Thursday, November 5, 2015

Why Self Pity can Kill You!!

Why Self Pity can Kill You!!
I was introduced to the world of  psychiatry , psychology  and mental illness by Dr. Rudolph Allers, an Austrian psychiatrist, who had been a disciple of Dr. Sigmund Freud, and under whom he became disillusioned, subsequently writing his own monumental work, The Successful Error. He, after the fashion of many heavy hitter thinkers of that era, ultimately became a Catholic, going on to become professor of psychiatry at the Catholic University, Washington, D.C.  His classes were packed to the doors not with weirdoes of “shrinkery” but with intellectually hungry students of RELIGION seeking some understanding of “Gratia supponit Naturam” (Grace builds on nature).

Sterotypic to the extreme, he had shaggy, long gray hair, wore thick glasses on the end of his long nose which fairly shrieked of his Eastern European heritage. He delighted us with quaint 19th century courtly prose, his Germanic accent charmingly right out of the Madame Du Barry-like salons of elegant Vienna. His sentence construction was original and humorous. We roared with laughter. for example, when he described  the talkativeness of the elderly as  “…excessive activity of the articulatory organs..”
During his year of lectures, always without notes, and delivered looking up at the classroom ceiling, he took us through symptoms and treatment of the various neuroses and psychoses which we dutifully scribbled into our notebooks. We went through endless mental mechanisms of defense, and the many interfaces of religion and psychiatry. It was all terribly fascinating yet most of our notes were deposited into that great  “educational dustbin” so dear to all graduate students once the final exams were over. 
Apart from the indelible impression he made upon me that science and religion, properly understood, made congenial bedfellows, I remember very little, if anything, of his content. Except for ONE powerful point!  He devoted one lecture to a startling statement. “Self pity is the MOST damaging of all the human emotions”. It was a daring and bold  absolutist position. Clearly as a graduate student, I didn’t have the “ foggiest” as to the depth of his meaning. But my own years as therapist, counselor and spiritual director have opened some of his wisdom to me. How many times I have been frustrated by the endless self defeating behavior of so many of my clients (patients or directees) as they exemplified over and over again  the old axiom  “ I am my own worst enemy.”
To walk with someone through the dark valley of depression and self fulfilling prophecy, while a sacred privilege, is a most heavy and sometimes discouraging task.
I recall a 43 year old nurse whom I was supervising in her clinical work, pursuant to her gaining a graduate degree in Counseling. When she was 13 years of age, she was (she claimed) sexually abused by a family member. Obviously the profound scarring, confusion, anger, and disorientation of such a tragic experience are not easy to overcome. My work with  sexual abuse victims has  clearly  illustrated the hurt and the insecurity  associated with such ugly victimization. This is especially true if the victim is a child or adolescent. Even adults have enormous difficulty managing such horrendous insult to their psyche. Yet, one must heal or one must face the prospect of  “half” living. I recall the comical presentation in   Hollywood’s ANALYZE THIS in which the psychiatrist. while continuing the soothing external protocols with the patient, internally says to the whining woman  “Why  the _____________ don’t you get yourself a life?”
How often therapists re-act in this manner knowing full well, even with their own irritation, that the patient is killing himself emotionally and blocking any kind of satisfying life with God, neighbor or self. He is doing this to himself! What price must we pay to be free of this paralyzing pattern? What does it take to give up the clinging to wrongs, real or perceived, which interfere with one’s sense of well being?
The nurse (my supervisee) was having difficulty in her Field Work in a certified Clinic. Instead of focusing on her own patient, she invariably brought the work to focusing on herself and her personal problems, mainly her recollection of Incest.  She seemed, almost, to seek sympathy from her own patients. She constantly spoke to them of her abuse, alleging to herself that this was a form of identifying with the patient.  However, she had problems keeping clients who constantly failed to keep appointments and communicated simultaneously various non-verbal messages of discontent. Though reasonably intelligent, she was plain looking with a rather flat personality, making her just another bland face in the crowd. Her one claim to “fame” was her victimization,
In the group experience required of our interns, she would constantly revert back to her abuse 30 years earlier, time after time. Apart from this, her specialty, she had little to say. When I pointed this out to her as a facet of her training deficiency, she became furious with me that I did not understand, that men can’t possibly empathize with a woman in such a situation and similar old saws. Some of it might have been true but her fixation, nonetheless, was stultifying her ability in the helping profession as well as hurting her chances for personal happiness.. One factor we all saw was that should she give up her tiresome and repetitious verbalization of the old wound, she would have nothing to offer since all her intervening years had focused on refining and honing this single event!  If I give this up, I can never get the limelight!  I will be a wallflower!  But were not there any other and positive dimensions to her life?  Did she not, like all human beings, have a glass that was either half filled or half empty? The self pity would blind her to her other positive dimensions which might be a source of satisfaction for her.
Her life had been focused on “Poor me!” There was legitimacy to her anger and sadness but there was also an emotional imbalance which did not serve her well. This is the self pity described by Dr. Allers  or  the “pity pot” so popular with 12 step programs. It did not help her one iota but became, instead, a bitter, raging, self absorbed way of life. It was pernicious to her happiness as Allers had predicted. So, is there a way of  “getting over it”?  Can a person learn to “let go”?
I have been struck by the pervasive nature of the self pitying phenomenon in several of my patients who have been savagely abused by Church employees, (priests, deacons, teachers, janitors and even nuns). All of them have been severely damaged and certainly deserve full attention vis-à-vis their healing. Those who don’t heal, by some strange inner incapacity, seem almost to refuse to improve. This is puzzling until the Pity Pot raises it ugly head.
