Today's commentary from Tom McMahon is still very much centred around the funeral and good-byes to his seminary classmate, John Monagle. Tom wrote this the day after the funeral and one can almost see him fighting his demons through the words on the page. But what is the cause of his angst? Self-evidently this man is still in love with Jesus — or what Jesus offers to the world. He, and many of his colleagues 'signed on', in quite special ways as 'priests', to spread the good news. Somewhere along the way the scales fell from his eyes, as they have for many, and he started asking where the vision of Jesus parts company with the institutional vision? The death of his friend and colleague leads to some questioning of the ultimate objective: Where is paradise? What does resurrection really mean?
The Day after a Classmate's Funeral — a calliope of thoughts...
Yesterday we ceremonially bid farewell to a man whom I first met in 1942, both of us 13-year-old seminary students for the Roman Catholic priesthood; throughout the ensuing 67 years, as would be the want of ordained classmates serving in different dioceses, we met and talked at least annually, as well as spending sometime together as chaplains in military service. In this mystery called life I "knew" him as best we humans can appreciate one another, experiencing John as having a brilliant Irish mind often controversial to the point of belligerence. John's priest, blood brother Jim was the silent peace maker whereas John was surely the non-conformist, aggressive and what I call the angry Irish man from the Monagles of County Donegal. John carried the DNA of the 1920's Irish Rising.
I was a pall bearer along with three classmates while two stood vested at the altar. John's funeral mass screamed contradictions. I made silent comparison to Jim's go-with-the-flow funeral 20 years ago and I experienced a calliope of thoughts. Today I take the time to clarify them for myself and share. I realize my audience readership consists of seven living Menlo Men of '54 who have shared our genuine and precious relationship since 1942, as well as other members of the American clerical brotherhood who read Catholica. I will be careful today as I write about that silent strain of long suppressed feelings and styles of living. Each of us is surely a unique and sacred individual.
My calliope runs imaginatively, historically, emotionally, spiritually, religiously, and psychologically. I ran the gamut of Egyptian embalming, pagan ritual, a new God, Is Jesus Catholic?, youthful archetypes, a unique brand of friendship, the futility of religion, the Berlin Wall, red hot lava, the unique place and value of education, a phone call from Reno's Leo McFadden ('54), and an after-funeral questioning e-mail from Gerry Cox ('50). I am sure by tomorrow I will add to the mixture. I am well aware at 80 years of age that my mind is a universe unto itself, I respecting that sovereignty in every human being. My sister who was in attendance at the funeral said my body language showed "complete detachment", a skill of which I am not sure I am capable. Outward calm appearance (required of a pall bearer at funeral time) covered inner turmoil; my being human, the priest, the family man, and this poor man's psychologist and sociologist caused me confusion. These are confusing times for institutional church and those of us ordained in the 1950's. Change is upon us and swiftly … or is 'us' appropriate?
Like two massive tectonic plates clashing...
At John's funeral I raced thru my computer bank, my brain flooding with boyhood memories, yet dominated by the individuality built into us in 12 years of seminary training. I reflected on John advocating a married priesthood back in 1945. I was in attendance at a funeral that offered contradictory messages of former celibate pastor-priest and married man, father of three sons who spoke at length of their hero father. John was being buried from St. Thomas Aquinas Church, a building he supervised in its construction as canonical pastor. Here we were in 2009, looking into a window to the past that would not make sense in 1954. The ceremony was a re-weaving of the old archetypes of pre-Vatican Two priesthood and modern appreciation of concepts of human rights and freedom promoted by Vatican Two. It was like the priesthood was on a public operating table with clumsy men replacing the obsolete with bionic parts. Like two massive tectonic plates the 1000-year-old Roman system of celibacy clashed with the human priesthood of the future, yet silently blended in what seemed to be a liturgical harmony. Women were absent from the ceremony and the prayers of the faithful were read by the 19 years-in-office pastor. A genuine give away to two different worlds came when the people took the communion bread of unity into their hands and many by the tongue. Robed medieval clerics, though they stood apartheid at the altar and first ate the bread by themselves in their private ceremony mingled and listen to people and married priests as we blended in that Jesus community. A reputeration of the 4th Lateran Council's 1139 c.e. killing of priestly marriage was being played out before my very eyes and I as married priest could have an essential role in the education of people. Education and change normally begins from the bottom up, much education needed to sort out the mix of old and new. People are truly patient with the fumbling that goes on in Rome and the Curia. The Trentan priesthood was having a heart attack before our very eyes. Could it survive?
The historical Jesus is dead; Christ has risen in new form, his mystical body!
I have a disdain for the teaching of body and soul; it is pure Aristotelian duality, straight from the Greeks via Thomas Aquinas. When 15 I worked in Holy Cross cemetery, at times standing in front of my father's grave while I gave thanks for life and mourned my loss. I contemplated when we might meet again. Sixty-five years has passed, my mother's body joining my father and I have ministered at 600 plus funerals, all the while questioning this duality — separation of soul from body. I am an intelligent person who understands energy and the principle of the conservation of energy … that it is never lost. What is, and who has seen, a soul? Who told Sister Patricia Marie in my 8th grade to teach me this? Who taught the one who taught her? Well-educated in science today I hold energy as a meaningful substitute for soul, all dependent on the electrical beat of the heart. Heaven, a far off distant god, final judgment, the Ascension and Assumption are human attempts to "go where no man has gone", addressing with surety that which we earthlings know nothing about. These teachings place pacifiers in the mouths of the people who are unwilling to accept the reality of what death truly is. The heartbeat ends and we cease to exist. We have lost control of life. I cannot hear words that speak to a far off continuum of human life nor can I accept that Jesus clearly told us of such. The historical Jesus is dead; Christ has risen in new form, his mystical body. The kingdom of God is here and now, very earthy and what role have I played in it? … such mystery! A living Jesus … and the average graying catholic doesn't want to talk about such. It is the Vatican's best kept secret. Christian teaching is on the way; one will experience little of the teachings of Jesus at a clerical funeral.
