Category Archives: Hypocrisy

A Novel Venue for Developing True Spirituality: Companions of St Silouan Athonite


Some General Information About
The Companions of St Silouan Athonite

First of all and from the outset: This is not a religious group nor a denominational outreach. It is not a cult-in-the-making.


One nagging question that I have frequently posed is this: Why do most people think of spiritual care at the last minute, when someone is at Death’s door or when you are facing the dying process of a loved one? It’s like exercising and eating a healthy diet after the heart attack, isn’t it? Why not get started now.


This is an ecumenical, interfaith, non-denominations, judgement-free community of persons who are solely interested in companioning each other on their spiritual pilgrimages.

The inspiration for forming a wider group of spiritual companions came from my association with a Russian Orthodox Monastery in Northeast New York. The monks decided to resurrect a concept of a group of lay persons who would live some of the monastic values while in the secular world. These so-called companions of the monastery would apply, be considered as aspirants and then admitted to the so-called companions. They would subscribe to a rule of life, establish for themselves a prayer discipline, support the monastery in time and treasure, and make regular pilgrimages, either to the parent monastery or to some other monastery or retreat venue. It was a great idea but poorly organized. It was open to all faiths and, while it had an insignia identifying the companions, a small stylized cross, it still had the flavor of a very distinct Christian denomination. I couldn’t imagine a Buddhist, a Jew or a Moslem wanting to become a companion and having a cross as their insignia.

My patron saint is St Silouan of Mount Athos, St Silouan Athonite for short. I chose Silouan because of his humility and simplicity, his dedication to love and forgiveness, his compassion. Although Silouan was highly advanced in monastic ascetic spirituality and reached the height of monastic hierarchy as a Staretz or elder, a schemamonk, his humility and simplicity were legendary. Silouan, a Russian Orthodox Christian elder monk, who lived on the exclusive Greek peninsula known as Hagios Oros, the “Holy Mountain”, or Mount Athos, he lived values that transcended the Christian model and are the common threads of all the great world spiritual traditions.

As a professional theologian and thanatologist, a scholar of religion and psychospiritual care, I find that the vast majority of persons who call themselves members of a particular faith or belief community don’t have a clue about what their denomination teaches. Most ministers have no clue about what’s going on in interreligious dialogue, much less about their particulars. Most institutionalized religion has been caught with their pants around their ankles when it comes to credibility.

In recent decades we have all too often heard the ambiguous and practically meaningless phrase, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” Even the “spiritual” professional literature from the healthcare, deathcare and spiritual care disciplines can’t even agree on an across-the-board commonly held definition of what spirituality is! In fact, one publication did a review of the literature and found more than 90 different “definitions” of  spirituality!

In my professional practice I deal with end-of-life, death, dying, and survivors. I know the value of religion and I know the value of spirituality; I think I know where the one stops and where the other starts. Every time I think I’m sure, a situation arises that sets me back to square one.

One thing is certain: every human being is spiritual. There’s no doubt about it. Once you can admit you recognize that there’s something greater than yourself, that transcends your understanding, you have become spiritual. Now how you use that evolutionary revelation to best advantage and how you ease into it to make meaning of difficult moments, suffering, challenges is another story. To get the most out of your spirituality, you need companioning, guidance, others willing to talk about their spirituality and to share their insights.

That’s what this group, the Companions of St Silouan Athonite, is all about.

It’s an open group meaning that anyone inclined to explore the group can freely do so. What you receive from the group and what you give to the group is purely a matter of what you have at any given time in your journey. The pilgrimmage is self-paced. The requirements are your own.

The only formal hierarchy is me, the self-styled “Principal Companion,” actually the monitor of the group and the main person doing most of the work on this site.

In the near future, once the group shows signs of stability and growth, I will offer two levels of formal membership: Aspirant and Companion. The Aspirant is a candidate who has identified a sincere calling to companion others in developing their spirituality. The Companion is the person who has achieved a certain level of competence in companioning through personal discipline and involvement.

Initially, there is no commitment other than the personal commitment you make to yourself and to those with whom you have a relationship to follow the Simple Rule of the Companions of St Silouan Athonite. As the Companion community matures, we may ask for volunteer support or offer specific products for generating funds. Those products will be subject to the Community’s approval, basically all full Companions will have a say in what is offered and what is done.

At some point in time, again as the Community grows and matures, it would be great if we could have a Companions retreat once a year at locations offering retreat accommodations and meeting facilities.

The organization will be very loosely structured: Most of the site will be public access. That means that announcements, reflections, etc. will be public access.

