ARTICLE NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part 22
Tom McMahon start off his commentary today providing a further insight into his own outlook and life post the clerical priesthood. He argues: "I feel a strong duty, that commission given to me at ordination in 1954, to direct people to think as Jesus would think." In his final exploration on the sacrament of marriage in this series he argues that in light of the greatly increased prevalence of divorce "to survive the institution needs to take a living interest in its divorced population".
Again some fore thoughts before we get back on the "railroad track" discussing marriage…
Our faith community met today, seven of us left from the 35 who formalized ourselves in 1980 as a State of California non-profit/tax deductible religious organization, aka The Community of Jesus Our Brother. Larry, retired from NASA is a man with a hunger for knowledge and has recently attended talks by Marcus Borg, Presbyterian minister and author of THE HEART OF CHRISTIANITY, a work our book club has already studied for four months. Borg, of the Jesus Seminar group, has worked retreats with Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister. For 30 years as community we have pursued getting to know Jesus, whom we call "the new kid on the block". John the 23rd beaconed Jesus out of the medieval European tomb. In my 12 years of seminary I never had a course on Jesus. I assume that most priests my age have never experienced any of the modern day study of Jesus, as done by the Jesus Seminar group. (Books: Excavating Jesus by Crossan and Reed, A Marginal Jew by John Meier).
Years ago we began our treck unaware that to walk the path of the Nazarene we would cross a wasteland, littered with broken remnants of the European religion of our youth. Larry is fortunate being a background Methodist while for us cradle Catholics our pioneering effort has us at times hesitating and questioning the road signs along this Roncalli Highway. We had good discussion Sunday, some serious disagreement, each person aware that the journey is personal and each accountable to one's own conscience. My role is the organizer, bringing them together. I am no longer the priest with the answers. I am a searching community member with good input. We are a unit, convinced that "where two or three gather" we will not die of thirst. Excommunicated by Church law for standing before a cleric to marry, I was well aware in 1980 that I had to find my own salvation, and that of my children and wife, outside the institutional system. Our journey in Christian community has been sweet.
"You will cross the burning desert and you shall not die of thirst…" so goes the song I hear in churches today … and I wonder if the institutional Romans have really stepped into the burning sands of change. My image is more of an episcopal controlled oasis where the waters of comfortable content are clerically passed out on Sunday along with a wafer manna. I sense the people can't (won't) move out of the isolated oasis, really not trusting the Roncalli call to depart the land of youthful bondage. We know what happens in institutional church to a modern day Odysseus who tries to stuff wax in peoples' ears to block off the Sirens' call to passivity and a comfortable "we already have the answers". In 1980 when I departed the institutional priesthood a woman rejoiced saying "now we can get back to some real religion; I have had enough of this Jesus".
I need to make this confession to the readers of Catholica. What I write comes from my experience of life; I realized as I re-read #21 that sacraments have been the core of my life and it is with pain that I write/tell of their abuse and my absence from them. Like Amos I cry out "I am only a farmer … why me, Lord?…" I feel a strong duty, that commission given to me at ordination in 1954, to direct people to think as Jesus would think. We are in a glorious period of new life. I can't imagine staying in the guarded oasis, let alone not warning the people of the danger of remaining within the circled wagons. I am reminded of the movie Shangri La and the crisis choice to remain or depart.
BACK TO THE RAILROAD YARD OF MARRIAGE…
Our train of thought had arrived at a debris-littered and festively-bannered station with a divorcee sweeping up wilted flowers and empty champagne bottles. I have seen the bomb-cratered devastation of the embassy area of Berlin — perhaps now with German unification its ugliness removed. As priest and therapist I may have witnessed too much of the devastation of family life in America
I ask some simple questions:
The real world has many problems, yet Rome demands the life of a single, cloistered-type monk for those who enter the arena of helping out humankind; the priest of yesterday and today is a liturgically trained artist yet an impractical family man … the Father MacKenzies whom The Beatles wrote about in Eleanor Rigby … "darning his socks and writing a sermon that no one will hear". Change is needed and renewal is slowly underway; in particular, to survive the institution needs to take a living interest in its divorced population.
