Category Archives: Catholic Church

Church, Companions on a Slippery Slope


Church Victim of Slippery Slope Logic

Passing through some of our local communities, I frequently notice churches, that is, the physical building, the places of worship, and what characterizes them. The structure, the upkeep, the appearances, the messages posted outside; these say a lot about the people these brick and mortar structure, symbolic representatives of the beliefs and communities they claim they serve. I often see the trite clichés like “God is home, come on in!” or “Be yourself; everyone else is taken” and similar trite slogans. Apparently the Roman Catholic Churches in this area, Ravena and Coxsackie, NY, have given up on being taken seriously so now these parish leaders, the pastors have to play cool cutsie, mimicking their Protestant and Reformist cohorts. Such silliness simply degrades the sacred space and makes idiots of those who still frequent them.

Contrary to what you have been led to believe, dear readers, churches are not where God lives [Thank God!], that is, churches are not God’s personal primary residence, they are sacred spaces where we can find safe, quiet space to reflect, meditate, be still, or engage in a conversation with the Divine, a practice we call prayer, but have forgotten – or never knew how to do it. Nowadays most conversations with God turn out to be like conversations with those twits exercising their thumbs on an electronic device; God’s trying to reveal himself to the twit who’s functioning with half a hemisphere.

Repurposing Our Churches

 Materialist-consumerists worship their new idols: mega-flat screens, surround sound, a nymph, and a bottle. Happy worshipping!

When I hear of closure of churches, merging of congregations, sale of church property, conversions of churches to art galleries, restaurants, even private residences, I feel a cold shudder. These churches have become like dinosaurs; they were once living, awesome organisms, and they thrived and nurtured similar life but at some time long ago they became sick, languished and died. Now all we have left of them are lumps of rock we gawk at in museums or use as paperweights in our studies. So, too, many of our former sacred spaces are now secular spaces where the inhabiting materialist-consumerists worship their new idols: mega-flat screens, surround sound, a nymph, and a bottle. Happy worshipping!

So where has God gone once evicted? God’s where he’s always been: in the dark silent depths of our hearts, unless we’ve replaced God there too with some idol like money, sex, a car, a political figure. Yes, O’Idolaters of Ubiquitous White Noise and Distractions, the Ultimate Truth still lies hidden in that wet, fertile, darkness deep within a human being (No, not a vagina!) but who nowadays with their stymied white-cane spirituality would dare explore the silence within when there’s so much to do in the world? Why would anyone want to become acquainted with their true self when they can invent another, more pleasant, acceptable self and transform it at any time. Who will know? You will. But you don’t care because you’ve been diving down that slippery slope for so long you wouldn’t know your true self if you tripped over it!

In my meanderings I spend time in churches, at meetings and conferences, on Internet forums, at monasteries, interacting with others in a variety of settings. I note the anxiety and the vulnerability of so many people; I note their white-cane spirituality, blindly pursuing some sort of agenda-seeking-to-become-a-religion, a tool for a virtual life; I listen to and become offended by the ignorance and narcissism of those claiming to be called to a vocation, as clergy, as lay religious, as lay ministers in churches, congregations, parishes; I frequently observe the infantile fascination of the unwashed when, in a strange ecstasy of voyeurism, they rub shoulders with monks, priests, nuns, or spiritual leaders, and they grin idiotically as if caught in an act of masturbation. “Hee, hee! Look at me!” Narcissism, too, is a form of idolatry. I have to wonder whether the gawkers or the gawkees actually realize the pitiable dynamic going on. It’s rather like the voyeurism of social media but worse. Worse because the so-called spiritual leaders are actually enjoying the worship, and the egos soar – and the wound deepens and festers, poisoning the entire mystical body.

If churches and faith communities are hemorrhaging members, the religious vocations are dwindling into membership cachexia. And like starving rats will go for anything that smacks of survival. For several decades now, the materialist consumerism and the dumbing down of society has left the message of higher truths and spirituality to languish in the shadow of anti-human propaganda, corporate greed, political narcissism, social confusion, despair and anxiety. Fear of loss is the underlying message everywhere we look. That fear is nourished by the messages we receive of time running out for something, anything, everything; fear the terror threat, fear the coming rain or snow showers, fear the threat represented by the guy next door, fear the North Koreans, fear the Russians, fear the illegals. What we need to fear is the false teaching in the poor preaching, we need to fear the pulpit politics, we need to fear the bigoted perp patrols.

Stuck somewhere in a learning curve…

We are stuck somewhere in a learning curve. But where? We need to learn to fear our own demise and ignorance thanks to the conflicting and contradicting messages we receive from the media, the poor performance of our education institutions, and the dishonesty and corruption of our political system. Add to that the failure of our Judeo-Christian religious institutions to teach correct doctrine and dogma, and to provide effective preaching in support of implementing doctrine and dogma into our day-to-day lives in furtherance of “happiness” and a “good end.” And it’s no wonder people are despairing and anxious. The only religion that’s growing these days is Islam and our response is to demonize it as a bunch of whacko terrorists. Doesn’t anyone see where this is leading? But then, when I was a kid it was the Roman Catholics and Protestants killing each other. Only the bigotry and creeds have remained the same; only the faces have changed.

Failing religious institutions and religious organizations and institutions are desperately prostituting themselves in a vain attempt simply to survive. But like our cultural and political institutions our religious and faith institutions are appealing to the lowest common denominator in the attempt to get what they can and run with it. It’s not working, people, that’s why you see so many storefront and strip mall micro-churches flooding into the vacuum left by mainstream institutions. Problem is this: the storefront and strip mall micros are just as bad as the movie-theatre or stadium megachurches, because they create their own ideologies, agendas, idolatries and there are plenty of sheeple to participate because they don’t know anything better. Thanks Vatican II and interfaith dialogue, ecumenism. Lights, cameras, action! Worship!

I can speak from personal experience made in a relationship with a monastic community in Northwest New York state, near the Vermont border. The monastic community there is comprised of monks and nuns, both referred to as monastics, mostly lay religious (as opposed to ordained clergy), living in community according to a formal rule of life. Work, prayer, rest. Sounds like the good life, doesn’t it?

The monastery is nestled between mountains on several hundreds of acres of forest and meadow. The buildings are far from the noise of the picturesque local village and the hustle and bustle of the “world.” The work life of the monks and nuns is what supports the monastery and keeps the lights on and food on the table. Support from benefactors, publishing, music, and retreats are icing on the cupcake. Spiritual life is divided into private prayer and liturgy in the beautiful basilica and the small temple church. You’d think they have it all and then some. Their outward appearance is idyllic; what’s going on inside is traumatic.

But writing books, hospitality for retreatants, dog breeding and training, and cheesecakes cannot guarantee survival. You see, just 50 years old in 2016, the monks and nuns are aging and more are dying or leaving than are being recruited. One of the problems is the fact that the bishops, though they support the concept of the monastery, do little to encourage monastic vocations. Why? Because they have a difficult time just recruiting priests for their parishes. Also because of the What’s in it for me? attitude of possible recruits, the consecrated life doesn’t offer much that can compete with the idols of the secular world. Schools and churches just haven’t taught higher values so we end up with materialist consumers who have no concept of spirit; they are virtually spiritually deaf, mute and blind. There’s a certain paradox, contradiction in so much that Christians today claim.

Get the *&%$# of my way. I’ll be late for church!

So where does an organization in decline turn in the desperate attempt to survive a couple of more years? Like the consumer society they live in, they are compelled to sacrifice quality for quantity. Like the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany reports in a recent issue of Sheaf, the official gazette of St Bernard’s School of Ministry and Theology, the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese reports “200 deacons and growing.” When you can’t attract young men to the priesthood you have to attract old men to the diaconate. Numbers not quality count; that’s why the permanent diaconate was revived by the Roman Catholic Church in the 60s to stem the decline in seminary admissions; in many dioceses the diaconate has become a boy’s club, a church country club, an organization of narcisistic logrollers. “My dad the deacon.” “My son the deacon.” “My wife, Mrs Deacon!”

Deacon Chic Coming Soon to Your Parish!

The Episcopal church has been ordaining “women” for decades; many (mostly gender ambiguous specimens) in the RC church are advocating ordaining women deacons and the reasonable expected consequence of this slippery slope is women priests! When does this comedy of errors, this farce stop? [Editor’s note: For those of our readers with limited vocabularies, a comedy of errors is a related series of amusing or farcical events involving a series of awkward missteps or other mistakes.]

Clergy or Special Ed Class?

