Catholic vs. Catholic - 2018-12-28 - Bob Toews

Author Recorded Friday December 28th, 2018

There are 44 episodes in the Versus:Catholic series.

Recorded September 13th, 2017

Catholic vs. Catholic - 2017-09-13 - Thomas

Bob Toews is my recent guest Lucas Fehr's step-father. Bob is a non-practicing Catholic who grew up Mennonite but was baptised in the United Church of Canada. He was Confirmed in the Catholic Church in his thirties, but has been disenchanted by recent attempts to curb the Spirit of Vatican II.


Catholic vs. Catholic - 2018-12-28 - Bob Toews

Author Recorded July 26th, 2017

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hello my name is Bob caves and you're listening to Catholic versus Catholic tell the listeners a little bit about yourself who you are what you believe and how you came to believe what you believe - Bob tapes I'm pilot working in the Philippines right now I'm just about at retirement age and I've been on a journey of faith ever since my parents passed away as a teenager which understandably was pretty traumatic and opened up a lot of questions for me I was raised as a Mennonite was baptized in the United Church and joined the Catholic Church through confirmation in the mid-1980s when I was in my 30s that journey has continued as I've grown with the Catholic Church in the post Vatican two phase and have also been challenged by some of the reaction that gains Vatican two that we've seen the last decade or two before we get into all the interesting Catholic stuff I want you to paint a little picture of your earliest memories what were the earliest impressions that you had that had to do with religion my earliest memories of religion go back to my earliest memories of childhood I grew up in a very religious household and would have gone to church every Sunday Sunday school spent quite a bit of time with my even more conservative religious Mennonite relatives so for me I've never not known religion on the other hand I also grew up in a family that was conflicted in terms of their religious practice so there is always questions above the meaning of faith and and how that was expressed without going into gory detail can you just talk a little bit about if there was a dark period you went through a period of a rebellion yeah I don't know if I really had can identify any period where I intellectually lost my faith I think again because of that traumatic experience of losing my parents when I was a teenager that was very much a point of decision for me and at that point I decided that I couldn't make sense of the world I couldn't make sense of appeared to be the evil within it with that believing that God existed so that's been pretty constant from a intellectual standpoint that's not the same as faith though so yeah sure I would I would say that I've had ups and downs and ebbs and flows including for a long period of time in my middle-age where faith became more and more remote and I became more and more cut up in my work my management responsibilities the busyness of building homes and all the complications of life and some of that certainly has led to some more darkness and despair particularly in my 50s I would say that my 50s were darker years for me in terms that live faith and belief so I'd like you to describe a little bit your intellectual journey just the highlights along the road to Catholicism was Authority a key factor in your decision to join the Holy Roman Catholic Church or were there other considerations that were even more important than Authority for you yeah no I would definitely say that Authority wasn't the thing that attracted me to the Catholic Church if anything that would have been an obstacle having grown up within an ADD Baptist tradition and then having been baptized into a mainline Protestant Church I wouldn't say I was looking for Authority would have attracted me to the Catholic Church was was its mysticism particularly that mysticism which was preserved by by women religious and and the female saints of the Catholic Church so that's what most inspired me in my my early thirties was when a United Church minister in response to my question about the meaning of prayer particularly petitionary prayer said well you should go talk to the people that know the most about that and he directed me to the fcj sisters in Calgary and that was a huge turning point for me I really found that experience so meaningful and and that ultimately led me to join the Catholic Church so it's about mysticism and your your thirst for direct union with God a direct beautification is that what was driving you then yeah I think so you know I certainly appreciated the social activism of the United Church and and that was very much the tradition I grew up and in the Mennonite Church was the belief that we were saved through our actions and and through our you know feeding the hungry and and taking care of the poor and that sort of thing so so that social activism of Protestantism and anabaptism always was strong for me but what was missing particularly in the mainline Protestant experience was a more intimate emotional experience of faith and of God that engaged all of me and I found that in the Catholic Church through both through the mysticism that I was exposed to through the fcj sisters and then also by attending Mass and taking part in the and the Eucharist and the sacrament so there is a richness and a fullness of experience in the Catholic Church that I had missed in the mitre experience hmm so in that first year that I saw at the fcj sisters I entered into the Ignatian exercises so I did the twelve-month exercises the Jesuit formation exercises and and that was a hugely powerful experience you know where you're