At the end of today's reflection Tom McMahon apologises for venting. It's a nostalgic form of venting though brought on by the death of another friend from seminary days. So many of the faithful seem to just roll their eyes into the backs of their heads and forget to turn up next Sunday. Catholica seeks to reach out to those who pause awhile and ask "why has it all become so irrelevant in the lives of so many (or me)?" Essentially that's the question Tom McMahon is also trying to address...
IF ONLY….. a bit of nostalgia and wondering what I am missing
This coming Monday a group of old clerical veterans will gather in Napa, Ca. to bid farewell to classmate John Monagle, a Menlo Man of '54, with whom I began seminary in September of 1942 and with whom I was ordained on June 11, 1954. A silent and mixed clash of theologies will attend a funeral mass of one of the first in our ordination class to marry; out of respect for the family of the deceased and our own brotherhood we shall keep our theological thoughts to ourselves while sharing smiles and stories of genuine friendship of 67 years. At funeral time we normally go with the old time flow, no rocking boats. We treasure and mourn the loss of friendship. The boyhood priestly dreams of yesteryear burn brightly in a few while a handful of us (there are nine left of the 55 who entered the minor seminary in 1942) continue the modern reformation by way of education; some in our class have refused education completely. The Menlo Men of '54 may protest my calling us the remaining squad of the once proud French Foreign Legion of the Roman Catholic Church but as a 12-year seminary survivor and long-experienced pastoral priest I easily claim privilege over sharing stories of the past, especially our dreams for a risen Christianity since our emancipation by Vatican Two. Honestly, save for two, I have not had a serious theological discussion with the Menlo Men of '54.
John's brother and classmate Jim, whose nickname in seminary and priesthood was Bluebird of Happiness, died an active Roman pastor ten years after brother John became the first one in our class to marry. Jim and I were close friends, 12-year seminary men, and I could always have a pleasant exchange with this native American Irishman. I believe Jim died of a broken heart watching the priesthood fall apart; yet Jim would have no part of separation within our class. The classes older than us struggled with the brotherhood bond refusing to allow married brothers to come to class reunions, a pathetic story unto itself. Paul the 6th called the married men "Judas priests". The Menlo Men of '54, 33 brothers at ordination, stuck tight, Jim personally seeing to it that my wife, and of course the others 13 women who married, were invited. Jim organized the BBQ as chief cook and bottle washer at his parish. We had Tom (still active 2009) and Bill Burns (married after 25 years a priest) and Jim and John Monagle (married after 20 years a priest) ordained together in 1954. Jim's late-1960's breakthrough became the Christian standard for many other clerical groups. It was at funerals that the seemingly severed bonds were again secured.
Tim Unsworth in his CATHOLICS ON THE EDGE, 1995, titled chapter 13 "a priesthood fast becoming a memory". Priests ordained after Vatican Two never had the bond that was forged with men from the Great Depression Era. Our bonds were sealed in immature loneliness of an emotion-starved seminary system, not during priesthood which was a period that tried our souls. We were trained in seminary to live in a human world and not be human. When a priest tries to be human the institution gets rid of him; they want the male magic robot who makes sacraments work by saying the correct words that please the sky-god during a ritual first approved, it seems, in the high court of heaven.
The best of the humanity came out in many of this era's priests. Vatican Two has always been for me a battle for survival of being human in a depersonalized institutional church, the version present day Rome continues to try to preserve. Having known many of their fathers and mothers I have not been surprised at this Christian love that my brothers took from their parents. In the likes of Father Jim Monagle, his parents and my parents lives on, resurrected in the mind of a Tom McMahon. They were beautiful non-sophisticated people who went about life as best they could, justly respecting their neighbor as a sharing people. When I left parish work in 1980 there was a group of well-to-do Catholics who saw the departure of the priest as loss of cheap-salaried church property, the priest always there at their bidding and easily replaceable. I marvel at what has changed in priesthood since my departure. I am well aware that the present-day hierarchy and priesthood are virtually spiritually bankrupt.
Ten years after parish departure two families asked me to witness the weddings of their kids, separately. In both cases their kids refused to abide by church rules, such as marriage away from a church building. I cooperated, at considerable travel expense, but never was a nickel offered for my services. They were stupid and selfish enough to feel they owned me even after I left the institutional priesthood and I was naïve enough to go along. I gave myself in service to God and people long before ordination and have never left that thinking; I had difficulty when I realized how magically people could use a priest. For the past few years I have refused to be involved with what is on the whole farcical superstition, the "magic-man" that can make a wedding work in today's society. I'm with Matthew Fox and his original blessings.
I have little sympathy for those today who complain that they can't understand "father" as they accept foreign born priests to fill the empty slots from a bishop who knows the names only of the wealthy. Monsignor Michael Higgins, Irish-born lawyer who works pro bono for priests in legal trouble e-mailed me recently about a tour he got together to visit the holy shrines of Ireland. The tour group had Mass by a Philippino priest who took 20 minutes for the service and they understood not a word. Monsignor Michael tells me they are not going back. (Michael is a Christian, visiting jailed priests while their bishops ignore tham as well as religious order superiors. )
If only I could educate people today in the way of Jesus; we have come from a milieu of sparse formal education, indoctrinated originally in the ways and rules of the Roman Catholic Church. The medieval church cannot cope with modernity and carefully avoids letting Jesus have a say in reform. The present-day priest and bishop think they are offering religion to the people by fighting off Vatican Two reforms, whereas in reality they are joining ranks as the anti-christs by keeping Jesus at a distance. Equipped with a simple understanding of the good news of Jesus, my parents gave to me and my fellow priests a sound understanding of the human love that was so central to the teachings of Jesus. Jesus is a lover and there is no room for him in the roman militaristic system.
The frustration in communication with 'old-school Catholics'...
I pass no judgment but some priests did not have the quality Christian life I had as a boy. Almost unknowingly and without formality our parents lived and taught a Jesus way of life. I would see this turn, especially after World War Two in some men around the issue of power and money. I would smile many a time as I saw men think they became more Christ-like when they donned robes or were given a canonical title.
Thomas Jefferson, while president of the United States said "the nation that expects to be ignorant and free expects what never can be and never will be". Looking back I can see where many of the old-time priest could not embrace Vatican Two and they had plenty of help from old-time Catholics.. Just before I left in 1980 a woman said to me "when are we going to get back to some honest religion; we have had enough of your Jesus stuff". I smile when I think of the male parent speaking to me in anger during a daughter-father dance at a Catholic high school I taught in for seven years; he told me "we have had enough of your god damn Jesus Christ … he was a Jew after all and yet only half-Jew as the Holy Spirit had no gender". I agree with Jefferson and wonder about teaching old-school Catholics ... and clergy.
I apologize to my readers. I have had a bad week and I live in a family where there is no religious discussion while my community of Jesus Our Brother has serious sickness and slowly dies. I have been religiously intellectually lonely. It will be two weeks before we get back to the Middle Ages and our search for the parish priest in history. I have a sense I vented in the above and used you readers as a sounding board … thanks …
Tom McMahon, San Jose, Ca. (24/08/09)
What are your thoughts on this commentary?