That the molestation might have occurred 20 or 30 years ago, that the molesters are dead, senile, in nursing homes or prison, expelled in disgrace, that many of my patients have received   substantial sums of money, is all irrelevant.   There is some kind of narcissism,  some kind of semi- pleasurable navel gazing involved in the near stubborn clinging to “my story.”  Is there an insatiable need to tell the ‘horror’ to anyone who will listen? Why do my patients call me on the telephone, day or night, demanding an immediate “ear” to rail over and over again at that    “so and so”? The waste of time and energy given over to re-telling a thousand time told tale is staggering.
There is probably a linkup or correlation between this patently irrational (can I say “dumb”) behavior and   self esteem. I note that that patients who have a strong ego system, seem to do much better. They seem able to cast off the unpleasant or terrifying experience and ultimately get on with lives of enjoyment and productivity, even relegating the molester to the category of  “nut” or “psycho.”  They report definite feelings of anger, confusion, disorientation, betrayal or even just irritation but refuse to give undue attention to this episode. There is a sense that focusing too heavily on these episodes only fuels that inner turmoil and makes healing that much slower. (In cases of repeated molestation, there is an entirely different affective reaction which might involve some consent from the victim, especially in ephebophilic situations.)
In a meeting of several Catholic professional  psychologists, the group was asked whether or not a SINGLE  “grab of the bottom” in itself  would wreak long term emotional havoc with a victim. This was probing the psychological effect on the victim.  Consentually, the response was a definite no particularly if the victim was reasonably  “healthy” and if there was opportunity to discuss the event with a trusted “ other.”  In the cases of  the brutal and exploitative repeated behavior which we have studied, the consequences are obviously different. Yet, even in those cases, after a reasonable airing and  analysis, it  is  clinically and spiritually better for the victim to begin to focus on the positive side of his life in general  and to glimpse what is meant by “ moving on.” To remain stuck on an insatiable plane of “poor me” means misery and bitterness. When my patients tell me that they simply CAN’T  stop their  obsessive mental behavior ( and this IS behavior), I will challenge them with all kinds of specifics which are available to them for happier living. AND  more often than not with concrete improvement. 
These “specifics” are useable not only for the disastrous type tragedies mentioned above but are also helpful for  lesser, but nonetheless crippling, personality formations tempting most human beings. The bug of Poor Me, I suspect, hampers all  of us in differing degrees. What does the  “normal” human being do to cope with the temptation to sit on that “Pity Pot”? Get a Sense of Humor implant?  Hardly! (Even though there is little to compare with the healing ability of laughter).
Why not use the Faith? The Catholic Faith is pragmatic, if anything, which, in this instance, means that the Faith does show how to deal with this killing self pity. The Faith  almost screams out the notion of  LIVING ONE DAY AT A TIME. The 12 Step Programs heavily depend on THIS specific. The past is gone. The unknown future is not here. Only NOW is here--- wherein we live and move and have our being. The Great St. Teresa of Avila wrote of her living not one day at a time but living one MINUTE at a time. Anything more for her was intolerable. The Faith teaches that the good Lord gives only those crosses which one can handle. (How I used THAT when I struggled against my crippling claustrophobia in the MRI tube).  As my old Grandmother taught me: “Jamie, God fits the back to the burden.”  The Birds of the air and the lilies of the Field are nothing in God’s sight compared to His love for any human being. His powerful Grace is right  there waiting to be used!!! With His help, I can handle anything He allows. What blocks our using the help of God? Maybe, I don’t ask for it!! 
And what about the famous “half-filled/half empty” approach?
An old timer like me knows very well the inevitable pains, inconveniences and indignities associated with old age. I know the loneliness of being a dinosaur. I know what it feels like to be passed over. I am aware of my own failures over the years. My past poor judgments are ever with me in bright colors and sharp density. As a retiree from a previous post of influence and clout, I know what it feels like now to be just another face in the crowd.   This is viewing the glass as “half empty.”
However, seeing the “half filled” glass has me exuberant that I have been sustained by what P.D. James, the aging English mystery writer, calls “the magnificent irrationality of Faith.” 
I made my First Holy Communion when I was Seven years old and was euphoric that I received my Lord and my God in the Eucharist. I have NEVER lost that euphoria into my 84th year. I have been blessed beyond calculation coming from a loving, wild and somewhat crazy family which have given me the enormous and profound certainty of my own loveability. I have had beautiful friends whom I have loved and who have loved me. I have seen the glory of God’s world festooned by man’s gifts. I have been blessed to study at many Universities. I have been blessed to have  shared the life journey of hundreds of fellow children of God as I practice my art of Psychotherapy and spiritual direction. Is there space enough in the world for me to record my blessings?
The cells of my old body have renewed themselves many times, I know, since that 7 year old kid met Jesus in the Eucharist.  If I am  “cell” wise different I can still recognize that urchin from the West side in my deeper self.  I am fairly much the same. But have I grown? Oh Yes!  I am different and the same, simultaneously, so grateful for what I have had and have----- and still having so much fun--- even with the creaking bones  and the  Not-too-far-away death!
Does self pity fit in here?  I do my best to keep it far away because it kills. And I love life and wish to enjoy what is left for me. I make my thanks to the Good Lord and His loving holy Mother who smiles at me so often--- encouraging me to gratitude rather than to self pity.


