by Gordon Nary
Gordon: When did you join St. Ann Byzantine Catholic Church and how has the parish contributed to your spirituality?
Thaddeus: My family and I moved from Lander, Wyoming to the Central Coast in California in July of 2018, and one of the first things we did was to check out the nearby Catholic Churches. My wife and I both love the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, so it was a natural choice when we discovered a Byzantine parish with a doctrinally solid and loving priest. There is also a nearby Latin Mass, and, though I do love the Extraordinary Form, I do not particularly love traditionalism, especially when it tends towards Jansenism, Phariseeism, and liturgical idolatry.
The Byzantine Rite combines the reverence, mystery, and theological depth of the Latin Mass, with the vocally active, communal, and dialogue thrust of the Novus Ordo. It evinces an ethos of transcendence and contemplation while retaining a spirit of joy, spontaneity, and freedom—the best aspects of the two Latin Rites. The 75 minute Divine Liturgy doesn’t work so well for daily attendance during one’s lunch break though!
Gordon: You are a postulant for the Oblates of The World Community of Christian Meditation. For our readers who may not be acquainted with the organization, please provide an overview of the organization.
Thaddeus: WCCM is an organization dedicated to the practice, teaching, and promotion of Christian meditation, which is a form of prayer that involves a twice-daily discipline of sitting for 20-30 minutes in silence using a prayer word or mantra to focus one’s attention away from thoughts and self-consciousness and towards God Himself, who by grace is present in our hearts. From the WCCM website: “In 1975 Fr. John Main OSB, an Irish Benedictine monk (1926-1982), started the first Christian Meditation Centre in London. The first of the family of weekly meditation groups around the world began to meet then. After his early death in 1982, the Community, by then centered in Montreal Canada, continued on and matured under the leadership of Fr. Laurence Freeman, OSB. Fr. Laurence's efforts have helped to produce the worldwide community that we are today.”
Gordon: Who was John Main and how has he influenced your life?
Thaddeus: Father John Main was an Irish, London-born Benedictine monk and priest whose gift to the Church is the recuperation of the traditional Christian practice of silent meditation, building upon works such as St. John Cassian’s Conference Ten, The Cloud of Unknowing, and St. Teresa’s “Prayer of Simple Regard.” Father John has shown me a path to intimacy with God and self-knowledge to which I will be committed for the rest of my life, I suspect. I am trying to spread his teachings to others, and have spent the past three years, since I first discovered John Main, leading Christian meditation prayer groups in Wyoming and now in California. My daily meditation practice has made me more detached from my own thoughts and judgments, and more open to the experience of God not dualistically external to me or the world, and the experience of my true self, which is, through grace, one with Christ, in spite of my fearful and negative thoughts and judgments.
Gordon: We share an interest in mysticism. But there may be a misunderstanding by some of what mysticism is. Please share with our readers what mysticism is to you, and how it has impacted your life.
Thaddeus: Mysticism is the experience of God. It can be aided by the experience of created things and human thought, but God is ultimately beyond any creaturely knowledge or experience. I really like Raimon Panikkar’s expression: “The touch with the real without the mediation of consciousness is precisely the mystical.” Meditate on that for a while!
Father Karl Rahner said that the Christian of the future will be a mystic or he will not be at all. He also coined the term “everyday mysticism,” and this is the mysticism in which I am interested. We are all called, not just to believe in, but to experience the Father. And we must also experience ourselves as not separate from Him, but as His sons and daughters.
We are invited to participate in the self-same experience that Jesus Himself had of His Father. This is literally incredible, but it’s what our Faith tells us. Jesus shares this gift with us, if we would only become aware of it, believe in it, and receive it. This is what the Mass teaches us when it says, “may we come to share in the divinity of Christ.” All the teachings and sacraments, vocal and mental prayers, devotions and traditions are meant to dispose us to this experience of God “without the mediation of consciousness.” Love of neighbor flows inexorably from this experience if we allow it.
How do we experience the Father? John Main teaches us, echoing the Tradition:
Strictly speaking, meditation does not give us any experience of God. God does not ‘experience’ himself but rather he knows. For him to experience himself would suggest a divided consciousness. What meditation does is to take us into the life of God, the life full of the knowledge of the Word begotten from self-transcendence. This is why meditation is an entry into divinization through Jesus. Through him, we become one with God. With him we utterly transcend ourselves, leaving the whole of ourselves behind and becoming a new creation in him. In him, meditation is itself the process of self-transcendence. To the degree that we are transcending ourselves, we are sharers in the divine nature because we are learning to be one with the power of love.
