Here’s the audio of the talk on moral relativism I gave awhile back for the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, before a Catholic audience of approximately 500. It was held at the diocesan center’s super-plush auditorium. It’s always a pleasure to speak in such a nice venue.
I vividly recall my father warning me not to watch “The Exorcist” movie when it came out in 1973. Not that I was old enough, at just 13, to trundle down to the cinema and see it, but he wanted me to avoid it when I got old enough to go to movies on my own and without parental supervision.
My father hadn’t even seen the movie himself, but he had read the novel by the same title upon which the movie was based, and he told me that the book was truly frightening. He didn’t want my imagination to have to cope with the residue of horrifying mental images he said the book had permanently lodged in his mind.
Roger that, Dad. I followed your advice to the letter. Thank you. Nearly 40 years later, I can report to you that I not only never saw the movie, I never read the book, and I’m glad of it.
I did, however, make the mistake of reading Malachi Martin’s Hostage to the Devil — or, at least, three quarters of it, before I had to put it down.
Martin’s true-story accounts of demonic possession were simply too disturbing for me to continue reading. This is in part due to the fact that, like many people, I just don’t want or need scenes from such accounts playing themselves out in my imagination at the wrong moments, such as when I am trying to get to sleep in an unfamiliar house or hotel when I am traveling.
Back to The Exorcist. Of course, I know the general plot line and am aware, unfortunately, of major shock scenes in the movie, mainly because of how talked-about it was when it first debuted. Kind of like how, years before I ever saw “The Godfather,” I knew all about the infamous “horse head” scene because everyone was talking about it.
Weird. As an adult, when I did finally see “The Godfather” and it came to that scene, it was as if I had already seen it because of how familiar it was in popular culture. I figure that this is how I came to know a good deal about The Exorcist, not by reading the book or seeing the movie, but by osmosis.
When the movie came out, as I recall, the television evening news was awash in man-bites-dog reports about how freaked out people were by the movie. I saw plenty of interviews with folks coming out of the theaters, having just seen “The Exorcist,” who were truly terrorized. That was enough, in itself, to dissuade me from wanting to go and do likewise.
A few years ago, I was chatting about this movie genre with my friend Héctor Molina, who had recently seen “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.” It didn’t really bother him. In fact, he mentioned how fascinated he was with the theme of God’s grace and redemption in that movie. But for me, there was no chance I’d see it because, as I explained to Héctor, given how advanced the movie industry has become in the science of special effects and CGI technology, I am quite confident that what I avoided seeing in “The Exorcist” would probably be there in chilling abundance in “Emily Rose.” He saw my point and added that a few others who were with him watching the movie were quite scared by it.
And all of that is my roundabout way of getting to the point of this post. I just read a brief news bit written by William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist, who, to my surprise, reveals that he hadn’t had the slightest intention of frightening anyone with his work. In fact, he had something altogether different in mind. I’ll let him explain to you what that was.
But for me, at least, I not only will continue to follow my father’s wise advice, I pass it along to you.
Saint Paul said it better:
“[W]hatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
That’s what I want for my mind. And for yours.
In Matthew 19:14, the Lord says to His meddlesome disciples, “
All he is saying is give pizza chants.
How does a formerly pro-life Catholic college girl morph into a pro-abortion zealot who identifies the roots of her transformation as including attending the National March for Life?
You read that right.
As implausible as it might sound, Kate Childs Graham says that this happened to her, and the results are not pretty. In her recent (2009) article “I Am a Pro-choice Catholic,” which appears in that notorious bastion of contumacy, The National Catholic Reporter, Ms. Childs Graham reveals:
“I wasn’t always a pro-choice Catholic. During college I attended the annual March for Life on more than one occasion. The first time my friends and I traveled to the event from Indianapolis, Ind., was with a bus full of high school students — most, seemingly, only going for the trip to Washington, D.C., with their friends, sans parental supervision. Needless to say, it was a noisy bus ride. After I transferred to Catholic University, I volunteered for the Mass for Life two years in a row, helping to herd all of those high school students into every crevice of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.”
