Fr. Maciel Poet & Plagiarist
This article was written many years ago to undermine the blind devotion that Legion, and especially Regnum Christi, members had for this sample of much admired Fr. Maciel’s Lyrical Mysticism. A few years ago Legion/Regnum Christi leadership fessed up that he had plagiarized it from a Spanish patriot. It could still be of some interest; hopefully as a little warning sign to those who blindly believe what their LC/RC superiors and spiritual directors tell them is Gospel truth.
The following article has not been updated and stands as it was written and published about 15 years ago: a tribute to the writer’s prophetic gifts (as recognized for all Christians in the Vatican II’s dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium).
FR. MACIEL’S PSALTER OF MY DAYS
Premier Spirituality of Legion and Regnum Christi
Analysis y Commentary
By 1961 LC Co-founder
<There are blows in life so violent –I don’t understand!
Blows as if from the hatred of God; as if before them
The silt of all sufferings
Backs up into the soul… I don’t understand!
Not many; but they exist…they open dark furrows
In the most ferocious face and in the most bull-like back.
Perhaps they are the horses of that heathen Attila,
Or the black heralds sent to us by Death.>
With great expectations did I approach my mailbox to pick up the copy of El Salterio de Mis Días furtively sent by a friend. I had not seen this text, attributed to Father Maciel, for over twenty years. I opened it reverently on the plane on my way to Mexico: “this edition January 3, 1991, 50th anniversary of the Foundation of the Legion; Ediciones CES [LC Center for Higher Studies, Rome]”, printed in Italy; a slim, cream hardcover enclosing 145 pages of expensive paper. The Psalter itself is shorter, as the book contains some ‘padding’ before and after the actual text. I approach it with an open, respectful and questioning mind:
I have a relationship with this small book. The Psalter of Father Maciel, El Salterio de Mis Días, has been venerated in Legionary communities since at least the early 60s, being considered a special text, for the exclusive use of Legionaries, and later, RC members. Mine were perhaps the first non-Hispanic eyes privileged to read and meditate these personal prayers of Nuestro Padre. Originally, they circulated as a collection of stapled Xeroxed type-written or offset pages, without any introduction or biblical references. As a Legionary Theology Student at the Collegio Massimo 1968-9 on Via Aurelia 677, the writer was also a devout biblical student. In the Psalter he treasured, the content layout was not as tidy or as clear as the present edition, divided now into psalms I to XIV, and each psalm subdivided into sections with Arabic numerals. What better way to familiarize myself with the Bible and show my devotion for Nuestro Padre than to research the biblical references present in the Psalter. With great enthusiasm I set about the task.
The present edition contains a prologue, Latin numerals lower-case vii-xiv, attributed to B.S., who, I assume is Fr. Bernardo Skertchly. I can only imagine what an honor it must have been for him to craft this presentation and thus be so closely associated with The Founder, and having his words in the same publication. The prologue is written in a simple, evocative, and devout style, with ample citations from the Psalter itself, referred to as Smd, an acronym that would seem to confer official status to the Psalter alongside the CLC [Constitutions of the Legion of Christ] and the CNP [Cartas de Nuestro Padre, Letters of Father Maciel]. It is sprinkled with quotations from the New Testament, the Letters of Father Maciel, and contains one citation from Pope Paul VI. Fr. BS tells us that the Smd is a window into the soul of Father Maciel: a landscape of tears, fatigue, suffering and Calvary.
THE PSALTER’S LYRICISM
Fr. Maciel’s Psalter starts off sprightly with:
“I know, Lord, that without You I can do nothing,
But I also know that with You I can do all.
I know, Lord, that having elected me
You will always be my strength,
Because you are the One who comforts me.”
Let us pause for a note on the Psalter’s ‘poetic’ style which may very favorably impress the English-speaking first-time-reader, especially the RC Consecrated female, who delves into the Spanish text. The literary poetic value of the Smd cannot be calibrated from the perspective of Spanish 101, i.e. from a rudimentary knowledge of the language of Cervantes. The reader must be mindful of the innate lyricism of the Spanish language in and of itself, which can even overcome a poor English translation. Just think of
“Last night as I lay a-sleeping,
I dreamed –oh blessed hope!–
There was a fountain flowing;
Deep down in my soul.
