dignitaries and their entourages to enter the church doors. The Rojos stuck it out, mostly because there was no escape, and no place else to go. Their tour bus was locked in a garage. After a long wait, it seemed their persistence had been rewarded when they got as far as the church door. They were briefly relieved, until the guards suddenly announced, “The church is full, go away!” and BANG, the big wooden doors slammed shut.

Just as suddenly they spotted another opening, the famous Door of Humility, which some say was bricked over at the top and one side to keep the Crusaders from riding their horses into the church. In any case, the door keeps you humble because you must bow your head to enter.

Below: Door of humility

The Rojos rushed over to the door, and suddenly Hilary recognized Mahmoud Abass, the former president of the Fatah movement. She looked him in the eye, and then she and Mac got in line and drafted through the door on his figurative coattails.

Abass and his entourage were escorted to a reserved seating area in the adjacent church of St. Catherine of Alexandria, while the Rojos melted into the crowd somewhere behind him in a press of bodies that was as packed as the square outside had been. They couldn’t even see the altar. People began to faint and throw up all around them. Chunks were actually flying through the air. In the heat and unpleasantness, the stench and the fear, Hilary complained to God, “Is this what Christmas is all about in Bethlehem? Is this what I get for coming half way around the world to honor your Son?””

She went on to write that as soon as she had finished her lamentations, “the room became mysteriously quiet for me. I suddenly felt at peace and then felt a warmth encircle me. A thought/voice questioned me in a soft and loving tone, `What do you think it was like 2,000 years ago? Didn’t you want to experience the birth?’”

During my visit with my spiritual director, Carmelite Fr. Donald Kinney, in December, I had been telling him about my struggles. As we attempt to grow closer to God, the areas in which we fall short of His perfection become disgustingly vivid to us in the illumination of His Light. Fr. Kinney said in consolation that Christ is with us even then. After all, "Christ was born in a stable," I told him Hilary's story. He nodded, yes that's it.

"It's not a pretty sight, Father!" True, but He is with us any way.

When we create our little manger scenes, we leave out the manure and the flies. But these were surely part of that first Christmas night. City folks may not have experienced a stable first hand, so they don't know. Where you have asses and oxen--and humans--you have excrement.

The spot where Christ was born is covered by marble and a silver star now. You get to it now by going down a narrow stairway under the basilica. Two stone mangers were excavated there in the past few years that were dated scientifically as 2,000 years old, so there really was a stable in that cave.
Below: Star over the spot where Christ was born

Speaking about animals and smells, I remember the shock of my first visit as an adult to my Uncle Ralph and Aunt Irene's dairy farm in Wisconsin. The reek of cow urine permeated even the farmhouses. And as I gradually came to realize, much of the dairy farmers' energy is devoted to shoveling out the manure. Beside most barns in the country in winter is a manure pile sometimes as high as the roof, which will be spread on the fields in the upcoming spring as fertilizer.

While we were still sinners, Christ was born for us, lived with us and died for us. And He resides with us still, in the stables of our hearts, even if the best we can give him for a welcome is a bed in a manger full of hay and a modicum of warmth from a mix of animal breath and steaming manure.

It helps to be reminded of this from time to time, He is with us no matter how high and deep the pile is. Dare I hope that a composting is happening and that spring will bring the time when all that rich composted stuff will be plowed under to prepare the soil for the seed time and the harvest to come?

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Another Letter to Roger Magnuson 02/23/2006

Sad to say, Roger Magnuson was buried yesterday. His obituary is here.

Roger Magnuson wrote me back after I sent him the letter in my last post, and below was my reply.

February 23, 2006
Hello Roger,
A bit belated thanks to you for writing. I know you are one busy man, and I feel blessed by your taking the time to respond to me.

So you think the Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon? Whew! All I could think when I read that was it’s good to know where you stand. Don’t pull any punches!

Who says God is a Federalist? It seems like a kind of glib thing to say. 

I don’t have your problem with Canon Law or the significance given to it by Raphael’s portrayal of the handing off of the Decretals by St. Raymond of Pennafort to Gregory XI.  (I remember the Raphael stanzas from my quick run through the Vatican museum.)

As you of all people must know, societies have to be built on law. Canon law exists to help ensure uniformity of doctrine and practice. It serves as a curb to help keep people from promoting unorthodox interpretations of the Scripture or doing odd things in the liturgy.

(Claiming that the word translated as “wine” in the Scriptures really means “raisin paste” and replacing wine with grape juice, as I heard and saw done at First Free come to mind.)

You and I both know that God in the person of Jesus Christ said, “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Our Lord also gave Peter the keys to the kingdom, saying what he bound on earth would be bound in heaven and what he loosed on earth would be loosed in heaven Matthew 16:17-19.

 Jesus also prayed before He died that we all would be one. When Jesus spoke with Peter on the beach on the Sea of Galilee, He led Peter to affirm his love for Him three times while gently allowing him to repudiate his triple denial during Christ’s passion, Christ then told Peter  to feed his sheep John 21:15-17.

