If you have not read the works of Joesph Campbell or Mircea Eliade, not only are you missing a big chunk of how to look at being human with a systematic approach to intelligent progression, but how the Ascension of Christ completes the classic hero myth form in all literature. Here is a blog that I wrote some time ago about the Christ Principle and how He completes the classic human approach to overcoming death to bring life and then completing the cycle (the Ascension). In this reflection, I use outside influences that have shaped how I look at humanity to revisit what I know about The Christ Principle. Christ is indeed the fulfillment of humanity’s search for meaning.
To a great extent, all of us are, in large part, the result of people we have bumped into during our solitary sojourn down whatever paths life has taken us. People and sometimes events have shaped who we have become and that process continues until death has its due. In my own case, as I reflect upon my Lectio Divina verse (Philippians 2:5), I feel immense gratitude that Christ bumped into me and continues to be merciful to such a broken-down, old Lay Cistercian, such as myself. I call this the Christ Principle because everything that informs my life is based on that encounter (not just a one-time meeting, but seeking God each and every day), your life might be different, but I don’t control that, only my own. Of course, there are many, many more people who have contributed to where I am today. One of the learning points I have noticed since becoming a Lay Cistercian is having the ability to see the Holy Spirit in other people with whom I meet as I seek God daily. All of them form a sort of tree with Christ as the vine and we being the branches. There have been ten people who have left their mark on how I look at reality, ten that have an enduring influence on how I approach Christ, The Center of all Reality.
- Jesus Christ, The Christ Principle, and Center of All Reality
- Mary, Mother of God, Master of Humility and Obedience to God’s Will
- Paul of Tarsus, Master Teacher of The Christ Principle
- Sts Benedict and Scholastica, Masters of Living The Christ Principle
- St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Master of the Contemplative Heart of Christ
- Aidan Kavanaugh, O.S.B. Master of the Liturgy as the highest expression of The Christ Principle
- Erich Fromm, Master of Authentic Love in the Secular World
- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., Master of Perspective of All Reality using the Christ Principle
- Antoine de St. Exupère, Master of Looking at what is essential
- Joel Barker, futurist and noted author, Master of how Paradigm Shifts move humanity forward
- Joseph Campbell and Mircea Eliade (I know, that is eleven)
In a series of blogs in the future, I will examine each of these people and how they have helped me have in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5). In this blog, I will share with you the experiences I had with Father Aidan Kavanaugh and why that is important in how I look at reality.
My relationship with Father Aidan is personal in that he was my instructor at St. Meinrad School of Theology in 1963, teaching a course on Sacramental Theology. That was the extent of my contact with Father Aidan. His classes were memorable, in that I still hold onto four situations and examples that were to remain with me and guide me in how I view reality. In the later part of this blog, you can read for yourself about the impact that Father Aidan had on liturgy in the United States Catholic Church.
THE ENDURING EXAMPLE OF MRS. MURPHY
My first exposure to Mrs. Murphy, a fictionalized, archetypal character used by Father Aidan to ground the academic theologians in the practical expression of Liturgy as the Body of Christ in the local community. She lifted up all the cares, worries, successes, and challenges of the day with Christ to the Father. What I remember him saying about Mrs. Murphy was that she is the little, old lady in the backbench of Church, eyes closed, faithfully praying to God with all her soul. This lady, said Father Aidan, knows more about the meaning of Faith than all the sophisticated theologians and academics combined. She brings all her struggles and aspirations and lays them at the feet of Christ in humility, simplicity of words, fidelity to the love of Christ, seeking only to be in the presence of the Holy Spirit. At the time, this example just passed right over my head, like so many of the other ideas I encountered. Being in Father Aidan’s class was like taking a sip of water from a fully functioning fire hose. So many wonderful and scintillating ideas were presented in such a modest way, that I found myself struggling to catch just a gulp. I do remember Mrs. Murphy because it has taken me a lifetime to flesh out the significance of what Father Aidan was trying to communicate. It has been only in the last six or seven years that this image has even begun to make some sense to me. My inspiration came from the Lay Cistercians of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery in their monthly Gathering