So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Thursday, May 21, 2015

'I am my own authority.' Hilda's story.

Bosch - Seven Deadly Sins

The first part of the title of this post—'I am my own authority'—might well summarize a casual acquaintance's characterization of her understanding of her faith and/or mission which she shared in an unsettling conversation. This post is a reminder of the dangers associated with certain spiritual practices that leave oneself exceedingly prone to strange, possibly diabolical influences.

Spiritual Fascism

Spiritual fascism is a nasty and increasingly common addition in parishes since the advent of the so-called Christian Meditation(CM)/Centering Prayer(CP) movement(s).
Political fascism tends to include a belief in the supremacy of one national or ethnic group, a contempt for democracy, an insistence on obedience to a powerful leader, and a strong demagogic approach.
Spiritual fascism tends to include a belief in the supremacy of one's spiritual condition or practice, a contempt for authority, an insistence on the supremacy of one's conscience (formed apart from the Church's teaching), and a strong demagogic approach based on the primacy of feelings over facts and reason. Spiritual fascists feign humility and, when confronted with obvious contradictions between their words and actions, routinely engage in passive aggressive behaviour in an attempt to deflect or to suppress criticism.
Of course, spiritual fascism is nothing new, nor is it limited to the CM and CP movements. Not all practitioners of CM/CP are guilty of said malady. Spiritual fascism is ubiquitous in the vast array of spiritual ideologies that huddle under the umbrella of liberal-religion. Neo-gnosticism is one such pseudo-spiritual aggregate. Practitioners of CM/CP seem highly susceptible to a descent into a neo-gnosticism that has its exponents behaving as if they are spiritually superior to their "non-enlightened" brethren.

Practitioners of CM/CP typically dwell far more frequently within the liberal-religion camp than they do in the tradition-minded camp. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the neo-gnostics are indifferent to the concept of religion. They are exemplars of the spiritual-but-not-religious ideology, which makes them a perfect fit in the liberal-religion enterprise. Liberal-religionists typically cringe at the suggestion they might be in any way pious or, God forbid, dogmatic in the sense used by the irreligious.
In truth, there are only two kinds of people; those who accept dogma and know it, and those who accept dogma and don't know it.—G.K. Chesterton
Hilda's Story

Hilda, not her real name, is a confirmed practitioner of "Christian meditation" who also lays claim to certain charismata. In my experience attained from within the meditation community, first as a protestant and later as a Catholic, and having left that arena because of aberrant behaviour which developed among more than a few of the practitioners, I brushed elbows with far too many folk who claimed a superior piety that barely had room for authentic humility.
Many so-called "contemplatives" have the audacity to claim a form of enlightenment while abandoning due deference to the authority of the Church. Too many practitioners of "Christian Meditation" or a similar practice (e.g., Centering Prayer) behave as if they possess a direct tie-in to the will of God. Their understanding of contemplation is far from what the Church has always taught, i.e., that true contemplation is a gift of the Holy Spirit not manufacturable by any technique. The same self declared "contemplatives" behave like mini-popes who feel answerable to no one but the god fashioned in their own image. Their choice of language exposes them as arrogant and dismissive of legitimate authority in the Church. They frequently express themselves with a vocabulary that could be described as neo-gnostic.
If I knew you were coming I'd 've have baked cake... or placed a $1000 bet that you would be the next pope.

During the course of our conversation which began innocently enough with a brief foray into the subject of the divine mercy of God, Hilda claimed to have had a vision about Pope Francis prior to his elevation. She claims her vision was confirmed when Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio became Pope. I asked her whether or not she had shared her "vision" with a priest prior to the Pope's election? Her answer confirms more, perhaps, than she intended. She replied, "Oh no, I would never share a vision with a priest. Priests never understand." Never? As much as a response of disbelief or even dismissal by a priest/spiritual director might be frustrating or even bruising when we share our spiritual experiences, the guidance of a sceptical priest will more than likely help one avoid the temptation of pride. The risk of having one's experience judged to be a pious imagining is a reasonable risk to take if one considers the counsel might just help save one's soul. Better a wounded ego than to persist in a soul-threatening delusion.
Pride (superbia): one of the seven deadly sins.
Pipeline spirituality.

I asked Hilda if she had a spiritual director who could help her discern whether her vision was authentic or not. She did not hesitate to say "I have God the Father as my spiritual director." Her flat out refusal to avail herself of an ordinary means of spiritual direction, as well as her rejection of the thought she should test the source of her visions, raised the obvious alarm bells. Perhaps she hasn't heard enough of the First Letter of John chapter 4, verses one to six. We should all pay attention to the counsel of John.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world.
Or, perhaps Hilda has chosen to hear only the latter part of the chapter from the same Letter and applied it to herself without what should be an obvious deference to the hierarchy of the Church to which authority is given in such matters.
Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and whoever is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Exit stage right.

