Tom McMahon's commentary today you'll find sits very comfortably with the theme Ian Elmer was exploring yesterday about the style employed by Jesus. Did Jesus comes to bring peace via the sword? Or does Jesus offer another route: peace by justice?
Meeting up with some former parishioners...
Before we retrack into the Middle Ages I want to share two experiences I have had within the past 24 hours. I had the privilege of having Chinese dinner with six women who were teens in 1960 when I was the parish priest at All Souls Church in South San Francisco and secondly I heard an audio interview of Dorothy Day, circa 1961, and her view on the Roman Catholic Church.
Timmy, Dianne, Joan, and Elaine (my wife) were Mercy High School girls while Chris and Mary Helen were South City High students; we gathered to share stories of life and old times, they now women in their early sixties. Four were members of my first youth tour of Europe in 1962 and all were members of our All Souls Teen Club, a vibrant part of their early lives as well as mine. Mine was the privilege of being welcomed "home" by these delightful persons, each so individual and yet so one in their friendship and wholesomeness. They have remained a team since grade school days. I told them I would enjoy having each share with me her life story. They received me openly as friend, priest of their youth, and husband of one of their own; they were honestly curious of how a priest married one of their group and we had serious and humorous exchange. Amidst exchange of picture of our children and grand children, we talked of problems of the world, interesting conversation that included some of the serious problems of the church and priesthood today. I was impressed with their maturity and surely pleased with their warmth and openness. I attribute their wholesomeness to their parents, not to the nuns and priests of their early years. I am happy to have them call me a friend. I sensed strongly that for them and myself I was the priest in the modern world.
Dorothy Day is a radical Catholic from the 1930's who founded, along with her husband Peter Maurin, Catholic Worker Houses. I deliberately use the word "is" above because her spirit carries on in hundreds of Worker homes in the United States. Dorothy took a radical approach to condemning war, nuclear weaponry, and injustices to the poor and powerless. I was refreshed as I listened to now Monsignor Eugene Boyle interview her on a Berkeley radio station in 1961. Gene marched with Martin Luther King in Selma and at 88 is still an outstanding justice priest. As a young priest I attended a meeting with Dorothy Day in 1958; as was her custom Dorothy spoke simply and directly, usually ending with "don't just listen to me; go and do something". Larry Purcell, son of wealth, informed us of his involvement with seven Worker Houses; Larry was ordained a priest three years when he realized that he was not happy with parish work and wanted to be hands on involved with those in need. Larry is married with two grown children, happy with life as he involves in a Redwood City Hospitality House that truly does the work of Jesus. I sense the satisfying priesthood of the People of God is daily at work. I'm envious. What a marvelous way to spend one's life. Look up Dorothy's life story on the internet.
Trying to appreciate religion and ministry
In Commentary #11 we jumped forward to the parish priest of the Council of Trent — the Bing Crosby Going My Way classic that was the clerical show in townships worldwide. Rather than go forward through the years of Vatican One let's go back and see where the Knights Templar and the Crusades might fit into our quest to appreciate religion and ministry in the era now made popular by Dan Brown and his Da Vinci Code. I'm not a first class historian; I have in my recent readings come upon data that surely was not offered me in seminary and seemingly even today not available (by choice?) to the Curia and Vatican. I was surprised to read that the cross was not a popular Christian symbol until the era of the Crusades and that these pilgrimages to the Holy Land were financed basically as efforts to reopen trade with the East, along with the idea of reclaiming the sacred places in Jerusalem. My information comes from THE GREAT COURSES lectures on the Crusades [LINK], Wikipedia, and U.S. News and World Report, April 8, 2002. It is with awkwardness that I throw a curve ball at you by concentrating in this commentary on a 2002 c.e. crusade; the first known crusade was preached by Pope Urban 2nd in 1095 c.e. For the remainder of this commentary we will remain in the 21st century, returning to some 18 other crusades next week in #13. All crusades have in common weaponry, religion, war, ethnic backgrounds, and profit.