Kim Davis: Reminiscent of Thomas More?

                                    Kim Davis:  Reminiscent of Thomas  More?
                           “I love my King, but I love my God more….”
                            On the Right to espouse Unpopular Causes
A fervent Protestant Evangelical, elected by popular vote, as a Democrat, to be the County clerk in Ramon county, Kentucky issuing marriage licenses, refuses to issue a license to a same sex couple.  Since the United States supreme court  has recently upheld  the  right of all people, including  same sex or homosexual  couples,  to acquire marriage licenses, Kim Davis,  fully  convinced  that God Himself through Holy Scripture  has clearly forbidden  such behavior finds herself  in a profound and personal dilemma.
Should she continue in her refusal, she will be obliged to pay a price of considerable proportions. Should she obey the Court, she suffers the enormous guilt of what she perceives  to be  the foundational meaning of Life. Her very identity is either lost or badly mauled beyond her recognition. Some observers see her dilemma as elementary, unnecessary and easily solved. Most human beings like the easy solution.  The resolution is simple, they say.  No one is above the law. Obey the law or be prepared to pay the price, legal, social, spiritual. Black and white is the obvious approach. Issue the license or seek employment elsewhere. What’s the problem?
To Kim Davis and the many others for whom this incident has huge meaning such an approach seems sophomoric. There are several factors which have been  brushed off too easily. One such factor, for example, is the one in which the individual citizen believes a particular  law to be unjust  and even evil. 
I lived  in the Republic of  South Africa  for seven years  under what I considered to be an iniquitous and evil system, called apartheid,  in which terrible injustices, to my mind, were  laid upon millions of people. I and my colleagues refused to play that game in our Church where we ripped off the signs indicating where  “non-Europeans”  or non white people,  were supposed to worship.
We said, in effect, not in God’s house!  No one, surprisingly, challenged us or indeed our lives in general.  In fact we were left very much alone to follow our own consciences. But publicly we did go against the sense of the “Law”. Publicly we argued against the law. Some suggested that we should leave the country  and go somewhere else where policy would be more congenial to our own.  But we LIKED living  in  South Africa,  a beautiful country,  populated with  wonderful people of all races and back grounds.  We wanted to stay in the country. The simple point of this example is to highlight the obvious but incredibly rarely articulated, fact that mere legality is not the same as morality.
This practical Ignorance is replicated elsewhere.
  1. In 1858  the infamous  Dred Scott decision. The US  Supreme Court informed the Nation  that henceforth  a black person would be equal  roughly to  ¾ of a white person. The entire question of slavery has been   a terrible disgrace in our history. Yet it was, de facto, imposed, in murky quasi legal language, as the LAW of  the land. 
 It was legal for one person to own another. Clearly, this was unjust and evil and should have been vigorously disobeyed.  But it was legal.  What kind of logic is it which accepts such legalisms as moral?  However, to disobey such a law in my mind is not only morally permissible, but right and even heroic. Granting the obvious substance differences, there is some kind of possible application to the plight of Kim Davis.  The facile assumption of the non-equation that legality is the same as morality is the core issue  here.
  1. Munich, Germany.  1938. I am eighteen years old at that time. Though I was a publicly committed near fanatical Christian Catholic, I would be ushered, after  phony legalizations into a concentration camp or even into the “oven” category. The reason?  My blood is tainted. My father is a Jew. “Scientifically”  I am non-Aryan. Beyond my personal bias on such a grotesque twisting of logic and  truth, this “legalization”  does  not make it moral. One shouldn’t need to draw pictures to illustrate the non-equality of the legal and the  moral in   some instances.
