NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part 3
Jesus came to set us free from superstition and ignorance, argues Tom McMahon in this third commentary of his series on Sacrament. This is a very optimistic commentary looking at the new spring that seems to be emerging in wider society but still largely stifled within the institution itself by a leadership fearful of losing its control and power.
Entwined in this sacramental pattern — the "pearl of great price"…
Friday week agoI had the opportunity to relax at our High Sierra chalet, 7000 ft.; an emerald-green grass carpets what a month ago was three feet of old winter snow, patches of frozen white still in shady spots. As I slowly ate my breakfast, looking through a southern wall of glass I marveled at the combination of new vegetation, long standing pine trees, rugged granite mountains, and a brilliant fast rising sun; I fancied myself as integrally entwined in this sacramental pattern, the outward signs of THE FORCE, omni-present and ever-energizing. … my reverie was suddenly broken … I saw long shining steel ribbons of railroad track, a short distance from our property line, rails over which millions of dollars of goods pass daily and sure sacramental signs of the prosperity of America; with vision blocked by the forest to the far left and right the rails seem to come from no where and lead to no place, seemingly endless, something like my life's trail with a whole lot behind me and an unknown future. I thought of my early notions of a far-off God with no beginning and no end. I sensed the soft and gentle comforting PRESENCE of the ETERNAL. This may be the pearl of great price of which Jesus speaks.
I quietly meditated on the present signs/sacraments that I use to connect to my concept of God, my mind returning to the six shades of green and the warm rising sun. I was mindful of the old leader in Michener's THE SOURCE as the wind warned him to keep his tribe in the desert, avoiding the city where a person can fast lose contact with the footprints of the Creator. Yet I knew I had to leave Donner Summit and return to my family obligations. In his novels Andrew Greeley uses flamboyant sexual images and conduct as a disguise for the presence of a passionate exciting God. When in seminary I went to chapel to find God while the whole 99 rural acres screamed of divine presence and gentle power. I'm a city boy by birth and I am genetically acclimatized to fire sirens and crowded freeways. I had to leave what was obvious to me the peaceful signs of the Creator's Presence. I thought of our two sons, one already a family man and the other to marry in August, and I silently questioned if they have confidence in any signs which they use to connect peacefully to a Deity. Theirs is a complex world of stress and daily materialistic survival. I see for my grand children a future world of pressure, a consumer society in which the human is consumed and human values are replaced by the monetary; the gods are power and money often under the guise of youthful beauty and athleticism. Some say this generation can live to be 120 with the marvels of new medical practices and I wonder if cancer (in my simplicity, tissue/cells broken under stress) might eat them up by the time they are 60. When I read in the Gospel Jesus went off to the desert am I reading a health prescription? Could relaxation become a sign-station where one finds the gentleness of God? I see the Buddhist and the Hindu as sacramentally already in touch.
I am mindful of the story of the Jewish man who recently returned to temple; when questioned why he had again taken up religion he replied: "I have no interest in religious concepts; I came wanting the opportunity to be with and talk to my son who has recently turned to the Hebrew Faith. It's the only place I can find him to have a decent conversation." I keep our second home in the High Sierra with a hope that some day a son, or perhaps a grand child, might sit looking out the chalet's glass wall, marveling at the sacramental presence of the Mystery we call God. Perhaps one day, when they have time away from the hustle of the world, they might read Edward Schillebeeckx's CHURCH: the Human Story of God, 1990, and CHRIST: THE SACRAMENT OF THE ENCOUNTER WITH GOD, 1963. I keep a copy of both near the chalet's glass windows.
Jesus came to set us free from superstition and ignorance…
Gifts of a generous God — sacraments for the age of technology may have been right under our nose all along!