Anyone interested in more intense involvement will be asked to “Follow” the site by signing up with their real name and their email. This means only that the moderator, I, will see who you are and know our email. You will receive an email automatically notifying you whenever a new item is posted. You can do the same for comments.

At some time in the near future, I will post an application form on this site. If anyone wishes to become an Aspirant they will fill out the form and email it to me.

To become a full Companion, you will fill out the same form but only after 6 months of Aspirancy, include an essay about your spirituality and the importance of being a Companion, and you will document your spiritual activities, retreats, spiritual direction, etc.

A full Companion will receive a letter of good standing and a Certificate of Companionship, both of which will have only sentimental value.

Very soon I will create a suitable “habit” for Companions. The habit will be a small item identifying the wearer as a Companion. It will likely be a lapel pin or similar item. Cost will be kept low, since the value of the habit is to be kept intrinsic and the habit itself is to be kept very humble.

Since most everything will be done digitally and the material for reflections etc. will come directly from my own resources or from material I’m reviewing at the time and find suitable for the Companions, no real overheads will be generated. As for the habit, the Companion will purchase that directly from the manufacturer.

I may from time to time suggest certain devotional items such as prayer ropes and the like or items to enhance sensual aspects of the spiritual practice. If I do so, I will also provide links to suppliers of such items. I do not have any financial interest in any of these suppliers but if one were to come about, I would announce that fact publicly to the Community.

Aspirants and Companions are accountable to themselves. If you misrepresent something you do your conscience is your judge, no one else.

Finally, all I ask is if you are seriously interested in becoming a participating member of the group that you contribute to the reflections or to the feedback about reflections. The only requirements are that you remain on topic, leave egos outside, and don’t bring any personal baggage on board. No proselytizing and not judgmentalism.

In closing, I do sincerely welcome your comments, recommendations, suggestions, even criticisms of me and only me. Comments should be made using the comments form on each post; they will be moderated and then published. If you don’t want what you write to be public please email me your thoughts to st.silouan.companions@gmail.com. Your email communications will be confidential and I now notify anyone concerned that I invoke clergy privilege should any law enforcement agency request insight into the emails. When I say confidential, I mean confidential.

As always, I am available at st.silouan.companions@gmail.com should you have any questions or concerns.

To view the Simple Rule of the Companions of St Silouan click here.

Looking forward to exploring the beauty and mystery of spirituality with you,

Peace and joy!
Rev. Ch. Harold Vadney BA, [MA], MDiv.
Principal Companion

Advertisements

Do our funeral homes provide only customer service or human service?


An Op-Ed Republished with Permission

We might ask the same question as regards our faith communities and so-called pastors.


As a provider of psychospiritual care to the bereaved, as a professional bereavement chaplain, theologian and thanatologist, I firmly believe that some things just have to be delivered locally and face-to-face; these include sex, making friends, spiritual care, funeralization services. Not necessarily in that order or priority ranking.


Grief work is not achieved in three days nor with an online consult. That’s purely and simply idiotic.

The saying goes thus: “Death is the great equalizer.” We are all equal in death. Presidents, kings, supreme court justices, movie stars, athletes all die, all decay, all go the same way as the homeless man on the corner. But would you think of direct burial or direct cremation for a president, a queen, Mohammed Ali? So why skimp on grandpa? We celebrate the deceased’s achievements in life, not the fact of his or her being dead. And we do it with pomp, ceremony, rites, ritual, tradition, dignity and respect. Virtual mourning is none of the above and the grief work is not achieved in three days nor with an online consult. That’s purely and simply idiotic.

Furthermore, a death is a social, political and community event. The emotions involved in the acute grief experience are far too complex and idiosyncratic to be amenable to one method, one technology, one dose. As a social, political and community event death care requires real community involvement, hands on, and that means a local group understanding the local cultures, a “neighborhood,” if you prefer. This is a physical community, complex, deep, involved, alive; not a virtual make-believe, conjured up community.

One more thing: We have to stop giving Jessica Mitford and her estate post-mortem kudos for a book and a sequel book that was not only self-serving and conflicted in its interests, but a masterpiece of biased muckraking appealing to the titillation lust of the masses and their denial of death anxieties. Mitford couldn’t attack Death itself nor could or would she attempt to attack institutionalized religion, so she went after the next best thing, the funeral services industry. I’ve cited Mitford several times on my various blogs so I won’t waste bytes on her here.