And after the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Peter is the one who preached and converted 3,000. (For the Catholic Encyclopedia’s discussion of the role of the pope and these passages, you might look at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12260a.htm.) How do you explain those events?

You didn’t reply to the point I raised in my last letter about Peter being given a share in the awesome role of the Rock in the New Covenant. God was our Rock throughout all the Psalms and the rest of the Old Testament. Christ  bestowed Rock-ness on Peter!  Isn’t that awesome?  Christ took that foolish fisherman (who I can relate to in many ways), who sinned greatly, and gave him the responsibility for being the Rock for His people. Christ proved His Mercy, His forgiveness, and His ability to achieve His work through weak vessels by building His Church on Peter.

Am I being overly skeptical by suspecting that you avoided addressing what I said and threw an emotionally explosive distraction my way with your Whore of Babylon statement?  I’ve studied rhetoric, and I see politicians practice those kinds of techniques all the time. Don’t like where the line of questioning is going? Distract and deflect! Forgive me if I am off base with this thought.

And now for some thoughts on the topic of Mary.  When I came back to the Catholic Church, I brought with me the Protestant distrust for the seemingly excessive way that Catholics honor Mary. So I prayed, “Lord, please help me understand what all this is about Your mother.” And He did.  Our God is an awesome God who answers prayers. Now because of what He showed me over time, I love her greatly.

The image that resonates with me mostly strongly about Mary is from one of the many titles in the litany of Our Lady: “Ark of the Covenant.” I think I remember you speaking about the Ark of the Covenant and the passage in 2 Samuel 6 where when Oza simply touched the Ark he died.  It is disturbing that merely touching the ark would kill a man who had no intent to desecrate it, but the fact remains that the Ark was sacred and powerful, and it had to be held in awe for what it contained.

The Ark held the Tablets of the Law, the rod of Aaron that had blossomed, and manna, and it was the Holy of Holies. The Lord God spoke to His people from between the hovering cherubim.
Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, held the Most High God in her body for nine months.  Even if she hadn’t been conceived without sin, which the Church has claimed for millenia (and even Luther believed and kept on believing until his death) nine months of being a tabernacle for the body of Most High would have made anyone holier than the Holy of Holies, in my humble opinion.

And the thing is that this is only one of the attributes of Mary that cause us to venerate her.
I met a Jewish convert on my pilgrimage to Israel (former Harvard faculty member, Ray Schoeman, author of Salvation is From the Jews) who was converted to Catholicism by miraculaous encounters first with God and then a year later with Mary. When he met Mary, he didn’t know who she was. He was so overwhelmed with her purity and her presence, he was tempted to worship her, but she told him, “None of this is from me. It is all from my Son.” (Roy’s conversion story is at http://salvationisfromthejews.com.]

Why not honor Mary? We show our regard for our King by honoring His mother.  The Magnificat includes her prophecy “from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.” Gabriel hailed her as full of Grace. So we say Hail Mary, full of grace, and call her blessed among women and Mother of God. None of these honorifics are disputable. We believe that a lover of Christ must love His mother.
I’ve read this before about Luther, but I copied this  today from the Internet about what Luther believed:
The infusion of Mary's soul was effected without original sin . . . From the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin.  (Sermon: "On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God," 1527)The eminent Lutheran theologian Arthur Carl Piepkorn (1907-73), of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, after years of study, confirmed Luther's unswerving acceptance of the Immaculate Conception until his death. http://ic.net/~erasmus/RAZ269.HTM
The Church has written about Mary as free from sin from earliest patristic days. It seems fitting that God would conceive His Son in a pure woman. It’s fruitful to ponder the fact that Mary was the first human created without sin after Adam and Eve. Like our first parents, she could have sinned, but she didn’t.  She became the new Eve. Her Son Jesus was the new Adam.

I just found this passage too at another website examining Mary’s role in the church, which to me illustrates that some of the animosity to Catholic teaching about Mary may be based on misinterpretations:
Calvin and Zwingli objected, however, to the Catholic tendency to ascribe qualities to Mary which apply only to God ("our life, our sweetness, and our hope"). http://members.aol.com/tombecket/ts_mary.htm
Coincidentally, I was pondering this very phrase last night, when it occurred to me that the full phrase is “Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope.”  Or as the ancient antiphon “Salve Regina” goes, “Mater misericordia, vita dulcedo et spes nostra salve.” She is the mother of Christ who is Mercy, who is our Life, our Sweetness, and our Hope.
I’m praying that in both of our hearts, the Truth wins out.
Love from your sister in Christ,
The following is my response to the horrible priest scandals in the Catholic Church, which I have posted at my website: http://www.geocities.ws/roseannesullivan/holiness.html. I wrote it as a response to a fellow Catholic tech writer, and I hope you might read it because it frankly looks at the root causes. Nobody ever looks at the root causes . . ..