I take you back to the United State Air Force Academy in Colorado, the year being 2005 and George Bush is President and an invasion of Iraq is underway. Regan administration White House Counsel Mikey Weinstein, himself a graduate of the Air Force Academy founds the Military Religious Freedom Foundation "after the harassment his own sons faced as Jewish cadets at the academy" (Chris Dodda, 2009, www.talk2action.org). A military wide issue needed to be addressed, the military using officer personnel in uniform who were addressing the war as "between Satan and Christians", making statements "we are the army of God … the kingdom of God has been raised for such a time as this … my God was bigger than his …." All this rhetoric so much like that of Urban the 2nd as he railed against Islam in the 10th century. Representatives in legislative chambers spoke of the United States as a Christian country and our men fighting to protect our religious liberty. A crusader message was being spread by the United States military establishment. Trent Franks, R.Az., remarked in the passage of House resolution #847 that recognized the importance of Christmas "American men and women in uniform are fighting a battle across the world so that all Americans might freely exercise their faith". These and many more such statements can be found on the internet and greatly appreciated for Islamic propaganda use. Right under our noses a modern day hate crusade was being carried out. When newly elected President Barack Obama said he would reach out in dialogue with the Iranians he was offering an olive branch of peace and sanity.
The just war theory of Augustine, a blatant betrayal of Jesus' position on violence, has been conveniently slipped into place by those who plead the necessity of the sword to obtain peace. It's the Pax Romana of Augustus, as opposed by Jesus' peace by justice. History is filled with the conquest of people and the powerful making them "converts" to a religious way of life. Constantine started the power ball rolling involving Roman Christians, Charlemagne "converted" the Saxons beheading 20,000 who rejected Christ, the Templars killed to free Jerusalem, and history records endless wars that have not solved the human problems.
John the 23rd, himself at one time a sergeant in the Italian army of WW1 offered Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) and the Vatican Two template for a new world order. Who cares if the clergy is married or celibate? or if the Pope has the final say in Rome? No matter … No matter what we do to polish up the church and ministry we will be adding zeroes to zeroes as long as we pay no heed to Jesus, the man of peace and forgiveness. It means nothing to me that Jesus might be divine; it matters much that I accept him as my savior, fully human and a model of godly living among human beings.
The impotency in being a Christian...
There is a terrible impotency in being a Christian. The vocation of being a Christian calls for an acceptance of being humble, that is literally to be human, at times powerless. Jesus showed us how to be fully human when falsely accused and even murdered; people lied about him and mocked his condition, angered at his justice stands and yet he remained the creature God intended, dignified while knowing his own worth. It is too bad that the Roman bishops can't see his value as a human being.
Next week we turn primarily to Karen Armstrong and her book HOLY WAR, while taking another look at Augustine and the terrible contradiction contained in the title of Armstrong's book. With such negative baggage from medieval times that is still with us today I feel fortunate to have the fresh start that I take from casual rereading of Michael Morwood's FROM SAND TO SOLID GROUND. I gain hope as I read that God exists and I calm myself with a faith that God is still in charge. I have sent out to many Morwood's creed that with new found discoveries we need reframe our old theologies; Michael puts it so well and I here less powerfully. I close by again quoting Michael…
"We are living through the greatest shift ever in Christian thought. New images of our universe and our planet, along with knowledge about the long, slow development of life on this planet provide us with a new context in which to understand the divine presence we call God always present and active everywhere. Reflection on the universality of this presence leads to further reflection on and renewed appreciation of Jesus as revealer of this mysterious presence in our everyday living and loving, rather than on Jesus as the mediator between us and a faraway deity. A Church always in need of renewal must engage, at all levels, this shift in images and thought if it is to have integrity and relevance in the twenty-first century."
Tom McMahon, San Jose, Ca. (20/09/09)
What are your thoughts on this commentary?