3.       In 1973,  the United States Supreme Court ruled, at least implicitly,  after much foggy “emanations”  talk that  unborn babies could be  legally killed  (theoretically)  any time  in the pregnancy.  In spite of the  endless  talk about women's  rights  and  back alley abortions, there  was a huge rush for what were called  “convenience” abortions.  Millions of babies have been killed since then and sometimes the body parts sold for research, an  act clearly defined by Federal Law as criminal. The specious argument that the child is a part of the mother’s body leaving her to do whatever she wishes with her body has been used to  justify what to many, many others is clearly  an unbelievably  barbarous act. Factually since that time  a universe of helpless people has been executed simply because their existence was burden to others.
In the opinion of very large numbers of people  such a “law” is intrinsically unjust and evil. Hence,  the Law should be opposed and disobeyed much in  the fashion of Rev. Martin L. King in his disobedience  under the unjust laws of some Southern cities.
The principal is clear. Human history offers many instances of such a specious idea.  “Simply because  a behavior is labelled  “legal”  it must be considered as moral.””  Simplistic categorizing can be harmful to honest  thinking and dangerous  for the welfare of many. Infantile drawings should not be required just make the point. One presumes this is not merely a case of a King  who is publicly unclothed!
As to Kim Davis.There are obvious similarities and differences between her and the great St. Thomas More, the  quintessential Catholic Brit. They both, in a sense,work for the government.  They both love their country. they both are  strong people with powerful  convictions. They both are willing to pay heavy personal prices  rather than  deny their very souls. Both believe that integrity shouts for congruence between inner belief and outer behavior.
In the name of the Law, More’s head was chopped off, while, all he had to do was join the crowd. Every one else was  approving the Government’s stance. Who was he to place himself above all the rest? Even his own daughter begged him to agree to what he believed was evil.
He pointed out to her that those who signed the Oath truly believed it to be right, even though it was wrong. But, in the eyes of God, they are moral and would save their souls. But if he, who thought it to be wrong still signed it,  pretending that he believed  in it when he did not, would lose his soul. Clear case of conscience,  is it not?
If Kim Davis fits the Thomas  More/ conscience mold,  she is to be admired and commended,  even  if one disagrees with her whole intellectual, spiritual stance. She undoubtedly will pay for her brash confrontation  with the un-American secular power. Even  Pope Francis, despite all the frenzied scrambling of progressive clerics, by largely no-verbal behavior, supports her position. The truth is that  he did meet her privately, told her to “be strong”  and embraced her. She did not ask for the meeting. She was invited. The clerics are trying  desperately to dilute the obvious message of the meeting. I wonder why?

One can recall  the following: Federal law is different from state law and applies differently. She was elected by her peers under state law BEFORE the SCOTUS  ruling. Her election was to carry out the wishes of the voters under the law which existed before the  Court ruling at the time of the election. There  is  a failure in confusing  the functions of the branches of Government. Courts do not make laws.  Legislatures do.
No matter what the ultimate outcome, fair minded Americans are asking for some kind of accommodation for this courageous lady and  for many many others who will follow in her brave footsteps. Rather  than dismissing her as a “backwoods hick  Bible thumper” we ought to be awed by her  conviction  or “chutzpah”.  I thought we had left the barbarian methods of Henry VIII  behind in the dust of history. Perhaps  the chop/chop  solution of Thomas  More is gone but we have now more subtle modes of execution. May God help our beautiful but staggering country! 