Answering Scandal with Personal Holiness
From: "Mary N."
To: "Roseanne Sullivan"
Subject: I added my name to votf today
Date: Wed, 22 May 2002


I had to tell you this. I hope you don't mind.
I don't know what you think about the Catholic church's scandal of the year erupting on the east coast, but it's something I think about more than I want to admit. What is coming out in the news strikes me as horrible in every sense of the word, and I am saddened by a church that really has done a lot of good in the world making a mockery of itself by all the denials and weasel-wording that seems to be taking place. I just don't get it.

At the same time, I can't walk away from the church, either. At least not yet. It's hard enough trying to be a Catholic these days without all the scandal heaped on top of the day to day living.
I added my email address to Voice of the Faithful's website today. I don't know if you've heard about them, but I think that this new group captures the essence of the possible good that could come out of this. If you're interested in hearing more about them, go to www.votf.org. At times, I've thought about joining Call to Action, but a lot of what they stand for seems too radical even for me. The VOTF people have a chance, though.

Date: Wed, 22 May 2002
From: Roseanne Sullivan
Subject: Answering Scandal with Personal Holiness
To: Mary N.
 "You don't judge something by those who don't live it, but by those who do."
 --Rev. Roger Landry in a sermon dated 2/12/2002: Answering Scandal with Personal Holiness

Hi Mary,
Thank you very much for letting me know what you are going through about the abuse scandals and the coverups.

I never heard of votf until I looked at the web site. I will think about whether I should participate. There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with it, except that it might give more ammunition to the people who are trying to condemn the Church itself, rather than the sinful individuals who are to blame in this scandal. I certainly couldn't support call to action.

The way I think about the scandals is that evil permeates everything in this world, including some people in the Church.

For how to respond to this evil, I look to St. Francis' example. During his time when abuses were rampant in the Church and some bishops lived like secular princes, St. Francis lived his life simply according to the teachings of Christ. [Like all the great saints, he went to the Bible to find out how to live.] And He would even kiss the feet of priests whether they were living good moral lives or not because they had the exalted privilege of consecrating the body of Christ.

In other words, Francis did not condemn or point fingers or try to bring down the current Church hierarchy or start a new religion. He set himself to love God with his whole heart. He also set himself to live completely the authentic teachings of the Church. And his example inspired millions to clean up their own acts.

Luther when faced with the same set of abuses started a new church.

When priests are immoral and false to their calling, it is a great evil and a great shame. And Christ I am certain is grieved that little ones have been molested by priests who are supposed to be acting in His name. There is something much worse than a millstone around the neck waiting for priests like that.
Here are some of the root causes I see. After Vatican II, a lot of people thought that because some precepts changed (such as not requiring people to abstain from meat on Friday), that the whole doctrine and moral teachings passed down from the apostles were up for grabs. What I see in the modern Catholic Church are lots of people who think that Vatican II meant that the Church should conform to the world's ideas of what is right and wrong. The flaw behind that idea is, as it says somewhere in the Bible, the devil is the prince of this world.

As one part of the post-Vatican II attitude, I have noticed that priests seem to have a naive faith in the power of psychologists. If you go to them for spiritual counseling they often tell you to get secular counseling. I believe the Church has the answers, and I don't want to go for advice to someone who is probably an atheist and a moral relativist, like most psychologists I've met.

What I'm trying to say is that the problems we are seeing now are partly from the fact that this generation has put too much credibility in the pronouncements of psychiatrists and psychologists. For one example of how wrong they can be, about 20 years ago, I was acquainted with an older woman getting a PhD in psychology at the U of MN. She was reading in psych journals solemn affirmations of Kinsey's position: that sex between adults and children can be good. She didn't practice it herself but she acquiesced because she had a respect for experts. At that time a lot of counselors were having sex with their clients because they believed it was beneficial--for the client. She was one of the clients of a psychologist who thought that way and she was going along with it.

Did you know that Kinsey did most of his research on pederasty by interviewing one subject who had abused hundreds and hundreds of children? You can search for Kinsey at google and prove it. That is how he was able to document how early in a child's development a child is capable of orgasms and how many. The pederast took notes! Just think, the fact that Kinsey didn't turn the guy in has never been seen as a coverup. After all, as a psychologist and a scientist, he had to protect the man's privacy, and couldn't reveal his sources.

Kinsey and others have also promoted the idea that a child who has been molested will not be traumatized unless his parents make a fuss.

I bet you many priests and bishops even those who were pure themselves might have swallowed those lines of baloney.

And I have found homosexuals I have known to believe that sexual repression of any sort is wrong and that children should be taught to explore sexuality without any limits. For example, at one point in my lift I hung out with Alan Ginsbery and his lover Peter Orlovsky, and they talked fondly about how Peter walked around naked in one family's house and how cute it was that a small child came up and touched Peter's .... I found out before he died that Ginsberg was a member of the Man Boy Love Association. MBLA, and he practiced it himself.

A man I was once involved with, who since has decided he is a homosexual at one point years after I had last seen him and had two children mused about how he would like to get a chance to free my children from the sexually-repressive teaching he was sure I was foisting on them.

