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Tom McMahon is the story teller today — telling stories that explore the meaning of the word "sacrament". The word has lost a lot of its power and meaning. Tom builds his arguments for our need to rediscover the meaning of "sacrament" in our present age — the age of technology.
Being grateful for life…
A preliminary thought ….. I was conceived 80 years ago, my present faith being my Creator vested in my father and mother the same divine power that created stars, moons, and universe. I am grateful to Fr. Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme (Universe is a Green Dragon, 1984), and the History Channel for information concerning the wonders of creation and the awesomeness of the Creator. I have become conscious in the past few months that my life gift and energy will soon be returned to nature and I will join the family tree of those who are remembered. I think peacefully of death, now that I am aware that God has sacramentally surrounded me since the moment of my inception; so many sacramental signs and why mistrust ONE who offers such pleasant reminders of a loving and healthy God presence.
Before my Mom died we shared on life and death; Mom's attitude was that life was a gift, a free gift to be enjoyed and when her time to go had come Mom would offer back her gift in thanksgiving to a God who loved her … and that she did. Her final words were: tell the children I love them; I ask pardon of any harm I have done them; tell them to enjoy the gift of life… and Mom died. Mom had many sacraments, Eucharist etc. and especially her people.
My mother — my best theology teacher…
My mother was my best theology teacher as well as a model of simple moral living. I remember so clearly the 1930's grade school. On Sunday we went to church and she gently showed me where to sit with the kids, while she took a place next to a woman the parish women were shunning. They went together to the communion rail. I can recall the priest by name yet not a word he said while the image of Christian common-union is burned in my psyche. Mom was a widow in 1931; Mom taught me to be an idealist and how to deal with loss. Mom spoke of her father as a man of integrity and how she and her father walked among the lupine and the poppies on a Sunday afternoon. I grew up thinking of my grandfather as a Jesus figure — Schillebeeckx's Christ, the Sacrament of God.
We closed the last commentary [LINK] with searching questions, specifically the issue of highly educated persons identifying our "new found/old time/always around/beautifully disguised" sacraments as the usual singular teacher of old, the priest, fades into the sunset. Nature itself seems to me to be the great teacher of our time. Allow me three stories. Lay women and men take heed! It is very possible that we are witness to the demise of one of Trent's seven major sacraments: there is strong evidence that the Trentan priesthood is dying. Do we have faith in a God who will continue provide sacred signs of the Creator's continued love and closeness to creation? Genesis: God created and saw this was good!
Story #1: When I was a seminarian I read Canon Sheehan, Irish clergyman who could see future problems of the church as far back as 1900. In one book the village people were dissatisfied with their PP (parish priest) and the bishop had conceded to their wishes for change three times; in exasperation the bishop refused to send another. The people still came to church on Sunday and the sexton who had assisted the priest at all previous baptisms, knowing that any person can baptize, graciously poured the saving waters. The book ends with the sexton, dressed in an altar boy cassock, mounting the pulpit and placing the priestly stole around his neck. The fiction was an eye opener for this budding priest.
Story #2: In 1967 we were training persons to read the scripture at Mass; one of the men interrupted the class saying "you expect me to come to church and listen to God's word read by a woman whose legs are so visible? Have you any advice for men like me?" I simply replied "yea, join all of us Catholics and grow up!".
Story #3 (repeated from C/A series on eucharist/Eucharist): Theologian priest Bernard Haring tells of four men in a Nazi concentration camp, one an ordained priest who has no book, robes, or chalice; the four break bread and word, sustaining hope and meaning on the priest's knowledge. The priest dies and Haring asked us "what now would you do?" In 1967 we fumbled for a response; Bernard smiled as he said "the group ordains (appoints) the most capable one to carry on, as would Jesus". Leadership is the issue, not episcopal ordination and the laity is being called to leadership. As clericalism dies will the teachings of Jesus die too? I suggest the good ole childhood days of Romanism are over; the real issue is: have the teachings of Jesus any value to today's society?