Days. Being from Tallahassee, Florida my drive to the monastery, once per month, was five hours away, in Atlanta, Georgia. I very slowly came to see what Father Aidan was alluding to in his avatar of Mrs. Murphy. It is the time I take to place myself in the presence of Christ, in the presence of my fellow Lay Cistercians on gathering day, that makes me open to the Holy Spirit in community. Liturgy is the expression of this living body of Christ which culminates in the Eucharist but which is sustained in the local Gathering in the name of Christ. I am very slowly coming to expand my Faith horizon from Church as someplace I go to for the Sacraments to actually believing that I am the Church wherever I am and that, joined with others of like persuasion, we offer our whole day as sacrament in our search to find God wherever we are. Spirituality becomes not just those times where we formally pray in silence and solitude, although it is that, much more significant is the time we take in our whole day joined with our community of Faith, and all of this joined to the Church Universal as the acceptable sacrifice of our lives in with and through Christ to the glory of the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. Practicing the five Cistercian charisms of silence, solitude, work, prayer, and community is how I have come to address Mrs. Muphy’s challenge of simply being in the presence of Christ and listening. St. Thomas Aquinas, O.P., great Doctor of the Church states it so: “One day when Thomas Aquinas was preaching to the local populace on the love of God, he saw an old woman listening attentively to his every word. And inspired by her eagerness to learn more about her God whom she loved so dearly, he said to the people: It is better to be this unlearned woman, loving God with all her heart, than the most learned theologian lacking love.” https://www.azquotes.com/author/490-Thomas_Aquinas
- Mrs. Murphy is an avatar for the person who does not possess profound knowledge about liturgy but rather uses this overshadowing experience of the Holy Spirit to become closer to Christ by doing liturgy.
- The purpose of both Sacramental Liturgy (Church Universal) and local expressions are to remove obstacles to being present to Christ through the Holy Spirit.
- It is important for the local Church to have a way to show new catechumens how to be present to Christ.
THE ENDURING EXAMPLE OF CHRIST AS A HEROIC, MYTHIC FIGURE
I can still see Father Aidan writing on the chalkboard. He was talking about how Christ fulfilled not just the Old Testament prophets, but also the hero myth model of Greek and Roman mythology. The Gospel structure did not just pop out of the air but was actually a literary device that cultures used to show a hero who had a mission to overcome, faced great obstacles and overcame them, and rose above (resurrection) all his adversaries and blockages to bring new life to the whole world. The late Dr. Joesph Campbell has written extensively about this topic of hero, savior, messiah, and king of kings. Here is one synopsis of the steps he uses to explain the journey of the hero. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBOx_zizir0 In doing research on this idea of a hero, I am struck by the last of applications in the literature about Christ as a heroic figure for the human race. I bring that up because that is exactly what Father Aidan proposed back in 1963. It is not exactly the model that Dr, Campbell uses, but there are so many variations out there that I give Father Aidan poetic license to interpolate it for his purposes. Here is what he wrote on the chalkboard that day (keep in mind, that was back in 1963 and I am now 82 years old). Father Aidan adapted the classic hero myth form from Joseph Campbell.
The Anticipation of the Hero
Birth Of God/Man Jesus into Ordinary Time
The Mission Identified
The Mission as Journey
Helpers in the Mission
The Hero faces and overcomes trials and barriers
The Hero suffers and dies for his Mission
The Hero Rises (Resurrection) with humanity to new life
The Hero Descends into Hell to unite all reality into one, holy, apostolic, and catholic Universal Church
The Hero Ascends to ordinary life again but this time it is supernatural.
The Hero passes on this supernatural life to his followers.
- I am still learning the application of the hero myth to the Gospel’s account of Christ’s life journey to complete his mission from the Father.
- This common literary device seems to me to be at the heart of the four Gospels. Each Gospel is different because each writer is different but all use the same literary formula.
- Christ is the hero of all the heroic stories of salvation from bad or evil.
THE ENDURING EXAMPLE OF LITURGY AS LIVED EXPERIENCES LIFTED UP THROUGH, WITH, AND IN CHRIST
So far, I have just touched on the importance of Mrs. Murphy as being one who is open to the possibility of all Being and is content to be in the presence of Christ. Next, the heroic myth story is one that Christ did to fulfill the prophets and leave the local Gathering of the Baptized to do what Christ did. And what did he do?
