Friday, October 22, 2010

God, Church and Groups

Did some research about groups.  Sought information on traits and tendencies of  groups and members.  Have observed groups within the Church as well as in various denominations. Applications could also be made to secular groups.  Specifically read research on the Catholic charismatic groups, perhaps due to ongoing, present moment conversation with a self-labeled "charismatic" in my parish and the other group members.

But have been considering the power of group in general in the Catholic Church from experiences, observation, and studies of various traditional religious orders, movements, groups, institutes, as well as individuals who develop groups in what otherwise would be solitary vocations (canonical hermits).

First, to share findings of research.  New groups or movements tend to form, resulting from deprivation need.  The deprivation can be social, economic, ethical, psychic or crisis.   In a study of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, members surveyed tended to be mostly women (less than a third men), average 16 years education, liberal, possess strong identity to the group, and self-label as "charismatic".  Group members of more than two years indicated they would not obey a bishop's suppression of group.

The findings are of particular note due to an archbishop's recent suppression of a church-recognized developing religious order founded on charismatic ideologies.  His investigation revealed alarming flaws within the order's structure and development, including flawed spirituality.  The person with whom I had conversations belongs to this now-suppressed order's associate group.  In response to the question if the local associates group will obey and disband, was told that they will have to meet and pray to decide, that most likely the cause of the suppression was due to "those" making the decision not having "experience with actual charisms."

This reflects research findings. Not only do members foremost identity with the group as "charismatic" but also hold the strong belief that charismatics will be change agent for saving a perceived, fallen society.  When the CCR was given its label and place in the church between 1967 and early '70's, the bishops' main concern was that the group would foster exclusivity among members.  Research has born this out to some degree, but projected they would not formally secede as a schism group.

However, group traits and distinctions extend beyond Catholic charismatics.  Within parishes, groups can generate similar types of exclusivity depending upon their purpose, function, and membership.  Parish groups may identify as parish council, finance council, RCIA, Religious Education, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Young Adult, Peer Ministry, Bible Study and other name-labeled groups. 

Unlabeled groups form based on other factors: socio-economic levels, attendance patterns, spiritual development, traditions, demographics, and perceived needs.  These groups and sub-groups include large families with extended families, widowed, divorced, never married, wealthy, retired, positioned career professionals, middle-class, lower class, varying educational levels, disabled, parish-diocese employees, ordered religious and clerics, parents-children of parochial school, public, or home school, musicians, artists, and manually skilled.  Group traits may also be influenced by personality and psychological needs such as power, prestige and position.

Groups and sub-groups within a parish risk exclusivity in membership according to types and like tendencies of members.  As with the charismatic group research, groups tend to form out of a deprivation or need, and those with similar interests and traits are drawn one to another, as we observe in nature.

Social connections outside parish activities and worship may likely include the same people associated with their group.  For example, those of a certain socio-economic status and career experience tend to create social friendships with other group members for extra-parish activities.  Also, the religious of traditional orders may be parish members, work on staff or provide a presence in worship.  They, as in other examples, maintain group identity, fidelity and bonds that remain strong within parish life and extend beyond church relational involvements.

To bring these brief but telling observations and findings to a conclusion, we may examine the advantages and disadvantages of groups and sub-groups within the church.  Groups positively provide opportunity for connection, support network, provide goods and services, to promote functional, spiritual benefit and outreach.  They can be a means to an end, a method to employ.

However, groups and sub-groups create such strong identity among group members that they can create exclusive attitudes, relationships, and function--thus causing subtle or even obvious exclusion of dissimilar others.  

When exclusivity of members of one group extends to the same persons being also members in other groups, domination, conflict of interest, and dilution of purpose may result.  The members or leader (group head, pastor, religious order superior) must actively guard against these negative tendencies.  The main issue not only in parish groups but also in traditional religious orders is the marginalization or loss of strong spiritual purpose.

We must consider groups in light of Jesus Christ and His life and teachings.  He was critical of leadership in His time on earth, took a demanding approach with the wealthy, was particularly sensitive of the poor and disenfranchised, yet kept an open invitation to all people to come, follow Him.  He had high expectations and explained conditions, including to sell all one's possessions and follow His way.  In other words, detach from all that hindered the spiritual.  Love God above all things, and love one's neighbor as oneself.  Be willing to forsake all for the kingdom of God.

We reflect that Jesus had disciples which may seem like a group, perhaps even exclusive in their earthly poverty.  But no, they were not all poor fishermen, nor did Jesus limit the number of disciples, even though twelve are mentioned as close.  He included all people and established the example for His future church by His interactions with people of neighboring areas (e.g. Gentiles), the poor, the sick, women and children.  

Jesus did not exclude the wealthy or career positioned, but He was critical of those who were more concerned with externals than the spiritual kingdom within.  Christ's expressed standards focus on spiritual aspects, spiritual qualities, spiritual requirements played out in earthly existence.

That is why the Order of the Present Moment will never be a group or sub-group.  It is spiritual, not temporally capable of being otherwise.  Only a possible aid or means to inspire desire and to learn living in Christ in each present moment, and to climb the stairway to heaven--not exclusive of anyone but inclusive of each and all, as we are in the Body of Christ. 

Separate groupings within the Church that can risk exclusivity, division, dominance seem unpredictable.  Have we not witnessed time and again the rise and fall of church groups--from religious orders to Rosary sodalities? Why?  Is it due to the fragmentation of spiritual purpose by human deflection, loss of group spiritual focus and the resultant undulations as members and leaders wax and wane?

Perhaps short-term efforts of persons banning together with strongly upheld spiritual purpose, in a form of situational management by objective, can be useful when membership and leadership are not set or exclusive of anyone. 

However, if we embrace and attempt, foremost, the spiritual ascent, in faith, hope and love, follow the way of union with Christ in our parishes, families and everyday existences in which God has placed us, then the temporal needs of self and others will unfold profoundly.  Humanity's deprivations and needs will be fulfilled.  The only group necessary to recognize, foster, and put forth physical, mental, emotional and spiritual effort to be in, is the Body of Christ.

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