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Preacher Exchanges the Pulpit for the Sidewalk!

He is Father John Collins of the Paulist Fathers.  He is bald, big, hefty, has a huge voice and he is dressed in shorts and sneakers. He is noted throughout the country for his eloquent and moving talks given to packed churches, halls and arenas. But today he holds up a big sign inviting  passersby to share with him  their feelings and insights about  “ spirituality.”  A  spiritually filtered through  the unique dynamic  known as  “ the New York Manner.”  He is insistent that  his greeting is not “religious” as such but colored by a more ambiguous  non –organized religion dimension.   He sees It as a kind of pre-evangelization. While nowhere near the Times Square chap in  “Boards” announcing an imminent Apocalypse,  Fr. John risked the possible nasty wisecrack of the tough streetwise  New Yorker as he asks people to “share”  their spiritual  experience with him.

I was immensely curious to observe not only his unique style in this approach to a hardened crowd but also to observe the reaction of the people  “on  the street.”  He has no protection of his collar or the inbuilt reverence automatically given to Catholic priests by an adoring laity.  We are stationed in front of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Roosevelt Hospital on 10th Avenue and 58th Street in New York City.

I was  startled by his easy technique of greeting every passerby. They were mostly young or youngish; college students, office workers, telephone repair or construction workers, largely darker skinned than I.

Hi and hello there and hi guys were his greetings as he held, over his significant  stomach,  a large sign inviting  them to share THEIR form of spirituality. Sometimes he held the sign high above his head in the manner of some Liturgical procession where Holy Books are held over the heads of clerics. But everyone seemed to be rushing as If there would be some catastrophic consequence should they be late for their appointment!  The famous New York studied resolve never to meet another’s eyes and to pretend to see nothing lest one get involved was obvious!

Some did look, however, in the manner of cows interrupting their grass munching who look vacuously at a passing train but immediately resume their munching. Some were involved in their cell phones and saw  nothing. Others gave the faintest of patronizing smiles and quickly moved away. For the most part it was as If he wasn’t there.  Yet he kept resolutely to his inspiration and greeted this mass of human beings with friendliness and dignity. He had, apparently, some “other” source of support which could sustain these repeated rejections.  He who was used to the sacerdotal red carpet, was  treated  almost like a street hustler selling “hot” tickets to a Giant football game.

I am his assistant today. I offer “handouts” explaining in some detail  Fr. John’s message. I am 94 years old, sit in a walker chair and wear an officer’s cap from the USS  Enterprise. I am a licensed clinical psychologist, an associate professor emeritus from a graduate school in New York so I ask myself whether or not I have gone “bananas” sitting on a walker hawking some brand new kind of Evangelism! People approach me not to share their spiritual experience  sans organized religion but to thank me for my “service.”  I stammer some kind of evasion and offer them John’s brief write-up about what he does.

But  Fr. John is undaunted. He is cheery, unshakable.  Before we begin, he warns  me about the  “no results”  possibility.  So prior to our “work” we pray that our efforts will redound to the glory of God regardless of tangible results. My own inner questioning was immediately dissolved as this simple prayer gave a focus on how to deal with the absurdity of nothingness, the futile practice of spinning wheels. We had already won before we began.

Was our hour and a half on the streets worthwhile? We thought so even though some of our colleagues almost sneered at our efforts. Others likened us to Paul and Barnabas on the streets of Corinth as they (and  we)  faced an enormous challenge. Although I am a dinosaur priest, I leaped at Fr.  John’s invitation for a repeat.  Besides my own Faith and trust in God’s power, I am also half Jewish and suspect that somewhere along the line of my generation  there was a Jewish peddler hustling his pushcart selling his goods. Peddling God on the sidewalks seems like a good idea to me!


Rip Van Winkle and Culture Shock

Rip Van Winkle and Culture Shock         

When I was a New York City super adenoidal sophomore in college in 1941, college men wore ties, clean shirts  (tucked into trousers), jackets, (sometimes with padded shoulders). Crew cuts were the acme of  ‘Class“.  Long hair was considered gauche and sort of dirty. Everyday we “dressed” to go to school as we tried to be “sharp.”. We desperately tried to overcome the slurred and indistinct speech so associated with Hell’s Kitchen or San Juan Hill. We were in the special class called “college men” and we consciously tried to live up to some kind of social expectation. In our own self concept, we were “educated.” Even the non-college guys wore ties and fedoras to go to the Yankee Stadium to watch Gehrig and DiMaggio and Dickey. There was a kind of dress code the breakage of which drew frowns and scowls even from my minimally educated uncle J.J. who was a mechanic in the Sanitation department of the City.