I don't have any proof, but I am convinced that the almost all the priests who are abusers of boys were practicing homosexuals before and probably after they joined the priesthood. It is going to be hard to be a good priest, I believe, if you have been practicing unloving uncommitted sex for its own sake, hetero or homo, outside of marriage. Just saying some vows won't automatically make you able to resist the impulses you cultivated before you made the vows. And when you secretly or not so secretly believe there is no harm in it, then you definitely won't put up too big of a fight.

At the same time period I knew the PhD student quoting the experts about the beneficial nature of children having sex with adults, my daughter Sunshine was a student at the Children's Theatre Company. When the scandal about John Donohue molesting students came out, many parents rallied to John's defense. I remember I was interviewed by TV news and I told them "Parents have been paying him a lot of money to teach their children, not to molest them." They then interviewed a very modern little girl next to me who confidently spoke to the microphone: "It takes two, you know." Can't you just hear through her what was being said around her house? I've heard the same thought expressed in my own family.

It just crossed my mind that we don't say that the theater industry is evil because of people like Donohue, do we? Donohue was a member of MBLA too. And we don't brand all psychologists as evil because some of them sexually abuse their clients or because some of them promoted rot such as the stuff I quoted earlier.

The Church is Christ's body on earth, a mystical body whose breath is the Holy Spirit. Even though some Catholics close themselves off from the Spirit, the Spirit is alive. God will not abandon His Church, because the Church is His Body on this earth.

I cry about what is happening. There is more to cry about than the sexual abuse of young people, horrible as that is. I pray to God to purge the Church of unworthy shepherds who are not caring for the sheep that God has entrusted to them. And for those who are teaching their own opinions formed by the most cynical of wordly philosophers instead of what God has taught.

Here is what I think of the coverups. Those of the bishops who haven't capitulated to modern mores probably put too much stock in the notion that you can trust a repentant priest to be able to stay away from sin.

I'll call them the "good bishops." The good bishops, being maybe more virtuous than many of us, probably did not understand how hard it is to break the hold of habitual sin. So they might not realize that turning away from sin is not just a matter of deciding to not do something wrong again. They don't know that sin is addictive, and even if a priest is truly repentent, he might not be able to turn away from the behavior just by wanting to. They saw it as their duty to forgive.

And I know the priests that were only outwardly repentant got a lot of mileage out of their superiors' beliefs that they had to forgive and rehabilitate sinning priests.

I know that the notion of turning the sinning priests over to the authorities probably never occurred to the bishops.

I am personally affronted by the fact that some bishops really didn't seem to realize that these activities weren't just (oh well) a result of our sinful fallen human nature. And that they didn't seem to be concerned appropriately with how terrible it was that children were being used for sex. And I'm affronted that the priests who were abusers could allow themselves to do those terrible things. I definitely think there was too much tolerance.

I also think that the good bishops and the others also were bound to try to avoid scandal that might damage the reputation of the Church (as is happening right now). I don't think it was a coverup to save their own skins (like the attempted Watergate or Monica Lewinsky coverups). The motive was to avoid bringing shame on the Church. If they made it public that nice Father Shanley was doing unspeakable things with the altar boys, they would cause a lot of people to lose heart and maybe to lose faith. As is the case right now.

How they could have reassigned these wolves to other parishes and not forced them to leave ministry, even I cannot come up with an explanation for that. How they could promise parents to deal with an offender, and then allow him to keep offending, I don't know about that either. Maybe they were like us all, too busy, finding it hard to put things in the proper priority. Maybe they just let proper action slide out of avoidance for distasteful tasks.

I am glad that the Pope has affirmed (to the dismay of some of the American false-compassionate bishops) that no man who practices such things can be allowed in the priesthood.

Don't bail out Mary.

Here is the title of a sermon written by a very articulate priest after the scandals broke: Answering Scandal with Personal Holiness. He said that even one of Christ's closest friends betrayed him. Don't let these betrayals separate you from the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church.
Affectionately from your Catholic friend,

This site discusses the Whore of Babylon argument.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Letter to Roger Magnuson (Updated)

In this blog is a letter I wrote on December 5, 2005 to Roger Magnuson, who is a lawyer and "preaching elder" at a church he started in Minneapolis called The Straitgate Church. Today, December 4, 2013, almost exactly eight years later, I read an Anonymous comment and learned that Roger died November 30, 2013. I am very distressed to learn this sad news.

Dear Roger Magnuson RIP
I met Roger when he was a Bible study leader at the First Free Evangelical Church in Minneapolis, when First Free had what they called a "busing ministry." They went door to door at the high rise apartment building where I lived with my two children while I was trying to finish my college degree. They knocked on my door one day soon after I had "made a commitment to Christ" through the outreach of a college student who was involved with Campus Crusade for Christ. Every Sunday for at least a year, my kids and I got into the First Free bus and went to services. I also started going to Bible studies and women's group meetings. I learned a lot from them. I whole-heartedly admire how they turn to the Bible as an inspiration for a closer walk with Christ and reach out to bring as many others as they can find to a saving faith in Christ.

