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Was the Indian Jesuit Anthony de Mello Murdered in the U.S. 25 Years Ago? (BOOK REVIEW)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) February 18, 2013: On March 1, 2013, Orbis Book is scheduled to release the American edition of the book titled ANTHONY DE MELLO: THE HAPPY WANDERER: A TRIBUTE TO MY BROTHER, written by Bill de Mello, who now lives in Australia, and edited by Clifford W. DeSilva, a former Jesuit in India. The book was originally published in India about the time of the 25th anniversary of Anthony de Mello's death in 1987. Last summer, I was given a copy of the book that was published in India. As a result, I have had ample time to digest it.

The Roman Catholic spiritual writer Thomas Merton (1915-1968) died in Bangkok, Thailand, as the result of a supposedly weird accident.

But the death of Anthony ("Tony") de Mello (1931-1987), the popular Jesuit spiritual director from India and author of a number of popular books on spirituality, was even more suspicious than Thomas Merton's death, as I will explain momentarily.

At the time of his sudden death, Tony was a rising star in Roman Catholic spirituality. Jesuit priests and other Catholics in religious orders, including a certain number of Catholic women religious, flocked to Tony's spirituality center in Poona, India, to take part in his experimental group-counseling retreats, which were conducted something like encounter groups, but only for Catholics in religious orders.

In addition to conducting his famous experimental group-counseling retreats that attracted Catholics from different countries, Tony was popular on the lecture circuit in Catholic circles, giving spirituality conferences in different countries, including the United States. At times, his summer lecture tours in the United States also at times included conducting his experimental group-counseling retreats for certain Catholics who understood in advance what kind of experience they were signing up for.

In 1964, Tony had received his Master's degree in pastoral counseling from Loyola University Chicago. Carl Rogers and Fritz Perls were major figures influencing Tony's thought. However, in such posthumously published books as AWARENESS (Image, 1992, the edited transcription of one of his spirituality conferences), REDISCOVERING LIFE (Image, 2012, the edited transcription of another one of his spirituality conferences), and THE WAY TO LOVE (reissued Image, 2012, a coherent and cogent series of meditations that he wrote but did not publish in his lifetime), Tony sounds like Albert Ellis on steroids.

But Tony's thought that sounds like Albert Ellis on steroids was probably most deeply influenced by the thought of the spiritual guide from India, Jiddu Krishnamurti and the kind of meditation that Krishnamurti advocated -- which resembles Buddhist meditation, even though Krishnamurti himself was not a Buddhist. In any event, like Krishnamurti, Tony also sounds like a Buddhist, even though he was not a Buddhist.

Tony was a Jesuit priest trained in and steeped in the Jesuit tradition of meditation and contemplation expressed in the book titled the SPIRITUAL EXERCISES, the short book of instructions for so-called spiritual exercises that the founder of the Jesuit order, St. Ignatius Loyola compiled before he founded the Jesuit order. In the first year of the two-year Jesuit novitiate, Jesuit novices make a 30-day retreat in silence following the SPIRITUAL EXERCISES of St. Ignatius Loyola. Years later in Jesuit training, Jesuits devote a third year to novitiate-like living that is known in Jesuit parlance as tertianship ("tertio" means three in Latin), during which they once again make a 30-day retreat in silence following the SPIRITUAL EXERCISES. Tony was an experienced retreat director in directing Jesuits making 30-day retreats.

By way of digression, I should explain that Ignatian meditation involves using imagery and actively using of one's imagination. By contrast, Buddhist meditation does not involves using imagery and one's imagination, nor does the kind of meditation favored by Krishnamurti. End of digression.

In his fine biography of Tony, Bill deMello quotes a former Jesuit who explains how Tony had come to experiment with group-counseling retreats, which up to that time had not exactly been part of the Jesuit tradition of spirituality:

"'Tony gave up 'guiding' people in 30-day retreats and moved to 'counseling' sessions -- he saw that the 'fruit' [Jesuit parlance for 'benefit'] of the Spiritual Exercises could not be savored in full because people were locked up in psychological problems and insecurities and were at emotional dead-ends. At that stage, they needed counseling (more than spirituality) to free them from these blocks (as evidenced by the testimony of so many) so that they could then more deeply drink of the waters of the Ignatian vision.'" (Quoted on page 204.)

In Carl Rogers' terminology, people who are at emotional dead-ends are not fully functioning. For a perceptive book about being at emotional dead-ends, see John Bradshaw's HEALING THE SHAME THAN BINDS YOU (rev. ed. 2005). In Bradshaw's terminology, people whose emotions are bound are as a result at emotional dead-ends.

However, even if certain people were at emotional dead-ends when they made 30-day retreats, they themselves may not have understood that they were are emotional dead-ends. As a result of being at emotional dead-ends, they may not have savored in full the fruit of the Spiritual Exercises as they did them, as this unidentified former Jesuit puts it. Nevertheless, they may have applied themselves diligently to doing the Spiritual Exercises, the last one of which is known as an exercise to attain the love of God -- or more accurately, to attain the impression that one is loved by God.

Now, in THE WAY TO LOVE (reissued Image, 2012), Tony describes how a man who feels deeply loved emerges filled with euphoria:

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www.d.umn.edu/~tfarrell

Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)
 

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Tony de Mello, the Jesuit spiritual writer and spe... by Thomas Farrell on Monday, Feb 18, 2013 at 6:41:34 PM
well, Pope John Paul said "meditation is evil"Matt... by Kent Welton on Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 11:09:15 AM
Having been raised in a progressive but pious RC f... by paulvcassidy on Thursday, Feb 21, 2013 at 2:10:47 AM
Triangulation Plot: Expose a boy to his Mother's &... by paulvcassidy on Thursday, Feb 21, 2013 at 4:14:39 AM
Oedipus complex once removed with triangulation ca... by paulvcassidy on Thursday, Feb 21, 2013 at 7:07:18 AM
Having been raised in a progressive but pious RC f... by paulvcassidy on Thursday, Feb 21, 2013 at 2:11:47 AM