Category Archives: Servant Leader

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

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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


Ring Out the Old, Wring Out the Old, Renew Radically! Albany Roman Catholic Diocese


Step 1: Cast out the demons!

Step 1: Cast out the demons!

 For some time now we have been silently observing, waiting for the housecleaning to happen.

In the past decade or so there has been catastrophic change in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, which has been characterized by many as being one of the most liberal, if not ultra – liberal dioceses in the United States. This liberalism has its roots in what can be described only as a general misunderstanding of the renovamento of VII, an ignorance of the key teachings, burnt – out, exhausted pastoral leadership in the former bishop of the Albany diocese, Howard Hubbard, who in his final years as bishop had all but lost control of the diocese, had delegated most of the leadership of the diocese to a handful of self – serving sociopaths, was showing signs of physical decline and conspicuous suffering. As is to be expected in such cases, there were those who were waiting in the wings to grab any power— albeit with no real authority, only the color of authority—that was left unguarded by the chief pastor and spiritual father of the diocese. The results were disastrous, going far beyond heterodoxy and heteropraxis, verging on the heretical. The Albany diocese started to look more Presbyterian than Roman Catholic.

The institution of the permanent diaconate, too, reflected the signs of perversion of a noble institution, and under the exclusivist domination of a few narcissists, took on the nature of a country club clique with only the hallucinogenic adumbration of the holy diaconate. All too many—though in all fairness we cannot say all—of the Albany diocese deacons paraded around as if they were members of an exclusive club, holiness was continues to be more the exception than the rule and we are still suffering under totalitarianism of the old – boys’ college of Albany diocese deacons, some of whom continue to tyrannize parishes, alienate parishioners, and open hemorrhaging wounds. The smoke of satan entered the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany through many such small cracks that eroded into huge fissures hemorrhaging faithful.

An example of the exclusivism, agism and general corruption of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany diaconate program is illustrated by the sad story of one aspirant who was encouraged to apply to the program, was accepted, but was called into then director Frank Berning‘s office for a “meeting” only to be told that Berning “had missed the aspirant’s age.” The aspirant was told flatly that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany rules set age limits and that the aspirant would be “too old” for ordination by the time he completed the pre-ordination program. The applicant was 58 years old, well-educated, completed a Master in Divinity degree (far superior to the majority of deacons!), and was in excellent health (in contrast to the majority of ordained deacons).  (See below for a contrasting story of a company-man who, at 58, is a seminarian and ordination candidate; he will be 59-60 years old if/when ordained!) That’s just one example of the nonsense that went on and probably is continuing in the RCDA. So much for the Holy Spirit!

One of the most recent debacles that has come to a head is the problem at St Francis of Assisi parish under the unpopular parish life director, deacon Ray Sullivan, who is doing more to alienate parishioners than to build a community of the faithful. That’s just one of many such examples that cry out for the current bishop’s attention. It is situations like those at St Francis and St Patrick’s, among many others, that beg the question of where the principal pastor’s mind and heart is when the faithful are suffering under misguided figures like Ray Sullivan (St Francis) and Jim Kane (St Patrick’s) and the St John-St Ann group!

Truly, as Pope Paul VI spoke the words, “The smoke of satan has entered [the Church] through a small crack.” In Albany there were many such small cracks.

St Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry: One of those cracks is represented by the liberal quasi – feminist institution housed under the Albany bishop’s very nose and promulgating and proliferating some of the worst perversions of Roman Catholic doctrine and teaching we have ever witnessed, openly criticizing the Church and its leadership in the presence of non – Catholic and non – Christian “students,” some of its instructors expressing blatant disrespect for Church hierarchy, sometimes referring to the Vatican derogatorily as “those men in Rome,” and casting the Roman Church in a very unfavorable light. This was most egregiously done in the presence of students and clergy of non – Catholic denominations, who already had an anti – Catholic bias. Moreover, as a so – called school of theology and ministry, this group welcomed individuals who had incomplete formation and were and are ill – equipped to adequately understand the concepts and principles essential to the coursework. Some glaring examples include a Southern Baptist who had been “pagan” until two years prior to “finding Christ” [?!?] and entering St. Bernard’s (through a small crack) to undertake studies in divinity before returning to his Baptist seminary to be “ordained” under an apparently accelerated ( =  rushed) program even before completing his studies. He had no knowledge of the major part of the “Catholic” subject matter [and sorely little of what there was of his own impoverished tradition] presented in the coursework but none–the–less was graduated from St Bernard’s. Another woman student, an Episcopalian, was rejected by her Episcopalian diocese approximately 3 times in her quest of ordination; in one course she was asked how many sacraments her denomination celebrated; she was unable to answer the question! She did not know how many sacraments her denomination recognized! She was graduated from St Bernard’s with a Master of Divinity degree!!! While we fully support the doctrinal concepts of interfaith dialogue and ecumenism but not to the extent of irresponsibly and wantonly opening a so-called Roman Catholic institute indiscriminately to the unwashed; there is a place for such dialogue and the forum arbiters  should not be the doctrinally ignorant or those seeking radical change in the Church!