One must wonder if Ms. Childs Graham herself was one of those young people who made the journey to Washington, not to protest the evil of legalized abortion, but simply because she wanted the freedom of a little road trip, “sans parental supervision.”
She claims that, “Each time I attended the March for Life, I felt overwhelmingly conflicted. On one hand, it was moving to be among so many people, all energized by their faith . . .” (continue reading)
What would happen if a pair of Mormon missionaries showed up on the doorstep of a dedicated Jehovah’s Witness? This humorous but insightful fictional dialogue is what it might sound like.
Elder Hawkins grinned as he approached the door. He and Sister Sarah had placed the Book of Mormon in four homes already this morning, and it wasn’t yet noon. He rang the doorbell and stepped back. A tall, balding man wearing a large smile opened the door. Elder Hawkins saw the Watchtower magazine in the man’s hand and his grin vanished.
(By David Washburn, This Rock Magazine, 1992)
“Come in, come in,” the man bellowed. “Don’t just stand there. Come in and let’s get acquainted.”
Hawkins ushered Sister Sarah in and followed. They sat on a couch that the man indicated. “Hello. I’m Elder Hawkins, and this is Sister Sarah. We’re from the Church of– ”
“I know. I can read your little name tags. Tell me, what do you think of the situation in the Middle East? Do you think it’s leading anywhere?”
Hawkins shrugged. “Actually, Mr.– ?”
“Call me Jack. Jack Overton’s my name.”
“Jack, then. We’re here to ask a few questions. Do you believe family is important in today’s society?”
“Sure do,” Jack nodded. “That’s why me and my family are preparing ourselves to live forever in paradise on Earth. Are you?”
Hawkins blinked. “I hadn’t really thought about –”
“You need to.”
“Tell me, Jack. Do you believe that today’s society is trying to tear down the fabric of the family?”
“They’re tearing everything down. It’s no accident that blood transfusions transmit AIDS, you know.”
“Blood transfusions. Tell me this, Jack. Do you believe that life goes on after death?”
“No. When you die, consciousness ceases. The only way to come back is if Jehovah raises you again to live in paradise on Earth.”
“Oh, then you do believe we can return and live with Heavenly Father.”
“What does that mean?”
“Don’t change the subject. Do you believe it or not?”
Jack considered. “Well, not exactly with him, but we can return here.”
“And be exalted to live with Heavenly Father.”
Jack shrugged. “If you insist on putting it that way. But not everybody will get to.”
Hawkins took a breath. “You mean some people will go to hell.”
“Hell no, I don’t mean hell! There’s no such thing.”
Hawkins smiled. “So all can return and live with Heavenly Father.”
“I’d still like to know what that means, but the answer is no. The ones who reject the truth go to oblivion. After they get their second chance, if they still reject it, they stay in oblivion.”
“Don’t you read your Bible? At the Last Judgment, where it says ‘the books were opened.’ That means …”
“Oh, you mean when our Brother Jesus returns.”
“He’s already here.”
Hawkins flinched. “Where?”
“Here. On Earth.”
Hawkins smiled at Sister Sarah. “Really? Where does he live?”
“Don’t be silly. You can’t see him. He’s invisible, just like he was when his spirit rose from the dead.”
“When his spirit– Tell me this. Do you believe that God gave the Scriptures, insofar as they are correctly translated, to teach us how we can live with Heavenly Father?”
“Oh, yes. And we have the correct translation. It’s called the New World Translation. ”
“You have Joseph Smith’s inspired translation?”
“Sister Sarah is good at explaining prophecy. Go ahead, Sister.”
Sarah cleared her throat. “Heavenly Father gave us the Scriptures through prophets who spoke for him. But the Bible wasn’t enough.”
“It’s enough,” Jack said, “But it’s hard to understand without Watchtower study materials to interpret it.”
“It isn’t enough,” Sarah said. “There’s another Testament of Jesus Christ.”
“Why do I want another one when the two I already have tell me all I need to know?”
Sarah frowned. “Because God gave it.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Because he wanted to, I guess. It’s called the Book of Mormon.”