But eventually I left First Free, partly because I didn't find the feeling of belonging I was craving, and partly because the Lord had planted in my heart during my Catholic upbringing a belief in the literal reality of the Eucharist being the Body and Blood of Christ hat eventually brought me back to Catholicism.

Frankly, I have to add that when I was at First Free, like several of the single women there, I was interested in Roger. He was close to my age (I think I was about 34). We were disappointed when he married a younger woman. I took it hard, because the fact that he hadn't been really interested in me crushed one of my dreams. (I thought I had been chosen by a decent man and cherished because of my intelligence and zeal and enthusiasm for God.) I came to realize that Roger was actually a bit of a flirt, and I stupidly thought that upright Christian men wouldn't flirt.

Now I believe I wasn't in love with him, but I had my dreams. I was a divorced single mother with two children and I dreamed I could find a faithful Christian man to marry, and that maybe he could be the one.

Now, I think of him fairly frequently, especially when I hear about the influx into the Catholic Church of fundamentalist Protestants who find the claims of the Catholic Church to be compelling. I believed in my heart that Roger wa too smart to accept some of the cramped doctrines of his background. With the enclosed letter, I sent him Rome Sweet Rome by converted sola-scriptura believing Scott Hahn, who with his wife discovered that the teachings of the Catholic Church regarding contraception were irrefutable and who eventually found their way into full faith in all the doctrines of the Catholic Church.

I am very grateful to be able to say that Roger replied to this letter. And we exchanged a couple of emails. I couldn't make any headway with my arguments against his adamant Protestantism. What he wrote disabused me of any notions that he is anywhere close to converting to Catholicism. He started out his reply to me by saying that we "differ on the Roman church. . . . You view it as the true and ancient church. I view it as the scarlet whore of Babylon depicted in Revelation." Well, he couldn't be more against the Church than that.

December 28, 2005

Dear Roger,

I hope this finds you and your family and friends very well. I send love and greetings to everyone that I knew when I was a member of First Free. I am still very grateful how you all worked hard to gather us unchurched ones in and feed us with God’s Word. Thanks from the bottom of my heart.

I sent you and your family a Christmas card from Jerusalem last week. I planned to mail my Christmas cards from Bethlehem, but our tour organizer wouldn’t allow it. He thought that the Palestinians at the post office might copy the mailing addresses from the cards and use them for some nefarious purpose! Even though your card isn’t postmarked Bethlehem, it was taken through a Palestinian checkpoint into Bethlehem and into the site of the birthplace of Our Lord. It was a high point of my life to sing Silent Night there. The card I sent you was with me in my backpack.

Before I left for my pilgrimage, I bought you the enclosed book [Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism]. I have thought many times about sending you a copy. (And since I am getting absent minded, I might have already done so.) Scott Hahn, the author is a former Protestant minister who now teaches theology at one of the few authentically Catholic universities, Franciscan University at Steubenville, OH. He also regularly appears on EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network).

If you read it, you will see why I keep thinking this book is for you. It is the story of the conversion of a very-bright Bible-believing couple to the Catholic faith, which came about through their close reading of the Bible and the early Church fathers. They stopped believing in the principles that many Protestants use to deny the truth of the Catholic faith, one after another:

Sola scriptura: If there hadn’t been a Church, the canonical books of the Bible would not have been defined. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that scripture alone suffices. Many passages say that the tradition is also necessary. It was amusing at First Free to see the Lady’s Bible study leader give one exegesis on the prohibition by Paul of women speaking in the Church and to see the pastor the next Sunday to use the same passages to prove the opposite opinion. With that and many other examples in front of me, I had to return to the Catholic Church because she serves as an infallible guide.

Bible literalism: When the sense of the words are literal, I’m all for it, especially when I read the passage where Jesus said “This is my Body” and “this is my Blood.” If the Eucharist is just a symbol, Christ wouldn’t have lost many followers who were sickened because He seemed to be advocating cannibalism. And I also take literally the passage where Jesus told Simon, “You are Peter and upon this Rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Your close reading of the Old Testament has to have shown you how intimately God’s care for us was linked to His being our Rock. How wonderful that Christ in an artful play on words ordained a human man and his successors to be our New Testament Rock for His followers to shelter under!

Faith alone saves: Ah but “faith without works is dead.” Once saved always saved: This is a huge topic, but it just doesn’t make sense that someone who embraces a sinful life after believing in Christ will still enter the kingdom of Heaven. We have to accept God’s invitation, but if we show up at the wedding feast without wearing the garment of Christ’s purification, we will be cast into the outer darkness. From reading about Luther’s life, I suspect poor sin-bedeviled Luther came up with that doctrine of once saved always saved because he just couldn’t win in his struggles with impurity. James Joyce gave up a similar struggle because it was just too hard. At least Joyce didn’t start a whole new religion. St. Francis in the same era as Luther responded to the corruption of the Church by embracing Christ and becoming personally holy. I believe that is the response God wants.

