Manipulating Virtue to Build a House of Cards - Reflections on LC/RC
What is the most that Catholic parents can give their children? An appreciation for who they are as children of God, to know the name of their Redeemer and the price He paid for their sins, a good, solid family life in the Domestic Church, and an understanding of the grave battle of good versus evil that will prevail in our midst unto the consummation of the world. It would seem that these things are enough, but they are not - for unless a person also understands his free will and how to discern his vocation amidst all the confusion of the world, he may fall prey to those who would even misappropriate the truths of the faith for a dubious end.
I note these observations as a wife and mother, a Catholic familiar with the Legionaries of Christ for over a dozen years in a variety of locations, and a former member of the Regnum Christi lay Movement. What led me to the following conclusions is not so much my catechesis in the faith, which is quite thorough, but actually my brokenness and human malformation which finally has made clear where some of the defects of the spiritual direction lie. Let me first be clear in stating that there is nothing unorthodox about the faith as proposed by life in the Movement, nor would they ever offer any teaching contrary to the Magisterium of the Church - herein lies the attraction this group holds in the eyes of Catholics weary of liturgical abuses and timid shepherds. Neither would I ever accuse any particular member of duplicity or lack of sincerity in his zeal for souls or enthusiasm for strengthening the Church at large. Virtually every member I have met on every level has been burning with love of Christ and earnest in his or her desire to bring Gospel values to a thirsting world. The problem rather lies in the methodology and its manipulation of
The watchwords of the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement (for brevity, from herein, I will refer to the
The prime vice to be fought at all cost in the Movement is negativity - found in speaking forthrightly about the defects of others, discussing the actions of others in anything less than positive words, repeating details of unfortunate events or conversations that have taken place, or relaying any information that does not speak well of persons, apostolates, or institutions. I received this teaching as Christ-centered and tried to live up to always speaking positively of people and events. It was even stressed that to recount a sin was to commit that sin again in the telling, and we were to console Christ by living charity in this way.
It took me years to see that defining charity in this way led to harm on several levels. First of all, it was impossible to truly gauge what was happening in some apostolates and sections because honest assessments were not allowed. Assuming the best of intentions and putting a positive spin on events made for upbeat conversations, but they were ultimately based on an inherent dishonestly. After years of only speaking well of everything and hoping that the appropriate fraternal corrections were being made by the right people, each member of the women's section found herself isolated in her frustrations, alone in her assessments, and unable to clarify what was truly wrong with the apostolic work she was trying to achieve. Forbidden from frank speech because of the tenor and charism of perpetually happy conversations around her, she has been taught it is a grave sin against charity to speak - dare we say, honestly!
Having been raised in a dysfunctional home and being familiar with the duplicity of alcoholism, it is evident that pretending all is well and refusing to name certain wrongs can be part of enabling behavior. To feed lies in the name of unity and to preserve peace at any cost is a way of life that many are familiar with - and yet it can be a sign of strikingly unhealthy life. Repeating expected responses, parroting platitudes, and creating perpetually positive environments is unrealistic and unsettling to the observer. One wonders about the authentic individuality that is sacrificed for the ideal, even when the ideal is supposed to be Christ. The similarities between ignoring the proverbial
The harm to children can be immense when they are encouraged to ignore their feelings of dislike, their very instincts that are instructing them to back away from a person or an activity for whatever reason. Not all people are likeable, many perfectly acceptable activities are unpalatable to some people, and the unique characteristics of all must be respected. Thus, children are undermined in an important way when they are constantly told to be positive, to embrace everyone cheerfully, and to participate in group activities generously against even their own maturing instincts. This is not charity but plastic happiness; children who are perpetually unable to express dark feelings or negative reactions in a misguided attempt to
On both the child and the adult level, the unity forced by this type of charity is not authentic either but forced and superficial. On a theological level in dialogue between denominations, there are members of the faithful who want to share Holy Communion with others outside the Catholic Church as a step towards unity of all Christians, and yet the Church says no. Her firm teaching is that unity will flow from sharing in the fullness of the truth first, not that outward appearances of unity will lead to mutual understanding. In the same way in the Movement, we see that such unity based on inhibition of true feelings, lack of honest dialogue, and less than total respect for authentic relationships is not real unity but lockstep conformity, cookie cutter spirituality, and false joy. The disparity will finally come out in one form or another, and indeed does in one disillusioned member after another leaving the group.