After excusing myself from the confrontation, I immediately sought the counsel of a faithful confidant with whom I shared the factual content of the conversation. When I mentioned that Hilda claimed to have God the Father as her spiritual director and that she had no inclination to submit her experiences to any priest, the acquaintance speculated that there might be a remote possibility Hilda may have been granted a unique gift by God which required her not to share her experiences with a priest. Fair enough; benefit of the doubt.

Would the Lord counsel someone to avoid going before an authority of the Church (bishop, priest, deacon), a Church that He founded and to which He gave His authority to guide and guard souls? Possibly, but not likely. Hilda's entrenched aversion to deference to the legitimate authority of the Church raises some doubts, however, to the likelihood of such a divine restraint. It seems more likely that Hilda had/has fallen into pride and simply doesn't want to confront the possibility her visions might be something other than what she currently believes them to be. It might be said that her "visions" tend to reinforce some need for authority or personal power that she is not willing to submit or relinquish to anyone else, visions which she should submit to a priest "to test... to see whether they are from God... ."

Our Blessed Lady, when she appeared to Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, told him to go to his bishop. The bishop was initially dismissive. At Mary's direction, Juan somewhat reluctantly persisted. When the time came to verify her appearance so that the bishop would build a chapel, she provided the bishop with indisputable signs testifying to her person, signs which included roses out of season and the miraculous image imprinted on Saint Juan Diego's tilma (tilmàtli).

Taking the Lord's name in vain?

I also mentioned to my confidant that I questioned Hilda about her claims to special knowledge by communicating some of the concerns raised above, and that Hilda had proceeded to "pray me into silence" using the name of Jesus to drown me out of the conversation. Hilda had demanded, "Can't you see who I am?" I asked, "What do you mean?" And she had replied, "Who do you see when you look at me?" "I try to see Jesus in you and everyone I meet," was my honest answer. Blessed Mother Teresa's example had come to mind. Hilda's retort proved to be the undoing of her claim to authentic knowledge: "Don't you see, I am Jesus in the world."


There is some truth in the Hilda's response. We are all called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. We bear Christ to others by engaging in the Corporal and Spiritual works of mercy, for example. In many encounters with "Christian meditators" of the John Main brand and similar experiences with Centering Prayer devotees, I have noticed frequent claims of possessing some kind of esoteric knowledge or power which entitles them to look down on or look past non-meditators, especially anyone who dares to question an experience, vision or locution or what-have-you.

Hilda also lays claim to the gift of tears. Having witnessed authentic expressions of the gift of tears, I am not given to casually dismiss the action of the Holy Spirit. When "the gift" provides the bearer a strong awareness of his or her own unworthiness AND dependence on the mercy of God, which is to say humility not boastful pride for having received such a gift, then authenticity may be more likely than if the claimant displays the obvious contradiction of haughtiness for having been given such a gift. Furthermore, hyper-emotionalism (e.g., uncontrollable wailing or sobbing) does not confirm the presence of the gift of tears nor does mere emotionalism lend legitimacy to what people claim to experience as something of divine origin. One may very well be overwhelmed or overcome by a profound insight or feeling, but making a show of it probably excludes an experience as something other than mere emotional unloading.
Let's be clear, I am not making fun of Hilda, nor do I doubt her sincerity. Quite the opposite. However, her dismissal of the need for a priest-counsellor is, in this blogger's humble opinion, cause for serious concern. The peril of her situation is compounded by 1) her clinging to a rebellious attitude not atypical of others belonging to her generation and 2) her dismissal of the canonical ritual of the Church.
Me + Jesus = is all I need.

What I found most shocking about the confrontation with Hilda was her absolute assertion that one could have Christ without His Church. She cited Pope Francis' activities as confirming her own version of the mercy project that many people these days are attempting to impose on Pope Francis (i.e., mercy without truth and justice). She has constructed for herself a self congratulatory circulus in probando that runs something like... I want things to be the way I see things should be in the Church. Francis agrees with me. Francis is, therefore, good. Francis and I agree, therefore I am good and right.—Yikes!

And what of ritual?

For Hilda, ritual is an obstacle to freedom. She has concluded for herself that she needs no Church-approved ritual. Ironically, she has merely replaced the ritual of the Church with her own rituals which affirm her own narrow interests, and, perhaps her desire to effect a measure of control over others. Her rejection of the Church's rituals (initiated, informed and made effective by the Holy Spirit!) is merely another cause of concern which would lead any reasonable person to doubt the authenticity of the locutions she claims to have experienced.