In the 13th century, in about 1221, St Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order, decided that there were many lay persons unable to join a monastery or live in a religious community, who were being left out of the Franciscan experience. He founded the so-called Third Order in addition to the First Order (the Franciscan Friars) and the Second Order (the Poor Claires). The Third Order has been around for almost 800 years now, and was thriving until recently, and it too is dwindling. The Third Order, like the First and Second Orders, is geriatric and dependent on an institutional walker. Even with the approval of the New Rule for the Third Order by Pope Paul VI in his Seraphicus Patriarcha, the Third Order is turning senile. Like so many once bustling religious orders, the Renewal of the Roman Catholic Church backfired, and now the main activity of the Franciscans is competing with the Evangelicals in the Third World or selling off Franciscan properties in the First and Second World, or burying dead Franciscans in this world. The Third Order is generally made up of old women, a few middle aged men, and some hyperpious (sociopathic) young adults. We can see where that’s going. You guessed it! They’re the one’s swinging the rosary beads in front of the abortion clinics and in front of state capitols, providing rich entertainment for the studs and trollops on their way to the hourly rate hotel around the corner.

OK. But can someone tell me how this works? How about you, Father?

More recently, the monastery I was discussing above, having had a previous community of married persons called “Companions” for some thirty years (1983-2014), until they either died or went off to nursing homes, decided that the monastic community had to generate some sort of alternative resource to support the monastery. Once the last Companion was shipped off either to the nursing home or to the cemetery, the building formerly occupied by the Companions was renovated and turned into a rather nice “guest house” where, for a “donation” of $80.00 a night, visitors to the monastery can stay. What the monastery did was to re-invent the “Companions,” who were originally married couples who lived together in an almost monastic community on the monastery grounds, and observed a life rule, and opened the new “Companions” to all faiths, all people who wanted to be “formally connected with the [redacted] monastery” and “deepen their spiritual lives.” The officially adopted and published rule of the new “Companions” calls them a “fellowship of lay people.” One of the purposes of the “Companions” is to “grow in wisdom” and to “understand the mystery of God.” If you haven’t caught some of the contradictions and inconsistencies in this, we’ll point them out to you below.

The Franciscan Third Order Cross.
(We did not have access to the Companions “distinctive cross” at this writing.)

Why become a member of this new “Companions” group? Well, according to the promo put out by the monastery, “They follow a realistic rule of life, wear a distinctive cross, have access to web resources dedicated specifically to the Companions, and help support the spiritual mission of “[redacted]. If all that sounds impressive, it’s not. Any adherent to any faith or belief tradition follows a “realistic rule of life”; “good”, that is, authentic Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. all incorporate some sort of prayerful piety in their daily lives. Oh! You get to wear a “distinctive cross” by purchasing it for about $69.00. That’s nice but a name tag engraved on an attractive plastic plate would serve just as well as an announcement that: “Hey, look at me! I’m a member of a distinctive group and you’re not!” Didn’t we just note that narcissism is a form of idolatry? Isn’t this a form of pride, a lack of humility? Does the Cross have to be “distinctive”? Sounds like a Pharisee to me. Having access “web resources dedicated specifically to the Companions” is touted as another of the membership perks. We’d rather not comment on that one but if falls short of expectations, we hear.

Let’s face the facts: The monastery may be facing annihilation over the longer term if it doesn’t (1) come up with some sort of recruitment scheme for the long-term future of the community, and (2) come up with some sort of outside “support for its mission,” which translates into people who are able and willing to give in support of the community before it has to start selling off acreage. The old “Companions” committed their lives and fortunes to the monastic community; they’re gone now and so, too, probably are their fortunes. We expect that the monastery is looking to the new “Companions” to pick up some of the slack.

And this is how it’s gonna be!

Our study of the new “Companions” and its format would indicate that as an institution it doesn’t promise much. It’s too loosely organized, there are no real commitments, everything is pretty lackadaisical in terms of governance – or dictatorial, since one of the monks is the sole director and calls all of the shots. The members are scattered all over the place, so it will be difficult to convene them for any sort of gathering. There are no financial commitments such as dues and the monastery doesn’t offer discounts or financial incentives specifically for Companions so there’s no actual money coming in apart from the odd donation, and no reason for Companions to support monastery funds generation through purchases or participation in for-fee (Oops! I mean to say, “donation.” That’s church jargon for you pay a fee but they don’t pay a tax for the “gift.”)

We have heard that the director of the companions wants to organize a retreat this year for “Companions” at the monastery but that is getting lukewarm reception from “Companions.” Wonder Why?

If the new Companions were organized as a more local group, they would be similar to a parish confraternity, and their numbers would be strictly limited to locals who participate in the parish or church community. To get numbers you have to appeal to a wider geographical coverage, like the entire state or country. But the monastery’s denomination is not even mainstream. Yes, it’s Christian, and that poses a problem right from the get go, but it’s also a very minority Christian denomination. But realistically, of all the obstacles, challenges and problems facing the Companions is the reality that being a Companion doesn’t offer anything particularly special that can’t be gotten by anyone walking through the monastery doors. Excuse me, for I have erred! There is one thing that is reserved for Companions only: the “distinctive cross.” A special design only for Companions, and only one per Companion, please. Available only through the monastery online store for $69.00. Now doesn’t that make you feel special?

A major theme was discussed by the monastics in various meetings before the Companion program was formally started…

We’ve obtained information from one of the Companions, an email from the Director, forwarded to us for information. Apparently there was some back-and-forth among the Companions about the proposed undecided retreat date, and the Director, apparently a bit pissed, but his response is interesting. He states in his email that, “[t]he Companion Rule talks about a fellowship with [redacted monastery], this fellowship is with the individual Companion and the monastics of [redacted].” This means that the fellowship is not between the individual Companion and the other Companions and the monastics of the monastery; rather it is between the individual Companion and the monastics! The director says further that this was a “major theme discussed by the monastics in various meetings before the Companion program was formally started.” Too bad the people aspiring to be Companions are not clairvoyant or mind-readers because the Rule is not clear on this point! He points out rather clearly that the Companions are not obligated to “share…with other Companions,” “that if Companions want to reach out to other Companions” they can do so of their own “free will” (But why would it be otherwise, we ask?), and emphasizes that “participation with other companions is voluntary.” That’s all very nice but where’s the bloody companionship in the Companions?

Tell me! What will the monastics decide?

We are informed that in an introductory letter to Companions, the Director states that the principal and only form of communication used by Companions central will be online. Sound a bit exclusionist? But in the more recent communication he goes on to say that although they might have computers and be connected to the [i]nternet [sic; recte Internet] “Companions do not need to be ‘shamed’ if they do not post comments on the Companion forum.” It seems to us that by definition, communication is a key word in companionship. If the Internet is the primary mode of communication and the Companion Forum is the designated place for Companions, why don’t they communicate? The do, but behind the scenes, sometimes in confidential ambush. But this is not uncommon practice in religious institutions. Much is done in secret and much done in secret is evil.

As for the “retreat date,” the Director writes: “[I]t will be up to the monks and nuns of [redacted] to set the date…the same would apply if held off campus because the mosastics must have the free time to offer a retreat.” So much for a Companions’ retreat. Question: Who’s the retreat supposed to be for?

Still in the learning curve. But where?

What’s really disturbing is that the Director writes, “[t]he monastics are still within the “learning curve” of the Companion program.” We have learned that there have already been a number of casualties among the Companions due to the “learning curve.” If this so-called Companions group purports to offer so many significant benefits, how can they achieve these under the current conditions and in the midst of a learning crisis? Please don’t call us, we’ll call you. By the way, let us know when you’ve gotten past milestone (3) of the “learning curve.”

Fellowship

Just a final word on fellowship and companionship

Just a final word on fellowship and companionship for those who are interested. We do hope that members of religious communities of any tradition, and especially the Companions get to read and reflect on this: [Editor’s note: While we do use as our authorities excerpts from Christian Scripture, parallel concepts with substantial identical meaning can be found in any of the great belief traditions. Anyone familiar with the sacred texts of those traditions will have no difficulty identifying those similarities.]

The Greek word  “fellowship” κοινωνία (koinónia) as it occurs in the Christian Second [New] Testament means essentially a partnership, joint participation, communion to the mutual benefit of those involved. Christian fellowship, then, is the mutually beneficial relationship between persons of common interest or belief. We believe that Christians can have the identical fellowhip relationship with those outside the Christian tradition. So we’re OK with the use of fellowship in the Companions Rule, if that’s what is meant. We don’t think it is clear in the Rule, though. First DING.

The mystery and privilege that is human fellowship is that it exists because it has been enabled it by Divine grace. Those who believe the Christian Gospel are united in the Spirit through Christ to the Father, and that participation is the basis of what we generally tend to call fellowship, a first step to companionship. This special relationship confirmed by Jesus in his high-priestly prayer:

“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23).

The phrase translated by “complete unity” in this prayer is the oneness that believers seek to experience in true communion —companionship — with another, and by extension, with the triune God.