Worse still is the situation wherein some who cuddled up to diocesan hierarchy could do whatever they pleased. One such individual, who in a pastoral formation course was advised by the supervisor to forget about ordination to the priesthood and to engage in his current ministry. This individual was active in a local parish in a local village just outside of Albany, Ravena, that enjoys the dubious reputation of being a nest of hypocrites, and is headed by a less than competent “pastor”, who also held office in the Hubbard, and still holds that same office in the Scharfenberger episcopate as head of the Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. We mention this individual, Mr Richard Lesser, only because St Bernard’s had the audacity to publish in a recent newsletter under “Sharing Our Faith – Graduate Testimonials” (http://www.stbernards.edu/news/sharing-our-faith-graduate-testimonials/) a testimonial by Lesser.  Without exception, those “Testimonials” are selected from those very loyal to the heterodox leadership of St Bernards, the notorious sisters of St Joseph of Carondelet (a community of feminist female lay “religious”, which includes the disobedient heretic Elizabeth Johnson and others of similar disrepute!).

Smollin

Smollin

Lesser is a product of the spiritually impoverished Hubbard era, a finesser who cuddled up close to the former bishop and somehow finagled his way into seminary. Lesser was sent to the Blessed John XXIII National Seminary, Weston MA by the diocese of Albany. To exemplify how he established himself in the Howard Hubbard club, Lesser was crossbearer in the procession at the installation of current Albany bishop Scharfenberger. Lesser certainly knew how to play the game. But he did not escape the scrutiny of more astute, less agenda – driven members of the diocese and the St Bernard’s community. One telling example was when, in of all places in a St Bernard’s course in conflict management, he verbally attacked a fellow student with the words, “Why are you such a prick.” The instructor, another profligate, Sr Anne Bryan Smollin, one of the controlling Sisters of St Joseph of Carondelet, and one of the key offenders, sat impassively by—the situation was so acute she may have exposed herself to discipline by the state licensing board had the matter been escalated. The offended student chose to forgive rather than to prosecute.

Rick Lesser, Liberal Seminarian

Lesser

That notwithstanding, it must be mentioned that Mr Lesser, before weaseling his way into seminary, had served in the notorious St Patrick’s of Ravena parish as a catechist and lay minister. But the most damning criticism we have of Mr Lesser is the fact that for more than 24 years he practiced as a veterinarian in direct violation of the Roman Catholic Catechism paragraph 2418: “It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.” There is much hypocrisy to be found in Mr Lesser and we will continue to oppose his ordination. To ordain Mr Lesser is to plant another potential cancer in the Albany diocese. If Mr Lesser at 58 years of age wishes to dedicate his life to contemplation, true spirituality and prayer he would be best advised to give all of his property to the poor and seek admission to a monastery or to a lay order of some sort. It is our suspicion that Mr Lesser sees in the priesthood and ordination simply another stage from which to perform. That is a travesty of Orders.

Moreover Mr Lesser and his ilk are products of their particular friendship with the ultra-liberal Hubbard episcopate and would simply be an instance of infecting the current episcopate with the agendas and behaviors of the Hubbard episcopate. The current bishop’s modus operandi should be to purge the diocese of every remnant of the secular sisters and the liberal priests and deacons’ clubhouse. Humility — or more likely burnout and exhaustion — may have characterized former bishop Hubbard but it was and is pitifully absent in his minions.

We mention Mr Lesser not because he is alone in this dubious class of Albany diocesan denizens, but because we have particular and personal knowledge of Mr Lesser’s past. There are other similar situations but let the Lesser example suffice for these purposes.