“It was written by a moron?”
“No, Moroni gave it to Joseph Smith.”
Jack blinked. “The city councilman?”
“No, the prophet.”
“I hear Councilman Smith makes lots of profits, that’s for sure.”
“Not profit, prophet.” She gathered herself and tried again. “When he was fourteen, Joseph Smith had a vision of two personages. One pointed to the other and said, ‘This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.’ Who do you suppose that was?”
“This is all nice, but we really should be talking about Armageddon.”
Hawkins said, “Yes. The final battle when Jesus returns.”
“I told you, he’s already here. He returned in 1914 and established the millennial kingdom.”
Sarah stared. “But that’s supposed to be when all the Jews return to Palestine and all the Mormons return to Missouri.”
JACK laughed. “I don’t know where your misery comes into it, but Jesus returned invisibly in 1914. He’s in the process of driving out the devil’s minions. The devil is the author of the Trinity doctrine.”
Hawkins said, “You don’t believe in a Father, Son, and Holy Ghost?”
“I do, but they’re not all gods.”
“Of course they are. There are lots of gods. The Father has a glorified body, so does the Son. He took up his exalted body and returned to Heavenly Father after he died on the cross.”
“It wasn’t a cross. It was an upright stake.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Jack sighed. “At any rate, his death and spiritual resurrection gave us the prospect of eternal life on a restored Earth.”
“Spiritual resurrection? What do you mean?”
“He didn’t rise bodily. When he appeared to the disciples, he used different bodies as he pleased.”
Hawkins shook his head. “You’ve got it all wrong. He laid down his life and took it up again, just like Heavenly Father did in ages past.”
“You’re saying Jehovah died and rose, too?”
“Not Jehovah, the Father.”
“Isn’t the Father Jehovah?”
“No, he’s Adam.”
“Adam, the first man in the Bible.”
“Not at all. Brigham Young told us–”
“Brigham Young. He was the spiritual successor to Joseph Smith.”
“The city councilman?”
Hawkins slapped the arm of the couch. “Will you stop that? I want to tell you what God revealed to us through his prophet, Joseph Smith!”
Jack leaned back. “Don’t get so excited. Tell away.”
HAWKINS took a deep breath. “Now, the Angel Moroni appeared to Joseph and told him where he could find some golden plates containing a book that told of an ancient American civilization. He found them and translated them. They were written in Reformed Egyptian.”
“What’s Reformed Egyptian?”
“A language that nobody knows.”
“Did your Joseph know it?”
“But he translated it.”
Jack scratched his head. “Where are these plates now?”
“The angel took them back to heaven.”
Jack smiled. “That’s too bad. It would have been nice to have a New World Translation of the Christian Reformed Egyptian Scriptures.”
“Why? Joseph Smith translated them perfectly under God’s inspiration.”
“How do you know that?”
“I prayed to Heavenly Father and he showed me.”
“How did he show you?”
“When something is true, don’t you feel it? Isn’t that feeling you get how you know it’s true?”
“Oh, yes. That’s how I know my Watchtower is true and this isn’t.”
“You’re wrong. I feel that we’re the true church.”
“Your feeling is wrong. I feel that we’re the right one.”
“Your feeling is wrong.”
“Is not.” Jack stood. “I’m thirsty. Would you like some coffee?”
“We never pollute our bodies with coffee unless our church owns the company. Do you have any tomato juice?”
“I never buy tomato juice. It looks too much like blood, and the Scripture says you’re not supposed to eat blood. It’s no accident that blood transfusions transmit AIDS, you know.”
Hawkins stood. “Tell you what. We need to be going. Just let me leave you with a thought. If you became convinced that these things are true, would you be baptized in the Mormon Church?”
“I’ve already been baptized into Jehovah’s kingdom. Have you?”
“Not that I know of.”
“That’s too bad. You need to be baptized into his kingdom and then sell books and magazines so you can avoid oblivion. But don’t worry. He’ll give you a second chance when the books are opened, anyway.”