If the ground is fertile for fellowship, it will grow naturally, because it’s natural for human beings to want to be around people similar to themselves and, in time, one finds one’s self desiring, seeking out, and cultivating the companionship of people who subscribe to similar beliefs and values. As a member of a faith or belief community one’s beliefs, traditions and values may be countercultural, that is, they be in stark contrast to the world around you. That’s one of the reasons why for fellowship in relationship with persons with whom we can share, relate, converse is a very important gift.

Whether one is of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, the lessons we can learn about fellowship are condensed in the Christian pastoral letters to the Philippians. Here are some of the lessons we can learn about true fellowship and that it means:

  • praying for one another (1:3, 4)
  • serving God together (1:5, 7)
  • partaking together of God’s grace (1:7)
  • trusting in God’s sovereign working in one another (1:6)
  • heartfelt affection for one another (1:8)

Our prayers should not, in our opinion, be constantly begging for something other than what we face. We should pray that we have the strength to accept what is happening to us as God’s love for us; we should not pray that the situation change but that we be changed by the situation. This is the basis of hope: accepting the moment in anticipation of a positive outcome. We should reflect on Paul’s prayer at Philippians 1:9-11 (paraphrased):

‘And I pray this, that our love may abound even more and more in knowledge and every kind of insight so that we can decide what is best, and thus be sincere and blameless for the day of reckoning, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through virtue to the glory and praise of God.’

So where does companionship fit in this scheme of relationship living? Companionship in the Second Testament has a very specific meaning as opposed to the concept of fellowship.

The original concept of companion, as we read it, has to do with journeying together (Gk  συνοδία (sunodia) — a journey together), or to receive or give access to one’s self (Gk. προσδέχομαι (prosdechomai), both involving the prefix σύν (syn), indicating the notion of being with, together with, in union, in communion. Companions are further described as σύντροφος (syntrophos) used to mean “nourished by” or in the sense of a foster-brother, brought up with; one’s companion. Other words translated as companion express the notion of accompaniment such as περιάγω (periagó) — to lead around or take around as a companion) or παραλαμβάνω (paralambanó) meaning to take along with oneself, to join to oneself to, to companion.

It seems that companionship is a relationship in which the participants emphasize achieving an almost profound intimacy with each other through individual growth and self-actualization and excellent communication sharing so that their best spiritual and temporal fruits can be harvested. Companionship implies a relationship characterized by its closeness, and is more intimate than fellowship. Shared culture, tradition and values can be the basis of sincere fellowship but companionship requires the willingness and capability of going even deeper, and requires a higher degree of development of self-awareness, self-reflection, authenticity, commitment.

Companionship involves trust, vulnerability; not sameness.

To be companions, we don’t have to be clones of one another. Likewise, the responsibilities and vulnerabilities increase with companionship, and the companion must anticipate some of the challenges. Companionship goes beyond fellowship in its requisite attention to forgiveness, reconciliation and genuine presence. Companionship adds to the definition of love the aspect of sacrifice of one’s own interests to nurture the spiritual growth of others.

Companionship may be thought of as a form of fellowship but companionship is built upon interchange or communication, and communion, that is, a closeness that exists among companions, those closely associated with one another in virtue of a life rule or standards to which they are committed and hold in common. The key in companionship is communication and the focus concepts that describe companionship are interchange, communion, sharing, dialogue. Communication means sharing reflections, perceptions, ideas, information, needs, support, resources, gifts, using words or other symbols, dedication of time and treasure, being accessible and present, or even body language and actions so that all members of the relationship understand these to be expressions of one’s commitment to the community of companions.

Unless we have chosen to forsake all that is society and isolate ourselves from any contact with human beings, and choose to escape human community by living in isolation in some remote wasteland, we live in a society. Living in a society means that we live in close interaction with other human beings, and that the interaction will necessarily fluctuate between pleasure and pain. We have to navigate the testy waters of human relationships each moment of each day; we have to tread water or drown. Again, Holy Scripture teaches us something about what to do when we feel that our space has been violated.

In companionship there is also vulnerability, and vulnerability can often lead to suffering, even if only unintentionally inflicted. Ancient wisdom teaches that “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” (Prov. 19:11) To overlook an offense means to be able to understand what might have caused a person to offend you and to let it go. Christians generally believe that they are adopted members of the family of God and fellow members of the body of Christ. (e.g., 1 Co. 12:27; Rom 12:5; Eph 4:25)

Companions are Soul-Friends

Communication, accompaniment, forgiveness and reconciliation are the hallmarks of true companionship. If you are companions on a journey why would you vex your companion, and if you are aware you have offended your companion, you would likely go to great lengths ask forgiveness and obtain reconciliation. “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 18:23-24). We think that is a profound statement on companionship and the intimacy and communication that is seminal to the concept of being a companion.

And, of course, we do recite a familiar passage in our daily prayers, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Regrettably, in our materialist-consumerism, in the political and social climate of today, we are really poor losers. Rather than practice the principles of our faith and belief traditions, the precepts of our institutions, and our true nature, we’d rather ambush, deceive, misinform, simply flick the bird to those who should be our companions on the journey of life. This is equally true for individuals as it is for our organizations and our institutions. We are on a slippery slope, a situation in which a relatively small and well-intentioned first step leads to a chain of related events culminating in some significant, usually unintended or negative effect.

Companions Together.
See beyond the monkey.


Get it Right the First Time…Hire a Bereavement Chaplain!


The subject of clergy involvement in the funeral or memorial service comes up again and again. Most people feel that spiritual or religious content is very important in the funeral or memorial service, and I agree. I can’t even start to count the number of families who start off the conversation with me with something like, “He used to go to church but stopped going” or “She wasn’t a churchgoer but she did believe in God and prayed.” My question, sometimes asked aloud, is “Why is that important?” I ask that question because I do not feel that a person’s spirituality or sense of a transcendent God is determined by how often one sees the inside of a church, or whether the individual wears his or her faith on their sleeve, or quotes chapter and verse with every breath. In fact, I’m sometimes very suspicious of such people and smell hypocrisy in much of that behavior. Your essential and core spirituality is how you live your life, and that’s what I as a professional bereavement chaplain explore in my meetings with the bereaved when planning the funeral or memorial service.

I frequently get involved because the bereaved do not want “clergy” involved because they’ve been wounded by their “clergy” or the faith tradition represented by their clergy. The ineffectualism of mainstream clergy is a whole discussion on its own, however, but let’s just say a few words about it. “Clergy” as used in the non-clergy community means anyone who provides some sort of pastoral service, or anyone who has some sort of leadership role in a religious congregation. “Ordination” is a canonical or legal term that means that the particular person is approved by a particular denomination to provide pastoral care to that specific denomination. Regrettably, adhering to the rules of that denomination may not provide much relief of the suffering experienced by the bereaved; it may have just the opposite effect, leaving them with a sense of emptiness and loneliness, and asking the question, What was that all about?!? But it doesn’t have to be that way and shouldn’t be that way. Spirituality and meaning-making is quite different from religion and religious doctrines and notions of popular piety.

Don’t Let This Happen To You! Get Personal!

In all honesty and fairness, and in my personal experience, clergy is not really what it’s hyped up to be. In fact, clergy tend to deliver the most boring, impersonal, and unsatisfying services imaginable. While there are good reasons for the deficient performance, a lot of the blame should be placed on the funeral home’s hands-off spirituality attitudes, and their failure to provide reliable recommendations to the bereaved. Simply handing the bereaved a clergy list at the arrangements conference is a bit irresponsible. What’s worse still is if a funeral director or funeral home staffer attempts to play chaplain and deliver some insincere “words of comfort” or preside over a prayer vigil. It’s generally like the plumber doing the catering.

Where was I? What’s his name? Where am I?

Even considering the ignorance of many funeral services professionals regarding the psychospirituality of funeralization rites and ritual, calling an individual a clergyperson can be very misleading. First of all, only the mainstream denominations really have an “educated” clergy; that means attending a seminary or seminary college, assuring that the “seminarian” is properly indoctrinated. Most other non-mainstream, storefront or megachurch, clergy may have attended a so-called Bible college or something like that. Basically all that is is a glorified Sunday school for adults. There are many problems associated with both mainstream and non-mainstream clergy. First of all, most are poorly trained in handling existential crises like death and its sequellae grieving, mourning, healing, transformation, and will turn to their denomination’s religious teachings, their doctrines, first, since that’s all they have. Secondly, they don’t have the necessary training or education in death, dying, grief and mourning. Thirdly, they lack interfaith, intercultural training to be able to understand the cultural dynamics that occur in the particular family system. Fourthly, they very rarely take the time to get to know the deceased, much less the key mourners and the family in general. Fifthly, most clergy do not understand the importance of continuing bonds of the living with the dead. In fact, most have a rather antiquated Freudian approach of the need to cut any continuing bond with the dead and replace the bond with something else. That’s a very psychospiritually unhealthy attitude indeed. And last but certainly not least, since I could go on with this list, most clergy have parishes or congregations to run and can’t really provide the kind of service or care required for funeralization and aftercare. The result is what I call the cookie-cutter service with all of its failures and insincerity. The clergyperson, a priest, minister, deacon, or layperson – sometimes, embarrassingly, even the funeral director – steps up at the appointed time, opens a book or recites a formulaic prayer, and it’s all done and over.

