NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part 1
Tom McMahon today introduces a new series of Sunday commentaries which will be exploring our understanding of Sacrament in an Age of Technology. The Seven Sacraments we have today were an evolution. Once there were more than a hundred sacraments which the Council of Trent codified into the Seven we know today. Tom explores the meaning of the term Sacrament … what they are meant to achieve … have the Trentian Sacraments lost their meaning for many today … should we re-examine the entire issue of "Sacrament" and give them new meaning for our prsent age — or find new symbols that communicate more effectively today? In this introductory reflection he looks at the power of Myth and Mystery in the human imagination.
Are the Seven Sacraments workable today?
Bill Moyers in THE POWER OF MYTH questions Joseph Campbell: "Myths are clues?"
Campbell responds "myths are clues to the spiritual potentialities of the human". Little did I realize that from early childhood I have been immersed in the mythology of priesthood and church sacraments, a life of absorbing clues of my spiritual potential; a myth had built around the male clergyman, beginning in the 11th century and was cemented in the Catholic psyche by the Council of Trent in 1542. Please don't view myth as fairytale; myths are the fabric of every person's daily life.
Vatican Two in 1962 invited the church and clergy into contact with the real world; by 1965 a process of demythologizing the clerical state was underway (uncovering old clues) and new myths about priesthood were surfacing, like thunderbolts. Myths sustain their value as long as society supports their credibility. Within forty years the heroic images of Crosby and Flanagan in Going My Way and Boys Town would be supplanted by a clergy in turmoil and sexual disarray. As changing horses in the middle of the stream is a dangerous experience so too the priest of today has been sucked into a maelstrom of confusion from which he may emerge healthily balanced or psychologically unsound, surely somehow damaged. He may leave the clergy to deal with the changing image. (Dean Hoge writes of this in his book about why priests leave after five years.)
I have not worn a clerical collar or black suit for nearly 30 years, yet the very fact I was, or perhaps still in the memory of some might be a priest, is present; the conflicting myths of married father of children and priest is disturbing to the mind of many who know my past. Others have adjusted. The 27th March edition of San Jose Mercury News (in brief it carries a 60 word article about Siegfried W., 62, accused former priest who fled to Mexico; he jumped to his death from his hotel balcony.) My wife asked me if I knew him; no! All I know is that a priest committed a crime and suicide. It is a monumentous task to counter this image; in this the Roman institution is mute.
Today every public clergyman wears the myth of suspicion, all because of a small percentage of pathologically ill clergymen and enforced celibacy, a house built on sand. For many the priest is their ticket to eternal life with God, a vital necessary link to the supernatural; others see no value in this clerical isolated society; the myth has died. The people are befuddled and /or indifferent. Demything is tough on people; panic can result when the myths of salvation are upended. Do we need new signs (sacraments) and human connections to the Divine? The Council of Trent took nearly 120 chaotic sacraments and made seven, the list we all learned at first communion time. Today are the seven workable? Do the signs sanctioned by Trent mean anything to a fourteen year old who is confirmed in his/her faith?
The human mind: capable of mythologising AND distorting…
Myth is a combination of factual history, imagination, cultural habits, taboos, distortions, and dreams of society; they form a life view from youth. Simplistically I view every creation, cat, tree, flowers, sun, etc. as a clue to greater potential. I live in the world of mythologies; I am comfortable with an educated awareness of the power of myth.. You and I are mythical. I can appreciate the mystic Hildegard of Bingen. I'm with Friedrich K. Schumann as he asks: Can the event of Jesus Christ be demythologized? (Kerygma and Myth by Rudolph Bultmann, 1961)
I am also aware that the human mind is very capable of distorting; yet the reality of Death and Taxes are myths to which we can not be blind. I recommend A SHORT HISTORY OF MYTH by Karen Armstrong, 2005. I recall in 1938 watching space flights of Flash Gordon rocketing (that wobbly rocket was really corny) to Ming's kingdom; yesterday I watched on the History Channel the launching of a Trident missile from an underwater nuclear submarine. I would call these teaching-parent-child myths. Myths teach lessons and are forerunners of discovery. Wearing a white suit of armor Adolph Hitler fancied himself as Parcival, legendary warrior healer of the days of Teutonic Knights and 1100's Crusades; creating a vicious myth Hitler would heal Germany of all its political ills by destroying the Jewish people. In the days of the Black Plague the wandering peddler was scapegoated for spreading the disease. Peddlers were usually Jews; a myth is born in the 11th century that rocks the entire world in the 1940's.
