It's a lovely metaphor Tom McMahon uses today. Most of us have experienced that curious pleasure in opening a combination lock when, often suddenly, we get the numbers right and the lock pops open. He likens that to this long process of searching for answers as to what it all means — what our lives mean. He argues a writer from the 1920's pointed us in the right direction. Unfortunately some keep looking backwards for answers instead of forward. We might be prompted to ask: where does God reside? In the past or in the future?
We ARE moving forward...
"We are moving. We are going forward.
Before I move on I tease my readership to put a time line on the above words and who might be their author?
Tuesday I visited the home of Dorothy and found a book on her shelf that triggered this commentary. Dorothy, still an Italian beauty at 79 grew up near Coit Tower in North Beach, San Francisco. DK is an adult convert to Catholicism at age 20 having been baptized as an infant and forced to make her first communion by the Holy Family Sisters — an order inspired by Fr John J Prendergast, a priest of what was then the Diocese of San Francisco. Committed especially to serve families and children, the Sisters of the Holy Family were pioneers in the establishment of quality and affordable child care (1878) long before its widespread existence today. Dorothy had no meaningful childhood religious education. Literally the nuns found Dorothy playing hopscotch, ascertained she was of an Italian Catholic family and marched her off to Catechism class. Such was San Francisco's Italian section in the1930's. Married to a Swedish background Mormon at age 16, Dorothy took religious lessons from Father John Foudy at St. Monica's Church, falling passionately in love with Jesus and his way, Dorothy embraced Vatican Two, becoming an advocate for change. I met her and her husband, Kelly (RIP), 44 years ago, they being involved in our youth work especially at Tom's High Sierra 42-bed chalet. In 1967 around a table that sat 22 we had "the liturgy of the fuzzy red slippers", aka breaking bread and giving thanks, the red slippers a sure sign of no vestments, no hosts, and a large loaf of bread. 44 years later a woman questioned Tom on the Internet if he remembered the fuzzy slippers. 1967 was the beginning for us of community.
So now you know. Now go back and read the first paragraph, keeping in mind that Teilhard wrote these words before 1920 when his book was first published in French. This is the era of a Europe still grieving over World War One, a time when Angelo Roncalli served as a sergeant in the Italian army, and Yves Congar had his father stolen from his family in the Ardennes Forest by the invading Germans. The three would make a great team of on-going reform, Congar silenced and exiled to a monastery by Pius the 12th for his leadership with the Worker-Priests of Paris, Teilhard exiled to China to dampen his influence, and Roncalli on the run from the conservatives who accused him of Modernism under Pius the 10th. The punishing effort backfired with Congar becoming the chief architect of John the 23rd's Vatican Two.
I purchased Tielhard's books in the 1960's, long before I could make heads or tails out of his brilliance. When I took THE FUTURE OF MAN off Dorothy's bookshelf, asking her if I might borrow it, I opened the cover to find "Thomas S. McMahon" as the owner. I refused her claim of squatter's rights after 40 years. In the excitement of the late 60's we loaned books about Vat 2 right left and center. What glorious memories I hold from those adventuresome days. The Catholic church was alive! We would soon learn the heavy price of reform and the entrenched power of those who could warrant no change.
1920 ... Yes, 1920, eight years before my birth and over 90 years ago the drums for justice, peace, and church reform were underway, the brilliant Jesuit, Teilhard, joining the ranks of John Muir and other ecologists working the pathway of evolution. As I am re-reading the FUTURE OF MAN I also read a chapter a night of THE GREAT WORK by Thomas Berry, starting my day with one of Berry's meditations (the one at the end of next week's commentary).
The Scopes Trial:
EVOLUTION is the key word in these authors' writings. Let's look at the Scopes Trial of 1925, as reported on Wikipedia:
The Scopes Trial—formally known as The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes and informally known as the Scopes Monkey Trial—was a landmark American legal case in 1925 in which high school biology teacher, John Scopes, was accused of violating Tennessee's Butler Act which made it unlawful to teach evolution.
In our age of fast communication and elite knowledge of a quickly changing world the word EVOLUTION is a given educationally. We recall Galileo today almost with a bit of sarcastic humor at Pope Urban the 8th who when invited to look through Galileo's telescope replied "I can not". Note the word "can", when in reality any human being could look yet the pope dare not look for what truth he would see. Here we have Teilhard's take on the conservatives': "and the other without shifting its position, obstinately maintaining 'nothing changes, we are not moving at all'." Biblical fundamentalism is dangerous. I leave biblical interpretation to the well trained elite.
This historical change is more than the transitions from the classical Roman period to the medieval period or from the medieval period to modern times. Such a transition has no historical parallel since the geobiological transition that took place 67 million years ago, when the period of the dinosaurs was terminated and a new biological age began. So now we awaken to a period of extensive disarray in the biological structure and functioning of the planet.
Here is where this 82-year-old little boy from 15th Street kicks back and meditates a while on the intense interest in dinosaurs of our five-year-old grandson, Sebastian. Sebbie is not the only 21st century child who knows more about dinosaurs than his granddad. Is such knowledge in his DNA genetically passed on generation from generation? I often wonder what type of adulthood awaits my grandchildren, kids that take-for-granted a computer since kindergarten.
My school teacher son enjoys denying he inherited anything from his father. The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine  and The Male Brain  offer radically different ideas from those I learned in grade school. I am told that if the DNA of an educated adult were typed on 6x12 paper the stack would reach to 252 feet. Now here is science and math in the modern world. (I know well what genes my son got from his mother and humbly wonder where I enter the picture genetically? With tongue in cheek I am aware at 35 Steve has a Master's in Math and another in Administration, has taught calculus [not my genes], and is presently the President of the powerful San Jose Unified School Teachers Union.) I think the world is a better place because I did not stay celibate.
Why Catholics are heading for the exits...
Milly aka Amanda writes a well researched and finely written Why Catholics are heading for the exits. I await her follow up on the reasons individuals gave. I have two comments which I offer out of curiosity:
Let me explain. I was ordained a liturgical priest, that is my chief function was to say Mass and to perform ceremonially the Sacraments. This was the heart/core of the institutional Church before 1963. Vatican Two offered a tantalizing picture of a different style of church and priesthood, one identified with the spirit of Jesus and no longer mere customs such as Sunday Mass and no meat on Friday. Vatican Two invited us to investigate how Catholics could present themselves as an influence to the modern world. Opposition to the transition quickly formed around John Paul the 2nd and his protégé, Benedict the 16th — read again Teilhard's words written in the 1920's "and the other without shifting its position, obstinately maintaining 'nothing changes, we are not moving at all'." My sense is that the millions who have left exited from a structured sacramental setting, perhaps no longer going to Sunday Mass. How many have retained the spirit of Jesus, working and living as followers of Jesus, hopefully in some way in torch with a community of mutual understanding and loving persons? More on this next week., esp. after I read Amanda's second article.
Lots of names, lots of action and reaction going on for over one hundred years ... or maybe 2000 ... for this writer it has been like fumbling with the numbers on a combination lock and all of a sudden "open sesame!"
Next week let's meet Brian Swimme, author of THE UNIVERSE IS A GREEN DRAGON, a Cosmic Creation Story. And more on Thomas Berry, friend and co-author with Swimme.
Off we go into the wild blue yonder, climbing high into the sun... [US Air Force hymn]
Tom McMahon, in San Jose, Ca: getting ready for take off ... we aren't standing still ... Everything changes! 12Sep2011
What are your thoughts on this commentary?