I place Mitford in the same category as Kübler-Ross in that neither of them can claim any objective or scientific credibility but their main contribution to Western, particularly American society, was to get people talking about death and deathcare services. That, my friends, was a big step in a society frozen in preadolescent fascinations, psychosocial pathological denial, anxiety and narcissism, steeped in materialist humanism and addicted to corporate-fed consumerism.

It’s progressively gotten worse with the public health problem of Internet Addiction Disorder and the pathological subset, Facebook Addiction Disorder, and the emergence of the multistate funeral services groups like Newcomer Funeral Services Group, Service Corporation International and their alter ego Dignity Memorial, and StoneMor, who have all added greed and indifference to the corporate mix of tastelessness and deception of the consumer public. and their dead Again, I’ve commented extensively on these ghouls of the funeral services niche so I won’t waste time or words on them here.

Newcomer, SCI/Dignity Memorial, StoneMor
Ghouls of Corporate Death Services

They want your money not your brains!

Like it or not, death is inevitable for every mortal creature from cockroaches to presidents and kings. No matter how you define or think about it, you will have to some day deal with death so get a grip. How you deal with the death of a significant other in your life, whether that loved one is a pet or a parent or a child–or your own death is a matter of what I will term befriending death. No, I don’t mean the superficial, make believe, virtual “befriending” most of you are addicted to on Facebook and other social media. I mean the kind of be-friending that involves learning about, nurturing an intimacy with, even trusting, welcoming into your world, and frequent contact. Being at ease with, acknowledging, being aware of death is key. That may sound a bit bizarre so let me explain.

Technology has evolved faster than we as human beings have done. We lag far behind technology in our understanding of it and our ability to wisely and prudently steward it. In fact, technology has overrun us and has taken over our lives; this can’t be denied. This fact has been used to the level of Dr Strangelove proportions by corporations and big business, and even by individuals with pathological ambitions like Donald Trump on Twitter and Mark Zuckerberg with the Facebook phenomenon. The medical, psychological and ethics journals are full of reports on the so-called Internet Addiction Disorder, which was described back in the 90’s, and now there’s a subset of that disorder termed the Facebook Addiction Disorder and the Internet Gaming Disorder, which all share the same symptoms as alcoholism and street drug addiction like heroin or the like. Of course, you don’t have to take my word for it, just go to Pubmed and plug in a couple search terms and you’ll get all the proof you’ll ever need of this fact.


Editor’s note: For those of you who are not familiar with Pubmed, it is the database and search engine maintained by the United States National Library of Medicine (NLM) at the National Institutes of Health; it provides access primarily to the MEDLINE database of references and abstracts on life sciences and biomedical topics. (Access Pubmed here. )


You have to admit you have a problem when you need Facebook to help you grieve!

The stimulus for this editorial, however, is not Newcomers or SCI. Nor is it Twitter or Facebook. The funeral service corporations and the social media and networking evils do figure in the theme of this communication, however.
If presidents and perverts have discovered social networking and social media, neither of which are social in the benevolent meaning of the word but serve a more sinister, asocial purpose of getting people hooked and then controlling them, just as the word “service” is used deceptively when used in conjunction with such greed mills as Newcomers or Service Corporation International.
The stimulus for this commentary is, in fact, an article that appeared in Forbes online, “Customer Service In Deathcare: How The Funeral Home Industry Cares For The Living” (contributed by Micah Solomon, MAY 26, 2017).—

Mr Solomon describes himself as a “customer service consultant” and “consumer trends expert,” — he doesn’t say how he got those credentials, though — catchy phrases but a bit too catchy to inspire any confidence or credibility. I’m a bit at a loss not at the What? but at the How? when Mr Solomon then goes on to say:

While some of my own work with the death care industry as a customer service consultant and consumer trends expert has been on innovation in the deathcare customer experience (methods for serving today’s far-flung bereaved customers by using connectivity, videoconferencing, and recording technologies to allow them to take part in memorial/celebration of life service) most of the work I do in this industry and that matters the most, in my opinion, is simply aimed at improving the customer experience, which, of course, is for the living.

Likewise unclear is Solomon’s terminology “far-flung bereaved customers” and “connectivity, videoconferencing, and recording technologies” to involve them in the “memorial/celebration of life service“. Maybe it’s Mr Solomon’s sense of compassion that is represented by his use of the term “far-flung” to describe the unfortunate mourners who are separated by distance from the event. Describing the bereaved as “customers” further chills the atmosphere he’s creating. Technical jargon like “connectivity, videoconferencing, and recording technologies” somehow put a damper on my sense that this guy has any clue about the nature of bereavement, acute grief, mourning, tradition, spirituality, cultural sensitivity, or even the characteristics of the vocation of funeral director. I’m therefore at something of a loss how he, with his frigid and disconnected technospeak, can improve the customer experience! This he leaves to the funeral directors he’s interviewing. Wisely so.