Hawkins shook his head and opened the door for Sister Sarah. “Goodbye, Jack. Thanks for talking to us.”
“Same to you,” Jack said as he followed them to the door. “By the way, if you’re going door-to-door, watch out for the lady two doors down. She’s a Christian Scientist. Now there’s a strange religion.”
Hawkins glanced at Sister Sarah. “Thanks for the tip. We all need to be on guard against religious fruitcakes, don’t we?”
Jack nodded. “Yes, don’t we all.”
Source: This Rock Magazine
David Washburn freelances from Powell, Wyoming. Reprinted with permission from The Door, P.O. Box 530, Yreka, CA 96097
Transformers, Legos, Rubik’s Cubes, pogs, and Matchbox cars? Remember them? My wife and I were raising our older kids in the 80s and, boy oh boy, did we buy a passel of these toys for them over the course of that decade. I can only imagine what kind of price they might fetch now if we had saved some of them in the original packaging.
But, but, what about all that talk we’ve been hearing about how Islam is “a religion of peace and tolerance”? Uh, well, according to one report that showed up this morning on the Drudge Report,
“There is not a single, public Christian church left in Afghanistan,” according to the U.S. State Department.
This reflects the state of religious freedom in that country ten years after the United States first invaded it and overthrew its Islamist Taliban regime.
In the intervening decade, U.S. taxpayers have spent $440 billion to support Afghanistan’s new government and more than 1,700 U.S. military personnel have died serving in that country.
The last public Christian church in Afghanistan was razed in March 2010, according to the Statet Department’s latest International Religious Freedom Report. The report, which was released last month and covers the period of July 1, 2010 through December 31, 2010, also states that “there were no Christian schools in the country.”
“There is no longer a public Christian church; the courts have not upheld the church’s claim to its 99-year lease, and the landowner destroyed the building in March ,” reads the State Department report on religious freedom. “[Private] chapels and churches for the international community of various faiths are located on several military bases, PRTs [Provincial Reconstruction Teams], and at the Italian embassy. Some citizens who converted to Christianity as refugees have returned.”
In recent times, freedom of religion has declined in Afghanistan, according to the State Department.
“The government’s level of respect for religious freedom in law and in practice declined during the reporting period, particularly for Christian groups and individuals,” reads the State Department report.
“Negative societal opinions and suspicion of Christian activities led to targeting of Christian groups and individuals, including Muslim converts to Christianity,” said the report. “The lack of government responsiveness and protection for these groups and individuals contributed to the deterioration of religious freedom.”
Most Christians in the country refuse to “state their beliefs or gather openly to worship,” said the State Department.
More than 1,700 U.S. military personnel have died serving in the decade-old Afghanistan war, according to CNSNews.com’s database of all U.S. casualties in Afghanistan. A September audit released jointly by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction and the State Department’s Office of Inspector General, found that the U.S. government will spend at least $1.7 billion to support the civilian effort from 2009-2011.
According to that report, the $1.7 billion excludes additional security costs, which the report says the State Department priced at about $491 million.
A March 2011 report by the Congressional Research Service showed that overall the United States has spent more than $440 billion in the Afghanistan war. Christian aid from the international community has also gone to aid the Afghan government.
Nevertheless, according to the State Department, the lack of non-Muslim religious centers in Afghanistan can be blamed in part on a “strapped government budget,” which is primarily fueled by the U.S. aid.
“There were no explicit restrictions for religious minority groups to establish places of worship and training of clergy to serve their communities,” says the report, “however, very few public places of worship exist for minorities due to a strapped government budget.” . . . (continue reading)
Over the last 25 years or so, I’ve noticed with bemusement an unfortunate trend in the United States in which an increasing number of lay people arrogate to themselves the title of “spiritual director.” I regard this as unfortunate because, except in certain rare exceptions, lay people are simply not qualified or competent to serve as spiritual directors.
Even lay people who have some formal training in theology do not, by virtue of that fact, have the requisite qualities necessary to be spiritual directors.