One of the most dangerous approaches to the discernment of vocations - both to the consecrated life and the priesthood - is generosity. Though countless anecdotes and testimonies, it is clear that all young men and women who are received into the Movement's houses of formation for discernment are encouraged to be generous with God. Who could dispute the need for that! But with young souls who have been well-catechized in the truths of their faith, this virtue has a tendency to be manipulated. It would appear - granted, from the outside looking in - that the default mode is that all persons are assumed to have a vocation; it is simply then a question of generosity. Elbow to elbow with zealous young Catholics, the young person is compelled to forget himself, to sacrifice his or her comforts, and to give all to God, Who cannot be outdone in generosity. Even letters from home may encourage the same attitude and discourage negative thoughts or the possibility of leaving as
To suggest that one may not have a vocation is simply to cease to be generous with God and a sign of failure. This is not authentic discernment but coercion and group-think. Truly, heroic examples of virtue among one's peers can spur on the faint-hearted but my assessment after many years on the atmosphere of these houses is not one of freedom and honest recollection but manipulation of piety and love of God to shame youngsters into stepping into vocations that may not truly be their calling. In allowing the child at a tender young age to live in this
It is also evident that women are invited to consecrate themselves after a remarkably short association, with the understanding that their private promise is as binding before God as the vow of a religious sister. The difference is simply canonical in that her promise is to her superior rather than to a bishop. Many a young woman has
The guilt and anguish of women leaving this way of life is intense since they feel they have failed Christ, lacked in generosity, and reneged on a promise to God Himself. They cannot see that they were encouraged to take the promise without enough prior formation or that it was not entirely freely given. Like any person reeling after a divorce, the feelings of these people are dark and confused, with enough sorrows to last for years.
This virtue is extremely hard to discuss properly by lay persons who have not taken vows outside of marriage, thus I will give impressions solely concerning the docility of lay members of the Movement who receive spiritual direction in Regnum Christi. I speak here from first-hand experience as well as from a wide array of testimonies given in confidence when I say that it is enormously difficult after a while to trust direction given by an organization that has clearly defined goals that are based on numbers and pre-ordained avenues of apostolates. One is invited to join Regnum Christi after a very short introduction, sometimes within the course of a week-end retreat, and immediately told that
While in the Movement, I didn't mind
Spiritual direction, based on a Program of Life, seems at first glance to be a marvelous way of pursuing self-knowledge and growth in virtue, but unfortunately as many have seen, it can be a subtle form of manipulation which ultimately serves the Movement and not necessarily the particular soul. We were told that the Holy Father specifically wanted the Regnum Christi Movement to grow a hundred-fold and thus recruitment was stressed at every turn. If one could see the good in one's life that the Movement had helped to bring about, then one would want to share that good with everyone. Friends were targeted for recruitment, relationships were pursued for their possible help with the apostolates, and contrary to all teachings about the dignity of the human person for his own sake, all relationships were mined for
The greatest casualty of this zeal is the
Thus spiritual direction no longer was a method of going deeper, being still with God, or climbing the ladder of perfection, it was a manipulative tool to serve an organization whose lifeblood was always new recruits and new sources of donations of money and precious time. Mothers became worn out and their children often took a back seat to Movement business. Discerning children tried to withdraw from their clubs and groups as a way of rebelling against the people who were causing the family to fray at the edges and yet their parents - through the same spiritual direction - clamped down against
These brief reflections on some key virtues have been made to allow some to see the Movement from another perspective - from the point of view of a woman who did her best for many years to live the methodology and integrate her life according to how she was told that
I love Christ, I am a faithful member of Holy Mother Church, and I want nothing more than to become a saint, but with the manipulation of virtue in the Movement, for whatever end-game, the house of cards of Regnum Christi cannot be one of the Mansions mentioned in the Gospels. The house I want is built with honesty, sincerity, and integrity which, in due time, I found that here are unfortunately in short supply.
To contact this author further about her testimony or with questions, please write to GiselleSteMarie@yahoo.com
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