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The Polar Express takes what Tom McMahon desribes as a "bypass switch" today. He's beginning to examine in more detail the relevance of a Trentan priesthood to today's milieu. Who is qualified to be a priest in this Age of Technology?
A Middle Age Church in the Modern World…
The Polar Express takes a bypass switch on the Trentan priesthood … who is qualified to be a priest in the age of technology?. …… a MIDDLE AGE CHURCH IN THE MODERN WORLD?
My father lost his life from a train accident, yet I still carry his railroad genes; as I write today I see a rail switch that steers me off the main line Trentan priesthood and sides along the old time man in black and roman white collar. Johnny Cash's THE MAN IN BLACK is one of my favorite songs and nostalgically I display a picture of myself, young and bushy tailed at 25 … the newly ordained cleric … a pre Vatican Two model. As I was preparing film for my class on World War Two for 30 Almaden seniors two pictures slammed into my memory, one of an abandoned Chinese baby in the debris-filled streets of Shanghai and the other of a US Navy chaplain with his hand held over a dying seaman in the midst of the flames that consumed the USS Franklin; the image from the deck of the doomed carrier jet blasted the Roman Catholic priesthood into hero status and Bing in Going My Way added the cherry and cream to the banana split of fantasized priestly perfection when he went about his clerical duty in spite of Ingrid Bergman. The main line train of clericalism today has twisted track under its truck-wheels and is going nowhere. Is there any value on the side track? … one might not find the approving episcopal bar code on men and women who have been sidelined. Is a Middle Ages priesthood a fit sacred sign for modernity? Will the men in black do the job? Will they survive under the noon day sun of close scrutiny?
Psychology is a discipline that has been around since the first Neanderthals figured out the Cromagnums had entered their hunting grounds; the Greek plethora of gods and goddesses was a text book display of human emotions and the psychological exchange common to human life, the Greeks' version of heaven being Mt. Olympus. My Mom was the best psychologist I have ever known, raising four kids in the Great Depression after my father's death in 1931; Mom's psychology was apt for her time and crisis orientated. When I was in the throws of considering leaving institutional ministry and going to counseling Mother said: "but Tom you are not crazy" and my reply was "maybe that is why I am not going crazy". The human psychology of the Church in the era of the Black Plague is soaked in fear and coupled with a doomsday theology; in Pacem in Terris and the Vatican Two documents there is not one prohibitive or threatening word. Vatican Two projects much needed hope for human kind. John the 23rd was a keen psychologist. God and Jesus are our friends.
This afternoon on our Public Radio I heard a report of new federal laws that mandate money, care, and time to be allocated to mental illnesses as equal to physical pathologies; the discussion entailed the stigma attached to mental illness. I had just come from our first session at our Senior Center, the subject HEALTH CARE OF THE BRAIN, featuring information on prevention of Alzheimer's and Dementia. We have 1400 Senior members; five came to the discussion. As I drove home I pondered who would be the priest of information who would merit access to the aging senior mind; there is not a single person among the 1400, including myself, who is immune to the mental illnesses that accompany old age. We are quick to go to the foot doctor or have a hip replaced; few know about health care of the brain, most preferring to pretend there are no problems and I agree with Page Smith in his book OLD AGE IS A DIFFERENT COUNTRY. Like my Mom psychology is linked to the crazies. The Roman Church is dysfunctional because it has not up dated psychologically.
In 1976 when Archbishop Joseph McGucken heard of my being licensed a mental health therapist by the State of California he said to me: "why don't you leave mental health to the professionals" and I responded "indeed Archbishop, and I am becoming one of them". I think Joe was afraid I might analyze him (not my style; I prefer Victor Frankal and his Logotherapy which is heavy into hope); the Archbishop had knowledge then of sexual abusing priests and we can see today the psychological mess. Before I left institutional ministry I worked in an agency that dealt with run away teens and children; our work called for in-home visits and little did the dysfunctional families know that the therapist was a Roman catholic priest; I did not tell them while gaining much knowledge of the dynamic involved in families, especially Catholics who forced their kids to go to church. It was on-the-job training for me. I viewed the whole as a service that Jesus would approve of, all along having the successful model of the Worker Priests of Paris during World War Two, started by Yves Congar and broken up by Pius the 12th as the pope protected the elite class of clericalism.