Lesser, moreover, became a pet of St Bernard’s. St Bernard’s has become a hotbed of ultraliberal studies and, on the basis personal experience, perpetuates an agenda of feminist church politics and heterodox theologies, conspicuously supporting many of the renegade nuns who have advocated such travesties as abortion, and feminist theologies.  We have written copiously about these types and would recommend perusing this blog for our expositions of their evils.

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Albany, Edward Scharfenberger was conspicuously absent from the 2014 St Bernard’s commencement in Rochester, while the Roman Catholic bishop of Rochester, the Most Reverend Salvatore R. Matano, and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Syracuse, the Most Reverend Robert J. Cunningham, were present; Sharfenberger was not there. Was Sharfenberger making a discreet statement about St Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry? And what does that mean for St Bernard’s in the diocese of Albany?

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Albany, Edward Scharfenberger was conspicuously absent from the 2014 St Bernard’s commencement in Rochester…

Much of what we have described in this essay is the result of poor pastoring and a failure at the pastoral level but more egregiously at the higher education level (St Bernard’s) to loyally, obediently, and credibly teach the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, and to refrain from public dissent on issues of established doctrine and policy.

The poor pastoring is the direct result of the former bishop having lost leadership control of the diocese, and the fact of many deacons and lay ministers taking fullest advantage of an aging, tired, and burnt–out presbyterate, and wresting illicit control of parishes, so inflicting egregious harm in virtue of their incompetence or ulterior motivations.

We call upon Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger to revitalize the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany and to re-establish episcopal control of the diocese!

We shall elaborate on this point of poor pasturing and failure in the mandate of faithfully teaching Church doctrine and theology in a subsequent essay.

Laudetur Iesus Christus!

Laudetur Iesus Christus!

Laudetur Iesus Christus!


How Sick is the Church? An Opportunity to Share Your Inputs


Francis: Rebuild My Church

Rebuild my Church

[But not into an art gallery, disco, or brothel!]

By way of introduction, here are a couple of examples from real life, that you may have experienced:


  • PS, a Roman Catholic priest and RCDA tribunal judge, made the revealing and statement in a moment of resenting sarcasm, “They’ll ordain anything these days!” That raises the questions of “Who?” will ordain and Who are the “anything?” But that’s just one example of the many careless and imprudent public statements that are being made by persons in visible and influential positions in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.
  • A Roman Catholic Sister of Saint Joseph (you know, the nuns who seem to have usurped the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany Pastoral Center and most administrative and higher teaching  positions) has a favorite innuendo – filled phrase, “Those men in Rome!” The impression made by such insensitive and indifferent statements on auditors of any persuasion can be devastating.
  • A Roman Catholic priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany claiming to be of Ukrainian origin and liaison to the Orthodox churches, refers publicly to the soon-to-be-canonized Pope John Paul II as the “Polack on see of St Peter.”
  • Women chaplain interns under the tutelage of a Calvinist supervisor at a major Albany, New York, hospital, in a Clinical Pastoral Education (hospital chaplaincy) announce that they are disgruntled Catholics, publicly announce their support for women in the priesthood and criticize the Roman Catholic Church openly and publicly; they are then invited to present talks at the so-called Spring Enrichment.
  • Roman Catholic clergy and male religious cow to that same Calvinist supervisor and are degraded by the non-Catholic, mostly women, chaplaincy staff.
  • Women gatekeepers decide who speaks with the bishop, the pastor, etc., and create an environment of exclusionism.
  • Hungry faithful feel unwelcome in God’s house; unwelcome at His table.
  • A well-educated, highly competent,  man in excellent health applies to the diaconate program of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany. He is initially welcomed but is later called in by the director of deacon formation and told, “I did not notice your age. The deacon program is 6 years and you must be ordained by age 62. That’s the diocesan policy. You will be 64 in six years so we cannot enroll you in the program. Thank you for your interest.” In the meantime, poorly educated, ailing men are welcomed into the program, some drop out because of health or program leadership.
  • A graduate of St Bernard’s School of Ministry and Theology continues a ministry of pastoral and spiritual care to the faithful who are not affiliated with a Roman Catholic parish; the minister practices a Roman Catholic spiritual discipline with a local male religious community. The minister attempts to place an ad in the official Roman Catholic newspaper offering his services in pastoral care, provides the text of the ad, the ad is accepted by the Evangelist, he pays for the ad. Several days later the female editor of the Evangelist contacts he minister and informs him that the ad will not be printed because he is not associated with a parish.
  • A feminist theologian and member of a women’s lay religious community, the Sisters of Saint Joseph, comes under fire for her heterodox writings on the theology of the Trinity; she lectures to the public at the local Sisters of Saint Joseph Provincial House

Rebuild My Church!

Rebuild My Church!

We have over the past several years received a number of communications complaining of problems perceived in at least the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany but which may be reasonably inferred to be endemic in most of the American Catholic Church. We have listed some below, but instead of a bulleted list, we’ve made it into a survey list that our readers can check off and which can be tallied to get some idea of the range and nature of ecclesiological, pastoral, and magisterial problems the Catholic faithful are experiencing in their dioceses.

We’d like to invite our readers to review the following list and to click on the circle preceding a “problem” if you find that you have experienced such a problem.

At the end of the list, you can tell us whether you are Roman Catholic, Protest and, Jewish, or Other, and after that list you can tell us where you live.

This is all anonymous and for information purposes only. You can see the results up to the current date by simply clicking “view results” at the bottom of each poll box.

Thanks very much for your participation in this interesting undertaking.

American-Idolatry

Ecclesial and Pastoral Pathology List

In the list below, simply check off the list items that most correspond to how you feel. If something is not included in the list, you can enter it in the space at the end of the list or leave a comment to express your thoughts.


 

Religious or Faith Affiliation

This is where you can let us know about your faith tradition. It serves two purposes: (1) it informs us of the percentage of RC readers responding, and (2) it informs us of the percentage of non-RC respondents who have some perception of the problem.


 

Ministry Activity

We’d also like to know about your ministry activity. Are you involved as clergy or as a lay minister? What are your perceptions about these problems.


 

Where Are You Located?

We are discussing the situation in the United States but this doesn’t mean that these problems are unique to the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. But it is important for us to know where our respondents are located, and whether the majority of our readers are experiencing these problems in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.


 

Yes, it does come down on the heads of the American bishops; as the saying goes, “The fish rots from the head down.” If the bishops do not recruit to the ranks, the ranks deplete. If the bishops lose the reins of their diocese, the horses run amuck. If the bishops do not take command of the front line troops, they have mutiny on their hands. If the bishops abandon the rudder, the ship of Church runs aground. In the present state of affairs the faithful are angry, confused, depressed, and lost. It’s just such an ecclesiology and pastoral theology at work when Protestant authors note the hemorrhage of the Roman Church and the recourse of the faithful to evangelical, fundamentalist, and Orthodox traditions. The breakdown of Roman ecclesial hierarchical authority has created a festering wound that refuses to heal because it’s not receiving the appropriate attention.

But it’s not only the bishops who are failing us and the Church, its we, too, who as members of that mystical body we call Church, turn our backs on Mater et Magistra, Mother and Teacher, and then point the finger as if we were pure as lilies. Now, during Lent, instead of giving up something, let’s do something. We can start by identifying where the pathology is and then proposing a course of therapy. That’s the whole sense of this survey.

Otherwise, and generally speaking, the Roman Church must return to its origins and principles or it is doomed to mutate into an institution that bears no resemblance to its former self; much is the fault of bishops who have lost control over their dioceses, and much the fault of those who want to be Church but want Church to change according to their parameters. This is a similar situation where some agendas want God to have specific genitalia or be a particular something; in otherwords, anthropomorphizing God, downward theism, if you will. Poor teaching has brought this about; God is pure spirit and doesn’t need a created body! God is perfect and doesn’t need to be made according to creature parameters. God is unmade and cannot be made.

Our culture is overwhelmed by idolatries! Idoltatry is worshipping something created as if it were God. Look around you, what would you give up to be closer to God? If you don’t say everything and anything, then you are an idolater! You are putting something before God or between you and God. In the simplest of terms, that’s idolatry!

But much, too, can be attributed to the ambitions and scandal of those with heterodox agendas acting under the aegis or cover of the Church; these are the most insidious and dangerous pathogens that must be eradicated if the Church and the Tradition is to survive.

 Please leave a comment about this article.

Where are you on this scale?

Where are you on this scale?
Idolatry————————Humility


Smoke of Satan…Again…Still


The Editor of a Widely-read Blog Recently Forwarded to Us a Comment from A Reader. The Reader’s sentiments are so widely shared by many Christians today, that we felt it would be instructive and informative to publish the question and our response here:

Marcus-Allen-Steele-Satan

What are Pastors and their Minions Thinking…
If They’re Thinking!

Tony S. writes:

Thank you for all of your help and understanding with my recent comment about St. Patrick, Ravena.  We have two children 3 and 4 years old.  My wife wanted to bring them up Catholic, but since our encounters with st. Pat’s, we went elsewhere.  It’s a real shame.  I miss the Catholic Church.  That church was not welcoming at all.  A lot of the people you mention in your blog are parishioners there.  It’s a very hypocritical place, in which we did not want any part of.  The Bethlehem Reformed Church has a great Pastor and welcoming and supportive community.  However, being raised Roman Catholic, I still feel like I’m missing something..I am missing the tradition and rituals that the First Reformed Church doesn;t have.   Tony S.

We Respond:

Hi, Tony!
 
The Smallbany blog kindly forwarded your correspondence to me, since I contribute to a number of blogs as contributing editor for faith, spirituality, religion and church. I hope I can be of some support to you and your family.

Regrettably, as you have already experienced, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany has missed the mark in terms of feeding the spiritually hungry and, again regrettably, has turned into a company club with branch lodges, called parishes, throughout its territory. Pastoring is far low on the list of prioritiesl, even though the former bishop Howard Hubbard had the best of intentions, his minions (not soldiers; soldiers follow regulations and orders) had their own agendas. Unfortunately, when the chief pastor gets his information and intelligence from demons, well, the result is demonic.

Church Hierarchy Needs to be Cautious>/big> Satan Lurks Where You Least Expect Him!

Church Hierarchy Needs to be Cautious
Satan Lurks Where You Least Expect Him!

One of the problems was that post-Vatican II priests were a confused lot, having been raised and educated in the Tridentine (pre-Vatican II) tradition and then having to live and work in a radically changed Church. That was compounded by the feminist movement in the cloisters and convents of the women religious institutions; nuns left the schools and hospitals and headed for the board rooms. That’s when all hell broke loose. The rabid nuns took over administration and higher education, filled the corridors of the profit-making arms of the church and left the priests to pound the pavement, some preferred to subject themselves to the bullying of the now secular executive “nuns”. (See our article, “Renegade Nun Lectures in Latham: Nuns Gone Wild!“.)

Nuns Out of Order BIG-TIME!!!

Nuns Out of Order BIG-TIME!!!

Then came the conspiratorial sex-scandals. Statistically the problem was minuscule. Politically and media-wise it was catastrophic. Why the anti-Catholic trend in the scandals? Well, the US has historically been anti-Catholic because the US hates rules (that’s one of the problems with the American Catholic Church). But within the RC Church in America, one way to get a stab at “those men in Rome” by the non-Catholics, the secular nuns (especially), and the scandal-hungry press was to attack the all-male RC priesthood, and demonise a very disciplined, highly-educated (compare with most of the poorly trained Protestant sects), committed, but selective and hence highly vulnerable group. If the nuns and wannabe women in the Roman Catholic Church couldn’t wait and wanted to get a Roman Catholic clerical collar, so the conspiracy goes, the best way to do that is to discredit and disgrace the exclusively male clergy. After all, women, even lesbian women, would never sexually abuse a minor! (But what about the abuse of children by poor parenting, divorce, bullying, gratuitous violence on TV, in the cinema, and let’s not forget the obscene games they now can play, and the electronic toys.)

The Smart Phone: The Ruin of Communication A Tool of Destruction of Youth

The Smart Phone: The Ruin of Communication
A Tool of Destruction of Youth

Many millions of Roman Catholics are very poorly educated and catechised because they, the parents and guardians of the children, have too many other distractions that have priority over religious and spiritual; in other words, moral and ethical education. The decline of the family, profaning of the traditional marriage union, and poor parenting (the rise in individualism and materialism (the woman who must experience motherhood, dropping the infant into the arms of daycare after 3 months so she can get back to her career!), and the commitment only to self (I have a life and I owe it to myself to live it my way.), and the feel-good culture has inflicted deep and serious wounds not only on the Roman Catholic Church as a community, but on our entire culture, as well.

satan inside

These effects are not lost on the so-called pastors of most churches, but most noticeably on traditional churches like the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. Once the bedrock and foundation of ethics and morals that provided a refuge to the suffering and to the marginalised and a safe haven for recuperation for those in the world, the fragmentation and distractions of the culture of pathological ego and individualism that have destroyed the notion of community overall, have corroded faith communities, too.

Is anyon familiar with Genesis 1:27 or Genesis 2:21-23?

Is anyone familiar with Genesis 1:27 or Genesis 2:21-23?