Let’s do a prayer now. OK. We’re done.

Sometimes there’s the de rigueur church service that’s all but meaningless to most attendees and represents only an additional expense (can approach more than $600 in some cases). Practically and theologically, the dead are in God’s hands, there’s little the living can do to change things, despite what the minister or priest may preach. Most of these characters are mere sock-puppets anyway, ventriloquist’s dummies.

For all of the reasons given in the above, the best choice for the spiritual or religious care of the bereaved is, believe it or not, the experienced bereavement chaplain. An experienced bereavement chaplain is a specialist in dying, death, psychospiritual care, and aftercare. The experienced bereavement chaplain is not only trained in the disciplines relating to interfaith practices, rite and rituals associated with death, psychology and spirituality of dying, death, and survivors, technology of deathcare, and much, much more that is of essential benefit to the dying and to survivors. No funeral director and no denominational clergy can offer the scope and depth of services that the interfaith bereavement chaplain can offer.

It’s the scope and depth of expertise of the interfaith bereavement chaplain that make him or her the go-to when a family is faced with the dying process, death and deathcare, grief and survivor care. It’s that expertise that makes the interfaith bereavement chaplain an essential member of the care team at all phases of the bereavement process. The professional interfaith bereavement chaplain does what neither the funeral director nor the cookie-cutter clergyperson can do: the chaplain makes death a meaningful and survivable experience.

When a family considers spending $2000 to more than $10000 on a casket alone, or when the family opts for an economical funeral package of say on average $3,000-5,000 does it really make sense to do without an essential service costing a mere $200-300, in most cases less than 5 % of the total cost of the funeral? When survivors consider spending up to $800 on embalming which won’t last more than a couple or days or a maximum of a couple of weeks before decomposition sets in, and embalming is not even required by law in the majority of situations, even when there’s a viewing planned. Why would any family not request the services of a professional interfaith bereavement chaplain with all of the long-term benefits to the survivors socially, psychologically, politically, spiritually that are associated with dignified funeral rites and rituals, and aftercare by a deathcare specialist? You’ll consider several hundreds of dollars for unnecessary embalming, several thousands for a casket, a couple of thousand for a vault, but will go cheapo when it comes to dignified, personalized, meaningful spiritual care? Go figure!

I personally serve the Albany-Rensselaer-Schenectady-Greene counties region in New York state, and have been requested by families in the New York City area for special services, but this blog is read internationally. Given that this blog attracts an international audience, I would like to provide some very general recommendations taken from my local practice, which can be applied to most North American and European regions with little or no adjustment for local conditions. Here is how I practice and what I recommend for families, survivors, and others involved in deathcare:

  • As soon as it becomes obvious that a death is about to occur, whether hours or days, contact a professional interfaith bereavement chaplain. Please note that denominational clergy have their place if the dying person has had a personal relationship with the clergyperson or was active in a faith community. Please note further that hospital chaplains are OK for certain interventions but their competencies are mostly restricted to the hospital setting. Hospice chaplains, too, have their place but are agenda and program driven, and have limited effectiveness outside of the hospice setting.
  • If the person is in the process of dying, you may want to ask for presence or companionship during the dying process. This presence/ companioning can be for those around the dying person as well as for the dying person. If this presence / companioning is to be provided in an institution such as a nursing home, hospital, or hospice, an institutional chaplain may be available, and the interfaith bereavement chaplain will coordinate care visits with the institutional chaplain(s). Nevertheless, when death is imminent, it may be helpful to have your interfaith bereavement chaplain present for the dying person and for the family. Consider the options carefully.
  • Make an appointment to meet with the interfaith bereavement chaplain to discuss your situation. The chaplain will listen attentively and will hear what you need even before you know it. It’s important that you hear what the chaplain has to say, and to share your interpretations with him or her. You should be doing most of the talking during this initial meeting; if the chaplain does most of the talking or interrupts, he or she may not be the ideal choice. Try again. Only after you have explained your situation and the chaplain has had an opportunity to ask some important, brief questions seeking a better understanding, should he or she start making any recommendations.
  • Once the person has died, you may want the chaplain to remain with the body until the funeral home sends a care to take charge of the body. I do this out of respect for the family and to ensure that they know the body will be watched over. This is very important in the initial hours following a death. The bereavement chaplain is also an advocate for the family if the family wants to spend more time with the body.
  • Once you have established a rapport and trust with the chaplain, and if you haven’t already given your funeral director the chaplain’s name, contact details, and the information that you have spoken to the chaplain, you should do that when you make the initial call to the funeral home for removal of the body. Inform your funeral director that you’d like the funeral director to contact the chaplain to discuss the arrangements made and any details if the chaplain is going to do the funeral for you. You may want to ask the chaplain to be present during the arrangements meeting with the funeral director. I find that families are less stressed if I am present.
  • Be sure to discuss aftercare with the chaplain. You should ask about regular contacts with the chaplain for at least the first year after the death. He or she should be available on what are called trigger dates (birthdays, holidays, special dates) when grief may be particularly noticeable, or if you find you need some help in getting through a particular day. The chaplain will likely have discussed grief and grieving with you so that you know what to expect. That discussion is standard practice during my initial meeting with the family.
  • Remember always, that the interfaith bereavement chaplain may be your independent choice or you may receive a recommendation from the funeral home you choose. Do not accept a mere list of clergypersons. You want an interfaith bereavement chaplain. If the funeral home does not have one on call or on staff, maybe it’s time to find another funeral home that can provide a complete range of services.
  • Beware of the funeral home chains and factory funeral homes. Their sole interest is in their bottom line and their shareholders; you are just a consumer to them. You’ll find chain funeral homes and factory funeral homes almost everywhere. I call them Walmart-funerals, because they are there to sell you everything because that’s what they do; they sell funeral goods and services. What you need is deathcare services not a sales pitch and a huge bill.
  • The worst time to do any of the above is when a death occurs. I usually counsel my clients not to make any major decisions for at least 6 months to 1 year after the death but now you have to make some major decisions within hours of the death. It’s an incredibly confusing and draining expereince. That’s why I unconditionally recommend that you really should seriously make pre-arrangements so that when a death occurs, you can deal with the grief you will experience, and will have everything else under control. We highly recommend advance directives and pre-arrangements. We also recommend having an interfaith bereavement chaplain present when discussing and finalizing both advance directives and pre-arrangements. You many know what you want but it’s always good to have an impartial presence who can do some impartial thinking.

In upcoming articles I will be discussing the importance of revival of traditional funeral rituals and why they are so important to the living. As a sequel to the discussion about traditional funeral and memorial rituals, I’ll share with you why the family’s participation is so very important, and how we can personalize the rituals and ceremony so that they have lasting psychospiritual benefit for you. I’ll also be writing about continuing our bonds with the dead and why it’s normal and healthy to do that.

But in the meantime, if you have any specific questions or would like more information, please contact me directly at compassionate.care.associates@gmail.com. I’ll be pleased to help in whatever way I can.

Peace and blessings,
Rev. Ch. Harold Vadney

 

 

 


Several Blogs Take up The Ministry Slack


danger wrong wayThe era in which we now live has been called many things, including post-modern and even post-Christian. Perhaps that’s true, and perhaps we, especially we Americans, are the authors of our own crises.

If it isn’t happy-happy, a pseudo-love fest, shiny, new, attractive, or electronic, we deny it or dispose of it. Just like we do to our once-venerated elderly. Just like we do to our once reverenced dead.

The last nature we will control is our own human nature and then we shall have destroyed humankind as we know it. (C.S. Lewis, Abolition of Man)

As C.S. Lewis writes in his Abolition of Man, we have gone from stewards to controllers to destroyers of Nature. As C.S. Lewis writes, we were once stewards of Nature, and then we strove and are striving to control Nature. The last nature we will control is our own human nature and then we shall have destroyed humankind as we know it. Humanity will have been abolished. Are we approaching that point now, where, as in C.S. Lewis, we have lost all sense of morality and elect few are making the rules, defining the morality by which we live? We have the great modern prophets but only very few of us read them.