Church authorities of the 11th century madly envisioned a Christian church without women; reaching back into the most ugly myths of history these males branded the female as evil and in need of careful watching. (Think Salem Witch Hunts in American Colonies in the 1600’s.) They destroyed clerical marriage whereas the family man priest was a sound and productive image in the first millennium; they created a woman-free society with the clergy focused by mandatory celibacy on the "genuine" work of God, perhaps a given crusade. The middle ages had confusing myth of getting people out of this wretched world into the joy of an eternal heaven. Today an educated people is unwilling to accept the Middle Age myths of God, Jesus and eternal life, finding in them great mysteries.
Let's look at the Greek word MYSTERY. On May 21, 2008 I questioned married priest Chris Diamond, editor of Corpus Canada and have slipped his thoughts into this original piece on myth written five years ago.
DIAMOND: Briefly, I would have said something like "Mystery is another way of knowing". The word is from Greek 'musterion', a mystery, a cognate of 'musteo', an initiating. Greek Religions spoke about initiating someone into the secrets of a particular religion or religious practice sometimes thought to be knowledge revealed by a god. Early christians used the word to mean the things that they believed were revealed by Jesus. They celebrated their 'mysteries', the things that they knew/believed that others didn't. Later the mystagogia were celebrated particularly after Easter when it became the major christian feast. The word 'mystery' is behind the word mystical which came to describe awareness of the presence of God.
In the mid 80s, Richard Woods wrote a book called Mysterion. It was on mystical spirituality showing that it was not a withdrawing into contemplative life but understanding christianity as biblical. Something like that: "the cloud of unknowing" properly understood etc. (end Diamond insert)
As June approaches (it's now here as you're reading this) I realize how unprepared I am for my promised series on SACRAMENTS IN THE AGE OF TECHNOLOGY. Even though I have personally explored the mysteries and lived by some for many years I have failed to explore the knowledge from fellow community members; the key to appreciating the value of sacred signs, now or in the future, is how they are understood by people at large. Perhaps these “new” signs have been with us all along. On June 21 in Grass Valley, Ca. I am to meet with six members of our original 1980’s community of Jesus Our Brother, they living apart from our main gatherings for over ten years while still considering themselves as community members in Diaspora; I will be present not as teacher for I am there to learn how they stayed connected to their God and how they made sacred issues/items … what were the sacraments of their lives as they lived disconnected from the Roman religion of their youth? They are intelligent and successful adults who have experienced life to the full. I am also surveying the 12 now adult children of my Montana cousin who have been raised in traditional romanism, they too having experienced modern life to its fullness. I hope to use these investigations at the end of my series.
Please accept this article, part written five years ago, as my kick off piece to SACRAMENTS FOR THE AGE OF TECHNOLOGY. My thanks to Brian and Catholica Australia for this opportunity to explore the future. To be fair to my commitment I need look ahead and do little hind sighting. Readers have ridden my fast moving Polar Express in my series on PRIESTHOOD …… All aboard! …… The spiritual Mars probe is about to take off … what are your selections for sacraments of the future?
Tom the Amateur in San Jose … remember my definition of maturity? maturity come from experiencing energy!. 09/03/1999
NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part 1
Image Credits: The graphic of the Phoenix lander which has recently touched-down on Mars was sourced from www.ian.cz/redsys/upload/612712-32036.jpg. Click on the other images to see the original source.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?