Out and about in Ottawa

Fr. Laurence Freeman,OSB, head of the World Community for Christian Meditation

Last Thursday night, I went to a reception honoring Fr. Laurence Freeman, the Benedictine priest who was inducted as an Officer of the Oder of Canada on Friday for his work with the World Community for Christian Meditation.

Here’s a link to the story I wrote, based on my interview with him and with Dr. Balfour Mount, published at B.C. Catholic. 

Father Freeman told CCN he sees a role for Christian meditation in the new evangelization and hopes the Catholic Church will recognize the teaching of meditation and contemplative prayer as an evangelizing work, “because it’s bringing the fruits of the Spirit within the motivation of Christian faith to people in need.”

“And God knows the world is in need of these fruits of the Spirit,” he said. “In the same way in the past religious orders brought hospitals and education where there were none, I think today as Christians we can bring the healing of the soul, the hope of the Spirit, the fruits of the Spirit.”

“We’re not hiding in any way the inspiration or origins of our teaching, but we’re saying it’s a gift that is so simple and so universal it can be of value to everyone in every walk of life,” he said. “I really believe that when teaching meditation with Christian faith we are bringing the Gospel to those people.”

“The Christian tradition has always flown on two wings,” he said. “One wing is what we can say about God and what we believe. The other wing is that we know God is mystery and that all our words fall short.”

Father Freeman said both the present Pope and Blessed John Paul II emphasized the contemplative nature of prayer and of liturgy.

After my interviews, I went to the Michael Voris event in Ottawa hosted by the Socon and the Legionnaires of St. Maurice, where I managed to catch the Q&A and then go out with a few other bloggers to a blogmeet with Michael in a Nepean pub.  Here’s a report from the Socon blog on the well-attended event that includes audio of the talks.

Last night, two hundred people packed Mac Hall at the Bronson Center to hear Internet sensation, Catholic Evangelist and…uh…Peacemaker, Michael Voris.  Although I was expecting about 140 people based on the registration information that I received over the past month or so, it seems that word travelled quickly during the last couple of days and many people showed up above my original estimate.  The place was packed and there were about 80-100 people already there when I, my wife, and Michael arrived with the Tim Horton’s coffee, timbits, and other refreshments.  (Thanks to all who helped out last night including Cynthia B., who brought the fruit and veggies, Andy who helped out with the Sound and Chairs, and Paul L. who helped collect the donations, along with everyone else who helped prepare the place.) Oh and by the way, none of this was promoted by any parish in Ottawa or by the Archdiocese.  The word got out by the internet and word of mouth…which goes to show you that the communication lifeblood of the future underground Church will be through email, the Catholic blogosphere, and other undeground channels of cyberspace.

I enjoyed the Q&A.  Haven’t listened to the talk yet, but I will.  And I enjoyed meeting Michael Voris, who struck me as warm and charming and engaging in person.

This was an interesting evening for me on so many levels, partly because it shows how diverse the various communities within the Church are that I encounter on a day to day basis.   I doubt very much the folks attending the reception for Fr. Freeman would have the much interest in Michael Voris and vice versa.  In fact, many in these groups might find each other abhorrent for one reason or another!

I have a deep contemplative streak and in the days of being a lonely pilgrim, I did a daily centering or meditation practice taught by a man named Roy Masters that had a huge positive effect on my spiritual growth.   The exercise he taught, the technique itself, I still consider neutral and beneficial if done with the right intent and the guidance of orthodox Christian teaching.  The daily discipline of sitting in the present moment can and will expose how wrong your intent is, in every possible respect!  It will reveal to you your “Old Man” in ways may bring about a deep repentance.  At least it did for me.