Christ loved each one of us in the context of our faith community so much that he became our nature (Philippians 2:5-12). He did that to not only tell us how to love others but to show us how to love others as He loved us. Liturgy is not just a Eucharistic moment in the life of the community, although it is indeed that. It is the Church gathering the faithful together to lift up their life situations to the Father as did Christ. In the myth hero formula, these would be the obstacles he would face to sidetrack him from his mission. This mission was to re-establish the relationship between divinity and humanity lost by the archetypal choice of Adam and Eve to be god. In the liturgy of the Hours, and the liturgy of the Eucharist, there are moments where we offer up to the Father with, through, and in Christ the glory due to his name as God, living and true. What Father Aidan exposed for me was the purpose of liturgy as a dynamic way to transform my everyday hurts, sufferings, accomplishments, and successes into praise and glory of the Father. Mrs. Murphy is everyman, everywoman, all who use the externals moments provided by the local Gathering to see what cannot be seen and hear what cannot be heard. The community is the living body of Christ, composed of all the individual leaves on that branch, Christ being the trunk and the roots. Liturgy in the broad sense is prayer, those of the community of faithful but also the Church Universal. It is in this sense that the Church Universal is holy while all of its members are sinners in need of God’s constant mercy.
THE ENDURING TASK OF SEEKING GOD EVERY DAY
Everything in the above three categories seems to point to the individual in the context of the Church seeking God every day with what life serves up. This was brought home to me in this era of COVID-19 self-isolation when my wife asked me why I don’t go to church anymore. I made a feeble attempt to tell her that my doctor thought I was at high risk of being out in public because of my past battles with Leukemia (CLL type) and having a pacemaker implanted four weeks ago. Her argument was that I was not a good Catholic anymore because I did not go to Church as often as before and she never saw me praying out loud. I used this experience to measure myself against Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict, which I read every day, to ground myself in what is essential. In one of my Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5) meditations, I actually asked the Holy Spirit if I was a slacker and losing my faith. The thought came back immediately that, far from being lacking in Faith, this COVID-19 test actually made me stronger. Instead of my being a lax catholic because I did not attend church as frequently as before, I realized, thanks to Mrs. Murphy and Father Aidan, that I am Church and that wherever I go, Church goes with me. The fact that I think I am Church does not mean I speak for the Church Universal. It does mean that, like one leaf on the branch of my tree of Christ at Good Shepherd Community, I am one of many leaves who tries to move from self to God each day. I realized also that when I join in my thoughts and Cistercian practices, I am joined with all other individuals who make up the Gathering known as Church. We share one faith, one Lord, one Baptism, and are the living, real presence of Christ on our journey. Seeking God in my daily life is not an isolated event between just Christ and me, but it is the presence of others Baptized in the Faith and adopted sons and daughters of the Father who, together and individually, long to move from self to God in the context of community. The Cistercian charisms of silence, solitude, work, prayer, and community enable me to join with others to give praise to the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who will be at the end of the ages. –Cistercian doxology.
Thank you, Father Aidan and my other professors who planted the seed. Even though it has taken a very long time, Christ has given the issue. The choices I make are informed by all those who have, in some way, touched my mind and heart.
THE WISDOM OF MYTH IN HUMAN AWARENESS
Slow down your life and speed up your enlightenment. Here are a series of YouTube blogs by Joseph Campbell, a person who has unlocked the hitherto procrustean approach I had to look at what it means to be human. Myth, such as Genesis and Exodus are the deepest desires of humans, as well as having the framework of historical intelligent progression. If you think of myth as somehow not real, you will completely miss the point of any of the classic heroes who faced obstacles, overcame them, and rose from their natural humanity to something much more fulfilling. Jesus fits into this paradigm and I have used it in my thinking to probe ever deeper into the Mystery of Human Intelligent Progression, informed and fulfilled by the Mystery of Faith.
I view these YouTubes as occasions when I can reflect on Christ as a Hero (The Four Gospels) and the steps he took to fulfill this classic evolution of humanity from animality through humanity but with the added dimension of spirituality and the incorruptibility of the last step in human evolution.
I can remember the Sun slicing through the gigantic, three-foot thick, sandstone window openings of our Second Theology class in Sacramental Theology on the first floor of the Major Theology section at Saint Meinrad School of Theology. At the blackboard was the late Father Aiden Kavanaugh, O.S.B., writing down the words, “Mrs. Murphy,” on the blackboard. In 1963, not knowing what I did not know, much less what I should know about theology, I was just trying to stay awake on the warm Spring day in Southern Indiana. At the time, I remember thinking that his explanation of Mrs. Murphy did not make sense. Father Adrian told us to remember that liturgy was about the human heart being able to approach the unapproachable mystery of Faith through using the senses and common human experiences to share what we can share about Word and Sacrament.