The great age of horror films and modern morality plays on screen have been filed away in the archives of cinematology; they made us think about the unthinkable, our own souls, our fears, our itinerary through life cycles. There was crass exposé but also beauty and elegance. What do we have today but the product of computer algorithms and sound mixing, “entertaining” or rather “distracting” from the real issues and blunting human intelligence and sensuality with a pornography of death, a pornography of violence, and a degradation of the human spirit. You have become a means to the materialist capitalist end; you have become examples of ethics most abhorrent violation: A human being should never become a means to an end. But you say, some of this travesty of humanity does some good. We do some good in the Third World. Blind. Horribly blind. Another ethical principle states that an evil act shall not be used to achieve a good end. We make too many excuses for our bad behaviour and we correct pitifully little. Can we still make a claim to a moral high ground? Do we even remember what the moral high ground is? At what price do we take the post-modern, post-Christian high ground?

“We arrive at the destination without every having experienced the trip.”  (Anthony DeMello, S.J.)

postmodern humanityThe late Jesuit psychiatrist and motivational speaker, Anthony DeMello, described our human condition so aptly in his little parable about the people on a train. DeMello: “We are like people riding on a train to a final destination. The train is passing through some breathtakingly beautiful scenery but we have the shades drawn on the windows and don’t appreciate what’s outside of the car. We are all very busy arguing and discussing what we will do when we arrive, and who will be in charge. We arrive at the destination without every having experienced the trip.” We’re too busy doing and not being, no living.

I am a professional bereavement chaplain, a thanatologist. I deal with the dead, both the reposing and the walking ones. I see firsthand how shallow, lost, afraid people are when faced with mystery. I also see how institutionalized religion has failed them. Religion has failed them in the past because it attempted to use spurious and unconscionable means to control the faithful by fear, ignorance, and coercion. In today’s world, institutionalized religion attempts to control by more insidious means, more hypocritical means. Relativism has entered the Church through a small crack, just as Paul VI warned about the liturgical reforms instituted by Vatican II, “The smoke of Satan has entered the Temple through a small crack.”  We are paying a steep spiritual price for trying to renew something that is not in need of renovation.

In his masterwork, The Space of Death, Jean Ragon quotes Jean Ziegler (Les Vivants et la Mort, 1975), “The dead are human beings who have ceased to function…They no longer produce or consume.” How poignant. How thought-provoking. Ragon continues in his chapter on “Functionalism and Death”:

“The men of the Renaissance and the classical age saw the human body as architecture; the men of our industrial civilization tend rather to compare it to a machine; a machine which wears out, parts of which may be replaced, and which one day will become unusable.”

needleIn 1969, in Great Britain, a bill was proposed intended to legalize social euthanesia on the grounds that no useful purpose was served by prolonging human life beyond a certain age. The legislators fixed the “useful age” at eighty. Think of it this way: the post-modern elites will brainwash you from age 5 to 17 or 18, impoverish you by “educating” you from 18-24, use you until age 65, then retire you until age 80. At 80 you get the needle. Nice? The bill may not have passed in 1969, but in 1970 the English translation of the Vatican II documents were completed and reached the English-speaking world. Spiritual euthanesia followed. After spiritual euthanesia, moral and political depravity followed: we have abortion, even partial-birth abortion; we have been stuck with the biomedical model of health and healthcare for more than 100 years; we have assisted suicide in which even physicians participate; we are ruled by a corporate elite; we have been insidiously desensitized, dehumanized, blunted. Relativism has become our guiding light.

In the mid-19th century Friedrich Nietsche announced that “God is dead.” A new god had to be created. A race of superhumans would arise to create that god and to rule over the masses. Guess what?

Where have we left our children?

Where have we left our children?

As a thanatologist I can freely say that for most, their flavor of a god is either dead or dying. I can include the general pubic as well as clergy in that statement. We no longer have a model of morality or saintliness. Even popes have become politicians … wait, did I write “have become?” Mea culpa!

By denying the destination we deny the journey; by denying death, we deny life.

We need to throw open the shades on our train and take in the landscape through which we are passing…before it’s too late.  for many of my readers, they’ve already missed most of it and for some, well, they’re already detraining. We are conceived in sleep, we are born in sleep, we go through life asleep and we die…ASLEEP. By denying the destination we deny the journey; by denying death, we deny life.

That’s why I’d like to encourage you, my dear readers, to visit the Thanatology Café resource.
A New Feature: Articles and Essays
skulls

Learn More about Death and Dying.

I am Principal Facilitator at Thanatology Café and I write about a number of subjects relating to death, dying, grief, and the funeral services profession. Published on several blogs these articles have stimulated interest among people who never thought they’d be talking about the dread subject of death, and those readers and participants in local Thanatology Cafés have asked for more about the subject of thanatology; so many readers have requested copies of “the Chaplain’s” essays and articles;  responding to every individual request has been quite a task. To make it easier for anyone interested in reading my essays and articles (my homilies are published on Homiletics and Spiritual Care), I’ve decided to create an online page on the Thanatology Café blog, where you can click on the essay title and either read the article online or download it. It’s that easy!

The article “Interfaith Bereavement Chaplain — An Essential Asset” is actually an article written for the benefit of funeral homes and funeral directors, and gives them a good talking-to about how they are failing to provide the bereaved with essential grief services and aftercare. It’s a must read if you are going to make pre-arrangements or are making arrangements for a loved one. Local funeral homes like Babcock Funeral Home (Ravena), especially (!) with their expensive and shoddy services, and A.J. Cunningham (Greenville and Ravena), the Capital District’s very own “factory funeral home”, Newcomer Funeral Home, could learn a lot from that articel.

deathThe article, “Why is Funeralization Desirable and Necessary” is directed more to the consumer than to the funeral director, although funeral directors could benefit considerably from this article. It focuses mainly on the benefits of the traditional funeral for survivors and mourners. It’s a must-read for anyone who is or will be involved in funeral arrangements — that means everyone!

One of the most interesting articles is “Plain Talk About Cremation,” which is a real eye-opener for anyone considering cremation as a final disposition of their mortal remains.

Those articles and more are available on the Thanatology Cafe Blog page, “Articles & Essays.”

Click this link to go directly to New Feature: Articles and Essays.

As soon as we have it, we’ll also be publishing the September and October Thanatology Café program for the RCS area. Stay tuned and stay informed! That’s the best place to talk about death, dying, grief, mourning and other death-related topics.

Please let me know how you like “the Chaplain’s” new service.

Happy reading! The Editor

Happy reading!
The Editor

Source: A New Feature: Articles and Essays

Other blogs by the Chaplain include:

 


Thanatology Café: Where the conversation is about death.


Church and clergy have fallen flat on their faces when it comes to supporting the bereaved in their difficult moments of loss. Scripted, cookie-cutter rituals and services, bland remarks, formulaic prayers all serve to leave the bereaved high-and-dry at a time when they need empathy and presence. A new opportunity for bereavement ministry is being offered in a unique program called Thanatology Café.

Thanatology Café: Where the conversation is about death, is being launched in Ravena, at the RCS Community library, 95 Main Street, Ravena, New York.

Be sure to mark the date: Saturday, April 9, 2016, 2-4 p.m. The program starts promptly at 2:00 p.m. so don’t be late. There will be light refreshments.

The organizers do ask that you sign up at the RCS Community Library using the sign-up sheets available there. You can also sign up at thanatology.cafe@gmail.com. When you sign up via email, you’ll receive an initial registration form that you should fill out and bring with you to the program on April 9.

What is Thanatology Café?

We thought you’d never ask!

joke's over


Thanatology: [than-uh-tol-uh-jee] the study of death and dying, and bereavement, especially the study of ways to understand the coping mechanisms, meaning-making, transcendence and transformation to support the bereaved and mourners, and to lessen suffering and address the needs of the dying and their survivors.


It’s a  totally unique program and it’s called

Thanatology Café.

It’s a place where anyone can come in and talk about their thoughts, concerns, and interests centering on death and dying, bereavement, grief, society and death, spirituality and death, the death industry, our responsibilities as human beings who will die some day.

Thanatology Café is a safe place to talk about the ultimate mystery and to share thoughts and concerns about death and dying. It’s a place where you won’t be judged, no agenda will try to convert you or attempt to sell you something. It’s neutral ground, a sacred space where you can open your heart and mind to benefit everyone.

Thanatology Café will also be a source of valuable information from professionals who work in the field of death and dying. The program will include speakers, presenters, or even a film for discussion. But most of the time it will simply be a place to freely express ideas and thoughts, to share with the entire group or in smaller groups working off their own energies, monitored by a facilitator.