I’ve seen some real messes result from lay people attempting to give spiritual direction to others. For example, Regnum Christi (RC), the lay movement associated with the embattled Legionaries of Christ religious order of men, had for years appointed numerous goodhearted, sincere, and wholly unqualified RC lay women to be “spiritual directors” for other RC lay women in the absence of a priest. As you might imagine, problems and misunderstandings ensued. Eventually, at least here in the U.S., the Legionaries and RC leaders abandoned the moniker “spiritual director” in favor of the less dubious “spiritual guide.”
My guess is that virtually all lay people who style themselves as spiritual directors (including those who are regarded as such by others, even by some deacons and priests), are really just confusing spiritual direction with counseling. That such a benign confusion is prevalent these days shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, upwards of three generations of Catholics nowadays are, by and large, woefully under-catechized in the doctrinal and spiritual teachings of the Catholic Faith.
This is not to say that those goodhearted and sincere lay men and lay women who present themselves as spiritual directors are necessarily themselves woefully under-catechized (although some may very well be), but their laudable service to others, insofar as they seek to offer helpful advice of a spiritual nature, does not make them spiritual directors in the classical Catholic sense of the term.
Don’t get me wrong. By all means, Catholic lay people should strive to offer good counsel and spiritual advice when the need and opportunity arises. Counseling can be done informally or formally, such as in the case of a man or woman who is properly trained in the art of counseling (for example, having earned a master’s degree in that field). But counselling and spiritual direction are not the same thing. It’s proper and good for lay people to engage in the former though, in my view, not the in latter.
Now, since I am confident that my remarks here will elicit some push back from those who are convinced spiritual direction is indeed suitable for lay people, I’d like to advert to the wise and erudite advice on this question from the late Father Jordan Aumann, O.P. (1916-2007), who wrote Spiritual Theology, a masterful explanation of the ways and means of the spiritual life, including what to look for in a spiritual director. While he doesn’t come right out and declare that spiritual direction is not a suitable domain for lay people (except, as I’ve said, under certain, rare circumstances), I think you’ll see that the cumulative force of his explanation militates inexorably toward that conclusion.
PERHAPS NO WRITER HAS OUTLINED with such clarity and precision the technical qualities of a good spiritual director as have St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. She states that a good spiritual director should be learned, prudent, and experienced. St. John of the Cross also maintains that a director should be learned, prudent, and experienced, and he places great emphasis on experience.
Learning. The learning of a spiritual director should be extensive. In addition to having a profound knowledge of dogmatic theology, without which he would be exposed to error in regard to matters of faith, and of moral theology, without which he could not even fulfill the office of confessor, the spiritual director should have a thorough knowledge of ascetical and mystical theology. He should know, for example, the theological doctrine concerning Christian perfection, especially regarding such questions as the essence of perfection, the obligation to strive for perfection, the obstacles to perfection, the types of purgation, and the means of positive growth in virtue. He should have a detailed knowledge of the grades of prayer, the trials God usually sends to souls as they advance from the lower to the higher degrees of prayer, and the illusions and assaults of the devil that souls may encounter.
He also needs to be well versed in psychology so that he will have an understanding of various temperaments and characters, the influences to which the human personality is subjected, and the function of the emotions in the life of the individual. He should also know at least the basic principles of abnormal psychology and psychiatry so that he will be able to recognize mental unbalance and nervous or emotional disorders.
A priest should realize that, if he is not competent to direct a particular soul, he should advise the individual to go to someone who possesses the necessary knowledge. A priest incurs a grave responsibility before God if he attempts to direct a soul when he lacks sufficient knowledge. In recent times, with the wider dissemination of knowledge of mental illness, the priest must especially be warned that, as regards the field of psychiatry and the therapeutic methods proper to that branch of medicine, he is a mere “layman” and is incompetent to treat mental sickness. If he suspects that a penitent is suffering from a mental illness, he should direct that individual to a professional psychiatrist, just as readily as he would expect a psychiatrist to refer spiritual problems to a clergyman.
Prudence. This is one of the most important qualities for a spiritual director. It comprises three basic factors: prudence in judgment, clarity in counseling, and firmness in exacting obedience.