The doctrine of sola sciptura has a necessary consequence of splintering of the churches. I witnessed that splintering effect first hand when I saw you leave First Free and start your own church. I am not finding fault with you: you are a wonderful man, zealous for Christ and for the great commission. I pray that your zeal will be tempered with humility and obedience to the Rock. When we build on the Rock, we can stand firm against tempests. If we don’t build on the Rock we get more new denominations every year, each one following its own individual interpretation of what God wants.

After trying many Protestant churches, I came back to the Catholic Church because of the Eucharist and because of the tradition of the Church. The Catholic Church needs zealous Bible-believing evangelists like you. So my prayer is that you will be led to bring your gifts to the one true Church.

Hope you read and like the book.

With much love from a fellow-sinner, in Christ, and in His Mother,

Leonard Feeney: In Memoriam by Fr. Avery Dulles, S.J. (America, February 2, 1978)

 This book is not intended to be a biography of Father Feeney or a history of St. Benedict Center. I feel l am much too close to these events to be completely objective, so I have tried only to compile a summary of the major documents involved, confining my personal comments to the introductions and footnotes. But since the Father Feeney Case is now forty years old, a brief review at the beginning would certainly be in order.
   One of the best summaries of the case was written by Fr. Avery Dulles, S. J. at the time of the death of Father Feeney. Father Dulles, who was severely criticized by Father Feeney for his liberalism, was closely associated with St. Benedict Center only in the early forties, so some of the inaccuracies in his comments after that period are easily understandable. Although Father Dulles’ appreciation is more sentimental than doctrinal, I am sure that Father Feeney, who was always grateful for any kindness, would have been pleased.—T. M. S.

   With the death of Leonard Feeney, at the age of 80, on Jan. 30, 1978, the United States lost one of its most colorful, talented and devoted priests. The obituary notices, on the whole, tended to overlook the brilliance of his career and to concentrate only on the storm of doctrinal controversy associated with his name in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.
   I knew Father Feeney only slightly before the spring of 1946, at which time I settled in Cambridge, Mass., for several months as I was completing my naval service and preparing to enter the Jesuit novitiate in August. I came to Cambridge in order to rejoin St. Benedict Center, a lively gathering place for Catholic students, which I had been instrumental in founding, together with Catherine Goddard Clarke, some five years earlier. Mrs. Clarke, a woman of charismatic charm and contagious enthusiasm, had run the Center almost unassisted until 1943, when she obtained the services of Leonard Feeney as spiritual director. Father Feeney was then at the height of his renown. As literary editor of America, he had become a prominent poet and essayist, much in demand on the lecture circuit. He had preached on important occasions at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and had broadcast a series of sermons on “The Catholic Hour.” But when he came to Cambridge he soon decided to make St. Benedict Center his single, exclusive and full-time apostolate.
   By the time I returned in February 1946, the Center was teeming with activity. It was not simply a place where students could drop in for a cup of tea or a friendly chat, but also a bustling center of theological study and apostolic zeal. Equipped with an excellent Catholic library (with my own collection as part of the nucleus), the Center had set up interest groups of various kinds, most of which met in the evening on a weekly basis. For example, I joined a group led by Professor Fakhri Maluf, a Boston College professor, in which we exchanged papers, week by week, first on the angelology of St. Thomas and then on St. Bernard’s doctrine of the love of God. With Fakhri and several others, I was part of a smaller group that systematically worked through Joseph Gredt’s Latin textbook on scholastic philosophy, beginning with the formal logic. There was also a weekly evening on Dante, directed by Professor Louis Solano of the Harvard faculty, at which distinguished Boston converts, such as Daniel Sargent and Hugh Whitney, were frequent visitors. Other groups at the Center specialized in modern literature and dramatics. Shortly before leaving I took the primary responsibility for putting out the first issue of From the Housetops, a quarterly journal intended to disseminate the Center’s vision of an integrally Catholic culture. Soon after I left, the Center was to become officially registered as a Catholic school eligible to receive benefits under the G. I. Bill of Rights.
   Thursday nights at St. Benedict Center were, in a special way, for Father Feeney. He gave a carefully planned course of lectures, beginning with the act of faith and then passing on to the sacraments. His leading idea in these lectures seemed to be the integration of nature and grace. Faith he viewed as a sacrifice in which the believer offers to God the most excellent gift of reason. For the sacrifice to be meaningful it was essential, in Father Feeney’s estimation, to have a proper esteem for the value of reason. In these lectures he therefore taught us to love the senses, the imagination, the memory and all the faculties of the mind. So, too, when he came to the sacraments, he labored to instill into his hearers a deep appreciation of the elements used in the Church’s rituals — water, oil, bread, wine and the like. Following the same pattern, when he spoke of celibacy, Father Feeney took great pains to communicate a high regard for Christian marriage, on the ground that the renunciation of marriage could not be an acceptable sacrifice unless one regarded marriage as truly good.
Not only was the doctrine solid, the oratory was superb. Never have I known a speaker with such a sense of collective psychology. Father Feeney would not come to his main point until he had satisfied himself that every member of the audience was disposed to understand and accept his message. In the early part of his lectures he would tell anecdotes, recite poems and in various ways gain the attention and good will of all his hearers. Totally aware of the reactions of every person in the room, he would focus his attention especially on those who seemed hostile, indifferent or distracted. When at length he had the entire audience reacting as a unit, he would launch into the main body of his talk, leading them from insight to insight, from emotion to emotion, until all were carried away, as if by an invisible force permeating the atmosphere.
   Week by week the audience grew. Every seat in the auditorium was filled; then every foot of standing space was taken up, and at last people gathered in groups at every open door or window to catch whatever fragments they could of these Thursday-evening talks.
To Father Feeney, however, the popular lectures were not the most important part of his work. They were intended for a relatively wide public, not for the inner group of disciples. His main interest was in those who made the Center their principal occupation in life — those for whom it was a kind of family, school and parish all rolled into one. For this group Father Feeney would make himself available every afternoon, hearing confessions and giving personal direction. Later in the afternoon he would emerge for tea and a social hour. Then at supper time a group of us would generally pile into Catherine Clarke’s decrepit sedan so that we could continue our discussions over hamburgers in a restaurant. In the company of Catherine Clarke and Leonard Feeney conversation was never known to lag.
   I regret that I did not make notes on some of Leonard Feeney’s conversation. His table talk was brilliant and memorable. He would teach us to look on the world with fresh eyes and to delight as he did in the variety of God’s creation. He was particularly fascinated by the animals, as appeared in many of his poems. One of them, written for children, begins characteristically:

