NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part IV
AN EMMAUS PEOPLE
We begin this fourth essay by encouraging each reader to open your New Testament to Luke's 24th chapter and carefully read verses 16 to 35…
You can also read it online at the USCCB website: www.usccb.org/nab/bible/luke/luke24.htm
The first community of followers meet the already crucified Jesus on the road to Emmaus and they talk. Trying to locate the historical village is difficult; could it be that mysterious meeting place where Jesus "rises" as he meets his friends. (Wikipedia has interesting information). The following paragraph contains this writer's condensed interpretation, ideas by which I have fashioned my entire spiritual life and ministry.
A faith journey…
Notice how Jesus suddenly appears; he walks the same path, "on their way" to a village, seven miles from Jerusalem. They are sad and talk, without first recognizing Jesus, about "…the things that have been happening there for the past few days" and Jesus asks "what things?" Dialogue takes place around the Passion and death of "a great prophet" and here the first Christian community is formed … "where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am". These journeying Jews are waylaid from temple worship and treated to a classroom lesson on how the Jerusalem Jew can connect the Crucified One to Mosaic history; later they are treated to a simple "Mass", a breaking of bread among people during which "they recognized him". Explanation of the words "day", "on the way", "evening", "seven miles", "recognizing", "breaking bread", "slow to believe the prophets" and "eyes opened" need further explanation, not possible here. These Genesis-style words are "God talk" and "God time", meaningful to the Jewish mentality of the day, words to describe a human relationship to their concept of the Divine. The Emmaus role of Jesus is human teacher (cf, M. Morewood IS JESUS GOD?) and those on the Emmaus journey (you and I in 2008) are disciples, learning from the Master. I would fantasize that the process chronicled in Luke's 19 verses might take more than ten years + (or perhaps a lifetime) with many dialogue walks "on the journey of faith", a holy (seven) distance from institutionalized religion (Jerusalem); the process of evolutionary Christianity has its beginning as an early community takes to the "road', Jesus' way. Unlike the Yellow Brick Road to the Land of Oz this was/is a faith journey.
The Great Teacher…
Do you find an ordained priest in the story? I find a teacher, The Great Teacher coming and going … in and out … always present … then drifting away, where a few gather to talk about those troubling things and who have time to break bread in universal loving friendship. Early Christianity had only one teacher, Jesus — the one anointed with oil, a sign of popular people approval. After the chaotic superstition-filled Middle Ages the Council of Trent makes a sacrament of Holy Orders and the ordained male is seen as the "alter christus", the other Christ, the anointed one by bishop approval. The people are taught this for four hundred years until the era of Vatican Two. Educated people are uneasy, many confused as their "promised right to go to heaven" through the medium of the priest is threatened; clerical scandal has dethroned the clergy and as people silently question the ordained clergyman they fail to see the returning role of a priestly people. The genuine Emmaus follower makes a priesthood out of her/his daily life. Vatican Two returned Jesus to the people and by self-dedication and commitment a Christian becomes another Christ ; this is what took place in early Christianity. We need to eliminate the superstitious practice of infant baptism.
Ranks came to the Christian-Catholic institution as simple people community gave way to the feudal system; when Constantine gave the green light for Christianity to exist in the Roman Empire. Bishops were already in authoritarian civil place, they being Roman officials in charge of the emperor's lands and finances. Diocletian, Emperor 284 ce, fearful of overthrow by a too-powerful legion commander, broke down the empire into smaller units (dioceses) with lesser military forces; each diocese had a legion general and an episcopus/overseer (bishop), a political dominance that eventually took over the religious system. Christianity became the sole religion of Rome, Constantine's brand of Roman Catholicism dominating Western Civilization.
Like spiritual soldiers inside a Trojan horse…
As the downfall of the Roman Empire progresses the papacy moves into the emperor's role; the once roman military outposts are today's dioceses, with the bishop having the same duties of the Diocletian era. Benedict the 16th, as did John Paul 2, wants a restoration of a united old Catholic Europe and seeks to keep Islamic Turkey out of the European Union. The Roman Catholic Church is a military duplicate of the old Roman Empire with its base in roman law and order. The Emmaus Jesus — the teacher of human unity, mercy, peace, justice, and forgiveness — has difficulty in finding his place in the Roman Institution. Roman theology has misled us until Pius the 12th (Mystici Corporis) and Vatican Two (The Church in the Modern World) look again in the Emmaus story and see the women and men who chat with a friendly Jesus — ordinary persons who become the Church "on the way"; persons who become apostles are ordinary people, already inside the fortified walls of Romanism with a commission "to go and teach the whole world". Christians today are like spiritual soldiers inside a Trojan horse. That is the phenomenon of Jesus alive today, a 2008 Christ resurrected from the tomb of a dead clericalism, literally bypassing the old European structure (now a religious tomb) and coming to life as the People of God. People are the Christs of today. The original Pentecost is a beautiful example of ethnic diversity in the family of God.