But there were aspects of Roy Masters’ teachings—he is a Jew and former hypnotist who said he discovered Jesus Christ through doing this meditation coupled with a whole-hearted desire to know the truth, whatever it is—that kept me away from organized religion, to my detriment.   Masters was a bit of an Arian in his views of Jesus—he did not have an orthodox Christian view of the Trinity as he was self-taught and not under any authority.  So I was led astray from the Apostolic faith for a long season, until I finally realized one must choose to believe the Catholic and Apostolic faith and then you will understand, not vice versa.   Credo ut intelligam–I believe in order that I may understand. Whereas the meditation, the negative way, emphasized unknowing, and encountering the Mystery of God  built on understanding that preceded believing.   I understand in order that I may believe. I had to understand in order to believe. I had to experience in order to believe.  And thus I did understand a few things utterly and profoundly, but none of it hung together in a way that ensured I could lead a victorious Christian life.  Thankfully I began to understand enough that I made the switch to Credo ut intelligam.

Which brings me to Michael Voris.  I wonder whether, in my lonely pilgrim days,  Voris would have totally put me off the Catholic Church.  I would have found him too black and white, too forcing a choice that I wasn’t ready to make.  Now that I’ve made the choice, I  enjoy him.   I enjoy his bracing, no-holds-barred, in-your-face presentation.    But I do not agree with him about everything.  I do not think he represents the way all Catholics must be in order to be real Catholics.   We all have different gifts and different callings within the Body of Christ.

There is room in the Body of Christ for people who tell the hard truths and who tell them forcefully.  But should everyone be like Voris?  Well, I wish there were more with courage and a willingness to speak up regardless of the consequences.

Back to the World Community for Christian Meditation—-I have some qualms about emphasizing the universality of all meditation techniques as if there is some underlying unity among all world religions that can be relativistic.   I also have some qualms about equating the peace that one can get through deliberately stilling the mind and that peace of Christ that the world cannot give, the peace that comes from the Holy Spirit.   Doing meditation does not grant one the fruits of the Spirit, though it may make one calm and serene in a worldly sense.   Some meditation techniques are designed to bring oblivion or a kind of present-moment focus that leaves one untroubled because it is a kind of forgetfulness.

True contemplation is something that God brings to us, and a true contemplative practice will bring us to an awareness that we are hopelessly enslaved, hopelessly lost, totally needy and dependent and only the Truth, Jesus Christ, can set us free.  It is the opposite of oblivion or forgetfulness. It is sitting spiritually naked in the Presence of God, in the present moment, and allowing the Holy Spirit to expose you to yourself.

Now I can sit in God’s presence and my mind is generally quiet.  It is not hard to be peaceful and centered.  But, boy oh boy, in those early days, I would force myself to sit for a half an hour and some of that time would be so anxiety-producing as my “old man” huffed and puffed and found every possible reason to try to distract me from seeing my corrupt self for what it was.  But persisting by staying objective, staying in the present moment and gently observing, revealed so much to me about how resentful I was, who I needed to forgive and so on.   It was so beneficial.

If we skip the Jesus part, though and go right to the fruits of the Spirit, well, then I am suspect.  But maybe this technique can help people’s eyes open to the truths of Jesus Christ by another route, the negative way, the way of Mystery, rather than through positive assertions of the faith.  But I would urge caution.

I wish there was a way to be robustly contemplative and orthodox, so that we fully exhibit the fruits of the Spirit as we make our faith explicit.

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1 Response to Out and about in Ottawa

  1. Dom says:

    In my journey I have reached the conclusion that “contemplation” is for the most part, meditative or reflective thinking. Not fuzzy Om stuff, but straight up thinking in one’s head about life, and love, and the Faith. Facing things straight on and pondering them in our heart.
    I spent a week on silent Ignatian Retreat and found that not speaking, in conjunction with rather hard-driving Catholic preaching was an excellent antidote to the superfluities of life. It came down to just wrestling with my soul and facing things in ways I had never thought of before.
    There is a place for daydreaming and poetry, and just “recharging” the batteries of our life, but in the Christian context the mind and the will are the two wayward members which demand our attention, clear deep thought will enable the plain speaking and forthrightness occasionally required of us. Shallow muddled thinking seems normative in the Church these days, but every so often an Elijah or a John Baptist arises to light a fire where it is needed.

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