From what hidden source,
Tell me, water, you come to me?
I never drank before
From a spring as sweet as thee.”
So speaks Antonio Machado, the great modern Spanish poet; with the same powerful metaphors and pathos speaks the Peruvian, César Vallejo, quoted as a preface to this essay [excerpt from Los Heraldos Negros, 1918]. And we all are familiar with the passion and simplicity of Pablo Neruda’s “Twenty love poems and a sad song.” All this without mentioning the Spanish Golden Age of poetry with the likes of Lope De Vega, St. John of the Cross, Luis de León and others who excelled in religious, Christ-centered poetry. So the Psalter needs to be examined against that impressive backdrop.
Remember also that the Psalter, as a collection of poetic prayers, is by its very genre lyrical, emotional, evocative, and metaphorical. Everyday Spanish, with its idioms and saying, can easily conjure a certain poetic, even exotic, feeling. When reading these common metaphors for the first time the non-native Spanish reader may be struck by their force. But one has to distinguish the common from the uncommon. For these reasons readers should not gullibly admire the surface lyricism of the Fr. Maciel’s Psalter. Rather should they ask themselves to what extent does Fr. Maciel rise above common Spanish language clichés when describing his experiences and his relationship with the Lord. And, what would be left of the content and style if the already powerful Biblical images were also stripped away? As an example of the latter let us examine a brief passage in an English that does the original more than justice.
Psalter of My Days, pages 19-20
” II- Psalm of Faith
2. I believe, like Job, when Your light goes out
I believe in Thee, Lord.
I wear my faith like armor to protect me
Against the loud clash of the world
Throughout my sleepless days and
My anxiety ridden nights.
I believe in Your word ineffable and serene,
For nothing will happen to me without your permission.
I believe, like Job, in richess and in poverty,
When Your light grows dim and I grope in the dark,
Looking for the old paths to guide me.
When this black river of doubt
Tries to break my dyke of hope…”
As the reader continues through this psalm he encounters one biblical reference after another in the following two paragraphs:
[…] When I cast my nets over and over again [reference to the miraculous draft of fishes, Luke, chapter 5, used repeatedly throughout this poem]
I believe you test your chosen ones [literally, Book of Wisdom. and how God purifies them like gold in a crucible, 8, 5-6]
Because when the seed falls in to the earth [literally, John, 12, 24]
I would like to surrender to You,
That You put me close to You,
Like a seal on Your heart [literally, Song of Songs, 8, 6]
Notice the plethora of literal biblical references above in two short paragraphs. So abundant are they that footnotes cannot keep up with them. The present version of the Psalter notes only the Song of Songs, 8, 6, omitting the other three which are –to use a cliché- as clear as daylight.
COMPARISON OF DAVID’S AND MARCIAL’S PSALTERS
By utilizing the psalm genre Fr. Maciel invites comparisons with the original Davidic Psalter. Exegetes have traditionally attributed the Psalter to King David, a deeply religious, passionate and sinful man living in the 10th century. David’s psalms number 150; Father Maciel’s are 15, a neat tenth of David’s number. The attentive reader might discover some artifice in Smd’s number of 15. Further scrutiny shows how only 14 psalms can really be attributed to Father Maciel. The #15 is not a psalm but an adaptation of the Divine Praises litany traditionally recited before the Blessed Sacrament. Despite this, such an ordinary text is given the title ‘Psalm of Blessing in My Exile’. Thus the last ‘psalm’ would intentionally make 15 and simultaneously, through its title, artificially tie the whole Smd to that painful period in The Founder’s life originally called ‘The War’ and later re-named ‘The Great Blessing’. The title of the last psalm would appear as an attempt to demonstrate how Fr. Maciel had overcome any bitterness he might have initially experienced during those harrowing times.
Another inevitable comparison is between the spirituality of David and Marcial. David committed murderous adultery in possessing Bathsheba, and after his conversion he openly admits his sinfulness and shortcomings and does public penance. Father Maciel’s confession of personal sin is very muted. Though he does ask God to forgive him, it is not clear of what concrete wrongs Fr. Maciel is conscious. Other readers can examine this aspect in further depth. The Psalter of My Days’ lacks David’s full orchestra of feelings returning often to a single note of lament. Moreover, at second glance its spirituality appears less like David’s ardent passion and more like that of the [Innocent] Suffering Servant of Yahweh described in the 2nd Book of the Prophet Isaiah. Fr. Maciel is more intent on expressing his forgiveness of those who gratuitously persecute him than in begging forgiveness of others and focusing on his own shortcomings.
