I know this is long, but I feel this needed to be said...
As many of you know, I run a blog called The Catholic Breadbox, in which I publish quotes culled from the great writers and big names of the Church's history.
I read Catholic spiritual works with an eye to accumulating quotes for this blog.
This week I went to the public library and checked out Jean Vanier: Essential Writings, an anthology of his writings and talks.
I read through the introduction, which was a biography of his life, and two of the excerpts.
And then I couldn't continue. I could not take one more page of his insipid take on spirituality.
I was quite disappointed after reading the details of his life. He is, of course, famous for the foundation of L'Arche communities, which consist of communities of handicapped and non-handicapped people living together. The idea itself has a lot of merit. But I question whether a community where there is so much freedom that people come and go as they please is really a good thing for the handicapped.
What is less well-known is that he did his PhD thesis on Aristotle, and the requirements for happiness. That sounded like the writings of someone who was really in tune with the Church's philosophical tradition.
Then I read what he had to say.
I think the biggest problem with his approach (I'm not sure I would call it a "spirituality") is that it is hopelessly "self-referential", to borrow a word from Pope Francis.
It is focused almost solely on the self.
About the transformation of self. About one's feelings. About subjective experiences.
Never about objective truth.
And so spirituality is reduced to the study and remedy of psychological states, and completely apart from the economy of salvation.
So in Jean Vanier, you'll read a lot about loneliness, pain, vulnerability, anguish and discomfort.
But you won't read about sin, penance, mortification, suffering, grace, heaven, hell, or the Passion.
There is no pursuit of holiness, only of wholeness.
And of course, the spiritual and Sacred tradition of the Church is completely absent. Instead of embracing suffering in union with Christ, they try to solve it, or use it as a tool to achieve some other psychological state.
Another major problem with his writings is that the language is superficial. The theology is vague, even childish, because the tradition of the Church is almost never referenced. When people without any Catholic culture read his words, they impose their own meaning on the text. And in the hands of spiritually illiterate readers, this is problematic. Because instead of acting on Truth, they act on feeling, on intuition, on nebulous ideas of goodness. They essentially reference themselves.
The point of Catholic spirituality is not referencing oneself. It's to receive guidance from an external source, the Holy Spirit.
And I can anticipate the objection of those who follow this self-referential philosophy: but we do follow the Holy Spirit, we follow the promptings of the spirit.
What the promptings of the spirit essentially amount to is intuition.
Now of course the great saints also had their promptings, but their promptings were always guided by the objective truth taught by the Church. They followed that Holy Spirit.
And while the Holy Spirit is not obligated to reference this truth in every one of its promptings, it becomes problematic when NONE of your intuitions has any correlation to the teachings of the Magisterium, the economy of salvation, or the teachings of the Doctors of the Church.
It suggests that you're not really listening to the Holy Spirit.
Now Jean Vanier himself does not appear to be unorthodox, notwithstanding the shallowness of his writings. I read a passage where he even spoke of the necessity of "true fecundity" in the couple. So I don't think he's a dissident. He does not appear to have an agenda to "reform" the Church.
However, the fact that he is orthodox, but expresses himself the way he does, epitomizes the most pressing problem of the Catholic Church in the post-Vatican II era: modernism by omission.
To me, this is a disease.
Modernism is the heresy whereby nothing is really what it is. Revelation, Doctrine, Spirituality and Liturgy do not have the literal meaning given by the Church. They're "spiritualized". They're re-jigged to make them mean something that has no connection to Magisterial. Everything becomes a symbol of what you want it to mean.
So the Resurrection, instead of being the historical and literal re-union of Christ's soul and his glorified body, becomes a symbol of our personal resurrections, our personal re-births. So when modernists celebrate Easter, they don't reference the historical reality of Christ's coming back to life. To them it's a myth, if not literally,then practically, because they don't treat it as a historical event. To them, the literal and historical are unimportant, it's the "meaning" placed upon it that matters. As if the hope of coming back to life were some secondary thing. (Note, the economy of salvation is downplayed!)
Modernists always re-interpret Revelation, Doctrine, Spirituality and Liturgy to serve the current ideological fashions.
But of course, modernism is a heresy. And as the Church hierarchy becomes more orthodox, outright denial of dogmas would never fly. (Except of course if your name is Fr. Raymond Gravel but that's another blog post).
So the next step then, is modernism by omission.
Modernist professional Catholics know there are some things they can't say. But they won't preach the literal Truths of the faith. They don't believe them. So instead of directly countering the truths of the Catholic faith, they just word their writing and preaching in such a way that they just don't openly contradict them, but they never mention them.
In Canada today, it's actually rare to hear a priest openly contest Church doctrine. There are dissenters, no doubt about it. But the number of priests and deacons who make statements in direct contradiction is actually very small.
But the number of priests who won't preach the faith in the pulpit is huge. The typical Catholic homily is about psychological states-- just like Jean Vanier's writings.
Now don't get me wrong. Psychology and spirituality are related, and important and need to be addressed. And much of what Jean Vanier has to say is relevant and true.
The problem is that the bulk of Church preaching consists of the psychology of spirituality.
As if they were one and the same.
And so this is modernism by omission.
Catholicism isn't about objective truths and saving one's soul.
It's about wholeness.
This phenomenon is a disease in our Church.
It's totally self-referential.
A good Catholic should think about the state of his soul, not the state of his feelings. Feelings play a role, but they're instruments of holiness (or barriers) not spirituality itself.
What we need in this Church, besides a movement to promote orthodoxy, is a movement to name and denounce modernism by omission.
Because for people who grew up on this pap, they don't understand the relevance of orthodoxy or the Catholic spiritual tradition. It's completely outside their frame of reference.
The call for orthodoxy strikes these people as mindless literalism from a bunch of slack-jawed yokels. Witness how Fr. Raymond Gravel denigrates the "Religious Right" in Canada, or Fr. Rosica denounces them as the "Catholic Taliban".
Professional Catholics who neglect to teach the Truths of the faith should be prepared to answer for their silence on Catholic teaching, especially those teachings on the economy of salvation. Catholics can get by without knowing the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, but they cannot make progress without knowing the rudiments of the pursuit of holiness, which begin with the abandonment of sin, and the hope of heaven.
Souls are being lost because of this modernist crap! Souls are going to hell because professional Catholics will not do their job. It's all well and good to live with the handicapped and make oneself and them feel better, but if you end up in hell, what was it all worth it?
For reference sake, you can read a summary of his theology on his new, official website.