Fraternal Connections

Hilda has not been on hand to defend herself, so great care has been taken to accurately preserve and convey the content of her comments and behaviours that are problematic. So many like her who have been looking for meaning in all the wrong places desperately need prayers for protection from evil.

We must always protect the dignity of the person while challenging the validity of certain behaviours. What has been written herein this forum is intended to communicate a direct experience that might resonate with others who have either held views similar to Hilda's or those who have encountered such views held by friends or acquaintances and who, being concerned brothers and sisters in Christ, know not how to proceed.

We must rely on each other for correction. Our efforts must be rooted in prayer and respect for the image of God in every person. We must recall that Holy Scripture is the invaluable resource for spiritual direction when read at the heart of the Church, especially in the Liturgy. Catholics have an obligation to inform themselves by reading Holy Scripture and being formed by it. We must resist the temptation to appropriate Holy Scripture by privatizing it's interpretation. We must think with the Churchsentire cum ecclesia.

We must take seriously the counsel of Jesus our Master and Saviour who commands us to not judge the person, and Who also counsels us to find and remove the plank in our own eye first before attempting to remove the mote in our brother's eye.
Quid autem vides festucam in oculo fratris tui et trabem in oculo tuo non vides  |  aut quomodo dicis fratri tuo sine eiciam festucam de oculo tuo et ecce trabis est in oculo tuo | hypocrita eice primum trabem de oculo tuo et tunc videbis eicere festucam de oculo fratris tui.—St. Matthew 7:3-5
What are the lessons to be gleaned from this encounter?
  • Unless you sense a willingness to accept that all sons and daughters of the Church should obey the Magisterium, avoid confrontation with anyone who divides Christ from His Church. Entrust the person to God, and ask for wisdom to proceed in God's will.
  • Pray for protection from the dangerous pride which infects the souls of many who claim to speak for God.
  • Avoid those who claim to possess (charismatic) gifts of the Holy Spirit but deny any responsibility to evaluate those gifts to determine authenticity. Entrust to the truth of the Cross those who manifest haughtiness. Invite them to learn from the crucified Christ.
  • Avoid self proclaimed prophets who refuse to submit their visions or prophecies to someone in authority in the Church for evaluation. Remind the proud or conceited that every faithful Catholic has the obligation to "test the spirits". The best forum in which to test experience is the safe harbour of the Church with the assistance of a priest-confessor.
  • Run from the so-called Christian meditation movement(s) and embrace the tried and true spirituality of the Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
We've all probably met someone like Hilda who is rather naive, trusting, perhaps a bit wounded and looking for affirmation. Unfortunately, too often such people fall prey to religious hucksters, whether it's a money grubbing televangelist, new age wannabe visionary or self proclaimed prophet. Or worse—they unknowingly adopt some version of pelagianism and deify themselves. Instead of allowing themselves to be transformed by God, a process of transformation known as divinization or theosis, the person who succumbs to spiritual pride is in for a rude awakening upon death:
The Word became flesh to make us "partakers of the divine nature": "For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God." "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God." "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods."—CCC 460.
St. Thomas Aquinas, wrote:
Now the gift of grace surpasses every capability of created nature, since it is nothing short of a partaking of the Divine Nature, which exceeds every other nature. And thus it is impossible that any creature should cause grace. For it is as necessary that God alone should deify, bestowing a partaking of the Divine Nature by a participated likeness, as it is impossible that anything save fire should enkindle. Question 112, Article 1, Summa Theologica.
And as the priest prays in the Offertory:
May we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.—Roman Missal, the Preparation of the Gifts.
Divinization, not divination. The latter referring to attempts to discern the future by superstitious means.


Since the aforementioned conversation/confrontation, and despite attempts to engage her, Hilda has made a point of acting coldly, resorting to ignoring me when passing by and staring conspicuously at me during Mass with a rather obvious scowl. Her behaviour, while somewhat understandable, seems hardly the behaviour of someone claiming a superior Christian witness. I can only surmise that she feels threatened and wounded, and that her feelings, whatever they may be, supersede her ability to acknowledge that bearing a grudge is both a waste of time and a gateway to diabolical influence. It would seem that reconciliation is far off at this point. Prayer is needed.

By stating the above, I am not attempting to display myself as a paragon of virtue nor stand in judgement of another person. On the contrary, it is an observation which should serve as a personal reminder that humility and love of neighbour go hand in hand.
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Two additional verses come to mind:

1 Corinthians 13:1-3
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

St. Matthew 5:22-24
I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire. 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.

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