Thanatology Café is going to be offered in at least four counties: Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Greene to start. Since community libraries are centers for education and information and are central to most communities, the organizers will be holding the regular monthly sessions in community libraries throughout the area. There will also be other sessions for special interests or to organize special events like tours etc. to historic sites. One such site is Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, where Uncle Sam is buried along with a slew of other historic figures. But the crematorium chapel is a must see and TC is working on a tour for sometime in May or June 2016.

Thanatology Café is an important resource for first responders, church bereavement groups, bereavement ministries, and even funeral directors (TC will host several presentations by funeral directors with Q&A sessions).

Thanatology Café is for everyone and the invitation is open to anyone who needs or wants to talk about death, dying, grief, mourning, spirituality, traditions and superstitions, the funeral business. The field and conversation is wide open. Only the participants will decide.

Click the link to visit the Thanatology Café blog.

Don't be one. Join us at Thanatology Café on April 9th, RCS Community Library. The Editor

Don’t be one. Join us at Thanatology Café on April 9th, RCS Community Library.

The Editor


Why was a Pakistani Franciscan Moved from Pakistan to Troy, New York?


We’ve already written an exposé report about the St Anthony of Padua parish in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York, under the pastoral authority of bishop Edward Scharfenberger, but the questions keep coming; no answers, just questions.

Why did Franciscan brother Phillip Hira desert his Pakistani brothers and sisters?

Why did Franciscan brother Phillip Hira desert his Pakistani brothers and sisters?

Our first reportage on that parish was to report the scandal of its pastor, Mario Julian, who in lieu of a homily played a popular Christmas song, “So this is Christmas.” That was a gross violation of Roman Catholic doctrine and teaching with regard the homily. Yes, it was a scandal but we’ve already reported on that scandal so we won’t waste anymore time beating a dead hippo.

Mario Julian allegedly recently had bariatric surgery, stomach reduction surgery, and we hope he has had a good recovery; his parish is likely to have a much slower, less favorable recovery from Julian’s incompetence.

We did read with some interest the biography of Julian’s parish assistant, Franciscan lay brother Philip Hira. Hira was born in Lahore, Pakistan, in 1952. Hira received all of his education and religious formation in Pakistan, and spent most of his entire adult life in Pakistan.

Hira came to the United States in 2006.

Julian & Hira

Julian & Hira

According to his biography on the St Anthony of Padua parish website, Hira has completed 4 units (years) of clinical pastoral education (internship of 1 day a week for a year  =  1 CPE unit). This means that Hira has spent at least 4 years at Albany Medical Center as a chaplaincy intern. Clinical pastoral education interns pay about $700 a year to work at the hospital as pastoral care providers to patients while learning the ropes of pastoral care (Yes! The patients are exposed to amateurs). That means that someone is paying $700 a year for Hira’s education at Albany Medical Center, and AMC is receiving those services for nothing!

Reading a bit further, we learn that Hira is serving as a “volunteer”, that is, unpaid, chaplain at Albany Medical Center Hospital and at St Mary’s Hospital in Troy. We find that this unpaid activity at local hospitals is a bit suspicious, considering the fact that Hira is supposed to be serving the St Anthony of Padua parish in Troy, under the questionable supervision of Mario Julian.

Hira expects to be “certified”as a Catholic chaplain, but we don’t see how that’s going to happen in the near future, since that will require continuing education and certification procedures, which, for a chaplain, are totally unnecessary. That sort of activity takes Hira away from his parish duties, if in fact he actually has any.

In a previous article we mentioned that American religious orders have prostituted themselves. This is most clear in the Franciscan order, where Franciscan lay brothers and priests have been farmed out to ailing and understaffed diocesan parishes for years. This has had a very harmful effect on the Franciscan religious communities because when a Franciscan leaves the religious community life, he generally experiences injury to his spirituality. Furthermore, the Franciscans are a religious community with the communal life is an essential part of being Franciscan. Ask yourself what happens to a Franciscan when he lives outside of the community of his Franciscan brothers? Do I have to answer that for you?

 

franciscan missionary union logoFranciscans have traditionally been great missionaries. From the start of the Franciscan order, Franciscans have evangelized the world from Italy to the American West, and from Assisi to, yes, Pakistan.

Pakistan is 96.28 % Muslim, with Christians accounting for 1.59 % of the population, and Hindus 1.60 %. According to the Pew Forum, in the USA Christians represent some 70 % with Catholics representing some 20.8 %. Non-Christian traditions represent a total of a mere 5.9  %, which includes Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Jews! It would appear that Hira’s best work would be done in Pakistan, not in Troy, New York! So, with such a considerable non-Christian population in Pakistan and giving the evangelization and catechization ministry of the Franciscans, we would have to ask both brother Hira and his superiors Why? on earth was he taken from Pakistan and relocated to the United States?

There’s a lot going on in Pakistan involving Christians if we can believe much of the press coming out of the country like “How Christians Survive in Pakistan’s ‘Land of the Pure‘”, where we read:

“The Catholic minority currently lives in fear because of the recent attacks on churches. Sister Pilar admits, “Our apostolate is that of example … We cannot try to convert people directly.”

“Catholics in Pakistan run schools open to everyone, not just Catholics. There, “they receive a good education.” For Christians, having these schools in Pakistan is “a stimulus for us to know our religion better.”

“In fact, years ago there were many illiterate young people; thanks to these schools, the majority of them now receive an education, so Sister Pilar is hopeful.”

If that article is anything to judge by, Hira’s call would be in Pakistan, not Troy, New York! Wouldn’t you agree? Unless Troy’s Pakistani population has skyrocketed in the last 10 years! We’d  have to check the census data…

Moreover, as a parish assistant and chaplain, Hira is by nature Pakistani! He lived his entire life, or at least 54 years of it in Pakistan (born in 1952 and coming to the USA in 2006  =  54 years). So our question is this: How on Earth can you expect someone so steeped in a culture so alien to that of the United States to minister effectively to such a mixed population. Revisiting the statistics for Pakistan we see that Muslims make up 96.28 % of the population versus 0.9 % in the United States; in Pakistan Christians are 1.59 % versus 70 % in the United States. Now where do you think Christian, Catholic missionary, evangelization, catechization work would be needed more? In Pakistan or India, Pakistan’s nextdoor neighbor, or in the United States? Again, we have to ask Hira’s superiors what they had in mind when removing Hira from Pakistan to the United States. Or is there something more sinister in this history other than just plain bad judgment?

Seems that St Anthony of Padua parish is home to a considerable number of nagging questions that beg for answers. It also seems that St Anthony of Padua parish is just one of a considerable number of parishes with some really weird goings on.

Maybe that’s why we think Pope Francis should pay less attention to American politics and more attention to his ailing church, his maverick American bishops, and the organizational and administrative disorder in the church at large.

Perhaps bishop Scharfenberger can answer these questions, since he would be responsible for what is going on at St Anthony of Padua on his (Scharfenberger’s) watch. What do you think?

Abba Silas, Heresiarch

Abba Silas, Heresiarch, Editor


Not Anti-Catholic Sentiment; Just the Truth!


The Roman Catholic church has been steeped in its Roman origins for almost two millennia. Rome was obsessed with order and hierarchies, legalisms and an emperor cult, very similar to the Roman Catholic church.

Not Anti-Catholic Sentiment: Just Examples of RC Indifference & Indiscretion

Like the ancient Roman obsession with order and legalism at the expense of anything like spirituality, the Roman Catholic church today is obsessed with order, including hierarchies, and what is tantamount ot an emperor cult — it has an obsession with secularism.

He sure does like to play 'dress-up' but what does it say about Catholic social teachings on poverty?

He sure does like to play ‘dress-up’ but what does it say about Catholic social teachings on poverty?

If anyone has been present at a Wednesday public audience in St Peter’s square, you’d wonder, “Is this a three-ring circus, a Superbowl homecoming, a Roman triumph? Or is this something to do with idolatry?” Yes, it would make the impression that the Emperor were arriving and the expressions on the pious populace would indicate a certain attitude of awe, even worship of an idol, a man whom they have never met and many have not even come within 100 feet of but whom they embrace as if he were a god. It’s no wonder these poor wretches are labeled superstitious, idolaters.

Has the emperor arrived?

Has the emperor arrived?

The Roman Church has followed a path so different from the Eastern Catholic churches in that while Constantinople was at a peak of resplendence, Rome and the Western Church we a backwater trying to survive the barbarian invasions. The Roman Church was always in politics and nothing much has changed; needless to say, if the Church was in politics it follows reasonably that it was up to its neck in intrigues and hypocrisy, as any Church scholar worth is opinion would have to admit.

Having noted Pope Francis’s hypocrisy in his recent comments about walls and Mr Donald Trump’s questionable Christianity, I received some flack from just a couple of annoyed RC’s — all well meant, I can assure you — but nonetheless making the impression of the defensiveness of the guilty.

