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Tom McMahon argues today: "the period following the sexual revolution of the 1960's shattered ties with the Victorian era while offering a dismal aftermath of broken marriages and dysfunctional families; we seem to have failed to hit the jack pot of those who live happily ever after ... Jesus would come ready to work with the ever present human potential, not demanding perfection."
Standing in the railway station with a ticket to nowhere … a promise fulfilled…
Rarely do I begin writing with the personal pronoun "I", perhaps a throw back to my ancestral Irish and my grade school Catholic training to be humble. I feel like a person standing in the middle of an abandoned train station, holding a ticket to nowhere and wondering where all the train conductors and engineers of my youthful religion have gone. Perhaps my situation is like one dumped into the outback of Australia and looking for clear direction signs; I've seen the movie about the Aborigine girls who followed the fence to get back home. In 1967 I stood on the train tracks of East Berlin, mistakenly having put my ticket into a turnstile that led me back into Communistic controlled Poland and Russia; I had in hand 33 American passports and the safety of our youth group was in danger and I had strange feelings. I have allowed our Polar Express train-of-thought to meander off the beaten track, puzzling now if there is value in trying to retrace and get back on the good old days of yesteryear when "God was in his heaven and all was right with the world". Life in the space age is different; materialism and greed have hidden a healthy pattern of living that I enjoyed in the 1930's. We were simple human people; the age of technology has its hidden booby traps, especially in the arena of sexuality.
We have peered into Pandora's Box and the world cries out for dialogue and direction. We have run our train-of-thought thru unions of men and women where the man dominated and the woman was possession, as well as same-sex unions that have become today's public news. The period following the sexual revolution of the 1960's shattered ties with the Victorian era while offering a dismal aftermath of broken marriages and dysfunctional families; we seem to have failed to hit the jack pot of those who live happily ever after. Facing us is a world of sperm banks and single women getting pregnant as the AIDS epidemic rages and clerical sexual abuse clouds the atmosphere. Perhaps I should just shut my front door and lock out the world? What would Jesus do? Jesus would come ready to work with the ever present human potential, not demanding perfection.
Memory of the broken lives of Catholic kids who were sucked into fantasy and married too young demands a sensible return to a God-created experience; I am pushed to walk out of the old abandoned railway station and get back on the pioneering trail. I am beginning to understand why the Spirit called me out of the land of celibacy into the real world and into the union called marriage. I was invited to sample human imperfection, mine and the other.
In his book THE EMPEROR'S GOD, Imperial Misunderstandings of Christianity, D. Michael Rivage-Seul sees the church as a pilgrim caravan, on the move with scouts out front, the bulk of people in the middle just following blindly along, and a rear guard protecting from attackers. We leave Benedict the 16th to guard the rear as we move forward. If one can appreciate the army's use of a "point man" in the Vietnam conflict as that one person out front who leads a squad into hostile territory one might appreciate how I feel as we journey ahead.
I know how Amos the biblical farmer felt … why me, Lord? I'm only a farmer. Why me, Lord? I am only a human being.
The biological urge...
Let's start fulfilling a 101 promise: I questioned in Commentary #3 to give reason why I, a man of 80, looks at the bare skin of the young teen age girl on the Almaden Expressway. I am reminded of the story as she happened again this morning and I am tempted to tease by saying "the devil made me do it". Not really, the reaction is plain and simple male biology. The eye of the male is always on the alert for a body fit to form his future children; the instinct never dies in the male until he is six feet under (or cremated). The male eye is instantly attracted to the female where bare skin shows; it is that wonderful chemical-psychological instinctual movement for survival of the species that permeates the masculine. No matter how low the testosterone gets, say in old age or on a vegan diet in a cancer study (I had five years to study myself in this aspect) that sexual-genital stimulation will stay active throughout his life, waning of course with age and maturity. The eye of the female is not so equipped.
There are biological factors over which humans can have a measure of control, reason being a braking system on runway impulses. Intimacy comes at a high and risk-taking price. My stay of twelve years in seminary was designed to eliminate my biological sexual and genital impulses and reactions; 19 years of my education saw no female as fellow student, my grade school taught by muslin covered nuns — disguised women. Genevieve was a robust 22-year-old female employee in the office of my junior seminary who wore brown sweaters; I am not sure of other students but I would buy a pencil on Tuesday to return on Wednesday to buy note paper. Much to our disappointment Gen lasted about 3 months; I can imagine the gossip among the Sulpicians during faculty meetings. I can remember well, age 15, my coming into possession of a nudie magazine and sharing it with Ted; we dumped it in an abandoned outhouse, fearful that we would be expelled, "filth" joining filth. Custody of the eyes was silently promoted; after ordination the whole preventative system collapsed and I was like Alice up to my eyeballs in wonderland. …. "How can you keep them down on the farm after they have seen Paree …?". I was in the process of learning I was a genital creature …. I had no understanding of hormones. Going to confession did not help as I saw goodness. Ah, that wonderful Creator who knew what she was doing!