Fr. Maciel’s psalms, nevertheless, do reflect the essential nature of this genre which is a direct and spontaneous crying out to the Lord. Whereas David cries out in his own words, influenced naturally by the Torah and his tradition, Father Maciel frequently resorts to the words of Jesus and St. Paul and to such an extent that often he would seem to simply paraphrase them. This writer was one of the privileged co-founders of the early 60s with access to the original version of the Fr. Maciel’s Psalter. As previously stated, the layout was not as clear. That XV psalm was certainly not present. The opus contained few if any biblical citations. Spurred by his devotion for Nuestro Padre and by his approaching priestly ordination, this writer devoted many hours to finding the Psalter’s biblical underpinnings. Some months before ordination he proudly presented his labor of love to his spiritual father.
I am personally convinced that Father Maciel, or the Psalter writer did not research the biblical references originally but quoted freely from the Scripture as was the custom in the 50’ and 60’ among Spanish speaking preachers. This consideration would not lead us to necessarily conclude that Fr. Maciel read the Bible or the New Testament during his exile. He could have written spontaneously, or dictated his thoughts to someone familiar with the New Testament and endowed with a poetic pen.
HISTORICAL QUESTIONS AND CONCLUSION
Historical testimonies confirm that Fr. Maciel has rarely been absolutely alone to fend for himself since the 50s. He has always had at least one religious or priest to accompany him and assist with his practical needs when leaving the community house, which is often. The companion’s duties include taking dictation, running errands, preparing meals, procuring medications, setting up appointments, traveling with him…Thus a series of historical questions arises at this stage. Who were the religious brothers or priests close to Fr. Maciel when the ‘Great Blessing’ broke out? Who was with Nuestro Padre during his exile, or when the Psalter of My Days started to come together? Did Fr. Maciel have any assistance with the writing or the research? How was this document conceived, originally written, and how did it develop? What are we to make of its authorship attributed to Fr. Maciel, and of its literary and spiritual value? The answers to these questions I will leave to my betters.
When in 1968-9 the devout Legionary biblical student had finished his labor of love, he awaited an opportunity to meet Fr. Maciel in the corridors of the college in Rome. When the big moment came, he shyly accosted The Founder and showed him the results of his efforts. The writer cannot remember whether he had found more citations than the present edition contains. Fr. Maciel took the work—painstakingly hand annotated—glimpsed at it, briefly thanked the young seminarian, and walked away. The seminarian never knew whether his ‘tireless efforts’ had pleased his father, spiritual director, superior, and mentor. He did not keep a copy of his annotations as Xerox was not readily available to him. Perhaps he was hoping it would be reviewed by those wiser and higher up, that a reaction or feedback would be forthcoming. There was none. Humility told him not to lend too much importance to his personal creations or wishes. He soon became busy preparing for his ordination to the deaconate and for his final S.T.L. exams. He did not dwell on his gift, for it was graciously given. Nevertheless, perhaps he secretly desired his efforts would lead others to the vibrant and mysterious Word of God lying under the Psalter of My Days.
Let us close our foray into Spanish religious poetry by returning to Antonio Machado [1875-1938], a member of Spain’s literary Generation of ’98. The apparently naive verses of Anoche cuando dormía, introduced earlier, continue and conclude:
Last night as I lay a sleeping,
I dreamed –oh blessed hope!—
There was a beehive growing,
Deep down in my soul.
And inside, the golden bees
Were making with a flurry,
From bits of old bitterness,
Soft wax and sweetening honey.
Last night as I lay a sleeping,
I dreamt, –oh blessed hope!–
A burning sun was glowing
Deep down in my soul.
It was burning because it produced
Warmth of fireside bright,
And it was sun because it flared
Bringing tears, blinding my sight.
Last night as I lay a sleeping,
I dreamed-oh blessed hope!—
It was God whom I was keeping
Deep down in my soul.”