But wait … as we dance through this fantasy (based on the teachings of Leo the 13th, Pius the 12th, and John the 23rd) we need make an act of faith that the Mystery of God has implanted a Holy Spirit in all creation and this Mystery which we dare to name in human terms is very much in charge. The continuous resurrection of the teacher Jesus is the great hope of today; Jesus never fails to show up if a community is faithful in dialogue. Pius the 12th spoke of the people as a giant awakening; I see them as Jesus bursting forth from the ruins of medieval religion. We have the privilege of allowing the Holy Spirit to use us as instruments of the ever re-forming mission of Jesus. This is priesthood. We are a people in progress.
Now back to the Emmaus people…
The Emmaus people…
Who are they? Today … you and me …..in my imagination (Schillebeeckx: hard data is difficult to come by). I think I find this unique and curious community in a 7th century rural celebration of "Mass" with farm folk, joyfully celebrating life and the Lord's Day, bringing their produce to offer and now, growing in size and following the Roman customs of orderliness, they have a presider who washes his hands (present day levabo) after placing the gifts of the people on the altar. I imagine this presider as dressed in normal contemporary clothing, he being "appointed" from within the community by community assent. The community effort is directed in thanksgiving to the Creator with their ceremonial "priest" a simple master of ceremonies. Echoing Hans Kung in WHY PRIESTS? and Bernard Haring in PRIESTHOOD IMPERILLED I see future priest as one who knows the people and the territory and courageously leads forward on the Jesus path. With Augustine he need be a member of the community as well as leader … and he can be a she. My great present fear with a woman priesthood is that they might perpetuate a dying ignorant clericalism; more on this later.
By 900 ce most bishops had disappeared from the rural scene, living apart from community, at times in a fortified castle and having an army for protection and plunder; the scenario of 2008 is much the same, the bishop-overseer coming to a parish for the meaningless sacrament of confirmation. For financial purposes and lack of male clergy the closing of churches is done by absentee landlords, the corporation sole who claims to own the land and his priests if I might add; any person who controls another and forbids him to have the God given right to marry is a slave master, imposed celibacy being the last yoke laid upon good men who give their lives to service of people and God. When Father Tom Lacey, faithful member of AA and fine parish priest, died he had a woman read a letter at his funeral. In it Tom thanked the people for their love and spoke of his joy in working with them; Tom lamented the loneliness and alcoholism that plagued him, particularly when he became old and ill and without a wife to care for him. After the funeral Tom's brother George (we called him Feisty), a clerical workaholic and a very lonely man, put his arm around me as he introduced this "wayward rebel" (my words) to his friends saying "I want you to meet my good friend and colleague Tom".
Nicholas in Catholica Australia (Priests Today, main forum 1/15/08) speaks finely of servant priests as victims of a significant systemic problem. Where once the Council of Trent (1542 ce) rescued Christianity from an ignorant corrupted clergy their separation of priest from the wicked world backfired as the world became more wholesome and the 21st century priest became isolated; in keeping with Trent and seminary in 1542 ce I went to minor seminary at 13, supposedly to keep me sheltered from the evil world and in reality I was kept immature and unknowing of the fine values of the people. It would take years to realize Jesus was alive in people and that I was not the only other Christ..
And what about the seminary system and those men ordained during the 400 year period between the Council of Trent and Vatican Two? We are/were bridge men, taken from the world (spiritual chaos in 1542 ce), carrying on our frail shoulders the ills of society and relieved by John the 23rd of the impossible task of saving the world all by ourselves. I salute men who gave their lives to save souls; in the human confusion of transition I have fought theologically with many old timers and I recognize their sincerity and life dedication. It is good that Australian Bishop Robinson has called for the closing of seminaries world wide (Bishop Geoffrey Robinson's book Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church - Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus).
Personally I would like to see my Alma Mater stay open as a non-profit teaching facility, welcoming students from communities around the world; St. Patrick's Seminary and University, Menlo Park, Ca. built in 1898 ce, (to provide priests for my illiterate Potato Famine Irish people) has a magnificent richly endowed library; recently "this castaway priest" dialogued there with a young pre-med student doing research, he being Islamic … strange how this Jesus fellow gets around and uses people as his priest-agents. Paul tells us that in Christianity (the anointed ones) there is no male or female, free or slave ……… no class distinction. Let's look at this next week.
Forgive me if the above mixes eras, past and present; this Whirlwind Holy Spirit confuses me at times with the volume of holy information … So much to work with … so "wonder"-full!
Tom McMahon, San Jose, Ca, 13/02/08.
NEXT WEEK: I meet John the 23rd and my iron mask slips even more. We discover a priesthood of people who are re-forming the church.
NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part IV
What are your thoughts on this commentary?