John's body lay in a metal coffin, embalmed and made to "look good". The package deal is right out of Egyptian antiquity, the spirit of the Pharaoh whisked skyward, his preserved body awaiting his return to earth, a pagan ritual that costs lots of bucks and has no place among Christians. The institutional church offers prayers for good judgment from the sky-god-obsolete-heavenly computer, these prayers often seven days after death and embalming. In the meantime Rome fiddles with ideas like purgatory and getting back into the medieval practice of indulgences. Life for me is that moment of time in which a person earns the right to be re-membered, that is brought back after death into honorable membership within the family, again a member in memory form. Every person of every status in life has that opportunity regardless of wealth or rank. I have no right to judge another person. When death seals off the opportunity for doing good the DNA left behind will speak its truth. My body is offered to science and I seek no burial place outside that in the hearts and minds of my family and those with whom I have shared love. I'm of the same mind as my mother who saw life as a gift; just moments before her death Mom gently returned her gift to her loving Creator, grateful for having lived. For me personally my after-life reward will be that someone continues to read what I have written. I ask that I have no memorial service. Send a few bucks to feed hungry children if you need to do something in my memory.
There is a Berlin Wall that is the inheritance of any man who spent time in seminary, especially minor seminary of old; now suppressed memory this barrier immediately blocks my curiosity about the other. We greet and say hello and move on. This separation system of bygone days remains deep within me and I felt it deeply at the reception following John's funeral … just don't get close — a complete contradiction to Christianity. I was silently excited to see old friends whom I had not seen for years, John Coleman for 25, classmate Larry Sweeny for over 40, Paul Gorman, Brian O'Kane, Louie Persano who sang a latin hymn dear to the deceased, and a handful of others. We had nothing present to talk about … or may be it is just me … or that cursed de-humanizing training in isolated seminary. The initial flood of energy is quickly contained as the suppressed prohibitions come to life and we pass on with little depth conversation. I really did not know the deceased outside his role as priest. Each of us is a private person and so we die. It's not of the communitarian Jesus.
Gerry Cox remarked that only one Santa Rosa diocesan priest was present and he wondered about the absence of the bishop. Perhaps Gerry due to his wholesomeness does not see the red hot lava of fear and distance with which the institutional church has handled the clergy that married, whom Paul the 6th called "Judas priests". Vince Boyle shared with us at lunch his brother Bill's (who is close to dying) being refused consideration of laization by the San Francisco Chancery and Con Burns told Bill to cross the bay to Oakland's officialdom to get the job done. Was it a bold John Monagle that set up his funeral at St. Thomas Aquinas or an innocent request set down in John's will of 40 years ago? We will never know. Only John could have pulled this off while the rest of us contemplate our navels and sing "merrily we role along upon a little white daisy"… God in his heaven and all right with the world… … … What is the role of priest?
Come Holy Spirit … come quickly…
The seeds for this funeral scenario were sewn back in 1139 c.c. when a group of ascetic male monks, almost all homosexuals, as was current in the day, made their final push to rid the church of women by annihilating clerical marriage. The Middle Ages produced brilliant thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas and the intuitional church grew powerful spawning such educational giants as Oxford University in 1267 c.e. The church of the Middle Ages waxed rich, papacy united with king and king entwined with pope as the ordinary people drifted in ignorance and illiteracy from their original vision. The once-disappeared secular priest emerges at the Council of Trent, the top-gun savior of humankind with seven new sacraments but the peasants will rise up in such as the French Revolution and overthrow civil and papal power. Vatican One in 1890 is a feeble attempt to restore papal power, esp. by declaring the pope as infallible. John the 23rd knew his history and the diabolic presence of lusting-for-power at the expense of the simple people and John gave us Vatican Two — the humanizing Council. A Curia official said to Pope John the 23rd:"remember Holy Father that you are infallible" and John's reply, "so they say!"
Can the institutional church shuck off the baggage of the Middle Ages and become the People of God church/community which is of Jesus? So many centuries of being embedded with evil, the God and sword crusades, the Medici family, the inquisition, the conquest of Central America by Spain and church, the silencing of Boff and Liberation theology … and need I go on with the atrocities of the now-dying Roman Catholic Church with Ireland's Ryan Report. Historically the collapse of priesthood is the beginning of the end of empire.
Come Holy Spirit … come quickly … and open our hearts to God's plan. We need to talk about all this lest Jesus die again on the modern hill of egotism and want for power.
Tom McMahon, San Jose, Ca, who no longer finds God in church buildings yet who keeps looking for divine messages and godly footprints, esp. among ordinary people … I believe in a living God and in a risen Jesus … rest John Monagle, family man and priest you will be re-membered for the good you did. You have sewn the seeds and others will continue your work. (31/08/09)
What are your thoughts on this commentary?