We danced the Lindy, the Bunny Hop and the Shag. We debated the musical virtues of Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman. We  loved the smooth, velvety sounds coming from the throat of a skinny Italian kid from Hoboken, named Sinatra who wore classy straw hats with a wide ribbon.  A guy from Spokane nicknamed “Der Bingle”  (or Crosby)  was the Gold Standard with the golden voice. Kate Smith was everyone’s favorite when she sang “God Bless America.” To call a person “Communist” was analogous to giving someone the finger in this era or using the N word!

There were unspoken rules of conduct, consensually ingested and generally observed by both genders.  The girls wore saddle shoes, swirl skirts  and short curled hair. They rarely smoked and were anxious to  have a “good” reputation. A good date was going to the Parish dance and having a Cherry Coke at the local hangout. That was it!  A baby born outside of  marriage was called  “illegitimate” and social disapproval was enormous. Divorce was something one spoke of in whispered tones. Same sex behavior was so verboten it was hardly noted except in medical journals.

If by some strange potion I should have been put under a kind of Rip Van Winkle trance in 1941, and just woke up in 2015, it would be a cataclysmic shock to see what I am seeing today!. How would I or how could I handle it?

The shock one would get from the miracle of technology would alone be enough to destabilize one! Calculators, computers, cell phones, push button dialing, ipads,
washer/dryers, television sets, four wheel drive cars,  the unending list of scientific
marvels,  all would look like a kind of science fiction from the cartoon astronaut
Buck Rogers of the 25th century or Dick Tracy, the cartoon detective who had a two way  radio watch to catch the bad guys. I would be awestruck, speechless but enthused and fascinated,

However, the gross materialism, the “throwaway” mentality,  the utter absolutism in the need  to possess the latest  would be more unsettling  ---to put it mildly. I would have been deeply scarred by the terrifying years of an economic depression where we had no security but lived with the ever brooding specter of eviction from our cramped, little apartment. While we always had sufficient food, it was never gourmet. We were taught to be thrifty. Our clothing likewise was adequate but plain and far from plentiful. We were amazingly happy (even in pervasive  insecurity) with a meager wardrobe, one radio shared by the whole family and, of course, no automobile. To own one was possible only in one’s fantasy. We were thrown emotionally together, talked much to each other and laughed at little things.

During  the Great Depression, I saw my father’s hair go white, almost overnight. His days were suffused with worry in caring for his little family of four. He took it all as his  responsibility. Not the government’s. Not family members. Not the Church. The current notion of entitlement  would have been Greek or Sanskrit to him.   He insisted that we work for what we get. With his uneven income as an  actor we understood that sometimes we simply “did without.”  To eke out survival was a truism we easily grasped. To suggest today that one might do without non-essentials would be met by a vacuous stare of incomprehension or an angry retort about “my civil rights.”

The options, in the old days, for a college education were meager.  Apart from winning  a scholarship  and working  a night job while going to school, one’s  ambitions were focused on  the generally secure “city job”  where one was fairly assured of that priceless commodity,
“security”.  To be a cop or firemen or mailman was the gateway to the American dream.

To see every  teenager take for granted that he will have four enjoyable years as an undergraduate with someone else paying the bills or with easily  accessible government loans   to be paid off in some distant future would strike the 1941 citizen as irresponsible if not daydreaming.

But beyond the economic, the basic value system prevalent today would probably be the most  unsettling of all. Religious, spiritual, social, family values, in contrast to1941, seem either essentially scuttled or abandoned altogether. And the abandonment is passionately justified, often with furious self-righteousness and almost vicious tirades against any disagreement.  As a general impression (with ample space for the truly impressive grown up current modern), the modern I meet so often claims he is more adult, more accepting, more authentic, more  tolerant than any previous generation including the “Greatest Generation.” He easily disparages those who disagree with him as racist, homophobe , bigoted, ignorant or hypocrite.  His impressions seem more based on his deep feeling level (what he calls his empathy) than on adult delayed gratification. A true Catholic values compassion but believes  that compassion does not mean endorsement!  Compassion without truth can be mush.