But even more poignant ar the three phrases caught my attention in that unimaginitive and deceptive title: “customer service,” “deathcare,” “funeral home industry.”

We alone, as moral agents and social actors, are responsible for what we do and how we do it

Inserting a bit of Kantian deontology that I’d like you to keep in the back of your mind while reading this, I’d like to say that we are not measured by what the other guy or gal does, but by what we do; we alone, as moral agents and social actors, are responsible for what we do and how we do it. It’s the quality of our values, morals and ethics that govern our behavior. As moral free agents we alone are responsible for what standards are used to guide our conduct.This applies not only to our inner forum, our conscience and how it guides us, but to the external forum, the community in which we live, work, and may disinterestedly interact.

Human service becomes “customer” service when an goods or services transaction forms the basis of the interaction

Customer service is at its most basic human service, service to human beings, human interaction, relationship building. By human services, I mean a broad range of interdisciplinary services whose commitment is jointly and individually to improve the overall quality of life in diverse populations through guidance in meeting basic human needs and support remediating real or perceived social challenges.  Human service becomes “customer” service when a goods or services transaction forms the basis of the interaction but it is still a subset of human services. Accordingly, customer service cannot separate itself from the humane aspect, the relationship aspect of its nature. The problem I have with the Forbes article is that, true to the materialist consumerist interests of Forbes, the article defines customer service purely in terms of selling and purchasing relationships but in the context of the so-called, malapropism, funeral service industry. Customer service must be human service, especially in the funeral services professions. Human service and hence customer service in this framework is near impossible on a corporate or industrial scale for reasons I’d be happy to substantiate in another article, if required.

Try doing this on Facebook or in cyberspace!

The second term that raised my suspicions is “deathcare.” We can defined death care as the care given to the dead or as post-mortem care. This would involve respectful and dignified custodianship and preparation of the dead body for whatever funeralization rites and rituals are appropriate as defined by the deceased individual during his or her life or as requested by the survivors. We must not oversimplify deathcare with the deathcare services businesses and industries that commonly provide services related to the dead body and death traditions, that is, preparation of the dead body (removal, embalming, cosmetology, etc.), funeral rituals, disposal (burial, cremation, etc.), and memorialization. The deathcare business includes for example funeral homes and their operations, including transporation services; containers like caskets, coffins, urns; accelerated decomposition services such as alkaline hydrolysis, cremation, etc.; cemeteries and burial plots, and headstones, markers, etc. What we most neglect in the discussion of deathcare services is psychospiritual care, and here we must include the professional bereavement chaplain and some but not most clergy.

The phrase that most raised my hackles is “funeral home industry.” First of all, the funeral home is not an industry. It may operate like a business but it is a professional operation requiring very specific training and licensure in most places. Most states require a trained and licensed funeral director to at least oversee the operations of a funeral home. The term “funeral home industry” is grossly misleading and deceptive because it creates an image of the traditional funeral home with all of its warmth and amenities together with the dignified and compassionate professional funeral director at its helm. Nothing could be farther from the truth if one looks at the funeral services industry, the more correct designation for the funeral services groups and corporations such as Newcomer Funeral Services Group, Service Corporation International (Dignity Memorial) or StoneMor, who operate more like waste disposal business than funeral homes. Remember corporations operate according to policies, procedures, protocols and most of all the bottom line and shareholder satisfaction. No room here for stuff like compassion, empathy, much less “human service”.

Their focus is twofold: dignified care of the dead and compassionate care of the living.

The traditional, community funeral home is a hub of interdisciplinary teamwork.

The role of the funeral services provider, more accurately the funeral services team, is just that: to provide human services. Those human services are provided by a team of specialists that range from the funeral home cleaning and maintenance person(s), to the housekeeper, the groundskeeper, the funeral home assistants, the behind the scenes professionals (the cosmetologist, the hair stylist, the embalmer), to the front of house staff (the assistants, the funeral director(s)), to the psychospiritual care provider (the funeral home chaplain or associated clergyperson). Their focus is twofold: dignified care of the dead and compassionate care of the living. The human services aspect persists far beyond the care provided with the first call, the removal, the arrangements conference, the chaplain visit and consultation, the visitation or the funeral; what happens at any of these milestones significantly affects the survivors during, immediately after the services, and well into the future, perhaps for years. That’s what the funeral services industry, the large groups, the corporations can’t provide but what the local family-owned funeral home pride themselves in: the human side of funeral services. So be clear on this point: once you start talking “industry” you are not talking “human”. Period.