I’ve written extensively on popular piety and idolatry of parish priests, and how those priests use and abuse their privileged status. I’ve also written on the ignorance and abuse of parish priests who do as little as possible to extract as much as possible. I’ve also written on the ruthlessness of parish priests who squeeze parishioners for all they can get.

the old-boys’ club called the permanent diaconate

Somewhere along the line, Roman Catholic priests and bishops —I won’t even get started on the old-boys’ club called the permanent diaconate and how that’s been perverted by the privileged few—have lost their sense of spirituality and have turned careerist, just as any corrupt politician does once he’s tasted power. Unlike the Eastern monastics who have retained their deep spirituality and have survived even as counterculturists, Western religious have either prostituted themselves or taken a turn for the secular, at least in appearance.

One apparent Roman Catholic presbyter (a.k.a. priest) admonished me for being anti-Catholic, and disrespectful in my opinions. He may have been correct and I respectfully acknowledged his well-meant opinions. I even thanked him for the charity of his fraternal correction, although there’s nothing anti-Catholic in my writings, it may be an indication of simplistic thinking when some misapprehend my critiques or rather observations to be anti-Catholic diatribe. Anti-Catholic they are not; anti-hypocrisy they are.

One of Fr Louis Guardiola’s remarks on LinkedIn regarding my comments on Francis’ imprudent remarks was that I may not have been familiar with the Roman Church’s teachings on social justice. Of course, Fr Louis could not possibly be aware of the fact that I am very, very familiar with Catholic social teachings from the question of the “morality” of war to the “morality” of poverty, from Leo XIII Rerum Novarum (1891) commenting on the condition of labor and workers, to Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno,  “Forty Years After [Rerum Novarum] (1931) to Mater et Magistra, “On Christianity and Social Progress” (John XXIII, 1961), to Pacem in Terris (“Peace On Earth”) (John XXIII, 1963); Dignitatis Humanae (“On Human Dignity”, a declaration on religious freedom) (Vatican II, 1965); Gaudium et Spes (“On Hope And Joy” a Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) (Vatican II, 1965); Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples) (Paul VI, 1967); Octogesima Adveniens (A Call to Action on the Eightieth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum) (Paul VI, 1971); Justitia In Mundo (“Justice In The World”) (Synod Of Bishops, 1971); Familiaris Consortio (Apostolic Exhortation on the Family) (John Paul II, 1981); Laborem Exercens (On Human Work) (John Paul II, 1987); Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (“On Social Concern”) (John Paul II, 1987); Centisimus Annus (On the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum (John Paul II, 1991); The Challenge Of Peace: God’s Promise And Our Response (U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1983); Economic Justice For All (U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1986), and so many more were required reading and study during my divinity studies. Yes, Fr Louis, I am very, very familiar with the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings on social issues. (For those of my readers who are interested, please see the attached bibliography.)

My concern arises when the church, any church, leaves their familiar island paradises and make sorties out to navigate the perilous waters of secular politics in a world of mind-boggling complexity. My concern arises when a faith leader makes an imprudent statement that can be misconstrued to be an endorsement or a condemnation of a potential foreign leader, especially when that faith leader’s statement can easily be shown to be hypocritical (I think some circles have gotten excess mileage from the palaver of the Vatican’s high walls in response to Mr Trump’s statements on building border walls.) That is the gist of my commentary on Pope Francis’ imprudent statement that Mr Trump is un-Christian. It appears that statement actually backfired on the Supreme Pontiff. Do you wonder?

My critiques of the United States bishops like the ultra-liberal Matthew Clark and Howard Hubbard were in their time welcomed by many concerned Roman Catholics.

The well-wrought points of the illicit practices of parish priests perverting the liturgy and their ignorance of the doctrines regarding the liturgy and homiletics as in my article on one RC priest in the RC diocese of Albany, Mario NAME, and his playing the secular song, “So this is Christmas,” in lieu of a Christmans homily!

Careerist priests with little or no spirituality are anathema

I have pointed out the avariciousness and mercenary attitudes of priests who race to the bedside of the dying elderly to ensure a shot at the estate; those very priests, like Richard Carlino, a Roman Catholic priest doing his unholy mischief at St John the Evangelist RC church in Schenectady, New York, who loves his travels abroad and their fine dining. Careerist priests with little or no spirituality are anathema to me.

At least the heretics and heresiarchs of Church history performed a vital function in raising questions that needed deliberation in solidifying dogma and doctrine. Careerist priests do nothing but scar the Mystical Body.

During one of my pastoral formation years I was in a Maronite parish in Troy, New York, where the small but very pious and dedicated parish community was scandalized by one priest, George Bouchaya, only to be bullied by a monkish priest imported from Lebanon, unable to preach in English, totally ignorant of American culture, only one year after ordination, who specialized in hiding money in a money belt on trips to Lebanon, while packing all sorts of electronic devices and cell phones for distribution in Lebanon. When questioned about this and admonished, he ignored good counsel. Ultimately, he engaged the support of a couple idolaters and his bishop, Gregory Mansour, Maronite bishop of the eparchy of Brooklyn, supported him and his activities. In this case, as in so many other cases, the ignorant parishioners closed their eyes because they wanted to keep their parish. Bouchaya later returned (or was he sent back?) to Lebanon to assume an administrative position at his Lebanese monastery. (Editor’s note: The Maronites are an Eastern Catholic sect native to Lebanon, established by Mar Maron, a Lebanese saint. The Maronite Church is one of the 21 or so Eastern Churches in full communion with Rome.)

Ignorance or indifference of the church’s ministers is one of the problems the RC and other denominations are facing. So many RC’s are disillusioned by the inconsistencies, the uncertainties, the scandals, the indifference of the presbyters, that the RC church is hemorrhaging the faithful; the faithless seem to be hanging in there, after all that’s where all your friends hang out, isn’t it?

Ignorance or indifference of the church’s ministers

We recently reported on one Mario Julian, pastor of St Anthony of Padua RC Church in Troy, New York, who was apparently too busy to prepare a homily for Christmas midnight mass and chose to play a secular Christmas carol instead. If you haven’t already, please read our article: The Outrageous Ignorance: Instead of a Homily a Pop Tune at Christmas!

And Yes! even the Western religious life has gone to hell in a handbasket. We have written extensively on the decline of women’s religious communities and their secular capitalistic, heretical mediocrity. Even the Franciscans have gone awry, prostituting themselves to the diocesans. Mario Julian even has his own Mini-me in his assistant, Franciscan brother Phillip Hira.

Julian & Hira

Julian & Hira

We understand that Mario Julian has recently had bariatric surgery, that is, he’s had his stomach stapled. Catholic social teachings, again.

There is also some similarity between American politicians and the American RC church. If you take, for example, two of the present presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, the former a billionaire who made his money in real estate and the latter (Carson) a Black millionaire surgeon, need one final power trip, a trophy position. That’s the position of POTUS, president of the United States. In many cases, similar things can be observed in the Church in the permanent diaconate, for example, or worse still in the priesthood. One glaring example of personal experience would be the recent ordination of a former equine veterinarian, who was married for several decades, has grown children, but was able to cozy up to ultra-liberal bishop of the RC diocese of Albany, New York, and managed to get himself sent to John XXIII seminary, a seminary for elderly men who want to become priests, that is, men who have amassed enough money and influence to be sent by their bishop. We won’t mention Mr Lesser’s decades of flying in the face of the Roman Catechism or the fact of his coziness with the incompetent pastor of St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Ravena New York, James Kane, who is also head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany’s Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious  (one of the great jokes of modern church). Talk about politics! One such example is our fat little veterinarian friend, Frederick Richard Lesser, who retired as a veterinarian, sold his practice, cuddled up to ultra-liberal bishop Howard Hubbard, and got himself ordained at about 60. I attended an RC divinity college with Lesser and knew him rather well. I also knew for a fact that our pastoral formation supervisor advised him against seeking ordination. Lesser was arrogant, had a mean side to him, was a bit schizoid, and had enough psychological baggage to make Imelda Marcos look like a barefoot peasant. I was absolutely shocked when I observed Lesser as cross-bearer at the current RC diocese of Albany bishop, Edward Scharfenberger but I knew what was going on behind the scenes. Scharfenberger ordained Lesser in 2015, despite quite a number of reasons why Lesser should not have been ordained.

Veterinarian Lesser in his new priest outfit.

Veterinarian Lesser in his new priest outfit.

Finally, and probably most illustrative of a sicko church or at least a sicko diocese — but who can say with certainty that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany is the rare exception with these several glaring examples — is the image of the current bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, posing with an Episcopal bishop and holding Denver Bronchos chasuble. Yes, Albany’s chief Roman Catholic pastor and teacher holding up a sacred vestment adorned not with any symbol of the Trinity or the Pascal Mystery, but a symbol of depravity, excess, capitalistic secularism, a symbol of a professional football team. Do we have to say another word about wrong messages?

