Monday, June 28, 2010

The Legionaries of Christ: How is it That Good Priests Can Come From a Poisoned Seed?

Dawn Eden, over at Headline Bistro, wrote an interesting article, "The Holy Ghost in the Machine: Amidst the Legion Crisis, A Sign of Providence."

I plunged into making a comment after the article, only to find there is a 1500 character limit. My comment was considerably longer. So, I am publishing it here on my blog. The issue I wanted to comment about was, how is it that good priests were indeed able to be formed in the midst of a system that we have now learned had serious flaws, that was established by a man who can now be considered a manipulative, narcissistic sociopath?

I don't claim to have anything near to a full explanation of this. But here are a few thoughts that may at least shed a little light on this enigma. . .

I spent a few years (five) in the Navy. One of the things that is apparent during the experience of boot camp is that some young men are simply not constitutionally able to handle military life. Some of them leave or are weeded out during boot camp. But, there are also some young men who not only can handle military life, but thrive on it. Such men blossom in a disciplined environment of daily physical and mental rigor. The typical military man of this sort is not likely to be very interested in what is going on with the upper echelon leaders. He is simply eager to attack the challenges of the day and glad to be able to go to bed with the knowledge of a job well done, the day's obstacles overcome. Such a man loves the sense of camaraderie and esprit de corps that comes with living and working alongside other men who are eager to go into battle against great obstacles and overcome them--stronger, harder, tougher men in the end. There is something of this, I think, in every man. But some more than others seem made to embrace the masculine call to a life of self-sacrificing hardship in the form of military life. And it's not merely an eagerness for hardship and to do battle against evil--it's about entering a brotherhood, a brotherhood forged and toughened by a kind of shared adversity (and this must include physical adversity) that I'm not sure women quite understand (perhaps they do, though perhaps in a different way than men).

Why do I speak of men who thrive in the military brotherhood in the context of Dawn's article? In my opinion, there is a lot of explanatory light here.

The Legionary formation process was (still is?) presented in a way that calls very strongly to the sort of young man who would thrive under the hardships of military life. If a young man was pious, loved the Catholic faith, loved the Church, and would also be the sort to yearn for that kind of brotherhood forged between men doing battle side-by-side, he would probably find Legionary formation highly attractive.

I went on a Legion vocations weekend myself back in the 90's. And I have to say, I recall thinking to myself that it was very much like boot camp. But, boot camp forming men to fight in the army of Jesus Christ--to do battle, side-by-side, against Satan and his minions. There was a very military-like discipline and the sort of mental and physical rigor that the best American soldiers would love--strict silence, getting up promptly at the same time, showering and getting ready for the day in mere minutes, etc. The strict schedule of prayer, study, physical work, meals, physical play (often soccer) had a very military feel.

Also, consider this against the background of what I understand was a more typical American Catholic seminary life of the 60's, 70's, and into the 80's. Seminarians during that era, at least many of them, lived a rather less-disciplined life than the Legionaries. Physical hardships were not many. It was, as I understand it, in many cases a rather soft, cushy existence. I'm not speaking so much of the rigors of study and prayer, but in other ways (such as general discipline, physical labor, sports, and just a certain masculine vigor and energy of life) seminary life, at least from what I have learned of that era (and I'm sure there were exceptions), would not have been particularly attractive to an energetic, vigorous man of the sort who might have thrived in military life.

Now, what I am speaking of here is a natural attraction many pious young Catholic men would have had to the Legionary life (and I refer here mostly to their formation years because this is what seemed to be emphasized to prospective vocation candidates) simply because of its external form and its apparent camaraderie-forged-in-shared-hardship character. But, a natural attraction and a supernatural calling are not the same. They may overlap and complement each other, but they are not the same.

And, also recalling my military days, it is amazing what a merely natural disposition for military life can do to prepare for bringing forth certain natural virtues in those who become professional military men. I have had the privilege of witnessing men who had developed incredible abilities of leadership, courage, and physical and mental toughness through their military training and experience.