So far I’ve taken issue only with three phrases that occur in the title of the article alone. But what about the remainder of the so-called article at issue? Well, there’s not much to say about it because the bulk of it is made up of questions put to three selected funeral directors and their responses. Their responses are totally acceptable in terms of the language, and to be honest I can’t find much with which I’d tend to disagree. The funeral directors seem to have their acts in order and say the right things. They are in a highly competitive business and have to be realistic, not necessarily traditional. Read into that what you like.

It should be clear by this point that I do not advocate virtual or technological or corporate solutions to anything as profound as the death experience or any occurrence of acute traumatic bereavement. Electronic signals, bits and bytes, virtual compassion just do not and cannot replace the warmth of human spirit, the compassionate embrace of a friend or loved one, the immediacy of the death experience, the real-ization of the death and its sequellae. The funeral home and its resident and on-call team members are the experts in offering compassion and comfort and no social networking scheme, no corporate disposal package, no virtual event and no DVD can replace the authenticity and true empathic response of face-to-face, human-to-human, verbal and non-verbal communications, the symbols and rituals that give meaning to this most mysterious of life events, death.

… some things just have to be delivered locally and face-to-face; these include sex, making friends, spiritual care, funeralization services.

This is what we do.

The Editor

 


Editor’s Note: Solomon’s self-description reads line a narcissist’s mini-bio: “I’m best known as an author, keynote speaker, consultant, and thought leader in customer service, customer experience, company culture, leadership, hospitality, innovation, entrepreneurship and consumer trends. I travel nationally and worldwide, and home base is metro Seattle. Reach me at 484-343-5881 or micah@micahsolomon.com or http://www.micahsolomon.com” We’ve contacted him for a comment on this editorial.


Acknowledgement: I’d like to extend my special thanks to my colleagues on LinkedIn, Ms Linda Williams M. Ed., M. Th., who describes herself as an Entrepreneur, Virtual Event Planner and Facilitator, Instructional Designer, Educator, Inspirational Speaker”.” Ms Williams describes her business, In-Person Away Virtual Events, as an operation that provides “our clients, their families, and friends with a virtual alternative to come together in an engaging, realistic and meaningful way, as well as host and attend social events, without breaking the bank on travel expenses.” Ms Williams does not advocate virtual resources as a substitute for real presence but only as a valuable alternative affording an opportunity to share where no other viable options are available. I agree.



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.


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


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.


Pope Francis Should Keep His Mouth Shut


Pope Francis’ Ego Is Getting Out of Control! Maybe He Should Spend More Time On the Church and Keep His Socialist Nose Out of American Politics!

Close your mouth, Frankie!

Close your mouth, Frankie!

According to a USA Today report, “Pope Suggests Trump ‘ Is Not Christian‘”

“SANTEE, S.C. — In a remarkable dispute just two days before a pivotal Republican primary, Pope Francis said Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is un-Christian, while Trump argued Thursday that it was “disgraceful” for the pope to question his religion.

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” Francis told reporters Wednesday aboard the papal plane. “This is not in the Gospel.” The pope’s comments were first made public on Thursday.

“Trump, speaking with supporters at Kiawah Island, S.C., said the pontiff received bad information about him during a recent trip to Mexico, and that government officials used the pope for political purposes.”

This socialist pope has a lot to say about too many things. He should recall that he is the head of the Roman Catholic Church and is infallible only in the matter of Roman Catholic Church teachings; and Yes! he’s head of state of Vatican City but that’s it. He really should keep his nose out of secular politics and pay more attention to his ailing church.

For someone who is supposed to be heading the world’s Roman Catholics and pointing a finger at non-Christian behavior, we have only to recall the Mirror’s report on the current pope’s remark, “Pope Francis: ‘I’ll PUNCH anyone who insults my mother‘” Now that’s downright Christian, isn’t it? Defending freedom of speech in that same article, Francis says:

“I think both freedom of religion and freedom of expression are both fundamental human rights.

“Everyone has not only the freedom and the right but the obligation to say what he thinks for the common good. We have the right to have this freedom openly without offending.”

It looks like Francis operates with a clear set of double standards: those that apply to his Christianity and those that apply to everyone else. Wait a minute, don’t we call that hypocrisy?

The Editor


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


%d bloggers like this: