NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part 13
The headline says "A Confession" but this commentary from Tom McMahon is not the one about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. His thought-train is still stuck at the Baptism Station. This commentary is a further personal confession of his journey from one form of ministry to another. Many who have become disenchanted with the institution will empathise with what he writes. Also included today is an audio commentary from another priest — or should that be 'pastor'? — who has made a similar journey, Michael Morwood. After you've read Tom's commentary you might like to reflect further on Michael Morwood's words which speaks to the heart of those who have lost faith in the institution but who have not lost faith in Jesus.
A Confession is in order…
By now readers may realize that when I write I talk as friend to each of you; as I sit in the solitude of my back room (my cluttered den of thieves or better Aladdin's treasure cave) I imagine myself connected to Sydney or Perth via this marvelous computer contraption, something like a magic carpet that whisks me over-the-seas. I myself read my commentaries over and over before I send them off to Brian and read them on their welcome homecoming after being wonderfully picture doctored by Catholica's editor. I check to see if I am genuine. As to the commentary on Baptism I have a confession to make; in Commentary #12 I held back my personal feelings, clearly aware of painful memories and still mindful of the lack of welcome provided by my family and my church on the arrival of our first son. Unfortunately as his new life entered the world the emphasis was on the priest-father who broke Church law not on the gift of a new creation and an innocent child.
Remember last week we spoke of Dorothy saying there was no such experience as an illegitimate child. Twenty years after the fact I was interviewed for hours by an Associated Press writer, only to have her publish a frivolous story that emphasized a naughty priest who disobediently played games with his bishop; I found my own family and so many Catholics in general so emotionally immature and intellectually ignorant. I experienced them blindly worshiping the rules of the Roman institution and a distorted clerical history without a care for this godly creation; there was a handful of exceptions. For decades as Roman priest I had publicly welcomed new life into the world and all this joyful openness would be denied to our son because of my stupid loyalty to an antiquated and out-of-touch institution.
I began to realize and resent that people often saw me as church property, there for their use only; as priest I was to have no personal life. For 15 years I had experienced growth as a human being as well as watching my ship of faith leave the religious moorings of youthful Catholicism and venturing into the broad sea of mature Christianity. Allow me to explain…
My personal experience…
On pilgrimage to Jerusalem I had experienced the straw that broke the camel's back when a religious order priest refused to help me give money to hungry refugees; I came to Rome and an audience with the Pope a very disillusioned young cleric. I saw no value in being a priest or being a member of the Roman church. When I heard John the 23rd's version of meaningful Christian spirituality in 1961 I was renewed and with hope plunged into teaching Vatican Two, coming into vital contact with real people who were interested in Jesus.
I saw clearly that the clergy of the Archdiocese of San Francisco broke down into three groups, elderly confused and automated frightened priestsl active peers of various ages who worked generously for people; and a third grouping who used their clerical position to benefit themselves often covering up serious personal problems. Loneliness and alcohol were the crutches for many. Most knew little about Jesus and couldn't care less. I knew by 1966 that genuine evolvement with people would be my salvation. Over a period of 15 years I began to see the institution as a money-making machine and the priest as a useful cog in making the "church machine" work.; to save my sanity all along I was in the process of matching what I perceived as Jesus-thinking into my personal life and that of the people I was dedicated to serve.
On Holy Thursday, April 8, 1971 classmate Bill Burns stunned the Archbishop and the entire Bay Area clergy when at the Chrism Mass (expressing priestly unity) he ended by slowly reading off a list of 25 priests who had married, questioning why they had left; these were men highly admired and successful as community/parish leaders and the opportunity was present for the hierarchy to sit down with their clergy and discuss the crisis. Nothing but stunned silence came of Bill's homily — a silence that continues on in 2008 in the midst of chaotic crisis. One priest friend left in 1970 writing a letter to all San Francisco clergy saying he no longer could stay in the active ministry for fear he would turn out to be a dried up meaningless recluse. I did some powerful thinking.
On January 4th, 1980 I found myself outside the Roman clergy; I was for the first time in 26 years a free human being in a real world, having as companions on the journey my wife Elaine and sons Steve and Tommy. Father Quoist has A BOOK OF PRAYERS, one of which addresses the person who opens himself to the world in service, the prayer mentioning that first they came one at a time and then they came more and more, yet enjoyably. Two months after my departure from institutional religion two came — representing 30 others who requested my service as educator and pastoral figure. Twenty eight years later that original group (The Community of Jesus Our Brother) is still alive today, they being the ones who had originally accepted our sons and allowed me to be human. After years of dialogue these members agree with Michael Morwood that GOD IS NEAR.
I don't buy a "peekaboo God"…
As America undergoes financial crisis (Wall Street Sept. 18, 2008), I sense the need for a friendly God; we have had it well here in the States and our politicians close all their speeches beseeching God's blessing on this great nation. I don't buy a God who peekaboos with the human race, turning a blind eye to starving children in Darfur while blessing a batter with a home-run in a baseball game. I have a consciousness of the presence of the Mystery called God all around and everywhere. At our Senior Center I have the privilege of teaching World War Two, yesterday's session looking at the Holocaust and Cardinal Pacelli's concordat with Adolph Hitler that guaranteed protection for Jews who had converted to Catholicism but not for those who choose to remain Jews. Our source was CONSTANTINE'S SWORD by James Carroll, himself a priest who abandoned his priestly lot to seek truth. I am sure that the God of the Jew Jesus did not approve of the Shoa as an offering of appeasement to Yahweh.
France was once known as the "eldest daughter of the church" … 99% baptized Roman … and something like 2% active after WW2. I often think of French Dominican Yves Congar's fear of baptism becoming a cute, nice ceremony. Congar had organized the Priest-Workers of Paris.
I have paid a price for approaching God and religion as an adult; I go through life without that God of certainty; Brian Coyne questions the human uses as the God of Gaps when they fail to have answers. I no longer have certainty about life after death as I interpret the resurrection of Jesus as non physical. Tonight I had one of those breakfast communions that has been spoken of on Catholica's Forum; Dorothy and I brought and shared dinner with Mike who has mental problems and lives alone. We brought him to hospital on Sunday and back home on Wednesday. Mike is in danger of loosing his leg from complications. Our "parish" is tiny; our mission Christian and the "resurrected Jesus" ate ravioli and veggies. A child once told his uncle over the phone after receiving first communion that he had just eaten the "paper Jesus".
Tomorrow I am going over to San Rafael, 100 miles away, to visit some old retired priests; I am sure Jesus will be there. So I send this along … a bit of a ramble but be assured that I feel GOD IS NEAR — the MYSTERY that never lets me out of sight.
Tom in outpost San Jose, getting ready to send off this magic carpet. 18/09/2008 — and I am really not angry anymore. Good Morning Australia and good morning world!
NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part 13
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What are your thoughts on this commentary?