If a spiritual director lacks prudence, he is usually lacking several other virtues as well. Prudence enables an individual to do the right thing under given circumstances. Spiritual direction is not concerned with the general doctrine of spiritual theology, nor with theoretical situations that one may imagine, but with the individual soul placed in concrete circumstances at a given moment or in a given phase of spiritual growth.
The director is not called upon to make decisions regarding general doctrine; most people could find such answers in any standard manual of spiritual theology. The director’s role is precisely to recognize the particular circumstances of a given situation and to give the advice needed at that moment. In order that the advice be prudent, a spiritual director must have the empathy by which he is able to place himself in the given circumstances and must have the patience to listen attentively. Of the various factors that militate against prudence, the following are especially common: lack of knowledge of the various states of the ascetical and mystical life, lack of understanding of human psychology, prejudice in regard to particular states of life or particular exercises of piety, lack of humility, excessive eagerness to make a judgment.
The second characteristic of prudence in the spiritual director is clarity in the advice given to the one directed and in the norms of conduct prescribed. In order that he may be clear in his direction, he must. possess clarity in his own mind. In speaking to the soul he is directing, he should avoid any vague or indecisive language, but should always express himself in concrete and definite terms. He should resolve problems with a yes or a no and, if necessary, he should take the time for further deliberation before making his decision. If a soul perceives that the director is not sure of himself, it will lose confidence in him, and his direction will lose all its efficacy.
Moreover, the director should always be sincere and frank, without any partiality or selfish motives. It would be a serious fault if a director were to avoid offending the person directed lest that person should go to some other priest for direction. Those priests who place great importance in attracting and retaining a large number of followers are, by that very fact, disposing themselves to failure as spiritual directors. The director should never forget that he acts in the name of the Holy Spirit in directing souls, and that he must endeavor to treat those souls with kindness and- understanding, but with firmness and utter frankness.
The director must also take care that he does not become the one who is directed. Some persons are extremely competent in’ getting their own way in everything, and even the director is in danger of falling under their power. For that reason, once the director is certain of his decision and the course that should be followed; he should state his mind with unyielding firmness. The individual must be convinced that there are only two alternatives: to obey or to find another director.
But the director should not forget that he should never demand of a soul anything that is incompatible with its state of life or vocation, its strength, or present condition. He should realize that there are some things that can be demanded of advanced souls but could never be required of beginners; that some things would be perfectly fitting in dealing with a priest or religious but not with a lay person. Excessive rigor does nothing but frighten souls and may cause them to abandon the road to perfection. There is, therefore, a world of difference between firmness in demanding obedience and an excessive rigidity that discourages the soul of the penitent.
Experience. This is one of the most precious qualities of a good spiritual director. Even if he is less perfect in knowledge and somewhat deficient in prudence, experience can make up for these deficiencies. This does not mean that the experience of the director must necessarily flow from his own spiritual life, for he may obtain the benefits of experience from his observation and direction of others.
As regards the personal experience of the director, if it is a question of the guidance of the average Christian, he needs little more than the experience any priest can obtain from the faithful fulfillment of his duties in the sacred ministry. If it is a question of advanced souls who have already entered the mystical stages of the spiritual life, it is desirable that the priest himself have some experience of those higher stages. If he lacks this, a delicate sense of prudence, coupled with competent knowledge of the mystical states, will suffice in the majority of cases.
But personal experience alone is not sufficient to make a spiritual director as competent as he ought to be. There are many different paths by which the Holy Spirit can lead souls to the summit of sanctity. It would be a serious mistake for a director to attempt to lead all souls along the same path and to impose on them his own personal experiences, however beneficial they may have been for himself. The spiritual director should never forget that he is merely an instrument in the hands of the Holy Spirit and that his work must be entirely subjected to the Holy Spirit. If, through a lack of understanding of the variety of divine gifts and the multiplicity of roads to perfection, he were to force all souls to travel by the same road, he would become a veritable obstacle to the workings of grace in the soul.
Moral Qualities of a Spiritual Director . . . (continue reading)