Place the same sort of man, who also loves Christ and His Church, in the Legionary formation of the past, and regardless of the bad seed at the top echelons, he might similarly succeed in developing at least some of the same kinds of natural virtues as a good soldier. Now, if this be a man of real and genuine faith, and eager to pray, you still have the potential for producing a priest of many fine and admirable virtues. After all, there is no lack of examples of Saints who had far less than ideal formative circumstances. The daily reception of the Eucharist, a deep prayer life, and frequent reading of Scripture, can shield a person from a lot. And I think for a man, that very yearning for a special brotherhood that can only be forged in shared struggle might have played a role in his not noticing the serious problems in regard to individual freedom of will and liberty of conscience that have since come to light as serious issues in Legionary formation.

Grace transforms nature. If there is a lot there on the level of at least some natural virtues (even though seriously lacking in important ways), there is much there to be transformed by grace, even as there still remain serious holes.

Monday, June 7, 2010

An Irony of Today's e-linked Culture: Retaining Our Humanity in a Tech Savvy Age

Here is a comment that a Facebook friend (Jeff Mauriello) posted on Facebook today:

So I'm at this coffee shop and I continue to witness a rather disturbing trend in our tech savvy society -- people seem to care more about updating their lives on their cool phones rather than conversing with the people they are physically next to. The more connected we are, the more isolated we become.
Sadly, this is so true. "The more connected we are, the more isolated we become." A very good way of putting it.

We should all stop and ponder this. In our craze to have every e-gadget to be "connected" with other people, are we becoming less and less able to relate as human beings in the most basic and most important way--in a personal, face-to-face interaction with someone who is physically right in front of us?

It is fine to use technology in ways that truly enhance and add positively to our lives. But we should never forget that if we are not careful technology can actually drive us away from those persons who are beside us in the present moment. It doesn't have to do this, but we must be conscious of this danger and strive (and pray) to use all forms of technology in a virtuous way--in a way that does not diminish our ability to remain fully human in the simplest and most fundamental of ways of interacting with other human beings.

A couple questions to help in our quest for a healthy, virtuous use of technology: Is a certain piece of technology controlling me, or am I in full control of it? Does my use of this thing make me more, or less human overall in the way I relate to other people?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Attentive Humble Service Prevents Spiritual Blindness

If we spend our lives, for whatever reasons, only rarely doing the sort of humble yet significant everyday tasks in which we serve those with whom we live (e.g. washing dishes; laundry; grocery shopping; cooking, etc.), we risk becoming excessively self-enclosed creatures. Or, at least, we risk never going through the sort of spiritual enlargement of soul that such things work in us over time--that is, if we do such things with love, without bitterness, and while united to Christ.

I mention this in light of thinking about a particular spiritual danger faced by the wealthy. If you have enough financial wealth to afford hiring other people to clean and cook around your house, your day-to-day life can easily collapse in on itself in an encasement of solipsism. You are never (or rarely) forced to interrupt yourself from following your own whims for the sake of serving another person. You can go through the day serving mainly yourself.

Now, anyone can fall into this, and many of us do. But, I think it is a particular danger for those who are wealthy. The patterns we live for most of our lives fix themselves into grooves that are very hard to jump out of the older we get. If our life situation is such that we do not often, by the necessity of our daily activities, need to serve other people in humble ways, we should seek out regular opportunities to do this, such as volunteer and charitable work that involves simple personal service to others.

If we do not do this, and thus do not have regular times in our lives wherein we interrupt our interior fancies and reveries to reach beyond ourselves in humble, personal service to other human beings, we are likely to become blind to the real needs of others. We might become an elderly person who does not recognize the basic needs of a debilitated spouse.

Rendering ordinary, mundane, humble service to others--with love--increases our spiritual capacity to see other human persons before us as they truly are in the moment--to recognize their genuine needs as they are in the present, today. It is truly a terrible blindness to see a person in front of us and yet not be able to recognize their externally visible sufferings, not to see the basic needs which they lack. It is a great poverty not to be able to wash a floor for someone because we have blinded our ability to see such needs.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The School of the Cross: Let Us Enroll Now, Well Before the Big Test

Just a brief thought here. . . If we want to suffer well at the end of our lives, assuming that we are given the opportunity by God of learning intensely from the school of suffering in the days leading up to our death, it is best if we do some preparation in advance.

While anything is possible with grace, it is not very likely that we will suffer well at the end of our lives if we have not learned, in the smaller everyday annoyances and pains of life, to unite our crosses with Christ. If, however, in our younger days we do practice the virtue of uniting our smaller sufferings to Christ, we will be much better prepared to be able to unite much larger sufferings to His cross as well, should this be what our Lord permits us to endure at the end of our lives.