Albany's E. Scharfenberger, bishop, sending the Wrong Message. Again!

Albany’s E. Scharfenberger, bishop, sending the Wrong Message. Again!

So, NO! brother Louis! It’s not anti-Catholic sentiment at all. It’s the fact that from within the Roman Catholic church has been a three-ring circus since the 70’s and it’s not getting any better. After almost 50 years since Vatican II officially arrived on these shores in the official English language translation, the confusion and scandal has steadily increased from the very lowest level of ministry to the top, from the diaconate, to the presbytery, to the episcopy, even to the papacy. It’s become a veritable bad joke with no boundaries. It’s sending wrong messages. It’s indifference and indiscretion abounding. No! It’s not anti-Catholic sentiment, it’s the truth.

Pax et Bonum! Heresiarch

Pax et Bonum!
Heresiarch

Click Copy of catholic social teachings to download the Catholic Social Teachings bibliography.


Capital District Grieves Death of Monumental Priest


The Capital District Grieves the Death of a Priest of Monumental Stature

“He was constantly on the go,” said Roy Bordeau of Schenectady, a personal friend who served as church organist under Hogan at his previous post as pastor of Sacred Heart/St. Columba Church. “He gave everything to people around him. He lived to do what he did.”

Father Michael J. Hogan died on the evening of August 20th peacefully at his home, with his loving family in attendance.

Micheal attended and graduated from St. Mary’s Academy (Glens Falls) class of 1957. He was accepted to Mater Christi Seminary (Albany) where he remained for two years, after which the diocese sent him for further studies to St. Joseph’s Seminary (Yonkers), and Michael was ordained a priest of the Albany Diocese on May 29, 1965.

Father Hogan served as associate pastor of St. Gabriel’s Church (Rotterdam, June 1965 to August 1966). In September 1966 he was transferred to Our Lady of Victory Church (Troy) where he served and taught at Catholic Central High School. At Maria College (1968) Fr Michael served as chairman of the theology department. From 1969 to 1973 he was an instructor at the College of St. Rose, religious studies department.

In 1969 he founded Hospitality House, an intensive residential rehabilitation program for drug and alcohol abusers and served as executive director there. In 1972 he established the first alcoholic halfway house in Albany; in that same year founded Lancaster House, the first residential community for chronic psychiatric patients in the State of New York.

In 1982 he bought a house in Albany, at 248 Elm Street, served as Chaplain at Bishop Maginn High School; he later served as president of the board of the high school. He welcomed adolescents into his home, some living there for years. He considered this his crowning achievement, one he considered the most important thing he had ever done. Wade, Jim, Michael, Alejandro, Jon, Eric, David, Ian, Todd M., Mark and Todd L. became, for him, his family and their children his grandchildren.

Fr. Hogan served as Pastor of Sacred Heart/St. Columba’s Parish in Schenectady (from 1992). He traveled to Mexico and remained there for two months to study Spanish; he then celebrated liturgies in Spanish and English. From August 1, 1998 to shortly before his death, Fr Michael served as pastor of St. Joseph’s Church (Schenectady) and St. John the Baptist Church (2001 to 2005), and was Pastor of St. Margaret of Cortona Church (2009 – his death) in Rotterdam Junction.

In Schenectady, Fr Michael served as president of “New Choices”, an alcohol and drug rehabilitation program, chairman of the board of “Home Town Health Centers”; member of the board of Schenectady Inner City Ministry (SICM), Hamilton Hill Arts Center, “The Bridge Center”; Schenectady Community Action Program (SCAP); Center for Community Justice; Schenectady Housing Loan Fund Corporation, Capital Region Work Force Development Board and X-Quest, Inc. He was also a member of the Social Justice Committee, comprised of clergy and agencies working together for the improvement of police policies; he also worked with the Sheriff’s department on matters relating to the Schenectady County Jail.

For ten years, from 1970 to 1980, Fr. Hogan practiced individual and group therapy, under the direction of J. Schoolman, Ph.D. and A. Hernandez, Ph.D. He practiced as a therapist and counselor for over 40 years.

Fr. Michael accepted his suffering with courage and peaceful dignity and grace. He said: “I’m happy, I’ve lived a wonderful life and I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Father Michael’s family will open his home to relatives and close friends for visitation and to receive condolences on Thursday, September 11, 2014, from 4 to 9 PM, at Michael’s home at 248 Elm Street, Albany, NY. 12202.

On Friday, September 12th, at 4 PM, Father Hogan’s body will be embraced at St. Joseph’s Church, 600 State St (Corner of State & Lafayette Streets), Schenectady, NY. Public visitation will be from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. A parish liturgy will be celebrated at 7 p.m.

On Saturday, September 13th at 11 AM, The Liturgy of Christian Burial will be celebrated by the Rev. Michael A. Farano, Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany. Interment in the Hospitality House Plot, St. Agnes Cemetery, Menands, NY, will immediately follow the Liturgy Expressions of memorial and condolance may be left on Fr Michael’s everlasting tribute page at: www.TheRiverviewFuneralHome.com.

Donations in lieu of flowers may be made in Father Michael’s memory to St. Joseph’s Church Restoration Fund, 225 Lafayette Street, Schenectady, NY 12305 or to “St. Joseph’s Place” (same address) Fr Michael’s recently established Outreach Center; a ministry of St. Joseph’s Parish.

Father Michael’s funeral arrangements have been lovingly entrusted to Roy F. Bordeau, Funeral Director, of Riverview Funeral Home in Troy, New York. Mr Bordeau was a long-time close friend of Fr Michael.

Fr Michael J. Hogan

Fr Michael J. Hogan

The Lord bless you and keep you +,
Show His face to you and have mercy on you +.
May He turn his countenance to you and give you peace +
The Lord bless you, Michael.

Our Op-Ed Comment on Fr Michael’s Death and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany’s Response

Fr Mike was a paradigm of humble and Christlike pastoring in a diocese suffering from the chronic affliction of liberalism, the bereavement of lost and merged parishes, the social problems of abuse, addiction, loneliness, and neglect. Mike stood out as a bright star against a dark firmament, and played a monumental role in his community by restablishing a sensitivity to social, ecclesial and existential crises not paralleled in the history of this region nor in the history of the Church itself since the dawn of the Reformation.

Fr Michael would serve as a paradigm for most, if not all who claim unity, whether in the context of social justice,  interfaith dialogue, ecumenism, or in the college of pastoral and spiritual care providers, but expecially for those who occupy the radically important and influential post as a community pastor.

Howard J. Hubbard, bishop emeritus of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, was a year ahead of Hogan at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers in the 1960s and knew him throughout his priesthood. “His whole life was committed to the poor, the forgotten — those left behind,” said Hubbard, noting Hogan made extraordinary efforts to help the homeless and troubled youths. “He was one of the finest priests I have ever known,” Hubbard added. Eloquent words but are they sincere?

We have to revisit Howard Hubbard’s remarks and question their sincerity, since both Howard J. Hubbard, bishop emeritus of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, and reigning bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger will be absent from the diocese, out of town, both in Rome,  and will not attend Fr Michael’s funeral rites, much less fulfill their pastoral and paternal duties of celebrating the liturgical rites for a brother priest, who so productively and positively reflected on the otherwise abyssmal diocese of Albany. It is scandalous — to say the very least — that neither of the two living bishops of the Albany diocese will not make himself available to show appropriate respect and gratitude to a model priest, innovator, and paradigm of the Albany diocese. The fact that no bishop of a neighboring diocese has been asked to concelebrate or to act as principal celebrant of this remarkable priest’s rites is a scandalous failure on the part of the Albany diocese, and both bishops Hubbard and Scharfenberger, should be deeply chagrined at their failure and beg forgiveness of Fr Michael’s parishes and the innumerable souls he has saved and lives he has redeemed through his tireless engagement and commitment on behalf of his suffering brothers, sisters, parishes and Church.

It’s a disgrace to to the Roman Catholic Diocese that such a precious priest should, after his soul has departed from his body, to  have to keep his mortal remains for more than 3 weeks in cold storage until the Diocese of Albany finds it convenient to provide him with the dignity of a Christian burial. It’s bad enough that the two bishops residing in this diocese are not stepping up to the plate and doing what’s minimally decent, but to think that the Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, can’t find the time in those three weeks to bury a brother priest. Has this diocese dipped that low?

Fr Michael’s friends,  parishes and organizations should raise their voices and fists in outrage at the Albany Diocese’s response to Michael’s death and the delay of his Christian burial!!!

The Editor


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