contemplating the mysteries and you're contemplating the crucifixion and and one particular point you're contemplating the devil and hell and you know that I felt I had these visceral real experiences of the mystery of our faith through the process of those Ignatian exercises so that still sticks with me I mean those those are things I've never forget as far as that as the traditional Catholic practices including the Eucharist I'd have to say that I'm a bad Catholic when it comes to those experiences I'm I'm too Protestant I've never I've never experienced the Eucharist I think as as many Catholics do for me it's it's always remained more of a symbolic action more more than one where I felt that I was somehow truly suffused with with the body and blood of Christ through the some there's something that's too Protestant in me to make that leap I just looked it up the fcj is the faithful companions of Jesus can you confirm that that's what it was yeah that's right good I want to talk a little bit about the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises I struggled to do the examine prayer can you just talk me through this examination of conscience and how maybe I might be able to improve in it no I'm a no way qualified to do that my my own practices has dropped off over the years so I no longer do a daily exam and even though it would probably be good for me the only the only thing I can suggest is what you know I did briefly go back to the fcj for some spiritual direction and and the sister that I saw then suggested that I not use the exam and format that suggested in the exercises but that from I examine instead I reflect on encounters during the day where I felt that that God had been present to me so it was an examine more to increase my awareness of God and my gratefulness for God's presence in my life rather than focusing on my failures or what I hadn't done that day and I found that helpful at the time because no other the the the old practice of examine I just I wasn't able to do it anymore you mentioned that maybe you're a little bit lacks in some of your practices and even in some of your adherence to dogmatic doctrine that you must adhere to can you just talk a little bit about how you don't quite fit into the mold of true and faithful Catholic at least on paper yeah and that's really a very important question for me these days because I would I would say I've become a non-practicing Catholic I I only irregularly go to Mass I'm working here in the Philippines on a on a rotating basis one month in one month and this is a super Catholic faith filled country so I do go to Mass here just because it's almost hard not to but back home in Canada I rarely go to Mass these days because of my disenchantment with half the church has been on especially since John Paul the second I joined the Catholic Church understanding some things from Vatican 2 which seem to have an under attack concepts like the priesthood of all believers and the role of conscience in determining what a Catholic does in their life Vatican 2 my understanding is really elevated the individuals faith experience and and their conscience above that of the dogma and doctrine of the church John Paul started to walk that back in a big way and then of course the next pope Cardinal Ratzinger went even further in terms of trying to reassert almost an opposition to vatican ii the the authority of the church and and the obligation of catholics to conform to catholic doctrine and practice i I reject that I don't believe that that the Catholic Church or the even the Pope himself has that primacy that that ultimate a my relationship is is with God with out mediation and I consider myself to be a clerk or guardian Catholic and and I think that's almost impossible because it was kirkegaard who really emphasized that the Jesus experience that the Gospels are beyond reason and that they require a leap of faith and that leap of faith ultimately is a very individualistic one so it may may still be and ought to be lived out within the context of church and community but it's ultimately something that one has to figure it for themselves have you got a lot of reading under your belt in terms of Western philosophy or is it mainly Kierkegaard that you have read or what is your background with philosophy I attended a Theological College straight out of high school years ago and so I had a broad exposure to Western philosophy and liberal theologians back then and then in the intervening years starting in my thirties I was I was very much attracted to more Catholic authors especially Catholic mysticism as I suggested before it's only recently that I've started to re-explore you know some of the other theologies the Western theologies because especially being here in the Philippines now I'm just I'm just fascinated by the impact of Western thought and modernism on Asian culture so my interest now it really extends you know to all of Western and Western thought and and how we are dramatically changing the world and making it in our image and it's an image that I'm not sure I like so yeah most recently I've just read a book called I am dynamite which is an excellent examination and and re-evaluation of Nietzsche and and now I'm also reading kirkegaard again so I'm trying to understand the influence of existentialism and post-modernism on Western culture but of course it's very much tied up with my faith in my religion too so yeah I have a lot of questions that I'm trying to answer these days what is the ideal outcome for you like if everything went well for you in your spiritual life what would that rosy picture look like in terms of developing and progressing for your own faith walk with God I put a