     Moo is a cow
     When she makes a bow
     To a meadow full of hay.
     Shoo is a hen
     When she’s back again
     And you want her to go away.
   As a spiritual director Father Feeney carefully trained his disciples. Although he was capable of sharp admonitions and rebukes, his general practice was to lead by positive encouragement. He was generous in praising others, both in their presence and when they were absent. When he noticed faults in the members of the group, he would correct these in a good-humored way, with playful mimicry, rhymes and puns. (For his views on the value and limits of the pun it would be worthwhile to read his little article, “How Much Do I Like a Pun?” Am., 9/26/36.) Father Feeney’s light-hearted mockery extended not only to members of the Center but to the public figures of the day. Parodying their rhetoric and mannerisms, he would deliver with mock solemnity imaginary speeches such as Al Smith on the fallacies in Descartes’s philosophy (“putting Descartes before the horse”), Fulton Sheen on the merits of Coca-Cola (“Ho, everyone that thirsteth for the pause that refreshes!”), Franklin Roosevelt on the decline of sacramental religion (“Some of our underprivileged are having to get along on two paltry sacraments, or even none”), and Katherine Hepburn reporting a championship prizefight. We listened to these imitations with our sides splitting, almost sick with laughter. Then at a crucial moment Father Feeney would be likely to remove his clerical collar, put it over his head like a wimple and begin to speak in the broken English of Mother Cabrini.
   But the humor, too, was only marginal to Father Feeney’s real concern. Most of all he enjoyed speaking directly about the truths of the Christian faith. With unbelievable vividness he would make the Gospel episodes come alive: scenes of the rich young man, of Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree and countless others. When he quoted from the letters of Paul one had the impression that Paul himself was speaking. To this day, I imagine St. Paul with the features and voice of Leonard Feeney.
   While teaching us to love the New Testament (not only in English and Latin, but in the Greek text he always had at hand), Father Feeney led us also to study the fathers and doctors of the Church. We easily memorized the list of the twenty-nine doctors, and their names were more than names to us. Father Feeney taught us the issues that made Athanasius an exile from his native Egypt. He explained why Cyril stood up against Nestorius and why Augustine wrote fiery tracts against the Pelagians and the Donatists. Under his direction we came to appreciate the equable wisdom of Aquinas and the more intuitive metaphysics of Duns Scotus, who especially appealed to the poet in Feeney, as he had to Gerard Manley Hopkins. Father Feeney familiarized us, also, with the Christian poets. His memory never seemed to falter when he quoted from Hopkins or Francis Thompson, from Belloc or Chesterton or, in English translation, from Peguy or Claudel.
In addition to the lore of historical theology and Christian poetry, we were introduced into the profundities of speculative theology. Here again the oral teaching of Leonard Feeney was our principal guide. Outside St. Benedict Center, was there any place in the world where lay people in our day were so eagerly discussing the processions in the Blessed Trinity, the union of the two natures in Christ, the presence of Christ in the Mystical Body, the marvels of transubstantiation, the divinizing effects of sanctifying grace and role of Mary in God’s plan of salvation?
   The systematic theology that I learned from Father Feeney has stayed with me through the decades, while I have forgotten much of what I studied more recently. In part this is because he had an incomparable gift for putting the deepest mysteries in the simplest terms, as may be seen, for example, from his masterly essay, “The Blessed Sacrament Explained to Barbara.” It must also be said that at the Center the Catholic Faith was never just abstract doctrine to be memorized for an examination, but was always a truth to be lived and prayed. Nearly all the Center family were daily communicants and made great sacrifices of one kind or another to live their faith to the full. We had periodic days of recollection. Every evening at the Center ended with night prayers, when we would recite in common from memory the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel and pray to the Blessed Virgin for protection and fidelity.
   Life at the Center had an indelible effect on all the associates. Before long about one hundred members of the Center community had accepted vocations to the priesthood or the religious life, and an equal number, I would estimate, entered into deeply Christian marriages. All the time, new members kept pouring in. At least two hundred, it is reported, became converts to the Catholic Faith. All the Center’s projects seemed to prosper. An option for some was to affiliate themselves permanently with the Center. Already when I was there the Center was beginning to take on certain characteristics of a religious community—one open to both men and women, single and married, with Father Feeney in the role of superior and novice master. Only later did St. Benedict Center draw up a rule of life for its members as “Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