Gordon: You were a professor at Wyoming Catholic College. Tell us about your time at WCC.
I came to WCC only a year into its existence, and taught there for ten years, the last two of which serving as Academic Dean. One of my daughters is a freshman there now and enjoying it greatly. It’s a college dedicated to liberal education in the Catholic intellectual tradition and the great outdoors, not job training. Job training comes after liberal education, not during or before it. I taught mostly philosophy and humanities, and some theology. I loved the students, real models of integrity, hope, joy, and strength. WCC, due to its superior curriculum, has the potential to be the best Catholic college in the United States, perhaps the world. As in any apostolate, there are three keys to its success in God’s eyes and the effectiveness of its mission—humility, humility, and humility.
Gordon: You are a popular author in Catholic media and of books. For our readers who may not be acquainted with your writing, here are some of your articles:
Is Plato Necessary for Salvation?
René Girard and Modernity’s Apocalypse
Curing Socratophobia: On Teaching the Great Books‘
and here is a link to your book The Political Problem of Religious Pluralism: And Why Philosophers Can't Solve It
Please provide an overview of your upcoming book
My new book, Modernity as Apocalypse, consists of thematically related essays in which I try to uncover the deepest roots of modernity and contemporary western culture through a variety of lenses: domestic politics, geopolitics, education, philosophy, theology, spirituality, psychology, anthropology, and discourse. Plato, Aristotle, and St. Thomas Aquinas, Charles Taylor, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Rene Girard are prominent among the thinkers I discuss.
The essays vary in tone and rhetoric, with some more academic, and others addressed to the generally educated reader. It is in a similar genre of books on the genealogy of modernity and liberalism by authors such as Patrick Deneen, Thomas Pfau, John Milbank, Jacques Ellul, Glenn Ollsen, Michael Hanby, and David Schindler. It is addressed to theistically inclined readers interested in understanding the deeper foundations of modern culture and our current cultural malaise, and who are open to analyses that stretch the categories of contemporary Christian and conservative discourse. Several of the essays have been previously published.
Gordon: Tribalism has become a popular term for the political divide on many societies. Please share with our readers the causes the primary political divisiveness in the United States and what we can do to reduce it.
Thaddeus: Ad extra, the divisiveness is deliberate and orchestrated, and it is aimed primarily at faithful Catholics, for we possess the power, through having received the gift of the fullness of Faith, of defeating the enemies of Christ through acts of heroic love, primarily by allowing the inexorable power of God to work through us for justice, peace, and healing.
The 9/11 attacks were intended to divide good people, manipulating them through deception into scapegoating Muslims, and thus lessening the power of their collective goodness. Catholics need to awaken to this truth or else continue to be manipulated into serving as instruments of the enemy, an enemy whom we must love, but identify and know before we can love. Catholics condemn abortion, but then unwittingly approve of the murder of millions of innocent Muslims in unjust wars based upon lies that serve imperial interests, libido dominandi. One has a moral obligation not to believe lies, and if one doesn’t know if one is being lied to, then one has a moral obligation to find out. With the Internet still free, such discovery is very possible still.
Ad intra, Catholics must recognize and then reject: a) the false self that supports the self-centered, prestige-driven, vulnerability-fearing ego; b) Catholic-group think (based upon propaganda that makes Catholic internalize the commands of their oppressors), and c) Catholic Phariseeism.
This all divides. In addition to frequent mass, confession and rosary, the daily practice of Christian meditation and studying the teachings of John Main as well as other mystical doctors and teachers in our tradition are very helpful aids to escape the cave of self-centeredness and self-deception. I would also recommend devotion to the Flame of Love. Our Lady said to the Hungarian widow and mystic, Elizabeth Kindelmann, that the Flame of Love is the greatest grace given to the Church since the Incarnation. Its primary effect is the blinding of Satan the conversion of many to Jesus Christ. It also enables those on the way to spiritual purification to overcome all obstacles to holiness.
Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional interview.