tremendous amount of energy in my thirties and forties into exactly that quest and why I said my fifties were were dark years for me is because ultimately I feel I failed that my best efforts to be the best Catholic I could be the best practice or of Ignatian spirituality the widely read on Catholic mysticism none of it came close to making me the saint that you're talking about before in fact the harder I tried the worse I thought I was I was doing in terms of my my pride my ego I think I suffered hugely from from spiritual pride but that's consistent with what kirkegaard predicted and and that is that a believer who attempts to find God through practice and through rationality and through ethics into despair because of our human inability to reach God through that route you know if through obedience through practice and so what kirkegaard suggests is that it's only when we abandon that quest and truly humble ourselves before the mystery of Jesus and the Gospels that we will be open to revelation in our online it's you know the the beyond rational truth that that God is relieved of revealing to each and every one of us that place though is never an easy one because as humans we live in fear which of course is kirkegaard you know the title of one of his books is fear and trembling we we live in fear and it's been insecurity and so we are always tempted to want to fall back on certainties the certainty of practice the the certainty of doctrine and and dogma of morality z' of legalism of fundamentalism you know that's that's something that tempts us probably daily as humans because we find so hard to live in the uncertain in the in the unknowing or a st. John of the Cross suggests the dark night of the soul which at some point my understanding is if if if you're truly a mystic and on the a path of discovery each and every one of us will enter the dark night of the soul where we no longer know and that can be a very dark and frightening place if we aren't truly open to to God mysteriously working in our lives and and for years I would say and in my in my 50s in particular I would have said yeah I'm in the dark I'm in Saint John of the Cross is the dark night of the soul except I don't think I'm on the path anymore I think I think I'm just gonna becoming an apostate now I'm starting to emerge from that and I'm saying well I don't think I'll ever have a sense of the certainty of my faith that I had when I was say back in my 30s where where I was pretty certain I was I was on the right path but even though I wouldn't have that certainty there's there's some sort of consolation that I'm receiving now that I was missing for years and and so the short answer question is that I hope to live day to day in uncertainty but in consolation that's nice it reminds me of that passage in st. Paul where he says he talks about the obscurity of faith does that ring true for you very much so I find comfort in that as well one of them the books that brought me into monotheism I was an atheist for 25 years I was born and raised in the United Church of Canada actually oh yeah and I just interviewed this morning an atheist minister who is in the United Church of Canada but one of the books that I read when I was still an atheist was called the Cloud of Unknowing have you heard about it I have it's a mystical anonymous mystical book from the Middle Ages and then there's another one called the vision of God have you heard about that one no that's primarily about the fact that God is watching us at all times and what mystical power that has to meditate on that fact I found it mind-blowing as an atheist and I think it helped me to warm up to the idea of God but I was reading lots of stuff I was reading CS Lewis and I was reading the Bible I was reading Western philosophy I was a self-proclaimed enemy of Christianity but I couldn't help but be intrigued by a lot of the stuff that I was reading so it's an it's always an interesting voyage my emphasis in my faith journey is very much about dogma and the living Magisterium and part of the reason that I'm so fixated on that is that I've been talking with a lot of set of accantus and radical traditionalists people have left the Catholic Church but they think that they are the one true Catholic Church so my position in my emphasis is very much what you're moving away from and you're moving into mysticism existential angst the obscurity of faith and I value I value your position but I can't pretend that I am where you are and you can't pretend that you're still where I am but what can you say to me given the fact that my emphasis is so rigid and so dogmatic and so intellectual I'm also what have been very much affected by Ernest Becker he suggested that that Freud got the description of our pathologies are psychological and spiritual pathologies rape but he got the reason Ron Becker believes that our shadow sides are not a result of some eatable complex or some some sexual thing as Freud suggested but but rather it's its inherent in our our birthing process and our discovery of our separation from first our mothers and and then also the spiritual level our separation from the ground of our being from from our Creator and that is human is what we all share is this this existential fundamental existential angst this this fear of our separation and our loneliness in the world and that drives humanity to search for for meaning for faith and and so as a result he Becker claims that virtually every human being without exception atheists included developed symbolic belief systems which give us a sense of security and belonging what he what Becker suggests without necessarily prescribing any one particular faith although he does hint at is he does