   Were there, at the time I was present, any signs of the coming cataclysm? I did notice, toward the end of my stay, that Leonard Feeney was becoming increasingly polemical. His attacks on materialism, skepticism and agnosticism became sharper and more personal. He used bitter invective against Hume and Kant, Marx and Freud. At times he denounced “liberal Catholics” who had failed to support Generalissimo Franco. Even Jacques Maritain was in his eyes infected by the poison of liberal culture. Father Feeney’s attitude toward the Jews was ambivalent. He felt that they could not achieve their true vocation except in Christ, but that when they accepted this vocation they excelled all other Christians. In his lectures and conversation he made us savor the total Jewishness of Mary, of Jesus and of Paul. He used to talk of a certain Jewish taxi driver in New York whom he had instructed in the faith and who had become, in Father Feeney’s judgment, a true mystic.
   On the question of salvation outside the Church, Father Feeney had not as yet adopted any clear position. He was convinced that Catholics must not hesitate to present the full challenge of the Gospel, which for him included the whole system of official dogma. He felt that too many tended, out of politeness and timidity, to evade the task of forthright witness. As long as any person was alive, Father Feeney used to say, we should urge the necessity of his accepting the fullness of the faith. But after death, the situation was different. We could confidently leave our loved ones to the unfathomable mercy of God, to which we could set no limits. “I would infinitely rather be judged by God,” Father Feeney would say, “than by my closest friend.”* Hence the damnation of non-Catholics was not at that stage, as I recall, any part of the Feeney gospel.
   How did Leonard Feeney later become a proponent of the rigid and almost Jansenistic position attributed to St. Benedict Center? I have no personal knowledge of what happened in the late 1940’s. Perhaps Father Feeney was somewhat embittered by his encounters with the non-Catholic universities about him; perhaps, also, he was led into doctrinal exaggerations by his own mercurial poetic temperament. Then again, he and others may have been somewhat intoxicated by the dramatic successes of the Center and too much isolated from opinions coming from outside their own narrow circle. It occurs to me also that the religious enthusiasm of some of Father Feeney’s convert disciples may have led him further than he would have gone on his own. He was ferociously loyal to his followers, especially those who had gone out on a limb to defend what they understood as his own teaching. Thus, when several faculty members at Boston College were dismissed for their teaching on salvation, he backed them to the hilt. From that moment the developments leading to Father Feeney’s excommunication and to the interdiction of the Center were all but inevitable.
   For those who loved and admired Father Feeney it was painful to see illustrated newspaper articles about him on Boston Common, flanked by burly bodyguards, shouting vulgar anti-Semitisms at the crowds before him. No doubt he did become angry and embittered in the early 1950’s, but happily this was only a passing phase. St. Benedict Center, after it moved to Still River, Mass., in January 1958, became a different kind of community, more in keeping with the Benedictine spirit to which Father Feeney himself had long been attracted. Thus it became possible for the major portion of the community, including Father Feeney himself, to be reconciled to the Catholic Church in 1974. Two years later two members of this community were ordained to the priesthood so that they could carry on Father Feeney’s ministry to the “pious union of Benedictine Oblates” that has sprung forth from the St. Benedict Center. It would have been tragic if Leonard Feeney, the great apostle of salvation within the Church, had died excommunicate.
   There are certain texts from the Bible that I can never read without hearing, in my imagination, the voice and intonations of Leonard Feeney. Among them is the following, which he frequently quoted in Latin from the liturgy for the Doctors of the Church: “The time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith. Henceforth, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:6-8.)
Cursum consummavi, fidem servavi: These words could serve as Leonard Feeney’s epitaph. They express his overriding concern to resist any dilution of the Christian faith and to pass it on entire, as a precious heritage, to the generations yet to come. In an age of accommodation and uncertainty, he went to extremes in order to avoid the very appearance of compromise. With unstinting generosity he placed all his talents and energies in the service of the faith as he saw it.