I have no want to condemn or be negative; if a person is sincere about bringing the healing message of Jesus to a sorely wounded world one has to go onto the battlefield of real life and be a living example. Francis of Assisi encouraged: "preach always and sometimes use words". I know the inner dynamic of an isolated clerical rectory and I know the facade of episcopal sweet talk that is devoured by the comfortable and well to do; Romanism is fast becoming the well-to-do-person's religion. Thanksgiving Day my wife and I visited an 86 year-old-friend in a posh senior living apartment … $4000 a month. The unit of 100 plus clients has its own Catholic priest who says Mass on Sundays; I imagine he drives a Rolls Royce. The theology of our friend could use some serious updating as she prays for God to take her, yet is aware that her deceased husband with whom she argued much has God's ear and is keeping her out of heaven. In 1962 I conducted the funeral of her 4 year-old who died of leukemia.
I live in a married neighborhood that has single folk, divorcees, and widows as well as those who still wear wedding rings; our neighbors and friends know my background and they never hear me preach but they do know how we live and interact in society. I lay no claim to clericalism; I comfort myself in seeing my life as meaningful … yes with all my faults and failures, aware that this is what Jesus commanded his followers to do — to love and forgive. I don't miss the power position of a church pulpit; I am grateful that Brian Coyne and his fine work of evangelization offers me opportunity to encourage the world to see the great value of the individual person. Each person must work to buy the ticket to board the train of human salvation. Perhaps the outstanding sacrament of the year 2050 will be the individual person?
I wondered in 1968 when reading Alvin Toffler's FUTURE SHOCK about his saying that the time is coming for us to carry no paper money, only a plastic card; my wallet today contains a few small bills but I do have five plastic cards that control my life style. My Visa Card kickback paid for my '09 airfare to Australia. Forty years on I wonder about the possibility of an after life … or if there is a God … or what is the meaning of "God bless you" and the value of prayer? A few years ago I had the privilege of visiting a vowed sister, an artist/painter friend of mine, as she neared her end of life; I often reflect on some of her mysterious last words as we talked of life and death …… "It's all a crock, Tom!"
Perhaps the meaning and struggle of life is best stated in the 2008 preface of BEING CATHOLIC NOW by Kerry Kennedy, daughter of slain Robert Kennedy. Kerry shoots from the hip as she describes her early upbringing in a large Catholic family with all the bells and whistles of pre-Vatican Two Catholicism. Read her for yourself, the book is good and practical for those of us in the great struggle. I quote a teaser from page xxxv:
"Sure, I am irritated, frustrated, and enraged by some of the actions of the church but there is a sidebar to my sense of spirituality and of belonging to the Catholic faith. In the final analysis, the hierarchy of the church isn't the end-all to my practice of the faith. From a political perspective I wish I could become more active on peace and social justice because the popes have enormous underutilized capacity to literally bring freedom to captives and, as Jesus did, invite more and more people to share in his message of love. When I become incensed by the latest outrageous pronouncement of a wayward bishop, I try to remember that perhaps at this moment in history the Holy Spirit is sending lay Catholics an empowerment message that we can no longer be passive in our faith and blindly follow the hierarchy; instead we must take personally the responsibility to act on the word of Christ despite the impediments placed in our path."
I see maturity and a deep conviction in Kerry Kennedy as she personalizes her relationship to her God and adult faith. We will offer more on her book in forthcoming commentaries.
Dare I continue this search for sacramental meaning in the age of technology? If "Central Control" will have me I'll be "back on track" next week, wandering down through "ole confession township", always with an eye to encouraging people to use their love, marriages, and lives to make life a better place for all.
[Tom: the attitude of "Central Control" is that we attend to whatever God places under our noses each day. That extends to the commentaries that continue to flow down the fibre-optic cables of cyberspace. The direction, and success, of this endeavour derives from a "Central Control" far beyond ourselves. We do have a trust that if someone goes to the trouble of submitting something that it has taken considerable time and expertise to produce that they're motivated by similar things to ourselves. Cheers, Brian]
Tom here in San Jose asking with Karl Menninger M.D. WHATEVER BECAME OF SIN? (1973)? 02/12/2008
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What are your thoughts on this commentary?