suggest oblique Lee that that Christianity is probably one of the best if not the best but he suggests that the ability of our symbolic belief system to help us cope with our fears and anxieties is dependent upon several things but one of those is transcendence the the size of the community that holds similar similar beliefs the more the more people the bigger the community the more power it has to address ours our need for for security and belonging but he also says another critical test if we're choosing our faces is to understand its negative effects what does believing in something how can that or how may that negatively impact others who believe something else becquer becquer believes that all conflict in this world is result of competition between symbolic belief systems and that of course would include capitalism versus communism and it does it doesn't have to involve a deity so anyways I guess that's all I throw is that I wouldn't want to attack or undermine your particular understanding of Catholicism or or Christianity but I think all of us need to understand how how our particular faith and belief system may affect others so my fear or my my my caution if one is finding oneself become becoming a doctrine area you know quite attached to a particular ideology or doctrine or Dogma is to ask oneself how does that does that help or hinder one in in truly being open and loving others of diverse beliefs and faiths how does it help or hinder our our communion with others you mentioned legalism and that brought to mind immediately that brought to mind our Holy Father Pope Francis what do you think of Pope Francis and his apparent emphasis on fighting against rigidity in all its forms in religion what do you think of him well I generally are very supportive of that position and some of the statements that he's made I will be more impressed though when I see the Catholic Church and Pope Francis acting to address the isolation of our priesthood and and the lack of intimacy that they experience until I see the Catholic Church doing something about poverty that our priesthood lives in I'm not going to be very impressed okay I agree that we're all impoverished especially the pedophiles and the homosexuals and those who are aberrant in their sexuality and those who break their vows of chastity those are even more wounded than those who are able by God's grace to keep their vows of chastity I agree with you on that but I don't agree that we necessarily need marriage for our priests of course it's a discipline which could change tomorrow and it wouldn't upset me whereas if the Pope were to declare that women can be priests then I would leave Christianity altogether have you read the Catechism and do you like what you see in there no I think it's regressive it's it's it's putting emphasis again on our sinfulness on power based images of God and it's it's it's definitely has misogynistic elements in it which I don't like so it's it's not inclusive the new liturgy is has taken a big step backwards in terms of its inclusiveness okay do you like the traditional Latin Mass no I've never experienced it and and I definitely don't like it okay no no no this is absolutely essential Vatican two did the right thing by by turning the priest around by by involving the the lady intimately in in the in the Eucharist and the communion in any movement back towards the Latin Mass including some of the literalism of the most recent liturgy I absolutely am against and and that could very easily be the reason why I leave the Catholic Church formally at some point are you pro-choice or pro-life could you answer that question I don't think that's a meaningful question I think um I'm pro-life but to me that means that we have to be pro-life in every decision we make and that includes being compassionate when when you have a woman who has become pregnant for whatever reason doesn't feel that they can support that pregnancy we need to take birth control seriously we need to support women in in their need to have careers and work and support families and that sort of thing without forcing unwanted pregnancies on them it's it's the whole package sentence and that's and that's what I also disagree with in the Catholic Church right now is that you can't just focus on the pro-choice pro-life question as though it's a binary you have to look at social justice questions in general and and the Catholic Church has not done a very good job of supporting women what about other delicate issues like women in the priesthood and same-sex marriage where do you fall on those issues supportive of both what would you save someone said you're a liberal Catholic is that something that rings or does that sound disparaging or how do you are you comfortable with the term liberal as a prefix to your Catholicism I don't know what a person would mean by that in terms of placing me in the overall theology okay but sure I mean I'm a politically I'm very much progressive I'm not conservative okay so at the end of my episodes I always ask my guests to just give a little closing thought something nice and positive just a little message of hope so what do you think that you might be able to say to anyone that's out there listening now so this discussion of faith and Catholicism in particular has a good reminder to me of the importance in in faith and belief in in terms of living a hope filled generous life and I think that's particularly important as we meet others who may have different beliefs different faiths different gods or no gods our call I think is to always meet people and the fullness of our humanity and our in our quest for understanding and truth

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