The need today…
In the chaos of the collapse of the Trentan priesthood the most fundamental need is the formation of small base communities, people who gather to talk about Jesus and his way. I see the signs of forthcoming community, yet the celibate priest stands apart, unable in his demanded individuality to bring about the common union of others. The isolated clergyman must go and perhaps/more than likely under the influence of the Holy Spirit of Jesus. All present church reformation groups begin as small gatherings of persons who have talked about Jesus and his style of life The struggle today is to re-form, form up and expand the small groups that know how to communicate around matters of faith … discussing faith in whom and what? Empty slogans such as "keep the faith" and "take back the church" in their vagueness say nothing to me. Calling people to a conference in which special speakers offer their version of faith reminds me of rival meetings in which one gets the spirit and all return home to the old status quo; such is so reminiscent of the attitude, now dying fast, that all I have to do is showing up at church for Sunday Mass and God and me are A-OK. Community can become very personal and challenging, taking time to develop and mature.
After nearly 40 years of a home-based faith community my encouragement to people is … put your ego in your back pocket, read, listen up, and share from your heart as Jesus teaches in his authentic group dialogue style. Going to communion, or any other sacrament, will never form community, too much isolation and magic grace for Jesus to handle. Since 1965 I have seen the pastoral connection between the Emmaus story (Luke 24) and the Acts of the Apostles, wherein the followers of Jesus — the original lay followers, women and men — take over spreading the good news first taught by the historical Jesus. The Jesus of resurrection is the body of Christ; the community of faith; people who believe!
I watched the History Channel today as it featured Adolph Hitler and the Occult. The sacred signs the Nazis put before the people were clever and plentiful, each sign offering a message that touched the core of the German mind. Originally a peace sign, the swastika offered terror to the enemy and united power to the homeland, even the screeching of Stuka dive bombers proclaimed the horror awaiting anyone who did not submit to the madman's mind. The Third Reich had ten thousand sacramentals and Adolph himself was #1 sacred sign. Everything was staged, a super race until Stalingrad. Look around today at what some live and die for, the sacred signs of their very meaning … power, money, sexual gratification, titillation, an athletic victory, ego, a cardinal's red hat…
Let's board the inquisitive Polar Express for a curiosity ride,,,,,,take full care over there of that blind person … Plato would remove him from society as mentioned in the Republic as a misfit to perfection and Jesus would make a special sacrament of him, reminding the Jews that the God of Jesus did not curse the fellow because of the sins of his parents. Look around carefully as you board our train of thought as it hurtles its way into that "other world" we spoke of in our #4 essay. Children are taught the dignity of each person in the public schools of America whereas some Catholics still think a child has to be baptized to become a son or daughter of the Creator; we'll address this issue when our train of thought sails through the old station marked ORIGINAL SIN. … perhaps # 6 or 7. Neither of the two McMahon children, and our grandchildren, have been baptized; we let our God originally mark them as sacraments and we treat them as God's sacred property — so many sacramentals, including myself. Jewish prayer at the time of Jesus never allowed petition, only thanksgiving and praiseful awe.
Irish mythology predates the gods and goddesses of Olympus; seems the gods inhabited the Emerald Isle and then along came people and they went to war and the people won. The gods were clever and they turned themselves into wee people, hiding under rocks like the gremlins and flying through the air like the banshees … in 1820 my great great great grandfather was expelled from Dublin for drinking, carousing, and not paying his debts, his Protestant wife riding side saddle to the ring of Kerry. I am sure that great grandpa followed the Irish custom of carefully and cautiously greeting a stranger they met on the road to Trallee with "O my God!" … just in case. … one never knows. One might guess that a four leaf clover was a sacrament until Cardinal Paul Cullen moved in.
What's the future of Trent's seven sacraments and what was the melieu in which they were fostered? Can we renovate them for use in the age of technology? What did Vatican Two have to say? What about that little Hindu boy who the other day folded his hands in prayer and dipping them toward me respected the divine in me — I returned his sacramental salutation.
Tom, comfortable with my God and happy to be a Jesus follower… 30/06/2008
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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?