Those who were fortunate to hear Father Aiden, recognize that he thought in terms of compound, complex sentences, but his keen insights into the human condition began to formulate how the Sacred informs meaning in each of us in very different ways.
Now, I am merely a broken-down, old Lay Cistercian of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, lucky to comment about life around me and certainly not an eloquent apologist for any approach to liturgics. In this book, Mrs. Murphy looms large as an archetype of us all, an Adam and Eve for relations with the Sacred. Let me use a quote from Fr. Aidan to give you a sense of his eloquent thinking.
“The liturgical assembly is thus a theological corporation and each of its members a theologian. . . . Mrs. Murphy and her pastor are primary theologians whose discourse in faith is carried on not by concepts and propositions nearly so much as in the vastly complex vocabulary of experiences had, prayers said, sights seen, smells smelled, words said and heard, and responded to, emotions controlled and released, sins committed and repented, children born and loved ones buried, and in many other ways no one can count or always account for.” (On Liturgical Theology, Chapter 7)
If I understand Father Aidan’s thinking even remotely, it is that the local church is established by Christ to enable its members to communicate and give glory to a God we cannot see, to make sense out of everyday struggles and trials with those we do see, and to find meaning and purpose with a world gone mad with its importance. By loving our neighbor as our self, within the sacramental and non-sacramental context of the local assembly, the Mystery of Faith, we find purpose, pure energy with the source of all reality, and how to love with all our hearts, our minds, and our strength. God will not leave any of us stranded or without food to sustain us on our journey. If our purpose is to be with God…Forever, then the invisible God needs some way to communicate with those who call him Lord and give them food for the journey and the ability to make all things new, over and over. The context in which we find what we need to make sense out of all of this is the local church, linked by heritage and practice to the Apostles. It is the way to touch the invisible God in our midst; it is the way we claim our adoption as God’s sons and daughters.
I think I am beginning to get what Father Aidan was proposing with the archetypal character of Mrs. Murphy, much like Genesis did with Adam and Eve. What has bothered me all these years, up to five years ago, was the concept of Mrs. Murphy. How can an old woman sit in the back of the church and know more than all the theologians and clerics combined? I say five years ago because that was the time I was accepted as a novice Lay Cistercian. With the emphasis on contemplation and Lectio Divina, I found that I gradually morphed into Mrs. Murphy, at least I fancy that I did. I wasn’t worried that I had to comprehend the Mystery of Faith, only that I could approach it in humility and wait. I began to think less of knowing and more of loving through doing. As part of doing this, I wrote down all my thoughts about Mrs. Murphy in 54 books and a blog to keep my Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5) fresh and relevant to my relationship with the Sacred. Information, Knowledge, and Science are not the end purpose of life, as St. Thomas Aquinas, O.P., described in his famous quote about everything he knew about God was so much straw.
Knowledge unlocks the door to the heart, the place where no one wants to look. It is my sitting on a park bench in the dead of Winter, waiting for Christ to come by, straining to see him trudging about the bend with his pet Yellow Lab, in the hope that he will sit down next to me.
Mrs. Murphy is that “every person” who has profound simplicity, the simplicity of a human approaching that which the human mind cannot control or grasp, but the human heart can partially capture. We get a glimpse of divine reality, like looking through a foggy glass. For Mrs. Murphy, and now for me, I am satisfied that Christ is my mediator between the Sacred and the World in which I live. With Christ, I access the Mystery of Faith through silence, solitude, work, and prayer, in the context of my two communities of Faith. I am grateful and blessed that Father Aidan planted the seed, I watered it, but it is Christ who gives the issue. And what an issue it is. The hero has ascended back to the Father to complete the mission and to prepare a place for me, an adopted son (daughter) to inherit. I am still learning what that is, but I tell you, I will sell everyTHING I have to be here as I Hope in the Resurrection and my personal ascension to heaven with Christ, Mary, St. Joseph, and St. Michael as my guides.
Praise be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian doxology