What am I suggesting concerning a priesthood for the age of technology? Two issues are clear to me, namely access to people and willingness to serve. The man who wears a clerical collar will illicit fear, respect, and distance; based on early archetypes Protestant, Jew, and Catholic will see in that person a special power who has an in with the gods and they won't be real with him. I know the drill; while celebrating on New Year's Eve in New York City with a marine corporal and a navy swabbie (both kids I had in parish back home) I took the crosses off my army chaplain's uniform and enjoyed the show. As to women being ordained priests I have a reservation. I have never considered myself a genuine priest of Jesus because a bishop laid hands on me in a Roman ordination; I have seen men ordained in ceremony and in no way did they change to be followers of our Christ. I have seen many ordinary people priest their lives in service to others and they wore no clerical collar or had no title; this I learned from my priest uncle and from the Worker Priests of Paris. People ask me today "Tom, are you still a priest?" and I smile responding "which kind of priest are you asking about?" The fact that I take time to listen to people or take a sick person to the hospital qualifies me in my own mind that I am in sync with Jesus. I have little personal interest in a liturgical priesthood that lives aloof from the people; I do see value for men of my era who are bridge builders. I often think of Monsignor (Mons to us) Keenan of the hick town of Coallinga, Ca., former WW2 chaplain who used to eat every night at the Greyhound bus station restaurant and talk to someone he did not know.
Paul the Apostle was a tentmaker. I have had a number of jobs in my lifetime, before and after clerical ordination; in each of those experiences there was opportunity to serve and by this service to grow in happiness and wisdom. The world is a big place and there are many people. When I was departing institutional ministry I talked with Jim McEntee, great social justice worker and I expressed fear that I would not be used by anyone anymore; Jim gently said to me: "Tom, if you are open to people they will come and many …" I have had a rich priestly life of service to people and I don't say Mass or wear a clerical collar. A Jesus priesthood is there for every human being.The people of God have been sorely cheated by so called bishop educators who continue to claim direct decendence from Jesus (that bogus Last Supper ordination) and a magic power of salvation in ordained clerics; once of great value in the Middle Ages the Hero priest of Trent has lost his seasoning flavor and must be replaced by women and men who are dedicated to Jesus Christ. Vatican Two sounded the death knell of the old European Church and priesthood when the bishops signed the document of THE CHURCH IN THE MODERN WORLD. The Holy Spirit of the Creator-God is at work and clericalized men and women continue to offer opposition.
What would I say to a person who wants to be a Jesus priest in today's world, whether she or he be one publicly ordained or privately aware of the Christian potential.In true Gestalt fashion I would offer 3 negatives and 3 positives:
avoid the limelight, no titles, no outward show, no costumes
You will be rebuffed, particularly by indifference, as the Gospel of Jesus is counter cultural, especially consumerism; if you live by the Gospel be prepared to be hurt and ignored by wealth and power.
don't be fooled by the numbers game, the large crowd and your name in the paper or an honor seat at a wedding feast. Christianity is a salt, an influence.
trust yourself to an Anum Cara, perhaps a soul-friend individual or a base community with whom you can speak from your genuine inner self expressing your dark and positive thoughts.
know by name those to whom you speak and listen and speak only after serious reflection.
be aware that results of your efforts may not show in your lifetime (cf. closing story); fly on the radar beam of what you think Jesus would do and trust his Spirit will guide you.
(PS: #4, a cheat: make friends with the old people; they know what life is about and they have put up their money at great sacrifice years ago only to be neglected in old age; they have sweated out raising their kids Catholic only to find the kids don't want it anymore; they want to enjoy what they have left of life without being afraid.)
At a reception after a funeral I spotted a table of old friends, going over shaking hands and saying hello. I stopped before one woman and said "I don't know you" and she smiled and said "but I know you! I am a San Leandro High School girl, one of those Public School kids that you worked with in 1956 … You loved and respected us and we loved you and I will never forget you." … The old Irish pastor and I fought as he saw value only in the Catholic School children, calling the Public School kids "you and your damned kids". (I assured him I had not biologically fathered any) ….. ah, bitter and sweet memories and the reward offered by that beautiful person who made my day fifty years later. I have no regrets about being ordained a priest in a pre-Vatican Two church; I enjoyed all 26 years of service to God and people; I consider it a privilege to be a transition man, to have met John the 23rd and thereafter moving a church of the Middle Ages into the 22nd century. I do advocate a good look at the risen Jesus, the priest needed in the age of modernity …… he now wears a different disguise and welcomes all comers to join in his work...... "take up my burden; it is sweet and light".
Next week let's examine the value of the Trentan clerical train on today's twisted tracks. Don't count them out.
Tom in San Jose, Ca. 16/10/2008
PS: I spent time at the seminary library today, coming away with seven books on the modernization of the sacraments; I had a strange feeling that others have had the same ideas I have written about. At least I am not a plagiarist. I look forward to reading the seven books to see what they have to say and what I can learn. I will report.
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