Pastors in politics, pastors preaching politics, online ordinations, the 51% making a mockery of the 49% (in the past two or three decades the number of sitcoms, films, commercials that elevate the American woman at the cost of degrading the American male have come to dominate all aspects of commercials and entertainment!).

Agenda-Vaginas in the Pulpit. In my experience with so-called disgruntled Catholics (as many so-called Catholic women, usually post-menopausal or feminist by persuasion) and women clergy has been unfortunately negative. They have agendas and spirituality takes a minor role. Their vaginas, not the Divine, moves their hearts and minds. They demand roles in society, culture, church, and life that are not provided for in the very Holy Scripture they have professed to preach and to teach! And because of the trust (The word “faith”comes from the Latin word “fides” and means “trust”!) the ignorant members of their congregations put in their church elders and hierarchies, these women must be preaching orthodoxy. Bad choice, people. They are actually preaching heresy or at least heterodoxy!

A Freak with his Minions Why do women priests look so retarded?

A Freak with his Minions
Why do women priests look so retarded?

 So why do you think older priests now have lost resolve, confidence, interest? Why do you think that pastoral and spiritual care has gone to hell in the proverbial hand basket? Why do you think that way back in the 60’s Pope Paul VI made the remark, “The smoke of satan has entered the Church through a small crack.” We smelled the smoke back then, now we have a satanic wildfire consuming the Church, and it seems no one is interested in dialling 911, or if you do, you get put on hold. Ask me, I know!

clay figure child

Just a Clay Figure

It’s up to spiritually thirsting people like you, your wife and your friends to take charge of the situation and ensure that your children and your children’s children have the wherewithal to cope with the world that will inevitably confront them. Think of it this way: Man is created as a hollow clay figure and stays a hollow, clay figure until the day that clay returns to the clay from whence it was formed, UNLESS the potter fills that clay figure with something of value, something to believe in. Whether you think of the Divine as the potter, the parent as the potter, or the Church as the potter, that clay figure needs to be (ful)filled. It needs not only the physical necessities, not only the human necessities that parenting and community provide, but in order to become a contributing, benefacient (benevolent, charitable, altruistic, humanitarian, neighbourly, public-spirited) PERSON (as opposed to a clay figure), it needs to be formed with spirit, beliefs and values that for thousands of years we have called religion. The clay figure needs to have a sense of awe, needs to appreciate a sense of mystery, needs to move away from thinking of itself as the centre of the entire universe and the sole occupant of that universe. The clay figure needs to be filled with faith (trust) and love (charity, humility), in order to have HOPE in the future.
 
Thinking of it in these terms, Tony, you may have a better appreciation of what is going on and how to confront it without becoming apathetic, confused, despairing.
 
As for you search for truly Catholic liturgy, I’m afraid you won’t find it anywhere in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany that I am aware of. You’ll probably have to go to a male religious community (friary or monastery) to find the spirituality that you are seeking in the Liturgy, a Divine Liturgy that still offers mystery and awe without the bells and whistles. A Divine Liturgy that hasn’t yet raised the smoke screen so many of our churches have raised to hide the hypocrisy, the corruption, and the worldliness that has entered through that ever-widening crack along with the smoke of satan.

My recommendation, Tony, would be to visit one of the local Eastern Orthodox churches some Sunday (Greek, Russian, Ukrainian Orthodox) to experience a truly beautiful liturgy (they tend to be longish but if you can sit for 3 hours for a ball game, can’t you do 2 hours for God?). Or, the closest male religious community that I know of in the area is the Saint Anthony of Padua Franciscan Friary in Catskill, New York. A great many Roman Catholics and quite a few Protestants considering conversion to RC attend the Sunday Masses there and the friars have particularly beautiful traditions around the Easter and Christmas seasons.

Russian Orthodox Icon: The Divine Liturgy

Russian Orthodox Icon: The Divine Liturgy

This was supposed to have been a short note but has become an entire article. It’s come so naturally and rings so true that I am going to post it on one of my Church blogs. I hope you don’t mind.
 
Of course, if you have any questions at all, or need any help or recommendations, please contact me directly via a comment to this blog.
 
In the meantime, let’s ask for God’s blessings to give you and your family peace and health in mind, body and spirit.
 
Laudetur Iesus Christus!

We look forward to receiving comments and opinions from our readers. Thank you in advance!

Read our related, topical article Where Have All the Mothers Gone?

Are we spiritually dead?

Are we spiritually dead?


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