I was raised as a six-days-of-Latin-Mass per week Catholic well into high school, an altar boy and favorite of the decent if dipsomaniac priests (much preferable to the strain of pedophiliacs that have long hidden under the cloak of the Church). When I became an altar boy in the 6th grade, right after taking Confirmation (a child even at that age was compelled to confirm his or her belief in Catholicism), I recall the dramaturgical rituals of the Mass inspiring all sorts of imagined mysteries. Before Vatican II, the priest performed Mass at the front of the Church, with his back to the congregation, in a large knave explicitly designed for that purpose. Combined with the dead language of Latin, these remote rituals artificially produced a feeling of mystery and wonder, just as they were intended to do since before the Middle Ages. I imagined all kinds of esoteric things going on as the priest uttered his incantations and made his prostrations. But after a year or two assisting the padres behind the literal and metaphorical curtain, I saw that the whole fearsome show was not essentially different than the Wizard of Oz - and no more religious (or spiritual, in the parlance of today). Once a month a Benediction was performed on a Wednesday before an almost empty church. My favorite priest, Father Mulhall, for whom I was in the 8th grade master of ceremonies for his Silver Jubilee, had the duty that night. Despite a church empty except for a few old ladies, the service required a full complement of altar boys, four as I recall. Father Mulhall had a few drinks with dinner, and we could smell the alcohol on him. But we all liked him, and he was soon to endear us to him even more. As he waved the container of incense during the Benediction, he dropped it, spilling the embers and ashes onto the altar floor. Not missing a beat, he gathered us around him and made the mistake part of the ceremony! After that I could never take the rituals of the Church seriously. More importantly, I saw that this incident was, in some fashion, how the Mass “evolved” over the centuries. Later that same year, that a nun, Sister Clemencia, the terror of the middle school, unleashed a violent attack on a buddy of mine as we walked down the hall one morning after Mass. The nun, recognizing me, viciously beat my friend on the face and head, screaming about flirting with girls during Holy Communion. The only problem was that he didn’t serve Mass with me that morning, and wasn’t even an altar boy! When I finally got through to her, she turned on her heels and walked away, without a word of apology. I started to question and research the history of the Church, and a few years after that incident, I no longer was a Catholic. A leading Catholic columnist in the United States recently intoned, “The future of humanity depends on people opening doors to the transcendent, rather than sealing themselves into materialism and despair.” In the next sentence however, he promoted the fear of dark forces: “But when the door is open, be very, very careful about what you invite in.” As I saw to my horror that day in the middle school hallway however, evil also exists within the Catholic Church. In fact, metaphysical dangers are greater within the rotting structures of organized religion than outside it. More the point, the deleterious state in which Western, and especially American culture finds itself is directly traceable to the deceptions, propaganda and intrinsic spiritual emptiness of the Roman Catholic Church and its Protestant spinoffs. To maintain that the erosion of belief systems, through reason and science on one hand and rampant individualism on the other, is the cause of the climacteric America and the world faces is not just preposterous; it’s absurd. Catholicism, which was once a refuge for mystics, now has no place for mystical experiencing of the transcendent. Besides, belief systems of any kind cannot fill the spiritual vacuum in America and beyond. Directly experiencing the transcendent can, and it brings with it a completely different understanding of Jesus’ teaching and death. It’s an understanding that metaphorically and metaphysically turns the cross on its head (and not as guilt-ridden Peter demanded he be crucified in the Colosseum). No one, not even the strict Cistercian monks with whom I’ve dialogued in recent years, can explain some of Jesus’ last words except in human terms: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” A spiritual but non-theological philosophy of evil can give us insight into Jesus’ all too human cri de coeur, not as the “Son of God” as the first and following cardinals made him, but as the “son of man” as he called himself. The emerging Catholic Church had already begun to fabricate mysteries before Constantine, the last pagan and first Christian Emperor of Rome, demanded an orthodox canon. Its concoctors were the true blasphemers of Jesus message and mission. And now, “twenty centuries of stony sleep, vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle…have come round at last.” Let go of the encrustations of belief and stand in the desert of the world in which we find ourselves. We don’t have to fear darkness because it already saturates the global culture. Our protection is self-knowing.Letting go of the crumbling past, attending to the shards of self in the present, one discovers that the numinous is still there, waiting for us. Martin LeFevre
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Martin LeFevre, a contemplative, philosopher and writer in northern California, serves as a contributing writer for The Seoul Times. His "Meditations" explore and offer insights on spiritual, philosophical and political questions in the global society. LeFevre's philosophical thesis proposes a new theory of human nature. He welcomes dialogue. email@example.com
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