When the bishop called me forward to priestly ordination I was 25-years-old, a sexually repressed teenager with powerful unexplored and suppressed natural desires and impulses. A paper on my sexual maturity will conclude this series shortly; in the meantime let it suffice to say that maturity and human growth came with great danger and difficulty as I manoeuvred through the Charybdis and Scylia of sexual maturity and human development. I am not a dirty old man because I have a biological eye for a healthy nest for any future children; having two sons and now three grandchildren I know how to put on the "brakes." My heart aches for my peers who "still fight the good fight" and in particular those who in their ignorance have chosen the criminal path of sexual abuse of children; underlying clerical culture there is a jungle that outranks Alice's wonderland and Mad Hatters. Psychologist Richard Sipe tabs us as "forever 14". Male clergy are no emotional match for a woman who has patiently waited nine months for new life to emerge … can a mother forget the child of her womb?
Now where do we go with marriage … remember I'm the man standing in the abandoned railway station with a ticket to nowhere; I'm not going to pray over it as such merely reshuffles the past and highlights the danger zones. If I was influential in the church of today I would turn the matter of marriage over to communities of faith, letting the successfully married set the standards; I would not exclude those in 2nd marriages. Seeds of the mess can be traced back to the 6th century where priests were forbidden to marry "used" women, that is those who were widowed or previously married. The perfectionist demanded that the priest have no "damaged" goods. I would not try to rehab a clergy, old geezers like me, by doing away with celibacy. I'm a hodge-podge, something like the unicorn that never made Noah's ark, certainly no expert at marriage in the modern world; as a married man in the year 2009 I carry the archetypal scars of a celibate yesterday mixed with a newness which is a gift of the Holy Spirit. I can hang warning lanterns in church towers … one by land, two by sea, and I seek not to be revered.
If you want to do anything for marriage today begin to form Christian communities that are open to dialogue and the experiences of modern society; get educated and use history to learn from the past … what to cherish and what to avoid. Get the men involved in dialogue and don't let the experience of life fall into the hands of women only. Don't look to the experts for they are as human as all of us; get to know your neighbor in community discussions which more than likely will be small in membership but powerful in benefit to an ailing society. Be a "salt of the earth" while avoiding the need for perfection and accepting humanity in its wounded condition. Thomas Aquinas created the term wounded as compared to Luther's "corrupted dung hill" Through the invention of the seminary system the Council of Trent created the image of the perfect priest at an evolutionary time of human development, the laity in its servile condition of the Middle Ages hardly able to qualify. The age of the educated lay person has arrived, along with a healthy tolerance for human imperfection and continued growth. The age of Trent is dead; the age of the laity is arriving (laity is the Greek word for duty). People are smarter than bishops and priests. Men and women are here to stay and my faith agrees with Genesis that "God created them male and female and God saw they were good". Hopefully my great grand children will benefit.
I offer one final story about lovers and healthy unions and then let's hear from you happy folk and ignite the rocket flight into the future with high hopes and trust that God rides as co-pilot.
Take a look around and see the wonderful people who inhabit our planet; the daily newspaper offers too much negativity for me to spend much time over my morning coffee but I keep in mind those fine simple people who make up our world and have a mind to do something out of love of neighbor … and who is my neighbor?
Hats off to Monsignor Hillenbrand of the 1930's from Chicago. Here was a people-minded cleric who started the movements of Young Christian Workers, Pre-Cana, and other lay-orientated programs; Pius the 12th spoke of the laity as a sleeping giant and Vatican Two blew open the clerical tight windows of the Vatican. What are you waiting for, you People of God? Marriage is your forte! Ours is the age of the priestly people; a hurting world needs your help.
Before Paul the 6th caved in to the old Vatican cardinal guard, not those Michelangelo fellows, and blundered into Humanae Vitae, a conference was called in Rome to discuss the birth control issue. 200 experts came from all fields of biology and medicine; Chicago's Patty and John Crowley, representing married folk were invited. When they arrived Pat was assigned to a woman's dorm and her husband to bed down separately with all males … oh the innocence of the Vatican monsignori and one can have only pity for their stupidity. They don't seem to have learned over the years that the clergy is ill-equipped for understanding human sexuality. The Crowleys would return to the Vatican, next year armed with many many letters and statements from married Catholics and fine modern expert information on family matters. … all in vain as Pope Paul listened to the negativity of the cardinals with the wizened genitals. The monks of the 11th century had won again … so the Vatican thought.
"I believe for every drop of rain that falls a flower grows" … yes, I believe in love and the union of two people. Next week I dare to offer some ideas about the power of the female body.
Tom McMahon San Jose, Ca. committed to Elaine while not being dominant, with lots of mistakes over 34 years … and learning every day. 18/04/2009
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