Our train of thought has been stopped again at High Sierra Station, Donner Summit; remember our finding God in the majestic granite mountains in my series on eucharist/Eucharist when the O'Conaills came from North Ireland? What sign/sacraments did Patricia and Sean hang onto in the terrible political violence of a now past era of Protestant -vs- Catholic, a long-standing family feud in the Emerald Isle? What follows in this series will be our search for any new signs/sacraments the Creator has left along the imaginative spiritual railroad tracks, as we board again the Polar Express with imagination at full throttle. The use of free will and imagination are new elixirs to me, having little understanding and use of them while in seminary and early priesthood. Rome fears the inquisitive mind and a person who thinks. Jesus came to set us free from superstition and ignorance.
Vatican Two cleared the tracks of old debris and launched a wild freedom express with Jesus as chief engineer. (I stop here as I write to get ready to go to San Francisco to hear Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson; seems the SF archbishop has forbidden Robinson to come to my native city, a sure guarantee of a full house. See: www.catholica.com.au/gc1/tm/033_tm_250608.php)
In keeping with my military training I have sent out probes to scout into unknown territory, the best source of knowledge being indigenous peoples … motto: know the matrix and know the present milieu. My investigation is based in the roman teaching that sacraments are for the people, sacramentum propter hominem, while my observations tell me that the struggle today is preservation of the clerical power over the sacraments (e.g. maintaining a celibate priesthood and the loss of frequent Eucharist) with little concern as to the healthy satisfaction of the needs of the people. Especially for the clergy, and in particular for bishops, Trent's seven sacraments have become intellectual concepts, words on paper that no longer possess a connecting message to Jesus and his loving God … If salt loses its flavor it has no value but to be thrown away, as I recall the Gospel saying. Yet who am I to rule the salt is flavorless? Have the seven, or some, sacraments lost their power in the eyes of the people? As the Polar Express pauses to take on fuel (educational talks such as last night's by Australian Bishop Geoff Robinson and Paul Lakeland on Sunday) we will look briefly at one of the seven in our last paragraph. (Liberation of the Laity by Paul Lakeland 2003, one of the most important books of this era.)
A World War Two movie shows the USS Aircraft Carrier Franklin ablaze, its mangled flight deck aflame with raging fire and bursting bombs; in the midst of the infernal chaos a Catholic chaplain raises his hand in blessing over a dying young seaman … and the world sees the priest as the perfect hero giving his life for others. Some sixty years will pass and the black headlines of a San Francisco newspaper blare forth that one of the City's Catholic pastors is on trial for sexual abuse of a child. How does the salt regain its flavor? The male, Trentan-style priesthood is virtually now dead. Is this writer a bitter Judas priest, as Pope Paul once called us? Are my observations from a distorted disappointed mind? Was Bishop Geoffrey Robinson merely blowing off steam last night? Or was he right on when he challenges the use of power and sex in the Roman clergy. Is the Trentan priesthood a viable carrier of the message of Jesus Christ? Can clericalism be reformed/reshaped, literally offered to the world in another form? Who will resalt the ministries of Christianity?
There are still tears in my 79-year-old eyes as I write about the USS Franklin and its noble chaplain … as a young seminarian I saw Jesus in sacramental action and I wanted to follow. I wanted to bring men to God and God to men (women too). I never wanted to be a ceo-pastor; the people are in need and we must not offer them stones when they ask for bread. O God of Jesus, have you abandoned us? Are we to stay crucified on a modern hill of Calvary? Or has your holy spirit another plan? We humbly ask for your guidance; we promise to look carefully at your guiding signs, your divine footprints, the living sacraments for the age of technology. We believe God still walks among humans. I have a faith that Jesus is re-forming, using communities of faith and dialogue. Will these two experiences, community and dialogue be someday recognized as sacred signs of a Jesus presence.……where two or three are there I am……recall the Emmaus story ……I assume these followers of Jesus are talking to one another. Christ has died! Christ has risen! … a real Jesus is slowly rising! Would Jesus ever excommunicate someone?
In manus tuas, Domine (Into your hands, O Lord).
Tom, here in San Jose, merely a humble contractor. 14/06/2008
NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part 3
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?