Yet, he seems more restless, more harried, more worried and using an old but descriptive term, more neurotic.  His mental health index shows heavy uses of tranquillizer medication, prolonged services of mental health professionals, more suicides, more breakups of marital and non–marital relationships. He seems to me to be very angry.

But about what? My own “gut“ sense is  that he, too, is looking  for and needs some form of basic “security.”  The widespread notion that anything goes and that there is no right or wrong  except being uninvolved in eco-environment issues and caring for the seal population in  Alaska, can be unconsciously unsettling.

When a white woman decides, in spite of the hard empirical science, that she is really black, when a 56 year old male decides that  despite his XY chromosomal formation, his big feet and an Adam’s apple,  that  he is really female, when two men announce their “marriage” with neither one supplying the female requisites for procreation, when living babies are aborted with the nonchalance of taking an aspirin, even with baby body parts being sold as an “honorable” business, the thinking  (to one out of 1941) is, at the very least, borderline psychotic. That is to say the classic definition of “psychotic” is to have a break with reality.  The current facts don’t match the fantasy. The lame attempts to justify such thinking with maudlin and sticky sentimentality are thunder striking in their fragility.

The blindness to reality would seem to leave one with the notion that one’s thinking decides what is real.  There is no bedrock “security”.  There is only trial and error with a huge swath of luck and blind hope. There is no reality “out there”.  And the result may very well be an anger at being left in a morass of cosmic mush.  The “mush”, the ambiguity, is all over the modern scene, even with religious persons.  A  very  “with it” nun I know  went to a pub, dressed in slacks and sweater, met a young chap at the bar  and after a  few pops he made the usual pass. Sister indignantly informed him of her exalted status and rendered the poor dude with mouth agape. But how would he know? In 1941 such an event would have been intrinsically impossible. Self concepts indicated that such behavior collided with the conscious self definition one clearly possessed. Is there no normal criterion of  “correct” behavior? Or, in  fact, is it that anything goes if one desires “it”?   
In 1941 Catholic priests were required  to wear clerical attire in all circumstances with possible exceptions of the shower and the beach. It was de rigeur, at the very least,  to carry  a hat, usually black, except perhaps in scorching weather when one might sport what was  called a “Panama”, or light  colored straw. To see a priest today dressed in clericals is a rare event. And if he wears or carries a hat he must be an actor in some re-make of  “Going My Way.”

Priests were called “Father” with undercurrent mutual understanding that the priest lived  “for” his parishioners as a spiritual parent. There was an automatic respect and regard for any priest.  Today the priesthood is generally regarded as a disgraced, questionable, child molesting, marginalized group. Churches were overflowing with believers in 1941 with souls the “modern” scorn- fully labels as infantile while he, the enlightened, announces  that  while he is a Catholic, he doesn’t believe in many medieval practices as unfitting for his superior attainment.  He blithely ignores clear teaching of his church  and supports manners, mores, practices and customs which are antithetically opposed to the Faith. These differences of these eras under study are blatant.

But some Catholic leaders are equally perplexing.  Even on the Cardinal level, we find instances where leaders seriously advocate and lobby to allow people in the state of public objective sin to receive the Eucharist in spite of the centuries tradition of “state of grace” requirement. Apparently, they do not care for or are unaware of the consequent pain for the simple devout Catholic who doesn’t read the sophisticated musings of professional  theologians.

There are, of course, many good adult developments such as the obliteration of the disgraceful racial discriminations of the past and the unjust  treatment of homosexual people. The sin of anti-Semitism has been surfaced and confronted on all levels of Catholicism even though bigots seep through the cracks everywhere.

On  the whole, however, the eyes of 1941 would never recognize the “life” of the modern progressive Catholic. Or the state of the modern Church. Modernity can please the elite but it often leaves the mass of the Catholic body perplexed and insecure. Their favorite and sustaining devotions are either obliterated or marginalized. Rarely are the laity urged to “visit” the Blessed Sacrament  ( or even so to refer to the Eucharist reserved in the Tabernacle).  The stations of  the Cross for most of the Liturgical year are ignored except for Lent and  weekly Church dusting.

Yet,  there seems be deep Faith underlying the spiritual life of the  2015 Catholic who remains true to the Faith of the Fathers in spite of the modern gooey style of leadership, priest infidelities, secularism, ridicule from a progressive media, empty Churches, relatively few vocations. The belief that Jesus will be with this Church until the end of time seems in good health.

So, half a loaf is better than none.  In general, Rip Van Winkle prefers it as it is now. The technology, communication, transportation facilities make life a pleasure. The available money and luxuries are hard to ignore.  He can still worship God as he pleases with his Rosary and visits to the Blessed Sacrament and his saints and devotions.

In spite of the obvious almost antithetical differences of the two eras, human nature remains the same. Natura non fallitur!  What is wrong with expressing one’s opinion even if one is in a  tiny minority?  Ah, yes!  We must not forget the great American privilege----the right to espouse unpopular causes. It is great fun to do that and still say:  “I am proud to be American  and Catholic.”

Welcome, Rip Van Winkle,  to 2015.

The Story that has no Story

The Story that has no Story

A famous Catholic preacher takes to the streets of New York and booms out as uninterested   crowds rush past him to get to school, the local hospital or merely to rent bicycles. “Do you have a story of your heart you want to share?”  he shouts as person after person completely ignores him.  Far from the great adoring numbers who heard him preach with sophistication and grace, they, in the New York manner of studied aloofness and non-involvement, pass by him who is dressed in shorts and sneakers, as If he were not there.

A few break out of the mold and say—somewhat sadly – I don’t have a story. Or they shrug their shoulders and smile wanly —almost apologetically for their life emptiness. A very few stop for amazingly beautiful descriptions of personal generosity and human compassion . One journalist stops to arrange for us to do a brief  taping for a local cable station. But the huge majority seem untouched by the potential of spiritual meaning. Harried. Tense. Unsure. Sad. Seeking the elusive carrot at the end of the stick.  So they seem to a casual observer like me, a 94 year old psychologist and priest. I am his assistant.  I sit on my walker and observe what I suspect is the prompting of the Holy Spirit of God.

Does that  response “ I don’t have a story “  reflect a profound sadness and alienation?  Do some people feel detached?  Rootless?  Empty? Are they hesitant truly to reach out to others for friendship and love?  Hesitantly, perhaps, because they feel no one could love them!
Do people hide even from themselves the suspicion that they are not really lovable and that others are faking at loving them?  Is there a loneliness in the modern psyche? Is this an example of the famous description of anomie …”lives of quiet desperation”?

It is probably the action of the Holy Spirit of God which inspired Fr John to begin what looks on the surface as a weird apostolate . I suspect that Saints unapologetically become involved in the bizarre and the apparently impractical because of their dream,  what they see and hear  from the Lord. They have empty pocket and impossible dreams but they do wonders.  The young Francis of Assisi  in giving up a classy life style to exchange his silks for burlap bags must have seemed odd and even nutty to his contemporaries.  Mother Teresa would clearly fit the  term “loopy” when she gives her life to the filthy, despairing, poorest of the poor in a land culturally at odds with her upbringing. Consider the exhibitionist Don Bosco with his adolescent card tricks  trying to rehab wild teenagers whom so many  professionals abandoned as lost souls. The smart ones made jokes about him in their insights that he was wasting his time.

Perhaps, the holy pursuit of God does make “saints” a little  crazy–depending on one’s value system and culture. To the secular  “hot shot” this is obvious.   ”You live in fantasy” they say as they turn away to their martinis and escapist living. Yet a large number of Americans seem to hunger for a “spirituality” freed from the boundaries of organized religion. They are not sure what this really means or how to find this gift which they sense is somehow there --- somewhere “out there”.

People like Fr. John take great emotional risks in reaching out but in the manner of the saints of our tradition, he takes rejection and sneers as part of the“ Sidewalk” pre-evangelization. As I listened and watched his efforts, I thought of Jesus reminding us of the ever applicable metaphor that the smallest of seeds like the mustard seed can grow to become  a great meaningful sign of God’s presence in the world.

But, also, as I sat, watched and peddled flyers meant to nudge empty human beings—just a little bit—toward the Lord, I thought of myself !  Am I completely senile at 94 in doing this?

I have a PhD in psychology from a prestigious university, I have chaired a graduate school for 20 years, I have been the confessor for bishops and cardinals, I have traveled the world, I have even eaten at the Four Seasons yet here I am like a young immigrant  from Ghana who hustles flyers for renting bicycles at Columbus Circle……

I have been on the sidewalk  three times with Fr John, loved it, believed in it, and can’t wait to do it again.  Nutty or saintly, I plan repetitions.   And as young Martin Luther said (he who could have written a best seller “I was a Teenage Catholic”) "For good or for ill, here is where I stand."
Truth to tell, just between us, my hope is that I am or will be one of those crazy saints !